Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Pertains to discerning authentic truth, bias, and achieving the civil discourse essential to democracy.

The Power of Fear

Fear has been a major component in the 2016 political campaign and continues to be a tactic of the Trump team as they prepare for him to take office.  All of us need to understand how fear can cause us to make bad choices. But we also need to learn how to combat it. What follows is an excellent video that demonstrates how fear was used as a tactic in the campaign.  The remainder of this post is remarks about Fear and Faith shared by Marguerite Chandler, my spouse, at the Newtown Friends Meeting this morning. Continue reading The Power of Fear

We Still Don’t See It Coming!

Many of the pundits are saying, “nobody saw this coming.” They go on to describe the revolt of the less educated white working-class male, or some other demographic that has been marginalized by globalization, or income inequality.

There is no denying that they are at least partly right. But I know that I personally missed something that’s context for Trump’s win – it’s political gaming of the system that’s been a GOP strategy for decades and was happening big time in this election.

As I was puzzling out loud over the fact that Hillary won the popular vote, and Trump won the Electoral College.  Marguerite said, “It’s gerrymandering.” I scoffed at her interpretation. I think of gerrymandering as a way to guarantee seats in the House of Representatives by, in effect, picking your voters by demographic mapping.

How Gerrymandering Works
How Gerrymandering Works

However the reality is much subtler. Gerrymandering  helps a party that does not have a majority of voters support at the congressional level. The “red” minority (see chart) can get three of the five districts (60%) by clever carving. The “blue” majority can draw districts to give themselves all five (100%).

This simple example illustrates how the US political system can be modeled like any other complicated set of interdependent rules and variables. Consider that each state makes the rules about how it runs its elections. It is the governor and the legislature that also define political boundaries.  So if a political party can optimize boundaries to get the most seats in congress, it can lock in some districts without having majority of the votes. In addition, it can target the campaign money on districts where there is no such lock.

Another gambit is voter suppression. Voter ID rules, polling hours, polling locations, number of voting machines, early voting, absentee ballot rules — all the many aspects that are controlled at the state level can be played to the advantage of one party over another.

Those tactics will be reflected in not just the House of Representatives, but also the Electoral College.

The GOP figured out how to game the system long ago. The book “Rat F**ked” explains how it happened.  The title is a vulgar expression for political sabotage.

The process is ongoing. When the smart money in the GOP campaign pulled back from supporting Trump, it refocused on supporting GOP candidates for state legislatures and governorship. Already the GOP has a lock on the US House.  They are working on voter supression strategies to gain wider control.

If you believe in democracy you should be concerned.  But even if you are concerned you may not be able to change it.  It will take a super motivated electorate to reverse the many ways our political system is being corrupted.

The Citizens United decision is another element of the strategy.  Now that huge amounts of money can be targeted at particular state and even local races, it has become possible to hammer any candidate that opposes your interests.  The NRA is perhaps the least subtle. It wants politicians to think that taking a stand on gun regulation is just not worth it. But the tactic can work to defeat a popular candidate who opposes any moneyed interest.

Partisan news networks are another facet. Fox News learned how to game the system and President Elect Donald Trump became a master at playing the system to his advantage. Propaganda does not need to be grounded in truth to have devastating effect.

One of the tragedies of public education is the evident lack of discernment and critical thinking exercised by massive numbers of people. Another is the dumbfounding ignorance of basic civics – most people don’t know how our government works, don’t know who the current leadership is, and don’t understand their role as a citizen and voter.

When most of us are indifferent and ignorant to civic processes, the field is wide open to those who want to game the system at our expense.

God Bless Save America!


Dear friends,

Instead of our usual year-end letter, we’ve decided to speak from our hearts about the current election and what it means to us.

Jonesborough Courthouse
Jonesborough Courthouse

We’ve written this essay together—sharing our spiritual concerns  and our extensive analysis of the situation.  It’s divided into five sections:

  1. How did we get here?
  2. Personality vs. Character/Morality.
  3. Who benefits from our disconnection, confusion, and disillusionment?
  4. Values worth dying for?
  5. The concerns we have are not going away (no matter who wins).

We hope you’ll receive our letter in the spirit that we’ve written it—as an invitation to ongoing inquiry. Our country is at a crucial turning point.

How did we get here?

Many of us are distressed with the current state of American politics, the ugliness, the bitterness, the distrust of the media, the candidates, the Congress, each other.

League of Women Voters Yard Sign
League of Women Voters Yard Sign

When Richmond and I were young adults, we trusted our parents, our family doctor, our banker, our teachers, and our neighbors. We respected news people like Walter Cronkite or Bill Moyers and their investigative journalism.  We used to feel connected to our larger world.  But extreme mobility and digital media have broken down that sense of community and connectedness.  Now everything has become “entertainment:”  news, food, sports, gun violence.  We’re texting, Instagramming, Facebooking, Tweeting, running to keep up, grasping for diversions.  We’re accomplished but exhausted, successful but soul-weary.

Many Americans spend more time viewing and reading about sports events than they do about the workings of our government. Retired Supreme court Justice David Suter, in 2012, spoke about “Civic Ignorance” and how it puts democracy at risk. He expressed the fear that an autocratic leader could exploit discontent and seize power by promising to fix dysfunctional government.

Bit by bit, what used to give our lives meaning has been eroded.  Advertising tells us we’re not good enough.  Media shows us there are only winners and losers.  The implicit assumption is that power and force alone win the day.  Family dynamics in movies and on TV show competition, cynicism and sarcasm instead of loyalty, caring, hope and generosity of spirit.  The world as the media presents it often seems evil, untrustworthy, and downright scary.

In politics, widespread gerrymandering has resulted in extreme candidates who support partisan stagnation, and fail to perform basic functions like appointing judges, funding government operations, and working towards viable solutions to our state and national problems. Lobbyists are paid more than our legislators and their staff combined (and there are 23 lobbyists for every person in Congress). Elected officials spend more time raising campaign money than they do preparing bills or deliberating on legislation. Everyone, including our representatives,  is fed up.

Personality vs. Character

Two 2016 candidates used the discontent to challenge the political establishment.  Ordinarily such grassroots-driven change would be cause for celebration of the democratic process—but not so much this time.  One so-called  “populist” candidate has appealed to fear, bigotry, hate, and a false nationalism that has rallied many to him for what he’s not:not a politician”, “not politically correct”, “not elitist”, and “not a compromiser.”  Perhaps more hopefully, Bernie Sanders won major changes in the Democratic platform and pulled Hillary back to her Progressive roots.

Quakers have a saying, “Let your life speak.” None of us live up to our ideals all of the time, but it does matter that we learn from our mistakes. We’ve looked into the records of both candidates. Hillary Clinton is a career politician whose accomplishments and failures are very public, but she’s got a long record of service and caring for the poor and the middle class and the experience and temperament to lead and govern.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has the appearance of success in business, but the more one learns about him, the less there is to like or respect.  He’s a savvy and skillful promoter of new enterprises. But 1/3 of his ventures have been outright failures.  Another 1/3 have been marginal at best, and 1/3 have “met expectations” according to the New York Times.  He’s presided over six bankruptcies that represent about $4.7 billion in losses to his investors and creditors. He openly brags that he personally made money as those companies failed. Just this month the Trump Taj Mahal closed.  Though Forbes Magazine estimates Trump’s current net worth at $3.7 billion, economist Robert Reich has calculated that the funds he received from his dad, if invested in an average performing portfolio, would now be worth $12 billion.  His career is also besmirched by his predatory practices with vendors and contractors.  Trump left a trail of unpaid bills and more than 3,500 litigations building his personal wealth. His crude remarks about women have dominated the headlines as we wrote this.  His public speeches and appearances have been so full of misinformation and outright lies that he has set records with fact-checking organizations.

Daily Newspaper Endorsements (Wikipedia)
Daily Newspaper Endorsements (Wikipedia) as of October 22, 2016

No major daily newspaper,  and only 3 of the more obscure ones, have endorsed him. USA Today, The Atlantic Magazine and eight others have savagely denounced him. Yet he remains the GOP candidate for President with polls showing that 43% of voters will vote for him.

To us, it’s more alarming that his followers don’t seem to care about Trump’s lack of merit or character. Many say they just want to elect him because “he will shake up” Washington. They quickly segue into a rant about Hillary as representing all that is corrupt and wrong with establishment politics.  But, if you “burn the house down” to dispatch the vermin, then what?

We note that the Trump campaign staff was recently restructured at the insistence of the Mercer family, one of Trump’s billionaire backers.  The short version of a longer story is that the Mercers want somebody in the White House who won’t mess with Wall Street and specifically who won’t impose a transaction tax to make flash trading unattractive.  Since the Citizens United decision, big money has been a problem, but the Koch brothers and the Mercers are now directing campaigns and the votes of successful candidates for narrow self-serving purposes.

Perception is a tricky matter.  What we “see” depends on what we’re looking for and where we stand.  When I’m fearful and exhausted, I see danger at every turn and deceit in every person.  When I’m feeling more bouyant, I see possibility, and other people represent hope and support.  We constantly decry negative campaigning, but it works because negativity and characterizations are so contagious.  A colleague says, “My boss is a jerk,” and it’s all too easy to agree without any facts.  We assume characterizations are based on evidence, but actually we make the characterization in anger, and then begin to collect evidence to support it.

Throughout Obama’s Presidency, some people’s perceptions were constantly jarred because they were not expecting to see a Black man accorded the perquisites of power.  (Consider how differently you and others you know might perceive a white Marine holding a rain umbrella for our Black president.) The Guardian, a conservative British magazine, not historically a Hillary fan—did an in-depth analysis of Clinton’s fundraising and policy positions and finally concluded that Clinton was “fundamentally honest and truthful.”  PolitiFact did an exhaustive analysis of Clinton and all the other candidates—and consistently found her to be “the most honest of this year’s presidential candidates,” yet according to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, she has received more negative media coverage than either Sanders or Trump.  Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley observed that, “With Hillary everything she does is either different from what men do and it’s ‘wrong,’ or it’s the same things that men do and that’s ‘wrong,’ and that’s because the underlying thing about Clinton and her candidacy is it’s not normal.  ‘Normal’ is a male candidate, a male voice, a male tie.” (see an excellent article from Rolling Stone, Oct., 2016, “Hillary Vs. the Hate Machine” ) Is perception equivalent to reality?  Since Lee Atwater first said it, political strategists claim it is.

Who benefits from our disconnection, confusion and disillusionment?

Is there a global conspiracy that’s destroying our American way of life?  Are low-wage workers in developing countries stealing our jobs?  Are corporations only rapacious and exploitative? What happened to the social certainties in life, where men were men and women were women and they liked it that way … where people “knew their place” and were respectful?  Where are the “just wars” where the enemy is clear and the cause worth dying for?  Where are the alternatives where there’s clearly a right and a wrong choice?  When did we stop “loving our neighbors” and being “our brother’s keeper”?

Let’s explore the question of “who benefits?” If we’re a nation divided, seduced by drama and diversions, fear and uncertainty, how much more easily we fall into scapegoating others instead of seeing the huge injustices against all of us.  A university study representing the population of the USA as 100 people showed that, during the slow economic recovery 2009-2013, the one richest individual would have acquired $9.10 of every $10 generated, while the 99 of us got the remaining 90 cents!  Or looking from another perspective, real wages for the middle class have stalled since the mid-70’s, but during the same period, “wages for the top 1% have risen 165% and wages for the top 0.1% have risen 362%.” (Thomas Piketty quote)  In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself will not stand.” When we’re divided as a nation, our allies despair and our enemies delight!

Values Worth Dying For?

Our soldiers are sworn to defend the flag-plateUS Constitution with their lives if necessary. It’s up to each of us to ensure that the values enshrined therein are honored so this nation merits the ultimate sacrifice.  There is far more to it than just wearing a flag pin.

Who, lately, can relax and enjoy day dreaming, playing, thinking, laughing, or just calling a friend spontaneously?  The news is full of corporate exploitation (the Epi-pen scandal and the Wells Fargo scam being the latest as we write this). With an eight figure annual compensation package, what could a CEO lack that would explain such greed? If I’m all alone with no sense of a community that cares about me, if my vote is meaningless and my voice isn’t heard, if one believes that there’s only winners and losers (me vs. you)  ̶  then working endlessly to get all I can and fighting to hold onto it makes perfect sense—especially when some are so obviously “gaming the system.”  From this perspective, civic duty, personal character, stewardship, and kindness seem like quaint, outdated sentiments.

How difficult it is to see clearly when we are constantly bombarded with distorted messages, with lies repeated over and over until they sound “normal” and “true,” with memes that are—well, mean!  The sophisticated systems for slicing and dicing us by our interests and preferences are legion:  what magazines we read, what pages we “click” through to on our computers, what products we buy, our income levels — all types of personal information is gathered.  Marketers have been parsing market segments for a long time. Now political campaigns have brought these techniques to a new high (or low) so that our perceptions can be cleverly manipulated.

The 20th Century is over, and we sense that the 21st Century is taking a new direction.  As teacher and futurist Joanna Macy has said for many years, “This is the time of the Great Turning [away from a consumption society towards an earth-preserving society].”

Cover of Funny Times
Cover of Funny Times

As activist and commentator Van Jones has observed, “We will either turn on each other or towards each other.”  The paths have been diverging for a long time and are now irreconcilable—and as poet Robert Frost declared, “And that [which path we choose] will make all the difference.”


Richmond recently observed, “Everyone is a minority.”  We’re easily confused and defeated when we’re isolated from each other, but evidence is now robust that when all members of a group participate in decisions, those decisions are stronger and more relevant to all our needs. Quakers have practiced consensus — finding the sense of the meeting — for centuries. The fact is we are interconnected, intimately bound to every other person in our humanity and our well being. (“All of us together are a genius,” Lynne Twist has famously said.)  How can we learn to listen for our commonality instead of our differences? As supporters for Clinton (or Bernie) or Trump, we all love this country, want a better future for our children, are frustrated with the deadlock in Congress, seek meaning in our work and our relationships.  We need each other’s wisdom and experience, but we must work together to benefit from it.

America is worth dying for when out leaders play to our highest aspirations and shared vision. It’s not worth it when our leaders play to greed and manipulate us with fear .

The issues that concern us are not going away

Cover of The Week
Cover of The Week

No matter who is elected President, the issues that divide us are not going away.  We urge you to prayerfully consider your vote, and then vote for something, not against something.  There are no “perfect candidates” (that’s an oxymoron like “perfect parents” or “perfect children”),  but the character of the person who’s at the top of the ticket does matter—as well as the character of candidates  all the way to the bottom of the ticket.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we have historically split our votes when choosing candidates, but this year we’re voting a straight Democratic ticket.  Why?  Because after careful analysis, the facts show that:

  • Over the past 64 years, when the Democratic party controlled the White House (from Eisenhower to Obama), every economic indicator was better—productivity, wages, the stock market, the pace of the unemployment rate’s decline, the rate of economic growth. (Source: Mark Watson and Alan Blinder, Princeton U. professors of economics)
  • Tax cuts and trickle-down economics haven’t worked despite 30 years of “testing”—ask the citizens of Kansas, whose Governor promised a “march to zero” taxes and huge economic growth with tax cuts and austerity —and instead delivered an economic catastrophe! When George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised taxes, we experienced a surge in economic growth.
  • Now, eight years later, it’s clear the “dreaded” and much maligned Economic Stimulus Package did avoid another Great Depression, created jobs, avoided a budget deficit that would have been twice what it currently is, and build hundreds of new bridges and hundreds of miles of re-paved highways—without spiking inflation or causing deflation (Source: those same Princeton U. economists, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and Goldman Sachs, among others)
  • Those who work hardest to eliminate poverty are the poor people themselves. There are always those who exploit the system, but it appears that the significant “welfare Queens” are special interests who use “the commons” but don’t participate in what it takes to make the commons thrive for future generations.
  • Obamacare isn’t perfect and the Social Security “trust fund” is declining, but the answer isn’t scrapping these essential programs but working across-the-isle to address what doesn’t work based on evidence, not emotion.
Wedding Chapel Sign
Wedding Chapel Sign

Recently, in a Tennessee wedding caterer’s storefront chapel, we saw a sign that said, “As two families are becoming one, we ask that you choose a seat and not a side.”  This sounds like pretty good advice for this political season.  When the election is over, our democracy needs us all—our active engagement, our constructive criticisms, our vote, our voice, our willingness to stay at the table—and to make room at the table for those unlike ourselves.  Our greatness as a country is in our diversity.  Unless we’re full blooded indigenous people, we’re all descended from immigrants whose courage and vision got us here and whose creativity and tenacity allowed us to become successful here.

As we made phone calls and canvassed door-to-door, we were struck at the enthusiasm of the folks voting for Hillary and at the anger of those voting against Hillary or for Trump. None of us makes our best decisions in a mood of anger.  We strongly believe that our democracy will be safe with Hillary Clinton and at grave risk with Donald Trump.  This election is not about personality – it’s about the character of the candidates and the values they model. We pray, not for political victory, but for the highest good of all concerned.

As Quakers, we seek “that of God in every person.”  We invite you to join us in “minding the Light “ in ourselves and each other, so that we keep the flame of democracy burning brightly.  As one of the tellers at the National Storytelling Festival said last week, “Faith is light in your heart when all your eyes can see is darkness.”  Let’s keep faith with our democracy.  Our election process isn’t an athletic competition.  America is great. We remain the world’s best and strongest hope for a fair, just, inclusive, thriving future.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  We also hope you’ll take our essay and discuss it with others—or take the bits that resonate with you and write to your friends.  Our democracy needs every voice—if we can learn to listen with mutual respect and open hearts.


Marguerite and Richmond
October 24, 2016

“And the work of generosity shall be peace, and the effect of generosity will be quietness and security forever.” Isaiah 32:17


Storyteller and humorist Donald Davis' lawn sign in Jonesborough, TN.
Storyteller and humorist Donald Davis’ lawn sign in Jonesborough, TN. Photographed at The National Storytelling Festival, October 2016.



“They Don’t Care” – Terry Madonna, Pollster

For his followers Donald J. Trump is “a sharp stick in the eye” of the political establishment according to Franklin and Marshall Professor Terry Madonna, who has been studying political attitudes for more than two decades. When asked why mounting evidence of the GOP candidate’s mendacity doesn’t repel his followers, Madonna said, “They don’t care.”

It seems that all else about Trump is irrelevant to his followers because he is seen as the only candidate who is not part of a system that they quite literally hate, and want to destroy.  This burn-the-f**ker-down mentality is refractory to reason, facts, and all forms of persuasion. It’s anti-intellectual and fired by a seething rage at both blue and red establishment politics.

Recently historian Ken Burns broke with his long established practice of political neutrality to speak about the threat this represents to the American political system.

The ever perceptive Gary Trudeau expanded on one of Burn’s metaphors:

(Click to view web page)
(Click to view web page)

The Doonsbury strip likens the folly of electing DJT to the presidency to having DJT pilot a jet with no training or experience. It’s funny in a macabre way, but really folks can we let this happen?

What can we do if they just don’t care about the facts?

There is another dimension to this, it the disaffection of the rest of the voters with Hillary Clinton as the only viable alternative.  Whether or not you feel that it is justified, it is real. The consequence is apathy on the part of many who would otherwise rally to be sure DJT is not elected. Political professionals know that candidates must generate enthusiasm to motivate voters to get out and vote. So the fact that voters don’t like HRC works for DJT and he is exploiting and amplifying it.

The very most persuasive force in politics is personal relationships.  Our most cherished attitudes and beliefs derive largely form what we perceive to be congruent with our friendships.  Friends do, in fact, discuss politics and religion over dinner.  What you can do, if you want to influence the election is take a personal stand against what you see happening.

As for myself, I write posts like this one. I will also be writing my “Christmas Letter” in October this year, and it will express my deep concern for what I see as a threat to my children and grandchildren … what Ken Burns so passionately decried.


Gun Sense

Gun Violence to Gun Sense*

*”Gun Sense” (instead of “gun safety” or “gun control”) is a term used by Moms Demand Action
It seems to me that the problem of gun violence is really several different problems with guns as a common factor. Our thinking is easily muddied by the tragedy and intense media coverage of mass shootings. It’s useful to discuss five separate categories of gun deaths, each of which may have a distinct solution.

Annual US Gun Deaths

Evidently we are disproportionately fearful of personal violence. The statistics clearly show that “bad guys with guns” are a rarity. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Most homicides (80%) are committed by a person known to the victim—and half are romantically or socially involved. Holdups, home invasions, and mass murders are quite rare.

On any given day, absent a recent gun incident, only 2% of Americans would rank gun violence as the number one problem the nation faces. This constituent complacency is possibly the biggest barrier to legislation reducing gun violence. The gun industry get its way most of the time.

profit fearThe National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully established itself as a political third rail for any individual politician of whom they disapprove. Despite the fact that only 26% of NRA members are activists who want no government restrictions on guns, the NRA has formidable lobbying clout. It’s the money that flows to the NRA from the gun manufacturing industry that makes the organization influential. It’s gun profits more than pro-gun extremism or Second Amendment zeal that stiffens NRA resolve.


The various loopholes and gaps in our present gun control laws are deliberate, most of them fostered by the NRA and the gun lobby. Their strategy of obstruction is revealed by these tactics:

  • Encumber regulatory agencies by understaffing (defunding personnel) and imposing burdensome procedures and paperwork
  • Resist all regulatory legislation by threating political attack ads and making strategic campaign contributions
  •  Conceal the public health problem by suppressing government collection of gun violence statistics, create gag rules on medical professionals, and block transparency of data
  •  Litigate every new regulatory initiative
  • Shield gun makers from product liability suits with laws that convey tort immunity
  •  Promote broad-based gun ownership with fear-based, self-defense arguments
  •  Block accountability for transfer, lost or stolen guns by constraints on record keeping that make it tedious and time consuming, if not impossible, to trace a gun or audit a buyer’s eligibility
  •  Impede efforts to add dangerous people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database

It’s business as usual for the army of industry lobbyists who subvert democracy to advance special interests. The effect of these tactics is to allow guns and ammunition of all sorts to be bought and sold freely in public and private channels with little or no accountability for vetting the buyer.  Illegal “straw-man” purchases are common because it’s hard to actually prove such cases in court and the courts tend to treat them lightly.


The automobile may be a metaphor for how guns should be handled. Liability for what happens with a car rests with the owner who holds title. Owners are not only liable, they are also required by law to carry insurance. Automobiles must be registered annually. If gun owners were required to carry insurance and were liable for injuries caused by gun accidents, there would be a very powerful incentive to secure guns and ammunition.

Mandatory registration would make gun trafficking much more difficult – nobody knowingly buys and drives a stolen car – you must have a valid registration and title for a car. NRA gun zealots fear that such registration is the prelude to confiscation (it’s a tacit admission that gun ownership is not an immutable right). The 2008 Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could be reversed, restoring the notion that one’s right to gun ownership is linked to “a well-regulated Militia” as the opening phrase of the Second Amendment states.


Fix 1: Public Health

We need to learn as much about gun-related, public health issues as we can, share the knowledge, and then build practices and programs that will lead to solutions. Medical professionals should be encouraged, not be prevented from seeking information about gun access.

Public Health Summary

  • Fund CDC research on the health aspects of gun ownership
  • Openly publish the facts about gun injury
  • Make health care for depression and other mental illness easily accessible
  • Encourage medical professionals to make gun access part of the patient profile

Fix 2: Education

Gun PosterizedThe idea that one needs superior force to vanquish evil and resolve conflict is deeply ingrained in all of us. It’s the essence of popular adventure stories that our heroes prevail with “guns and guts.” Super heroes don’t lead “win – win” negotiations: they slug and blast their way to overpowering the bad guys.

But the Hollywood epic is not the real world. Far from it. Enlightened people back off, cool off, and work it out. Completely independent of the gun issue, our society needs to learn peaceful conflict resolution in family and school settings. Spouse abuse, battery, and simple assaults are far too common. Mature, sober adults don’t slug it out or shoot each other.


Videos like this paint a fantasy picture of how armed intervention saves the day.  In the real world, bad guys don’t faint conveniently.  The more probable scenario is the ex-boyfriend making an unwanted visit. He advances trying to sweet talk the woman out of the gun, or flies into a rage … a happy ending is not likely.

The most common homicide starts with a disagreement or an insult—then escalates. It happens in social situations among people who know each other. If one or more have guns, shots are fired. The police arrest everyone involved and leave it to the judge to sort out who did what to whom. (I’d bet that most self-defense gun owners have little awareness of those dynamics. Nor do they appreciate that brandishing a gun or firing shots will almost certainly get them arrested.)

Safe handling of guns requires knowledge, skill, and practice. Police and the military drill until the practices are instinctive, and then they periodically demonstrate their mastery of the skill sets. You can’t safely be a casual gun user. Buying a gun, firing it a few times, and then locking it up until you need it does not instill the calm and instincts necessary.

In your church and community life support “Love Thy Neighbor” by advocating peaceful conflict resolution, fact-based education about gun safety and lethal force, compulsory safety training for gun purchasers, and awareness that “guns and guts” is storybook stuff.

Education Summary

  • Promote compulsory gun safety training
  • Create public information campaigns about responsibility and consequences:
    o Gun owner’s liability (like auto owner accident liability)
    o Permissible use of lethal force (tragic mistakes happen under stress)
    o “Shots fired” usually means arrest and court appearances (cops let the court sort out the facts)
  • Teach peaceful conflict resolution in schools and families
  • Counter the Hollywood “guns and guts” hero fantasy

Fix 3: Accountability
Currently, Americans can easily purchase and keep their firearms legally and anonymously. More laws is not the solution. When all U.S. federal, state and local gun laws are tallied, they number more than 20,000. Yet one can buy a gun from a private seller and take it home without any paper trail or public record. With the exception of certain major cities, that’s legal. Federal gun control is at the point-of-purchase. Once you get it home, most states and municipalities have no restrictions on gun possession.

Accountability Summary

  • Prevent informal and unrecorded gun transfers (mandate licensed dealer oversight/documentation of transfers)
  • Require digital transfer records to facilitate tracing of guns used in crimes
  • Extend record retention period (currently background check compliance is not auditable after 3 days)
  • Expand background check data base—include those on terror watch list and no fly list (add appeals process)
  • Repeal immunity for manufacturers for after-sale liability
  • Create truth-in-advertising requirements (like FDA drug and cigarette health warnings)
  • Mandate minimum safety training and liability insurance for gun owners (like car insurance)
  • The seven fixes listed above can’t be done quickly or easily. There is controversial politics involved. It requires a persistent grassroots effort and includes getting corporate money out of politics.

Fix 4: Restrict Military-style, Rapid-fire Weapons

Despite the drama and media hype, mass shootings are not the priority in terms of number of deaths. If we accomplished the forgoing fixes for Public Health, Education, and firearms Accountability, the problems of preventing Mass Shootings would be much simpler.

Certain weapons are unusually dangerous in the hands of an agile shooter because they are designed to quickly maim or kill many people. The challenge is to draw a clear distinction between such weapons and others that look similar but do not have that capability.  With a high capacity magazine a semi automatic can fire 30 rounds in ten or fifteen seconds.

The law already recognizes limits on second amendment rights. For nearly a century the US has made it nearly impossible for a civilian to own a machine gun, weapons like the one in the video are not machine guns. Paired with high capacity magazines, the difference in firepower is trivial.

The Second Amendment likewise does not prohibit licensing of gun owners or registration of firearms. Those government actions are inhibited by political pressure from gun activists who fear government confiscation of firearms. In fact dedicated gun enthusiasts often obtain one or more classes of Federal Firearms Licenses (FFL) classified as dealer/collector licenses. These licenses impose responsibility for secure handling and accountability that keeps weapons of all kinds out of criminal hands. At the same time, they grant privileges such as possession of otherwise-prohibited, fully automatic guns and make it lawful to ship weapons, parts and supplies. The licensing process involves an interview as well as a more rigorous background check than the NICS check done by dealers. Presently the number of FFL “dealer” licenses exceeds the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. This may be a result of the lack of a ranked system of licensing for responsible citizens owning or possessing firearms.

Adding a ranked system of owner licenses would bring similar disciplines and practices to all gun owners. But fear of government overreach energizes the opposition to such common sense controls. Americans have no such fears about automobiles, so we have a system of driver testing, licensing, and vehicle registration with complete reciprocity among the states.

That doesn’t prevent auto sport enthusiasts from building or racing whatever vehicle they choose. For public safety governments do regulate public racing events, and prohibit racing on the highway. Why should gun ownership and use be different where public health and safety are involved?

Ranked licensing would reward the dedicated enthusiast or collector for rigorous safety practices and strict compliance with firearms regulation.    These carefully vetted and highly responsible private citizens would enjoy privileges, conveniences and benefits denied to the less accountable individual. Licensing would codify the responsibility that goes with the right to bear arms.

Restrict Military Weapons Summary

  • Basic firearms licensing categories
    o Target practice (limit up to 8 or 10 shots per reload, semi-automatic or revolver)
    o Hunting (as above, but as locally lawful for hunting)
    o Self-defense (handguns and long guns, up to 8 shots per reload)
  • Unusually dangerous gun license category (e.g., for collectors and museums)
    o Tactical (as above, but for larger magazines and rapid fire enhancements)
    o Military (fully automatic, unlimited clip/magazine enhancements)
    o Machine guns, disguised guns, other ultra-lethal gear


Gun violence is foremost a public health problem. When gun advocates say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” they are partly right.  Not all people can handle the responsibility for easy access to a tool that’s lethal and accident prone. Guns are very different than kitchen knives;  their lethal reach is instant, far more devastating, and extends hundreds or thousands of feet.

With at least 250 million guns in private hands, possibly 375 million, and with no central record of who has them, it is and will always be nearly impossible to absolutely control any class of firearm. But with strict gun laws and appropriate licensing, we can empower enforcement to distinguish between lawful transfers among law-abiding citizens and undesirable transfers to criminals and others who should not possess firearms.

Licensing and registration laws impose accountability by their nature. It’s worth noting that the expansion of concealed carry licensing has not been accompanied by a balooning of gun violence. Thus far the statistics support the gun enthusiasts claim that arming responsible people poses no increased public hazard.  Perhaps we can affirm the Second Amendment right to arms and simultaneously make it harder for fools and killers to get guns.

What can we do to replace “gun porn” and gun violence with gun sense? We can take action by addressing the Public Health issues, provide accurate and widespread Education, require sensible Accountability, and Restrict Access to military-type, rapid-fire weapons.

Make Our Democracy Work

We must support our elected representatives at all levels, especially federal, to make the necessary fixes. Send a letter or postcard to your Congressperson and Senators asking that they actively work to free the CDC from the constraints Congress has imposed. Remind them that our gun problem is primarily a public health problem. We need to let science study it. At the same time we need to full fund and empower the ATF to enforce existing law.

8/6/16 Corrected statistical typos. Less than (<) was reversed in first table, percentage of NRA members supporting background checks is 70 to 74% so only 26% support no government restrictions on gun purchase. NRA has done its own studies and claims a different result.
This essay is based on a multimedia presentation by Richmond Shreve 8/4/16, Pennswood Village. A bibliography of principal sources is posted separately.


Slight of Hand

It’s all about controlling the conversation. In high-pressure sales, and in intense face-to-face negotiation a deal maker wants to control and direct where the conversation goes.

T sketchTrump has the instinct and he’s honed it over years of business. His racist remarks about the judge hearing the Trump University case caused the media to turn away from the case itself, which points to Trump’s predatory lack of character and integrity, and possibly fraudulent actions. The headlines and sound bites focus on the inappropriateness of an off-cuff remark. Trump’s base likes that he is not politically correct. But they probably won’t like that he exploited people much like them. The diversion was damage control.

When Hillary Clinton attacked Trump in her recent foreign policy speech criticizing Trump’s public statements and concluding that Trump was not fit to be President, Trump did not respond to the substance; instead he dismissed it as “pathetic.”  When Elizabeth Warren took him to task he referred to her as “Pocahontas.” The media reverberated with the drama, again not engaging the substance of the criticism of Trump.

This weekend [June 12] the New York Times published a feature article detailing how Trump succeeded in making millions while his casino businesses were floundering. The eventual bankruptcies cost investors and creditors billions of dollars. One source estimates that Trump presided over the loss of $4.7 billion dollars of other people’s money. Somehow he was able to pay himself while shifting the risk and losses to others — a world class slight of hand.

Earlier in the week USA Today broke a story about hundreds of small businesses and employees of Trump enterprises that were not paid what they were owed. Trump has been involved in 3,500 litigations and often intimidates those who seek to collect what’s owed by alleging poor or late work. The little guy knows that the big guy can afford to have lawyers rag him around for years running up fees and so they settle. The Wall Street Journal termed this “hardball” business practices. The rest of us call it bullying and being a deadbeat. Trump boasts “I always win, that’s what I do.” It might be more correct to say that he makes losers of those who trust him.

All of these practices model different ways of gaming the system. It’s not creating honest and lasting value. And it’s certainly not about mutually beneficial business undertakings. It is all about using leverage and getting over on the other guy — a con game, the art of the grifter. Notions of stewardship and integrity are utterly absent. It’s the same sort of mentality that produced the 2008 economic collapse. And now we have a master practitioner who would be our President.

God save America.


The “Silent” Minority

Disaffected, Angry and Fearful

Since Donald J. Trump became a serious contender for the GOP nomination there have been many writers and a few academic studies that have sought to profile those who follow and support him.  We know a whole lot about what they don’t have in common: they aren’t all Republican, nor churched, nor old, nor male, nor poor. They are likely to be white or latino, working class, and socially conservative. They tend to be from authoritarian families. Their assessments are binary: winner/loser, truth/lie, good/bad, friend/foe.  (I’ve listed reference links for these demographics at the end of this essay.)

A viral email dating to 2012, right after President Obama was re-elected, contains angry sentiments that we’ve heard echoed by Trump and the people who support him. Various versions exist reflecting embellishments added as it was forwarded from person to person. Though it has been falsely attributed to a US Marine Corps Vet, or to Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, the actual source is unknown.

The American Dream Ended …  ( version)

“The American Dream ended last night in Ohio.

The second term of Barack Obama will be the final nail in the coffin for the legacy of the white Christian males who discovered, explored, pioneered, settled and developed the greatest Republic in the history of mankind.

A coalition of Blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays, government workers, union members, environmental extremists, the media, Hollywood, uninformed young people, the forever needy, the chronically unemployed, illegal aliens, and other fellow travelers has ended Norman Rockwell’s America.

The US Constitution has been replaced with Saul Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals’ and Chicago shyster David Axelrod, along with international socialist George Soros, will be pulling the strings on their black puppet to bring us into the New World Order.

The Republicans ran two candidates who couldn’t even win their own home states, while circus clown Chris Christie helped Obama over the top with a glowing ‘post-Sandy’ tribute that elevated the phony ‘Commander-in Chief’ to Mother Teresa status.

People like me are now completely politically irrelevant; I will never again comment on or concern myself with the aforementioned Republican coalition, which has surrendered our culture, our heritage and our traditions without a shot being fired.

You will never again outvote the people who gave Obama four more years. It will take individual acts of defiance and massive displays of civil disobedience to get back the rights we have allowed them to take away. It will take zealots, not moderates; zealots who will never ‘reach across the aisle’ to RINOs, to right this ship and restore our beloved Country to it’s former status.

Those who come after us will have to risk ‘their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor’ to bring back the Republic that this generation has timidly frittered away due to white guilt and political correctness.

My wife and I will now put our anti-ACLU Nativity Scene on display, and start wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas”. And enjoy the rest of our lives in our 50’s-throwback Village of (Redacted) Lakes, here in (Redacted) Harbor.

Atlas has Shrugged, and John Galt has left the building.”

Knowing that I collect and study them, a conservative friend receives many such viral messages and forwards the most provocative ones. In March of 2016, three-plus years after it was originally posted, it was still in circulation   In this instance my friend noted that it expressed the feelings of many people he knows.  The broad scope of the response to Trump suggests that he is right about that. Many of Trump’s applause lines evoke the emotions expressed in this piece.

Viral emails get forwarded exactly because they express a feeling that the sender likes and wants to share widely. Although the original writer remains anonymous, the forwarder is known to his correspondents. When this happens countless times over a several year period it demonstrates that lots of people endorsed the sentiments. It doesn’t seem to matter that the content isn’t logical, and doesn’t pass the sniff test for factual basis.

My knee-jerk reaction when I first read American Dream Ended was to characterize the writer as a defeated white supremacist bigot. It’s easy to make that casual assessment, but not likely to contribute anything to solving the social problem. Since beliefs are primarily influenced by social environment and not by facts, it’s foolish to ignore and marginalize those who hold what we deem to be such ignoble sentiments.

On reflection, I realize that I have friends who don’t speak of such feelings in polite company, but actually harbor them in secret and feel frustrated, angry and ashamed. It’s understandable that they might look back wistfully and see the less enlightened 50’s as a time when they could be themselves. As it is they must watch their words.

Trump’s public appearances attract like-minded people. Trump doesn’t shame them for politically incorrect sentiments or behavior, and in words and actions he evokes the emotions encourages followers to let loose. Polite society is shocked and scornful but Trumpists, having found their tribe, simply don’t care. Indeed, the more criticism Trump draws, the more loyal and fired-up they become.

Like The Rest of Us, Only More So?

To some degree most of us share deep dissatisfaction with the present political climate and the legislative stagnation and gridlock that seems to grow ever worse. Few of us have escaped the economic consequences of the 2007 Great Recession. Though we disagree on the causes and remedies, all of us recognize the social problems of poverty and diminishing economic mobility. Trumpists are much like the rest of us except that in venting the pent-up rage, they blame all the wrong people, and look for a ruthless strong leader to fix it, make it great again.

Norman Rockwell’s America, wasn’t as idyllic as some people remember it. With few exceptions his paintings remind us of what we aspire to, America at its best, not the unsentimental reality of the street.  Most of the “rights” Trumpists feel they have lost, weren’t ever rights, and Trump can’t deliver on his implied promise to Make America Great Again for his followers because that perfected America never existed – at least not for the 99 percent.

Anger at Being Left Out

It’s not patriotic or socially acceptable to be angry at America. Yet for many shirt-sleeve workers the American system hasn’t been working for a long time, and they have lived with smoldering rage they couldn’t express openly. Conservative writer David Brooks described them as: “ … a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.” And there’s another kind of alienation that’s more social in nature, the mainstream of society disrespects and shames them for their “ignorance.”

To muster our empathy, let’s imagine walking in their shoes. How frightening it must be to jobless with no prospects. How shameful it feels to fail in supporting your family even though you desperately want to work.  How humiliating to have no marketable skills. How depressing to have permanently lost your retirement nest-egg or your home in a market downturn that others have mostly recovered from.

If you’re self-employed, how frustrating to experience your independent small business burdened by fees and taxes when it’s hard to even meet payroll. How enraging to be fettered and delayed by unhurried civil servants secure in their recession-proof jobs.

Although the discontent has been rising for decades, established leadership is reactive rather than creative.  For the prosperous, the good life is secure and it’s instinctive to stifle change that could be disruptive.

The establishment is inherently risk-averse and defensive.  Neither posture supports visionary thinking. They fail to see the threats and opportunities coming until it is far too late to adapt. We see the pattern play out daily in the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. When you are happy with the way things are, it’s hard to embrace change or to recognize any need for it. Enter Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Case in Point: The GOP Establishment

The GOP successfully built their base from a coalition of evangelicals and several flavors of populists. But in most policy matters the establishment “business suits” were acting contrary to the interests of the “shirt-sleeves” that made up 70% of that base. Now, thanks to Trump, it’s coming unglued and the shirt-sleeve Republicans (and Democrats) are awakening to how the suits have been ignoring them. Bernie Sanders addresses the ignored needs, while Trump blatantly exploits the fears and emotions that the GOP panders to with more nuance.

One of the consistent failings of the GOP has been the failure to see big challenges coming. That is the essential nature of establishment conservatism. “Don’t fix what works,” might well be the slogan of the GOP establishment. GOP ideals (Free markets, small government, low taxes, deregulation, and a disbelief in central social planning) all come from the instinct that nobody is smart enough and pure enough of character to engineer a better future. Centrally controlled economies fail. There are no historical successes. Conservatives prefer to allow events to run their course unfettered except by the invisible hand of Darwinian efficiency. The industrious will prosper, the lazy and incompetent will suffer the deserved consequences, and society will be the stronger in the end. It’s a hands-off no safety net philosophy that is fiercely individualistic and reactive. Big forward-looking ideas, at least for organizing American society, are not sought or valued.

Laissez-faire economic philosophy looks impartial and reasonable for those whose fortunes have prospered – the top of the food chain. But unfortunately not everyone, and certainly not a solid majority of the people, feel that they have prospered economically or otherwise. Fearing the popular appeal of the big idea politics of the left the GOP has reacted by opportunistically crafting positions that attract groups of single-issue voters: evangelicals, gun enthusiasts, right-to-lifers, and militarists. This last includes people whose livelihoods depend on maintaining and equipping our large military. Loyalty to the GOP is rooted in an emotional appeal to an instinctive fear or personal belief. It’s reactive, not visionary.

This aggregation of individual issues is not a natural union of like minds it’s a circling of wagons for collective strength. The GOP establishment doesn’t have the votes to prevail on its own.  “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” seems to be the unifying glue.  For years the leaders piloted the GOP on a course that protected the interests of the fortunate and successful, shielding wealth. They used rigid party discipline and policy to uphold the collage of single interest postures that bound the other two-thirds of the base together.

To divert the attention of the base from their lack of participation in the growth of personal wealth, they systematically spread disinformation such as “trickle-down” supply side economics and the notion that lower taxes on the wealthy result in more jobs. Despite unprecedented reserves of cash in blue-chip industry, the consumer demand that actually drives commerce and jobs has been slow to recover.  Reduced taxes on the wealthy enacted during the Bush years failed to bring offsetting economic growth and while the rich got richer, the nation got deeper in debt.

Rana Foroohar writing for Time (4/4/16 issue) describes how little of that protected wealth actually is engaged in producing anything real:

“Experts including Adair Turner, the former
head of financial regulation in the UK, estimate
that only about 15% of all capital flows within
America’s financial system end up making their
way into the real economy. The rest of that money
just rotates around the high-finance microcosm,
enriching the 1% as they buy and sell existing assets
to one another, bidding up their value, while
failing to invest in research, products, jobs or innovation.
C-suite executives, likewise, contribute
to the sort of “quarterly capitalism” by seeking
out Ding Doodle—style deals rather than making
long-term investments. That has begun to worryy
even some of finance’s most accomplished players.
(Warren Buffett, Larry Fink and Jamie Dimon recently
met in secret to discuss how to fix corporate

Anti-democracy Tactics

The GOP also opportunistically gamed the system to acquire more power. The tactics include: gerrymandering of congressional districts to ensure election of GOP legislators; conservative stacking of the Federal and Supreme Court benches; killing public funding for National Public Radio; building the Fox News Propaganda machine; promotion of discriminatory voter ID laws; weakening the labor unions; and eviscerating campaign finance laws. The wealthiest GOP supporters created PACs and Super PACs to fund political advertising and elect GOP candidates. Though politically effective, these measures did nothing to help the plight of increasing numbers of less successful wage-earning individuals in their base.  They became Romney’s infamous 47%.

Until Trump rallied what I’m calling the silent minority, the GOP held them spellbound with bright shiny objects like flag-pin patriotism and propaganda that said big government was the problem. The GOP raised fearful specters like socialism, health care death panels, and they vastly over-hyped the threat of weapons of mass destruction and lately the menace of terrorism and of ISIS.

The political establishment of both parties largely ignored long-time and emerging issues that have seriously hurt the silent minority. Among these are the disruption of American manufacturing by international trade agreements, the insolvency of many pension programs, the short and long-term effects of the Great Recession on the middle class, wage stagnation for four decades at least, and the chronic neglect of US infrastructure.

Looming in the future as threats are: global climate change, global scarcity of essential resources like clean water, air, and even food, loss of unskilled work to robotics and automation, and conflict arising from religious extremism. To add insult to injury, Social Security and Medicare may be unsustainable if not reinvented. Bernie Sanders preaches a vision of a better deal, and Donald Trump plays to the fear and anger. The establishment didn’t see them coming.

“Us” versus “Them” Mentality

Many of those who write or read about Trumpists are looking for affirmation that they are somehow morally flawed and different than the rest of us. We want to believe that Trump followers are an anomaly – not regular people. Media reporters have jumped on photos of a campaign worker with tattoos allegedly identifying her as a white supremacist.  But the data does not support such broad stereotyping of Trumpists. There is vastly more to be learned by searching for our similarities.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OHM addressed this in one of his recent meditations:

“Our lack of human compassion is rather starkly revealed in most of the candidates we consider worthy of public office in the United States. I am not sure if this is as much a judgment on the politicians’ delusions as it is on the spiritual and human maturity of the American electorate itself. That so many who call themselves evangelical (“Gospel”) cannot see through this charade, has become an embarrassment for American Christianity. Many now see our cultural Christianity really has very little to do with Jesus. Any candidate is praised and deemed worthy of high office because we think, “He speaks his mind” (when it is actually our prejudices that he is speaking aloud). Two thousand years of Jesus’ teaching on compassion, love, forgiveness, and mercy (not to mention basic kindness and respect) are all but forgotten in a narcissistic rage. Western culture has become all about the self, and that is just way too small an agenda. The very self that Jesus said “must die” is now just about all that we think about!”

Our enemy is not “out there” somewhere, it is us. It is American Individualism run amok. We operate on the assumption that opportunity is so abundant that anyone anywhere in this country can make his or her way if they only try. When the facts contradict, we seek out or invent a distinction that defines “us” as different and better than “them.”

You can’t have a serious conversation about our times without hearing assessments like these.

A retired professional planner from Staten Island (direct quote):

RW: I’ve much to say re politics, but let’s leave it at this:  Cruz is more dangerous than Trump, who just wings it.  Republicans are no longer conservatives; they are right-wing reactionaries.  Real conservatives are respectable establishmentarians, wary of change unless tested and proved, respectful of precedent, hesitant to engage in foreign interventions, advocates of free enterprise, not monopolies and corporate welfare, and skeptical of government social engineering attempts. They are not interventionist, pro-Israel neo-cons, supply-side, trickle-down economists with no regard for consequences, nor advocates of government prohibitions on abortion or government restrictions on voting rights.  They are for individual rights, not against them.  Nor are they racists.  Todays Republicans are; they should not be called conservatives.  (And Democrats are wimps.)”

Truck driver retired from the USAF (paraphrase of a longer conversation):

MS: “I usually vote republican. At first I liked Trump, but lately with the stuff he’s been doing, not so much. I just don’t like Cruz and I don’t think he’d get much cooperation from congress. Hilary’s the best qualified, but I don’t trust her. And Bernie Sanders is a socialist.”  [MS says he doesn’t know who he’ll vote for.]

Jeff Sharlet writing in the New York Times Magazine (4/12/16)

After the Youngstown [Trump] rally, I drove to the only bar I could find still serving food and found myself sitting across from a group of three supporters. Mike was a union electrician, Shawn a dispatcher and Jackie a nurse. “Definitely a racist,” Shawn said of Trump. That did not appeal. But who would receive his vote? “Definitely Trump.” Mike was a probably; Jackie wouldn’t say, but she seemed to be sliding toward Trump. Only the bartender, Shane, was holding firm for the Democratic Party. He couldn’t believe his friends. “Trump’s not just a racist, he’s a [expletive] psychotic racist!”

“So are half the people who walk into this [expletive] bar!” Shawn shouted back. He did not want to be racist. He did not want Trump to be racist. What he wanted, he said, was a better job, the kind of job Youngstown used to be known for.

That was what Mike wanted too. We drank another round of fireballs. Mike’s probably-Trump began inching toward certainty. Another round. Then he suddenly roused himself, rising up from the bar. “I don’t care if you’re racist!” he shouted at a room by then nearly empty but for us. “If you’ll just bring back one [expletive] steel mill!”

Shawn nodded, seriously. We drank to the dream, the steel mill they knew was not coming. It felt good, at least, to believe.

Continue reading the main story

Interviews with Trump supporters reveal a common theme: they like Trump because he’s a brash outsider – and he’s really shaking up the insiders.

Lots of people cheer Trump exactly because he blurts out what’s on his mind, or seems to. He’s obviously not scripted and handled by a team of spin professionals.  He’s not part of the business-as-usual Washington establishment. He’s generated billions of dollars’ worth of earned [free] media by being unrestrained – not unlike the shock-jocks of radio. You could paper a wall with the magazine covers and political cartoons that feature him. He entertains and energizes followers by appealing to emotions instead of presenting rational ideas.

Trumps critics explain his appeal as a mainline zap to the “lizard brain” – that part of the brain that’s most primitive and wired for instinctive survival. It’s the domain of fear, hate and mob behavior. For people who feel anxious and threatened, irrational arguments, obviously unsupportable or untrue claims don’t matter. What does matter is the resonance with something instinctive deep and dark in the listener.  It’s a gut level thing – bold, assertive, impudent, aggressive, powerful and confident. “Make America Great Again” translates make me feel secure and good about myself again.

At this primitive level feelings reign; and facts, logic, and sensible thought fail. Condemn this as “ignorant” at your own peril, because we all, as humans, have areas where we function on emotion and ignore (or don’t seek) the facts. It is how we are wired. Much of becoming an adult is training ourselves to temper our lizard brain instincts.

By way of example, consider the enormous attention we focus on acts of terror. The rational mind knows that our individual personal odds of falling prey to a terror event are vastly lower than suffering a home or automobile accident. Yet as a nation we spend billions on anti-terror measures and still don’t feel entirely safe. We certainly don’t dread automobile travel, or the flu season that way. The most important personal life-choices we make (who we love, what we eat, what we do for fun) seldom involve much rational thought. We actually function on an emotional level most of the time – all of us. We regard those who appear to be entirely rational as cold and alien, like Spock of Star Trek.  Donald Trump knows this. But does Hillary?


Compassion not Confrontation

Most of the press and the GOP establishment wrings their hands over how to stop Trump, as if he alone and personally were the problem. In my view he’s just the latest opportunist exploiting the emotions of those we now term Trumpists. His “leadership” is more a cult of personality than a political movement. I call his followers the silent minority because they feel alienated, disrespected and repressed in a society that shames people like them. If you accept that “they” are like us only more so, then confronting them as outsiders can’t work – it only alienates them further and fuels their anger.

George Lakey, a Quaker activist, teacher, and writer asserts that practicing compassion and nonviolence is the only strategy that stands any chance of success.  In his March 18, 2016 Essay How Empathy, Not Protest, can Defeat Trump and Right-wing Extremism he says,

“Donald Trump’s March 13 rally in Boca Raton, Florida, was revealing. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank left the press corps and inserted himself into the core of the giant crowd. In that rally protesters had been screened out. Trump brought forth his usual inflammatory rhetoric, saying he might pay the legal fees of someone who sucker-punched a protester. Milbank reports, however, that the rally remained fairly tame. When Trump eventually asked, “Do we have a protester anywhere?” no one responded. Where was the drama? Milbank noted, “Trump and his advisers seem to delight in the confrontations, which fuel the crowd’s energy.

Lakey goes on to demonstrate that angry confrontation won’t be effective. Trump crowds feed off the energy of conflict. Lakey’s low-drama strategy is not intuitive but it makes great practical sense. I recommend visiting the website, reading the essay, and also reading the reader comments and Lakey’s very illuminating responses. For real-world tactics, Lakey suggests a Swarthmore source that documents 198 nonviolent actions and reports on their use and historical effectiveness. He promises to write more in future posts and suggest a strategy.

They Aren’t Going Away

The members of the Trumpist Silent Minority live among us and they aren’t really that different from us. Actually my late father harbored some of those bigoted sentiments while being outwardly politically correct. I recognize them in his stories about war experiences, and his patronizing attitude toward certain minorities, and his simplistic framing of complex social issues. Some of my fellow firefighters were like the writer of that viral American Dream email. They may be closet bigots, but they are also men who are bold and selfless when faced with danger.  In other words the anxieties and feelings that draw a person to the Trump personality are not as aberrant or weird as some media would suggest.

We are all part of the American whole, and America is part of the community of humanity. We can’t build walls or hoard resources to defend ourselves from the social problems of sharing this little planet. Like it or not, we are all in it together for the duration.


Media Opinion and Analysis Considered for this Essay:

Donald Trump, American Preacher – Building a congregation for his prosperity

Who are these idiot Donald Trump supporters?

Measuring Trump Supporters for Intolerance

Not Even My Wife Knows …” Secret Trump Supporters

We Asked 8 Trump Supporters Why …

The Befuddling Connection between Trump and His Supporters

Some of My Best Friends are Trump Supporters

The Myth of the Trump Democrat

What do Trump Supporters Think About Climate Change?

Why Economic Anxiety is Driving Working Class Voters to “Trumpism”

Don’t Be Fooled – … ‘silent majority’ doesn’t exist.

The Republican Crackup

A Strange but Accurate Predictor of Whether Someone Supports Donald Trump – WaPo

Who are These Idiot Donald Trump Supporters?

The Huge Cultural Shift That’s Helping Trump Win Evangelicals

What Republicans did 15 years ago to help create Donald Trump today

Who are Donald Trump’s Supporters?

Who Supports Donald Trump?

No, Not Trump, Not Ever – The New York Times

How Trump Happened

The Trump-Berlusconi Syndrome

Why Trump? « George Lakoff

Chris Hedges: The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism

The Elements of Trumpism

Why They Voted for Trump




$500,000,000 per victim?

We can expect a lot of people to be more hawkish in the wake of terror attacks, most of them old men who never wore the uniform. I thought you’d enjoy this item:

“The US spends more than $500 million per victim on anti-terrorism efforts. However, cancer research spending is only $10,000 per victim. Evolutionary psychology may offer an explanation for this irrational threat amplification.”

The whole article can be found here:

Terrorism is a reality of life in a radicalized world. Even if we completely locked down society it can’t be prevented. Consider the French resistance in Nazi occupied France. With informers everywhere, a massive troop presence, and a disarmed populace, small resistance groups continued to function.

ISIS does not restrict itself to military targets and easily finds soft targets to exploit. When we respond with actions that expend large sums, commit our military, and suspend our own freedoms we accomplish more for the enemy than they could ever hope for by his own relatively weak powers.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I still like my decade old idea of pay-as-you-go combat financed by a surcharge percentage added on everybody’s taxes, with mandatory national service for all citizens. It would make hawks weigh the costs politically and economically.

Suck it up, America. Accept that we live in a world of dangerous ideologies both abroad and here at home. And war is not the answer. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan should have been learning opportunities. Combat is expensive and doesn’t have much favorable impact on extremist ideas.


Great op-ed in the Washington Post (click)