The Case for Not Submitting to Autocratic Authority When Necessary

Very recently I was navigating the complexities, hierarchical rules and demands of a massive hospital, when a wonderful black nurse of some rank saw my problem and offered to take me under her wing and help unravel my problems.

While this was underway we had to wait for a few minutes and sat in a waiting area. She asked me when and how I had ‘learned’ the art and importance of bucking authority.

My answer, which simply popped out without much thought, was that when I was 7/8 years old and saw pictures in the late 1930s of long lines of men, women and their children waiting in lines for trains that they knew were to take them someplace awful because of their only crime of being Jewish. I realized then that they were peacefully submitting to their deaths and that they could/should have sought to overwhelm the few armed guards who held them captive. But they did nothing. And 5,000,000 Jews were gassed and burned by Hitler.

I said to myself then that if ever I was in such a situation I would rather die rebelling than passively submit to death. In the years since, that thought process has morphed into my generally rebellious attitude towards misplaced and arbitrary authoritarian power from many institutions that dominate our lives.

My new nurse ‘friend’ then said something that startled and pleased me. She said that she shared my attitude because she saw my frustration and she was empathic.

Then she added that her equivalent of my lines of Jews were pictures she saw, when she was a young girl, of fields with dozens of black slaves/workers being driven to pick cotton by 4/5 white men on horseback with shot guns. She said me that she then promised herself that she would never allow herself to accept such a situation. That was why she went out of her way to help me!

I realized then that the sharing of different—but underneath identical—experiences is the core to human understanding and communication.

This is a manifestation of a real possibility of extraction of many more such common experiences that could lead to a more harmonious world around ourselves. 

The Trap Door

Where is it? Where is the opener? What happens below? What happens next?

The trap door is the Mueller report.

The opener is when he submits it to the Attorney General.

What happens underneath depends a lot on whether he proposes an indictment of the President for any crime.

What happens after that depends on the new Attorney General Barr, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic majority in the House.

All of it is likely to happen in the first quarter of this year.

We saw recently that the Trump base is capable of erosion, but surprisingly little given the clarity of the events surrounding Trump’s “proud” closure of the government.

In theory, there may be some ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ but the Constitution requires two-thirds of Senators to vote to convict a President (thereby removing him from office), so unless the Republican leadership gives up on Trump for whatever reasons, it makes little sense to pursue impeachment in the House.

What will happen psychologically to Trump is hard to forecast. He might quit while he can, as did Nixon. He might seek authoritarian powers by simply trying to declare an emergency. The Supreme Court hates the idea of being ham in a sandwich but Roberts appears more likely to play a positive leadership role. So who knows?

If the Trump Presidency ends, Pence becomes President. But, with less than two years left in Trump’s term, the Democratic House can keep Pence in check.

Therefore, the next step back towards normalcy is the 2020 election.

I see a number of “outstanding human beings” [two for example Kamala Harris and Howard Shultz] emerging to compete in 2020.

Therefore, I am becoming positive and optimistic.

Let’s hope we will have learned ‘a thing or two’ and take steps to prevent such a dangerous Presidency from ever happening again.

Beware Creeping Fascism

Take note of the following quote from a book with a comprehensive study of the rise of fascism since the 1930’s.

“Fascism appealed to a confused sense of manliness. The new style equated frankness, spontaneity, lack of manners, public use of insult and ridicule with honesty, sincerity and a break with bourgeois hypocrisy and conventionality. Passion was to be a substitute for reason, readiness to fight a substitute for useless sophistic arguments.”

When do you suppose that was written?—nearly 50 years ago in about 1976!

Does any of that ring a familiar bell for you at the moment?

If not, you have nothing to fear except your ignorance and the hell that follows.

If yes, you have nothing to fear but your unwillingness to speak out.

Note: Juan J. Linz “Some Notes Toward a Comparative Study of Fascism in Sociological Historical Perspective”

In Fascism: A Reader’s Guide. Edited by Walter Laqueur.  1976.  pp. 55-56. 

SWASTIKAS?

The rash of swastika graffiti is arousing a lot of attention and opposition.

The question is –what inspired the graffiti folks?

It strikes me that the inspiration was MUCH more of concern than support.

The concern is NOT misplaced because what Trump has been doing parallels what Hitler did to get the German government out of his hair.

Perhaps the main line press should reconsider their criticism of swastika graffiti.

It just might help awaken America to a very real threat!

Add-On: A Messianic Man vs A Savvy Woman

An add-on suggested by a Republican friend. See below.

The Trump Pelosi standoff is whacky.

She rightly fears he has discovered political sex by bargaining with the jobs of 800,000 bystander government employees for something unrelated but politically important to him.

He probably rightly fears that if he ‘caves’ his racist, isolationist base might largely abandon him.

Her position on the substance of the WALL is both right –and he knows it—and supported by a large majority of the American people and most likely by both houses of Congress.

They both ought to be able to agree as follows:

  1. In the future there cannot/will not be any shutdown of government, if either house disagrees with a simple majority vote.
  2. There will be $2.5 billion more for border security; of which up to $1.5 billion cannot be used for any form of fixed barrier but can be used by other forms of border protection as determined by experts.
  3. The DACA protective provisions will be extended for five years with a promise to seek a permanent resolution through a comprehensive immigration plan within that period of time.
  4. All furloughed government employees will immediately be paid all their back pay whether they worked or not.

It may be an imperfect plan BUT it should allow both sides to save face and get the innocents out of the middle as well as get a start on some other critical issues?

ADD-ON!

Also, agree to $5 billion overall for border security (agents, monitoring, interdiction, and yes a physical barrier in some places designated by experts), as long as the funding bill includes the following two provisions:

1) the Special Counsel shall prepare and make public a copy of the report he submits to the Attorney General, making redactions only when the Special Counsel, in his complete discretion, deems doing so in the national interest; and

2) If the special counsel is fired, then all the files, papers, reports, and other books and records of the special counsel shall be immediately turned over to the House and Senate oversight committees.

A Messianic Man vs A Savvy Woman

The Trump Pelosi standoff is whacky.

She rightly fears he has discovered political sex by bargaining with the jobs of 800,000 bystander government employees for something unrelated but politically important to him.

He probably rightly fears that if he ‘caves’ his racist, isolationist base might largely abandon him.

Her position on the substance of the WALL is both right –and he knows it—and supported by a large majority of the American people and most likely by both houses of Congress.

They both ought to be able to agree as follows:

  1. In the future there cannot/will not be any shutdown of government, if either house disagrees with a simple majority vote.
  2. There will be $2.5 billion more for border security; of which up to $1.5 billion cannot be used for any form of fixed barrier but can be used by other forms of border protection as determined by experts.
  3. The DACA protective provisions will be extended for five years with a promise to seek a permanent resolution through a comprehensive immigration plan within that period of time.
  4. All furloughed government employees will immediately be paid all their back pay whether they worked or not.

It may be an imperfect plan BUT it should allow both sides to save face and get the innocents out of the middle, as well as get a start on some other critical issues?

Scribbles on a Scrap of Discarded Paper

A scrap of paper on the floor of a corridor read as follows:

MONTHLY

Rent: $1680

Insurance: $145

Cable: $145

Gas: $70

Pepco: $80

Credit cards: $210        Total $2,680 or $2,700

Food: $200

Gas: $150

It’s obviously the napkin math of someone worried about money. Given that it was found in Washington, D.C., it’s reasonable to conclude it was dropped by a furloughed government employee.

The despair behind the note is palpable. One doesn’t write down such costs unless meeting them is a challenge. It’s easy to imagine the unknown author dropping the paper, raising their hands to the ceiling, and plaintively screaming, “What am I going to do???”

It’s a timely reminder that these are real people with real problems, and they need help.

And poor Trump cannot play golf!

A ‘Cookbook’ of Recipes to Help America Satisfy its Appetite to Solve its Social Problems

In digging for more than a decade in the heap of confusion of American society, I have found that at the root of much of the inability to solve many problems is a simple reality.

The three basic sectors of society –business, nonprofits, and government –have different languages, customs, practices and cultures. The people in those three sectors often do not know each other well, tend not to trust each other, and do not follow similar policies and processes in the pursuit of their needs and goals.

A ‘cookbook’ for solving many of America’s challenges involves remedying the tensions and differences between these sectors – in the Intersector. Regular readers of this column will no doubt recognize this as a reference to “collaborative governance.”

But a deeper, broader and, hopefully, simpler understanding of the practical nature of those underlying problems appears to be an essential precondition to getting more people to understand why they want and need to understand more. Only that way can their voices become collectively loud enough to get political processes sufficiently focused on fixing society’s many and real problems by using those tools.

Much of the discussion of this subject and, to be quite honest, including my own, tends to be abstract and dreary. Dry, academic treatises also impede problem solving. A wrench is a remarkably simple tool whose function and purpose is readily grasped by anyone who has ever had occasion to need one; but a scholarly examination of a wrench would quickly delve into arcana (“the cross product of the position vector and the force vector”) neither useful nor discernable to many people who simply want to unwind a nut.

Consequently, it has become vividly apparent that many people need concrete, specific examples familiar to them to visualize this subject so that they can truly grasp, and retain, what all the abstract stuff actually means.

Imagine, then, a large restaurant. The prime focus might be the food (naturally), but that’s far from the only thing that makes restaurants successful. In fact, it takes a small army of people, with different skills and responsibilities, to make restaurants run successfully and for a long time.

The Chef, of course, concocts the delectable offerings that are basic to earning a restaurant its reputation.

The Maître ‘d is charged with ensuring a pleasant experience around the food – e.g., prompt and polite waiters and clean dishes.

The Manager’s job is to bring the disparate pieces together to make everything flow smoothly, and keep the books in balance to assure the restaurant’s continued success.

These positions, and the myriad staff beneath them, must collaborate closely – water and drinks offered shortly after seating; food prepared to the customer’s expectations; dishes brought and cleared promptly; and the check delivered and payment collected. In a well-run restaurant, those positions not only cooperate with each other, but they also compete to offer the greatest food, service or experience, depending on the role.

Then comes something of a surprise: despite the best efforts of those many, well-intentioned restaurant folks, one-third of restaurants in the U.S. fail within one year!

Why?

Well, the answer is that is it not easy, and far from automatic, for a group of even smart, talented and well-intentioned people to work together smoothly. Not only does each job need to be done well – all the time – but the different jobs must be executed in close coordination. The failure of one sparks the failure of others, until the red ink flows too fast.

Now, if you can, try to think of America as just such a restaurant writ large. Visualize the myriad complex issues in traffic coordination, infrastructure maintenance, water distribution or crime prevention just to name a very few easy to imagine examples. As you overlay in your mind the restaurant metaphor, you can see how there are many common threads in these seemingly quite different situations.

Much like our metaphorical restaurant, most of America can’t succeed with only one or two of the critical pieces out of many working well together. Just as a restaurant with great food but lousy service will invariably fail, so, too, will a republic and all its parts if it can’t balance the oftentimes conflicting needs of its many customers, vendors, service providers, owners, regulators and managers. 

In the world at large, think of the processes and places where the different sectors have to come together to work out the complexities of their inevitable interactions. Those competing and conflicting sectors have to work out (or orchestrate) their problems among themselves or all of society is left to suffer as the failures fester and spread to other sectors. 

Two other core problems can derail even the best-intentioned ‘societal restauranteurs’:

  • Very few citizens notice, believe or understand the important differences in the key jobs – for example, in a restaurant, not many people are much aware or pay attention to the bus staff and dishwashers, but imagine what that restaurant would be like if they weren’t there!

  • Very few people holding those key jobs truly understand many of the other participants as well. A head waiter may know little of what makes a chef’s signature dish renowned; the chef’s understanding of the restaurant’s finances may be comically off base. 

In fact, in many cases, they’re not even speaking the same language. The manager, looking to order supplies, can’t properly gauge demand if the chef’s recipe calls for a “soupçon of paprika.” How many soupçons are there in an ounce? The service staff likely don’t recognize that laundry for table linens cost a lot and should be used prudently.

The idea for a metaphor of a restaurant, as a proxy for society writ large, is solely to illuminate that there really are pretty simple and understandable ways to engage more and more people to understand the basic issues of problem solving to gain their support for the process.

Once more awareness exists, a path to overcoming problems should tend to come faster and more easily. But getting to that awareness is hard; the notion of joint dependency through collaboration is often difficult to grasp and illusive in practice. But, it can be done, and the ‘cookbook’ at the center of this piece basically offers simple recipes.

Only three basic steps are required, regardless of the type of problem being confronted:

  1. Identify and assemble the relevant players;
  2. Establish their respective needs and wants; and
  3. Encourage possible compromises that reflect the different needs and priorities of the relevant players.

I have been thinking about and working on this subject for a number of years and see the importance of effective metaphors to convey the relevance and importance of the topic to a broader audience in order to see solutions accelerate.

The Intersector Project (www.intersector.com) has produced the beginnings of a helpful cookbook on the matter, one that is basically agnostic about geography and topics. The tool kit and case studies provide examples and guidance for many vexing issues – from economic development to environmental protection – for all sorts of problems great and small.

We really cannot and should not accept being doomed to working at wasteful cross purposes forever. We have to learn to understand and to talk better (with, not at) colleagues. As in restaurants, a lot can be achieved fairly quickly with good leadership.

Let me know what you think. Your contribution to this subject could be greater than you imagine!

Is The World Big Enough?

It is widely believed that the rise of other great powers to challenge America’s hegemony constitutes one of the realities of the present world. This is, at a minimum, misguided and potentially dangerous.

Hegemony means essentially unchallenged superiority. That may be true of the U.S. — at least until Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ perversely convinces the world that we are no longer really great.

But, wise friends in Europe today don’t see China or even Russia trying to “challenge our hegemony.”

In fact, both appear to be trying to avoid a position in which they would have no choice but to follow the will of the hegemon. By pursuing their own “spheres of influence,” these powers hope to carve out a place in the world where they’re not subject to the whims of a hostile foreign power, in this case, us.

History tells us that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Can you imagine the US moving into an absolutely dominating position in the world with a President Trump (or worse, if that were imaginable) at the helm?

At this point in time, nobody else really challenges the U.S. dominance, so why should we even consider running a race we have largely already won? It is, after all, in large part our own policies (and ideology) which fires the fears of our contestants in the world.

Isn’t there enough room for everybody on the globe?

The foregoing thoughts –slightly reworded and revised by me – came to me from a close, old friend who was his country’s Ambassador to the U.S. from one of Europe’s biggest and most important countries. 

I was/am struck by the wisdom and practicality of his thoughts.

Perhaps Trump chose MAGA (make America great again) simply because he could claim credit for something that already existed. After blustering about how weak we had become, he could (and has) claimed essentially unchanged realities as great victories. With so much “winning,” he could recklessly and fearlessly go about his Presidency fluffing his feathers for no other goal than his ego.

Interestingly, many people in America go about their lives not giving much thought to Trump—other than disgust—because so far neither his blustering nor his supreme incompetence have significantly impacted their lives. Our friends in Europe, on the other hand, worry that longer term, if America is actually weakened by Trump, they will be exposed to the hegemonic power of countries they do not trust as they have trusted us.

Perhaps, if we grasped that important point, we might be better able to reign in Trump to save ourselves and our European friends. Therefore, instead of questioning the friendship of Europe, shouldn’t we be focused on shoring it up?