What I ponder at the Lincoln Memorial

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What have I learned in 60 years? Take little for granted, other than that I will (likely) return home from a bike ride.

At dawn I took my customary solstice/birthday pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial and faced the Washington Monument, as I have done scores of times. On this occasion, I noted that I may never sit here again. In 20 days, I will fly away to a new hometown on the other coast. Though I will return to Arlington at least once, later in the summer, I have a glimpse of my own mortality: Everywhere I go in these three weeks may be for the last time. I feel neither wistful nor nostalgic, but grateful.

I turn and look at Abe, sitting on that chair. He took nothing for granted. Both of his great speeches – the greatest in our history – have at core propositions rather than assertions.

At Gettysburg, he said, we were engaged in a test of whether any nation conceived and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could long endure.

Sixteen months later, in his Second Inaugural, he proposed that the Civil War was the price the nation paid for slavery. “Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’”

These propositions apply to our moment, in which we are recycling the same conflicts we have experienced throughout our history. It’s no coincidence that the author of the Declaration Lincoln invoked was a slaveholder whose notions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness became the American creed. John Calhoun, a two-term vice president under both parties, extrapolated from Jeffersonian philosophy the idea that states could nullify laws with which they disagreed – a justification for states’ rights used later to promote the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, a cause of the war a decade later, and for defiance of racial justice measures since.

What we face, now as then, is a conflict between Calhoun’s planter class and the interests of the whole. Throughout our history, the planter class – now as then backed by Northern bankers – has used fear of Other to draw support from white peasants who bleed for its wealth. Historian C. Vann Woodward (1908-1999) unspooled the myth of benevolent slaveholders, uncovering the violence and manipulation that drew in the peasants because, at least, they were not Negroes. That myth survived into the 1950s, wrote his protégé David Brion Davis, until Woodward “helped to reveal and reverse the fact that the South, despite its military defeat, had long been winning the ideological Civil War.”

That reversal, in my mind, ran from Harry Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces in 1948 (amid postwar prosperity) to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. In the first half of that period, the nation embraced inclusion: the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and the Immigration Act of 1965, which reversed exclusionary policies of the 1920s. At the end of the 60s, Neal Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind marked the peak of American power and prestige.

But over the next 11 years, we determined that Vietnam was a lie fomented by one president, faced the impeachment of another over anti-democratic corruption, experienced the vulnerability of the oil embargo, revolted over forced busing (race again, right in the middle), began to feel the effects of de-industrialization and foreign competition, and were humiliated by the Iran hostage crisis.

Enter Reagan, who said “government is the problem” and corralled the same forces of white grievance that Calhoun had organized in 1832. Their disaffection had always been cultural (anti-black), as Woodward explained. Reagan took advantage of the “malaise” of the 1970s to attack government and pursue wealth concentration in private hands: low taxes, deregulation, union-busting, and a Supreme Court that expanded the power of commerce at the expense of the government’s leavening hand.

We are now 30 years past Reagan. Seeing no help from the Democratic Party – decades ago an mix of racists and economic populists but now a multi-racial alliance led by educated urban elites – the next generation of Reagan Democrats is all in with Trump, who personifies its anger and grievance. As his followers’ primary news sources promote him and the planter class behind him, our polarization solidifies.

Donald Trump is the perfect manifestation of these disparate trends: a demagogue with overt racist appeal; a nationalist who views cooperation as weak; and a champion in all of his policies of powerful rent-seekers in legacy industries granted commercial advantages through the powers of the government held by all three branches.

As the Republican Party surrenders its heritage of open markets and (relatively) open borders to Trump’s whims, America again faces a test of its creed, not only whether a government of, by and for the people will perish, but whether it should survive. As Lincoln said, a house divided cannot stand.

I take nothing for granted. And I’m grateful I’m still here.

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Standing agape in an undivided current

Thoughts on Yosemite, from bikerben58.wordpress.com: The vision of Abraham Lincoln and John Muir

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On cue, Virginia punts on redistricting reform

Virginia’s legislative attempt to address gerrymandering came to its expected futile end May 18 when Democratic Governor Ralph Northam vetoed a bill that would have made minor changes in the criteria the (for now) GOP-controlled General Assembly must use to draw districts. It was the final chapter in a script written in the first days of the annual session.

Reform efforts could hardly have concluded otherwise in a polarized capital, where lawmakers are watching the courts. It’s been 11 weeks since the Virginia Supreme Court heard oral arguments in one gerrymandering case and six months since a panel of the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit received final arguments in another. Perhaps both courts are waiting on U.S. Supreme Court decisions in gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland. So Virginia’s divided political branches also could be expected to wait and see, neither party clear about its advantage.

On January 16, Republican Senator William Stanley Jr. (above, right) brought up a bill that would extend an expired license for a closed hospital in Patrick County. West of the midpoint of the state’s southern border, Patrick has an ebbing population of 17,000 and an 18-percent poverty rate.

Pioneer Community Hospital filed for bankruptcy in March 2016 and closed in September 2017. Stanley’s bill was intended to help the county attract another hospital operator by reducing red tape associated with reopening a facility with no license. As Stanley recognized, a rural county with no hospital is economically doomed.

Stanley remains a stalwart opponent of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, which would provide a revenue stream for a hospital desperate to right its finances. So when the senator sought consideration of his bill under “emergency” procedures (requiring 80-percent approval, or 32 of 40 Senate votes), 10 Democrats voted no, to remind Stanley of the conflict between his stance on Medicaid and his support for a defunct hospital.

Senate GOP Leader Thomas Norment Jr. (above, left) then joined Stanley in excoriating the Democrats for their lack of “Virginia Way” collegiality – a bit of political theater for the rank-and-file and a contingent of Stanley’s constituents watching from the gallery.

An hour later, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee held its first meeting of the session. As payback, the GOP majority killed all but one of the pending bills on redistricting – many of them reforms that had passed with bipartisan support over several sessions, though they had always died in the GOP-dominated House.

Eventually tempers settled, but the consequences for gerrymandering were clear: A governor who had run last fall on Medicaid expansion and redistricting reform wasn’t going to get any help – unless the opposition recognized it was in their interest. What’s curious is that Republican legislators don’t seem to get that both issues are in their interest.

As in other states with a rural/urban divide in the Trump era, the artificial political advantage the GOP created in the 2011 maps is on borrowed time. The urban, prosperous and increasingly Democratic counties are growing, while rural, economically distressed counties are declining, partly because of circumstances like that in Patrick. Northam won 22 percent of the county’s vote – 4,633 of the state’s 2.6 million total. Rocket scientists are not required to observe that the GOP’s prospects in Virginia are diminishing because the people attracted to its positions are a falling share of the population. (They’ve lost every statewide race since 2009.)

That the party is unable to drop its self-defeating opposition to Obamacare has yet to penetrate in the Senate, though the GOP’s House majority, reduced from 66 seats to 51 after November, shifted in March to support of Medicaid expansion in its first version of the two-year budget. (The two chambers remain at odds on the issue, stalling passage of the budget for the year that starts in six weeks.)

The author of the House’s budget bill is Chris Jones, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Jones also is author of the 2001 and 2011 House district maps. As on Medicaid expansion, Jones took the late lead in the House in drafting the chamber’s redistricting bill. HB 1598 followed the Senate GOP’s lone reform, SB 106, which drew two of 19 Democratic votes.

The identical bills would have codified several criteria for the GA to follow in drawing maps for its seats and for the U.S. House. They focused on a definition of compactness that stressed consistency with existing political jurisdictions, like cities and counties. Senate Democrats led by George Barker, the author of the 2011 Senate map, complained that the provision would distort representation – and harm them (though the party ended up losing control under Barker’s maps).

Neither party in the GA is ready to address the problem: redistricting is a party- and incumbent-protection racket. The way to fix it, non-partisans proposed, is to give the job to an independent commission, and short of that require the legislature to disregard voter data in drawing maps. The substantive reform authored by Democratic Delegate Rip Sullivan and Republican Senator Emmett Hanger Jr. would bar districts drawn “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or potential candidate.”

Virginia’s governor has the power to submit amendments to bills for the GA’s up-or-down vote. Northam’s amendments stripped the GOP’s compactness language and added the Sullivan/Hanger provision, plus a requirement concerning fair representation for minority voters.

A month ago the House rejected the governor’s amendments on party lines, 51-48. One Democrat and one Republican crossed lines in the Senate’s 20-19 dispatch of the amendments. Faced with the original version of the bill to sign or reject, Northam vetoed it.

“. . . . [T]his legislation excludes criteria that are essential to fair electoral maps,” Northam wrote in his veto message. “Any criteria for redistricting must prohibit districts from being drawn to restrict or deny the ability of any racial or ethnic minority to participate in the political process and elect a preferred candidate. I believe the criteria should also prohibit districts that favor or disfavor any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress or individual or entity.”

Northam’s words come from the Sullivan/Hanger bills, though they omit the distinction of intent. Some districts inevitably will favor one party or the other; the issue is whether they are drawn for that purpose.

As with Medicaid, the Republicans remain in denial. They suppose that the 2017 Democratic wave was a fluke, to be reversed in 2019 when senators – not a president, governor or U.S. senator – will top the ballot and turnout will be lower. Democrats, on the other hand, feel certain they are riding a wave that has yet to crest.

Says Democratic Delegate Mark Levine, “The GOP will support redistricting reform the moment it’s in the minority.” Meanwhile, the legislature is back where it was, having done nothing to address its own lack of political legitimacy.

 

 

 

 

 

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In the afterglow

Reflections on a short trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

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A few days in southern Utah . . .

. . . where a piece of the Trump administration’s environmental agenda is playing out, and where hordes of Americans (and foreigners) can’t get enough of the West. Fiery Furnace is a mind game

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Thoughts on visionaries

Linked from my other site: Ruminations on Rambling: Glimpes of genius in the Permian Basin

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Traveling the U.S.A.

I am traveling the country for two months, but politics is never far from my mind. See my other site, generally devoted to thoughts about bicycling, but in this case travels without Charlie: Temporary border in the Big Ben

 

 

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