Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trump vs. Hillary Debate: You shoulda Watched til the End

Like ten million others, you tuned in to the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential debate. Maybe you got a couple beers beforehand; maybe you went to a party where everybody got a few beers before, during and after.

Gathered around the 60-inch TV, you watched in expectation as the candidates went at it, Trump unloading his characteristic smirks, head-cocks, grimaces and generalizations about the way he's gonna fix taxes and bring business back to the US, believe me, with a tax on goods coming in. Hillary struck you as smart, with her early comment that put "abyss" in the same sentence as "precipice."

But pretty soon Hillary was back to yada-yada-yada, and Trump just kept on with his negative platitudes about how we're in such debt, and jobs are going away, and, well, you asked your friend how her weekend in Cabo went.

Chatting or snacking or looking at the mail became interesting. Hillary smiled at Donald's insults, and spoke in complete sentences. And if you kept watching, you might have noticed Donald slowly melting down. He repeated himself. He started babbling. He got defensive, insisting for far too long that he never supported the war in Iraq, and you can ask this one and then the next one...same with his waffling on the Birther issue--when he claimed his accomplishment was to get Obama to release his birth certificate, and then got tangled in whether or not he really cared about the subject all the years he's been blathering about it.

He crashed on his twice-corrected insistence that he couldn't reveal his tax returns, and fell splat on questions of his inheritance and stiffing workers of their pay. His answers on racism weren't much different from Hillary's except his repetition of "law and order."

If your friend's trip to Cabo hadn't been so interesting, you might have kept watching to see these Trump pratfalls, but after the first half hour, the exercise got so yawn-worthy, well, you felt you'd been there, done that.

That's the thing: anyone for Hillary came away from the TV feeling smug. Anyone for Donald was unmoved, because it's not really what he says that earns support, it's the way he says it. And he stayed the course with his "it's a disaster" message about everything in the US, and even insisting that paying no taxes was 'good business' earned the cheers of those eager to snub the sensible yada-yada-yada of politics as usual--which Hillary so capably represents.

Friday, July 22, 2016

I Was There: The Cleveland Republican National Convention

My photos of the Republican National Convention 7-21-16
Just got off the plane from Cleveland, where I spent five days interacting--and not--at the Republican National Convention.

What was it like? Chaos, conflict, whispers to us from people saying they're not for Trump. The fact they'd look over their shoulders while whispering says something.

The people who paid their own money to attend, and that's all the delegates and most in the audience (including me) came to the convention a mixed bag. Most were already on board for Trump; some delegates were committed to others. The vote Monday night to release delegates to vote according to personal choice failed narrowly. That sewed up the Trump coronation.

The rest of the convention, from my vantage, seemed like what you'd expect--an effort to build momentum for Trump. And in Cleveland, it was effective.

Trump's greatest assets are his children, and they'd practiced their well-crafted speeches and delivered them well. Melania's, embroiled in a plagiarism dispute, then concession afterward, was endearing, because it was clear that she was uncomfortable and that English is her second language.

I was disappointed in Marco Rubio's one-minute, twenty second videotaped endorsement. He looked like a wimp.

Ted Cruz started out in person at the Convention podium congratulating Donald Trump for winning the primary race and the nomination. He went on to urge conservative principles by voting for Republicans down-ticket. The boos for suggesting they vote their consciences reflected the type of crowd who chose to attend this particular topsy-turvy event.

The climax on Thursday night featured one heavy-handed piece of Trump praise after the next. However, I must say I was reminded of my last convention experience in Tampa, where the same laudatory style of lineup effectively introduced Mitt Romney. The glorification squad was conspicuously heavy on women and people of color, especially in videos featuring employees of the Trump organization.

Ivanka's introduction was a litany of women's issues--day care, maternity leave, women's
Ivanka Trump praising her dad
wages, set in a well-written series of personal testimonials about her father's competence--"
I’ve learned a lot about the world from walking construction jobs by his side." She has the advantages of being a female millennial.

Trump has an arrogant air and a ceaseless smirk. He read his speech from a teleprompter and it touched upon everything on a conservative's wish list except where the money will come from to pay for new big-ticket items he proposes--tax reductions, bolstering the military, "taking care of our veterans," making college affordable. He repeated his (to my mind, offensive) determination to build a big wall to keep out Hispanics crossing the southern border, as well as his pledge to spurn any immigrants from countries with terrorist issues.

By the time the balloons and confetti fell, the hall had reverberated to chants of "lock her up!" and several rounds of "U-S-A!" All the America-First-ism and "I am your law and order candidate!" talk was a bit scary to me. The hordes were fired up and ready to go; a moment's distraction by a woman hoping to hoist some kind of protest sign (she was white; I couldn't read the sign) was quickly squelched. By the way, Trump did thank the evangelical Christian community, but he never used the word "God" in his speech other than the perfunctory "God bless you" at the very end.
When the balloons and confetti fell, everyone cheered

The upshot: The mood in Cleveland concluded as exuberantly as any other convention, mainly because everyone left participating was already aboard the Trump Train.

The news coverage, however, was a lot less celebratory, and with the Democratic Convention upcoming, I think any uptick the Republicans gain this week will be cancelled out next week.

But this year, with two disliked candidates, it's anybody's call. My takeaway is that the campaign still has a long way to go.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trump turns American Values Upside Down

In the past, the American electorate expected certain qualifications and behaviors of its President.The office carried a certain gravitas, a certain level of respect and decorum required in recognition of the responsibility carried by that august post. Now, to our nation's detriment, the GOP candidate, Donald Trump, is turning those values upside down.

Morality: Ronald Reagan, considered a Republican icon, had a serious smirch on his record when he ran for president in 1980: he was divorced from Jane Wyman and a few years later married Nancy, in one of the most touching relationships of our time. Yet divorce suggested that one couldn't breach differences--which was a qualification especially important during the Cold War.

Divorce also suggested a disrespect for the family, a lack of concern for children, and a failure in one's past. How can we escape the comparison with Donald Trump's braggadocio, demurring in The Art of the Comeback to detail his experiences with "often seemingly very happily married and important women"? Two of his three marriages ended distastefully in divorce, one after philandering with Marla Maples, whose rapturous headline about it blared across the New York Post: "Best Sex I've Ever Had," with a smirking Donald-head as the full-page graphic.

At their 1993 wedding, Marla and Donald's daughter Tiffany was already two months old. Trump exited that marriage after six years upon catching Marla and her bodyguard in a roadside compromising position. 

Ronald Reagan looked at the many immigrants who'd come to our country without paperwork--often because their own country's system was corrupt--and who worked dedicatedly in an array of jobs upwardly mobile Americans increasingly eschewed. What did he grant them? Amnesty, a word now reviled by the right, and derided by Trump.

Compassion for those fleeing untenable conditions in their countries seems missing with Trump. He'd apply (an unconstitutional) religious test for entry, barring all Muslims, and spend $200,000 in taxpayer funds to deport each of 11.3 million undocumented residents, ripping them from their jobs, their homes (a third of the undocumented own homes, up to 46% in several states) and their families. Clever businessman Trump seems to think the huge taxpayer cost to rid our nation of entrants with immigration infractions is a better course than receiving billions of dollars for our flagging Social Security and Medicare coffers. Between 1996-2003, the undocumented gave $90 billion to those two programs, an amount that's only escalated since then.

The Statue of Liberty must be cringing.

Incivility: Parents used to inspire their children with the phrase "You could grow up to be President!" but what parent wants his child to emulate the coarse speech of the GOP candidate? His language is childish--in South Carolina he boasted, "I know words. I have the best words."

But far worse is that the words he seems to know are rude, vapid and bullying. We teach our children not to insult others, particularly on their physical characteristics, and then laugh and even support one who spouts the most crass denouncements, particularly about women. This is no help to teen girls struggling to value themselves for their potentials rather than their physicalities. And it abets boys' worst inclinations.

A Google search for "most offensive Trump quotes" brings 1.1 million results.

International Relations: In the past, the crucial criterion for US President was foreign affairs knowledge and experience. After all, the primary function of the federal government is to protect the safety of our United States.

 Take a look at some of Trump's foreign policies and see how well-considered they are. For example, on Syria: "I do not like the people coming. What they should do is, the countries should all get together, including the Gulf states, who have nothing but money, they should all get together and they should take a big swath of land in Syria and they do a safe zone for people, where they could go to live, and then ultimately go back to their country, go back to where they came from." Easy-peasy.

Domestic Issues:  Since Trump decided to purge the US of undocumented immigrants, Mexicans in particular, (ignoring the facts that 40% of the undocumented arrived legally, and that half of illegals came from countries other than Mexico), he's made several questionable proposals. First is his insistence that Mexico pay for an 80-foot wall along the border. His means toward that is to forbid the transfer of funds into Mexico by anyone without proof of legal residency, depriving poor families of sustenance.

On the economy, he advocates continuing the soon-to-be bankrupt Social Security and Medicare systems (and also replacing Obamacare) though he mentions neither of these among the six topics he covers in the "positions" section of his website. His trade proposals, according to many including a New York Times analysis, would not create more American jobs and could result in Chinese retaliation, though many of his plans appear to violate international trade law.

On Race Relations--well I dare you to read the entire transcript of a March 21 interview with the Washington Post. In it Trump is repeatedly asked how he would heal racial divides, and he gives redundant, evasive responses that with great tenacity can be reduced to increasing "spirit" in cities like Baltimore and Detroit, and providing jobs for unemployed Black males by bringing work from China "back" to the US.

A New (scary) Priority: I've tried to open-mindedly understand the basis of Trump-supporters' zeal, reading many articles in which they attempt to explain. The take-away is that Trump is a tough-guy deal-maker who gives vent to their frustration with the political establishment and will push through his policies, as off-the-cuff (and therefore appealing) as they may be. This is a value I fear--response to feelings rather than logic; to emotion rather than consideration, and especially-- to immediate gratification rather than a broader view. Trumpsters reject the characteristics once sought in a president.

"The Establishment" was always the enemy to rebellious youth, I'm sure since before beatniks in the 50s, or hippies in the 60s, and it's sure the villain on the Trump train. But if you think about it--rising to become "The Establishment" requires the skills we need in a leader. Someone who can understand the system, start at the bottom, work his or her way up, along the way gaining experience, expertise and wisdom. The fact that Trumpsters think seasoned lawmakers--all chosen by their constituents--who've survived this process and worked with their colleagues for years should be "trumped" by a renegade, lawsuit-mired political neophyte shows the dizzy effect of so many values turned upside down.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Why People Don't Talk About Religion

I'm listening to the Michael Medved radio show, and he's talking about why few people are willing to discuss religion in social situations. Let me offer my response.

Remember when there were two topics not to be discussed in polite company lest someone become upset? Those two used to be politics and religion. No longer. Now, politics may be like a religion to many people, but talking politics reigns, as radio and Saturday Night Live, and outlets for our feelings--like this blog--let us spew our passions about current events to anyone with a smartphone or computer.

But the taboo against discussing religion is stronger than ever, as one's faith is considered extremely personal. Unless you believe that it's your duty and job to lead others to it.

For most people, uncertainty about God and what God wants is a bit disturbing, and sometimes brings guilt, confusion, doubt or discomfort. It involves many emotions, and rests in the intangible and un-provable. That's why it's called "faith."

Making people uncomfortable isn't a nice thing to do. Much better to avoid the topic and keep the relationship on an intellectual, real-life basis.

I confess that at our Shabbat table I made a mistake and asked two guests to explain, in one case what brought her into her religion, and in another case, what led him to leave it.
The one who came to her church said "it just felt right." The one who left it said his research regarding the physical world caused him to disbelieve tenets of the faith.

As a psychologist, I love learning how people think. And I care about the people I invite for Shabbat, and want to know more about them. As a hostess,though, I'm a flop--I made two guests uncomfortable. I hereby apologize for putting them on the spot.

If you believe that scriptures are from God, and that they're the truth, you're going to be passionate about them. Other than from its own material, can any religion prove it's correct, or that other people should believe it? Can anyone be objective about the religion he accepts as God's word?

In a nation becoming increasingly diverse as immigrants from more varied homelands contribute their cultures and beliefs, it's ever-more-difficult to insist any single faith is "the one." The only thing adherents can assert is that it's "the one for me."

That's why the Shabbat guest who answered "it just felt right" is as worthy of respect as the one who said, in effect, "it no longer felt right." And unless you want to get into doctrines--and who does?--what kind of conversation is that?

Much better to just let it go. It's part of our tolerance trend, or the "whatever gender you say you are" shrug, or our 'as long as nobody's hurt" acceptance. Sure, you can do your religion, and I'll either do mine, or, as increasingly politically correct, I'll do none, thank you. Not talking about religion now falls under the banner of respect. You can't knock respect.

Except when you're talking about politics...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lucky to live in the US: Murder Rates Down Sharply in the Land of Law and Gratitude

Newly naturalized citizens sing "God Bless America"
In these days when the presidential race is driving everyone batty, and candidates capitalize on how awful everything is, we need some good news. Here it is.

Black lives and all lives do matter, and more of them are being preserved. A new study in the American Sociological Review of 131 of the largest US metropolitan areas found the rate of homicides way down, within and across black, Hispanic and White populations.

Changes in the two decades between 1990 and 2010 are only for the best--and show great strides.

*The black-white homicide victimization rate gap decreased by 40%.

*White homicides are down from 4.8 per 100,000 in 1990 to 3.1 in 2010.

*The black homicide rate went down from 33.9 per 100,000 in 1990 to 20.5 in 2010.

*Homicides of Hispanics crashed from 12.4 per 100,000 in 2010 to 6.6 in 2010--a forty-seven percent decrease.

And the new research contradicts certain candidates' claims, by showing that immigrants very rarely perpetrate crimes. "People who decide to come here are not people with strong tendencies toward violent crime," says study co-author Jeffrey T. Ulmer of Penn State University. "They are coming here for educational opportunities, employment opportunities and opportunities to help their families."

We're so lucky to live in the U.S.

A good friend came by, wearing a long face. "What's the matter?" I asked. He was grieving over the murder-by-gunshot of the mayor of his hometown, San Dionisio in El Salvador. He explained that the mayor, elected to his sixth 3-year term, was beloved by all, because he gave building materials, food and assistance to his impoverished constituents. Mayor Julio Torres had gone missing after milking the cows at his dairy farm. A day later, after an intense search, his body was found. 
Julio Torres, beloved mayor of San Dionisio, murdered by gangs

El Salvador has no rule of law. My friend describes bus drivers, fruit vendors and even children accosted on the street by armed robbers, who murder their victims whether or not they have any money to give. Gangs rule and the government can't contain them.

"When you sit down, you'll be US Citizens."
In contrast, my son told me today of his co-worker, who accompanied his wife to her US naturalization ceremony yesterday. The co-worker described the intense emotion with which the new citizens received their status. They rose to raise their hands and recite an oath of allegiance, and the judge told them, "when you sit down again, you will all be American citizens." The tears of gratitude flowed for the significance of that moment.

We should not take our homeland for granted. God bless America.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Is Trump a Sociopath?

At our Sabbath lunch table yesterday, one of my guests asked me pointedly, "Given your expertise as a psychologist, would you say Donald Trump is a sociopath?"

I can't give a professional diagnosis, but from his public appearances and the way he continuously makes inflamatory (perhaps racist, perhaps misogynistic) statements, you'd have to wonder. Here's a list of sociopathological characteristics useful in evaluating Trump*:

  • Superficial charm and good intelligence
  • Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
  • Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations
  • Unreliability
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity
  • Lack of remorse and shame
  • Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
  • Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
  • Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
  • General poverty in major affective reactions
  • Specific loss of insight
  • Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
  • Fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without
  • Sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated
  • Failure to follow any life plan
You can judge for yourself, but I do know that politically, Trump is dysfunctional and self-destructive. How so? He undermines his own progress by needlessly going on the offensive (literally).

Out of the blue, weeks after his last TV debate with Megyn Kelly, he decided to Tweet another hit on the Fox News anchor, adding to his collection of childish names, including "sick," "overrated," "unwatchable," and "crazy."

He got in trouble previously for snarky comments about former rival Carly Fiorina's looks ("Look at that face. Can you imagine that as the face of our next President?"). Then he went after Heidi Cruz, threatening to "spill the beans" about her, and then publishing an unflattering photo with a glamour shot of his wife, a former-model.

Next comes a front-page Enquirer banner story that blared, "It's over for Pervy Ted! Their
Shocking Claims--Cruz's Five Secret Mistresses!" Cruz quickly called the story "trash" and blamed Trump's "henchmen." (Trump denied association to the Enquirer story, adding, "while they were right about OJ Simpson, John Edwards and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin' Ted Cruz.")

How does this wallowing in the muck help Trump? Even his base must question the sanity of their candidate's uncontrollable tweets. At at time when Trump most needs to look credibly Presidential, he undermines any gains with his impulsive, aggressive jabs. Trump's success at AIPAC with a speech by his son-in-law Jered Kushner (Trump's only teleprompter-read presentation) was immediately undone by his renewed sleazy attacks.

This is dysfunction: Working to set yourself up for success and then undermining your own efforts.

My husband made an excellent observation: Trump wants to win, but he doesn't want to govern. It's a conflict that causes him to self-sabotage.

If he really wanted to win, he wouldn't shoot himself in the foot (reminds me of his comment "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?"). If indeed he's not stupid, and I am increasingly unsure about that, he would see that to win, he must widen his support, not endanger it.

He needs to prove his grasp of domestic and international issues, leading the military, and working with those who oppose him. Instead, he's mired in cutting comments, personal lawsuits and scandals, and general assurances that we needn't know specifics because, believe him, his solutions will be great and brilliant. His pattern is to foment criticism, and then lash out with an even harsher attack.

This penchant for self-destruction is now leaving even those who once admired his chutzpah astonished. There's no point in crudely attacking a fellow Republican, especially if Trump has confidence (as he often asserts) that he'll earn nomination. Trump has lowered the campaign to where parents now must shield their children from the political process.

A new Bloomberg poll taken March 18-22 finds Trump's net favorability rating just 29%; his net unfavorable is 68%. Hillary's favorable is 44% and her unfavorable 53%. In a contest between the two, who wins?

John Kasich: I think, therefore I can
Therefore, I repeat my post of two weeks ago: a vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary. At this point, Republicans desperately need a candidate who can attract both Hillary haters and Trump disdainers. Cruz is also disliked, with unfavorables at 55% and favorables just 32%. Kasich seems too far from getting the nod, but his favorability, according to the same Bloomberg poll, is 46%, higher than Hillary's, and his unfavorability is lower than hers, at just 32%. He's actually the best-liked of the lot.

I find Kasich a bit creepy, but I do admire that he refused to join the Trump mud-slinging, and focuses on policies and experience. He might be the best bet to save the GOP, and the nation, from spiraling disaster.

We certainly cannot afford to have a sociopath for President.

* Characteristics of a sociopath from Thomas, M.E., "How to Spot a Sociopath," Psychology Today, May 7, 2013.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

You support Trump? Here's my Reply

Donald Trump. It's not easy being orange.
Recently someone I respect sent me a newsy email in which he casually mentioned that he supported Trump.

It was as if a giant elephant just fell into the room. "How could you possibly support Trump?" I asked, agog.

 I do try to understand; I read articles with quotes from Trumpites, and they say the GOP front-runner expresses their anger, or he says what they're thinking, or he's politically incorrect and will shake everything up, or he's a deal-maker and running the country is about deals.

Few Trumpsters say they support him because they like his policies, or they revere his upstanding character, or for his record in international relations, domestic lawmaking, handling crises or joining together opposing groups.

Far from uniting us, as he claims he'll do, feelings about Trump are polarizing Americans, individually, and in small and large groups. Politics' divisiveness is impinging on our lives and causing depression. And speaking of psychoses,  I cannot understand how Ben Carson endorsed him, after Trump called out Carson's "psychological disease," and suggested he's a "child molester" and a “sick puppy.” (Dr. Carson in his endorsement said there are "two Donald Trumps." Is that the doctor's diagnosis of schizophrenia?)

 I am flummoxed that Chris Christie endorsed him so shortly after asserting Trump "did not have the temperament" for the presidency.

It's true that a president needs tact. Trump demonstrates little understanding of the delicacy of diplomacy in any context. And were he to have access to nuclear bombs and armies, it could mean literally the end of the world. Those stakes are too high.

Trump may be right that he "could shoot someone without losing voters." Thousands of Trump University students and the New York Attorney General are actively suing, claiming enrollees were misled into a fraudulent educational experience. Doesn't matter, Trumpers know it's fine, since Donald shrugged it off on TV.

If he were honest in and about his business dealings, I wouldn't care that some of his endeavors failed. Much more important to presidential success is proven ability to work in the milieu of Washington. The culture and protocol of national politics will not crumble, even if a brazen president wills it. Thousands of people have built careers within a reliable web of agreements and relationships, and will not scrap their investments in Washington's political structure.

Trump can never win the presidency because the majority of voters, even voters and politicos in his own party, disdain him. Not just because he's an arrogant bully (though he is) but mainly because he is dangerously unpredictable. We don’t know what he plans to do, and if he hints at something in response to a journalist's questioning, he’s only too willing to totally change it, even on the same day, if his feelings change.

Every debate and speech Trump makes teaches us how he operates, and that is, Donald Trump wings it. He says what he feels at the time, unplanned. His speeches are off the cuff; his responses to charges are counter-attacks, often ad hominem.

And that teaches us, the American people, that his policies and messages to dignitaries will be winged, too. What Donald feels, Donald says—until he changes his mind and undoes it.
NY Times pic of Donald Trump at his University

The one thing to look for in a leader is long-term perspective. Someone who doesn’t wing it, but looks far into the future at potential ramifications of short-term steps, toward a lofty, worthwhile goal. Trump has no aspiration to a virtuous future more moral or dignified than the kind of ambiance he fosters now. He has no affinity for any religion, and suspicious enmity toward Muslims. He only mentions God when trying to win over preachers and congregations.

 When someone peppers his comments with “Believe me,” you know you can’t. When someone criticizes him, Donald automatically goes on the offensive with something more rude and outrageous than what was lobbed at him.

There is one commonality in the responses of Trump admirers--they're based on emotions. If you're angry, if you're resentful, if you feel threatened by immigrants who could take your job, or who change the character of your neighborhood, you're driven by powerful emotions. And seldom can logic dissuade you.

I'm a psychologist, and this principle applies to behavior in every realm, marriages, work, and  friendships: Emotions trump logic. I've been using that phrase for decades before Donald Trump made it so apropos.

Donald Trump fires up emotions, but we should not be led by emotions. The central Jewish prayer "the Shma" warns not to follow your heart, lest you're lured away from duty and nobility. Because emotions are compelling, my logical arguments probably won't sway my emailing friend away from Trump. But we risk severe peril if we collectively succumb to emotion and eschew the calm pursuit of civility in a long-term context.