Education and the Electorate

I think one of the biggest failures of this election was people believing false statements. There didn’t seem to be a critical examination of claims, verification of policies or understanding of how the system works.

If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” — Thomas Jefferson

On the up side, I do think that there was a huge education on how the Primary System works and the Electoral College.  It is sad that so many people did not understand how this process for selecting candidates works.

Something that would fix some of this is a greater focus in our schools in:

  1. the process of the selection of candidates
  2. the purpose of the electoral college
  3. critical examination of news and political statements
  4. the roll of news organizations, their bias and the difference between news & political statements
  5. history and application of history to current events 

In my humble opinion, I think there is a concerted effort to dumb down our public schools by odd policies and teaching standards.  I believe that our teachers, for the most part, want to teach our kids lots of things but cannot because of the time required to cover the dictated material.  The issue is not our teachers but the education standards.

Maybe this is just a pollyanna-isa view of how things used to be, but I think we had a more educated electorate in the past.  if we aren’t educated and feel that it is important people are going to make decisions that are not in their best interests because of something that sounds good, but isn’t true.

I’ve spoken to a number of people following the election, and when I press them on support of specific policies they claim things that are demonstrably false.  They bought into rhetoric instead of facts.  All they heard was a few sound bites and didn’t look into any of the substance.  If we taught our students that being educated during an election is important, that their vote mattered and in order to be a functioning member of this society they need to have a basic understanding of world events, history and its applicability to current day, we would at least be able to have a reasonable discussion and maybe change things for the better.

Rhetoric of Hate

As of Nov 15, since the election of Mr Trump there have been more than 400 incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation reported.  This is just the reported incidents.

Normalizing hate is probably the single worst thing about this election.  Running a campaign that advocated hate against minorities and was completely misogynistic has done harm to everything I’ve been trying to teach my children.  This seems to have emboldened people that held these beliefs to act upon them.

Are we going to have a throwback to the 19th century, or hell, the early 20th century? I am afraid that we are going to have lynchings, a rise in sexual assault and burning of churches/mosques/synagogues?

I will agree that we have gone too far with political correctness and I am not a big fan of “safe spaces” or trigger warnings. The world is not a safe space.  And if you are in school the whole point is to be challenged and deal with things that are uncomfortable to think about.  If you are afraid of being offended then the world is going to be a rough place for you.

Lets be clear, I have very little tolerance for people abusing others.  There is no place for hate in a civil society.  There is a difference between hate speech and someone expressing an opposing view.  Things don’t move forward without confronting things that make us uncomfortable.  There are honestly things in the world that are distressing but ignoring them does not make them go away, it makes it so they can grown in the dark and rear their ugly heads… kind of like what just happened during this election.

We need to figure out to have reasonable discourse and make sure that everyone recognizes that hate is not ok.  We need to consistently confront people that try to put people down, treat them as less than equal and indicate that it is ok to hold an opinion but its not ok to act on it.

The problem with creating a class of people that we treat as less than equal is there is nothing to stop us from being put into a group next.  This is a slippery slope that never ends well.

Why our electoral system is broken and how I want it fixed

There are multiple things wrong with our system of electing the POTUS.  I understand the reasons for the Electoral College but I don’t know that it is relevant in its current form.

Historically there were two reasons for it.  One before fast communications it made sense to send delegates to the capital to cast the votes, hence the difference between the election in November and the actual vote in December.  This made a ton of sense in the 18th century.

The other reason, outlined in Federalist 68:

“Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”

and

“Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States”

Basically, they wanted to make sure that there was a real analysis of the chief executives ability to do the job.  This shouldn’t be left up to the whims of the population at large that may elect a charismatic leader that cannot rise to the demands of the position (sound familiar).

In practice, the electoral college does exactly what the people that voted for the electors want.  There have been very few cases of an elector defecting and voting their conscience.  Its unclear how the country would react the electors actually said “nope, you picked an awful person that can’t do the job” and chose a candidate other than the one that “won” in the general election.

Given these things, I would love to see a few changes in the system.  Here are my top choices in increasing likelihood/preference:

  1. Instead of a winner-takes-all approach in the states, move to a proportional allocation.  This would allow a more accurate representation of the country.  All of the effort today seems to be concentrated in the states with the most electors that cannot be accurately predicted.  This could have the result in candidates visiting more areas.  This could have a follow-on affect of actually having a reasoned debate at the Electoral vote.
  2. Eliminate the Electoral College and go to direct democracy.  The communication problem does not exist today.  If we assume that we should go with what the people actually want, move to a direct vote.
  3. Implement a priority voting scheme.  Allow the voters to rank order their choices for POTUS and handle voting that way.  This would allow 3rd party candidates to have more of a difference since they wouldn’t be “spoilers” any longer.  If they were your first choice and a major party candidate was your second choice, it would more accurately represent people’s actual desires.  It would lead to more ideas being presented and seriously considered and make for a better democracy over all
  4. Mandate voting and make election day a Federal holiday.  We have horrible turn out.  We need to encourage people to vote.  This would eliminate barriers to voting.  Turn the day into a national party to celebrate our awesome responsibility to this nation.  Along with this, to combat perceived voter fraud, make everyone color their finger in ink, like other democracies, to indicate that they’ve voted.  If you have a blue finger, then you’ve voted.  It is both a badge of participation and combats fraud.
  5. Allow for a “none of the above” choice.  This is awesome but couldn’t realistically be implemented, probably.  If we don’t like the candidates, allow for us to vote, but allow us to vote that we don’t like any of the candidates.  If “none” gets the most votes, all of the current candidates are thrown out and we have another election, and none of the original candidates could run.  This would eliminate us getting really unpopular candidates because they are the lesser of the evils.

I would love to see one or more of these schemes implemented.  It would probably take a Constitutional Amendment to happen but in the long-term I think it would be exactly what our country needs to reinvigorate our democracy and get rid of the apathy we have today.

Why America IS great and how to keep it that way

It frustrated me during the campaign that there was a thought that we needed to “make America great again”.  When did America stop being great?  Is it not great now?

Thinking about how things were in the past only gets us so far.  The world is a different place so comparing two timeframes makes the context of the differences difficult, if not impossible, to deal with.  My question is what does “great” look like?

Half of my great-grandparents were immigrants early in the 20th century.  They came to this country because it provided them with more opportunities and a safer existence than they would have had in Eastern Europe in the 10s/20s.  They worked hard and created a life for themselves.  My great-grandmother in particular came here to visit family and ended up staying because 1914 wasn’t really a safe time to go back to Europe.  I would argue that this isn’t fundamentally from refugees coming from war zones, that are in part our fault.  In today’s environment, would she have been sent back to a war zone because her visa expired?  How many other people in this country wouldn’t exist if that had been our policy then?  How much potential greatness would be lost by sending people back home because we don’t like the color of their skin or their religion?

America has always been a beacon for those wanting a better life or more freedoms.  This was true of the original settlers.  This was true of the founders of our nation.  This was true of the people that came because of the expansion to the west. This was true of the people that came through Ellis Island.  And it is true of people coming today.  We are the place where the greatest number of people go [link] and [link].  There is a reason for this… We Are Great.  There is more opportunity here than any other country.

People are coming here to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families.  This doesn’t take away from us, but adds to us.  We all do better when we have people working hard and generating wealth.

I would argue that America is great, and has historically been great, because we have a diversity of people and opinions.  Until fairly recently we all worked together and were willing to compromise to make sure that the work of government actually happened.  We welcomed people with open arms (mostly) and our greatness was fueled by different ideas brought together by melding different cultures and ways of thinking.  We have an attitude that we can do anything and the idea that you can lift yourself up by your bootstraps and do something amazing.

While we have challenges today, those don’t make America anything less than great. People wouldn’t still be flocking here if we weren’t still viewed as Great.  If life here sucked, people wouldn’t want to come here.  How many people do you see immigrating into 3rd world countries?

The policies being advocated aren’t going to help the middle class, which is necessary for a strong economy.  Stopping the influx of immigrants or deporting existing ones is going to have a detrimental effect on our labor force and our economy.  Who is going to pick produce?  Who is going to provide cheap labor to builders?  That is not to say that is the only job an illegal immigrants have, but it is a significant portion of the labor done by people the incoming administration wants to deport.

Our fear of “the other” has made us make our immigration policies more restrictive to try to keep people out of the country.  This makes us a poorer country.  We need to change our policies to make it easier to come into the country legally than it is to come in illegally.  Closing our borders is unrealistic, regardless of the rhetoric to the contrary.

We don’t need to work to make America great again, we need to work to KEEP America great today.

The Electorate

Clearly there is a problem in America with the abysmal voter turnout.  By most reports about half of the eligible voters actually did their civic duty and went to the polls to vote.  I think in my 28 years of voting I’ve missed one election and I believe that was because I was out of town.  I’ve never missed a presidential election.

I can understand people being disillusioned this year.  Neither candidate was what most us wanted.  They were both extremely unpopular.  Was the election decided because the people were apathetic?  Maybe.  Anecdotally, there was a significant number of people that were considering sitting this one out.  Also, did the media not take Trump seriously enough or draw a false equivalence between their “failings”?  Did Comey improperly influence the election and was that a calculated move?

There are going to be a lot of people complaining, and if you didn’t vote, you really have no right to complain about who is President.  You had your chance to influence things and you didn’t use the power you have.

My bigger concern is the fact that Trump may not have any checks and balances because the GOP has majorities in both houses.  This will make SCOTUS nominations much easier.  My hope is that the gap between the crazy stuff Trump wants to do and what the GOP representatives are willing to do is big enough that many of the nuttier or harmful things do not get done.

The other hope is that things in the Senate are close enough to shut down crazy/harmful stuff as well.

At mid-terms maybe things can shift in a positive way.

Thoughts on the state of America after last week

I’ve been thinking a lot about things this year.  I was not really excited about any of my choices this year for POTUS.  It really turned into a “which do I dislike more” kind of situation.  It really came down to not wanting Trump in office more than wanting Hillary to be POTUS.  I think a lot of us felt that way and as a result a lot of people stayed home.  While many of us did get out and make our voices heard, not enough in the right states did.

At this point, the only hope that I’m holding onto is that President-elect Trump’s vision for the future differs from the Republican’s enough that they hold him off of many of his plans.  I do worry about the environmental damage and total removal of our current plans to address carbon emissions.  The other thing that keeps me up at night is the SCOTUS opportunities; I just hope that the justices can hang on for four more years.

How do we fix this problem?  I for one know that I will be much more involved going forward because I do not want there to be a repeat of this cycle nor do I want further erosions of our fundamental rights.

There are many things that I think our Government should be that it is not today. I have ideas about what I would like to see changed and what I would want from a candidate for our legislature and executive branches.  The question is, is there enough support for what I want vs. what the rest of the electorate wants?

Clearly there is a divide in this country and I think more than anything its driven by a fear of change to the status quo.  Somehow the polarization of our different consituencies needs to be addressed and we need to start finding common ground.