The Flag Belongs to All of Us

GELFAND’S WORLD--Over the weekend, demonstrators numbering in the hundreds carried out rallies in support of the Trump presidency in several cities. That's not quite at the level of the hundreds of thousands who participated in anti-Trump protests, but we have to concede that the motivation is different. The pro-Trump side isn't spurred by the fear of Trump. (Photo above: Viet Nam war protest.) 

In several of the places where these demonstrations occurred, an approximately equal number of counter-demonstrators showed up in opposition. What's interesting in a morbid sort of way is the response of the pro-Trump side to the anti-Trump side. As news stories reported, the pro Trump groups chanted, "USA, USA" at their opponents. It's nothing new, actually. The right wing has been wrapping itself in the symbolism of American patriotism for a long time now, as if only right wingers are entitled to love their country. 

From the right wing point of view, it's a chance to insult the liberals by suggesting that only right wingers are true patriots. What the right wingers fail to realize is that their action is damaging to the idea of American patriotism because it rules out, if nothing else by insinuation, that anybody to the left of Ronald Reagan can't be a patriot and doesn't love America. 

From the standpoint of national unity, this is potentially disastrous, because it drives a cleft between people who differ mainly on domestic policy. But what happens when all of us, left right and center, have to come together over some major emergency such as a natural disaster or a foreign attack? We managed to do so after the September 11 attacks. Would the nation rally around the Trump administration following a similar attack, considering the contempt that his movement expresses towards the majority of American citizens? Some people would feel free to wash their hands of the whole patriotic thing, considering how they've been taught by the right wing that they can't really be patriotic. 

That chant of USA, USA is obviously meant as a taunt, and a mean-spirited one at that, but it is an illegitimate attack. The right wing is trying to rob its opposition of the symbols of American pride. The proper response to this chant is to chant, "USA, USA" right back at them. Don't let them steal the symbols of democracy from the rest of us. The liberal side should not allow this to happen. 

The current generation of American right wingers either forgets or is too young to know that in the aftermath of the Viet Nam War, overt displays of American patriotism were inhibited to a substantial extent. The chant of USA, USA that we have heard in recent broadcasts of the Olympic Games represents a switch from that previous era. It shows the slow acceptance that the national differences generated by the Viet Nam conflict are largely past us. The USA chant belongs to all of us, even people who just want to root for their team in an international setting. The chant should not be perverted in the service of political malice. If the right wingers had true patriotism, they would be working to create a sense of unity among all Americans, not just among their closest allies. 

Remembering Watergate 

The current situation with regard to Trump's connection to the Russians is eerily reminiscent of the Watergate affair. The older generation remembers how that series of events eventually sorted out. For them, it's like a movie they've already seen. They know that a presidential resignation is the appropriate ending. 

As revelations accumulate, a sense of inevitability isn't quite there yet, but it is building. Right now, it's at the level of it could happen. Trumpgate (or Kremlingate -- what will we finally call it?) is no longer just a low level embarrassment or a minor scandal. The number of top level resignations is building. Attorney General Sessions might as well be numbered as a resignation, considering how his credibility has been destroyed by his own lying. 

We can even expect to be hearing the original Watergate question, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" A few pundits have already dusted it off. This question is of interest, but may I suggest that it is secondary to the main question: What deal did Donald Trump cut with the Russians prior to the election? 

It's not hard to speculate on a few possibilities. We've already seen and heard Trump's attempts to undercut the Nato alliance and to undermine the Republican platform language on American policy towards Russia. Perhaps those efforts were the result of a (so far) secret deal between Trump and Putin. The other prize for Putin would be a chance to take over Ukraine without American resistance. If Russian aggression in the eastern part of Ukraine escalates, we will have a pretty good idea of whose strings are being pulled. 

A note on the March 7 election 

We're still reeling from the November elections and now we have a city election and ballot measures to deal with. Voter fatigue doesn't begin to describe what isn't happening out there. The mayor is spending huge amounts of money on television ads mainly designed to explain to us that there is an election. That's because March 7 is an odd day for an election. He is also taking credit for bringing filming back. He doesn't mention that it's done using your tax dollars as bribes incentives to the production companies. My mail box is filled each day with slick political ads that I mostly don't read. 

There couldn't be any better argument for moving the city elections to the November time slot. (Hint: We did change that rule, which is why the City Council winners will be elected to terms ending more than five years from now.) 

One thing to remember: All of those television ads and political mailers have to be paid for. It takes lots of campaign donations dollars. This is one reason that real estate developers are so influential in Los Angeles politics. Theoretically we can fix this, but it will take a collection of ballot initiatives. We could write the initiatives and get the signatures we need. We should talk about doing this. 

I figure that we could get the initiatives on the ballot for a million dollars or so -- people who stand in front of your local supermarket with initiative petitions get paid by the signature. It's possible. 

Therefore, may I suggest that in our next Neighborhood Council Congress in September, we have a session on re-imagineering LA city government.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at