Inauguration Day. Please Do Not Ask Me to “Get Over It.”

This morning, with absolutely no enthusiasm, I watched Donald Trump take the oath of office as the new President of the United States.  In the run-up to this occasion, from last Election Day until today, I have read all sorts of Facebook posts and seen all sorts of talking heads on TV who keep telling me (and more than 60,000,000 other Americans) that we should just “get over it” and that we now owe our support to President Trump.  I think that is oversimplified (like one of DJT’s speeches) and of little use to anyone.  I intend to tell you, in just a few words, why that is the case.

First off, this is, as they say, not my first rodeo.  I have closely followed elections since 1960, when I was 12 years old.  Though all my 12-year-old mind really understood about that contest was that I found Kennedy rather uplifting, inspiring, and vigorous, all qualities I admired, and that Nixon struck me as someone who was deeply uncomfortable in his psyche–too fidgety, too nervous, and above all, too evasive.  I will not defend or attack any of that more than 50 years after the fact; I only offer it as an indication of how I have always taken all this to a very personal level.  This person who wants support, if he is elected, will then claim he has it from all Americans, whatever he does.  In retrospect, it seems to me that all those youthful thoughts were somewhat on the mark, but Kennedy was not an unmixed blessing in the White House.  The Bay of Pigs fiasco set us on a course for more than half a century of antagonism with Cuba, a small, poor island nation off our southern flank, and helped drive it into a Soviet orbit for a long time.

On the other hand, Kennedy’s surprising devotion to civil rights was a higher calling that did lift millions out of a twilight status they had been in since the Lincoln administration.  His legacy in this area will shine for a long time to come.

1964: Johnson-Goldwater was an uninspiring choice, though I was still not old enough to vote.

1968 brought back Nixon, like some Frankenstein’s monster, with Hubert Humphrey as his opposition.  Still only 20 (the voting age then was 21), I watched in horror as Nixon was elected narrowly.  All my initial impressions about Nixon were confirmed over the course of the next five or so years.  He was a petty, vindictive,  “little” man, given to the lust for power for its own sake.  He did create the EPA, which meant that there was now some check on those who thought polluted air and water were a price all of us should pay so that they could profit.  He was re-elected in 1972 over the doomed George McGovern, for whom I did vote in my first-ever ballot.  Nixon’s campaign did its best to make us all feel un-American if we did not support the President.

1976 meant Ford and Carter, the accidental President and the peanut farmer.  Another yawn-inducing choice.  Both were fundamentally decent men.  Neither was particularly inspiring.  Ford suffered for his quick blanket pardon of Nixon, his disgraced predecessor.  Carter served four undistinguished years, marred by sniping inside his own party from Senator Edward Kennedy, the younger brother of the assassinated President from that earlier time.  I voted for Carter, but was a bit tormented by it in later years–though not too badly, since I had no better choice.

In 1980 and 1984, I was in a minority that did not see Ronald Reagan as some national savior, and I began to see a drift on the part of the Republican party to a louder and more vocal advocate of what is known today as white privilege, sometimes dressed up as “states’ rights” or some other formulation.  I think his presidency was destructive of labor rights, incomes of working people, and government advocacy of equal rights for all.  Many of his policies were slanted in favor of the wealthy, and his administration started the slide to “trickle-down” theories in economics.

Bush, Sr., was probably the last Republican President I have seen who was squarely in the old guard Republican tradition, with actual principles. I thought Bush was principled in the first Gulf war, and supported that.  Clinton succeeded Bush for two terms.  Twelve years, no real enthusiasm–and Clinton, I thought, had begun to show a tendency to pander for votes at the expense of formulating principled policy and then running on it.

I liked Obama.  I voted for him twice.   I used to have some admiration for his first opponent, John McCain.  It went away when he foisted Sarah Palin (Caribou Barbie) on the American public.  Obama was far from a perfect President, but his tendencies were mostly, I thought, on the money.  I did not and do not agree with those who see any rapprochement with countries like Iran and Cuba as some sort of betrayal of American values.  Hostility is not a value.  I like his metaphor of the open hand of friendship extended that could become a closed fist if rebuffed.

And so came 2016.  As I have explained many times, I was again unenthusiastic about both candidates.  Really unenthusiastic.  But Trump was such a turn-off that I voted for Ms. Clinton.

I have observed a pattern over the years: if someone looks dangerous or unbalanced or unprepared, I go with my instincts; they’re usually good.  I could not vote for Trump, and that doesn’t make me a “libtard” or even a firm Democrat.  I see four years ahead of steadfastness in favor of fancy.  Trump doesn’t like climate change, so he can ignore the scientific consensus in its favor.  He says companies should not move jobs overseas, so he can stop them from doing so with a firm upraised hand.  He loves “winning,” so we are all going to get a lot of winning.  Whatever that is.  Putin/Russia are admirable to him, so we should all like them.

Anyone who disagrees with him–on anything–is a “loser,” “sad,” or an “enemy” or maybe all of the above.  The Affordable Care Act will be replaced with “something wonderful” with lower premiums, no requests for specifics, please.

I listened to the inaugural speech with hopes that there would be some note of reconciliation, of trying to do an ingathering of the people.  No such luck.  What we got was the same campaign speech written in an eighth-grade vocabulary.  No call to a higher vision, only a smear of everyone in Washington, and a vague promise that “the American people” would have their voices heard starting tomorrow.

Yet, during this whole transition, none other than Mitch McConnell has constantly and consistently harangued us to “grow up; you lost.”  After eight years of naked opposition to anything Obama proposed, and after an unprecedented refusal (because he could, as Majority leader of the Senate) to hear anything about any proposal to fill a Supreme Court vacancy until after Barack Obama was out of office, Mitch wants us to grow up.  Well, it’s not as if I never saw a hypocrite before; I just never saw the hypocrisy on a scale comparable to this before.

So, if his Trumpness was speaking truth at points during the campaign (I know, a highly debatable condition), Trump himself and Congress will swiftly act to repeal the ACA and throw 20 to 30 million Americans off their current health care insurance; de-emphasize NATO; return to a policy that says Benjamin Netanyahu is always right, and can never be contradicted; and install cabinet secretaries who a) cozy up to Russia, no matter that they hack into our election campaigns, b) insist that climate change is a hoax, c) want guns in schools, just to ward off attacks by grizzly bears, d) advocate to abolish the minimum wage, and e) profit off a foreclosure crisis to a degree never before seen.  Do I need to go on?  There is always the national security adviser who has been associated with so many right-wing conspiracy theories that he reminds me of the guy in the 1950’s Steve Allen TV sketch, who, being informed that Genghis Khan is dead, exclaims, “You mean the commies got him, too!?”

Yes, he is now the President of all Americans, rich, poor, majority, minority, straight, gay, whatever.  If we go to war at some point, he is the commander-in-chief, for better or worse.  That makes him my president.  But just because he beat the other party’s candidate (and don’t say “my” candidate) doesn’t mean I need to be happy about it.  By a long shot, it doesn’t mean I think the country at large will be a better place.  I do think the regular crowd of wealthy donors will do very well.  That’s just too small a percentage of the population to be a good thing.  His lack of understanding of government (note to DJT: it won’t be like running a Manhattan real estate and hotel empire.  You’re welcome.) and his obstinate refusal to perceive the tiniest fault or simple error of thought in himself do not bode well.  And it’s not for myself I fear.  More of my days are behind me than ahead, after all.  It’s for the current younger generation I fear.  If he proves to be as bad in office as I fear he could be, those are the people who will pay for decades to come.  Grow up, indeed.  Get over it, but then, maybe, but then…there is much water to go under the bridge.  Prayers, yes.  Wishes, yes.  Support?  Earn it first, and I will.

Assange and Snowden: Whose Heroes Are They?

Sorry, I’ve been away from the old keyboard a while.  The holidays can take up pretty big chunks of time for everybody, and in truth, need no preparation time or spell checks, so they can be pretty pleasant.  Since all good things must come to an end, though, here is my first new post of the year.

I have been puzzled for some time as I observe the continuing sagas of Messrs. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.  If you have been in a subterranean cave for the last few years, cut off from all sources of light or news, you could look the two of them up.  If that seems too much work or too unrewarding, then here is the short version.  Assange is the head of WikiLeaks, an organization dedicated to unearthing government secrets and then splashing them all over the internet for anyone at all to read and interpret as he/she pleases.  His principal “contributor” in this enterprise (so far) has been Bradley/Chelsea Manning, the former US Army Intelligence Analyst, who passed hundreds of thousands of classified or “sensitive” documents to Assange’s organization.  Snowden is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency who then became a contract employee of a firm (Booz Allen Hamilton) which had access to highly-classified US government proprietary information.   Snowden, claiming he did not want to live in a society that conducted mass surveillance on its citizens, gave foreign journalists classified documents while in flight from the US.

The paragraph above contains, in essence, all of the information on these two that is generally conceded to be accurate by all parties.  Almost anything else said or written about them is subject to claims by supporters or detractors that one is trying to influence the discussion on them, whether for good or for ill.   On the occasions I have spoken with other people about the pair, I have heard them both described as “whistleblowers” by those with positive opinions of the pair.  Those who do not share that inclination often use terms such as “guilty of espionage” or “thieves of government property.”  Although it is difficult to categorize these responses precisely, it has struck me (and remember, you may feel free to dispute it–this is only presented as my point of view) that the more idealistic the observer, the more likely he/she is to view Assange and Snowden as having altruistic, positive motives.

I am neither young nor particularly altruistic anymore, so, as you might surmise, I am not very sympathetic to either Assange or Snowden.  Objectively speaking, each knowingly disseminated into the public domain information he knew to be property of the US government.  Equally, they disseminated that information with the knowledge that there were legal penalties for doing so.  (Manning, meanwhile, was caught several years ago and identified as the source of some of Assange’s revelations, and indeed, is serving a 35-year sentence for various acts of espionage and theft of government property–which may give you some idea of the degree of sympathy Assange enjoys from US law enforcement.)

As a former US government employee who handled classified information from time to time, the need for care and nondisclosure is imprinted on me–and I never was in a position to have to work with much such material.  Revelation of information protected by a US government classification was something that every official knew, every day, was something to be avoided.  Meetings of embassy officials were often held in secure areas to guard against the accidental case of revealing such information.  Thus I start from the premise that guarding such information from unauthorized persons is inimical to the cause of good security.  A purposeful disclosure can only be from bad intent.

But wait, the idealists protest: Assange and Snowden (Snowden particularly) were serving the greater good by informing people of the evil actions performed under the cover of secrecy by their government.  This argument, I will concede, has a sliver of appeal.  At times, they are compared to Daniel Ellsberg, who, during the Viet Nam war, found and leaked documents to US newspapers, showing, in summary, that the war in Viet Nam had been evaluated by the Pentagon at an earlier date as unwinnable; the rage of the Nixon administration at the time was that this was embarrassing to the US government–and not only the Nixon administration, but the Johnson and Kennedy administrations that had gone before it.

Not usually mentioned is the fact that anyone who might be sent off by his government to fight in a war that that government already knew was unwinnable might well try to avoid such service.

The Snowden-as-Ellsberg or Assange-as-Ellsberg comparisons, though, seem weak to me for several reasons.  For one, Ellsberg’s revelations pointed only to a general conclusion, the unwinnability of the war.   And for a second, Ellsberg did not flee the jurisdiction of his own government.  He surrendered to federal authorities and stood trial for his violations (demonstrating the courage of his convictions), categorized as theft and conspiracy.  He was eventually acquitted.

Assange has revealed many details from classified reports, cables, and memos. some of which are harmless enough in the objective sense (a profile of Icelandic politicians, for example), if momentarily embarrassing to the government.  On the other hand, some of the documents may have revealed sources for intelligence, which could have exposed those sources to harm or even death.  Some also revealed to Al-Qaeda some of the methods used to gather the intelligence; like a mutating disease microbe, that organization adapted and changed their modes of operation, setting back the efforts of US intelligence operations until new methods of penetration could be devised.  These are concrete, malignant effects of public disclosure of guarded information.

Snowden, for his revealing of mass surveillance of US citizens (and permanent residents) is revered in some circles.  I can understand how this is regarded as meritorious, since it may involve illegal activity by the government itself.  (This is by no means an open-and-shut argument, by the way.)  But I believe Snowden himself forfeited any “high ground” by stealing the documents (said to be more than a million of them) and fleeing to first China and later Russia,  rather than attempting to find a sympathetic ear within the government\.  Snowden claims his intention was to go to Venezuela or Ecuador, both Latin American countries in the throes of leftist governance which would have been happy to give shelter to an American fleeing from his own government.  He lives today in Russia, seemingly unbothered by the amount of surveillance of its own citizens that country does.

Assange may or may not have cooperated with recent Russian hacking activities connected to the recent US presidential election.  I can discern no higher motive in his conduct than narcissistic self-aggrandizement.

React as you will.  Disagree if you are so inclined.  I think the final chapter of these two’s story has yet to be written, and it probably will not be a happy ending.