Rothman At-Large

On Ivana and Libraries

April 25, 2017

Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter, drew angry howls from librarians across the U.S., and understandably so. 

She’d blithely tweeted: “This #NationalLibraryWeek, we honor our libraries and librarians for opening our eyes to the world of knowledge, learning and reading!”

Wow. As it happens, Ivanka’s father wants to kill the Institute of  Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which helps fund America’s libraries. The 73-employee agency’s current $230 million budget is less than two years of the President’s travel-related expenses, if his jet-setting keeps up the clip recorded 10 weeks into his term. From classes for the blind to ebooks, IMLS money has helped U.S. libraries in a highly cost-effective way.

In Washington, a librarian named Elisa Babel reminds me that an IMLS-run program has helped pay for the Digital Commons area of the Martin Luther King Library.  Patrons can get hands-on experience with the latest tech, including 3-D printers. What’s more, among other benefits, IMLS has sent literacy money to D.C. 

Chances are close to zero that either Donald or Ivanka Trump will read this pro-IMLS plea. But who knows? If nothing else, a certain ex-wife of his just might take an interest—Ivana Marie Trump, née Ivana Zelníčková (now a naturalized U.S. citizen). 

She grew up in the former Czechoslovakia, in what is now the Czech Republic, aka Czechia. The Czech Republic has ten times more libraries for its population than the U.S. does. 

That figure is for public libraries. One exists for every 1,971 citizens, according to a survey from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And remember, that does not include school libraries. What’s more, Slovakia, the other part of the former Czechoslovakia, is itself no slouch in the library department. “I grew up reading lots of books from public and school libraries,” a Slovakian follower of my TeleRead ebook news site told me. “In childhood I had some 7 well stocked libraries within easy walking distance … and was borrowing from each one.”

So what does this mean for the literacy rates in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, even if the number of libraries is not the only promoter of literacy? As of 2003, the rate stood at 99 percent in the Republic, according to the CIA World Factbook, and in Slovakia it was at least 99.6 percent. In all fairness, the Factbook lists the U.S. rate at 99 percent. But then, the definition of “literacy” can be tricky. 

“According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy,” the Huffington Post reported a few years ago, “32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read”—not the best of news for those of us worried about crime and unemployment figures.

Some library foes might still argue that with a far more diverse population in the U.S. than in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, those comparisons are not appropriate. On the contrary! This is all the more reason for federal, state and local governments and private donors to support America’s libraries. Talk about a force for assimilation and equality, as well as a smarter workforce!

As gung ho as I am about the creation of a national library endowment—see articles in WaPo and the Christian Science Monitor—I recognize the need for library money from a variety of sources. The immediate priority of library supporters should be the preservation of IMLS and related agencies and programs. No argument there! At the same time, we should still fight for public libraries’ long-term survival. An endowment would at least mitigate possible future damage from Ivanka’s father and like-minded politicians at all levels of government. For now, the good news is that Congress as usual is free to ignore budget recommendations from the White House. It certainly should in this case.

(A longer vision of the above is at TeleRead.org.)


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A Trump-Era Etiquette Guide

February 21, 2017

George Roper, my good friend from high school, is dead now. When alive, he was often as right-wing as they come—complete with a passionate anti-Obama blog. And yet George and I avoided hand-to-hand combat. Up to his death several years ago, we followed each other on Facebook. He even talked up my novel. Similarly my parents got along just fine with a neighbor who would go on to help craft Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

 

But what to do about the Trumpists? How to socialize with them? Donald Trump himself is not just a racist with ties to anti-Semites, he is also a sexual predator and kleptocrat who admires authoritarian killers in the Putin vein. I know the reason for the long dyed hair. It’s covering up sawed-off horns.

 

The good news is that most people in places like Georgetown and Alexandria, where I live, are not as likely to run across Trumpists as Americans elsewhere in the country are (he did, after all, win the electoral vote thanks in part to voter suppression and Jill Stein). But even in D.C., face-to-face encounters will happen. Ivanka, remember, attended Georgetown for two years and undoubtedly is reconnecting with some old friends. How can progressives interact with Trumpists at a party or online and still respect themselves in the morning? Or at the family dinner table?

 

Ahead are a few thoughts not from High Society in D.C., but from Almost Outside the Beltway:

First, realize there’s more to life than politics. As little as I respect Trump, I’d also wonder about the 73-year-old retired prison guard in Washington State who supposedly divorced her husband of 22 years because he planned to vote for The Donald (“a deal breaker”). “It opened up areas between us I had not faced before,” Gail McCormick told Reuters. “I realized how far I had gone in my life to accept things I would have never accepted when I was younger.” I suspect the next sentence would have been: “Shows you—we have different values.” True, perhaps. But why should it have taken Ms. McCormick all this time to find out? Trump was a symptom, most likely, not a cause of the breakup.

 

Still, one poll found that 16 percent of respondents stopped talking to a friend or family member due to politics, and 30 made the sayonara complete. Here’s a more sensible response. Stop talking about politics. Otherwise enjoy the other people’s better side. Family and friendship first! You can always go online or to a political rally and find scads of people who share your beliefs. Dear family members and old friends are not so replaceable.

 

Another suggestion, a bit related, would be to try to distinguish between The Orange One and his followers or quasi followers. Also, look for areas of agreement if you can comfortably discuss politics with the Trumpists.

 

Our dictator in waiting is exactly as Richard Cohen described him in the Washington Post, “a one-man basket of deplorables.” But many of the people who voted for Trump were really just protesting against East Coast elitism, worker-hostile trade policies, and high Obamacare premiums. Nod when you can, and add your own progressive angles. Yes, so many powerful Ivy Leaguers in the East Coast media, Congress and elsewhere are out of touch with the needs of run-down cities in the Heartland. Free trade should not happen without sufficient retraining opportunities and other protections for workers, especially the full right to unionize. Obamacare premiums are in fact too high for many. Higher taxes on the one percent to pay for it? Simply put, voting for Trump as a protest does not by itself make anybody Satanic, and a little empathy with a Trump-loving friend, acquaintance or family member can go a long way.

 

I’d also remember that many of the people working directly for Trump are there in part to contain the damage, not because they swallow his bilge. In this category I would place Secretary of Defense James Matthis and Security Adviser H. R. McMaster. Were they my friends, I would understand.

 

Similarly, if I knew Ivanka Trump from Georgetown, I would not shun her but rather keep the lines of communications open despite concerns over the blurring of government and family business.

 

That said, I’d encourage my fellow progressive to keep speaking out against Trump in person and online, and to march, otherwise protest and resist. The last thing we want is to normalize Trump. Just don’t get in shouting matches with friends and family you have little chance of converting anyway, and don’t de-Friend anybody online if you otherwise find them likable.

 

Consider Trumpism a hyper-annoying but not “deal-breaking” flaw, like snoring loudly or forgetting to replace the cap on the toothpaste, and get on with your life and relationships.


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Q & A With James Fallows on Trump and Pence

December 11, 2016

Think Donald Trump will give us many positive surprises in the near term?

 

Dream on. His EPA nominee hates the agency's mission. His expected nominee for secretary of state? The head of ExxonMobil.

What is this, reality or a cartoon? I caught up with James Fallows of the The Atlantic, once Jimmy Carter's chief speechwriter, for his own take last week on Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence.

 

Q. Alas, nukes and conflicts of interest aren't the only reasons to fear a Trump presidency. Could Trump could turn into a true dictator while in office--or at least radically change the American political system for the worse?

A. The main challenge in predicting any aspect of Donald Trump as president is that everything about him is so unpredictable and unprecedented. What is most alarming, apart from his apparent complete ignorance of the substance of domestic and international policy and his temperamental instability, is his expressed contempt for the norms of democratic government. Freedom of the press, willingness to accept results that go against him, normal expectations of transparency--he disdained them all when merely a candidate, before he became the most powerful person in the world.

 

Q. How great are the odds that Trump could not only survive the full four years in the Oval Office but also be reelected, perhaps the result of voter manipulation and other strategies against the poor and minorities?

A. No one knows. Based on his temperamental excesses and apparent glaring conflicts of interest, it seems unlikely that he would finish even one term. But I am wary of any prediction involving Trump.

 

Q. What are the best ways--within the limits of law--to try to prevent Trump from reaching the White House?

A. David, I don't really know enough about this to say. I know this is what you're trying to build support for [the Pence Compromise], but I'm not expert on it.

 

Q. From climate change to diversity, Mike Pence's policies on most issues are loathsome to me. But at least he has advocated a federal shield law for professional journalists, and in certain other ways he has shown he would be far from a Trump-level threat to democracy in the United States.

A. To my mind, here is the distinction between Trump and Pence. Pence is a very conservative Republican-machine politician, 95% of whose policies I would probably oppose. But he is apparently sane and not evidently corrupt. That is what distinguishes him from Trump.

 

Q. What do you think of the idea of major news organizations teaming up to interview all 538 members of the Electoral College and publishing the raw information in one location, so historians decades from now will understand what was on the electors' minds? To me, this is the ultimate government accountability story. Ideally it could come out before December 19 when the electors vote.

A. Yes, that could be interesting! It would be a big manpower challenge for a news organization, and the odds of really changing things are remote. But it could be valuable.

 

More thoughts---David speaking: Needless to say, Pence disappointed me when he defended Donald Trump's claim of massive voting fraud, and I also wonder if Pence was behind the horrific EPA choice. But I'll stick with the compromise idea just the same. Trump will be so unfit as president, due to nuclear risks and conflicts of interest, that even Pence would be better.

 

The good news is that Allan Lichtman, an American University professor who forecast Trump's victory, is predicting his impeachment. Guess who Lichtman expects to replace Trump? Yes, Mike Pence, whom Republicans on the Hill view more favorably. That, of course, is why I suggested Pence as a compromise name in the Electoral College--not because I love his politics, which I don't, but because there's a chance that a fair number of Trump electors would be open to him as substitute for The Donald and thereby throw the election into the House. Better to cut to the chase and prevent so egregiously unsuitable a choice from reaching the White House in the first place.

(Fallows-Rothman dialogue edited for space and clarity.)


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