So there I am. On my giant sofa, curled up into a little ball. The BBC’s playing classical music to calm me. I hate classical music. The doctors have given me weeks to live. The sun’s rising. I’m over the grief. Just trying to sleep. Eyes closed.
Snap. Suddenly, I’m in a different place. There’s nothing here. Just a soft white light, like a cotton ball. Yet it’s not light. It’s like the light in all light. It’s radiating not just like a flashlight but like a heart. Compassion, love. It’s illuminating like a pure moment of seeing, not a searchlight. It’s seeing me seeing myself. I’m not in it, it’s not in me. It’s flowing through me as if I was never there.
I open my eyes. The light is shining through everything. Not on everything. Deep in the heart of everything. Every tree, building, person. Yet I’m not seeing it with my eyes. I’m seeing it with the very same part of that light that’s in me. It’s like a million mirrors all reflecting one source.
Wait. WTF! Is this a figment of my imagination? It feels more real than reality itself. I try to ignore it, dismiss it as the silly fiction of a sick, needy, mind. And yet. I start to go back to that place, whenever I need to be recharged with solace, strength, compassion. And I am. I can’t not see it shining through everything, no matter how I tell myself to get a grip.
I am a die hard empiricist. I can’t make any sense of it. Have I lost my mind? And yet, as I think about it, I realise three things. It is the most peaceful and loving place I’ve ever been. An ocean. It’s pure and boundless, with no notion of time or space. And somehow, everything is “made” of it. Made is a metaphor, I realise. Everything is realised from it, by realising everything else. But beyond the little phenomenal existence of trees and selves and time and objects, there is just this light of pure awareness, which I can see without seeing.
So I read and I read, utterly baffled, mystified. Not sure whether dying has taken away my reason. Finally, after a year – I don’t die – I come across the Tibetan description of Rigpa. Pure being. The base of existence. It has three properties. Luminosity, awareness, the energy of love. It has exactly the sane three properties that left me bewildered, at peace, full of grace. Pure being. The essence of all that is. Final reality. Now I had a little clarity.
I see a blade of grass. A little puppy experiences it very differently. It smells, hears, touches it. The tree experiences it differently still. The blade of grass experiences itself still differently. Through all these experiences, the “blade” is coming into being. It is becoming an object and subject of awareness. Many awarenesses. But what is there, really?
In reality, behind all these experiences, which are just thoughts in minds, there is no “thing”. Just pure possibility, which is the light of awareness seeing itself. There is no blade, no puppy, no tree, no you. Each sees the next its own way and thus mentally divides up the experience of pure being. That pure light of possibility separates into spectra and objects and things, by imagining thoughts in mind.
We are awareness seeing itself in tiny ways. Different ways. Just little fleeting facets of it. We divide it up into trees and puppies and people and blades of grass. That is the source of our suffering and pain and hurt. Then there is desire, anger, envy, and so on. When we return to oneness, as we do during sex, creation, communion, moments where we lose ourselves, we gain a little contact with pure being again.
That is what love is, and in that way you are an expression of love. Made from love, you will come home to love. You are a little river returning to the ocean. All the pain and hurt and fear we feel in life is distance from pure being.
I didn’t find pure being. It found me. What did I learn? Nothing at all. What did I forget? Everything. That light that illuminates light itself shines through us. We are just its expressions, sometimes it’s shadows. And always, in every moment, we are its children.
Republicans in the US House of Representatives unveiled a draconian budget plan Tuesday seeking to cut trillions in funding to programs that millions of Americans depend upon to meet basic social needs. The plan introduced in the Budget Committee takes aim at Medicaid and Medicare in particular, while siphoning off huge funding increases for the military and preparing tax breaks to pad the coffers of the super-rich.
All told, the long-term budget blueprint proposes to slash more than $5 trillion from social programs over the next decade, eviscerating what remains of the social safety net. Most provocatively, it calls for $4 trillion in reductions to “mandatory” spending programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, following public uproar over attempts to dismantle portions of these health care services under the guise of repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Connected to the funding cuts are proposals to transform these so-called entitlement programs into limited anti-poverty measures. The plan would introduce spending caps for Medicaid, effectively denying service for millions of poor and disabled people who depend on it for access to health care. Medicare would transition to a voucher-based scheme and apply a “means test” to determine the eligibility of seniors.
Other programs under the ax include $150 billion in funding for food stamps, reduced support for student loans and grants, and additional constraints on Social Security disability coverage. Welfare recipients would come up against additional work requirements. Federal workers would see their pensions gutted.
Alongside these deeply unpopular cuts to social programs are increases for the US military and other “defense” spending, which already outstrips the next seven largest national military budgets combined. Over the next decade, the plan calls for an additional $929 billion to prepare for war and social unrest.
The House Republicans’ plan mirrors in most respects President Trump’s budget proposal released this past spring. In certain areas, however, it is even more extreme. It goes further in boosting the military budget, for example, and proposes attacks not only on Medicaid but also on Medicare. The architect of Trump’s plan, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, praised the House proposal, urging Congress to move it forward.
The House plan also contains a key element of Trump’s agenda in his first year: tax giveaways to the wealthy. If passed it would rewrite both corporate and personal tax codes, consolidating tax brackets and repealing the alternative minimum tax for individuals, while cutting the corporate tax rate and switching to a territorial tax system to only tax domestic income for business.
The inclusion of the tax plan is a procedural gimmick to allow the bill to become law with a simple majority in the Senate, thereby overcoming nominal opposition from the Democratic Party. But it also requires the tax changes to be revenue neutral. The current plan uses many of the same accounting tricks and optimistic growth assumptions as the president’s plan to arrive at that conclusion. However, Trump has favored even larger tax cuts, which add to the deficit despite the mathematical camouflage.
The prospects for the current budget proposal to survive a vote by the full House of Representatives remains uncertain. Already it has generated criticism from both hard-line right-wingers and Republican “centrists” as not going far enough or going too far, respectively. Democrats have denounced the plan. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called it a “toxic budget whose sole purpose is to hand tax breaks to billionaires on the backs of seniors and hardworking Americans.”
Nonetheless, the brutal austerity proposals prepare the way for a “compromise” to emerge that restores some of the cuts but still accelerates the dismantling of social programs. Together with the long-term concept of transferring to several trillion dollars to the wealthy, the plan contains short-term actions, including mandating $203 billion in cuts, to be determined by 11 different committees.
The general program of rolling back the social safety net and anti-poverty programs has in fact been a common one shared by both Democrats and Republicans. The current budget proposal is a somewhat more austere variation of the $4 trillion in cuts proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Commission convened by President Obama, or the $1.1 trillion sequestration cuts enacted by him.
Yet the ruling class sees now an opportunity to advance its agenda. “In past years, our proposals had little chance of becoming a reality,” House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black said. “The time for talking is over, now is the time for action.”
It’s safe to say, I think, that the American experiment is at an end. No, America might not be finished as in civil war and secession. But it is clearly at an end in three ways.
First, to the world, as a serious democracy. Second, to itself, as a nation with dignity and self-respect. Third, its potential lies in ruins. Even if authoritarianism is toppled tomorrow, the problems of falling life expectancy, an imploding middle class, skyrocketing inequality, and so on, won’t be.
Now, like many fallen nations, maybe America won’t learn much from the failure of its own experiment — but history and the world surely can. So what has the experiment disproven? What was the null hypothesis?
We don’t have to look very far. What does America not have that the rest of the rich world does? Public healthcare, transport, education, and so on. Every single rich nation in the world has sophisticated, broad, and expansive public goods, that improve by the year. Today, even many medium income and even poor nations are building public healthcare, transport, etc. America is the only one that never developed any. Public goods protect societies in deep, profound, invisible ways (we’ll get to that).
First, here is the really curious thing. American leaders are pretending like the relationship above is a great, confounding mystery. Like dumbfounded dinosaurs watching the mushroom cloud engulf the land, never — not once — in American media will you read a column, hear a voice, or see a face discussing the above. It has never happened a single time in my adult lifetime as far as I can remember. Yet the relationship couldn’t be any more obvious, clear, or striking: no public goods are what uniquely separates America, the uniquely failed state, from the rest of the world.
Why is that? It would be easy for me to say that public goods represent some kind of a hard-fought compromise between left and right. But I think there is a social truth greater that is far more substantial than the surface political reality.
Working societies — if they are to endure, grow, and cohere, if they are to prosper, hang together, and really mature — need moral universals. Moral universals are simply things that people believe everyone should have. In the UK, those things — those moral universals — are healthcare and media and welfare. In Germany, they are healthcare and media and welfare and higher education. And so on.
Moral universals anchor a society in a genuinely shared prosperity. Not just because they “spread the wealth”, though they do: because, more deeply, moral universals civilize people. They are what let people grow to become sane, humane, intelligent human beings. A person that is desperate for a meal will resort to whatever they must to feed their kids. A person constantly fed a stream of nonsense by Fox News will end up believing the earth is flat. Moral universals let people act morally, and acting morally is what the process of civilization is.
Democracy therefore depends on moral universals. It is probably fairly hard, in the scope of human history, to establish a democracy. But it is harder still to keep it going. A democracy requires, before it demands votes, sane, humane, civilized people to vote. A society that cannot create sane, humane, civilized people can therefore no more reasonably stay a democracy than a global economy can be powered by fossil fuels forever. At some point, without moral universals to create citizens worthy of the word, democracy runs out of gas.
So: what really went wrong in America? Moral universals civilize people, but there aren’t any moral universals. The public goods universals result in educate, inform, train, school people, let them live long and peaceful lives. But Americans — whether it is today’s extremists or yesterday’s slave-auctioneers and owners — believe that moral universals are just a “cost”, a “tax”, and so forth. They have never seen — and still don’t see — the benefits: the civilizing process that democracy depends vitally on.
Thus, in America today, there are no broad, genuine, or accessible civilizing mechanisms left. As a simple example, America’s best universities churn out…hedge-fund traders. It’s economy is largely composed of…paper gains to the .01%. It’s media debates…climate change. And so on. The natural consequence of failing to civilize is breaking down as a democracy — democracy no longer exists in the sense of “people cooperating by voting to give each other greater prosperity”. They have merely learned to take prosperity away from one another. Whether by denying one another doctors, schools, trains, and so on. That is what a lack of civilization really results in, or to put more prosaically, there is no sanity or humanity, much less reason, wisdom, or virtue in such decisions — only nihilism, fatalism, and despair.
And that is what the end of the American experiment proves. Without moral universals, there is no process of civilization, and democracy itself can no longer continue to grow and develop. The painful irony is that American intellectuals are concerned about Western civilization. LOL. The West, such as it is, will be just fine: it is America where civilization, as a verb, a process, a way of moral being in the world, has broken down.
Even prisons have moral universals. There is only one other place in the world I can think of with none. A jungle.
TERRE HAUTE, Ind.—Eugene Victor Debs, whose home is an infrequently visited museum on the campus of Indiana State University, was arguably the most important political figure of the 20th century. He built the socialist movement in America and was eventually crucified by the capitalist class when he and hundreds of thousands of followers became a potent political threat.Debs burst onto the national stage when he organized a railroad strike in 1894 after the Pullman Co. cut wages by up to one-third but did not lower rents in company housing or reduce dividend payments to its stockholders. Over a hundred thousand workers staged what became the biggest strike in U.S. history on trains carrying Pullman cars.
The response was swift and brutal.
“Mobilizing all the powers of capital, the owners, representing twenty-four railroads with combined capital of $818,000,00, fought back with the courts and the armed forces of the Federal government behind them,” Barbara W. Tuchman writes in “The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914.” “Three thousand police in the Chicago area were mobilized against the strikers, five thousand professional strikebreakers were sworn in as Federal deputy marshals and given firearms; ultimately six thousand Federal and State troops were brought in, less for the protection of property and the public than to break the strike and crush the union.”
Attorney General Richard Olney, who as Tuchman writes “had been a lawyer for railroads before entering the Cabinet and was still a director of several lines involved in the strike,” issued an injunction rendering the strike illegal. The conflict, as Debs would write, was a battle between “the producing classes and the money power of the country.”Debs and the union leaders defied the injunction. They were arrested, denied bail and sent to jail for six months. The strike was broken. Thirty workers had been killed. Sixty had been injured. Over 700 had been arrested. The Pullman Co. hired new workers under “yellow dog contracts,” agreements that forbade them to unionize.
When he was in jail, Debs read the works of socialist writers Edward Bellamy and Karl Kautsky as well as Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.” The books, especially Marx’s three volumes, set the “wires humming in my system.”
“I was to be baptized in Socialism in the roar of the conflict. … [I]n the gleam of every bayonet and the flash of every rifle the class struggle was revealed,” he writes. “This was my first practical lesson in Socialism.”
Debs came to the conclusion that no strike or labor movement could ultimately be successful as long as the government was controlled by the capitalist class. Any advances made by an organized working class would be reversed once the capitalists regained absolute power, often by temporarily mollifying workers with a few reforms. Working men and women had to achieve political power, a goal of Britain’s Labour Party for workers at the time, or they would forever be at the mercy of the bosses.
Debs feared the rise of the monolithic corporate state. He foresaw that corporations, unchecked, would expand to “continental proportions and swallow up the national resources and the means of production and distribution.” If that happened, he warned, the long “night of capitalism will be dark.”
This was a period in U.S. history when many American Christians were socialists. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Christian theologian, Baptist minister and leader of the Social Gospel movement, thundered against capitalism. He defined the six pillars of the “kingdom of evil” as “religious bigotry, the combination of graft and political power, the corruption of justice, the mob spirit (being ‘the social group gone mad’) and mob action, militarism[,] and class contempt.”
Debs turned to the Bible as often to Marx, arguing “Cain was the author of the competitive theory” and the “cross of Jesus stands as its eternal denial.” Debs’ fiery speeches, replete with words like “sin” and “redemption,” were often thinly disguised sermons. He equated the crucified Christ with the abolitionist John Brown. He insisted that Jesus came “to destroy class rule and set up the common people as the sole and rightful inheritors of the earth.” “What is Socialism?” he once asked. “Merely Christianity in action.” He was fond of quoting the poet James Russell Lowell, who writes:
He’s true to God who’s true to man;
Whenever wrong is done.
To the humblest and the weakest,
’neath the all-beholding sun.
That wrong is also done to us,
And they are slaves most base,
Whose love of right is for themselves
And not for all the race.
It was also a period beset with violence, including anarchist bombings and assassinations. An anarchist killed President William McKinley in 1901, unleashing a wave of state repression against social and radical movements. Striking workers engaged in periodic gun battles, especially in the coalfields of southern West Virginia, with heavily armed company goons, National Guard units, paramilitary groups such as the Coal and Iron Police, and the U.S. Army.
How did it come to pass that of the two political parties, the Democrats — who have long fought for the underdog, civil rights, consumer protections, universal health care, the minimum wage and for unions against powerful interests that try to crush them — have now been branded in large swaths of the country as the party of the establishment and the elites?
And how did it come to pass that Republicans — whose policies, regardless of stated intent, benefit polluters, entrenched interests and the upper brackets of American wealth — are now seen by many as the anti-establishment populist party which delights in flipping off elites on behalf of the Everyman?
For the moment, keep Donald Trump out of this conversation — after all, Democrats have been hemorrhaging seats in statehouses and Congress for decades. Also set aside any talking points about which party’s policies truly benefit forgotten Americans or which short-term trends show up in the polls.
More important for Democrats is whether they can rewrite the political narrative that now has them on the side of the establishment and Republicans on the side of sticking it to the man.
If Democrats want to regain their electoral stride and recapture defiant voters who once saw the party as their advocate and voice — the same voters they need to establish a sustained governing majority throughout the land — they must think less about policies per se than about how those policies translate to messaging and brand.
Just as consumers purchase products not merely for what they do but for what they say about the people who buy them, voters are drawn to narratives, brands and identities as much as the policies that affect their lives. These narratives give voters meaning, define who they are, and become an essential part of their identity and self-image.
What’s most toxic in American politics today — as it has been throughout our history — is to become the party associated with domineering overlords and supercilious elites who seem to enjoy wielding power over the rest of us.
To some extent, the Democrats have only themselves to blame for their elite, establishment image.
Few question the party’s need to build its campaign coffers in what is now an arms race for political dollars. But by cozying up to Wall Street and the privileged — and appearing more at ease hobnobbing among them than among those who work in factories, small businesses and call centers — Democrats have sent a subtle message about the people they prefer to associate with and seek out for advice. To many Americans, it reeks of hypocrisy at best.
Republicans, who unapologetically celebrate wealth as a symbol of American dynamism, face no such messaging dissonance.
But perhaps more important is the jujitsu maneuver that Republicans have used to turn one of the Democratic Party’s strengths — its good faith use of government to level the playing field and help the little people — into a weakness.
From the New Deal through the ’60s, the Democrats were able to show that government was an essential tool to correct market inequities, protect the little people from unchecked power and special interests and ensure that the American birthright included safeguards against crippling poverty and misfortune.
Government, most Americans believed, was their defender and their voice. In 1964, according the the American National Election Studies, more than three-fourths of Americans said they trusted government most of the time or just about always. It was the Democrats that stood for grass-roots change and the Republicans who represented the powerful and resistant establishment.
Democrats then expanded their vision of a righteous government by exercising its power to fight segregation, discrimination, environmental blight, corporate malfeasance and consumer hazards — and to advance health care as a right and not a privilege. All of that seemed to follow the New Deal script of government as a force for good.
But with Richard Nixon channeling George Wallace’s racialized anger at the federal government and Ronald Reagan saying that the only way to christen our shining city on a hill is to free up aggrieved entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens stifled by burdensome red tape and regulations, the Democratic association with government began to turn noxious.
As Reagan put it in his 1981 inaugural address, we should not allow “government by an elite group” to “ride on our back.”
For four decades now, Republicans have succeeded in framing Democrats as the party that uses government to bigfoot rather than aid the American people. Democrats may celebrate public servants for keeping our food safe and our lakes healthy, but Republicans have successfully portrayed them as a humorless bureaucrats who salivate at the urge to exert power and control over taxpaying Americans.
And Republicans have very artfully created a counternarrative, turning the market into a synonym for liberty and defining it as an authentic expression of American grass-roots energy in which small businesses and entrepreneurs simply need freedom from government to shower benefits on us all.
Of course the market’s magic may be more mythical than real — given that powerful corporations and interests dominate and exploit it often at the expense of workers — but that inconvenient fact is immaterial to the brilliant messaging advantages Republicans have derived from it.
Indeed, in the Republican playbook it’s the teachers, unions, environmental groups, professors and civil rights organizations that constitute the establishment whereas Koch and other industry-funded astroturf groups are the real gladiators fighting the status quo.
But it’s not just the Democratic association with government that Republicans have used to brand it as the party of the establishment and elites. Republicans have also turned the table on the liberal values that Democrats embrace.
Beginning in the 1960s, liberals have sought to flush prejudice, bigotry and discriminatory attitudes from society by turning diversity into a moral value and creating a public culture intolerant of misogyny and intolerance. On the surface, that should be a sign of national progress.
But conservatives — with help from an unwitting or overly zealous slice of the left that too often overreaches — took these healthy normative changes and cleverly depicted them as an attempt by condescending and high-handed elites to police our language and impose a politically correct finger-pointing culture.
In effect, conservatives have rather successfully portrayed liberals and Democrats as willing to use cultural and political power against ordinary Americans. They want to take my guns, regulate my business, dictate who I can hire, and tell me what I can buy, which doctors I see, how I live, when I pray and even what I say — so goes the conservative narrative.
That their definition of “ordinary Americans” is quite narrow — meaning whites and particularly men — is beside the point because it’s the political branding that matters, not the fact that liberal economic policies and efforts against bigotry and discrimination have helped millions of ordinary Americans.
Our nation was founded on resistance to power, and it’s part of our political and cultural DNA to resent anyone who exercises or lords that power over others.
Taken together, Republicans have successfully defined Democrats as a party of bureaucrats, power brokers, media elites, special interests and snobs who have created a client state for those they favor, aim to control what everyone else does and look down their noses at the people who pay the taxes to fund the same government that Democrats use to control their lives.
And why is this so damning for Democrats? Because our nation was founded on resistance to power, and it’s part of our political and cultural DNA to resent anyone who exercises or lords that power over others.
Read past the first paragraphs of our Declaration of Independence and it’s all about King George III and his abuses of power. Our Constitution encodes checks and balances and a separation of powers. Our economic system rests on antitrust law, which is designed to keep monopolies from crushing smaller competitors and accumulating too much power.
So if large numbers of Americans see Democrats as the party of entrenched elites who exert power over the little people, then Democrats have lost the messaging battle that ultimately determines who prevails and who doesn’t in our elections.
And let’s be clear: Donald Trump didn’t originate this message in his 2016 campaign; he simply exploited, amplified and exemplified it better than almost any Republican since Ronald Reagan.
The Bernie Sanders answer, of course, is to train the party’s fire at banks, corporations and moneyed interests. After all, they are the ones exerting unchecked power, soaking up the nation’s wealth and distributing it to the investor class and not the rest of us.
And to some extent that has potential and appeal.
But remember, most Americans depend on corporations for their jobs, livelihoods, health care, mortgages and economic security. So it’s much more difficult today to frame big business as the elite and powerful establishment than it was when when workers manned the union ramparts against monopoly power. Working Americans today have a far more ambivalent relationship with corporate America than they did in the New Deal days.
Somehow Democrats have to come up with their own jujitsu maneuver to once again show that theirs is the party that fights entrenched power on behalf of the little people. Liberals have to figure out how to merge their diversity voice with the larger imperative of representing all of America’s underdogs. These are not mutually exclusive messages.
Democrats can preach all they want on health care and Trump and the environment. But if they don’t correct the larger narrative about who holds power in America — and who’s fighting to equalize that power on behalf of us all — then whatever small and intermittent victories they earn may still leave them short in the larger battle for the hearts and souls of American voters.
A lawyer and whistleblower named Sergei Magnitsky spent 358 days in one of the most notoriously deadly Russian prisons, where he was tortured and eventually died from untreated internal ailments, including pancreatitis, as well as injuries from routine torture incurred at the hands of Russian law enforcement.
Throughout his harrowing incarceration, Magnitsky provided a detailed narrative of his abuse in prison, covered in 450 letters. His stomach-churning story eventually led to a bipartisan American law passed in 2012 known as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which applied hard-hitting sanctions against a roster of Russian officials linked to a $230 million kleptocratic tax fraud scandal Magnitsky was endeavoring to uncover. After last year’s election, President Barack Obama signed a second law, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, extending the original law to apply to any foreign person found to have links to human rights abuses similar to those inflicted upon Magnitsky.
Russia’s response was typically, well, Russian. The Kremlin blacklisted a menu of American officials, while restricting the adoption of Russian babies by American couples. One of the blacklisted officials, oddly enough, was a prosecutor who’s more than familiar to anyone who’s been following the increasingly breathtaking Trump-Russia scandal: Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York. Among myriad other probes, Bharara was said to have been investigating the Trump Organization’s links to Russian money laundering. He was suddenly and personally fired by President Trump after having apparently been assured by Trump himself, during the transition, that he’d be allowed to remain at his post.
According to a Saturday evening article in the New York Times, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort apparently met in Trump Tower last June with a Russian lawyer with “connections to the Kremlin” named Natalia Veselnitskaya. Before we continue, it’s crucial to note that both Trump Jr. and Kushner confirmed the meeting with Veselnitskaya to the Times. Likewise, Manafort confirmed his participation in the meeting. Manafort also confirmed that Trump Jr. spearheaded it. (In other words, this isn’t “fake news.”) Not insignificantly, Bharara was responsible for pursuing Veselnitskaya’s client, Preveson Holdings, a company linked to the $230 million scam Magnitsky was exposing. The case was settled for $6 million.
Veselnitskaya, the Times reported, is a vocal opponent of the Magnitsky Act and, for her part, told the Times that “the meeting lasted about 30 minutes and focused on the Magnitsky Act and the adoption issue.” Trump Jr. also explained that the meeting was “primarily about an adoption program.” (Keep reading — there’s much more to this explanation.) So it seems more than obvious that the discussion had to do with Veselnitskaya conveying a message to the then-presumptive Republican nominee for president that either the Kremlin wanted the Magnitsky Act fully repealed or sanctions lifted from Russian officials impacted by the law or both.
Not only is this highly suggestive of collusion between Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin, it could also represent the first real journalistic evidence of a possible quid pro quo arrangement between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Specifically, the lifting of sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act could be seen as a partial payment to Russia for helping Trump during the campaign, either politically or financially or both.
But wait. Hang onto your hats. There’s more.
A second New York Times story dropped on Sunday, lending an almost cataclysmic detail to the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort and Veselnitskaya. The Times reported that Trump Jr. convened the June 9, 2016 meeting after Veselnitskaya informed him that she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The following paragraph ought to send chills down your spine:
The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trumpclinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.
The Times added that it’s unclear whether Veselnitskaya handed over the opposition research on Clinton, but “the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.”
This is collusion. Hands down. It appeared more than obvious following the initial Times story on Saturday, but now, with Sunday’s pulse-pounding article, it seems blindingly clear that the meeting was at least intended to be either an offer or a negotiation: Give the Trump campaign Russian-sourced dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for the lifting of sanctions outlined in the Magnitsky Act and beyond.
Adding to the profoundly urgent nature of this news, we learned that during their summit in Hamburg, President Trump agreed to form a joint task force on cybersecurity with Putin. To overstate the obvious here, this would be like the George W. Bush administration entering into a joint task force on airport security with Osama bin Laden. Worse, Trump continues to deny or dispute that there was any collusion at all, while accepting Putin’s word over the word of former President Obama, countless former and current government officials, and the entire U.S. intelligence community.
Incidentally, Trump has repeatedly insisted that only four intelligence agencies agreed that Russia hijacked the 2016 election, when in fact the Oct. 7, 2016, assessment by the director of national intelligence represented the analysis of the entire U.S. intelligence community. In fact, the report began with these words: “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” Then again, words have no meaning in the age of Trump.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that we were attacked, and based on the words of James Comey and others, it appears the attack will continue and worsen as time rolls on. Yet we have a president who not only accepts Putin’s explanation, but who may have cooperated with Putin in that sinister enterprise. Simply put: American democracy is under severe threat and the president seems to be acting almost as an enemy combatant, openly hostile to anyone who’s sounding the alarm about the increasingly treacherous Russian crisis.
It can’t be stressed enough that any and all legal and constitutional mechanisms for thwarting Trump’s continuing efforts must be triggered by the proper authorities, be they members of Congress, the Justice Department or the special counsel. The future of American sovereignty is hanging in the balance and we can no longer rely on the White House for aid.
Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Let’s say that you were in a position of leadership in a country I’ll call Precaria — as an intellectual, a politician, a CEO, whatever. Precaria was remarkable, unique, special, in a bad way: it was the world’s first rich failed state. It was plagued by regular mass killings, falling life expectancy, no savings, falling income, a rising tide of authoritarianism, and the resurgence of the actual plague.
Every other rich country in the world was more successful than Precaria. At being a society: expanding the limits of human potential. Enabling people to live happy, healthy, sane, long lives full of creativity, grace, mercy, dreams, justice, truth, love.
What would — should — you do? The first thing a sane leader should do is: learn from the rest of the world, because it’s more successful in every way. Here are some things you could learn.
You could learn from Germany’s Mittelstand, that it’s economic strength is based on clusters of medium sized companies, which are protected by the government — not from competition, but with decent wages, benefits, and work hours. You could learn from France’s agricultural system, in which private farms and vineyards and so on must receive cooperative certifications to make high-quality goods the world demands, like fine wine, champagne, and cheese. You could learn from Australia’s compulsory voting systems, with ranked, not just binary, ballots. You could learn from the story of Britain’s NHS — born in post-war chaos, the world’s first real public healthcare system, which lifted quality of life tremendously.
You could learn. So much. So fast. Because it is a big and beautiful and brave world, full of remarkable societies doing amazing things. Expanding the limits of human potential in unique, different, and often radical ways.
Precaria is in my little thought experiment, of course, America. And the point it’s there to raise is this: why don’t American leaders ever learn? Why can’t they?
Let me make that more concrete. The rest of the rich world is more successful at expanding human potential — the first job of a society. Why? Because they have social contracts that work in fundamentally better ways: that offer people more health, happiness, creativity, productivity, and so on. Those social contracts are brought to life by real world institutions — like the NHS or Mittelstand’s various economic bodies.
Yet almost never in my adult life have I read a single op ed in American media examining any of those institutions. Not a single one, about a single one that I can remember. American is unable to learn from the world. And that is probably because American leaders are playing a game of psychological defense. They think they are exceptional — and for an exceptional organization, it is beneath dignity to (horror) learn from anyone else.
In psychology, we have a name for that way of thinking. Narcissism. The belief not just that one is special — for we all are unique, different, remarkable. The belief that one is superior, above, beyond. Better in fundamental ways. That is never true. Not a single one of us is better in any fundamental way. The genius is poor at loving. The lover is poor at creating. The creator is poor at managing. And so on. We all have flaws. But the greatest flaw of all is to be blind to the grace and beauty of the idea that we all have flaws — and so to believe there is nothing to be learned from anyone else. Trump is a narcissist, sure — but he is only a reflection of American narcissism in this way.
The first job of a leader is to learn. Only then can a leader do their second and third jobs — care and love. Leadership is nothing more — and nothing less — than realizing human potential. You can do it as a parent, boss, friend, partner. You probably do. That is what care and love are in concrete human terms. The difference between them is that care brings a person towards their potential, and love expands that potential.
So leadership demands the opposite of hubris, which is what America has too much of today. Humility, simplicity, modesty. Only when one stops pretending one knows can one learn. Arrogance blinds us to human possibility itself. The flipside is also true. What do we call people and organizations that can’t learn? Foolish. And the world laughs at America today because it is foolish in this achingly visible way.
So when we say that Americans have a leadership deficit, we don’t simply mean that America is run by freaks with a predilection for crazy religious theories and guns. More genuinely, we mean that those theories, and more importantly, the hubris behind them, leave them incapable of learning from the world about what leadership is. How then can human potential be realized? It can’t — and that’s why American life expectancy, savings, the middle class, security, opportunity, and so on, are all shrinking, dwindling, falling. That is what human potential decaying is.
Until and unless America develops leaders who are capable of learning from the world about what a successful society is, it’s going to go on incapable of being one. Hubris has met nemesis, as in the old myth. The name of hubris is American exceptionalism, a kind of blinding arrogance — and the nemesis it has produced is foolishness: an inability to learn a single thing from the world that now laughs at it pityingly.