A Great Disturbance in the Force

Yoda felt a great disturbance in The Force. This was a bad thing. Alderaan had been destroyed by the Death Star – the whole planet, gone – but that was in 1977 – in a space-adventure movie. These days, on CNBC, America’s default business channel, they talk endlessly about how impressive “disrupters” are – Uber and Airbnb and whatnot – changing how the economy works and making billions of dollars doing what no one ever thought of before. This is “creative destruction” of course. That idea is quite popular among economists even if whole planets are destroyed – or at least whole industries – but the idea of “creative destruction” isn’t popular in the world of political science, if there is such a thing. Political systems, which provide stability in society, one way or another, depend on continuity and consistency, to stave off chaos. These systems have evolved over long stretches of time, by trial and error, to keep a lid on things. Daniel Defoe, a pen for hire for both Whigs and Tories, knew that – “All men would be tyrants if they could.” Then he wrote “Robinson Crusoe” – about a peaceful hermit on a desert island. He’d had enough of that.

That’s what Garrison Keillor notes about Defoe in a whimsical rambling column about Donald Trump. Keillor is not big on creative destruction. He is also not big on Donald Trump. Trump is now the great disturbance in The Force. He messes up everything, as Aaron Blake notes in this odd incident:

Republicans have been twisted in knots trying to respond to Donald Trump’s lewd and sexually aggressive comments about women on a recently unveiled 2005 video. Some are even suggesting the things he talked about doing – groping women and kissing them without their consent – might not constitute sexual assault.

Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold took it even further on Tuesday night. Asked on MSNBC whether he would still support Trump even if the Republican presidential nominee said he liked raping women, Farenthold suggested he might – eventually adding he’d “consider it.” Farenthold quickly apologized after the interview was over.

Oops. And his response was on Twitter, another disruptive innovation that has changed everything, but limits users to 140 characters, so Farenthold was forced to resort to three consecutive tweets:

I apologize for my failure to immediately condemn anyone who would say something as outrageous as they like raping women. (1/3)

During an interview on MSNBC with Chris Hayes tonight, I was thrown off by the anchor’s use of a hypothetical question. (2/3)

I do not, and have not ever condoned rape or violence against women. That is not the kind of man I believe Donald Trump to be. (3/3)

That’s nice. He defends Trump, but why was he forced to do that? Trump said what he said, upending everything, forcing reactions like this:

As conservative religious voters grapple with how to respond to an audio recording of Donald Trump lewdly boasting about groping women, Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, released on Monday a blistering critique of the GOP presidential nominee.

The editorial, written by executive editor Andy Crouch, was accompanied by a subtitle that minced no words: “Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump’s blatant immorality.”

For the magazine founded more than 50 years ago by famed evangelist Billy Graham as an alternative to mainline Christian publications, the editorial amounts to a grenade tossed into the presidential campaign.

A grenade is also a disruption, and this was quite specific:

Noting that the magazine is a nonprofit organization and does not endorse candidates, Crouch nonetheless writes: “Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. We are especially not indifferent when the Gospel is at stake. The Gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any campaign.”

As for Trump, Crouch says, “There is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the ‘earthly nature’ that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: ‘sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry’ (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date.”

“That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one,” he continues, “should have been clear to everyone.”

Now add this:

Crouch does not spare Trump’s evangelical supporters, who have proposed a variety of theological justifications for making him their candidate. He is particularly dismissive of the argument put forward by many high-profile conservatives, including Graham’s son, Franklin, that because the Bible includes examples of God using flawed men to accomplish His will, evangelicals shouldn’t be concerned about Trump’s personal morality.

Crouch has had enough of this nonsense:

Crouch’s indictment of Trump is not dissimilar from complaints lodged by Trump’s secular critics as well, but the language he uses may remind many of Christianity Today’s 130,000 subscribers of Old Testament prophets: “He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn.”

“He is,” Crouch concludes, “the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.”

Crouch ends with that word. Is Trump a fool? This was the day that some worried about that:

Donald Trump declared war on the Republican establishment Tuesday, lashing out at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and other GOP elected officials as his supporters geared up to join the fight amid extraordinary turmoil within the party just four weeks before Election Day.

One day after Ryan announced he would no longer campaign on Trump’s behalf, the GOP nominee said as part of a barrage of tweets that the top-ranking Republican is “weak and ineffective” and is providing “zero support” for his candidacy. Trump also declared that “the shackles have been taken off” him, liberating him to “fight for America the way I want to.”

Trump called McCain “foul-mouthed” and accused him with no evidence of once begging for his support. McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, pulled his endorsement following a Friday Washington Post report about a 2005 video in which Trump is heard making vulgar comments about forcing himself on women sexually.

“I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people, that I can tell you… especially Ryan,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Channel. He said if he is elected president, Ryan might be “in a different position.”

Okay, now Trump is fighting on two fronts, against Clinton and against Republicans, even if he is their candidate. He doesn’t care:

In perhaps the most piercing insult, Trump said his party is harder to deal with than even Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, whom conservatives loathe. Yet he also released a new TV ad featuring footage of Clinton coughing and stumbling during a recent bout with pneumonia – signaling that few issues are out of bounds for his scorched-earth campaign.

“Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary,” he wrote for his more than 12 million followers on Twitter, his preferred platform for picking fights. “They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win – I will teach them!”

That’s a threat. He’s smacking them hard, because he senses weakness:

By backing away from Trump, Ryan and his allies were hoping to insulate themselves and their majorities on Capitol Hill from the baggage weighing down the nominee’s flagging campaign. For many, the breaking point was the 2005 video.

But they are suddenly dealing with another problem – an impulsive and bellicose businessman with an army of loyal supporters willing to exact retribution against elected officials they feel have abandoned them. The rift could have profound ramifications for the Republican Party as a whole, shattering any sense of unity and jeopardizing its chances of holding onto the Senate and even, potentially, the House.

That’s not creative destruction. That’s just destruction, and even his friends know it:

Trump’s barbs left some backers unsettled, including Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has been a Trump booster for months and an informal adviser.

“Dr. Carson has been unwavering in his support but the last 24 hours have made that support very difficult to maintain,” Carson adviser Armstrong Williams said in a statement.

Carson said in a brief interview that Trump “would be wise to praise Ryan rather than be at war with him. I keep trying to emphasize to him that the issues are where you win.”

It may be too late for that:

Mica Mosbacher, a Trump fundraiser and surrogate, said she was invited to a fundraiser next week for Ryan’s joint fundraising committee but is not going to attend or contribute because of the way Ryan has treated Trump.

“I don’t feel that Ryan is supporting our nominee and being a team player,” said Mosbacher, who is vowing not to give financial backing to Republicans who have crossed Trump.

Diana Orrock, a Republican National Committeewoman from Nevada, said she will not vote for Republicans who have pulled their support for Trump – including Rep. Joe Heck (Nev.), who is running for a seat that is critical in the battle for the Senate majority.

“I think they have really irritated a lot of Trump supporters,” Orrock said of Heck and Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.), who also rescinded his endorsement….

Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson tweeted Monday that she could not keep her mobile phone charged “due to the mass volume of texts from people” that plan to vote for Trump but not for other Republicans on the ballot.

No one was talking about issues. They were talking about retribution. Forget holding onto the House and Senate. That doesn’t matter anymore, except to Paul Ryan:

A Ryan confidant said the House speaker – the highest-ranking Republican in the country – is trying to strike a careful balance by turning away from Trump but not officially withdrawing his endorsement.

“He’s threading a lot of needles here,” said the confidant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly. “He wanted to make a clean break with Trump. So saying ‘I won’t defend him and won’t campaign with him’ was his way of making a break. He was so repulsed by the tape. But there are still a lot of members in the conference who don’t want to be at war with Trump’s voters in their district.”

The party is falling apart, and then President Obama twisted the knife:

Campaigning for Clinton in Greensboro, N.C., Obama called Republican officials out for the way they have dealt with Trump.

“They can’t bring themselves to say, ‘I can’t endorse this guy,'” Obama said. Of those who did pull their endorsements, the president added: “Why’d it take so long for some of them to finally walk away? We saw this coming.”

Yes, Barack Obama had felt a great disturbance in The Force too. Trump was the Death Star that blew up Alderaan, long ago. Jedi Knights know this. Republicans don’t.

Josh Marshall says everyone knew this:

It’s hard to know quite what to say because in some ways this is the most obvious thing in the world. We’ve known all along that something like this could happen – indeed that it was likely to happen. As long as Trump seemed likely to win or to have a plausible chance to win, most everyone in the GOP would be happy and go along. The fact that they were happy is profoundly troubling. But that’s another story. As long as Trump seemed likely to lose without making too much of a mess that was something the party machinery could tolerate. But when things started to go badly things were likely to go bad fast – even more if something extremely toxic was revealed about Trump.

And that’s what happened:

To say that Trump can’t lose gracefully or graciously is the grandest of understatements. He’s driven by a need to dominate – not to be the best but to be recognized as the best, the richest, the smartest, the strongest. This also means needing to win always. All of this means he gets angry quickly and lashes out in the face of sleights.

Being shamed by nearly every Republican in the country is a profound ego injury. Looking at the prospect of a shattering electoral defeat is another. That has to be channeled somewhere and it looks like it’s going to be channeled against the GOP. Trump needs someone to blame. He’s already blamed news networks, blacks, debate moderators, the Khans, Alicia Machado, Judge Curiel. But Paul Ryan and the GOP now seem like the target of his most intense rage.

Will that rage settle as the intensity of the final weeks builds and the prospect of defeat gets closer? I would think not.

This will only get worse:

Remember, Trump is a bully. Bullies seek out people they can hurt. Trump has done everything he possibly can to hurt Hillary Clinton. But he doesn’t seem to be able to do so. The chance to do the one thing that would truly hurt her – defeating her in the general election – looks to be slipping beyond his grasp. That is almost certainly the root of his increasingly open threats to jail and punish her. But there is someone else he can hurt profoundly, even as he falls behind in the general election: the Republican Party. This is all the better since they are his best argument to justify his defeat as a betrayal rather than a personal failure.

In fact, they are the natural target:

Think of your own experience. Bullies never pick out the strongest person to abuse. That defies the definition of a bully. Bullies seek out the weak. At the moment, the institutional GOP and its key leaders are exceptionally weak and vulnerable, even helpless. The best example: even as he continues to attack them, threaten a cataclysmic election outcome, they cannot even withdraw their endorsements. One senator who dropped him the day after the ‘grab’ tape leaked took him back today.

Like an abuser who takes out his personal failures and frustrations and rages on his wife and his children, Paul Ryan and the GOP are now alone in the house with Donald Trump. He is angry and the prospect of defeat will no doubt make him angrier. In Trump’s world of displacement, abuse and vengeance, turning against the GOP, is the most logical thing in the world.

J. Bradford DeLong, the economist up at Berkeley who worked in the previous Clinton administration, has a different idea:

Perhaps Trump is not sane.

Perhaps there is no method here at all. Perhaps Trump thinks that he is likely to win.

But perhaps there is a method here. And perhaps Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence and many others will rue their decision to come crawling back to Trump yesterday.

Perhaps Trump accepts that his chances of becoming president are now down to something between 2% (Sam Wang) and 20% (Nate Silver). And perhaps Trump is looking forward to what life is going to be like after November 8. What does he want to do? It looks like he wants to become boss of the Republican Party. That means that he has to remove from influence others who might challenge him for the role of boss of the Republican Party–who might be strong enough to lead an effort to marginalize him after November 8.

Who are those people who might do so? Not any of the 16 dwarfs–he beat them all, remember? The people who might be able to edge Trump out of the spotlight are three. They are Paul Ryan and Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell.

If there is method to this madness, look for Trump to spend the next month trying to destroy the reputations and influence of those three.

That’s an interesting theory, but why would Trump want to be the boss of the Republican Party? There no real prestige in that, and no big money, and the work is tedious – herding a motley crew of big egos to achieve specific public policy victories based on a firm ideology. That’s boring, and sexy babes don’t throw themselves at you. Ask Mitch McConnell. And if that now-famous “pussy” tape reveals anything it’s that this man is enamored with the “fact” that with sufficient fame and massive wealth women will gladly let you do anything you want with them – grab what you will – they’ll love it. Being the boss of the Republican Party doesn’t cut it. All you get is political power. That’s not pussy. Marshall is right – this is about being recognized as the best, the richest, the smartest, and certainly the strongest.

But that leads to some dark places:

It’s not just the Democrats who are frustrated by Donald Trump’s “rigged election” talk.

Republicans have started warning their increasingly ostracized nominee to stop stoking his supporters with claims that the 2016 election will be stolen, daring him to show proof or put a lid on it.

“Somebody claiming in the election, ‘I was defrauded,’ that isn’t going to cut it,” said former Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican who earlier in the campaign endorsed Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio. “They’re going to have to say how, where, why, when.”

“I don’t think leading candidates for the presidency should undercut the process unless you have a really good reason,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who gained little support for his own 2016 White House run, told POLITICO.

Yeah, but winning is everything:

Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, have been flogging for months the notion that Hillary Clinton supporters could tamper with voting to the point that they win the White House. Their campaign website is recruiting poll watchers, and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has been raising unlimited funds from corporations and individuals, in a bid to “fight a rigged system” that purportedly benefits the Democrats.

And Monday, at a post-debate rally in crucial Pennsylvania, Trump kept the vote rigging argument alive: “Watch other communities because we don’t want this election stolen from us,” Trump said. “We do not want this election stolen from us.”

This is playing with fire:

Such sustained and supercharged rhetoric, coming on the heels of a heated debate over restrictive voter ID laws across the country and the U.S. government’s Friday announcement accusing Russian hackers, on orders from the Kremlin, of trying to meddle with the election, has raised alarm bells in election offices nationwide.

States already bracing for record turnout in the presidential race are also dealing simultaneously with an unprecedented series of cyberthreats, including what the Homeland Security Department has confirmed as attempted hacks on more than 20 voting registration systems across the country. While the balloting itself is largely seen as safe from cyber-sleuths because the bulk of the actual voting process takes place offline, the state officials doing the grunt work complain that charges of election rigging, on top of the complaints they hear about ballot security, make their jobs that much tougher.

And nonsense plays a part too:

Election officials note that widespread voting fraud has been repeatedly debunked, and they point to a series of media accounts and government watchdog reports saying so. Among the most notable: Student journalists at the Carnegie-Knight News 21 program found in a 2012 study just 10 cases of voter impersonation dating back to the 2000 election. That’s one example out of every 15 million possible voters. And again in August, the media group released new findings on voter fraud cases in five states – Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Texas – that examined hundreds of allegations and found few actual prosecutions.

None of that is news. This was never a problem, but now it’s a real problem:

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence chided a Trump supporter Tuesday who talked about there being a post-election revolution if Hillary Clinton wins the election.

During an event Tuesday, a woman rose to tell Pence that she was concerned about voter fraud handing the election to Clinton said that she would participate in a “revolution” if Clinton headed to the White House.

“I don’t want this to happen but I will tell you personally if Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself, I’m ready for a revolution because we can’t have her in,” the woman said.

Pence shook his head and waved his hand as he told the woman “Yeah, don’t say that.”

“There’s a revolution coming on November the 8th, I promise you,” he added.

Mike Pence was clearly uncomfortable. He didn’t think he signed up to lead an armed insurrection against the newly elected government of the United States, to overthrow it – but he did. He thought he signed up for a bit of creative destruction – nothing too radical, but some real change. He actually signed up for total destruction. All men would be tyrants if they could. Trump is working on that.

Yoda felt a great disturbance in The Force. This was a bad thing.

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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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