Using the Nineties

Those of us who were once English teachers like this sort of thing:

A group of more than 400 writers, including big names such as Stephen King, David Eggers, Amy Tan, Junot Díaz and Cheryl Strayed, released an online petition on Tuesday to express their opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy on the grounds that he is appealing to the darkest elements in American society.

“The rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response,” they wrote.

Organized on the literary website Lithub, signatures on the petition grew to more than 1,000 from 450 within hours as celebrity authors promoted their participation on social media.

In the open letter, the authors voiced concern that the United States was taking a step back toward a nativist past and warned that dictatorships tend to emerge in the wake of “manipulation and division, demagoguery and lies.”

This was the same sort of thing George Orwell had been saying all along – the language used to discuss political reality becomes the moment’s political reality – “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Now the same warning comes from today’s famous writers, but of course they are an odd lot:

Lyz Lenz, a writer from Iowa, wrote an essay on Lithub that was published on Tuesday making the case that Mr. Trump’s rise evokes images from the work of William Faulkner, particularly the corrupt character Flem Snopes.

“America is burning,” she writes. “You might not see the flames, but you can smell the smoke. And we’ve been set on fire by one man – Donald Trump, a Flem Snopes of our modern-era.”

That sort of thing doesn’t help much – no one reads Faulkner anymore, or much of anything – but these folks set up a petition site in case you want to sign on – and that might not be a bad idea. Things are getting strange out there. Slate’s Christina Cauterucci has the latest:

Donald Trump continued his attack on Hillary Clinton via Bill Clinton on Monday with a brief Instagram video featuring the voices of women who’ve accused the latter of rape and sexual assault.

One, Juanita Broaddrick, who alleged in 1999 that Bill raped her in 1978, speaks through tears in a clip from a 1999 NBC interview. “No woman should be subjected to it – it was an assault,” recounts Kathleen Willey, who alleged in 1998 that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her in 1993, in a soundbite from a 2007 statement.

The video centers on an old photo of Bill sucking on a cigar, an image reminiscent of one of the most visceral scenes from Kenneth Starr’s report of the former president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. It ends with a photo of the Clintons and the text “Here we go again?” overlaid with audio of Clinton’s laugh, a favorite target of her detractors that Trump has leveraged in at least two previous ads.

That’s pretty much a scene from any of the movies made from Stephen King’s horror novels – the maniacal laugh of the totally evil woman – fade to black – but Cauterucci sees the point:

The Trump campaign’s caption – “Is Hillary really protecting women?” – gets at the gist of its strategy going into the general election. If he wants to win against the first viable female presidential candidate, Trump must give female voters a reason to support him over her, but his documented record of rampant misogyny has already given Clinton a head start.

That makes this a long shot:

Voters under 35, who make up nearly a third of the electorate, are either too young to care about Bill’s famous infidelities or too liberal to swing for Trump. Then again, harping on Bill’s sexual misdoings could be an effective means of galvanizing conservative voters behind an unlikely, unlovable candidate. The average Republican voter is far past old enough to remember the hubbub over Bill’s irresponsible, pervy behavior in the White House and subsequent lies about it; it’s one of the reasons they hate the Clintons in the first place. Since a lack of excitement among Republicans is one of Trump’s biggest weaknesses right now, Bill’s history could be exactly the motivator Trump needs.

So really, this wasn’t meant for the general public, even if that video was all over the news the day it was released, but Josh Marshall says it isn’t that simple:

The three big networks and in fact the major national dailies continue to blast out Donald Trump’s charges that Hillary Clinton’s husband raped or assaulted other women. And yet, CNN, MSNBC, let alone Fox refuse to discuss that at least twice Trump has himself been accused of sexual assault or rape in sworn statements – once by his wife and again a decade ago in a lawsuit brought by a woman named Jill Harth. But in discussing how to approach the issue of how to approach Trump’s history of accusations of sexual violence or harassment the question came up, what exactly is Trump trying to accomplish by using Bill Clinton’s past against Hillary?

This is a puzzle:

There’s no question that this is absolute red meat for a lot of Republican voters and almost a kind of messaging nirvana for a certain brand of Republican hater. But those people are already rabid Trump supporters. They’re not remotely within reach for Clinton under any circumstance. So what’s the point? …

The simple fact is that there’s no evidence or logic to the idea that anyone who doesn’t already hate Hillary Clinton with a passion will believe that she is culpable in some way for her husband’s acts of infidelity against her. Even if you think Clinton is not simply a chronic philanderer but some sort of sexual abuser – a claim for which there is really little or no evidence, that’s Bill Clinton, not Hillary Clinton. Holding her responsible for her husband’s acts, for which she is if anything a victim, is as logically ridiculous as it is morally sickening.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Consider the fact that Hillary Clinton enjoyed a wave of renewed popularity in the wake of the Lewinsky/Impeachment scandal. It was no trivial part of how she was able to win her first Senate run in New York. You may say this was sympathy for what she went through or admiration for the stoicism with which she persevered through the crisis. But they all come back to the obvious point: people don’t blame a guy’s wife for his infidelities. More recently, here’s Katie Packer Gage, a consultant who worked on the Romney 2012 effort: “This may play well with primary voters who want the candidates to attack Hillary over Bill’s peccadilloes, but it won’t work with women in a general election. We’ve done research and focus groups, and the people we’re trying to reach in the general election – women, soft Democrats and Republicans and independents – they recoil at this. It causes them to come to Hillary’s defense. They don’t blame Hillary for Bill’s indiscretions. It’s bad strategy and it hurts the party.”

By any reasonable measure – logic, past evidence, prospective studies – it just doesn’t add up.

And the rile-up-the-base argument doesn’t quite add up either:

Now, there are a few prosaic and straightforward reasons why this would make sense for Trump, albeit in indirect ways. The most straightforward is that this is a base election, especially for him. You have two campaigns fundamentally talking past each other, not trying to persuade but rather to pump up existing supporters into a maximal frenzy. Then there’s the goal of silencing Bill Clinton. Even if no one is convinced by Trump’s attacks and many are actually sickened by them, they could nonetheless have the effect of scaring Bill Clinton off from taking too high profile a role on the campaign trail as his wife’s chief surrogate.

That could be a major advantage.

Both of these strategies have some logic to them. I think they’re likely to be effective to a limited degree, if you don’t include the offsetting negative effect of how much this stuff turns a lot of people off. But since there is that offsetting effect why is he doing this?

Something else must be going on here, and as your English teacher told you about that odd poem that made no sense at all to you, look for the deep inner meaning, so to speak, which in this case seems to be this:

Trump is doing this for the simple reason of brutalizing Clinton and showing that he can do so. Whether it makes any sense as a literal argument is really beside the point. It is at the root of the “bitch slap” mentality that power is demonstrated by inflicting harm on others and showing they can’t fight back. Trump did something similar to his primary opponents – only with a woman it has a distinct edge because dominance politics is inherently gendered. To return to that ugly phrase, when a guy “bitch slaps” someone (usually another man) he makes them into a woman by dominating them with a demonstration of violence.

You could see some of this emerge in what happened again and again toward the end of the GOP primary cycle. When Trump’s opponents pointed out that polls showed him losing to Clinton in a general election, Trump each time responded that when Clinton came after him he ‘hit her hard’ and then she went silent. On several occasions he referred her having a “rough weekend” with her husband. The ‘rough weekend’ line gets at another point to this whole line of attack. On the surface, the idea is supposed to be that Hillary Clinton is a sort of Munchausen by-proxy sexual predator. The real message is that she’s a victim, walked over by her husband. And victims are weak and contemptible by definition.

That poem wasn’t about what you thought it was about, and this stuff from Trump isn’t really about the nineties:

Listen to Trump’s words and you hear repeated lines about hurting Clinton, warning her to back off and not forcing him to hurt her again. Cut and paste them out of the context of a campaign article and they read like dialog from a made for TV movie about a wife-beater.

In a sense, how galling it is for Clinton to be attacked for her husband’s infidelities or transgressions is, to use the tech phrasing, a feature not a bug. It makes his demonstration of power all the more vibrant and bracing. It kind of takes your breath away. That’s the point.

And it’s a simple formula. Show dominance. Humiliate the other. Win. That’s this guy’s approach to everything:

As Frank Foer explained in March, denigrating attacks on women are the one consistent theme throughout Trump’s entire public life. They’re not tactical or opportunistic. They’re part of his essence. What makes the general election contest more volatile and febrile is that not only is Trump basically the embodiment of ‘dominance politics’ and assertive violence – but Clinton, for all the toll the last two years has taken on her public popularity, is still seen as strong and a strong leader by a majority of the public. As I’ve written in similar contexts, when we look at the messaging of a national political campaign we should be listening to the score, not the libretto, which is, like in opera, often no more than a superficial gloss on the real story, mere wave action on the surface of a deep sea.

You’re missing the point in trying to make out the logic of Trump’s attacks on Clinton. The attacks are the logic. He is trying to beat her by dominating her in the public sphere, brutalizing her, demonstrating that he can hurt her with impunity.

That’s the plan, and this was the second phase of the plan:

Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump resurrected a conspiracy theory from Bill Clinton’s presidency that his wife, Democrat Hillary Clinton, was involved in the death of Vince Foster, deputy White House counsel in the Clinton administration.

Foster was diagnosed with depression and multiple investigations have ruled his 1993 death a suicide, but Trump called the circumstances surrounding his death “very fishy” and the lasting allegations of foul play in some circles “very serious” in a Washington Post story published Monday night.

“He had intimate knowledge of what was going on,” Trump told the Post about Foster’s relationship with the Clintons before his death. “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.”

Trump also said about Hillary Clinton: “It’s the one thing with her, whether it’s Whitewater or whether it’s Vince or whether it’s Benghazi. It’s always a mess with Hillary.”

But in his typical fashion, the billionaire mogul claimed he didn’t know enough about Foster’s death to bring it up in the first place.

“I don’t bring [Foster’s death] up because I don’t know enough to really discuss it,” Trump said. “I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don’t do that because I don’t think it’s fair.”

So he won’t talk about it at all, but he’ll talk endlessly about how he is such an upright person that he won’t talk about it, or about this or that detail of the thing, or this other thing other folks have said.

That’s awfully white of him (multiple ironies there, as any English teacher would tell you) and the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker has a bit of fun with that:

Lots of people have also said that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. And who led that long march toward Looney Town? None other than Trump.

Reality check: If Obama were born in Kenya, and if the Clintons could so handily orchestrate a murder with impunity, couldn’t they have been able to pull off something as simple as a rigged birth certificate? Eh?

Trump is just clever enough to deflect responsibility for these long-ago defanged conspiracy theories by shifting blame to others. He’s done the same in rallies. If someone in the crowd shouts an untoward remark about a political opponent, Trump looks amazed and says something like:

Did you hear what he just said? I would never say that Ted Cruz eats puppies for breakfast because I don’t know that for a fact, but this guy just did.

The template has served him well. Fans go wild, and Trump has cover. And importantly, the sentiment has been released into the atmosphere and absorbed into the limbic systems of the masses.

And so it goes:

Now that Trump has cracked the lid on Foster’s coffin, Clinton-haters can luxuriate in gossip, insinuation and lies while entertaining the fantasy that they’re only interested in “the truth.” And who shall be the arbiter of that truth?

Usually, we rely upon objective third parties, the media or the courts. And though few people are naive enough to believe that investigators, judges, reporters and editors can’t be corrupted, the reality is that Foster died by his own hand. This was the conclusion of the U.S. Park Police, the Justice Department, the FBI, Congress, special counsel Robert Fiske and independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

Ah, but can anyone really trust the Park Police, the Justice Department, the FBI, Congress, special counsel Robert Fiske and independent counsel Kenneth Starr? This is why those four hundred famous writers are so upset. Language itself has floated far away from anything like truth, and Parker adds this:

If Trump were so concerned about the Clintons’ alleged role in Foster’s death, why, then, did Trump continue contributing to Clinton campaigns and causes? And why did he invite them to his third wedding? Would it be because he consorts with murderers and thieves? I would never say such a thing because that would be unfair, but I hear a lot of people saying this. A lot.

She didn’t “say” that Trump consorts with murderers and thieves. Did she? No. Two can play at this game, but Salon’s Sean Illing is just puzzled:

I’m no great defender of Bill Clinton. He was a competent president and did a lot of things well, but he’s also received a pass from Democrats on a number of fronts. The triangulating, the serial lying, the capitulations to white Southerners – it was all transparent and nauseating. But here’s the thing: Bill Clinton isn’t running for president, and what he did with his penis thirty years ago is irrelevant.

Hillary Clinton is the nominee. To the extent that she’s aligned herself with her husband on policy issues, it’s fair game. But all the noise about Bill’s philandering is a ruse, and you can expect to hear more of it. …

This is a diversion. Worse still, we’ve been down this road already. As Rep. Peter King (R-NY) noted, “We’ve been here before, and for most it’s probably old news that people get a little squeamish about. Especially when Trump brings it up in the abstract, he risks making the same mistake that Republicans made in 1998 when we got caught up in this stuff.”

People are free to dig into Bill’s background all they want. But his sordid history has nothing to do with this election.

Sean needs to go back and read what Josh Marshall wrote. This isn’t about Bill Clinton and the nineties. This is using Bill Clinton and the nineties for another purpose, but at least Illing is right about this:

If Trump is talking about Monica Lewinsky instead of his ethno-nationalist rhetoric or his incoherent policy positions, he’s winning.

Guess what. He’s winning, but Joan Walsh argues that it doesn’t have to be that way:

There’s so much wrong with this scenario, starting with the misogyny that inspires the belief that the first female presidential nominee ought to both shamed by and held responsible for her husband’s real and fabricated misbehavior. Then there’s the problem that only one of the two likely nominees has been accused of rape – and that’s Trump himself, by his ex-wife Ivana in a sworn deposition during their ugly divorce (she later recanted the charge of rape, but did not deny the story that her husband brutally forced himself on her during a fight, which is, in fact, rape.) By the way, what is stopping interviewers, when Trump makes unfounded rape charges against Bill Clinton, from pointing out that fact?

Walsh thinks that the press really should take care of this:

Every day on cable news and elsewhere, I watch bewildered anchors, pundits, and reporters announce that Trump is going to continue to campaign on Bill Clinton’s real and fabricated misdeeds, as though they are confronting a force of nature, Hurricane Don, that they are powerless to stop. But there is plenty they can do. When he raises these charges, they can also remind him that the indefatigable “independent counsel” Kenneth Starr investigated the rape charges then and found no evidence to prosecute Clinton. I mean, really: Should the Sunday shows cover Trump’s Vince Foster lie as though there are “two sides”?

We’re told that Trump plans to throw these charges directly at Clinton’s face in the debates – again, as though moderators are powerless to adjudicate the terms of conflict. I’m not saying they should censor him from the start, but if he goes ad hominem, they ought to rein him in.

Even Bill Clinton’s old enemies know that:

Oddly enough, the Clintons recently got support from their old enemy Kenneth Starr, who lamented in a public forum that Clinton’s presidency has been overshadowed by what he called the “unpleasantness” of his investigation, and praised him for his post-presidency philanthropy.

“His genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear,” Starr said. “It is powerful, it is palpable and the folks of Arkansas really understood that about him – that he genuinely cared. The ‘I feel your pain’ is absolutely genuine.”

And then there’s the new guy:

Trump seems to feel no pain, or shame. But journalists do, or should. Vince Foster killed himself because of a crippling depression made worse by the anti-Clinton witch hunts of the media, particularly Travelgate, which he particularly lamented because an aide got reprimanded (he had asked his boss to put the blame on him instead.) Starr exonerated the Clintons of the trumped-up Travelgate charges, but that was four years after Foster died. We should all remember that Foster’s suicide note blamed “Wall Street Journal editors who lie without consequence.”

As for the press, try this:

I don’t believe the media “created” Trump or gave him “too much” coverage in the last year. He’s the political, social, and psychological story of our time. But they’ve given him too much uncritical coverage, and they’ve seemed flummoxed to deal with a man who lies without conscience and humiliates his political rivals – Liddle Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary – with glee. Rather than playing the helpless victims of Trump’s repeated con jobs, they need to up their game to do their jobs in the next six months.

Good luck with that. They’ll continue to report that Donald Trump said, again, that he heard that some people think that Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered. Then they’ll report that some people do think that, because some people do. They might also report that the Park Police, the Justice Department, the FBI, Congress, special counsel Robert Fiske and independent counsel Kenneth Starr, didn’t think that, and then report that some people think they’re wrong, all of them – but they won’t do what Walsh wants. They’ll just report what people say.

Of course they’ll also report on what this woman is saying:

Elizabeth Warren is taking her war with Donald Trump to a new level, and it goes well beyond her usual 140-character Twitter attacks on the likely GOP presidential nominee.

The Massachusetts senator on Tuesday night dedicated a speech to rallying opposition against Trump – calling him a “small, insecure moneygrubber” who she said is “kissing the fannies of poor, misunderstood Wall Street bankers.”

“He inherited a fortune from his father, and kept it going by scamming people, declaring bankruptcy and skipping out on what he owed,” Warren said in prepared remarks, calling into question Trump’s bona fides as a populist champion.

The language used to discuss political reality can become the moment’s political reality, and that language doesn’t have to be Trump’s, and it doesn’t have to be about the nineties, but then this never was about the nineties. As those four hundred famous writers said, this is about a despicable man misusing language in a profoundly dangerous way – as has been done before, ending in ruin. English teachers, and former English teachers, know this too. But who listened to their English teacher, ever? That may be why Trump is winning.

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The Last Statesman

It may be that Barack Obama is anticipating a Trump presidency, where Trump will do everything he says he will do, which is his vow. We’ll pull out of the Paris Climate Accords because global warming is a hoax cooked up by the Chinese to ruin our economy. Trump will renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal so they get nothing at all for disarming – because they deserve nothing. Japan and South Korea will have to pay us big bucks, or they’ll just have to build their own nuclear arsenals to defend themselves – and the same goes for Europe – there will be no more free ride for any of them. And we’ll pull out of NATO – it will be good as gone. He’s said these things. Trump hasn’t said anything about Cuba, but one assumes he’ll break off diplomatic relations again and re-impose the embargo – because they’re very bad people, like the Mexicans, who secretly keep sending us the worst of the worst, while suggesting those are just desperate ordinary people crossing our border, and laughing at us. They will pay for that wall.

That’s what’s coming. Trump will undo about seventy years of carefully constructed diplomatic agreements that, while not perfect, have kept things relatively stable. Trump seems to be saying that the price for that stability has been our total humiliation, and we’ll be humiliated no longer – we’ll be the ones doing the humiliating for a change. As for Hillary Clinton, should she win, expect more invade-and-occupy interventions. She told Obama to intervene in Syria, even if he wouldn’t, and she loved what we did in Libya. She may have been Obama’s secretary of state, but her concept of “diplomacy” wasn’t his.

That puts Obama in a race against time to build enduring diplomatic structures that assure stability, and also cannot easily be undone. Almost one hundred nations signed onto those Paris Climate Accords – we can pull out and look like fools. Things will continue without us. The Iran nuclear deal was an eight-nation deal – the Donald cannot unilaterally renegotiate it, and the European nations that were party to that have now signed their own trade deals with Iran. It’s too late for “the art of the deal” mastermind to toss it all out, and our businesses are also slowing flooding into Cuba now. How can you tell them to abandon their investments there? Don’t we always need new markets?

Meanwhile, Obama has been busy trying to stabilize the world in ways that cannot easily be disrupted, even by a President Trump, and his latest effort was this:

President Barack Obama announced Monday that the United States is fully lifting a decades-long ban on the sale of military equipment to Vietnam.

In a joint news conference in Hanoi with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Obama said that the removal of the ban on lethal weapons was part of a deeper defense cooperation with the country and dismissed suggestions it was aimed at countering China’s growing strength in the region.

Instead, it was the desire to continue normalizing relations between the United States and Vietnam and to do away with a ban “based on ideological division between our two countries,” he said.

Obama may have been a bit too coy in that last part, and in the New York Times, David Sanger explains what’s really going on here:

When President Obama announced Monday that he was ending a half-century-long arms embargo against Vietnam, it was another milestone in his long-running ambition to recast America’s role in Asia – a “pivot” as he once called it, designed to realign America’s foreign policy so it can reap the benefits of Asia’s economic and strategic future.

There is a grand plan here, not that this is easy:

As Mr. Obama’s time in office comes to an end, Asian nations are deeply skeptical about how much they can rely on Washington’s commitment and staying power in the region. They sense that for the first time in memory, Americans are questioning whether their economic and defense interests in Asia are really that vital.

Mr. Obama is the first president to have grown up in the region – he lived in Indonesia as an elementary school student – and he has never doubted that America is underinvested in Asia and overinvested in the Middle East.

In visit after visit, he has capitalized on the palpable nervousness about Beijing’s intentions while also cautioning that China’s growing influence and power are unstoppable forces of history. In Mr. Obama’s view, that means both the United States and the rest of the region will have to both accommodate and channel China’s ambitions rather than make a futile attempt to contain them, while reassuring the Chinese of America’s peaceful intentions.

That is a tough balancing act, but part of a larger plan:

At the core, the policy has been building on the two-decade-old opening to Vietnam; the establishment of a new relationship with Myanmar as it lurches toward democracy; closer relations with the two largest treaty allies in the region, Japan and South Korea; and renewed military ties with the Philippines. The administration has also pushed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would set new terms for trade and business investment among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Obama has received unexpected help from the Chinese themselves, who have so overplayed their hand in the South China Sea that smaller neighbors suddenly took a new interest in deepening their relations with Washington.

Countering those developments, though, is the American political mood, which has darkened toward longstanding alliances and international trade itself.

Ah, that would be Donald Trump, and Obama’s man knows it:

“Every country in Asia views the problem differently, and through their own lenses, but they all see a twofold risk of things getting out of balance quickly,” Kurt M. Campbell, one of the architects of Mr. Obama’s strategy in his first term, said on Monday. “One is that China seriously overplays its nationalism” and that conflict breaks out in the South China Sea.

But Mr. Campbell, who is about to publish an account of Mr. Obama’s efforts titled “The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia,” also noted that Asian nations were equally worried that America is no longer willing to be a steadying power.

“Asian countries are prone to anxiety about the behavior of major powers, for good reasons – they have seen a lot go wrong over the past thousand years,” said Daniel R. Russel, the assistant secretary of state for Asia. “And now there is angst about what comes next and the sustainability of the rebalance.”

That would explain this:

The Vietnamese gave Mr. Obama a huge welcome on Monday, lining the streets in ways reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s first presidential trip there 16 years ago. But missing from the news conferences was the hard-core group in the leadership that remains deeply suspicious that Washington’s real long-term goal is regime change.

So while almost certainly they will buy American arms – especially the high-tech gear they need to keep an eye on what the Chinese are doing at the edge of Vietnam’s territorial waters – they have no intention of building the kind of alliance the United States has with Japan and South Korea.

All bets are off come November, and they’re hedging their bets:

Last week, as the streets of Hanoi were being cleaned up for the president’s visit, the Chinese were meeting with Vietnam’s defense minister, pledging to strengthen their military ties.

In the Philippines, the firebrand who has just been elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, once promised to ride a Jet Ski to plant a flag on one of the artificial islands the Chinese have constructed. More recently, he is backing away from the current government’s effort to press its sovereignty arguments, saying he wants to negotiate directly with the Chinese, perhaps swapping a little sovereignty for some economic concessions. That is just the kind of invitation the Chinese wanted to hear.

This is complicated stuff, but we can strike a balance here:

One of the key military elements of the strategy is for American troops to “rotate” through strategically important Asian ports – not to be based there, but to be able to land, refuel, train and build partnerships.

It started with Darwin, Australia. Now Mr. Obama is trying to do the same in the Philippines, which the United States left more than two decades ago, and at the deep-water port of Camh Rahn Bay, if the unspoken deal with Vietnam works out. That would give Washington more reason to regularly traverse waters the Chinese claim as their exclusive zone.

One must be subtle but strong, and careful but implicitly bold, playing the long game without bluster, making no sudden moves, and:

The biggest challenge, however, is on the home front. Donald J. Trump’s threat to withdraw American forces from South Korea and Japan unless they pay far more of the cost – and they already pay much of it – may just be a negotiating position. But it suggests that the United States has no independent national interests in the Pacific. That would be a rejection of a post-World War II order that goes back to the Truman administration.

That would be throwing away seventy years of carefully constructed diplomatic agreements that have kept things relatively stable, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan says this arms deal is fairly simple: 

It’s well-known that Vietnam’s leaders have been pleading for lethal weapons from Washington since 2014, when China set up an oil rig in waters near the Paracel Islands, which Vietnam claims. Since about the same time, American emissaries have been pushing for full port rights at Cam Ranh Bay, the former Soviet naval base on Vietnam’s central coast, whose deep waters can support the largest U.S. warships.

Human-rights groups denounced the lifting of the lethal-weapons embargo, noting that several administrations, including Obama’s, have said the move would take place only after Hanoi improved its human-rights record. Removing the ban, despite the continued jailing of peaceful dissidents, only encourages the Communist government to continue its oppressive practices.

Obama will reportedly address this issue in a speech on Tuesday to young people in Ho Chi Minh City. Meanwhile, he said that, even after lifting, U.S. officials would review specific requests for weapons on a “case-by-case” basis, assessing “what’s appropriate and what’s not,” as they do with requests by other recipients of arms – and that human rights would be one factor in this review. What’s ending, he said, “is a ban that is based on an ideological division between our two sides.”

That is the main point of what Obama is doing in Vietnam, just as he has previously done in Myanmar, Iran, and Cuba – not to open relations for their own sake (he sees no point doing so in North Korea, for example), but to do so if opportunities present themselves and if the only impediment is the dead boot of forgotten history.

And really, this was not a shocking action:

In the 1970s, in the wake of the Vietnam War and revelations of malfeasance in U.S. intelligence agencies, Congress enacted reforms barring arms sales to countries with abhorrent human-rights records. However, these laws allowed waivers if the president certified a sale as vital to national security. Over time, these waivers became commonplace to the point where the laws became meaningless. During economic downturns, even critics of arms sales started seeing them as tempting sources of export revenue. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, they also regained favor, reminiscent of Cold War times, as tools for strengthening allies and boosting American influence.

With the United States selling caches of weapons worth hundreds of millions (in some cases, billions) of dollars to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, it doesn’t make much sense to deny a place on the list to Vietnam – whose record is no worse and, compared to some, much better. And given Vietnam’s genuine need for certain weapons (especially for maritime defense), the mutual interest a relationship holds for the U.S. Navy, and the intense level and pace of foreign investment in Vietnam over the last two decades, the idea of continuing the embargo seems shortsighted and arbitrary, at best.

There may be a subtle long-term geopolitical strategy at play here, but the day’s actual deal was no big deal – although it’s hard to imagine Donald Trump understanding any of this. Someone should ask him just what his long-term geopolitical strategy is – beyond vengeance for what he sees as our perpetual humiliation.

America is going to miss this Obama fellow when he’s gone, and Jacob Weisberg explains the next stop on this Asia trip:

In his final year in office, an American president inevitably focuses on his legacy, recasting his accomplishments and making 11th-hour decisions with the potential to outlive him. For Bill Clinton, this meant a torrent of new legislation, national monuments, and trade agreements. For George W. Bush, it was constructing a case that the U.S. had finally turned a corner in his disastrous war in Iraq.

It is characteristic of Barack Obama, whose original ambition of constructive dialogue with Republicans was so decisively thwarted, that the theme of his last stretch as president should be reconciliation. Instead of making peace with the Republicans, which proved impossible, he has turned his hand to resolving longstanding conflicts with other countries; his final sprint has included restoring relations with Iran and with Cuba, which had been severed since 1980 and 1961, respectively.

Obama’s visit to Hiroshima this month will open another door, one that has remained closed since 1945.

No sitting American president has ever gone there, but Obama has his reasons:

His critics have been quick to decry the visit as another stop on what they call his “global apology tour.” This is a doubly bogus idea – first because Obama has not been an especially prolific apologist, and second because of the premise that the U.S. never has anything to apologize for. In fact, the president has been doing something far more interesting than regretting past American misdeeds. He has been trying to construct bridges across troubled waters.

Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, has made clear that the Hiroshima visit will not feature any apologies. But merely visiting the city’s Memorial Peace Park with Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, will challenge a powerful American taboo. In 1995, the Smithsonian Institution attempted to mount an exhibition around the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

The National Air and Space Museum planned to feature photographs and oral histories from victims and survivors. Under pressure from veterans’ groups that thought the exhibition too sympathetic to the Japanese, the museum first sanitized then canceled it. Newt Gingrich, then the speaker of the House of Representatives and now bidding to become Donald Trump’s presidential running mate, charged that Americans were “sick and tired of being told by some cultural elite that they ought to be ashamed of their country.” The director of the museum was forced to resign amid the furor.

Obama may simply want to end that nonsense:

Why did President Harry Truman decide to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people? And was he justified in doing so?

Gar Alperovitz, a left-wing scholar, has long argued that the bombs were unnecessary to end the war in the Pacific, and that Truman knew it. Alperovitz believes the bombs were intended as a demonstration to the Soviet Union of U.S. capability at the dawn of the Cold War. Even some of those who defend Truman’s decision acknowledge that use of a weapon of mass destruction against civilian populations is a war crime.

Others point out that Japanese hardliners opposed surrender even after Nagasaki, and that dropping the atomic bombs was ultimately a humanitarian act. By ending the war the U.S. probably saved many more lives than it destroyed, including those of war-weary American soldiers deployed on Okinawa in preparation for Operation Downfall, innumerable Japanese soldiers and civilians trained to die for the emperor in an apocalyptic last battle, and victims of the barbaric Japanese occupation throughout Asia. Without Emperor Hirohito’s capitulation after the second bomb was dropped, grotesque suffering might have continued for many more months.

Obama’s purpose is not to challenge this patriotically correct narrative, or affirm a politically correct one, or to reconsider Truman’s choice. He understands that an American president cannot and should not try to adjudicate on this kind of historical debate. Rather, his focus is on opening an impassable topic as a necessary adjunct to addressing contemporary issues.

In short, if we want to talk about nuclear weapons, we do have to talk about Hiroshima:

The president hopes that acknowledging the horror that took place at the dawn of the nuclear age will spur the conversation he wants to have about nuclear proliferation and disarmament in the 21st century. He also aspires to serve as a conciliator on the painful history that still divides the U.S. from its most important Asian ally.

It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump doing either, or Hillary Clinton, but Ron Rosenbaum suggests something else:

Hiroshima is still here to remind us of what happened when we first unleashed our “device” and how it can never happen again – supposedly.

That’s what everyone says after visiting Hiroshima, the statesmen and citizens who sign the guest book at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. We will never forget. But maybe we will. The very fact that Hiroshima is thriving with its KFC and Starbucks, with the carefully manicured lawns of its “Peace Memorial Park” – the only evidence that hell was unleashed here – may have the opposite, anodyne effect. This is not John Hersey’s Hiroshima, the Hiroshima of the horrific immediate aftermath, but is to a certain extent a Hiroshima that says a nuclear detonation is a transient thing, something that’s eminently recoverable from with a little time and some good landscaping.

There is that, and the other questions:

The city still raises questions about the nature of the nuclear age. What made the bright line between nuclear mass slaughter and non-nuclear mass slaughter so bright? Was it the radiation, in its invisible insidiousness and – more importantly – in the longevity of its deadliness?

Why are the civilian wartime deaths in Hiroshima different from all other civilian wartime deaths – if they are? How does one compare them with the deaths in the firebombing of Tokyo, where just as many or more died immediately? To Dresden? To Auschwitz too? Has it numbed us to civilian casualties in places like Vietnam and Iraq? Was Hiroshima a logical outcome of wartime exigency or a war crime? It’s the ground zero of ground zeroes for such questions. It’s a site of mourning that has lessons for subsequent sites of mourning.

Consider 9/11 in that light. Seven and a half years and two wars ago and nothing! Not a single memorial, because the obscene vanity of celebrity architects and developers and the obscene self-promotion of credit-seeking politicians has combined with the conflicting demands of “survivor groups” to utterly paralyze the process of agreeing on anything. (I’ve long argued that the best memorial would be the raw gaping hole in the earth at Ground Zero – no need for words!)

At Hiroshima, they have the opposite problem. Over the years, Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park seems unable to say no to any memorial tchotchke someone wants to implant on its acres of rolling grass. The map I picked up at the Peace Memorial Park Museum lists no fewer than 74 individual monuments, memorials, cairns, and crypts in the park. …

Needless to say, every monument or pond or flame or stone is an admirably earnest and understandable response to a horrible tragedy of war – and a strain of responsibility to the dead, that their death be a sacrifice, or sacralized. In one of the two peace museums (I forget which) you see them characterized as “the sacred dead.” They died so we could see the result of our sins, our Faustian bargain with the unstable interior of the atom – an analog, perhaps, of the unstable interior of the human soul.

No one monument can say that, but yet one has to admire the civic culture of Japan for managing to get permits for so many memorials. Still, at some point a critical mass (not the best phrase) of peace tchotchkes turns Peace Park into a kind of frenzied Peace Clutter, complete with a souvenir stand selling T-shirts and those sticky-sweet Japanese snacks in their radiation-hued pastel packages.

There’s something unsettling about all this:

The irony is that Hiroshima has been rebuilt so successfully, mourned and memorialized so dutifully, that the raw horror has been museumized. The streets have been franchised. The Hiroshima Starbucks’ latte tastes the same as it does anywhere.

But walking back through the predawn streets from the all-night Hiroshima Kinko’s, you can hear the whisper of hundreds of thousands of ghosts.

Obama hears the ghosts. Donald Trump would see the franchise possibilities. Hillary Clinton would be careful and stay away.

Whether we like it or not, we will miss Obama. We’ve seen our last statesman for now, and maybe from now on – but at least he put some things in place that aren’t easily undone. Still, the world will get darker.

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This Very Ugly Game

Donald Trump is proud that he isn’t a gentleman. He hates that sort of thing. He won’t be “politically correct” and says that we, as a nation, have to “stop being nice” or we’ll all die. It’s time we hurt some people’s feelings, and that would include other nations, especially our allies who have been shamelessly using us and laughing at us behind our back, and Muslims, and all minorities that keep telling us they’re so special, when they’re really not. And it’s the same with women too. Hillary Clinton is playing the “woman card” – she wouldn’t get five percent of the vote if she were a man. In fact, women have had it too good in America and it’s time to stop worrying about hurting their damned feelings. Face it. Saying what’s hurtful is saying the truth – and so on and so forth.

Hillary Clinton, of course, can’t be a gentleman, by definition. There’s no model for what she should be. If she’s too “womanly” she’s weak and useless. If she’s a bit more manly and firm and direct she’s shrill and a nag, or a hag. She’s in a bit of a bind, and that makes what is coming soon an election of a sort we’ve not seen before. This will not be gentlemanly. It can’t be, with these two. It will all be new.

Expect the politics of humiliation – unless the nation decides it wants nothing to do with Donald Trump and his proposed universal nastiness. We, as a people, don’t see “winning” in this world as a simple process of humiliating all others – unless we do. It seems half of us do. They hate Hillary Clinton. The other half of us hates Donald Trump, and now it really is half and half – at least that is what it says in the Washington Post:

Never in the history of the Post-ABC poll have the two major party nominees been viewed as harshly as Clinton and Trump.

Nearly 6 in 10 registered voters say they have negative impressions of both major candidates. Overall, Clinton’s net negative rating among registered voters is minus-16, while Trump’s is minus-17, though Trump’s numbers have improved since March.

Our two national parties are each going to nominate people most voters don’t like:

At this point, the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat among registered voters, with Trump favored by 46 percent and Clinton favored by 44 percent. That represents an 11-point shift toward the presumptive Republican nominee since March. Among all adults, Clinton holds a six-point lead (48 percent to 42 percent), down from 18 points in March.

It’s a dead heat, but there’s the other guy:

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has given Clinton a stiff challenge in the contest for the Democratic nomination, enjoys the most positive rating of the three. Among registered voters, Sanders is net positive – 49 percent to 41 percent – and has seen his image improve steadily the longer he has been a candidate.

So, the one candidate more people like than don’t, who even more people are beginning to like as the three of them continue to fight it out, cannot win the nomination of either party. The math doesn’t work on the Democratic side, where he’s running, and he’s certainly not Republican material. No “democratic socialist” ever could be. He’s the odd man out, or the “good man” out. It’s a tie between what’s left. The ABC/WaPo poll shows Trump up by two points, 46% to 44%, and a new NBC/WSJ poll that shows Clinton ahead of Trump by 46% to 43% – and that’s that.

This is dismal, and Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo tries to sort it all out:

There are two clear things we can draw from these polls.

The first is that there’s a very real chance that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States, a prospect which should genuinely scare people in a way that a conventional, even very conservative, Republican would not. The second is that Trump’s move into what is for now something like a dead heat is largely or perhaps entirely due to the fact that Republicans are consolidating around their nominee in advance of Democrats doing the same, something that seemed wildly improbable in March or even April.

So, be worried sick, or relax, and consider this:

Another way to look at this is that these results is that they should be deeply worrisome to you if you’re expecting that Hillary Clinton is going to win in a blow out in November. On the other hand, these numbers should be mildly encouraging if you recognize the powerful draw of partisan alignment (the fact that partisans of both parties, but especially Republicans, will fall in line behind almost anyone from their party) and the difficulties of either party winning a third presidential term in office.

The key is that even with what should be a momentary advantage (having Republicans unify while Democrats are still battling it out) Trump is still at best even and probably a couple points back. As long as Democrats can unify in the relatively near future, Hillary Clinton should get her own nudge forward in the polls, enough to give her a meaningful though not large advantage.

Marshall may be messing with us, but he cites the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noting here that a whole party is running against Hillary Clinton at the moment and no one is any longer running a Republican campaign against Donald Trump. That distorts things, but Marshall notes the “likable” guy is still a worry:

Bernie Sanders endorsed Time Canova, the primary challenger to House member and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Wasserman Schultz has become the embodiment of the Sandersite belief that the Democratic establishment stacked the primary deck against Sanders. In truth, the DNC chair is not much more than a functionary who doesn’t control much. I’ve also made clear that I think the Sanders’ camp’s complaint that the contest was rigged is bogus. But that is clearly an article of faith on the Sanders’ side. And Wasserman Schultz is the embodiment of that.

To say there’s no love lost between these two would be an understatement. When asked, Sanders told Jake Tapper this morning: “Clearly, I favor her opponent. His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz’s. Let me also say this, in all due respect to the current chairperson: If I am elected president, she would not be reappointed chairwoman of the DNC.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza says this is a ‘declaration of war’ against the Democratic establishment, but Marshall isn’t so sure of that:

As critical as I’ve been of Sanders, this strikes me as rather an overstatement. First of all, a presidential nominee or president virtually always installs their own person at the head of the DNC. Second, Canova’s close to Sanders. Sanders appointed him to a panel to advise him Federal Reserve reform back in 2011. Canova has put himself firmly in the Sanders mold during his campaign.

It would be very surprising if Sanders didn’t favor Canova. Still, obviously, formally endorsing him at this moment is certainly a stick in Wasserman Schultz’s eye. No question. War on the establishment? Not really. War on Wasserman Schultz? Absolutely.

Still, this is a minor matter, which Marshall thinks masks the real problem on the Democratic side:

I see this as less a declaration of war on the Democratic establishment than Sanders’ belated recognition that he’s not losing but that he’s lost. There’s nothing to lose in sticking it to Wasserman Schultz as much as he can. … Losing candidates go through a lot of tumultuous ups and downs, just as their supporters do, at this phase of a campaign. I think a lot of what Sanders is doing right now is ugly and dishonest. But the same went for Clinton at this point eight years ago.

This still comes down to whether Sanders does what he needs to do to wrap up his campaign (though not the movement he’s come to embody) and unify the party. If he does, I think it’s quite likely Clinton is the next President. People often jump in at this point (Sanders often does too) to say, “Well, Sanders can’t and won’t just snap his fingers and get his backers to fall in line behind Clinton!”

Marshall is not impressed with such arguments:

One of the revealing nuggets of information from the recent NYT/CBS poll was that 72% of Bernie supporters say they plan to vote for Clinton against Trump. That compares to 60% of Hillary supporters who said the same thing about Obama in the same poll eight years ago. As we know, virtually all of Hillary’s supporters went on to vote for Obama. (People are often not the best predictors of their own actions.) We should expect pretty much the same this year. Indeed, this poll says they’re already substantially further along in that direction. But of course the difference between 90% and 95% and 99% of Sanders supporters voting for Clinton makes all the difference in the world. And whether Sanders lines up unambiguously and strongly behind Clinton will be the key for that pretty small – but still critical – number who could go either way.

Still, there was that report that Sanders is quietly telling Senate colleagues that he will be behind Clinton and the Democrats in the fall. He’s just saying what he thinks. In the end he won’t really sabotage Hillary Clinton, so Marshall is hopeful:

I suspect at the end of the day Sanders will do what Clinton did eight years ago – though I confess he’s really putting that prediction through its paces. If he does, Clinton is the very likely next president. If he doesn’t, well… that would be very unfortunate.

So, who will be the next president? The polls in May for an election in November may not mean a lot, and Marshall seems to cover all the possible permutations, but David Atkins at the Washington Monthly says that something else is more important:

The election will be driven in part by core supporters who do like their respective candidates on both sides, but mostly by fear of the other side. Conservative voters who don’t like Trump will have to make a choice whether to trudge to the polls to vote against Clinton, and liberal voters who don’t like Clinton will have to do likewise against Trump. Undecided voters who don’t like either choice will have to decide whether to vote at all.

Pure partisans won’t have any trouble showing up, because that’s what we do. But general elections aren’t won by pure partisans who vote in every election. Nor are they usually won by persuading the very small slice of people who can’t seem to make up their minds between two very different candidates all the way into October.

General elections are won by turning out the people who already agree with you ideologically, but only show up to vote every other election, when they really feel inspired to, but otherwise feel that politics is a waste of time that doesn’t change anything dramatically affect their daily lives.

In short, forget the polls, because this will be the ultimate base-election:

The way both sides will try to win is not to convince the disaffected that their candidate will affect dramatic positive changes (though Trump may have some disaffected voters with whom he can make that argument; Clinton’s chance of persuading her own version of the same is somewhat less due to her intentionally incrementalist message), but to scare them into believe that the other candidate will make dramatic negative changes.

In other words, Trump will try to convince apathetic conservatives that Clinton will turn America into a gun-free Venezuelan socialist despotism, while Clinton will try to convince apathetic liberals that Trump will turn America into an unstable, trigger-happy fascist dictatorship. Clinton will use Trump’s lascivious past against him, even as Trump brings up decades of unsavory personal Clinton associations. It’s going to a very nasty affair. The one big advantage Democrats will have is a probable surge in the Latino vote out of genuine self-preservation. 

That may be the best way to read these polls. No minds will be changed. Keep it ugly. Rile up your own folks:

The ugliness in the air will depress turnout even further, which will require campaign organizers to depend on millions of face-to-face conversations with voters on the fence about whether to vote at all.

All of which is to say this: as we approach the general election, those who want to help their candidate win in November should probably spend a lot less time arguing with other people in online forums or obsessing over television ads, and a lot more time making calls and knocking on doors. That’s where this very ugly game is going to be won and lost.

And so it begins, as the New York Times’ Amy Chozick reports here:

Continuing to treat a victory over Senator Bernie Sanders as a fait accompli, Hillary Clinton on Sunday questioned Donald J. Trump’s business record and assailed his ideas, warning that the coming weeks represented a critical period in which, if left unchallenged, Mr. Trump could “normalize himself” as he seeks to broaden his support. …

Even as she contends with Mr. Sanders’s unflagging critique from the left, Mrs. Clinton said it was vital for her to pivot to confront Mr. Trump now, lest he successfully repackage himself for wider consumption, rather than appealing to the Republican primary electorate alone.

“I do not want Americans and, you know, good-thinking Republicans, as well as Democrats and independents, to start to believe that this is a normal candidacy,” Mrs. Clinton said of Mr. Trump’s campaign on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I know he has a plurality of Republicans who have voted for him,” she added. “But I think in the course of this campaign, we are going to demonstrate he has no ideas. There’s no evidence he has any ideas about making America great, as he advertises. He seems to be particularly focused on making himself appear great. And as we go through this campaign, we’re going to be demonstrating the hollowness of his rhetoric.”

Very few Republicans will buy that, but they don’t matter, as the idea is to scare her folks:

Mrs. Clinton also poked at Mr. Trump’s failure to release his tax returns. Told that Mark Cuban, the media executive and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, had expressed interest in being her running mate, Mrs. Clinton said she was “absolutely” open to considering business leaders, not just elected officials.

“Businesspeople, especially successful businesspeople, who are really successful – as opposed to pretend successful – I think, have a lot to offer,” said Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign has begun taunting Mr. Trump with a #PoorDonald hashtag on Twitter, suggesting that he is not nearly as wealthy as he claims. Mr. Trump has cited an audit by the Internal Revenue Service as his reason for keeping his tax returns private.

“We’ve got to get below the hype,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I think we’re beginning to find out, but I don’t think we know enough, and that’s why he should release his tax returns.”

She’ll hammer that home, while cleaning up her won vulnerabilities:

Mrs. Clinton drew criticism from some Democrats and Republicans recently after telling voters she would put her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “in charge of revitalizing the economy” and job creation. On Sunday, she clarified her intentions, saying his role would be advisory, not ministerial.

“I am going to ask my husband, who has a great track record in creating jobs, putting people back to work, revitalizing communities, to be in an advisory role working with me, working with our cabinet, to try to figure out what we can do” in particularly hard-hit areas, Mrs. Clinton said on NBC. “You know, every first lady has taken on special projects.”

Ah, Bill becomes a “lady” – the Republicans will have a field day calling her an emasculating bitch – but an Associated Press item reports on how she plans to handle that and other such nonsense:

Hillary Clinton has a message for Donald Trump: keep on talking.

She’s just weeks away from wrapping up the Democratic presidential nomination, and friends, aides and supporters describe a candidate who isn’t particularly rattled by what she expects will be Trump’s increasingly direct attacks on her marriage and husband’s personal indiscretions.

In fact, Clinton believes that she can turn Trump’s deeply personal assaults to her benefit, they say, particularly among suburban women who could be crucial to her hopes in the fall. Her plan is never to engage in any back-and-forth over the scandals. Instead, she’ll merely cast him as a bully and talk about policy.

“I don’t care what he says about me, but I do resent what he says about other people, other successful women, who have worked hard, who have done their part,” she told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky, this month.

That’s a different way to play the “woman card” – it’s not about her at all – so Trump falls into a trap:

“It’s all fair,” Trump told The Associated Press last week.

He drew a distinction between his own personal history, which includes three marriages and public admissions of infidelity, with that of the former president.

“He was the president of the United States when certain things happened,” he said. “My stuff is nothing when you take a look, in terms of a comparison.”

Clinton said she wouldn’t respond to those kinds of attacks. “That’s exactly what he’s fishing for,” she told CNN.

Her supporters contend Trump’s slams on her character will motivate Democrats, particularly female voters, so long as Clinton stays focused on rising above these matters.

“I couldn’t believe it, you blame the woman for male infidelity?” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “To me it was kind of bizarre that you would visit the sins of one on the other. I don’t think there’s any woman in America that doesn’t understand that.”

Yes, imagine the back-and-forth. Her husband cheated on her! Yes, Donald, all men are pigs, including you!

What does he say to that? And what does he say to this:

Hillary Clinton on Saturday slammed Republican rival Donald Trump as a politician beholden to the gun lobby and said a Trump presidency would mean “more kids at risk of violence and bigotry.”

Clinton’s comments, which came at the Trayvon Martin Foundation’s third annual “Circle of Mothers” meeting, came a day after Trump used a speech at a National Rifle Association convention to blast Clinton as ill-prepared for the presidency and to falsely claim that Clinton “wants to abolish the Second Amendment.”

The NRA endorsed Trump on Friday.

“Unlike Donald Trump, I will not pander to the gun lobby, and we will not be silenced and we will not be intimidated,” Clinton said. “As long as children anywhere are being killed by gun violence, we will keep fighting for our kids, because they deserve a president who stands up for them and stands with the mothers here. Their lives are valuable.”

Well, he did try to turn that back on her:

Trump said Clinton was “heartless” for backing restrictions on gun ownership, and said he would overturn President Barack Obama’s executive actions on guns and do away with gun-free zones, including in schools.

Okay, it seems to be heartless to keep guns out of schools and movie theaters and bars and sporting events and courtrooms and stores and whatnot, which is a new way to use that adjective, and she pounced:

Clinton, responding to that speech, said Trump’s vision “isn’t just way out there, it’s dangerous,” and noted that while Trump wants to allow guns in schools, she believes “parents, teachers and schools should have the right to keep guns out of classrooms, just like Donald Trump does at many of his hotels, by the way.”

“If you want to imagine what Trump’s America will look like, picture more kids at risk of violence and bigotry,” Clinton said. “Picture more anger and fear. Ask any of the mothers here tonight if they want to live in that kind of America. Enough is enough.”

Clinton will try to convince apathetic liberals that Trump will turn America into an unstable, trigger-happy fascist dictatorship? She’s working on that, and she caught Trump off balance:

GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump said Sunday that he doesn’t want guns to be in classrooms, but that “some teachers” should have guns.

Trump was asked to respond on Fox & Friends to criticism from Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who said his idea to put guns in classrooms would endanger students.

Trump at first said they were “just words.”

He actually said she was flat-out lying about his position on this, and then clarified:

“I don’t want to have guns in classrooms, although in some cases teachers should have guns in classrooms frankly,” Trump said. “Because teachers are – you know – things that are going on in our schools are unbelievable.”

He went on to say that he wasn’t “advocating” guns in classrooms, but said “trained teachers” should be able to have them in classrooms.

Oh. No, wait. Oh, never mind – his folks will be satisfied with that. Her folks will worry about that trigger-happy fascist dictatorship. They’ll turn out to vote in big numbers. His folks will worry that Hillary Clinton will turn America into a gun-free Venezuelan socialist despotism. They’ll turn out to vote in big numbers too. That will resolve the current tie. This very ugly game is now underway – but it had to be ugly. No one likes either of them very much, and for the next six months we’ll be told, again and again, why that is so. Then we vote, but what do we get, either way?

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Judging Seriousness

Americans are a practical people but willing to try anything, as long as someone answers one basic question. How is that supposed to work? They’ll try the new thing if they see how it will work, or how it might work. All they need is a little explanation and they’ll go for it – what the hell – but this is where Donald Trump might run into some difficulty.

Donald Trump wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, until we figure things out – but he’ll make exceptions for the good ones, and maybe for the new Mayor of London – but how does he know who the good ones are? Does one just know these things? Is it how they dress, or smell, or whether they’re selling us oil at a good price? Has someone vouched for them? Can whoever vouched for them be trusted? How do we know that? And what about the ordinary folks who just show up at the border on their way to Disneyland? If they’re from Belgium, but we think they might be Muslim, do we ask them if they’re actually Muslim? What if they lie? Or what if some Lutheran with a sense of humor says they’re Muslim, just to mess with us? And what do we do with Muslims who don’t take Islam all that seriously, like lapsed Catholics or secular Jews? Do we assume they’re jihadists, when they’re really just a bit bored with it all? How is that supposed to work? And how do we know when we’ve figured things out? We’ve been fooled before, by the Saudis.

Banning all Muslims from entering the United States sounds pretty cool until you try to figure out how that’s supposed to work and come up with nothing but questions, and it’s the same with deporting eleven million immigrants here with no legal right to be here. How do you round up eleven million people in the proposed eighteen months? How do you find them, and then what do you do with them? Donald Trump has said he’d put Rudy Giuliani in charge of that, but Rudy has been silent on the matter. He must be thinking about it, hard – and then there’s building the giant wall along our entire border with Mexico, and getting the Mexican government to pay for it. How’s that supposed to work? That too sounds pretty cool, but it also sounds like nonsense.

Donald Trump says it isn’t nonsense – trust him – but many Republicans sense danger here, and Lauren Fox at Talking Points Memo reports on how they’re now saying that Trump wasn’t really serious:

During his primary, Donald Trump swore he could deport an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country, illegally. In fact, with “really good management,” he vowed to get it done in two years. Then, he’d call on Mexico and get them to build a beautiful wall. But now that Trump is the presumptive nominee, many Republicans in Congress are keeping their distance from what has become their nominee’s signature campaign issue and instead dismissed it as little more than stump speech bravado.

“Logistically that is an impossibility,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who has endorsed Trump and is facing a primary challenge from her right in June, told TPM. “It would cost the taxpayers of America. We would never get there… It would be an endless pursuit.”

Ellmers point was echoed by many experts and commentators when Trump first introduced his plan last summer. How would a Trump administration track down millions of people who were in the country illegally? Where would the estimated billions it would cost to deport them come from? And who would be tasked with carrying out such a massive deportation? Not to mention the moral and legal questions.

Ellmers said she believes Trump is just trying to send a broader message. He is telling Republican primary voters what they want to hear: it’s time to make a change in immigration policy.

In short, Trump wasn’t really saying what he was saying, as he was really saying something else, which was a bit unfortunate:

“That’s not realistic. I think that most people who look at that issue want a solution. They want tougher border enforcement, and they want to make sure that the people who are here illegally – particularly those who are committing crimes and have law enforcement issues – get sent back, but as we look at these issues, you have to consider what is actually doable,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Thune said that a lot of Republicans have raised the issue with Trump that deporting 11 million immigrants living in the shadows is probably out of the question. And many, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), have pointed out Trump could soften the tone he is sending to the Hispanic community.

They plan to talk to him about this:

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, says he plans to bring it up with Trump when he sees him for a meeting in the upcoming weeks.

Mulvaney said he never “believed we were going to deport 11 million people.”

“Don’t know how you would even go about doing it,” Mulvaney said. “I look forward to having that debate with our presumptive nominee once he comes to meet with us.”

Maybe they’ll talk some sense into him, but that doesn’t help congressmen and senators facing re-elections in swing states and swing districts, who cannot wait for what may not change anyway:

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) says he won’t be supporting Trump at all in part because of his immigration policy.

“I called it a fraud from day one, from the day he announced it. It’s not a plan, alright, and it is unrealistic and it’s not a solution. It’s a good sound bite.”

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) – all running for re-election – flatly said they didn’t support Trump’s deportation policy, although no one was anxious to spend time Wednesday talking about why.

When asked if he supported the plan, McCain – who has worked extensively on immigration reform on the Hill and supports a path to citizenship said – “of course not, but I’m in a Trump-free zone.”

It was probably best to simply hide:

Others teetering on the edge of re-election played coy. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) paused for nearly 20 seconds before saying, “I have discussed my views on immigration pretty extensively and you can find that on my official website.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said he hadn’t seen Trump’s signature plan for deportation.

“I haven’t seen any plan to do that,” he said. 

They know the real problem here:

In 2012, after Republican Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Latino vote, Republicans sought to find ways to do better with the Hispanic community.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) doesn’t support Trump’s plan. He said he’s confident that Trump’s idea is more talk than serious policy.

“He’s not gonna deport 11 million people,” Gardner said with a laugh.

What, you took Donald Trump seriously? Maybe you just don’t understand the guy, but Josh Marshall reports on something even more mysterious:

Buffalo New York Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY) was the first member of Congress to endorse presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and he’s become a key campaign surrogate for the reputed billionaire businessman. But in a Tuesday interview with The Buffalo News, Collins said he believed two of Trump’s signature campaign proposals would never be carried out.

Collins said he believed the wall Trump promised to build along the US-Mexico border would be more an idea than a physical wall. “I have called it a virtual wall. Maybe we will be building a wall over some aspects of it; I don’t know.”

Collins also said that Trump’s controversial plan to deport roughly 3% of the current US population would be a “rhetorical” exercise rather than a physical deportation.

Collins actually said this:

“I call it a rhetorical deportation of 12 million people,” Collins said.

He then gestured toward a door in his Capitol Hill office.

“They go out that door, they go in that room, they get their work papers, Social Security number, then they come in that door, and they’ve got legal work status but are not citizens of the United States,” Collins said. “So there was a virtual deportation as they left that door for processing and came in this door.”

Collins added: “We’re not going to put them on a bus, and we’re not going to drive them across the border.”

Collins then went on to say that he was sure Trump would deny all this, but everyone knows all this was only a series of “opening gambits in a long negotiation” – as if everyone knows that, which is unclear. 

Salon’s Amanda Marcotte says that’s playing with fire:

It’s not nuts to think that it might work for Republicans to frame Trump’s deportation-and-wall scheme as a con that everyone just happens to be in on (except when they’re not).

However, there’s a real danger in Republicans employing this strategy, which is that rise of Trump suggests that the base is getting a little sick of playing this game. They are quite vocal about their belief that the “elites” are putting them down and treating them like a bunch of know-nothing yahoos who can be exploited for their votes and then written off as too stupid and unimportant to be heard in non-election years. They hate the “political correctness” that forces them to play the “just kidding, I don’t believe that” game in front of non-right-wingers. They just want to let their right-wing-nut flags fly.

In other words, they want their damn wall and they don’t want to have to placate the forces of “political correctness” by pretending that they were kidding when they said they wanted their wall.

Someone needs to be careful here:

When Gardner or Ellmers or Collins writes off Trump’s deportation-and-wall talk as so much hot air, that says to people who got caught up in it that they are a bunch of morons who got hoodwinked by obvious lies. That dismissiveness can cause defensiveness, and cause people who believe the lie to double down.

To make it worse, these comments are coming from people that right-wing voters already think of as liars and sellouts. They sent these folks to Congress in order to get rid of Obama and shut down the government and usher in the new right-wing utopia where you never have to press “1” for English again, and the lack of progress on that front is frustrating them and making them feel lied to – which is why they turned to Trump in the first place.

Having the same people openly scoff at Trump fans, portraying them as a bunch of rubes that buy into easily debunked lies (however true that may be) will just double right-wing suspicions that these folks, not Trump, are the con artists and liars. That might help Trump’s chances, but it is not going to serve these Republicans well in the long run.

And then there’s Ted Rall:

Expecting Trump to renege on deportations would be like Bernie Sanders asking Goldman Sachs for donations or Hillary Clinton changing her gender – it would betray the whole raison d’être of his campaign. On deportations, Trump can’t back down without losing most of his support. … For Trump, deportations are a political necessity he has based everything around.

He cannot back down now, but there’s still the question of how all this works, and Julia Preston and Alan Rappeport and Matt Richtel report on the difficulty in answering that question:

Mr. Trump has a simple plan to reduce the population of 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States: Deport them.

How? He says he would follow the example of the military-style roundups authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. The initiative, known as Operation Wetback, expelled hundreds of thousands of Mexicans.

Mr. Trump contends that the start of deportations would show immigrants he meant business and prompt many to leave on their own, and that it would take about two years to finish the job. There, the specifics end.

And there the problems begin:

Former senior immigration and border officials are skeptical, to put it mildly. Deportations have peaked recently at about 400,000 a year, so the increase in scale to reach Mr. Trump’s goal would be exponential. And many legal procedures and constitutional constraints on the police did not exist in the Eisenhower era.

“I can’t even begin to picture how we would deport 11 million people in a few years where we don’t have a police state, where the police can’t break down your door at will and take you away without a warrant,” said Michael Chertoff, who led a significant increase in immigration enforcement as the secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.

But a police state might be inevitable:

Finding those immigrants would be difficult, experts said. Police officers across the country would need to ask people for proof of residency or citizenship during traffic stops and street encounters. The Border Patrol would need highway checkpoints across the Southwest and near the Canadian border. To avoid racial profiling, any American could expect to be stopped and asked for papers.

To achieve millions of deportations, the Obama administration’s focus on deporting serious criminals would have to be scrapped, said Julie Myers Wood, a director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, under Mr. Bush. “You would not care if the person had a criminal record,” she said.

And add this:

Large-scale raids, rare under Mr. Obama, would resume at farms, factories, restaurants and construction sites, with agents arresting hundreds of workers and poring over company records. And prosecutors would bring criminal charges against employers hiring unauthorized immigrants.

Mr. Trump has said he would triple ICE’s deportation officers, to 15,000 from about 5,000. But even if that could be accomplished quickly – difficult given the vetting and training required – it would still be insufficient, experts said. The FBI and other agencies would have to set aside some of their missions to help. …

John Sandweg, who led ICE for seven months under Mr. Obama, said wholesale deportations could make it easier for immigrant gang members and drug traffickers to escape detection. “If the agents are looking for volume, they won’t spend the time to do the detective work tracking down the high-value bad guy who has fake documents, the hardened criminals in the shadows,” he said.

And add this:

To prevent flight after arrest, the authorities would have to detain most immigrants awaiting deportation. Existing facilities, with about 34,000 beds, would have to be expanded to hold at least 300,000, Mr. Sandweg estimated, perhaps with tens of thousands of people in detention camps, similar to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Most deportations must be approved by judges. But backlogs in the 57 immigration courts are already severe, with waits as long as two years for a first hearing. The federal government would have to open dozens of emergency courts and hire hundreds of judges, shortcutting the painstaking selection process.

The millions of immigrants from Central American countries, China, the Philippines, India and other noncontiguous nations would have to be flown home at the federal government’s expense. Arranging flights would in itself be a huge and very costly task.

This isn’t going to work:

By any tally, the costs would be enormous. The American Action Forum, a conservative-leaning research group, calculated the federal outlay to be at least $400 billion, and then only if the deportations were stretched over 20 years.

But the proposals’ main flaw, former officials said, is that they are unrealistic. “Unless you suspend the Constitution and instruct the police to behave as if we live in North Korea,” Mr. Chertoff said, “it ain’t happening.”

But assume it was happening:

Mr. Trump has shared few details. He has said that the wall would be built from precast concrete and steel and that it could be 50 feet tall, if not higher. After calling for it to extend across the entire 2,000-mile southern border, he more recently said half that length could be sufficient because of natural barriers. He has pegged the cost at $4 billion to $12 billion, most recently settling on around $10 billion.

Some see that as low. “There’s a lot of logistics involved in this, and I don’t know how thoroughly they’ve thought it out,” said Todd Sternfeld, chief executive of Superior Concrete, a Texas-based builder of walls. “The resources alone would be astronomical.”

Mr. Sternfeld, who has led major wall projects across the country and approached the Trump family last summer, suggested that Mr. Trump was overly optimistic about the cost and was underestimating the complexity of the undertaking.

Running the numbers, Mr. Sternfeld said a 40-foot-tall concrete wall using a “post and panel” system that went 10 feet below the ground – to minimize tunneling – would cost at least $26 billion. The logistics would be nightmarish, including multiple concrete casting sites and temporary housing for a crew of 1,000 workers if the job were to be completed within Mr. Trump’s first four-year term.

Maintenance would be an additional recurring expense, said Walter W. Boles, an engineering professor at Middle Tennessee State University who specializes in concrete construction. Deep trench work would also be necessary for keeping a wall of that height from toppling, he said, and seismic sensors to detect digging would be wise for preserving its integrity from below.

“That’s one heck of a construction project,” said Mr. Boles, who assessed Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1996 proposal for a border barrier. “It’s certainly a lot more ambitious than I was imagining.”

It seems that those forced to take Trump seriously cannot believe he’s serious:

Walls tend to be crude solutions to complex problems and are evidence of geopolitical failure, said Michael Dear, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in the border with Mexico.

“People always find a way to go above or below or through a wall,” said Professor Dear, the author of “Why Walls Won’t Work.”

“It’s just political window dressing and rabble-rousing of the worst order.”

It’s worse than that, according to a Reuters item from early May:

Donald Trump’s vow to round up and deport all of America’s undocumented immigrants if he is elected president could shrink the economy by around 2 percent, according to a study to be released on Thursday by conservative think tank the American Action Forum.

The research adds to concerns about the Republican presidential nominee’s policy proposals, which range from tearing up international trade agreements to building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

About 6.8 million of the more than 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally are employed, according to government statistics. Removing them would cause a slump of $381.5 billion to $623.2 billion in private sector output, the Washington-based non-profit said in its analysis.

The study added that removing those workers could leave potentially millions of jobs unfilled due to a lack of legal workers willing to do them. Industries with the highest share of undocumented workers include farming, construction and hospitality, according to the research.

“The things Donald Trump has said are utterly unworkable,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the forum’s president, and the top economic adviser to Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

And that guy was also Director of the Congressional Budget Office (and was born and raised in Pittsburgh and has an undergraduate degree from Denison University, like some of us) so he’s not fooling around:

The American Action Forum analysis used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate the value of the output from undocumented immigrants. The study did not factor in potential impacts of mass deportations on consumption, investment and other economic factors, the group said.

That cannot be easily calculated, but even so, the GDP takes a big hit:

The U.S. economy is projected to produce some $18.7 trillion worth of goods and services in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund. A loss of $400 billion in output would amount to about 2 percent of that figure.

So, Donald Trump cannot be serious, can he? How the hell is any of this supposed to work? The choice seems to be between taking him at his word, that he’s serious about all of this – as the Republican base understands – or to realize his brilliant negotiating skills – he doesn’t really intend to do any of this but only wants to force the other folks to make concessions they’d never otherwise make – as every other Republican running for office is now saying, hoping that’s true. The rest of us just don’t know – but it’s probably best to take him at his word, and vote accordingly.

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The Panic Begins

It was such a nice morning in May – no one was giving a thought to just how fascism comes to America – the sun was shining – but then there was Robert Kagan in the Washington Post:

Republican politicians marvel at how Donald Trump has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France – that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people.

Oh no! Mob rule, then Robespierre, then Napoleon, but Kagan refers to more recent history:

This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called “fascism.” Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society. “National socialism” was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, anti-capitalist and anti-clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Fuhrer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. Today, there is Putinism, which also has nothing to do with belief or policy but is about the tough man who singlehandedly defends his people against all threats, foreign and domestic.

And we’re getting there:

To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche. In democracies, at least for politicians, the only thing that matters is what the voters say they want – vox populi vox dei.

A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest-ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death.

And that would explain what everyone sees in the news:

In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories – and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway.

A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to be brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins.

What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing.

There’s much more, but it’s enough to say that Kagan is not a happy camper:

This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party – out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear – falling into line behind him.

This has been said before. Three weeks earlier Andrew Sullivan made essentially the same argument – which is odd because Kagan was one of the original hardcore neocons that told us our military might would change the world and that would be the end of history and we would have that New American Century and everything would be wonderful, and Sullivan came to hate those guys for pretty much ruining the world. If the two of them agree, well, perhaps it is time to panic – but Donald Trump will lose the general election, right? Americans know better. There’s no need to panic.

Slate’s Isaac Chotiner then pointed out that Americans don’t know better:

On Wednesday afternoon, Fox News released a new national poll showing Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton, 45 to 42 percent, a 10-point swing since the previous Fox survey a month ago. The poll sparked a discussion on social media, which included the usual caveats: It’s just one poll (true); Trump is almost certainly not leading Clinton by three points (also true: average has her up three points); professional Democrats enjoy freaking out (undeniably true); and we still have months of campaigning (sadly true). Trump got a bump for essentially wrapping up the Republican nomination; Clinton, meanwhile, is still battling Bernie Sanders, even if her eventual triumph – and a subsequent boost in the polls – is inevitable.

Okay, relax, but just don’t relax too much:

What can a single poll tell us in a long election cycle that itself has become an unpredictable freak show? Nothing – but it can serve as a much-needed reminder that this election is closer than it has any right to be. And the proper response to that fact – to Trump’s almost incomprehensible rise from birther-conspiracist celebrity half-wit to presumptive nominee sitting within striking distance of a former secretary of state – is fear. A bigoted know-nothing could truly be our next president. To argue that Americans should be anything less than terrified is itself irresponsible.

And don’t listen to people trying to calm you down: 

Trump isn’t so scary, the first argument goes. Isn’t he just an actor and buffoon rather than a dangerous demagogue? Put aside the issue of how we should feel about someone who doesn’t believe racist and Islamophobic rhetoric but uses it for political expediency. (How confident are you that such a person would not do absolutely anything if it became politically expedient?) Everyone who has been paying more than limited attention to the presidential race is aware by now that Trump’s personality is not a put-on. He is a misogynist. He has genuine affection for autocracy and brute force. He is pettily invested in going after perceived enemies, in the press or in business. It once seemed possible that Trump was a moderate businessman pretending to be a nasty right-winger. No longer.

And don’t listen to the second argument, that Trump can’t win because of all the demographic factors and whatnot:

For the sake of conversation, let’s grant Trump only a 20 percent chance of defeating Clinton in November. This is the reason we should be freaking out! Imagine if I told you that there was a 1-in-5 possibility that something awful would happen to your spouse or your child by November. Would you spend the next six months merrily repeating that there was an 80 percent chance your loved one would be fine? Of course not. Americans should consider the possibility of a Trump presidency similarly.

That’s a chance you don’t want to take:

Trump has gotten as far as he has after running a campaign most notable for its complete lack of policy substance and a media strategy that consists of pathological lying. He has exposed giant chunks of the press corps as craven and pathetic. He has shown that 45 percent of the voting public – give or take – is willing to elect someone who has spent the past year campaigning openly as a crass bigot who hates the women he’s not having sex with (and he probably hates them, too). He has proved that running as a white nationalist is not an immediate disqualifier for the presidency of the United States in 20–freaking–16. Politicians have always run “against” institutions or people, whether they are insurance companies or government bureaucrats. But never in modern history has someone gotten this far in political life by running an entire campaign based on grievance and rage, and against society’s less fortunate.

The argument here is that far too many Americans simply don’t know better:

Whatever you think about Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, there are quite clearly millions of people in this country (many of them very progressive) who have not wrestled with who Donald Trump is and what he represents. (Even scarier is the fact that so many Americans have wrestled with Trump to some degree, and find him palatable enough.) It’s certainly possible that if the election is close in October, the country will witness a belated freak-out, followed by a huge Democratic turnout wave. But it would also be nice not to wager our future on people becoming appropriately serious only as the clock ticks down.

A bit of panic, then might be appropriate, but Slate’s Josh Voorhees isn’t so sure about that: 

The new survey suggests Clinton is seen as “more corrupt,” less “honest and trustworthy,” and more likely to “say anything to get elected” than the Republican reality television star she’ll face off with in the general election. Even more troubling, Hillary’s net-favorability rating in the survey has dipped 5 points in the past two months, from negative-19 to negative-24. Over that same stretch, Trump’s rating has soared 19 points, from negative-34 in March to negative-15 on Thursday. Those numbers would still make Trump and Clinton the most disliked major nominees in modern history, but the “least-popular” superlative would go to Hillary, not Donald. The fancy political science term for that is: Not Good.

Is it time to freak out? The fact that Trump is where he is now is definitely cause for a certain type of panic, as my colleague Isaac Chotiner notes, but this poll itself should not terrify you.

For starters, this survey looks like an outlier. One potential reason for that, which several pollsters have noted, is that it foresees a 2016 electorate with a considerably higher share of self-identified Republicans than turned out four years ago, something that could be skewing the numbers in Trump’s favor.

More generally, this is a single poll taken six months before the general election. The rule of thumb among the data-first-last-and-always set is that this type of hypothetical polling isn’t all that predictive until after the national conventions, which are still two long months away. To the extent that these types of surveys matter, meanwhile, it’s best to focus on polling averages, not single polls. According to the Huffington Post’s tracker, Clinton’s average lead on Trump in recent national surveys has been 2.7 points, while according to RealClearPolitics, that number is 3.3 points. 

There really is no need to panic, and this had to happen:

Some of the change can be attributed to a combination of the media’s ongoing attempts to domesticate Trump in the name of political narrative, Trump’s Republican critics finally getting on board (however grudgingly) in the spirit of partisanship, and the fact Bernie Sanders is currently forcing Hillary to campaign on two different fronts. Those last two points could also help explain the shifts in Trump and Clinton’s favorability ratings. Former Ted Cruz or John Kasich voters are now coming to terms with Trump as their nominee, making him more palatable to their particular conservative tastes. Sanders supporters haven’t given up hope, and tensions between them and the Democratic Party are running particularly high, so it’s easy to imagine Bernie fans having a particularly dim view of Clinton right now. Assuming Bernie plays nice at some point, you’d expect Hillary to reap the rewards of party unification down the road.

Of course, the fact that Beltway conservatives and many down-the-middle media outlets have proved willing to pretend Trump is a run-of-the-mill nominee as opposed to an American demagogue is certainly a cause for concern. But there are limits to their ability to make Trump and his brand of belligerent bluster acceptable to the majority of the country. Team Hillary will have plenty of chances to roll the tape of Trump being Trump.

And there are the basics:

As has been well covered by now, most of the other signs we have point to a clear Hillary advantage come November. The unemployment rate is down from where it was four years ago, President Obama’s job approval and favorability ratings are both above water, and – perhaps most important of all – the electoral map looks particularly friendly to Democrats this cycle. There’s also the not-so-small matter that it’s far from clear where and how Trump can do better than Mitt Romney did four years ago given the shifting demographics of the country. 

So there’s no need to panic just yet, especially when you factor in party unity:

A year’s worth of talk about how Trump was blowing up the GOP clouded the reality that he faces a somewhat different – and in some ways easier – task of putting his party back together than Clinton will with hers once Sanders finally calls it a day. As an insurgent outsider, Trump needs the establishment – the people who care about party above all else – to fall in line, something much of it is already doing. As the consummate insider, though, Clinton needs to win over her party’s anti-establishment wing, something that clearly hasn’t happened yet and which poses its own unique challenges. I’d be shocked if the vast majority of Bernie supporters don’t ultimately learn to live with Hillary, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on, particularly among white working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania.

In short, Clinton has a far harder task than Trump, but she can pull it off, with some possible exceptions, and the latest poll really doesn’t matter:

If Trump were to continue to climb in the national polls as the conventions get closer, or if there were signs he was making headway with the type of nonwhite voters he’s spent the past year offending, those would be reasons to sound the alarm. But for now, a survey or two, taken at a time when Trump is focused on the general while Clinton’s still distracted by the primary aren’t enough reason to panic.

Perhaps so, but polls aren’t the only reason to panic. Josh Marshall identifies another:

The New York Times posted an article late Wednesday evening which confirms and expands on much of what I’ve been hearing from within the Sanders campaign in recent weeks and days. The top leaders of the campaign are now saying openly that they are focused on dealing a crushing blow to Clinton in the California primary on June 7th and aren’t concerned whether it damages Clinton’s chances in the general election or not.

We need to be careful in reading the Times article because a good number of the key connecting points are not direct quotes but summaries of interviews conducted by the bylined reporters. That is a situation where nuance and ambiguity can be severely compressed. But the actual quotes seem clear enough to rule out much chance of that.

And here is one of those quotes:

While Mr. Sanders says he does not want Mr. Trump to win in November, his advisers and allies say he is willing to do some harm to Mrs. Clinton in the shorter term if it means he can capture a majority of the 475 pledged delegates at stake in California and arrive at the Philadelphia convention with maximum political power.

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Mr. Sanders, said the campaign did not think its attacks would help Mr. Trump in the long run, but added that the senator’s team was “not thinking about” the possibility that they could help derail Mrs. Clinton from becoming the first woman elected president.


Much of this is consistent with what I hear myself, which is that this is being driven and fueled by Sanders himself, with two or three of his closest advisors in tow. They also seem to be making it up as they go along.

Consider a few points: Sanders has in the last three days essentially declared war on the institutional Democratic Party, giving it an ultimatum to open up its doors to people who want ‘real change’. Fair enough. But his entire stated strategy is to do well enough in the final run of primaries that super-delegates, the embodiment of the institutional party, decide to drop Clinton and switch their allegiance to Sanders.

That makes no sense.

You don’t gain the acceptance or support of people whose very legitimacy you are currently attacking. You also don’t gain trust by threatening a convention meltdown that these same people almost universally fear threatens to hand the election to Donald Trump. My point here isn’t even about who’s corrupt or ‘for the people’ or ‘against the people’ in Sanders’ increasingly Manichean worldview. It’s just logic. You don’t get party insiders to abandon their chosen candidate and embrace you by doing everything you can to demonstrate that you view them as your enemy.

They are making it up as they go along, with stuff like this:

Advisers to Mr. Sanders said on Wednesday that he was newly resolved to remain in the race, seeing an aggressive campaign as his only chance to pressure Democrats into making fundamental changes to how presidential primaries and debates are held in the future. They said he also held out hope of capitalizing on any late stumbles by Mrs. Clinton or any damage to her candidacy, whether by scandal or by the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.


This is almost comical. The Democratic Party and its Chicago convention were torn apart in 1968 over a fundamental cleavage over the Vietnam War. The Sanders camp is going to blow up the convention to push debate schedule reform? That’s amazing. Reform of the primary process is a much more substantive matter. But remember, the parts of the process most in need of reform (Caucuses and post-election day shenanigans) are the ones helping Sanders the most! Now his whole campaign is based on getting the superdelegates – which for most of the campaign he has said constitute the core anti-democratic aspect of the process – to hand him the nomination. Consistency is an overrated commodity in much of life, especially in politics. But you can’t make the logic of your arguments so structurally unsound that they collapse under the weight of their own ridiculousness.

He might want to pack this in. And then there’s the 2008 model, Clinton losing and throwing her weight behind Obama, but that might not apply now:

Both sides in the 2008 struggle had profound personal and professional connections to and investment in the Democratic Party. That put real limits on how far the acrimony would go. Even if you insist on seeing Clinton’s actions at the end of the 2008 primary process through the most cynical prism possible, it’s clear she was not willing to destroy her own future political relevance or her husband’s political legacy by not getting behind Obama in the general. Sanders and Jeff Weaver have no such investment on the line. Indeed, their own political background is one as dissidents whose political posture is one of resisting and opposing institutional politics. Dissident politics has a glorious history of its own. But it’s not one that leads to Kumbaya moments at national party conventions.

So even if the acrimony or darkness is comparable, indeed perhaps worse in 2008, the structural reality is a bit different.

Okay, panic:

From what I can tell, the current Sanders campaign is riven between people who are increasingly upset or bewildered by what we might call the resurgent “burn it down” turn of Sanders outlook and others who are fully immersed in the feedback loop of grievance and paranoia that sees all the political events of the last year as a series of large and small scale conspiracies to deny the rectitude and destiny of Bernie Sanders.

I’ve seen many, many campaigns. People put everything into it and losing is brutal and punishing. Folks on the losing side frequently go a little nuts, sometimes a lot nuts. The 2008 denouement really was pretty crazy. But it’s not clear that this time we have any countervailing force – adulthood, institutional buy-in, future careers, overriding pragmatism to rein things in.

Perhaps this is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party falling into line behind him, and the other national party somehow unable to do anything about it. Okay, you can panic now.

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The Coming Conspiracy Election

These are odd times. Ashley Feinberg at Gawker reminds us that he’s still at it:

It’s common knowledge that Michelle Obama, wife to President Barack Obama, is actually a transgender woman. Joan Rivers then joked about this a few months before her (all too convenient) death. Now, prompted by the negative response to a recent cartoon comparing the First Lady to Melania Trump, Alex Jones decided to hit us with the truth.

To quote Jones precisely:

Don’t forget, the famous comedian Joan Rivers said, “Of course everyone knows she’s a tranny.” She’s dead serious: “Yeah, she’s a man.” Deader than a doornail in a routine operation – where, basically, she had fire poured down her throat and was a fire-breathing goblin.

[Evil voice] Dead on arrival. Shoot your mouth off, honey. You will die. Mua ha ha ha. Liberal. Ha ha ha ha.

Feinberg then notes this:

Jones goes on to call out George Clooney for being a women-enslaving maggot before finally returning to the topic at hand, saying, “I mean, I used to laugh at this stuff, but man – it’s all about rubbing our noses in it. And I think it’s all an arranged marriage. It’s all completely fake and it’s this big sick joke because he’s obsessed with transgender. It’s like some weird cult or something. I think Michelle Obama is a man.” But does Jones really, truly believe the things he’s saying?

“I really do. I really do. I believe it.”

Well, that clears everything up – but no one takes Alex Jones seriously – except last December there was this:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on Alex Jones’ program, where Trump praised Jones as having an “amazing” reputation and promised, “I will not let you down.” Jones is America’s leading conspiracy theorist – he believes the government was behind 9-11 and several other catastrophes.

Jones’ website has called him “one of the very first founding fathers of the 9-11 Truth Movement,” which believes the government was behind the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Jones has also pushed conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Boston Marathon bombing, and several mass shootings.

Trump seemed comfortable with that:

Jones and Trump heavily praised each other during the December 2 interview. Jones claimed Trump has been “vindicated” about his false 9-11 U.S. Muslims celebration claim, said “90 percent” of his audience supports Trump, and told the candidate he’s “shown your knowledge of geopolitical systems.” Jones went on to say that Trump is “a true maverick,” and “what you’re doing is epic. It’s George Washington level.” Trump returned the favor, telling Jones: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

Jones concluded the interview by saying to Trump, “You will be attacked for coming on. We know you know that. Thank you.”

That also clears everything up. Trump is a sucker for conspiracy theories. He loves them. Maybe he believes them. Or maybe he just finds them politically useful. Trump, however, in spite of Jones’ amazing reputation hasn’t trotted out Jones’ full range of insights:

Space Shuttle Columbia: Jones claimed that “globalists” were involved in the 2003 disaster, stating on his website: “I said that there was a very good chance that the globalists would do something horrible concerning the latest Colombia mission. Understand, the psychological warfare technicians do not even need to publicly blame Iraq for the Columbia disaster. It will serve as a distraction in the global press during the final weeks of war preparation in the Gulf. It will serve the dual purpose of unifying the country behind President Bush as he grandstands.”

New World Order’s Extermination Plans: Jones believes that a New World Order (NWO) of secretive global elites is working behind the scenes to rule the world through an authoritarian government. A summary of the Jones film ENDGAME explains that the NWO plans to “exterminate 80% of the world’s population, while enabling the elites to live forever with the aid of advanced technology.”

That one is an old chestnut – it’s the damned Rothschild family and the Jews, as the John Birch Society liked to point out back in the fifties – but Jones also keeps up with the times:

Boston Marathon Bombing: Jones and his website have labeled the Boston Marathon bombing a “false flag cover-up” carried out by the government.

Aurora and Sandy Hook Shootings: In 2013, Jones said the two mass shootings were staged: “You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that’s why I’m so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody’s got to tell you the truth.”

2011 Tucson Shooting: After Jared Lee Loughner murdered six people, and wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Jones told Rolling Stone: “The whole thing stinks to high heaven … This kid Loughner disappeared for days at a time before the shooting? My gut tells me this was a staged mind-control operation. The government employs geometric psychological-warfare experts that know exactly how to indirectly manipulate unstable people through the media. They implanted the idea in his head by repeatedly asking, ‘Is Giffords in danger?'”

These items are of course related – the ultimate aim of all that was to take away everyone’s guns so the population would be helpless and finally enslaved – as with those secret FEMA Camps:

Jones sells a DVD titled “Police State 4: The Rise of FEMA” which claims that “Jones conclusively proves the existence of a secret network of FEMA camps, now being expanded nationwide. The military-industrial complex is transforming our once free nation into a giant prison camp.”

Right, but even Glenn Beck gave up on that one after one of his fans took him seriously and killed those policemen in Pittsburgh – the guy had a link on his website of Ron Paul discussing those FEMA-managed concentration camps with Glenn Beck, on Fox News, which finally let Glenn Beck go. These conspiracy theories can be dangerous.

If so, then why was Donald Trump hanging around with Alex Jones a few months ago? The New York Times’ Toni Monkovic looks into that:

Donald Trump has dominated polling among Republicans for the better part of a year, as he has delighted in reminding people. But there’s one poll that you probably haven’t heard about and that he doesn’t talk about.

Not surprisingly, it shows him in the lead. But the twist is the time frame: It’s from April 2011, and it reveals a little bit about how we got here.

Heading into the 2012 campaign, Mr. Trump led a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of GOP primary voters at 26 percent, with Mike Huckabee at 17 percent, Mitt Romney at 15 percent and Newt Gingrich at 11 percent. Similarly, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll earlier that month showed Mr. Trump near the top as a “surprise contender.”

There was a reason for that:

PPP wrote that 23 percent of GOP voters “say they would not be willing to vote for a candidate who stated clearly that Obama was born in the U.S.,” and among “the hardcore birthers, Trump leads with 37 percent, almost three times as much support as anyone else.”

That was his thing, the Birther thing, and that was really working for him, but then things went south:

On April 27, President Obama released a copy of his long-form birth certificate to reporters.

On April 30, Mr. Obama mercilessly mocked Mr. Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

A night later, Mr. Obama announced that an American raid had killed Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Trump’s poll numbers collapsed. “As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month, Republicans didn’t just decide they weren’t interested in having him as their nominee – they also decided they flat don’t like him,” the PPP pollster Tom Jensen wrote at the time.

Two weeks later, Mr. Trump declared he would not run, citing his “passion” for business and a new contract with NBC for “Celebrity Apprentice.”

He was gone, but the anger of many GOP voters remained. Rick Santorum, not Mr. Trump, wound up being the insurgent who gave the party establishment fits.

Santorum, however, had no conspiracy theories, and Santorum lost the nomination to Mitt Romney, who also offered none. That left an untapped resource, and a guy who knew how to tap it, and a fresh opportunity:

The New York Times article on his farewell from the race suggested that the most noteworthy element of his flirtation as a candidate was “a media culture that increasingly seems to give the spotlight to the loudest, most outrageous voices.” Stuart Spencer, a former political strategist for Ronald Reagan, was quoted as saying, “The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him.”

Mr. Trump also demonstrated his willingness and ability to mine racial and ethnic resentment. In 2011, Mr. Trump said, “China is raping us.” Four years later, he said Mexico was sending rapists to the United States.

In the run-up to the Trump candidacy of 2016, Gabriel Sherman reported in New York magazine that an employee of Mr. Trump, Sam Nunberg, later fired for racially charged Facebook posts under his name, measured the base’s pulse.

“I listened to thousands of hours of talk radio, and he was getting reports from me,” Nunberg recalled. What those reports said was that the GOP base was frothing over a handful of issues including immigration, Obamacare and Common Core. While Jeb Bush talked about crossing the border as an “act of love,” Trump was thinking about how high to build his wall.

But maybe more than anything, Mr. Trump showed in 2011 how he would deploy conspiracy theories, associating with conspiracy purveyors like Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host. Among many examples in the last year, The Times wrote in March, Mr. Trump “reposted information on Twitter from the website Infowars, hosted by Mr. Jones,” to support his unsubstantiated claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the Sept. 11 attacks.

That’s how we got to where we are, but given how Donald Trump is now running neck and neck with Hilary Clinton in the national polls, Monkovic is more interested in who believes this nonsense, and offers this:

The political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent, who wrote the book “American Conspiracy Theories,” say that those on the left and the right believe in conspiracies roughly equally. But education can matter: “Forty-two percent of those without a high school diploma are high in conspiratorial predispositions, compared with 23 percent with postgraduate degrees.”

One of the highest correlations for Trump support is being white without a high school diploma. People with postgraduate degrees are increasingly leaning to the left.

But there are other factors:

Mr. Uscinski and Mr. Parent found that high-stress situations like job uncertainty “prompt people to concoct, embrace and repeat conspiracy theories.” Other research shows that conspiracy theories can be a coping mechanism for uncertainty and powerlessness. (Another predictor of strong Trump by county is a high proportion of working-age adults who aren’t working.)

And this is simply odd:

One study found that conservatives who believe in conspiracy theories know more about politics than conservatives who don’t. This correlation was not found for liberals. Presumably, these politically engaged conservatives would be more likely to vote in primaries.

Well, maybe that’s not so odd. These politically engaged conservatives, who know how things actually work, think the system is rigged in this way and that, and of course they’re right. Donald Trump reminds them of that, often, and loudly. Others shrug and work with the rules as they are. These politically engaged conservatives, like the angry Bernie Sanders fans, don’t shrug. They fight back, and this conspiracy thing is spreading:

Last week, Public Policy Polling revisited Mr. Trump’s attraction to conspiracy theories. Among voters who viewed him favorably, PPP found that 65 percent think President Obama is a Muslim; 59 percent think he was not born in the United States; 27 percent think vaccines cause autism; 24 percent think Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered; and 7 percent think Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. (We should probably allow for the possibility that some survey-takers wanted to poke or provoke with their responses.)

Trump tapped into that – no one else would – but the real problem is elections:

Many Americans believe they’re often decided by cheating. In The Los Angeles Times in 2014, Mr. Uscinski and Mr. Parent wrote:

“Near equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats (between 40 percent and 50 percent) said fraud would be very or somewhat likely. Each side believes that if they lose, cheating is to blame, and they believe it about equally. Nobody likes losing, but it appears hard for about half the country to accept that they lost fair and square.”

The birther movement, which essentially gave life to Mr. Trump’s political career, is an example; it argues that President Obama did not actually win his elections because he was ineligible to be president.

That way of thinking suggests a possible out for Mr. Trump if he loses in November: accusations of cheating by the other side. Those wishing for him to be humbled may be disappointed. Could he really lose if he never accepts the loss?

Heather Parton doesn’t quite agree:

For the same reasons I don’t buy into a lot of superstitions or supernatural stuff, I tend not to buy most conspiracy theories. And with the decentralized, totally idiosyncratic local nature of our election system, the idea of massive voter fraud in favor of a particular candidate in one election is ludicrous.

I suppose this thinking has been around forever but it does seem to me that we’re seeing an uptick in people believing that there are puppet masters conspiring behind the scenes when I think our problems with corruption stem from much more abstract concepts like systemic incentives. I tend to believe that most people have many different motivations and usually believe they’re righteously ethical in their behavior. But that’s just me.

Millions of people will never believe that Trump lost legitimately in November, if in fact he does. And the conservative movement will continue to profit from this lie as they have been doing forever. And yes, the same phenomenon now exists on the Democratic side. Good times. 

She’s referring to what just happened in Nevada – angry Bernie Sanders fans getting nasty – and adds this:

If you don’t like Nevada’s byzantine delegate selection process there’s a legitimate way to fix it besides doxing local officials. Go to the meetings and volunteer for the committees that do all the work of local and state party elections. The woman who received death threats isn’t an elite member of the oligarchy; she’s the day manager at a local restaurant – which was also inundated with threats. The people who make these rules are mostly volunteers doing their civic duty which consists of years and years of boring, tedious meetings in their off hours. It’s open to anyone. All you have to do is join the party. There aren’t even any dues.

Party electoral processes are something everyone is empowered to change right there in their local communities. It’s not sexy but it’s very doable. If you start now, by the next presidential election you could have made a real difference.

She seems to be saying the conspiracy theories are far worse than stupid – they’re lazy and irresponsible and more than a bit whiney. They’re an excuse for not doing the hard and necessary work to get what you want, so she has another theory of what’s going on here:

The unexpected success of the two political outsiders, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, in this presidential primary season has everyone grasping for some kind of explanation that would easily explain it. The most commonly held assumption is that people are angry and cynical about the two political parties, which is undoubtedly correct. If the two campaigns share any characteristics, it’s that they absolutely loathe the political establishments of the party to which their preferred candidates have attached themselves, however tenuously. This should not come as a huge surprise to anyone since the gridlock and torpor that has characterized our national politics for the past several years is not exactly inspiring.

But many commentators have also concluded that the reason the two campaigns captured the imaginations of so many people is that both candidates are addressing deeply felt economic distress among the American electorate. The country is only now starting to awaken from the paralysis and fear that gripped the public during the epic financial crisis and that is bound to have reverberations. Moreover, that crisis served as an educational wake up call for a whole lot of people who recognized that the system was no longer working very well for the benefit of ordinary people even as it’s working fantastically well for the one percent. And a lot of those ordinary people are sick of it.

Bernie Sanders is responsive to that concern in a very direct almost obsessive way and it makes sense that someone with his economic worldview would capture the imagination of at least some part of the electorate. There is no mystery about Bernie Sanders’ outsider appeal.

The real mystery is the other guy:

Here we have a card-carrying member of the one percent, a man who flies around on his own 767, has married one gorgeous supermodel after another, brags non-stop about how he’s gamed the system for his own advantage and millions of average working Americans can’t get enough of him. What gives?

That’s a good question, but the answer has nothing to do with any conspiracy theory they hold:

Donald Trump’s supporters aren’t actually motivated by economic frustration at all. Indeed, it’s ridiculous on its face. Whatever Trump’s talents, he’s an heir to a real estate fortune and a fame whoring celebrity brand name in a suit not a brilliant captain of industry. His economic message, to the extent it actually exists, is that foreigners are robbing Americans blind and he’s going to get the money back and give it to his supporters and everyone will live happily ever after.

The idea that this is responsive to the deep economic anxieties of the average working Joe is a stretch. But it is very responsive to another set of anxieties that’s been plaguing many members of the right wing for decades and went into overdrive with the election of President Obama. That would be the ethnocentric anxieties of white conservatives who are feeling emasculated by the emergence of a multi-ethnic, multi-racial majority.

Ethnocentric anxieties can lead to all sorts of conspiracy theories, and do, but she looks at a new statistical summary of the attitudes of these voters by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee and discovers this:

In our newest analysis, we examine the feelings expressed by Trump supporters towards a variety of groups in America. The results are pretty clear: compared to supporters of other Republican candidates in the primary, Trump supporters really dislike many groups in America. For these voters, Trump’s blend of casual racism and muscular nativism is the core of his appeal. 

That precedes any specific conspiracy theory, and after a deep dive into the data, she concludes with this:

The Trump voter is not attracted to their man because he wants to renegotiate trade deals. They are attracted to him because he bashes China, insults Mexicans, demonizes Muslims, degrades African Americans and worships government authority to keep all of them, and more, in line. His aggressive misogyny is just an added bonus.

So forget conspiracy theories:

These statistics validate the common sense observation that while it’s very tempting to see this embrace of political outsiders in both parties as springing from the same phenomenon, beyond a general exasperation with the political establishments they are very different phenomena. The Sanders movement is clearly motivated by an economic argument. The Trump movement, something else entirely.

The bad news for Trump in all this is that these voters are no longer a majority in America. The good news for Trump? The mainstream media thinks it’s Barack Obama’s fault.

And that’s why Michelle Obama, wife to President Barack Obama, is actually a transgender woman, really a man as everyone knows, who had Joan Rivers murdered, and why North Carolina had to pass that odd bathroom law, and why Donald Trump keeps popping up on Alex Jones’ show. He loves conspiracy theories. Maybe he believes them. Or maybe he just finds them politically useful. Maybe it doesn’t matter. He does know how lazy people are. He can work with that.

And did you know that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster? This will be a conspiracy election.

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The Dead End Kids

The Dead End Kids were charming on Broadway in Dead End in 1935, and in 1937 Samuel Goldwyn brought them to Hollywood and turned that play into a film – followed by Little Tough Guys the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys films. The wisecracking young punks who disrupt everything – in the end, in a good way – became a Hollywood staple, as in 1938 with Angels with Dirty Faces – James Cagney nailed the type in that film and that sort of became his career. He became the guy who has nothing to lose but who never loses his integrity. But he is a pain in the ass. But he really is charming, and right about more than a few things.

This works pretty well in Hollywood movies. In real life there’s Bernie Sanders, who has become the head Dead End Kid in the Democratic race, with his gang of other dead-end kids, and that turned out to be not charming at all. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank tells this real-life tale:

Let’s examine what Bernie Sanders supporters did in his name over the weekend.

As the Nevada Democratic convention voted to award a majority of delegates to Hillary Clinton – an accurate reflection of her victory in the state’s February caucuses – Sanders backers charged the stage, threw chairs and shouted vulgar epithets at speakers. Security agents had to protect the dais and ultimately clear the room.

And that’s not all:

Sanders supporters publicized the cellphone number of the party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, resulting in thousands of abusive text messages and threats:

“Praying to God someone shoots you in the FACE and blows your democracy-stealing head off!”

“Hey bitch… We know where you live. Where you work. Where you eat. Where your kids go to school/grandkids… Prepare for hell.”

Veteran Nevada reporter Jon Ralston transcribed some of the choice voicemail messages for the chairwoman, some with vulgar labels for women and their anatomy:

“I think people like you should be hung in a public execution. … You are a sick, twisted piece of shit and I hope you burn for this!”

“You fucking stupid bitch! What the hell are you doing? You’re a fucking corrupt bitch!”

The day after the convention, Sanders supporters vandalized party headquarters with messages saying, among other things, “You are scum.”

And the response:

Asked by reporters Tuesday about the convention chaos – in which operatives from his national campaign participated – Sanders walked away in the middle of the question.

Finally, mid-afternoon Tuesday, Sanders released a statement saying “I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals.” But he blamed the Nevada party for preventing a “fair and transparent process,” and he threatened Democrats: “If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned.”


It is no longer accurate to say Sanders is campaigning against Clinton, who has essentially locked up the nomination. The Vermont socialist is now running against the Democratic Party. And that’s excellent news for one Donald J. Trump.

That seems a fair assessment, and Milbank also reports this:

“The Sanders Campaign spent its time either ignoring or profiting from the chaos it did much to create,” the Nevada Democratic Party wrote in a formal complaint to the Democratic National Committee. The state party wrote, “Part of the approach by the Sanders campaign was to employ these easily-incensed delegates as shock troops.” The Sanders representatives “at the times of most intense crisis offered little more than shrugs and smirks.”

The Nevada Democrats, warning of similar disruptions at the national convention in July, accused the Sanders campaign of “inciting disruption – and, yes, violence,” and said, “the goal of many of these individuals, sanctioned or encouraged by the Sanders campaign, is not party-building but something more sinister.”

Yeah, this is Donald Trump stuff, and Milbank is not impressed:

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I wasn’t concerned about Sanders remaining in the race until the very end, because he doesn’t wish to see a President Trump and will ultimately throw his full support to Clinton. Sanders has, indeed, lightened up on Clinton and is instead trying to shape the Democrats’ platform and direction. But his attacks on the party have released something just as damaging to the causes he professes to represent. Coupled with his refusal to raise money for the party, his increasingly harsh rhetoric could hurt Democrats up and down the ballot in November and beyond.

“We are taking on virtually the entire Democratic establishment,” Sanders proclaims.

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests?” he asks.

“The Democratic Party up to now has not been clear about which side they are on, on the major issues facing this country,” he announces.

This was Ralph Nader’s argument in 2000: There isn’t much difference between the two parties. It produced President George W. Bush. Sanders said at the start of his campaign that he wouldn’t do what Nader did, because there is a difference between the parties.

Yet now his supporters, the Nevada Democratic Party says, are behind “physical threats and intimidation,” “scuffles, screams from bullhorns, and profane insults” and “numerous medical emergencies among delegates pressed up against the dais.”

This is Ralph Nader on steroids, even though that Ralston fellow writes that “the Sanders folks disregarded rules, then when shown the truth, attacked organizers and party officials as tools of a conspiracy to defraud the senator of what was never rightfully his in the first place.”

And oddly, only two additional delegates were at stake, which would not have made any difference either way. Bernie has a lot to answer for, and Salon’s Amanda Marcotte does the dead-end kids thing:

A lot of the problem is because the Sanders campaign is a dead campaign walking. There’s no way Sanders can win at this point. It creates a situation where some of the more realistic and sober-minded Sanders supporters are cutting their losses and moving on. (This is probably why Sanders had so much trouble filling out all his delegate seats but Clinton did not.) Without the moderating force of the more realistic Sanders supporters, the voices of the dead-enders – who are more prone to rage, misogyny, and conspiracy theories – have a disproportionate influence.

Still, it’s not like the campaign has been whittled down to nothing but dead-enders. Sanders could, if he wanted to, do a lot to rein in the worst elements, by asking people to chill out and behave respectfully.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign that the campaign really wants to do that. Sure, they are issuing rote condemnations of violence, but beyond that, the Sanders camp seems unwilling to ask people to dial down the sexism and conspiracy theories to focus on the issues.

That won’t do:

In a statement responding to the Nevada convention, for instance, the Sanders campaign said that while they don’t condone violence, they encourage the party “figure out a way to welcome people who have been energized and excited by his campaign into the party.”

Sorry, but calling a woman at home to spew misogynistic vitriol at her isn’t being “energized and excited”. It’s being hateful and bigoted. The Democrats should prioritize making the party safe for women, not safe for men who like to yell “cunt” at them.

And it got worse:

Disturbingly, Sanders’s top aide, Jeff Weaver, couldn’t bring himself to issue a full-throated denunciation of these antics on CNN Tuesday, either. Instead, he played footsie with the conspiracy theorists, accusing the party of being run “undemocratically” and insinuating that it’s due to the “unwillingness on the part of the Nevada Democratic Party to bring in all of the new people that Bernie Sanders has brought into the process.”

That won’t wash:

It is worth remembering at this point that Clinton won the Nevada caucus and that the Sanders folks were able to manipulate the system to get him more delegate seats at the convention, which would have netted them more delegates if Sanders people had bothered to show up. It’s true that the system is a disaster, but it’s also true that the claims that it’s “undemocratic” were not coming from Sanders supporters when they thought they had a chance at chipping away at the victory that actual voters gave Clinton earlier this year.

Marcotte is not happy with any of this:

Sanders himself had a perfect opportunity to put a kibosh on all the craziness on Tuesday, when asked about it by NBC News. He could have played the role of the conciliator, telling his supporters they fought the good fight but you can’t win them all – Clinton’s concession speech to Barack Obama from 2008 is a good model – Sanders simply walked away.

This is irresponsible of Sanders and his campaign. They know full well that they have lost this campaign and that Clinton has millions of more votes than he does. Sanders needs to issue a full-throated denunciation of not just the violence, but of the misogyny and the conspiracy theories. The refusal to do so, even when directly offered an opportunity, speaks volumes.

Perhaps Bernie Sanders just threw away the nomination, and Josh Marshall explains why:

With this new blow-up over whatever happened over the weekend in Nevada we see the pretty real and even dire consequences of lying to your supporters. The Sanders campaign, especially campaign manager Jeff Weaver, has been saying for weeks that Sanders can still win and that the system is ‘rigged’ against Sanders. But to the extent the system is ‘rigged’, it’s mainly rigged in Sanders’ favor.

And this particular grievance makes no sense at all:

Step back from the immediate controversy over this weekend. Back in February, Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Caucus 53% to 47%. But over the intervening months the Sanders campaign out organized the Clinton camp on the subsequent conventions and meetings where actual delegate allocations get determined. That’s not cheating. It just is how it is. We saw Ted Cruz do the same thing with Donald Trump. It’s totally legit as the rules now operate.

What happened over this weekend was that that Sanders effort to take the majority of the delegates even after losing the caucus got denied. Getting mad about that is pretty tough if you’re running under the banner of ‘democracy’. As I’ve said, I don’t think there should be caucuses in the first place. They’re inherently anti-democratic, highly effective voter suppression mechanisms. I also think there should be as little post-election-day complexity and rigmarole as possible. If I show up and vote for my candidate on Election Day, the impact of my vote shouldn’t be hostage to whether someone oversleeps, or shows up late at some county meeting three weeks later. There’s just no justification for that.

For now though, that’s how it is.

And that means there’s no point in lying about it:

The Sanders campaign and particularly the supporters in Nevada are claiming that the Nevada party bosses deprived them of ‘democracy’ over the weekend. The reality is that the Sanders folks were trying to overturn the outcome of the election. You can do that in the current system. It’s not cheating. But if your banner is ‘democracy’ and ‘transparency’ you just haven’t got jack.

As I said in the lede, this is the problem with lying to your supporters. Losing is hard. If you pump people up with bogus arguments that they’re losing because they got cheated and the system was rigged, you get people who are really angry, genuinely angry, even though they’re upset that their efforts to reverse the result of the actual election didn’t work.

In fact, you get Trump Republicans, and Bernie sounding like Donald:

Bernie Sanders says the Democratic Party needs to “understand that the political world is changing and that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics.” The candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination fired off what is being described as a “belligerent” and “angry” statement Tuesday afternoon in response to a four-page letter representing an official complaint by the Nevada Democratic Party against the Bernie Sanders campaign.

“The Democratic Party has a choice,” Sanders says in his missive. “It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change – people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry which is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.”

Okay, the world is changing, but roving bands of thugs don’t have to be part of that change, and that’s what this was:

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a veteran of Democratic politics, says she never saw anything quite like this before – loud cursing, shouting, obscene gestures and vile insults, including crude comments about the female anatomy. It was all on display over the weekend as supporters of Bernie Sanders turned the Nevada State Democratic Convention into chaos.

“I was not able to stop these people for doing what they did,” Boxer, a Hillary Clinton supporter, told CNN. “Apparently they’ve done it before… This group of about 100 were very vocal, and I can’t describe it – disrespectful doesn’t even explain it, it was worse than that.”

Boxer is hardly the lone Clinton supporter to experience such harassment on the campaign trail. Several top Democrats told CNN publicly and privately that the energy and enthusiasm of Sanders supporters has at times descended into incendiary attacks that threaten to tear apart efforts to unite Democrats against Donald Trump. Several female senators told CNN the attacks have been misogynistic.

What’s more, many Democrats fear that if Sanders does not rein in his supporters, the same ugly scene that occurred in Las Vegas last weekend could replicate itself in the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Donald Trump did slyly threaten riots at the Republican convention in Cleveland if the party took the nomination away from him, and that seems a possibility in Philadelphia now, and this Nevada thing was actually planned:

New audio obtained by CNN shows a senior Sanders aide – on the eve of the Nevada convention – encouraging the senator’s supporters try to “take over” the convention, change party rules and continue the “revolution” that Sanders has long campaigned on.

“You should not leave,” Joan Kato, the national delegates-director, told Sanders supporters in a meeting last week at the Rumor Boutique Hotel. “I’m going to repeat that, unless you are told by someone from the campaign… that you can leave, you should not leave.”

The Sanders campaign hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Is that the plan for Philadelphia too? A rationale is already in the works:

Bernie Sanders revealed Tuesday that shots were fired into his Nevada campaign office and that an “apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked.” The Democratic presidential candidate did not explicitly blame his rival, Hillary Clinton, for the actions.

Sanders made the statement in response to “criticisms made against my campaign organization.”

They started it!

That’s the sort of thing Donald Trump keeps saying, but things did finally ease up:

Bernie Sanders will work around the clock to make sure Donald Trump is not elected president, regardless of whether the Vermont senator wins the Democratic presidential nomination, his campaign manager said Tuesday.

“Well, he certainly has said that he will do everything – he will work seven days a week, night and day, to make sure Donald Trump is not president, and I’m confident that he will do that,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN. “Bernie Sanders, as you know, is a very effective campaigner on the stump.”

Weaver said Sanders has rallied millions of people, including young voters, independents and working-class people. “And I think he’ll take the message to them that Donald Trump would be a disaster for working-class and middle-class families in this country,” Weaver continued. “Putting the Republicans back in control of Washington is not a good strategy.”

The Donald was not happy with that:

Trump tweeted again Monday morning that Sanders should run as an independent.

“Bernie Sanders is being treated very badly by the Dems. The system is rigged against him,” Trump wrote. “He should run as an independent! Run Bernie, run!”

Okay, given that, Bernie Sanders can’t run as an independent. What can he say? Donald Trump told me to?

The Donald didn’t think that through, or he was just kidding around. Still, Bernie Sanders has a point about Hillary Clinton. He’s the bad boy, the Dead End Kid from the bad side of town, and the New York Times’ Emma Roller notes that Hillary Clinton is the Goldwater Girl:

“How did a nice Republican girl from Park Ridge go wrong?”

That was the question Hillary Clinton posed in March 1992, when she visited her old high school in suburban Park Ridge, Ill., with her husband, who was then running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mrs. Clinton made her first forays into politics as a teenager in Park Ridge, as an ardent supporter of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the ultraconservative Republican nominee for president in 1964.

Now she’s the one running for president. The Goldwater Girl chapter is in the past, though it is something the veteran Democratic politician talks about as formative to her political identity. “My political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with,” she said in a 1996 interview.

What can Hillary Clinton’s past as a Goldwater Girl tell us about her effort to win over Republicans in the general election?

The Clinton campaign seems to be subtly tapping into her conservative past in the hopes of appealing to anti-Trump Republicans in the general election. In recent weeks, her campaign has started courting Jeb Bush’s donors, and has sent out a flurry of news releases playing up the “risk” posed by a Donald J. Trump presidency and quoting Republicans who have voiced concerns about their presumptive nominee.

That’s not going well, but at least she understands them:

Mrs. Clinton grew up in a culture permeated by the threat of creeping Communism – and later, the Vietnam War. The jewelry artist Bonnie Klehr met Hillary Rodham when she was 13, and they served on a class council together. Ms. Klehr said Park Ridge “was a very lovely place to grow up, and it just was a very peaceful time. Except for when we had to hide under our desks because we thought the Russians were going to bomb us.”

In her junior year of high school, the Goldwater campaign tasked Hillary Rodham and her best friend, Betsy Ebeling, with checking for “voter registration fraud” in predominantly poor, black Chicago neighborhoods…

Yes, she was out there trying to suppress the black vote, but things change:

During her senior year, in 1964, her government teacher staged a mock election, and assigned young Hillary – to her horror – to play the part of Lyndon B. Johnson.

“I immersed myself – for the first time – in President Johnson’s Democratic positions on civil rights, health care, poverty and foreign policy,” Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoir, “Living History.” “As I prepared for the debate, I found myself arguing with more than dramatic fervor.”

After arriving at Wellesley College in 1965, Hillary Rodham joined its Young Republicans Club. But by then, she was a Rockefeller Republican, out of step with most members of her father’s party. Like many college students at that time, she had doubts about the government’s handling of civil rights and the war in Vietnam. By her senior year, the Rockefeller Republican had become a Eugene McCarthy Democrat.

Those of us who also arrived at college in September 1965 saw that happen to lots of kids from solidly Republican families. We forgive her. It seems that Bernie won’t. Bernie doesn’t forgive. His folks don’t forgive. That may be why he just lost this nomination. We’re not talking about “angels with dirty faces” or any of those other romanticized charming Dead End Kids, who were entirely fictional. The real ones are just nasty. This is over.

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