I will spare you the regular gibberish about this being the most important election ever and the dire warnings that we will descend into civil war. I think all Americans of voting age should vote because it is our patriotic duty no matter who is on the ballot.
I endorse Joe Biden for President and hope you vote for him. But even if you support Trump or a third-party candidate: go vote. This is your country, and you owe it to yourself to be counted.
My history of picking winners is pitiful. I volunteered for the Bill Bradley campaign in 2000 with zero regrets. Bill Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar who became a basketball superstar and served as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey for three terms. He was the kind of intellect we need in public office but also had a breadth of life experience that made him rise above the pack of regular career machine politicians. He opposed the establishment favorite: Vice President Al Gore.
At his campaign event on the night of Super Tuesday, I noticed none of the big screens in the hotel ballroom were showing any primary results. The party swelled and Bill Bradley came through the crowd toward the stage. Bradley towered above everyone else. He gave a brief speech where he mentioned that he would assess the future of his campaign over the next several days but also made us proud to have been part of the campaign and focused on important issues facing the country. The party wound down and I saw various political and intellectual celebrities there. Professor Cornel West was on the stage close to Bradley and I was glad to see former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (who for me is the one person in the world who will always embody New York City) giving interviews in support of the former Senator.
It wasn’t until I got home and clicked on the TV news did I see the actual results and Holy shit, we got killed! Al Gore’s political machine had made quick work of the Bradley campaign, and Super Tuesday was the coup de grace. Bradley dropped out of the race a few days later. I cast my vote for Al Gore that November with no enthusiasm for Gore but with the indignity that someone as much of a vapid empty suit as George W. Bush had no business getting the nomination of a major political party. I couldn’t believe Republicans could be so gullible to pick Bush over Sen. John McCain, who would have wiped the floor with Al Gore in the general election.
In 2004, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was the one who seemed to get it the most, who told Democrats that the people who drove around in pickup trucks with Confederate flags on them needed to be voting for Democrats too, because they needed healthcare and their kids needed an education. He was promising to take Democrats off the dangerous course of our own culture war. That promise evaporated with Dean’s campaign; I sent in my absentee ballot for John Kerry because he wasn’t George. W. Bush.
Both political parties are now broken. With Trump, we have the same incredulity that came with George W. Bush’s nomination: How could a major political party elevate such a fraud to the highest office of the land? With Biden, we have an establishment politician who had to embrace the excesses of the Democratic Party’s activist wing to secure the nomination.
But the disaster of the Trump presidency, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, makes this election a no-brainer. Biden was not my first choice, but he is the best choice of the two main political parties, and we stand to lose too much ground as a country with another four years of Trump.
All I ask my Trump supporter friends is that they judge the President by his record of the past four years. Would you have forgiven a Democrat who talked big and delivered little on patriotic immigration reform? Would Barak Obama have been able to shrug off reports of Russians paying bounties for American troops killed in Afghanistan? Would even George W. Bush have had the delusional gall to tell the nation that we’ve turned the corner on the Coronavirus pandemic as the U.S. breaks its daily record of new cases?
The New York Times’ clueless narcissism reaches new depths
The New York Times announced that it would endorse a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States, the first time in its 169-year history that the newspaper would do such a thing. The Times’ editorial board interviewed nine candidates in extensive interviews at its New York headquarters in December and announced its endorsement for the Democratic nomination this past weekend.
The Times feels it’s important to get its voice into people’s deliberations now, though its coverage has laid out clearly that it does not want former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders or Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be the nominee. It will at least lay its slant bare for all to see earlier on, though it was shamelessly shilling for Hillary Clinton long before the first ballot was cast in 2016.
So, the Times invited those candidates it judged viable to come in and interview completely on the record with its pompous editorial board to be part of “The Choice,” as if it were some drama people were going to follow like “Game of Thrones.” To their credit, Michael Bloomberg, Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard declined to kiss the ring of the Times and sit for the chance to be the window dressing on the editorial board’s tribute to itself.
The weekend edition pullout of printed excerpts had an entire page dedicated to profile photos and titles of the editorial board, even noting with an asterisk someone special who is not normally a member but joined the board just for the important task of endorsing a Democrat before anyone even votes.
We’re supposed to be wowed at the brilliance of these professionals, who spent hours mugging for the cameras they invited into their boardroom because they think the American voters give a rat’s ass about what they think. And with all their brilliance and well-publicized rumination over this important endorsement, they couldn’t even decide on a single candidate to endorse!
They Gray Lady was too busy looking at herself in the mirror to choose only one candidate, endorsing both Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“In a break with convention, the editorial board has chosen to endorse two separate Democratic candidates for president,” the Times tells us in its blacked-out opinion page heading made somber for this special occasion.
The Times should have done the extra work and picked one of the candidates. They did do voters a service by giving Senator Klobuchar recognition; her campaign has so far failed to attract support that her accomplishments merit. And the Times is right to credit Warren with being policy-focused and experienced in multiple levels of Washington leadership.
Both Senators Klobuchar and Warren are serious candidates with real ideas and qualifications. The Times insults both with its overwrought half-endorsement that will serve to alienate them from the voters the need to reach most.
New York, like the rest of the country, is in for a long slog through a partisan election year. We can do without the self-congratulatory fluff the Times has subjected us to.
Presidential stupidity and the need for patriotic immigration reform
When I moved back to New York City as an adult in the late 1990s, the job that got me here was as an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Services. I worked at J.F.K. airport stamping passports and processing immigrants, refugees, tourists, celebrities, and anyone else that came through my line.
In some cases the job could be very humbling and inspiring. For a short time I worked at the federal building in downtown Manhattan interviewing refugees and asylees who were applying for green cards. I met people who would rather be fry cooks in America than engineers in their native country. I met a woman who had seen her family murdered, a man who did time in jail for being gay, and young guy who faced prison time for simply protesting for his rights.
I also saw first-hand how our system is completely broken and is largely not at all in keeping with the traditions of what we consider our great American heritage of immigration. Our immigration laws and policies are a patchwork of corporate influence and ethnic lobbying. There is no comprehensive consideration of the national interest in how immigration is handled in the U.S. and it’s been that way for decades.
In New York City, you know something crazy is going on when people are voluntarily going to JFK Airport when they don’t have to. This past weekend thousands of people flocked there to protest the detention of a handful of travelers by order of a hastily drawn up Presidential executive order travel ban that affected a handful of Muslim-majority countries.
Travel bans like the one issued are done at times when there is a potential immediate terrorist threat. Others that have been cited have been President Carter’s restriction on Iranian travel during the hostage crisis at the time and President Obama’s temporary ban on processing Iraqi refugees in 2011. But those were limited and in response to events happening at the time. There aren’t corresponding crises that would equate to the recent Trump travel ban.
President Trump’s ham-handed executive order is like everything else he has done: a dramatic show without any planning or thought and with no understanding of the issues. He managed to make life difficult for those border and airport inspectors on the front lines of our national defense and energize the opposition. He’s helped open-border advocates position their agenda as more mainstream than it is.
Trump won the election based largely on the strength of his opposition to illegal immigration and within the first week of his administration he’s undermined his greatest political asset.
And the biggest tragedy is that now real patriotic immigration reform is going to be even more difficult to achieve, because any attempt to enact a common-sense agenda is going to be linked to Trump’s bone-headed travel ban.
This weekend’s move also hurt the fight against Islamic terrorism. Keep in mind that our best allies in the fight against Muslim extremists are Muslims from those afflicted countries. Trump’s attempt at a show-business presidency punishes some of the people who worked alongside our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, truly deserving refugees that risked their lives for our servicemen and women.
The decay of our immigration system began in 1965 and it’s had more than 50 years to morph into the mess it is today. It will take years to pass the laws needed to make sensible immigration policy stick. If Donald Trump is serious about really making a lasting change, he would stop his senseless showboating and start drafting legislation with Congressional leaders. That would require time away from TV cameras and social media. That requires real work. Start now!
A Dog That Didn’t Hunt This Time
The most deplorable thing about the general election was the awful choices voters were handed. The wife of a former President and a shady real estate mogul best known for hosting a reality television show? There was no way the outcome could be anything less than embarrassing. Each candidate deserved to lose.
There’s not much negative about Donald Trump that he didn’t say himself. He refused to even read the news during his campaign, brushing aside the pleas of his staff that he prepare for debates or learn about the world he was asking to lead. He’s arrogant and vulgar and his life is a monument to bad taste and delusions of grandeur. He’s been wrong about almost everything. But he was right on illegal immigration and crime and America is so desperate for people to speak at least partially honestly on controversial topics that this paid big dividends at the polls.
Hillary Clinton is an intelligent person with political skills and a mastery of the law and public policy. While there’s no doubt she got to where she was in large part because she is a former first lady, she’d be a formidable candidate and no question the most qualified by experience on the ballot. No one doubted her intelligence or her skill. But her career has been marred by repeated short-sighted judgements based almost solely on political calculation. In the end Hillary Clinton outsmarted herself.
The Clinton campaign followed the conventional wisdom of American politics that says accusations of racism is the Kryptonite of Republican candidates. Anyone so shamed with that scarlet ‘R’ is supposed to meekly apologize for whatever infraction they’ve committed, and sulk off to political purgatory. Trump threw that political calculus out the window and if fortune smiles upon our republic it will be his enduring legacy.
Trump set the stage early with his stand against illegal immigration. It was considered radical and extreme because he delivered a speech with his usual bombast. But the Democrats’ year-long overreaction to Trump’s stand against illegal immigration was their biggest gift to him.
You can’t solve a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist or trying to demonize those who want to fix it, even if your opponent is an ignorant blowhard. Illegal immigration on the scale we have now suppresses wages, brings criminal aliens into the country, poses serious public health risks, and often places unfair burdens on state and local governments forced to provide higher levels of service for populations that pay little or no taxes. You would have to be a reclusive millionaire not to see first-hand some of the negative effects unchecked immigration has had on our country. Somehow the view from Trump Tower was better than that from Chappaqua.
[N.B.: The idea of building a wall to solve the immigration problem shows just how clueless Trump is. Many if not most illegal immigrants enter the U.S. legally and then overstay their visas and Mexican cartels have shown themselves extremely adept at digging tunnels.]
Instead of serious policy solutions to issues of immigration and crime, Democrats delivered pompous moral lectures and in doing so they helped hand the election to Donald Trump. While it was impossible to cast a vote for either candidate, it was fun watching the premature Clinton victory celebration dissolve into a weepy pity party.
But what Trump supporters will soon realize is that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods. Trump is no real populist, and he’s aligned himself with religious conservatives hostile to science. It’s good to no longer ignore realities that were verboten in American political discourse, but Trump has never been interested in helping working-class Americans before. He’s a snake oil salesman. His willingness to speak a few harsh truths somehow overshadowed his bulwark of lies and empty boasts.
But the game has been changed in at least one positive way: The valid concerns of working-class Americans can no longer be shunted to the nether regions of the Internet by smearing them as “racist.” That’s the silver lining of Trump’s victory; it may be the only one.
Political enemies make the best friends
There is a popular meme being widely shared on social media. It depicts several of current crop of presidential candidates and says, “If you are voting for any of these candidates, please unfriend me now …. Just kidding. I’m not twelve.”
It’s a funny meme and one people ought to take to heart. I learned long ago that political views and personalities are not one and the same. Just because someone agrees with you on political philosophy and public policy doesn’t mean they are agreeable people are even good people. You will find that you will completely loathe some of your own allies more than your sworn enemies. A person’s personality is not dictated by their politics.
Some of my most productive and pleasant conversations have been with people on the extremes, the outside of what is considered proper or viable political discourse. These people could speak honestly with me because they had nothing to lose. They didn’t have to put on airs to convince themselves or the world around them who they were. Their outlier status bestowed on them an easy confidence that meant they didn’t have to prove who they were or make a dramatic demonstration to establish their identity at every turn.
I have friends who span the political spectrum from far left to far right. Some of my friends would be horrified that I’m friends with communists, cops, Black Lives Matter protesters, white nationalists, transgender activists, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party activists, Libertarians, and more. I’m friends with active duty military members as well as pacifists, anti-war demonstrators as well as veterans (and some of the most fervent anti-war people I know are veterans).
I didn’t set out to cultivate friendships from every political persuasion, it just happened that way. I’ve met lots of interesting people from all walks of life. I value the friendships I’ve made along the way even though I will always disagree with many of my friends on the important issues of the day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I don’t want to live in a world where everyone agrees with me. That would be a strange place and no fun at all. Life is better when your ideas are challenged and you are exposed to ideas on all sides. Many of the opinion writers I read are people I rarely agree with but their arguments are so well written I can’t resist. Also, how will you learn to defend your ideas unless they are challenged by worthy adversaries?
Also, human beings are complex, many-sided beings. The person who may be very conservative on one issue may be very liberal on another. No one worth knowing is a completely blank slate of ideological talking points. No one with a sound intellect can be pigeon-holed into a stereotypical ideological bracket on every matter.
There’s nothing wrong with despising someone’s ideas or speaking your mind when it’s appropriate. But trying to pick and choose your friends by an ideological litmus test will lead you to quickly paint yourself into a corner.
My cool Vermin Supreme story
As our American political discourse slides further into the gutter with every new televised debate, it may be worthwhile noting that there are some who saw the satire in our politics decades ahead of time. One such person is Vermin Supreme.
Vermin Supreme, you may know, is a perennial presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head and promises everyone a pony. He’s attempted to turn religious conservative candidates gay by pouring glitter on them and promise to fully fund time travel research.
It was 1992 and as the Democratic primary continued to go on then-Governor Bill Clinton’s only real competition after the early primaries was former California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown was the Bernie Sanders of his day, a more liberal alternative to the establishment favorite who captured the enthusiasm of the younger, more activist wing of the Democratic Party. He swore off corporate donations and set limits on what individuals could donate through a 1-800 number (this was in the days before widespread Internet.)
At any rate, that spring before the New York and Connecticut primaries, Jerry Brown had a rally at the University of Connecticut. This was during my freshman year there. I was a columnist for UConn’s Daily Campus and since I showed up there with a notebook, the campaign staff waved me ahead to the press section where I sat among more serious and established members of the media.
Brown’s rally was at the large theater on campus. The event was well attended and the crowd was enthusiastic. When it was over, I hung out with the rest of the media contingent, most of whom were bored by the whole thing (“Once you’ve seen the candidate’s speech you’ve seen them all,” I overheard one say.) Jerry Brown answered some questions before being whisked over to do a live interview with the local news.
As I watched Brown do the TV interview in the auditorium that was now mostly empty, I noticed a strange figure head down a side aisle unnoticed. He was dressed in a coat made of fur pelts and he had a large boot on his head. He continued walking down the aisle until I lost sight of him. As Gov. Brown wrapped up his interview and hurry away to his next campaign event, I heard a voice amplified by a speaker or bullhorn call out to him.
“JERRY! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER?!? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER, JERRY?!?”
Brown looked over in the direction the voice was coming from but didn’t break stride as he exited the building with a gaggle of campaign staff.
As I stood there I spotted this same strange figure coming back up the aisle. He and I made eye contact and he stopped to address me.
“Another candidate avoiding a question about the weather,” he said, shaking his head. He moved on and I had had the strangest political campaign experience ever.
Years later I saw Vermin Supreme on television and was glad that he hadn’t lost the boot on his head and that he was still engaging in the kind of absurd spectacle that has sadly seemed downright dignified compared with some of our discourse today.
I hope Sid Yiddish seriously considers him for his running mate.
We have had too much God in America
In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel’s protagonist Stephen Dedalus is listening to an argument his father and aunt Dante are having with a Mr. Casey about the place of the clergy in Irish society. The talk was prompted by the scandal surrounding Charles Stuart Parnell, an Irish nationalist leader who was condemned by the Catholic Church. This condemnation set back the movement for Irish independence considerably.
—God and religion before everything! Dante cried. God and religion before the world!
Mr. Casey raised his clenched fist and brought it down on the table with a crash.
—Very well then, he shouted hoarsely, if it comes to that, no God for Ireland!
The passage came to mind as Pope Francis, traveling in Mexico, commented that political leaders who wanted to build barriers to illegal immigration were not truly Christian. He was referencing Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, who has made opposition to illegal immigration a central part of his campaign.
Who are we to argue what is Christian with the Pope? We’ll take him at his word: building walls instead of bridges is not the Christian thing to do. Trump is a big phony and a blowhard who is not a good Christian. Sure thing, Francis.
Let’s not jump on the Trump bandwagon, but let’s also be fine with giving Christianity the boot in the ass out of public life that it richly deserves. Let’s be absolutely fine with America not doing the Christian thing; we’ll be a better and stronger country for it.
Building a society around a holy book isn’t a recipe for success. And like many other religious documents, the Gospel of Christ is full of a lot of very bad ideas. Loving your enemies is masochistic. Turning the other cheek only gets you hit twice. The current Pope comes from the Kumbaya school of Christianity that holds that if we all just love everyone enough, we can create a just and peaceful world. Christianity has (in theory at least) been trying this for more than 2,000 years, I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t work.
Where are the secular social-justice warriors telling the Pope to butt out of our national debate on immigration and sovereignty? Where are all the self-proclaimed “male feminists” objecting to the import of thousands of the unenlightened?
The Christians who are promising love and world peace are just as delusional and self-righteous as the ones threatening fire and brimstone. Both camps will gladly lead us to ruin, if not by the Christian right’s aversion to science and obsession with gays and abortion then by the Christian left’s naïvely embracing those who would destroy us.
Donald Trump is a fraud and a buffoon, and he’s not the answer to our national question. But for all Trump’s idiocy, his campaign understands this simple fact: if you don’t have real borders, you don’t have a real country.
We cannot solve the world’s problems by inviting people from all corners of the world to come live with us. There are other ways to help that won’t harm our country. Any charitable efforts ought to be tempered with a measure of rational self-interest.
Our well-meaning religious friends think that they are doing God’s work and that the magic of their good intentions will somehow turn bad people good and make everything OK. I wish them luck with that, but these beliefs are not a basis for a responsible immigration policy. As a country we need to be the adult in the room.
2016 will be a good time to be a New Yorker
We can argue about the direction that the city is going and what our fortunes are as a city. That argument has been raging since the 1600s and won’t ever end. But whatever you think about the direction that New York is going, there are things to look forward to in this New Year.
Here are some of them:
Giant dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The Natural History Museum is one of the best places in New York to visit. The Hall of Marine Life alone is a full-bore Yankee assault on the senses guaranteed to tattoo good memories into your brain. Like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is a place you will be at peace wandering for hours. You will discover great things and expand your mind. But if you can handle the crush of tourists that will be at the new dinosaur exhibit, it’s coming this month. At the center of the new permanent dinosaur exhibit is a 122-foot cast of a Titanosaur, a giant herbivore that would have weighed up to 22 tons when it was alive.
The 100th Anniversary of the Irish Easter Uprising. As a long-time epicenter of support for Irish independence and Irish republicanism, New York will no doubt see commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, when a few dedicated Irishmen and Irishwomen pledged their lives and honor on the cause of an independent Irish nation. Many of them paid with their lives. A century later, the dream of a united Irish republic is still unrealized, though the violence in the North of Ireland has for all purposes ended. But just because the Troubles are over doesn’t mean there is real peace or a viable political solution. The Irish have invested in peace for nearly two decades now and Ireland is no closer to unity than it was in 1969. What now? Look to places like Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn to host some interesting events.
Bombastic U.S. political theater. If you can forget that the presidential race might be important to the future of our country and the world at large, then this year’s presidential contest makes for stunning political theater. As of now the campaigns of the two presidential candidates leading in the polls, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, are based in New York, and if they each get the nomination of their respective parties, the Big Apple will be a political circus like never before. I would love to see both of them lose their nominations, but at it looks to me like Hilary Clinton will have a lock on the nomination (don’t take my word for it though, I thought she was going to get the nomination in 2008 and lose to McCain). Although we won’t see much actual campaigning in New York City—our state is usually a safe bet for Democrats—that one or both campaigns may be based in the five boroughs makes our city a player in the national race.
An extra day. This year is a leap year, which means February will have 29 days instead of 28 days. That gives you another day to enjoy New York and make the most of your life. Don’t waste it.
Two Presidential campaigns, one city
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have their presidential campaigns based in New York City. If both get their respective party nominations, we will have an all-New York presidential campaign. New York loves a big media circus, but America can do better.
Hillary Clinton moved to New York so she could someday run for president. She wasn’t the first person to do so. It was fitting that she held the seat Robert F. Kennedy once held, she was following his example. New York is now her political home. New Yorkers don’t resent her for this. Ours is the city of opportunity and even our current and most recent former mayor are originally from Boston. If she hadn’t quit her seat to run for president, New York voters would have returned her to the Senate even if she was found in bed with a dead girl or live boy.
Now Hillary Clinton is running for president again and her campaign headquarters is in fashionable Brooklyn. Democratic voters are desperate for someone else. She has unexpectedly fierce opposition from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who originally hails from the Brooklyn that was. There are so many strikes against Sanders by the dictates of conventional wisdom that his rise as a viable candidate is somewhat astounding. There are a few other candidates in the running for the Democratic nomination: former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
Donald Trump has been a New York City fixture since he was born. His father, Fredrick Trump, was actually a self-made man who started his construction business at age 15 and built things that weren’t tacky pieces of crap. Some of his earlier buildings have historic recognition in Queens. Donald Trump gets credit for investing and revitalizing parts of Manhattan and Atlantic City, but his business acumen is highly suspect and he’s been a famous bloviating loudmouth for decades. Like Democratic voters who are drawn to Bernie Sanders, Trump supporters are desperate for anyone who is not an empty suit corporate mouthpiece. Trump has taken populist positions that run counter to what corporate donors want to hear. If he’s not willing to spend a lot of his own money on his campaign, he will likely not win since his campaign will run out of money without the support of large wealthy donors.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump share some important things in common: both coasted to their notoriety through family connections, both will take whatever position will earn them the most votes, and both would rather enjoy the trappings of power without having to talk to real people.
Clinton at least comes across as knowing what the job actually entails and having the capacity to do it, but she would be the same kind of vacillating, self-interested establishment politician the public despises; it’s no mystery that many Democratic voters are sick of her and rightly so. Donald Trump may not realize that being President would seriously restrict his accustomed lifestyle, and what works in closing real estate deals in Atlantic City isn’t going to work when negotiating nuclear arms deals. The cabinet is not a game show.
Trump has at least pushed the Republican Party to the right on immigration. His plan for mass deportations is poorly thought out but at least he’s saying a resounding “no” to what was considered standard conventional wisdom.
New York City would benefit from the media circus a Trump-Clinton matchup would bring, but we already are a 24-hour media circus. And New York and the country can do a lot better than a Clinton or Trump residency. A Trump nomination, or another Clinton or Bush nomination, will demonstrate that our republic has slipped past the point of no return down the slope of oblivion.