Ted Van Dyk is an author and former government official with a long history of involvement in public policy and international affairs. His career includes work as an intelligence analyst at the Pentagon; as director of the Washington, D.C., public affairs office of the European Communities (now the European Union); and as a policymaker in the Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter administrations, where he coordinated U.S. foreign assistance programs. He is a lifelong Democrat currently living in his hometown of Bellingham, Washington. With his permission, I occasionally feature his Facebook posts. Scroll through and enjoy.
CAN IT BE OVER?
February 13, 2021
“With malice toward none, with charity for all”—Abraham Lincoln.
“Appeal always to hope, never to fear or hate”—Hubert Humphrey.
So former President Trump was not convicted of impeachment charges in the Senate. Prior presidents have been impeached but never convicted. President Nixon, of course, would have been both impeached and convicted had he not resigned. Dems could probably have gotten a bipartisan Senate censure of Trump but did not choose that route.
History will examine Trump. Many Facebook and other friends have not understood why I did not share their outrage at Trump and desire to see him impeached and convicted—even after leaving office. But, I must confess, he was exactly as I thought he would be as President and entirely consistent with his prior life as a Queens real-estate dealmaker, TV personality, and tabloid-culture guy. You needed only regard the Trump Tower, I thought, to know Trump.
I have never regarded Trump as a threat to the constitution or our institutions but as the result—not the cause—-of an anti-establishmentarian wave in 2016 which almost nominated Sen. Sanders as well. Historical precedents: Maybe Andrew Jackson, scourge of the eastern establishment, who rode his horse into the White House lobby after his inaugural and was responsible for the Trail of Tears. Or more closely, Ross Perot, another businessman without experience in public office, who led both President Bush and Governor Clinton in 1992 pre-election polling before he self destructed during the campaign season. As it was, he made all the mistakes in the political book but still got 19 percent of the popular vote. Suspension of habeas corpus (no, Lincoln); deportation without due process of citizens suspected of radicalism (Wilson); captivity during wartime for a whole group because of its ethnicity (FDR)? No. Nor did he wreck the economy or undertake mistaken new foreign interventions. He was, as it turned out, ultimately rejected because of an unexpected pandemic over which he had limited control.
I was especially disappointed to see the reaction of my Democratic Party after Trump’s 2016 election. I had expected that, as after President Reagan’s election in 1980, it would turn to the serious business of developing an alternative agenda. But, instead, so-called Resistance demonstrations began in the streets, even before his inaugural, and the focus became from the beginning of his term the ways and means of discrediting him and driving him from office. Russian collusion accusations; alleged mistreatment of illegal immigrants; charges that he somehow was allied with white supremacists and right-wing extremists .”Racist”…”corrupt”…”totalitarian”…”Hitler” some of the labels attached to him. All this justifying, apparently, barbaric treatment of his Supreme Court nominees in the Senate Judiciary Committee. derisive personal attacks on his appointees and GOP congressional leaders, a first impeachment a year ago lacking due process or a credible basis. Active in my party over a lifetime, and especially during its civil rights/Great Society days of the 1960s, I had never seen such tactics by its leaders. We did not employ them even against Nixon. Trump was and is nothing more than he appeared to be when voters, knowing who he was, duly elected him president. I would not want to share a coffee with Trump, much less serve in his administration. He is a fulltime narcissist and, through his four-year term, has never fully understand how government and our electoral processes work. I have regretted his environmental and public-lands policies and his ignorance of multilateral institutions and proper relations with allies. But I can think of many Republicans who might have instituted similar policies once in office. No, Trump in the end was brought down—as Presidents Johnson and Carter before him—because his personal style and overexposure simply exhausted the electorate. And by the pandemic.
I thought the second impeachment, just concluded, lacked the solid basis needed to prove that Trump had incited a Ft. Sumter-like sedition at the Jan. 6 event at the Capitol. He had challenged election results in several marginal states, with accompanying sworn statements and documentation by election workers and others, but the courts had mainly refused to hear them—as they have refused in the past to hear such cases. The Trump assertions were not “lies,” as many in media and his opposition have alleged, but assertions which courts predictably refused to hear. But Trump simply blustered on, thinking mass rallies and public pressure could somehow cause a reversal of the electoral vote. His remarks at the Jan. 6 rally, as well as those of his son and former Gov. Giuliani, were rabble rousing but did not incite a destructive invasion of the Capitol building. Evidence gathered since has led to a conclusion that the invasion was planned long before by groups intending to exploit the rally—much as destructive protesters piggy-backed last summer on BLM and other rallies in major American cities.
Trump Rage has continued since the Senate vote. But Trump is now past tense. He does not have a political future unless his core supporters conclude that he is some kind of martyr/hero being pursued by vengeance-seeking media and political opponents. When Nixon left, he had unnecessarily extended a mistaken VN War for several years (to serve his 1968 electoral purposes) and had misused federal-government power against political opponents (including myself). Yet, when he left, we were pleased to see him leave and could not have cared less about what he said and did thereafter. The Nixon departure a good model for future conduct regarding Trump, who faces legal and other problems out of office which will keep him occupied. Republican Senators felt obligated to defend him during his impeachment trial and also had their own constituencies in their minds when they cast their votes.
I am hoping my fellow Democrats do not make the fatal mistake of thinking that all 2020 Trump voters were racist, white supremacist, nativist, or extremist. A good share of them were former Democrats—middle- and lower-middle-income families worrying about safety in their neighborhoods, the quality of their kids’ schools, the cost of living, employment, and the undertaking of new foreign adventures costing American lives and resources. With or without Trump, they are still there and disinclined to buy into establishment proposals and policies they feel unrelated to them. They began their exodus from the Democratic Party in 1968, speeded it in 1980 as Reagan Democrats, went for Trump in 2016, and will continue their exodus if they feel Democrats represent Cancel Culture/Critical Race Theory beliefs which they reject.
President Biden is a mainstream liberal/moderate Democrat from blue-collar roots who understands these latter voters. His normal instincts would lead him to reach across partisan/ideological lines to address practical problems relating to mainstream voters. Not a Cancel Culture/Critical Race Theory guy unless he unknowingly is pushed that way by those around him.
Bottom line: Time for media and Democrats to get over Trump, truly get over him. He never was that significant but merely a vessel for the discontent of many voters. Forget Trump; pay attention to the voters.
BIDEN THE LOAN ARRANGER?
February 9, 2021
Today’s Wall Street Journal (paywall) has an editorial regarding the proposal of Sens. Schumer and Warren, and many Dem House members, to forgive huge amounts of student-loan debt to borrowers of all income levels. The proposal was prominent on the agenda of some Dem candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination and has been around, in varying form, for a number of years.
Some proposals are problematic because of their effect on taxpayers or on federal red ink. This one is for that reason. But it also is problematic because it is at variance with the values of most Americans.
Back in pre-history, when I and others went to college, you worked in the summer and part-time otherwise to pay for it. Depending on your family’s financial status, you got help from parents as well. That is how I paid for my undergrad years at the University of Washington until I received a scholarship my senior year. My parents, working people, lent me most of the money for my year of grad school at Columbia. I repaid them.
A huge percentage in present day have been largely financed through government-backed student loans. My two sons and their wives paid for much of their grad school that way and it took many years for them to pay off the loans. Schools, in turn, have come to count on student-loan money; tuitions and fees have risen rapidly beyond the inflation rate during the years of the program.
The major objection to the current proposals, however, lies in the generally held belief that, if you borrow money, you pay it back. You do not neglect to make payments and/or count on forgiveness which will leave your neighbors footing the balance. Especially if your family is in upper-income levels.
The proposal was one of many for More Free Stuff floated by Democrats in 2020. There are many good reasons for fresh federal investments in parts of our lives. But this is not one. President Biden must make his call.
January 29, 2021
Often used in the past when Presidents could not get legislative majorities for desired policies. For instance, when Obama used them periodically over six years after losing a House majority in the 2010 midterms.
During his campaign, President Biden said often that he intended to govern “by getting the votes”—that is, by working across party and ideological lines to get congressional majorities behind his proposals.
Now, only a few days since his Inaugural, Biden has signed 25 executive orders, some relating to contentious issues. Turns out that is five times the number signed by any recent President.
This is lawful. And I have no objection to Presidents using executive orders, especially in emergency or wartime situations. Yet I wonder if Biden advisors have given sufficient thought to the pattern being established—that is, acting unilaterally without making prior effort to use the usual legislative route. These remain polarized times and it can be difficult to get legislation passed within them. But do the many executive orders reduce or add to polarization? Four years of governance lying ahead.
VOTING: GETTING IT RIGHT
January 27, 2021
Remember how we used to do it back in the day? On election day, you and your neighbors went to the local polling place, showed ID, were checked for presence on registered-voter rolls, marked your ballot, then turned it over to poll watchers from both parties who reviewed and tallied it. Results posted shortly after poll closings that evening. If you were going to be out of the city, you got an absentee ballot and mailed it in. Overseas military and other voters voted similarly. All ballots to be received by election day.
Occasional disputes and recounts but, by and large, everyone understood the system and had confidence in its fairness.
Voting rules in each of the 50 states are established by state legislatures, which have jurisdiction. In November elections, we became painfully aware that those rules vary, state to state, The Trump campaign, after the fact, asked courts to rule on procedures in several marginal states where it believed legislative rules were disregarded or bypassed. Courts, always shying away from such political cases, for the most part refused to hear the complaints. Supreme Court included.
In months leading up to the election, changes in state voting procedures were in fact implemented by state and local officials outside the legislative process. As a practical matter, the time for GOP interventions would have been then rather than after the election. (I can imagine a Dem president, on learning of such changes favoring the GOP, telling his political staff to “haul ass” to the states in question and get Den state legislators on the case pronto and well in advance of election day).It used to be said that Democrats loved politics while Republicans tolerated it. Maybe that was the case with election procedures in 2020, In any case President Trump, previously inexperienced in electoral politics, went bonkers when courts refused to intervene and thought he could mobilize popular support to challenge the overall outcome. A dumb idea which culminated in the huge rally, addressed by Trump, his son, and Rudy Giuliani, which led to the Capitol invasion by some in the crowd. Now a Trump impeachment flowing from it. It will be weeks before that process ends and the country’s attention can again focus on normal public business. In meantime, many millions of Americans continue to believe the election somehow was “stolen” by President Biden and Democrats. Mainstream media generally have labeled as “lies” the Trump allegations of irregularities. Some Dems allege voter suppression in GOP constituencies. Now both Dems and Republicans are focusing on the issue and preparing national-level legislation or actions which could pre-empt present state legislative authority over elections. Anger and more polarization likely to result.
I am a lifelong Democrat but, above that, am an American. As a citizen, I deplore anything which casts doubt on the integrity of our precious votes. I recognize that vote-by-mail systems can be manipulated as old-fashioned, in-person voting cannot. (In my own WA state, a notable clean-politics state, we have voted solely by mail through several electoral cycles but, at the start of the vote-by-mail system, there were disputes and recounts). I also am disturbed by rules in some states which begin the vote weeks before election day. President Biden has said he wants to create unity in the country after a period of partisan and ideological rage. He could help do that by creating a bipartisan commission, constituted of Democrats, Republicans and Independents of recognized integrity, to study current voting procedures and make recommendations for consideration by the 50 state legislatures. The legislatures, in my judgment, should continue to have authority. But the appointment of the commission would help ease continuing acrimony over 2020 procedures. And its recommendations, once publicized, would highlight any obvious state-level abuses that needed correction.
Hey, this is fundamental to the functioning of our system, We must have confidence in the integrity of our voting processes. If we lack that, everything following is in question.
ML KING DAY
January 16, 2021
Coming up on ML King Jr. day. Time for consideration of justice yesterday and today, especially in our politics.
I met King but did not know him well, although I knew well many of his associates and those in the civil-rights movement of the time. But, among those working for civil-rights and Great Society legislation, he was a constant presence in everyone’s mind. His most memorable statement, at the 1963 March on Washington, that we should be judged on “content of our character” rather than skin color or other irrelevancy. He also preached non-violence. His content-of-character statement also was reflected in the cornerstone Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited any action favoring or disfavoring any person based on race, gender, religion or ethnicity. The pro-justice strategy at the time, by the way, was not to waste time denouncing people as racist or reactionary but to make the strong case for justice. You could get consensus there.
When King was murdered in 1968 I was in Memphis several days thereafter and met with Jesse Epps and other leaders of the garbage workers whose cause King had gone to Memphis to support. They believed James Earl Ray had not acted alone but with complicity of Memphis police. They had information to that effect. But the Justice Department could never get sufficient supporting evidence.In subsequent decades this country has become more tolerant and open than we might have imagined at that time. There are hundreds of black federal, state and local elected officials in Dixie states. We have had a two-term black President and innumerable black senior officials in our judicial, legislative and executive branches. Black leaders on Wall Street, in the corporate world, in academia, in non-profits, in the arts—and, increasingly, women, Latino, Asian American, gay, and other minority citizens rising to the top. Our 1960s strategies, by the way, included not only breakthrough legislation but complementary programs which would help people in practical ways to get their equal chance at the starting line: In elementary, secondary and higher education; job training and apprenticeship programs; health care; nutrition; and to preserve positive family structures. Equal law enforcement was part of it. Not just equal application of the law to all citizens but programs, in particular, to provide public safety in neighborhoods where violent and other crime rates were high.
We took a turn in the Nixon years with establishment of affirmative action as a policy. It began in the notoriously discriminatory construction trades and unions. A Philadelphia Plan was instituted whereby a certain percentage of minority jobs were guaranteed in the industry. The concept spread in time to higher education, college admissions, and hiring practices in many industries. In meantime, President Nixon disestablished the Office of Economic Opportunity and War on Poverty and scattered the programs to other agencies, where they withered and died.
I find myself frustrated and even angry now to see the turn that a justice agenda has taken in my own Democratic Party: A Cancel Culture/identity politics turn that sometimes abandons non-violence for violence but also defines Americans according to their race, gender, religion or ethnicity—in direct contradiction of the Civil Rights Act precepts—and demands that these factors should determine status or opportunity in our society. Political opponents are routinely labeled racist, sexist, anti-Latino, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, etc. simply because they are political opponents. The opposite, too, of the “content of character” criterion set forth by King.
Beginning a new period, it seems to me, it is imperative that we all return to the CRA spirit and letter and the “liberty and justice for all” concept that a vast majority of Americans accept and support. We cannot define ourselves as oppressors and oppressed, villain and victim and have much chance to address problems common to all of us.
IMPEACHMENT: POLITICS BY IMPULSE RATHER THAN FORETHOUGHT
January 10, 2021
House Dems appear headed for a fresh impeachment of President Trump. It could make it through the House but not the Senate, where a 2/3rds majority would be necessary for conviction. A rerun of the first impeachment’s path.The invasion of the U.S. Capitol last week clearly was incited by their rhetoric to a mass rally by Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Trump’s son. Trump has paid the price. Already defeated at the polls, he leaves the White House disgraced and finished as a national voice—unless Democrats and media remain fixated on him even as a new President Biden attempts to govern.In a few days Trump will be past tense. The time belongs to Biden. The inaugural, his inaugural speech, and his agenda for the future should not be overshadowed by continuing focus on Trump.Moreover, partisans should consider past political history. The first midterm elections after presidential elections historically have resulted in losses for the “in” party. Democrats lost 63 House seats and their majority in the first midterm of President Obama’s presidency. Democratic majorities in the upcoming Congress will be razor thin and subject to reversal in two years if normal trends obtain. Millions of voters still believe Trump was cheated out of an election victory in November and will cast ballots accordingly in 2022 if they believe their guy continues to be dogged by Democrats and media. Forget impeachment. Wave Trump goodbye. He is done. Time to turn to Biden and an agenda for the future.
December 15, 2020
The AL baseball Cleveland franchise has announced it will change its name in 2021, following the example of the former Washington Redskins and other professional, college and high school teams which have dropped Native American identifications in recent years. The Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and Chicago Black Hawks no doubt will be next on the list.
Teams can call themselves whatever they want. The Cleveland AL team originally was known as the Spiders. Many teams began with names other than those they bear now. Thinking seems to be that Native American names somehow are an insult to Native Americans.
My old h.s. teams were known as the Red Raiders. A noble chieftain’s head appeared on banners and game programs. Maybe 30 years ago, the Red Raiders name was kept but the chieftain’s head was replaced by a picture of a hawk. Local tribal leaders protested the change but it nonetheless took place; the Native American identification was deemed politically incorrect.
In recent years, during multiple-class reunions, banners portraying both the chieftain’s head and hawk have been displayed behind the podium. When my class meets alone, we display only the chieftain’s head. We will do it again next year in what will be our final class reunion.
All part of the Cancel Culture/identity politics of today. We always thought the Red Raiders name and chieftain’s head represented bravery, fighting spirit, and nobility.
The former Washington Redskins have gone all season without a new name. Think it unlikely the present Cleveland Indians will revert to their original Spiders name.
There are other name categories which might deserve examination. How about the San Diego Padres, denoting religious affiliation? Or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with clear ethnic implications.? The possibilities for categories of change seem endless. When it comes to justice in our country, the project clearly warrants attention over such homely matters as public education, job creation, legal reform, and public safety. Got to put first things first.
DEMS GETTING STARTED IN THE FIRST 100 DAYS
Nov 14, 2020
President-elect Biden will need to get his “first hundred days” agenda ready for presentation quickly—-the first 100, you recall, being the time usually granted a new president in which his initiatives can succeed before his wave of initial approval recedes.
Deciding on first steps, he no doubt will assess the current political mood nationally.
Biden won by successfully making the campaign a referendum on a generally disliked Trump. But, at congressional and state-legislative levels, Dem candidates fared less well although having big campaign-spending advantages–mainly by leaving a perception that they were drifting ever further away from the party’s former Middle American base. Two words exemplify the drift: Defund Police.
Bernie Sanders a couple days ago said he fully expected Biden to follow through on pledges to support a joint agenda he endorsed at the end of the nominating season. He may be disappointed.
The coronavirus is foremost right now in the minds of most citizens. They will respond to any Biden proposals to get ahead of it. When he takes office, the first vaccines will be on the verge of public release. Then, as always, citizens will be concerned with the health of the economy. Biden will need to reassure that the virus can be contained while at the same time economic normalization can be achieved. Tightenings and shutdowns taking place now could make that difficult. Fresh stimulus spending—even in the face of rising deficits and debt—-no doubt would be accepted.
Where else might bipartisan consensus be possible after the inaugural? Immigration reform came close to passage during the Twig Bush years and could pass now: Border security along with a path to citizenship for illegals already here. GOP is striking out in attempts to repeal Obamacare. But cost and coverage fixes nonetheless are necessary and could get bipartisan congressional support. Biden could return to the Paris Climate Accords and get broad support for it—even though the action would be largely symbolic (the Accords have no enforcement mechanism). New investments in urban employment, job training, and economic renewal, public schools and infrastructure modernization also would draw broad support.
To be avoided in the first 100 days: Forgiveness of student loan debt; racial, gender, ethnic quotas in employment or public contracting; initiatives to end the filibuster and Electoral College and to add two new states (and four new Democratic Senators); proposals to pack the Supreme Court; abrupt actions to reduce domestic energy production. Voters’ rejection of Trump should not be read as approval of these initiatives.
Biden properly has spoken of reconciliation and his intention to work across partisan and ideological lines. Coming up in Delaware and the Senate, those were his instincts as a mainstream liberal/moderate Democrat. His first task will be to stick with his instincts and reject demands from his party’s present activist wing. He should start with seeking action where it can be supported within his own party and by a respectable number of congressional Republicans. The latter, freed of Trump, are likely to respond in January as they would not now.
AFTER THE STORM: WHAT KIND Of AMERICA?
by Ted Van Dyk
Nov 7, 2020
Attention understandably is focused now on the Trump challenges in several closely contested states. But, if history holds, few will be upheld and Biden will indeed be inaugurated in January. What will the situation be in January and in the year ahead?
First, and perhaps most importantly, if current Senate, House, and state legislative outcomes are confirmed, we will find that—after four turbulent Trump years and polarizing actions in both political parties—our political culture has taken neither hard Left nor Rightward turns. Voters as always want strong national and neighborhood security, good public schools, a solid domestic economy, public policies supporting the elderly and vulnerable, and leadership not veering too far on either side of the center line.
No street disorders, no police defunding, no racial quotas, no militias, no changes in basic institutions such as the Electoral College, Supreme Court, Senate. Positive environmental policies but not through immediate and wrenching changes in the energy economy. Immigration policies providing border security but also
a path to citizenship for non-citizens already here. Necessary stimulus spending to keep the pandemic-damaged economy afloat but, afterward, attention to the huge long-term public debt burden which will cripple us if unchecked. America’s basic ideology remains pragmatism and practical, non-ideological problem-solving measures remain what most Americans want.
Elected officials and candidates must recognize, however, that the public skepticism and impatience which led to Trump’s 2016 nomination and election—and to Sanders’ near nomination in the Democratic Party—will still be there. Voters impatient with interest-group politics, polling organizations, both traditional and new media, institutions they see as having too much financial and economic power, and leaders they see as primarily self serving. A shorter public fuse when it comes to performance in office. Sensitized BS detectors in the electorate. A quick hook for politicians who disappoint.
Despite all the drama of the past four years, the basic America still exists out there. Millions of honest people slugging it out day by day, trying to provide for their families, basically tolerant and bearing no ill will toward others, wanting government to provide safety-net measures but otherwise to give them leeway. Still pursuing the American Dream and seeking opportunity in a free and open country. They refuse to be conned and have more common sense than many of their would-be political and opinion leaders. As Twain put it, “You can fool some of the people…” etc.