The Tyranny of Consensus

If you’ve been following the Trump nominees’ confirmation hearings, you have no life. Sorry, just kidding. If you’ve been following the Trump nominees confirmation hearings, you have no doubt noticed that their comments often diverge from the positions Mr. Trump staked out in the campaign. I’m fascinated that the media doesn’t seem to understand this, not even the somewhat more conservative media outlets, like the Wall Street Journal. A front page article in today’s WSJ described these nominees as being on a “collision course” with the POTUS-elect. I’m not surprised the Washington Post and New York Times don’t get this, since having spent a single day in the real business world would be an immediate disqualifier for working at either paper. But, the WSJ should understand the business world a little better than this. Why is it that private enterprise runs so much more efficiently than government? That’s a much longer blog, but the high-level answer is that they’re run by people who know how to hire and manage other people.

Donald Trump is the first business person to become president with no prior government experience. For reasons that baffle me, that seems to worry people. If it worries you, then these confirmation hearings should help quell those fears. Here’s a quick primer in how effective managers build their teams. They go out and find the absolute best and most qualified person for each position, ideally finding someone much smarter than themselves. Effective hiring managers in business put little or no effort into figuring out, a priori, whether the person he or she is hiring agrees with them or not. It doesn’t matter. I’ve sat on numerous company boards of directors and the most effective management teams I have observed are the ones where the CEO not only tolerates, but actively encourages dissenting opinions. In my own partnership, when we discuss new deals we’re contemplating, we always make the more junior people voice their opinions first so that they won’t have their views influenced by what the senior partners are thinking. If that means a deal that’s being championed by a partner dies because a smarter or more insightful junior person had a key insight, that’s a fantastic outcome.

It is apparent from the Trump confirmation hearings that Mr. Trump has hired people in exactly this way. He apparently conducted a very thorough vetting process before he chose his cabinet. Indeed, he spent weeks deciding on a Secretary of State before choosing Rex Tillerson. Do you really think he didn’t ferret out over those many interviews the differences of opinion that Elizabeth Warren got out of him in a 3 hour interview? Of course he did. But, the difference between Mr. Trump and President Obama is that Mr. Trump has run large organizations very effectively and understands the importance of hiring smart, highly qualified people for key senior positions, independent of whether they agree with him or not.

Now, contrast this approach with that used by Mr. Obama. As a community organizer, he had no skills at anything when he came into the most challenging job in the world. And, instead of hiring the most qualified people, independent of their views, he hired sycophants like Ben Rhodes, whose primary accomplishment prior to working for Mr. Obama was winning his fraternity beer bong tournament and John Kerry, who may be a smart guy, but was nothing more than a yes man for the President. Hiring like that leads to disasters like the Iran deal because there’s nobody in the room to disagree with a clueless president. This is what James Mattis referred to in his confirmation hearing this week as the tyranny of consensus. Yet another reason to be excited about the transition that will take place a week from today is that we can finally end the tyranny of consensus.

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Andy Fox, 1967-2016

I don’t know what it is about funerals that make me want to write a blog. I guess maybe it’s the inevitability of sitting there in a church, synagogue, or wherever you might be hearing about the end of one person’s life on earth that makes us think about our own life. Maybe it’s that I’m in my mid-50s now so, actuarially speaking, I’m in the 6th inning or so. Oh, I have a few more at-bats in my future, but not as many as I had 20 years ago. That’s just math. I think another part of it is that I’ve had the opportunity to attend the funerals of some really remarkable people in the last 4 or 5 years. That provokes some interesting self-reflection.

Earlier this week, Facebook posted a memory to my page from four years ago when my amazing friend, Paul Witteman, passed on New Year’s Day. I wrote about 10 blogs on Paul and his life, but they all seemed so weak compared to his actual life that I never posted any of them. It still helped to write them. And, if you go back to the very first blog I ever wrote, I said the purpose was for me to get stuff out of my head and that it was for me, not my readers (now apparently up to four).

Then, there was the tragic passing of Dick and Jody Vilardo in a horrible double murder in my home town two years ago. I did post that blog (here).

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Andy Fox. Andy’s brother, Tim, is married to my sister, Amy. Andy passed just before Christmas at the way-too-young age of 49. I met Andy a few times at various family functions, though it has been quite a while since I’ve seen him. So, in fairness, I didn’t really know Andy. And, like the Vilardo funeral, I walked out of this one thinking to myself, “Shit, I wish I had gotten to know Andy better when he was alive.”

Andy was developmentally disabled, which meant he faced far more complex challenges than most of us do. And, it meant his parents, Nora and Denver, had to persevere for Andy in ways that most parents don’t. Denver  even quit his job to start a non-profit to provide supported employment services for Andy and others with severe developmental disabilities.

That’s amazing stuff, but what really stood out to me in the weeks leading up to the funeral and the service itself was just how full a life Andy led despite these challenges. My sense is that the few times I was with Andy, like at my sister’s wedding, were at events that took Andy somewhat out of his comfort zone. I had never had the opportunity to experience life with Andy in his element. For example, multiple people told stories of how much Andy loved swimming with his parents. The pictures of Andy in the pool with a huge smile on his face were a testament to this. I wish I had had the opportunity to spend time with Andy in his comfort zone.

I opened by saying funerals usually provide an opportunity to think about some little piece of my own life. I’m a worrier and a stresser. Always. Every day. I work in a complex profession and take every setback personally. By any measure, my kids have led very fortunate lives, but I stress about them too. All the time. But, listening to the pastor eulogize Andy and listening to his family tell stories about him made me feel small. It made me realize that the barriers I’ve had to fight through and the stress I’ve had to deal with were like the guys hurdling matchboxes in that famous skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus called “Twit of the Year.” I guess I was the twit in this episode!

I cannot imagine, nor do I want to, what it must be like to lose a sibling or, perhaps even worse, a child. I observed this up close yesterday and the pain was intense. At the same time, I think we were all soothed by the amazing rendition of “No More Night” sung by Andy’s homecare provider and home host at the end of the service. I know I was. And hopefully I learned a little something from someone who had to overcome real barriers. RIP Andy.


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CNN and Obama’s “Legacy”

maxresdefaultWhen the NY Giants were sending my beloved Redskins to humiliating, season-ending defeat yesterday, I noticed that the Giants coaching staff never called time out and ran to the other side of the field to give the Redskins coaches advice on how to beat them. Probably a good approach in any sport. That said, I find myself compelled to give my friends on the other side of the political field some friendly advice.

One of the things I really love about CNN, as they completely lose their minds, is that they always run a caption at the bottom of the screen with some pithy saying related to the story they’re covering. I rarely watch CNN as I find fake news to be a waste of time, but I do enjoy observing them as they further lose touch with reality. And TVs all over the world (airports, gyms, hotel lobbies, etc.) are often tuned to CNN with no volume so it’s easy to pick up their one-liners through the course of a week.

This morning, in fact, I was at the gym when I walked by a TV tuned to CNN. I have no idea who was on the show or what he was talking about, but the caption at the bottom of the screen asked, boldly, “CAN THE DEMOCRATS CONTINUE OBAMA’S LEGACY?”

This is where the Giants/Redskins analogy comes into play as I helpfully answer this question for my democrat friends: DON’T TRY!

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We Support You, Brother Israel

I’ve written extensively about how far off the liberal rails the Washington Post, my hometown paper, has gone. They long since gave up any veil of objective reporting. However, every now and then they stumble into the truth. More to the point, when a liberal news organization and this conservative blogger find common ground, there’s probably something to it. The Post and I agreed this week that Obama’s move to allow the UN to reprimand Israel is a disaster. Even if one believes that Israel’s settlements are illegal and should stop or be reversed, this move will not facilitate that and it will make a negotiated peace impossible. Well played, Barack. Just when we thought you couldn’t do anything more inane in the Middle East, you surprise us again. Honestly, I deplore when the left starts labeling and name calling (i.e., you’re a racist if you think it’s OK for cops to use their guns to enforce the law and protect themselves), but Obama’s move really does make one wonder if he’s anti-Semitic. He waited until the very last Jewish vote was counted and, in some states, recounted before pulling this fast one.

The most useful lens I can look at Obama’s foolishness through here is that of a member of a college fraternity. Anyone who was in one will understand what I mean and I will try to explain it here for those who weren’t. We had big parties in our fraternity house and, every now and then, a skirmish would break out between a brother and a non-brother. The protocol in these instances was clear. The 5 biggest members of the fraternity would quickly intervene and carry that non-brother outside and summarily deposit him on Spruce Street in West Philadelphia. There was no preliminary investigation to figure out what happened until the offending non-brother was removed. Once removed, whether that evening or the next day, the members of the fraternity would attempt to understand what had happened because we didn’t want a reputation as a fraternity where fights broke out at our parties. And, we certainly didn’t want to send a message to other men on campus that it was OK to lay hands on a brother in our house or anywhere else. It wasn’t uncommon to learn that the brother had instigated the fracas by, for example, hitting on the non-brother’s girlfriend or mouthing off to the non-brother. If that was the case, the brotherhood would quietly reprimand the brother to avoid future incidents.

Notice the sequence of events and the manner in which our brother was told to “cut it out.” The sequence was dictated by a clarity as to who “our guy” was in the incident. When we took the oath to be brothers in our fraternity we pledged our unconditional loyalty to each other.

There’s a perfect analogy to the Middle East. Israel has not been a perfect brother to us. They have occasionally stirred things up in ways that perhaps we wished they hadn’t. But, we need to be clear that they are our brother and our ONLY brother in that region. So, when they behave in a way we may not like, and I’m not passing judgment on whether they did or not, we should never criticize them in public. We should NEVER point to the other guy and say, “Hey, Israel, maybe he’s right. Back off for now.” Not a chance. Never. We back up our brother, toss the other guy into the street, and figure the rest out later. Period.

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Election Redux: Liberalism Collides with Social Media

I finally had a major epiphany about American politics, including a clear answer to the question, “how the hell did Donald Trump just become the 45th President of the United States of America?” Many on the left still want to blame it on the country’s sudden lurch into racism and misogyny, but that ignores the mathematical reality that Trump won by winning one-third of the 700 counties previously carried by a black man named Barack Hussein Obama. Or, they will blame it on James Comey’s see-sawing FBI investigation or on Putin’s alleged hacking. And, while all seem to agree Hillary was a flawed candidate (the FBI investigation and the hacked e-mails were just two ways of shining light on that), that still doesn’t explain the rise of Trump.

My epiphany is that the fundamentals of progressive liberalism collided with the meteoric rise in a social media over the past eight years in a way that backfired and caused progressive liberalism to implode on itself. I promise I’ll explain what I mean by that in a second, but first some important numbers on social media. When President Obama was first elected in 2008, there were about 75 million Facebook users in the United States, roughly equivalent to the number of users still hanging on to MySpace at the time (presumably mostly overlapping as users switched from one to the other). I haven’t been able to find a demographic breakdown on FB users in the early days, but I had a 15-year old in 2008 and have a strong recollection that the early days of Facebook (i.e., pre 2008) were dominated by young people. Indeed, I finally dropped my resistance to what I thought at the time was a teen preoccupation and signed up for FB in 2008.

Fast forward to 2016. We adults took over FB. There are now approximately 200 million FB users in the United States, out of a population of about 320 M. The graph below shows the demographic distribution of FB users in 2016. As you can see, young people gave up on FB a long time ago. It’s just us geezers on there now. Indeed, 63% of FB users (about 126 million people in the US) are over 30. To put that in perspective, the US Census tells us that there are about 192 million Americans over 30. So, about 65% of folks over 30 in the US are FB users. FB is only one social media site, but it is clearly the largest and it clearly has the attention of adult voters.

Facebook Users by Age Cohort, United States (2016)

Why does all this matter? I saw this meme posted on FB during the election.

It is, in many ways, completely accurate. Trust me, I tried. Despite all my brilliant political insight on FB for the many months leading up to the election, not one single liberal friend reached out to me and said, “OK, you got me. I was going to vote for Hillary, but you changed my mind.” So, why does any of this matter? Isn’t FB just a medium for each of us to rant our political views and have our like-minded friends “like” the post and our friends on the other side scowl at us or debate us in the comments section? That sure did happen a lot and NOBODY CHANGED THEIR MIND.

That’s where I think the fundamentals of modern liberalism collided with social media. Decades ago, the founding principles of liberalism were about helping people who needed a boost or were being left behind. While the solutions often failed, the heart was always in the right place. That all changed in the last twenty years or so, especially the last eight. The goals ceased to be “help the little guy” and morphed into “let me show my liberal neighbor that I’m even more open-minded than he/she is.” This progressive one-upsmanship led to some really silly stuff, like allowing men to go pee in the women’s room. Frankly, it also led to gay marriage, a notion that was soundly rejected by both President Obama and Hillary Clinton until the one-upsmanship forced them to go there. It led to the complete destruction of the First Amendment rights of students on college campuses. It led to a bizarre scenario where the President of the United States took the side of criminals like Michael Brown over the men and women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. And, of course, it led to the silliness of climate change. The list is much longer, but the upshot is this. In the races taking place in Washington, DC, New York and California to be more liberal than your neighbor, because that’s what earns you respect in places like that, liberals went way too far. They went into places that were radical and well off the mainstream.

And, it all played out on Facebook. Twenty years ago it would have played out in the salons and wine bars of San Francisco and SoHo. Unemployed voters in Michigan who wanted their politicians paying attention to the lousy economic growth we’d had for eight years would never have known that people on the coasts were more worried about ensuring access for men to use the women’s room. Today, they saw that in real time from a long lost high school friend now living in California, who was posting his enthusiasm for such far-fetched ideas on FB. Many of them had voted for President Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 looking for Hope and Change in things that mattered to them. They were not big fans of Trump and many of them were likely repulsed, as was I, by some of his more objectionable behavior. But, they also knew this progressive one-upsmanship, this showing off who could be more radical to look good in front of their progressive neighbors, was spilling into the real world. They saw it on FB every day. And they knew it had to be stopped.  So, they voted for Trump.


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Cognitive Dissonance in Aleppo

I’m struck by the number of liberals posting on FB about the horror taking place in Aleppo and how these atrocities are affecting innocent women and children. It is admirable that they are noticing this and wishing they could do something to help these poor people. But, do they not realize that this nightmare is a direct result of the failed Middle East foreign policy of the last 8 years? How can they possibly bemoan Hillary Clinton’s loss without acknowledging the significant role she and Obama played in this misery. We don’t know yet whether Trump will do any better, but it’s incredibly difficult to imagine him doing worse.

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Trump and the Complete Meltdown of Humanity

I do have a few liberal friends who aren’t completely losing their minds over this election. Not many, but a few. Knowing that I voted for Trump, they have asked me to give them reason for hope. I believe there are many reasons for hope and, as Trump’s appointments have taken shape, the number of reasons keeps increasing. But, let’s focus on just one: Rex Tillerson as Sec of State.

Today, the super duper liberal Washington Post reported on the horror taking place in Aleppo, Syria and how it has seriously damaged President Obama’s legacy (OK, only the Post would believe there was anything left of the legacy to damage, but I digress). The United Nations has declared Aleppo a “complete meltdown of humanity.” How did this meltdown happen? Certainly a big part of it is the hopelessly failed Middle East policy of the Obama administration, including the now infamous red line, which has been crossed again and again. But, another important piece of this has been the Obama administration’s failure to negotiate successfully with either Iran or Russia, leading to an evil triumvirate of those two plus Assad now calling all the shots in Syria.

I am blown away by all the liberal bloviating on Facebook and in the media about Tillerson’s potential conflict in Russia because of his time as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Really? That’s what has you worried? That a man of utmost ethics who works for a company with very strict ethics and conflict policies and is going to work for a government with equally strict conflict policies, will have a conflict? That worries you more than the “complete meltdown of humanity?”

Here are some simple facts about four people who have tried to get something they needed out of Russia/Putin:

Barack Obama: failed miserably

Hillary Clinton: failed miserably

John Kerry: failed miserably

Rex Tillerson: succeeded

So, the democrats put forth three people as diplomats to Russia over the past eight years and the result was the “complete meltdown of humanity.” Donald Trump puts forth a diplomat who has successfully worked with Russia to get the result he wanted. You tell me who’s best qualified. If that doesn’t make you feel better about the Trump administration and his cabinet picks, it is only because you want to wallow in your own sorrow versus acknowledging what is best for your country. No, check that, what is best for humanity.

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