Monday, March 9, 2020

Who is Most Likely to Beat Trump in 2020 - Biden or Bernie?

Super Tuesday has come and gone, and Democrats are now at a crossroads.

There's Joe Biden, the 77-year old lifelong Senator, two-term Vice President, and three-time Democratic candidate for President who, until February 29, 2020, had never won a single presidential primary or caucus. Why? Well, let's just say he's had some challenges communicating this ideas effectively. He's considered the "moderate" in the race - basically an extension of the Obama administration.

Then there's Bernie Sanders, the 78-year old Senator, mayor, and proud Democratic Socialist who narrowly lost his 2016 bid for President because, according to him and many of his followers, the establishment robbed him of the Democratic nomination. He's on the campaign trail again, and while he was on top recently looking like he was going to lock the nomination, a vast majority of Democrats in South Carolina - and then throughout the country on Super Tuesday - sent a message that they were not comfortable with his revolutionary message and policy prescriptions.

Biden and Bernie are currently neck-and-neck in the delegate count, and have a debate coming up, where each candidate will have an opportunity to try to knock the other one out without seeming like they're trying to do just that. And because Democrats care a lot about identity, it's hard to forget that they're both old, white men. Which for some is offensive, and for others, a sigh of relief.

Yet, one of them will beat Donald Trump in the fall of 2020. Or, neither will. Either way, Democrats have made it clear that their number one objective is to beat Trump in 2020, and the ideology of the candidate comes second. Given this, I'm going to attempt to outline what I see as the pros and cons for each candidate, providing a guide for voters who want to remove Trump from office.

Why Joe Biden is the Best Bet to Defeat Trump

  • Every Democratic candidate who became President in modern times has been from the "moderate" wing of the party. 
  • Biden has proven through the primaries to-date that he is able to re-assemble the "Obama coalition" that led Obama to victory twice in the modern era. 
  • Biden has proven that the pivotal "black vote" (ugh, so racial) will come out for him because that community seems to appreciate his support for Obama. 
  • Biden is Catholic, and Catholics have historically been swing voters in pivotal swing states.
  • The majority of "Never-Trump Republicans" will vote for Biden, but will not vote for Bernie
  • Joe has demonstrated - in South Carolina and nine additional Super Tuesday states - that his personal brand is powerful enough to overcome virtually no ground game, virtually no ad buys, virtually no events, and a slew of gaffes. That's some powerful MoJo(e). 
  • Joe is not naturally charismatic in the classic sense, however, his heart is charismatic. People tend to believe that Joe is a nice guy (Bernie's words!), even if they don't know everything about him. This helps him be more bullet-proof from attacks. This was on clear display during the early debates in 2019 when other Democrats went after him, their polls took a hit, not his. This bodes well for Trump's only political tactic - attacks. 

Why Bernie Sanders is the Best Bet to Defeat Trump

  • Bernie has a clear, unapologetic voice that cuts through the normal political banter. His genuine tone and style will make Trump look like the unscrupulous used-car salesman he comes off as. 
  • Bernie has a bold vision to make far more Americans safe, healthy, and happy than any other candidate in modern times. This could drive voter turn-out in ways not seen before
  • Bernie has proven that he, like Trump, can create a super-passionate "base" - and this will be best fought as a base-vs.-base election.
  • Unlike Biden, Democrats won't be collectively holding their breath, praying that Bernie doesn't say something that doesn't make any sense.
  • Bernie thinks the political and economic status quo is evil. Like Trump, anger and frustration with the "establishment" (Bernie) or "swamp" (Trump) is what truly animates voters in this day and age. Trump proved this in 2016, and the only way to win in 2020 is to go toe-to-toe with this kind of campaign. 
  • Bernie has proven that he can energize the Latino vote. This rapidly expanding demographic is increasingly key to electoral success. 
  • Bernie's staff and followers can get down-and-dirty in ways that are atypical for Democrats. In order to beat Trump's unsavory tactics and fan base, Democrats need to come to a gun-fight with guns, not woke toothbrushes.
  • In an era where the candidates who yell the loudest get the most attention, Bernie's yelling is far more coherent and intelligent than Biden's...or Trump's. 

Why Joe Biden is Not Fit to Defeat Trump

  • My 82-year old father who suffered a stroke sounds more coherent at times than Joe does. How can we expect someone who rarely can successfully stitch three sentences together to win an argument with Donald Trump in a debate? 
  • Almost all of Biden's rationale for becoming President is based on what he did - not what on what he plans to do.  "I signed that!" "I did that!" "That was me!" are continual refrains during debates. It's small, petty, and exhausting. 
  • Biden has a son, Hunter, who got a high-paying gig at Burisma in Ukraine clearly based on his relationship to his father, and Republicans are aiming to link Biden's successful push to oust the Ukrainian prosecutor that was investigating Burisma. And, stunningly, Biden has yet to come up with a decent rebuttal to this charge. 
  • There aren't enough Never-Trump Republicans to help Biden overcome the high probability that Sanders supporters will sit on their hands (or vote third party again if given the chance) on election day. 
  • Biden is part of the "establishment" which increasing numbers of Americans are sick of. They think of all of these people -- Hillary, Biden, Bill, and to an extent, Obama -- as being lapdogs to the status quo, and the passive enablers of the Republican agenda.  No bold strokes - just foolhardy conciliation with Republicans. Democrats are frustrated by Obama's lack of impact, and don't need his VP continuing a lackluster "can't we all just get along?" misguided administration. 
  • Biden has decades and decades of votes (especially for the Iraq War) that gives the appearance that he has terrible judgement. And his excuses for this vote are almost as bad as the vote itself. 

Why Bernie Sanders is Not Fit to Defeat Trump

  • The best historic precedent for a Bernie Sanders candidate is George McGovern (lost in a landslide in 1972) and, far more recently, James Corbyn (lost in a landslide in the UK in 2019).
  • Bernie is already famous for being the first popular (Democratic) Socialist candidate in modern times, and polls show that Americans have no appetite for a socialist message, even if they like many policies that come from the socialist playbook. 
  • In the four years since he last ran for President, Bernie has not demonstrated that he's been able to connect with the black community in a meaningful way. And the black community has been a linchpin to electoral victory in recent successful Democratic campaigns.
  • Bernie will drive swing-voters to Trump, and has proven in the primaries that he is not, in fact, able to bring out a surge of young liberals to compensate. 
  • Bernie has decided to lose swing-state Florida due to Castro compliments, and to lose new-swing-state Pennsylvania by standing firm on banning fracking (removing over 300k jobs in PA alone).
  • Bernie has not shown any interest in moderating his tone or approach to gain favor with the vast number of moderate Democrats. Politics is a game of addition, and Bernie seems to be playing a game of subtraction - especially when he accuses his competitors of being "funded by corporations and billionaires." As if to say that corporations that employ 38% of the American workforce are evil. Or when he says that health insurance companies will be made illegal - putting millions of people out of jobs. This is not how you gain favor to win a majority in a popular vote. 
  • The Latino vote that Bernie has been so good at attracting doesn't show up in enough swing states relative to the importance of the black vote.
  • Bernie's political and economic revolution doesn't have the same firepower as it did four years ago, when we were still climbing out of the great recession. Coronavirus impact notwithstanding, the economy is simply doing far too well for the majority of voters to scrap the whole thing and go in on a more centrally planned, government-run system that takes huge industries out of the private sector. 

For Democrats, beating Donald Trump is super-important. So it's equally super-important for Democrats to be clear-eyed as to which candidate is the most fit to beat Trump in 2020. From my point of view, there are no easy answers. Each voter should open their eyes to the pros and cons of their preferred candidate and make sure that they stand up to the test of objective analysis.

Which contender do you think is best suited to take on Delusional Donny in the fall? Bumbling Biden or Socialist Sanders? What a selection!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

It's the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel Fine

Donald Trump: Political wrecking ball? Or Presidential innovator?
On January 20, 2017, Donald J Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. This very fact has about half the country in hysterics. This reaction is understandable -- Trump represents a substantial shift not just in policy, but in soul.

It's the soul bit that has Democrats (and a lot of independents) freaked out. Trump's soul is one of a victimized over-achiever: "Everyone underestimates me... but I'll show them!" It should not be surprising that a lot of Americans share this sentiment. In fact, Donald Trump is more or less a fantasy for Americans who feel like they're looked down upon by pop culture for not having "progressive" views, and see Trump's ascendancy as a vindication of their struggles.

Trump's soul has barreled through our body politic like a bull in a china shop. He flaunts the "One China" detente, threatens North Korea, dismisses the value of NATO, challenges America's animosity towards Vladimir Putin, attacks civil rights heroes like John Lewis, throws out the White House press corps, consistently says things that are patently false, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It's Trump's flagrant disregard for political norms that worries the establishment class and those who do not support nor trust him. His style accentuates -- and perhaps exaggerates -- his policy formula for America.

So why do I feel fine?

Let me start by saying that I did not support nor vote for Donald Trump in the primary or general election. I am no Trump supporter. However, as much as I'm not a fan of his personal style or substance, I am a fan of innovation.

Wait -- Trump is an innovator? Well, not in the traditional sense. He's not creating Google or an iPhone for sure. But, he is -- perhaps sloppily and wrongheadedly -- innovating what it means to be an American President, which will have intended and unintended consequences. Put another way, Trump is someone who prefers to break things and then let the pieces reassemble. Inventors create something completely new, but innovators typically replace something old with something new. Trump's supporters voted him in precisely for the purpose to break things and those who oppose him voted, essentially, for the status quo. The problem is that the status quo was tilted toward benefiting those of status. And not enough people -- especially in the Rust Belt -- are part of the status movement anymore.

Even though my friends, family and I would have most likely benefited from the doubling down on the status quo, I can also see how any large, complex system (like the U.S. Government and the global world order) need to be reformed over time. And it's been a long, long time since fundamental political truths have been challenged and reformed. Even though the status quo has treated America well over the last five generations, it's undeniable that modern globalization and technology advancements have substantially shifted the winners and losers in the global economy. These global trends have not been primarily in America's favor.

Trump's bluster, propensity to make stuff up, persistent puffery, and Putin camaraderie should not be normalized and unsurprisingly turn off the majority of Americans. His need to perennially prove that he's not a loser, combined with his insatiable desire to be admired, makes many Americans feel like he's unfit temperamentally to be President, nevertheless Commander-in-Chief. Yet his independent nature combined with his complete disregard for norms, standards, and reverence may actually position him to lead painful-yet-necessary changes in the establishment thinking and institutions that are required to calibrate to the new world order we're facing. This, in essence, is what I mean by unintended innovation. I foresee much-needed innovation occurring during this presidency, even if amongst this innovation there is unnecessary destruction and disassembling of important developments in our civic society.

Or he could be a complete train wreck as President and ruin everything. Heck, he could accidentally send us to war -- or even worse, kick off a nuclear crisis. But it's not like we can undo the election. We are where we are, and I choose to focus on the potential upside. The media should at least be open to this potential upside even if they have their hands full with the abnormalities that defines normal now in Washington.

My fellow Americans: Since we have Donald Trump as President of the United States (yes, I typed that, and yes, I survived), I choose to embrace the possibility that this incredibly unlikely President fixes more things than he breaks (even if unintentionally) as this unique soul challenges our country in ways that we never expected.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Donald Trump Won: Here are the Five Things You Need to Know

Since the presidential election that led to Donald Trump's victory, we've learned that Democrats are apoplectic, establishment Republicans are aghast (but slowly coming around to their new party leader), and millions of Americans are elated that someone from outside the political establishment is going to shake up a broken political system, one way or another. 

The mainstream media will also happily navel gaze and tell you about liberal-elite bubbles that need to be burst and how Middle America is finally getting back at the establishment class for being ignored for decades. And, of course, you can learn all about how petrifying and/or a breath of fresh air President Donald Trump will be (although, you most likely will not hear both sides of this argument, thanks in large part to what is discussed in topic #5 below). 

All of the above are worthy of discussion, but if we only focus on the what's and don't invest in exploring some of the why's, we won't come away with the full understanding of what was behind Donald Trump's stunning victory. If we take the time to understand the why's, perhaps we can be better prepared to be active participants in our own society and future rather than being mere spectators and consumers of news.

1. The Democrats' Empathy Model Has Expired
Social liberals have historically had empathy for minority demographics in America - blacks, latinos, Muslims, Jews, and even Catholics earlier on when they were seen as the most unsavory immigrants. In modern politics, these communities were primarily urban in nature. As a result, the Democratic platform has signaled through rhetoric and symbolism that it is an urban-first party.

Yet, over the last several decades there has been a slow decline of the rural American experience, driven by the loss of jobs due to globalization and the constant churn of technology advancement -- punctuated by an increase in crime, drug abuse and, most importantly a loss of communal self-esteem. One can imagine how annoying it must be for rural voters to be living in increasingly hopeless towns across rural America only to hear Democrats -- the party that's supposed to care the most about the struggling citizen -- talk about economic and social issues primarily focused on urban and suburban voters.

It can be argued that because Clinton received over one million more votes than Trump there wasn't -- and isn't -- anything wrong with the party platform. However, because national elections are tied to the electoral college, Democrats will now be compelled to think about rural issues disproportionately to the population mix. Make no mistake: voters from Rust Belt tilted the balance that led to Donald Trump's legitimate election, ensuring that they become a strategic political block for as long as the current sociodemographics persist.

Further (and this may be controversial, but it must be addressed), Democrats' empathy seems to be completely blind to rural conservative voters. Whenever there are significant progressive social wins in our culture (i.e., gay marriage, transgender civil rights, the rights of the state winning over the rights of religious doctrine), there seems to be absolutely no plan to provide an on-ramp for those less urbane people who are not racists or bigots, but still get freaked out by these evolving values in their country. There is precious little Democratic energy expended in trying to understand and help those who feel like this is "no longer their country." Rather, Democrats, liberals, and progressives dance in the street and celebrate their civil rights wins, throwing salt in the cultural wound of at least 20-30% of the country (if not more). That's a lot of people who may agree with the Democrats' fiscal and government policies (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, environmental security, and foreign policy) who are instead turned off by a disregard for their slower adoption of progressive social values. Instead of helping them along the path of social justice, Democrats are seen as demonizing these people as racists, bigots, and deplorables who just need to get on board with social progress, like it or not. This is lazy, sloppy population management, and almost guarantees a backlash. Perhaps even a big-league backlash!

2. The Republican Fiscal Discipline Orthodoxy Has Expired
The election of Donald Trump is just as much a story of the failure of the Republican party as it is the Democratic party. Let's not forget that Trump bulldozed over sixteen Republican contenders in the primaries. Traditionally, Republicans have stood for fiscal discipline, small government values, a strong military, and pro-gun and pro-life policies. Because they too are in a bubble, they believed that these fundamental legs of their platform all fit nicely together. Turns out their coalition in today's America is actually about jobs, guns, and abortion. The fiscal discipline and small government ideals were just part of the package deal. This is akin to your cable provider bundling ESPN, FoxNews, HGTV, and the Let's Learn Spanish channels together and then proclaiming that the majority of their customers want to learn Spanish!

Donald Trump's candidacy popped the bubble of this Republican "package deal" and showed the nation that many people -- no matter the political party -- want the government to help them when they feel marginalized, hurt, or in need of help. The fiscal discipline philosophy that Republicans are so famous for was not -- and may not be -- the overarching philosophy that wins majorities in elections. The key swing voters in the Rust Belt seemingly want just as much government as Democrats typically want -- they just want it targeted toward them rather than aimed at minority populations in far-flung cities on the coasts.

To wit, Donald Trump's platform sends the national debt skyrocketing, even more than Clinton's plan. Isn't it interesting how few debate questions were debt-focused, especially given how much the national debt was a defining issue during the Obama administration? This election has shown us that the national debt -- and fiscal conservatism in general -- is nothing more than convenient political outrage with no real philosophical conviction when it comes to mainstream voters' values.

The upshot of this realization is that both parties are now aware that they need to play the same ignore-the-debt game: The Republican party can no longer afford to believe that their voters' fiscal responsibility desires are philosophical in nature.

None of this bodes well for our national debt or deficit, but the good news is that it all may be a bit of a red herring anyway.

3. Stories Matter More Than Policies
Candidates that win don't just have a message; they have a story that connects with the issues of the day. Often, presidential campaign stories are built on hope and optimism, latching onto the civic religion that is the American Dream. Candidates like JFK, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all ran on story platforms designed to connect their policy prescriptions to the future well-being of America.

Donald Trump followed in this tradition but in an unconventional manner. Unlike prior winning campaigns, Trump focused more on the problems the country faced through a lens of victimization and de-emphasized specific policies that would enable a change in the status quo.

Trump convincingly told a story of an America seen through the eyes of people outside of our bustling and thriving top-20 urban centers: a story of an America that used to be strong, proud, wealthy, and durable that had slipped away -- aided and embedded by politicians in Washington and other Big Elite Cities who prioritized their lives over your life. Global trade, costly wars, Wall Street bailouts, outsourcing, and technology automation... all "elite" activities that benefit those at the top, leaving those at the bottom scrambling for scraps; holding their hands open, hoping to catch just a smidge of this new kind of coastal elite trickle-down economics. He summed all of this up with the slogan "Make America Great Again." His slogan succinctly summarized the narrative, which re-enforced the message.

It should be no surprise that many voters saw Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as the two most engaging candidates this season, as their stories had many commonalities when describing the challenges the country faces. While their stories had much in common, their stories' antagonists were quite different, and as follows, their prescriptions for the country were quite divergent. Many in the media were consistently stunned during the primaries when they found voters torn between voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Good journalists know the power of stories and they should have known better. Bernie's campaign was stymied, however, by a lack of an effective slogan that telegraphed his story beyond his followers. "A Future To Believe In" is vague and distant, and "A Political Revolution is Coming" could sound overbearing -- if not petrifying -- to a voter that is not politically-minded and is just looking for a better job and maybe some hope for a secure retirement.

Hillary Clinton rode into the nomination primarily on a coronation story -- a story of "I'm smart, experienced, and determined to be the first woman President of the United States."  Well, that story was about her, not them. Her campaign logo even stated "I'm with Her" for crying out loud. What a self-centered story! Her latter campaign slogan became "Stronger Together" as a reaction to Trump's campaign. The story "Stronger Together" broadcast to voters was that Clinton's campaign was going to be more inclusive and empathetic. This is effective to progressives and liberals, but didn't convey a sense of action or progress. Ironically, the candidate that advocated "Stronger Together" was the same candidate that declared that a portion of Trump's voters were deplorables. Not the most effective way to re-enforce the message to a broad audience.

4. Charisma Is The Real Secret Sauce
Not just in politics, but in life, charisma is the most under-examined and under-measured component in effective leadership. You might have the best story in the world, but if you can't deliver it with conviction and in an attractive, engaging manner, your story will never gain legs. Charisma may be the most important ingredient of leadership -- and in winning national elections -- yet it is oddly ignored and unexamined in election and campaign analysis.

[To learn more about charisma, this TEDTalk video describes this skill, and how it can overcome a host of built-in biases, and dramatically increase the perceived value of a leader and storyteller.]

The 2016 election cycle is a perfect case study for the power of charisma:

Donald Trump had the rockiest and most gaffe-driven campaign in modern history, yet he glided by these supposed deadly gaffes and emerged stronger than ever after each. His sixteen Republican rivals all had better resumes, temperaments, relevant experience, and real governing track records to prove to the voters that they should be entrusted with America's future and fate. But if you look at the Republican candidates through the charisma filter, you'll see a yuge gap between all of them and Trump. Trump's charisma is enabled by his well-honed communications skills, combined with a personal conviction he has to the story he was telling. Trump is not traditionally known as a man of conviction, but if you watch coverage of him over the past three decades, you'll see that American Nationalism is something that has always animated him and defines his belief system.

Bernie Sanders came from nowhere politically, with no national awareness, no fundraising machine, and, like Donald Trump, an untraditional political persona. Yet, he commanded national attention within a year while other Democratic candidates fizzled into nothingness (remember Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee?). I think most would agree that it wasn't Sanders' classic good looks or his political identity as a Democratic Socialist that catapulted him into real contention to be the next President of the United States. It was charisma -- powered by decades of unbending belief that the key to American strength and economic prosperity was FDR-style Democratic Socialism.

Conversely, Hillary Clinton was sorely lacking in charisma. It's true that she is known to be personally charming, but that is a different skill, and clearly not transferable onto the big stage. My thesis is that all of the supposed scandals that Hillary was implicated in, including Benghazi, the personal email server, and even her health, were all exaggerated and culturally sticky due to her distinct lack of charisma. With the right amount of charisma, she could have just as easily batted those issues away like Trump deflected issues such as not revealing his taxes, being implicated in fraudulent business practices with Tump University, and even the revelation that he bragged about groping women without their permission. The fact that Clinton's scandals were sticky and Trump's weren't was not a result of so-called media bias or gender bias -- it was directly correlated to charisma and its perception-bending affect on people.

When comparing the three stand-out candidates this season, it becomes clear what creates charisma for national candidates. Right or wrong, Trump and Sanders both believed in something politically philosophical that animated their stories, their passion, and their audience. Clinton, on the other hand, appeared to believe that it was her time, and with her vast experience, we could trust her to do the right thing. This is a process belief, not a philosophical belief.

5. Political Polarization is Now Automated
Political polarization has always existed. Conservative minds and liberal minds perceive the world in fundamentally different ways, and it makes sense for people to seek comfortable company if given the choice. Historically, in order to find political alignment, people had to make some kind of investment. If you were conservative but born in a liberal environment, you needed to go out and find organizations, friends, or groups to affiliate yourself with like-minded people...or perhaps even move to a better-suited community. More recently, politically-oriented news and analysis outlets emerged (i.e., cable news, blogs, websites), which made it far easier to be philosophically comfortable than before, but you still needed to select the channel, go to the website, or subscribe to the specific feed you wanted. You still knew you were making a choice.

In today's world, thanks to the introduction of the mass-personalization phase of technology, custom-tailored political polarization is now delivered to each of our individual digital doorsteps. Websites like Facebook track our behaviors and automatically deliver customized news feeds and posts that perfectly align with our political preferences. No more need to seek out like-minded people! No more having to pre-select your favorite politically-optimized information sources such as FoxNews or MSNBC! This wonder of technology-meets-content-curation allows us to consume and share politically-optimized content from the comfort of our own smartphones and computers without even having to select a channel.

The result of this automated curation is what's known as a filter bubble, providing each of us just the facts (and, sometimes, non-facts) that support our preferred point of view. This is far different than choosing the information you want to be exposed to. With automated curation, most people will just presume that they are seeing the full gamut of information because they haven't been asked to self-select yet. Further, because of this pre-filtering, hundreds of new "news" companies have popped up to serve this need for self-re-affirming (real and fake) news and analysis. The result? Millions of people are exposed to agenda-based information mixed in with professional news in the same feed, and most people have very little idea how to delineate between the two. Sites like Facebook only benefit from your engagement, not how informed a citizen you become.

If schools acted like Facebook, they would only provide courses that were aligned with each student's interests. For instance, if you didn't like math, you would never get a math class, and you may never meet a student who excelled at math -- heck, you may not even realize that math exists!  That may sound great if you hate math, but do you really think this would be good for preparing you to succeed in the real world?

[To see the filter bubble live in action, check out this side-by-side Facebook feed comparison hosted by the Wall Street Journal.]

Friday, July 22, 2016

OMG, Donald Trump Thinks He's Batman

Why is the Batman franchise so successful? It tells a compelling story of individual heroism versus systemic and environmental evil. The story is told on a backdrop of American society that is bleak, dark and grim; ripe with corruption in law enforcement and general malaise. If you looked at any big, modern American city through a strictly cynical lens, you could see Gotham City.

The narrative then draws us into a story of Bruce Wayne, a super-wealthy "celebrity socialite...who averts suspicion by acting the part of a superficial playboy idly living off his family's fortune, which was amassed through investment in real estate before the city became a bustling metropolis" (source: Wikipedia).

Bruce Wayne then transforms himself into the oft-misunderstood, frequently-scapegoated, and underappreciated-yet-ingenious superhero who is uniquely capable of undermining corruption and villains, saving Gotham City and its people from being unfairly victimized.

While it's true that Bruce Wayne is primarily driven by the murder of his parents in the mythic Batman universe, the rest of the parallels almost perfectly click into place: Donald Trump thinks he's Batman. And he sees America has Gotham City.

"I alone can fix it."

In his nomination acceptance speech in Cleveland, Trump told America he believed that he, alone, can fix the political system, but he also promised the country he would actually put an end to crime and violence.

Trump: "The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon come to an end."

This is not so different from Batman's promise:

Batman: "I made a promise [...] that I would rid this city of the evil."

In terms of campaign promises, Trump's assurance that he will not only fix the political system single-handedly, but also bring crime and violence to an end in America, sounds much more like a platform for a superhero in a mythic universe than a presidential candidate in the real world.

"I am Batman"

In doing research for this article, I stumbled across an amusing story captured by the Washington Post: When asked by a child in his helicopter if he was Batman, Trump answered that, yes, he was Batman. Given the context of this quote, it would be irresponsible to take him too seriously, but it is interesting to consider that -- especially in light of his acceptance speech -- he very well might see himself as some kind of superhero in some way.

In fact, it's not out of bounds to consider the possibility that Trump suffers from hero syndrome. I suggest that you click on the hyperlink to see if you think Trump fits the definition of someone who may suffer from this disorder.

"We need Batman"

In an era where unemployment is at a historically stable 5.5%, indicating that nearly all Americans can get work if they want it, and crime is as low as it has been in 50 years, the statistics belie the feeling that millions of Americans share: their country is not on the right track, and there is no clear path to feeling safer, more at ease, and more comfortable.

Given that America's national politicians appear ill-equipped or unable to change the current dynamic, it's understandable that people have lost their faith in civics and are now looking for new ways to shake up the status quo. A recent article in The Guardian posited that Americans are now looking for superheroes, and have found one in Donald Trump. In what could be an advantage for Trump, it's a good time to think you're Batman when an increasing percentage of people are looking for Batman. And, if he's smart, Trump will not-so-subtly assign The Joker role to Hillary Clinton.

Will Trump Become Batman?

So Donald Trump has been playing Bruce Wayne and is now promising to turn into Batman as President. Can this really happen? While certainly possible, sadly for Trump and his supporters, it's unlikely.

Just as in the Batman universe, America's real Batmen are typically not elected officials. Ask Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean, and even Bernie Sanders: You're unlikely to be a Crusader-in-Chief and still be the Commander-in-Chief in America. These are such diametrically opposed roles that there is no American leadership framework that combines the two. Generally, one is either on the outside crusading, or on the inside administrating. True, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as Adolph Hitler who crusaded while administrating, but this example is precisely the reason why, in America, we don't eagerly accept mixing the two.

As common as it is for people to make our Presidents into superheroes or supervillains, the reality is that Presidents have limited power based on our Constitutional framework and separation of powers.

Batman may have Robin, but the President has Congress and a Supreme Court. You can't do much crusadin' with two branches of government tied to your cape.

Should Trump become a Batman President, it would play out like the "real" Batman needing to get permission from Robin and Commissioner Gordon before he did anything. This would not make for a very compelling Batman story.

P.S. As I was developing this article, David Brooks from the New York Times released an editorial titled The Dark Knight. Perhaps I'm onto something.

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.