Falling Down



Let’s take a look at an old joke,
an old, crude and insensitive little joke,
and see if it applies to a current feature
of our American Democracy.





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An Announcement

The scene is a large office building — the headquarters of a large national corporation.  We see one, wide, uninterrupted floor of this office building containing several dozen cubicles and desks where people are working at their jobs.  A voice comes over a loudspeaker and fills the room:

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?  It has come to the attention of management that some employees who are dying on the job are failing to fall down.  As a result, given the nature of our workforce, it has become difficult for management to distinguish between employees who have died and those who are still working.  Therefore, beginning immediately, employees who die on the job are instructed to fall down.  This action will contribute significantly to our ability to assess our productivity and make necessary management decisions.  Thank you.  That is all.”

Applying the “Joke”

So, what does this rude and insensitive little story, have to do with the state of our American Democracy?

Since the early history of our “great American experiment in democracy,” the United States of America has organized itself into political parties.  The Founders did not intend it to be so — parties are not mentioned in Hamilton’s “Federalist Papers” nor in the Constitution — but it happened anyway.  They haven’t always been the same parties — some parties have come and gone as they became irrelevant (remember the Whigs and the Tories?); some have changed their names (recall the “Federalists” and the “Democratic Republicans?”); and throughout our history some citizens have declared themselves to be independent of those parties.  But over my lifetime, American politics and government have been structured predominately by two competing political parties that have populated most of the positions of power and influence in our national decision-making.  One is called The Democratic Party and the other is called The Republican Party.  Both parties have long stood for a common set of values, broadly recognizable as American values, as initiated by the Founders, values that have kept the nation together over the past century or so since the Civil War.  In that respect, the two parties have a lot of historic similarities.  The differences between those parties have largely centered on the policies and strategies they have preferred in pursuit of those values.  Most often, national decisions have been made with more-or-less respectful debate, persuasion based on regional interests, compromise (only possible because of the common values I mentioned), and voting.

Today in America, however, the party that calls itself The Republican Party has died.  It has died, but it has failed to fall down.  As a result, there are still large numbers of citizens who believe that The Republican Party still exists.  But it does not.  It has died.   

Growing up, I accepted my father’s assertion that “We are Roosevelt/Kennedy Democrats”— and I still do.  However, well into my thirties, he and I knew and respected a number of Republicans.  For them, if they are still alive and remember, their party has died.  There was no funeral and some Americans mistakenly believe that it still lives.

OK, so that is a dramatic assertion, which some may not accept.  I understand that.  So, how do we test that assertion?  How does a person notice that The Republican Party has died?  All my life, certainly since I was in high school, the Republican Party has stood for at least these 7 consistent values:
1.  preserving American institutions,
2. supporting fiscal conservatism, defined as a federal budget balanced between income and expenditures (i.e., opposition to “deficit spending”),
3. supporting small business (evident in consistent support for local Chambers of Commerce),
4. maintaining strong international alliances in support of global economic strength and American foreign policy objectives like reciprocal trade and fierce opposition to foreign dictators (especially those in Communist Countries) all in support of international peace and stability,
5. basing policy decisions on science and academic excellence by supporting and consulting experts,
6. supporting reliable safety-net programs to ensure a minimum, decent standard of living for Americans
7. actively promoting the value of common sense.

Those have been the fundamental values of the Republican Party since I was in high school, as confirmed repeatedly by spokespersons for that party.  Those have long been called “Conservative” values.  An observer will notice that those who claim to speak for the Republican Party today no longer stand for those values.  Consider these observations on those topics — members of the Republican Party have advocated for the following things in very recent years:
1. They have worked very hard to diminish the effectiveness and credibility of long-standing government institutions such as the Justice Department and immigration authorities, criticized “so-called judges” of the federal courts who have ruled against Republican policy decisions, and depleted the ranks of long-standing institutions that have provided policy stability such as the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Postal Service, and Department of Energy.
2. They have proudly and repeatedly handed out large tax cuts for the wealthy blatantly causing budget deficits.
3. They have openly supported interests of the largest corporations, knowingly endangering the viability of small businesses, with tax policy and a willingness to renege on legitimate debts and agreements.
4. The current Republican Administration has repeatedly demonstrated deference and support for foreign dictators (e.g., Russia) who have shown a disregard for established national boundaries and attempted to undermine American elections. Republicans have resisted efforts to defend against those threats, undermining investigations and weakening alliances the nation has relied on for decades.
5. They have rejected science, denying well-established scientific knowledge like the effects of our energy choices on destructive changes in the global climate — actually subsidizing corporate polluters! Under the current Republican administration, America is the only nation to withdraw from the Paris Global Climate Agreement.
6. They have slashed long-standing safety-net programs, cast dozens of votes attempting to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans, resisting and demeaning long-standing progress in the rights of women, and unravelling campaign finance regulations to give billionaires outsized influence over all government decision-making, while systemically attacking voting rights to make it harder for the young people, minorities, and the poor to vote.
7. They have thrown common sense to the winds by embracing wild conspiracy theories, like the health threat from windmills, widespread voter fraud, the fabrication of climate change by the Chinese, the credibility of certain birth certificates, (and more), despite public evidence to the contrary.

As former President Obama summarized in a speech in 2018, this Republican behavior is “not conservative.  It sure isn’t normal.  It’s radical.  It’s a vision that says the protection of ‘our’ power and those who support ‘our’ party is all that matters, even when it hurts the country.  It’s a vision that says the few who can afford a high-priced lobbyist and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda.  And over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion.”

The conservatism that guided the Republican Party of my youth is gone.  Yes, the Republican Party has died.  Believe it or not, the seeds of that death were planted during the first term of the Reagan administration (check out his huge budget deficits: $195 billion in 1983, $180 billion in 1984 – look it up).  Reagan’s “Conservative” administration also undid restrictions on Saving and Loan institutions, leading directly to the S & L crisis and slashed federal mental health funding precipitating today’s homeless problem.

So, what has replaced this now-deceased political party?  Those who currently call themselves Republicans have embraced the politics of “resentment, division, and paranoia” instead of what we used to understand to be “conservatism.”  Fiscal conservatism, of course, has become an often-invoked myth.  The values to be preserved are power and influence.

What To Do

The dead-but-still-standing Republican Party, needs to be replaced by a large group of people who have a genuine interest in governing.  I suppose, the problem could be described simply as a vocabulary issue.  It seems that Republicans no longer understand the word “govern” to be a verb — that is, something that you DO.  For some time, they have only recognized the word “government” — a noun that they utter bitterly as if it were a cuss word, pronounced either before or after spitting, as in “government regulation, ptieuuw!”  They failed to learn (it was in the fifth grade), that the phrase “government regulation,” was one of the central purposes of government, as established by the Founders, to protect citizens against threats that they cannot fight individually.  Over thousands of years, that phrase, “government regulation,” has been the single dominant characteristic that has distinguished uncivilized disorderly collections of people from what historians and anthropologists call “civilization.”  To answer the “what to do” question, there are three steps (there are always three):

Step One: the election of 2020 —  A large Democratic Majority must be elected in both houses of Congress and in State Legislatures and City Councils across the country to replace the mythical and deceased, Republican Party of old.  This must be accompanied by restoration of confidence in the integrity of elections — an effort to be pursued in parallel with Step One.

Step Two:  A Democratic President must be elected in 2020 while simultaneously preserving and expanding the Democratic majority mentioned in Step One.  Then, the challenge will still be immense.  There will be a lot of damage to repair from years of cowardly fake conservatism (known as “Trumpism”) and the weak national response to Trumpism that made it possible.

Step Three:  The utter completeness of the Republican defeat must be accompanied by a movement to re-establish traditional conservatism as the bedrock of a new party with a new name — how about “The Grand New Party.”  That party needs to sit down across a table with Democrats and re-engage in the business of governing.  They need to reassert a set of values that would be recognizably American and taught in public schools (well-funded public schools, by then) as principles we can all pursue together with our own regional flavors.  Oh, by the way, elected representatives of the Democratic Party need to be rejuvenated (OK, replaced) with folks with a commitment to the future in addition to their commitment to the values of the past.  If you want to read that to mean “replaced by younger folks,” go ahead.

So, our question: Can all this be done in this generation? 

My answer:    Nope.   Clearly, my generation (the “Post-War Baby Boom”) has had its chance to make a difference and gets mixed reviews.  We made some progress in the 1960s, but my generation also brought us all some pretty awful outcomes, in spite of a handful of promising leaders.   So, my answer is No.   Given who we are, collectively, and HOW we have been approaching this problem, it’s not going to happen.  But I suppose we can start with Step One and Step Two today, so my grandchildren’s children can have a place to start.

But Wait —

We described a serious problem and proposed a challenging “What To DO” to solve it.  BUT, in assessing whether we can accomplish that goal anytime soon, is it possible that we have left out the most important question:


Maybe it will take a dramatic, but simple, answer.  Can we supply the simple human ingredient that has been missing from our politics and governance?  Maybe that answer can come from a song from the 1960s (OK, an approach my generation has offered many times).  Here it comes –
the climactic final song from an important musical from the late 1960s, which I had the privilege of seeing on the stage twice: “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris.”  Translated from the French by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, the lyrics (below), offer a solution.  Sounds simple.  Take a look at the lyrics and consider whether it is useful here in the 21st century.  If we only …

If We Only Have Love

Jacques Brel

If we only have love
Then tomorrow will dawn
And the days of our years
Will rise on that morn.
If we only have love
To embrace without fears
We will kiss with our eyes
We will sleep without tears.
If we only have love
With our arms open wide
Then the young and the old
Will stand at our side.
If we only have love
Love that’s falling like rain
Then the parched desert earth
Will grow green again.
If we only have love
For the hymn that we shout
For the song that we sing
Then we’ll have a way out.
If we only have love
We can reach those in pain
We can heal all our wounds
We can use our own names.
If we only have love
We can melt all the guns
And then give the new world
To our daughters and sons.
If we only have love
Then Jerusalem stands
And then death has no shadow
There are no foreign lands.
If we only have love
We will never bow down
We’ll be tall as the pines
Neither heroes nor clowns.
If we only have love
Then we’ll only be men
And we’ll drink from the Grail
To be born once again.
Then with nothing at all
But the little we are
We’ll have conquered all time
All space, the sun, and the stars.

— 1968 — Original soundtrack audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9ILw3D5yrU

7 Responses “Falling Down”

  1. Lewis Bell says:

    “If we only have love.”

    You are so right, my brother. The Republican Party died long ago. There is hope, but it will have to come from very good and very strong individuals. It needs to begin with the defeat of Donald Trump. Those that follow him won’t fess up to the fact that he lies, that he is a womanizer, that he doesn’t pay his debts but files bankruptcy. He hates immigrants but is married to one, and protects her rights but puts babies into cages at the borders. He professes what is right for COVID-19, but puts on a dog and pony show at the White House with a thousand plus audience in attendance with no distancing or masks. His wife gave her speech dressed in military garb. But they will follow him over the cliff like a herd of sheep. Donald Trump is a prime time bullshitter that will do any act of deception and lies to allow himself to adore his vision in the mirror. He is only interested in one thing and that is himself. And on top of that I am not voting for him.

  2. Joseph Faletti says:

    Well said, Dan! I love it! And I love this song and the musical it came from (that you first introduced me to after you saw it).

    I note that the heart of the joke, beyond the wrong-headedness of management in most companies, is that the dead, when propped up by stick-in-the-mud infrastructure, sometimes DON’T fall over but must be pushed aside by the living! And even the living are sometimes too complacent in their solid position to be concerned about the future or the good of the enterprise!

    Thus, the song I began to expect about 2/3 of the way through that you might be aiming at was this one, also from the ’60s. The one you chose might be a good one for after November 3rd, but one more appropriate for election season and the current crop of Presidential candidates on the ballot, is this:

    The Times They Are A-Changin’
    Written by: Bob Dylan

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone
    If your time to you is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won’t come again
    And don’t speak too soon
    For the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
    For the loser now will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changin’

    Come senators, congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don’t stand in the doorway
    Don’t block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
    It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changin’

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is rapidly fadin’
    And the first one now will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin’

    Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music

    I note that as so often with your writing, you reach for a peaceful harmonious attitude (your hoped for optimism inherited from your father), and I respond with a call to action and confrontation leading to forward motion (I might perhaps hesitate to claim this as my father’s heritage, and can’t blame it on my Berkeley heritage because I was already making change in high school). But our fathers’ “sons and daughters are beyond command” and we must each be who we have become!

  3. Joseph Faletti says:

    But then, it occurs to me that you have children and grandchildren, and I have none but the students I taught, and the company I created. Ten years later, the same Bob Dylan, a bit more mellow, wrote this song for his child that I also thought might be coming at the end:

    Forever Young
    Written by: Bob Dylan

    May God bless and keep you always
    May your wishes all come true
    May you always do for others
    And let others do for you
    May you build a ladder to the stars
    And climb on every rung
    May you stay forever young

    Forever young, forever young
    May you stay forever young

    May you grow up to be righteous
    May you grow up to be true
    May you always know the truth
    And see the lights surrounding you
    May you always be courageous
    Stand upright and be strong
    May you stay forever young

    Forever young, forever young
    May you stay forever young

    May your hands always be busy
    May your feet always be swift
    May you have a strong foundation
    When the winds of changes shift
    May your heart always be joyful
    May your song always be sung
    May you stay forever young

    Forever young, forever young
    May you stay forever young

    Copyright © 1973 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2001 by Ram’s Horn Music

  4. Joseph Faletti says:

    For those who don’t know the two other songs I thought might be coming since they’re also relevant to our times and Dan’s point…

    Peter Paul and Mary sing The Times They Are A-Changing:

    Joan Baez sings Forever Young:

  5. Daniel says:

    Lew, my brother — Thank you for reading ConVivio (especially after its four-month silence) and THANK YOU for this comment, which provides such a thorough summary of the nightmare that is the current president. I guess we can only hope that defeating him at the ballot box will be sufficient to replace him with a real person.

  6. Daniel says:

    Joe — the oldest of the six brothers I grew up with — Thank you for these three comments and especially for contributing these songs that meant so much to us ‘back then’ and are so pertinent today. I admire your insight into the influence our parents had on us. Your father and mine both provided some strength, goodness, and optimism that endure in us today. Our memories of them help form who we are today and, yes, combine with other influences like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary. And, let’s not forget Jacques Brel. Thanks again.

  7. Matt Sapone says:

    What I am imagining is happening to all of our formal political parties is a “disruption.” Similar to the way companies like Uber Or Airbnb use the word disruption to gain the attention of the customers that identify themselves within an already existing platform
    UBer disrupted cab and transportation systems
    Airbnb disrupts the hotel market and the rental market.
    I suggest that Trump’s team did an incredible job at disrupting the republican party, politics in general and how we use and digest the current forms of media. My propaganda brain tells me that Trump used the word republican to gain the attention of 1/2 of the population and the rest was a marketing job selling words to gain votes and access to our tax money. Don’t get me wrong, Trump would like to continue this current operation for another four years and probably more after that with a family member running after him. He is presenting himself as a republican politician while he sabatoges our political infrastructure. This feels like the housing bubble of the early 2000’s or an Enron pyramid schedule. We hear him say less taxes while increasing our spending Dramatically(before covid too) If we the people would like to maintain our political infrastructure then I think we should be looking in to growing new political parties or evolving ones that exist into the main options we talk about. Search for Jo Jorgenson or Andrew Yang to see examples of a fully formed platform.
    https://youtu.be/fDXsJvjxLI4 Jo Jorgensen
    https://youtu.be/t383l_7-o4o Andrew Yang
    https://youtu.be/rmN90VuLH6Y Biden
    https://youtu.be/ZBr0Te_hSa8 trump
    https://youtu.be/bps3m4eFTuE Obama

    At the very least I am feeling desperate for a shift in our day to day American culture. We have become very combative, righteous, tribal, untrusting, mean!! and many more stressful adjectives. I am looking for an approach to our society to get behind for the long term. This feels like a transition stage between two approaches. The next approach and platform not being completely visible to me at this moment. Thanks Dad for your writing and conversation