September 6, 2016

We’re Back! OMG What A Time To Have Been Away

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWhen we announced last year that we were going on sabbatical while co-editor Hal Gershowitz finished his historical novel, “The Eden Legacy,” we had no idea that a stranger-than-fiction drama was about to unfold within the American body politic. Our two major political parties each got the presidential opponent they could have only prayed providence would provide. Hillary, of course, was a forgone conclusion. It was her turn (again), and the most powerful political machine since the Society of St. Tammany was poised to deliver the White House. The only problem was (and is) that few voters (figuratively speaking) were very enthused about her candidacy. Her favorability ratings were hellishly low and her perceived untrustworthiness was (and remains) embarrassingly high. It was the GOP’S to lose. The Republicans, it seemed, would have to come up with an uncompromisingly  poor candidate to lose this one. And so they did.

So disgusted is the electorate with what its ruling class has wrought that the lowest coins in the favorability bank have become the golden calves of the day. That a senescent socialist curmudgeon like Bernie Sanders could have given Hillary Clinton the run for the money that he did, speaks volumes about her pre-Trump electability.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen at the national level in American politics. He was, during the primaries, absolutely gaff proof. Gaffs didn’t matter because so many primary voters were chaffing at the bit to stick in the eye what Donald Trump calls the rigged political system. Trump has become the Jesse Ventura of national politics; except there’s a difference –Jesse Ventura had some electoral experience (Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota), and he volunteered for military service as a navy seal during the Viet Nam War.

So, barring a surprise surge about the size of the Milky Way by Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, America is about to elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President of the United States of America and Commander-in- Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known. According to the most recent polls, it seems a majority of American voters will be casting ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. We are at a bad place.

We will not, in this essay, dwell on the complaints and criticisms that have been, and will be, leveled at these two candidates. You have, no doubt, heard them all and have determined (1) that you don’t believe they are substantive, or (2) you don’t care, or (3) you believe he or she will still be good for the country or (4) you will vote for the one you dislike the least. Fair enough.

So, as we wrote above, we believe that the country is in a bad place. Hillary Clinton was a hard-working, competent Senator, and acquitted herself well in the legislative branch of our government. The same cannot be said of her tenure in the executive branch as Secretary of State. There have really been few, if any, foreign affairs accomplishments to commend her to the presidency of the United States. Our foreign affairs are a shambles, and her administrative competence and, frankly, her judgment appears to be woefully lacking as evidenced by the disastrous management of State Department email traffic to and from her ever-growing and ever disappearing inventory of Iphones, iPads and Blackberrys.  Nonetheless, either Hillary Clinton’s vision for America or Donald Trump’s vision for America will, presumably, set our course for the foreseeable future. We can, and should, assume that to secure Bernie Sanders endorsement and Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement, Hillary is now pretty much committed to the Sanders-Warren side of the far left. And she has told us so. As she assured the reluctant Sanders supporters after she clinched the nomination, “Your agenda is my agenda.” At a minimum that agenda includes free college and a type of Medicare for all.

Denmark seems to be the model over which the far left swoons. Bernie extolled the Denmark model for America, and Hillary’s policy statements (which are quite detailed) mirror the Sanders embrace of Denmark, even if she likes to say, “We’re not Denmark, we’re the United States of America.” So let’s pause to think about whether a society roughly built on the Danish model is what we want to emulate. We won’t dwell on the reality that recent elections in Denmark show an ascendant movement away from Danish liberalism. Let’s just look at what an American economy and social order reconstituted on a Danish model would look like, given that increasing taxes on the very wealthy won’t begin to pay for what Hillary (and Bernie) have promised.

First, the government’s “take” (spending it controls) as a percent of our total economy would double from the current 25% to about 50% as is the case in Denmark. Danes also pay a top tax rate of 60% and that top rate begins at a much lower income level than in the United States. Here’s how it’s done in Denmark. The top tax rate applies to all income earned in Denmark over 1.2 times the country’s average income. Well, in America average income is about $50,000 a year, which would mean that everyone earning $60,000 (1.2 times $50,000) or more, would be taxed 60%, and that would be in addition to a 25% sales taxes as is imposed in Denmark. The Danish system would hit the American middle class very hard.

As innovation and technology increases in any society the premium paid for higher skilled workers also increases, while the wages paid to less skilled or marginally skilled workers stagnate or diminish. While so-called corporate greed is the popular focus of income-inequality scolds, the reality is that societies with the greatest portion of highly skilled labor and the greatest number of talented innovators and, therefore, fewer poorly or marginally skilled workers by comparison will have the least income inequality.

We can’t continue to graduate a high percentage of high school students who are ill equipped to do well in college or in the work place without inculcating greater income inequality. Nor can we continue to graduate college students who spend four to six years enhancing their knowledge without enhancing their ability to contribute to their own economic growth or that of the country. Income inequality is largely a curse we are inflicting on ourselves.

Denmark hasn’t escaped the problem of income inequality either. Denmark, along with Iceland, saw the largest increase in inequality in Europe — rising 12% in each country between 2008 and 2012, according to Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union.

Hillary seems, in many respects, to embody the morality of the ethical egoist. That is, one for whom moral decisions (like truth telling) are dictated by what is in the individual’s own self-interest. We recognize that, to varying degrees, this is probably true of many, if not most, politicians. But Hillary’s long track record of explaining away endless foibles with breathtaking explanations is, well, breathtaking. Whether it was Hillary telling us (with a straight face) that she learned how to turn $1,000 into $100,000 trading commodities by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, or landing in Croatia while dodging gun fire, or using a single communications device for convenience while really using 13 of them, or turning over all of her work-related emails to the State Department, she constantly gives credence to what one-time Clinton supporter David Geffen famously said — “everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) to it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

Most of the people we talk to who are Trump supporters seem to be supporting The Donald because he isn’t Hillary. When pressed, they tell us, well, he’ll make good deals, or, he tells it like it is (which it generally isn’t), or, simply, that he’s a businessman. Donald Trump is a hit- and-miss businessman. Sometimes his ventures are successful and sometimes they have failed. Sometimes his self-vaunted deal making prowess has been impressive, and sometimes apparently less so. On balance, he has made a lot of money. That alone neither qualifies him nor disqualifies him from roosting in the oval office.

His temperament is another story. It hints at how he thinks and how he views those with whom he interacts. He seems to think that “being” presidential is just an act — something he’ll do when the script calls for it. He doesn’t seem to realize that the being in being presidential” is first and foremost, actually who one really is. As Merriham Webster explains one’s being, “it is the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.” One has little confidence that his positions are the result of reflection or introspection, but rather simply what his instincts or polls or sycophants tell him will play well at any given time.

He has chosen demagoguery as the cornerstone of his campaign. Whatever people fear, real or imagined, he will vanquish for them. No one who has criticized him has escaped his fury. He calls it counter punching. Whether his snidery is directed at a war hero, or a physically disabled reporter, or the parent of a fallen soldier, or a political opponent; it seems more to us like gutter fighting.

His campaign has been built on the emptiest of promises. He will replace Obamacare with…something terrific. He will replace bad deals with…the best deals in history. He will improve employment in America by being…the best job creator God ever created.

Perhaps Trump is a deep thinker and a wise man, but he has gone the extra mile, time and time again, since declaring his candidacy to demonstrate otherwise. He blames the country’s chronic balance of payments problems on stupid trade negotiators making the worst trade deals in history. Well, we don’t think that’s quite true, and he knows it.  There are many factors that make the US dollar strong and therefore less competitive when we’re trying to export to other countries. He chalks it all up to currency manipulation by some of our trading partners. That’s just disingenuous. The United States is, and has been for quite awhile, the world’s safest harbor (to use a metaphor). Investors the world over, both private and sovereign, prefer to invest in American business and ventures because they believe that over time it will be a more reliable and productive deployment of capital than investing elsewhere. Anyone, private or sovereign, needs US dollars to invest in our economy. That’s primarily why the demand for US dollars is strong relative to other currencies. If people are going to hold currency as an investment, most people will choose to hold US dollars. That’s because US dollars are considered safer than most other currencies. It also means we as a nation are less competitive traders when we’re selling goods and services abroad because prospective foreign buyers of our goods and services have to use more of their currency to buy US dollar denominated goods and services. Chalking up our trade difficulties to inept negotiators is, well, rather inept.

Trump supports believe other world leaders will respect him. We doubt it. We think they would consider him the occasional oddity in American politics that he is. The world has seen demagogues and bullies bluster their way into power before. It has seldom ended well.

Frankly we hope Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the libertarians, make it to the debates. Not because we endorse them for President and Vice President, but rather because their inclusion seems to hold out the only hope for rational debate rather than what we fear will be the saddest spectacle in the history of Presidential election campaigns.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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18 responses to “We’re Back! OMG What A Time To Have Been Away”

  1. Mark says:

    Glad you’re back. I missed your commentaries.

  2. ben donenberg says:

    Welcome back. The discourse is appreciated.

  3. Paul Lubar says:

    So glad to have your dispassionate objective perspective available again.
    Anxious to read the follow on Eden novel.

  4. Carlyn Stonehill says:

    So thankful to have your rationality in the forefront again!

  5. Larry says:

    Relived you’re back. It often seems we the electorate are worse than our leaders on our refusal to educate ourselves sufficiently to discuss issues on merit.

    We retreat to comfortable thought silos and satisfy our biases through ad hominem self-congratulatory non-discourse.

    We need you!

    Oh!, and Eden was a real page turner.

  6. susan duman says:

    The most articulate and, in depth, description of our current NO WIN choice at the ballot box.
    Strangely, I console myself with the fact that if we survived Richard Nixon, once again, we will survive.

  7. Dave Hanna says:

    As Susan hints, history shows we can and have as a nation survived some very bad Presidents. Unfortunately this also shows we have collectively on more than one occasion made a very poor choice in who we put in the Oval office.
    If you have spent any time in Washington D.C. lobbying and seeing the sausage of our governing system being made, you would know Mr. Trump will be no more successful than any other elected official who goes to the Capitol to change it in one fell swoop. That position is not a reason to elect him, although there may be others. I too, hope to see Misters Johnson and Weld in the debates.
    Change is possible, but it will only come with unity and a willingness to compromise, something all but invisible in American politics right now.

  8. irving becker says:

    I have been waiting patiently all summer and finally this morning eureka! You will again be filling a black hole of chaos and crisis with rational thought and observation. Irv Becker

  9. Steve Prover says:

    Welcome back, Hal… and Steve….
    What an outstanding piece! I tend to see Hilary in a kinder light but you assessment of both candidates is extraordinarily erudite.
    Your writing is masterful

  10. Irwin Yablans says:

    30 years of Rush Limbaugh, ,extreme and seditious talk radio anchored by the modern version of “Der Sturmer..,Fox News, “created the tea party which inevitably gave birth to the frankenstein standard bearer Donald Trump. The disintegration of the Republican party was inevitable given the above.
    Your “reasonable comparison” of the two candidates is…. well,..unreasonable..Whatever Clinton’s faults with her perceived lack of credibility and e mail blunders ,they pale when measured against Trumps ignorance,arrogance and bellicosity.Your column puts both candidates at the same level of incompetence and that is disingenuous. One is a seasoned experienced educated woman ..Respected by world leaders who probably, at the very least will be the careful custodian of our nation. .The other candidate is a buffoon, a caricature reviled by practically every world leader that could very easily put America in mortal danger.
    As I read your column I gather that you will sit on the sidelines and that is sad…Trump must not be president of the United states.

    P.S. It’s great to have you back just in time for the election
    Keeps us on our toes.

    Mr. Yablans, we will not be sitting on the sidelines. Hal Gershowitz

  11. Aviva says:

    This is the best summary of the political dilemma we are faced with that I have read yet! Thanks for expressing it so succinctly!

  12. Monroe E. Haas says:

    Thanks for your clear and I believe honest evaluation of the choice before us in November. Your clarity has been missed. Glad we have the opportunity of receiving your feelings.

    Monroe

  13. Irwin yablans says:

    Mr Gershowitz, declaring both candidates unworthy would seem to me ,not making a choice Are the authors undecided ?

    STAYED TUNED, MR. YABLANS.

  14. Irwin Yablans says:

    I’m all ears

  15. Irwin Yablans says:

    If you want to see a frightening preview of how a “President Trump” might behave,take a look at Matt later interviewing Him on Foreign policy…
    I challenge any intelligent honest american to justify that incoherent ignorant rant,,,
    All the intellectual discourse posited in this weeks column won’t change the fact that an aboriginal idiot may become the leader of the free world..
    I weep for America

  16. Irwin Yablans says:

    Well we got our first glimpse of” rational thought” from Gary Johnson last night…”What’s Aleppo”?……Huh.

  17. Chuck Anderson says:

    Hal,
    welcome back!! I lean toward Mr. Yablans regarding the comparison of Mrs. Clinton & Mr. Trump.
    While not thrilled with Hillary I believe she is vastly preferable to Mr. Trump. to cast the two as equally flawed is a gross error and one uncharacteristic of this blog (maybe due to rust):)
    I think most of the country is centrist and that Mrs. Clinton if elected will tack toward the center because of that reality despite pre-election ‘promises’.
    I think our foreign policy has been sadly reactive rather than proactive mostly as a result of the tragic circumstances created by ‘W’ & his cadre of incompetent neocons. The consequences & costs of their shortsighted policies will take years to ‘fix’ it even possible to do so.
    Welcome back and we look forward to future opinions.

    But we never cast Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump as equally flawed. Just seriously flawed. Referencing their flaws in the same essay is to Mr. Yablans and Dr. Anderson, apparently, beyond the pale. We disagree, but welcome their comments.

  18. Nancy Anderson says:

    Your essay is the truth of our situation as we prepare to go to the polls. The process of running for president today has made it almost impossible for anyone worthy to try. But that’s another essay. Perhaps we as a people need to be better to deserve better. Glad you’re back gentlemen.

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