Wednesday, February 15, 2017

ANS -- Watching Donald Trump Try to Puzzle Out What ‘Asset Forfeiture’ Means Is Deeply Discomfiting

I thought this was interesting because it's about how Donald Trump thinks.  Otherwise, I don't know about how bad the abuse of asset forfeiture is or isn't, but the ACLU is against it.   

Watching Donald Trump Try to Puzzle Out What 'Asset Forfeiture' Means Is Deeply Discomfiting

President Donald Trump speaks as he meets with county sheriffs during a listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Harrer - Pool/Getty Images

On Tuesday, in an incident picked up by NPR and a bunch of other outlets, Donald Trump joked to a group of sheriffs about "destroying the career" of a Texas state senator one of the sheriffs, Harold Eavenson of Rockwall County, Texas, was unhappy with. Eavenson is a fan of what is known as asset forfeiture, and the state senator had lobbied hard against a certain type of it.

What is asset forfeiture? Traditionally, it's been the practice of taking someone's stuff after they've been convicted of a crime — picture a DEA photo opp in front of a drug lord's boats and jewelry and cars. But in many parts of the country, the practice has grown extremely loose, and there are numerous signs of widespread abuse. Law-enforcement officers can often take your stuff simply by, in effect, declaring that there's some connection between you and a hypothetical crime — they don't need to even arrest or charge you.

Sarah Stillman of The New Yorker wrote what is probably the definitive journalistic account of this subject, and her piece contains truly astounding stuff. In the story that leads off the article, for example, Stillman relates an incident in which a couple passing through Tenaha, Texas, with a bunch of cash to buy a used car was pulled over, brought to the local police station, and given a choice: Either they could sign a document handing the cash over to Tenaha, or they could be charged — despite a lack of any substantive evidence — with money laundering and child endangerment, meaning they would immediately be sent to jail and their children, who had been riding in the backseat, taken from them. If they signed the document, there would be no charges at all, so that was what they did. The couple would later learn that this was something of a tradition in Tenaha; there had been "a raft of complaints from out-of-town drivers who claimed that they had been stopped in Tenaha and stripped of cash, valuables, and, in at least one case, an infant child, without clear evidence of contraband." (They joined in a class-action lawsuit fighting the practice.)

This sort of thing is disturbingly common, and some of the stories make the Tenaha incident look minor in comparison — as the subhead of Stillman's article notes, "Americans who haven't been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes." That's why, in recent years, something of a left-right alliance of criminal-justice reformers has formed to try to rein in the worst excesses of asset forfeiture, with many critics of the practice pointing out that police often target poor and minority citizens who lack the legal resources to defend their property. Basically the only groups that aggressively defends these types of asset forfeitures, on the other hand, are law-enforcement organizations themselves (and the politicians who want to broadcast unwavering support for them). They often claim asset forfeiture is a vital tool in their fight against drug cartels, but the full story is a bit more complicated and less noble: Asset forfeiture has become a big business. Some police departments rake in hefty sums from pulling people over, taking their stuff, and letting them go without charging them with anything. At a time of widespread state budget cuts, regularly harvesting the money and cars and other assets of local residents and passers-through has become a convenient way for some small-town police departments to stay in the black. Elsewhere, it's used for other purposes: A Washington Post investigative series published in 2014, for example, revealed that, "Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear. They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles."

So, back to Trump and the sheriff: Trump made his joke after Eavenson complained about "a state senator in Texas who was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive their forfeiture." "Can you believe that?" responded Trump, before joking about ruining his career. As the Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday, it isn't clear exactly which state senator Eavenson was referring to, but both Democrats and some Republicans there have pushed for laws to reform the state's asset-forfeiture practices. And all they are asking is that someone be convicted of a crime before police take their stuff — they aren't even questioning law enforcement's authority to seize certain property.

The whole debate was new to Trump. As the White House's transcript of the session where he made his joke makes clear (hat tip to Reason), the president didn't appear to know what asset forfeiture was or what the debate over it entailed. This probably shouldn't come as a surprise given that Trump, by his own admission, isn't much of a reader, and has exhibited very little interest in questions of public policy. What's interesting, though, is observing, through the transcript, the process of Trump puzzling through a new concept and trying to understand what it means and how it fits into his worldview.

Interesting and deeply, deeply discomfiting:

SHERIFF AUBREY: Sheriff John Aubrey, fifth-term sheriff, Jefferson County, Kentucky. Past president of National Sheriffs' Association. And my fellow sheriffs have brought up a number of points, and I'd like to add two to it that I know are on your plate and the administration's plate. The 1033 program, where we were sharing Department of Defense surplus material that helps us in our war. They were used in the war, and they helped us in our war. That got severely curtailed. 

And the other thing is asset forfeiture. People want to say we're taking money and without due process. That's not true. We take money from dope dealers — 

THE PRESIDENT: So you're saying – okay, so you're saying the asset-taking you used to do, and it had an impact, right? And you're not allowed to do it now? 

SHERIFF AUBREY: No, they have curtailed it a little bit. And I'm sure the folks are —

THE PRESIDENT: And that's for legal reasons? Or just political reasons? 

SHERIFF AUBREY: They make it political and they make it – they make up stories. All you've got to do — 

THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to look into that, okay? There's no reason for that. Dana, do you think there's any reason for that? Are you aware of this? 

[Then-acting Attorney General Dana Boente]: I am aware of that, Mr. President. And we have gotten a great deal of criticism for the asset forfeiture, which, as the sheriff said, frequently was taking narcotics proceeds and other proceeds of crime. But there has been a lot of pressure on the department to curtail some of that. 

THE PRESIDENT: So what do you do? So in other words, they have a huge stash of drugs. So in the old days, you take it. Now we're criticized if we take it. So who gets it? What happens to it? Tell them to keep it? 

MR. BOENTE: Well, we have what is called equitable sharing, where we usually share it with the local police departments for whatever portion that they worked on the case. And it was a very successful program, very popular with the law enforcement community. 

THE PRESIDENT: And now what happens?

MR. BOENTE: Well, now we've just been given – there's been a lot of pressure not to forfeit, in some cases. 

THE PRESIDENT: Who would want that pressure, other than, like, bad people, right? But who would want that pressure? You would think they'd want this stuff taken away. 

SHERIFF AUBREY: You have to be careful how you speak, I guess. But a lot of pressure is coming out of – was coming out of Congress. I don't know that that will continue now or not.

THE PRESIDENT: I think less so. I think Congress is going to get beat up really badly by the voters because they've let this happen. And I think badly. I think you'll be back in shape. So, asset forfeiture, we're going to go back on, okay? 

SHERIFF AUBREY: Thank you, sir. 

THE PRESIDENT: I mean, how simple can anything be? You all agree with that, I assume, right?

In reality, of course, none of the controversy over asset forfeiture centers around what authorities do when they find a "huge stash of drugs" — Team Let Them Keep Illegal Drugs has approximately zero members. So what's striking here is the manner in which, over the course of an exchange that lasts perhaps a couple minutes, Trump progresses from learning of the existence of a new (to him) concept, to misunderstanding completely what it is and why it's controversial, to developing a strong opinion about it painted in a childlike understanding of the world and of morality ("Who would want that pressure, other than, like, bad people, right?"), to expressing outrage that anyone could have an opinion about it that diverges from his own.

In this instance, we have full access to Trump's thought process, to his confused knee-jerk conclusions. What's going on behind closed doors, when the stakes are higher and there are no White House transcripts available?

ANS -- What to do with Neil Gorsuch?

Practically everything Doug Muder writes is worth sending to you -- that's probably why I haven't been reading him much lately.  Anyway, here's another one.  It's about the possible scenarios with respect to what to do about the Supreme Court and Gorsuch....   No good answers, but some to consider.  

What to do with Neil Gorsuch?

If these were normal times, if, say, Antonin Scalia had dropped dead yesterday, leaving new Republican President Jeb Bush (elected, as presidents usually are, with more votes than the other major-party candidate) the opportunity to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, I'd expect Gorsuch to be confirmed without a lot of bother.

I'd be bummed at the prospect of that seat remaining conservative for another 30-40 years. And I'd find a lot to criticize in Gorsuch's approach to the law — mainly that he's far too willing to side with the powerful against the powerless, and to invent new constitutional rights for corporations and fundamentalist Christians. But he is within the broad stream of American jurisprudence, and people who understand these things better than I do consider him an outstanding example of a conservative judge.

The Founders intended presidents to pick judges, and for the Senate to use its advise-and-consent power to weed out incompetence and cronyism. Gorsuch isn't a Trump crony, and he seems competent. So after some hearings and speeches and a good look around for skeletons in his closet, I'd expect him to be confirmed with a large number of Democratic votes.

In normal times. Lawrence Lessig is looking at it pretty much the same way:

In normal times, with a normal (right wing) president, Neil Gorsuch would be a fine nominee for the Supreme Court. One can disagree with his views (I do); one can disagree with the manner in which he understands "originalism" (I do, in part). But if you believe (as I do) that an ordinary President has an ordinary right to choose the political character of his or her Supreme Court nominee, then, in ordinary times, the only question should be whether the nominee is qualified. Gorsuch is at least an order of magnitude better than qualified. He is a great, if very conservative, judge.

But these are not ordinary times.

No, they aren't. The reason this seat is open is that the Republican Senate blockaded it during the last year of the Obama administration. If they had objected to Merrick Garland for some reason, they could have voted him down and Obama could have nominated someone else. Maybe Obama and McConnell could even have gotten together and agreed on somebody, moving the two parties back from the civil-war path they've been on for several years.

Voting down Garland would have been unprecedented in itself, because he is exactly the kind of experienced, respected, well-within-the-mainstream judge who usually sails through the Senate. But at least formally it would have fit the constitutional model. Instead, by simply refusing to hold hearings and announcing explicitly that they would similarly refuse any other Obama nominee, regardless of qualifications, Senate Republicans moved completely out of the previous course of American history.

That's why it's ironic that Gorsuch bills himself as an originalist, a judge who tries to find the lawmakers' original intent and rule according to it — because the only reason this seat is open at all is that Republicans decided to let the Founders' original intent be damned.

But their guy is in the White House now, so they want to turn the normal rules back on again, like the kid on the playground who calls time-out just before you tag him, and time-in when he's safe on base. The question is whether Democrats should let them get away with it, and, if not, what the other options are.

This isn't a stand-alone circumstance; it's  part of the long-term decline of America's democratic norms, which I've been writing about for several years (most recently when the Republicans blocked Garland). The model I always cite is the decline of the Roman Republic, where the norms were repeatedly whittled down for about a century until they were ultimately swept away by Augustus, who established the Empire.

Moments like this underline just how difficult it is to escape that downward spiral: Giving in won't get you out of it, and there is usually not a reprisal option of just the right size to make your point without pushing further down the spiral.

For example, suppose Senate Democrats decided that they wanted to set a good example for future opposition parties and consider Gorsuch on his merits, independent of the history of this vacancy. In other words, they would accept getting rooked out of a liberal Supreme Court majority, in exchange for ending the cycle of attack-and-reprisal. They would sacrifice their partisan interests for the greater good of democracy in the United States.

The problem: This gracious move wouldn't end the cycle of attack-and-reprisal. Quite the opposite, it would establish the precedent that Republicans can suspend democratic norms whenever it works to their advantage, and pay no price for it. It's like when some guy sucker-punches you and then wants to declare peace. Agreeing to that deal won't get you peace, it will just get you sucker-punched again somewhere down the line.

But what's the alternative? Democrats are at a 48-52 disadvantage, so they can only block Gorsuch by filibustering. Republicans might then decide to escalate further by eliminating the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations (the only kind of nomination that was exempted when the Democrats limited the filibuster after Republicans came up with the unprecedented tactic of blockading positions entirely rather than just blocking particular nominees for cause). And if they don't nuke the filibuster, and Gorsuch gets blocked, then what? Do the same thing with the next nominee, on and on for four years? That would also be an escalation. (Some Republicans threatened to do this if Hillary Clinton got elected, but it's not clear whether they would have held together on that point.)

There is no reprisal of precisely the right size, and so we're left with bad choices. Ideally, the process would go like this: Democrats would block Gorsuch, and Republicans would then negotiate in good faith, resulting in a nominee who moved the Court closer to consensus than to polarization. In other words, a new swing vote — someone ideologically between the most liberal conservative justice (Kennedy) and the most conservative liberal justice (Breyer). In other words, somebody in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor. (It's worth pointing out that Justice Garland would have fit that description as well. Obama was trying to do the right thing, and was spurned by Republicans.)

Do I expect that to happen? No. But I think we need to start down that road and let the Republicans be the ones to step off of it. So I support filibustering Gorsuch, while wishing somebody would offer me another viable option.

The argument Republicans made last year was that the American people should decide whether the Court flips from a conservative majority to a liberal majority. That's explicitly not what the Founders wanted — they intentionally insulated the Court from politics — but even on those terms Gorsuch should be rejected, because the American people did not vote for Trump. As I said two weeks ago, Trump winning in the Electoral College makes him president; but losing the popular vote by such a wide margin wipes out any claim he might have to a mandate from the people. He certainly received no mandate to move the Court to the right.

If we ever do get back to a sane judicial appointment process, one piece of it should be that presidents stop appointing such young justices. Gorsuch is 49. If he lives as long as Ruth Bader Ginsberg already has, he'll still be on the Court in 2051. This is a bipartisan thing, as presidents attempt to extend their influence as far into the future as possible: John Roberts was 50 when he joined the Court, Sonia Sotomayor 45.

This is another way that Merrick Garland would have been a step in the right direction, since he is 64. The Supreme Court ought to be the capstone of a long, distinguished career, not an attempt to claim an advantage 30 years in the future. It used to be that way: Oliver Wendell Holmes was 61 when Teddy Roosevelt appointed him in 1902. Thurgood Marshall was 59.

Another way to achieve the same result would be to term-limit Supreme Court justices at, say, 20 years. But that would take a constitutional amendment. Lifetime appointments were supposed to shield the Court from outside influences: It would be your final job, so you couldn't be threatened with firing or bribed with the offer of a position after you left the Court. We'd have to address that problem some other way, but it doesn't seem unsolvable.

Lawrence Lessig makes an alternative proposal: Gorsuch gets a hearing after McConnell resigns as majority leader. He calls it a "hypocrisy tax". I think that's about as likely to happen as getting an O'Connor-like replacement for Gorsuch.

Richard Primus expresses a somewhat nuanced approach on Balkinization: Yes, the Senate did wrong by Garland, but we can't lose sight of the fact that the Republic survived Scalia and it will survive Gorsuch as well; the real threat is Trump. So the opposition to Gorsuch should always have its eye on Trump.

the Democrats need to see the confirmation process as an opportunity for shaping public discussion about Trump rather than as an occasion for attacking Gorsuch. Time spent attacking Gorsuch in particular (whether about qualifications or about substantive views or pretty much anything else) might not be time well spent: he is going to be confirmed. But what Democrats can do, I'd think, is keep saying that we are only here because the Republicans stonewalled a nominee at least as qualified as Gorsuch for no justifiable reason, and that the plurality of American voters voted to authorize Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, to fill the seat. They can ask Gorsuch himself to stand by his earlier written statements that Garland was a highly qualified nominee (for the DC Circuit) and to ask him whether the stonewall was appropriate. And they can ask him what he thinks about all sorts of Trump's actions and statements. Is it appropriate for a public official to attack a federal judge as biased on the grounds of the judge's ethnicity? What is the point of the Emoluments Clause? Do you think that this or that statement (quoted from Trump) is consistent with our constitutional values? And so on. Gorsuch might or might not answer, but the Democrats should find good ways to keep asking and to make those questions a big part of what people hear and talk about when they hear and talk about this process.

I don't see why we can't oppose both Gorsuch and Trump, but I agree this far: Personal attacks on Gorsuch, beyond his legal record, distract from the main narrative — unless somebody discovers something so damning that it will turn Republicans against him.

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  • petestasker On February 6, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I like your bottom line that the resistance use the Gorsuch hearings to elicit his opinions on any number of questionable actions of Trump and his administration in the context of Gorsuch's alleged "originalist" interpretation of the Constitution. And worth questioning over and over again is Gorsuch's reading of the actions of the Republican senators in not even giving Garland a hearing.

  • busterggi On February 6, 2017 at 11:48 am

    The Dems need to block Gorsuch for the sake of cutting the budget to reduce the national debt – praise be the GOP for showing that nine judges are unnecessary!

  • SCL On February 6, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Dems shouldn't block the nominee, whoever he is. I honestly havent done all the research. But we need the supreme court. With a president doing unconstitutional actions, the supreme court is what will keep him in check. A full court is more powerful. It's not the time for Dems to win a few cheap political points by completely undermining the one office that is able to stop trump.

    • jh On February 8, 2017 at 9:59 am

      You are assuming that Gorsuch isn't going to support Trump and his anti-American nonsense. You are also forgetting that it is precisely because the democrats behaved like adults and did the correct thing while the republicans behaved like poo-flinging chimpanzees that we have this scenario. If the democrats continue to give in, they are enabling more radical republicans to do far worse.

      • SCL On February 8, 2017 at 5:39 pm

        I'm assuming that Gorsuch will be a tool for trump to be more authoritarian. But thats only one vote out of nine. Even conservative judges are to the left of these wannabe facists. The country gets more conservative, of course because theyre in charge. But it stops short of the unfettered plutocracy that trump wants. More conservative is tolerable if it means that the democracy holds.

      • Larry Benjamin On February 8, 2017 at 7:15 pm

        Gorsuch's comments to Sen. Blumenthal today were encouraging. He takes a dim view of the Executive branch disparaging the judiciary. He may be a conservative ideologue in the mold of Scalia, but he's not going to be a rubber stamp for Trump.

      • weeklysift On February 10, 2017 at 7:26 am

        I agree with Chuck Schumer on Gorsuch's comments: If his "independence" from Trump is limited to some tut-tutting in private conversations with senators he's trying to impress, it doesn't mean much. He'll be asked these kinds of questions in the public hearings. If he takes a strong stand then in defense of an independent judiciary, I'll be impressed. But if he dodges any criticism of his benefactor, as I believe he will, to hell with him.

      • DMoses On February 11, 2017 at 12:26 am

        On the other hand. Its very likely he will be like all the rest of the Republicans. They will say mean things about Trump and his appointments… but they won't vote against them. I do not doubt that Gorsuch would be similar.

  • Larry Benjamin On February 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    One strategy I've heard proposed is that the Democrats shouldn't put up too much resistance to Goresuch – he isn't, after all, any more conservative than Scalia was, and doesn't change the court's overall makeup in any way – but they should go to the mat to resist any future successors to any of the liberal justices. Replacing Ginsburg with a 40-year-old theocrat is something we won't recover from, so the argument in that case would be "hey, we didn't like Goresuch, but we held our noses and didn't fight you on him, but we're not going to do that a second time."

  • Anonymous On February 6, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Yah, I like the approach of asking him questions about what he thinks of Trump's actions. Keep the focus on the nut case in the white house.

  • Chris On February 7, 2017 at 4:43 am

    "Ideally, the process would go like this: Democrats would block Gorsuch, and Republicans would then negotiate in good faith, resulting in a nominee who moved the Court closer to consensus…"

    No. Ideally, Democrats would block Gorsuch, and Republicans would then nominate and confirm Garland, because he is now the only person (besides, perhaps, Barack Obama) who could be considered a legitimate nominee.

  • Jeff Rosenberg On February 7, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Here's a fantastic idea as in a fantasy. Chief Justice Roberts issues the following statement: "In the interests of preserving the credibility of the Supreme Court in the eyes of the public, the currently sitting Justices respectfully request that the Senate consider the merits of Judge Garland and hold an up-or-down vote for him. Judge Garland was appropriately nominated by the President and is deserving of this consideration."

  • Clara McIver On February 7, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    There's the Robert Reich stance–no supreme court justice until we are certain Trump isn't under the influence of outside forces. Investigate the Russia connection and see Mr. Trump's taxes at the very least.

  • nwbaxter On February 12, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Forget trying to preserve the norms of democracy. Republicans have been trashing them for thirty years and the theft of President Obama's appointment when the Senate refused to even hold hearings, much less a vote, signaled a complete rejection of their Constitutional duties and prerogatives BY REPUBLICANS. As bullies who believe that they are the only political party with a right to power, it is way past time to stand up to them. Filibuster and DO NOT FILL THIS SEAT with another right wing ideologue.

  • Kim Cooper On February 15, 2017 at 4:03 am

    I can see all the arguments here. but I despair of the Democrats in the senate actually doing anything to stand up for themselves and us.
    As long as we are fantasizing, how about — we won't consider Gorsuch unless McConnell, Ryan, and Bannen all resign. Then we impeach Pence.
    I loved the scenario of the Supreme Court insisting they consider Garland first.

ANS -- Build your vocabulary: reverse cargo cult

This is a small part of a post by Doug Muder from a week ago.  I thought it was interesting.  I am also including part of the comments section because there's an interesting bit there too.


Build your vocabulary: reverse cargo cult

Build Your Vocabulary was briefly a regular feature of the Sift, but it's been dormant for a while.

One constant topic on liberal social media is the question: "When will Trump's voters realize they're being lied to?" A scary answer I ran across this week is that many of them already know and have known from the beginning. These core Trump supporters are what is known as a reverse cargo cult.

cargo cult is when people ritualistically build things they associate with success, believing that success will be drawn to them in some magical way. The metaphor is based on an only partly true story about primitive Pacific islanders after World War II, who supposedly built imitation airstrips out of primitive materials in hopes of luring back the cargo planes of the war era. Richard Feynman extended the idea metaphorically to "cargo cult science", referring to groups that establish institutes and publish journals in order to magically turn their unscientific beliefs into science. It now applies to all sorts of magical thinking.

In a reverse cargo cult, you build the trappings of some kind of success like a cargo cult would, but you don't believe it will work and aren't trying to fool anybody into thinking it will. The deception goes in the other direction.

[The builders] don't lie to the rubes and tell them that an airstrip made of straw will bring them cargo. That's an easy lie to dismantle. Instead, what they do is make it clear that the airstrip is made of straw, and doesn't work, but then tell you that the other guy's airstrip doesn't work either. They tell you that no airstrips yield cargo. The whole idea of cargo is a lie, and those fools, with their fancy airstrip made out of wood, concrete, and metal is just as wasteful and silly as one made of straw.

The reverse cargo cult idea was invented as a way to explain the propaganda of the late Soviet Union, which didn't fool anyone any more; everyone knew the government was lying. But now the purpose was to make the people disbelieve everything, including the reports they heard of prosperity and freedom in the West. Russian cynicism became a point of cultural pride: Russians knew they were being lied to, while those foolish Westerners believed what they saw on their TVs.

Something similar is happening among Trump supporters: So what if there was no Bowling Green massacre, no millions of illegal votes, no record-breaking crowd at Trump's inauguration? Liberals tell their own lies about things like global warming and white male privilege. The difference this batch of Trump supporters sees is that they are in on the joke, while their liberal friends actually believe what they're told. The in-the-know Trump folks are entertained by Breitbart and InfoWars, while naive liberals take seriously the things they read in The New York Times or The Washington Post.

The point of official lies and alternative facts and fake news isn't that people should believe in them. It's that they should come to disbelieve everything politicians say and regard all news as fake. There is no cargo.


A century ago, Peoria, Illinois was the archetypal Middle-American city. Vaudeville performers asked "Will it play in Peoria?", meaning "Can you tour this act across the country?" Groucho Marx asked it in A Night at the Opera, and during the Nixon administration, top aide John Ehrlichman once reassured a reporter that a proposal hated by policy elites would "play in Peoria", meaning that Middle America would like it.

Peoria is a factory town, and the factory is Caterpillar. CAT has 12,000 employees in Peoria, and used to have more. Tuesday, CAT announced that it was moving its headquarters to Chicago, which is about 2 1/2 hours away by car. Immediately, the move affects just 300 jobs. But that includes all the top executives, who are probably among Peoria's best-paid people. So the city's overall quality of life is bound to take a big hit. Those 300 will also be deciding what happens to the remaining 12,000 jobs in the coming years, so as they lose their identification with Peoria, I'm not optimistic about the city's future.

CAT justified the move by claiming that it will be easier to recruit top executive talent to Chicago rather than Peoria. You have to wonder whether CAT's main American rival (John Deere), which is headquartered in another middle-sized Illinois city (Moline), is thinking the same thing.

Trump won largely by exploiting the plight of America's hollowing-out countryside. He focused on the manufacturing jobs going to Mexico and China. But executive jobs moving to the big cities is another piece of that problem, and I haven't heard even a suggestion of what to do about it.


Comments:  [Some of]

Justin Siemaszko On February 10, 2017 at 10:26 am

As a youngish executive track professional from a small town but now living in DC myself, I 'd like to offer a bit of insight on what would make high end talent leave the cities:

We need somewhere to go that is tolerant. That's the biggy.

We have close friends of all colors, religions, & sexual orientation. When my wife and I consider leaving the city, our first concerns, parallel with "Are the schools good?" are "Can our friends visit? Will we be forced into a bastion of racists & ignorant bigots? Can we live here with our non-white spouses? Will we be able to socialize with ANYONE?"

The answer is universally "no." Many/most of us have first-hand experience of just how under-educated, intolerant, and sometimes hostile middle america is. Many of us left because we spent 18 years getting the crap beat out of us in small towns. Most of us have made new friends as adults bonding over the abuses we suffered back home, whether that's in Montana, New York, or Alabama.

To contrast, in NYC, LA, SF, DC, Chicago, etc., we are not only accepted, but we thrive socially. We feel like welcome members of diverse communities of smart people from all over the world. No one cares what our religion is (unless we're pushing it on others) or what color our skin is, or how much we like football. It doesn't really matter how many good restaurants, schools, yoga places or bars Peoria has to offer if we can't go to them with a gay friend. We aren't guessing about this, either. It's no straw man. Most of us have lived and seen just how bigoted the "other" parts of the country are, and we don't really want to spend the rest of our adult lives surrounded by the people we moved away from in the first place. And those of us that thought that maybe things were getting better had our blinders pulled off by the last election. Personally, I was horrified at how openly racist and aggressive people from my highschool have become, via Facebook posts… and to begin with I had already screened out most the bullies, etc. These were the more average kids, they represent the norm.

In short, the only thing that will draw us out there consistently is a massive cultural
move toward tolerance and education. I doubt we'll be there in 100 years, let alone within my generation's lifetime… but that's what Peoria needs to make us consider the move.

  • busterggi On February 10, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Isn't it amazing that the 'heartland' is the area that is actually heartless?

    • Larry Benjamin On February 11, 2017 at 9:12 am

      This is why I don't like the term "American heartland." It implies that there is a "real America" populated by "real Americans," usually implying rural areas inhabited mostly by white people. I would submit that the real "heartland" is where America's culture comes from – New York City with its domination of finance, publishing, and theater; Los Angeles and Hollywood; and the Bay Area with information technology. These places are the "American heartland" because they have been instrumental in shaping the view of America held by the rest of the world, in its most positive sense.

  • weeklysift On February 11, 2017 at 6:53 am

    Justin: Thanks for that testimony. I think a lot of small-town white Christians would find it shocking that they are considered scary and their neighborhoods considered unsafe. Many have a one-way filter in which it makes perfect sense for them to be afraid of non-whites or Muslims when they are in the big city, but it just sounds crazy that anyone might be afraid of whites or Christians in small towns.