Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy Political New Year

My time waster is a couple of versions of solitaire played on my mobile phone.  A little score card pops up when I win a game.  With congratulations for a job well done, it tells me how many moves were made and what my wining percentage is, as if I had accomplished something.  Whatever modicum of skill is involved, it’s minuscule: solitaire is as much a game of random chance as any could be, so I can take no credit or pride in a certain percentage of wins.  They all fall within a predictable range of 10 to 15%.  Chance plays a huge part in the outcome within the structure (system) of the game – that’s it.  Nothing more need be said. 

So why say more?  Because we have a habit of holding people accountable for success or failure In systems that accommodate a consistent range of winning and losing, and over which they have little control.  That habit leads us to reward and punish individuals for performance that may have little to do with their abilities or effort.  Chance plays its part, but it’s not that one’s working life is nothing but a game of solitaire.  It’s much more complicated than that.  An individual’s knowledge, skills, and work ethic count for a lot. So does her or his accident of birth, color of skin, systemic advantages or disadvantages, and so forth.  In the end it is the system within which one lives and works, however it is understood, that exercises the greatest control over broad measures of quality and quantity of output.  I’m a lousy mathematician and even worse statistician, but this, at least, I learned from taking classes from W. Edwards Deming. 

Which brings me to year end evaluations of Donald J. Trump’s first year in office, and hopes for his performance in the year to come.  From my perspective, the guy is dangerously ignorant, bigoted, cruel, incompetent, and whatever other adjective can be tossed in the pot.  Nevertheless, chance, and the systems in which he is forced to work, dictate that even he will do the right thing, or make the right decision, some of the time, just as chance and the rules of the game dictate that he’ll win about 10% of mindless games of solitaire.  Giving him credit for a job well done, acclaiming success at last, and declaring a more mature, presidential Trump has arrived, ascribes talent and judgment to something produced by chance and the systems at work.  

I hate to think of three more years relying on a “run of luck” for good decisions, but there is some hope for improvement in the systems in which he is forced to work.  Several major news articles have commented on congress reasserting its prerogatives as an equal branch of constitutional power and authority.  The upcoming midterms could move legislators farther in that direction.  Black and Hispanic voters are beginning to realize they can’t sit it out to watch an entertaining white on white slugfest. There’s too much at stake.  The supreme court, loaded to the right with doctrinaire justices as it is, cannot disregard long established precedents and the gravitas of knowing that every decision it makes establishes precedents for the future.  The coup like troika of Kelly, McMasters, and Mattis appears to be holding its own against forces of chaos favored by Trump.  

That’s faint hope.  I remain disappointed by respected commentators who happily applaud Trump for his random successes.  Maybe they think giving him an occasional round of applause for doing the right thing will edge him toward doing more of it to get more applause.  It’s what he wants more than anything.  It’s called tweaking the system.  Can it work?  Maybe; If crowds at his campaign style pep rallies decline far enough, and Fox ratings fall far enough.  How likely is that?

However it turns out, Trump is Trump, and unlikely to change very much.  

Happy Political New Year

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