TRUMP: BULLY AND/OR PROTECTOR?

The following appeared in a quarterly publication, Inside Black Box, in October.

Like many I have found the dynamics of the 2016 Presidential Race both interesting and perplexing. Of course, the centerpiece of media attention has focused, for better or worse on the candidacy of one individual and how he has challenged what is referred to as “conventional wisdom”.  Some detest him and some admire him and no matter where you fall, the emergence of Donald Trump, is worth further examination.

To many, Trump is simply a bully. If it sounds like a duck and walks like a duck, then it must be a duck, right? And why the support for a bully in a country where 3.2 million students are the victims of such each year? What kind of example are parents giving their kids when they openly support someone whose tone, actions and attitude are so in line with what society says is bad behavior?  Here is where it gets interesting: Medical experts tell us that in bullying situations there are three players:  The bully, the victim and the protector. Dewey Cornell, a forensic psychologist and bullying expert at the University of Virginia defines bullying as, “the repeated, intentional harm of another person who has less power than you do.” There is, my friends, the rub. Many voters don’t necessarily see Trump’s targets for verbal assaults, as having less power but rather, too much power. While he is undoubtedly blunt, sometimes offensive and full of braggadocio, to his supporters he is not a bully. To them, it is the elected class, the “establishment” who are either unresponsive or too intrusive, depending on the issue. In their minds, they are being bullied by Washington’s inaction and inattention to repealing Obamacare, to stopping the flow of illegal immigrants, to fighting ISIS, to providing unfair tax breaks to those that don’t need it and much more. They feel ignored, taken for granted and abused. And to them, Trump is their protector. He has given voice to their anger.

How you ask, can anyone, especially someone seeking the presidency, say and do so much that has offended so many and in all likelihood would have ended any other candidacy, be seen as a protector? How can a guy who started with millions in inheritance identify, connect and be a “voice” for Joe Six-Pack? It speaks volumes about society’s frustration and cynicism towards all institutions such as Washington, Wall Street (Sanders over Clinton) and the Church (Pope Francis vs hierarchy). We know that most victims are either afraid or unable to stand up against their bullies. That’s where the protector comes in. The protector is the one who stands up for and side by side with the victim and to help them defeat their bully. And, perhaps so blinded by their anger and frustration, it matters little that Trump has not offered any substantive policy solutions. He has cleverly said a lot and very little at the same time. To those who see Trump positively, the other guys are only offering lip service.

So how does this turn out?  As the field narrows, money gets harder to raise and voters get focused on issues that matter specifically to them, Trump’s lack of substance and specifics will further erode some of his “entertainment value”. He has, in my view, reached his high water mark. Serious voters are now beginning to move past window shopping and for Trump, that might turn into a “bad deal”, and Carson already clearly benefitting.

Look, I am glad you are engaged. I admit that I “get it” now. It makes sense. And yes, it probably took a guy with deep pockets, no filter, and a “yuge” made for television personality, to start the discussion.

Whether he wins the nomination and becomes president or not, Donald Trump has ripped off the bandages. He has exposed a serious, significant wound when it comes to how the public feels about the state of American politics. He has given voice to an angry mass of people who know that very little of the people’s business is getting done in Washington. And while that angst is understandable, I would respectfully remind you that our system of checks and balances doesn’t allow for a president to just “fix it” by “building a wall” or talking tough and mandating that it is so.  That’s what monarchs and dictators do. Is that what you want?

Second, I would say to those who have been supportive of Trump, be careful. The message is more important than the messenger. Trump’s obsession with poll numbers, petty shots, and constant tweets and skirmishes with the media put far too much focus soley on him. Not on the important solutions we need which is what has you so mad, to begin with.

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Serious Challenges Demand Serious Leaders (Black Box column)

The following was published in the 3Q Edition of Business Black Box magazine in late July.

There was, and is, continued heartbreak and sadness related to the tragic deaths of nine innocent people at Emanuel AME Church on June 17th.  The heinous crime perpetrated by a hate filled individual shocked many into discussion and introspection on issues that aren’t really considered polite dinner conversation: the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag and race relations in South Carolina.   I believe that the murders occurred in a church, and the incredible grace and forgiveness shown by the victim’s families might possibly make these conversations slightly less difficult but no less important.  Flag or no flag, these are needed conversations. I just happen to think these discussions have the potential to be much more productive now that the flag has been removed, and taken off the table. In other words, it’s a necessary start.

Like it or not, we have to accept that certain symbols, historic or cherished, mean very different things to different people.  The Confederate Battle Flag falls into this category. To suggest the flag on the grounds of the Statehouse was only about heritage is to ignore the misuse and misappropriation of that symbol by those who do and have done so in hate. It was placed on the dome in direct defiance to the Civil Rights movement, not as a memorial to the dead.  As Senator Martin (R-Pickens) said, we must accept that its presence on the dome was really more about 1962, than 1862. It was simply not protected well by those who hold it so dear and has been hijacked. It’s been misused by groups who are now linked inextricably. The removal of the flag is not the solution, it is a step.  We certainly don’t need to start changing the names of buildings, bridges, military bases or roads across the state, region or country. But thankfully we have now accepted, or at least a lot of us have, that the flag’s presence on public grounds is unacceptable. It’s time to turn the page and begin a new chapter.

Many people in our state, both in business and in government, have shown tremendous leadership through these recent events. Gov. Haley, whose tone and strategies I have sometimes questioned, has led with strength, sincerity and resolve. In my opinion, this is her finest moment and one for which she will be remembered. A number of Members in the House and Senate who supported removal, took a position that will have them at odds with some of their constituents and do so recognizing that this is long-term, for the greater good of the State. Those elected officials have faced direct threats and extensive verbal abuse on social media. They need your support now, and will need it in the next election. A majority of the “no” votes, a total of three in the Senate and twenty in the House, were cast by those who represent Upstate districts ranging from Anderson to Cherokee counties. This might be unsettling to some but frankly, most of those votes were safe, simply based on the districts they represent. A potential exception being Sen. Lee Bright whose antics, vitriol and comments were nothing short of a national embarrassment to the State and will undoubtedly lead to a well-funded challenge.

But it begs the real question:   If our legislature can’t quickly come together and lead on an issue like this, is it any wonder we can’t address our roads and infrastructure, ethics reform or education? Yes, the South Carolina House of Representatives was relatively productive this Session. They passed bills to support some road improvements (though not nearly enough), took a solid swing at ethics reform, and did a good job on several other issues. But a bill has to pass both the House and the Senate to become law with a gubernatorial signature and the Senate rules allow a single member to obstruct a bill indefinitely (case in point, Sen. Bright’s actions on the flag).  Which means we have to look more closely at exactly who we are electing….

Yes, there are some very dedicated individuals in the South Carolina House and Senate from the Upstate who are focused on good government. Unfortunately, there are others who seem to prefer “no government” and revel in constant obstructionism. That’s not leadership. It’s demagoguery. Serious deliberation is needed on important matters that affect the citizens of the Palmetto State. Obstruction for the sake of obstruction, is self-promotion, no matter how you choose to spin it.

I am and always will be a proud South Carolinian. With this historic vote, I am even prouder. We have big problems and big issues that we need to get fixed. We need to elect people who will actually make tough policy choices on a wide range of issues. While we continue to heal, let’s salute those serious enough to tackle the big issues head on and take note of those who refuse to do so. Let’s demand solutions. Let’s demand action. And if not, remember that the filling date to run for office opens in March.

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The Elephants Are Coming! The Elephants Are Coming!

I know many of you were distressed to learn that Barnum and Bailey Circus recently decided to phase out the use of elephants in their shows. But, never fear.  Here is South Carolina you are going to see a ton of elephants over the next twelve months. Lots and lots of elephants in different shapes, sizes and varieties of the species. There will be the Walker and Kasich elephants from the Mid-West, the Paul, Perry and Huckabee elephants that hail from the southern region of the continent, Rubio and Bush elephants from further south, and Christie and Carson elephants which are rarer in the Mid-Atlantic and even Cruz elephant which is a species unto itself. And while there may be more pachyderms, there will possibly be several kinds of what is known as a jackass or donkey, too, though there seems to be one queen donkey already.  The point is, the elephants are coming. And you, Mr. or Mrs SC Voter should try to see as many of them as you possibly can.

Why, do you ask? Because my fellow citizens, your vote in the 2016 Primary gets a lot of attention. In fact, it gets a lot more attention outside the state at this point in the process, than in the state. And certainly more than many of you actually realize. Politicos, pundits and a myriad of interested observers are at this moment, keenly interested in how you currently intend to vote today, and how you ultimately will end up voting. South Carolina matters more because those voting in the primary are more diverse than New Hampshire or Iowa. South Carolina matters more because we are the First in the South Primary. South Carolina matters more because they know the history of the SC Primary, which, up until 2012, had accurately picked the eventual GOP nominee for president. And because South Carolina matters more, I would like to suggest that perhaps you should care more, than many of you do. Because your vote is held in such high regard, you should not take it for granted. You should take as seriously as your fellow citizens in Iowa and New Hampshire, and let me assure you, they take it very seriously. And like them, you should cast it after making an informed and educated decision.

The opportunities to make such a decision will be numerous. The presidential primary is not the cottage industry in South Carolina that it is in Iowa or New Hampshire, and yet it still adds over $50 million to the economy every four years. No matter where you live, there will be campaign events, town hall forums, or “meet and greets” held by the potential nominees, each vying for an opportunity to make their case, to earn your vote. And, the point is, they should. But the larger point is this: You need to pay attention, to participate, to attend. You need to listen, to assess and to determine which candidate best represents your personal political view based on your priorities as a voter. For me personally, I want a candidate who I can agree with on most issues (100% agreement not required) and who I think provides my party with the most opportunity to win back the White House. To be clear:  I am looking for a conservative, get something done leader, with a record of achievement in past public service who, can appeal to Independents and disaffected Democrats and who, will win. Some might feel more comfortable with a candidate with whom they find themselves totally in sync and care less about the general election. I would disagree with that approach, but it is your prerogative.

The bottom line is this:  How South Carolinians vote matters a great deal in presidential primary politics and like it or not, very little in the general election. This my friends, is your moment in the spotlight. Seize it. Embrace it. Heck, you might even enjoy it, if you dare.

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Excuses YOU should NOT use re Voting on NOVEMBER 4.

(Originally written for Black Box Magazine)

On September 18th, over 90% of the eligible voters in Scotland participated in a national referendum to determine if Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom or become an independent nation. The measure failed 55%-45%, a significant margin after most polling had indicated the race to have been much closer, in the closing days. Turnout, you, see, is important. After all the advertising, all the speeches, rhetoric, and confusion, turnout matters. Those against the measure were more effective in not only making their case, but in getting their people to the voting booth. And yet, why must it take a vote on national independence to get people to vote. Yes, that is a major issue, but when you take an honest, look should not all elections been seen important ones?

In the June 2014 primaries in South Carolina, a mere 14% of you saw fit to take the time to vote. In the presidential primary of 2000 which pitted George W. Bush against John McCain 27% of registered votes cast their ballots. In 2012, GOP primary for president won in SC by Gingrich over Romney and others, 21.5% of the voters took the time to vote, yet even that was a 35% uptick from 2008’s primary. So what gives? Does your vote not matter?  Do you not care enough to exercise a right that millions around the world don’t even have and thousands upon thousands of lives have been lost to protect?  What is your excuse? Let me see if I can tackle some of the well-worn, overused reasons people don’t vote:

My vote does not count:  Wrong! As someone who counted chads in the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida, let me tell you that every single vote does count.

I don’t know enough about the candidates:  Then you are lazy. There is plenty of information, some biased, some not, about the candidates on the news, in the paper and on the internet. It takes very little effort to actually find information on the candidate and his or her positions on issues that will affect you and your family.  I bet you can tell me who your favorite act is on “The Voice” and you take the time to vote there.

Cynicism: Does not matter who we elect to office. Nothing will change.  You are right if you don’t participate and elect the candidate least likely to do the same old thing.  We have term limits and its call Election Day.

I just forgot to vote: Really?  How in the world is that possible with all the signs, the ads, and the noise candidates and their campaigns make leading up to Election Day? Forgetting to vote means you are so self-absorbed that you take for granted a fundamental right, no obligation as part of this nation.

There are more but hey, look, it is really important you vote. It’s important you participate. It’s an important example to your kids, many of whom are woefully lacking in knowledge about our political system and how the government works as evidence by a recent study showing only 4% of recent high school grads could pass the basis test given to those seeking US Citizenship. Sad, no doubt about it, but if they don’t see their parents engaged, involved and yes, voting, why should they care?  Lead by example.

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Penny Sales Tax for Roads: Let the people decide…..

Here in the Upstate, specifically, in Greenville County and in Oconee County, the local governments are in the process of determining whether or not to place a penny sales tax increase on the November ballot. If they do, it will be up to you, as a voter, taxpayer and citizen to decide whether to support or defeat it. Down in the Midlands, they also have the same thing under consideration in Lexington County. You certainly don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this is a tough sell in communities where less is always seen as more, especially when it comes to government and taxes, a concept I tend to agree with. That said voters should have the opportunity to cast our votes on this topic. I could be wrong, but I really don’t think the issue is as much about a “penny”, as it is the citizen’s cynicism on how this revenue will actually, eventually be spent. We desperately need improved roads and infrastructure. Many would like more parks, greenways, sidewalks, etc. For the record, I too, would like more parks, greenways, sidewalks, etc. I just want improved roads and infrastructure, more. Here is a suggestion to those on county council and the nineteen citizens who are deciding what will be potentially funded. If you sincerely want it to pass, just make it about roads: R-O-A-D-S. Not new water parks. Not scenic areas. Not even greenways, bike trails or even sidewalks though many want them and I truly see their value. Make it about pavement. Make it about asphalt. Make it completely, clearly, undeniably and unalterably, about roads. And, establish a sunset clause so the tax goes away, in eight to ten years.
Background: The State of South Carolina has over 40,000 miles of pavement to maintain. It affects safety, economic development, particularly tourism, and quality of life. It affects your commute, a company’s ability to move product or the damage to a personal vehicle that hits that pothole too many times. Today, the State Department of Transportation claims it does not have the needed funding to adequately meet the demand and there are many questions exist on just how efficient that agency really is. The DOT does have some funding problems. The DOT also has had accounting problems, and spending problems and major perception problems. Not good when the people who control your budget, the General Assembly, have those kind of legitimate concerns. One suggestion has been to allow them to fix some of the worse areas, and then turn over the responsibility of the maintenance to local governments. That’s a very tough one for rural counties and for some here as well. I just think it’s important for the voters to look at a slate of projects and cast a vote. Many will say no, we just need to raise the gas tax. Not going to happen. At least not right now. The DOT’s issues and the opposition from the governor mean that dog won’t hunt. The General Assembly does not have the political will to do it, nor the votes to override a threatened gubernatorial veto. It is that simple.
We have many wants and needs in Greenville County. Right now, we must focus on needs, and not wants. We need improved, updated and safe roads. This won’t happen if reading this column is the extent of your involvement. Call your county officials; contact those who are creating the list that will be addressed. Make sure they designate projects that will a) benefit the greater good, b) pass the smell test and c) that they put it on the ballot. Make it about roads and only roads… and let the voters decide.

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Some wins with my tea, please?

(The following appears in the latest edition of Black Box magazine)

The General Assembly is back in Columbia and the United States Congress has reconvened in Washington. Here, the issues of tax reform, ethics reform and the creation of a new Department of Administration will get the most attention since being a part of “reform” makes for great campaign copy for gubernatorial candidates. Nationally Obamacare, Immigration and the growing debt are front and center. Regrettably, in the middle of it all we have a full-fledged “civil war” within the ranks of the GOP, manifesting itself daily, in ways that are truly detrimental, locally and nationally. Now, I said the GOP. I did not say the Libertarian Party, the Palmetto True Conservative Party, the Don’t Tread on Me Patriot Party or one of the iterations of the Tea Party. I am talking about the Republican Party: The party of President Ronald Reagan and Gov. Carroll A. Campbell, Jr. two very revered GOP officials. Now, if you vote Republican, like to see the Republican Party win elections, possibly regain the Senate, keep the House and succeed in the next presidential election, consider what I am about to offer. If you are part of the Tea Party movement and a fan of its “leadership” in some form or fashion, consider it as well. Recognize this simple truth: You cannot govern, if you do not win. I like winning.
A few years ago, a friend of mine handed me some research, comparing the current political situation to the environment of the 1830’s when Andrew Jackson rose to the presidency. He made the case that all things political, go in cycles, and that the emergence of the Tea Party was an inevitable occurrence. So here we are. Now, ask yourself honestly, what has been the impact of this well-intended but poorly executed effort? Has it led to real policy change? Or has it increased the level of vitriol, distrust and cynicism towards the “process”? It has actually created a cottage industry of competing groups whose primary focus is to fundraise in order to pay large salaries and run attack ads against incumbents whose records are clearly, very conservative (Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, etc.) Sure, proponents will say that many who were silent are now engaged. They will say that the debate over important issues has been raised. That without this “movement”, the Administration would go unchecked, and that only they have the “real political courage” to challenge Obama, that only these “patriots” know how to fix the problems facing our country. To that, I would say: Hooey! Yes, the debate has been raised on important matters but mere debate is not enough. Yes, more people are engaged and that is a positive. But are they engaged in a way that has any reasonable hope of success? Fact: the real impact of the Tea Party movement has been to solidify support for Obama on the other side, to cost the GOP the US Senate seats that then enabled the passage of Obamacare, the picking of completely unwinnable fights that have divided the party within, and unfortunately provided a distraction the administration has used to deflect criticism of its many mistakes. Not to mention the well documented damage to the GOP brand (think threatened government shutdown) at a time when the party could and should be expanding. Seriously, some of the Tea Party leadership scares the hell out of conservative leaning independents, minority voters and young people who see the errors of the White House. Being the angry, agitated and ornery party won’t cut it. It’s not the perception needed for the GOP to win elections. Dammit people, start being for something, and not against everything.
Yes, the GOP has A LOT of work to do. It needs to improve in many ways. We need to tackle tough issues like immigration, health-care, and the debt. We need to be less about big business and more about the needs of Middle America where great ideas become great companies that employ great people. We need to be the party of opportunity not obligation, the party of entrepreneurship, free enterprise, and yes, reasonable taxes to pay for roads, schools and the like. But, enough is enough: in Greenville, in South Carolina and in Washington. If you aren’t willing to help the GOP do this, if you are determined to destroy the party to have it meet your own version of what being a “conservative” means, then forgive me if I don’t throw you a rope as while you drown in your beloved tea cup. The roots of the “tea party” movement are based on legitimate frustration. A lot of the positions taken are sound and need addressing. But these issues require serious leaders, and solutions that actually have a chance of passing. We need a GOP, unified and focused. We need a GOP that can and will work in the party and across the aisle to solve big issues not succumb to a world of fiefdoms that offer no more than false hope, further cynicism and very little success.

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Back on the porch….

Been far too long since I have been here, on the porch, so to speak, so forgive me for being away. Got my dog Jack by my feet, and we are both missing our Great Dane Danin who passed this summer.  School’s back in session, so, so am I……Some ruminations and observations I thought I would share this afternoon…..

On politics…Here in SC the 2014 is already kicking up some dust, with Sen. Vincent Sheheen set to challenge incumbent Gov. Nikki Haley in a rematch of the 2010 race. Sheheen has picked up some endorsements this week from a number of mayors this week, will have education community behind him ( as well as a Dem candidate Mike Anthony running for Supt. of Ed), and can count on the black vote for starters. Haley will be touting job creation, job creation, job creation and both hope some kind of ethics reform gets passed in the Spring. Both are also in favor of more power per se, in the creation of a Dept of Administration that does away with the Budget and Control Board which is unique only to our state. Look for a long fight, lots of tv and a perhaps a closer race than Haley will want. Still, it’s hers to lose, and while you will hear a lot about what she has done wrong from Sheheen, at this point, she’s has not committed a “firing offense” and should win.  Still, it’s over a year til we find out for sure and a lot can happen….

Several candidates have emerged to run in the GOP primary against Sen Graham. Not only that, we are now hearing that a pac formed originally by DeMint is planning on supporting a challenge. Not only is that wrong, it is just plain screwed up, in so, so many ways. Lee Bright?  Really?  Sorry senator but I don’t believe the Good Lord told you to run, just can’t see it. Richard Cash seems like a nice guy but….. Nancy Mace, whose two main reasons for running is that she was the first woman to graduate from the Citadel and she believes in the US Constitution…….it’s the JV, not the Varsity so far.

Nationally, the never ending race for the presidency continues on both the R and D sides. Come on folks, please. Ted Cruz, Ron Paul and even Chris Christie, who is right now running for re election for NJ governor are all making noise while Hillary and VP Joe Biden do the same. Let me just say that if Cruz is the GOP nominee, we might as well just give up. Probably the same for Paul.  And no this is not my endorsement of Christie necessarily, but the other two will do more to make the party obsolete, not viable. I call them RASCALS – REPUBLICANS AGAINST SOLUTIONS, COMMUNICATION AND LOGIC (OR LEADERSHIP). Like it or not the system was built to work based on collaboration, relationships, civility and God forbid some respect for the office you have been elected to…. Others will emerge on both sides, it’s an open seat, thankfully. 

On a lighter note, looking forward to seeing the Members of the SC House GOP Caucus this weekend here in Greenville. Majority Leader Bruce Bannister and his Upstate team have put together a great meeting….should be fun.

And now, to Football! It is almost here, in fact high schools get started this weekend. The hype for USC and Clemson is as usual at a fever pitch with both teams ranked in the Top Ten by many….Here’s to both having solid seasons with the potential for a match up of undefeated teams in late November, that would be fun…

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