Bob Schwartz

Month: February, 2016

You Can Stop Worrying About Trump Being the Republican Nominee. But You Can’t Stop Worrying.

New York Daily News - Trump for Prez

If you were worrying about Donald Trump being the official nominee of the Republican Party, you can stop worrying about that, no matter what the results of Super Tuesday voting.

I have predicted for months that the GOP would never allow him to be its standard bearer, no matter what the delegate numbers. Whether that means changing the nominating rules, or splitting the party, or whatever, that part isn’t as clear. But the party of Lincoln and Reagan was never going to be Trump’s to represent.

The party will find a way to deny him its blessing. And then Trump will execute what has always been his contingency plan: amass as much support and publicity as possible, and then run as an independent candidate. Or maybe run as the candidate of a portion of the split Republican Party. And then win the presidency with a plurality of votes.

That’s where your worrying shouldn’t stop. Forget all the talk about people flocking to Trump because of their frustration and anger about political gridlock and ineffectiveness. You don’t have to take a deep dive into the research to see that tens of million Americans want to roll back progress not to the Reagan years, but to the years before civil rights and other modern principles of tolerance and equality. (My sad favorite remains the Trump supporter wearing a baseball cap saying “Make Racism Great Again!”).

These people may not be your friends, but they are your neighbors and fellow voters. Whether there are enough of them to elect a President of the United States is an open question. It certainly would be easier if they had the passive imprimatur of the Republican Party. But it finally appears they will not. Which is a good thing.

Unless we do have a multi-candidate election. And one of them is Donald Trump. Because one of them will win.

How to Change Your Mind

Floral Chair

The phrase “how to change your mind” is, as are many English expressions, simple and complex:

“How to” as in which method.
“How to” as in which direction.
“Change your mind” as in making a different decision.
“Change your mind” as in transforming it.

Sorting through all that begins with an example.

There is a big colorful overstuffed chair. The fancy fabric is maybe striped or covered with big flowers or designs.

You look at it and think it is beautiful or ugly. You sit in it and think it is comfortable or uncomfortable.

Someone else looks at it and thinks it is beautiful or ugly. Sits in it and thinks it comfortable or uncomfortable.

You two discuss the chair, your thoughts and feelings about it. One may try and explain to the other why one view or experience is better or worse, right or wrong. You might talk about the construction and style relative to the current market for chairs or the historic evolution of chairs.

Yet there it just is. An object with four legs, to keep you sitting up from the floor. There it just is.

You might change your mind about the chair by engaging in the discussion about it, or by sitting in it a few more times.

Or you might realize that it is just that chair. About which your mind is fundamentally changed. Whether the chair is plain wood or elaborately upholstered. Whether you think about it or look at it or sit in it or not.

That is one way to change your mind.

MIND is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by mind, created by mind.
If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows,
As the wheel follows the hoof of an ox pulling a cart.

Mind is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by mind, created by mind.
If one speaks or acts with a serene mind,
Happiness follows,
As surely as one’s shadow.

“He abused me, mistreated me, defeated me, robbed me.”
Harboring such thoughts keeps hatred alive.
“He abused me, mistreated me, defeated me, robbed me.”
Releasing such thoughts banishes hatred for all time.

From the Dhammapada, translated by Ananda Maitreya.

The Year America Gets Politically Sober

There are endless stories about people whose wild and self-destructive behaviors, addictions and obsessions careen out of control. Some of those stories are in books and movies. A lot more of them, millions of them, are in real life.

The stories sometimes end very badly. But sometimes, after a lost weekend, or a lost year, or a lost decade, something happens. Nearing bottom, or hitting bottom, people wake up. They realize that the path they are on—or the lack of a path—can only lead to bad times getting worse. And so they ask for help. Or they find the help within themselves. They recover. They get sober.

All the talking heads have explanations of how “we” got into this political chaos, with many people not particularly pleased with the choices they have, many people appalled at the choices other people are making, and a government—which is after all the point of politics—basically frozen and irrational.

“We” are not the victims. “We” created this mess ourselves. The forms of behaviors, addictions and obsessions are too many to list here. Let’s just say that if we choose not to be broadly informed, choose not to vote, choose to leave it up to other people, choose to be more interested in style than in substance, choose to be selfish, choose to divide by identity, choose to overlook serious problems, and make many other questionable choices, what do you expect?

All hope is not lost.

Just as with addicts and others who find themselves out of control, maybe this is our lost election, and maybe we are going to have to suffer its consequences, but maybe as we near bottom, or hit bottom, we will change our ways.

That’s a happy thought.

Jim Wallis: Evangelical Voters Have Some Explaining To Do

Embarrasing to Be an Evangelical

Jim Wallis says that some Evangelical voters should be embarrassed.

Wallis is President and Founder of the Christian social justice organization Sojourners. It is impossible in short form to explain what treasures Jim Wallis and Sojourners are. So please visit the links to read the descriptions.

Wallis is a stubborn reminder of what he believes Jesus would expect from American Christians, in the face of some of their shortcomings, hypocrisy and grandstanding. No matter what your own faith preference, he is admirable as a brave and insistent conscience for America.

Please read today’s piece, “It’s Embarrassing to Be an Evangelical This Election:
The So-Called ‘Evangelical Vote’ Has Some Explaining to Do.

“Books Smell Like Old People”

Denby - Decline of Teen Reading

David Denby in the New Yorker asks: Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?

If reading means books or other extended forms of writing, evidence and anecdote say the answer is no.

Denby doesn’t have anything particularly new to say about the big picture and long term consequences of generations who are less interested in books than ever. This is an ongoing conversation that just gets more and more attention as digital demographics continue to roll over us all.

Still, it’s worth reading his piece as a reminder and, for some, a wakeup call.

Denby mentions the related ascendance of STEM education:

The Times reported on Monday that at least fifteen state governments were offering some type of bonus or premium for high-demand STEM degrees. “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so,” Matt Bevin, the governor of Kentucky, said. “They’re just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be, for example.” (Governor Bevin, as it turns out, graduated from Washington and Lee with a bachelor’s degree in Japanese and East Asian studies. So much for the crippling effects of the humanities.)

Denby also mentions a recent book by media scholar Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age:

Much of their social life, for boys as well as girls, is now conducted on smartphones, where teen-agers don’t have to confront one another. The terror of eye contact! Sherry Turkle, in her recent book “Reclaiming Conversation,” has written about the loss of self that this avoidance creates and also of the peculiar boredom paradoxically produced by the act of constantly fleeing boredom.

Denby doesn’t come off like a snobbishly literate dinosaur. He doesn’t over-idealize “the way things were” as being infinitely and generally better, which they weren’t. He is just an astute observer making the point that extended discourse, written and read, is an essential part of moving society and civilization along. How we reclaim that, if it is in fact getting lost, is a difficult but worthwhile mission.

What Is So Wonderful About Climbing Mount Everest?

Hotel Mount Everest

Climbing Mount Everest is special. Unless you’re from Tibet:

Human beings are capable of so much endeavor, even in small matters. People spend their lives trying to measure the height of mountains or the depth of the sea. These provide useful information, but they may not prove significant in the long run. For example, we Tibetans could never understand why people climbed mountains for no reason. The mountaineers would say, “I am doing an expedition on Mount Everest,” as if it were the most important thing in the world. They would spend so much time and money; they would even risk, and sometimes lose, their lives. We would wonder if they were mad, and ask, “What do you get when you reach the top?” They replied, “Oh, it is just wonderful!” We would say, “What is so wonderful in that cold wind?” The answer was, “Oh, it is so exciting!” It might seem wonderful, but it will only last a short time, and it is only wonderful if you consider it wonderful. Someone else might think that the most wonderful thing is being curled up, warm and snug, in a cozy bed. To me, for instance, that is much more wonderful.

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche in Radical Compassion: Shambhala Publications Authors on the Path of Boundless Love. Available free.

U.S. voter turnout is very low. But what if something is happening here?


U.S. Voter Turnout

Pew Research reports that “U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries.” But what if something is happening here?

What if U.S. voter turnout was more like Belgium (89% of voting age population)? Or Australia (82%)? Or Israel (76%)? To name just a few of the countries where people vote in great numbers.

Instead, U.S. voter turnout is mired at 54% of voting age population, just a few places from the bottom.

There are about 235 million Americans of voting age. If turnout increased to the top of the list (89%), that would increase the number of voters by 35% (89%-54%). Thirty-five percent of 235 million is about 82 million more voters.

82 million more voters. To put that in perspective, the winner of the last presidential election received about 66 million votes.

82 million more votes. Many young. Many not white. Many open to new ideas and proposals, as the old ones don’t seem to work so well. Many not committed to maintaining the status quo, which has not been all that good to and for them.

This is what should worry all the established political parties and politicians. And the establishments that depend on them and on predictable stability rather than change, radical or even incremental.

Except that the parties, politicians and establishments don’t seem, at least publicly, to be worried. They appear to believe that non-voting Americans won’t suddenly show up at the polls in great numbers to vote their own views and interests. And just in case, some of those establishments are ready to deploy tools to help keep those numbers down.

Sometimes history is a bending arc. Sometimes it’s a runaway train. Votes are the fuel. That train may already be rolling slowly. Getting ready to speed up.

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man



What is heavier
Than the weight
Of a mirror?

Valentine’s Day

Love is
The boldest embrace
A stroke of the brow
A symphony
A single note
Distance in miles
As close as skin to skin.
Yesterday remembered
Tomorrow imagined
Meeting here now.
Confusion and clarity.
Intoxicated and sober.
Treasure found
Never found
Misvalued or lost.
Glad to sleep
To awake knowing
Or hoping.

John Lewis clarifies comments on Bernie Sanders

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 11: Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., behind him, arrive for a news conference at the DNC where members of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, February 11, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

John Lewis is the latest elder statesperson to have experienced some difficulties in speaking on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

First it was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who apologized for seeming to suggest that young women who didn’t support Hillary were going to “a special place in hell.”

Then it was feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, who apologized for saying that young women were flocking to Bernie Sanders because that is where the boys are.

Now it is the turn of civil rights era leader and legend John Lewis. On Thursday he suggested that he knew the Clintons from way back in the movement days, but he had never seen nor heard from this Bernie Sanders guy.

Today he apologized for misspeaking.

”If you take a look at a transcript of my statement, you will find I did not say that I met Hillary and Bill Clinton when I was chairman of SNCC in the 1960s. My point was that when I was doing the work of civil rights, led the Voter Education Project and organized voter registration in the South in the 1970s, I did cross paths with Hillary and Bill Clinton in the field. They were working in politics, and Bill Clinton became attorney general of Arkansas in the 1970s as well. That began a relationship with them that has lasted until today.”

As for Bernie Sanders:

“I was responding to a reporter’s question who asked me to assess Sen. Sanders’ civil rights record. I said that when I was leading and was at the center of pivotal actions within the Civil Rights Movement, I did not meet Sen. Bernie Sanders at any time. The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Sen. Sanders participated in the Civil Rights Movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism. Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”

In fact, Bernie Sanders had been involved in the movement almost as early as John Lewis was. Sanders’ sacrifice included going to jail for trying to desegregate the University of Chicago dorms.

Everyone is entitled to zealously support preferred candidates, and zeal sometimes crosses over into exaggeration. But when icons like Albright, Steinem and Lewis get caught overreaching so far that they are forced to furiously backpedal, especially all in one week, you have to wonder what exactly is going on.