I’ve spent a lot of time paying attention to tribal governments and it’s frustrating for an advocate of tribal sovereignty. “Traditional” is a shibboleth that must get lip service but observing tradition is at best a complex shell game.
If it means before First Contact and we all could agree on what the practice was in that slice of time, I’m not sure why our 16th century solutions are any better for 21st century problems than the 16th century tribal solutions on display in Afghanistan. Those were different times and we are all different peoples.
In the U.S., patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. On the rez, it’s tradition. I take “scoundrel” to mean somebody in politics for self-seeking purposes. Many of the verbal twists and turns scoundrels take when running for cover come out not just anachronistic, but childish.
So, I read all these tribal newspapers about who is doing what to whom and I get to feeling really badly about our inability to govern. After this last U.S. election season, I feel better. Not because our governments suddenly got smarter but because the colonial government has driven off a Cliff of Dumb and is tumbling ass over elbows through a Valley of Ridiculous.
The election gave U.S. voters a choice between the two most unpopular politicians in the country. Each one was the only candidate weak enough to give the other a chance of winning.
The following bit of childish claptrap was posted on my Facebook page last year and kicked off a lot of discussion. I wanted to wave clenched fists in the air while screaming, "Grow up! Are you really old enough to vote? Maybe we should take another look at that voting age question."
I'm going to paste the item here with names redacted except for public figures and then say what I should have said in the first place:
July 28 at 9:44 pm · Portland, OR
I'm not Voting for Clinton.
It has nothing to do with her views. It really doesn't even matter about all the laws she broke.
It's because She actually talked to me once. Almost a sentence. But first, some background.
Being a K9 handler in the Military I got to do a few details involving Distinguished Visitors. Mostly Generals, DOD Officials, and Secretaries of Defense. I was lucky enough to pull two awesome details. George W Bush, and Obama.
GW looked at me, said "Man, who'd you piss off" high fived me, and continued on. I was climbing down from a catwalk I stood on for 4 hours with nothing but Dust and a radio to keep me company. The radio died early on. It was pretty sweet.
Obama, as he was walking out to his plane in Turkey, said "What the hell kind of dog is that?!" In reference to Suli.
One of my Last details was for Hillary when she was Secretary of State. She was in Turkey for whatever reason. I helped with sweeps of her DV Quarters and staff vehicles. Her words to me?
"Get that Fucking dog away from me." Then she turns to her Security Detail and berates them up and down about why that animal was in her quarters. For the next 20 minutes while I sit there waiting to be released she lays into her detail, slamming the door in their faces when she's done. The Detail lead walks over apologizes and releases me. I apologize to him for getting him in trouble. His words "Happens every day, Brother"
Hillary doesn't care about anyone but Hillary.
Now, there are plenty of reasons on the face of this to question the veracity, but I don’t care. I don't think all the above is true. But I'm perfectly willing to assume that it is. There is nothing in it that in grownup political discourse makes it worth contesting the facts.
I should mention that much of what I'm about to say is a belated recognition that my late second wife, Donna Mobley, was correct about a lot of things I used to dispute.
Donna was a lobbyist in the Texas Legislature. At various times, she was trying to get laws written to suit Common Cause of Texas, the Texas Civil Liberties Union, and the State Ethics Commission.
These are not organizations that have much appeal to the average Texas legislator and none of the organizations gave her an entertainment budget. More likely she’d be the one trying to mooch a free meal off the legislators rather than grabbing their tabs.
Donna used to say, "No permanent friends; no permanent enemies." Publicly and somewhat belatedly, I say she's right—but only if you are interested in making the system work.
If your interest is in blowing government up, shutting it down, or reducing government to a size where it can be drowned in the bath water, then her insight does not help you.
I came by to get her from work late one day and saw her having a conversation with a very powerful lobbyist environmentalists used to call the Prince of Darkness. It was so intense I knew better than to interrupt.
After he went on his way, I walked over and asked her what she was plotting with the Prince of Darkness. He was, at the time, the head of a serious lobbying presence by the American Petroleum Institute.
She told me to watch my mouth and that she was trying to get him to help spring an ethics bill from a committee where it had been languishing for so long it was beginning to match the wallpaper.
"What does the API care about that bill?"
"Nothing," she said, "and if I went around referring to him as the Prince of Darkness I would not be in a position to be asking him a favor."
She knew and I knew and, hell, everybody knew that if the API lobbyist told that committee chair to jump then he would jump and ask how high on the way up.
The next day, the bill was out of committee.
A special session of the Texas Legislature just closed out in which one of the issues the governor named when he called the special session was “the bathroom bill.” That was one of those mean and stupid laws that prevent people suffering from gender dysphoria from following the medical protocol required to qualify for sex reassignment surgery.
It’s required that you live as the sex you claim to be, including how you dress and which public restroom you use. These bathroom laws advocated by Christian fundamentalist mullahs require everybody to behave as if the sex noted on their birth certificate were correct, even when it’s not.
A bill named in the governor’s call normally passes, and the skids were greased for the bathroom bill, when businesses started to come out against it. The big tech companies were first to oppose it—Texas Instruments, Dell, IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook---but most tech is based in the People’s Republic of Austin, which the Legislature is in the habit of ignoring.
The revolt spread to other major employers—AT&T, Kimberly-Clark, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines. Then businesses in the oil patch came out against mean and stupid, one after another—Chevron, Halliburton, BP, Royal Dutch Shell. When Exxon-Mobil came out against it, sane people rejoiced, and the session expired with no bathroom bill. It was not even necessary to use the nuclear weapon, which was the prospect of the National Football League avoiding Texas venues for the Super Bowl and the NFL draft.
Another time in her lobbying career, Donna mentioned that a very powerful lobbyist (not as powerful as the Prince) had groped her in the small elevator to the legislative offices. She interrupted my hissy fit to say that she didn't want me to do anything and she would not have told me if she thought I was that childish.
She had put him off in a manner to make him feel like a fool to ever make a sexual overture to her again. If it had been me, I would already have felt like a fool, but groping was never my idea of how to get a woman’s attention. Perhaps because I never as a young boy watched a self-proclaimed and unrepentant groper get elected president.
He did some things for her that session and he even sent me a campaign contribution the next time I had a contested race. I would have sent it back but that would really have pissed off Donna.
Grownups don't do politics to make friends, but they know making enemies is counterproductive. The "product" that interests you is law and policy or you are in the wrong place. If the product you are there to accomplish is not more important than how you feel about this or that player, you need to quit the game before you mess it up for somebody serious.
You are not there to reward your friends, punish your enemies, or stoke your ego. You are there to change the lives of people you will never meet and if you did they would likely not understand what you did.
Over the years, I've come to recognize that most politicians—whether I've loved or hated them—have certain issues always near and dear, a life agenda that never goes away. For Hillary Clinton, that would be the welfare of children. For Bernie Sanders, that would be fair distribution of society's benefits.
Figuring out Chris Christie was a real challenge until I heard him tell a story about a law school classmate whose life fell apart. I’m now convinced his issue is addiction treatment.
For me, it's class mobility—that every other Indian kid from the boonies has a shot at the kind of fairy tale life I have had thanks to government’s role in keeping the doors of opportunity propped open.
You can do all kinds of business with others outside their core interests. If you can give their core interests a boost without compromising yours, most recipients of that kindness will not forget it.
I worked a number of peon jobs at the famous hippie honkytonk Armadillo World Headquarters to get though school. We peons on the staff had very strong opinions about the big stars we saw more intimately than you see them on stage.
Some of them were the sweetest human beings you would ever be privileged to know: Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Fats Domino, and Mance Lipscomb were always all "please and thank you." Some others, not so much.
Well, guess what? Politicians are the same. They are salt of the earth or assholes and each could pass for the other on a particular day. But it’s not about them and it’s not about you.
If you cast your vote based on how you feel about a candidate rather than based on what you expect them to accomplish, you and Mr. Trump deserve each other.
I have searched high and low in Trump’s life story and the only consistent principle is his own interests. Before the election, his plan appeared likely to make U.S. government as dysfunctional as any tribal government. His plan would give Indians a comfortable feeling of superiority and relieve non-Indians from having to learn complicated stuff.
Half a year in, he’s accomplishing nothing but a stack of executive orders countermanding Obama’s executive orders. His idea of how to work the Congress has been to threaten them. His method of explaining failure to his voters is to claim failure is success.
In a bizarre cabinet meeting where each billionaire appointee praised and thanked their boss publicly, Trump evaluated himself:
I will say that never has there been a president – with few exceptions; in the case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle – who's passed more legislation, who's done more things than what we've done, between the executive orders and the job-killing regulations that have been terminated. We've achieved tremendous success.
Politifact gave this magical thinking an extremely generous rating of “mostly false.”
In the 2016 silly season, Trump got enough “pants on fire” ratings that Politifact ought to retire the trophy. His lies exceeded Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders put together. The Federalist did an analysis concluding that Politifact was biased against Republicans because it rated Trump repeatedly on the same statement. All they proved, according to The Federalist, is that when Clinton got caught lying, she quit. When Trump got caught, he bulled forward, doubled and tripled down and relied on the magic of repetition to make a lie true.
It remains to be seen whether post-factual politics will last longer than Trump does, but the magic seems to be working now. To weave truth out of falsehood, just close your eyes, click your heels together, and utter the magic words, “Make America Great Again!” But, whatever you do, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Until this magic quits working, I don’t want to hear another word about the superiority of the U.S. government over tribal governments.
Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a retired Texas trial court judge and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.