The Problem with American Politics is that we Don’t Understand Each other

Left or right? Democrat or Republican? White supreme year or Black Lives Matter? These are all labels that incite a certain response, and that response tends to be negative. If that response is only marginally negative, in about three more seconds it becomes impossible to explore the meaning of the labels, to debate any issue openly and fairly, and so find any possible grounds for agreement. I saw this so clearly on Sunday morning, reading my Wall Street Journal.

In the Review section on the front page was an article by Mark Lilla, based on his upcoming book, “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identify Politics“. It is an interesting article that explores what has happened with the left-leaning side of American politics and the so called liberal wing lost its way by focusing too much on specific social goals by flouting them in front of every other policy and voter. But this is not the main point I wanted to call out.

In the opening sections of the article Mr. Lilla so nicely expresses the very reason why our politicians, even our own colleagues, are unable to discuss politics without it becoming an emotional or charged issue. The author introduces a way to look at democrats and republicans as follows:

Ronald Reagan almost single-handedly destroyed the New Deal vision of America that used to guide us. Franklin Roosevelt had pictured a place where citizens were joined in collective enterprise to build a strong nation and protect each other. The watchwords of that effort were solidarity, opportunity and public duty. Reagan pictured a more individualistic America where everyone would flourish once freed from the shackles of the state, and so the watchwords became self-reliance and small government.

This explanation of what happened at this pivotal time in US history clearly unmasks the misunderstanding that is actually reinforced and even peddled by those that want to emphasis a difference – real or imagined – between our political parties. Let’s look at this perspective for a moment. First Roosevelt. The New Deal was basically a Keynesian expansion of public sector spending. It was designed to drive economic recovery in America after the terrible challenges of the Great Depression, itself brought on and exacerbated by Congress’ unwillingness to forgive World War I debts. The New Deal of public works indeed worked substantially, and it brought with it social services to help the less-well off. However, the watchwords chosen are misleading. Opportunity is a word the right tends to see ownership of: the left tend to focus on equal outcomes, the right tend focus on equal opportunity.

Now looking at Reagan and you again would be confused. Reagan did not dismantle the New Deal. The reality is that social services and the entire continued transfer f public funds to the population continued (and continues today – see A Nation of Takers). But Reagan did ask of us all a question: Are you not first and foremost responsible to yourself? This is a key point since it presupposes that you are not, in the first instance, owed a thing. You are supposed to try your hardest to help yourself. That is why self-reliance is a good watchword, it it is portrayed as something alien to the New Deal or democratic values.

I think there is a lot more common here than meets the eyes but media, press and writers like Mr. Lilla want to paint a murkier picture since it stokes spending on their wares and it drives eye balls and voter emotions who have nothing better to do with their time (#WhileRomanBurns). Here is where the common ground exists:

  •  We are first and foremost individuals. We should be proud of our ability to stand alone, fend for ourselves, and play a key role in society, our family, and wherever and whatever we call home
  • Second we have a responsibility to our fellow man. This means we should respect her needs, her wants, much as she should respect ours. Everyone is equal under the eyes of God or the sun, which influences you most.
  • Third we have a civic duty to help others who, through bad luck and ill fortune, have need of assistance until and if they are able to again stand up and live as equal among us. We should work together to better our opportunities and the world around us. We should create civic services to serve the wider community; to educate, to serve, to heal, to protect.

These are all common ground issues. What they do not say or imply are any of the following:

  •  Minority preferences should not be flouted and used to subvert the way the majority behaves. Respect and support for minority needs will be supported, in their place
  • We are all owed an equal outcome. There are no such things as differences between sexes, creeds, religions, and secular groups. Though we all start from different places we are owed a common experience.
  • It is our right to be given a job, good health, entertainment, and all that would otherwise come to us by hard work, clean living, and honesty.

I would agree with Mr. Lilla’s premise that the Liberals lost their way. Sometime in the 1960s’ this “identify politics” become a legitimate goal in its own right. Each and every minority cause was celebrated, then promoted, then sold, as a national concern that should alter everything for everyone. Instead of mutual respect, and yes uneven experiences, liberals and left-leaning “progressives” adopted a national platform for change which resulted in a splintered view of the world, yet with the cloak of uniformity.

Likewise the right has failed too but for different reasons. The individualism that was at first a message of responsibility resulted in example after example of selfish acts, groups and even organizations. Responsibility gave way to greed. It turns out that this was not a fault of capitalism or right-wing politics. This was a failure that came about because we are all human. It is human to want, to greed, to collect. You only have to understand our history to know this. Worse, no amount of legislation can change this.  

So left and right made mistakes but rather than any third force see those mistakes and call them out, they have become hidden in the shroud of politics and now represent some underlying, simmering reason for arguing for why the other side is wrong. If we could start all over again, with no preconceptions of what is right or wrong, what is left or right, we might get past today’s current blind spot. The only trouble with that idea is that we would destined to are the same mistakes all our forefathers have made over and over again.

So for now we need to message the common ground – call it a New Bargain. Over time members from the left and right can join; but they cannot join with a message of, “I join because the other side is wrong”. They just have to forget their identity politics and remember who they are: individuals first, responsible for their own success, working together to help all have the same opportunity.

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More on the Failings of the Mainstream Media

I wrote the other day about my experiences with CNN and its political coverage and leanings in, The Rise and Fall of CNN.  Interestingly there was an article in the Econoist, August 5th, titled, Media Matters – Attitudes towards the mainstream media take an unconstitutional turn.  The article reports on some survey data that shows a notable shift in the lowering and loss of trust in all number of mainstream media outlets.  The report looked at how the reporting and analysis of Trump’s actions across media firms and the degree to which the firms’ reports are trusted.  It seems we are all trusting of each other less.

And if that was it enough, there was news just the other day that the Whitehouse has launched its own media channel – or as some media outlets call it, a propaganda channel.  If Trump’s “real news” channel is propaganda, that means all media channels are proganda channels – let’s be fair and onset here.  I have not looked into this but it seems to be less a channel and more like a few videos posted periodically on a Trump-related Facebook page.  So it’s hardly a channel but the so called media are arguing over what it means.
I just wish I could find a channel that:

  • Reports what happened in the world
  • Analyses the actions from both sides of the table
  • Ends the debate by discussing what might happen next

I’ll leave it to my own mind to come to a conclusion on what I think is good or bad. I dont need left-leaning, or right-leaning pundits to “tell” me.

Book Review: Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update

Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update. Donelly Meadows, Jorgen Rangers and Dennis Meadows, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.

This well written book nicely captures in one volume the range and depth of challenges we face regarding our ecological footprint and how it exceeds the earth’s ability to replenish. This includes water, food, energy, and other resources, combined with the outputs (e.g. waste) we produce as a result.  

The first half of the book looks at the theory and data related to each resources and its use and abuses. This part of the books is enlightening and well worth keeping to hand to inform debate about our ecological and environmental condition. The second half of the book looks at the updated computer models the authors use to predict aspects of our future should we not change behavior. Thus the second half more depressing and challenging to accept on face value.

For many years we have all heard doomsday calls and naysayers who claim that ‘the end is neigh’ as a result of trends of some kind that cannot go on. Indeed in A Nation Of Takers, there are other trend lines that warrant more urgent attention yet we are not able to effect change. And this is my problem with this kind of book.

Overall the book is a call for responsible change; to plan for resource consumption more carefully and to share the usage more evenly. As he book suggests the current potentially disastrous use and abuse of the earths resources is extremely unbalanced: the poorer nations are too populous and unable to feed themselves and the west is too rich and decedent. These conditions are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, they just are. But there are factors that perpetuate these conditions such as acute corruption in many poor countries and maladjusted markets in the west due to over- and ineffective regulation.

The problem with this book is that the World shows no sign or ability to make the changes prescribed.  There is no political will.  Worse, there is no debate about such a set of findings and assumptions.  The left assumes this material is all true and our fault; the right assumes the data is flawed and a dig at free market economics.  There is great need for debate but there is none.  

It does no good for ‘my voice to be heard’ since all our voices are not what the politicians hear. Our entire political system no longer operates for my benefit or for yours: it operates for its own sustainment and growth. Virtually no government willingly contracts and gets smaller and leaves the people in charge. As proof, this kind of book is not even debated by the right, since the left assume it is all true. Until both sides sit down and consider both sides are possible, this book and its findings will remain problematic.
Recommended 7 out of 10. 

The More Educated You Are the More Liberal You Are?

Heather McGhee, President of DEMOS, was on “Meet the Press” (MSNBC) Sunday and she Implied that the more educated you were the more likely you were liberal. Apparent ly you would be more exposed to US and world history and therefore you would see that we in America have fallen short with dealing out fairness and justice and equality and so you want to work harder towards those goals. Oh what a lie we have wrapped ourselves in!  

I have read world and US history widely, and I note that in year’s past our forefathers felt that they were owned nothing; that they had to get on their bike to find work; that you didn’t complain to others if you were down trodden; that what you earned should be yours and we each had responsibility first, and government second.  That is not what Ms McGhee is referring to though.

If I look at my neighbors and peers, yes the majority are ‘educated’ and yes the majority are left-leaning. But I think that there are two types of ‘liberal’ out there that Ms McGhee is lumping together. There are those who first believe that the individual has responsibility to themselves and the community; and the others who think the community owes the individual. The former are actually real people I get on with and who can debate; the latter are folks mislead and confused by politicians and left-leaning progressives who want to further their success.  The problem is the left has hidden the differences between these two “liberal” sects (i.e. classic and modern) and dressed themselves up as helpers of the repressed.

I am well educated and am most certainly not left leaning, as Ms McGhee is. I prefer to relay on my own gumption and assume others should do the same. I expect the government to help out after all else has failed. Go to China, India, Singapore, and show me where the poor people are.  They are there for sure- but they are out working for a pittance and not complaining about it. They don’t sit on their butts, arguing that the government owes them a living or asking for a hand out.  

I do want my fair taxes to go help those in need. But many who take government hand-outs are not in real need. Let’s fix that. I do want a safety net to help those who cannot fend for themselves. But many claim benefits who should be means-tested. Somewhere back in the 1950s this whole gravy train was put into motion: socialism by design was embedded in our ‘free market’ systems and the left has now made it standard practice. Now we cannot even debate this- if you do you are pilloried as racist, sexist; marginalized since your beliefs don’t comply. It’s about time the silent majority spoke up. Where is our Nixon now?

Later in the program Ms McGhee argued what the democrats need to do to unite and take the battle to Trump. The odd part of her dialog was that she repeated Trump’s message yet she didn’t understand what she said:

  • Work that would drive increasing wages (meant to be central to Trump’s agenda, if only we can get regulation and taxes out the way)
  • Fairer trade (again, apparently central to Trump’s agenda – he is not about trade barriers but fair trade and free if free on both sides of the trade)
  • More investment in education (all forms of eduction, not just university)
  • Justice and law and order (first we need to establish trust and credibility, not attack the establishment)

It’s amazing how different we are yet similar in goals.  And the last comment made at the end of the program? American is ‘coming apart’ and self segregating; and we all need to assert our own individual responsibility. Amen to that.

At Issue with The Collapse of Conservatism

In the week’s Economist, the Lexington article (see A Republican senator revolts) praises senator Jeff Flake for a book, written in secret, that laments the decline and failing of conservatism. and the mistakes made by siding with, and electing, Donald Trump.  On first blush the well-written article leads me to conclude I want to read the book. But the author lets slip their own political views and so I’ll now give Mr. Flake’s book a pass.

What is conservatism?  It seems, if you read the article, that a ‘put your country second’ perspective is equitable to free trade. Why is a, ‘put America first’ not consistent with fair trade? Really, if you ever look at global trade and international supply chains, every organization, every country, looks out for their own benefit first.  They may not always say this – as it is all part of the negotiation.  But no one actually puts their own interests on hold for the other guy.  Only when satisfied or when satisfaction is in reach do sides negotiate closely and come to a ‘free trade’ agreement. And note, there is virtually never ‘free’ trade. There is almost always some cost, tax, cover charge, buy-back, duty etc.  

Mr Trump’s ‘put America first’ is not a call for nationalist policies; it is not a call for tariffs and duties.  It is a call to those that negotiate for their country that the US will now negotiate more fairly and not keep helping others out.  If you put a tariff on imports from the US, so the US will put tariffs on imports into the US.  That is fair trade – it is not protectionism.  When will the media, even the fair media, get this right?  Mr. Trump is making a political statement that says the obvious: this country needs to fair, as every other country is fair, in trade deals. Trump does not disbelieve the benefits global trade; all smart business leaders grasp the principles and see the benefits. Mr Trump believes in trade- period!

So we are left with asking why is his rhetoric picked on? We can only assume that such complaints and criticisms pander to a political sore that came about from losing the election; an institution and establishment that wanted to feed its own bloated cause: more government begets more government. Left and right have played this tune for years. Trump just happened to take the Republicans with him but in truth he needs his own part: New Deal Republicans.  

I get the feeling that Mr Trump is more conservative than many give him credit: freedom of the individual; responsibility of the individual over government; the expectation that the individual is not owed anything; that hard work and merit will be rewarded. And yes, that a safety net will be provided for those that need it.  However we live in s society today that assumes other owe them a living; that it is their right to sit on that backsides and be given everything the need and want.  We have become a A Nation of Takers.

The Rise and Fall of CNN

25 years ago I used to travel across Europe working with clients on small projects that kept me away from home for a day or three. My French is weak and German non-existent so I preferred to stay in English speaking and organized hotels. I discovered Marriott and other US centric hotels. After a long day and a client dinner, I would hide out in my hotel room and watch CNN. It was my first regular exposure to ‘America’ from an American point of view. I loved it.

After a couple of years I started to travel to the USA, mostly the Deep South. This was typically for a few days every other month, for about a year. Kent Mercer was playing for the Braves.  Of course I continued watching CNN. In those days I felt that the channel was well balanced; political views of the left and right were equally shared and equally scrutinized. I often compared CNN to my beloved BBC. About 20 years ago I moved to the US.

But about 8-10 years ago I spotted a slight shift in focus. CNN seemed to shift slightly and that shift seems now all but complete. That shift started with less and less coverage of right leaning views and more and more coverage of left leading views. At the same time, left leaning views were examined less and right leaning views were challenged more comprehensively.  The ‘fai, balanced’ view was disappearing.  That balance is now all gone and the channel’s reputation is all but gone.

Last evening is a good example. CNN was examining the current news related to Special Council Robert Mueller who has just impaneled a grand jury in relation to the Trump-Russian probe. To have a balanced review of this news CNN should have explored equally the challenges related to:

  • Mueller’ political leanings and relationships with the Clinton’s and democrats 
  • The fact that there are technical challenges outstanding on his ability to prosecute the case
  • Despite the wide scope of his remit, he has dropped looking directly into Russian collision in the election (what he was supposed to be working on) and now he is digging around in years past financial transactions between Trump, his companies and Russia
  • The location of the impaneled grand jury is fishy since it was called in a region that voted for Clinton by 94% so it is unlikely to be neutral

Yet CNN did not cover these issues at all. They repeated over and over the left leaning views they assume there was collision, there are shady financial deals, Mueller must be a good guy, and everything is fair and above board.

To prove my point there is more. Last evening Trump was holding a rally at which a democratic governor announced he was switching parties and would become a republican. This is stunning news. Yet during the live televised announcement, did CNN switch over to live coverage? Did they even report this on their news ticker on the screen? No they did neither. They ignored the news and failed to examine its implications. Some minutes later they did report the news, post live, as a snippet and moved right back to promoting their own agenda.

It’s a sad day to have to admit and call out that CNN has to come just a mouthpiece for the left. I really did love that channel. I still hope that Jonathan King, come the next election, remains neutral. If he goes, I will have had it with CNN.

UK Election Results Capture Political Schism

In under two years since the country stunningly voted to leave the EU, the same electorate shifted yet again and leant away from the idea of a clean break with Europe and threw the whole thing now into chaos. The youngest of voters sided with Labour, who were selling polices in a throw-back to those last seen in the 70s that, if followed, would lead the country to financial ruin. Corbyn’s plan is not even realistic; yet the youngest among us just have no memory of such irresponsibility. Only the old do, and so they voted Conservative.  

Now hostage to a 10-seat minority of the DUP, Theresa May will be saddled with a back-seat driver at negotiations with the EU. Decision making responsibility will not fall to May; she will have to keep ‘calling home’ to get approval.

Worse of all, the result of this election shows how the entire political system is corrupted. We have the worst of both worlds: a disenfranchised and ignorant electorate (e.g. Most of the young) that falls for platitudes and made-up promises. Of course, the left calls such things as false truths or fake news if the right puts such things out.

Britain will now have a much riskier time with Brexit. All we can hope for is a bank run that requires a bail-out or for the IMF to drop Greece ‘in it’ and a run on the Euro. It’s a matter of time. But now we need it sooner rather than