Sometimes “I’m Better Off” Isn’t the Best Measure of Good Government

Privilege and Position Shouldn't Determine What's Right

I’ve stepped back from public comment about our current leadership in order to inwardly address the anger and frustration I feel towards our U.S. political environment. We are realizing the obvious. The current direction will not make America great again. This is not good government. And, honestly, it might not have been any better had the election results been different. We have some deep and difficult work to undertake before we get to good government.

photo credit: Madi Robson | unsplash.com

I freely admit that the Trump Administration and some of their actions have shown a momentary improvement to the economy. My net worth has gone up along with everyone else’s. At least those of us fortunate enough to have a net worth that can be impacted by policy.

But good government is not determined solely by the benefits for those who already enjoy privilege and position. Good government is about helping all so that we can move forward together. The policies of this administration, despite claims made during the election, will not accomplish that.

I understand that we have a problem with government largesse and bureaucracy. I am hopeful that some of the shrapnel from the budget policy bombs being dropped will positively change that. But efficiency won’t make America great. It will be too little and an investment in things and not people.

Politicians always claim that they will be able to unify people. That’s the only way that any organized group can move forward — whether it’s a nation, a sports team, or a business.

The proposed funding recommended by the current administration is not a unity budget. Ironically, the results it brings will further divide the American people. Despite an effort to paint the “enemy them” as immigrants and terrorists, we are pitting ourselves against each other.

It’s easy to be complacent. I’m white and middle-classed. There’s a good chance I’ll be better off economically in four years. But I won’t see the unity that makes us great. I’d rather have less and walk shamelessly with every single person.

Fixing News – A Simple Plan to Build Trust

Making America a little more great

As a mediator, one of my jobs is to look for ways that people can sit at the same table to negotiate. That can be made difficult by the negotiating tactics of one or both parties. One of the things that makes President Trump attractive to his constituents is his refusal to operate by long-standing rules of decorum and practices as President. He effectively uses social media to speak directly to the American people and the world. Some of those communications have value and others merely allow him to vent. His constant message of late is that the major media outlets manufacture fake news. In return, the media points out the major inconsistencies in the information that comes out of the Trump administration and voices their frustration. I’m not sure whether anyone has thought through the possibilities of fixing news — at least in a way that begins to satisfy the foundational purposes that drive our need for news.

Since I’ve decided to make an effort to be as objective as I can about the present state of our nation, I want to share my observations.

First, the news media taken as a whole is a mess. When news became a business, a significant amount of attention shifted to “selling newspapers.” This was a natural shift in that the gathering, analysis, and distribution of news is an expensive proposition and, since we believe there is tremendous potential for bias in a government-controlled press, we had to find a way to fund it. Unfortunately, in a free market environment, the competition for larger market share and the money that flows as a result often drive new organization from the solid ground of professional reporting to the edges of sensationalism.

Even when sensationalism isn’t the focus, other organizations drift to the right or left dependent on the political leanings of their ownership groups. Such alignment is natural and should be acceptable. We accept it in regard to politicians. So news people, just like anyone else, should be able to claim their political spot. But journalists should operate within the boundaries of truthfulness and accurate reporting.

I believe that the majority of news outlets have professional journalists dedicated to reporting the news accurately and asking vital questions. Let’s let them do their jobs — perhaps in a little different way.

Second, President Trump’s reliance on the surprise factor — his penchant for keeping everyone off balance — has put him in the White House. Yet, for those who listen carefully to what he says and watch what he does, that mode of operation has made him a highly questionable source of solid, factual information. Some say that is part of his genius. Others assert that it is only the vestiges of his ego and perhaps a more serious mental disorder. Looking at it objectively, his methods have been successful in keeping his opponents and, to a large degree, the American public guessing. I believe we are also hearing the uncertainty of world leaders building. The unpredictability of President Trump is a negotiating strategy. I teach negotiation. Most often, a prolonged assertion of unpredictability into the negotiation process is considered a hardball tactic. Equally seasoned negotiators either respond in kind or refuse to continue the game.

The news media has tried the hardball tactic. The results have been comical and would indeed be funny if the future of the nation and the world weren’t at stake. But aggressively arguing with a man who refuses to embrace the value of truth and accuracy is futile. Frankly, even if that is merely his negotiating strategy, it should be disturbing when basic honesty is cast aside merely to win. And, to be objective, we must admit there is some of that same game being played from within some of the news outlets.

So, my simple plan to fix news is this and is directed entirely to the news media. Here’s the more complex version of the simple plan.

  1. Observe and report on exactly what President Trump and his administration say and do.
  2. Go to his news conferences and listen. Don’t ask questions. Don’t bait him or be baited by him. When the prepared remarks end, close your notepads and walk away.
  3. When reporting on the President, present solid, fact-based data regarding what he says and does.
  4. Continue to seek out and even employ analysts who speak to the possible meaning of the history that is unfolding around us. Report their thoughts accurately and honestly.
  5. Seek other sources for news. Go to elected leaders and ask questions. Let political leaders enter into the debate and argument with the President. Give them a bigger share of the coverage.
  6. Report on alternatives that emanate from other political leaders and citizens. Give an objective score sheet to the American people to choose the leadership and direction of our country.
  7. Don’t rely on unnamed sources. We are beyond the moment when people who care about important things should remain anonymous.
  8. Be proud of what you do. The role of the news media is an important one. Don’t let negotiation tactics keep you off balance.

The simple version is this:

Respect the office of the President. Don’t play games with someone who has thrown away the rule book. If the game is based entirely on misdirection, you will never win unless you are better at creating confusion through misdirection. Create a new game with new rules. Observe, be fair, and distance yourself. Find alternative reliable sources and offer your readers and audiences the opportunity to decide who they will trust.

Transfer of Power

why climbing on board the train is so hard

I won’t be watching the inauguration today. It’s not that I have no interest in the ceremony or its rich history. I’ve never watched the inauguration. The truth is I don’t enjoy witnessing the transfer of power after a contested battle.

train

In days of old, kings wore special garments to denote their power. Most often, these were ornate robes. And the longer the train of a king’s robe, the greater his power and dominance. When a king would conquer another ruler, he would cut off a portion of the vanquished ruler’s robe and add it to the train of his own.

(Some of you may remember the story from Bible class about David cutting off a corner of King Saul’s robe while the monarch was sleeping. It was a show of defiance and power as David sent a message — “King Saul, your life was in my hands and I spared you. You belong to me.” You might also remember that David later apologized for this act of disrespect.)

Consider the fact that when a king did lengthen his train the addition was made to the end of his robe. He didn’t carry forth the legacy of his conquered opponent up high with respect. Instead, he placed it in direct contact with the ground where its history would soon be covered with dirt and the filth of the streets and the sewers.

I won’t be watching today as Mr. Trump slices off a generous hunk of President Obama’s robe, holds it high over his head, and then pins it to the tail of his train.

Remember that whenever leadership focuses only on power, the fibers of the lengthened train are not just some bit of cloth, but the lives and well-being of people. In a divided society — and we live in one today — the transfer of power is often realized in hurtful and even violent ways against at least some of our fellow citizens.

In the coming days, if I witness Mr. Trump easing graciously into the power of his office, a power that can be benevolent and beneficial, I will be most grateful. I believe that he can do that. After all, at this stage of the process, he no longer needs the antics of his campaign to grasp and faithfully execute matters of the public trust within his understanding of his charge from those who elected him. It is my prayer that he will do that with dignity and grace . . . and a reverent respect for the power he holds and for all people.

 

Comparatively Speaking, Why Does Your ‘But’ Have to be Bigger Than Mine?

the lesser of two evils is, by definition, still evil

I read an article yesterday about an intellectual, liberal-thinking writer who had published a number of articles in support of Mr. Trump as President. The writer does not support many, if any, of Mr. Trump’s positions. Yet, he was voicing his endorsement for one sole reason: Mr. Trump is refusing to play any of the political games of Washington. Speaking of the contrast, the writer lauds the disruption that Mr. Trump is injecting into practically every moment. Comparatively speaking, past presidential transitions have been calm at the top — the President and the President-Elect are portraits of cooperation and the turbulent waters are at the bottom. This year is marked by turbulence throughout the Reflecting Pool.

Just after reading that article, I was cruising through Facebook and I saw a post from a friend lamenting Mr. Trump’s choice of words for one of his New Year’s Day tweets. His point was, to some extent, about content. Primarily, however, it was about tone and demeanor. As you would expect, a number of readers responded with like feelings. And then, in crept somebody’s ‘but.’

I read, with fascination, as entry after entry sprung to the screen. At one point, the responses gave way to an attack against an individual. As it turned out, the two individuals involved didn’t know each other at all. The root of the conflict? The attacker feared that her ‘but’ was bigger than his.

In order to move forward in the political world — or any any human interaction — we have to stop comparing bad as a justification for our allegiances. Instead, we must seek out good and reward it.

A Place to Start
Conflict is resolved effectively only when the parties involved agree to leave the battlefields and join forces on the construction site. The true path to peace is in building something better, not in demolition.

Don’t you think it’s a little juvenile to be investing so much time in comparing the size of our ‘buts?’ Instead, why don’t we begin identifying leaders and language that point to a better future for all people? For too long, the vast majority have believed that we have been voting for the lesser of two evils. I pray that in 2020, we will be voting for the greater of two goods.

The Thin Line

The vanishing point between war and rumors of war

This holiday season revealed a terrifying scene. A world leader threatened a nuclear attack against a neighboring country because of a fake news story. Pakistan versus Israel. Nothing for us to worry about, right? Tragically, the thin line that weaves its way between truth and lie, honesty and dishonesty, accountability and absence of accountability is losing weight. The real tragedy is that irresponsibility in communication is now being recognized as a skill.

As a society we have long-revered the art of manipulation and deception. We have even honored it in times of war, sports, and day-to-day negotiation. Yet, those of us who have studied negotiation know that things spiral out of control when the players in war or games or daily transactions begin to worship the thrill of deception or, at least, ignore the immorality that is inherent to it.

In public and community matters, what is most concerning is to have the public pounded with information that is simply untrue. Some of this information is false and purposefully constructed to wreak havoc and upend normalcy. Personally, I think that our law-making bodies should intensify targeted efforts to prosecute such intentional lies. Although asking our social media purveyors to police that is a positive move, I don’t believe that their solitary efforts will be enough.

Another false-news type is doing damage at the same time. Unverified statements, made as fact, are psychologically hardening positions across our political spectrum. For example, it was very easy for President-Elect Trump to recently tweet that his election has resulted in a 10% gain in financial markets. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Trump nor his organization has responded to requests for credible sources for that claim. Meanwhile, at the time the statement was made, a look at leading market indicators showed that the gains were below that margin — some far below.

Look, I was clear during and following the election that I did not support Mr. Trump in his bid for president. However, I did say that I would respect his office and give him an opportunity to be successful. In order for me to do that, I’m just asking that he make an effort to be accurate in what he says or writes. He would have been perfectly correct to simply say that the financial markets have made significant gains since the election. That is true and I have no problem admitting that. And, I think it is within the realm of acceptable behavior for him to claim his impending presidency as the factor that made that happen.

I’m not just pointing to Mr. Trump.

We all realize that, although Mr. Trump seems to have a huge capacity for distributing misinformation and making statements that he or his aides must later “walk back,” this lack of accuracy is not limited to Mr. Trump and has infected almost every crevice and pore of our public lives in a negative way.

Another example from Mr. Trump’s Twitter account. (To those of you who are willing supporters of Mr. Trump, please keep reading. Until someone gets him off Twitter, he just provides too many examples. Spoiler: I’m actually going to give him the benefit of the doubt here.)

The early reactions I heard only quoted the first eleven words. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capacity.” Given Putin’s rants at about the same time, it certainly sounded as if Mr. Trump was putting us back on the front row of a cold war — with glowing nuclear armaments displayed all around. However, the second part of that tweet does show that Mr. Trump recognized boundaries.

I have to admit, I don’t follow @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. At my age, I just haven’t needed that constant anxiety. But had I accepted the reports of his statement at face value, I could have only concluded that he had every intention of rescinding all progress that ‘s been made toward nuclear disarmament. That is not what he said and we can all hope and pray that was never his intention.

The problem, of course, is that Mr. Trump’s communication is vague and no one can determine its face value. Even though there have been additional statements issued about this, we still aren’t exactly sure of what he intended. This is one of those moments where it is our responsibility and duty to ask — even demand — clarification. And insist on accountability. But be fair, he didn’t say that he was going to pursue a cold war. This is when we ask questions and seek clarification.

So, if you’ve been waiting for my big point, here it is . . .

Given the world of misinformation we live in, shaped from social media, cable news, and the major news media organizations, we must be vigilant and we must demand accountability. As the American people, we have a long history of following leaders we are unwilling to listen closely to. Close enough has been good enough. If a policy sounds like it benefits us personally, then we’re supporters. We have ceased being people of thought and inquiry. We have voted “us versus them” and it is coming back to bite us — and them.

We are them. They are us. We’re in this together.

So, a call to our leaders, our news sources, and to each of us personally:

Invest time in getting and communicating good information from multiple sources. Then, act on it responsibly. Don’t simply stir discord. Have friendly conversations. Commit to beginning and ending your discussions as friends. And set aside time for the next visit.

This call was to me, as well. I’m dangerously close to following @realDonaldTrump. Maybe right after my next physical.