Come September

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” That’s how Henry David Thoreau put it – and most men, where they are, know there’s someplace else they should be, a place that’s more home than home, that place where they were supposed to be in the first place. Those of us who grew up in Pittsburgh know that. There was a lot of quiet desperation there – but there’s a lot of quiet desperation here in Southern California too – too much sun, too many palm trees, too much tedious trendiness. The move up here to Hollywood over twenty years ago only made things worse. This isn’t the right place. This isn’t the place anyone is supposed to be.

That explains all the trips to Paris, the first in 1997 – turn fifty and it’s time drop the quiet desperation and just fly off to where you were supposed to be in the first place. Two weeks in Paris, solo, and you’ll find out if you were right – and that happened. The quiet desperation vanished.

Cool, but there was still the matter of timing. April in Paris is a bit raw – that famous song got it wrong. For a number of years June seemed right – the Fête de la Musique was cool – but there were too many tourists. The Champs-Élysées was Hollywood Boulevard – folks from Iowa, gawking – and August was impossible. The French left town. Paris was no longer Paris.

The city only settled down in September. Things got back to normal. It was back to work and back to school for the “real” folks there. La rentrée – that’s what they called it – the reentry. The nonsense was over. Spring and summer were an aberration, full of foolishness. It was time to reenter the real world – and that was the time to sip cognac at the Flore late on a rainy afternoon, behind the steamed-up windows, as the folks outside under their umbrellas hurried home, and time to feel at home. Hollywood was half a world away. Hollywood didn’t matter at all. This was where you were supposed to be in the first place. It was simply a matter of timing. You have to know when the nonsense stops.

The French are fairly formal about that – they have a word for it – but we don’t think that way. For us the nonsense never stops, or at least we’re “on” twenty-four-seven, year round. That’s what makes us Americans. We’re go-getters. September is just another month, except it isn’t. Even if we don’t have a word for it, come September, we often simply reenter the real world. We see the nonsense and move on. It’s September. The Summer of Trump is over.

You can bet on it:

It was a wild night at CNN’s GOP debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, and it took a toll on Donald Trump as he sparred with Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush and sustained attacks from just about everybody on the stage.

The odds of Trump winning the GOP nomination fell 8 percentage points to 12%, according to the Political Prediction Market from CNN and Pivit.

Things changed:

Marco Rubio was the early winner, according to Political Prediction Market data collected during the debate. The odds of Rubio winning the GOP nomination rose 6 points to 15%.

Carly Fiorina also rose by 2 points to 16% odds and Jeb Bush rose by 1 point to 18% odds to win the GOP nomination. Bush currently has the best odds, but not by much.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson had been nipping at front-runner Trump’s heels in recent opinion polls. But the odds of a Carson nomination went down by 4 points during the debate, according to the calculation.

All this is based on both polls and input from players who weigh in on the increasing or decreasing chance that a candidate or party wins or loses an election, so it may not be worth much, but there’s this:

One of the nation’s most influential evangelical Christian leaders is calling for conservative religious Americans to abandon their support for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, arguing he is against “everything they believe.”

On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Russell Moore, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a deeply conservative Protestant denomination which claims around 15 million members nationwide. In a lengthy rant against Trump, Moore expresses frustration with evangelicals who support the oddly-cadenced businessman, who consistently flubs faith questions but nonetheless enjoys “huge” support among evangelical voters…

Moore having none of that:

“To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe.” Moore – who heads up the political wing of the theologically conservative SBC – argues that Trump’s lack of humility, sexist rants against women, and lack of sexual purity make him a poor fit for the Christian Right. Moore – who interviewed Catholic GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio earlier this summer – appears less interested in Trump’s professed faith tradition than his purported disregard for others.

His popularity with evangelicals was a mystery:

Trump, who is Presbyterian, has admitted that even he doesn’t fully understand his appeal with right-wing Christians. He told a reporter in August, “Why do evangelicals love me? You’ll have to ask them. But they do. They do love me.”

Some analysts have credited Trump’s rise to his raw charisma, but Moore is unmoved. He points out that, in addition to Trump’s uneven faith claims, he has insulted evangelicals and Hispanics – many of whom are evangelicals – in the past.

“He regularly ridicules evangelicals, with almost as much glee as he does Hispanics,” Moore writes. “In recent years, he has suggested that evangelical missionaries not be treated in the United States for Ebola, since they chose to go overseas in the first place … When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation, as the Bible tells us to, are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician?”

It was time to reenter the real world:

“We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.”

So much for that, but there’s this:

Tom Brady is not only Donald Trump’s golfing buddy. The New England Patriot endorsed The Donald for president Wednesday. When Brady was asked about a “Make American Great Again” hat that was previously spotted in his locker, he said the hat is a “nice keepsake” and that it would be “great” if Trump won the election.

When asked if Trump has a shot at winning the general election, Brady said, “I hope so. That would be great. There’d be a putting green on the White House lawn. I know that.”

When asked if he has any advice to Trump before the CNN Republican debate tonight, Brady simply said, “No.”

Trump has been a longtime ally of Brady and fiercely defended him during the “Deflategate” scandal.

The ethically-challenged stick together, but CNBC’s Sara Fagen sees it’s over:

First, the petty insults about people’s appearances and intelligence levels are getting old. Sure, it was entertaining for a few months while we all watched in wonderment of how someone in such a prestigious position could say such outrageous statements. But, everyone in show business knows you need a second act. What was funny and bold is now starting to become boring. How many times can one person insult Rand Paul? It’s just no longer interesting. Most Americans who follow politics only peripherally will be slower to come to this conclusion, but they will eventually get there.

Second, as last night’s debate moved into substantive discussions, Donald Trump faded in the background. He’s no doubt a highly intelligent person (just ask him!), but his command of policy is weak and he doesn’t seem to have improved or gained new knowledge since entering the race. He’s not in command of facts and figures and his answer simply is that he’ll hire the best people. The best people? Seriously?

This is pretty simple:

The challenge for Donald is the narrative on him is starting to shift. He’s no longer going to get away with petty insults and mistakes about foreign policy. The political press is becoming more aggressive, as are his opponents. Donald Trump is easily irritated by tough questions. He showed that again last night. And when he’s irritated… he is more likely to make mistakes. Seasoned candidates understand this dynamic. They understand there’s no second take on live television. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a moment on camera that even the Donald wishes he could take back.

That may have just happened:

At his first public appearance since Wednesday’s GOP primary debate, Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday fielded a question from a supporter in New Hampshire about Muslim extremism. The issue? The questioner described Muslims as a “problem in this country,” before adding, “You know our president is one” – and Trump just let it slide.

Before running for president, Trump demanded to see Obama’s birth certificate to prove he was born in America. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, has long maintained that he is Christian.

Thursday’s questioner went on to ask what Trump would do to curb the growth of extremist training camps. “We’re going to be looking into that,” the real estate mogul responded.

But this was not a moment on camera that even the Donald wishes he could take back:

Pressed by MSNBC to elaborate, Trump said, “Christians need support in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake.”

What? Was that supposed to impress Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention? And there’s the obvious:

Trump’s failure to correct the record about Obama’s religion stands in contrast to former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who was repeatedly booed by a crowd at a 2008 town hall event in Minnesota for contradicting a woman who described Obama as “an Arab.”

Everyone thought McCain was heroic and decent for that. Trump has said that McCain was no war hero. McCain wasn’t a hero at all. Heroes don’t get captured and sit out the war. That whole business may come up again, and Elias Isquith at Salon offers this:

I can’t quite remember when I first came across it, but ever since I heard someone describe humans as “meaning-seeking machines,” the phrase has stuck with me. The idea that people bestow meaning to their lives – and often do so despite their suspicions to the contrary – is profound… which brings me to the Republican Party presidential debate held Wednesday night by CNN. A glance at the initial wave of responses suggests that many in the media are trying to tease some greater meaning out of the event.

That was difficult:

The first spasm of groupthink focused on Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who lobbied her way onto the debate stage after earning rave reviews for her performance in the second-tier debate held last month. After she responded to Donald Trump’s blatantly misogynist joke about her appearance with a (passive-aggressive) shot across his bow, many pundits decided that Fiorina was the big winner. Suddenly it was clear why the debate mattered; it was the moment when Fiorina felled Trump.

Frustratingly, though, somewhere along the journey from the media’s collective unconsciousness to the real world, the grand design got scrambled. An admittedly unscientific post-debate poll from the Drudge Report had her losing to Trump by more than 40 percent; and a similarly informal poll held by Time upped the difference to nearly 50. Even Fiorina’s champions admitted that she exhibited “a curious detachment from reality,” as Vox’ Ezra Klein put it, before declaring her the winner nevertheless.

But if the debate wasn’t “Carly’s Night,” like the neoconservative Weekly Standard claimed, what was it?

That whole thing might have been summer nonsense:

All of this grasping at straws could lead you to wonder if the three-hour debate served any real purpose. For those of us without a material interest in CNN’s ratings, unfortunately, the answer is simple: It didn’t. The network is partially to blame for this, of course; nearly every question the moderators asked was designed to get the candidates squabbling on personal grounds. From top to bottom, CNN’s presentation was more akin to reality television and professional wrestling than boring stuff like self-government.

But as much as I’d like to say the pointlessness of the whole exercise was CNN’s fault, that wouldn’t be true. Because even if CNN were interested in something a bit more high-minded the ideological conformity of the Republican Party is so rigid, and the conservative movement’s obsession with white identity politics is so entrenched, the network wouldn’t have much to work with. The hollowing-out of democracy wrought by inequality and polarization has reduced our politics into a shell – bright, glittering, and empty.

At least this second debate is over, but Michael Grunwald at Politico reviews the nonsense:

America’s potential, said Carly Fiorina, is being “crushed.” America’s military, said Marco Rubio, is being “eviscerated.” Working people, said Mike Huckabee, are “taking a gut punch.” The idea of America, said Bobby Jindal, is “slipping away.”

Donald Trump, as usual, went even further: “We don’t have a country.”

Last night’s Republican debate in the Reagan Library was not about Morning in America. It was more like Darkness at Noon. Jeb Bush did call for the party to embrace a Reaganesque sense of optimism, which he contrasted with “the Donald Trump approach of ‘Everything is bad, everything is coming to an end.” But with occasional exceptions, usually involving the softer-edged John Kasich, the Trump approach dominated. For five hours, the candidates stood in front of Reagan’s plane and described America as a declining nation in a dystopic world, as they pledged, to borrow a phrase, to Make America Great Again.

It was the usual nonsense:

It was taken for granted last night that the national debt is out of control, the economy is deteriorating, the government is corrupt, and the world, as Lindsey Graham put it, is “on fire.” Rubio complained that “our left-wing government is undermining all the institutions that support the family.” Ted Cruz declared that the Iran nuclear deal would turn the Obama administration into the world’s largest financier of Islamic terror. Chris Christie said the middle class “is getting plowed over by Barack Obama.” The one thing the Republicans didn’t seem too concerned about was climate change, which they agreed was not a problem worthy of solutions that might increase utility bills at a time when average Americans, as Rick Santorum put it, “are losing ground.”

Obama provided an alternative view before the debate when he spoke to the Business Roundtable and argued that “America’s great right now” actually:

He later tweeted some supporting evidence that wasn’t mentioned last night on CNN: U.S. businesses have added 13 million jobs over 66 straight months of employment growth, with the jobless rate dropping from 10% to 5%. The budget deficit has fallen from nearly 10% of GDP to less than 3% under Obama, while the uninsured rate has fallen from 15.4% to 9.2% under Obamacare. The U.S. auto industry, on the brink of extinction before Obama’s bailout, is on pace for its best year since 2001.

That was useless:

Last night wasn’t really about evidence, although several candidates did mention that wages are stagnant, and Bush noted the “labor participation rate” has been declining since 1977. There was a consensus on stage that illegal immigration is a national crisis – an “incredible problem,” said Ben Carson – even though the population of undocumented immigration has actually declined by about 1 million under Obama. Carson also bemoaned how little has been done to push oil independence; in fact, oil imports from the Middle East just hit a 28-year low. Listening to Graham, Rubio and Fiorina decrying the weakness of the military and the need for a much larger navy, a listener never would have guessed that the U.S. spends five times as much as any other country on defense.

And there was this:

There was some debate about the Iraq War, and Trump mentioned the financial cataclysm of 2008, but some of the candidates openly pined for the good old days of George W. Bush. It wasn’t just Jeb who credited his brother with keeping the country safe; Christie added that Obama had stripped away that safety, even though the September 11 attacks were on Bush’s watch, and nothing similar has happened since. Fiorina actually seemed to suggest the economy was better when Lehman Brothers was collapsing in September 2008, suggesting that “in seven short years the president has stolen our belief that our children will have a better future.”

The doom and gloom was especially intense around foreign affairs, with general agreement that, as Jeb Bush put it, “this administration has created insecurity the likes of which we never could have imagined.” Rubio threw around words like “apocalyptic” to describe the danger of Obama’s nuclear deal. There were numerous references to the danger that ISIS poses to the American homeland. Trump asked why no one seemed to be worrying about the North Korean threat.

“This world,” he summed up, “is a mess.”

It’s always a mess, but there was this:

It was interesting to hear Kasich talk about his desire to give people “a sense of hope, a sense of unity, a sense we can do it,” he said. He sounded more genuinely Reaganesque than Bush, who talks about running a joyful campaign the way unhappy people often telling their friends how happy they are.

So we have this:

For now, the Republican Party is Trump’s party, and it was amusing to watch also-rans like Bobby Jindal try to play Trump on TV. Jindal described an America where illegal immigration is a national nightmare, where anti-Christian discrimination is a national epidemic, and the Republican Party – which has failed to defund Planned Parenthood or block the Iran Deal – is a national disgrace.

At least he got that right, but Dana Milbank sees the beginning of the end of Donald Trump:

The candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have fundamentally changed their tone toward the nominal front-runner. They are, at long last, treating him like the huckster he is.

Scott Walker, who cited Trump entities’ bankruptcy filings, said: “Mr. Trump, we don’t need an apprentice in the White House.”

George Pataki: “Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States.”

Rand Paul condemned the “sophomoric” Trump’s attacks on personal appearances, saying we should “all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal.” (Trump responded with a joke about Paul’s looks.)

Bobby Jindal – asked about his recent description of Trump as an “unstable, narcissistic egomaniac” – predicted: “God forbid, if he were in the White House, we have no idea what he would do.”

Even genial Jeb Bush demanded Trump apologize for the “completely inappropriate” way the mogul referred to Bush’s Mexican-born wife. And Carly Fiorina likened Trump to the federal government, saying he “ran up mountains of debt, as well as losses, using other people’s money.”

This could have cumulative effect:

Four years ago, when Trump led the “birther” movement, President Obama called him a “carnival barker.” Conservatives have embraced that view; Jindal last week called Trump a “carnival act.” And that could be the tycoon’s undoing. People will disagree about his politics, but once the perception spreads across ideological lines that Trump is a clown, he’s done.

That seems to have started:

Without fear of retribution, the candidates played tag-team against the bully, scolding him for “careless language” (Paul), “using the talking points of the Democrats” (Walker), his plan to “tear families apart” with mass deportation (Bush), his birthright-citizenship plan to “just wave your hands and say the 14th Amendment is going to go away” (Fiorina) and his defiance of the “extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations” (Carson).

Pressed about his criticism of Bush for speaking Spanish, Trump lost some of his bluster, saying he made the remark “a little bit half-heartedly.”

Even this flicker of remorse is a sign of progress. It raises hope that Trump will indeed succeed in making America great again – by motivating Americans, even fellow conservatives and Republicans, to repudiate his nonsense.

The French have a word for that. La rentrée – it happens every September. The nonsense ends. And if it doesn’t end, and Trump’s poll numbers skyrocket again, we’ll always have Paris. Some of us might fly off to where we were supposed to be in the first place, and stay there. With this guy in charge over here, cognac at Flore on a rainy autumn evening over there sounds pretty good. “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” Gertrude Stein said that. She was born in Pittsburgh too.


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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