Archive for November, 2016

William Fulbright to Kanye West: Our Nation’s Slide into Idiocracy

Posted in Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 by thebluebros

Being an elected official is incredibly challenging. Among other things, there are so many different areas one needs to know and understand. And it is why we have historically chosen leaders that have strong educational backgrounds as well as a long history of government service. This has changed though.

In the 2016 presidential election, most thought we would be shattering the glass ceiling. Instead, we shattered a very different type of ceiling—the one separating the unexperienced and unknowing from the presidency. While Trump may be the candidate you voted for, it is a fact that Trump had no government experience, no military experience, and no experience of public service prior to running for president, and he knows less about the policies he will be deciding than any presidential candidate of the last 100 years (including George W. Bush).

And it’s not just Donald Trump. The third party candidates this year, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, frequently embarrassed themselves on the campaign trail as they demonstrated how little they knew. Hell, Gary Johnson couldn’t identify a single world leader he admired including Vincente Fox who served as President of Mexico while Gary Johnson was governor of New Mexico.

And in case we thought this may be a one-off and the United States will return to normal in four years, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson announced this summer that he is considering running for president in 2020. As did Kanye West. And we cannot very well discount their chances of winning, can we?

When did it become okay to run for the most important job in the entire world, and do nothing to prepare for it other than be famous? Is anyone else offended by this? Do we treat any other profession this way? If you are undergoing surgery, would you want a doctor who had never gone to medical school or performed this particular surgery? If you were getting your taxes done, would you want an accountant who never got past 6th grade math? If you were going to get a haircut, would you want someone who is on their first day of the job and skipped barber college? Of course not. But when we want to select the person who will be leading the world’s largest military, and making the most complex decisions imaginable, suddenly we are ready to consider people who have no experience, no knowledge, and no business running for city council, let alone the presidency.

If you want to know just how different our times are, I ask you to consider Senator J. William Fulbright. Senator Fulbright led a fairly remarkable life. He went to Oxford University and eventually became a Rhodes Scholar. He represented the State of Arkansas in the U.S. Senate for 30 years (1945 to 1974). While in the senate, Sen. Fulbright was considered incredibly cerebral and a real thought-leader. One of his signature achievements was to create the scholarship program that still bears his name. Did I mention he represented Arkansas?! When Fulbright returned to Arkansas to meet with constituents, let’s just say he didn’t fit in so well at a lot of places. He dressed smartly; had a large vocabulary; spoke in depth about complex things; and that was okay. The great majority of his constituents looked upon Fulbright with tremendous pride, as if to say, “That is MY senator. He is our state’s very best. Let’s see if your state’s got someone better.”

That meritocracy is now gone in too many places. No longer are voters looking for their state’s best and brightest. If Fulbright attempted to run for Senate in 2020 from Arkansas, he would undoubtedly be labeled a smug egghead who thought he was better than everyone, and someone who routinely demonstrated his arrogance by talking down to people. Voters would ask where the candidate is they can have a beer with? So long as voters choose candidates on the basis of their beer swigging abilities, doing so will likely leave us with elected officials who are good at little else.

– Dylan

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Wounds are Licked: Initial Thoughts on a Tough Night

Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2016 by thebluebros

Phew. What a night. For a Democrat, this was the toughest election since 2004. After a night like this, it is important to take stock rather than feel hopeless. Here goes.

Undemocratic Outcome

At this late hour, it appears very likely that Hillary Clinton will attain more votes than Donald Trump, but lose the White House. Further, the Democratic House candidates will likely collect more votes than Republican candidates (again), but lose the House (again). The Electoral College and gerrymandering are terribly undemocratic practices and should be abolished. Don’t expect, however, any level or branch of this elected government to change the system that it so richly benefits from.

End the Filibuster

My hope is that the Republicans, unlike the Democrats, will have the guts to end the filibuster. While the filibuster is a nice idea in theory (i.e., one more check on government), its use has become so out-of-control and frequent that it has crippled government.

The voters have spoken. They want Republicans to control the Senate, and the voters ought to get that result. While eliminating the filibuster would be the height of Republican hypocrisy, it would be good for our government, and since when do congressional Republicans have a problem with breaking prior records of hypocrisy?

Pro-Business Democrats’ Chickens Have Come to Roost

In a turn of cruel irony, it is largely Bill Clinton’s trade policies that have cost his wife a shot at the White House. Well, that’s not entirely fair. It is not all Bill Clinton’s fault. It is the fault of “pro-business” Democrats who abandoned their working-class base and blue-collar unions in order to embrace terrible trade deals that sent American factories overseas, decimated the environment, and put foreign workers (many of them children) into terrible working conditions. Rather than admit just how terrible these deals have been, Democrats such as Hillary Clinton (as recently as a year ago) and Barack Obama (still!), are pushing for more of them such as TPP.

Both of the major parties abandoned the rust belt, and gave a collective “meh” about 50,000 U.S. factories just going away. Some people though are finally figuring out that these largely abandoned voters are ripe for the picking (see last night’s Ohio Senate race where the Republican candidate got the endorsement of the labor unions and trounced a popular former governor by 21 points!). Trump had the sense (or more likely the luck) to oppose these trade deals vociferously and the Midwest repaid him handsomely.

Dark Times for American Courts

Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have, for the past six years, embarked on a cynical ploy to block President Obama from performing his Constitutional duty of nominating very moderate judges to the federal bench. The result is what Chief Justice John Roberts calls an “emergency” with more than 100 judicial vacancies on our federal bench. Now, however, we will see Senate Republicans be rewarded for this reprehensible style of governing. There will be a rapid-fire filling of these 100 vacancies with judges that represent the furthest fringe of the far-right. This genuinely frightens me.

What Do You Have to Lose? Well, A Lot Actually

Trump often made the ridiculous argument that people should vote for him because, “What do you have to lose?” A lot of voters echoed this sentiment, apparently with the entitled and naïve belief that things in American cannot get any worse, only better. I have some news for these people. We have it very damn good here in the United States, and anyone who takes this privilege for granted does so at his or her own peril. Things can get a lot worse. Many who voted for Donald Trump in this election do not adequately appreciate this.

We Again See That When a Party Chooses Its Nominee by Turn, that Party Loses

The best way to select a nominee is to have a lot of people throw their hats in the ring, and for the voters to then select the candidate that gives them the greatest chance of winning. The worst way to select a candidate is to have few choices, and/or pick the nominee mostly by determining whose turn it is. Republicans did this in 1996 (Dole), 2008 (McCain), and 2012 (Romney). All three lost.

The Democratic Party failed our nation by failing to give us a true primary. Not a single Democrat emerged to challenge Clinton. The party had great, charismatic leaders waiting in the wings that could have emerged—people like Sherrod Brown (OH), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Brian Schweitzer (MT), Corey Booker (NJ), etc. No one did. Bernie Sanders—someone who is not even a Democrat—reluctantly offered to run because he realized the importance of a contested primary, and saw that no one else was going to run. Again, this is a failure of the Democratic Party and cowardice by its leaders.

Hillary Was, Quite Simply, a Lousy Candidate

While I have no question over Hillary’s character, intelligence, or ability to be a fine president, she is a terrible candidate (something I suspect should would admit behind close doors). We often hear that Hillary lacks authenticity and charisma, but what we don’t hear enough is that her overall strategy sucked because she did not learn from her mistakes. Hillary made all of the same mistakes she made in 2008 when she lost to an unknown freshman senator. Specifically, she gave us almost no reason to vote for her. I keep hearing that her website has specific policies about immigration, taxes, student loans and other things, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what any of them are. How is that possible? I follow this stuff much closer than most, and I can’t tell you anything. That is a failure of messaging and vision.

The Democratic Party Establishment’s Hubris Was Cruel and Unfounded

The Democratic Party castigated Bernie Sanders and his supporters (including me) for being a nuisance, and ridiculed us for not trusting in Hillary—who could not lose! Especially if Trump was the nominee! Hillary could lose, and she lost to the most unpopular person ever to run for president. The hubris of the Democratic establishment and its contempt for Bernie supporters was unfair and unfounded.

– Dylan

A Legitimate Reason to Vote for Donald Trump (and Admitting that Each of Us Sometimes Vote for Terrible People)

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2016 by thebluebros

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I can understand the thinking behind a non-racist person voting for Trump. I really can. It would go something like this:

“It is very unlikely that either a President Trump or a President Clinton will be able to accomplish anything meaningful from a legislative perspective. This election, therefore, is about the Supreme Court for me, and nothing else. Trump has already provided me a list of potential Supreme Court justices, and it is a who’s who of super conservative guys who will do what I want done—e.g., overturn Roe v. Wade; overturn any gun safety legislation; allow state-sanctioned Christianity; step on the neck of labor unions; and deal harshly with the criminally accused. While I understand Trump is prone to erratic behavior, I think the chances of him starting a major war is low enough that I will take that risk to get the Supreme Court I want.”

That argument is not without merit. I see in myself a similar calculus being made. There are unpleasant features of Hillary Clinton that I am willing to overlook so that I can vote for someone who will fill the federal judiciary with liberals. So let’s get real for a minute. If I am being honest, I would, if necessary, be willing to overlook a whole lot more than some shady emails. For example, if it became known that Ms. Clinton cheated on her taxes, was involved in a dog-fighting business, whipped Chelsea with a belt as a child, and cold-called children to tell them there was no Santa Clause, I would still vote for her. I would not be putting up lawn signs or giving Ms. Clinton my money, but she would have my vote. Having said that, there is nothing significant with Ms. Clinton I need to overlook (e.g., she has never admitted on tape to being a sexual predator), and I expect she will be a good (not great) president.

But here’s the thing. I don’t hear ANY Trump supporters making the argument set out above. Rather, I hear a lot of terrible reasons that are not supported by reason, evidence, or sense (and this support is given with perplexingly high levels of enthusiasm!). As an illustration, here are the most common reasons one regularly hears for voting for Donald Trump:

  • You can’t vote for Hillary. She is just too dishonest.
    • Response: This of course is total nonsense as Donald Trump, by any objective measure, lies significantly more often than Hillary Clinton.
  • You can’t vote for Hillary. She is too corrupt.
    • Response: Reasonable minds can disagree as to whether Hillary Clinton is “corrupt.” Those who make this statement with unequivocal certainty do so by relying on assumptions and innuendo. And to the extent Clinton is corrupt, there overwhelming evidence demonstrating that Trump is “mind-bogglingly” more corrupt than Clinton.
  • Trump is a doer who will solve problems.
    • Response: The problem of course with this statement is that Trump has provided almost no specific policy proposals (except for building a wall and providing huge tax cuts for the rich), and Trump brags about his lack of policy specifics. Further, it is difficult to foresee how a person will be able to solve problems when he: knows almost nothing about foreign policy; knows almost nothing about domestic policy; and doesn’t even understand the basic workings of our government.
  • Trump will solve the illegal immigration problem.
    • Response: Trump’s only “plan” to end the illegal immigration problem is to build a wall that is cost-prohibitive and cannot and will not work. If you want to see Trump himself explain one way the wall will fail to work, go to 13:24 in this video.
  • Trump is a successful
    • Response: Putting aside the very real question of just how much value there is in having a business background prior to being president, there are serious questions about just how successful Trump has been. We know he has filed bankruptcy six times. And while he is richer than he was 40 years ago, he would be even richer if he had simply put all of the $40 million his father gave him into an index fund.
  • Hillary will likely face legal problems after she is elected relating to her email.
    • Response: One may not know this based on the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of Hillary’s emails, but Trump is currently embroiled in 75 legal battles (another publication has located 169 lawsuits in which Trump is a named defendant), including one in which Trump faces allegations of raping a 13-year old girl, and others alleging fraud involving Trump University. These may all go nowhere, but so may the single investigation into Hillary’s emails (which Mr. Comey’s letter released today indicates is the case).
  • Hillary is a flip-flopper.
    • Response: While Hillary has unquestionably changed her position on key issues without good explanation, Trump may be the all-time king of flip-floppers. Trump has completely reversed positions on the Iraq War, abortion, torture, immigration, gun control, and on and on.

This list is not provided as a defense of Hillary Clinton, or an attempt to convince others to vote for Hillary. Rather, the list is an attempt to demonstrate that the reasons given by most Trump supporters for voting for Trump are dishonest or very poorly considered. The shortcomings shared by Hillary (prone to untrue statements; secretive; flip-flopping; potential legal problems) are all shortcomings shared by Donald Trump to the same or much greater extent.

The larger and more disturbing point in all of this is that people on both sides of the aisle shamelessly support their side’s candidate and lie about why they are doing it. A great example of this is the Republican Party in 2008 running ads attacking Barack Obama for being a “celebrity.” Eight years later, we have conservatives arguing that Trump’s celebrity is a “huge plus.” There should be a political cost for such blatant hypocrisy, and our electorate should demand better.

The first step in bringing some amount of civility back to our political discourse is for people to start being honest with themselves, and that begins with most people admitting that their vote is entirely based on the letter after a person’s name (D or R), and that everything else (convictions, investigations, secrecy, demeanor, character) is just background noise. Additionally, for most voters, elected leaders are held to a stunning double-standard—i.e., if my guy does it, we’re cool; but if your guy does it, they are Satan. So as I alluded to above, I am willing to take the first step. Here goes.

I am voting for Hillary Clinton primarily because she is a member of the Democratic Party and adopts most of the planks of its platform. Although Trump is as detestable of a human being as I have ever had the misfortunate of seeing, there is no Republican governor or member of Congress whom I would support over Ms. Clinton. Further, my own bias means that despite my best efforts, I can’t help but be drawn to sources of information that support my worldview; I recall every wrong committed by Republicans; and I am too quick to forgive my Democratic brethren for their sins. Who’s ready to go next?

– Dylan

Understanding Trump’s Rise to the Top: The Lowest-Hanging Fruit Meets the Lowest Common Denominator

Posted in Uncategorized on November 1, 2016 by thebluebros

I routinely run into people who express disbelief that someone like Donald Trump could ascend to the top of the political world, become the nominee of a major political party, and be put in a position where he has a real shot of becoming the next leader of the free world. Sure enough, with just one week to Election Day, we are faced with the possibility that he could win. How could this have happened?

Trump’s political strategy has combined two tactics: (1) Identify the lowest-hanging political fruit and (2) Use that “fruit” to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the voting public. That is, you create the simplest message possible, which is designed to appeal to the least educated and least informed among us. And we see this at every Trump rally on an almost daily basis. Trump delivers uniquely-simple stump speeches to throngs of uneducated white people. We have yet to see if this strategy is enough to get Trump to the Oval Office; but even if he loses; his strategy has been a frighteningly-effective one.

At the root of Trump’s political strategy lies a very simple tactic: Look at the world and point out the imperfect. That’s the Trump strategy in a nutshell. We hear this strategy verbalized at all of his rallies. He routinely says things like, “Look around…,” “Just look…,” “Everyone can see…,” “Everyone knows…,” etc.

In a world chalk full of challenges, it does not take an intellectual giant to identify problems, especially as they pertain to the lives of everyday Americans. In a country where people have inflated senses of self-worth and where they are taught that they deserve happiness, it’s gratifying for them to identify scapegoats for their imperfect lives. Rather than approach problems in a thoughtful way and identify the multifactorial nature of an imperfect system, it’s easier to imagine that someone larger than life will swoop down, save them from their troubled realities, and offer up the American Dream that always seems to elude them.

People could invest the energy to learn and understand how various business interests, geopolitical interests, and big money interests have helped mold a political landscape that largely works against the American middle class. Unfortunately, learning takes effort—a resource Americans are too often reticent to use. So what’s an easier way? What’s the path of least resistance for a collectively-lazy electorate? Answer: Identify problems and point fingers.

Think about the tiny amount of intellectual prowess it takes to implement this political strategy. Looking out any window in America, any person is likely to see something that could be improved upon. Finding a scapegoat for these problems is even easier. Can’t find work? Blame illegal immigrants. Increased racial tension? Blame liberals for not

honoring our police officers. Increased global terrorism? Blame Obama’s soft spot for Muslims and his inability to say the words “Islamic terrorism.” Poor schools? Blame Common Core and the teachers’ union. Low GDP? Blame overregulation and high business taxes. Shrinking middle class? Blame illegal immigrants for taking jobs (a common theme) and blame taxes for being too high (another common theme). Degradation of society? Blame liberal activist judges. The loss of American values? Liberals again. Christmas under attack? Liberals hate God. Government not honest or trustworthy? Blame Hillary.

You see how this works. Every complex problem in America, real or manufactured, can be boiled down to a simple bumper sticker-sized sentence where blame inevitably falls on liberals.

Identifying problems is fine, but one of the things political candidates are supposed to do is offer us ideas for a different direction. There are no real solutions posited by Team Trump, only vague promises to enforce law and order, improve the economy, fix the healthcare system, repair our schools, strengthen the military, etc. When pressed on anything resembling a detail, Trump lets a plan slip that is so ridiculous, if any other person was to say it, it would be taken as an obvious joke (e.g. build a giant wall and have Mexico pay for it; locate, apprehend, and export millions of illegal immigrants; ban Muslims from entering the country; prosecute women for getting abortions; etc.).

On a side note, if conservatives want to blame Obama and Hillary Clinton for destroying this once-great country, they’re going to have to explain what role Republicans played in our nation’s demise. For the last six years, we’ve had a Democratic president, but we’ve also had a Republican-controlled US House, a Republican-controlled US Senate, a large majority of governorships belonging to Republicans, a majority of state senates controlled by Republicans, a majority of state houses controlled by Republicans, and until the death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year, a Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court.

For people struggling to achieve the American dream, I understand the allure of Trump, and I can appreciate the temptation to blame others. However, the irony is not lost on me that the Party of personal responsibility can’t seem to stop blaming others for all of their problems.

The problem we have before us is that we have a significant portion of Americans who are angry, uninformed, and hungry for a leader to tell them who to blame for their problems. The long-term solution is to create a more informed and more educated electorate. The short-term solution is ensure that we don’t encourage, endorse, or elect Donald Trump (or anyone like him) to any public office. Don’t forget to vote!

– Nathan