A few years ago, my wife and I were given a private tour of Israel.  My goal on this trip was to get a better grasp of the area by identifying and understanding the various conflicting interests there.  What I found was that, instead of a basic conflict between Israeli and Palestinian, there was a mind boggling array of factions, not just in addition to Israeli/Palestinian, but within each of those groups.  On top of that, there were other factions, some of which I had never even heard of before.  Nothing illustrates the point better than the fact that the sacred Christian shrine, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was divided into four quadrants, with each quadrant guarded and violently defended by a separate faction of this religion of brotherly love.

I drew several conclusions from this experience.  First, the interwoven fabric of the competing factions in Israel is so intricate and complex that it is likely that very web of opposing parties that holds the area together.  Second, the art of statesmanship is complicated beyond my imagining, and those who are practiced in its Byzantine ways are quite probably keeping us from a state of constant war.  Third, and perhaps most important, the everyday working out of relations within that maze of interests is carried out, not by states or religions or any other institution, but rather by real people and their everyday ways.  Leaders may bruit about their staunch policies about this or that, but it is the people who live out the real relations.  The Palestinian merchant who owns the spice shop in the Old City, the Druze cook who runs a restaurant for all in Capharnaum, the thousands of such people who live and work in this crazy quilt of contrasting religions and politics and do so with sufficient peace to allow them to wake, live their day and sleep.

It dawns on me that this quite likely, mutatis mutandis, describes relations around the world.  Even here in America, people with radically different views, living at radically different economic and social levels. piece together a pattern of life that allows each of them at least a modicum of peace and contentment.

Into this carefully crafted china shop comes the thoroughly clueless and narcissistic bully, Donald Trump.  He stomps on carefully crafted relationships without the slightest idea, or care, of the implications and consequences of his brutish actions.  He dismantles relations with Mexico, relations built over centuries, without a thought of the damage it does to the farmer in Minnesota or the tightly budgeted family of five in New Mexico.  He rips apart the environmental efforts of decades by many thousands of hard-working people without a care for the irreversible damage his actions will do to millions in the coming generations.  Worst of all, most unforgiveable of all, he throws aside the American ideals of the inalienable rights of all human beings by banning whole groups of people almost exclusively on religious ground.

Mikhail Gorbachev, wise statesman that he is, recognized that all of these actions lead only to war.  When we abandon our ideals and replace them with a devotion to ethnicity, when we define ourselves by our borders rather than our moral character, we start down a path that can only end in violence, and, in this day and age, that violence will be mass destruction.

Where, then, is hope?  Where it always is, in the lives and actions of the people.  We must condemn, oppose and reject every one of these actions.  We survive and thrive because we recognize the inalienable rights of those people on whom Trump now tramples.  Fear not the bombs this man drops on society.  Fear the day when those bombs drop and no one objects.


“Torture works.”  I actually heard those words out of mouth of the person who most clearly represents the United States of America.

Here are some other things that work.  Murder.  You don’t like a guy, so you get a gun and you put a bullet in his heart.  That works.  Rape.  You want to brutalize some woman so you drag her into some secluded place and violate her.  That works.  Bank robbery.  You want some money, so you take a gun to a bank and force the people to empty their cash drawers into your bag.  That works.

We are Americans.  That means that we are fully committed to the American ideal.  We hold, without question, that all human beings are created equal and that each human being is endowed by his or her creator with inalienable rights.  We are Americans because we are, at our root, in our very essence, moral.  Donald Trump has, speaking in his official capacity as president of the United States, renounced our very roots.

Think about what kind of person judges things by whether or not they “work.”  Think of the moral orientation of a person who would judge an action by whether or not it “works.”  Just like the rapist and the bank robber and the murderer and the tyrant and the ruthless dictator, the only question about any proposed action is whether it serves his or her own interests.  If you judge your actions solely by whether they serve your interests, you  are announcing that you don’t give a damn about the rights of others.  And that, in my book, makes you not just unAmerican; it makes you anti-American.

We are faced here with the actions of an anti-American tyrant.  He denounces the press and suppresses their access to our government.  He orders federal employees to refuse to share their work with the public.  He lies over and over again, and he fixates on anything he thinks diminishes his image.  He, and the Republicans working with him, may be dismantling a whole list of programs that assist all Americans, including those who voted for him.  But, horrid as his and the Republicans’ destruction of rights may be, far worse is this blatant attack on the very essence of being American.  Change legislation and the solution is clearly to vote out those who made the changes.  But what do we do when the head of the nation throws out our ideals?





As I have previously stated, there is no value in commenting on any words coming out of the Trump administration.  Trump himself is ignorant, dishonest and immoral.  His administration, i.e., his vice-president and his appointments, judging by their past actions compared to their recent comments, are no better.  So this space will, for now, concentrate solely on Trump actions.

Trump has already started to act on immigration.  His actions are either wasteful (e.g., a wall that will cost billions of dollars and won’t work as well as much cheaper solutions) or hideously anti-American (e.g., excluding people on religious bases or breaking up families).

So what should be done?  Let us take one example.  There are families, primarily of Hispanic origin, who came to this country illegally.  They got jobs, raised families, paid taxes, contributed to a Social Security system from which they could never get benefits, and generally lived good lives.  Their children are either American citizens by birth or de facto Americans because they came as infants and have never known anything except life in the United States.

Before anything happens to those families, we should take into consideration that we were complicit in allowing these people to come and to stay and to prosper here.  Employers gave them jobs with full knowledge of their status.  People sold them houses with full knowledge of their status.  Whole industries depended on them with full knowledge of their status.  I say “full knowledge” because any employer who claims that he or she hired a person who spoke no English and had no documentation but didn’t know that person was not a citizen is just plain lying.

It is clear that this country needs an immigration policy.  However, that policy should not work injustice.  In a very real sense, we brought these people here.  We owe it to them,and to our own commitment to justice, to give them a chance to stay.


Today is the true first day of the Trump administration.  Up to this time, all that he and his representatives have said has been rendered meaningless by their constant contradictions and weasel words.  Think, for instance, of the promise by Trump that all Americans will be insured for medical care and then his Secretary of Health and Human Services announcing that all Americans would “have access” to medical insurance.  We are thus left to judge them solely by their actions.  All the rhetoric — “America First,” “We will win,” “the government is about you” — now gets its real meaning from their actions.

So how do we judge this administration and the Republican Congress that has espoused it?  I suggest two possibilities.  The first is by its ability to satisfy our own personal wants and needs.  Those who voted for this administration objected to the Affordable Care Act because it cost too much and it did not provide adequate insurance.  They also wanted lower taxes, a more or less constant Republican campaign promise.  They also wanted more job opportunities and higher pay and benefits.

The second possibility for judging this administration is by its effectiveness in promoting the American ideal, which is presented in the Declaration of Independence as the founding notion of our nation:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain alienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”   True enough, the founding fathers excluded, in practice, from “all men” a substantial majority of the population, but the ideal is just that, an ideal, and as such it is clearly meant to cover all human beings.

This second possibility stands in stark contrast to the first.  That possibility asks, in essence, what this administration will do for me.  I want a high-paying job.  I want all-inclusive insurance.  I want to pay less in taxes.  As for you, as long as I get what I want, I will agree to let you have whatever you want.  The measuring stick, however, is me.  This is the so-called morality of self-interest.  I say “so-called” because it is self-contradictory.  Morality is that which I owe to others.  A dedication to self-interest necessarily entails a denial of any such obligation.

The second possibility — the American ideal — has often been misinterpreted as a commitment to my own personal liberty.  It is mistakenly seen as an announcement that I can do whatever I want, with the tacit correlative that the best way to get what I want is usually to not violate the liberty of others.   Freedom, in other words, is defined as license, and that definition perverts the entire meaning of the American ideal.  To measure the rights of others by whether or not they serve your own is, at base, a complete denial of the American ideal.

That ideal is a bold and brave and earth-shaking commitment to respect and serve the rights of every human being.  Not just those of my race or my locale or my social or economic status or my religion, but every human being on the planet.  That colossal ideal is what brought the poor and the hungry and the oppressed of the world to these shores:  the knowledge that they would be freed of the chains forced upon them by their birth or their beliefs.  It is the inspiration for those words that stirred us long ago:  “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”

Self-interest is not an ideal.  It is, in fact, the denial of all ideals.  The primacy of self-interest is the root of all conflict.  It is the mother of injustice.  It is the breeding ground of war.  It is the very antithesis of the American ideal.

If, then, we are truly Americans, we should, we must, measure the actions of those presently in power by whether they foster a world that respects all human beings or whether they operate on a fundamental policy of self-interest.  If self-interest prevails, the founding notion of America will fall from an ideal to a mere advertising campaign.





Some years ago, my wife and I visited our daughter in Moscow, where she was studying the Russian language.  The Soviet Union had recently been dismantled, and the people were being rapidly introduced to the corruption and gangsterism that would become standard operating procedure for their government and their economy.  With their incomes slashed while the bullying few seized massive fortunes, women stood in long lines selling their most valued possessions just to get food to survive.  The thugs ruled the streets, even taking over the Bolshoi Ballet ticket office.  As the years have gone by, those thugs have succeeded in taking power as a matter of policy.  Elections are fixed, the media are controlled by the state, people who oppose the dictatorship are imprisoned or assassinated, and the rich have become dizzyingly rich while the average working person struggles more and more with low wages and decreasing benefits such as health care and retirement benefits.


As Republicans take over Congress and the Trump crowd begins to reveal its direction and plans, we begin to get some sense of the atmosphere in which we are about to be living.  The Republicans passed the first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, although absolutely nothing has been done to replace it.  The president-elect has ignored and even denounced America’s intelligence community for giving the American people information that might damage him.  His appointees have made it clear that they will dismantle the country’s efforts to save the environment, they will slash the workers’ rights to organize, they will cut funding to public schools, they will drastically cut supervision of financial industries, and they will, in general, pursue a government of, by and for the wealthy.


Then, yesterday, something happened that was strange and unexplained.  C-Span, the channel that airs government hearings, was airing a discussion by a senator about current issues.  When the senator began to speak about Russia’s attempts to affect our election process, C-span’s coverage was interrupted and replaced with, of all things, state-controlled RT Russian television.  After some time, C-Span’s coverage was restored, and no explanation was given for this unthinkable switch.


Maybe it was an accident.  Or, maybe someone was sending a message.  A few things, however, are undeniably clear.  First, truth has become disposable.  The intelligence community made an airtight case that the Russians had acted to affect the election in favor of Trump, but it made no investigation or judgment about Russia’s success in promoting him.  Trump first denounced and denied the intelligence community’s conclusions, and then, when his position was finally untenable, he mischaracterized its report, saying that it had found that there was absolutely no effect on the election.


Second, whatever may be the intentions of Trump and his gang, their main motivation has nothing to do with the good of the people.  If they accomplish their proposals, health care will cost more and cover fewer, public education will see drastic monetary cuts, workers will see reductions in wages, benefits and safety, and banks and other financial institutions, including most of all Wall Street, will be given the kind of free rein they used to collapse the American economy in the ’90’s and again during the Bush administration.


All this might seem impossible in America.  If it were even half accomplished, the American people would rise up and throw the rascals out.  The public outrage would eliminate the possibility of Republican hegemony for decades.  Trump would be a lame duck president before his second year was over.


Unless.  The one thing that has prevented such skullduggery from succeeding in the United States has always been the very first right the founders placed in the Constitution — freedom of the press.  It was the press that finally ended Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror.  It was the press that finally revealed the truth that Nixon fought so hard to suppress.  And it was the press that, despite vigorous attempts to suppress its work, revealed to the public that Russia had hacked and weaseled its way into the American election process.


It is that very freedom of the press against which Trump has announced open war.  He has, everywhere he has gone, demonized the press as entirely dishonest, this while ignoring and denying blatant facts.  He has refused the press access to him, and, when he finally does appear before them, he mocks and derides them, refusing to acknowledge undeniable facts and blathering on without a hint of substance.  As inconceivable as it might have been a few months ago, it is now a distinct possibility that Trump could succeed in suppressing that one thing that stands between us and tyranny.


I have come to understand how 60 million people could vote for this man.  They were sick of being ignored, and they were ignored.  They are good people, and they are the very backbone of America.  They work their butts off, and their tax dollars fuel this government.  They want the benefits for which they work so hard and which they so richly deserve.  If, however, those assuming power succeed in the policies they seem to be pursuing, it will be these good people who will suffer the most.  If Trump and his gang succeed at suppressing the people’s right to know, and succeed also in stripping their supporters of their rights, there will be only one recourse — violent revolution.  Until today, I would have said that violent revolution in the U.S. was impossible.  But then, I would have also denied that a president would be a habitual liar.


At the very beginning of the Obama administration, in fact on the evening of his inauguration, the Republican leaders got together and decided that the best way for them to deal with the new president was to oppose absolutely everything he did.  So thorough going was their commitment to this approach that, when the new president endorsed a bill proposed by the Republicans, those very Republicans voted their own bill down.  That was a stupid, selfish, purely political policy, and it deeply wounded the American people and wasted eight years of what could have been an astounding advance in the peace and progress of this nation.

It would, therefore, be just as repugnant to take the same approach to the new Republican administration and Congress.  We need, rather, to rationally analyze the Republican proposals and endorse or oppose them on the merits.

The first act of the new Republican leaders is to announce that they will repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a health care program that will solve the failings that these leaders see in that act.  It was never quite clear what those failings were, but the Republicans have listed them for us.  We should hail them for announcing what those failures are and for promising to fix them.

First, the Republican leaders, most notably Vice-President-elect Michael Pence, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House majority leader Paul Ryan, have announced that the premiums for insurance under the Affordable Care Act are too high.  We should, therefore, eagerly await a reduction in insurance premiums under Republican leadership.

Second, Republican leaders have announced that deductibles in the Affordable Care Act are too high.  We should, therefore, look forward to reduced deductibles along with reduced premiums.

Third, Republican leaders have pointed out that the Affordable Care Act did not allow the insureds to pick their own doctor or pick their own insurer.  We should be comforted by the fact that, under the new Republican leadership, we will be able to do both.

Finally, Republican leaders have complained that the Affordable Care Act did not accomplish its goal of providing insurance for everyone in America.  This is the heart of the matter, since, for various reasons, accomplishing universal health care will result in enormous savings both in the delivery of health care and in the administration of health insurance.  This will be a truly great accomplishment by the Republican administration, and it would show that the Republican leadership cares more about the needs of the people than it does about political power.

If these things are accomplished by the new Republican leadership, we should all congratulate them on their dedication to the American people.  They have the reins now, and they have made clear what they want to accomplish for us.  We will hold them to these promises, and we will give them every bit of recognition they deserve for what they accomplish.