Bob Schwartz

In the 1930s many Americans thought the destruction of democracy was none of their business. It had nothing to do with America, where democracy would live forever. They woke up almost too late.

UPDATE: Following publication of this post, it was discovered that HBO is about to present a limited series based on the novel. It premieres on March 16th. See trailer below.


In the 1930s it was hard to convince Americans that democracy was in the first stages of dying in Europe and the world or that it was something that America should be involved in anyway. Some of the biggest American companies were doing business with what they considered a benign and profitable dictatorship. The media didn’t know quite what to make of this unusual Hitler guy, but he seemed to be a fascinating new face on the scene, and always good copy. Some Americans even thought they heard something from Hitler that sounded like cultural music to their ears. Above all, this had nothing to do with democracy in America, which no matter what, was never in danger.

Three years ago, I wrote about Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America (2004). It is an alternative history in which Charles Lindbergh—Nazi sympathizer and supporter of Hitler—defeats FDR in 1940 to become President of the United States.

America woke? Not even close.

It is not about what is happening in these times. It is about who we are and can be.

Dresden 1945

“Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five

Last week was the 75th anniversary of the Dresden firebombings in World War II. If you didn’t know that, chalk it up to a gap in learning and the media being preoccupied. On February 13 and 15, 1945, with Germany on its way to inevitable defeat, the Allies rained fire on the beautiful and culturally significant German city of Dresden, destroying much of it and killing no less than 25,000 people. To this day, the moral questions surrounding that attack are still debated.

When the author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died in 2007, here is what a writer in The Economist wrote:

Kurt Vonnegut Jr died yesterday at the age of 84. So it goes. The New York Times offers up a halfway decent obituary, but it is hard to capture the impact of such a man in a few thousand words, let alone a blog post. His best novels—”Cat’s Cradle”, “God Bless You, Mr Rosewater” and the epic, heartbreaking “Slaughterhouse-Five”—spoke to the deepest doubts and fears of a generation. But his books weren’t just beautifully written. They were hilarious, too.

A generation did embrace Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is listed as one of the 100 best novels of all time. The plot, as with most Vonnegut novels, is impossible to condense in short form. Significant is that Vonnegut himself witnessed Dresden as a prisoner of war, as does the main character Billy Pilgrim. In the novel, this has a profound effect on an already fragile Billy Pilgrim, who “comes unstuck in time” and is visited by aliens, learning new and different ways of viewing life and history.

Slaughterhouse-Five had obvious appeal as an anti-war novel, with young readers opposing a pointless and, in 1969, seemingly endless war. More than that, it offered those just starting out in life and history the possibility that there were other ways of being and doing. It turned out that other ways of being and doing are not so easy, but just like reading Kurt Vonnegut, it can be lots of fun. And occasionally helpful.

In America, and globally, what we are witnessing may have us feeling that we are coming unstuck in time. There are plenty of places and distractions to retreat into, which given the currents and demands of our lives, is perfectly understandable. But there remain opportunities for other ways of knowing and being, even if you don’t learn it from aliens. Young or old, be adventurous and bold.

Making breakfast for one: one’s not half two

It is one of those days unusually when I am making breakfast just for myself. e.e. cummings came to mind.


one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one:

by e.e. cummings

one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one:
which halves reintegrating,shall occur
no death and any quantity;but than
all numerable mosts the actual more

minds ignorant of stern miraculous
this every truth-beware of heartless them
(given the scalpel,they dissect a kiss;
or,sold the reason,they undream a dream)

one is the song which fiends and angels sing:
all murdering lies by mortals told make two.
Let liars wilt,repaying life they’re loaned;
we(by a gift called dying born)must grow

deep in dark least ourselves remembering
love only rides his year.
All lose,whole find

Mistake After Mistake (File a File)

Mistake after mistake: 將錯就錯 [shōshaku jushaku], literally, take a file (rasp) and work on the file. File a file about something. Take up a mistake and settle in with the mistake. Mistakes surpass mistakes.

“When we reflect on what we are doing in our everyday life, we are always ashamed of ourselves. One of my students wrote to me saying, “You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have failed!” Dogen-zenji said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one single-minded effort.”
–Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

“We should understand that, in reality, mistakes are called learning, and the state of no mistake is called nowness. In nowness there is no before or after, no goals, agendas, or fixed direction. Like the meandering river, it twists and turns in accord with circumstances but always knows how to find its way to the great ocean. If you wish to travel like this, you must go alone, not carry any baggage, and trust yourself implicitly.”
–Dogen, The True Dharma Eye

Dark Night of the Republican Soul

Don’t be fooled. Don’t let them fool you. Don’t think they are fooling themselves. Many Republicans, especially Senators, sleep badly and fitfully in a dark night.

The restless nights began for some when they saw Trump likely to win the nomination, as he ultimately did. They were comforted by the uneasy thought that, rooting against their own candidate, he had slim chance of being elected.

By the time of the inauguration, the difficult nights set in. At first, and for years to come, rationalizations, some very practical, such as holding on to their seats, helped. Delusions, drink and drugs might provide a little rest and respite.

But at some quiet moments, awake and alone in the dark with their thoughts, reality grips them. For the more religious, they realize that they can relentlessly lie to America, lie to themselves, but God is too smart for that. Others who have some sense of history imagine the history books they will spend the rest of their lives trying, against the current, to criticize and correct. History books that will paint them at best as selfish dupes, at worst as enablers and accomplices.

Many people have dark nights, brought on by the unavoidable tragedies of capricious life. Those nights are not wished on anyone. Sometimes it is the anguish of bad choices made. Sometimes the sleepless nights never ever end.

Sen. Doug Jones says he is not a profile in courage for voting to convict the president. He is.

“After many sleepless nights, I have reluctantly concluded that the evidence is sufficient to convict the President for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress….Very early on I implored my colleagues in both houses of Congress to stay out of their partisan corners. Many did, but so many did not. The country deserves better.”

Statement to the Senate by Sen. Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat who may pay a political price in his 2020 reelection bid, about why his voting to convict Trump today is simply doing the right thing:

“On the day I was sworn in as a United States Senator, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. At the beginning of the impeachment trial, I took a second oath to do ‘impartial justice’ according to the same Constitution I swore to protect.

“These solemn oaths have been my guides during what has been a difficult time for our country, for my state, and for me personally. I did not run for Senate hoping to participate in the impeachment trial of a duly-elected President, but I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.

“In keeping with my oaths, I resolved that throughout this process I would keep an open mind and hear all of the evidence before making a final decision on the charges against the President. For months, I have been studying the facts of this case exhaustively. I have read thousands of pages of transcripts, watched videos of testimony, taken copious notes, reviewed history and precedents and discussed this case with colleagues, staff, and constituents, in addition to having participated in the Senate trial over the past two weeks. After many sleepless nights, I have reluctantly concluded that the evidence is sufficient to convict the President for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

“With the eyes of history upon us, I am acutely aware of the precedents this impeachment trial will set for future presidencies and Congresses. Unfortunately, I do not believe those precedents are good ones. I am particularly concerned that we have now set a precedent that a fair trial in the Senate does not include witnesses and documentary evidence, even when those witnesses have first-hand information and the evidence would provide the Senate and the American people with a more complete picture of the truth.

“I am also deeply troubled by the partisan nature of these proceedings from start to finish. Very early on I implored my colleagues in both houses of Congress to stay out of their partisan corners. Many did, but so many did not. The country deserves better. We must find a way to rise above the things that divide us and find the common good.

“Having done my best to see through the fog of partisanship, I am deeply troubled by the arguments put forth by the President’s lawyers in favor of virtually unchecked presidential power. In this case, the evidence clearly proves the President used the weight of his office and that of the United States government to seek to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit. The President’s actions placed his personal interests well above the national interests and threatened the security of the United States, our allies in Europe, and our ally Ukraine. His actions were more than simply inappropriate. They were an abuse of power. With impeachment as the only check on such presidential wrongdoing, I felt I must vote to convict on the first charge of abuse of power.

“The second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, gave me even more pause. I have struggled to understand the House’s strategy in their pursuit of documents and witnesses and wished they had done more. However, after careful consideration of the evidence developed in the hearings, the public disclosures, the legal precedents, and the trial, I believe the President deliberately and unconstitutionally obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the investigation in any way. While I am sensitive to protecting the privileges and immunities afforded to the President and his advisors, I believe it is critical to our constitutional structure that we protect Congress’ authorities also. In this matter it was clear from the outset that the President had no intention whatsoever of any accommodation with Congress when he blocked both witnesses and documents from being produced. In addition, he engaged in a course of conduct to threaten potential witnesses and smear the reputations of the civil servants who did come forward and provide testimony. The President’s actions demonstrate a belief that he is above the law, that Congress has no power whatsoever in questioning or examining his actions, and that all who do so, do so at their peril. That belief, unprecedented in the history of this country, simply must not be permitted to stand. To do otherwise risks guaranteeing that no future whistleblower or witness will ever come forward and no future President — Democrat or Republican — will be subject to Congressional oversight as mandated by the Constitution.

“Senators are elected to make tough choices. We are required to study the facts of each issue before us and exercise our independent judgment in keeping with the oaths we take. The gravity of this moment, the seriousness of the charges, and the implications for future presidencies and Congresses all contributed to the difficulty with which I have arrived at my decision.

“This has been a divisive time for our country, but I think it has nonetheless been an important constitutional process for us to follow. As this chapter of history draws to a close, one thing is clear: our country deserves better than this. We must find a way to come together, to set aside partisan differences, and to focus on what we have in common as Americans. We are facing great challenges both domestically and internationally, but it remains my firm belief that united, we can conquer them and remain the greatest hope for people around the world.”

We knew Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Senator Joe Manchin, you are no Robert Byrd.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy? Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?
—Senator Robert Byrd, March 2003

Joe Manchin is a Democratic Senator from West Virginia. He is in a tough battle for re-election in a Trump state, and so he said today that Hunter Biden is a relevant witness in the impeachment trial, a Republican talking point. Hunter Biden is not a relevant witness by any measure. He is a collateral character with no direct knowledge of the president’s conduct—unlike John Bolton. Giving Machin the benefit of the doubt, we will say he is being political rather than uninformed.

Manchin sits in the Senate seat once held by West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd. Byrd served in the Senate for over 51 years, from 1959 until his death in 2010. More than his tenure, and in spite of his repudiated earlier political life as a segregationist, no member of Congress has ever been a more knowledgeable and committed constitutionalist. At the drop of a hat, he would pull out a copy of the Constitution that he kept in the breast pocket of his jacket and would read from it.

Maybe Byrd’s shining hour was his unrelenting opposition to the Iraq War. He knew the Bush administration had not made its case, he knew that America was courting disaster, he knew that the future would not be benefited and would be indefinitely darkened by the war. Yet few members of Congress of either party opposed it.

Here is a speech he gave in March 2003 as the country marched to war. One more bit of evidence that in terms of judgment, Joe Manchin, you are no Robert Byrd:


I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today, I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of pre-emption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism.

We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America’s image around the globe.

The case this administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The Twin Towers fell because a worldwide terrorist group, al-Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on 11 September and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of Western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names and many addresses.

But this administration has directed all of the anger, fear and grief which emerged from the ashes of the Twin Towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. We will probably drive Saddam Hussein from power. But the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to ‘orange alert’. There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.

Walt Whitman Visits the White House

The White House would benefit from many visitors. The founders of the republic, particularly the authors of the Federalist Papers. Abraham Lincoln would be a welcome presence. Above all, the current White House needs poetry, most especially the poet who most embodied, ahead of his time, the spirit of the ages taking form in the present American ideal.

As it happens, Walt Whitman recently visited the White House. This is how it went.

DJT: Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?

WW: I am large, I contain multitudes. I am Walt Whitman. I live here in Washington and work for the Attorney General. I am also a poet.

DJT: You work for Barr? (picks up phone) Get me Barr. Bill, there’s some homeless guy here who says he works for you.

WW: Let me read you a poem about an election.

DJT (hangs up phone): About my election?

WW: It is called Election Day: November 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.

DJT: Yeah, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, they’re going to swell my sails! My heart pants, I get it. Napoleon, I like the sound of that. I’m going to tweet about you right now. How do you like Wild Walt?

WW: Another poem:

To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States, Resist
much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever
afterward resumes its liberty.

DJT: Resist much, obey little!? (picks up phone again) Get this bum out of here!

WW: I’ll be back. Be best.

There is no sanction for lawyers who talk nonsense. But there is accountability for misleading and lying—especially in front of the Chief Justice.

Oath on Admission to the U.S. Courts

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that as an attorney and as a counselor of this court I will conduct myself uprightly and according to law, and that I will support the Constitution of the United States.

I regularly point out that almost two dozen of the lawyers who helped Richard Nixon execute and cover up his abuse of power and illegal schemes ended up being punished personally and professionally—from jail to disbarment to suspension. (See Lessons for Trump Attorneys: The Lawyers of Watergate)

It may seem a fine line between advocating a position and crossing the line into misconduct. But not really. Lawyers are sworn officers of the court, the law and the Constitution, given substantial power. They are commanded, by their oaths and by the rules of professional responsibility, not to mislead the court and not to lie (and obviously not to break the law).

It is the view of many, unspoken for a while but now being whispered, that various attorneys involved in Trump-related matters have put themselves on the wrong side of the professional line. I note with respect that lawyers are expert at walking up to the lines but not crossing them. Yet in high power highly-charged situations, as with Nixon, as with Trump, greater forces sometimes overwhelm even the smartest and most judicious.

We are still in the eye of the storm. After the dust settles, expect to see some of these lawyers brought before their respective bar associations for consideration of their conduct. It happened in Watergate. It will happen again.

Republican Senators are attacking Mitt Romney. Is Bob Dole next on the hit list?

CNN:

GOP senator says Romney ‘wants to appease the left by calling witnesses’ in impeachment trial

Republican Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler targeted her colleague GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah on Monday over the issue of witnesses at the Senate impeachment trial.

In a tweet, Loeffler leveled an accusation at Romney, saying, “After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on!”

Not so long ago, Trump and the Republican Senators also came down hard on John McCain. Even after he died.

McCain and Romney were, of course, the previous two Republican presidential nominees. Assuming that Republican Senators are targeting only losers, they will skip George W. Bush and go straight for the prior Republican loser, Bob Dole.

Never mind that Bob Dole is 96, was a widely respected Senate Majority Leader, is a wounded World War II veteran and, as mentioned, was a Republican presidential nominee. Republicans seem to have no shame and don’t mind cannibalizing even their most distinguished former nominees for Trump’s sake.

Bob Dole, please watch your back.