Category Archives: Politics

SPEAK LOCALLY – WITH A GLOBAL VOICE

The problems that we face – such as climate change, inequality, and the resurgence of authoritarianism, nationalism, and militarism – are global in scope and nature. We may feel isolated in our local struggles, but it is a very powerful thing to realize, as I have in the course of my travels, that there are quite literally billions across the planet who are waging similar struggles, feeling similar feelings, and seeking similar solutions. So when you speak locally, use that global voice, knowing that you are not alone.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: WHEREIN I CALL FOR THE NEXT REPUBLIC

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: WHEREIN I CALL FOR THE NEXT REPUBLIC

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the United States on January 19, and is headed towards the Eastern Mediterranean to help with refugee assistance. He’s taking a few stops along the way…)

Lage Vuursche, The Netherlands:

In the course of the years, I have had relationships with a number of cars… most of which have ended badly. My dear early-model Honda Civic took me cross-country twice, but eventually dissolved in winter road salt. My little Ford Festiva hydroplaned on the Northeast Extension on the way home from a demonstration in Philly in 2000, bouncing off a concrete divider while Don Henley was singing “End of the Innocence.” And my Hyundai Elantra… well, it got to the point where we just couldn’t afford the upkeep anymore – and then I realized that I didn’t really need it anyway.

Governments are kinda like that. For one reason or another, you have to get a new one every once in a while. They wear out, or break, or some calamity comes along and makes them unusable, or the cost of maintaining them becomes unsustainable.

I’d like to suggest that we are at that point.

I’ve been in The Hague for the last few days. Yesterday, my walk to the MC Escher Museum (highly recommended, by the way) took me past the US Embassy. Unlike most of the other embassies – indeed, unlike the Dutch Parliament or the royal residences – ours stood behind a high iron fence, ensconced between police command centers, foreboding and unwelcoming, more like a prison or fortress than anything else.

Something about that hit me hard. The day before, I had encountered a demonstration by some Sudanese folks, pressing for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes but not arrested… and I had of course spent the morning getting caught up on the news, reading about gas attacks and retaliatory bombings.

Looking at the flag over the embassy, I felt a wave of grief and shame washing over me. I sat down at the base of a nearby statue and gave myself permission to let it out.

I bawled like a child.

A couple of passing pedestrians check in on me, to make sure I was OK. A few minutes later, a couple of local policemen arrived, very kind, understanding, and sympathetic. We spoke for a while, and I gathered up my psyche and went on my way.

And that’s when it hit me.

It’s time to call for the Next American Republic. This one is broken, worn out, obsolete, and too expensive to maintain – and furthermore, it has been vandalized and tampered with, its safety mechanisms and pollution controls deliberately disabled.

Of course, we can’t go to a new government dealer, or even get a certified “pre-owned” Republic for a replacement. We’ll have to build it ourselves. We can use some of the old parts, maybe, the ones that still work – but before we get to that, we have some design work to do.

So let loose your creative imaginations, your highest ideals, your most fervent hopes:

What features would you like to see… in your Next Republic?


(Send me your ideas at skip.mendler@gmail.com, or post them on Twitter with hashtag #NextRepublic, or reply in comments below.)

I’M AFRAID OF THE PRESIDENT

I’M AFRAID OF THE PRESIDENT
(with apologies to David Bowie)

Donny’s in the White House
No sense at the wheel
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
He doesn’t need anyone
He doesn’t even pretend
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
Donny’s in America

[CHORUS]

I’m afraid of the President
I’m afraid of his words
I’m afraid I can’t help it
I’m afraid I can’t
I’m afraid of the President
Donny’s in America
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh

Donny’s got his own plane
Donny wants to meet with the Kochs
Donny wants to grab ya
Donny thinks it’s all a joke
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
Donny’s in America
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh

[CHORUS]

I’m afraid of the President
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh

Donny’s in the white house
Donny wants to hang out with stars
Donny combs his hair
And Donny wants nookie in cars
Donny’s in America, uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
I’m afraid of Americans

God please help America
God please help America

[CHORUS]

Yeah, I’m afraid of the President
I’m afraid of his world
I’m afraid I can’t help it
I’m afraid I can’t
I’m afraid of the President

Donny’s an American
Donny’s an American
Donny’s an American, uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh

How It Ends for Donald

Dear Donald,

I have seen your end. It’s not pretty.

It happens at a rally, of course. One of those rallies that you love so much, that feed the gaping hunger in your soul. You are on a roll, and they’re loving it, they’re eating it up, you can tell them anything, promise them anything, ask them to do anything…

But then you slip. You get carried away by the moment, by the intoxicating power. Something comes out of your mouth that you didn’t expect. Something that breaks the spell. The roaring cheer that you expect doesn’t come. Instead, there is silence – an awful, awkward, painful … silence.

You look to your advisors, but they are staring at you, mouths agape. That wasn’t in the script, their faces tell you. You weren’t supposed to go there, not yet, it’s still too soon…

But you went there. And now the crowd is turning.

What happens next seems to be in slow motion. The Secret Service men come to surround you, guns drawn, faces grim, but it’s too late. The crowd has every exit covered. They swarm over the stage like a tsunami, bodies climbing over bodies, the faces that moments before were radiant with adoration now twisted into masks of betrayal and rage. They reach for you, grab at you, yank on your arms, clutch your pants, your feet… and the last thing you hear as you are lifted over their heads, as you feel your joints and tendons giving way, your fine clothes tearing, your heart exploding, is their chant:

“FAKER… FAKER… FAKER…”

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: EVERY NEW BEGINNING

It’s not often that a rock song nails a deep philosophical truth in a single pithy lyric… but that’s just what the band Semisonic did back in 1998, with their anthemic hit “Closing Time,” which includes this great line:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

In this case, 2009 was that “other beginning.” Barack Obama’s Inauguration was the crest of a wave, a flowering of post-Bush “si, se puede” optimism that unfortunately was quickly squelched (let us not say “betrayed”) by his own centrist pragmatism and the Republicans’ petty, partisan obstreperousness.

So now here we are, at that beginning’s end – and a new beginning. On January 20, we will see what I am calling the “Dysauguration” of Donald J. Trump – as massive a perversion of the democratic process as the planet has seen since the emperor Caligula supposedly named his horse Incitatus to the Roman Senate.

I plan to see this event from a different perspective. By the time Mr. Trump intones the words “So help me God,” I’ll be across the border, in Canada. (You might want to join me, even if just in spirit, or just for the day. See the article “Vote With Your Feet?” on my website, skipmendler.wordpress.com.)

I’m taking advantage of this “new beginning” to stage a new beginning of my own. I am headed to Europe for an indefinite period, with two goals in mind.

One is to get involved with refugee assistance over there. I am aiming for the Greek Isles, but I might find that I can be useful elsewhere along the route. Ideally, I’ll be able to use my performing experience by hooking up with one of the groups like Clowns Without Borders that has been doing shows to entertain the kids in the camps, but I’m willing to do whatever. (Look up “refugee clown circus” for a raft of articles about what some folks have been doing already, and why.)

The other is to get some opinions and suggestions from activists and academics over there regarding what can be done to fix our broken system, and our fractured society. I am particularly interested in how they make multiparty democracy work, and how we might bring the American system more in line with European democracies in this regard. (See my September column, “Two Parties Are Too Damn Few.”) I also plan to attend the 2017 Global Greens Congress in Liverpool at the end of March.

At present, I’m thinking I should be away for six months to a year, maybe more, depending on what happens (and how long the money holds out). In the meantime, I intend to continue this column, but I’ll be focusing primarily on my experiences along the way.

I remain an “apocaloptimist”: I believe that things are about to get quite rough, but I also believe they will work themselves out in the long run. This particular “new beginning,” this onslaught called Trumpism, will run its course and eventually end, hopefully sooner rather than later, but end it will.

And then there will be more – and better – new beginnings on the way.

 

A Possible Explanation for Recent Events

Donald Trump opened his eyes with a start. What had happened? He had been at a party – he remembered vodka shots, raucous dancing, a woman named Rulina – and now here he was, strapped to an admittedly comfortable chair in a dimly lit but spacious room. “Ah, good morning, Mr. Trump,” came a familiar voice, tinged with perhaps a bit too much honey.

“Please, Vlad, I thought we were on a first-name basis,” said Trump. His eyes adjusted to the light. Yes, that was him, a few feet away, his eyes glinting, that damn kittycat in his lap. “You could have made an appointment, you know.”

The other man laughed. “You’re a busy man, Donald,” he said. “And I needed to see you right away.

“But I won’t keep you long, don’t worry. Your personal safety is not at risk, so relax. We just have a matter to settle…”

“The Ljubljana account, you mean?”

“Yes, Donald. But it’s not the money I want, substantial though the sum is. I want you to obtain – or shall we say, procure – something for me. Something that I think you will enjoy getting… because to get it, you will have to become President of the United States.”

“What do you want that I could give you? The nuclear codes? Access to intel?”

Vlad laughed.

“Oh no, Donnie,” he said. He leaned in close to the bound man. Donald could smell the other man’s poor dental condition. “No, Donald – I want to screw the First Lady of the United States.”

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: GOVERNING FROM CENTER

(This was originally published in two parts.)

One of the things I appreciate about social media sites like Twitter and Facebook is that they expose me to many things that I might otherwise miss. Usually, these items are posted by the people and organizations I follow, but every once in a great while I actually see a relevant and interesting advertisement. The other day, for example, my eye was caught by an ad on Facebook.

“Click ‘Like’ if you are tired of the gridlock in Washington, DC!” it said.

Well, heck, who’s not tired of that? But before reflexively clicking the link, I thought maybe I should check out the sponsoring organization, which was identified as “Center Forward.”

After a bit of digging, I found that the organization was connected with the so-called “Blue Dogs,” the more fiscally conservative wing of the Democratic Party, whose presence and influence in Congress have been shrinking of late.  As you might expect, their chosen issues and approaches have a narrow range and a very business-friendly emphasis.

There have been many organizations like this cropping up over the past few years, ever since Ross Perot’s Reform Party knocked the system into such a tizzy back in 1992. Such organizations try, with varying degrees of success, to leverage America’s disillusionment and disgust with the present state of political discourse by rallying folks around something they call “the center.”

For example, consider the statement that tops Center Forward’s website:

“America is neither right nor left. Republican nor Democrat. Red nor blue. The solutions that will move us forward come from where they always have—the center.”

But what, or where, exactly, is that “center”? If you think of it as just “the middle of the road,” some position taken up between two extremes, then your definition is going to vary depending on how wide you think that “road” is.

There’s an interesting concept called the “Overton Window,” which describes the range of politically acceptable discourse at any given time. Conservatives have been very successful over the past half-century or so at moving that window to the right, and making it narrower and narrower. So for an outfit like Center Forward, “center” means the center of a fairly restricted set of possibilities.

(And by the way, as far as the “neither right nor left, Republican nor Democrat, red nor blue” part goes, that’s patently false. It’s not that America is “neither one nor the other:” it is, in fact, both. That’s the reality of the situation—and the problem—and the opportunity.)

For some, this elusive center presents an opportunity – and their search is motivated by a sense that there might be advantage to be gained by formulating an attractive vision of a unifying, centrist politics.  They calculate that the right person, with the right set of “non-partisan” positions, might be able to leverage people’s frustrations with business-as-usual and draw a strong following.

For others, perhaps less cynical, the motivation comes from a perception that the increasing polarization of our political system truly has made progress impossible, and stymied meaningful action on the many issues that confront us.   

This center, one supposes, would represent some kind of “middle ground” along the left/right spectrum, some place where enough people of good will from different sides could coalesce to reclaim power from the “extremes.”

But even if such a point of view could be coherently put forward, it would not transcend our divisions – it would only add another player to the practical and philosophical conflicts we have,  Entrenched partisans, from force of habit if nothing else, would resist what they would see as betrayals of their deeply-held principles.

We are an increasingly diverse nation, and I believe that when democracy is allowed to function properly, solutions can be crafted even from that diversity – because of it, not in spite of it.  Maybe we can and should go deeper. Maybe we can think in terms of our core values, our common interests, our shared goals. The Constitution, after all, begins with a specific list of defining purposes: “…form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Remember? Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be able to agree on what some of those words even mean, much less how to implement them in practice. But thinking in such terms might move us away from ideological wrangling and closer to actual communication and productive cooperation – closer to a government that is more inclusive and more diverse – closer to a government where everyone feels that they have both a voice and a stake.

For that to happen – for a government to truly be a government of “all the people,” then it must be rooted in a different kind of “center.”

This center is not simply a matter of compromise, or a mere averaging of extremes in the hopes of minimizing overall dissatisfaction.  This center would appeal, not to our “lowest common denominators,” but rather to our “greatest common factors.”

It would not be the middle of the road – it would be the ground upon which the road is built.

I am speaking here of “center” in a sense that is familiar, as a matter of personal experience, to martial artists and meditators, potters and performers.  It is a place of internal stillness even when one is in motion, of focused calm even in the midst of chaos.  When one is in contact with this center, one is able to respond to the requirements of the moment with minimal yet perfectly appropriate effort.  “The centered state,” says aikido master Thomas Crum in his excellent book The Magic of Conflict, “is simple, natural, and powerful.”  It is a state of heightened awareness, of insightful perception, of profound integration of body, mind, and spirit.

Now consider: what would it mean to govern from such a state – or to have a government that was not centralized, or even centrist, but truly, deeply centered.

Such a government would not be rigidly bound by ideology, but would be flexible and fluid.  It would respond quickly, but not reflexively; it would not be easily swayed by fear, anger, or panic.  It would not be monolithic, mind you – it would be broad-based and inclusive, but have effective and efficient decision-making mechanisms for identifying and balancing the various needs and interests of the different parts of society.  It would able to apply the right kinds of action to the particular situation at hand, whether such action might be labeled “liberal” or “conservative.”

Best of all: beginning the creation of such a government does not have to wait for the establishment of a new party, or the issuance of a think tank proposal.

It begins when we find where the true center is: within ourselves.

(2013)