If the Wind Will Not Serve, Take to the Oars

Reposted from http://www.notesfromberingia.com/if-the-wind-will-not-serve-take-to-the-oars/ as the server keeps going down due to traffic. So here’s a backup.

Destitutus ventis, remos adhibe (Latin proverb)

As a nation, we are embarking on—to put it mildly—an unfortunate political experiment. Through the electoral college, and against the popular vote, we have elected a president who is probably the least qualified ever to hold that office. And if that is not enough, the people with whom he surrounds himself are also questionably tethered to the realities of the world the rest of us live in. Some people are saying that the inmates are in charge of the asylum. The problem is that the majority of the rest of us, who clearly did not want to see Trump as president, are locked in here with them. Right now, the most important question to me is how badly will he and his cronies damage our country? And, next in importance, how much will we let them?

I respect the office, but I have zero respect for the person who is next to hold it. That respect has to be earned, and he’s begun in a hole so deep I don’t think he can climb out. I won’t waste time monitoring that progress. I am usually an optimist and look for the silver lining (lemonade and all that), but there are notably few here. Term limits would be nice to see, but I’m not holding my breath that Congress will pass anything there. Short-term market boosts from promises to cut taxes and revoke Dodd-Frank will appear. (Shouldn’t we be decreasing the likelihood of another global meltdown from the financial industry? And another round of tax cuts for the wealthy, another experiment with the utterly failed concept of trickle-down economics?) What suckers so many voters have been. I just wish that the forthcoming buyers’ remorse could be restricted to Trump’s supporters.

But I am not here to wag my finger at the voters who brought this about. We have bigger problems now. About 60.35 million voted for Trump; ~60.98 million voted for Clinton. 46.9% of registered voters did not vote, and the U.S. has a population of 324.97 million. Yes, ~18.6% of the U.S. population, less than one in five, has set us on this course. There are several big problems right there. But we’re here, and we all need to work our way through it. I’d like to say work our way forward, but that will be true only in a time sense; we are going to go backwards in many other respects. I am a man of no party, but I find myself strongly against one now, at least at the national level.

We will begin this experiment from a negative start, in several ways. First, consider the negativity against so many people and against government itself. There is a lot of good in both, but much of that will get squashed in an orgy of righteousness. Then there are the negatives inherent in the incoming administration with respect to reality. Many of the promises made and desires expressed are blatantly against the Constitution. If pursued, these will likely initiate constitutional crises, as explained here and here.

Also, I am a scientist, and I look at an incoming president who has stated that climate change is a hoax and a vice president who doesn’t believe in evolution. Those positions defy reality and are scientifically indefensible. Let’s hope we can find some common ground to build on. Otherwise we’ll waste a lot of time squabbling fruitlessly and more people will eventually learn that you can’t deny realities like climate change and evolution without real life-and-death consequences. In some distant future we can have more power over these phenomena, but right now we have to work on mitigating the negative effects of both.

With Trump’s character being so outlandishly poor in so many respects, attacks on that character (ad hominem attacks) will be dismissed by his supporters along with the more important issues we carry along behind them. So we have to bypass that path, however tempting, and focus on the issues themselves. There are a number of things looming on the horizon that were not there before.

Here are some of the big issues that come to my mind as things we need to watch.
(And by “watch” I mean pay close attention and fight like hell for what is right.)


• This incoming administration plays so fast and loose with reality, truth, and social mores that we’re likely to see ethical and legal transgressions on an unprecedented scale. Holding everyone accountable to the rule of law will be critical. And, yes, I hear some of you thinking the “Lock her up!” chant. We all need to recognize false equivalencies for what they are. They got us into trouble and shouldn’t—we can measure this stuff. For example, people call out Trump for being a liar; others respond well, Clinton lies too. Yep. Unfortunately, it’s a human trait—we all do. But the scale is important, and Trump is far and away in the lead. This is going to be an ongoing problem for the rest of us.

• Womens’ rights, the rights of minorities, and the rights of people who are different (e.g., handicapped, LGBT) will suffer. I also worry about social standards and the normalization of behaviors that erode civility and tolerance. I am strongly opposed to seeing this erosion. We need to uphold our values and live them. I am not suggesting we need thought police. Think whatever you want. But those who are purposefully hurtful to other people need to be called on it and ostracized or jailed, as appropriate. We have these things called the Declaration of Independence (e.g., “all men are created equal,” etc.) and the Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” etc.). In addition, we have over two centuries of subsequent progress on how we should treat each other.

• Further U.S. progress on mitigating the effects of climate change are on hold, exacerbating the toll.

• We’re already revisiting the re-implementation of torture.

• In ordinary times, a partisan FBI and Russian hacking would dominate the news and the to-do list of government. Oh, the good old days.

• We could be in another hot war, probably with Iran, in the next few years. It would be highly beneficial to large numbers of lives if our disagreements could continue to be settled through diplomacy. The likelihood of nuclear weapons being used just went up.

• We’re not getting most of those jobs back from China; the ones we can are already coming. And Mexico’s share of illegal immigration has been declining for years. Historically, these were important issues. Increasing the time and money focused on them now is probably wasted.

Natural gas killed coal. Technology has depressed manufacturing and other jobs. Trade can too, even while overall being a win-win for trading partners. Let’s do cost-benefit analyses, sure, but let’s focus on solutions, not try to wind the clock back. Markets and economies change. Let’s be proactive and train workers for the 21st century economy.


• American health care will get worse, not better. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an imperfect attempt to curb the outrageous costs of the U.S. health care system. While it has slowed the growth rate of cost increases, we still pay more and get less bang-for-buck than any developed country. (In fact, we grossly outspend other developed countries and have lower life expectancy to boot!) Under the Trump administration we’re likely to remove the band aid and re-open the wound so more health-care dollars hemorrhage into the pockets of big corporations rather than make Americans healthier. So many other countries have demonstrated that this can be done with far greater efficiency than we do it; we’re almost certainly going to go backwards here. And among the first signs that buyers’ remorse is just around the corner is Paul Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare. Talk about skewering your loyal voters straight in the heart. Get used to it.

• Re-investing in our national infrastructure is much needed (but would have finally happened under either administration). Privatizing transportation infrastructure like highways and bridges is not a good answer, because we wind up paying more for it.

• We were not given a choice about having a look at Trump’s taxes. But we do know that his conflicts of interest in his businesses with foreign powers are huge, and those have to be dealt with because they can be effectively used by foreign powers to influence our government. Similarly, he and his family have major conflicts of interest in leading government and running their businesses simultaneously. Ideally, they would put their businesses into a blind trust while they governed, and at least that seems to be being discussed.


We don’t need to increase our military budget. We should be looking for ways to decrease it. “The United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined.

• The vaunted Republican goal of lowering the deficit, conveniently abandoned during the last Republican administration, by the way, is much less likely to be achieved under Trump’s economic plan. Increasing economic disparities among Americans is not the way to square this issue, although these will be among the first solutions proposed.

• Mollycoddling of dictators.

• Further decline in sensible restrictions on gun ownership.

That’s a long list of big issues—serious headwinds. More than I think we would have had if the election had gone the other way. Despondency is not the answer for those who opposed this campaign. Nor is jubilation if your side won; it is unlikely you will get what you hoped for. And nor is sitting on the sidelines or not being informed or not voting. The answer is to fight every single day for what is right, legally and morally. Just because we’re headed into a dry spell of leadership in those areas doesn’t change who we are as individuals and as a people. Nor should we acquiesce to the Republican party’s platform, many planks of which are extreme and do not reflect the opinions of the majority of Americans. Reinstate Glass-Steagall? Absolutely. Overturn the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage? Push for Bible study in public schools? No. Nobody’s religious views should be foisted off on the rest of the country, especially through government. Nor should we accept policies that increase income disparities in the country, one of the fundamental reasons people are so unhappy with the status quo (though things were finally improving).

I am not nearly as pessimistic as Andrew Sullivan. There’s a lot of drama out there (though to be fair, he is a member of a persecuted group). My feeling is that in a local respect our personal, tiny pocket of the universe here in Fairbanks, Alaska is not going to be hugely affected by this pending federal administration. Part of that is white privilege, and part is that our state economy is so terrible right now that we have much bigger problems at hand. But as engaged citizens of the country and the world, Rose and I cringe at the pending damage to our country and its institutions that we’re pretty confident this incoming administration will cause. Our resilience will be tested, as will yours.

So take to the oars. And remember that they can be used in many ways.


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