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.

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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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Solving the Michigan Auto Insurance Puzzle

Solving the Michigan Auto Insurance Puzzle

The TV program “The Good Place” is about…. Well, actually, it’s one of those shows where the less you know at the start, the more enjoyable it is. So for those of you who haven’t started or are not quite caught up, I will say only that the term “good place” is a synonym for “heaven.”

And this brief anecdote: In a recent episode, several souls arrive in what they believe to be the good place, but in a very unorthodox, backdoor sort of way. It appears they have not been detected, and there is some concern that when found they might be kicked out (and sent to the bad place).

One of the characters protests the idea, saying, “We’re refugees. What kind of messed up place would turn away refugees?”

This, of course, is some biting social commentary on ongoing US immigration issues, not Michigan’s auto insurance rates. But it is what got me started on this week’s cartoon. It reminded me of a very similar question I’ve heard (and said) with equal exasperation: “What kind of messed up healthcare system lets people go bankrupt just because they got hurt?”

In Michigan, if you get hurt in an auto accident, your medical expenses can be covered. And if you are on Medicare, you also enjoy a great deal of financial protection. But that leaves a lot of holes and seems like an awfully random (and inefficient) way to insure people.

The state legislature is currently looking at ways to reduce auto insurance rates. One perennial target is the MCCA fee (currently $192 per year per driver), which funds the unlimited lifetime coverage for medical expenses resulting from auto accidents. There are certainly improvements to be made. (Greater transparency on how rates are determined would be a great start.) But as the legislators consider capping or eliminating the MCCA fee, I hope they are also considering the bigger picture, like fixing the messed up healthcare system.

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The Detroit Wall

The Detroit Wall

Not too long ago when I would draw a cartoon related to the city of Detroit, a good portion of the feedback I’d get included suggestions to build some sort of wall around the city to seal it off from the rest of Michigan. At the time, I recognized these not as legitimate proposals, but folks either venting their frustrations or mongering their fears. Now I’m not so sure they weren’t perfectly serious.

I mean, their argument was that Detroit was different and dangerous. We had made bad deals and they were soaking us, taking our money. Worst, they were invading our land and bringing their drugs and crime. Rapists. I’m sure many were fine people, but….

You see where I’m going with this, right?

To be clear, I am not trying to make an apples-to-apples case for Detroit circa 2013 and the Mexican border circa 2019. There are lots and lots of very obvious differences. What I am saying is that there are lessons to be learned.

The first: The desire to build large physical barriers is reactive — a seemingly simple solution to a complex problem. But you have to ask: Functionally, practically, financially, how would it work? The honest answer is: Not well, even in the unlikely event it could be completed.

The second: Think about how much better off Detroit and Michigan are today by working cooperatively, not punitively. Everything is certainly not sunshine and rainbows — there are still (and will always be) real issues. But we should look to solve problems, not mask them.

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Michigan New Year Goals

Michigan New Year Goals

As always, I leave the cartoon open to your interpretation. (My intention is not to tell readers what to think — it’s more a nudge to get them to think.)

Also as always, these little essays that follow are not supposed to explain the cartoon. The cartoons should stand (or die) on their own. And no amount of “Don’t you get it? It’s funny because…” can revive a dead cartoon.

Mostly the essays are here to add a little context, provide more depth. Sometimes they explore a different view or present additional axes for me to grind.

Right. So. All that said, I’m going to go right ahead here and explain the cartoon and tell you what you should think about it:

It’s actually meant to be hopeful. Yes, it is disheartening that drivable roads, drinkable water, and functioning schools should be fairly simple to achieve. But they aren’t. And we Michiganders have been fooling ourselves for far too long to think that it should be easy. There is no magic solution. We can’t cut taxes or throw money or political gimmick our way to where we need to go. It will take planning and commitment and real work. I think Governor Whitmer set the right tone with her speech at the swearing in ceremony this week. Let’s hope that it carries through 2019.

(Next week I promise to get back to not telling you anything.)

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Who’s Gonna Clean up the Mess After the Lame Duck Party?

Who's Gonna Clean up the Mess After the Lame Duck Party?

Because the lame-duck session of the Michigan Legislature will conclude at some point past my deadline, I didn’t feel confident in commenting directly on what legislation will actually pass. Further, I have no idea what Governor Snyder may sign into law and what he may not.

So I decided to go with what I do know as generally true: Men make messes, women clean them up.

However this particular mess eventually gets sorted out, I wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday season. I look forward to marveling with you over a whole new set of Michigan shenanigans in the coming year.

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Line 5 Time Bomb in Michigan’s Living Room

Line 5 Time Bomb in Michigan's Living Room

On Wednesday this week, Governor Snyder signed a bill into law that will allow a tunnel for a new section of pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac to move forward. The intention is to resolve the status of the Embridge Line 5 oil pipeline, which currently is laid across the bottom the Straights and poses a potential for catastrophic disaster.

Snyder for some time has been negotiating with Embridge and other interests for a deal to keep the pipeline open. It’s a complicated set of environmental, economic, logistic, and (you guessed it) political issues. But it was mostly political that a bill was generated and fast-tracked to Snyder’s desk before the end of his term — an incoming governor Gretchen Whitmer almost certainly would not sign it.

For a number of reasons: Line 5 keeps operating as is for a decade or more while the tunnel is constructed. The questionable wisdom of making a huge infrastructure commitment to carbon-based energy. The trustworthiness of a health and safety issue involving Michigan water and Rick Snyder.

In any case, it’s not quite a done deal. There will be challenges to the tunnel and perhaps additional legislation. It may all work out fine. By the time it gets built (and fresh water becomes increasingly precious), Mackinaw City/St. Ignace might develop into a major metropolitan area that could use a tunnel for a subway link.

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A Christmas Carol — Starring Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

A Christmas Carol — Starring Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

It was hard not to notice the stark contrast this week between events celebrating the late President George H.W. Bush’s life and the shameless actions of the Michigan (and Wisconsin) lame duck legislatures.

Bush Themes: Civility, democracy, respect for the office, doing what’s right, sacrifice, generosity, graciousness, honor, duty, trust the system, serve the people, country first.

Michigan Legislature Themes: Grab and cling to power, the end justifies the means, the people have spoken (but I know better), duplicity, greed, game the system, serve the special interests, political party first.

It’s as if a Dickensian story was being played out live in front of all of us, and the likes of Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof completely missed the point. Maybe a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future would save them. Or maybe they’re the Jacob Marley’s who will wear the chains they are forging in life.

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It’s as If GM Might Not Care About Me

It's as If GM Might Not Care About Me

I wouldn’t say Michigan’s relationship with General Motors is dysfunctional. I think it’s more a case of unrealistic expectations. The auto industry is an integral part of our Michigan identity. So we, as people, tend to take it personally when GM does something that affects Michigan people negatively such as the plan announced this week to layoff workers and close plants in Hamtramck/Detroit and Warren.

It seems harsh, yes. Thankless. And one could even argue needlessly cold — why can’t they just say “we are closing the facility” instead of “we will no longer allocate product,” which makes it sound like they are going to to death? But in the end, GM is a corporation doing what corporations do, which is what is best for them. Always.

This again demonstrates the importance of electing legislators who actively prioritize people interests. In the meantime, I suggest we take advantage of the opportunities generated by a healthy GM, but give up the idea that it will in any way be the “Generous Motors” of yore. Corporations are not people (no matter what the US Supreme Court says), so we shouldn’t expect them to act like people.

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The Limits of Acceptance at Thanksgiving

The Limits of Acceptance at Thanksgiving

I imagine that some Thanksgiving dinners were a lot less tense when The Game took place the weekend before the holiday instead of after. Sure, a certain amount of tribalism is inevitable — it’s who we humans are. But usually we’re somewhat more civil after a battle.

Whatever your particular situation, I hope you had a safe and relaxing Thanksgiving Day. I hope you were able to share time with the ones you love. I hope you were able to both give and get kindness and acceptance from those around you. And I hope that Michigan beats the crap out of Ohio State.

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