Thursday, March 30, 2017

Had Enough Yet Of Trumpalooza?

It’s now been two months of the Trump Administration barrage of executive orders, nominations and appointments claiming to bring about a new social, political and economic order. “When will there be good news again?” one news reader asks. “I can’t stand what I read every day,” another said, “but I can’t help but read the news every day.” Frankly, I don’t think it will get any easier.

The daily rounds of incoming bad news is not like a war zone but some of the anticipated effect of shock and awe is psychologically akin to what was once called shell shock: that numbness, that desensitized, nervous, anxious feeling. Unlike having to suffer in the foxhole, the trench or the basement bomb shelter, you can (and some advise us to) unplug. Have sex, play with the dog or the kids, walk in the woods, clean the closet or the garage.

But it’s hard not to keep reading, listening, watching. In the last two months the Trump barrage has come down on climate change, digging and burning coal, oil pipeline, immigration, deportation, health care, reproductive rights, science, public broadcasting, education, communication privacy, LGBT rights, Muslims, Hispanics... Trump and his cronies and emerging phalanx of industry collaborators have pretty much demonstrated who will win and who won’t in the new Trumpean Order. It’s as if “We are the 99%” and “Citizens United” and “Black Lives Matter” never happened.

This is a long march. Some of the fervor of the early opposition will probably be lost as the worst is averted (the GOP did not repeal the ACA) or sports and summer grab people’s attention.

However, more troubling is having to make choices as to where to put one’s dollars and time on multiple fronts under siege. This is the danger of battle fatigue. How can everything be important? Will there need to be winners and losers among the causes we champion?

A few years back David Domke of the UW School of Communication advised groups working for the social good to recognize in their communications that the majority public we wished to reach drank drip coffee, not espresso, watched Wheel of Fortune rather than PBS, and shopped at WalMart. He advised us to think through how we could communicate our individual messages in common themes of responsibility, opportunity and legacy so that, while individual in our efforts, we would be heard as standing together in our larger goals.

I think it’s crucial that we start that thinking as our causes come under assault. We need to show how our causes are thematically linked and form a united front that speaks to the kind of society and its values we are fighting for. I think those themes have something to do with equal opportunity, diversity, transparency and the rule of law. I don’t see it coming out of either the Republican or Democratic parties. If we are saying more than “no” to Trump and his cronies, who are “we” and what do we, united, stand for?

One good way to think about this is to chew on a recent piece by Eric Liu titled “How To Get Power” published in TED.Ideas. (Simone Alicea at KNKX interviewed Liu in advance of his talk in Seattle promoting his new book, You're More Powerful than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen. Listen at: Citizen University Founder Says You're More Powerful Than You Think)

For Liu, the crux is the stories we tell to others: the story of self (what this cause means to me), the story of us (what we share that makes “us” us), and the story of now (this time, this moment calling for action.) Liu makes it tantalizingly simple: “Of these three stories, the middle one — about us — is crucial...Who is “us”?” I say “tantalizingly simple” because many have swooned over the simplicity of Tom Peters’ Passion For Excellence and Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point but found carrying out their lessons in the real world difficult.

For example, we know who “us” is among those who are part of the choir of loving animals and nature but do those who sing for LGBT rights or reproductive rights or immigration rights sing their songs about “us” that includes all of us? If you think it doesn’t matter, that’s that. But if you think if having a story we tell about us that includes many of us makes us more powerful against Trump and his cronies and collaborators, chew hard. I think it will take a lot of listening and give and take to converse about “us” so we can talk about “us.” There’s no guarantee we’ll be successful— but if there’s a kind of social, political and economic order we want to see as our society moving forward, that’s the kind of hard work it will take.

Let me know what you think.

--Mike Sato

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Would You Shake Hands With A Groper?

 Update: The Elephant in the Room It’s time we talked openly about Donald Trump’s mental health.  Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo Ph.D. 2/26/17 (Psychology Today)

Would you shake hands with a someone who groped women? Someone who disrespects judges and a free press? Someone who lies and bullies the vulnerable? I’ve been thinking about this civil act of shaking hands for the past month of the Trump presidency.

I didn’t watch the address to Congress last week (I went to a talk about loons instead) but the TV replay showed lots of handshaking. Commentaries noted how ‘presidential’ Trump was without his customary campaign-style histrionics.

Handshaking is a custom that may have originated in ancient times to show a peaceful intent; the open hand having no weapon. According to Wikipedia, “The handshake is commonly done upon meeting, greeting, parting, offering congratulations, expressing gratitude, or completing an agreement. In sports or other competitive activities, it is also done as a sign of good sportsmanship. Its purpose is to convey trust, respect, balance, and equality. If it is done to form an agreement, the agreement is not official until the hands are parted.” Handshake

My gut feeling faced with the prospects of shaking hands with the President is one of revulsion. But that feeling is in deep conflict with the norms of what I grew up with and internalized as civilized behavior: At an all-boys Episcopal prep school one stands when a woman enters the room, says “sir” and “ma’am,” and shakes hands with a firm grip and eye-to-eye contact. You say, please, and you say, thank you and excuse me, and you respect your elders.

A lot of those norms got tested in the cultural cauldron of the ‘60s. I read Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals which examines where societal rules and moral norms come from and their purpose in maintaining social order and the authority of the status quo. I think it was Reed College history prof Owen Ulph who posited that, when the system is corrupt, the social contract with the state is broken and rules no longer apply. Hold that thought, then read Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke and write one’s own life essay on what it means to live a civil life in a time of change.

Unlike Will Rogers, I’ve met and known of a number of people I didn’t like. But I’ve never felt the moral and physical revulsion as I feel with the President. I’ve shaken hands with people I’ve disagreed with, feeling, despite disagreements, we still lived in the same moral universe. From all he’s said, says and done, President Trump and I live in different moral universes.

So, no handshake. But I think about— and worry about— what it means when I cannot maintain one of the most basic norms of civil greeting and tradition. What would a handshake between President Trump and me mean?

For me, the handshake conveys the currency of trust. I’ve shaken hands with people I’ve trusted my life to, my children to, my finances to. With elected officials, bureaucrats and business associates, the handshake’s currency of trust means I will do my part of the relationship and you will do yours. It may very well be a social contract whose rules and norms maintain the status quo, but that is what the currency of trust provides. With no social contract, there is no trust, no handshake. With no trust and no handshake, there is no social contract.

That’s not a comfortable feeling but that’s as far as I’ve come thus far in the current presidency, notwithstanding Trump’s last attempt to appear ‘presidential.’  I never felt this way, despite anger and disappointment, when Nixon, Reagan and Bush 2 began their presidencies. The shorter the term of Trump and his tribe the better.

Would you shake hands with President Trump?

-- Mike Sato