Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Politics

They Heard it from a Brother in Arms: More Trump Learning Moments

The other day I sat down with four colonels for a post work whiskey. There were five of us, one African-American and three conservative White-Americans, and we kicked around politics. I should report that it is not at all clear what the political preferences were of the latter three during the presidential campaign. Politics is not polite discussion with a military officer unless you know your interlocutor well.

During discussion I made the same points with them about “safe spaces” noted in my last post, and added to them the anecdote of my Latino friend’s son in Los Angeles who got bullied by a Trumpista child at school as well as that of my cousin, who recently got jumped by racists in Los Angeles last week. I also stressed that even before Mr. Trump was selected president that as Americans we are dealing with an extraordinary deportation crisis that gets too little attention. There is, according to US Embassy estimates, now nearly 500,000 US children in Mexican schools as a consequence of deportations, which have risen under President Obama. My point to them was that the issues of deportation and building walls has been very personal to me and Mexican-Americans before Mr. Trump astonishing political triumphs.

Two things stood out during this group gab. The first was the honesty and patience with which conservative colonels listened and attempted to understand the perspectives of two people whose world views they did not share, indeed could not share, so as to gain greater knowledge and awareness. This I thought extremely important for obvious reasons.

The second was the eloquence of the African-American colonel. He spoke plainly and with pathos of his and his family’s plight, of the very real concerns and fears that African-American families live with every day in a way that only they do. The conservative colonels heard this from a brother in arms. They all got it and at least for the moment I think that they realized that there is more to liberal whining, that there is something to BlackLivesMatter that is important even for them to grasp.

These particular men of war are all outstanding professionals that I deeply respect and admire. This discussion brought home an important lesson for me; namely, that all of us need to continue to talk with and listen to those reasonable openminded souls in our orbit.


Post Trump Teaching Moment at Work

So, my class the other day started to whinge about safe-spaces, political correctness, etc. on college campuses today. I got noticeably angry and asked them to remember what college was like in the late 1980s and early 90s, when they and I were there.  They said, “It was great! So much better, rawer, tougher etc.”

So I asked, ok, let’s hear from the minorities and women in the room. (There are none). As gently and firmly as I could, I reminded them of the nastiness, meanness, sexism, racism, homophobia that was pretty widespread then and how hard this was on individuals at the time. “It might have been all those wonderful things for you,” I preached, but not everyone agrees with you because not everyone is like you (i.e. privileged [male,White, and well-off]).

I could tell that they remained skeptical, but I think they got the message. Without denying some of the fun and advantages of the old days, there is no going back to safe spaces for racism, misogyny, homophobia and all that, at least there isn’t for decent people. And I am happy to report that the bulk of my students are really good dudes and outstanding professionals.

Stay With Us, Mr. President

President Barack Obama is not likely to sit idly by if President Donald Trump attempts to fulfill the more notorious and nefarious promises made during his campaign. Obama devoted his presidency to improving policies, domestic and international, social, economic, and environmental. He has admitted to his administration’s weaknesses in marketing its achievements, but is rightly proud of his stewardship, particularly with respect to the economy. The public seems to agree, for it is sending Obama off to retirement with high approval ratings. But we can bet that he will not go quietly into the night, as is the tradition of retired American presidents, because the country is in political crisis every bit as dangerous as the economic one he inherited. Obama knows this; he understands the “fierce urgency of now.”  We can bet that he will eventually break with tradition to continue to serve his country, to defend his most important policies, and to deter the worst excesses of Trump.

Some in the GOP believe that Obama will serve as something of a punching bag for Trump going forward that will enable his policies. This is GOP hubris and Trump, with better instincts, seems to be having none of this. His first meeting with President Obama clearly cowed him into an unctuous diplomatic graciousness. There is peace, for now, between these two men as Trump goes about the business of assembling his cabinet. Obama is helping Trump to get a feel for the scope and scale of the job he won. We can all wonder what shots Obama has fired across the president elect’s bow.

But there will be bad blood, eventually, once Trump and the GOP Congress start to craft dangerous policies that threaten to harm America and its most vulnerable minorities. Trump is already beating the deportation drum. Sanders, Warren, Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Biden as fighting generals, will be a formidable cadre, speaking and organizing the opposition into civil disobedience, marches, and, eventually, the ballot box.

Obama will be the linchpin of this fight. This is dangerous for Trump because no Democrat can approach his eloquence and fire when unshackled from high office. If you doubt this, review his 2008 campaign speeches. No other Democrat has his pen or sober reasoning. If you doubt this, re-read his Nobel speech, his Dreams from My Father, or check out any of the long interviews he has recently given on television or in print. He can, if necessary, command the media, Trump-like, if you will.

His retreat from politics is probably on hold now. We can expect Obama to be patient, strategic, as is his way. Others will lead charges into the canons. But make no mistake, as he likes to say, he himself will be the hardest hitting cavalry general. Stay with us, Mr. President, stay with us.




On “Duty,” by Robert Gates (forgot to post a couple of years ago)

I badly want this Gates book to end. You loved the troops, got it. You hate politics, got it. You’re a fantastic leader of big complex organizations and, ironically, a tremendous political and bureaucratic fighter, got it. You’re old, like fatty foods and booze, and are breaking down physically, got it. You’re forgiving towards people you like and will make excuses for them (i.e. you’re human), got it.

That said, it is full of sharp insights, good if tendentious critiques of the decision-making process and strategy, and a useful look at the Afghan policymaking decision-making process where Biden, who according to him, was wrong on everything (but, let it be said, Biden was right on this).

Senior Scholars and Their Review Essays

There is a special place in heaven for those senior scholars who produce those indispensable review essays that provide guidance for our own detailed reading and examination or, more often the case, allow us to take a brief tour of an intellectual battlefield that we must often teach but we will never have time to explore in great depth.

Some of my favorites, in no special order, are by Scocpol(1), Doyle(2), Dominguez(3), Betts(4), and Gourevitch(5). There are many more, of course, but I thought I should all take a minute to give thanks for some of my favorites.

This morning, I reread “Conflict or Cooperation? Three Visions Revisited,” by Richard Betts (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2010, 186-194). I was stunned once again at how good an essay this is, not only in its excellent and balanced summary, critique, and synthesis of books by Fukuyama (Conflict or Cooperation), Huntington (Clash of Civilizations), and Mearsheimer (Tragedy of Great Power Politics) but also with the durability of the author’s perspective.

From the vantage point of 2010, Betts concluded: “The problem is that Davos-style liberalism and militant neoconservatism have both been more influential than the three more profound and sober visions of a Fukuyama, Huntington, and Mearsheimer.”

True as this was, it is far less true today and my fond hope is that President Obama will get the credit he deserves for being a profoundly sober leader whose prudential realism, anchored in a measured Kantian liberal internationalism, has revealed neoconservatism for the reckless enterprise that it was when the country became unhinged after September 11.

The question I have is whether President Clinton will be as prudent and restrained? I’m afraid that she’ll be too eager “to do something” and will be talked into dipping her toes into quagmires by the generals and admirals that she has worked so assiduously to woo since joining the Senate. My hope is that all that wooing was just good politics and networking.

(1) Skocpol, “A Critical Review of Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.” Check it out here.

(2) Doyle, Doyle. 1983. Kant, liberal legacies, and foreign affairs. Philosophy and public affairs 12 (summer and fall): 205-35, 323-53.

(3) Dominguez, “Samuel Huntington and the Latin American State” can be had here.

(4) “Conflict or Cooperation? Three Visions Revisited,” by Richard Betts (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2010, 186-194).

(5) Peter Gourevitch, “The Second Image Reversed.”








We Need “General Sherman’s Memorial Highway”

I think we need to extend I-85 westward. It now runs from Montgomery, Alabama to Atlanta and points beyond. It should start in Jackson, Mississippi and run through Selma too. We should call it “General Sherman’s Memorial Highway.” This would counter nicely the giant Confederate flag that those assholes insist on flying right next to I-65, just north of Montgomery on the way to Birmingham

Nobility of Character: Look Elsewhere

I’m always bemused by smart and worldly people who look for nobility of character in their politicians.

Divided Italy

Said of Italy, before it became a nation of the Earth, that perhaps applies to our divided days: “The timid weakness of individuals, the insecurity of groups, and the delusion of superiority generated perpetual fear, suspicion, dislike, and contempt of the different, the alien, and the strange.” -Durant, The Renaissance

Mr. Khan’s America, My America


Photo Credit: Getty Images, from Politico, “Seven Minutes that Shook the Convention.”

This courageous man, an immigration attorney, delivered one of the most powerful things I have ever seen at convention. It certainly is my favorite. The details are in the linked essay but you can see the speech here for yourself. Rafael Suarez Jr. characterized it this way on his Facebook page: “Capt. Khan’s father is the star of the Democratic Convention. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, this grieving father, this dignified immigrant is delivering a love letter to his adopted country.”

Andrew Sullivan, live-blogging, said:

9:19 p.m. This I can clearly say: that last speech was the best of the last two weeks, and the most necessary. When that father brought out his own copy of the Constitution and waved it at Donald Trump, it was the fulcrum of this election. This is what is at stake – the core values of this country under threat from a man who has no understanding of the Constitution he would swear to uphold.

9:13 p.m. Okay, this is jaw-droppingly powerful: the dignified father, Khizr Khan, of a fallen Muslim soldier, refuting the rancid divisiveness of Trump by his very composure and gravity.

I was moved by this man and this most numinous moment that was anything but the usual rhetoric and rodomontade of a political convention. I was touched by Mr. Suarez’s description, “delivering a love letter to his adopted country.” The Politico story nabbed this tidbit, said by Mr. Khan before his speech: “It is my small share to show the world, by standing there, the goodness of America.” As a fellow immigrant — I came to the US when I was five, undocumented, with my family — I felt like I was standing there with him in his dream, sharing his pride and his concern.

Mr. Khan appeared on the stage as if brought to life by Mr. Obama’s words from the previous evening. He too took as his starting point the law of our land, contrasted this America to the Orwellian one posited by Mr. Trump, and then eviscerated his lie with the simple eloquence of truth, hanging this epitaph on the GOP candidate: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

September 11, like most violent shocks to a nation, triggered good as well as evil as we all are aware. Together with the war on terror, there has also been a growing divide in our body politic across several dimensions such as race, religion, immigration, and rural-urban landscapes, just to name a few. Add to these the effects of globalization and technology that have hammered low-skilled workers, and we are where we are, perhaps on the precipice of Trump’s America.

But I don’t think so, at least not quite. I expect candidate Clinton will methodically wear down and defeat Trump in the battleground states handily. This, however, is the easy part. I am less doubtful that we will, as a nation, turn the corner and begin to invest more in the right things in order to improve the well-being of those who are now clinging to Trump. Hard enough as this will be, I’m afraid that the decay in working class America might already be beyond repair, setting us up for more Trumps.

One thing is certain. Mr. Khan’s America, my America, has eroded.






Shilling for The Abuela #TeamAbuela

I want to be perfectly clear, friends and readers: it is ruthless necessity that makes me a shill for The Abuela. In politics, necessity rules. With apologies to LBJ, it is important to remember that it is not the main business of politicians to run around saying and doing principled things. Their job is to govern, by crook if necessity demands it. The Trumpistas and Bernistas, not to mention decent people with Hillary derangement syndrome, would do well to remember this. The other guy is a menace to the republic, your loved ones serving in the military, and your pocketbooks. It’s on you if The Abuela loses.

%d bloggers like this: