Roots of Division – Part 1: Watergate

Richard Nixon and Rush Limbaugh
Richard Nixon and Rush Limbaugh

This is first in a series of essays exploring how we got to this, our Great Divide.

Division, like coming together, is part of human nature. It’s part the history of any people or nation, including “we the people” of the United States. American history is replete with divisive events, but for this series I focus on four because they occurred during my lifetime so are part of my history. Each of them was divisive in its time, yet their repercussions merge today, leading to what could be among the most divisive moment in our history.

Two of those events, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, coincided over the two decades of 1955–1975. Two singular and separate events occurred in 1973: the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade and the Senate Watergate hearings. I begin with the latter.

On May 17, 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee began hearing testimony in its investigation of the 1972 GOP break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

President Richard Nixon was running for reelection at the time of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and office complex. Much of the questioning during the hearing focused on what Nixon knew about it and, more important, when he knew about it and if he had participated in a coverup.

On May 9, 1974, impeachment hearings began before he House Judiciary Committee. On August 9, Nixon resigned from office, his impeachment imminent. The Supreme Court had ruled that Nixon must release all his tapes of secretly recorded conversations he’d had with members of his administration. These tapes, especially the last one discovered, showed the world Richard Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up. Nixon became a major embarrassment to Conservatives and the Republican Party, a condition they’ve worked hard to overcome.

Since the Watergate scandal, Republicans have been steadfast in their effort to portray Democrats as evil and in all ways worse than Republicans.

During Jimmy Carter’s third year in office, on November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students overtook the American embassy in Tehran, Iran, taking 66 Americans hostage. Over time, the militants released 14 hostages, but 52 remained captive 444 days, until minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on January 20, 1981. Carter had failed to negotiate a release of the hostages. A military rescue attempt ended in disaster—with eight Americans killed—because of mechanical failure. Republicans held Carter personally responsible. Republican scorn handed Carter a humiliating defeat by Ronald Reagan after one term

Compare the Iran hostage situation with the Iran-Contra scandal. Members of Reagan’s administration secretly traded weapons with Iran and used the proceeds to support Nicaraguan “contras” during that country’s civil war. Nothing came of this scandal for reasons that had more to do with concealing evidence and with pardons than with innocence.

Conservatives’ balanced their hatred for Carter (despite his many accomplishments) by their adoration of Ronald Reagan as the exemplar of the Republican ideology and character.

Republicans hounded Bill Clinton with investigations of one manufactured scandal after another—not to say there wasn’t one or two real scandals during his time in office. The Republican House did impeach Clinton for  his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but the Senate acquitted him.

Yet Republicans had nothing to say about George W. Bush’s devastating invasion of Iraq justified by lies about weapons of mass destruction.

Republicans spent eight years obstructing Barack Obama, earning the epithet “the Party of No.” Among other things, they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act some 60 times, even though it was based on a plan developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Upon Obama’s election Republicans insisted he would be a failure. They worked against him to make sure he failed. In the end they insisted he was a failure. They could not bring themselves to acknowledge any of Obama’s accomplishments or his character.

On September 11, 2012, members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya. The Republican-led Congress heaped blame on then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Seven investigations, including one 11-hour stint of questioning of Clinton produced no evidence of misconduct on her part or President Obama’s. Strong suggestions emerged from Washington that the investigators’ intention was to discredit Clinton and hurt her chances of a possible run for president.

One of the most blatant examples of elevating Republicans by disparaging Democrats is Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion in 2013 that the attack on Benghazi was “one of the worst incidents, frankly, that I can recall in my career.”

This is the same Vice President Cheney who was in office on September 11, 2001, serving under President George W. Bush. The Bush administration disregarded several warnings in the spring of that year of a likely attack by Al Qaeda on American soil.

In 1987 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which compelled television and radio broadcasters to give equal time to controversial viewpoints. This newfound freedom opened the way for daily broadcasts by Rush Limbaugh to go unchallenged. Over the past 30 years, Limbaugh has directed his diatribes against everything Liberal. Dozens of vitriolic voices have since amplified the message of hatred for the Left and a mistrust of all media other than those which reenforce the Party line.

Today, the larger sociopolitical environment is so toxic the misinformed shout down reasonable rebuttals as lies and “fake news.” The Right considers Liberal thought cancerous, a disease with eradication the only solution. The Right lays claim as the sole possessor of patriotism, morality, and as the true heir of the American Experiment. Their “values” are the only ones that count. Hatred is now one of those “values.” Republicans use outright lying and trafficking in conspiracy theories and false equivalencies as valued tactics.

This unchallengeable rhetoric and impenetrable mindset, built over the past 44 years, have enabled Donald Trump’s ascension to power. His supporters believe he will upset the world as he puts “America First.” But it’s a world created, to a large extent, by the very people who boosted him into power.

For Part 2: Roe v. Wade go here.

Divided, We Are Falling

WW II poster. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

We now have three major political parties in the United States: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and The Party. The Party has amassed considerable power and control, using the Republican Party as a catapult into the White House. Once in, the Great Leader and his enablers are fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises without regard for the Constitution, the rule of law, or concern about any consequences.

The Republican Party has a crucial decision to make. As the majority, it can hold steady its course of division, thereby increasing the power of The Party. Or it can work with Democrats to make sure the Trumpian oligarchy crumbles in disgrace—even at the cost of some of it’s most cherished policies. Democrats have an obligation to work with their legislative partners. Devolving to dictatorship is to great a price to pay.

Now is the time for both legitimate parties to put aside their decades’ long animosity toward one other and find a common ground of civility and concern for the health and wellbeing of all citizens of this country and the country’s spirit too. We cannot endure much longer the vindictiveness, hatred, and divisiveness that has created alternating cycles of euphoria for one side and despondency for the other. Without congressional compromise and cooperation, the mutual despondency both sides is coming.

Good people everywhere—and there are more good people than not in this country, I’m sure—must make an effort to relearn what it means to respect one another, to compromise, to value the commonweal. We must relearn what truth is and seek it regardless of its consequences to our well-defended egos.

We need to come together to work together. Together we must find solutions to our many social, economical, political, and environmental problems for the good of all, now and into the future. We must realize that the short-term gains of the profiteers are against the best interests of the people.

We, together, must stand up to The Party—now, while we still can. Otherwise, if the The Party succeeds, the other two parties, if they continue to exist, will have no purpose. Then, our division will be complete and irreparable. When that happens, The Party will force the people to unite under the banner of Fascism.

Life in Today’s America

I taught my children that lying, stealing, cheating, and bullying are wrong. We have now awarded the highest prize to a man who lies, cheats, steals, threatens, and intimidates to get what he wants. Republicans may claim the government, but their days of claiming moral authority are over. Yet claim it they will, as usual. Reality is whatever the producers want it to be, and we gobble it up as truth. We live in a web of lies where deception is the norm. We live in America.

What shall we do about it?

Taking a Stand Against Authoritarianism

Republicans made easy sport of portraying Barack Obama as Hitler, Satan, the anti-Christ, a lawless tyrant, and a lying dictator. President Obama was none of those, of course. Also, of course, Donald Trump is neither Hitler, Satan, nor the anti-Christ.

Nonetheless, he has long shown signs of the lawless tyrant and lying dictator. And what say his supporters about that? Not a thing. Except for a small handful of detractors in the Republican Party (bless them), they are his obsequious defenders.

Never mind asking how they can defend his lies, insults, bad behavior, his lack of interest in the problem of Russian hacking, and oh so many, many other things. The point is that Donald Trump has the unwavering support of the Republican Party.

That alone points to the moral bankruptcy of that body. And, unfortunately, the moral bankruptcy of the collective knows as “we the People.”

Not all of us, however are content with this lurid episode in American history. Some of us are unapologetically compelled to stand against authoritarianism, for we understand the direction in which we travel.

On the Spectrum of Ignorance and Wisdom

 

“Spectrum” initially referred to the range of colors displayed as a continuum when white light disperses through a prism. Today we use the word to describe any continuum on which a condition, person, or group might fall. Political spectrum is a good example. The phrase “on the spectrum” applies to people with a variety of social disorders, usually lumped together as some form of autism.

Just about anything displaying subtle gradations can be placed on a spectrum line. Some, like your intelligence quotient, is quantified by IQ points based on testing. Others are not so easy to pin down. What I have in mind is the spectrum of ignorance to wisdom.

This is tricky territory for the same reason we don’t, in polite company anyway, make judgements about a person’s IQ—which we aren’t likely to know—and how smart they are. Another reason it’s tricky is that words like ignorance and wisdom will mean different things to different people and under different circumstances.

Merriam-Webster defines wisdom as: “knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life; the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand; knowledge of what is proper or reasonable; good sense or judgment.”

The same source defines ignorance as: “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education; the state of being ignorant.”

In other words, ignorance is the lack of wisdom.

People with low IQs or an overall lack of wisdom don’t generally brag about such things (which they may not even be aware of). Some people, though, do like to brag about their high IQs and how smart—and wise—they are.

Braggarts aside, the qualities of stupid and smart, and ignorance and wisdom are more often attributed to us by others—sometimes correctly, sometimes not. Such judgements, right or wrong, depend on those judges’ own placement on the ignorance-wisdom spectrum.

The dictionary definition of wisdom is useful only on a superficial level, because it gives no insights into vague ideas of what’s “proper or reasonable,” or of “good sense or judgment.” Each day, people gain another day’s worth of experience. That incremental gain doesn’t necessarily add to one’s wisdom. As for “the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand,” well, it may sound mystical and shamanistic, but the relatively few people who understand quantum mechanics or string theory aren’t necessarily wise.

So how to know wisdom? To get a better gasp of what wisdom means let’s take a look into some qualities showing in wise people.

  • Wise people carry intentions of harmlessness. They consider their future actions in terms of the benefit they will have for others, avoiding harmful actions. They reflect on past actions, also in terms of benefit and harm to others, then adjust accordingly.
  • Wise people carry intentions of good will. They speak well of others, avoiding gossip and derogatory speech. They are truthful. Their tone is pleasant and harmonious instead of harsh and divisive. They say things that are meaningful instead of chattering on without purpose.
  •  Wise people have an understanding of the connectedness of things and instinctively see how changes in one area or circumstance may have profound effects on seemingly unrelated areas or circumstances. They understand the nature of cause and effect on levels deeper than the mundane.
  • Wise people are generous, because they understand the grip of need. They are virtuous, because they understand the heavy boot of dishonest and dishonorable people. They don’t take what doesn’t belong to them, because they understand the pain of loss.

I doubt this covers everything, but it’s a start at painting a picture of wisdom. Wisdom has more to do with understanding the nature of the human condition and responding in a positive way. Those who understand the nature of the human condition and respond in a negative way—taking unfair advantage of others, for example—are, at best, sociopaths. At worst, they are psychopaths.

Wisdom has little or nothing to do with general knowledge and IQ. Knowledgeable and intelligent people can be short on wisdom. Uneducated and low-IQ people can be wise.

Giving attention to your inner world as well as the outer world, with the intentions of harmlessness and good will, is the means for cultivating wisdom. Like a well-tended garden, wisdom can grow. The more wisdom grows, the further away from ignorance you travel along the spectrum. And that’s good for you and good for the world. The world is sorely in need of wise people. All people are sorely in need of wise leaders.

Life Within the Synapse

Radio clicks on at 5:15,
NPR, mid interview.
The guest is saying “It’s a matter
Of chemistry and not character.”
Jolted alert, I know this truth.

Dopamine,
Serotonin,
Norepinephrine,
—Gamma
——Amino
———Butyric
————Acid.

Synaptic-cleft dwellers
Controlling mood and rhythm
Through their balancing tricks,
Grim clowns spinning
Plates on a high wire.

One moment at peace, composed,
Secure. The next
Sad, angry, anxious as those
Chemical Devils run
Amok through the
Neuronic jungle of my mind.

On Teaching Children How to Think or What to Think

This showed up one day on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s among the thousands of catchy image quotes that friends like to share. I found one attribution to cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Although I couldn’t verify the quote anywhere else, it does seem consistent with other things I’ve read about her.

Teaching children how to think seems a fine idea, don’t you agree? But what does that mean, really? What teachers themselves know how to think? Who are the teachers who know how to teach children how to think? What does “how to think” mean in the first place? 

Most children’s first teachers are their parents. And most first-time parents are, themselves, very young when they have children. Child-rearing is an occupation undertaken with “no experience necessary,” including experience in teaching anything, let alone thinking skills. From my own parental experience, I know that much of what I taught my children—if not explicitly, then implicitly—came from what I learned from my parents. 

“How to think” was not part of my growing-up curriculum. “What to think,” however, was—not only at home but at school. Some things I learned as matters of fact include: the United States is the best country in the world, and good Catholics go to heaven (and, at best, Purgatory for the rest of you). Only later, when I was able to look at these two “givens” objectively—through my own reasoning—was I able to come to different conclusions.

“How to think” implies using reason and logic to analyze information or situations in search of understanding or other desirable outcomes. And that implies the need for a well-rounded education—not necessarily a college degree, but at least some exposure to a variety of topics and disciplines (e.g., history, humanities, physical sciences, civics and political science, religion, etc.) Part of that education comes from exploration and experimentation—whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. In other words, a variety of diverse life experiences. How can you evaluate something without having something else to measure against? 

Also important is an understanding of (or just recognizing) the many biases and fallacies people fall prey to without even knowing it. Salesmen, advertisers, politicians, preachers, and other persuaders are expert in using these to get what they want: which is to convince you it’s what you want too. To me, knowing how to think seems a valuable asset and survival tool (unless you’re living in 1984).

As beneficial as this may seem, however, critical thinking—and the education that fosters it—may be at odds with the Judeo-Christian ethic and core narrative of our country. Both of these are matters of faith, and faith definitely falls into the “what to think” category. 

Martin Luther, the rebellious Catholic priest and principal of the Protestant Reformation, said:

Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. 

The definition of reason is: “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.” Reason is dangerous because those who know how to use it may come to different conclusions about things that were once accepted as matters of faith and fact and “because I said so.” 

Animosity to reason is alive even today, at least in some parts of the country. Built into the 2012 Texas Republican Party platform is this statement:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. 

So not everyone believes teaching children how to think is a good idea. “What to think”—e.g., fixed beliefs firmly instilled by one’s parents—is the order of the day here. By objecting to this, I don’t mean to imply that we should raise little anarchists without any respect for authority. I believe in teaching respect, especially respect for one’s parents and teachers. But that respect should be founded on love and wisdom and not on fear and guilt. And parents should have enough respect for their children to teach them how to make their own decisions, develop their own consciences, and form their own opinions.

Someone else who doesn’t appreciate the value of education is Karl Rove, who said:

As people do better, they start voting like Republicans…unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.

On second thought, he may appreciate the value of education very much. Apparently, a well-educated and thoughtful electorate is something to fear.

Please take the poll, and leave your reasoning in the comments section if you’re so inclined.