Paper Straws

That strange intense little man with a way of making everything oddly vivid and dramatic – always overstating everything – was back again:

Former short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Monday that President Trump is “giving people a license to hate” and called on Republicans to consider replacing him on the top of the ticket next year.

“How are we all tolerating this?” Scaramucci said during an interview on CNN. “The rhetoric is so charged and so divisive that we all have to just take a step back now and say, ‘What are we doing actually?'”

He had loved Trump. Trump was a genius. Trump was the smartest, handsomest, sexiest, and now most powerful man who ever lived, and he was the richest man in the world too, and could sink a thirty-foot putt blindfolded. And now, not so much:

In an interview with the Washington Post later Monday, Scaramucci said he wanted to recruit other former Trump aides and prominent Republicans to come forward with critical opinions of the president – views he said that many had shared with him privately.

Scaramucci said he didn’t know if people would come forward to support his effort. He said the United States needed a “smart, capable and able person who loves the country and understands the country.”

It seems Donald Trump is none of those things, now, and El Paso had something to do with this:

Last week, Scaramucci characterized Trump’s visits to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, in the aftermath of mass shootings in the two cities as a “total catastrophe,” saying Trump appeared more focused on promoting himself than helping victims of the violence.


That criticism was apparently what prompted Trump to lash out at Scaramucci on Twitter over the weekend, writing that he was “totally incapable of handling” the communications director job and “would do anything to come back in.”

Scaramucci told the Washington Post Monday that he didn’t know if others would come forward to take on Trump because they “don’t want to be cyberbullied by the bully in chief.”

“Once he lights you up on Twitter, you start getting death threats,” Scaramucci said.

Scaramucci is whining. That’s America today. Everyone who makes trouble for angry conservatives gets death threats, or that bomb in the mail that doesn’t go off. Doctors who perform quite legal abortions get their home addresses posted on the web and some of them die now and then – taken out by a True Christian with a gun or a bomb. What did Scaramucci expect? This is real life. But Scaramucci had no need to worry:

Trump responded to Scaramucci’s comments in a tweet Monday afternoon.

“Scaramucci, who like so many others had nothing to do with my Election victory, is only upset that I didn’t want him back in the Administration (where he desperately wanted to be),” Trump said. “Also, I seldom had time to return his many calls to me. He just wanted to be on TV!”

Trump was clear enough. Scaramucci is a loser. He just wanted me to kind of say he was maybe kind of okay again, just one more time – please, please, please – so I kicked him in the face, because he’s pathetic.

Scaramucci won’t get any death threats after that tweet. He’s not worth the effort, but Amber Phillips sees this:

Trump installed people in power who had little or no government experience but lots of experience in drama. And that has burned him a couple of times, including on Monday, when former White House aide Anthony Scaramucci said he thinks Trump shouldn’t be president anymore.

Because what’s more dramatic than being kicked out of the White House, then going in front of TV cameras to dish all you know about the president and opine about how “unhinged”/racist/undeserving of the office Trump is?

So, what did Trump expect? These things happen, as Phillips notes here:

You can’t mention drama and former White House aides without thinking of Omarosa Manigault Newman. She was a little-known contestant on the first season of Trump’s TV show, “The Apprentice,” whose penchant for ratings-grabbing feistiness fascinated Trump, those who know him say. He brought her back for several more seasons and then hired her as an outreach coordinator for black Americans despite her having zero experience in such work.

Manigault Newman was not a good fit for the White House, and Trump’s chief of staff fired her. She secretly recorded her firing while in the Situation Room, one of the most closely guarded and secretive parts of the White House, and used the recording to publicize her book about Trump: “Unhinged: An Insider Account of the Trump White House,” where she calls him a racist and a narcissist.

“As the only African American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that have affected my community and my people,” she said at the time.

Trump called her a “lowlife” “crazed” and a “dog” – sexist and racially tinged insults that only served to prove her point, and get her more attention.

So perhaps Scaramucci is right. The country may need a smart, capable and able person who loves the country and understands the country, but there the whole thing breaks down. Which country is Scaramucci talking about? David Byler, a data analyst who focuses on elections, polling, demographics and statistics, sees that as the main question in the upcoming 2020 election:

Here’s a quick tip from someone who gets into way too many political conversations: If you find yourself in a room full of committed progressives talking about 2020 strategy, but you don’t really want to engage, just ask: “Are you sure that will play well in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan?”

It’s all but guaranteed: At least one person will launch into a soliloquy about how the most progressive version of the Democratic Party is actually the most electable version.

That is, Democrats can win without Trump Country. Who needs those people when you have better ideas and more people (voters) too? It’s really quite simple:

The exact content of the progressive argument might vary. Some say that most Americans want progressive policies and Democrats just need to be louder and contrast more with the GOP on economics. Others think that President Trump is simply too unlikable to win and that Democrats should take the opportunity to nominate the most liberal person possible. But the most interesting response, and the least common one I’ve run into, is that Democrats don’t need all those states.

Some think the best Democratic strategy in the medium term (or even the short-term) is to focus less on Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan and invest instead in diversifying, suburban Southern and Southwestern states. That approach, the theory goes, would allow Democrats to win without nominating a comparative moderate such as former vice president Joe Biden and trying to appeal to the more conservative blue-collar whites of the Upper Midwest.

But it’s not that simple:

That’s not a crazy strategy, but Democrats should be cautious. Purple states are highly sticky from one election to the next, so they’re probably not going to be able to get away from the traditional Midwestern swing states in 2020… Recent electoral history and demographics suggest that, despite the quick leftward movement of well-educated suburbs across the country, Democrats probably still have to worry about Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other currently purple states in 2020.

The rest of this item is data – the charts and tables and graphs that spell this all out – and a bit dry.

And all of this may be beside the point. The 2020 election may be about quite odd things. The Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker report on that:

George W. Bush had “freedom fries,” Sarah Palin had the “Big Gulp” and Dan Quayle had the Hollywood portrayal of an unwed single mother named Murphy Brown.

For President Trump, it’s paper straws – the latest addition to an ever-growing list of cultural flash points his campaign is seeking to highlight as part of a base-focused reelection effort.

No, really:

As cities and coffee chains across the country have adopted policies aimed at limiting environmental damage, the president’s campaign has targeted what it calls “liberal paper straws.” It’s selling a Trump-branded plastic version as a fundraising tool.

Pointing to the “runaway success” of the straws – which have earned the campaign more than $670,000 in a month – communications director Tim Murtaugh said they represent Trump’s ability to make a political point using a cultural issue that everyday voters can relate to.

“With the Trump straws, the campaign tapped into widespread disdain for paper straws that simply don’t work,” he said. “People don’t like being told they can’t do simple things, and so the Trump straws were born.”

Of course this has nothing to do with anything – the trade wars, the mass murders, the new nuclear arms race with Russia, or Iran or Afghanistan or Syria or Israel or anything at all. This is about paper straws, and plastic straws. But that may be the point:

Trump is deliberately amplifying public tensions by seizing on divisive topics to energize his base, according to campaign aides and White House advisers. The president is following much the same strategy that he pursued in 2016 – inserting himself into the issues his supporters are already discussing, and using blunt us-against-them language without regard to nuance or political correctness.

As Democrats debate policy, Trump has sought to force his potential rivals to defend the most far-reaching cultural ideas circulating within their party.

And this is about cultural ideas, the big ones beyond straws, not about policy or anything else:

While Trump’s campaign aides have proactively pushed his politically incorrect message with creative and at times tongue-in-cheek marketing, the president has caught some of his advisers off guard by crudely inflaming culture wars on heavier topics such as race, abortion and immigration.

He has attacked his opponents (including four minority congresswomen) as un-American, described entire U.S. cities (many with large minority populations) as deplorable, and pitted his mostly white base against an increasingly diverse Democratic Party.

The president – angry at Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) for his oversight of the president and his administration – recently targeted Baltimore, tweeting that “no human being would want to live there,” and derisively comparing the majority-black city’s murder rate to Afghanistan.

“The Democrat party is now being led by four left-wing extremists who reject everything that we hold dear,” Trump said at an Aug. 1 Cincinnati campaign rally, a reference to U.S. congresswomen he targeted last month with a racist go-back-to-your-country taunt.

There is nothing about policy or direction is any of this, or about war or peace, because this is cultural warfare, and that’s hard to counter:

Democrats say the president is writing off much of the country and giving some of the voters who stayed home in 2016 a reason to vote against him. Some 2020 candidates have specifically sought to portray Trump’s constant agitation of political, cultural and racial divisions as too exhausting for the country.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) contrasted her presidential campaign with Trump’s by saying that voters want a political message “about lifting people up and not beating them down.”

“People are just tired of what we’ve been seeing,” she told reporters earlier this month in Detroit. “It is tiring.”

Harris has it completely backwards. She’s tired. Others aren’t. This talk reinvigorated people bored by policy-talk. So the Democrats should stop saying things like this:

And after two mass shootings earlier this month – including one authorities believe may have been inspired by anti-immigrant racism – Democrats say Trump’s unwillingness to play the traditional presidential role of national healer and bipartisan problem-solver has been laid bare.

“We have a president who has aligned himself with the darkest forces in this nation,” former vice president Joe Biden said Wednesday.

Many saw that Biden speech as devastating and patriotic and soaring and important and all the rest, but Trump has the perfect response:

Trump disparaged Biden on a day the president had set aside for visiting victims of the shootings that killed 31 people in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

“Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech,” Trump tweeted from Air Force One as he traveled between the grieving communities. “Sooo Boring!”

That speech was about where policy and morality and common sense meet. Who cares? BORING!

Trump has other things on his mind:

In recent weeks, Trump has attacked Nike for pulling shoes with the Betsy Ross flag, blamed wind turbines for various community ills and suggested labeling anti-fascist demonstrators – known as Antifa – as a domestic terrorist group.

None of these things were pressing problems, but they did hit the spot:

Ralph Reed, chairman of the socially conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, compared Trump’s ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist to another political figure that transcended politics and entered the mainstream of popular culture.

He recalled how former Alaska governor Sarah Palin protested a proposed ban on large soft drinks in New York City at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference. During her speech, she reached below her podium and pulled out a Big Gulp, taking a sip to the roar of the crowd.

“It was for Palin, and similarly is for Trump today, a way to combine a cultural message with policy substance, in a way that energizes conservatives and marginalizes the left,” he said.

There was no policy substance. This was a proposed ban on large sugared soft drinks in the five boroughs of New York City, nowhere else. But then Sarah Palin knew next to nothing about any policy of any kind, so she needed a hook.

Politicians always need hooks:

Republican allies of President George W. Bush sought to rebrand French fries as “freedom fries” in 2003 as part of an effort to galvanize the public and protest the French government’s opposition to the Iraq War. In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle leaped into the culture wars by publicly castigating the television show “Murphy Brown” after the sitcom depicted the lead character choosing to have a baby as an unwed career woman. Quayle, who said in a campaign speech that the show was “mocking the importance of fathers,” later backtracked amid backlash from critics.

That wouldn’t happen now:

Attacking Democrats over social and cultural issues comes naturally to Trump, who entered politics via reality television, said David Urban, a 2016 campaign aide who advises the president.

“The culture wars are a byproduct of the political wars,” he said. “It’s the coasts versus mid-America. It’s people who drive Teslas versus people who drive John Deere tractors. And it’s being fanned by dueling cable networks.”

Dueling cable networks made this possible:

While Karl Rove and other political strategists have long used wedge issues to press a political advantage, Trump has shifted the Republican playbook by expanding beyond socially conservative issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, said former White House official Andy Surabian.

“It’s not like plastic straws is an issue for social conservatives; plastic straws are an issue that touches atheists, Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals,” Surabian said. “It’s an issue that touches pop culture.”

And that is what this is about, as Philip Bump notes here:

Trump is extremely adept at reflecting the concerns of older white Americans who consume a lot of conservative media for the simple reason that Trump is an older white American who consumes a lot of conservative media. On the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016, he would say things that other candidates wouldn’t about immigrants or terrorism or the establishment and people who’d seen similar arguments in conservative media appreciated that he was willing to actually reiterate them as opposed to, you know, accurately representing immigration and terrorism.

Trump rails against Democrats and the Clintons and it lands because these are the sorts of things that people like him get mad about. That the media then – understandably – notes the uniqueness and dangers of his doing so simply reinforces Trump’s narrative that the media is out to get him and, by extension, his supporters.

The sorts of things that people like him get mad about often have nothing to do with policy or anything else, but Trump can use that:

These are the two sides to Trump. One is the president who battles the political opposition in terms that reflect the vitriol of the online and televised conversation. The other is the president who, after disparaging Barack Obama’s use of executive orders, deploys the power of the executive branch and a Senate majority to effect changes aiding conservative policies and businesses. Trump is often portrayed as the tweeter in chief, but he also moved quickly to reshape the country with the assistance of staunchly conservative politicians and activists.

The effect of this is to secure two Republican voting blocs for 2020: traditional conservatives skeptical of Trump as a person and Trump die-hards skeptical of traditional conservatives.

All he has to do is keep the two sides straight:

The 2020 election is still more than 14 months away. Over that time, we’ll continue to see Trump’s two-track approach to the presidency, the one his base loves in which he battles liberals on social media and at rallies and the one conservatives and Republicans love in which he reshapes the judiciary and erases regulations.

His goal is simple: get enough Republicans on board to make wooing Democrats unnecessary to win reelection. It’s risky – but it might just be possible.

But he has something else too, as Eugene Scott explains here:

The people who backed Donald Trump for president in 2016 have largely continued to support him. In the previous election, many of them pointed to cultural anxiety as one of their main reasons for backing Trump’s pledge to “make America great again.” But as more Americans label the president a racist due to his worldview, the voters who continue to back him are becoming bolder in justifying their support, citing retaliation for being viewed as backing a racist.

Never underestimate the power of retaliation, the most primal of all responses:

Today, on the second anniversary of the Charlottesville violence that led the president to call neo-Nazis “very good people,” and as the president’s overall approval ratings remain relatively low, many of those who brought him to the dance appear to be dancing more closely than ever. And they are blaming their critics for their faithfulness to a man whom writer Ta-Nehisi Coates called “America’s first white president.”

After Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) tweeted the names of maximum Trump donors in his district – which are all in the public record, by the way – accusing them of “fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as invaders,” the backlash from Trump-supporting Republicans was severe.

Erick Erickson, a conservative Christian radio host, wrote:

“Come at me, jackass. I just donated more to Donald Trump and did so in your honor.”

And this got a lot of play:

When MSNBC’s Vaughn Hillyard asked Iowa resident Bob Fisher whom he was supporting, the Republican voter intimated that his support for Trump was due to criticism from those on the left:

“Guess: I’m white, old, they call me all kinds of names,” he replied. “Who do you think I would vote for?”

“Everybody knows,” Fisher added. “We’re the bad people.”

And that means more to them than Trump’s trade wars crashing the world economies or anything else, but maybe they are the bad people:

Many Trump supporters express indignation at being labeled racist, but the worldview they admittedly embrace demonstrates hostility to diversity.

In a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a D.C.-based nonpartisan research organization, more than 60 percent of Republicans said the shift of the United States to being a majority nonwhite country would be a mostly negative development.

Six in 10 Republicans also said that they felt like strangers in their own country, and nearly 6 in 10 white evangelical Protestants – one of the most pro-Trump demographic groups in the country – said immigrants are a threat to American society.

While criticism of Trump is increasing, the president’s most loyal voters are not reconsidering their support for him but are doubling down and showing signs of continuing to do so as we move closer to the 2020 elections.

This election may be close. Those who willingly embrace deep hostility to diversity but who hate being called racist, just for that, really do hate paper straws. Plastic straws are far superior. So the election may turn out to be about nothing at all, or about everything.

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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