It seems as though we spend all our time these days finding remedies for problems that, while gravely serious, nevertheless baffle us both as to their cause and as to their solution.  We suffer mass killings at a rate greater and more devastating than any other place in the world not at war.  We have a health program that is ridiculously more expensive and patently less effective than any other developed nation.  We have an economy that is outrageously successful for the wealthiest few and yet only muddles through for the rest.  We are one of the world’s wealthiest nations, and yet our public school system is beleaguered, our infrastructure cries out everywhere for repair, our government is thoroughly debt-ridden and there are still outrageous levels of poverty and prejudice across the country.

The steps taken to solve these problems, both liberal and conservative, have done little or nothing, and in many instances seem even to have made things worse.  We are, for perhaps the first time in this nation’s history, handing over to our children a world substantially worse than the one into which we were born.  It is they who will have to pay that debt, repair that infrastructure, improve that school system, salvage that climate, lessen or eliminate that poverty and prejudice.

Why?  What have we done to our nation?  There are temporizing answers.  We have fought wars in which we should never have become involved.  We have followed economic programs for political rather than sound economic reasons.  We have sought temporary solutions rather than seeing things on a long-term basis.

I suggest, however, that there is something deeper going on here, something that seems to resonate with all of our most serious problems.  We have let our culture drift.

This nation was born with the very highest of ideals, that of equal birth and the inalienable rights of all human beings.  Granted it did so while allowing, and actively carrying out, programs directly and openly violating those ideals.  The authors of our founding ideals were also slave holders, and those who followed them engaged in genocide and permitted economic programs based on such hideous practices as child labor and indentured servitude.  Nevertheless, the ideals remained, and the history of the country includes a gradual movement to see those ideals realized.  The elimination of state-supported slavery, the prohibitions of child labor, the recognition of the rights of women, the national programs to provide basic income and health care — all of these things were driven by a national recognition of the ideals of the dignity of every human being and the obligation of every human to her or his fellow human.

I suggest that the root cause of each of our most substantial current problems is the drift of our culture away from those founding ideals.  It is not the economy.  It is not jobs.  It is not the traditional family structure.  It is not religion, at least not the kind of doctrinal religion being sold by the TV evangelists.  It is, rather, a creeping worldview of egocentrism that is bringing us down.  We have, gradually, been more and more willing to surrender our ideals for a mess of pottage.  We would accept bigotry for a minor tax break.  We would let our schools founder, our infrastructure deteriorate, our environment worsen — all for a few dollars here and there.

Where, then, is our hope?  It lies where it always has, in our youth.  Some talking head recently grounded his faith in our youth in the fact, as he said it, that they are “not yet corrupted.”  What a sad description of maturing in America.  Is that what adulthood means, being “corrupted”?  By our conduct as a nation, by the conduct of our elected representatives, it would seem so.  Here is the thing, though.  As “corrupted” as we may be, it is still a fact that those ideals actually define what it is to be a human being.  We still define our real heroes by their commitment to those ideals — Jesus and Gandhi and King and Parks and on and on.  Greed and the many other forms of self-interest may pull us away from those ideals, but we will always know, deep down, that we are only truly human when we are directed toward those ideals.

So it is not the economy, stupid.  It is not your taxes either, stupid, or your wealth or your cars or clothing or house or social position.  It is a culture defined by a striving toward the ideals of equal birth and inalienable rights that defines us as Americans, and our hope lies in the fact that that striving is an ultimately irrepressible desire of all of us. This country will rise or fall in direct relation to its cultural commitment to those ideals.































problems, both liberal and conservative,


Political name-calling is as old as politics itself.  No doubt some candidate opposing the great Solon paraded a sign with the Greek version of “Soloney Baloney.”  Modern-day political cartoons have nothing on the merciless caricaturing of eighteenth century political cartoonists.

Beneath those snarky attacks, however, there was always, in the United States, a serious, and seriously rational, discourse about the contrasting views of how best to pursue the American ideals of equal birth and inalienable rights.  The so-called liberal group generally felt that the ideal was best pursued through government programs, such as universal health coverage and subsidized education.  The so-called conservative groups generally felt that the ideals would be more successfully pursued by individual initiative and/or the efforts of local governments.  The liberals were also more likely to want change rapidly, usually by legislation, while the conservatives favored slower, more incremental change, without substantial legislative changes.

Political debates about issues were often intense, but they were, in fact, debates about issues.  Insults were traded, heated arguments flung each at the other.  But the arguments and insults centered on the issues, not on the people making them.  What was idiotic was the opposing argument, not the opposing arguer.  Whatever the arguments and however many the insults, the point was that all were talking about, and ultimately compromising on, issues important to the American people and to the promotion of the American ideal.

Sadly, all of that is in the past.  Arguments have given way to rationalizations.  Insults have gone from issue-oriented to ad hominem (or ad feminam).  While Democrats have not been immune to this political transmogrification, it has simply overtaken the Republican party.  Arguments from prominent Republicans have been observably rehearsed.  Witness the frequent use of a term by all Republicans.  The most egregious recent example was the strange argument that the request that Trump talk to Robert Mueller was a “perjury trap.”  After all, how could it support Trump to say that if he lied he would commit a crime, but that if he told the truth he would be admitting to a crime?

The rationalizations have stained the reputations and integrity of even the most prominent Republicans, from whom even Democrats expected so very much more.  Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, openly abandons his duty to the American people and announces that his single goal is to get Obama out of office.  Paul Ryan, leader of the Republican majority in the House, justifies the most outrageous conduct by Trump.  The whole bunch of them respond to the horrors of mass killings of students with stale avoidances — “this is not the time…”, “study mental health…” — and absolutely no action.  They could not even bring themselves to outlaw bump stocks and other gadgets that turn guns into automatic weapons of war.  They don’t just disagree with their opponents; they chant “Lock ’em up!”

I know many good and decent and intelligent people who call themselves Republicans.  I know that these good and decent and intelligent people think about the best policies to promote the American ideal.  I would like to hear their voices again.  I would like to talk to them, with them.  I want to discuss, argue, debate.  I want to compromise, admit the weaknesses of my views and reveal the weaknesses of theirs.  Most of all, I want them to be allowed, by their party, by their leader, and most of all by the political culture, to be their true selves.  I want real political discourse back, and to get it I want my Republicans back.






















One of the many ways that communication can fail in its task to provide honest and accurate information and opinion to others is something we can roughly call equivocation.  Let’s define that term as the deliberate use of a word in two or more senses.  So, for instance, I could say that I was in Milwaukee, when I knew that my listener would assume I was referring to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when in fact I was in Milwaukee, Oregon.

Most equivocations are a bit more subtle than that.  So, for instance, when faced with undeniable evidence of misconduct by a co-employee whom I wanted to protect , I might say that I was not fully aware of that misconduct until this undeniable evidence was produced, even though I had been told of that misconduct previously.

So it is with the words “allegation” and “proof”.  There are many levels of allegations.  There are baseless allegations.  There are bald allegations.  There are rumored allegations.  There are substantial allegations.  There are credible allegations.  There are well-founded allegations.  There are civil and criminal legal allegations.

The same applies to the word “proof”.  In the American legal system, there are at least three different standards of proof.  There is the level of preponderance of the evidence, sometimes called the probabilior standard of proof, which is the standard used in most personal injury claims.  There is what is called the “clear and convincing” standard, used in most civil claims of fraud.  There is the highest standard of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, used in virtually all criminal cases.

There are, however, other venues for allegations and proofs than just the courtroom.  There is what we call the court of public opinion.  There is also the venue of the workplace, the home, the worlds of entertainment, and, of course, the world of politics.  If, for instance, a person in the workplace is alleged to have threatened violence to his co-workers — alleged to threaten to kill his fellow workers — what level of proof might we need to act against the subject of the allegation?  If a publicly recognized entertainer — singer or actor or athlete — is alleged by a woman to have sexually abused her, what level of proof is required before we act against him?  If a politician is alleged to have acted improperly, what proof is needed to throw him or her out?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but we do need to make some basic rules about them.  First, bald allegations are no basis for any action.  People have rights in the eyes of the public just as they do in a court of law, albeit of a different level.  Some proof is necessary to back up any allegation, and we need to determine how much proof is sufficient to take action.  Second, it doesn’t help us to rely on customary views.  There was a time, not very long ago, when sexual abuse was addressed mostly with silence, and that day is over.  What we need to do is establish new customs, but this time based on rational decisions regarding proof.

Third, and most important, our decisions on allegations have to be truly rational, and not based on personal or political advantage.  We cannot excuse Trump for his sexual predations, but we cannot condemn him without also condemning Bill Clinton for his.  These standards that we need to set have to be set as a community, a rational community, and it must cross every political, philosophical and religious line.  We have a chance here to return to being a community committed to the high moral call of the American ideal.  So long as we refuse to do so, we continue to slide away from that ideal.