3 Speeches

Yesterday, the longest government shutdown in US history ended. A compromise to re-open remaining offices and provide back pay for some 800,000 federal employees has been put forth with additional funding for three weeks. President Trump announced from the White House Rose Garden the plan in a speech.

One of my favorite things to do is writing for candidates and elected officials. A good speechwriter gets in the head of the orator. I like to consider the natural pauses and rhetorical style people go through. One of my favorite people I had the opportunity to write for was a local pastor who was going to deliver a recorded message to voters.

The man has a distinct style of elocution including rhythmic rhetoric with forceful tone. Obviously, my responsibility was to match his style with substance ending in a call to action for a positive vote. He was expecting a call from me to go over the material and record the message. We hopped on a call and I sent him the material and as he read through it the first time he stopped to say how much he liked what I had written. It is among the most enjoyed compliments I have had in my career.

Writing a speech for another individual can be a difficult process. But, when you do it right the orator is comfortable with the material and the speech comes off strong. In the example above I managed to write something that connected with the person giving the speech.

Trump has an interesting rhetorical style. It has been analyzed and written about and even dissected. I am often confused as to whether Trump goes off talking points or is given a speech that he delivers with random ad-libbing. He does have a speechwriter.

When Trump spoke in the Rose Garden about the end of the 36-day closure, he could have gone in several different directions. He could have spent the entire time attacking Democrats for a myriad of reasons, whether real or imaginary doesn’t really matter. Trumps rhetorical style is effective because it resonates with his audience. And they believe him.

You can see both his delivery and the transcript of his Rose Garden speech here. If you want to dig in on Trump’s public statements and tweets I recommend digging through the factba.se archives. I’ll admit I don’t always understand their methodology for what is positive and what is considered negative, but it seems to work for what they’re selling.

Have you seen the recent Gillette advertisement about toxic masculinity? It’s been widely panned by conservative pundits as a male-bashing pile-on and held as an example of the pitfalls of “woke” commercials within the industry. In reality, it may be the perfect commercial.

Although the material is widely thought to be targeted towards men because they are the focus in the ad, do you to believe it was really targeted towards toxic men to rethink their choices. It is more likely that women are the primary target of this ad. Women choosing to support the message and buy this product and those men who believe in the socially progressive ideas are the likely targets. In short, the message may not have been intended for you.

I can’t even tell you if it ever aired outside of social media. If it was largely limited to social media then they intentionally, and smartly, left out key demographics. It did create a flashpoint of debate in free media with a feeding frenzy of shares and comments helping to spread their message.

If you get hot and bothered by a message it is probably not intended for you. If there’s any genius in the Trump organization it is in that statement. He and his team have the ability to both activate his base and diffuse his antagonists. In that I do mean he can diffuse his antagonists and do not mean to defuse.

Let’s face it, Trump gives his enemies so much fodder that they all focus on different things. There is so much ammunition that every different public has an opportunity to respond. It may also be that his detractors focus more on having a differently qualified statement as to market themselves separately.

That can be a powerful weapon. Spreading out your enemies across different platforms to where it’s difficult to unify when the time comes can be a nasty form of torture.

So the speech Trump gave managed to do a few things. First, it seems to have given his base a wake-up call that they may not get the wall they want. This may become the call-to-action Trump needs to keep them engaged into the 2020 election.

Second, it gives some people a reason to say that Trump is showing he has a heart. Deep down, people don’t want to believe their president is a crook, a liar and a puppet of a foreign government. If you’re not a fan of Trump’s, then you are likely able to point to how he is all three.

Third, Democrats were lulled into a false sense of security and with a win.

If you are a fan, then you know precisely how Trump is being set up. If you are not sure about Trump, then the drama of a government shutdown affects you much more directly then the arrest of anyone associated with the dirty politics of an election. After all, weren’t both candidates for president crooks in 2016? Aren’t men toxic?

So, what if Trump gave a different speech focused on the human situation of the 800,000 employees who weren’t getting paid through the shutdown? This speech would not have been given under any condition but Trump could have moved to the center by doing so. To answer this we have to reconcile the fact that Trump’s administration is not so much Conservative but Libertarian.

The Libertarian ideology calls for free markets and no government regulation. They don’t believe in public education and believe in a minimal public service from the police. Fundamentally, people must care for themselves and can do so by their own word. Ironically, if you follow Trump’s business dealings, you might become terrified of this proposition.

For Trump to focus on the plight of the government worker would be to abandon a part of who he and his base are. Conservatives, for the most part, are just along for the ride in a Libertarian administration.

Missouri’s story illustrates this very well. In 2000, 2,361,586 people voted in the US Senate race that year. Then 9/11 happened, and in 2004, 2,731,364 people voted for president. These are the races that most people cast ballots for in those years. Nearly 300,000 people started voting in 2004 who did not previously vote. These people are Libertarian. This explains why Missouri can vote for marijuana referendums and a senator who pledges to do what Trump wants.

These people became the foot soldiers of the Tea Party and now are the power center of the Freedom Caucus and controlling interest of the Republican Party.

For Missouri, this is a significant change in the political ecosystem. It’s as if an entire underground ideology woke up seeking retribution for government failing to protect them. They are thousands of miles away from ground zero and yet awoke as if it was their backyard on fire. And this happened all over the nation.

Trump’s tweet that he doesn’t want a lot of those 800,000 employees back dovetails perfectly with the ultimate goal of his base: having no one to regulate them.

So if we hoped for Trump to hold the center ground by being less callous to federal employees that boat has sailed. He didn’t and won’t. Media portrayals of the administration being aloof completely missed the mark. It is completely reasonable to libertarians to turn to the market to finance needs rather than a social safety net.

The wall remains a goal of the administration. It is both a symbol of what is necessary and what is wrong. The absence of the wall is necessary for Trump to be successful in 2020. It doesn’t matter that space where there is an absence of the wall is where there are the fewest arrests.

The next speech Trump is likely to give will allow him to regroup. It will be a call to action followed by a flurry of events rousing his base. The next speech will actually lay out his agenda and berate the Democrats to their face. For Trump’s base, this will keep them unified and focused. Trump will also use it to test their will for a more extended shutdown.

Trump has demonstrated he can do without a status quo government. We are still to believe he can’t do without a physical wall, despite the offer of a more high-tech infrastructure by Democrats.

We move past the Super Bowl this weekend. It is an event seen by some as the reason Trump folded as flights were canceled going into La Guardia Aiport. The effect in Atlanta would be terrible for the influx of expected money for such a high profile event. One thing Libertarians can’t abide is a market failure, especially if it is caused by government failure. In this case, the safety infrastructure showed cracks as people called in or just didn’t show up for work.

The privatization of airports is likely going to be a part of the State-of-the-Union. St. Louis is debating this issue right now. The people pushing airport privatization in St. Louis happen to be Libertarian.

It’s the perfect narrative for change. The government demonstrated it is inept. If you followed the NPR coverage of prison guards and how they coped with the shutdown you often heard about how well they were paid compared to the rest of the community they served. Do you think that might sow some seeds of jealousy?

Put yourself in the mind of the person in that rural town. You are hearing about how better-off a government worker is compared to you. You don’t like government. What is your response? Probably get another job, do what’s necessary and stop whining because your life, in general, just hit a snag.

How attractive would privatization look if it ensures prison guards show up and get paid? Add airports to the debate and sweeten the deal with improvements for the safety infrastructure? You can expect all ports to be looked at for privatization at some point.

The next big travel day is Mardi Gras on March 5th. That is just after the planned three-week cease-fire. After Mardi Gras is another significant travel day with Easter. Both end a list of the worst travel days in the US. They also feature lots of money exchanging hands for Louisiana and Christians, although they are not exactly the same demographic targets here.

You can bet that Trump wanted people to give a taste of government not working. The moment they started canceling flights in New York was our “Oh, no” moment. But was it the intended message? It was a palpable moment sending messages to us all. Some of us saw it as a sign of a callous government once again not working. Some of us saw it as bi-product of politics. Others blamed Trump. But those people weren’t Trump supporters, to begin with.

So now we have a new crisis. It’s not the border. It is us. Our crisis is one of government. That is something most voters just saw. It is in part the fact that politicians can high-jack the system preventing people from working. The only possible solution could then be to privatize the system. If the government can’t protect the people it is meant to serve and simultaneously keep it running then the answer must be to privatize.

Progressive Democrats will have to struggle with their answer to this question. Their position that government works best when we work together just failed in the face of a national audience. Good government requires a people willing to negotiate in good faith. We either lack faith or our faith can be manipulated quite easily. We will know after the third speech.

So progressives, when the next speech is given in your face there won’t be a drum pounding. It will be a fist. You can stand there with a smirk on your face, or you can take action. If you understand the events as I have unfolded them, then I suspect you are not smiling at this time. That’s a lot to consider. America will be waiting for your rebuttal.

All food is local

A college professor once asked my class to write an essay explaining why all politics is local. A young man raised his hand and said, “what if you don’t believe that.” I sat there quietly a little swollen in my chair at the foolishness of the line in the sand the guy was drawing.

The professor’s shocked face gave all the reply the class needed. “What else could it be,” he replied. “If you don’t agree with that statement you had better have a good reason, and that is the point of the paper anyway. So as long as your focus is on the idea that all politics is local you should write your essay explaining what that means.”

Harold Laswell says that politics is who gets what, when and how. We can apply this definition to everything you do. Every decision you make in life is a political decision and answers the question can you do X.

We tend to think that politics is about voting or whether we have certain rights. We want to push politics out of our lives when all we are doing is not recognizing everything we do is political. If you’re thinking right now that money decides who gets what when you’re kind of like that kid in class and not recognizing the central point- politics happens before economics.

Have you ever tried chicken feet? There’s a restaurant in St. Louis I like called the Mandarin House. They serve authentic Chinese cuisine and when you go with a friend from the community you will probably hear about how what most of us order isn’t authentic Chinese food. It’s an interesting discussion because like you I’ve had my fill of General Tso’s chicken.

A few years ago some friends were telling me about problems we were having with Chinese restaurants. The health department was cracking down on how they prepared food. Cooks were leaving food out too long before it was being prepared. This can cause problems because bacteria grow at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The United States Department of Agriculture has all kinds of regulations and recommendations for food handling. This is important because for most of the food we consume it goes through a process of being broken down and transformed within a supply chain. Their guidelines define how long you should let food sit out before cooking and then once cooked what temperature you need to hold the food at and even how long you can take to cool food for storage. It’s a complex system designed to prevent people from getting sick.

Those standards, it turns out, also don’t fit the cultural traditions of some chefs who weren’t trained in the US, as I’m told. It may be they came from a place that was either lax in these standards or they knew these standards and just ignore them. The reality is if you don’t follow these rules you will, eventually, get people sick.

Many restaurant owners in the Chinese community felt they were being targeted because they weren’t passing their health inspections and being threatened with fines or being shut down.

I was introduced to the Mandarin House by then Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal who I worked for a few times in the past when she needed a local person to help with things in her district. If you think she’s wild on twitter ride around all day for a few month with her. You’ll see her whirlwind life is a passion for the people in her community. She’s kind of like water: if there isn’t a way she’ll make one.

Maria introduced me to the Mandarin House with an intern who was from the community. We didn’t go to the buffet. Instead, we chose from the dim sum carts and that’s the way to go for a real experience. The food is amazing and intricate and the texture is nothing like Western food.

One of the items we had was chicken feet. Not every place on earth has the commodity hog, beef or chicken we have in the US. In fact, we didn’t always have those beasts at the level we do now. People had to make do with the food they had and animal protein was sparse. Bone marrow is a trendy dish now in part because it tells a story of who we use to be.

Chicken feet will set some people off but it’s really good and a fun dish, in part because you can’t help but break etiquette to do it properly. To make chicken feet you have to boil them forever in high-temperature water, broth or sauce. The tendons need to break down and they become loose and then get cooled. Here in lies a problem based on where you’re from. Some might take them straight to a refrigerator but they should actually go into an ice bath.

The ice bath not only lowers the temperature quickly passing the danger zone but it also seizes up the feet making it a crispier product when you finally fry it.

So the dim sum cart comes along and Maria chooses for us and there are the chicken feet. I’m listening to how my company passes on Americanized Chinese food and that they have never really tried it because it lacks the flavor. So here I am jamming chopsticks into my mouth and twisting the feet around and sucking on knuckles. I slide the bones back between the chopsticks with my tongue and place them clean back on the plate, no different than a wing besides the utensils.

I mentioned I had never had the opportunity to eat chicken feet before and I was curious. They watch me maneuver the morsels and ask me what I think. I kid you not, I said it tastes like General Tso’s chicken because it did. Right down to the sauce the feet were served in. It was crispy, chewy and tasty. And I moved on to the pork bun.

Whether you eat chicken feet today is first a political decision because it answers who gets what, when and how. Whether you’re eating chicken breast or feet is an economic question. Economics is about choice where politics is about decisions. Once you have choices you can then make a decision. Politics decided that it is possible to serve chicken feet so long as you follow certain rules along the way.

The issues with the restaurants made it’s way up to the ninth floor and the health department convened a meeting with the offended parties. Staff from the county executive’s office attended and the situation was discussed as a group. St. Louis County government is the chief regulator of restaurants within its boundaries where food is concerned.

As an aside, Urban Chestnut in the Grove is actually regulated by both the City of St. Louis and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) because they produce liquor on site and distribute it around Missouri and other states, who also regulate them. But, the restaurant itself falls under local jurisdiction.

The county adopts a code and implements it locally. It also implements it across the board and applies it the same to everybody regardless of the municipality the business is in. It’s one uniform code. But the purveyor has to choose which municipality to set up in.

Between the city and county we have the choice of some 90 municipalities, unincorporated space and the City of St. Louis. The politics is different among all of these places and the city county merger can’t change that. Why? Because all politics is local and neighborhoods will always determine who gets what, when and how. Right?

The Mandarin House set up on state highway 340 in University City because they wanted to be in U City, right? Well, they wanted to serve their authentic cuisine to a population who would appreciate it. They wanted their customers to have a reasonable drive to get to them. So they chose to be located on that stretch of 340 known as Olive Boulevard. If you click on the embedded link above, you will see that 340 runs through multiple municipalities.

That Wikipedia page states the entire route is in St. Louis County. If you Google Olive Boulevard you are shown a map that designates 340 as running into the city ending at North Skinker Parkway. This is important to the Mandarin House because they want their customers to be able to find their way in the easiest way possible.

All customers know that the commute is a part of the experience of eating out. How you get there and home is as important as whether you have water placed in front of you when you sit down. If the commute sucks that will likely taint the whole experience. How do I know this? Because some restaurants make getting there a part of the experience. Ever heard of the Safe House?

But if I were to leave from Ellisville and go to eat in U City I would pass through multiple municipalities who all have different feelings about the state highway running through them. To my knowledge, the state has responsibility for the entire stretch. However, they hear from the different communities in different ways and at different times.

The Mandarin House probably doesn’t lobby a lot about the condition of 340 out front. But the fact that a state legislator likes to go there likely means that if they need to ask questions about its condition they know who to talk to, as do the city administrator and mayor of U City. As do the same people in Ellisville where you will find a Pasta House.

This is another popular place in our region and franchises are available. So if you were interested in buying this franchise what would you do? You’d talk to the county about health code and then probably talk to a couple different cities. Why? Because you need to be informed on each of their own codes, which may or may not have slight differences.

In reality most cities in St. Louis County actually use county code for buildings. The answer is straight forward, economics. These cities can’t afford to manage the technical needs of building code. But before it’s an economic choice, the county made it a political decision. They won’t implement individual codes for each muni. Public Works in the County keeps a matrix to keep track of which city they have a contract with to manage electrical, plumbing and other codes. But each city the county contracts with uses the adopted County code.

This leads to some interesting lobbying from school districts, city aldermen from county munis and business. Enter the raw politics most people can’t abide. I’ll tell some of those stories another time.

But, if you wanted to start a business, would you want to spend time getting to know all of your choices? Or, would you prefer knowing you had one place to deal with?

If it’s a choice of chicken feet or chicken breast you’re really talking about economics. But if I were having dinner with Laswell, I’m pretty sure we would focus on the fact that this choice doesn’t go away because both are regulated the same way.

A Story from St. Louis

St. Louis is spinning right now! We are just now starting to see real movement out of years of inaction after events in Ferguson rocked our community. We were severely divided. My father-in-law is a retired police officer from St. Charles County, near St. Louis, and my daughter is a social justice-minded teenager and aspiring artists. I am a political operative who wrote the St. Louis County policy on human relations, created a bi-state human relations commission and has worked for progressive politicians who often put inequity on the table. Needless to say, my daughter’s mouth takes after me.

A couple of years ago, when Ferguson erupted, members of my family immediately took polar opposite sides on issues. Many saw Mike Brown as a punk who got what was coming to him for attacking a police officer. My daughter posted a lot on social media about how people are treated by police, especially people of color. Something she believed was unfair and needs correcting. This was met by backlash from my in-laws. My side of the family is largely non-existent on social media because they’re teachers and you all can’t control your kids.

My wife ended up in the middle of a firestorm. She was being told by her brothers and sister what to do, which is never a good place to be. Her father wasn’t talking to anyone in my house and posted some hurtful things about his grand-daughter online. Sides were taken and there was no shaking anyone out of it. Essentially we all moved on from each other for a while.

That’s St. Louis for you. We’re a bunch of municipalities of different ages and maturity who occasionally take sides against each other. Now, the question is: If we could come together, can we address our issues and actually solve problems?

St. Louis City is a charter city in Missouri. It has about 308,000 people according to the census bureau’s 2017 estimate. The city has been shrinking since the middle of last century and has been ranked last according to some reports in growth. Updated reports place St. Louis a little higher these days. But, if you’re in the business of big sales, that isn’t enough for most people these days. We’re in a global economy and we need to act like it.

The city separated from the county over the same issue: You can’t tell me what to do or who to be.

The solution we are debating is should we get the family back together. The reality is that we’re different people since our big fight. In St. Louis we call this split “The Great Divorce.” The event, outcome and failed resolution have had drastic consequences. But so too has other policy on the region.

We once had an amazing trolley system. We were a connected place. Kenneth Johnson’s Crabgrass Frontier describes a St. Louis where weekenders would go to Kirkwood and Webster Groves. Those lines were scrapped in favor of automobiles and the interstate highway system bulldozed through neighborhoods speeding up suburbanization into St. Louis County.

The way we are connected in this region constantly changes. We continue to lay tracks, invest in a virtual persona, and rebuild those highways. As such, the conversation has evolved and a resolution is expected to be put in front of us in 2020. While the outcome is not certain, a parent’s command of you will fix this is hoped for by some and frightens many in the region.

Some claim the many municipalities in the county hamper economic growth. And others point to the city as an example of being too big and failed. Social media is being filled with pockets of the city where neighborhoods look rundown. Neither side recognizes the thriving neighborhoods of the region that exist because of and despite the separation. Our focus is on the question of, can we thrive better if we act more as a singular family unit under one direction?

Do we lose our individual perspective if we act as one? Will we be seen only as one if we join forces?

Over the summer and fall, I spent a lot of time in Michigan for work. I had never heard of Troy, Sterling Heights or Royal Oak, which are all suburbs of Detroit. This place is massive. Detroit itself is reported as 142.9 square miles through a Google search. The Census Bureau calculates the urbanized area to be 1,337 square miles. That makes it 11th in the U.S. in the urbanized area even though Detroit City ranks 64th in size by area compared to other major cities. It should be noted that 14 of the cities on that list above Detroit don’t have a population of 100,000.

So in this global economy, if it makes sense for St. Louis City and County to merge, why not Detroit? Well, first, St. Louis City is 66 square miles according to a Google search, other estimates have it being less. Either way, that’s a pretty small community. But there are still over 300,000 people living in that little place.

Using Census figures Governing Magazine puts the density of St. Louis City at 5,030 people per square miles. You’ll notice that’s respectably high for population density.

St. Louis County is another story. Google says it’s 523 square miles. The City of Wildwood in St. Louis County is 67.08 square miles making it larger by area than St. Louis City. The Census estimates the counties population to be 996,726 residents. The county is almost eight times the size and only three times the population. Could it be more populous if one government was managing growth?

It’s been a few years since the uproar in my family. We’ve largely grown in our own ways since then, much like the region where we all live. There hasn’t been much reconciliation from anyone. We do our best to support each other in our own ways. The parallels to the city and county are striking. Both issues will always be there. It’s become a part of who we are in many ways.

Nobody has the opportunity on any side to just walk away from each other because we are, in all reality, bound to each other for good and bad.

It is said cities are creatures of the state. If a city acts outside the intentions of the state’s interest they can be forced down a different path. In 2020 we may see the state take St. Louis City and County down another path. Emotions are high on both sides. Personal identity is at stake and individuality is on the line.

So what will we do? Will we see the common interest is not what our individual want reflect but that together we can address the bigger problems. Or should we hold on to what we want at this time despite the fact years pass and new needs emerge?

I invite you to explore St. Louis and discover how much fun you can have here. I’ll be exploring St. Louis over time and discussing what I enjoy here. If you have questions message me and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. But I would point out that I can’t contrive your experience. You will need to explore what works for you along your own path.