An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

Okay, everyone. It’s time for us to all to have a grown-up conversation. Your guy is not going to win. Nor should he. He has said and allegedly done things (over and over again) that would disqualify anyone from the presidency. But come January, we are still going to have to govern this nation, including all of the Trump Trainers, the “I’m with Her”-ers, the Bernie Bros, the people who threw their hands up in frustration and swore to not vote in this election, and all the rest. We just spent more than a year vilifying each other and it is going to have to come to an end if we are going to make any kind of progress.

Look, I get that some of you have legitimate concerns about the direction that our country is taking. The lack of availabilty of ways to make a blue collar living in areas that used to thrive on manufacturing is a point well taken (you might remember that that point resonated well with people on both sides of the ideological spectrum). It is clear that people in those areas are suffering, and policies will have to be made that deal with rural and Rust Belt poverty and lack of opportunity. But what we objected to the most was the way that some of you tend to wrap that and other issues up with race and ethnicity. “Make America Great Again” might be a laudable motto if it was not widely viewed as a dog-whistle that roughly translates to “Make America White Again.” The fact is that our country has a long, rich history of racism that we would do well to keep in mind as historical context when we are examining current events. But never before has someone so successfully weaponized this hate to further their own political goals–we have never had to deal with a demagogue or a fascist.

I feel like I am qualified to say all of this because I am from Trump Country. I have more than one family member that wears the infamous red cap with pride. And I know that their motivations are complex. Yes, there is a generous helping of racial anxiety in there, and that I cannot excuse. But there is also a pining for the “old days” (which may or may not have ever existed in reality), in which a man (or hopefully now a woman) could earn enough to raise his or her family without a college degree. The problem is that the rose glow in which some people recall those “old days” seems to filter out the racial strife, the lack of opportunties for women and minorities, and the lack of a social safety net that actually existed in those days. It would be foolish to forget that history, and to act like it has not profoundly affected the situation in minority and immigrant communities today.

Maybe there are ways that we can work toward progressive goals in this country while also revitalizing the type of blue collar jobs that used to sustain people like my forebears in certain parts of the country. Or maybe that goal is antithetical to the idea of the type of society that we progressives want to build. That latter idea scares me because I hate the idea that we would leave behind an entire group of people in the name of progress. I’m lucky because I got out, and I have been lucky enough to get a hell of an education off of my cis-hetero-white male privilege and a modicum of hard work. But I am not so encased in my ivory tower bubble that I cannot see that the movement that swept Donald Trump to within mere votes of the White House will never go away until will deal with the lack of opportunties in some parts of the country. So I’m with you all if you want to build a society that offers access to a good life for everyone, from Rust Belt to the poorest of inner cities, for people of all backgrounds. But you need to drop the fascist. He isn’t helping to get that message across, and he will just serve to further alienate you from the current power structure. Together, maybe we can “Finally Make America Great for Everyone.” Slap that on a snapback and I might actually wear it.

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The Dog Ate Trump’s Homework

That debate last night was painful. And not just for the obvious reasons. We all know that Donald Trump is a horrible misogynist. We all know that he is a horrible racist. We all know that he has no relevant experience that qualifies him for the presidency. But last night I saw something else. In fact, I’m surprised that I never saw this before. It’s a little embarrassing, in fact. This guy cannot even hold a conversation his counterpart, the press, nor the voters. He was completely outmatched up there. He obviously has not even read a newspaper or a briefing book. Just take his insistence that the military should not telegraph its strategy before major operations. Martha Raddatz and Hillary Clinton were visibly frustrated. He has no appreciation for nuance; the world that Trump inhabits is black and white, and he has no desire to complicate his simplistic view of the world. These debates are there so that we can compare the candidates on their policy ideas. But Trump does not even have the aptitude (or is it attitude?) to engage in that conversation. These debates are a waste of time. Trump is like a schoolkid that didn’t do the homework before class, and all American citizens are the rest of the class suffering as he slows down today’s lesson.

Review of Fox’s “Pitch”

I’m a fan of the new Fox show “Pitch.” I support all things baseball. But I do have an interesting point to make. Either the story is trying to be very progressive and insightful, or Mike Lawson’s character seems to have developed entirely too fast. We started the first episode with Lawson being an irredeemable shit-heel: he slapped Ginny’s ass with entirely too much familiarity and with complete disregard for the power imbalance in that slap, and he shit-talked Ginny to the other guys on the team, while being overheard by Ginny in the locker-room.

Great, every story can benefit from an asshole that can be redeemed with some hard-won knowledge and appreciation for other people’s perspectives. But “Pitch” did not choose to take that route. Instead, Lawson turns around in the middle of the first episode, and decides that he is going to hitch his wagon to the Ginny caravan, the only hope that he has of securing his legacy. Instead of having one irredeemable shit-heel to redeem this series, we have the rest of the 25 man roster, who are still having trouble accepting Ginny as a major leaguer. It is just one woman against the world, and one man willing to vouch for her.

Obviously, women do not need vouching for: Ginny has no problem getting the other male baseball players out. In other words, she is able to get by on her own merits. So the argument that “Pitch” makes–that women can only integrate into a traditionally male-only space when a man helps to make a place for them within that space–is a little sad. However, I leave it to women who have had experience moving into male-dominated fields to say whether or not this depiction is realistic. As a cis-het-male in a STEM field, I can only imagine that “Pitch” is a realistic depiction of sex-discrimination that occurs everyday. Which is why I am sure that this show is important. Damn the corny dialogue and shot composition: “Pitch” is doing important work. If you like baseball and/or women and have a stake in the progress of either, I suggest that you watch “Pitch.”

Space, man.

In the summer of 2012, I was a precocious undergraduate spending the summer at a certain Ivy League institution as a research assistant in the laboratory of a certain Nobel Prize winner. I plugged away at the microscope all day, with Earl Sweatshirt’s early shit blasting in my ears, the steady minimalist beats fueling me through my grueling days. But then I would come home, and unwind in front of my computer like any good millennial. One day the Curiosity rover landed to much fanfare, and I stayed up on my computer late into the night to watch it. Something about space is so inspirational to anyone with any real interest in science. We have run out of things to explore; those greedy colonialist pigs circled the globe long before I ever got the chance (and made a real mess of things by doing so). And space itself isn’t something new: JFK inspired the US to reach for the stars decades ago, while the USSR was also looking upward. Since then, it seems like every country has a space program. Maybe space is just mundane now? Maybe resupplying the International Space Station is like the monthly trip to Costco? But I think there is still some mystique in it. Because the night that Curiosity landed on Mars, I watched with wonder–and I was not the only one. We keep having these moments as a society where the space programs of our planet manage to keep us interested long after people were supposed to have gotten bored with space. I started to wonder if NASA is just getting better at marketing. Did they hire some big PR firm to drum up public support–and maybe secure a half a percent more of the next federal budget. Maybe it makes more sense that this wonder was never really gone. Because now Elon Musk is promising to send people to Mars and I want to be first in line. The truth is that the rational part of me doesn’t believe that SpaceX will ever send a soul to Mars. Hell, they can’t even get a resupply rocket off of the ground. But the idea is just so human. There’s nothing left for us to explore. So why not pile into aluminum tubes and blast off (or up) for the heavens, why not see what we can find out there? This monkey is ready to blast off into space, man.

Prospect-gate 2016: Or, how I’m learning to stop worrying and trust Neal Huntington

I was obsessively following trade deadline Twitter chatter up to and past the deadline, so I caught the Liriano trade as it happened. We’re out from under Liriano? Sounds great to me, I thought. Then the details started to pour in. Instead of just Liriano, we were giving up AA prospects Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire. All for a quad-A starter. I was livid. I cursed Neal Huntington up and down, texted everyone I knew who I thought might give a damn (not many people), and scoured Twitter for someone, anyone, trying to spin the trade in a positive light (no one). I had a sandwich and a beer at a local bar to calm my nerves and started walking home. Maybe it was something about the cool evening air mixing with my slight alcoholic buzz, but the trade suddenly made sense to me. Please allow me to explain.

The trade only makes sense if you assume that the Pirates so wanted to be out from under Liriano that they were willing to part with Ramirez in order to convince Toronto to take on that contract. Ramirez is a decent outfield prospect, but his stock has slipped lately. Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects suggested on Twitter that it is not crazy to think that Ramirez will never see the light of PNC Park. So those two pieces of the trade cancel out, and we are left with Reese McGuire for Drew Hutchison. Unlike Ramirez, McGuire has a really clear path to the bigs in a Pirate uniform, and it is hard to justify dealing him for Hutchison. However, that is my hypothesis. It seems like the Pirates think that Hutchison can be a solid rotation piece by next year, so this makes some sense as a one-for-one trade.

All of this is a tough pill to swallow, though. I went to an Altoona Curve game last week and got a front row seat right behind home plate. Reese McGuire kept taking warm up swings in front of me, and I kept watching the man work. The whole time I thought, this guy is going to be catching Taillon and Glasnow at PNC Park before we know it. I am sad to think that I will never see that come to pass. But I wish those guys the best in Toronto, for our sake and for the sake of Huntington’s credibility.

Ruminating on the Loss of Neil Walker

Neil Walker returns to Pittsburgh this week for the first time since being traded to the New York Mets last December for Jonathan Niese. I was born and bred a Pittsburgher, so I love to weigh in on the Pirates front office decisions. It is probably too early to reflect on that trade, but I’m going to do so anyway.

Walker played with the Pirates from 2009 to 2015, and throughout that time he was a pretty dismal defensive second baseman. During that seven year window, Walker racked up -11 defensive runs saved (DRS) and -31.6 ultimate zone rating (UZR). Compare that to the MLB average DRS of 10.9 and UZR of 8.3 over that same period for qualified second basemen. So let’s face it: Walker was never a defensive second baseman. In fact, I might go so far as to compare him to Chase Utley (“He’s a power hitting second baseman. You know how rare that is in the national league?”). Walker had always been there to hit. But if you really compare Walker during his heyday in Pittsburgh to his second base contemporaries, his run production was right around that of other decent second basemen: he was right in the middle of qualifying second basemen between 2012 and 2015 when taking into account DRS and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) (somehow I knew Chase Utley would pop up as a fellow In-Betweener).

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With Pirate infield depth waiting in the wings, it wasn’t hard to believe that the Pirates chose to cash out the Neil Walker chip. Josh Harrison has been a more than capable replacement: FanGraphs has Harrison at 0.9 wins above replacement so far this season, with a 0.350 on base percentage and a 4 DRS that puts him comfortably in the top half of second basemen this year. But I will admit that I feel a twinge of nostalgia when I remember the days when the Pittsburgh Kid actually played in Pittsburgh. We had seven beautiful years, Pittsburgh. Nothing lasts forever. And Neil: glad to hear that you finally joined the ranks of those of us who wised up and left Pittsburgh for the greener pastures of New York. Looking for a roommate?

Maybe President Trump Wouldn’t Be Too Bad?

In addition to baseball and biology (in that order), I also nurse an interest in politics. This primary season has really fascinated me, particularly because of the cast of characters that the GOP trotted out there. So, of course, I’m going to talk about Donald Trump and why hypothetical President Trump might not be as bad as anyone thinks he could be.

Before we really get started, there are two things I want to make clear off the rip. First, I do not support Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. I think that the xenophobic, sexist, and generally unenlightened remarks that he has made throughout his primary campaign are disqualifying; someone who has said those things into a microphone should not represent our nation to the world.

Second, I do not think that Donald Trump has any real chance of being president in January. This election will likely be Clinton’s coronation, and it seemed like it would be that way months ago. But the fact is that Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, putting him mere electoral college votes away from being the “most powerful man in the world.”

This hooligan’s proximity to the Oval Office has put me in a bit of an existential rut lately, and it took a lot of introspection to pull myself out of that hole. But it finally dawned on me: I don’t think President Trump would be too terrible. I know, but hear me out. The president has power, but the office is not a dictatorship. Trump would still have to work within the confines of our republic, particularly with a Congress that would likely stymie anything he might try to do (and hey, We the People are used to that after the last eight years).

In addition to the checks and balances built into the system that would keep hypothetical President Trump from Trump-ing out too much as the Commander in Chief, there is also the inertia of the bureaucratic systems built around the presidency that carry over from administration to administration. For example, the intelligence officials who brief the president daily to keep him or her up to speed on global situations would have their own agenda from day one. It is likely that their advice would keep President Trump from marching down to Mexico City and slapping an invoice down on Peña Nieto’s desk for the newly erected border wall.

There is certainly damage that can be done. The worst that Trump can do might be to rile up unstable members of our society who have been waiting for “strong” president to “say what everyone is thinking” and “not give a damn about being politically correct.” We have all seen what can happen when certain individuals are emboldened by political rhetoric to take matters into their own hands. If hypothetical President Trump would continue talking about the Mexican people, women, and other groups like he has done in the past, it may convince someone to do something. He would be the president, after all.

But all of this might be ridiculous to contemplate. Trump just isn’t a general election candidate. Sure, he cleaned up in the primaries, but that is because the primaries select for the most “out there” candidates, who then have to tack back to the middle to be viable in November. Trump certainly can’t do that, right? But maybe there is reason to worry about a viable Trump general election candidacy. Consider that the Trump rhetoric has seemed to dull a bit lately. After knocking Cruz out of the primary in Indiana (all but assuring his own GOP nomination), Trump even seemed respectful of his competitor Cruz. He has also been avoiding some of the over-the-top offensive speech topics that he gained notoriety (and a ton of free media coverage) for earlier in the primaries, probably due to the influence of new political handlers that he has brought into the campaign in preparation for a run at the Oval Office in November.

Taken all together, this can be terrifying for those of use who never wanted, nor expected, Trump to have any chance in November. He still has to go up against the Clinton political machine, and who knows how offensive his rhetoric might become in a contest against a strong woman candidate. Heck, he has already suggested that Clinton is only polling high because she holds the “woman card.” In other words, he still has time to screw this all up. But even if he doesn’t, hey, maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. This time next year, we might all be wearing matching hairpieces. I, for one, welcome our new overlord.

Update: The NY Times posted a piece that made some of the same points that I made at around the same time that I put this piece up, so go have yourself a look-see over there if the spirit moves you to do so.