All posts by nealaponte

Neal Aponte, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in New York who has provided psychotherapy services for over 30 years. He has a master's degree in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. And a master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Understanding and Responding to Putin’s Threat Regarding Nuclear Weapons

When Putin invaded Ukraine, he believed occupying Kyiv, toppling the Zelensky government and replacing it with a friendly regime, would be accomplished quickly.  Of course, Putin knows what the world knows.  The war has been an unmitigated disaster for Russia.  Poor planning and dubious military strategy, insufficient boots on the ground, substandard performance of military equipment and inadequate munitions, contributed to Russia’s woes on the battlefield.  

But the essential story involves the grit and determination of the Ukrainian people to defend their country.  Certainly, a massive amount of western military aid was important to Ukraine’s defense.  But consider how the Afghan army, armed and trained for a generation by the US, proved incapable of defending the country from Taliban forces.  

Given Russia’s poor performance on the battlefield, Putin reframed his military offensive as a tenacious defense of the motherland.  Satanic Western forces are out to destroy Russia.  And Putin has warned he will use every weapon to rebuff this existential threat to Russian security.  These are unsettling words from the leader of a country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.  At no time during the Cuban missile crisis did Russia threaten to use nuclear weapons.  

Putin’s nuclear saber rattling is being taken very seriously.  But how are we to understand it?  What prompts Putin to make this threat?  We would be wrong to conjure images of Richard Nixon’s “crazy man” strategy, that Putin is trying to “out crazy” the west, as one commentator put it.  He is not crazy, nor is he trying to sound like someone who is.  

Let’s take a step back.  Putin referred to the dissolution of the Soviet Union as one of the great tragedies of the 20th century.  He is the ultimate Russian patriot who experienced this as a personal humiliation as well as a national catastrophe.  Over time, he defined his political and historical ambition to repair Russia’s national psyche by avenging Russian humiliation and restoring the country to its rightful preeminent place on the world stage.  

We must keep in mind there are several important sources of Russia’s humiliation.  A military defeat in Afghanistan, the dissolution of the Soviet empire, and the loss of the cold war.  And perhaps the most insidious humiliation involves how their erstwhile Chinese communist comrades engineered the greatest capitalist transformation over the last forty years, while the Russian economy remained stagnant and dependent on the extraction of minerals and oil.  

Putin fashions himself to be a cross between Peter the Great and Henry Kissinger.  But the self-proclaimed savior of Russia’s national pride and dignity, engineered a disastrous military campaign that turned Russia into a pariah state.  A leader whose mission was to alleviate national disgrace exposed his country to greater scorn.  This is intolerable and unacceptable to Putin.

Putin will do everything in his power to stave off this outcome.   This is not the reasoning of a madman.  It is the reasoning of someone who realizes he exposed his beloved Russia to global ridicule and disdain.  Putin knows what the world knows: that he failed abysmally in Ukraine.  And he accepts full and sole responsibility for the national humiliation that comes with Russia’s poor military performance.  Of course, he will consider any means possible to remedy the situation, to avoid any further military and political damage, including the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons. Using nuclear weapons in Ukraine is not unthinkable.  Sustaining a military defeat in Ukraine and feeling personally responsible for heaping greater humiliation upon Russia, remains unthinkable for him. 

What is to be done?  We are dealing with an extreme nationalist leader who realizes he caused his country to suffer further humiliation.  The diplomatic challenge here is to engineer an acceptable diplomatic offramp for Putin to save face in a way that will also be palatable to Ukraine.  This is not about appeasement.  This is not about placating a war criminal.  This is about making it possible for Putin to stand down in Ukraine.  Ukraine and the West must be able to offer something of value to Putin that will allow him to say to himself and the Russian people, “mission accomplished”.  

What could this be?  First and foremost, diplomatic pressure must be applied to Ukraine to renounce any desire to join NATO. The timing is awkward, given Zelensky’s recent announcement to petition NATO to fast-track Ukraine’s membership.  But Ukraine must relinquish this ambition.  Further, Ukraine must proclaim its political and military neutrality a la Finland during the cold war. But one might ask, what about Ukraine’s future security needs?  Given the tenacity of Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, there should be no doubt about Ukraine’s resolve to protect itself.  Russia is not likely to invade Ukraine ever again.   

Next, it is extremely unlikely Ukraine will expel all Russian troops from Ukrainian soil.  Prior to the invasion, there were regions in eastern Ukraine that appeared to favor reunification with Russia.  A condition of any peace settlement should be an agreement to hold binding internationally administered referendums to determine if any regions of Ukraine prefer annexation to Russia.  

Like all Soviet leaders before him, Putin feared being encircled by hostile powers.  Over the course of years, Putin voiced persistent concern about NATO expansion eastward. Ukraine’s declaration of neutrality would go a long way to addressing Putin’s fear.  Removing any prospect of Ukraine joining NATO and securing a legal means to potentially annex some territory in eastern Ukraine could be enough to declare a ceasefire and bring Putin to the negotiating table.  And the promise of resumed access to some $300 billion in foreign currency reserves, currently frozen in the west, could be an additional powerful incentive to entice Putin to negotiate.   

Would all of this be acceptable to Ukraine?  Clearly, they defied the odds and resisted Russian aggression on their soil.  Would a declaration of neutrality and the possibility of ceding some territory in the east be too hefty a price to pay for peace?  That is something Ukraine would have to decide for itself.  But agreeing to these conditions would give them an opportunity to end this dreadful war and to direct their national attention towards the urgent task of rebuilding their gravely damaged country.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

A Way Out of the Ukraine Crisis

Time is of the essence.  Many lives hang in the balance.  Will the fate of Kyiv and Kharkiv conjure Aleppo and Grozny?  The Ukrainian resistance to the reprehensible and vicious Russian invasion has been heroic.  But continued Ukrainian bravery and the considerable financial and military support offered by most of the world will not change the eventual outcome.  The inability to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine will ensure an eventual Russian military victory.  If necessary, Russian forces will destroy and capture Kyiv.   Of course, defeating an army and capturing a city remains quite different than controlling an entire country.   

Ukrainian resistance demonstrated to Russia and the entire world that Ukraine will not become Belarus.  The capture of Kyiv, the removal of the Zelensky government and the establishment of a puppet regime, will immediately trigger a fierce and determined partisan guerrilla war.  Maintaining a loyal government will require a permanent Russian occupation that will become the target of continual violent attack.  Russia does not have the ability to vanquish Ukrainian resistance.

Despite the utter futility of his extraordinary military gamble, Putin remains determined to pursue his current course of action.  While his decision to invade represents the most significant strategic blunder of his political tenure, Putin will double down on his military offensive if necessary.  Accordingly, the Zelensky government has an important choice to make.  It is an awful choice, but one that must be made immediately to save many lives and maintain Ukraine’s political sovereignty.  Zelensky should renounce any desire for Ukraine to join NATO and the EU. In effect, Zelensky must declare Ukraine’s political and military neutrality.  

Zelensky must be persuaded to accept the geopolitical significance of how Ukraine borders Russia.  Ukraine is not Canada.  Russia’s perception of Ukraine joining NATO as an existential threat must be recognized and respected.  Would Biden or any president accept Mexico or Canada establishing a military alliance with Russia?  We must understand Russia’s insistence on Ukraine remaining neutral as asserting its version of the Monroe Doctrine.  

Zelensky’s choice before the Russian invasion remained stark and clear:  to decide to become Finland or risk sharing the fate of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when Russian tanks rolled into Prague.  Finland remained neutral during the cold war and avoided Russian invasion, while remaining an independent democratic nation.  Ideally, all sovereign nations should enjoy the freedom to determine its political alliances.  But the world has never worked that way.  The Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, who ruled Mexico before its Revolution in the early 20th century, once said:  Poor Mexico, so far away from God, so close to the United States.  With rueful wisdom, Porfirio simply acknowledged how countries living in the shadow of a great power must respect the interests of that power.  The same holds true for Ukraine today.   

Even at this moment, Ukraine might be able to maintain its political sovereignty, its freely elected government and independent civic institutions.   But it must safeguard these right now by renouncing any desire to join the Western alliance.  It must become and remain officially neutral to protect the Ukrainian people and its cities from further devastation.  

Some will consider this to be a policy of appeasement.  But there is a great difference between appeasement and acknowledging brute geopolitical reality. Where a country is physically located in relation to a great power has enormous consequence.  The world has united in its opposition to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.  We are operating from a position of strength not weakness, the way Chamberlain approached Hitler in 1938.  Biden should get on the phone right now to tell Putin he cannot win.  In fact, he should add, no one wins.  Everyone loses.  Russia, the West and the entire world loses, if he continues with his invasion.  Perhaps Putin has received that message from friends like Erdogan and other leaders like Macron. It is a message that bears repeating.  

To those who want to continue to arm Ukraine, what is the goal of that strategy?  To defeat Russia on the ground?  To engineer a stalemate forcing Russia to negotiate?  That is extremely unlikely. Meanwhile, many more Ukrainians will be killed and whole cities will be destroyed.  The West and the world must accept the fact that no matter how many weapons Ukraine is given, the grim military outcome will remain the same.  Offering Ukraine’s political and military neutrality in exchange for an immediate end to the violence is a deal worth making.  

Zelensky’s decision to publicly declare Ukrainian neutrality would be exceedingly difficult and painful.  It would have to be explained not as a surrender, but as an acceptance of geopolitical reality and the inevitable military outcome.  It would have to be framed as the best decision to save lives and Ukraine’s continued sovereignty.  In exchange, Russia would have to withdraw its troops and accept the Zelensky government as expressing the will of an independent Ukraine.  And the Minsk accords would be reaffirmed by all parties.  Would Russia accept these terms?  Ukraine and the world would do well to find out.  If Putin refused, it would reinforce his political isolation, expose Russia to the full weight of economic sanctions and elevate the risk of political instability at home and in friendly countries like Belarus and Kazakhstan.  Time is of the essence.  Zelensky must make his decision.  Many lives and cities, and Ukraine’s political sovereignty itself, hangs in precarious balance.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano   

Will There Be War in Ukraine?

If Vladimir Putin decides to invade Ukraine, it will represent the biggest political gamble of his tenure and his most profound strategic blunder.  There are a few compelling reasons why Russia should refrain from launching a military strike.  If Russia invades, it will face a hostile population that has enjoyed political freedom for a generation.  There will be a fierce and determined armed resistance, in support of Ukraine’s independence, opposed to any Russian occupation.  A prolonged insurgency against Russian forces broadcast to the world could embolden the political opposition in countries allied to Russia, like Belarus and Kazakhstan.  It should be noted that the Kazakh regime recently needed Russian “peacekeepers” to end a week of violent protests about rising fuel prices.  And there is smoldering resentment in Belarus towards its president, who most consider illegitimate because of widespread voter fraud in their last election. Putin’s military adventure in Ukraine could trigger an “Arab Spring” like reaction in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Then there is the issue of how Russian citizens would respond to a war in Ukraine.  While many believe the West, and more specifically the US, is provoking Russia into war, Russians are also fearful of war.  How will citizens respond to Putin’s decision to invade if the body count begins to rise significantly and after the West imposes new and unprecedented economic and financial sanctions?  Consider too that Russia’s largest trading partner is the EU, representing about 40% of Russia’s trading revenue. Russian aggression against Ukraine would diminish trading revenue and, when coupled with sanctions, might spark a financial crisis.  Could public uneasiness about the consequences of war be exploited by Putin’s political opponents?  Would they question his decision to invade and end up challenging his continued grip on power?  

While the drum beat of war resounds across Ukraine, how can the West deter Russian aggression at this late hour?   Emmanuel Macron was right when he said Europe cannot be secure if Russia is not secure.  We must consider NATO expansion to Ukraine as equivalent, say, to Mexico or Canada establishing a military alliance with Russia, resulting in the presence of Russian troops and/or missiles there.  No American president would tolerate this.  Accordingly, the perception of Ukraine’s NATO membership as an existential threat must be understood as Russia’s version of the Monroe Doctrine.  Putin has a valid point. The West should acknowledge it by placing a twenty-five year moratorium on any NATO expansion.  

But the broader political and diplomatic goal involves persuading Russia that its political and economic future remains bound up with Europe, not China.  The West should pursue a political rapprochement with Russia that, over the long-term, could make Ukrainian membership in NATO irrelevant to Russia.  Or better yet, the West should work to create an environment whereby the rationale for NATO, to deter Russian aggression, becomes obsolete.  We would do well to remember that thirty years ago, Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin visited Washington and delivered a message of hope and friendship in a speech to Congress.  This seems like a fairy tale now, but it did happen.  An appealing array of trade deals, arms control negotiations and new agreements on a range of issues ranging from the climate crisis, fighting global terrorism to cyberattacks, could change the current political narrative and entice Russia into the European fold.  

Finally, the West needs to recognize that Putin’s military build-up reflects Russia’s political and military humiliation in recent decades. It suffered a disastrous military intervention in Afghanistan.  And it sustained the loss of its empire with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Putin’s aim remains quite simple:  to make Russia great again, to restore Russia to its rightful place as a respected political and military actor on the world stage.  His military build-up is not a bluff. It is a desperate attempt to get the West to recognize and respect Russia’s security needs.  A moratorium on NATO expansion and an attractive assortment of deals that lashes Russia’s interests to Europe, would enable Putin to declare “mission accomplished” and initiate a troop withdrawal.  Allowing Putin to savor his “victory” should not be construed as placating a ruthless authoritarian leader.  Rather, it represents the first step in a long process to persuade Russia that its economic, financial and political future rests with Europe and the West.  This will be essential to avert war now and to defuse future political and military tensions in Europe and around the world.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

Resolving the Ukraine Crisis

 The Ukraine crisis feels like déjà vu all over again.  Russian troops poised to invade a neighboring country.  American threats of unprecedented economic sanctions.  Russian demands that NATO never expand eastward.  American troops on high alert.  Russian threats to place nuclear weapons near America’s coastline.  Thirty years after the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia and the West are engaged in a second cold-war.  

What is Putin thinking?  What will he do?  An aura of inscrutability surrounds him in the West.  No one can predict his next move.  Upon closer inspection, the mystique dissipates like mist.  He is an authoritarian nationalist leader of a humiliated country.  He aims to restore Russia to its rightful place on the world stage as a military and political force to be reckoned with.  There is nothing mysterious about Putin’s aim:  to make Russia great again by restoring its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.   

The sources of national humiliation are several.  Its military adventure in Afghanistan ended in dismal failure.  Zbigniew Brzezinski crowed the US would turn Afghanistan into a Russian Vietnam. Thwarted by Mujahadeen guerillas, engulfed in an interminable military quagmire, the Russian military suffered an ignominious defeat and the Soviet puppet regime in Kabul was removed.  

With the stroke of a pen, Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.  Its de facto empire, ranging from the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe to its satellite republics in Central Asia, suddenly and unceremoniously vanished.  Some years later, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed Warsaw Pact nations were free to pursue NATO membership.  Putin referred to the demise of the Soviet Union as one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20thCentury.  His personal experience as a KGB agent working in East Germany awaiting orders that never came from Moscow was personally devastating.  

But there is another enduring source of humiliation sustained by Russia.  And this rarely gets mentioned.  In 1979, Deng Xiaoping pronounced the Chinese would become capitalist roaders.  Hamstrung by Maoist policies, China remained a poor economic backwater.  Deng envisioned a radical departure.  

During the last forty-five years, the Chinese engineered the most breathtaking industrial transformation in human history.  It became an economic and financial superpower and the world’s largest exporter.  Meanwhile, Russia’s economy remained dependent on extracting its vast natural resources like oil and gas and the production of metals, like steel and aluminum.  Being eclipsed by their erstwhile Communist comrades represents an enduring national humiliation for Russian leaders.  

While 2022 reprises the political tensions of 1962, we should recall another pivotal year.  In 1992, Boris Yeltsin came to Washington to address a joint session of Congress.  He extended a hand of friendship, proclaiming an end to enmity between Russia and the United States.  Politicians from both parties applauded vigorously and leapt to their feet chanting his name.  It is astonishing to recall that moment almost thirty years later.   

Equally remarkable is the fact that shortly after being appointed Yeltsin’s successor, Putin consulted Madeleine Albright in 2000 about Russia joining NATO, but was flatly rebuffed. For almost twenty years, from 1991 to 2008, the West was afforded an extraordinary opportunity to bring Russia into the European community.  Vanquished in the Cold War, the post -Soviet leadership, first Yeltsin then Putin, wanted to join the winning side.  While Western leaders would not allow their ex-communist adversary to join NATO or the EU, a Marshall Plan for Russia in the 1990’s or 2000’s might have done wonders to cement ties between Russia and the West.  Unfortunately, that opportunity was not recognized and seized. 

Putin once said Russia’s mistake was trusting the West.  He added the West’s mistake was trying to take advantage of that trust.  There is truth in Putin’s observation.  Russia was not going to become a Western style liberal democracy, a new-fangled version of the UK or France, no matter what the circumstances.   But a program of economic liberalization and market reform introduced gradually in the immediate post-Soviet era, not a doctrinaire program of shock and awe, involving fiscal austerity and a significant decline in living standards, could have generated an economic engine for political liberalization.  Of course, we will never know what that may have accomplished.  

Currently, the West is reaping the bitter harvest of that missed opportunity.  Putin fears, as all Soviet leaders did, that Russia will be surrounded by hostile forces.  But here too Putin has a point.  Imagine a regime change in Mexico or Canada that resulted in a military alliance with Russia.  Any American president would invoke the Monroe Doctrine to overcome the threat, as Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis.  

So what does Putin want?  He wants to restore Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and diminish NATO’s presence on his doorstep.  Think of it as Putin’s equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine.  But we should not assume Putin wants to invade Ukraine.  Consider the consequences to Russia if he did.  Installing a puppet regime in Kyiv would subject Russian occupiers to a tenacious armed resistance.  Sustained violent opposition to Russian occupation broadcast to the world would probably embolden political dissidents in other countries like Belarus or Kazakhstan, to renew calls for regime change, generating a potential Eastern European/Central Asian “Arab Spring”.  Ukrainian resistance to Putin’s invasion could even fuel resurgent opposition at home and threaten his grip on power.  Moreover, the financial toll of an invasion would likely be enormous and unpopular with Russian citizens, even if they construe Ukraine to be a legitimate part of Russia.  

We can be sure Putin has considered all this extensively.  Perhaps the troops at Ukraine’s border are designed to announce to the world that Russia is, once again, a significant political and military force.  If nothing else, Putin has conveyed how its national interests must be considered and respected by Europe and the US.  

Mindful of Russia’s enduring national humiliation and the threat posed by NATO expansion to its border, the West should consider imposing a moratorium of, say, 25 years, on any NATO expansion, while asserting the West would respond swiftly and severely to any threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  Moreover, the West should propose ways to help Russia become more competitive in the global marketplace, perhaps establishing mutually beneficial trade agreements.  If Putin can extract these important concessions, Russian citizens would applaud his show of strength.  And the West would avert a military conflict in Ukraine.  Finally, the West should view the current crisis as a valuable opportunity to engineer a rapprochement between Russia and the West including a new round of arms control negotiations.   This would alleviate a potent source of Russia’s national humiliation and reduce geopolitical tensions in Europe. 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

Two Dirty Little Secrets Embedded in the Big Lie

A recent Associated Press story, based on hundreds of interviews with election officials in six states, confirmed, once again, there was no evidence of systematic or widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The AP reporters concluded there were less than 500 cases of potential yet unconfirmed electoral fraud out of some 25 million votes cast in six states still contested by Republican officials and the ex-president.

But this will not change the narrative about the election.  It is abundantly clear that no factual evidence will persuade those who remain committed to the big lie, that the presidential election was stolen and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. But there are two dirty little secrets embedded in the big lie.  Here is the first one:  Donald Trump knows the big lie is a big lie. While most Republicans polled about the election results believe the election was rigged and stolen, Trump knew he lost on the night of the election. Throughout the year, he predicted he would win the election.  He warned all of us that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged. On election night, Trump merely repeated the script he broadcasted for months.  In the face of a humiliating electoral defeat he could not tolerate, he insisted the election was stolen.

Trump’s promotion of the big lie has one primary objective. He wants to keep his celebrity status and personal brand relevant and lucrative. And he has been enormously successful. Rather than fading away quietly, he raised a tremendous amount of money and has become a Republican party power broker and self-styled kingmaker, while the Grand Old Party has transformed into a veritable cult of personality.  

Trump’s well-rehearsed big lie replicated the playbook used to establish himself on the national political stage, that Barack Obama was not a US citizen.  He stated publicly that “you won’t believe what my lawyers are finding out” about Obama’s citizenship.  Trump knew that was a lie too, but promoting it worked like a charm.  

Trump is simply being Trump, a marketing maven skillful at maintaining his personal brand.  He does not care if his audacious lie, challenging the outcome of the presidential election, damages the foundation of our democracy.    

But what about the GOP?  Why haven’t more Republican office holders, elder statesmen and intellectuals come out forcefully against the big lie?  A lot has been written about the political and personal cowardice of the Republican establishment for not pushing back on Trump.  But there is something more cynical and sinister at work here. Something that relates to the current Republican effort to make it more difficult for citizens to vote and to gerrymander voting districts.  

Within the next quarter century, and for the first time in our nation’s history, whites will no longer occupy majority status in the population.  This is a powerful and inexorable demographic shift.  And here is the second and astonishing dirty little secret embedded in the big lie.  Given existing demographic trends, Republican officials have seemingly concluded, and perhaps rightly, that if everyone eligible exercised their right to vote, they would become a permanent minority party.  

Republicans have redoubled their effort to pass state legislation across the country making it more difficult for important blocs of Democratic voters, people of color and the poor, to exercise their right to vote.  And they have cynically rallied around Trump as the primary, and perhaps the only, way to galvanize Republican and sympathetic independent voters, even if it involves endorsing the big lie.  And they have engaged in gerrymandering efforts that guarantee Republican victory in many redrawn districts. All this makes expedient political sense if we assume Republican strategists and politicians have concluded their party’s grip on national power, in Congress and the White House, and even on the state level, is threatened.  Simply put, Republicans apparently fear they will lose the battle of ideas and policies against bolstered Democratic majorities in general elections.   

Because the stakes are critical for the GOP, no one will dare to challenge Trump, to say publicly that the emperor has no clothes.  And the concerted effort to restrict access to the ballot will be endorsed in the name of promoting fair and untainted elections.  

But the truth is plain to see.  Republicans are running scared.  They see the handwriting on the wall.  Demography is destiny.  Unfortunately, they appear determined to maintain their political power even if it endangers the integrity of our democracy.   

Neal Aponte Ph.D.,

Editor of Delano

Election Week 2020

Despite people getting sick and dying in alarming numbers from the coronavirus, and even as many individuals and families trembled on the brink of financial catastrophe and racial tensions reached the boiling point, voters turned out in record numbers. Many took advantage of early voting and/or mailed in their ballots, while others lined up for hours on Election Day despite the pandemic. An historic number of voters were determined to make their voices heard.

And in the heat of a profound crisis, we the people always seem to elect the right man for the job.  We seem to get it right when the chips are down. Think Abraham Lincoln and his election in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War.  Think FDR in the midst of the Great Depression in 1932.  Think Joe Biden and our current turmoil.  

Character and temperament always matter when electing a president.  And they are absolutely essential right now.  The two presidential candidates could not be more different:  one sows discord, the other strives to unite; one thrives on chaos, the other seeks to restore a sense of normalcy; one has a flagrant disregard for institutions vital to our democracy, the other has devoted his life to the public interest. Biden is not a perfect candidate, nor will he become a perfect president.  No one is. But we have elected the right man for the right job in the right moment.   And that’s a good thing for the endangered health of our nation.

Amidst the jubilation is a profound sense of relief.  Many of us have felt an overwhelming sense of exhaustion that accompanied the endless rants of someone who was ill suited to be our leader.  We grew accustomed to and even desensitized to the constant political whirlwind provoked by some incendiary comment tweeted overnight.  The president seemed determined to turn the nation’s political life into a reality TV series where he was its star, director and producer. 

Thankfully that will end soon.  But not quite yet.  The current president will not go gently into that good night.  He will rage, rage against the dying of the light.  There will be litigation and continued outrageous commentary that he “won” the election, if only the “legal” votes are counted, and that his victory was stolen.  Of course, this is a dangerous fiction.  Dangerous because it erodes confidence and trust in the vital center of our democracy. Dangerous because it will evoke suspicion, resentment and even hatred towards the next president and sow further discord in our badly divided nation.  

The current president’s comments post-election have been irresponsible and disgraceful.  His Thursday, November 5th press briefing was simply astonishing.  Everyone should listen to it.  Every sentence he uttered contained a falsehood.  It was pure propaganda.  Our fierce adversary, Vladimir Putin, could not have written a better disinformation script for the president to read.   Listening to his words, one could imagine that perhaps he really was the Manchurian president.  

At some point, he will concede the election.  It will not happen soon.  Perhaps after a recount of votes in states like Georgia and Wisconsin.  Perhaps when Republican congressional leaders sit down to inform him the jig is up.  But when the president does concede, he will not make a gracious speech.  There will be no talk about supporting the president elect and rallying together as a nation.  Not after he accused the other side of committing widespread voter fraud to steal an election that he won.  The president is determined to go out a political martyr.  And let’s be clear:  his cause will be trumpeted by the denizens of talk radio and the alt-right during the entire Biden administration and for the foreseeable future, perhaps forever. The president will identify himself as the victim of the greatest political witch hunt in our nation’s history, stemming from the Obama administration spying on his 2016 campaign, to the so-called “Russia investigation” right through to the alleged electoral fraud. 

What does the president want?  What is his endgame?  What he seeks to accomplish is this:  to keep his name in the public eye so he can refurbish and monetize his personal brand.  This has been his primary objective throughout the course of his public life. This president has no core political beliefs.  He is neither Republican nor conservative. His beliefs are merely expedient.  He endorses anything that enhances his celebrity status, anything that engenders greater personal and brand visibility.  Losing this election will not prevent him from achieving his goal.  Portraying himself as an aggrieved victim will be a potent and lucrative story line, allowing him to transform a political defeat into a great personal asset to his brand.  

But it will be a great relief not to see and hear this president on a daily basis.  The nightmare of his administration will soon be over.  Thank goodness for that.  Now the difficult task of addressing the perfect storm of issues confronting our nation and world looms large.  Let us hope the Biden presidency will secure the support and assistance from those on the other side in Congress, especially the Senate, to enact the people’s urgent business.  We can only pray that partisan interests will be put aside in favor of the national interest. If anyone can achieve that, Biden can. But we should not delude ourselves, it will be a very difficult and uphill battle.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano 

Taking A Knee

Have you seen the video? A line of cops faced a crowd of protesters in Portland, Oregon.  No, it’s not what you’re thinking.  This time, no one used tear gas or rubber bullets.  This time, the cops did not bull their way forward to force the crowd to recoil in fear.   This time, it was different.  Facing the crowd, motionless and silent, the cops offered a simple gesture: they knelt to the ground on one knee.  And they remained there.  It took my breath away and released a deep reservoir of tears.

As the cops maintained their dignified silence, the crowd of protesters erupted with thunderous applause.  We recall the other images, the angry confrontations, the tear gas, people being chased, wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. These other disturbing images underscored the shock of watching a line of kneeling cops being applauded by a crowd of protesters. People in the crowd shouted their appreciation: “Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.”, while the general applause continued.  In my mind’s eye, these cops became a line of beautiful dancers kneeling on stage, receiving exuberant tribute after a magnificent performance.  And then a tall young African American man, stepped forward and turned to face the crowd before kneeling with the cops, his arm extended upward, fist clenched.  Given the recent barbarous act of murder in Minneapolis and the violent nights that ensued, it was astonishing to witness a young African American man expressing his solidarity with the police.  

A simple physical gesture, more eloquent and forceful than tear gas or rubber bullets, transformed the entire mood. Without a spoken word, these cops revealed they were appalled and outraged too.  And in this moment, the dividing line between cops and protesters was immediately and completely obliterated.  In this moment, neither group viewed the other side as an “enemy”, as a force to be overcome or dominated.  In this moment, cops and protesters simply expressed their shared humanity.  

Joined together, cops and protesters, in a gorgeous call and response, turned a potential confrontation into a profound celebration.   A celebration that occurred in many places around the country.  Through my tears, I wondered why it remained so difficult for us to articulate the underlying truth about ourselves:  in this unprecedented moment, we shared the same anxiety, rage and grief.  Why was it so hard to acknowledge that we need each other now more than ever?  The simple act of taking a knee enabled those Portland cops to pierce the veil, to transform a nondescript street corner into sacred ground. Their remarkable gesture summoned the grace that surrounds us everywhere, each and every moment, if we can muster the courage to see it.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

The Sordid Band of Brothers: Why Republicans Refuse to Criticize Trump

Donald Trump will be impeached by the House of Representatives.  Recent Intelligence Committee hearings revealed that Trump abused his presidential power.  He sought to bribe the Ukrainian president for personal political gain and tried to elicit the help of a foreign government in his reelection bid.  Then he obstructed congressional investigations into his wrongdoing.  The evidence the public hearings displayed was overwhelming and clear.  Yet no Republican sitting on the Judiciary Committee empowered to formulate articles of impeachment will vote to jump ship.  Moreover, Trump will be acquitted during a Senate trial.  In all likelihood, few if any Republican senators will vote to convict him.

Despite the remarkable testimony of skilled, devoted and impartial public servants, the impeachment process will be long remembered as an acrimonious food fight between members of the two political parties.  So why have Republicans chosen to turn a blind eye to Trump’s sobering abuse of power?  Why do they staunchly defend him? Some have characterized Republicans as cowardly; described them as loath to infuriate their leader.   And perhaps criticizing or rebuking Trump carries potential risk, even the loss of one’s political career.  But cowardice does not explain why Republicans remain committed to their corrupt and venal leader.  

The sobering reality is that Trump represents a dream come true for Republican conservatives, a robust answer to their prayers.  For them, Donald Trump is the goose that keeps laying golden eggs.  He has transformed the complexion of the federal judiciary and the tenor of the Supreme Court for many years to come.  And this may be his enduring political legacy.  But there is more, much more.  From gutting governmental regulation, engineering the largest tax bonanza for the wealthy in our nation’s history and his stance on hot button cultural issues ranging from gun control to curbing abortion rights, Trump has done everything conservatives envisioned when he assumed office.  

One can gasp at the remarkable irony of conservative Republican lawmakers taking aim at agencies like the FBI for being representatives of a “deep state”, while soft pedaling Trump’s extraordinary bromance with our nation’s most formidable political foe, Vladimir Putin.  Does anyone remember what Republicans said about Trump’s reprehensible performance at the Helsinki summit, when he asked Putin if he interfered in the 2016 election and after Putin denied it, Trump responded that he believed him?

Donald Trump has not hijacked the Republican party.  To the contrary, conservatives have been delighted to strike while the iron is hot; to seize the opportunity afforded by Trump’s leadership to realize their ambitious political agenda.  Republicans have construed black as white and white as black during the impeachment process because they stand to gain politically.  Trump has certainly embarrassed many Republicans with his vulgarity and, at times, infuriated them, say, when he abandoned the Iraqi Kurds after they vanquished ISIS.  But Republican unwillingness to confront Trump during the impeachment process underscores how they will tolerate a frontal assault on the rule of law and the sanctity of our electoral process as long as their leader keeps bringing home the bacon.  The Republicans are not feckless cowards when they defend the indefensible and support every last squalid drop of Trump’s tabloid presidency.  It is far worse than that.  They are abject cynics who turn their backs on the integrity of our democracy for the sake of narrow minded political gain.  And there is no end in sight given the astonishing possibility of Trump’s reelection next year. 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

Theater of the Absurd: the Public Hearings on Impeachment

Donald Trump would have us believe Ukraine meddled in our 2016 election to prevent him from becoming president; that Ukraine tried to “take him down”.  So let’s get this straight.  Mired in a “hot” war in the eastern part of its country against Russia and dependent on American military assistance in its frontline defense against Russian aggression, Trump and his Republican congressional allies would have us believe this desperate country engulfed in a war for its survival, launched a major cyberattack against the US designed to tamper with our presidential election. 

It is important to note that Putin has been spreading the same disinformation about election meddling, we didn’t do it, it was the Ukrainians, since 2017.  And three years later, after the intelligence community and a Senate report concluded Russia interfered in our electoral process, Trump continues to refer to the “Russian hoax” and parrots Putin’s debunked accusation against Ukraine. 

As Fiona Hill noted in her trenchant remarks before the congressional impeachment committee, a Ukrainian ambassador and other politicians wrote and/or said harsh words about then candidate Trump in 2016.  Hill believed such comments were regrettable or unfortunate.  However, she also provided a political context for their remarks.  Candidate Trump made a controversial statement about how Ukrainian citizens in Crimea preferred to be reunited with Russia.  His comments endorsed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 that was roundly condemned by Western nations. The specter of an American presidential candidate, the potential new leader of the free world, echoing the Kremlin party line, represented an existential threat to Ukraine’s national security and even its sovereignty.  Moreover, Trump’s remarks cast doubt on America’s reliability as a political and military ally.  Of course, Ukrainian officials were highly motivated to bet on the “other horse” in our presidential campaign.  What else would we expect?  Pushing back on Trump’s ill-advised comments represented a patriotic Ukrainian duty. 

In fact, we know Trump was not concerned about the viability of Ukraine’s democracy.  After months of hearing about a “quid pro quo”, the Democrats have finally taken the gloves off and referred to Trump’s behavior for what it is:  Trump engaged in a sustained effort to bribe the Ukrainian president, using congressionally approved military aid as a lever, to pressure him to announce investigations into the “big stuff” he cared about, into the widely debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian election meddling and about an obscure Ukrainian gas company named Burisma.  

Everyone knew “Burisma” was a code word for investigating the baseless charge against Hunter Biden and his father, as the younger Biden sat on the company’s board of directors.  Moreover, we know that Giuliani and his cohort, advancing Trump’s personal agenda rather than the security interests of the US in thwarting Russian aggression, coordinated their efforts with corrupt Ukrainian officials, including a disgraced prosecutor general, and smeared the stellar reputation of an American ambassador who worked tirelessly to reduce endemic corruption.  

Trump withheld military aid the Ukrainians desperately needed in their war against Russia to pressure their government to advance his personal interest; to launch an investigation into a political rival.  The president’s clear and pernicious abuse of his authority is the heart of the impeachment investigation.  To hear Republicans howl that money was released and no investigation was ever undertaken, boggles the mind.  They omit the fact that aid was issued within forty-eight hours of getting caught, after the whole squalid affair became public knowledge on Sept. 9th, when Congress announced it would investigate the whistleblower’s complaint.  Moreover, the argument advanced by Jim Jordan that Trump was not successful so he should not be charged, remains absolutely ludicrous and underscores Republican desperation.  No one defends Trump’s corrupt behavior.  The argument is:  no harm, no foul.  Try telling that to people currently jailed for unsuccessful attempts to commit a crime.  Bribery is bribery, whether the effort to bribe is successful or not.  To hear Republicans argue otherwise remains as sordid as Trump’s impeachable and criminal behavior.  They are simply placing narrow-minded partisan politics ahead of considering the real “big stuff”, like upholding the Constitution and ensuring the health of our democracy.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

This Ain’t No Disco: Remembering the Crises of the 1970’s

These were the years of Watergate and Studio 54, the OPEC oil embargo, double digit inflation and soaring interest rates, urban blight and the emergence of the rustbelt, punk rock music and the explosion of graffiti. The decade began with days of rage about the Vietnam War and ended with a national humiliation over embassy hostages in Iran.  When it was all over, voters spoke with great force to repudiate “turn on, tune in, drop out” to usher in the Reagan “revolution”.  

The 1960’s spawned the anti-war, civil rights and nascent feminist movements to challenge political authority and cultural norms.  The 1980’s featured the demise of New Deal politics, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet Union and its satellite republics to mark the end of the cold war.

But what about those intervening years?  For some, the seventies represented a cynical retreat from the idealism of the previous decade, for others it signaled the rise of hedonism run amuck.  But make no mistake, these were turbulent times.  If the sixties generation questioned the authority of governments across the globe, from Washington to Paris to Prague, a dire economic crisis during the 1970’s posed an existential threat to liberal democracies that set the stage for the conservative tilt of the 1980’s. 

Does anyone recall America’s palpable fear of the Japanese during the seventies?  They were going to do to us in the global economic marketplace what they could not achieve on the battlefield a few decades earlier.  The American economy was going to be owned lock, stock and barrel by Japan, Inc., as these disciplined Asian capitalists gobbled up prime real estate and rendered wide swaths of corporate America as economic road kill.  Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun, a manifestation of American xenophobia, expressed the defensive zeitgeist.  But why did we imagine ourselves vulnerable to the Japanese?

During the 1960’s, the Johnson administration engaged in an ambitious “war on poverty” while pursuing a ruinous and tragic war in Vietnam.  Now on the heels of this massive deficit spending and the establishment of the OPEC oil embargo and the subsequent extraordinary rise in oil prices, macroeconomic growth came to a screeching halt.  Moreover, wages and worker productivity began to stagnate during these years.  It seemed that the American century begun with a decisive military victory in World War II was ending after twenty-five years.  And these unprecedented economic developments had important political consequences.  

There is an intimate relationship between stable and effective government and robust levels of macroeconomic growth.  Diminished growth threatens the ability of government to function.  Without growth, wages and employment levels stagnate that, in turn, result in less tax revenue.  When there is less money to collect, there is less to spend on vital government programs.  And when there is less to spend, budgets are either frozen or cut.  And diminished public spending threatens the livelihood of working and non-working poor and middle-class individuals, families and communities across the country.  In the 1970’s, Americans experienced, as a celebrated Marxist account framed it, a “fiscal crisis of the state”, generating the notorious bankruptcy of New York City and the infamous tabloid headline describing Gerald Ford’s political response: “Ford to City:  Drop Dead.” 

But let us remember that spending on social programs, built up over a period of several decades to establish what we used to call the “welfare state”, was not a function of noblesse oblige, but represented a way of lashing together the interests of the economic elite, what we currently refer to as the 1%, to those at the bottom and the middle, or the 99%.  In effect, the establishment of the welfare state in capitalist societies enabled those at the bottom to feel that their economic interests were served by the existing political order.  And this diminished the threat of more extreme challenges to the “system”.  On the other hand, if public sector budgets were frozen or cut, then government’s ability to lash the interests of rich and poor together would be threatened.  In effect, the fiscal crisis of the state represented a clear danger to the political stability of Western democracies.  And this grim prognosis was offered by leading thinkers both left and right in the 1970’s. 

On the left, one of the most influential academic books of the decade, “Legitimation Crisis”, authored by a renowned German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, argued that the state’s ability to finance its “legitimation” function, the state’s capacity to inspire loyalty from all strata of society, was imperiled because of the emerging fiscal crisis.  And prominent neo-conservative academics, notably Samuel Huntington, a Harvard political scientist, and Daniel Bell, a Harvard sociologist, came to similar conclusions, although couched in very different language.  Huntington wrote an influential essay about America’s “Democratic Distemper”.  He observed that political demands on the state increased, due to what he referred to as a “welfare shift”, while confidence in government and other institutions declined.  He concluded darkly that democracy was not “optimized” when it was “maximized”, conjuring ideas expressed by political theorists of the early 20thcentury associated with Italy’s fascism.  Bell wrote an essay on the “Public Household” that became the final chapter of his seminal work entitled “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism”. He warned that a “revolution of rising entitlements” greatly increased political demands on the state that threatened both economic and political stability.  In effect, a remarkable intellectual consensus about the diminished governability of Western democracies emerged that transcended political ideology. 

The menacing economic developments during the seventies also produced an intellectual and policy crisis in the field of economics. The reigning paradigm was established by John Maynard Keynes. He provided a rationale for the public sector to stimulate aggregate demand when the private sector collapsed during the Great Depression.  If an economy was in recession, prices and wages faced downward pressure, which required government to prime the pump and engage in deficit spending to ignite demand.  Putting more money in the hands of more people by running large government deficits was a way to get the economy moving again.  He believed that balancing budgets during a recession or depression would be counterproductive and dangerous.  Keynes offered his prescriptions as a way to save capitalism from itself.  And they worked like a charm.  Even Richard Nixon announced that he was a Keynesian.  However, most fail to remember that Keynes also believed it was wise to curtail government spending when the economy recovered to alleviate any inflationary pressure.  The basic idea was this:  recessionary and inflationary pressures were mutually exclusive.  Keynes believed you could not have high rates of inflation during a recession.

However, developments during the 1970’s baffled Keynesian economists.  While the economy entered into a recession and interest rates soared to almost 20% at its height, it also suffered from double digit inflation. Things cost much more at a time when more people had less to spend.  It was the worst of all possible economic outcomes and mainstream economists were unable to alleviate the crisis.  Enter the Reagan revolution and its widely touted supply side ideas that featured the infamous Laffer curve.  Economist Arthur Laffer proposed that significant tax cuts would generate more, not less, government revenue by spurring higher rates of macroeconomic growth.  In Laffer’s world, tax cuts would reduce and not increase government deficits and benefits would accrue to everyone.  Of course, this would prove to be little more than conservative fantasy.  But Reagan’s rhetoric, spinning a marvelous story about a shining city on the hill, claiming America’s best moments were still to come, enabled many to believe help was on the way.  

Reagan provided a stark contrast to his rival Jimmy Carter, who tried to level with the public by asking them to sacrifice, to turn down thermostats in the winter for instance. Carter insinuated, but never stated, there was a cultural malaise sweeping the country, as Christopher Lasch suggested in his popular book on the “Culture of Narcissism”.  Voters rejected Carter’s narrative as many wanted to believe that shuttered factories and rising unemployment, soaring gas prices and interest rates and stagnant economic growth, coupled with the ineffectiveness of traditional Keynesian solutions, could be swept away by a conservative pipe dream.  Never mind that deficits would actually increase during Reagan’s presidency or that supply- side ideas contributed to greater inequality, leading many to derisively refer to the doctrine as a “trickle-down” theory, or what Bush the elder later referred to as “voodoo economics”.  

While Reagan appeared to offer an end to the financial and political crisis, his presidency established a new Gilded Age.  Those at the very top became extraordinarily rich while wages and income for those in the middle and at the bottom stagnated.  Meanwhile, none of the problems brought to national attention in the 1970’s was seriously addressed.  

Accordingly, significant portions of the country still wrestle with the same issues:  declining manufacturing jobs, endangered economic growth, stagnant wages and productivity.  At the end of the 1970’s, considerable fear, panic and hardship established a receptive audience for Reagan’s audacious conservative message.  More recently, it provided fertile soil for Trump’s repugnant populism.  But what happens when people realize Trump offers no solutions to vexing economic problems, that the emperor has no clothes?  If the two major political parties continue to ignore the suffering and anger of so many in the 2020 election, what new unsettling political response will emerge and could it threaten the fragile texture of our democracy? 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.                                                                                          

Editor of Delano