Shame Is Lacking In Our Politics

My dad’s nephew robbed a bank when a young man.  Had he been better as a criminal that first line might have been written in the plural. He took the loot and stashed it under his bed at home, which made him a fast catch by the authorities and more a family story than a lingering series of headlines for the public to read.  As a boy, I wanted to know more about the events and wished to talk about them at the annual family reunions.  My parents always firmly reminded me how far it would be to walk home if I started a conversation about that forbidden topic with the larger family.

In later years, his ‘youthful adventure’ as it came to be termed by the older family members at a small town bank, would rank up there in the family tree with the man who slept in a car in the driveway of his home while the spouse lived inside their home. People knew the stories, but the propriety of the reunions made people somewhat circumspect in their conversations.  When as an adult I had long chats with the man who robbed a bank, and there was nothing holding me back from getting insight into the day it happened, I was held back by that sense of decorum, that cloud of shame if you will, that still was hanging about overhead.

I thought of that now departed man when reading a story in the Wall Street Journal today where it was reported Donald Trump’s close associates are bracing for his indictment concerning his criminal behavior of handling classified materials. They “anticipate being able to fundraise off a prosecution.” It seems hard to fathom if one takes a step or two back and reflects from a longer lens view, that a former president who repeatedly denied a return to the federal government of classified documents, once caught and indicted, would seek to make money over the criminal charges.

What happened to the people in our nation—and I can use my larger family tree to ask the question—where talking about the how and whys of a bank robbery were off limits—but the acceptance of the behavior of the likes of Trump and George Santos are accepted and abided?  Some of the reasons have to do with how public relations experts package the awful behavior along with the fact there seems to be a growing segment of politicians who harbor no sense of shame.

Decades ago, former Wisconsin State Senator Robert Welch, when seeking a primary nomination to run for the U.S. Senate spoke at a ‘porky-pancake’ breakfast in Hancock, my hometown.  Dad was involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the ones flipping the pancakes, and so much of our family was in attendance.  Welch talked about how shame as an ingredient for how people operated, or the lack of it, needed to be again a more visible force in society.  I was not aligned in any way with his views or politics, but these many years later recall that small portion of his longer presentation. I think he had a point worthy of attention.

I tend to think on the issue of shame the current barometer of decency might be Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney. The line from his encounter with a reporter regarding Santos seated at the State of the Union Address this year points to the values we once had in this nation about shame. “He shouldn’t be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.” It is a sentiment that does not get voiced often in the nation anymore. After the outrageous behavior by Trump since 2015 and what we now know is acceptable to a certain segment of the electorate we might even conclude shame is dead.

But we know shame is a useful tool as it prods people in the larger context to act in accordance with values. We know slavery was our nation’s original sin, and the tug and pull to own up to that stain has produced an ongoing series of policies that still provokes and arouses passions. Shaming the federal and state governments and institutions to act for a better outcome has proved to be effective. How might leaders in our nation now arouse a sense of shame to counter the growing absurd behavior from the likes of Trump, Santos, and the far extremes in our politics?

Did CNN Have Duty To Be Responsible To American Democracy?

The fallout over the decision by CNN to place Donald Trump in a town hall session has continued to reverberate in media circles and among politicos.  It seems fair to ask why a major news network felt it was first newsworthy to air such a broadcast, and secondly wise to place on the national airwaves a person who created and led the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol and continues to stoke and to spew dangerous lies about the 2020 election.  Growing up in the era of news anchors such as Walter Cronkite and reporters such as David Brinkley I was aware when young the role of journalists in pursuing and broadcasting a story of national importance. But I also came to understand that standards meeting the needs of a democracy must also be observed and abided by.  

I recall in an interview decades ago Cronkite was asked if he and his brethren in the television broadcast world along with the editors of the major newspapers in the nation set the list of events and topics that then became the top stories of the day.  He said that the events of the day either in our nation or worldwide earned their own merit for attention by reporters and then the public. In other words, news is news.  It happens and it is reported.  The fact that CBS or The New York Times reports on a plane crash or a senator taking a bride does not make the story weightier or more important to people needing to know the safety concerns of airlines or the character of elected officials.

But what happens when a news operation creates an event and presents it as important knowing that in the mix of the broadcast, everything from ratings and ad buys to a tidal wave of competing frothy political sentiments and emotions will result from the self-generated mix?  Additionally, the center of attention to the created event is known to lie and use media outlets without regard for reason or common sense.  Even to the extreme of using media to further an insurrection and seditious intent.  At that point, would any news operation wish to be a conveyance—a national loudspeaker, if you will—to such a person who has proven to act in violation of the national trust?

For the record, I did not watch the CNN spectacle, knowing that news broadcasts and the morning papers would allow me the background on what transpired.  It was not shocking to learn that Trump made several outright lies and pressed down on them, allowing the viewing public another opportunity to be misled via the public airwaves.  I am reminded that a denial never has the newsworthiness of an accusation.  Trump is a master at the bald-faced lie, and news operations, by their very mission, should not allow themselves to be manipulated by such a demagogue. Worse, creating the event themselves!

The counterargument that has been expressed by those wishing to rationalize the CNN decision is that the viewing public is capable of watching such a manufactured broadcast and making up their own mind about what unfolded.  That is poppycock, as there is an entire ‘news’ network catering to conservatives which amply proves daily—hourly, in fact—that when people are provided red meat and heavy rhetoric in lieu of facts there is nothing to be gained but a foundation of biased views. 

Did CNN have a duty to be responsible to American democracy? Or should they be viewed as just another entity with a bottom line that needs to be fed and a bevy of personalities who need to be stroked?   As a staunch supporter of reporters and journalists, I ask these questions in a serious way. I contend there must be a national hard-nosed dialogue on this matter. Reporters and news operations need to confront in their board meetings and editorial gatherings what responsibility they must shoulder so a demagogue cannot undermine our democracy due to some in the press willfully cooperating to the damage.

I am most confident about what side of the divide Walter Cronkite would ask us to find ourselves on with this matter. He would argue reporting and democracy are linked tightly together.  The Fourth Estate is required so a strong democracy can continue.  Autocrats and demagogues who threaten democracy will also lead to a weakened place for reporters to do their jobs.  

The CNN town hall is worthy of a very robust national discourse. Both in the press and among the people.

Those Not Seated At Weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner: Austin Tice, Evan Gershkovich

It was the annual event that this household looks forward to each spring. No, not the Mifflin Street Party, which was tempered by cool temperatures and at times drizzly weather on the Madison isthmus, but rather the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington. For decades, this event is one that has captured the attention of the nation as there are always memorable moments as the First Amendment is honored and the Fourth Estate recognizes superior journalism with a number of prestigious awards. While much political rancor shrouds this nation it was correctly noticed Saturday night that no free press in China or Russia holds a similar dinner with pointed humor while sitting alongside the national leadership.

The tone of the night regarding the importance of reporters and journalists and the role they serve in our nation was perhaps best summed up when President Biden stated how he drew a sharp contrast with his predecessor, who had called the news media “the enemy of the people”. The president told the 2,000 people gathered that “The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar of a free society — not the enemy.” While watching and listening I thought of one of the best newspaper editorials about this matter. The reason it came to mind was that it was quite starkly presented and directly to the point. Here then, from The Philadelphia Inquirer, is what they published in the summer of 2018.

The part of the evening that hit hardest was the recognition that two chairs that otherwise might be filled were empty as journalists remain as captives abroad. Freelancer Austin Tice has been held by the Assad regime in Syria for 11 years while the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Russia last month. I note for readers the latter action has not been seen in that nation since the Cold War. Everyone well understood the efforts underway to secure their freedom when Biden said “I’m working like hell to get them home”.

US President Joe Biden gestures as an image of US journalist Evan Gershkovich appears onscreen during the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC, April 29, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Between the words of the Association’s leadership about the work required of professional news reporters and journalists and the perfectly toned words of Biden, who gets covered and also at times roasted by the press, is the awareness that process works best when both sides are robustly engaged with the issues of the day in governing and news gathering. No one should be surprised that reporters would take that same stance with them as they tuck their visas into travel bags and head to the airport to write about or photograph international events. With these highly laudable purposes, it underscores how egregious the attempts are by some autocratic or criminally driven governments to curtail this essential work by reporters. Reporters do the work in places like Syria and Moscow as they know it is a foundational fact that truth matters. Events and government officials need to be reported on so the world knows what is happening. For those like Tice and Gershkovich who work in places where rights are fewer and the dangers higher meant last night was a reminder to those governments that they must be aware that the rest of the world is watching. Last night was a very powerful demonstration that there is a universal truth–whether or not it is applied in practice in each nation–that there must be a commitment to press freedom.

We need to care about these people who are held captive and think of them as individuals. Also, we need to realize that too many leaders of dictatorial, authoritarian, or populist governments do all they can, day in and day out, to bend and break journalists. We witnessed that play out in our own nation when Trump stated the press was “the enemy” of the people. That was simply horrifying. The reason that is so true comes from history books. Under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, out-of-favor artists and politicians were designated enemies and many were sent to hard labor camps or killed. Others were stigmatized and denied access to education and employment. In China, Chairman Mao was also known to use the phrase enemies against anyone who opposed him, which then resulted in terrible consequences. So it was very troubling when Trump used the same words as Russia’s “Man of Steel” about members of the American press. The efforts to undermine reporters are clear for all the see, as it is the use of power to suppress information.

Therefore, it is vital we stand up for independent journalism and the fine women and men who undertake that most noble of professions. Our government must be tenacious in efforts to bring Austin Tice and Evan Gershkovich back to these shores and their jobs. We must keep them in our thoughts and press for their return.

Fox ‘News’ Viewers Do Not Care About Lies Regarding 2020 Election

For the sake of democracy, a full airing in a courtroom of the actions and behavior that Fox ‘News’ took following the 2020 presidential election was needed in our nation.  That was pretty much what I told James as I came into our home Tuesday afternoon and learned that Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit against Fox ended in a settlement.  The irrefutable harm that this large corporation had done to the foundations of our nation was made clear due to the release of court documents and findings in recent months. With the willful misuse of our public airwaves, a certain segment of the citizenry developed a false understanding of our electoral process of free and fair elections. Make no mistake about what happened. Democracy took a direct hit.

I was not overly surprised by the settlement news, given the gravity of what we already knew.  The glaring evidence had already proved many within the ‘Fox Family’ knew the crazed conspiracy theories were, indeed, bogus, but then threw away any sense of journalism, ethics, decency, or love of country and went on-air to repeat the lies and even embellish and add flourishes to them, all in the effort of maintaining ratings.  What we came to know with clarity was Fox ‘News’ pushed a narrative that Trump had won, when in fact he had lost, and in so doing showed the nation the network was far, far more interested in abiding by the wishes and whims of an autocrat, Donald Trump, than doing their jobs fairly for the people.  It was stunning to read emails and accounts from those in the news operations center at the time of how far adrift from the facts they willingly traveled. 

Over the months the information about Fox was released, I kept wondering what it must feel like to be so weak that one will fall for anything.  First, from the ones who produce the shows and edit the tapes and those who then sit in front of a camera and spew forth what they knew to be absolute lies and utter garbage.  When did Tucker Carlson and Company settle for being a clown and a national joke line? Surely that is not why they entered the media world in their youth.

I also have pondered over the months what mental layabouts the Fox audience has proven themselves to be as they readily and gleefully open up for spoon-fed lies and conspiracy theories that the rest of the nation knew to be factually wrong.  What must it be like to glue oneself to the sofa each evening for Fox ‘News’ and not know, or worse care, that the world is reading in newspapers and hearing from radio and broadcast TV journalists a bevy of material about what the discredited network simply will not report, or report with factual basis?  What must it be like to have such a weak constitution and such an addled brain that the Fox Network seems like an information source?  (When I was a youngster, our classrooms were divided with the ‘fast’ readers and spellers on one side and the others pacing themselves for becoming a future Fox viewer. When looking back on those years and then locating some of them on Facebook it is rather remarkable how that separation in grade school matched the political lines as adults. For the record, I frown on such visible demarcation lines in teaching.) Why Fox viewers have such a deep disinterest in the world, heck, the workings of their own country, is a strong factor that Fox relies on for the ability to lie and undermine democracy, all for the sake of ratings and profits.

It does not take long to winnow down this sick relationship Fox has with its audience. Fox wants profits galore, and that means winning the ratings game. Donald Trump wanted autocratic power and in so shaping his cult following among the GOP base he created an issue I have often written about on Caffeinated Politics. He convinced those slow readers they deserve to feel their views and beliefs have merit, even though they are frightfully short of facts or reason. To challenge these chuckleheads is to offend them and so Fox executives in not wishing to lose ratings and dollars spun a Potemkin village of lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. Meanwhile, the majority of the nation recall from history books that John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, etc., had read much concerning Rome and Greece and why the people needed to be vigilant as the past proved the destructive hand of tyranny could occur from one initially selected by popular will. When that power is abused as Trump demonstrated, and Fox furthered with its nightly repetition of lies and partisan garbage, the nation can be threatened.

Too bad the executives and hosts of Fox “News” never thought much about or cared for history and democracy.

Donald Trump Arrest Makes Historic Front Pages Of Newspapers

Once again, this blog places the front pages of newspapers in a post to showcase a major historic moment. Notice two of the selections use banner space to report the news.

Donald Trump Indictment Makes Historic Front Newspaper Pages For Friday, March 31, 2023

Yesterday, I was writing on Caffeinated Politics about the importance of newspapers in relation to our democracy. As is the custom when major events happen in the nation or world, CP looks at the morning newspapers and makes a selection of how a story was reported and placed above the fold. Today the first record of history was published nationwide about law and order being brought to Donald Trump (the first of four likely indictments) and here is how our country is reading that account. The Dickinson Press in North Dakota, in the heart of Stark County, is my favorite front page for the use of the story in the banner. It would be of interest to know what other weighty stories merited such placement. Yeah, I am nerdy that way. Now let us start our front page journey in Alaska.

Indicted! (Some Thoughts)

On Thursday evening, after news of the charges against Donald Trump had been widely reported on all the news networks and across social media, the New York district attorney’s office confirmed that an indictment had been handed down. How to have the unprecedented surrender of a former president take place is being worked out. I note that there has never been a reason for such a playbook as no other ex-president, not even Richard Nixon, necessitated such planning as none needed to be indicted.

What we do know is that Trump will be forced to surrender. He will be fingerprinted, a mug shot taken, and he will be given a number like other criminals when arrested. For all his bombast and ginned-up rhetoric this is the last thing Trump wanted to happen to him. There is no upside, no honor to be gained, no wonderful memory to be passed down to the grandkids. Just solid proof of what I have said since the summer of 2015. Donald Trump is nothing more than white trash.

He slept with a porn actress, which is, I guess, gentler than calling Stormy Daniels a ‘lady-of-the-night’ as they termed it back in my youth.  Trump’s third wife surely considers the legal smackdown today concerning the $130,000 pay-off far preferable to her contracting a potential plethora of sexually transmitted diseases that could have followed the tryst.

The outlandish rhetoric from over-heated conservatives this evening is underscoring a growing concern. They may talk loudly but we know what is playing out underscores what they are saddling themselves with for 2024. Trump has led the Republican Party to defeats in 2018, 2020, and 2022. Here they go again! Meanwhile, the rest of us are mindful many of these same conservatives were lecturing us in 2020 about why the nation needed to be respectful of law and order. Well, that was not a lesson that took root within the GOP.

As a history buff, I was certainly stunned to see Trump impeached twice during his single term in office, and shaken to my core as was most of this nation when he cradled and fostered the mob to harm the actions of Congress when counting the Electoral College votes.  Now Trump makes history again as the first ex-president to be indicted by a grand jury.  Three more indictments are to come.  And they will follow in the weeks and months ahead.  I remind readers of the ponderous and methodical timetable regarding the investigation that we know as Watergate. That too, took years.

I care not at all what Trump’s base thinks, as they are the same demographic now as a year ago.  They get older but unlike wine, not better.  Certainly not smarter.  They deserve to see the power and necessity of the law land upon Trump.  The base needs to be reminded of what a functioning democracy does to those who break the law. 

As I go to posting time on CP I can only hope the late-night comics had not taped their shows before the indictment news was reported!

Inciting Protest Over Arrest, Donald Trump Again Seeks To Undermine Rule of Law

Once again, and disturbingly so, we must use the word unprecedented when speaking about Donald Trump.  It is reported that on Tuesday the former president will be arrested for his hush money payments in relation to a sexual affair with Stormy Daniels, a porn star, which he carried on while married to his third wife. Upon learning the legal proceedings are bearing down upon him, Trump made a public statement that there should be protests to counter his arrest. 

If this were a third-rate country it would be on par that such bombast and recklessness would be coming from an autocratic personality.  But coming from a former president of the United States, and one who incited a seditious insurrection at our nation’s Capital only a couple years ago means the audacity of his words is chilling.  Trying to galvanize revolt through such language is simply abhorrent. 

Old-fashioned though I am, and admittedly so, I hold to the notion that reverence for laws matters, and that the process of law and order has meaning.  I hold to the concept that reason and justice matter.  I am appalled at the anger and the all-consuming array of resentments from a segment of the electorate who are never destined to be more than tools for Trump. That he only uses his troubled base for his own self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, and never for national good is proof for the rest of the nation as to what is at play.

Civics in my classrooms informed me, and given my interests perhaps I just paid more attention, but lawless passions are to be disdained and not nurtured or in any way furthered as they run counter to laws and reason. Civil law is the very antidote to the crazed passion and reckless desire of Trump. Mob action has deadly consequences, as seen on January 6th, 2021, and severely threatens our democratic ideals.

We know from history what happens when people fall to the whims of Caesar or Napoleon and cozy up to the rabble-rousers and dangers of freedom.  Trump is no better than those who earn historical scorn by their attempts to thwart justice and he has proven a willingness to destroy the very fabric of the nation itself to avoid the code of law. Mass violence is what we too often read about in nations not yet matured and able to arrange their political systems to address competing interests.  But in our nation of laws and a well-established system of justice, there is only one way to deal with Trump.

Donald Trump must feel the full weight of justice upon him.