Thursday, October 20, 2016

The BINGO Card and Other Amusements

My BINGO card gave me some amusement last night as I watched the debate. I was surprised that it took 20 minutes for me to check off even one box. But then the candidates swerved away from a substantive policy debate into the acrimony that's characterized this debate. *Sigh. At least I felt like a winner when "Mike Pence" was uttered, allowing me to claim a diagonal win.

Though I profess to not engage in politics on Facebook I do violate that pledge once in a while. In the spring I announced my change of party affiliation by posting a picture of my new voter ID card. Last night, I posted this BINGO card, which I thought to be irreverent and politically ambivalent though it probably reflected my leanings anyway. Heck, that I made it in a sense of irreverence says something about me politically. Perhaps it says I don't take the election seriously. Perhaps it says that I'm more comfortable than I was three weeks ago that the candidate I support this year looks likely to win. I thought it harmless, but at least one person found it harmful.

Perhaps deep down inside I knew it was not as benign as I pretended it to be when posting.

So to revisit the trappings of the political posts on Facebook. It's something that's unwise for me to do because . . .

  • the format of the medium encourages people to get in the ever-elusive last word (there rarely is a last word)
  • tone, especially sarcasm, is hard to convey in words and it's increasingly likely online 
  • wit is rewarded more than wisdom
  • I like and love a lot of people who will disagree with me on many, many political issues 
And if those people whom I like wander to me on Facebook, expecting to see photos of my kids, my house, myself, my cross-eyed cat, but instead get met with political commentary that is more biting, condescending, or irreverent than they intended to find, then the blame is on me. So I should keep my politics over here, where it's expected. 

But I'll probably err again. 

Witty, eh? 

Sunday, October 9, 2016


In 20 minutes Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will square off in their second debate. I refuse to watch a minute of it. I take this stand despite my curiosity at how Hillary holds up to a blistering attack, my hope that she does so well, and despite the fact that my students will likely watch this debate and want to discuss it tomorrow.

In the last 48 hours or so I've seen and heard everything I need to see and hear to know that I will not cast a vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances. He's a lout. A bully. A beast. A fool. A knave. A bigot.

He has no regard for anyone else. None.

So, why would I every want to waste a minute watching this debate. He'll attack Hillary like a caged animal. He'll be rabid. Though she'll survive it, it will do damage to her presidency.

She will be the next president. There's nothing he can do to alter that course. All he can do is cause damage to her, the office she's about to earn, the party he is leaving in tatters. Watching the debate tonight only serves to enhance his ego and give more oxygen to a fire he will set.

The Republican Party was mine for a long time. I admired its principles and its people. The party that was the party of decent, assertive, and positive leaders such as Reagan, Ford, and Bush has now given us this wreck of a human being.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Maybe there was some thoughtfulness

In a debate considered nasty by many of its viewers, there was a moment of great thoughtfulness. Secretary Clinton said the following:

I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police. I think too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other, and therefore, I think we need all of us to be asking hard questions like, ‘Why am I feeling this way?'

That was a refreshing bit of clarity and honesty from a politician, and I hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears. Sadly, this is an election where many voters are having a hard time seeing nuance on very nebulous dilemmas. In a binary (I'm trying not to say black-and-white) political climate, it's more likely that Clinton will be excoriated for calling some group a racist or not siding with police than praised (or at least acknowledged) for raising a broader American dilemma.

We all hold prejudices and assumptions that are harmful.

We all have the ability to overcome those prejudices and assumptions to some extent.

Doing that is hard.

Doing that is a mark of character.

Acknowledging and feeling humility over those moments when we fail to do so shows character.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Potted Plant

Lester Holt, when asked about how he approached his role as a moderator in last night's debate, said that he didn't want to be merely a potted plant. He wasn't. In fact, many of Mr. Trump's supporters are wringing their hands today over his allegedly unfair treatment of the Republican nominee. Pardon me if I don't shed any tears.

What am I supposed to be in school, when working with high school Social Studies students. Certainly not a potted plant. One can be assertive and objective and professional at the same time. I do share with my students where I stand politically, and I take pride in how I can do so dispassionately and objectively. This requires me to temper what I say, but also to adhere to what I perceive to be true. Fortunately, my training as a historian, a discipline that calls on us to remember humility as we assert historical truth, helps me out a lot. But if I don't engage and share with my students, how else can one model civil political discourse.

However, here I don't need to hold back.

Donald Trump is a bully. It's as clear as that. Last night's debate simply confirmed and deepened that conclusion I've drawn about his character. He picks on those who cannot easily defend themselves. He casts insults and insinuations, then cowardly won't accept responsibility for what he said. It's meanness masked as bravado. If I were to vote for him, I'd be voting against all the values I was taught by my parents, my teachers, the parents of my friends, and my role models at church as I grew up.

There, that's what I couldn't say at school.

Okay, now back to being objective. But potted plant? No.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Water's Edge

So, there was this bombshell today.

Hard to believe. Here's the story as reported in the New York Times.

As I gasped at lunch today, my ten-year-old son inquired about what had me upset. Here's how I explained it to him.

Me: Trump wants the Russians to hack and reveal e-mails by Hillary. 

Sam: Why would the Russians want to do that? 

Me: So they could make money from the American newspapers. 

I'm stunned that I had to explain that kind of behavior coming from a presidential candidate.

Politics and partisanship stops at the water's edge. No political opponent is so frightening that reaching out to rivals to tamper with our nation's security and sovereignty can be justified. Mr. Trump acted shamefully today.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Marginal Analysis and Diminishing Returns

I'm getting closer to understanding the appeal of Mr. Trump (as well as the result of the UK's EU referendum and a host of other first-world political maladies) and here's my attempt at explaining the problem through which we're living. I'm not a political scientist. I'm a historian who is now teaching macroeconomics. These facts mean that my political analysis is shaded toward looking at a long-run perspective that emphasizes opportunity costs.

Propelling Trump's rise is a sense that things aren't good in America right now. Among the reasons why things allegedly aren't good are foreign trade trends, illegal immigration, and free-loading allies who are bleeding us of our wealth.

Looking at surface statistics allows partisans to find evidence to justify their point of view. Unemployment is lower than it's been since 2008, but the labor force participation rate is low, too. And unemployment is affecting some regions more than others. The stock market is doing well, but interest rates and inflation remain low. Our economy is growing (and doing so more robustly than most of the other rich nations), but it's growing below the historical trend. China's economy is slowing down, but not so much so to avert the reality that their GDP will eclipse ours before too long.

In other words, things aren't that bad right now. You could even argue that they're good. But they're not as good as they were 20, 30, or 60 years ago. And therein lies the political problem. Sixty years ago our economy was buoyed by a recently won world war, a war that depressed many of our exhausted economic rivals, gave us unparalleled opportunity to profit by rebuilding war-torn Europe, and an epochal demographic boom. Thirty years ago, those baby boomers were entering their prime earning years. Twenty years ago, our economy benefited from a perfect storm of the Iron Curtain's fall, liberalization of trade agreements, and the cresting of the baby boomers' earning years.

Our temptation now, as a democracy, is to not overreact to a present-day in which things are better than they seem, even though they're not as good as they were in our recent memory. In others words, we need patience and perspective. We're not getting that this week. Here's hoping we get it next week.


I've never been good at finding titles for my writing. Today I'm trying to be clever. Hastings Ismay was the first Secretary-General of NATO and he's often given credit for being the first to quip that NATO's purpose was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down."

Now for the dismay: An article from the New York Times summarizing Mr. Trump's attitudes regarding America's alliance commitments.

Here's my summary: He'll treat our alliance partners the way he would a piece of real estate.

The article I reference above isn't the lame-stream media or the New York Slimes maligning a candidate or misconstruing his words. It's an interview he provided to this major news source. This is what he means to do as commander-in-chief. And to me, it's utter, sheer madness. Collective security, found in agreements like NATO, have been the underpinning of global security now for more than half of a century. Trump's first resort (pun intended) is a sane policy-maker's last resort: treating a nuclear-brimmed U.S. as a platform from which we launch a retaliatory nuclear strike.

Though NATO was created during the Truman administration, the embrace of collective security was an enormous part of Dwight Eisenhower's foreign policy. It's also true that Ike leaned heavily on the nuclear deterrent to combat Soviet aggression, but in some ways he came to regret that by the end of his presidency. I know it's fashionable to bash the foreign policy legacy of President Obama and Secretary Clinton (and I'm certainly not a champion of how our President has conducted foreign policy in his eight years) but I can't help but see extraordinary value in adhering to the perspective of a man like Eisenhower who had much greater perspective and understanding on foreign policy than Mr. Trump.

The logic of trying to keep the Russians out, Americans in, and the Germans down still has some credence in the 21st century. In fact, keeping the Russians out of Europe remains a compelling national interest for us. (Perhaps I've been watching too much of Occupied on Netflix . . . No, wait, this is really important.)

Interestingly, Trump (if elected) will prove to be the third U.S. president to underestimate President Putin. After all, George W. Bush misread Putin's eyes. Obama delivered the famous putdown to Governor Romney back in 2012 that the 1980s was calling to get its foreign policy back. Mr. Trump, it would seem, looks at Putin as just some rival real estate mogul. Mrs. Clinton doesn't escape blame here: she's infamous for the "reset" with Russia that didn't reset much at all. But . . .

Now she has a chance to learn from her miscalculation, something I'm sure Bush and Obama both had. I'm getting closer to seeing the positives of a Hillary Clinton presidency rather than just the negatives of a Trump administration.

One final observation . . . Oh, wait, that'll take a little bit too long. I'll return to this later.