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Not Surprised

When I met a friend recently, who had supported Hillary in the primary, I said, "I'm only going to say it once, but… I told you so."

In the end, I was not that surprised when Trump was elected president. Disappointed, but not that surprised. It was exactly the scenario I had expressed concern about during the primary. In a year where huge numbers of people indicated that the most important problem was establishment politics as usual, the Democratic party put up perhaps the preeminent establishment politician of all time.

It was a fatal mistake. And it will probably have dramatic and permanent effects for our country -- and for the world.

Or maybe not. There's simply no way to guess what Trump will actually do. And there's no way to tell what the establishment Republicans will do in response. It's going to be a weird and wild ride.

I believe that Trump will turn out to be way more establishment friendly than his followers believe. Although the Democrats let down working-class people by failing to fight for them, it was the Republicans who were the architects of the changes that ruined their lives. Trump will probably make things much, much worse for them.

I recognize that, as a white person with relatively stable employment, in the bluest state in the Union, I'm in a uniquely privileged position to muse about the outcomes. I really feel for my Jewish, minority, and LGBTQ friends who are honestly (and realistically) fearful for their safety.

But perhaps even more than the loss to Trump, I'm disturbed by the circular firing squad mentality among the Democrats. People are pointing fingers at millennials, blacks, women, Latinos and anyone else who is identified as having not sufficiently turned out for Hillary. Or, God forbid, having voted for Trump.

Instead, we need to pick ourselves up, lick our wounds, and start working to put forward candidates that are electable. That's what a party is for.

Trading in your fly-swatter for a hammer

I don't have any inside information about what's been going on in the schools in Amherst, but I had an insight many years ago that provides a lens to help me understand what's happening now.

When my children were in elementary school, Alisa got involved in the Parent Guardian Group (PGG) at Mark's Meadow. Later, she ran for School Committee and, after a relatively tough campaign, won a seat. What struck me more than anything else was our first parent-teacher conference after she was a school committee member rather than a parent: it completely transformed her relationship with the school. And she discovered she needed to be very careful of what she said and what issues she tried to address: because everything she said was interpreted differently.

I came up with an analogy that helped me understand what had happened: As a member of the PGG, it was like she had a fly-swatter, which was great for addressing small problems in-and-around the school. But it wasn't effective for crafting policy or making real change. When she joined the school committee, it was like trading in her fly-swatter for a hammer. A hammer is great for accomplishing real work -- but it's terrible for swatting flies. And if you try to use it for swatting flies, you just break everything. This is exactly what I think we've had over the past few months.

When you serve on a committee, you choose to invest your effort in helping the committee craft effective policy. But it means you lose the ability to try to address problems directly, outside of that venue. You get to influence the actual policy but, if you don't agree with the outcomes, you have to either accept and support them — or leave the committee. What you *can't* do, is try to have it both ways: you can't have an inside track in trying to affect policy and, at the same time, try to rabble-rouse outside the committee to put pressure on the process. You have to choose one or the other. When you don't, you end up with outcomes like what we've seen: where the committee has lost the ability to provide effective governance.

Cheap Shots

There have been a variety of posts coming out recently critiquing the left for dismissing Trump's candidacy (Hillbilly Elegy, Strangers in their Own Land, and others). Today, it's Fabius Maximuson on Matt Taibi.

These critiques claim that people on the right are offended by liberals who refuse engage with them on the issues: Why they lose: the Left tells us that Trump is like Hitler. I can see why they might call it a cheap shot.

But it's actually not. Trump ACTUALLY IS a fascist, by claiming irrationally that he's the only one that can fix things; by creating a cult of personality; by asserting that torture works and he'll use more of it; by claiming he can unilaterally circumvent the constitution to discriminate against people based on race and religion. Trump ACTUALLY DOES espouse anti-science and anti-reality positions. Trump is a fraud and a liar. It is not a cheap shot to point these things out. Rather, it is a cheap shot to claim that liberals "dismiss" Trump just because he spouts lies that some people want to hear. And a bunch of Trump's simplistic ideas are just stupid: like The Wall.

The US could build "a wall", but it would be a terrible use of resources. It would be much better to assess how best to effect change and to use the money thoughtfully for a hundred different policies (e.g. hire more staff, build better databases, etc.) and investments (buy drones, cameras, and early detection systems) that would give us the greatest bang for the buck. But that's complicated and requires policy wonks to develop and implement. And, unfortunately, that's not what a lot of people want to hear.

After the Massachusetts primary, I mused about the situation as I saw it: namely that there is a strong anti-establishment wind blowing in both parties and that it was a terrible mistake for the Democrats to double-down on the one person who is perhaps the greatest living embodiment of the elite establishment candidate.

while establishment Democrats would probably line up behind whoever the nominee is, the disaffected people will not. I suspect they will probably be a lot more willing to cross party lines: They don't care who burns everything down, as long as someone does. I really worry that being able to tap into the disaffected vote of both parties might be enough to carry Trump to victory.

The Democrats could have chosen Bernie. This is a consistent fatal pattern with the Democrats: picking the candidate whose turn it is, rather than looking at what the times and circumstances require. Still: we live in a democracy (sort of) and the people have spoken (sort of) and we'll just have to live with the consequences.

Trump does not take positions

If one thing makes me angry about coverage during this political campaign, it's the assertion that Donald Trump might change his positions. From the Guardian:

Some in the crowd sensed that behind the brash reiteration of mass deportations Trump was in fact edging towards a more moderate, viable, policy. “I think he’s loosening up, becoming more realistic,” said Nancy Lewis, 56, a retired law enforcer. “And I’m OK with that. I have Hispanic friends.”

No. If one thing has become clear, Donald Trump does not take positions. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He does have some tendencies and prejudices that show up frequently, like xenophobia, ignorance, and vituperativeness. But these are not policy positions. He does not have a set of well-thought-out or carefully considered set of policies on anything.

Perhaps this is what attracts some people to him. Perhaps most people are like him in this regard: it's the rare person that can actually develop and maintain a coherent set of positions. In fact, nobody can really do it without a broadly trained set of policy advisors. But the mistake is believing that anything that Trump says represents an underlying, considered position. The only thing that is a constant is his ceaseless effort to angle for a momentary advantage.

It's a very weird election cycle.

Curry of Life

I attended the Amherst Democratic Town Committee meeting for the first time in about 6 months. I resigned as secretary last year after the committee had, I felt, turned away from trying to represent or engage the community and had become the Impeachment Committee. I served for several months trying to redirect the committee toward a more productive and relevant course of action, but eventually gave up.

The main item on the agenda was a motion by Leo Maley against casino gambling. It was a good motion, narrowly crafted, that focused on gambling as a missed opportunity to have a more productive discussion about improving taxation. But I went to the meeting to oppose the resolution.

I personally don't think gambling is a good idea. People talk about it being like a regressive tax on the poor, but its really more like a tax on the stupid. I think it only affects poor people more because stupid people are frequently also poor. Maybe people think that, because they think poor people are stupider than other people. It also taxes the deluded and the addicted -- and some of those people ruin their lives with gambling. That's sad, but those people are doing these things today anyway.

As some of us have noticed, there is gambling available all around us. There are racetracks and booking facilities in Massachusetts. There are lottery machines in every convenience store. And you don't have to drive very far to go to a casino if that's really what you want. In fact, Massachusetts residents spend more than $800 million in casinos in Connecticut. Furthermore, it seems nearly certain that, irregardless of what the Governor does, the Wampanoag tribe is going to open a casino anyway.

Deval Patrick looked at the issues and decided to propose allowing a limited number of casinos. I think the primary reason he did it is jobs. In spite of the heated rhetoric on both sides, casinos don't seem to have big impacts on most aspects of the communities in which they're located. They do, however, result in more jobs, dispersed among more people.

I think Deval has been trying everything he can think of to fix Springfield. He's been trying get UMass to do anything it can think of to fix Springfield too. He doesn't have a magic bullet, so he's using what he's got. None of its perfect, but having more jobs seems better than not having more jobs. Unless you've already got a job.

I think Deval also thinks that, if we're going to have casinos, we might as well do it in a way that gives the state some ability to influence what happens. If our citizens are going to gamble -- and they are -- we can use revenues from it to help deal with the bankruptcies and ruined lives that inevitably result.

Everyone at the meeting was invited to speak on the motion. I spoke against it, but nearly everyone else was for it. In spite of Leo's motion being primarily about "improving taxation", most people cited a moral opposition to gambling as their primary reason for supporting the resolution. Someone claimed that the goal of the casino proposal was to increase the number of gamblers in the state and, after that, several others spoke passionately about how despicable that goal was.

The committee voted to adopt the resolution, with a few amendments. I proposed an amendment to the motion saying "Whereas casino gambling promotes sin and immoral behavior;" since that was the actual reason most of the people had cited in supporting the resolution, which actually didn't mention those things. My amendment was rejected.

It was an interesting discussion. The fact that Leo and I had actually brought some research on the topic, meant that it was not purely opinion that drove the discussion. Although I personally think that gambling is unpleasant and stupid, I don't have a problem with people choosing to spend their time and money that way. Its just another dumb way to spend money, really. I think professional spectator sports are stupid too, but I don't think they should be outlawed just because they're stupid and pointless.

In the end, I was most uncomfortable by the prospect that well-educated and well-off people were so willing to impose their morality on others in the guise of protecting them -- especially if it means that unemployed people won't get the jobs that they might otherwise get. I don't agree with everything Deval Patrick has done, but I think he's doing the right kinds of things.

Houseparty at Vickery's

Last night, I attended a houseparty at Peter Vickery's for John Bonifaz, a candidate for secretary of the commonwealth. He gave an excellent talk that described how he'd been led to found the National Voting Rights Institute to try to advance a radical agenda that every vote be counted and other extreme ideas, laid out in a Voter's Bill of Rights. He's got my support.

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