Go Green! Go White! …Go Teal!

Go Green! Go White! ...Go Teal!

Apologies to those who don’t understand the “teal” reference. I’ll explain that shortly. But I especially apologize to those who might perceive the cartoon as some sort of partisan dig in the great MSU/UofM rivalry. It’s not. Michigan Radio is a licensee of the University of Michigan, but I take no side. (I’m a Michigan Tech grad, so as far as the rivalry goes, I’m an agnostic. Which is to say, I acknowledge the existence of MSU and UofM, but I worship neither.)

This editorial cartoon actually happens to be an expression of pride — for Michiganders in general and the Spartan Nation in particular. Obviously their men’s basketball team has had (and hopefully will continue to have) a spectacular season. It’s not hard to support that. What may be less obvious is a recent decision by the school that is also highly supportable.

Teal is the ribbon color commonly worn to support victims sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar, who perpetrated many of his crimes while an employee of MSU. Last summer, the school was prepared to publish a “teal” issue of its alumni magazine, which included stories addressing and owning responsibility as well as lessons learned. Campus officials spiked it. Instead, an issue was published that included a lot of “everything is fine here” featuring interim president, John Engler.

But now the “teal” issue has been published. So again, we can all be proud of the success of the men’s basketball team. (I mean, when Duke loses, we all win, right?) But let’s be proud that the school has taken a very positive step toward healing the victims of sexual assault and preventing further sexual violence. As Paula Davenport, the current editor of the Spartan magazine said, “It is never too late to do the right thing.”


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.


Walls and Bridges

Walls and Bridges

It’s true. Michigan is building a new bridge with Canada — the Gordie Howe Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. And Canada is indeed paying for it. In fact, credit where credit is due, that’s how Governor Snyder made the deal happen — with his own kind of end run around a legislature reluctant to fund it. (The legislative branch constitutionally must appropriate funds, but Canada is taking care of the up front costs.)

That’s mostly where similarities end between the bridge and the wall with Mexico. The bridge is a bridge: a forward-looking, economically positive structure designed to promote commerce and connection among neighbors. The wall is, well, it’s hard to tell what the heck that is. A 30 foot concrete barrier from “sea to shining sea”? A series of steel slats in specific locations? A metaphor to stoke dread and fear? Whatever, a wall is generally not intended to promote commerce and connection among neighbors.

I juxtapose the bridge and the wall not for the parallels, but for the differences. With the President intent on pursuing a decidedly negative agenda, elsewhere in America (specifically here in Michigan) forward-looking efforts continue to develop. And not only forward-looking, but fully constitutional as well! Oh there is so much we can help you with, Mr. President. I guess we’ll see you in court so we can talk about it.

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The Promise for Michigan Government Transparency

I can tell you that the cartoon this week is not partisan, but that’s really for you to decide. On the surface, it’s me quoting the current Democrat leader directly and without comment, then dinging the two previous Republican leaders. But I had a deeper aim. It all started with Governor Whitmer’s state-of-the-state address this week.

As far are “state-of” speeches go, it was pretty standard fare — a laundry list of goals and intentions. For an editorial cartoon, that’s really not much to work with. But the one point that really resonated with me was her promise (and I heard it as a promise) to make the executive and legislative branches accountable to the freedom of information act (FOIA).

It occurred to me that the disasters Michigan has faced in the recent past have all been made much, much worse from leaders trying to manage and hide information: Flint Water crisis, Detroit schools, campaign finance laws, Larry Nassar, to name a few.

And while former Governor Rick Snyder former Senate Leader Arlan Meekhof are obviously not solely to blame, they were certainly among the least transparent leaders Michigan has ever had. And that’s what I’m calling them out on — not their party affiliation, but their actual record.

So let’s make a point of remembering the FOIA part of Whitmer’s address. Because often the one making the promise turns into the worst offender. (“Drain the swamp” anyone?) If the governor is ambitious enough to promise transparency, we need to be ambitious enough to hold her accountable.


An Analogy for the Trumpian Political Culture

An Analogy for Our Trumpian Political Culture

It appears the snow has finally stopped falling here in West Michigan. In a day or two it is supposed to turn reasonably warm enough for me to attend to the non-priority snow removal issues — the roof, patios, walkways. Before the rains come. And then the next freeze cycle. Oy!

In the meantime, the driveway and the front walk aren’t gonna clear themselves. This has been proven out over and over this week. If you need me, I’ll be outside.


And That’s the News

And That's the News

I was listening to a podcast with comedian W. Kamau Bell. It was recorded previous to the incidents on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last weekend, but there were some very timely insights.

One story Bell told was about him stopping by a coffee shop to see his wife. Bell (who is black) approached the table where his wife and friends (all of whom are white) were sitting. The owner of the shop came by and began shushing Bell away, assuming he was harassing his customers. In the moment, Bell didn’t know quite what to do or say. He hadn’t woken up that morning anticipating the situation and was not, as he put it, prepared to deliver a Denzel Washington-level social justice speech to correct the situation. He simply left with his wife. “I wasn’t my best self in that moment.”

“Wasn’t my best self.” Does that phrase perfectly capture this past week or what?

Here’s the thing: In this instance walking away may not have been the most satisfying decision, but it was probably the best. And Bell pretty much said as much, “It’s too late to figure out a strategy during an emergency.” Which is sage enough, but he continued with, “I think sometimes people think that if I wasn’t my best self in that moment then the moment is lost. And that’s just not true. After an incident, you have the opportunity to initiate a new conversation. Talk with colleagues, loved ones, members of your community. Don’t bury it deep inside you. Prepare yourself for the next time. It’s not what you do but what you do next. And then next and then next.”

I think that also goes for how news is reported. The initial reactive stories last weekend were obviously not good. And if you are inclined to blame “the media,” well, I would agree. But I would hasten to add it was social media and cable news that were by far the worst offenders, and they are hardly actual journalism. The stories reported by reliable news sources (NPR included) were certainly incomplete, but they were quickly followed-up and fleshed out — and continue to be as the story develops.

Life surprises us all the time, and yet we’re still rarely ready to react exactly the way we’d like. So it’s likely that, in the moment, we may lash out at a smirking teenager or repost conspiratorial memes. But the real question is: What are we going to do after that to be our best selves?


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