The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Right To Vote

As I write this, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis is being laid to rest in Atlanta, Georgia. Lewis fought his whole life for the African Americans’ right to vote. “In March 1965, a 25-year-old Lewis, then chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, led hundreds of protesters on a march…to draw attention to the need for voting rights for African Americans across the South.”[1] Fifty-five years later, that fight is still being waged.

The Selma to Montgomery march that Lewis led was instrumental in passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013, however, the Supreme Court’s landmark Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted critical elements of the 1965 Act, thus allowing states to enact discriminatory voting laws.

Last December, the House passed a bill that would restore those vital sections of the law. And this week the House honored Lewis by renaming that bill the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.[2] But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked the Senate from considering the bill.[3]

In May, the Democratic-led House passed a coronavirus relief act that included $3.6 billion to bolster 2020 election security during the pandemic. Once again, McConnell rejected the measure. He and his Republican colleagues don’t seem to care about securing Americans’ right to vote. Their latest relief proposal doesn’t include one penny to protect this November’s election, despite Trump’s predictions of massive election fraud.

Still, McConnell had the gall to stand before Lewis’s casket and proclaim, “History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price.”[4] McConnell knows it’s right to restore voting rights and fund election security, but he’d rather protect his Senate Republican majority than the people’s right to vote.

There’s no question that the pandemic will make this year’s election more difficult. While a great number of people will want to avoid the polls and vote by mail, many states as well as the federal government have not taken any steps to accommodate them. Some states even greatly increased the problem in their primary elections by significantly reducing the number of polling places.

In McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, for example, officials reduced the number of polling places outrageously from 3,700 to fewer than 200.[5] With Republicans in charge in a plurality of states, their strategy seems to be to limit the number of actual voters, particularly African Americans, to increase their chances of winning.

So, what can we do? Since Republicans only play hardball, we need to convince Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats that they must play hardball as well. Call Speaker Pelosi and your Democratic Congresspeople ( 202-224-3121) and urge them to make the $3.6 billion for election protection in their relief bill non-negotiable. Tell them that the right to vote is sacred and they must force McConnell to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to the floor for a vote. Tell them they owe it to the legacy of John Lewis.

The future of our democracy depends on all Americans being able to cast their ballots and every vote being counted.  We can’t afford to lose this fight. Pass this blog on to your friends and colleagues. Urge them to call as well.

Also, contact one of these organizations to learn how else you can help protect our elections and save our democracy:

Bruce Berlin

With editing by Margaret Lubalin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

[1] https://www.facingsouth.org/2020/07/john-lewiss-final-fight-restore-voting-rights-act

[2] https://www.aol.com/urgent-essential-john-lewiss-death-172520491.html

[3] https://thehill.com/homenews/house/509160-james-clyburn-to-propose-renaming-voting-rights-bill-after-john-lewis

[4] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/pelosi-mcconnell-praise-john-lewis-as-late-congressman-honored-at-capitol-2020-07-27

[5] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/06/kentucky-slashes-polling-places-voting-rights-mcgrath-booker-lebron-james/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: People Power Can Win the Election

With less than four months before the election, the time to get involved is now. Even if Joe Biden was not your first, second or even third choice for president (He wasn’t in my top three either.), you cannot let that get in your way of taking action to rescue our country.

This election is really not about Joe Biden and whether he’s progressive enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough. Rather, the election is about saving our country from four more years of Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency and a Mitch McConnell-controlled, Republican Senate. If we fail to do whatever we can to oust Trump and his cronies, thus allowing them to run the country for four more years, what’s left of our tattered democracy will be destroyed. Additionally, our rights as citizens will be greatly diminished, or worse.

Many of us feel hampered by the need to quarantine due to the coronavirus. Others are feeling helpless in the face of Trump’s pervasive corruption, lies and fear mongering. What can one person do in the midst of the pandemic that can really make a difference?

The two most powerful forces in politics are money and people. We watch in disgust as big bucks unduly influences acts of Congress on a routine basis and often policy decisions in the White House as well.  Nevertheless, together we had the people power that helped end the Vietnam War. Together, we had the people power that gave the LBGTQ community equal rights. When enough of us work together, the American people are very powerful. And, together, we have the power that can throw Trump and his gang of sycophants out of office in November.

Right now we can exercise our power from the comfort and safety of our own homes. And all we need is our phones. Here are a few suggestions of how you can use your phone to help win the election and save the country:

  1. Call your friends and neighbors. If they don’t already get it, explain to them how critical this election is to — our safety, our healthcare, our children’s future, the makeup of the Supreme Court, the air we breathe and the water we drink, our immigrant families, our way of life as Americans, and practically anything else we can imagine. Then, urge them to get involved in the elections. Ask them to go to https://votesaveamerica.com/ and volunteer.
  2. Pick a swing state where a Democratic challenger can beat a Senate Republican. If you live in New Mexico, for instance, Arizona or Colorado are two nearby states that have competitive Senate races that Democrats can win. We can help take control of the Senate away from Mitch McConnell and put it in the hands of responsible leadership. Contact a voting rights organization in states (for example, Arizona Advocacy Network at https://www.azadvocacy.org/) and volunteer to assist in their efforts to protect voting rights and defend clean elections.
  3. Contact the campaign of a Democratic Senate challenger in any state with a winnable race and offer to make phone calls advocating that voters support the Democratic candidate. Former astronaut Mark Kelly (https://markkelly.com/) has a very good chance in Arizona as does former Governor John Hickenlooper (https://hickenlooper.com/) in Colorado.

These are just a few of the ways you can help save our country. The more of us who jump in, the more powerful we are and the more likely we will win in November. So, let’s get to work. Our country needs us now!

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: What Are We Called To Do Now?

I’ve just finished reading One Blade of Glass, Henry Shukman’s Zen memoir. An associate Zen master, Shukman is the leader of the Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe. His book is helping me be more present in the moment.

The other day I was hiking in Mineral Hill near Las Vegas, NM. Sitting down to rest, I experienced a Zen moment in the midst of a pine forest. My body resonated with the slender trees swaying in the wind. I sensed a kinship with the majestic granite boulders surrounding me. Like the timeless forest, I was present and very alive.

I felt a million light years away from all the madness of our “civilized” world. The current state of our country can drive me crazy, if I let it. Being in nature allows me to maintain a more balanced perspective, a calm centeredness.  I find it helps to step away from the insanity of our planet, seemingly on the brink of disaster.

As much as I am grateful to escape from the chaos, I feel some responsibility for how we got here, as well as where we go next. Whether actively involved or passively watching on the sidelines, I believe we all have some accountability for the state of our country, and we each play a role in determining how and where the country shifts and turns going forward.

At the same time, letting go, being in a Zen mindset, allows me to be more fully immersed in life, from dancing with the pine trees in the forest to combating corruption in government. Being present and engaged, I empty my mind and become open to the all-encompassing present.

It may sound pretty simple, but it’s not. Our monkey minds are always thinking, always wanting something, so busy we have a hard time being present in the moment.

And look where it’s gotten us. Rioting and killing each other in the midst of a deadly pandemic, with an unstable, autocratic president in charge. A really terrible movie, which tragically has come to life.

Isn’t it time we turned the page? What if we were quiet and went within, as the Coronavirus has given us the opportunity to do, and took a real hard look at our present moment?

In our quiet, inward perspective, what are we being asked to do? What is our highest calling at this moment when so many Americans, as well as multitudes around the world, are suffering? How can we heal our country when it’s so deeply divided? What can we do to lift up those our nation has left behind? How can we overcome fear and rekindle love and respect in our country?

This is the present moment we find ourselves in. Can we take it all into our hearts and follow our inner wisdom? Do we have the courage to act now for the good of all the people?

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Many Republicans Oppose Trump, Too

In last week’s blog I wrote that “nothing less than the survival of American democracy is at stake” in this year’s election. I noted that Prof. Peter Dreier of Occidental College believes the election is “about democracy vs. fascism.”

One reader retorted that my blog gave her a good laugh. Another thought Dreier’s remarks were just liberal bluster. Though most of you didn’t respond, I’m sure many agreed with Dreier’s dire warning.

Whether one is conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, it’s hard to understand how one cannot take what’s happening in our country seriously.  Armed militia recently marched on the Michigan statehouse protesting the governor’s coronavirus-related restrictions.[1] Pres. Trump not only rejects Congress’s power of oversight,[2]  but he also refuses to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to save American lives.[3] And, just yesterday Trump fired another independent executive branch watchdog who found fault with his administration.[4]

Trump has absolutely failed to protect Americans against the coronavirus. Many health professionals fighting the virus still do not have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need. While Trump praises healthcare workers, his failure to fully employ the DPA has resulted in “shortages across the country…so severe that a number of hospitals are trying to come up with ways to innovate using the same PPE more than once — a practice that was unheard of in the United States prior to the coronavirus crisis.”[5] Still, it’s mind-boggling that this pandemic which has affected 100,000s of Americans, and killing 1000s of people daily, has become a political football.[6]

Yet, Democrats are not the only ones fed up with Trump. Conservative attorney George Conway, husband of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, and Rick Wilson, former Republican consultant, are leading a group of Republicans called the Lincoln Project which aims to make Trump a one-term president.

The Lincoln Project as well as many other conservatives firmly believe Trump is a danger to the nation.[7] In fact, nearly a quarter of Republicans think that the party should nominate someone other than Trump as their 2020 presidential nominee.[8] In addition, “highly respected and renowned conservative political columnists like Jennifer Rubin, George Will, Kathleen Parker, Jonah Goldberg and others have long been writing about his incompetence, egotism, ignorance of foreign policy, dishonesty, cruelty and overall lack of integrity. Even the very conservative Wall Street Journal is publishing editorials and columns against his incompetence and lies.”[9]

Regardless of this Republican rebellion, Trump still has a strong following. Fortunately for the country, they are in the minority. But that is not enough reason to believe Trump will lose in November.

Trump is a very clever salesman, an unrelenting con artist. He still has powerful people like Mitch McConnell and wealthy donors like Sheldon Adelson supporting him. And, most Republicans will do just about anything to win.

So, it is up to us, the American people, to save our country from the ruin that a second Trump term will surely bring. We must do everything we can to get everyone registered to vote and then follow through by voting, demand the right to mail-in voting and do whatever else we can to ensure an overwhelming defeat of a president who doesn’t care about the American people or our country, but only cares about himself.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

[1] https://www.yahoo.com/news/michigan-militia-puts-armed-protest-043435517.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/us/trump-signing-statement-coronavirus.html

[3] https://doyle.house.gov/media/press-releases/congressman-doyle-demands-president-trump-use-defense-production-act-save

[4] https://www.yahoo.com/news/pompeo-fires-state-dept-watchdog-024122794.html

[5] https://truthout.org/articles/trump-says-doctors-and-nurses-running-into-death-is-beautiful-thing-to-see/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=104d96e5-c966-4ea1-9126-6d44080cd4b2

[6] https://thehill.com/homenews/coronavirus-report/497529-governors-warn-covid-relief-is-becoming-a-political-football

[7] https://www.c-span.org/video/?471995-5/washington-journal-rick-wilson-discusses-campaign-2020

[8] https://www.yahoo.com/news/nearly-quarter-likely-republican-voters-173919559.html

[9] https://www.wiscnews.com/baraboonewsrepublic/opinion/columnists/nash-column-trumps-finally-worn-out-welcome-with-many-in-gop/article_6dc396e4-5c95-540a-8aa7-7d033c2e945c.html

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Now, For The First Time, The World Pities The United States 

(Note: This week I’m doing something different. Instead of my view on some aspect of what’s happening in the world, I’m offering a perspective from Ireland. The article below by Fintan O’Toole appeared in the April 25th edition of The Irish Times. O’Toole provides a harsh reality check on what has become of our country.)

 

“The (coronavirus) crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it.

“The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it. There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.”

Here’s the article in full:

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity. 

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful. 

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic. 

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted … like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.” It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, 

vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence. 

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV. 

If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated. It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways. 

Abject surrender 

What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety. Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order. In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”. 

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.” 

This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fueled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus. It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right. 

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted. 

The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence. 

Fertile ground 

But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. 

The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it. There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault 

weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection. 

Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder. And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here. 

That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality. 

And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element. As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re- elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics. Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again. 

4

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Coronavirus Opportunity

According to an ancient Chinese proverb, “In every crisis, there’s opportunity.” As individuals as well as members of our communities and our country, the coronavirus crisis has given us a rare opportunity.

These are challenging times for all of us. A great many Americans have been isolated at home for the last month or more, held hostage by the coronavirus, COVID-19. Now that our busy schedules have been put on hold, we each have the time to really stop and re-examine our lives.

We might ask ourselves, what’s truly important to me? Life being so uncertain, how can I be more present and appreciate each passing moment? What can I do from now on to more closely align my life with my true purpose, my heart’s desires? In the BTC era (“Before the Coronavirus”), many of us were too wrapped up in our careers, our social lives, our next “whatever,” to go within and give these questions the serious consideration they deserve. Now this may be the most meaningful way to spend our time.

Being isolated, I am finding that my relationship to dear friends and loved ones is what I most value. I am learning to reach out in new ways, like Zoom, to stay bonded with them as well as to reconnect with old friends and family with whom I have lost touch. And, I am also missing my connection to Mother Earth. I yearn to be in the mountains again.

What do you value most?

This coronavirus-imposed isolation is also providing me with the opportunity to explore my relationship to my community. How could I better serve my community? How might it better serve me? What can I do to help make my neighborhood and town more livable for everyone? Once we have given these questions some considerable attention, we could meet, perhaps on Zoom, and start a dialogue. Together we can develop a common vision and a plan to implement it.

Finally, COVID-19 has given our country an extraordinary opportunity. We are quite aware of how divided our nation is. Yet, this crisis has brought people of all backgrounds, political persuasions, income levels and ethnicities together to fight this common enemy. Whether it’s medical professionals in hospitals, drivers delivering groceries or technicians ensuring our electricity stays on, people are risking their lives to provide care and support for all of us. When everyone works together, we are all better off. Can we carry this lesson forward to heal our country in the weeks and months ahead?

Our nation has numerous problems. It is not working well for many Americans. A great number of us don’t have good, if any, affordable healthcare. We know climate change is threatening to devastate our planet, but we are not doing much about it. Too many people in this country, especially children, go to bed hungry every night. In the wealthiest country on Earth, millions of us don’t make a living wage. Women and people of color are discriminated against and not treated as equal citizens. Alcohol and drug addiction run rampant across our nation, as does gun violence. Big money and huge corporations control government policies to the detriment of most Americans. And, the list goes on.

At this critical juncture in our history, we must not go back to the way things were before the pandemic crisis struck. We are learning that we can work in unison for the good of the country regardless of our differences. As we progress in conquering COVID-19, we must use this singular experience to inspire us. Together we can reshape our country into one that serves the common good, not just the interests of the well-connected and the very wealthy. World War II was a comparable national crisis that brought all Americans together to defeat a common enemy. Just like after that hard-fought victory, we must grab this opportunity to create a new vision of America and remake our country.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.