Trump Speaks To Lincoln

Did you know that Donald Trump took the Presidential oath of office while grasping two bibles? In order to honor his family, he held his mother’s bible. And to signal his admiration for our sixteenth President, he simultaneously held Abraham Lincoln’s bible.

Considering this gesture, it may be instructive to compare Trump’s inaugural speech to Lincoln’s pair of inaugural addresses. And what better way to conclude this year’s surreal political campaign than by imagining a conversation between the two men on the morning of the Trump inauguration?

Except for a few brief transitional phrases, all of the following text has been copied verbatim from these three actual speeches. We may never enjoy a better chance to eavesdrop on a conversation between these two Presidents …

ABE: Good morning, Don.

DON: Hello, Abe. Would you mind if I take the oath of office on your bible today?

ABE: No, of course not. In fact, I’d be honored. Many different and greatly distinguished Presidents have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. It’s your turn now, and if my bible can help you establish a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections, you’re welcome to it.

DON: Actually, Abe, I wouldn’t call our recent Presidents “greatly distinguished.” For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. When I address the people today, I intend to tell them that “their victories have not been your victories, and their triumphs have not been your triumphs.” While they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

ABE: Really, Don? That sounds a little harsh to me. But sometimes a President must reassure the people that “the Government will not assail you.” I know that’s not easy when apprehension seems to exist among the people that their property and their peace and personal security are endangered. But there has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension.

DON: No reasonable cause, Abe? I disagree. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities. Rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation. An education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge. And the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

ABE: Good lord, Don! Is life really that bad in the 21st century? Or is there any possibility that portions of these ills have no real existence?

DON: I don’t exaggerate, Abe. For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, and subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.

We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.

ABE: In that case, Don, you’ll need to unite the people to solve these problems. I hope you’re working hard to pull the entire world together.

Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them.

A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our world can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them.

DON: Pull the world together, Abe? I don’t think so. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

ABE: You can’t declare war against the world forever, Don. Suppose you go to war. You can not fight always. And when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet touch the better angels of our nature.

DON: I’m no angel, Abe. And my government officials won’t govern like angels. We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American. After all, it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

ABE: I governed the nation differently, Don. With malice toward none, with charity for all, to bind up our wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. That was my vision for governing the United States of America.

DON: Not my administration, Abe. We will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, we will make America great again.

That’s my vision, Abe. Thanks for the Bible.

Presidential Debate: The Glaring Omission

Did you watch the U.S. Presidential Debate a couple of nights ago? NBC News moderator Lester Holt promised viewers that the candidates would “explore three topic areas tonight: achieving prosperity, America’s direction, and securing America.”

That’s an incredibly broad set of topics, isn’t it? As promised, Mr. Holt’s subjects focused on everything from the global economy to the natural environment to the sources of social strife.

There was one subject, though, that wasn’t even mentioned during the ninety minute debate. Did you notice what former hot-button topic was completely omitted from the conversation?

It was the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obama Care. In fact, there was no reference to any element of health care policy whatsoever. The omission was surprising, given the controversial dominance of the subject in prior elections, and considering the central importance of the industry sector to the American economy and society.

So what are we to make of it? How should we interpret this startling lack of interest in America’s system of health care? Especially given the continuing controversies over the level of access to medical products and services, and the cost of that access, throughout the United States?

One possible explanation is that the very nature of the Affordable Care Act that made it so difficult to implement in the first place is now making it easy to accept in the minds of the American public. As you may recall, although the Act was initially described as a comprehensive reconstruction of the entire health system, its primary beneficiaries were to be the relatively few individuals who desired insurance coverage but who couldn’t obtain it.

Disrupt an entire nation’s system of care to benefit a mere 24 million individuals? In a nation of 300 million citizens? Opponents of the Act portrayed such an venture as a high risk, low benefit leap into the unknown. In retrospect, it was no surprise that so many citizens shrank from it.

But now that the Act has been in effect for six years, it has become the status quo. And guess what? The health care system hasn’t crashed. It’s still plagued with problems, to be sure, but now any future modification to the industry sector can itself be portrayed as a high risk, low benefit leap into the unknown. And that may be why the possibility of repeal or significant revision has vanished from America’s political debate agenda.

Indeed, individuals who wish to engender comprehensive reconstructions of other industry sectors may take heart from the current status of the Affordable Care Act. What lesson does it teach them?

Don’t settle for small, incremental, evolutionary changes. Instead, take a deep breath, swing for the fences, ride out the inevitable backlash, and focus on integrating the changes into the industry sector so deeply that they become inseparable from the status quo.

At that point, the elements of reconstruction may simply become part of the economic and social landscape of the nation. And the public may then simply accept the changes and divert its attention to other concerns.

Politics: From Eulogy To War

Imagine the unexpected death of the owner of a privately held company. His heirs take a moment to express their sorrow at his passing. And then, moments later, they turn on each other and initiate a vicious fight to take his place at the helm of the family firm.

That’s quite unseemly, eh? Any decent human being would expect the heirs to pause for a respectful mourning period before pivoting from eulogy to war. But America’s leading politicians are a unique breed. How long would they wait under such circumstances?

We now know the answer to that question. At 2:20 pm yesterday, CNN’s Breaking News Twitter account announced the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And then what happened?

Republican Senator Ted Cruz tweeted a link to his Facebook eulogy at 2:18 pm, and followed with a tweeted call for the Republican Senate of the United States to deny Democratic President Barack Obama his constitutional right to propose a successor at 2:27 pm.

That’s not a typo. Senator Cruz actually scooped CNN’s Breaking News Twitter feed by two minutes when posting his eulogy. So how long did he then wait to launch into the rancorous political debate about Scalia’s successor?

9 minutes. Literally, 9 minutes, from 2:18 pm to 2:27 pm.

Senate Democratic minority leader Harry Reid was a bit slower to the punch. He tweeted a condolence message at 3:21 pm, and then waited a full minute to tweet his political support of President Obama’s right to name a successor at 3:22 pm.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, often portrayed as a turtle by comics, was less hurried than either colleague. He tweeted a link to his official government eulogy statement at 3:41 pm. And then he pivoted to tweet his support of Cruz’s political sentiments at 4:35 pm.

Let’s calculate the mourning periods of these three politicians. How long did each pause before leaping into the vicious debate over Justice Scalia’s successor? Senator Cruz waited for 9 minutes. Senator Reid did so for 1 minute. And Senator McConnell for 54 minutes.

So whom do you most admire? Cruz for being first to the punch? Reid for being the quickest to pivot from condolences to political in-fighting? Or McConnell for managing to wait almost a full hour before tossing away his grief and engaging in political warfare?

It’s possible that most Americans are so disgusted by the penchant of their politicians to turn every possible event (even a man’s death) into a political Twitter war, they no longer care to ponder such questions.

But by becoming inured to the indecent squabbling of their political leaders, they perpetuate their behavior. And so each politician, like a jealous and ungrateful heir of a deceased business owner, will continue to bicker endlessly about any issue that can help him seize the mantle of power.

Via Twitter, of course.

Media Bias In Presidential Politics

It’s easy to identify blatant media bias, isn’t it? Whenever some self-styled Democratic or Republican “strategist” on MSNBC or Fox News launches into a diatribe against the opposing party’s leaders, we’re able to recognize the source of the commentary, and to apply a health degree of skepticism to the critical opinions.

But sometimes media bias is so subtle, and so deeply immersed within the statements of experienced and credible senior journalists, that it’s impossible to recognize without the benefit of a DVR recorder and a rewind button. Consider, for instance, the very first question that Neil Cavuto asked the Republican presidential candidates at last week’s televised debate.

Cavuto is the senior vice president, managing editor and anchor for both FOX News Channel and FOX Business Network. He might indeed be the most experienced, and most respected, business news journalist in the United States. And yet this is what he asked the candidates, at the 4 minutes and 48 seconds (4:48) mark of the Part 1 video clip that FOX Business posted on YouTube:

We are not even two weeks into this stock trading year but … investors have already lost $1.6 trillion in market value. That makes it the worst start to a new year ever. Many worry that things can get even worse … that banks and financial stocks are particularly vulnerable. If this escalates like it did, back when Barack Obama first assumed the presidency, what actions would you take … ?

So what is wrong with Mr. Cavuto’s question? What makes it biased, albeit in a very subtle manner?

According to Wikipedia’s entry for the United States bear market of 2007–09, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped from 14,164 on October 9, 2007 to 7,949 on January 20, 2009, the date that President Obama took office. It continued dropping after January 20, bottoming out at 6,507 on March 9, 2009.

Thus, the DJIA dropped 54% in 17 months, with almost all of the months (i.e. 15 of the 17 months) occurring during President Bush’s presidency. Furthermore, more than four fifths of the total drop of the DJIA occurred during President Bush’s tenure, i.e. during the 15 months prior to President Obama’s inauguration.

So, with this in mind, was it reasonable for Mr. Cavuto to refer to the market crash of 2007 / 09 as something that occurred back when Barack Obama first assumed the presidency? Would it have been more appropriate to say that it occurred mostly during the final 15 months of President Bush’s presidency?

To be fair to Mr. Cavuto, I have no way of knowing what was on his mind when he asked his question. But as an independent voter with no affiliation to any political party, I believe that I’m reasonably positioned to identify examples of subtle media bias without being influenced by such biases myself.

With that in mind, I can only assume that the Republican presidential candidates at the debate preferred to associate Democratic President Obama (and not Republican President Bush) with the 2007 / 09 market crash. And thus I can’t help but wonder whether Mr. Cavuto instinctively played into their hands by phrasing his question in this manner.

Likewise, I can’t help but wonder whether an MSNBC commentator, moderating a debate of Democratic Presidential hopefuls, would have similarly accommodated the candidates by asking about the market crash that occurred back when President Bush was in his final year of office. In other words, I wonder whether such media bias is ingrained on both sides of the political spectrum.

Am I correct? Is this, in fact, a subtle example of media bias? And if it is such an example, can it influence the political leanings of television viewers?

That final question might be the most important one of all. Although a single isolated incident of bias might be immaterial, a pervasive culture of bias might wield a pernicious impact on the judgments of American voters.