Another reason for me to not watch sports

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I’m either blessed, or cursed, with the tendency to sympathize with many sides of an issue. It sure can make it hard to be persuasive  (do I really have to pick sides? As my passive hero, Bartleby the Scrivener, said, I would prefer not to). Such is the case with the recent controversy over professional sports players kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

I understand perfectly how this upsets many folks, and how it can come across, to them, as incredibly disrespectful and ungrateful – especially to those who helped win the freedoms we enjoy. I also understand that those very freedoms include the right to protest. So the irony here is that the people who disparage the kneeling protesters seem to be upset that the protesters are exercising a freedom that they themselves would agree is quintessentially American and that we should all enjoy. It’s hypocritical. But I don’t think anyone is really arguing against the right to protest. Rather, the issue is with its chosen form and venue.

Patriotic disagreements and freedom of speech issues are highly emotional and never simple (disrespecting the anthem is right up there with flag burning), and there are side considerations and corollaries to explore. Let me bring to light a few that have come to my often undecided mind.

For one, kneeling in protest over – I’m not sure over what any more (racial discrimination? police brutality? Trump’s ultimatums? The impetus keeps changing) – during the country’s most revered song at a widely-watched national sporting event that is unrelated to those broad grievances seems like a badly misdirected and overly dramatic stance. The national anthem represents this country perhaps more than anything else, save the stars and stripes. So for the players to vent their dissatisfaction during its singing is to basically thumb their collective noses at America. Is this really the aim of their protest – to say that they hate America and everything it stands for? That they hold contempt for their country?  I don’t think it is, but this is what many people understandably read into it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There are myriad good things about America and from which they benefit, but the kneelers appear to be trashing the entire American experience by targeting its anthem. Unhappy with race relations in this country? That is a valid and reasonable concern. Your complaint would be better received if it were in a venue more commensurate with the offense. I don’t think professional sports organizations are a huge offender in the racial discrimination department. Maybe try a Trump country club.

Secondly, let’s remember that these people are protesting while at work. Yes, playing sports is a job for them (and a well-paying one, at that). They are representing their sport, their team, and their league when they are in that uniform and on that field. Is it appropriate, then, for them to choose such a time and place in which to protest – while on the clock representing their employer? Would it be OK for me to go to work tomorrow and tell all of my customers what an asshat Donald Trump is (please, can I? Oh wait, they probably already know . . . ) Might I not be reprimanded and ultimately fired for continually doing so? You won’t hear me saying I agree with Trump very often, but on parts of this issue, I do. The anthem-kneelers should indeed be fired, after being adequately warned, if they continue to protest in a venue where they are being paid to be professional. Politics, religion and other controversial topics have no business in a professional workplace. If team members want to protest, they should do so as private citizens and on their own time, representing only themselves.

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Lastly, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I don’t think the protesters are really helping the causes they care so much about, because they are choosing too provocative and unfocused a disobedience. They would no doubt argue that the seriousness of the problem (i.e. racial injustice) warrants a national stage. It does. However, I think they could find more effective outlets for their message, especially given their high public profiles. They could also find forms of expression that don’t paint themselves as America-hating ingrates. And while I understand that they may not be protesting on their own behalf (after all, they are wealthy and famous American success stories) but on behalf of less-fortunate others, their protest still comes across as more about them. Protest specific policies. Protest specific politicians (and presidents). Protest specific sources of discrimination in more specific places. But don’t damn the entire nation in one blanket protest aimed at our most revered symbols of patriotism.

We all have a right to freedom of expression, but there is a time and a place for expressing ourselves effectively. Because these players made poor choices, everyone is discussing the wisdom of their provocative actions rather than the merits of their justified cause.

 

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The Shock-Jock Candidate

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No matter how much they may dislike “Crooked Hillary” and the establishment in Washington, voters in good conscience can not choose Donald Trump to lead the United States of America. The man has, time after jaw-dropping time, consistently proven himself to be reckless, prejudiced, reactive, selfish, unstable and juvenile. Trump supporters who deny this are just living in fantasy land. Yes, he says what he thinks and is refreshingly unscripted. I won’t argue with you there. Yes, he is tough and fearless and no-nonsense. He even has a  few good ideas (along with a whole host of very bad ones). But as one commentator put it, you don’t let the drunk guy drive the bus, no matter how popular he is with the crowd. You have to take a serious look at the whole package, not just focus on the parts of it you really like. It’s like deciding to stay with an abusive lover. He may hit you and treat you badly, but he’s a good provider and besides, you probably deserved it (and I have to admit, sometimes I think a large portion of the electorate does deserve Donald Trump since many are as ignorant and juvenile as he is).

I understand that people are fed up and want change. That’s great, and I don’t fault them for that. I want that, too. But change is not always good, and the kind of change we’d get with Trump as our leader is very likely not the kind many are craving. He would behave no differently as president than he has for the past year, flitting from one shocking behavior to another. If there’s one thing we can count on, he is consistent in his outrageousness and offensiveness. Is this the kind of behavior we want in a president – someone who acts out of impulse, who can’t control his mouth or his temper, who, basically wouldn’t even pass a job interview at the local WalMart? If he can’t control himself in an interview or a debate, how is he going to deal effectively with Congress or other world leaders? His supporters seem to think he can just bulldoze his way through with his bluster and bravado. He may get away with this in his private company where he is king, but we are not choosing a king. Political leadership in a democracy requires thoughtfulness and compromise. It requires an adult who has learned to control their baser instincts and impulses.

What scares me almost as much as Donald Trump is his sizable base of rabid supporters. Trump has steadily stirred up hatred, prejudice, violence and blind devotion in his followers, which is what makes him so dangerous. This is how dictators behave. Whether he wins the presidency or not, he has already done great damage by dividing the country rather than trying to unite it. If he loses, he will stir up more dissent with his claims of conspiracy and a rigged election. If he wins, we will have four potentially frightening years of the torch-and-pitchfork crowd pitting neighbor against neighbor, with Donald fanning the flames and stoking the ratings.

Hillary is far from perfect, and has many questionable things in her background. Whether this is a factor of her truly being dishonest or of her being a target under a microscope for decades I can’t say with any certainty. Surely some of the alleged scandals have been exaggerated by her enemies, but there are no doubt elements of truth in many of them. I don’t think she’s a girl scout by any means. She has made mistakes and admitted to some, which Donald cannot seem to do. Her more high-profile scandals have been investigated thoroughly by sometimes bloodthirsty opponents (the same ones who impeached her husband), with no proof of nefarious intent. Is she dishonest? Probably at times, to save face, like most every politician. She has faults to be sure, but in the big picture who has the maturity, the poise, the clear grasp of the issues, and the patience to lead this country?  No one who is being honest with themselves can answer that question with “Trump.”

Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Trump

I don’t understand how anyone can support Donald Trump for President of the United States of America.

There. I said it. I have resisted saying it, even though I’ve been thinking it for a long time, because people I know and respect support him. But I have a hard time reconciling this in my head. These are reasonably intelligent people, I tell myself. I like them. So what’s going on in their heads? I respect everyone’s right to vote for the person they think would be best for the job, and the country, and encourage them to do so. I support Clinton, and following are some reasons why. It’s important to point out in this volatile climate that I do not think people who support Trump are necessarily misguided, and I hope they allow me the same respect. If you’d like to try to sway me to your candidate, feel free.

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I suspect that many Trump supporters hate Hilary Clinton, especially more than they love Donald Trump. Does this mean they’d support anyone who was running against her, no matter how outrageous? I have to believe the answer to this is often “yes.” There is no other way for me to explain their support for an arrogant, juvenile, racist, misogynistic, boastful, hyperbolic, narcissistic buffoon who has little understanding of anything but (arguably) real estate and who constantly flip-flops (an unforgivable sin for most politicians) and denies things that he is indeed on record as actually having done or said. It is as if he has license to create his own reality, say any outrageous thing he wants to, and consistently act like an immature, prepubescent bully and that is just fine with his enablers. Do they have that much hate for Hillary (and Obama), that much disregard for the safety and future of our country? I watch educated, grown pundits and apologists steadfastly stand by Trump and his shenanigans nightly on political talk shows and marvel at their inventive yet ridiculous explanations (spin) in his favor. When pressed, you can sense that even they don’t believe the nonsense they’re spewing.

Trump has some admirable qualities. Like most anyone (including Hillary, I remind you), he’s not all bad. He can be charming. He’s made a lot of money. He projects strength and confidence. He is refreshingly unfiltered and non-scripted, and is therefore authentic (I believe this is the trait he is perhaps most admired for by his supporters – authenticity is good, unless you’re an authentic ass****). He will stand up to people who have been abusing this country and won’t take any bull from anyone. I grant you all these things. But look at the negatives. Look at them! Do you want an anti-Hillary so badly that you’ll accept an endless litany of lies, gross and baseless exaggerations, puerile insults, seat-of-the-pants judgments and decisions, incendiary comments and shameless stoking of racism and xenophobia? Has this ever been acceptable in any modern presidential candidate? Are you really comfortable with an emotionally unstable man, a man who is so insecure that he can’t take any criticism without exacting revenge, being in charge of our military, our nuclear arsenal and our relations with foreign countries? Do you realize that the president is criticized on a daily basis? Trump would spend half of his time firing off angry retorts on Twitter to everyone who dissed him, including foreign leaders whom he would quickly alienate.

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I truly believe that many people who are Trump supporters now would soon regret that support once (God forbid) Trump were in the White House. Call it voter’s remorse. I think his presidency would be a disaster (a word he likes to throw around freely when talking about Hillary or President Obama), and I don’t even think he’d like the job. He’d quickly realize that he doesn’t get to call all the shots like he’s been accustomed to his whole life, and he would throw temper tantrums when faced with having to back down or compromise, as any president must. He demonstrates this combative, retaliatory behavior on a daily basis – he can’t let anything go. Rosie O’Donnell. Megyn Kelly. The Khans. Alicia Machado. How long did he drag all of these fights on? Why does anyone think he’d be any different in the White House? What you’ve been seeing for the past year is exactly what you’d get for the next four, but with much more serious consequences. Kim Jong-un has nuclear weapons. Rosie doesn’t.

Could any other candidate for president get away with Trump’s reckless behavior? Hillary called his supporters “deplorables” – once – and was practically burned at the stake, but Trump insults large swaths of the electorate all the time (women, Mexicans, Muslims) and is brushed off because we’re so used to him doing it. I don’t think this willingness to accept reprehensible behavior is particular to Trump. Rather, I think he’s a product of several things that have created a “perfect storm” for his candidacy: the extremely polarized electorate, making anyone who isn’t Hillary automatically acceptable to the legions who don’t like her (which, by the way, is largely the result of decades of Republican smear tactics); the dumbing down of political discourse in this country, thanks largely to political spin that is so out of  control that anything a candidate does can be justified; the increasingly fuzzy line between fact and fiction, helped along by “reality” shows that are anything but – we don’t know what truth is anymore; rabid partisans on television (thanks largely to that bastion of false reality, Fox News) who only show people one side of an issue and make them believe it is ture; and a general lack of interest among much of the electorate to do their own thinking and research because, well, there are just so many other distractions in modern life that are more fun. Many of us have become lazy, pliable and politically stupid, just repeating the blather we hear on biased talk shows that have an agenda of doing our thinking for us. They’ve become hour-long campaign ads.

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I also believe that Trump is palatable precisely because we’ve just had our first black president, and are on the cusp of having our first female one. These are huge barriers that have been broken in relatively quick succession, and many people (especially in the South) weren’t ready for them. There is still a lot of racism and sexism in America, and it is no coincidence that Trump embodies both of these. Anti-Obama sentiment is largely rooted in his race, not his policies. After all, he is a highly intelligent, caring, thoughtful, non-judgmental, decent man of considerable integrity, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the modern presidency since Jimmy Carter. If he were a Republican, they’d be naming an airport after him. But our black and white thinking (pun somewhat intended) demonizes people whole-hog and leaves no room for more moderate assessments.

As for Hillary, she’s no saint, I readily admit. She has done things I wish she hadn’t. But on the whole, she strikes me as smart, capable and rational, three qualities that I highly value in a president. I also believe that very few who have inhabited the White House have been free of scandal – but most of them were not pilloried for it unless their name was Clinton (remember Reagan and Iran-Contra?). Anyone who has been under an electron microscope for as many years as Hillary Clinton has and has still come out relatively unscathed is probably not nearly as unscrupulous as she is accused of being. The fact that she has been able to weather this kind of scrutiny proves she is infinitely qualified to withstand the rigors of the presidency, and has the temperament and stamina to do the job, and do it well. Most experts on the presidency agree that Donald Trump would be one of the least qualified persons to occupy the office in modern times. It’s a serious job, and so is your vote.

The ultimate example of Trump’s attempt to throw anything at the wall to see if it sticks was when he accused Hillary during the debate of having a poor temperament. Are you serious? This from the man who spent half the debate shouting and interrupting? Does this man think he can make up anything he wants to and people will believe him? That if you say something often enough it becomes the truth? Ah, Trump knows people all too well. He can indeed say anything and create reality, and his followers will embrace it. They already have. Obama not born in America? Check. All Muslims are threats to national security? Check. All immigrants (which we all are, by the way) are freeloaders? Check. Giving someone this much license with prejudice and conjecture, voters, is very, very dangerous, ten times more dangerous than the worst thing you think Hillary is guilty of. It’s how Hitler got started, stirring up the masses with fear, scapegoating and xenophobia. It is the behavior of a demagogue and a dictator, and it is not impossible for it to happen here. We’ve already taken the first steps by creating a welcoming environment.


Turned off by Hillary? Think she’s a bit dishonest? Probably, but Trump is even more so. Think the private email server decision was dangerous and stupid? I agree, but she has apologized for it, something Trump isn’t man enough to do. Am I advocating a choice between the lesser of two evils? No, because I don’t believe Hillary is evil. I believe she has been very effectively painted that way because she is a strong woman, and we don’t like that in America (can you name a strong American woman who is widely admired? Didn’t think so). If she were a man, she’d be far ahead right now. Thinking of not voting? Then you better not utter one peep of criticism once the election is over. Voting for a third-party candidate? That is your right. Just understand that it has its own consequences, and you may not like them. So vote for Hillary, for the country’s sake. Even though you may not like her, she’s the best choice you’ve got. She just may surprise you. And even if she’s as terrible as you think, she’ll be blocked at every turn by Congress and get voted out of office in four  years. The nation will then do a redirect and most certainly elect a (normal) Republican, and the country will be no worse for the wear. I can’t be confident of the same scenario after a Trump presidency. The damage a loose-lipped, reactive, vengeful President Trump could do after four years on the world stage is far worse than anything we would see from our former secretary of state.

The Greatest, Most Amazing Blowhard Ever, Believe Me

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Donald Trump scares me. I watch his shameless bragging and cringe-worthy self-promotion in fascination, but what amazes me even more is how many people are willing to vote for him in spite of his outrageous statements and ideas, his off-the-chart arrogance and narcissism, and his tendency to shoot off his mouth without thinking of the consequences. None of these are desirable traits in a leader, especially one of the free world.

Granted, he sometimes says things that make sense and that I agree with (some of the best being his bold and accurate criticisms of George W). And yes, his confidence can be admirable, as well as his conviction, his show of strength, and his willingness to say what he thinks. But all of these things are also negatives because he does them to great excess, without any filter or brake pedal. In fact, almost everything is a superlative with him: “everyone” loves him, his programs will be the “best” and the “greatest,” everything else is “fantastic” or “the worst ever” or whatever other extreme fits the situation. He’s a walking thesaurus of overstatement, but most of his grandstanding blather has no substance. It’s vague and empty. Just listen to him talk. Sure, he can be very persuasive. You can see that he believes his own boasts (narcissists usually do), and this extreme confidence is seductive and invites trust, misplaced as it may be. We tend to like confident people. This seems to be the hypnotic secret behind his appeal. People desperate for leadership want someone cocky and self-assured whom they can believe in, no matter what they say or propose (this is how Hitler was able to rise to power, by the way). We’re so tired of phony, scripted politicians that we welcome one who is refreshingly off-the-cuff and who has unbridled (though neurotic) self-confidence. With Trump, it seems to be all about his attitude with no concern for his lack of political experience, his unwillingness to compromise or his frequent lack of decorum. The fact that he has little to back up his statements (i.e. that Mexico will pay for a border wall, that you’ll have the best health care you’ve ever had under his proposal and you’ll be “so happy,” that he’s somehow going to be able to keep every terrorist crackpot out of the country by banning Muslim immigrants, etc.) doesn’t seem to concern many voters. They just like his boldness. Please, separate the boldness from the buffoon. Boldness is good in a competent leader (think Teddy Roosevelt), but dangerous in a buffoon (think Kim Jong-un, another crackpot with wacky hair). Besides, we’ve already had a buffoon Republican president, and look how that turned out. Could we pick someone smart, reasonable and competent for a change? Maybe if we did, we’d see less polarization in the country.

A president needs to be able to compromise. This has been difficult for most modern presidents, but would be especially so for Trump. He admitted as much recently when asked about it, saying that he “likes a compromise where I win.” With him, it’s his way or the highway, and this would not set well with Congress. You think there’s stubbornness and obstructionism now? Congress would come to a screeching halt under a President Trump if his party wasn’t in control, and still might even if Republicans did control Congress since most establishment Republicans don’t like him. This isn’t reality television, and you can’t run the government with sound bites and empty platitudes. He would be a bully not only with Congress but with world leaders as well, which at best would make us isolationist in an increasingly interdependent world, and at worst start a war. Trump is used to getting his way and having everyone obey him. Politics doesn’t work like that. And even if it did, who usually benefits from his gusto and deal making? He does. It’s always about him. His whole campaign is about feeding his ego and promoting his greatness (“did you see the latest poll? Everyone loves me!”). Everything he does is to glorify himself, and he only cares about the consequences of his actions to the degree that they boomerang on him. He has already backed off of some of his more outrageous comments (often by denying that he said something that there is audio and video proof of him saying), so perhaps he is learning. But we don’t have the time for, or luxury of, him learning to behave like an adult. Granted, there is an endless array of immature and extremist candidates seeking the nomination this year, but letting Trump loose in the White House would be, to use his words, a “total disaster.”

Tell me what you really think

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It took me a while, but I can finally understand what people see in Donald Trump. Sure, he’s as arrogant as they come and makes some pretty outrageous statements. But he says what he thinks – he’s unfiltered – and that’s a refreshing change from the ultra-scripted and on-point politicians we’re used to. We have no idea what they really think, and this unknown scares us more than the stuff Trump is spewing. It’s almost as if straight talk is such a relief, such an admirable quality, that we don’t care too much about content. At least we know where Trump stands, and this invites trust.

Now don’t get me wrong, I in no way think Trump would make a good president. While unbridled candor may be appealing, it isn’t a good quality for a president, who needs to be diplomatic and avoid ruffling foreign feathers. Wars have started over such faux pas. Even domestically, presidents are expected to practice a certain decorum. I’m reminded of the time Ronald Regan told a reporter to shut up during a televised press conference. It was shocking to behold, and I’m sure even more so for the hapless reporter.

But Trump’s candidacy got me thinking about how much most of us have to stifle our thoughts. Few people, unless they’re billionaires, can get away with saying what they really think – at least not if they want to hold down a job or have close relationships. So what do we do instead? Talk about people behind their backs, a rampant and shameful activity that probably few of us can claim to be innocent of. Is this any better than what Trump does? At least he says things to people’s faces.

I had to write reviews recently on the people I supervise, some of whom needed to hear some hard things. How blunt should I be? Would I be doing anyone any favors by couching my criticism in soft rhetoric, or should I not mince words? On one of my own past reviews I was told that I was sometimes too outspoken, and that, while I was usually right, I often didn’t raise my concerns in the best way (i.e., I was not diplomatic enough). I had a touch of Trump in me. Having run my own business for so many years, I could get away with considerable candor since I answered to no one. It took a long time to tame that freedom in a hierarchical workplace, and I haven’t given it up entirely. Sure, it has held me back, but I have to live with myself. We could all use a touch of Trump’s bluntness if we want to sleep at night. It gets things off our chest, and, when we’re the object of someone else’s candor, it’s probably something we need to hear in order to grow.