How the wisdom of FDR matters for our democracy today

By Mark Poloncarz

Since it became clear Donald Trump will be our next president it seems like I am asked daily by at least one person my views on his incoming administration and what it means for our country. Many ask me this question as supporters of President Obama who are worried that current policies and laws, such as the Affordable Care Act or the Obama Power Plan, will be reversed. Others who supported the president-elect ask me the same question, as if they are seeking validation from me that their choice of Mr. Trump was a good one.

I have told all that have asked, while I hope for the best, I cannot in good conscience say it will work out. To those who support the current administration’s policies, or wish they were further to the left on the political spectrum, I am disheartened by President-Elect Donald Trump’s recent choices for cabinet secretaries and other high ranking officials. His choices do not instill any confidence in me that we will end his term in office with a more equal, just or fair nation. In fact, his appointees are those whom I believe will set our nation back decades.

When Donald Trump said he was going to “Make America Great Again,” to his average supporter that meant returning to a day when good paying manufacturing jobs were plentiful and Washington, D.C. worked for us. While there certainly were Trump supporters who voted for him based on fear and anger, I believe the vast majority of his supporters, including many blue collar democrats and people I know, voted for him because they felt he would be their president.

However, looking at the list of his appointees, it now seems clear when Trump said he was going to Make America Great Again he was referring to the age of the robber barons when J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt and others ruled both Wall Street and Washington.

For example, if you believe government should protect individuals from the predatory schemes of Wall Street then you must be dismayed by Trump’s choice of former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary. If you think the Department of Labor should protect workers’ rights, while still supporting an equitable relationship with business owners, then Trump’s pick of fast food tycoon Andrew Puzder as Labor Secretary is dispiriting. If you believe in the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water, Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency is an affront to everything you hold dear. The list goes on and on.

To top it off, after our intelligence community briefed Congress on their belief that Russia deliberately interfered in our election and Republican Senators are even calling for an investigation, yesterday President-Elect Trump announced his appointment of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be our next Secretary of State. While Tillerson’s lack of diplomatic experience is not in itself disqualifying, his close ties to the Russians as ExxonMobil’s CEO should give anyone pause. Our founders believed the secretary of state was the second most important job in our government, following the president, which in many ways is still the case. The secretary of state needs to be our chief diplomat and there must be no question as to where his or her allegiance lies. It is fair to say Tillerson’s close ties to the Russians and especially Vladimir Putin should be a concern to all.

Yet, President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the accusations the Russians deliberately interfered in our election to help him win and his professed aversion to daily intelligence briefings is most disconcerting. Russian interference in our Presidential election is nothing more than an attack on our democracy. However, instead of joining others from both parties who have called for an investigation into the matter, or remaining silent on the topic, Trump again chose to attack, calling the allegations politicized and showing contempt for the same intelligence agencies he must rely on as President. At least he should rely on them, but he claims he does not need a daily intelligence agency briefing because, as he stated, “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

This statement is not only incredulous on its face, but dangerous for our country. Our president faces some of the most difficult decisions any human can make. To make those decisions without facts and advice from our intelligence community, especially at a time when the Russians have shown they will interfere in our domestic affairs, would be as President Obama just said, like a pilot “flying blind.” We deserve a president who will read these reports regardless of whether he wants to do so; there can be no alternative.

So how did we get here, with a president-elect who does not want to read intelligence reports, rejects allegations of foreign meddling in our elections without even seeing the facts, appoints the latest version of robber barons to run our nation, and who just happened to lose the popular vote by nearly 3,000,000 votes? All because many good people in a few swing states voted for him and his promise of a greater America.

While I may not believe the Trump presidency will be good for our country, especially after his recent actions, only time will tell whether the Trump presidency affects what is most cherished in our nation: our democracy. While some scoff at the thought his presidency could negatively impact our democratic institutions, I am reminded of the words of the president who faced more adversity that any other during the 20th Century: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During his fireside chat in April 1938, FDR spoke on the institution of democracy in words that still ring true today:

“Democracy has disappeared in several other great nations-not because the people of those nations disliked democracy, but because they had grown tired of unemployment and insecurity, of seeing their children hungry while they sat helpless in the face of government confusion and government weakness through lack of leadership in government. Finally, in desperation, they chose to sacrifice liberty in the hope of getting something to eat. We in America know that our own democratic institutions can be preserved and made to work. But in order to preserve them we need to act together, to meet the problems of the Nation boldly, and to prove that the practical operation of democratic government is equal to the task of protecting the security of the people.”

“There is placed on all of us the duty of self-restraint. . . . That is the discipline of a democracy. Every patriotic citizen must say to himself or herself, that immoderate statement, appeals to prejudice, the creation of unkindness, are offenses not against an individual or individuals, but offenses against the whole population of the United States. . . .Self-restraint implies restraint by articulate public opinion, trained to distinguish fact from falsehood, trained to believe that bitterness is never a useful instrument in public affairs. There can be no dictatorship by an individual or by a group in this Nation, save through division fostered by hate. Such division there must never be.”

Though nearly eighty years have passed since Roosevelt spoke those words, we would be wise to heed his advice because a democracy is a work in progress that requires its citizens and their government to work together for the greater good. As such, we must strive to create a better nation for all and reject falsehoods that would cut at the core of our democratic institutions. We must not blindly reject facts that do not fit into our own narrative. We must call out those who seek to divide us, and reject those who engage in the spread of hate. We must work together when necessary, yet be active in opposition to policies that would destroy the bedrock principles that form our nation and its laws. We must all engage in acts of self-restraint, especially in today’s age of instant social media gratification.

We must all be advocates for the American Democracy, and it starts at the top.

Mark Poloncarz is the County Executive of Erie County, New York.
Copyright Mark C. Poloncarz, 2016

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Where do we go from here.

Statement of Mark Poloncarz in response to the election of Donald Trump as our 45th president.

Originally published November 9, 2016 on Facebook

Since the adoption of our Constitution the American Democracy has been a perpetual work in progress. Every four years we come together to elect one person to lead us forward, though no one person can ever truly represent the diversity and differing opinions that make up the three hundred twenty million citizens of our country. Yesterday was no different, and while the presidential election may not have gone as I had desired, I congratulate President-Elect Donald Trump and all of his supporters on their victory.

Now we as a nation must find a way to heal the wounds of this bitter election and move forward to address the significant issues that face our nation – issues relating to race and fairness, inclusivity and religious tolerance, poverty in all communities (not just the inner city), and the feeling by many regardless of the color of their skin that the American dream is no longer attainable – just to name a few in a long list of many. While we may disagree in the way to get there, in doing so I will stand up for the democratic ideals that I believe in and continue the fight for a better community, a better America, and I ask all others to do the same.

Good luck to President-Elect Trump as he begins the difficult task of governing, and may we, the people of the United States, find a way to work together in our perpetual quest to seek a more perfect Union.

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Why I like the choice of Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton’s choice for vice president

Since Hillary Clinton announced her Tim Kaine as her choice for vice president there have been some grumbles from those on the left of the Democratic Party. However, I think her choice of Kaine for vice president is a good one.

The most important factor in choosing a VP is whether the person is ready to be president. Tim Kaine is just that: he is a senator, former Virginia governor, former Richmond mayor and former progressive civil rights lawyer who defended the common man against big business. He is a fluent Spanish speaker, having spent time as a missionary in Latin America, and is well respected by all in Washington.

No VP choice could have been the darling to all. Some choices might have had more star power, but in the end the choice of VP is not about star power but competency. Tim Kaine meets that threshold and then some. Maybe his pick is not as exciting as others, but exciting only goes so far if competency is not there, and if you disagree go ask John McCain how his exciting wild card, game changing pick of Sarah Palin worked out for him.

No vice presidential pick has impacted the presidential race since 1960 when John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Baines Johnson and carried Texas as a result. The average American voter does not really care who the VP nominee is as long as the person is qualified. If they did George H.W. Bush would have never been elected president after choosing Dan Quayle.

If after last night’s performance by Donald Trump some liberals stay home and do not vote for Hillary Clinton because of her choice of Tim Kaine for VP they are, in effect, supporting Trump, and that is unacceptable in my book. He is a good choice and would make an excellent vice president, and more importantly, president if the unthinkable should happen.

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Comments of Mark Poloncarz at a vigil to honor the victims of the Pulse Orlando Massacre

Comments of Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive, as prepared for delivery before a vigil in remembrance and honor of the victims of the Pulse Orlando massacre on June 13, 2016 at Niagara Square, Buffalo.

Today we gather to remember and honor the victims of the horrible massacre perpetrated this weekend at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

49 lives were cut short at the hands of a madman. 49 families have been destroyed because of the twisted hatred of one man.

Another 53 individuals were shot, though thankfully because of the incredible efforts of law enforcement, first responders, and medical personnel they are still alive.

While there appears to have been some connection regarding the shooter and international Islamic terrorism, and we still do not have all the information on what lead to this massacre, make no mistake about it, this appears to have been a targeted attack against the LGBTQ community.

This was an attack against all of us, because when you attack the LGBTQ community you are attacking the very fabric of America.

This was an attack on the rights on an individual to love who they want and to live their life as an American. In the words of our founders, this was an attack on the unalienable rights we all have as an American, including Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and, of course, Life.

The victims of this horror were not just gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, and, when all the names are known, even heterosexual in nature, they were Americans.

They were our sons and daughters.

They were our brothers and sisters. They were our friends and co-workers.

They were moms and dads, and now that same sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, they were husbands and wives.

They were the many faces that make up America. They were all of us.

We need to remember them. However, I am sorry to say, we cannot honor their memories solely through our thoughts and prayers. They deserve better.

Civil rights pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer used to say, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

I feel the same way. I am sick and tired of offering our thoughts and prayers when people who gather together, whether children in a school, patrons in a movie theatre, students at a college, co-workers at a party, or now people at a club are murdered in cold blood.

I am sick and tired of hearing that the right of an individual to own an assault weapon is greater than mine, yours and was their right to live.

Unfortunately Orlando, known as the home of the “Happiest Place on Earth,” now joins the lexicon of Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; Umpqua, Oregon; and San Bernardino, California as the location of a mass killing by an individual with a semi-automatic assault rifle. The tragedies that happened in those communities could have occurred in Buffalo or Cheektowaga or Springville.

The gun used by the murderers in all of those shootings is the same gun – an AR-15.

This gun used to be banned as an assault weapon in the United States; however, when the ban ended in 2004 it became legal to purchase one again.

Friends, I am sorry but if we are to truly honor those killed Saturday night at Pulse, we must dedicate ourselves to do all we can to prevent these mass shootings from occurring again.

That includes fighting domestic or international terrorism wherever it may be, as well preventing the sale of arms that are created for one purpose: to kill as many people in as short a time as possible.

Also, no one who is on a no-fly list should be able to purchase firearms. If you cannot fly you should not be able to buy.

While we can never one-hundred percent prevent a madman from causing death and destruction, we can take these and other actions. We must unite as Americans to take these weapons of mass destruction off the market.

We must also unite to protect the rights of all to not only love who they want, but to worship as they see fit.

The shooter may have been a Muslim, and may have been guided by some form of radical Islamic tenets, but he does not represent the whole of Islam.

We must not declare war on an entire religion.

We must stand up to violence and hate carried out in name of any religion or cause, just like we must reject those who would trample on the rights of others solely because of the other’s religion.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all the sons and daughters of Abraham.  We share common history, and in this country we share our common right to live the life we see fit, to love and marry the person of our choice, to live the life we are born to live.

The sons and daughters of Abraham are gay as well as straight, Christian as well as Muslim, and in this country, are all Americans.

So let us remember those who were killed at Pulse, just like we must remember the children and teachers who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, and we must remember all those who died in a mass shooting at the hands of madman.

However, if we are truly to honor all of them, we must do more than remember them, we must take action to prevent such mass murders from ever happening again.

If we do that, we will not just honor their memories but restore a measure of sanity to what is truly the greatest country on Earth.

Thank you and God bless.

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Why “Bernie or Bust” will certainly end up as a bust for the country

By Mark C. Poloncarz
June 9, 2016

In 1787, our nation’s forefathers met in Philadelphia to draft a new set of laws to govern the fledgling United States of America. Though they could not have known it when they gathered to create, as the Preamble to the Constitution says, “a more perfect Union,” the country governed by that Constitution would still be around 229 years later, still seeking perfection.

As our nation learned during the presidential primary season of 2016, the Constitution is silent as to the method a political party may use to choose its candidate for the presidency. In fact, the original Constitution never references the existence of political parties. No method for choosing a candidate is prescribed, only the method in which the president and vice-president are elected. As such, every four years our country goes through an imperfect process to choose each party’s nominee, and thus our president, and this year was no different.

In a country of 300 million, only one person can be elected, leaving behind one nominee, a trail of contenders and also-ran candidates in both major political parties, as well as their supporters. Losing an election can be a painful experience, and not just for the candidate. Campaign staff, volunteers and even supporters of a losing candidate who did nothing more than vote for the candidate can go through a cathartic process when the realization hits that your candidate will not be elected. Having been on the losing side of general and primary presidential elections in the past, I can tell you from personal experience the feelings are not good.

Now that the primary season for 2016 is coming to a close, those feelings are starting to be processed by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders. There is no doubt Senator Sanders fought the good fight and accomplished much during this primary season. He highlighted issues of income inequality and general inequity in our nation, issues that needed to be discussed, and brought perhaps millions of new people into our political process. However, he will end up short of the finish line. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president this fall.

While many supporters of Senator Sanders may not like this result, or even want to accept it, the process has played itself out and nothing will change it. Secretary Clinton won more states, more votes and a majority of pledged delegates (of which I am one), and as her “prize” for doing so she now faces Donald Trump this fall. The flood of emotions Sanders supporters are now feeling, from sadness, to bitterness, and even to anger, will not change the result, but how those emotions are tapped into over the coming weeks and months will decide the direction our nation takes.

Because, just like that hot summer of 1787, when delegates from the many states converged on Philadelphia, this July delegates from the Democratic Party will come together in Philadelphia to officially nominate Secretary Clinton as the party’s nominee. What Senator Sanders, as well as his supporters do in the next 6 weeks will help not only set the tone for the convention but whether on January 20, 2017 we as a nation inaugurate President Hillary Clinton, or President Donald Trump.

Right now many Sanders supporters are saying they will never vote for Secretary Clinton. Each person has their reason why. Having gone through primary losses in the past I understand this reaction – you believed in a candidate, worked hard for him or her, and now that you are on the losing end you cannot see yourself supporting the victor in the general election.

Yet I am surprised by the amount of vitriol by some, though certainly not all, Sanders supporters towards Secretary Clinton and her being the Democratic Party’s nominee. They all may have a difference reason for their anger, but this is the first election I can remember when that anger manifested itself as clearly as it is this year in a “Bernie or Bust” movement. If I am to believe the posts on social media, these individuals plan on sitting out this November’s election or even supporting Donald Trump before they consider voting for Hillary Clinton.

However, if these supporters truly believed in not just “candidate Bernie Sanders” but the policies and platform he stood for as a candidate, the “Revolution” he sought, they must support Hillary Clinton this fall. To do so otherwise would be a complete rejection of the ideals that formed the basis of the Sanders campaign.

When it comes to the choice this fall, the difference between the two soon to be officially designated major party candidates is as wide and as deep as the Grand Canyon. Hillary Clinton has far more in common with Sanders and his supporters than Donald Trump ever will have.

For example, Clinton supports increasing the national minimum wage. Trump does not.

Clinton supports free community college for all. Trump does not.

Clinton supports more restrictive gun control laws. Trump not only does not but he has gone on record saying there should be no gun free zones, even in schools.

Clinton opposes the Keystone pipeline and supports the Obama administration’s clean power plan. Trump supports Keystone and rejects the clean power plan.

Clinton supports the overturning of the Citizens United decision and implementing real campaign finance reform. It is unclear where Trump stands on this issue because while he says he supports campaign finance reform, like the rest of his campaign, he does not have a policy paper or statement on the matter.

In addition to having a litmus test on the Citizens United decision, Clinton has said she would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who support the Voting Rights Act and would preserve a woman’s right to choose. Trump has said his favorite justice on the Supreme Court is Clarence Thomas. That statement alone should be a good enough reason for a Sanders supporter to vote for Clinton in November (and might give us the answer to the question where he really stands on Citizens United).

If those examples are not enough, on the seminal accomplishment of President Obama’s tenure, the passage of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, Clinton not only supports the Act but she still carries the scars from her efforts to get healthcare reform passed in the 1990s. Her credibility when it comes to supporting a reformed healthcare system is without question. Trump would repeal Obamacare and take us back to the good-old days when insurance premiums skyrocketed every year, those who could not afford their co-pays after an illness filed for bankruptcy, and 40 million Americans were uninsured.

There is a difference between the two candidates, and as Senator Sanders might say, it is huge. It is a difference which cannot be ignored, and historical precedence indicates that if Sanders supporters do ignore it they do it at their and the nation’s peril because all we have to do is remember what happened during the 2000 election. Ralph Nader, running on the Green Party line, argued he should be supported on the left because there was no real difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Nader’s vote total in Florida, if it went to Gore would have swung the election to Gore.

If anyone truly believes there was no difference between Bush and Gore after the 8 years of Bush’s presidency they were not paying attention during those years, and I have yet to meet that person. Also, who amongst us thinks a Gore presidency would not have been any different than the Bush presidency? It certainly would have been different. There is no doubt we would be living in a different, and probably safer, geostrategic global environment today.

When Democrats, including yours truly, converge on Philadelphia in July I hope we come together not just as a delegates to a political party but as a diverse representation of the citizens of our country who do not agree on everything, but have far more in common than those who will support Mr. Trump this fall. If coming out of the convention we stand united in our principles and in support of Secretary Clinton we will be much closer to forming a more perfect union than if we stand apart.

While I did not agree with everything he said through the primary season, Senator Sanders ran a good campaign. He and his supporters can hold their heads up high and acknowledge that we could be a better nation because he ran and they participated in the process. I say could because if Sanders and a large portion of his supporters do not support Secretary Clinton we will not be a better nation under President Donald Trump. We will in fact be a far worse nation than we are today; a nation still searching for perfection but further away from it than we could be. The stakes are too high to allow that possibility to be a reality.

Mark C. Poloncarz is the county executive of Erie County, New York. He was a district-wide pledged delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention for John Kerry, a district-wide pledged delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention for Hillary Clinton, and has been appointed a public leader, elected official (PLEO) pledged delegate for Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Copyright Mark C. Poloncarz 2016

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