Americans wanted a change, and they got it – they elected Donald Trump, although what most people wanted is unclear, as Jeremy Stahl notes here:
Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has now topped 2.5 million, the New York Times reported on Thursday. That 1.9 percent margin over President-elect Donald Trump is larger than that of nine previous presidents.
This doesn’t mean anything for the election results, obviously, as the presidency is decided by the Electoral College, which was clearly won by Donald Trump.
Trump has made it matter for this reason, though: He is publicly contesting that he lost the popular vote, a challenge that could have far-reaching consequences in terms of mandates, popular legitimacy, and a potential future assault on voting rights.
Those are the questions. Does he have a mandate? Is he really all that popular, given far more than half of all voters did not vote for him? And if he is right about the “real” vote for him, should America start a massive crackdown, to make it extremely demanding for anyone who wants to vote to prove that they have the right to vote? That would be a change – discourage voting – discourage participating – prove that you have a right to participate in this democracy, or else sit down and shut up.
That would be a new world for us all, but Stahl notes that CNN aired a segment that demonstrates how Trump’s claim is leading there, with what Stahl calls the “the elaborate feedback loop through which conservative media and the Trump campaign invented elaborate myths of voter fraud” – which somehow became proof of voter fraud. That’s what was on display:
In the CNN segment, a Trump supporter argues that 3 million people voted illegally. “Voting is a privilege in this country and you need to be legal not like California where three million illegals voted,” a Trump supporter told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota.
When Camerota challenged the voter, she cited the “media” for her claims and argued that “California allows” illegal voting.
And there’s the problem:
The apparent origin of the three-million figure and that false claim that Trump would have won the popular vote had it not been for illegal voters – cited by both the Trump supporter and the candidate himself – is the conspiracy theory website Infowars. Trump, by the way, called Infowars founder Alex Jones to thank him for his support after the election and has appeared on his show…
Politifact thoroughly debunked that Infowars article, which was based entirely on a pair of tweets by a former Republican official. The former official offered zero evidence for his claim that he had analyzed “180 million voter registrations” and that the “number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million.” Only about 127 million people voted in this election, well short of the number purportedly “analyzed.”
Still, Trump’s claim – apparently based on this false report – was enough to have it repeated by Kansas Secretary of State and potential Trump Homeland Security secretary Kris Kobach. “I think the president-elect is absolutely correct when he says the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton at this point,” Kobach said on Wednesday, further spreading the lie. Kobach cited a 2014 report claiming that a large percentage of votes were coming from illegal citizens.
“If we apply that number to the current presidential election … you’d have 3.2 million aliens voted in the presidential election, and that far exceeds the current popular vote margin between President-elect Trump and Secretary Clinton,” Kobach, who could soon have a cabinet-level position, argued.
The problem is that this study was repeatedly debunked by researchers who demonstrated that the actual “rate of non-citizen voting in the United States is likely zero.”
It seems that doesn’t matter, and one thing leads to another:
The Trump supporter on CNN repeated another piece of misinformation to back up her contention that mass numbers of illegal immigrants voted.
“I think there was a good amount because the president told people they could vote,” she said.
This claim was based on an out-of-context quote from President Barack Obama that was interpreted in right-wing media circles to have shown him encouraging illegal immigrants to vote when in actuality he did no such thing.
The source of that mangled quote: Fox Business News.
Stahl has all the links for those who wish to watch all that, but Jack Holmes links to Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes saying this:
Well, I think it’s also an idea of an opinion. And that’s – on one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go, “‘No, it’s true.” And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts – they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way – it’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.
And so Mr. Trump’s tweets, amongst a certain crowd – a large part of the population – are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some – amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies and that there are no facts to back it up.
Holmes is not happy with this:
This is an astounding claim.
It’s an attack not on Trump’s detractors, but on the idea of objective reality. Modern society is built on the idea we can observe things in the world, use the scientific method to verify them and form a consensus that a certain set of things are true. This set of things constitutes the reality in which we live. Hughes, Trump, and his campaign have set out to undermine all of that in order to claim that the truth is anything they want it to be right now – as long as enough of the people who support them believe it.
(No, this idea did not begin with Trump, but he seems to have perfected it.)
Take a look at the line about Trump’s supporters believing there are facts – which are never provided – that prove Trump’s claims, whatever they may be.
Scottie Nell Hughes simply explained the new world we’ve transitioned to – there’s no such thing anymore as facts – but Holmes notes that everyone should have seen this coming:
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway once claimed it didn’t matter that Fox News’ allegation that Hillary Clinton was about to be indicted wasn’t true, because “voters are putting it in this large cauldron of impressions and images and individuals and issues from which they eventually make a choice.” She also claimed her boss couldn’t have lied about debate moderator Lester Holt being a Democrat because he didn’t actually know what Holt’s party affiliation was.
If this Catch-22 un-splaining is any indication of how the incoming White House will operate, then the conversation will be about more than any specific claim. It’ll be about whether there’s still such a thing as truth – and lies – in America.
This is a brave new world that has such people in it, as Miranda said to Prospero in The Tempest. Aldous Huxley borrowed those words for the title of a book about hypothetical “developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that combine profoundly to change society” – and it wasn’t pretty. This is like that.
And the arguments about what’s truth have begun:
The raw, lingering emotion of the 2016 presidential campaign erupted into a shouting match here Thursday as top strategists of Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused their Republican counterparts of fueling and legitimizing racism to elect Donald Trump.
The extraordinary exchange came at a postmortem session sponsored by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where top operatives from both campaigns sat across a conference table from each other.
This wasn’t pretty:
As Trump’s team basked in the glow of its victory and singled out for praise its campaign’s chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, who was absent, the row of grim-faced Clinton aides who sat opposite them bristled.
Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.
“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” she said. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”
“You did, Kellyanne. You did,” interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.
She did. They did give white supremacists a platform. Enough has been said about Steve Bannon. It’s all on record including this:
Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.
“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,'” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?'” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.'”
Meanwhile, back in Cambridge, Bannon wasn’t supposed to be the issue:
“Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?” Conway asked. “How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?”
Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist, piled on: “There were dog whistles sent out to people. … Look at your rallies. He delivered it.”
At which point, Conway accused Clinton’s team of being sore losers. “Guys, I can tell you are angry, but wow,” she said.
Bannon is a fine fellow, who loves everybody, like the Pope or Jesus, and if Trump ever hinted at anything racist, that just didn’t count:
“This is the problem with the media. You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally,” [former Trump campaign manager Cory] Lewandowski said. “The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes – when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar – you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
There’s much more of this. It was nasty. There was shouting, but the argument the Trump crew was making was clear. Trump says things. No one takes him literally. Only a fool would do that. Of course that means that now, as president, someone will have to explain to all world leaders, allies and adversaries alike, that the American president just says things. What he just said may or may not be the position of the United Sates government. Sometimes you just say things, right? Of course they’ll understand that.
This is a brave new world of diplomacy:
President-elect Donald J. Trump inherited a complicated world when he won the election last month. And that was before a series of freewheeling phone calls with foreign leaders that has unnerved diplomats at home and abroad.
In the calls, he voiced admiration for one of the world’s most durable despots, the president of Kazakhstan, and said he hoped to visit a country, Pakistan, that President Obama has steered clear of during nearly eight years in office.
Mr. Trump told the British prime minister, Theresa May, “If you travel to the U.S., you should let me know,” an offhand invitation that came only after he spoke to nine other leaders. He later compounded it by saying on Twitter that Britain should name the anti-immigrant leader Nigel Farage its ambassador to Washington, a startling break with diplomatic protocol.
Mr. Trump’s unfiltered exchanges have drawn international attention since the election, most notably when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan with only one other American in the room, his daughter Ivanka Trump – dispensing with the usual practice of using State Department-approved talking points.
He’ll wing it. He’ll just say things. Only fools take him literally, but that may not cut it:
On Thursday, the White House weighed in with an offer of professional help. The press secretary, Josh Earnest, urged the president-elect to make use of the State Department’s policy makers and diplomats in planning and conducting his encounters with foreign leaders…
Mr. Trump’s conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan has generated the most angst, because, as Mr. Earnest put it, the relationship between Mr. Sharif’s country and the United States is “quite complicated,” with disputes over issues ranging from counterterrorism to nuclear proliferation.
In a remarkably candid readout of the phone call, the Pakistani government said Mr. Trump had told Mr. Sharif that he was “a terrific guy” who made him feel as though “I’m talking to a person I have known for long.” He described Pakistanis as “one of the most intelligent people.” When Mr. Sharif invited him to visit Pakistan, the president-elect replied that he would “love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.”
That was nice. Butter-up the guy, no harm in that, but for this:
The breezy tone of the readout left diplomats in Washington slack-jawed, with some initially assuming it was a parody. In particular, they zeroed in on Mr. Trump’s offer to Mr. Sharif “to play any role you want me to play to address and find solutions to the country’s problems.”
That was interpreted by some in India as an offer by the United States to mediate Pakistan’s border dispute with India in Kashmir, something that the Pakistanis have long sought and that India has long resisted.
“By taking such a cavalier attitude to these calls, he’s encouraging people not to take him seriously,” said Daniel F. Feldman, a former special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “He’s made himself not only a bull in a china shop, but a bull in a nuclear china shop.”
Yes, India and Pakistan both have nukes. They have threatened to nuke each other for decades. What is our position on that now, that we’ll help? No one knows, and there’s that other matter:
Mr. Trump’s call with President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan raised similar questions.
Mr. Nazarbayev has ruled his country with an iron hand since 1989, first as head of the Communist Party and later as president after Kazakhstan won its independence from the Soviet Union. In April 2015, he won a fifth term, winning 97.7 percent of the vote and raising suspicions of fraud.
The Kazakh government, in its account of Mr. Trump’s conversation, said he had lavished praise on the president for his leadership of the country over the last 25 years. “D. Trump stressed that under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev, our country over the years of independence had achieved fantastic success that can be called a ‘miracle,'” it said.
Is that true? Who knows? Donald Trump just says things, but the New York Times lists some other problem areas like North Korea:
An early test may be North Korea, which could soon have enough nuclear fuel for 20 bombs and could deploy warheads on missiles capable of hitting South Korea, Japan and American assets in the Pacific. Experts say the North’s production of more and better bombs has increased the chance of a military confrontation. Mr. Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on China’s exports, in part to force Beijing to exert more pressure on Pyongyang. As the North’s main supplier, China is vital to resolving the nuclear issue. But raising tariffs on the Chinese would risk a trade war and make cooperation less likely.
Someone should mention that to Trump, and then there’s the Islamic State and Syria:
American forces are engaged in major battles to liberate Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria from the Islamic State and are fighting extremists elsewhere, including Mali. Mr. Trump, who has said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals,” has not offered any plan beyond “I would bomb the [expletive] out of ’em.”
On Syria, he has talked of abandoning American support for rebels trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad and joining the alliance between Mr. Assad and Russia, Mr. Assad’s partner in bombing Syrian civilians. After 500,000 deaths, there’s no end to the five-year civil war, which has created chaos, allowing ISIS to thrive and claim large parts of Syrian territory. A united effort to fight ISIS would require a peace deal between Mr. Assad and the opposition forces. But Secretary of State John Kerry has not been able to get Russia to push Mr. Assad in that direction. Mr. Trump seems confident he can work with Mr. Putin, but it’s unclear that Russia would accept any deal unless Mr. Assad is allowed to remain in power indefinitely, which the Syrians he has brutalized are unlikely to accept.
Someone should mention that to Trump too, and then there’s Iran:
Mr. Trump has vowed to tear up the 2015 deal under which Iran halted its most dangerous nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions. The agreement is working, as many of its critics in Congress and the Middle East acknowledge. Mr. Trump, however, has chosen a national security adviser and a CIA director who are both adamantly opposed to the deal, regardless of the consequences of ending it. If it is jettisoned, Iran would almost certainly resume its nuclear program. America’s partners in the agreement – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – will not re-impose sanctions as part of Mr. Trump’s quixotic quest for some “better deal,” and American businesses will be further disadvantaged in the competition for Iranian markets.
This is the kind of self-made crisis a new president cannot afford. Iranian moderates open to engagement with the West are battling for power against anti-Western hard-liners. The hard-liners hope to exploit Mr. Trump’s hostility to ensure that President Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated the nuclear deal, is defeated for re-election next year. It should matter to America which side prevails.
Someone should mention that to Trump too, and those are only three items from a much longer list. Some nasty things are just true. There actually are facts. Surprise!
Oh, and Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, by a wide margin, not that it matters. We’re in the middle of a swift transition to a brave new world where there’s no such thing anymore as facts. We’ve been told that, explicitly and repeatedly. No, we just have to live with that, and live through that, if we can.