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Things clump together; the periphery cannot hold.
As you read this, Democratic presidential hopefuls are crisscrossing Iowa, trying to assure farmers that they share their concerns. Commentators are publishing opinion pieces about how Democrats can win back rural voters. Think tanks are issuing manifestoes about reviving heartland economies.
There’s nothing wrong with discussing these issues. Rural lives matter — we’re all Americans, and deserve to share in the nation’s wealth. Rural votes matter even more; like it or not, our political system gives hugely disproportionate weight to less populous states, which are also generally states with relatively rural populations.
But it’s also important to get real. There are powerful forces behind the relative and in some cases absolute economic decline of rural America — and the truth is that nobody knows how to reverse those forces.
Put it this way: Many of the problems facing America have easy technical solutions; all we lack is the political will. Every other advanced country provides universal health care. Affordable child care is within easy reach. Rebuilding our fraying infrastructure would be expensive, but we can afford it — and it might well pay for itself.
But reviving declining regions is really hard. Many countries have tried, but it’s difficult to find any convincing success stories.
Out of the horror inflicted by those who cannot accept the world as it is, comes a vision of a better world. It comes from above and it comes from below. It comes from ordinary people. Supermarkets in Wellington suburbs have sold out of flowers, tough old football coaches are talking about love and, most powerful of all, there are the stories of the Christchurch shooting survivors themselves. Those who risked – and lost – their lives to save their fellow worshippers or – astonishingly – found it in their hearts to forgive the gunman.
Then there is this 38-year-old woman: the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. We have watched as she shows the world what real leadership is. Jacinda–mania had died down since 2017, when she became the country’s youngest prime minister. She gave birth in office, taking her baby to the United Nations general assembly meeting. She became something of a celebrity, appearing on US chatshows. But was there any substance to her? That question is asked of all women leaders. What is underneath? Where is the steel?
Now, in the most horrific of circumstances, we have seen the steel. We have seen the qualities that define leadership in such a way that it is clear she is a lioness and that to call so many of our current leaders donkeys is a disservice to hardworking donkeys the world over.
The Defense Department announced plans last week to reinstate a ban on service by openly transgender Americans that, until now, has been blocked by multiple court rulings. This decision hurts our national security, deprives our ranks of much-needed talent and flies in the face of the values our military institution represents.
I should know. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, I advocated — and led our armed forces through — the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy that similarly forbade gay and lesbian troops from serving openly. [..]
I was troubled that our military had a policy forcing service members to lie about who they were as a condition of service. This, I felt, was a blow to their integrity, as well as to our military’s. If there were no cost for equal treatment and a high cost — in talent, careers and integrity — for discrimination, ending the ban was a simple choice. Subsequent research shows our military was stronger for it.
Whether meant seriously or not, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s alleged consideration of the 25th Amendment seems, in retrospect, not to have been irrational at all. Since President Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as FBI director and the appointment of a special counsel, Trump’s mental and emotional health has seemed to fray. The pace of lies and nonsensical accusations, the resort to conspiracy theories and refusal to conduct himself like an adult (let alone the president) often pick up in the wake of bad news from the special counsel and widespread criticism of the president’s unhinged behavior. So it was this weekend following his refusal to directly condemn white nationalism in the wake of the New Zealand massacre and the defection of 12 Senate Republicans last week on the resolution repealing the emergency declaration. [..]
Unfortunately, most Republicans are fine with Trump, or say they are. They have tax cuts and some judges, so what do they care if the presidency is sullied, racial anger builds, the United States’ reputation in the world is damaged, decency and objective truth are obliterated, and none of our real challenges (e.g. income inequality, climate change) are addressed? Republicans will still tell you that they are victims of liberal elites. In their minds, Trump is just evening the score on their behalf.
There is no moral or intellectual reason that will persuade them. There is no respectful conversation to be had with people who argue in bad faith. The only solution is to defeat Trump and his party so thoroughly that Trumpism is permanently discredited. A party that continues to defend this president is simply beyond redemption.
The joke among people my age is that every dinner party starts with an organ recital: Who’s lost a gall bladder, got a new kidney or maybe just replaced a knee? What’s the pain of the day, and who sleeps through the night? Charles de Gaulle said old age is a shipwreck, so the question for the United States is whether it should consider the age of likely presidential candidates who, statistics and experience tell us, stand a pretty good chance of foundering on the rocks of old age. I’m talking Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Sanders and Biden are about the same age. Sanders is 77, and Biden 76, and because the next president will be inaugurated in 2021, I can say without fear of persnickety fact-checkers that both men will be almost two years older by then. It is not unlikely, therefore, that the next president of the United States will be well into his 80s before his first term is up. That’s a shocking figure.