Tuesday, August 7, 2018


Self Pocket Picking
Charles Blow in the New York Times helps us again as we try to make sense of the mess we have gotten ourselves into….

Describing a recently televised one-hour policy meeting on immigration where the president demonstrated his lack of skill, Blow concludes that the meeting paints a picture of…

“a man who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about; a man who says things that are 180 degrees from the things he has said before; a man who has no clear line of reasoning; a man who is clearly out of his depth and willing to do and say anything to please the people in front of him.

He demonstrated once again that he is a man without principle, interested only in how good he can make himself look and how much money he can make.”

Blow notes that (to the degree possible) if we guess at what policy might emerge from the meeting and the president does what he seemed to say he would do, the president would betray his base yet again. He will demonstrate that he is willing to say “anything to keep them angry,” including lying to his base, and “once again, they won’t care.”

“That is because…Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man."

Blow reminds us that this is not new, quoting President Johnson to describe what has been called the ‘Southern Strategy’ of pitting white workers against black workers so their division and distraction frees up non-workers to take advantage of both, riding a wave of white working class support to electoral victory.

“As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: ‘If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.’”

Anger does seem to be a common denominator among Trump supporters. A deep seated anger easily redirected into hatred and violence, but an anger also based on this pocket-picking that has steadily diminished their quality of life. Rather than see the plutocrat pocket pickers as the enemy, however, this anger is satisfied with racial self-righteousness.

“…Donald Trump represents white people’s right to be wrong and still be right.

Frustration as declining control over our own lives fuels an expressive response designed by pocket pickers to empower pocket pickers, instead of fueling an effective counter-mobilization (by design). And we all suffer as a result, though some of us suffer a lot more.

“For white supremacy to be made perfect, the lowest white man must be exalted above those who are black.

No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.”

In this sense, every Trump lie is heard by his base as vindication, experienced as a joyful celebration of a pocket picker masquerading as someone finally standing up for them.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


The Atlantic on a topic close to my heart. My comments at the end.

Don't Give Up on the Lecture
Teachers who stand in front of their classes and deliver instruction are not "out-of-touch experts"—they're role models.

ABIGAIL WALTHAUSEN NOV 21, 2013

Students in a lecture class can give the impression of lethargy: Maybe a student sleeps in the back of the classroom, maybe others fidget and doodle. The students who are paying attention may be too focused on their notebooks to flash a look of understanding and inspiration.

Perhaps because of this negative initial impression, lectures are under attack these days. The Common Core standards place far greater value on small-group discussion and student-led work than on any teacher-led instruction. The term “lecture” is entirely out of fashion, as is the unqualified word “lesson.” On recent planning templates released by New York’s Department of Education, only the term “mini-lesson” is used. The term gets its diminutive status because of the fact that only 10 to 15 minutes on the hour are allotted for teacher-disseminated information, while the rest of the class period is focused on student-centered practice in groups or project based learning. But the mini lesson is not even accepted as the most progressive way of teaching. Champions of the "flipped classroom" relegate lectures to YouTube channels. In a recent interview here at The Atlantic, futurist David Thornburg declared that lectures created a depressing experience for him in school.

The tendency to see lecture-based instruction as alienating and stifling to student creativity is not altogether new. In Paulo Friere’s 1970 Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the lecturing teacher was cast as an arrogant imperialist. Alison King coined the flip expression “sage on the stage” in a 1997 article and, although more than half of King’s article consists of ideas for working small group approaches into otherwise lecture-centric courses, demonstrating that she was in no way looking to eliminate the lecture entirely, everyone from Common Core advocates to edtech disrupters has co-opted “sage on the stage” as license to heckle the “out-of-touch expert.” Nevertheless, there is immense value in lecture, and it must not be written off as boring and ineffective teaching.

In the 2010 study from Harvard’s Kennedy School “Is traditional teaching really all that bad?,” Guido Scwerdt and Amelie Wupperman tried to quantify the “sage-on-the-stage” model of education as compared to its counterpart, “guide-on-the-side,” in which a teacher designs an activity or learning experience for students and steps back from direct instruction. According to the data, students exposed to lecture more than other classroom activities showed more significant learning gains than their peers. The authors were careful to point out that this data need not be proscriptive. One of the study’s faults is that there is no way to account for the teachers who gravitate more towards lecturing because they excel at it, and those who encourage group work because they are comfortable managing such dynamics. If the community of educators has agreed to value student learning styles, why not allow adults the freedom to play to their own strengths as well? I certainly know that while I am articulate in facilitating student discussion, my communication breaks down and I am a weaker teacher in a noisy room. For my high-school students, I know there is great value in teaching them how to use their notebooks to respond as I talk—it gives many of them lead time in developing questions and comments that they can be proud of contributing to discussion later in the class. It is for these reasons I feel that lecturing can create a more democratic experience for students than a lesson that is entirely student-focused.

Mary Burgan, in her article for the Carnegie Foundation’s Change, has defended lectures writing that “that teachers are irreplaceable as models of knowledgeable adults grappling with first principles in order to open their students' understanding,” but also that a “passionate display of erudition [is] valuable in itself—regardless of the rewards of approval or popularity.” Richard Gunderman argues that the craft of the lecture is key to its value, maintaining that “Good lecturing is an art, and like other arts such as painting, musicianship, and writing, it takes real dedication and many hours of practice to excel at.”
For those who argue that such expertise is daunting to student confidence and the uniform pace diminishes student attention, Burgan points out that “being clueless in a discussion class is much more embarrassing and destructive of a student’s self confidence than struggling to understand in the anonymity of a lecture.” As a college student, I was often advised by well-meaning adults to sign-up for seminars rather than lectures in order to get “face time.” To be perfectly honest, though, the lecture format, far more than the noisy seminar, enabled me to think deeply about a topic rather than being distracted by poorly planned and redundant comments from peers (often aggravated by a teacher who is reluctant, for fear of being too top-down in terms of pedagogy, to deflect them). Besides frustration with the dominant participants in many a seminar class, I have also wasted time distracted by the anxiety that I had to race others to an appropriate comment in order to accumulate those necessary class participation points.

There is a reason TED talks are popular with students and adults alike. They are delivered on engaging topics, by engaging people, and they offer time for reflection by the audience. Ever since Susan Cain delivered her 2012 TED talk“The Power of Introverts,” the relative personality types introvert and extrovert have been all over the Internet as though the terms were just discovered. Especially since there is so much buzz around special merits of the undersung introvert, it is still surprising that the lecture format of learning is so commonly dismissed, and even disparaged. Is the teacher devoted to conveying serious concepts the best manager of a noisy, interactive classroom? Does it make sense to assume that a quiet student is always a disengaged student? There is no one method of education that fails across the board, only the occasional rigid ideology that criticizes “one-size-fits-all education” while discontinuing a few of the less popular sizes.
We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

ABIGAIL WALTHAUSEN is a writer and high-school English teacher. She writes about technology and teaching the humanities at Edtech Pentameter.

This is a very thoughtful and concise piece. I will only add these thoughts…

“Nevertheless, there is immense value in lecture, and it must not be written off as boring and ineffective teaching.” The Atlantic piece does not miss this point, but I want to re-emphasize it: lectures can be boring and ineffective. The point is that they also cannot be dismissed pre-emptively as inescapably boring and ineffective.

Like many things, it depends. In this case it depends on what an instructor is good at, how a particular topic is best explained, how a particular group of students is best met where they are. It also depends on the degree to which any one mode of delivery is either a constant-default-mode (increasing the chance that it becomes boring and ineffective) or just one of many modes designed to communicate specific ideas to specific audiences.

Mini-Lesson is disparaged here, but it should not be. Since the point I take away from this piece is that there is no one universally effective mode, this idea should be presented more open-mindedly. The existence of mini-lessons is (1) evidence that lecturing is still valued even by those who claim otherwise and (2) an interesting hybridization mode. Here an instructor may speak for 10-15 minutes to set up a serious conversation and then repeat this again after the conversation. This mini-lecture mode is not a universally effective mode, but it does work well when well-crafted for the circumstances.

Modelling the value of wrestling with complex questions. A powerful lecture does this. A well-constructed small group exercise, application, or facilitated class discussion can also do this. It is possible that lecture and mini-lectures do this more reliably than other modes, but that might be my own bias.

“There is a reason TED talks are popular with students and adults alike. They are delivered on engaging topics, by engaging people, and they offer time for reflection by the audience.” Like mini-lectures, TED talks demonstrate the ongoing value of the lecture as one mode of delivery—and do so in exciting fashion.

“There is no one method of education that fails across the board, only the occasional rigid ideology that criticizes ‘one-size-fits-all education’ while discontinuing a few of the less popular sizes.” Agreed. We should continue to add to our tool box as we learn more about teaching and learning, rather than leaping on the most recent ‘squirrel!’ as the magic solution.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Consider these...
This image caught my attention today. Deeper conflicts, beyond reacting to today's tweet storm.


A $12 billion band-aid for a wound inflicted by the president himself. An unforced error wasting funds that could repair crumbling infrastructure (including impoverished public schools).


Why has the water on Mars story gotten so little attention? Or maybe I have missed the coverage.


Another declaration of victory that has no basis in fact. When will all the winning stop?


Friday, July 27, 2018

Washington Post Cartoonist and Columnist Continue to Pull Back the Curtain
Darrin Bell has created an amazing body of work recently. Here is his facebook page to see more and follow.  Below are a few recent Darrin Bell creations sharing space with a fantastic EJ Dionne commentary from this week. Thanks Darrin, EJ and Washington Post.


“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s 
happening.”

When the history of the Trump era is written, this quotation from our president will play a prominent role in explaining the distemper of our moment and the dysfunction of his administration. 

Trump was talking about media coverage of his trade war, but he was also describing his genuinely novel approach to governing: He believes that reality itself can be denied and that big lies can sow enough confusion to keep the truth from taking hold.

This has advantages for Trump, because it dulls the impact of any new revelation. Old falsehoods simply get buried under new ones. Take the recording of his September 2016 conversation with his onetime lawyer Michael Cohen that was released Tuesday night.

Cohen’s attorney put out the tape, which, as The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Robert Costa reported, shows that Trump “appeared familiar with a deal that a Playboy model made to sell the rights to her story of an alleged affair with him.” Karen McDougal sold her tale to the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media. The tabloid never ran her account, which clearly protected Trump from this embarrassing tale before the election, although its management has denied that this was its intention.

Trump’s lawyer and battering ram Rudolph W. Giuliani insisted that the recording portrayed a Trump who “doesn’t seem that familiar with anything” that was discussed. This was, shall we say, an eccentric way of hearing the conversation.

Obfuscated in this back-and-forth is the fact that four days before the 2016 election, Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, denied the affair altogether and said that the campaign had “no knowledge” of any payoff.

Trump’s behavior would be bad enough if it were only about his personal life and his treatment of women. But the big-lie strategy extends to policy and national security as well.

For example, the Commerce Department, which runs the census, claimed this year that it added a question asking if respondents were citizens in response to the Justice Department’s desire to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The question is a terrible idea. Six former Census Bureau directors under both Republican and Democratic presidents urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross not to include it. They warned that doing so “will considerably increase the risks to the 2020 enumeration.”

The fear is that many immigrants, documented and especially undocumented, would be reluctant to answer the census if the question were part of it, leading to an undercounting of places with substantial foreign-born populations.

But for the Trump administration, this is not a problem. It’s the goal. Undercounting immigrants would have the effect of shifting political power— as well as federal money — largely to Republican areas that have lower immigrant populations.

And documents turned over this week in response to a lawsuit against the addition of the citizenship question showed that Ross lobbied for its inclusion much earlier and more actively than his later sworn testimony had indicated. “Lying to Congress is a serious criminal offense, and Secretary Ross must be held accountable,” said Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. 

Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon had also pushed for the question when he was in the White House.

The Justice Department acted months later, a clear sign that the department’s alleged concern for civil rights was simply a pretext for a politically motivated skewing of valuable public information. Distorting data collection is an attack on the truth, too.

And when it comes to creating new and unhinged narratives to displace those rooted in fact, Trump has no equal. Thus did the man who stood next to Vladimir Putin when the Russian leader said he wanted Trump to win in 2016 declare this week — with no evidence whatsoever — that Russia “will be pushing very hard for the Democrats” in this fall’s elections.

Contrary to liberal fears, most of the country doesn’t believe him. Trump’s core support, measured by the proportion in Wednesday’s NPR/“PBS NewsHour”/Marist poll who strongly approve of him, is down to 25 percent.

The bad news is that, among Republicans, his strong-approval number stands at 62 percent. Trump’s hope of clinging to power rests on the assumption that he can continue inventing enough false story lines to keep his party at bay. His theory seems to be that a lie is as good as the truth as long as the right people believe it.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Our Audience is Not Ourselves

Most decent folk continue to struggle with how to make sense of the fact that fellow Americans elected, and some continue to support, Donald Trump. 

I share that struggle. This commentary, pasted in full below, from the Wall Street Journal is written by a long time Democratic Party activist and provides some useful clarity as we head into the important midterm elections. You can find the commentary here.

‘Democrats are determined to remove President Trump from office in 2020—or before, if that becomes possible. If precedent holds, he can be unseated in 2020 by a candidate perceived as his opposite: experienced, serious, knowledgeable about policy. If Democrats attempt to rush the process, amid current charges that Mr. Trump is a “traitor” and Russian agent and that his Supreme Court nominee is an extremist, they will further energize their take-it-to-the-streets wing but alienate all but partisan Northeast and Pacific Coast voters.’

Smart. If the objective is win an election, rather than score points in a debate, we need to do all we can to avoid ‘alienating all but our own partisan extreme wing.’

‘The present political and media rage over Mr. Trump’s alleged sellout to Vladimir Putin is an overreach. Any damage done at their recent summit pales compared with the effects, for instance, of the earlier Yalta Summit at which Stalin got a dying President Franklin D. Roosevelt to cede him Eastern Europe, or the Khrushchev-Kennedy Vienna Summit, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Berlin Crisis and a huge buildup of U.S. ICBM forces and budget. Mr. Trump stumbled in Helsinki, but stumbles do not amount to treason.’

Fair point. Because I am embarrassed to have this man as my president, part of me is eager to see every stumble as another confirmation of my deeply held belief that he is the most indecent and dangerous president in my life time. I did not call the Helsinki summit treason, but I could have. Some historical perspective rightly tempers any conclusions for now. It might turn out to be a disaster, even treason, but on the basis of what we know now it is just more of the same appalling ignorance on display.

‘Democrats and some media are now calling for Mr. Trump’s impeachment, presuming that a post-November Democratic House majority would bring such a vote. But it is a risky strategy that would polarize Americans deeply. The case against him would have to be airtight and based on indisputable fact. Otherwise Mr. Trump would be strengthened rather than harmed.’

Also smart. Unless Mueller provides an iron-clad case, even if we win back the House, impeachment may not work. Note: this is not saying it would not feel good & right. But if it ends up strengthening Trump—I want no part of it.

‘Democrats should take a fresh look at why and how Mr. Trump won the 2016 election. The party’s national leadership claims it was because of support from white supremacists, religious nuts, nativists, misogynists and Latino-haters. This is a failure to recognize what actually happened. President Trump was the consequence—not the cause—of a nationwide loss of confidence in all of the American establishment: political, media, cultural, business, financial. Sen. Bernie Sanders played on similar sentiments on the Democratic side and, had he known his potential sooner, could have won his party’s nomination.’

This is highly contested territory, but my sense is that Van Dyk is on point here as well. The weakness of HRC’s candidacy fits into this analytical frame. The willingness to overlook the ----- grabbing tapes, bankruptcies, clear ignorance on policy, obvious arrested development also fit into this frame. Most progressives, if they are honest, would admit that pre-Trump we were all putting our own lost confidence in our major institutions at the top of our own list of concerns. In an odd way, Trump’s administration vindicates the progressive version of this same fear.

‘Most voters knew before the election that Mr. Trump was a crude, freewheeling, womanizing egotist, a man who very well might finance his ventures with money from sketchy sources. They discounted all those negative factors because he was so obviously different from the establishment candidates in whom they had lost trust. Think about it: In one campaign, Mr. Trump polished off the Bushes, the Clintons, and even Ted Cruz. Voters did not love Mr. Trump; they rejected the other guys.’

So obviously different. After years of frustration watching us cycle from one party to the other with little apparent improvement, being obviously different has value, as we say in the election. No one can deny that he was then, and remains today, so obviously different.

‘So where does that leave Democrats? A writer at the Washington Post recently put together a list of the top Democratic presidential contenders for 2020. Ranked first, not surprisingly, was Mr. Sanders, given his strong 2016 showing. Also near the top was former Vice President Joe Biden, who relates well to middle-American voters. But most of the rest of the contenders take an angry, accusatory line toward Mr. Trump. Leading the pack were Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, from Massachusetts and California, respectively, where bashing the president earns cheers from the party faithful.

Shrill attacks and identity politics got a strong start during Bill Clinton’s two presidential terms. Under fire on multiple fronts, the Clinton White House took an aggressive posture toward critics, asserting that it was just “fighting back.” Democrats repeated that pattern in President Obama’s 2012 campaign. They labeled Mitt Romney, a temperate former governor of Massachusetts, as antiwoman, antigay, antiblack, anti-Latino, anti-immigrant and a tool of big finance. That theme worked so well that Democrats repeated it in congressional races two years later. Now the beat goes on, only stronger, against Mr. Trump.’

Neither identity politics nor shrill attacks started during the Clinton presidency. At the same time, it is not inaccurate to say both were deployed by our side.

‘There are some basic misapprehensions here. Most voters see abortion and gay rights as accepted issues and wonder why Democrats present them as threatened. They do not see racism as on the rise or the country as moving back toward Jim Crow. On the contrary, they see several decades in which the barriers to equal opportunity, legal or otherwise, have been steadily dismantled. They do worry about the problems of big-city neighborhoods: violence, drug use, broken families, unemployment, daunting dropout and incarceration rates. But they see little evidence that “white privilege” is the cause. They like immigrants and refugees but generally believe everyone should take a legal path to citizenship.’

This is where it gets tough to stay focused on winning the midterms. Here Van Dyk is making claims about what ‘most voters’ think and believe. So, my first reaction (that I do not believe these statements to be accurate) is not relevant. Then I ask myself: is it accurate to say that many voters unlike me believe these to be true…and it is difficult for me to deny that this is possible, perhaps likely. Most Americans are pragmatic and (until very recently) far less partisan than our party leaders and activists, so these very moderate positions both overstate our progress on race and poverty while also capturing the voters we need to reach out to right now.

‘National security and the economy are the two principal issues in any presidential campaign. The Trump record in both those realms should be critiqued by Democrats. They should, in turn, offer credible alternative policies. If they do, and their presidential candidate seems reasonable, Democrats can reclaim the White House in 2020 not through a constitutional crisis but through a free election and with a popular mandate.

My own guess: By 2020, Mr. Trump will have fatigued the public. Voters will be turned off by him, just as they were in turn by the Johnson, Nixon and Carter presidencies. They will want to see another face on their TV sets. The danger is that Democrats by then may have fatigued the public even more.’

Van Dyk concludes that angry narratives highlighting white privilege (or any type of identity politics) and casting Trump (and by extension anyone who does not share a deep existential disgust with Trump) as a traitorous villain will lose. For voters who are mobilized by these narratives, Van Dyk would advise, let them be mobilized on the basis of Trump’s daily tweet storm. No need to fan these flames, Trump is doing just fine on that front all by himself.

Instead, focus on the harm-causing policies of this administration and offer thoughtful, family-friendly, alternatives that are easy to understand and make sense to an average voter who is not a policy wonk. Be the change here means to enact in our candidates and our platforms the reasonable alternative, the option that promises to help families and strengthen our democratic institutions.

Summing up…
  1. We are struggling on many fronts.
  2. Step one to addressing our struggles is to contain this president before he gets us into a war or gets re-elected to complete his environmental destruction.
  3. To do this we must avoid ‘alienating all but our own partisan extreme wing.’ This is election 101. We cannot win with just people like us sharing our anger.
  4. As good and right as it feels to make criticism of Trump our central guidance system…this replicates Trump’s own anti-Obama guidance system…and risks strengthening the forces we need to weaken.
  5. Because many of us have lost confidence in our major institutions, we should be able to find room in our hearts to believe that some (clearly not all) Trump supporters are also decent folks we want to rejoin our coalition.
  6. A big tent party cannot purge identity politics or shrill attacks, but to the degree that these alone become our brand we will lose.
  7. Most Americans are pragmatic and want to hear how leaders plan to solve problems and improve their lives.
  8. Focus on policy. Speak clearly. Be the reasonable alternative. Our audience is not ourselves.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


Weak Negotiation Skills: No Surprise
Joseph Holt, who teaches negotiation at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, argues in a commentary reprinted in today’s Beacon Journal that the often-heard claim that the president is a world-class negotiator has now been repeatedly demonstrated to be untrue.
“Donald Trump voters thought they were electing a tough negotiator who would stand up for U.S. interests against our adversaries, but after the president’s historically weak performance during his joint news conference Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, that myth can safely be laid to rest.”
Holt argues, while we do not yet know if Putin has damaging information on the president, “that claim is more credible than any lingering claim that Trump is a world-class dealmaker.”
“Trump’s failure to deliver in Helsinki should come as no surprise. Candidate Trump confidently promised to negotiate a health care deal, an immigration deal, a Middle East peace agreement and a replacement for both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord. To date he has not negotiated a single major deal, domestic or foreign.”
Holt then outlines what a world-class negotiator would have done in Helsinki, and it is worth reading in full. In brief, he notes a skilled negotiator would certainly have (1) arrived prepared, (2) recognized and used his leverage to win concessions, and (3) striking the right balance between advancing our national interest and not harming (or even improving) relationships with counterparts. Trump failed on all three counts.
He inherited his wealth and has not increased the value of his inheritance beyond what a standard IRA investment would have yielded (according to a Washington Post analysis before the election), so claims about his negotiation skills have always been suspect…even in the private sector.
Multiple bankruptcies, failed marriages, and lying for years that Obama was not a citizen (before quietly admitting he was a citizen, without addressing why he lied about it so passionately for years) all should have warned us that this is not a man we can trust nor a man with the skills needed to lead. Holt helps us see this a bit more clearly in the wake of the president’s negotiation failures in North Korea, Helsinki, and with NATO.

Here is the full text of Holt’s analysis:
Donald Trump voters thought they were electing a tough negotiator who would stand up for U.S. interests against our adversaries, but after the president’s historically weak performance during his joint news conference Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, that myth can safely be laid to rest.
I don’t know if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer were right to suggest afterward that Putin may have damaging information on Trump, but that claim is more credible than any lingering claim that Trump is a world-class dealmaker.
Trump’s failure to deliver in Helsinki should come as no surprise. Candidate Trump confidently promised to negotiate a health care deal, an immigration deal, a Middle East peace agreement and a replacement for both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord. To date he has not negotiated a single major deal, domestic or foreign.
The president displayed supreme confidence (and great naivete) in May 2017 when he said that Middle East peace is “maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.” But his dealmaking competence has fallen short of his confidence. If the president has great negotiation skills, he has concealed them with uncharacteristic modesty.
Here is what a world-class negotiator would have done in Helsinki.
First, he or she would have prepared extensively for such an important meeting. The president believes that his superior negotiation skills render preparation superfluous. At a rally in Montana earlier this month Trump dismissed concerns over his meeting with Putin, saying “I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”
By that the president presumably meant that he had been making deals his whole life. But years of closing real estate deals in New York have not prepared Trump to negotiate with Putin any more than years of walking have prepared him for an ultramarathon. The activities involve similar motions but a very different degree of complexity and difficulty.
Second, a world-class dealmaker would have recognized his or her leverage and used it more effectively. Leverage in negotiations is a question of who needs it more. As Trump (or his co-author) wrote in The Art of the Deal, “Leverage is having something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply cannot do without.”
Putin became an international pariah when he was booted out of the G-8 annual summit of industrialized nations after Russia’s brazen seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Both the United States and the European Union imposed harsh sanctions on Russia after that violation of international law and order.
Trump wanted a meeting with Putin badly, but not as badly as Putin wanted to come in from the cold of isolation. Trump should have used that leverage to advance U.S. interests involving Syria, Ukraine, Iran and our elections. But instead of using his leverage to win concessions from Putin, Trump gave the Russian president a huge propaganda win without getting anything meaningful in return.
Trump gave the same gift to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. After their Singapore meeting June 12, North Korean state media released a 42-minute propaganda video showing Trump nodding respectfully as he listened to Kim, saluting a North Korean general while Kim looked on and generally showing Kim as Trump’s fellow “supreme leader.”
One can only imagine what the Russian propaganda machine will do with footage from the Helsinki news conference in which Trump shamefully doubled down on a tweet he posted just before his Putin meeting by repeating that “the United States has been foolish” in its relationship with Russia. He spinelessly failed to take Putin to task for anything and shockingly expressed greater confidence in Putin’s denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election than in the considered finding of every U.S. intelligence agency that it did so.
Finally, a world-class negotiator would have insisted that his or her legitimate interests be met. The goal in a negotiation is to satisfy your interests while improving, or at least not harming, your relationship with your counterpart. World-class negotiators know how to strike the right balance between their own interests and their relationships with their counterparts.
Trump in Helsinki focused too little on U.S. interests and too much on establishing a good relationship with Putin — after last week focusing too little on maintaining a good relationship with the NATO allies whose support he needs to effectively counter Putin’s aggression.
A week ago, Saturday’s front page of the British tabloid Daily Mirror featured a photo of Trump sitting regally in Winston Churchill’s chair with the headline “How dare you.” Trump, after all, has coddled tyrants such as Kim and Putin while Churchill stood up to the despots of his time with an inspiring blend of conviction, clarity, courage and eloquence. That is what a world-class dealmaker and leader would do.
Holt teaches negotiations at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. This column first appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

With Clarifications Like This, Who Needs Confusion?


So, the president’s ‘clarification’ is that he meant to say the opposite of what he said? The opposite of what he has been saying and tweeting for months? That is a clarification? Here is how AP describes the situation:


“Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump strained Tuesday to “clarify” his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he simply misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Rebuked as never before by his own party, including a stern pushback from usually reserved Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the U.S. president sought to end 27 hours of recrimination by delivering a rare admission of error.”
I am not even sure this counts as admitting an error. He ‘clarifies’ that his weak deference to Putin and selling out our national security was actually not an error at all, just one missing word.
Yet another lie. We have been hearing his say and tweet for months that this is a witch hunt and that he believes Putin when he says he did not do it. So now we are supposed to believe it was just one missing word?
Or should we believe it was… “Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy… [and] Rebuked as never before by his own party,” he caved and lied again, believing no one will notice that this clarification is another lie?
AP finds it hard to swallow, noting that this ‘clarification’ does not “explain why Trump, who had tweeted a half-dozen times and sat for two television interviews since the Putin news conference, waited so long” to only ‘clarify’ with “scripted cleanup” comments “the least defensible of his comments.”
And, of course, even in his scripted ‘clarification’ he adds “it could be other people and there is no collusion.” It seems he cares more about protecting himself than our national defense.
The list of statements he made that still need to be ‘clarified’ remains long and this AP article provides an overview.
Russia is attacking America and this is his response?
Mitch McConnell has to reassure our allies that our president does not speak for us, reminding anyone who believes in gravity that “European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not.”
Remember: not democratic talking points. McConnell is one of the president’s most ardent supporters. These are comments from his own team.
Another leading member of the president’s team added this:
“Let’s be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, another steady Trump political ally.
With clarifications like this, who needs confusion?

Here is another clarification from conservative columnist Michael Gerson in today’s paper:
Trump’s approach to foreign policy “is the replacement of national pride with personal vanity. Any diplomatic outcome—not matter how useless or harmful—is claims by President Trump as a victory. Any complications are pinned on the ‘stupidity’ of previous presidents. Trump’s negotiating style is a panting desire for the appearance of accomplishment, making him the easiest mark of modern presidential history. This was on full display at the Helsinki summit.”