Archive for January, 2019
The shut down is over, and despite the bluster, it’s not going to start up again. It’s a political loser for President Trump, and he knows it. Senate Republicans would turn on him. Moreover, the idea of declaring a national emergency is dangerous for the White House. The President says the odds of a deal being reached are “less than 50-50.” What next?
The victory glow on Nancy Pelosi for staying firm and keeping her caucus united hasn’t yet faded. Pundits colorfully claim Pelosi “got Trump’s balls,” with Ann Coulter calling him “the biggest wimp” as President. Does this mean Pelosi can write the script?
In a word, no. Her challenge, though, is less with Trump than within her own party. She prevailed in a bruising battle to remain speaker, and even critical Democrats acknowledge that her political savvy won this battle. One wonders what she had to promise centrist Democrats friendly to the idea of some kind of wall to keep them in line. I suspect that she promised “real” negotiations and to make a deal that the President can accept. She had to win this one or else it would have become clear that Trump could run roughshod over the Democrats, threatening things like a shutdown and watching Democratic cohesion splinter.
Now she has to show the centrists that she listens to them and awards their loyalty due to the shutdown. If she just defies Trump it’s possible she could win big and have him back down completely. But it may be better in the long run to give Trump a face saving way out, make gains on policies that can be traded for enhanced border security.
To be sure, she also has the progressive wing of the party that want total war on Trump, and think the talk should be impeachment. She has to mollify that wing of the party too, who may grumble that she isn’t “going for the jugular” in negotiations.
Progressives in the party sense that the American public is on their side more than ever, and now is the time for the Democratic party to veer left. In many parts of the country, that is true – but in vast chunks of the US the Democratic party relies on moderate and centrist voters disturbed by Trump’s incompetence, but not wanting to embrace the left.
Pelosi’s challenge is to keep both wings of her party satisfied enough that the party can stay united. She has to convince the progressives that with the Senate and Presidency in GOP hands, the only way to get things done is to compromise. She has to convince centrists that she really is willing to compromise.
There is probably no one better suited to face this challenge than Pelosi. At 78, she’s already stated that she plans not to stay on as speaker after 2020 – and the country may indeed be in a very different place at that time. For now, she’s capping her career with a stellar performance during the shutdown, but to be truly successful she has to have an effective two years both keeping the party together and making compromises when possible.
Yesterday I posted something political, so today I’ll head into religious territory to grapple with that age old question: is there a God? To be sure, it’s really more of a recent question. Go back far enough and you find certainty that there are many Gods. Even the Hebrew God that now dominates three major world religions started as a local God – the Hebrews were not originally monotheists. Still, the question has merit, it can’t be dismissed.
Consider: Why is there something and not nothing? By all our logic and laws of physics, we shouldn’t be able to get something from nothing. Some might claim that reality is infinite – infinite in the past, and in the future (which would be two infinities, but OK). We can get out of that problem with an obvious observation: our space-time universe emerged from the big bang, and thus had a beginning. One could even claim it was “created” (either by volition or chance).
That actually gets us somewhere. If the origin of our space-time universe comes from outside space-time, then it is utterly incomprehensible to us. I don’t mean just hard to understand or figure out, but beyond human understanding. Our minds are programmed for a space-time universe. Try to think of something without it having a space or time – maybe you can imagine something really abstract, but one can’t truly imagine a reality – a world – outside of space-time. All our concepts of processes, change, evolution, mutation, etc., assume space-time. We don’t even get space-time right. We think of them as separate – time is the progression of events, space is where these events take place. But physicists know that space-time is a single entity, even if that is hard to comprehend (and don’t get me started on quantum physics).
So to the God question. If you posit “God” as some old man with a grey beard, well, that’s a space-time kind of being. Any “God” that exists would be outside of space-time, and thus incomprehensible to us. In fact, one could posit “God” as simply the source of this space-time universe, emerging from “outside” space-time. I have to put “outside” in quotes, and emerging should be in quotes too, since those are space-time concepts that really can’t apply to something not in space-time. But I have no choice, we can’t think in terms truly outside space-time.
I’m ready to accept that there is a God according to that definition, but it doesn’t tell us much about what this God is like or even if it is volitional (rather than some kind of accidental process…and terms like “process” are space-time terms…you get the picture).
Do we have any way to transcend space-time and sense what might be outside it? Maybe. Intuition, emotion, meditation, out of body experiences, and forms of spirituality do claim a non-corporeal and perhaps non-temporal nature. The problem is that once we try to translate these into something communicable, we run into the same problem – our language and our rational minds are bounded by space-time.
Yet if our universe had to come from outside space-time, and if we can’t comprehend anything outside space-time, then a belief in a God-concept (even if not a particularly well defined or traditional God) makes sense. And I think that’s as far as I can take this. There is likely a God, but that’s only if we define “God” in a way that is so broad that we cannot know its attributes, or even if it has volition.
There is one more tool we have that might help – imagination. One reason art speaks to us is that our imaginations seems to hold knowledge and understandings that are beyond communicable thoughts and words. Music, the visual arts and even poetry all try to communicate something beyond our usual rational mode of operation.
So I’ll choose to imagine “God” as something that we are all a part of, connected to, and we have chosen to live in the space-time world to learn lessons and have fun. Note I left out suffering – we can choose that, if we need it to learn, but that’s not why we’re here (and if that sounds callous, well, if we’re all part of the same entity, then we all suffer when one person suffers, even if we don’t experience directly at that moment in space-time).
This God is thus personal, and its laws reflect a kind of golden rule – if we’re all connected and part of the same whole, then we should treat anyone else as we would like to be treated. But since we are separate entities, we have differences, and in dealing with others we have to recognize those differences – I like to be left alone if something bad happens, others like to be consoled. So the golden rule has to be taken a step deeper, not just how we would like to be treated, but what would be kind and considerate treatment for other individuals based on their identity.
Can I prove this? Of course not. Do I believe it absolutely true? Nope, it’s an imagined notion of God I choose to hold playfully without dogmatism. Is that good enough for me? Yes. But it’s up to you all to use your imagination and then decide if you find a God concept good enough for you. This does mean that forcing beliefs on others makes no sense. So I believe there is a God, but I reject religious dogma.
Make no mistake: Donald Trump’s decision to end the shutdown was an ignominious defeat for the man who likes to “win.” But while conservatives fret that Trump “caved,” he really had no choice. He had chosen a flawed strategy based on an underestimation of his opposition, and without appreciation for how much Americans would not like a shutdown.
In December it appeared the President agreed to a short term bill to keep government open in order to allow time to negotiate on border security. An avalanche of protest from right wing pundits convinced Trump to shift strategy and embrace the shutdown. In an infamous meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer he boasted that he would “own the shutdown” and “would not blame” the Democrats. That clip got played many times on the media as the shutdown went on.
By all accounts, those supporting the move in the Administration felt this could be an “easy, quick win,” which would show the Democrats that they can’t just obstruct. Nancy Pelosi had to fight off an internal revolt to become Speaker, and many centrist and conservative Democrats had expressed support for at least part of the wall. Moreover the price of $5 billion wouldn’t be a budget buster – and the shutdown would cost more. Surely the Democrats wouldn’t go to the mattresses over this! Indeed, many moderate Democrats questioned Pelosi’s hard line approach – but she held her caucus together.
When the shutdown started, President Trump’s job approval in the “Realclearpolitics” poll of polls was at negative 8.5%. Last week it hit negative 15%. All polls showed the public blaming the President, and it didn’t help that his cabinet and staff became adept at making statements that made them seem out of touch with how federal workers were suffering without pay.
With Trump’s poll numbers dropping, fears that the shutdown might harm economic growth, and the public growing impatient, Pelosi had no incentive to make a deal. Anything the President did to try to turn around the negativity associated with him and the shutdown failed. His compromise proposal was too meager to be taken seriously, and failed to turn public opinion around.
The first law of holes is that if you are in one, stop digging. Unfortunately for the President, the belief that the Democrats would somehow fold kept him digging longer than he should have. One of the biggest mistakes people make in politics, warfare and sports is to think an opponent to be weak or lacking resolve. Conservatives in the White House convinced themselves that the Democrats could not weather a long shut down. They were wrong.
What Pelosi has done is put the President on notice: he’s dealing with divided government and nothing gets through that doesn’t get the approval of the Democratic majority in the House. If he wants something, he has to bargain as an equal partner, he can’t just demand. Trump is used to have GOP majorities in each chamber, he is getting a quick lesson in how divided government works.
Where does this go next? My bet will be that the Democrats will offer the President a face saving compromise that he can claim as “the best possible” given Democratic control of the House. He will say he chose not to call a national emergency in order to give the Democrats a chance to prove they are concerned about border security. Pelosi will recognize that the politics have changed, and she needs to deal.
Of course, it’s possible the far right will convince the President to undertake another sure fire losing strategy: declare a national emergency. Not only would that create a constitutional crisis sure to be tied up in the courts, but it faces bipartisan opposition. The public would recognize it as a gambit to try to circumvent normal rule of law. I suspect, however, that the President realizes that these kinds of fights aren’t in his interest. He needs to do what he says he’s good at: make a deal.