Saturday, August 20, 2016

Today, Pigs Are Flyin' At 30,000 Feet & This Blog Introduces Two Cheerleaders — USA! USA! USA!

Today's blog-post features an unlikely pair of "Keep On The Sunny Side" essayists: Eags (Timothy Egan) and BoBo Boy (David Brooks) via hyperlinks inspired by Vannevar Bush. If this is a (fair & balanced) dose of optimism, so be it.
Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed numericsDirectory]
[1] Point — (Eags — Timothy Egan)
[2] Counterpoint — (BoBo Boy — David Brooks)

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We're Winning!
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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Looking for refuge from the gust of insanity blowing across the fruited plain, I went to the highest perch I could reach in North Cascades National Park. I needed a break from the politician who has roused the lowest impulses of the American character.

What better escape from the primordial muck of Donald Trump and company than an alpine aerie of America’s Best Idea? Still, the stench of his recent provocations followed me to the far northwest corner of the contiguous United States. Hints of assassination from those “Second Amendment people.” Claiming that President Obama founded the Islamic State. Sidling up to dictators who kill political opponents.

I could hear the bark of his soulless pessimism. “We are a country that doesn’t win anymore,” he said, time and again. “When was the last time we won?”

Back at sea level, what joy it was to behold this: so much winning! OK, the made-up robbery story by the male swimmers at the Olympics is a blemish. But look at the bigger picture: American women are dominating the games. Simone Biles, that sprite of exuberance, has four gold medals in gymnastics. The women’s basketball team is crushing it. And a Muslim fencer, the first United States athlete to compete while wearing a hijab, led the team to a medal.

I could mention that the Chicago Cubs, who last won a World Series in 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt was president and more Americans got around by horse than car, have the best record in baseball. (I know: Don’t jinx it).

After the hiatus, a decision: Do I dare peek at the polls? And here there is more good news, a broader kind of winning — for common sense, for the basic goodness and decency of the majority of people in this conflicted and troubled democracy of ours.

In the Cascade Mountains, in the summer of the centennial of the National Park Service, I saw waves of young people of all colors seeking “Sound of Music” views and nights with the Perseid meteor showers. And with the latest polls, I found the best hope for getting us out of this horrid spell of Trumpism — the generation now coming into its own.

Millennials are saving us. Yes, Trump is loathed by huge majorities of women, Latinos, blacks, college-educated whites, Catholics, Jews and religious skeptics. But the largest generational cohort of all, those born after 1980, really seems to get what kind of monster the Republican Party has loosed on the land. And they get it with their trademark coolness, the way they considered gay marriage no big deal. Their parents are in a lather of fear over Trump. The kids are — meh, it’ll pass. Of course, they still have to vote.

Among young adults, just 20 percent say they are for Trump, according to a survey released this week. There’s more support for a Doritos Locos Taco at a natural foods picnic than millennial backing for the narcissist from Trump Tower.

And it’s not just blue states. In Texas, Trump has a 25-point deficit among younger voters, and a 52-point gap with nonwhites. He’s getting buried by the demographic wave of the near future. In Texas!

Truth, justice and the American way are prevailing throughout the land. Trump has just one in four voters of all ages in his home state, New York, lagging the 35 percent that Mitt Romney got in 2012, according to a Siena College poll. He’s averaging about 30 percent in California, underperforming Romney’s 37, and doing about the same in Colorado, where Romney drew 46.

The winning is not necessarily for Hillary Clinton, though she is of course the beneficiary. Two things are going on this year. One is an election for president. The other is a rejection — sweeping, and unequivocal — of the incivility and dangerous strain of anti-constitutional bigotry that Trump represents. People know who he is: The two words that come up most in focus groups are “racist” and “unqualified.”

I suspect many people share President Obama’s sentiment. “Frankly, I’m tired of talking about her opponent,” he said earlier this week. “I don’t have to make the case against her opponent because every time he talks he makes the case against his own candidacy.”

A desperate Trump is now doubling down on hatred and falsity with his new hire from the fever swamp of the far right. Things will get darker, more incendiary, more preposterous. What else can a man who has suggested that his opponent may have to be assassinated do? Just watch. He’s rooting for economic collapse, fresh terror attacks, anything to stoke fear and loathing. Fact-checking will be even more meaningless to him.

But also watch the Olympics — for inspiration — and the millennials and their big shrug. Remember Joe Biden’s line at the Democratic convention: “We own the finish line.” Trump once said that a time would come when there would be so much winning that people would get bored with it. The winning is happening; lightness is prevailing. In 80 days, we can bring on the boredom. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Is Our Country As Good As Our Athletes Are?
By BoBo Boy (David Brooks)

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Pessimism has flavored this election campaign. America is in decline. The country is on the wrong track. We’re getting our clocks cleaned in global trade deals. We’re still suffering from the humiliation of Iraq.

The share of Americans who say that democracy is a “fairly bad” or “very bad” system of government is rising sharply. A quarter of young Americans feel that way, according to data drawn from the World Values Survey. A majority of young Americans believe that the United States should stay out of world affairs, according to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs report.

Yet when you watch the Olympics, we don’t seem like some sad-sack country in terminal decline. If anything, the coverage gets a little boring because we’re always winning! And the winners have such amazingly American stories and personality types (Biles, Ledecky, and, yes, Lochte).

American Olympic performance has been astoundingly consistent over the recent decades. With rare exception, we can be counted on to win between 101 and 110 medals Olympiad after Olympiad. The 2016 team seems on pace to win at least that many.

We’re not great when measured by medals per capita (New Zealand, Denmark, Hungary, Australia and Britain are the big winners there), but America does have more medals than any other nation in history, and that lead is widening.

Moreover, America doesn’t win because we have better athletes (talent must be distributed equally). America does well because it has such great systems for preparing athletes. Medals are won by institutions as much as by individuals. The Germans have a great system for training kayakers, equestrians and throwers — the discus or javelin. The US has amazing institutions to prepare jumpers, swimmers, basketball players, gymnasts, runners and decathletes.

The big question is: Is the greatness of America’s sports institutions reflective of the country’s strong institutions generally, or is it more like the Soviet Union’s sports greatness, a Potemkin show masking national rot?

Well, if you step outside the pall of the angry campaign rhetoric, you see that America’s institutions are generally quite strong. Over the past decades, some developing countries, like Brazil, India and China, posted glitzy economic growth numbers. But those countries are now all being hampered by institutional weakness and growth is plummeting.

But America’s economic success is like our Olympic success, writ large. The nation’s troubles are evident, but our country has sound fundamentals. The American dollar is by far the world’s currency. The Food and Drug Administration is the benchmark for medical standards. The American patent system is the most important in the world.

Nine of Forbes’s 10 most valuable brands are American (Apple, Google, IBM and so on). The US is the leading energy producer. We have 15 (at least!) of the world’s top 20 universities, while Hollywood is as dominant as ever.

America is also quite good at change. The median age in the US is 37.8, compared with 46.5 for both Germany and Japan. The newer a technology is the more the US is likely to dominate it — whether it’s the cloud or the sharing economy. According to The Economist, 91 percent of online searches are done through American companies’ services, and 99 percent of smartphones run on American-made operating systems.

Some American industries have declined, but others are rising. American fund managers handle 55 percent of the world’s assets. American businesses host 61 percent of the world’s social media users.

On the campaign circuit, global trade is portrayed as this great national disaster. We’re being destroyed by foreigners! The Trans-Pacific Partnership was the central dominating boogeyman at the Democratic National Convention, especially among people who have no clue what’s in it.

In fact, America succeeds in global trade about as well as at the Olympics. We rank third, behind Switzerland and Singapore, in global competitive rankings put out by the World Economic Forum. When trade is leveled by international agreements, American firms take advantage and win customers.

As Robert B. Zoellick noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, in the first five years after the U.S. has concluded free-trade agreements, the country’s exports to those places have risen three times faster than overall export growth.

Over the past five years, Zoellick wrote, the US has run a $320 billion trade surplus in manufactured goods with its free-trade partners. The country’s farmers and ranchers boosted exports to free-trade partners by 130 percent between 2003 and 2013.

In one important way sports is not like economics. In Rio there are only three medals in each event. Global trade is not zero-sum. It spreads vast benefits across societies, while undeniably hurting some businesses in narrow fields along the way.

Of course, we have to take care of those who are hurt, but the biggest threat now is unmerited pessimism itself, and the stupid and fearful choices that inevitably flow from it. Ω

[David Brooks became an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in September 2003. His column appears every Tuesday and Friday. He is currently a commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is the author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2000), On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (2004), and The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (2011). Most recently he has written The Road to Character (2015). Brooks received a BA (history) from the University of Chicago and he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.]

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