Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Where Is Our Country Now?

On Tuesday, millions of voters selected among thousands of candidates to run our country. Now thousands of people are telling us what these elections mean about America. So it’s easy to find claims that every side won.

It’s important to say over and over again that a person looking for truthful analysis and clear explanation can find them in profusion in American media. The New York Times is a national treasure, but newspapers that I have lived with in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Providence, and Washington make a powerful effort at non-partisanship and objective research. The tiny newspaper I wrote for didn’t cover much and was shrinking before my eyes, but it was reliable and truthful.
TV news, on the other hand, has been taken over by showmanship and bipartisanship, which is displayed by letting people from both camps say whatever they want and calling it news. Television employs countless spin doctors, who only care about reducing the pain for their own partisans. They tailor their claims to the needs of their party at the moment. Tomorrow they’ll say something entirely different. Mingled in are useful commentators, whose biases are subordinated to their professionalism, but they often end up sounding like just like the hacks they appear next to.

FOX News can only be trusted to seek market share by telling its viewers what they most what to hear. What FOX promotes most is the most biased. Its star, Sean Hannity, explained what he does: “I'm not a journalist jackass. I'm a talk host.” FOX put its partisan purposes into practice by blaming liberals and Democrats for sending pipe bombs to themselves.

MSNBC annoys me with their repetitive gleeful reporting of whatever makes conservatives look worst. But they don’t make anything up. Their content is researched, insightful and reliable. They were as good at interpreting the election in real time on Tuesday night as anyone else. I’ve been putting all kinds of sources together to outline the election results and explain what I think about it all.

Who voted last week? The Washington Post delivered a fine graphic overview. Voters in all age groups picked Democrats in House votes at the highest rates in over 10 years, including two-thirds of 18 to 39 year olds. Suburban voters preferred Democrats by a wide margin, except in the South, where the parties were even. 60% of women preferred Democrats, while men narrowly preferred Republicans, better for Democrats among both genders than at any time in the last 10 years. Democrats got more votes from college-educated men and women than at any time since 2006: two-thirds of women who had gone to college voted for Democrats. Many voters who did not go to college had jumped away from Democrats in 2010, but have been coming back since then.

Across America, Democrats received 5 million more votes in House races than Republicans, winning 52% to 47%.

Women did win. There will be over 100 women in the House next year, many more than ever before. The first female Senators from Tennessee and Arizona will take their seats.

Minorities won. In Congress, we’ll see the first two Native American women, the first two Muslim women, the first Hispanic women from Texas. The first openly gay man was elected as Governor, among other LGBT winners.

Trump did not win. He was not on the ballot, although he told his supporters to act as if he were. Of the 75 House and Senate candidates he endorsed, who were in heavily Republican-leaning districts, only 21 won. He made public appearances for 36 House and Senate candidates in heavily Republican-leaning districts, and 21 won. He endorsed 39 other candidates, also in Republican districts, and they didn’t win.

Some combination of Trump’s unpopularity among people who had voted for Republicans in the past, the positive appeal of new candidates, among them many women and people of color, and the desire of most voters to entrust Democrats with taking care of their health and education created a wave of Democratic victories in districts held by Republicans.

Was it a big wave or a little wave or a ripple? Who even knows what those words mean applied to national elections? Numbers are better. The Democrats gained at least 36 seats in the House, flipped 7 governorships, and 8 state legislative chambers.

Here is what did not change and what will continue to animate political controversy. It is hard for many Americans to vote. Republicans profit from suppressing the vote. The numerous court judgments that they have done this unlawfully have not stopped them yet.

Republican gerrymandering has been dented, but not yet defeated. Voting in North Carolina proceeded in districts that were declared unconstitutional twice: although Republicans barely won there in terms of total votes 50.3% to 48.4%, they won 10 of 13 seats in the House. But voters approved ballot measures that would eliminate partisan gerrymandering in 4 states, with 3 of those decisions overwhelming. When they had a chance to register an opinion, voters were in favor of making voting easier.

White men are still in charge in America. Their hold on power has been weakening for decades, and 2018 was an important milestone on the path toward more equality. But everywhere you look, from the White House to Congress to elected officials at every level to company board rooms, white men are mostly in charge.

The Republican Party is the party of white evangelical men. 60% of white men voted Republican and 75% of white evangelical Christians. White men made up 46% of Republican voters, white women 39%, and minorities only 16%. Minorities were 40% of Democratic voters, white men 26% and white women 34%.

Less than half of Democratic Congressional candidates were white men, but 77% of Republican candidates. White men were 76% of the much more numerous Republican candidates for state legislatures, a proportion that has remained unchanged since 2012.

Americans who think that sexual harassment is not a serious problem, that it is not important to elect more women and racial minorities to office, that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and that stricter gun control laws are a bad idea are all reliable Republican voters.

Lots of electoral commentators are comparing this “blue wave” with past waves, often to prove that their side did extraordinarily well. It’s more important to think about the future. Will the overwhelming liberalism of young Americans gradually replace the self-interested conservatism of my generation? Will women keep moving in a liberal direction? Will they take the men around them along?

Women didn’t just win races. They shoved American politics to the left by running and donating and voting and winning.

American government has many new faces. We’ll see if they can produce better results.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
November 13, 2018

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Humanity of Patience

It’s Election Day! We are all overwhelmed with news about the immediate present. Certainly the next two years of our nation’s life will be shaped by the election results. How about our own personal lives?

To some of my relatives, today’s politics don’t matter. Vera, 13 months old, and Leo, 10 months old, remain blissfully unaware of Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the President, who’s winning and who’s losing. They are in the middle of a uniquely human phase of life – extended childhood.

Humans develop very slowly. Humans are the slowest of animals to learn to walk: a newborn horse can walk within an hour after birth. My granddaughter has just learned to walk at one year and running will come much later. She can’t talk, although she can communicate many simple desires.

Human brains are much less developed at birth than the smaller brains of other animals, because the human birth canal is too narrow to allow fully developed big brains to pass through. Much of our brain development comes after birth, allowing us tremendous adult brain capacity, but requiring years of dependence on adults.

Years will pass before Vera and Leo are ready for school. Most human societies across the globe plan a dozen years of schooling before we assume that our young are ready to be self-sufficient. So-called advanced societies plan another 4 years or more of schooling to prepare for more complex professions. Years and years of slow development and preparation to become physically, mentally and psychologically ready to be adult humans.

We might say that humans develop at a snail’s pace, but some snails are sexually mature at 6 weeks old. Humans must develop skills far beyond what any other animals are capable of, such as speech. Both the complexity of human society and the biological nature of the human animal contribute to the long years of development. This slow maturation is uniquely human.

We make an enormous investment of time into the growth of our children. Observing my granddaughter and her parents day after day, I realize how important is patience to human life. Nothing seems to change from day to day. The same tasks and lessons are repeated countless times before they appear to have any effect. Negative lessons, like not touching hot things or pulling men’s beards, have to be repeated hundreds of times before they are learned. The whole process depends on unending patience.

It’s ironic that good parenting depends on patience, but our constant efforts to urge patience on our babies are useless. When they are hungry or tired, when they want to be picked up or put down, get out of their strollers or clothes, or generally do that thing that is inconvenient for adults, we say “Wait a minute. Have patience. Soon.” But the words are meaningless. Patience is the long game and babies can only think of now. Like other adult qualities, patience develops very slowly.

Patience is not just useful in dealing with children. It also helps us deal with the world’s problems. To build a better world for Vera and Leo and all of our babies, we must patiently find good solutions.

But patience has its limits. Sometimes patience is a code word for doing nothing. During the Civil Rights era, after centuries of white tyranny over black Americans, whites in power kept saying, “Not so fast. Patience.” In that case, reasonable patience had long ago run out.

Our children will face a difficult world, if we don’t take action now to counteract climate change. We have let the time for patience slip by. If we keep doing nothing, by the time that Vera and Leo are ready to have children of their own, rising seas will have inundated our coasts, storms of unprecedented power will have battered our homes, crops will fail around the world, people will die of the heat.

We need patience to raise the next generation of human beings. We need action to insure that their lives are as good as they can be.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
November 6, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Problem Is Not Civility

A man tried to assassinate the former President, the former Vice President, the former Attorney General, the most recent candidate for the Presidency, a Congresswoman and a Senator. Even a partial success would have been the worst political assassination plot in American history. Alert law enforcement agents and postal workers prevented anyone from being hurt.

Before the mad bomber was identified, prominent conservatives asserted without the slightest evidence that the bombs were fakes, planted by Democrats to tarnish Republicans. This “false flag” theory first surfaced at the fringes of right-wing media. That’s not surprising, but soon well-known conservative opinion leaders jumped on this nasty bandwagon. Ann Coulter tweeted, “bombs are a liberal tactic.” Rush Limbaugh said on his program, “What sense does it make for a conservative Republican to gum up the works here by sending a bunch of bombs that are not gonna go off and that are gonna be discovered? It doesn’t make any sense in any way, shape, manner, or form.” Fox TV host Lou Dobbs wrote, “Fake News – Fake Bombs. Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?” FOX guest “experts” on three different shows echoed this idea. Donald Trump Jr. liked a tweet that asserted “FAKE BOMBS MADE TO SCARE AND PICK UP BLUE SYMPATHY VOTE.”

What did our President do? He never mentioned the names of the victims of this attack or expressed any sympathy with them. He complained about how media coverage of this potential tragedy interfered with coverage of his campaigning, in which he encouraged his supporters to hate the people targeted by the assassin. “We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party,”

Countless writers have identified a lack of civility as one of our country’s worst problems. They complain about the nasty tone adopted by politicians and pundits of the left and right. They assert that the problem is a national one.

No. The problem is that a few prominent conservative opinion leaders, headed by our President, have gone way beyond incivility to hatred. When the lives of the most prominent Democrats are threatened, they blame the victims. They express no satisfaction that the plot was foiled nor sympathy for the intended victims. They don’t care that lives can be disrupted, even if bombs don’t go off. Days later, none of these commentators has admitted that they were wrong to blame Democrats.

And then they go right back to shouting that liberals are terrorists and encourage terrorists. That liberals are a “mob” which endangers the country. That the very people targeted by the bomber are a danger to the country and must be stopped.

No wonder the gullible Trump supporters echo these stupid ideas, and believe the arrest of a Trump supporter is part of the hoax. They have been bombarded by Republican attacks on the morality and the patriotism of liberals for decades. Their fears have been stoked by conservative lies about liberals since the days of Sen. McCarthy. A FOX producer called it “riling up the crazies”. Now a pathetic march of frightened Central Americans has been turned into an invasion of disease-carrying terrorists.

Let’s put the responsibility where it belongs – the supposedly serious, well known people who propagate these ideas and then take no responsibility for them when they are shown to be lies.

Incivility means rudeness or bad manners. Trump and his prominent acolytes are engaged in hate speech, incitement to violence. On the midterm campaign trail, Trump’s regular speech labels Democrats as a danger to America. They are “arsonists” who “have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern.” They want to “tear down our laws, tear down our institutions in pursuit of power.” They “want to unleash violent predators and ruthless killers.” “The Democrat party has become an angry, ruthless, unhinged mob determined to get power by any means necessary.” “The Democrats are willing to do anything, to hurt anyone, to get the power they so desperately crave. They want to destroy.”

When some Americans believe their President and believe the people who appear on television news, it becomes a reasonable choice to fear and hate all liberals.

Cesar Sayoc may have made his bombs alone. But prominent conservatives from the President on down urged him to believe his targets were enemies of the people. Trump and Coulter and Limbaugh and FOX are unindicted co-conspirators in the biggest political assassination plot in modern American history.

Lock them up.

Steve Hochstadt
October 30, 2018

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Man For All Men?

Suppose you just met a man at a party, in a bar, at a meeting, or at a ball game. He talked only about himself. He told amazing stories about how wonderful and rich he was. He said he was a genius, one of the most successful businessmen in the world, and superior at everything he does. He commented on how attractive or unattractive the women around him were and bragged about his sexual exploits. He laughed about getting away with groping women he encountered. He made fun of the intelligence of well-known people. He made fun of the handicapped. Although flabby and overweight, he puffed up his chest praising men who were “tough” like him.

Then later you found out that his stories about himself were lies. That he cheats at golf. That he had cheated everyone he worked with and conned his customers. That he had cheated on his wives. And that his wealth was not earned, but given to him by his very wealthy father.

What would you say about this man? A man you would not trust with a dollar. A man from whom you would want to protect the women in your life. There’s one word which sums up this personality – asshole.

Even assholes can be nice sometimes. Maybe such a man could show compassion in his interactions with others and empathy for those less fortunate. Maybe with more public responsibility, he could become more responsible. Maybe he would show another side of his personality.

But we have observed Donald Trump for two years since his election, and he has escalated his repellent behavior. His lies have multiplied, even about facts that can be easily checked. He mocks women, their bodies, and their stories of abuse by men. He refuses to believe people who know more than he does. He encourages people to hate the press, to hate his political opponents.

He is now the most famous asshole in the world.

Some people support the political policies Trump pushes and some people don’t. But nobody could argue that Trump the man is anything but an asshole. And that means that it is worth taking a second look at those policies, because such a man cannot be trusted to do what he says. A clear example is secretly using a heartless policy of separating children from their parents as a way of dealing with asylum seekers, then denying it ever happened, then blaming it on Democrats, then imprisoning children in barracks without sufficient facilities, then defying court orders to reunite families, then admitting that they had not kept track of what they were doing.

That’s what it means to have an asshole as President.

American women have recognized how Trump’s true nature contaminates his policies. Nearly two-thirds of women disapprove of Trump. Although 84% of women who identify as Republican say they support Trump, fewer and fewer women identify as Republican now that Trump is President.

What about men? Men split nearly evenly between approval and disapproval of Trump. It’s not black men or Hispanic men, but white men who support Trump.

Men who want to protect the women in their families from guys like Trump, men who believe in honesty, who dislike braggarts, who don’t think worrying about getting venereal disease is comparable to fighting in Vietnam, who don’t accept a draft-dodger’s claims that he knows more about war than our generals – they still applaud Trump.

Conservative white men overwhelmingly support Trump. Don’t conservative values count for anything?

Trump isn’t on the ballot anywhere, but he says over and over again that this election is about him.

White men, what are you doing? Don’t vote for a sleazy liar, for an abuser of women, for a con man. Pay attention to what women around you think. Have some pride in being a man.

Send this message to every man you know. Proclaim it from the rooftops.

Don’t vote for the asshole!

Steve Hochstadt
October 23, 2018