True colors?

Trump WaPost

It amazes me that the President of the United States of America said this today:

“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down—excuse me—are we going to take down—are we going to take down statues to George Washington? What about Thomas Jefferson?”

That is what a Klansman would say to defend himself, by making comparisons to our Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave owners.

Trump is a dangerous man. He stands for the ideals of the extremists of the white nationalists, and that’s not what America stands for.

Words that never were true

…just spoken to help nobody but you.

word cloud

In our 24/7/365 news cycle, there’s never a moment when the world stands still and gives us a chance to get caught up on the events of the day. For a newspaper columnist the challenge is to try to keep up, knowing that the next blockbuster headline is just around the corner. So, while they are fresh in our minds, let’s explore some recent events.

Seeing is believing?

After much speculation, we now know that members of the Trump presidential campaign were in direct talks with Russian contacts who were seeking to influence the 2016 election. This isn’t speculation. All parties who attended, including Donald Trump Jr., have come forward to admit that the meeting occurred, though there have been conflicting stories about the topics that were discussed.

Now, in a normal world, you’d think that we could agree on most of the facts. But since last November, it’s not as easy to call things ‘normal’. Take for example this excerpt from the results of a recent survey by Public Policy Polling. (This is insane.)

“On Russia related issues we find a certain degree of willful ignorance among Trump voters that can possibly best be summarized by this finding: only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton…even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn’t happen and 24% say they’re not sure.”

Notice that? Junior admitted that the meeting occurred, and he even released the emails that prove his intention was to obtain materials from the Russians that supposed would be harmful to Sec. Clinton’s chances in the presidential race.

Nearly a third of Trump voters deny the meeting occurred… EVEN THOUGH JUNIOR SAID IT DID. The facts are undeniable, yet most Trump voters can’t allow themselves to see the truth that’s right before their eyes. That’s much more than willful ignorance. That’s self-imposed destructive stupidity.

It’s not the crime, it’s the…

Even more mind-boggling than the average Trump voter’s inability to grasp reality is the public’s quick and easy acceptance of any wrongdoing by the president’s inner circles. Part of Donald Junior’s rotating fairy tales about his secret chat was an effort to make it seem like it was all about trying to help Americans adopt Russian children. Now we know that President Trump dictated Junior’s official statement, trying to give it a spin of innocence. Does the elder Trump have no trust in his oldest son’s ability to speak for himself, or is twisting the story part of a plan to hide something nefarious?

By taking charge and re-directing the narrative, President Trump took the lead role in an attempted cover-up. This could be the opening special counsel Robert Mueller needs in his investigation into the Putin-ordered hacking and other efforts to help win the election for Trump.

Maverick? Meh.

As one of three Republican senators who voted against an Obamacare-killing bill, John McCain has been hailed as a hero by many on the political left. But let’s not rush into that. Senator McCain may have been standing up for what he thinks is right, although he’s not shown any previous love for the Affordable Care Act, so I doubt he’s suddenly decided that President Obama’s big achievement is worthy of his support.

It could be that McCain truly wants to see Congress return to the days of bi-partisanship on major issues, and thinks that his vote will convince others to regain a bit of sensibility. Then again, McCain may just have wanted to deny President Trump a victory.

For me, I have strong doubts that Senator McCain can be seen as an advocate for expanded health insurance coverage. That would take much more political courage than I’ve seen from him in many years. Now, if he were to go on Meet the Press and apologize to the American people for making Sarah Palin famous, then I might be convinced that he has honorable intentions.

How much is too much?

One final thought: as President Trump wrapped up his first six months in office, his administration saw many internal shake ups. His press secretary resigned under pressure, his newly-named communications director was hired and fired in just eleven days, his Chief of Staff was replaced, and numerous attorneys and spokespeople have come and gone. You have to wonder if the well will run dry. I was asked, “How long until Trump has alienated a critical mass?” That is, will we reach the point where no one else will work for him?

I think not. Considering the players that have been members of this administration so far, I’d say this:

There’s plenty of evil, untalented fish in the ocean.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald August 3, 2017.)

And the winner loses all

loser

Imagine you’re watching the Super Bowl. It’s the New England Patriots taking on the Dallas Cowboys. Although it’s an exciting game, it’s a bit one-sided. Dallas scores one touchdown in each of the first three quarters while limiting the Patriots to a single field goal in each stanza. At the end of three quarters, the Cowboys hold a 21-9 lead. The fourth quarter, however, is a different story. While the Cowboys’ offense seems to have run out of gas, Tom Brady is suddenly able to pick apart the Cowboys secondary, leading his Patriots down the field again and again. Final score: New England 37, Dallas 21. The Patriots are the champs of the NFL.

Well, not exactly.

You see, the league decided that the actual score isn’t the best way to decide the winner. Instead, the team that outscores the opponent in each quarter is awarded one gold star, and whoever racks up the most stars is declared the winner.  So, since the Cowboys managed to score more points in each of the first three quarters, Dallas has three gold stars and the Patriots, who dominated the fourth quarter, have just one. Despite the final score, under the established rules the Cowboys are declared the winning team.

That, my friends, is how we elect the President of the United States.

As I was preparing to submit this column to the editor, Sec. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote (the actual votes cast) was a bit more than 2.3 million. That’s roughly equivalent to the population – every man, woman, and child – living in the city of Houston, Texas. In other words, if we simply counted how many people voted for which candidate and used that method for selecting our nation’s chief executive, we would not have a President-elect Donald Trump. But Hillary Clinton’s votes were concentrated in a few states, while Trump was able to claim victory in more, though less-populated, states. And, by nature of the point system that is the Electoral College, Trump earned the win even though he was out-scored.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the top vote-getter failed to grab the brass ring. It was just 16 years ago that George W Bush received less votes than Al Gore. Bush’s advantage in the Electoral College, however, was the determining factor of his success. Three other presidential races also ended with the keys to the White House handed to the candidate who fell short in the vote tally: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

And now, barring a monumental recount that would flip the results in a handful of states — not likely — Donald Trump will take the oath of office next month.

As we prepare for our country’s first Reality Television President, we need to take a serious look at what to expect. Or rather, what not to expect.

First, there will be no wall on our southern border. Sure, Trump promised he’d build one. He bragged that it would be very tall and very beautiful… and that Mexico would pay for it. But in the first few days after the election, Trump was already backpedalling. Interviewed on “60 Minutes”, Trump admitted that the ‘wall’ will probably be more of a fence. Not exactly the impenetrable masterpiece his fans expected, is it?

Candidate Trump also pledged to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. President-elect Trump, on the other hand, told the Wall Street Journal that he likes several provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and is interested in leaving large parts of it in place.

When running his campaign, Trump led chants of “Drain the Swamp”, saying that he wanted to get the special interests out of government. But when you look at the people he’s likely to add to his administration, that’s just another broken promise. A Goldman Sachs banker with deep ties to Wall Street as Treasury Secretary? An Education Secretary who not only promotes for-profit corporate schools but also sits on the board of an organization — headed by Jeb Bush — that supports Common Core?

And while we’re on the subject of the Trump Cabinet, let’s not forget that he has considered naming Gen. David Petraeus to head the State Department. This is the guy who, while serving as CIA Director, shared classified information with his mistress.

But considering that Trump has spent more time on Twitter than he has on learning how to be president — avoiding important things like security briefings — it is clear that he lacks the desire to put in the hard work necessary for the job. I think that he also lacks the ability to learn, preferring instead to shove the hard stuff into somebody else’s hands.

Trump the candidate talked big. Trump the president has to live up to that talk. I don’t think he will, because I don’t think he can.

In a few weeks, he’ll have the chance to prove me wrong.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald December 1, 2016.)

Lately it occurs to me…

kaleidoscope

…what a long strange trip it’s been.

One year, eight months, 3 days. That’s how long this presidential campaign has been. From the first candidate to officially announce his run for the office on March 5, 2015 — Republican Mark Everson, for what it’s worth, and you’re forgiven for not knowing his name — until Election Day on November 8, 2016… 614 days of what is undeniably the strangest trip to the White House this nation has ever witnessed.

I’ve written here before about the flaws of the two major party candidates and, I admit, I’ve spent a great deal of that time pointing out the wide range of negatives swirling around the Donald Trump campaign. Let’s be honest, Mr. Trump is deeply flawed on so many levels, most notably on matters tied to his personality. The fact that the media spotlight on Trump’s campaign has focused so much more on his antics — past and present — than on a more serious discussion of policy is a good explanation for the success of his campaign. Trump entered this race as an entertainer and treated every speech and debate as an episode of an unscripted reality TV show. We, the audience, watched and listened with amusement and disgust… and we never truly believed that he would take it this far.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, a statistical genius with a highly successful track record in the realm of political predictions, admits now that he didn’t take Trump seriously from the beginning. Failure to do so caused Silver to ignore the very polls that he otherwise swears by and, as a result, now is hesitant to be as bold a predictor as he was in previous elections. But who can blame him? Never in our lifetimes — perhaps, never in American history? — has a presidential election boiled down to two candidates who are so incredibly disliked by such large shares of the population.

Hillary Clinton has run a much lower profile campaign, a strategy involving fewer public events than her opponent, but that hasn’t made her immune from trouble. In fact, choosing to spend less time in public view may have caused Sec. Clinton more woes, since it meant she gave herself less chances to counter bad publicity. Considering that she has been a non-stop target of an aggressive media since her husband’s first national campaign in 1992, you would think she would have developed a better plan. Time will tell if she has any regrets.

But this much is certain: no matter the results, this year’s Election Day will not signal an end to the hostilities. And I’m not talking about the harsh barbs traded back and forth between candidates.

Two weeks after all votes are cast and counted, Americans will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner tables that could turn into battlefields, with family members at odds over their political preferences. Wouldn’t it be nice if arguments at the holiday feast were limited to who gets to battle over the wishbone… or which giant balloon was the parade favorite? But not so likely this year, thanks to an election so polarizing that relatives have stopped talking to each other… that has turned Facebook into a war zone… that has even caused regular churchgoers to skip services in order to avoid people with opposing views.

I have used this space to bemoan the lack of civility in our society, brought on primarily by our political partialities. It doesn’t have to be like this.

In the Eighties, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill had vastly different views on policy. But both men were smart enough to realize that they needed to find a pathway to agreement on enough issues to make our federal government work for all of its citizens. The two men would have regular, private lunches… and more than a few social drinks… and talk in a manner that was respectful and mature. They didn’t have to end up completely on the same page, but they knew that the country was better off with leaders who could work together.

Some will point to the lack of such private engagements between President Obama and Republicans in Congress. Yes, Obama isn’t prone to the same degree of socialization as Reagan and others who preceded him in office. That could be because, unlike many recent presidents, he had two young children living with him and chose to spend more free time with them. It could also be due to those Republicans not wishing to be on friendly terms as that would be frowned upon by their constituents and donors.     

Once thing I think is certain: this election is destined to result in even more disharmony, unless we the people choose to rise above our differences and act like adults once again.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald November 3, 2016.)

Looking ahead

telescope

I’m sure many of my readers — actually, probably all of them — will wonder why I’m about to peer into the future of Republican presidential politics. I mean, what qualifications do I have? Some have said that I lean farther to one side than the other, although I will gladly argue that I’m much more of a centrist than some give me credit.

I’m not a partisan; I swear no allegiance to any political party or ideology. I have voted for Democrats and Republicans, each time casting my ballot for the person I thought was right for the job. A few times I’ve picked the winner. Others, my vote was in the minority.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me which party a candidate clings to… as long as he or she is a person of strong convictions, has a solid work ethic, and is willing to do what’s right for the sake of the public.

So, yes, I would gladly cast a vote for a Republican for President of the United States. But not this year.

Let’s be clear: there is no way that Donald Trump will enjoy my vote. Despite his successes in the business world — and there’s plenty to argue regarding the level of his success — Mr. Trump has not demonstrated the basics of leadership capabilities. Face it, the man can’t maintain any sense of maturity for as little as 48 hours. He has neither the temperament nor the stability to lead this nation, and I simply cannot bring myself to check the ballot beside his name.

Secretary Clinton, for all of her flaws (and there are too many to list here) at least shows a sense of the importance of the office. She may not be right on certain policy items, but I think the majority of world leaders are going to take her seriously, while Mr. Trump is more likely to be merely tolerated on the world stage.

So, no, I won’t be casting a vote for a Republican for President of the United States this year. And unless nearly every poll is wrong and nearly every campaign expert is wrong and nearly every betting oddsmaker is wrong, most Americans won’t be voting for a Republican either.

But where does that lead us?

Well, if the recent past is any indicator, the world of political chatter will be filled with suggestions that the Republican party lost because it didn’t nominate a real conservative. That was the message after Sen. John McCain lost in 2008. It was repeated after Gov. Mitt Romney lost in 2012. That means we can expect to hear plenty of I-told-you-sos from Fox News and talk radio about how the election could easily have been won if only the party had gotten behind a candidate with a strong conservative background.

In the 2016 race, there was no one who fit that description better than Sen. Ted Cruz and his bid fell far short. Clearly, primary voters weren’t interested in naming a conservative as the nominee this year either. Now, many will argue that the losses in 2008, 2012, and… (dare we speculate?) 2016 may have been offset with a different choice. But I ask you: if a more moderate candidate who attracts at least some support from independents and a few crossover vote and still can’t win, what makes you think that someone with even narrower appeal stands a better chance? That’s like watching a prime thoroughbred lose the Kentucky Derby and then trying to convince me that a three-legged horse would have probably won.

No, the GOP doesn’t need to distance itself further from the middle. It needs to open itself up to a broader audience, to be welcoming of people from different backgrounds, different faiths, different nationalities… in other words, the Republican Party needs to start looking like the rest of America.

Ah, you say, but that would make the GOP look and act like Democrats. No, not exactly. There’s nothing wrong with the Republican ideals of a less complex federal bureaucracy, a strong defense, and boosting free enterprise. But when those issues are overshadowed by things like vote suppression, absolute nationalism, and acceptance of violent behavior — all of which are prominent in the 2016 campaign — the chances of encouraging more people to vote your way shrink considerably.

The Republican Party could be looking at a successful future, if it can rid itself of the more extreme elements within. Stop turning a blind eye to those who seek to control the party with calls for hatred of others.

Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll convince me to vote for your candidate. But not this year.

Of course, all this would be meaningless if Donald Trump somehow gets elected. If that happens, we’ll all have much bigger problems.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald October 6, 2016.)

The end is near

arguing beagles

It just so happens that I like happy endings. I like stories where good triumphs over evil, when the down-on-his-luck guy finally catches a break, and when star-crossed lovers beat the odds and live happily ever after. Okay, maybe that last one is too much of a stretch, ‘cause the one place you won’t find this guy is plopped down on the couch all wrapped up in some romantic comedy. But I do like to see when conflicts can be resolved and everyone is pleased by how everything turned out. In books and movies, that can happen. In the real world, it’s not that easy.

If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s this: I’m not an optimist. That doesn’t mean that I’m always looking for something bad to happen. But after you’ve spent a few years dealing with all the highs and lows that life can send your way, you tend to get a feeling for how the story is going to end. And this year, my friends, we’re caught up in a real page-turner.

This presidential election was destined to be like none before it. There was no doubt who was going to be the main contender among the Democrats. From the moment that Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in 2008, it’s safe to say we all knew she was going to run again. And it was also clear that she would not have to face many competitors. This is due in part to the view from within the party that Clinton’s previous run gave her the advantage of already having built a national campaign, and that experience coupled with a solid network of endorsers and operatives meant that she would hit the ground running while any rivals would be starting from scratch. And so, despite a rather impressive challenge from Bernie Sanders, Sec. Clinton succeeded in becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major US political party.

For the Republicans, their nominee took a much different path. Sure, Donald Trump had plenty of name recognition, but he never bothered to form any real organization. Instead, Trump relied on a loosely concocted strategy of winning a popularity contest rather than gaining votes based on the usual method of establishing a meaningful stance on policy issues. True, Mr. Trump entered the race as one of a large crowd, but it’s not like most of his competition was all that formidable. Some were poorly funded. Others never seemed to be putting in much effort. (I’m looking at you, Jeb.)

And so, here we are. The next president, the person who will hold the most important elected office in the world, will either be a woman with a very large unfavorability ranking… or a man with, coincidentally, a very large unfavorability ranking. No matter who wins, our nation’s next leader will be greatly disliked from day one. That’s unfortunate, but it could also be a great opportunity. Imagine if our next president takes the oath of office and immediately sets out to gain the trust of all Americans, even (and, for that matter, especially) those who voted for the other candidate. We could be in for a new era of healing and cooperation. But I just don’t see that happening, not for a good while. Like I said earlier, I’m not an optimist.

Never before in my lifetime has there been so much bitterness connected to a national election. We’ve allowed anger to overtake common sense. Family members can’t talk to each other without name-calling. Friends are distancing themselves from each other, all because of whose name they plan to select on the ballot.

Is this what we’ve become? A society that’s willing to throw out all the conventions of kindness and civility? And if it’s this bad now, how much worse will it be after the election?

We need to turn off talk radio and cable TV, and learn how to sit down and discuss our differences like reasonable adults. No name calling, no finger pointing, no threats. I’m not going to tell you that we all need to hold hands and say only nice things to each other. That’s not reality. But we need to get out of this rut we’re in.

The great cartoonist Walt Kelly once worked for Disney, helping to create such masterpieces as “Dumbo”, “Pinocchio”, and “Fantasia”… but he’s best known for his comic strip, “Pogo”. Kelly often used his drawings to comment on social issues, particularly politics, and in doing so condemned extremism on both sides. The most famous quote from his strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us,” can honestly be used to describe our current political climate.

I won’t say we’ve hit rock bottom, because that would suggest that things can’t get worse. Based on what I’ve seen over the past year, it probably will.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald September 1, 2016.)

An unconventional summer

empty chair

Two weeks. Two conventions. Two political infomercials that had millions of Americans reaching for the remote in hopes of finding an Andy Griffith Show marathon.

Yes, they’re long, they’re boring, they’re filled with people wearing silly hats. But these conventions were for the most part Must See TV, if for no other reason than to get a solid feeling for the drastic contrasts between the two presidential hopefuls.

The Republican convention was notable for one thing: a general lack of good feelings. The message from the gathering in Cleveland was dark and dreary. Everything is bad, very bad. We used to be great, but we’re not anymore. Speaker after speaker drilled that message into our brains — much as the party’s nominee has done since Day One of his campaign — until we felt miserable. Once convinced that America had ceased to be good and powerful, we were told that only one man could fix it. That somehow only he knew all the answers to our woes, and that, through nothing more than his sheer presence, everything would magically be great again.

Side note: can somebody please tell me, when did we stop being great?

On the other hand, the Democratic Party pushed all the right buttons at its convention. The speakers each night stuck to a theme that was saturated with patriotism, pride, and unity. Sure, they may have skipped a few things — it would have been nice, for example, to bring forward a group of heroic police officers and tell their stories of hard work and community service to balance the somewhat controversial appearance by mothers whose children died in violence, some during encounters with police — but these conventions are all about putting a positive spin on the parties’ candidates and ideas.

Naturally, Hollywood made its presence known at both events. The Democrats brought out Meryl Streep. The Republicans offered Scott Baio. Both gave incredibly forgettable speeches, which is a good thing. The Democrats did have the advantage when it came to star power, offering two Obamas, three Clintons, Biden, Bloomberg, and a powerful message from the father of an American Muslim soldier killed in Iraq. The Republicans mostly relied on Mr. Trump, Mrs. Trump, and four Trump offspring. At least this year they didn’t give us a confused-looking old guy scolding an empty chair.

But it’s not just what they had to say, it’s how they said it. Well after the words themselves faded from your memory — and if you’ve got an attention span like mine, that doesn’t take very long — it’s the style and delivery that lingers in your mind. People who study the effectiveness of public speakers know that the audience is more likely to look back favorably at a speech if the person at the podium found a way to appeal to the listeners’ emotions. If what they say makes us laugh or cry, our brains make a connection.

Say you watch a comedian on stage, one who makes you laugh all the way through the show. You may remember one or two jokes, but you won’t be able to repeat most of his routine. But you will look back at that performance months, even years later. You’ll recall where you were, who you were with, maybe even how the guy in the next row snorted when he laughed. Those things stick with you because that guy doing stand-up zeroed in on your emotions, creating a lasting impression, one that made you feel really good. And that’s what political conventions try to do.

Most of them.

Donald Trump has never stopped telling us that there’s nothing worth celebrating in America anymore. He constantly criticizes our police and firemen, our teachers, even our military… calling them “weak” and “failures”. Then, once the crowd starts buying into his words, he tells them that he is their answer, as if he has superpowers and the entire world will bow down to him just because he exists.

It’s laughable to read the occasional pundit try to compare Trump to Ronald Reagan. For the Republicans, this campaign offers no “City on a Hill” and no “Morning in America”. The Trump campaign has made no effort to highlight anything positive about this nation or its future. Everything is gloom and doom… fear and hate.

And I don’t recall Reagan ever kicking a baby out of a rally.

I’m not saying that Hillary Clinton is the best choice, not by a long shot. Her flaws are numerous and her personality is far from warm. But her party for the most part managed to gloss over all that and deliver a more uplifting message.

I’m not convinced that Donald Trump really wants to be the next president. I think he only entered the race to feed his insatiable ego. Now, he has no way out except to lose, something Trump may not be able to handle.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald August 4, 2016.)