That Reality Thing

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” ~ Philip K. Dick

The first President Bush was a technocrat – he’d been vice president – he’d run the CIA – he’d been our ambassador to China. He wasn’t charismatic but knew how things worked. And he was a one-term president. Bill Clinton had an odd sort of charisma. That first Bush seemed stuffy and out of touch and was gone in the blink of an eye, but his son, the second President Bush wasn’t stuffy at all. He was a bit of a goofball, and seemed to enjoy that. He didn’t know much about anything but he was kind of fun – until Iraq fell apart and Katrina erased New Orleans for a generation. Then he got serious. The nation saw him learn and get serious about all sorts of things. He was never detached from reality. He just didn’t take it seriously. And then he did, when it was too late. The economy had collapsed. And he was out of time and gone soon enough. But he knew what had happened.

Donald Trump is different. He has bold views. He sees things differently than anyone else. He proud of that and that’s what he sold the American public. He wasn’t afraid to say that everyone else was wrong and had always been wrong and he was right and had always been right – choose your topic – that’s the way it was. Just enough people loved that about him. He won, but reality is what it is. It is what is. Reality eventually destroys all contrarians.

Donald Trump may discover that. Karen Tumulty sees this:

In what century is President Trump living? Or perhaps the better question: In what century does he believe American women are?

On Thursday afternoon, he attempted to send them to their fainting couches with an alarming tweet: The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article. Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!

The article he cites is from the all-Trump conservative New York Post:

If you live in the suburbs or you’re a city dweller eyeing a move to a quiet cul-de-sac where your kids can play outside, you need to know about Joe Biden’s plan for a federal takeover of local zoning laws.

The ex-veep wants to ramp up an Obama-era social engineering scheme called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing that mercifully barely got underway before President Trump took office, vowing to stop it.

Biden’s plan is to force suburban towns with single-family homes and minimum lot sizes to build high-density affordable housing smack in the middle of their leafy neighborhoods – local preferences and local control be damned.

That’s not quite true, but that’s not the point here, as Tumulty notes:

“Housewives” is a word you don’t hear all that often these days. When women are described that way in popular culture -in TV show titles, for instance – it is generally done with a wink to how different their outlandish escapist plotlines are from real life.

Trump doesn’t see that because he cannot see that:

This was not the first time that Trump has revealed that his view of daily existence for most women and their families is stuck in the 1950s. In a May interview with the New York Post, he singled out two female journalists who had annoyed him – Weijia Jiang and Paula Reid, both of CBS – and added: “It wasn’t Donna Reed, I can tell you that.”

The president was likely referring to the saintly Mary Bailey character that actress Donna Reed portrayed in the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Or the wife and mother she played on her sitcom, “The Donna Reed Show,” which ran from 1958 to 1966. Her character, Donna Stone, had a pediatrician for a husband and was always perfectly coifed, wearing an impeccably styled dress as she went about her housework and put dinner on the table.

In real life, Reed was an activist who, though she was a Republican, campaigned for antiwar Democrat Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and volunteered as a waitress at a fundraiser to benefit a legal-defense fund for protesters arrested during that year’s Democratic Convention in Chicago.

And consider Trump’s defense of Mike Pompeo, when he was asked about reports that the secretary of state had government employees doing his household chores: “You know what? I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn’t there or his kids aren’t there.”

That a man might fend for himself by sticking his own dirty plate in the dishwasher seemed beyond the president’s comprehension.

But of course the world is changing:

Trump’s growing problem with suburbanites is becoming evident. In 2016, he won them by five percentage points, according to exit polls. The latest survey by The Post and ABC News finds that the president is running nine points behind Democratic nominee-in-waiting Joe Biden with those same voters… but Trump’s tweet wasn’t really about zoning policy at all. It was about stirring racial fears. His increasingly frequent claims Biden would “destroy the beautiful suburbs” is not a dog whistle. It is an air-raid siren.

“He thinks we all live in Levittown,” said Republican pollster Christine Matthews, evoking the name of the Long Island archetype of the all-white suburbs that sprang up around the country after World War II.

Old photos of the cookie-cutter houses from that era have little resemblance to the suburban areas that will be the electoral battlegrounds in 2020.

This is a matter of just looking around:

One such area is New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from the Atlantic coast to the outskirts of Philadelphia. There, freshman Rep. Andy Kim (D) is in a closely watched battle for reelection.

Though Hillary Clinton easily carried the state in 2016, Trump won the overwhelmingly white district by more than six points. Two years later, Kim, a diplomat and the son of Korean immigrants, narrowly beat a Republican incumbent there. “They wanted something different,” he said. “They took a chance on me.”

The congressman is skeptical that Trump’s racist, culture-war themes will resonate with his constituents, who are battling the coronavirus and worried about whether to send their children to school in the fall. “They want leadership that’s focused on the daily concerns that they are dealing with,” Kim said.

Actual reality matters, and so Tumulty considers these women:

They don’t want to be scared or patronized. Nor do they want to go back to the 1950s, either the actual or the imaginary version. They are looking toward the future, and they want a president who is, too.

His tweet actually damaged him and Jennifer Rubin explains why:

Nothing in Trump’s appeal remotely addresses what does alarm women: the unchecked spread of coronavirus; an economic collapse; Trump bullying them to send kids back to school during a pandemic; Trump-directed clashes between police and demonstrators; and Trump’s constant attempts to inflame racial animosity. It is not former vice president Joe Biden who inspires fear and dread; it is Trump who raises their blood pressure and creates havoc in their lives.

Trump’s promise to make things better raises an awkward problem for his reelection effort: Aren’t things much worse than when he took over? He is pitching to women whose children’s education has been disrupted, whose family finances are less secure, and who fear for their health and for the health of their families.

His tweet, reminiscent of his “I alone can fix it” line from 2016 reminds many women of his know-it-all attitude and exaggerated sense to worth and accomplishment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently said that Trump is like the guy who will not ask for directions. Now, we see Trump as the guy who passes a cognitive assessment test and thinks he is a genius. He is a caricature of male ego and bluster many women have confronted their entire lives.

She also adds that creating conflict in cities, stirring racial unrest, and then promising to protect people from that unrest, is a “flawed strategy” and cites the Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein on that:

The political risk for Republicans in that strategy, many political observers told me, is not only that it could provoke more opposition from residents in the city centers, but that it could also accelerate the shift toward Democrats in the large, well-educated, and more and more diverse inner suburbs around the major cities. Over time, the “larger denser suburbs” have become “like cities and throw in with the cities” – they don’t identify as much with the less-populated areas.

In short, the leafy faux-rural suburbs Trump imagines aren’t there any longer, and there’s this:

His belligerent tone simultaneously risks hardening the opposition he’s facing from the many suburban voters who feel that he’s exposing them to more danger – both in his response to the policing protests and his unrelenting push to reopen the economy despite the coronavirus’s resurgence.

They ask a simple question. Why is this man making things worse for all of us? And then Rubin notes the alternative:

Imagine some suburban women presented with two messages: Trump’s Twitter blast and (released on the same day) a video of Biden and former President Barack Obama sitting in an office, quietly discussing the demands of crisis leadership and the need to rebuild the country by doing things such as helping with child care. In contrast to the obnoxious, hilariously ignorant president, the two Democrats engage in cordial conversation, serving up a comfort blend of technocratic expertise and empathy…

Trump plays perfectly into the contrast Biden seeks to create.

There’s a simple syllogism here. Trump hates reality. Reality hates him back. Reality always wins.

That’s what Paul Waldman sees and explains here:

When your party’s presidential candidate is trailing in the polls by nearly 10 points with a little over three months to go, it’s natural to start worrying about what will happen if he loses. And if you’re a Republican, there’s an entire cable network devoted to filling your evenings with terror.

Consider what Tucker Carlson, the highest-rated cable TV host of the moment, told his viewers Thursday night:

“The presidential election, in fact, believe it or not, is almost right here. In some places, early voting begins in just over a month. The results of that voting will define the country’s future. If Democrats take both the Senate and the White House, and they could, you will not recognize America a year from now.”

Yeah, yeah, this is more of the same:

This kind of message has particular resonance for conservatives, since by definition they’re inclined against change. And those who seek to mobilize them – such as Republican candidates or right-wing TV hosts – will almost inevitably wind up telling them that the change that will come will be not just unpleasant but downright cataclysmic. We hear this every four years, without fail.

It’s not that Democrats don’t predict disaster if they lose, because they do. But the conservative warnings of doom have a particular theme: the end of America as we know it.

And yes, that’s bullshit:

I can’t count how many times in 2008 Republicans said that Barack Obama had a secret plan to remake the country into something utterly unrecognizable. And what did he do with the eight years he was in office? Exactly what any sane person would have predicted: He governed as a reasonably liberal Democrat, with some successes and some failures. By the time January 2017 rolled around, America could still be recognized.

But something seems different now:

All of us, no matter our party, will have to endure multiple presidents from the other side over the course of our lifetimes. It’s the nature of democracy. And yes, that’s sometimes downright awful. But at least since 1865, the country has always remained intact.

But I suspect that fear of change is going to grow more intense on the right, not because Joe Biden is such a terrifying figure (I mean, c’mon), and not even because President Trump has taken conservatives to such a paradise that they can’t bear the thought of losing it.

No, it’s because Trump has failed.

It seems that Philip K. Dick was right. Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. They followed Trump. They would not believe that what others said was reality might actually be reality. That couldn’t be, but of Waldman notes that Trump has indeed failed:

I don’t mean the failures you may be thinking of, which are legion. I mean that as Trump supporters contemplate the unsettling prospect of future change, they can’t help but realize, even if unconsciously, that Trump hasn’t delivered on the most basic change he promised, which was to arrest and reverse the deep and fundamental social changes so many conservatives find so troubling.

That was the heart of “Make America Great Again” – the idea that we could revert to some point in the past, unwind the clock to when things were great. Keep in mind that for many conservatives, nearly all the social developments of the past few decades have ranged from objectionable to horrific. Kids don’t respect their elders, fewer people are going to church, women demand equality, gay people can get married, everyone’s talking about racism, and when you go down to your local supermarket, you hear people speaking a bunch of different languages.

And guess what: Donald Trump couldn’t do a thing about any of it.

Actually, no one could do a thing about any of it:

He’s been president for four years, and no reversal of history has taken place. Young people are still driving you nuts, that rap music is everywhere you go, and you aren’t given the respect you think you deserve. This is the most anti-immigrant administration in a century, and yet the country is still full of immigrants.

It turned out that these are deep and fundamental changes, changes any one president can’t control.

Look at the campaign Trump is running, all about how chaos is overtaking the streets. Yes, it’s exactly what Fox News viewers have been warned about every night for years. But whatever you think is happening (even if your view is distorted and exaggerated), it’s happening while Trump is president, not because some permissive Democrat is letting the hooligans run wild.

Surely even some of Trump’s supporters are aware of the irony.

Don’t count on that, but do count on this:

In the end, that may be the most frightening thing for them: not that a Democratic president would bring distressing change to America but that the change will come no matter who is president. If America is going to become unrecognizable to conservatives, it won’t be because we pass universal health care or raise the minimum wage. It’ll be because time will continue to move forward.

That is what Trump promised them he could stop. But he never could.

There’s much he couldn’t stop, and the New York Times’ Peter Baker covers this:

He insisted that it was safe, that people could go back to work, that schools could reopen, that he could hold packed indoor campaign rallies, that he could even hold a full-fledged, boisterous, bunting-filled nominating convention as if all were well.

Only now, it is all crashing down around President Trump. The president who shunned masks and pressured states to reopen and promised a return to the campaign trail finds himself canceling rallies, scrapping his grand convention, urging Americans to stay away from crowded bars and at long last embracing, if only halfheartedly, wearing masks.

It may not be the death of denial, but it is a moment when denial no longer appears to be a viable strategy for Mr. Trump.

For more than three years in office, he proved strikingly successful at bending much of the political world to his own vision of reality, but after six months the coronavirus pandemic is turning out to be the one stubborn, inalterable fact of life that he cannot simply force into submission through sheer will.

The growing pile of dead bodies in the corner may have done the trick:

With 60,000 new cases and 1,000 more deaths being registered each day, Mr. Trump has been forced this week to retreat from the rose-colored assessment of the health of the nation – and his presidency.

Not that he has admitted a change. As he revived his coronavirus briefings this week, he still insisted that most of the country was doing well and offered upbeat predictions about conquering the virus. But his actions belied that view as he canceled the convention in Jacksonville, Fla., citing the same health care concerns that he had disparaged in shifting it abruptly from Charlotte, N.C., in the first place.

Even the decision to begin holding the briefings again was itself an admission that the crisis he wanted so desperately to be over in fact is accelerating even as he falls behind former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. by double digits in the polls. Mr. Trump would have rather been talking about almost any subject other than the virus, but there he was again at the lectern three days in a row dutifully reading the warnings that his advisers had given him to read.

And that will have to do now:

In speaking before the cameras this week, White House officials insisted that Mr. Trump had not changed his view of the virus at all and that he always took it seriously. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, however, senior Republican officials express exasperation that the president in their view mishandled the virus, leaving the party vulnerable to not only losing the White House but the Senate as well.

The public has grown increasingly worried as caseloads soar to twice as high as they were during the earlier peak of the pandemic in March and April. Where just 30 percent of Americans believed the crisis was getting worse in early June, 66 percent now believe it is, according to Gallup. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they expected the disruption to travel, school, work and public events to continue until the end of the year or even into next year before the situation begins to improve.

They know that reality always wins:

In much of the country, school leaders, like many governors and mayors, are paying less attention now to a president whose predictions have fallen flat and are paying more attention to the numbers on the charts. If a political convention in Jacksonville is not safe in the coronavirus age, many schools are coming to the conclusion that it may not be safe for them either, at least not on a full-scale basis.

“The virus and science, not politics, will determine spread of the virus and whether and when schools and our economy can reopen without having to slam shut again,” Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Friday. “Facts matter. Science matters. Supporting and being guided by public health matters.”

Facts and science don’t go away when you stop believing in them, because you are told that the loud man with orange hair knows better.

He never knew better, and reality always wins. And now all he has left is Portland. That’s what the Washington Post reports here:

As statues of Confederate generals, enslavers and other icons tumbled from their pedestals amid protests last month, President Trump issued an executive order meant to break the cascade. It enlisted the Department of Homeland Security, created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to protect the country against external threats, to defend U.S. monuments and federal property against “anarchists and left-wing extremists” who he said are advancing “a fringe ideology.”

The order signaled Trump’s eagerness to mobilize federal power against the societal upheaval that has coursed through America since George Floyd’s death. He sought to frame and create a culture war – right vs. left, right vs. wrong – and was taking a stand at the monuments that some view as historical homages and many others view as symbols of oppression.

But Trump’s June 26 declaration came too late. The momentum of the protests was fading in many U.S. cities, and confrontations between federal authorities and civilians were becoming less frequent.

Then Trump found Portland, according to administration and campaign officials.

The police union there loves him and hates their mayor and despises the city’s flaky residents, so this was a perfect fit:

Still restive, the West Coast city with a long tradition of protest as a subculture of anarchism was staging peaceful mobilizations as well as smaller nightly clashes with authorities. Militant black-clad demonstrators were directing their anger at a large federal courthouse downtown.

Sinking in the polls over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump seized a chance to appear as a field general in a wider American cultural conflict over racial justice, police misconduct and the reexamination of American history and monuments. In Portland, he found a theater for his fight.

This was theater, and he’s really into it:

“What is occurring in Portland in the early hours of every morning is not peaceful protesting,” acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf said this week. “These individuals are organized and they have one mission in mind: to burn down or cause extreme damage to the federal courthouse and to law enforcement officers.”

Trump has taken a keen interest in tactical operations against the protesters in recent weeks, according to White House and administration officials at the center of the response, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. When the fog of tear gas is thickest here in the wee hours of the morning, the president is sometimes up early on the other side of the country, calling Wolf for real-time updates from the front.

He loves it, and loves that everyone is angry now:

The scenes of militarized federal forces on the city’s streets have stunned many Americans and unnerved former Homeland Security officials, but they have not quieted the protests. In many ways, the agents and the barricades they have erected have re-energized the demonstrators and have converted the courthouse into a proxy for the Trump administration itself.

This is high drama:

Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top aides, has regularly argued for more muscular action in U.S. cities, drafting talking points that say they are failing and that Trump will fix them.

“We will not let that courthouse be burned to the ground,” Miller said Thursday night on Tucker Carlson’s show, depicting the building as a kind of Trump citadel. “This is about the survival of this country, and we will not back down.”

That’s GREAT THEATER! And then there are the suburban women whose children’s education has been upended, or ended, whose family finances are precarious, who fear for their health and for the health of their families, and the thirty million unemployed, with all federal assistance about to run out this week, and unlike any other nation, the pandemic out of control here and getting worse by the day, with the bodies piling up – now in hundreds of refrigerated trucks. But he’ll always have Portland. He doesn’t believe that other stuff.

That’s too bad. It’s not going away. But he might.

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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