On my way to work this morning, I was wondering what to write. I knew I had to write something – the market is dropping and the election is next week – but what? We have already told our clients that we believed the market would get volatile as we neared the election, and we have taken steps to mitigate that risk. I could talk about policy, as that is what I usually do in an election year, but this campaign has been policy-discussion-free; the Democrats wanted to make this election about Donald Trump, and as that is Donald Trump’s favorite subject, so he obliged.
That is a shame, because while no one was paying attention, the Democrats allowed the most radical among them to write the party platform. If they win, we will see if that was simply a political move to get that wing of the party to the polls, or if they meant it. If they meant it, we will have much to talk about as we try to navigate our investment decisions.
Then it occurred to me: The real reason we protected the portfolios was not that we are worried about either party winning, it is because we are concerned about the reaction to the election itself. It is probable that we will not know who the next President is come next Wednesday. If that is the case, it will be ugly. Politics is always ugly, but this is as ugly as I can remember in my lifetime.
The good news is that it has been uglier. In the early years of our country, politicians sometimes wrote completely made-up stories about their opponents and published them under pseudonyms. Political machines paid people to vote a certain way. This has all happened before, and we survived.
Then I had a thought: The biggest issue we have as a nation is that we constantly live in a state of exaggeration. In Matthew 5:37 Jesus said, “Simply let your yes be yes and your no, no; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” One does not have to be a Christian to understand the wisdom of that statement. Stop the hyperbole.
This was going through my mind as I read today’s Wall Street Journal, and there on the op-ed page was an article by Lance Morrow, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, entitled, “The Amazing, Horrifying Age of Exaggeration.” I strongly recommend that all who have access should read this article. Mr. Morrow hits the nail on the head far more eloquently than I ever could.
Donald Trump has been accused, even by some of his supporters, of being a liar. It is far more accurate to say Donald Trump is an exaggerator. He lives an exaggerated life and always has. Long before he entered politics there were stories of how much he exaggerated his wealth. An exaggeration that is far more likely to explain his resistance to releasing tax returns than any Russian conspiracy. He probably paid so little in taxes one year because he actually lost money (you know that happens in the real estate business). We tell our clients this all the time: if not paying taxes is your goal, just lose money.
Mr. Morrow said it beautifully, “Exaggeration is a symptom of self-importance and insecurity.” We have a generation who were raised being told constantly how special they were while simultaneously being protected from actually having to accomplish anything on their own. The result: lots of self-esteem combined with little self-confidence, or to use Mr. Morrow’s words, self-importance and insecurity.
Donald Trump did not divide this nation. If anything, he simply saw an opportunity in the division and exploited it. No, the #Resistance is the reason for our division – the exaggeration of democratic opposition to an underground military fighting back against tyranny. Hyperbole comes from the evil one.
Two exaggerations have been drilled into our younger generation’s heads. First: They can change the world, which is somehow twisted into the notion that they need to change the world. Secondly: The challenges they face are greater than any generation before. A year ago I read a statement to this extent from Prince Harry (or is it the former Prince Harry?). As he abdicated his royal responsibilities to live in the New World, he stated that he and his wife Meghan wanted to serve change because of the great challenges of his generation.
Harry’s great-grandfather led his country as they fought off the Nazis. London was under constant threat of bombing. His grandmother led her country through the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation was a daily reality. To say Harry’s generation faces larger challenges is a joke. Harry’s biggest challenge is getting enough followers on social media to replace his royal income.
Very few people in history have ever changed the world. Those who did so in a positive manner usually were not trying to change the world, but to simply right some specific wrong. George Washington would be a good example, as he changed the world by being unwilling to become a king. He subdued his own ambition by simply doing what he believed to be right. On the other hand, those who purposely set out to change the world are known in history as tyrants – they go by names like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao.
The truth is that life today is easier than it has ever been. Perhaps that is part of our problem; we have too much time on our hands to fixate on our fears. Our ancestors were fixated on chores. They were focused more on what was right in front of them. They had to be or there would be nothing to eat that night. Today we no longer fear Nazis or Communists. Famine is no longer a concern as technology has made food plentiful.
So, we exaggerate our challenges. Global warming is not an environmental concern we need to overcome through technology (as humans have successfully done before with every other environmental threat), it is the end of the world. As the Ghost Busters would say, “It is a disaster of Biblical proportions, Dogs and Cats living together, mass hysteria.” That is exaggeration. And, it is also exaggeration to say global warming does not exist or is not a problem; and that is just one of today’s issues.
Before next Tuesday I would like to ask each baby boomer parent reading this to call your children and tell them, “I’m sorry honey, but you can’t change the world, and the challenges you face today are tiny compared to the challenges faced by your ancestors. No matter who gets elected President, he will be every American’s President. We may like him, or we might not, but he isn’t evil and the world is not ending.”
I’d like to say the fate of the world is riding on that conversation, but that would be hyperbole. However, as your investment adviser, the value of your portfolio just could be. At least that is my perspective.
Chuck Osborne, CFA