Can we make the presidency great again? Please?

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An interesting conversation started in response to one of the items on yesterday’s Open Thread, and I’d like to continue it here.

The item was this:

The American presidency is shrinking before the world’s eyes

… Every new administration has a shakeout period. But this assumes an ability to learn from mistakes. And this would require admitting mistakes. The spectacle of an American president blaming a Fox News commentator for a major diplomatic incident was another milestone in the miniaturization of the presidency.

An interested foreigner (friend or foe) must be a student of Trump’s temperament, which is just as bad as advertised. He is inexperienced, uninformed, easily provoked and supremely confident in his own judgment. His advantage is the choice of some serious, experienced advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. But success in their jobs depends on Trump’s listening skills.

Mere incompetence would be bad enough. But foreigners trying to understand the United States must now study (of all things) the intellectual influences of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon….

It’s a wonder that the author, Michael Gerson, was able to type “the intellectual influences of… Stephen K. Bannon” without his fingers rebelling and refusing their duty.

In response, Bryan Caskey posed this question:

Yeah. It’s been going downhill for awhile. Raises the interesting question: When was the American Presidency at its apex in the world? Which President cast the longest shadow on the world stage?

Mark Stewart responded with his nominees, but I’d like to see some thoughts from others.

My own views…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt towers over all. I measure all by that. He’s the standard to rise to. (Yes, Lincoln was our greatest president, but not so much “on the world stage.” He was rather tied up here at home. And in his case, I can forgive that.)

Truman, Ike, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush père and the others are measured by how well they navigated the world order that FDR left them.

The presidency began to diminish with the end of the Cold War. When people started talking about “peace dividends” and domestic agendas and saying obnoxious things like “It’s the economy, stupid” — that’s where the decline started.

Oh, and before you (especially you Democrats, but some of you populists and culture warriors on the right as well) get on a high horse defending domestic priorities, try doing this: Add up the domestic accomplishments of all of U.S. presidents from 1991 on, and I think you’ll find the result is a tiny fraction of what LBJ — or FDR — did domestically in a single year. (Say, 1964-65.)

Presidents and Congresses no longer do great things, globally or domestically. They just jockey for position in the next election.

OK, so that’s a bit broad and perhaps unfair. But compared to Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson, the pickings are pretty slim, and the ambitions for the country less impressive. I mean, look at THE big agenda item for Republicans now that they finally hold all the cards. What do they most want to do? Undo something that was done under the last administration, which by the way was the most ambitious thing Washington has tried to since the days when LBJ did bigger things than that before breakfast.

That, and build a big ol’ wall to keep them pesky Mexicans out.

In other words, low, petty, mean, small, crabby things that diminish us as a nation, that drag us down into being even less than we are in these uninspiring times.

And what’s the greatest ambition of the Democrats? To stop them from doing those things. Or maybe to try to stop them, and fail, and use it in the next election — which is as far as any of these people’s horizons extend.

What would it take actually to Make America Great Again, or at least have the office of president — and if we really want to aim high, Congress — be something we can respect?

And how on Earth do we get there from this profoundly low, demeaning spot in the road?

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69 thoughts on “Can we make the presidency great again? Please?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Of course, the quick and dirty answer is that we won’t have great, or even passable, leadership until we the people are willing to elect such people.

    And that is the real challenge. Our vision of ourselves as a nation has become so limited, so inward, so narrow in scope. We tend to want small and petty things, and we get small and petty “leaders.”

    I wish I knew where to start on improving the electorate. I used to think I was helping with that, in my own small way, as a journalist — a conduit for ideas, vision, principles. But look where we are now…

    Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        No, I don’t think he will — although I’ll let bud speak for himself.

        No matter which party does it, the result is the same: The districts drawn for BOTH parties encourage the nomination of extremists. Looked at it objectively, it does as much harm overall to the party doing the gerrymandering. The members of that party think they’ve been so clever, and then they find themselves losing their primaries to a bunch of yahoos.

        In any case, it may be unlikely those of us with gray hair will see a time when Democrats do the drawing. The GOP has had the upper hand in this process for the last three cycles, and as a result their dominance grows from election to election — even though it’s changing the essential nature of the party…

        Reply
        1. Richard

          I dont think there should be districts. We have county lines already drawn, allow counties to elect their officials, larger counties get multiple representatives, they’re all responsible for all of the citizens of the district.

          Reply
  2. bud

    Obama will almost certainly improve his standing as determined by the presidential rating organizations over the course of time. He had a remarkably scandal free 8 years in the White House that should be given a great deal of weight in his future rating. He was able to bring back a measure of dignity to the office that was lost over the previous 16 years. (Even the vaunted FDR had scandals. His marital improprieties and his court packing scheme can only be regarded as a black mark on his reputation. He also pulled out of stimulus mode too soon during the Great Depression. This is not to impugn the reputation of Mr. Roosevelt but rather to point out that even the best have flaws.)

    With this context in mind it is worth noting that Obama’s steady hand, though imperfect at times, provided comfort to the nation and the world as we recovered from the nightmare of the Bush years both domestically and in terms of respect from the world of nations. It was a very difficult climb to recover from the post World War II nadir of the George W. Bush years but he guided us back to a position of relative prosperity after reaching the lowest point since the 1930s. 77 months of positive job growth is a record that will be hard to top. Further Mr. Obama recognized the fallacy of long-term boots- on-the-ground involvement in Iraq and properly pulled us out of that losing effort. The current nightmare in the region cannot be reasonably blamed on him but he did the best that could be reasonably be expected. It was really an impossible task.

    Obama also recognized the genuine threat to our environment and moved forward with solutions. He also brought about new civil rights successes with the LGBT community which will have profound, and long lasting positive repercussions for many decades to come. The ACA is an under-rated achievement that finally got the ball rolling again (from LBJs accomplishments) to restructure our flawed health care system. All of this while deficits declined, inflation and interest rates were low and wages began to slowly rise.

    Sadly much of the good, but incomplete work of Obama is likely to be destroyed by the Trump led government. Only time will tell whether these accomplishments are permanent at some level or fleeting.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Look, I like Obama. But in terms of accomplishments, as time goes by I expect him to end up somewhere in the middle of the pack.

      Seriously, what’s his greatest accomplishment? The ACA? Taking actions to prevent the recession becoming a full-blown Depression? I think that’s middle-of-the-road stuff. The ACA should certainly not be repealed, but it’s pretty thin stuff compared to what should have been done (single-payer). And what he did on the economy wasn’t that far a cry from the course Bush had embarked on in his last months.

      And of course, I disagree entirely with almost all of this:

      With this context in mind it is worth noting that Obama’s steady hand, though imperfect at times, provided comfort to the nation and the world as we recovered from the nightmare of the Bush years both domestically and in terms of respect from the world of nations. It was a very difficult climb to recover from the post World War II nadir of the George W. Bush years but he guided us back to a position of relative prosperity after reaching the lowest point since the 1930s. 77 months of positive job growth is a record that will be hard to top. Further Mr. Obama recognized the fallacy of long-term boots- on-the-ground involvement in Iraq and properly pulled us out of that losing effort. The current nightmare in the region cannot be reasonably blamed on him but he did the best that could be reasonably be expected. It was really an impossible task.

      To you, Bush was a “nightmare.” Not so to most of us; most of his detractors are less hyperbolic. He wasn’t much to write home about, but he was no James Buchanan, or even an Andrew Jackson. And absolutely nowhere near a Trump…

      Reply
      1. bud

        Scholars overwhelmingly agree with me on this. (No ranking for Trump yet) But the aggregate ranking of all presidents as shown in the Wiki article have Bush dead last among presidents since WW2. Only Harding ranks lower since 1900. Several 19th century presidents did worse including WH Harrison and James Garfield, both only in office a very short time before their death. James Buchanan is last overall with Lincoln, Washington and FDR at the top. Obama ranks 6th since WW 2 (Truman, Kennedy, Ike, Johnson and Reagan). That is pretty much middle of the pack but I think he’ll improve over time as his accomplishments stand up to the test of time.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_presidents_of_the_United_States

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        1. Doug Ross

          Which accomplishments will stand the test of time? Obamacare was his signature piece of legislation. It will be decimated by the end of Trump’s term. Zero foreign policy achievement. Zero action on big cultural issues like race, gay marriage, legalizing marijuana. He was a two term Jimmy Carter. Ignoring the disaster that was W., he’s beating out Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and Clinton – two of which left office in disgrace. The bar is pretty, pretty low for 6th place. He’s the Vanderbilt of SEC Football.

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            1. Doug Ross

              Oh, yes, I’m sure you spent HOURS poring over history books to come up with your ranking…

              I wasn’t alive for Truman or Ike. I was 2 years old when JFK was killed.
              Johnson got a lot of people killed in Vietnam and ramped up the “War on Poverty” (which he lost apparently as we’re still fighting it with the same handouts). Nixon WAS a crook. Carter may have been my favorite President because he was two things some of them weren’t: smart and ethical. He won for the same reason Obama won – he followed a guy who was terrible. In the end, he was just too nice a guy to be President. That brings me into the Reagan years, which I thought were basically a joke. Reagan was our first figurehead President – a guy who acted like President but probably couldn’t balance a checkbook. His second term was basically a coverup for his dementia. He’s followed by Bush Sr. who was a nice guy but didn’t do much. He was a legacy living off Reagan’s persona. Followed by Clinton who had the good luck to come along as the internet was taking off so it looked like he had some hand in the booming economy and the bad “luck” to be unable to control his sexual predator behavior… then we get the disaster that was George Bush and his puppeteer Dick Cheney. I probably felt the way Brad feels about Trump when Bush was elected. A guy who had ZERO background, had done nothing exceptional in his life, and he was handed the Presidency — where he turned it into a pantheon of photo ops, phony wars, and steering the economy directly into an iceberg.
              The we get Obama, the lucky recipient of following Bush and having a golden tongue. Hope and change! Hope and change! And then what? “Wahhh.. the Republicans are being MEAN to me!!!” No leadership skills, no big ideas (Obabacare is a website and insurance rules plus handouts, that’s it).

              So here’s my ranking:

              Carter, all the rest.

              Reply
                1. bud

                  At least we have Enron, Bernie Madoff, BP and Goldman Sachs to keep us afloat until we get a competent POTUS.

                2. Doug Ross

                  Hey, bud. you spend 94.5% of your time complaining about 50% of the country and 100% of anyone with money. I guess that makes you an eternal optimist.

                3. bud

                  Let’s not forget this fine entrepreneur:

                  “Former Peanut Corporation of America Owner Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison in Albany, Georgia on Monday. A jury convicted him of knowingly shipping out salmonella-contaminated peanut butter and hiding the evidence. (Sept. 22) AP”

                  No doubt about it, business people are the salt of the earth who bring forth wonderful goods and services that make life in America wonderful. People in government are all corrupt, evil, worthless scum. This pretty much sums up the world view of Doug Ross.

                4. Doug Ross

                  “People in government are all corrupt, evil, worthless scum. ”

                  You left out lazy and unaccountable.

                5. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “Unaccountable?” Yeah, right — maybe on Bizarro World.

                  Doug has it exactly backwards. By definition, people in the public sector are accountable where people in the private sector are not.

                  That’s why they get in trouble so much — they’re a thousand times more likely to get caught when they do something wrong.

                  Doug looks at that, and reaches precisely the wrong conclusion. To him, the fact that public officials are so often held to account proves that they are LESS accountable than private sector types, who are so seldom caught when they mess up…

                6. Claus2

                  So then why are public official, who know they’re accountable and going to get caught doing some of the things they’re doing? Did Courson know he was going to get caught by taking kickbacks from Richard Quinn? Do legislators who miss 50% of the votes know they’re going to get caught yet still skip votes?

    2. Rose

      ” This is not to impugn the reputation of Mr. Roosevelt but rather to point out that even the best have flaws.”
      Then there’s FDR’s Executive Order 9066 – the forced relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. Nearly two-thirds were American citizens.

      Reply
  3. Karen Pearson

    I’ve got to agree with Bud about gerrymandering. It allows the parties to become just as polarized as they wish to be. which in turn makes efficient government impossible.

    Reply
  4. Tom Stickler

    Any discussion of improving politics has to include a discussion of campaign finance. Unlimited contributions pretty much eliminates “better” candidates, since only those willing to do the bidding of their donors (owners) stand a chance of getting on the ballot, let alone winning.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      A lot of us have our own ways of completing the line, “Any discussion of improving politics has to include…”

      For Doug Ross it’s term limits. For you, it’s campaign finance reform.

      For me, it’s reapportionment. Put a stop to drawing districts to automatically elect one party or the other, and our politics will dramatically improve withing a decade or two…

      Reply
  5. David L Carlton

    I think “making the presidency great again” misstates the issue. FDR was great in large part because (like Lincoln) he combined political skill and vision with a humongous national crisis (or two) that was imposed on him. But the architecture of the postwar world was actually the product of other hands as well–Keynes and his fellow Bretton Woods conferees, Marshall, the creators of NATO, the UN, and the predecessors of the EU. It was that architecture that produced what John Lewis Gaddis called “the long peace,’ the “pax Americana,” the collapse of Communism, the postwar economic expansion, and latterly a long decline in violent conflict around the globe (Yes, it’s true!) and the greatest drop in human poverty in recorded history. This architecture was robust and enduring, and backed by a consensus of the leadership of the developed world, regardless of changes of government. There was little need for “greatness” on the world stage (LBJ’s greatness was mainly domestic); all that was needed was good stewardship, and, with some signal errors (Vietnam, Iraq, the 2008 financial crisis, the Eurozone mess) that’s what we’ve had. What’s scary about the present situation is that we have a President who seems not to appreciate any of that history, and who’s surrounded himself with people whoappreciate even less and, worse, see the postwar order as something to be trashed in the name of national assertiveness–not realizing that what actually placed this country at the pinnacle of the postwar world for so long was precisely its willingness to be bound by the rule-based order it created. That that order is being trashed isn’t solely the Trump Administration’s fault; others (I’m looking at you, Angela, and you, Wall Street) share some of the blame, and it’s clear that the neoliberal economy that underlay it has increasingly displayed some serious weaknesses in properly distributing its benefits. But if there’s going to be another Great Presidency, it will probably grow out of a global crisis resulting from the collapse of what the generation of the 1940s put in place–and it looks like I’ll be seeing such a crisis in my lifetime.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, you are. To use a Columbia tag line that preceded Famously Hot, “It’s Happening Now, Baby.”

      Unless, say, in the next couple of weeks or so, Trump resigns in disgrace so profound that even the people who voted for him get it. Then, we might have a chance of pulling out of it. Otherwise, the world falls apart to the point that by the time we get a president worthy of the office, the rest of the world no longer cares — they’ll have made other arrangements in the absence of NATO and TPP, possibly with China or Russia.

      Yes, greatness tends to emerge in the face of great challenge. We need to find a way to get Lincolns and Roosevelts to come forward without hundreds of thousands of people dying first… And to get the Trumps to slink back to the tawdry corners they came from….

      Reply
        1. Mark Stewart

          It doesn’t help to demonize half the country, Bud.

          You’ve got to narrow your ire to no more than 15% if you want to succeed at changing the tide…

          Reply
        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          No one who thinks a President Pence is as bad as a President Trump is going to be part of the solution — if we ever even get a ghost of a chance at implementing a solution…

          Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      As for Pax Americana — I tried to get that to catch on in the early ’90s, but I was like Bluto after giving his “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” speech. Nobody followed.

      Except maybe some nerds over at Foreign Affairs…

      Reply
      1. JesseS

        It implies empire and Americans are deeply uncomfortable with that notion. It seems too cruel, undemocratic, and unearned. Then again the Romans weren’t too keen the word king. Princeps civitatis, thank you very much!

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          But it doesn’t; not really. Pax is pax.

          And anyone (such as my more emotional friends who opposed our involvement in Vietnam) who uses “imperialism” to describe the United States has gone off the deep end.

          Unless we say there’s a new kind of empire, one willing to spend blood and treasure to defend the freedoms of others, rather than to take others’ blood and treasure — which the Romans were very much about.

          A 200-year period of piece guaranteed by a global security order led by a nation with the ideals of the United States would be a blessing to the planet and its people. To the extent that we have had something like that since 1945, we HAVE experienced blessings, as described above by David: “the collapse of Communism, the postwar economic expansion, and latterly a long decline in violent conflict around the globe (Yes, it’s true!) and the greatest drop in human poverty in recorded history.”

          The awful thing is, as our national story has suddenly become a tale told by an idiot, we’re seeing all of that in danger of collapsing…

          Reply
          1. JesseS

            “The awful thing is, as our national story has suddenly become a tale told by an idiot, we’re seeing all of that in danger of collapsing…”

            For that one I point to the proliferation of the Frankfurt School. For all of it’s talk of avoiding dogma and creating a reflexive, tolerant society, it was destined to launch a thousand dogmas. Not that the intentions were bad, they did have to survive Nazism after all. It’s just an incomplete toolset that relies on constant conflict and self-doubt (that feels like some kind of obligated act of cultural self-hurt for many).

            For college educated, white voters who were too young to have voted for Reagan and voted for Trump I see their support as a reactionary response to all of this. For them America has always been the Evil Empire. Not that they don’t know that those 1950’s text books were wrong and essentially propaganda. They get that, but they also feel they’ve been handed an identity void of any goodness. This has fostered a deep sense of resentment, felt not just in America, but throughout the west.

            Where the pro-Chicago School folks are ready to burn it all down for economic reasons, the anti-Frankfurt School generation are ready to burn it all down for cultural reasons.

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          2. Mark Stewart

            The American decline, if there is one, is the direct result of the two parties controlling the voting districts across the country.

            This is what is tearing the nation apart; and we are all, collectively, allowing our vote to be nullified for the benefit of the parties, not the people. This is what is corroding our American idealism of freedom and democracy.

            Reply
  6. Harry Harris

    “And how on Earth do we get there from this profoundly low, demeaning spot in the road?”

    We don’t. We are at a point where politicians declare that they want a President to fail (DeMint, McConnell), buy into any possibly deligitimizing idea (birtherism, socialist friends), and play straw-man politics before a lazy and often gullible electorate. Polarization and demonizing has become the political tool of choice. A crisis, be it terrorist or war or natural disaster is used to make a mediocre office-holder look like a strong leader. Crummy governors or mayors get credit for doing what any clear-thinker would do following a disaster. In some sense, the times make the leader unless the opposition is just simply disloyal or insubordinate. We’re pretty much tilted that way. Sort of ungovernable. The oligarchs are firmly in business.

    Reply
  7. Norm Ivey

    If you want to cast a long shadow, globally or domestically, you need to deal aggressively with a real crisis (as others have observed above). Despite the lack of discussion and engagement on the topic in this country, climate change is the greatest crisis facing the nation and the planet. The current administration is abdicating all leadership on this issue. Despite their internal abuses of personal freedoms, China’s economic power and leadership on climate change is going to cast a long shadow over America’s role in the world. Europe is taking the issue seriously. We are alone in the world among the first world nations in denying and discounting climate change.

    The next great American president will tackle this issue.

    Reply
    1. Harry Harris

      Bold answer. There is much to support it, but it flies in the face of many narrow interests. Unfortunately, we are married to quick-fixes for issues that take years (and sacrifice) to successfully address.

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      1. Norm Ivey

        You are correct. We want quick fixes to issues, and we are not ready to even admit that climate change is an issue.

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    2. Doug Ross

      Would Hillary Clinton have been able to make a measurable dramatic change in policy to impact climate change? I doubt it. It’s not going to be a President who accomplishes this, it will be scientists and technologists. Which President is going to be willing to take the hit for killing the economy with huge carbon taxes?

      I want to see people who are truly concerned about climate change prove it with their own actions. Al Gore flying around in private jets, driving in Suburbans, and living in a mansion isn’t a good poster boy for the cause. What are we ALL willing to give up for this? And don’t say “taxes”.

      Reply
      1. Norm Ivey

        No, she would not. And whoever it is that manages to get this done is going to have to be someone who can convince members of both parties to take action, which seems unlikely for years to come. I agree that it’s going to be scientists and technologists who design the tools and make the discoveries to make the change possible, but all their innovation means nothing until the government puts in place laws and regulations to clear the way for them. A carbon tax doesn’t have to be economy-killing. A tax in one area is a growth opportunity in another. Slowly increasing a tax on carbon will make other fuels–wind, solar, hydro, biomass, nuclear–more attractive, not to mention efficiency improvements.

        What are we all willing to give up? I don’t know that we have to give up anything. There is nothing that fossil fuels provide us that cannot be provided with other resources that alter the atmosphere less. It’s not a question of whether we have the technology to begin the transition. We do. The issue is how do we make it affordable? And that can be done the same way we made fossil fuels and food affordable–through subsidies. We may have to trade coal jobs and oil jobs for wind and solar jobs and make some other changes, but Europe has proven that the shift can be made. And if changing the labor landscape is giving up something, the Luddites might have some advice for today’s labor force.

        And just to debunk, Gore’s home has been retrofitted in the last few years, and it is now LEED-certified, and his personal vehicles are hybrids. He walks the walk.

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        1. Doug Ross

          “We may have to trade coal jobs and oil jobs for wind and solar jobs and make some other changes, ”

          There’s the problem. How do we transition jobs? This will be similar to the shift in the U.S. from a manufacturing economy to a service/technology economy. People WILL be left behind. How do we deal with them? Can we give every coal miner and oil./gas worker a new job in the same location? We’re talking decades of change if we started today — and the difference is that much of the technology transition was via free market choices. That’s a whole different ballgame than trying to “force” a change on a system. The unintended consequences could be worse than the “solution”.

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        2. Doug Ross

          Gore’s movie came out in 2006… what was he waiting for? Do you think he’s stopped flying in private jets?

          At least Ed Begley Jr. is a true believer.

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    3. Bart

      Norm,

      I agree with your point about climate change being a threat to the way we live in this present time period. It will change and unfortunately, we will not be able to stop the inevitable. We may reduce the carbon footprint by taking action but in the final analysis, climate change is nothing new for planet earth.

      What is necessary is to start comprehensive planning NOW to address what actions need to be taken to counteract the impending and irreversible results of climate change. Across the planet, humans have built structures on the ocean’s edge that sooner or later will be damaged and possibly destroyed when the oceans do rise if the predictions are accurate. What then? What steps are to be taken to address the inevitable? What happens when we have prolonged warm weather in geographical locations that previously were cooler? Do we sit on the bed with an axe stuck in the ceiling and worry about the axe falling or do we address the situation, remove the axe and move on with our lives changed by rising tides and changes in weather?

      I am not a skeptic when it comes to climate change, I accept the fact it is going to happen because the history of this planet over more than 650 billion years is replete with proof of dramatic climate changes and they were not caused by human activity. We know this part of the coastal region has been under water at least two times and it is likely at some point, it will happen again.

      I applaud the concerns and sincere efforts to do something but not planning for the inevitable and not using the tremendous resources of science to assist in preparation is not the best use of resources.

      Something else to consider, population of the earth. In 1900, based on available information, the population of the earth was around 1.6 billion people. In 2000, the population was around 6 billion. In 2016, it was around 7.5 billion. In 116 years, the earth’s population increased by 6 billion and the forecast for 2050 is to add another 2 billion people. These numbers like anything else are not exact but an estimate. If we take them to be reasonably accurate and accept the fact of an ever increasing population, sooner or later, resources such as land and food will increase in demand. If the current climate were to remain static and if the weather didn’t warm enough to allow for longer growing seasons, how would the increased population be fed?

      When we look at the advances made in medicine, catastrophic diseases that claim millions of lives no longer present the danger they once did. Wars are not likely even though some are predicting the inevitable confrontation with Russia and China. The other form of population control is abortion or countries not allowing families to have more than one child. Neither one is going to be acceptable and anyone with a modicum of understanding of human nature and the need to procreate will be next to impossible to control.

      It is reasonable to forecast cities will increase in population because of the demand and access to essential services and at the same time, the demand to provide for basic needs will increase and they must come from somewhere.

      As populations increase, more land will needed to grow crops to feed them. The shrinking land mass due to climate change above sea level that is suitable for crop growing in warmer climates will become a premium commodity. More land to grow food will be needed but where do we move the people so they don’t take up space occupying land needed to produce crops to feed them? How do we address what is coming? Why do we waste valuable time and resources going BS crazy trying to stop climate change when they should be working on solutions on how to live with and accept the inevitable?

      The 800 pound gorilla in the room is not climate change, it is how to prepare for it.

      Reply
      1. Norm Ivey

        Exactly, Bart. The one exception I take with what you’ve said is this:

        the history of this planet over more than 650 billion years is replete with proof of dramatic climate changes and they were not caused by human activity.

        That’s true enough, but the current increase in greenhouse gases is caused by us, and it’s the rate of change that’s a problem. Even the most dramatic climate changes in the past took place over thousands of years. We are looking at changes could could happen in hundreds, or possibly decades.

        I’ve never suggested nor meant to imply that we can stop climate change. We are already too far over the edge. We must, as you suggest, prepare for its impact. And we must change the way we do things that have brought us here. We know what the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases we’ve pumped into the atmosphere have done so far. If we continue, we may change the planet to the point where it is no longer able to sustain the 10 billion people that are going to be living on it in a few years.

        Reply
        1. Bart

          Agreed. The issue for me is the increase in population and the simple impact of ever growing crowded conditions across the planet. If we look just at the time period from 1900 to now, the mere fact that the earth’s population has increased by 6 billion and more is to come should be the object of discussion, research, and funding. Just the simple act of breathing by 1.6 billion, based on the average person expending 341 tons of co2 into the atmosphere during their lifetime, in 1900, there was 546 billion tons emitted into the atmosphere. The population increase since 1900 has resulted in an additional 2 trillion tons of co2 per year is being emitted into the atmosphere by humans.

          Your last sentence, “If we continue, we may change the planet to the point where it is no longer able to sustain the 10 billion people that are going to be living on it in a few years.” is a key observation for the future. The bulk of the population increase is in under developed countries where life is lived day to day and hope for a better life transcends their concerns about the earth. This is not an indictment for people living in conditions we are not familiar with but it is a fair observation they don’t have the same concerns you and I have. Their concerns are survival, food, water, and other bare necessities. If they can get it by using resources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases and contaminants into the atmosphere, water, and soil, they are willing to accept the consequences.

          If I were as wise as Solomon, I might have some answers. Since I am not, all I can do is my small part.

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          1. bud

            Bart, if I read your comments correctly you’re suggesting the key to addressing the climate control problem is to get the worlds population growth under control. If so I agree 100%. We can pass regulations regarding CO2 emissions till the cows come home but it simply won’t be enough unless we aggressively provide birth control to all people of the world. Currently 95% of the problem is on the continent of Africa. Practically everywhere else the birth rate is at or at least approaching the magic 2.1 number. Significant progress has been made on this front but much remains to be done. Let’s not let obstructionists like the Catholic Church get in the way.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Speaking as an “obstructionist,” I confess that I feel a chill at the icy words, “aggressively provide birth control.”

              Think about that for a few moments, will you, folks?

              Reply
              1. bud

                Brad I’m really not sure I get your Blaise attitude toward birth control. It is jus a mathematical fact that we MUST reduce the fertility rate worldwide to 2.1 or a bit less. We’ve made significant progress but with the reactionary attitudes in today’s GOP that could reverse and population growth could head up again. That would be an international catastrophe. This is a far greater long term concern than ISIS.

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Yeah, I just don’t believe that the problem with the Earth is that it has people on it. In fact, the only reason the Earth matters, the one reason we are obliged to be good stewards of it, is that it does have people on it.

                  I’m reacting less to you, and more to a bumper sticker I saw this morning, which said something like, “The Earth doesn’t belong to us; we belong to the Earth.”

                  What claptrap. The Earth only has moral value as (currently) the only place that will sustain human life. The planet has moral value BECAUSE of the humans on it. We have a sacred duty to be good stewards of it because of that moral value. The rest — purple mountains majesty and so forth — is mere aesthetics by comparison.

                  The Earth doesn’t belong to us in the sense of having the right to trash it (which would be a profoundly stupid sense). It DOES belong to us in the sense of our obligation to take care of it — since it belongs to the other people who depend on it (billions yet to be born) as it does to us.

                  A simpler way to think of it would be, it belongs to God and we are its stewards.

                  There is a bizarre, radical form of environmentalism that sees the Earth itself as the point, and humans as a parasitic growth on it. Such people have forgotten the point of loving the Earth…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  And rationally speaking, that point should be the point even if one doesn’t believe in God. If you’re a humanist, the point of protecting the Earth should be the fact that people depend on it…

                3. Bart

                  I agree with Brad that the earth itself does not have moral value, the people who occupy the earth are the only ones capable of exhibiting moral values.

                  My point in discussing the increasing population was to point out that the mere presence of humans in ever increasing numbers will have an affect on the planet and without exercising good stewardship, as Richard pointed out, sooner or later, we will as the dominant species end up destroying the planet and ourselves.

                  Richard also pointed out that the planet will recover as it always has well before humans occupied it in such large numbers and climate changes were routine without our influence or interference. It has taken over 650 billion years to get to where we are today and in another 650 billion years, who knows what the landscape will look like.

                  Population control was not my intent, but careful planning to account for the inevitable increase of the population was my point. But, if undeveloped countries and some developed countries continue with population explosions, at some point someone will come along with a clarion cry about overpopulation and introduce a plan we would find inhumane and reprehensible. Without knowing what the mindset of the world’s population would be at that time, it is very possible the majority would agree with any solution – as long as they are spared and someone else is turned into “Soylent Green”.

                  I find it discouraging when the advocates for humans to try to influence, reduce, or stop climate change and ignore the inevitable fact it is here, it is happening, it has happened time and time again during the long life of earth, and it will continue until earth no longer exists.

        2. Richard

          Has anyone taken notice of the air quality in China and India? When you have these two countries pumping billions of tons of crap into the air on a weekly basis and Africans and South Americans cutting down rain forests at record pace we’re doomed. I’ve said it before but I believe man is at the end of his lifespan, it may be 10,000 years but our candle is about used up. The planet will recover we just won’t be around to see it. Mother Nature will take care of this one way or another… if we don’t kill ourselves she will. Not doom and gloom… reality.

          Reply
  8. bud

    While we’re still on the Gerrymandering discussion I thought it would be interesting to redraw SC district lines with just a few simple caveats. First, each of the 7 districts should generally conform to the population requirement. Using the 2010 census that would give each district a population of 660,766. Second, as much as possible retain the cultural identity of the regions as follows: Metro Columbia, Pee Dee/Grand Strand, Suburban Charlotte, Metro Greenville, Metro Charleston, Upper Savannah River/Upstate, Low Country/Non-Columbia Sandhills. Finally I just used Counties. A small amount of population fine tuning may be necessary to get populations closer but that will be a project for later. I absolutely did not consider factors like race, ethnicity, education attainment or income. Some may be more racially diverse by happenstance but to be it. Populations ranged from 644,722 (Metro Greenville) to 670,266 (Upper Savannah/Upstate). The resulting map is a dramatic departure from the grotesque map that we currently have. Folks this is not all that hard. Let’s make this a priority to help improve our political discourse.

    Reply
  9. Burl Burlingame

    Notes:

    1 — “Demonizing half the country” is a Republican plank.

    2 — Federal legislative districts should be drawn up by the Census Bureau, not by political parties.

    3 — It was revealed yesterday that Trump is deliberately not smiling a lot in public because he wants to look like Winston Churchill in photographs.

    Reply
    1. Mark Stewart

      Was it his drunken quips?

      Churchill has oratorical skills. He brought people together. Trump is the polar opposite. He is a divisive pigmy tweeter.

      Reply

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