In the last three weeks, I’ve grown increasingly saddened about the state of American politics and have begun writing increasingly personal articles about it. These aren’t about policy issues – they’re about deeper concerns over the direction we’re headed.
In my last update, “My Old School“, I mentioned a piece I wrote about a recent visit to my old high school. This brought back memories of various student government battles from decades ago – the productive results of which were still visible decades later. As I wrote in that piece,
Back then, we talked across belief structures about real-world results – and, as a result, improved conditions for most of us…. In almost all cases, compromises were achieved based on practical realities, not dug-in positions, on even the most controversial issues. Adults and adolescents, jocks and nerds, overachievers and slackers – they all understood one basic fact: Like it or not, we were all there together.
The next week, in “A ‘Genius’ like Trump,” I addressed the New York Times story on Trump’s $917 million tax deduction. In my view, most commentators focused on the wrong aspects of this story. Sure, it’s rather shocking that anyone could run up a nearly $1 billion loss – in the casino industry! – and then claim that his business chops are his main qualification to be president. But there’s nothing wrong, let alone illegal, with writing off that loss on your taxes – or carrying it forward for as many years as necessary to balance off profitable years. It’s a valid part of our tax code – particularly for the help it provides start-ups, the major creators of jobs in our economy. Rather, what really – and personally – offended me about Trump’s operations was how he restructured after he made such bad decisions that they cost him $1 billion:
When the recession hit several years ago, I faced an unpleasant choice: Suffer a loss on the year equal to about three years of profits, or lay off most of my employees. For better or worse, I believe that the way to make a business work is to stand behind your employees when times are bad. I took the loss…. The business recovered, enough that I was eventually able to sell it – and I preserved the jobs of all my employees and contractors as a condition of the sale.
According to the Times story, in contrast, Trump’s genius involved stiffing his creditors, laying off more workers than other Atlantic City casinos, shorting his contractors, driving the equity of investors down to about 0.5 percent of what it had been and then restructuring his operations so that, when all around him lay in ruins, Trump was able to pay himself $45 million a year for continuing to preside over this disaster and then shelter that income from taxes, perhaps completely. The billion-dollar pain cost others around him – his lenders, investors, vendors and employees – most of their incomes from the same venture. But not him. And that’s the kind of genius most of us will never be.
Last week, of course, brought the continuing revelations about Donald Trump’s treatment of women, and the execrable second debate. As I wrote on Friday in US News, in A Morality Test for Leaders, what’s wrong extends far beyond Trump’s misogyny – bad as it is – to encompass something I hinted at in the two prior columns: our entire abdication, as a society, of true concern for morality, in large part, I argued, because we’ve allowed “the hijacking of ‘morality’ in recent years to concern nothing but sexuality.” I asked, “What’s the real disgust at” Trump’s or Bill Clinton’s behavior?
For most, I’d assert it’s not a Puritan revulsion to sex: It’s the extent to which these purported leaders care about themselves more than others. Authorities from Hillel to Jesus to Kant point to this (Golden Rule, anyone?) – not sexual discretion – as the central issue of morality….
The relevant moral question is the degree to which those who seek to lead in fact care about Something Greater Than Themselves…. [T]hat’s the test of morality that we ought to demand of our leaders – and the discussion we ought to be having. We have abdicated that discussion on all sides, however, which is what I find most dispiriting about the World Wrestling Federation spectacle that our presidential election has become.
If you want to know what I think that means as to the choice we face in the voting booth next month, you’ll have to read the piece.
As always, I would love to know your thoughts. Feel free to leave your comments below.