Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Now, more than ever, it's time for newspapers -- Nov. 24, 2016 column


It’s the holiday season, so here’s a suggestion for your shopping list: Give a newspaper subscription. Better, give two – one local and one national.

To me, getting the newspapers – yes, two -- off the sidewalk in the morning and sitting with them and a cup of coffee is one of the joys of life. People who read newspapers prefer to read them in print, studies show, but fewer people are experiencing that joy.

It’s an irony of our time that newspaper circulation continues to decline when we need to know more than ever what our elected officials are doing. Our democracy needs voters who can distinguish between truth and lies.

We need real news, reliable information from sources we can trust. Real news is the antidote to toxic fake news, click-bait stories that deliberately mislead readers for fun and profit.

Average weekday newspaper circulation fell 7 percent last year, the most since 2010. Sunday paper circulation also declined. Both were because of fewer print sales. Digital circulation rose 2 percent, according to the Pew State of the News Media report in June.

For newspapers to survive and do their watchdog work, they need advertising revenue, which also is in decline.

I recommend giving the print product because we all spend too many hours in front of screens. If your friends and family prefer getting their news digitally, by all means give them a digital subscription. Three-fourths of newspapers now require a subscription to read online. 

Bashing the news media is always in fashion for politicians. President-elect Donald Trump has said about the news media: “They are so dishonest…70 to 75 percent are totally dishonest. Absolute scum. Remember that. Scum. Scum. Totally dishonest people.”

He has said he wants to open up the libel laws so he can sue newspapers, although he had second thoughts when someone told him he might get sued more as a result.

Trump, who rarely mentions The New York Times without the word “failing,” is thin-skinned. He doesn’t like news stories that are critical of him and his policies.

With 13 million followers on Twitter and 12 million on Facebook, he prefers to bypass the media. On Monday, he put out his plans for his first 100 days as president in a YouTube video.

But who broke the story of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server? The Times in March 2015 ran a page one story that led to the FBI investigation.   

And it’s not just the big, national newspapers that do excellent work. Reporters for the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune devoted 18 months to a project that uncovered a pattern of violence, neglect and 15 deaths in state mental hospitals in Florida.

The Portland Press Herald in Maine ran a six-part series documenting severe ecological changes in the warming ocean from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod.

Newspapers and the news media are not perfect, of course. The botched prognostications of the presidential election results hurt credibility. Reduced budgets have led to staff cuts and curtailed coverage.

Trump is the latest in a line of presidents and presidential contenders who have used the news media for target practice. Lyndon Johnson scolded the media that criticized his Vietnam policy. Richard Nixon had journalists on his enemies list. 

During the 1992 campaign, President George H.W. Bush loved the bumper strip that read: “Annoy the media. Re-elect Bush.”

Bush, though, distinguished between the reporters covering him and the talking heads he thought unfair. Trump has shown universal disdain, although he cares deeply what’s said about him.

Trump reportedly rises at 5 a.m., reads several newspapers, including The New York Times, and watches the morning TV shows – and then he tweets.   

For all his bluster, even Trump recognizes the value of newspapers.

At his meeting with the Times’s reporters and editors Tuesday, he called it “a great, great American jewel, a world jewel.” And he said. “I hope we can get along.”

Right. We’ll see how that works out.

But reading a daily newspaper -- or two -- will give you the best chance of knowing what really happens around the corner and in the nation’s capital.   

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grateful for this Thanksgiving -- Nov. 17, 2016 column


A friend tells me she’s still very sad. The election was a “slap in the face of decency,” and she can’t forgive her sisters and their husbands for voting for Donald Trump.

Another friend has trouble sleeping. A third said she’s stuck in election denial.

“It cannot be as bad as we can imagine,” she wrote in an email, adding, “Yes it is.”

Nearly 62 million Hillary Clinton voters are as gloomy as the nearly 61 million Trump voters are jubilant. 

Into this maelstrom of emotions comes the holiday devoted to carbs, calories – and gratitude. What -- now?

Yes, bring on Thanksgiving. We have rarely needed it more. 

We can’t always agree about politics, and shouldn’t. But we can use the pause in our daily routines to gather together, give thanks for what we have and share love with family and friends.
We’ve been giving thanks since before we had a president or a country. Massachusetts and Virginia still squabble over where the first Thanksgiving occurred. The Pilgrims’ celebration of the harvest and survival with about 90 Wampanoag Indians was in 1621, two years after Virginia colonists marked their safe arrival with a day of prayerful thanksgiving.
In 1789, George Washington signed a proclamation declaring a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” for the new government. Other presidents followed, with a few interruptions. Thomas Jefferson refused to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation because he saw it as a conflict of church and state.

It took a decades-long crusade by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, to bring the national holiday into being. She wrote her first editorial on the subject in 1837.

Thanksgiving “might, without inconvenience, be observed on the same day of November, say the last Thursday in the month, throughout all New England; and also in our sister states, who have grafted it upon their social system. It would then have a national character, which would, eventually, induce all the states to join in the commemoration of `Ingathering,’” she wrote. 

With foresight, she added: “It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart – the social and domestic ties.”

After many more editorials and through Hale’s persistent appeals, more than 30 states and territories had Thanksgiving on their calendars by the 1850s.

Because Hale never gave up, our national Thanksgiving holiday was created at a time even more divisive than ours. She finally persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to issue a proclamation in October 1863, as the Civil War raged.

Lincoln put out a call to “fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Secretary of State William H. Seward, not Lincoln, actually wrote the proclamation, although Lincoln signed it. Seward’s original manuscript was sold a year later to raise money for Union troops, according to Abraham Lincoln Online.
The holiday was celebrated on the last Thursday of November by tradition – until President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought he’d boost retail sales by moving Thanksgiving up a week in 1939, from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23. An uproar ensued, and some states celebrated two Thanksgivings. Two years later Congress set Thanksgiving in law as the fourth Thursday.
Today we know that practicing gratitude – and not just on Thanksgiving -- is good for us. Hundreds of academic studies have found physical, psychological and social benefits in gratitude – from lower blood pressure to less loneliness to more optimism.

Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received,” Robert A. Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, wrote in an essay for Greater Good, a University of California, Berkeley, website.

Emmons, a leading authority in the study of gratitude, said by practicing gratitude, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.”

Some things haven’t changed in 400 years. Happy Thanksgiving.

©2016 Marsha Mercer


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton's quest ends as it began, with Bill -- Nov. 10, 2016 column


Hillary Clinton will never be just an asterisk of history.

She’s no Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale, failed Democratic presidential nominees who fell to obscurity.  

And yet, one of the many ironies of the 2016 election is that Clinton’s marital status and gender may define her place in history – as former first lady and first woman presidential nominee of a major political party.

She won the popular vote, but because she did not win the White House, she will always be seen as the wife of a president. Because of the Electoral College, she will never have the chance to prove herself as president.

For all her subsequent accomplishments, marrying Bill Clinton was Hillary’s best career move, her ticket to the national stage.

As his wife, she became first lady of Arkansas and the first lady of the United States.

She, an ambitious Yale law graduate surely would have succeeded in life on her own, but we’ll never know if she would have become a U.S. senator, secretary of state and a presidential contender – twice – had she not first risen to prominence in the role of Mrs. In this way, the Hillary Clinton story is more 20th century than 21st.

The Clintons’ marriage, like most relationships, is unfathomable to those on the outside. When her husband was accused of womanizing during his bid for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton proved her loyalty by dutifully standing by her man -- even as she denied she was doing so.

She later showed her strength by enduring the public humiliation of his philandering in the White House.

So it seems a particularly cruel twist of fate that, after she built her own president-ready resume with Senate and State Department posts, her husband may be to blame for Donald Trump’s decision to enter the 2016 presidential race.

Strange as it now seems, both Clintons formerly were friends with Trump, who donated to the Clinton Foundation and played golf with Bill.

Bill Clinton called his pal Trump in May 2015 and encouraged him to play a larger role in Republican politics, The Washington Post reported.

What exactly was said in the private phone conversation isn’t known. A few weeks later, Trump glided down the escalator at Trump Tower and began knocking off GOP presidential contenders, one by one.

And so, Hillary Clinton who in 2008 lost to a Democratic outsider promising change, lost Tuesday to a Republican outsider promising change.  

As the 2016 campaign tightened at the end, Clinton relied more and more on President Obama and his popular wife, Michelle, to make the case for her. Days before the election, the president conversationally asked men about their resistance to a woman president.

“I just want to say to the guys out there . . . there’s a reason why we haven’t had a woman president before . . . I want every man out there who’s voting to kind of look inside yourself and ask yourself, if you’re having problems with this stuff, how much of it is that we’re just not used to it?” Obama said at a Clinton rally in Columbus, Ohio.

“So that, like, when a guy is ambitious and out in the public arena and working hard, well, that’s OK. But when a woman suddenly does it, suddenly you’re all like, well, why is she doing that?” he said.

Obama was onto something. Trump won white males’ votes 63 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent, exit polls found.

But Trump also won the votes of white women 53 percent to Clinton’s 43 percent.
When Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, introduced her at her concession speech Wednesday, he said: “She has made history. In a nation that is good at so many things, but that has made it uniquely difficult for women to be elected to federal office, she became the first major party nominee as a woman to be president and last night won the popular vote of Americans for the president.”

Minutes later, Clinton, with her husband standing behind her, said:  

“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”

Yes, but that woman will not be Hillary Clinton.  

(c) 2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

A gracious loser? We can hope -- Nov 3, 2016 column


A ritual of American politics will unfold Tuesday night.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will hold victory parties but, before the night is over, one will concede defeat. If we’re lucky.

We can take nothing for granted. To the end, Trump remains a question mark. In his last debate with Clinton, he refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election.

“I will keep you in suspense,” he said. It was outrageous, provocative and pure Trump. He still appears likely to come up short in the Electoral College, although polls have tightened in the last week.

One thing is certain, though. The American people have suffered enough disappointment during this dispiriting campaign. Barring an election disaster, the loser needs to accept the will of the voters with grace and urge his or her followers to do the same.

The winner also must move immediately to begin repairing the breach that has riven the country.

This presidential contest has always been more about the candidates’ deficiencies than their policies. When the votes are finally counted, it’s time for all of us to put the country first.

Our admirable American tradition holds that defeated presidential candidates rise to the occasion for the sake of the greater good. It’s reassuring to see failed candidates muster grace – and even humor -- at a time of personal misery.

In 1908, after his third failed campaign for the White House, Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan said: “I am reminded of the drunk who, when he had been thrown down the stairs of the club for the third time, gathered himself up, and said, `I am on to those people. They don’t want me in there,’” William Safire wrote in “Safire’s New Political Dictionary.”

Going into the 1948 election, Thomas Dewey was confident he’d beat Harry Truman – as were some newspaper editors. We’ve all seen the screaming banner headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune, “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.”

All night the votes came in. When Dewey awoke the next morning to learn he’d lost, he sent a gracious telegram to Truman.

“My heartiest congratulations to you on your election and every good wish for a successful administration. I urge all Americans to unite behind you in support of every effort to keep our nation strong and free and establish peace in the world,” he wrote.

Asked by reporters what had happened, Dewey replied, “I was just as surprised as you are . . . It has been grand fun, boys and girls. I enjoyed it immensely.”

Four years later, when he lost to Dwight Eisenhower, Democrat Adlai Stevenson said he was reminded of the story about Abraham Lincoln after an election defeat. Lincoln said he felt like the boy who stubbed his foot in the dark -- “too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”

After the bitter 1960 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon offered a quasi-concession statement to John F. Kennedy.

“If the present trend continues, Mister Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, will be the next president of the United States,” Nixon told his supporters in California about midnight Pacific time. 

“I want Senator Kennedy to know . . . that certainly if this trend does continue, and he does become our next president, that he will have my wholehearted support and yours too,” Nixon said.

Nixon was convinced voter fraud cost him the election but he did not demand a recount despite JFK’s razor-thin margin of victory -- just over 100,000 votes out of 68 million votes cast. 

Kennedy won 303 electoral votes and Nixon 219. Fifteen unpledged electors in Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma voted for segregationist Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia.

To preserve his viability for future elections, Nixon would not look like a sore loser.

Nobody ever warms to defeat. Mitt Romney was so sure he was going to win four years ago that he’d written only a victory speech.

“It’s about 1,118 words long,” he told reporters traveling with him on Election Day. His staff hadn’t written a concession speech either.

A few hours later, Romney called President Barack Obama to congratulate him. Then Romney went to what was supposed to be his victory party.

After wishing the president and his family well, Romney told supporters, “This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”

We can dream that whoever loses on Tuesday is as classy.

(c) 2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.