A Taste of Their Own Medicine

January 11, 2021

I find myself getting angrier by the day and wanting to give the extremists, the alt-WRONG, the Trumpistas, the people who think the road to greatness is violence against each other, a taste of their own medicine. They chanted “Lock her up” and I want to lock HIM up, and THEM too.

More than that, I keep thinking of the loyalty oaths we had to sign in the 50s and 60s, spread by Joe McCarthy and used to attack liberals. It was very effective in destroying the pro-labor movement, the left that called for measures to make life better for working people. That was what the McCarthy loyalty oaths took down. The left morphed, of course. In the 60s it switched to integration and the women’s movement so that the Trump crowd could now slander the left claiming we liberals don’t care about workers.

But now, like the old loyalty oaths, it’s time to make people swear under penalties of perjury that they have never brought guns or other weapons to demonstrations, or into public buildings, or threatened public officials with them. It’s time to fence in those who believe that politics is a blood sport, decided not by votes but by force. This goes much deeper than Trump and it needs to be removed from the body politic. Maybe the alt, the racists, misogynists and extremists who are afraid of fair competition with Blacks and women will morph into something more constructive – though I don’t have a prayer that they will ever understand that we all do better when everyone does better.

The South took back their loss in the Civil War with continued violence, guerilla violence where necessary until they took over a part of this nation and ruled it for a century of segregation and intimidation. Now it’s time to finish the job of taking this country back and threaten and intimidate those who think threats, intimidation, assault and murder are fine means of politics. This country has no place for people who put victory and murder above democracy. We talk about violence in this country but the way-over-the-top racists are the problem and before we tear down the prisons, we should use them to lock the violent racists up. What goes around comes around and that includes gun violence as well as biological violence by refusing to abide by the rules of public health, overwhelming our hospitals and killing people both ways. They don’t believe in life. When you take away the idea that they care about human life, what you are left with in the anti-abortion hysteria is misogyny. Blacks and women, that’s what these extremists are afraid of. They are cowards in daily life trying to claim bravery with their weapons, mobs and threats.

Frankly, it’s very disturbing that there are people who still support the monster called Trump, who will work against any non-Trumper in politics even though there are no Trump policies – he got rid of every idea as soon as he announced it: love the uneducated but support the rich; love the workers in middle-America but ditch the infrastructure projects he promised. He lies to his most devoted supporters because he can.

The biggest dupes of Trump are the ones in the Red hats. He’s filled their minds and bellies with words. And turned many into traitors.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on the WAMC Northeast Report, on January 12, 2021.


No prior violence at the Capitol was instigated by the person responsible to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed….”

January 6, 2021

WP listed 7 incidents in the history of the U.S. which involved violence at the U.S. Capitol, Elahe Izadi, A history of violence at the U.S. Capitol, WP, March 28, 2016, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2016/03/28/a-history-of-violence-at-the-u-s-capitol/.

Makenzie Koch, A history of shootings, other violent attacks at the US Capitol, available at https://fox4kc.com/news/a-history-of-shootings-other-violent-attacks-at-the-us-capitol/, Posted: Jan 6, 2021 / 03:56 PM CST / Updated: Jan 6, 2021 / 03:56 PM CST reported “Since the Capitol was opened in 1800, there have been two other shootings and several other serious attacks.”

I can remember reporting of several of those incidents, going back to the 1954 attack by Puerto Rican nationalists, when I was in Junior High School.

Never before has the person acting as Commander-in-Chief been the leader and supporter of the violence – effectively a traitor. There have been many warnings going back several decades that gun rights groups and those gathering at gun shows, private militias and congregation of militia organizations, have been preparing to attack federal authorities. One of that number, Timothy McVeigh, bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing hundreds, including the children in a day care center in the building. But those warnings ran afoul of politics because the gun rights groups were allied with one of the political parties. Enough, people with guns planning conspiracies against the government and against people whose politics differ from theirs, must be stopped. Those involved in the violence at the Capitol must be tried, convicted and sentenced, from the top down.


Trump’s Final Days

December 29, 2020

There’s been much news about whether Trump would use force or declare martial law to stay in office. Trump bumped that off the news by declaring he wouldn’t sign the stimulus and relief bill, then signing it after widespread criticism. Perhaps he’s abandoned using force to stay in office. But he’s taken many steps to set up the possibility. Ignoring the Senate confirmation process and civil service protections, he put his most reckless and irresponsible supporters in acting positions. He tested which federal forces would and which would not respond to his commands to take over parts of America, in defiance of state and local officials. Typically, Trump sends ambiguous messages to his [quote] “Second Amendment supporters” and others, to get them thinking about how they can keep Trump in power. If they create enough chaos, he’s ready to take advantage. If not, he’ll claim he was trying to keep the peace.

There are signs that Trump’s armed mobs are revving up. In my last book, I brought together reporting and studies about the threat of domestic terrorism, but so far America hasn’t grappled with the problem. There’ve long been warnings. People from areas with many armed right-wingers have been telling those willing to listen about the threats, intimidation and violence unleashed on surrounding communities. The threat has only been getting worse. As Time Magazine summarized:

white nationalists have become the face of terrorism in America. Since 9/11, white supremacists and other far-right extremists have been responsible for almost three times as many attacks on U.S. soil as Islamic terrorists ….

They’ve been talking for decades about using their guns to defend against what they label federal tyranny – which means making war on the United States. Unlike legitimate gun owners who keep their guns for sport or to defend their homes, they’ve threatened, shot at or killed members of Congress, federal judges, poll workers, park rangers, demonstrators, and blew up the Oklahoma City federal building, injuring hundreds and slaughtering the children in its day care center. Donald Trump read Hitler closely, and knows that Hitler was brought to power by his unofficial armies of thugs, called “Brown Shirts.”

Whether Trump, or his supporters, have abandoned the idea, we need to think of this as a risk, not a certainty. But if Trump resorts to violence, the Army can stand up to its Commander-in-Chief by refusing to obey illegal orders, while governors, police and the National Guard will be charged to defend America. No doubt some are sympathetic to the white nationalists; others, one hopes most, are disgusted by the effort to overthrow the Constitution of the United States, to violate the oath they, most of us, have taken to defend this country.

The third section of the Fourteenth Amendment barred anyone who’d taken an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” this country from holding any office under the United States, or any State. Rebels were traitors.

We must let any potential traitors know that this generation of Americans has no room for insurrection, for people who put their racial hatreds above loyalty to country. There is no right to commit treason, to try to overthrow the constitutional government of the United States by force and violence. Those are crimes against all of us.

The Civil War is over; the so-called “lost cause” should stay lost, so that government of, by and for all the people, not just armed and dangerous people, shall survive.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on January 5, 2021.


To Heal America’s Heart

December 21, 2020

At this time of year we celebrate kindness and generosity. We celebrate helping each other and breaking down mutual distrust and dislike. I love the lyrics Rogers and Hammerstein put into the mouth of Julie Andrews in The King and I:

Getting to know you; Getting to know all about you;

Getting to like you; Getting to hope you like me

Unfortunately, there are many in our country who don’t believe we benefit from meeting and getting to know each other and believe, instead, that we have to fight each other to the finish. If democracy becomes an existential game, then it’s the old story we used to tell each other about cowboys and Indians without room for both. It’s also what economists call a deadweight loss – all that fighting doesn’t build anything and it’s very costly.

If we recognize that we all depend on each other, we feed, hire, heal and help each other in virtually all the aspects of life, then we can make a better world for ourselves too. All of us are each other’s essential workers, caregivers, customers and builders.

Erasing racial barriers strengthened many parts of America. Sports are obvious: teams are better; games are more exciting. And because we’re all part of the market, the owners benefit too. The Dodgers gained a Black audience with Jackie Robinson, and soon, other teams did too. Many industries discovered that a diverse workforce is a better workforce, more creative, more able to think out of the box.

Numerous studies discovered that military service in World War II had the result of bridging ethnic, religious and linguistic differences among us. As I’ve commented before, servicemen coming home brought their service buddies to meet their families. There aren’t many alive any more who could describe the old prejudices among what we now call White Americans but they were virulent before World War II and almost gone after. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, “the military tent, where all sleep side-by-side, will rank next to the public school among the great agents of democratization.”[1] The Army has extended its efforts to improve the relationships among White- and African-Americans and it has been fairly successful.

Many of us are devoted to integration but we’ve been saddened to realize that much of what we accomplished in law was sabotaged in reality. Federal agencies encouraged banks to redline Black areas and not loan to African-Americans. Parents looking for the best schools located away from African-Americans. Factories moved to suburbs, away from most Black workers.

There are ways to build emotional links, like those the soldiers came home with after World War II, at the same time that we rebuild selfless American patriotism and educate younger generations about what America is made of and how it works. One tool is national service. It effectively becomes an internship working on the things America needs. It would have similarities to military service, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other service programs. And they pump money into the economy and tighten the job market.

Many communities in this country are hurting. But we learned to pull together for each other. We voted for John Kennedy and his pledge to revive Appalachia. People in cities have supported costly programs to benefit farmers for nearly a century. People all over our country have supported programs that primarily helped others. We’ve helped to dig whole communities out from under hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters without regard to who was injured where or which way their states voted. We’ve helped or tried to help when the injured were white and when the injured were Black. If we lose that spirit of unity and generosity, then God help America – we’ll need it.

 – This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on the WAMC Northeast Report, on December 22, 2020.


[1]Quoted in John Whiteclay Chambers, II, Conscripting for Colossus: The Progressive Era and the Origin of the Modern Military Draft in the United States in World War I, in The Military in America From the Colonial Era to the Present 302 (New York: Free Press, Peter Karsten, ed., rev. ed. 1986).


To Heal the Politics, Change the Primaries

November 9, 2020

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to address aspects of how we can heal from the damage of the Trump years. We’ll have to change the politics to communicate with each other, the economics to take care of the whole country, policies to protect the climate, gun rights to define where and when they belong, and we have to get to know each other better.

To start with the politics, Lowell Weicker was a moderate Republican senator from Connecticut who wanted independents to vote in the Republican primary so he could fend off extremists. My clients, Democratic political scientists, thought parties should be able to shape their own primary systems for the good of all of us. Some of my clients supported closed primaries, restricted to party members. Some supported open primaries in which people can choose which primary to vote in. There are arguments for each. But my clients came together for parties’ rights to shape their primaries to encourage what Barry Goldwater called a choice, not an echo, or to encourage a moderate position, claiming each could better realize common goals. The more open the primary, the less candidates would be talking only to their party’s extreme wings.

We took part as amicus curia, supporting the Republicans’ choice, focused on the implications for the way the country does politics. When the suit went to the U.S. Supreme Court, David Golub, lawyer for the plaintiff, the Republican Party of Connecticut, called me to try out his analysis. David expected Justice Thurgood Marshall would be concerned that allowing parties to shape their primaries could result in racial exclusion. Neither of us had the stomach for that to happen, but we had different ways of explaining why our position wouldn’t allow it. Convincing Marshall was crucial. David built his entire argument around it. He reasoned that Marshall could bring along his close friend, Justice William Brennan, and Brennan could bring along several of their colleagues.

As it happened, the most memorable moment in the argument was when Justice Marshall leaned his large frame over the bench saying you wouldn’t ask me, emphasizing “me,” to overrule the cases which had held that African-Americans could not be excluded from party primaries. The courtroom broke out in laughter. Chief Justice Rehnquist, then in his first term as Chief, didn’t bother to gavel the courtroom into silence. Everyone understood that those cases were part of Marshall’s legacy as the Civil Rights Movement’s top lawyer. When the decision came out, the majority opinion was by Marshall for a closely divided court. He didn’t mention my argument, though it played a major role in the opinions of the Court of Appeals below. But the Court gave the parties the latitude we wanted.

There are many ways to push candidates to take account of the whole electorate, not just the extremes of their own party. Open primaries and ranked choice voting are two such methods. There are times when those approaches are helpful.

Our most important goals now – handling climate change, workers’ rights, and racial equality, among others – will require getting the public behind the movement. Open primaries could bring the parties and the country together.

There’s a risk that candidates would water down what needs to be done. But, somehow, we have to get the nation behind what we’re trying to accomplish. Trump and McConnell forced us into battles just to avoid backsliding. Maybe we need to talk to each other.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on November 10, 2020.


Trump Hooligan’s Bridge Problem

November 2, 2020

Did you see the photo of a caravan of Trump supporters stopping traffic on the Mario Cuomo Bridge over the Tappan Zee? Shades of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christy’s bridge problem. Why do people think blocking traffic across a major bridge will win support? All it shows is the hooliganism of immature voters.


Election Night Rag

November 2, 2020

Depending on where you live, there are a few hours left to vote. If you haven’t, it would be an excellent use of your time.

The results of that vote, and whether it’s respected, will determine what we’ll talk about tomorrow. I’ve written letters and gotten on phone banks to encourage people to vote, some with nonpartisan organizations. Now what?

With so much on our minds, I feel like the clergyman who asked at a friend’s wedding whether anyone remembered what the preacher said at their weddings.  We need some cheer.

Wanda Fischer on Hudson River Sampler played two wonderful songs about voting: Schooner Fare’s We the people sings out good news: “We, the people, will be heard.” Then Wanda played Steve Goodman’s Election Year Rag which got you “Jump[ing] on that old bandwagon,” after stopping by “the Precinct Captain’s house … [to] scarf up some lame duck stew.” Oh my, do I love that lame duck stew!

To paraphrase one of my favorites: We’ve a ballot to hammer out justice, ring out freedom, and sing about the love between our brothers and our sisters, all over this land. The land,  as Woody Guthrie told us, is “your land, … my land, made for you and me.”

Let this be a night for singing the songs of freedom, of the people’s rights to vote, that celebrate America’s contribution to the freedom of people everywhere.

All I want is a government that does what we can’t do for ourselves. We can see a doctor but our doctor can’t stop the pandemic from spreading. To stop it for anyone, we must stop it for everyone, lest others, essential workers, minorities, other decent people, will continue spreading it because none of us is an island. We need a government that protects public health.

I want government to improve the economy for all of us. With decent jobs that support our families, we’re not at each other’s throats as some of us have been. If we’re all at work, life will be safer for everyone. And if we’re all at work, we’ll be sharing the work that makes life better for everyone.

I want government to take seriously the threat of foul air and water to our lungs, the climate, and the floods, droughts and forest fires many already struggle to survive.

I want a world where people of all backgrounds are perfectly safe when stopped by policemen, when the old movie mantra of bringing people in dead or alive is confined to the movies.

I want government to protect us from all terrorism, where white nationalist terrorism isn’t protected – we are.

I want government to protect us from all foreign threats, bounties on our soldiers, sabotage of our computers, fraud on the internet, or election disinformation.

I want government to honor and protect conscientious, nonpartisan employees who follow the law as servants of the public, not campaign staff for presidents of either party, and an attorney general who protects America against lawbreakers high and low.

I want a government which protects voters rights to vote, rather than tossing ballots from people who followed the law as it was when they voted, a government that respects bipartisan honesty and fairness of the election system.

I’m guessing you do too. The best thing you can do right now is to vote.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on November 3, 2020.


The Lawbreakers Trump Loves

October 27, 2020
Nicholas Kristof

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff detailed how Trump “uses scare tactics about ‘law and order.’ But what distinguishes this White House is its ties to criminals.” The parallel to Hitler is frightening.


My feelings about this election

October 26, 2020

It’s hard to describe my feelings. The great founding documents of our country seemed like they’d always be with us. When we participated in the Civil Rights Movement we thought were working for a better America. We never believed it could all disappear. We were brought up reciting the Gettysburg Address. We knew parts of the Declaration of Independence by heart. Some of us knew deals with the devil of slavery underlay the creation of the Constitution but also knew it had given us a platform to make a better world for everyone. We took it all for granted. Until the White House tenant threatened to take it all away.

I was born in New York City. Before I was four years old I knew this country was fighting with everything at its disposal to defeat Hitler and his Nazi butchers, who were exterminating Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, Poles, Slavic peoples, political opponents, people with disabilities and those Hitler called “useless eatersin concentration camps. I felt safe in Brooklyn, and proud. I remember telling myself I lived in the greatest city in the greatest country in the world. How great is that. Kids are naïve but I believed in and loved this country. I thought I knew what it stood for and what it stood for was great, admirable, and indeed the world admired us for it.

Our country’s Founders understood that people in a democratic republic must learn to share and care about each other. John Dickinson signed our Constitution, paid a fine to free slaves and wrote, “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” In 1782, Congress approved our national motto, e pluribus unum, out of many one, for the Great Seal of the United States.

This country opened its arms to Christians, Jews and Muslims. Universities, founded on sectarian lines, gradually widened their welcome. The Founders repeatedly described the need for immigration. The public school movement intentionally brought rich and poor together. The 19th century Army, recruited on ethnic and linguistic lines, needed an integrated fighting force. Teddy Roosevelt told us that “the military tent, where all sleep side-by-side, will rank next to the public school among the great agents of democratization.” By the end of the 2nd World War the Army played a large part in breaking down ethnic and religious barriers among us. Soldiers formed friendships with men all over the country, introduced each other to their families, often to future brides.

Corporations broke down barriers among employees so they could work together. Integration preceded Brown by centuries – race was just the latest barrier to break down. It was breaking down before World War II, when African-American stars like Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson were wildly popular with national audiences on stage, screen, radio and opera. The world was changing before Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field. National polls revealed that the public supported Brown. Martin Luther King would say, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

It’s pretty personal for me. I married a North Carolina girl, whose ancestry traces to the British isles, and always felt welcomed by her family.

So when Trump encourages people who celebrate Hitler and display their guns to scare and intimidate public officials, suggests they use their Second Amendment rights to lock up candidates, that there are good people among those who spawn hate crimes, and threatens not to accept the election results, he cuts the very guts out of the country I love. I don’t know how to express how sad, depressed and anxious I feel. Alan Paton wrote a book about South Africa he called Cry the Beloved Country. I stop myself from crying while there is still a chance to save it.

We all need to vote.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on October 27, 2020.


For the Left Wing of the Party

October 19, 2020

Did you feel safer in the Biden-Trump debate with Joe, who spoke like a caring uncle, or Donald with the demeanor of a raging bull? We know enough about Trump’s admiration for Hitler, his bringing extremists into Republican politics, to realize that his coy remarks  about what his supporters could do with their “Second Amendment rights,” his calls to “Liberate Michigan”, “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Virginia,” and to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” while intended to protect deniability, were in fact aimed at the extremists among his supporters, the Klan, Proud Boys, Nazis, white supremacists, and gun toting extremists, inviting them to keep Black and Brown people and others likely to vote Democratic away from the polls or at least prevent their votes from counting. That world’s not safe for any of us.

Defeating the bully in the White House isn’t all people like me want from elections. We want environmental action, action to bring police and prosecutors under control, nominations to bring the courts back to the side of justice for all. We want tax policy that doesn’t make you and I pay more taxes than billionaires like Donald Trump (who claims to be a billionaire) or Warren Buffet. Buffet had the grace to object.

Joe won’t get me all I want – no one could. I’ve been working for equal rights since I graduated from law school, walked into the office of the NAACP in New York City and worked as a full-time, unpaid volunteer on their legal staff. Joe wasn’t my candidate in the primaries but the American people weren’t ready for her, which means we have work to do. That’s about building support within the party and the public, not about tearing the house down around us. Go for it in the primaries: educate, explain, build. But building for the future in the general election requires grace, teamwork and joining with other party members in expressions of mutual respect.

We could seek purity if we had a parliamentary system which includes minority voices, and doesn’t force compromise candidates. But Big Donald makes clear the dangers of the presidency by concentrating power in his hands.

Our system has other ways to take account of minorities except where voters are so polarized that they shun candidates who merely try to take account of everybody’s needs. In such states, prejudice against Black and Brown Americans can leave them with zero influence in the legislature and every harm done to minorities wins applause, leading to the most hateful policies. That, thank God, is not the way it’s supposed to be. When lawyers could prove polarized voting, they often got courts to redesign voting districts so that minorities could elect candidates and get into legislatures. We’re not in heaven and have made mistakes but, yes, we’ve made progress.

I respect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others like them but they’re supporting Joe. There is no path to success by way of Donald Trump.

Obama never got the free hand that Mitch McConnell gave Trump with the help of white supremacists, gun-toting militias, Proud Boys, and the Nazis who rose from defeat by American soldiers in World War II.

No movement that could consistently defeat opposition candidates in primaries has taken over the Democrats. So Democratic leaders have to function as coalition builders. Those of us who want more should build and prepare to flex some muscle in future primaries. But electing the bully will cut off democratic alternatives. He and his supporters have no respect for democracy and will do their best to close it off. They want to rule like slave-owners and tyrants.

Parties respect and cater to people they can get to the polls. Sitting elections out doesn’t convey protest. Politicians read no-shows as apathy, lack of interest, people they don’t need to worry about. Let me make the point another way – the most extreme and violent people in the Republican Party are terrified the people will elect Biden and depose Trump. There’s a reason for that.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on October 20, 2020. I posted an earlier version on Sept. 30 under the title “Uncle Joe or Donald the Bully” without waiting to put it on WAMC.


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