Breaking With Biden

Why is President Biden framing geopolitics this way?

“I predict to you your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy, because that is what is at stake. Not just with China. Look around the world. We’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution of enormous consequence. Will there be a middle class? How will people adjust to these significant changes in science and technology? The environment. How will they do that? It is clear, absolutely clear … this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. That’s what’s at stake here. We’ve got to prove democracy works.”

Why do we have to prove democracy works? What’s wrong with sovereign nations choosing other forms of government that work well for them? What do we gain from trying to impose democracy on others who have no interest in it?

It’s ironic that Biden asks, “Will there be a middle class?” because China is rapidly building one while ours is shrinking. Would I want to live somewhere like China without the civil liberties I’ve grown accustomed to? No, I wouldn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people are willing to live with centralized power as long as their quality of life is improving.

I prefer our inefficient democracy, but it’s ethnocentric to assume our form of government is better than all the rest. Maybe in 2089, Tiananmen Square II will happen and the Chinese people will force a change of government.

Until then, improving quality of life is all that matters. Instead of framing geopolitics as a zero-sum game between democracies and autocracies, we should focus on diplomacy, 21st century environmental policies, demilitarization, creating jobs that pay livable wages, and reducing poverty home and abroad.

Granted, this is nitpicking. Biden is off to a great start. What a refreshing reset. Nevertheless, no matter how successful he is over the next 3+ years, I will never vote for an 82 year-old for President.

How Not To Care

If you look even a little bit, the growing population of homeless men, women, and children in Olympia, Washington are easily visible; mostly you’ll find them close to the social service agencies they depend upon, like the Salvation Army and the Thurston County Food Bank. An enormous tent and tarp community stretches all along the western edge of Capital Lake on Deschutes Parkway SW. It looks like a refugee camp you might find in Northeast Africa, but worse because there’s no UNHCR to create some semblance of order. More accurately, picture Miami post Hurricane Katrina. Many more live in tents and tarps among the trees that line the Woodland Trail and the I-5 freeway.  

The classic argument between the Individual Responsibility folks, “they have to take responsibility for their bad decisions” versus the Systemic Forces folks, “the growing numbers of homeless who succumb to combinations of poverty, addiction, and poor mental health are entirely predictable given our ‘winner-takes-all’ economic system coupled with our anemic social safety net” shows no signs of abating. Nearly all of the Individual Responsibility folks respond to  homeless men, women, and children with a mix of resentment and anger. At the same time, a gradually increasing percentage of the Systemic Forces folks are exasperated as some natural areas are lost and downtown grows less clean and safe.

So why, as the population of homeless men, women, and children rises; does it seem like our collective empathy decreases? Even among a lot of decent people who have demonstrated empathy in their past for others less fortunate than them?

Mired in resentment and anger, we leapfrog caring about our fellow citizens’ pain and suffering because we don’t know any homeless person’s story. We don’t know where they’re from, what their childhood was like, what hardships they’ve had to endure. Not knowing any of those things makes it much easier to assume they’ve made a series of bad decisions. And that until they start making good ones, they get what they deserve. 

Local papers don’t have the resources to tell their stories anymore. And even if alternative papers tried, would we read them when we don’t even really look at our homeless neighbors? As if they have leprosy, the best we can do, it seems, is a quick glance.

The secret to not caring about the homeless is not knowing anything about any one homeless person. Not learning their names and not looking at them helps too, but mostly, it’s avoiding learning how and why and where things went off the rails. 

Irrespective of one’s religious views or politics, it seems increasingly common to castigate “the homeless”. Because they remain an abstraction. 

This proven strategy works equally well in other contexts too. For example, the same approach to not caring works for the growing number of Central American immigrants gathering at our southern border. Many Fox News hosts are absolutely giddy over what the gathering numbers of desperate immigrants mean for Biden’s approval ratings and the midterm elections because they don’t know any of their stories. There are laws to be enforced and political gain to be made, nevermind their pain and suffering, their humanity.

Yesterday, I screwed up. And mistakenly read this story in the New York Times.

A Violent End to a Desperate Dream Leaves a Guatemalan Town Grieving

In doing so, I was introduced to Santa Cristina García Pérez, a 20 year old, one of twelve Comitecos who were massacred by Mexican police near the U.S. border. I learned Christina was one of 11 siblings who hoped to make enough money in the U.S. to. . . 

“. . . cover the cost of an operation for her one-year-old sister, Angela Idalia, who was born with a cleft lip. . . . 

She wanted to save Ángela Idalia from what she thought would be a life of ridicule, relatives said.”

I doubled down on my mistake by taking my time to truly see all of the Comitecos mourning their friends and family. Powerful images of profound loss, one after another. Including one of Ricardo García Pérez, Cristina’s dad, placing a bottle of water next to her casket. . .

“. . . so that Ms. García’s spirit did not suffer from thirst on its journey to the next life.”

I wasn’t the only one learning about the Comitecos. The Times explains:

“The killings have stunned the community, spurred a wave of international media attention on Comitancillo and an outpouring of financial support for the victim’s families. Among other acts of largess, donations from nearby communities in the region and from the Guatemalan diaspora have paid for Ángela Idalia’s first surgery to repair her cleft lip and have enabled the García family to build a new house.”

That’s one more vivid example that when most people see someone suffering, look into their eyes, learn their name, and something about their life journey; they can’t help but care. And help.

In contrast, the homeless in my community remain an abstraction. An abstraction most of us are determined to keep at a comfortable distance. Given our mounting resentment and anger at this abstraction, we keep asking, “When is someone going to do something?” 

 

Questions To Ponder

  • I’m far from a Presidential historian, but I can’t help but wonder, has there ever been a more dramatic change in governing assumptions and policies than we are witnessing right now?
  • After their amazing comeback victory over Sparty last night, is UCLA the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA championship?
  • Speaking of the NCAA tourney, is my contingent of the PAC-12 teams plus Gonzaga plus Oklahoma State going to overwhelm Richie’s ACC teams for yet another t-shirt victory?
  • How many t-shirts does one need?
  • Chuck is proposing a 30% rebate on electric bikes. Can I get a shop to throw a cheap battery on my next bike, and then immediately take it off, for 30% savings? And still get into heaven?
  • In the (dis)United States, how long until the ‘rona vax supply outstrips demand?
  • Why doesn’t Trudeau want my money?
  • When is Trudeau going to shave?
  • How do young adults find romantic partners these days?
  • What should I make for dinner?

Maybe He Got Tired Of Winning

The Wall Street Journal explains why Trump lost the election. Bears repeating, the Wall Street Journal:

“Much of this erosion in support was based on dislike for Mr. Trump personally and the way he handled the Presidency. ‘While a majority of voters said they didn’t find either Presidential candidate honest or trustworthy, Biden held a double-digit advantage over POTUS,’ especially in the five states that flipped to Mr. Biden in 2020, says the Fabrizio analysis.

Mr. Trump was favored 6 to 1 or more among voters on the economy. But the coronavirus was the top voter issue in both groups of states, and Mr. Biden carried those voters 3 to 1. Mr. Trump’s eroded credibility and inability to maintain a consistent Covid message may have been decisive.

More startling is that Mr. Trump ‘suffered his greatest erosion with white voters, particularly white men in both state groups,’ according to the Fabrizio analysis. This offset his double digit gains with Hispanics while he performed about as well with blacks as he did in 2016. The former President also lost ground with nearly every age group in both sets of states, and he ‘suffered with white college educated voters across the board.’

We rehearse all this not to rub an open political wound. The point is to remember, as time passes and Mr. Trump blames everyone else for his defeat, that 2020 was a winnable race. Mr. Trump had many accomplishments to tout, and voters recognized them. But Mr. Biden’s consistent campaign message of a return to a calmer, more unifying politics resonated with millions of voters who had tired of the constant Trump turmoil.

Mr. Trump didn’t lose to Joe Biden. He lost to himself.”

In hindsight, he defers to the scientists, wears a mask, advocates for masks, he wins. Those of us who desperately wanted to send him packing have his ego to thank.

Weekend Required Reading

1. The US is building a bike trail that runs coast-to-coast across 12 states.*

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2. The pandemic is speeding up the mass disappearance of men from college. 

3. Europeans “get” station wagons in ways U.S. drivers do not. Could this begin to change that?

4. Trump Was the Swamp. Persuasively argued, but come on, no credit for pardoning Lil Wayne?

5. Biden Gave Trump’s Union Busters a Taste of Their Own Medicine. Elections have consequences.

6. Mina Kimes Eats All-22 Tape for Breakfast. Love me some Mina, but her brain and communication skills seem better suited to weightier subjects.

* thanks DDTM

Making History

Many people understate Trump’s accomplishments. He is the first president to lose the popular vote twice and to be impeached twice.

And one more thing, he received 74,222,593 votes. A lot, but not the 75 million nearly everyone is stating. In the interest of accuracy, can we stop rounding up? And for the record, Biden/Harris earned 81,281,502. Electoral college. . . 306 to 232.

Am I undercutting my own argument?

A Gerundocracy

I need Anna Rappe’s or DK Byrnes’s help on this one. It’s kinda embarrassing that Anna is Swedish, lives in Sweden, and for sure knows more about English language grammar than me. And no, she didn’t learn any of it in the 10th grade World History course I taught her at the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia back in the days of Mengistu.

More from today’s Twitterverse.

A.J. Bauer, “Biden, Blinken, Yellen — what is this, a gerundocracy?” Followed by Alison L. Gillespie, “This is geekiest grammar joke I have ever seen on Twitter and everyone thinks it’s about ageism.”

She’s right about me at least, I did have to read it twice before I realized it wasn’t ageist.

A gerontocracy is a state, society, or group governed by old people. A gerund is a verb that morphs into a noun when you add “ing”.

But all of Bauer’s examples end in “en”. If they ended in “ing” I’d muster a chuckle. Consequently, I’m left wondering what exactly is the joke.

Postscript: This just in! The Good Wife drops some knowledge. . . “I think it’s not the spelling that makes it a gerund in his case. It’s the sound when you say it- like ‘She was yellin’ loud enough for the neighbors to hear!'” 

What Does Trump Get Out of Contesting Biden’s Win?

The title of Steve Coll’s New Yorker piece.

“Typically, the best way to understand Trump’s actions is to ask what’s in it for him. Four more years in the White House would extend his immunity from New York prosecutors conducting active investigations into possible criminal activity, ease pressure from bank creditors, and further enrich his family businesses: a win-win-win. Assuming that the President fails to rig a second term, he is fashioning a story about how corrupt Democrats foiled his reëlection, which might galvanize followers and donors after he leaves office. According to the Post, the President told advisers last week, ‘I’m just going to run in 2024. I’m just going to run again.’ His campaign has formed a political-action committee, called Save America, which appears designed as a means for him to raise money to influence the Republican Party after his Presidency ends. The pac is eligible to receive funds now for Trump’s ‘election defense,’ but much of that money would likely be spent on other causes and candidates. Leave it to Trump to manufacture a constitutional crisis that also incorporates a fund-raising con.”

Plausible, but ultimately, just speculation. Why should anyone believe Coll has inside knowledge of Trump’s mindset? I suspect Trump’s mania is largely unexplainable.