Upstaged

The big day finally arrived. Pope Francis addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress, the first pope ever to do that, and the Republicans were only mildly sorry they ever asked him to do that in the first place. Yes, he is in favor of everything they oppose, although he still considers abortion a grave sin, but his address was delivered with sweet reason. There was no scolding:

“You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics,” the pope told the lawmakers, some of whom seemed to strain to make out his words, spoken at times almost in a whisper and in a language, English, that is not his own.

“Politics,” he said, is “an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”

How can you argue with that? It seems you can:

As his speech moved from general exhortations to specifics, the pattern of applause in the House chamber made clear that papal calls to abolish the death penalty, welcome immigrants, combat climate change and work against income inequality were more welcome on the Democratic side than among Republicans.

And there was this:

Although the pope raised several other topics – including global warming, against which he urged “courageous actions and strategies,” and the global trade in weapons – immigration was the central element of the address.

Francis, whose family emigrated from Italy to Argentina, challenged Congress to act with compassion in dealing with migrants, not only refugees in Europe, but also those fleeing north from Mexico.

“When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” he said.

“Thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories.”

He wasn’t leaving the Republicans much room to maneuver there, although Jeb Bush has been saying the same thing. Bush, however, gets booed every time he says such things. Still, there was this:

He admonished Congress to use the nation’s civic traditions as a spur to action. “A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism,” he said.

Yeah, right:

“I welcome the pope’s call to put aside petty bickering and come together behind shared values,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate who portrays himself a disruptive force in politics and is threatening a government shutdown. “What I have endeavored to do is speak the truth with a smile.”

As Francis headed for New York, lawmakers were back to work in the afternoon, voting in the Senate on a measure to keep the government running past next Wednesday’s deadline. It failed.

And by the way, Ted Cruz doesn’t smile. He’s built his political career on being frightening. Pope Francis seems to work the other way. He says the most radical things in a loving and inclusive and nonthreatening way. He smiles. He seems to be a master at passive-aggression. He suggests common decency, and asks others to examine their conscience. They know better. They’ll do the right thing, so he is appealing to their higher natures, their better angels as Lincoln put it, which he knows they have – a basic guilt-trip. It’s a Catholic thing.

That works well enough, but it might not work with our Republicans. They don’t do guilt. The righteous never feel guilt, ever. Neither do the self-righteous, but it doesn’t matter. It’s over. Pope Francis declined an invitation to have a fancy and formal lunch with the top leaders in Congress. He had lunch with the homeless at a local shelter, and he chatted with them and had a fine time. They loved him right back – and Congress got back to insulting each other and getting nothing done – and the pope left town. It’s as if it never happened.

New York was the next stop for Pope Francis – a late afternoon service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, across the street from Rockefeller Center, a few doors down from Trump Tower, on Fifth at 57th Street, looming over Tiffany’s with its cases full of diamonds. All the streets were closed as massive crowds waited for Francis to putter up in the new Popemobile, a small Fiat 500 sedan. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is wedged between Saks Fifth Avenue and the big black Olympic Tower, built by Aristotle Onassis, where a two-bedroom condo twenty-five floors up will cost you five million – and the pope shows up in a dinky little Fiat? Maybe now some rich New Yorkers will feel guilty – but probably not. They don’t do guilt either, but that led to this:

Donald Trump was booed outside of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue by a crowd waiting for Pope Francis’ arrival. The GOP presidential candidate emerged from Trump Tower and waved at the crowd of tens of thousands, around 4:30 p.m., according to live coverage feed of the New York Times.

Trump was initially greeted with cheers, but it quickly turned into loud boos. He retreated back into the building. The real estate mogul made another attempt to greet the crowd around 6:15 p.m. This time, the crowd yelled, “Feo! Feo!” – Spanish for ugly. One of the people waiting in the crowd told the New York Times, “I’m here for the pope of love. I’ve had enough of Donald Trump.”

They’d had enough of his bullshit:

In a previous interview with CNN, Trump said he had much respect for the pope. However, when asked about how he would respond to Pope Francis’ views on capitalism as greedy and corrupt, the GOP candidate said, “I’d say ISIS wants to get you.”

What? What did that have to do with anything? Something odd is going on here, and while the pope was being the pope everyone expected him to be, the far more interesting story was that Donald Trump was being upstaged by the authentic and loving quiet guy from Rome. Everyone in America decided to love the pope, or at least say they respected him. Pope Francis offered moral weight and deep thoughtfulness. Donald Trump provided the contrast. The story that wasn’t being covered was that Donald Trump’s bombast was catching up with him.

At Business Insider, Hunter Walker explains what has happened:

Donald Trump has two words to describe a recent spate of articles that suggested he may be losing steam in the Republican presidential primary: “dishonest reporting.” …

Three articles published Thursday by CNN, Politico, and The Washington Post used recent polls from Quinnipiac and CNN/ORC to argue that the surge that propelled Trump to the head of the GOP pack may be ending.

The Quinnipiac poll, released Thursday, showed Trump in first place. But it also found that Republican voters said, by a 4-to-1 margin, that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina “out-performed” Trump in the Republican presidential debate last Wednesday.

The CNN/ORC poll, released Sunday, also put Trump in the lead but found his support had dipped eight points. It also found Fiorina surging.

On Thursday morning, Politico’s Kyle Cheney published a piece that pointed to the CNN/ORC poll, predictions from rival campaigns, and the widespread impression that Trump “faded a bit” during the debate. Cheney argued that the “Trump momentum shows signs of stalling.”

CNN’s Eric Bradner came in with a story of his own a few hours later. Bradner said the Quinnipiac poll “reinforced a recent CNN/ORC poll that showed an ascendant Fiorina in the wake of her strong debate performance last week.”

That story was headlined, in part, “Donald Trump lead shrinks.”

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump was up next. He published an article that used the CNN/ORC poll and wider averages to make the claim that “Donald Trump’s slide in the polls is beginning to look real.”

Trump was having none of it. He was still leading in all the polls and was feeling abused:

Trump took issue with how the local Sun Sentinel newspaper covered the Florida poll with a headline that focused on the state’s former governor, Republican Jeb Bush, and US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

“I just won Florida. I’m way up over everybody in Florida. You have a governor, you have a senator. I’m at 32; they’re at 19 and 11. OK? Rubio’s at 19, Bush is at 11, and I’m at 32,” Trump said. “But the headline is, ‘Rubio goes ahead of Bush.’ And I won the poll! I didn’t even know I was in the poll. I won the poll and the headline doesn’t even have my name in it!”

It’s just not fair! Or maybe it is:

On the campaign trail and debate stage, many of the shots Trump has taken at his opponents emphasize his status as the front-runner. Business Insider asked Trump whether the fact that he has made so many of the arguments for his candidacy about his poll numbers puts him in a position where it would be disastrous for him to slip. Trump said it would be impossible to answer this question because he has, thus far, maintained a lead.

“I can’t tell you,” said Trump. “My numbers have just gone up. I just can’t tell you.”

He sounds worried, and Politico reports that he seems to be becoming unhinged:

Donald Trump is not happy with the Associated Press photographer who took a picture showing a significant number of empty chairs at a South Carolina event on Wednesday – so unhappy he called him a “f***ing thief,” according to the Daily Mail.

Trump’s remarks about wire photographer Mic Smith follow a rough couple of days for his relationship with the press. On Wednesday, he said he would no longer appear on Fox News, which responded that Trump “doesn’t seem to grasp that candidates telling journalists what to ask is not how the media works in this country.” Later, he agreed to a meeting with Fox News CEO Roger Ailes to discuss “differences of opinion,” the network said in a statement.

On Thursday, he railed against New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin and POLITICO on Twitter, calling Martin “dishonest” and POLITICO “really dishonest.” (Martin, a former POLITICO reporter, mocked pro-Trump “chair truthers” in tweets of his own.)

But it was Smith, apparently, who infuriated Trump the most.

“Tell them they’re a fraud, whoever took it. I just got killed on that thing, and it was just really unfair. It’s goddamn unfair,” he told The Daily Mail.

Pope Francis doesn’t talk like that, but Trump said he had been wronged:

The chairs were only empty, he explained, because the crowd had surged forward to surround him.

“I was speaking from the podium. Everybody was wrapped around the podium. If they hadn’t done that, there wouldn’t have been an empty seat,” he told the Daily Mail. “‘I’ve never made a speech where there were so many people wrapped around the podium in the front. That’s what happened.”

There’s a pattern developing, as MSNBC notes:

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that he’d stop appearing on Fox News shows, prompting the network to fire back Wednesday afternoon that the candidate’s latest declaration was the result of Fox News cancelling his scheduled Thursday appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

“The press predictably jumped to cover his tweet, creating yet another distraction from any real issues that Mr. Trump might be questioned about. When coverage doesn’t go his way, he engages in personal attacks on our anchors and hosts, which has grown stale and tiresome,” a spokesperson for Fox News said in a statement. “He doesn’t seem to grasp that candidates telling journalists what to ask is not how the media works in this country.”

Fox News called him stale and tiresome for a reason:

Trump has been embroiled in conflict with Fox and its star anchor, Megyn Kelly, ever since the network hosted the first GOP debate in August. While his performance in last week’s CNN debate was generally considered to lack standout moments, Trump told the small crowd he’d been victorious.

“Every single poll said Trump won the debate,” the GOP front-runner boasted. “The pundits don’t say that, they really hate me, the people say it, the pundits don’t say it. The people are really smart; they really know what’s going on.”

But the view from the media area in the back of the ballroom wasn’t so bright: the last seven rows of seats were empty and while Trump’s largely-white supporters jumped and cheered for their candidate, black conference-goers looked on with far less enthusiasm.

This was the Greater Charleston Business Alliance and the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce in Charleston, South Carolina, and only the few white folks cheered, but he wasn’t talking to anyone there anyway:

In addition to disparaging the media, Trump spent a good portion of his 45-minute address complaining about other candidates – ribbing Marco Rubio for having worse hair than himself and poking fun at how sweaty Mike Huckabee got during the last GOP debate. He also threw fuel on the growing debate over whether Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign was behind rumors that then-Sen. Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., calling her “the original birther – but don’t let that change your vote.”

“I respect women more than I respect men!” he declared, though during his address he disparaged Clinton as “shrill,” Fiorina for fundraising, and another woman who sued him as “a horrible woman, who just happened to be elderly, but a horrible woman.”

There’s a backstory there:

As she rises in the 2016 primary polls, earning the ire of GOP front-runner Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina reveled in his attacks as a sign of her own success.

“It might seem that Donald Trump’s getting a little nervous,” the former Hewlett Packard CEO told reporters after a campaign event in Myrtle Beach. “I’m getting under his skin a little bit…”

Fiorina brought up a 20-year-old eminent domain lawsuit between Atlantic City and an elderly widow, Vera Coking, to condemn big government. The case – in which Trump urged the state to have Coking’s home seized by the state under “eminent domain” legislation by the state so he could build a parking lot for limousines at a casino – was cited by Fiorina as an example of what she considers an instance of government infringing on Americans’ freedoms.

He fought for a parking lot for limousines at a casino and the elderly widow lost, and the pope just drove by in his little Fiat, and waved. Cool.

Something odd is going on here, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza found something else:

Donald Trump is the front-runner to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. Here’s what he had to say about Marco Rubio, one of his main rivals for the nomination, during an appearance on “Morning Joe” on Thursday:

“He sweats more than any young person I’ve ever seen in my life. … I’ve never seen a guy down water like he downs water. … They bring it in buckets for this guy.”

So, that is a thing that happened in a race for the most powerful office in the country and one of the most powerful jobs in the world.

At this point, these sorts of personal attacks have become de rigueur for Trump; he’s called Jeb Bush “low-energy,” said acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson was only an “okay” doctor and slammed Carly Fiorina’s (looks) persona. …

Why, if Trump could be attacking Rubio for supporting a comprehensive immigration reform plan that is unpopular with the GOP base, is he hitting the senator from Florida on his body temperature?

Cillizza thinks this might be why:

Trump is, at heart, a provocateur – a needler. He’s someone who not only enjoys getting under people’s skin but is uniquely able to find the one or two things that can really do it. By finding that weak spot or insecurity, Trump believes he can get the other person off of his game – get Rubio so obsessed with worries about sweat and his personal appearance that he can’t concentrate on beating Trump up over his utter lack of policy specifics on almost, well, anything.

This is problematic:

The reality is that Rubio DOES sweat a lot. … So, it’s not that Trump is wrong; it’s just that he’s sort of a jerk about it. Remember the kid who made fun of the girl in sixth grade for wearing the same pair of jeans two days in a row? (Confession: That kid was me. And I am eternally sorry, Leanne Scharfenberger.) Well, most of us grew out of it. Trump didn’t. He finds weak spots and exploits them. It’s almost certainly what makes him a good negotiator – and what has made him ruthlessly effective in the sound-bite culture of the 2016 race.

Trump has mastered the comic putdown; he knows what moves the needle and what people respond to. In the “Morning Joe” clip, you can hear people laughing in the background. He did something similar when he cracked a Rosie O’Donnell joke when asked during the first debate about derogatory comments he had made about women in the past. Trump jokes with an insult, people laugh, and attention is moved away from a potential weak spot for him. It’s brilliant (as long as people don’t tire of it or start to view him as unserious).

That may be starting, but Cillizza thinks Rubio did the right thing:

Here’s what Rubio did say in response to Trump: “I think he’s kind of been exposed a little bit over the last seven days, and he’s a very touchy and insecure guy and so that’s how he reacts, and people can see through it.” Not bad – especially the “insecure” attack.

But Rubio’s best defense against Trump might be to make as clear as possible that The Donald isn’t getting to him. Look at Bush; it was quite clear to anyone paying attention that Jeb has been irked by Trump’s “low energy” attack. Nothing makes Trump happier than knowing he is getting to you. When he praised Bush’s energy during the second debate, you could see the glee in his eyes.

Yeah, he was alpha-male dominant, but Susan Estrich sees this:

Is there a limit to how many voters think the next president and first lady should be the television host and his third wife (who would certainly be the first First Lady to have posed nude)? I always wonder, as I hear candidates and their supporters condemning others, how they square Donald Trump’s words with his actions. The short answer may be that most voters – even Republican voters – are not taken in by hot air and petty insults. Maybe they think such behavior is beneath the dignity of a candidate for president. Perhaps that is why 75 percent of Republicans are not supporting Donald Trump.

And that alpha-male thing can be turned against him:

Donald Trump is still refusing to appear on the Fox News Channel – but apparently his self-imposed boycott doesn’t prohibit watching the channel’s shows. Trump exploded on Twitter on Wednesday night after National Review editor Rich Lowry appeared on Fox and used some rather, well, colorful language to describe exactly how Carly Fiorina bested Trump at last week’s Republican presidential debate.

“Let’s be honest: Carly cut his balls off with the precision of a surgeon – and he knows it,” Lowry said on “The Kelly File.”

Host Megyn Kelly was shocked. “You can’t say that!” she said, before covering her eyes with a hand. “You can’t say that.”

Trump quickly exploded on Twitter and wrote in a tweet: “Incompetent @RichLowry lost it tonight on @FoxNews. He should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him!” And then: “@FoxNews owes me an apology for allowing clueless pundit @RichLowry to use such foul language on TV. Unheard of!”

The FCC doesn’t regulate cable television. That’s private. The FCC regulates the public airways. Someone should tell Donald, but that’s a minor matter:

Lowry quickly fired back at Trump on Twitter, saying he’s not surprised the Republican presidential candidate was upset by the comment – but quickly pointing out that Trump himself often makes politically incorrect comments.

“I love how Mr. Anti-PC now wants the FCC to fine me,” Lowry tweeted, adding a hashtag: #pathetic. He then posed this question to Trump: “So it’s OK for you to insult Carly’s looks, but you can’t handle me describing what happened to you in the debate?” Lowry then answered that question himself: “Man, you can dish it out but you REALLY, REALLY can’t take it.”

Lowry finally threw up a white flag and offered this tweeted compromise: “A deal for you, Donald: if you apologize to Carly for your boorish insult, I might stop noting how she cut your balls off.”

And then the pope drove by in his little Fiat, and waved. Pope Francis did not change a single thing in Washington, but he was there, being who he is – a good man. Some good may come of that, or not, but at least he provided a contrast to the simultaneous ongoing absurdity of Donald Trump. His visit wasn’t wasted.

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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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