Fear is our worst enemy.

In a country where we read and hear about so much public polarization, it is time to remember that there are two things that people from all parts of the political spectrum have in common:  we want what is best for our country, and most of our political behavior is motivated by fear. The more we remember this and use it to drive our behavior, the more rapidly we will return to the civil society that most of us treasure.

A little background: I am not a straight-ticket voter, 5 of my top 8 political heroes are GOP, the men responsible for my involvement in politics were both GOP, and 3 of the last 4 campaigns I worked on were for GOP candidates.
The group first motivated by fear was that consisting of people who identify themselves as conservative, Republican, “on the right”, or some combination of the above. According to one of my favorite authors, Alvin Toffler, this group was hit by, “too much change in too short a period of time.” While I would imagine that those who self-identify as liberal, Democrat, and “on the left” look at the increases in civil rights and environmental protection as wonderful, they often forget that so much change in such a short period of time is very unsettling. The change is unsettling even for its advocates, but much more so for its opponents. Toffler argues that the first reaction to overly-rapid change is fear. No one should be surprised that Trump was much more competitive than predicted, up to and including winning the election; from a conservative’s perspective, if you see that your car is skidding on the road, your reaction is to correct that skid as fast as possible; conservatives saw that our country was skidding off the road.

It is easy to understand why people would vote for Trump. The country was skidding off the road; to continue the metaphor, though, quickly correcting a skid is horrible if it puts you into the path of an oncoming truck. I know that you who are GOP-leaning are outraged at the insults hurled your way since the election of Donald Trump. Those insults are illogical (fallacy of composition) and inexcusable; they need to be dealt with.

The point, though, is that Donald Trump is NOT a friend of the GOP or the USA. I realize that, among my friends, you voted for him because you didn’t want to see Clinton in the White House, not because of the invective hurled at you. But Trump has shown, even in a few days, that he’s antagonistic to the Constitution and to a huge list of genuine Republicans.
Please do everything in your power to block him. Ideally, Mike Pence would become POTUS. The best metaphor I can offer is that he is like a neighbor who finds out that a neighborhood house was burglarized, so he now shoots anyone on sight who he doesn’t recognize as legitimate. It solves the burglary problem, but goes against everything that we Americans stand for.
PLEASE contact your GOP senators and representatives. Our own congressman has already gone on record with his fears of what Trump is doing. It will mean more coming from you than from left-leaners, who are dismissed as being sore losers.

Now, for those who identify with the other side. The fact that Trump has acted so rapidly to reverse what you perceived as progress has caused its own kind of future shock. Just as many conservatives have acted thoughtfully in reacting to current events, many on the left have as well. Lawsuits, petitions, and demonstrations are part of our American fabric that we recognize as being legitimate means of persuasion (even if, to be honest, we tend to be more supportive of those whose views we support!)

But the left has to bear some responsibility. Publishing things such as “Bannon is a Nazi” or “Trump is a fascist” will not win people to your cause. Those are ad hominem attacks and, if I had voted for Trump, my response would be to dig in my heels even more, because these attacks make people feel that you are personally attacking their intelligence and their world views. What was the last time that you changed someone’s mind by using personal insults. (Even worse are those who tar the entire GOP or its voters with the same brush. When I read something like, “all Republicans are (fill in the blank with the insult of your choice),” I feel personally attacked.

Above, I wrote that Republicans need to approach their elected representatives, but that doesn’t let Democrats or other left-leaners off the hook. You still have to carry a lot of the load. Keep contacting all of your representatives, Democrats  and Republicans. Stick to the issues and avoid name-calling. Finally, remember that most of what impacts us in our daily lives, including government involvement, is local. My Republican best friends are all people who care about their communities and work hard to improve them. If you don’t do the same thing, it undermines your credibility when you complain about the world.

To repeat, we all have much in common, especially fear and love of our country. Please remember that, even if you disagree with someone, that person has the same ultimate goal as you; the key is to find a mutually-acceptable solution and to realize that none of us are going to get 100% of what we want. More important, though, is to remember that we are all fearful in some way. Don’t make someone with whom you disagree feel more fearful, or you will be steering your vehicle into the oncoming truck’s path.


Why the arts and humanities need MORE promotion, not less.

Cutting the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities is aiming at low-hanging fruit. I know that a lot of people don’t appreciate what these groups do, and that a lot of Americans find that the grants they award support causes and projects with which they disagree. But, here is a brief list of why I take issue with this thinking:
1. Take a look at the budgets for these programs. Cutting them doesn’t come close to solving deficits. This is especially true when public schools aim their first cuts at these same areas at the local level. Yes, I am a teacher, but I have always taught in private schools that are unaffected by public budget cuts. I don’t want to see a two-tiered society in which young people have to attend schools like mine just to get a fully-rounded education.
2. The United States already ranks at the very bottom when it comes to per capita spending on arts and humanities among industrial nations, and the gap between the US and the second-lowest country is greater than that between the #2 country and the #40 country*. Is this really the sort of American Exceptionalism” that we want to be known for?
3. Promoting the arts and humanities advances our culture and, by supporting ideas that contradict the status quo, make us all aware that there are other possibilities in our thinking. If we are presented with only one line of thinking, how do we develop strategies to change? Given the shift in attitudes that mad the election of Donald Trump possible, I would think that these are areas that he should want to protect.
4. I know that there are a lot of people who complain that PBS is some sort of left-wing conspiracy designed to undermine the majority will of the people, and that these same people would lump in the NEH and the NEA. How many of these people have taken the time to watch the programs that are broadcast, especially the news? Do they conclude that PBS is biased simply because it doesn’t push their point of view on its viewers? I find PBS to be national treasure, in part, because its news shows present information that is ignored or covered up by both the left- and the right-wing media, and they do so with respect for all of the opinions that are raised.
Let us not forget that a major step towards either left-wing or right wing totalitarianism is to silence voices of dissent. In a world in which the oversimplified data we find on social media have become the norm, and are used by all sides to further political agendas, the NEA, NEH, and PBS are more important than ever.
*UPDATE: According to the Arts Council of England, Policy Research

and Planning Department, Research Report, the gap between the U.S. and that of the #2 country (Ireland) is no longer greater than the gap between Ireland and Germany (#40).
 Nevertheless, even with the economic crises in Ireland, far more severe than we have faced in the United States, Ireland still outspends the U.S. by over 250%. In my humble opinion, we should also keep in mind that support for the arts and humanities is considered a patriotic duty in the Republic of Ireland (the only country to feature a musical instrument on its coins) so the demand for taxpayer support is less pressing.

Some random brain droppings…

1 The topic for our Philosophy Club meeting this Friday is, “To what extent should the personal character of a person determine his or her fitness to be President of the United States?”

Now, a lot of people would react by thinking that this is a direct shot being taken at our current president-elect. Perhaps, but the topic itself is much older than that. In fact, I used it first when teaching AP Government in the 1990’s, and the target then was Bill Clinton.

Our awareness of personal character in a president has grown significantly with each passing year. Had we known about the sexual behavior and the friends of Warren Harding, would he ever have been elected, much less retained? Over the years, the vast majority of my students hold that Jimmy Carter was the finest human being to hold the top executive office; he is rarely regarded as a successful president.

The final question is this: if you believe, even before he has taken office, that president-elect Trump should not be our president, based on what you know about his moral character, did you apply the same standard to President Carter. Is it a fair comparison?

2. A few posts ago, I posed the dilemma of why a college game that seemingly should have attracted a large audience instead had only 60% of the viewership of a less-significant professional game. Since then, someone has offered another hypothesis that may have future ramifications.

The hypothesis that, regardless of how anyone felt about relative strengths and weaknesses of the professional teams. They got where they are strictly on the basis of their W-L records. On the other hand, the competitors of college’s national championship were picked by a committee. The Daily Onion parodied this when it declared that Alabama was the National Champion, because the committee decided that it had a superior group of players to Clemson!

This year, the best example happened in deciding which Big Ten team should go to the Final Four (by the way, for those of you who have forgotten, the Big Ten is that league with 14 teams in it.) Ohio State was the team selected, despite the fact that Penn State had won the conference championship. This is not to single out Ohio State for scorn (goodness knows that I have many more personal connections to Ohio State than to Penn State), but it does show what every culture I know of feels: a team earns its way to its awards based on how it plays, period. It is very likely that there is a growing sense of cynicism in the U.S. and it has trickled down to the football audience. Sports journalists love it, because it gives them a built-in lead story to write about in the part of December during which there are fewer items to attract attention. Should the desires of the media outweigh the nearly-20 million viewer gap between the interest in college and professional football?

3. Computers keep becoming more and more sophisticated motivated, in theory, by the desire to make workers more productive. That is a good goal.

Frankly, though, I think most of us would like to see more creative energy devoted to ensuring that the computers we have work. A few years ago, there was a hysterically funny satire that compared our expectations for automobiles to those we have for computers. The conclusion, of course, was that consumers would never tolerate what they have to go through with computers and their peripherals if the same failure rates applied to their cars.

I work in a place in which our IT department is unexcelled. The men who work in it pull off one miracle after another to keep our faculty and staff productive. But why should these geniuses have to visit my room just because (on average) every other week, I cannot log in or I cannot get my projector to display the images on my computer? How would you feel if, every other week, your mechanic had to visit your house to start your car?

Black, blue…ALL lives matter.

I’m getting old enough that there are fewer and fewer things that truly infuriate me. One of them, though, is the argument that supporting Black Lives Matter means that a person is anti-police, or that supporting Blue Lives Matter means that a person is racist.

This thinking is the classic example of the false dilemma fallacy. It is presenting two choices and arguing that they are the only two choices. For instance: “Either you think that Elvis Presley is the greatest musician in history or you are an idiot.” I would hope that Elvis fans know how stupid this would be to argue.

We have heard about tragedies involving the shootings or beatings of African-Americans that were umprovoked. We have also heard about tragedies of police officers being ambushed. There are both horrible. Anyone who believes that supporting one group makes a person an enemy of the other group is a fool, and anyone who suggests that there is a comparative value that makes one tragedy worse than the other is also a fool.

Shifts in American Football

Last night, ESPN radio broadcast a statistic that stunned its reporter. In comparing viewership of Monday’s National Collegiate Championship Game with that for the Wild Card playoff game between Green Bay and the New York Giants, he found that 25 million people watched the national championship game while nearly 40 million watched the NFL Wild Card game. He granted that, yes, New York is the country’s largest media market, but the Sunday game was not especially close or well-played, while the Monday game saw all of the networks showing reruns and other programming, since they suspected that most viewers would be glued to the most important college game of the year and one that turned out to be extraordinarily exciting. His question, then, was what happened?

It is a good question and one that I can’t pretend to know how to answer, but it points to a number of issues, some of them non-football related, that may be possibilities.

The College Championship game featured Alabama and Clemson. With no disrespect intended toward either university, we have to wonder whether Alabama’s sheer dominance in recent years has turned off potential viewers. We also have to wonder if, by having two schools from the same geographic area, viewers from other parts of the country simply decided they didn’t care much who won the game.

Perhaps…but the NFL had its largest market share during the years in which the Dallas Cowboys were dominant, and similar market share distributions have been the norm in other sports. Sociologists have hypothesized that having a “dynasty” team increased viewership because the public decides either to love or hate the team that wins all the time. Under that theory, viewership for Alabama versus Clemson should have reached an all-time high.

As for geographical bias, while it may be a more likely explanation, it still seems to fall short. It is difficult to determine with any certainty whether geography influences college sports viewership because the NCAA constantly changes its parameters for championship participation in its big-money sports on a regular basis. The best comparisons I can find have been when two teams from the same conference competed for the national championship in men’s basketball. In each case, there was no appreciable rise or decline in comparing those games to their counterparts in the years before and after.

One final hypothesis I have heard is that the United States has turned away from football, in general, because of drug allegations, other criminal accusations and, most critically, concerns about post-concussion syndrome. All of these issues appear in headlines far more often than in the past.

However, an examination of sports pages over the past three months shows that concerns over these issues, concerns that one might expect to drive away viewers, are  perceived as a much greater problem for professional football than for college football. If this hypothesis were true, we would expect that the college game would outdraw the NFL game by 60%, not the other way around.

So what is it? Less time to generate enthusiasm for a college team whose star players will likely leave after only three years? Too much attention paid to college coaches? I simply don’t know.