Notes on the First Presidential Debate

I did it. Heaven help me, I did it. I watched the entire first presidential debate, from beginning to end.

I took only a few notes as I watched. But you can watch it yourself here or read a transcript here, and of course there will be multitudes offering to tell you what the candidates said and what it means and what you should think. There are already lots of fact-checkers too, and if I ever see one who appears nonpartisan, I’ll let you know.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t have time for the pregame chatter over the past few days, and I wasn’t interested in all the immediate postmortems, where everyone tries to spin the thing as if it were exactly what they wanted it to be.

Within minutes of the end, people were asking me who won the debate. I’ll answer that in a moment, but it’s not that simple.

I Declare Amnesty (No, Not That Amnesty)

We’ve entered the post-Labor Day season, during which, by tradition, many voters will begin taking our presidential race seriously.

Meanwhile, many of us have already been paying attention, and we like what we see far less than usual. We’re doing things like leaving our political parties and wondering if our deluded country isn’t worth our political exertions any more.

It’s time for me to make an announcement.

My friends, I am neither God nor the government, so I don’t expect you to think this is earthshaking, but . . .

I hereby grant you amnesty.

Perhaps I should explain.

To Whom and for What?

Yes, amnesty.

To all of you.

No, not for everything you may have done lately. For example, some of you primary voters got us a choice between Trump and Clinton. I’m not presently offering amnesty for that.

Today’s amnesty is mostly preemptive. It’s for your vote or lack thereof in the presidential race this November — and for any reasons, opinions, or gut feelings you may have or offer in support of that vote (or nonvote).

Four Candidate Views of What Should Be Free

Why These Speeches?

National convention acceptance speeches are not perfect windows into candidates’ minds. But they pull in larger audiences than most other political speeches, so they’re crafted with unusual care. They’re a combination of what the candidate wants to say, what key advisors and benefactors want to hear, and what they all — candidate, advisors, donors, party officials, and pollsters alike — think the American people want to hear.

Precisely because they are a careful blend of so many things, they are interesting summaries of a party’s politics in a presidential election year. So this year’s speeches are not just old, pre-Olympic news. They’re useful portraits of our time.

trump and clinton speeched

Why I’m No Longer a Republican

The “what” is in my title. Here’s the “why.”

It may help if I explain why I was a Republican in the first place — officially for one-third of a century, and unofficially for several years before that.

Reagan and Me

I conducted my first political poll before the 1976 Republican presidential primary in Idaho. I was in fifth grade. As went my poll of voters’ children, so went the actual vote in my adopted home state: former California Governor Ronald Reagan won by a huge margin over incumbent President Gerald Ford. Ford went on to win the nomination, then lost to Democrat and former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Reagan was elected president in 1980 and reelected in 1984.

Even in 1976 I was aware that the GOP didn’t really want Ronald Reagan. He was too conservative for the party establishment. As we saw then and more strikingly in 1980, much of the rank and file felt differently.

Ronald Reagan
Photo courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library.

Convention Hopes and Fears

Convention season is upon us. I have hopes and fears — or at least some fervent wishes and grave concerns.

(I regret that my describing them will seem negative to some readers, and that I will be criticizing candidates some of you may support — and refusing to embrace your reasons for supporting them. If it’s of any comfort, I don’t insist that you agree with me, and I admit the possibility that I may be wrong. But I cannot tell you what I think without telling you what I think.)

My first hope: May God have mercy on our nation — even if we ourselves collectively may not. I don’t expect either convention to do us proud.

My second hope is that the people who sit back and think, “It’s working,” when they hear news of police officers being shot in our cities, won’t have any new cause for celebration in the next two weeks.

My third hope is that the only violence at either convention will be the violence of words. That will be toxic enough.

What I expect, when the conventions are finished, is a November choice among two tyrants-in-waiting and a libertarian. I wouldn’t mind seeing Libertarian Gary Johnson poll well enough to get into the presidential debates, but I won’t vote for him either.

Two Reluctant Farewells

It’s a sad week for American Fork. We lost two icons — one you probably know, another you might not.

Happily, they didn’t die. One retired, and the other resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Both have been public employees. Both have distinguished themselves in their professions. I have had the honor of knowing and working with both.

Yesterday, after 30 years as American Fork High School’s Director of Bands, Mr. John Miller conducted his last performance in that position, when the AFHS Wind Symphony played at commencement. Much praise has been heaped on him this year, whether he liked it or not, and he deserves all of it.

Wednesday was Chief Lance Call‘s last day at the head of the American Fork Police Department, after ten superb, understated years. He leaves more quietly, deserving but not wanting a lot more praise than he’ll get.

The two are very much alike. Both prefer to stand back and let others — staff or students — shine. Both have my gratitude and my admiration.

Toward a Diagnosis of Our Politics

Trump Sanders Clinton

I’ve said for years that President Obama — the quasi-monarchical head of a selectively but systematically lawless regime — is more of a symptom than the disease. I think the same of Donald Trump. I don’t mean Donald Trump the person; I mean Donald Trump the Republican front runner. Donald Trump of reality television (pardon the oxymoron). Donald Trump the foul-mouthed verbal bully. Donald Trump, the least convincing conservative impersonator we’ve seen at the head of the pack in a long time. (Rabid right-wingers will insert their own snide Mitt Romney joke here, I suspect. But he would have been a great president, even if he’s not conservative enough for you and you and you and you and maybe me.)

Meanwhile, with a less partisan Department of Justice the Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton, would probably be facing — and in fact may yet face — federal indictment on many counts of knowingly treating classified and secret materials with all the seriousness due to recipes published in the food section of last week’s Sunday Times. And she’s losing states to Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist whose appeal crosses demographic lines, but is particularly strong among young adults who have not yet been required by curriculum or circumstances to learn how the world works.

The symmetry here is that millions of voters are so hostile to establishment candidates on both sides of the aisle that they are voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It is a remarkable time in our politics, though not a particularly encouraging time.

There are some very smart people (among many others) thinking and writing about this. Here I’ll offer some highlights from the best recent explanations I’ve seen. Peggy Noonan looms large here; she’s a perennial favorite of mine. I’ll also throw in some George Will, some Charles Krauthammer, some (American-turned-Brit) Janey Daley, a bit of Mark Steyn (an Aussie), and even some David Brooks (who sometimes plays a conservative on television but must, in general, be embraced with particular caution).

In each case I am excerpting longer essays or columns which you should read in their entirety. I offer the excerpts as much to persuade you of that as to offer an explanation of the Trump/Sanders phenomenon here. (Note: The fact that I have called the phenomenon after its most prominent current symptoms does not mean they are the only symptoms, or that the disease is not rampant at other levels of government. We’ve been fighting it locally in my city, American Fork, Utah, for some time in our own quirky way.)

On the Eve of Iowa

The Iowa presidential caucuses are tonight. (Finally? Already?) I suppose we could try to analyze the polls, the history, and the weather forecast, in order to project who will win for the Republicans and the Democrats. But I’d rather just see what happens — because for once the results will be real. It’s the first time in what already seems like a long campaign that we will get actual votes instead of polls.

Sometimes the votes follow the polls. Sometimes they don’t. People don’t always tell pollsters the truth, due to social pressures. Polling samples can be flawed. And maybe there’s one more thing.

Maybe when it’s a real vote, people are more inclined to look pass their anger and frustration and consider the merits of sending a capable leader, not just an angry message, to Washington.

Will Republican voters be more serious, all of a sudden? We’ll come back to that.

Snowbird, American Fork Canyon, and Property Rights

It’s now common knowledge in northern Utah County: Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort wants to develop property it owns in American Fork Canyon, over the ridge from the existing resort. Setting aside the controversy over who wasn’t involved or informed as this plan was developed, it comes down to a question of property rights – as so many local issues do.

Mineral-Basin-American-Fork-Canyon

According to this recent Fox13 News story, Bob Bonar, President of Snowbird, asserts that Snowbird’s plan is within the rights of the property owner.

This is still the United States of America, after all, where we acknowledge and protect fundamental rights. Property rights are among these; we speak of them in the same breath with life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and freedoms of speech and religion.

On its face, it might seem simple. Snowbird owns the land, and property rights belong to the owner. That should settle the question, right? Can’t we just dismiss any opposition as grouchy politics, or as acronymic, nuisance sentimentality in a league with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), NOTE (Not Over There Either), BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), or NOPE (Not On Planet Earth)?

Actually, it’s not that simple. (You saw this coming, right?) Land ownership doesn’t settle the question legally or philosophically. Let’s talk about why.

Assuming Opinions Are Facts

There’s a new issue of City Weekly in the boxes this morning in Salt Lake City, but until yesterday the extant issue’s cover story had this headline: “Biting the Bullet.” It had this subhead: “How a peace-loving British journalist ended up shopping for a gun in Utah.” It’s an excellent story by Stephen Dark, well worth reading. But my point is the subhead, not the story.

City Weekly - Biting the Bullet

Often our words reflect or even promote unspoken biases. We may or may not be aware of this. We may or may not be attempting subtly to persuade people of our unspoken views. We may or may not notice a problem when it’s done to us — but it would be nice if we did.

Careful writers and careful readers do well to consider what’s between the lines.

The subhead plays on the presumed contradiction between being “peace-loving” and shopping for a gun. But this is only a contradiction if you believe than peace-loving people don’t shop for guns, or that gun-shopping people don’t love peace.

This belief might locate you in a certain part of our political spectrum. It’s not the part I inhabit. The gun-toting — let alone gun-shopping — people I know love peace. A lot of the peace-loving people I know carry guns. For me this is not a contradiction.

So, in the parlance of the courtroom — or the courtroom drama, where I’ve spent far more time — I object to this subhead. It assumes facts not in evidence. In fact, I don’t think they’re facts at all. They’re opinions I do not share, packaged with the suggestion that I unreflectively embrace them as facts and read on. (I did the “read on” part.)

And I wonder if the subhead doesn’t trivialize the complexities which the article addresses thoughtfully and at length. So the subhead is not just subliminal politics. It’s questionable writing too.