Monday, May 29, 2017

May 29, 2017--Guest Blogger Sharon: Tone At the Top

Guest Blogger Sharon returns with thoughts about the ethical tone Donald Trump is setting for his followers and, if he were to have his way, America.

I will return tomorrow, Tuesday, with ruminations about Intelligent Design.

                                                     Tone At the Top

I first heard the phrase "Tone at the Top" about fifteen or twenty years ago. I didn't realize at the time it was a term which originated in accounting/audit firms. Used to describe an organization's general ethical climate, as established by its board of directors, audit committee, and senior management. Tone at the top refers to the ethical atmosphere that is created in the workplace by the organization's leadership. Whatever tone management sets will have a trickle-down effect on employees of the company. 
Many of the recent themes of this blog had me thinking about tone at the top again. This time not in a corporate context, but in the context of a leader and his advisers who conducted the vilest campaign in modern American history. He and his board have made it OK for Americans who are so inclined, to hate again, to ignore facts, and to admire someone whose behavior they would reject in another context. 
This week hearing Montana voters say they supported a candidate who assaulted a reporter because his behavior made it sound like the candidate was their kind of guy, made me wonder if people would feel as comfortable voicing this if just about anyone else was elected President. 
This is not to say that this type of behavior represents everyone who voted for Trump. Nor am I comfortable with everyone who did not vote for Trump or other Republicans in the primaries lumped together as Progressives, or Liberals. 
Having spent most of my adult life in a state that is red/purple, many friends, colleagues and neighbors had different viewpoints that didn't get in the way for over 40 years of cordial or even family-like relationships. Nor were most people, including myself, down the line categorizable. I know government employees who might usually vote for Dems who preferred some of their Republican appointee bosses to those they worked for under Democrat administrations.
But this is different. Trump has deliberately tapped into some really disturbing and powerful undercurrents in American life. Some of these people we've known for years and who are not unemployed coal miners or displaced manufacturing workers living in drug plagued towns have, with Trump as a model, felt free to say some pretty ugly stuff. 
One example. It's been about three years since I wrote about my dad's World War II service. At the time I read accounts of men who were captured during the Battle of the Bulge, who were first writing about their traumatic experiences 70 years later. To then hear a friend say Trump was right, John McCain wasn't a hero because he was captured left me dumbfounded. And that was only the beginning. I won't even repeat some of the other things that have been said.
If I have given up trying to reason with and understand people I already know who perhaps have spent too many years being brainwashed by Fox News, trolls and "news" outlets even further right, I have even less interest engaging strangers who want people to be free not to have health care.  I hold in special contempt those who encourage conspiracy theories that spur the lunatic fringe to shoot up pizza parlors, etc. (Fill in your favorite conspiracy or slur here).
For those who are not "deplorable" and just wanted to be heard, to shake things up or thought a businessman might be able to solve some problems, I wonder if they really still see this administration as setting the right tone to produce the results for which they voted.
Or perhaps this other New York businessman's profile which appeared in the Times last week is more apt. He sold people phony products and when customers complained, he terrorized them. He's headed to jail . . . 

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Friday, May 26, 2017

May 26, 2017--Tell the Truth

Tell the truth. Isn't it better with Donald Trump out of the country and in another time zone? A good way to start the long summer season.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

May 25, 2017--Beat Up

I'm getting beat up by some progressive friends who feel I am again being too easy on Donald Trump.

He's so execrable, they are saying, how can I express anything but contempt for him? When the other day I noted something to take seriously in his speech in Saudi Arabia, I could feel a number of people I've known for years deciding never to speak to me again.

Though I probably deserve some of the criticism, trying to explain myself, to one I said--
For me it's about finding ways to talk to each other because Trump supporters want to influence me as much as I'm eager to understand and have an impact on them. And I am not certain about that many things that I feel they need to agree to in advance for us to engage in deep and productive conversations and friendships. For me, everything begins with understanding. Not agreeing. 
Trump people are as concerned about the country as we. It's just that we disagree about many of the things that concern us. But it is concern that unites us and so we refuse to cross each other off our lists and instead look for ways to find some common ground. It's too easy to give up because we approach things differently. And ruinous, in my view, because if there can't be some healing we're cooked.  
So I try to work on that. I may be naive about this but for whoever claims to be liberal, to me, the test of their sincerity is how open they are (how I am) to ideas about which we disagree. 
Often, it works quite well here in Maine. There are a lot of good conversations among those who disagree, there's considerable listening, and I sense some coalescence around issues that involve poor people, children, and the elderly. With poor being the common denominator. For example, most of the conservatives I know are in favor of food stamps. Actually, many would like to see the funding increased. They also want to see the abuse pruned out. So do I. We've also had some terrific talks about Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and as a result seen some perspectieve shifting.
In response to this another friend said--"None of this matters. He obstructed justice. Period. A criminal offense." 

Then I received this email from Dr. S, the east coast's best audiologist--
Loved your two latest blogs. Your interactions with Jack got me thinking of more than just hearing well again. The deplorable barbarians just want to “tear it all down, start again.” I guess I would ask, what makes one think that building it all up from ground zero would result in a better outcome?  
I give you credit- -I don’t think I would have the patience, compassion, or whatever else is necessary to maintain an effective connection with any of them. Reason is, their decisions will have and have had a negative impact on our collective health, security, and environment- just to name a few concerns.
I responded--
Thanks for the tip of the hat for recent blogs. I am trying to stay sane even while crazily trying in my small ways to seek some common ground among people who are now more comfortable hurling missiles at each other. 
Dr. S said--
I need some suggestions on how to better relate to those who choose self-interest above all, profit over health, ignorance over education, pollution over clean air and water, denial of clear facts over reality . . .    
You do have your work cut out for yourself. I suspect, and hope I am wrong, that most are unreachable.
To that, I said--
One suggestion about the dichotomies you list--don't assume they aren't more bipartisan than we might think or like. Lots of progressives are greedy (choose profit) educated but still ignorant (biased i.e. "deplorables"), and do not do much more than complain about clean air and water. And around aspects of other social issues like health care, progressives are also prone to assert their own beliefs and ideologies over evidence-based knowledge. 
If we start by agreeing that both sides of the argument are not perfect, we have a chance to find some common ground. Which we need to find a way to do.
As my Grandma Zwerling used to say--"We'll see."

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May 24, 2017--"It Does Boil Down to Impotence"

In response to my "Vile Scumbag" posting, a good friend who is about as smart as anyone I know, sent me this note--
As I read the headline [to your piece], I thought to myself "Ha! I feel the same way," until I noticed that it was actually a quote from me.  
I am exhausted by the current state of things, I am enraged at the carelessness with which the fate of our democracy is being handled. I am at a loss for how to understand these same Tea-publicans being willing to murder over flag burning, but defend 45's collusion with Russia.  
I am maddened by the poorest, least educated, most at risk, segments of our society fighting for less and less for themselves, and more for the people keeping them poor and making them sick. I am so so tired of radical fundamentalists calling themselves "conservative" when nothing about their agenda is about "conserving" anything, not the constitution, not the rule of law, not the environment, not our foreign allies, not our treaties, and certainly not our reputation and standing as a global leader.  
At this point, to my eyes, it appears that the executive branch is just toppling over anything within arms reach, just to show it can. Then, on top of all of it, this is the most bald-faced cash grab probably ever in the history of the presidency. Not releasing taxes, not divesting from the family businesses, putting close family in executive level positions, massive tax breaks, and the legislative is choking on its own bankrolls rendering it incapable of governing ethically.  
Ultimately, it does boil down to impotence. Impotence and ineffectiveness that have me apoplectic. Why are the progressives still chanting "hey hey ho ho" when it never did anything. Why is there no attempt to bring the moderates onto the side of forward thinking. Why aren't there a dozen super-pacs on the progressive side, matching lobbyists from the dark side dollar for dollar.  
To take the Tea-Party analogy too far, the liberals are the red-coats, standing in formation, defeat after defeat, sticking with the tried and true, while the Radical Fundamentalist wing of the GOP has gone undercover and infiltrated everything in an all out guerilla war. They have [gained control of] state and local government, the judiciary, and now the executive.  
The Democrat response--"Hey let's make another formation!"
Then he added--
Sorry if this was too much of a rant. Generally, these days I am trying to stick to snarky one-line zingers.
Myself, I prefer his essay-long writing. Hopefully, including thoughts about why progressives are in about as much of a rage as Trump's people. All the while, criticizing his supporters for being so angry. I guess it all depends what one is angry about. 

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

May 23, 2017--Trump On the World Stage

Tell the truth--weren't you, like me, expecting, even hoping to see President Trump stumble on the world stage? While in the Middle East, while with the Pope in Rome, while meeting in Sicily with European counterparts at the G-7 summit?

Weakened at home as criminal investigations swirl around him, if he made a fool of himself, if he insulted Islamic leaders, made a botch of talks with the Israelis, again insulted Chancellor Angela Merkel, and said something inappropriate to the new president of France, in the aggregate, if his trip turned out to be a political disaster, it would move him one step closer to impeachment or resignation.

But, four days into his nine-day trip, from all reports, even from media sources that are not well disposed to him, he appears to be staying on script and, remarkably, actually saying a number of things that make sense. Or at least are worth putting on the table.

Before an assemblage of more than three dozen presidents of Sunni Arab nations, carefully avoiding the phrase "radical Islamic terrorists," Trump drew a distinction between ISIS fighters and the peaceful citizens of Islamic nations--
This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion, people that want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle between good and evil.
These comments were met with enthusiastic applause.

He continued, saying he wanted "partners not perfection" and that it was up to Muslim leaders to expunge extremists from their midst--
Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of earth.
This was a play to engage Sunni leaders in contrast to President Obama's alleged desire to strike deals with Shia-dominated countries such as Iran.

One could delete references to Obama and still make the case that a focus on Sunnis, the vast majority in the region, makes more sense. Including as part of an attempt to broker movement toward a two-state solution in Israel, something Trump spoke about yesterday when he told Benjamin Netanyahu that he heard from Sunni Arab leaders while in Saudi Arabia that if this were to happen they would consider expanding relations with Israel. Something that is occurring in private as power shifts across the Middle East.

It was also noted that Air Force One's direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv is the first time there has been such a flight. Whoever added that to Trump's agenda (likely Jared Kushner) deserves praise. Gestures and symbols go a long way in that fraught region.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

May 22, 2017--"Vile Scumbag"

A friend, referring to Donald Trump, posted this on Facebook--
Vile scumbag. How I so purely and truly despise this spineless sack of shit coward. When will the carnage end? It is just so exhausting.
About all other subjects, my progressive friend is an otherwise moderate and thoughtful person. He is also literate. But here he is so in a rage that he's sputtering semi-coherently.

I have other liberal friends, all of whom oppose the death penalty, who are so crazed that they are cheering the death of Fox News' founder, Roger Ailes and they are so excited that he is dead that they are wishing the same fate for Steve Bannon and Rupert Murdock. I am sure others are on their death list.

When I try to get them to tell me why they have these feelings of murderous fury they say, in effect, isn't it obvious. Two words--Donald and Trump.

When I press, some confess that their rage is connected to the anxiety and fear Trump and his presidency have unleashed.

They are afraid about what will happen to the environment and the Earth (the New York Times on Saturday published a piece about the accelerating melting of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antartica--it is occurring so rapidly that many scientists are saying that by the end of the century, sea levels will rise by up to six feet, enough to inundate much of New York City and south Florida); they are worried about their jobs (many are professionals who work for or are funded by the rapidly shrinking government); they have deep fears about what their children will be facing (many are mired in tens of thousands of dollars of student debt and living in their parents' basements); and almost all are panicking about their 401(k)s.

Above all, most are feeling unable to do anything about it.

Rage comes largely from feeling powerless.

These are very efficacious people who are used to helping make things happen. They pride themselves on their ability to take on complicated problems and move them toward solution. They have been upwardly mobile and feel that this is because they have earned their way and deserve to be part of the professional and managerial classes.

Now, as they see things, everything is changing, becoming upended by the barbarians who have seized control. Used to feeling accomplished and even superior, they are now finding themselves being treated disdainfully. Being dismissed. And worse than death, being ignored.

The "deplorables" are in charge. The knowledge my friends have acquired, the history they have participated in shaping is no longer, they feel, valued. And since they cannot figure out what to do, what to think, or how to fight back, rather than dig in for the long haul and devote themselves to a sustained and relentless political and cultural resurgence, when together, they complain, they fulminate.

When I ask them what they think will make a difference, they say joining the "resistance" movement. When I ask what's planned, they say more marches. When I ask when the next one is scheduled, they say they do not know. When I ask how long ago was the last one, they tell me they are not sure. Maybe a month or two.

I tell them I don't think this will get the job done. In the latest polls, last week, 84 percent of Republicans say they think Donald Trump is doing a good job. Considering what he has been up to, we need to figure out why that is. We need to figure out how to push these numbers and, forgive me, figure out ways to reach out to some of them and get them to consider other ways to think about what's going on. About how they are being manipulated and taken advantage of.

In the meantime, some friends say they plan to post more on Facebook.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

May 19, 2017--Jack, Not In a Good Mood

"I'm not in a good mood."

"If true, I could take a pass on talking to you right now. I'm feeling good, the weather's perfect, I have a lot to get done, and to tell you the truth I don't want you to bring me down."

Jack said, "I only need 10 minutes. Start the timer."

"I'm OK but, really, just for 10 minutes. If you're calling about Trump I can imagine why you wouldn't be feeling very happy." I couldn't resist poking him.

"It's not what you think. With all this Comey business and now a special prosecutor or counsel you might be assuming that I want to talk about that. Suffice it to say, I agree with Trump--it's a witch hunt, plain and simple."

"The people involved with this now, Robert Mueller especially, do not engage in which hunts. But feel free to believe whatever works for you."

"I want to talk about why Trump supporters are sticking with him. People like you expect that his favorabilites will plummet. Well, think again. They're pretty rock solid. Still about 40 percent."

"I have been wondering about that."

"Well, it's pretty simple. Basically, he's doing exactly why we sent him to Washington to do. To tear everything down. Even if he has to put a blowtorch to things. That's why they're going after him. Even Republicans, though they won't admit to that out loud. We've grown fed up with everything. Both parties are at fault. All they want is to keep the gravy flowing in their direction. They don't care about the people, they only care about feathering their own nests. To continue to do so. Trump is a threat to that. That's what we wanted and that's what we still want from him. Bring it all down. Start all over."

"None of this surprises me. There's a lot of frustration out . . ."

"Listen to yourself. Frustration? It goes way, way beyond that. We're talking rage, fury. Not frustration."

"You got me. I underestimated it. A lot of people are furious. They deserve to be. I share some of that, but no way is Trump the solution. In fact, he's part of the problem. He's on the gravy train too. He's all about wanting the government to do things to the tax code, for example, that will yield to him and people like him more and more money. At everyone else's expense. At the expense of the rest of us."

"Furthermore," Jack rolled on, ignoring me, "people like you and the elite media think they know how to make sense of this. You have your conventional wisdom that you apply to what's going on but that gets in the way of your understanding what's really at work. In fact, your conventional wisdom is a good place to begin because everything you assume to be true isn't true. It's the opposite of true. Take any example, and I'll show you how the reverse of what you think you understand is not what's going on. Go on, try me."

"I'm not sure I'm following you. So why don't you give me one example."

"Sure. You value leaders who are thoughtful and restrained. You think that's what voters want. You assume that's what we want, what everyone wants. Well, we don't. We want a leader who goes with his gut and is the opposite of restrained. We don't value that. Restraint. We value the opposite of that. Reasonable leaders think they can negotiate their way to good deals for people. What they wind up negotiating is worthless to us. Worse than that. It is harmful to us. So we like it when Trump goes off script and tells it like it is. Especially when it comes to what's politically correct, which is another example of how the conventional wisdom is all wrong. We're OK with the outrageous. In fact we value it."

"This sounds totally crazy to me."

"We're also OK with crazy. Not totally crazy, but a decent amount of crazy. Crazy also shakes things up. We like it when everyone is scared about the next things coming out of his mouth. I'll admit it, I would prefer if he toned it down. Not all the way down but a little bit. It would make him more effective."

"'Trump' and 'effective' don't belong in the same sentence."

"One more thing from the conventional wisdom," Jack said, ignoring me again, "About economics. I don't mean big-picture economics but personal economics. People like you think that a big motivator for people is concern about their personal finances. Of course to some extent that's true. Everyone has to pay rent and eat. But even truer is that people like me don't follow what you assume about us--we're not primarily motivated by what's 'good' for our bottom line. 'Good' in quotes. Money doesn't trump everything for us. Bringing everything down, bringing everything to a halt is what motivates us. That's what we care about. Bring it down so we can start all over. Enough tinkering around the edges. Even if the tinkering puts a few more dollars in our pockets. Blowtorching it, that's what we wanted from Trump, that's what we still want even as the witch hint unfolds."

"I have to run in a minute," I really did, "so cut to the chase--what do you want to see happen? I mean for him to accomplish."

"What I just said--to bring things to a grinding halt. A lot of people are saying, including conservative people, that if Trump is forced out of office--and I don't see that happening; to be a loser would kill him so he's not quitting--if Pence took over, people are saying, he'd sign the same kind of bills Trump would sign. But Pence fits the conventional wisdom so with him it would be more of the same. We're in a crisis and, don't quote me, we need to be in one. As I see things a bigger mess would be even better."

He paused for breath, "My 10 minutes are up," Jack said. I could sense him smiling, feeling good about himself. That he got all this off his chest.

"I have one more thing to share with you," I said.

"What's that?"

"You may hate it, viewing it as another example of the conventional wisdom. But you remember when Trump was first elected how so many people of my persuasion were worrying out loud, fearing that he was like Mussolini and was going to bring fascism to America?"

"I remember that. I thought you and people who thought that way, who were so afraid, feeling so smart about yourselves and how you looked down you noses at us, showing off what you thought history taught, well, I thought you were a bunch of jerks. Sorry, but that's what I thought."

"I felt that people who thought that way were way over-reacting. But whatever we thought at the time, one thing I said, and this was conventional wisdom too, was that no one should underestimate the power of checks and balances built into our system. Look around, take a look. As of two days ago we have a special counsel and Trump is on the ropes. I don't know where this is headed but his strongman days are over. That's one thing I'm sure about."

"We'll see," Jack said, "People of you persuasion counted him out before, all the way back to the first days of the primaries, but he won the nomination and the election and he's still standing. A little weaker at the moment, but keep you eye on North Korea. I'm not suggesting anything, but if things get out of control there, it will be commander-in-chief time."

As usual, after having the last word, Jack hung up.

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