We’re Living Through The Morton Downey Jr. Presidency

morton downey jr with american flagThese are odd times.

Regardless of which party you support, we can all agree that politics as usual has been upended in Washington and in many parts of the country. Voters have thrown surprising levels of support to complete outsiders (Donald Trump) or fringe figures (Bernie Sanders) who had never before been taken seriously as political forces.

A serious problem with today’s political climate, however, is the amount of rage which drives the conversation, at the expense of realistic, detailed proposals to address serious issues. Donald Trump leads the way there, as he shows little interest in public policy debates on healthcare, taxes, or anything else, and only wants to be seen as “winning” by his supporters.

This all reminds me of an episode we’ve been through before, when a loudmouthed blowhard tore up behavioral norms and enjoyed huge success in the media.

For a while there, it looked like Morton Downey Jr. was going to take over the TV world.

The Morton Downey Jr. Show

For those of you who don’t remember, Morton Downey Jr. hosted a talk show in the late 1980’s which enjoyed a sensational run on syndicated TV. Downey broke all the rules regarding civility and decency on American television, and opened up new terrain for the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich to explore.

He yelled, he berated those he disagreed with, he rolled up his sleeves and chain-smoked with abandon as his audience roared their approval and begged for more.

Just see for yourself:

So is this the path we’re heading down as a country?

Has civil discourse descended into the gutter, with political discussions forever breaking down like an audience fight at the Geraldo Rivera Show?

Perhaps not.

As flashy as Morton Downey Jr.’s rise was, his fall was swift and relatively quiet. The show’s run lasted just under two years, a blip on the radar of TV history, really. On the way down it was pushed out of the way by The Arsenio Hall Show, an utter reversal not just in terms of diversity but civility as well.

Sure, you can still find shows that link back to Downey’s style in various corners of the media market, which is a much broader and specialized business than it was 30 years ago. But it has fallen far from the heights it enjoyed back then.

There’s hope that just as TV viewers back then grew tired of the yelling and screaming, our American voters of today will begin to ask for leaders with adult solutions to adult problems.

Will the cheap thrill of rage politics wear off by the 2018 mid-terms? That’s the big question facing both parties over the next year.

How Empathy Led Donald Trump To The White House (Really!)

Donald Trump

There are many words one can use to describe Donald Trump’s personal qualities, but I’m guessing “empathy” isn’t high on many people’s list, whether they support him or not.

Empathy may have been the critical factor in his 2016 Presidential election victory, however.

The reason can be found in the latest episode of Waking Up (“Abusing Delores“), the podcast from Sam Harris. It brought up an insightful discussion that speaks to one of the main reasons I recently started this anonymous blog.

Empathy vs Compassion

Harris and his guest Paul Bloom talk about a difference between empathy and compassion, two words that most of us consider to be wonderful qualities that help bind moral societies together.

  • Empathy is defined as personally engaging with the emotional experience of another person, as in the classic Bill Clinton line, “I feel your pain.”
  • Compassion is about wishing others well without necessarily having that emotional attachment that is implied in the concept of empathy.

The twist here is that empathy comes with certain pitfalls. By nature, we are more likely to have empathy for people who are similar to us: family, neighbors, those of the same ethnic or religious background, etc. Those who are unlike us are harder to empathize with.

You can see where this leads.

Empathy Can Be A Double-Edge Sword

“Identity politics” has been one of the buzzwords of the 2016 election cycle, and it neatly ties in with this discussion. By targeting his appeal to white, Middle American voters, Trump struck a number of empathetic points with them (“Make America Great Again” is music to their ears), building that sense of a collective movement within that group. His off-the-cuff speaking style helped by making his rallies more of a conversation between speaker and audience than a typical teleprompter-driven political speech.

People felt that he really understood their concerns, even though a billionaire who lives in a gold tower is pretty much as far away from the world of a rural central Pennsylvania working-class family as you can get.

While all that sounds wonderful, we are also familiar with the flip side.

That kind of group dynamic has a consequence, that people outside the group do not get the benefit of that empathy. Immigrants and refugees are just two obvious examples of groups that were discarded if not outright vilified by Trump supporters, as the recent wave of hate-related incidents has shown.

The bottom line is that we have to be very careful with this type of empathetic thinking; it leads to preference for one’s own group above all others, which can be incredibly dangerous in an open, diverse society.

When it comes to public policy, compassion is a steadier guide. Motivation for the concern of all, not just those who are familiar to you, is the rational choice for long-term progress.

Why I Launched This Anonymous Blog

This issue relates to why I launched this blog anonymously. I have written before on other platforms, and ran a very successful website that dominates its field to this day. In the aftermath of the election I wanted to find a new outlet to talk about politics, policy and how we can move our society forward, with compassion.

I want this to be about the ideas, however, rather than the messenger. I don’t want your reaction to my words to be preconditioned by what you know (or don’t know) about me.

It’s all too easy to dismiss an article you don’t like by immediately discrediting the source. We all do that from time to time. So I’m doing what I can to neutralize that effect, and let the work stand on its own.

So I hope you will take a look around this site, follow me on Twitter (@tupatriot) and contribute to a conversation about how we, as a country, can move forward in the wake of what has been an incredibly divisive political season.

Donald Trump Ignores Russian Interference In US Elections

Russian President Vladimir PutinHow large a role did Vladimir Putin play in the US Presidential Election? It seems like the only person who doesn’t want to answer that question is the one who benefited most from Russian interference: Donald Trump.

US Intelligence Agencies: Russia Interfered

The Washington Post came out today with an article covering a secret CIA report alleging that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential election with the intent of helping Donald Trump. This comes shortly after President Obama ordered a full review of the hacks which impacted both the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Surely news of a foreign power meddling with our national election is incredibly important, right? An external threat to the very foundation of our republic.

Apparently, our incoming President doesn’t believe so.

Trump Ignores, Insults US Intelligence

The Trump transition team’s response to this report was to belittle the US intelligence community, stroke Trump’s ego and dismiss this story all in one statement:

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and “Make America Great Again.”

Traditionally, intelligence agencies have been relatively independent of the partisan bickering that consumes Washington all too often. Donald Trump, however, is clearly not interested in a report which calls his victory into question, so instead he insults the professional analysts who came to conclusions he doesn’t want to hear.

Representative Eric Swalwell (D-California) called him out on that:

Congressman Swalwell captures the essence of what Trump’s statement means to the US intelligence community, but in today’s highly-charged political environment, it will be ignored because he is a Democrat.

How many Republican leaders will have the guts to put country ahead of party and demand that we get to the bottom of this situation, even if it casts doubt over the legitimacy their new President?