Since 1960, almost every presidential election, in retrospect, was determined around a theme or idea that could be described in two or three words.
Usually that theme was established by the winning campaign, but sometimes – as with Mitt Romney’s 2012 remark that 47 percent of people are “dependent” on government and would never vote for him – candidates commit political suicide with a gaffe or slip-up that reveals an underlying truth that voters already suspected.
A quick review:
1960 – New Generation
1964 – The Kennedy Legacy
1968 – Law and Order
1972 – Watergate Break-in
1976 – I’ll Never Lie to You
1980 – Misery Index
1984 – Morning in America
1988 – Hat in a TANK
1992 – New Covenant
1996 – Bridge to the 21st Century
2000 – Compassionate Conservatism
2004 – War on Terror
2008 – Hope and Change
2012 – 47 Percent
2016 – Deplorables
It’s hard to know, given the bountiful options, what history will record as the keywords of 2020. Here is a short list of possibilities:
Losers and Suckers
Very Stable Genius
If, on the other hand, the key phrase of 2020 becomes “law and order” we might be in for a long four, or eight, or 12 more years!
The members of the U.S. Supreme Court are nominated by the President and confirmed by a majority of the Senate. Simple, clear and easy you may think.
But be careful!
If polls are accurate (still an IF), Donald Trump will become, sometime after November 3rd, a “lame duck” president – turned out of office by voters but still fully vested with the powers of his office for another two and a half months.
November 3rd may also bring a new, Democratic majority to the U.S. Senate. Although that body will be seated on January 3rd, there’s still a two-month gap between Election Day and swearing-in the new Senate, during which the “lame duck” Senate still can also exercise all of the powers granted to it under the Constitution.
That raises the possibility of a post-election nomination and confirmation battle, with the lamest of ducks in both the White House and the Republican-controlled Senate still fully in control of the process.
As a good friend commented to me in discussing this topic, that really is “the lame leading the lame” – does that seem possible/right?
We are, as a result, at significant risk of politicians, just soundly repudiated at the ballot box, making lifetime appointments that the whole country will have to live with long after those just UNelected officials have left the political stage.
This asymmetry is fundamentally anti-democratic and not remotely in the spirit of the Constitution.
What can be done?
The newly President-elect might ask the Supreme Court to stop the appointment. But the Court has always been deferential to the prerogatives of the other two branches, and it’s far from clear that they could or would intervene.
On the other hand, the Court, which has rarely been ignorant of political realities, has a chance to do the right thing. Chief Justice Roberts has already shown a keen understanding of the Court’s role in such critical moments.
There are few precedents and no clear and easy answers. It is, therefore, a good idea that we hash this out BEFORE it happens. A long-term solution might be an appropriate provision (constitutional or otherwise) establishing that a President may not make ANY nominations to the bench between Election Day and the last day of his or her term.
A short-term approach might be to suggest to the few still vulnerable Republican Senators that they pledge to refuse to support any nominee submitted after November 3. Whether they would keep their word where the rubber meets the road is another question. (They weren’t very shy when they dragged out Garland’s appointment for a whole year.)
Leaving aside all current politics, it stands to reason that a President who has just lost reelection should not be able to do something as important and lasting as appointing a Justice for life. But there is no apparent precedent for this question, and when the ‘framers’ created today’s rules, this subject seemingly never even occurred to them.
Given the vital importance of the Supreme Court in today’s world, it is time to deal with the matter. The obvious increasing partisan divide in our governance – with the levers of power used to advance political instead of public interests – ensures that this subject won’t go away on its own.
It is the norm among people to sleep primarily at night, and, at least in wealthier societies, to eat three meals a day.
There’s nothing the matter with that. We’ve been doing it for millennia. But we rarely think about the subject and, when we do, generally shrug it off as comfortable and harmless.
But ignoring where such human habits came from risks missing where they’re headed. And, like much else in the world, Covid-19 might well partly upend what we’ve long taken for granted.
Nighttime sleep is a direct consequence of our rotating earth. In our earliest days as a species, when there was no sunlight and no significant alternative, there was little else to do once one’s portion of the earth turned away from the sun. People could not see to move around or even talk to other people, so having a ‘nap’ to wait for the sun again made good sense. The temporary darkness also afforded privacy, allowing people to do things in the dark they might prefer others not see – including satisfying the most basic human urge to reproduce. Even in a world full of walls, doors, blinds and other barriers to prying eyes, the habit has become ingrained, a given in most humans’ behavior the world over.
While sleep patterns emerged from primitive conditions, eating is another thing. Humans of course need food to get the energy and nutrients we require to do everything we need to do — including sleeping and reproducing!
Many animals eat just once a day. It seems probable, given the scarcity of resources available to our hunter/gatherer forebearers, that humans began their existence the same way. But we eventually grew into the gluttonous creatures we are today – enough so that we created a lexicon around the experience. Breakfast, as it says, is the breaking of the fast during sleep. Lunch derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘nunchin’ meaning noon drink. Dinner comes from the old French word disner, which means to have a meal. Our “three-square” regimen likely emerged initially as a display of wealth – an indulgence available to those of means. As agriculture and economics alike improved, the privilege became widely available to previously impoverished masses eager to “eat like a king.” There is, however, no obvious reason why humans should eat more than once – and record levels of obesity suggest a host of reasons not to. Perhaps it is just another way for humans to pass their time in a pleasurable way?
Occasionally something comes along and jars us out of our old patterns of behavior. Today, that “something” is Covid-19. Much has been written and said (including by me) of the potentially grand changes the virus may usher in. It’s likely to affect us in smaller ways, as well. The role of restaurants –from favorite take-outs to five-course affairs—has been changed by the virus. The brisk lunch business many restaurants once enjoyed from office workers has suffered greatly from the surge in work-at-home arrangements. Except for socializing, it makes little sense to leave one’s home in the middle of the day – especially the work day – to get a bite to eat.
We might soon see something similar with sleep habits. With home as the “primary operating environment” of millions of workers, studies show we’re spending more time at our desks (which may be our kitchen tables) than ever. Already, the workday has been extended by a couple of hours for such workers. The question is why is it still built around a 9-5 standard? Lighting is plentiful, we’re always connected, and much work would be better done without the interruptions common to “normal” working hours. Wouldn’t an afternoon nap leave you more productive for the latter part of your workday? What does it matter if that day ends at 7 instead of 6, or starts at 5 instead of 9? Why not have morning, afternoon and evening work “shifts” – say from 4-7 am, 10-2, and 5-7 – with a 90-minute nap between each?
If you are a traditionalist like me, the routines and rituals surrounding the now “old-fashioned” workday offer comfort and predictability – important commodities during such uncertainty. What are us lucky folks to do?
Is writing a blog enough? I’m going to take a nap and consider the question…
This is perhaps the trickiest blog I have ever set out to write! Issues of race in America have long been rife with hazards for even the best-intentioned white people. At 89, I’m STILL learning new things about this subject, and despite waves of hard-fought progress over many decades, I am still coming to grips with how far we have yet to travel.
A good friend, in commenting on my blogs, made this point to me which provoked my current self-examination.
Many traditional, well established white people (like myself) see and describe themselves as always open to everybody of all races, color and creeds –and indeed that is particularly true when we are in direct control over events in our lives. For many years, a “color-blind” society seemed like the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, it appears to be, instead, a chimera.
There is, after all, no escaping the racist tropes and stereotypes that permeate politics, culture and more. All of us – black, white or otherwise — unwittingly absorb these throughout our lives. Consider a common example: the (perhaps) fleeting thought, when encountering a black man on the street at night, that one should cross to the other side. It may or may not be a valid course of action, depending on the specific circumstances, but it springs into our minds, unbidden, in virtually every unexpected encounter with someone who is “different.”
Here’s another example: welfare. Ronald Reagan made famous the entirely illusory example of the “welfare queen” driving around in a Cadillac, buying steak dinners, and otherwise living a life inconsistent, in his view, with their “station.” It was, at the time, a thinly veiled attack on black people, poor ones in particular. But the reality then, and now, is that the vast majority of welfare recipients are white!
Both highlight the nature of “implicit bias,” a scientific term describing the pernicious and unconscious association of negative qualities to people perceived as “others.”
There is simply no escaping this bias. It’s ingrained in all of us, desired or not. Some may take that knowledge and conclude we’re all racists, but that’s not a full or fair picture. More accurately, we all carry racially-based attitudes and prejudices that permeate our subconscious. Having such thoughts simply cannot be avoided. What counts is whether or how we act on them. Unquestioningly following the lead our implicit bias offers makes us racist. Challenging those assumptions when they arise in our heads is essential to creating a more just and equitable society. Even then, it’s only a first step.
(Those interested in learning more on the subject may be interested in Harvard University’s “Project Implicit,” which features a test that highlights implicit bias in action.)
We must also turn our attention to the fact that “equality” is insufficient. We’ve all learned a lot recently about systemic racism – the idea that our institutions reflect the prejudices that plague us. Consider affirmative action. Proponents of equality assert that judging everyone exclusively on their merits (the “color-blind” solution) can overcome the biases baked into the college admissions process. But the advantages many white students have enjoyed (better schools, tutors and the like) render the process rigged from the start! When we speak of “equality,” we are generally talking about equality of opportunity – the idea that everyone has an equal chance. What’s needed instead is a focus on “equity” – the equality of outcomes. Any one black student aspiring to a first-rate college education may win out over any single white student; but, absent proactive policies (like affirmative action) the big picture is changed not a whit by such individual victories (and, indeed, those exceptions are frequently proffered as proof that discrimination is behind us!). The general concept is exceptionally well described by the picture below.
The roiling protests over the death of George Floyd (and too many others) in our summer of discontent have reminded us that equality and equity in America remain elusive. Racism is real, and more publicly visible than at any time since the 1960s, openly encouraged by the first blatantly racist president in 100 years.
Certainly, our president, along with racist militias and Confederate-flag wavers, has provided a wake-up call to all Americans who aspire for our country to one day fully realize its promise of all people, created equal, enjoying without encumbrance the social, political and economic benefits of society.
White anti-racists still have a long way to go, of course. But this seems like the moment for us to STEP UP, to confront racism in all its forms (including our own), and to embrace the struggle that people of color have waged for more than 400 years. Marches and protests are fine – indeed, necessary – to raise awareness and force politicians to take notice. But alone they are insufficient to the task before us.
We have to undertake the hard work of educating ourselves. We have to support political candidates who embrace anti-racism. We must speak out – loudly and clearly and even embarrassingly – whenever and wherever we encounter injustice. We must stop going with ‘the flow’ because that flow was specifically designed to benefit us at the expense of others.
It’s no longer enough to say, “I’m not a racist.” We must become ASSERTIVELY anti-racist, speaking (and acting) forcefully but not stridently lest we diminish our voice – and effectiveness – in society at large, too much of which still does not get this point.
We’ve seen and learned too much – at too high a cost – to accept the status quo. If we are not expressly anti-racist in word and deed, we will remain complicit in our system of injustice.
In college, I worked briefly at the Boston Psychiatric Hospital. One of the most surprising lessons was that patients could seem completely “normal” at any given time, but completely crazy at another. I learned that in many cases their insanity was manageable to the point where they could live independently and hold a job. At least until the next bout struck. Then, absent support, all hell might break loose.
That type of insanity is raining on us today. Everywhere and in every way.
What is it? Where is it? And, what to do about it?
Trump says the election is rigged. He knows because he is doing it. He is rigging it with the Post Office, with his Russian friends, and his trigger-happy gun men who rush to trouble spots to frighten and intimidate ordinary Americans. Trump is perhaps crazy to think it might work, and completely insane to try. And, far too many gullible Americans, who watch Fox news, believe a lot of it and get insanely worried.
But hopefully, Biden’s steady hand will prevail, and he will be elected, and Trumps’ insanities will evaporate quickly. How fast we can forget bad dreams!
The novel coronavirus has stirred up another kind of insanity. “It’s a hoax!” ‘You cannot impinge my freedoms”. “I can do whatever I want”. Several people –before they died from the virus—have confessed on TV that they were ‘crazy’ NOT to believe what was going on. Trump’s refusal to wear masks and use social distancing has played into the craziness of a large part of the population, sharing a delusion that the virus was invented to get him out of office. If that were the case, it could be called murderous craziness. Trump may yet go to jail for that and other crimes.
All the while people have been dying of the virus and losing their jobs, their homes and all their savings. In shocking contrast, the stock and other financial markets have been booming, as if everything is just fine and getting better.
Perhaps people think Trump will win again and restore Trump values. That remains a possibility but is not likely.
So, we are looking at a bizarre, crazy world.
A world that has been run ragged by four years of Trump craziness.
A world that has yet to get control of the virus.
A world in which financial markets can look at the horrors around us and still insist the best is yet to come.
And, then Tesla — with its erratic history of market manipulation — splits its stock 5-1 and the company’s total value (total number of shares multiplied by stock price) rose by about half overnight! All that changed was the number of shares, which was multiplied by 5. Tesla, whose loyal customers account for 1.14% of all vehicles sold, is somehow now worth more than GM, Ford, Toyota and Honda combined –by some $80 billion!
Except for the fact that Tesla’s fate impacts only a small number of investors (and an even smaller number of car owners!) that might be the craziest item of all the craziness we’re living with right now. New buyers just think it is a great company; they do not know or care about the fundamentals.
None of the above makes sense in a normal world.
I was taught 75 years ago the what goes up normally comes down – in physics, life and, especially, finance.
I see everywhere sensible friends, family and normal people who have been caught up in this craze. I fear for them all.
What to do? Be patient! The laws of gravity always prevail! Do not lose your heads in greed and ambition. Keep thinking.
Seen from the perspectives of four types of people
The best way to imagine our world after Covid is not to begin with a big picture view, but to look at several smaller worlds and overlay them on the larger world.
Rather than starting with a bunch of micros, I am going to take just four to test how this process might help us dig deeper, wider and wiser. Let’s start with factory workers, then office workers, then civil servants and finally people in the whole chain of food and beverages.
FACTORY WORKERS: Typically, factory workers do ‘their’ thing in one or more particular locations in their factory. They used to be paid on a piece basis but in recent years have moved primarily to an hourly wage because no one worker can or wants to be a hostage to what is beyond his or her control. The virus appears to push that change further. Workers evidently prefer to manage their own time –for many now more obvious reasons—and it seems very likely that what were several regular shifts may become a basket of personalized shifts to accommodate more workers, with backups on the ready, all as needed from time to time. All of this is made possible by much more sophisticated communications and automated management systems. The consequences are likely to result in employers being able overall to need/use fewer and better skilled employees to produce the same or more goods with fewer defects. No doubt this was underway before the coronavirus pushed us over the cliff; that fall is driving this change further and more quickly.
OFFICE WORKERS: Until recently conventional wisdom held that office work HAD to be done collectively in an office. Various factors supported that unquestioned belief: 1-people need and like to interact personally and frequently; 2-the “out of sight out of mind” worry that off-site workers aren’t considered as productive as their on-site colleagues and miss out on important opportunities (and promotions); 3- casual interactions at the water cooler often lead to inspirations, etc.; and 4- a friendly peer atmosphere contributes to a corporate culture that workers and their customers and clients need, want and value. But, it turns out that may not be as true as previously believed and the Covid virus is making that clearer.
Employees generally HATE their commute. It wastes about 2 hours a day. It is boring and annoying. Those couple of hours have value to both the employee at home and the employer in the office.
The advent of the virus has enabled employers and employees alike in many offices to discover the joys, benefits and overall productivity of hybrid methods – open office ‘places’ used by more than person can use it at various times; employees can work at home 2/3 days a week—this would cut down on commuting, reduce need for office space, improve morale and, with virtual ‘in-person’ meeting capabilities, the modern office will also be cheaper. Zoom calls create in many ways more intimacy, immediacy and imagination than physical meetings.
And many of the fears of telecommuting have proven unfounded. If most everyone is doing it (as the current situation requires), no one has to worry about “missing out.” It also turns out that there are much better ways to ‘observe’ employee productivity than seeing them sitting at a desk. With almost all remote work requiring technological support – phones, computers, the internet — employers can observe and measure their employees work and habits better than ever before, wherever they are.
The overall result of that will be a reduced need for office space, increased work time available for both employees and employers, And, greater morale and effectiveness.
AGRICULTURAL activities and food chains. In recent years, we have seen brilliant advances in planting and retrieving crops. AI has led to more efficient use of crop land as well better-timed harvesting. As part of that, the people ‘driving’ vehicles involved need less training and therefore the available labor force has been effectively enlarged and improved.
The chain of food to the kitchen table has also been modified/streamlined and become more efficient. Amazon and its clones know all the time the rises and falls in consumer demand, which reciprocates back and forth between the farmers and the eaters, which has the effect of meeting demand, more often with better prices. Better prices lead to more demand, which leads to more efficiency.
CIVIL AND LOCAL SERVICES—the need for police, fire people, local government civil servants and public health services has continued to grow. They all are making more and more use of the internet the result of which they are continuing –when they want to—to become much more efficient. The same number of people—and sometimes even fewer people –can achieve more than in previous generations. The virus has decimated the budgets of many states and municipalities that will now be broke for years but will have to maintain public services. Efficiency will be essential to meeting the need with limited resources.
What does the above picture look like overlaid and projected onto the world now?
The demands of meeting the novel coronavirus by themselves probably did not change much directly, but the shock waves increased the rate of adaption across the board a great deal. A lot more may be happening that, in a year or two, will be seen in retrospect to have stimulated our whole world way ahead by perhaps even a decade. That will surely lead to both inequities and opportunities for those who are both lazy and ambitious.
The people who resist the realities of these changes will end up, along with the reality actor named Trump, in the dustbin of history.