Unfit: A Memo


FROM: Ken Goldstein, Author & Businessperson

RE: The Trump Legacy


You were unfit to hold the title of the executive office you won in election.

You were unfit to issue executive orders empty of study and laden with self-interest.

You were unfit to appoint cabinet officials whose job it is to challenge your opinions.

You were unfit to seek loyalty from the subordinates you bullied.

You were unfit to be seen as a role model by children in homes and classrooms.

You were unfit to talk of family values, ethical mandates, or moral imperatives.

You were unfit to order military action or report on its efficacy.

You were unfit to lay a wreath at Arlington.

You were unfit to represent our nation in state visits or international forums.

You were unfit to offer comment on science, health, or climate change.

You were unfit to speak of business norms or effective negotiation.

You were unfit to hold authority in the age of “Me Too” reform.

You were unfit to broadly attack our free press as perpetrators of fake news.

You were unfit to demand intellectual credibility when you lied consistently without regret.

You were unfit to be taken seriously as anything other than a threat to world stability and security.

You were unfit to embrace the gravitas of the immense power you commanded and the lack of humility you celebrated.


We will heal while you are mired for the rest of your years in shame.

We will recommit to values that embrace compassion and empathy.

We will again celebrate learning and understanding, particularly in matters of science and empirical knowledge.

We will rejoin the community of nations in saving our planet.

We will address income inequality.

We will recommit to healthcare justice.

We will acknowledge the safe haven of asylum and treat immigrants with dignity and kindness.

We will welcome the stranger.

We will not viciously insult distinguished participants in our democracy whose views reflect diversity of thought or background.

We will not embrace humiliation as a strategy to undermine those with whom we may disagree.

We will appreciate journalism and distinguish facts from dangerous manipulation.

We will reject the cynicism of pattern lying for convenience.

We will never forget the hardships we suffered under your fragile ego.

We will face the future with courage, hope, and love.

We will make our nation appropriately great again.

We will let time address your place in history.


Image: Pixabay


Comfortably Numb, Stupidly Unashamed

I have been agonizing for weeks whether to write about Rielle Hunter.  The notion of a single additional millisecond consumed by the public on this media danse macabre peels the skin from my typing fingers.  Still I need to share a few words, less about what’s happened, more about how troubled I am with our inability to look away from the body.

Rielle Hunter is not a celebrity, except that she is.  She had a sexual relationship with a married man.  She got pregnant.  She chose to have a baby.  In all sanity, it ends there.  Give the child the slimmest chance at a sane life.  Be with the child’s father, don’t be with the child’s father, just go away quietly and be a good mom.  How hard is that?

Apparently it’s hard because there’s money at stake.  As fate would have it, the father of her child was once a party primary candidate for President of the United States, and then the ticket’s Vice Presidential candidate in a national election.  How about that.  His wife happened to have cancer at the time of both the election and the affair.  Now she has passed away.  He happened to try to hide the affair from his wife and may have crossed a few lines in doing so, enough to get him hauled into court and tried, although not convicted.  Okay, it has to end there.  Give the child a shot at any kind of normal life.  Preserve any fragment of dignity left for mom and dad.  Separate your private life from public spectacle, at least so the public does not have to disgrace itself.

Nope, there’s real money at stake.  She cannot help herself, she is cashing in.  We are letting her cash in.  She didn’t take her fifteen minutes of fame, we are giving it to her.  We cannot seem to help ourselves any more than she can.

I am not reading the book.  I am not watching the television interviews.  Ms. Hunter has nothing important to say, not a word of value will cross her lips.  Yet I can’t miss her, she’s everywhere.  Why does anyone care?  Why do we feed Piers Morgan’s hunger for this flavor of anesthesia by subscribing to it?

It’s supply and demand, free-market capitalism, 100% free speech, no law against it.  Nope, don’t want to regulate it.  Nope, don’t want to restrict it.  Completely agree.

It’s still icky.

Criticize me if you wish for condemning a book I have not read, but if this is a book, we have forgotten what it means to read.  There are an infinite number of interesting topics to ponder and curious events to discuss — the mending of our nation’s polarization, Europe’s seesaw economic outlook, interest rate fixing scandals, Wall Street arbitrage incinerating millions of dollars on derivative trades, heartening private sector innovation at wondrous new companies like SpaceX, lower gas prices for summer, a new Aaron Sorkin show on HBO, and a new novel by Kurt Andersen.

In 1992 Roger Waters produced his last solo album called Amused to Death, inspired by Neil Postman’s 1985 landmark book about the grinding impact of media on our critical thinking abilities.  It was dark, even for Roger, and it didn’t do too well.  It was about a monkey watching TV, just changing the channels on the TV, over and over, through an invasion of our planet by other-worldly creatures observing our demise, until the apocalyptic concluding refrain, “This species has amused itself to death.”  Both Postman’s book and Waters’ album preceded the commercial internet, and their observations were anything but unique.  But when I saw Rielle Hunter on her book cover staring at me from a display shelf, suggesting there could be any reason for me to buy and read her transcribed words, all I could hear was that refrain: This Species Has Amused Itself to Death.

Well, we’re still here, so not yet, right?  We can pay attention to more important things if we want, no shortage of free will to be entertained.  We all have our own ideas about what’s relevant.  News.  Politics.  Music.  Family.  Sports.  Pets.  Who’s to judge?  Does it matter that Entertainment Tonight fills a full hour following every 23 with fluff we used to dismiss as tabloid?  Is there any way that hour could be better used, perhaps to learn the name of a local candidate running for State Assembly or why Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice?  Maybe not, but it’s bugging me, mostly because I once campaigned for John Edwards and believed he could have been a decent Vice President and/or President of the United States.  Now I feel ashamed — ashamed that I was ever on this bandwagon, ashamed that I was duped by lies, ashamed that he denied a child he fathered and can’t take that back, ashamed that we are still paying attention to the mother of that child.  I don’t like the way this feels, and I want it somehow, at some level, to stop.  That’s my problem.

This one notches beyond tabloid, because the clever maestro Ms. Hunter has made an active choice to compose opportunistically despite the requisite price.  She is fully aware of the stakes, the trade, the auction, and the orchestrated bait.  Still this compromise of judgment is not Rielle Hunter’s problem.  It’s not John Edwards’ problem.  This is our problem.  I am picking on them to make a point, an egregious case that is emblematic of serial apathy.  If we can’t help ourselves and just keep gobbling up this gunk,  then in an amiable daze we hand wealth to those who least deserve it, financial reward for nothing earned, nourishing amusement an abandoned aspiration.  Our thoughts turn to mush, and there we sit on the cold floor tile, trapped again in a Waters’ refrain, banging our hearts against The Wall until we are Comfortably Numb.

This species can do so much better than that.  Really, we can.

The Grating Divide

CBS News recently reported that there is no longer a group we can consider as “moderate” in the U.S. Senate.  In a report on November 22, 2011 looking back on the past 40 years, Scott Pelley sourcing research from the nonpartisan National Journal noted that in 1982 there were 60 Senators who could be described as moderates, while today there is zero.

Zero moderates?

Two questions come to mind: 1) What criteria could we be using to define the concept of moderate that would rule out everyone in the Senate; and 2) If this is truly the case, how can this possibly be good for the nation?

If the essence of this analysis is that all Democrats are left of center and all Republicans are right of center, I suppose that would leave us with zero moderates.  Yet we all know this is not the case, the party labels of Democrat and Republican have largely become just that, where we all know Democrats we consider more conservative than some Republicans as well as some Republicans we consider more liberal than Democrats.  Clearly President Obama is receiving as much if not more criticism for the actual agenda he has pursued from vocal members within his own party for “not being liberal enough,” and the most significant criticism articulated about once leading Presidential Candidate Romney by numerous members of his own party is that he is too liberal.  Here we have a handful of labels that are useful to certain individuals on any given day for campaign positioning, high profile op-ed pieces, and extremely uncomfortable holiday table rhetoric, but beyond that, these labels aren’t doing us much good.

That doesn’t mean the divisiveness in our nation is any less real; it remains as the CBS News story implies a disease that is killing us.  The problem is that regardless of monolithic labels like moderate, liberal, and conservative — descriptors that tend to have almost no meaning in our day-to-day lives where business behavior and social interaction demand a level of civility and tolerance for anything to get done in a timely manner — our elected leaders at the national level have fully separated themselves from anything that vaguely represents the real world and isolated themselves in a war between two parties that does not reflect the desires, hopes, dreams, and aspirations of a people who really do wish to be united under visionary leadership.

The divide is on party vote, creating a climate where the mandate of political survival necessitates that whether in truth moderate, liberal, or conservative, an elected official still votes along party lines so as not to be perceived as a traitor to the party.  The party articulates a definitive point of view — whether that is no tax increase can be on the table or a tax increase of some sort must be on the table — and there you have it, intractable postures.  The result?  We still haven’t resolved the debt ceiling with intelligence, we are going to allow it to be done by mathematical computation.  If preordained formulas are going to be the measure by which critical decisions of how precious and limited resources are going to be allocated, one starts to wonder exactly what we are getting for the time and money of those being sent to our nation’s Capitol as voices of representative democracy.  We are willing to go to war with enemies overseas to advocate that democracy is the best possible ideal for self-determination of nations, yet at home we allow our own democracy to languish while our leaders fight among themselves for agendas of their own career advancement that are entirely irrelevant to the people paying their salaries and standing on the sidelines waiting to be rescued from stagnation.

Now while Congress fights (before it vacations again) over whether current extension of tax cuts and jobless benefits must be tied in a single package — another all or nothing argument that mirrors the failure of the Super Committee — millions of Americans are facing the end of year holidays in complete fear they could lose everything they have before they can get back on their feet because our government cannot do its job.  There can be no more excuses here — the needs of the nation must trump the needs of those who manage the nation, and those who will reap the lucrative benefits of post government service with lobbying jobs that continue to compromise the very fabric of fairness in practice.  Not much holiday spirit there, and no rhetoric makes things right when the bank forecloses.

I have written before that polarization is not only anathema to advancement, it is largely not tolerated in the business world.  Indeed a corporation is not a democracy, it is run by a CEO with executive authority that can be autocratic when necessary, but those of us in the working world know how seldom a successful CEO exercises that kind of power — the use of a blunt instrument is too often demoralizing to employees who thrive when they are empowered.  Is there career advancement at risk in a corporation?  You bet, every single day.  Are there winners and losers on a personal level, despite the fortunes of the company?  Yes, sometimes.  Do companies on occasion forget that competition is outside the walls of the enterprise rather than down the hall?  Oh yeah, happens all the time.  Yet to maintain one’s stature and upward mobility in working life, most of us come to realize the wisdom and benefit in building consensus viewpoints around difficult measures — and the more complicated the problem, the more upside there is to be found in working toward consensus.  Consensus is not the same as compromise, but it incorporates tactics of compromise to allow the best of ideas from different points of view to come together to form more enlightened arguments and better constructed resolutions.  The winning formula in consensus understands there is always a big picture, and in standoff bifurcation there is only momentum for standstill behavior.

Any organization frozen solid when facing a crisis is likely to fail.  Strong executives understand that this is often the difference between positive and negative earnings, and rather than worrying about getting their way on every detail because they so strongly believe it, they worry about obstructions to the organization’s success.  A leader articulates a vision, listens, is decisive, and then sees to it that anything blocking success is removed from the path, not cemented at the crossroads as a monument to unhelpful ideology.

There are any number of points of view on any number of critical issues facing our nation, but my sense is that real question before us is how we rediscover the commonalities that make us a great nation and not a divided people.  If we have no moderates in government that we have no one who represents the voice of the people, which by definition in its aggregate is moderate.  Dividing lines may help individual careers and fuel unlimited punch lines for the evening talk show hosts, but they aren’t helping you and they aren’t helping me.  If Washington can’t get over it, then we need to show them where they are wrong.  If our elected officials simply refuse to lead by example, then it is time for the rest of us to show them how.  There is a lot at risk here, way more than an election, way more than claimed vindication.  We cannot meet our challenges if we remain divided, not a chance.  We must find a consensus and a shared voice of which we can be proud.

Demand more, demand better.