Bob Schwartz

President: I’m The Only One That Matters

In an interview yesterday, the President of the United States said:

I’m the only one that matters.

If you think this must be out of context, here’s the context. He was asked about there being so many unfilled high-level positions in the State Department, the foreign affairs arm of the American government. He dismissed the need for these people:

So we don’t need all the people they want. I’m a businessman, and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there. Lemme tell you, the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.

“I’m the only one that matters” is something you might hear from someone you’re in a difficult relationship with, or from the person who owns the company you work for, or from a dictator. But no American President has ever publicly said this. Being chief of the public enterprise that is America means that lots of other people matter—even if only a little.

The one blessing of Trump’s disorders (see Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is his unrestrained need to reveal exactly what is in his head at the moment, since these are the greatest thoughts in the world, the only ones that matter. This quote reveals something that everybody already knew, but it is still helpful to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

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Violin or Moon (Either/Or/And)

 

Violin or Moon (Either/Or/And)

1

Tonight a neighbor
Plays scales on a violin
I drift closer to hear
But stop at the street
A river of light
Washed by a full moon
Watching and listening too

2

Across the street
Scales on the violin
Soundtrack
For the full moon

Random Tao Te Ching: 54

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We cultivate the Tao in our village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in our state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders.”

Tao Te Ching 54

What you plant well can’t be uprooted
what you hold well can’t be taken away
your descendents will worship this forever
cultivated in yourself virtue becomes real
cultivated in your family virtue grows
cultivated in your village virtue multiplies
cultivated in your state virtue abounds
cultivated in your world virtue is everywhere
thus view others through yourself
view families through your family
view villages through your village
view states through your state
view other worlds through your world
how do you know what other worlds are like
through this one

WU CH’ENG says, “Those who plant something well, plant it without planting. Thus, it is never uprooted. Those who hold something well, hold it without holding. Thus, it is never taken away.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “What we plant well is virtue. What we hold well is oneness. When virtue flourishes, distant generations give praise.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “First improve yourself, then reach out to others and to later generations bequeath the noble, pure, and kindly Tao. Thus, blessings reach your descendants, virtue grows, beauty lasts, and worship never ends.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “In ancient times, ancestral worship consisted in choosing an auspicious day before the full moon, in fasting, in selecting sacrificial animals, in purifying the ritual vessels, in preparing a feast on the appointed day, in venerating ancestors as if they were present, and in thanking them for their virtuous example. Those who cultivate the Way likewise enable later generations to enjoy the fruits of their cultivation.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We cultivate the Tao in ourselves by cherishing our breath and by nourishing our spirit and thus by prolonging our life. We cultivate the Tao in our family by being loving as a parent, filial as a child, kind as an elder, obedient as the younger, dependable as a husband, and chaste as a wife. We cultivate the Tao in our village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in our state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders. Lao-tzu asks how we know that those who cultivate the Tao prosper and those who ignore the Tao perish. We know by comparing those who don’t cultivate the Tao with those who do.”

YEN TSUN says, “Let your person be the yardstick of other persons. Let your family be the level of other families. Let your village be the square of other villages. Let your state be the plumb line of other states. As for the world, the ruler is its heart, and the world is his body.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “The reality of the Tao lies in concern for the self. Concern for the state is irrelevant, and concern for the world is cowshit. From this standpoint, the emperor’s work is the sage’s hobby and is not what develops the self or nourishes life” (Chuangtzu: 28.3).

Lao Tzu’s Taoteching, translated by Red Pine

Trump Will Pardon Everybody (Or Almost Everybody)

The power to pardon has been used by a number of presidents, but the full extent of the power has been rarely tested and litigated. So we don’t know definitively how far that power reaches.

It definitely includes the power to pardon people for federal (not state) crimes that have been committed or may have been committed. The best thinking (again, not litigated) is that the president does not have to wait until a crime has been charged or tried. He can pardon in advance, preemptively. And the president can issue a blanket pardon covering an unlimited number of people.

A best guess is that Trump would love to pardon everybody, or almost everybody, who might be caught in the net of the special investigation. His public rationale would be that the only way to protect innocent people from a witch hunt by a powerful witch hunter is to offer this extraordinary shield. His actual rationale is to keep those people from being charged, tried and pressured into revealing information about Trump.

He has almost certainly asked about doing this, and been told about potential pitfalls—prices to be paid.

There is a thought that his pardon of those who might provide evidence in the ongoing investigation could be considered obstruction of justice. Of course, that charge will have to wait until he is out of office, since a sitting president cannot be indicted. Plus, he can pardon himself for any federal crimes, including that. So that would not stop Trump.

There is also a thought that a blanket pardon—or even selective pardons—might move Republicans in Congress closer to impeachment. Under normal circumstances, this might seem an obvious outcome. But nothing is normal, and no one can tell what Republicans might do or say (or not do or say) in response to pardons. So that would not stop Trump.

Which is why it is possible, even likely, that Trump will round up the usual suspects, starting with his family and extending out to others in his circle, and absolve them through pardons, much sooner than later. If that seems so absurd that it is impossible, then you haven’t been paying attention.

“The official portraits of Trump and Pence finally are in circulation”

 

The Washington Post reports:

The White House announced Tuesday that it’s releasing official portraits of President Trump and Vice President Pence to be hung in thousands of government offices nationwide — nine months after they were sworn in.

The portraits had been conspicuously missing from the lobbies of federal building and office walls, which have been graced by empty picture frames and hooks that until Jan. 20 held the portraits of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Can you imagine the portrait above hanging in 9,600 federal buildings? Of course it won’t be. That is a portrait commissioned by Trump in 1987, painted by Ralph Wolfe Cowan, entitled The Entrepreneur. Much more fun than the official one, though (and so 1980s).

Flower in the Vase

The cut flower
In the vase
Petals and leaves
Now drying and drooping
No water
Will bring it back

©

The Trump Roller Coaster

A friend tells me that American history travels in arcs, like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Many share this perspective.

Right now, I think of American history as a roller coaster. If you are a fan of roller coasters, you love those sharp turns and steep drops—the sharper and steeper the better. It is artificially death-defying because you are sure you will not die, or even be hurt. You have confidence that all those who brought you to that moment on the ride—the designers, manufacturers, maintainers and operators—have taken scrupulous care to make sure that at that moment and at every moment, the roller coaster is safe. Nothing less will do.

Trump is designing, manufacturing, maintaining and operating the current American roller coaster. How safe do you feel?

Sophie Scholl: “Somebody, after all, had to make a start.”

Readers of Brigitte, the largest women’s magazine in Germany, voted Sophie
Scholl the most important woman of the 20th century.

You probably do not know Sophie Scholl. She was a founder of the White Rose movement, a tiny group of German students who distributed leaflets opposing the Nazi regime. In 1943 she and two others were arrested, tried and immediately executed for treason. At the trial she simply said, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start.”


From A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Revolt Against Hitler:

A young Munich barrister named Leo Samberger opened his mail one morning in February of 1943, and, as he said afterward, he couldn’t believe his eyes. That was a time when every new day seemed to bring some new event to unsettle the nerves or stun the senses. The war, in its fourth year, had made the unexpected routine and the startling commonplace.

Even so, Leo Samberger was shaken when he opened what he thought was a letter but turned out to be a leaflet. It was neatly typed, singlespaced, with no illustration or typographical flourish of any kind. It was a solid block of type that made no more concession to the reader than a page from a textbook. But Leo Samberger caught his breath as he ran his eye down the page. “The day of reckoning has come, the reckoning of German youth with the most detestable tyranny that our people has ever endured. . .”…

With an intensity that broke through every phrase, the leaflet denounced the “corporal of World War I” whose amateur strategy had just cost the German people three hundred thousand of their sons in the bloodbath at Stalingrad. Here the leaflet, in its bitterness, used sardonically the saying that the Ministry of Propaganda had popularized to hail the achievements of Adolf Hitler: “Führer, wir danken Dir!” (Leader, we thank you!).

Then, at the end, came an impassioned call for revolt: “The name of Germany will be disgraced forever unless the German youth rises up, in both atonement and vengeance, to crush its tormentors and to build a new and nobler Europe.”…

The story circulated that some students had been caught scattering leaflets along corridors on the stairway between floors, and in the central hall under its high, domed skylight. The leaflets had been swiftly gathered up and spirited away by custodians before they could spread their corruption among the students. Copies were being closely examined in the rector’s office, to which, again, the Gestapo had been summoned. The names of the perpetrators were not immediately made known, nor was their fate….

Now it became clear why the chief judge of the People’s Court had been hastily flown from Berlin to preside at this trial and why the courtroom was so liberally seeded with representatives of the armed power of the state. The charges that Freisler had read from the indictments were among the gravest that could be brought against a German by his government in wartime.

It appeared from the evidence that the infamous deeds cited by the prosecution had been perpetrated over a period of many months by an organization with the curiously incongruous name of “the White Rose”. Page after page told of the activities of this group that had secretly and subversively produced thousands of leaflets attacking the government and the war effort and circulated them in many different cities, thereby threatening the very survival of the Reich.

Freisler made no pretense of being judicial. He ranted. He bellowed. He encouraged the prosecution and ignored the defense. At his post in the doorway Leo Samberger turned his eyes from the flaming figure on the bench to the defendants. There were three of them. Though he didn’t know them, he recognized their faces from seeing them many times in the concert halls of Munich that he himself frequented. They were college students, young, educated, clean-cut—his own sort. It seemed hardly credible that they were sitting in the dock with a death penalty over their heads as a consequence of what had happened at the university only three days before….

All three maintained their self-possession in a way that won a grudging admiration even in that room, but Sophie made a particular impression. Not only did she stand out as the lone female caught up in these proceedings, but she had an indefinable quality of her own. She was twenty-two years old, dark, and with a curious aura of mingled girlishness and gravity. Now and then during the trial, her brow would crease into a quick, musing frown, which those who knew her would have recognized as characteristic. Even here, in the courtroom with her life at stake, the frown did not signify anxiety or dismay. It meant that she was turning over in her mind a point, an implication, or a shading and weighing it to get it right.

She was wearing a rumpled and rather mannish sort of coat that contributed little to her appearance. She had endured three days of nearly unbroken interrogation in a Gestapo prison, and she looked worn and tired. But her quiet appeal, hovering always between girl and woman, was unimpaired. It was overlaid, now, with a kind of subdued defiance apparent in the cast of her features and the set of her head. Once Roland Freisler, squirming with fury inside his scarlet robe, demanded to know how any German could possibly do what the indictment charged against the trio in the dock. It was Sophie who responded, clearly and coolly:

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”

As the proceedings wore on, it became obvious that no defense worth the name would be offered. The court-appointed defense attorneys scarcely troubled to conceal their aversion to their task or to disguise their approval of the charges. The verdict itself was never in doubt. Berlin had not sent Roland Freisler winging down to Munich to preside over an acquittal.

Yet there was, as Leo Samberger noted, a pronounced tension in the courtroom as the words were about to be spoken that would, quite literally, cost three young people their heads. Such a thing had never happened before even in a Nazi courtroom. And the words came from the bench as expected: “. . . for the protection of the German people, and of the Reich, in this time of mortal struggle, the Court has only one just verdict open to it on the basis of the evidence: the death penalty. With this sentence the People’s Court demonstrates its solidarity with the fighting troops!”

Even before the auditorium was drained of its gray, black, and brown uniforms, the condemned trio was hurriedly surrounded by a cordon of police, put in manacles, and led away.

The three of them were taken directly from the court to the place of execution, to Stadelheim, on the outskirts of the city. There, that same afternoon, all three were beheaded, the girl, Sophie, going under the guillotine first. It was all done with a speed and brutality that signaled something like panic in high places.

“A Cancer on the Presidency”

“I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed the president himself would be killed by it.”
John Dean, counsel to President Nixon

What John Dean knew or should have known, but would not say to Nixon, was that the cancer was not growing on the presidency—it began with and was the presidency.

There are 15 physicians in the current U.S. Congress; 13 are members of the Republican Party. You’d think that above all people, they would be aware of the virulent spread of cancer, in the body and in the body politic. And they would be anxious to do everything they could to heal it and rid the body of it.

The Republican physicians in Congress have refused, as have most Republicans in Congress and other offices. They seem to be in denial, or believe in some kind of magical healing (“he will change”), or in some cases are actually benefiting from the disease, though they rationalize this as being for the good of the American people.

Back in Watergate, Republicans did not have to hear about “a cancer on the presidency” from John Dean. Many or most of them recognized it, and took the measures needed to make it go away. Without them, Nixon would probably have remained president until January 1976, rather than resigning in August 1974. Who knows how far the cancer might have spread by then?

Maybe Republicans will finally do something, but it is not hopeful. Who knows how far the cancer might spread?

A Courage, Conscience and Character Party

I have long said that a third (or fourth) party can’t work in America because of political structure, tradition and history. I may have been wrong.

America has a two-party system, one of the many ways we are “exceptional” compared to the rest of the democratic world, which mostly has some form of a multi-party parliamentary system. As much as our system more or less works, it is now apparent that it works only when it is filled, top to bottom, with people of courage, conscience and character. We know this because for the first time in more than two centuries, courage, conscience and character are in short supply, or at least buried under ambition, greed and who knows what other issues.

And so, I introduce a new kind of third party. The Courage, Conscience and Character Party (aka the People of Principle Party).

There is no policy or ideology litmus test for this party. Of course policy and ideology matter, sometimes a lot, in the particular way things get done. But I now see that in the big picture, these are secondary. Whether one is progressive, conservative, or in between, none of that matters if you are not driven by brave decency. Even if the policy or ideology is not to our liking, or completely anathema, we can at least be inspired by those who publicly demonstrate the qualities of courage, conscience and character.

It is true that wherever you stand politically there are preferred policies that appeal to you and for which you will fight. But it is just as important to be able to point to people—be able to point out those people to our children—and say: Their plans may be wrongheaded and ill-conceived, but I don’t question their honesty, sincerity, decency, empathy, courage, conscience or character. We seem to be taking a break from that possibility, and if it takes another party to get us there, we will be a better country and better people for it.