Monday, November 7, 2016

The Last Optimist

Why I'm Not (as) Terrified as My Fellow Americans of President Trump or President Clinton

Okay, you, with the Make America Great Again sign on your lawn...step down from the ledge.  I know, I get it - the Electoral College map is breaking Hillary, and you're convinced President Clinton II represents the downfall of America as a great nation.

And you, with the Stronger Together bumper sticker - don't drive your car off that cliff.  Yeah, the polls are tightening, you thought this thing would be over months ago, and now you wake up in a cold sweat, imagining Wolf Blitzer on Election Night saying, "In a shocking development, Pennsylvania has gone for Trump..."

Let me start by saying I don't have a Trump bumper sticker on my car or Clinton sign on my lawn. If somebody put one up, I'd take it down.

I think Donald Trump is an uninformed bully whose policies I largely disagree with - not just many of the ones his liberal enemies loathe, but also his inherently progressive view that the government can, and should, try to solve all of our problems*.

I think Hillary Clinton is an insincere and corrupt power seeker who will say, do, or believe anything that will get her into office*, and whose money-for-access shenanigans with the Clinton Foundation continues to be obscured by her "damn emails."

* These traits come into sharp relief on free trade.  Trump sounds like a liberal union chief who quixotically believes he can use the power of government to keep manufacturing jobs in the Midwest; and Hillary has completely flip-flopped on trade, not because she's changed her mind but because Bernie Sanders' popularity forced her hand.

And I think that the office of President of the United States - an intense, demanding, stressful job that requires at least a 4 year commitment - and possibly 8 - is not best filled by people in their 70s.

That said:  I am extremely confident that the worst fears of the "Trump is Hitler" and the "Jail Hillary" gangs are both paranoid anti-fantasies - and everybody should just calm down.

Or to quote my favorite President (who was loathed by many in his time), "This too shall pass.*"

 *  "It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words `And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride. How consoling in the depths of affliction!" - Abraham Lincoln, 1858

A Word About Hypocrisy

But first, let's dispense with all the Trump Traits You Hate - that you don't really hate.  Because if your candidate had these traits you wouldn't give a hoot.

For example, the fact that his rich Dad got him off to a good start.  Was this a mark against JFK or FDR, two Gods of the Democratic Party?  When Chelsea Clinton runs for President in 2040, will you complain that her wealthy and supremely powerful parents got her off to a huge head start?

Or the fact that he's politically inexperienced?  Barack Obama came into office with staggeringly little experience - a half term in the Senate in which he accomplished nothing but, well, running for President.  Besides, political experience is not a good predictor of future success.

And obviously anybody who desperately wants a restoration of House Clinton needs to be a little careful mounting their high horse about how powerful men treat women as sexual playthings.

As for the Clinton Traits You Claim to Hate...

They all come under one umbrella:  she is the epitome of the modern politician.  Focus-tested, truth-averse, kind to her friends and vicious to her enemies, and aided by nepotism. (This Politico story is a fascinating read on her version of Nixon's Enemies List.)

But these strike me as problems of degree, not of kind.  Trump, the Alleged Anti-Politician, suddenly became Pro-Life - about the same time he realized one needed to be Pro-Life to win a Republican nomination (as one wag put it: Trump has probably paid for more abortion bills than he'll sign).  And does anyone truly believe The Donald is being honest about his tax returns?  Or that he won't reward his friends and punish his enemies?

I've long wanted to come up with a term for these fake political beliefs - rich/poor background; experienced/inexperienced; extra-marital activities; flexibility with the truth - that only matter to voters when their candidate has the edge, and which become non-issues the moment their candidate doesn't.  Oh right, one exists already...

It's not that these things shouldn't be a factor in our voting - or rather, in the voting choices of undecided moderates.  It's that, if you're a true liberal or conservative, you're voting for your candidate no matter his background, experience, or family life, and will shift all your other "beliefs" to suit the current reality.

But anyway, here are some reasons neither President Trump or Clinton pose as grave a threat to our democracy as many of my fellow citizens believe:

1) America Ain't So Bad

I travel around our country quite a bit.  In the past month I was in Chicago, Atlanta, and DC.  I leave for Phoenix tomorrow, and will be in Charlotte next Monday.  And it's not just cities - I go to Eastern Tennessee and Northwest Arkansas and Southern Minnesota.

America is not as weak or troubled or doomed as so many think.

I know a lot of people who have good jobs, good lives, and whose family for generations has been on an upward track - and are in complete despair about the future of America.   And it's not just Trump voters - the entire Sanders Phenomenon was built on affluent college kids worried about their future.

It makes no sense to me.  I can run through a whole bunch of statistics to show you why all this pessimism is misplaced, but instead:  read Warren Buffett's annual letter to his shareholders (worth reading every year).  Scroll down to page 7 and continue to bottom of page 8.

Life is good.  We're just getting really bad at appreciating it.

2)  We've Survived Worse

Your town probably has a library.  Or a bookstore.  These places are almost guaranteed to have history sections.  You should totally check them out.  And maybe you'll stop worrying we live in this uniquely dangerous and threatening time.

Take for example, 1860.  This guy Lincoln was elected - and half the nation was so furious it seceded, and started a war that killed 600,000 Americans.  Since there were only 30 million Americans alive in 1860, that's the equivalent of more than 6 million deaths today - or double a 9/11, every day for 4 years.  Red state, blue state?  Try grey state/blue state.

How about 1940?  So many Republicans have been compared to Hitler it's hard to remember there was once an actual Hitler who invaded a dozen countries, murdered 10 million people, and is almost single-handedly responsible for a war that killed 60 million.  Oh, and if he won, roughly half the world would have been ruled by a murderous despotic psychopath.  (I know, all you Trump-Haters are nodding your head saying, this can totally happen here!  If so, please, let's find a way to wager our life savings against each other.)

I'm not saying we don't have our problems and that either President won't exacerbate them - I just think everybody needs to get a little less hysterical about how bad things are, or can get.

3) Presidents aren't that Important

Presidents are like quarterbacks:  they get far too much credit when things go right, and far too much blame when things go wrong.

Presidents do not create economic booms, nor are they responsible for economic busts.

Presidents do not create the technological innovations that transform our lives, nor do they create the technological innovations that, uh, transform our lives.

Presidents don't make teen pregnancy rates drop, or crimes rates rise; they do not create private sector jobs.

The first President Bush did not make the Berlin Wall fall.  The second President Bush was not responsible for the housing crash.

President Clinton did not make the dot-com boom that drove the American economy in the 90s.  Nor did he make the dot-com crash which crippled the economy shortly after he left.

The ability of President Trump or President Clinton to radically transform your lives is smaller than you realize - and even if they tried, there are these little things called Checks and Balances.

4)  Checks & Balances

President Clinton will almost surely have a Republican House.

President Trump will almost surely have a narrow majority in the House - and a lot of Republicans who personally hate him and intellectually disagree with him.

The two most significant Presidential Acts of the past 16 years are the Iraq War and Affordable Care Act.  Neither happen without Congressional support.  The first, with bipartisan support and the support of the American people.  The second with unipartisan support and kinda sorta not really support of the American people.

Presidents don't act alone.  I think both Trump and Clinton will have a hard time doing the things they want to do.

5)  The Unknown Unknowns

When Barack Obama took office, nobody had ever heard of ISIS.

When George W. Bush took office, few people had ever heard of Osama Bin Laden.

When Bill Clinton took office, there was no such thing as the web.

When George H.W. Bush took office, few people could locate Kuwait on a map.

Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis.  Nixon and Watergate.  Johnson and Vietnam.  Shall I go on?

Everyone thinks they know what Trump or Clinton Presidencies are going to look like.  Wanna bet?


Look, I know I'm wasting my time here.  If you think Trump is the Orange Adolph or that Hillary Clinton belongs in an Orange Pantsuit, absolutely nothing anybody says is going to move you off that position a little bit.

All I'm saying is:  this country is a lot stronger, and a lot more about a single Oval Office occupant, than it seems on the second Tuesday of November every four years.

If your guy or gal loses tomorrow, take a deep breath, count to ten, and repeat this mantra to yourself:  And this too shall pass.

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