In Our Own Personal Silos

The Brown Bear sent me this interesting article from The Economist.  The article is, on its surface, a rumination about Ohio Governor John Kasich and his new book, Two Paths:  America Divided or United, but the interesting stuff in the article wasn’t so much about the book as it was about our country.  It’s one of those articles that leave you nodding a bit, as you find that the conclusions drawn square with your own experience.

The gist of the underlying sociological message in the article is this:  Americans have become more and more confined and channeled in their interaction (or, more accurately, lack of interaction) with other Americans.  It isn’t just that Americans spend more time in individualized pursuits, such as watching TV, tapping away on their smart phones, working out, or surfing the internet — it’s that their entire lives are being designed, shaped, and structured to limit their exposure to people with different backgrounds, interests, and views.  In short, more and more people are living in their own personal silos.

silosOne element of this phenomenon is that Americans now are much less likely to participate in joint activities — be it bowling leagues, fraternal organizations, churches, or community groups — than used to be the case.  Alexis de Tocqueville noted, in the classic Democracy in America published way back in the 1830s, that Americans were unusually prone to forming associations and joining groups.  That remained true for decades; Grandpa Neal, for example, bowled in the Masonic League in Akron for more than 60 years and was a member of the Masons, the Odd Fellows, and a host of other civic and fraternal groups.  How many people do you know these days who are willing to spend their weekday evenings and weekends away from their homes and participating in such activities?  I don’t know many — and I include myself in that group.

But the change is even deeper than that.  The Economist article linked above notes that Americans now tend to live in distinct enclaves with people who share their political views and conditions.  One indicator of this is voting patterns in elections.  In the 1976 presidential election, some 27% of Americans lived in “landslide counties” that Jimmy Carter either won or lost by at least 20 percentage points.  In the 2004, 48 percent of the counties were “landslide counties,” and in 2016, fully 60 percent of the counties in America — nearly two thirds — voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton by more than 20 percentage points.

What does this all mean?  It suggests that many Americans now tend not to even engage with people with different perspectives.  They don’t see them when they go home at night, they don’t talk to them, and they have no significant understanding of their thoughts, concerns, . . . or lives.  When people are so cloistered, looking only at the kind of websites that mirror their views and interacting only with people who share those views, there will inevitably be a great divide that will become increasingly difficult to bridge.  How do you get people who live in separate worlds, who don’t play softball or attend club meetings or participate in any interactive communal activities together, to understand and appreciate where people of different views are coming from, and why they hold those views in the first place?  Facile social media memes and tweets that depict people of opposing views as dolts, racists, sluggards, communists, or any of the other names that have become so common don’t seem to be working very well, do they?

This, I think, is one of the big-picture issues that we need to address as we work to get America back on track — and like many big-picture issues, it’s not really being discussed or addressed by anyone, because these days we focus on the small things.  I’m not saying, of course, that government should forcibly relocate people to achieve some kind of political or economic balance, or that government should focus on providing tax incentives to encourage people to join the local Moose lodge.  Government didn’t need to do that in colonial America or in the America of Grandpa Neal’s day, and it shouldn’t be needed now.  Somehow, though, Americans need to find a way to start actually talking to, and interacting with, each other again.

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Ohio’s New Medical Marijuana Law

Yesterday, Governor John Kasich signed a new law that requires that medical marijuana be available in Ohio within two years.  With the stroke of his pen, Ohio joins the growing number of states that allow marijuana products to be used for specified health conditions.

The Ohio law is being depicted as more restrictive than some medical marijuana laws, primarily because it does not permit the smoking of marijuana, only the use of certain edible products, patches, oils, and vapes.  In addition, physicians can properly prescribe marijuana only for a list of 20 specified and serious medical conditions, like Crohn’s disease and epilepsy.  The only condition that might have a little wiggle room allows use of marijuana products for pain that is either chronic or severe and intractable.

medcannabisOne apparent goal of Ohio legislators was to avoid the more open-ended approach of states like California, where the prevailing perception is that cooperative doctors freely diagnose new patients as having conditions that allow them to go to nearby shops, buy weed, and toke up.  Ohio tried to deal with concerns that the more lax approaches are de facto legalizing marijuana for recreational use by continuing to ban smoking and by calling for significant regulations to be issued by multiple administrative bodies.

To that end, the law establishes a commission that will advise state agencies on medical marijuana issues, and the Department of Commerce, the Ohio Pharmacy Board, and the Ohio Medical Board all will issue rules and regulations in the coming months.  The rules to come will address the entire medical marijuana process, from selection and licensing of growers, to development and sale of products, to oversight of actual prescription and use of the permitted products.

The law also leaves employers free to continue to set their own rules about marijuana use by employees.  If workplace policies ban consumption of marijuana by employees, an employee who has a prescription to use marijuana products can nevertheless be fired by the employer for violating the workplace policy.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the new law reflects the “Ohio approach” that is so familiar to those of us who live here — cautious, incremental, middle of the road, and the product of multiple compromises between competing viewpoints.  It won’t place Ohio on the cutting edge of marijuana laws and regulations, but it does let the Buckeye State put its toe in the water.

 

Weird World

Let’s face it, we live in a weird, incredibly unpredictable world.  Just when you think you’ve got it nailed, you turn around and are astonished to learn that Donald Trump is the “presumptive Republican nominee.”

120408033849-ybl-van-jones-best-advice-00002022-story-topSome months ago, we went to dinner with a large group of friends, and someone suggested that we each predict the Republican and Democratic nominees who would emerge this year.  Even though the dinner occurred during the early days of Trumpmania, I’d guess that nobody picked Trump as the eventual carrier of the GOP banner.  His behavior and comments were uniformly viewed as so inflammatory that the notion that he could somehow navigate through the primary process without spontaneously combusting seemed wildly, impossibly implausible.  And since that dinner party I’ve been regularly expecting and predicting that, with each grossly improper, know-nothing comment, Trump was bound to fall.

And yet . . . here he is.  To be sure, he’s continued to say outlandish things that would have been immediately, irreversibly fatal for every other candidate who has ever vied for the presidency, and yet . . . here he is.  The Governors and Senators, the seasoned pols, who made up the large field of initial Republican candidates have all fallen by the wayside, leaving an egomaniacal reality TV show star as one of the two major party candidates for the most powerful office in the world.  Last night Ted Cruz “suspended his campaign,” and today John Kasich threw in the towel.  Amazingly, Trump has actually triumphed over his Republican opponents while Hillary Clinton is still struggling to drive a stake into the heart of Bernie Sanders’ rebel campaign.

Last night Kish and I were watching CNN’s coverage of the Indiana primary and Trump’s by-now-familiar stream of consciousness victory speech.  CNN has not one, but two panels of pundits to cover such events, and one of them is activist Van Jones.  Most of the pundits seemed to focus on the typical things that pundits do — that the early Republican candidates made this mistake or that that allowed Trump to survive and ultimately prevail.  Not Jones.  He cautioned that the political elites may be oblivious to something brooding in the country, something big but still under the radar, a kind of broad and deep, visceral dissatisfaction with the state of things that the inside-the-Beltway types are just missing but that finds its outlet in the insurgent, unconventional candidacies of Trump and Sanders.  Perhaps he’s right.  It’s as good an explanation as any for a “presumptive GOP nominee” that leaves me slack-jawed in wonderment.

 

Ohio Stands Tall

On a night when the Trump wave continued to roll across America, inundating yet another of the Republican candidates and washing Marco Rubio out of the race, one state stood out.  Ohio was a breakwater against the Trump tsunami, with Governor John Kasich knitting together a coalition of Kasich supporters, Rubio supporters, and Trump opponents to beat Trump convincingly.

635918131274016669-ap-gop-2016-debateThe pundits will talk about what Trump’s victories in Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and (apparently) Missouri mean, and his chances of reaching the magic number that will allow him to be the Republican nominee.  I don’t think there’s much need for analysis on the former question, really.  Marco Rubio put his finger on it in his graceful concession speech last night:  there are a huge number of frustrated, angry, disaffected people out there who feel left behind, and Trump’s anti-establishment status and promises of a future where America gets “better deals” and “wins” again appeals to them.  I think the strong perception that he is a candidate who will bring about change — whatever that change might be, precisely — has attracted people who see his candidacy as a reason to participate in the political process and vote for the first time in years.  In primary after primary, these Trump voters are making their voices heard.

There are still a number of states where voting has yet to occur, and with the Republican race down to Trump, Kasich, and Ted Cruz, voters in those states will have their chance to determine whether Donald Trump does well enough to compile a majority of Republican delegates.  As Rubio noted, we are a republic, and the elections in those other states will be the final decision points.  Last night, Ohio had its say in the process, and the Republican primary voters in the Buckeye State have resoundingly voted against the Trump approach.

Whatever the ultimate result might be, I’m proud of my state.

Civic Duty, Done

  
I got to our Schiller Park voting place early this morning, shortly after the polls opened at 6:30.  Turnout looked high among the pre-work voting crowd, with long lines curling out the door for many parts of the alphabet.  I cast my ballot for Governor Kasich and proudly donned my voting sticker.  No exit pollsters asked how I exercised my franchise.

Now, we wait.  C’mon, fellow Ohioans — make your voice heard!

Why I’m Voting For John Kasich

Tomorrow morning I’ll walk down to my voting place in Schiller Park, show my driver’s license and sign my name in the ledger book, and then touch the screen for John Kasich in the Ohio Republican primary election.  And after I do, I’ll be especially proud to walk out with that “I voted today” sticker.

I think John Kasich has been a perfectly fine governor.  I haven’t agreed with everything he’s done, and my friends on the left side of the spectrum have objected to many of his initiatives and decisions, but Ohio has done pretty well while he’s been in office.  Even more important, Ohio has continued to adhere to its traditional Midwestern political sensibilities during the Kasich Administration, which means politics that are largely non-confrontational and a bit boring.  Normally, you wouldn’t call continuing that approach an accomplishment, but these are not normal times.  When I see people getting into fistfights at political rallies, and candidates shouting over each other and even bragging about their sexual potency during debates, it reminds me that the dull, consensus-oriented, Ohio approach to politics has a lot to recommend to the country as a whole.

image_votingAnd I’ll be blunt — in casting my ballot for John Kasich, I’m mostly voting against someone, too.  Some people bemoan elections where they have to chose between the “lesser of two evils” and even talk about how they might not vote because none of the candidates sufficiently inspire them.  Not me!  I’ve never had illusions about perfect politicians, or believed that candidates would or could cure all of our problems.  In the vast majority of presidential elections, I’ve pulled the level based on my own cold-eyed analysis of which candidate would do the least amount of harm to a country that has been an important source of freedom, strength, and good in the world.  And it will be that way, again, tomorrow.

So when I vote for John Kasich, I’ll do so in hopes that my one vote might help Kasich beat Donald Trump in the Ohio primary and keep Trump from being the Republican candidate for President.  Donald Trump obviously doesn’t mind offending people, and he’s offended me.  I’ve been offended by his insult-oriented approach to politics, I’ve been offended by his rank appeals to the worst impulses in people, and most of all I’ve been offended by his unprincipled, know-nothing positions on the issues.  I can’t imagine such a vacuous, conceited blowhard as the standard-bearer for a major party, much less as President.  By so obviously not doing his homework and developing even a rudimentary understanding of the issues, Trump has shown nothing but contempt for our political processes. Tomorrow, I get to show my contempt for him in the most important way a citizen can.

I’m not alone in this.  Yesterday I got an email from a friend who said he would be doing the same thing come Tuesday, and I’ve spoken to another friend who will, too.  I’d be willing to bet that many other Ohioans feel exactly the same way.  Who knows?  Maybe Ohio will make a statement on Tuesday, and maybe this time it will be heard.

No. 9 (Bad) Dream

The Republican presidential candidates had their ninth debate last night, in Greenville, South Carolina.  It was a train wreck.

Donald Trump dominated because he was willing to be even more rude and bombastic and bizarre than he has even been before.  He was like Trump, squared.  With his florid face neatly matching the red backdrop, Trump routinely interrupted and talked over other candidates, called people liars, made sophomoric snide remarks, and actually voiced the paranoid theory that the administration of George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to engineer the Iraq War.  Trump’s inability to give any specifics on what he would do to deal with any policy issue — other than hire “top men,” build a wall, and engage in trade wars — was more exposed than it has ever been before.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CBS News and the Republican National Committee in GreenvilleI wonder when, or whether, Trump voters will awaken from their dream and realize that this ill-mannered, poorly informed, red-faced yeller is not suited to be our President and represent our nation in communicating with foreign leaders.  Last night Trump displayed, over and over again, a temperament that is unfit for high office, but his supporters have given his antics a pass before.  Perhaps the best evidence of how angry and marginalized Trump voters are is that they are willing to support Trump even after he obviously embarrasses himself.

Among the rest of the candidates there was a whiff of desperation in the air.  Campaign money has been spent down, and candidates feel that now is the time to step out and make their mark.  After South Carolina the field is likely to be winnowed further, and the logical person to go is Dr. Ben Carson, who really should have been winnowed out already. Carson is more well-mannered than Trump — of course, a caveman would be more well-mannered than Trump — but he appears to have only a tenuous grasp on some issues and seems to be wholly ill-suited, by training and knowledge, to serve as President.

I thought Marco Rubio won last night’s bad dream of a debate, by staying above the fray on the Trump sniping and giving thoughtful, cogent answers to a number of questions.  I thought the brouhaha about Rubio repeating himself in the last debate was overblown by the media — every politician up there repeats the same lines, routinely — but in any case last night’s performance should lay to rest the silly notion that Rubio is some programmed robot.  I thought Ted Cruz fared poorly, and Jeb Bush and John Kasich had their moments.  Kasich is still trying to follow the “Kasich lane” and is relentlessly staying on message as the positive candidate, while occasionally throwing in classic Midwestern phrases like “jeez o pete” and “dollars to doughnuts.”  It’s not clear whether that will sell south of the Mason-Dixon line, but Kasich has, at least, been very effective in staking out his own, unique persona among the remaining candidates.

We get to take a break until the next debate, which will be held on February 25 in Houston, Texas.  That’s good, because we need one.