presidential primaries

A New Use for “The No Asshole Rule”

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersNine years ago, Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, published a book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.  The premise was pretty straightforward: don’t hire/surround yourself with assholes but, if you do, here’s how to survive.

As we move into the general election season, it’s a read that is well worth revisiting.  While his observations go to corporate and organization settings, it doesn’t take much effort on the part of the concerned reader to apply them to the 2016 presidential election.

So, without any additional setup, let’s revisit his work …

Sutton starts with a given: assholes typically are bad for other employees who work for and with them, and for the company or organization that enables them to exist.  Yep.  What makes him great, however, is his position that yeah, sure, sometimes assholes even are successful – but life is too valuable and too short to put up with them.

(By the way, Sutton has written several other books and his blog, which makes for a fun and informative read, is at bobsutton.typepad.com/…)

Sutton also puts forth two tests to determine if that person in question is an asshole:

•     Do people feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person in question? In particular, does he make them feel worse about themselves?

•     Does the person aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful and not at those who are more powerful?

Now, to be sure, Sutton recognizes that everyone acts in these ways from time to time.  But he asserts that “certified assholes” have a different pattern.

“A person needs to display a persistent pattern, to have a history of episodes that end with one ‘target’ after another feeling belittled, put down, humiliated, disrespected, oppressed, de-energized, and generally worse about themselves,” he writes.  “Psychologists make the distinction between states (fleeting feelings, thoughts, and actions) and traits (enduring personality characteristics) by looking for consistency across places and times – if someone consistently takes actions that leave a trail of victims in their wake, they deserve to be branded as certified assholes.”

Or, perhaps, in this presidential year, as a “branded” asshole.

Sutton also says there are a dozen everyday actions that assholes utilize.  A few of them are worth citing.

  • Personal insults
  • Invading one’s “personal territory”
  • Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  • “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  • Withering e-mail flames
  • Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  • Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  • Rude interruptions
  • Dirty looks
  • Treating people as if they are invisible

Sounds like we just revisited the primary season.  But don’t despair.  Although Sutton doesn’t believe assholes always are avoidable, or can be eradicated, he does offer a survival guide of sorts to help us cope.  A couple of his tips follow.

  • Reframing: Change How You See Things.  “Learning when and how to simply not give a damn isn’t the kind of advice you hear in most business books, but it can help you make the most of a lousy situation,” he writes.
  • Develop Indifference and Emotional Detachment.  Sutton writes: “Passion is an overrated virtue …, and indifference is an underrated virtue.  As Walt Whitman said, ‘Detach whatever insults your soul.’  I think this is a lovely, compact summary or the virtues of developing indifference to demeaning jerks in the workplace, or anywhere else for that matter.”
  • Look for Small Wins.  “If you can’t win the big war against the creeps, start looking for small battles that you can win, as the sense of control you gain will sustain your spirit,” Sutton advises.  “And if one minor victory after another begins to pile up, who knows – you might start a movement … where the pro asshole rule is slowly but surely replaced by the no asshole rule.”

And I’ll add a final one.  If you are writing about an asshole, don’t actually type out his name.

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Would a Timeout Work in This Election Season?

1-time-out-timer-stoolTime for a timeout?

Yes, the presidential candidates are not children getting cranky or refusing to share.  Yes, they are adults.  But recent actions and behavior in the long and uber-crazy primary season lead to only one conclusion.

Hill, Bernie, the Donnie, Teddy-Boy and John-John need to go sit in their respective quiet spots for a while and think about how they are behaving.

Hill’s playmate, New York Billy de Blasio, needs to find a corner, as well.

This past Sunday, Hill and New York Billy appeared at a political event and tried to impress the crowd by laughingly employing a scripted comedy sequence.

And why not?  These are funny people, right?

Noting that the mayor took a long time to give the former New York senator his endorsement, Hill said: “Thanks for the endorsement, Bill.  Took you long enough.”

Inexplicably, and with extreme tone deafness, New York Billy replied: “Sorry, Hillary, I was running on C.P. time.”

The audience reaction underlined the offensiveness of New York Billy’s remark, given that “C.P. time” not only is a racially insensitive abbreviation for “colored people’s time” but also is a remark that many had hoped had faded from use.

“The controversy couldn’t come at a more inauspicious time for Clinton,” writes Adam Howard on the NBC News website.  “… Bill Clinton has been in the hot seat this past week for public, racially charged clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters. Both Clintons have been increasingly under fire for the past vociferous support for a 1994 crime bill which has not been faulted for sky high incarceration rates, which has disproportionately impacted African-Americans.”

Timeout!

And then there’s Bernie, who was blasted last week by former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his claim that Israel has killed more than 10,000 innocent Palestinians in Gaza.  On Sunday, when being interviewed on CNN, Bernie dismissed the criticism, but showed — surprisingly — that he didn’t know who Oren is.

“Who is Mr. Oren?” Mr. Sanders said after being asked about the criticism.

Oops.

Timeout!

This came atop their earlier “qualified/unqualified” squabble that was reminiscent of two kids screaming in the street.

Did so!  Did not!  Did so!  Did not!

They questioned each other’s bona fides to be president.  Bernie wondered about Hill’s integrity and Hill suggested that Bernie is not a “real Democrat.”

Timeout!

As for the Donnie: he is getting very cranky because he doesn’t like how others are playing.  He’s probably hungry or needs a nap.

“You saw what happened in Colorado,” he whined after his most recent defeat.  “It’s a fix. … It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system.”

And then there are the other kids with whom the Donnie hangs.  Noted Kirstan Conley in the New York Post: “Trump was introduced by Jennifer Crisafulli, who was fired on ‘The Apprentice’ and lost a job in real life after being criticized for comments about ‘two old Jewish fat ladies’ who she said were ‘jaded old bags.’”

Timeout!

Teddy-Boy, meanwhile, the self-described outsider with whom no one wanted to play, has become acceptable because … well, just because.  “If they gave out a report card for first-term senators, Cruz would get an F for ‘plays well with others’,” writes Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times in a column titled “Ted Cruz isn’t Donald Trump, so he’s good enough.”

Goldberg notes the irony that Teddy-Boy spent years building his reputation as the guy who wants to tear down the system, “and now it’s the system, not necessarily the voters, that may put him over the top.”

And now Teddy-Boy has accused the Donnie of threatening delegates; this was part of his response to the Donnie’s claims that Teddy-Boy used “gestapo” tactics to win in Colorado.

“That is a tactic of union thugs,” he said during the interview with Glenn Beck, reports ABC News.  “That is violence. It is oppressive. The idea that Donald is threatening delegates, we’re seeing that pattern over and over again. Donald needs to understand he’s not Michael Corleone, Donald needs to stop threatening the voters. He needs to stop threatening the delegates. He is not a mobster.”

Timeout!

John-John, meanwhile, is getting punchy because he has been talking – and saying nice things – for months, but no one is listening.  So he’s decided to go in a new direction.

“The Ohio governor’s speech at the Women’s National Republican Club in New York had all the trappings of a presidential affair, with ‘Hail to the Chief’ piped into the room and American flags prominently placed behind him,” wrote Eliza Collins in Politico.

And John-John was very critical of his opponents … for the first time.  “Some who feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention,” he said.  “That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again.”

He also said the other kids (ah, adults) are not playing nice and suggesting “disturbing” solutions and behavior, including religious tests for immigration, targeted neighborhood surveillance, draconian tariffs, and a dramatic rethink of NATO.

“I have stood on a stage and watched with amazement as candidates wallowed in the mud, viciously attacked one another, called each other liars and disparaged each other’s character,” he said.  “Those who continuously push that type of behavior are not worthy of the office they are seeking.”

Timeout!

But wait, the experts aren’t certain about the value of timeouts.

“Next time the need for discipline arises, parents might consider a ‘time-in’: forging a loving connection, such as sitting with the child and talking or comforting,” write Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne, Bryson, Ph.D., in Time magazine.  “Some time to calm down can be extremely valuable for children, teaching them how to pause and reflect on their behavior.”

Talking and comforting?  Maybe we can work that into the upcoming debates.

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They Are What We Thought They Are

Republican DebateIowa’s behind us. And the New Hampshire GOP primary is on the doorstep.

Some clarity is emerging. As are some confirmations of earlier thoughts. Throw in some random observations.

And here we are..

Donald Trump’s winner “record” is littered with quits and walkaways. Stay tuned! This guy could take his ball and bats and go home at any time.

His history defies what he says about himself. He penchant for saying “forget about it” remains a wildcard.  Writes Ben Schreckinger of Politico Magazine:

Like many successful businessmen, the real estate developer and GOP pack leader – who often espouses his disdain for “losers” — does not see every venture and contest through to the bitter end. Throughout his career, Trump has demonstrated wild enthusiasm at the start of big projects, and ruthlessly pursued a profit agenda that, in many cases, has led him to ditch the deal when the risks, whether financial or reputational, start to outweigh the prospective reward.

From a casino in French Lick, Indiana, to a dispute with condo owners in Panama and even in renewing “The Apprentice” reality show on NBC, Trump has time and again spotted the point of diminishing returns and quit.

Ted Cruz is a shameless chameleon.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni vividly tells us how Cruz easily shifts from one position to another. In particular, he cites Cruz “supporting” Carly Fiorina’s attempt to be included the GOP primary in that state.

Noting that New Hampshire has a female governor and two female senators and that it would be a safe bet that “women will play an especially consequential role” in Tuesday’s vote, Bruni writes:

In the end Fiorina failed in her bid, but Cruz succeeded in presenting a version of himself that I’d not yet had the pleasure of meeting: the knight in sliming armor.

Marco Rubio is Johnny Cale, the Ralph Macchio character from the The Outsiders.

Remember Johnny, smaller and slighter than the rest – always hustling to keep up? Always wanting to prove himself to the bigger guys? Here’s a portion of the character’s description from IMDb website.

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you’ll have Johnny. He is the youngest .. and the smallest. He has big black eyes in a dark tanned face. His hair is jet-black … He is the gang’s pet and everyone’s kid brother.

We thought Jeb Bush was a general-election candidate, not a primary candidate.  Now we know it.

It isn’t complicated. It didn’t work in his own party, which is interesting because you have to believe his centrality is made for a general. Patricia Murphy of Roll Call tries to explain what the end of the campaign looks like.

But the men and women going out to see Jeb in New Hampshire weren’t ready to say goodbye yet. They defended him the way you’d defend an old friend, calling him “honest,” “decent” and “a good man.” His no-frills approach could play well among New England independents on Tuesday and more pragmatic Republicans in South Carolina. Jeb promised that’s where he’s going next this time with his brother, George, along.

Republican voters continue to miss the fact that John Kasich is, and continues to be, the adult in the GOP room.

The Ohio governor has bet the farm on his showing in New Hampshire, not unlike the other two governors (Bush and Chris Christie) who are trying to stake out the establishment lane – if one still exists — in the Republican Party.  Write Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont of The Washington Post:

Kasich has prided himself on avoiding direct criticism of his rivals during the campaign, and kept up that strategy both in the debate and as he campaigned Sunday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could win being positive?” Kasich said on Fox News.

Still, one has to ask: Does Kasich’s centrality and moderate tone make him a walking-talking anachronism? Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Win or lose, John Kasich will go down in New Hampshire as something of an anomaly in this most aggrieved political season.  The Ohio governor has campaigned for president on a message of relentless optimism, shunning the dark rhetoric, apocalyptic vision and slashing style of many fellow GOP hopefuls

Chris Christie’s really not a Jersey guy.

First of all, Jersey guys don’t tell you they are Jersey guys. Instead, they intentionally bump into going through the men’s room door or they stick their middle finger out the car window as they race by you. They also don’t root for the Dallas Cowboys instead of the Giants.

Jersey guys also don’t wait until this late in the campaign to chew up another candidate with attacks and sarcasm. A real Jersey guy would never have stood at that podium on the far side of the stage for this long.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out that Christie also didn’t take on Trump and allowed him, instead, to be the big dog. And that’s not Jersey.

But for Christie, whose yard signs boast of a candidate “telling it like it is,” the biggest problem of all might be Trump. Trump has usurped the Christie brand of being the unrepentantly loudmouthed alpha male who will tell you the truths that other candidates avoid.

Ben Carson … how in the world has he lasted this long?

What was interesting – and worthy of a few Google searches — in the beginning soon became bizarre and inexplicable.

David A. Graham in The Atlantic notes that Carson not only defied much of the conventional wisdom about how long his campaign would last, but that he also spent a lot of money doing so.

The surprise for Carson is perhaps not that he is fading as the race reaches the actual voting stage — it’s how it took so long. In a cycle when pundits’ many predictions have been proved wrong, it was actually fairly easy to guess that Carson, a first-time candidate with a great personal appeal but mixed-up policy positions, would end up near the back of the pack. The question is how he managed to rise and then fall back to earth.

Carly Fiorina is the GOP’s Martin O’Malley — and vice versa.

It’s all been an audition for either the vice presidential nod, or at least a role in a future Republican administration – or, much like Carson, to help promote a book. She’s already denied it, as Rebecca Leber of the New Republic wrote last year, but … c’mon!

Her latest book, Rising to the Challenge, came out the same week in May that she announced her candidacy. Many believe Fiorina is vying to be the vice presidential pick (she’s a long shot for that, too), which she denies.

So, at the end of the day, we are left quoting ex-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green:

They are what we thought they are.

Our 2016 Candidates: Is This The Best We Can Do as a Country?

democrat-donkey-republican-elephantFor a moment, let’s step back from Hillary vs. Bernie, and Trump vs. … well, Trump, and address what might be the more important question – at least as it pertains to all of the rest of us.

Are the 20 candidates who started this presidential-election process the absolute best we can come up with? Or, as one friend recently said to me: “We’ve having a presidential election and the roster of candidates is worse than the Lakers’ roster.”

There are quick, talking-point answers to that question, of course: For the Democrats, the prospect of the Clinton coronation was proffered as a foregone conclusion and likely tamped down expectations. Understood, in theory. Maybe not so much in reality.

And, cutting across both parties, there’s this other interesting phenomenon – namely, that the candidates generating the most excitement and attention as well as significant support – Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – can easily be seen as “primary candidates” only. You know, intriguing “diversions” who could never get elected in a national election.

A momentary aside: Despite the fact that many commentators link these three to voters’ “never-before-seen” disdain and disgust with the status quo, the respective manias we’re experiencing with each aren’t necessarily new. Think Gene McCarthy …

From the Los Angeles Times:

Sanders’ ideas have stirred the ideological fervor of old progressives and young millennials, just as Eugene McCarthy once did when those old progressives were young students protesting a war.

… or George McGovern, Ronald Reagan (the first time around) or Howard Dean and others.

From USA Today:

Dean himself has jumped into the comparison game.

“There’s certainly an insurgency,” Dean said of Sanders in a recent Washington Post article. “An attractive candidate is basically calling out the Democrats, much the way I did in 2004.”

But, stepping back, one (at least this one) still can’t get away from the fact that the weakness of the overall field is startling in a country of 320 million-plus people. (Look, Canada, with its population of less than 40 million, now has Justin Trudeau and … uh, never mind.)

Moving back to the U.S. …

On the Democratic side, we’ve addressed the Bernie phenomenon above. As for Hillary, short and sweet might be best – damaged; defensive; feeling of entitlement; doesn’t connect with a large proportion of people … including those who probably will end up voting for her.

From The Hill:

“Her challenge remains the same as it always has been — show voters who she is and reveal the person beneath the candidate,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton University. “To win people’s trust and to generate enthusiasm, she has to let some of her character come out.”

“She has so many qualifications: experience, knowledge, partisan skill,” Zelizer said, adding that the likability factor “is what she needs to work on.”

And then there’s Martin O’Malley. Could O’Malley have been a more-compelling figure, given that he’s been angling for this opportunity for eight years? Or is Martin O’Malley, unfortunately, simply who we always thought he was – and nothing more?

Are Gavin Newsom, Deval Patrick and Andrew Cuomo simply too damaged?

Is Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service,” unfortunately John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service.”

Is it too soon for Corey Booker and either of the Castro twins from Texas?

Did Jerry Brown shed his Gov. Moonbean  too late in life?

From the Los Angeles Times:

To watch Jerry Brown is to marvel at just how many political lives he can squeeze into his years on stage.

This Brown, who Thursday put on a conservative suit and tie to read his speech, was inconceivable in 1992 when he was storming the country in a black turtleneck — his ranting and ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign spurred by anger and little else.

On the GOP side, the dearth of candidates was not a problem. But, similar to the Democrats’ issue, the Bush coronation that many expected got derailed because the candidate has warts – or simply was doing something he really didn’t want to do.

Quickly, working through most of the group: Ben Carson leveraged his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast evisceration of President Obama into a presidential run that mystifies many; Marco Rubio is doing well at times but still seems as if he’s on the stage four years too soon; Cruz is busy being Cruz, and arrogantly believing his shtick will translate into a national campaign; Bush is flummoxed; Carly Fiorina quickly rose to prominence and then quickly disappeared; Chris Christie and John Kasich, representing the GOP’s grown-up lane, are at the respective edges of the stage screaming and trying to get attention; Rand Paul is not understanding that his attention-getting antics on the Senate floor were years ago and he isn’t being noticed. (I’ll leave out those who sat at the kiddie table at the debates. Nothing new to say about that other than George … George Pataki?)

So a vacuum was created and Trump was more than happy to jump into it, full throated and with a clever strategy in his pocket. The strategy: play to people’s emotions with bumper-sticker proclamations, jingoistic talking points worthy of the old No-Nothing Party.

From The New Yorker:

He is the latest representative of an anti-immigrant, nativist American tradition that dates back at least to the Know-Nothings of the eighteen-forties and eighteen-fifties. On the other hand, Trump is a twenty-first-century celebrity politician who ruthlessly exploits his fame and his insider knowledge of how the media works to maximum effect.

He also possesses a dedicated avoidance of real issues. All of this buttressed by a vapor-like debate strategy that emphasized the message that he is positioned at the center of the stage because his poll numbers are the best.

(Another aside: One can’t help but wonder when poll numbers became a credible substitute for credentials, as in, “Of course, I’m qualified, my poll numbers are higher than anyone else on the stage.”)

And, so, we move forward with the expectation that Iowa and New Hampshire will start to bring us clarity. Unfortunately, as things become clearer, all we will find out is that the final two unfortunately came from the original list of 20. And, unlike the Lakers, we won’t even get a draft choice or be able to sign a free agent.

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GOP Bloviators Go Silent on Middle Names

2016Candidates-GOPRepublican-Attrib-Flickr-DonkeyHotey-15812860637-640x360So, remember that whole kerfuffle two campaigns ago about the presidential candidate whose middle name was Hussein?

Those who were worked up about Barack Obama’s middle name – and what they said it told us about the real nature of his character – certainly were loud. Time after time, they transparently included his middle name is any and every discussion about him. It did, they told us, prove a good many of the assertions they were making about him.

Fast forward nearly eight years, and those same “middle-name” evaluators have gone silent. Even as the 2016 presidential campaign begins to take shape, it’s interesting to note how the loud voices of the past have gone mute.

Despite all they could work with …

Ted Cruz (full name Rafael Edward Cruz) – Rafael? As in Rafael Trujillo, El Jefe himself? Yes, the same Dominican strongman, who ruled that country for 30 or so years. During that period, estimates are that more than 50,000 people lost their lives to his barbaric regime. By the way, Rafael translates to “God has healed.” Meanwhile, Ted, the name he chooses to use (Ted Bundy, anyone?), means “wealthy guardian.” Interesting.

George Pataki (full name George Elmer Pataki ) – Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr. is a convicted American serial killer, currently serving six life sentences in a Texas prison. Elmer was convicted in 1974 for his role in a series of 1970-1973 murders (the “Houston Mass Murders”), in which at least 28 teenage boys were abducted, tortured, raped and murdered by another man, Dean Corll. Many of the victims were lured to Corll’s home by Henley or another teenage accomplice. When Henley was 17, in 1973, he shot and killed Corll. And let’s not forget the fictionalized Elmer Gantry created by Sinclair Lewis in 1926. The tent-revival preacher formed his own church and radio empire. Must be a Republican thing.

Mike Huckabee (full name Michael Dale Huckabee) – We’ve got William Dale Jennings, a co-founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the earlier (founded in 1950) gay rights organizations in the U.S. And then there’s Dale Christopher Cregan, a convicted British drug-dealer doing life in prison. He was convicted of four counts of murder – including killing two police officers – and three separate counts of attempted murder. Among other things, in September 2012, Cregan made a hoax emergency call to the police. When two officers arrived, Cregan shot them and threw an M75 hand grenade at them. Both officers were hit by at least eight bullets as Cregan fired 32 shots in 31 seconds.

Marco Rubio (full name Marco Antonio Rubio) – So, Antonio Gransci was an Italian Marxist theorist who has his own commemorative plaque – at Mokhovaya Street in Moscow. The inscription reads: “In this building in 1922-1923 worked the eminent figure of international communism and the labor movement and founder of the Italian Communist Party ANTONIO GRAMSCI.” While Gransci might not be a famous name to you, you probably are familiar with Antonio Raimundo “Tony” Montana, the murdering fictional character played by Al Pacino in the 1983 film Scarface.

Ben Carson (full name Benjamin Salomon Carson) – The corrupt Solomon Pross, a character in Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” steals from his sister, becomes an informer in England, and later shows up as a spy in France. The Bible, meanwhile, tells us that King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. The foreign wives apparently pulled Solomon toward idolatry because they worshiped other gods. The Hebrew Bible depicts a visit to King Solomon by the queen of Sheba and tells us that, when Solomon gave her “all her desire, whatsoever she asked,” she left satisfied. Hmm.

Lindsay Graham (full name Lindsay Olin Graham) – Olin is a Swedish name (wait, isn’t Sweden a socialist country!!!) Oh, and it means “to inherit,” which, I suppose, makes it OK. And then there is Nelly Olin, French Minister of Environment. (French!! France!! Environment!!). From 2004 to 2005, Olin was the Minister-Delegate for Social Security. (Social Security!!! She!!)

Jeb Bush (full name John Ellis Bush) – Fittingly, we need not look beyond Jeb Stuart Magruder, who was convicted of conspiracy in the Watergate affair. But there’s also Ruth Charlotte Ellis, the African-American woman who became widely known at 100 as the oldest surviving open lesbian and LGBT rights activist. And Walter E. Ellis, also known as the Milwaukee North Side Strangler, who was an American serial killer who raped and strangled seven women in Milwaukee between 1986 and 2007.

And, lastly, we the Donald, Mr. Trump himself. Middle name John. Not much there. But, in the past there have been multiple bankruptcies involving someone by that name, so maybe … wait a minute, it’s the same guy. Oops. Never mind. Let’s just skip him.

So, wail away, all you talking heads. Treat this next batch the same way you treated that skinny guy with the middle name of Hussein, which, of course, translates to “good,” “handsome” or “beautiful.”