Trumpster University Learning Lab 2

Trumpster University Learning Lab 2

In Trumpster University Learning Lab 1, ten days ago, we found that no amount of disqualifications could be amassed sufficient to dissuade followers from voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Today’s report on Trumpster University Lab 2 builds upon the first. It convened a select group of Trump voters dedicated to critical thinking and self-directed learning. As explained in the last blog, self-directed learning is a sound philosophy and method to employ in approaching matters of personal change and growth through learning. The adult citizen directs and conducts his own learning as a facilitator presents “situations” to reflect upon and address.

While people may not think of themselves in this way, every person has multiple selves, at least two, usually three, sometimes a virtual choir, all in the one person that bears his name. You’ll find these selves distinct enough in the silent talks you have with yourself (there are three selves engaged: the one that speaks, the one that hears, and the one that reacts and responds.) “I” act, “I” observe, “I” evaluate, “I” judge, “I” decide, “I” change. There are abundant selves interacting in the stages of any one thoughtful act. They provide enough self-reflection for the light to come in and change a mind. That’s all that’s needed: thinking, openness, honesty, light, insight, and the courage to change one’s mind.

It cannot be said that Trumpster University Lab 2 was a great success, such was the contention and contumely unleashed among the impassioned participants. Nevertheless, random results of some interest were produced, and they are reported here for the education and edification of the public. Questions for further study follow each summary for the self-directed learner.

Activity 1. – Trump Character Profile
It seemed likely that a ‘conversion’ or ‘compacting’ of Trump’s multifarious disqualifications for office into a personal characterization of the candidate could sharpen the issue and focus the voter’s decision making. Therefore, the following instructions were issued:

“Review the disqualifications for office of Donald J. Trump cited on Will’s list of 69 and on Keith Olbermann’s list of 176; then summarize Donald Trump’s character by applying fitting appellations and adjectives.”

The responses, in alphabetical order, were:

abuser of women, alpha male, angry, anti-immigrant, anti-democratic, anti-Mexican, bad loser, bad winner, bully, con man, climate change denier, conspiracy theorist, counter-puncher, corporate wheeler-dealer, dictatorial, dominator, erratic, fast talker, fabricator, fear pervader, humorless, ignorant, insecure, intemperate, liar, loner, likely white supremacist, mean, midnight tweeter, misogynist, narcissist, nasty, nativist, non-reader, possible fascist, power grabber, pugilist, Putinist, racist, rumormonger, self-absorbed, sexist, statist, strongman, thin-skinned, xenophobe, unknowledgeable, unpredictable, vengeful, victim, and whiner.

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. It is difficult to believe that any person whose character actually fit this profile could attract votes for the office of President of the United States? Is there a mistake? Is the list accurate? Is something missing? What should be added or subtracted?
  2. Indeed, if the portrait is accurate, wouldn’t it be our patriotic duty as citizens to insure by our votes that Mr. Trump never became president? Shouldn’t that have been the paramount issue of the campaign?

Activity 2. – Individual Voter Profile.
If each Trump voter inspected the Trump profile, fashioned a comparable profile of himself, and placed the two in mirrored opposition, a strong intuition of likeness or difference should arise, and he’d know why he had chosen to vote for or against the candidate. Therefore, the following instructions were issued:

“Construct a character profile of yourself and compare it with the one constructed for Mr. Trump. Then ask, If I voted for the Donald Trump portrayed above, do these labels apply also to me?”

Most participants were unable to construct a personal character profile of themselves. No one who completed the work was willing to share his product. The discussion soon turned heated. No precise correspondence exists between Mr. Trump and themselves, his voters assert; few of his qualities, if any, apply to them and their votes. “He’s one type of person; I’m another,” said one person. It was unfair, they protested, to hold up Trump’s profile as a mirror for their self-reflection.

Some voters said they disliked Mr. Trump intensely, but voted for him anyway, because “Hillary was worse.” Others said: “Supreme Court appointments were critical;” “Obamacare must be overturned;” “Christian values must be upheld,” “Liberals deserve defeat;” “Respect abroad has to be reestablished;” etc. “You don’t have to like him to vote for him,”one person explained.

In particular, Trump voters want it understood that they are not racist, bigoted, stupid, or anti-democratic. Neglected and overlooked? Yes. But not racist, not deplorable. Liam intoned: “You’re kidding me! Of course you’re racist. Every American is racist!” Bad moment there.

There was one shared ‘aha’ of some importance. It dawned on everybody that their life was nothing like Donald Trump’s, and vice-versa, his life was nothing like theirs, or, for that matter, like anybody else they knew! He was a world-class businessman and global billionaire who lived in a tower and owned his own planes. The love of golf was one thing some professed to share with him.

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. The voters make a valid and important point. A candidate need not live as you or I do to earn our vote. Is perhaps the link between the celebrity candidate and the disparate voter one of shared concern for the same issues?
  2. On the other hand, mustn’t there be some degree of overlap in character profiles and attitudes between the candidate and his voters? Is agreement on issues enough of a bond?
  3. Wouldn’t a reasonable person surmise that considerable anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, misogynist, lock-em-up policing, white supremacist, and racist sentiments are common among Trump and his voters?
  4. Wouldn’t a reasonable person also surmise that a spirit of anger, fear, neglect, victimization, resentment, and retribution is shared by Trump and his enthusiasts?
  5. Is it credible that a celebrity who lives a life totally unlike and foreign to most Americans can realistically claim to be their representative, voice, and champion? Are his biographers wrong in reporting that Mr. Trump is self-absorbed and uninterested in the lives of others? Could it be that Mr. Trump has taken advantage of his voters sensitivities?

Activity 3. – Reasons for Voting for Trump.
Instruction to participants who voted for Mr. Trump:

“Explain in your own words why you voted for Donald Trump.”

The answers were: “Hillary’s worse” (4 times); “Time for change;” “Shake things up;” “Straight-shooter;” “No bull;” “Love to hear him tell off the politicians;” “Give hell to the Beltway guys;” “He’ll drain the swamp;“ “No political correctness;” “He’ll drive the bleeding heart liberals nuts;” “He understands what people like me are going through;” “Got to do something about ISIS and terrorism;” “He’ll rebuild our military;” “To do something for the rust belt;” “To get some respect back for the nation;” “Stop illegal immigrants;” “Do something about radical Islam;” “Help the rural areas;” “He’ll help the veterans;” “We need someone strong and tough;” “He will end Obamacare;” “He’ll stand up to China and get our jobs back;” “He will negotiate better trade deals;” “He’s not a politician;” “He’ll save us money;” ”you can’t buy him;” “He’s beholden to no one;” and “He says what he thinks.”

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. “Reasons,” as embedded in these answers, have several surprising characteristics. They are clipped, clever, vague, opaque, and exceedingly general. Most are catchphrases. They sound like slogans. They also sound familiar. Have we heard them before?
  2. Could it be that a cache of reasons for voting for a candidate— in this case for Mr. Trump—is a culturally acquired vocabulary initiated by a campaign, constructed in the course of the events of the campaign, and ritualized into catchphrases by repeated media use?
  3. Could it be that millions of people are drawn by electronic messaging to accept the same reasons to vote? Do we receive them by sight or ear, find them credible, and come eventually to feel them deeply and passionately as our own? Are reasons marketed like commodities for use by partisans in the voting booth?
  4. Isn’t it also clear that overarching reasons, like the ones attributed by the Trump voter for his vote, are endpoints of a storytelling process? Are they not conclusions at the end of a narration?. Don’t they sound like titles of missing stories? The auditor has no information at all about the circumstances, events, and reasoning that has brought the voter to his conclusion and decision. The story— its architecture, its staging, its sections, its paragraphs, and its sentences—are absent, missing, and unavailable.

Activities 4. and 5. –  Logical and moral reasoning. These activities, frankly, didn’t come off at all. The discussion broke down shortly, then completely, and the workshop ended. For the record, though, here are the original questions. I’ll try too to explain what happened.

Activity 4. –  Logical Argument:

In the interests of understanding the background story that led to your decision to vote for Mr. Trump, please translate the summary reason cited for your vote into a set of logical propositions: A, B, C, D, . . . to Z, where “A” begins: “I was very concerned about issues affecting me, my family, and community,” and “Z” equals “therefore, I voted for Trump,” with B,C,D,E,F,.…Y filling in the intermediate arguments in a causal chain telling the story logically from A to Z.

Activity 5. – Ethical Justification:

Does the reasoning you’ve provided about your vote include an ethical justification for voting for Trump despite his many disqualifications for the office? Yes _____ No _____ If “yes,” what is the justification? If “no,” how did you justify setting aside the myriad of disqualifications documented in the media? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What Happened?

Trump voters insisted they had already given their full reasons for voting for Mr. Trump, and that nothing more need be added. That is essentially what happened. There is no long string of logical reasoning behind their votes. There is no extensive moral reasoning either. One person spoke for many in saying: “You like him, you vote for him! No big deal.” Another person, who hadn’t previously spoken, said “I hate the guy, and Hillary too, but I voted for him because he’s Republican, as am I.” Others jumped in: “Right,” it’s “the court picks;” “Obamacare;” “religious freedom;” “the Iran treaty,” “respect for America around the world,” “runaway immigration;” “broken borders;” and “law and order.” Another person reported that he “just wanted to shake things up and see what happened.” There was nothing more to talk about than that!

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. If a voter’s decision doesn’t include a full and truthful account of how he arrived at his vote, is he not diminished as a storyteller? Is not his story lost? Isn’t the power of history to teach likewise diminished?
  2. If a voter’s decision is unsupported by a logical account of the facts, values, and circumstances that led up to it, does he not curtail and sacrifice his abilities and influence as a rational person and convincing speaker? If his reasoning isn’t available and understood, couldn’t his vote be seen as irrational?
  3. If a voter’s decision fails to include an ethical account of how a candidate’s deficits and disqualifications are offset by other circumstances, and by higher and more important principles, is he unethical? Does he not diminish his standing as an ethical person and good citizen?
  4. If it is true that the only explanation a person can give to himself for his vote is a  catchphrase—such as I voted “for change,” or “against Clinton,” or “I voted Republican,” or “to make America Great”—wouldn’t the person be exhibiting a Swiss-cheese kind of mind full of disconnected thoughts? Is this not mental vacuity?
  5. If such a fright or specter of vacuousness and banality is suspected, isn’t that conclusion confirmed the moment a person argues in serious that no factual basis, logical reasoning, or ethical principles lie behind the generalization he has given for his vote?
  6. If one’s reasons for voting are general, acquired, and vague, and also unsupported by facts, evidence, logic, and ethical principles, does the voter really know what he is talking about? Does he actually know what he means? Do not vocabularies of reasons for voting, once regurgitated by partisans for months, take on the character of nonsense and craziness?
  7. Does not craziness and irrationality become particularly evident in elections such as this one, when issues are bypassed in favor of character embellishment and assassination? Suddenly matters of hair style, weight, age, sex, fatigue, toilet use, walking, and bearing become super-important, and pro and con reasons emerge to enforce firm judgment. Body stigmata are read. Such stigmata might be part of the reason trust and comfort issues became so critical, and why disqualifications for the office could be overlooked and disregarded?
  8. Might not millions of voters have no real idea of why they voted as they did? If this were not so, why do millions of voters consistently vote against their own self-interests?
  9. If, as some voters have said, Donald Trump is nothing like them, but they voted for him for their own good reasons nonetheless, have they not made themselves victims of arrogance, negligence, and fantasy? Do they really believe that the nightmares Trump’s character flaws foretell can be prevented and avoided while their personal wishes are fulfilled and their dreams come true?
  10. Can a voter legitimately claim a “good” and “ethical” reason for voting for Mr. Trump and thereby avoid accountability for whatever wrongs and illegalities he may perpetuate once in office? Can a Trump voter be innocent of future wrongs committed on Trump’s watch and in his name? Is it true that the voter couldn’t have known better?
  11. Isn’t it obvious that “resentment” is the most powerful fragrance Trump voters share with Mr. Trump?  If so, why the resentment? What’s it about? Does the Trump voter have cause? Are there clear injuries to redress? Who are the people who victimized you, the voter?
  12. Shouldn’t Donald Trump ask himself, above all else: why am I so unhappy and resentful after all of my wealth, success, fame, and God given blessings? Why is there no laughter, humor, happiness, empathy, and joy in me? What has gone  wrong with my life?

Conclusion

I have been unable to find even one good reason to vote for Donald Trump. I can certainly understand why people whose profile of attitudes and sentiments overlaps his did vote for him. But those would be voters who voted for bad reasons. If Mr. Trump’s ascension is truly a populist movement, that movement is fundamentally fearful, resentful, misogynist, bigoted, racist, and white supremacist. Much has been made of the rural, rust-belt voter overlooked by politicians, elites, and government. I have great sympathy for them, and would welcome a rural renewal act and an infrastructure jobs bill in the next Congress. But rural areas have been in decline for decades, including the years when my family lived in Washington County, Maine. More to the point, the complaints of rural people in this election were mostly about “other people,” people they for whatever reason resent and fear. It wasn’t so much about their own pocketbook issues.

Nothing is as nonsensical as the “vocabulary of reasons” the campaign generated for voting for Trump and against Clinton. As indicated, these “reasons” tended to be isolated, sing-song, catchphrases that embodied more than a little craziness, weirdness, and banality. It was like a cockfight out there, with fans on both sides of the ring casting hurtful word slugs at one another. It is terrifying to conclude that millions of voters may not even have known what they meant by the reasons they cited for their votes. Their overarching “reasons” lacked a discernible storyline and trail in logic and and ethical reasoning.

Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than the right to vote. Of the various possibilities for the 15th Amendment in 1869, I would have preferred a fourth more liberal version that included women. It would have read:

Section 1. Citizens of the United States have the right to vote when they attain the age of eighteen.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

All adult citizen should have the right to vote. No competency test short of total mental incapacitation should be allowed. The citizen might be ignorant, illiterate, uneducated, simple-minded, incoherent, inconsistent, newly arrived in town and state, naturalized yesterday, and in jail, and still possess, in my opinion, an inalienable right to vote. Such a right, and the responsibility that goes with it, is entirely the voter’s, a matter of civic pride and self-respect. No external agent should try to force civic duty. The obligation is personal and private, some would say sacred. As to my efforts and questions about your vote, let’s be clear, it’s none of my business. Tell me to keep my adult education ideas to myself if I bother you too much. It’s your right, and lots of good and brave people sacrificed their life for it.

But that said, I think the 62 million or so people who voted for Donald Trump made a mistake and let the country and themselves down. I hope over the coming years each of them questions himself honestly and ruthlessly in the inner sanctum of his mind to clarify his thinking and, most important, do better next time.

The election is over and the circus animals are out of their cages, loose in the world. Any observer can see from his cabinet picks that rural America and American workers are the farthest concerns from Mr. Trump’s mind. Citizen participation and future elections are what counts now. All the open minds and good voices out there in the nation will be needed to protect the Constitution and preserve democracy from the storms that President Trump will soon unloose upon us to roil and rumble across the land.

This is the third in a series on the 2016 Presidential election.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

December 14, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Trumpster University Learning Lab

Trumpster University Learning Lab

When a List of Trump’s Disqualifications was published two weeks ago, six confidants, all male, three Trump voters and three Clinton voters of Bernie descent, cried foul—Stop! The election’s over! Get a life! Move on! —revealing by their unease not only the many demands on their time, but also, perhaps, an uncomfortable secret, something buried and best forgotten. What could it be?

Then, a former student called claiming that I was channeling Elie Wiesel by compiling a damning record, bearing witness, and protecting history’s power to teach. Yes, I guess so—thanks for the great compliment. I’m arranging for an autopsy too!

Another former student sent a comment that was a self-inquisition, a poem, and a learning exercise, all in one. He thinks I’m setting up a learning lab for self-directed learners. He’s right. I think of my list, with its numbers and lines, as an opportunity to question oneself about one’s vote. It’s a learning tool for Trump Voters. I also think of the list as an instrument for taking a picture of ourselves as Americans, a national “selfie,” a portrait of ourselves on election day.

Dogmatic certainty has always been man’s curse, as Socrates taught. I wanted to see if the wall Trump had built in his cult could be cracked. Could a person who voted for Donald Trump be guided to change his mind? Could the Trump voter by self-study be expected to attain the recent enlightenment of Glenn Beck?

Puzzling Stumper

I had gotten this idea—of a platform for self-directed learning in the form of a list—by stumbling upon a shocking fact: the Trump voter would vote for Trump even in the face of considerable contrary evidence. Trump himself had tipped me off:

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Donald J. Trump, Sioux City, Iowa, January 24, 2016

If Trump is right, and so far he has been, I should be able to keep a record and make a list of the many disqualifying things Trump has done in life, and his biographers and analysts have confirmed. That would make for a portrait of the dismal disqualifications the Trump voter knew about him on election day when he voted for him anyway. I could number these reproofs, put a short line beside each, invite the willing learner to check the ones he knew of and star the ones he found most disqualifying. Two weeks later, in this blog, I could ask the Trump Voter if he’d changed his mind. My hypothesis would be: No, he hadn’t, and wouldn’t, not even if the cows came in and the chickens came home to roost.

To set up and test the hypothesis properly, I would have to deal with the possibility that my list was too short, that a change of heart could occur at some point “X” on a list of additional disqualifications. That forced me to state the hypothetical proposition this way:

The Trump Voter in the 2016th Presidential election would continue to refuse to change his vote  even if the number of disqualifications known on election day  increased from 63 to a number approaching infinity.

Learning Lab for December 4, 2016

Goal: To determine the number of items on a list of disqualifications the participant would have to have prior knowledge of before deciding not to vote for Donald Trump.

Instructions to Trump Voters

Although insufficient to influence your vote, identify by number the statements on Will’s List of 63 you find most shocking and potentially disqualifying. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
After reading Will’s list of 63, choose “A” or “B”
A. Still a Trump voter. _____
B. No longer a Trump Voter. _____

3. If your answer is A., “still a Trump Voter,” choose “A” or “B” after viewing Keith Olbermann’s video detailing 176 reasons not to vote for Trump:
A. Still a Trump voter. _____
B. No longer a Trump Voter. _____

4. If your answer is A., “still a Trump voter,” choose “A” or “B.” after reading Will’s back-up set of additional disqualifications:

* * * * *
Will’s Additional List of Trump Disqualifications 

64. Harassed Megan Kelly of FOX News to the point of fearing for her life, getting death threats, hiring personal security and, forcing a Fox executive to intervene on her behalf to tell the Trump Campaign to knock it off. _____

65. Prosecuted for multiple instances of discrimination against African Americans in rental units, in housing financed partially with public funds. Settled the lawsuits out of court. _____

66. Prosecuted for defrauding students of Trump University at sites across the country, and settling the lawsuit out of court following his election for $25 million dollars. Five thousand defrauded students are eligible for compensation in the case. _____

67. Repeatedly tweeted strong disfavor with Alec Baldwin for his comedic portrayal of Trump in SNL skits. _____

68. Appointed man with a public record of racism as Attorney General. ____

69. Refused to place Trump businesses into a blind trust, out of the reach of himself and his family, to avoid conflict of interest situations during the term of his Presidency.

* * * * *

Check one:
A. Still a Trump voter. _____
B. No longer a Trump Voter. _____

5. Extra credit: What’s your guess as to the “hidden secret” Will intuits in the first paragraph of this blog entry?________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Instructions to Voters Who Didn’t Vote for Trump

After reading Will’s 69 Trump Disqualifications, what number did you reach before deciding that Trump was unqualified to be President? Number: _____ Why is that?________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Identify by number the ones on Will’s list of disqualifications that you found most egregious: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Extra credit: What’s your guess as to the “hidden secret” Will intuits in the first paragraph of this blog entry?________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

No Response Needed or Requested

It is not necessary to submit your worksheets and answers to me, for reasons I’ll write about in the next blog, and also because this exercise goes by the name of “self-directed learning.” Under that umbrella, the aims, objectives, learning methods, discoveries, judgments, and learning outcomes are yours, and of no business of mine, unless you want help and request feedback. Self-directed Learning is something the learner does. I’m a guide and helper, not an instructor.

It would be wonderful to receive responses in the “comment” section communicating your thoughts in whatever detail you would like to offer them. Scroll down to the “leave a comment” section at the bottom of the blog entry. I will respond. Others might too.

We’d all probably like to know if the puzzling stumper is real, and the hypothesis true. Has anyone changed their mind? Would anyone like to go back, if they could, and change their vote?

An ironic idea occurs to me. If there are Trumpeteers out there who are feeling buyer’s remorse, push the “Like” button! I receive only a couple of likes a year on my blogs. That’s because—I tell myself—my stuff is too serious and grave to like. Who in their right mind would want to admit liking dark thoughts? But who knows, maybe the work is unlikeable for better reasons!

Whatever. Let’s assume that “Like” on this occasion means: Yes, I have changed my mind!

As to the surmise of “a hidden secret,” I will reveal my answer two blogs from now, not next time. Guesses from readers as to what it could be are certainly welcome in the meantime.

Hope you learned something! See you at the next learning lab.

This is the second in a series of essays on the 2016 election.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

December 4, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Random Notes on a Weird Election

Random Notes on a Weird Election

What story in classic literature best describes Donald J. Trump? Narcissus kneeling at the  still pool captivated by the beauty of his own reflected image is a good answer. But Mr. Trump is never still, and he kneels to no one. He flies around the country to address huge rallies. The crowd is a moving mirror, and the pool is filled with toxicity. While this may seem fitting in an age of environmental disaster, the comparison with Narcissus is sullied.

Franz Kafka’s The Hunger Artist provides another insight on Mr. Trump. The viewer should turn off the sound at his rallies for the image to work. In the story a performer in a barred animal cage is a must see attraction for circus goers. Everyone knows him. Everyone goes to see him starve. He is famous for not eating. He must be very hungry. At the end, the hunger artist just dies, and the crowd is furious at him for abandoning them. I know the story might be read as mass blindness to poverty, or as insatiable emotional hunger by the enthralled, needful crowd. And, of course, Mr. Trump is wealthy, not poor. Nevertheless, the nourishment he gets from crowds never seems to satisfy. Happiness does not follow. He’s intoxicated with rallies, and needs them as much as the addict needs his drug. But Mr. Trump seems to be a lonely, emotionally-starved man.

* * * * *

I overheard a girl ask her mother what Hillary Clinton’s email scandal was about. The mother said she didn’t really know. “How did it start?”, the girl persisted. “She used a computer server at home for the work she did while Secretary of State years ago.” “You use your computer at home, Mom,” the daughter noted. “I do homework on mine.” “We use email too.” “I know,” the mother said, “but there might have been national secrets on hers.” “Was she a spy or something?” “No.” “Has she been charged with a crime?” “No.” Do you think she committed a crime?” ”No.” “Mom, I think there are people out to get her.”

Out of the mouths of a teenager comes truth. The stone throwers are as naked as the emperor was observed to be by the observant child.

Without the Benghazi investigation and witch hunt there would be no server issue, and without the server there would be no email issue, and now without Anthony Weiner’s sexting sessions there would be no cache of new emails to tempt the Attorney General.

It is notable that no House of Representative committee chose to examine Colin Powell’s emails regarding his United Nations speech on Saddam’s nuclear weapons, a speech that employed “flawed intelligence” to justify invading Iraq. Powell used a private server, as have other secretaries. No one called for inspection of Caspar Weinberger and George Shultz,’s correspondence regarding the Iran-Contra affair or the barracks bombings that killed 220 marines and 21 sailors and soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon during the Reagan presidency. These Secretaries of State and Defense were men and Republicans. Hillary Clinton is a woman and a Democrat. That appears to be the key difference.

* * * * *

Franz Kafka’s writings are pertinent as well in examining Hillary Clinton’s situation, and in understanding our experience of her situation as witnesses. The most resonant and instructive text— hands down—is his novel The Trial. In it “K,” the central character and narrator, senses from the ambiance of his surrounds that he is considered guilty of something, of have committed some offense, probably a crime, and that he is on the verge of being arrested and charged. He feels this wherever he goes— day and night—and whatever he is doing. He’s somehow on trial. Is this feeling warranted or is it paranoia? We don’t know, nor does he. One can’t tell. He is active though, and purposive; he tries to find out. He looks for signs. He asks questions. He goes to court. He seeks out legal help. No luck. He cannot find the accuser, fill in the specifics of his case, know the charge, discover whether and when he’ll be indicted, identify the court and court date, or figure out how to mount a defense. In the end he never does find out. The verdict against him is just revealed one day.

Incredibly, This is the situation Hillary Clinton’s finds herself in today and will find herself in on Jan. 20, 2017, the day when she could be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.

* * * * *

I suspect that voters, at least some male voters, many of whom will be voting for Donald Trump, are bored with their country and with politics. They may care intensely about the horse race aspect of the election, and perhaps care about the opinions of commenters on their favorite T.V. network. But they don’t seem to know or care much about history, the Constitution, world affairs, complex issues, or the plight of less fortunate countrymen. The majority may not even care about actual issues. Yet, they are angry! They appear to care most about their personal resentments, preferences, tastes, desires, opinions, and team affiliations. The election is about them, their wants, their hated enemies, and their favorite team. They are rabid fans. They just want to win, and baby, they had better win! They think they deserve it.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

November 2, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

History as Therapeutic Diversion

History as Therapeutic Diversion

Check out an experience of mine and discover whether you too find it delightfully therapeutic. Sit in for an hour on a Civil War history class with Dr. David Blight of Yale University. It’s free. All twenty-seven lectures of a course Blight taught on The Civil War and Reconstruction in 2008 are available on the Internet through YouTube.

This is all you need do. Open your browser—Safari, Firefox, Explorer, Chrome, or another—and then open the YouTube application on your computer, tablet, or cellphone. If you don’t find YouTube on your browser, Google or Bing the word YouTube to locate and open the site. Then click on the little magnifying glass search symbol and type in “YaleCourses: The Civil War and Reconstruction with David Blight.” That will get you there. Click on the picture of Blight, watch lecture one, and if you like it as much as I do watch the other 26 lectures at your leisure. Or, just click right here now! See whether the course informs, educates, delights, and consoles you. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t. In fact, I’ll be surprised if the course isn’t one of the more educational experiences of your life.

Context

Specific concerns and interests brought me to Dr. Blight’s classroom and may account somewhat for the therapeutic feeling I get listening to his lectures. I’ve been a critic of the “Conservative Movement” and detest what’s become of that movement under the vitriolic leadership of Donald Trump. I similarly distrust the red-state/blue-state polarity that has brought the nation to gridlock and stalemate in Congress during the Obama presidency. Our period in U.S. history seems similar in some ways to the period leading up to The Civil War. Moreover, that war seems still to be lingering today at a lower temperature. So I started reading up on the Civil War again, returning particularly to Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. This led to a reading of Adam Goodheart’s excellent book, 1861. That resulted in two blog entries examining Lincoln’s Independence Day message to Congress on July 4, 1861, the first entitled Lincoln’s American People and the second Lincoln: Pretense to States Rights.

That’s my story. You will bring your own context to the invited experience. I’ll bet Bright’s class attracts you too and brings sustenance and consolation to you during these frustrating and curious times. The course has provided me with a fresh perspective on the country, and a bit of distance from the election. Keep in mind that the vortex of events that resulted in war between the states in 1861 contains the elements that have morphed into the poisonous political environment we experience today.

Be sure to bring a notepad to your computer screen along with the popcorn and beer. Enjoy!

Notes

David Blight is a professor of American History at Yale University and Director of the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. Previously, Blight was a professor of History at Amherst College, where he taught for 13 years. He has won major historical awards, including the Bancroft Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize. Blight is one of the world’s finest civil war historians.

It is obvious right away that Dr. Blight is an extraordinary teacher working within the most difficult teaching format of them all, a lecture course to hundreds of students using four or five teaching assistants (I’ve done that too, and failed miserably). He knows his subject, loves it deeply, respects students, invariably leaves them with questions, possibilities, decisions to make, and tentative answers, employs a story-telling or narrative methodology, speaks slowly and clearly, gives sources and examples, reads poems, sings when needed, manages time well, and is comfortable, humble, humorous, understated, and delightfully self-deprecating. I’ve never met him, yet I feel I know him. You will too. One senses also that the course works for any student regardless of background or political persuasion.

Yale is one of many universities that make free college courses like this one available online. Google “Open Yale Courses” and see what else Yale offers. I have viewed free courses before, including Professor Levin’s amazing Introduction to Physics at MIT. I couldn’t understand the formulas after awhile, but what a great course. You might want to Google “free college courses on line” and see what attracts you. I find such courses more entertaining and informative than regular television, and they come with a pause button; they can therefore be self-paced.

It’s too bad the illustrations Dr. Blight uses can’t be shown to us for copyright reasons, but it is entertaining to watch him fuss with them, as he invariably does each class. He provides the viewer with excellent reference sources. That’s where the notepad comes in. Of course, you could just use the one on the computer; you can pause the video whenever you choose. By the way, the educational technology used in the class is primitive to nonexistent, and even the lectern looks uncomfortable. It’s only the lecturer, the storytelling, and the content that are special and invaluable.

The therapeutic feeling that comes over me while experiencing Dr. Blight’s lectures is ephemeral and hard to pin down. It may be the characters; we know these people; they remind us of ourselves and people we know. We’ve been to the places where the war was fought. The conflicts and arguments sound familiar; we hear them today. But who knows? Maybe I’m mesmerizing myself. I’ll be interested whether the same or any feeling comes over you. It’s like being back in college again with an extraordinarily good professor.

I decided  during the course to reacquaint myself with Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in 1860 that brought him fame in New York, following his debates with Stephen A. Douglas in Illinois, the “west,” and brought him later that year to the presidency. I was delighted to discover that a reenactment of the Cooper Union speech is available on Youtube, with Sam Waterston, of Law and Order fame, doing the reenactment. I recommend that experience for inclusion in your course of studies.

What’s the equivalent of “bon appétit” for a viewing experience? Well, never mind. Best wishes for a productive learning experience.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

October 13, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Lincoln: Pretense to States Rights

Lincoln: Pretense to States Rights

This is the second of two blog entries on Abraham Lincoln’s Message to Congress in Special Session on July 4,1861. The first, Lincoln’s American People, appeared in this blog two weeks ago. This entry examines Lincoln’s choice and use of the word “pretense” in an important paragraph framing the central concerns of his speech. Both essays were inspired by reading Adam Goodheart’s insightful book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening (2011), which includes ramifications for the 2016 election and beyond.

Here is the paragraph in which the word “pretense” appears front and center:

“And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic, or democracy–a government of the people by the same people–can or can not maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration according to organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask, Is there in all republics this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?”

Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress, July 4, 1861.

Lincoln is concerned about more than winning the war and restoring the union. His larger concern is recurrent civil war, further rebellion, secession happening again. If these eleven states can so easily break up the union, why won’t other discontented minorities abscond using the same pretenses? Our democracy may be fatally flawed.

It was noted in the first essay on Lincoln’s speech that the Civil War that ended at Appomattox Court House in April, 1865 appears to be still going on today at a low-grade, symbolic, yet fervent level. Slavery is gone; racism is not. The people are not a “We” in many important matters. The nation is split into two spirited camps. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina,Tennessee, and Texas remain a red state voting block; a majority of their citizens will vote for the dictator-strongman style candidate, Donald J.Trump, poor testimony for democracy indeed.

Another way to state the issue: Lincoln’s concept of popular democracy and of a restored, optimally-functioning union lost the war. The Union won, but “We” lost. He should have been able through the work of his compatriots to win by now. Why? Because he is right. We praise his service, worship his image, and revere his words, but we won’t debate and learn from him. If we would do so, he would win and “We the People” could move ahead thoughtfully and wholeheartedly.

That’s my idea for this piece. Recap Lincoln’s argument on “pretense,” and invite citizens to complete the debate for themselves. If we all did that, and the Senate and House did too, perhaps on CSPAN, the nation could finally end and move beyond the Civil War. Here is the essence of the case stated in his words on July 4, 1861.

“It might seem at first thought to be of little difference whether the present movement at the South be called “secession” or “rebellion.” The movers, however, well understand the difference.”

“Accordingly, they commenced by an insidious debauching of the public mind. They invented an ingenious sophism, which, if conceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps through all the incidents to the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism itself is that any State of the Union may consistently with the National Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from the Union without the consent of the Union or of any other State.”

“With rebellion thus sugar coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years, and until at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms against the Government the day after some assemblage of men have enacted the farcical pretense of taking their State out of the Union who could have been brought to no such thing the day before.”

“This sophism derives much—perhaps the whole—of its currency, from the assumption, that there is some omnipotent, and sacred supremacy, pertaining to a State—to each State of our Federal Union. Our States have neither more, nor less power, than that reserved to them, in the Union, by the Constitution—no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even before they cast off their British colonial dependence; and the new ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of dependence, excepting Texas. And even Texas, in its temporary independence, was never designated a State. The new ones only took the designation of States, on coming into the Union, while that name was first adopted for the old ones, in, and by, the Declaration of Independence. Therein the “United Colonies’’ were declared to be “Free and Independent States’’; but, even then, the object plainly was not to declare their independence of one another, or of the Union; but directly the contrary, as their mutual pledge, and their mutual action, before, at the time, and afterwards, abundantly show. The express plighting of faith, by each and all of the original thirteen, in the Articles of Confederation, two years later, that the Union shall be perpetual, is most conclusive. Having never been States, either in substance, or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of “State rights,’’ asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much is said about the “sovereignty’’ of the States; but the word, even, is not in the national Constitution; nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions. What is a “sovereignty,’’ in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it “A political community, without a political superior’’? Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty. And even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act, she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution, to be, for her, the supreme law of the land. The States have their status IN the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law, and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence, and their liberty. By conquest, or purchase, the Union gave each of them, whatever of independence, and liberty, it has. The Union is older than any of the States; and, in fact, it created them as States. Originally, some dependent colonies made the Union; and, in turn, the Union threw off their old dependence, for them, and made them States, such as they are. Not one of them ever had a State constitution, independent of the Union. Of course, it is not forgotten that all the new States framed their constitutions, before they entered the Union; nevertheless, dependent upon, and preparatory to, coming into the Union.”

“Unquestionably the States have the powers and rights reserved to them in and by the National Constitution; but among these surely are not included all conceivable powers, however mischievous or destructive, but at most such only as were known in the world at the time as governmental powers; and certainly a power to destroy the Government itself had never been known as a governmental–as a merely administrative power. This relative matter of national power and State rights, as a principle, is no other than the principle of generality and locality. Whatever concerns the whole should be confided to the whole–to the General Government–while whatever concerns only the State should be left exclusively to the State. This is all there is of original principle about it. Whether the National Constitution in defining boundaries between the two has applied the principle with exact accuracy is not to be questioned. We are all bound by that defining without question.”

The pretense that concerns Lincoln is unlawful claim to “states rights.” In Lincoln’s words: “what is … combated is the position that secession is consistent with the Constitution–is lawful and peaceful.” It’s not. Lincoln says much more on the subject in the speech, so a fair understanding requires the reader to read the whole speech, which is easily done by googling, downloading, and printing it. What I’ve quoted is sufficient to understand the contour and key arguments of his position. There is much of importance in the speech on a variety of subjects; it is we’ll worth the effort to read it.

A Concluding Thought

The right of a state to secede is still an animated issue in Texas, with a number of efforts aimed in that direction over recent decades, and it is alive  elsewhere as well. Racism is very much alive too.

The inability to finish The Civil War is the dominant political fact limiting democratic government in our country. We are not a whole “People,” because we won’t admit that all Americans are actually Americans. Some of us are always “other” in the minds of the rest of us. We are not yet a country where “artificial weights” have been lifted;” where individuals are “unfettered;” where “a fair chance” exists for all; and “paths of laudable pursuit” have opened wide. We do not share Lincoln’s view of “a government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men.” Economic, corporate, and security interests dominate over and diminish Lincoln’s understanding of American exceptionalism.

Consequentially we find ourselves in an election campaign ridden with fear, pretense, pseudo-events, sophistry, glitter, guile, conspiracy theories, and racism.

We need to prove to ourselves that “We” as citizens and a “People” actually exist. We need to invite our eyes to read, our minds to think, and our mouths to converse respectfully and intelligently. We need to value our government, and work to insure that it works for all of us and for the good of humankind. Debating with Lincoln’s arguments in his Independence Day message of 1861 is a useful and enjoyable educational exercise, and as such can be of value to all of us in these ongoing pursuits and troubled times.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

September 19, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Lincoln’s American People

Lincoln’s American People

“ . . .there are many single regiments whose members, one and another, possess full practical knowledge of all the arts, sciences, professions, and whatever else, whether useful or elegant, is known in the world; and there is scarcely one from which there could not be selected a President, a Cabinet, a Congress, and perhaps a court, abundantly competent to administer the Government itself.”

       Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861.

Introduction

Adam Goodheart’s insightful book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening (2011), makes particularly good reading this Fall as we wallow through the swamp of an interminable, pitiless presidential campaign. As it happens, the 1860 election holds lessons for 2016 and beyond. One section that caught my eye on pages 357-364 discusses President Lincoln’s laborious writing and dogged rewriting of his Independence Day message to Congress. People the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson wondered why it was taking the President so long and what the fuss was about.

I’ll leave it to the reader to get the book and read Goodheart’s excellent analysis and answer. While not a Lincoln scholar or competent historian, I can at least speculate on Lincoln’s concerns and suggest some applications of his ”solution” for us today.

Lincoln’s Concern

Here is a key paragraph in the message Lincoln presented to Congress on July 4, 1861.

“And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic, or democracy–a government of the people by the same people–can or can not maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration according to organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask, Is there in all republics this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?”

This is an amazing paragraph in a message to a Special Session of Congress that the President called to report on events since his Inauguration and to request the mobilization of 400,000 more men and the appropriation of $400, 000, 000 for the war effort. The paragraph comes relatively early in the speech, after a report on developments over the past four months, including the fall of Fort Sumter, and frames the issue for the President’s decision to invoke the war power, which he cites in the very next paragraph.

Thereafter, the paragraph frames the long, detailed middle of the speech, dealing mostly with the situation in Virginia and the rights of citizens and states under the Constitution, to which is coupled like a bookend or capstone, this second astounding paragraph found near the end of his message.

“This is essentially a people’s contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the Government for whose existence we contend.”

What is most remarkable about the frame paragraph is its ethereal, posterior viewpoint—as if glimpsed from the vantage point of an eagle looking back from a far-off future while flying retrospectively over the ruins of popular democracies. All democracies are threatened, he suggests, and democracy as a political form is in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. Lincoln is worrying about and working through an answer to one of the heaviest of issues in all Political Science! But what’s going on? Isn’t the war about slavery?

Slavery is never mentioned in the speech, a fact abolitionist critics, in Goodheart’s reporting, immediately chastise him for following its deliverance. Yet, take a look at the second frame paragraph, the capstone paragraph, and notice the language “unfettered chance and a fair chance,” an obvious allusion to slavery overcome and ended. We contend, the President asserts, for our government in order to “elevate the condition of men!” The President’s eye is on the future of the nation after a successful completion of the war, slavery’s end, and restoration of the union. He wants to know how to prevent future rebellions on the same or other pretenses! He seems to fear civil wars of the future.

Lincoln’s Constitutional Problem

While neither the words “slave” or “slavery” appear in the Constitution, slavery’s existence is recognized in Article 2, Section 3, Paragraph 3, where, for the purposes of apportioning of representation and taxes to the several states, the number of “free persons” is to be increased by “three fifths of all other Persons.” The 3/5th “other person” is a slave.

By the time Lincoln took office, seven states had already seceded from the Union, and four more would soon follow. These states considered slavery a constitutional right; the 3/5ths reference established its legitimacy. Moreover, they considered themselves the aggrieved party whose rights and freedoms were threatened. In their own minds, they were the victims and guardians of freedom and the Union was the aggressor. Even today the war is called by some southerners “The War of Northern Aggression.” Outside of the abolitionist movement, more than a few northerners agreed. The confederates even claimed they were carrying on constitutional democracy!

The claims were illogical and the opposite of the truth. That was obvious to Lincoln. Slavery may be embedded in the Constitution, but it is the antithesis of freedom, and treason was the act around which the seceding states conspired and confederated. They gave up democracy when they abandoned the union. But Lincoln and the Union had a large legal and philosophical problem: where could they turn in the Constitution to find the high ground from which to flip the argument in the Union’s favor? No place is the answer. There would surely be an ongoing constitutional problem even after the war was won. It would take the 13th and 14th Amendments to finally resolve the constitutional crisis.

In response to his dilemma, Lincoln makes a brilliant intellectual and ethical decision. He builds his concept of a people’s government on the Declaration of Independence rather than on the Constitution, and thereby rewrites the story of American governance. He depends for his case on Section 2. of the Preamble to the Declaration. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In turning to the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln transverses the mental landscape from 1790 to 1776 and returns to the humanism of the Enlightenment. He thereby acquires a toolkit of inspiring and powerful concepts:

  • A free person beholden solely to a Creator God in nature acting beyond the authoritative reach of monarch and church, of King, Queen, and priest.
  • An inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • A union of such individuals acting by free choice to constitute a people, a polity, popular democracy, a republic—a government “for,” “by,” and “of” the people.
  • A faith in human betterment (which becomes for Lincoln “the substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men.”)

Lincoln saw clearly that the Declaration of Independence anticipated and foretold a world and nation where slavery had been abolished, where “artificial weights had been lifted;” where individuals were “unfettered;” where “a fair chance” existed for all; and “paths of laudable pursuit” had opened wide!

The rebels in seccession were no freedom fighters, lovers of liberty, patriots, or oppressed victims of their government. Slavery was evil, wrong; it was the monstrous antithesis of everything valued by the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln conveyed this in his message without ever raising the subject or asking a question about slavery.

Most important, Lincoln provided his fellow citizens with a clear, inspiring explanation of why they were fighting the war and what they were fighting for. As Goodheart points out, Lincoln never wavered after the speech on the question of whether the war was worth fighting. Goodheart also notes that the core ideas in the Independence Day message return to human ears as beautifully-crafted, eloquent poetry twenty-eight months later over the battlefield at Gettysburg. The earlier speech incubated the language for the latter. The language used at Gettysburg, it is important to note, included a reference to a nation that “shall have a new birth of freedom.” The sacrifice of the fallen soldiers hallowed their deeds, sanctified the battlefield, and immortalized Lincoln’s speech. The resolve of citizens to complete the unfinished work of winning the war was called upon and given.

While Lincoln’s language, phrases, and concepts of People’s government are familiar music to every American ear today, it is important to recognize that the President had reinvented the purpose of government in his Independence Day message to Congress in 1861, changed and improved upon the logic provided in the Preamble to the Constitution, committed the nation to an almost hopelessly idealistic vision of national destiny, told the rest of the world its future depended on the success of our crucial experiment, and that “We the People,” by alchemic formula, translated into government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” While the Constitution’s Preamble appealed to its signatories with the benefits of “a more perfect union,””justice,” “domestic tranquility,” “common defence,” “general welfare,” and the “blessings of liberty,” Lincoln gives his “People” a government whose “leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.” He further asserted “this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.”

We the American People

Who are we, I wonder when we talk about ourselves as “The American People?” This is a question that has long intrigued me, as exemplified by the blog essay I published in these pages four years entitled “The American People.” I don’t think we know the answer, I don’t, although we’re addicted to talking about it and making angry claims and assertions under its banner. We would like to be “We the People.” In some sense, perhaps many, we surely are, but the identity remains murky and undefined.

The dominant fact today—we’re authoritatively told—is that we’re split in half, with a full 47% of us contending for dominance over the other 47% of us, both sides appealing for help from the remaining 6% of us, whoever they might be.

We remain engaged, as Lincoln apparently foresaw, in some kind of ongoing civil war. In regard to the current low grade “war,” it is terrifying that even in the case of a landslide victory for the Democratic Party candidate in the 2016 Presidential election, near 40% of the eligible voters will end up having voted for a dictator-strongman style candidate whose democratic bona fides whiff of Stalin and Mussolini, and Berlusconi and Putin.

By the time Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had checked out of the union. Is it accidental that Donald Trump, the dictator-strongman style candidate, is expected to win six of these seven states in the 2016 election for President? Is the civil war Lincoln confronted in 1861 still running through our veins within the current civil war?

Has that nation and people rejoined in 1865 at war’s end, ever bought in to Lincoln’s concept of a government whose “leading object is to elevate the condition of men?”  Is that the nation for which we contend today?

Do we Americans even desire to become worthy owners and citizen exemplars of the “of” and “by” and “for” the “people” inheritance that President Lincoln and the Civil War combatants bequeathed us?

I fervently believe that fair readers of President Lincoln’s Address to Congress in Special Session on July 4, 1861 will decide that our wholesale problems as a people today are due not so much to supposed losses of Constitutional freedoms we hear complained of so often and shrilly, but rather are due to growing defections from the vision of the nation enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

We could, if we want, become “We the People” as called for by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and President Lincoln. Intent, care, empathy, humility, and courage would surely be required. Reconciliation would probably also require apology, forgiveness, respect, and reparations.

A good start would be agreement that every American is American, is “my” and “our”countrymen and countrywomen, that government, particularly our constitutional government, is an inestimably great and good thing, and that such a government is not only worth fighting and dying for, but worth paying taxes to so that the great purposes preambled in its Constitution can be accomplished, including, along with “justice,” “common defense,” “domestic tranquility,” “general welfare,” and  “blessings of liberty,” President Lincoln’s resolves to “lift artificial weights from all shoulders,” “clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all,” and “afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.” We would thereby and by other means be contending for a government to “elevate the condition of men.” indeed, we would be contending to elevate the condition of people on Planet Earth.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

September 6, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Gotcha Emails: Give Her a Break

Gotcha Emails: Give Her a Break

How many reasons do you need to give Hillary Clinton a break on the hacked email dumps that regularly befall her? The second dump happened last week; it showed questionable connections between State Department staff and The Clinton Foundation when Hillary Clinton was SOSOTUS. The first release at the start of the Democratic National Convention cost Debbie Wassermann Shultz her job as head of the DNC because she was caught colluding against Bernie Sanders and favoring Hillary’s candidacy for POTUS. More dumps are promised.

I’ve compiled a list of ten reasons to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt on past and future email droppings:

  1. The emails were collected by felonious means and it isn’t known yet who the criminals are. The consensus among cracker-jack hackers is that Russians did the job, likely involving the state intelligence gathering apparatus, with authorization from that old KGB hand, President Vladimir Putin himself.
  2. If it were money, jewelry, or art masterpieces that had been stolen, the booty would be stored under lock and key until the criminals are arrested and brought to trial. Release of the documents to the public doesn’t absolve the criminals of the crime. Their release is neither an act of altruism nor of good citizenship.
  3. Conspiracy theories should be avoided like the plague. As a person who aims to be guided by sense experience, reason, data, and logic, my moral character could be damaged by engaging in wild surmises about Donald Trump’s admiration for Putin, his call for the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s computers, the consultant work of Paul Manafort, Trump’s Campaign Manager, for Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine, who later absconded to Russia in disgrace, and Trump’s delegitimizing comments on NATO. No, I refuse to go there! I advise you to avoid conspiracy mongering too.  Hillary Clinton’s life shouldn’t be conspiracy mongered either.
  4. Bill Clinton served as President of the United States for eight years and has made The Clinton Foundation his life’s work since leaving office. His wife Hillary has served as Senator from New York and Secretary of State during his days at The Clinton Foundation. One would expect regular email traffic between husband and wife in their separate offices, and communications between members of their staff would be expected too. Email linkages between the two organizations are in no way discredited by the frequency of mail.
  5. Emails, in gross batch, are inevitably and inherently discrediting! Try collecting yours for a couple of years, give the swarm to me, allow me to damage my moral character by letting my far fetching imagination run wild, and I’ll get you in trouble with someone. A relative recently told me she had been receiving unsolicited partner recommendations from Match dot com. She didn’t have an account, but got the match notices anyway. Was someone jesting her? Imagine what the Hillary critics could make of that if it had happened to her. The store of daily emails, let’s face it, is a virtual swirling cesspool. Most of my email, and probably yours, is unsolicited and eclectic.
  6. Powerlessness to prevent odd, unsolicited mail is just one problem. Emails are inherently discrediting in another way. They have a backstage, behind-the-scene, character. Emails are ways of getting work done in organizations. In the same way that the Wizard’s credibility in Oz is lost once Dorothy and the little group of tourists get behind the curtain, emails take us into the bowels of the organization where the machinery is running and the grubby work is done.The organization’s public face— idealized in slogans, logos, architecture, decor, mission statements and luminous advertisements—is discreditable by goings-on in the interstices of the interior. Emails reveal the inwards of an organization. Note that no one is doing anything really wrong. It’s only that events in offices and on work floors contradict expectations, are deviations from the virtues breezily claimed in advertisements! Claims to idealization and perfection cause the problem
  7. Employees everywhere routinely create scenes of potential embarrassment and shame, by coming late, leaving early, calling friends, putting down colleagues, playing favorites, nepotism, dipping into supplies, playing games, scheming, hoaxing and joking, telling untruths, and cutting corners. People at work are embarrassment time bombs! Workers are supposed to be virtuous as a corporate family in terms of fairness, hard work, honesty, loyalty, teamwork and compliance with policies and procedures. But then, who among us doesn’t recognize the hilarious happenings in workplace comedies such as Parks and Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock? Emails reveal people when they are off-stage, out of sight. and being direct and honest. They may be doing nothing wrong, nothing that you or I wouldn’t do, but workaday events can diminish them, create the wrong impression, and embarrass the company.
  8. Since writing letters is personal and undertaken alone, emails feel personal and private. We forget that employers and sponsors own the system and have the right to look at their content. The emails are corporate property. You may think you’re writing in private, but you’re actually writing for all eternity. This is true on both private and public computer servers, and on smart phones too. Also, we now know, emails are spectacularly hacker friendly. Until the public character of emails becomes clarified, as it surely has become for Hillary Clinton, let’s give her and other people the benefit of the doubt.
  9. Batches of emails inspected, one by one, by unnamed, faceless government officials, and redacted for national security reasons, tend to be accompanied by a peculiar scent familiar to readers of the files kept by the STASI in soviet East Germany. To have such a file kept about you is damning in and of itself. Where there is smoke, there must be fire.
  10. Issues of morality and self-understanding make the personal privacy argument particularly cogent. I, in all fairness, must ask myself: Who am I being when I read someone else’s emails? I sense that I’m being inappropriate, some kind of sneak! The emails are hers, not mine. I see it clearly now. If the emails are personal and private, and come from the hidden bowels of an organization, and that organization spends big bucks and posts police and guard dogs to prevent entry to the offices from which these letters originate, then I am acting like a criminal intruder at worst, and a voyeur, peeping Tom at best! I don’t want to be either of those types. Shouldn’t legislator voyeurs feel a little doubt and shame too?

Well then, who are those legislators being who have dwelled for so long on Hillary Clinton’s email cache through multiple, unending investigations by Congress, and who salivate even today over James Comey’s notes from a completed FBI investigation in which Hillary was exonerated of criminal intent and actions. They surely, at the very least, are conspiracy minded, voyeuristic, home-invading, privacy destroying, peeping toms, allies of criminals, and unforgiving violators of The Golden Rule. Oh, they are surely something else too, politicians trying to destroy the reputation of a candidate and win a dirty election.

That’s what they do. Don’t be like them. Prize your integrity.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

August 17, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good