The Need to Build a New America

January 4th, 2021 - by Mort Rosenblum/ Reader Supported News

A Postmortem, Looking Upward

Mort Rosenblum/ Reader Supported News

TUCSON (December 23, 2020) — Think of the possibilities. The near collapse of American democracy, increasingly dysfunctional for decades, offers a perfect chance to do what a new president proposes: build back better. But to heal, we need to focus on why we are so badly in need of healing.

What makes America great is the spirit of its people, not some obese nutcase who humps their flag at rallies, guts their Constitution, squanders their global goodwill, and incites armed howling hyenas in stupid red caps to bully those who oppose their destructive ignorance. 

A fresh cast of characters offers something better than the Shakespearean tragedy we booed off the stage. But a deposed mad king is heaving brickbats from the wings. They will need enthusiastic audience participation to pull off All’s Well That Ends Well.

We have lost our way since those founders who studied Latin saw the difference between republic and empire. Those lessons still apply. We suffered an annus horribilusin 2020 because of what my thin grasp of linguistics would mistranslate as “horrible asshole.”

No democracy can survive without a common grasp of observable facts. And more, enabled by self-focused legislators and greed-obsessed oligarchs, Donald Trump has sold his cultists an alternate reality by undermining scientists, economists, and reporters committed to truth. 

Had Trump not allowed a pandemic to wreak such havoc, odds are that he would have four more years to remake America in his own image, a plutocracy of hypocrites with partisan zealots in the courts and Robocop police who murder with impunity.

Abroad, he jabbed sticks into hornets’ nests on five continents. And now in an orgy of vindictive folly, he devotes his waning days to worsen conflicts, embolden enemies, and poison alliances so that even Joe Biden’s seasoned statecraft risks failures that Republicans will exploit.

He dismissed as “fake news” a devastating Russian cyber invasion, undetected since March because he crippled the office charged with countering such attacks. Not that he cares; aides speaking anonymously say he has not read his daily security brief since early October.

Osama bin Laden killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, and a distraught nation set ablaze much of South Asia and the Middle East in response. Trump’s reckless disregard to the pandemic is now taking that many lives every day, yet 73 million people voted to reelect him.

And now the retired general who was National Security Adviser for only three weeks — faced with criminal charges for lying about Russian contacts until Trump pardoned him — urges an election do-over under martial law. 

Four Urgent Priorities Are Clear:

Principle, Not Politics. America is based on the rule of law, not political expediency. Felons must be held to account, from Trump on down. For example, each count of mail tampering carries jail time. Louis DeJoy, who sabotaged the Post Office during elections, could be locked up for life. 
Defang the Police. “Defund the Police” is a dumb slogan, and it backfired. Law enforcement is vital to society. But it requires psychological screening, training, citizen oversight, and swift prosecution of abuse. Social workers should deal with cases police are not equipped to handle. 
Restore Accountability. All governments lie, or at least obfuscate; journalists need to catch them at it with access to elected leaders. We pay Kayleigh McEnany, Goldilocks Goebbels, $183,000 a year to crap on reporters, who resort to unsourced drips in a leaky stonewall. 
Teach Our Children. We have to restore public schools so that all kids understand how democracies function and how the world’s other 95 percent live. John Donne still echoes from 1624: No man is an island. And the modern corollary is obvious: No nation is “first.”

Our primordial long-term challenge is laid out in a masterful little book, Our Malady, by Timothy Snyder, whose slim tome in 2016, On Tyranny, warned about Trump while there was still time. He captures the essence in a paragraph:

“The word freedom is hypocritical when spoken by the people who create the conditions that leave us sick and powerless. If our federal government and our commercial medicine makes us unhealthy, they are making us unfree.”

This year, they are killing us in droves, while leaving countless survivors with medical bills they cannot begin to pay. Yet Republicans continue an all-out jihad to scrap the Affordable Care Act and let insurers reject such pre-existing conditions as Covid-19.

I once did a panel with Snyder at Yale, where he teaches European history and the Holocaust. He adds nuanced brush strokes to big pictures with stunning skill. His book recounts how American hospitals focused on profit nearly killed him after a burst appendix poisoned his liver. 

Private medicine has its place, he argues, but essential health care for all is a basic tenet of civilized societies. Post-war America championed that position when it helped create the World Health Organization and then draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Today Americans spend roughly twice as much on health care as Europeans, who live longer. Our birth mortality rates drop toward Third-World levels. By late April, the seven counties with the most Covid-19 deaths ranked with the worst-hit 20 countries. Three times more people had died in New Haven than in South Korea. 

“The purpose of medicine is not to squeeze maximum profits from sick bodies during short lives,” Snyder wrote, “but to enable health and freedom during long ones.” As a result, he added, commercial medicine in America looks more and more like a numbers racket. 

One reason is summed up in two words: Mitch McConnell. He is hardly alone, but his trajectory from a kid whose polio was cured by public charity reveals a heartless monster who Kentucky voters have inflicted on America since 1984.

A man worth $22 million, with a wealthy wife who Trump put in his cabinet, rammed through a $1.8 billion tax cut for the rich but has blocked even meager aid to plague-stricken people he is sworn to serve. He has worked tirelessly to torpedo not only Obamacare but also Obama.

In functioning democracies, a defeated “loyal opposition” respects the state, compromising when necessary in the people’s interest. McConnell’s approach is scorched earth, thwarting Democrats at every turn, even refusing to hear damning evidence in a presidential impeachment trial.

America works best when neither party is a monolith. Young firebrands shake up wily old veterans who adhere to lessons learned by experience; they debate to find common ground. But Republicans now march in lockstep, cowed by Trump’s grip on their base.

Biden won by seven million popular votes but only by 44,000 ballots from three swing states in the Electoral College. Voters spooked by simplistic buzz words — “socialism” and such — reduced the House majority. The new Senate, at best, will end up in a tie. Democrats have to unite, convincing Republicans with a trace of integrity to adhere to their oaths of office.

This is no time for brilliant future hopefuls like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to insist on radical change likely to bring back the nightmare we escaped. Nor is it time to insist on diversity for diversity’s sake for top administration posts. 

Happily, Biden proposes an excellent multi-hued team of men and women with proven expertise in their fields. Just consider Deb Haaland, his choice to replace David Bernhardt, an ex-lobbyist who as Interior Secretary allows wholesale plunder of national resources and national splendor. 

Interior and the EPA are my obsession. For years, I’ve reported on mining companies poised to dig vast open gashes in western land held sacred by Indian tribes, paying next to nothing in taxes while destroying beauty that yields significant recurring income from recreational use.

Resolution Copper plans a $1.9 billion mine northeast of Tucson, boring down from atop the dramatic Apache Leap cliff face, possibly collapsing it. It would flood Oak Flat below, a holy site to San Carlos Apaches and other tribes among ruins and artifacts dating back millennia.

Annual Apache Leap Mining Festival.

Republican senators secured the site for its Australian and English owners, slipping a last-minute rider into an omnibus bill Barack Obama was obliged to sign, despite his efforts to extend federal protection that began after Mamie Eisenhower picnicked there in the 1950s. 

Tribal leaders and conservationists planned a fierce campaign before a final U.S. Forest Service review in mid-2021. But Trump advanced the date, eager to give the Anglo-Australian company private title to the land during his last days in office. 

In 2017, I interviewed Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, for a piece in Harper’s. He was furious. Native Americans had no constituency in Washington, he said, and Republican state officials gave carte blanche to mining.

Haaland would change all that, along with much else under her purview, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Accepting the nomination, she recalled the policy of the Interior Secretary toward Native Americans in 1851: civilize or exterminate.

Her roots in Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, run 35 generations deep. She put herself through law school as a paycheck-to-paycheck single mother. She was among new Democrats elected to Congress in 2018 who Trump targets to inflame his racist white base.

Here is the bitter irony. For all of Trump’s depredations, his message resonates. Irrational fear and loathing have deepened over four years, surfacing in unexpected places. Immigrants who built America slam the door on a rich mix of people who should be seasoning our melting pot.

Trump singles out Ilhan Omar, telling her to go back where she came from. His grandfather tried to go back where he came from, Germany, but was refused entry because he had dodged the draft. His father built the fortune he inherited by screwing people in real estate.

Omar just appeared on MSNBC, in tears. She recalled how her father, a well-educated army colonel, got the family out of Somalia to escape famine that a wealthy world could have averted and drove a cab to put his kids through school. He just died of the virus Trump let run wild.

Most Americans by now mourn family members or treasured friends. I lost a lifelong pal not from the virus but because of it. He is a worldly specialist in human behavior, which makes that a mystery as well as a tragedy.

After a comment defending Trump, I asked point-blank how he had voted. That was by email; I was wary of the conversation that might ensue. He replied, “It is between me and my conservative conscience.”

When I asked what he saw in Trump, he responded, “Our personal perception and bias impact here,” followed by a defense of the “true believer” who “skillfully uses the tools in his toolbox to do what he thinks is correct for first himself and then others he does or would like to represent.”

I wrote back, “The thing about true believers … is that they can do a hell of a lot of damage to others … This is no longer about politics but rather the fundamental undoing of a relatively decent country. A hastened end to habitable conditions for human life on Earth. And, in America, the depraved heart murder of hundreds of thousands for his own purposes …”

This was no random Trump loony but rather an intelligent friend with admirable qualities. How could people like this, whose children will have to survive a world faced with endgame, follow a deranged “off-with-their-heads” narcissist down a rabbit hole? 

He replied, “I’m sure you agree that in the long run nobody is perfect …” and ended with holiday greetings as if this was our usual no-consequence ping-pong banter. True enough, nobody’s perfect. But this is about basic humanity and values on which friendship is based.

America now has the chance to take a sharp turn back toward what it is supposed to be, saner, safer and sounder. But Trump is still out there. Whether it succeeds depends on those three overused but apt words: We the People.

Mort Rosenblum has reported from seven continents as Associated Press special correspondent, edited the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and written 14 books on subjects ranging from global geopolitics to chocolate. His latest book, Saving Our World From Trump, is available on Amazon.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.