Monday, December 28, 2015

Can a Centrist Movement be Unified?

As the year winds down, 2015 seemed to be the Year of the Extreme, at least to me.  Extremist views seem to have become the norm, with inflammatory rhetoric and outright lies becoming not just accepted but embraced by candidates' supporters, and this is not just limited to GOP candidates.  Bernie and Hillary both have had their share of fact-checked statements discredited.

While I would love to see 2016 become the year that logic, reason, data, facts, and truth return to our political culture and dialogue, you and I know that possibility is slim, if existent at all.  Supporters for both Trump and Cruz -- they are the best examples -- take everything their candidates say as gospel truth, and criticize the critics who dare to question their candidates' statements.  It doesn't matter how outside the realm of probability that statement is, or how far removed from confirmation with actual data, if someone disagrees, its because they are a part of the "establishment."  (The rise of the low-information voter will be a subject of future writings.)

To me, we need a united movement of Centrists, but I honestly wonder if that is even possible, for the following reasons:

1. From my observations and own experience, Centrists tend to adopt their political opinions completely independently, and not because the same statement is repeated ad nauseum over various broadcast and cable media.

2.  People who don't feel the need to belong to any group will likely not need to join this one, either.  Being able to act and think independently takes a certain measure of self-worth and self-identification. This issue could be our Achilles' heel.

3.  The range of opinions within this broad circle will likely diverge much farther than anything either of the major parties will see.  This would cause the construction of any kind of a political platform to require significant discussion, lively debate, and in the end, compromise.  That, in turn, requires us to reveal if we can truly act according to our words.

4.  There are more Centrists emerging within the parties, and data shows this.  But, I believe, those voters would prefer to remain under that canopy, even if others are moving that canopy further in a particular direction.  Maybe they don't see a need for a middle canopy, or they just aren't ready yet to step out into the bright sun of a million ideas to help construct something new in the Center.

5.  Lastly, I believe this effort requires some kind of a unifying voice, theme, or charismatic representative, willing to be hit with all the verbal punches that would ensue.  Ted Cruz, for example, calls us the "mushy middle," although he may have been referring to Donald Trump's beltline, or his own.  There will certainly be far worse insults hurled at us should these efforts appear on the national media radar.

While I initially saw some light at the end of the tunnel with better-known efforts such as "No Labels" and the Bipartisan Policy Center, upon further review, I'm less enthusiastic.  These organizations actually have funding and have been able to draw some notable former legislators to their non-partisan events, but it seems disingenuous since, while in office, these legislators were as partisan as anyone else.  Having since retired, or been beaten, they suddenly believe in crossing the aisle to shake hands?  I doubt it.  I'm fine seeing someone like Jon Huntsman participate, but people like Trent Lott and Eric Cantor cause these efforts to lose credibility, in my view.

This needs to be a grassroots effort, an a-c-t-u-a-l grassroots effort, not just one called that by well-funded organizations.  I know you're out there, I see you on Twitter every day.  We're like the many cars jammed on a freeway, all heading in the same general direction.  It would be so much faster if we all just got on a train together or rented a few buses, and we would get where we want so much faster. But we like having our own car, where we can pick the music, and can choose on our own if we want to change lanes or stop and get some coffee.

I once had a journalism professor in college state very clearly to never use the words, "the time has come for..." in any kind of editorial piece, because, one could easily argue, the time has come for just about anything.  And up until now, I have adhered to that instruction.  However...

The time has come for us to come together and get in this fight.  We need to raise awareness and let people know that we are here; that we don't like what the parties are offering; that we believe inflammatory rhetoric and demagoguery are not constructive towards creating sound policy that benefits all Americans; that sound policy only results from research, data, and a thorough sifting of facts from lies.

I consider it a fight, one that will be ugly.  You have encountered some of the internet trolls already, who are incapable of having a rational discussion on issues, but are well-armed with ridiculous words like "libtard."  And heaven help anyone who becomes a target on cable news or AM radio.

But if we don't engage collectively, then are we just confirming what the critics say?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I just have to get this off my chest.  Trump is a narcissist.  The most sociopathic narcissist I have ever been made aware of.. and I know some real a-holes.  He desperately craves attention and validation, and when criticized throws it back with insults and degradation.  I'm actually entertained with he calls someone a "no-class dummy."  Is it really classy to call anyone that?

The Twitter-verse has already and exhaustively completed the diagnosis of Trump Narcissist Personality Disorder, so don't need to do into detail here.  But do any of his followers not want details when if comes to policy?  It apparently is enough for him to say things like, "the Blacks like me."  "The Jews like me."  "The evangelicals like me."

... or to say "ban all Muslims."  Or "shut down the internet."  Really?

I'm not ever sure he really believes any of the things he's advocated for during this campaign.  I wonder if his NPD simply makes him say these things that resonate so deeply with his audience.

The real concern for me about the Trump movement is the following that has developed around him.  Demographic analysis shows that the bulk of those followers -- I call them "followers," not voters -- are low-income, less-educated, white males, the same group, other that whites over 50, that rallies after Fox News and listen to their AM radio propagandists.  Reports indicate shouts of "white power" at Trump rallies.  That should explain it all.

I've never quite understood why low-income whites were always such a vehement, vocal faction of the Republican Party.  It's painfully obvious the GOP cares nothing about the situation of the blue-collar class, regardless of race.  But this group has unfortunately fallen for the underlying themes of GOP messages, the "if you aren't with us, you must not really love America," trope.

Numerous articles in the left-center web media discuss how the GOP has created this Frankenstein themselves, and this is just chickens coming home to roost.  I tend to agree, but am still puzzled as to what this Trump following really believes will make 'Mair'cuh great again.

My hasty, somewhat bigoted conclusion is that this group of white males, who didn't necessarily finish, much less start, college, see non-whites as a threat.  They view their economic situation as a direct impact of "those people" coming here to take their jobs.

My response to that viewpoint would be to explain that as the economy has grown and evolved over the last 30 years, education and vocational training has gained in importance, and there are still many good-paying jobs available for those who have training and education.  This, of course, could be backed up with data.

I tend to think simpler people seek a simpler explanation of the world, which Trump easily delivers.  So the next time he calls anyone a "no-class dummy," accuracy would dictate he target his own audience.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Biblical Bases for Political Viewpoints... and My Own.

While most of my views and posts focus more on economic issues, I couldn't help but chime in on the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.  In order to offer a basis, perhaps it may help to elaborate on some of my religious views, as it seems the basis for the opposition to the issue is based on religious grounds.

I am an agnostic... an inquisitive, deistic agnostic.  That is to say, I don't know if the God depicted in the Holy Bible is real, or if the Bible itself is "true."  I seriously doubt it is.  I believe the Bible was manufactured from a wide variety of documents, letters, and written narratives that were cherry-picked by the Council of Nicea.  I believe the Church that emerged after the death of Jesus quickly morphed into an organization more concerned with maintaining, and gaining, power and wealth from its followers than the sanctification of followers' souls.

Since college I have read a great amount of history of the ancient worlds, including the Stone-Bronze-Iron Ages, Greece, Rome, the Dark Ages, etc.  This study has come partially under the light of answering questions about the Bible, the same questions my numerous Sunday School teachers couldn't answer.  But it also came as a result of general curiosity.  I've always wondered what happened and who lived before us.  But I've also dabbled in other social sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, as well as a little into the physical and life sciences.

As a result, I've discovered that science makes much more sense as to the various religions do.  I have, in truth, my own theory on the origin of religion in human history, though I'm sure I'm not the first to have conceived it.  It is this: humans have always been an inquisitive species, and we have always wondered where we came from, how we got here, and why we're here.  So it seems natural and rational to perceive early religions being created to begin answering those questions.  One need only recall their own childhood, or being a parent to a young child, and asking the many questions inquisitive young children ask.

After reading Hitchens' "God is Not Great." I learned its an idea well-developed.  Hitchens takes the point further; since we created religion to explain the world to us before science, now that we have science to explain the world, we don't need religion anymore.  And I tend to agree.

I imagine it starting like this: a small tribe of early humans are sitting around a campfire one starry night.  A child asks what those tiny lights are in the sky.  No parent, especially a father, wants to look stupid or ignorant to their child, so a parent, most likely the father, was willing to make up something.  If the parent was clever, they would create a fable that would entice the child to behave and obey.  "Those lights are the spirits of all the people who lived before us... including my parents, their parents, and their parents' parents.  And they are all looking down upon me and you.  So you better always do as we say, but they are always watching y-o-u."

Not just a plausible theory, but in my view, an allegory of religion in general.  Because of what I've read from so many different subjects, I'm led to conclude the Bible is not a history book, not a logical explanation of the Universe, and barely a comprehensible morality document.

I do, however, believe the words of Jesus are a more consistent moral doctrine, and simpler to absorb and follow.  Sparing all the quotes and passages, I'll just summarize Jesus' teaching as: "Be good to each other."  Simple as that. Don't just be good to the people around you, or the ones you like more, but, as Jesus did, those most in need.  Help heal the sick.  Help feed the hungry.  Just "be good to each other."

Where my agnosticism crystallizes is in the question: Is/was there some kind of a Creator?  While I do not believe the God as depicted in the Bible is real, I do believe there are an infinite number of possibilities of some kind of a being that drives the Universe.  Maybe it's just energy, maybe there is some logic and order to this seemingly random space, or maybe there is not.  To me, to extrapolate that because the God of the Bible isn't real there is can be no higher power of any kind is a leap I'm not willing to take.  A sharper mind like Dawkins or Hitchens would be able to skewer this viewpoint, and one day I may work to develop the idea further, but for now I'm okay with that view as is.

All that said, I take issue with the people who say homosexuality, and hence gay marriage, is wrong because the Bible says so.  The Bible also says it is not only right to have slaves but its also okay to beat them when they get out of line.  The Bible describes the eating of pork as a sin as much as it refers to homosexuality, or other "immorality" as a sin.  The Bible also says divorce is akin to adultery.

Therefore, I will conclude that the people who truly believe homosexuality is a sin because the Bible says so, also own slaves, have never divorced, and especially never had sex before marriage, and never, ever eat pork.

There's a much greater discussion to be had another day on the impact of the Religious Right on contemporary American politics, but I promise you, we will have it soon.