Chameleon Politics

In the summer of 1964 it was two weeks at a music camp in Elkhart, Indiana. It took two weeks to get the Pittsburgh accent back. The flattened vowels and the drawl were gone just before that senior year in high school began – a good thing. It’s best to fit in, to take on the color of the environment – especially in high school. Adolescents need to know how they fit in, or that they fit in, in some way, with some core group, even if it’s the nerds. That’s how chameleons survive after all, but it’s the same with anyone’s first real job – you learn the jargon, you have the right attitude about the right things – or you’re gone. It was the same starting in 1997 with those yearly trips to Paris each December – two weeks, travelling solo. Alone in a foreign land you have no choice. In France you learn to be formal and polite and courteous, and quiet and private in restaurants – and you don’t smile a lot for no reason, and you certainly don’t blurt out personal stuff no one cares about. You don’t grin and say “Hi” to absolutely everyone – and two weeks of that each year made the end of December here in Hollywood seem odd. In Hollywood, the land of celebrity, everything is confessional, even if you don’t want to know about Kim Kardashian’s latest tattoo. But sooner or later you’re back in the swing of things. You find yourself saying the oddest things to total strangers. You’re an American again.

Donald Trump wouldn’t last a minute in France, unless he bought the place. The French never talk about money. You never, ever, ask someone what they earn, and they’re certainly not going to tell you. Discuss sex, it’s safer – or discuss religion or politics or philosophy or fashion. But Donald Trump will tell you he’s rich – very, very rich – and expect you’ll be impressed. He’s been doing a lot of that lately, and he brags a lot about how great he is. Everyone knows the French attitude about that. If you don’t know how impressive a person is, then you’re an uninformed fool. That’s your problem. You’re supposed to keep up on things. The cool successful people are silent. They need say nothing. If you don’t know how cool they are, you should be ashamed of yourself.

This makes Donald Trump the most American of all the candidates this time around. He’s loud. He’s brash. He’s crass – and proud of it – and he’s running away with things on the Republican side. Americans love it – at least certain Americans do – the ones who hate the French – the ones who visit Paris and whine about how snooty the French are. The other Republicans, who want to win the primaries, and thus the party’s nomination, have not adapted to how All-American the race has become. They want to be seen as serious, because the presidency is a serious thing – the most deadly serious job in the world, and the presidency demands and commands dignity. They want to show they’re “presidential” – staid and proper, and not likely to make any sudden moves that could get us all killed.

Donald Trump laughs at them. The Republican base is laughing at them. No one is calling them French, yet, but tensions are rising:

Donald Trump is on his way to the Mexican border, the latest event in a presidential campaign some of his rivals would like to dismiss as a sideshow — a “carnival act,” as one puts it. But he’s been stealing their thunder for days and left them scrambling to adjust to a race dominated by a bombastic longshot.

The billionaire developer and reality TV host will be in Laredo, Texas, on Thursday, highlighting his unyielding stance on immigration. The trip will revisit a topic that has stirred criticism that has now grown into open hostility from some Republican contenders.

From party heavyweights like Jeb Bush to recently announced candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the contenders are confronted by Trump’s hair-trigger habit of calling out his critics by name, vilifying the GOP establishment and roiling the debate over immigration and more.

Someone has to say something:

In Washington, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked about Trump’s planned trip on to Laredo. He snapped, “I hope he can find the border because I’m not sure he’s ever been there before.”

This, after Perry denounced Trump’s campaign as a “cancer on conservatism” and “barking carnival act” in a speech that laced into “Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.”

Indeed, the insults flying between Trump and his fiercest critics have been caustic. Sen. Lindsey Graham called him a “jackass” a day earlier and Trump responded by calling Graham an “idiot” and giving out the senator’s cellphone number, jamming his voice mail.

Others in the field have been more measured, though showing signs of growing exasperation. Jeb Bush, in particular, has conspicuously tried to avoid alienating Trump’s supporters – “good people” with “legitimate concerns” – even while branding Trumps’ rhetoric “ugly” and “mean-spirited.”

Jeb Bush wants to have it both ways – that’s why they call him a moderate, even if his policy positions are as far-right as any of them – but it doesn’t matter:

Trump remains unbowed. “I’m called a jackass,” he said Wednesday on CNN. “You have to fight back. The country has to fight back. Everyone’s pushing our country around. We can’t allow that.”

Meanwhile, federal regulators made public records that show, as he has said, that he is rich. He has assets of at least $1.4 billion and debt of at least $240 million, the regulators said in a report with such broad categories that his wealth could well be much greater.

There you have it. In a way, he’s the ultimate Ugly American that’s been showing up on the streets of Paris since the early fifties – loud and embarrassing – but he’s the Real American here. How can you compete with that? Do you call him out? Do you meet buffoonery with quiet dignity? Or do you practice chameleon politics, changing colors to match the environment, to survive?

One candidate made his choice:

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is taking his frustrations with Donald Trump out on his old cellphone after the billionaire businessman was responsible for an influx of calls.

The latest throw-down between the GOP presidential hopefuls was ratcheted up Tuesday when Trump, speaking in Graham’s home state, slammed the senator as a “stiff,” a “lightweight” and an “idiot” and gave out Graham’s personal cellphone number to attendees.

That jab was in response to Graham, who had called Trump a “jackass” earlier. That slight from the GOP South Carolina senator came after reality TV star Trump went after Arizona Sen. John McCain’s war record at an Iowa event Saturday. Trump said the 2008 presidential nominee was “not a war hero,” because he was “captured.” McCain was a prisoner of war for five years in Vietnam, where he was tortured.

That had consequences:

After Trump gave out the phone number on Tuesday, Graham immediately started getting thousands of calls. His voicemail quickly filled up, and by that evening, the children of his friend, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., were answering it on their way to see the Minions movie with him at a Georgetown theater. …

By Wednesday, Graham seemed to find a more humorous – and perhaps cathartic – way to get rid of the phone that wouldn’t quit ringing.

Graham decided to be a buffoon too:

In a video shot by the conservative website IJReview, Graham found plenty of different ways to destroy his old phone. The dramatically filmed video titled, “How to Destroy Your Cell Phone With Sen. Lindsey Graham,” shows him taking a meat cleaver to a blue Verizon Samsung flip phone, dropping it in a blender, putting it in a toaster oven – with Bagel Bites – hitting it with a golf club and dropping it off a building.

“Or if all else fails, you can always give your number to ‘The Donald,'” Graham says at the end.

“This is for all the veterans,” the retired Air Force colonel adds, another jab at Trump, as he throws the phone out of frame.

The video is here – and it is pretty cool, even if it’s not “presidential” in any way at all. The use of Vivaldi is curious, but as Keith Brekhus notes, Graham is not alone:

On Tuesday, presidential hopeful Kentucky Senator Rand Paul released a video showing how much he hates the U.S. Tax code. In the bizarre 51 second video, the Republican Senator unleashes his latest gimmick to stay relevant in the GOP presidential race. He wants to be the candidate who can devise the most creative way to kill the tax code.

In the video, Rand Paul finds three different ways to demolish the pages of the U.S. tax code. He uses a wood chipper to shred the pages, starts a fire to burn the pages, and he saws the tax code into paper “sawdust” with a chainsaw. He does so while sporting an oxymoronic “Detroit Republican” T-shirt, because nothing says Detroit, like a white Libertarian-leaning Senator from Kentucky who was raised in East Texas.

Presumably, Rand Paul thinks America needs a leader strong enough to defeat reams of paper with a chainsaw. It may seem like overkill, but maybe he just isn’t familiar with a conventional pair of scissors.

In the circus-like atmosphere of the GOP primary where Donald Trump is lapping the field with his loud, unhinged brand of crazy, Rand Paul is struggling to return to his past glory as the pied piper for the Republican fringe.

That video is here – the soundtrack is the Jimi Hendrix Star Spangled Banner solo from Woodstock – because Rand Paul is hip – or he’s old. Donald Trump actually generated these two videos. These two had to do something.

The perpetually frightened-looking senator from Florida went the other way:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that President Obama has “no class.”

In an interview with “Fox and Friends,” Rubio argued that his GOP rival Donald Trump has not behaved in a way that is “worthy of the office that he seeks.” Then, he pivoted to going after Obama.

“We already have a president now that has no class,” said Rubio. The Republican, like most of his GOP opponents, has been an outspoken critic of Obama. But his disapproval has mostly been on policy, making his Wednesday comments especially notable.

“I mean, we have a president now that you know, does selfie-stick videos, a president that invites YouTube stars there, people that, you know, eat cereal out of a bathtub,” Rubio continued. “You just saw the interview he did right now, where he goes on comedy shows to talk about something as serious as Iran. The list goes on and on.”

Rubio has no use for buffoonery. Trump would be just another Obama – no class, simply no class – and he himself is one classy guy. He is? Well, he says so.

Heather Parton thinks he’s on safe ground, because we all know how it’s always the undisciplined young hippies versus the Real Americans:

Reagan was the original Republican “grown-up,” the Big Daddy figure who symbolized everything the Republican Party wanted to stand for: masculinity, maturity, dominance. This simplistic archetype has characterized the media’s celebration of GOP leadership since that time. When Bill Clinton, the first baby boomer to become president, first took office, there was a brief sense of excitement about the young commander-in-chief, but it immediately deteriorated into the usual anti-hippie diatribes among the media for the administration’s alleged lack of “discipline” and unruly approach to governance, what with the blue jeans in the Oval Office and the like. This early Miss Manners-esque critique morphed shortly thereafter into the willingness among political reporters to pass along any and all bits of gossip and innuendo, even including dark insinuations of drug running and “murder.” After all, everybody knows hippies have no morals.

And despite his own checkered baby-boomer past as a heavy-drinking hell-raiser, when George W. Bush was “elected” in 2000, the entire village celebrated the return of the Republicans to the White House. …

Rubio knows what he’s doing, but maybe times have changed:

This has been the way the press and the establishment have looked at the two parties for nearly half a century. But recently something has been changing. Say what you will about him, but President Obama cannot believably be described as undisciplined or unruly. In fact, “professorial” and “aloof” have been the adjectives most often used to describe him amongst beltway types. Not exactly the stuff of countercultural excess.

Meanwhile, at the same time that Obama was modeling a very mature organizational style, the Republicans all took their clothes off, held hands, and collectively jumped off a proverbial cliff. Now, they aren’t a youth movement by any means. In fact, they are mostly baby boomers too, members of the so-called “Silent Majority” who are having a delayed wing-nut Woodstock in their golden years. From the Tea Party town hall antics and the government shutdowns to the VP nomination of Sarah Palin, the Republicans have been on a rapid descent into Crazy Town over the course of just half a decade.

A delayed wing-nut Woodstock? So that’s why Rand Paul used Hendrix, not that it matters:

This is the most puerile presidential campaign in American history – and that’s before we even consider candidates like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Chris Christie. I suggest we give them all a bottle and put them to bed.

Frank Rich says the Republicans have only themselves to blame for this:

Whatever else is to be said about Trump, he is a master salesman. And in the GOP presidential marketplace, he has a near-monopoly on the product he is selling now: hardline, unapologetic, xenophobic opposition to both immigration reform and Mexican immigrants.

That is their issue:

Immigration is the fault line of the GOP. The party’s establishment – from its corporate backers to The Wall Street Journal editorial page to Jeb Bush (when he’s not hedging) – wants immigration reform. They know that no national Republican ticket can win without Hispanic voters. But the base that dominates the primary electorate loathes immigration reform – so much so that even Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, had to retreat from his original embrace of it to be a viable presidential contender. Hence, the question you ask is classic Catch-22: If the ultimate Republican presidential candidate does appropriate some part of Trump’s message to win the nomination, he will be as doomed as Mitt Romney was after he embraced “self-deportation” for undocumented immigrants in 2012. Or more doomed, given the trajectory of the Hispanic population explosion in America.

For all the other much-discussed factors contributing to the Trump boom – the power of celebrity, his “anti-politician” vibe, his freak-show outrageousness, his Don Rickles–style putdowns – it is the substantive issue of immigration that remains the core of his appeal to his fans. That’s why Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are defending him; it’s why Bill Kristol did until last weekend. And those Republicans who are now demanding that he desist are mostly hypocrites. John McCain himself, after all, enabled and legitimized those Trump partisans he now dismisses as “crazies” by putting Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008. Other GOP leaders waited too long to disown the conspiracy theories about the president’s birth certificate that Trump would eventually exploit to reboot his political aspirations. Romney ostentatiously courted and received Trump’s endorsement in 2012. Many of the Republican politicians now condemning Trump for attacking McCain’s heroism in Vietnam were silent (or worse) when John Kerry’s Vietnam heroism was Swift Boated in 2004.

They created this problem:

The GOP can blame the media all it wants, but the party has no one to blame but itself for weaponizing Trump. It subsidized and encouraged the market for what Trump is now selling. Now the Republicans’ only really hope is that Trump will blow himself up, Herman Cain style. Maybe he will, and he certainly has no chance of getting the nomination no matter what he does. But in the meantime he can keep wreaking havoc. Nine other GOP candidates were onstage at the Ames, Iowa, forum last weekend where he trashed McCain, and no one remembers anything anyone else there said unless it was in response to Trump. The same may well happen at the first national debate on Fox News on August 6, which is likely (because of Trump, and much to his delight) to be the highest rated primary debate in history.

Even over the short term, the Republicans are clueless about how to deal with him; they keep playing into his hands.

This is a problem, and Gabriel Sherman, the man who wrote the definitive book on Fox News, points out how this is playing over there:

The mounting problem Donald Trump poses to Republicans is also a mounting problem for the country’s most powerful conservative media mogul: Rupert Murdoch. This morning’s New York Times gives front-page treatment to the billionaire grudge match that has become a major story line in this year’s (already) fractious GOP primary. The piece by political reporters Amy Chozick and Ashley Parker chronicles Murdoch’s intensifying efforts over the past week to blunt Trump’s surge to the top of the crowded GOP field. In recent days, Murdoch has tweeted that Trump is “wrong” and “embarrassing.” On Sunday, the New York Post mocked Trump on the cover with the headline “DON VOYAGE” and featured him marooned on a life raft being circled by a shark. The same day, The Wall Street Journal ran a scathing editorial that labeled Trump a “catastrophe.”

Rupert Murdoch owns those two newspapers, and he owns Fox News, but he doesn’t control it:

One reason Murdoch is taking to social media and deploying his publishing properties to attack Trump may be the simple fact that he hasn’t been able to control his most powerful media organ: Fox News. According to sources, Murdoch has tried – and failed – to rein in Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who, insiders say, is pushing Fox to defend Trump’s most outlandish comments. This week, Ailes told his senior executives during a meeting that Murdoch recently called him and asked if Fox could “back off the Trump coverage,” a source told me. Ailes is said to have boasted to his executives that he told Murdoch he was covering Trump “the way he wanted to.” The implication was that he wasn’t going to budge.

Sherman’s book is The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News and Divided a Country – and here, Roger Ailes seems to think that All-American Buffoonery wins elections for Republicans, which is the whole point of Fox News anyway. Rupert Murdoch, on the other hand, seems to have a thing for dignity and restraint – or at least he doesn’t want to be associated with this loud, crass blowhard. Maybe he’s not really Australian. Maybe he’s French. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste, but Rupert Murdoch is certainly not a chameleon. Everyone else is one these days. This will not end well.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Chameleon Politics

  1. Rick says:

    So here we are, still talking about Donald Trump — but it’s not our fault! We can’t help it!

    It’s like deciding not to ever talk about Kim Kardashian — but there I go!!! I mentioned her! Is the reason we keep talking about her despite her huge oversized ass, or because of it? Same thing: Do we keep talking about Donald Trump despite his being a huge oversized ass, or because of it?

    Here’s Frank Rich:

    Whatever else is to be said about Trump, he is a master salesman.

    Maybe so, but not if the definition of that term includes that he’s any good at it!

    He’s like a used car salesman who follows you home, no matter how many times you tell him no. His antics may be momentarily amusing, but sooner or later it gets old, and you’ll have to get on with your life. It’s what president Obama said to Jon Stewart the other night about the media — that they’re distracted by shiny objects. Given the lack of excitement in the race in either party, with no other candidate out there capable of being the least bit amusing, this Andrew-Dice-Clay-wannabe is the only thing qualifying as entertainment at the moment.

    He is so sure he knows what we all want! “Finally, a presidential candidate who tells it like it is!” So what we need is a guy who is “honest” enough to say he’d really like to “date” his own daughter? And him being a guy who always does what he wants, no matter what people say, for all we know, he already has! (I’m sorry, am I being crass? And so who’s offended? Trump himself? How about all those voters who are making him the front-runner?)

    Ultimately, though, people discover they do not want a motormouth in the highest office of the land. We voters are like the bored guy who buys the Harley because he’s going through a mid-life crisis, until his wife finds out and makes him trade it back in for a minivan. Voters are just toying with him, knowing the election is not taking place next week. Rest assured — and you can bet the farm on it — Donald Trump will not be the nominee, nor will he ever be the president of this country.

    Having this big huge head doesn’t keep you from being a “lightweight” — in fact, it just makes you unbalanced, and sooner or later, you will topple over. As much fun as this has been, I can’t wait to see how it happens: Will it be with a huge implosion, or will all this silliness sort of quietly fade into just another faint memory?

    Rick

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