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March 23, 2017

The Ship of State Hanging by a Thread

We Gotta Talk to Each Other.

Wednesday I blogged The Ship of State is Taking on Water. This morning vtdigger.org was kind enough to run the post. The mainly civil thread of comments it attracted makes me very hopeful that we can steady the ship by talking to rather than past or at each other. Here's the best example:

commenter robby porter wrote:

Yeah, the rocking boat is a nice metaphor, and the story well told, but to imply that Trump's lunatic administration is just the other side of Obama, who ran a scandal-free, competent administration for eight years--eight years of slow but steady growth, declining crime, gradual disentanglement from the wars--is so ridiculous that it pretty much discredits the rest of the essay. Worse, it makes a false comparison between Obama's rational policies which you don't like, and Trump's irrational behavior.

And I replied:

robby,

I'm glad you liked the metaphor. It does imply that each rock is worse than the last roll. So the next lurch (presumably to the left) scares me even more than our present unbalance.

Although, as far as I know, no Obama officials were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, there was plenty to react to in his (very rational) administration including:

redlines set and ignored. the world a more dangerous place than it was eight years ago.
entering into significant international agreements without Senate approval (makes them nonbinding which isn't good either)
abuse of executive authority (doesn't matter whether it was in a good cause. precedent now very dangerous)
much more significant hunting down of press leak than his predecessors of either party did
vilifying police while ignoring the terrible violence they are coping with (yes, there are bad cops). BTW, crime now growing again altho I certainly don't blame Obama for the opioid crisis
a health care act whose funding mechanism seemed to have been designed to fail (perhaps to force single-payer)
continued wealth protection, especially for bankers
abuse of the IRS to harass conservative organizations.

This is not to defend the irrational twitter blasts or unforced errors of the Trump administration. It is a partial catalog of what sane but alarmed people reacted to, not just in the election of Trump but in the election of Republicans at the state and congressional level.

My hope is that we can work on the very real problems our state and country have with civility instead of ad hominem attacks (yes, I know who is the ad hominem attacker in chief), without panic, and certainly without dictatorship of the left or right.

To which robby replied:

Thanks for replying, Tom. Look, rational people can disagree about rational choices, but Obama is mostly in the past, so we should let that go. I agree with your sense that the country is lurching and the boat was a good image and I liked the story.

Solutions, as we both know, are much harder than criticism.

It seems to me that the core problem, is that things are getting worse for a majority of people in this country. I think worse is defined by material well-being, not in the narrow sense of a computer that is twice as fast as last year's or a $500 phone in everyone's hand, but in the sense of material and financial security-- whether someone feels that their job is secure, fears that an unexpected illness might bankrupt them, suspects, with statistical justification, that their children's lives will be less secure than their own, and so on.

America, the American Dream, and, frankly, capitalism, is predicated on things gradually improving. Capitalism needs growth, money lent at a rate needs a return, otherwise the system doesn't work. Over the past thirty or so years, most of the value of economic growth in this country has gone, increasingly, to a minority of the people. Naturally the majority, rightly or worngly, feels as though they don't have much to lose, nor do they have much reason to believe in the traditional values of the country, honesty, hard work, democracy, capitalism, and all the rest.

So yes, maybe the next lurch will be hard to the left. I remember a college professor telling us that, in the height of the Great Depression, communism was considered, by many people, be a reasonale alternative to capitalism which didn't seem to be working very well. Personally I consider that an unrealistic and discredited system, but I don't think you can be surprised that people are upset with the status quo.

This increasingly uneven division of the economic pie seems, to me, to be the core problem. You're a smart guy and a guy who has done well in this system, do you agree? If not, what do you think is the core problem? And at any rate, whatever you see as the problem, what do you think is the best way to solve it? That's an essay I'd love to read.

And I had the last word (so far): 

I absolutely agree with you. wish I wrote what you wrote.

my parents were communists during the depression (and their youth). Capitalism - and democracy itself - must deliver at least a chance of improvement - just as you say. If the perception is that the system is rigged, the system will fail.

The "system" is never completely fair, of course; but today it is too close to rigged. I think that is much of the source of anger.

The bipartisan bank-bailout called TARP was the eye-opener for me. It started in the Bush administration and got worse under Obama (as it might have under a Republican). Those who got the big bucks because they took risks got to keep the big bucks even when they failed. On a symbolic level the carried interest tax deduction for hedge fund managers has survived both Republican and Democratic administrations. Hedge fund managers are big campaign contributors.

I do think that repression by political correctness and identity politics with its set asides and quotas also lend to the perception of unfairness.

But it's easier to diagnose the problem than fix it. I do propose improvements from time-to-time. Today I'm encouraged by the tone of the comments on this piece. we can't fix anything if we can't talk to each other.

 

 

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