Unexpected Trump coup obstacle: Pride in work

It’s easy to gleefully chuckle each time one of Trump’s election-challenging lawsuits (I’m tempted to put that word in quotes) is tossed out of court, often with a scathing opinion, but it’s important to look at why they keep getting so resoundingly rejected.  Just because they lacked any semblance of legal substance does not mean some of them might have had some success.  Sycophants are everywhere, including some in election administration, so why not in the judicial system?  Why did these particular people, many Trump-appointed conservatives, stand up to pressure while so many Republican lawmakers both now and since Trump’s election cow-tow to his bullying?

The answer is a simple and old-fashioned but universal tenant:  people take their jobs seriously and are proud of doing them well.  One can even argue that the sycophants’ behavior supports this theory because they consider it their job to please Trump and want to do that well.

Contrary to Trump’s expectations, conservative judges have struck down dozens of his “elite strike force” of legal clowns’ pathetic lawsuits because they take their jobs seriously.  Regardless of how they might feel about the election, they are sworn to the rule of law and that comes first.  What General Milley said about the military applies here as well:

We are unique among armies, we are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or queen, or tyrant or dictator, we do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion.

We take an oath to the Constitution, and every soldier that is represented in this museum—every sailor, airman, marine, coastguard—each of us protects and defends that document, regardless of personal price.

Republican election officials, even in the face of death threats to themselves and their families, have certified results and stood up to Trump’s pressure because they take their jobs seriously.  Probably the best example of this is Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.  Make no mistake, Mr. Raffensperger is no hero.  He is a fan of voter suppression laws, essentially advocating that it is easier to steal an election before the voting than after.  That being said, he followed the existing law and he took pride in overseeing a successful Georgia election.  He took offense as Trump and his cronies claimed that there was rampant fraud in his election.  Another Georgia election official, Gabriel Sterling, emotionally tore into Trump and others he declared complicit for not speaking out, when describing the threats he and his team have experienced.  Even a man who might have stolen an election by purging hundreds of thousands of people from the voter rolls prior to the election he was both supervising and running in (Stacey Abrams lost by 55,000 votes), Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has not crossed a line in spite of tremendous pressure from Trump.

None of this was because any of these Republicans love Joe Biden or the Democrats.  They are not secret liberals.  In fact, there was little personal or political upside to their actions.  Beyond the threats, elected officials are likely to be brutalized by Trump’s supporters the next time they run for office.  The Trump team simply made a mistake when they made it personal.  When they attacked their competence.  No one wants to be called incompetent and tends to dig in when they are personally attacked.

What’s ironic is that Trump actually knows this.  One of his signature campaign promises is to create more jobs.  He knows people often define themselves by being able to bring home a paycheck.  He knows that people are just as proud of a long hard day in a coal mine as they are in earning millions of dollars on Wall Street.  Regardless, a bully is a blunt instrument.  Trump can only attack and damn the consequences.

Of course, there is another explanation for his post-election circus.  Perhaps he realized months ago he wasn’t going to win the election.  Perhaps he never expected to prevail in court or via other coercive measures.  After all, he has raised over $200M since the election (as of this writing), misleading his followers into thinking they are supporting his bid to overturn the election while the vast majority of the money went to pay off campaign debts, the RNC, and his political action committee and no doubt from there to line his and his children’s pockets.  After all his years of greed and corruption, he has stumbled into the easiest and most lucrative grift of all – milking those with blind faith for all they’re worth.

In a Global Pandemic, Leaders Wear Masks

Like, I’m sure, many of us, I’ve been thinking a great deal about leadership these days.  Good leadership has many attributes – compassion for team members, respect for personal time, delegation, open-mindedness, etc. – but I’m thinking about one aspect specifically – modeling the behavior desired from others.

I’ve long held that there is only one rule necessary to live by, The Golden Rule (and for all you wits out there, no, not “he who has the gold makes the rules”):

We all admire the small business owners, CEOs and Boards of Directors and who have taken significant or full pay cuts and other measures to help pay their employees during the pandemic.  Of course, in many cases it is largely symbolic, but it is still important that they are “walking the talk.”

Nevertheless, in these challenging times, there is another significant issue at stake.  Lives lost due to leadership failure or even gross negligence.

It’s obvious where I’m headed, Donald Trump and his Trumpist cronies.  Full disclosure, I’ve spent countless hours during the past year working to help oust him from office so I cannot claim a lack of bias, but the point I want to make is valid.

One of the Trumpy talking points was best articulated by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on July 17th:

“I think what we did here in South Dakota is really remarkable because we gave people their freedom,” she said. “We let the businesses stay open, we let people go to work, we told them to be smart, and we also asked them to be personally responsible. And, we’re seeing benefits of that each and every day in South Dakota.”

First, shortly thereafter it became one of the worst hot spots in the U.S. and to this day she continues to be in denial.

Second, conflating a lack of freedom with social responsibility (seat belts, anyone? Or, “No shirt. No shoes. No service.”?), is not only stupid, but dangerous.

Third, her statement implies that Democrats want to take away American’s freedom and don’t trust them to be responsible.

That, frankly, is nonsense (I had another word in mind, but restrained myself).

People follow their leaders.  Democrats (and responsible Republicans), by and large, wore masks, socially distanced and washed their hands more, not because of mandates, stay-at-home orders and restrictions, but because they saw that behavior in their leaders.  Look at what happened when California’s Governor Gavin Newsom attended a dinner party or Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took a flight to visit family for Thanksgiving.  Backlash was swift and unforgiving, by Democrats as well as Republicans.

It is incontrovertible that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S. harder that it should have due to Trumpist leaders eschewing science, denigrating mask wearing and generally downplaying the truth.  In other words, they modeled poor behavior, and those they led followed. 

There is evidence that had a unified national leadership, at all levels – President, Senators, Congresspeople, Governors, and Mayors on down – simply worn masks and followed the science the U.S. would be nowhere near its current 270,000 death tally (as of writing this).  While many countries instituted mandates, others did not and still saw dramatically better death rates because the populace was consistently encouraged to wear masks and did.  It is understood that there are many other factors, including partial lockdowns and other restrictions, that impacted the death rate in countries that did not mandate wearing a mask, and that, culturally, the U.S. would not likely have seen quite the mask adoption levels of other countries.  Even so, had 20%, 30%, 40% more people regularly worn masks, thousands of lives would have been saved.

Not to mention, that had the pandemic been more under control with fewer cases and deaths, the toll on the economy would have been far less.  The two are inextricably linked.

Bottom line:  It’s not about trust or freedom.  It’s about leadership.  People will follow, and model their behavior, on both good and bad leaders.  With something so important as a global pandemic, people can’t afford bad leaders.

Anecdotally, I jog nearly everyday in a nearby park.  Prior to the election, I would estimate roughly 50% of the people there wore masks, though most did their best to socially distance.  Since the election (and the current virus infection surge) and Trump’s fading from public view, I’d estimate that at least 75-80% of people are wearing masks.   Scientific evidence?  Of course not.  However, hopefully, with a new leader taking the spotlight and modeling socially responsible behavior, signs of improvement are already beginning.

VEX Robotics World Competition Promotes the Best of Tech Community Values

This past weekend (4/23-27/2018) The Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation held is annual VEX Robotics World Competition in Louisville, Kentucky.  Thousands of middle school, high school and college students, representing hundreds of the best robotics teams in the world descended on the Kentucky Exposition Center for three days of intense rivalry.  Yes, with teams from over 40 countries, including China, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, and Mexico, this is truly a world competition.  Last year, a team of Syrian refugees was given a warm welcome and tons of support.  This year Puerto Rico was the focus.

Make no mistake about it, the competition was fierce, going well beyond building a great robot, also encompassing sophisticated strategies, social game play and a deep understanding of the game rules so teams can decide how to gain an advantage by bending a rule to the breaking point.  Each match was played with two two-team alliances, assigned for the qualification rounds and then chosen for the remainder of the tournament.  Successful teams know how to work with their alliance partners and ultimately ally with other teams which complement their strengths and weaknesses.

However, all this intensity is saved for the field.  Universally, teams want to beat each other on the field, not off it.  The degree of collaboration off the field is remarkable.  Teams help each other out, trade parts, discuss coding techniques and even post robot designs online.  After the day’s competition, bull sessions go on long into the night.  Gender is irrelevant.  To a person, they are nice, respectful, smart, out to have fun and have zero interest in their parents’ advice.  Adults are there to pick up food, root from the stands and chauffer the teams from hotels to the Expo Center.

I attended with my son’s team for the second time this year and was once again blown away and inspired by these young people setting an awesome example for the rest of us.  If you have children with a STEAM orientation, I highly encourage you to check out VEX.  It has some attributes that make it stand apart from other robotics organizations, including a dedication to creating a level playing field for teams from any socio-economic background.  One of the top teams this year consisted of three first-timers who worked in a barn where they hand-filed components and produced an amazing and beautiful robot.

On top of it all, they put on a well-coordinated, polished and high-spectacle event with incredible production values.  The game MC’s, referees, judges and volunteers are professional, efficient and keep the energy high.  The final event in the Freedom Dome feels like a WWE production, complete with lasers, fire effects, giant screens and pulse-pounding music.  Each and every student is made to feel like a rock star!

I credit Paul Copioli, Karthik Kanagasabapathy and the rest of the VEX Robotics and REC teams for promoting an environment that is not only serious and challenging but also fun and welcoming for all!  Keep up the great work!