Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

11 June 2018

Training New Voters II

[FLASH: For a brief, preliminary reaction to Trump’s and Kim’s meeting in Singapore, click here.]

[For earlier comment on the importance of the talks, click here. For links to popular recent posts, click here.]

Emotional Intelligence
Analytical Intelligence
[For error correction and an update on our nation’s extreme maldistribution of wealth and its cause, click here.]


In an earlier essay, I described a new voter’s main task: to vet and evaluate candidates for office (and issues for referendums). That sounds easy. But it’s not nearly as easy as it sounds in our era of negative campaigning, when most candidates reveal as little as possible about themselves while trying mightily to make their rivals look bad.

Most pols don’t want to commit themselves on issues. They know that, if they do, a fraction of voters might turn away from them. So instead they tar the other candidates as scoundrels, criminals, nincompoops or extremists. “Never mind my qualifications or what I can do in office,” they seem to say. “Just look at my rivals. They’re so bad you shouldn’t even think about voting for them.”

But you should think about what you would do if you were interviewing all the candidates for a very important job. In fact, that’s exactly what you ought to do before you vote.

Suppose you were an employer interviewing candidates for an important job. Suppose that one candidate said little about himself or herself, but somehow had dug up dirt on all the other candidates. Suppose that candidate spent the entire interview spilling the dirt on the others. What would you do?

As employers, most of us would terminate the interview right away and dismiss that candidate out of hand. Yet somehow negative campaigning seems to work in elections, or so highly paid consultants and “political operatives” tell us. And it certainly worked for Donald Trump, filling the Oval Office with the only president in our entire history who had zero—count ‘em, zero—years of public service before becoming president.

Donald Trump is hardly the first president to use negative campaigning, or the first to lack the experience that our Founders probably expected every president to have. For two generations, we have suffered a steady decrease in experience in office, at least among Republican presidents: eight years for Reagan, six years for Dubya, and zero for Trump. We Americans have developed a highly dysfunctional system of campaigning and voting, which has given us increasingly broken government for at least a generation. Worse yet, our highly paid consultants are busy making money teaching that broken system to the rest of the world.

So your task as a voter, and our task as a nation, is to vet candidates for public office properly, focusing relentlessly on each of them as an individual, their qualities, their knowledge, their experience, their goals and their successes and failures.

That’s not so easy, especially today. In an earlier essay, I tried to make it easier by suggesting five questions our media should ask to help us, the people, do our jobs as voters. (The media most definitely were and are not doing that, thereby making our jobs harder.)

My later essay gave advice for new voters themselves. It tried to distill voters’ “interviews” into three categories of scrutiny: emotional intelligence, analytical intelligence, and character.

In that essay, I promised to elaborate on the three categories, with examples. This essay fulfills that promise, adding a fourth category, motivation, which I stumbled upon in my own research for voting in my state’s primary election.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the least well understood of pols’ traits. We all think we know what “intelligence” means because our educators have tested our youth’s analytical intelligence every few years, beginning before World War II. But emotional intelligence is quite different. It’s become an object of public study and discussion only in the last two generations.

To my knowledge, no one has yet proposed, let alone implemented, regular testing of emotional intelligence among our youth, let alone among political or business leaders. The subject burst into public awareness with a popular book only in 1995. Unfortunately, the concept still remains a preoccupation of specialists, although pols and advertisers, among many others, use it every day.

In essence, emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, understand, respond to, and influence your own and others’ emotional states. For pols and advertisers, its most important aspect is the ability to manipulate, use and controls others’ emotions.

Let’s take some simple examples from advertising. When an ad tells you a car has 450 horsepower and will go from zero to sixty MPH in six-plus seconds, or that an electric car has a range of 250 miles, that information appeals to your analytical intelligence. You have to know how other cars compare with those statistics even to know what the ad means.

But suppose a car ad shows images of a car passing others uphill, or clip of beautiful, elegantly dressed women getting in and out. Then you don’t need any special knowledge in order to react. Your reactions are hard-wired: especially if you are male, you feel emotions of superiority, dominance, control, lust and romance. An engineer or experienced car buff might propose the first type of ad, and a psychologist or PR person the second.

In public life and in our media, emotional intelligence is the “hidden” kind. It’s used every day, almost every hour, in politics, advertising, business and public relations. Yet no one tests it in children, few talk about it, and neither kids nor adults brag about having it. It’s “under the radar” of everyone except those who use it to manipulate and control our behavior as voters, citizens, workers and consumers.

That’s unfortunate, to say the least. For at its most basic, emotional intelligence is the ability, without violence or coercion, to get others to do what you want them to do, for good or for ill. In the hands of powerful leaders, it has been responsible for all the great mass movements in human history, from Hitler’s Nazism, through Martin Luther King Junior’s partial liberation of African-Americans, to the “miracle” of Nelson Mandela’s negotiating his people’s freedom from inside a prison cell.

And therein lies the rub and the most important focus of your inquiry as a voter. High emotional intelligence is a vital trait for every politician and public official. But how is it used? Is it used for good or ill? Are the emotions manipulated constructive ones like hope, patriotism, confidence and love of country and family? Or are they destructive ones like anger, hate, fear, dominance, and jealousy?

Examples from history abound, both good and bad. Let’s start with the bad.

Adolf Hitler started out as a nobody. He had served as a corporal in World War I. His “profession” was house painter. His education was minimal.

But Hitler apparently had high emotional intelligence. After Germany had lost that war, Hitler understood the anger, resentment and fear of a German middle class bruised by the Allies’ collective economic punishment of Germany and the Weimar Hyperinflation that followed—the worst bout of developed-nation inflation in human history.

Hitler had the ability to perceive, inflame and exploit these wholly understandable emotions. He fanned their flames into a gigantic bonfire. By the end of World War II, that bonfire had had reduced six million Jews and other minorities to ashes, had caused fifty million premature deaths in the most terrible war in human history, and had reduced Germany’s own cities and industry to rubble. It later caused Germany to be occupied and divided for almost half a century. Whether you were a loyal Nazi or one of Nazism’s victims, the result was the same: catastrophe for you and your family.

Hitler’s problem was that his analytical intelligence was no match for his emotional intelligence. He could foment anger, rage and hate capably. But he could not foresee or control the consequences of doing so. He could not foretell cause and effect—an ability at the core of analytical intelligence. He failed to see that inciting rage, dominance and aggression in what then was likely the second most advanced human society (after Britain’s) would produce massive destruction on a global scale.

Suppose that Hitler had had greater analytical intelligence, or that his early assassination had replaced him with leaders who did. If Nazi Germany had treated Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and others not as subhumans to be eradicated or enslaved, but as fellow sufferers to be recruited, protected, persuaded and converted into allies, what could it have done? Very probably, it could have exploited Eastern Europe’s universal fear and hatred of Soviet Communism to annex, with minimal bloodshed, most or all of the former Yugoslavia and what today is Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Romania. Such an alternative Germany might today be the world’s number-one economy, the globe’s dominant military power, and the inventor of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons in a time of peace. (Many of the key physicists who actually developed these things here in America were German refugees from Nazism, including Albert Einstein, a German Jew.)

In a far more subtle and less obvious way, Ronald Reagan had an equally profound effect on our own country, the United States of America. Reagan did attend a small, liberal-arts college in Illinois. But his emotional intelligence vastly exceeded his analytical intelligence. With his soothing voice and legendary avuncular charm, he gained public notoriety as a radio announcer and a grade-B movie actor. When elected president in 1980, he then had the least experience in public office in our history: eight years as governor of California.

Reagan was into his second term as president before he had the intellectual curiosity to ask his military advisers how many people a full-scale nuclear war with the Soviet Union would kill. When they told him that several hundred million people on both sides would die, Reagan belatedly became an arms-control proponent. He and Mikhail Gorbachev, Russia’s most progressive leader since Peter the Great, negotiated arms-control treaties that still stand today.

But Reagan also used his high emotional intelligence to do our nation and our society a grievous harm. It was not Dubya (George W. Bush) who made “It’s your money!” (emphasis added) an excuse for starving government by lowering taxes. Dubya just picked up the chorus that Ronald Reagan had composed a generation before.

Reagan (or his consultants) understood that greed, selfishness and jealousy are powerful emotions that can be used to sway voters and win elections. He exploited those emotions relentlessly, with fanciful tales of “welfare queens” and supposedly pervasive government waste.

The goal was to lower taxes and cut regulations so the GOP’s big-business donors could operate with lower costs and fewer restrictions, and therefore could continue to donate millions for GOP propaganda. But how to do that, when the Dems had most workers and therefore most of the votes?

Reagan’s answer was brilliantly cynical. Make workers think of government as taking their own hard-earned money and giving it to undeserving minorities like blacks and Hispanics (or today, gay and transgender people). Never mind that most beneficiaries of our federal safety nets are white working people. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of recipients of Social Security and Medicare are middle-class whites. Reagan’s cry “It’s your money!” made the workers who most benefitted from competent government and its safety nets despise both and want to starve them. Lowering taxes has been the GOP’s main mantra ever since, and the sole significant legislative achievement of the Trump Administration so far.

In the long run, Reagan’s emotionally brilliant strategy may rot our nation far more than Russia’s meddling in our last election. During the Great Depression, ordinary farmers had left sandwiches in their open kitchen windows in order to feed itinerant unemployed workers and help keep them from starving. Many of those same farmers had been fighting foreclosure of their own farms and homes, caused by the collapse in prices for farm products. But such was the spirit of generosity and sharing among our people that the farmers thought nothing of spending their time and food trying to help passing “hobos” even less fortunate than they.

In a mere two generations, Reagan’s cry of “It’s your money!” converted us from the most generous society in human history into one of the most short-sightedly pusillanimous. They’ve changed us from the world’s most cooperative society—and therefore the strongest—into the depths of selfishness, bickering, and resentment.

What else is the GOP’s narrowly rejected health-care plan but an attempt to enrich the richest by saving money on the average person’s health? What else is the Trump Tax Scam but a means of further enriching the richest and glorifying greed and selfishness? What else is the unilateral imposition of general tariffs, but wrecking a global economic system that we Americans ourselves promoted and nurtured for over 70 years?

In today’s America, the top dominates in both wealth and politics. According to recent academic research, the top one percent owns 40% of the nation’s net worth—more than owned by the entire bottom 90% (no, that’s not a typo). The entire bottom 40% own a negative 1% of our net worth, i.e., they are, on the average, in debt. It is difficult to understand this abysmal maldistribution of wealth—our worst in 50 years and the worst today in the developed world—without considering the long-term effect of Reagan making selfishness a national norm in order to win elections.

Lest we end this section on a sour note, let’s explore the contrasting story of FDR. One of our two greatest presidents (the other being Lincoln), FDR had both high emotional intelligence and high analytical intelligence. He was smart enough analytically to understand that only real, radical and rapid economic reform could save the nation from its worst-ever financial panic and the resulting Great Depression. And where his own analytical intelligence was insufficient, he was smart enough to gather together one of the greatest collection of experts ever assembled in the US government—his so-called “Brain Trust.”

But FDR had emotional intelligence, too. He quelled rising fear and anger among working people with his relentless smile and cheer. His most-remembered quote was “We have nothing to fear but fear itself . . . .”

With that single clause, FDR put his finger on the difference between great democratic leaders and despots. Democratic leaders suppress negative emotions and promote positive ones—hope, trust, camaraderie—in order to energize the positive action that their analytical intelligence suggests the nation needs. Despots foment negative emotions to divide and conquer, in order to promote their own selfish ends, including corruption, or half-baked and dangerous “plans” like Hitler’s that adequate analytical intelligence would reveal as ineffective or disastrous.

So perhaps the best way to assess a candidate’s emotional intelligence is to look at the emotions he or she promotes. Are they positive or negative emotions? Do they bring people together for a common goal? Do they foster cooperation and friendship or division and enmity? Do they pit people and groups against each other, inevitably making the culture and society weaker?

If you think along these lines long enough, you come to a startling conclusion. It doesn’t really matter what Muller’s investigation of Trump concludes, or whether enough of our pols believe in his conclusions to act on them. President Donald J. Trump might as well be colluding with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin already, insofar as concerns the effects of their actions.

Both Trump and Putin are using their (and their underlings’) emotional intelligence to divide us. They are trying to make us weak by making us fight among ourselves. Both are fomenting anger, hatred and bigotry of one group against another. Both are trying to divide and conquer us: Trump for domestic electoral supremacy and Putin for geopolitical supremacy. And both are doing it by similar methods: fostering whites’ distrust and hatred of minorities, including African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrants, and sexual minorities, and the resulting fear and distrust on the part of minorities in return.

Both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have high emotional intelligence. Both are doing much the same thing for much the same reasons. It’s our job as voters to make sure we vote for people who oppose what they are doing, and against people who support it. For if we continue down the path that Trump and Putin have set for us (even if coincidentally), we soon may have no vote at all, just as happened in Germany after Hitler rose to power.

Analytical Intelligence

The term “analytical intelligence” doesn’t need much introduction. Two generations ago, well before the term “emotional intelligence” arose, there was only analytical intelligence. We simply called it “intelligence,” often as measured by the so-called “intelligence quotient,” or “IQ.”

For at least three generations, we have tested every schoolchild’s intelligence periodically. We call the tests we give to smaller children “intelligence” tests. They assess basic abilities to handle abstractions, as in comparing shapes, sizes and areas of geometric figures, or in repeating long strings of numbers. Sometimes these tests are called “aptitude” tests, as distinguished from tests of knowledge learned in the classroom.

More advanced tests of basic intellectual skill, such as the SAT (the Scholastic Aptitude Test, required for entry into many colleges and universities) inevitably involve some actual knowledge, if only the meaning of words or generally known events from history. Tests that require detailed knowledge of specific fields like mathematics or chemistry we call “achievement” tests; they are more like final exams in specified courses than tests of general, abstract intellectual skills.

Whether called “intelligence” or “aptitude” tests, common tests of intellectual skill measure a subject’s broad mental abilities, more or less divorced from any particular subject. They try to measure a person’s ability to perceive accurately, reason well, and solve problems in general. Some also try to measure creativity.

For a leader, perhaps the most important aspect of analytical intelligence is the ability to perceive cause and effect and to foresee the consequences of her and others’ actions. A top leader needs these skills to be a good decision maker, for he or she is where the buck stops. Even while delegating to others, a good leader must have enough analytical intelligence to take apart solutions proposed by underlings, to analyze their respective advantages and disadvantages, and to distinguish between short-term and long-term effects. And when the solutions underlings offer are half-baked or off the wall, a leader must have enough analytical intelligence not to buy them, but to send them back for further work.

A good leader must also have enough intellectual curiosity to challenge underlings, including experts, and keep them on their toes. Curiosity of this sort is an indispensable component of analytical intelligence, for it leads thinkers (including leaders) to look for flaws in and new applications of their own ideas.

Ronald Reagan’s emotional intelligence was much higher than his analytical intelligence. It took him several years to work up enough curiosity to ask his military leaders what a real nuclear war would be like. Once he did, the answer appalled him, as it would any sane human being. So his curiosity led him to mutual disarmament with the Soviet Union and thence to lessening our species’ risk of Armageddon and possible self-extinction.

Adolf Hitler’s apparent lack of analytical intelligence made him one of the most disastrous leaders in history. He may have reasoned rightly that his theory of “Aryan” racial superiority would give Germans pride and cohesiveness in an economically dismal time. But his scapegoating Jews deprived Nazi Germany of vital expertise in banking, business and science that could have proved valuable in both peacetime and wartime: many of the physicists who later developed nuclear power and weapons were Jews. And by declaring that neighbors like Poles and Ukrainians were subhumans to be exterminated or enslaved, Hitler foreclosed any possibility of peaceful accommodation with them, let alone annexation of their territory. If fact, many Poles and Ukrainians initially welcomed the Nazi invasion of their countries, hoping to free themselves from their Soviet Communist overlords; but their support for Germany waned or reversed once the Nazis treated them as subhuman.

Of course there are moral and evolutionary arguments against theories of racial superiority, too. But just on the practical plane, in light of cause and effect, Hitler’s radical and relentless deployment of those theories was one of the most practically disastrous mistakes that any tyrant ever made. In contrast, the Chinese, Roman, Mongol and British empires dealt with conquered or colonized minorities far more intelligently: they tolerated and tried to assimilate them. Nazi Germany’s false theories of racial superiority condemned its proposed “thousand year Reich” to last only twelve years.

A final reason why leaders need high analytical intelligence is that it promotes caution and respect for expertise. Highly intelligent people respect others’ knowledge and intelligence. They seldom think they know everything because they understand the Socratic circle: the more the circle of your knowledge expands, i.e., the greater the area inside it, the larger becomes the circumference, where the known meets the unknown. Respect for others’ genuine expertise—a specific kind of humility—is a vital trait for “getting the right answer,” i.e., for choosing the most effective course of action in the face of insufficient information and conflicting proposals.

A key story from World War II illustrates the importance of this facet of analytical intelligence. Nazi Germany’s invasion of Soviet Russia, culminating in the Battle of Stalingrad, included the greatest tank battle in human history. In fact, the entire invasion itself—months of bitter winter warfare—may have been the greatest single battle in human history. (For comparison, while we Americans and our Allies were fighting ten German divisions on the Western Front, the Soviets were fighting two hundred in the East.)

Ironically, both tyrants in this gigantic battle—Hitler and Josef Stalin—interfered with their best generals’ conduct of the war. Hitler did so by taking direct command and, at times, insisting that German troops fight to the last man rather than take a strategic retreat. Stalin interfered with military experts by removing his best General, Zhukov, temporarily from command.

It’s probably no accident that Stalin, the tyrant who let his best general eventually resume command, was the one who won. Hitler’s “last man” edict involved a self-evident failure to consider cause and effect, both on the tired soldiers fighting in a strange and cold land and on the morale of their families and the German people at home. As we Yanks learned from our disastrous misadventure in Vietnam, the quickest way to kill a people’s will to fight an unnecessary foreign war is to produce massive casualties among its fighters.

One final comment on analytical intelligence is in order. People of high intelligence understand that the world does not invariably obey simple, abstract rules. Free markets do not automatically correct themselves, as our Crash of 2008 proves. Globalized free trade does not automatically make everyone better off, as the forces behind Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have made evident. Smaller government is not a blessing when it means that fewer people can see a doctor when they get sick. Nor it is a blessing in times of financial panic and severe recession, when private business and private investors don’t create enough jobs to keep the people working, so government must step in. Finally, less regulation of business is not a blessing when it allows private businesses, free of restraint or charge, to dirty the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land, lakes and seas that make up the heritage that we hope to pass on to our children.

It’s ironic how heartily we Americans once laughed at Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book.” It was a compendium of simplistic political, social and philosophical advice that could fit in a small pocket. Now some Americans believe that useful solutions to all the various problems of modern life can fit in such a small space. Now we have a whole class of pols (and a huge phalanx of voters) who “know” that smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation are the answers to any problem, even before you ask the question.

Belief in simplistic nostrums as dogma is not a mark of analytical intelligence. In fact it indicates low intelligence. Smart people know that the world is a big, complex place, and that there are no simple, universal solutions to anything. All our species has going for it is intelligent trial and error, what scientists call “the scientific method,” and what business people call “do it; try it; fix it.” We think and try something. If it doesn’t work we change it or throw it out and try again. That’s the only way we humans really know how to make anything work successfully.

So one way you can identify candidates lacking in the analytical intelligence needed to serve as good leaders is their constant referral or adherence to a list of simplistic solutions to any problem. When a pol identifies himself or herself this way, it’s best to vote the other way, unless all the rivals are much, much worse.


The histories of the Clintons and Donald Trump suggest that poor character on the parts of our leaders is at least partly responsible for our present national malaise. Yet candidates’ character is something both new and old voters tend to neglect.

One reason may be that character has so many facets and is difficult to pin down. Another may be our disastrous conversion from real party conventions to direct primaries: voters have no way of knowing pols’ character “up close and personal,” as party elders do.

Yet a third reason may be that our over-the-top 24/7/365 media sensationalizes everything. Pols’ personal lives and every utterance become the subjects of gossip and fevered speculation, reducing pols to mere celebrities, rather than professionals whose public acts matter far more than their words.

Whatever the reasons why we don’t do so now, we ought to pay far more attention to pols’ character than we do. Sometimes character can be a far better predictor of action, good or bad, than campaign promises, let alone tired, abstract ideologies handed down from party to candidate like old family heirlooms.

Let’s take three good examples, for a change. Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush (“Daddy” Bush), and Barack Obama all have exemplary character, but in very different ways. Carter won election after the Watergate scandal and impeachment had caused Richard Nixon to resign as president, and after Gerry Ford’s controversial pardoning of Richard Nixon for his presidential crimes. A deeply religious man and a true Christian (far from a religious snob or bigot), Carter promised to make our country “good” again. His life and presidency were and are free from any taint of personal scandal.

When the Islamic Revolution came to Iran, Carter sought a peaceful solution. As time went on and our hostages remained caged, he ordered a military rescue, which failed in a sandstorm. Yet in the end, Carter got our hostages released, alive and mostly unharmed, through negotiation, without war with Iran. (Reagan got nominal credit for the release because Iran’s Ayatollah deliberately waited until the first hours of Reagan’s term to release the hostages, in order to deny Carter credit.)

Daddy Bush is a patriarch of the old school. There was no hint of personal or financial scandal on his watch. He was invariably polite and understated. He reportedly sent hand-written thank-you notes, out of the White House, to anyone who helped or hosted him, his campaign team, or his family.

He had promised in his campaign, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” But as a practical man, he raised taxes when changed circumstances called for them. Then he paid the political price: no second term.

When Saddam invaded Kuwait and threatened the Western World’s supply of oil, Daddy Bush went to war. He let the expert, General and Joint Chiefs Head Colin Powell, run the war. So it turned out to be the shortest, most successful major war in our history. Powell took five months to build up forces in the theater and two months to win the war and recover the Kuwaiti oil fields. On Powell’s advice, Daddy Bush decided not to invade Baghdad but to control Saddam with a “no-fly zone” and other restrictions. Those restraints did the job for over a decade, until Daddy Bush’s son (Dubya) rashly decided to invade Baghdad and depose Saddam, ultimately producing the mess we see in Syria and Iraq today.

Barack Obama has exemplary character, too. He, too, is a gentleman of the old school. He’s cautious, careful and extremely understated. As I described in a 2008 essay, the harshest thing he said about opponents while in office was that their words were “inaccurate.”

Obama didn’t start wars. He wound them down. And he accomplished the objective of one of the wars that Dubya had started with two helicopters and a team of Navy Seals. That team executed bin Laden and recovered a treasure trove of intelligence on him and his Al Qaeda movement.

Obama dodged a bullet by keeping us out of another unnecessary war in Syria, although perhaps he erred by drawing a “Red Line” against Assad’s use of chemical weapons. He also kept us out of war with North Korea and, by adopting the seven-party nuclear deal, war with Iran.

Is it a coincidence that these three impeccably polite, understated gentlemen, all of sterling character, kept us out of unnecessary wars? Is it a coincidence that Daddy Bush’s necessary war, to keep the free world’s oil supply out of a brutal tyrant’s hands, was one of the quickest and least bloody in human history? I think not.

This no-optional-war record stands in contrast to the record of the last three generations. Jack Kennedy was one of our most elegant and inspiring leaders. Yet he presided over the Bay of Pigs disaster—a failed attempt by our CIA to mount a Cuban revolution against Castro. That fiasco led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the nearest brush with species self-extinction in human history. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy after his assassination, began our long and disastrous escalation of the War in Vietnam, which continued through the administrations of Nixon and Ford.

The greatest argument for voting on character is our current president. He has had four wives and, according to reports, has cheated on most of them, not for love but for temporary dalliances. His business record is a chronicle of bankruptcies and lawsuits against him for defrauding students, stiffing contractors, and disappointing investors. He refuses to disclose his tax returns, unlike every president since Nixon.

Trump lies incessantly, seemingly making up so-called “facts” as he goes. When called on his lies, he insults the messenger and the press generally. He changes his mind regularly on key personnel and policy, to the extent that several qualified people have refused to work for him (or for our nation, while he’s in charge).

Who would like to have such a man as a father, friend, boss, employer or political representative? Not any people I know. But somehow, key voters in key states elected this execrable excuse for a human being president.

There are only a few possible explanations for this totally unpredicable (and unpredicted!) result. First, many voters think of pols as mere celebrities, whose personal failings make for interesting reading and gossip but have no effect on their lives. Second, voters are willing to elect as boss of the whole nation a miscreant whom they would never accept as their own boss at work, let alone hold close as a father, brother, uncle or friend. Third, our retired spook James Clapper is right, and brilliant Russian propaganda got 80,000 US voters to vote against their own interests and common sense.

Every one of these possible reasons for Trump’s election would have failed if voters had focused more on character.


Money is a motivation for going into politics only if you are corrupt. If you only want to make lots of money, banking is a much safer, surer, and quicker way to do it. So is running a successful business with a new product or service, like Apple or Amazon.

So most people who become pols do so because they like power or want to “make a difference.” It’s the ones who like power who are dangerous.

Does anyone really think that Roy Moore, the one-time Alabama judge on horseback, ran for office to make Alabama a more Christian, let alone a more moral, state? From way out in New Mexico, he seemed just an egomaniac, someone who wanted to force his religion, his peculiar ideas of Christianity, and his odd points of view generally on the citizenry of Alabama, especially minorities. He wanted to work his will on them just as he was accused of wanting to work his will on underage teenage girls when younger.

As Henry Kissinger once said, “Power is the best aphrodisiac.” It seems to have been so for Moore. It surely is so for many of the pols who run for office with no idea what they want to do, no concrete plans for their constituency, and just a few ideas for appealing to extremists. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa Country, AZ, whom Trump just pardoned for directly disobeying a court order to stop racial profiling of innocent citizens, comes to mind.

If you vote for people whose ego and testosterone are their only law, you are going to get lawless government. If you want a “strongman” to “clean things up” without regard to the law or procedure that Anglo-American democracy has developed over a thousand years, you are asking for tyranny and begging to forfeit your own human rights.

So it’s best to pay attention and ask yourself,
“Why is this pol running for office? Is it to serve the public or push a good idea to make life better for someone? Or is it to make money, enjoy thirty minutes of fame, or have power over others, fueled by the campaign contributions of rich people who have no doubt what they want?”
If the answer you come up with is anything other than serving the people or promoting a good idea to serve them, better to vote against that candidate.


This essay has run on too long, so I’ll just make three concluding points. First, most if not all pols have a degree of emotional intelligence. It’s an occupational requirement. If you can’t push people’s buttons, you can’t get them to vote for you or get other pols to adopt your ideas. The trick for voters is to find candidates who push good buttons, for good reasons, and who do so gently and respectfully. Exploiting anger, hatred and jealousy invariably has bad consequences.

Second, a combination of high emotional intelligence and low analytical intelligence makes the worst possible pols. The worst tyrants in history, including Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, had this combination of traits. They produced unending misery for their people, even without the stain of corruption. All they wanted was absolute power, but they didn’t have a good idea what to use it for, so when they used it they caused disasters.

Finally, if you as a voter have trouble making up your mind based on policy and economics, it’s helpful to think about character and motivation. Lots of bad characters go into politics, and there are lots of bad reasons to do so. If a candidate has repulsive personal traits, and if its not clear why he or she is running, it’s best to stay away. The most attractive candidates say why they are running; often it’s to solve a real problem and make at least some people’s lives better. That’s the minimum that a political candidate ought to be able to say truthfully and still deserve your vote.

Endnote: An interesting case of motivation came up in my personal research before voting in the primaries in my home state of New Mexico. Two candidates vied to be a local, minor judge. The first was the incumbent, who had a proper legal education and experience as a lawyer and a judge.

When I read the other candidate’s personal statement, I wasn’t even sure he had gone to law school. So I did some search online in local newspapers. Apparently, this candidate had been running a bail-bond business, which had been ruined by a change in law.

The change allowed a judge to release criminal defendants temporarily, pending trial and without bail, if the judge determined that they posed little risk of flight and little danger to themselves or others. The change was aimed at keeping defendants from rotting in jail, pending trial, just because they are too poor to afford bail.

So as far as I could tell, the second candidate’s motivation was personal and commercial, not public service. He appeared to be running because the change in law had killed his bail-bond business. There also may have been a vengeful motive. The incumbent judge he was running against had made the legal change in his district by judicial decision, even before a change in the state’s constitution made it mandatory statewide. So the second candidate may have been running against the first to avenge a judicial decision that had ruined his bail-bond business.

Needless to say, I voted for the first candidate.

ERRATUM: In an earlier version of this post, the paragraph beginning “In today’s America . . .” reported that the top ten percent of Americans control half of all the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 10% control a mere 7%. As accurately reported above, the current maldistribution of wealth in our nation is far, far worse than that. I regret both the error at the bottom and the failure to keep current.

Trump’s and Kim’s First Meeting

Two facts about Trump’s first meeting with Kim Jong-Un are stunning. First, it was the very first time that any American president had sat down with Kim or his father, even for a brief acquaintance.

The second fact was even more important. We Americans never fulfilled a promise we had made under the Clinton Administration’s 1994 “Framework Agreement” with North Korea. We had promised to have a third-party consortium build two proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors to replace the plutonium-producing reactors that we suspected North Korea of using to develop nuclear weapons.

Over nine years later, under Dubya as president, the United States formally suspended still-preliminary construction of the promised reactors. It did so after accusing North Korea of developing an ability to enrich uranium for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons another way. The Americans claimed that North Korea had admitted this point, but the North Koreans denied the admission. John Bolton (yes, the same one) proudly declared that this contretemps was “the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.”

The first fact takes on proper significance when you consider that Kim is, and his father Kim Jong-Il was, the world’s most isolated and absolute rulers in their times. This means that nothing got or gets done in North Korea without one of the Kims being fully apprised and approving, if not participating personally.

That being the case, how do you think the Framework negotiations by previously unknown underlings appeared to the Kims? They seldom saw anyone from our side as powerful as an Assistant Secretary of State, and never our President. Think they might have withheld real concessions for later bargaining (which never occurred), believing that American “preliminary” concessions could easily be revoked by higher authority? Think they might have worried that even a definitive agreement could be revoked by our president, with plausible deniability?

The American delay and ultimate failure, over nine years, to build the promised proliferation-resistant reactors had to have a profound effect on North Korea’s trust in the diplomatic process. With proper expedition, the building should not have taken more than a year or two.

From a neutral point of view, let alone the Kims’, it’s hard to attribute these facts to anything other than arrogance, disrespect, or racism. Didn’t Neville Chamberlain negotiate with Hitler? Didn’t FDR and Truman negotiate with Stalin, and Nixon with Mao?

True, it’s hard to like Kim. His regime is undoubtedly the world’s most pathological, isolated and tyrannical—even today, when authoritarian regimes proliferate like weeds.

Yet there are good reasons for our side to negotiate. Beginning as early as over eleven years ago, Kim has held a gun to Seoul’s head: ten thousand conventional rockets and artillery pieces that (apparently) not even a nuclear first strike by our side could fully neutralize. Now Kim probably has—or soon will have, without agreement—a nuclear gun held to the head of an unknown one or more of our American cities.

A double-cross is practically impossible because both guns are cocked and ready. Before our forces could neutralize them, Kim’s conventional weapons could maim or destroy Seoul, a gem of Asia and a stunning advertisement for our Western political ideas. Kim also could launch his nukes at our cities in the interval between our shooting ours at his from nearby submarines and their destruction of his nation, and we could not reliably shoot his down.

So we have to make a deal. There is no alternative. Better to make peace now than after a colossal conflagration that destroys the Korean Peninsula and, with it, a small but startlingly productive society (the South’s) that (along with the North) may have humanity’s best alphabet. Anyway, there is no safe alternative to inducing Kim to agree to stand down his missiles aimed at our cities.

If we really want to make a deal, we have to treat Kim with deference and respect that we may detest and he may not deserve. We are the behemoth, in both military and economic strength. Kim’s small nation is the dangerous midget. So we ought, out of both a sense of justice and good negotiating strategy, to make the first concessions—not the last—as long as the concessions we make first are reversible.

So far, Trump has done just that. The notion that his mere presence at talks is a big concession is, in my view, absurd. He is talking for the valid reasons set out above, and he can stop the talks at any time. As for our so-called “war games” exercises with the South, they can be resumed at any time with an appropriate military order. (The same, of course, is true of Kim’s missile and nuclear weapon tests and his voluntary moratorium on them.)

As Trump is reportedly just beginning to realize, the Singapore talks were just the start of a long and tedious process. That process is a test not only of Kim and Trump, but of our declining nation and our entire human species. That test is one that none of us can fail.

As for stupidity, it’s hard to think of anything stupider than letting a tiny nation like North Korea rise for over 24 years to become a serious global menace, in part because our presidents and other high officials have been too proud or busy to talk to its leaders and take the talks seriously.

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