Gregory Peck was just right for Atticus Finch. Tom Hanks was the best choice for Mister Rogers. Decent men who do the right thing should play decent men who do the right thing. Ethan Sacks notes that:
In this era of partisan divisions, Joanne Rogers often laments how much this generation of children could use the kindness radiated by her late husband.
“I’ve never known it in my life to be like this (time period),” she told NBC News ahead of the Thursday release of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
“One of the most important things to Fred was reconciliation. I think he would be appalled,” she says of the political discourse of this era. “I am appalled.”
But he’s dead, so someone else has to take up the slack here:
It’s no coincidence that “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” – inspired by the true story behind Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire cover profile on children’s television icon Fred Rogers, and the salve the experience had on the journalist’s own fractured family life – is coming out now at a time when a majority of Americans are angry at the country’s political establishment and pessimistic about its future.
“When Peter Saraf, one of the producers, sent the script to me, it made me weep,” director Marielle Heller said. “It felt so important and it felt like something I wanted to spend my time doing and I could feel like I’m putting something good out into the world by making this movie. We’re living in scary times and I think we all have that feeling that we’re losing touch with each other and we’re losing touch with the ability to listen to each other and empathize with each other… it feels like we need Mr. Rogers more than ever.”
And right now there doesn’t seem to be an obvious heir.
So Heller hired Tom Hanks to do the best he could.
There was only one person that Heller could picture donning the red cardigan sweater of the children’s television icon – Tom Hanks, a regular fixture atop polls of the most trusted Americans and, as Ancestry.com ferreted out, a distant cousin of Rogers himself.
“There are few people we feel as warmly towards as Tom Hanks,” Heller said. “And he represents some part of our heart that feels similar to how we feel towards Mr. Rogers. And there’s almost nobody else I can think of who we feel that way about.”
And of course Donald Trump is no Tom Hanks and he’s certainly no Fred Rogers. He pardoned Americans soldiers convicted of war crimes – let our soldiers slit the throats of children if they feel like it. We train our boys to be killing machines. These generals and admirals talk about duty and honor and disciple and doing the right thing, and about the chain of command – but Trump is talking about freedom. No commander can tell Real Americans what to do or not to do. No one should be forced to follow orders. Freedom! Freedom from government!
Trump was telling every soldier and sailor and marine and airman that he (or she) didn’t need to follow orders from those old farts, any orders at all, which infuriated the military. And by the he second day of this there was this:
If Donald Trump gets his wish, he’ll soon take the three convicted or accused war criminals he spared from consequence on the road as special guests in his reelection campaign, according to two sources who have heard Trump discuss their potential roles for the 2020 effort.
Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency – fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday – Trump believes he has rectified major injustices…
Right-wing media has portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.
But that’s just not so, as Richard Danzig, a Navy secretary in the Clinton administration, and Sean O’Keefe, Navy secretary in the George H. W. Bush administration, say right here:
An American service member shared a photograph of himself with a corpse along with the message: “I have got a cool story for you when I get back. I have got my knife skills on.” Our president’s endorsement of the perpetrator will be taken as a representation of our values. Our own troops, many of them teenagers, will be misled by the president’s sense, or lack of sense, of honor.
That’s part of a longer argument, about honor. This is not Mister Roger’s neighborhood, and Max Boot lists the reasons why:
When the Republican Party sold its soul to Trump in 2016, the price included overlooking his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, on Gold Star parents, on a disabled reporter, even on John McCain; his abysmal ignorance of basic matters of public policy (he had never heard of the nuclear triad); his open collusion with Russia (“Russia, if you’re listening”); and, of course, his boasts about sexually assaulting women.
A pretty high price, that, but, like a landlord raising the rent because he knows you’re too lazy to move, Trump has dramatically escalated the cost his supporters must pay to stay in his good graces as we approach his fourth year in power. The price came to include overlooking his racist rants (e.g., telling congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from); putting kids in cages; kowtowing to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other tyrants; abandoning America’s Kurdish allies; obstructing justice and stonewalling Congress; declaring a state of emergency to spend money that Congress has not appropriated for a border wall that we don’t need; lying nonstop; using the presidency to enrich himself; and disparaging the press as “the enemy of the people.”
Now, as the impeachment proceedings have made clear, the price includes turning a blind eye to Trump’s attempt to solicit a bribe from Ukraine in return for releasing military aid – and his disparagement of the dedicated men and women in the Foreign Service, the military and the intelligence community who have revealed his self-dealing.
And yet no price is too high for the Republicans to pay; no sacrifice of truth or dignity is too abject to make.
This is not a nice neighborhood:
To support Trump, too, the party of war heroes such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole and McCain is willing to trash a combat veteran who had the courage to testify about Trump’s attempted extortion of an ally.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called this hero “Vindictive Vindman,” and other members of her party questioned his loyalty. It tells you all you need to know about the Republicans’ moral insolvency that they evidently prefer service members who commit war crimes to those who uphold the Constitution.
And then Boot finds it finally got absurd:
The wretched Republican attempts to vindicate Trump reached the level of self-parody this weekend when Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who makes Sean Hannity’s slavish devotion toward the president seem lukewarm by comparison, actually called Gordon Sondland a “deep state bureaucrat” who “is not a fan of the president.”
Yes, this is the same Sondland who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and continues to serve as his ambassador to the European Union. By telling the truth about Trump’s quid pro quo, he has become an ex post facto Never Trumper – a term of art that Trump uses to describe anyone who does not lie or make excuses on his behalf.
But everyone knows what comes next. The House impeaches Trump – the formal charges – and the Senate evaluates those charges – the trial – and then acquits him of all charges. He becomes both a martyr and an even bigger hero to just enough people in just the right places and is reelected. And nothing changes. This is our neighborhood now, and forever.
Lee Drutman doesn’t think so:
As impeachment mania grips Washington, it is easy to descend into an ever-deepening political pessimism. But as odd as it may seem, for the first time in years, I’m optimistic about the future of American democracy. It might be because I’ve been reading more history and less news. And from the long arc of American political history, I see the bright flashing arrows of a new age of reform and renewal ahead.
And here are those bright flashing arrows:
Eras of reform follow a general pattern. First, a mood of impending crisis prevails. Unfairness and inequality feel overwhelming, and national politics feels stuck and unresponsive to growing demands. But beneath the shattered yet still stubborn national stasis, new social movements organize. Politics becomes exciting and full of moral energy. New writers, empowered by new forms of media, invent new narratives. And future-oriented politicians emerge to channel that energy and challenge the old establishment.
America has gone through periodic eras of political reform, every sixty years or so.
Drutman lists those, but he zeroes in on one in particular:
Of the reform periods, the Progressive Era holds the clearest parallels to ours. In the 1890s, inequality, partisanship and discontent were all sky-high. The depression of 1893-97 shattered faith that a growing industrial economy would lift all boats. New leviathan railroad and public-utility corporations seemed imposingly powerful, and partisan politics seemed thoroughly corrupted by them. Mass immigration was changing the face of the nation.
As public dissatisfaction built, and pressure grew from multiple directions, the political system eventually responded, led by a new generation of reform-oriented activists and politicians. New forms of participatory democracy – the primary, direct elections for the Senate, the initiative and the referendum – reshaped a political system that seemed to privilege the few over the many.
Women achieved the right to vote, first in cities and states, then finally nationwide in 1920. New regulatory agencies wrestled with the size and scope of giant corporate enterprises, cutting some down to size, putting stricter boundaries on others.
And that could happen again, but Drutman argues that this happening right now, even if no one is paying attention:
A crucial Progressive Era lesson for today is that reform had no obvious order, and there was no one unified progressive movement – only a long list of social movements that sometimes made common causes and sometimes bitterly disagreed and often worked separately. Populist farmers caught in debt mobilized against the railroads. Liberal professional-class cosmopolitans grew disgusted with urban graft and devoted themselves to good-government municipal reforms. Many efforts suffered repeated setbacks before making progress.
But this was happening, and similar things are happening now, and Drutman adds this about the Progressive Era too:
Nor was there one leader, or even one political party, that drove change. A menagerie of ambitious politicians fused together different platforms and programs, and fought over fundamental issues: How much should rest on direct as opposed to representative democracy? Was it better to break up big companies, or just strengthen the ability of government to regulate them? Theodore Roosevelt, Robert La Follette, Woodrow Wilson and the coalitions backing them all had different ideas. Reform was incoherent and chaotic. It is inherently experimental – new problems demand new solutions. In short: Don’t expect one politician or one reform to hold all the answers.
But that doesn’t mean that nothing was happening, and after all, things might happen now, maybe:
The history of American democratic reform has been on balance progressive. In each era, reformers achieved at least some of their goals, and new political and economic rules tamed the most striking injustices, at least for a while.
But history never repeats itself perfectly. And we’ve never quite had a president as defiant and hostile as Donald Trump before. The hyperpolarization that powered and sustains Mr. Trump is the first and essential challenge a coming era of reform must solve. Left to escalate further, the current partisan ratchet of constitutional hardball will break our democracy.
Here’s why I’m ultimately optimistic: I see how much the election of Mr. Trump acted as an impetus for people who care about democracy to get involved. The 2018 election registered the highest turnout midterm election in 104 years, and the smart money is on a similarly high turnout election in 2020. It may sound strange to say, but Mr. Trump’s election may yet turn out to be the shock and near-death experience that American political system needed to right itself.
And that’s the new neighborhood:
When political conditions become intolerable, people eventually stop tolerating them. And when old rules and power structures crumble, new ones emerge. Now is the time to participate.
And it was certainly time to use the courts, as CNN’s Stephen Collinson notes here:
Donald Trump is not going to like his Constitution 101 lesson: “Presidents are not kings.”
A federal judge’s stunning rebuke of the White House on Monday came as the result of a case by House Democrats to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify. But it serves as a thematic frame for an entire presidency that has never played by the rules.
All of Trump’s scandals are fusing together into a momentous fight over his staggeringly broad claims of expansive presidential power. How it turns out will shape his personal political legacy, the nature of the office he has held for nearly three years and potentially the American political system itself.
The impeachment battle over Ukraine, Trump’s efforts to keep Americans in the dark over his financial past, the lingering questions left over from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report and Trump’s determination to rule as an unchallenged commander in chief now all boil down to two simple questions.
How much power does a President have? And how long can the governing institutions that he has incessantly challenged stand his wielding of instinctive yet often-erratic executive authority?
And the answers were “not that much” and “not much longer” because this ruling was brutal:
Kicking off a frenzied half hour in Washington on Monday night, federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ordered McGahn to testify before the House of Representatives, which has been trying to force his appearance since April over Mueller’s findings that suggest Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation. Jackson dismissed the President’s claim that McGahn was subject to blanket immunity.
Getting right down to the basics that most Americans learn in school, the judge quoted Founding Fathers James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville to explain the nature of the presidency.
“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote.
“It is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the judge added.
The Justice Department quickly said it planned to appeal the ruling, which has profound implications for the impeachment inquiry, since Trump has launched a similar effort to prevent administration officials from testifying under another sweeping claim of presidential immunity.
The tide is turning. It wasn’t exactly a beautiful day in the neighborhood, but the weather is getting better.