Hillary and the Blame Game

April 19, 2017

It takes awhile when a candidate loses a campaign but eventually the truth wins out, despite the claims that the fault is somewhere else but in the mirror. Hillary Clinton is now in full blame game mode as she cites the Russians, Wiki Leaks, hateful white men, James Comey and the willingness of voters to buy into Trump’s lie narrative for her narrow defeat.

Now she does have a point about all these sources of her electoral demise, but she conveniently evades other critical factors that kept her out of the White House. Those critical factors have been lurking just below the surface of the political conversation but a new book by reporters from the Hill called “Shattered” have put all the missing links together to present a more accurate portrayal of Hillary’s loss.

Sure all of Hillary’s reasons for her defeat carry weight but she conveniently avoids looking into that mirror.  What she would see is a candidate who called potential white voters “deplorables”, spent way too much time raising money rather than visiting the Rust Belt, showed no understanding of the struggles of the traditional Democratic Party base, depended too heavily on a huge African-American and Hispanic turnout, and presided over a highly dysfunctional, data driven and disloyal campaign staff.

In true Clinton fashion, Hillary was a victim of her own arrogance, entitlement, and refusal to understand the voters and the country she was trying to lead. Trump for all his lies, exaggerations and false promises instinctively understood what was happening in America in the age of income inequality, forgotten voters, bigotry and hatred of the Washington elites ( better known as the Swamp). Hillary was playing from an old political handbook that was relevant in the days of Obama, but meant nothing in the America of 2016.

Hillary just cruised to the nomination and walked through the campaign ignoring the plight of angry voters, making policy speeches that put people to sleep, and not developing a election narrative that showed her as human and a true advocate for the working class.

The election is over but now we see that Hillary is at least thinking about 2020. Another run for the White House is predictable but given all the unforced errors on her part Hillary would have to have to take a crash courses in Election Management 101 and Communicating with Voters 102. Let’s face the fact, Hillary lost the election on her own.


Daddy’s Woman

April 6, 2017

It is not unusual for Presidents of the United States to offer key positions in their administration to family members – Eleanor Roosevelt was a valued advisor to her husband, Kennedy gave brother Bobby the Attorney General portfolio, and Clinton tasked Hillary with trying to get his health care bill off the ground. So when Donald Trump brings his daughter Ivanka into his inner circle it is not cause for outrage or even charges of nepotism.  Trump trusts his daughter and apparently values her counsel.

As for Ivanka, she has told anyone who will listen that her goal is to quietly talk with her father and advance policy issues that are on her agenda such as parental leave, women’s pay and matters related to children. This may be true and hopefully she can influence her father on these key domestic issues. I am not convinced.

What worries me is that Ivanka’s advice and agenda, while worthy, seems misplaced. Perhaps she has talked to dear old dad about stupid tweets, perpetuating lies and gross exaggerations, supporting serial sexual harassers, and making unsubstantiated charges that weaken his already declining reputation and popularity, but if she has talked to him about his self-defeating behavior, her counsel is empty and routinely ignored.

There are two possible reasons for Ivanka in the White House – the President likes having her around and she enjoys all the attention that can advance her brand. Ivanka in the White House is not about advancing specific policies but rather protecting Trump Inc. and dear old dad. Ivanka to her credit is a far more attractive face of the Trump presidency; she speaks with more than a six grade vocabulary; her clothes actually fit her; and she is clearly smart and poised. – all those qualities missing from her father. She is not, however, an advisor or counselor or quiet force for change.

President Trump can pretty much bring into the White House who he wants, but Ivanka is more like administrative eye candy and guardian of the brand than a key cog in the governing arena. Until this country sees policies that makes the lives of Americans better, Ivanka will just validate the President’s phony effort to show in his words that he “loves women”, but not women who make a difference.

 

 

 


What Ever Happened to Latin America?

March 30, 2017

U.S. foreign policy has often been driven by responding to crises or threats to our national interests and security.  This response is no different under the Trump administration, although the public pronouncements and policy decisions are to say the least unconventional.  As in the past we send troops to fight Middle East wars; we engage China and the rest of Asia over trade and investment; we pay close attention to our relationship to our European allies, especially in terms of dealing with growing Russian expansionism; and we often provide generous assistance to those desperately poor and ill in Africa. But as was the case with other administrations, this country takes a pass on Latin America. We know it’s there south of our border but that’s pretty much the extent of our interest.

Sure we are wrapped in an epic struggle with Mexico over the wall and the North American Free Trade Agreement, but our relationship with our neighbor to the south is more about domestic issues than foreign policy concerns. Take Mexico out of the equation and all the other Latin American countries are not viewed within the context of crises, interests and security. To quote the oft-used slogan, “There is no there there.”

The fact that Latin America is way down our foreign policy agenda is probably a good thing, since we have enough on our plate with the rest of the world. But it is kind of interesting that a part of the world that sends us cocaine, baseball players, tangos, rumbas, sambas, precious metals, cheap clothes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course Gisele Bundchen is all but forgotten. See what happens when a part of the world is generally at peace without war, border disputes, terrorists or crazed leaders.  Sure there is massive corruption, areas of gang violence, and desperate poverty, but compared to many parts of the world Latin America is likely happy to be ignored.

U.S. disinterest was not always the case as during the 20th century we sent our troops throughout the Caribbean and Central America to “bring order and democracy” and help the people become ” like us.” This work as policeman to the hemisphere didn’t really pan out as we left the region not so much better off as relieved. Now in the 21st century our mission is largely business related – to spread Wal-Marts everywhere, bring our brand of football to the masses (the Patriots play the Raiders in Mexico City in November) and make sure that the lithium from the deserts of Bolivia and Chile make their way north to our battery manufacturers.

Thank goodness Latin America is just “there” to our south so we can spread mischief, mayhem, and malice in other parts of the world.

 


Paul Ryan – Atlas Shrugged or the Sermon on the Mount?

March 27, 2017

Paul Ryan went to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Janesville, Wisconsin. As a fellow Wisconsin Catholic who attended St. John de Nepomuc School in Milwaukee, I remember the nuns telling me about Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus kicking out the money-changers from the temple and Jesus often associating with the poorest of the poor. I am proud to say that those lessons about Jesus have stuck with me even today.

Somewhere along the line Paul Ryan forgot the lessons of the Gospels that I learned in Catholic school. It appears that while a college student at Miami of Ohio University Ryan became interested in the darlings of ultra-right capitalism – Freidrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and the novelist Ayn Rand. It was Rand, a Russian-American atheist who wrote Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, that apparently Ryan read and re-read until her ideas, grounded in cynical selfishness, condemnation for those who are poor, and a fanatical desire to rid government from redistributing wealth to those who are on the dole, filled his soul.

In his public image Ryan appears to be a nice guy – earnest, family-oriented, honest and a practicing Catholic. So how does someone who grew up Catholic embrace an atheist who is as far away from the teaching of Jesus as earth is from the moon? Maybe the nuns and priests at St. Mary’s didn’t teach about the Jesus that I know; maybe Ryan came under the influence of one of those sinister professors who brainwash students; or just maybe he has convinced himself that it is impossible for people to be poor through no fault of their own.

As a US member of Congress and now the Speaker of the House Ryan must have come in contact with the sick, the unemployed, the aged, the homeless, the hungry, in short those people Ayn Rand hated because they were on the dole. But rather than leading with compassion Ryan carved together a health bill that would strip the poor (that indelible number, 24 million), of an opportunity to live a better life, a healthy life.

In the wake of the Republican health care bill debacle more and more people are asking what Ryan has against the poor and why he was in such a hurry to redistribute tax benefits from the poor to the wealthy though the legislation? I can’t answer that question, other than say that Ryan should sit down soon and read the Gospels, especially Mathew 5-7 where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”  Ryan might benefit also from Jesus saying, ” Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I’ll take Jesus over Ayn Rand any day.


This is US- After Dinner

March 15, 2017

According to our daughter Kathy my wife and I are in a television watching rut, a deep rut. After dinner it is the usual dose of Pat Sajak and letter-turning Vanna White watching the Wheel of Fortune go round and around and around. Then it is Mensa’s gift to nightly television, Alex Trebek as he smugly asks questions of earnest contestants that even he has no clue about. With game shows out of the way we turn to CNN and Anderson Cooper and his panel of talking head “experts” trying to make sense out of Donald Trump. In fairness to Ma and Pa Kryzanek, not a day goes by that something bizarre comes across the doorway of the White House making CNN a must watch.

Well Kathy kindly but forcefully told us we have to get out of the rut. Her answer to the silly game show ritual was This Is Us, the wildly popular NBC soap about a biracial family seen from their early days in the 1980s to the present. Because This Is US shows the Pearson clan with all the poignancy, drama and disappointments of a real-like family, it has taken Ma and Pa away from silly game shows and depressing politics, at least for awhile. We of course are hooked, although we are about 10 episodes behind and have given Kathy strict orders not to fill us in with the happy or sad details.

Americans love soap operas, no matter how much they say they prefer crime thrillers, hospital death spirals, and all those new spy-thrillers, end of the world survival motifs, and of course zombies. But This Is Us has caught on as a simple narrative about people who face everyday challenges – failed careers, obesity, discrimination, lost connections, alcoholism and dreams gone astray. There is not a viewer who cannot make a connection to one of the characters, and they are portrayed in real terms as they struggle with everyday challenges. The writing is simply superb and the acting is authentic. Somebody on this show is going to end up with an Emmy.

I must admit that Ma and Pa haven’t completely given up on game shows and the gamesmanship of CNN and President Trump; after all there are real people on Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and everyone just loves a circus, especially when the ringmaster is the President of the United States. But we owe Kathy a debt of gratitude for showing us the way to better television viewing. This Is Us is not going to change the world or for that matter change television but it does make viewers think about the trials and tribulations of family life by telling a simple story about real people.

 

 

 


Branding the USA

March 8, 2017

Americans it is fair to say are brand conscious. Many of us not only know the name of consumer products but we also likely know what the logo looks like, i.e. those golden arches of McDonald’s or the “swoosh” of Nike. Branding becomes important to a company as it is a symbol of a reputation built up over the years. Brands connote excellence, reliability, innovation, creativity and of course market share. Corporations pay a great deal of attention to brand and branding as it is one critical key to profits and growth.

Although we often don’t think of governments and countries having a brand, the concept of a national brand does apply just as it does in the corporate sector. Our brand has in the past been based in freedom, equality, opportunity, tolerance, justice, power and wealth. Now a nation like the United States can’t maintain all aspects of its brand since circumstances change, priorities are reconfigured and most importantly democratic politics can remake a brand.

The United States is currently going through a re-branding process and it is not a pretty sight.President Trump with his 3 am tweets, his choice of advisors and cabinet members, his controversial policies, and his determination to change the rules of politics has changed the American brand, and not for the better.

There is a mountain of evidence that those outside the United States think differently about our brand or at least are confused about what we stand for as a nation. Long time allies are deeply concerned over whether we are a dependable friend, tourists are thinking twice about whether to vacation here, multinational companies are worried about the future of trade and investment, and those new to our country, legal and illegal, are fearful for their futures, if not their lives. It was probably a prank, but the Statue of Liberty went dark for awhile the other day- a symbol of our brand without the promises associated with that beautiful torch.

As any marketing executive will tell you, once you change your brand or worse yet once your brand takes a hit, market share is in trouble. Customers loose confidence; they wonder whether the product of the past is the same today. Branding changes become especially dangerous if the new brand presents a negative image and tells the buyer that all is not well.

President Trump and his minions can be criticized on a number of miscues, false starts and simply stupid policies. But what is most bothersome to me is that they have sullied the American brand and in the process remade this United States into a less attractive country with a less attractive set of values and principles.

Getting back to the old brand of the United States will be difficult and will take a long period of time. Confidence has to be restored, old values and principles have to be re-introduced into the body politics, Lady Liberty’s torch has to shine bright again. Remember when Coca-Cola changed its soda recipe and introduced the New Coke? To say the least it was a disaster. We are going the way of Coca-Cola with a dangerous branding process. Hopefully wiser heads will push the President back to the old United States of America, the country that actually stood for something rather than using the brand to make a buck.

 


White House Scenarios

February 13, 2017

The future of President Donald Trump and his administration is more uncertain than any in modern history. Liberals and the members of the Resistance believe they smell political blood and are waiting to settle scores. But  pushing the 45th President off his White House pedestal is no easy task. Let me tell you why.

Articles of impeachment for alleged conflict of interest, ties to Russia, legal suits for sexual harassment, nepotism ( need I go on) must begin with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. This is highly unlikely as the GOP doesn’t want a long drawn-out public hearing and more importantly consider Trump a strange but supportive partner in their legislation agenda.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment gives the senior members of the Cabinet the power to remove the President if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” This would be a political coup that is certain to cause dangerous instability in the country and in the centers of power. Even if the President would act in a way that was viewed as erratic and unstable, those around him would find a way to  work around him or ignore him rather than go down in history as turning the U.S. into a banana republic.

Members of the Resistance are looking to the mid-term elections in 2018 as critical to anti-Trumpism. This strategy may be a fools journey. It is certainly possible to flip the Senate and House but highly unlikely. In the Senate Democrats must fight for 23 seats, while the Republicans only 8; in the House the way representative districts are politicized in favor of the GOP, a major transformation would be very difficult. Now the liberals could hit the ground running and try to regain the white working class and the rural folks but such an effort is long term not a two year project.

What is more likely to happen is that the Trump administration gets so dysfunctional that senior members of the GOP and key cabinet members quietly whisper in the President’s ear that he needs to remove the nut jobs, nitwits, liars and incompetents and replace them with responsible bureaucrats who know what they are doing. The conservative agenda would remain in place but would be advanced by people who don’t embarrass the United States.

In this scenario, Trump stays in place, continues to tweet at 3 in the morning, maintains his pettiness, and deepens his ego-trip. He’ll continue to make stupid comments and probably put this country close to harms way, but the real adult staff members will smooth things over. And no he won’t run in 2020; since his approval rate will be in the Nixon-Watergate range.

Now because these are crazy times in the White House anything can happen. VP Pence could become President Pence, the Democrats could take over and end Trumpism, and the Resistance could expand exponentially to the point that the President resigns, or we become an authoritarian dictatorship. Whatever happens these are times that try men’s and women’s souls.