2018 – If You Think This Year Was A Mess, Wait Until 2019

December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to a end there are countless reviews of what happened of consequence during the year and where we may be headed in 2019. As is often the case, the review of the past is mostly negative and the future is described as uncertain. So as not to shy away from this exercise of yearly review and prognostication, here is my take on the past and the future.

If politics, governing, leadership and public policy is your passion, 2018 could only make your confidence level take a sharp turn downwards. Almost everyday brings new revelations about presidential misconduct or at the very least presidential incompetence. Democrats and Republicans still can’t get along much less get legislation moving forward. Members of the cabinet are increasingly being shown as crooks and bogus charlatans.  And the media still can’t shake the fake news label, despite being more open and accurate than those in the White House. Not a day goes by when honest and thoughtful Americans wonder whether they live in an emerging authoritarian state or at the very least a very bad dream.

If the economy, jobs, GDP and spending power are your passion, 2018 would likely bring a smile to your face. Americans are on a spending spree ( mostly with credit cards), jobs are plentiful ( despite little real wage growth), data on key indicators show the US leading the major countries of the world ( at least for the time being), and overall consumer confidence is strong ( but could change in a heart beat). 2018 was a “good year” for most Americans, which is why President Trump continues to have a solid approval rate; there is nothing like a upbeat economy to make a president, any president look like a genius.

If values, mood, beliefs, standards, judgment and truth are your passion than 2018 was in crisis mode. There were very disturbing upticks in hate crimes, outright bigotry, shameless lying, a fundamental decline in basic decency, and just plain disinterest in searching for what is real and what is clearly false. The American Dream is under attack; the American Rule of Law is under attack, the American Governing Traditions are under attack, and the American Political Culture is under attack. The old days of cooperation,compromise and consensus have been replaced with gut-wrenching anger.

All in all 2018 gets mixed reviews with a definite lean towards the negative side. If grades are given, probably a C+ or if you were one of the lucky ones to benefit from the upper end tax cut or generous bonuses or job security than perhaps a B-. A mediocre year at best.

Now to 2019. There is not a prognosticator out there who knows where we are headed in the coming year, but there are sufficient signs in the wind to suggest that 2019 will be considerably worse than 2018.

In politics and government the I word will fill the airwaves and office conversations, that is I as in impeachment, indictment, investigations.  Again, not much in the public policy area will get done as Washington and America is consumed by what transpires in the White House. Political divisions will only increase, Twitter storms will increase, charges and counter charges will increase and institutional gridlock will rule the day. The unexpected, the uncertain, the unconstitutional will dominate. A real mess.

In the economy, 2019 could be the year of economic downturn, perhaps a recession.  Growth will stagnate, 401Ks will take a hit, joblessness will creep upwards and income inequality will continue to take the country further and further apart. No one knows where the tariff wars will be headed but one thing is certain, our national debt will climb upwards to the point where we will be putting more of our budget dollars into interest payments rather than toward substantive programs.

As to our national condition, 2019 will only bring uncertainty and disappointment and of course anger, always anger. The confluence of terrible politics and weakening economics can only create a nation of lost Americans who will question where their once great country is headed and whether their personal security and economic future are in grave danger. In short, Not Good.

At this early point the grade for 2019 is a C-, perhaps a D+. As someone who graded thousands, upon thousands of papers, I have been wrong and at the request of the aggrieved student took another look and maybe even made a change. This could also happen as 2019 plays out but right now this country is heading into uncharted territory with only trouble on the horizon.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Land of the Angry, Home of the Scared

November 5, 2018

President Obama’s comments to hecklers in Florida wondering why they were angry, especially since their party controlled the Congress and the Presidency and their president had followed through on many of his promises, got me thinking again about what we stand for as a country. My concern about our values and beliefs brought on further concerns when Trump supporters bought into his lies about rising crime ( it is not rising), the caravans invading our country ( a rag tag group of asylum seekers, many of them women and children, is not an invasion) and the threat of minorities to a white America ( if there is any threat it is from white neo-Nazis). So why are we no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but rather the land of the angry and the home of the scared?

The answer to this question likely is better answered by trained psychologists, but it does make a political observer wonder why the right wing is not filled with supreme joy and at the very least taking a brief moment to use Google to inquiry about the President’s misinformation campaign. It would seem to me that the anger is the result of pent up frustration over years of living at the margins in a country where elites didn’t care, while the embrace of outright lies spoken by a man who knows how to gin up a crowd just makes those on the margins feel better. Say what you want about the President, he knows how to push the right buttons in his base and has no remorse over stoking white race anger and just saying anything that comes into his mind at what has become an old-fashioned religious rally. If you have ever seen the ancient movie, Elmer Gantry, with Burt Lancaster, it perfectly depicts the charismatic ability of one man, a religious charlatan,  to get his followers to follow him anywhere, no matter how cruel or off the wall his sermons are.

It would be reassuring if we indeed were the home of the free and the land of the brave as our national anthem proudly proclaims, but our freedoms are slowly being eroded (especially freedom of the press) and we seem to willing admit that we are afraid (but mostly afraid that minorities will replace white power). We live in a time when according to that great political philosopher Groucho Marx, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Perhaps saner leaders in both parties, truth-seeking pundits of both political persuasions, and that great moderate middle of America will bring us back to the era of compromise, consensus, and conflict resolution. Katherine Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful” said it best, ” America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.” One can only hope.

 

 

 


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.

 

 

 


A Few Not So Modest Proposals for Liberal Democrats

December 21, 2016

The election is over, Donal Trump won, and liberal Democrats will just have to deal with it. Whining, street demonstrations,complaints about James Comey and Vladimir Putin and second-guessing about what should have been done in Michigan just won’t cut it anymore; it’s time to look to the future and develop some strategies to deal with the 45th President of the United States.

So let’s get serious about what liberal democrats must do as the loyal opposition, if the term loyal has any meaning anymore in the new American political culture. Here are a few strategies that may be necessary if liberal democrats are to survive as an alternative to the new Trump-defined Republican majority.

1. Liberal Democrats must adopt the Republican playbook. Hope is good, but in this post-truth, anti-ethical American political environment fear is better. Republicans have become the masters of using fear to gain votes and power- fear of minorities, fear of terrorists, fear of economic collapse, fear of change. Hope no longer works as a key word for attracting the support of the American people. If liberal democrats are to rebound they must know how to use fear as a strategic tool- fear of job loss, fear of income inequality, fear of corporate indifference, fear of tax injustice. Liberal Democrats don’t like to use fear as a strategy, but let’s face it, fear works.

2.  Liberal Democrats are known to be political weenies who want to be viewed as honorable and non-partisan, but if they are to get back in the game they must follow the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and embrace legislative obstructionism, a refusal to compromise, a willingness to delay, and an unyielding and annoying pain in the butt of the presidential administration. So far the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are already talking about working with President Trump rather than following the McConnell strategy and making his life as President miserable.

3.  Then there is always the best opposition tool-sue the bastards. Taking the President and his cabinet to court is an all-American tradition of the opposition. Fortunately, for the Democrats they have the Stock Act, which makes it a felony for a President, Vice-President and high governmental officials to use their office for insider trading and making a profit off of their connections while in office. America is a litigious society where lawyers feed off of challenges to the law, so liberal democrats must take that tactic and use the courts to make the President follow the law and respect the constitution.

4. Challenging the President is no easy task but it is made more difficult because of the weakness of those who deliver the liberal message. There has to be an way to offset the influence of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity, and it is not Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Michael Moore or Lawrence O’Donnell. My suggestion is get Joe Biden on for an hour on CNN and have him take on the conservative right. Sure it will be biased but everyone knows the media is biased anyway, so what does it matter if Joe talks to white America in their language. Maybe he can even wear those aviator sunglasses while he is on camera.

5. Finally, liberal democrats must begin to think about winning rather than making a point or raising up a social group. The Republican have shown that they will do just about anything to win and it has worked. Republicans aren’t ashamed of their tactics against the liberal democrats, in fact they glory in their victories, while liberal democrats complain and wonder how their message just doesn’t work.

Now all this praise for the Republican way of winning and working government to their advantage may blow up in the coming months as President Trump and his conservative minions drive the economy and the country into the abyss. But for now liberal democrats need to rethink how they operate and how they oppose the new political reality. In short, no more whining, no more excuses, no more playing nice, no more needless cooperation, no more being weenies.