Current Comment #13

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 13 ……… December 12th, 2020

SCHEDULING NOTE ~ With this issue, Current Comment is taking a 3-week break for the year-end holidays. The next issue will be posted on January 2nd, 2021.

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ Three separate news stories this week gave us small, but significant, cause for guarded optimism. First, concerning the coronavirus pandemic, the Pfizer vaccine began shipping to all 50 states. Second, amidst the continuing uncertainty about the electoral college’s certification of the presidential election results, the Supreme Court – its three Trump appointees notwithstanding – rejected the Texas challenge to the election results in four crucial swing states. Third and last, the United Nations reminded us in its latest report that the global climate crisis is still very much with us, and suggested that we may actually be making some progress in dealing with it.

The two selections this week both reflect back upon recent history to paint contrasting portraits of Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama. Reading them one after the other may bring to mind the famous opening line of Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Twelve words that perfectly capture the last twelve years of the American presidency.

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Selection #1 – New York Magazine political commentator Jonathan Chait takes a look back at an ominous but influential essay from Michael Anton of the conservative Claremont Institute, published in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign, in which the author misappropriates the heroic choices made by the 9/11 victims on Flight 93 to make a fantastically delusional case for Republicans to choose to support Trump …

“Anton articulated the bedrock principle that has driven the right the last four years: The Democratic Party is so terrifying and all-powerful that literally any measures, however unwise, are justifiable to block them from winning an election. That is the power of Anton’s chosen analogy, which urges his audience to overlook all of Trump’s complete unfitness to handle the job (“You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane,” he concedes) on the grounds that the alternative means imminent national death. Consciously or not, Anton’s imagery seemed to lodge in the minds of the party elite. Again and again, officials tasked with preventing Trump’s erratic impulses from producing a disaster cast themselves in the position of emergency pilots. “I can land the plane,” promised Rod Rosenstein. “I’m landing the plane right now,” testified William Barr.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/michael-antons-flight-93-election-trump-coup.html?utm_source=tw

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Selection #2 – Author and retired New York Times lead book reviewer Michiko Kakutani interviews former president Barack Obama on the occasion of the publication of the first volume of his presidential memoirs, “A Promised Land” …

“Mr. Obama speaks slowly and thoughtfully but with the conversational ease that distinguishes his books, moving freely between the personal and the political, the anecdotal and the philosophical. Whether he’s talking about literature, recent political events or policies implemented by his administration, his observations, like his prose, are animated by an ability to connect social, cultural and historical dots, and a gift — honed during his years as a community organizer and professor of constitutional law — for lending complex ideas immediacy and context.”

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THE WEEKS AHEAD ~ Looking for progress on the coronavirus vaccine rollout and the ongoing Biden presidential transition, and hoping for an end at long last to the democracy-undermining tactics of Trump and his enablers seeking to overturn the results of the November election.

Happy Holidays! Wishing you all in the year ahead good health and growing harmony, in your personal lives and in the world at large. 

Take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom 

REMINDER ~ Current Comment will return with issue #14 on January 2nd, 2021. Until then, you can keep up with the articles I’m reading by following me at https://twitter.com/LiberalBuddhist.

Current Comment #12

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 12 ……… December 5th, 2020

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ We held our collective breaths as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic increased in strength, and at the same time we collectively breathed a little easier as the Biden transition team continued to put forward competent nominees to lead the new administration while Trump’s baseless, and often fraudulent, lawsuits and other schemes to overturn the election met with one failure after another.

This week’s three selections explore from various perspectives the profound consequences for the country as a result of being led these past four years by an individual whose most identifiable trait is, and for his entire public life always has been, his complete lack of honesty.

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Selection #1 – New Yorker editor David Remnick considers the widespread and long-lasting damage caused by Donald Trump’s constant disregard for facts and by his continual embrace of falsehoods …

“Trump’s assault on the press and his assault on the truth––he made more than sixteen thousand false or misleading claims in his first three years in office, according to the Washington Post’s fact-checking operation––have taken their toll. Where once American Presidents gave at least rhetorical support to civil liberties, he has given comfort to foreign autocrats who routinely parrot his slogan of ‘fake news’ and lock up offending journalists. Perhaps Trump’s most disgraceful act in this regard was his refusal to speak a critical word against the Saudi leadership after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Post. The costs at home are no less ominous. It is now estimated that one American dies every minute from Covid-19. Every two or three days there is a 9/11-scale death count. How many of those people died because they chose to believe the President’s dismissive accounts of the disease rather than what public-health officials were telling the press? Half of Republican voters believe Trump’s charge that the 2020 election was ‘rigged.’ What will be the lasting effects on American democracy of that disinformation campaign?”

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Selection #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni offers a shout-out to Dr Anthony Fauci and other lesser-known heroes of “the deep state”, who, by consistently and courageously speaking the truth in the face of Trump’s lies, often at grave personal danger to themselves and to their families, have made such a huge contribution to our democracy …

“’Deep state’ isn’t the right term — its overtone is too clandestine, its undertone too nefarious — but let’s go with it, co-opt it, [and] define it ourselves, not as a swampy society of self-preserving bureaucrats in Washington but as a steadfast, tradition-minded legion of public officials and civil servants all over the country, in every branch of government. These officials and servants are distinguished by a professionalism that survives and edges out their partisan bearings, by an understanding that the codes of conduct and rules of engagement become more important, not less, when passions run hot. They’re incorrigible that way. Invaluable, too.”

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Selection #3 – New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg examines the toll Trump’s world of “alternate facts” is taking upon many of those Republicans who have supported and enabled him throughout these past four years …

“Since Trump’s defeat, the MAGA revolution has begun devouring its own. As it does, some conservatives are discovering the downsides of having a president who spreads malicious conspiracy theories, subverts faith in democracy and turns the denial of reality into a loyalty test. Historically the American left, more than the right, was known for circular firing squads and excommunications. By turning the Republican Party into a cult of personality, Trump changed that. As the archconservative Jeff Sessions learned years ago, even a lifetime of ideological service is no defense when you’ve displeased Dear Leader. People and institutions that get involved with Trump often end up diminished or disgraced. Since the election, this is happening faster than ever. The president is reportedly thinking of firing Attorney General Bill Barr because, for all Barr’s obsequious toadying, he has declined to repeat Trump’s fantasies about widespread electoral cheating. Much of the MAGA-verse has turned on Fox News, because its news programs aren’t pretending that Trump won.”

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THE WEEK AHEAD ~ More worries about the spread of the coronavirus, and more relief as we move one week closer to the inauguration of Joe Biden.

As always, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom 

https://twitter.com/LiberalBuddhist

Current Comment #5

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and commentary.

Vol 1, No 5 ……… October 17th, 2020

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OPENING NOTE – Beginning with this edition, Current Comment commences with its new once-a-week schedule, and will be posted on The Liberal Buddhist blog by mid-afternoon every Saturday. 

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ITEM #1 – New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll shows how the one and only consistently reliable characteristic of Trump’s chaotic presidency has been his complete and utter incompetence …

“It is painful to reflect today on the tens of thousands of lives that might have been saved if a less reality-challenged President occupied the White House. Trump has been consistently unreliable across the eight-month arc of our national crisis. Last week, as he recuperated from his own bout of Covid-19, he unleashed a fresh torrent of tweets and videos. These offered transparent nonsense (‘Maybe I’m immune’) and also dangerous lies, such as the claim that for most people the coronavirus is ‘far less lethal!!!’ than the seasonal flu. (Scientists report that the coronavirus is about six times more deadly than the typical flu virus.) It remains unclear just how the outbreak began and spread, but such an occurrence was perhaps inevitable, given the Administration’s refusal to require masks and physical distancing in the White House and at public events. Eventually, journalists and biographers will sort out exactly what the President knew about his own possible contagiousness before October 2nd, the day he announced that he had tested positive—and how he handled any risk that he might infect others. On October 4th, during his hospitalization at Walter Reed, when he was almost certainly contagious, he staged a photo op in which he was driven around in an S.U.V. and waved to onlookers. At least two Secret Service agents were required to join him in the sealed, armored vehicle, putting them at risk of exposure. It was an inane campaign stunt, and a study in selfishness. The essence of Trump’s failure during the pandemic does not lie with his Administration’s crisis management, botched as that has been; it is the result of his character.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof argues convincingly that what matters most about any Supreme Court justice nominee is not whether they’re liberal or conservative, but whether they are looking to bring us forward or take us backward …

“[Amy Coney] Barrett is not a horrible person; on the contrary, she seems to be a smart lawyer with an admirable personal story. Yet she’s working with a gang of Republican senators to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. This grand larceny may well succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underscore the larger battle over the direction of the country. Voters can’t weigh in on the Barrett nomination, but they can correct this country’s course. Here’s the fundamental question: Will voters reward the party that is working to provide more health care, or the party that has painstakingly robbed one million children of insurance? Will voters help tug the United States forward, or will they support the backward thinkers who have been on the side of discrimination, racism, bigotry and voter suppression? At the polls, which side of history will you stand on?”

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ITEM #3 – The Editorial Board of the New York Times makes an overwhelming case for the unfitness of Donald Trump to be the president of the United States …

“Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II. Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.”

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CLOSING NOTES – A quick reminder that, as a follower of The Liberal Buddhist blog, you’ll receive not only each weekly edition of Current Comment, but also periodic posts featuring original political, literary, and cultural commentary.

And, if you have a Twitter account, you can get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next edition of Current Comment by following @LiberalBuddhist.

Have a great week, everyone! Take care of yourselves, and stay well … Tom

Current Comment #4

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering

October 10th ~ October 13th, 2020

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OPENING NOTE – Beginning with the next edition, Current Comment transitions from its present twice-weekly format to a once-a-week schedule, and this new weekly edition will be posted on The Liberal Buddhist blog every Saturday.

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ITEM #1 – If the vast majority of Trump’s supporters had any inkling of the personal disdain their “hero” feels towards them, I wonder what they’d say … and even more so, I wonder how they’d have voted in the last election. It’s one of the most painful ironies in our recent history that this most plutocratic of individuals was able to convincingly masquerade as a populist, and to win the White House by his deceitful impersonation. Is it too much to hope that, like the Wizard of Oz’s famous comeuppance in that classic film’s denouement, the curtains are at last (and just in time for the upcoming election) being pulled back to reveal the hollow man standing behind them frantically tugging at the fake levers? …

“It’s hard not to wonder how he really feels about his supporters, especially when the coronavirus-positive president began walking mask-less around the White House. He has been, to say the least, careless about placing his most devoted people at risk. These include his own top White House and campaign aides, residence staff members, Secret Service agents, Republican senators and campaign advisers, and possibly donors at a fund-raising luncheon in New Jersey and rallygoers in Minnesota (depending on when he first thought he might be contagious).”

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ITEM #2 – New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait points out the inherent flaws in the idea that Trump is too incompetent to become a full-fledged autocrat …

“The main underlying flaw is one common to many conservative elites who disdain Trump’s personality but dismiss him as a serious threat. They are incapable of seeing his authoritarianism as anything but an idiosyncratic personal project. They define his undemocratic maneuvers as actions he is taking on his own, without the cooperation of Republicans. And since it’s essentially impossible for a single person (even a president) to undermine democracy without the assistance of a party, nothing Trump does without the party can be a serious threat by definition. It’s a circular argument: Trump is not an authoritarian menace, these conservatives believe, because they only define his authoritarianism as actions other Republicans refuse to support. This is a logical assumption for people who might worry about Trump’s behavior but implicitly trust the Republican Party to safeguard democratic norms. But if you aren’t encumbered by naïve faith in the good intentions of Mitch McConnell and the Republican judiciary, and you expand the analysis to include anti-democratic actions that have their blessing, then the picture is much more disturbing.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/trump-authoritarian-dictator-incompetence-douthat-coup-election.html?utm_source=tw

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CLOSING NOTES – If you’d like to get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next edition of Current Comment, you can follow @LiberalBuddhist on Twitter.

And, as a follower of The Liberal Buddhist blog, you’ll receive not only all regular weekly posts of Current Comment, but also periodic posts featuring original political, literary, and cultural commentary – all viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal philosophy.

The next edition of Current Comment is scheduled for Saturday, 10/17/20. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #1

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering. This edition covers the period from September 29th through October 2nd, 2020.

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ITEM #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman explains in no uncertain terms why we should all be extremely alarmed at the prospect of another four years of Trump …

“I can’t say this any more clearly: Our democracy is in terrible danger — more danger than it has been since the Civil War, more danger than after Pearl Harbor, more danger than during the Cuban missile crisis and more danger than during Watergate. The Republicans have fallen in line lock step behind a man who is the most dishonest, dangerous, mean-spirited, divisive and corrupt person to ever occupy the Oval Office. And they know it. Four more years of Trump’s divide and rule will destroy our institutions and rip the country apart.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni points out some useful lessons we can draw from Trump’s having tested positive for the coronavirus …

“The most obvious [lesson] is that the coronavirus has not gone away and there is no guarantee, contrary to the president’s sunny prophecies, that it’s going away anytime soon, certainly not if we’re cavalier about it. Which brings up another moral, also obvious but apparently necessary to articulate: There is a real risk in being cavalier. The president is now the embodiment of that. It is time, at long last, to learn. To be smarter. To be safer. To be more responsible, to others as well as to ourselves. The way to treat President Trump’s diagnosis is as a turning point and a new start. This is when we woke up.”

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ITEM #3 – New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait examines Trump’s responsibility for his own positive diagnosis, as well as for the more than seven million cases in the country so far …

“As coronavirus victims go, Donald Trump is as far from innocent as you can get. [He] is deeply culpable not only for the national response to the pandemic but his own condition. Trump’s heedlessness of contagion was a predominant theme of his campaign. The president denied the seriousness of the pandemic from the outset. His campaign was a visual affirmation of his claim that the virus would disappear, that hardly anybody is affected, that the “lockdowns” are a plot by Democrats to sabotage his reelection.  The truth is that Trump’s positive diagnosis is more evidence of his own incompetence and unfitness for office. The pandemic he did almost nothing to contain has finally come home.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/10/trump-coronavirus-positive-test-rallies-biden-masks-circles-social-distancing.html?utm_source=tw

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Closing comment – If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive Current Comment postings on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition. And, of course, you can still expect to receive the occasional blogpost of my own thoughts on both domestic and global issues of concern viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal political philosophy.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment as well as original posts, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

See you again in a few days with the next edition of Current Comment. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …