Footsteps in the Sands of Time

We move through our lives, in the main, not thinking about the footsteps we are leaving behind.

Yet, those footsteps are the essential basis of accountability for each of us.

And, if the sands of time obliterate those footsteps too rapidly, society’s ability to hold us accountable for things we have done – good or bad — is also obliterated.

Today, the sands have taken on new dimensions in time, tide and recapture.

On the one hand, the internet and its instantaneous avalanche of interpersonal and impersonal communications has created mountainous new amounts of information about billions of humans who previously had not left any noticeable traces anywhere.  

And, on the other hand, that very volume of information has buried critical information about people, whose lives matter a lot to society at large, under a mountain of meaningless prattle, so that it has become increasingly difficult to have adequate accountability to protect society at large from clever, good or bad, actors.

At the core of that problem is the difference between human (actual person-to-person) and digital interaction.

As digital interaction increases, human interaction suffers.  

The word ‘credibility’ has always leaned heavily on expressions—eyes, smiles, frowns, and other body language. Digital interaction lacks such subtlety, providing very little basis for other humans to judge the credibility of the humans behind the screens.

Perhaps part of Trump’s questionable genius lies in his intuitive grasp of how to escape the consequences of his thousands of outright lies that have captured and held his loyalists. 

Changes in the processes of human communication and interaction are, of course, not new. The digital process is surely as revolutionary, or more so, than the scope of the revolution set off by the origins of printing, or the invention of the telegraph.

Way back in time, for example, in Egypt, if you wanted to find a stranger you followed what you thought were the footprints of his camel which was a stranger to the footprints of your flock of camels.

If we hope to overcome the anonymity of the digital world, we will have to master all these footprints in the sands of time!

“Why I Support Trump”

Even though I deplore him.

In a recent piece, I wondered about the people behind Trump’s 40% approval rating, questioning how they could continue to back someone so obviously unfit for the office he holds. This is perhaps the toughest question to discuss with strangers today, both because many Trump backers are surprisingly reluctant to admit it and because their position is so alien to mine that empathy and common ground are elusive. Nonetheless, I have persisted in my efforts to better understand what makes people stick with Trump. The conversations and answers I’ve pursued do reveal some of the imbalance to be understandable. [and offers hope…?]

There seem to be three kinds of Trump people. The first are largely beyond reach – the misfits motivated by nationalism, racism, misogyny, and other societal ills. I make no assertion as to the size of this group, but their existence is beyond dispute.

Next up are people all around the country — largely beyond middle age — who resent the fact that they had not gotten what they hoped/expected was their fair share of what life dealt to other people they see and know. This “resentful class” is generally undereducated (by contemporary if not historical standards) and view many of our institutions as catering to elites. They see in the disdain those elites hold for Trump parallels to their own experience, and they relate comfortably to him because they feel he understands and shares their frustrations.

The other group are what we might call the “left-behinds” – people in rural, agricultural areas or declining industrial regions who feel ‘stuck’ and powerless to protect themselves against global economic forces.  Trump promised them help, and keeps claiming they’re “winning”, and this group keeps having faith that these victories will trickle down. Few seem to grasp that they are, in fact, hostages to Trump’s incompetence and ignorance; most of his policies cannot really help them in the long term and actively harm them in the short!  They are surprisingly, confoundingly, patient with the President. They believe the voices on Fox News and they keep on believing that Trump’s help is just around the corner.

Much like the President himself, these groups have never really taken much interest in foreign policy matters. And they evince a tendency to take a simplistic view of most things in their lives. They either win or lose. And economic trends are measured by what people can buy with their next paycheck.

Because the Obama recovery from 2008 was so fundamental, balanced and grounded on sound economic theory that it carried the country well beyond the 2016 election (despite Trump’s tax cuts for the rich) and has so far withstood his assaults on our main trading partners in Europe, Asia and North America.

When explicitly asked if they want to see Trump reelected, many supporters I’ve spoken to are quick to say that they are often disgusted by his personal behavior. But they still believe he favors their interests over the Democratic socialists, and they feel he still is on the right track.

When asked about his style as President compared to Obama, their reaction is cautious. Some contrast Obama’s careful, methodical style unfavorably to Trump’s decisive persona. There is no doubt in my mind that part of that is the result of bias; to consider Obama inexperienced and lacking confidence, while applying the opposite attributes to Trump, requires both fanciful leaps of logic and a willingness to ignore the fact that Trump’s bold strokes are frequently ill-informed, ill-advised, and, ultimately, unsuccessful.

Whether we like it or not, those of us who believe Trump a danger to the nation must acknowledge his ability to convince his base that he is brilliant and successful, notwithstanding mountains of evidence to the contrary on both counts.

What can we take away from this analysis?

First, ‘we’ only need to lop off about 10 percent of Trump’s base to easily elect the Democrat nominee. Therefore, we should not get tangled up in dealing with this whole base.

Second, policies will matter less than both character and competence in the election of the next President. Policies are important, but they are far less important to Trump’s base than to the Democrat base. Trump supporters are not weighing 10-point policy papers against one another; they are looking for someone to stand up for them against forces beyond their control. A populist Democrat can make inroads here, but the “socialist” label is hugely problematic in Trump’s portion of America.

The last thing is we should not look down our noses at great bumper sticker slogans, whether “Make America Great Again,” or “No Collusion, No Obstruction.” Trump came to office by accident. He was able to navigate a big field of Republican contenders and had the good fortune to run against Hillary Clinton –whom history may prove to have been the most inept Democratic candidate ever.

To succeed in 2020, Democrats must be able to counter ‘no collusion; no obstruction; no impeachment’ with appeals to grassroots sensibilities – attacks on crony capitalism, coddling dictators, and tax cheats, along with economic proposals that don’t neglect even those industries we believe to be dying.

The next election is really all about a particular group of about 5,000,000 people. The geniuses who plan and run campaigns should begin to identify those people and start to dig into what really matters to them. The 50 percent of the country that abhors Trump will be there, regardless of who the Democratic nominee ends up being. But the peculiarities of the Electoral College mean the election might turn on the 10 percent who don’t already fall into either camp.

We must stay VERY focused.   

A Letter to Trump

Below is a letter from the President of Mexico to Trump. I felt that it is so unusually deft and effective and, since it was missed by most people, that you might want to see it. Perhaps we should get Obrador into our Presidential 2020 competition!

Mexico City,
May 30, 2019

President Donald Trump, 

I am aware of your latest position in regard to Mexico. In advance, I express to you that I don’t want confrontation. The peoples and nations that we represent deserve that we resort to dialogue and act with prudence and responsibility, in the face of any conflict in our relations, serious as it may be. 

The greatest President of Mexico, Benito Juárez, maintained excellent relations with the Republican hero, Abraham Lincoln. Later, when Mexico nationalized its oil resources and industry, Democratic President Franklin D, Roosevelt understood the profound reasons that led our patriotic President Lázaro Cárdenas to act in favor of our sovereignty. By the way, President Roosevelt was a titan of freedom who proclaimed the four fundamental rights of man: the right to freedom of speech; the right to freedom of religion; the right to live free from fear; and the right to live free from misery. 

With this in mind, we frame our policy on immigration. Human beings do not leave their villages for pleasure but out of necessity. That’s why, from the beginning of my government, I proposed opting for cooperation in development and aid for the Central American countries with productive investments to create jobs and resolve this painful situation. 

You also know that we are fulfilling our responsibility to prevent, as much as possible and without violating human rights, any passage of the persons concerned through our country. It is worth remembering that – in a short time, Mexicans will not need to go to the United States and that migration will be optional, not forced. This is because we are fighting, like never before, the main problem in Mexico, corruption. And, in this way, our country will attain a powerful social dimension. Our countrymen will be able to work and be happy where they were born, where their families, their customs and their cultures are. 

President Trump, social problems are not resolved by tariffs or coercive measures like turning a 
neighboring country overnight into a ghetto, an enclosed place for the migrants of the world, where they’re stigmatized, abused, persecuted, and excluded and the right to justice is denied to those who seek to work and to live free from want. The Statue of Liberty is not an empty symbol. 

With all due respect, although you have the sovereign right to say it, the slogan “United States First” is a fallacy because universal justice and fraternity will prevail until the end of time, even over national borders. 

Specifically, citizen President, I propose to deepen our dialogue, and seek alternatives to the immigration problem. And, please remember that I do not lack courage, that I am not cowardly or timorous, but that I act on principles. I believe that politics was invented to avoid confrontation and war, among other things. 

I do not believe in the Law of Talon, in a ‘tooth for a tooth’ or an ‘eye for an eye’ because, if we practiced it, we would all be toothless and one-eyed. I believe that as statesmen and even more so as patriots, we are obliged to seek peaceful solutions to controversies and to practice the beautiful ideal of non-violence, forever. 

Finally, I suggest that you instruct your officials, if it doesn’t cause any inconvenience. that they attend to representatives of our government, headed by the Secretary of Foreign Relations, who will be in Washington tomorrow to reach an agreement for the benefit of our two nations. 

Nothing by force. Everything by reason and human rights. 

Your friend, 

Andrés Manuel López Obrador 
President of México