After Speech – What?

One of the most important distinguishing features of the human species is speech, our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings in the form of spoken and written language.

Of course, many animal species communicate, but human beings use language in a much more sophisticated way. We use it not just to inform, but to deceive; not only to express, but to manipulate. For us, language is woven into the social, political, and economic fabric of our lives in a way that is—as far as we know—unique.

The ability to make sounds—grunts, purrs, yelps, roars—likely goes back millennia, but somewhere along the line, humans evolved to handle more precise and varied sounds, to which we attached meanings. As our dictionary of sounds grew, so did our language, until our brains grew to the point that we no longer had to depend merely on words but on syntax. We could express relations between things and concepts, even if those were abstract. Our language evolved from there (and has gone through many cosmetic changes) but has retained its central significance to human life.

Today, we not only speak, but write and type, not just to our neighbors, but to people all over the world. With a few keystrokes, we can communicate with an audience of millions.

Throughout our history, access to an audience has climbed ever higher; our communications have been capable of reaching more and more people, farther and farther away. However, increased access cuts both ways. As speakers gain access to new audiences, audiences are exposed to more and more speakers, and there inevitably comes a point when the human brain, primarily equipped to deal with a small social network, must tune out some of the voices.

(The phenomenon—sarcastically known as ‘selective hearing’—is well known in long marriages or relationships, in which hearing seems to decline but the ears work just fine. Audiologists, who can measure our ability to hear with great precision, recognize that a lot of their patients have not come in with a hearing problem, but a listening problem!)

The problem with tuning out voices, however, is that we tend to ignore speakers who disagree with us and listen only to the people who echo our own beliefs right back. The result is a seeming, but fictional, consensus, which makes us even more confident in our beliefs: after all, everyone agrees with us! The result is—in part—today’s partisan political climate, in which moderation, compromise, and fact-checking are disdained.

In the past, newspapers and their editors served the purpose of selecting what speech could influence our national discourse. While the editing process was certainly colored by the opinions of individual editors, the load of incoming information was manageable for the average person. Today, that editorial role has been taken on by the consumer, whether directly (by choosing who to follow on Twitter) or indirectly (as when Facebook’s algorithm filters out posts that you are not inclined to read). While we are naturally suspicious of anyone who chooses what information we will have access to, some selectivity is necessary to keep the flow of information balanced, factual, and manageable.

It seems to me that no matter how much further our technology progresses, we have already reached peak communication—that is, our ability to speak has outstripped our ability to listen.

Therefore, the question is simple: where do we go from here? How do we encourage debate and compromise in a society with such dysfunctional communication? How do we crack open the echo chambers of the Internet and let dissenting voices flow in?

If you have any ideas, please let me know. I’ll do my best to listen.

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How to trump Trump?

That is the big question for the rest of the year.

There is no doubt that Trump has lit a raging wild fire in a large section of the Republican electorate, fueling the burn with fear of change, hatred of the unknown, and a desire for an authoritarian figure to solve the nation’s problems with a flick of his wrist, a magician who says the magic word and poof, we are all great again!

There is also no doubt that every prediction that Trump would self-immolate has been wrong: all his unbelievable verbal gaffes simply fly off in the winds of the inferno. Every prediction that “this cannot happen here” has led to a dangerous complacency and made it easier for it to actually happen here. The time to wake up and roll up our sleeves to take care of Trump is NOW. The longer it takes, the more difficult it may be to truly TRUMP Trump.

Republican leaders hope that Trump will fail to get enough delegates to claim the Republican nomination outright, which would lead to a contested convention in which almost any another nominee could be named. On Wednesday, however, Trump said that if he was denied the nomination at a contested convention (despite the fact that he never reached the magic number), then THERE WOULD BE SERIOUS RIOTS!

Is that a threat or a promise? Whatever it is, it is a far cry from preaching—falsely—that he has run a peaceful campaign.

Something to also note—which very few young people know—is that there is no mention whatsoever in the Constitution of political parties, conventions, or nominating contests. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did NOT believe such parties were a good idea.

In fact, almost everything having to do with the parties and their political processes has evolved over time and is primarily a set of understandings and practices that have taken on their meaning through mutual acceptance rather than the rule of law.

What this means is that (as the saying goes) “what God giveth, God can taketh away”. Or rather, what the Party creates, the Party may change. Because nominating conventions were created by political parties, those parties are free—at least in theory—to do away with conventions etc. as they see fit.

Any corruption, disruption, or eruption of the nominating process cannot become an issue of Constitutional law because there is nothing relevant in the Constitution. Therefore, the Republican establishment could presumably preempt a Trump takeover by cancelling the convention and declaring a candidate of their choice by whatever means they chose.

With his references to rioting, Trump has given the party the perfect excuse to duck the problem altogether. If the convention is contested, the RNC cannot/should not guarantee that Trump will be granted the nomination, which means that riots would be a very real possibility. Therefore, it might be better to be safe than sorry. No convention.

Of course, Trump will want to run to the courts, but the lower federal courts will likely NOT want to get involved and if it should go to the Supreme Court, where Trump’s best possible outcome would be a 4-4 split. If that happened, the case would go to the next highest court, currently presided over by none other than Merrick Garland. Guess how that comes out?

Mitt Romney has already come out publicly against Trump, and there is talk that the Bushes may be planning the same approach. There is even chatter that they are comfortable voting for Hillary, if Trump is the Republican nominee. Hopefully these stirrings are the sound of the Republican establishment getting into a stance for some political jujitsu.

The Republican Party seems to be faced with two unsavory choices.

OPTION #1: THE PARTY LETS TRUMP HAPPEN

The fact is that the GOP is facing a crisis unlike anything in modern history. If Trump wins the nomination (or worse: the presidency), the Republican Party as it has been known will cease to be. Trump would become the autocrat in a small-government party and remain an outsider. He resents the current Republican leadership and would do whatever he could to replace them in the Party with his own people.

OPTION #2: THE PARTY BLOCKS TRUMP’S NOMINATION

If the Republican elite take control of the whole process and select someone other than Trump, it is more than likely that Trump’s large base of passionate supporters would rebel, either by supporting his third party candidacy or by boycotting the general election. Such a move would essentially guarantee the White House to the Democrats. In that case, the Republican elite lose a battle BUT survive to continue the war.

For the people in power, this must be the more appealing of the two options.

It must be very tempting to the Republican establishment to punt on Trump and live, though they would surely lose the general the election. Republican insiders would by and large keep their jobs and something resembling the GOP of the last fifty years would survive, though it would be much diminished in size and strength.

If the GOP becomes the party of Trump, it would spell the end of the Republican Party as we all know them.

It stands to reason that with such high stakes, Republican leaders MUST be considering amputating a limb in order to save the patient. If they don’t take a chance now, they won’t be around to take many more.

The fact is that Trump is truly a very sick person. There is no need for expert opinions on this point. It is truly beyond any serious debate. True, many presidents have had some wisps of narcissism. After all, some degree of above normal self-absorption is required to want to be in the national spotlight at all times.

Trump, however, is truly very different. He is an extreme narcissist, which is a very dangerous thing for a President to be, especially because he would have his finger on the button. Case in point: Trump recently asserted that the military would carry out ALL his orders despite the fact that he has advocated committing war crimes on national television more than once! That is a risk America CAN NOT RUN!

The way to TRUMP Trump is to reconnoiter every conceivable path he could try to take to becoming the Republican candidate, which may mean that the Republican Party may have to prove its genuine patriotism and fall on its sword, to lose this election and undertake a long-term effort to strengthen their party in order to save the United States.

Merrick Garland

A perfect, brilliant pick by Obama. The only flaw he possesses is his age!

Garland is currently the Chief Judge of the DC Circuit and is praised by as many Republicans as Democrats.

On a practical note, Garland is a non-disruptive choice. His current position is NOT affected by his appointment, therefore there should be next to no disruption in his life or work pending the Senate taking up consideration of his nomination. If the Senate does not act on the nomination AND a Republican wins the election, Garland will remain comfortably in place on the DC Circuit.

If Hillary wins, she would most likely honor Obama’s nomination and Garland would be confirmed next year. BUT, if Hillary wins, I think it very likely that the Republicans will take up the nomination and confirm Garland before she enters office. Garland is on the older side AND Hillary might just go for a younger and more liberal person.

It is worth noting that Garland may also be the best choice for the Republicans particularly after their Presidential candidate loses!

It seems likely that their grandstanding about not holding hearings may have been a ploy to push Obama as far towards the center as possible, rather than giving him the freedom to push through the most left-leaning candidate he could slip past them.

If so, we’re likely in for a bit more political theater before Garland is confirmed, but confirmed he will surely be if Hillary is elected in November.

Accordingly, it looks like he is the very best choice at this time! For everyone!

One by One

A lot of folks who see my blogs, and agree with my thoughts about Trump (most of my readers), have asked what I think THEY could do to help avoid a Trump victory.

The answer is pretty simple.

If everyone could find and identify at least one Trump supporter—preferably in a red state—and convert that voter, that could add up and mean a lot in a close election. Furthermore, if there were a reliable web site that kept track of the conversions, more people could see benefit and be encouraged to participate. Finding the ‘convertees’ may not be so easy face-to-face because there may not be many right around where you live. Try the Internet, where for sure they are tweeting and Facebooking. Be gentle AND persistent. Anger will NOT work. And, if a useful web site could be created, it is possible it could help match red and blue folks for conversation.

Obviously not all conversions would stick, BUT one-on-one politics may be this year’s antidote to the confusion and baloney coming from the campaign trail.

And, if everyone who rolled up their sleeves recruited 2 or 3 other recruiters, the movement just might go viral.

What to say? Whatever makes sense to you particularly in the context of the person you are trying to convert. A good technique would be to start out asking why their target thinks Trump would be a good President and responding as best you can to your target’s reasoning.

There are a lot of outrageous Trumpisms. Use them one a time as you are comfortable or just use them all. You surely can find and use news clips and tv for each of these egregious items.

(1) Donald Trump stated that McCain was not a war hero and implied that people who got captured are jerks—McCain was shot down!

(2) Trump insultingly mocked an innocent New York Times reporter who suffers from a tragic physical joint condition that limits the mobility of his arms.

(3) Trump clearly suggested that Megyn Kelly was menstruating during the first Fox Republican Debate, implying that her menstruation was behind the reason why she was asking him difficult questions.

(4) Trump has advocated banning Muslims from entering the country and creating a database to keep a special eye on all Muslims already here.

(5) Trump has proposed building a wall between Mexico and the US, has said he would undertake mass deportations, and famously claimed that Mexico is intentionally sending criminals across the border.

(6) During a phone interview with Fox and Friends, Trump said he would go after the families of terrorists. When told that members of the military would not follow such an order, as doing so would be a war crime, Trump simply insisted that as Commander in Chief they would have to follow his direct orders or they would be sacked.

(7) Trump University is embroiled in two separate lawsuits, both of which allege that the organization was fraudulent and that students were pressured to give good reviews.

(8) Trump, ever the showman, appears to disdain the dignity that comes with the presidency. He obviously loves the pomp and circumstance associated with the Presidency, but as chief executive and commander-in-chief of a great nation and as the US’s Head of State, he would hold a position that requires great dignity and serious behavior. Failing to maintain that tradition would diminish the US as a great nation in the eyes of the world. Is that Great Again?

There is, of course, a small risk that some converters—you– might themselves become converted by some of the fervor of Trump folks. Given how unlikely that it is, it a risk worth taking.

Last piece of advice: do not get excited by resistance. It will not help to get angry or personal. Simply try to soften them up and hopefully give them thoughts to wonder about.

Give it a try and send all ideas and experience to be shared with others.

Bear Baiting

As summer residents of Maine, my family and I have witnessed the rise and reign of Paul LePage, who now appears to be something like a junior version of Trump. Over the past several years, we learned a great deal about what the country at large could soon look like by watching the bizarre, ugly saga of Governor LePage.

LePage is an impractical jokester right out of Trump’s playbook. During his first campaign for governor, LePage proudly declared that headlines across the nation would read “LePage Tells Obama to go to Hell.” Once in office, he refused to attend Martin Luther King Day activities and responded to entreaties from the NAACP with insults, one of which included the phrase “kiss my butt”. Obscenities continued when, in 2013, he made an astounding, beyond-lewd remark about a Democratic state senator.

A classic narcissist, LePage—like Trump—feeds off attention, and will apparently say anything to get it.

While he is certainly a believer in saying whatever he wants, LePage does not believe that others should have that privilege. In 2011, he removed a statehouse mural depicting important moments in the labor movement and (like Trump) has repeatedly joked in public about killing journalists and political cartoonists. In the latter case, the joke was made in the presence of the cartoonist’s teenage son.

Not only is the man disrespectful, he is corrupt and uninterested in actually governing. He appointed incompetent cronies to important state positions and unqualified family members to high-paying posts.

He promised to veto all bills sponsored by Democrats in retaliation for the bipartisan rejection of his proposed amendment to the state constitution, which would have eliminated Maine’s income tax.

Later, perhaps too lazy to even look at the sponsors of a bill, he promised to veto EVERY bill passed by the Maine legislature. While he has vetoed a record 182 bills, he can’t manage to even do that right: Maine’s Supreme Court ruled last August that his veto had come TOO SLOW on a whopping 65 bills, which became law despite his attempted veto.

The man somehow manages to be too incompetent to even obstruct the process of governing.

And yet, LePage managed to secure two terms in a famously moderate state (which Obama won by almost fifteen points in both elections) and has publically stated his interest in running for the Senate in 2018. The incongruity of that reality is almost dumbfounding.

One crucial reason for LePage’s continued success is that he takes advantage of a divided electorate. Like Trump, LePage has never won a majority of anything—he took advantage of a fractured electorate to win both his gubernatorial campaigns. This may be the biggest lesson to learn about how to deal with Trump.

Another reason for LePage’s success is exploitation of a favorable political moment. During the 2014 Maine gubernatorial election, a ballot measure proposed ending the practice of bear baiting: using rotten food or pastries to draw bears to a particular place, making them easier to “hunt”. The ballot measure, which LePage publically opposed, drew increased voter participation from LePage’s core groups, who seem to be insensitive to right and wrong. In fact, he won the election by the same margin by which the ballot measure was defeated. That raises interesting/puzzling questions—do you suppose some voters mistook him for a bear?

Finally, LePage—like Trump—plays to his voters’ basest desires and fears, spreading blatant lies without apology, as when LePage claimed that BPA, a substance used in making plastic that was under FDA investigation at the time, would at worst cause women to grow small beards or when he called the IRS “the new Gestapo” and said that they would eventually kill a lot of people. Like Trump’s supporters, LePage’s supporters do not care whether or not anything he says is actually true. They merely want someone to echo their worldview.

While LePage is an example from a very small state, he may harbinger of Trump, foreshadowing the controversy, censorship, and corruption of a possible Trump presidency.

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This piece was suggested and contributed to by my physician son-in-law, Samuel P Harrington, who is a resident of Maine.

How to Dump Tsar Trump

Dumping Trump is a tricky proposition.

For too long many Republicans clung to their belief that, given enough rope, Trump would hang himself.

However, that has not come to pass. Instead, Trump is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.

Sometimes, that fact seems to baffle Trump himself. In January, he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, ok? It’s, like, incredible”.

And while it might be the case that some Trump voters might actually want to shoot a few New Yorkers themselves, it is difficult to believe he has gotten away with some of the things he has said. Whatever you think of any other candidate, Trump is almost certainly the only one who has openly advocated committing a war crime.

To stop Trump’s nomination is a problem for the Republicans to solve, but it looks like they may fail. And, as satisfying as it may be to Democrats to watch the Republican Party self-destruct, anyone who cares about the future of our already-great nation must not repeat the Republican mistake of underestimating Trump.

Hillary Clinton has already set her sights on November, but to defeat Trump in the general election will require several difficult maneuvers:

  1. The dozens of video clips of his crazed moments must be displayed with nearly endless repetition during the election. Trump has thrived on sound bites, but a saturating media campaign can hopefully reveal the consistent pattern of emptiness behind the man’s words.
  1. The Democrats have to get under Trump’s skin. He is an extreme narcissist, unwilling to admit a minor mistake or even ignore an attack. If attacks on Trump’s image are presented properly, they will force Trump to dig himself deeper into the problem. He is clever, but his ego will give him no choice but to respond to criticisms, endlessly repeating his most dreadful failures, instead of just letting them disappear, forgotten to the electorate.
  1. His tax returns may be crucial. His excuses for not disclosing them are pure baloney. The media must relentlessly press Trump to release his full tax returns. When they succeed, a battery of bipartisan experts must be ready to study them and explain them to the people of the United States. The returns may not be as bad as some wish, but surely Trump has made hubristic mistakes in the past. For example, how has he treated the costs of running for President? As a business expense?
  1. Push Trump to name or describe the people whom he might pick for his Cabinet and other executive branch posts. Trump has a tendency to “solve” every problem by claiming he’ll bring the best and brightest minds (like his) to fix every problem the nation will face during his administration. Trump clearly knows little about policy, so who are these great minds he intends to depend on? If Gov. Christie is a lead horse in the parade, Trump can be painted as no less prone to cronyism than any other politician.
  1. Trump must be continuously poked at in search of gaffes. He is a know-nothing monster galloping around the game park. Yes, he is smart and quick on his feet, but he does not have a large staff next to him at all times. He wings it most of the time and will therefore be prone to mistakes. Hopefully, these errors can add up, but each individual slip must be pounced on immediately.
  1. Organize confusion, disruption, and opposition at his rallies. We have already seen the pauses he takes while he waits for his goons to muffle any dissent at his events. He is a bully and clear advocate for censorship (he is on the record appearing to joke about killing journalists), which is antithetical to the small-government leanings of many Republicans.

It is probably too late to save the Republican Party from devouring itself. But now that Clinton is clearly going to be the Democratic nominee, the time has come to challenge Trumpism on all fronts, with every weapon available.

Perhaps the scene at his Super Tuesday Press Conference at his Florida ‘cottage’—which looked practically Tsarist—might become an icon of what Trump has in store for us all.