Politics, Uncategorized

Country Over Party?

It was perfectly reasonable, though disappointing, for pro-life, pro-corporate, anti-tax Republicans to support Trump as their nominee, despite recognizing all of the obvious and disturbing aspects of his character. There was no shortage of rational, non-bigoted Republicans who knowingly voted for a racist, stupid, misogynist who was wildly unfit and unprepared to become the most powerful person in the world, voting merely so that they could get the judges and tax rates that they wanted. It is the inevitable byproduct of the two-party system, choosing between the lesser of two evils. The American left would have probably done the same had the shoe been on the other foot.

Now, Donald Trump is president, and the West Wing is crawling with reactionary Republicans. Neil Gorsuch will reign supreme, and Paul Ryan will have at least two years to pass sweeping, conservative legislation. Nothing will change without action from Congressional Republicans. However, even the most reasonable, responsible congressional Republicans still refuse to push back against Donald Trump with respect to Russia, corruption, and civil rights. The left is correct to accuse GOP leaders of putting party before country. That is a refrain worth amplifying.

However, before the left turns the smug disdain up to 11, let’s test this accusation of ‘party before country’ for validity and hypocrisy…

If, for the sake of argument, all Republicans care about is abortion and tax policy, it’s in their best interest to stand by President Trump. They need the Republican White House to be politically strong for the sake of passing legislation and re-electing a Republican president. That’s what we mean by putting party before country. Single-issue voting may be effective, but it produces an immoral disregard for the complexity of federal policy and the number of issues that are critical to consider when stepping into the ballot box. Don’t be a single issue voter. Don’t do it.

Let’s consider hypocrisy. Would Democrats be willing to put country before party? Fortunately, we weren’t forced to vote for a Trump-of-the-left, but liberals will have the opportunity to show their true colors very soon. If Donald Trump truly represents an existential threat to the country, and if Donald Trump must be defeated for re-election at all costs, who should the Democratic Party nominate for president in 2020?

The Democrats may be able to defeat Donald Trump with a liberal like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. They may be able to elect an establishment pick like Tim Kaine or Corey Booker. However, there is risk in that kind of choice. Such a general election will be another polarized slug fest, pitting left v. right over a few million votes, an election that could turn on a dime and risks a full four more years of Donald Trump with his finger on the armageddon button.

The Democratic Party can make a patriotic choice to ensure victory in 2020, but it requires putting their money where there mouth on Donald Trump and putting country before party.

They could nominate a moderate Republican. It’s not a comfortable thought, but it would transcend the ideological divide to produce an election about character, fitness for office, and experience. After all, the presidency isn’t supposed to be ideological.


Jon Huntsman, the only guy to look more presidential than Mitt

Jon Huntsman, who has advocated for a third-party since his presidential run in 2012 would be an ideal choice for me in this scenario. John Kasich, who was supposedly every Democrat’s favorite Republican in the 2016 primary, has to be on this list. However, his views about religion make him a nonstarter for me. Bill Weld is a highly qualified, former VP nominee of the 2016 Libertarian ticket and flirted with endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats could have a look at famous swing votes Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski from the Senate. Jim (RamboWebb is practically a Republican who probably voted for TrumpBob Dold is a youngish, socially liberalish, pro-choiceish Republican Congressman from Illinois who has been trading his job with Democrat Brad Schneider every 2 years. Colin Powell is too old, but perhaps a non-partisan administration official can come forward.

Would this work? Probably not. It would almost certainly elicit a third party left-wing revolt. However, consider that every problem with this scenario also applies to Republicans choosing to defy President Trump. How does the left’s characterization of Trump have any credibility while nominating someone from the left who forces rational, non-bigoted Republicans into the same choice they had to make in 2016?

Before you accuse Republicans of putting party before country, question if you would do the same. Put yourself in their shoes.


I’ll Give You Four Years of Trump for Self-Driving Cars

Let’s get our priorities straight. 37,000 are killed and 2.35 million are injured on the road every year in the United States. That’s more than double the rate of US deaths in the Vietnam War at its absolute peak. That’s more than 8 times as many US deaths in 1 year as the entire Iraq war. Worldwide, twice as many people die in car accidents than in all wars and murders combined. Fuck the peace movement, give us self-driving cars. Ok, don’t fuck the peace movement, but let’s prioritize.

Car accidents cost the US $871 billion per year in “economic loss and societal harm”. That’s twice our federal budget deficit. Two years of dramatically fewer accidents would pay for the entire Iraq war. It wouldn’t pay for Trump’s $1.2trillion/year taxcut, but it gets most of the way there.

Think about the thousands of dollars each of us would save in car insurance. Imagine the revolution in public transportation with self-driving busses. Imagine the changes in traffic patterns when networked, self-driving cars can reach higher highway speeds traveling inches apart. Imagine ending… ENDING stoplights and stop signs. Networked cars won’t have to stop for each other. Imagine what that does to mileage and our carbon footprint. Imagine how food and goods will be cheaper because the highways remain the best way to move shit around. Imagine not having to find parking when everywhere in america has a free valet. Imagine no more DD’s!

Imagine the economic impact of having more time in the day and more job flexibility with better commutes. The talk about robots taking jobs tends to ignore the increases in productivity and economic growth that result, the rising tide that raises all boats. This is a perfect example of the benefit of safety, money, jobs, and general wellbeing that vastly outweighs the truckers and bus drivers who have to find new jobs in that new economy.

This isn’t cold-fusion; the technology is here. (Although, don’t get me started on the feasibility and impact of a fusion energy revolution) Self-driving cars will probably be a significant part of highway traffic in the next decade.

However, as with any new technology such as attack drones, lab grown food, and gays, there’s an “ick” factor reaction to the unknown. One of the biggest limiting factors is lawmakers, as self-driving cars are mostly restricted to use on private property. Tesla is anticipating the revolution, making its cars capable of driving themselves, so they will be ready when the law and infrastructure catches up.

So far, self-driving cars have an impeccable record. By far the biggest danger that driving robots have to deal with is humans. Even the first crash in which the car was partially at fault, which didn’t happen until 2015, was mostly the fault of an aggressive bus driver. When self-driving cars become part of our infrastructure, the path to criminalizing manual driving will begin in earnest, as it should. There will aways be places in our country where people can drive for fun, but in a culture where the drivers we share the road with are already all “idiots” and “assholes”, I don’t think kicking them off of our highways will be too difficult.

Who is willing to rely on Congress and state legislatures to push the progressive changes we need in infrastructure to make this happen? Who is willing to count on trillion dollar investments that will lead to a huge… YUGE return on investment? How many lives will be lost while we wait?

I’m certainly not the early adopter type. I only got my first smartphone a few months ago. Really. I also know that sharing the road with 4,000 pound robots moving at 70mph would freak me out, let alone riding in one. I don’t even like roller coasters. I also think putting newly developed drugs into my body would be unnerving, especially if I’m not that sick. However, if I’m dying of cancer, I’ll accept more risk for the newest, most badass technology.

Revolutionary drugs that are found to be effective in early trials can be given “breakthrough status”, and used for many terminally ill patients before the drugs have passed all their safety trials. We are willing to accept some risk of the unknown for a chance of fixing a dire known. People will surely die in accidents caused by self-driving cars, but let’s keep our perspective.

Driving is such a necessity that we are well conditioned to ignore the costs and risks. Many Americans don’t know how sick we are, hurling our bodies into one another and our glass and steel cages. Many Americans don’t realize how close we are to a cure. We can’t afford not to be early-adopters when it comes to self-driving cars. Every candidate needs to speak on this issue, and every presidential candidate should put forth a plan.

Truly revolutionary ideas put our political fears into perspective, but fortunately, Trump for self-driving cars isn’t a choice I have to make.

Politics, Uncategorized

Living History: “We Beat Trump!”

No one knows how Donald Trump will be remembered decades from now, but what is clear is that he will be remembered. When Donald Trump plans a rally in my backyard at UIC, I have to witness history for myself.

I had friends who only attended the protests outside, but I wanted to see the event and the man himself. More importantly, I wanted to see his supporters and eavesdrop on their conversations. The plan was to stay quiet and blend in, at least until Trump started speaking. I didn’t plan on raising a ruckus, but I hadn’t ruled it out.

Who Goes To These Things?

My wife, Jenn, and I showed up very early, parked, and got in line. On occasion, silent protestors walked past the line holding anti-Trump signs. I did my best to subtly wink at them. It didn’t work as they had learned to avoid eye contact. A few people in line made little, derisive but light-hearted comments at them, but it was a beautiful day, and the Trump supporters we saw weren’t very worked up. They seemed to feel invincible, and thought the protestors were adorable.

Behind us was a group of wealthier, suburban women. Ahead of us was a group of 4-6, very bro-y men in their 30’s or 40’s. Their behavior and comments made me nervous. They hit on a couple of the younger protestors nearby, and laughed very loudly and derisively when they saw a “Bernie 2016” sign. They were trying to take pictures of some of the women who were protesting, and it was just a little creepy. They jeered at a protestor walking by, “Awwwee raciiiismmm, waah waah waah!”

There was plenty of security, and they looked stressed out. Most were apparently outside contractors. Protestors were behind barricades, far on the other side of the street, and we could only hear snippets of things from a megaphone. The entrance was run by police and TSA agents. (Yes, TSA agents. No idea why) There wasn’t much of a police presence in the venue. I had heard stories of screening for Trump supporters, and Jenn and I had our pro-Trump characters at the ready, but there was no such screening. We also got a sign…


We sat a few rows back from the floor on the lower deck. To our left was a guy who looked like a heavier Ted Cruz. He was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and eating wings. That image brought me intense joy. Fortunately, Jenn caught him in a selfie:


Both these guys are just art

The people sitting behind us were the most fabulous characters. There was a guy directly behind me holding court with his friends, and he was exactly what you would expect from an avid Trump supporter. Here were some quotes from him and his friends:

“There’s a bunch of orientals here”

“Look, there’s women here. I thought Trump was sexist? Baahahah!”

“It’s really cool to see a diverse crowd, like all the oriental people”

“There’s more people on welfare in Illinois than have jobs”

“You know, people on welfare get over $40,000 in benefits”

“This is going to be civil war, because shit’s getting out of hand. The plan is for me, my two ex-wives, and two ex-mother’s in laws to come to my house, but if they’re going to live under my roof and eat my food and water, they’re going to learn how to defend it. I’ve got a bunch of guns, because the people I have to protect don’t have guns. I’ve got two AR-14’s, a bunch of shotguns, and 9 handguns. I’m in Naperville, but it’s the city that’ll be hell which is why the police all learn urban warfare…”

“All those protestors should just get a job.”

“I heard a joke that Monica sucks better than Hillary because Hillary doesn’t suck at all. It’s been confirmed that Hillary is into girls anyway.”

“Look at all the orientals!”

There was a hispanic family that made matching shirts. The mom’s said “women for Trump”. The dad’s said “All lives matter”. A couple young women wore “Make Donald Drumpf again” shirts. There were a significant number of more racially diverse people who were clearly there to observe. They weren’t Trump supporters, but they weren’t causing problems. My guess is that it was probably 50/50 between supporters and non-supporters. I saw several women wearing hijabs, and I did not see them harassed.

Trump was supposed to speak at 6pm. At 5:30, the 10,000 seat venue was about 2/3 full, and every 5min or so, a protestor was ushered out to loud chants of “USA! USA!”. I thought that these protestors were foolish not to wait for Trump to arrive to start protesting. Later, a few BLM protestors began chanting in the back, but refused to leave when security came. It was then that I noticed that two whole sections in the back were packed with students. They chanted as one, “LET HIM STAY! LET HIM STAY!” on behalf of the BLM protestor. A few Trump supporters started shouting back, and ~20 police officers filtered in. When a cop confronted a shouty Trump supporter, it was amazing to see the student section’s chant turn on a dime to “KICK HIM OUT! KICK HIM OUT!”. So much for principles. Jenn caught video of these early scenes. The cheering is from Trump supporters.

A voice over the PA made a statement about how to deal with protestors. Paraphrased, he said, “Donald Trump is a strong supporter of freedom of speech, but this is a private event. Some people have abused Mr. Trump’s hospitality and attempted to use his rallies to promote their own agenda. If you notice a protestor nearby, raise your sign high in the air to notify police of the protestor’s location and chant “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until the protestor is removed”

Until about 6:30pm, there were periodic group chants by small bunches of students and distant shouting between Trump supporters and protestors. It took a while for police to kick out everyone they wanted, but it didn’t seem to make a dent in the population of anti-Trump students. All in all, there were several significant, but isolated incidents.

Shit Gets Cray

At ~6:40pm, there was a significant lull in the energy of the room. Trump was very late. Protests had stopped. An unknown man came to the microphone. Here is the announcement, and a bunch of shots of the ensuing chaos.

As soon as he said the word “postponed”, the place. went. nuts. The students erupted. Fists shot into the air from every section. My jaw dropped. People jumped the railing and streamed onto the open floor where people were running around screaming and celebrating.

The reaction of most Trump supporters was to stand in shock, and rather quietly, turn to leave. The invincibility that Trump supporters had previously conveyed was shattered. It looked and felt like pure victory for the protestors and pure defeat for Trump and his supporters. The cheering coming from previously silent people all around the venue was a shock to the Trumpeters. My neighbors looked aghast and stared when Jenn and I, who had previously been silent, started cheering with them.

I had been texting the whole evening with a friend who was protesting outside. According to her, the protestors had advanced on the streets, blocking intersections. When I told her that the event had been cancelled, she was shocked. It became apparent later that this news took a long time to reach the protestors outside.

Inside the venue, the next hour was filled with joy and a sense of witnessing important history. The entire venue was switching between the following chants:


It was abundantly clear from the crowd, the signs, and the homogeneous chants, that there was perfect overlap with the anti-Trump and pro-Bernie crowd. I can’t stress enough that this was almost as much of a pro-Bernie protest as an anti-Trump one. The pro-Bernie sentiment added an extra bit of joy to the protests. This also was not an isolated celebration. The venue was packed with raucous, anti-Trump people long after the announcement. Here’s a collection of videos that we captured that includes some of the chants, my one encounter with a couple Trump supporters itching for a fight, and a shot of the protestors outside:

Jenn and I wandered over closer to the student section, hanging out at the rail. We could see ~10ft in front of us on the floor, where there were serious confrontations between protestors and Trump supporters, but I saw no actual violence. It was mostly people walking with signs and shouting at the crowd or at each other. Many of the protestors linked arms in long chains so that they couldn’t be kicked out. None of the protestors were leaving, and it didn’t take long for us to be >80% of the crowd.


We were even on TV!

The young guy next to me was wearing a white, pro-Trump shirt. He was very mild mannered and asked me if I knew when the rally would be rescheduled. I said that I doubted it would, and he was disappointed. I agreed that I had wanted to hear from Trump. He told me that he hadn’t decided if he would support Hillary or Trump, and you can imagine my surprise. We spoke for a few minutes about Bernie, and he wasn’t interested in a “socialist” or any of my explanations. (Meanwhile, joy and chaos surrounded us) When it came to the violence that Trump advocated, he said, “maybe that’s what we need”. “Violence?”, I said. He agreed. I said, “Then I will be standing opposed to you.” No, it wasn’t witty. I just was simply done with that conversation.

I stood watching and chanting along with the crowd, joyous tears welling in my eyes. When a man came on the PA asking us to disperse, Jenn and I did. I wanted to see the protests outside.

As we left, the crowd was extremely dense, and felt a lot like leaving a ballpark after the home team had beaten a rival. The differences were that no alcohol was involved, tempers were much more intense, and the losers were not really shouting back because the numbers were so against them.

The protest outside was unusual because you had anti-Trump supporters behind barricades, instinctively castigating people that left the venue. (almost all anti-Trump as well) On the street were many mounted police and many more on foot, separating two raucus crowds behind barricades… that, ironically, were protesting the same thing. It turns out to be very difficult to communicate with protestors 30 feet away from you that you agree with them.

We found a few trashed boxes of mass-arrest forms and zip-ties, so I got myself a souvenir…

Photo on 3-11-16 at 10.50 PM
The parking garage was completely blocked by protestors, so we spent an hour walking around the protest on both sides of the street. They appeared to be almost entirely UIC students. The feeling was of immense joy at the victory, pro-Bernie fervor, and the occasional person arguing with police. I also witnessed a few people thanking officers for what they did. From what I saw, police seemed to handle the situation admirably.

Reflections, what does it all mean…

Sure, it’s momentous. Sure, it’s historic and may be a turning point in this historic election. However, it’s not necessarily a clear, ethical win.

The spin from Trump is that the protestors suppressed his freedom of speech. Maybe. There is certainly a troubling culture of threatening and stifling speech on college campuses. We need to do away with the dogma that college is inherently a “home” or “safe space” where students should be free from disturbing ideas. Students have the right to protest, to speak out, but it is against our values of freedom of expression to shut down or even shout down a guest speaker.

On the other hand, Trump wasn’t really a guest speaker. He wasn’t giving a lecture on a controversial set of ideas. It was explicitly a political rally, a venue for emotion, encouragement, and the voicing of passions. Passions were voiced, but they weren’t the one’s that Trump wanted to win the day. A principled leader would have showed up and dared to confront a hostile crowd with speech, as he was free to do.

On the other hand, it depends on the nature and goals of the protests outside. If the sheer numbers and intensity were what kept Trump away, then he simply, cowardly bowed to pressure. If the protestors were literally blocking access to the venue, or made explicit threats to him if he came, then the protestors have clearly infringed upon his freedom of expression. I hope that’s not the case, and that this isn’t another triumph of the illiberal left to stifle speech.

On the other hand, a little common sense is due, as Donald Trump is not wanting for attention. This is a win for nonviolence. This is a win for love over hate. This is a loss for Donald Trump. He looked weak, which is why he lied and said that the Chicago Police told him that the venue wasn’t safe. The Chicago Police quickly released that they were not consulted, and thought that the situation was under control, good to go.

This is a win for Bernie Sanders. This is what a political revolution looks like. It starts with young people, at colleges like UIC, standing up for what they believe in. Protests can work, and they can drive change. It’s up to the rest of us to decide if we keep it moving.