Sunday, June 26, 2016

If Only We Could Trexit

If only Donald Trump would Trexit. Before November, when he'll likely Trexit anyway.

Yes, I know that the British vote to leave the European Union is being interpreted as a warning that the angry, anti-immigrant, anti-trade, build-an-entire-sea-around-the-country (which the British actually did at minimal cost), xenophobic population in England is heading towards the United States, but I don't necessarily believe it. The forces that created the European Union to begin with were far more elitist than the Democrats and Republicans who supposedly rigged the country with unfair trade deals and lower taxes on the wealthy in the United States. After all, we actually got to vote to lower taxes and everything else that the angry electorate wants to undo. The Europeans didn't get to vote on the Union. And by the by, don't let the fact that it was the Conservative government of David Cameron, in an effort to mollify the far-right, that brought on this vote. There really is a lesson about giving ultra-conservatives a referendum on their beliefs. Will we learn?

Clearly, change is in the air and has been for a few years. The United States economy has stalled, the middle class, and what used to be called the working middle class has seen its income stagnate, bankers and Wall Street types got bailout while others were losing their homes, and public workers have been vilified for having too much in the way of collective bargaining rights, pensions and benefits. Mix in terrorism, mass shootings and a sense of unease because of technological change, and the brew is getting quite yeasty.

It's at this time that we need to be very careful about the electoral choices we make. I understand anger, but I do not want an angry person, or a person who is leading an angry movement to become powerful in this country. I want someone who is going to be able to manage that anger and make it productive. Someone who can lead us to a safer place where we do not turn on each other. President Obama is such a level-headed leader and I applaud his attempts at calming the waters and asking Americans to think before they act. I also see Hillary Clinton as the best choice in November to lead a country who is one demagogue away from violence, recrimination, blame and disaster.

This is why we need a Trexit. Donald Trump is exactly the wrong person to get anywhere near the White House short of a tourist pass. He has certainly tapped into much of the anger and frustration that many people in this country feel, but he has yet to harness it. He continues to scratch the raw wound and is enabling Americans to suffer from the pain without actually administering some medicine that will cure what ails us.

And he continues to utter what I consider the most destructive phrase in the political lexicon: We need to take back our country.

This is a potent saying, but one that is built on hatred, mistrust, creating "the other," separating us from each other, and overtly saying that there are anti-Americans in our midst who should either not be here or should be dealt with harshly. And we all know who he is talking about. The British were able to render a decision peacefully and without blame because the question they were being asked to vote on did not have a name attached to it. In some ways it was a referendum on David Cameron, but this was an idea. What Trump is doing is giving a face to the fears we have and tapping into our worst stereotypes. All Muslims. All Hispanics. There is no nuance. That's dangerous.

Besides, although the reporting will continue to follow the day-to-day effects of the British vote, the real issue is not that they voted to leave, but whether that was actually the right decision. Donald Trump thinks it was. That's all I need to know.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 19, 2016

One Week Later

It's been a week since the attack in Orlando and much of what's happened is predictable. Both political parties have rolled out their positions on gun control, and both are very familiar. Democrats want new background checks and to ban sales of guns to anyone on the no-fly or terrorist watch lists. Republicans counter by saying that more people should be carrying guns and that denying anyone their second amendment rights is abhorrent. Further, the man responsible for the massacre wasn't on any list at the time he purchased his guns, so changes in the law wouldn't have stopped his actions.

It's a tiresome debate, and the more it drags on, the more we will see horrible scenes like the one in Orlando. Remember that there was an armed guard at the door to the Pulse nightclub, and he couldn't stop Omar Mateen from entering the club. The NRA fantasy is that a nightclub full of armed patrons would have killed Mateen before he could have done damage, but the reality is that it's likely that far more than 49 people would have died if there was a shootout because most people just aren't very good shots. I could imagine bullets being sprayed all over the club and more innocent club-goers losing their lives. More guns is not the answer. It's a punchline.

The most sensible reform would be to know who has guns in this country. Background checks, licenses, and ones that need to be renewed like driver's licenses, and mandatory safety classes should be the law of the land. More than that, the culture needs to change. This was an attack on gays, plain and simple. It was a terror attack too, but only insofar as Omar Mateen's personal and religious views were hostile to the LGBTQ community. Despite the positive changes in marriage laws and more widespread acceptance of gay rights, we clearly have more work to do.

As for politics, this past week was a terrible one for Donald Trump, as he acted as though this was a personal referendum on whether he was right that we'd have a terrorist attack on American soil. He also repeated his call to bar all Muslims from coming or returning to this country until...well, he hasn't said. Polls show his appeal to women, Muslims, Hispanics and African-Americans dropping like a stone. Hillary has rightly been supportive and empathetic, and she's smart enough to get out of the way when her opponent is imploding.

It's been a sad week, and one full of national and personal reflection. Can we please not do this anymore?

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Endless Election Finally Begins

Good news: The primaries are over. Well, except for the DC primary this Tuesday, but that one really won't count for much.

Bad news: The general election is on our doorstep, promising us five months of mudslinging, advertisements across numerous screens and multiple forms of media, and, oh yes, some policy prescriptions.

At this point, Donald Trump is in the midst of a bad media week, what with him questioning a judge because of his ethnic background, and a continuing ignorance of American foreign policy. In fact, if I was Xi Jinping, I'd be very excited about the prospects of Donald Trump being elected because then I could get into a trade war that I'll win and reap the benefits of an American pullback in Asia. China will be happy to fill that vacuum and make life pretty distressing for Japan and South Korea.

And that's on top of things that Trump has already said about Mexicans and women and Muslims that didn't seem to disqualify him in the minds of the slice of the GOP that stood with him during the primaries and that forms the basis of his electoral hopes come the fall. The big problem, though, is that Trump has not unified the GOP, and even though his poll numbers increased briefly, he's fallen farther behind Hillary Clinton and hasn't won a horse race poll since the middle of May. And that's even before Hillary gets her Democratic unity bounce after Bernie leaves the race. Things ain't looking up for Donald and I think he knows it.

Hillary Clinton has had her bad weeks, but this one was not one of them. She won the Democratic nomination, even without the super-delegates, and she made a blistering speech that savaged Trump as the know-nothing that he is. This woke up many Democrats and Independents who figured that only Trump knew how to manipulate the media. His feeble attempts at belittling her as not looking presidential only showed how un-presidential he is. And for all the talk about his getting the better of her during debates, he'd better understand that she actually knows what she's talking about on policy, and that's what people look for in the fall. I have no doubt that Hillary will slice, dice, set it and forget it during the debates, leaving Trump to fulminate and call her names. Good luck with that.

So much has also been said about both candidates being rather unpopular,. but really, most Republicans don't like Hillary and most Democrats don't like Trump, so what did you expect? Americans thought Gerald R. Ford was a nice guy, but where did that get him? By the end of a presidential campaign, nobody likes anybody. This time, we've just gotten a bit ahead of ourselves.

At this point, it's Hillary's to lose. President Obama is finally popular and Elizabeth Warren is the best thing to happen to the Democratic social media feed ever. Trump tried to raise some money over the weekend and many GOP donors followed Nancy Reagan's advice and just said no. Much of the money will go to saving the Senate and the House from absolute devastation. Hillary will raise an obscene amount of money, win, then appoint a Supreme Court justice who will vote to eviscerate the Citizen's United decision. Unless the e-mail thing gets worse.

But for political junkies, it's the mainline, and no matter how this election takes shape, we will follow it. And it's not even Father's Day yet.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Ali Effect

So many thoughts. So many questions. So much controversy. So much for us to learn from his actions. Such was the man and his effect on the country. Others have written with far more eloquence than I ever could about the legacy of Muhammad Ali, but from where we are now, we had better pay attention because he had so much to teach us about ourselves and where we are as a culture.

Has boxing been the same since he thankfully retired from the ring in 1980? A rhetorical question, to be sure. Yes, we did have Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns and Ray Mancini, but those were strictly fighters. Boxers. Sportsmen. Boxing has fallen farther than politics into the realm of parody, and as an entertainment choice is pretty much irrelevant. Yes, there was that fight between those two guys about a year ago that promised a great match up, but all I can remember is that people complained bitterly about how much they had to shell out for the Pay-Per-View for a fight that was decidedly terrible to watch. I could look up the fighters' names, but I figure that if I can't remember the latest fight of the century, it couldn't have been memorable. That never happened for an Ali fight, even the ones that only got shown in movie theaters where the cigar smoke was so thick it's a wonder that the fire alarms didn't go off. Ali was vital. He was a compelling star. And you couldn't take your eyes off him.

And, no, I do not ever remember wondering how much money any of his big fights raised, nor how much anybody had to pay to see them.

Ali also became the template for the political athlete. He paved the way for Bill Russell, Bill Walton, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Billie Jean King and others (though not countless others, unfortunately) who saw that sports was intricately connected to politics and to world events. Anyone like me who grew up during the Cold War must remember the protestations by Olympic officials and sportscasters who said that sports and politics must not mix, only to be roundly and crushingly contradicted by the black gloves, Munich, steroids and doping, the Apartheid banishments, the boycotts of 1980 and 1984, and a certain hockey game in Lake Placid. Ali took a stand on the most controversial issues of his day, Vietnam and Civil Rights and spoke truth to power. He didn't worry, at least outwardly, about shoe contracts or his personal wealth. He was banished, then reinstated, and won more titles. Then he became the ambassador to the world. He led, and that's what's made it possible for other athletes to stand up to racist basketball owners and to speak out when members of minority groups are shot by police under dubious and outright illegal circumstances.

Ali was a Muslim. Think about that if you need to. Imagine Ali and Kareem and Ahmad Rashad and every other athlete and entertainer who became a Muslim and changed their name doing so today in the age of know-nothing politicians and citizens who are utterly ignorant of the religion. Would he ever get a fight? Would the government put him on the no-fly list? How much twitter shame would he have to endure? As controversial as it was for people to become Muslims in the 1960s and 70s, and it was controversial, today we would see boycotts and, likely, violence. Ali was able to take his conversion and make it all about peace. He used his religious beliefs as the basis for his pacifism and his sense of justice. And he was right; institutional racism was far more of a threat to him and other African-Americans in 1967 than the Vietcong.

Ali was neither universally popular nor loved during his athletic heyday, nor should we expect that he would be.  But as we are entering another era of domestic change and upheaval, we do need to remember that all people in all professions need to stand up for what is right and for the equal treatment of all people.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest