OpEd Printed in the Capital 2/6/17
Much has been written recently that helps explain the Trump phenomenon. Four pieces have strongly influenced my current thinking about the future: "The Loudest Voice in the Room," by Gabriel Sherman, "Thank You for Being Late" by Thomas Friedman, a New York Times op-ed column by David Brooks and a Politico article by Francis Fukuyama.
First, Sherman helped me understand how one man could build a 24/7 propaganda machine that has divided a nation. This extremely effective machine is called Fox News. It has psychologically conditioned millions of citizens by a constant drumbeat for over 20 years.
Many of its dedicated acolytes have developed an instinctual reaction to code words such as "climate change," "Obamacare" and "The Wall." As if they were making a Pavlovian response, many intelligent citizens now turn off any rational, fact-based discussion of these important issues based on 140-character prompts. George Orwell would be impressed with the success of Roger Ailes.
Second, Friedman looks to a future where talent, education and hard work will be rewarded in an increasingly competitive international world of shrinking resources and changing climate. There has never been a time in human history in which our entire social and technical environment has changed so rapidly.
Those who get their understanding of these very complex issues by 140-character tweets will be uninformed and uneducated. The future will belong to those who can develop the critical thinking skills needed to deal with complexity and constant change. There is no option of going back to the "good old days" when America was supposedly "great."
Third, Brooks, a conservative writer for The New York Times, wrote about the women's march on Washington in protest of the Trump administration. He points out that the participants have good reasons to march, but that identity politics does not produce change. The energy of any movement needs organization and structure to turn emotion into political results.
The Republican Party, with the help of Fox News, embraced the tea party movement, and changed into the new Republican Party of Trump, winning many elections on a populist platform. The Democratic Party must learn how to attract the women and the energy of a millennial generation if it wants to succeed. This will require that party to also change.
Finally, the recent article by Fukuyama in Politico gives me hope. He points out that the Trump administration is trying to send us down many dark roads but that the Founding Fathers feared such a potential future. We will now see if the checks and balances designed into our Constitution and our laws will actually work as desired.
We have never had a president who has so tested our institutional norms. Fortunately, he has selected some Cabinet members to lead key departments such as State, Defense and Homeland Security who appear to be qualified and may not be yes men.
Trump has been the head of a successful business run largely by himself and members of his family. He does not, however, have enough family members for the thousands of top-level executive positions that he now must fill very rapidly. He will have to rely on a Republican and bureaucratic bench of experienced people who do not owe him personal allegiance.
They will oversee a professional workforce that have its own ideas about what legally can and should be done. Most federal court appointments will not have influence on any actions until years after the Trump administration is past.
We are a republic of 50 states that have a great deal of autonomy in determining how we are governed. Let us pay attention to our city, county and state elections. This is the best hope for our survival for at least the next four years.
George Donohue is professor emeritus of systems engineering at George Mason University and the president of the South County Democratic Club. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OpEd Printed in the Capital 12/31/16
Polling data indicate that many who voted for Donald Trump live in a world of misinformation. More than 2.8 million people voted for a Democratic Party platform over a Republican platform, with a 59 percent turnout rate.
The votes that swung the election in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin came from a group of people that would fit inside FedEx Field. The Republican Party clearly has no national mandate. Therefore, it is very important that the GOP elected officials govern wisely, especially at the state and national level. Now that the GOP holds all of the levers of national power, it would be prudent for the president, the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House to not abuse this power.
Minority rule is tricky business. Examples from the Middle East show us what can happen when a strong-willed minority overrules the will of the majority. At some point, the majority will regain power. Strong, pent-up resentments are not good for responsible government decisions.
We in Maryland, and especially in Anne Arundel County, need to also be sensitive to this issue. We have a Republican governor and a Republican county executive with a Democratic legislature. The balance is delicate for both. Even though Gov. Larry Hogan disavowed President-elect Trump, he is still a Republican governor who will have to deal with fellow Republicans who did vote for "The Donald." County Executive Steve Schuh is a Trump supporter.
The new report on Maryland's underfunding of its education system by the Kirwan Commission should become an important issue for the next state election in 2018. The additional $2.6 billion recommended by the bipartisan commission is a serious amount of money that must come from somewhere. Maryland currently spends about $42 billion a year and that money must come from us.
A simple "anti-tax" Republican agenda cannot provide for this critically needed investment in the state's and the counties' future. The economy and good jobs are dependent on a well-educated population. Anne Arundel ranks 16th in Maryland spending per student and second from the bottom in the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
The issues are more than just education. We can no longer count on the federal government to require us to do the right things for the environment. Gov. Hogan is not necessarily a climate-change denier, but he does put microeconomic shortsightedness in front of the reality of the need to change the way we produce electric power. Moving to renewable energy not only helps the environment but also generates good jobs at good wages for the state economy.
Many Republican politicians either do not understand or refuse to tell the voters that trickle-down economics does not produce increased revenue once the marginal tax rates are below approximately 50 percent. President George H.W. Bush correctly called Reaganomics "voodoo economics." President Ronald Reagan reduced federal tax rates and increased, not reduced, the national debt. President George W. Bush made the same mistake with the same result.
The federal government can print money to balance the books; state and local governments cannot. When federal tax rates go down, local tax rates will have to go up, or we sink into the swamp.
With a Trump administration, states are going to have to go it alone. States with Democratic governments should invest in education and infrastructure for the future. Anti-tax Republican-managed states generally receive more federal tax revenue generated from states governed by Democrats than they generate themselves. It is time for this to stop.
It is important that the voters in Maryland and the county elect officials who have a vision for meeting future needs. Voter turnout by Democrats in the last election was very low. For whatever reason, these citizens must have assumed that someone else would be looking out for their best interests. This is not the way democracy works.
Churchton resident George Donohue is a professor emeritus of systems engineering at George Mason University in Virginia. Contact him at email@example.com.
OpEd Printed in The Capital newspaper 12-15-16
George Orwell (1903 to 1950), where are you when we need you? If you have not read "1984" then you may want to do so. If you have, it may be time to read it again. Orwell was a man who lived through some of the most traumatic political events of the 20th century. His statue in front of the BBC reads: "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." He is considered to be one of the greatest British writers of the 20th century. He coined the terms "Big Brother" and "Doublethink". In the age of "The Donald", the current belief that "facts no longer matter" and the rise of "Fake News" it is worth renewing our acquaintance with his writings.
Orwell was a British citizen with an Eton education who served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma in the early 1920's. In 1936, like Hemmingway, he went to Spain to fight in the Civil War against Fascism and was seriously wounded. He worked for the BBC during the second World War. It was after these wars that he wrote his two famous books, "Animal Farm" and "1984". These books were strongly influenced by his personal life experience with Fascism in Spain, Germany, Italy and Russian dictators.
Donald Trump's "facts" have been widely disputed by reputable "Fact Checkers" throughout the 2016 campaign. Some have attributed this to an "anything goes in campaigns" but he will rule in a more serious manor. His statements that "… only I can solve your problems" have been taken by many as election talk hyperbole but not indicative of a Fascist leader. His argument that he knows the "pain of the common man" was bought by a sizable number of voters in economically distressed states the are being left behind by an increasingly high-technology global economy. His cabinet choices do not reflect this concern.
The extent to which the Russian KGB influenced the election of Donald Trump is a very serious issue. The open discussion by our most sophisticated foreign intelligence agencies and the congressional debate as to how much to investigate this election interference will tell us much about whether we are still a government of "checks-and-balances" or a Fascist Plutocracy.
Will the Republican congress provide the administration oversight that the American people deserve? Will they be as critical of President Trump as they were of President Obama or Secretary Clinton? Have we unintentionally elected a Russian Manchurian Candidate under the strong influence of a Russian Oligarch? These are serious questions that must be addressed over the next four years. It is the obligation of the free press to investigate and expose the truth.
President-elect Trump's efforts at "Doublethink" and "Fake News" regarding the popular election outcome are of concern. His constant refusal to receive the morning intelligence briefings and denial of our intelligence agencies reporting on Russian hacking creates a riff in the trusted relationship that must exist between our national leaders and our intelligence professionals. What are, and will be, the conflicts of interest between the Trump and the ExxonMobil corporations and our national interests? Will the leaders in the Oval Office and the State Department betray the trust needed with our national intelligence agencies for an effective working relationship?
Some have expressed concern that this could be the most corrupt administration since Harding and Grant. We will not know that for several years as things develop. I certainly hope not. We do know what has happened in Europe in the 20th century. We never thought that it could happen in the USA. Even if controlled by Republicans, it is up to the legislative and judicial branches of government to make sure that these mistakes do not happen here. First and foremost they must act as loyal American citizens and not as party hacks.
George Donohue is a resident of Churchton and a Prof. Emeritus at George Mason University.
Obamacare - Letter to the Editor - Printed The Capital 11-22-16
Regarding the "Obamacare" letter of Colleen Ligibel (The Sunday Capital, Oct. 30), in which she calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") because of her premium increase this year while using the program:
As a 63-year-old woman in good health, she begrudges the premiums, for which she believes she doesn't receive any benefit beyond an annual mammogram. She may opt, of course, to forego Obamacare insurance and pay the rather modest penalty if she finds the program so onerous.
However, I would remind her that, like car insurance, health insurance exists not for the days you are healthy, but for when you have an accident or become sick. But, I suspect she maintains her insurance because she is very much aware that illness and accident can strike at any time and that medical costs for the uninsured have sent many a family into bankruptcy or financial ruin.
Obamacare may need some attention from lawmakers, but Ms. Ligibel's cavalier suggestion that the program be repealed while it currently covers 20 million people who may otherwise be uninsured; and protects many more people with pre-existing conditions who cannot now be denied coverage, shows a callous disregard for many fellow Americans.
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