Saturday, November 10, 2018

Neither Take His Bait, Nor Erase His Lies

In today’s news, our president lied again. Sadly, this is not new or exceptional.

Oct. 11: "I can tell you Matt Whitaker's a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker," the president told Fox & Friends.

Nov. 10: "I don't know Matt Whitaker," the president told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Paris. In fact, he had met with his attorney general appointee more than a dozen times.

There are at least three tough issues raised in this story.

First, if the president does not know him that is a problem.

If the president 'does not know' the man he just appointed acting Attorney General, that is a problem because he just made this man the top law enforcement official in the nation.

Second, if the president does know him that is a problem.

If the president saying he 'does not know' the man he just appointed directly contradicts the same president saying he did know the man on Fox recently, this is a problem because we no longer know what is accurate AND because it raises serious doubts about whether or not we can believe anything this president says.

A second reason this is a problem is the fact that this appointee is clearly unqualified.

Third, this problem creates a tough challenge for us and for reporters.

Since merely pointing out that this president lies more than 30 times a day since taking office clearly has no impact on either his behavior or the loyalty of his (shrinking) base, this is a problem that puts journalists (like Jim Acosta, April Ryan, Abby Phillip, and Yamiche Alcindor) in a no-win situation.

Does a professional journalist create her own echo chamber by choosing to call the president a liar? Not because this is inaccurate or lacks objectivity, since that is now merely an objectively true observation not even his defenders bother to challenge, but because only those who already dislike the president will continue to listen to this journalists reporting.

Some might argue calling the president a liar (daily) is as uncivil as the lying itself. Perhaps, but I doubt that it is useful to think of civility as an obstacle to clear political communication. 

For me the important dimension is to what degree does highlighting presidential bullshitting advance the president’s agenda? Does doing this further polarize political communication (thus, maybe re-entering the civility conversation)? Do we need to link the lies together to highlight the president's instability, insincerity, and dangerousness?

Tough questions. And we need to recognize how tough these questions are, because treating these as obvious (just call him out all the time) is likely to mean we are playing a role he has cast for us in his movie.

In the spirit of all White House reporters should preface their questions with “Jim Acosta wants to ask...” we need to see that responding effectively here, when a skilled huckster and showman has his finger on our launch codes, requires creativity and imagination.

And we need shorter blog posts (sorry).

In conversation, I suggest we just use this 'preface' approach. Start every comment with, 'While we cannot trust anything this president with any policy question it takes some time to sort out the trade-offs involved....’

Then do not engage in ‘did he or did he not lie,’ but move to a focus on what would be a better policy, carefully respecting the trade-offs and competing perspectives embedded in any serious policy debate.

Neither take his bait, nor erase his lies.

We need to avoid contributing to the creation of daily news cycles that only focus on 'did he lie or not,' ceding to him even more capacity to frame and control the news.

While we cannot trust a word that this president says, most policy challenges do in fact require time and patience to sort out because there are usually competing interests and multiple communities with overlapping concerns connected to all sides of a debate.

We have good reason to suspect that the president does not understand the complexities of most policy debates, or respect the importance of trying to speak truthfully. Even so, we need to respect those who fall on competing sides of complex policy debates if we want our participation in these debates to more likely result in both better policy and a stronger anti-trump coalition.

It is frustrating, but dwelling on the president's stupidity is dumb.

We should note his lying in an effort to frame a real conversation, but when we dwell on his stupidity (as right and righteous as this feels) we poison the policy conversation, because those who see the policy question differently than we do hear us telling them that they are stupid.

And that is a recipe for our failure.

To secure better policy and a stronger governing coalition, we need to maximize our capacity to be both 'right' and 'in relationships.'

Today It Begins
A friend on FB posted this to help us make sense of the 2018 midterm elections. Thanks.
The good. 
☑️ We flipped the House of Representatives.
☑️ Won 7 governor seats
☑️ Took super majority in 3 states & broke up a few R super majorities.
☑️ We flipped over 350 state rep/senate races.
☑️ 3 state Supreme Court seats flipped
☑️ 3 red states expanded Medicaid
☑️ 2 states raised the minimum wage
☑️ Won the popular vote by about 9% again
☑️ Restored the voting rights to 1.5 million Americans in Florida
☑️ Ethics reform passed in NM, MO, & ND, & FL
☑️ Money in politics reform passed in MO, Balt, NYC, Denver, Phx, & MA
☑️ Redistricting reform passed in MI, CO, MO, & UT
☑️ Voting rights passed in FL, MD, MI, & NV
☑️ Added Accountability to Trump's legislative agenda for the next two years. 
The Truth. 
☑️ In Ohio, especially in the Mahoning Valley, we need to start from scratch. I am pledging to do my part to bring new life to the party. I am pledging to stand up and fight for everyone. I am pledging to give a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. I am pledging never accept mediocrity especially within my own party. Today it begins.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Stand Together for What We Stand For

Michael Gerson argues in his recent editorial that Democrats cannot abandon civility (as well?) and expect to defeat Trumpism. He believes that the incivility of “Democratic tactics…are allowing Trump to audition for the role of Richard M. Nixon [running] as a symbol of social stability and order.”

I often disagree with Gerson, a conservative commentator at the Washington Post. But he is smart and has been fairly consistent in opposing the Trumpian take-over of his Party.
Further, I generally agree with the idea that standing in opposition to Trumpism requires us to ‘be the change,’ to ensure our means match our ends, to enact respect for the rule of law, tolerance, and democratic decision making even as we fight ferociously to defend what we stand for against authoritarianism.
But in this piece Gerson treats Trumpian incivility as a neutral backdrop, when he has an obligation—as a moderate Republican critic of Trumpism—to tilt more heavily toward giving strategic advice to his own side…even more so when the advice he seeks to share is to reign it in and fight more cautiously (even if, implicitly, this increases one’s risk of losing).
It takes no integrity or courage to announce loudly that your opponents need to be more civil. It is no break with incivility to frame the conflict in terms that suggest your opponent's incivility is the problem.

If Gerson really does care about the existential threat facing our Republic—and I believe he does—his patriotic responsibility is to face his own demons, focus his energies on calling out those on his team driving the threat…in order to make it easier or his opponents to defeat those on his team threatening the Republic (if his team continues not only to fail to defeat them internally, but to enable and amplify the threat).
Not only does Gerson’s piece fail, for this reason, to help us come together around the shared goal of saving our Republic, it encourages his opponents to focus their fight against each other, making it less likely that this threat will be contained or defeated.
As someone who, like Gerson, is deeply concerned about current threats to our Republic and to American democracy I think we—all those opposed to Trumpism—need to unite around winning in the midterms. I worry that some on my team are deploying tactics that might do more to mobilize their voters than our own—but my energy and anger is not directed toward them. I encourage them to stay energized and try to be as strategic as possible, but they are not my enemy. I share my tactical concerns internally.
But the threat we all face right now must unite a team that accept all comers and directs all our energy toward winning the midterms. Yes, it is possible that some on our side will say or do things that make others on our team cringe. We will debate, internally, the relative value of this or that basket of tactics. But we must retain our singular focus on unity against the most dangerous threat to our Republic in our lifetimes. 
So, in the end, Gerson's framing here is distracting and dividing us here. We do stand for civility, the rule of law, tolerance and democracy--and civil disobedience, creative forms of non-violent protest, remain central to standing for what we stand for. 
Gerson is critical of HRC for saying “you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.” But he is conveniently overlooking the fact that arguments like his, advanced by moderate Republicans like him, fit perfectly into the Trumpian (and Rovian) playbook. Gerson is calling out his opponents for precisely the crime his team is the most prominent perpetrator of. In earlier editorials he, himself, has said as much—which is why his commentary today, using his political capital as a moderate Republican critical of Trump, is such a betrayal of his own stated goal of thwarting the Trumpian threat.
I do not think Gerson is dishonest, but in the end his argument here strikes me as a dangerous form of anti-democratic gaslighting. If civility refers to the behaviors and norms and attitudes that make democracy both possible and desirable, his argument is also--in the current context, because context matters--deeply uncivil.
Yes, opposition should be civil. We should focus on the midterms and tactics that will mobilize our voters without mobilizing their voters. At the same time, we need to humbly recognize that none of us has the answer key for which tactics are most likely to work. We need to enact ‘what we stand for’ in our tolerance for tactical diversity demonstrated by a commitment to discussions about tactics with all those standing together against the primary threat...and discussions that do not demonize our own teammates and, to the best of our ability, unite us to win the midterms and beyond.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Conservatives’ Trump-Induced Candor
My friends often criticize me when I approvingly post columns by conservatives. I do this for two reasons. We all need to do more to better understand the perspectives and arguments of other Americans who disagree with us. There are many very good thinkers on the other side who help me more deeply understand the challenges and trade-offs we need to wrestle with together. 

Today I was shocked to read conservative columnist Steve Chapman (entire editorial pasted below) advance the following assertions:

Conservative columnist Chapman says (most directly in the paragraphs in red below) that conservatives support Trump, support racial injustice, support anti-gay discrimination, support gender inequality, and support a Muslim travel ban.

This is a shocking degree of candor. I wonder if I am misreading something here? Because he writes this as if it were uncontroversial. It is just the preface to his central argument about Nike. He write this to just set the stage, but this is the most dramatic performance in his piece.

The second most dramatic and important (also not his argument about Nike, sorry Steve) is his opening assertion (in blue below). This might just be red meat (and I am then just taking his bait), but ‘the allegedly socialist’ comment to describe one of our most moderate presidents since WWII is an irresponsible kowtowing to the crazy town echo chamber.

And pretending there is no well-known lag time between policy and economic outcomes is just about as irresponsible because it suggests that the leader of crazy town is somehow responsible for what he inherited (which is remarkably similar to all of his claims to success over his entire lifetime).

In this case, I am not posting Chapman to encourage others to read it. This one is not an illustration of good thinking on the other side or one that helps us understand competing perspectives. Instead I am blogging on it. Since only my mother reads my blog this means my friends can breathe a sigh of relief: there is no risk of me spreading conservative talking points this time!

Kaepernick, Nike and Capitalism
Steve Chapman, The Chicago Tribune

In many ways, the 2016 election was a victory for capitalism, with an allegedly socialist intellectual president giving way to a real estate mogul whose understanding of business would unleash prosperity. The economy and the stock market are indeed doing well. But although Donald Trump’s administration may be good for capitalists, capitalists are not necessarily good for him.
Many a conservative has been inspired by the hero of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” a brilliant businessman and a model of what she called “the man of violent energy and passionate ambition, the man of achievement, lighted by the flame of his success.” House Speaker Paul Ryan professed to regularly giving the book as a Christmas present and making his interns read it to learn the “morality of capitalism.”
What is easy for those on either end of the political spectrum to forget is that free-market commerce is not always — or usually — a force for conservative values. It is often just the opposite, as Nike’s embrace of Colin Kaepernick confirms.
The Republican Party has a large complement of corporate titans in its camp. But conservatives are reminded every day that some of the most successful and innovative companies are led and staffed by people whose worldview is deeply at odds with conservative ideology.
There is Amazon, whose founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post, a frequent target of Trump’s animosity. There is Apple, where CEO Tim Cook has been a vocal critic of racial injustice and anti-gay discrimination. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg has written, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”
Starbucks responded to Trump’s travel ban by pledging to hire 10,000 refugees. After the Parkland school massacre, Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling military-style firearms. Google, under pressure from employees opposed to creating “warfare technology,” withdrew from a Pentagon project on artificial intelligence.
But at the moment, the most visible face of corporate liberalism is Nike, whose new ad campaign features Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback known for kneeling during the pregame national anthem to protest police abuses and racism. The campaign decision provoked a tweet from the president, who asserted, “Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts.”
The company, which sells 120 million pairs of shoes a year, is not likely to take marketing advice from a serial bankrupt. It has a long history of association with black athletes, a group that includes few Trump supporters. It already offers a line of shoes named for LeBron James, who has publicly denounced Trump.
Nike did take a business risk with Kaepernick, and its stock dipped Tuesday. But the company seems to think it will gain more than it will lose from the controversy, and it seems prepared to accept whatever negative consequences ensue.
They are likely to be minor or nonexistent. The right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research claimed, “Nike is appealing to a small, radicalized market that supports Black Lives Matter and apparently hates the police.” But a large minority of the public sides with the kneeling players, and most people think the protests should be allowed regardless. If the Kaepernick ads alienate some conservative customers, they will attract some liberals.
Free markets have a way of dissolving ancient prejudices and rigid customs. Politicians in red states may try to legislate against accommodations for transgender people, but businesses have been among the most active opponents of such measures. Many big companies provided benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of employees before the Supreme Court ruled for gay marriage.
Conservatives are often inflamed by the refusal of corporations to take their side. After Delta Air Lines cut ties with the National Rifle Association, Georgia legislators exacted revenge by repealing a tax exemption on jet fuel — even though the airline is one of the state’s largest private employers. Delta CEO Ed Bastian replied: “Our values are not for sale.”
What many big companies have figured out is that Trumpism is in conflict with the behavior and attitudes they foster in their employees — and with the beliefs of most consumers. In the current polarized political climate, the striking fact is not how many corporations have challenged Trump. It’s how few have defended him.
The sentiment among many conservatives is that the country is changing in a variety of ways that threaten their values. They’re right, and the companies at the center of modern American capitalism are fine with that.