Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 11, 2017
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
Segment 1: That's not your job
In 1991, the investment banking firm Salomon Brothers got into huge trouble, and was on the brink of collapse. Warren Buffett, who at the time was a passive investor in the company, was pressed into taking over as head of the company to clean it up.
Buffett's management takeover is famous to this day for a memorable line he shared -- one he intended to get a lot of attention, which it did. Buffett said, "Lose money for the firm and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless."
The reason this message resonates is that it sounds counterintuitive. If you lose money for a company, shouldn't the CEO be upset? Shouldn't that be the worst thing you can do?
Only if you're looking at the short term. Only if you care about nothing beyond midnight tonight. In the long term, a banking company that loses its reputation is destined to fail and it won't make any difference whether they made a profit in the short term or not. The reputation is the long-term engine of whether the company stays in business.
As Americans, we ought to turn the same message to our own Chief Executive Officer: Lose a battle, and we will be understanding. Lose a shred of the Constitution, and we will be ruthless.
It's easy to slip into uncritical agreement with the argument that "The President's first duty is to protect the American people." But it's false. So very, very false.
The Presidency is the only job for which the Founding Fathers not only wrote out a job description, but also the oath of office. And that oath of office states, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Be clear about this: The Constitution says that members of Congress, judges, and officers of the executive branch have to swear an oath. (In fact, it's from Article VI that we get the "no religious test" clause: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.")
But even though it specifies that those other government employees shall take an oath, it doesn't say what that oath should say. But by contrast, it is unequivocal about what the President must swear to do. And that job is not just "to support this Constitution", but to "preserve, protect, and defend" it.
So, no, the President's first duty is not to "keep the American people safe." And if you buy into that false claim because you like the fact that Donald Trump is the President, you need to face the hard fact that Barack Obama adopted exactly the same language in 2011. Obama was wrong to assert it. Trump is wrong to assert it. George W. Bush was wrong to assert it, too. Period.
Again, there is no room for equivocation on this. President Obama was wrong. President Trump is also wrong. So was every Presidential candidate who asserted the same thing. The fact it is asserted by so many politicians of so many ideologies is a symptom of a sort of Consititutional rot that we should be eager to repel.
The uncomfortable fact is that there will be terrorist attacks, just as there will be car accidents, airplane crashes, and industrial disasters. Should we seek to mitigate and prevent all of these unfortunate events? Yes. Within the bounds of the Constitution. But we have to keep our priorities straight: If we assert that the President's first job is not what it's actually supposed to be, then we run the grave risk that we'll not only end up unsafe (because -- don't fool yourself -- even a police state will still suffer from crime and terrorism), but also unfree.
Presidents are not equipped to make battleground decisions about keeping us safe. They, and we, must trust the apparatus established by the Constitution and law to protect the country. The CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, Department of Defense, Secret Service, and a laundry list of other agencies all perform the job of public safety, and they operate with or without the President. That's the point, of course. It's not as though we were suddenly invaded when Ronald Reagan was incapacitated by a gunshot, or when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It's the job of the system to keep us safe, not the job of the individual in the Oval Office.
Give up one battle, one incident, one attack, and we as the American people shouldn't be happy about it -- but we should be understanding. We should insist on accountability, and we should insist that we discover where the bad actors got through so that we can implement a correction. But a President should not be permitted to give up one shred of the Constitution, not in the courts, and not in the court of public opinion. Should that happen, we -- the voters, the President's bosses -- must be ruthless.
Segment 2: 21st Century conservatism
(Video) US Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is a thoughtful voice on Constitutional separation of power, transcendent of politics. He is a generationally significant voice for the Article I branch of government.
The idea that centrists are rivals to be shunned from the Democratic Party (rather than coalition partners to be embraced) represents the triumph of ideological puritanism over math. The Democrats need a broader tent, not a more leftist one.
Max Boot, a conservative, criticizing the Republican Party: "By not doing more to distance itself from this morally obtuse president, the Republican Party is becoming, de facto, the party of moral relativism."
Segment 3A: Make money
We have to give them the opportunity to do so. The job may be tougher than ever under the current administration: President Trump has decided that the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (whomever that will be; the role hasn't been appointed yet) will not serve in his Cabinet. It's likely because he can't find an economist willing to play yes-man to his economic savagery. Have no doubt: Someone will need to be called in to clean up the economic mess created by this President (should he get any meaningful amount of the economic policy he campaigned upon). The only ones capable of fixing it will be the "nerd" class of sober, pragmatic, level-headed economists. We're in trouble if they're being shown the door already.
If the government were to put a 20% tax on restaurant bills, consumers would eat out less, restauranteurs would find their revenues decreased, and everybody would be worse off. There is no reason to think that a 20% tariff would work in any other way. Remember: Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Tariffs aren't a tax on "other people" or "other countries". A portion of their incidence falls on the consumer -- and quite often, a very large portion indeed. (And don't forget: The Midwest depends on trade.)
Segment 3B: Clean up after yourself
At just a hair below $20 trillion, the debt comes out to $61,282 in real, incurred money owed per person for every one of us in the United States. And that doesn't count the massive future liabilities imposed by expenses like our entitlement programs -- which will cost even more.
Segment 4A: Curiosity, competence, and humility
American decency isn't about the boxes we check on Election Day, but about the things we do in ordinary civic life. So when you think of what makes America "great", think about the plow drivers who clear the way for a heart-transplant patient to make it to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm, or of the foster father who takes in terminally-ill children so they can feel familial love in their short time on Earth.
Segment 4B: Have a little empathy
They're crossing from the United States, presumably because they are fearful of what a feckless US government policy on undocumented immigrants will do to them.
Watch where the people come from over the years
Segment 5: Missed opportunities in Presidential tweeting
The true cost of anything is what you give up in order to get it. We usually apply this principle to things like measuring the value of our free time (see, for instance, the people who drive for Uber because they "have nothing better to do"), or to deciding whether to go to college or go straight into the workforce. But it also applies to choices that we make to either say things or leave things left unsaid.
The President could wake up every morning and tweet "Good morning, America! Here's what I'm learning about today..." He could drive the national conversation on important ideas by inviting people to learn along with him.
He could wake up and tweet "Good morning, America! Here's a quote that will be on my mind today..." He could share a quotation from a famous American, living or dead, that adds some perspective to the issues of the day.
He could wake up and tweet "Good morning, America! Today, I hope you'll join me in honoring a great American..." He could make note of people doing great and honorable and noble things on the front lines of battle, or in classrooms, or in their communities, or anywhere else.
But he doesn't do those things. He tweets about "haters". He brags. He insults. He threatens. He complains about television shows. He openly threatens the balance of powers. And he does it with almost clockwork consistency, issuing a grievance nearly every morning in the early hours:
- 7:03 am on February 8th
- 7:11 am on February 7th
- 7:01 am on February 6th
- 7:59 am on February 4th
- 6:24 am on February 3rd
- 6:13 am on February 2nd
- 7:50 am on February 1st
And now, he's gone so far as to pick a fight with a retailer because he doesn't like how they've treated his daughter.
It's easy to dismiss Twitter (and social media in general) as frivolous and superficial, but political leaders have always taken to the use of the newest available technologies to deliver their messages to the public. John F. Kennedy held televised press conferences. Franklin D. Roosevelt used radio broadcasts. Abraham Lincoln made innovative use of the telegraph. Benjamin Franklin was a prolific publisher. There should be little doubt they each would be on Twitter if they were with us in the modern day. (Have no doubt that Ben Franklin would tweet.)
Given the greatest pulpit in the world, though, President Donald Trump preaches grievances. He gives up the opportunity every single day to make America greater. What is the true cost of that?
Segment 6: Have fun
Whatever has been done...is over. Don't make decisions based on the rear-view mirror.
Segment 7A: The week in technology
An Omaha restauranteur shared photos of minors who tried to buy alcohol at his establishment as part of a sting operation. A jury decided that didn't constitute obstruction of justice.
The problem with a bill like this is that texting itself isn't unique in its capacity to create distraction. There are people who are equally distracted by eating a sandwich, arguing with children in the back seat, or checking out their appearance in the mirror. Why should texting be singled-out when the danger it creates isn't unique?
The company is eliminating the telecommute and putting all of its marketing staff in six offices
Segment 7B: Contrary to popular opinion
Improved granularity of forecasting is making things much more accurate.
Segment 7C: Notes from neighboring states
Yes, one of those Kennedys: Chris, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, and one of the (seemingly few) family members who hasn't ever run for office. He's in part been responsible for managing the extended family's gigantic fortune.
A fight comes to life in Illinois
Segment 8A: Mind your business
That's the lesson from Germany's economy: Train workers, focus on areas of comparative advantage, and engage more with the world market (not less). This is emphatically not the course being charted by the Trump administration -- but it would be the right one to follow.
Walmart, universities, health systems, and the Federal government. That's about it. Enlightening.
Author Tom Nichols: "Most people do not have the skills or background to know if what they're reading is any good." This could be called the "missing-syllabus" problem: While the Internet (especially) causes us to think we have the world's information at our fingertips, it doesn't come with a syllabus. Without knowing where to start or how to truly teach ourselves, it's quite easy for us to think we're auto-didacts when we're really just filling our brains with intellectual hash. It's an especially complex problem in the Teach-Yourself Economy, since more people need to learn more than they used to, and our formal educational and training systems are slow to adapt to the demand.
Segment 8B: Iowa news
Iowa's comprehensive public university needs respect and a high profile
A book that ought to be taught in schools, right alongside "1984" and "Brave New World". Written by Sinclair Lewis, it is both a powerful narrative and a novel full of gems, like "...a country that tolerates evil means -- eil manners, standards of ethics -- for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end."
Before we have left and right, we have three branches of government -- each of which should jealously guard its own role in checking the other two. It's troubling to have a Supreme Court nominee already have to face heat because of ridiculous and troubling things the President has said.
Even enthusiasts for expansive executive powers are starting to regret putting too much power in the hands of the Article II branch of government
It is perfectly fine for us to find ourselves in a world where the United States and China aren't enemies or rivals or opponents, but instead find ourselves "cooperatively different" (to coin a phrase). But even if that is to be our future, then the United States will need to be playing its diplomatic "A" game so as to ensure we cooperate on the right things in the right ways and avoid unnecessary escalation of conflict in others. No sensible person should expect China to adopt a liberal-Western system of government anytime soon (or perhaps for decades or even centuries to come), but we're all stuck on the same planet together. Negotiations over our differences, though, should be conducted at a level far better than what we've executed thus far.
He used to hold the record for tallest member of the United States Senate. The new Senator from Alabama, Luther Strange, has knocked him from the top spot.
Even though CBS Radio stations won't have anything to do with CBS anymore, the KCBS and WCBS call letters will go with the sale, at least for 20 years. How the heritage networks have treated their radio assets is really extraordinary: NBC Radio was killed off, then brought back from the dead. ABC Radio was owned by Cumulus for several years until the deal folded in 2014, and then it was brought back from the dead at the start of 2015 not in its classic format but predominantly as a promotional arm of the parent. It's all quite odd.
- Podcast of this episode - segment (The Constitution must come first in the President's mind)
- Podcast of this episode - segment (Resist the consolidation of power -- always)
- Podcast of this episode - segment (Executive orders at war with checks and balances)
- Podcast of this episode - segment (We have to let the nerds save us)
- Podcast of this episode - segment (Missed opportunities in Presidential tweeting)
- Podcast of this episode - segment (Your share of the massive Federal debt)
- Podcast of this episode - segment (Technology news this week)
- Podcast of this episode - segment (Don't trust individual leaders; trust systems)