Environmental policy Policy and Politics Politics Uncategorized

From Leader to Laggard in Environment

How conflict over environmental regulations led to U.S. polarization and political paralysis

 A 2020 poll on voter views about climate change by the Pew Trust found that “88% of Democratic-registered voters said stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost. A 61% majority of GOP voters said such environmental laws cost too many jobs and hurt the economy”. The quote reflects both the split in the parties and the widespread assumption in the U.S. that efforts against global climate change require more rigorous regulations. Recent research observes that the U.S.’s labyrinthine regulatory system is an anomaly among advanced nations and has not led to an effective policy against climate change; it lies at the root of the U.S.’s current status as an environmental laggard in the campaign against climate change.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. had no conflict over environmental policy. The Clean Air and Clean Water Act Amendments of 1970 and 1972  were approved unanimously in the Senate en route to overwhelming passage in Congress. They and the NEPA Act of 1969 made rapid progress against pollution. The U.S. became the world leader in environmental policy. However, the revolutionary new laws contained seeds of future problems. The following list offers a troubling picture about subsequent progress in environmental management.

  • World Bank data show that in 2018 Sweden was the world leader with 52% renewable to total energy use. The U.S. was at 10%, near the bottom of European nations.
  • The U.S. landfills 50% of municipal waste, Sweden landfills 1%.
  • The U.S. recycles a third of glass bottles; advanced European nations recycle 90%
  • Power plants use about a third of produced energy for electricity. Over 11% of European power plants, but only around 1% of U.S. power plants employ cogeneration.
  • The U.S.‘s uniquely labyrinthine regulatory/permitting system requires an average of 4.5 years for permitting major infrastructure projects; delays and cost overruns are typical for federally-assisted initiatives.
  • Regulatory-associated NIMBY shackles innovative renewable energy developments. For example, 5,341 wind turbines operated in European waters in 2020. The U.S. has seven turbines in our highest wind-energy corridor along the Atlantic coast.
  • The U.S. is dependent on foreign suppliers for renewable energy equipment and minerals critical for renewable energy development.
  • Federal agencies are inhibited from employing proactive management techniques to minimize wildfires; carbon dioxide from millions of acres of burned national forests goes unnecessarily into the atmosphere.
  • The U.S. has thousands of brownfields and many Superfund sites that could be remediated with advanced techniques. The Bureau of Mines was leading cleanup research when it was abolished in the 1990s. Charged with managing the sites, EPA is overburdened by mandated tasks and operates under constraints that offer little scope for entrepreneurship.

What happened to U.S. environmental effectiveness? A major answer is polarization over environmental regulations. The drastic impact of 1970s environmental laws on the economy aroused antagonism in the business community. Conflict over environmental policy widened to political polarization between environmentalists and U.S. industry and their respective political supporters in the 1980s. Global climate change concern subsequently intensified conflict. A prominent environmental scientist’s 2021 book is titled The New Climate War and openly labels corporations as the enemy. While not monolithic, much of industry and political supporters quietly reciprocate environmentalist hostility. This condition is incompatible with progress. Industry (not academic activists or their political supporters) builds electrical grids – a point noted by Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Radicalization has led each side in the conflict to automatically oppose the goals of the other.  As a result, neither side achieves its goals. Over 50% of Republicans in Congress were recently claimed to be climate deniers. The strategy of leading environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council has been to shut down fossil fuel production or transportation wherever possible under the assumption that this will speed  transformation to boutique renewables – solar and wind energy. They oppose backup nuclear power, biomass energy, and even hydropower – which together dominate current U.S. renewable energy production. They are skeptical of carbon sequestration (geological burial of CO2) because it could encourage continuation of fossil fuel production. Besides stoking counterhostility, the campaign against “dirty” energy industries that will remain critical to society well into the future diverts progressive younger talent from seeking leadership positions in fossil fuel and related industries.

Risks of overzealous campaigns. Besides the European fuel crisis created by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, if shutdowns like the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, lawsuits like those challenging national maintenance of oil and gas pipelines, and blockage of LNG terminals continue to exceed progress in replacing fossil fuels, they could lead to stranded financial and technical resources, supply interruption, and major resumption of fuel imports. Steep price rises could sour public opinion against proactive environmental measures. They would risk future ENRONs, companies playing the environmental game with less than admirable motives.

 Outdated U.S. regulatory and permitting systems vs. European policies. The U.S.’s revolutionary environmental statutes date from 1969 through the 1970s. Polarization and Congressional gridlock have frozen in place policies designed for earlier times and conditions. U.S. policies contrast with cooperative environmental policies adopted by European nations in the early 1990s. Europeans are now world leaders, whereas the U.S. is a laggard in environmental policy and performance.

Germany’s ingenious feed-in tariff, initiated by the Green Party, exponentially increased renewable energy development without front-end government investments. Denmark took an aggressive approach to wind energy development, exploiting the country’s flatness and high wind energies. It became the world leader in wind turbine production. Once alternative energy capacity was sufficiently developed, DONG (Danish Oil and Natural Gas Company) divested itself of oil and gas interests and transitioned entirely into offshore wind energy development. The new entity, Ørsted, is the primary contractor for proposed new offshore wind developments off the U.S. Northeast coast.

A better approach. Complex environmental regulatory/permitting systems introduced in the 1970s were effective in controlling environmental pollution. However, they subsequently proved equally effective in inhibiting infrastructure projects and renewable energy development. Rather than applying stricter regulations or seeking to weaken enforcement of existing laws,  the U.S. could benefit by considering the superior performance of  European environmental policies and revisiting the U.S.’s 40-year-old environmental management system.

Policy and Politics

Election Of the U.S. President By Direct Vote?

A recent essay (Ergül 2021) suggests that states could choose electors in a way that would effectively assure election of the U.S. President by direct popular vote without formally abolishing the electoral college.

“The power to decide how electors are selected is left to the state legislatures and chosen electors are at the liberty to vote for their desired candidate. The state  legislatures can amend their state constitutions in a way that would require choosing electors that would vote according to the national popular vote.” 

Without legal expertise on the author’s proposition, it sounds plausible, but unlikely to happen.  The majority of states don’t have large metropolitan populations and so would lose in such a system. They would hardly be likely to vote for it.

The really important underlying issue is the author’s and many other peoples’ belief that the only fair way to elect a president is by direct popular vote. Ergül’s system would be a device to overcome the obstacle of the electoral college. The widely held current view about the desirability of direct election of the president was fueled by the election of Donald Trump in 2016 in spite of Hillary Clinton’s greater popular vote. The lopsided nature of the vote between states with populous metropolitan areas and those with more rural populations in the 2020 election further increased tension over the question.  I’ll get to Trump later, but first, let’s consider the direct vote problem in  more basic terms.

The main argument favoring a raw plebiscite for president is that it gives each person an equal voice.  It is “fair” and gives equal weight to voters in large metropolitan areas. However, the stakes in political governance go beyond public opinion, which can be subject to immediate concerns and subjective influences. For example, in the election of 1864, The North was impatient with the bloody Civil War that seemed to drag on without the ability to crush the Confederacy. Abraham Lincoln initially trailed his Democratic opponent, General George B. McClellan in the election campaign of 1864. McClellan had a charismatic persona but had failed as a general and was willing to compromise with the Southern secessionists. The tide of public opinion only turned after Union General Sherman’s victory in Atlanta.

The framers were keenly aware of the risks in having pure popular opinion determine the election of our most powerful political leaders. Besides the electoral college system for determining the winner among candidates for president, the framers’ original provision for electing Senators was by vote of state legislatures, not popular vote. Only Representatives, chosen for the term of two years,  were elected by direct vote.

The framers realized that popular mood was liable to be influenced by the charisma of politicians and urgently-felt issues. They wanted a modicum of balance in the election of the president. Let’s look at early presidential governance. Following the precedent of George Washington, the next five presidents followed the principle of appointing government officials based on competence and permanence – not partisan politics (van Riper 1958). A powerful demonstration of the potential downsides of electing a president based on public popularity came with the election of a colorful and strong-willed general, Andrew Jackson, in 1829. Jackson easily defeated the reelection campaign of President John Quincy Adams, one of our best-educated and most visionary political leaders, but who notably lacked the popular touch.

Swept into office through personal charisma, anti-elitism, and the votes of Irish immigrants, Jackson instituted the spoils system that created a turnover in government at presidential elections. It prevented the establishment of effective federal administrative structures during much of the 19th  Century – leading to problems still troubling us today. Jackson was an advocate for slavery, directed the shameful uprooting of the Cherokee Indian nation with the  “Trail of Tears” forced migration to Oklahoma, and killed the 2nd U.S. National Bank, which precipitated a devastating economic crash. Long respected as a powerful populist, recognition of Jackson’s flaws finally led to plans to remove his image from our $20 bill.

Donald Trump showed the ability of a gifted demagogue to capture people’s imagination and gain high office. While some of his policies are defended as reforms and others are continued by the Biden administration (e.g. China policy) Trump’s increasingly crude and antidemocratic actions brought about intense opposition and impeachment proceedings. Other politicians elected through popular movements might also promote flawed policies based on ideology and urgent concerns. Political polarization is a price we are paying for emotionally-driven rather than more rationally guided politics.

Finally, pure popular vote for president would arguably promote semi-permanent hegemony of populous metropolitan areas in presidential elections, effectively disenfranchising the majority of rural states and areas and smaller towns. This would likely continue current popular disaffection. Would we really be willing to ignore the wisdom of the founders and go this route?


Ergül, Kardelen,  2021. “Would Forty States Creating Amendments to Their Constitutions to Direct Their Electoral College Votes to the Winner of the National Popular Vote Create a Constitutional Crisis? Academia Letters:

Van Riper, Paul P. 1958. History of the Civil Service: University of Michigan Press

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American history Civil War Economy Environmental policy Industry Journalism Policy and Politics Politics Science and education Uncategorized

The Coronavirus signals need for reform of U.S. policies for approval of vaccines and advanced cures

I sent a message similar to this essay to Robyn Dixon, author of an article on Russian science and vaccine development in the Washington Post yesterday, February 9. 2021. The Dixon article cited scientist and journalist, Irina Yakutenko, saying that “you should do everything according to the protocols. It takes a long, long time. It takes a lot of money”. That has been true for U.S. policies that have required ten years to release new vaccines*. But the “miraculous” speed of vaccine development in 2020 tells us that those medical policies are grievously outdated and need to change. I copied this message to Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, encouraging them to explore reforms with Senate colleagues and NIH Director Francis Collins. Republicans would likely agree about the importance of reform.

The length of time needed for vaccine development is due to the extreme rigor of U.S requirements for them and other critical cures. This in turn is attributable to concern to minimize adverse effects. The positive potential of a new vaccine can be confirmed in a dozen cases, but to rule out 1:1000 adverse effects may require years and trials with 6000 persons. The FDA operates in the world’s most litigious nation and is risk-averse. We saw what happened in 2020 when excess cautions were swept aside because of the emergency created by the coronavirus. The speed of the approval was startling for our system, but other nations produced vaccines in the same time frame. Sixty-three coronavirus vaccines have been reported in clinical development. Because of the U.S.’s overwhelming dominance in research funding and the rigor and reputation of the National Institute of Health, the sponsor of federally supported trials, our protocols are widely adopted in Germany and other EU nations.

A new vaccine can cost $500 million to $2 billion. This leads to exorbitant treatment costs and a lack of attention to rarer diseases that could be cured. An example is my wife, Lucy, who has a rare “SCA 8” ataxia that could be readily cured by gene editing – but it can’t get attention.

A sleeper factor also holds back treatment in America. The Washington Post article mentions scientific publication as being desirable for Russian medical development. To the extent that they report new knowledge and advances, scientific publications play critical roles.  But the U.S. suffers from a flood of excess clinical publications. Reports offer many promising new treatments “for the future” while there is a dearth of new treatment opportunities today. The reason is that it is more advantageous for medical researchers to apply for research funding and get their names in print or in the news for promising developments than to take the risks of moving to formal treatment. The latter receives little public recognition while it incurs major risks for lawsuits over new procedures. Risk adverseness operates on clinics as well as clinicians.

In 2016 I became personally familiar with a pioneering Austrian heart surgeon who saved the life of an American composer who had a heart attack while attending a concert in Vienna. Dr. Werner Mohl** developed a procedure for restoring heart tissue damaged in heart attacks. The American would probably have died in the U.S. because the procedure would not have been authorized until clinical trials proved its efficacy.

*Vaccines, 5th Ed., Philadelphia, Saunders 2008.


Policy and Politics Politics Uncategorized


Donald Trump’s lack of regard for truth during his presidential tenure, with (more than 20,000 documented lies and prevarications (Kessler et al, 2020), and behaviors that violated norms of democratic governance, are acknowledged even by his most articulate supporter, Victor Davis Hanson  (Hanson, 2019). Given Trump’s crudities and claims that he doesn’t read (e.g. Graham, 2018), it is understandable that people regard Trump as ignorant – including ignorance of the history and traditions of the nation he celebrates.  A Google Scholar query on the phrase “Trump ignorant”* in Nov. 2020 brought up more than 19,200 hits.

The above image is misleading. It poses the riddle of how a supposedly ignorant businessman who never held public office could manage the political and organizational feat of gaining the highest office in the United States – an achievement that has been denied to highly qualified and influential individuals of both parties. I suggest that there is good evidence that Trump was not stupid and was not poorly informed about subjects of interest to him until something like 2019. At that point successes and a gigantic ego evidently overrode over what was earlier a degree of caution and willingness to listen to people with diverse views.  He began firing appointees who showed differences from his views.

“It takes a lot of smarts to play dumb – (Trump, 2008)”

An ignorant image for Trump is fundamentally misleading because Trump wanted people to believe it. In the book, Trump Never Give Up  (Trump & McIver 2008, p 167 ) Trump states:  “. . .  it takes a lot of smarts to play dumb. Keep them off balance. Knowledge is power, so keep as much of it as you can to yourself as possible”. Appearing to show ignorance or crudity encouraged opponents and media pundits to overlook his strategies and tactics. Of especial importance, it also served to distinguish Trump from the academic, political, and media establishment in appealing to a disillusioned base.

So let’s take a factual look at Trump’s background. In the foregoing book (Trump & McIver, 2008), Trump cites a kindergarten teacher who referred to him as her most curious and questioning student. Increasing ungovernable behaviors in elementary school led father Fred Trump to move Donald to the New York Military Academy. During his five years of attendance there Trump came to thrive under imposed discipline, graduating as a cadet captain, the highest rank. It is clear that sports were his main interest. The school records show him as a star in baseball and football but also involved in soccer, bowling, and wrestling (Blair, 2005). However, he would have gained a solid secondary education including science, math,  and history or he would have not been promoted to the highest rank.  Following NYMA, Trump attended two years at Fordham University, a Jesuit institution where in the early 1960s, history including classics was a core requirement. While wires may have been pulled in getting him into the University of Pennsylvania’s distinguished Wharton School of Finance (Byrne, 2019), Trump would have gained a background in economics and finance, without which he would hardly have been able to gain prominence as a real estate mogul in New York City, or could seriously consider launching bids for the presidency.

Figure 1. Trump as cadet captain at New York Military Academy. Source: 1964 NYMA yearbook.

In another book (Think Like a Champion, Trump & McIver 2009) Trump cites a list of authors ranging from Pythagoras, Machiavelli, Thoreau, and Albert Schweitzer, to Bill Gates and Billy Jean King. His favorite book is the classical Chinese text, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, which emphasizes the importance of surprise. Trump’s choices of quotations have a pattern. They tend to focus on achieving success.

The final argument against Trump being dumb is that he went from 3% in polls before he announced his candidacy for president on June 2015, to leading 16 credentialed Republican candidates one month later. His campaign operatives spanned the spectrum of Republican politics from assistants to Robert Dole to Tea Party activists. Though permanently tarnished by actions in the last two years of his presidency and brazen attempts to claim fraud in the election results of 2020, Trump is not an adversary to underrate.


Blair, G. (2005). Donald Trump, Master Apprentice (2nd ed.): Simon & Schuster

Byrne, J. A. (2019, July 8). Trump Admitted To Wharton With Help From A Family Friend. Retrieved from

Graham, D. A. (2018, Jan. 5). The President Who Doesn’t Read: Trump’s allergy to the written word and his reliance on oral communication have proven liabilities in office. Atlantic Magazine, Retrieved from

Hanson, V. D. (2019). The Case for Trump: Basic Books.

Kessler, G., Rizzo, S., & Kelly, M. (2020). Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth: The President’s Falseholds, Misleading Claims, and Flat-Out Lies: Washington Post.

Kranish, M., & Fisher, M. (2016). Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power: Scribner Book Company.Trump, D. J., & McIver, M. (2008 ).

Trump, D.J., & McIver. (2008). Trump Never Give Up: John Wiley & Sons 

Trump, D. J., & McIver, M. (2009). Think Like a Champion: Vanguard Press.

Policy and Politics Uncategorized


U.S. leftists have deep suspicion about anything related to market methods; U.S. conservatives have little trust in government. The Europeans don’t have the U.S.’s manic creativity but value cooperation in their societies. That’s why European nations are world leaders in global climate change policy while the U.S. has become an international black sheep.  Among Democratic candidates for the presidency Elizabeth Warren has brilliant skills and commendable motivation. But she lacks openness to other perspectives and cooperative inclinations. Whatever their flaws, large corporations are mainstays of the U.S. economy. Is it smart to restrict communications and launch a broadside attack on them? If she maintained tough policies toward corporate abuses but also went to talk and learn from Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, she could raise her ratings and might even pass Joe Biden as a presidential contender. What would she have to lose?

American history Journalism Policy and Politics Science and education

When NPR shut down its user comment line in 2016 it missed a major opportunity


NPR’s comment line was obviously troubled when it was shut down in 2016. But there had been no  guidelines for contributions to it. Nor were significant corrections made when abuses began clogging the system. As the premier U.S. public radio news network I suggest that NPR should have taken on a generic problem facing comment lines nationally – especially for news media. Rather than giving up it should have developed strategies and led in raising national standards for comment lines. I suggest it can be successful if it readdresses the problem in a new comment line.


History: On August 23, 2016 National Public Radio shut down its comment line. According to a statement by NPR’s ombudsman (Jensen, 2016) NPR took this action after reviewing  statistics showing that in July 2016 there were 491,000 comments from only 19,400 commenters. Letting cliques of users treat NPR’s site like a personal chat line was clearly not tolerable.

NPR statements: NPR claimed it lacked money for moderators and that other news programs had taken similar action. It suggested social media like Facebook might be better sites for discussion. I find these arguments inexcusably superficial. They overlook the rhinoceros in the room: is it a good thing for the federally supported, premier U.S. public radio network to eliminate opportunities for meaningful public comment and discussion?

Sure, viewers can send an email to NPR program managers or hosts, getting a form response like “thank you for your expression of opinion”. But let’s be realistic. Most people with meaningful things to say will no more choose to waste their time sending mail to faceless administrative staff than to participate in the earlier comment line – degraded as it became by trivial input or worse. Lack of meaningful input through NPR’s current contact addresses may lead program managers to assume that there little need or useful value in reopening channels for public comment. Wrong!

I don’t say NPR has the same policies as the, a leading Russian radio program that delivers sanitized news and commentary. However, it now shares a no-public-input  policy with the Russian program.

Critical omissions: NPR placed no limits on contributors. Ombudsman Jensen reported that in June and July of 2016 4,300 commenters contributed an average 145 comments apiece! Correction of this kind of problem could be straightforward: Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU radio interview show from Washington D.C. limits comments to one a month. It doesn’t require live moderators to monitor comment frequency. That can be done by software.

Neither did NPR provide clear guidelines for contributors, e.g. stating  priority for comments offering corrections, alternative arguments, new information, or personal experience. Expressions of gut-level opinion can be found on a vast number of web sites. On NPR’s website such expressions add no value. On the contrary, they guarantee that though many people may be attracted by the site (NPR recorded 33 million unique users in July 2016) people with meaningful things to say will not read or contribute to the comments line. As with repeat commenters, software could go far to screen out brief, crude posts or, say, a report about a sick cat.

When problematic posts began to clog the system NPR leadership did not take meaningful action. It apparently learned nothing from 2016 because in March 2018 NPR also ended its Science Commentary Blog (Jensen, 2018).

Yes, it’s a widespread problem: Ombudsman Jensen was right in referring to other news sites that had dropped comment lines. One of the early sites to take this action was Popular Science (2013). Others are CNN, NBC, and VOX, It’s not just an American problem. Stephen Pritchard, editor of The Guardian, a left of center UK newspaper, wrote in an article that at one point the paper’s comment line ballooned to a hopeless 65,000 emails (Pritchard, 2018). Pritchard said that in the future

“Subjects such as race, immigration and Islam too often attracted toxic commentary, so henceforth they would only have comments open if a moderated, positive debate were deemed possible – one without racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse or trolling”.

It appears that as in the case of NPR The Guardian did not have strategies in place to minimize “toxic” posts and chose to give up on an open comments line.

A perceptive Australian economic blogger describes toxic comments as a problem of incentive structure (Murphy, 2015):

For some idiot with anti-social views, this is his one chance to get his views amplified. The pay-off here is high. Normally he can’t get anyone to listen. But if he quickly writes something inflammatory, he can spend a happy afternoon jousting with people he made angry.

Murphy advocates the solution used by Reddit (Wikpedia, 2018), an American website that features aggregated websites on a variety of subjects. Its solution to undesirable comments is to have up or down votes. Up votes will raise the visibility of comments. Down votes will lower it and 5 down votes extinguishes a comment.

There are two problems with Reddit’s approach for more thoughtful news and commentary sites. Popularity has never been a reliable criterion for vision in statesmen or quality in comments on complex or controversial issues. Abraham Lincoln was widely reviled in 1863. Further, the Wikipedia article describing Reddit notes that the site requires significant effort from moderators.

NPR’s leadership responsibility and opportunity: There’s no getting around the fact that contemporary public response to comment lines of serious news and commentary media is often problematic. Crude or thoughtless comments not only drive away thoughtful readers. They can add to an unrealistic sense of social chaos and fragmentation because respondents attitudes may disproportionately reflect attitudes held by radical fringes not representative of the majority of audiences.

In my view the first thing needed is for program managers to openly address the realities. In seeking to restore a comment line they need to call on listeners for input on guidelines and to help make the opportunity to present comments  substantive and useful. Relatively simple and cheap measures can filter out a large proportion of posts that don’t meet stated standards. However I also suggest that even contributors of coarse or trivial posts should be treated courteously and invited to come back in the future, taking advantage of constructive suggestions. 

Another measure to attract useful comments may be a category for superior comments. Meaningful posts too long to meet normal guidelines may emerge if more serious and knowledgeable individuals begin to be attracted. Instead of simply cutting off their inspirations, contributors who go past standard length limits could provide summaries that will be posted on the main site while the full comment can go to a special address. Such comments might involve documentation for alternatives challenging ideas of commentators or guests. I often find that talk shows nominally featuring “both sides” of controversial issues overlook important factors. This may be a way to get these into the discussion.

No doubt, robust comment systems need managers committed to bringing in valuable input from the public. Why give up and say they are unaffordable? I argue that a first-rate comment line could enhance the value of NPR and provide a model that may help upgrade comment lines more generally. Wouldn’t that be a worthy goal for National Public Radio? PBS gets support for ambitious programs from a large group of wealthy individuals and foundations. Would not the prospect of restoring meaningful public comment to NPR attract culturally oriented foundations or organizations like the Pew Trust?


Jensen, E. (2016, August 17, 2016). NPR website To Get Rid Of Comments. Retrieved from

Jensen, E. (2018). Shifting Opinions: NPR Ends Science Commentary Blog.

Murphy, J. (2015, 2015/09/14). Thomas the Think Engine. from

Pritchard, S. (2018, Jan. 13, 2018). The Observer: The readers’ editor on… closing comments below the line, The Guardian. Retrieved from

Wikpedia. (2018). Reddit. from

Journalism Policy and Politics

A premature goodbye to Gwen Ifill, stellar journalist

I was shocked beyond words to lose Gwen Ifill so early, so prematurely at 61. Quite aside from being a pioneering African American Gwen was a towering presence among journalists. It was impossible to determine what her political views were, because she was equally perceptive, candid, gracious but no nonesense with people of various political persuasions. She asked core questions – didn’t skate around the peripheries or push human interest conflict. She wanted to KNOW, and let viewers understand. And at the same time she was human. Her signoffs to her Washington Week shows were personal and regretful, not pro forma. She would have liked them to continue and I did too.

Someone said no one could interrupt more graciously than Gwen. I’d like to know what the family influences were that could shape such a balanced, keen and warm person and intellect. She took advantage of the breakthrough achieved by the MacNeil-Lehrer show. It was not only the first balanced political show. They also showed that the leaders weren’t one-of-a-kind. They could clone balanced, even-handed news analysis hosts. We realize it takes work and the skills must be honed. I remember that initially Judy woodruff wasn’t the polished professional she is now, but subtlely showed liberal biases though she tried hard not to. That was even true of Jim Lehrer who had to really exert efforts not to display his distaste for Richard Nixon when he interviewed him after Watergate.

I still think our news journalism is far from what it needs to be, but Gwen was in the vanguard, and if one had suggested that our public TV and radio could break new ground in getting beyond horse race journalism and a thumb on the scales for sensation she could have been the person to pull it off. I’m a policy researcher and an senior male but feel like I’ve lost family and have been intermittentlly teary off and on since the news broke.

Finally, congratulations to the News Hour for recognizing and giving us so much of Gwen. Please be out there looking for younger talent – especially African American – who can follow in her footsteps. Is there a foundation or a one percenter out there somewhere who could sponsor scholarships for bright high school students who show promise of cultivating the kind of talent and humanity that she had?.

Policy and Politics

Trump’s audacious campaign and Achilles heels

In spite of Donald Trump’s lead in the Republican primary campaign, until December 2015 there was wide scepticism that he would survive. His bombastic speechmaking, carelessness with facts, and outrageous claims earned him comments like “feckless blowhard” (editor of the Des Moines Register), “crass, bigoted bully with a narcissistic personality disorder” (Frank Rich New York Magazine), and “dangerous to democracy” (Washington Post Op-ed by former President G.W. Bush’s press secretary, Michael Gerson).

Nevertheless, my new working paper (1)  supports the conclusion in an earlier paper (2) that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Trump is likely to become the Republican nominee. The new paper provides more detail on the extraordinary strategies that Trump appears to have employed  to overcome past associations with Democratic politicians and causes, including support for Hillary Clinton. This record would have rendered a campaign as a Republican unthinkable for most politicians. But lacking ideological blinders – conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer referred to Trump as having “no coherent political philosophy, no core beliefs at all” (3) –  and experienced in psychologically strategizing business deals, Trump launched a bold campaign in 2011. He first got media attention with “birther” claims about Barack Obama. He then systematically cultivated relationships with conservative Republican groups that included the Tea Party.

Announcing his candidacy in June 2015, Trump issued deliberately inflammatory statements on illegal immigration from Mexico. These gained him wide media coverage, projected the image of an unintimidated candidate willing to take on real-world issues that other politicians ducked, and helped obscure Trump’s past political background. This triple strategy let him  surge ahead of other candidates in the polls. Subsequent aggressive positions and actions continued to create headlines and build grassroots support – as well as cause deep concern among some Republicans.

Going into the Iowa caucus with ratings in the high 30s, Trump ended up second to Ted Cruz with 24% of the Iowa vote. Pundits and pollsters were  misled and saw this as a major setback for the Trump campaign’s supposed reliance on a winning image. They overlooked the possibility that evangelical Christians who made up 64% of Iowa Republican voters might see a mismatch between Trump’s persona and Scriptural passages like Matthew 19: 23 “ Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. Trump reasserted his clout in a decisive win in the New Hampshire primary.

Prior to the Iowa caucus an adaptive shift in the future Trump campaign was  signaled by a radical change in presentation of policy positions on his campaign website. Quotes from speeches dating back to Trump’s earlier campaign were  replaced by more formally crafted articulation of five issues including tax policy, immigration, and Second Amendment rights.

Trump’s Achilles heels are interpreted to include an obsessive need for grandiose achievements, public visibility and approval, and a less than dignified leadership image.However, although the  primary election is still in early stages, my assessment concurs with commentator Frank Rich’s conclusion that Trump is “exposing the phoniness and corruption” in our political processes, and will have permanent impact on the system.


1. Manheim, Frank T. “Trump Cards II: Significance of the Donald’s Rise, His Audaceous Two-Layered Campaign, and His Achilles Heels” (February 9, 2016). Available at SSRN

2. Manheim, Frank T. “Underestimated Strategies Beneath Candidate Donald Trump’s Presidential Campaign” (October 15, 2015). Available at SSRN:

3. Krauthammer, Charles “The establishment nonesense” Op-ed, Washington Post”, Feb. 4, 2016

4. Rich, Frank “The importance of Donald Trump”, New York Magazine, Sept. 21, 2015

Policy and Politics


Why Donald Trump leads Republican candidates in spite of breaking all the rules

Trump confounds the political experts

The conventional wisdom of political columnists up to recently has been that despite strength in the polls, real estate magnate Donald Trump had little likelihood of becoming the Republican nominee, let alone president; e.g. Sarah Fagen “The beginning of the end for Donald Trump” (1). When we look at the below aspects of “The Donald’s” campaign, it’s easy to see the pundits’ logic. No major candidate in memory or history has offered a richer target for criticism. Any one of the below items might have been enough to finish off ordinary candidates.

  1. Trump has a massive ego, refers constantly to his own importance and skills, and asserts magical power to correct national problems.
  2. His past and present positions and statements, usually presented casually, are often contradictory and unnuanced. His numbers can often be shown to be inaccurate or wrong.
  3. He makes extravagant and highly controversial claims about what he would do; he created outrage by his depiction of Mexican immigrants.
  4. He has insulted or casually belittled prominent people, including the war hero status of Senator John McCain, and assigned partial responsibility to President G.W.Bush for the 9/11 attack.
  5. He has made crude remarks
  6. He would make deals with authoritarian rulers like Putin and Assad.
  7. He has supported people and causes in opportunistic ways.
  8. It is hard to picture a man with his style as Commander in Chief of U.S. armed forces, with the responsibilities these roles entail.
  9. He has the largest negative poll ratings among candidates.

In spite of the above, polls (below table) show that Trump’s popularity has risen and stayed high. Recent polls show him moving above 30% since his speech at a reform conference on October 12. Diverse explanations of this strength vary from force of personality (2), to a lengthy article in The National Journal (3) that sees Trump tapping a new middle American radicalism in common with George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Pat Buchanan. Looking under the heady surface of Trump talk I explore underexamined assets.

Rankings of Republican presidential candidates

Modified from Real Clear Politics (1)

CBS (10/4-10/8)

*RCP refers to an average of polls from 9/20 to 10/8, 2015

The No Labels Problem Solver Convention, October 12, 2015

No Labels ( was founded in 2010 by moderate Democrats and Republicans concerned about the Congressional gridlock and political polarization that has paralyzed the ability of the nation to deal with serious problems. The October 12 convention, cochaired by former Utah Governor and Republican candidate for president Jon Huntsman, and former Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, chose problem solving as its theme. It invited presidential candidates to offer substance rather than campaign rhetoric. Presidential candidates besides Trump who spoke at the convention (covered gavel to gavel by C-Span) were Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, and George Pataki, as well as the Democratic and Republican Party chairs for New Hampshire.

The Washington Post summary of the No Labels conference referred to Trump’s speech mainly as “standard talking points” (5). In contrast I suggest that underneath Trump’s characteristic style some of his underexamined and underrated assets got  exposure. I explore them further below.

Trump began by stating that he was “a believer” in No Labels’ goals. He offered new detail on his dealmaking, including a striking story about the Wollman Skating Rink in New York City. He said he was appalled that after failure of years of renovation efforts in the City’s project a new plan was to be prepared for the skating rink. He offered and was allowed to take over the project. It was completed in only 18 months in 1986 – before a previously contracted plan was even scheduled to be delivered.

Trump’s overlooked “scientific dealmaking” and other assets

The most underestimated factor in my judgment lies in Trump’s characterization of himself as a dealmaker.  Let’s think about what a “deal” implies. It’s an agreement among two or more people or organizations. Trump’s intensive focus on negotiation differs fundamentally from the political style of most candidates of the right or left. They are mainly concerned with their own special commitments and vision on political issues – rarely about alternative approaches and perspectives, especially that of opponents.

At the Problem Solvers Convention Trump went beyond previous speeches to describe how he makes deals. His approach is to get affected parties together – or develop relationships with and knowledge about  persons or groups with stakes or expertise in the issue at hand. Talking about his rescue of another failed project in New York, he said “…. I needed the Mayor; I had to go to the city council, all the unions. I got everybody together”.

The most coherent description of Trump’s approach to dealmaking is not in his The Art of the Deal (6) or his other 13 books. A book by a long-term partner, George H. Ross (7) reveals an eight-point negotiation strategy closer to that of a military planner than that of a gut-level entrepreneur. It emphasizes the importance of flexibility and creativity in coming up with successful deals. In his October 12 speech Trump called special attention to the ability of President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, and President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill, people with very different points of view, to get things done because they were dealmakers.

Trump doesn’t wear America-centric blinders and makes unconventional observations. Referring to relationships with people and companies all over the world as background for discussing the U.S.’s decaying infrastructure, he said that in Qatar, Bahrein, and Saudi Arabia even temporary airports constructed to handle traffic while building new airports are “a hundred times nicer than ours.” He not only feels that the U.S. made a mess by intervening in the Mideast and removing Saddam Hussein, but also said it was a mistake to fixate on removing Syrian president Assad. He asked: who would replace him? Do people really believe elections for a new leader would create peace and stability in Syria [think of Iraq]?

Election prospects

So what about his campaign? What has given him a leading position in the Republican primary?

Trump’s colorful and uninhibited language and unpredictability give him high visibility. The article by John Judis (2) cites support for his anti immigrant and anti free trade statements.

His “self-financed” campaign means he is free to take positions unconstrained by funding sources.

Less obvious is Trump’s ability to project himself vigorously into problems and human issues not related to his assumed preoccupation with wealth and dealmaking. In talking about unemployment he expressed concern about urban areas where African American youth have “60-70% unemployment” with the same attitude of engagement and urgency that he displayed in talking about major deals in New York City – implying that he could and would do something about this.  He has blasted hedge funds and PACS, and parted company with conservative proponents of flat tax plans that would tax the ultra wealthy at the same rate as ordinary workers. He hammers on the theme of bringing American jobs back home from abroad.

Trump has an eye for talent. He chooses employees and advisors for their abilities, even if they opposed him or were on a different team earlier. A striking example is October 2 news that Trump had hired Republican campaign strategist Corbin Casteel as his campaign director. Two months earlier Casteen told the San Antonio Express-News “I believe it’s a universal view that Donald Trump is a joke” (8).

In the primary campaign Trump should not be vulnerable to the kind of gaffe or lapse that brought Texas Governor Rick Perry down in a fateful 2012 Republican primary debate. Supporters acknowledge his freewheeling style and don’t necessarily take specific  statements  seriously. Criticisms have obviously not held back his popularity. When they come from media pundits they may enhance his visibility.

His apparent rock-like self esteem and confidence based on successes in unconventional initiativees have encouraged him to speak candidly about issues that normal politicians shroud in caution or political correctness. This exhilarates citizens who are fed up with concealment and avoidance of issues, worn-out slogans and phrases they hear from politicians.

By expressing himself freely– even outrageously – about candidates or other well-known figures, sometimes having to backtrack or take contradictory positions, Trump has created a unique style. People can cite errors in fact, exaggerations or contradictions in his statements and it doesn’t slow him down. It’s just part of his persona as a dealmaker – whose positions are not final until the deal is signed and sealed. That the dealmaker retains a strategic sense about what is going on is suggested by his response to a female questioner after his No Label talk. She referred to his brash style and asked if he expected to win with it. He responded that he would probably become less divisive as the number of candidates got smaller.

If the Republican campaign were about documentable achievement in public leadership positions Governors Jeb Bush (Florida) and John Kasich (Ohio) would have a clear edge. But the  popularity of Dr. Ben Carson, a distinguished African American brain surgeon with no political experience, demonstrates that personal qualities of the candidate and subjective feelings of voters have powerful influence. From everything said above, it’s hard to see anything except completely unexpected factors that might prevent Donald Trump from maintaining his lead in the Republican primary.

From here on we’re on more speculative ground. We know from repeated statements in his books that Trump recognizes and has successfully exploited the media’s hunger for good stories – the more sensational the better. But even if there is method in his madness  how much of his unconventional behavior is spontaneous? Has he piled up so many flamboyant and unpresidential images that, even if he becomes the Republican nominee,  they will be fateful later? It would be inconsistent of Trump not to be thinking about future strategies. But to what degree could headiness obscure his judgment?

As we move into the presidential election the picture changes dramatically, beginning with major ideological and political differences between Democratic and Republican voters. The more superficial and “entertainment” side of Trump, and the sympathy of many Republicans to candidates who are not professional politicians will no longer be the factors they are now. The question of gravitas befitting a president will emerge. Debates will get into major issues like climate change, income inequality, regulatory policy and immigration. And finally there is Trump’s rough treatment of Mexican immigrants – the Hispanic factor – that seems not to have worried him up to now. If Trump does become the Republican nominee it will be interesting to see how dealmaker Trump adapts to challenges associated with the biggest deal in his career.

For greater detail see Ref. 9.


  1. Sara Fagen. “The beginning of the end of Donald Trump”, Politics,, Sept. 17, 2015
  2. Michael Barbaro, Nate Cohen, and Jeremy W. Peters. “Why Trump won’t fold: polls and people speak”, New York Times, Politics, Aug. 22 2015
  3. John B. Judis. “Return of the middle American radical”, National Journal, October 2, 2015
  4. Real Clear Politics.2016 Republican Presidential Nomination”;, 2015
  5. Jenna Johnson. “An Event for Both Sides of the Aisle”, Washington Post, Oct. 13, 2015, p. A4, 2015
  6. Donald J. Trump and Tony Schwartz. The Art of the Deal, Ballentine Books, 384 p. 1987; updated edition 2004
  7. George H. Ross. Trump-style Negotiation: Powerful Strategies and Tactics for Mastering Every Deal, Wiley & Sons, 288 p, 2008
  8. Mike Ward, “Trump names former critic as his Texas campaign director”, October 2, 2015
  9. Frank T. Manheim, “Underexamined strategies beneath candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Working Paper,  Social Science Research Network,  accessible at
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Ernest Manheim’s Encounter With Jomo Kenyatta at the London School of Economics

On March 8, 2013 results of the presidential election in Kenya gave Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the famed first President of independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, a narrow win (1). Kenyatta was a Kikuyu like his father.  The runnerup in this history-evoking and bitterly contested election was Raila Amollo Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, He was the then current Prime Minister of Kenya and a son of the first Vice President of Kenya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Odinga challenged the election on grounds of irregularities in a suit rejected by the  Kenyan Supreme Court in 2013. An indictment by the International Criminal Court against Kenyatta for instigating violence against the Luo tribe was dropped in 2014 (2). The position of Prime Minister was abolished in Kenya on April 9, 2013.

The events in Kenya brought back to me a story told by my father, Ernest Manheim, of an encounter with Jomo Kenyatta when he and Kenyatta were students at the University of London in 1935. My father’s His own early story had plenty of drama. Born in Budapest Hungary (1900), young Ernő was gifted in music and interested in chemistry. But during World War I at the age of 17 he volunteered for the Royal Hungarian Military Academy and in 1918 fought on the Italian front in the Hungarian Army, part of the Austro-Hungarian army that was allied with Germany. After the war and the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovak and Romanians forces moved into Hungary in 1920. Young Ernö volunteered again for the national Hungarian army mobilized by the revolutionary (Communist) government of Béla Kun. In charge of a platoon of Bosnian machine gunners, he was captured by the Romanians, who would also take Budapest and end the Kun government. Ernő escaped to East Hungary (now Slovakia).

Affected by the cataclysmic events of war and collapse of the “eternal” Austro-Hungarian empire, Manheim moved to Germany to study sociology.  After a PhD dissertation in sociology at the University of Leipzig he moved in 1934 to the London School of Economics at the University of London, where his older and more famous cousin, Karl Mannheim (the name given by an English publisher to Manheim Károly) was already well established.

The University had many foreign students, among whom were Jomo Kenyatta (3). Kenyatta (1891-1972), earlier known as Kamau wa Ngengi, became a pupil at the Church of Scotland mission near Nairobi. Kamau converted to Christianity in 1914 and in 1922 became a clerk and water reader for the Nairobi Department of Public Works. He became active in Kikuyu politics, rising to become General Secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association in 1928. Sent to London in 1929 to lobby for Kikuyu tribal land affairs Kenyatta studied briefly in London and then in Moscow until the Soviet Union, seeing Britain and France as potential allies against Hitler’s growing power, withdrew its support for the movement against colonial rule in Africa. In 1934 Kenyatta enrolled in the University College, London. He initiated doctoral studies at the  London School of Economics under the internationally renowned Polish-British anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski. Ernest Manheim was also a Malinowski student, ultimately completing a second dissertation on power relationships in Southern Africa.

Ernest continued fascination with folk music, to which he had been introduced through the field collections and research of Hungarian composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. He developed common interests with fellow student Kenyatta both regarding folk music and Africa. Ernest related that on one occasion Kenyatta took him up to his room to demonstrate some Kikuyo songs. He stripped off his shirt and, accompanying himself on a drum, launched into  song, during which he became visibly affected on an emotional level.

In 1938 Kenyatta later released a book revised from his dissertation at LSE, Facing Mount Kenya (4). 


1.  Wikipedia, “Uhuru Kenyatta”, 2015

2.  Marlise Simons and Jeffrey Gettleman, “International Court Ends Case Against Kenyan President in Election Unrest“, New York Times, Dec. 5, 2014. 

Uhuru Kenyatta Faced Allegations of Crimes Against Humanity


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Supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya celebrated Friday in Nairobi after charges were dropped in The Hague.


Daniel Irungu/European Pressphoto Agency

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3. Wikipedia, “Ernest Manheim”, 2015

4. Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya, Vintage Books editionl, 352 p. (1962)