Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: The 2018 Midterm Election

Cause or Effect?

       Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

       Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

Most people are familiar with the aphorism "While the optimist sees the glass as being half full, the pessismist sees the glass as being half empty."  For as long as I can remember, my response has been: "What matters most is that there's something in the glass, which would make one a realist." Of course, one person's reality is another's fantasy, just as one person's factuality is another's falsity The difference between fact and fiction - or "real" versus "fake" news - has over the past several years become a matter heated, angry debate. Recently, veteran Sixty Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl interviewed PBS Newshour host and editor Judy Woodruff. At one point in the interview, the conversation turned to '45. Stahl recalled interviewing him and asking why he relentlessly attacked the media. Woodruff told Ms. Stahl that the POTUS answered “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you." One suspects he doesn’t believe half of the mean-spirited and unfounded statements and tweets about the media that come out of his mouth and/or fingers, but rather uses these attacks as a shield, a dangerous shield against the truth and truthful reporting.

If you are a "glass is half full" sort, you likely believe the mainstream media is reporting things factually. If you are a "glass is half empty" sort, you likely believe the POTUS and his tight-knit circle that there's a conspiracy of fakery going on 24-hours a day.  If, like moi you are a "what matters most is that there's something in the glass" sort, you are likely concerned with cause and effect: e.g., are '45's rants and twitter raves the cause of all those merchants of mendacity succeeding with a large portion of the public,  or is '45's being elected POTUS the reflection - or effect - of all this mendacity itself?

If this last point seems a bit intellectually murky or turgid, perhaps a chillingly specific example will clear things up a bit.  According to a recent  report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least eight white nationalists and self-admitted Nazis are running for office in 2018. They have been as up-front and unabashedly loquacious about their hatred for African Americans, Hispanics and Muslims, as well as their firm belief that Israel and the Jews represent an even greater threat to America than Islamic terrorists. And mind you, these hateful candidates aren't running for dogcatcher in East Elbow, Idaho; they are running for the House of Representatives, the United States Senate and state legislatures.  Whether or not any of them stand a snowball's chance in hell of being elected (they do not) is besides the point.  The fact that they are actually running as Republicans and are unafraid of telling the public what they "know" to be "the truth" is. This story, which was brought to my attention by my student and constant reader Richard Cohen, has been covered by NBC News. It is a story that should cause a lot of constipation, worry and more than a few sleepless nights.

"There's nothing new about these kinds of people running for office," the more historically savvy members of the alt-right will proclaim, and then mention the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who was a member of the KKK back in the mid-1940s. Byrd spent nearly 60 years serving West Virginia in both the House and Senate, and spent nearly 60 years apologizing for ever having been a part of that noxious, racist group.  But to compare a man from West Virginia who was a member of the Klan in the 1940s to a California anti-Semite (the appropriately-named Richard Little) running for the United States Senate from California in 2018 betrays a lack of historic knowledge. Sure, Robert Byrd did belong to the Klan in 1946-47.  Then too, nearly 70% of the people in America smoked cigarettes in the 1940s, and there were actually ad campaigns proclaiming that Camels were, by far," the favorite smoke of American physicians." Then too, during the 1940s, it was illegal for a white man to marry a black woman in more than half  the states, and one could be given a "blue discharge" from the United States military for being gay. Simply stated, these were incredibly different times. In retrospect, while a majority of sensible people don't agree with their points of view,, we should nonetheless understand that Byrd's being a short-time Klansman in  1940's West Virginia - although despicable by latter-day understanding - wasn't all that peculiar.  To bring it up in the twenty-first century as a rationalization for a racist or proto-Nazi being cool in 2018 is both intellectually degraded and morally reprehensible.

The question becomes one of cause and effect:  if disgustingly noxious candidates like Arthur Jones, Paul Nehlen, Sean Donahue, John AbarrPatrick Little and others who are as openly racist and Holocaust-denyingly anti-Semitic as any Klansman or neo-Stoßtruppen, are given strength by - or are reflections of - the current president and his administration. Without question, '45 has a lot of Jewish people in his inner circle: son-in-law Jared Kusher, Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, former economic advisor Gary Cohn (who resigned and was replaced by the now-Catholic Larry Kudlow), former campaign advisor Sam Nunberg (whom Trump sued for $10 million),  and attorney Michael Cohen.  Many Jews believe '45 to be the most pro-Israel, Jewish-friendly president in American history, largely on the strength of his moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. And yet, many prominent anti-Semites (like David Duke and Pastor Robert Jeffress) believe him to be a member in good standing of their houses of worship.  And yet, professional anti-Semites seem to have found a landsman, an understanding compatriot in the nation's 45th president.  Oh sure, there were racists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis during the Regan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama years; it's just that they weren't so damnably open about it . . . feeling empowered enough to run for office on platforms of extreme prejudice and hatred.  Perhaps back then, they knew that the White House would be quick to condemn their brainless bigotry; but not today.

This past week has focused attention on yet another big-mouthed, small-minded bigot: Rosanne Barr.  The Twitter tirade which caused ABC to cancel her top-rated show is by now so well known that there is no need to repeat it here.  In matters of "cause and effect," it is hard to know if her words and sentiments were caused by the words and sentiments emanating from the White House, or are a mere reflection (call it "echoing") of the current atmosphere.  Whatever the answer - if indeed, there is one - it is worth noting that it took the POTUS nearly a week to break his silence on the scandal.  That is notable.  What is just as notable - if not more so - is what he didn't say.  For in his utterly sarcastic tweet on the subject, '45 wrote: "Bob Iger of ABC [actually, he's CEO of Disney, which owns ABC] called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that 'ABC does not tolerate comments like those' made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call?"  Rather than distancing himself from Barr's racist remarks, '45 jumped right into the argument about whether she was subjected to a double standard.

So school me: is it cause or effect?

502 days down, 970 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Meet Ryan Watts

                                    Ryan Watts

                                    Ryan Watts

It has long been a basic political truism that in national midterm elections, the party occupying the White House tends to lose seats in both the House and Senate - as well as governorships and state legislatures. In the first midterm election for all but two presidents going back to 1946, the president’s party has lost U.S. House seats. Up until President Barack Obama, presidents with an approval rating above 50% at the time of the election lost an average of 14 House seats. Presidents with an approval rating below 50% lost an average of 36 House seats. Frequently, these losses meant a change in legislative leadership: on committees, last session's ranking member suddenly finds him/herself wielding the gavel; many of last session's incumbents are making appointments with headhunters, wondering what's next on their employment agenda.  In addition to bringing about shifts in power and renewed hope, midterm elections generally introduce the politically-minded public to a profusion of newcomers and perhaps a couple of potential goliath-slayers to boot.  

It is with this opening paragraph that I introduce one and all to 28-year old Ryan Watts, a native Tar Heel who is challenging incumbent Rep. Mark Walker in North Carolina's 6th Congressional District. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Watts spent two years working for IBM in Washington, D.C. before returning home where he is currently senior strategy consultant for Deloitte. In this position, Watts examines the "changes technology has made both socially and economically in the U.S."  Born in 1990, Ryan Watts is a full-fledged "Millennial" - a generation which has been variously described as ". . . politically and civically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values and less concerned about helping the larger community than were Gen-X (born 1962-81) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-61) at the same ages."  Then too, Millennials have also been described in highly positive ways: They are generally regarded as being more open-minded, and more supportive of gay rights and equal rights for minorities. Other positive adjectives used to describe them include confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living. Upon researching and interviewing Ryan, he would appear to be virtually none of the former, while easily possessing an abundance of the latter.

Among Ryans' central political issues are gerrymandering (he wants to mandate "fair-districting" legislation), healthcare (which he calls "a human right"), protecting both Social Security and Medicare, sustainable energy including solar power and what he calls "common sense gun safety laws."  Sounding very much like the students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Ryan supports universal background checks, raising the minimum age for gun purchase, and outlawing "military-style" firearms, silencers, and bump stocks. He also hopes to promote access to mental-health counseling in schools and let law enforcement temporarily confiscate firearms in crisis situations as well as "close the gun show loophole." Though Watts himself is a gun owner, he disagrees that it is necessary to be able to purchase a gun in one day.

Ryan Watts fully supports Israel.  "It is the strongest, only true Democracy in the Middle East. To not be its ally, its constant friend, is  simply unthinkable." 

Neither flashy nor a hardcore political partisan, Ryan Watts has managed to graft the energy and enthusiasm of an optimistic 28-year old on to the steady wisdom of a political realist. Despite his tender years, he brings to the table an understanding that bitter partisanship is a toxic roadblock to progress.  As Ryan explained to a reporter from his home-state News Observer, “I certainly am a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I think Democrats are always right. I also don’t think that the Republicans are always wrong. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time talking about Democrats and Republicans. We’re all Americans. It shouldn’t matter what party you come from."

Funded by less than $100,000 but fueled by more than 300 volunteers and a staff of 15, Ryan defeated 64-year old truck driver Gerald Wong with 77.2% of the vote in the Democratic primary.  He now squares off against the Republican incumbent, Mark Walker in a district which the Cook Political Index rates "strongly Republican" (R+9).  Unlike challenger Watts, Rep. Walker is awash in cash.  This past April 20, Vice President Mike Pence headlined a luncheon in Greensboro in which he raised more than $650,000 for Walker, the staunchly conservative head of the 154-member House Republican Study Committee.  The $650,000 roughly equaled the total his campaign had already raised.  Representative Walker is an ordained Southern Baptist minister.  A man who has a perfect rating from the NRA and less than 4% from Planned Parenthood, Walker until about two weeks ago, chaired a special committee tapped to select a new House chaplain.  Shortly after Speaker Paul Ryan announced the firing of Rev. Pat Conroy, the second Catholic to hold the post of House Chaplain, Rep. Walker was asked to chair a special committee to help select Father Conroy's replacement.  (Many Democrats suggested that Speaker Ryan - a devout Catholic himself - had ousted Father Conroy because of a prayer he offered on Nov. 6, 2017,  as Republicans were preparing to vote on their tax cut proposal that urged lawmakers to strive for economic equality in the bill.  In his post as chair of the special committee, Rep. Walker said he would like to see the next House chaplain have a family . . . which would obviously exclude Catholic priests.  When queried about this, Walker's press spokesman denied any anti-Catholic bias on the part of his boss, stating that his suggestion was based “on initial feedback from his peers on preferences for a new House chaplain.” 

Ryan Watts is the embodiment of all those Parkland students who promised they would come after those who would not change the gun laws.  He is part of a new generation who, despite tender years, has the honest political instincts of Jimmy Stewart's Jefferson Smith.  What Ryan Watts lacks in money he has more than made up for with boots on the ground.  What he has yet to gain in publicity he will rectify by making good on his promise to meet virtually every voter in his district.

I for one urge you to make a tangible contribution to Ryan's congressional campaign.  His victory will be our victory, for his is the voice of the future . . . our future.  His are the dreams of tomorrow . . . our common tomorrow.  

To reach Ryan, simply go to his campaign website. Get acquainted with a future face in Congress.  It will help make you feel like a million dollars . . . after taxes!

481 days down, 981 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone