Thursday, January 19, 2017

Consequences of Trump's inauguration

Tomorrow, Donald Trump will become President of the United States. The day is significant for at least five reasons:

  1. The peaceful transition of power according to the rule of law in the world's largest democracy is an important sign that the rule of law still prevails, no small achievement in a world in which democracies tend to have short lives and in which large nation states tend to have authoritarian rather than democratic governance. Protesters of Trump's inauguration in DC and elsewhere are themselves evidence that freedom of assembly and speech as well as the rule of law still prevail in the US.
  2. Trump's presidency will usher in an unprecedented era of chaos, reflected in both his idiosyncratic, narcissistic Tweets and his proclivity to disregard facts that contravene his opinions and feelings.
  3. That chaos will sometimes become the catalyst for change. For example, Trump's Tweets and other favored forms of communication may replace communication filtered through professional reporters and the media with direct, unfiltered communication to the public. Similarly, President Trump will function as salesperson in chief rather than as head of state, chief executive, and statesman. Trump's apparent preference for living in Trump Tower in New York rather than in the White House indicates his unwillingness to change his personal style and foci to meet the demands of his new office. Other persons, by default and of necessity, will attempt to fill those other roles.
  4. The US seems poised to make a hard turn to the right, with Republicans having a majority in both houses of Congress as well as occupying the White House. Conflict has already surfaced between Congress and Trump, first over the desire of conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives to gut the Office of Government Ethics' powers and then over the length of any gap between repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. More conflict is likely, especially as the exigencies of the Presidency inexorably push Trump toward centrist positions and policies. Consequently, US policies and programs will move toward the right but probably not as sharply as many fear.
  5. Politics will become increasingly personal. Trump perceives disagreement as an attack on him personally. He frequently responds with ad hominem attacks on anyone who has the audacity to disagree with him. The personalization of politics will further polarize politics, eroding Trump's ability to obtain Congressional support for legislative, budgetary, and other initiatives. Cooperation across party lines is unlikely to occur for similar reasons.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My preferred way to die

Having a chronic, fatal disease has been the catalyst for thinking about death. My preferred way to die is a death that is similar to falling asleep, whether that sleep is natural or drug induced.
First, I often realize that I am becoming sleepy. I do not, however, know the actual moment at which I fall asleep. Analogously, I want to know that death is near so that I say a final goodbye to those whom I love the most but feel no desire to know the actual moment at which I die.
Second, falling asleep is a natural, non-threatening process about which I harbor no fears. Although a tiny minority of individuals may fear falling asleep and never awakening, I know that death is an inescapable and natural part of life.
Third, compared to a slow lingering death in which the dying person retains consciousness to the very end, a death similar to falling asleep seems attractive, gentle, and almost familiar because I painlessly fall asleep every day.

Fourth, if there is life after death, then I am happy to place my future in God's hands; if there is no life after death, then death, if like sleep, offers a comfortable end to consciousness and being. Sleep entails time passing while I am completely unaware of everything (unless I am aware of my dreams), including the passage of time. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Remission and the sword of Damocles

According to the single moral anecdote that mentions him, Damocles – a Greek name that translated literally means fame of the people – was a courtier in King Dionysius' court. Damocles, trying to curry Dionysius' favor, was telling the King how deserving the king was to enjoy such power, wealth, and fame. Recognizing Damocles' compliments as the obsequious behavior that they were, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles. Damocles quickly agreed to the swap.
Dionysius, however, before exchanging places with Damocles ordered that a large sword be suspended by just one hair from a horse's tail directly above the throne. Once seated upon the throne, Damocles looked around to relish his great fortune. Seeing the sword that hung so precariously over his head, fear displaced pleasure and Damocles begged Dionysius to switch places again, each returning to his original seat. Dionysius agreed, observing that fear always accompanied great power.
Remission in the case of an incurable, chronic cancer such as multiple myeloma, can feel similar to sitting under the sword of Damocles. On the one hand, remission affords an opportunity to return to some semblance of a normal life and all of the pleasures of that life. On the other hand, there is the certain knowledge that no matter how long lasting it is, the remission will end, subsequent remissions will be more difficult to achieve and of shorter duration, and that finally the cancer will win.
After almost a month with my cancer in remission, the anecdote about the sword of Damocles highlights several practical truths that have been in the forefront of my thinking.
First, death is inevitable. Everyone who is born will die.
Second, I am thankful not to know the specifics of when or how I will die.
Third, fear helps one live abundantly only to the extent that fear encourages constructive behaviors. For example, I take fifteen plus pills per day in spite of not a general preference for avoiding drugs because my physicians think that those medicines will improve both the quality and quantity of my life.
Fourth, fear unhelpfully limits one's quality of life to the extent that fear drives behaviors and emotions that diminish one's enjoyment of life while not improving either the quality or quantity of one's life commensurately. Illustratively, to avoid any situation that may result in an illness because of one's compromised immune system would mean trying to live in a completely sterile environment in which there is no direct contact with other humans.

In sum, savor each moment as if it were one's last.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Predictions for 2017

Here are my predictions for 2017. Given my batting average for my 2016 predictions of approximately 50% and my surprise diagnosis of cancer in 2016, which was a poignant reminder of life's inherent unpredictability, my predictions are prognostications rather than factual statements of what will actually occur.
  • National and international affairs
    • Syrian President Assad will remain in power, Iraq will move closer to fragmenting, and the Islamic State will continue to pose a terror threat. Israel, supported by the Trump administration, will continue building settlements on Palestinian territory; Peace with the Palestinians will become more elusive. In short, 2016 will not see major changes in the Middle East.
    • US politics, along with those in several European nations (e.g., France and Italy) will become more polarized. Right wing populist candidates are likely to win in many European elections.
    • The Trump administration will prove chaotic. Trump will continue to seek the limelight without thinking through the consequences of his words or actions. The US Constitution's emoluments clause will have unprecedented importance because Trump will fail to draw a clear legal distinction between his political responsibilities and his business interests. His family's involvement in government will also result in charges of nepotism. Trump will chafe at the limits of his power, e.g., feeling frustrated when Congress, the Supreme Court, federal bureaucracy, and state and local governments refuse to do his bidding.
    • The Putin-Trump honeymoon will sour in 2017 as these two narcissistic autocrats discover that although they have similar personalities but conflicting agendas.
    • China will become the US's enemy #1, sparking trade conflicts and heightened military tensions.
    • North Korea will continue testing missiles and nuclear weapons. The wars in Yemen and Syria will continue. Terror groups will continue to operate in Africa and the Middle East as well as executing strikes in Europe.
  • Economics
    • The price of oil will remain below $60 per barrel even though OPEC successfully trims production. Trump's campaign promises to increase employment in the coal industry and to expand US oil production will largely prove hollow.
    • The US economy will grow slowly, in spite of Trump's campaign pledge to achieve 4-5% growth, with stock prices ending the year up, unemployment flat, and wages showing some slow growth. Interest rates will continue to move upwards.
  • Social and cultural
    • Any GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) will delay full implementation for several years to give Congress time to devise alternatives to the law's popular provisions.
    • Abortion foes will experience modest success. Broader efforts to limit access to birth control will fail. Efforts to rescind progress toward full equality for LGBTQ persons will have, at most, marginal success.
    • Climate change deniers may succeed in voiding the Paris agreement and voiding some executive orders. Nevertheless, other nations, US states, and corporations will continue to take actions to minimize harm to the climate and environment.
    • The number of persons who identify as non-religious will continue to grow in 2017.
    • The white supremacist movement in the US will grow in numbers and visibility.
  • Personal: I will end the year as I began it, with my cancer in remission.

What are your predictions for 2017? (I encourage you to post your predictions as a comment to this post.)