Archive for September, 2017

Uniter, Not Divider — We Picked the Wrong Entertainer

Oprah the Uniter, Donald the Divider

Back in August, Oprah Winfrey traveled to Grand Rapids to be a surprise moderator for a panel discussion. Various West Michiganders had signed up to be part of a focus group about the current state of American politics. Fourteen were chosen, seven who had voted for Donald Trump in November and seven who had voted for Hilary Clinton.

The resulting piece, entitled “Divided,” aired on 60 Minutes last Sunday. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see it, I highly encourage you to do so and draw your own conclusions. For me, it was reassuring. There were plenty of heated moments to be sure, but they were worked through. Differences of opinion were given thoughtful consideration, which then gave way to what appeared to be actual communication!

Particularly compelling was one gentleman’s concern that our American experiment with respectful discussion seems to be ending (especially with all the others nodding in agreement).

This stood in stark contrast with nearly everything the President has done or said this past week. And maybe this is a good opportunity to clarify my position: I’m not a bandwagoner for disliking Mr. Trump. I’ve never liked Donald Trump. I didn’t like him as a Democrat. I don’t like him as a Republican. He is a deeply narcissistic bully, and he has demonstrated this quite consistently over a very public lifetime. I have ample evidence and every reason not to trust him. I don’t trust Donald Trump for the same reason I wouldn’t trust putting my drawing hand into a running meat grinder: I know the consequence.

There. I expressed my opinion as clearly and with as little emotion as possible. I appreciate you reading it. I did it not with any desire to convert, but simply to be heard. Thank you. I will continue to do my best to hear others. We don’t have to agree or even find common ground. But we must not dismiss. Or worse, stop talking.


The Perfect Candidate for Governor

The Perfect Candidate for Governor

A few years ago, an episode of the TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation” featured a character, Congressman Dave Murray. He was a handsome, congenial politician who would perform perfectly everything his handlers asked of him — without question and without controversy.

Even better, when he wasn’t shaking hands or talking into a camera, he’d go off into a room and sit staring off into the distance waiting for his next assignment. The regular characters (who were from the Midwest) were aghast. But the Congressman’s Washington DC advisors didn’t care if he might in fact be a robot; he was the perfect political candidate. I thought it was a brilliant piece of political satire.

Cut to Bill Schuette announcing his run for governor of Michigan. While the Attorney General definitely has a mind of his own, his insistence on calling himself the “jobs governor” portends a candidacy where he does not plan to use it. What does “jobs governor” even mean? I don’t know, but it sounds nice, and it’s catchy. (See? He made me repeat it.)

Cut to a story on Michigan Radio last week. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was about to adopt a proposal on allowing protections to be applied to LGBT people in sex discrimination cases. At the eleventh hour, the attorney general’s office stopped the process saying it was a matter for the Legislature (after earlier declining to offer a legal opinion). That reveals something about the character and intentions of candidate Bill Schuette.

I wouldn’t have known about this if not for Michigan Radio. Certain candidates are happy to hide in their script — journalism reveals their character and intentions. I know the fall membership drive is over, but it bears repeating: This is why we need responsible journalism. (And political satire is nice, too.)


Amazon’s Second Headquarters. Good for Michigan?

Amazon's Second Headquarters. Good for Michigan?

The cartoon wasn’t necessarily meant as an indictment of Michigan (although our embarrassing weaknesses in education and public transportation will likely prevent us from winning the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes). It was meant as an indictment of the United States as a whole.

Now before I end up in stump speech for some publicity-grubbing pop star running (or not running) for Senate, let me say some nice things about America. America is great. America has vast resources. America is very wealthy. America has lots of talent.

And yet we can’t seem to make a commitment these days to leverage our advantages. For example, in the few days it took to conceive and create this cartoon, protections for immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have been all over the board. Is the program over? Is it not? Do we have a deal? Will there be a law? What is actually going to happen? Businesses and (more importantly) people cannot make plans in such an environment.

America is a country of immigrants. This is possibly our biggest advantage. But each time we waver, we let our unique advantage get chipped away.

Last week there was a story in the Holland Sentinel about Basel Alyasin, an immigrant who fled Syria with his family at the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.

After moving their way around the Middle East, the Alyasin family eventually made it to Grand Haven, Michigan last year. Alyasin opened an electronics repair business on Main Street in downtown Zeeland and set about living the entrepreneurial, small-business, coming-to-America dream. You know, the one that pays the taxes, creates jobs, and builds the economy.

But now the Alyasin family has decided to move to Canada. They cannot be sure of their status in the United States, so before they become more invested, they are leaving. Maybe not for a better opportunity but certainly for a better commitment.

The truth is, the chances of the second Amazon headquarters ending up in Canada are pretty slim. But the chances of the next Amazon being created in Canada (and not the United States) are getting better and better.


Kid Rock to Open Little Caesar’s Arena — It Could Be Worse

Kid Rock to Open Little Caesar's Arena — It Could Be Worse

If you’ve read the cartoon, you’ve already seen enough of my words. So I only have three quick observations to add here:

  • I don’t particularly enjoy Kid Rock’s music, but I decided against making that any sort of issue. (My own tastes in music are hardly defensible.) Plus, the fastest way to turn people against you is to insult music they like. For example, if I were to hypothetically present the notion that perhaps Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” is not the top-tier piece of musical perfection most of Michigan thinks it is, would you immediately want to punch me in the throat? (I said “hypothetically” — please don’t punch me in the throat!)
  • I do believe that Kid Rock should play those shows. He’s an entertainer — let him entertain. If he chooses to be divisive, well it’s his future sales and legacy that he will have to deal with. Then in 10 years, when this arena is obsolete (and a new one is built on the river to revitalize the downtown), he’ll have nobody to blame but himself if he’s not invited to play that opening.
  • “Who performs first at a venue” is not really a thing. Almost nobody is going to remember the initial performer of Little Caesar’s. As long as nobody puts a Kid Rock statue out front in his honor. (Can we at least all agree on that? No Kid Rock statue, okay? Good.)


That’s Not Your Side!

That's Not Your Side!

Labor Day is Monday, which of course begs the question: What side is it on? Is it exclusive to union workers or to entrepreneurs? Does it celebrate individual laborers in their quest to provide for their families or groups that grow prosperity by developing their trade? Is it more of a man thing or a woman thing? Is God for it or against it? And where does it stand on nuclear proliferation? Public breastfeeding? The designated hitter rule?…

An exaggeration? Well, maybe a little. But this “sides” thing is how we are now conditioned to think — every issue seemingly must align with either one side or the other. Every issue is binary: strictly for or against. And they all have to fit within the structure of a declared political party. Sheesh! Has it always been this bad? I don’t think so, but then maybe out of desperation I’m remembering good ol’ days that never were.

We could use a break. Michigan has a particularly rich labor history. We should celebrate it by enjoying a day off from having to line up every issue we encounter with some political goal or aspiration. Happy Labor Day!