Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Whistling past the graveyard

Moving On

For the past month, I’ve been listening to those who supported and voted for Donald Trump as president tell me and the others that are concerned about these election results to “get over it” and “move on”.

The snarky part of me wants to ask these folks why we should “get over it” when we’ve had to listen to them whine and kvetch and work themselves into apoplexies for the last eight years, but I really want to leave that there for now…

Instead, I want to say that I am trying to “get over it” and to “move on”. I really am. I frequently provoke my wife’s ire when I try to find something in Mr. Trump’s cabinet appointments or tweetstorms that allow me to think, if even for a few moments, that we’ve been here before, that the pendulum swings, that the party that controls the White House gets turned out every eight years with surprising regularity, that everything really is going to be ok.

We survived Nixon, and Reagan, and Bush I and Bush II. Sure, they moved the country in directions and instituted changes with which I disagreed, but despite the setbacks, in the larger historical arc things do get better. I really do believe that we need the push-me-pull-you political discourse that is built into our constitution because I’m convinced that given the opportunity the progressive/liberal/Democratic actors will put us into a ditch just as fast as the conservative/Republicans will, that none of us has all the answers, but that together we can work toward a better future. I continue to believe this despite the fact that this kind of attitude has been used by the out-for-blood, winning-is-everything take-no-prisoners tactics of the conservative political opposition to push through an agenda that is often at odds with a majority of Americans. But I refuse to sign on to the demonizing rhetoric that people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren like to deploy.

However, I have to admit that my attempts at being sanguine about the recent election is a case of “whistling past the graveyard”. When my attempts fail, my deepest fears fall into three categories.

  • The possibility of that we have permanently lost any basis for civil discourse on public policy issues, undermining the ability for our democracy to function
  • The possibility that we could endure an economic collapse more devastating, and less amenable to a quick recovery than the financial crisis of 2008
  • The possibility that America’s geopolitical standing could suffer a significant decline, either through the development of economic and geopolitical global alliances against us, or through a catastrophic war, possibly involving nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

Our Democracy Ceases to Function

This is the one that makes me physically ill, as we are already seeing this play out, so the question is how far will it go and how will the consequences play out?

The beauty inherent in our constitution it’s mechanism to allow for an orderly resolution of the basic tension between powerful, centralized government, local and regional government and individual liberty. The founders of our republic recognized that there were benefits and hazards in the mis-placement of power, but also wisely recognized that the proper division of power is not an absolute and must be argued and adapted for each generation and their time. If we work from a common perception of the truth, and can come to some agreement as to the goals, compromises can be made as to the means for establishing public policies that benefit all Americans.

This very mechanism has never before been threatened as it is now, because that common perception of the truth has been destroyed, and with the election of a man who clearly has a tenuous respect for truth, possibly for a very long time. Based on recent studies by the Pew Research Center, nearly 44% of all U.S. adults get their news from Facebook, and it has been well documented that Facebook and other news portals attempt to continue to feed users content that is consistent with other content for which they’ve shown a preference, with no distinction between those sources that promote damaging false stories or which feed conspiracy theories. Couple this with the another example from the Pew Research Center, 84% of Americans have either not heard of the “alt-right” or if they have, they don’t know what it stands for. Given the prevalence of news coverage of the alt-right and their visibility within this election (and indeed, one of the alt-right’s leading figures finding a place in Donald Trump’s White House staff), this is an appalling statistic. It evidences a populace that is so unfamiliar with any news source that they are likely unable to distinguish between legitimate and fake news sources.

For many years, Republicans have decried the “liberal” bias of mainstream press, but what has worried me has always been the tendency to brand as “liberal” facts and data that conflict with their world-view or their agenda. While it is valuable and worthwhile to argue about the interpretation of data, to question the validity of data compiled by non-partisan processes undercuts the ability to have a discussion at all. Case in point is Mr. Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, an ideological activist with no educational credentials who refuses to acknowledge data that shows how private charter schools in her home state of Michigan have consistently failed to live up to their promise, and in many cases, under-perform public schools.

It is one thing to dismiss or ignore data, or even refute it, it’s another thing entirely to suppress or degrade the quality of data. Not only does that suppress contrarian information, it further erodes the public’s faith in the data, and there are serious concerns that Donald Trump could do irreparable harm to data collected by government agencies.

We can’t talk to each other. We can’t agree on what is true. We can’t reach consensus. We can’t compromise. We all walk around in our own echo chambers or bubbles divorced one way or another from a majority of our fellow Americans, and we have entities like Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Infowars.com, Breitbart News that exaggerate our differences, fuel our suspicions, prejudices and fears and make a fortune in the process.

World Economic Collapse

While there is some question about the effect of protectionist trade policies when considering only the US economy, the wider impact of Trump’s victory, on both international relations and the strength of similar-minded anti-immigrant and anti-globalist right-wing politicians in Europe following the British departure from the EU could be devastating. Given the number of financial and business professionals Trump has looped into his administration, this is probably the least likely of the three disasters I fear, but the aid and comfort that Trump’s ascendancy gives to like-minded populist demagogues not only in Europe, but around the world could make for some very unsettled times.

Catastrophic Global Conflict

This is the really scary one, and something that I considered as a possibility given the lack of experience that Mr. Trump has in international relations, his distrust of US intelligence services, his inability to pay attention to details, his propensity for being reactive and impetuous, and most significantly his troubling admiration and opaque relationship with Russia and Vladimir putin. When these concerns existed in my own head, triggered by certain historical parallels, I could dismiss my concerns as baseless paranoia. That is until I encountered an article by Dr. Evelyn Farkas who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia from 2012 to 2015 that mirrored my own fevered imaginings.

I want to “get over it”. I want to “move on”. I really do.

I just can’t