What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Non-final decisions. Should I ever find myself deified and empowered to pass judgement from high atop Olympus, the cardinal sin that would earn my condemnation would be indecisiveness. If you’ve got the charter to lead, then by God, lead. Make a decision. Do something. Or just keep deferring any kind of actual decision until the diminishing number of hours available in which to act precludes all but one possible course of action.

2. Partisan politics. When Party A goes to the wall screaming about what Party B is doing, I mostly tune it out. I know my mind and no amount of rending of Congressional garments for the cameras will change that. When Party A spends the day screaming about something that Party B is doing and it’s exactly the kind of procedural jackassery Party A did when they were in the majority, well lord, I don’t know why anyone would ever think we could have a functioning legislative branch. I’m sick to death of politicians and people in general who only find something objectionable when it’s done by someone else, but perfectly fine when they do it.

3. Lack of marketable skills. My particular skill set is pretty closely tailored to work on the inside. There just is’t a lot of call for someone who can slam together a 150 slide powerpoint briefing, plan a party for 55 of your closest friends without breaking federal law, or estimate how much ice or water you might need after a hurricane (and know how to order and ship it). I’ve been on the inside so long now I wouldn’t even know how to apply for a gig outside. Of course there’s too much now tied up in retirement and benefits to really consider a wholesale change – especially when the jobs that sound even remotely interesting would lead directly from professional bliss to personal bankruptcy. I’m feeling just a little bit trapped and that makes me fantastically edgy.

The hundred days…

Dear America,

Donald Trump has been president now for (almost) 100 days. Civilization has not collapsed. We’ve not all been forced to start speaking Russian. There are still 50 states. And as far as I can tell, not one left-leaning celebrity has actually carried through with their promise to leave the country.

From my vantage point, the country isn’t all that much different than it was at 11:59AM on January 20th. The Democrats in Congress are fighting a long war of attrition hoping to gain ground during the mid-terms. The Republicans in Congress are at war with themselves. No major legislation has been passed and we’re racing towards another impending government shutdown at the end of the month. Abortion is still legal. Everyone can still get married. And states still don’t have to recognize the 2nd Amendment.

The 25% of the population who think’s President Trump can do no wrong are the same 25% of the population who thought President Obama could do no right. The 25% of Americans who think President Trump can do no right are the same ones who though President Obama could do no wrong. The 50% of us in the middle are still utterly perplexed by the extremists on both flanks.

Our politics is brutal and ugly, but the market keeps ticking along flirting with Dow 21,000. Home sales are brisk. Unemployment continues to trend down through the statistical area known as “full employment.”

FDR, with the help of a willing Congress, set a ridiculous standard for the first hundred days of a new presidency. In contrast, Lincoln saw seven states leave the Union before he was even sworn in to start a hundred day countdown. All I’m saying is that the first 2400 hours of an administration may not be the single best tool by which we measure where we are and how it’s going.

My suspicion is there have been far better and far worse times to be both alive and American simultaneously… but that it’s neither as bad nor as good as some of us think it is in the moment.

Best regards,

Jeff

Argument nullification…

Although I’ve been disengaged from most of the week’s news and social media content, I haven’t been able to completely avoid the plethora of posts that insist “you can’t be a Christian if you do or believe ‘X'”. I also observe that this kind of comment is posted often by people who decry the influence of religion in government.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this. Arguing that elected leaders should “act like Christians” and in the next breath insist that religion has no role in government tends to nullify at least one if not both of your positions. If you’re going to criticize intellectual inconsistency from a place of intellectual inconsistency I’m going to struggle with your argument. But maybe that’s just me.

Spectacle…

While the airwaves are filled with commentators, opinion makers, protestors, and politicians both for and against, the one certainty is that in just about 87 hours President-Elect Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United
States. Baring something unprecedented and Inauguration 2005.jpgunforeseen, he will be president, notwithstanding the calls of “not my president,” “not your president,” whatever. He’s going to be sworn and take office. Whether you voted for him or not, whether you find him appealing or appalling, whether you march in protest or toast the victory, this inauguration will roll forward with every bit of pomp and ceremony officialdom of the United States can muster.

Despite my grave disquiet at being out among large groups of people, I’ve attended two inaugurations. The first, in 2001 was the last staged in the era before “big terror” was an issue. The crowds came and went and security was the occasional glimpse of a rooftop sniper or mounted police officer working through the throng. The second, four years later was the first inauguration of metal detectors, fenced pens, and bomb sniffing dogs. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark.

I can’t imagine a circumstance where I’ll ever attend another inauguration in person. I’ve not got enough patience now for the crowds or the five hundred yard wait to process through security. Sill, though, it’s one of those uniquely American experience I’m glad I’ve had. Standing on The Mall, half frozen, the 21-gun salute booming in your chest, the simple and utterly remarkable act of a peaceful transfer of power, and the sense that what you’ve just been a small part of is something historic is a moment that sticks with you.

We here in this happy land may have thrown off the cloak of monarchy in our long ago fit of revolutionary anger. The inauguration of our president, though, is one of those rare moments in the life of the republic when we give ourselves over fully to the purely ceremonial; when we celebrate the office if not the man. It’s really something to see and an American experience worth having, regardless of party affiliation.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You’re a racist. Can someone explain to me, perhaps using small and easy to understand words, why I’m a racist because I believe it’s a responsibility of the federal government to have functioning boarders for my country. My travels have carried me to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico and I entered those countries using their established processes and in accordance with their laws. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect the same of people who want to come to the United States.

2. Oh my God the traffic! In the absence of anything even remotely newsworthy to cover, news outlets across America have spent a fair amount of time over the last 36 hours commenting on the high volume of Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the roads. The fact that large numbers of Americans take to the roads as part of their holiday tradition probably hasn’t been news since sometime immediately after World War II. Hyping it as “the worst traffic we’ve seen since… last Thanksgiving,” is just lame and not worth the time it took to script the story. Maybe we could use the free air time and column inches to report on something going on somewhere else in the world. I mean you do know that other places aren’t stuffing their faces with turkey and pie today, right?

3. Selective memory. My liberal friends are howling because of the conservatives President-elect Trump is appointing to fill his Cabinet and White House staff positions. In a grand fit of selective memory, they seem to have forgotten the howl that went up when President Obama selected his cabinet and counselors and surrounded himself with leading lights from the left. Sorry folks, that’s what happens when the party running the Executive Branch changes. It means the heroes of the opposition party have to go away for at least four years. Expecting a liberal president to appoint a deep bench of conservative advisors is stupid… and so is expecting a conservative president to surround himself with liberal lions.

Election Eve in America, or I’ll never see the day…

Well, it’s once again election eve in America. The importance of election day as a single day of civic duty has been mitigated somewhat by new laws that allow early voting. In many places, the election has been on us for weeks now already. I’ve voted absentee from time to time, but whenever it has been in any way feasible, I make an effort to vote on the day itself. It’s just one of those quirky ways that the traditionalist in me makes itself known, I suppose.

I overhead someone today commenting that they were glad that it was about to be over. “Not even close,” I thought to myself. Even if there aren’t month long recounts, challenges in the courts, and general electoral dysfunction, we’re simply setting stage for four years of of political infighting as vicious as any we’ve seen in living memory. The extreme left won’t be happy until we’ve dug ourselves into a Socialist Worker’s Paradise. The extreme right, in the same vein, hasn’t shown any indication of giving up the fight to reset our clocks to 1856. There are a litany of means and methods determined minority on either side can forestall any movement within the creaking machinery of government. Now if that determined minority exists on both flanks, well, the stage is set for things to get awfully interesting… or awfully frustrating depending on how objective you’re willing to be as an outside observer.

Throw away the polls. Ignore the prognosticators. The only thing that anyone knows for sure is that when the last of tomorrow’s presidential votes is tabulated the party that’s left on the outside looking in while resist mightily at every step. That’s the nature of the beast we’ve created – and as long as we as an electorate steadfastly refuse to accept any more than two major political parties it’s the beast we’re stuck with.

The good news is that there aren’t likely to be tanks in the streets tomorrow night. Cities probably aren’t going to burn. The bad news is that we’re going to finish the night even more divided than ever. The pol who figures out a way to crack the code on that is going to roll into office with a mandate like no other… but I’m not holding my breath on seeing that day.

Just an idealist…

The push is on by all the parties to get out the vote. In the swing states it’s wall too wall advertising, phone calls, and door knocking. It’s one of the very few moments when living in a deeply blue state is a blessing. My vote for president may be worthless, but at least I’m not being bludgeoned by adds like the poor bastards in Ohio or Pennsylvania.

Getting out the vote is a fine thing in theory. or it is until I remember that the people these efforts are designed to bring to the polls aren’t the ones who have spent months studying the candidates and issues. The last minute crush is designed to bring on the ones who haven’t made a lick of effort to education themselves. In all likelihood they’re the ones who stand in front of the menu board at your local fast food shop and look completely perplexed by their options. They’re the ones who get distracted by their radio and drive on the interstate exit ramp. If they’re not making up their minds until 36 hours before the polls open, they’re likely not the kind of informed electorate we want to believe we have here in our American republic.

In the last couple of decades we’ve made massive efforts to chase something close to universal voter registration. It’s probably a fine idea in concept. We’ve made such an effort to register everyone who can vote that we’ve never paused to consider if we should really want them to. It won’t make me the most popular kid in class to say so, but I’d rather see us spend some time making sure those eligible to vote have a little education first, maybe a few critical thinking skills, and then send them off to the voting booth. Personally, I’d be curious to see what kind of results we’d have if the electorate was educated, had a vested interests in ensuring the government was effective and efficient, and didn’t have a large percentage of participants whose only expectation was getting more free stuff while other people pay the bills. I’m just an idealist like that.