Ductus Exemplo


Re: Violence at Trump rallies – I am reminded of this passage from Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire (from which the movie 300 was based). #GatesofFire was required reading for all Marine Corps second lieutenants when I was at The Basic School.

We talked about how the role of Marine officers was, like that of Dienekes, not only to rally those we would lead – to “fire their valor when it flagged” – but conversely, to “rein in their fury when it threatened to take them out of hand.”

The Officer’s “primary attribute was self-restraint and self-composure, not for his own sake, but for those whom he led by his example.”

“Ductus Exemplo” – the motto at Officer Candidates School: “Leadership by Example”

#DonaldTrump is unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.


EPILOGUE – 13 November 2017

A bit too late – “Donald Trump on Sunday told his supporters to stop harassing minorities, in his first televised sit-down interview since becoming President-elect.
“I am so saddened to hear that,” Trump told CBS’ Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes” when she said Latinos and Muslims are facing harassment. “And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it — if it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.'”




I saw this and thought about my grandmother and our “blasian” (“blackasian”) nephew.
My grandmother, when she was still around, used to call my then 3-4 year old nephew “Chocolate”, because he was “black but not that black.” When Barack Obama became president my grandma was elated. I recall her saying, “This means our Chocolate can be president someday.” 
I am sure my grandmother had concerns when she found out one of her grandchildren was marrying a black guy. But my grandmother wasn’t racist – she was (as Asian Tiger Parents can be), however, pragmatic and a realist. 
You realized that she loved her “black but not that black” great grandchild, but worried that the blackness could mean the child face prejudices and discrimination, and not necessarily have the same access to opportunities as other not-so-black Americans. She worried about disenfranchisement of those in her *tribe. 
On another extreme, she also told me before I left for Afghanistan in 2009, “Promise me you won’t die – other people’s kids can die, but not you.” Oh sure grandma, if the bullets start flying I’ll just throw some other kid in the way. “Sorry bro, promised my Nana!” 
I don’t know what she would feel today if she were still around. But if she had doubts, I would say the same thing I said back then. “It’ll be ok.” 



How Trump

11 October 2016

I work with a guy I’ll call James. James is a Trump supporter, and will tell anyone who asks that yes, he is voting for Trump. Also, nobody who actually knows James would call him “deplorable.” James is a decent dude.  

James is also a guy from Pennsylvania, who went to school at Villanova, lived and bought a house in New Jersey, and otherwise spent his whole life in the NY-metropolitan area. He has zero desire to travel abroad (he told me so, when we talked about how much time I spend overseas).

I figure that, beyond the explicit reason *why James supports trump (James says Trump will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices), is a deeper and implicit reason *how he can support Trump – James simply doesn’t feel what a lot of #NeverTrump voters viscerally feel. For example:

– James has never feared categorical discrimination for being Muslim.
– James has never suffered sexual discrimination for being female. 
– James has never felt the pain of being cast as a perpetual foreigner as an ethnic Asian (James watches Fox News, maybe even #WattersWorld). 

All these things, and likely more, James doesn’t feel because its not relevant to his personal experience. And because its not relevant to his personal experience, he can easily dismiss them as Political Correctness and something baked up by some Liberal Agenda.   

By contrast, anyone who has ever been a minority in any regard – be it Muslim in a predominantly Christian community, Asian in a predominantly White society, female in a predominantly Male workplace, has had to do this at some point in their lives:

*Adapt to the dominant narrative.  

 It has always been incumbent upon minorities to “fit in” or even overcompensate: if you are gay, you act “macho”; if you are female and want to get promoted, you likewise find a way to be #OneOfTheBoys, if you are an ethnic Asian, you better score 800 on your SAT verbal (just kidding. Maybe 700 is good enough. But seriously, I love it when some white dude tells me “You speak English so good!”)     


The “dominant narrative” in America is that of the generic experience of a white dude – James.

James has never had to step outside his own experiences to “fit in.” Everyone else who doesn’t share his experience has had to adapt to “fit in” his worldview.
James is not deplorable. James is a white dude who grew up in Pennsylvania and who has not since strayed far from home, and takes for granted that his life experience, what matters to him, is all that really matters – because he has lived the privilege of never having to step outside his own shoes to see things through the eyes of others, in order to “make it” as an American, to make it in the C-suite.

There are decent dudes who support Donald Trump because they don’t understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. It’s not real to them, so it doesn’t really matter (compared to the things that do). 
What these Trump supporters could stand to gain isn’t decency, it’s empathy – the awareness to look beyond our own limited experiences and feel for others unlike yourself.

This isn’t a criticism against any person or White Dudes in general. It *is my opinion on why there are decent people who continue to support Donald Trump in spite of all that he has said. It *is a critical opinion on how privileges (some of which I benefit from, others I do not) can blind us if we don’t consciously try and identify our blind spots. And it’s my observation on the different layers of social stratification and even hierarchies that exist in American society, and how it affects the way we perceive things, and choose to act or not act.


Incidentally, I work in a pretty White, pretty Male, workplace. Our big boss has explicitly pointed out the lack of diversity as a challenge, not for cosmetic purposes, but in fulfilling our mission.

It doesn’t surprise me at all, by contrast, that in the case of Colin Kaepernick, much of the support he receives is from his peers, to include White Dudes (professional coaches, e.g., Chip Kelly, Gregg Popovic, and players, Chris Long etc) who in all likelihood, have spent years of their lives working very closely with many, many, Black coaches/players – enough to at least begin to understand that people do have different experiences that deserve to be heard.


EPILOGUE 12 November 2016

By Greg Popovich:

“I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.

“I live in that country where half of the people ignored all of that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me. It’s got nothing to do with the environment and Obamacare, and all of the other stuff….

“That’s what worries me. I get it, of course we want to be successful, we’re all going to say that. Everybody wants to be successful, it’s our country, we don’t want it to go down the drain. But any reasonable person would come to that conclusion, but it does not take away the fact that he used that fear mongering, and all of the comments, from day one, the race bating with trying to make Barack Obama, our first black president, illegitimate. It leaves me wondering where I’ve been living, and with whom I’m living.

“The fact that people can just gloss that over, start talking about the transition team, and we’re all going to be kumbaya now and try to make the country good without talking about any of those things. And now we see that he’s already backing off of immigration and Obamacare and other things, so was it a big fake, which makes you feel it’s even more disgusting and cynical that somebody would use that to get the base that fired up. To get elected. And what gets lost in the process are African Americans, and Hispanics, and women, and the gay population, not to mention the eighth grade developmental stage exhibited by him when he made fun of the handicapped person. I mean, come on. That’s what a seventh grade, eighth grade bully does. And he was elected president of the United States….

“One could go on and on, we didn’t make this stuff up. He’s angry at the media because they reported what he said and how he acted. That’s ironic to me. It makes no sense. So that’s my real fear, and that’s what gives me so much pause and makes me feel so badly that the country is willing to be that intolerant and not understand the empathy that’s necessary to understand other group’s situations. I’m a rich white guy, and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person. How disenfranchised they might feel.”




fn1: Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the #minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more #empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the #skin of a rhinoceros.. ” – Tim Cook


fn2:  “I play in a league that’s 70 percent black and my peers, guys I come to work with, guys I respect who are very socially aware and are intellectual guys, if they identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line, creating controversy, I’m going to listen to those guys.

“And I respect the anthem. I would never kneel for it. We all come from different walks of life and think differently about the anthem and the flag and what that means. But I think you can respect and find a lot of truth in what these guys are talking about, and not kneel. Those aren’t mutually exclusive ideas.

“Listen, it’s been complicated…. I’m just going to listen to my peers because I respect those guys, and I can’t put myself in their shoes.”

fn3: “What’s really interesting is the people that jump right away to say, one is attacking the police, or the people that jump on the other side. It’s a question where understanding and empathy has to trump, no pun intended, has to trump any quick reactions of an ideological or demagogical nature. It’s a topic that can’t just be swung at, people have to be very accurate and direct in what they say and do.”

Do you support that athletes that are taking stands?

“I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I respect their courage for what they’ve done. The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure, no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s Dr. [Martin Luther] King getting large groups together and boycotting buses, or what’s happened in Carolina with the NBA and other organizations pulling events to make it known what’s going on. But I think the important thing that Kaepernick and others have done is to keep it in the conversation. When’s the last time you heard the name Michael Brown? With our 24/7 news, things seem to drift. We’re all trying to just exist and survive.

“It’s easier for white people because we haven’t lived that experience. It’s difficult for many white people to understand the day-to-day feeling that many black people have to deal with. It’s not just a rogue policeman, or a policeman exerting too much force or power, when we know that most of the police are just trying to do their job, which is very difficult. I’d be scared to death if I was a policeman and I stopped a car. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. And part of that in our country is exacerbated by the preponderance of guns that other countries don’t have to deal with. It gets very complicated.
“At this point, when somebody like Kaepernick brings attention to this, and others who have, it makes people have to face the issue because it’s too easy to let it go because it’s not their daily experience. If it’s not your daily experience, you don’t understand it. I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that. What’s the solution? Nobody has figured it out. But for sure, the conversation has to stay fresh, it has to stay continuous, it has to be persistent, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that happens in our communities.”

If your players protest, do you plan on talking to them about it?

“My players are engaged citizens who are fully capable of understanding what their values are, and what they think is appropriate and inappropriate, and what they feel strongly about. Whatever actions may or may not be taken are their decisions, and I’m not going to tell anyone ahead of time that if they don’t do A, B and C, they’re going to be gone or traded. I think that’s ignorant.”




The Long Game: Politics, Salvation, Fantasy Football

THE WHITE HOUSE, 10 November 2016.
“A lot of our fellow Americans are exalted today, a lot of Americans are less so, but that’s the nature of campaigns, that’s the nature of democracy. It is hard and sometimes contentious and noisy and it’s not always inspiring….

“But to the young people who got into politics for the first time and may be disappointed by the results, I just want you to know, you have to stay encouraged. Don’t get cynical, don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. 
“You know, the path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back, and that’s OK…

“That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right and then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena, we go at it. We try even harder the next time.
“The point though is is that we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens, because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.
“And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on, as Americans, will go on. And I’m looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next president is successful in that.

David Remnick, On and Off the Road with Barack Obama, The New Yorker, January 2014

“THE PRESIDENT always takes the long view.
“… That appeal to patience and historical reckoning, an appeal that risks a maddening high-mindedness, is something that everyone around Obama trots out to combat the hysterias of any given moment. “He has learned through those vicissitudes that every day is Election Day in Washington and everyone is writing history in ten-minute intervals,” Axelrod told me. “But the truth is that history is written over a long period of time—and he will be judged in the long term.”
“If you’re doing big, hard things, then there is going to be some hair on it—there’s going to be some aspects of it that aren’t clean and neat and immediately elicit applause from everybody. And so the nature of not only politics but, I think, social change of any sort is that it doesn’t move in a straight line, and that those who are most successful typically are tacking like a sailor toward a particular direction but have to take into account winds and currents and occasionally the lack of any wind, so that you’re just sitting there for a while, and sometimes you’re being blown all over the place….
“I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every President, like every person,” Obama said. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin. And every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse.”

“When he deploys Mattis always packs the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman who was both a Stoic philosopher and an emperor. “It allows me to distance myself from the here and now,” and to discern the connection to the eternal verities of warfare, he explained. 

I don’t always quote the Bible, but when I do, I’m playing Fantasy Football. #TheLongGame:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27



The long twilight struggle-

There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.




Bureaucracy – the Fifth Estate

One of the deepest impressions I took away from Afghanistan 2009-10 was an appreciation *for bureaucracy. 
#Bureaucracy in the United States carries a lot of baggage, and negative connotations, and yet, what struck me in Afghanistan was the challenge of sustaining a democracy amidst rampant corruption, when the country had a ~92% illiteracy rate. 

A competent bureaucracy was precisely what was needed, because how do you fight corrupt practices and run an accountable government when the vast majority of the people cannot read or write? We had one out of twenty Afghan National Police on our outpost who was literate – i.e., only one person could document witness statements, keep records, etc. – sometimes tedious things to ensure shit wasn’t just made up out – and that there was a Process for things.

You leave a place like Afghanistan with its history of tribalism and Warlords, in an externally imposed and nascent attempt at a centralized democracy, and you just think, if only they had a Bureaucracy- a functioning and professional Civil Service working in institutions free of all the cronyism, nepotism, parochial influences that manifests itself in the corruption.

Well, maybe this is the last line in the United Stated for those who fear Executive overreach – that those who make the Bureacracy is up to snuff, and having spent more than a spot-Political Appointee term at one thing or another, know what lines they will not cross. 

What Trump has said about the CIA and the military has “put us in a difficult position, but the flip side is there is an institutional ability to survive,” said a second senior U.S. official. 

“Bureaucracies chug along and take lumps and have conflicts. If you ask about rank and file, for a long time there has been a sense that [presidents and administrations] come and go, but we’re still here. You’ve got to assume that the Foreign Service at State, generals at the Department of Defense, have that belief. There’s an institutional stability built into the system that can withstand spasms.”


How Mark Felt Became DEEP THROAT
“When I mentioned the graduate work to Felt, he perked up immediately, saying he had gone to night law school at GW in the 1930s before joining — and this is the first time he mentioned it — the FBI. While in law school, he said, he had worked full time for a senator — his home-state senator from Idaho. I said that I had been doing some volunteer work at the office of my congressman, John Erlenborn, a Republican from the district in Wheaton, Ill., where I had been raised.

“So we had two connections — graduate work at GW and work with elected representatives from our home states.
“Felt and I were like two passengers sitting next to each other on a long airline flight with nowhere to go and nothing really to do but resign ourselves to the dead time. 

“Felt seemed sympathetic to the lost-soul quality of my questions. He said that after he had his law degree his first job had been with the Federal Trade Commission. His first assignment was to determine whether toilet paper with the brand name Red Cross was at an unfair competitive advantage because people thought it was endorsed or approved by the American Red Cross. The FTC was a classic federal bureaucracy — slow and leaden — and he hated it. Within a year he had applied to the FBI and been accepted. Law school opened the most doors, he seemed to be saying, but don’t get caught in your own equivalent of a toilet-paper investigation…

“Somewhat to my astonishment, Felt was an admirer of J. Edgar Hoover. He appreciated his orderliness and the way he ran the bureau with rigid procedures and an iron fist. Felt said he appreciated that Hoover arrived at the office at 6:30 each morning and everyone knew what was expected. The Nixon White House was another matter, Felt said. The political pressures were immense, he said without being specific. I believe he called it “corrupt” and sinister. Hoover, Felt and the old guard were the wall that protected the FBI, he said.

In his own memoir, “The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside,” which received almost no attention when it was published in 1979, five years after President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation, Felt angrily called this a “White House-Justice Department cabal.”

At the time, pre-Watergate, there was little or no public knowledge of the vast pushing, shoving and outright acrimony between the Nixon White House and Hoover’s FBI. The Watergate investigations later revealed that in 1970 a young White House aide named Tom Charles Huston had come up with a plan to authorize the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence units to intensify electronic surveillance of “domestic security threats,” authorize illegal opening of mail, and lift the restrictions on surreptitious entries or break-ins to gather intelligence. 

Felt, a much more learned man than most realized, later wrote that he considered Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” The word “gauleiter” is not in most dictionaries, but in the four-inch-thick Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language it is defined as “the leader or chief official of a political district under Nazi control.”

There is little doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis. During this period, he had to stop efforts by others in the bureau to “identify every member of every hippie commune” in the Los Angeles area, for example, or to open a file on every member of Students for a Democratic Society.

None of this surfaced directly in our discussions, but clearly he was a man under pressure, and the threat to the integrity and independence of the bureau was real and seemed uppermost in his mind.

He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and their efforts to manipulate the bureau for political reasons. The young eager-beaver patrol of White House underlings, best exemplified by John W. Dean III, was odious to him.



“First and most importantly, the bureaucracy is the front line of defense against executive abuses. So yes, in my opinion, my correspondent and others like him have—as he puts it—some “ethical and civic responsibility to stay here to do [their] small part to try to keep things in check.” The amount of damage that an abusive chief executive can effectuate is dramatically lessened if he has professional staff that will only behave legally and ethically. If Justice Department prosecutors will not target individuals because they have displeased the president or because he has declared that “everyone knows she’s guilty,” a Trump presidency will be far less abusive than if they will do these things. That means that people acculturated to modern ethical and legal norms of behavior among government lawyers should remain in place, at least at the outset. The same is true of FBI agents and CIA officers. It’s important, very important, that the government be staffed at the career level by people who know the lines they will not cross.


Why you might want to: to get rid of lazy assholes who don’t do shit.

Why you wouldn’t: to prevent our agencies from becoming staffed with partisan loyalists and become tools of a regime, rather than existing in service of the state. (What happens in authoritarian regimes)



Citizenship in the long twilight

The outcome of this election doesn’t change who/what I am, and regardless of the outcome, the election remains but part of the “long twilight struggle”:
“Oddly, the man of detachment, of cool wit and ironic view, preached the ‘long twilight struggle’ in which the most certain thing was that there would be ‘neither victory nor defeat.’

“Yet, the man of commitment, of action, rejected with robustious Teddy the ‘cold and timid’ souls who had no blood and dust upon their faces. And another quotation he liked to throw at university audiences was the rhetorical question of George Curtis of Massachusetts: ‘Would you have counted him a friend of ancient Greece who quietly discussed the theory of patriotism on that hot summer day through whose hopeless and immortal hours Leonidas and the three hundred stood at Thermopylae for liberty? Was John Milton to conjugate Greek verbs in his library when the liberty of Englishmen was imperiled?’

To the students of George Washington University, Kennedy gave his own answer:

“No, quite obviously, the duty of the educated man or woman, the duty of the scholar, is to give his objective sense, his sense of liberty to the maintenance of our society at the critical time.”

– Tom Wickers, #KennedyWithoutTears, ESQUIRE, 1964



Worth revisiting:

“There are currents in history and you have to figure out how to move them in one direction or another,” Rhodes said. “You can’t necessarily determine the final destination. . . . The President subscribes less to a great-man theory of history and more to a great-movement theory of history—that change happens when people force it or circumstances do.” (Later, Obama told me, “I’m not sure Ben is right about that. I believe in both.”)

“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

A little while later, as we were leaving the Oval Office and walking under the colonnade, Obama said, “I just wanted to add one thing to that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing.” He paused yet again, always self-editing. “Not ‘probably,’ ” he said. “It’s definitely a good thing.” 

David Remnick, Going the Distance, The New Yorker, 17 January 2014





“There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days.”

Albert Camus, The Myth if Sisyphus


“A proper understanding of the world view in the Meditations must include not only a sense of the predominant intransigence of human affairs but of their possibilities as well.

“In life, particularly public life, we are not to go ‘expecting Plato’s Republic,’ but to work, he advises, ‘in a principled way, with diligence, energy and patience … If you can embrace this [work] without fear or expectation – can find fulfillment in what you’re doing now … – then your life will be happy.”



#Obama2008 to #IAloneCanFixIt

Voting for change v. Being that change

Eight years ago, I worked on a presidential campaign. Maybe that explains why, while excited about the possibilities of the 2008 presidential election, my enthusiasm is much more restrained.

The 2000 presidential election in Taiwan was historical in its own right. I remember standing on stage at Chung-Shan soccer stadium in Taipei City the eve of the election, experiencing the palpable wave of energy rise from the thousands and thousands of supporters when our nominee, and later president-elect, took the stage. It almost made me cry. But I also remember going home that night with a sense of both excitement and anxiety – the latter, not over what would transpire on election day (is our guy going to win?), but what would happen the hundreds of days thereafter (what are we actually going to do if he wins?)

Taiwanese people voted for change in 2000. They did again, earlier this year. The eight years in between, I think, most would agree, did not go so well.

I also learned that campaign promises are not always (if not rarely) realistic. This is especially true of promises, or at least their insinuations, designed to “rally” the ideological bases, rather than appeal to moderates. A JFK biography noted his favorite book was Herbert Agar’s “The Price of Union.” Agar recounts the particularly acrimonious presidential election of 1896:

“In 1896 … a man who stood for ‘No Compromise’ stampeded a Convention…. ‘We beg no more,’ said Bryan in his ‘cross-of-gold’ speech, ‘we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!’ So did Goldwater defy them. But this was no way to hold together a continent-wide federation of varied interest, occupations, climates and habits of life. Bryan, who was at least a politician, tried to broaden his agrarian base and to capture the factoriy worker for his cause. He failed, and thus lost every northern state east of the Mississippi.

Goldwater never explained what his base was, aside from nostalgia and a bitterness against the compromises of life. So he could not broaden what he could not define, and was beaten far more cruelly than Bryan. But they were both beaten for the same reason: they both, in their rash enthusiasm, forgot that a successful American political party must be a non-ideological affair, accommodating many points of view …. Such parties should never allow themselves to feel, and preach, that the opposition is not only mistaken but wicked. Bryan did this. So did Goldwater, with his suggestion that the Democrats were sowing a form of moral decay throughout America.

The Democratic party was long handicapped by the bitterness consequent to 1896 …. Once, unhappily, both parties failed at the same time in their assuaging mission, both offering us ‘a choice instead of an echo.’ The result was the Civil War.”

I suppose that captures my second disappointment – seeing more of the same: a choice only, and not an echo. For example, while presidential elections have repeatedly brought up issues such as abortion rights, which has been defined (if nevertheless subject to interpretation), much less attention is given to practical problem solving, such as reducing teen pregnancy, perhaps because it does not excite and rally the ideological base.

My final disappointment probably took a little longer to develop. I remember thinking of people’s excitement during campaigns and elections, but what happened thereafter? Supporters of the losing candidate perhaps withdrew in a certain amount of bitterness (the assassination attempt was a conspiracy! We were robbed by hanging chads!). Supporters of the victor, on the other hand, behaved as if all was well or would be well – after all, didn’t the President-elect promise all these fantastic sounding things HE would do? – well, sit back and let him do it for four years. No leader since JFK called on the people to ask what they could do for their country, and it seemed that the people did not ask, and did not do.

I suppose all this led me to think about what “change,” means, and what is required to bring about change, spurred on by fantasy baseball (true), and gaffing off law school, I wrote:

“I used to think that the athletic company Nike’s slogan ‘Just Do It’ was a hackneyed phrase. ‘Just Do It’ – like, c’mon . . . duh. Only recently has it begun to take on an almost mythic quality – a profound declaration of an aspiration rather than a cheap slogan merely stating the obvious. Perhaps, as a matter of fact, most people don’t just do it.

Many of us also like to say that we want to “make a difference.” But what is “difference,” but another way of saying “change”? I believe that there are a great many self-proclaimed “liberals” who, when it comes to action, are quite conservation if not outright prudish. I scratch my head. And here I ask, how are we to make a difference in this world, if privately, we as individuals are so frightened by the unfamiliar, so uncomfortable when out of our “zone”, so adverse to risk, so resistant to change? Furthermore, how do you go about changing resistance to change? Will everything amount to nothing more than a tautological exercise?”

I certainly did not think that any one person, or the political process alone, would be able to address our existing and future challenges. I figured that, insofar as our everyday lives, it ought to start with the little things – with a consistent dedication on the individual level to our immediate communities.

I would say that, it was eerie to hear Obama echo bits of those sentiments, and even JFK’s call to service and for shared sacrifice, during his campaign. That change ought begin from bottom up, e.g., that with respect to education – it ought start with parents at home working with their kids, etc., etc.

So I do, in fact, share in the excitement over possibilities of what may be, at the end of this day. The enthusiasm, perhaps, will return, should election euphoria translate into greater and sustained civic participation and service by Americans, and whether we are offered an echo, and not just a choice.


Because Men Are Not Angels

I endorse America 🇺🇸:

What does democracy entail? Is it as simple as a Choice? Or is it also something more abstract, that includes values such as due process, fairness, and liberty? 

What if, for example, Choice itself isn’t what democracy is, but rather a proxy for Fairness – the notion that each citizen having a voice is Fair and hence, democratic. 

If so, voting for Fascism is in fact anti-democratic, an un-American.


We have this recurring challenge in any large, hierarchical organization. Every layer manages to its own level – no management level looks just one level up. So Operations wants to protect its turf from Marketing and Logistics wants to guard its independence from Operations or whatever. Nobody is willing to look one level up and give an honest assessment of – what is good for the entire organization that might mean my Unit gives up some resources, independence and control?

That’s the problem facing American politics as well. We are so partisan we can no longer make honest assessments of what is best for the Nation.

The difference between the two – a large company or a democracy – is that in a large company you have a CEO approved by an ostensibly independent Board of Directors to make those larger, strategic, for the good of the *whole company decisions. Whereas in a democracy, it descends into the inmates running the asylum, and fighting to choose the President.



#AmericanExceptionalism – is it that American people are exceptional (and the Nigerians, Polish, and Japanese are less so), or is what makes America exceptional our Constitutional Republic – ie, our form of government, which James Madison thought necessary because: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

If we believed that what makes America exceptional was You, and You, and I, maybe we might be inclined to undermine the foundations of our Constitutional Republic when we find them inconvenient (or politically expedient).

What a poor choice that would be.


JAMES MADISON, most cerebral of the Founding Fathers, would have been hopeless on #Twitter. As a rising political star, seeking to understand why the infant American republic was so fragile, he took to the library of his Virginia plantation, Montpelier, for several months. He emerged having written a 39-page study of previous attempts at political union, from the Achaean League to the Belgic Confederacy, as well as a memorandum on “Vices of the Political System of the United States”. Amid all that scholarship lurked ideas about government that he would champion throughout his career, as drafter of the #constitution, a leader in Congress, his country’s chief diplomat and its fourth president.

“… his concern was always to craft a stable, effective popular government, says Lynn Uzzell, scholar-in-residence at Montpelier. He did write in the Federalist Papers, a series of essays urging the ratification of the constitution, that “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” His preceding thought was that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” For him, properly-regulated government was a vital bulwark against human wickedness. That is not the same as seeing the federal government as a tyranny-in-waiting, straining constantly against chains fixed by the Founding Fathers.