What are we fighting about?

I’ve been worrying this nut for a while. This Republican administration (executive and legislative branches) is doing and saying outrageous and crazy and disturbing things multiple times every single day. From the gigantic, unconstitutional sledgehammers like the Muslim and Immigrant Ban to the minuscule, almost incidental sneaky moves, like removing inspection records of would-be puppy mills from the USDA website – it is impossible to keep track of it all. Focusing on what the administration DOES, not what it SAYS, helps, but there is still a huge volume of crazy to contend with.

Let’s look at this week alone: Betsy DeVos is nominated only by a historically unprecedented (i.e. it has never happened before in American history) tie-breaking vote cast by the Vice President; Jeff Sessions is nominated only after 49 Republican Senators vote to silence Elizabeth Warren (using a Senate rule that was written and used to silence critics of slavery); the President has challenged the competence of the Judicial branch in multiple tweets; the Press Secretary has reported three different times about a totally invented terrorist attack that took place in Atlanta (not to mention the “tragedy” at Bowling Green); Kellyanne Conway pops up on “Fox & Friends” to tell folks to buy Ivanka’s clothes, after the President tweeted angrily against Nordstrom’s; etc. etc. And this is just me sitting at my computer, listing things off the top of my head.

Someone please make it stop! I’m looking around for the bully police, the folks in power who will stand up and say, “hey, that’s not how we do things in this country.” I’m looking around for my fellow Americans to recognize that our very democracy is at stake, that checks and balances are being undermined with every passing day, that their elected representatives are not representing them faithfully, but rather with cynicism and arrogance and bigotry.

And I find those characters everywhere I look – the brave Democratic Senators and staff who stay up all night to fight the nominations. Thank you! Keep it up! The brave judges who, for now, anyway, insist on applying precedent and constitutional analysis to the Administration’s actions. Thank you! Keep it up! The hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens who are calling and writing and sitting in and marching and generally being outraged. Let’s thank ourselves, give ourselves a pat on the back! Keep it up!

And that is amazing – Democrats with a spine, staying united, fighting as hard as they can. I haven’t seen that in my lifetime. And my fellow citizens out in the kind of numbers we are seeing, haven’t seen that in my lifetime either.

But really what I haven’t seen in my lifetime – and the nut I am worrying right now – is the utter disregard the Administration (exec. and legis. branch) have for the consequences of their actions. I have come to the conclusion that the Republicans in congress, and those in the White House, simply don’t care about the majority of the American people. They don’t care that they are showing themselves to be bigoted, sexist, racist, xenophobic, greedy, lying, patriarchal, short-sighted and mean. They don’t, in short, care about American democracy.

Why? Why aren’t Republicans in congress fighting to preserve the democratic traditions of the Senate? Why aren’t they insisting that basic vetting processes be followed for nominees? Why aren’t they pushing for the President’s family to divest from their investments to avoid conflicts of interest? Why aren’t they calling the President on his crude attempts to discredit America’s judges and the judicial branch?

And this is the cynical crux of it, I think:  They seem to have made a calculated bet that Americans – or at least their Americans — don’t care about American Democracy either. (And the recent PPP poll that asks Trump supporters if Trump should follow court orders seems to support this calculation.) Maybe, they wager, a little autocracy wouldn’t be a bad thing, as long, of course, as they are the autocrats. Maybe, in fact, that is the whole plan. To dismantle American democracy.

Is this a fight, in part, about the kind of system of government we want? Is everything really on the table – the three branches, the separation of powers, the rules against nepotism and money in politics, the constitution itself? Is that what the 2016 election was about?

And if so, what does that mean about how we resist? What are we betting on, and how do we hedge those bets?

More next week.  Have fun in the snow, all you lucky East Coasters!

Reflection in Action

As she signed off last night, Rachel Maddow said something like “if you are concerned and want to do something, figure out what you’re good at and start doing that for your country.”  That’s critical reflection in a nutshell.  So here’s my personal inventory:

My goals for engaging in resistance actions and movements:

  1. To make a substantive difference (e.g. to defeat a policy, change a vote, etc.)
  2. To keep track of what is happening (e.g. maintain a record, serve as a witness)
  3. To build community outside my comfort zone
  4. To be able to tell my grandchildren that I stood up and resisted

My strengths:

  1. I have substantive knowledge about and deep interest in the legal system and how the three branches of government [should] operate.
  2. I am have a lot of experience writing, editing, presenting information
  3. I have confidence in my ability to communicate, organize and lead
  4. I feel committed to remaining engaged in resistance efforts for the foreseeable future

My challenges:

  1. I am an extreme introvert. I don’t like meetings.
  2. I have not practiced as a lawyer for decades
  3. I am not confident in my command of various doctrinal areas of law (e.g. immigration)
  4. I have a quick temper and get triggered easily by the bullying tactics of Trump and the Repubs.

This is just a top-of-my-head analysis, but it gets to the heart of my process of deciding how to get and stay involved.  The key for me is to engage in activities and actions that meet as many of my four stated goals as possible; that utilize as many of my strengths as possible; and that trigger as few of the challenges as possible.

Another way I think about how to make these decisions is what my spouse and I call “the New York City furniture test.”  Because apartments in New York are so small, space is at a premium, so every piece of furniture has to function in multiple ways:  a bed might be both a place to sleep and a place to store sweaters; a coffee table can be both a place to display arty books and to eat dinner;  a step stool could be both a way to reach high things and a plant stand.

So in deciding whether to sign on to this committee or that project, I ask myself:  what function will my participation serve? Which, if any, of my goals will be met; which, if any, of my strengths will be utilized; which, if any, of my challenges will I have to overcome?   My answers to these questions lead me to engage in activities that I enjoy, am good at, and can commit to for the long haul, if necessary.  That is reflection in action, my friends.  I strongly recommend it!

So that’s me.  How about you? What are your goals for involvement? Strengths? Challenges? What lovely piece of New York City furniture does your critical reflection lead you to?

Critical Reflection

We left off yesterday worrying the nut of how to decide what to do, and when and how to do it.  I have continued to worry that nut, to some (I hope) productive end: I have learned that in order to engage effectively and responsibly in any kind of sustained action, I need to practice critical reflection to identify goals, methods, obstacles and tools for such engagement.  (Apologies in advance for my abstraction.  I’ll get more concrete, I promise.)

As I have written elsewhere (plug here for Margaret Johnson’s and my new book: http://www.cap-press.com/books/isbn/9781531003845/Lawyers-Clients-and-Narrative), critical reflection pushes me (all of us?) to explore and uncover the assumptions through which I (all of us!) tend to pass any information that comes our way — including how we define and categorize people we perceive as needing our assistance.

Through critical reflection, I self-consciously place myself within the particular context in which I am operating:  Specifically, I recognize that I, as a lawyer and a professor, am someone with (relative) power in the legal and political system — in that I knows its rules and how to use them; and I have access to channels of communication and influence.  That is what I bring to the table.

Through critical reflection, I self-consciously evaluate my power and ability to act in relation to the other characters involved in the  particular context in which I am operating:   Those other characters could be judges, other lawyers, government officials — all of whom also have inherent power in the legal and political system.  But the other characters are also protest movements, community organizations, other professionals, affected communities and individuals, etc..  And while those kinds of entities might NOT have the embedded power that I and other lawyers and professors have, they have their own power, emanating from different sources.  Critical reflection helps me identify, assess and make intentional choices about engaging with those sources of power.

Through critical reflection, I recognize impediments to my (and others’) power to function in the particular context I’m operating in:  My gender, for example, or my apparent sexual orientation; my age; my experience; my familiarity with particular areas of law or procedural practice; my time availability; my energy level; my confidence, etc.  Through critical reflection I have learned to pay attention and notice which of these kinds of things might undermine my effectiveness and/or get in the way of my engagement.  Critical reflection also helps me identify the power of the other characters, and any impediments on their ability to participate and engage effectively.

So basically, I use critical reflection to identify:

  • my general goals
  • my specific goals
  • my strengths (sources of power)
  • my challenges (impediments to power)
  • others’ strengths (sources of power)
  • others’ challenges (impediments to power)

I do this reflection by reminding myself to be humble both about how much power and knowledge I have and can contribute; but also about how much power and knowledge I DON’T have and shouldn’t try to contribute.  I remind myself not to be afraid to ask questions, to seek help from others with more expertise, to acknowledge that I am not the only one with power, drive, passion, commitment and determination.

I think what I have come to realize is that to engage in long-term resistance and rebuilding, I need to keep my spiritual and intellectual and emotional house in order.  I need to understand WHY I want to engage in resistance before I decide what to do and how to do it.  Critical reflection is my tool for gaining this understanding.

It’s not all navel gazing — this reflection does lead me to action — but it’s a marathon, people.  We’ve gotta pace ourselves.

Stay tuned . . .

Short and Long Term Resistance

Today’s nut is about organizing our priorities.  For those of you who didn’t read the comments on yesterday’s post (“I feel hopeful today”), here is one from my brilliant sister (a Buddhist chaplain who ministers to men and women in maximum security prisons in California):

“I think it IS signalling that the vision for a multicultural America is strongly recognized by the corporate titans as the vision of the future, which at the level of vision and narrative is a very good thing. Hopefully signals that the Trump Admin and policies may in fact be a powerful, but last, gasp of a minority afraid of a changing demographic and the implications for its own place in the world. [That last gasp] can do a lot of damage, though, in the short to medium term…”

Every day, when I wake up,  I call my senators (both Dems) and thank them for their opposition to DeVos and Sessions and Mnuchin and Price.  I call my rep (also a Dem) and thank him for all his great work resisting the administration’s efforts to build a wall, impose a ban, repeal Obamacare, etc.  (I don’t reach out to other senators and reps because I’ve read the Indivisible Guide warnings that members of congress work only for their own constituents (if even that), and don’t care what non-constituents think.) Then I tend to my social media, sharing, responding, posting, amplifying those voices and energies that emphasize forward movement and positive interaction; turning down the negative energy and voices that call for destruction and violence.  And all that is good — necessary and important.

But is it sufficient?

Clearly, we need to be in this for the long haul — the soonest we can hope to see any real structural change is the mid-term elections, slightly less than two years from now.  And even if the Dems take back the House and Senate, we still have another two years of a Republican in the White House (even assuming impeachment, we are stuck with Pence, who in many ways is even more dangerous than the current President).  As my sister rightly points out, a lot of very damaging actions can be taken in those two-four years; actions that have the potential to undermine the rule of law and the functioning of our democracy for years to come.

So in addition to taking action every morning to stop, resist, protest the immediate actions of the Administration, what kinds of things are we doing to build long term resistance to the Administration and its water-boys in the House and Senate? Not to mention rebuilding the structures and systems that the people in power now seem intent on destroying.

And how do we decide — among the multitude of actions and opportunities — what to do and when to do it? Who should I call, what should I write, where should I sign up, how can I help?That’s my worrying nut for today.  I’ll continue tomorrow with some worrying on the notion of using clinical pedagogy/critical reflection to help make those decisions.

Stay tuned!

I feel hopeful today

At the suggestion of my spouse — who is smart about these things — I am going to blog a bit everyday about whatever nut I woke up worrying about or feeling excited by.  I want to be able to tell my eventual grand children what it was really like during the brief and dizzying time known as “The Trump Administration.”   And I want to be able to say, “this is what I did to hasten its demise.”  Keeping a record is almost always a good idea.

So here is today’s nut:  capitalism, when fueled by social responsibility, is a good thing.  Take last night’s “Big Game” — but more specifically, the commercials.  I didn’t watch the game, but I know what happened (big Patriots fan in the family, so these things do matter); I didn’t watch the commercials, but I know what happened.

What happened was:  smart corporations (Budweiser, Audi, 84Lumber, Airbnb, to name a few) appeared to use their precious Superbowl ad minutes (which I hear are exponentially more valuable and expensive than regular old ad minutes) to make subtle and not-so-subtle statements about Trump’s immigration ban.  Does that mean those corporations are opposed to the Executive Order and/or to Trump’s “plans” to build a wall? Maybe.  Some of them, anyway.  But for sure what it means is that the marketers at these smart corporations are paying attention.  Their ads tell us that these smart marketers believe that the majority of the people watching the Superbowl — i.e. the majority of the purchasing public — i.e. the majority of the American people — are opposed to the Executive Orders and/or plans to build a wall.

Given how much every second of airtime costs these corporations, I’m betting their marketers do a lot of research — reading the tea leaves, looking at the polls, listening to focus groups.  The fact that these are the ads that those marketers concluded were the most cost-effective and efficient — having, as my marketer spouse has taught me, the highest R.O.I. — gives me hope.  Not so much hope that I am going to stop calling the Capitol Switchboard every day, but hope.

That’s the nut for today.