SCYLLA and CHARYBDIS
By Jay B Gaskill
Classicists will recognize Scylla and Charybdis as the two sea monsters in the Homeric legend that occupied opposite sides of the narrow Strait of Messina. Any mariner who dared thread the path between them faced deadly perils on both sides, hence the expression, being caught between a rock and a hard place.
Herpetologists (who study creeping things) will recognize this portrayal of Clinton and Trump as Chameleons. As a professional politician, Clinton’s positions have changed over decades, sometimes during a single campaign, while Trump’s populist rhetoric has often mutated, clarified, reversed itself, changing positions day to day.
Our Scylla and Charybdis trap, caught as we are between two political chameleons, is not unprecedented. After all, most politicians are deliberately vague. But given the real perils the US faces, our situation is so perilous that we would be better off staging a dice roll between the two Vice Presidential candidates, were they elevated to Presidential candidates.
The USA desperately needs a functioning two party system, one characterized by mutually respectful dialogue. Without ongoing checks and balances, each party can become corrupt, extremist, or both. For most of the Cold War epoch, bipartisan cooperation was the norm, especially when Democrats were anti-communist and pro-military and Republicans were fully on the same page. That ship has sailed – today, both parties are ideologically fractured. I note that registered democrats and republicans are greatly outnumbered by the voters who identify themselves as independents. However this election and its aftermath play out, our country is in for wrenching changes.
Perils, Problems and Proposals
THE PENDING PERILS
According to Gaskill
Can the Iranian regime’s ill-concealed rush to become the next deadly nuclear power be stopped in time? A nuclear armed jihad (and make no mistake that is the underlying peril) would make the Cold War seem like a bad vacation. Given the negligent acquiescence of the current administration, Obama’s reliance on the vaunted “treaty” with the radical Iran regime will not work. Without robust “kinetic sanctions” (i.e., a credible, fully effective military preemptive response, unhesitatingly employed as necessary), we will wake up in a nightmare world.
There is a huge and pervasive infiltration of Palestine by the terrorist entity, Hezbollah, siting vast stores of missiles and bombs near fragile civilian targets, with enough firepower to do terrible damage to Israel next door. Which candidate can be relied on to take Israel’s side when the missiles are launched? Hint: The current administration stood idly by while Hezbollah moved in with the support and material assistance of Iran. Hillary has been associated with hawkish positions in the past, but over the last seven years has not differentiated herself from the Obama administration’s thinly veiled hostility to Israel. Trump likes to talk tough about the Islamic threat but his actual foreign policy behavior remains unpredictable.
Will the US Supreme Court still be able to act as a realistic check on the abuse of power by the executive branch, against the constitutional overreach by the legislative branch and the unchecked power grabs by massive federal regulatory agencies? The next president will fill more than two key vacancies on the High Court, shaping its composition and direction for decades to follow. Hillary is committed to a court that would not have attempted to reign in the administration’s executive power, and will reverse what she sees as an excessive commitment to the Second Amendment, and to an unwarranted use of the First Amendment on behalf of political fundraising. Trump has submitted a list of strict constructionist SCOTUS candidates, while at the same time railing at slanderous media coverage, threatening to sic teams of lawyers on his critics with apparent reckless disregard for the First Amendment considerations.
Who will get the USA through the coming fiscal and international monetary crisis without collapsing the dollar and crashing our economy? This is a complex subject, far beyond the scope of a single essay. Suffice it to say that both candidates are aware of the impending train wreck. But neither Hillary nor Donald has squarely addressed it. WHY? …Because neither has a good answer.
INTRACTABLE PROBLEMS / CHALLENGING PROPOSALS
According to Gaskill
The USA needs to take concrete, realistic, real-time steps to reverse the decline of our middle class and restore the US manufacturing base by providing honest, meaningful employment to the vast army of underutilized workers – meaning real work as opposed to a perpetual condition of dependency disguised as an entitlement. The kinds of solutions that will work in the real world tend to trespass equally on liberal and conservative orthodoxy. For example, the identification of certain industries as essential to national security for trade protection (think of exotic metals, key aircraft technology, for example) tends to be dismissed by ideologues of both wings – one as too militaristic, one as a violation of free trade principles. No matter who wins, some major heavy lifting will be needed, including forging difficult compromises with difficult people. Ideologues and faint-hearted political hacks need not apply.
Our two traditional political parties need to reconfigure the presidential nomination process by incorporating at least three reforms: (1) Vetting: Any person who wants to be a republican or democratic candidate for the president of the United States must be confidentially vetted first for all potential medical, financial and scandal issues. Confidentiality is essential to permit those who are rejected to agree to participate. Failure to fully cooperate in the vetting process will be disqualifying. (2) Primary reform: No weighted primary votes, especially no winner-take-all primaries will be permitted. Each political party will determine the sequence and scheduling of state by state primary voting, on consultation with state party officials. In a deadlocked convention, party officials have plenary authority to determine the nominee, but cannot bypass the vetting process. (3) Debate reform: The primary debate rules are determined by the party in advance, including the selection of debate moderators, the number of participants, and the consequences for candidates who disregard the debate rules (which can include disqualification).
The looming fiscal crisis is strongly coupled to the gathering international trade and finance crisis. When it hits (and it will), mere spending austerity and higher tax revenues will not be enough. Robust economic growth will be essential, especially in the industries than can employ more of the 35% of working age Americans who are currently sidelined. But a growth surge is being held back by a vast web of contradictory policy goals. For example, energy policy is stalled by ambivalence regarding a natural gas boom (well within our reach, if we dare), a national commitment to roll out a 4th generation nuclear energy economy (the zero carbon solution that actually works), among other issues.
Worse, through a combination of neglect and design, much of this commerce- suffocating spider-web is entangled with a pervasive federal regulatory regime – an alphabet soup of agencies that, by virtue of their complexity and insulation from meaningful congressional and executive management, have become intractably difficult to reform. Collectively, they add up to “regulation without representation.”
The USA needs a sophisticated blend of industrial policy (selectively reestablishing protecting key local industries and their attendant jobs) with fair and open access to foreign markets (a goal that conflicts with other countries’ industrial policies).
Our country’s economic crisis will require policy approaches that are intelligent, non-ideological, proactive, practical and creative. But when have these terms ever been honestly applied to the creaking, corrupt antiquated political system that operates inside the DC Beltway?
► Please note: Intractable does not mean impossible.
In the context of the grave stakes and challenges, and the very difficult steps needed to avert disaster, all the discussions around special bathroom accommodations for transsexuals (whatever the merits), and nearly all the pending “social issues” are just distractions.
Moreover, it is painfully obvious that the economic issues looming over the USA will not be resolved without additional tax revenues. And it is equally obvious that that the way forward requires each party to accommodate the other.
Our country needs someone of the stature and bipartisan support of a Dwight David Eisenhower,
But we will be settling for much less. Voting for either Hillary or Donald presents a vexing Scylla and Charybdis choice for most Americans – a gamble either way. Both candidates are chameleon politicians. Both promises to take us in a separate direction, or do they? No wonder that a majority of their supporters doubt whether they can take their candidate’s promises and assurances seriously.
Electing Trump presents risks that many find unacceptable. Informed conservative voters are being asked to gamble on a moderately good outcome (a more conservative Supreme Court, a tougher foreign policy stance) versus bleak downside possibilities. Informed liberal supporters of a Hillary presidency are being asked to gamble on a moderately good, somewhat unsatisfying outcome (say, a centrist, pragmatic president), versus a circle-the-wagons partisan standoff, possibly coupled with a POTUS health crisis, even hesitation in the face of a Hezbollah attack on Israel or allowing an Iranian nuclear breakout.
Few voters have confidence in Trump or Clinton – hence the dilemma. Neither candidate is a bet that traditional gamblers would normally take. I share the electorate’s ambivalence.
Either Hillary’s or Trump’s Vice President may well become president. Why? …Because neither Trump nor Hillary may serve a full first term. In Hillary Clinton’s case, her “secret” medical issues may well truncate her presidency. In the Donald Trump’s case, a first term impeachment is not out of the question.
Conservative columnist Michael Gerson wrote an insightful piece in the in the July 29th Washington Post, concluding with this zinger: “[T]he parties, in their wisdom, have chosen the untrusted against the unstable, the uninspiring against the unfit.” Given such choices many ask, why vote? …Because the future of the USA is at stake.
Please note: When second term President Bill Clinton was forced to cooperate with the Republican congress, better public policy resulted. Checks and balances worked.
Recent polls show the third parties are gaining support. Although no “third party” candidate can win, but the Libertarian, Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, may break the 15% barrier and get into the debates. So a vote for a third party candidate makes some sense. Neither Clinton nor Trump will face a rubberstamp congress. By denying the winner a mandate, a strong third party showing will encourage dialogue and compromise.
Is the best we can do?
It was far from the best we could have done.
But that ship, having sailed,
is now under water.
So we start over.
Every era begins on the foundations of the mistakes of the earlier ones.
Pray for the United States of America.
►Copyright © 2016 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law
►Portions of this article appeared in the Post Register ( www.pastregister.com ) A license to link to this piece or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at outlawyer.gaskill@gmailcom .
►Jay Gaskill served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender, then left his “life of crime” to devote more time to other pursuits. Learn more about the author by visiting The Policy Think Site at www.jaygaskill.com; or by navigating to http://jaygaskill.com/WhoIsJayBGaskill.pdf and / or http://www.jaygaskill.com/Profile.pdf .
READ Jay B Gaskill’s moving essay, THE AMERICAN CREED – http://jaygaskill.com/AmericanCreed2010.pdf
…and his chilling analysis of the nuclear threat from Islam———–