Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Dozen (or so) Random Thoughts About The 2016 Election

I've read tons of stuff in the past 12 or so hours, from respected intellectuals, Nobel laureates, and Facebook friends.  My mind swims from all the emotions, from denial and anger, to depression and bargaining, to acceptance and determination.  I just wanted to put down some of the many things that moved me, either positively or negatively.

1) Andrew Sullivan writes in New York magazine: The Republic Repeals Itself. I always find nuggets of truth in Andrew's sage writing.  Here's one:
This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image. He has humiliated the elites and the elite media. He has embarrassed every pollster and naysayer. He has avenged Obama. And in the coming weeks, Trump will not likely be content to bask in vindication. He will seek unforgiving revenge on those who dared to oppose him. The party apparatus will be remade in his image. The House and Senate will fail to resist anything he proposes — and those who speak up will be primaried into oblivion. The Supreme Court may well be shifted to the far right for more than a generation to come — with this massive victory, he can pick a new Supreme Court justice who will make Antonin Scalia seem like a milquetoast. He will have a docile, fawning Congress for at least four years. We will not have an administration so much as a court.
While a bit melodramatic, he's not wrong.  At all. This terrifies me.

2) Paul Krugman goes over the top, in my opinion:
I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible.  
3) My friend, screenwriter Lyle Weldon, wrote beautifully on Facebook:

Before we went to sleep -- before the race was officially over -- I kissed my daughters goodnight and told them that no matter the outcome, we'd continue to live as we'd always done, that we'd treat all people equally, be respectful of those we disagreed with and love and love and love.
Waking now in the middle of the night to learn the truth of this unbelievable election, it's the darkest, most scared I've felt since September 11th, 2001. The world changed that day yet we managed to move forward in a positive way. We'll do the same now. We have to. My children and their children deserve a future better than our past, brighter than our present.
I'll follow my own advice and hope that every one of us does the same. Hatred and fear will not swallow our world. We have our morals, we have our faith and we have each other. Love and love and love.  

4) On Huffington Post, Ali Michael advises us how to teach our children about this horrible nightmare:
Tell them ... you will honor the outcome of the election, but that you will fight bigotry. Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school. Tell them you stand by your Muslim families. Your same-sex parent families. Your gay students. Your Black families. Your female students. Your Mexican families. Your disabled students. Your immigrant families. Your trans students. Your Native students. Tell them you won’t let anyone hurt them or deport them or threaten them without having to contend with you first. Say that you will stand united as a school community, and that you will protect one another. Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong. Then teach them how to speak up, how to love one another, how to understand each other, how to solve conflicts, how to live with diverse and sometimes conflicting ideologies, and give them the skills to enter a world that doesn’t know how to do this. 

5) Esquire's Charlie Pierce on how Trump took ownership of the GOP:
It has been said that Trump hijacked the Republican Party. This is said by Republicans who still wish in their timid dreams that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had been strapped into the machine for another safe run on the same old track. That is not entirely true. He didn't hijack the machine. He just turned it into a high-performance vehicle. Trump's visceral appeal—the sexism, the racism, the xenophobia, the crude stupidity and know-nothingism, the appeals to a lost America, to people who most deeply felt its loss, none of whom was him—was merely fuel of higher octane than anyone had dared put into the machine before. He poured it in by the gallon, disengaged the emergency brake, mashed the accelerator to the floorboard and was off. 

6) Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg expresses hope:
The presidency is the single most powerful position in the American government. But there's little he can do by himself. Will Republicans -- in Congress, in the executive-branch departments and agencies, even in the White House -- have the backbone to stand up to him?
I hope we never have to find out. I hope Trump's scarier talk turns out to be mostly bluster, and he'll be satisfied to strut around a little and otherwise stick to the norms and traditions of the republic. If there's one positive sign to cling to, it was his selection of a mainstream conservative governor as his running mate. Yes, Mike Pence is very conservative, but he is not one of Trump's more bombastic or irresponsible supporters.  
Don't count on it, Jonathan.

Here's what I am gloomy about:

7) Trump won over Clinton. Bigotry, racism, white nationalism, sexism and misogyny won over tolerance; Fear of and ignorance about the Other won over understanding; shooting unarmed black men and women and children won over deescalation and cooperation; ISIS recruitment won over persistent and deadly dismantling; Russian spying won over national security; religious fundamentalism and superstition won over reason and science; retreat won over progress; endless war and torture won over peace and basic human rights; lies won over truth; propaganda won over carefully-researched factual reporting; protectionism and isolationism won over globalism; voter suppression won over an unfettered voter franchise; darkness won over light.

8) I can, very reluctantly, forgive whatever financial bullshit Donald Trump and his wrecking crew try to perpetrate.  He'll try to dismantle Dodd/Frank and the CFPB.  He'll try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He'll try to cut taxes for the wealthy and widen the income and wealth inequality gap on the backs of middle and working class Americans.  He'll try to rip up NAFTA and other trade agreements and implement protectionist trade policies that will cost more jobs than they create.  It will be a disaster, to be sure. From my own personal financial history, however, as well as from what I've observed as a front-line financial services professional for over 31 years, I know that this is all just money in the end. Money is in inexhaustible supply; there will always be money. And like Bill Clinton largely undid Reagan's and Bush 41's financial messes (while creating some of his own), and like Obama largely undid Bush 43's financial messes (while creating some of his own too), we will be able to undo nearly any financial mess that Trump creates. So if you voted for Trump for any of these reasons, I can and do forgive you.  In an objective way, it's business, not personal.

9) If, however, you voted for Trump because you want to see him invalidate millions of same-sex marriages and tear their families apart, or you want to see him invade and further limit or invalidate womens' private reproductive choices and endanger millions of lives, or you want to see him send thousands of men and women back onto the battlefield to be killed and re-implement the heinous and illegal torture regime of Bush/Cheney, or you want to see him lay waste to Obama's progress on climate change and further despoil our beautiful planet, or you want to see him implement a religious test for entry into the United States (or worse, for public office), or you want to see him round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants with or without children born in the US and separating and/or destroying millions of families in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, or you want to see him make hate and revenge a part of public policy, then you're getting personal and destroying lives for nothing more than a difference of opinion.  I won't say that makes you a deplorable person, but I will say that you're supporting deplorable actions.

10) There are those who say that in time things will get better. Perhaps.  I'm an optimist by nature, and it's really a challenge for me to stay gloomy for very long.  But having lived through eight years of Bush and Cheney, watching what endless war, torture, and warrantless wiretapping and surveillance have done to our national psyche, and believing today with all of my heart that Trump is worse than Bush in that he lacks any kind of moral compass, and believing that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will not be able to stop or even temper his march toward neofascism any more than the 16 more qualified presidential candidates and the gutless Speaker of the House could, it is extremely hard for me to believe that things will get better.  (See below for how I think they can get better.)

11) To those who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson (who my friend calls Tofu Palin and Gomer Aleppo) or wrote in another name or simply abstained from voting -- including those of you who believed Bernie Sanders, had he been nominated, been the president-elect -- you bear a fair amount of blame for this outcome.  The talk was that Hillary Clinton was too weak a candidate to beat Trump. But the truth is, Bernie was incredibly weak as a candidate.  Had he been nominated, the formidable right wing propaganda machine would have eviscerated him.  He might not have had the email baggage, but every fucking one of us has seen first-hand how effective it can be to keep repeating a lie until it becomes the truth.  By slamming Hillary Clinton with the email story, you actually aid in perpetuating that huge nothing-burger. All the corporate media had to do -- after essentially ignoring him during the primaries -- was call him a socialist enough times, and he'd have been toast. No amount of factual truths -- not even Kurt Eichenwald's exhaustively investigated 129 verifiable facts about Donald Trump and his lies that would have disqualified any other candidate -- could overcome that massive wood chipper of a media-entertainment industrial complex.  Hillary Clinton reportedly received nearly 90% of the African-American vote; I don't believe Bernie would have done nearly that well.

12) To any and all Republicans, you wanted all the reins of government.  The White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court.  You have them now.  Give it your best shot.  Work with me, and I'll work with you.  Just know that a) the rest of us will fight you when you reach too far, and b) we will also do everything we can to defeat you at every turn because we know you'll get too drunk on all that power.  But one thing is for sure:  you can't blame anyone else but yourselves if and when things blow up.  You hold nearly all of the cards now.  If there's a terrorist act, it's on you.  If we run up new debts, it's on you. If tax revenue hits the skids, it's on you. If people die because they can't get adequate healthcare absent the ACA, it's on you.  No more blaming Democrats, and no more blaming the media, who will now act like quiet little lapdogs in exchange for access to your power.

I'm not gloomy about this:

13) Looking at this map, it shows that had only Millenials 18-25 voted in this election, Trump would have lost 43 states.  This is a bright flame of hope for me.  Those of the "Greatest Generation" and Baby Boom Generation and Generation X have truly done enough damage to this country, and it's time for young, fresh thinking.  I've never met more intelligent or more connected folks than the Millenials.  Accordingly, I desire that Trump be the last American born before 1975 to be elected president.  My son Max will be able to vote in 2020.  So will his cousin, Ben, and his friends, Josh, Oliver, Neil, Caitlin, Thomas, Jack, Julian, Adam, Maya, Brandon, and Austin.  You can bet I'll be teaching Max to defend humanity and live by a code of honor, and to fight injustice and not remain silent, to use his voice and his vote to turn back Trump in his reelection bid.  If any of you have children who will be casting their first presidential votes in 2020, I implore you to do the same.  We don't have to agree on everything.  In fact, we really only have to agree on one basic thing: that Donald J. Trump must never again be elected president.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

On the Death of an Estranged Family Member

My uncle, Joe Spinner, died yesterday, on his 84th birthday.  My mother called me to tell me the day before that her older brother was moved to hospice care in the end stages of cancer and was not expected to survive the week.  His wife, Hilda, could not come to the phone when my mother called, but my mother spoke to her nephew, who filled her in on much of the details.

As sad as it can be when anyone in your family dies, I struggle with my emotions. I hadn't seen Uncle Joe in a very long time; so long, in fact, that I can't remember when it was.  It was either when my older brother got married in 1989 or when my younger brother had his Bar Mitzvah, way back in 1977.  There may have been a family event in the middle there somewhere but I honestly cannot pinpoint the last time I saw him or spoke to him.

Growing up in New Jersey, my parents took my brothers and me one weekend every month up to Brooklyn to visit our grandparents, who lived a short distance away from each other in Seagate, a gated community in Coney Island. We'd spend lots of time visiting with our grandparents, and my dad's sister and her family who lived upstairs from her parents, and my mom's sister and her family, who lived right across the street from her parents.  But Uncle Joe lived in Howard Beach, probably a half hour's drive away from Seagate. I remember as kids seeing him and the family, with their two sons Jeffrey and Mitchell, occasionally when they came to Seagate, but I don't recall ever going to Howard Beach.  At major family gatherings -- Bar Mitzvah's, etc. -- they'd come to visit.

Honestly, I saw my cousins as strangers and didn't like them much.  Mitchell was actually nice and friendly but much younger, and Jeffrey was aggressive and a bit of a bully and we never really got along.  I don't recall conversations I may have had with my mother back then, but I know I didn't keep silent about my feelings for them.

When my parents moved us from New Jersey to California in 1977, visits with grandparents and other relatives went from monthly to annually, then to hardly at all.  My brothers and I were young adults and were beginning lives of our own out west.  I can count on two hands the number of times I saw my grandparents over the next 10-15 years, during which time all but one had passed away.

My mother had monthly conversations with Uncle Joe, trading off turns to share the expense of the long distance phone calls.  But I don't think I ever got on the phone to say hi to him.

After my maternal grandfather, Abe Spinner, passed in 1988, I guess his three children had some disagreements over his estate.  My aunt, the eldest and closest, took charge and was apparently pretty stingy with the assets.  That caused a fair amount of friction.  As she got older -- she's now 88 -- my mother and her drifted apart.  Joe, in the middle, took sides with his older sister, and my mother did not speak to either of them for years.

In a way, because I wasn't particularly close to Joe or his family, I can't say I feel at all deprived of a relationship with them because of how my mother handled her relationship with her brother.  I'm an adult with my own family and large set of relatives on Lisa's side.  I could have reached out, but I didn't and I have never particularly regretted it.  I feel some small desire to reach out to Hilda and my cousins, but what would I say? I guess I don't need to say anything in particular except hello and that I'm sorry for their loss and that I wish them well, but would I simply be doing what ought to be done or what I really want to do?  I'm not sure, and as I'm writing this in real time, I won't be making any sort of decision yet.

But Joe's death brings to light something that I haven't ever really faced: the lack of relationship among my relatives.  On my father's side, I'm in regular contact with his nieces and their parents.  But my paternal grandfather had nine siblings, all of them long gone.  I think I met three of them when I was young.  I went to a Bar Mitzvah of one cousin on that side when I was 13, purely because he came to mine and it was the right thing to do.  My paternal grandmother had three siblings, all of whom I knew well, and I saw their kids pretty regularly until we all grew up. Now we never speak or write, despite the ubiquity of Facebook and other social media.  I haven't even looked them up.  I wonder why that is?

On my mother's side, there was Joe's family, and her sister's family.  Her two kids were 6-10 years older than I was. Her son, Glenn, left the family more than 30 years ago because they refused to let him marry the (non-Jewish) girl he loved.  He moved to Michigan and severed all contact with his parents, not even coming to his father's funeral.  Only his sister, Bonnie, remained close all these years, and I am friends with her on Facebook.  I never met any of my maternal grandparents' siblings -- or at least I don't remember meeting them -- except for one, my sweet Aunt Irene, who lived in the downstairs apartment from my grandmother, her sister.

In the movies you always see stories of tight-knit Jewish families, cousins going for generations, all of whom live within a few blocks of each other, or with each other, and all of whom get together for every family event. It didn't happen in my clan. All but one of my grandparents were Eastern European immigrants who came to the U.S. either right before or right after World War I.  Some went to South America, in fact.  By the time I came into the world, they had all apparently drifted apart or were never really all that close. Squabbles and other circumstances sent us all in different directions. And with Joe's death, I wonder now what would have been different had we all been more like that iconic Jewish family.

Now, my two sons know and frequently visit with first, second, and third cousins on both sides of their family -- Olivia, Tori, Elle, Max, Ethan, Juliana and Josh from my side, and Ben, Allegra, Gabriella, and Alexander from Lisa's side -- and even have relationships with cousins in far-flung places like Capetown, Sydney, and Perth.  My cousins and I have managed to create that tight-knit clan out of our somewhat neglected family tree.  And that's something I truly appreciate and plan to nurture for as long as I can.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Joey.
Love, your nephew, Eric

Friday, June 17, 2016

The GOP's Slow Motion Train Wreck

I’ve read multiple articles detailing what establishment Republicans would like to do to thwart Donald Trump in his march toward the nomination at next month’s convention in Cleveland.  The Daily Beast reports today that House Speaker Paul Ryan, who endorses Trump, said in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd to be aired on this Sunday’s Meet the Press, “The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.”  As the most powerful elected Republican in the country, and as chairman of the Republican National Convention, Ryan’s words could be a signal to convention delegates to nominate a candidate per their consciences.  Also, the Washington Post reports today that “[d]ozens of Republican convention delegates are hatching a new plan to block Donald Trump at this summer’s party meetings, in what has become the most organized effort so far to stop the businessman from becoming the GOP nominee.” 

Further, Trump is beginning to encounter difficulty in fundraising.  According to a Politico report Thursday, the Republican National Committee gave Trump a list of about 20 names of the biggest campaign donors they know.  Trump reportedly called just three of them before giving up, and it’s unclear if he followed up with anyone after that.  Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s expansive ground organization and fundraising capabilities will easily have her with close to the $1 billion she’ll need to wage her campaign.

Finally, poll after poll suggests that Trump’s chances of victory against Clinton are getting slimmer and slimmer.  Bloomberg this week has him 12 points behind, and on average he’s at least six points behind.  The only major group where his favorable rating exceeds his unfavorable rating is among white men with no college degree.  His unfavorable rating among women is 77 percent; among Hispanics it’s 87 percent, and among African-Americans it’s a whopping 94 percent.  Clinton also high pretty high unfavorables, but she’s not even in the same league as Trump.  There's a huge chance that Clinton could, in the most polarized political environment in US history since the Civil War, pull out a double-digit win in November.

Given his dismal chances, his poor fundraising, and the open efforts by members of the GOP to deny him the nomination next month, it’s gotten me thinking about just what could happen if Trump were not the nominee.  How would his voter base react?  How would that affect the party as a whole?  Would the fallout be worse than having him finish the contest all the way to November, where he’d lose spectacularly to the more qualified Hillary Clinton?  If they did deny him the nomination, who then would be the nominee, and what would that do to their chances in November (and beyond)?

As I see it, the Republicans have a few choices:
  1. Support Trump as vigorously as they can.  As Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary, might have quipped, “You go into a campaign with the nominee you’ve got, not the nominee you wish you could have gotten.”  The voters have spoken, and Donald Trump has earned more delegates and more votes than any of the other 16 candidates who ran against him.  Delegates are currently bound by RNC rules to vote for the candidates who won their respective districts/states.  If they support him aggressively, using the formidable Republican media machine, they could potentially re-brand him and to make him more universally palatable.  Hey, it could happen! However, this option required Trump to pivot toward the center and act like a presidential candidate.  Instead, we’ve all seen and heard about his ridiculous statements over the past six weeks since securing the delegates to win nomination.  As usual, he’s made it all about him, and the polling in recent weeks has definitely shown that he’s done himself no favors with his orange-framed maw.  I won’t use this space to detail all he’s said and done.  You’d do much better to read James Fallows’s chronicle over at The Atlantic; it’s gobsmacking.  Moreover, his supporters like him exactly the way he is.  Making him seem more “politically correct” would undermine all he’s said for the past year against being politically correct.  Since Trump has already failed to be a more conventional candidate, any effort they now make to re-brand him would probably do more harm than good.  Not a good option.
  2. Back away slowly from Trump and quietly focus on down-ballot races. This appears to be the option they are choosing at the moment.  Slowly, high-level Republican elites are going public with their desire for a different nominee.  Mitt Romney convened a gathering in the past two weeks in Park City, Utah to discuss their options.  Even Ryan and RNC Chair Reince Priebus attended, mostly to make the case for supporting Trump.  It’s highly unusual – and not a little entertaining – to see all of this happening in full view.  It should tell us something about the level of desperation the party feels now that they have Trump as their nominee.
  3. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.  "I don't think he's racist but he's playing the race card... If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it," Senator and former GOP presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently told CNN. "There'll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary."  There are already other Senators and Representatives who are urging their fellow Republicans to dump Trump as soon as possible.

Whatever their choice is, the GOP must contend with fallout from Trump’s supporters.  They won’t like anything that undermines their guy.  Further, diehard GOP operatives who have fallen in line behind Trump out of party loyalty will not appreciate the damage that actions taken against Trump will do to the party.  Further, should the efforts succeed in dumping Trump, any Republican who spends the next five months as the Trump alternative will have committed political suicide.  The party would be in shambles, perhaps irretrievably broken, and there would not be enough votes to defeat Clinton.  This is the kind of scorched-earth scenario that former Republican operatives like Bruce Bartlett have wanted to see.  The thinking is that a demoralized and destroyed GOP would only be so for a short while.  Out of those ashes could come a saner, more disciplined party that has forever exorcised its Tea Party and Trumpist demons, a party that actually wants to govern and has real ideas based in a real-life understanding of what’s happening in the world (e.g. climate change, demographics, healthcare). 

And what of those hardcore Trump supporters now?  As Trump said, if he’s denied the nomination, whether by rules changes, or an outright contested convention, his followers would definitely resist.  “I think you’d have riots,” he told CNN in March.  “I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.” That was three months ago, however.  Since then, Trump’s supporters have watched him steadily debase himself and fail to unify the party behind him.  Should the party erupt in open rebellion, they may be very hard-pressed to stand by their man all the way to November. If the party establishment successfully denied him the nomination, these people could stay home on Election Day, which would be a disaster for down-ballot races.  The House and Senate could be put into play for real (the Senate actually is in play right now, but the gerrymandering-protected House could also fall). 

The conventional wisdom a few weeks ago was that the media would build Trump up and tear Hillary down in order to make this a horse race.  I think the media would find it very difficult indeed to build up what Trump is showing them now, or to tear down Hillary based on the solid, even-handed approach she’s taken. 

Regardless of what happens between now and the convention, it’s nothing if not fascinating to watch.  Like a slow-motion train wreck.  No matter what the GOP decides to do, they won’t be able to stop the wreck from happening.