Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dear David Cameron: Be a Leader, Not a Quitter

Dear David Cameron,

While it's true that Thursday didn't go so well (and let's be honest, Friday went even worse by most things that are measurable), it was very clear from the outset that you've been dealing with this crisis as a dyed-in-the-wool Brit.

From the American point of view, this is meant to be a back-handed compliment.

You gracefully fell on your sword by announcing your resignation when the people spoke and determined -- by a small margin, mind you -- that your vision for the country was not aligned with theirs. This move was novel and oddly dignified from the American perspective. When American political leaders are not aligned with the majority of Americans, they simply believe that cable news, talk radio, and/or the liberal media are to blame for the lack of alignment. They would never blame themselves. In fact, they would become even more determined to bend the beliefs of the country toward their will. 

You see, in American politics, it isn't about quitting -- it's about winning.  

So, David, instead of quitting like a quitter, why not instead act like the professional politician that you claim to be and walk it back like any self-respecting politician would?

With a host of Brexit voters admitting that they really didn't mean it, and a sizeable chunk of citizens suddenly Googling "What is the EU?" after the vote was tallied, it would seem only rational that instead of selling out your own people, you should instead be cutting them some slack and giving them the opportunity to try again.

After all, the last UK referendum was all the way back in 2011 on the decision of "whether to change the voting system for electing MPs to the House of Commons from first past the post to the alternative vote." Riveting stuff. It's no wonder that far less than half of your people participated in that vote. 

What you did with the Brexit/Remain vote was truly unfair: it's not like you put the citizens in charge of governing things on a regular basis so that they really understood what their job was on June 23. If we're calling this straight, you set up your people to fail. You expected all of your citizens -- who are already quite busy getting on with their lives -- to be foreign, domestic, and economic policy experts writ large, and gave them one shot to understand all the complexities of EU membership with a single vote, with no facility for a test vote to see how it would go, or any ability for a "Take 2."  Ridiculous. You really just set them up to let everyone down by making their dress rehearsal the only show they'd ever perform.

The good news, David, is that it's never too late to stop quitting and start winning. It's time to start floating some trial balloons to see which mental model can withstand the test of the UK's political will. Some example trial balloons could include:
  • "Thursday's vote was indeed historic, but what we're learning after the fact is that too many of our voters didn't vote with their full confidence and conviction. Because there is no law stopping me from calling another "full confidence" vote, I shall be calling for one immediately, to take place in 2017."
  • "Based on the feedback we're getting from those who voted "exit" that they would not vote the same way again, we feel it is our obligation as a government to ensure that the true will of the people is heard, not the first try of the people."
  • "I must deeply apologize for what I've done to the citizens of the United Kingdom. I gave you all significant amounts of responsibility to decide the future of our kingdom, yet I did not provide you with any kind of training, rehearsal or even official documentation to help ensure that you knew exactly what you were voting for or against. It's clear from the aftermath that I've failed you, and for that, I not only apologize, but I also will be linking my resignation with a call for another referendum vote. But this time, I promise to prepare you with materials that clearly outline what the EU does for the UK, and what the EU would no longer do for the UK if we decide to leave it."
This all must seem quite undignified compared to your super-dignified response to losing the Brexit referendum. But when it's obvious that your citizens are not even trusting themselves to act rationally on their (unrehearsed) opportunity to decide their own future, maybe it's time to treat them as they actually are: amateur, unrehearsed referendum voters that need more than just one chance to understand their role and their responsibilities.

Is holding another vote impracticable? Sure. Is it even a good idea for your political system? Surely not. But that's what makes American politics so dynamic: we don't let things like this stop us from doing what we think needs to be done!

In closing, Mr. Cameron, if you're going to put forth a decision with these kinds of complex consequences in your people's hands. At least from the American political perspective, you have the responsibility to ensure that they are adequately prepared to take on that kind of responsibility. You need to lead, not quit. 

Now that "the cast" understands how their vote plays on the "big stage," it's your duty as a leader to call for another vote -- a vote to confirm that the true will of the people has been heard. Otherwise, you've simply handed over your country's future to a bunch of amateurs who never even got a chance to rehearse.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Yeah, About That Second Amendment

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

While there have been countless debates, tests and judgments that have defined and re-defined how to interpret this amendment, the current prevailing interpretation and belief in America is that individual gun ownership is a constitutional right. As a result, America has seen a steady and consistent stream of deregulation around gun ownership, even as mass shootings appear to be on the rise. As progressives get increasingly concerned about the gun culture in America, as a tactic, they try to make their case by comparing gun ownership to other safety-related, common-sense laws:

While certainly humorous while making a practical point, this tweet burn completely misses the larger point: people don't have a constitutional right to buy Sudafed. You simply cannot compare a constitutional right to anything else not on the fundamental rights playing field. 

This lack of focus on the constitutional argument is where progressives have lost their way. They have been so focused on the practical utility of public policy that they end up losing the larger fights that define America. Constitutional interpretation lends itself to a more strategic (and philosophical) debate platform than arguing the facts and stats on how laws can and should protect people. Constitutional theory the debate platform that conservatives have been playing on for decades while progressives get frustrated and lose ground.

The remarkable irony is that the wording and intent within the Second Amendment is actually on progressive's side. In fact, the Second Amendment is a progressive's dream: the third word in the amendment is "regulated" for heaven's sake.

No matter the interpretation of every other word and phrase after the first three words, the entire context of the amendment is that it will be a regulated right. Through this lens, the Second Amendment is barely even comparable to the First Amendment in terms of what rights it enables. There is simply no language in the First Amendment that regulates the right to free speech... and yet we still regulate speech despite the unassailable strength of the the First Amendment constitutional language.

The upshot? Even in today's hardcore gun rights environment and culture, the Constitution itself provides the guidance -- and mandate -- to not just regulate arms, but to regulate them well.  

How our culture defines "well" can and will certainly evolve over time, but we shouldn't let gun rights ideologues and arms industry special interests continue to convince the public that they're the only ones who have the Constitution on their side in this debate. 

Yes, current Supreme Court interpretation is that every citizen has the right to bear arms. But it's also constitutionally mandated that we regulate these arms well. Seeing as the right to bear arms has been implemented pretty effectively in America, perhaps now it's time to start implementing regulation well too, as the Constitution also mandates.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

No, Donald Trump Isn't a Racist

Contrary to popular belief, Donald Trump is not a racist. According to Google, the definition of racist is "a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another."

Trump's charge that Judge Curiel cannot fairly adjudicate the Trump University lawsuit is based on his belief that Curiel's Mexican heritage creates a natural bias against a presidential candidate that wants to build a wall between the judge's born nation and nation of his family ancestry. While the merits of this charge are certainly debatable (they seem to have earned precious little merit in the court of public opinion), there has been no statement from Trump that indicates that he actually feels superior to Judge Curiel based on the judge's Hispanic descent. Rather, its just another example of Trump demonstrating that he is an unapologetic nationalist.

In fact, counter to the racism charge, Trump is actually telegraphing to the nation, through  psychological projection, that he would most likely behave the same way as the judge given the same situation. This is not racism. This is Trump reminding us that his entire life has been defined by winning, at any cost.

But, you may be asking, isn't it racist when he talks about banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and saying that illegal Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals?  Nope. Why? Because:
  • Muslims aren't a race
  • Mexico isn't a race
Yes, many of Trumps's statements seem racist, but it's just a plain fact that they're not.

Why does linguistic accuracy matter?  Because there's an actual danger for those who inaccurately impugn someone's character: it can backfire and damage the accuser's credibility. Also, it misdiagnoses the problem many have with Donald Trump as a political candidate. If we misdiagnose our candidates, then we'll be voting for or against them for the wrong reasons.

Imagine if -- after all of the damage he has done to his candidacy by saying what he said about Judge Curiel, Mexican immigrants, and foreign Muslims -- Trump parsed this out himself and turned it all around on his accusers? He would be able to use the rhetorical overreach of racism to re-enforce the point that the political class and the media elite simply can't be trusted, because they just can't help themselves from exaggerating to make a point, and ultimately get the analysis wrong as a result.

That would be a spectacular irony.