Bernie and Donald

Bernie SandersDonald Trump

Photo credits:  Sanders, Wall Street Journal; Trump, NBC

A couple of weekends ago, while out to lunch with some of the family, my teenaged niece mused that she really ought to pay more attention to politics.  My guess is that she’s hearing a lot about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.  It would be hard not to, even though it is still a year away.  I smiled and nodded, unwilling to admit my own ignorance on the subject.

I suppose ignorance is a relative thing.  It’s not as if I can’t name the front-running Republicans and Democrats, but I’d have a hard time telling you what their positions are on the issues.  My education in this area is decidedly hit or miss, primarily limited to what I read in the Washington Post on my phone during my lunch breaks at work.  And I know that I don’t retain much of it.

Politics seems such a strange subject in America.  For example, it is said that religion and politics are the two subjects that should never be discussed in polite company (didn’t sex used to be part of that list?).  The point, I think, is that political disagreements can drive wedges between neighbors, friends, business associates.  While many don’t care a whit about politics, others have very strong opinions and feel compelled to argue the correctness of their positions.  Discouraging conversation on the issue, however, would indicate that most of us are so closedminded that we are unwilling to listen to the merits of other positions and decide for ourselves.  I am not so sure that I believe this.

Perhaps it is my legal training that has made me perfectly amenable to entertaining contradictory ideas on a subject.  As I’m fond of saying, there are usually more than two sides to every story.

In light of the above, it should come as no surprise that I am admirer of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, presidential candidates who are arguably positioned at least six standard deviations apart on the political spectrum.  I see good and bad in everything.

I can’t ever recall having voted for a Republican for president in my decades of going to the polls.  However, they say there’s a first time for everything, and, for me, 2016 might be just that.  If, as expected, Hillary Rodham Clinton sews up the Democratic nomination, I expect to support Mr. Trump should he emerge as his party’s standard bearer.

The usual arguments against Clinton seem to have struck a chord with me.  Between her handling of Benghazi, the despicable email scandal and my repulsion with political dynasties that make us look like a Third World country, I simply can’t stomach the thought of a Clinton presidency.  The choice of Clinton disappoints me not only because I have heretofore been a diehard supporter of the Democrats, but also because I think it would be wonderful to have a woman as chief executive.  I have long admired Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and Vigdis Finnbogadóttir (former president of Iceland), and I think the time has come for the United States to break the male stranglehold on this particular club.  But not with Hillary Clinton, dear God.  Carly Fiorina?  I’m listening.

I fully plan to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary even though I am quite aware that I will not have the opportunity to vote for him in the general election.  Many who, like me, “feel the Bern,” insist that it is still quite early and that anything can happen in the twelve months between now and the election.  I believe they are deluded.  While I pray that they are right, I believe that a Sanders nomination would require nothing short of a miracle.  I doubt that he can even win the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, despite the fact that he’s campaigning so hard there that he’s about ready to be declared an honorary Hawkeye.

Much has been made of Sanders’ self-characterization as a democratic socialist.  For some, “the S word” is anathema that they continue to incorrectly associate with communism.  While I find the term to be unfortunate, I believe that labels are best applied to bottles, not people.

I believe that Bernie Sanders has his head in the right place.  I believe that he truly loves America and its people.  His support of environmental causes, income redistribution, and access to college education and health care for all place us squarely on the same page.  I’m not exactly a cockeyed optimist, however.  I realize that, were Sanders president, he would have a hell of a time with Congress and the Supreme Court.  Then again, isn’t that what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they engineered the separation of powers between the branches of the federal government?

Which brings me to The Donald.  I have doubts as to whether he can secure the Republican nomination, but at least he seems to have a chance, something that Sanders lacks with the Democrats.  However, if he succeeds in the primaries and ends up running against Clinton, I will support him.  Like so many others, I like the fact that Trump does not mince words.  He seems to say what he believes, without regard to the fact that many may react disapprovingly.  I don’t agree with all of his ideas, but he strikes me as authentic.  Perhaps this is a product of his money and privilege.  And yet, I cannot overlook his success in business.  I admire the way that, in a recent debate, he deflected criticisms of his multiple business bankruptcies by retorting that there is no reason for him not to take advantage of the protections offered by the laws of the land.  That, of course, is how a successful business is run:  You make the most of the resources at your disposal.  I think we can do worse than to run the country like a business.  As I said, Carly, I’m listening.

As widely disparate as their approaches are, I believe that both Sanders and Trump are committed to creating maximum opportunity for the greatest number of people.  Sanders wants all of us to have access to health care and a college degree.  Trump says he wants all of us to have the opportunity to become rich like he is.  In some respects, they are taking different roads to get to the same destination.

So if the campaigns of Jeb and Marco, Ben and Carly, John and Chris implode in the coming months, I’ll be voting for Mr. Trump.

Unless, of course, Bernie Sanders pulls off the Vermont Miracle.

Tomorrow:  So I’m a vegan.  How do I explain this to my niece?

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7 thoughts on “Bernie and Donald

  1. College for everyone is a ridiculous waste and cargo cult nonsense. Most people don’t have serious academic inclinations, and as a result college would be dumbed down even more than it has already been if even more such people were to attend. Most people are neither smart enough nor hard working enough to compensate for that (when that is possible) to graduate with degrees in challenging majors like engineering, computer science, physics or math, so many more worthless degrees would be awarded. But worst of all, a college degree would become the new high school diploma, a minimal credential. If nearly everyone has a certain credential, the value of that credential declines. We’ve already seen the effects of this to some extent. Eighty years ago, when relatively few people attended college, a liberal arts degree from a respectable state school or no-name private college could allow one to secure a respectable job. Now, someone with those kinds of degrees will face competition to land a job as a barista.

    • Your argument has merit, Janon, although I don’t agree with it. Your position falls squarely within the modus operandi of many nations of the world. In Europe, for example, middle school students take exams to determine whether they will be assigned to an academic high school or vocational training. (I speculate that I would have been packed off to vocational school, although I now have two degrees and a well-paid job.) Then, in high school, they must face further exams to determine whether they are sufficiently up to snuff to attend college. The same is true in Japan, which has spawned a cottage industry known as the juku, or cram school. It is attended after school and on weekends to prepare students for the all-important exams. Every year there are several suicides among those who don’t make the cut. In Japan, college is the only path to a managerial or government position and, if you don’t perform well on your high school exams, no college for you. Note that money is not a factor in most of these countries. If you’re one of the brightest, you go to college courtesy of the government. After all, you’re going to be part of the next generation of the ruling establishment. There are fewer nations that take the opposite approach. In Greenland, for example (huge in area, tiny in population), the government will pay for any high school graduate to attend the college or university of their choice in either Europe or North America.

      We also have a history of free public higher education right here in our own country. My mother, whose parents were impoverished, blue collar immigrants from eastern Europe who worked in a tailor shop, was only able to attend the city university in her native New York City because, in 1950, it was free of charge. My mother relates that it was a big deal to come up with the $10 needed for books each year. By the way, she graduated, became a teacher and later earned three more degrees, including a doctorate. She had an illustrious career in educational administration. None of this would have been possible without free college education. If not for that, she likely would have been a housewife, as many of her agemates were.

      However, Janon, my disagreement with your argument goes much deeper.

      1. It’s not “free college for everyone” to which Bernie Sanders refers. It is free college for all those who wish to attend. Not everyone wants to go to college, nor should everyone. We need welders, roofers, auto mechanics and cooks.

      2. I cannot agree that only STEM degrees have any value. Not everyone wants to study engineering, computer science, physics or math. There is value in understanding ideas and appreciating things of beauty, whether through philosophy, literature, theology, languages or the social sciences. You say that such degrees are worthless and will get you nowhere but the unemployment line. I’d like to know where it says that higher education is all about job preparation? If it is, what we need is more vocational schools. I majored in English and political science, and I believe it made me a more informed and aware citizen of the world.

      3. You are correct that there are plenty of baristas who have college degrees. We need to live in the 21st century and get out of the mindset that a college degree is necessary “to get a good job.” On the contrary, a college degree is necessary to make a more well-rounded person. It is sinisterly Huxleyan to want to keep people “dumb and happy.” Or, for an older take on it, just give the masses “bread and circuses.” They’re too dumb to know better anyway.

      By the way, I think it’s sad that some of these accounting majors at work don’t know the difference between Bach and the Beatles and wouldn’t be able to point out Iraq on the map.

      4. If you are going to limit college to the few, the many will still be lining up to compete for the shrinking number of manufacturing and service jobs remaining in the United States. Let us not forget that being in college for four years keeps students out of the workforce (for the most part), thus reducing unemployment by freeing up the positions that they would otherwise occupy.

      5. A college education contributes to everything you do in life. It gives you perspective, allowing you to approach life through history and philosophy. The famous call centers of Mumbai are staffed with college graduates. One could argue that you don’t need a college degree to be a customer service rep, but it certainly helps to have a handle on history, language and culture when the person on the end of the line likely is speaking to you from halfway around the world.

  2. I don’t think that STEM degrees are the only degrees of value. What I do think is that they are harder to dumb down because they require a higher threshold of intelligence and capacity for work just to complete them with moderate success. If the goal of sending an ever increasing share of the population to college has been to help them develop reasoned perspective and to increase appreciation for the trappings of civilization, it has failed utterly. Most people end up doing seemingly “vocational” but often useless degrees or half-@ssing their way through watered down humanities degrees. Seriously, in the era of the internet and easy access to books, electronic or in print, one can absorb as much history, literature, and philosophy as one wants without ever setting foot in a college class. But you can get a sense of most people’s interests from the fact that libraries have morphed into places for people to watch entertainment videos or surf the brainless parts of the internet rather than a place to read and study subjects of merit…

    • You are certainly correct about public libraries. You forgot to mention that they’re where many homeless people spend their days to keep out of the cold and rain and maybe, if they can find a remote corner where they’re not caught for a couple of hours, catch some sleep.

      • I don’t consider that an ideal use for public libraries either, but I don’t blame the homeless for taking advantage of one of the few welcoming facilities available to them. If you don’t like that example, there was a study sometime in the last year or so that found that college students only study an average of 17 hours per week. The degrees aren’t rigorous enough. They can’t be because too many people would fail out, and we live in an era of reality-denying radical egalitarianism in which all must have prizes, no matter how undeserving.

  3. I agree that degrees often aren’t as rigorous as they should be and that if they were too many people would fail out. Although much as been written about egalitarianism, I don’t agree that this is the reason. As always, it’s about money. Students fail out and bye-bye tuition check. It’s in the colleges’ interest to do whatever is necessary to get students through the full four years (or more). Capitalism at its finest.

  4. I certainly agree that money is the prime motivator for college administrators. But the realization that colleges are after their money has also fed a consumerist entitlement mentality among students and their families so that even the dumb and lazy feel entitled to degrees. There is rot on both sides of the fence.

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