Tag Archives: Great Depression

Unity becoming a signature issue among Democrats

I have heard a lot of talk of the “u-word” among those who are running for president of the United States.

They want to bring unity to the country. They want to bridge the divide that is growing between and among various ethnic, religious, racial and political groups.

They say we are living in (arguably) the most divisive period in our nation’s history.┬áI agree with their goal. I favor a more unified country, too. The divisions that have torn us apart have created nations within the nation.

I am going to disagree with the implication I have heard from some of the Democrats running for president that this division is the worst in our history.

We had that Civil War from 1861 to 1865. The nation fought against itself, killing 600,000 Americans on battlefields throughout the eastern third of what is now the United States of America.

The Great Depression brought about huge division, too. Americans tossed out a president and brought in another one who promised a New Deal. It took some time for the economy to recover. Indeed, it’s been argued that World War II was the catalyst that sparked the nation’s economic revival.

Then came two more wars: in Korea and Vietnam. Those conflicts produced division as well. Vietnam, particularly, brought death in our city streets as well as in far-off battlefields.

The divisions today are severe. Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency pledging to unify the nation. He has failed. Indeed, his rhetoric only has deepened the divide.

The white nationalist debate that has flared with the New Zealand massacre allegedly by someone associated with white supremacists has underscored the division.

So now we have a huge and growing field of Democrats seeking to succeed Donald Trump as president. One of the themes that links them all is their common call for unity. One of them, Beto O’Rourke, says he wants to “restore our democracy.” OK, but . . . how?

Seeking unity is a noble and worthwhile goal. I applaud any candidate who says he or she wants to make that a top priority.

However, I am no longer in the mood for platitudes. I need some specifics on how to achieve it. I know that Donald Trump is a lost cause. He cannot unify his own White House staff, let alone a nation he was elected to govern.

The rest of the field needs to lay out their plans to achieve what Trump has failed to do.

In . . . detail!

Our nation will survive — and flourish

Make no mistake about it: I am alarmed at the accelerating crisis in Washington, D.C.

Some Republican lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, might believe that “no one outside the D.C. Beltway cares” about Russia and Donald J. Trump’s alleged involvement with the nation’s pre-eminent adversary. I, though, do care about it. So do millions of other Americans, senator; you’re just not listening to us.

Does my alarm extend to my fear for the resilience of this system of government of ours? No. Not for an instant.

I remain an eternal optimist that we’ll get through all of this, no matter what the special counsel’s report reveals to us. Robert Mueller could exonerate the president of any wrongdoing. Or he could lay out a smorgasbord of questions that call into fact-based suspicion about the president’s fitness for the job.

Whatever happens, I feel compelled to remind us all that this country has survived equally serious — and more serious — crises throughout our history. We endured the Civil War; we engaged in two worldwide wars; we also endured a Great Depression; we have watched our political leaders gunned down by assassins; Americans have rioted in the streets to protest warfare; we witnessed a constitutional crisis bring down a president who resigned in disgrace; we have entered an interminable war against international terrorism.

Through it all we survived. The nation pulled itself together. It dusted itself off. It collected its breath. It analyzed what went wrong. The nation mobilized.

Our leaders have sought to unite us against common enemies. We responded.

Here we are. The special counsel is preparing — I hope — to conclude a lengthy investigation. There have been deeply troubling questions about the president’s conduct. One way or another I expect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to answer those questions. They might not be to everyone’s satisfaction. Indeed, I can guarantee that the findings will split Americans between those who support the president and those (of us) who oppose him.

But we’re going to get through it. We might be bloodied and bruised. It might take some time to heal.

It’s going to happen.

The founders knew what they were doing when they crafted a government that they might have known — even then — would face the level of crisis it is facing today.

Yes, we’re in trouble, but it’s not a mortal danger

Count me as one of millions of Americans who is concerned about the state of politics, policy and public discourse in this great country of ours.

Do not count me as one who fears for its survival. We’re going to survive and perhaps even prosper once we get past what is happening at this moment.

The president of the United States appears to be in trouble. Investigators appear to be closing in on some serious misdeeds; they might include criminal charges leveled against Donald Trump and his immediate family.

The president is lashing out, blasting and smashing at his foes. He disparages our intelligence community, our laws enforcers, our duly elected representatives who happen to disagree with the manner in which he governs.

There might be an impeachment on our horizon. Or not.

The United States has endured many more difficult circumstances than what we’re enduring now. We’ve been through two world wars, a Great Depression, the Civil War, political corruption of all stripes and types. We have impeached two presidents already and damn near impeached a third, who then quit the presidency just as the impeachment was about to occur.

I remain an eternal optimist in the beauty of the government our founders created in the late 18th century. It contains some marvelous self-correcting mechanisms. We have elections every couple of years. We get to vote on House membership every other year; we vote on a third of the Senate at that time. We vote for president every four years and we limit a single president to two elected terms.

Congress can block a president’s impulses. The federal court system is empowered to rule on the constitutionality of congressional or presidential actions.

The system works.

Are we in dire peril over what may transpire in the coming year, or perhaps in the coming weeks? I don’t believe we are.┬áI believe instead that the system will hold up. It will rattle and clank at times. Ultimately it will protect all Americans.

I am keeping the faith in the wisdom of those founders. They knew what they were doing.

Happy birthday, America; you’re still great

Happy birthday, America.

You look pretty good for being 242 years of age. Allow me these brief thoughts as we light some fireworks, grill some chow outside in the summer heat and toast your ever-lasting and enduring greatness.

I want you to disregard the blathering of our current president, who campaigned for office and then took office vowing to “make America great again.” He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You’re still great. You’ve always been great.

And, yes, the 45th president isn’t the first occupant of that office to make such a claim. Others have done so. But this guy keeps harping on it. He wears that goofy “MAGA” hat at campaign rallies.

Now, even though we celebrate your greatness, America, I must concede that you haven’t been perfect. The founders said at the beginning of the Republic that “all men are created equal.”

They were short-sighted. Women weren’t allowed to vote. That right didn’t come until 1920, for crying out loud. Furthermore, many of the founders were slave holders. They held men, women and children in involuntary bondage.

You’ll recall, America, how we waged a bloody Civil War over slavery. We killed hundreds of thousands of Americans to preserve our Union and, yes, to free those enslaved families.

Civil rights battles have ensued. We marched in protest against wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We endured a Great Depression. We were attacked at Pearl Harbor and then we went to war against tyranny in Europe and Asia.

We let our guard down on 9/11 and were attacked yet again by terrorists.

In spite of all that, we remain great. We allow people to complain openly about the government. We allow freedoms that other countries have emulated. We are free to worship as we please — or not worship at all if that’s what we choose.

We allow “due process” under the law. We grant liberty and freedom.

And despite what that president of ours insists, we remain a beacon that attracts immigrants from those around the world.

I am proud to be an American. I am proud of my country, warts and all. Believe me, America, you’ve grown a few more of them in recent years. However, I salute you.

Let’s all have a happy birthday, America.

U.S. remains strong and resilient, despite the chaos

A friend of mine and I were chatting briefly Monday about the state of affairs in Washington after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump.

“What do you think about how things are going?” my friend asked.

“I don’t know. I’m worried,” I answered.

We chatted about the media relations that the Trump administration seems intent on destroying. “Hey, CNN gave the press guy good marks for his press briefing,” my friend said, “and if CNN says it’s OK, then it must be OK, right?” He clearly was tossing a dig at CNN’s purported “liberal bias.”

He added, “I think we’re going to be just fine.” Oh, yes. I am quite sure my friend voted for Trump.

Then it dawned on me. We’ve been through muc worse than what we’re experiencing now. Nothing, though, quite matches the unique quality of the weirdness taking place as Trump settles into the presidency after two terms of Barack Obama.

Watergate? That was worse and we got through it. World War II? Hey, how does one compare any conflict with that event? We got through that one, too. The Great Depression? We survived and then prospered. The Civil War? Other countries endure such bloodshed and never are the same. We did and went on to continue our march toward international greatness.

I, thus, take a form of perverse comfort in knowing that our system of government is crafted to see us through crises. Do I rank the current transition from one president to another as one of those? Not really.

However, it’s damn weird. I hope our system can make provisions for the strangeness of it all. I’m guessing it will.

This humble immigrant became a great American

papou

Take a look at this gentleman.

He was an immigrant to the United States of America. He grew up in southern Greece. He found his way to Pittsburgh, Pa. He got married and started family.

He worked hard. He played by the rules. He was a simple man. He had little formal education. He wasn’t destined to achieve financial wealth or become famous the way we understand the meaning of the term “famous.”

His name was Ioannis Panayotis Kanellopoulos. He shortened his last name to Kanelis; his first and middle names, translated to English, were John Peter.

He was my grandfather.

As I heard Donald J. Trump’s screed last night about immigration, one passage jumped out at me, grabbed me by the throat and damn near throttled me as I heard it.

Trump laid down some markers that legal immigrants needed to meet before they would be “selected” for entry into the United States of America.

My grandfather wouldn’t have met the standard set.

My Papou wouldn’t be welcome in a country where Donald J. Trump would serve as president.

He toiled in a steel mill in Pittsburgh. He lost his job when the Great Depression decimated the Rust Belt in the early 1930s. He and my grandmother and five of their children gravitated to Vermont, where they ran a hotel; that venture failed, too.

Papou and his family — which grew to seven children in Vermont — then moved west, to Portland, Ore.

My grandfather then shined shoes in the basement of a high-end downtown Portland department store for the rest of his working life.

Would he have been “selected”? It appeared to me, based on what I heard Trump say, he very well would have been turned away.

I wrote about it yesterday in the blog post attached below.

‘Select immigrants based on skill … ‘

Were that to happen, the United States of America would have lost a great patriot.

Donald Trump’s arrogance as it related to immigrants — illegal and legal — has disgraced the American political process.

‘Democratic socialist’ sounding more, um, socialist

berniesanders-61515-1434466786

The┬á more I hear from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the more convinced I become that it’s time to end the qualifier when describing his economic philosophy.

The presidential candidate calls himself a “democratic socialist.”

I believe I understand the message he’s trying to convey, which is that his brand of socialism isn’t dependent entirely on the government taking care of every American’s needs.

Sanders has been using the democratic socialist label — again, in my view — to take some of the sting out of the s-word that conservatives are fond of using to describe policies such as, oh, the Affordable Care Act.

Then on Thursday night, near the end of the Democratic presidential candidate debate with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sanders launched into a lengthy riff about the two political leaders he most admired.

He ended with Winston Churchill, but only after he described Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s tenure as president.

He told us how FDR took office in 1933 while 25 percent of Americans were out of work. We were in the throes of the Great Depression.

How did FDR get us moving again? By energizing government to create jobs. The WPA and CCC were government-financed employment programs. The money to pay for them didn’t just materialize. Americans paid for them with taxes.

Social Security became law in 1935.

Gradually, the nation began to work its way out of the Great Depression.

Then came Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Everything changed after that.

But as I listened Thursday night to Sen. Sanders go on and on about FDR’s leadership, I was struck by the belief that he was talking about socialism. Not just a form of it, but the unvarnished version of it.

I happen to share Sanders’ view that 80-plus years ago, President Roosevelt faced a terrible, miserable set of circumstances when he took his seat behind the big desk in the Oval Office. He felt he had to do something dramatic to get the country going.

Sanders also said something else at the end of the debate that I found a bit curious. He seems to believe the nation is ready for another “revolution,” that the income inequality gap of today sets up a need to create some kind of massive government infusion of money to bolster working families who are suffering while the “top 1 percent of Americans” are doing fabulously.

He wants free college education. Sanders vows to bring universal health care to every American. He intends to push for a dramatic increase in the federal minimum wage.

How does he intend to pay for it? He wants to raise taxes on all Americans.

How, then, is he going to do that with Republicans retaining control of the House of Representatives, where all tax legislation must originate?

He sounds like a socialist.

Not a democratic socialist.

He sounds like the real thing.

I believe I heard someone who is overreaching as he pulls the lever on the economic alarm bell.

FDR faced a grave economic crisis the likes of which will not confront the next president.

 

He was a great man

Men achieve greatness many ways. Some seek it. Occasionally it falls on others. Still others become great simply by being who they are, by playing by the rules, and living good lives.

I want to introduce you to a great man I once knew.

His name was Ioannis Panayotis Kanellopoulos. The English translation is John Peter Kanelis. He was my grandfather. We called him “Papou,” which is the Greek term for grandpa.

He was born 129 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1885, in a tiny village on the southern peninsula of Greece, the Peloponnese. He would marry my grandmother, who lived in a nearby village, in 1919.

They had moved to America by the time they married. They brought seven children into the world, starting with my father, Peter; then, in order, came Tom, Eileen, Alice, Elizabeth, Constantino and Sophia. All the children became successes. They all had some heartache and grief along the way, but they have done well.

They owe it to their upbringing.

Papou wasn’t an educated man. He never learned how to drive a car. He toiled as a laborer in a Pittsburgh, Pa., steel mill. Then the Depression hit. He then sought to manage a hotel in Bellows Fall, Vt. That endeavor didn’t work out.

My father — as the eldest child —┬áthen helped herd the entire family across the vast country, to┬áPortland, Ore., in the late 1930s.

Papou then operated a shoe-shine stand in the basement of a major downtown Portland department store. That’s what he did for the rest of his working life. He shined shoes. He snapped the buffing rag so smartly it sounded almost like music.

I’ll acknowledge that my grandfather didn’t do a lot of grandfatherly things with me or, as near as I can remember, with any of his grandkids. We didn’t go on outings with him and my grandmother;┬áneither of them drove. I recall a couple of memorable all-inclusive family outings on the Oregon coast that included a whole host of aunts, uncles, cousins and, yes, my grandparents.

My grandmother died in September 1968. My grandparents were married for 49 years. Papou would live until 1981, when he passed away at the age of 95 — which is not bad for a man who smoked stogies daily for nearly his entire adult life.

I want to remember him today as a great American because of the simple dignity with which he lived. He didn’t achieve outward, look-at-me greatness.┬áHe didn’t call attention to himself. He simply achieved greatness by being who he was.

He came to the United States of America in search of a better life than the one he left behind in that tiny Greek village. By God, he found it.

Happy birthday, Papou.