The Third Transition: Trump to Biden and the Return of Politics

by Michael Liss

Some may belittle politics, but we know, who are engaged in it, that it is where people stand tall. And although I know it has its many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. And if it is on occasions the place of low skullduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes, and I wish everyone, friend or foe, well, and that is that, the end. Tony Blair, ending his last PMQ, June 27, 2007

Mask From UVA Center For Politics

Yes, that was Tony Blair, the man everyone loves to hate, but in those few short words, he managed to capture the highs and lows of a democratic system. Politics can be rough and tawdry, but debates can be substantive, goals high, and accomplishments, perhaps not as high, but still advancing the good of the many. In the end, you fight like cats and dogs, but you shake hands, accept the verdict, and prepare yourself for the next battle.

This belief, that there is always next time, is predicated on three key assumptions—that, in our system, there is, in fact, always a next time, that even winning coalitions will screw up enough to ensure that the next time may be viable, and that the loser (if the incumbent) will cooperate in the orderly transition of power.

That is the theory, and, for most of our history, that has also been the reality. Winning coalitions stay winning because they deliver policies that a majority support. They fray when internal discipline breaks down (usually because of unsatisfied desires or ambitions), and/or when they become so sclerotic, doctrinaire, or just wrong that enough of the public rejects them. Lincoln’s election in 1860 reflected a reality that the disparate needs of North and South could no longer be reconciled within the status quo. FDR’s trouncing of Hoover was the rational judgment of the voters that Hoover had simply failed, and would continue to fail. Trump’s victory in 2016 was a reminder of not only Hillary Clinton’s flaws as a candidate, but also Barack Obama’s shortcomings as a President. As much as I admired Obama, he didn’t do enough for enough people to earn transferable loyalty during a time when, as my friend Bill Benzon notes, the tectonic plates were moving. The voters really do choose. Read more »

Kosovo at 13

by Rafaël Newman

In the summer of 1977 my father invited me to tea at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens. I had turned 13 that spring, and instead of a bar mitzvah, prohibited by matrilineal descent and an antipathy to organized religion, my father and I were en route to Israel, to visit the kibbutz where he had worked in the mid-1950s. We had flown from Vancouver to Amsterdam, proceeded by train to Rome, and continued by rail across Italy to Brindisi, by ferry to Patras, and by coach to Athens. From there we would eventually embark, at Piraeus, on the crossing to Haifa; for the moment we were enjoying some sightseeing in the Greek capital.

We were by now already several days into a three-week trip and I was slowly adjusting to the oddness of being alone with my father in unfamiliar territory. At our first stop the exciting absurdity of the canals in Amsterdam had made up somewhat for nine hours of jetlag; my New World teenage composure, however, was tested by the shared bathroom on the corridor of our Dutch hotel. It was the first of several jarring encounters. On the train bound south from Holland we were interrogated at the German border by a customs guard, who had entered our sleeping compartment and, at the sight of a youth with an older man, their journey having originated in Amsterdam, had me roll up my sleeve so he could check for tracks. Later, in the dormitory of the youth hostel in Rome in which my father’s salary as an assistant professor had billeted us, I awoke in my bunkbed to see a fellow guest naked in the middle of the room, gingerly applying salve to his posterior. Read more »

To Arecibo

by R. Passov

I had hand-written a simple essay: My father is in prison, my mother works, welfare helps and I got a 1310 on my SATs. The letter of acceptance from UCLA was short  – we’re happy to let you know….

The hill leading to the main quad of the UCLA campus is terraced into three landings by flat, wide brick stairs built in the late 1920’s, depression-era stimulus. By the time I got there, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, and Westwood surrounded that hill.

An old Daily Bruin lay on the ground. Past the comings and goings of Bruin Life, blond and blue, basketball, tennis and good teeth, I found a classified ad: Wanted, cook for a professor’s family, free room and board, walking distance to campus.  

I can cook, I thought. Walking distance was a plus. I found a payphone, heard age in the voice that answered along with an English that came from afar and was invited to interview.

I found the house a few blocks into the hills above Sunset Blvd. Dr. Mommarts was tall, slender, newly old, easy. His white-blond hair fell uncombed. His soft brown eyes, protected by wild eyebrows. He spoke with an accent, in proper English, yet his words lacked edge, one ending after the next began.

He assumed I would not have responded to the ad without having knowledge of cooking. I got a brief tour of a modern one-story home anchored by a single hallway whose wall was a long stretch of glass, rimming a flat yard. “Here’s the kitchen,” he said. There were two rooms, one with a sink, counter space, stove, oven. And a second with cabinets, a second sink and a wide wooden table. “And the preparation room.”

From the kitchen we walked down the hallway, past the end of the windows, to a small room with a single bed and a dresser, located near to a bathroom. “Here’s where you’ll stay,” he said and that was it. I was a cook. Read more »

Some Songs from a Fallen Empire

by Philip Graham

I’ve long been partial to Portuguese culture, so when Portugal transferred its last colonial holding, Macau, back to Chinese rule in 1999 , a friend surprised me with his marveling reaction: “Portugal had an empire? Who knew?”

Perhaps his reaction shouldn’t have surprised me. In the United States, steeped as we are in the history of the United Kingdom’s “empire on which the sun never sets,” few are aware that the Portuguese accomplished the first European globe-spanning empire, beginning in the 15th century.

When I lived in Lisbon for a year, I noticed that my Portuguese friends wrestled with the legacy of their country’s history. They felt pride at the achievements of their intrepid ancestors’ global reach. But they also felt shame, because while all empires break too much before they reshape the chaos they created, Portugal’s empire was especially bad.

The Portuguese initiated the transatlantic slave trade in 1444, which has bedeviled and tormented much of the world ever since. Sixty years later, the Viceroy Alfonso Albuquerque expanded Portuguese power not only as exploration for economic reasons, but as a brutal crusade against Islam. By 1580, the empire extended from Brazil to Africa, from India to Malaysia and on to the Indonesian island of Timor.

So what happened to this Portuguese empire, which now no longer exists? Read more »

The Bigger Lie

by Eric J. Weiner

There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now. —James Baldwin

Over the course of 18 hours, white mobs destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses during the Tulsa Race Riot. They set fire to schools, churches, libraries, and movie theaters, leveling entire city blocks.

Before the pomp and circumstance of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s inauguration officially framed the white supremacist insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 an outlier of U.S. history, an affront to American Exceptionalism, and a brief pause in the Nation’s moral progress, there was a lot of talk about the “big lie” that precipitated it. I expect, with the impeachment trial scheduled to begin next week, that we will again hear quite a bit about the “big lie” and its power to change water into wine. Historically, the big lie, lobbed in concert with many smaller lies, is the one that tips the scale of reason, fuels delusional thinking, and provides the foundation for all kinds of violence and hate. Hitler knew it when he perpetuated the big lie about Jews running a global cabal. And Trump knew it when he repeatedly told the big lie about a rigged and stolen election. Timothy Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University and author of On Tyranny (2017) says, “There are lies that, if you believe in them, rearrange everything…a big lie is a lie which is big enough that it tears the fabric of reality.” When enough people believe in the big lie, and their beliefs have time to ferment and spread, the big lie becomes a spectacle.

“The spectacle,” as Guy Deborg explained, “is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images… It is a world vision which has become objectified.” Right-wing corporate media and social media platforms, during the past five years, have helped to construct and disseminate the spectacle of the big lie, turning facts into a matter of perspective and words/images into weapons of mass delusion. From the ashes of “the real” arise the rational irrationality of relativistic thinking. The Trumpist cult of mass delusion, aided and abetted by corporate and social media, is unified by the spectacle of the big lie while becoming an integral part of it. But however dangerous the spectacle of the big lie is to democracy, it is not the most pernicious and dangerous lie in America. In fact, Trump’s big lie could not have become the spectacle it did had a bigger lie not preceded it. Read more »

White America Needs to Clean House

by Akim Reinhardt

10 Ways to Get Rid of Your Old Junk | LoadUpWhite Americans get a lot of things wrong about race. And not just the relatively small number of blatant white supremacists, or the many millions (mostly over 50, conservative, and/or Republican) bitter about the supposedly undue attention, sympathy, and “breaks” that minorities receive; who insist actual racism was a problem only in the past, because Civil Rights “fixed” it; who believe anyone complaining about racism is just looking for an unfair edge in America’s level, color-blind playing field; who decry so-called “reverse racism”; who actually believe it is harder to be white in America than to be black or brown; or who simply minimize and downplay the existence racism.

Not just them. Even the small majority of whites who recognize that race remains a big problem in America often get it wrong. For example, many (most?) of them think that race is primarily about black and brown people. It’s not. Racism is primarily about white people.

Minorities suffer the effects of racism, and we must acknowledge and work to end that; however, you cannot cure an infection by simply placing a band-aid over the sore. You must clean out the wound thoroughly, surgically if need be, disinfect it, and then attack the infection at its root with antibiotics. In the old days it might have meant cutting off an appendage or limb. Similarly, racism won’t end or even be substantially reduced by strictly focusing on the suffering of its victims and making amends. Those are important and necessary first steps, but they don’t get at the core of the problem. Minority suffering is racism’s result, but racism is caused by what white people think and do.

White people empathizing with black and brown people is important, and it is vitally important that whites listen to minority voices. However, ending or substantially reducing racism will not come about until white people talk to each other and sort themselves out. Because racism is a white problem. Read more »

Waiting for the Messiah: Derrida and the Philosophy of Hospitality

by Leanne Ogasawara


The sound of thousands of clattering stainless steel plates and bowls ripple across the water, as hundreds line up to enter the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Built atop a platform in the middle of a pool of water, this is the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. Pilgrims arrive at the floating “Abode of God” walking slowly across a very crowded covered-causeway.

Just when you think nothing can be done to repair the world, you stand in awe as thousands are fed in the great communal kitchens of the temple.

The numbers are staggering. An army of volunteers show up every morning to chop vegetables, peel garlic, and fry roti. This in preparation for feeding tens of thousands every day. Known as the Langar, this communal meal is an act of charity and love, open and free to all. And what’s more, you don’t have to travel all the way to Amritsar to experience a Langar, as it is practiced in all Sikh places of worship around the world. Sitting on the ground shoulder-to-shoulder so that all are equal, pilgrims are provided with sustenance, ensuring that none leave the temple hungry.

Anyone is welcome to eat and anyone is welcome to serve.

In her beautiful book, Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community, and the Meaning of Generosity, Priya Basil—who herself hails from a Sikh family—feels it is a shame the meaning of the word “hospitality” in English has come to be so firmly associated with the industry of hospitality, something which has conflated acts of generosity with capitalist entertainment. And she rightly asks:

“What does this say about us when a notion that long implied giving without getting any return becomes synonymous with paying for services that promise customer satisfaction or your money back?” Read more »

Monday Photo

This is the vapor trail of Aegean Airlines Flight A3840 from Athens to Dusseldorf as it flew over the South Tyrol. I took the photo from my office window at 11:40 am on Saturday and noted down that: “It is an Airbus A321-271NX aircraft, flying at 36,000 feet at a ground speed of 395 knots at the moment. Due to land in Dusseldorf at 12:03 pm (in 23 minutes), two minutes ahead of schedule.” Yes, you can pretty much instantly find out anything you want on the internet these days. Click it to see whole photo at once.

On the Road: Sri Lanka Part Two

by Bill Murray

Politics as the family business works out better for some than for others. Last year Turkish President Erdogan had to fire his son-in-law Finance Minister. And the Trumps, well … you know. But things are working out pretty well for the Rajapaksas of Sri Lanka.

The President is Gotabaya Rajapaksa, nickname “the terminator.” The Prime Minister is Mahinda Rajapaksa, his older brother. Basil Rajapaksa, “Mr. Ten Percent,” their younger brother, is a former MP. Their other brother Chamal, a former speaker of Parliament, is a cabinet minister, and Namal Rajapaksa, Mahindra’s son, is an MP and Minister of Sports, representing the next Rajapaksa generation.

When we left our story (Read part 1 here) it was six o’clock in the morning, election day 1999 in Nuwara Eliya, a highland tea-picking town south of Kandy, Sri Lanka. Two loudspeakers played the call to prayer, mounted atop a glass-enclosed Buddha statue just by the traffic circle. The sun hadn’t cleared the hills but it was set to be a glorious morning, birds and dew run riot.

At this hour, Nuwara Eliya served mostly as a regional bus station. People queued for rides and a few stores pushed open their doors. At a milk bar (that’s a name for convenience stores, here to New Zealand) I bought toothpaste and remarked how it would be a nice day. Dazzling smile: “It is election day, sir!” Read more »

Tectonic Tremors, Ghost Dancing, and the Certification Riots

by Bill Benzon

Elizabeth from Knoxville

We haven’t yet settled on a name for the event. I do see “1/6” being used here and there, a formation parallel to “9/11.” However reference to 9/11 is common, well understood, and routine, while the use “1/6” is sporadic. But then the bombing of the World Trade Center is almost two decades old while the certification riots happened only yesterday. We’ve not had time to understand and assimilate them.

We don’t even know what to call them. I just used the word “riot”, but is that what they were? What does that word imply? What about “protest”, “insurrection”, “putsch”, or as Elizabeth from Knoxville said (see the video clip above), “revolution”? One might answer, “semantics, mere semantics, we all know what you’re referring to.” Well, yes, we’ve got the reference. But figuring out just what those events were, that’s not a matter of mere semantics. The legal and institutional implications of those words are quite different. Riots happen all the time, as do protests, insurrection is quite different, no?

Nor do we know just what happened. We’ve seen the videos, we recognize some of the people – how could we forget the Q-Shaman, with his skins, buffalo horns, and face paint? – and we know that five people died. But all those people and events have connections. How far do those connections reach? Who planned to storm the Capitol ahead of time with specific objectives in view and who just went along with the flow? Who talked with whom? Do any of those communication chains reach into Congress or the White House? What did Donald Trump know and when did he know it? What did he intend?

We have a nation divided against itself. Read more »

2020 in review, Silver Lining Edition, part 2

by Dave Maier

Not long ago, a reader complained, politely but firmly, about your humble author’s regrettable tendency to post something called “Blah blah blah pt. 1” and then never get back to it for part two, in particular the post about history, wondering if possibly I thought no one would notice that I had left it hanging. I admit the fault, but I assure my patient reader, or possibly readers, that I do indeed intend to finish each and every one of my multipart posts, and even to make clear how they are related to each other. (That’s the intent, anyway.) So fear not! (I do have to read some more history though … !) This time, though, I finish a different sort of multipart post: my end-of-2020 podcast. Plenty of unfamiliar names, even to me, but some great stuff! As always, widget and/or link below. Read more »