Archive for March, 2019

How the Trump Scale Works

How the Trump Scale Works

Ugh. I know. This guy again. But with his campaign rally in my backyard this week, it kind of forced my hand. So… what exactly is my problem with Donald Trump? Let’s peel that onion.

It starts with him objectively not being a good person. Let’s not pretend to argue this. His life is one big, prolific dossier of evidence that proves it out. Of course, this is part of his appeal — it’s entertaining. Or supporters see him as “just the type of guy we need to get things done.” Perhaps. But I would remind those supporters — and especially my fellow Christians — “the end justifies the means” was the moral code of Niccolò Machiavelli, not Jesus Christ. (Those guys really aren’t compatible.)

Also objectively, Trump is a demagogue. A demagogue is a leader who gains popularity in a democracy by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among people, whipping up the passions of the crowd, and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues overturn established norms of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so. Again, I can see why this would appeal to his supporters — attracting supporters is what demagogues do. At the same time, they can destroy nations. (Attracting and destroying are compatible.)

Ultimately though, I think my base issue with Donald Trump is his complete absence of humility. Never, ever asking for forgiveness is one of Trump’s core competencies and is often celebrated. I just cannot accept this.

But, who knows? My deadline for the cartoon and this essay was before Trump’s speech in Grand Rapids Thursday night. He may have redeemed himself. He may have stepped up to that podium and said, “Look, the time has come for me to apologize. In my quest to do what I believe is best for our great country, I have made some mistakes, I have hurt people, and I have behaved badly. I am truly sorry and I’m asking for your forgiveness. I will make amends and promise to be a more principled person and leader in the future.”

I’m confident he didn’t.


It’s Finally Here!

It's Finally Here!

One of the big challenges of modern editorial cartooning is finding common reference points. In the cartoon this week, I’m banking on most of you being familiar with the musical Hamilton, what a phenomenon it’s been, and that a production just opened in Michigan for the first time — at the Fischer Theatre in Detroit. That’s a stretch, and I apologize to those who may be feeling left out. (Next week, back to the pothole jokes!)

But in the meantime, if you have the opportunity (and the means), I would highly recommend seeing Hamilton. This week I have been at a global sales convention for my day job and meeting colleagues from around the world. Hamilton has been on my mind and I have suggested to a few international friends that if they are interested in understanding Americans better, seeing the play (or at least listening to the music) is a good place to start.

It’s a quintessentially American story: an ambitious young immigrant makes his way here to start a new life. He works hard, finds opportunity, achieves success, overreaches, fails, rebuilds, repeats. And the play itself is uniquely American, too. Diverse, charming, quickly accessible but sometimes hard to understand. It moves in an almost constant churn, appeals to your pride, and breaks your heart. Mistakes are made with the best of intentions and the consequences are sometimes terrible, but the intoxicating idea of creating something new carries everything forward.

Anyway, I think experiencing the show is highly worthwhile. And I can’t promise that I won’t make a Hamilton reference again in the future, so it would help me out if I could count on you guys being in on the joke.


…Are Ruining Everything!

...Are Ruining Everything!

It is so, so, so deliciously easy to hate somebody without even knowing them. In fact, not knowing somebody as a person but as part of a group is a great help. As an example, many Americans feel very comfortable these days communicating their less than favorable views on immigrants — economic burdens, dangerous criminals, existential threats. You know, the same basic take Americans had on the 19th century Irish or 20th century Italians.

This got kind of turned around on me when the college admission scandal broke this week. My immediate reaction to those wealthy and famous people bribing their kids’ way into marquee universities? Frickin’ rich people! Overly privileged bastards, all of them! Lousy, stinkin’…

Wait a minute…I know several thoroughly honest, morally sound people who also happen to be fairly affluent. Plus, by most world standards, I myself could be considered rich. (And I’m delightful!) So perhaps it’s not the healthiest thing in the world to fall in that trap.

I’m still upset with those parents who lied, cheated, and stole. Even more so as details emerge. I look forward to their prosecution and justice being served. But I will try to be more careful with open declarations of loathing for entire groups of people. (I still, however, reserve all rights for individuals.)


Raise the Gas Tax?!

Raise the Gas Tax?!

One of my pet peeves is when somebody with a good paying, white collar job chooses a ginormous pickup truck for their commuter vehicle and then complains bitterly when the price of gas goes up. The world is not conspiring against you, Karen! You made your choice — deal with the consequences!

So when Governor Whitmer floated the idea this week of raising the gas tax, I imagined that the Karens of Michigan were going to be quite put out. A brief workplace and online sampling confirmed this. To be clear, I don’t begrudge those on fixed incomes or with lives that require a pickup truck for not being happy with potentially higher gas prices. Taxes with such a direct and obvious economic impact are especially unlikable.

To that end, I’m guessing our Michigan-based automakers are not terribly thrilled with the gas tax idea. All three have now clearly gone all in on a pickup/SUV future. It’ll be interesting to see if they weigh in on what they would perceive as a more fair revenue source.

But that leaves us with the question of what would be more “fair.” We’ll find out soon enough as Whitmer negotiates the budget with the Legislature. Initial reactions from Republicans have been positive. They’re leery of such a large gas tax and expressing displeasure with potential adjustments to corporate taxes. But nobody is denying that our roads have been neglected for so long that significant spending will be required to fix them.

No tax is ever completely fair. But whatever gets negotiated should be as evenhanded as possible. So for those hybrid and electric vehicle owners who are a little too satisfied with sticking it to the gas guzzlers: You won’t get off so easy, Chad! We’re all expecting you to pay for fixing the roads, too!


Assembly Plants and Misplaced Nostalgia

Assembly Plants and Misplaced Nostalgia

In the late 1970s, Detroit was desperate for a new automobile assembly plant. GM was closing its plant on Clark Avenue and the land for the previously closed Dodge Main complex was available in Hamtramck. The only problem was that additional land was needed that reached into Detroit’s Poletown neighborhood.

In those pre-Great Recession times, any new auto facility — but especially an assembly plant — was almost universally considered an economic blessing and a community savior. Lots of good stable jobs, a magnet to suppliers, a taxpaying engine — no downside! Except, as it turns out, there were huge downsides. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young conspired with GM (as well as the Catholic Archdiocese) to acquire the land it wanted using a number of methods, grabbing it through eminent domain when necessary. It totally destabilized Poletown and never came close to delivering the promised number of jobs and tax dollars.

This week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced plans for a new Jeep assembly plant in Detroit, probably at the site of the former Mack Engine plant (plus some additional land). It seems very similar to 40 years ago, but it is really quite different. First, everybody involved seems keen to avoid the Poletown mistakes. Second, the city no longer has eminent domain power. Third, I think all Michiganders are much much better at moderating expectations around any new auto facility — we’ve seen enough come and go to know there are always tradeoffs. 

Nostalgia can cloud our assessment about what was good about the good ol’ days. Some things were, in fact, better back in the day. (I sure do miss being able to dunk a basketball!) But that doesn’t mean everything was better.