Friday, December 9, 2016

I am a news junky, particularly political news. It has been a month since the general election and I have avoided news for that entire time. Twice I tried to watch a TV news show and could not make it more than 5 minutes.

Watching the most indecent and unfit individual select his equally inept cabinet and formalize his WH team made up of alt-right hard to stomach. As he reneges on campaign promises and uses taxes raised from average folks to pad the profits of Carrier CEOs...cannot find the words.

A gang of losers and has-beens and dimwits who despise the fact that government agencies have a very modest capacity to constrain the freedom they want to pillage American families are being put in charge of government oversight...cannot find the words.

This meme captures an important similarity and difference. I do not believe all who voted for him did so because he is a racist, misogynist, and xenophobe...however, clearly many did and just as clearly, based on his own words, these labels accurately describe him (and some or many of his supporters) and likely most of those who made it a hobby to hate President Obama.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Transformative Legacy Challenged

President Obama’s transformative legacy has been to enact a more honest and productive leadership style that framed alternatives to enable thoughtful problem solving about how we might best move forward together.

President-Elect Trump enacts ‘squirrel!’ a huckster’s misdirection that frames alternatives to cripple critical conversations and encourage deference to his heroic disruptive authority in place of active citizen agency.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Being Offended, Doing Politics
George Stephanopoulos is a good journalist. He satisfied many when he took on Pence’s claim that Trump's false statement was ‘refreshing.’

‘During an interview on ABC’s ThisWeek, host George Stephanopoulos reminded the future vice president of a recent tweet in which Trump declared that he lost the popular vote because of the “millions of people who voted illegally.”

 “That claim is groundless,” Stephanopoulos pointed out. “There’s no evidence to back it up. Is it responsible for a president elect to make false statements like that?”

Pence defended himself by pointing to an unrelated 2012 Pew Center study on outdated voter registrations. However, the study’s author has said that he found no evidence of voter fraud. Politifact recently gave Trump’s team a “Pants of Fire” rating for linking the Pew Study to voter fraud.

“That statement is false,” the ABC host pressed.

 “I think the president-elect just wants to call to attention the fact that there has been evidence over many years,” Pence stuttered. “It’s certainly his right.”

“It’s his right to make false statements?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“I think one of the things that’s refreshing about our president-elect,” Pence replied, “I think he made such an incredible connection with people all across this country because he tells you what’s on his mind.”

“But why is it refreshing to make false statements?” Stephanopoulos wondered.

 “I don’t know that is a false statement and neither do you,” Pence snapped. “There is historic evidence from the Pew Research Center that voter fraud has taken place.”

“Can you provide any evidence to back up that statement?” the ABC host asked again.

“He’s entitled to express his opinion on that,” Pence remarked. “I think the American people find it very refreshing that they have a president who will tell them what’s on his mind.”

“Whether it’s true or not,” Stephanopoulos concluded.’

George Stephanopoulos is speaking for many when he expressed incredulity about the suggestion that making false statements could be anything remotely like refreshing.

Exchanges like this offend people like George and me.

But is being offended really relevant in politics?

What are we trying to accomplish when we do politics?

Politics is our alternative to violence; it is our core tool for managing conflicts where rules made by the state are the starting point. 

When President Clinton ‘did not have sex with that woman’ many of the George’s among us were offended, but kept it to ourselves because we thought he was doing good things for America.

When President Obama expanded the use of drones, deported record numbers, or [fill in the bland for yourself] supporters were offended but kept it to ourselves (for the most part) because we liked most of what he was doing for America.

When President Obama ridiculed ‘god and guns’ he offended many, but George and I forgave him because we believe the direction he wants to take America is better than the alternative.

When President Clinton sexually harassed an intern in his office…

When Trump…

Is there a common pattern here that unites the left and the right in our shared tendency to overlook offensiveness when we remind ourselves that the offender is more likely than the alternative to advance a vision of America we believe in?

If it is plausible, then let’s take this another step…

Today, many like George and I are harping on the president-elect’s renunciation of the existence of facts…and this is perhaps the most deeply offensive position anyone could take in the George and me community.

At the same time, most candidates on our side are pro-choice and that is perhaps the most deeply offensive position anyone could take in the anti-George and me community.

When we point out his embrace of a fact-free world we are saying his is irredeemable. We are offended and we want others to be offended too, but (if the previous point is right) only those who already disagree with what they see as his vision for America are likely to be offended enough to get the outcome we seek: to reject him.

It works the same in reverse on abortion.

The George and Me community then assert that the contrast here is between facts and beliefs, so when we are offended it is empirically observable and true but when they are offended it is reflection of their fact-free views…they are wrong.

So, both sides tend to ignore offensiveness when someone on our own team is the offender, because we believe in the vision our team stands for.

And, when we expect our expressions of being offended to strengthen our team we need to recognize this is only possible within our bubble. It might mobilize our existing team; it will not expand the scope or reach of our team.

When we fail to see this we open ourselves up to elite efforts to distract us with self-righteous (feel good for our team) stories about how offensive the other side is…in a way that practically guarantees amplifying existing trenches and ensuring that policy decisions will get less attention, rather than the more attention they deserve, because these are what advances (or not) any particular vision of America.

We have competing types of ‘truth-tellers’ here. One speaking a language of morality that diminishes the value of analysis; another speaking the language of policy wonks that diminishes the value of values.

In the real world, we all integrate facts and values, morality and policy tradeoffs. We recognize that the lines between these are blurred and both are essential parts of human society.

When George and I are in private conversation we sometimes remind each other that ‘facts’ do not speak for themselves (JS Mill) and the facts of one era are often dismissed as the myths of that era in a subsequent era (Kuhn?). When the anti-George and I are in private conversations we sometimes remind ourselves that despite our strong beliefs it was still the best for all parties when our daughter terminated that pregnancy or got through that rough patch by depending on government assistance.

So, instead of applying one standard to our own communities and another to our opponents, we would get a lot more done if we use one standard, balancing offensiveness and policy positions according to the same metric for all, recognizing the inherent trade-offs central to effective democratic problem solving.
Conflicts Play At Multiple Levels
Who Cares?

When we focus only on one dimension, or worse only see one level, our efforts to address the conflict are more likely to get derailed and fail or even contribute to an the outcome we wish to avoid.
Substantive v Process: think of the argument with your boss over your wages as the substantive conflict and the equally important tug-O-war with your boss over how you will conduct this argument as the simultaneous argument over what you are arguing about and according to what rules and expectations?
Presenting v Principle: think of the argument over whether or not Rosa Parks will be allowed to sit in the back of the bus as the presenting argument and the argument over whether or not the state will prohibit bus drivers from requiring people to sit in the back of the bus on the basis of their skin color as the (deeper) conflict over principle.
In both cases above, when we see only on the levels usually focused on in the media, substantive or presenting, we may ‘win’ the battle and lost the war. We are unlikely to see important strategic dimensions that our opponents are focusing on to win the process or principle level. Thus, impacting this and future substantive and presenting level outcomes as well.

Galanter’s distinction between (affluent insider) repeat players enjoying a structural advantage because they can choose to lose a given presenting conflict in order to ‘play for a rule’ that will alter the rules of the game in their favor over the long run is a good illustration. One-shotters (regular folks) do not have this strategic option in court.

A local activist I always learn something from touched on one aspect of this in a Letter to the Editor in today’s ABJ:

With the nation seemingly more divided that ever following the election, people of good will on all sides can make several commitments to seek common ground.
Make a distinction between criticizing the ideas or actions of a person and criticizing the person himself or herself. Asserting, for example, that someone’s ideas are ignorant is different than asserting that the person is inherently ignorant.
Treat everyone will dignity and respect, regardless of gender, race, religion, income, sexual orientation, geographic home and political beliefs. 
There are several issues that arose during the election that should be explored by all sides for solutions, beginning at the community level. Draining the swamp of lobbyists and reducing the corrupting influence of big money in elections is one. Increasing jobs lost due to corporate-friendly trade deals and automation is another. Preventing foreign wars that risk U.S. lives is a third. Support for an accessible and affordable health care system that avoids government and corporate intrusion is one more.
This list is a start. The vast majority of individuals in our country have more in common than differences. Let’s make sure our nation’s political and economic power elites don’t divide and conquer us.

Greg Coleridge

Director, Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee

Below, I start to play with the idea of thinking about these two dimensions together in one matrix. May not work, but thought I would toss it out there.

Other levels to consider: cultural and emotional. Not sure if these can be productively folded in here or if the absence of an explicit inclusion dooms this matrix from that start. Similarly, does this allow and enhance integrating analysis of power imbalances as well?

Substantive Level
Process Level
Presenting Level
Winner of Struggle Over Scope and Salience in Current News Cycle, Tip of Iceberg, Focus of Mass Media in Daily News Cycle, Mobilizing Those Most Concerned and Working Hard
Focus of those working hard and smart on how to effectively address this particular conflict
Principle Level
Focus of Elites on both sides to either amplify or mute on the basis of how this is expected to impact the rules of the game (precedent) moving forward
Focus of Elites on both sides to either amplify or mute on the basis of how this is expected to impact the audiences paying attention to this and how these might impact the outcome of the presenting conflict and the rules of the game

Saturday, December 3, 2016

From 'Squirrel' to Seriously Paying Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
Paul Krugman points us in the right direction here: learning to see and understand the tactics that propel Trumpism. We need to go beyond complaining or being disgusted and advance to learning how to effectively counter Trumpist bullshit. Seriously.

Yes, we are outraged. Yes, lots of people will get hurt. Yes, this is important.

So important that it is time to stop crying and complaining and playing into the Trumpist game. 

Stop amplifying his efforts to focus all attention on him. Stop reminding us how disgusted we are or ought to be at his bigotry and fear mongering.

Focus. Focus on stopping his cascading victories.

If you care about those who will certainly be hurt, stop blaming the media, stop blaming each other, and start learning to effectively counter a brilliant huckster.

Step one is provided here by Krugman: learn to see and anticipate and prevent Trumpist tactical efforts to distract and mislead and, in doing so, to control each days new cycle. 

This is only step one, but without learning to see how he brilliantly publicizes the conflicts he wants us to think & talk about and mutes, ignores, makes invisible the issues and concerns he wants to prevent us from thinking & talking about (so he can act on these with impunity).

"Donald Trump won the Electoral College (though not the popular vote) on the strength of overwhelming support from working-class whites, who feel left behind by a changing economy and society. And they’re about to get their reward — the same reward that, throughout Mr. Trump’s career, has come to everyone who trusted his good intentions. Think Trump University.
Yes, the white working class is about to be betrayed.

The evidence of that coming betrayal is obvious in the choice of an array of pro-corporate, anti-labor figures for key positions. In particular, the most important story of the week — seriously, people, stop focusing on Trump Twitter — was the selection of Tom Price, an ardent opponent of Obamacare and advocate of Medicare privatization, as secretary of health and human services. This choice probably means that the Affordable Care Act is doomed — and Mr. Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters will be among the biggest losers.

The first thing you need to understand here is that Republican talk of “repeal and replace” has always been a fraud. The G.O.P. has spent six years claiming that it will come up with a replacement for Obamacare any day now; the reason it hasn’t delivered is that it can’t.

Obamacare looks the way it does because it has to: You can’t cover Americans with pre-existing conditions without requiring healthy people to sign up, and you can’t do that without subsidies to make insurance affordable.

Any replacement will either look a lot like Obamacare, or take insurance away from millions who desperately need it.

What the choice of Mr. Price suggests is that the Trump administration is, in fact, ready to see millions lose insurance. And many of those losers will be Trump supporters.

You can see why by looking at Census data from 2013 to 2015, which show the impact of the full implementation of Obamacare. Over that period, the number of uninsured Americans dropped by 13 million; whites without a college degree, who voted Trump by around two to one, accounted for about eight million of that decline. So we’re probably looking at more than five million Trump supporters, many of whom have chronic health problems and recently got health insurance for the first time, who just voted to make their lives nastier, more brutish, and shorter.

Why did they do it? They may not have realized that their coverage was at stake — over the course of the campaign, the news media barely covered policy at all. Or they may have believed Mr. Trump’s assurances that he would replace Obamacare with something great.

Either way, they’re about to receive a rude awakening, which will get even worse once Republicans push ahead with their plans to end Medicare as we know it, which seem to be on even though the president-elect had promised specifically that he would do no such thing.

And just in case you’re wondering, no, Mr. Trump can’t bring back the manufacturing jobs that have been lost over the past few decades. Those jobs were lost mainly to technological change, not imports, and they aren’t coming back.

There will be nothing to offset the harm workers suffer when Republicans rip up the safety net.
Will there be a political backlash, a surge of buyer’s remorse? Maybe. Certainly Democrats will be well advised to hammer Mr. Trump’s betrayal of the working class nonstop. But we do need to consider the tactics that he will use to obscure the scope of his betrayal.

One tactic, which we’ve already seen with this week’s ostentatious announcement of a deal to keep some Carrier jobs in America, will be to distract the nation with bright, shiny, trivial objects. True, this tactic will work only if news coverage is both gullible and innumerate.

No, Mr. Trump didn’t “stand up” to Carrier — he seems to have offered it a bribe. And we’re talking about a thousand jobs in a huge economy; at the rate of one Carrier-size deal a week, it would take Mr. Trump 30 years to save as many jobs as President Obama did with the auto bailout; it would take him a century to make up for the overall loss of manufacturing jobs just since 2000.

But judging from the coverage of the deal so far, assuming that the news media will be gullible and innumerate seems like a good bet.

And if and when the reality that workers are losing ground starts to sink in, I worry that the Trumpists will do what authoritarian governments often do to change the subject away from poor performance: go find an enemy.

Remember what I said about Trump Twitter. Even as he took a big step toward taking health insurance away from millions, Mr. Trump started ranting about taking citizenship away from flag-burners. This was not a coincidence.

The point is to keep your eye on what’s important. Millions of Americans have just been sucker-punched. They just don’t know it yet."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Democratic Failure
This Slate analysis suggests that it is incorrect to conclude that white working class voters turning out for Trump accounted for the outcome.
Among Rust Belt voters earning less than $50,000 a year, DT won 10% more than Romney, HRC won 20% fewer than Obama.

DT won 9% more of voters earning more than $100,000.

Looking at all white voters in the Rust Belt, DT won 450,000 more but HRC won 950,000 fewer.
“Compared with 2012, three times as many voters in the Rust Belt who made under $100,000 voted for third parties. Twice as many voted for alternative or write-in candidates. Similarly, compared with 2012, some 500,000 more voters chose to sit out this presidential election. If there was a Rust Belt revolt this year, it was the voters’ flight from both parties. 
In short, the story of a white working-class revolt in the Rust Belt just doesn't hold up, according to the numbers. In the Rust Belt, Democrats lost 1.35 million voters. Trump picked up less than half, at 590,000. The rest stayed home or voted for someone other than the major party candidates 
This data suggests that if the Democratic Party wants to win the Rust Belt, it should not go chasing after the white working-class men who voted for Trump. The party should spend its energy figuring out why Democrats lost millions of voters to some other candidate or to abstention. Exit polls do not collect information about why voters stay home. Perhaps it’s time someone asked them.”
Somehow this makes me feel less horrible about the election.

The message here is clear: we need to look internally to figure out how to fix this mess.

We cannot blame bigoted white men (who are within the universe of those who might support our coalition).

We cannot blithely blame Trump or the Alt-Right or ‘the media.’

It’s on us.
  • Those who assumed HRC would coast to victory and did not scream ‘no’ when she starting shifting from battleground states to a 50-state strategy.
  • Those who encouraged the disillusioned to abandon the Democrats and support one of the third party candidates who had no prayer of victory.
  • Those who let the ugliness of the campaign push them into alienation, inactivity, and perhaps not even voting.
  • Those who watched uncritically (like me) as HRC ran a dull insider campaign in the primary and then repeated this in the general.
  • Those who thought a Socialist would never get a fair shake (and would be slaughtered) in a general election, as I did, even as there was strong countervailing evidence to suggest he might have overcome this.
  • Those who focused on the circus and drama centering on Trump tweets and daily disgusting dialogues, assuming that this was enough to defeat him.

And more…but what I like most is that all of these focus on ourselves rather than seek self-righteous refuge in blaming the usual suspects.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Freedom to Learn from Others: Losing Graciously & Winning Humbly
I do not know Alfred Lubrano, a Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer, but I learned something from his story about his father today.
“For guys like my dad, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama are hard to take because, while they clearly are smart, they appear to be bloodless, egg-heady, and generally disconnected from the world of rough hands and rigor.

Of course, Trump is a guy who looks like he takes a limo to the bathroom. But for blue-collar guys, people who are rich are all right, since everybody wants to be rich.

Trump, my father concluded, is a pragmatist, just like him and other blue-collar guys….”

Stories like this are important, particularly for those like me who see Trump as the most indecent, thin-skinned, and unfit president-elect imaginable. Without reducing this to an either/or and concluding that he is not indecent, I have to reconcile my perspective with the perspective of others who see him as man who gets things done and speaks like a man who gets things done.

I would like a president who gets things done. No one can deny that gridlock hurts American families. Separate from all the persuasive arguments about Republican obstructionism causing the gridlock (at least partly motivated by race) and about hate-filled rhetoric…will he get things done? What will he get done?

I am reminded of something my favorite political scientist once said:

“Democracy is a system for the resolution of conflict, not for vengeance. Simple black-white notions of right and wrong do not fit into democratic politics. Political controversies result from the fact that the issues are complex, and men may properly have differences of opinion about them. The most terrible of all over-simplifications is the notion that politics is a contest between good people and bad people.

“Democracy is based on a profound insight into human nature, the realization that all men are sinful, all are imperfect, all are prejudiced, and none knows the whole truth. That is why we need liberty and why we have an obligation to hear all men. Liberty gives us a chance to learn from other people, to become aware of our own limitations, and to correct our bias.

“Even when we disagree with other people we like to think that they speak from good motives, and while we realize that all men are limited, we do not let ourselves imagine that any man is bad. Democracy is a political system for people who are not sure that they are right.

In our current post-election disunity, I feel myself pulled daily toward believing ever more deeply in the righteousness of my own position, and the dangerous and harmful wrong-headedness of the coalition headed by our president-elect. 

And yet, this story from Philly and reminder from Schattschneider pushes me to seek instead to learn from my fellow Americans, to become more aware of my own limited perspective and experience, and to correct my own biases, to balance generosity and a respect for the game itself with the vigilance and pragmatic problem-solving focus of a loyal opposition. To lose graciously and help make it more possible that he might enact winning humbly.

Reading Alfred's story about his dad leaves me wondering if I am too stubborn to consider that I am not sure that I am right. And that finding a way to recognize this is what I need to do now for myself, my community and country.