Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Steady As She Goes

Many of us have worried about whether Donald Trump is a loose cannon.  We have feared that he might lose control and do something dangerous if he is elected to the White House.  His recent temperate performances have, however, allayed many of these concerns.
The real wild person, it seems, is Hillary Clinton.  Although she has been portrayed as steady and dependable, there is reason to believe this is a public relations ploy.  Behind the scenes she is apparently erratic and grossly disorganized.
I, like many people, assumed, that whatever her failings, Hillary was consistent and predictable.  She seemed to be a policy wonk who might be boring and misguided, but at least was disciplined and stable.  Now I have concluded that this too is an act.
Hillary’s aptitude for deceit has long been common knowledge.  At least since her denials about Gennifer Flowers being Bill’s mistress, it has been clear that she is an accomplished liar.  But that she has an uncontrollable temper, this was news to me.
Gary Byrne’s book “Crisis of Character” has been a revelation.  He was one of the Secret Service’s Uniformed Guards during much of the Clinton administration.  Standing, as he frequently did, by the door of the Oval Office, he was a first-hand witness to shenanigans that should not be associated with the presidency.
Although I was aware that Hillary threw a temper tantrum when she discovered Bill’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, I did not suspect that fits of this sort were commonplace.  I heard that she threw something at her husband’s head, but I did not realize this had occurred before.
Evidently Secretary Clinton has an explosive personality.  According to Byrne, she often became enraged when things went wrong.  So violent were her mood swings, that her subordinates were afraid to inform her of snafus.  Isn’t this revealing?  Doesn’t it explain why she often seems not to realize the nature of her mistakes?
Moreover, if Byrne is correct, Hillary has always relied on sycophants.  Her need to be Queen Bee is so persistent that she requires constant deference.  This may be the reason her current entourage is so large.  It also makes it clear why so many of her subordinates are second-rate.
Is this what we want in the White House?  Do we need a president whose character defects make it likely that she will be told only what she wants to hear?  If so, she will probably make as many mistakes as chief executive as she did as first lady.  Hillary, it turns out, is congenitally incompetent. 
On top of this, she is even more self-centered than her husband.  Byrne still feels the pain of having been thrown under the bus by the Clintons.  He wonders how, for the sake of their reputations, they allowed the careers of so many of those who protected them to be trashed.
Neither of the Clintons is genuinely compassionate.  Both are obsessively ambitious.  As a result, they do not notice the destruction they leave in their wake.  If others have to be sacrificed on the altar of their ruthlessness, they are not about to shed a tear.
The difference between Hillary and Bill is that he is likeable, whereas she is not.  He could charm a frightened cat down a tree, while she would scare it up to a higher branch.  Hillary appears to be mean because she is.  The phony smile she puts on for the cameras really is phony.
Do you remember that reset button Hillary trotted out for the Russians.  At the time, it seemed that her diplomacy had accidently hit an iceberg.  In retrospect, this was no accident.  It was a consequence of her haphazard style and inability to surround herself with capable people.
If she does the same as president, the damage will be much greater.  Worse still might befall us if she has a tantrum while making foreign policy decisions.  In other words, she is the loose cannon.  She is the one whose finger we do not want on the nuclear trigger.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Major Changes Always Take Time

When I was in my twenties, I knew that I did not want to be like my father.  Although he was a very smart man, with good intentions, he had an explosive temper that undermined his efforts to be successful.  I intended to be different, but was not sure how.
Eventually, upon the advice of the college professor I considered my mentor, I entered psychotherapy.  For the next six years, I struggled to remake myself.  Even after this, however, I remained a work in progress.  Indeed, I am still laboring to become the person I hope to be.
Personal change, I learned, is difficult to come by.  Our emotions, many of which are unconscious, often sabotage our efforts.  Deeply embedded fears and intemperate anger prevent us from letting go of the past and moving on to something better.
Nowadays, as a professor of sociology, I teach about social change.  I try to help students understand how this occurs and why it is more difficult than they suppose.  As idealists, these young folks typically want immediate reforms.  Acutely aware of some of what has gone wrong, they see no reason why it should persist.
In this, they are not alone.  The public at large regularly demands instantaneous action.  When politicians promise dramatic changes, they clamor for even greater ones.  Why should they settle for half a loaf when the whole loaf would be so much better?
And so what do we get?  If we are lucky, we get a few crumbs.  Obama, for instance, was going to remake Washington.  But did this happen?  He was also going to bring the nation together.  In fact, we are now further apart than we were when he became president.
When these sorts of thing happen, we blame the politicians.  We accuse them of failing to keep their promises.  Thus, if we are Democrats, we rail at the conservatism of the Republicans.  Or, if we are Republicans, we blame the irresponsibility of the liberals.  Seldom, however, do we blame ourselves.
Yet this is where a substantial portion of the onus lies.  If we did not assume that extraordinary changes can occur almost overnight, we would not demand them.  If we were not convinced these were possible, we would not be disappointed when they do not arrive on schedule.
Nonetheless, big changes always take place slowly.  They are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  Although small changes are possible in the short run, major ones take decades, centuries and sometimes millennia to be realized.
And why not?  If personal changes are hard to implement, why would social changes be less difficult?  If individuals can take years to remake who they are, why would millions of individuals require less time?  Is it because millions of people are less emotional than a single person? 
Consider the Black Lives Matter movement.  Its advocates insist on an immediate overhaul of every police department.  But how probable is this?  They also want racism to disappear instantaneously.  Yet is this in the cards?  These activists may be angry, but can anger redo the world?
Not only is what they demand impossible to provide on their timetable, but the way they demand it alienates many people.  When folks feel attacked, they get their backs up.  Instead of doing what is asked, they do the opposite.  If so, change is slowed down rather than accelerated.
Similar considerations apply to educational and health reforms.  Thus, has Obamacare worked? Or has the common core improved achievement scores?  Likewise, did Head Start enable minority student to catch up with the majority?  You know the answers.
So why do we keep expecting miracles?  Is it because our current situation is so intolerable that we cannot stand it for another minute?  Or have we become spoiled children who want what we want when we want it?
Sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes we must work for what we get—even if we wish things were different.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Too Bored to Care

I teach about social change at Kennesaw State University.  Hence, every term I encounter a familiar problem.  You see, teaching about change involves teaching about history.  Because change takes place over time, the only way to understand how it occurs is to study what happened in the past.
But my students don’t know what took place before they were born.  When I allude to events that transpired more than twenty years ago, they are mystified.  It is as if no one had previously mentioned these.
If I subsequently ask whether they studied history in high school, they admit they did.  Yet they also insist that it was too boring to remember.  At first, I found this strange.  For me, history is fascinating.  I am habitually surprised to discover the real reasons things happened as they did.
So why aren’t the young equally enchanted?   They enjoy learning about the unexpected goings-on of celebrities, so shouldn’t they be captivated by the sometimes raucous shenanigans of our ancestors?
Only recently did I get a clue about their attitude.  Generations of students have contended that history is tedious, but now I got a peek into why they thought so.  It has to do with the way history is currently taught in K-12.
When I was young, the emphasis was on the reasons America is great.  We learned about the explorers, the inventors, and the founding fathers.  We were told how we ended slavery and saved the old world from genocidal wars.  As Lincoln alleged, we were the last best hope of humanity.
Ours was the land of liberty; the font of democracy.  It was where the wretched refuse of other’s teeming shores came to obtain opportunity.  We were rich; we were strong; we were good!
But no more.  Today’s students are taught that our nation was established on a foundation of lies, brutality, and exploitation.  In the very beginning, we stole the land from the natives.  Merely because we were militarily stronger, we illegally massacred them and forced the remnant into subjugation.
After this, we carried Africans away from their homeland and shackled them in cruel bondage.  Urged on by the lash and a fear of death, the slaves built our homes and created our wealth.  To this day, blacks are pressed into poverty and degradation.
The same sort of discrimination was visited upon immigrants and women.  The Irish, the Poles, the Italians, and the Jews were all herded into veritable ghettoes where they were forced to live in squalor and steered into dead-end jobs.  Now it is the turn of the Hispanics.
Meanwhile, women were relegated to domestic subservience.  They were required to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.  Of course, ordinary workers fared little better.  They were maltreated by bosses who squeezed every ounce of profit out of their labor.
American history is thus depicted as no more than a cavalcade of vicious injustice.  It is all about prejudice, discrimination and corruption.  It is about the powerful feasting off the backs of the weak.  Where is the inspiration in this?  Why would students take pride in a chronicle of nastiness and despair?
No doubt this narrative is supposed to serve as a cautionary tale.  The young are warned what to avoid so that they can buttress the social justice their forebears so egregiously violated.  Formal education has consequently been converted into a version of sensitivity training.
Not many years ago, when Dr. Frank Dobbin of Harvard visited the KSU campus, he explained that his research revealed why sensitivity training had virtually no effect.  It did not make those who received it more tolerant.  They regarded it as manipulative indoctrination and hence tuned out what was said.  They were too bored to care.
It is apparently the same with my students.  For twelve or more long years, they must endure moralistic scolding.  Routinely told how wretched they are, they lose interest.  History, as far as they are concerned, is compendium of their defects.  Why wouldn’t their attention wander?
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

The Sins of Marco Rubio

As readers of my column may remember, in the spring I was pretty much in the Never Trump camp.  More recently, I have converted to the Never Hillary faction.  Nonetheless, I remain nostalgic for Marco Rubio.  I thought he was the best candidate—and I still do.  So let me get something off my chest.
What brings this up is the evolution of Donald Trump’s position on immigration.  Many of his supporters assumed that he was for rounding up every illegal immigrant and physically deporting them.  His critics, however, described this as draconian.  It would entail the obvious horror of snatching mothers away from their babies.
Even many of Trump’s most ardent supporters had doubts about whether this was feasible.  They worried about the costs and legalities.  They were especially concerned that this might alienate too many Hispanic voters.
And so Trump “softened” his position.  Although now and then, he reiterates his pledge to build a wall—and make Mexico pay for it—he also insists he will be compassionate.  If illegals want citizenship, they still have to go home and get in line.  It is just the criminals that he will immediately deport.
Nowadays Trump’s position is “first things first.”  First build the wall and enforce the existing laws.  Don’t do catch and release.  Don’t allow sanctuary cities.  Do use e-verify.  As to what to do with the bulk of the illegals, he wants to postpone this decision until after we gain control over the border.
But isn’t this what Rubio proposed?  And wasn’t he crucified for it?  Didn’t his detractors reject him because his policies were not sufficiently pure?  Wasn’t his pragmatism deemed wishy-washy?  In Trump’s hands, however, it has become practical.
Yet Rubio was always practical.  Whether the issue was foreign or domestic, his proposals were well researched and realistic.  He studied what was possible and time and again sought the most doable conservative approach.
Nonetheless, the partisans wanted more.  They were looking for red meat.  Trump gave it to them.   Hence what did they get?  They got a candidate who might make a decent president, but clearly has a great deal to learn.  Either that, or our future holds the profoundly corrupt Hillary Clinton.
Consider the other knocks against Rubio.  It was said that he did not spend enough time taking care of senate business.  Really?  He was running for president.  What else was he to do?  If this counts as a valid criticism, no sitting senator ought ever run for president.
Then there was the business of his buying a fishing boat with profits from his book and losing money in a real estate investment.  This was supposedly evidence that he did not know enough about the economy to rescue us from a lackluster recovery.
Yet I came to a very different conclusion.  For me, this was proof that he is an honest man.  Despite years of being an elected official, he had not enriched himself at the public trough.  Why, it even took him years to pay off his student loan.
Contrast this with other officials.  Hillary has converted herself into a multi-multi-millionaire.  Her foundation is no more than a political slush fund.  It is a means of laundering political contributions so they don’t seem political; i.e., an attempt to disguise pay-for-play bribes.
Harry Reid is also a multi-millionaire.  Obama is not yet in this class, but he is working on it.  And while Trump made his money in the private sector, he cut more than a few corners along the way.
Nor ought we forget that Rubio was polite and truthful.  The voters are currently bellyaching about candidates who are not.  So why did they consider one who was respectful to be boring.  Can it be that his baby-face capsized his candidacy?
Or was it the fact that everyone ganged up on him?  Were his virtues so glaring that if recognized, he would have been a shoo-in?  In any event, we are now obliged to live with the consequences of our own making.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University