Where Do We Find Political Solutions in What Appears to be a Barren Post-election Landscape?

Also published on the Good Men Project and can be found here.

We are almost three weeks removed from the election and whether you have come to terms with the results or not, it is necessary we look towards the future and try to find solutions in what appears to be a problematic political landscape.

This past election season was a big shift away from establishment party politics. Bernie Sander’s campaign was a testament to that and obviously Donald Trump was as well, although in the past few years the Republican establishment has been more of an enigma than any set of concrete ideas.

Looking back at patterns of history, this shift shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The proclamation of a Washington “outsider” is a highly successful campaign strategy that has been used quite frequently. This strategy is usually most successful during or directly after periods of stress and uncertainty.

The cold war tensions of the late ‘50s led John F. Kennedy to the white house as he campaigned on the necessity of new blood and the failures of the old guard. Carter’s outsider strategy came on the heels of Watergate, and Reagan’s on the recession and energy crisis of the ‘70s.

President Obama’s path to the white house was much similar to JFK’s, the causes and conditions looking a little different.

When Obama first took office in 2008, I was coming up on the cusp of adulthood. It was like a light came on in the darkness. The financial crisis we were going through had put burdens on my family and nearly everyone around me and I had grown up most of my life with my country tangled up in two wars. I was a year too young to be eligible to vote, but most of my friends were of age, and Obama was overwhelmingly successful with young people.

The last eight years were pretty good from my point of view. It seemed that we had recovered from the recession. The economy was steadily improving. My friends and family were doing much better than they were eight years ago.

But this observation comes from my coastal-centric mind. I grew up in the Northeast, and moved to California towards the end of the Obama administration. Although I traveled through parts of the South and Midwest, it was not for any significant amount of time. At least not enough to break the perception bias I was suffering from.

A large swath of the population struggled mightily the last eight years. If you live on one of the coasts, it may have been harder to see, but many never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. History proved again to repeat itself and hindsight being 20/20 it’s easy to now see the flaw of the Hillary Clinton candidacy.

So now we lie in the wake of the election, many still in a state of bewilderment. The Democrats look to the future and plan for the 2018 midterms and 2020 election, wondering which direction they should go.

A smart solution would be to put forth the exciting, charismatic candidates that the Democrats usually put on the national stage. JFK, Obama, and Bill Clinton all had these qualities. They received large support from younger generations because we can relate to them. They aren’t just old white guys far removed from us, high up in their castles.

Mimicry is one of the great adaptors of behavior in nature. Species mimic characteristics of other species to be successful. Democrats need to take a lesson from Mother Nature and rip a page out of the Bernie Sander’s playbook.

Somewhere along the way the elitists hijacked the Democratic Party. They left the little guy behind, and forgot that people vote in states other than California and New York.

The Sanders campaign put the corporations, dark money, and elitists in their sights with the same fervor the people do. In a political era where money buys elections, he refused to take their money! Instead he funded his entire campaign from small, transparent donations. He made it clear he would go after Wall Street and eradicate the parasite that is dark money from politics.

He had widespread support from young people, minorities, and working class folks because he talked about issues that no other candidates were willing to talk about. 99% of us will never be part of any hedge fund or super pac. Guys like us were feeling like our power in the democratic process was only getting smaller, while the minority one percent at the top was gaining power. Sanders excited us and empowered us. That’s what made Democratic candidates great in the past, and it is what we need now.

I don’t say any of this as an “I told you so”, but rather as a path towards a solution based on the lessons of the past.

The good news is Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and their messages aren’t going anywhere. They’ve thrown their support for DNC chair behind Keith Ellison, an exciting young representative from Minnesota who shares many of their same values.

A candidate I have a strong admiration for, and will gain a lot of momentum the next four years is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. Prior to filling Frank Lautenberg’s vacant Senate seat, Booker was mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

The trajectory of the Democratic Party looks good. Bernie Sanders campaign as an outsider and a critic of the establishment was extremely successful. There are young, exciting candidates like Keith Ellison and Cory Booker who will gain significant traction the next four years. I believe there will be successful movements towards grassroots fundraising and organization, which will help to lesson the grip big corporations have on politics.

That is something that’s good for all of us, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.

Happy Thanksgiving 

Happly Thanksgiving everyone, this year’s holiday is sure to be filled with political discussions around the dinner table. Checkout this week’s article at the Good Men Project. I’m discussing the future of the political landscape. 

I’m Optimistic and You Should Be Too.

Emotions can only be observed by being a participant in the process, by looking into the eyes of others, and talking with them about their happiness, sadness, joys and fears. The feelings and experiences I have as a millennial man and those I observe in others around me are the wild card factors that can’t exactly be quantified. They can’t be measured, put on a line graph or pie chart.

What I took away from this past election was that those factors were significantly more important than the numbers. The numbers showed a Clinton victory, some by a significant margin. The Moody Analytics model, which had correctly predicted every presidential race since 1980, had Clinton winning by 126 electoral votes over Donald Trump.

But what the data always fails to show are the faces behind those numbers; the men and women who are more than just a point on a graph. In this time of modern technology, with analytics and algorithms relied upon to predict unpredictable human behavior, we lost sight of the human element that was at play in the grand scheme.

For my fellow millennials, whether the election went your way or not, I encourage you to continue to be optimistic for the future.

The Pew Research Center in April of 2016 showed our generation matching the baby boomers as the largest generation demographic able to vote. According to exit polls 18-29 year olds voted for Clinton 55% to 37%, with a five point Republican gain over the last election.[1]

We are the largest, most diverse, highest educated generation in the history of the country. In the next presidential election we will surpass the baby boomers as the largest generation able to vote. We are also the most technologically savvy generation. Given these demographic advantages and the amount of information we have the ability to access, one could make the argument that we will be better informed and critical of the candidates that are put forth to us, keeping them more accountable and more honest than they have been in the past.

However, as the largest generation, it is our responsibility to begin the healing process that the country so desperately needs right now.

This election was a testament to what we all knew. We are living during a time in which our country is more divided than we have ever been. It brought to the surface all of the wild card factors, and revealed just how deep the divisions really are.

This election drew lines along, race, sex, socioeconomic class, and geography. It is now clearer than ever that we truly live in two, maybe more, Americas. Emotions are high on all fronts and to the degree we can come together and work together, is to the degree we will heal.

I woke up Wednesday morning and saw protests all over the country. Many of them were on high school and college campuses, in large cities from coast to coast.

As a student of history, and as one who holds in the highest regards the processes that make our democracy great, I believe that protest is a healthy and necessary function of a thriving democracy.

But what I saw was much of the angry, hateful, intolerant sentiments we saw on the campaign trail repackaged and delivered. Many times by the same people who were preaching tolerance and unity barely a month ago. My Facebook feed was littered with knockdown, drag out arguments between friends, neighbors, and colleagues. I saw #Notourpresident on social media, television, and on signs held by students in the streets. The “They go low, we go high” rhetoric went out the window before all of the votes were even counted.

While the future looks bright, this looks like the same old infighting we really need to get past.

Although I have no more insight than the next guy on what the Trump administration will do, I have a few suspicions and hopes. The rhetoric and image Trump used to get votes was successful in getting him elected, but won’t suffice in running the country. I think Donald Trump the president will be much different than Donald Trump the candidate, much to the disappointment of his supporters; and if worse comes to worst, the Republicans don’t have the super majority necessary to block a filibuster in the Senate.

I did not vote for Donald Trump (I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either for the record). Living in California, my state was going blue regardless of who I voted for. But the fact of the matter is he’s the president elect. That’s it, case closed. Contrary to the hash tags, he is our president. When he is sworn in he will be sworn to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution of the United States. It’s time to move on and begin to heal.

As millennials it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the big picture here. The future is bright not just for us, but also for the country as a whole. The world is changing, which creates fear, but I think our generation is one that embraces change. However, the great responsibilities we have, start now. They start with how we treat one another in these coming months and years. They rest on how well we begin our healing process, and most importantly, how we learn to love each other again.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html?_r=0

Also published  on Good Men Project

Shrinking Recreational Options for Adolescent Boys Swell Their Tempers and Inabilities to Solve Problems

Originally published November 10, 2016 as an article for my weekly column at the Good Men Project.

When I was a young kid in elementary and middle school I was always the smallest kid in my class. My birthday being in July meant that I was right on the cutoff of either being one of the youngest kids in the grade, or being one of the oldest kids in the grade below. I ended up in the grade ahead and was 6-12 months behind the other kids in physical development as a child. I’m easy to find in any class photo from the ages of 5-14. I’m the shortest one in the picture.

There are a few things that come with being the smallest in the class. I was usually picked last in any Phys. Ed. activity, no one wanted me on their basketball team, and I was the perfect target for larger kids to mess with on the schoolyard. That’s just the way it was. “Big fish eat little fish.” It’s true in the wild, and a schoolyard of adolescent children is not much different.

But I don’t reflect back on those years with any type of ill will. They were some of the best, carefree years of my life. I learned a lot from those experiences that would help to shape the man I am today.

The first thing the smallest kid learns how to do is stand up for himself. There were no teachers intervening or speaking on my behalf. I had to learn how to solve heated situations diplomatically, and when that didn’t work I had to learn how to defend myself. Childhood scuffles happened throughout my adolescence and was a part of growing up. Nine times out of ten we duked it out like the little 13-year-old tough guys we thought we were and then shook hands with each other after, almost always becoming better friends afterwards.

Looking back, the schoolyard politics were laughable, but they served a purpose. I learned how to deal with adversity, work my way through it, and move on.

As I grew past the turbulent days of middle school and into high school I learned how to express my emotions through sports and music. I found solace on the wrestling mat and traveled all over northern New Jersey and New York City going to punk rock shows. The music was fast and heavy and sounded just how I felt inside. I could relate to it.

Young men going through puberty are tinderboxes of hormones, ignited left and right as they go through many new experiences. It was crucial for me to be able to externalize what I was feeling internally. I needed plenty of pressure release valves, both physically and mentally to vent as I transitioned from boyhood to manhood.

But now there is a movement today to control how boys express their feelings. It encourages them to internalize their feelings and process them in a way that is unnatural; telling them their way is flawed. This movement is currently taking place in schools across the country, and is creating lifelong habits that are unhealthy and dangerous for boys and for society as a whole.

The fundamental piece in the way this system operates is by controlling how boys express the multitude of emotions they go through as they pass through the fragile adolescent period in their lives.

We are at war with violence. Any violence whatsoever has to be eradicated completely, and it starts in the schools, with young boys. Administrators slap the bully label on any and all behavior that is outside accepted conduct. Any aggressive or demeaning language (broad terms that can be interpreted many different ways) is punishable by expulsions and suspensions. Physical altercations of any kind have become “behavioral issues” and the kids involved now labeled as “troubled students”. This only teaches the boy that his natural expression of what he is feeling is wrong, and that he has a problem. He instead should internalize his feelings and not express them because he will get in trouble for it.

It’s a fact that many of our habits and behaviors are learned behaviors from our childhood. What we learn when we are younger tends to manifest itself later in life. When a child is constantly being told that they are wrong for expressing themselves, this leads to issues of self esteem and self blaming which can become a feeling of unworthiness that lasts long past adolescence. Internalizing feelings creates social isolation and unhealthy ways of coping like substance abuse and violence either towards themselves or others.

Steady waters don’t make skilled sailors and what teachers and administrators have done is rob today’s kids of having to navigate the same rough seas they themselves had to navigate in order to become successful adults.

There are also fewer outlets for boys to channel their emotions into something positive. Recess and Physical Education class are being reduced across the country, one study showing only 8% of adolescents (12-19) getting the recommended 60 minutes per day of physical activity.[1] Music programs along with other extra curricular activities are the first ones slashed when budget cuts come down. I witnessed my own high school wrestling team get cut after I graduated due to parents worrying it was too dangerous, and I see the same happening to football programs.

Those outlets I used to focus the energy of my emotions I still use today. On rough days I try to take to that pent up energy and put it to work doing something positive. I’ll go to the gym, play music, or start writing. But if I grew up being told that those feelings were a mistake to begin with, that I was wrong for feeling them, I wouldn’t have even begun to explore any way to process them. I would’ve just stuffed them away and be a much different person than I am today.

I will always be grateful for the coaches and teachers I had during my middle school and high school years. They pushed me both physically and mentally beyond my self perceived limits, allowed me to express my emotions, and fostered the growth that allowed me to become a man who is comfortable in his own skin.

[1] U.S. Government Accountability Office. K-12 Education: School-based physical education and sports programs. GAO report 12-350. Washington, DC: GAO; 2012.

What happens to the Trump movement after tomorrow?

Tomorrow millions of people will head to the polls and cast their vote for the next President of the United States. Many polls already suggest Hillary will win, and assuming she does, this strange, bizarre creature of a candidate, Donald Trump, will go quietly back from whence he came, right?

Maybe… But probably not.

For a month or two he’ll be good for a slew of asinine claims of voter fraud. He’s already stated that if he loses it is because the election is rigged, and if your Facebook feed is anything like mine, it’s filled with more fake news stories about dead people voting then you can count.

But eventually all of the craziness will subside, most likely by inauguration day. The elephant standing in the room and the question I find absolutely fascinating is what happens to all of the Trump supporters?

What I took away most from his campaign is that Trump tapped into something no Republican has been able to tap into in recent memory. His inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants, the political establishment, and the Republican base ignited something in his supporters with a passion I’ve never seen before. His political rallies look like a sporting event or a concert.

He was able to bring to the surface the feelings of many middle class, blue collar, mostly white male Americans who are watching the world change in front of their eyes with no power to do anything about it and no signs of it ever going back to the way it was. The factory jobs of the rust belt and elsewhere have left the U.S., maybe never to return. The fossil fuel industry and the millions of jobs it provides are being threatened by newer, cheaper, greener alternatives. For many Americans, Trump is one of the last gasps of air they feel like they have left.

The completely visceral response Trump supporters had towards him will not subside and go quietly into the sunset. Trump was able to turn them against the Republican Party and it’s establishment. First in the primaries, then during the waves of Republican elite’s who spoke against him or wouldn’t support him.

So it will be very interesting to see where the Republican Party goes from here. They cannot ignore or deny the millions of people who rallied behind Trump’s message, who chose that message over 16 other Republican candidates with traditional Republican messages.

The Republican base will almost certainly have to adopt some of the Trump message to win future Senate and House seats, and if that’s the case the Republican Party could take an even deeper turn towards the extreme.

-Mike