Policies & Actions

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Yesterday’s post, The Winnowing Transition, offers thoughts on the last several years in Whitewater, and a look ahead to the next several. The key point is that we’re in a transitional time, where many who were politically prominent a decade ago no longer are, and few who are prominent now will come through the next seven to ten years successfully.

A few more observations —

1. Policies, Actions. In a time of transition, where many have faded and others will, it’s more useful to focus on policies & actions than officeholders. The important questions will be what someone believes and what will he or she do.

In 2007, when I began writing, Whitewater’s city notables were at their high water mark, and conditions for them were seemingly stable. Most of them assumed they’d easily outlast a critic, and imagined – or at least declared – no end to their own prospects. Focusing on specific officeholders mattered more in conditions where an official’s tenure might yet be lengthy.

Weak policies (revealed to be even more so by economic conditions after 2008) came to take a toll, and over time officials’ prospects became weaker and the accuracy of criticism clearer. There might have been an effective break with the past between 2010-12, perhaps, but Whitewater’s officials didn’t make that complete break.

(As a policy matter, a complete break was needed; as a cultural matter it was more than even those who knew better could manage. Indeed, Whitewater’s policymakers have been laughably slow to admit their own mistakes, and delusionally stubborn in the face of repeated errors. See The Last Inside Accounts and The Dark, Futile Dream.)

Over time, a critic’s position has proved the stronger. See Measuring the Strength of a Position.

Who’s going or who’s arriving now matters less than what someone believes and what will he or she do. More of the same will prove worse than useless.

2. Many Options. There’s a common technique among those with an Old Whitewater outlook that every choice is between their way and chaos. This was especially true ten years ago: officials convinced others that the choice was between the official view and disaster/chaos/cannibalism/killer bees. That’s never been true: there are many kinds of conservatives, many kinds of moderates, etc.

It served small, smug notables to shout that it was a choice between their way and utter madness. One can sell slop if customers believe the only alternative is sludge.

3. Challenges Ahead. We have at least this many risks before us: harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities, harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby, and an unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

4. Some, Yet Few. There are some – yet few – officials now serving who, if they so decide, could help Whitewater during the rest of this (sometimes difficult & painful) transition.

Not most, to be sure, but a few.

Nationally and locally, it will be a tough slog. Now and always, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Whitewater.

The Winnowing Transition

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinToday’s a good day to post about the transition through which Whitewater is now going. It’s a winnowing transition, in which many political and economic positions formerly popular are slowly being swept away. (There are, in fact, few leading public officials even from a decade ago still around. Those who are operate in conditions of constraint that would have seemed impossible to imagine ten years earlier.)

1. Whitewater’s near-term outlook seems one of stagnation (and so relative decline).

2. Stagnation and relative decline are not unending – they’re usually transitional. Local political & economic failures, and the resulting (truly regrettable) economic hardship will make the city’s reduced property values attractive to larger-scale, private investment. That’s not our best outcome, to be sure, but those who wanted a better outcome would not have chosen as town notables chose a decade ago.

Bumbling boosterism brought us here.

One can be confident that we’ll pull out of this, but it may be seven to ten years until we see that kind of change.

3. Big Ticket Public Projects Haven’t Stopped Short Term Distress. They’ve been no more than ornaments to the pride of self-promoting notables. The Bridge to Nowhere, TID 4 spending, Innovation Center, WEDC expenditures, Innovation Express, pricey infrastructure spending over modest improvements: bunk & junk, all of it.

4. Political Boosterism’s Almost Finished in Whitewater. It’s simply no longer realistic: aged residents’ unfounded nostalgia and wishful thinking aren’t policies. They’re delusions.

5. There Are Still Risks, Even While Notables’ Boosterism Wanes. I’ve mentioned three risks for Whitewater (and like places) in a post entitled The Somber Trio:

Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities,

Harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, and

Unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby.

There’s a fourth, making this a Somber Quartet:

An unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

Public officials who advance Trumpist views, or cater to them as a balancing act between factions, advance or appease a malevolent ideology. They’re not owed their catering or balancing. If balancing bad ideas with good was tolerable before, it’s not now – the risk is too great to be endured without reply.

6. Charity Endures. For all the political changes sure to come, charity remains a good. Find a good cause, and make it your own.

7. Treading Water Isn’t Swimming. Staying afloat isn’t the same as truly swimming, just as surviving isn’t the same as prospering. One would prefer a community of those who swim & those who prosper, over those who float and merely survive. The goal should be to help people swim, rather than merely boast that a few are good swimmers.

In conditions of stagnation, many officials are treading water more than they’re swimming. There is this one truth and consolation, though, about officials who are merely treading water: as they weren’t moving competently or productively, their departures are inconsequential when compared with a competent or productive person. In this way, personnel departures matter less; there’s hardly a need to see this as troublesome.

8. Better, After. We’ve some difficult times ahead, nationally and locally, but on the other side of this winnowing transition we’ll find a happier and more dynamic country and city.

The Disorder of (Alabama) Republicans

At the Washington Post Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites report that Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32:

Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore.

It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat — was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.

“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”

Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did….

Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star followed up to see what GOP officials in Alabama thought of these allegations. Here’s one of several, all along similar lines —

There they are: men for whom no crime is greater than their party, no injury more important than their ambitions.

‘Gradually and then suddenly’

David Frum, to explain inevitable failure, instructively quotes Ernest Hemingway on going broke:

A famous line of Ernest Hemingway’s describes how a rich man goes broke: “Two ways … Gradually and then suddenly.” That’s how defeat comes upon a president as well. The live question for Trumpists in 2018 will be whether they can hold onto both chambers of Congress and thereby continue to stifle investigations into presidential wrongdoing. The geographic map is in the GOP’s favor in 2018, but the demographic map increasingly is not. The voters who hear of and are swayed by comments like Flake’s and Corkers’s—more educated, more affluent—are precisely those most likely to show up in an off-year election. Trump and the GOP will not lose all of them. They cannot afford to lose very many of them.

You don’t lose power by losing your base. Herbert Hoover held 39.7 percent of the vote in 1932, a year when Americans were literally going hungry. You lose power by losing the less intensely committed, just enough of them to tip the balance against you….

Via One More Straw Upon the Camel’s Back (“Jeff Flake’s speech won’t be the last straw—but it adds its weight to the growing pile”).

Those of us proudly in opposition and resistance – those of us resolutely committed to centuries of evolving democratic institutions on this continent – will not prevail today or tomorrow. We will see losses, some grievous, in the many days of political conflict ahead.

We will, however, see the demise of our adversaries, and happily our own success, in the shifting cadence that Hemingway describes: gradually and then suddenly.

The Same Ten People Problem (Revisited)

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

In a presentation from September on the state of the city (really meaning the state of Whitewater’s municipal government), City Manager Cameron Clapper tackled again the ‘Same Ten People Problem’ (STPP), where only a few people participate in municipal meetings, etc. One can find the full video presentation below; Clapper’s remarks on the STPP appear from 26:20 to 34:02.

A few remarks about all this, below:

Credit Where Credit Is Due. City Manager Clapper has discussed his concern about participation before, much to his credit. It is a problem, although one that some would rather not discuss, so much the better to avoid a solution that might dilute their influence.

Clapper’s (Partial) Solution. In his remarks, Clapper offers POLCO, a web-based community survey provider, as a partial solution to the STPP. That’s novel, actually. POLCO bills itself (mostly) as a way to allow officials to receive community opinion on key issues; Clapper’s now holding POLCO out as a way to entice participation beyond mere survey responses.

I’m not sure how effective POLCO will be, but it’s more likely to be useful as a gateway to additional individual participation than as an accurate representation of community opinion (the problems of collecting an accurate surevy through POLCO are too great, to put it mildy). As a way to whet someone’s appetite, though, Clapper may be right, and may have found a way to make POLCO one part of a solution on participation. (It’s worth noting that he contends it’s one solution, not the only solution.)

The STPP. I’ve written about Whitewater’s STPP before. See The Perimeter Fence and  The Solution to the ‘Same Ten People Problem.’ From the latter post:

In a post from yesterday I wrote about how cultures have perimeter fences, figurative boundaries marking the divide between what they consider acceptable and what they don’t, between those of the community and those outside of it.

Whitewater’s maintained a perimeter fence that is too circumscribed, and by design too impermeable.  It’s more than generational change that limits participation.

We’ve a fence that’s too close and too high….

That’s the source of the STPP in Whitewater: a local culture that expects a few leading figures and the community story be channeled through a few narrow gates of a few high walls.

What’s Coming. I’ve always felt that Whitewater will be better when she evolves more completely into a community with multiple sources of information, and diverse points of view. See New Whitewater’s Inevitability.

The idea of wrapping the community into one package was, as a digital imitation of the Register (when that paper still mattered), was always yesterday’s idea, a retrograde notion. Bundling the city in a box, adding a bow, and presenting ‘Whitewater!’ was always yesterday’s outlook; it was visionary only if one defines myopia as keen eyesight.

The future – for Whitewater and other towns – has always been myriad sources, each independently contributing to a vibrant community.

Truthfully, she’s already part way there: there are dozens of local sources of information, from dozens of community groups, written in the style that suits each group, respectively. Look only in one place, and one misses so much.

It makes sense that Cameron Clapper would want more government participation now; it won’t come that soon, yet it will come. There are likely to be much harder days of challenge between now and then. We would have done better if we had made this transition sooner, of course.

Still, much of what seems so vital now won’t last into a New Whitewater, but then each generation should – and inevitably will – make its own choices.

If City Manager Clapper stays in Whitewater for another decade – and despite disagreements with him, one hopes he does – then he’ll see these changes.

Between now and then, there will be a hard slog in Whitewater, but there’s no better place, in all the world, to be.

Kate McKinnon as Kellyanne Conway

Over at Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon’s in a sketch where she plays Kellyanne Conway as though Conway were the monster Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. She’s portrayed Conway before, but here her especially well. (The full sketch is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hlt3rA-oDao – the embed above starts part way in.)

In the sketch, Conway, speaking from a storm drain, tries to lure anchor Anderson Cooper (portrayed by Alex Moffat) into the sewer.

McKinnon so cleverly captures the irrationality of Conway’s lies on behalf of Trump – Conway will say anything, however outrageous (and especially if outrageous).

Conway’s not adept at the sophistry of ‘making the making the worse appear the better reason,’ – she’s adept at absurd lies, so fantastical that they’re like what a hallucinatory drug must be like. Nothing she says looks like the ‘better reason’ – Conway’s proffered quotes seem like a lunatic’s obsessions and compulsions. Those who find Conway convincing don’t do so because she offers a better reason – they find her intoxicating because she offers an escape from reason.

McKinnon’s impersonation nicely captures Conway as a deranged, gleeful liar, a liar simply for the dark pleasure of it.

Their Friends Are America’s Enemies

It’s no surprise, truly, that white nationalists who returned to Charlottesville chanted three main slogans: ‘You will not replace us,’ ‘Russia is our friend,’ and ‘the South will rise again.’

Each is false, and little more than a dark hope: the South they want (of slavery, bigotry, and treason) will never rise again, they have already been replaced by a more diverse and competitive population, and Russia (under either the Soviets or Putin) has never been America’s friend.

Putin has returned Russia to dictatorship after the briefest thaw, a return to brutality at home and abroad. Consider only a small video of opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s struggle in Russia, and know that while you consider him, vast numbers more are denied basic rights. The man who makes Russia oppressive for his own people delights in having lifted Trump to power in America, that Trump might in his own way degrade our way of life as Putin in his way has degraded life for his own people.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 3 in a Series)

local scene

Consider the childhood experience of Kristina Rizga:

When I was about 10, a classmate in my small-town school in Latvia liked to tell me in between classes that he hated Jews. I was the only Jewish kid in school, and one day as I walked home I heard steps behind me. My eyes caught his, and we stood there for a moment. I still remember his face—hazel eyes, closely cropped blond hair—and his navy uniform jacket over a white shirt. Suddenly, I heard a crunch as his fist landed on my left cheekbone, and I fell backward on a sidewalk damp with melting snow. I still remember the hollow ringing in my left ear. I looked around to scream for help, but the streets were empty. I’ve never felt more terrified and alone.

“There is nothing we can do to change him,” my father said in our garage the next day. He wore a large black boxing glove on his left hand that he made me practice hitting late into the night. “You have to throw the punch from your shoulder, and pack the weight of your entire body into it,” he said. “As soon as you show any fear, you’ve already lost.”

My mother and I eventually left Latvia, and bullying was a big reason for me. It’s been 22 years since I’ve thought about this particular incident—but the recent surge of media reports about xenophobic language and harassment across the United States brings those old fears roaring back. And now that we have an administration that has welcomed into the White House advisers with a long history of promoting Islamophobia and boosting white nationalists, I find myself wondering what that means for today’s bullies and their victims….

Via Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be a Trump-Era Priority
(“The testing craze and resegregation stripped schools of a key mission: creating engaged citizens”).

Rizga goes on:

Such behavior is a far cry from the ideals of American public schools, which were founded to maintain a pluralistic democracy and protect citizens against the tyranny of the majority. Advocates for the public education system argued that the unique American experiment wouldn’t work without it—that schools were the most effective mechanism for instilling civic values such as abandoning unrestrained self-interest and opposing bigotry.

Until the late ’60s, three different courses in civic studies were common in American high schools, and they often focused on helping students apply the dry mechanics of government to solving problems in their own communities. Many social studies classes also aimed to highlight the fragility of the democratic process and the historic importance of civic engagement….

I’m neither Latvian nor Jewish, and I never had the experience of bullying in school. On the contrary, like others from my childhood, I grew up in an old family, with the kind of positive American schooling that Rizga describes (what one might call a good-government curriculum).

It was the right sort of curriculum, but we were naïve to think that – without constant vigilance – it would carry the day against narrower, alternative views. We failed to protect this society against dangerous forces within and without.

[Consider, even, the matter of standardized scores. I’ve written more than once about touting scores of a few – as this district’s former principal and former district administrator did – while concealing a lower participation rate in Whitewater than that of other communities.

The participation rate always mattered more, fundamentally – (1) as a commitment of a public district to reach all students (teaching subjects not just as a college preparatory exercise but as a measure of informed citizenship) and (2) as the commitment of administrators to present accurately the measurement of their students’ progress, without concealment for marketing purposes.]

Before scores, participation; before accomplishment, inclusion. That’s the foundation of a commitment to American civics in a public program. Although one may happily have a  mix of public schools and private alternatives, it’s self-evident to me that public institutions should – indeed, must – function inclusively.

When I have sometimes mentioned a consideration of the curriculum, I’ve always considered it the way Rizga does, broadly. Broadly, twice over – as civics added to other substantive subjects, and as a foundation for the many, not merely the few.

Previously: The Erosion of Political Norms, Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: The Erosion of Political Norms, Part 4.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 2 in a Series)

local sceneWhitewater, as with other Wisconsin cities and towns, has a Planning Commission. Like some towns (but not others), Whitewater by practice places a member of one commission (let’s say, Parks & Rec) on another commission (let’s say, Planning): a representative of one commission to another. So a person might be appointed to serve on the Parks & Rec Board, but then also be the representative of Parks & Rec on the Planning Commission. (In this way, the resident then serves on two commissions.)

What happens, though, when a resident appointed to Parks & Rec,  who then becomes the representative to the Planning Commission, requests to become the representative from Planning (on which he was never appointed) to the Community Development Authority (a third board)?

A second question: if the Parks & Rec board member was formerly head of the city’s neighborhood services department, should he even be able to serve on the Planning Board (as Planning oversees neighborhood services)? (Other cities would not allow the former neighborhood services leader to serve on Planning – neither directly nor by jumping from one board to another).

Those are questions that a member of the Planning Commission presented in June, before the Planning Commission made its choice for its representative to another board (the Community Development Authority). See Plan Commission 6/12/17 & 6/19/17, preliminary discussion & commissioner’s remarks from 1:30 to 3:50 on the video.

I view of this discussion with distance and detachment, with clear and cold eyes.  In the months since I first heard it, it has now & again returned to my mind. (One may read and hear much, but write less, and even then only at a later, more suitable time.)

Could the French ambassador to the United States, upon his arrival on these shores, then and there become the American ambassador to Brazil? Could a marketing manager at Ford Motor Company, upon becoming the marketing representative to an engineering team, then and there become the engineering representative to the accounting group?

It’s notable – and not to Whitewater’s credit – that not a single commissioner offered a word in reply to these concerns. Not a word of support, not a word of opposition: nothing.

The only commissioner who addressed this concern was the commissioner who raised it. “So shines a good deed….

There is the erosion of political norms: so eroded that nothing is said in reply.

PreviouslyThe Erosion of Political Norms, Part 1.

Tomorrow: The Erosion of Political Norms, Part 3.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 1 in a Series)

local sceneThis is the first in a series about the erosion of local political norms. In a recent essay on national politics, E.J. Dionne Jr., Norm Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann write of How the GOP Prompted the Decay of Political Norms (adapted from their book One Nation After Trump):

President Trump’s approach to governance is unlike that of his recent predecessors, but it is also not without antecedents. The groundwork for some of this dysfunction was laid in the decades before Trump’s emergence as a political figure. Nowhere is that more true than in the disappearance of the norms of American politics.

Norms are defined as “a standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.” They are how a person is supposed to behave in a given social setting. We don’t fully appreciate the power of norms until they are violated on a regular? basis. And the breaching of norms often produces a cascading effect: As one person breaks with tradition? and expectation, behavior previously considered inappropriate is normalized and taken up by others. Donald Trump is the Normless President, and his ascendancy threatens to inspire a new wave of norm-breaking.

This would be bad enough if he were entirely a one-off, an amoral figure who suddenly burst onto the scene and took advantage of widespread discontent and an electoral system that tilts outcomes in the direction of his politics. But Trumpism has long been in gestation. His own party, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, has been undercutting the norms of American politics for decades. As the traditionalist conservative Rod Dreher has written, “Trump didn’t come from nowhere. George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and movement conservatism bulldozed the field for Trump without even knowing what they were doing.”

(Needless to say, this excerpt leaves aside the particular – and particularly destructive – role that Russia has played in undermining American norms.)

There’s more – and so worse – even than what Messrs. Dionne, Ornstein, and Mann see nationally: a rot of local norms in towns and cities across this country, sometimes conservative, but more often nonpartisan. A decline in local standards (of insightful analysis, accurate data, honest presentations, and open government) has afflicted  communities like Whitewater.  See That Which Paved the Way and Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 13: That Which Paved the Way).

No one contributes to a decline while declaring that he does.  Instead, those responsible declare that their (actually) lower standards are what it means to be a ‘Whitewater Advocate,’ community booster, etc. In this way, they elevate what’s base, and make base what should be elevated.

Tomorrow: An Unanswered Local Concern About Conflicts.

Podcast: Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara

There’s a new podcast from Atty. Preet Bharara, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

I’ve embedded the first episode, below, and readers can subscribe to this and future episodes via iTunes or Stitcher.

On March 11, 2017 President Donald Trump fired US Attorney Preet Bharara. Preet tells the story in detail for the first time. Then, a conversation with former Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta about how to clean up a chaotic White House, trade Russian spies, and stand up for what’s right, even if it means defying a president.

Lauren Duca humbly presents…

Chris Cillizza, formerly of the Washington Post, presently of CNN, eternally a buffoon, wrote today that he thought Trump’s United Nations address was “much more poetic” than Trump’s prior speeches. From this, one can say that CNN wastes at least as much money as Cillizza’s salary & benefits.

(There are, probably, vile limericks that are more poetic than anything Trump has said. There are, with an equal chance, scribblings on bathroom walls more elegantly composed than anything thirty-something operative Stephen Miller has drafted for Trump.)

Lauren Duca, who would like more young women to write about politics, sees Cillizza’s remarks as an oppotunity to encourage others. Although I’m not much for the term idiot, in her observation about Cillizza, Duca’s on the mark…

The Premature Question

Over at the Daily Beast, Joy Reid asks What’s Going to Happen When the Trumpists Realize the America They Yearn for Is Gone?

It’s an interesting question, perhaps, but more importantly it’s a premature one. We’ve a long road ahead before Trumpism is finished, and you’ll excuse me if the time for pondering life after our present conflict is nowhere near. (Between now and then, the circumstances that planning will take into account will, no doubt, be changed, anyway.)

Concern over how that time will look matters far less than working for its arrival, however near or far that arrival may be.

For now, there’s no reason to relent or pause, no time to ponder the time after this time. We’ll have that occasion when success draws nearer.

Until then, we’ve an obligation to diligence, each day beginning again with the distance and detachment so useful for a long & demanding conflict.

The Existential (Imagined and Real)

It was Michael Anton (writing as Publius Decius Mus) who exactly one year ago famously declared that 2016 was “The Flight 93 Election,” an existential fight for survival for state-loving conservatives:

2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.

Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic. The stakes can’t be that high because they are never that high—except perhaps in the pages of Gibbon. Conservative intellectuals will insist that there has been no “end of history” and that all human outcomes are still possible. They will even—as Charles Kesler does—admit that America is in “crisis.” But how great is the crisis? Can things really be so bad if eight years of Obama can be followed by eight more of Hillary, and yet Constitutionalist conservatives can still reasonably hope for a restoration of our cherished ideals? Cruz in 2024!….

The Flight 93 Election, Claremont Institute, http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/

Anton now serves in the Trump Administration (“Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications”), so he may content himself with avoiding a figurative plane crash at the price of electing a man who received three million fewer votes than the leading candidate.

Anton saw an existential threat, with conservatism on the brink, yet he should have stopped at the observation that others might see his claims as histrionic: they were and are exactly that. Had Clinton won, conservatism would have gone on well enough, perhaps even a bit better, in a politics of sometime gridlock and sometime compromise between a Democratic executive and a Republican legislature. America would have seen a world of conventional politics, not of existential threat to either conservatives or liberals. For better or worse, Clinton (and Ryan and McConnell) would have held office in times mostly of business as usual, not of extreme dangers.

Contra Anton, whose false claims of existential threats look truly histrionic a year later, it’s Trump’s election that now brings America to an existential crisis: Trump daily manifests authoritarianism, bigotry, xenophobia, ignorance, subservience to a Russian dictator, and serial conflicts of interest and self-dealing.

Those who opposed Trump, had we seen Trump defeated, would have been no dire threat to anyone who supported him. Now in power, Trump and his remaining cultish operatives are, however, manifestly a threat to American liberty, to centuries of constitutional and political development on this continent.

Anton had it exactly backwards: it’s Trump’s rise to power that represents an existential threat to our ordered and civilized way of life. We are now in an existential struggle, one that Trump has forced upon us.

This struggle is fought daily in the vast space between two great oceans, gripping over three hundred million within that territory, and billions beyond for whom the outcome matters immensely.

While the field of conflict is continental, it is not – indeed cannot be – national everywhere and yet local nowhere. Much of the decaying matter from which Trumpism springs (a love of authority, entitlement, grandiosity, mediocrity, conflicts of interest) exist in even the most beautiful small towns. It’s a candid admission that many of us – and here I count myself – have not done enough to challenge these local vices that have engendered a national sin.

No doubt we had excuses for our indolence even as we saw the local fuel that now feeds this national fire, reassuring ourselves that those of that ilk were doddering & bumbling, irritating & ignorant, yet mostly harmless.

We were unwise – foolishly rationalizing our neglect as generosity. We’ve now local and national hazards before us, with neither setting able to compensate for the challenge of the other. One would think, as was rightly said during another national conflict, that ‘one war at a time is enough.’ We’ve not that compensation; we’ve both problems now, both of our own neglect.

Multitudes will see loss and suffering before all this is over. Innocent people ruined at the hands of a bigoted, fanatical nationalism.

There is, however, this advantage: those of us in opposition and resistance are holding our own even now, and we have not yet given our best. Principle and perseverance will favor us.

However late to having come to see it, this threat is unmistakable now.

What’s Left

It was Secretary Clinton who, during the campaign, controversially but memorably asserted that “[t]o just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables,'” Hillary Clinton said at a New York fundraiser on Sept. 9. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that, and he has lifted them up.”

This August, conservative Jennifer Rubin considered Clinton’s assertion, in a post entitled About the ‘deplorables’…

….there is no non-deplorable rationale for continuing to defend this president, his rhetoric and his moral obtuseness. No one is asked to confess error in voting for him (although some self-scrutiny would be appreciated). Nevertheless, continuing to deny he is unfit for office and to make excuses for his verbiage makes one complicit in his racial divisiveness and his determination to provide aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

Some delude themselves by thinking that Trump can show “greater moral clarity” (!) (as the Republican Jewish Coalition preposterously did) or that staying in the administration prevents damage to the country (as Gary Cohn, John F. Kelly and others apparently do) or that the 2016 voters’ verdict cannot be upset with no regard for subsequent events (as Republican lawmakers insist). Let’s be blunt, these are rationalizations for continued support for an unfit, racist president. It does in fact make one deplorable.

Indeed. What’s left of Trump’s support is deplorable, and those who continue to look away are enablers of the deplorable.

Trump is manifestly unfit & those who actively continue to support him are the defenders of unfitness. In another, meaningful way, the national, state, and local politicians who are  publicly silent in the face of Trump’s daily abuses manifest a profound unfitness all their own.

For them, it’s a wager, perhaps: that in time, the rest of us will forgive or forget.

No: the future will write the history of the present, and will record Trump, his remaining supporters, and those officeholders who stayed silent, each in his or her own way, as deplorable.

Trump’s the Failure We Always Knew He Would Be

local scene Writing in the Journal Sentinel, Craig Gilbert finds that Donald Trump has squandered chance to broaden base, increase popularity, polls show:

“He’s done nothing to expand his base and, if anything, he’s sort of where he was, or experiencing greater erosion,” says Lee Miringoff, who conducted polls this month for NBC/Marist in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that showed Trump with a job approval rating in the mid-30s….

But here are some findings from the NBC/Marist survey of 910 Wisconsin adults, taken Aug. 13-17:

Trump has a negative approval rating from blue-collar whites, a group that is widely perceived as his demographic base, represents about half the vote in Wisconsin and favored Trump by nearly 30 percentage points last fall over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Among whites without a college degree, 38% approve of Trump and 47% disapprove. Democrat Barack Obama is today significantly more popular with these blue-collar voters in Wisconsin than Trump is. Obama is viewed favorably by 52%, Trump by 36%.

Trump’s standing with college grads, women and younger voters — three groups he struggled with in the campaign — is catastrophic. Only 24% of college grads in Wisconsin approve of his performance. Only 29% of voters under 45 do. Only 25% of women do, while 63% disapprove. It’s pretty extraordinary to see presidential numbers that lopsided from groups that represent broad demographic categories. Women make up over half the electorate. If you’re at negative 38 percentage points with an entire gender (25% approval minus 63% disapproval), it’s hard to overcome.

A significant minority of conservatives and Republicans express doubts, fears or disapproval of Trump. This is a polarized age. Modern presidents can expect almost unanimous opposition from voters in the other party, so they depend on nearly unanimous support from voters in their own party. But in the NBC/Marist Wisconsin poll, 19% of Republicans disapprove of Trump, 24% view him negatively, 25% think America’s role on the world stage has been weakened by his decisions, 31% feel embarrassed by his conduct as president, and 37% think he’s done more to divide the party than unite it.

There’s a telling aspect to political life in a rural small town, even if the town (like Whitewater) went for Hillary Clinton. While there’s no significant political cost to criticizing liberals (calling them weak, snowflakes, social justice warriors) or defaming former Pres. Obama (doubting his own religious identification, absurdly insisting he’s not American), there is a huge fear of upsetting diehard Trump supporters.

All these lifelong, proud middle class GOP town notables – so sure and smug – become shaking kittens when a Trumpist walks into the room. Even before Trump, this trend was pronounced.

(Funny story from two years ago. At a public meeting, a slovenly, brash woman asked some candidates if, after “all the money had been spent on special needs students and minorities,” what they would do for “normal people.” Obvious point, in Whitewater or other small towns: only a tiny fraction of any public money allocated goes to either minority or special needs residents. If one listens to talk radio or Fox News all day, however, one might falsely believe that most public expenditures go toward buying McMansions for Obama supporters or Special Olympians.)

For it all, it’s clear that Trump’s base is smaller than he ceaselessly claims, and that even among white working class voters who are supposedly his core constituency, he’s unpopular.

Those who’ve decided that local politics is only possible if they refrain from alienating Trump’s deplorable base are both weak in the face of that band and unnecessarily worried over its size. As it is, Trump doesn’t have a majority, and doesn’t even have a majority from a working class demographic, behind him. This makes sense: a majority overall and majorities within different groups now see well that Trump is an autocratic, bigoted confidence man.

Even if Trump had all the world behind him, opposition would be worth and necessary. It’s useful to remind oneself, however, that Trump never had and never will have all the world behind him. He doesn’t even have the formidable base he claims he has.

Three Tiers of Public Communication

Local government – and here I am thinking primarily of a small town’s local government – has three tiers of communication: saying nothing, saying something, saying the right thing. (In the third tier, right refers to a full and fair means of communication, and not right as merely agreeable and pleasing.)

Saying nothing. Common enough and easy enough to understand: nothing’s said, and especially nothing – however truthful and significant – that might reflect negatively on officeholders.

Saying something. This is the tier at which government officials are most frequently perched: they say something they believe to be positive, omitting other portions of a story no matter how relevant or material. The climb from nothing to something is the ascent from silence to sophistry. In every case at this tier, the goal is a particular presentation, with a particular goal.

Government may play this role on its own, or it may be luck enough to find a Babbitt to speak of local authorities the way a prophet would speak of God. There are always a few people like this, but it’s truly good fortune when someone will play this subservient political role with relish.

The key problem here is that to say something isn’t to say something sensible or well-considered. Indeed, at this tier, there are very few statements that are carefully vetted. There’s no tenth-man critique when one merely says something – there’s no effort to examine whether the statement might endure a sound critique: the self-serving statements in this tier are offered without foresight, almost cluelessly.

Three quick observations here:

(1) A collection of officials’ statements on significant issues would typically be a plaintiff’s counsel’s dream: a trove of revealing, somewhat clueless admissions of ignorance, bias, over-zealousness, etc. There’s either no one in these small communities who reviews statements before they’re published, reviews them with any competency, or whose review is adopted as policy even if it’s competent.

One can see this because so many statements are, in fact, a trove of revealing, somewhat clueless admissions of ignorance, bias, over-zealousness, etc….

Sometimes local officials will concede (if privately) that there are problems elsewhere in the government, but that they are the fault of another agency, leader, etc. Liability seldom works that way, at least as a claim: everyone in the chain, touching a matter at any level, usually finds himself or herself implicated. Litigation rarely begins narrowly – it mostly begins broadly.

(2) Public relations is more than a story in the paper – it’s a story that’s presented both persuasively to a target audience and safely against possible adverse claims. It’s been my pleasure to know one of the state’s leading public relations executives: her work isn’t merely about making people look good at the moment, but equally about keeping them from looking bad later on.  She’s successful because she has a powerful, worthy foresight. (I’ve never seen her assess a situation without quickly considering, and measuring, the likelihood of adverse reactions, effectively ranking them in order of probability, and so focusing only on the remaining, meaningful ones, if any.)

(3) Here’s a simple technique that works on the untalented: Although anyone can sense danger when presented with a long and complicated question, the untalented will not sense the risk in a simple question. ON the contrary, they’ll likely think it’s a sign that the questioner is untalented, and so they’ll answer at length and without careful consideration, on, and on, and on.

It’s in that lengthy answer that they’ll reveal much, and leave myriad hostages to fortune.

Say the right thing. Here one says not merely what’s favorable, but what’s true, good or bad, favorable or unfavorable, confident in one’s ability to present and manage either.

It’s also the only tier in which one sits honorably.

Update: Sunday: Mentoring.

‘Enough is enough’

The Los Angeles Times editorial board plainly states the truth about these times:

These are not normal times.

The man in the White House is reckless and unmanageable, a danger to the Constitution, a threat to our democratic institutions.

Last week some of his worst qualities were on display: his moral vacuity and his disregard for the truth, as well as his stubborn resistance to sensible advice. As ever, he lashed out at imaginary enemies and scapegoated others for his own failings. Most important, his reluctance to offer a simple and decisive condemnation of racism and Nazism astounded and appalled observers around the world.

With such a glaring failure of moral leadership at the top, it is desperately important that others stand up and speak out to defend American principles and values. This is no time for neutrality, equivocation or silence. Leaders across America — and especially those in the president’s own party — must summon their reserves of political courage to challenge President Trump publicly, loudly and unambiguously.

Enough is enough….

Via Enough is Enough.

And yet, and yet, look around: how many officials in cities and towns – so quick to proclaim themselves proud Americans, influencers, notables, movers-and-shakers – now have nothing to say about the most important political question of our time?

Years of glad-handing, business cards, expectations of special treatment, self-promotion at every opportunity, lapping praise and ladling puffery, and in the end, each of them shown as nothing more than lions that meow.