Last Words of a Civilized Man

Here are the words of one of the few remaining civilized politicians in America, on the day that he died. We should mourn his loss and the loss of civility (and humor) in American politics and we must fight to restore it. Now is the time to call upon all politicians to restore the civility to the public service that, whatever the conflict or dispute, retained a sense of the public good.

My Last Words for America

By John D. Dingell, The Washington Post, 10 February 19

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

Rep.John Dingell.D-Mich

John D. Dingell in 2014. (photo: Jeff Kowalsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

ne of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today, the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.

And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time, they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.

Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.

But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).

In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

May God bless you all, and may God bless America.

Media, Abuse, and Groping for Dollars

MSNBC, CNN and the network nightly news anchors and commentators for weeks could not stop talking about all the politicians, men of power and celebrities who have groped, assaulted, or raped women over the years. It had started awhile back in Hollywood with Bill Cosby’s now all but forgotten drugging and raping many women over his career. The latest flurry of revelations began with the belated exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s decades old practice of using his power as a movie producer to subjugate vulnerable young actresses and take carnal advantage of them.

Roy Moore with Pistol_NBC News

Twice Removed “Judge” Roy Moore.   Photo: NBC News

Then it was deranged Alabama politician, “Judge Roy Moore,” well, twice removed from the bench Roy Moore. His career of stalking, groping, and attempting to seduce underage girls apparently spanned decades. Numerous accusations about Donald Trump’s exploiting his celebrity to make rude advances to pretty women had surfaced during the 2 016 presidential campaign. “Access Hollywood” had videotaped his bragging about the behavior. It want viral, for a while. Occasionally, as cases of other politicians and celebrities are exposed, someone asks, what about that long list of victims who complained of Donald Trump’s exploiting his celebrity status to grope women, and even bragging about it on camara?

Well, the congenital liar has vehemently denied it all, calling all sixteen or so women “liars.” Apparently, that is enough to establish the innocence of a narcissistic sociopath of sufficient celebrity or authority. In cases of accusation of sexual abuse of women or girls by men, especially men of power or fame, the accuser is assumed guilty of maligning the reputation of a good man, until proven otherwise, in which case, “she wanted it.”

Is the media attention overdone? Well, yes and no. The media over-reported in that the interest was to some extent prurient. I noticed that on MSNBC, CNN, and every nightly news program I watched during this time, virtually no mention was made of the struggles in Bonn to move the agenda of climate action forward at the United Nations conference in the face of the singular Trumpist resistance. That was surely under-reported. Salacious reporting does drive viewership to some extent. Sensationalism Trumped global crisis. At the same time, significant and valuable cultural and political commentary has emerged from the sexual abuse scandals. Maybe some executives, politicians, and celebrities will think twice now. Maybe.

The list goes on. Now even Al Franken, stands accused of inappropriately touching a female reporter on a USO tour while still a comedian, and spinning crass riffs in the writers room of Saturday Night Live. Franken’s case is a bit different; he is the only one to have fully admitted the facts and apologized for his behavior. The apology seemed sincere and his victim accepted it. Now, Senator Elisabeth Warren and others have proposed a permanent bipartisan ethics committee to investigate sexual harassment accusations in the Congress.

Charlie Rose, famed television interviewer, has had his contracts cancelled and has lost his shows with CBS and PBS, after several women accused him of sexual abuse. Some folks were quite shocked, since they viewed the articulate interrogator as a paragon of virtue. After all, he was so talented at throwing softballs at world leaders and celebrities. The quick corporate response indicates a cultural change. But the deeper question is, why now, why so many revelations so fast?

Well, the answer is not so difficult. Women and girls have suffered sexual abuse for decades, without recourse, in the U.S. Whether in the corporate office, senate chambers, television studio, Olympic Games locker room, or even at home, victims consistently suffered disbelief and denial all that time. The Women’s Liberation movement had never really reached that level of oppression. Silence was the fruit of “blaming the victim,” as well as disbelief and denial. I suspect the Harvey Weinstein case broke the ice in a way, especially with Bill Cosby’s track record as context. So many people in Weinstein’s company and in the industry knew of Weinstein’s behavior, that his equivocating and dissociating fell on deaf ears. A groundswell of courage among victims slowly began, then became contagious.

a-pink-knitted-beanie-known-as-the-pussy-hat-became-a-symbol-of-solidarity-among-protestors-knitting-parties-organized-in-the-weeks-before-the-march

Diverse members of the Women’s March, Washington, DC, donning their “Pussy Hats.” Photo: Reuters.

Bottom line: all this, except for the current revelatory contagion, has gone on for a long time. Men of power have used that power to take advantage of subordinate women, sometimes men, and even vulnerable children just about everywhere. Sexual abuse is the abuse of power. The “political correctness” of women’s rights built up over the past four decades, so maligned by Trump and his misogynist base, set the scene for the wellspring of courage of many victims to tell their stories in a new context of recognition and acknowledgement of their victimhood. The massive participation of men and women together in the Women’s March also demonstrated the underlying cultural change that Trumpery cannot stop.

None of these men, from the Kennedys and Bushes to Al Franken and Charlie Rose, (even, I dare say, the disturbed pistol-waving Roy Moore) are merely one-dimensional characters. Even the late Hugh Hefner, despite his exploitation of “Bunnies” and subjects of centerfolds, contributed to civil rights and to the protection of abandoned and exploited street children. Life is complex. But the ability of the powerful to exploit or abuse the dependent and the vulnerable is a simple matter of differential power. Failure of others to deal with the culprits results from the mistaken, often unconscious, cultural illusion of might making right. That is why Trump has gotten away with so much … so far. After all, to his politically blind base, he can do no wrong. Vigilance remains, as always, the price of attaining freedom and realizing human values.