Three-Dimensional Chess

The late sixties were odd, but it wasn’t all hippies and political chaos and Vietnam and the Stones versus the Beatles (a first-order marker of how rebellious one actually was) and then Woodstock and then Nixon – there was Star Trek, the original series with the cheesy special effects. That was a respite from it all. The weekend Dean Rusk was to speak on campus, to massive protests of course, all of us gathered around the television, in the house we had rented off campus, for another Star Trek episode, and giggles. Someone had made a hand-printed sign we always put on top of the set – Far Fucking Out – and it was off to boldly go where no man had gone before. There was the impulsive but bold but often foolish Captain Kirk, and there was the awesomely cool and severely logical Spock, who never let anything get out of hand – and there was the obligatory half-naked woman, or as half-naked as Paramount could get away with at the time. It was a hoot, but Spock always stole the show. Cool matters. It mattered then. It matters now – and now and then there’d be that quiet expository scene where Kirk and Spock were playing three-dimensional chess – and everyone knew who won those games.

That made Star Trek a first-order cultural marker too, an enduringly useful framing device. From his first day in office, columnists couldn’t resist telling us that Barack Obama was our Spock – awesomely cool and severely logical. Few saw that as a flaw. And now he has his Captain Kirk – Donald Trump – bad hair and impulsive but bold but often foolish. And of course election politics is a game of three-dimensional chess – almost impossibly complex with its many dimensions and all sorts of things to consider, six moves ahead. Today it was Obama’s move – dare Republicans who had denounced what Trump had just said, this time, to take the only logical next step and take back their endorsement of him. Then it was Trump’s move, letting big-gun Republicans know that if they did any such thing they’d pay a heavy price – it was his party now and they’d be left high and dry, with no careers left.

The Los Angeles Times reports that this way:

When President Obama declared Tuesday that Donald Trump was unfit to be commander in chief and suggested Republicans would be wise to break from their nominee, GOP leaders could be forgiven for discounting the advice of the leader of the opposition.

What they might not have counted on was that within hours, Trump himself would threaten to abandon them first.

The high-wire political tactics from both Obama and Trump backed Republican lawmakers into a predicament amid another day of controversial statements and erratic behavior from the GOP nominee.

Obama said Republicans’ repeated denunciations of Trump’s actions – most recently for a spat with the family of an Army captain killed in Iraq – rang hollow if they continued to endorse him.

“There has to come a point at which you say, ‘Somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding to occupy the most powerful position in the world,'” the president said at a White House news conference.

That move was countered by this:

Trump appeared to invite open warfare within his party by signaling he would not back House Speaker Paul D. Ryan or Arizona Sen. John McCain in their reelection bids.

“I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country,” Trump told the Washington Post, one day after he tweeted support for Ryan’s GOP primary rival. “We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet. I’m not quite there yet.”

His utterance echoed Ryan’s own hesitation in May to endorse Trump before finally backing Trump’s presidential run.

On McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, Trump took a harder line. “I’ve never been there with John McCain because I’ve always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets,” Trump said.

Trump didn’t explain his general “feeling” about McCain with any specific instances of what McCain did or didn’t do for veterans, or what he saw was the problem with Ryan, as he was just hitting back:

McCain had said that Trump’s complaints about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of fallen Army Capt. Humayun Khan who denounced Trump last week, “do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.” McCain said that though he still supported Trump, his nomination was “not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”

Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had also expressed support for the Khans but did not mention Trump by name. On Tuesday, spokespeople for each declined to comment on Obama’s assertions.

Zack Roday, a spokesman for Ryan’s reelection campaign, responded to Trump, however.

“Neither Speaker Ryan nor anyone on his team has ever asked for Donald Trump’s endorsement,” he said. “We are confident in a victory next week regardless.”

Ryan will win his primary, but that’s not the point. This is three-dimensional chess:

Another Trump target was first-term New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, locked in one of this year’s closest Senate contests, who had said she was “appalled” by Trump’s criticism of the Khans. Trump, who won the state’s lead-off presidential primary, questioned why she was offering “zero support” for him. “I call it like I see it and I’m always going to stand up for our military families and what’s best for the people of New Hampshire,” Ayotte tweeted in response.

Obama said that in standing by their nominee, GOP leaders risked blurring a distinction between conservative philosophies and what he has called Trump’s demagogic views. He diagnosed Trump’s liabilities coolly and with lawyer-like precision; among them, that he “doesn’t appear to have basic knowledge around critical issues in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia.”

“The Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president,” Obama said. “I said so last week” – at the Democratic convention – “and he keeps on proving it.”

Obama noted that he had serious policy differences with the two Republican presidential nominees he defeated, McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “But I never thought that they couldn’t do the job,” Obama said.

“Had they won, I would have been disappointed, but I would have said to all Americans, ‘This is our president, and I know they’re going to abide by certain norms and rules and common sense – will observe basic decency.'” But with Trump, Obama said, Republican leaders need to say, “Enough.”

Yes, he spoke coolly and with lawyer-like precision, and he was just being logical, and Trump was just being Kirk:

Trump responded by blaming Obama and Clinton, the president’s former secretary of State, for policy missteps at home and abroad.

“Hillary Clinton has proven herself unfit to serve in any government office,” he said in a statement. “She is reckless with her emails, reckless with regime change, and reckless with American lives. Our nation has been humiliated abroad and compromised by radical Islam brought onto our shores. We need change now.”

And the sky is falling, and there was this:

In yet another unusual campaign sight, Trump, during a rally in Virginia at nearly the same time Obama spoke, asked a mother to leave with her crying baby.

“You can get the baby out of here,” he said, a few minutes after he said he liked hearing the child’s cries.

Luckily, no one beat the crap out of the baby, but it was just one of those days:

Responding to Donald Trump’s claim that he “always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth on Tuesday tweeted a picture of her injured self in a hospital with her own medal, adding: “Nothing easy about it.”

“This is how one usually looks when you are awarded the Purple Heart. Nothing easy about it,” the Illinois congresswoman tweeted directly at the Republican presidential nominee, accompanied by a picture of her battle scars from Iraq. Duckworth is currently involved in one of the nation’s most high-profile Senate races, against Republican incumbent Mark Kirk. …

Duckworth was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained while co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter on Nov. 12, 2004, in Iraq, when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the lower half of her body. The blast cost her both her legs and also caused serious damage to her right arm.

This is what ticked her off:

At a campaign rally on Tuesday in Ashburn, Virginia, Trump said he received a Purple Heart medal from a retired lieutenant colonel and supporter.

“I said to him, ‘Is that like the real one, or is that a copy?'” the Republican nominee said, noting the veteran’s expressed support of his candidacy. “And I said, ‘Man, that’s like big stuff. I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,'” Trump said. “This was much easier.”

That’s Donald Trump – bad hair and impulsive but bold but often foolish – and as for the other matter, Kevin Drum suggests this:

In one sense, it’s just normal Trump. His MO is simple: if you attack me, I attack you. Period. Ryan, McCain, and Ayotte all condemned Trump’s attacks on Khizr Khan, so now he’s paying them back.

At the same time, this is so plainly self-defeating that it’s bizarrely suicidal behavior even for Trump. He’s way behind in the polls and sure can’t afford to piss off his own party members. So what’s going on? Here’s one possibility: There’s been an undercurrent of speculation recently that Trump has come to realize he’s going to lose, so now he’s setting things up to give himself an excuse. The establishment was against me. The voting was rigged. The media hated me. The debates were scheduled badly. The sun was in my eyes.

I didn’t buy this when I first heard it, and I’m not sure I do now. But I have to admit that it’s beginning to sound more plausible all the time.

There’s trouble coming:

If Trump loses, it’s going to be a very big, very public loss, and he’s not used to that kind of humiliation. He’s used to being able to tap dance around his losses and to pretend they don’t exist – something he can get away thanks to his ease with telling lies and the fact that his company is privately owned. But in an election, everything is out in the open. If he loses, he’ll need some very public excuses for what happened. So maybe he really has given up and is now just creating a paper trail he can use to defend his likely big loss.

Who knows? Maybe it’s not even something he’s doing consciously. Maybe it’s just raw animal cunning at work.

No, this is three-dimensional chess, as Greg Sargent explains:

Is it possible that Donald Trump has begun to contemplate his own political mortality? Is it possible that Trump, who had previously boasted to GOP primary audiences that he would beat Hillary Clinton “easily” – has begun to contemplate the possibility that he might lose the presidential election?

It is perhaps not a coincidence that Trump has suddenly stopped tweeting about polls (which are now showing Clinton taking a meaningful lead) at precisely the moment that he is escalating his efforts to cast doubt, in advance, on the legitimacy of the general election’s outcome.

Trump and his supporters have now said in a series of new public remarks that the outcome of the election is likely to be “rigged.” Yesterday, on the campaign trail, Trump said: “I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged. I have to be honest.”

Meanwhile, longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone is explicitly encouraging Trump to make this case to his supporters. “I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone told a friendly interviewer, adding that Trump should start saying this: “If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.”

Stone also said: “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath.”

This worries Sargent:

There’s been a lot of chatter on twitter to the effect that Trump is trying to delegitimize his potential loss in the eyes of his supporters. But I think this goes further than that: It’s also about delegitimizing the Hillary Clinton presidency, should she win.

Indeed, it bears recalling the GOP convention itself was to no small degree framed around this idea. The chants of “lock her up” at the convention, which were specifically encouraged and assented to by speakers on the stage, were at bottom about precisely that. Although a variety of investigations have failed to produce evidence of any criminal behavior by Clinton, those egged-on “lock her up” chants are about keeping hope alive, a hope that can be sustained deep into a Clinton presidency, if it comes to that. As Brian Beutler has argued, there’s a direct line from Trump’s birtherism to the “lock her up” chants – both are about denying the fundamental legitimacy of the opposition, in the most recent case in advance of her potential ascension to the presidency.

Now Trump and his top supporters have taken this a step further, explicitly saying that the process by which Clinton will have been elected, should she win, will itself be illegitimate. It is obvious that Trump will only amplify this idea if the polls continue to show that he is probably going to lose, and that Clinton is probably going to prevail.

Then all bets are off:

Given that a sizable bloc of GOP voters is apparently willing to agree with Trump on pretty much everything, it’s plausible that a sizable bloc of them will be open to being convinced that the outcome of the presidential election was illegitimate – and that Clinton, should she win, is not legitimately the president. Trump will presumably have something of a national following after this is all over – one that remains deeply in thrall to Trumpism’s nativism, protectionism, white nationalism, and all-around deranged conspiracy-mongering – and it’s not hard to imagine Trump continuing to speak to that following by castigating President Clinton’s illegitimacy.

That means Obama was asking the wrong question:

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders should be asked whether they think it is appropriate for Trump to be trying to convince millions of his supporters – millions of Republican voters – that the outcome of the presidential election is shaping up as a potentially illegitimate one.

This game is complicated, and it moves fast:

Donald Trump, trailing narrowly in presidential polls, has issued a warning to worried Republican voters: The election will be “rigged” against him – and he could lose as a result.

Trump pointed to several court cases nationwide in which restrictive laws requiring voters to show identification have been thrown out. He said those decisions open the door to fraud in November.

“If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised,” he told The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “The voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times.”

As Mark Joseph Stern notes, all those voter-ID laws are falling fast in state after state:

If there is a lesson in July’s voting rights revolution – six rulings in two weeks that invalidated key provisions of five states’ restrictive voting laws – it is this: The judges are fed up.

They are fed up with being treated like dolts by Republican legislators who lie through their teeth about the intent of draconian voting restrictions. They are fed up with brazen efforts to diminish minorities’ voting power by targeting and eliminating their preferred voting methods. And most of all, they are fed up with the pretext: The shameless insistence by GOP legislators that these explicitly partisan, outwardly race-based voting laws serve any purpose other than helping Republican legislators entrench their own political power.

There is justice in the universe, just like in the old Star Trek series, but this only gives Trump a lever to make his next move in this chess game, and Josh Marshall dives deeper:

It is clear that voter fraud and especially voter impersonation fraud is extremely rare – rare almost to the point of non-existence, though there have been a handful of isolated cases.

Vote fraud is clearly the aim in what is coming from Trump allies. But Trump’s own comment – “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest” – seems to suggest some broader effort to manufacture votes or falsify numbers, to allude to some broader conspiracy. Regardless, Trump is now pressing this issue to lay the groundwork to discredit and quite possibly resist the outcome of the November election.

Some might suggest that Trump’s prediction of a ‘rigged’ election is simply an extension of his complaints and vocabulary during the primary process. They’re wrong. Primaries have convoluted and complex rules. They’re not one person one vote elections. National elections have a clear cut set of rules. The only way to rig them is to change the vote numbers.

And that’s the problem:

It’s true that Republicans have been very disingenuously pushing the ‘voter fraud’ con for years, especially as the power of minority voting has grown over the last two decades. However, as bad as that has been, there’s a major difference. Republicans to date have almost always used bogus claims of ‘voter fraud’ to rev up their troops and build support for restrictive voting laws, largely focused on minority voters. A number of those laws have been overturned by federal courts in the last week. A notable case was North Carolina where the Court found that the changes were intentionally designed to limit voting by black North Carolinians.

What Republicans politicians have virtually never done was use this canard to lay the groundwork for rejecting the result of a national election. This is Donald Trump, not a normal politician. You should not be surprised if he refuses to accept the result of an electoral defeat or calls on his supporters to resist it.

And Republican racism does play a part in these laws too:

They focus overwhelmingly on claims that African-Americans commit rampant vote fraud in “inner cities” and that immigrants, particularly Hispanic immigrants do the same. These are of course two of Trump’s main group enemies. Combining the animosity he has already stoked among his followers toward these groups with the claim that they will now try to “steal” the election through fraud is nothing less than striking a match in a gas filled room.

That’s his next chess move, and Dara Lind sees chaos ahead:

Donald Trump has spent the last year gleefully taking a sledgehammer to norms of American political campaigns and rhetoric: the importance of judicial independence; the expectation that candidates will release their tax returns; the proposition that when you get called out on a lie, you stop making it; the taboo against openly encouraging violence.

Now, it looks like he’s already preparing to take on the biggest, most important norm of all: that when all the votes are counted, and you have fewer of them, you admit it and concede.

You don’t have to believe that Donald Trump is deliberately trying to undermine the foundation of American democracy to understand how dangerous this is. In fact, you probably shouldn’t believe he’s doing this out of malice – given what we know about Donald Trump, it’s more likely he’s engaging in some preemptive butt-covering than trying to subvert the democratic process. (That would take work.) But as with so much else that Trump has done over the course of his campaign, he’s tapping into sentiments too powerful for him to control.

An underrated truth of American politics is that large numbers of people in both major parties believe that, if their side doesn’t win an election, it’ll be because the other side cheated.

Trump, however, may not be thinking that way at all:

If Donald Trump were a traditional presidential candidate – loyal to his party and disciplined in his messaging – it would be fair to look at all this and conclude that the Republican Party, led by its presidential nominee, is laying the groundwork to delegitimize a Clinton win in November.

But to be honest, Donald Trump probably isn’t thinking that far ahead. Instead, he seems to be worried he’s going to lose, and so he’s trying to make sure everyone but him gets blamed for it. …

Yes, Donald Trump really likes winning. But he also likes to have a ready-made excuse when he doesn’t win.

Who doesn’t, but this is different:

Roger Stone’s imagined bloodbath may be “rhetorical.” But he can’t control exactly what Trump’s supporters do with his words. It’s hard to restore legitimacy to a system once you’ve challenged it, and it’s extremely hard to tell people that even if a system is rotten to the core it doesn’t deserve an extreme response.

Donald Trump has often appeared ignorant of the implications of his most provocative rhetoric. When those implications turn into real-life consequences that even he can’t ignore, he tiptoes back from the brink. When he offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who was arrested for restraining anti-Trump protesters, and then a Trump supporter punched a protester in the face, he quietly reneged on his promise.

The problem for Donald Trump is that his supporters believe what he says. If he says that a Trump loss means that the election has been stolen, there are millions of people prepared to believe it. And on the day after the election, professional provocateurs on talk radio and the internet may be ready to tell them to reject the results of the election and the peaceful transfer of power that comes with it.

To reject the results of an election and the peaceful transfer of power that comes with it is sort of the end of our democracy as we know it, isn’t it? Obama, like Spock, is quite good at three-dimensional chess – he trapped the unhappy Republicans with pure and simple logic. If the guy says irresponsible and dangerous things, over and over, and won’t stop, and you cannot accept that, what other logical option do you have but to dump him? Follow the logic.

Trump, on the other hand, seems to have decided the only way to win this odd chess game is to smash the multilayered chessboard and toss the chess pieces out the window, even if there are no windows on the Enterprise. That’s not winning, but maybe it is, even if everyone loses. That really is to boldly go where no man has gone before. And the little sign on the television said long ago, Far Fucking Out – and we’re fucked.


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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