Sunday, August 27, 2017

Our National Ache

By Eric Segall

Law Professors all over social media have been trying to figure out if we are in a "constitutional crisis" or heading towards a "constitutional crisis." Of course there is no standard definition of what that means, and therefore, not surprisingly, there is also much disagreement among the experts on what constitutes a "constitutional crisis."  Here is what I know: I am 59 years old, and never in my lifetime has there been such a prolonged national ache-not after Watergate, not after Lewinsky, not even after 9/11.

How do I know this? Well, of course I don't "know" it in the mathematical or physics sense. But here's what I do know. My friends, my colleagues, my personal community, and my broad social media community represent every day that they wake up with an anxiety and depression about our country's future that is physically painful. The editorial pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times almost weekly produce emotional and powerful statements concerning our obviously incompetent and corrupt President, and what he is doing to our country. My students are often in shock, my friends in pain, my 7,000+ Twitter followers in anguish. We do go to work and to school and to dinner, but with an ache in our hearts.

In Phoenix last week, in the wake of Charlottesville, Trump gave a campaign speech (think about that for a moment) where he lied, impugned, and then lied some more. He spent fifteen minutes defending his post-Charlottseville comments, without ever mentioning the part of his comments that made everyone so upset ("both sides").  He accused our media of being liars and being anti-American. He repeatedly said CNN was turning off his speech when CNN was in fact not turning off his speech. This was surreal. I do not remember a moment in history when a public official lied on national television about a verifiable present fact, and repeated the lie over and over. Maybe the lie wasn't that important, but it was a clear through the looking glass moment. And it made me ache.

Would anything have changed if Trump had repeatedly said in Phoenix, "Look at the beautiful snow outside the conference center." What's the difference between that lie and the lie that CNN is turning him off? After the speech, he said "15,000" people were in in a place that holds less than 5,000 people. And the tweeting and lying go on and on.

It just doesn't matter whether we are in a "constitutional crisis" when the President of the United States not only pardons, but supports, a man who by all accounts is a sadistic, racist, repeated violator of the law. It just doesn't matter whether we are in a "constitutional crisis" when the President sends his son-in-law, who has zero government or foreign policy experience, to broker peace in the Middle East. It just doesn't matter whether we are in a "constitutional crisis" when the President laments the removal of our "heritage" referring to blatant symbols of racism and slavery. It is one thing to point to the complexity of the question what to do with our historical monuments reflecting our apartheid past. It is quite another to glorify that past. And the ache goes on.

Trump uses Twitter like a spoiled 12 year old. Trump uses his hotels to line his pockets with foreign government money. Trump uses obviously racist people as top advisers. Trump appoints Ben Carson, a doctor with no housing experience, to head HUD. Trump bankrupts the Secret Service. The ache goes on.

Trump's mentor was Roy Cohn. Look him up if you don't know who he was. Trump was the Birther-in-Chief. Trump's economic survival in the 1990's depended on Russians bailing him out. Trump held his Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in 2013. Trump's son, son-in-law and campaign manager met with a Russian envoy to get dirt on Hillary during the campaign, then Trump wrote a memo lying about it. Trump fired the Director of the FBI then gave three different reasons for it in 24 hours, but eventually admitted he did so because of Russia.

I don't recognize my President, my Congress, or my country. A recent poll showed that 1 in 10 Americans don't think there is much wrong with neo-Nazi views. I don't believe that poll. The polls also showed Hillary winning. I do believe my President is a terrible person, doing terrible things, and our Congress so far has been unwilling to intercede.

I honestly don't know whether we are in a "constitutional crisis." But I know we are in a crisis, and the ache goes on.


Joe said...

"Trump uses his hotels to line his pockets with foreign government money."

Anyway, yes, people continuously speak of how bad things are & appeals to the past have existed since the distant past. But, this does seem worse. Shag, who was born during the Depression, might give special insight. Still, puts my strongly negative impressions during Bush Jr.'s presidency into perspective.

Asher Steinberg said...

It really depends on what you mean by or how you measure national ache, doesn't it? You say there's never been such an "ache" in your lifetime, and proceed to say you know this because your friends, colleagues, and social-media community are very upset, and because the editorial pages of the Times, Post and Times regularly produce "emotional and powerful statements" about our situation. I don't doubt it; I occasionally check Twitter myself. (I do doubt that the Times editorial page is producing powerful statements about anything, not to suggest that there aren't powerful statements to be made or other people making them; it's the Times editorial page, they don't do writing very well.) But has it occurred to you that your friends, colleagues, and social-media community aren't that representative of the nation? I think that's pretty obviously the case of most any law professor, whatever his politics. And I certainly don't see, for better or worse, that the papers you mention are a barometer of national sentiment. As far as national ache in your lifetime goes, what about the ache the country felt when, aching over staggeringly high rates of inflation/unemployment and the ongoing energy and Iran hostage crises, they rejected the sitting and once popular President's bid for reelection in all but six states, including every state in New England but Rhode Island? Assuming Trump isn't impeached or indicted for one thing or another, do you think there's any chance that in 2020 he'll be as unpopular as Carter was in 1980? Can you conceive of his losing the South? I'm not sure I could conceive of it even if he were indicted.

I suppose it's fair to argue that if he isn't nearly that unpopular, which of course he won't be, it will only be because of increased polarization and won't suggest that the country really feels America circa 2020 is a better place than America circa 1980. But I think it's much fairer to argue that a period of extreme privation and uncertainty about our place in the world was worse as far as national ache goes than a relatively prosperous and secure period (the vanishingly small chance of any real hostilities with North Korea notwithstanding) where people are justifiably upset about what they perceive as presidential incompetence and rhetorical tolerance of bigotry. I get the sense that if you were old enough you would claim that the time we're living in now is worse than the Great Depression because the editorials in the Times are more emotive now than they were then. In reality, the quality of the President, apart from the economic or international situation he helps create, is a very small factor in the quality of most people's lives or emotional states.

Eric Segall said...

I would never say these times are worse than the depression. Of course, I know I live a sheltered life but I also know the difference between Cambridge and Topeka. I do 2-3 radio shows with national audiences on a routine basis so I have some feel for the world out there. Mostly, I used the word "ache" for specific reasons. I am confident that it is an apt descriptor for millions of Americans.

Shag from Brookline said...

This is not a time for hate as we, America, respond to the impact of Harvey on one or more of America's states. It's times like this when America can be and has been great. A local TV news program here in the Boston area talked about a volunteer FEMA trained team on its way to Texas to provide aid. The news report added that there were similar teams from other states also on their way. There is no time for hate to aid those in distress at the waters of Harvey.

Contrast this with the time of Hurricane Sandy during Pres. Obama's first term and the reluctance, a tad political in nature, initially to provide funding for FEMA's efforts, with some complaints of people building and living in certain vulnerable areas to such storms, even with the lessons of Katrina during the Bush/Cheney Administration.

So this no time for hate and reacting to it; the responses to hate will come in due course, which is something I have learned about since becoming aware as I aged following my birth in 1930. [I recently celebrated my own personal Gettysburg Address milestone.] I'm not going to go through a litany of the hate I have observed, though not directly aimed at me personally, or the reactions to hate, other than to note that there has been progress. The hate that started with the election of Pres. Obama, continuing into his reelection, has been extended with the 2016 presidential campaign, erupting recently with events in Charlottesville. There's no need to detail this hate of very recent times. There have been reactions to this hate, which to me has made America great as in the past. But as a nation America must as one respond to Harvey.

I have very little I wish to say regarding Asher's comment. But I am saving his comment on this thread and his comment on an earlier thread when he indicated that he, as a Jew, was not that distressed with the anti-semitisism on display at Charlottesville, saving as a reminder in the event he opts to delete them for whatever reasons. But I do wish to highlight Asher's closing sentence in his comment above:

" In reality, the quality of the President, apart from the economic or international situation he helps create, is a very small factor in the quality of most people's lives or emotional states."

I'm still parsing this especially regarding the "economic or international situation he [Trump] helps create ... " These will determine much of the quality of his presidency. So far the reality show president has not demonstrated that much quality, though Asher may disagree.

Meantime, let's all root for the aid of those in Texas (and other states) from the impact of Harvey.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

Regarding the closing sentence, that is some qualifier.

As to the rest, people have full lives, but having the person in the White House, acting like he is, will have some significant effect. Presidents (or whatever Trump is), particularly those who are not merely bland types (Bush41 comes to mind here -- unless specifically affected, who is that emotionally upset about him?) are not trivial people in this country. They matter in a significant way.

But, the first part affects lots of people. So, you know, shrugs. As to Shag's overall comment, it is appreciated [contra some who said otherwise] we have a FEMA director and he seems to be one of the best appointments. As to "hate," yes, we can't have that Still, "in reality" a lot of people had a strong emotional reaction to him pardoning Arpiao when he did. Society today more than in the past has many people who spend more time focused on the news. FOX in particular is quite successful because of people who do that and I know someone who specifically by watching that channel significantly had her "emotional state" affected by politics.

Oh. I'm not sure what the trans ban or related moves covers. I think "economic" and "international" isn't enough if we want to address specific concerns. I'm not sure how either covers his remarks after Charlottesville, which quite emotionally affected many black people in particular. As with any group, different people will react different in that respect, so any one person's views here might not be representative. My comments included.

Shag from Brookline said...

There is a post at Daily Kos on an interview with Sen. Ted Cruz, who wants funding to address Harvey's impacts on TX. The interviewer brought up Cruz's and Sen. Cornyn's objections to funding for Sandy. This annoyed Cruz. The post also indicated that 32 members of Congress from TX voted against funding for Sandy.

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