I write to you with serious concern about our divided state. While Democrats have won a tremendous victory in Illinois, winning not only the Governor’s office but every constitutional office as well as veto-proof majorities in both the State House and Senate, this election revealed a widening gap between city and rural, metropolitan and country.
While suburban Chicago voted more Democratic than ever before, Southern and Central Illinois voters – a demographically dwindling constituency – redoubled their Republicanism. The urban-rural Illinois divide is not only about support for President Donald Trump, but also on gun laws, abortion and immigration.
Not since the late 1800’s has there been such a yawning social gap between these communities. But unlike 120 years ago, the farm economy has collapsed, providing our rural counties and small towns with many fewer economic opportunities than our biggest cities. While some rural residents are able to take advantage of what cities have to offer, many more are alienated from our biggest cities. Simultaneously, most metropolitan Chicagoans have no connection to our rural areas and couldn’t even begin to understand the culture country life has to offer.
It is a mistake to consider the problem as solely economic: The most troubling divide is cultural. Southern and Central Illinois communities lack thriving immigrant and minority communities, as in Chicago, and as a result have come to view them as a threat to the American way of life. Meanwhile, metropolitan Chicago residents rarely hunt and as a result tend to consider gun culture as violent and disruptive.
As an inner city resident, I know from my conversations with rural Illinois residents, that my way of life not only seems unfathomable to many Illinoisans outside metropolitan Chicago, but potentially threatening. Chicagoans feel much the same way about rural Illinoisans. Many rural Illinoisans have no desire to set foot in Chicago, while most Chicagoans can’t imagine what rural and small town Illinois could have to offer them.
These differences have become rooted into the most elemental aspects of our daily lives. There are certain things rural Illinois does and places it goes to, while metropolitan Chicago does not. These differences, like Walmart vs. Target or NASCAR vs. basketball, have become more than just lifestyle choices, but totems of identity that keep us apart. This is not a problem unique to our state, but this is our state, and thus our problem.
If Illinois is going to achieve economic greatness, we must find a way to heal our cultural rift, so that rural Illinoisans are comfortable with coming to Chicago, while metropolitan Chicagoans see value in visiting and investing in rural Illinois.
As the governor-elect of Illinois with a sweeping political mandate, you, Mr. Pritzker, have a unique opportunity to bring our two communities back together. Now that you’re elected, we need a new kind of campaign: one that demonstrates the welcoming and vital cultures of metropolitan Chicago and rural, small town Illinois.
Of course this kind of campaign should include an advertising component, to educate Illinoisans on how their state’s cultural diversity enhances their lives, but it should also include extensive outreach programs that personally introduces inner city Chicagoans to rural life, and small town Illinoisans to urban diversity. Building on Jahmal Cole’s My Block, My Hood, My City program would be an excellent start, although his program has been limited to connecting Chicagoans to one another.
College students from rural Illinois could spend a semester in urban Chicago colleges, much as my father, a white Bowdoin College student from New England, spent a semester of 1961 as a Morehouse College exchange student in Atlanta. Rural extension programs could host Chicagoans, while Chicago City Colleges could host Christian County residents. We could conduct cooking class exchanges, class trips, connect car clubs, knitting circles, and a dozen other hobbyist groups.
The goal would be to foster dialogue, friendships and communication. Ride the L, eat a taco, debate who makes the best rib tips. Cruise in a pick up, make venison, hike in a state park. We need to experience each other’s realities and communities so that Illinois can lift itself up, rather than debate who should be called a “True American”.
As we venture beyond our home communities in Illinois, we need to believe that our neighbors understand us and want to assist us. Only then, will Illinois truly achieve the greatness it deserves.
Let’s defy the rest of America, and do what Midwesterns do best: pull together as one.
Because I work in politics, friends often assume I like to talk about the politics and the schemes or expected outcomes of various elections and maneuvers. But really, I’m much more interested in talking about where people get their information. Where you gather your information informs how you think, and whether or not you’re a critical thinker, versus someone who operates on received wisdom.
My parents and grandparents on both sides were sharp, critical thinkers, so as a young man talking about something I’d learned, I’d often hear, “Are you sure about that? You should check your sources,” from some elder. My desire to have a bulletproof argument turned me into a reader of as many sources as I could find. As a professional, I don’t think I have any bulletproof arguments, but they’re at least nuanced.
Generally, when I’m consuming news, I categorize content into four groups:
Hard Information – This the basic who, what where and when. The most valuable kind of reporting. It’s the hardest to produce and the least sexy. Original reporting (not a retread of someone else’s work) is typically found in only the big daily newspapers, CNN.com (not the TV channel) and niche reporting sites.
Analysis – This is a tricky one, since there’s lots of analysis written by people that don’t know their topic well. I try to look for experienced reporters who can explain why a thing is happening, not what will happen next.
Future Prediction – Here I’m looking for clear domain experts. People that have been in the industry or following it for decades. Good writing in this genre is rare, because it requires deep research and constant immersion with other deep thinkers in the chosen domain, as well as an ability to explain the technical aspects of a domain.
Gossip & Political Sports – This is the garbage I try to avoid. Most of what you see on any cable network and the vast majority of political reporting. He said, she said reactions. Horse race poll reporting. The stuff that just gets you outraged or fired up. I try to block it out, because I don’t understand the world any better as a result of consuming it.
So, to give you a sense of my process, here’s the news media I read and consume regularly:
Time is a big factor every morning, since I need to get through a lot of content before I start my work day. I don’t really surf local news website front pages any more, since I find scrolling through their sites to find stories to be slower than getting links from local aggregators. Yet, I’m still reading a ton of articles from these local publications, so I’m a paying subscriber to the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times, Block Club, The Daily Line and Capitol Fax. I know it’s a lot, but I still get through the political news of each one daily.
I should note that I’m usually not reading entire whole articles. Instead, I tend to skim articles rather than read them in depth. Most Chicago City Hall reports are structured so that the real news is only in the first four or five graphs. After that comes reaction quotes, and then background. Reaction quotes are totally useless to me, since once you know who the players are, you can pretty much guess what they’re going to say. And the background is well, background. I’ve been there before.
I’m also not really reading paper versions of anything any more. Except on Sunday, I just don’t have time to read through paper – and I’m not really interested in most of what’s in paper editions. So it’s digital, digital, digital.
Daily National News
I used to subscribe to a few national email newsletters, notably Morning Briefing from the New York Times, The 202 from the Washington Post, Politico’s morning Playbook and Axios AM. I’ve stopped reading most of them for various reasons, because I felt like the content was too gossipy, with more of a lean towards “the sport” and gossip of politics, with less hard information.
I figured out that most of what was in NYT and WaPo’s newsletters could be found on their excellent website front pages (I subscribe to both digital editions), and most of Politico’s gossip was totally disposable. I enjoy Axios AM largely because its writer, Mike Allen, is so smart and every few days he has some insight nobody else has.
So, every morning I scroll through the NYT and WaPo front pages as well as The Atlantic, clicking on articles and opinion pieces I want to read. I usually end up with six or seven articles per publication. Again, I skim the articles, because many times the coverage is similar. Here, I’m mostly looking for details I didn’t see somewhere else, or an analysis on a topic I hadn’t considered before.
I find that between those three sources, I’m able to keep up on the basics on a daily basis.
I should note here that I’m not a cable news watcher. I just don’t find any of it useful. I can get a more in-depth story faster in print, and I just have no use for the bombastic commentary the broadcast in the evenings.
Weekly National News
A couple times a week, usually during my lunch break, or a slow period at my desk in the afternoon, I surf through a series of sites I call “other news”. I never know what I’m going to find, but generally I look for analysis and future prediction here. These often turn into long reads, which I generally save to read on my phone during my evening train ride home using the amazing Instapaper.
Technology is interesting to me mostly because it seems to portend so much of what’s to come. The tech business is struggling with our world’s biggest social problems, so I tend to think of it as a canary in the coal mine. When I was younger I hung on every last technical development, and could argue the merits of RISC versus CISC processors (R.I.P. Byte Magazine), but today I don’t have the interest or energy to follow it as in depth as I once did. Now, I’m mostly looking to understand business strategies more than anything.
I used to subscribe to PandoDaily, The Information and Stratechery. They are all excellent, but their detail turned into an information overload. Now I subscribe to the free weekly version of Stratechery, the well written Monday Note email newsletter and Benedict Evans’ weekly newsletter. Every week I also browse Recode for Kara Swisher’s consistently newsmaking interviews and watch Marcus Brownlee’s fun-to-watch product reviews, MKBHD, on YouTube. Felix Salmon’s new weekly “Axios Edge” newsletter seems like it’ll be a keeper too. Then, I love to watch Scott Galloway’s Winners & Losers videos as well as his new, hilarious podcast, Pivot with Kara Swisher.
Finally, because I can’t get enough Apple-related news, I read Daring Fireball, an Apple-centric blog started sixteen years ago by John Gruber, that has turned out to be some of the sharpest technology commentary available.
I’m constantly intrigued by the business of news, since I spent eight years starting, running or working in news startups. It’s a terrible, unforgiving business that touches everyone’s life, and yet continues to evade most attempts to create a sustainable business. The business of news, as opposed to the editorial part, attracts an incredible mix of super-rich egotists, crusading brainiacs and bombastic salespeople, creating a thinking person’s soap opera, all in service of our democracy. How could you not love it?
There’s been lots of great analysis and reporting on media. But it media reporting is a slippery slope into preachy, leftist commentary. I’m more interested in the business of news: How are you going to make enough money to keep the doors open? Avoiding gossip and preaching cuts down my sources quickly.
Every morning I read Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources email, a staggeringly thorough review of what every network and big publication ran with the last day. For Chicago media, I read Robert Feder’s email newsletter, which is basically like a local “who’s working where” tracker.
Weekly, I check out CJR.org, Nieman Lab for stories on what news publications are worrying about, and listen to Peter Kafka’s Recode Media podcast and the Digiday Podcast for interviews with media industry leaders. The podcast interviews are where I learn the most and get the best sense of where things are going.
Hard to believe, but I still have more time left to read and listen for fun. I read Dave Pell’s Next Draft email, which comes out every weekday afternoon, Jason Kotte’s website of cool stuff and commentary, which he’s been running since the 90’s, Ed Yong’s “Ed’s Up” newsletter, Tyler Cowen’s “Conversations With Tyler” podcast, which comprises of smart interviews with smart people of all kinds, and I recently subscribed to Matt Taibbi’s The Fairway, which is a political non-fiction book about Washington published in the form of a weekly newsletter. Finally, I make sure I read the print versions of New York Magazine, which is just the most beautifully laid out and well written magazine you can find, as well as The New Yorker, which has great writing of all kinds and is a pleasure for the eye. Oh! And on Sundays, I pour through every section of the The New York Times in print with my weekly cup of coffee. A ritual I’ve kept for over thirty years.
It’s a lot. In fact, now that I’ve written all this down, I can’t believe I consume all this regularly. And yet, I’m always looking for more. If you know of a newsletter, website or podcast I should, check out, please drop me a line!
I have admired many conservatives. George Will, Jack Kemp, Bill Kristol, William Safire, and Peggy Noonan among them. Their thinking was strong and robust enough that it caused me to consider whether or not my own thinking was sound. On occasion, they even changed my mind.
The basic concept of American conservative thinking is clear: Government should avoid impeding individual progress while ensuring American safety and security. Liberals like me have fought with conservatives over how far government should go, and at what level government should be allowed to participate in our lives. Over the years we have gone back and forth over the same issues as the body politic has waxed and waned from liberal to conservative.
When liberalism goes wrong, it becomes a command economy suppressing all growth, as Western Europe experienced in the 1970’s and 80’s. When conservatism goes wrong, it becomes a kleptocracy widening the gap between rich and poor, as South America experienced from the 1960’s through the mid-1990’s.
Under Donald Trump, America’s conservative thinkers have been sidelined in favor of the mega-rich and nationalist paranoiacs. Our government is being used to enrich the wealthiest while turbocharging the fears of disenfranchised whites. It’s an old formula, used by Putin, Pinochet, Peron, and especially that German guy with a short mustache.
Continuing down this course will only get more perilous, and unfortunately, since Trump’s election, nobody in the Republican Party has stood up to check Trump’s power in a meaningful way (retiring officials don’t count!). While our nation needs conservatives to keep liberals in check – and yes, this liberal agrees a check is needed now and then – the American GOP abdicated its claim to power since it has refused to oppose Trump’s basest policies.
Wherever you are in America, a Republican vote is a vote for Trump’s nationalist, kleptocratic government. As much as it may pain you to vote against your home party, if you want rebuke Trumpism, you need to pull a lever for Democrats this year.
Will Democrats go overboard after the election? Probably. But they’ll also fight Trump like mad. And then in 2020, maybe we’ll get some real conservate choices across the country.
Cast your vote: because if you don’t, you don’t matter.
Here in the city of Chicago, there are few visual signs that a critical national election is less than two weeks away. Our six Congressmen and two Senators mirror the city’s voting history – staunchly Democratic – and it seems that the sitting Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, is headed to a big loss, so get out the vote efforts are less noticeable than in places with more competitive races.
My reading of the electoral tea leaves tells me that we should expect some kind of “blue wave” on November 6, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives and winning more governor’s races than the GOP. There’s evidence that we’re headed to one of the biggest turnouts in mid-term history, which generally portends good things for Democrats – when more people vote, they tend to vote Democratic.
But because of where the contests for Senate seats are – overwhelmingly rural, Trump-friendly states – I don’t think Democrats will take control of the Senate. Even if the GOP maintains a razor-thin, one or two seat margin, it doesn’t matter. Control is control, and only one party can run the chamber.
But even so, Democrats have no chance to win enough seats to achieve a super-majority in the Senate, needed to avoid cloture, pass veto-proof legislation, or provide the two-thirds majority to convict a president of impeachment.
This election will provide satisfaction to nobody. Democrats will be cheered on by their new control of the House, but Republicans will continue to control the Senate and the Presidency. We will continue to clash, Trump will enact more horrific policies, and the GOP Senate will keep supporting him.
There will be no compromise between the two sides, and yet neither side will have enough power to overcome the other.
So this would be a good time to remember that democratic politics can be a slow process with many fits and starts. While there has been a number of tremendous progressive victories in recent years, notably legalization of gay marriage, the passage of Obamacare, and a growing, state-by-state decriminalization of marijuana possession, these changes resulted from decades of organizing.
We need to get everyone we can to the polls on November 6, and then remember that if we want lasting, meaningful change, we’ll have to do it again in 2020 in an even bigger way.
When it comes to making videos, there’s really nothing more fun than getting friends videos from around the world and then assembling them into one piece. Last week I got to do that with about a dozen friends, and this week, a couple more entries trickled in. Of course I wanted to share them with you, because it’s just so much fun. Thanks to Faisal Siddiqui and Jeff Riley for sending something in!
I hate swimming. The act itself is unnatural. Humans are just not built to spend long periods of time submerged in water, holding their breath. Think about the position a person takes in the water: Stretched out, windmilling arms, wiggling legs back and forth. There is no elegance, nothing attractive about it. When a person gets out of the water, their skin is pruny and tender, with hair a complete mess. They’re likely out of breath from holding it for so long.
And yet, I do it three times a week. I don’t think I’ll ever stop swimming if I can help it.
Swimming has changed my life. Since I started going regularly last January, I’ve lost weight, gained energy and for the first time in my life, managed to do something that requires long-term discipline.
Early in the morning I walk three blocks to my local park district pool. I change into my swimsuit, sharing the showers with a pair of very clean homeless men that shower there every morning. I push open the heavy metal door dividing the men’s showers from the pool, drop my ID on the table by the door and plop my towel on the metal bleachers to the right.
Then, I pad to the middle lane – the fast one with people doing freestyle or breast stroke rather than the crawl – and jump in the pool. I take a deep breath, and dive in. Twenty laps on weekdays, thirty seven, one mile, on weekends.
I get into the pool and start swimming as soon as possible. Some people hang out at the shallow end and talk a bit, or psych themselves up. I just go. Waiting is my enemy. If I wait, I’ll think. And when I think, I imagine other things I’d like to do instead of swimming. Instead, I just plunge in, forcing my body to do something it would much rather not.
Now that I’ve been swimming for a while, I’ve gotten to know the characters of my pool. The lifeguards are all interchangable and almost never interact with the lap swimmers. They do set the music on the boombox, which echoes throughout the room and fills your ears when you stop at the end of a lap. Mostly they choose pop stations, but one guy sometimes punches in the classical station, sublime on an early, cold morning. I wish he worked more often.
The swimmers however, are all very different. The first lesson you learn about lap swimmers is: Body type and age is not an indicator of swimming ability. Of course you can imagine some muscle-bound, trim guy or woman splashing uselessly in the pool. But your mind gets bent when a rotund woman in her mid-60’s does a flip-kick off the end, then a dolphin kick into a breast stroke, lapping you twice in five minutes. These are the people who intimidate me.
One of them, a woman I call “blue suit” (I have names for everyone in my mind) is blindingly fast and well into retirement. Sometimes a buddy of hers shows up in a black suit. Together they dominate the fast lane, setting a pace for everyone, so we all go faster, rushing not to keep up with blue and black suits, but to avoid the thing that silently creeps up on you in the pool: The overtake.
The overtake can be a delicate thing during lap swim. Either the person being overtaken stays politely to the right, or they flail arms everywhere, swerving back and forth so the faster swimmer needs to knock them about a bit. When someone like blue suit attempts to overtake Mr. Crawl, then everything goes nuts.
Mr. Crawl is a guy I just hate. He’s probably in his late 50’s, balding, wears a black volley shorts suit. And he does the fucking crawl, a stroke where your arms and legs go as wide as possible, in the fast lane. In my mind, this is an offense of the highest order. The fast lane is where you go fast. So, the crawl? He’s taking so much space, it’s almost impossible to pass. Basically, Mr. Crawl is saying “fuck you” to everyone in the pool, since he’s throwing himself into the pool as a monkey wrench to all of our attempts to keep a rhythm.
Don’t be Mr. Crawl. Go to the slow or medium lanes if you’re doing the crawl.
Now, just because I have strong opinions about my exercise doesn’t mean I’m some kind of pool nut. In reality, I’m a very mediocre swimmer. I swim five laps at a time, because I really start to run out of breath after that. Five laps, break, five laps, break, and so on. I don’t bring a water bottle or use any kind of swimming aide. Just googles, because swimming without them is plain dumb.
Eventually, after my twenty or thirty-seven laps, I pull myself out. Grab my towel and my ID card, rinse off in the shower, change clothes, go outside and walk home three blocks. I’m always super hot and sweaty. I pull out my phone and type my distance into Swimtivity, an app that allows you to enter exercise into the iPhone/Apple Watch activity tracker. I close my exercise circles for another day.
I managed to do it one more time. Even though I hate it.
Last week over a dozen friends sent me amazing videos from around the world to show what they were doing on their Saturdays.
First, I want to say thank you for taking a risk and getting in front of the camera. It’s scary! But it was great to see your faces. You sent in great stuff!
Second, it was just amazing to see so many scenes from so many places. Many of you sent much more video than I could use.
If there’s anything I got from your submissions, it’s that regardless of the political moment, the world is a big and wonderful place. Your videos allow us to peer into your personal worlds. It was a reminder that, when we think about ourselves, in these mortal coils, our lives may seem humdrum, normal, maybe even boring. But the truth is that we each have wondrous, fantastic existences. Even the most boring, regular things we do can be interesting to someone else.
Thank you for letting us in and giving us a glimpse of your day.
I was raised in a decidedly left-wing family. My mother and father both marched on Washington in 1963 with Martin Luther King, Jr., and when I was a kid, my father practiced an annual ritual of yelling at the TV during President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union address.
But my parents, both psychologists, were empathic souls, constantly trying to understand why someone felt a certain way. At the dinner table we spent a great deal of time talking about why people might feel they way they do. Since conversations about politics when I was a kid were less about tactics and more about motivation, I learned my parents’ empathy, so as an adult I often feel as much for political opponents as with those I agree.
This week has been toxic for everyone in America. None of us have been left untouched by the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination fight, and the race to declare our own side more aggrieved – regardless of what side we may claim – has left us all wounded and raw. Kavanaugh’s confirmation is our era’s Bleeding Kansas, with no winners, only losers and survivors more committed to scarring the opposition more than ever before.
Incredibly, we all recognize that the partisanship will only get worse. Like Kansas in the 1850’s, and the European military build up in the 1930’s, a perverse gravity pulls us towards more conflict fueled by the appropriate righteousness of our leaders, colleagues and loved ones injured by wounds both material and spiritual.
The ideologies of our political combat inhabit totally different frames of reference: the army of collective well-being versus the church of personal responsibility. Everything can be viewed through our nation’s First Conflict, where Hamiltonians governed to level the playing field while Jeffersonians pushed government aside to celebrate the triumph of the individual.
Each American era has been caught up in this conflict, from the Whiskey Rebellion, to the Civil War to the Progressive Era battles between unions and Pinkerton agents and the fights between Nixon’s “moral majority” and anti-war protestors.
Our First Conflict will never be resolved. Not because of pettiness or ignorance, but because each viewpoint is propelled by a deep moral philosophy. Gender complementarianism is inherently incompatible with gender workplace equity. Socialized health care and calls for a basic income conflicts with a conservative government of non-interference. Everyone can agree that racism and misogyny is abhorrent, but who is responsible for stopping it? The individual, or the collective?
“It will only get worse,” we all say, with no clear idea of what “worse” really means. We are all aggrieved now, with the most strident among us demanding we “stomp”, “destroy” or “obliterate” our political opposition. Sampling political Twitter, talk radio or cable news is like sampling heroin: The first jolt is exhilarating, but subsequent tastes leave us craving more righteousness, gradually obliterating equanimity, viewing America as nothing more than “us” and “them”. We are all addicts now.
My political beliefs have never been clearer to me, but today I weep for all Americans. Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation is emblematic of our new political reality: Although his ascension is a victory for conservatives, the manner of his confirmation has de-legitimized the new Supreme Court for a wide swath of America, making justice seem unattainable for those who opposed his confirmation.
American political conflict no longer allows for compromise. The Kavanaugh fight has instead told us that we must choose sides and fight to the end, no matter how terrible the result.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that the American world fell into a shitstorm this week. Rather than write about the big topic we’re all talking about, I want to invite you to be part of something positive, demonstrating togetherness.
Please help make our Saturday Morning Around The World video. Already people from half a dozen countries and from all over the United States have volunteered to be a part of it.
You can get details here. It really shouldn’t take you more than three minutes on Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. your time, and dang, it would be great to see your face along with all the others. With your help, I’d like to help show that people all around the world, are pretty much the same.
Yes, it’s quaint. And, no, it won’t alter world history. But it will feel good. And it will be cool to show so many great people be a part of it. If you know someone overseas or somewhere in the U.S. that might want to be part of it, please forward this message!
After I get everyone’s clips, I’ll edit it all together and release to you next Friday, October 5.
This week, I’d like to flip the script and ask you to help tell a story. I want to tell the story of 9:00 a.m., Saturday morning of people around the United States and around the world.
Anyone, anywhere can do this! If you have a smartphone less than five years old, you’ll produce broadcast quality video. Here’s what you need to do:
A shot with a greeting from you, family, friends, or whoever you like from wherever you are, in whatever language or manner you choose. Don’t forget to say your name, and where you are.
A second shot where you describe where you are and what you’re doing.
A third shot that shows the area around you and what’s going on.
On top of that, any other kind of shot or shots you like. No more than three minutes of video. It can be just people or cars, or boats going around, you holding the camera while you walk through the neighborhood, or you doing what you usually do on a Saturday morning.
Remember: make sure your shots are steady! Tripods are great if you have one. Also, be sure to keep your camera running for three seconds after you finish your shot – we’ll need that space for editing.
When you’re done, I’ve got a dropbox folder for you to upload video to. Email me at email@example.com I can send you the settings.
I’ll edit everything and post it within the next week. I know your video is going to be incredible.