Saturday, March 24, 2018

Mail Tribune Brings in Lawyers

The Mail Tribune: "We are turning this matter over to our lawyers."

A lesson on how to do crisis management exactly wrong.  

It is heartbreaking, because this community needs a community newspaper, and they are making things worse for themselves.  

Some pay $442/yr
Here was their problem. Their renewal subscription prices are crazy, from $442 per year down to $114.40 per year, and prices in between, for exactly the same thing, a one year subscription renewal.)  I warned them the result of having 5 different prices for five similar people sitting around the same table damaged the credibility for the Tribune if they ever happened to compare notes. 

The Tribune says they are working on the problem. Meanwhile, they perpetuate the problem as renewals go out.  Did they need some encouragement to do something?  

I wrote about it in a blog post: "Mail Tribune Squanders Credibility."  I thought it might encourage them to accelerate their progress toward fixing their PR problem if they realized people were beginning to notice. They took this poorly. 

At first they handled the problem correctly.  Sincere.  Mature.

The problem perpetuates: $114/yr.
The editor emailed me and said she wished I had called them and let them give context to my blog story.  She said they knew there was a problem and they were working on it. That was smart.  Of course huge disparity in prices is a problem. She said they have a great new owner committed to rebuilding community trust. I inferred that she and the Tribune understood that Its business practices could not be just like Charter or Verizon or Dish. Customers can be cynical about those companies, but if they become cynical about their newspaper the newspaper loses its position in the reader's mind as an authoritative, trusting source.

They seemed to "get" this. Good. They said they were working on the problem.  Good.

Crisis and embarrassment averted.

Then they reversed course in their messaging.  Maybe they realized that the disparity in subscriber prices was so extreme, and the problem so intractable or expensive to fix, that they had to switch messages. Maybe they realize that the process will take years, not weeks, and they will be sending out invoices with huge disparities for years. Maybe I just made them angry and they thought hitting me would be useful. I don't know why they changed.  But I noticed a new approach: to minimize the problem and treat the messenger as the problem.  Here is what I see:

1.  Change their message to denial and minimization.  Say everybody does it, and they are no worse than any other subscription service. Pretend the discounts are short term, not multi-year. Don't rock the boat.

2.  Say that their subscribers do not have an expectation that the Tribune be uniquely trustworthy in its business practices. Say readers are vigilant. Say a person paying three times what their neighbor pays knows exactly what is going on, and if he isn't complaining must be content. Buyer-beware relates to Tribune subscribers just like any other subscription service, and any suggestion to the contrary is "offensive."  In short: say it is the subscriber who is responsible for the price he or she pays.

3.  Attack the messenger.  Don't believe him or his data. Click. The editor really slams me.

4.  Hint at a punitive way to address the problem, one that could be blamed on the messenger.  "I doubt our longtime subscribers, including you, would like us to suddenly raise all their subscription rates to full price."  I wonder what she wanted me to think about that sentence. I took it as a warning. (email from editor Cathy Noah to me, 9:17 a.m., March 23.]

5. Threaten lawsuits. "We are turning this matter over to our lawyers."  [email from editor Cathy Noah to me, 11:13 a.m. March 23.]

Unfortunate crisis management.  The extraordinary editorial elevated the visibility of the issue, accelerated their word-of-mouth problem, and now makes it harder for the Tribune to return to the positioning they surely want: to look like the mature, earnest, trustworthy community resource, that wants to do the right thing in every arena, both journalistic and in business practice. 

It is not too late for the editor or owner to do that, but now they do it as evolution from a published position of anger and denial and the context of being just another subscription service with aggressive practices. They may choose to return to the "we are earnestly gong to fix this" approach. I hope so.  Or they may continue to dig their hole even deeper by sounding angry and defensive. 

Lawsuit. Nothing yet. A lawsuit by the Tribune against this blog would be an extraordinary opportunity for citizens here in the Valley and nationwide to learn more about the First Amendment.  Newspaper vs. citizen blogger might make some new First Amendment case law. Trial testimony by the Tribune editors and business staff would give citizens insight into the Tribune's subscription practices. Testimony from subscribers paying very different rates would teach lessons on what improves--or undermines--newspaper credibility.  Overall, it would be a huge learning experience.  I will keep readers informed.

The community is far better off with a strong community newspaper.  It's reputation for handling the truth responsibly is the centerpiece of its brand. I am hopeful that the Tribune can fulfill that mission, which it can do best when its subscription practices add to its credibility as a trusted community institution. 

I feel like I am doing my part in that journey. I recognize the Tribune disagrees.

Friday, March 23, 2018

An Angry Mail Tribune Fights Back!

Mail Tribune says readers do not use "inertia and habit of mind" to renew their subscriptions.  

Good: do as they suggest.  Shop them.  Get yourself a deal.

Are you paying three times as much as your neighbor?  If you are a "loyal subscriber," you may be paying way more.   Check your price:  $440/year.  $370/year.  $218/year.  $119/year.  

I pointed out this problem to the Mail Tribune and my readers.  The Mail Tribune had a strong editorial today denouncing me.  They sound angry.  They say people should be offended by me and this blog.   I just revealed the truth.

The gist of their editorial is that, sure, they offer subscription discounts, but that their subscription pricing is fair and reasonable. Click Here. They really let me have it!

The editorial concluded with the comment that readers were not victims of anybody's erratic or indefensible pricing policy.  Instead they were victims of my offensive suggestion that they were not vigilant and smart shoppers.  OK.  I accept the premise of the editor.  Tribune subscribers are smart and should be smart shoppers.  So be one.  Shop them.

The prices people pay for renewing their subscription varies all over the map.  I show you below recent invoices.  The editorial argues a point that is simply untrue and inaccurate, something I presume was an accident by the writer.  She argues that discounting of new or returning lapsed subscribers is common practice, which is true.  She then says that they make introductory prices for "13 or 26 weeks."  Not accurate.  They offer one year subscriptions and subscription renewals still at very low rates, and people with a low base rate keep that advantage awhile.

That is what causes the problem.  Hugely unequal subscription prices.

$440 per year.  "Thank you for being a loyal subscriber."

Don't believe me.  Don't believe her.  Believe your own eyes.  

Here, below are actual Tribune invoices sent me by readers.  These are renewals of long term subscriptions and they are renewal prices for one full year.  The highest price subscription renewal I received was for $442. The subscriber loyally paid it.  He is a fellow member of my Rotary Club.

$218/year renewal
Another member of my Rotary Club felt happy because he was only paying $244.  (He learned I pay $374.)  He did not know that another Rotary Club member pays only $218.  

Neighbors pay very different rates for the same thing.  One Ashland friend told me he had just renewed at $432 for the year.  His neighbor sent me her renewal notice for one year: $136.88, shown below.

The editorial said something accurate and it explains their policy.  The goal of the Tribune seems to be to get people started at some rate, and then slowly bring them up gradually toward some notion of the "correct price."  Here is the subscription history from yet another Rotarian friend.

September 2013--  $221
September 2014--  $243
August 2015--        $243
August 2016--        $270
May 2017--            $374

The result, which the Tribune doesn't contest, is that the longer a person is a loyal subscriber the higher their subscription price can be.  It appears to be factored off base rates whenever a person subscribes, and at what rate, then increases.

This is true, but it is not a truth the Tribune is comfortable with.  Nor are many readers.

Renewing subscription: $136
My original blog post, and this one, are sent as warnings to the Mail Tribune that their persisting pattern of grossly uneven prices for subscribers is a public relations nightmare for them, and it should be fixed. Quickly. The reality of their subscription policy demolishes any idea of a "fair price."  This isn't something this blog did to them.  This is something they are doing to themselves. 

People who pay vastly more than a neighbor feel like saps.

Their response has been disappointing. Bob Hunter--another member of my Rotary Club--said he thought I must have a "vendetta" against the Tribune.  Cathy Noah, the editor who wrote the editorial and who accidentally mis-stated their subscription discount policy as being only short term and temporary when in fact it lasts for years, said she was "offended" by my "crusade."  In her editorial she attributes to me the attitude that my fellow subscribers were dimwitted.  Not true.  I think re-subscribers are loyal, and in hindsight, they should have been suspicious.

Loyal re-subscribers of the Tribune trusted and assumed there was some general equity and reasonableness in pricing.  But there is no equity.  There is no "fair and reasonable moderate price" that nearly everyone pays. What we have, instead, is vastly different pricing depending on when people last complained or let their subscription lapse, or started up. 

The effect is that marginal subscribers are rewarded.  Loyal ones pay more.  That is the reality the Tribune this blog revealed.

I wish their editorial had said they were establishing some new, fair, reasonable published price and doing it soon.  It didn't.  It said readers should shop them. I hate bargaining over prices. It forces subscribers to be in a wrestling match with the Tribune over what to pay.  It makes the Tribune an opponent, not a trusted institution. That hurts the Tribune.  I have been trying to tell them that, but they are resisting me.  Wrestling with them seems to be what is necessary if a subscriber wants to pay less. The editor said as much and said I was "offensive" for suggesting people were trusting.  Readers may hate negotiating, whether it be with car dealers or newspaper subscription desks, but apparently that is what the Tribune says is the price for getting the good deal.

Their phone number is 541-776-4455.  The editor says subscribers are sharp and wiley shoppers.  It is a shame they force this on you, but good luck, and happy negotiating.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A good night for Jeff Golden

Jeff Golden looked and sounded ready, able, and progressive.

If understanding problems and issues thoroughly matters, and if being able to articulate potential solutions matter, and if having positions on these things that are in sync with Democratic voters want matters, then Jeff Golden had a very, very good night.

But maybe it doesn't matter.  Maybe people just want someone new. 

Click: Judge for yourself

Yesterday this blog described a difficult night for Athena Goldberg, made especially so since the joint appearance positioned her next to Jeff Golden, and Golden looked and sounded competent and knowledgable and self assured, and Athena Goldberg did not.

I am fully aware that is "just my opinion."  People can and will disagree. I am trying to be objective here, and transparent in my observation and judgement.  The disparity in readiness levels was not even close.

Golden was ready for the big leagues.  He is in the big leagues.  Watch it yourself, or read a transcript of Jeff Golden, answering a question in the wheelhouse of Goldberg and Bell. Compare it with the transcript of Athena Goldberg's answers to two questions, printed in yesterday's blog.

Jeff Golden is good at this: 

Transcript, from beginning to end, minute 19 on the video:

Golden:   "I’ll start off by saying there are a lot of issues we are not taking care of in Salem.  This is an exception.  We, we deserve to be proud of what is happening in Oregon the last few years in health care.  This is the great gift of Doc Bates to the state—I’ll also add the name of Doc Kitzhaber, the two of them created something no other state has.  We are the most wellness centered health care system in the United States right now.  And we have an opportunity to do much, much more.  And, and focusing on wellness is, in fact, one of the large pieces of bringing down costs—there’s no one piece that does it all, as compared with chasing after diseases after diseases after they develop, which is how the rest of the country does it.

So let’s use this as a building block in two ways.   The first is to expand the set of services that come under the umbrella of coordinated care.  Athena talked about that some and I think that’s critically important.  Last week I was talking to school employees, and one of their top concerns was the violent acting out of young children more and more.  That’s a safety issue for school staff.  I’m not sure exactly what the answer is, but what if we creatively brought that in, that problem, underneath the umbrella of the coordinated care umbrella and supplemented the counselors and mental health folks who have been laid off from schools the last few years.  That’s a coordinated care problem.  There are many other examples.

Number two is, this is the building block, could be, to single payer health insurance.  There are school board administrators and members who are really interested in exploring—bringing—their employees into the coordinated care system, the second set could be public employees generally.  The third, fourth steps could be any Oregon business who wants to buy into the coordinated care matrix, bringing unit costs way down because so many people are involved.

This is a terrific opportunity.  We could be the state that leads the United States in single-payer health care, exactly like Saskatchewan led Canada to single payer health care.  We could do this here, and ideas are formulating right now to get it done."

Does being ready and able mean Jeff Golden will win?   No.

Jeff Golden impressed some people in Ashland on Tuesday evening, and Athena Goldberg disappointed some people, but that forum changed few votes. The forum can be seen as a document or piece of evidence.  It shows the proficiency level that Jeff Golden has on matters of public policy for decades.  Attendees did not see some "special performance."  They saw Jeff Golden in pretty much everyday life, except he put on a necktie and ironed shirt for the evening.

That makes him the superior candidate in terms of preparation, but being good and experienced has its downside. Golden is not a blank slate.  Golden has nuanced opinions which he has developed and shared for decades.  Many people have had opportunity to realize they disagree with Golden on something or other during the decades. 

Jeff Golden is Jeff Golden.  Athena Goldberg might be whatever you want in a candidate.

Reflect on Barrack Obama's victory in 2008.  He was widely accused of being simply an attractive and charismatic Rorschach Test.  Voters ascribed to him what they wanted to see, what they hoped for.  Obama communicated that he was a calm, compassionate, thoughtful liberal who wanted to bring the country's red and blue states together.  His speeches were not careful litanies of policy positions.  That was good enough.  Voters wanted "Hope and Change", a kind of mystery gift.

Goldberg struggled
In this election Athena Goldberg is the mystery gift box.  Golden is the gift that is open and transparent and very good to a lot of Democrats--but not a mystery.  Jeff Golden's policies project hope and change, but he personally does not.  We have heard him on TV and radio for years: earnest, progressive, sincere, mellow, and known.

Golden had a very strong evening.  He earned votes.  But his victory in May will come--if it comes--because decades of being Jeff Golden pays off in votes from people voting for the sure thing they are content-enough with, rather than the mystery bag.  He has not just earned votes.  He has earned the GOTV program that will get him those votes.  

And Athena Goldberg--especially as she presented herself Tuesday evening, rambling and incoherent--is no Barrack Obama.  Not yet, anyway.

[Note to readers:  I am unclear who I expect to vote for in this election.  I am not a "cheerleader" for any candidate.  This blog attempts to look closely at political skill, political messaging, and at what motivates voters. I am often most critical of people I generally like, including Obama, Kate Brown, and people I end up voting for.  The world does not need more cheerleaders.  It does need people who attempt to see clearly what is happening in America right before our eyes.  It helped me see what I did not want to see, Trump's success in motivating 62 million people to vote for him.]

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It was a tough night for Athena Goldberg

She obviously wasn't feeling well, the joint appearance format accentuates her weaknesses, not her strengths, and she had to follow Jeff Golden.  

She has other strengths in other circumstances.

Watch it yourself. Click here

Today, a close look at Athena Goldberg.

Four Democratic candidates addressed a crowd of about 200 at an Ashland Unitarian-Universalist church: Julian Bell, Athena Goldberg, Jeff Golden, and Kevin Stine.

Each of them fleshed out the political brands that they have established early on.

Julian Bell, a physician, came across as smart, without being smug. He summarized his goals for health care reform--a state run not for profit health insurance system--clearly and confidently, which demonstrated that he had expanded his portfolio of interest to well beyond climate change.  Audience members I spoke with shared my view: he is new at politics but smart and good at it, and a much better candidate than when he ran for Governor two years ago.

Kevin Stine, Medford City Council member, revealed his niche: affable, approachable, humorous, and, in his opinion the most electable candidate in a general election because he can relate best to the working people in his district. This audience isn't Stine's crowd--Ashland baby boomer activists--but he showed them what he hoped to present door to door to Democrats.
Bell, Goldberg, Golden, Stine

Jeff Golden surprised the audience members I spoke with.  People expected him to be knowledgeable and sophisticated in his understanding of the issues and the politics, but he vastly exceeded expectations.  A forum like this was ready-made for Golden.  He confidently outlined three and four point arguments, summarizing the policy points, relating it to the politics locally and up-state. Golden is good at this.  

Athena Goldberg had two problems. One was that she tended to follow Jeff Golden when speaking. They bring different strengths to the table.  Athena Goldberg is a new fresh face, and a woman in what Democrats think is the year of the woman. Jeff Golden is experienced, fully knowledgeable, and practiced at talking politics into a microphone.  There was stark contrast in knowledge level and ability to present a mature, sophisticated understanding of issues, made worse because Golden spoke, then she would. Golden knew things she did not. Goldberg kept retreating to boilerplate political talk about her being a voice for the people, having passion, saying she was determined, that we need people in office who care, and so on.  Normally political boilerplate sounds good-enough to an audience, but following Golden it appeared shallow and unprepared.

Her second problem is that it was apparent that she wasn't feeling well.  She wasn't at her best. She may well have better nights ahead of her.

This was a difficult night for Athena Goldberg, but her campaign is doing well anyway.  Upstate endorsers (Teamsters, AFLCIO, NARAL, League of Conservation Voters, and perhaps others by now) clearly see something win-able in her. She--not Golden--gets their endorsements.  Voters seek connection and appeal, and she has it.  Goldberg may not know a lot yet, but knows more about the issues than the average voter, which positions her as expert-enough.  Most voters don't demand political sophistication ,and indeed many are turned off by it. They prefer connection. That is what she sells.

This is just my opinion.  There is no need for skeptical readers to believe my conclusion.  Click on the link above and watch it yourself.  It is about 90 minutes.   Or read my transcript of Goldberg's answers to questions on housing and Jordan Cove, ones which she knew was coming, and which I show below verbatim.  I have removed most of the multiple "um"s, out of charity. I consider the answers unresponsive and nearly incoherent, but that is my conclusion and readers and viewers can make their own. I am printing the entirety of her answers to the two questions,  beginning at the first word she uttered, to the very last.

Athena Goldberg
Goldberg, on her housing plan, minute 36:

"So. It’s not optional.  Um.  And I deal with homeless people on a daily basis.  I was housed, but my house was 500 square feet where I grew up.  We depended on wood heat and that was what our home consisted of. So we do need those eyes, as Kevin referenced earlier, someone who actually has a sense of what it means to not have a stable housing, anything to call housing stable.

But more than that, when I saw NAMI, the National Association for the Mentally Ill, I thought, you know what?  I don’t know how many of you recognize that Oregon right now is in a work plan with our Department of Justice because of the way we deal with our mentally ill when they are released from the state hospital and then try to reintroduce them into our community and we have no housing  and that is one of the features and it’s not optional, it would be an expectation, and we’re fine with that, we have oversight and regular meetings with the federal government at the state level on a regular basis and the expectation  is we have integrated living opportunities for those mentally ill people.  I don’t love that term but for, uh, these purposes, but we provide a  level of flexibility within that  meaning we have some idea of that funding that the people playing for their housing can actually afford their housing  because we see, I see, too many examples  of people having to try to decide whether or not to pay their rent, for example, or buy their pharmaceuticals that they need for their quality of life

Ultimately, everyone is right, this is not unique to our, our area., but it is going to take a big lift and a big vision and a lot of direction and political might to make this change."

Goldberg, on the Jordan Cove pipeline, minute 43:

"So, there was an accident this morning that involved fracking so again as previously stated fracking is bad, uh, I think we are all in agreement that it is not something that we want, the energy pipeline.  I also recognize that what is being done by Tonia Moro and others is being handled in the court and I’ve never been so grateful for the court system as I am right now because that’s where really, we get to stand our ground, so to speak,  we get to say, no we’re not going to let you come onto our property and build, you have to get our consent, we’re not giving you our consent.  I think things have gotten to the point where that’s where we’re at, so what will I do?  I’ll be a voice to say, no, I’ll, I’m also aware of the desire for everyone to play along to get along and also put their name on a bill that just get passed that reallly has no meaning or no passion at the end of the day for them but maybe gets attached to something and they can say, 'I got two things passed this, this session.'    

I don’t need that.  I want good outcomes for the community who task me with making those decisions at the state level, being your voice at the state level.  We’re all, whoever you elect is accountable to you all, and I want to be your voice to set limits and change the tenor at the Capitol, because it needs to be changed and you all come along for that ride."

Athena Goldberg.  Summary:  Readers can draw their own conclusions. The Jordan Cove pipeline and Oregon's problem with affordable housing are two of the most obvious and predictable issues for Goldberg or any other candidate.  She could have thought them through and have been ready to address them clearly and persuasively.  Goldberg did not. This surprises and disappoints me.  But maybe this was simply a bad night and an artifact of playing while sick. 

She will have new opportunities at future forums, but maybe head to head matches are something she should try to avoid.  She is appealing and charismatic when it is just her.  Her campaign has excited some of the most important people to impress: gatekeepers of up-state support.  They are the pros.  They think they know who the real winners are. 

But not last night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Trump Fatigue. It feels like a market top.

Maybe Trump has finally gone too far.  It's getting suspiciously frantic.

It feels like "peak Trump."  The end is near.

I experienced my first "market top" in 1958.  The matter at hand was a novelty song by "Alvin and the Chipmunks."  It is my first remembered experience with over-exposure.  I loved the song.  The radio played it repeatedly. After maybe 6 weeks, I had had enough. I went from loving it to hating it.  Click: Alvin and the Chipmunks

Gradually, then suddenly. The song was was great, really great, still great, still great--and then terrible.  It was like bankruptcy, described by Hemingway.  

It is hard to identify tops in markets. You want to take advantage of a wave, then get off it before it crashes. Good luck.

Markets can be irrationally high, and then get higher, and higher yet.  In hindsight it was obvious that technology stocks were at unsustainable prices in 1997, but they kept going higher for 3 more years, becoming crazier.  Three years was a long time to have been on the sidelines, looking stupid.

Citibank stock.  The music stopped.
From 2002-2007 banks were making crazy, utterly irrational mortgages, and then leveraging them, and packaging them for sale, and making piles of money doing so. Chuck Prince, the president of Citibank, knew the leveraged loan business was crazy but said "As long as the music is playing you've got to get up and dance. We're still dancing."  In investments if your peers and competitors are making money riding a wave, even a crazy one, you look bad when on the sidelines.  You can call it prudent but the world calls it missing the boat.  People riding the wave are outperforming you.  

What are the signs of a real market top? One thing is that the public gets excited.  Neighbors talk about home prices or the stock market or gold or whatever is in the bubble.  Key players in the market make that subtle move from enthusiastic to frantic. Stupid get more stupid.  Crazy get crazier. People justify the impossible because, after all, the impossible has worked so far.  People have to ignore things that cannot be ignored.  At tops the franticness builds. Enthusiasm gradually accelerates, then accelerates more, then collapses. 

Notice how, in the NASDAQ chart, it gets frantic at the right at year 2000, moving up very sharply just before it gets ugly?  Market tops explode and collapse, they don't wither and die.

NASDAQ.  Crazy then collapse.
Trump will not slowly fade away.  He will explode.  It looks to me like an explosion is happening.  He is flailing. He has moved things up a notch.

This is peak Trump right now.  It has been going on a while and it might go on a while longer but Trump has entered a frantic zone of tweeting, making charges easily disproved--"Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans.  Another Dem recently added, does anyone think this is fair?  And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!"

He invents stories of McCabe fabricating and backdating memos, and accelerating the personnel changes in the White House. "Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me.  I don't believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date.  Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?"

He publicly bragged about making up facts in a conversation with Justin Trudeau ("I didn't even know. I had no idea.")  

He is a boxer punching blindly.  News stories call it "chaos" and Trump has to deny it is chaos. 

At market tops almost everyone associated with the "buy side" is reluctant to buck the tide.  Trump's Republican team is either totally with him, or at least quiet.  He has loyal officeholders like Nunes supporting him and Fox News is steadfast, but the Republicans with national profiles are being careful. In stock market terms, these would be the people who caution that "the markets might be a little ahead of themselves" and they recommend caution, but, no, they aren't sellers. 

Like in the stock market, there are a few outright short sellers, i.e. people saying things are wrong, who are outcasts: Senators Corker and Flake, Governor Kaisich. Now that Trey Gowdy has announced his retirement he, too, is sounding like a short seller, saying publicly he wants Trump to leave Meuller alone. 

At market tops all the experienced market observers know two things:  1. The situation is crazy and unsustainable and looking dangerous.  2. So far the wave is moving up, not down, and it is suicidal to stand in the way of the wave (Trump). That is where Republican office holders are now.  They are experienced market (political) observers, afraid to buck the trend, recognizing they would lose clients (lose a primary) if they jump off the crazy bandwagon too soon. But they know crazy when they see it.

Click: NY Times article
I make a prediction:  we are in that frantic zone now:  We are in the equivalent of that glorious two months between New Year 2000 and the NASDAQ top in March, 2000, when the already sky high market went up another 20%. 

It was crazy time. Anything goes time. It was peak NASDAQ frenzy.  It was just before the markets all went bad, very bad. 

It is not apparent yet, but that is where I predict things are for Trump.  It just feels like a market top.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The USA is a principle, not an ethnicity

Most countries are built around a central ethnicity.  Not the USA.

America got started off differently and it has stayed different.  Ethnicity divided us, but we had documents and ideals to pull us together.  Americans were supposed to be dedicated to some propositions.
Abraham Lincoln

It was an ideal, not a reality.

The 13 British colonies that broke away to form the US were settled by people from different places.  Protestant Puritans from England settled Massachusetts. Religious schisms there created Rhode Island.  Maryland was settled by British Catholics.  New York by the Dutch. Pennsylvania by Quakers and Germans. 

This is not the normal manner of nations.  Nation states represent ethnicities and languages. The Han Chinese are the core of a nation.  Serbs are Serbian.  Russia is Russian. The French are French. Borders are most secure and safe where the national border matches the ethnic one.

Not America. The American principle was "All men are created equal."  The reality is that full citizenship and civic participation was for white Protestants, expanded in the 20th Century to white Christians. That was the central governing core of "real" Americans.  Others were here but were hyphenated in some way. 

Mass migration is changing America again. 

Migration from Latin America and Asia in the past 50 years, combined with the slow digestion of women's empowerment meant a new America: women visibly in places of power, blacks visible in Hollywood and sports and the workforce, Asians excelling in schools and visible everywhere. There are about 42,000,000 foreign born in the USA now.

As a percentage of the population, back to the Ellis Island era

High immigration creates tensions, ones exacerbated because people have legal rights that are now generally respected under the law. The discriminatory customs that kept earlier waves of immigrants and people of color marginalized are prohibited, and disadvantaged people have access to advocates and the courts.  

I support immigration.  I like immigration.  I think we profit from having immigrants. I recognize that not everyone agrees.  Immigration brings change. Whites are in fact being displaced from centrality into mere primacy. 

Trump's election is partly understandable as an expression of public concern over the status adjustment of whites and males. Make America Great Again was a vague promise of return to some good old day when white men being in charge was a given. 

The pushback against "political correctness" is a pushback against behavior and language that demands cultural respect for people who--in earlier times--could be openly disrespected and marginalized.  

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is openly and actively at work refocusing the priorities of the Justice Department away from housing and other areas of discrimination toward drug and immigration enforcement.  

Democrats have some great advantages here.  Progressives have irrevocably won a demographic war.  America is in fact a great mixture of races and religions.  White males remain the most dominant group, but they are one among many, and smaller in number than white females. We have diversity.  We have a multi-cultural society united by law.

Democrats have the advantage of the patriotic idea.  This blog has urged Democrats and progressives to re-connect with patriotism as a public virtue.  Patriotism refers back to ideas and founding documents that start with a premise of inclusion and equality.  Patriotism is the opposite of white ethno-nationalism promoted by Trump. Trump has successfully linked himself and whiteness, to the flag, the national anthem, and the military. His ethnic attacks on Mexicans and Muslims established a we-they divide of white Americans against a caricature enemy, ungrateful and dangerous people of color.  It served the prejudices of his base. But the grand words school children memorize serve the opposite principles, equality and inclusion. The flag belongs to Democrats if they will advance candidates who embrace it.

Democrats have the advantage of the law. Most laws enforce equality and fair dealing. It is in the habitual custom and practice in the zone of secrecy that prejudicial profiling and prejudicial behaviors flourish. Racism happens when the law isn't looking. The rule of law is the progressive's friend.

Democrats have a political challenge in 2018.  How to link the interests of aspiring minorities with those of white working people, and to do so without offending their base of educated urbanites.  

Is there a common denominator?  Yes. Patriotism and law and order, linked back to the founding documents of inclusion and equality. Robert Kennedy had it back in 1968 when he advanced the unifying themes of anti-discrimination, patriotism, and lawfulness--all together.  It meant he advocated for blacks but opposed black looting. It meant he advocated for blue collar whites but did not condone their racial prejudices. Urban sophisticates are comfortable with the language of the founding documents.

Patriotism works for Democrats.