Friday, December 14, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Do The Young Want?

There is a timeless tension between the young and the old. It is
biological, cultural and eventually, political as well.

In the Old Testament Book of Joel there is a famous passage which
reads “The old will dream dreams, and the young shall see visions.”
This circumstance is played out generation after generation, again and
again, endlessly.

(When we have advanced artificial intelligence sufficiently, I suppose
it will also occur between generations of robots!)

The tensions become most evident in that period of transition when the
young are taking over from the old, and is usually most immediately
visible in a society’s politics. Less clear by then, cultural change has
already taken place --- although the old are slow to perceive it, and
when they do, they invariably complain about it.

I bring this up because we are now in a period of significant
generational change in the U.S., and it is making itself known in U.S.
politics more and more in each recent election cycle. Certain
commonplaces about the young are being upended, including their
frequent past habit of not participating in voting in elections.

The question that inevitably arises, especially for the old, in such a
period is “What do the young want?”

As an older person, I doubt that I can fully answer that question, but I
think I have a few clues.

I said that the old usually complain about what they perceive the young
doing, but the real complaint is almost always the other way --- they
young usually find the behavior and actual values of the old to be
unsatisfactory. The classic irony, of course, is that the old --- as parents,
teachers and role models --- created the very expectations for the young
that they themselves do not practice or fulfill. The old, in fact, sow the
inevitable disappointment in, and rejection of, their time of ascendancy.

But my assertion is not an exact or always predictable phenomenon.
A generation of Americans endured the economic depression of the
1930s, and its global precariousness of totalitarian violence. They and
their young then made a remarkable response (which then was labelled
“the greatest generation”) that saved democratic capitalism initially
from fascism, and subsequently from communism. This generation,
when W.W. II was over, then inspired in its young their own idealism
while (understandably) indulging in a national wave of materialism as
a response to the economic deprivations of their own youth.

The result was a generation bound to reject the previous generation’s
acceptance of military duty, its later materialism, and its legacy of
emotional and sexual repression. But when the new generation took
over, in a much more complicated technological and demographic
world, these predispositions failed to provide solutions that met
expectations. The younger U.S. generations now have little but mixed
messages and stalemate as a cultural and political inheritance.

On the other hand, an enduring part of that inheritance is a rich
tradition of freedom, representative democracy, entrepreneurship,
technological innovation and global compassion --- not any of which
should be sneezed at nor apologized for. If the response of the young
is to throw out the senior generation with its bath water, we have a
very serious problem, Houston --- and Topeka, Atlanta, Denver, Duluth,
Cleveland, Salt Lake City, Brooklyn and elsewhere.

There is a difference between what we want and what we get. A nation
starved and numbed by economic depression had little desire to fight
in foreign wars in 1941. A nation recovering from war in 1968 had
little desire to get into another. Circumstances, if the truth be told, are

The question then becomes “What are our circumstances?” We must
first answer that before we dream any more dreams or wonder what
visions our young think they see or want.

We are surrounded on all sides, I think, by those who tell us what
they want (and demand), but who is telling us where we truly now are?

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Disrupting Global Politics

The U.S. is experiencing some disruption of its political establishment,
especially since 2016, but now we are seeing a global pattern of
upended political traditions and leadership, and it appears to be

Donald Trump, it seems, was only among the first and perhaps most
notable of this phenomena, but the growing pattern suggests a more
significant circumstance than just a single national political figure.

Nothing seemed to represent post-war conventional politics more than
Europe and its economic association of member states, the European
Union (EU) dominated by Germany, France, United Kingdom and, to
lesser extents, Italy and Spain. In only a short span, the established
political environments of each of these nations has changed drastically,
including most recently and importantly, the announced retirement of
the most powerful EU figure, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Prior
to that, French politics was transformed by the election of Emmanuel
Macron with his new political party that now dominates the French
parliament. Equivalent political change has happened in Italy and
Spain. The opening salvo seems to have been the British election to
leave the EU (Brexit). All of these EU member nations are now
undergoing periods of instability and challenge from various populist
sources --- the whole of it complicated by the leadership of smaller and
newer EU member states which are opposed to many current EU

The political turbulence is not limited to the U.S. and Europe. Mexico
has just moved to the populist left with a new president, and Brazil
has gone to the populist right with its newly elected leader. Other
major Latin American nations, including Argentina, Colombia and
Venezuela are in various political turmoil.

Russia is reasserting its imperialism in Eastern Europe and Asia,
the  two continents it spans, and an aggressive China is asserting itself
not only close to home in Asia, but also in Africa and South America.

Small in population, but a whole continent in size (and so strategically
located) Australia has just seen new instability in its government, and
elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean region, transformational forces are at
play in the Korean peninsula, the Philippines and Japan.

New and controversial leadership in pivotal Saudi Arabia has appeared,
and the long-time leadership of Israel is under attack now not only
from outside, but also politically from within. Turkey and Iran continue
to try to destabilize their region.

In short, change, provocation  and grassroots turmoil are rather
suddenly almost everywhere.

Lamenting all of this with aspirations for a return to the old order of
the world is likely the least effective response. History does not often,
if ever, yield examples of the world going back to paradigms just
abandoned. Human societies and their governments are in constant
transformation, and if indeed there is peril in what is now changing,
there is also a profound need for some new thinking by those who lead
and administer what has been often called the”free world.”

I suggest that, beneath all the rhetoric now to come in the U.S. political
campaigns just ahead, in 2020 and 2024, it is some critical new thinking
that we need most of all.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Why 2020 Will Be Different

The 2020 U.S. presidential election will be significantly different from
not only 2016, but also it is likely not to be comparable to any other
modern political campaign.

Of course, every presidential election has its own characteristics ---
with its own usage of new technology, sometimes new electoral rules,
and almost always, different personalities. (The latter had only one
20th century exception --- Eisenhower vs. Stevenson in both 1952 and

But these elections are not always so significantly different, especially
in all three areas just mentioned.

For example, in terms of technology, presidential elections did not
change much between 1900 and 1932 (when radio appeared), and then
it was not until 1960 that television made a difference. It was not until
2004 (with new techniques of voter I.D.) and 2008 (with major use of
social media) that the computer had real impact. In 2016, it was Twitter.
In 2020, it will likely include the internet grass roots fundraising so
successfully used by the Democrats in the 2018 midterms (ActBlue),
but will then be employed by both parties.

In terms of electoral rules, the first 20th century change came in 1920
with the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote.
In 1965, the Voters Rights Act removed barriers to minority voters
nationwide. The first presidential primary was created in 1901, but it
wasn’t until 1972 that the primary system effectively replaced the
importance of the national party conventions. In 2016, the Democrats
used the concept of convention superdelegates to modify the results
of the primaries and caucuses. In 2020, the impact of superdelegates
will be drastically reduced, and by moving up the California, Texas
and several other state primaries to only a month after Iowa and New
Hampshire, the Democrats have probably significantly altered most
presidential nomination strategies.

President Trump has indicated he will run for re-election. There is
some talk of an intraparty challenge from an anti-Trump figure such
as former Ohio Governor John Kasich. Given the president’s
popularity now in the GOP base, this does not seem likely to be
meaningful in the party nomination contest. Kasich or some other
well-known figure could also run as independents as did former
Democrats Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace (only three years
before Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president) who ran as independents
to the right and left of Democratic nominee President Harry Truman
in 1948. (The controversial but feisty Truman still defeated GOP
nominee Thomas Dewey in the November election.)

On the Democratic side in 2020, however, there are more than two
dozen high profile aspirants, including two former nominees, a
former vice president, several current and former governors, senators,
members of Congress, mayors and celebrities. Given Democratic
successes in 2018, and liberal antipathy to Mr. Trump, it has become
the largest serious early presidential field in U.S. history. The contest
has already begun, and after January, 2019 it will accelerate. Some
will quickly drop out or fail to enter, but new entrants can’t be ruled
out. The Democratic nomination contest is almost certain to be unlike
any other since 1900 or before.

Circumstances could prompt President Trump to change his mind,
and like President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, choose not to run in
2020, but this now seems fanciful. In such a case, Vice President
Mike Pence would be the favorite, but a number of GOP figures
would also probably run, and the subsequent contest could become
a reprise of what happened after Johnson’s 1968 withdrawal.

As I have previously written, President Trump’s re-election is, at this
point, far from certain. He will need to win most of the states and their
electoral college votes that he did in 2016. In 2020, the Democrats and
their sympathetic media friends will have presumably learned from
their miscalculations in 2016.

In addition to the changes, listed above, that we already know about,
there is always so much we don’t yet know --- including the
all-important state of the 2020 economy, the outcomes of President
Trump’s domestic and foreign policy programs, the actions and
performance of the new Democratic majority in the U.S house of
representatives, and events in the world.

Whatever it will turn out to be, the elements of an unprecedented
political spectacle not seen before are already in place.

Lights. Microphones. Press conferences. Grandstands. Drama,


Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Getting Our Attention

With so many presumably credible, but no frontrunning, candidates
for president in 2020, the Democratic Party has a lot of sorting out to
do in the next 18 months as it prepares to challenge and attempt to
defeat a sitting president. It can be done, and was done as recently as
1980 and 1992 --- when Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and George H.W.
Bush, a Republican, learned that incumbency does not automatically
bring re-election.  

Presidential elections and their nominating environments have
changed significantly in recent decades, but one basic factor has not
altered in that time --- the critical need for non-incumbent presidential
aspirants to draw attention to themselves. This attention-getting takes
many forms, old and new, and almost always involves the media.

Perhaps the origin of this goes back to the Republican nomination
campaign in 1860 when the least likely candidate among a dozen in the
field gave a provocative speech at a New York City auditorium after
inviting reporters from every major eastern city in the north (who he
knew would record it in shorthand --- a skill every reporter had to have
in that era before recording devices). He also knew those reporters
would then transmit his speech via telegraph, and that it would appear
in print the next day all over the North. He not only guessed correctly,
but the reaction to his speech thus circulated was a sensation, and he
went literally overnight from being the least likely nominee to being
the frontrunner.

His name? Abraham Lincoln.

There are many other examples. In 1896, William Jennings Bryan
won the Democratic presidential nomination with his famous ”Cross
of Gold” speech while William McKinley won the Republican
nomination by speaking from his porch to crowds who came to his
home in Ohio. Calvin Coolidge stood down a public strike when he
was governor of Massachusetts, and its news eventually made him
president. By 1928, Herbert Hoover’s management of the Great Flood
of 1927  made him the nominee to succeed Coolidge. Wendell Willkie,
then a virtual political unknown, stampeded the 1940 GOP convention.
Harry Truman’s leadership of a wartime U.S. senate committee lead
to his being chosen President Roosevelt’s vice president in 1944. On
FDR’s death a few months later, Truman was president. Richard
Nixon led an anti-communist investigative committee in the senate in
the 1950’s, leading to his being chosen vice president by President
Eisenhower. Barack Obama made a notable keynote speech to a
Democratic convention, and became a media favorite. And then, of
course, there was Donald Trump.....

Using the new technology of the telegraph, Lincoln had catapulted
himself into public attention. Today, there are cable television, talk
radio and social media using the internet. When there are large
numbers of candidates, one or two usually emerge --- and most of
the time the few successful presidential nominees find a special
issue or an innovative way to get the vital public attention they need
to win.

The Democratic nominee in 2020 will be the one who most effectively
does this. Watch the twenty-plus liberal party aspirants as they make
their moves in the next several months.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Caselman. All rights reserved.