Oh, I Understand Plenty

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I honestly and sincerely swore I wouldn’t write about politics again this election season but conditions impress upon me the need, the obligation, the responsibility to speak.

This year, many commentators are wondering aloud how we could have gotten to the place we today occupy – an ignorant, narcissistic sociopath is a major party’s nominee for the presidency. And, let’s not be coy, I’m talking about the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

In the course of the period of my lifetime, barely one-fourth of the total period of American history, politics have devolved to the level of apes – no, this unfairly devalues ape society. When I was younger, Republicans stood for something understandable and American – main street sensibility, small central government, an ethic of hard work, economic opportunity. I may not have agreed with all of it but I understood and appreciated it as a coherent political philosophy.

What today’s Republican Party stands for isn’t beyond my comprehension exactly, more beneath my contempt. Today’s GOP is proudly bigoted, ignorant, racist, sexist and materialistic. It is anti-American, at least as I understand and use that term.

Let’s get concrete.

A man of color has occupied the White House for almost eight years. Republicans have never accepted him as the legitimate president of the United States. They have done everything possible to thwart his due exercise of office. Indeed, they have tried to de-legitimize him at every opportunity.

How? By supposing out loud that he was born in Africa, that he is a secret Muslim, that he is a sleeper agent of a terrorist cell, that his election and re-election were illegitimate.

He’s been made out to be foreign. We’ve been shown pictures of him with a bull’s eye on his chest, dressed as a witch doctor, as Adolph Hitler, in minstrel-show blackface. The entire media apparatus of News Corp (Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, et al.) was purposefully arrayed against him in vile and personal attacks.

And why?

Simply because of the color of his skin.

The same rough-justice mechanism is now being deployed against the Democratic Party’s next standard bearer for the unpardonable crime of being a woman.

Here is the truth: American demographics are our destiny.

Some years ago, Republicans made a pact with the devil – the Tea Party and other anti-American extremists – in the vain hope of remaining politically and socially relevant. It was a fool’s bargain. Our country is changing, has changed. Any party that caters to white male resentment as its backbone is doomed. The fact is, Republicans are already dead; they just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge it.

And yet, TV pundits feign confusion about what’s going on in the American political landscape. As if they didn’t know.

I beg you, in the deepest way I know how, to say it simply, plainly and out loud: the Republican Party has staked its life on appealing to the basest instincts of a declining portion of the American electorate and it will die as a result. And it will die very soon. And there is nothing the party hierarchy or its craven media whore can do to stop it.

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This, You’ve Got to Know

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Sadly, I never took a single course from the late William Ker (Sandy) Muir but (not sadly) he absolutely changed my life and how I live it.

Muir was a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, when I was an undergraduate. Our paths crossed many times in my several years at Cal; he often met with incoming students when I worked new student orientations and I was mesmerized by him. He walked in on metal crutches, slowly, carefully. He’d had polio, I was told. (Later in life, I understood he used a wheelchair to navigate the hilly Berkeley campus and its labyrinthine halls.) He stood ramrod straight at the lectern, weaving engrossing stories in stylish but spare prose.

He had a sincerely warm manner, blazing smile and inviting personality. New Cal students loved him and I became a fan.

But, you know, I was busy at other matters and never took his classes.

It wasn’t until years later, as a grad student studying negotiation, I came across Police: Streetcorner Politicians, his amazing book that blew my mind. In it, Muir talked about the limitations of coercive power (i.e., force) and how it, paradoxically, puts those who employ violence on behalf of the state at a distinct power disadvantage.

That book got me thinking critically, for the first time, about the limits violence puts on those who employ it, rather than those upon whom it is employed. Many times, Muir shows, by outlining the 4 paradoxes of force (the Paradox of Dispossession, the Paradox of Detachment, the Paradox of Face and the Paradox of Irrationality), that those with the most power can be put at a distinct disadvantage. Furthermore, those attempting to coerce others into specific actions must use wisdom in addition to threats of violence and physical strength (or weapons), or they will be, at best, ineffective, or, at worst, dominated or dead.

This book completely changed my conception, not only of negotiation strategy, which had been the point of reading it, but also of interpersonal relations. Thanks to Sandy Muir’s brilliant study of the Oakland Police Department, I think very seldom of coercion as a negotiation (or personal) approach and am almost impossible to coerce in negotiations.

(How I wish Muir had been consulted by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al., before they unleashed all holy hell on Iraq – but that’s another story.)

Sadly, Sandy Muir passed away last week; one of his great professional achievements is duly noted and my personal appreciation for him hereby expressed.

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