Trump’s Half Time Analysts

Yesterday, in the early afternoon before the football extravaganza had begun, I asked a friend which of the two NFL playoff games he thought would be better. That is my kind of question. If it has an answer – and it probably doesn’t – I am quite sure I don’t know it. My friend responded with a logical question, “what do you mean by ‘better’?”

“Well, I suppose more fun to watch, more exciting,” said I.  That is the kind of answer you should expect from a distinctly non die-hard fan. I watch less than half a dozen games per year, usually after about 90% of the teams have been eliminated. Watching for me is also kind of a loose concept. The game is on but so is my iPad. I am grateful for bursts of noise and instant replays. The mute button solves the ads.

The question to my friend was not really about the answer as much as it was about reflecting on the question itself. For the record, both games ended in sudden death overtime hence they were high on the list of all time greats so it doesn’t really matter which was the “best.” For those who don’t agree with the idea of liking the question and not caring about the answer, I gently preferred the Patriots Chiefs because there were more fourth quarter lead changes and I liked the old and young star quarterback story line. Also, the outcome of the Saints Rams game was determined more by the officials than by the players.

Even when I do watch a pro football game, I pay little attention to the experts analyzing every detail at halftime, perhaps because I don’t understand the game at their level or perhaps because they look like the panels of figure skating judges who seemed like endless nitpickers when we used to see them in their long winter coats looking school marm-ish during the Olympics.

Now, that has to qualify as an odd lead in to a look at the Trump administration at half time of the term to which he was elected (or not). I will not get into a characterization of these four years as Trump’s first term vs. his presidency because that would gratuitously annoy some cohort of readers no matter what I said.

How do we think about Trump at half time of whatever this four-year period is?

Edelman is a global communications marketing firm that partners with the world’s leading businesses and organizations to evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. That sounds so uplifting but it is how Edelman describes itself. Apparently, Edelman comes out with a “trust barometer” each year and it has just released the newest one.

“Trust has changed profoundly in the past year—people have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.” Sounds like a convenient conclusion if you sell your services to such employers.

Edelman also observed a significant gap in trust between the “more informed” public and the “far-more-skeptical” mass population. The more informed are more trusting, perhaps because they feel more in control of big, unwieldy, powerful and sometimes scary things like governments.

“Despite the divergence in trust between the informed public and mass population the world is united on one front—all share an urgent desire for change. Only one in five feels that the system is working for them, with nearly half of the mass population believing that the system is failing them.”

Far be it from me to tell “a global communications marketing firm that partners with the world’s leading businesses and organizations” that it is wrong, mostly because Edelman probably isn’t wrong in its measurement of what people think. I do wonder if they asked the most interesting question, which – to me – is what should people think rather than what do they think.

Why, for example, is there an “urgent desire for change?”

I am listening to an audiobook called “It’s Better than It Looks” by Gregg Easterbrook. The author defines himself as an optimist who thinks things can be fixed as distinct from a pessimist who thinks they can’t. He also thinks being angry about the world is a choice not a requirement, particularly in light of the tsunami of facts and figures he offers that show the world getting better.

Likely the better way for a blogger to learn from Mr. Easterbrook would be to read the book, preferably with multiple highlighters and pads of multi colored stickies. That way the litany of statistics could be saved for devastating retorts in political arguments. Only Prince Philip would try to take notes while listening to the book in his car, as I am.

Broadly, the author’s point is that politicians and news outlets benefit in different ways from telling us the world is worse than it is. The politicians paint a dark picture with themselves as the savior. News outlets use bad news to capture readers or viewers; same with social media. It matters to none of these that the bad news is largely overstated.

Would any of these observations change your view at half time of Trump’s term? (Leave aside the fact that neither this president nor any other caused any of them.)

  • War is in a generation-long decline and the chances of dying in combat are at an all time low in the history of humanity.
  • Violence is down sharply.
  • Food is so abundant that the overweight to underweight ratio is increasing significantly.
  • 150 years ago 90% of the population of the world lived in extreme poverty, today it is 9%.
  • Economists of the 1970s would have knelt and kissed the ground to have today’s economic performance.
  • There are hundreds of other examples and I am less than half way through.

What would Trump’s half time analysts have to say?

  1. The government is sort of shut down and has been for a month.
  2. The President is most concerned with his win-loss ratio and, by inference, least concerned with accomplishing anything.
  3. The White House is in chaos with the greatest amount of attention devoted to back stabbing.
  4. The President has lost women voters (or is at least well along in the process of losing them), 60% of whom are Democrats and who vote at rates far higher then men. Three women Senators (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand) are running for the Democratic nomination.
  5. The President is compiling an enemies list.
  6. Our relations with other countries are sometimes portrayed as in tatters though it seems more likely that is a reflection of the relationship between the other country and the President rather than our country itself.
  7. Polarization is rampant.
  8. Many question the President’s mental health.
  9. White House aids spend time trying to keep the President from following his worst instincts, only sometimes successfully.
  10. The judiciary is shifting to the right.
  11. Regulations are being erased.
  12. The economy is booming.
  13. The stock market swooned at year-end but has since recovered.
  14. There is a Special Counsel conducting a massive investigation and keeping his mouth shut about what he has learned.
  15. The President watches cable television for several hours each day and communicates by Twitter.

On and on they would go, but that is a pretty fair list. Add to it if you like, that’s what the comments section is for.

Somehow, I doubt the half time analysts will help us to know the outcome two years (or more? or less?) from now. Political analysts are in business just like Edelman and they are likely to tell us what us best for them and their mortgage payments.

I am going to keep listening to Easterbrook’s book and trying to remember as many of his optimistic facts as I can. Without writing them down while I drive.

If you’d like to “shift your trust to a relationship within your control,” you might try ignoring Washington. Seems like the odds would be on your side.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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