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Saturday, December 24, 2016

A PRESENT FROM the PAST

PLEASE NOTE:  I just found a draft posting from five years ago that was never published for readers to view.  I regret that error and that omission.  It is almost Christmas 2016.  This is most certainly a season of new birth, of joy, of caring, of inner peace and of hope.  In this particular year, on the political scene, it is seemingly also a season of nervous anticipation, actual fear, disgust, hypocrisy, division, anger, lies and bigotry, to say nothing about belligerence, intolerance, hatred and racism.  We are caught in a dilemma of our own choosing and of our own making.  One side of that dilemma expresses the virtues of love, family, faith, goodness, kindness peace and hope.  As with many of the events of Jesus’ life (birth, death, resurrection, ascension), there is great meaning within the events themselves, and a certain spiritual power or grace that emanates from that event into the celebration of it.  That's why we wish each other a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays."



But, we cannot ignore the other side of our dilemma – also something of our own making and of our own choosing. We have allowed the creation of something frighteningly unfamiliar: the inside out, upside-down, value-threatening world of the President-elect of our country and of those leaders who will follow and support him. Donald Trump has, for many people, come to symbolize that inside-out Christmas, represented by the Grinch, (or perhaps -- Beelzebub).


So, in the midst of this dilemma, I am re-presenting this posting as a quick look at one of our most important Judeo-Christian values or beliefs that is being turned inside out - a PRESENT from the PAST! Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!


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One of the major themes of the Bible is clearly the treatment of the poor and oppressed.  In fact, if someone wanted to be a one-issue candidate or voter, the Bible would lend itself to supporting that particular value as the one for which it speaks in no uncertain terms.  Perhaps as far back as the thirteenth century B.C., the Hebrew Law institutionalized assistance to the poor:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” 

Seems somewhat trivial in our high-powered capitalistic world, doesn’t it?  Leave something for the poor and alien from your harvest; but, it not only set a precedent in Israel, but carried over into other countries and cultures as well.  
England, for example, for a long time, allowed the poor to glean wood from forests owned by the rich and to have a “commons” where they could allow their animals to graze because it was held “in common” by all the tenants of the lord of a manor, and by villagers who settled nearby.  It was a rule followed right into the 17th and 18th centuries, until the rich began to push for “enclosure” of their lands so that their holdings could be protected and held inviolable.  Many of the poor were adversely affected by such a reversal of the custom of providing “gleanings” from the forests and the commons.

This message about helping the poor continues throughout the Old Testament, and is found not only in the Torah, but in the Psalms and Proverbs (songs and sayings), and in the Prophets.   It is found again in the New Testament as Jesus and some of his writer-followers reiterated the admonitions and content of the Old Testament.  Moreover, Jesus during his ministry, came back to his hometown of Nazareth and proclaimed something quite remarkable:  that he would be the fulfillment of God’s concern for the poor and downtrodden. 


“ He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read (from Hebrew scripture, of course)….’ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord…’ Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)


Then, Jesus went a step further to make clear that God, and his own ministry, is on the side of the poor and downtrodden, by defining salvation as depending on how individuals and nations treat the poorest and most afflicted in the rather alarming parable or allegory of the Sheep and the Goats.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you?’
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’.”

Of course, we all know what happened to the goats who didn’t see God in their brothers, and who didn’t offer their help; they went away into eternal punishment, while the righteous gained eternal life.

  
This was a startling message for Jesus’ day, for the prevailing belief was that wealth and position were signs of God’s favor, and poverty was God’s punishment for sin.  Jesus rejected that idea most clearly in the parable or allegory of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  The rich man ended up in hell because of his lack of compassion toward the beggar Lazarus (obviously, his wealth was not a sign of God’s favor), and Lazarus ended up in heaven (his great poverty was obviously not a sign of sinfulness or his own folly). 

Is it possible that there is a strong undercurrent of such attitudes existing today that allows our corporations and our government to justify economic and social policies that favor the rich and prosperous while undermining and zeroing- out programs that help the poor? Certainly the attitude that the poor, and even the handicapped, have done something to deserve their condition is much too prevalent.
In both the Old and New Testaments, helping the less fortunate is a message without caveats; it is simply something that must be done: a duty, an obligation, a way of life. And the overwhelming message in all these sources is that God wants it this way! Rather than quote hundreds of passages to prove a point, let us simply take a few samples to remind ourselves of the content of these messages:


1) It is incumbent on all to help the poor and oppressed:

“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him.” (Leviticus 19:13).

“If there is a poor man among you…in any of the towns of the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to the poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” (Deut. 15:7)

“When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in…the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.” (Deut. 26:12)


“Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)


2)  The Lord God is on the side of the poor and He protects and defends them; He identifies with them.  In fact, God is called by many names throughout the scriptures and many of those names emphasize His great love for the poor:




“Defender of the fatherless and widows” (Deut. 10:18; Psalm 10:16-18; Jeremiah 22:16)
“Protector of the poor” (Psalm 12:5)
“Rescuer of the poor” (I Sam. 2:8; Psalm 35:10; Isaiah 19:20; Jeremiah. 20:13)
“Provider of the poor” (Psalm 68:10; Isaiah 41:17)
“Savior of the poor” (Psalm 34:6; 109:31)
“Refuge of the poor” (Psalm 14:6; Isaiah 25:4)



3) Those in positions of authority - Kings, Judges, representatives; and those who are rich -- are all responsible for the care and protection of the poor:

[A Commandment to kings] “Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Prov. 31:8ff).

“Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights"(Isa. 10:1-3)

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who are hungry. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52ff)

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew t6:24-25)
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth… but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1Timothy 6:17,18)

4)  Care for the poor brings rewards; oppression and indifference bring other outcomes:

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor.” (Proverbs 14:21)



“He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.” (Proverbs 28:27)


“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14)


“But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1John 3:17)


What might we conclude from all this?  Too many ultra-Conservatives have already concluded that the scriptures simply call us to recognize that the poor will always be with us and that the best way to approach poverty is to have faith communities handle their needs, but not to burden government with this task.  Many of them have also concluded that the poor and indigent, the immigrant and alien, those who receive welfare payments from government are lazy, illegal, undeserving, and are defrauding the government. 


However, the Book that has given us so many tenets related to human rights and dignity, to liberty and equality, and even to democracy, is unequivocal in its admonition that the poor and oppressed, even the stranger and alien, must be cared for; that officers of government and the rich have a solemn obligation to seek justice and to stand on the side of the downtrodden.  The Bible actually equates helping the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the oppressed with aiding God.  That is, the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable in our societies are directly bound-up in our relationship with God.

While I do not contend that the Bible is to taken literally, or for that matter, as an Absolute of some kind, I do take it as a very important source of the Judeo-Christian ethic and thus for democratic ideals and institutions.
 
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It is perhaps not too harsh, then, to conclude from that source, that American society is headed in the wrong direction as it turns over its administration to the rich and powerful; as it diverts the taxes of the middle and working classes to further enrich the already prosperous; as it tolerates the efforts of lobbyists and lawyers to gain clear advantages for the rich and powerful in our laws and regulations, without regard to the consequences for the less fortunate; as legislators cut needed programs that assist the less fortunate under the guise of reduction of government debt.


We would not be amiss to conclude also from that source that government is not exempt from providing for the poor, the downtrodden, and the less fortunate; that government, and churches, synagogues and mosques, as well as individuals, all have an equal obligation to stand with the poor and to give absolute assurance of opportunity, safety, security, protection and justice to all in need. To do less is to deny our God, our patriotism, our sacred honor and our obligation as citizens of this great Democracy.










Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A 'NEW (AB)NORMAL' Takes Hold

I really have to laugh at the ‘surprise’ exhibited by certain people, mainly newscasters, whenever Donald Trump announces something, tweets something, appoints someone or when he goes to partake of dinner with Mitt Romney at a New York restaurant.  It’s both laughable and tragic – whatever Mr. Trump does. 

So folks – let’s stop being so surprised and awe-struck whenever the Donald does or says something unexpected, contradictory, inflammatory, or unwise.  It’s too late now to be surprised, or caught off-guard.  This is scheduled to be the new (ab)normal for the next four years, and we will all have to learn to live with it, or make plans to move to Canada. (Maybe enough of those Trump Electors – we need 37 of them -- will switch their votes to Clinton on December 19th, but that’s extremely doubtful).

BUT –– don’t say you weren’t warned. On this Blog alone, since the Donald announced his candidacy, there have been 26 posts about how wrong Trump will be for this country.  At least a half-dozen of those dealt with his tendency to be authoritarian and even fascist-like in his approach to policy, legislation, established law and even to accepted procedure.  Here are some of the things I have said previously about Trump that one might want to consider again in relation to the new (ab)normal:

  • “Avoidance of tough questions is nothing new to politics, or to politicians.  It happens all the time; and often it happens because the candidate knows he is in deep trouble with donors, with voters or with the media, and sometimes with his party colleagues.  Trump avoided several questions of what he would actually do to solve certain problems and instead emphasized his wealth and what that means in terms of governing.” (8/9/2015)
  • “What we heard...from the Republican presidential candidates only serves to prove my point:  this is not just about winning an election.  This is about the use of POWER.  Republicans want that power in the hands of a few elite persons, states and industrial entities.  Progressives want that power in the hands of servants of the people and of the People themselves. It is a fundamental difference in the social-political-economic philosophy and activism of the Right and the Left; of Republican and Democrat; of those who serve to crave and to profit themselves, and those who crave to serve and profit the People.” (9/21/2015)
  • “It cannot be under-stated that one of the most attractive pieces of Fascist philosophy... was the myth that a strong man in charge will make all things right again, and contribute to the strength of the Aryan race at the same time. It is also important to recognize the place of intimidation and violence in the myth of the strong man. They also made sure that their strength showed in their competence, their timeliness and in results.  Need I mention the obvious – “the Donald.”   The words are those of a Social Darwinist; of someone who believes that might makes right or will win the day.  We are talking about authoritarianism – the principle of subjection to authority as opposed to a principle of individual freedom.  We’re talking about the actions of a potentially peremptory, dictatorial strong man...” (11/17/2015)
  • The promotion of unquestioning patriotism --or rather of misplaced patriotism -- is a force that is invasive and destructive.  In touting American “exceptionalism” no matter the realities of our national life, is to numb us to realities that are destructive of our ideals and of our true patriotism.  “Exceptionalism” is not so much found in being first in various fields of endeavor, or being strongest militarily, or being out front earning unmatched profits.  Greatness or exceptionalism is rather found in how much we can, as a people and a nation, give to others; on what we can share to enhance life upon our earth, and on what we can promote so that others can have the opportunities that we have.  The Republican Right wing is attempting to pull us in the opposite direction so that we value self-protection more than accepting refugees; so that we value profit more than quality or equality, strength more than empathy, and self-aggrandizement rather than charity.  We must not allow Right-wing fanatics to rob us of our heritage, and to use a growing moral numbness as a tool of destruction of our democracy.” (11/30/2015)  
  • “... a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was writing his dissertation, sampled 1,800 voters from across the entire political spectrum and ran a “statistical analysis” of the poll answers. He found that it didn’t really matter what age, race, religion, etc. the voter was, they tended to support Donald Trump if they agreed with authoritarian values.  Authoritarian leanings are defined by Dictionary.com as --“A personality pattern reflecting a desire for security, order, power, and status, with a desire for structured lines of authority, a conventional set of values or outlook, a demand for unquestioning obedience, and a tendency to be hostile toward or use as scapegoats individuals of minority or nontraditional groups.”  Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions—from the Republican Party to the press—that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.  “It is time for those who would appeal to our better angels to take his insurgency seriously and stop dismissing his supporters as a small band of the dispossessed. Trump support is firmly rooted in American authoritarianism and, once awakened, it is a force to be reckoned with.” (1/22/2016)
  • “It doesn't much matter what consequences may get strewn in the path on the way to victory, for winning is the ultimate goal and the ultimate pay-off.  Trump is not in this campaign to win friends; he is only in it to win and to draw a huge number of unsuspecting ordinary people... and enough of the powerful and influential into his circle of admiring worshippers.  This campaign is all about Donald Trump, the Trump name and the Trump Enterprises.  It is not about governing or serving or acting on behalf of the People.  All the talk from this man is about him, his art of the deal, and the billions that will accrue to him (beyond his present wealth) as he builds a Trump empire bigger than ever expected. 
    Those who believe that Donald Trump is speaking their language, speaking for them in terms of their needs and wants, or is going to care one wit about whether this country wins, have missed the point.  Donald Trump is using the People, and will use the entire mechanism of both the government and the economic system, to make them all work for him.  This man is not a philanthropist; he is not a servant of the people; he is not someone who cares deeply about people's problems or hopes; he is a competitor, a bully, an authoritarian, an entertainer, a deal-maker.  But don't be bamboozled friends.  He is not in this campaign for any of the reasons usually given -- making our country a place of hope, building on our principles of equal justice, individual freedoms and equal opportunity.  He is not seeking to protect or enhance the lives of vulnerable people, or to use government as the defender of our God-given rights.  He is out to win big for himself, and will do that in whatever ways he needs or desires or wants.” (3/22/2016)
  • “With a radical Republican President Trump, an ultra-right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, and a Congress controlled or obstructed by Tea Party ideologues, YOU ARE ABOUT TO WISH YOU HAD NEVER HEARD OF DONALD TRUMP.  Just as Ronald Reagan betrayed his union followers when he fired striking Air Traffic Controllers, Trump followers are about to be betrayed beyond their wildest fears.  THEY ARE ABOUT TO BE EATEN ALIVE by the forces of destruction, division, diminution, denigration, deregulation, distrust, demonizing and demoralization.
“I tend, therefore, to pity those followers who believe that Donald Trump, once in office, will carry out every promise he has made to help particular groups of people.  Why do I say that?  Because he has constantly demonstrated in his life and in his work that his personal status, profit, power, prestige and winning are all that matter.  Equality and Justice, charitableness and service to others are not important to him unless they can be used as tools to CON others into following his lead.  Therefore, I end with a personal message to Trump supporters: YOU WILL LIVE TO REGRET YOUR SUPPORT OF TRUMP because his support ultimately means your downfall, and the probable deterioration of our economy, our daily existence, our democratic values and your livelihood.”  (9/23/2016)

It is extremely provocative (and not surprising!) that the Trump Transition Team is now embarked on a tactic that is straight from the Fascist playbook.  It involves the diminishing (and possible destruction) of a career civil service component within the top echelons of government bureaucracy.  Something one must understand about our Executive branch of government: some civil servants work in the government for a good number of years, and in many ways, the stability they provide is very helpful.  On the other hand, depending on the circumstances as to what particular Party controls the White House, those same civil servants, with years of experience and some accrued authority, especially in the top echelons of departments and offices, can set up resistance to changes that do not make sense to their minds and in relation to their principles and experience.  In other words, the Trump people already see these civil servants as a problem in some areas and are beginning to assert their own power of appointment, perhaps seeing opportunities to assert their own purposes, mission and authority.

At any rate, the story from the Washington Post is that Trump Transition people are calling for the names of EPA staff and the dates they met with others about environmental issues.  More precisely, Trump’s people are looking for the identities of those staff who were pushing the Obama environmental agenda.  Here’s some of what the article explains:
“The Trump transition team has issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials there to identify which department employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.

The questionnaire requests a list of those individuals who have taken part in international climate talks over the past five years and “which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The questionnaire also appeared to take aim at the national laboratories, which operate with a high degree of independence but are part of the Energy Department. The questionnaire asked for a list of the top 20 salaried employees of the labs, the labs’ peer-reviewed publications over the past three years, a list of their professional society memberships, affiliations, and the websites they maintain or contribute to ‘during work hours.’ Researchers at national labs focus on a range of issues, including renewable-energy development and climate analysis.”

The questionnaire, which one Energy Department official described as unusually “intrusive” and a matter for departmental lawyers, has raised concern that the Trump transition team was trying to figure out how to target the people, including civil servants, who have helped implement policies under Obama.”

In addition to all I have said leading up to this point, let it be clear that this tactic is not that of a usual gentle purging of left-over appointees from a previous administration.  This appears to be more of an attack upon certain civil servants who acted to implement the environmental agenda of the Obama administration. 

Similarly, using the Civil Service Law of April 1933, Nazi Party authorities began eliminating Jews from governmental agencies, and state positions in the economy, law, and cultural life. Although not a direct corollary to the Nazi agenda in the early 1930’s, this move by the Trump Team has the unusual flavor of individual targeting of certain people for removal from the government.  This is not a good sign. 

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), a physicist, warned that the questionnaire “threatens to undo decades of progress we have made on climate change,” and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said punishing civil servants for their work under previous administrations “would be tantamount to an illegal modern-day political witch hunt and would have a profoundly chilling impact on our dedicated federal workforce.”

Finally, we should no longer be astonished or surprised by the appointments being made by Donald Trump.  In case it has not become entirely evident at this point, the appointments so far do not appear to this writer to be made on the basis of loyalty or ‘cleaning the swamp’ or bringing in outsiders.  The one common pattern or thread appears to me to be the anti-Obama, anti-central government, and anti-liberal programs and policies inherent in those nominations.  We are talking about destruction here, not about construction. 

 “A strikingly similar situation occurred in Reagan’s first term when Anne Gorsuch was appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency amid a major push for regulatory rollback. But after Gorsuch resigned amid controversy in 1983, Congress opened investigations into supposed “hit lists” at the agency used to track the views of members of scientific advisory boards, according to contemporary news reports.” (NY Times)

So far, in my mind, the present situation contains an even worse scenario.  We have a leader who believes he has a mandate to destroy much of what has been built in the past to benefit the People.  “While there have been many instances of political appointees and career scientists clashing in various administrations, what is novel is the request for the names of so many individual scientists, and the fact that it comes during the transition period, before the Trump administration has even taken power. This may be a signal of even more intense politicization after the inauguration.”

Trump has so far appointed some department heads who will take their mandates very seriously, and whose credentials, experience and policy positions can only lead to politicization, certain deregulation and probable dismemberment of their agencies.  The current example speaks to that contradictory scenario.

Scott Pruitt, EPA Director nominee --the attorney general of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, named to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  When the nomination was announced, the press release from the Transition team called Pruitt “an expert in Constitutional law” saying he “brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy.”
According to the NY Times, “Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead.  The Times suggested this move “signals an assault on President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy.” 

The press release quoted Trump as saying: “For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn.”  Trump added: Pruitt “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.” My administration “strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity.”

Pruitt himself was quoted as saying: “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

The words behind the quotes are clear and resounding.  There will be a detailed dismantling of regulations formulated during the Obama administration that put certain laws and policies into practice.  There will be what is known as a ‘reduction in force’ as certain key participants are identified for removal. 

There will be what may become, under the Trump administration, a widespread involvement of government agencies openly conducting their departments to create the most positive atmosphere possible for corporations and businesses, to the exclusion of other important functions. Protecting the environment, enhancing public education, ensuring that people’s rights, welfare and health are addressed, attending to national needs like rebuilding infrastructure, alternative fuels, and research into childhood diseases, plus public health reform will all be on the back burner. 


For that reason, we will next take a look at the nominations so far for cabinet positions and other leaders of the Trump administration because those appointments are illustrative of where this nation is headed under the Alt-Right.   





UPDATE:
President-elect Donald Trump's transition team on Wednesday disavowed a survey sent to the U.S. Department of Energy that requested the names of people working on climate change in the agency.
"The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said. "The person who sent it has been properly counseled." 


Notice please: no one said the survey was not sent -- it was and that's the problem!
...hours before the disavowal, Democratic U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Elijah Cummings sent a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the head of the transition, saying the team is entitled to select political appointees who share Trump's climate views, but that any effort to marginalize civil servants on the basis of their scientific analysis would be an "abuse of authority."
 
 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Democratic Party Reform? Part 2

'The Hill' website has a couple of quotes from Party operatives that tend to oppose my opinion that the Democratic Party needs fundamental change:

"The lesson for Dems from 2016 is NOT to change our message, it's to deliver and defend it with more conviction and fearlessness.” 
 “Others argue that the party needs to think about how to frame its message. Greater sharpness in this regard, they say, could matter more than shifting that message to the left or the center.”
And right there is the problem, in two respects – messages separated from deeds are not helpful.  And,  more framed messages from Washington are not what we need. Oh, by the Way, just what is that “message” – does anyone know?
So, with your indulgence, allow me to present some thoughts that are perhaps not often heard, essentially stressing a “back to the basics approach with new twists added. (please excuse the underlining; it is tracking format that can't be removed - sorry for the inconvenience).

1) The Democratic Party has got to return to the concept that politics begin at the local level.    Top-down messaging is not being heard nor heeded; nor is it always useful.  The Democratic Party lost something when it lost the ward boss and the back-room guys who knew who voters were and what they needed; who got messages out themselves and who got the votes out when needed.  Eschewing the corruption, bad methods and tactics of that model, we must organize at the local level like never before, around new concepts.
            a) Coalitions the official local Democratic Committees could be the focus of coalition-building centered around voter issues rather than being mainly elected committees touting the Party line, often out-of-touch with a majority of the local residents, and often unheard on local issues.  There are many unofficial entities out there in local communities looking to offer hope and change and progressive ideas for implementation.  There are even some unacknowledged and undiscovered people who should be running for office. 
Let’s start using the local Democratic Committees as innovators rather than as flunkies of the State Democratic Committees and the national DNC.  It is past time for the Democratic Committees to spearhead a return to the basic principle of being in touch with constituents in person-to-person relationships that can be achieved if enough people are recruited as part of a core group of activists brought together in common cause.  On-going phone banks, canvassing, talk shows, newsletters, forums, discussion groups, demonstrations on issues, etc. must be used continuously to educate, activate and inform our members and the general public on issues and accomplishments.
            b) Leadership new local Democratic Coalitions must begin to operate on a new concept of leadership – leadership that is shared and leadership that is dependent on the views, opinions and ideas of a Core group and its wider constituency.  In other words, we must grow Team leadership not from the top-down (that gives orders about metrics, strategies, and tactics).  Instead, we must involve and develop new leadership from the bottom-up and that means training local people to be leaders, organizers and facilitators in order to fully participate in sharing leadership functions.  There are many ways to share leadership, and some professional guidance and consultation is needed on this.  But one thing is clear, the present structure of most local Democratic Committees is not built around this concept.  Let me flesh this out a bit:
Shared leadership involves training people for carrying out leadership functions such as offering encouragement to others, giving positive feedback when someone offers an opinion or strategy or comment; building on concepts offered by others; developing an ability to summarize where the group stands in its progress at any single moment.  A core group such as I am suggesting must be trained in these group concepts.  But shared leadership goes beyond group dynamics.  It recognizes that every person within a group or organization can make a meaningful contribution to the cause.  It also recognizes that there does not have to be just one leader and a bunch of subordinates. 
Leadership functions at another level can also be shared.  For instance, one person good at organizing, writing and conducting meetings might act as lead facilitator to carry out those functions.  Another person good at person-to-person contact, taking minutes and training others on issues might undertake that role.   A third person, adept at computers, collecting and distributing data, training others to input data, using social media and organizing communications with media might carry out those roles.  These three leaders together might serve as associate leaders, and might comprise a leadership task force to plan, debate and make suggestions to the wider Core group while always soliciting the input of the broader membership group. 
This may sound like the way organizations are currently divided into officers and committees, but the difference is in the attitude toward the role of leadership.  It is not confined to elected or appointed leaders.  Leadership is seen to emerge in all participants in some way, and leadership is not confined to strict guidelines or job descriptions or someone else’s idea of what leadership constitutes.  In fact, the shared concept is strong enough to encourage members to act in a leadership role on their own -- such as emailing a notice to all members that follows and enhances the Team’s mission and functioning.  Checking with others is only necessary if the sender feels it to be necessary. 
And therein lies the greatest difference and the greatest asset of the shared leadership concept:  a shared attitude toward Team functioning and taking leadership responsibility that dignifies and enhances everyone’s role, everyone’s opinion, and everyone’s abilities.
c) Input the Democratic Party has got to get back to the personal approach to issues and problem-solving and meeting constituent concerns.  There are ways to do this, but having Washington leaders and insiders spouting their own views to their constituents is not an effective method.  Remember, Donald Trump just won an election no one thought he could win by simply making people feel that he was their voice, and that his tweets were personal messages directed to them.  We can do even better than that. 
We Democrats have got to go where the people are and gather their input.   
I submit to you that we aren’t listening enough, and we aren’t present enough.  Hillary started off her primary campaign talking with and listening to small groups around tables. That was effective, but it faded.  It always fades, simply because we have not recognized nor given enough attention to the importance of listening, collecting, processing and putting voter input into workable plans and policies. We have been overly subjected to Politicians telling us what the issues are, what the problems are, who needs to be investigated, what we must do to make government work or not work (and a whole lot of other directives and instructions). 
2)  The Democratic Party has got to establish on-going listening posts and opportunities for on-going voter involvement and advisory input
The Democratic Party is failing miserably in the art of listening and in seeking input on issues, problems and concerns of ordinary people.  I have written on this topic before (7/11/2016; 9/5/2015; 11/16 & 28/2014; 7/21/2014) and am not going to go into finite detail here.  What I am saying here is that Democratic politicians (and the DNC and DCCC) have got to find ways to give many people, groups and organizations numerous opportunities to speak their minds to Party officials, office-holders and candidates.  Speaking at rallies and events, attending meet and greet events, or participating in staged “debates” (see my 10/12/2016 Blog) are all designed to sell a product – the candidate.  In contrast, here are a few suggestions for establishing on-going listening posts in various communities to solicit all-important voter input:
  • utilize the local Democratic Coalition groups described above to gather representative voters from the area (town, village, city, county) to discuss certain issues from among issues suggested by that same group.  Make sure all relevant input is recorded and perhaps summarized on a screen by meeting’s end; send minutes to participants and to members of the district.  Include a plan for what will be done about each suggestion.  Set another meeting.
  • establish one or more advisory groups that are representative of one’s constituency in various areas of a district, city or county.  Make sure that these advisory groups have regular meetings (office-holders should attend at least 2-3 times a year) and report discussions and recommendations to the office-holder.  Office-holder should respond within 30 days at most.  Use these groups to help evaluate one’s performance and to establish goals for each year of each term (NOTE: membership and function may overlap with Democratic Coalitions)
  • sponsor legislation to involve ordinary, non-office-holding citizens in all levels of government (see my Blog of 7/21/2014).
  • prepare a local, State and National Party Plan and a Budget that grows out of these grass-roots issues, problems and needs expressed by constituents.  Use those Plans as a Platform and offer a Pledge to the voters that the Democratic Party will act to prove it is the Party by, of and for The People. Think Big & Bold; take Bold steps to offer real Hope and real Change as part of a New Deal, based on voter input.
  • Big & Bold Example: purchase a TV station or network so that these grass-roots concerns can be presented forcefully.  Feature Democrats as guests, along with grass-roots activists and average voters who can speak for and to a broad audience.  Feature real people, real issues and real debates and discussions.  Above all, do not make it pure entertainment, but make sure it is entertaining and interesting.  Use it to voice a national Democratic populist agenda and to counter FOX News.  By the way,  this is the kind of proposal that, given the existence of advisory groups, would be checked and debated by them for their input.   
The Democratic Party must re-organize itself from top to bottom to accommodate and to enhance this way of doing business from the bottom up, not from the top down.  Campaigns must also change to accommodate the input and impact these advisory groups will have. I offer these suggestions from the viewpoint of one who has been involved with putting these concepts into practice for more than 50 years as the head of at least 25 different organizations and programs, and the committed participant in several additional local, state, interstate and national organizations and groups.
I do not take lightly my criticism of the DNC and the Democratic Party.  I do not disagree with most of the issues that our Party activates and promotes.  I just disagree with the current way we strategize and with the mechanisms we use to communicate and to gather information. We must do better, and I believe the concepts offered here point in that better direction.  I use “point” advisedly because there is much more involved in these concepts than time allows here for elucidation.
In conclusion, I again offer this statement that I posted recently:
 It is a fatal flaw to believe that politicians are the government or that our participation is optional.  We are the government and politicians (and their appointees) represent us only with our consent. 
We must not let that power and responsibility be appropriated by forces that want to destroy our fundamental democratic principles, or by Party officials who can’t see beyond their titles, their desks and their cell phones.