At the Dividing Line

Labor Day weekend is the dividing line. On one side are those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer that Nat King Cole sang about, and on the other side is back-to-school, back-to-work autumn, with high school and college and professional smash-mouth football, as pleasant and pastoral baseball fades away. The French call it La Rentrée – that’s when everyone comes back from their month off and Paris kind of reopens for business – the reentry – real life resumes. Here, in an election year, the real presidential campaign starts. Hillary Clinton spent the week before Labor Day mostly at private fundraisers and certainly not in the public eye – making no big speeches and making no waves. She ceded the national stage, as they call it, to Donald Trump, who was all over the map – the geographical map and the policy map. On the other side of Labor Day his position on immigration, and on Muslims and minorities, should be clearer. He spent the weeks before Labor Day working all that out – trying out this position and that. Did his positions soften, or did they harden? That was a day-to-day thing. He used the end of summer for test-marketing. It’s odd that the media took any of that seriously. The final product rollout had always been scheduled for September. All of politics is, after all, marketing.

Politico summarizes the state of play:

Both Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s teams see September as the month that will make – or break – their candidate’s case for the White House. A confident Clinton fighting to keep expectations in check will ratchet up her get-out-the-vote operation while courting more Republicans to her camp. A defiant Trump will double down on the America-first message that he thinks got him this far in the first place. The Democrat’s allies will continue to blanket the battleground airwaves with stinging attacks on Trump’s character. And three weeks into the month, early voting periods will open, state by state.

Clinton’s task, then, is to keep Democrats and independents and disgusted Republicans worried, very worried – Trump could easily win this thing. Trump’s task is to keep angry white voters very worried about Muslims and brown and black people, and to find other less angry white voters he can somehow drive to a state of panic and rage. Yes, Clinton could win this thing, and then America would be over – but of course he needs at least a few minority votes to win this thing so he has to make his Christian white-nationalist stuff sound like a good thing to at least some of them.

So, he needs virtually all the white vote and a few minority votes, and it seems that with Clinton absent from the scene he’s made some progress. Things are shifting in his favor, but Slate’s Daniel Politi explains that’s not quite good enough:

As the crucial post–Labor Day period of the presidential election approaches, Hillary Clinton appears to be losing her once-huge lead over Donald Trump in national polls. The latest example of this can be seen in the Morning Consult poll released Sunday morning that shows Clinton leading Trump by a measly 2 points – 42 percent to 40 percent – in a two-way race. That marks a 5-point narrowing from three weeks ago, when Clinton led by 7 points. And there are a lot of people still trying to make up their minds.

That narrowing of the race has been seen in other national polls as well. For example, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday showed Trump slightly ahead with support from 40 percent of likely voters, compared to 39 percent for Clinton, an effective tie that marks a huge plunge from the 8-point lead the Democratic candidate once enjoyed. This came on the heels of a Fox News poll that showed Clinton narrowing her lead to a measly 2 points. CNN’s poll of polls shows Clinton lead “has been cut in half,” with an average of 42 percent support, compared to Trump’s 37 percent. The analysis of polls by Real Clear Politics shows a similar trend, with Clinton cutting her lead to 4 points.

But don’t get too excited:

As fascinating as the national horse race is though, everyone knows it’s pretty meaningless when it comes to predicting a presidential election that is not decided by popular vote. In key battleground states, Clinton continues to hold decisive leads in two “states that Trump needs to win, given his current electoral map,” notes CBS News. Clinton is up by a comfortable 8 points in Pennsylvania – 45 percent to 37 percent – and has a 4-point advantage in North Carolina – 46 percent to 42 percent.

Barring some cataclysmic event that changes everything, she will win the electoral vote easily, if not in a landslide. Politi goes on to cover her many possible paths to winning – she really can afford to lose this big state or that along the way – there are so many others that can put her over the top. Trump has to win ever single swing state, and then some. That’s the longest of long shots, and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight does note her recent decline, but that’s an eight-six percent chance of winning down to a bit over a seventy percent chance – but she’s kind of been in hiding. Her September reentry will probably put an end to that nonsense.

Donald Trump is the one who may need to worry. He capped off his odd two-country whirlwind tour Wednesday night before Labor Day by doubling down on his promise to block illegal Mexican immigrants with a real wall. Any thoughts that he might moderate his rather blunt rhetoric on immigration disappeared at a rally in Phoenix just hours after he met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, where he was sweet and reasonable. This was getting confusing, but there were reports that his advisors urged him to use his usual tough, nativist language in that immigration speech in Phoenix – to create as sharp a contrast as possible with Clinton. They argued that by showing strength and force of leadership and that sort of thing, he will obviously attract undecided voters. That was obvious to them. Go with the angry white folks and abandon his newly-created Hispanic Advisory Council. Let them walk.

Many of them did walk. Republicans then had a problem. They had to abandon discussion of any late push to win over Latinos – that wasn’t going to happen now – and seemed instead to focus on a new question. Which white voters can their candidate still reach? He’s now angling for the votes of white folks deeply embarrassed by him, if not appalled by him. But he’s not a moral monster. He’s not going to deport all eleven million all at once – it’ll be in stages – and he did sit down for that interview with that black minister in Detroit, even if they would be reading from a script, in private, for later, restricted broadcast.

He’s really a good guy, but the week before, just hours after that NBA star confirmed that his cousin had been killed in crossfire while walking her baby in a stroller through a Chicago neighborhood, Trump tweeted that the death was “just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”

He was raked over the coals for that, so that interview with that black minister in Detroit, where they would be reading from a script, in private, for later, restricted broadcast, was abandoned. There would be a New Trump for September:

Donald Trump made a brief visit Saturday morning to a black church in the heart of this majority-black city, the latest step in his faltering and often awkward effort to soften the edges of a candidacy hardened by racially tinged appeals that have resonated primarily with white Republicans.

In what the pastor said was Trump’s first visit to an African American church, the GOP presidential nominee swayed to gospel music, held a baby, accepted a prayer shawl and told the congregation he was there to listen to their concerns. Then he left the service before it was half over, and briefly visited the childhood home of former rival Ben Carson before jetting out of town.

Perhaps the Washington Post is being too unkind to him here, even if those are the bare facts, but facts are facts:

“Our nation is too divided,” Trump said at Great Faith Ministries International Church, reading from a script to a congregation that half-filled the sanctuary but greeted him with polite applause. “We talk past each other, not to each other. And those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what’s going on. They don’t know. They have no clue.”

That’s nice, but he still despises the Black Lives Matter movement – he stands by the cops no matter what and still calls for tougher policing tactics – and he still plans to forcibly eject millions of undocumented immigrants from the country immediately – so this didn’t go well:

While several members of Great Faith Ministries said they were impressed that Trump visited their church and are willing to consider him, others were skeptical of his motives.

“When somebody wants something from you, and they say the right words – I would have liked to hear him say those things before he wanted something,” said Kim Witten, who has belonged to the church for 20 years and usually votes for Democrats, although she is still praying about this election. “It was a very good speech. Whoever helped him did a good job on it. But I know that he wants something, so it’s hard for me to 100 percent agree…”

This was never going to work:

Republican John McCain received 4 percent of the black vote in 2008 and Mitt Romney won 6 percent in 2012. In an average of Washington Post-ABC News polls for July and August, Trump had the support of 3 percent of black voters, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was at 91 percent.

Outside the church on Saturday, local Democrats and a group of local faith leaders held news conferences to denounce Trump as divisive. A few hundred protesters gathered, with some carrying signs reading: “Mr. Hate, Leave My State” and “Stop the racist!” At one point, the crowd chanted, “No KKK!”

That was just name-calling, but this was not:

For several weeks, Trump has made an aggressive appeal to black voters – and to moderate white Republicans – by accusing Clinton and her party of pushing policies that have “produced only poverty, joblessness, failing schools and broken homes” in inner cities. Trump has promised to quickly fix the problems, boasting during one recent rally in a white suburb of Lansing, Mich., “At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95 percent of the African American vote, I promise you.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D) said Saturday he was frustrated by Trump’s sweeping promises to instantly end poverty and crime in major cities like his. Such problems cannot be blamed only on Democrats who dominate these cities, he said, but also on Republicans at the state and federal levels who have created policies that are also a factor.

“We fight every day to bring down the violence rate, and we are making progress – and when you stand up and say, ‘I and only I can stop crime in cities in America,’ tell us how you are going to do it,” Duggan said at a news conference in a vacant lot near the church Trump visited. “It sounds like he has some mystical, magical method that he’s going to reveal to America sometime after his election.”

As reporters asked Duggan and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) questions, a local activist jumped in.

“How is it that Donald Trump can come up into the city of Detroit today to speak at the church across the street – the streets are blocked off for half a mile that way or half a mile that way?” asked Agnes Hitchcock, 70, who lives within walking distance of the church. “So how is it that he gets to come up in here, in peace, and walk up to those doors and pretend that he’s here to talk to black people?”

She had a point:

Trump arrived at about 10:25 a.m. with a motorcade of more than two dozen motorcycles and 10 black SUVs. Armed law enforcement officers stood on nearby rooftops, and police officers on the ground yelled at curious locals to get back as they tried to get a glimpse of the GOP nominee.

But once inside, he did what he could:

Trump praised African American churches for being “one of God’s greatest gifts to America and to its people” and “the conscience of our country,” especially in leading the civil rights movement.

The remarks were heavy on messages of unity and did not include any direct political attacks. The crowd applauded vigorously several times when Trump praised [Bishop Wayne T.] Jackson and his family, with more scattered clapping at other moments.

Trump called for parents to have more choice in their public schools and promised to create more jobs, the kind that pay well and are enjoyable. He told the crowd that he knows the African American community is “suffering,” and he pledged to help rebuild Detroit.

“I am here to listen to you, and I am doing that,” Trump said at one point.

Sure, but he was the one doing the talking. This was a photo-op:

Trump was a leader in the “birther” movement, accusing President Obama of not being born in the country, demanding to see the president’s birth certificate and academic records and wondering aloud if Obama was qualified to attend the Ivy League schools that accepted him.

“The message is legitimate, but the messenger is completely illegitimate – that’s the irony,” said Van Jones, a political activist and commentator. “African Americans have grumbled quietly for decades about our votes being taken for granted by Democrats, with us giving them 90 percent of our votes and getting one percent of the results that we need. But Donald Trump is not the right person to raise it because of his belligerence toward President Obama from Day One and the way he’s raising it. If anything, it will take him from 2 percent black support to zero percent black support.”

Tristin Wilkerson, co-founder of the nonpartisan Black and Brown People Vote activist group, said Trump’s message is hard to receive because “he has been so flat-out disrespectful and inconsiderate of African Americans and people of color and their contributions to this country.”

And this bit with Ben Carson didn’t help:

After leaving the church here around noon, Trump, Carson and an entourage of black surrogates made a brief stop at a bungalow in southwest Detroit where Carson grew up. Trump briefly spoke with the current owner, Felicia Reese, noting that Carson had made her home famous.

“This house is worth a lot of money!” Trump exclaimed.

He then hopped into the back seat of a SUV headed to the airport.

Hey, he’s a real-estate guy. How many golf resorts has Hillary Clinton built?

If this is his September product rollout, he may be in trouble, and this didn’t help either:

Donald Trump’s visit to an African American church in Detroit brought both cheers and protests Saturday – but one of the star attractions was a taco truck. One of the humble vehicles, which now straddle the worlds of political symbol and internet meme, was parked outside.

The Tacos El Caballo truck set up near Great Faith Ministries International to provide a counterpoint to critics of U.S. immigration policy, its owners told Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta.

Nancy Paz, who immigrated from Mexico, tells Pluta that she parked her family’s taco truck near the church Trump visited on Detroit’s west side Saturday in the hope that the Republican presidential candidate might glimpse it on his way in.

“Because Donald says the Mexican people, they don’t work,” Paz told Pluta. “We come here to say, yes, we work hard, for the family.”

The truck did brisk business this morning – so much so that a form of surge pricing kicked in, raising the price for a steak, pork, or chicken taco from $1.50 to $2.50, Pluta reports.

This was capitalism at work, in this context:

The hashtag #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner became wildly popular after Marco Gutierrez, who was born in Mexico and co-founded Latinos for Trump, said about immigration rates on MSNBC, “If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”

America said yes please! Everyone loves tacos, but Slate’s Will Saletan identifies the underlying problem with all of this:

Donald Trump says he loves minorities. “Nothing means more to me than working to make our party the home of the African-American vote,” he told a white crowd in Iowa over the weekend. As evidence, he cited “what’s been happening over the last two weeks and three weeks with me” – a series of speeches in which Trump, according to himself, has been reaching out to blacks and Hispanics.

I’ve watched these speeches. They’re a perfect encapsulation of who Trump is. While mouthing platitudes about inclusiveness, he systematically courts certain minorities – or, rather, courts white voters who are skittish about supporting a racist – by pledging to protect them from other minorities. Even when he poses as the candidate of love and unity, Trump reveals himself as the candidate of hostility and division.

The evidence of that is overwhelming:

Trump’s suck-up to minorities began on Aug. 16, when Kellyanne Conway, a pollster who wanted to make him more broadly palatable, became his campaign manager. That day, speaking in Wisconsin, Trump pledged to “reject bigotry and hatred and oppression in all of its many ugly forms.” But one form of bigotry became the centerpiece of his pitch to minorities: blaming their troubles on immigrants. “No community in this country has been hurt worse by Hillary Clinton’s immigration and all of her policies than the African-American community,” Trump told the crowd. He warned that Clinton would allow “millions of illegal immigrants to come in and take everybody’s job, including low-income African Americans.”

Trump pretended that he wasn’t appealing to prejudice, since he was targeting “illegal immigrants,” not immigrants in general. But two days later, speaking in North Carolina, he went after legal immigrants. He blasted Clinton for proposing to allow “Syrian refugees” into the United States, flooding the country with Sharia lovers “who believe in oppressing women, gays, Hispanics, African Americans, and people of different faiths.” To women offended by his past sexist comments, and to gays alarmed by his opposition to same-sex marriage, Trump offered this consolation: At least I’ll save you from the Muslims.

The next day, Aug. 19, Trump spoke in Michigan. “The era of division will be replaced with a future of unity, total unity. We will love each other,” he promised. He contrasted his vision of love with “the bigotry of Hillary Clinton, who sees communities of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future. Hillary Clinton would rather provide a job to a refugee from overseas than to give that job to unemployed African-American youth.”

There’s a pattern here:

Each community can be played off against others as a criminal menace, a threat to jobs, or a drain on public funds. “Hillary Clinton’s plan would bring in an estimated 620,000 refugees in her first term at a lifetime-benefit cost of some $400 billion,” Trump told the audience in Michigan. He pledged to “save countless billions of dollars” by barring refugees – and to “invest a portion of the money saved in a jobs program for inner-city youth.”

Trump – the man who had blamed President Obama for failing to control black “thugs,” and who just two months ago opposed apologizing for a sportscaster’s explicitly anti-black statements – professed love for black Americans. “I’d like to address an issue of great and very deep personal importance to me,” he declared at a rally in Virginia on Aug. 20. He assured blacks that he would make America “a totally inclusive country” – unlike Clinton, who, Trump said, would give their jobs to immigrants.

But Trump seemed to forget which group he had planned to vilify that day. He condemned Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, for trying to restore voting rights to felons who had served their sentences and had been released from parole or probationary supervision. McAuliffe said the restoration would rectify a century-old Virginia policy designed to disenfranchise blacks. Trump, however, denounced the governor’s proposal. “Hillary Clinton is banking … on getting thousands of violent felons to the voting booths,” Trump alleged, eliciting boos from the crowd. “They are letting people vote in your Virginia election that should not be allowed to vote.”

Saletan goes on and on, with example after example, ending with this:

Trump’s pose as a champion of blacks, Latinos, and women is a fraud. He thinks the integration of women into the armed forces was foolish because it led to sexual assaults by men. His family business had to settle a federal lawsuit for discriminating against black tenants. Two months ago, in private, Trump scoffed that Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder shouldn’t have apologized for saying that blacks were better athletes because “the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman.” And while Trump now claims he’ll protect Hispanic Americans from Hispanic non-Americans, his record – including his attacks on the Mexican “heritage” of an American-born federal judge – shows that when the chips are down, Trump is willing to treat all Latinos as aliens.

Trump closed his speech Tuesday night by reading a poem about a woman who rescues a freezing snake. The snake repays her with a fatal bite. When she asks why, the reptile replies: “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

Trump thinks the poem is about immigrants. It’s not. It’s about Trump.

So that’s the New Trump being rolled out after Labor Day, when both campaigns settle down and get serious – Trump, the Snake. That can’t be, but then there may be no New Trump. He’ll be the same guy on both sides of that particular dividing line, playing off these folks against those folks, hoping no one compares notes.

They already have. This is what we get. And then we get to see what Hillary Clinton is offering with her September reentry, when she comes out of hiding and gets serious. That’s a mystery. But expect smash-mouth politics, to match the autumn football. It’s that time of year.

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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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