The Polar Vortex

TFW you’re trying to talk to your political polar opposite and just feel like you’re hopelessly spinning…

I often find myself in a situation where useful dialog with a hardcore conservative isn’t really possible because we don’t share enough reality. I doubt we disagree substantively on what we want for the country. We likely disagree on what policies will get us there, but that could be a useful discussion topic. However, and most importantly, we disagree on what’s actually happening and/or has happened. That’s problematic. Without a shared reality, conversation just becomes noise. They think I live in fake news land, and I think they live in a conservative bubble.

Still, I think there’s progress to be made if we can stop seeing each other in extremes. The vast majority of the left does not want a Socialist country any more than the vast majority of the right wants a Fascist one. As an example, it’s wrong to conflate someone’s desire to socialize medical insurance with a desire to turn us into Venezuela. This country has lots of socialized sectors already (schools, roads, military, pensions, etc.) and largely we’re all fine with that because it’s been that way for a very long time. There are good reasons for and against adding medical insurance to that list, but it’s wrong to think that socializing medical insurance is suddenly a gateway to full-on Socialism for all industries. Virtually no one wants that. The key is to stop seeing each other’s policies as nefarious apocalyptic goals, but as different means to the same goals.

This is complicated by the reality that there do exist politicians and interest groups pushing policies with nefarious goals, but selling them as supporting voters’ goals. It’s in everyone’s interest to expose these disingenuous Trojan policies. But again, doing so is predicated on a shared reality—on agreeing about what has happened—on what is happening. As long as reality remains a construct of the side with the best marketing, it’s hard to see how we get there.


“America cannot be intimidated” – Bullshit

On 9/11, we all take a moment to remember the tragedy of that day so many years ago, and the sacrifice of the victims, first responders, soldiers, and others who were lost as a result. It is a time for solemn reflection, but also maybe a time for a reality check.

America fancies itself the Chuck Norris of nations. Our cultural identity is tightly wrapped in our being mighty, righteous, and unshakable. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, if we dig under that facade of bravado, we see that we are scared as hell… and 9/11 made that possible.

Fear has always been a tool for control. It’s baked into the human condition. But 9/11 was a gateway that turned fear into a political industry. The fear that 9/11 was only the beginning was used to conflate a fear of Al-Qaeda into a fear of Muslims and the Middle East, which sold the war on Iraq. That same fear was exploited to strip away many of our rights to privacy and personal freedom. That worked so well, it spawned an entire media empire dedicated to making us afraid.

Today we are still afraid of Islamic terrorism, but we’re also afraid of North Korea, socialism, gun laws, climate scientists, taxes, immigrants, PoC, the LBGT, drugs, China, non-Christians, gluten, and even our own government. America cannot be intimidated? Bullshit. America has institutionalized intimidation.

The objective of terrorism is to instill fear. Fear is debilitating. People make poor choices when they are afraid. The 9/11 terrorists made us momentarily afraid. But opportunistic Americans have turned that into a state of perpetual fear. The terrorists have succeeded beyond bin Laden’s wildest dreams, but only because of what we’ve done to ourselves. The terrorists lit a fire, but we fed it and fanned it.

If you want to truly honor the legacy of 9/11, conquer your fear. If you want to make America great again, conquer your fear. Fear is the mind killer.


Corporate Tax Cuts Don’t Mean More Jobs

This NYT article is right, but I think the explanation is simpler. Companies don’t hire because they have extra cash. They hire because there is unmet market demand such that hiring in the short term makes them more profit in the longer term. If the demand is there, most businesses would borrow to hire. At present, and for the last many years, consumer demand is low while corporate cash reserves are high. Do the math. Jobs aren’t there because demand isn’t there. Period.

The standard trickle-down argument says that once companies start hiring, they will put cash in workers pockets, who will then drive up demand. And sure, that would work… if lots of companies hired. But this scenario leaves out some crucial detail about how this has to work. To restate the process:

  • Companies have to hire workers they don’t need.
  • Enough companies have to do this that the collective new workers’ paychecks stimulate demand across the economy.
  • Then (and only then) does the demand materialize that justifies having hired the workers in the first place.
  • And even after all this, each company is risking that demand will materialize in their particular market. Some of them will be wrong.

Having spent the last 3 decades working in management for and with many companies, I can assure you that very few businesses would take this risk absent some significant exogenous incentive. It’s just not going to happen.


Burn It All Down

You hear it frequently from angry voters, many of whom did, and continue to, support Trump. Burn it all down. They are disgusted with both sides, they feel the American Dream has passed them by, and they think government is the problem. Burn it all down. Since the government hasn’t fixed the problem, we’d be better off without them. Burn it all down.

The frustration is real, and understandable. The American Dream remains a largely unfulfilled promise to millions of citizens. However, for most of these folks, giving in to the emotional satisfaction of a scorched-earth solution is predicated on a fireproof-floor view of the world.

The fireproof-floor view supposes that a state of completely non-functional government is one in which basic services that have long sense faded into the background remain a given. It posits there is a floor below which even anarchy will not fall. That the cleansing flames of the American phoenix cannot damage this base platform as it is consumed and born anew.

Baby Boomers and those who came after have always lived in a society where seniors get Social Security and Medicare. Kids go to public schools. 24×7 electricity and fresh water are available to any home. Food is plentiful and safe to eat. Roads are paved and bridges kept in good repair. Overtime is paid. Workplaces have an obligation toward the safety of employees. And it’s safe to walk the streets. This is the floor onto which we were born, and the floor which it’s hard to fathom falling beneath.

It’s easy to overlook how unusual this floor is in the history of the world. Or in how many places on the planet today it doesn’t yet exist. It’s easy to forget how many people struggled and even died to build this floor. And there is absolutely no reason to assume it’s fireproof.

Before you join this modern-day Nero, dancing to his lyre as the flames ravage Rome, be mindful that fire has no conscience. Once lit, it consumes indiscriminately. It burns all of us, and the floor we are standing on. You may feel like there’s nowhere to fall… but that is a failure of imagination.


Should You Vote Third-Party?

JohnsonSteinIn short, no. That is, unless you’re truly fine with either a Trump or a Clinton Presidency. Here’s why.

The appeal of a third-party vote is understandable. Neither Trump or Clinton are particularly compelling candidates. But it’s important to recognize that while voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein may feel good, and may be dutifully registering your protest, at the end of the day, either Trump or Clinton will still be President. This is not just a matter of resignation, but a matter of the structure of American government. Our winner-take-all approach to elections assures there will never be more than two major parties. Who those parties are may change. After all, before Republicans we had Whigs. What those parties represent may change. I’m pretty sure Lincoln’s GOP wouldn’t recognize today’s platform as the same party in anything but name. But in a twist on The Highlander, “There can be only two.” It’s fundamental to the design laid out in the Constitution. Short of changing that document, we are not, and will not be, a multi-party system like the Parliamentary forms of government found in Canada, Australia, and most of Europe.

Further, bear in mind that the best possible outcome of having a popular third-party candidate is that no one gets 270 electoral votes in November. But this means that the House now gets to elect the President from among the top three finishers. The House is presently controlled by the GOP. You do the math.

So if you believe neither party represents you, work to change one of them, or even to supplant one. But supplanting a party doesn’t start at the top. Electing a Green Party or Libertarian President provides no support for that party’s platform in the other branches of government. The Congress, the courts, the states are still all controlled by Democrats or Republicans. So even if they were to win, for Stein or Johnson to actually accomplish anything, they’d need to align with one party or other and settle for nudging that party’s platform a wee bit in their direction.  Otherwise, they’d just sit out their term tilting at windmills. Until we start seeing Libertarian, Green, or other party controlled states electing that party’s people to Congress, a third-party Presidential candidate is just a show pony. It’s a target for your protest vote and nothing more.

The reality, like it or not, is there will be a President Clinton or a President Trump in January, 2017. You may have very well-founded reasons why you can’t stand either of them, but it boarders on inconceivable that you would be equally content with either outcome. There couldn’t be more daylight between the positions these two and their parties are taking in this election.  If you’re truly ambivalent, then you are either too ill-informed or too apathetic to bother voting at all.

It may well be that you only care who doesn’t become President. But you care. Post your protests on Facebook and Twitter, but when you walk into that voting booth in November, make a useful decision. Suck it up. You don’t need to admit it to anyone else. It’s a secret you can take to your grave. But make a difference. Make your vote count. The stakes have never been higher.