Putting the Country First

It is an interesting contrast in civility and governance that our two parties offer. For example, Dick Durbin, the 2nd ranking Democrat in the senate says he hopes the office makes the man, and Trump can be a good president. Throughout liberal media, and among Democratic politicians, the sentiment is, we hope Trump is a good president and we want to work with him (yes, the populace is protesting, as they should, I think, and as is their right). And the Democratic politicians are still focused on governing and doing what is right for the country. That doesn’t mean they will accept everything Trump proposes; rather that they will work with him to try and find common ground, despite having just seen an election where Clinton won the popular vote and yet lost to Trump in the electoral college (something Trump himself tweeted was a disaster for democracy in 2012). You can insert your own joke there. Now contrast this to how the Republicans react when they lose: I refer you to Mitch McConnel who, the day Obama was elected in 2008, said nothing about working with him or even accepting his victory. Instead, McConnell said his immediate and only political goal was to make Obama a one term president. So my question is, which party acts like it is putting the country ahead of party politics?

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On Blaming

JP said, "with the Republicans controlling everything, they will only have themselves to blame when their policies don’t magically make everything better."

We can say that blaming does nothing. It was blame that Trump falsely foisted on Hillary for her "damn emails," also about Benghazi. He said a lot of horrible, nasty, unforgivable things about that woman and many other women. But what’s more, blame doesn’t work.

Take the Great Recession. It is clear to us from the left that pretty much everything W touched turned to crap. And we can blame the Crash straight on his policies. The right doesn’t see it that way, though; they have cited a plethora of other reasons. And the several recessions before that – all occurred after rightist economics were implemented. Duh! Reaganomics and its cronies is a crock! Well, again, the right thinks trickle down economics can’t be wrong.

The germane topic is not vitriol, though I am certainly angry at the election results, but looking toward good policy.

Everything that is rational to me points me to the sort of policies that our current president has advocated. He can take credit for a rescuing a country the W took to the toilet and transformed it into a steadily growing economy, implementing health care reform, and balancing a foreign policy that promotes democracy while safeguarding American lives. The president-elect has either discredited ideas, immoral ideas, outright falsehoods, or no policy at all. In my opinion, everything that is rational was outvoted last night. America will be led by a reptile brain, not a thinking one. The reptile brain doesn’t think, it is emotional and fight-or-flea; it wants to win at any cost.

What won the election was the lack of clarity, the art of making so many vague promises to everyone. The small percentage of voters who voted FOR Trump – not against Clinton – projected their own hopes onto this candidate with virtually no policy proposals. Obama, frankly, did the same sort of thing in his own way in ’08.

We will watch to see if Trump can deliver on the various platitudes he has uttered. While I hope most of them fail, it is worth noting that he is has been all over the map with many policy statements, on Iraq, abortion, wages, and more. So, by saying pretty much nothing, he can more easily do it. A couple of his policies ARE moderate, like wanting to rebuild infrastructure. And despite his rhetoric, Obama has quietly enforced a great deal of immigration violations, and immigration is very low now.

I too hope, will pick and choose which of Trump’s ideas should be implemented.

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David Hume was prescient

​​David​ ​Hume’s quotation,​ ​from a famous passage discussing the "motivating influence of the will" in his Treatise on Human Nature and reads in full:

"Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

The lizard brain has pushed back the frontal lobes.​ ​What happened this time, is that simple values have trumped what would seem to be rational, fair, fact-based and just.​

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How Did This Happen?

I am shocked, in mourning for our nation. There is no reason to expect this president elect can govern. We cannot expect this man to shed his racist, misogynist, immature, vindictive and invented reality ways. I could go on, (and on and on!) but it just makes me angry. This is a very sad day.

Still, we have to get up, go to work, eat, sleep, pee, breathe. And ask. The first question is “How did this happen?”

In my conservative part of the world, I will tell you that everyone to whom I have talked did not vote for Trump, so much as against Hillary. There was a huge fanning of flames to vilify Hillary. So many people say things like, “Trump may be unqualified, but I hear Hillary is corrupt.” Somehow the two candidates were equivocated, and Hillary was found to be the worse. The average person in conservative America has bought the street talk what has nothing to do with reality, the facts and evidence. These are not people who give much thought (and I say this with respect and what I feel is empathy and understanding) to issues beyond a few: abortion, gun rights, government over-reach, and punishing bad people. Their views aren’t shallow; they feel that these issues “Trump” all others. They feel that their values have been disregarded by the mainstream’s efforts to make what should be simple, complex. We can trace these things back to two causes: conversations with friends and family, and religion. The right media and social media simply reinforces all those beliefs.

So, the fact that Trump has provided next to no policy on such an array of issues doesn’t matter.

The mainstream media which I have heard so far has focused on demographics, and guessing what Trump will do. Their analysis doesn’t address what seems to me the real explanation for this shocking election. Trump was supposedly the lesser of bad choices, so they thought. This is significant because the ability of mainstream media (NPR included) to reflect and have a meaningful impact on the public mindset has taken a back seat to street talk – which is contrary to its self-perceived good work. It’s not just that the polls were wrong, and so the media reported it, but the right has taken possession of a corpus of the entire public concision, which is, by their design, separate from and contrary to the mainstream. In short, hatred of Hillary went largely unnoticed.

JP and I agree, the media has a duty to put forth the truth, correct misinformation, and to call out mistakes and bad judgment. But this places a semi-political duty on the media. In this post-fairness doctrine polarized era, to try to actually BE fair and balanced is inherently contradictory and really, impossible. If JP had his way, the media would think carefully, choose the same facts he does, follow the same polls, and arrive at complementary conclusions. And I, too, would like something like that, though with a little more modest approach and moderate policies. Right now, there are few common ground values that pretty much all media share.

It should be clear, today, that polling is not accurate. There are two causes for this: one, the internet/social media, which allows anyone to feel like their opinion is dominant, and two, the backlash/mistrust of anything Establishment. That word, Establishment bothers me. Its meaning is in the eye of the beholder. It means, in effect, “Anyone who has power that I don’t like much.” For the right, it seems contradictory to me. Of course it means Democrats in power. And for most of them, it also includes the powerful, lobbying kings of corporations. But those are the same people Trump has been in bed with.

Anyway, the issues for the right seem simple. Again, they have a short list, but they want it implemented, dammit. The left’s attempt to see nuance, to find root causes of problems and solve them were rejected by a lot of voters, enough to make all three branches of the federal government red. The left’s claim to facts and truth (however legitimate) have been rendered inadequate, maybe self righteous. The right has dismissed the left’s claim to reality. They are wrong, but they are now in power. The left – evidently – has to get over it.

I long for common ground. We can find some middle ground on abortion, gun rights and gun safety, and we can reform the tax code. Trump has been all over the map on these issues. I certainly don’t trust his record on any of these. Still, the best we can hope for is that this little boy will surround himself with some people who have discerning minds, who can think and hold his knee-jerk vacuous ego in check.

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But What Am I?

This election has made me crazy (everyone must decide for themselves if they are included in the “this election has made everyone crazy” group). I write to apologize to my conservative friends, family, colleagues, strangers who I have had conversations with and then been so dumbfounded at what I hear that I go off on them. That doesn’t help the conversation, and in my advancing years my mind grows slower and I always think of the questions I should ask too late; either after I’ve gotten angry or the conversation is over.

And I write this now, the day before the election to try and show that I am not trying to change anyone’s mind—it’s too late for that—but to explain, should we still have a semblance of a country come Wednesday, why I think we have more in common than we realize. We just believe different things are facts.

For this purpose I’ll describe a conversation with Nik, an alter ego or foil. I borrow part of a name in homage to the great Mike Royko and his alter ego Slats Grobnik, who he often had conversations with in his columns. In what follows, Nik is a composite, but everything he says I have heard in conversations during this election season.

–Hi Nik, have a seat.

Nik—Good to see you. Can you believe that Colin Kaepernick? Why does he have to say all that stuff? He should just stay quiet. It doesn’t help anything.

–So he doesn’t deserve the first amendment? He didn’t really say anything, he just knelt down.

Nik—I don’t care. Why do I have to hear that?

–Um, don’t turn on the TV and you won’t.

Nik—Oh, I hardly watch any TV news.

–So how did you even know about what he did?

Nik shrugs—You know, Hillary says this country is already great. But Trump says we have to make it great again. I think that’s right.

–Hmm. Why is it okay for Trump to complain about America, bash our military, call us a third world nation, rate women in a sexist way, embrace Putin over America, and that is all good and great and ok by you, but somehow you are deeply hurt by a football player kneeling down?

Nik shrugs again—Hillary is just corrupt you know.

–There are questionable things about her, sure. But Trump is probably more corrupt, right? He hasn’t released tax returns and it looks like he hasn’t paid any for a couple decades. His university was under investigation by Florida’s AG Pam Bondi, and the day he donated 25 grand to her reelection campaign the investigation was dropped. His foundation was used to pay his employees and to pay for a couple six-foot tall portraits of himself. Clinton’s foundation has had some accusation of possibly questionable dealings, but non-partisan organizations that rank charities gave them an A+ rating, higher than the Red Cross. I could go on of course.

Nik—Well, okay, maybe not as many things as Trump, but Hillary is corrupt. I’ll say this, and I’m sure you’ll disagree with this too; The media is in the tank for Hillary.

–My God Nik, you shock me. I thought sure you believed in capitalism.

Nik—What?

–Come on, the media companies just want to make as big a profit as they can, like any other good capitalist company. If they’re doing more negative stories on Trump, it’s just because that is what the market will pay for, what they get the most money for with the ads they run. As Les Moonves of CBS says, Trump may not be good for the country, but he’s great for CBS.

Nik—Well, there should be rules…

–Who are you, my old friend? Here you are, arguing for more onerous regulations on business. I’ve never heard you do that before.

Nik—Don’t you think the news should be the news?

–Once upon a time it was. As part of the deal for use of the public airways, networks had to do so many hours a week of public interest programming, and that was the new divisions, which had to be separate from the entertainment divisions, and the news divisions could not be subject to making a profit.

Nik—Sounds like a good idea to me.

–That’s almost sacrilege. In the early 1980s Saint Reagan (bless his holy name) changed the rules and said everyone should be able to make a profit on everything. We don’t need fair news!

Nik—Still, I like that Trump is a businessman. He builds things!

–Um, Nik, you’ve told me many times that you are a small government conservative. Why would you want to hire a president whose one skill is doing the very thing you don’t want the government to do?

Nik—

Nik–Well, really I just want Trump because of the Supreme Court.

–And there it is. It always comes back to that in the end. But now I’m really shocked, my old friend. I thought surely you would want there to be fewer abortions, not more.

Nik–??

–I mean, there have always been fewer abortions when Democrats are in the White House than when it is occupied by Republicans. I can show you the data if you like, but I’d rather you research it yourself if you are really interested. The last time I gave some conservatives links to actual data, I lost friends and relatives who I haven’t heard from for years. Apparently the facts aligned me with the devil or something. They never told me, they just disappeared.

Nik—I don’t know about that, but we have to overturn Roe v. Wade.

–I think it is pretty clear the Republican powers that be really don’t want that to happen.

Nik—What are you talking about? We’re the pro-life party.

–Then why haven’t you done it? You’ve controlled the court for a couple decades (until Scalia died) and you haven’t pushed a case to the court. I don’t believe they want to overturn it, cause then they’d lose millions of free votes from single issue voters who have been scared into only caring about the unborn and not the born, because, for example, they claim the biggest threat to humanity, climate change, is a hoax.

Nik—Climate change is a hoax!

–What do think happens if Roe is overturned?

Nik—Abortion will be outlawed of course!

–Actually it’s just thrown back to the states. It wouldn’t change much. Red states like Alabama that have only one clinic left in the state would likely close that. Blue states like NY and IL and others, where abortion is legal, safe, and available, it would remain so. What it would do is ignite a whole new generation of activists who never experienced a time when they didn’t have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies.

Nik—But there have been a million and a half abortions since Roe! It’s a holocaust!

–There were that many before Roe too, but a lot of women had to have them in back allies and got sick or died themselves. Is that what you want back?

Nik—We have to do something!

–Elect Democrats. They believe in providing health care and financial support and birth control to poor women, and those things make it possible for them to choose to give birth. The majority of abortions are made because economic reality doesn’t give women the choice to give birth. Sure, there are too many abortions for other reasons as well, and isn’t it better to save potential lives rather than bask in ideological purity?

Nik—If that’s true, why don’t the Democrats run on it?

–I don’t know Nik. I wish they would. It seems like we really want a lot of the same things. We just see reality so differently that we don’t share common facts anymore. We both think the other lives in the world of truthiness. How can we find a way to see empirical reality the same way? Can we?

Nik—I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m scared for the world.

–I’d say, open your eyes, but then you’d tell me to do the same. I’d say, is there any way in which Trump’s campaign is anything more than the old school yard taunt?

Nik—I know you are, but what am I?

–Finally, we agree on something.

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Thank You, Nicholas Kristof

Kristof has a great column on unions today. He makes important points that I try to make when talking about unions. One, anyone who thinks unions have always been perfect and that there has been no corruption or abuse in unions, well, they are just smoking something. Two, anyone who thinks that we would have a middle class if we hadn’t had unions, well, they are smoking the same thing, only more so. And three, history shows this to be true; i.e., given that union membership is at its lowest point since the labor movement began, if you say unions are to blame for any of our economic problems now, then you have to explain how we did it when the economy was good, inequality was much lower, and union membership much higher.I would love to be able to make Bruce Rauner, our new anti-union governor in Illinois, read Kristof’s column and ask him how his proposals fit the facts. Of course that won’t happen; billionaires can afford to shield themselves from actual questions and actual evidence. The land of truthiness is expensive, and they can afford it. The best we can hope for is that as many voters as possible in Illinois read Kristof’s column, pass it on, and keep talking about it. For the voters are the only ones who can ultimately hold Rauner accountable for his views. Of course, polls are already showing some buyers remorse for electing him, even if that doesn’t mean they were happy with former governor Quinn. And that in a nutshell illustrates the problem in our politics. There is so much money involved now that we simply don’t have a choice between candidates we might like, or who would truly work for the voters. All we can do is vote for a change from one bad apple to another.
A new report from the Center for Responsive Politics has analyzed the data from the 2014 elections. At $3.77 billion, 2014 was the most expensive midterm election in our history. And for the first time since 1990 the number of individual donors decreased by 11%, while the average amount donated by each individual who did give to a candidate increased by 36%.
All I ask is that you read Kristof’s column and think about it.

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Turning Towards Apathy

The Republicans of course, as the winners do in every election no matter how silly it sounds, are claiming a mandate in their election victory. Also, of course, just as in the campaign, they are unable to say what the mandate is for beyond stopping everything Obama wants to do, including, one must presume, getting up in the morning. In the campaign and since their win they have yet to say anything specific about what they would like to do, how they would like to govern—beyond the standard talking points of cutting corporate taxes and further gutting every safety net we have left.

We expect that from the Republicans and their lap dogs at Fox News. What is surprising is that I have heard from centrists and even some liberals the meme that the country has turned to the right, that we are even more a center right country now than we were two years ago (interesting, isn’t it, how the country’s political proclivities change with every election and even news cycle, if you listen to the pundits whose job is to keep you watching even when their is nothing to say).

The election results say no such thing, unless you believe that about 20% of us speak for all of us. (As has previously been pointed out, since 127 or so Americans funded 60% of the Super Pac money, it would be more accurate to say that the free speech—if you believe the idiocy that money is speech—of 127 rich guys have been allowed to drown out the speech of everyone else.) The New York Times today has a good analysis showing that this year was the lowest turnout in a federal election since the midterms of 1942, at 36.3 % of eligible voters. The Republican overall won by three or four points, so of that 36.3% a little more than half went to Republicans, so the Republican landslide was achieved with around 20% of eligible voters voting for it. Does it feel like Democracy yet?

I say this to those on the left and the center who are worried the country has turned to the right, because I have heard some of those same friends and pundits say that they are also worried about money in politics and voter suppression. My point is that you can’t have it both ways. Either money and voter suppression laws have skewed the results away from the actual will of the people, or the vote that was made does reflect the will of the people and we have become more conservative. I don’t find it logically possible to hold both ideas at the same time. Yet in our age of truthiness, it seems many people try to.

Here and elsewhere the case has already been strongly made about the influence of money in politics—and how the negative advertising itself suppresses the vote by making people so apathetic and disgusted they just stay home. (And, it must be said, a lot of that fault falls on those under 30, who made up 19% of the electorate in 2012 and only 13% this year. If those 6% who stayed home this time had voted, we would likely be looking at a Democratic landslide. We barely teach civics in school anymore, so it is hardly surprising that so many young people seem to believe we live in a monarchy with a single ruler and so think the only vote that matters enough to bother with is the one for president.)

We do know that in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act last year, 20 or so states passed new laws designed to suppress the vote of minorities and young people (so yes, it is not all their fault that their turnout was down); the demographics most likely to vote for Democrats. As Ari Berman shows in a piece of excellent reporting, while we cannot say for certain that voter suppression swung the election to the Republicans, there is good evidence that their margin of victory was very close to the number of voters who were disenfranchised and not allowed to vote. Taken together, the dark money and the voter suppression make it pretty clear that the election results were bought and not that they reflect the will of the people. (And yes, the Supreme Court decision and the voter suppression laws were bought with big dark money; they were not democratically enacted by the will of the people.)

It was good to see the news yesterday that Obama has worked out a climate deal with China. And as with his announcement about the Internet and the FCC a few days earlier, it begs the question why this wasn’t announced before the election. If it had been, we may now have a few more elected representatives than we do who would support the agreement and help strengthen it, rather than fight it simply because Obama wants it.

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