US Election

It upsets me that we are where we are in this process.

It is easy to be upset by Donald Trump – his candidacy is an embarrassment of bad ideas, poorly expressed in a vulgar manner that devalues public discourse. It is embarrassing that he has such traction with primary voters.

It was easy to be upset by Ted Cruz. His ideas were well articulated but offensively presented.

Hillary is disturbingly inexorable given the known negatives.

It is upsetting that Kasich did not do better.

When I was granted US citizenship I said I was happy that one day I would be able to vote against Hillary Clinton – this was in 1995. How ironic that 20 years later I may end up having to vote for her against Donald Trump. Hey, you have to make a choice and I don’t think not voting is a good choice.

We are coming to the end of 8 years of a President who, while he has certainly not besmirched the office as some of his predecessors have, has certainly not lived up to the promise of his 2008 campaign.  His speech has been divisive and I believe he has contributed to the demise of the ‘reasonable people can differ’ doctrine. The idea that failure to agree with any aspect of the Obama doctrine constitutes ideological failure that must ultimately be corrected has become an orthodoxy of the left. It may also be an orthodoxy of the right. Everyone with a firmly held view based on reasoned thought and sound evidence is an advocate for that view. There must, however, be an element of humility, a recognition that, if there is an opposing view that is also well researched and based on sound evidence, there are differences to be explore in the spirit of earnest inquiry rather than a zero-sum clash that all too often results in further entrenchment of both views.

So, we appear to have lost the ability to have a reasoned debate of contending viewpoints with the goal of achieving an executable way forward that can be supported by all contenders.

It is not such a surprising goal. The adversarial system of justice is based on this premise: vigorously contend for opposing points of view based on the presentation of arguments and evidence within a system of rules designed to be fair, based on legislation and precedent. The sanction of failure to respect the rules is contempt of court – a kind of judicial time out for the offender that ultimately can result in disqualification from being able to proceed. The problem is that there seems to be no such constraint in the arena of politics. The only practical limit seems to be the court of public opinion.  Given the tools available to manipulate the message, the biases of the various media and the short-attention span of the typical listener,  the limit is largely non-binding. And so we have a mess: a face-off between the ‘oppo research’ teams on either side.

What we miss is an informed and informative discussion about the size of the safety net, the financing of entitlements, the proper role of government, foreign policy, immigration, trade policy, the sources of economic growth, the limits of capitalism and socialism. These are all great discussions that everyone acknowledges as such but has little expectation they will be discussed, or, perhaps, patience to listen to such a discussion.

More to follow….


Language Matters – (T)read carefully

Just read an article about recently deceased author on language and usage, Robert Fiske and was inclined to get busy.

Precise use of language is such a fundamental tool in effective communication, it saddens me that it’s importance is undermined by the plethora of media sacrificing precise and correct usage in favor of timely posting.

People judge typos and incorrect usage as indicia of an untidy or poorly educated mind. These failures contribute to misunderstandings and misunderstandings are a mischief guilty of causing countless hours of wasted time and emotions.

So why compromise? I fear the answer is our reluctance to hold people to standards whose attainment is challenging in case we injure their self-esteem and erect barriers to their happiness or progress that may indict us for lack of sensitivity.

Separating what matters from what is merely pleasant decoration is, of course, important. We must not be distracted from the weighty business of arbitrating the many aspects of social discourse by matters that only serve to establish our credentials as members of a privileged, cultured elite concerned only with self-aggrandizement at the expense of those who have not gained admittance to such rarefied ether.

And yet. If one wishes to acquire a skill, there is a necessary apprenticeship to the cause of learning the key ingredients without which one simply never acquires that skill. An unequal distribution of opportunity for educational advancement must not incline us to devalue the worth of the advantages that a good education affords. Rather, we should redouble our efforts to make sure the access improves. Failure to attain a goal for lack of opportunity or application does not make that goal any less worthy.

Habits form us, so they may as well be good ones. Habits of hard work, study, self-improvement, self-awareness, cordial, empathetic behavior, respect and the pursuit of high quality relationships are to be prized. They do not come easily and require life-long application. The challenge to do better, wherever it arises, should be embraced as an invitation to do and be better and not derided as an attempt to undermine our self worth. Language touches this at many points and must be embraced as one of those challenges. Thank you Mr. Fiske.