Tag Archives: Tom Friedman

When Politics Becomes A Culture War

I have my favorites among the columnists who write for The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I’ll admit that Tom Friedman has never been one of them. It isn’t that I disagree with him any more frequently than I disagree with others; he simply tends to address issues with which I’m less engaged, and to do so in a hectoring manner I find annoying.

I do think, however, that he hit this one “out of the park” as the saying goes.

The column was titled “A President With No Shame and a Party With No Guts,” which gives you a pretty good hint about the subject matter.

If your puppy makes a mess on your carpet and you shout “Bad dog,” there is a good chance that that puppy’s ears will droop, his head will bow and he may even whimper. In other words, even a puppy acts ashamed when caught misbehaving. That is not true of Donald Trump. Day in and day out, he proves to us that he has no shame. We’ve never had a president with no shame — and it’s become a huge source of power for him and trouble for us.

And what makes Trump even more powerful and problematic is that this president with no shame is combined with a party with no spine and a major network with no integrity — save for a few real journalists at Fox News like the outstanding Chris Wallace.

When a president with no shame is backed by a party with no spine and a network with no integrity, you have two big problems.

Those three paragraphs go a long way toward summing up where Americans find ourselves these days. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

The G.O.P. has lost its way because it has been selling itself for years to whoever could keep it in power, and that is now Trump and his base. And Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics, and culture doesn’t change with the news cycle. And neither do business models — and Fox News’s business model is to feed, and feed off of, that culture war by allowing many of its commentators to be Trump’s parrots and bullhorns.

This, it seems to me, is the real problem, and it may be intractable.

Ever since the stunning result of the 2016 Presidential election, I have tried–and miserably failed–to understand how any sentient being could have voted for Donald Trump, a man so obviously unfit for office (not to mention polite society) that people who knew anything at all about government and/or business considered his candidacy a joke.

This is a man who makes polite people cringe and kind people recoil. If someone like Trump tried to strike up a conversation at a bar, most of us would change seats. He’s like the ignorant, self-absorbed uncle you don’t invite for Thanksgiving, because you don’t want your children to think his “all about me” behavior is acceptable.

I understand that hatred for Hillary Clinton (nurtured by misogynists for years) may have motivated some voters to cast that vote–but how do you explain the 30% of Americans who still support him? Fox News can spin–or ignore–the news, but you would expect anyone reading his misspelled tweets or listening to his delusional “word salad” speeches to be appalled.

I think Friedman answers that question when he writes that “Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics.”

If he is correct–if Trump’s support comes from people who hold deep animus toward those they dismiss as “elitist” and “cosmopolitan” and who are more interested in “sticking it” to people they believe fall into those groups than in good or even adequate government– they aren’t going to change. They aren’t going to wake up one morning and say “gee, maybe sticking it to those snobs isn’t worth doing irreparable damage to the country and the planet.” They are lost to reason.

If Friedman is right–if this is culture war– efforts to right the ship of state need to be focused on the 49% of eligible voters who didn’t bother to cast a ballot in 2016.  I can only hope that Trump has been their wake-up call.

The Crux of the Problem: The Party’s Over

I’ve never been a particular fan of Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist. Not that I’ve necessarily disagreed with his opinion pieces, I’ve simply found them a bit too self-consciously measured (and occasionally pompous). Among Times columnists, I tend to prefer the wit of Gail Collins or the red meat of Paul Krugman. If I want thoughtful and measured, I choose David Brooks.

But this time, Friedman has hit a home run.

If a party could declare moral bankruptcy, today’s Republican Party would be in Chapter 11.

This party needs to just shut itself down and start over — now. Seriously, someone please start a New Republican Party!

America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party. America needs a center-right party ready to offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense gun laws. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense fiscal policy. America needs a center-right party to support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it. America needs a center-right party that appreciates how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones.

But this Republican Party is none of those things. Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education — an ethically challenged enterprise that enriches and perpetuates itself by shedding all pretense of standing for real principles, or a truly relevant value proposition, and instead plays on the ignorance and fears of the public.

I completely agree that America needs a healthy two-party system.

I leave it to political scientists more informed than I am to debate the relative merits of a parliamentary system and our two-party system. Whatever the conclusion, however, we have what we have. Our two-party system is institutionalized, our civic culture is accustomed to and embedded within it.

Because that is so, the intellectual and moral maturity of the two parties is supremely important. The ability of those parties to conduct adult, responsible arguments about the issues of the day is what allows the American enterprise to advance, to adapt to changing realities and to avoid the excesses that have taken down other dominant regimes. When either party becomes corrupt, or childish, or co-opted by special interests, our system doesn’t work.

I’m not Pollyanna; even when the system is working, both parties provide citizens plenty to criticize. Disfunction is a matter of degrees.

I was an active Republican for 35 years. The party I worked for, the party I belonged to and supported, no longer exists. I left in 2000, and I’ve subsequently watched the deterioration of a once-responsible political party from the sidelines. I’ve watched as the Republican friends I worked with “back in the day” have become discouraged, and then appalled, as a party that had usually nominated thoughtful and substantive candidates devolved into a circus, a party in which Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and their like are embraced by an angry and bigoted base.

The GOP’s devolution may be good for Democrats’ immediate electoral prospects, but in the long run, it isn’t good for either the Democratic party or the country.

Friedman concludes that the existing GOP cannot be salvaged–that America needs a new center-Right party.

This is such a pivotal moment; the world we shaped after W.W. II is going wobbly. This is a time for America to be at its best, defending its best values, which are now under assault in so many places — pluralism, immigration, democracy, trade, the rule of law and the virtue of open societies. Trump will never be a credible messenger, or a messenger at all, for those values. A New Republican Party can be.

Friedman says: if you build it, they will come.

But who will build it, and who are the “they” who will come?

A Logic Question

Tom Friedman is not a favorite columnist of mine–although I often agree with him, he often seems a bit too smug, a bit too self-satisfied with his own superior analytical skills. But today, he hit one out of the ballpark. After asking “Is It Weird Enough Yet,” he eviscerates Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry for their insistence that climate change is just a hoax, perpetrated by research scientists to generate funding. Not only does Friedman explain (in language that even Rick Perry should be able to understand) how the extreme weather we are experiencing is a consequence of global climate change, he explains what is necessary if so-called “green jobs” are to generate real economic growth.

But let’s say you still aren’t convinced.

Ever hear of “Pascal’s wager”? The philosopher Blaise Pascal was dubious about the existence of God, but he reasoned that–since one could not know for certain–the logical course of action was to act as though he did.  If it turned out that God was real, great. If not, you would have lived a good life. In other words, by acting as though you believe even if you don’t, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Global climate change invites a similar logic. If we decide to act on the advice of the 98% of scientists whose research supports the finding, and climate change is real, we’ll save the planet. If it turns out that our fears are ill-founded or exaggerated, we’ll end up doing a lot of things we need to do anyway–recycle, use energy more efficiently, etc.

When we have everything to gain by a particular course of action, and nothing to lose, refusing to take that action is more than weird. It’s self-destructive.