The Beginning Of The End For The (dis)United States

As one part of my history major, I studied Central and Latin American history in college. And there was one thing I could never figure out. Until this weekend.

I didn’t understand why, whenever a populist, land-reform promising political party gained control of political power, they never managed to follow through on their promises to upset the status quo, distribute power more fairly, and improve ordinary people’s lives.

Forty years later*, I realize it’s because the idealists’ hatred for their predecessors became so all encompassing it distracted them from the day-to-day work of building a brighter future.

The common good took a backseat to getting even with the bastards in the other party for the sometimes decades-long laundry list of political grievances including massive corruption, and in some cases, government sponsored death squads.

The political class in the (dis)United States thinks the (dis)United States is superior to any country to the south, so my reference is irrelevant. But it’s dead wrong, human nature doesn’t respect political boundaries. We are prone to the exact same desire to get revenge. I know that because I feel it in a more visceral way this weekend than ever before. Others do too, no doubt.

Consequently, we are on the precipice of a very similar downward spiral that’s seemingly inevitable when every political party assumes the worst of the other.

Listening to the Senate Majority Leader, the President, and other Republicans unprecedented, unapologetic politicizing of the Supreme Court convinces me that they care way more about their party’s interests than the country’s.

The Democrat’s refrain this week will be, “Never forget.” Democrats risk being overwhelmed by anger at the Republican’s historic hypocrisy. When they gain power, which they inevitably will sooner or later, they are likely to seek revenge. And when the Republicans regain it, which they inevitably will sooner or later, they will do the exact same.

Just like that, if it hasn’t already, the organizing principle of our politics will become revenge. Instead of looking to the future, we’ll be mired in the past. And our national debt will grow large; our natural environment will grow more inhospitable; our infrastructure will erode further; racial justice will remain more illusive; and more people will struggle to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing.

And I will take zero joy in being right.

*better late than never

2020 Election Predictions

  • There’s a less than .1% chance Trump pulls the plug before November 3rd. Smart people like the Rajin’ Cajun are letting their fantasies cloud their judgement. Trump is grinding, spewing non-stop hatred for his opponents—Biden, Harris, and Biden-Harris voters. Nothing in his recent behavior suggests anything resembling a capitulation. Nor could he stand being known in history as “The guy who up and quit.” 
  • There’s a 99.9% chance Trump contests a Biden-Harris victory. This deeply depressing description of what’s likely to go down and why is extremely convincing. 

Byedon-Harris

From FiveThirtyEight.

“Harris’s selection is the latest sign of the increasing diversity of the Democratic Party. Democrats last had an all-white, all-male ticket in 2004, with then Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards. This vice presidential process, with Biden committing to choosing a woman fairly early on and then choosing a Black woman, suggests the Democrats may rarely in the future have a ticket of two white men. They may also rarely in the future have a ticket of two white people (as in 2016 with Clinton and Tim Kaine) or two men (as in 2012, with Obama and Biden).”

“May rarely” is the cautious, prudent phrase. I’m throwing caution and prudence to the wind, and saying again, I do not expect to ever see two white men on a Demo ticket. That ship has sailed.

Warren Exits—Patriarchy Remains Undefeated

In 1997 I traveled to China with Guilford College colleagues compliments of the Freeman Foundation. One female sociologist in our group, a firebrand feminist, had never traveled outside of the U.S.

One night we strolled through an open air market. Separately, she and I ended up purchasing some “peasant paintings”, inexpensive, beautiful folk paintings with farming themes done by rural artists. Afterwards, she wanted to know what I had paid for mine. When I told her, she lashed out, “Sexism!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. I had cut my teeth negotiating with street vendors all over Mexico, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. I know the song and dance, how to walk away, just slow and far enough for the vendor to come and get me and say my price is okay. She knew nothing of the sort.

Being wise to the ways of patriarchy and misogyny meant she saw sexism around every corner. She’s the exact opposite of my close male friends, whose intelligence I respect, because they discount ANY talk of patriarchy and misogyny when it comes to Elizabeth Warren’s aborted candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President. Never mind that this will the 46th time in a row that we’ve just happened to select male candidates. It’s just a coincidence.

Megan Garber cleverly and cogently explains how patriarchy and misogyny doomed Warren in this piece titled “America Punished Elizabeth Warren For Her Competence”. But when it comes to my close male friends, who tend to be college educated, treat women with respect, and are (mostly) anxious to turn the page on the Trump administration, Garber has a heap of problems getting them to acknowledge that their dislike for Warren had anything to do with patriarchy and misogyny.

Because they are me in China. They think the Garber’s of the world see patriarchy and misogyny where it doesn’t exist. Being blind to it, they are highly skilled at rationalizing their choices. Of course, mens’ worst rationalization is this, “We definitely would’ve elected a woman one of the forty six times if one was as qualified as the men.” Most men’s rationalizations are more subtle and nuanced than that, but almost as pernicious.

Here are Garber’s problems more specifically:

  1. My male friends will choose not to read her piece. It’s exactly twelve paragraphs too long. They will think they know what it alleges, that she’s seeing things that don’t exist, that they’re heard it all before.
  2. Even if they were to defy the odds and read it, they won’t take the time to consider whether it applies to them. They won’t ask, “Was my negative reaction to Warren even in part a result of what Garber argues, that the U.S. still doesn’t know what to make of a woman—in politics, and beyond—who refuses to qualify her success? If so, why am I prone to that line of thinking?”
  3. They won’t ask that because that would require them to consider changes not just in their thinking, but in their behavior. How do you undue thinking of especially competent female candidates negatively anyways?

Were they to truly grapple with how to not penalize women candidates for their competence and ambition, the patriarchy would begin to falter. As Warren’s candidacy illustrated, there’s no risk of that. Yet. Patriarchy remains undefeated.

A Different Way of Thinking About Older Candidates for President

As humans live longer, Stephen L. Carter argues, we need to redefine “elderly”.

“Reagan, when he won his second term, became the oldest president ever relative to life expectancy, at 88%. This year’s leading Democratic candidates would indeed be older, but not by that much. On Election Day 2020, Bernie Sanders would just have turned 79, and Joe Biden would be just short of 78. For a 78-year-old male in the U.S., life expectancy is about 87.43, according to the Social Security Administration. For a 79-year-old male, the figure is 87.88. This means that Biden, if elected, would be at around 89.2% of his age-adjusted life expectancy; Sanders would be at around 89.9%. Either of them would beat Ronald Reagan’s record of 88% — but just barely.”

Provocative, even compelling argument, but I do not agree with his conclusion in part because he fails to mention Sander’s heart attack. Furthermore, why eliminate the pool by half by eliminating a gender? And then again by half by eliminating middle aged candidates in their physical and mental prime?

Perception Is Reality

A hypothesis. The 2020 Presidential election isn’t going to be decided on policy differences. As always, both candidates will make lots of promises, some partly fleshed out, others not. It isn’t even going to be decided on “kitchen table economics”, or tax proposals, or other manifestos for further weakening or strengthening our frayed social safety net.

It’s going to be decided on emotions, how the candidates make people feel about themselves, even more than how they feel about the country.

Remember Bruni’s description of how Trump makes his followers feel like victims:

“He has turned himself into a symbol of Americans’ victimization, telling frustrated voters who crave easy answers that they’re being pushed around by foreigners and duped by the condescending custodians of a dysfunctional system.”

The Demo candidate should rebut Trump victimization head on, repeatedly saying, “We are not victims. Your neighbors and you control your destiny. Together we can strengthen labor unions, create jobs that pay a livable wage, preserve our natural environment, and take care of the most vulnerable among us. Immigrants and foreigners are not our foes, our only foe is unfounded fear of the other.”

Trump also plays brilliantly on his followers sense that they’re being pushed around by the mainstream media, “coastal elites”, and anti-religious liberals whose common thread is a sense of superiority.

That’s why television segments like this (start at 2:33) are a serious problem for anyone who wants to defeat Trump in November. Like Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorable” slur, the single worst thing anyone who wants to defeat Trump can do is laugh at people susceptible to his victimization bullshit because it plays right into their belief that liberals are arrogant; that Democrats, whether they know it or not, whether they accept responsibility for it or not, can be counted on to convey a sense of superiority.

The larger context of this clip, Pompeo’s unconscionable treatment of a female reporter doesn’t matter. The fact that geography is not Trump’s strong suit doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how their laughing makes those susceptible to his victimization push feel because perception is reality.

For Democrats to win, they can’t let their animus for the Trump Administration spill over into disrespect for the dignity of moderates, independents, and “still undecideds” in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Teams > Individuals

Who will win the 2020 Democratic Primary? Who will win the 2020 General Election? In the (dis)United States we seemingly think one person can make all the difference. That there’s one person with the exact right proposals for improving health care, establishing an environmental ethic, strengthening frayed ties with allies, reducing gun violence, and revitalizing our infrastructure.

Due to our intense individualism and the incontrovertible fact that uniquely talented individuals sometimes make disproportionate impacts on institutions and organizations, when it comes to getting things done, we almost always underestimate the importance of teams.

The Trump Administration’s list of accomplishments is short not because of mean “Do Nothing Dems”, but because Trump has settled for a constantly revolving door of increasingly acquiescent men and women of questionable qualifications. We’ve travelled a fair distance from Lincoln’s Team of Rivals.

If we were more savvy, we’d expect the Democratic Candidates for President to have already named their Vice-Presidents so that we would have longer to evaluate the relative quality of their teaming. We’d even go further and require them to name possible other members of their respective cabinets. Our questions would not be limited to what the Presidential Candidate hopes to accomplish, but how likely are their VP and them to team well together? How well do they complement one another? Instead of expecting them to come up with policy panaceas, we should expect them to convince us that they’ll team better with Congressional leaders to pass meaningful legislation than their opponents.

One might protest that Vice-Presidents sometimes come from the consolation bracket of the Presidential Primary. A much earlier expectation would simply require some with Presidential ambitions to decide whether to hitch their wagon to another more likely winner of the Primary.

Many of us resisting Trumpism are hopeful that the person who wins the 2020 Democratic Primary will right the ship, but she won’t. By herself. She’ll need a similarly skilled Vice-President and Cabinet. The sooner we can get a feel for that small group, the better our decision-making, and the greater the likelihood that we turn the chapter on this dystopian novel.

I Saw the Future of the Democratic Party

When will Hillary Clinton stop trying to explain away her 2016 election loss? Peggy Noonan’s hard hitting editorial, “Hillary Lacks Remorse of Conscience” is in my view, fair. Of Hillary’s long list of external reasons why she lost, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer concludes, “It is a tribute to the power of human denial.”

Noonan adds:

“It is insisting on alternative facts so that journalists and historians will have to take them into account. It is a monotonous repetition of a certain version of events, which will be amplified, picked up and repeated into the future.

And it’s not true.

The truth is Bernie Sanders destroyed Mrs. Clinton’s chance of winning by almost knocking her off, and in the process revealing her party’s base had changed. Her plodding, charmless, insincere style of campaigning defeated her. Bad decisions in her campaign approach to the battleground states did it; a long history of personal scandals did it; fat Wall Street speeches did it; the Clinton Foundation’s bloat and chicanery did it—and most of all the sense that she ultimately stands for nothing but Hillary did it.”

Immediately post election, political analysts told us Hillary’s public life was over. Something about long walks in Westchester County, yoga, and grandchildren. Now she seems intent on re-reinventing herself. She’ll be 73 in 2020. The oldest president ever elected is Donald Trump, who is 70. To succeed in future elections, the Democratic Party desperately needs an infusion of younger women to take the mantle of national leadership from Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cizzilla by way of Amy Davidson at the New Yorker recommends eleven:

1. Elizabeth Warren

2. Kirstin Gillibrand

3. Kamala Harris

4. Amy Klobuchar

5. Tulsi Gabbard

6. (tie) Tammy Baldwin and Claire McCaskill

8. Maggie Hassan

9. Tammy Duckworth

10. Val Demings

11. Sheryl Sandberg

To me, Warren appears cut from very similar cloth as HRC, smart, always serious, and to borrow from Noonan, “plodding and charmless”. In extremely stark contrast, there is one particular “top eleven” woman I would want to have a few beers with, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who was the commencement speaker at my daughter’s college graduation last Sunday.

Klobuchar’s talk was amazingly refreshing. It was not a generic speech that she could’ve given previously. Her daughter graduated college the weekend before and she wove in stories from her perspective as a parent. She was funny in making fun of the press’s overwrought criticisms of Millenials. And she was challenging and inspiring in talking about the struggles of a Somali-American family to gain genuine acceptance in Minneapolis. And the harder the wind blew her hair sideways, the more she smiled. She was clearly enjoying herself, not just campaigning. Don’t take my word for it, decide for yourself. Watch it in its entirely here (starts at 34:00).

I hope I get a chance to vote for her sometime soon.