07 January 2016

Thoughts on Trump, Progress, Congress, the Gap Between Experienced Reality and Global Reality, and Bad News

Donald Trump sometimes says very reasonable things. "We spent $4 trillion in Iraq, lost the lives of thousands of our soldiers and caused those people terrible grief. I'd rather have spent the money here on roads and bridges." That's actually pretty reasonable. The fact that he sometimes makes reasonable points doesn't make him a reasonable candidate, though.

Killers are sometimes nice to the vast majority of the people they meet. That doesn't make them nice people.

Donald doesn't have to say too many unconstitutional and loony things to be unreasonable, just as someone doesn't have to kill too many people to be a killer.


It's called progress. Not perfection.

It's easy to be critical of the economy and it is right to point out what is still missing, unjust, and inadequate. That sort of commentary should never be confused with metrics that show we're getting better. When the economy is creating new jobs, wealth, and products and reducing rates of poverty globally, that's progress. And that's pretty good.


Congress is severely criticized for being ineffective. It doesn't pass many bills.

I don't know that it's ineffective. It might just be representative. If you have to find issues that rural voters in Kentucky agree on with urban voters in San Francisco, it's going to be a short-list of initiatives. It might just be that Congress doesn't do much because there is not that much that Americans agree on.


So many of the really divisive political issues are abstractly experienced. Unemployment is awful at 10% but great at 5%. The difference in whether you have a job or not in those two scenarios is 90% or 95%. "You" probably have a job when unemployment is high and when it is low. The difference is what you hear about in the media, or from friends. Similarly, nobody experiences global warming. If global temps rise 2 degrees, no one person experiences just that. One place might actually be colder, another wetter, another hotter .... but the experience of climate change is something we hear about rather than directly experience.

Given this gap between immediate experiences and reported on experiences, there is room for a variety of worldviews that are - at best - loosely connected to larger realities. Unemployment is up? I don't think so. I've got a job and so do all of my friends who really want a job and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. Unemployment is down? I don't think so. My spouse has a graduate degree and is only an assistant manager at Olive Garden. Global warming? Oh yeah. So why are we having record colds and a polar vortex? The connection between global realities and local realities can be random enough to let any number of odd theories emerge as credible.

The more that some outside agency has to play intermediary between our experience and what is happening globally, the more that role is subject to hijacking by ideologues.


The news is dominated by systems failures.  A water main breaks, flooding an area. A house bursts into flame. Someone walks into a mall to shoot strangers. It's predominantly bad news. It's not the failure of systems that ultimately defines history, though. It's their evolution.

What if there were sources of news that focused instead on progress, on systems getting better rather than on their moments of failure? People who lived through auto accidents who would have been killed decades earlier before air bags, or procedures or medicines that obsolete certain kinds of death?  Schools that offer new ways to learn for more people. It might actually improve quality of life simply by letting people focus on the positive rather than the negative. And improve it again by inspiring more progress through example and a reminder of how things can get better.

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