What Would Trump Do?

What Would Trump Do?


As the shift in power looms, I can’t be the only one thinking about this. For instance, what would Trump have done after the 9/11 attacks. Would he have figured out who was responsible before anyone else, because he is so smart and everything, and ordered an immediate retaliation? What about minor provocations? Remember the U.S. underwater drone the Chinese fished out of the China Sea? A lot of commentators on Fox and elsewhere were complaining that China felt they could act with impunity because Obama was too weak to respond. What if Trump was of the same mind? Where would such a tit for tat lead? Of course, the situation could be more dire. Here are the type of imagined scenarios that have been keeping me awake at night:

1. North Korea
The U.S. warns North Korea not to test long-range intercontinental missiles. Of course, they ignore the warning and launch. Trump orders an immediate cyber-attack which cripples North Korea’s computer capability. However, it inadvertently causes the firing of another intercontinental missile. This one is heading for Seattle. It might be carrying a nuclear arm. North Korea is unable to destruct. What would Trump do?

2. Pakistan
Islamic fundamentalist factions in the Pakistani army stage a coup. Nuclear weapons are about to be placed in the hands of people who have publicly declared their intention to kill as many Americans as possible as well as wipe Israel off the face of the earth. They also send out a series of communiqués mocking and baiting President Trump personally. What will he do?
A. Before he can make a decision, India, the target for most of Pakistan’s arsenal, makes a preemptive military strike, first by air, and then with ground troops. What will Trump do?
B. Before any action can be taken the new government claims to have a nuclear bomb smuggled into Tel Aviv and will explode it if certain actions aren’t taken immediately. Israeli scrambles its nuclear-bomb carrying air force. What will Trump do?

3. Guantanamo
In a surprise attack a well-organized band of suicidal ISIS-organized commandos storm Guantanamo Bay in an amphibious assault, overwhelming the U.S. forces and freeing the captives. They begin assassinating hostages hourly until their demands are met. What would Trump do?

U.S. intelligence informs Trump that all the major players in ISIS are meeting in Raqqa. Their exact location can’t be determined, but it may be the only chance to destroy all of them in one strike. Military advisors inform Trump that the only way to be sure to make the kill effective is to use a tactical nuclear bomb. They estimate the collateral damage at 200,000 civilians, but assure Trump that most are ISIS sympathizers. Trump confers with Putin who says go ahead. What would Trump do?

5. Russia
A shocking and horrific terrorist attack in Azerbijan, a former Soviet province, has unsettled the entire region. ISIS claims responsibility. With Azerbijan’s blessing, Soviet troops pour to the border, preparing for a multi-national coordinated assault on ISIS fighters based over the border in Iran and Syria. U.S. air power is fully employed in the assault. However, Russian troops continue past ISIS strongholds and blitz across the region, taking control of all the major oil producing regions in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Putin claims this is a necessary step to strangle the oil money that is fueling ISIS and its pipeline of fanatical fighters, trained in oil-financed fundamentalist madrasas across the region. What would Trump do?

6. China
China claims a U.S. destroyer has strayed into Chinese territory and scrambles its air force and navy to capture it. Trump orders the destroyer to resist. In the resulting conflict, the U.S. destroyer launches a cruise missile which sinks China’s newest aircraft carrier, killing some 2,000 sailors. The U.S. destroyer is also sunk, with loss of the entire crew of 158. What will Trump do now?

It’s fun! Make up your own scenario! All of you Trump voters, join in. After all, how could things get any worse?

Remembering a Special Time

In September, 1984 the U.S. Davis Cup team played Australia in Portland, Oregon. With John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors (numbers 1 and 3 in the world at the time), it was arguably the greatest U.S. team ever. However, it was the Davis Cup Captain who history will most likely remember. In my role on the national staff of the USTA I helped arrange a series of school visits to Portland Public Schools with Arthur Ashe, which I MCed.


Axelrod’s Prescience

I’m listening to David Axelrod read his 2014 political memoir, “Believer.” Axelrod was Obama’s chief strategist in his two presidential campaigns. Although written long before Trump’s rise, he provides a lot of insights into the recent election. For instance, the way that incumbent presidents (especially 2-term) are often replaced by candidates who are polar opposites. We may forget how heartily Obama was initially championed as an agent of change.

One aside especially caught my eye. In the spring of 2006 Obama was a freshman senator, just two years out of the Illinois legislature. Yet there was buzz about his running in 2008, rumors he staunchly refuted. Then two of the most powerful and experienced Democrats, Charles Schumer and Harry Reid, called him into a private meeting. They encouraged him to run. Though both acknowledged they couldn’t publicly oppose the front runner, Hillary Clinton, neither “thought Hillary could win.”

What changed between 2006 and 2016? Nothing.axelrod

Why Hillary Lost — Bring in the Clowns

In 1994 Diane and I and our two young boys were living in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. Every day I drove a half-hour into Missouri where I parked next to The Country Club Plaza, the first shopping mall in America designed for automotive traffic. On a hill to the south of the Plaza were two 14-story towers where I was getting settled into my job as Senior Writer for what was still called Twentieth Century Investors, now American Century Investors, one of the largest mutual fund companies in the U.S.

The company had been founded by James Stowers in the 1950s, and flourished as his innovative use of the first computers powered the company’s quantitative approach to stock picking. It was a great place to work and to learn the business. One of the perks was the company’s steady supply of special events tickets, which were allocated by lottery.

That November I drew two tickets to the American Royal Rodeo at Kemper Arena, an event I would have never otherwise considered attending. But my first-born son was seven and I was always eager to expose him to new experiences. On a cool fall evening we made our way through the cowboy-hatted crowds into the arena and to our mid-tier seats. I remember a bit of the bronco and bull riding and the barrel-riding side event for the cowgirls. But most of all I recall a break in the action, near the middle of the show, when one of the circus clowns came out to entertain the crowd.

The clown strolled to the center of the dirt-covered arena floor towing a donkey, which he introduced as a specially talented ass. Her name, he announced to hearty laughter, was Hillary. I don’t recall all the specifics of the routine, although a theme was the animal doing exactly the opposite of what he requested. In any case, each of his little bits was met with raucous laughter. I remember looking around helplessly, befuddled in my discomfort over this brazen attack on our First Lady. Bill Clinton had been elected to his first term three years prior in 1991, and had immediately appointed Hillary to a taskforce to reform what was widely accepted to be a broken health care system. The proposed revisions were widely divisive, with the health care industry spending millions on anti-reform ads. The eventual proposals, even in compromised state, were all rounded rejected by Congress and the hugely profitable heath care industry breathed a sigh of relief.

The Hillary jokes piled on, one after another. At one point my seven-year-old got my attention and asked, “Dad, what’s so funny?”

“I have no idea,” I responded, quite honestly.

Keep in mind this was not only long before Benghazi or email servers — it was long before email. It was years before Lewinski or the Clinton-presidential era scandals of Whitewater and the impeachment. Social media-driven conspiracy rumors were still the thing of science fiction. But already the rodeo crowd was on the hate-Hillary bandwagon, fanned, no doubt, by the growing popularity of conservative talk radio and the fear-mongering over a government itching to tell your doctor how to treat you (supposing you could afford to go to doctor in the first place).

So why was Hillary, so early in her nationally public life, already the object of such scorn and bile? It’s not as though this was the norm for first ladies. Think of the previous Democratic First Ladies. Jackie Kennedy was virtually worshipped in a Princess Di sort of way. I don’t believe Rosalyn Carter took up much mind space in the body politic one way or another. On the Republican side, even Nancy Reagan, with her astrological charts and conspiratorial whisperings into Ronnie’s ear, might have been roundly criticized, but was hardly the material for circus clowns.

As this most recent round of primaries began I remember telling my son, now grown and on his own in California, about his childhood visit to the rodeo, which he can no longer recall. I said, “I don’t believe Hillary is electable.” Not because she wasn’t qualified, but because to a broad section of America she’d been reduced to a figure of ridicule for more than twenty years, a campaign that never really stopped. To those Americans, like the cowboy-hatted crowds in Kemper Arena, they could no more picture Hillary Clinton in the white house than they could the rodeo clown.

Last week, on Sixty Minutes, a focus group of twenty Hillary and Donald supporters were asked how many of them were primarily motivated by conviction in their candidate. Three raised their hands. The rest were driven by contempt for their opponent.

All of which reminded me of another popular voting spectacle: American Idol. In an interview Simon Cowell, the bluntly charismatic Brit who was the real star of the show, explained that the contest wasn’t really about finding the best vocalist, but rather finding a very good vocalist who people liked. He noted a singer who he thought might be the most talented, and then discounted her chances. When it came to rounding up the millions of votes needed to win American Idol, it was likability which counted most. And whence this likability? Cowell’s assessment: “Either you’ve got it, or you don’t.”

In some quarters, largely those inhabited by the well-educated who understand the difference between fact-based media reporting and the rumor mill, Hillary’s exceptional qualifications and her opponent’s exceptional lack thereof made the voting decision easy. But much of the rest of the country was like that rodeo audience back in 1994, who would be hard-pressed to define why they already hated Hillary. Was it because she was smart, educated, powerful? Because she championed common sense reform of a broken health care system that was leaving huge swathes of America uninsured and at risk of medical bankruptcy? I don’t think so. If you believe in charisma, then you should believe in its opposite.

“I don’t know,” they would have responded if asked. “Just can’t stand her.”

P.S. A version of this post was published as an op-ed in the Madison Wisconsin Capital Times on November 16, 2016. Capital Times




Hillbilly Elegies and The American Dream



I just finished reading J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. While the rags-to-riches story contains much of the expected Horatio Alger drama, it was generally disappointing in terms of composition and execution. Much of Vance’s childhood was spent in rust-belt Ohio, even as his heart remained in Eastern Kentucky. His insistence on self-identification as “hillbilly” often seems more affectation than honesty, even as the details of growing up impoverished, amidst addiction and dysfunction are clinically reported. Not to spoil the story, but the author is saved by tough-nosed grandparents, innate ability and the Marines. He goes on to Ohio State, Yale Law, and his current ascension to the 1% as a partner in one of the nation’s largest venture capital firms. Despite this fertile storyline, it has none of the lyricism of my favorite contemporary memoirs, such as Annie Dillard’s American Childhood, or Mark Salzman’s Lost in Place. It can’t match the crackling, self-lacerating humor of Running with Scissors or Little Failure.

Then in the final chapters Vance saves the book with his startling leap of insights, using the expanse of his family, friends and fellow descendants of blue-collar failure to illuminate modern America’s crisis and the rise of Trumpism.

Back home in Ohio after graduation, during the summer before starting law school, Vance notes that “the incredible optimism I felt about my own life contrasted sharply with the pessimism of so many of my neighbors…there was something almost spiritual about the cynicism of the community at large.”

He explicates the lack of heroes for his once-thriving industrial town (Middleton) and the absent of “the most basic promise of the American Dream — a steady wage.” What follows is his description of the irony of this intensely patriotic segment of America’s detachment from its political leaders and government. White conservative Americans, like most of the population of his hometown, have been shown to have widespread beliefs in these kinds of oddities: their President (Obama) was not born in the United States, and is a Muslim with ties to extreme terrorists. “Obama,” he writes, “strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities.” That America has become not only a place where people of color can triumph, but one that is given to the urban and educated. The rampant belief in far-fetched conspiracies is not, Vance assures us, just a matter of ignorance. His people are exposed to the mainstream narratives and the debunking of these myths, “they simply don’t believe them.” They prefer the narratives passed along via social media, promulgating such nonsense as the U.S. government’s role in 9/11, Obamacare’s plan to plant microchips in all Americas (“the mark of the beast”), the engineering of mass murder to engender an effort to confiscate guns, Obama’s intent to declare martial law and ascend to a third term.

Vance then makes a brutal indictment of the conservative right’s culpability in this movement. By championing the cause that government is your enemy, “the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault you’re a loser; it’s the government’s.” As an example of how far this thinking has infiltrated the American mind he cites his father’s reaction when he proudly relays the news of his acceptance at Yale Law. His father asks if he had pretended “to be black or a liberal.”

All of which matches nicely with Thomas Piketty, who had his own best seller with his 2013 Capital in the Twenty-First Century. He persuasively argues that the free market, which is often portrayed by conservatives as a great force for good if left to its own devices, instead continually increases inequality. As economic mobility continues to decline in America (we are now well behind many other industrial nations), the once exalted ideal of meritocracy has lost much of its power, and as Piketty argues, is instead used to support the perverted Protestant notion that worldly riches are a sign of just rewards, if not divine approval. This, by the way, a pillar of the belief system promulgated by Trump’s spiritual mentor, Norman Vincent Peale.

Hillbilly Elegies is a powerful look at why the greatest threat to the American experiment is not foreign-based terrorism, but indigenous frustration and pessimism, fueled by ill-serving Americans who find it useful to promulgate conspiracies and hate and empty promises that we can go back to a time when the factory across town had plenty of great-paying jobs.


From a review on Kultscene.com, http://kultscene.com/ya-e-sports-nove…

“The novel is about personal growth, but also about cultural differences and the shocking life of eSports athletes in South Korea. Seth isn’t exactly a trainee, but is brought on Team Anaconda almost immediately, but his lifestyle is reminiscent of the infamous lifestyle of K-pop trainees. Every moment of his life is practically planned for him, and when he gets caught in a scandal, there is outrage from his handlers.

Yes, handlers.

In Real Life shows the shocking divide between fantasy of going to South Korea to be an entertainer (because that’s really what professional athletes are) and the reality of being a professional there. I don’t want to ruin anything for readers, but Seth’s story is both illuminating and a tale of caution about the life of foreigners in Korea.”

Booklist Releases Review of IN REAL LIFE

15-year old Seth Gordon just wants to play games. For big money, if possible.
15-year old Seth Gordon just wants to play games. For big money, if possible.

An online gamer’s talents vault him to pro level in this well-crafted…debut. By dint of focused dedication to his chosen fantasy game, Starfare, teen math prodigy Seth wrangles entry into a national competition with a $30,000 prize. He doesn’t win—but to his amazement, his innovative play earns an invitation to join one of the world’s top professional teams in South Korea, where gaming is a big-bucks sport. IM and Skype notwithstanding, that’s a very long way from home and girlfriend Hannah. Readers will find Seth an unusually vivid protagonist. Instead of just announcing Seth is a whiz at gaming and math, Tabak repeatedly puts him in the “zone,” implementing strategic and tactical maneuvers in hot game action, and at other times eagerly digging into calculus and inventing algorithms. In contrast to his hostile South Korean teammates, Seth is a good guy: humble in his hard-won successes but not a wimp. Ultimately, loneliness, culture shock, and a scholarship draw him back home, where a final pleasant surprise involving Hannah’s college plans awaits. It’s always satisfying to see a smart and likable character “level up.”