Casting for the President

In the September 27th (Sunday) New York Times’ Review section, Seth Grossman, a film maker and reality television producer described Donald Trump as being exactly what reality TV producers look for when casting their shows.

Trump according to Grossman ,”…is exactly what we look for in our casting process.  He is uncomplicated and authentic: You can understand his entire personality from a 15-second sound bite.”

After comparing Trump favorably to “Uncle Si of ‘Duck Dynasty’ or Kim Kardashian or Flavor Flav, he proclaims that Trump is “the presidential candidate that reality TV made.”

With that comment, the question is not why is Trump leading but how has the electoral process changed so that someone with such a “talent” be leading.

Let me first say that this situation is can not be blamed on millenials. In fact, they are the very people many of Trump’s supporters believe have caused America to lose its greatness.

It is the young who are comfortable in a society which is racially and sexually more diverse. It is the young who support Obama, who believe that women should have control of their bodies, who bear the burden when America intervenes in foreign lands and who face the earth’s changing environment.

No the people who have contributed to this situation are those who have come to believe that the past which they lived in was better than the present. Though hindsight may be 20/20 the eyes that see it are now shaded by age and a greater sense of mortality. Too often this results in an acceptance of people and ideas which only appear to be rational solutions to changing circumstances.

I offer this critique as a bonafide member in good standing of the “boomer” generation. However I do not believe that putting a wall across our southern border can be done nor will it solve the problem of illegal immigration. I do not believe that there is some magic action which can supplant diplomacy with force. More importantly, as a veteran I know that force in foreign affairs requires putting American troops in harms way and thus should only be used for the most drastic and evident of threats.

Our current reality television political system is based on the fiction that while problems appear threatening or dangerous, they can be resolved with no real costs (not counting tears, yelling and threats). Also, that they will be resolved if not in an hour at least within thirteen episodes.

Further, the central characters and issues must vividly stand out from their environment and be without any nuances which suggest any depth or complexity. We have taken the “KISS” concept (Keep It Simple,Stupid) and applied it to our entire political culture.

While I do not expect that there will be a sudden awakening of the American electorate to this change, I can hope that it is the younger generation, which will see where the current system went wrong, understand why and most importantly understand the need to set it right.

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Integrity When it Counts

The issue of Donald Trump’s response (or more correctly non-response) to a supporters claim that President Obama is both a Muslim and not an American is the central focus of the political world.

Many commentators reference Sen. John McCain’s response when one of his supporters raised the same claim. What is being missed is the underlying belief structure that produced such distinctly different responses.

McCain as a graduate of the US Naval Academy embodied an “Honor Concept” which includes the statement, “Midshipmen are persons of integrity. They stand for that which is right.” In Sen. McCain’s response we see the practice of standing for what is right not what is false.

Mr. Trump has an entirely different frame of reference.  It is the embodied in the word deal. The Oxford dictionary defines the word as, “An agreement entered into by two or more parties for their mutual benefit, especially in a business or political context.”

His non-response to his supporter’s statement represents that very definition. It was an agreement between Mr. Trump and his supporters. The benefit to the statement maker was that he was stating a belief and subsequent question that he wanted the candidate to acknowledge and respond to.  For Mr. Trump his avoidance of correcting the questioners factual mis-statement benefited him by solidifying that voters support for the Trump candidacy. It certainly took place in a political context.

Both parties got what they wanted from the deal. It also exemplified how the desire to make a deal has superseded any requirement for truth and integrity to be incorporated in the deal.

It is too easy to dismiss this incident as being “politics as usual” and something that all politicians engage in.  Sen. McCain’s action defeats that notion and must not be forgotten in this political season.

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With the mass exodus from the Middle East into Europe, it appears that this is a good time for American politicians to argue that the country should “do something” because whatever we did or didn’t do is not working.

It is the classic case of being damned no matter what position the Obama administration takes. For the record, it might first be helpful to set all the players on the game board.

Start with Bashar Assad the current ruler (tyrant) of Syria.  He inherited the position from his father (Hafez) and ran the country pretty much the same way as Dad. He was of a member of Alawite  branch of the Shia denomination of Muslims who are the minority (13%) in Syria. The majority of the population are Sunni (74%).

In 2011-2012 a group of dissidents primarily Sunni began an uprising against Assad.  The response was military actions against the rebels.

Now the Iranians who are predominantly Shia came to the aid of Assad against the rebels. As the rebels were being slowly beaten, a Sunni group – ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) came on the scene and sided with the rebels.However ISIS became increasingly more dominant in parts of Syria and soon declared an Islamic State or Caliphate. Within this physical space (which included parts of Syria and Iraq) ISIS governed with Sharia law as its guiding principle.

The violent actions of ISIS (beheadings of non-Muslims, slaughtering of non-ISIS Arab supporters, sexual slavery of non-ISIS females, etc) led to Iran supplying men and material to Assad to engage ISIS.  At the same time, ISIS was dealing severe defeats to Iraqi military forces, to the point where the United States began to fly air support mission for Iraqi army units engaged with ISIS.

So at that point, the US and Iran were fighting a common enemy – ISIS – for different allies.

To further confuse the issue, at the same time as both the US and Iran are fighting a common enemy, they plus Great Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are negotiating a agreement to lift economic sanctions imposed by the six nations on Iran in return for its cessation of an effort to produce an atomic weapon.

Now the negotiations have produce an agreement, but one which is criticized by President Obama’s political opponents (Republicans) and the prime minister of Israel. Among the seventeen candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination the has been described as appeasement and a betrayal of our country’s security, Some of these candidates want to tell the Iranians and our allies that they need to start all over, Others vow to invalidate this agreement on the day they are sworn into the Presidency.

As a final twist on this problem, Turkey which shares borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, finally agreed to allow the US military to use one of its bases for the US aircraft providing support against ISIS. Part of that air support is for the Kurds in northern Iraq who have been the most successful in ground fighting against ISIS.  However, the Turks are fearful that the Kurds will try to establish an independent Kurd state in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. This has led to clashes between the two groups and within the last few days, Turkey has launched air strikes against Kurdish positions because of a Kurdish groups bombing of a Turkish military unit.

So the questions remains, how does the US determine what is its national interest in this situation, then what is the subsequent strategy to achieve those interests and finally how many of the variables in our strategy are truly under our control. I suggest that if you have an answer to any or all of the questions, you immediately contact Secretary Kerry.

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To be or not to be

With Donald Trump’s latest statement regarding whether John McCain is or isn’t a hero, the real question about Trump’s campaign has been overlooked.

With any first time candidate there comes a moment when they must choose as to if they want to try to win election by simply voicing their opinion on political issues or if they now are going to analyze the electorate whose votes they are seeking.

Until Saturday, Trump was rising in the polls based on what could be called the “Kardashian Strategy”. This theory suggests that outrageousness will generate a enough notoriety to maintain a candidate’s presence in the minds of a large number of people. Then at some point these people will reach a critical mass for support of the candidate and provide a legitimacy and substance for his or her candidacy.

The question facing a candidate using this strategy is if and when to switch from outrageous actions to legitimate discourse. For Trump this means shifting from the decidedly unpolitic statements that give voice to the sentiments of a segment of the electorate that Trump has called the “forgotten Americans” to a discourse which expands his audience.

What is even more confusing for Trump is that while his statements are in line with the thinking of many Republican primary voters, they also have found an audience with people outside of the Republican party.

Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan were both elected with the support of white, working class Democrats who felt estranged from their party. While this demographic has declined in sheer numbers it is still large enough to provide an edge to which ever candidate it embraces.

The McCain blunder may well mark the end of Trump as a serious candidate, however if he survives, the question of continuing to behave in the way that has worked so far or to become a more serious candidate will be one that Trump will have to answer.

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What’s new is old

In his most recent public appearance, Donald Trump of being a voice for the “forgotten Americans”.  For those who are boomers or for those who wade through political history, the impact of that phrase is too strong to let pass.

In 1968, America was in the middle of a great cultural change. For the first time in its history, it was involved in a war which had lost the support of the American people and was the target of protest by college students across the nation.

In 1968, African-Americans who had seen the passage of the civil rights act and the voting rights act witnessed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King by a white man in Memphis Tennessee.

For white, working class Americans, the country seemed up-side down.  Nothing seemed to be the way it had been and no politician seemed able to set it right.

Americans were fearful. The country which had beaten the Axis powers in WWII and whose economy was strong and vibrant was now seemingly adrift with a loss of direction and purpose.  There was disorder and change across the country and many people wanted only to return to the calm of the 1950’s.

Richard Nixon understood this apprehension and addressed it in his acceptance speech in Miami in August 1968. He described the “forgotten Americans” as the people who “…give drive to the spirit of America. They give lift to the American dream…”

However, in September of that year, it was the former governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace who started to be the voice of these people. He raged against the bureaucrats, the intellectuals, the media and every component of the government which interfered with the lives of regular people. With little in way of resources and a strategy that was aiming to win only enough electoral votes to prevent the two major party candidates from winning outright, Wallace was seen as a spoiler with no chance of winning the Presidency,

Nixon won in 1968, because he saw that Americans supporting Wallace were fearful and unhappy with being afraid. He gave voice to their fears and promised that their voice would be heard in his administration.

Now in 2015, there is still a segment of the population albeit smaller, that once again sees a disruption in the order of the nation. The makeup of the population is changing – the country doesn’t look the same. The companies that were here have moved overseas and the jobs filled by robots. The guarantee of a college degree equating to a solid and secure future has gone away.

This fear is increased by constant re-enforcement by groups such as the NRA which in June of this year, wrote that its members “…perceive a larger threat to the sanctity of what this country is all about…witnessing the erosion of our core values and the destruction of American exceptionalism…”

So Donald Trump may become this year’s George Wallace.  The question is who will become the new Richard Nixon?

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A Knockdown Isn’t a Knockout

For Democrats at all levels this is the darkest of moments.

The day after what was honestly a crushing defeat across the country there is only the bewildering survivors asking two questions – How did this happen and what do we do now.

The first question will be easier to answer at least measured by the number of commentators who will rush to offer their opinion. In judging these responses it is helpful to remember that no condition is permanent as the only constant in life is change.

The percentage of non-white Americans will continue to grow.  The number of “baby boomers” will continue to shrink albeit slowly and the number of millenials moving into the workforce will continue to grow.

The impact of climate change will grow in some ways that can be predicted and in other that will surprise. Social mores will be transformed perhaps not as quickly as many would like but may erupt as quickly as the acceptance of same sex marriage.

Four states – Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota all passed ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in their state.  Recreational Marijuana was legalized in Washington DC, Alaska and Oregon.

So even in the destruction, there are seeds of the change that continues in this country.

Now as to the question of what to do.

The first recommendation is not to panic. The world did not end and life moves forward.

Next and this may be the hardest task, Democrats need to calmly and clearly assess what happened and most importantly and why it did. Here is where discipline needs to be demonstrated. What are the facts and how can they be explained. Was it the wrong candidate, the wrong message?  Did past policy successes prevent acknowledging their limitations or failures? Were indicators of problems overlooked or ignored for reasons to hard to admit?

These questions while perhaps painful, will produce a fuller and frank understanding of the failures of 2014 and more importantly produce a careful plan for actions over the next two years.

This analysis and its subsequent plan needs to be conducted in systematic and thorough manner as opposed to a rush to judgment. There will be a desire to quickly offer suggestions for how to move forward but with no consideration of the consequences of these ideas.

In the deathly silence of defeat, Democrats need to remember to breathe, gather their compatriots, count their assets, develop a careful plan and then move forward into the light.

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