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ELECTILE DYSFUNCTION - THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
Jews shouldn’t be the only ones smart enough to get a Day of Atonement and 24 hours devoted to thinking about what they should atone for and why. The rest of us need one too. In that way…
In “The Empire Strikes Back,” the most serious of the Star Wars movies in terms of presenting some serious moral truths in an entertaining way, there is a scene in which Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker confront each other. Luke gets outfought and finally has two options: he can fall with no likelihood of rescue, or he can take Vader’s proffered help and save himself. “Come, join me,” Vader says. “Accept the dark force. It’s easier.”
Luke lets go and falls.
Vader is right. The dark side is easier. Doing The Right Thing is difficult. It’s hard. The Right Thing is a thing of value, and like anything of great value, if it wasn’t difficult to achieve it would have no value.
Let us also remember that when Luke lets go and falls away without hope of saving himself, by so doing he finds the way to save himself.
Steve Schmidt has said this as well as anyone can, and since I do not believe in reinventing the wheel, I’ll quote him in full:
“This moment requires moral clarity, moral toughness and courage. There can be nothing that comes before the defense of American democracy and the rule of law in the United States of America. There is nothing that can come before the US Constitution. Its preservation is a sacred responsibility and trust that has been passed down for generations.”
This past week, which saw the indictment of Mr. and Mrs. Senator Melendez, saw what to me was a disconcerting response by several readers at other Substacks that brought up the Melendez issue, regarding his need to resign his office. The disconcerting response was that Melendez shouldn’t resign since that would change the political makeup of the Senate. In other words, they were just fine with a moral leper sitting in the Senate, so long as he was Our Moral Leper.
For the record, for those paying attention, this is not a problem since the governor of New Jersey is now a Democrat and unlikely to appoint a Republican to replace him for the final year of his term.
But even if that wasn’t the case, being just fine with Our Moral Leper in office is an indication of just how deep the problems that have created our contemporary political era go. All of us are vulnerable, regardless of party.
This spectacular era of American political corruption is unprecedented in American history. Make no mistake, there have been previous eras of spectacular corruption - the excesses of the Gilded Age come quickly to mind - but even that is nothing like this moment. It is simply staggering:
The Supreme Court of the United States faces a grave crisis of legitimacy because Clarence Thomas is the most corrupt Supreme Court justice in American history, followed by Justice Samuel Alito and abetted by the refusal of Chief Justice Roberts to take any act to reform the ethics rules of the court regarding such corruption.
Senator Melendez, the now-indicted (former) chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is accused of taking gold bars from Egypt to influence American foreign policy. Among other crimes.
Estimates are that the COVID relief package signed into law by Donald Trump was the greatest grift in history with upwards of $1 trillion being stolen.
Truly, the “Angry Twenties” in Weimar America is a grifter’s paradise.
This crisis of corruption is deep, covering every known strain in political, media, business, sexual, moral, and economic corruption. The common denominator is that they are all markers of collapse, decay and rot within the systems, institutions and organizations that are the basis of American society.
The problem is that the corruption extends everywhere. And for the purposes of this article, most particularly into the beliefs and thinking of those who are depressed, enraged, flustered, or shocked by what is going on, who want to root it out and return us to following our better angels, as Abraham Lincoln put it.
Every Republic created before the creation of the American Republic ultimately failed. And many republics founded since 1776 have also failed.
The Founders were well aware of that fact. They had read Polybius on what were the strengths of the Roman Republic that allowed it to win the Punic Wars, and they had read Cicero’s accounts of how those strengths had atrophied 240 years later to the point where the people welcomed the fall of the Republic and the establishment of the dictatorship of Caesar Augustus and his following dictators.
With speed of communication speeding up elapsed historical time, what took the Romans 240 years has happened here within the lifetime of a person born on the high tide of the American Republic, 1944: Me.
The Founders correctly identified the problem as “faction .” Specifically, the condition of hyper-partisanship that tears apart the bonds of citizenship and turns the majority of the people away from the kind of republican government that results from that hyper-partisanship, resulting in that republic becoming weak enough to be overthrown by an unscrupulous politician and his followers. This is why originally they hoped there would be no political parties, since they saw those groupings leading to the hyper-partisanship they feared.
The United States nearly fell 160 years ago, to the hyper-partisanship engendered by the institution of slavery and the movement to abolish it.
One obvious attribute of hyper-partisanship is putting the goals of party over the good of the country. We have seen that in the unwillingness of a Republican-controlled Senate to vote for the conviction of Donald Trump in two different impeachments, on the grounds that doing so would lead to a loss of their political power when Trump’s voter base punished them for convicting him and removing him from office. This was despite the obvious fact that Trump - in or out of office - is an existential threat to the system of government through which the Republican Senators gained their power.
That same obvious attribute is seen in the unwillingness of Democrats to call out Senator Menendez and demand his resignation, despite his continuance in office being an existential threat to the reputation of the Democratic Party as the party committed to good government. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Menendez was a “dedicated public servant” - a tip o’ the hat to “He may be a moral monster, but he’s OUR moral monster.” Number Two Democratic Senate leader Dick Durbin pointed out that “The rule of law says that a person who is indicted is presumed to be innocent.” Senator Chris Murphy ducked when he told Jonathan Capehart that he “hasn’t spoken to my fellow Democratic Senators on this topic and I will wait to say anything until I have.”
Senator Schumer’s feckless defense of Menendez as a “dedicated public servant” is no different than the defense of Trump by Mitch McConnell.
Menendez was able to harness this hyper-partisanship in his first indictment and trial in 2015-2018, when the Democrats faced the loss of their majority in the Senate. They were unwilling to sacrifice Menendez, because there was at the time a Republican governor of New Jersey and they were afraid the replacement would be a Republican whose appointment would further decrease what power they could retain and their fear they could not defeat that replacement in the election of 2018. Menendez got that hung jury in the first case as a result of such politics.
Let’s be clear: Robert Menendez is NOT a “dedicated public servant.” Not in 2015; not in 2023. If he was, the problem would not exist a first time, let alone a second time. This is the equivalent of Trump being impeached twice and left in office by Republicans to maintain their power.
This is how republican governments lose the support of the majority of voters, who throw up their hands in the face of such bipartisan corruption and say “a plague on both your houses!” In the face of a seemingly-implacable anti-democratic, authoritarian, fascist movement that is dedicated to the destruction of this democratic constitutional republic, following this path will lead directly to that destruction.
As opposed to Schumer, Durbin and Chris Murphy, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy - a Democrat - and a majority of the Democratic House members from New Jersey have already called for Menendez’s resignation. That’s how you do it.
Before I continue my little homily on the practicality of political morality, I’ll say that I understand this stuff as well as I do because I have Been There And Done That. More than once. And the possibility of doing it again can be seen by any of you when I catch myself in time and post “If my thought dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine” in response to posts at other Substacks.
I plead guilty that during the Vietnam war, had either Johnson or Nixon been assassinated, I would not have felt as badly as I did over the assassination of Kennedy. That’s really not a good place to be. I can say that it demonstrates how frustrated I was with the two of them, but then I also have to admit that I decided to act out my self-righteousness and didn’t vote in 1968 - when Hubert Humphrey lost by a very narrow margin to Nixon. Had I and my fellow self-righteous ones not withheld our “approval” of the system, the past 55 years of history might be very, very different indeed.
As for Trump... multiply what I felt for Johnson and Nixon by 10 billion.
By 1969, when the Weathermen (many of whom I knew) called for an armed guerilla campaign against a government engaged in the crimes it was committing in Vietnam, I had no difficulty seeing that as mistaken. I might have thought differently had I known in 1969 what I learned in 1977 when I received my copy of my COINTELPRO file and discovered that Every Bad Thing that had happened to me was the result of government actions committed with the goal of inflicting such punishment on me for the crime of my political beliefs. I’d like to think I would still have seen it as wrong, no matter the rage I experienced reading that collection of malicious, malevolent mendacity, the proof if proof was necessary of the immorality of the FBI.
Fortunately, I had just come back from working at The Oleo Strut, where every day we got the lesson that the only thing keeping us out of Huntsville Prison was acting publicly and privately in such a way that people would clearly understand we didn’t do such things as we would likely be accused of, if the government moved against us. We had Moral Authority, and it was literally the only weapon available to us.
The proof of that was that when they did move against us, the good Church Ladies of Killeen - the wives, mothers, daughters and girlfriends of the men who ordered the move - asked us to come speak at their meetings, believed us and not those they were related to, and the move ultimately failed because of that.
Political morality was very practical at that moment.
And I was right about the result of doing what the Weathermen proposed. Acting the way the government liars said we in the antiwar movement really believed in doing made their job of delegitimizing us much easier. It didn’t matter that 90% of the antiwar movement opposed such actions, there they were, doing it. The government was right! We were a threat. In the eyes of the public - the “sea” in which the “guerilla fish” are supposed to swim.
The tradition of “he may be a crook, but he’s our crook” is an old one in American politics. It goes back further than the Gilded Age, but there’s a great example of that attitude in action and the very negative results it obtained there in the middle of that period: Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall in New York City. The lower-ranking citizens of New York were fine with Tweed and his gang in charge, since they “robbed from the rich” and gave the poor what passed for welfare then. Except they didn’t. Rob from the rich. They robbed everybody. And as usual, the most vulnerable - the poor - got robbed the worst. There was no enforcement of what laws were there for the protection of the poor, no enforcement of building codes - resulting in tenement fires and dead residents. No enforcement of laws against the street gangs of the era, who preyed on the people in the neighborhoods they controlled. The list goes on. And on.
The same story plays out wherever one wants to look. The Chicago Machine of Dick Daley’s time, as chronicled by Mike Royko, was as bad as it came. His son and heir “made his bones” as State’s Attorney in 1969 in what can only be called the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.
The Panthers are an even better demonstration than the Weathermen of what happens when “by any means necessary” becomes the guiding principle. Was the Panther’s righteous anger at the system justified? Hell yes! But responding that way made it easy for slimeballs like Ed Meese to “make their bones” back when he was Alameda County District Attorney, and even get the tacit support of property owners in Berkeley for the gunfights between the Panthers and the Oakland Police Department. Tell me who was more effective - Huey P. Newton, who really was the drug dealer he was accused of being by the the end - or Barbara Lee, the congresswoman from Oakland who is now a credible candidate for Senator here? Which one of them more effectively “served the people” of Oakland?
But... but... they play hardball all the time! We can’t bring a butterknife to a gunfight! As bad as he is, Menendez is better than Manchin!
I have read all three of those in the past three days. Read them again, please.
Would you use any of that when you’re trying to convince Joe and Jane Schmo - who probably slept through their high school civics class, assuming one was offered in their high school, and whose sole source of news is a Sinclair Network station (or one of the other local news operations like Tribune), assuming they pay any attention at all - that there’s a difference between Republicans and Democrats, and that the Democrats are the “good guys”?
If we are going to convince the people who don’t vote - because the argument “they’re all alike” is as powerful as it is, even when it’s as wrong as it is - that we are “the good guys” who will save them from MAGA Fascism and preserve the democratic constitutional republic they barely understand, then WE HAVE TO BE “THE GOOD GUYS.”
Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
People like me need to bite our tongues hard enough to bring blood if that’s what it takes and keep our “thought dreams” thought dreams.
We have to toss out politicians who are no longer “dedicated public servants” - even if it means handing control of the Senate back to Mitch McConnell. Because it’s a lot easier to campaign against a Republican scumbag if no one wonders if you’re a scumbag.
The ends don’t justify the means. Since there is no final “end,” the “means” are “the end.”
My friend Jim Wright is always saying “If you want a better country, be better citizens.” He’s right. And yes, being better citizens is hard.
Doing the right thing is always hard.
Because it’s the Right Thing.
The fact it’s hard is why it has value.
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