What Boomers Have Seen

Sitting here on the far side of 60, I find myself musing occasionally about all the events my generation witnessed in real time as they happened. Every generation compiles its own similar list over time, to be sure, but the ebb and flow of history that Boomers witnessed over time was certainly a helluva ride.

Here’s my personal variation of the list. I’d love to see yours.

  • John Kennedy assassinated
  • Beatlemania
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Civil rights movement
  • Vietnam
  • Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinated
  • First human sets foot on the moon
  • Woodstock
  • Nixon resigns
  • Iran hostage crisis
  • Collapse of the Soviet Union
  • The dawn of the digital era and the internet
  • The Great Recession
  • First black U.S. president
  • The Chicago Cubs win the World Series
  • The Donald Trump regime

It hasn’t all been fun but it’s all been amazing to watch unfold. As Dr. Winston O’Boogie once said, “You should have been there.”

A Letter to My Elected Representatives

Senator Tim Kaine
Senator Mark Warner
Representative Robert Wittman

I am writing today to urge you as strongly as I possibly can to boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration later this month. The office of the presidency is being hijacked by someone without the experience or moral authority to govern in a democracy. Moreover, the legitimacy of a Trump presidency is questionable, at best, considering the totality of the circumstances surrounding it.

Normally, of course, it is desirable for opponents to close ranks after an election and then work together for the common good to the extent that it’s possible to do so. This election held in 2016, however, was anything but a normal election. As Democrats consider which responses to a Trump presidency are appropriate, it’s critically important that they do not for victim to their own best instincts. If the Democratic Party and its leaders have any hope of being effective in protecting the country over the next four years, they must appraise the threat and react to it as it actually exists, not as they were taught to behave in the theoretical confines of a Civics class.

For a variety of reasons, a Trump presidency is inherently illegitimate. If Democratic leaders like you want to respond to it in a way that’s consistent with their responsibilities to the country and their constituents, then they must not confer on Donald Trump a legitimacy that he has not earned. Failing to boycott the inauguration would legitimize and normalize the presidency of the most dangerous, least qualified president-elect that the country has ever seen.

It’s also important to note that during the entire term of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Republican Party did all it could to delegitimize a president for whom there was no rational reason to do so. Eight years ago, rather than graciously accepting their loss after the devastation of the Bush presidency, Mitch McConnell and his colleagues plotted to obstruct and undermine Obama’s term in office. Following that, there was a series of slights and roadblocks that were literally unprecedented in the history of the country. (Perhaps you remember John Boehner denying the House chamber to Obama for a State of the Union address?) I mention this not to suggest that Democrats sink to the level of McConnell and Boehner but rather to point out what should be obvious: The Democrats can never prevail if they continue their failure to respond proportionately to their opponents’ tactics.

The bottom line for me is that this is not normal. You do not do the country or your constituents a service if you pretend that it is. Again, I urge you as forcefully as I can to boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration. The GOP will howl, of course, but I am quite certain that history will respect and embrace those courageous politicians who take a stand in the face of this abomination.

The Important Conversation We Never Seem to Have

Since the election, I’ve been consuming a lot of history. It’s oddly comforting to realize that the issues we’re wrestling with in 2016 are the same ones they were wrestling with a hundred years ago. The cast of characters continually changes but the ideological battle lines have remained substantially the same. There is an ebb and flow that plays out over generations and each one of us can only do his or her part and then pass the baton. (If you don’t believe me, check out Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit or Oliver Stone’s outstanding The Untold History of the United States which is currently available on Netflix.)

It seems to me, though, that the real issues we need to confront are not political or ideological. The conversation we really need to have is about values: What values do we embrace and how do we manifest those values in the world? If we get that conversation right, the politics and policies will (theoretically) happen much more easily. But, for the most part, we never seem to have that conversation. Our failure to do so explains why progress in other areas is so difficult to achieve or maintain.

To make the nature of the problem a little clearer, here are a couple of articles that crossed my desktop recently. The first is George Monbiot’s takedown of celebrity culture, “Celebrity isn’t just harmless fun – it’s the smiling face of the corporate machine.” The title says it all. As a culture, we’re awash in various flavors of Kim Kardashian. That doesn’t happen by accident and it’s important to understand how we got here. (Along the same lines, there’s an old question that’s well worth asking: “Cui bono?”)

The second one is an exploration of The Frankfurt School, a collection of philosophers, cultural critics, and sociologists that coalesced in 1938. They believed that mass culture, in all its forms, was a prop for totalitarian capitalism. The ideas were challenging and controversial but they fell out of favor during the generations long somnambulance that followed World War II. The ascendance of Donald Trump, however, has given them a whole new credence and relevance. (Believe me, this is more interesting reading than I make it sound.)

These articles do not, by themselves, represent the conversation about values that we so desperately need to have. They go a long way, though, towards explaining why we never seem to have it. I’d be interesting in hearing what you think.

The Most Dangerous Deficit We Face

I’ve written before about the perfect storm of factors that combined to create the result of this year’s presidential election but the ones I cited were mostly political and procedural. Here’s an outstanding analysis by Dr. Michael Bader, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience, that emphasizes the cultural/psychological factors that were involved. Specifically, Bader cites the long-term, ongoing decline in empathy in our society.

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, especially if you’re a progressive (or even a Democrat). In the meantime, though, here’s a pull quote that I hope will pique your curiosity:

The failure of our institutions to empathize with the plight of the middle and working classes, to recognize their sacrifice and reward their hard work is traumatic. It is the same type of trauma that children experience when their caretakers are preoccupied or rejecting. The trauma erodes trust. It overwhelms systems that people have developed to deal with stress and creates psychological suffering and illness.

The future of the progressive movement lies in understanding and unequivocally embracing the fight of the working class, not as an electoral strategy but as a pillar of the values that drive us. Otherwise, the people who’d most benefit from progressive policies will find no reason to reject corporatism that masquerades as opportunity or bigotry that pretends to be populism. Our most destructive deficit isn’t in our budget. It’s the empathy deficit that makes us ripe targets for a cynical carnival barker like Donald Trump.

More Stream of Consciousness After a Few Days of Reflection

Once the spigot is open, everything keeps flowing out.

  • The dignity and humanity Obama displayed over the last eight years as the nation’s first black president now seems far more important than ever (especially in contrast with the vulgarity of Trump and his family). The tragic fact of the matter is that by the time we get to Opening Day for Major League Baseball, that dignity will likely be the only thing that remains of Obama’s legacy. All the rest of it will be substantially gone.
  • This was our first election since we lost key protections provided by the Voting Rights Act, protections that will likely not return in the foreseeable future. Barack Obama began his term as the nation’s first black president but he might end it as the nation’s last Democratic president.
  • Michael Moore spent the entire election warning anyone who would listen that Trump was going to win. As is often the case with Moore, everyone thought he was trying to be a provocateur. It’s clear now that he understood the landscape better than almost anyone else did at the time.
  • How is it not obvious that the entire DNC needs to resign? As an organization, it has failed in every way possible. I’m not saying that the folks who are currently in leadership positions are bad people but the result of this election was by no means inevitable. It flowed logically and obviously from a series of bad decisions, the most egregious of which was to deliberately clear the field for Clinton before the primaries and then rig the system in her favor after Sanders got in. It ought to be clear now that those are disqualifying offences.
  • When the Trump administration begins to strongarm news organizations about providing too much airtime for Democrats, do you think Les Moonves or Jeff Zucker will push back? I don’t.
  • Take a moment and watch Angela Merkel’s remarkable message to Donald Trump. The rest of the world understands something that our news media here in America is unwilling to say: The U.S. made an enormous mistake on Tuesday.
  • The FBI has now interfered with an election and will face no consequences for it. What will constrain a President Trump from using the FBI to investigate Democratic (or even Republican) opponents?
  • Over the last eight years, Barack Obama spent more time and energy appeasing Republicans than he did fulfilling his partisan responsibilities as the head of the Democratic Party. As a result, the party today is precisely what Vox recently described: “A smoking pile of rubble.” When Obama’s entire legacy is gutted next year by Trump and a GOP congress, he will have no one to blame quite as much as himself.

Olympic Yoga: S.E. Cupp’s Silly Critiqué of Obama

Conservative critics are never reluctant to stretch a bit when it comes to criticizing Barack Obama but S.E. Cupp’s recent tweet about the president reveals a level of stretching and contorting that we’d see if yoga were an Olympic event.

The idea that a politician is entitled to immunity from criticism because his critic happens to be overseas is novel in the extreme. It’s certainly a standard that I’ve never heard expressed or even suggested before.

I suspect Ms. Cupp might be a little confused here. What she might be referring to is what was once a longstanding bipartisan American tradition of not criticizing a sitting U.S. president when he or she is overseas (a rule that’s been repeatedly ignored by the GOP since Obama was elected in 2008).

It’s Ms. Cupp’s party that has radically and repeatedly transgressed American tradition, not President Obama. Surely this is obvious.

What’s really sad, though, is to see Ms. Cupp waste whatever credibility she has on a candidate as reprehensible as Trump. The “I’m no fan of Donald Trump…” formulation is a cliché, a variation of the old “I’m not a racist, but…” dodge. As a student of communications, let me offer a pro tip: The best thing to do when you find yourself starting a sentence with one of those is… just stop talking.

Feeling the Bern at Liberty University

It shouldn’t be any secret that I’m supporting Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. I happen to believe that he’s right on the issues. At least as important is that face that, whether you agree with him or not he, brings a degree of forthrightness and integrity that we seldom see in top tier, major party candidate.

The only other prelude I’ll provide for this video is that I appreciate the courage of any candidate who steps into the opponent’s territory. In this case, Senator Sanders is venturing to Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell to be the cradle of his Moral Majority.

I believe that over the course of a long campaign, addressing inequality in our system will be a message that resonates with a large swath of voters. In reality, there are more substantive interests that unite the bottom 99 percent than divide us. Now, click ahead to the 16:00 mark and give a listen to a guy who flies coach:

Glenn Greenwald on Donald Trump and Jorge Ramos

There are very few indispensable voices in today’s media environment but any reasonable list of those who qualify would have to include Glenn Greenwald. He’s the embodiment of independent journalism and there’s no better evidence of that than his column about the Ramos/Trump story.

It’s tempting to try to summarize the two or three most important take-aways from the article but I’d prefer that you take a moment to read the whole thing yourself. It’s important not only for Greenwald’s perspective on the incident itself but also for the broader issues he raises about the nature of corporate media in 2015. (And by “corporate media,” I mean literally 95 percent of all our media, every newspaper and television program you read or watch.)

If you haven’t seen the video yet, you’ll want to take a look:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of our eyes” but no one can fail to see the inherent absurdities and dangers of this Potemkin campaign of Donald Trump’s. Apparently the real challenge for our “serious” media personalities today is to call out the cynical con that’s right there in front of their eyes.

A Modest Proposal for Medical Marijuana Opponents in Florida

Attorney John Morgan’s United for Care is readying another campaign to pass a Constitutional Amendment in Florida that would provide for the therapeutic use of cannabis under doctors’ supervision. (The organization’s previous attempt in 2014 was approved by about 58 percent of voters—a higher percentage than any candidate on the ballot including Governor Rick Scott—but failed to reach the 60 percent threshold required to pass this kind of ballot initiative.)

Medical-Cannabis1While the prospects for success look good in a presidential election year, the opposition is gearing up, too. A coalition of religious and law enforcement organizations including the Florida Sheriff’s Association is trotting out the familiar arguments here. (It’s worth noting that opposition to legalizing cannabis is far from universal in the law enforcement community. A number of progressive law enforcement officials believe that cannabis prohibition is considerably more harmful and dangerous than the plant itself.)

While many point out that law enforcement agencies in Florida have a vested interest in continuing prohibition—they generate millions of dollars for themselves from civil forfeiture proceedings, for example—I’m willing to stipulate that their arguments against liberalizing cannabis laws are made in good faith. But if public health and safety are genuinely what they’re concerned with, I’d like to make a modest proposal that might clarify the issues surrounding cannabis and enhance the credibility of the arguments they’re making.

Simply put, I wonder if the Sheriff’s Association would be willing to broaden the scope of its concern to include all of the substances that individuals use to self-medicate:

  • Cannabis
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Dietary supplements
  • Over the counter medications

To claim, as the coalition’s website does, that cannabis “has a high potential for abuse with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence” is, at best, an incomplete telling of the story. If the problem is that cannabis is dangerous then it’s worth asking: Compared to what?

It seems that we, as a society, have long ago determined that we’re willing to balance the perceived benefits of using any of these substances against some hypothetical state of absolute safety. It shouldn’t be necessary, then, to demonstrate that cannabis is perfectly safe under any and all circumstances. After all, we couldn’t make that claim for aspirin and we certainly couldn’t make it for bourbon.

So, here’s my proposal. Let’s establish an objective set of safety standards and then apply them to all of the items on our list. Then, the Sheriff’s Association or any of the other organizations in the anti-cannabis coalition can make their policy prescriptions in a rational and objective context.

Here’s what doesn’t make sense: Insisting that one item on the list meet standards that we’re not willing to apply to other items that are objectively more dangerous. (If anyone wants to make the case that cannabis is more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, then I’m happy to let them do so… but I’m guessing that any sort of supporting data would be difficult to produce.)

If it’s genuinely important to prosecute cannabis users in order to protect them from themselves, then don’t we owe the same level of protection to individuals who choose to self-medicate in other ways? But if we refuse to do that—if it seems like an irrational overreach to do so—then maybe it’s time to admit that prosecuting cannabis users never really made much sense in the first place.

Some Thoughts on Participation Trophies

Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker James Harrison posted on Instagram and Twitter that he was returning the trophies his sons received for participating in their youth football program. The story generated a great deal of attention, as you probably know, on television and in social media.

When I responded to Mr. Harrison’s Twitter post by suggesting that he consider some additional perspective on the matter, a few Harrison fans took vigorous exception to my tweet. (One guy suggested that my post was “retarded.” Another incongruously wanted to know how many Super Bowl champions I’ve raised.)

Among the responses I received, though, was one from Daphne Sashin, a CNN reporter who writes about parenting issues. She wanted a more complete explanation of my thoughts on the topic than I was able to provide in 140 characters.

This subject has gotten a great deal of attention in the media since it was first reported so I thought it might be worthwhile to share my thoughts here on this blog. This, then, is what I wrote:

Ms. Sashin,

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.25.32 PM

Per your request on Twitter, I’m writing with a few thoughts on James Harrison’s Instagram post about returning his sons’ trophies for participating in sports. Let me preface everything I’m going to write with a few important points: One, I don’t know Mr. Harrison but am confident that he loves his kids tremendously and decided to do this with the very best of intentions. Two, I wouldn’t presume to tell Mr. Harrison (or anyone else, for that matter) how to raise his children. And, third, I am a parent, not a psychologist or a pediatrician. I hope that you’ll contact professionals who are qualified to discuss this topic based on real data (like Nadine Burke Harris, for example) for your article.

Having said all that, let me offer a few thoughts in no particular order.

  • While Mr. Harrison is understandably focused on his own kids, I wonder if he’s considered the fact that his action is likely to diminish the perceived value of the trophies that every other child in the league received. It’s almost certain that, as a professional player and a champion, Mr. Harrison is a big deal among the children who play sports with his boys. His refusal to allow his sons to accept their trophies very likely undermines the league, the coaches, and the other parents who don’t have NFL aspirations for their kids.
  • I find it difficult to understand how setting one’s kids apart from their teammates teaches values like sportsmanship and teamwork, the specific values that most parents are trying to teach when they enlist their kids in sports.
  • It seems to me that there’s a danger of an action like Mr. Harrison’s being misinterpreted by his kids, something along the lines of “Everyone else is good enough for their parents but you’re not good enough for me.” Obviously, his kids are pretty young (they stop giving participation trophies to older kids) and the point he’s trying to make is pretty sophisticated so the chances of this aren’t insignificant. More likely, in my opinion, is that it will become what Dr. Harris refers to as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE).
  • My personal belief is that the most important thing we can do for our kids is to provide them with a foundation of love and support on which they can build, on which they’re secure enough to learn to achieve. That’s been the philosophy that guided my wife and me in parenting our two boys (I’ll admit freely that she has an intuitive understanding of these things that far exceeds my own) and I think it’s worked pretty well.
  • Instances in which parents get overly involved in their young kids’ sports endeavors tend to not work out well. You can Google Jimmy Piersall or Todd Marinovitch for a couple of more famous examples. In my experience, I’ve seen more talented young athletes damaged by their parents than helped. One young man on my younger son’s Little League team was an extremely talented pitcher who was never quite good enough to get his father’s approval. By high school, he’d given up baseball altogether.
  • I disagree with Mr. Harrison’s diminishment of the value of participation, especially at a young age. It seems to me that it’s more than a little important to teach the value of participation and to reward it for young kids. It strikes me as counterproductive to tell children that their participation isn’t adequate. There’s plenty of time later to mold them into champions if that’s what Mr. Harrison believes is important.
  • Finally, I understand and even admire Mr. Harrison’s impetus to foster achievement in his kids. I hope, however, that he isn’t doing so at the expense of their happiness or at the expense of his relationship with them in later years. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value my kids’ happiness far more than I value any “achievement” of theirs.

Thanks for reaching out. I hope this is helpful.

I’d be interested in getting your thoughts in the Comments section. And, if you’re interested, here’s the TED Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris that I referenced on the subject of Adverse Childhood Events: