The Tone of the Times

Mitt Romney had a tin ear – he said he was “not concerned about the very poor” in an attempt to explain that the government did some things right and actually took care of those people. He didn’t mean that the way it sounded. He said he liked “being able to fire people” in an attempt to explain how to hold corporations accountable. He didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Things just come out wrong. After listening to a group of unemployed folks talk about their difficulties in finding a job he jumped right in – “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed.”

He was unemployed, technically. He was also one of the richest men in America. It was just a little joke. No one laughed, and the Brits were not happy when he told them that maybe they couldn’t handle the Olympics as well as he did back in Salt Lake City. NASCAR fans probably didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy when he mentioned he doesn’t follow the sport much but some of his best friends are NASCAR team owners. He probably shouldn’t have mentioned his wife’s two or three Cadillacs when he was talking about how much gasoline costs these days. His casual comments seem to come from another world – where no one really suffers, where you can kid around about anything at all – where your words couldn’t possibly hurt anyone. There was no need to be careful about the words.

That’s the world of money and privilege, of old money and entitlements, where everything works out. At bottom, the world is a fine place. There is no bottom. Everything is fine. Why not borrow ten thousand dollars from the parents, or maybe fifty thousand dollars, and start a business? He suggested that. Anyone can do that.

Obama won a second term. Romney had no idea how he sounded. Obama always knew exactly how he sounded. It wasn’t even close, and now it’s Donald Trump, who does know exactly how he sounds to his base, the angry thirty-five percent of the population that actually votes in elections. As long as no one else ever votes, a good bet, with the proper arrangements at the state level, he’ll be fine being nasty and saying things that just aren’t so – just to piss off the seventy percent of the population that never votes but wishes someone would. He’s home free. He’s no Mitt Romney.

Cool, but this may be unsustainable. It’s not true that seventy percent of the population never votes. Sometimes they do, and they may do that soon, but even if they don’t there are still more of them than there are angry Trump fans. The angry thirty-five percent of the population is outnumbered. And Trump is beginning to sound awful to the seventy percent:

An attorney for pop star Pharrell Williams on Monday sent a cease-and-desist letter to President Trump for playing Williams’ song “Happy” at a political rally on the same day as a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist,’ you played his song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana,” attorney Howard E. King wrote. “There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose.”

That’s a matter of opinion:

Eleven people – ranging in age from 54 to 97 – were killed Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue, where three separate congregations were holding services… Trump spoke that evening at a political rally at an airport hangar in Murphysboro, Ill. Trump joked at the event that he considered canceling because he was having “a bad hair day.”

The crowd cheered. They were happy. Pittsburgh was far away. Trump controlled the tone perfectly, for them, but not for others:

In his cease-and-desist letter, King, who is Williams’ Los Angeles-based attorney, wrote that the singer is the owner of the copyright to “Happy.”

“Pharrell has not, and will not, grant you permission to publicly perform or otherwise broadcast or disseminate any of his music,” King wrote. “The use of ‘Happy’ without permission constitutes copyright infringement.”

Trump will continue to play the song, louder and more often now. So sue him. That base would love that. He wins even if he eventually loses, but tone is becoming an issue:

For months, Republican officials have complained privately that President Trump lacks the ability to confront moments of crisis with moral clarity, choosing to inflame the divisions that have torn the country apart rather than try to bring it together. It took the importuning of his Jewish daughter and son-in-law to craft a powerful statement of outrage at anti-Semitism after Saturday’s slaughter at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Then Mr. Trump went back into partisan mode, assailing his enemies. By the evening’s end he was tweeting about baseball, and on Sunday he went after another foe.

Kevin Drum states the obvious:

Eleven Jews are slaughtered by an anti-Semitic maniac in a synagogue and Trump had to be “importuned” by his daughter to issue a strong statement denouncing it. Normally I might think this is just another example of Ivanka and Jared touting their influence to the press, but this kind of thing doesn’t make anyone look good. So it’s probably true – unbelievable, but true.

As for why Trump had to be talked into this, that’s simple. Trump believes himself to be the president not of the whole country, but only of those who voted for him. The Jewish community didn’t, so he doesn’t care about them.

Perhaps so, but it could be he finds the whole thing boring, still, tone is an issue, and Josh Marshall reports that there was this:

In Michigan today, Vice President Pence held a rally for congressional candidates Mike Bishop and Lena Epstein. In tow, he brought a rabbi to offer a benediction and prayer of mourning for the eleven Jews killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Only it wasn’t a rabbi, or at least not one who would be recognized as such by American Jews. Rabbi Loren Jacobs is a “Messianic Jew”, better known as Jews for Jesus.

Marshall says there may be no such thing:

If this isn’t something you’re familiar with these are Jews by ancestry who maintain the trappings of Judaism and some of the ritual law while accepting Jesus as the Messiah and the entirety of Christian theology. They make up an incalculably small number of American Jews and are largely supported, subsidized and advanced by evangelical groups hoping to convert Jews to Christianity.

Evangelical groups kind of invented them:

People can believe anything they want of course. These “messianic” congregations have the same freedom of religion and belief as the rest of us. But for reasons that are difficult to quite capture outside Jewish religious and cultural experience, most Jews see the existence of these groups as a profound offense and an attack on Judaism itself.

Jews have been persecuted for almost two millennia for refusing to accept Christianity as the rightful successor to Judaism. The best way to capture the raw feelings many Jews feel about this is that it is an attempt to destroy or extinguish Judaism from within.

Vice President Pence has that Romney tin ear, the evangelical version, but the Washington Post team of Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey get to the real problems here:

The White House’s fraught balancing act was on display Monday during the afternoon press briefing – the first in nearly a month – where press secretary Sarah Sanders alternately sought to soothe national divisions and to inflame them.

Sanders choked up while decrying the “heinous acts” in Pittsburgh and said that Trump had “risen to that occasion” and helped bring the country together.

Simultaneously, however, she parroted Trump’s scathing indictment of the media as partly responsible for the hateful atmosphere and vowed the president would continue to go after Democrats to highlight “the differences between the two parties.”

“The very first action that the president did was to condemn these heinous acts,” Sanders told reporters. “The very first thing that the media did was condemn the president, go after him, and try to place blame.”

That is how her boss feels. He’s being attacked. That’s the real outrage here:

Trump’s anger at the media boiled over during the weekend as news organizations delved into mail-bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc’s avid support of the president. The Florida man attended Trump rallies and decorated the windows of his white van with positive images of Trump and Vice President Pence, and pictures of the president’s Democratic foes with crosshairs over their faces or bodies.

Trump was upset by the degree to which the media focused on Sayoc’s support of him, according to an adviser, and he channeled that anger on Twitter, where Monday he blamed the media for the nation’s divisions and declared the “Fake News Must End!”

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news,” Trump tweeted. “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.”

That was tonally inept:

Trump’s outburst drew fresh rebukes, and not only from Democrats. David Lapan, who was press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security while it was led by John F. Kelly, who is now the president’s chief of staff, wrote on Twitter: “Over 30+ years as a U.S. Marine, I defended our country against its true enemies. In 20+ years as a USMC, Pentagon and DHS spokesman, I dealt w/ the news media nearly every day. I know quite a bit about the press and know this – they are NOT the enemy of the American people.”

Only his base buys that sort of thing and they’re outnumbered, so it was time for a little experimenting:

Trump was tentatively scheduled to deliver a fiery speech Tuesday on immigration, in which he was considering announcing a plan to at least temporarily ban the entry of Central American migrants at the southern border and deny them the opportunity to seek asylum.

But he scuttled those remarks in favor of his visit to Pittsburgh, where he is expected to meet with law enforcement officials. The speech is now expected to take place after the midterms, a senior White House official said, in part because of a recognition that the political moment has changed.

The administration did, however, move ahead with a scheduled announcement Monday of its decision to deploy thousands of additional troops to the U.S. border with Mexico. The move came as the president warned in a tweet of an “invasion” in the form of a dwindling caravan of migrants making its way slowly north through Mexico.

Okay, don’t rip into immigrants again. Go to Pittsburgh to be nice. But send the military to the border to stop this invasion, or something:

As the mail-bomb and synagogue-shooting crises unfolded over the past week, Trump received advice from allies who urged the importance of sounding presidential, but he was at times annoyed by what he viewed as unnecessary and gratuitous counsel, said one Republican in frequent contact with the White House.

Trump’s advisers privately concede that the president is not particularly good at projecting empathy – and that he does not believe his supporters expect him to seem soft or emotional. Trump was deeply uncomfortable visiting the family of a dead soldier early in his presidency, aides have said, and he has made awkward gestures, such as flashing a thumb’s up, during hospital visits and other somber occasions.

But he’ll give it another try:

Sanders announced Monday that the president and first lady Melania Trump, joined by Ivanka Trump and Kushner, will visit Pennsylvania on Tuesday to commemorate the shooting victims, even as the mayor of Pittsburgh publicly requested that the trip be postponed until after the funerals.

City officials were taken aback by the announcement of Trump’s trip and expect it will draw protests on the same day as the first funerals.

Tens of thousands of people have signed an open letter from a Pittsburgh-based Jewish group saying the president would not be welcome in the city unless he denounced white nationalism and stopped “targeting” minorities.

Trump said Monday night in a Fox News Channel interview that he was traveling to Pittsburgh “to pay my respects. I’m also going to the hospital to see the officers and some of the people that were so badly hurt.”

And if the local Jews and half of the city don’t like that, well, screw them. He’ll sneer at them all. His base will love that too, and he certainly doesn’t care about this:

In remarks to reporters Monday afternoon, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (D) asked the White House to consider “two important factors” before scheduling a visit: the will of the victims’ families and the fact that the city’s attention – including the efforts of law enforcement officers – will be focused Tuesday on the victims’ funerals.

“If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh, I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead. Our attention and our focus are going to be on them, and we don’t have public safety that we can take away from what is needed in order to do both,” Peduto said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Trump is going to Pittsburgh anyway. Perhaps, once again, he’ll throw rolls of paper towels to the crowds:

Trump was criticized in some corners for seeming to only go through the motions of acting presidential and later reverting to partisan attack mode. He decided to go ahead with a campaign rally Saturday evening in Illinois hours after the synagogue slaughter and continued to go after his foes.

“Almost any president of my lifetime would have canceled the campaign rally,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss said. “So deep in Donald Trump’s manner of leadership is dividing in order to conquer. Even at a time of national crisis like this, you see it very much on display. He has shown himself completely incapable of healing our wounds.”

Yeah, well, so what?  Is that his job? And there are other issues here:

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, argued that “anti-religiosity” and a trend of “making fun of people who express religion” were partly responsible for the Pittsburgh shooting – an argument that the president had not yet made but that could resonate with many conservative Trump voters.

“The late-night comedians. The unfunny people on TV shows. It’s always anti-religious,” Conway said Monday on Fox News Channel.

“This is no time to be driving God out of the public square,” she said. “No time to be making fun of people.”

Who was making fun of anyone? No one knew what she was talking about, but yes, mandatory evangelical Christian prayer, to Jesus, in all public schools, every morning, is a winner with the base. That’ll fix everything, as will sending the military to the border, and William Saletan notes here:

Trump accuses Democrats of fomenting an “illegal immigration onslaught” or a “crisis on our border.” He says they’ve “launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country, the security of our nation, and the safety of every single American.” He tells his fans that Democrats do this in order to “give illegal immigrants the right to vote” and thereby “take over” the government. On Wednesday, as the pipe bombs were being found and reported, Trump told a crowd in Wisconsin: “The Democrat Party is openly encouraging caravan after caravan of illegal aliens to violate our laws and break into our country.” On Saturday after the synagogue massacre – which was allegedly perpetrated by a man who posted about the migrant caravan on social media and accused Jewish groups of orchestrating it – Trump told a crowd in Illinois: “The Democrat Party is openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders, and overwhelm our country.”

In particular, the president has raised alarms about the caravan, which recently crossed into Mexico. He says this group is full of “bad people” and “many criminals.” He calls such alleged criminals “animals,” and he mocks anyone who insists they’re human. The president says our struggle against MS-13, a Latino gang, is “like a war, like there’s a foreign invasion, and they occupy your country.” He also suggests that Muslims are part of the invasion. “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in,” he tweeted last week. “Radical Islam, terrible,” he told his followers in Arizona, referring to a terror attack in New York last year. At the rally in Texas, he reminded the crowd of his ban on travel to the U.S. from certain Muslim countries.

This is an invasion. They’re coming to kill us. Perhaps we have to kill them first, every single mother and her children. Those little babies have machetes, right?

Trump isn’t saying that. That’s only what people hear. That’s in the tone, and Fred Kaplan adds this:

Reports that President Donald Trump wants to send 5,000 more troops to the Southern border, at first, come as a shock. It’s a startlingly high number. To put it in perspective, NATO recently deployed 4,500 troops in the Baltic nations to deter and repel a Russian tank assault. How many troops could possibly be needed to stave off an unarmed caravan of refugees walking up through Mexico – even if, as Trump and Vice President Mike Pence maintain, with no evidence, “Middle Eastern” terrorists are hiding in their midst?

This is a bit odd:

As might be imagined, this is not a Pentagon initiative. Last week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered a mere extra 800 troops to the border, to augment the 2,000 National Guard personnel sent there last spring, and even that seemed a bit of a sop to Trump’s clamoring.

News of a 5,000-troop upgrade, reported in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, may reflect a White House wishful dream. “Planning is still underway,” a Defense Department spokesman said Monday. “It remains premature to speculate total numbers or specific forces to be selected to accomplish the requested missions.”

This massive military operation to repel a full-scale invasion may not happen:

In a Monday morning tweet about the caravan, Trump warned, “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” But the troops – however many they amount to – won’t be waiting with machine guns and artillery rockets. Rather, according to a Pentagon statement based on the DHS request, they will be providing support to the 16,000-plus Customs and Border Protection forces. “Support” is defined as engineers (for temporary barriers, barricades, and fencing), helicopters and planes (to move CBP personnel around), medical teams, command and control, temporary housing, and personal protective equipment.

But that may not matter, because Trump is getting the “tone” right:

Trump probably doesn’t care how many troops are sent, just as he doesn’t seem to care whether a “big beautiful wall” ever gets built. In his world, saying that something is true matters more than whether it really is true.

Still, one wonders how much Mattis grinds his teeth at night. Neither he nor the brass could be happy about providing props and scenery for Trump’s Halloween election pageant, in which he drums up scary stories about dark-skinned goblins invading our fair land for the sake of boosting the Republican Party’s prospects in the midterms.

But that does work, at least for the base, but Jennifer Rubin notes this:

Public Religion Research Institute released on Monday its survey of more than 2,500 adults on everything from race and immigration to Russia and President Trump’s language. Among its findings, the poll results show that a large majority of Americans disagree with most of what President Trump says and does.

Rubin covers a lot of data, but this is what matters at the moment:

When it comes to issues of immigration, Americans remain a tolerant and welcoming people, with 64 percent who say that the United States becoming a majority-nonwhite nation by 2045 will be a mostly positive change. One-third (33%) of Americans says that the impact of this demographic shift will be mostly negative. Large majorities oppose the wall or preventing refugees from coming. More than 70 percent oppose the family separation policy. “More than six in ten (62%) Americans favor allowing immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status, while about one-third (35%) are opposed.” The same percentage favors a path to citizenship with conditions for illegal immigrants generally. Large percentages say that immigrants are hardworking, have strong values, and make an effort to learn English.


The big takeaway one gets from this is that Trump is badly out of step with a large majority of Americans on all sorts of issues, but when you drill down, his base (Republicans and/or evangelical Christians) is strongly in sync with him on most issues, including nostalgia for an earlier America, banning refugees, the family separation policy, fearing a majority-minority country, opposing legalization and views of immigrants…

Trump sees himself as president of his base, playing to their preferences, fears and prejudices. They and he, however, don’t represent a large majority of Americans. If Trump followers feel alienated from America and feel they no longer set political and cultural norms, they’re right. And if the majority of Americans insist Trump is trampling on their values, norms, attitudes and worldview, they are also correct.

And there’s the problem. Donald Trump does know exactly how he sounds to his base, the angry thirty-five percent of the population that actually votes in elections. They may be outnumbered, but as long as no one else ever votes, he’s good. He can sneer. He can make things up. But he’s still outnumbered, and he really can’t change his tone. He’s got nothing else. He may finally be in trouble now. He has a tin ear too.

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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