Saturday, March 18, 2017

Humility, Empathy, Understanding: Democratic Citizenship Skills
"When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests."

This is a powerful idea and critique of our common and share tendency to assume 'others' unlike us are wrong, wrong-headed, impatient, missing the point, failing to respect me...when we stumble into conflicts with them.

The idea in this quote directs its critical edge not outward to others, but inward to ourselves. 

After the most recent election it has become commonplace for talking heads and average schmoes to pontificate about how confused or outraged they are that our fellow Americans could vote for President Trump, with particular curiosity focused on incredulity over why blue collar and rural Americans--who are now watching as their own health care and other benefits are being dismantled--voted 'against their own interests.'
"When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests."
This quote is from the short article below and is important to read. It is important on the race question, which is the author's focus. It is also important on a second, more implicit, point: many were/are not deterred from supporting Trump in response to arguments about preserving the safety net, because they do not want a safety net as much as they want a living wage job and the dignity that comes with it.

Before anyone points out that the safety net is also about dignity, let me add, I agree...but we need to make an effort to understand others beyond concluding they are voting against their interests and that effort needs to include a willingness to frame their interests as they see them. And while a safety net is certainly about dignity, it is also true that given the choice between being taken care of and being able to take care of myself, it is not at all unreasonable to prefer that latter.

One final point. Why is it important to try to understand others in instances like this? Why is it important to see that 'when we assert she is voting against her interests, the most likely conclusion is we have failed to do the work needed to understand her interests?' Why?

Two reasons.

First, is the instrumental reason: because it has concrete negative impact on us as individuals and communities when we fail to understand.

If we want to understand why Trump voters are not mobilized when we make salient/publicize (during the campaign and still) that his policy promises will undermine our safety net (health care, unemployment insurance, strong public schools, requirements that keep our air and water clean, and more)...then we need to understand them after hearing from them, engaging with them, talking to them, rather than asserting from the sidelines that they are 'voting against their own interests.' 

We cannot claim to understand without this and we cannot pretend to know which policy or candidate to support if we lack an understanding of the conflict. And if we choose to live a life where we assert positions with great confidence on the basis of a consistent failure to do what it takes to understand even our own positions, we choose to live in unconscious default mode, we choose not to contribute to the problem solving needed to strengthen our communities, we choose to become one of those who eventually argues passionately against the importance of empathy & understanding, serious intellectual inquiry, science, and education itself. 

Second, is the normative reason: because empathy and understanding are the right thing to do.

This is a short but powerful article from Forbes Magazine, a conservative business publication that has been around forever and is highly respected in the business community and beyond. 

Unspeakable Realities Block Universal Health Coverage in the US
Chris Ladd, Recovering Republican
March 2017, Forbes

Election 2016 has prompted a wave of head-scratching on the left. Counties Trump won by staggering margins will be among the hardest hit by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Millions of white voters who supported Donald Trump stand to lose their access to health coverage because of their vote.

Individual profiles of Trump voters feed this baffling narrative. A Washington Post story described the experience of Clyde Graham, a long-unemployed coal worker who depends on the ACA for access to health care. He voted for Trump knowing it might cost him his health insurance out of his hope of capturing the great white unicorn – a new job in the mines. His stance is not unusual.
Why are economically struggling blue collar voters rejecting a party that offers to expand public safety net programs? The reality is that the bulk of needy white voters are not interested in the public safety net. They want to restore their access to an older safety net, one much more generous, dignified, and stable than the public system – the one most well-employed voters still enjoy.

When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests. We cannot begin to understand Election 2016 until we acknowledge the power and reach of socialism for white people.

Americans with good jobs live in a socialist welfare state more generous, cushioned and expensive to the public than any in Europe. Like a European system, we pool our resources to share the burden of catastrophic expenses, but unlike European models, our approach doesn’t cover everyone.

Like most of my neighbors I have a good job in the private sector. Ask my neighbors about the cost of the welfare programs they enjoy and you will be greeted by baffled stares. All that we have is “earned” and we perceive no need for government support. Nevertheless, taxpayers fund our retirement saving, health insurance, primary, secondary, and advanced education, daycare, commuter costs, and even our mortgages at a staggering public cost. Socialism for white people is all-enveloping, benevolent, invisible, and insulated by the nasty, deceptive notion that we have earned our benefits by our own hand.

My family’s generous health insurance costs about $20,000 a year, of which we pay only $4,000 in premiums. The rest is subsidized by taxpayers. You read that right. Like virtually everyone else on my block who isn’t old enough for Medicare or employed by the government, my family is covered by private health insurance subsidized by taxpayers at a stupendous public cost. Well over 90% of white households earning over the white median income (about $75,000carried health insurance even before the Affordable Care Act. White socialism is nice if you can get it.

Companies can deduct the cost of their employees’ health insurance. That results in roughly a $400 billion annual transfer of funds from state and federal treasuries to insurers to provide coverage for the Americans least in need of assistance. This is one of the defining features of white socialism, the most generous benefits go to those who are best suited to provide for themselves. Those benefits are not limited to health care.

When I buy a house for my family, or a vacation home, the interest I pay on the mortgage is deductible up to a million dollars of debt. That costs the treasury $70 billion a year, about what we spend to fund the food stamp program. My private retirement savings are also tax deductible, diverting another $75 billion from government revenues. Other tax preferences carve out special treatment for child care expenses, college savings, commuter costs (your suburban tax credit), local taxes, and other exemptions.

By funding government programs with tax credits rather than spending, we have created an enormous social safety net that grows ever more generous as household incomes rise. It is important to note, though, that you need not be wealthy to participate. All you need to gain access to socialism for white people is a good corporate or government job. That fact helps explain how this welfare system took shape sixty years ago, why it was originally (and still overwhelmingly) white, and why white Rust Belt voters showed far more enthusiasm for Donald Trump than for Bernie Sanders. White voters are not interested in democratic socialism. They want to restore their access to a more generous and dignified program of white socialism.

In the years after World War II, the western democracies that had not already done so adopted universal social safety net programs. These included health care, retirement and other benefits. President Truman introduced his plan for universal health coverage in 1945. It would have worked much like Social Security, imposing a tax to fund a universal insurance pool. His plan went nowhere.

Instead, nine years later Congress laid the foundations of the social welfare system we enjoy today. They rejected Truman’s idea of universal private coverage in favor of a program controlled by employers while publicly funded through tax breaks. This plan gave corporations new leverage in negotiating with unions, handing the companies a publicly-financed benefit they could distribute at their discretion.

No one stated their intention to create a social welfare program for white people, specifically white men, but they didn’t need to. By handing control to employers at a time when virtually every good paying job was reserved for white men the program silently accomplished that goal.

White socialism played a vital political role, as blue collar factory workers and executives all pooled their resources for mutual support and protection, binding them together culturally and politically. Higher income workers certainly benefited more, but almost all the benefits of this system from health care to pensions originally accrued to white families through their male breadwinners. Blue collar or white collar, their fates were largely united by their racial identity and employment status.
Until the decades after the Civil Rights Acts, very few women or minorities gained direct access to this system. Unsurprisingly, this was the era in which white attitudes about the social safety net and the Democratic Party began to pivot. Thanks to this silent racial legacy, socialism for white people retains its disproportionately white character, though that has weakened. Racial boundaries are now less explicit and more permeable, but still today white families are twice as likely as African-Americans to have access to private health insurance. Two thirds of white children are covered by private health insurance, while barely over one third of black children enjoy this benefit.

White socialism has had a stark impact on the rest of the social safety net, creating a two-tiered system. Visit a county hospital to witness an example. American socialism for “everyone else” is marked by crowded conditions, neglected facilities, professionalism compromised by political patronage, and long waits for care. Fall outside the comfortable bubble of white socialism, and one faces a world of frightening indifference.

When Democrats respond to job losses with an offer to expand the public safety net, blue collar voters cringe and rebel. They are not remotely interested in sharing the public social safety net experienced by minority groups and the poorest white families. Meanwhile well-employed and affluent voters, ensconced in their system of white socialism, leverage all the power at their disposal to block any dilution of their expensive public welfare benefits. Something has to break.

We may one day recognize that we are all “in it together” and find ways to build a more stable, sensible welfare system. That will not happen unless we acknowledge the painful and sometimes embarrassing legacy that brought us to this place. Absent that reckoning, unspoken realities will continue to warp our political calculations, frustrating our best hopes and stunting our potential.

Chris Ladd, former GOP Precinct Committeeman, author of The Politics of Crazy and creator of

Here is the link to the article at Forbes:

The argument here is related to earlier work by a well-known political scientist, Ira Katznelson, who wrote the book titled

When Welfare Was White: The Untold History of Racial Inequality in 20th Century America

Here is a link to a review of Katznelson’s book:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Tattoo Story
My sons are Philip & Brian (30 and 31 years old this year). We met when they were 10 and 11. Soon after that Julie and I married, 19 years ago this year. As a blended family we have three last names. 

In 2000-2001, the four of us spent a year in China together. We all took the same Chinese surname (Lei, top character on left) and then individual Chinese given names. When my sons suggested to me, some years later, that all four of us should get a tattoo that reads ‘Lei Family’ … how could I refuse?

I was never a tattoo guy. Never captured my imagination. But then the boys wanted us all to brand ourselves as one family. Sign me up! We all got a tattoo of the two characters you can see on the left.

For our entire lives together we have had the drawing below framed in our kitchen. Brian drew it in first grade. Over the years it has grown into something of personal motto, rooted in our amazing family bond. 

You can see to the right the tattoo I subsequently got on my left forearm and what a great job the artist (a volleyball friend) did making it look like the original crayon. Julie and Philip both have individual gold fish from the same drawing.

Between these two, my wife published her fourth novel, Breathe. Because it is the title of her novel and because both of us find comfort reminding ourselves to ‘just breathe’ in challenging situations, we each got that tattooed on our left forearms. 

Never thought I would ever have a tattoo, but that is my tattoo story. And I'm stickin' with it.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

What are the key questions…
...which conflicts to make salient?

EJ Dionne in today’s Washington Post provides us with a very thoughtful analysis of the challenges ahead.

The most striking aspect of the vast and swiftly organized movement against President Trump is how little it had to do with the Democratic Party. Whoever is elected to chair the Democratic National Committee this weekend should draw two conclusions from this, and they are in tension.

Just like the Tea Party movement—part spontaneous, part ‘organized’ by elites—current protests are emerging as a challenge to both parties, in this case most particularly to the Democratic Party.

One distinction here that I think is generally discussed in an oddly distorted way is the degree to which any protest movement is an authentic grassroots movement.
While it is important to distinguish between phony grassroots organizations that are entirely run out of a PO Box by a wealthy individual or lobbying firm and ‘real’ movements, when the distinction is not obvious and extreme it also difficult to clearly sort out.

The March on DC had organizers, as did Tea Party and Civil Rights and the original Tea Party where our founders participated…but having organizers does not mean it is not authentic, grassroots, anger. All movements have organizers. So, when you hear this distinction framed to suggest that merely having organizers means it is phony, pause and think again.

Further, even entirely phony movements need to be taken seriously because resources matter and these can easily attract the attentions of new segments of voters and become more and more authentic over time.

First, the anti-Trump effort, while broadly motivated by a progressive worldview, is diverse in both philosophy and experience. Trump incites antagonism from the center and the left. Those protesting him include citizens who have long been engaged in politics but also many recently drawn to activism by the sense of emergency this dreadful administration has created.

So, what are the conflicts Dems should make salient to bring this coalition together as a unified fighting force? Depending on which of the multitude of conflicts they choose to make salient, key publics will be divided and re-divided in different ways, resulting in either a powerful and large coalition or more intramural squabbling strengthening the president by focusing on the more trivial issues Dionne describes brilliantly below as ‘relishing in the narcissism of small differences.’

Second, Democratic leaders need to organize this discontent into a potent electoral force at a time when the very words “party” and “partisanship” are in disrepute, particularly among young Americans who are playing a key role in the insurrection. Democrats will not be up to what has become a historic responsibility if they indulge their tendencies toward heaping blame on the factions they oppose (“It’s Hillary’s fault” vs. “It’s Bernie’s fault”) or relishing the narcissism of small differences.

Thus the political tightrope the incoming head of the DNC will have to walk: A political party should not get in the way of a spontaneous and principled uprising rooted in so many movements across civil society. But in the end, as the tea party understood, power in a democratic nation comes from winning elections. And a two-party system, like it or not, requires picking sides.

In the end, unless there is a rule change (changing the game, in this case an unimaginable change to how we run elections) that no one expects to happen, anyone interested in displacing the current conflicts on the agenda with other conflicts or reframing these current conflicts or altering venue (strengthening federal oversight or weakening the power of the executive branch, for instance)…

…must choose one of the two major parties. Any other pathway ignores the game, pretends we are playing a game that does not exist, and dooms efforts to failure. We must choose one of the major parties to play in this game.

As Ryan Grim and Amanda Terkel reported this week for the Huffington Post, this process is starting to happen on its own as once-moribund local Democratic parties suddenly find themselves inundated with recruits inspired by the urgency of resisting Trump. Whoever wins the DNC job will have to do far more than national leaders have done in the past to nurture this energy in the precincts and neighborhoods, and to build party structures in places where they don’t even exist.

Almost as important will be fighting misleading assumptions about why Democrats failed in 2016. At the top of the list: the idea that Trump brought together a brand-new coalition and scrambled politics entirely.

Which is to say, at a deeper level, well below what should we do with ACA or China policy, there is a clash over how to interpret an observation (Trump won)…because winning that deeper conflict will have an enormous impact on the outcome of many, many other ‘presenting’ conflicts.

Wrong. Trump largely rallied the Republican base (he carried 88 percent of Republicans, according to exit polls, and 81 percent of conservatives) and received only 2 million more votes than Mitt Romney did in 2012 (62.98 million for Trump against 60.93 million for Romney). Those 2 million were crucial, of course, and they were distributed in the right states, but 2016 was not a realigning earthquake. The contours of politics remain familiar. And, yes, remember that Trump ran 2.9 million votes behind Hillary Clinton.

This underscores how false the choice is between a strategy based on increasing turnout among core Democratic constituencies and an emphasis on converting swing voters. It’s not dramatic to say it, but what’s required is some of both.

Here Dionne is brilliant. Nearly always, when faced with an ‘either/or’ sucker’s choice, the best option is to reframe the question from either/or to both/and as he does here, demonstrating his skill at ‘exercising more control over what he thinks ABOUT’ by not accepting the given question, but asking a better question.

The best analysis I’ve heard suggests that Clinton fell just short because she underperformed in three ways: Democratic base turnout was a bit lower than it should have been; working-class white defections were slightly higher than her campaign expected; and she did not do quite as well as she hoped with upscale whites. There will be trade-offs over which of these problems is most urgent, but this is not some grand do-or-die choice.
Given how the candidates are converging, the DNC race isn’t do-or-die, either.

Former labor secretary Tom Perez, whose candidacy was encouraged by the Barack Obama/Clinton forces, appears to be in the lead. He has a stoutly progressive record and has reached out to Bernie Sanders enthusiasts.

Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), who has Sanders’s strong support, has gone out of his way to talk the language of building broad coalitions and enjoys a lot of backing from congressional colleagues.

And Pete Buttigieg, the talented 35-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., has made a name for himself by promising a “fresh start” and arguing that the last thing the party needs is to keep refighting the 2016 primaries. In the eight-person field, Buttigieg seems to have the best chance of emerging as the alternative if neither Perez nor Ellison wins early.

Whoever prevails will have an unusual opportunity and a large burden. The grass-roots vitality Trump has unleashed against him in just a month is already close to matching the positive enthusiasm Obama nurtured during his 2008 campaign.

As Peter Parker’s dad told him, ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Elites do not see conflicts as problems, but as opportunities. Dionne points out here that those seeking to lead the DNC today (and to lead the RNC after Obama’s first election) absolutely face an ‘opportunity and a burden.’ These two always come together.

The hard part will be convincing the newly mobilized that the Democratic Party knows what to do with their commitment.

Here, the ‘newly mobilized’ highlights the large numbers of newly energized voter segments, publics, audiences, who have been mobilized by elites who are not the ‘usual suspects,’ not the establishment DNC elites…so these are a force to be recognized, potentially allied with, or if the new DNC fails to expand the scope of the conflicts that animate these voters…this could be a missed opportunity resulting in the re-election of the current president…and in doing so, perpetuating the agenda he is setting, continuing to focus on the conflicts he is publicizing, and in the terms he is framing them.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Is Trump More Symptom than Driver of Incivility?
This is a great essay from today's New York Times Sunday Style Section that calls us to look in the mirror and analyze larger cultural trends rather than simply blame the president.

The Culture of Nastiness
by Teddy Wayne

Perhaps the most memorable line from last year’s presidential debates was Donald J. Trump’s characterization of Hillary Clinton after she alluded to his tax issues.
Such a nasty woman” immediately entered the national lexicon, inspiring feminist Halloween costumesT-shirts and sundry other merchandise. Liberals seized on Mr. Trump’s comment not only because they felt it was sexist, but because it registered as textbook projection from a man whose speeches, interviews and Twitter feed could hardly be held up as paragons of Lincolnesque diplomacy. Even when wishing his countrymen a happy New Year, he cited “my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” That tweet received well over 300,000 “likes.”
America has always harbored virulent strains of coarseness and cruelty, and political campaigns are customarily bitter, mudslinging affairs. But we have come a long way from George H. W. Bush (contra his urgings for a kinder and gentler nation) quaintly calling Bill Clinton and Al Gore “bozos” in 1992 to Mr. Trump’s huge index of tweeted affronts, or from previous presidents being caught cursing on live mikes to the new one’s penchant for gleefully bellowing epithets at rallies.
Despite efforts to curb hate speech, eradicate bullying and extend tolerance, a culture of nastiness has metastasized in which meanness is routinely rewarded, and common decency and civility are brushed aside.
Continue reading the main story
Those who oppose Mr. Trump can also be meanspirited; just check out the toxic debate below any of his tweets. Mrs. Clinton’s “Delete your account” tweet last June was the most retweeted post from either candidate. Though the longstanding internet put-down was a relatively benign retort (the tweet she responded to called her “Crooked Hillary”), the barb was not quite the “going high” that her fellow Democrat Michelle Obama suggested during the campaign.
In liberal circles, mocking Mr. Trump’s hair and skin tone is commonplace when referring to him — true, he has a history of objectifying and attacking others based on their appearance — in a manner that would incite furor if leveled against Mrs. Clinton.
Nonetheless, Mr. Trump’s own social media accounts surely embolden hordes of his supporters to make similar comments without fear of consequence. As Meryl Streep put it in her Golden Globes speech about the incoming president’s words and deeds, “Disrespect invites disrespect.”
But Mr. Trump is less enabler in chief than a symptom of a free-for-all environment that prizes cutting smears. Humor, of course, is often the refuge of the disenfranchised and disaffected, but there’s a difference in both tenor and objective between hypocrisy-dicing irony and its weak cousin: detached, fatalistic, teenage-style sarcasm.
Social media has normalized casual cruelty, and those who remove the “casual” from that descriptor are simply taking it several repellent steps further than the rest of us. That internet trolls typically behave better in the real world is not, however, solely from fear of public shaming and repercussions, or even that their fundamental humanity is activated in empathetic, face-to-face conversations. It may be that they lack much of a “real world” — a strong sense of community — to begin with, and now have trouble relating to others.
Andrew Reiner, an English professor at Towson University who teaches a seminar called “Mister Rogers 101: Why Civility and Community Still Matter,” attributes much of the decline in civility, especially among younger people, to Americans’ living in relative sequestration. The majority of his students tell him they barely knew their neighbors growing up, corroborating thinkers like Robert Putnam, who in his 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” argued that civic engagement is diminishing. Consequently, Professor Reiner believes they have little experience in working through conflicts with people with whom they must figure out a way to get along.
“Civility is the idea that you’re not always going to agree but you still have to make it work,” he said. “We fear our ideas clashing with somebody else’s, even when we’re all ultimately pulling for the same thing.”
This leads to a vicious cycle in which the breakdowns of civility and community reinforce one another.
“People think, ‘If I disagree with you, then I have to dislike you, so why should I go to a neighborhood meeting when it’s clear I’m going to disagree with them?’” he said.
Professor Reiner also chalked up some of the devolution of basic courtesy to people’s increasingly digitized existence and engagement with their phones, not one another. For an assignment, he asks his students to experiment with old-fashioned civility by committing random acts of kindness and eating with strangers.
“It’s about trying to get beyond our own insecurities and get past the possibility of rejection, and that never has to happen with our online lives,” he said. “It reintroduces the idea of social risk-taking, which not that long ago was the norm, and learning how to be uncomfortable and relearning the skills of how to talk face to face.”
Though the internet receives the brunt of censure for corroding manners, other elements of popular culture aren’t much more elevated. In my neighborhood subway station a few months ago, two posters near each other for the TV shows “Graves” (about a former president) and “Those Who Can’t” (a comedy about teachers) both featured lightly obscured depictions of the middle finger. After the election, as I looked at the one depicting Nick Nolte in front of an American flag with the presidential seal covering his offending hand, it no longer seemed so shocking that Mr. Trump would soon occupy the Oval Office.
And the putative employer wielding all the power over labor is a trademark of reality TV, where Mr. Trump honed his brand for 14 seasons on NBC and trained us to think of a blustery television personality like him as a regular and revered figure in contemporary America. We have long had game and talent shows, but elimination from them used to be gentler — or, in the case of “The Gong Show,” at least goofier — than being brusquely told, “You’re fired,” “You are the weakest link” or receiving Simon Cowell’s withering exit-interview critiques.
In the dog-eat-dog environments of these programs, cooperation and kindness are readily abandoned for back-stabbing and character assassination. Short-term strategic alliances sometimes form among rivals, but the rules of the games preclude the possibility of something like collective bargaining. Likewise, union membership has drastically shrunk in the private sector over the last four decades. Why sacrifice for another person when there can be just one top chef or model or singer, one bachelorette with the final rose, one survivor — or in your own workplace, one promotion this financial quarter amid a spate of layoffs?
As evinced by the long-running “Real Housewives” series, calm conflict resolution does not make for good ratings. Even cake baking is now a fight to the finish.
Rather than seeking the comfort of known faces with the fictional, loving families and buddies from “The Brady Bunch,” “Cheers” and “Friends,” we now crave the company of supposedly “real” squabbling family members or acquaintances from documentary-style shows, perhaps as consolation for most likely watching them by ourselves, on a small laptop or phone screen.
“We would rather watch families on reality TV than do the hard work of being in a community with our own families,” Professor Reiner said.
Many critics of Mr. Trump have drawn parallels between this era and 1930s Germany. But when it comes to incivility and the 45th president, a more apt epoch may be 1950s America and its Communist witch hunts, specifically a quotation from the lawyer Joseph N. Welch in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. (The chief counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy was Roy Cohn, who later went on to become a close friend and business associate of Mr. Trump’s.)
“Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Mr. Welch asked Mr. McCarthy after Mr. McCarthy alleged that one of Mr. Welch’s fellow lawyers was a Communist.
It is a question many would like to pose to Mr. Trump — and one we all, nasty sirs and women alike, should be asking ourselves.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Three Levels of Resistance on Social Media
Starting from the simplest and building to the more involved…

First, Just the fact, Ma’am. Transform the power demonstrated by social media trolls into a positive force. Simply drop in a link to one of several respected factchecking sites (or an AP or Times or Post or Beacon Journal or Atlantic, etc article) into threads where the conversation needs a reality-check booster shot. Be cautious about relying on a meme or political cartoon (as much as I love these) or image too heavily here, because the point here is to inject facts into fact-free zones and memes rarely accomplish this.

At this simplest level: keep it simple. Just the facts. Do not drone on: one line or phrase and no more to go with your link. Do not call anyone names or label the president a liar…just insert a calm and level-headed statement of fact (that, when heard, will disrupt the alternative fact world more reliably when it is NOT presented with name-calling that sparks defensive resistance to facts).

Then, like a good posi-troll, do not stay in that thread. Move on and do not look back. Just drop in a fact or factual source and move on to another thread to do the same. For this simplest of tools, spending time arguing within the thread is less valuable than hitting many threads.

Second, Step into their shoes to (try to) persuade. We are angry and concerned, for good reason. But this does not relieve us from our obligation to think carefully. If we want to persuade someone likely very different from us, we need to reach out and be real. A recent short piece in The Atlantic provides useful guidance here.

If we want to persuade a conservative, it is important to think carefully about how we frame our comments. And be concise: an opponent will not read past one sentence, so make it good.

We are, for instance, more likely to be moved by arguments about the injustice and unfairness and harm-causing nature of the president’s Muslim ban. Whereas a conservative is more likely to be moved by moral arguments focusing on American traditions, patriotism, authority, religious sanctity, zero tolerance, accountability, purity, and loyalty.

Here you have to make a choice: do you return to the thread and engage? If you choose to do so, the strategy here is to stay on message: only post through the lens of the conservative values you started with, and consistently pound at the importance of these values as the lens for understanding this conflict.

Here is the illustration from The Atlantic, which is way too long (and written more to point us in the right direction than to actually persuade a conservative) but does help us envision how we might do this:
“These refugees and immigrants are just like our family members who came to America in years past to seek a better life. All our ancestors wanted was to live the American dream, and that’s why today’s immigrants and refugees have chosen to come to America, so they too can live that same American dream that brought our families here. That is the dream our nation was founded on, it is what brought our grandparents and great-grandparents to this great land, and it is the great success story that these immigrants want to be a part of.”
Third, Connect the dots. This is the most involved approach and since only concise posts have impact in social media, one of the core challenges here is to make an argument that works in this venue.

Mere factchecking (while valuable) did not prevent his election. Factchecking framed around conservative values is likely to be a bit more effective. But in both cases, these are episodic approaches that fail to connect one falsehood to the larger pattern of lies, half-truths, and diversions central to an effective bullshitter, huckster, authoritarian-capitalist, or fascist-populist.

At our most involved level, we want to try to connect otherwise fragmented daily news stories, and news cycles, to highlight what these taken as a whole mean for political communication and democratic decision making.

In the social media world, this is most likely best accomplished through a slight modification of the two levels above: rather than dropping in a fact or factual source with a concise comment, drop in an essay or editorial that connects the dots in ways that speak to conservative values and highlight this in your concise comment introducing the piece.  When such an essay does not exist, write on your own blog and see instructions above for sharing on social media.

Just thinking out loud about how to effectively resist in vexing social media threads.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Game Playing 
Game playing is a ritual that dates back to our days living in caves. It is fun. Helps build strong bodies and strategic minds. But there is also a lot more going on.

Link to Superbowl commercial worth watching a few more times:

As we watch video of football heroics and field managers painting the lines on the football field, the narrator tells us this...
Inside these lines... We don't have to come from the same place to help each other reach the same destination.  
Inside these lines...We may have our differences, but we recognize there's more that unites us. 
Inside these lines...It's a game of inches and there's no such thing as an easy yard when you're fighting to move forward. 
Inside these lines...We're not only defined by our victories, but by the way we handle our defeats. 
Inside these lines...We can bring out the best in each other and live united...inside these lines (as the shot zooms out to show lines painted on a football field in the outline of the USA)
Gaming, playing games with each other, from football to RISK to cribbage, body surfing and more, are critically important ways we practice conflict transformation skills, build community, and learn how to become leaders in our own lives. The producers of this commercial appear to agree. So do I.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Elites Mobilizing Against Trumpism?
It is so difficult to find good news about American politics today, so I hope what I see as a good sign here is not me reaching too far to fast.

We have a long tradition of civil disobedience and social movements protesting corruption and injustice in America. These have been most successful in the past when the grievances that mobilize street protesters also capture the attention and concern of the more reasonable elements of the elite.

When elites mobilize, particularly on both sides, change is more likely.  Salon reports that we may be seeing early signs of just that.

“The opposition to Trump is spilling across partisan and ideological boundaries as the realization grows that the awesome power of the U.S. government, its mass surveillance and law enforcement agencies and its nuclear arsenal, is now controlled by a band of amateur renegades who are out to dismantle the American state….

…[not just] right-wing intellectuals appalled by Trump. I’m referring to the people whom sociologist C. Wrights Mills dubbed “the Power Elite.” Washington journalists usually call them the Establishment. Whatever the label, they have wielded power in Washington for decades.

In the 34 years I have covered Washington politics, they have never been so united in their dismay about the man occupying the Oval Office.”

This is promising…and elite mobilizing against President Trump might be spreading.

EU: Trump Regime Classified as Threat to European Union
According to the conservative media outlet, The Wall Street Journal, the European Union now classifies the US under President Trump as a threat to the future of the EU. The LA Times similarly reported on this EU decision. Shame on Trump.

“…the external threat posed by the U.S. administration was among geopolitical conditions that include an assertive China, especially on the seas, Russian aggression toward Ukraine and its neighbors and anarchy in the Middle East and Africa, with radical Islam playing a major role.

Not a club we want the US to be included within.

Reuters: Treat Trump Like Any Other Totalitarian Regime
One of the world’s most respected and impartial corporately owned news organizations, Reuters, instructed its journalists to treat the current American regime just it treats any other regime that threatens free speech and free press, prevents access to information, and uses official press conferences to spread carefully crafted misinformation. Astonishing, and shameful, turn of events.

“After sly threats and arbitrary access policies for journalists covering the White House, Reuters News has told its cadre of reporters to treat the new U.S. president like any other nation where censorship, even physical threats, are used by governing officials to intimidate a free press.”

CNN: Treat Trump Like Any Other Propagandist
One of America’s most respected and impartial corporately owned news organizations, CNN, refused to air a live press conference from the White House on the grounds that statements from this regime have been so consistently false that they need to watch the event first, then fact check it, before airing it…in order to prevent knowingly airing intentionally misleading falsehoods (ie propaganda). Shame.

“CNN this evening declined to air live a press conference with the nation’s new White House Press Secretary, pointing to a growing rift between the embryonic Trump administration and the press corps that covers it and undermining the credibility of Sean Spicer, a longtime Republican operative who has become the new spokesman for President Donald Trump.

Producers at the cable-news outlet, owned by Time Warner, this evening decided to see what was said at the press event, according to a person familiar with the network, then play relevant parts as deemed necessary. Despite a robust amount of evidence to the contrary, Spicer during the conference insisted that Trump’s inauguration Friday drew “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.” The statement is a deliberate falsehood….

…CNN’s decision could be a momentous one: Trump and his representatives have been known to obfuscate and lie. CNN’s refusal to take the live feed suggests executives there are reluctant to put false statements on air, and, what’s more, do not think the new White House press representative is entirely credible.

CNN’s decision to not air the press conference live illustrates a recognition that the role of the press must be different under Trump. When the White House holds press briefings to promote demonstrably false information and refuses to take questions, then press ‘access’ becomes meaningless at best and complicit at worst,” said Danna Young, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who studies politics and the media.”

The quotes above are from Variety’s commentary on the CNN decision. Here is a link to CNN story ‘reality checking’ presidential spokesperson Sean Spicer’s press conference that they chose not to air live—where the presidential spokesman is found to be aggressively asserting numerous demonstrably false claims. Shame.

US/Mexico Rift: Investment Leaves North America for Asia
The President of Mexico recently cancelled, abruptly, a plan to meet with President Trump.
Mexico is the second largest purchaser of US products ($236 billion worth in 2015) and (unlike our imports from China) 40% of components that go into our industrial imports from Mexico are made in the USA.

This self-inflicted Trumpian wound is likely to destabilize Mexico (and thereby the region)…increasing unwanted immigration into the US (as a time when more Mexicans are moving back to Mexico than are coming into the US) from the most desperate and, worse, the most unsavory fleeing turmoil and chaos. 

Reducing the ability of Mexican consumer’s to purchase US goods…increasing our trade deficit and eliminating jobs in America. Shame. Even more broadly…

Growing uncertainty about North American economic integration will redirect manufacturing investment to Asia. A Trump-triggered economic downturn in Mexico could, perversely, increase illegal immigration into this country. In the long run, worst of all, Trump’s rhetorical and policy assault on such an accommodating neighbor is likely to resurrect rampant anti-American sentiment in Mexico and turn one of our stalwart allies into something entirely different – more like the Mexico of Trump’s dystopian fiction.”

Abandoning TPP: Handing the Pacific Rim to China
Our most important allies are already worried that in one week Trump has set in motion a shift in the rules of the game likely to result in China becoming the dominant power in the Pacific Rim and perhaps beyond.
“Trump’s singular achievement in his short time as president has been to trash US soft power assets and make China’s regime look less objectionable. Before Trump...western countries...regarded Beijing with scepticism. Why should anyone believe the global message of a regime that does not tolerate dissent or domestic challenges?
But that is now a question we must begin to ask of the US.
China’s official untruths seem modest in comparison with those of a man who can barely get through a sentence without a lie.”
Words matter and it seems that when our president says make American great again he really means make China great again.

We need all hands on deck. This is, of course, always the case in a democracy. But even more so with a democracy in crisis from within.

We need to continue and to grow all forms of thoughtful and productive protest…from demonstrations to everyday acts of kindness…to oppose Trumpism in ways that also makes clear how deeply we value democracy.


Because in two years we need to be able to make the case to those in the moderate middle who voted for Trump that we were patriotic opponents—we fought Trump when he policies would have hurt average families and we fought hard and smart and did not take the lazy and unpatriotic path of simply opposing anything he said or did, because that weakens democracy itself.

And we need to build broad coalitions, from the left to the middle to the moderately right…from working class communities to those elite communities who are now standing with us in opposition to Trumpism. Why? Because we really are stronger together.