The Two-Trick Pony

HE HAS RUN OUT OF TRICKS?

Donald Trump has an exceedingly simple playbook as President. His two tricks are [1] control over tariffs and penalties and [2] hiring and firing Presidential appointees. As his recent misadventures in foreign policy illustrate, we should probably be grateful that he’s up to now been willing to limit his tricks to the first two.

When it comes to tariffs and trade, bluffing may work once or twice. Being the real estate tycoon, he claims to be, Trump obviously uses this trick because he can exert complete control and try to ‘scare’ other countries into playing the game his way. But, once his bluff is called—as it now has been by China—that game is finished.

Presidential appointments famously serve “at the pleasure of the President.” But, when Trump recently fired a 30-year professional woman Ambassador without any visible cause, the world spoke out. So that trick is over as well.

There are a few other so-called ploys like distraction, obfuscation and simple confusion. Those are the everyday running plays, that do not rise to the level tricks. But they do throw up a lot of dust.

So, what is left in Trump’s play book?

Throwing out the whole rule book entirely! I will grant that the Constitution is old, creaky and out of date. But Trump makes the case to ignore it by simply asserting that impeachment is illegal because it seeks to undo a legal election. No kidding! Indeed that is what it is supposed to be able to do!

He is said not to read much. Perhaps someone should risk their job by suggesting to him that he read the Constitution!

The almost daily disclosures of new examples of Trump’s abuse of power, and his own very public unraveling in the face of growing public support for impeachment and disgruntled Republicans in Congress, suggest that Trump is going to need a new trick: magically making himself disappear.

The alternative will be certain removal from office at the hands of either Congress or voters, with the additional likelihood of jail time in his post-Presidential career.

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Prepare For A Revolution!

NO KIDDING?

The revolution has been getting underway for some time. Contrary to the assertions of (liberal) 1960s era radicals, it is, in fact, being televised.

It is NOT just one civil war in one country, but several independent civil wars in several countries, not all the same or at the same pace and time, but for similar and comparable and overlapping reasons.

A quick global run through:

Immigration is roiling both Europe and the U.S., leading to the rise of anti-immigrant leaders in several European nations and, of course, America. Rhetoric has grown increasingly heated, and isolated acts of violence have already occurred.

Religion, with its subtext of individual rights versus the state, has sparked conflict across the globe, including sectarian violence among competing factions in the Middle East and the rise in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim violence in Europe and the USA.

Economic Disparities. All over the globe, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and disparities in wealth between the richest and poorest members of society are growing – nowhere more so than the oil-fueled Middle East, but generally true in every nation that enjoys a measure of economic prosperity.

Corporate Exploitation.  The plundering of natural resources in Africa, South America and Asia, along with economic structures that are increasingly rigged in favor of monied corporate interests.

Democracy and liberty. Freedom fighters are experiencing a resurgence, with massive and sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong leading the way. Anti-government extremists in the U.S. have shown increasingly willingness to resort to violence, such as the 2016 assault and takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, led by Ammon Bundy.

That list is a ridiculously compacted and compressed view of conflicts driving the world today. But, even making allowances for overstatement, understatement and omission it should make clearer that much of the world is going through much the same struggles at the same time.

How can that possibly be?

It has been a century since WWI and almost 75 years since WWII, when the world was racked by wars between competing States.

That is 100 years of relative peace in the world. That seems impossible, but the many ‘wars’ we have known during that period have been largely localized and limited in scope (if not duration).

In the meanwhile, amid an aura of stability, the world’s societies have been growing restive within and many are on the verge of internal violence to let off the steam of war that must go somewhere.

Those societies are breaking apart as their internal seams are breaking down. And, the rising tensions internally in various parts of the world are spreading and borrowing strength from one another.

If we are not careful, global conflagration could follow.  

You Can Not Attack Me

I HAVE IMMUNITY BECAUSE I AM PRESIDENT

A few years ago, a young man shot and killed his parents in front of witnesses.

He was tried for murder, and as he plead for his life he made the point that as an orphan he was entitled to special protection under the law because he had no parents to look after him.  He was, unsurprisingly, convicted.

Trump is now trying to convince the country that Presidents are like self-actuated orphans — beyond the law, particularly while they hold office.

He does not even acknowledge or try to explain the crystal-clear wording in the Constitution that explicitly gives the House of Representatives full authority to IMPEACH (charge) a President for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’

Trump is claiming that, as President, he is immune to all charges, of any sort, which could relieve him of the Presidency, and that he need not comply with lawfully issued requests or even subpoenas if he, “in his great and unmatched wisdom,” unilaterally deems the inquiry “unfair.”

It’s a great leap of imagination, to be sure. But if offers a clear and compelling way to explain Trump’s non-sensical defense to the public: there is no higher office in the land, so Trump claims he cannot be held accountable because there was no one watching over him.

When you’ve self-actuated your own impeachment, the “orphan defense” probably seems a not-terrible plan. It may also be the simplest way to underscore to the public Trump’s disdain for truth, law, and democracy.

A Prediction!

My neck is on the line…?

Trump will resign – possibly before Thanksgiving, but surely before the 2020 election.

People forget that the ‘whirligig’ of Trumpisms is based on a known human model: the bully who is insecure, in need of constant attention and support and fearful of public failure and seeming weak and fears jail.

Trump is now clearly aware that he is under direct and serious attack. He also must be aware that when he leaves office, he is likely to face indictments on many counts, at the state and federal levels, and could likely face time in jail.

Reports also suggest that Trump is aware that, even if the Senate acquitted him, impeachment by the House would forever stain his legacy (as a “public failure”). Historians aren’t likely to be as generous in their assessments of his competence, veracity and fitness for office as his Republican contemporaries, and every grade school student would be taught not that Trump made America great again ( but that he didn’t), and that he was just the third president in our 200+ year history to be impeached.

Perhaps most troubling for Trump: are signs that his base is starting to crack. His most vociferous Congressional defenders are flailing, and most of the rest are looking to enter ‘the witness protection program’, so loathe are they to be confronted in public about Trump’s crimes. A recent Washington Post poll found that 20 percent of Republican voters believe he should be removed from office, and fully a third of Republicans support the impeachment inquiry as a step in that direction.

Trump is not smart, but in this situation, his survival instincts align well with a strategic reading of the situation. Therefore, I believe he is getting very close to making a deal with Pelosi to resign and be given immunity from all future prosecution.

He will also bloviate about how he is sacrificing all this for the sake of the country he loves so well. His sacrifice was from the beginning. Being President for three years will have cost him a fortune!?

How do I know this? Obviously, I really do not KNOW anything.

But, on Meet the Press this past Sunday a dignified lady in her 50s, who as a senior engineering executive with Trump’s company, and knows him WELL from those years of working closely with him, answered the question about how this mess will end by suggesting resignation with a protective deal.

She was completely credible and what she said strongly makes plain old-fashioned good sense all around.

Let’s HOPE!

He does not deserve a pass to freedom.

But, is there anyone who wouldn’t trade a measure of revenge for the opportunity to make this long national nightmare end, NOW?

 Everyone benefits getting it OVER WITH!

That’s true for Trump, the public, and the future of democracy.

What Is Behind The Faces In Those Heads?

DO THOSE PEOPLE SEE WHAT I SEE?

As we struggle to decode how and why so many of our fellow countrymen apparently see and think about our social and political world so differently, we rarely start from the perspective of how individuals see and think about their worlds.

Let’s give it a try. Please remember this requires oversimplification.

When you are sitting in a subway or on a bus with nothing to read—crushed as you are—what do you do to pass the time without simply trying to go to sleep?

If you are anything like me, you probably speculate about what those people’s lives are like and what are they thinking about and what do they care about—other than themselves.

Some people think I am wasting time. They may be right. But, the alternative of nothing is more likely to be the waste.  There may be something useful there worth wondering about. That is what this piece is about.

What is in all those faces and heads: behind that face, of course, most importantly is a brain. When we think of all those very different faces, somehow, most of us visualize a single picture of a brain (which most of us once saw) in a book, and now most of us assume that ALL brains look just like that one picture – mainly because they are not visible.

WELL THAT IS JUST PLAIN WRONG!

In fact, each brain looks individually as much different as their endlessly different faces. Yes –and with very few exceptions –all brains have their own parts like eyes, nose, mouth and ears. And, you do not have to be a brain surgeon to see and recognize the infinite variety of those arrangements in every given brain.

That should account for, or be a tip off, that those hidden brains see, hear, fear and like/dislike differently from what each of us see, hear, fear and like/dislike.

Those differences are part of what causes different people to get on and off at different stops etc.; to see you (the observer) as a figure of ridicule or admiration or be angry and jealous about you and other passengers for myriad reasons. Some of those other brains are constantly scanning for faces (brains) that may be sympathetic to them.

And, then you get to your stop and your brain switches to getting you safely off your bus or train and to where ever you were headed– as do all those other faces and brains moments before they focus their imagination back to coping with their everyday life.

This grossly oversimplified peak at how the faces and brains we encounter daily actually work may give some of us a few hints about how we all might better relate to and deal with the myriad faces and brains we continuously encounter in everyday life. 

If we look at all of the people in our everyday lives — including our bosses, fellow employees, customers, friends, romantic connections and strangers – and we factor out authority, competition, reliance, hope and unknown, what’s left is simply an amalgam of individual behaviors, as much affected by us as them. It takes two to tango. We may be the trigger point of what we like least in others.

Our engagement with the world at large is built on that continuous series of endless interactions with those faces and brains collectively and individually.

Why and how we/they trust us or not, fear us or not or like us is an amazingly subtle and difficult thing to understand—much less explain.

There are examples of fraternal twins who have completely different relations with the worlds around them. And, even identical siblings often have very different connections with the same strangers. Imagine greeting your college friend (not knowing he had an identical twin) and getting an unknowing stare even though you slept with him the night before. True story!

Sometimes it is as simple as a smile or even a grin.

As we sort through Democrat candidates for the 2020 election, we are already seeing collisions between policy, practices and personality [PPP] in prospective Presidents.

Should we have Medicare for all? Does that mean we have to give up our private insurance? That pits a lot of us against many of the people we live among.

Should we open our borders? Are immigrants, legal or otherwise, intruders or are they the lifeblood of a growing America?

Should we be open to work across the aisle or does that taint us with flirting with the enemy? That could limit what can get done.

What all this boils down to is that how we see and feel about each other, on an individual to individual basis, has more to do with the PPP of the world we live in than any abstract political thoughts or process!

The world we live in is populated by folks just like us BUT they do not know that, which accounts for why we are increasingly distrustful of almost everyone.

We must get over that problem at the individual level—and help others do the same– before we can begin to hope to manage life at the collective level.

“People” is what the world is all about. People are what make the world go around and fight.

And, people may be our undoing—IF we do not make a bigger effort to better understand and manage them.

Who Is Next?

I read recently that about half my 1,000 college classmates are still living, and that a few of us may live well past 100 years. My day lifted!

Today, I saw a notice that about 25 members of a club I belong to in NYC (with about 2,000 members) had died in the past three months. Then I looked again and saw that I personally knew quite well six of those people. I felt like I had taken on a few pounds of lead.

For some time, in an effort to be funny (judgements on my success are mixed), I have been telling people I am planning my 100th birthday — wanna come, I ask?

Every time I curate my rolodex –about once a year–I must write DELETE in about 40 names.

I am now in London visiting for the first time in 10 months, where four of our ‘chums’ – cozy best friends — have died ‘good’ deaths over the age of 90. Happily, we have others, but it takes time to qualify for cozy, and time appears to be both short in supply and randomly distributed.

Obviously, mortality is on my mind.

I guess the accumulation of evidence and historical statistics render these thoughts normal –even expected. I do not know, because this seems NOT to be a topic for everyday conversation.

I would not say that I am depressed. Rather, I think I am more determined than ever to stretch – one never beats! – the odds to see what lies ahead. I would really like to see Trump — and his Republican enablers — beaten to pulp at the ballot box next year, and I am intently curious about who will become the next President, and how.

I don’t yet (and may never) know the ending of those and many other stories waiting to be written. What I do know is that the geniuses actively planning to extend human life forever are doomed to fail if, in the end, they aren’t able to keep enough people alive at the same time to enable us to still have ‘old’ friends!

Election Day – of the week?

Our election day, for unremarkable reasons, has been set by law, since 1845, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

And, our country has one of the free world’s lowest voter participation rates.

It’s impossible to think those two facts are completely unrelated!

For years people have suggested that we should move our election day to a weekend (with one or two days of in-person voting), or make Election Day a national holiday, to make it easier for many working people to get to the polls without missing work and pay.

Without testing real turnout differences in a number of different places over a period of time, effects of such changes would only be a matter of speculation. But either approach is unlikely to decrease turnout, so why not try? That’s where politics comes in and exposes one of the most odious aspects of modern governance.

There is a basic assumption that making it easier for working people to vote will likely increase the number of working-class voters. Historically, that would tend to increase liberal and Democrat votes.

The result is not only a refusal to make Election Day more accessible to more people, but an active and determined effort to use the levers of government to reduce voter participation (e.g., voter ID laws, reduction of polling places in minority communities, etc.)

The consequence is the undermining of the very basis of democracy, a fair and open election.

How can reasonable rational, purportedly democracy-loving people object to testing the effect of different voting days on voter turnout?

Obviously, the day of an election is not the only important variable in voter participation. It would be easy to test possible changes independently of each other, over several cycles. A voting “window”, as our republic originally had, might allow different states to test different approaches, although it’s uncertain how to prevent a state voting earlier from influencing later-voting states (not a problem back when it took weeks to tabulate and communicate the results).

But plenty of options exist that don’t risk undue influence. A nation that truly embraces its democratic principles should try anything and everything to increase participation in its most basic rite. That we instead use the democratic process and authority of government to manipulate the voting population for political purposes remains a stain on our history.