Friday, May 6, 2016

Only Trump is trying something different

The following was published in today's edition of The Detroit News.

There are a lot of analogies to explain how Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination. Perhaps the best is that Trump mounted a Wall Street-style hostile takeover — marshaling the proxy votes of long-ignored shareholders to beat the chairman of the board, in this case the Republican establishment.

Republican grandees in Washington and the voices in the New York-based chattering class, the so-called #NeverTrump movement, have nobody to blame but themselves.

The reality is Trump won because his message resonated with what Spiro Agnew called the silent majority: The vast majority of Americans who don’t read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, let alone the tribal magazines of the conservative industrial complex.

The 15 candidates felled by Trump lost because their mostly traditional, doctrinaire message didn’t sway the party base. If you took the datelines out of news reports on the also-rans or closed your eyes and only listened to the words of their stump speeches you could have been in 2012, 2008 or 1996.

While the GOP hasn’t won a national governing majority in six of the last seven presidential elections, the party’s candidates have failed to craft a new message that has genuine appeal.

Only Trump is trying something different.

Now there are real questions over whether Trump’s coalition is good enough as the demographics of America have changed so much in recent years that the white male vote alone is no longer enough to produce the landslide wins of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as well as George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Still, at least Trump is trying to broaden Republican appeal to the large swaths of the country that look around and no longer see a great country.

Most Americans, on the right and left, no longer believe the system — controlled by the establishment of both parties — works for them.

The gap between the rich and everyone else is the widest in a century. The good-paying jobs of working-class and middle-class Americans are disappearing.

Schools are dysfunctional. Infrastructure is crumbling. Borders, language, and culture seem to mean nothing as big business chases the almighty dollar.

Whether Trump can, as he says, make America great again is unknown but it’s hard not to see him doing to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton what he did to his defeated GOP foes.

— Dennis Lennox

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The religious liberty front in the culture war

The following was published in today's edition of The Detroit News.

Whether it was Indiana a few years ago or recent legislation in Georgia and Mississippi, secular progressives have decried as state-sanctioned discrimination any efforts to codify the right of religious Americans not to violate the tenets of their faith.

One expects as much from the usual suspects on the left. What has been a surprise is the outcry from business, which claims religious liberty legislation makes it difficult to hire the best workers.

This claim is dubious at best, as the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution only applies to government, not corporations. Then there’s the absurd hypocrisy of companies like Disney, which makes movies in countries where homosexuality is a criminal offense.

Regardless, neither side is right.

Let’s face it. Conservatives have done a poor job at the politics of religious liberty in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four of the five U.S. territories.

There aren’t many who actually argue clergymen should be compelled to perform the rites of a religious ceremony that goes against either their sincerely held beliefs or the doctrines of their religious sect.

However, the issue of gay marriage is much more complex.

With a number of professed Christian sects blessing or otherwise solemnizing gay marriage, it’s difficult for religious objectors to argue their position is the one, true Christian stance. It also doesn’t help when those who champion the traditional definition of marriage seem to turn a blind eye to remarrying heterosexual divorcees.

But this debate goes far beyond gay marriage. The real question is: just where does religious liberty end?

For example, could a Muslim driver’s education instructor refuse female pupils, citing Wahhabbist clerics in Saudi Arabia? Then there’s the parish hall of a Christian church that is also rented out for secular uses. Could the congregation be compelled to rent its space to undesirable tenets?

There have even been cases on college campuses of overtly religious student groups being told they couldn’t deny membership to non-adherents of their faith.

In other countries — some touted so often by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and others on the left — Christian women have been prohibited from wearing a cross around their neck and Muslim women have been told they can’t wear headscarves in public.

These are all real issues with no easy answers.

As more states adopt religious liberty legislation, it’s inevitable that the courts will be forced to wade in the murky waters of deciding exactly what constitutes a sincerely held belief or religious doctrine.

— Dennis Lennox

Friday, April 15, 2016

Only in Singapore

The following was published today on Medium.
Hong Kong is partly a global financial capital and partly a historical curiosity — being an ex-British colony that’s now part of China, but is in many ways autonomous from Beijing. Tokyo is known for making hallmarks of Americana like denim jeans and sneakers even better. Singapore, on the other hand, is a little less defined in popular imagination.

Sure, it has a world-class airline and one of the best food scenes, but the city-state in Southeast Asia has in just 50 years since its independence become a global leader in all things architecture, design and urban planning.

One of the best examples is the grove of 18 man-made, solar-powered illuminated trees, known locally as supertrees, that provide a home for more than 200 species of plants and flowers.

Located in the 250-acre Gardens by the Bay, the supertrees have become an iconic landmark — chances are you’ve seen a picture of the awe-inspiring sight in some listicle — in Singapore’s ever-changing streetscape.

And it’s this cutting-edge architecture and design that has me traveling to the city-state next week for an only in Singapore experience.

Stay tuned.
 — Dennis Lennox

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Where to go, right now: A ‘citycation’ in Toronto

The following was published Monday on Medium.

Detroit was pretty undesirable when I was coming of age in the early 2000s. It was basically a no-go area, at least outside of a professional sporting event.

As a result, I never had the big city experiences—shopping in flagship downtown department stores, riding a subway, gazing up at massive skyscrapers—that many urban dwellers take for granted until I started going to Toronto for hockey during my high school and college years.

Since then I’ve watched as Toronto has exploded.

And not just downtown, but in every direction. This becomes evident during the last 45 or so minutes of the four-hour drive from Detroit, when Highway 401 becomes abutted by the bland architecture of corporate office parks.

Toronto is closer to Chicago in population, but its dominance over Canadian culture, media, arts and business puts it on par with New York City.

This makes Canada’s largest city the perfect destination for what I call a ‘citycation’ — a long weekend in the big city.

What to do

I spent a recent weekend checking out some of Toronto’s world-class museums, including the nearly two-year-old Aga Kahn Museum.

Getting there was a little bit of a challenge from downtown — plan on using Uber — but the journey was worth the hassle. I found the Aga Kahn’s collection of Islamic art a nice change from what I’m accustomed to seeing. On special exhibit at the moment is “A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now,” a collection of rare 19th century photographs of Istanbul under the Ottomans. It’s too bad Diwan, the museum café, isn’t open for dinner as the lunch menu was quite good (I recommend the chermoula-marinated prawns).

Back downtown, the Royal Ontario Museum has a fascinating collection of artifacts from when Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, was the seat of the Byzantine Empire. Best of all, it’s open late—well, 8:30 p.m. — on Friday.

Nearby is the Art Gallery of Ontario, which offers a better experience every Friday evening than the Royal Ontario Museum. If you’re into photography you might enjoy “Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s-1980s,” which runs through May. Those with an interest in architecture will also be drawn to the museum’s façade, which was redesigned by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry. Chances are you’ll either love it or hate it.

Even if you aren’t into hockey, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a must-visit, if only to better understand the sport that doubles as Canada’s national religion.

You might also consider Fort York, a late 18th century British military fortification that saw action during the War of 1812. Just don’t get into a discussion on who actually won the war. (Canadians will insist they won.)

Where to stay

I recommend the upscale InterContinental Toronto Centre, which is near the iconic CN Tower on Front Street.

It’s perfectly located for a citycation. And with warmer weather now upon us, you can easily walk from the hotel to most of the major sights within 15 or 20 minutes.

Many convention center hotels can feel overwhelming, but not the InterContinental. Not only did I find the service, especially in the restaurant, to be quite good, but the spa and poolside patio made it easy to relax despite being in the midst of an urban jungle.

How to get there

Getting to Toronto is easy even if you don’t live within driving distance.

All major airlines fly into Pearson International Airport, Toronto’s major airport. There are also flights from Washington, Boston and Chicago into Toronto City Centre Airport on Porter, a Canadian-flagged regional airline.

From Pearson, the Union Pearson Express train is the fastest way into downtown Toronto. It terminates at Union Station, which is a five-minute walk from the InterContinental.

— Dennis Lennox

Monday, April 4, 2016

In case you missed it

Over the weekend, I took part in a blogger/pundits-only panel on "Off the Record," the statewide TV program with Tim Skubick.

You can watch my appearance below.

I was also did two radio interviews last week with Michael Patrick Shiels on "Michigan's Big Show" and Dave Akerly of "Morning Wake up" (listen here).