Ode to Los Angeles From a Wary Admirer

I recently visited one of America’s iconic cities and one of my personal favorites: Los Angeles. Modern day LA simultaneously exemplifies the exciting and the troubling of the nation’s urban areas. Potential remains exponential while risks and problems accumulate.

Flying into LA from the east, the transition from barren desert (excluding the oasis of Palm Springs) to the fertile urban sprawl is sharp, with the San Jacinto Mountains acting as an impressive physical wedge between two binary worlds. In daytime, flyers’ views transition from brown nothingness to megacity sprawl. At night the black void suddenly switches to a sea of light. The Los Angeles basin makes its impression on visitors from the air before they step on terra firma.

Looking out the plane window on the approach to LAX during this visit, my attention was immediately drawn to the port of Long Beach. Those familiar, massive ship unloading cranes were lined in neat rows, starting the nation’s physical infrastructure chain from the Pacific’s edge moving inland: interstate, power transmission lines, rail, and truck intermodal container flow. Long Beach from above is an impressive exemplar of crucial supply chain links.

But this time there was something noticeably different with the port view: large clusters of container ships huddled at the port mouth and long lines of ships stringing out to sea from the clusters. The image reaffirmed the obvious: quality of life hinges on a supply chain that is subject to risk. You can tout the best of physical infrastructure, but to properly function one also needs focused execution operating under sound policies. The logjammed fleet at the port mouth proved misguided government policies adversely affect execution, which damages the nation’s supply chain, which hurts quality of life from sea to shining sea.

Los Angelinos recently learned how one supply chain bottleneck can damage other links of the supply chain. Huntington Beach and Newport Beach south of LA recently dealt with an oil spill from an undersea pipeline. Environmentalists, media, and leftist politicians were quick to assign blame to the negligence of the oil industry, pointing to the spill as yet another example of how profit and carbon are ruining the planet. But before you could say ‘climate change’, it turns out that the rupture of the pipeline is now suspected to have been caused by one of those waiting cargo ships that dropped anchor and then drug it across the sea floor, catching and then pulling apart the pipeline. The Orange County shoreline became another casualty of a broken supply chain triggered by inept policy.

Obvious fixes won’t come easy. California’s political leaders and regulators will not provide a smooth path to increase truck traffic flow out the port of Long Beach. California already limits the supply of able trucks by its Truck Ban regulation, which bars permits for large trucks that predate the 2011 model year. Politicians’ sound bites on local radio and quotes in local papers were citing the need to immediately increase regulation of traffic flow into and out of the port and surrounding communities. That’s code for more bureaucracy, cost, and inefficiency. All of it spelling trouble for the broader economy.

I used a driving service this trip to get to and from meetings and locations. Now I must confess, one of the biggest enjoyments I get from business travel is spending the better part of a day talking to the driver going from meeting to meeting. Sometimes the driver prefers quiet, but most are happy to be sociable and share thoughts and insights of a true local. No matter where the city, you will learn a lot about its people and culture by simply listening to the driver.

On this trip, I was lucky to have the latter with the driver for the day; let’s call him Sam. Sitting in the morning rush around the upscale Beverly Center, we engaged in a conversation about what Los Angelinos refer to as the ‘crisis.’ No, it’s not climate change. Instead, it’s the homeless epidemic. And it is getting worse.

On the sidewalk alongside the Beverly Center was a homeless structure, somewhere between a tent and a house. The rectangular structure ran about 30 feet in length and nearly the entire width of the sidewalk, leaving about two feet for pedestrians to pass through. The corners and middle of each side were anchored to lumber studs, with the height around six feet. The occupant installed rectangular windows along the side walls and covered them with clear plastic. A small grill and lawn chair sat alongside the structure in a makeshift patio area.

It was a strange combination of feelings: being impressed by the builder’s ingenuity and being depressed by the obvious human plight of living on the street. As Sam and I were admiring the workmanship while sitting in the traffic, a police vehicle drove by. I asked if police enforce vagrancy laws with homeless. Sam laughed and replied they did not. Half a block up the street, the police vehicle sounded its siren and pulled up behind two late model foreign cars with hazard flashers on parked in the right lane in front of a Starbucks. The cop issued tickets to the vehicle drivers who left the cars parked in busy traffic lanes during the rush hour.

So much in those thirty seconds reflects the reality of LA: extreme poverty rubbing up against extreme wealth, police enforcing some laws and ignoring others, everyone going about their daily routine impervious to it all. Most depressing of all: a growing acceptance by all, from the homeless to the wealthy, that homelessness is unsolvable and here to stay.

Like magic, five minutes later while still waiting to get through the same jammed intersection, the radio newscaster informs us that LA City Council, that body of epic ineptitude, voted to ban homeless encampments across three city districts and within 500 feet of schools and libraries. Just over fifty sites will be affected, with the newscaster telling us it reflected less than half of the locations that were under original ‘consideration’ for the homeless ban this summer. The rule will be enforced two weeks after signs are posted in the areas. The estimated cost of the signs is close to $2 million. Sam the driver is highly confident the move will not improve the homeless situation, would not be surprised if it makes the situation worse, and is certain the $2 million could be put to much better use than signage. I agreed but told him to think of the windfall for the government bureaucracy: a whole new horizon of regulations, debate, and process to feed from without having to solve anything.

This mid-October during my visit, the Dodgers were chasing another World Series title and hosting the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. I’ve been a life-long Dodgers fan, with the Dodgers second in my heart only to my hometown Pirates. Those 70s and 80s teams managed by Alston and Lasorda were awesome and the setting of a game at Chavez Ravine on TV provided one of my first impressions of southern California. Dodger Stadium was packed, as expected, although Dodgers fans were true to form by arriving fashionably late and taking three innings to fill the stadium.

But even spectator sports don’t escape the grasp of the administrative state these days, especially in the elite bureaucratic haven that is California. Medical ‘experts’ were on the airwaves over the week cautioning how cheering and chanting at sports venues can increase the risk of spreading or being infected with Covid. From what I could tell, no one was listening to these ‘experts’ at the games.

Perhaps the biggest surprise during the trip was the how empty restaurants were.

Many restaurants have shuttered or scaled back days and hours of operation, due to a combination of lack of customers and a shortage of workers. Despite the reduced capacity of the dining sector, there were lots of empty tables during lunch and dinner hours. An owner of a popular Hollywood restaurant summed it up: “It’s always been excruciatingly expensive to run a business here, but you could shoulder it if you offered top product. Now though, we are told to shut down and then when we reopen the government makes it even more expensive to get people to come work and makes it more painful for customers to eat out. It’s been a death knell for lots of great establishments.”

As businesses and the private sector get crushed in California from excessive and heavy-handed government bureaucracy, government itself is doing quite well.

The week I was in town Governor Newsom was bragging that the state will have another “historic budget surplus” next year, following a massive surplus this year. The reasons for the twin surpluses? Massive subsidy from the federal government to California under banner of Covid relief (translation: wealth redistribution from fly-over country to coastal elites), government dropping services and expenditures during its own mandated shutdowns (translation: government stops doing its job to save money), and taxes filling the state coffers (translation: value creators in the free market get no Covid relief and must continue to pay up to support bureaucrats). The pandemic has been very, very good to California government.

On energy matters, it is crystal clear that greater Los Angeles will not be anything close to carbon neutral in our lifetimes.

Heavy vehicle traffic is everywhere (still predominantly combustion engine vehicles on the 405 Freeway), the metropolis is a sea of lights at night, climate (indoor) is controlled, everyone is staring at charged phones, and the consumption of carbon-based products abounds. The power grid demand is growing and things like wind and solar can’t come close to filling it reliably.
But state and federal government keep doing all they can to make carbon prohibitively expensive for the middle class and working poor that rely on it to earn.

Gasoline prices were averaging more than $4.50 per gallon in state during my visit. The wealthy elite driving subsidized electric vehicles or expensive late model foreign vehicles could not care less about the price of something as incidental to them as gasoline. But the army of service providers and small business owners scrapping every day to eke out an income underneath a mountain of regulation, taxes, and bureaucracy are facing a fuel cost straw that will break the doers’ backs.

Crime, both property and violent, is a problem in LA like most large American cities. The morning of departure brought news of an overnight shooting claiming multiple victims. Homicides in LA spiked in 2020, totaling nearly 350, and are on pace in 2021 to surpass last year’s number. Security cameras cover every imaginable angle of home exteriors across every neighborhood; yet one wonders if all the surveillance video feeds and security signs in yards deter any property crime in the end.

Marijuana is not just legal in California, it is everywhere. You don’t see it, but you certainly smell it: walking outside on a neighborhood street, driving in traffic, or strolling around a shopping area. And the odor is present morning, noon, and night. I read the studies that show moderate marijuana consumption is less damaging to health than tobacco or heavy alcohol consumption, and I tend to agree. But one wonders what the cumulative effect is on society when many of us are continually numbed and drained from regular marijuana use. I fear the answer may be more couch slouching and less achievement. That’s not the American way.

Flying home on a carbon-fueled plane, I had time to reminisce about my couple of days in LA. Southern California reflects the dichotomy of modern-day America: a proud legacy and an embarrassment of riches colliding with a cresting wave of problems that may deliver an unsustainable tomorrow. Although I continue to root for LA, the scoreboard is flashing trouble.

IPCC: The Religion and the Racket of Climate Change

Let’s perform a quick exercise. Consider the following quotes:

“code red for humanity”
“dangerously close to spiraling out of control”
“the alarm bells are deafening”
“deadly heat waves”
“gargantuan hurricanes”
“unleash disastrous weather”
“people could die just from going outside”
“the world is running out of time”
“Earth could broil”

Now answer the following multiple-choice question. The direct quotes above are from:
(a) The script for a heavily marketed disaster film/horror story
(b) The sermon for an end-of-times religious cult
(c) An article written by energy/environment journalists of a respected global news outlet
(d) All of the above

If you answered (d), there is good news and bad news.

The good news is you are correct. The quotes are from a “news” story issued by Reuters that was timed to amplify the AR6 2021 report from that bureaucratic nest known as the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The article replaces objective journalism with a blend of Hollywood script and modern-day Book of Revelations.

The bad news is that if you are applying to college or interviewing for a job, you are advised to shroud your intelligence and instead feign a veneer of politically correct groupthink. That’s because today when it comes to climate change, the objective mind is subjected to the pincer movement of amped up rhetoric from the church’s high priests and the persecution of the dissenting free thinker.

“Climate Science Integrity” Becomes an Oxymoron

Crucial to progress in science is the willingness of the scientific community to self-audit and to be clinically objective. Self-audit drives not only progress, but also informs of the ethical compass of the scientific community. In the arena of climate science, the religion has subsumed objectivity and the ethical compass is broken.

The integrity of the IPCC and its climate models are massively important to billions of human beings. The results of these dubious endeavors and highly questionable results are not being used for purely academic pursuits; they are being used to drive public policy decisions that impact countless lives. The logic is linear and chilling: flawed model inputs produce mutated predictions, mutated predictions advise wrong-headed policies, and wrong-headed policies erode the human condition.

Setting sound public policy requires the ability to predict outcomes with reasonable accuracy. When models are wired to manufacture desired outcomes or reflect subjective beliefs, a fundamental flaw is created. When the models used to forecast and their creators demonstrate either gross incompetence or an unethical bias, then their views of the future and resulting policy recommendations should be ignored.

Modeling Like its 1999 to Predict 2100 Weather

While the world’s best meteorologists armed with the most sophisticated technology can’t accurately pinpoint the location of a hurricane in a few days without applying a wide cone of uncertainty, the priests in the church of climate state with arrogant certainty how much warmer the planet will be decades in the future, to the tenth of a degree. Such obvious naiveite should be ridiculed by the scientific community, but it won’t be.

And it gets worse when you dig into the details inside these black box climate models.

For decades, the UN’s IPCC and the models it utilized assume for key scenarios that coal demand and consumption would grow drastically. In fact, for years the IPCC models assumed coal would become the top energy source for cars – surpassing oil and electric vehicles.

The infamous RCP8.5 scenario from earlier IPCC reports, which sets the stage for many of these IPCC scenarios and global warming predictions, assumes a 600% increase in global coal consumption per capita by 2100. Such an assumption is ridiculous, considering realities such as the natural gas shale revolution and energy efficiency innovations. Worse yet, the world has demonstrated the absurdity of a 600% increase in coal consumption, with coal demand peaking and, in developed nations like the US, declining precipitously over the past 15 years.

And IPCC’s recent AR6 report embraced a “shared socio-economic pathways” (that’s what technocrats now call scenarios) case that assumes even higher fossil fuel emissions than the prior RCP8.5 scenario. This laughable new scenario, labeled SSP5-8.5, has no basis in the reality of current energy markets and predicts future CO2 emissions from energy that blow past the prior IPCC scenario of RCP8.5, as well as projections from the IEA, BP, and Exxon.

The IPCC refuses to provide relative probabilities for each of its scenarios. But guess which case IPCC references the most when discussing climate change consequences? That’s right, the one that is the fiction bordering on the fantasy: SSP5-8.5.

Why would such an obvious flawed assumption on coal consumption be allowed to propagate through these IPCC scenarios year after year and report after report? Because without a massive increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from burning more and more coal, the model won’t spit out a desired spike in future global temperatures. No boiling planet, no imminent Armageddon (Code Red!) and salvation via a call to action (Climate Action Now!). The religion is exposed, and the racket vanishes.

Unpacking the Climate Change Issue

Now, I’ve written extensively on the issue of climate change, taking the path of data-grounded, science-based reality (https://nickdeiuliis.com/news/a-rational-persons-guide-to-climate-change/). So, before you shout ‘denier’ and stone me with lumps of coal, consider I’ve gone on record acknowledging that climate change has been a reality for millions of years and that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has increased since the advent of the Industrial Revolution from human activity. Both are undeniable facts.

There are three other undeniable facts, however.

First, those rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are still trace amounts. All the CO2 emitted from industrial human activity over the past couple of hundred years took CO2 from just over 0.02% to roughly 0.04% of the atmosphere.

Using parts-per-million instead of percent and quoting a “doubling” of atmospheric CO2 (from 200 ppm to 400 ppm) may sound more ominous and impressive. But it is the same as 0.02% to 0.04%: still trace levels, and still inconsequential in the grand, complex scheme of global climate.

Second, the ability, accuracy, and precision of climate models and the so-called scientists who construct them have been horrendous.

Perhaps gross inaccuracy with predicting climate twenty years from now is not surprising, considering meteorologists can’t predict next week’s weather with certainty. At a minimum, these climate scientists (a term some may argue is self-contradicting) should be fired for incompetence and their models should be scrapped. The models, which are endlessly refined year after year, badly miss predictions and can’t even accurately predict prior temperatures when tested in a backward-looking fashion. That we continue to fund them with billions in taxpayer dollars and listen to them when developing public policy is societal self-inflicted ignorance.

Third, and most important, every activity and endeavor in society and the economy has a significant carbon footprint across its life cycle. That holds true for wind power, solar power, food consumption, public transportation, the hydrogen economy, and social media.

Which means CO2 levels will continue to rise no matter what we embrace: combustion engines or electric vehicles, solar or natural gas power, in person or remote work, manufacturing or the idea economy. The only way to attain a zero-carbon society is to shutter the economy and eradicate quality of life. There is no magic technology or whiz-bang invention that will change that fact. Any representation to the contrary is a fraud on science.

The Religion and the Racket

Bureaucrats in government (and global institutions like the UN), academics engaged in so-called climate research, and media prostituting for clicks and social media follows have spent years eroding the science and constructing in its place a belief-based religion. Pledge your allegiance to the church of climate or be cast out and ostracized by your colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family.

The religion is then used to initiate the racket: justifying and procuring endless funding and attention, where the high priests engage in a lucrative scheme that yields expanding funding, ballooning staffs, new research labs, a wider audience, and, most important of all, influence on public policy and personal decision making (aka power).

Unfortunately, while this elite climate syndicate enjoys the fruits of their racket measured in billions of dollars, it ends up being quite the non-virtuous circle for the rest of us who must pay the monetary bill and the societal price. We are being subjected to an endless loop of elitist digital media-preachers telling us what to do and where to send our money so that we may be saved (the spirit of Jim Bakker’s 700 Club rises again).

That’s how you end up with elite journalists, government officials, and academics from well-respected organizations spewing baseless hysteria like the trashy quotes above. The authors should be ashamed, for what they created is not objective and is not representative of ethical journalism. Instead, it is blatant marketing and advocacy for a complex issue they know little about. The organization they work for should reconsider its self-prescribed label of “news provider.”

The legitimate Code Red for humanity is that the very stakeholders society relies upon to protect it from harmful schemes—government, academia, and media—are the perpetrators of this scheme.

To learn more about the IPCC models and their flaws, give a read to How Climate Scenarios Lost Touch With Reality by Roger Pielke Jr. and Justin Richie

What Does the Presidential Medal of Freedom Truly Value?

With a new administration in Washington, much is changing. One thing that will not change is the forthcoming numerous photos and video clips of individuals having a medal draped around their neck by President Biden.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony has been consistently embraced by our Chief Executive. Whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, presidents love the photo op of awarding the medal and recipients enjoy the attention upon receiving it. It is one of few constants in a constantly changing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded by the president, “for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The defining criteria are sufficiently vague to allow sitting presidents to award the medal to basically whoever they desire, and from just about any walk of life.

In many ways, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the ultimate lifetime achievement award for individuals lucky enough to elicit favor of the White House. It’s obviously a big deal for the recipient, and prior recipients (excluding a few in hindsight) were deserving.

But it also serves as an indicator of what and who the elite political class value most. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to the same walks of life, careers, and sectors that government is designed to fund, nurture, and grow. What the government awards correlates to what the government thinks is most important in society.

Which got me thinking. What do the award data tell us about what our elite leadership thinks is most important and less important in society?

The Analysis and the Data

The successive terms of Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump provide nearly thirty years of data. Over these four presidential administrations, over 300 Presidential Medals of Freedom were awarded. That’s a decent sized data set to perform a quick analysis.

To assess the data, recipients were classified into eight categories, using general career/sector descriptions. The eight are:

  • Charities, foundations, and advocacy
  • Politics, government, and civil service
  • Arts, entertainment, and media
  • Sports
  • Academia
  • Labor
  • Business
  • Science, technology, and engineering (STEM)

For some recipients, assigning one of the eight categories was a judgement call. For example, 2018 medal recipient Alan Page enjoyed accomplishments of note in both government and sports. For individuals straddling more than one of the eight categories, they were assigned to the category they were most known for. Thus, Alan Page is included in the sports category.

When you mine the data set of these medal recipients, what conclusions stand out?

Conclusion #1: Presidents Enjoy Awarding Medals

Not a shocker. We know politicians love attention and awarding medals is a great opportunity to be seen in a positive light. Thus, it comes as no surprise presidents hand out these medals like candy. Clinton, Bush, and Obama all hit the one hundred medal mark during their tenures, with Obama being the most prolific awarder, clocking in at a rate of nearly 15 medals per year in office.

Interestingly, Trump had the lowest medal award rate per year in office, at six. That’s half of his three predecessor’s average rate of 12 per year in office. Was it because Trump didn’t place as much importance on the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was more selective in his criteria when choosing awardees, or had a smaller pool of candidates due to the Resist Movement? Hard to say, but Trump stands as an outlier on medal frequency versus his predecessors.

Conclusion #2: Government Picks the Most Winners From…Government

Perhaps a shocker to some, but it should not come as a surprise if you’ve been paying attention to how government tends to operate in an insulated ecosystem separate from the citizenry it is supposed to serve. For all four presidents save Trump, the biggest grouping of awardees is from the combined categories of “charities, foundations, and advocacy” and “politics, government, and civil service.”

For Clinton’s class this grouping comprised over 75% of the total, while for Bush’s class it tallied nearly two-thirds of the total awardees. The representation tailed off a bit under Obama and Trump, coming in at 43% and 29%, respectively. Across all four presidents cumulatively, half of the 300+ awardees hailed from government, politics, or advocacy closely tied to both.

Although I am sure these 150 awardees are deserving of the award (maybe a few exceptions), it shows that government has its greatest affinity for itself.

Conclusion #3: Hollywood, Media, and Sports Are Medal Magnets

Presidents are increasingly drawn to the entertainment complex when doling out Presidential Medals of Freedom, like moths to a flame. Trump loved the jocks: he awarded nearly 60% of his medals to individuals in sports. Obama loved the arts: he tied almost a third of his medals to the necks of singers, writers, and actors.

Bush was slightly less weighted to sports and entertainment than Obama and Trump, but still awarded 38% of his medals to this combined group. Surprisingly, Clinton was the least impressed with athletes and cultural celebrities, having awarded a relatively paltry 5% to the group.

Clinton aside, the data show our leaders place enormous weight on those who provide entertainment to society. If you can consistently sink three-pointers or stream a hit song, the trend indicates you may be in line for a Presidential Medal of Freedom someday.

Conclusion #4: What Matters Most is Recognized Least

The United States is a capitalistic society based on a foundation of free enterprise and individual rights. Americans have a 200+ year legacy of technological innovation that continually raises quality of life for all.

This is a country of “doers” who disrupt the status quo and create wealth. Someone should remind Washington, D.C. of this.

Nearly thirty years of four presidents handing out Presidential Medals of Freedom shows that our political elite care little for business and STEM. The share of awardees hailing from business and technical fields is consistently embarrassing.

Bush (at 15% of awardees) and Obama (at 14%) were slightly less embarrassing than Clinton (at 8% of awardees) and Trump (at 4%), but all four are saying the same thing: those who achieve and create value are not placed on the same pedestal as those who entertain or live in and around government.

A Stark Contrast Between Two Rivals

Almost thirty years of data from the Presidential Medal of Freedom paints a clear picture. Our leaders favor the image (sports and entertainment) and the familiar (government and advocacy groups closely tied to it) over the substance of those who create value in business and technical fields.

We have the Presidential Medal of Freedom. China has its Thousand Talents Program.

The Biden administration is mulling over who the next celebrity or athlete will be to join the ranks of prior awardees Barbara Streisand, Robert Redford, Robert DeNiro, and Tiger Woods. Meanwhile the Chinese are figuring out which advanced technology it needs to procure from us through its program funding and rewards.

Which country is playing the long game and which is fixated on shiny distractions?

We are running out of time to adjust course as to what matters in American society.

A good start is to improve the optics of the Presidential Medal of Freedom—shifting its weighting of awardees to those who create, enable, and serve the vital pillars of free enterprise, technological advancement, value creation, and geopolitical competitive advantage.

The more medals we tie around those types of necks, the better off the world will be.

Assessing Trump’s Four Years

With President Biden now in the White House, let’s objectively assess President Trump’s four years in office.

An objective evaluation is neither construed from the Left’s Resist Movement (there are plenty of those views out there to read) nor part of the MAGA-hat-wearing, Trump-Rambo-flag-waving crowd (with its own small but vocal minority that breaks laws and assaults).

No, objectively here means from the lens of middle-class Americans in fly-over country. Places like my corner of the world, western Pennsylvania. You know, the people and regions the government and its elected leaders are supposed to work for.

So, how would one grade Trump looking back on the past four years?

Although assessing the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth in the complex modern era can be a daunting task, Trump’s legacy comes down to performance in three crucial categories: domestic/foreign policy, fiscal/monetary policy, and the intangibles/leadership. Trump’s performance across these three categories has been quite the mixed bag.

Domestic/Foreign Policy Grade: A

Trump clearly excelled in the category of domestic/foreign policy.
Countless Americans benefitted from deregulation across numerous industries and activities; working families along with free enterprise doers had the shackles of the administrative state loosened for the first time in a decade.

Those that carry society’s water as taxpayers were able to retain more of their hard-earned value with tax reform. Parents and their children benefitted from policies that favored school choice. Criminal justice reform became a reality. A record number of federal judges, including over 50 appellate judges, were confirmed to the bench. America maintained its global energy leadership, keeping domestic energy costs affordable while sharing cleaner-burning natural gas with others abroad.

Historic accords were inked between Israel and wide swaths of Arab and Muslim nations. An oppressive, aggressive, and menacing China was finally taken head on. NAFTA was replaced with the superior USMCA. The nice sounding but flawed concept of free trade was replaced with the practical reality of fair trade between the US and trade partners.

Trump wasn’t perfect on the policy front. Not getting major immigration reform across the finish line was a missed opportunity. Operation Warp Speed successfully rolled out vaccines in less than a year, but the pandemic still claimed a heavy toll in lost lives.

Love him or despise him, but Trump posted a policy record that bested his predecessors all the way back to Reagan. The scoreboard of pre-pandemic GDP growth, unemployment, and market valuations proves it. All of it achieved while reducing our involvements in endless wars in faraway lands.

Fiscal/Monetary Policy Grade: F

This category is the biggest failure of Trump and no one across the political spectrum seems interested in talking about it. The US national debt sits at nearly $28 trillion dollars, which is roughly $7 trillion more than our annual GDP. The US government now posts a debt level that is over eight-times its revenue. To put that egregious metric in perspective, consider the S&P index of public corporations posts an average debt-to-revenue ratio of less than 0.5.

Multi-trillion-dollar annual federal deficits are now the accepted and welcomed norm. The Trump era only solidified the comfort with these egregious fiscal levels. Entitlement reform never materialized, and the past four years only stoked the dumpster fire that consists of the federal budget, deficit, and debt. Trump and the Fed had a love-hate relationship over four years. Unfortunately for us, the love part of that relationship was their joint rapture in zero interest rates and a Fed balance sheet that only knows one direction.

Trump, Congress, and the Fed collaborated to have government drive capital allocation to the point where massive bubbles have inflated over equities, debt, real estate, and a host of exotic assets (art, wine, rare coins, etc.).

Saving went from a virtue in our culture (frugality was one of Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues) to a punished behavior. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Our nation is about to experience that axiom the hard way as it relates to free money and continual outspend.

Intangibles/Leadership: C (the average of an A and F, as explained below)

Presidents should be judged not just on their policies and the numbers, but also on leadership qualities and intangibles. When it comes to that last component, this country has not seen a president like Trump since FDR. And there is massive positive and massive negative that goes along with that statement.

First, the positive. Trump was a trailblazer and disruptor when it came to communication methods.

Trump single-handedly rendered the mainstream media obsolete with his use of social media, much like FDR did with his fireside chats via radio. Worse yet for the media, he exposed for all to see blatant bias on a range of issues lying underneath the faux veneer of objectivity. And he accomplished all that without the support of (one might argue despite) traditional political party infrastructure. Politicians for generations will be looking to mimic his strategy when it comes to communication.

But there were negatives, some of them massive.

The content of his tweets represents a cumulative failure of leadership. Often it was not what he said, but how he said it. And sometimes it was what he said. But the best way to summarize his body of work on social media and at press conferences over four years is: good grief! Regardless of the fanatical views and violent tendencies of segments of both the Right and Left, as president, equivocating and rationalizing such behavior with a “the other side does it, too” mentality falls woefully short of the obligations of the office. A little discipline or a measure of rising above the fray would’ve done wonders. Alas, neither were apparent.

The other big negative in this category was how Trump acted after the election. High achieving individuals with track records of success don’t suffer loss well. And objective observers understand Trump had a lot working against him, including the Washington establishment and proponents of the status quo in both political parties, the media, a global public health crisis, untested mail-in voting, and so on. But when you’re the leader of the free world, there will be times where the nation comes first. Trump’s lame duck period was one of those times. He did not rise to the occasion, no matter what his role was with the lawlessness that ensued at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump was a force that burned down and rewrote the political playbook on communication and leadership. But he blew it with a poorly executed game plan, lack of judgement, and dangerous penchant for stoking the flames of discontent.

Overall Final Grade: C

We enjoyed better and suffered worse presidents than Trump. What is frustrating with Trump’s performance is that he did so many things right. But stoking fiscal and monetary flames higher and unbecoming behavior that covered up the substance with the form leaves many wondering what might have been.

The Unlikeliest of Doppelgangers: Dylan and Trump

A doppelganger in German folklore is a biologically unrelated look-alike of another; what some call a twin stranger. I wonder if Donald Trump and Bob Dylan ever met. Because, as odd as it seems on its face, these two icons share more than a few uncanny similarities in career and public perception.

I know, I know. Scores of burnt-out ex-beatnik/hippie seniors living in gentrified urban neighborhoods who can quote Dylan lyrics verbatim despise Donald Trump. And many MAGA hat-wearing ardent Trump supporters consider Dylan an incoherent mumbler of dubious talent. One would not be caught dead with the other, and both groups pride themselves on their disdain for the opposing icon. Yet the parallels between the career trajectories of Trump and Dylan run many and deep.

A key commonality between the two is that there is, well, much not to like. Dylan’s early career of acoustic folk protest songs I find tinny and much too romanticized by an accommodating rock press. His penchant for discarding those around him who no longer furthered his career ambitions was less than admirable. Trump’s insatiable ego and hunger for the spotlight drives an introvert like myself seeking a dark, quiet place.

Yet both men enjoyed a condensed period where they left a permanent, undeniable, and positive mark upon society.

In ten short years, from 1965 to 1975, Dylan created perhaps the greatest trio of albums ever with Highway 61 Revisited (’65), Blonde on Blonde (’66) and Blood on the Tracks (’75). Trump was the first president in a generation who had the audacity to break the oppressive shackles of bureaucracy, regulation, and government to liberate society’s doers, free enterprise, the middle class, employment, and economic growth. The legacy of both men will live on.

Dylan and Trump presented existential threats to the established interests where they first took root.

Dylan turned the folk music community inside out when he went electric, causing a freaked-out Pete Seeger to attempt to cut (allegedly with a hatchet) Dylan’s power during his live performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Trump roiled the traditional Republican platform when he railed against globalism and multinationalism, causing old guard stalwarts like McCain, Romney, and Bush to become the most strident members of the resist movement. Ironically, Dylan and Trump grew the brand and reach of folk music and the Republican party, respectively, yet were subjected to public attack from each group’s old guard beneficiaries.

Both men defied being pigeon-holed into convenient labels to suit the simple constructs of others. Trump is not a populist, traditional Republican, or conservative. Dylan is not a poet, protest singer, or rock star. Both are more complex than easy definitions and tags, as is the case for most individuals who leave indelible marks on history.

“Fake news” was not a foreign phenomenon to either trailblazer. Of course, Trump turned the tables on the biased media and made fake news one of the most effective planks of his campaign platform. But not many realize Dylan was subjected to similar media shenanigans; the British press would report a mass exodus of audience from concert halls during his early, controversial electric performances when the reality was only a small handful of narcissists wishing to make a scene staged a walkout. With media, some things never seem to change.

There’s a sense both icons are torn between obsessively bolstering their public personas and being willing to completely disappear from the limelight.

Dylan meticulously tailored earlier artistic moves to grow his aura; but then would disappear from the public eye for years on end. Although Trump is the embodiment of obsession of publicity, he has hinted from time to time a desire to sail off into the sunset to enjoy a life beyond the lens and Twitter. Perhaps both experience a hunger for, and subsequent exhaustion from, such global profiles.
Ultimately, Trump and Dylan are forces of individualistic creative destruction. Both tore down establishments that initially elevated them, refusing to yield to a tide of conformity. Both replaced the ruins with new edifices that evolved the status quo into their own visions. Although their critics will never accept their greatness, the rest of us would be well served to appreciate the lasting legacies of both.