Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An Appeal to the Better Angels that Guide Us

In 1984 during his re-election campaign Ronald Reagan asked quite simply, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  Enough Americans felt they and thus secured him another 4 years when they took to the polls.

A lot of Americans DID benefit from the policies of President Obama during his eight years in office.  Many of them in more urban or suburban areas.  However, in more rural areas, people saw their health care premiums go UP with the ACA, they saw their cost of living rise at a rate that was greater than the rate of increase in their income, and no they are/were actually worse off after 8 years of Obama than they had been when Bush left office in January 2009.

These people felt abandoned and betrayed by the establishment.  They felt a vote for Hillary was a vote to perpetuate the status quo that had existed under Obama and thus perpetuate their struggle and the decline in their quality of life.  Many of these people aren’t racist and they aren’t homophobic.  They didn’t vote on social issues, they voted based on their bank accounts and their wallets.  They were so disenfranchised that they were willing to overlook Donald J. Trump’s homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, narcissism… heck the whole long and extended list of his many faults and voted for him.  These are voters that were willing to ignore Trump’s faults because after 8 years of Barack Obama they actually were WORSE off than before.  That may not be your reality, nor mine, but it is theirs and their voices deserve to be heard just as much as yours or mine.

That being said, I’m not going to candy-coat it.  There IS a racist element of Trump supporters.  They are a minority of the popular minority that elected him.  But they are the ones that are emboldened by Trump’s racist immigration policies.  They are the ones acting out against those that are different—different race, different sexual orientation, different religion.  They are the products of the socio-political climate that Trump has created and they will grow even more emboldened the longer Trump is in office.  But they ARE a minority.

I’m making this appeal, I’m making this strong appeal to my friends on the left.  I DON’T want eight years of Donald J. Trump.  But if you continue to marginalize Trump supporters, if you continue to make broad-sweeping generalizations about their character, their views on race, sexual orientation, etc. etc.  and berate them, insult them, call them names, you will only further embolden them.  You will ensure that Trump WILL get re-elected.  We’re still very early in Trump’s first term, there’s time to change the course.  We need to appeal to those who voted for Trump because they were disenfranchised with the status quo.  We need to listen to them, to learn how Obama’s policies made them worse off, not better off and we need to ensure that the candidates we choose to run against Trump in 2020 address those concerns. 

People’s minds aren’t changed all at once, it’s all a matter of degrees.  Our most successful presidents have governed not from the left nor the right, but from the middle.  They have understood the value of unity and compromise and they have understood that they can’t marginalize or berate any of their constituents whose politics run counter to theirs.  A good leader will recognize the qualities that bring us together.

Monday, November 14, 2016

On the dark side...

America has spoken.  I don't really like what I'm hearing it say.

In the words of Yoda,

"Fear leads to anger
Anger leads to hate
Hate leads to the dark side"

That was an apt description of the Trump campaign... Now it is an apt description of his opposition...

That's right.  Trump not only has won the election, now he is winning America... Every violent protest against Trump... that's hate.

Every time Trump supporters were described as "uneducated" that was belittling, insulting and hateful.

That is to say, the actions of some of Trump's opposition largely mirrors the actions of some of his more violent supporters.

To say that Trump won this election because America is racist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc. etc. etc. does have some truth.  That's unavoidable.  On many levels our phobias are systemic.  We have to own that.

But at the same time we reap what we sow.  We had two of the most unpopular candidates in US History running against each other.

I know a lot of people who voted for Trump weren't actually "Trump supporters", they just happened to dislike Hillary that much more.

And I know a lot of people that voted for Hillary weren't actually "with her."  They just weren't "With Him."

Let that sink in...  It's not that that many people wanted Trump to be President, it's that they felt that strongly against Hillary!

And while gender was the issue for some of them... heck there are some knuckle-dragging neanderthals in each party...  I'd counter it wasn't the issue for most of them.  Many of the people that voted for Trump were indeed women.

The issue for many who held their nose and voted for Trump because they felt he was indeed the "lesser of two evils" was that, to them, Hillary came across as elitist, smug, condescending, and downright sanctimonious.

To her credit and in her defense, this is only partially her fault.  I'd argue it's much more the fault of her supporters... Not the people who voted for her because they felt she was the lesser of the evils.  But the ones who actively supported her in the primaries, who found excuses for her mistakes and misdeeds, who belittled and insulted supporters of Bernie Sanders...  That only cemented the perception of her as a condescending, sanctimonious elitist shrill.  THAT is what drove a lot of people rightly or wrongly to perceive Trump as the lesser of two evils.

I'd argue a majority of America did NOT vote FOR Donald Trump NOR did they vote FOR Hillary Clinton.  I'd argue, in an election with two pretty much equally unpopular choices, a majority of Americans voted for who they perceived was the lesser of two evils.  A majority of Americans on election night felt that regardless of who won the election, our country was inevitably the loser.

Most of us are in the middle, we're centrist.  We lean in varying degrees to the right on some issues and in varying degrees to the left on others.  But we've allowed the far right to take over the Republican party and allowed  the entrenched political establishment to take over the Democratic party.  And those were the only interests represented in this campaign.

The trouble is, somewhere along the way, we got lazy as a country.  We let the media define us, instead of defining ourselves and forcing the media to sit up and take notice.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Course Correction

The beauty of the 240 year old political experiment known as American democracy is that the citizens act as a check and balance against themselves.  Whenever the country starts veering too far to the right or left it gets pulled back in the opposite direction.  Consider it a course correction.

For eight years we started veering too far to the right for the American people's tastes so we elected Barack Obama to steer us back to the left a bit.  Now after eight years of Obama, maybe we needed a course correction, maybe not.  But even if we did, what happened yesterday was akin to grabbing the steering wheel when you feel the car veering into the left lane and over-correcting yourself into the ditch on the right side of the road.

So here we find ourselves in a ditch and AAA said the tow won't arrive for four to eight years.  We have a new choice.  Do we wait the 4-8 years for the tow or do we start walking?

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Goodbye to a friend

Sometimes people pass in and out of your life in the blink of eye, yet in that instant you are indelibly stamped.  For a breath in your life the two of you are exactly the people each of you need.  Then you exhale and your respective lives continue on their own paths.

A few years later the two of you reconnect.  Your lives have gone in different directions but you both still look back fondly on the moment you shared.  Not out of any desire to relive the moment, merely a recognition of the positive impact your shared moment had on your respective lives and how that moment has positively shaped your life since then. You're happy for one another.

With the passage of time you come to associate one another with a particular period in your life.  You never forget your first experiences, whether good or bad.  However when those firsts were positive ones nostalgia is a much finer spirit, like a fine Scotch.  With every sip you remember the music that was popular, the experiences you were having, and even how you were feeling.

Before you entered one another's lives things seemed muted.  The clouds were still black.  You hadn't yet discovered their silver linings.  You were lonely, you were frustrated, and you were full of self-doubt. The two of you started talking online in those early days of the Internet.  You made each other laugh and smile and you found your way into one another's hearts.  The clouds had cleared and your life had gone from muted to amplified.  And you get all of that from just one sip of Glennostalgia Scotch.

So twenty years later.  You look back with the gift of hindsight and realize what a turning point you were in one another's lives, how much your shared moment guided and shaped you in the years since.  The two of you haven't been at best Facebook voyeurs of one another's lives since reconnecting.  Happy for one another's joys and empathetic for some of the rough spots but content with the convenience of the acquaintance provided.

Then one day there's only one of you.  Life goes on.  You have your friends, family, joys, and your troubles.  And yet, where there once was another there's still family, friends, and twenty years of life experiences now it's just memories.  You see the sadness of those friends and family that have been left behind.  You feel for them, you grieve for their loss.  But as a mere voyeur in the other's life, you feel guilty grieving, as if you're stealing from those who were much more a part of that life, of those twenty years since your lives diverged and traveled different paths.

So as you look on from afar, you raise your glass in thanks and respect for your shared moment in time and for the lives you've lived since then.  You bow and walk away.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Take a step to the left, Take a step to the right...

Every four years the political theater known as presidential elections fascinates me.  Using deception and distraction the politicians on either side divide our already overly polarized country even further than it already is.  In this endeavor media is complicit whether it be the stories they choose to tell or focus on or how they spin those stories they drive the wedge that separates us from one another even deeper.

The thing is we Americans have more in common with one another than the media or our politicians would like to admit.  Whether your politics lie to the left or right end of the political spectrum they are rooted in distrust.  Those on the left distrust corporate America-- the big money that oils the machine that runs our country.  Given the events of 2008, I honestly can't say that I disagree.  They see big money as taking more and more of the pie and leaving less and less for them.  Those on the right distrust the government.  They see every expansion of government-- even if those expansion are to their benefit in some way as encroachments of their individual freedoms.  They resent a government that claims it knows better what is best for them than they know what is best for themselves.

Each side claims they are the true Americans that uphold the ideals of the Founding Fathers.  Those on the Left see their challenging of authority to be reminiscent of how our Founding Fathers challenged the authority of the British Crown when they declared Independence.  Those on the Right see the Founding Fathers distrust of a government from afar seeking to rule and tax them unfairly as being reminiscent of their own distrust of government today.

Those on the Right and Left also share a desire for fairness... They just have very different ideas of what "fair" means.  Those on the Left feel it's unfair that some are rich, while others struggle to make ends meet, or are even homeless... that there's enough wealth to go around.  Those on the right feel that wealth is earned, it is the fruit of their hard labors and re-distributing what they have worked hard to earn to those who did not work for it is unfair.  There's some legitimacy to both claims of fairness.

In the end, as Americans, we all want what is best for this country.  That is something we share.  Where we differ in are our definitions and views of what actually IS best for this country.  Our President, regardless of party affiliation has an incredibly difficult and often thankless job and no matter what a given president does he/she is going to piss off about half the country.  Both Presidents I have liked and presidents I did not care for have wanted what is best for this country.  They have had varied styles of leadership and I believe even when some of them were in the wrong they believed they were doing what they were doing for the right reasons.

The issues aren't all us vs. them...  That is a construct of the media and those that are in power for themselves and know the only way to hold onto that power is to pit us against one another.  In the age of social media we are drawn like magnets to our differences, to the things that separate us and continue to polarize us.  As a country we used to look for our similarities first, it caused us to see each other as people, as fellow humans.  It gave us empathy for one another through shared experience.  If we watched the same TV shows, listened to some of the same music, shared at least some common interests it made it harder for us to hate or dislike one another.  However, now we label one another.  As soon as one identifies himself/herself as a Liberal or a Conservative, as a Republican or Democrat-- the rest of that person's personality, worldview, etc. is assumed.  They are instantly identified as either a potential friend or adversary.  But the fact remains that there are both good and bad people at each end of the political spectrum.  A political affiliation does not define you-- it's not who you are, it's merely a small part of a greater whole.  There's more to all of us than our political views.  To make assumptions based on whether one carries the banner of the Elephant or of the Donkey is an act of laziness, an unwillingness to take the time to get to know one another better.  It's difficult enough in non-election years.  In election years battle lines get drawn and our differences are magnified and drive us farther apart.

I'm saying this as nothing more than a friendly reminder in an election year-- the time when the inertia of the divisiveness of the election cycle makes it increasingly more difficult to remember this; we're ALL Americans, we ALL want what is best for this country.  Rather than focusing on our differences, why not put forth the effort to find our common ground?  Why not start in the middle-- find our similarities, our commonalities, all of the things that we share and start from a place of agreement?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I had a rather sad epiphany last night. I don't think I've ever voted FOR a candidate. The closest I can come to an exception is Obama in 2008. But even then that was more a vote against McCain/Palin than a vote for Obama. McCain had been my absolute last choice in the whole GOP field for the duration of the primaries. Even before he chose Palin as his running mate I felt I'd be quite a hypocrite voting for the one guy I didn't even want to get the GOP nomination. Choosing Palin didn't change my mind so much as convince me I was making the right choice by jumping party lines. That being said I was still largely ideologically at odds with Obama on fiscal issues and marginally at odds on some social issues.

The last candidate the GOP had that actually inspired that enthusiasm was Reagan and both of his terms were up long before I was of legal voting age, so I missed that boat completely. Since 1996, the first presidential election I was legally able to vote in, the candidate I supported in the GOP primaries did not get the nomination (I supported Steve Forbes in '96 and '00 over Dole and Bush respectively). Heck in 2004 I voted Libertarian because ideologically I had disagreements with both Bush and Kerry. I wasn't voting so much FOR the Libertarian candidate as I was casting a vote for "None of the Above."

In the current election, the only candidate at all I see the public having any POSITIVE enthusiasm for is Bernie Sanders. Even though Hillary leads in the polls by a large margin and is the presumptive nominee, I don't see the enthusiasm for her from her supporters that was there when she went up against Obama in 2008. And the enthusiasm for Trump... It's based on negativity-- not on hope but on fear, paranoia and hate.

The only GOP candidates I can bring myself to support are John Kasich, Rand Paul, or Chris Christie. All are fiscal conservatives and in varying degrees-- social moderates (at least compared to the rest of the GOP field) and honestly I'm hoping the GOP voters will come to their senses when the primaries begin and move to the middle a bit more. I realize it's a somewhat unrealistic hope. Even if they come to their senses about Trump... I fear they'll throw their lot in with someone like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or Marco Rubio and not with the more moderate Kasich, Christie, or Paul. And Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina... Well I don't think they have a snowball's chance. Jeb is saddled with having a brother and a father who already took up residence at the White House and an American public who is now quite wary of the Bush name and Fiorina has the weight of her failures at HP hanging around her neck... The perception (rightly or wrongly) that if she ran HP into the ground why would we trust her to run our country? The only viable female leader the GOP has that would have the potential of getting elected is smart enough to know she wants nothing to do with the job and refused to run, Condi Rice.

In a word I guess that means I'm more than a little "disenfranchised."

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

On Changing Musical Perspectives

I was watching Chicago Live in Japan 1993 last night with my daughter. I used to dig that set. Heck I used to eat, sleep, and breathe Chicago's music. I don't know if I've been spoiled or what but for some reason it just wasn't grabbing me like it used to. I got to thinking about it and for a large chunk of my life I've listened to a substantial share of Chicago and related music and back when I was younger it was almost exclusively Chicago at the expense of a lot of other bands. I lacked perspective. It's almost like a deaf person getting their hearing back for the first time. Back when I loved absolutely everything the band touched and believed they could do no wrong I didn't listen to anything else or didn't listen to enough of anything else to have any sense of musical perspective. It wasn't until I started opening my ears outside my comfort zone that my ears grew a bit more discerning and objective.

I listen to Toto Live in Poland and I not only hear the music... I feel it. I listen to stuff like Nathan East's latest solo album, or Steve Hackett's "Out of the Tunnel's Mouth", or The Weather Report's "Heavy Weather" and I'm WoWed! and then I go back and try to listen to Chicago... and I just don't feel it the way I once used to. Bill Champlin's vocal chemistry with Peter Cetera was the reason I became a fan of Chicago-- It wasn't Peter's voice alone and it wasn't Bill's voice alone it's the way their voices came together so perfectly. When Bill was fired back in 2009 my enjoyment of the band took a serious hit even though I will concede towards the end of his tenure in the band Bill was oversinging the hell out of everything and it generally didn't sound that good any more. He was still a link to that golden vocal chemistry of the early 80s. Once that link was gone along with it was a substantial chunk of my enjoyment of Chicago.

My father and I went to see Chicago live in Latham, NY in 1993 and 1994. It was a 3 hour drive each way. I was a teenager (16 and 17 respectively) but those were the first 2 times I saw Chicago live and even though I saw them another 7 times or so after that, those first 2 concerts I look back at the most fondly because of who I shared those experiences with. I know I'll always have THAT. And for that reason I know that even after Chicago eventually bids their final adieu (although coming up on their 50th anniversary, God only knows when that will happen) I'll still have those special memories of seeing them live with my Dad... Those long drives on the Northway (the stretch of I-87 North of Albany, NY) to and from Latham. I'll always hold those memories very close in my heart.

So last night when I tried to share that experience with my daughter... albeit on video instead of live, the odd thing was, it was almost jarring to me. This music which once gave me so much enjoyment and such a staple of my life, that was a constant at times in my life when nothing else was, that was my security blanket, that was what I clung to when times were tough because for better or worse it always reminded me that when I was muddling through some of life's muckier mires that times had been better in the past and that they would get better once again... But now some of this music which has been such a staple of my life has started falling flat with me. The love of this music that I wanted to pass along to my children, I really can't, with that same level of conviction because my heart's not in it the way it once was.