September 9, 2016 Last Updated 8:53 am

Whether it is in business or politics, problem solving becomes impossible when we allow reality to be up for grabs

The founder of Barnes & Noble is pretty sure that the root cause of his company’s current problems is the divisive election cycle, an explanation not contested by analysts on the company’s conference call

The past 24 hours has been a lesson on today’s view of reality: it is open to interpretation, inexact, fungible. In short, both politicians and businessmen appear to believe it is what you say it is.

Take the claim by Donald Trump that he was against the war in Iraq, despite audio that says he was, in fact, for it. He says one thing, evidence points to another. so what are you to believe? Matt Lauer certainly didn’t confront him on his claim.

There is no evidence that we could find, however, that he spoke against the war before it started, although we did find he expressed early concerns about the cost and direction of the war a few months after it started.

Others have looked, but no one else — including PolitiFact and the Washington Post Fact Checker — has been able to find any evidence to support his claims, either. Now, BuzzFeed reports that Trump indicated his support for war in a radio interview with shock jock Howard Stern on Sept. 11, 2002 — a little more than six months before the war started.

Stern asked Trump directly if he supported going to war with Iraq, and Trump hesitantly responded, “Yeah, I guess so.”

But the reality is that the other candidate also supported the war, voted for it, and refused to admit the error until after she had lost the nomination to a one-term Senator. The war in Iraq, for that reason, isn’t even an issue in this year’s election, despite the fact that it is at the root cause of our current troubles. The public is generally divided into two camps on this issue: those who believe the war was a mistake and the US should have exited Iraq as soon as possible, and those who still believe it was a good thing, but that our politicians let us down by exiting too fast. Call it the Vietnam War divide: there are still those who believe that even after 58,315 killed in action, and 153,303 (source) if we had only fought longer, used more bombs, let the generals do whatever, we would have “won” the war.

This sort of reality denial is not limited to politics. Take the chairman and founder of Barnes & Noble, Leonard Riggio. As Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader pointed out late yesterday afternoon, Riggio blamed his company’s current woes on this year’s election cycle.

“I believe the current trend can be traced precisely to the current election cycle, which is unprecedented in terms of the fear, anger and frustration being experienced by the public,” Riggio said during the investor conference call.

“The preoccupation with this election is keeping them in home, glued to their TVs and at their desktops. Retail traffic by any measure and across all segments is close to a historic low point. I get this not from our own observations but in speaking to many of the CEOs of other retail companies.”

Really? Did I read that right?

Later Riggio responded to a question about Amazon’s store strategy with this:

Well it’s pretty impossible for me or for anyone for that matter to speculate on what Amazon might do. Their economics are entirely different than ours, their strategic plans are unknown to us, and clearly different than ours. I don’t know where they go, how fast or far they do, we will have to play it by year, we are certainly looking at what they do very closely.

We obviously hope to have at some point a response to what they do, but I just have no idea, are they going to open up a chain of bookstores, will they open up a chain of office supply stores, a chain of sporting good stores, will they build their own malls. I mean who knows what they might do. So I can’t really speculate on that, we will have to see, you will see it at the same time we do.

I think that it is pretty obvious that B&N’s problems derive from the fact that they did not have in the past, and do not have in the present, any strategy for competing against Amazon.

But that is the way I see it. Obviously reality is fungible. Maybe B&N’s problems are caused by Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton? Or maybe it is all Gary Johnson’s fault. After all, the Libertarian candidate never went to his local B&N store to buy a book on what is going on in Syria so he could answer the question “and what is Aleppo?”

There are those who try, generally futilely, to fight through the resistance to reality, to attempt to solve serious problems. Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher of State Superior Court in Hartford appears to be one such person.

Kate Zernike of The New York Times today analyzes his ruling last week that threw out Connecticut’s school financing system, calling it

He criticized “uselessly perfect teacher evaluations” that found “virtually every teacher in the state” proficient or exemplary, while a third of students in many of the poorest communities cannot read even at basic levels. He attacked a task force charged with setting meaningful high school graduation requirements for how its “biggest thought on how to fix the problem turned out to be another task force,” and called it “a kind of a spoof.”

The judge’s ruling was an obviously clear-eyed look at the education system in his state, and a sharp rebuke to those who manage it and try to improve it. But if the good judge wants to know what really is at the root of the problem of public education he should read the comments on Zernike’s story, because the public has a pretty firm idea about who is to blame for Connecticut schools: parents. More specifically, the parents of children who are being poorly educated.

Yes, it’s them, over there, who are to blame. The fact that poor schools are underfunded, teachers unqualified. or school boards mismanaged, has nothing to do with it. Why spend money on the bad apples, the underachievers, the children of immigrants? It would be a waste of money. Better to continue down the same road we are traveling, maybe even double down on the strategy and boost funding at rich schools rather than waste money on the others.

Realty. It is, apparently, what we make of it.

  • Gene Berkman 2 months ago

    Actually, Gary Johnson did give a view on Syria, after the reporter clarified that he was transitioning from a discussion of domestic policy. In case you have not read a book about Syria, Gov. Johnson pointed out that America’s policy of regime change in the Middle East has destabilized the whole region, including Syria, and he supported working with Russia for a diplomatic solution, referencing the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry.