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Showing posts from November, 2016

One last comment about Obama's "apology tour."

Rebecca Heinrichs writes that President Trump is poised to up-end Obama's "apology tour."

While certainly more a realist than idealist, more than anything, President-elect Trump has shown a desire to return prudence to the forefront of American national security and foreign policy, with an unapologetic commitment to American sovereignty and a recognition of American exceptionalism. He ran a campaign promoting the idea that America is unlike other nations. It is better. Unlike his predecessor, he will not highlight or apologize for her imperfections, because her imperfections still pale in comparison to what she is and the standards she holds herself to. This is a standard for acceptable behavior that applies in almost no other realm of living that I'm aware of. "He has high ideals, so his failure to live up to those ideals means he shouldn't apologize for that failure." It's a standard that eliminates entirely the consequences of actual actions.


Reader email: The Electoral College

A reader:
seems to me a popular vote for president elect would never give your state a say in who it would be. No city in your state has enough population to sway the popular vote. Me:

As it stands, no candidate ever comes to entice the votes of Kansans during the general election anyway: Everybody knows the state's electoral votes are in the bag. So we are ignored entirely, our wants and needs never pandered to.

That might change in a popular vote situation: States would cease to matter, but individual votes would be more meaningful. All those hundreds of thousands of Kansans who vote, fruitlessly, for Democrats, every four years would suddenly find their votes meaningful. Given the closeness of so many of our recent elections, a smart candidate might then be inclined to mine votes where he or she previously hadn't: An extra thousand votes in Western Kansas might suddenly make a difference they never had before.

Popular vote has its weaknesses, no doubt. But the Electoral Coll…

What is empathy anyway? And do we need it in an age of Trump?

NYT's Amanda Hess doesn't seem to have much use for it.
Empathy, after all, is not sympathy. Sympathy encourages a close affinity with other people: You feel their pain. Empathy suggests something more technical — a dispassionate approach to understanding the emotions of others. And these days, it often seems to mean understanding their pain just enough to get something out of it — to manipulate political, technological and consumerist outcomes in our own favor. I don't know if I think empathy, properly understood, is "dispassionate" or necessarily as manipulative as Hess suggests it is. My own take is that empathy is an attempt to walk (in one's imagination, at least) a mile in the proverbial shoes of somebody whose life and experiences are unlike one's own. That requires not just to dispassionately understand another's emotions, but to attempt to understand what it feels like to be that other person — to take seriously their fears, their joys, etc.…

Keep generals out of the State Department

Some of the names being bandied about for Secretary of State: Mitt Romney. John Bolton. David Petraeus. John F. Kelly.

The last two? Former generals — Petraeus from the Army, Kelly from the Marines. And maybe it's worth asking: Why do we keep putting military men in charge of our diplomacy?

Since World War II — and, roughly, the advent of the modern Department of Defense — former generals have served as the nation's top diplomat several times: George C. Marshall, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell. The latter two, it's fair to say, didn't exactly have distinguishedtenures.

That's not necessarily due to their military backgrounds. On the other hand — correct me if I'm wrong — nobody from America's diplomatic ranks has been named to run the Defense Department.

It's a sign of American militarization that we have a tendency to think the skills of warfighting should be transferrable to conducting America's non-warfighting business abroad. More likely: It means…

How Columbia Journalism Review gave government an excuse to crack down on reporters

Ari Fleischer makes the case that Trump is justified in treating the White House press corps like an unruly child:
The press hasn’t been kind to Donald Trump—and that isn’t its job. That job is to cover the news in a fair manner. But as the Columbia Journalism Review reported in October, campaign-finance disclosures show that those who work in journalism gave $396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump, with more than 96% going to Mrs. Clinton. I hated the CJR report when it came out and still do. First, $396,000 is barely a drop in the campaign finance bucket. On its own, it sounds like a big number. Relative to the actual number of journalists, it's microscopic. So CJR's headline on the original piece — "Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash" — is the kind of clickbaity sensationalism CJR might well criticize in other circumstances.

But let's take a closer look at the report itself.


Tweet of the day

Three thoughts about the death of Fidel Castro

1. If anything should encourage modesty in U.S. foreign relations, the ability of Fidel Castro to survive nearly six decades as the ruler of Cuba should be it. We tried killing him, we supported a (brief) insurgency, we tried starving him. Nothing worked, except old age. This is a tiny island nation 90 miles from our shores. If we couldn't force our will there, we should be realistic about our ability to assert our will in, say, the Middle East.

2. Likewise, if anything should encourage modesty about U.S. intentions in the world, it's this: Fidel Castro was a rotten dictator who replaced ... a rotten dictator. Fulgencio Batista took power through a coup, remember, and presided over rampant corruption and exploitation of his country's economy by outside powers and corporations. America wasn't angry that the country was ruled by a strongman. America was angry that he wasn't our strongman.

3. That said, two wrongs don't make a right. Fidel really was a strongman. Lo…

Filmstruck Queue: "Le Samourai"

Three thoughts about "Le Samourai" just as soon as I create a fantastic alibi:

1. I'd never heard of this movie until today, when I saw it as a Filmstruck offering. When I saw the ingredients — a sharp-dressed French assassin living by the samurai code — I was helpless. Play! And it's rare that I say this: This movie was everything I could've hoped it would be. Smart. Funny. Stylish. Sexy. With a fantastically tragic ending that, yeah, you kind of see coming, but they sell the hell out of it. I hadn't heard of this movie 12 hours ago. I think it's one of my favorite movies ever, now.

2. Just non-stop with the beautiful people. I mean...

Guys, I'm straight, but even I know Alain Delon circa 1967 is about as pretty as it gets.

I mean....

I'm blinded by all the beauty.

I know I know. Movies have beautiful people. What can I say? Even the extras were knockouts in this flick.

3. There's a scene when our protagonist takes his stolen car to a mechanic t…

#NeverTrump Republicans fall in line

Matthew Continetti, June 17

This is not a good man. This is not a stable man. It is in the self-interest of no rational person to have him near the situation room.
Matthew Continetti, November 19

While hardly anyone — including the campaign of President-elect Trump — expected this outcome to the 2016 election, the Republicans I’ve spoken to over the last week are unified, enthusiastic, and eager to pursue Trump’s agenda. Giddiness is the attitude toward the prospect of GOP control of the White House, the Congress, and the courts.


I continue to attend church, even though the old Mark Twain observation that "you can't pray a lie" remains true, at least for me, and I don't have faith to match the hymns or sermons. But community is a nice thing.

Here's my favorite part: The sharing of joys and concerns.

I don't know if your church does it. Certainly, it's not been practiced in all the churches I've ever attended. But at Peace Mennonite, a young child takes a microphone around the sanctuary, and members of the congregation share important news from the week.

My cousin discovered she has cancer.

The mother of a little boy in my son's class died suddenly.

And joys:

I found a place to live.

The disease in remission.

He's coming home. 

It's the difference between church and, I guess, Facebook for me. News gets shared on social media all the time. And that can be very helpful.  But in real time, face-to-face, I get a more palpable sense of community — of the act of "bearing …

The worst argument for the Electoral College

The weakest argument for the Electoral College goes something like this:

The top ten states population is about 165 million total. 119 million people counted so far as of today voted in the 2016 presidential election. This is why the electoral college was created. So that the other 40 states matter! Otherwise the candidates just go to where the biggest populations are. Yeah. Otherwise, we'd have candidates spending all their time in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — the fourth, sixth, and seventh-most populated states, respectively. 
Oh. Wait. 
The truth is already this: Kansas never sees a presidential candidate during the general election campaign. New York and California do, a little bit, but only because those are great places to raise funds. Otherwise, they're so solidly Democratic that it's not worth the time or money to bother with them.
What's more likely is this: Abolishing the Electoral College opens up the map. A Democratic vote in Kansas becomes meaningful …

Just to sum up...

I'm fairly aware there's not a large constituency for my position, which is roughly:

• Donald Trump ran a racist campaign.

• People of color and minorities (and women!) are right to be alarmed and angered by his victory. They are justified in wondering why we're supposed to care about the feelings of the "white working class" while their concerns about living under racist regime are so easily disposed of.
• That the system that produced this victory placed inordinate value on the feelings of white people — and can reasonably be called "white supremacy." 
• That it is nonetheless a bad idea, as a matter of democratic tactics, to write off ALL the Trump voters as irredeemables who cannot be persuaded to join our side. (I.E. It's an approach designed to help lose in 2020, as well.) 
• That there are ways of attempting that persuasion without giving up a public and vocal commitment to justice, racial, sexual, and otherwise. 
• That it's bad for soc…

What would Jesus do?

Folks, forgive me. This is a draft, at best, written after midnight when thoughts kept coming and I couldn't shut up my brain.

I used to be pretty decent at community-building. It was back in the early aughts, when I was a newspaper reporter given the privilege of being my publication’s first blogger — and I used the platform to celebrate everything that was wonderful about my community.

It was easy — necessary — for me to take that approach. As an “objective” journalist, my professional mission was to avoid at all costs seeming as though I had an opinion on the issues of the day. That’s not really an approach made for blogging, so becoming a cheerleader seemed like the right move. No, that’s not necessarily “objective,” but when you work for a Kansas newspaper, only a few people will object to seeing the stuff of their daily lives lauded by a journalist. Not coincidentally, I built up a nice group of fans and friends who also loved our town.

When I left the paper, I went into op…

Alexander Hamilton probably wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

In response to my complaints that Hillary won the popular vote even while losing the Electoral College, my friends who are (ahem) perhaps more faithful to the Constitution as written point out — correctly — that the Constitution has a number of “countermajoritarian” features, that the American government was designed as a republic instead of a straight democracy in order to ensure the majority couldn’t tyrannize the minority.
In fact, they say, the Electoral College is an important one of these countermajoritarian features because it gives individual states more of a role in selecting the executive, instead of leaving it a straight-up popularity contest.
There’s pretty strong evidence, though, the Founders didn’t intend the popular vote losers to regularly win office. One feature of the old — failed — Articles of Confederation  is required a supermajority (nine of the 13 states) to pass legislation. Which meant a single state, or a small minority of states, could muck things up.
That re…

Filmstruck Queue: "Hard Eight" by Paul Thomas Anderson

Three thoughts about "Hard Eight" just as soon as I have a quickie wedding in Reno....

1. This is P.T. Anderson's first feature — he'd go on to really break through in the mainstream with his next, "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" after that — and it's a little different from the sprawling ensemble-driven pieces that made his name. This movie focuses mostly on a single character, Philip Baker Hall's Sydney, and his relationship with a young, dumb ne'er do well played by John C. Reilly. It's a great role for Hall: Sydney is a cipher until the movie's final moments, when the reasons for his paternal care of Reilly become suddenly clear in a burst of violence. And the circles under Hall's eyes? Man, they deserved an Oscar acting nomination on their own.

2. There's a cameo here, all of two or three minutes, by Philip Seymour Hoffman before he was Philip Seymour Hoffman.  One hand, there's no reason to expect future stardom …

Filmstruck Queue: "Paths of Glory," directed by Stanley Kubrick

Three thoughts about "Paths of Glory" just as soon as I'm shot for cowardice in the face of the enemy:

1. This in one of Stanley Kubrick's early movies, and you can draw a straight line from this picture to "Full Metal Jacket" in its anti-war themes. More than that, this is an anti-authoritarian movie: A picture about how the elites sacrifice the lives of real people, how they dance in their palaces and feast on sumptuous foods while ordinary footsoldiers are quite literally forced to give their lives for the errors of those elites. There is no happy ending here, only the relentless logic of an awful story that ends up exactly where it must once the wheels are set in motion.

2. Kirk Douglas is one of he best movie stars we've ever had. He's beautiful — check him out shirtless in his opening scene, all 1950s Charles Atlas virility — and he's fierce. When he denounces a commanding general in the climactic scene — "And you can go to hell before …

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

Netflix Queue*: "The Conversation," starring Gene Hackman

Three thoughts about "The Conversation" just as soon as I rip my apartment apart in a fruitless search for the wiretap....

1: Francis Ford Coppola sandwiched this movie between "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II." That's an astonishing run of movie artistry. And it's a reminder that Hollywood used to make movies for, you know, adults: There's some sex here, but it's not fun. There are no explosions, on-screen at least. It's about the quietest thriller you'll ever see. If you're not a cinephile, and if you're relatively young, it's possible you haven't heard of it. Go ahead. Give it a try.

2: The movie is well-known for its contemplation of the surveillance society that Americans were only then becoming dimly aware that we lived in. (Spying? That stuff's for Russians!) On second viewing — I last saw it about 15 years ago — what strikes me is how much the movie is about perception, and how having the differe…

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…

Here's how we remake American government.

Note: This was more or less written prior to the election — a time when I thought the campaign would end with Democrats having some power to create change. That ain't gonna happen for a couple of years. Still, for the sake of conversation....

Something’s gotta change.
That much is clear after an election that was one of the most divisive ever — one that left many of us feeling, as Alec Baldwin said on SNL, “gross.” Our governance and our politics have failed us. It is within our power to fix it.
These fixes aren’t marginal. So let’s admit up front that radical changes could have radical, unexpected consequences. But let’s also admit that a system that put Donald Trump in charge of nukes is a system that deserves radical reconsidering, at the very least.
Seven ideas to fix it all:
• Scrap the presidential system, replace it with a parliament. I suspect a lot of frustration in the land right now is that nobody really has the power to get things done. Dems get frustrated because President…

One last thought for my conservative friends

If you've spent the last eight years using the word "tyranny" to describe the presidency of Barack Obama, but then turned and supported Donald Trump — a man of clear authoritarian instincts — to be president, well: I don't believe you anymore. I have to assume everything you said about "liberty" and "freedom" was just a fog of words meant to help your side retain power.

Awake. Haunted.

I'm up. In a few minutes, I take my son to school. He's alarmed by the news I just gave him. I told him he doesn't have to worry.

I hope I'm right. I don't really believe I am.

I try to practice my politics somewhere in the neighborhood of "a pox on both your houses," trying to remember that the speck I see in the eye of my political rivals is probably matched by the log in my own. Politics is ever an elbow-throwing business, the Republic usually survives, and so I don't want to let myself get too high or low about specific outcomes.

But what haunts me is this: Many of the people I know who ended up in the Trump camp pretty much expect him to be a disaster, too, or they did until they convinced themselves otherwise.

And they did convince themselves — in some cases because tribal affiliations demanded it, in other cases out of spite, and in many cases because they ardently believed that Hillary Clinton was just as monstrous as their candidate.

But they…

What's next for liberals now that Donald Trump has been elected?

So, liberals, this is the country we’re stuck in. Unless you’re moving out — and you’re probably not — you now have a couple of alternatives:
• Surrender. • Fight for your values.
Let’s choose the latter. How do we do that? A couple of lessons learned and strategies going forward:
• Let’s vote our hearts. Except for the opportunity to nominate (potentially) the first woman president, Bernie Sanders (despite not being an actual Democrat) probably stood closer to the heart of the Democratic base than Hillary Clinton, who had supported the Iraq War and who was enmeshed in Wall Street.
I supported Clinton during the primaries, despite my concerns about her on policy, as well as the Clintons’ predilection for making it easy on GOP scandalmongers trying to ruin their reputation. (The same scandalmongers never really laid a glove on President Obama, but it requires the target of that scandalmongering to be disciplined, a trait the Clintons have never managed consistently.) I was thinking tactical…

Why we can't give up on each other. (Or: Holy crap, Glenn Beck!)

I saw this on a friend's Facebook page today, telling his Trump-supporting buddies to get lost, and it admittedly resonated:
I strive to be a man of peace and I will always be cool if we find ourselves in the same place. But if this circus clown gets elected, I will never forget what you have done. I want change as much as anyone, but you’re standing by a monster who boasts of committing sexual assaults, won't reject his endorsement from the fucking KKK, taunts his audiences to physically harm his critics and rejects religious freedom and other rights that generations of Americans have fought and died to earn and preserve. This election season has been deeply trying to all of us. As it culminates, it's natural and easy to wonder how the hell we can live with the other half of Americans whose values so repulse us. Maybe it's time to divvy up the country? Liberals get the coasts and Great Lakes states, while conservatives get the rest? Might that be safer than trying to…

Schadenfreude will kill us all.

Rod Dreher's not voting for Trump, but he'd still kinda sorta like to see those nasty liberals suffer the pain of having Trump win.
If Trump wins, on Wednesday morning I will wake up looking for something good, anything. The idea that the election results will have ruined the day of these horrible people, as well as this sad-sack sycophant, is … well, it’s better than nothing. That Rod Dreher. He sure is a super-Christian, isn't he?
Only thing: Can any liberal deny feeling the same way about the prospect of a Trump loss? I hope we wouldn't feel that way if we thought Hillary Clinton was a disaster, like Dreher says about Trump. But we probably would.
I can't escape the feeling that schadenfreude and associated emotions are driving too much of our politics. We admire politicians and give them our support because they make the "right enemies" instead of what we want them to do in office. Delighting In The Tears of Our Enemies — becoming an "Effyouocrac…

No to Donald Trump

I’ve been trying to come up with a closing argument on this election that edifies rather than irritates — a way of communicating that embraces wisdom and thoughtfulness instead of the shrill anger that has characterized so much of the campaign.
After days of introspection, what it comes down to this: I got nothing. Either you agree with me or you don’t. There’s not much I can say that will change your mind now.
I have tried to resist the idea for years now that people having different political ideas makes them bad people. But Donald Trump appears, from everything I can observe, to be a bad person. At best he’s a boor, the proverbial rich boy who was born on third base and assumed he’d hit a triple. Mostly, though, he’s a breeder of resentments — against Mexicans, against Muslims, and against Jews. (Oh, and women. Perhaps especially women.) He doesn’t ask us to be our best selves. Instead, he glories in being his worst self, calls it a crusade against political correctness, and invites …