Remembering America 

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Late last month, Freedom House, the wonderful institution that helps battered refugees win asylum in this country and Canada, held its annual fundraising banquet.

Few paid much attention to the small quiet woman in a blue blazer who happened to be sitting at my table, until she got up to accept an award, and people realized who she was.

Barbara McQuade, the first female federal district attorney ever appointed for this part of Michigan, looked at the crowd filling the ballroom at the Atheneum Suite Hotel in Greektown.

"Remember Barack Obama?" she said softly, as people began to applaud. Then she said two more words:

"Remember America?"

The applause became overwhelming, and some stood to honor her and what she said, this woman who has done more to fight terror and defend this nation than the creep in the White House ever can, or will. They remembered, alright, and were sickened by what has come since.

One year ago, the most inappropriate and unqualified creature in our history was elected president of the United States, despite decisively losing the popular vote.

That may have been the worst thing to happen to America since the Civil War. In a sense, Trump's election may have been worse. The War Between the States, as it was called, settled that this was one country, from which portions could not secede — and more importantly, it ended the national shame of slavery.

Electing Donald Trump was an act that disgraced everything this nation at its best stood for.

There are many reasons that he "won"; the biggest, a huge Electoral College flaw. Nevertheless, it is shocking that anyone not wearing a swastika or a tinfoil hat voted for this vulgar creature dedicated to dividing us as a people.

True, his main opponent had her own significant flaws. True, Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton, seemed to forget about millions left behind by the millennial economy.

She did not even try to speak to them.

Yet racism and sexism and the ugly dark underside that has always been part of this nation were plainly visible on election night, as they were in Trump and his unsavory gang.

Now, this nation is in a place I never thought we'd ever be. Nor is it clear whether we can ever get our America back.

We grew up in a nation where presidents, whatever their politics, at least pretended to be the president of all the people.

Presidents sent our young men off to war from the Oval Office, decisions they seldom took lightly. They fought for justice and civil rights and grappled with the economy.

Most had a sense of history, and were keenly aware they were stewards of a long tradition. Some had bad policies, but they didn't blatantly show contempt for their people.

Richard Nixon lied and bugged his enemies, but when his lies and obstruction of justice were discovered, it was seen as a Really Big Deal, and he had to resign and slink away. Today we have a creature inhabiting the home of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt who literally lies every day.

"For months, much of the country has watched in despair as he and his administration have meat-axed the Affordable Care Act, crushed forward-looking Obama-era regulations in education, the environment, and consumer protection," wrote Colbert King, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, in a recent column.

"He has made a mess of things with our allies, emboldened our adversaries, and embarrassed the nation on the world stage," said King, who is trying to encourage people to vote. "We have groaned through his insults and lies and witnessed his embrace of people and causes that travel on the dark side."

Well, he's right, but there's more to it than that.

America was never perfect, but we could be pretty damn amazing when, as Lincoln said, we listened to the "better angels of our nature." We did make great strides in overcoming racism, and we did avoid and defeat fascism.

We also, at our best, have given asylum sanctuary and citizenship to millions of refugees, men such as Albert Einstein and the other atomic scientists — the cause Freedom House champions today. We were always the nation that knocked walls down, not the one that built them.

Read or listen to John F. Kennedy's inaugural address to see the best short proclamation of what our America should be.

Now, however, there is an unfocused pseudo-fascist in the White House who hates democracy, never reads, often seems mentally deranged, and who has sent signals that a little Neo-Nazi violence against your enemies is perfectly fine.

We have to stop tolerating this.

Now.

We need to resist, protest, and fight back every day.

Donald Trump has certainly already done more than enough to justify being removed from office.

So let's start trying.

No, the Republicans won't go along, not at first, because they think they can "control" him and get their precious tax cuts, just as German businessmen thought they could control you-know-who, once upon a time eight decades ago.

Our choice is starkly simple. Do you think this nation, the land we grew up loving, can survive three more years of this?

Will we succeed in driving him out or getting rid of him? In any event, there are some fights you have to make. The odds of beating tyranny didn't look all that good in July 1776.

But we went to work and did it. Time to try to do so again, by any means necessary — save violence.

Something rotten in the county of Wayne

Four years ago, Tom Watkins, a former state superintendent of schools, was chosen to be the CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, It was a brilliant and inspired choice.

Watkins, who has long been interested in mental health issues, vastly improved things at DWMHA, turning it into a truly independent authority. His leadership increased wages for care providers, eliminated deadwood, and cut costs.

But in the end, he couldn't quite lick that old Wayne County cronyism. A group called the Integrated Care Alliance tried to tack on unapproved fees to a contract they had with the authority. Watkins said no. But his board, some of whom are said to have financial ties to ICA, overruled him, six to five.

They also took away his ability to terminate contracts. Watkins decided he didn't want any part of people who did business that way, and refused their offer to renew his contract.

Baffled by his integrity, the band of cronies went looking for a new patsy — oops — CEO. They finally landed Willie Brooks, the current CEO for the equivalent authority in Oakland.

But once he agreed and the announcement was made, they began screwing with him. According to what Brooks told Crain's Detroit Business, they lowered the amount they'd pay him if he got fired from a year to six months' pay, and added a non-compete clause that would prevent him from getting another job in his field for a year if they canned him.

"Suddenly, he saw them for what they are," says someone who knows all the players. Brooks then told Herman Smitherman, chairman of the board, to take a hike.

Watkins told me he wished the agency was focused more on the people it is supposed to be serving.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is mainly running for governor these days, but you'd think the DWMHA board would be ripe for an investigation by his office or some other state agency to reveal just who owns who.

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