Posts Tagged ‘Tom Friedman’


Tuesday night, following California’s primaries, Donald Trump explained his “America First” policies. In any global interaction—economic, military, political—he will put America’s interests first. But I suspect that a President Trump would make one exception.

Germany (West Germany until unification) has been a friend of the United States since the end of World War Two. But its views don’t always match America’s. That’s normal. Every nation puts its own interests first. Suppose a rift occurred. Mr. Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel get on the phone. “Here’s what I want America to do,” says Mrs. Merkel. “Yes, ma’am,” says Mr. Trump.

Far-fetched? I don’t doubt that Donald Trump is an American. But he’s also a hyphenated American like all but the Native Americans who populated the country before the arrival of Europeans, Africans and others. On his father’s side, the Trump heritage is German. Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, came to the U.S. from Germany in 1885. Can a President Trump—a German-American—represent the United States’ best interests when dealing with Germany?

If this seems like the hyphenated American bit is being stretched thin, you’re right. What makes America great is that we all share common ground on the right aside of the hyphen. We’re Americans. Unless, that is, we’re Mexican-Americans. Witness Mr. Trump’s claims that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, born and raised in Indiana, cannot be impartial hearing a lawsuit against Trump University because a President Trump would build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.

Now to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R.–Wisconsin). He’s been put through the ringer. Speaker Ryan doesn’t seem to care for Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. It took him some time before throwing to Mr. Trump his half-hearted support. On Tuesday, he called Mr. Trump’s statement about Judge Curiel, “a textbook definition of a racist comment.” Still, he finds more common ground with Mr. Trump than with Hillary Clinton. America first? Or ideology and party first?

On Tuesday, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called for the formation of a New Republican Party (“Dump the G.O.P. for a Grand New Party”). Friedman wrote, “Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education — an ethically challenged enterprise…” Good luck, Tom. When Barack Obama was nominated by the Democrats in 2008, Republicans went ballistic. The birther movement, including Mr. Trump, erupted. The Tea Party coalesced and lashed out. When John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate and went down in flames, the G.O.P. seemed doomed. It lost the presidency again in 2012. It’s still here.

I suspect that the Republican Party will be embarrassed in this November’s presidential election despite the convenient target of Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump a candidate with low approval ratings. But what about Speaker Ryan? He, along with many Republican leaders, will wind up giving at least nominal support to a candidate who makes racist comments, which he and they find off-putting to say the least. If Mr. Trump wins, Speaker Ryan becomes a factor in establishing the legitimacy of a nasty approach to politics and the denigration of a great many Americans (myself included). Only a Clinton win will keep Speaker Ryan from emerging as a big loser.

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The Declaration of Independence enshrines in American consciousness life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what makes Americans happy? And what if that which makes us happy causes other people—maybe millions of people—unhappiness?

The answers to these questions reveal a lot about what we, as individuals and a nation, really value. In this light, three recent pieces of journalism caught my eye.

In last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Kathleen Pender painted a disturbing portrait of super-wealthy Californians. The headline: “State hit hard as wealthy relocate.” For some of our richest residents, California’s state income tax conjures a reverse alchemy by turning the Golden State into lead.

Of course, few people like paying taxes. But most conservative Californians understand that state government has some role to play. Likewise, most liberal Californians don’t like to see governments waste their tax dollars. Above all, most of us love living here, so we pay the freight.

The thing is, major millionaires aren’t going to live any better in states without an income tax like Nevada, Texas or Florida. Say you’re a not-quite-but-almost-super-rich person with assets of $25 million and/or an annual income of $2.5 million (both admittedly arbitrary figures). What can another state offer for saving you a few bucks when you already can have anything you want? What they can’t give you is the Golden Gate Bridge, the Santa Monica Pier, the casino-less side of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the redwoods, the beaches of… well almost anywhere… and, to be sure, proximity to the nation’s top technology centers in Silicon Valley and San Francisco not to mention Hollywood.

Also on Sunday, Tom Friedman wrote in his New York Times column, “If I Had a Hammer,” that technology is changing our economy. Yes, we know. But importantly, according to Friedman, “our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology.”

Friedman’s column raises key questions. What purposes will our incredible technology serve? Do new apps and smart phones and Google glasses truly make us more fulfilled as human beings? Do they bring us closer together? As the demand rises for a college-educated workforce, what happens to people without coding know-how and other tech skills? And if “low-tech” folks do have jobs, how can they thrive without a living wage?

Finally, Lane Kenworthy of the University of Arizona writes in the January/February edition of FOREIGN AFFAIRS (“America’s Social Democratic Future”) that America “does not ensure enough economic security for its citizens.” The nation also “is failing in its promise of equal opportunity.” And “too few Americans have shared in the prosperity their country has enjoyed in recent decades.”

Nothing challenges our values more than the concept of “the working poor.” Imagine holding two or three jobs, caring for a family and having nothing to show for it at the end of the month. Then think back to the Chronicle article on California’s wealthy eyeing other states.

Two final questions: What is the pursuit of happiness really all about? And in their pursuit, do too many Americans, rich and poor, resemble dogs chasing their tails?

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Read the first three chapters of my new novel, The Boy Walker, at Order in soft cover or e-book at, or And read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.


Egypt as a nation predates the United States by millennia. But when Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi lectures the U.S., he conveniently forgets that Egypt as a democracy is an infant.

A week ago, Morsi told The New York Times that the U.S. should show greater respect for Arab values. “If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”

Morsi seconded what I wrote in “A Misleading Question” (September 14). A cultural gap exists. Take the matter of women. Morsi told The Times, “I will not prevent a woman from being nominated as a candidate for the presidential campaign. This is not in the Constitution. This is not in the law. But if you want to ask me if I will vote for her or not, that is something else, that is different.”

That Mr. Morsi believes women should not play a major role in affairs of state—what message does that deliver to Hillary Clinton?—is his business. That he believes that America and the West are filled with licentiousness also is his business. And to a great degree he’s right. But Morsi’s claims to moral superiority don’t hold water.

A September 20 article in The Jerusalem Post reported on Egyptian women calling on President Morsi to halt increasing incidents of sexual harassment. “According to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, street harassment is shockingly commonplace, with 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women reporting incidents.” In February 2011, CBS TV news reporter Lara Logan was sexually attacked by a Cairo mob as other Egyptians protested for freedom in Tahrir Square. The abuse of women in the Greater Middle East is well documented.

When Morsi laments the inability of world organizations to stop the violence in Syria—he agrees that Bashar al Assad must go—he again makes a valid point. But he overlooks the inability of the Arab world—and Egypt—to police itself. Christian Copts are now fleeing Rafah, which borders Gaza, in the face of Islamist threats. Similarly, when Morsi suggests that Washington accept Egyptian values, he offers a pragmatic approach to two-party relations. But when he denies the validity of Western approaches to free speech, as he did at the UN on Wednesday, he plays to Islamists and places obstacles between Egypt and the West. I hope he read Tom Friedman’s column, “Backlash to the Backlash”. Friedman offers Arab voices calling for a major reality check—on the part of Arab leaders.

A healthy U.S.–Egypt relationship will take time. And humility. And a realization that ultimately, this isn’t about us. As Tunisian president Mocef Marzouki writes in today’s Times, “The Arab revolutions have not turned anti-Western. Nor are they pro-Western. They are simply not about the West.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Morsi would be well advised to acknowledge that when it comes to making democracy work, ancient Egypt is the new kid on the block—and barely at the toddler stage.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at SLICK! also is now available at, and