In Search of Common Ground

Before Biden, the last two men who won the presidency as Democrats made improvements to the health care system foundational to their platforms. Pres. Biden, of course, has the coronavirus to address. However, once that crisis is in the rearview mirror–which, unfortunately, will require more time than we want–I am curious: what will it take for Congress to accept the fact that America’s health care system is broken, and then choose to do something about it?

The coronavirus has merely exposed longstanding fissures within America’s health care system. The people who need care and counseling the most cannot, in many instances, afford losing time from work to seek medical care. Nor can they afford it, even with medical insurance. Over 500,000 American families declared bankruptcy as the result of their medical expenses in 2019, and most suspect that number will increase when data from 2020 gets tabulated. Health care costs in America total about $11,000 a year per capita, which places it last among wealthy nations worldwide. Health care also consumes an enormous amount of the country’s GDP–far more than any other wealthy nation. Don’t suggest that this is because the quality of health care in America is so great. We rank 15th.

What kind things can you say about a nation that entrusted drugstore chains to be on point for the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines? The process has certainly not been efficient. The drugstores have been overwhelmed by demand and underwhelmed by supply. In Mississippi, efforts have also been fractured by the ideological insistence that counties should have as much say in the process as possible. (The easiest way to make anything happen in Mississippi is to tie high school sports to performance goals. Want to go to the playoffs? Your school better be accredited! Want to see your kids play ball? Get vaccinated!)

I like doctors. Both of my grandfathers were physicians who had their numbers in the phone book. I am quite certain I never ate a meal at my paternal grandfather’s house without a patient calling to ask for advice.

He always answered.

Neither man retired a millionaire. Both practiced medicine as a calling. I suspect both would have balked at having at least ten staff members per physician in their clinics–a result of the abstruse complexity of the health insurance system.

I’m not interested in enforcing a vow of poverty on those who take the Hippocratic Oath. However, I’m also not interested in abetting a system that does so little at the cost of so much. What ideas do you have for reforming the system? Do any of these seem likely to make it through Congress?

Posted in National Politics, Politics, Science | 4 Comments

The Dim Light Near the End of the Tunnel

Mississippi has been administering coronavirus vaccines since the beginning of the year, but only 100,000 people have gotten their first doses. According to Fortune magazine, roughly 5% of Americans have received their first doses. At that rate, it will take another 20 months to complete this process, which is hardly what we envisioned late last year when the FDA began approving vaccines.

I have three issues of concern: first, why has the rollout been slow? Second, why have some people expressed reluctance to take the vaccine? Third, should certain professions and organizations be allowed to require vaccination?

Posted in Politics, Pop Culture, Science | 12 Comments

Invoke the 25th Amendment

I had hoped today I would be able to blog about Democratic victories in Georgia. Instead, I am forced to reckon with the most un-American thing I have seen in my 51 years: armed protestors going to our nation’s capitol to disrupt the certification of the results of the electoral college.

The man who enabled this, President Donald Trump, should be removed from office under the auspices of Section IV of the 25th Amendment.

We will discuss all this in class tomorrow, but you can leave your initial observations here.

Posted in Ethics, National Politics | 6 Comments

All Good Things Come to an End

A friendly reminder: the blog closes for the year today at 5:00. Have a wonderful holiday!

Posted in Education | 1 Comment

Make My Holidays Happier

As the blog winds down for the holidays–don’t forget! blog before next Wednesday if you’re seeking quiz credit–I have an important media question and could use your expertise.

I’ve gotten bored with my current entertainment options, which revolve around Hulu Live with Netflix, ESPN+, and Disney+ added for sons and spouse. If I were to add one more service, what should it be? A video streaming service? Kindle Unlimited? Should I just buy individual movies I think I’d like? I actually plan to binge watch/read every minute I can during the holidays…

Posted in Arts, Pop Culture | 14 Comments

How to Think–Not What to Think

Gov. Tate Reeves’s preliminary budget amounts to a shot fired over the bow of the legislature’s ship. He wants to make it clear that no elected official can be more conservative–or more like Trump–than he can.

Witness the three million dollars allocated for the state’s “Patriotic Education Fund,” which aims to reverse years of “indoctrination in far-left socialist teachings that emphasize America‚Äôs shortcomings over the exceptional achievements of this country.”

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met any socialists who teach in Mississippi’s k12 schools. However, I have met plenty of teachers–conservative, liberal, and somewhere in between–who take pride in helping the state overcome the shibboleths of its past to make it a better place. No need for the Patriotic Education Fund exists. That any ten of us who teach in the humanities would not draw the same conclusions about materials we’re supposed to teach, and how we’re supposed to teach them, is actually a healthy thing. If a humanities curriculum presents facts about history and does not allow students to draw their own conclusions about those facts, it isn’t really a curriculum any more. It’s an indoctrination program.

By suggesting that the state should design a history curriculum structured around the belief that “America is the greatest country in the history of mankind,” the governor actually undermines one of the foundations that does indeed make America great: the right to question authority. Being able to look at texts and interpret them without having to appeal to a specific ideology is a lynchpin of my pedagogy. I want to teach students how to think, not what to think. As I’ve said many times, if you can’t convince people you’re right, you might as well be wrong–and Gov. Reeves’ Patriotic Education Fund is just flat wrong.

Posted in Education, Politics | 17 Comments

Pre-Thanksgiving PSA

I hope that your Thanksgiving isn’t entirely virtual–that you’ll be able to eat home cooked meals with the people ordinarily under your roof, spend some time outdoors, and perhaps Zoom with more distant relatives. Inevitably, your conversations will turn towards politics, and I encourage you to keep these words from John Stuart Mill in mind:

So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses in stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation of the argument might shake the solidity of the conviction; but when it rests solely on feeling, the worse it fares in argumentative contest, the more persuaded its adherents are that their feeling must have some deeper ground, which the arguments do not reach; and while the feeling remains, it is always throwing up fresh intrenchments of argument to repair any breach made in the old. And there are so many causes tending to make the feelings connected with this subject the most intense and most deeply-rooted of all those which gather round and protect old institutions and customs, that we need not wonder to find them as yet less undermined and loosened than any of the rest by the progress of the great modern spiritual and social transition; nor suppose that the barbarisms to which men cling longest must be less barbarisms than those which they earlier shake off.

The Subjection of Women

When you wonder why you apply logic and reasoning to a situation, and you get nothing but emotional responses that become more deeply entrenched despite the addition of more logic and reason, Mill helps us see that an intellectual assault on intuited beliefs does nothing but aggravate those beliefs. If an argument can’t win both hearts and minds, any sense of victory in that moment will be pyrrhic at best.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in Education, Ethics | 13 Comments

Where Do We Go From Here?

In this evening’s 60 Minutes interview, former president Barak Obama pushed back against the notion that politicians and social media are solely to blame for the bitterness displayed during the recent election cycle.

I think he’s being too nice.

Once a politician vomits up some dearly held conviction–let’s say he claims that the the three branches of government are the House, the Senate, and the executive, or that America fought WWII against socialism–it can be reported as news, and people on social media can treat that misguided notion like it’s the truth. This puts social media platforms between a rock and a hard place: they generally claim to support freedom of expression, but they also have recently discovered an aversion to being used to disseminate lies. Platforms can’t have it both ways. Either they don’t regulate the flow of information, with all the concomitant risks, or they try to impose veracity standards.

Unfortunately, since the advent of social media, people have jettisoned facts in favor of beliefs. People now care less about facts than about what they believe to be true–and they appropriate “facts” with the religious fervor of snake handling believers who claim to have found the one true path to God. (I have come face-to-face with a copperhead and found it something less than divine.)

I trust journalists far more than I trust politicians. Journalists have a code of ethics and can face lawsuits when they knowingly publish lies. Politicians can say what they want. “It was rigged.” “The other side cheated.” “I am the winner if you only count legal votes.” Sadly, journalists who report such statements as lies immediately (and unfairly) lose credibility with those who cannot distinguish fact from fiction. These misguided souls report their beliefs as facts on their social media accounts; social media algorithms steer more conspiracy theories their direction; the problem of distinguishing fact from belief grows exponentially worse.

I’m afraid we are past the point of encouraging journalists to save us from ourselves. Politicians have pushed reporters too far outside the circle of trust. So, my tech-savvy students, what kinds of rules should be in place to prevent people from using their social media accounts to spread lies that damage our ability to see each other as human?

Posted in Politics, Social Media | 17 Comments

A Life Without Consequences

Everybody knows what would happen if some kid walked up to another kid, called him a punk, and punched him in the mouth.

A fight.

We understand that to be a just and reasonable consequence to name-calling and battery.

What we have in the current president exemplifies the result of a life led without consequence. Nothing indicates that he was a particularly good student, yet he used the advantages of status to gain admission to an Ivy League school after two undistinguished years at Fordham. He dodged the draft during the Vietnam War not once but several times. He declared bankruptcy six times in two decades to stiff creditors while building his own personal brand and wealth. He made a habit of entering into contracts and then breaking them when he thought he could get away with it, or when he didn’t feel like paying. He avoids paying his fair share of income taxes–I cannot name a teacher, lawyer, or doctor who paid only $750 in federal income taxes during any fiscal year.

Trump would have people believe that he gets away with such things because he’s smarter than anyone else and because he’s a skilled negotiator. The truth seems to be that like most schoolyard bullies, he does whatever he can get away with. Nobody has been able to get him to face a fact for 74 years.

Until now.

The American people have voted him out of office. We don’t know the exact margin yet because results in some states are being recounted. What we do know is that Biden’s current advantages can be measured in the thousands in each state he won. No recount in American history has flipped more than a few hundred votes. Biden also won the election by more than 5 million votes nationwide.

Trump cannot reckon with losing because he has never had to face a consequence. Unlike his failures in business, his failures in this election cannot be wiped away in a bankruptcy court. Unlike his failed marriages, he cannot soothe discontent with alimony. The checks in his political account are starting to bounce. The damage he he has done to our American brand of democracy will not be fully articulated for years–not until the people who have supported him come to grips with his narcissistic blurring of fantasies and facts.

Historians who write about the Trump presidency will have a difficult time isolating the worst thing that he did during his term. Whatever that moment turns out to be, it will have as its root Trump’s conviction that he can do anything he wants because people will let him.

Where will American politics go from here? Biden will probably not have a majority in the Senate that will rubber stamp progressive proposals for health care and the environment–among other things. However, Biden does have five decades of experience in bringing people from different perspectives to the table to hammer out legislation that can be beneficial to all Americans. The split realignment (Dems running the White House and House of Representatives, with the GOP controlling the Senate) in Washington suggests that the people expect government to find middle ground between the left and right extremes that dominate our headlines. I hope that will be the consequence of this election.

Posted in Ethics, National Politics | 14 Comments

Moving Forward

If you didn’t know this already, we live in a weird place. How else can you explain why Mississippi voters embraced conservatives Donald Trump and Cindy Hyde-Smith–each won with almost 60% of the vote–but voted at roughly a 70% clip to change the state flag and legalize medical marijuana? Have Trump and Hyde-Smith supporters been smoking crooked cigarettes all this time? Our leaders must think something is awry. They’re already trying to figure out ways to circumvent 65.

Mississippi is redder than an Early Girl tomato on July 4. People in the state cherish traditions. We attend our parents’ churches. We hold doors open for each other. We love etiquette. Not shaking hands during the pandemic requires us to kick two centuries worth of social conditioning. In fact, anything new gets met, at least initially, with a resounding “No!”

Especially if the wrong people say “yes.”

I am curious, though: can people look to the past and still hope to reach their potential in the future? Do the people of Mississippi truly revere traditions–or do they simply fear change?

Posted in Politics | 17 Comments