Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why I am marching today

Today I will join millions around the country and the world in a "Women's March." The impetus of the march looks back - to protest the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Not to contest the election - he won under the rules, if only on a technicality. But to protest the fearful nationalism of his official platform, and to oppose the elements of his coalition who are much worse than that.

That was the impetus of the march - of the many marches.

The meaning of the marches, though, looks forward. America is a great nation already. Part of our greatness is a willingness to face our problems and fix them. America has been steadily getting better, and helping the world get better.

I am marching for what, as Langston Hughes said, America will be.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why I find this election humiliating

Until now, one of the most admirable parts of American exceptionalism is that we have not used our democratic power to elect a demagogue.

Andrew Jackson was close, but at least he was a general who served the country in some ways.

Donald Trump ran as something like Silvio Berlusconi, with hints of Benito Mussolini.

This is a humiliating loss of American exceptionalism.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I miss Obama already

Today is the last day of the Obama presidency, and I miss him already.

I believe that Barack and Michelle Obama are the people most like Mr. and Mrs. Gruntled who will ever be in the White House. They are our age, share a similar educational background, and have a similar family structure. Most importantly, they share the same sacred history narrative of America.

The fact that the Obamas are African-Americans, while the Gruntleds are Euro white people, is actually not the overriding fact of our identities. Both families are educated, hopeful, Christian Americans. We both believe in working for the promise of this country.

I particularly appreciate President Obama's thoughtful, calm, and analytical approach to social problems. I thought he governed masterfully in the face of intransigent opposition.

I also appreciated the high moral tone that the Obamas brought to government, as well as to their personal life.

I am glad that they both plan to stay involved in public life for many years to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Too late for the wall against Mexico?

It may already be too late to build a wall against Mexico.

Michael Barone, in his fine book Shaping Our Nation, talks about the cycles of immigration to the United States. Immigration tends to come from countries that are just shy of middle income. They're not so poor that residents can not afford to leave, but not yet so rich that they stay to work in domestic industries. For much of the 20th Century, Mexico fit that bill. The great wave of migrants from Mexico came after the Second World War and continued up to the Great Recession in 2008.

During the recession, though, Mexican migration was negative. That is, there were more returnees than new migrants. This could just be an effect of the recession, and the Mexican migration might resume. However, Barone makes me think that the main era of Mexican migration to the United States is over. The Mexican economy, despite the violence and corruption of some parts of it, is now heading into the middle income of world economies. Moreover, the Mexican birthrate has declined to replacement levels. The pressure of young people to find jobs has diminished.

It might be a great irony of the Trump years that we make a "yuge" effort to build a big wall against Mexico at the very time when it is no longer relevant.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Today's coffee houses produce the public sphere, just as they did in the past

Coffee houses are where the public sphere was born.

This is the argument of Juergen Habermas, an eminent German sociologist. He feared that coffee houses today do not produce as much political argument as the coffee houses of the Golden age, the late 1600s in London.

I think coffee houses have always produced a public sphere, but little of it is directly about politics. This was as true then as now. More often the public discussion in coffee houses is about popular culture. And this is fine; the people should discuss popular culture–that's what makes it popular.

I believe Habermas is correct, though, that some people need to be talking about politics in the coffee house. Indeed, some people need to be organizing civic action in the coffee house and elsewhere. As I read Tocqueville, this is where he thought the voluntary associations would come from that make American democracy work.

Some think we are in dire times for civic engagement. They imagine a golden past when people were more involved in civic life. I think as many people are involved in civic life now as ever have been. The voluntary associations that make our society work have always been the job of minority. The coffee houses of today are as productive of the public sphere as they ever were.

Monday, January 16, 2017

For King and President

In my church we take turns offering prayers of the people. This was my offering for the week including Martin Luther King Day and the presidential inauguration.

Oh lord, we thank you for the task that you have given us of advancing the great call of our secular creed that all men are created equal. 

This day we look back to the work of the last-born of the founding fathers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This week we look ahead to the peaceful transition of power. This ritual is one of the glories of our republic. We humbly ask for your support and protection of the outgoing president. We fervently hope for your guidance of the new holder of that great office. 

We all have a part to play in building up the work of our republic, equally as citizens and as Christians. And in this work we know, as Dr. King reminded us, that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.