How Did We Get Here and Where Do We Go Now?

This semester, I am teaching an elective course that I “invented” some years ago; it is called “Individual Rights and the Common Good,” and the readings and class discussions center on the proper role of the state, and the optimal balance between respect for individual autonomy and the needs/interests of the society.

Because it is an elective, the students who choose to enroll tend to be engaged, and the discussions have generally been thoughtful and substantive.

The class meets on Tuesday nights, and Tuesday–today– is election day. In consideration of that fact (and, admittedly, the probability that several of them would skip class in order to watch the returns), I decided to forego our usual class meeting in favor of an effort to connect the more abstract principles we have been discussing with the very immediate realities of America’s political environment.

Here is the assignment I gave them. What would your answers be?


The 2016 election campaigns have been among the most contentious in our history, and have displayed wide—perhaps unbridgeable–disagreements among Americans not just about the comparative merits of individual candidates, but about the proper role of government and the nature of the common good.

Our next class is scheduled for election day. As these campaigns conclude, and in lieu of holding that class, I am asking you to consider the opposing views and attitudes that have been revealed during the course of these campaigns, and to write a 2-3 page essay addressing the following questions:

  • How would you characterize the Presidential candidates’ visions of the common good/national interest?
  • How would you describe their respective approaches to balancing protections of individual rights against the interests of the country as a whole?
  • In the wake of the election, how do you see Americans resolving our very different perspectives and deep disagreements? (In other words, given the incredibly acrimonious nature of the campaigns, do you see efforts at reconciliation or continued animosity, and in either case, with what result?)
  • In your opinion, what is driving Americans’ current partisan polarization and anger?


  1. “In your opinion, what is driving Americans’ current partisan polarization and anger?”

    The malignant inner core of the body politic.

    ma-lig-nant (ma lig’ nant) adj. [see MALIGN] l. having an evil influence 2. wishing evil
    3. very harmful 4. causing or likely to cause death; specif., cancerous–ma-lig’ni-ty (-na te),
    pl. -ties, n.

    “Government if like an onion. To understand it, you have to peel through many different layers. Most outsiders never get beyond the first or second layer.”
    ~Warren Bennis

  2. Warren Bennis
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    University Professor, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, Founding Chairman, The Leadership Institute, University of Southern California
    Provost, SUNY-Buffalo
    President Emeritus, University of Cincinnati
    Consultant, various Fortune 500 Companies
    Chairman, BOD, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership

    Warren Gamaliel Bennis (March 8, 1925 – July 31, 2014) was an American scholar, organizational consultant and author, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership studies.[1][2] Bennis was University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.[3]

    “His work at MIT in the 1960s on group behavior foreshadowed — and helped bring about — today’s headlong plunge into less hierarchical, more democratic and adaptive institutions, private and public,” management expert Tom Peters wrote in 1993 in the foreword to Bennis’ An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change.[1]

    Management expert James O’Toole, in a 2005 issue of Compass, published by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, claimed that Bennis developed “an interest in a then-nonexistent field that he would ultimately make his own — leadership — with the publication of his ‘Revisionist Theory of Leadership'[4] in Harvard Business Review in 1961.”[5] O’Toole observed that Bennis challenged the prevailing wisdom by showing that humanistic, democratic-style leaders are better suited to dealing with the complexity and change that characterize the leadership environment.

  3. I just heard David Ignatius say on “Morning Joe” that Hillary and her staff understand that goal Number One, pending any foreign policy catastrophe, is to make the global economy a more equal one. They realize that we have to make is work for more people than just those at the top. My question is: Does Trump even realize what the problem is, that is, beyond something to exploit for his own self-aggrandizement?

  4. “The malignant inner core of the body politic.” Well. Now then. Since Marv has put a rather fine point on it why the rest of us can take the day off I guess. 😉

  5. JM,

    “The malignant inner core of the body politic.”

    No need for us to panic. We have until the 20th of January, Inauguration Day, to remove the “tumor.”

    United States presidential inauguration
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The inauguration of the president of the United States is a ceremonial event marking the commencement of a new four-year term of a president of the United States. The day a presidential inauguration occurs is known as “Inauguration Day” and occurs on January 20 (or 21st if the 20th is a Sunday). Prior to the Twentieth Amendment, the date was March 4, the day of the year on which the Constitution of the United States first took effect in 1789; the last inauguration to take place on the older date was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first one on March 4, 1933. The most recent public presidential inauguration ceremony, the swearing in of President Barack Obama to begin his second four-year term in office, took place on Monday, January 21, 2013.

  6. Great questions! It is easy to answer them as they pertain to Trump. Not so easy to answer them as they apply to Hillary.

    Her message, if there really was one, was washed over by her slogans. She started out with an approach to the economy grounded in the status quo. If Sanders had not been there last year she would still be spouting that old and very tired line that told us that what was good for the rich was good for all. She did not have a clue about the anger of the middle classes, much less what was driving it.

    Bring the nation together? If Hillary wins today, I hope that she is as smart as her supporters claim her to be. If she is, she will lead the battle against those forces (the corruption of Congress, the corruption of the tax laws, the erosion of regulations on industry and Wall Street, the privatization of government) that have beaten the middle classes and the poor into the ground. If she is the best qualified, she will lead the way to the restoration of the wall between church and state, the firm establishment and expansion of equal rights, voting rights, and worker’s rights.

    I vote and hope.

  7. Marv, more importantly, the angry masses will still be there tomorrow no matter who wins.

  8. You should create a virtual class for regular readers of your blog. I have enjoyed reading their comments and responses to your blogs and I think having longer interaction with them would be fun… and informative.

  9. Theresa,

    “Marv, more importantly, the angry masses will still be there tomorrow no matter who wins.”

    Thanks. You said it better. That’s what I meant to say.

  10. Hillary has never been a “supply sider” so she has not believed that what’s good for the rich is good for the country.

    If you didn’t understand before Obama was elected that nobody can do anything by themselves, the past eight years must have been very enlightening to you. Many progressives think Obama failed them. The fact is that we, the people, failed him. In 2010, too many of us stayed home on election day, resulting in the Tea Party takeover of the Congress. If that wasn’t disastrous enough, our non-participation also resulted in state houses in firm control of those same Tea Partiers. Welcome to the advanced class in Gerrymandering. We still have at least six years of Republican control of the House of Representatives.

    So before you start demanding that Hillary, if elected, fix all of our problems, understand that we first must fix our biggest problem, the lack of interest in our political process. It has to start with civics classes in our grade schools and high schools. Perhaps we should look at Australia, where voting is mandatory and adapt that system to our own.

  11. Peggy,

    I’m 100% with Theresa and Nancy. Hillary Clinton might not be a “supply sider,” but the Clintons in the last 25 years have somehow conveniently forgotten about the Religious Right/Far Right. This time, she’s not going to be able to come up with something akin to her husband’s TRIANGULATION to avoid the confrontation. If elected, and that’s an if, she’s going to have to come up with something much more than DEPLORABLE and so far she hasn’t shown that she can do it. That’s exactly why Donald Trump is still in the race.

    Despite all of the above, I’m now leaving to go down the street and vote for Hillary Clinton for President.

  12. To put my finger on the raw nerve of where we are today, I find it in what I think is our number one domestic issue, to wit: wage inequality, and I note further that had our median wage scales risen in tandem with economic growth and worker productivity since the 1970s that there would be no angry masses. We have allowed Wall Street and the superrich to steal both workers’ wages and increased workers’ productivity while median wages as adjusted for inflation have stagnated. Result? People who work for a living cannot afford to live on such meager wages, demand plummets, and the Dow goes stratospheric (much of its “profit” coming from wage theft). Political result (among other things)? The rise of the Bernies, the Orange buffoon and the “angry” masses, all against the background of a Republican Congress which demands that the wage theft intensify with their Gilded Age political nonsense. Small wonder we are in a confrontational stage in our political history!

  13. I agree with T. Lentych. A virtual class which would allow many others to learn and discuss these essential concepts would effectively reach even further beyond that classroom. It is desperately needed.

  14. I agree with T. Lentych. A virtual class reaching beyond that classroom would enable many more persons to learn and discuss these basic concepts. For the sake of our democracy these concepts are desperately needed.

  15. Adam Haslett in The Nation: Trump has incited violence and trashed political norms. But it isn’t rave he’s manipulating–it’s shame…shame of being lesser than.” He was shamed, being a son of the outer boroughs, was blackballed at the most exclusive East Hampton country club.

  16. A gentle reminder: Students pay tuition (or have it paid for them thanks to our grand tradition of free public education) because teachers deserve fair compensation. I think a virtual class is a wonderful idea but should include compensation for the teacher.

  17. Well, IMO, the first two questions are very easy to answer on the Trump side.

    To the extent Trump has a vision of the “common good/national interest” — I’m actually not trying to be snide, but I’m really not sure he’d understand the question let alone have a “vision” or has thought about it — I believe after seeing and hearing him for far too long over the last year and a half that the only thing Trump has a “vision” about is himself and whatever furthers his, his family’s, his business interests, and his own personal aggrandizement. In other words, Trump’s vision is that what’s good for Trump is in both the common good and national interest. Based on his behavior over the years and during the campaigns, I’d say the rest would be decided on how he feels on any given day. Might be different the next day.

    As to an approach “to balancing the protections of individual rights against the interests of the country as a whole,” I again believe Trump has never thought about it, let alone has an “approach.” But first of all, based on his actions over his life history, Trump believes his “individual rights” to do as he pleases trump (sorry, not sure if a pun is intended or not, but if it was, it was a bad one) everything and everyone else. From his statements during the campaigns (as opposed to the many completely opposite things he has said over the years), his approach is that people of color and foreigners have no individual rights and it’s in the national interest and common good to throw them out of the country or not let them in in the first place.

    I suppose there’s much more that could be added about Trump, but I will leave it at that.

    I think the answers on the first two questions for Hillary are much harder to discern and probably won’t be evident until after she’s been in office for awhile (Hope. Hope. Hope!). First, although I’ve never been a huge fan of Hillary’s, I’m not as cynical about her as many people, even those who are going to vote for her anyway, are. I think she is a person that does want to promote a better country for everyone and has a solid history of attempting to do so, but I’m not sure she has a true core vision on how that can be best accomplished.

    Of course, that’s one of the things many people don’t like about Hillary. Is she a true, hard core “progressive” like Bernie and Warren? No. But if she thinks some of Bernie’s and Warren’s ideas are good for the country and people, will she go with them? Yes. I think Hillary, in many ways, is similar to Obama in that, IMO, they are both pragmatists more interested in finding an approach that might be attainable and achieve some progress rather than sticking to a set ideology or set of ideas that might not be attainable under present circumstances.

    She’s also, according to those who have worked with her over the years, a hard worker and does her home work. Although the Republicans now refuse to acknowledge it, even many of her fellow Republican Senators were impressed with her abilities while she was in the Senate, and she was able to work with them to accomplish some good things (albeit, her vote in favor of W’s Iraq war wasn’t one of them). Finally, speaking of which, Hillary is also more of a “Hawk” than I would like, but I personally would feel much safer with her at the helm dealing with foreign affairs and government.

    I think I have “danced” around the first two questions on Hillary. I think my ultimate answers to them would be that I’m not sure how Hillary would (will) balance either of the two. But I’m reasonably certain that she will do a better job of doing so than Donald Trump is capable of doing.

  18. Wayne,

    “He was shamed, being a son of the outer boroughs, was blackballed at the most exclusive East Hampton country club.”

    Great observation. I second that. By the way, the Sothern Cal/Los Angeles Times Poll that was just released has Trump ahead by 3% points. We’re going to need divine intervention on this one.

  19. I know I have taken up much more than my share of time in the last month or so, but if Donald Trump should win, we must have an effective, initial, countervailing, RAPID RESPONSE. If not, just think of what would be the worst case scenario. That’s probably what will be in store for us all.

  20. Peggy; thank you for your reminder regarding the Congressional blockage and control which prevented President Obama from keeping a number of his campaign goals and promises. He was also met with and additional overload of serious national and international – and WEATHER (earthquakes soon followed by a hurricanes in D.C. and across the country) – problems along with what he inherited from Bush and Cheney. I have no idea how many Republicans I tried in vain to explain these facts to. IF Hillary wins and Republicans retain control of Congress; they are already promising to continue their blockages and will, more than likely, shut down the government again. Gerrymandering is a major blockage which needs to be resolved…and soon.

    I keep reading about the cost increases due in the ACA; have seen nothing public about the rising costs of state health care systems and those whose coverage is not through either system. I have talked to those who have already received notification of increased monthly premiums and annual deductible amounts. I received my Medicare book with changes but no information regarding monthly premiums was available; also my Medicare supplement notified me of increased co-pays. They are also ranting about those who have no health care coverage and having to pay for their medical care; they believe repealing ACA will resolve all of their problems. Think on this; if ACA is repealed, all those millions now covered by medical care will lose it and they will be added to those whose health care we pay for. The law requiring people pay for their own health care will be gone; no reason for those who opt not to have health care to obtain it. Repealing ACA will also allow health care systems to return to DENYING health care to those with preexisting conditions.

    “In your opinion, what is driving Americans’ current partisan polarization and anger?”

    I will only respond to the last question on Sheila’s “homework assignment”; the general public has already assigned blame for their problems and are deaf and blind to any other options…such as what would happen to them personally if they get their wish regarding electing Trump and Pence and repealing the ACA. Their problems would multiply many times over from loss of ACA alone; they think having a president who will unhesitatingly “Nuke them” on his personal whim will resolve their problems. Being deliberately deaf and blind to facts “is driving American’s current polarization and anger”.

    I will also add the almost total lack of knowledge of civics plus no interest in learning what “Individual Rights and the Common Good” entails or how it applies to each and every one of us and the making of our government.

  21. Marv – I don’t believe the LA poll showing Trump to be 3 points ahead, but even if he is, he is a dead duck by state to state electoral vote standards. I think Hillary will win by 5-7 points and by some 322 electorally, perhaps adjusted marginally up or down depending on turnout. Standards of error work both ways, and I think her current 3-4 point lead nationally will go up rather than down when all the votes are counted. I know that north Florida is an extension of Alabama, but just wait until the I-4 corridor, Broward and Miami-Dade counts shows up. So far today, all such counts are up strongly which, I think, will result in 29 big ones for Hillary.

  22. Gerald,

    I hope you are right. I think our big difference is that I was both a state prosecutor [Head of the White Collar Crime Section]and a federal prosecutor [Head of the Illegal Political Contributions Section for a three state area] but also a criminal defense attorney and you weren’t. We’re dealing with much more than corporate thieves; you have to be able to discern the difference. As I have said before, you have my vote if you ever decide to run for President.

  23. Gerald,

    I agree that it is going to be close. The deciding factor I believe could be the African-American vote which has been predicted to be off as much as 20% in some areas of the country which I can well understand.

  24. Donald Trump is leading the Tea Party. It’s a MOVEMENT within the Republican Party. If we had a multiple party system like most of Europe, the Tea Party Movement would be running as a separate party. Donald Trump is not a typical presidential candidate. He is leading a MOVEMENT. Leaders of movements rarely, if ever, step down. He will be a DIVISIVE force to reckon with whether he wins or loses. A PLATFORM must be created to effectively deal with him. The Democratic Party is not that platform. Trump and the Tea Party are too much for the Democratic Party to handle, win or lose.

  25. Marv – to update my vita – I have been a state prosecutor and sometime criminal defense attorney, and to be sure, larceny by Wall Street might be hard to prove when the Street controls that which is alleged to have been stolen. I therefore use the term theft with some qualification.

  26. Marv – to update my vita – I have been a state prosecutor and sometime criminal defense attorney, and to be sure, larceny by Wall Street might be hard to prove when the Street controls that which is alleged to have been stolen. I therefore use the term theft with some qualification.

  27. “How Did We Get Here and Where Do We Go Now?”

    I believe my observations from my polling place this morning fits today’s blog subject.

    Had to park at the side of the large building near the back; passed a line of waiting voters at least one block long, saw not one smiling face or anyone who looked glad to finally be able to cast their vote and end this endless campaign. I noticed the same lack of expressions on the nearly one block long line behind me during my slightly more than one hour wait. People were not talking to one another, this was not an animated group of people looking forward to casting their votes. The few I saw holding mailed flyers had the same one from the Democratic party I had in my purse.

    I saw some familiar faces among the poll workers; always friendly and smiling, even in May at the primary. They were dealing with large crowds but; none of them looked as if they wanted to be there today, to be part of this election. How has America let one man be given this much control over our future; never before have we faced the probability of an actual tyrant in the White House with no way to prevent him from entering those known to only a few numbers into the computer and putting his finger on that button to set off nuclear weapons at his whim. He has asked during his vital meetings to be apprised of security information, “Why don’t we just nuke ’em?”

    Yes, Marv, I know; we should have seen it coming. We ignored the signs which brought us to this point. Will it be Civil War throughout the country, within our cities and neighborhoods; unlike north vs. south so long ago? Recently I commented on a Facebook post about those ELEVEN Trump yard signs around my home and that seeing them made me afraid. One man actually responded, “You are afraid of signs? Lady, you have a problem.” This is the mentality of those Deplorables supporting Trump and Pence.

    “How Did We Get Her and Where Do We Go Now?” Will it be possible to go anywhere from here?

  28. JoAnn,

    “How Did We Get Here and Where Do We Go Now?” Will it be possible to go anywhere from here?”

    We got here by DECEPTION. What we have to do now is REMOVE the deception by Inauguration Day, no matter who wins the election. The D-day invasion on the beaches of Normandy in World War II was based on massive deception. It was called the “Bodyguard of Lies.” One mistake and the whole operation would have failed. The aims of the Tea Party movement has been masked as Walter Cronkite reported many times by Christianity. The mask is still there. That was the main reason for Pence. But, I believe the movement is VERY VULNERABLE with Trump in command. It no longer has the invincibility of the mask of Christianity. It now has to deal legitimately with what’s called the TRUTH. And I believe that’s going to be almost impossible to do. And it Trump wins, then how is he going to be able to govern? I don’t believe he will have the benefit of concentration camps. Do you?

  29. JoAnn,

    I know one thing for sure. There will be no concentration camps, at least, until after Inauguration Day on the 20th of January, 2017. That’s why need to move as quickly as possible after the election. For me, It’s hard to keep a straight face discussing the LUDICROUS situation we are ALL now in.

  30. I’m late today and am as committed as anyone to working towards restoring democracy as of tomorrow but I can’t abandon the journey from being a loyal Republican to here.

    Over that journey what changed most was the allegiance of the GOP to the truth. It is simply non-existent today and has been for decades.

    How can democracy survive under that condition?

  31. Marv; exactly how do we remove the rampant deception if not by election. Where is the deception that can be removed; I really don’t understand what you are talking about with this seemingly simple solution to our current situation.

  32. JoAnn,

    “Marv; exactly how do we remove the rampant deception if not by election.”

    The deception is coming from the deepest level, the oligarchal level. You can’t see it, but it is there.

  33. Pete,

    “How can democracy survive under that condition?”

    A more important question might be: How can America survive under that condition? I believe we can make a case that it can’t. That scenario is a potentially catastrophic problem for Democrats as well as Republicans.

  34. Democracy is in huge trouble. America is in huge trouble. People who couldn’t keep up with times elected an empty promiser to take us back to when they were competitive. Trump promised them whatever they wanted to hear. Of course he can’t deliver. He never had any intention to.

  35. Hillary should have conceded. Where is She? She’s making this a mockery of her stances. The world is about to have a meltdown and she is proving that she is just as bad as that F*’g trump, who will NEVER be my President. Where is she?

  36. AgingLGrl,

    “The world is about to have a meltdown and she is proving that she is just as bad as that F*’g trump, who will NEVER be my President. ”

    The defense of democracy in the U.S. is in shambles. We must IMMEDIATELY turn to a new “third force” for defense. That’s the only option that is left. The Democratic Party is now totally impotent. We are causing, like you have just said, “the world to, eventually, have a MELTDOWN.” We will bring down the whole planetary system if we do not take action now. We are ALL connected. We must show the world that we are not totally irresponsible and can move back toward an equilibrium state by the introduction of a new countervailing force. It’s not impossible.

  37. As a former Bernie Supporter who voted for Hillary, she is embarrassing all of us by not showing her face! My gay friends, my muslim friends and women that want to make their own decisions on their body are all upset and scared right now. We are screwed. He will have the nuclear codes. OMFG.

  38. Now is the time to begin building that much touted Third Party – not during any presidential election, especially the one we just lost due to those third party supporters and the Bernie write-ins. I turned to BET channel in the middle of the night, hoping for a distracting movie, instead they were broadcasting an election watch program. The newscaster put in a call to Jill Stein; her comments were straight forward, on target and summed up the loss while admitting her small percentage would not have made the difference in the outcome but those who voted elsewhere to vote against Hillary gave Trump the election. Haven’t we heard this somewhere before – many times – during this campaign?

    Obviously the Libertarian and Green parties are NOT the answer; how many times have they tried? Marv; how do we get rid of that oligarch level to begin undoing the damage and either build a stronger Democratic party or find that elusive winning Third Party?

  39. A failed main-stream press; there is no more fourth estate. Also, the dumbing down of the American electorate through failed education policies that have been politically motivated instead of driven by a desire to educate the students to think critically.

  40. My Christmas wish: to see and hear Trey Gowdy give Mike Pence the third degree on this issue:

    On Nov. 21, the Indiana Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments over whether Pence should be forced to release redacted portions of documents, including email communications between Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind) and Daniel Hodge, the chief of staff of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

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