Baiting the Bear

There are things that aren’t done anymore:

Bear-baiting was popular in England until the 19th century. From the sixteenth century, many bears were maintained for baiting. In its best-known form, arenas for this purpose were called bear-gardens, consisting of a circular high fenced area, the “pit”, and raised seating for spectators. A post would be set in the ground towards the edge of the pit and the bear chained to it, either by the leg or neck. A number of well-trained fighting or baiting dogs, usually Old English Bulldog, would then be set on it, being replaced as they got tired or were wounded or killed. In some cases the bear was let loose, allowing it to chase after animals or people… Henry VIII was a fan and had a pit constructed at Whitehall. Elizabeth I was also fond of the entertainment; it featured regularly in her tours. When an attempt was made to ban bear-baiting on Sundays, she overruled Parliament.

The queen knew what made her smile, but this was an odd sort of fun – nasty and cruel – and it never caught on in America – except in South Carolina:

Public bear baiting competitions are held in Spartanburg, Hickory Grove, and Travelers Rest. Backyard events are reportedly held throughout the rural areas of northwest South Carolina during much of the year.

ESPN doesn’t cover such things. We’re more civilized than that, and there are only so many bears to go around, and all the dead dogs present an ethical problem. Everybody likes dogs. Michael Vick found that out:

In April 2007, Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring that had operated on his property for five years. A federal judge noted that he had promoted, funded, and facilitated a dog fighting ring on his property, and had engaged in hanging and drowning dogs who did not perform well. He also had failed to cooperate fully with police. In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement. Hurt financially by the loss of his NFL salary and product endorsement deals, combined with previous financial mismanagement, Vick filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008. Falcons owner Arthur Blank did not want Vick on his team, so the team released Vick after failing to trade him.

That nasty and cruel stuff should be confined to the professionals on the football field, and except for in that one pocket in the rural South, bear-baiting is considered reprehensible. But the concept, in the abstract, is a winner. The big powerful growling bear, helpless on his chain, lashes out at those bedeviling little dogs and can’t do a damned thing about it. It’s a metaphor for the little guy getting the best of the bully. It’s dangerous but fun. It’s always fun to bait the big bad bear and watch him lash out, stupidly.

We confine that stuff to politics. This year Donald Trump is the bear, as Politico’s Sarah Wheaton explains here:

President Barack Obama has some advice for Donald Trump: Man up.

Obama has been building on this latest bit of psy-ops over the past week, with a combination of infantilization and emasculation that contrasts with the “broad-shouldered” imagery that Gov. Mike Pence likes to use to describe the top of the Republican ticket.

It’s the classier version of mocking Trump for having small hands, instead impugning his “toughness,” as Obama did on Tuesday when asked about Trump’s latest accusations that the election will be rigged.

“I’d advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes,” Obama said. “It doesn’t really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you’d want out of a president.”

He added, “If you start whining before the game is even over, if whenever things are going badly for you and you lose you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job.”

In short, Trump is no big bad bear. He’s a whiney little boy. Obama was baiting Trump the day before the third and final presidential debate, seeing if he could get him to lash out, stupidly. Trump is the rather stupid bear that always does that, but this was part of an ongoing effort:

Obama first suggested Trump was being a crybaby and pre-emptively sore loser in August, as Trump started loudly suggesting that the general election would be rigged against him.

“All of us at some points in our lives have played sports or maybe just played in a schoolyard or a sandbox. And sometimes folks, if they lose, they start complaining that they got cheated,” Obama said then, answering reporters’ questions just before his summer vacation.

Yep, everyone knows that pathetic kid, and they know the other kind of kid:

At a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton on Friday, Obama used it as a point of contrast between her and Trump.

“No matter how tough the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, she doesn’t point fingers or whine,” Obama said. “She doesn’t talk about how everything is rigged. She just works harder and gets the job done.”

He continued, “I notice her opponent – he seems to be in the middle of the game, making excuses all the time for why he might be losing. And it’s always interesting to me to see folks who talk tough but then don’t act tough. Because if you’re tough, you don’t make excuses. You don’t start complaining about the refs before the game is even done. You just play the game, right?”

Obama was taunting him, mocking him, baiting him – and the big bad bear hates that. The big bad bear will lash out. The big bad bear always does. It’s great fun.

This will make the debate fun. The bear will be chained to the stage. Trump can’t just walk out. He has to respond, and there’s that other matter:

Obama’s been even harder on Trump at campaign rallies, using his own family-man example as a contrast with Trump’s “locker room banter” version of manhood.

“You don’t have to be a husband or a father to hear what we heard just a few days ago and say, ‘That’s not right.’ You just have to be a decent human being to say that’s not right,” Obama said last week in North Carolina, in reference to a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women without consequence.

Since it leaked, Trump has argued that the 11-year-old tapes aren’t relevant, because his time on the campaign trail has changed his perspective. But Obama argued that if Trump was pleading immaturity, then the condition is incurable.

“I mean, I’m 55. It’s hard for me to change. I know at 70 it’s gonna be harder,” he said.

The bear has been baited, and the bear lashes out:

As Donald Trump amps up his allegations that the election will somehow be rigged against him, he and his surrogates have latched on to a myth that fraudulent votes somehow swung North Carolina to President Obama’s favor in 2008.

Trump himself referenced the theory – that was first put forward in a flimsy and controversial 2014 Washington Post op-ed – from the stump in a speech in Wisconsin Monday evening, where he told the crowd, “It is possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina.”

He went into more specifics at campaign rally in Colorado Tuesday.

“In 2014 the Washington Post, another beauty, published an article entitled ‘Could Non-Citizens Decide the November Election.'” Trump said. “The article found that 14% of non-citizens were registered to vote, 14% were registered to vote. And we’re not supposed to talk about it. And your Republican leaders said ‘everything is peachy dory’ right?”

The article Trump referenced was actually a controversial op-ed published by the Washington Post blog Monkey Cage. Its authors’ mention of North Carolina was almost purely speculative, and based not on any reports from the election itself, but rather data they had crunched regarding the voter registration rates of non-citizens. Their logic was rebutted by three separate pieces on the Washington Post site alone, and their findings questioned by a peer-reviewed article.

But that hasn’t stop Trump and his surrogates from fanning the myth that somehow undocumented immigrants were able to hand Obama North Carolina in 2008.

That rates the pants-on-fire rating from PolitiFact and Obama would have won the 2008 election even without North Carolina, of course. What was THAT about? The bear had been baited.

And the bear lashes out:

President Obama’s Kenyan-born, half-brother Malik will be in the audience in Las Vegas Wednesday night when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton square off in their third and final debate.

Malik – an American citizen who lives in Washington, DC, when he’s not in Kenya – says he will be a guest of Trump….

Malik agrees with Trump that the mainstream media is biased, and he dismisses the women who claim Trump kissed or groped them without their permission….

Malik also blasted Clinton’s performance as secretary of the State Department for exacerbating the chaos and violence in the Mideast. Malik said ousted Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy had been a good friend. “Check out the situation in Libya now,” he said.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog has a few things to say about that:

Trump, obviously, has done a godawful job of running a general election campaign. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that there’s some value in continually motivating the base with nasty insults and conspiracy theories. Let’s accept his logic when he concluded that inviting women who’ve accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to Debate #2 would rattle Hillary, or that he’d get under her skin by describing her as frail and sickly. Obviously, none of this has actually worked for him, but it’s kept some voters loyal to him at least, and the debate stunt and some of the insults must have been somewhat unsettling to Clinton (although she’s managed the chaos like a Zen master).

But what the hell is the point of this? Malik is the brother of the current president, not (let’s just say it) the next one. I didn’t know until I read the link that he’d criticized Clinton at all. It’s infantile to keep looking for psych-outs, but this won’t even work as a psych-out. It’s just a nod to the Breitbart base – the only people who probably have any idea who Malik is – and it works for them only because all of their hatreds are eternally present, so seeing an Obama (even an Obama who’s critical of the better-known one) hits a hate pleasure center as surely as yelling “Bill Clinton’s a rapist!” at a Democratic rally does.

And that misses the whole point of baiting the bear. The bear has to care, so focus matters:

At this point, Trump, presumably under Steve Bannon’s influence, is just rummaging through the wingnut anger archives and pulling out random bits and pieces. Maybe at the debate he’ll forget who his opponent is and start ranting about golf and returned Winston Churchill busts – or reach back in time and attack Jimmy Carter or Ted Kennedy or Sean Penn or the Dixie Chicks.

That’s where the fun is. Obama was taunting Trump about what Trump cares about – his broad-shouldered masculinity and the obvious fact that Trump is a winner who never loses at anything. Is that so, Donald? Trump fires back. You have an obscure half-brother who’s voting for ME – not Hillary – and Moammar Khadafy had been a good friend of his! No, wait – scratch that last part.

Well, there was this effort too:

Pat Smith, the mother of Information Officer Sean Smith who was killed in the September 12, 2012 attack in Benghazi, has accepted Trump’s invitation to attend tomorrow night’s event in Las Vegas. Smith makes frequent cable news appearances, and has memorably lashed out against Hillary Clinton for her role in the attacks on the Libyan compound.

Trump wants to sit her in the front row, but as with Bill Clinton’s accusers at the last debate, that may not be allowed – and this is not baiting anyway. This is for the base. Clinton had no role in those attacks. The dispute is about Clinton’s initial characterization of the attacks. She called them the “wrong” thing at the time. It wasn’t that video. Pat Smith won’t forgive her for that. It’s a somewhat obscure point, and Clinton stopped taking that bait long ago. And after eight government investigations and endless congressional hearings, capped off with Clinton being grilled for eleven straight hours, there’s nothing more to say. Trump isn’t pulling off a surprise that will bait Clinton into stupidly lashing out. She did that once, years ago – “What difference does it make!” She won’t do that again. She’s not Trump. She doesn’t take the bait.

Trump does, and a baited bear can be dangerous, as Trip Gabriel explains:

Warning darkly of a stolen election, Donald J. Trump has called on supporters to turn out in droves on Election Day to monitor polling places, telling them they need to be vigilant against widespread voter fraud and a rigged outcome.

“Voter fraud is all too common, and then they criticize us for saying that,” he said at a rally Tuesday in Colorado Springs. “But take a look at Philadelphia, what’s been going on, take a look at Chicago, take a look at St. Louis. Take a look at some of these cities, where you see things happening that are horrendous.”

His language has stirred increasing fears of intimidation of minorities inside polling places, where their qualifications to vote could be challenged, or outside, where they would face illegal electioneering.

Harassing black folks trying to vote is always a bad idea, but luckily for Trump, there’s a natural check on that:

As Mr. Trump casts doubt on the integrity of the presidential election, there are no signs of a wave of Trump poll watchers building. Like much else about his campaign, his call to “get everybody to go out and watch” the polls seems to be a Potemkin effort, with little or no organization behind it.

Republican and election officials in cities and states that Mr. Trump has singled out for potential widespread voter fraud, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Ohio, said his message to supporters to become poll watchers had generated scant response.

“There’s a real disconnect between the intensity of the buzz at the national level and anything we’ve seen on the ground,” said Al Schmidt, a Republican who is the vice chairman of Philadelphia’s election board. “We haven’t received a single call from somebody outside of Philadelphia looking to be a poll watcher.”

This may be all talk, or maybe not:

Even if few are heeding Mr. Trump’s call to sign up as poll watchers, a big question is whether Trump supporters will nevertheless flood polling places on Election Day in Democratic strongholds.

Lisa M. Deeley, a Democrat on the Philadelphia voting board, said she feared that Trump supporters would gather at polling sites, where they are allowed to go within 10 feet of the entrances, to jeer voters.

That could keep more than a few black and brown people from voting for Clinton, as they choose not to face that sort of thing. Sure, it’s illegal, but by the time anyone is charged with voter intimidation, the election will be over. Bait Trump and he’ll send these folks in, unless, as the reports indicate, no one signs up to jeer because they’re busy with their own lives. Every plan has its flaw.

But Trump has managed to achieve what Dana Milbank reports here:

We are three weeks from the election, and very close to the edge.

Retiree Gerald Miller, a volunteer at Donald Trump’s rally here, is confident his man will win on Nov. 8 – unless there’s foul play.

Miller, wearing an NRA pin and a tea party cap over his long hair, shares Trump’s concern that the election may be “rigged” by the Clinton campaign. “It is enough to skew the election. They can swing it either way,” he said, particularly because Hillary Clinton may have “the FBI working for her” in committing the fraud.

So what happens if Clinton is declared the winner? “Donald Trump is going to holler fraud if he doesn’t win,” figured Miller, who is white and says he has PTSD from “racial violence” he suffered in the military. “I think we’re on the verge of a civil war, a racial war. This could be the spark that sets it off.”

That’s what Milbank was hearing:

I spent a couple of hours before the rally in this indoor show ring talking to many Trump supporters and found them in states of denial and fury. I didn’t find one who expects Trump to lose. To varying degrees, most agreed with Trump that the election process is rigged. And some predicted ominous things if Trump loses – if not violence, a mass rejection of the legitimacy of the democratic process.

Ann Macomber, a Christian, retired teacher and Trump volunteer handing out fliers saying “Hillary Clinton is coming for your guns,” told me the voting system in Colorado has been “infiltrated”: dead people voting, voters with bogus addresses, precincts that report more votes than registered voters. “It’s happening. It’s sad,” Macomber said. “If we lose this election, we can’t trust anything in America anymore. We’re not sovereign.”

That’s what they heard:

“Voter fraud is all too common,” Trump told a few thousand people Tuesday afternoon in Colorado Springs, but if you mention it, he said, “they say bad things about you, they call you a racist.” He scolded Republican leaders for saying “everything is peachy” with the election process and warned that this could be the year “America truly lost its independence.” Warned Trump – “It’s going to be a one-party system. This is your final shot.”

He particularly scolded the press, which “created a rigged system and poisoned the minds of so many of our voters.” But he also found corruption in voter surveys (“I don’t believe the polls anymore”) and in his opponent (“many times worse than Watergate”).

“We won’t let them stop maybe the greatest movement in the history of our country!” Trump said, prompting chants of “USA!,” some foul language shouted at the press corps and, after the rally, a mass chant of “Shame on you!” directed at the press risers.

And that leads to this:

The candidate’s reckless closing message that nothing is on the level – not Democrats, not the press, not the polls, not Republican leaders, not even the integrity of the voting process – has left many of his supporters prepared to declare the election results illegitimate.

“I know the Democrats cheat. I’ve seen it,” Jay Hendricks, wearing a “Hillary Clinton Killed My Friends” T-shirt, told me at the rally.

Joseph Salmons, wearing a “Les Deplorables” T-shirt and pin, told me the election won’t end anything. “The movement’s starting. Even if he doesn’t win, it’s gonna tip,” he said.

But tip into what? “I sincerely hope people don’t lose their minds,” Salmons said.

It’s too late for that. Trump can be easily baited, but the Republicans did nominate him. “In some cases the bear was let loose, allowing it to chase after animals or people…”

That’s the problem now.

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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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