Posted by: David Offutt | December 10, 2016

The Electoral College: Why Does It Exist and Will It Do Its Job?

Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, defended the Electoral College as being necessary to prevent a demagogue from ever being elected president. (Photo by David Offutt: detail of portrait by John Trumbull - Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, defended the Electoral College as being necessary to prevent a demagogue from ever being elected president. (Photo by David Offutt: detail of portrait by John Trumbull – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 2,600,000 popular votes. However, Mr. Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton by 74 electoral votes, and those votes decide the presidency. Therein lies the dilemma of our second election crisis in sixteen years.  It looks as though the will of the people will be thwarted for the fifth time in our history by a bizarre creation of our Founding Fathers that should have been dispensed with years ago – the Electoral College.

 

The main reason for the Founding Fathers’ creation of electors to pick the president was their fear of democracy. They were all students of ancient Greece and Rome, and it was the Roman Republic from which they based our constitutional system. They all understood from history how easily the masses could be influenced by a demagogue who is motivated by the acquisition of personal power and who appeals to popular passions and prejudices.

 

George W. Bush was the 4th candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the 3rd to benefit from a majority of electoral votes, and he was the lst to be essentially proclaimed president by the U.S. Supreme Court.

George W. Bush was the 4th candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the 3rd to benefit from a majority of electoral votes, and he was the only one to be essentially proclaimed president by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo by David Offutt – The National Presidential Wax Museum, Keystone, SD)

None of the Greek democracies survived. Athens achieved greatness for awhile until Alcibiades persuaded the populace to invade Sicily – it was a disaster, and the Athenians never recovered their previous stature. The ancient Romans replaced their monarchy with representative rule. The Roman Republic lasted 500 years until it was replaced by the Roman Empire, which lasted another 500 years. You can see why our founders liked the Romans so much.

 

Under the Roman name of Publius, Alexander Hamilton defended the Electoral College in Federalist #68: the people should only vote for local, rational, and well-informed electors whom they personally know and let them vote for the most qualified candidate – someone who is not a demagogue and someone who is experienced in public service. Today, there are obvious problems: how many voters know who their electors are, what do the electors really know, and are they more faithful to their party than to the nation?

 

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 2nd candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the only one to be awarded the electoral vote majority by a special Election Commission, which consisted of a majority of his own party. (Photo by David Offutt - National Presidential Wax Museum)

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 2nd candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the only one to be awarded the electoral vote majority by a special Election Commission, which consisted of a majority of his own party. (Photo by David Offutt – National Presidential Wax Museum)

This whole grand scheme collapsed as soon as political parties formed during George Washington’s first administration. Eventually, most electors were required by state laws to vote for the candidate of their own party regardless of who was the best candidate. Fortunately, in most elections, the electoral votes have by coincidence reflected the overall popular votes. The problem occurs whenever the people vote for one candidate and the electors vote for another.

 

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore received 500,000 more votes than Republican George W. Bush.  Forget the infamous Supreme Court ruling in which five Republican-appointed justices stopped the vote count in Florida. The electors knew the main reason that Mr. Bush got as many votes as he did was that he was more personable than Mr. Gore: his voters would rather have a beer with George at the end of the day than with Al. That’s not what the Founding Fathers considered a qualification for president. It was “party first, nation second.”

 

Benjamin Harrison was the 3rd candidate to lose the popular vote but the 2nd to win the presidency anyway by means of winning a majority of electoral votes. Even though his Republican Party bought votes in key states for as much as $20 a vote, the electoral vote was uncontested. (Photo by David Offutt, The National Presidential Wax Museum)

Benjamin Harrison was the 3rd candidate to lose the popular vote but the 2nd to win the presidency  by means of winning a majority of electoral votes. Even though his Republican Party bought votes in key states for as much as $20 a vote, the electoral vote was uncontested. (Photo by David Offutt – National Presidential Wax Museum)

Earlier, in the Election of 1876, the outgoing Republican administration of Ulysses S. Grant had been the most corrupt in American history up to that time, so the Democrat’s Samuel Tilden was expected to win. He did, in fact, win the popular vote, and it’s the historical consensus that he should have won the electoral vote as well.  However, Republicans challenged the electoral votes of three states hoping to secure victory for their candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. An electoral commission was established to determine which sets of electoral votes to count and Hayes won. There were 8 Republican commissioners and 7 Democratic.  It was “party first, nation second.”

 

Our Founding Fathers created a “Frankenstein’s Monster.” Historically, as with Tilden and Gore, our popular votes have made the democracy they feared actually look pretty good. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in 1824 but didn’t win the electoral vote as well until 1828 and 1832. Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in 1884, 1888, and 1892, but lost the electoral vote in 1888. On the other hand, in spite of Hamilton’s assurances, at no time has the Electoral College ever served its purpose and come to our rescue.

 

John Quincy Adams was the only candidate to lose both the popular and electoral votes and still become president. Andrew Jackson won the most of both votes but not a majority of either. The House of Representatives chose Adams in what Jackson called "a corrupt bargain." (Photo by David Offutt - wax museum)

John Quincy Adams was the only candidate to lose both the popular and electoral votes and still become president. Andrew Jackson won the most of both votes but not a majority of either. The House of Representatives chose Adams in what Jackson called “a corrupt bargain.” (Photo by David Offutt – wax museum)

And now in 2016, we have the clearest test ever of whether the Electoral College can do what it was created to do.  Donald J. Trump is the most blatant demagogue ever nominated by a major American political party. Even prominent members of his own party realize he’s not fit to be president.

 

We know he’s a professional wrestler, a reality-TV performer, and a real estate developer; but what else is The Donald? We’ve come to know him as all the following: a pathological liar, a sociopath, a bully, a cheat, a bigot, a misogynist, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, a con artist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a white supremacist, an ostentatious plutocrat, and a supporter of violence and/or threats against his critics.

 

Since Mr. Trump has 306 electoral votes and Mrs. Clinton has only 232, it would require 38 Republican electors to jump ship to give her the necessary 270 votes to win. That’s 38 “profiles in courage” that we’re probably not going to see. If we do see it, that would redeem the existence of the Electoral College – at least this one time.

 

There are some other solutions being bandied about as to how the electors can save the nation from the embarrassment and devastation of a Trump presidency, but none are good:

 

  • Persuade 37 Republican electors to vote for Clinton, thus giving each candidate 269 votes. A tie would throw the election into the House of Representatives. The House had to decide the winners in 1800 and 1824 and made such a mess of it each time that we never want it to happen again. Can you imagine the “obstruct and sabotage” Republican House that we’ve had since the Elections of 2010 doing anything commendable for the nation? It would still be “party first, nation second.”
  • Get all of Hillary’s electors and 38 of The Donald’s electors to vote for Mitt Romney as a compromise choice. However, Mitt Romney was soundly rejected by the voters in 2012, so they don’t want him. He even stayed out of this year’s primaries, and Trump supporters don’t like him because of his negative assessment of Trump. Also, if you disenfranchise all those who gave Hillary a 2 percent advantage over The Donald and give the presidency to someone none of the voters want, what’s that going to tell the people about the importance of their future votes?

 

Donald J.Trump campaigned as an authoritarian demagogue and lost the popular vote by the highest percentage ever while at the same time winning the electoral vote. The 1st victor to have never served in public office or in the military service.

Donald J.Trump campaigned as an authoritarian demagogue and lost the popular vote by the highest percentage ever while at the same time winning the electoral vote. He’s the 1st victor to have never served in public office or in military service. “Hail Trump.” (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The voters spoke on November 8. On December 19, the electors will speak. Will the electors do what Alexander Hamilton assured us and vote for the most qualified candidate? It matters. This must be someone who can be trusted with the future of life on earth: vigilant action against climate change and rational control of the nuclear codes and nuclear proliferation – issues Hamilton never could have imagined.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published December 10, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | November 28, 2016

A Few Good Things Could Come from Trump’s Victory

The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini got the trains in Italy running on time. Maybe The Donald can get his congressional Republicans to support infrastructure and health care improvements.

The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini got the trains in Italy running on time. Maybe The Donald can get his congressional Republicans to support infrastructure and health care improvements.

 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to suggest three good things that may or will come from the surprising election of Donald J. Trump. This is important because many are scared that America is flirting with fascism: the merging of corporatism and government, led by an authoritarian, and sustained by violence. They are fearful for the future of our human rights and environment.

 

  1. Long-needed spending on our national infrastructure: Ever since the Reagan Era introduced huge tax cuts on the wealthy and less spending on domestic needs, our infrastructure has been in decline due to neglect. We’re talking about everything from clean water in our homes to our national parks: sewage systems, electric grid, highway maintenance, highway widening, new highways, bridges, mass transit, railroads, high-speed rail systems, dams, levees, airports, and clean energy.

 

Franklin Roosevelt's multiple New Deal agencies like the WPA, PWA, and CCC provided infrastructure projects throughout the USA putting millions of unemployed back to work during the Great Depression. The same should have been done during the Great Depression, but the stimulus bill of 2009 needed to be on a larger scale than it was.

Franklin Roosevelt’s multiple New Deal agencies like the WPA, PWA, and CCC provided infrastructure projects throughout the USA putting millions of unemployed back to work during the Great Depression. The same should have been done during the Great Recession, but the stimulus bill of 2009 needed to be on a larger scale than it was. (Photo by David Offutt: Detail of the 1945 FDR portrait by Douglas Chandor in the National Portrait Gallery)

The Great Recession that hit in 2008 and nearly destroyed our economy opened the possibility of making progress. People needed to be put back to work, interest rates were low (and still are), the long-delayed projects were there, and the need to spend was obvious.

 

There was a problem: On Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day in January 2009, Republican leaders met at the Caucus Room Restaurant in Washington, DC, and pledged to destroy Obama’s presidency by opposing everything he proposed. Most importantly, they had to prevent Obama from jump starting the economy with major spending projects that would create new jobs and save old jobs, as well as resurrect the dying middle class with good-paying jobs. They knew how productive FDR’s New Deal was during the Great Depression, and they were not going to let Obama become as popular as FDR.

 

Consequently, Obama’s stimulus bill was too limited in its scope due to compromises to get Republican support, but once the bill was watered down, the G.O.P. didn’t vote for it anyway. The bill saved many jobs, stopped the bleeding of more jobs lost, and got many “shovel-ready” projects completed, and ended the recession. Nevertheless, the spending was less than half what was needed to have a strong continuing recovery. We certainly did better than Europe, which insisted on ignoring the lessons of history and focusing on austerity instead.

 

President-elect Donald Trump pledged support for infrastructure projects. With their own president in office, the congressional Republicans may be willing to do what they should have done eight years ago. If they adopt this Democratic issue, they can improve the nation physically, put the working class back into full employment, and many voters will finally have a commendable reason to keep voting for them.

(An infrastructure/jobs bill should involve public investment instead of privatization of public assets, which will lead to cronyism, profiteering, and accompanied unlimited corruption and tax credits for the wealthy. As bad as we need these projects, we need to beware the method they are financed.)

 

  1. Repeal AND Replace the Affordable Care Act: President Obama’s health care program was combination of the Koch brother’s Heritage Foundation plan that was implemented successfully in Massachusetts by Gov. Mitt Romney and the popular Democratic additions pertaining to pre-existing conditions and allowing sons and daughters to stay on their parents’ health plan. Far from perfect, it nevertheless has been quite successful regardless of Republican propaganda to the contrary.

 

Republicans were in a minority and couldn’t prevent the bill from passing, but once they gained control of the House and later the Senate, they have wasted time and energy – over 60 times – trying to weaken it or repeal it. Never did they try to work with Democrats to improve it or offer a better alternative. A loyal opposition who cared about the working class would have done both.

 

Mr. Trump has pledged to repeal and replace “Obamacare” while keeping those Democratic additions. It’s hard to imagine how they can get rid of the Republican aspects of the program and keep the Democratic ones. As loathsome as the mandate to require coverage is, it’s the only affordable way to do it.

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a devotee of anti-government Ayn Rand. The Donald has advocated allowing Medicare negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. Will Trump attempt to get a hostile Republican Congress to pass Medicare for everyone?

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a devotee of anti-government Ayn Rand. But The Donald agreed with Hillary that Medicare should be allowed to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices! Will Trump attempt to get a hostile Republican Congress to pass Medicare for everyone?

However, unlike the Republican congressional leadership, Mr. Trump has also pledged not to mess with Social Security and Medicare. Maybe he will demand Medicare for everyone. It’s efficient, affordable, popular, and already up and running.

 

Of course, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is planning to privatize Social Security and replace Medicare with vouchers. Maybe The Donald can persuade him that getting credit for enacting universal health care could be a good vote-getter for years to come. Ryan may respond by saying that the G.O.P. has been getting elected to control Congress for six years by doing absolutely nothing other than obstruct and sabotage, so why bother.  Anyway, we can still hope.

(Because of reforms in the Affordable Care Act, Medicare has become financially stable for years to come. If they get rid of the A.C.A., they will then have to make additional changes to Medicare. That’s how Ryan hopes to be able to sabotage Medicare. Trump’s pledge to not mess with Medicare may be the only hope to save it.)

 

  1. Avoidance of another attempt to replace our constitutional system with a parliamentary system: I never understood why Hillary Clinton wanted to be president, other than being the first woman elected to that office. She would never be able to function as president as long as the House of Representatives is under Republican control.
Bill Clinton was a victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to submarine his presidency as soon as he entered office in 1993. When the Republicans gained of control of Congress in 1995, Speaker Newt Gingrich proclaimed the President to be "irrelevant."

Bill Clinton was a victim of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to submarine his presidency as soon as he entered office in 1993. When the Republicans gained of control of Congress in 1995, Speaker Newt Gingrich proclaimed President Clinton to be “irrelevant.” (Photo by David Offutt: The National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, SD)

 

The G.O.P. hasn’t recognized the legitimacy of any Democratic president in 24 years, and that situation was going to get worse if that woman were elected. Bill Clinton, elected in 1992, was a hick from Arkansas, raised by a single mom with little money, and a life-long public servant who had never been a millionaire beforehand – all of which made him unqualified to be president. Barack Obama, elected in 2008, was a black man of mixed race; was born in Hawaii – which many apparently believe is located in Kenya, Africa; was raised by grandparents who were not millionaires; was a life-long public servant including being a community organizer in Chicago – all of which disqualified him from being president. (Obama had become a millionaire before entering the presidency, but it was from book sales for “Dreams from My Father,” not from entrepreneurship or inheritance.)

 

Barack Obama, as was Bill Clinton, was victimized immediately by the Republican Caucus Room Conspiracy to destroy his presidency. While Bill and Barack began their terms with a Democratic Congress, Hillary would have fared worse by beginning with a Republican Congress.

Barack Obama was victimized immediately by the Republican Caucus Room Conspiracy to destroy his presidency. While Bill and Barack began their terms with a Democratic Congress, Hillary would have fared worse by beginning with a Republican Congress. [Photo: Chuck Burton (AP)]

If we had the British parliamentary system instead of our constitutional system, for purely political reasons, the G.O.P. would have simply voted “No Confidence” and removed each of them from office. The fact that both were re-elected changed nothing. Bill Clinton was hated so much that they spent 60-70 million tax dollars trying to find an excuse to impeach him. They concocted one screwball scandal after another and couldn’t find anything until they turned up Monica Lewinsky. Barack Obama was so squeaky clean, all they could do was obstruct and sabotage.

 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) admired and respected each other when they worked together in the Senate (2001-2009). However, if she became president, he planned to prevent her from doing her job.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) admired and respected each other when they worked together in the Senate (2001-2009). However, if she became president, he planned to prevent her from doing her job. (Photo: Reuters)

Because Hillary did not win the electoral vote, we will be spared a repetition.  Sen. John McCain, Republican from Arizona and a reliable “party first” man, was already making plans to never approve anyone Hillary nominated to the Supreme Court. There was also talk of opening impeachment proceedings as soon as she took office. They want her to be guilty of something – they just haven’t been able to find it yet.

 

With The Donald being labeled a Republican, the congressional Republicans will have to actually govern for a change. Although voters never held them accountable for their maliciousness, incompetence, and irresponsibility during the Obama or Clinton years, that may not be the case now.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published November 27, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

David Offutt at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Ten Thousand Japanese-Americans were held prisoner here 1942-1945.

David Offutt at the Manzanar National Historic Site (2016). Ten Thousand Japanese-Americans were held prisoner here 1942-1945.

 

Last month, we celebrated Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. At that time I recommended five historic sites to visit that represent the difficulty of achieving our ideal of equal rights for all Americans. Next month will be Election Day, and it will be a test as to what kind of people we really are and what kind of image we project to the rest of the world. Do we really concur with Thomas Jefferson that we all have an equal right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Here are three more historic sites that can help you appreciate the challenges of being who we say we are:

 

1.Manzanar National Historic Site, Independence, Calif.: This is a World War II Japanese-American war relocation center ironically located a few miles south of a town called Independence. Although FDR’s New Deal did so much for so many during the Great Depression, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he gave in to the fears of those living on the West Coast. In probably the darkest personal act of his presidency, he signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942.

 

David Offutt at a reconstructed guard tower at the Manzanar concentration camp. Officially, the prisoners here were being protected from fearful West Coast citizens, but the guards faced those behind the barbed wire.

David Offutt at a reconstructed guard tower at the Manzanar concentration camp. Officially, the prisoners here were being protected from fearful West Coast citizens, but the guards faced those behind the barbed wire.

 

Ten concentration camps were established to imprison 110,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. About 80,000 were second generation citizens, and the others were either naturalized citizens or qualified to seek naturalization. These “internment camps” were not Nazi slave labor and extermination camps, but their occupants lost their freedom, homes, professions, businesses, jobs, and their privacy. Each victim’s only “crime” was to have been born of Japanese ancestry – and this happened in the United States of America.

 

In 1980, Pres. Jimmy Carter appointed a Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to investigate the justification of the camps. In 1988, a Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act based on the commission’s findings: there being little evidence of disloyalty, the government’s actions were based on “racism, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” A Republican president, Ronald Reagan, signed the bill that authorized $20,000 and a presidential letter of apology to each internment survivor.

 

Sadly, Donald J. Trump has raised the specter again. Taking advantage of American resentments and fears of terrorism and job loss, he is promising irrational and malicious solutions and fomenting further hatred of Mexicans and Muslims. So far, he hasn’t publicly recommended concentration camps, but he’s come close to it. We know that it can indeed happen here.

 

David Offutt with FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (2012)

David Offutt with FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (2012)

 

  1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C.: A lone statue of FDR in a wheelchair was added after the 1997-opening of his national memorial. Such a statue was omitted from the original design because, for reasons of electability to public office, FDR had attempted to hide his reliance on a wheelchair (he had lost the use of his legs from polio in 1921 – 12 years before running for the presidency). A public outcry from historians and those with disabilities led to this addition to the park in 2001.

 

FDR’s Social Security Act of 1935 included aid to blind persons and crippled children.  In 1938 he founded a non-profit organization, the March of Dimes Foundation, to fight polio – the Roosevelt dime began being issued in 1946 after his death.

 

When I was growing up in El Dorado, Ark., a frequent patron of the Rialto movie theater was a large man in a wheelchair who somehow got to and from the theater, but he had to stay at the back and at the end of one of the aisles. I always wondered why the management didn’t provide a special accommodation for him. He was one of our forgotten citizens; most others were invisible – unable to get out in public because of all the obstacles: sidewalks, steps, doors, and restrooms were unfriendly.

 

David Offutt at a reconstructed barrack at Manzanar NHS (2016): This internment camp consisted of 36 blocks; each block had 14 barracks, a mess hall, a laundry room, and shared latrines and showers. About 300 people lived on each block. Notice the added wheelchair accesses to this exhibit, courtesy of the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

David Offutt at a reconstructed barrack at Manzanar NHS (2016): This internment camp consisted of 36 blocks; each block had 14 barracks, a mess hall, a laundry room, and shared latrines and showers. About 300 people lived on each block. Notice the added wheelchair accesses to this exhibit, courtesy of the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

 

A Democratic-controlled Congress passed the American Disabilities Act of 1990. Republicans are known for opposing federal spending or regulations that require states or businesses to provide safe working conditions or essential services for the public. Nevertheless, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) got a Republican president, George H. W. Bush, to sign that bill! (Mr. Dole lost the use of his right arm in World War II and found a surprising ally in the former WWII pilot, Mr. Bush – they had fought a bitter primary contest in 1988.)

 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was inspired by our 1990 act and went into effect in 2008 in the 20 nations that ratified it. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed it, but in spite of encouragement by former senator Dole, Senate Republicans have prevented the 2/3 vote needed for the U. S .to support it.

 

Mr. Trump insults people based on their appearance, gender, and disabilities. During the primary campaign, he publicly made fun of a disabled journalist. We were lucky to have had that one window of opportunity in 1990.  Would a party that rejects the democratic necessity of compromise and also nominates a person like the Donald support a disabilities act today?

 

David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, New York City (2015)

David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, New York City (2015)

 

  1. Stonewall Inn National Monument, New York, N.Y.: This is the gay bar that was raided by the NYPD on June 28, 1969, and is the birthplace of the modern Gay Rights Movement. Years before Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay for “Network” (1976) and had Howard Beale say, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” the targets of the police raid responded to their harassment vocally and violently. This was the Stonewall “Riot,” “Uprising,” or “Rebellion.” After Stonewall, movies, television, relatives, and friends began to recognize the existence of homosexuality and same-sex relationships.
David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn: President Barrack Obama designated it a National Monument on June 24, 2016. It is across from Christopher Street Park in the West Village neighborhood of Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan.

David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn: President Barack Obama designated it a National Monument on June 24, 2016. It is across from Christopher Street Park in the West Village neighborhood of Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan.

 

LGBT citizens demanded equal rights, but blatant discrimination still advanced in the U.S. Congress and on the state level until public awareness and acceptance began to change: The Pentagon ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act; and the Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) ruling recognized same-sex marriage, upending many state constitutional amendments. Once these people who had lived in “closets” for centuries – invisible citizens – decided to come out, they made a lot of progress in a relatively short time.

 

Unfortunately, opponents of LGBT rights have now created another phantom issue. This one targets transgender citizens. North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor discriminated against them with a “bathroom bill,” resulting in a well-deserved boycott of their state, costing the state and its occupants millions. Regrettably, the Republican-dominated legislature in my home state of Arkansas is promising to embarrass and jeopardize us as well with its own needless discriminatory bathroom bill in 2017.

 

Excerpt from President Obama's 2013 Inaugural Address, which had been placed on the front window of the Stonewall Inn.

Excerpt from President Obama’s 2013 Inaugural Address, which had been placed on the front window of the Stonewall Inn.

 

In fact, in 2015, the Arkansas legislature passed a state law preventing local ordinances that ban discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. Apparently, they don’t want cities like Fayetteville, Ark., or Eureka Springs, Ark., to set a good example. Republican governor Asa Hutchinson allowed the bill to become law without his signature. Also, in 2015, Mike Pence, the running mate of Donald Trump, signed Indiana’s deceitfully-named anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowing discrimination against LGBT people based on religious beliefs.

 

Note: Although we profess a belief in “liberty and justice for all,” it’s our actions that matter. However, the social and cultural changes necessary to attain these goals are often difficult for some Americans to accept. Anne Frank, who was murdered in a Nazi death camp, wrote that “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” American voters have a chance to reflect that sentiment on November 8. The results of the Elections of 2016 will tell our neighbors, at home and abroad, what kind of people we really are.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published October 23, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Paul Gauguin's "Where Do We Come From?What Are We? Where Are We Going?" (1897-98) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.

Paul Gauguin’s “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1897-98) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.

September 17 is both Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. It’s usually overlooked, but it’s what we are all about. Before going ashore near present-day Salem, Mass., in 1630, John Winthrop gave a sermon urging his followers to always conduct themselves as if the entire world were watching their “city on a hill.” Ever since then, America and Americans have been a work in progress. We like to think that being a U.S. citizen means that everyone has guaranteed equal rights like voting and employment, but that’s rarely been true. Those rights have been hard fought for, have taken a long time, and are constantly being challenged to have them taken away again. Here are a few historic sites that I encourage your visiting. Each of them represents our continuing evolution as a nation. Each of them helps to answer the questions asked by Paul Gauguin in his famous painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

 

  1. Independence Hall in Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia, PA
David Offutt at Independence Hall (2016)

David Offutt at Independence Hall (2016)

This is where the 2nd Continental Congress voted in 1776 for Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. It proclaimed “that all men are created equal” and they possess unalienable rights that include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Of course, this was understood to refer to only white males who owned property. Our Founding Fathers met here in 1787 and put together a bundle of compromises known as the Constitution of the United States. One of our two major political parties today considers “compromise” to be a dirty word, but a democratic-republic can’t exist without it.

 

The Preamble explains the purposes of our government. Everyone agrees on two of the purposes: “insure domestic tranquility” and “provide for the common defense.” There are four other purposes that many actively oppose or ignore: “to form a more perfect union,” “establish justice,” “promote the general welfare,” and “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

 

  1. Jackson Square in New Orleans, LA:  
David Offutt and Jackson Square (2016)

David Offutt and Jackson Square (2016)

The equestrian statue of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson dominates the square and honors the hero of the battle that defeated a supposedly superior British army. A hero of the “common” people, Jackson was also the first U.S. president to be elected by them. Yes, the Electoral College officially elected him in 1828, but voting rights in virtually all states had recently been expanded to include free, white males who did not own a specific amount of property.

Although known for Jacksonian Democracy, Jackson's association with slavery and the Trail of Tears has cost him his prominence on the future $20 bill.

Although known for Jacksonian Democracy, Jackson’s association with slavery and the Trail of Tears has cost his prominence on the future $20 bill.

Still, not everyone benefitted from Jacksonian Democracy. Although he did nothing to end slavery and was a slaveholder himself, he did refuse to allow the South to secede on his watch. However, he placated his fellow southerners in another way. During his 2 terms, 94 treaties were signed under coercion to extinguish Indian land titles in the states and forced their removal so that whites could take their property.

 

  1. The M’Clintock House in Waterloo, NY, in the Women’s Rights National Historic Site:
David Offutt at the M'Clintock House (2016)

David Offutt at the M’Clintock House (2016)

It was here that Elizabeth Cady Stanton met with other activists and composed the Declaration of Sentiments. They then took it two miles down the road to the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls where it was voted on in the First Convention for Women’s Rights, 1848. Whereas Jefferson’s Declaration indicted King George III, the women’s rights declaration indicted American society. The demand for the right to vote was only one of many included, and it wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment finally granted suffrage in all states.

 

Equal pay for equal work has remained elusive: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is chock- full of exceptions and qualifications; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 at least makes filing a grievance more feasible. The Equal Rights Amendment that would have prohibited gender discrimination was proposed in 1972 but was never ratified. A woman’s right to health care and control over her own body was improved by Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood (founded in 1921 as the American Birth Control League by Margaret Sanger and received federal funding in 1970 in a bipartisan bill signed by Republican Richard Nixon), but congressional Republicans and states with G.O.P.  governors and state legislatures continue to attempt to restrict those rights.

 

  1. The Armory Fire Engine and Guard House in Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park, WV, VA, and MD:
David Offutt and John Brown's Fort (1979)

David Offutt and John Brown’s Fort (1979)

This became known as John Brown’s Fort when he led the 1859 raid on the federal arsenal to capture weapons to arm a slave rebellion.  The slave issue extended into a civil war two years later and ultimately led to African-Americans officially gaining basic citizens’ rights: the 13th Amendment (1865) ended slavery in the U.S.; the 14th Amendment (1868) made anyone born in the U.S. a citizen and prevented any state from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. (1954) ruled against segregated and unequal schools; and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

 

  1. The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL:
David Offutt and the Edmund Pettus Bridge (2016)

David Offutt and the Edmund Pettus Bridge (2016)

This is the site of the”Bloody Sunday” attack on March 7, 1965, that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 15th Amendment (1870) guaranteed that a citizen’s right to vote could not be denied on account of race or color. Regardless, when Reconstruction ended in 1877, Southern states began enacting Jim Crow laws to segregate the races and deny blacks the right to vote, using devices such as terror, poll taxes, and literacy tests. The Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and early ‘60s publicized these injustices.  The 24th Amendment (1964) ended the use of the poll tax, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 suspended the use of literacy tests.

 

Incredibly, in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) the five Republican appointees on U.S. Supreme Court rejected Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required that states with a history of voter discrimination obtain Justice Department approval before making changes in election laws. Consequently, congressional Republicans are blocking a Voting Rights Amendment, and states with Republican governors and state legislatures eagerly pass voter restriction laws.

 

Note: Whenever anyone gains rights, those who already had those rights may feel threatened. As women and blacks gained the power of the vote and the ability to compete in the workplace, some white males have feared losing their superior advantage and their freedom to discriminate against whomever they wish. One constant human trait is the need to always have someone else to look down on. Having a black president for two terms, and now a female candidate for president, has been traumatic for some voters. The desire to restore white, male dominance may help explain why the 50-year incremental Southern strategy of the Republican Party has finally descended to the nomination of someone like Donald Trump.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published September 17, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

David Offutt at Zion National Park, Utah, 1987: This was on the same trip that I took my bicycle on a scenic ride west of Grand Canyon Village. As I recall, that road was closed to automobile traffic, allowing only bicycles and buses.

David Offutt at Zion National Park, Utah, 1987: This was the same bicycle that I rode four years earlier on a scenic ride west of Grand Canyon Village . As I recall, that road was closed to automobile traffic, allowing only pedestrians, bicycles, and buses.

 

On August 25 we celebrated the 100th birthday of “America’s Best Idea,” our National Park Service. Other than the Buffalo National River, the park that I’ve visited most often is the Grand Canyon. Of course, the first time was that teaser with my uncle back in 1968 when we had a buffet lunch somewhere in Grand Canyon Village and then took the Desert View Scenic Drive and exited at the eastern boundary – Uncle Harper reluctantly stopped on occasion to let me peer off into the canyon. Since then, I’ve been to the bottom of the canyon five times.

 

My first return was July 1983, and, once again, it was to the South Rim. I set up camp and then rode my bicycle from the campground and village to a snack bar at the end of the western scenic road. Since the road was decidedly on a slightly upward slope most of the way, I was really looking forward to an easy and fun ride back. However, it seemed that my return trip was similarly uphill – how could that be? When I got back to camp, I pulled my air mattress from my hot tent, threw it on my shaded picnic table, and crashed out.

 

Heading down the 7-mile Bright Angel Trail. The only thing missing was Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite."

Heading down the 7-mile Bright Angel Trail. The only thing missing was Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite.” (Photo by David Offutt)

 

The next day, I began a 7-mile mule ride to Phantom Ranch and stayed overnight in a cabin near the Colorado River – a tour I reserved months in advance. Ben Benton, the lead guide and wrangler, judged all of us with an experienced eye, assigning this mule to that person and placing him or her to a specific place in the line. I was the last one, being given the honorable and dubious role of bringing up the rear on a fine mule named Judy.

 

Ben Benton, the lead guide and wrangler, pauses our descent to give instructions on the importance of keeping the mules close together: nose to tail. Although, he may have been telling a tall-tell about my mule Judy. (Hikers had to keep their backs to the wall and face the mule train so as not to spook our mules.)

Ben Benton, the lead guide and wrangler, pauses our descent to give instructions on the importance of keeping the mules close together: nose to tail. Although, he may have been telling a tall-tale about my mule Judy at the end of the line. (Hikers had to keep their backs to the wall and face the mule train so as not to spook our mules.) [Photo by David Offutt]

To break the monotony of  our mule nose-to-tail descent, our guide held us up at one of the switchbacks to tell us a story about my mule Judy. “I want you to know why there’s no swimming pool or a piano any more at Phantom Ranch. It’s all because of Betty – that’s the original name of that mule at the end of the line.” I pointed to Judy to be sure. He said, “That’s right. Didn’t you see her ears perk up when I said “Betty”? He had our attention. “Every time someone would start playing the piano, Betty would sing her rendition of an old Gene Autry song, ‘I Have a Saddle on My Back Again.’ Everyone working at and visiting Phantom Ranch enjoyed it for a long time until one day she began to sing off-key. Everyone decided that the only thing to silence Betty’s noise was to get rid of the piano by burying it. The only hole big enough to hold the piano was the swimming pool.” Our guide eventually gave each of us his business card, which stated he had a master’s degree in B.S.

 

David Offutt at Cabin 3 at Phantom Ranch: The water cooler was so efficient that I got too cold and had to turn it off - those in another cabin had to be rescued from a scorpion, and another cabin was infiltrated by a skunk.

David Offutt in front of Cabin 3 at Phantom Ranch (Summer 1983): The water cooler was so efficient that I got too cold and had to turn it off – those in another cabin had to be rescued from a scorpion, and another cabin was infiltrated by a skunk.

 

As we approached the Colorado River, we came to a tunnel that preceded the bridge which led to Phantom Ranch and our cabins. Our guide, who really knew his job, told us we had to use our switches to make our mules go through the tunnel. We all mumbled an unwillingness to do so. The other guide, behind me, put it another way: “If you get your mules through the tunnel, there are cold beers waiting for you at Phantom Ranch.” We used our switches.

 

 

Two times (1987 & 1996) I descended from the North Rim, and the North Kaibab Trail is twice the length. The first time was a torturous one-day hike to the bottom, a night at Bright Angel Campground, and a next-day ordeal to the top. It just about killed me!

David Offutt at Cottonwood Campground, stopping briefly half way down the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (summer 1987): Day 1 of 2; this was the only time I carried a rolled up, thin, foam pad to use as a mattress - a piece of junk that I gave away the next morning to someone at Bright Angel Campground who was desperate.

David Offutt at Cottonwood Campground, stopping briefly half way down the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (summer 1987): Day 1 of 2; this was the only time I carried a rolled up, thin, foam pad to use as a mattress – a piece of junk that I gave away the next morning to someone at Bright Angel Campground who was desperate.

 

This is a good time to interject a reminder that the National Park Service says that it has 6,700 miles of trails that Congress has not provided funds for maintaining. This miserliness and negligence has continued since the Reagan Era of the ’80s. If the Civilian Conservation Corps could lay the infrastructures for our national and state park systems during the Great Depression, there’s no reason today this country can’t maintain the lands that you and I own .

 

The second time I hiked down from the North Rim I did it right. At the back country ranger’s office, I got a three-night permit that I attached to my backpack.  The first day, I hiked the first 7 miles down the switchback trail to the Cottonwood Campground. The second day, I strolled another 7, but straighter, miles paralleling Bright Angel Creek to Phantom Ranch and to the Bright Angel Campground. The third day, I hiked back to the halfway point; and on the fourth day, I plodded onward and upward out of the canyon.

 

David Offutt on the North Kaibab Trail between Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch (summer 1996)

David Offutt on the North Kaibab Trail between Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch (summer 1996): Day 2 of 4

On the fourth day, one time when I stopped to catch my breath – as I often did after a switchback – a young couple, maybe in their early twenties, came bouncing down the trail enthusiastically announcing they were going all the way to Roaring Springs with no water. I responded, “Do what?” as we say in the South. They naively bragged again. These people were about to hike 10 miles round trip, taking 6-8 hours! I told them, “No, no. You just passed a water stop back up the trail, and what you need to do is get back to it, drink up, and then get out of this canyon. If you keep going to Roaring Springs, someone is going to have to share his or her water with you, and that person, like I am, is already going to be looking forward to that water stop. I’m low on water now, and what I have is hot as a firecracker.” When I got to the water stop, they were waiting for me to thank me for turning them back. Only then did they continue their escape from the canyon.

My two other Grand Canyon backpacking treks were to the Havasupai Reservation (1988 & 1997). That’s where three waterfalls exist. Havasu Falls is the most beautiful, most accessible, best swimming hole, and nearest to the Havasu Campground. This is one of the reasons I always backpack with a strong beach float instead of a thin air mattress. It not only keeps me from sleeping “on the ground” but allows me to enjoy a good swim – also its weight and space are only negligibly more than a backpacking mattress.

David Offutt at the Havasu Campground on the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon (July 1997)

David Offutt at the Havasu Campground on the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon (July 1997): I always packed a tent but never used it in the canyon, preferring a sleeping bag on a good beach float on a picnic table – worked fine

I did things on each visit to the reservation that probably would never occur if it were operated by our National Park Service and its concessionaires. Many other visitors and their backpacks were picked up at the parking area and led to the bottom on horses. So I figured that the hike out would actually be enjoyable if I didn’t have my backpack. So I talked to the Havasupai guide who would lead the horse train out on the morning of my departure. He told me to leave early and he would catch up with me outside the village of Supai, away from his boss’s eyes. For a $20-bribe, my backpack was waiting for me in the parking lot when I got to the top.

Havasu Falls in the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon, July 1997 (Photo: David Offutt)

Havasu Falls in the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon, July 1997 (Photo by David Offutt)

On my second visit, my backpack broke about a mile before I reached Supai, which was 2 miles from Havasu Campground! The frame was stabbing me in my back. In Supai, I stopped at the campground office and reserved two horses for the day of my departure: one for me and one for my backpack. That time, my backpack didn’t get better treatment than I. Two days later, I was packed and ready to go. One of the wranglers brought my horses to me at the campground, loaded my pack on one, and took it with him. He told me they were waiting for some other people and that I should just ride on ahead. If they didn’t catch up with me, I was to wait for them at the top. It was a pleasant solo ride all the way. A hike that began disastrously two days earlier ended perfectly.

Even on this 100th anniversary, we need to realize that not all is secure with the people’s heritage. The 2016 Republican platform, as approved in July in Cleveland, calls for our “public lands” – which types are unspecified – to be removed from the protection of the National Park Service. Republican congressmen have proposed bills to repeal the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to save national treasures as national monuments – as Theodore Roosevelt did to save the Grand Canyon. Also, virtually all of our parks are being negatively impacted by climate change, which the Fox-Trump-TEA Party (A.K.A. G.O.P.) won’t even acknowledge. It will be up to the voters in November to determine the fate of “America’s Best Idea” and what we leave for future generations.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published August 15, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

 

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park (Photo: David Offutt 2015)

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park (Photo: David Offutt 2015)

August 25 is the 100th birthday of our National Park Service, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. There are more than 400 national treasures included in the system owned by the American public so that generations to come will be able to enjoy them by either being able to visit them and/or being confident that they are secure from destruction.

 

I’ve been to our first national park, Yellowstone, three times – most recently in June 2015. I was looking forward to finally seeing the Roosevelt Arch, dedicated by TR in 1903, only to find it unapproachable. All around it was a huge construction site, so I had to settle on a distant view. They were sprucing up the northern entrance to the park to be ready for a ceremony this August 25. Engraved on the arch are the words “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” I was really glad to see its surroundings being refurbished.

 

The Roosevelt Arch, June 2015, with construction taking place to improve the appearance of Yellowstone's northern entrance (Photo: David Offutt)

The Roosevelt Arch, June 2015, with construction taking place to improve the appearance of Yellowstone’s northern entrance (Photo: David Offutt)

In the late ‘70s when I began visiting a lot of national sites, I had been impressed at what a great job the park service did. That was before the Reagan Administration initiated major budget, personnel, and maintenance cuts that have been ongoing for 35 years. Throughout the ‘80s, I was always seeing embarrassing signs like those in park restrooms apologizing for not keeping them clean due to the lack of funds.  Slough Creek Campground, where I had camped on my first visit to Yellowstone in 1980, had to be closed for a while in the ‘80s because of insufficient personnel. I don’t know when it reopened. I planned to camp there last summer, but it was full-up. I had to settle on a national forest campground outside the park, which was fine.

 

David Offutt at Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park, June 1980

David Offutt at Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park, June 1980: Due to funding and personnel cuts, this campground was closed for a while during the Reagan Era.

All of our parks are essentially showplaces for who we are and what we stand for, and we need to fund them properly. The “greatest” and “richest” country in the world can do it if it has the moral will to do so. Every dollar spent by the federal government on the park service generates ten dollars in revenue on the state and local levels: visitor spending, job creation, taxes paid. Even Congress’s birthday appropriations for our parks this year left the parks with $12 billion of unfunded backlog maintenance, and there’s no excuse for this. Our parks must be included in future major funding for renovations to our national infrastructure that’s been neglected for 35 years.

 

We all get interested in our parks for different reasons. My father, an electrical contractor, never wanted to be away from work, so my first real vacation was during the summer of 1968 after my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. My Uncle Harper asked me to go with him on a trip to California. His wife had recently died, and some old friends in Los Angeles had asked him to come for a visit. He needed someone to share the driving and expenses – my father agreed to pay my share. To entice me, he mapped out two great routes from El Dorado to L.A. and back. Using Interstate 10 on the way out and Interstate 40 coming back, he planned many side trips including Tombstone, Ariz., and the Grand Canyon.

 

Harper Nixon, summer 1968, at a rest stop near El Paso, Tex. My uncle was one of my mother's (Foster Nixon Offutt) older brothers. On the way home from Los Angeles, he suggested that since the Grand Canyon was so far out of the way that we should skip our plans to see it. I reminded him that we were also going to visit Old Oraibi, one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the U.S, in the Hopi Reservation to the east of the canyon. (Photo: David Offutt)

Harper Nixon, summer 1968, at a rest stop near El Paso, Tex. My uncle was one of my mother’s (Foster Nixon Offutt) older brothers. On the way home from Los Angeles, he suggested that since the Grand Canyon was so far out of the way that we should skip our plans to see it. I reminded him that we were also going to visit Old Oraibi, Ariz., one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the U.S, in the Hopi Reservation  east of the national park. (Photo: David Offutt)

Our first side trip was to Carlsbad Caverns, and that’s when I discovered what kind of vacation this was going to be. Driving into the parking area, he said that we didn’t want to stay very long: “We just want to be able to say ‘I’ve been there.’” I couldn’t believe he didn’t want to tour the caverns. He even offered to wait on me if I insisted. Not wanting him to wait, I consented to leave. And that was the way it was for the rest of the trip, although there were times I made him wait, like at the replica of Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm.

 

Nobody believed that we went to so many places in such a short time! It became known in the family as the “notorious ten-day trip.” We even got stopped for speeding by a park ranger in the Petrified Forest. Harper was trying to not stop at all the scenic turnoffs and, if he drove fast enough, was hoping I might miss some of the signs. My brother John once said that he always felt sorry for Harper because he was the only one in the family with money, but he never knew how to enjoy it.

 

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, summer 1968: My uncle paid these boys 25 cents each to pose beside this oven. (Photo: David Offutt)

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, summer 1968: My uncle paid these boys 25 cents each to pose beside this oven. Ever distrustful of native Americans, when Harper saw two older Zuni men on the bridge coming our way, he said, “Hurry up, David, we’ve got to go.” (Photo: David Offutt)

Nevertheless, that was the trip that got me hooked on wanting to see this beautiful country. I was later inspired by Alistair Cooke’s 1974 13-part TV series “America”, which was an early 200th birthday present to the United States. I began taking annual summer trips in the mid-1970s and have never stopped. And I eventually returned to all the places my uncle and I sped through.

 

There are national monuments, historic sites, battlefields, wildlife refuges, forests, lakeshores, rivers, and recreational areas; but only 59 are specifically designated as national parks. It would take a lot of effort to count how many of the others I’ve been to, but I know I’ve been to 38 national parks. Using Kodachrome slide film on most of my 20th century travels, I shared my photos with my students whenever appropriate. My American history students used to say that there was nothing we could study that I couldn’t show them.  That was an exaggeration, but not because I didn’t try.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published August 13, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | July 27, 2016

Il Duce Trump to the Rescue

Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce, was the Fascist dictator of Italy who allied with Adolf Hitler in World War II. Donald J. Trump is the plutocratic businessman who has taken control of the G.O.P.

Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce, was the Fascist dictator of Italy who allied with Adolf Hitler in World War II. Donald J. Trump is the plutocratic businessman who has taken control of the G.O.P.

Ever since the G.O.P. essentially became the Fox-Republican-TEA Party, its membership and voters have become almost exclusively reactionary, right-wing extremists.  Its goal is to turn back the clock to the good old days when the plutocracy – those with great wealth – ruled the country ostensibly for the white majority of citizens.

 

Moderates were mostly purged from the party during the Reagan presidency and Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker of the House (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine may be the lone survivor).  Conservatives have been a dying breed since the neo-conservative takeover during the Bush-Cheney Era and the arrival of the Koch brothers’ TEA Party (even pundit George Will recently resigned from the party).

 

Ever since World War II, demagogues like Sen. Joe McCarthy (Wis.), Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan have come and gone as the party’s leaders. They all appealed to the paranoid side of voters, but – other than McCarthy – they also addressed our better instincts and did some good things. Sadly, the movement of the party, step by step, has been farther to the dark side, and now a large number of their voters seem perfectly willing to support a fascist nominee for president.

 

Andy Warhol's 1972 portrait of Richard Nixon that hangs in the Whitney Museum in NYC. Nixon defeated George McGovern in a landslide. Then the American people began to understand what kind of man they had elected. Nixon became the first president to resign from office.

Andy Warhol’s 1972 portrait of Richard Nixon that hangs in the Whitney Museum in NYC. Nixon defeated George McGovern in a landslide. Then the American people began to understand what kind of man they had re-elected. Nixon became the first president to resign from office.

Nixon’s southern strategy and Reagan’s “welfare queen” speeches gave a wink and a nod to racism and let voters know where they stood without being blatant about it. No more mealy mouthing around: the party’s recent nominee makes no doubt about who or what he is. Donald J. Trump has made no secret of his racism, bigotry, and misogyny (contempt for women – except for the beautiful women in his life) and made them staples of his campaign – you’ve heard him and read what he’s said ad nauseam.

 

Some insight on how we’ve come to this point and where it might lead can be found in the 1936 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis. The main character, Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor, warned some friends against a presidential nominee, “Wait till Buzz (Windrip) takes charge of us. A real fascist dictatorship!” “Nonsense! Nonsense!” snorted Tasbrough. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly. We’re a country of freemen!”

 

Jessup responded: “The answer to that…is ‘the hell it can’t!’ Why there’s no country in the world that can get more hysterical … than America.  Look how Huey Long became absolute monarch over Louisiana…Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!” Hopefully, Lewis’s literary work is not prophetic because that’s precisely what happened in his book.

 

While the Donald represents most traditional Republican policies, he's not considered a true conservative: he doesn't advocate destroying Social Security and Medicare, and he opposes Citizens United which ruled that money is free speech and the Pacific Trade Agreement.

While the Donald represents most traditional Republican policies, he’s too up-front about them and he’s not considered a true conservative: he doesn’t advocate destroying Social Security and Medicare, and he opposes the Pacific Trade Agreement. (Photo: Nati Harnak, AP)

Il Duce Trump saw the fear that white Americans (workers and middle class) see in the continuous evolution of American society. He saw their fear of losing their jobs and losing their formerly privileged racial status.

 

He realized the rise of ISIS and the increase of seemingly routine mass murders added to their fears. He recognized that his own xenophobia (fear of foreigners), nativism, contempt for the rule of law, and anti-environmentalism jibed with the G.O.P.’s implied, and sometimes explicit, policies.

 

He was also aware that these issues were red meat to scared voters, so he played the role of their savior to the hilt. At the convention, as on the campaign trail, the Donald mugged his best Mussolini imitation, thrusting his jaw forward after his every lie or exaggeration to hear the roar of the crowd.

 

Il Duce was popular after he came to power in 1922 because he got the trains running on time. He said, "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."

Il Duce was popular after he came to power in 1922 because he got the trains running on time. He said, “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

Trump’s frightening emphasis on “law and order” was reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon. His campaign even admitted his studying Nixon’s convention speech on “law and order.” The only way that he can attempt to accomplish his promises is to establish a police state, with him as the supreme dictator.  Hitler used the Hitler Youth, the Gestapo, the S.S., and concentration camps to maintain order. Nixon had dirty tricksters, the Watergate burglars, the “Plumbers,” and attempted to use agencies of the government “to get his political enemies.”

 

Harry Truman said that even if Nixon could tell the truth, he would still lie just to stay in practice. Reagan’s administration, supposedly without his understanding, attempted to establish the Enterprise Corporation to secretly fund presidential wars without Congress’s authorization. Reagan’s people also sold missiles to Iran to get money to buy Soviet weapons to supply the Contra rebellion in Nicaragua. George W. Bush had Attorney General Alberto Gonzales turn the Department of Justice into a tool of the Republican Party, and his administration used a documented 950 lies to justify his invasion of Iraq. We can only imagine what Trump will do.

 

Vladimir Putin and ISIS will both benefit from a Trump victory. Putin and Trump are mutual admirers, and Trump’s opposition to NATO must be music to the Russian strong man’s ears.  Trump’s anti-Muslim tirades certainly reinforce the ISIS propaganda that all Americans are enemies of all Muslims. Even if he doesn’t win, the more votes Trump gets, the more new recruits ISIS will get. If he does win, more Americans will accept the “temporary” necessity of a U.S. police state because they will fear that all American Muslims will join ISIS.

 

The Donald may be a bloviating clown, but it’s possible that we may elect him as our “entertainer-in-chief,” as Chris Christie said of him. The former wrestler, reality TV host, and real estate developer has been described by his own party members in many ways. Marco Rubio has called him “a con artist.” Lindsay Graham said he’s “a religious bigot. The one who summed him up the best was Tony Schwartz, who was the ghostwriter for Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” He said that he was terrified of Trump because he’s “a sociopath.”

 

Beware of Trump’s saying “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” That translates as a plan to make the voters, the Congress, the courts, and the Constitution irrelevant.

 

And whenever I hear the Donald say, “I’m smart,” or “I have a good brain,” I’m immediately reminded of what I call “Peck’s Law.” When the Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck was asked why he didn’t tell a maitre d’ who he was, he answered, “If you have to tell someone who you are, you aren’t.”

David Offutt at the Ronald Reagan deification shrine in Simi Valley, Calif: At his presidential library, the dark side of Reagan's presidency mostly ignored - the Iran-Contra affair is only briefly glossed over. Worshippers come in large numbers to hear his inspirational speeches.

David Offutt at the Ronald Reagan deification shrine in Simi Valley, Calif: At his presidential library, the dark side of Reagan’s presidency is mostly ignored – the Iran-Contra affair, which nearly destroyed his presidency, is briefly glossed over. Worshipers come in large numbers to hear his inspirational speeches.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published July 27, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | June 11, 2016

Antonin Scalia as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Frederic March earned his first of two Academy Awards for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932).

Frederic March earned his first of two Academy Awards for Best Actor as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1932).

President Ronald Reagan pointed out in 1987 that “every day that passes with the Supreme Court below full strength impairs the people’s business in that crucially important body.”  This, of course, is why after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February President Barack Obama dutifully nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace him. Even if Garland recused himself from voting on cases this summer, he would be ready for the new court season in October.

 

Mr. Obama clearly selected Judge Merrick because he was non-controversial and should have been easily confirmed after only a few weeks of interviews and hearings. Obviously, radicals on the left and reactionaries on the right would be unhappy, but all others would have no valid complaint against him. However, for purely political and ideological reasons, the Republican Senate majority has refused to consider the nomination. Apparently, no president who can no longer be re-elected should be allowed to do his job.

 

Judge Merrick Garland and President Barack Obama (March 16, 2016) [Photo by Reuters/ Kevin Lemarque]

Judge Merrick Garland and President Barack Obama (March 2016) [Photo by Reuters/ Kevin Lemarque]

This summer, we must be prepared for potential 4-4 decisions – or non-decisions – and expect more of the same for the next year or several years. Hopefully, the court will go out of its way to avoid that type of ruling, but that may mean that serious issues will have to be avoided by the court, and we will have to accept that what is legal or illegal may depend on where you live, wrecking havoc on national unity.

 

The Fox-Republican-TEA Party’s nearly eight-year strategy of “obstruct and sabotage” against President Obama has finally led to probable gridlock on the Supreme Court. An explanation for this may come from understanding the persona of Justice Scalia and his importance to the advancement of the Republican Party.  Or, to put it another way, why will the Senate majority accept only a Scalia clone as his replacement?

 

Author Robert Louis Stevenson can help us understand Antonin Scalia. The justice was certainly reminiscent of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Without his court robe, he was a “buddy” to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and a hunting companion to Sonia Sotomayor, both moderate-left justices. In 1987, I witnessed an admirable Scalia at a forum at Tulane University in New Orleans on the topic of “Our Individual Rights: Protected or Threatened.” Reagan had appointed Scalia to the U.S. Supreme Court the year before, but on that night, he wasn’t wearing his robe.

 

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Dr. Jekyll

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Dr. Jekyll (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Fred Friendly was the moderator and is often remembered for his collaboration with the great journalist Edward R. Murrow. My memory of the details of that evening fails, but what was unforgettable was that nothing Justice Scalia said was what I, nor probably anyone else, expected him to say. Mr. Friendly confessed at the end of the program that he was pleasantly surprised at the positions Scalia had taken and said that he had shown open-mindedness and empathy to individual rights that he had not expected based on Scalia’s rulings as a judge. (By the way, Justice Ginsberg was also on that panel discussion, but she was on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals at that time.)

 

Two years later, Mr. Friendly produced his 10-part PBS series “Ethics in America,” and once again he included Scalia among the participants. Also again, people like Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Colin Powell took positions that you would expect them to take based on what you knew of them before, but Scalia’s responses were diametrically opposed to what you would expect from his votes on the Supreme Court. He was the perfect Dr. Jekyll.

 

(In fairness to Scalia, there was one other frequent participant in those forums who also displayed a Dr. Jekyll side that contrasted his Mr. Hyde official self: Newt Gingrich, who had gained the moniker “Gingrich Khan” as the House Republican minority leader and then later as Speaker of the House. Absent his minority leader role or the speaker’s gavel, he was a totally different person.)

 

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Mr. Hyde (Photo by Mark Avery/Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Mr. Hyde (Photo by Mark Avery/Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)

Once Scalia put on that robe, he became Mr. Hyde, a man who would politicize and subvert the court to do the bidding of the plutocracy and Republican Party. This is why John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump said that they would appoint people like Scalia and his marionette Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court if they were elected president. Scalia was not just one of the reactionaries on the court: he was their leader.

 

The case of Gore v. Bush (2000) is a perfect example. Scalia was among the five Republican appointees who stopped the vote count in Florida and appointed George W. Bush as president. Unlike the others, Scalia later boasted, “I was glad to be able to do it.”

 

The Citizens United v. FEC (2010) 5-4 ruling was intended to ensure the future election of Republican presidents. Although it didn’t work in 2012, it caused/causes a flood of money into state and local elections as well and has replaced our democratic-republic with a plutocracy. The bizarre ruling that money is speech has corrupted our election system. The wording of the ruling was designed to obscure its intent. The ruling stated that Congress still had the power to require that the names of “dark money” donors be made public, knowing full-well that a Republican majority in either house would never let that happen – nor would a Republican minority in the Senate because of the filibuster.

 

In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), another 5-4 ruling struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 so that states would be able to pass laws to restrict voting rights. Because of demographic changes in the American electorate, the larger the voter turnout, the more likely Democrats will get elected; the smaller the turnout the more likely Republicans will get elected. Again, the ruling tried to disguise its purpose by allowing the Congress to redraw the map of states, cities, and counties that were likely to discriminate against voters, again knowing that Republican congressmen would never allow that to happen.

 

The Senate Republicans are only going to accept another Jekyll and Hyde: someone like Scalia who is known as a good and decent man who knows right from wrong but who will remember that his appointment is based on his willingness to cater to the needs of the plutocracy and his party. If they can’t get someone to complement Thomas, Samuel Alito, and usually John Roberts, it’s likely that we won’t see any new faces on the Supreme Court for some time to come.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published June 11, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | May 8, 2016

The Buffalo National River, Scarface, and a Pet Wolf

Canoeing the Buffalo National River (Photo: David Offutt)

Canoeing the Buffalo National River (Photo: David Offutt)

Earth Day, April 22, is behind us, and this summer’s celebration of the 100th birthday of our National Park System is coming on August 25. So, I thought this would be an appropriate time to make some observations on the current threat to one of Arkansas’s treasures, to comment on our loss of a Yellowstone icon, and to reflect on an old friend and the fate of his kind.

 

The future of the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas is still being threatened by a large factory farm on a tributary to the river. The C&H Farm, a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation), sprays untreated hog waste on fields beside Big Creek jeopardizing both surface and ground water. Big Creek flows into the Buffalo at Carver, a popular swimming hole and landing spot for canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Having begun canoeing the Buffalo in 1970, I’ve perceived this whole factory-farm endeavor an embarrassing and unthinkable nightmare – one that should have been prevented and still can be corrected.

 

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has been considered something of a joke ever since it quickly approved the permit for the farm in 2013, and its reputation isn’t getting any better. The National Park Service, this October, asked the ADEQ to declare “impaired” Big Creek and two other Buffalo River tributaries (Mill Springs and Bear Creek) because they are too polluted or degraded to meet state water standards. No action was taken. Also, the C&H’s Pollution Discharge and Elimination System permit is up for renewal this year. You would think that this would be a good time to make right the original misguided wrong. Tragically, the ADEQ has indicated its intention to renew the permit.

 

On the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas

On the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas (Photo: David Offutt)

Earlier, there had been some hope for the revocation of the loan guarantee for the farm by the U.S. Farm Services Administration and the Small Business Administration.  The agencies had been court-ordered to do a new Environmental Assessment, but the finding incredibly ignored geological evidence that had been provided by both agencies and by hydrogeologists. Although their evidence showed that the millions of gallons of hog waste would negatively impact the river, the park visitors, and the wildlife, the assessment resulted in a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” and the loan was restored in March 2016.

 

Today, the best hope may come from an April 29 meeting of the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. Richard Mays, representing the Buffalo River Coalition, presented additional evidence obtained by Dr. Todd Halihan of Oklahoma State University in March 2015. Halihan used electrical resistivity imaging, and his studies indicate contamination as deep as 120 feet underneath the factory itself and 40 to 90 feet beneath the holding ponds and surrounding areas. A decision is pending.

 

Now, farewell to Scarface – Yellowstone’s Grand Old Man.  He was a 25-year-old grizzly bear – a threatened species – and was a popular attraction in Yellowstone National Park. I was honored to see him last July. He was having lunch on berries among shrubs down a slope from the park roadway. I had stopped to find out what the crowd was looking at, cars were parked on the side of the road for as far as I could see. Everyone was thrilled. One elderly couple told me that had seen him an hour earlier while they were having lunch at a picnic spot – he had circled the ridge above them, but they could see his descriptive scar on the right side of his face. They were so proud to have seen him a second time.

 

Scarface in the Yellowstone National Park in July 2015 four months before he was killed at age 25 (Photo: David Offutt)

Scarface in the Yellowstone National Park in July 2015 four months before he was killed at age 25 (Photo: David Offutt)

A ranger said the park service wasn’t sure Scarface would make it through the winter: he was getting so old and was down to 338 pounds from 600. I suspected the old boy would do just fine. Not to be. A hunter shot him in November.  The hunter claims it was a confrontational event, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating.  Future visitors to the park have been deprived of a wonderful experience. I guess I should feel fortunate to have been among the last to see him before a killer took that right away.  I’m only sad.

 

David Offutt and Pavi, a Rocky Mountain gray wolf on a backpacking-camping-trout fishing venture along Canones Creek in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico with my brother and sister-in-law in July 1988 (Photo: John Offutt)

David Offutt and Pavi, a Rocky Mountain gray wolf on a backpacking-camping-trout fishing venture along Canones Creek in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico with my brother and sister-in-law in July 1988 (Photo: John Offutt)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in July 2015, refused to reclassify gray wolves as a threatened species. Consequently, the fate of the national recovery of the species is largely in the hands of states, which, like Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, may be particularly hostile to their survival. Idaho officials actually funded an aerial gunning operation that recently killed 20 wolves, using the ruse of trying to boost the elk population to satisfy hunters. This, of course, ignores the ecological fact that a healthy wolf population assures a healthy elk population. Some humans just can’t stand to see animals existing in the wild. It’s just something for them to kill for the fun of it.

 

On the bright side, in June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The result has been that a “Shasta Wolf Pack” has been found living successfully for a year in northern California. That state had not had a wolf pack for 91 years. Hopefully, other states will follow their lead.

 

Whenever a wolf is needlessly killed, I always think of an old friend, Pavi. Years ago, my sister-in-law Beth found a starving dog on the streets of Oakland, Calif. She brought it home, and she and my brother John nursed him back to health. They always thought that Pavi – they named him after the tenor Pavarotti – was a strange dog, never acting like a “regular dog.” Once they found he was a full-blooded Rocky Mountain gray wolf, his behavior made sense.

 

David Offutt and Pavi John and Beth Offutt's backyard in Santa Fe, NM, in July 1987 (Photo: John Offutt)

David Offutt and Pavi  in John and Beth Offutt’s backyard in Santa Fe, NM, July 1987 (Photo: John Offutt)

Someone had probably found him as a pup and thought he would make a good pet. When that didn’t work out, Pavi was just dumped for someone else to deal with. As a rule, wolves don’t make good pets, but, fortunately, my brother was good dog handler and became the “leader” of Pavi’s pack. John said that if he ever got attacked by someone, Pavi wouldn’t do anything until John was down – then the attacker would have deal with Pavi. John added, “Woe be he who tries to mug Beth: Pavi’s a woman’s dog.”

 

Once, when the three of them came to El Dorado, Ark., to visit our father J.C. Offutt, John and Beth went to Logoly State Park to do a day hike on one of the trails and left Pavi with Dad. Pavi kept standing by the back door and whining. Dad told him to settle down, “You’re not a baby. Come in here and lie down.” He did. John was more like our father than either Don (our oldest brother) or I. Pavi picked up on that.

 

Pavi lived happily to a ripe old age. John and Beth, tearfully, had him put to sleep in the early ‘90s. John passed away last December, and his ashes will be mixed with Pavi’s, and Beth will scatter them somewhere in the Arizona desert near their latest home.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published May 10, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | March 19, 2016

A Lame Duck Nominates a Supreme Court Justice

David Offutt at the U.S. Supreme Court (August 2015)

David Offutt at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC (August 2015)

When Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, the Senate Republicans, who have majority control, and all the remaining Republican candidates for president at that time did what we’ve come to expect from them at every crisis or significant event: they went straight into panic mode. The U.S. Supreme Court had been under reactionary-conservative control for 44 years and that was about to change! Even before we learned of Scalia’s cause of death, the Fox-Republican-TEA Party announced it would not do its constitutional duty to consider any replacement nominated by President Barack Obama.

 

Merrick Garland: His addition to the Supreme Court would give the moderates a 5-vote majority on the court.

Merrick Garland: His addition to the Supreme Court would give the moderates a 5-vote majority.

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, Mr. Obama did his duty and nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. Judge Garland is a centrist who is highly respected by conservatives, moderates, and liberals, as well as Republicans, independents, and Democrats.  Mr. Obama has ten more months in office, which is much too long to wait for his successor to make an appointment. Mr. Garland should be easily confirmed in short order by a unanimous vote in the Senate, so that he could take his seat on the court on the first Monday in October. The G.O.P. could care less.

 

Prior to that, on Monday, March 14, 2016, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told reporters than any Obama nominee to replace Scalia “will bear some resemblance to a piñata.” In other words, the majority party plans to put on blindfolds and start swinging at him until he’s bloody and destroyed.  Whether, the nominee is well-qualified for the job seems to be totally irrelevant. What’s going on here?

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R.-TX) said any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court would feel like a piñata.

Sen. John Cornyn (R.-TX) said any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court would feel like a piñata.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky professed his party’s primary goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. The poor man has never recovered from, nor accepted, the people’s majority vote to re-elect Mr. Obama.  Now, Mr. McConnell says we must wait for the people to decide again in November and wait until January for a nominee. He apparently is hoping for someone in his party to be elected, although very few in his party can stomach either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the two demagogues who are leading in their presidential race. If a Democrat is elected, will McConnell accept the legitimacy of that person? Doubtful.

 

Left to Right: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts: The four reactionaries (extreme right-wingers) are now missing Scalia. Roberts sometimes joins the moderates, but only rarely.

Left to Right: Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts: The three remaining reactionaries (extreme right-wingers) are now missing their leader Scalia. Roberts joined the moderates two times to uphold the Affordable Care Act, so he is not a strict partisan – that may be very important in the next year or two.

Everyone in the Fox-Republican-TEA Party is always posturing about Mr. Obama’s “executive overreach.“ They often are pretending that he uses executive orders too much, even though he rarely uses them and has done so far fewer times than other presidents.  He uses them reluctantly and only when it becomes obvious that the Republican Congress will refuse to act or is not capable of doing its job – his executive order on immigration is an obvious example. The majority party doesn’t dare lie about his obligation to appoint a replacement for Scalia as being “executive overreach.” That’s part of the president’s job description in the U.S. Constitution.  They only want to prevent him from doing his job.

 

Left to right: Justices Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, and Kagan: The court's four moderates are usually labeled liberals because they are so far to the left of the reactionaries.

Left to right: Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan: The court’s four moderates are usually labeled liberals because they are so far to the left of the reactionaries.

Presidents are elected for 4-year terms, not 3. The problem, of course, is the 22nd Amendment which limits a president to two full terms or a maximum of 10 years in case he succeeds to the presidency due to the death of the incumbent. It was a Republican proposal intended to prevent another Franklin Roosevelt – a Democrat who was elected 4 times. It was introduced in 1947 and ratified in 1951. Thereafter, every president who gets re-elected becomes a lame-duck president for the next four years, thereby weakening his/her negotiating position with both supporters and opponents.

 

Under the 22nd Amendment, lame-duck presidencies have rarely been good, but they occasionally worked whenever our two-party system consisted of loyal oppositions. There were threats to our national unity from the Republican right wing during the McCarthy Era, which peaked in 1954, and from the insurgency of Barry Goldwater in the early 1960s, but neither of those occurred during a lame duck presidency.  And after each of those times, the Republicans returned to being a loyal opposition.

 

Justice Anthony Kennedy: The court's lone conservative who often sides with the moderates. It's his court now more than ever before - as he goes, so goes the court. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Justice Anthony Kennedy: The court’s lone conservative who usually sides with the reactionaries but sometimes joins the moderates. It’s his court now more than ever before – as he goes, so goes the court. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sadly, that began to change when the Republicans took control of the Senate during the Reagan years and began to purge the party of its moderates. Next, Newt Gingrich (Khan) and his Republican horde took over the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1995 and turned the G.O.P. into an exclusively conservative party.  Since then, it rapidly moved to being the extremist, reactionary party that is today’s Fox-Republican-TEA Party. They don’t believe in loyal oppositions.

 

Bill Clinton’s lame-duck term resulted in a ridiculous impeachment trial simply because Republican right-wingers were determined to do it for whatever excuse they could find. Mr. Clinton, like President Obama, had to deal with a malicious Congress for 6 of his 8 years in office. When Mr. Obama was re-elected in 2012, the Republicans decided to just run out the clock: continue their first-term policy of obstruct and sabotage and don’t let him get anything done for the next four years – and that includes Supreme Court appointments. That’s why Mr. Obama finally resorted to executive orders and executive agreements, no matter how much he clearly hates to use them.

 

Whenever I hear or read about lame-duck presidencies, I always think about Sleeping Duck Rock in the Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Arizona. Years ago I took a horseback ride with a Navajo guide and came upon a fascinating, lengthy rock on the floor of the canyon. My guide pointed it out and laughed, saying, “It looks like a dead duck to me.” I agreed. And that is precisely how congressional Republicans viewed Mr. Obama’s re-election. Just as the voters were wrong in 2008, so were they wrong in 2012 – this man is not our president. He might as well be a dead duck.

David Offutt at the Sleeping Duck Rock in Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Ariz. (1979)

David Offutt at the Sleeping Duck Rock in Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Ariz. (Summer 1983) [photo was taken by my Navajo guide]

The last lame-duck president to appoint a Supreme Court justice in his final year of office was Ronald Reagan, who appointed Anthony Kennedy in 1988. The Democrats controlled the Senate that year and the vote to confirm him was 97-0. Is there any chance the current Republicans will equally rise to the occasion and confirm Judge Garland? I see no indication that they will change their 7-year strategy of obstruct and sabotage, but I hope I’m wrong.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published March 20, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

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