Monthly Archives: January 2020

EP 312 Leadership in the Age of Trump

Donald Trump has a unique leadership style, to say the least.  In this episode, we explore his impact on the notion of what a leader should, or should not, be doing going forward. Thanks to the expertise of Dr. Joshua Weiss, Director of the MS program in leadership and negotiation at Bay Path University in Springfield, Massachusetts, we examine what the art of the deal means in the context of this presidency.  Does he exhibit the characteristics of a leader or ruler?  And how different are the attributes of one to the other?  We also analyze his style of negotiation which is more transactional than ethical or values motivated.  We ponder whether his penchant for mercurial decision-making and for breaking deals, rather than making new ones, may place America in a precarious position vis a vis the long view approach of our chief rivals, the Chinese.  It’s a very important discussion for these times.

EP 311 Is the Cemetery Dead?

While we have professionalized the rituals of dying, from our care in the final days of life to the processes of interment with funeral home directors, it is fair to say that a trend in our society is that Americans are taking back control of the process.  People seem to be craving a more humane mourning and burial process.  Further fueling the desire to do it our own way, are the concerns about the cost, environmental impacts and sameness of the process.  We are bringing death public again and celebrating the lives of those who have died in distinctly individualized ways.  In the process, we are inventing new and adapting old traditions, burial places and memorials.  It’s a fascinating development best characterized by the extraordinary adoption of cremation as the new way to handle the body, even giving  way to a new term ‘cremains’.  There is, perhaps, no better describer of this change, David Sloane, a trained historian at the University of Southern California and a descendant of multiple generations of cemetery managers.  His book ‘Is the Cemetery Dead’ explains the changes in an industry and a reality that affect us all.

EP 310 The Common Wellspring of Religious and Political Zealots

: Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist and public intellectual, has been working on the sources and dangers of inhuman zealotry for decades.  The conditions and individuals he studies involve brainwashing, religious extremists, political cultists and mass murderers.  In the process he examines totalitarian politics from the left and right, disinformation and social media impacts.  In his new book, ‘Losing Reality’, which interweaves older work with new thinking from the era we find ourselves in,  he comes to the startling conclusion that ‘mental predators are concerned not only with individual minds but with the ownership of reality itself’.  And while religious zealots look to dominate the thinking of those within the group and political zealots look to control the masses, they draw inspiration from the same fountain.  He has many thoughts about Donald Trump as a purveyor of a self-generated reality which he is able to impart to followers who are geographically dispersed.  This phenomenon adds a new dimension to his studies.  His sense that there is a dangerous proclivity of the human mind to bend toward extremism, which can simplify and bring order in a complex society, is a challenge to liberal democracies going forward.  Stay with the conversation as it will provide thinking you rarely are exposed to.

EP 309 Baldwin vs. Buckley: The Fire is Still Upon Us

On February 18, 1965 a packed hall at Cambridge Union in Cambridge, England came to see a historic, televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley, Jr., a relentless critic of the movement and America’s most influential conservative intellectual.  The topic was ‘the American dream is at the expense of the American Negro’.  Nicholas Buccola’s book, ‘The Fire Is Upon Us’ is the first book that captures the emotion, dynamism and roots of the conversation that took place that night.  He also sheds light on how the debate that evening continues to reverberate in the politics of our time as we still struggle with America’s racial divide.  A recent survey found that 62 percent of Americans believe that ‘we haven’t arrived at racial equality’. This, of course, in the aftermath of what many thought in the wake of Barack Obama’s two term presidency was a post-racial America.  Donald Trump drove a wedge through that notion.  James Baldwin and William f. Buckley, Jr. were towering figures and this recounting reminds us that some issues are transcendant in our culture and politics and are destined to remain the unfinished work of every generation.

EP 308 College Admissions and the Tilted Playing Field

  Candidate one has good grades, great SAT scores, and a boatload of extracurricular activities.  Candidate two has OK grades, average SATs and his parents donated $1 million to the school’s capital campaign.  Who gets in?  Take a guess.  In America’s most elite colleges only 40 percent of the students enrolled are strictly there based on merit.  The rest are part of a system built a web of connections and preferences that limit upward mobility in our society and maintain familial advantages for generations.  And that’s before the standard practices of universities become tainted by scandal, as in the case of Operation Varsity Blues which ensnared Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and others.  In his groundbreaking book, ‘The Price of Admission’, Daniel Golden explains how socioeconomic diversity counts least to many elite schools and even how sports, thought to be a great leveler, also favors the rich.  His book has been updated to include a compelling chapter on the highly publicized scandal.  He points to some schools that do avoid the temptations of giving preference to the privileged and famous, but they are far too few.  And he has little hope of significant reform of the process given the fact that elite colleges see the benefits of their admissions practices(more money and prestige) far outweighing the disadvantages.  Hear how the game is played on this podcast.

EP 307 How a Bill Doesn’t Become a Law

How do you imagine most bills are constructed in state legislatures in America?  Is it by one aggressive lawmaker having a novel idea and drafting the bill from scratch for their fellow legislators to review and vote on?  That’s one way, but increasingly there is a trend of policy plagiarism or cut and paste legislation that goes viral across the country.  These pieces of legislation might start with interest groups, industries or political operatives that want to make heroes of local legislators and build momentum throughout the country for their cause or policy. In many cases, the origin of the bill is difficult to trace and the sponsoring legislator may not even know how it arrived on his or her desk, but just that it was well within their philosophical sweet spot.  While both sides do it, conservatives have a big leg up in the process by affiliation with ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council which holds conferences and writes numerous pieces of legislation that find their way throughout the country. USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity have studied the impact of fill in the blank lawmaking for two years now  and Liz Whyte, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, describes their findings on this episode.

EP 306 R.I.P. G.O.P.

  Stanley Greenberg, the respected Democratic pollster, has seen enough in the data to suggest that the revenge of the ‘New America’ is just around the corner.  And the evidence is in the blue wave of 2018 and the growing intensity of those who feel scorned, demoralized and bitter about the Trump era.  His book “R.I.P. G.O.P.’ is not built on political musings and meanderings, but hard fact and much research.  In his view, ‘the year 2020 will produce a second blue wave on at least the scale of the first in 2018 and finally will crash and shatter the Republican Party that was consumed by the ill-begotten battle to stop the New America from governing’, he writes.  This understanding the demographic landscape was echoed recently by retiring Republican Congress, Will Hurd, who said that the 2020 electorate is changing so quickly that 2016’s electorate is no gauge.  Who comprises the New America? It’s brown, black and Asian Americans, millennials, urbanites, and a growing growing of suburbanites who see the current Republican Party as too harsh on social issues.  It’s a fascinating look ahead and well worth your time in understanding these trends which may suggest a major political realignment and, according to our guest, and a positive period ahead when we tackle many of the issues now in lockdown because of gridlock.

EP 305 Why is the U.S. Military Having Trouble Recruiting?

 The military has a recruitment problem that it doesn’t want to talk about.  It’s an open secret that may be one of the nation’s great defense vulnerabilities going forward.  Yet those who attribute it to long deployments, pay issues, methods of marketing to young people may all mask an even greater problem in society which will require longer term solutions that go well beyond the military to the very essence of our society.  That is Mark Perry’s assessment. I won’t share his take. You should hear it from him. He is the author of ‘The Pentagon’s Wars: The Military’s Undeclared War Against America’s Presidents’.  We did a previous podcast with him focused on the book but wanted his unique, and troubling, perspective on this issue.  And while that’s a good portion of this episode, we go on to discuss rising defense threats to America around the globe and whether our responses are adequate.  We further explore the status of our international alliances and what the military’s role might be if our political order becomes even more polarized in the period ahead.  It is really a freewheeling conversation from which you will glean important information about our defense posture today.

EP 304 Understanding the Lives of Teens in the Period of Wildhood

  Coming of age can be a trying time both for those going through it and those trying to help adolescents make the journey into adulthood as safe and satisfying as possible.  In the animal kingdom, it turns out, there are many commonalities among species in that regard.  In the book ‘Wildhood’, Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers demonstrate through their research that like human teens, animal adolescents can be moody, boundary-pushing and sometimes socially awkward.  Wild animal ‘teens’ often take outlandish risks-and like their human counterparts, take more of them under peer pressure.  At the same time, there is commonality in their creativity, exuberance and need to explore the boundaries of behavior that are societally acceptable.  They found that these not quite grown up creatures of various species-including ours-share a horizontal connection.  And all of this is routed in the evolutionary past.  This is groundbreaking work and their ability to explain it in terms that are clear and compelling makes this podcast a must listen, particularly if you’re trying to understand this time of life because you’re raising a child now part of the wildhood club.