Committing Journalism

The seventies were an odd time – CNN just presented a series on those years – something to fill the summer months – but of course much was left out. They didn’t mention the cultural shift that happened in 1976 with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men – suddenly reporters were heroes, saving the country from disaster, essentially removing an unbalanced paranoid leader. Jason Robards played Ben Bradlee, their tough-as-nails heroic editor – and this was a reversal from what all baby boomers grew up with – The Adventures of Superman – where Noel Neill played Lois Lane, a wide-eyed naïve reporter of sorts. From 1952 through 1958, George Reeves as Superman, when he wasn’t Clark Kent, had to save her sorry ass when she got in over her head – week after week after week. John Hamilton played Perry White, the perpetually clueless editor of the Daily Planet. He never knew what was going on. He was no Ben Bradlee. He was comic relief – but things changed in the seventies.

Of course there was a period of transition when reporters were trying to figure out how far they could push it. Could they challenge power? In a press conference on October 26, 1973, Richard Nixon did slap down Robert C. Pierpoint of CBS News:

Q. Mr. President, you have lambasted the television networks pretty well. Could I ask you, at the risk of reopening an obvious wound, you say after you have put on a lot of heat that you don’t blame anyone. I find that a little puzzling. What is it about the television coverage of you in these past weeks and months that has so aroused your anger?

THE PRESIDENT: Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. [Laughter]

Q. I’m afraid, sir, that I have that impression. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT: You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.

Everyone in the room gasped, but Nixon was fed up with these fools pestering him about Watergate. This was a message to his dwindling base, and to the nation. Reporters with all their questions deserve no respect at all. They’re lucky he even talks to them. Perhaps he considered each one as a hapless Lois Lane.

That was a mistake. He demanded respect. He got more investigative journalism. He was gone soon enough. Times had changed. Sneer at the press, now, and bad things happen.

Donald Trump doesn’t agree:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump booted Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday, leading to the veteran journalist’s temporary ouster from the event.

On Wednesday morning, Trump said on TODAY that Ramos was “totally, absolutely out of line.”

The confrontation began when Ramos tried to ask a question out of turn while another reporter spoke.

“Sit down, you weren’t called,” Trump snapped at Ramos. “Go back to Univision.”

The real estate mogul continued to shut down the Mexican-American journalist, leading Ramos to be escorted out of the room by security. But Ramos was eventually allowed back in to ask two questions.

“He was totally out of line last night,” Trump told Today’s Matt Lauer.

It was October 26, 1973, all over again:

Lauer then asked Trump why he lets people get under his skin, and suggested that a renewed feud with another journalist – Fox News host Megyn Kelly – has put him in an unfavorable light.

“I’m not a bully,” he said about public perceptions. “In fact, I think it’s just the opposite way.”

He just thinks that Megyn Kelly owes him an apology, not the other way around. He thinks like Richard Nixon.

Jack Shafer sees that too:

The high solemnity of political news conferences confers upon a politician priest-like or kinglike status: He stands a foot or two higher than the mortals questioning him, looking down. He makes them wait for their turn to be called on. He begins and ends the questioning by decree. Far from opposing these imperious ways, many reporters, especially those who consider themselves members of the journalistic guild, applaud the arrangement. Not to get all Chomskian on you, but by virtue of their obedience, the guildsmen can count on the king’s attention and convert that attention into bylines.

That’s how it used to work, but times change:

At the beginning of his presidency, Ronald Reagan pacified the howlers in attendance at news conferences. No more jumping up and down and shouting, “Mr. President! Mr. President!” Reagan’s people decreed. By 1987, Reagan had gone too far in controlling the news, holding only two news conferences in the first 10 months of the year. Journalists like Sam Donaldson of ABC News and Chris Wallace of NBC News were right to start screaming their questions any time he appeared in public. The “competition” between Donaldson and Wallace grew so heated, the New York Times reported, that the two “engaged in a shoving match over positions in the briefing room to broadcast their reports.” At least Ramos didn’t push anybody.

But this isn’t 1973:

A modern article of journalistic faith holds that journalists should never become the story – and by putting himself out there to unsettle the Trump show, Ramos did just that. Again, not every news conference can be improved by a reporter’s showboating. But in the asymmetrical dynamic of a news conference, in which the interviewee holds all the power, an occasional breach of etiquette such as the one Ramos engaged in does not spell the end of civil culture. Ramos didn’t splash Trump with pig’s blood or anything, he merely violated convention in an attempt to break news on his own terms by speaking out of turn.

Trump needs to understand this was no big deal and accept the inevitable:

One strike against Ramos, offered by the journalistic orthodoxy, is that he’s not an “objective” journalist but an advocacy journalist, therefore he and his work can’t be trusted. Yet advocacy journalism has enjoyed a rich and glowing history in the United States: Such partisans as Tom Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, Elijah Lovejoy, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, John Swinton and Jacob Riis broke vital news in decades past. Then came the muckrakers and their contemporary inheritors – Jessica Mitford, Michael Harrington, Ralph Nader, Jack Anderson, the gangs at Ramparts and Mother Jones magazines, and such current partisans as Glenn Greenwald, David Corn and others who have made important news without sacrificing their personal views.

By virtue of Trump’s immigration views and the coarse way he expresses them, his collision with Spanish-language media was inevitable. Add to that the fact that Trump has already filed suit against Univision for dropping his Miss Universe pageant, and his tirade against the network’s most high-profile journalist was doubly inevitable. Disrespected by Ramos, the always-ready-to-insult mogul did what he always does when he feels abused – he took out the verbal strap and started whipping.

That’s what Nixon did, but Shafer sees something else going on here:

The Trump-Ramos incident will likely redound to the mutual benefit of both. Trump wisely allowed Ramos back in the room and took his questions, positioning himself as the disciplinarian who can humanize himself when necessary by adding a sprinkle of mensch, as they volleyed back and forth. Ramos comes out of the rumble similarly fortified. He went after the king, he was banished by the king, he returned to the king’s court to battle the king once again.

In the name of news, this calls for a repeat match. I can’t wait for Ramos’ extended interview with Trump on Univision.

Shafer may be kidding. That interview is unlikely now, and Glenn Greenwald points out there are still Lois Lane reporters out there:

Politico’s political reporter Marc Caputo unleashed a Twitter rant this morning against Ramos. “This is bias: taking the news personally, explicitly advocating an agenda,” he began. Then: “Trump can and should be pressed on this. Reporters can do this without being activists” and “some reporters still try to approach their stories fairly & decently. & doing so does not prevent good reporting.” Not only did Ramos not do journalism, Caputo argued, but he actually ruins journalism: “My issue is his reporting is imbued with take-it-personally bias… we fend off phony bias allegations & Ramos only helps to wrongly justify them… One can ask and report without the bias. I’ve done it for years & will continue 2 do so.”

A Washington Post article about the incident actually equated the two figures, beginning with the headline: “Jorge Ramos is a conflict junkie, just like his latest target: Donald Trump.” The article twice suggested that Ramos’ behavior was something other than journalism, claiming that his advocacy of immigration reform “blurred the line between journalist and activist” and that “by owning the issue of immigration, Ramos has also blurred the line between journalist and activist.” That Ramos was acting more as an “activist” than a “journalist” was a commonly expressed criticism among media elites this morning.

Greenwald calls bullshit on that:

Here we find, yet again, the enforcement of unwritten, very recent, distinctively corporatized rules of supposed “neutrality” and faux objectivity which all Real Journalists must obey, upon pain of being expelled from the profession. A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.

Thus: you do not call torture “torture” if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.

What is more noble for a journalist to do: confront a dangerous, powerful billionaire-demagogue spouting hatemongering nonsense about mass deportation, or sit by quietly and pretend to have no opinions on any of it and that “both sides” are equally deserving of respect and have equal claims to validity? As Ramos put it simply, in what should not even need to be said: “I’m a reporter. My job is to ask questions. What’s ‘totally out of line’ is to eject a reporter from a press conference for asking questions.”

But something has changed since the seventies:

The notion that journalists must be beacons of opinion-free, passion-devoid, staid, impotent neutrality is an extremely new one, the byproduct of the increasing corporatization of American journalism. That’s not hard to understand: One of the supreme values of large corporations is fear of offending anyone, particularly those in power, since that’s bad for business. The way that conflict-avoiding value is infused into the media outlets that these corporations own is to inculcate their journalists that their primary duty is to avoid offending anyone, especially those who wield power, which above all means never taking a clear position about anything, instead just serving as a mindless, uncritical vessel for “both sides,” what NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has dubbed “the view from nowhere.” Whatever else that is, it is most certainly not a universal or long-standing principle of how journalism should be conducted. …

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer insightfully put it this morning, “‘Objective’ reporters were openly mocking Trump not that long ago, but Ramos has not reacted to Trump’s poll numbers with appropriate deference… Just a reminder that what is considered objective reporting is intimately tied to power or the perception of power.”

This means Greenwald has his new hero:

What Ramos did here was pure journalism in its classic and most noble expression: He aggressively confronted a politician wielding a significant amount of power over some pretty horrible things that the politician is doing and saying.

Perhaps so, but not everyone agrees:

Even after Univision host Jorge Ramos was kicked out of a Donald Trump press conference for challenging the GOP 2016 frontrunner, the angry language didn’t stop once Ramos had been escorted to the hallway.

“Get out of my country. Get out,” a Trump supporter told Ramos after he had been escorted from the press conference in a video posted by Fusion. In the video, Ramos calmly responds to the supporter that he is, in fact, a U.S. citizen.

“Well, whatever … it’s not about you,” the supporter said, aggressively gesturing at the Univision host.

What is it about then? Josh Marshall reposts an email he received from a reader:

If you go to right now, the video is on the front page top. Not top of the news section; top center of the whole website (at least on a phone). There is a headline like “Trump Kicks Jorge Ramos out of Press Conference” and then the money quote: “Go Back to Univision”.

The video has no set up or commentary from any Univision reporter or news anchor. None is required. This is one powerfully self-explanatory clip. It is hard to imagine the message being any clearer to the millions of Univision viewers, spat straight from the sneering, hateful mouth of a big, blonde-haired and red-faced White Man…

You are not welcome in Trump’s America. Go the fuck back where you came from. Let’s be serious, I don’t care if you are legal or illegal. Hell, I don’t care if you are one of the most prominent, respected and powerful members of the Mexican-American community. You are still just a Mexican, so shut up and get the fuck out. What did you say, boy? You think you have the right to be heard? You think you have the right to speak to me without being spoken to? Well, guess what, you have no rights. You don’t even have the right to be here. Guards!! Seize, silence and deport this Mexican imposter immediately!

And now it gets nasty:

I have to believe the Ramos exchange is going to open the gates for more media coverage of denunciations and counter punches from those, like Ramos, who the mainstream media deem coverage-worthy spokespersons for the communities Trump is attacking and vilifying. As we know, if this happens Trump’s instinctual response will be to double-down, escalate and attack (although, let’s face it, he blinked letting Ramos back in the room and engaging him).

If this “conversation” (aka shouting match) does play out on Fox and CNN and Sunday shows it will doubtless be ugly, at least based on what comes out of Trump’s mouth, but it could be interesting and perhaps not all bad if dissenting voices and a few facts actually start getting some air time.

There is that. Facts are nice, but the conversation won’t be:

If the GOP thought they had lost control of the process and the narrative up to now in the Trumpcycle, I have a feeling it will pale in comparison to Stage Two, when it’s “Trump v. Ramos, LIVE on FOX!” Up to now, Trump had been masterfully controlling the narrative and the media. Thanks to Mr. Ramos, I think in this next stage he is going to lose control, too, and we are heading into uncharted waters.

Trump won’t know what hit him, at least that’s the thrust of the Los Angeles Times profile of Ramos:

The 57-year-old has anchored “Noticiero Univision,” Spanish-language TV’s No. 1 ranked newscast, for nearly three decades and is considered a trusted source of news. A 2010 study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that among Latinos, Ramos was the second-most recognized Latino leader behind Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and other polls have shown he is one of the most trusted public figures among Latinos.

“Spanish-language news has almost the same pull as the priest in the pulpit,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. “And Jorge Ramos is the pope, he’s the big kahuna.”

Ramos has a lot of followers: According to Nielsen ratings, more than 2 million viewers tune in to “Noticiero Univision” nightly. For perspective, in 2013, that was three times the audience of CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

And according to recently published research, the GOP’s presidential nominee would need to win nearly half of the Latino vote to make it to the White House. (President Obama won reelection with 71% of the Latino vote).

During the last presidential election cycle, Washington Monthly called Ramos the broadcaster who would most determine the outcome of the 2012 election.

Despite that, Trump at one point on Tuesday night said he “didn’t know much about him.”

What you don’t know can hurt you:

Earlier this year, Ramos defended his focus on immigration in an open letter to Republicans.

“The Republican Party has been complaining lately about how some Latino journalists, including me, only ask them about immigration,” he wrote. “That is correct, but what Republicans don’t understand is that for us, the immigration issue is the most pressing symbolically and emotionally, and the stance a politician takes on this defines whether he is with us or against us.”

Ramos has been unapologetic about his and the network’s stance.

“Our position is clearly pro-Latino or pro-immigrant,” he said in 2013. “We are simply being the voice of those who don’t have a voice.”

Latinos, in turn, see Ramos as a leader. According to the Pew Hispanic Center survey, 38% of Latinos surveyed considered Ramos a major Latino leader.

And this is personal:

A native of Mexico City, Ramos moved to Los Angeles as a student in 1983 and took UCLA Extension classes in journalism. He landed an on-air job at KMEX-TV, Los Angeles’ Spanish-language station. Three years later, he was named an anchor for Univision, becoming one of the youngest national news anchors in television.

Ramos, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen seven years ago, has consistently used his position to unabashedly push for immigration reform.

“I am emotionally linked to this issue,” Ramos told The Times in 2013. “Because once you are an immigrant, you never forget that you are one.”

And Jorge Ramos is not Lois Lane:

At a University of Texas at Austin forum this year, Univision News President Isaac Lee summed up the network’s perspective: “Univision’s audience knows that Jorge is representing them,” Lee said. “He is not asking the questions to be celebrated as a fair and balanced journalist.… He’s going to ask the person whatever is necessary to push the agenda for a more fair society, for a more inclusive society and for the Hispanic community to be better.”

Univision brass also stood up for Ramos on Wednesday evening, calling Trump’s behavior “beyond contempt.” “Mr. Trump demonstrated complete disregard for him and for the countless Hispanics whom Jorge seeks to represent,” Univision Communications Chief Executive Randy Falco said in a statement.

And Ramos doesn’t fold:

Ramos quit his first reporting job at a Mexico City TV station after his bosses demanded he soften a piece critical of the Mexican government and he refused.

Ramos has said he approaches interviews with world leaders in the context of warfare. “My only weapon is the question,” he told The Times in 2013.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Ramos moderated a series of Univision candidate forums, and pressed Mitt Romney and President Obama hard on immigration issues. After confronting Romney about his proposed “self-deportation” policy, Ramos turned to Obama.

“A promise is a promise,” he said, prodding the president over the administration’s deportation of more than 1.4 million people and failure to tackle immigration in his first term. “And, in all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”

Ramos doesn’t let anyone off easy. He gets in their face, and in fact that’s been an American tradition since the seventies, when things shifted and reporters suddenly became heroes. Donald Trump didn’t get the memo.

On the other hand it’s always been that way. There’s Thomas Jefferson’s 1823 letter to Lafayette – “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

The agitation it produces must be submitted to? Someone tell Donald.

Posted in Advocacy Journalism, Donald Trump, Jorge Ramos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Long Way

“Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way.” ~ Chris Lowe

Chris Lowe should know. He’s one half of the pop duo Pet Shop Boys – and the world of pop music is filled with dimwitted folks who know they’re wonderful and will tell you so. The entire entertainment industry is filled with such people. How else do they do what they do in front of vast audiences night after night? Bury introspection. Bury reasonable self-doubt. Or have neither. You’re wonderful, better than anyone else, and everyone will see that. Sneer at others too. That helps.

It’s a different world. A healthy ego will keep you from folding in civilian life when things keep going wrong, even if you’ve been a bit stupid. Maybe you’re not a total fool. In the entertainment industry, a huge ego may be the only thing that keeps you going and assures success – and you can be as stupid as you want. In fact, it’s probably best to be a bit stupid. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, you’re wonderful. Project that. That’s what you’re selling. That’s what your agent is selling. Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way. It’s worked for Tom Cruise – or maybe it’s the sneering Scientology. Either way, one’s success depends on uninformed arrogance.

Donald Trump comes from that world. For all his success in high-end real estate development and branded merchandise, his biggest success had been with his reality shows, Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice. Kevin Drum sees how that has shaped things politically:

To a lot of us, Trump is a celebrity real estate developer who likes to get into petty feuds with fellow celebrities. That doesn’t seem very presidential. But that’s the old Trump. The modern Trump still gets into petty feuds with fellow celebrities, but he’s also the star of Celebrity Apprentice, and that’s how a lot of people view him these days. … So here’s how the show works. A bunch of C-list celebrities compete in teams each week at tasks given to them by Trump. At the end of the show, Trump grills the losing team in the “boardroom,” eventually picking a single scapegoat for their failure and firing them. As the show ends, the humiliated team member shuffles disconsolately down the elevator to a waiting car, where they are driven away, never to be seen again. This is the price of failure in Trumpworld.

Now, picture in your mind how Trump looks. He is running things. He sets the tasks. The competitors all call him “Mr. Trump” and treat him obsequiously. He gives orders and famous people – well, sort of famous, anyway, more famous than most cabinet members certainly – accept them without quibble. At the end of the show, he asks tough questions and demands accountability. He is smooth and unruffled while the team members are tense and tongue-tied. Finally, having given everything the five minutes of due diligence it needs, he takes charge and fires someone. And on the season finale, he picks a big winner and in the process raises lots of money for charity.

That’s surely why this guy is doing so well:

Do you see how precisely this squares with so many people’s view of the presidency? The president is the guy running things. He tells people what to do. He commands respect simply by virtue of his personality and rock-solid principles. When things go wrong, he doesn’t waste time. He gets to the bottom of the problem in minutes using little more than common sense, and then fires the person responsible. And in the end, it’s all for a good cause. That’s a president.

This is stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego:

Obviously this is all a fake. The show is deliberately set up to make Trump look authoritative and decisive. But a lot of people just don’t see it that way. It’s a reality show! It’s showing us the real Donald Trump. And boy does he look presidential. Not in the real sense, of course, where you have to deal with Congress and the courts and recalcitrant foreign leaders and all that. But in the Hollywood sense? You bet.

So keep this in mind… For the past seven years (eleven years if you count the original Apprentice show), about 10 million people have been watching Donald Trump act presidential week after week. He’s not a buffoon. He’s commanding, he’s confident, he’s respected, he demands accountability, and he openly celebrates accomplishment and money but then makes sure all the money goes to charity at the end. What’s not to like?

That’s what he’s selling, and as Politico reports, the show goes on:

On Tuesday, Fox News chief Roger Ailes said in a statement Donald Trump should apologize for a tirade of tweets aimed at Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

“Donald Trump’s surprise and unprovoked attack on Megyn Kelly during her show last night is as unacceptable as it is disturbing. Megyn Kelly represents the very best of American journalism and all of us at Fox News Channel reject the crude and irresponsible attempts to suggest otherwise,” Ailes’ statement reads. “I could not be more proud of Megyn for her professionalism and class in the face of all of Mr. Trump’s verbal assaults. Her questioning of Mr. Trump at the debate was tough but fair, and I fully support her as she continues to ask the probing and challenging questions that all presidential candidates may find difficult to answer,” Ailes said. “Donald Trump rarely apologizes, although in this case, he should. We have never been deterred by politicians or anyone else attacking us for doing our job, much less allowed ourselves to be bullied by anyone and we’re certainly not going to start now. All of our journalists will continue to report in the fair and balanced way that has made FOX News Channel the number one news network in the industry.”

It seems he had told her that she was fired:

Late Monday night, Trump tweeted several times about Kelly, who had just returned to hosting after a vacation, writing that he “liked The Kelly File much better without @megynkelly. Perhaps she could take another eleven day unscheduled vacation!”

Trump also tweeted that Kelly was “really off her game” and retweeted a tweet that called Kelly a “bimbo.”

Then the Fox News team swung into action:

“Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade said Tuesday morning that Trump is “totally out of control” and that his attacks on Kelly are “totally unwarranted.”

Host Bret Baier, who moderated the GOP debate with Kelly and Chris Wallace, tweeted “It’s been 19 days since the debate — @realDonaldTrump has made his feelings clear. But THIS needs to stop,” adding the hashtag “#letitgo.”

Sean Hannity, who had one of the first interviews with Trump on Fox after the debate and initial Kelly flare-up, also tweeted his support of Kelly, though he called Trump a “friend.”

“My friend @realDonaldTrump has captured the imagination of many. Focus on Hillary, Putin, border, jobs, Iran China & leave @megynkelly alone,” he wrote.

The feud isn’t over:

Trump has had a beef with Kelly since the first Republican presidential debate, when Kelly asked Trump about his past remarks about women. Soon after the debate, Trump blasted Kelly, at one point telling CNN’s Don Lemon that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Trump was even close to boycotting the network, a source told POLITICO. But a few days after the debate, a truce seemed to have been met between Fox and Trump.

“Donald Trump and I spoke today,” Ailes said in a statement released by the network the Monday night following the debate. “We discussed our concerns, and I again expressed my confidence in Megyn Kelly. She is a brilliant journalist and I support her 100 percent. I assured him that we will continue to cover this campaign with fairness & balance. We had a blunt but cordial conversation and the air has been cleared.”

Trump made up too, in a tweet: “Roger Ailes just called. He is a great guy & assures me that ‘Trump’ will be treated fairly on @FoxNews,” he wrote. “His word is always good!”

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last week, Trump praised Ailes and said he and the network were “fine now.”

“We were at war because I felt that [Kelly’s debate question about women] was unfair, and I let him know it. But it’s all fine now. They were tough questions, and I thought inappropriate, but Roger didn’t, and I’ll go with Roger.”

It seems he changed his mind, or was thinking he was still hosting Celebrity Apprentice, but Politico sees the dilemma:

The fight between the two camps puts both back in a precarious position. Trump, who is not yet advertising in any traditional sense, relies on the media to keep his name in the headlines and his supporters riled up. For Fox, Trump is a ratings bonanza. His appearance in the first GOP debate is partly credited with bringing in a whopping 24 million viewers for Fox News.

All that is in jeopardy now, then Trump released this:

I totally disagree with the FOX statement. I do not think Megyn Kelly is a quality journalist. I think her questioning of me, despite all of the polls saying I won the debate, was very unfair. Hopefully in the future I will be proven wrong and she will be able to elevate her standards to a level of professionalism that a network such as FOX deserves.

More importantly, I am very pleased to see the latest polls from Public Policy Polling showing me at a strong number one with 35% in New Hampshire, the Monmouth University poll showing me, again at number one, with 30% in South Carolina and the latest national poll from Gravis where I am again the clear front runner with 40%. It was also just announced that I won the prestigious corn kernel poll at the Iowa State Fair by a landslide. I will be in Iowa tonight with my speech being live on CNN and other networks. My sole focus in running for the Presidency is to Make America Great Again!

In short, they should have fired her. He would have fired her if he could. How could Roger Ailes be so stupid? Hasn’t he ever watched Celebrity Apprentice?

David Zurawik sees an impasse here:

If I know anything about the unpredictable media world in which we now live, it is this: Trump crossed a line with a very tough and powerful media executive. Kelly is the present and future of Fox News. Its ratings empire was built on the back of Bill O’Reilly, but he’s in decline, as anyone can see from his soft coverage of Trump in recent nights. She is the tent pole that will support the entire primetime lineup of Fox shows for years to come. And Ailes built her onscreen persona brick by brick. Her image was nurtured the way Louis B. Mayer built those of stars and starlets in the old Hollywood studio system. Ailes would be the worst media executive in the world to stand by and let the single most valuable asset at Fox News be damaged – especially by a reckless character like Trump.

This calls for some free advice:

I would urge Trump to go back to the fall of 2010 and study the fierce and tribal warfare Fox News waged on NPR after the public broadcaster fired Juan Williams for a statement he made about being uncomfortable on a plane when he sees someone in Muslim garb. Fox pounded NPR mercilessly for the callous way it treated Williams, and after an investigation was done of the firing, two senior managers wound up leaving NPR.

For its part, Fox hired Williams full time within days of his losing his relationship with NPR. I spoke to Williams at the time and know how much he felt the warmth of that Fox embrace from Ailes & Co. meant to him when he felt vulnerable.

And now, I am guessing Trump is going to feel the fire of the Fox wrath, unless he apologizes to Kelly – something I cannot imagine him doing.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice blog, noting that in the middle of all this, Ailes’ boss, Rupert Murdoch, was tweeting that he really wished that Michael Bloomberg were running for president, sees an odd dynamic here:

When questions arose about whether Murdoch would renew Ailes’s contract, which was set to expire in 2016, Ailes reportedly said, “Rupert is going to need me to elect the next president.” Ailes got that contract renewal – and clearly his job is to get a Republican elected. And not that kind of Republican – Ailes is supposed to get someone elected who’ll pursue an agenda somewhere between Establishmentarian and Kochian. Trump threatens that. So Ailes, on Murdoch’s behalf, is clearly expected to rein him in now.

Ailes thinks of himself as a tough guy, but we’ll see if he can really handle Trump. Maybe it’s going to be total war – but I think Ailes is going to see a serious hit to his ratings if he succeeds in bringing Trump down. But Murdoch may be giving him no choice.

And all of this stems from that which has made Donald Trump so famous. Real estate aside, his success was built on uninformed arrogance in contrived settings. Chris Lowe did say that will take you far, and Trump can’t help himself:

A journalist for the Spanish-language network Univision who asked Donald J. Trump about immigration was mocked by the candidate, then escorted out of a news conference here on Tuesday evening.

Jorge Ramos, an anchor for Univision news shows based in Miami, stood and began asking a question just as Mr. Trump recognized another reporter. “Excuse me, sit down. You weren’t called,” Mr. Trump told him. “Sit down. Sit down.”

Mr. Ramos asked Mr. Trump about his call to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country and build a wall the length of the Mexican border.

“You haven’t been called, go back to Univision,” Mr. Trump said.

As security officers approached Mr. Ramos, a Mexican-American, he said: “I am a reporter. Don’t touch me. I have a right to ask the question.”

No, Trump said he was fired, and Janell Ross takes it from there:

The billionaire later allowed Ramos back into the press conference, where the two engaged in several lengthy exchanges that dominated the remainder of the event. But none of those exchanges provided the moment that will be repeated in endless loops on cable TV, shared on social media and discussed in Hispanic TV-watching households across the country.

The lasting image will be that of Ramos – who serves as Univision’s lead anchor and is effectively one of the (if not the) most powerful newsmen on Spanish-language TV – being hustled out of the room after trying to ask Trump a question. Ramos, whose nightly newscast has been known to post ratings that top those of all three major English-language network news programs, has a history of holding presidential candidates very close to fire on issues he believes to be of deep concern to Latinos, such as immigration.

No one holds Trump close to the fire, not Megyn Kelly and not Jorge Ramos. This is Celebrity Apprentice. It’s his show. He fires them. But uninformed arrogance has its limits:

During the period that Ramos was out of the room, Trump described Ramos as “obviously a very emotional person” whom he does not know. When Ramos was allowed to return, the journalist questioned Trump about the contents of his immigration policy, and Trump’s repeated use of the term “anchor baby.” Trump defended the term’s use and comments made during his announcement speech reiterating the unfounded claim that the Mexican government is engaged in a coordinated effort to send the dregs of its society to the United States.

After taking questions from other reporters in the room, Trump turned his attention back to Ramos. Trump then claimed that he enjoys tremendous support among Latinos.

“Do you know how many Latinos work for me? Do you know how many Hispanics are working for me? They love me,” Trump said.

It was an evening filled with comments unlikely to endear Latino voters – or other Americans aware that Trump’s comments about Ramos’ emotions amount to an almost-direct reference to an oft-repeated Latino stereotype. And the idea that Americans of any kind love the people who employ them, well, that’s another matter entirely.

But there’s nothing new here:

In July, during his much-covered border visit, Trump cut off a reporter affiliated with the nation’s second-highest-rated Spanish language network, Telemundo, during the reporter’s question about the language that Trump has used to describe those crossing the Mexican border.

Trump grew angry about the content of the question, describing it as an attempt to mischaracterize his statements. He told the reporter that he was “finished.”

That sounds familiar, so this continues:

Now, Trump has engaged in a public tangle with one of the best-known names in Spanish-language news. During the 2012 election, Ramos’s reach and influence prompted both President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney to sit down for extended, multilingual interviews focused on the issue of immigration. Univision is also the nation’s top-rated Spanish language network and an organization that cut business ties with Trump in June, canceling a multi-year broadcast deal with the Miss Universe pageant over Trump’s presidential announcement speech claims that rapists and other criminals are streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump is a part owner of the pageant.

It is, of course, unlikely that Trump’s response to Ramos will ding the Republican front-runner’s standing with voters who have praised his plain-spoken, often confrontational public persona. That’s precisely what some of them like about him.

And that explains this exchange:

When Ramos pressed Trump on polls showing his unpopularity with Latinos, Trump would not accept the premise of the question. First, he interrupted Ramos and turned the question on him: “How much am I suing Univision for right now? Do you know the number? I know you’re part of the lawsuit.”

Trump filed suit against the network in June, alleging defamation and breach of contract, after Univision ended its relationship with him and canceled plans to broadcast the Miss Universe pageant he owns following his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants.

“I’m a reporter,” Ramos said. 

“Five hundred million dollars,” Trump replied. “And they’re very concerned about it, by the way. I’m very good at this.”

Hasn’t Jorge Ramos ever watched Celebrity Apprentice? And Trump doesn’t need Jorge Ramos:

David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and self-described “racial realist,” says Donald Trump is the best Republican candidate for president because he “understands the real sentiment of America.”

The Klan, as you recall, also liked to “fire” tiresome useless people, lynching them, so this was inevitable. Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way, to some really nasty places – but Trump’s reality show never really ended, did it? He’s still sneering at losers. America is still loving it.

Posted in Donald Trump, Jorge Ramos, Megyn Kelly | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Voice of Some of the People

The voice of the people is the voice of God – Vox Populi, Vox Dei – words everyone used to mutter back when any reasonably educated person knew Latin – but a fairly commonplace idea. There are experts, and there are wild-eyed cranks, and venial politicians, and clever lawyers and those with this agenda or that – all out to get what they want – but there is the voice of the people, the common man. If you want the best answer to some vexing problem – something as close to the voice of God as possible – then what the sensible and well-informed public thinks is as close as you’re going to get. And even if the public is not all that sensible or well-informed, what they think matters more than anything else. It’s the wisdom of the people. It may be that God speaks through them.

Alternatively, the people might be full of crap. Or the voice of the people is ambiguous – they don’t speak as one – some want this and others want that. Add to that our populist politicians, who say they speak for the people. George Wallace – segregation now, segregation forever – was a populist politician, but that was because he hated big government, at least the one in Washington, and told the common man, the little guy, that he didn’t have to put up with those folks up there telling him how to treat “those” people. But those who believed in segregation now and segregation forever were outnumbered. The sensible and well-informed general public was outraged by what was happening in the South in the early sixties. The voice of the people wasn’t ambiguous. Wallace was the voice of a sliver of the people. He spoke for the common man, the little guy, if that guy lived in the South or in white suburbs elsewhere. The voice of the people was something else entirely.

Sarah Palin ran into the same problem back in October 2008:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin apologized yesterday for implying that some parts of the country are more American than others, even as similar comments by two Republican congressmen were causing a backlash that threatened their chances for reelection.

In an interview on CNN, Palin said comments she made last week in North Carolina praising small towns as “the real America” and the “pro-America areas of this great nation” were not intended to suggest that other parts of the country are less patriotic or less American.

“If that’s the way it has come across, I apologize,” she told CNN’s Drew Griffin.

If you are going to speak for the people, the Real Americans, you ought to know who they are – some of them live in cities, and even in Hollywood – but there was another guy in North Carolina saying that “liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God.” There was something in the air. What Sarah Palin said was badly put, but she was one of many – she just happened to get caught. She was an easy target, but populism can be tricky.

Populism can also be effective. That’s why, this summer, we have two populists who are leaving all others in the dust, as the Los Angeles Times’ Kathleen Hennessey notes here:

If Donald Trump were running against Bernie Sanders in the general election next year, Americans would face a choice between an unabashed capitalist and an enthusiastic socialist. One candidate would rail against the power of the “billionaire class,” while the other once said that “part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich.”

On many levels, the contrast between the two candidates in this hypothetical – and highly unlikely matchup would be stark. But it’s what they have in common that’s made them the men with the momentum this summer.

Both Trump the real estate tycoon, and Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, are tapping into anti-establishment, pro-outsider sentiment that is emerging as a potent force early in the campaign cycle. Years of dissatisfaction with Washington leaders, along with a thirst for authenticity in politics, are leading voters to at least contemplate something different this year – dramatically different.

Voters want their voices to be heard, so they love a populist candidate:

Both campaigns acknowledge – albeit somewhat reluctantly – that they share common undercurrents.

“On the one hand, I find the comparison preposterous,” said Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic strategist and Sanders advisor. Aside from some similar-sounding populist rhetoric on trade and on campaign finance, the two men’s views are “diametrically opposed.”

“On the other hand, I understand why people are looking for some commonality to what’s going on. I think they’re both candidates who are cutting through the typical back-and-forth of politics. … There’s this recognition on the part of voters that this is a guy who says exactly what he’s thinking at the moment.” …

Trump, speaking this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” also noted the similarities.

“He’s struck a nerve on the other side and I’ve struck, I think, an even bigger nerve on the Republican side, the conservative side. It’s amazing,” he said.

The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman isn’t so sure about that:

Both parties are drawn to populist appeals, but they come in different variants. The Democratic version tends to be both performative and substantive – they’ll rail against the top one percent, but also offer policy ideas like upper-income tax increases and minimum wage hikes that are intended to serve the interests of regular people. Democratic populism says that the problem is largely about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and on whose behalf it’s wielded.

Republican populism, on the other hand, is aimed against “elites” that are decidedly not economic. It’s the egghead professors, the Hollywood liberals, the government bureaucrats whom they tell their voters to resent and despise. And part of that argument is that despite what those know-it-all experts would have you believe, all our problems have simple and easy solutions. All you need is “common sense” to know how we should reform our health care system, fix the VA, or control undocumented immigration. Understanding how government works isn’t just unnecessary, it’s actually a hindrance to getting things done.

There may be no candidate who has ever sung this tune with quite the verve Trump does, but he’s following in a long tradition.

It’s the same old story:

Ronald Reagan used to say, “there are no easy answers, but there are simple answers” – all it takes is the courage to embrace them. George W. Bush trusted his gut more than his head, and saw a world where there are only good guys and bad guys; once you know who’s who, the path forward is clear and only a wuss would worry about the unintended consequences that might arise from things like invading foreign countries.

In its somewhat less extreme version, this belief in the simple truths that only regular folks can see is what drives the common belief that whatever’s wrong in Washington can be solved by bringing in someone from outside Washington. So Ted Cruz proudly trumpets the fact that all of his colleagues in the Senate think he’s a jerk. And Scott Walker criticizes his own party’s congressional leaders, saying, “We were told if Republicans got the majority there’d be a bill on the president’s desk to repeal ObamaCare. It is August. Where is that bill? Where was that vote?”

Well, the answer is that there’s this thing called a filibuster, which Democrats used to stop that bill from getting to the president’s desk, where it would have been vetoed anyway (the real problem is that those leaders promised their constituents something they knew they could never deliver). But in this particular populist critique, the way institutions work is irrelevant, and a straight-talking, straight-shooting Washington outsider can come in and clean the whole place up wielding nothing more than the force of his will, some common sense, and good old fashioned American gumption.

Waldman can’t believe people fall for this nonsense:

If the Obama years have taught us anything, it’s that policy problems are – guess what – complicated. Understanding policy doesn’t get you all the way to solutions – you need a set of values that guides you and creativity in imagining change, among other things – but you can’t do without that understanding, at a minimum. Yet a significant chunk of voters continues to believe that everything is simple and easy, no matter how many times reality tells them otherwise.

Well, that’s populism for you. The people can be full of crap, but in this item by Jeet Heer in the New Republic, Heer questions the whole idea of populism:

Baffled by Donald Trump’s popularity, some observers have sought to make sense of it with a familiar – and often misused – political label. “Trump is not really a Republican, he’s a populist,” historian Geoffrey Kabaservice told the Guardian. Sarah Palin, who herself often been described as a populist, wrote of the xenophobic real-estate magnate, “Trump has tapped into America’s great populist tradition by speaking to concerns of working class voters.” And countless journalists have applied the P-word to Trump.

What is a populist, precisely? Is it someone who understands or represents ordinary people? Someone who speaks truth to power? Or who simply speaks the truth, unvarnished?

The term is a notoriously slippery one, yet there is no reason it should ever be applied to Trump.

The term just doesn’t fit:

The British scholar Peter Wiles, in a much-quoted 1969 definition encapsulated populism as the belief that “virtue resides in the simple people, who are the overwhelming majority, and in their collective traditions.” Trump’s entire style, his gaudy bragging about his own wealth and achievements, is the opposite of the traditional populist celebration of ordinary humble people. Throughout Trump’s rhetoric runs the theme that wisdom is not to be found in ordinary people but in the leadership skills of Trump himself, who alone has the brains to squash the losers and make America great.

Moreover, as Daniel Drezner notes in The Washington Post, there’s little reason to think that Trump’s positions are popular ones outside the Republican base. Trump has called for the mass expulsion of undocumented immigrations and a reduction of the number of legal immigrants. Anti-immigrant nativism has been in a long-term secular decline since the early 1990s. In 1995, 65 percent of Americans told Gallup that the level of immigration should be decreased. By 2015, in a poll asking the same question, only 34 percent said immigration should go down (as against 65 percent who wanted to maintain the same level or increased).

As The New York Times reported on the weekend, Trump’s actual supporters come from a broad demographic swath of the Republican Party. “He leads among moderates and college-educated voters, despite a populist and anti-immigrant message thought to resonate most with conservatives and less-affluent voters,” the Times noted. College-educated Republicans hardly constitute a populist constituency, so there is good reason to think Trump’s putative populism deserves another label.

Heer has that label:

Rather than a populist, Trump is the voice of aggrieved privilege – of those who already are doing well but feel threatened by social change from below, whether in the form of Hispanic immigrants or uppity women (hence the loud applause he got at the first GOP debate when he derided “political correctness”). Far from being a defender of the little people against the elites, Trump plays to the anxiety of those who fear that their status is being challenged by people they regard as their social inferiors. That’s why the word “loser” is such a big part of his vocabulary.

Trump is not the first authoritarian bigot to be mislabeled a populist. In truth, the term almost always gets misused to describe movements that are all about persevering (and enhancing) hierarchy, not about creating a more egalitarian society.

That’s why Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist vendetta in the early fifties wasn’t, as some say, a populist uprising against those know-it-all-egghead-traitors in our government:

McCarthy’s locus of support was the traditional Republican Party base of business owners, particularly those in small and medium-sized cities. McCarthy appealed to the business elite because his anti-communist crusade promised to roll back the New Deal and newly empowered labor unions. He, no less than Donald Trump, was the voice of aggrieved privilege, not the champion of the common person.

What’s true of McCarthyism is also true of subsequent movements and figures like the John Birch Society, David Duke, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and Donald Trump. As Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons noted in their 2000 book Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, the Birch Society uses “populist rhetoric” but “Birchites distrust the idea of the sovereignty of the people and stress that the United States is a republic, not a democracy… Birchites want to replace the ‘bad’ elites with ‘good’ elites–presumably their allies.” Among the big backers of the Birch Society was the Koch family, who later underwrote the Tea Party movement. Members of the Tea Party, often described as populist, tend to be wealthier and better educated than most Americans, as well as being predominately white.

We need to call this something else:

These are not mass movements of the people hoping to make a more democratic society. Rather they are political factions of authoritarian bigotry, backed by the rich, and designed to protect aggrieved privilege. Trump is best described not as a populist but as an authoritarian bigot, a quality best seen in his callous response to the news that two men evoked his name when they beat up a homeless Mexican man. “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate,” he said. “They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”

Josh Marshall sees that too:

Much of what has driven the GOP in the Obama era has been anxiety and resentment about losing out to rising forces in the American political-economy and culture – the decreasing white share of the national electorate (embodied by but also partly connected to Barack Obama’s election), changing social and cultural mores (support for LGBT rights) driven by Americans under the age of 35, a renascent and assertive women’s movement and the increasing defensiveness or even paranoia of organized wealth.

Trump brings all these together with better messaging and fewer apologies – which is the core of his political potency and why his electoral strength seems to cross many common ideological divisions. In Trump world there are winners and losers. And right now you’re a loser. And you should be ashamed of being a loser when Mexico and China and the illegal immigrants are winners. But Trump will show you how to be a winner again because he’s a winner. He’ll help you get back what’s yours – which is basically the textbook definition of the politics of resentment.

But that has implications:

Trump appears to be making a bid to rebrand the GOP as a white nationalist party, just with better marketing and better hair. Trump’s response to that anti-immigrant hate crime in Boston remains very telling and has not received enough attention. Today we see a similar response from his campaign manager to people chanting ‘white power’ at his big speech in Alabama. Said Corey Lewandowski – “I don’t know about the individual you’re talking about in Alabama. I know there were 30-plus thousand people in that stadium. They were very receptive to the message of ‘making America great again’ because they want to be proud to be Americans again.”

And on the Boston hate crime: “We would never condone violence. If that’s what happened in Boston, by no means would that be acceptable in any nature. However, we should not be ashamed to be Americans. We should be proud of our country, proud of our heritage, and continue to be the greatest country in the world.”

It’s really not too much to say that the Trump campaign is leaving the door wide open to people who see his immigrant bashing American greatness campaign in deeply racial terms, indeed even to ones who are so “passionate” that their passion could spill over into violence.

This is frightening, almost:

One exception to this is the news we see from over the weekend that Trump is railing against a tax code tilted toward the super-rich and particularly toward hedge fund managers who he says are “getting away with murder.” That certainly sounds like what you might call a genuinely populist message.

What I draw from this is that the politics of grievance and resentment can pull in and appeal to people who are … well, genuinely and legitimately aggrieved. Indeed, at their best, that’s what campaigns like Trump’s do, feed off the grievances and anger of aggrieved elites but also appeal to people who are undeniably getting a bag shake from the system. At some level you have to do that since, by definition, there aren’t enough elites to build a majority political movement around.

Yes, populism is tricky, but a few weeks earlier David Brooks had said this:

The times are perfect for Donald Trump. He’s an outsider, which appeals to the alienated. He’s confrontational, which appeals to the frustrated. And, in a unique 21st-century wrinkle, he’s a narcissist who thinks he can solve every problem, which appeals to people who in challenging times don’t feel confident in their understanding of their surroundings and who crave leaders who seem to be.

Cool, but there’s Joyce E. A. Russell, vice dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and director of its Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program, and a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist, who says this:

We often think about the magnetic and attractive side of charisma – the person with strong oral communication skills who exudes presence and positivity. He or she has strong self-esteem and projects confidence. These are all wonderful attributes. We know that charismatic leaders can draw us in to listen to their message. But there can be a “dark side” of charisma in which the charismatic person primarily uses charm to manipulate others. Leaders who have a dark side may be narcissistic leaders.

And they have these traits:

They have a very high need for attention and admiration and show less concern for others.

They have excessive love and admiration of themselves and an inflated sense of self-worth.

They look at themselves with undue favor, self-love, conceit, pride and vanity.

They lack empathy for others, especially since they are so preoccupied with themselves.

They may act immaturely (for example, use inappropriate humor or gestures) to draw attention to themselves.

They may act in grandiose or exhibitionistic ways.

They like being the center of attention.

They don’t think anyone has the right to criticize them and they complain about criticism (that they are being “picked on”).

If they fail at something, they blame others.

They don’t take most rules seriously because they make their own rules.

They may interrupt others and hog conversations.

They believe that if they ruled the world, it would be a much better place.

In the business world that means this:

Research has shown that narcissism can limit people from bringing dissenting but valuable ideas to the table; create enemies and alienate key followers, leading to excessive turnover and reducing productivity; and blind leaders to the real issues and dangers.

In the political world it means the same thing, and it’s not populism. It’s just popular, with those who wish they were rich enough to grab anything they want and tell everyone else to fuck off. Donald Trump provides the fantasy. Rita Rudner – “Someday I want to be rich. Some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity. That’s how rich I want to be.” It’s like that. And it isn’t populism.

Posted in Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Populist Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Political Socialization

In complex social structures everyone does what everyone else is doing. It’s best to act as others act and say what others say – that’s how you survive in school, and certainly how you do well in school, and how you find a wife or husband and how you get and keep a job. It’s called socialization – there are certain things one never says, and this and that one never does. Sometimes your parents tell you that, or your friends do, but most of the time you figure this out through observation, or by telling a really awful joke you thought was funny as hell and being met by stony silence, and then having no friends at all. You learn the rules. You develop a keen sense of what everyone else it thinking, even if you’re not thinking that. That calls for strategic silence – and if you are a rebel, who refuses to follow the rules, you align yourself with the other rebels and follow their rules instead. In 1955 rebels had to have a James Dean leather jacket. In the sixties it was the hair – the famous musical gave us that shorthand. In 2010 the Tea Party folks had their tri-corner hats and their rote lines about wanting “their” country back – say the wrong thing, that maybe it wasn’t “their” country at all, or at least theirs exclusively, and they’d turn on you. One must be careful. Socialization is a powerful force. Ask any teenager. They have a hell of a time figuring it all out.

Everyone has a hard time figuring it out – although advertisers will tell you what everyone is buying at the moment, because anyone who is anyone is, and what cool people are driving, and what music they listen to. The economy depends on willing conformity – things that simply must be purchased to avoid being shunned and shamed by others, even by members of the counterculture. You don’t want to be caught without your arugula. Shame comes in all forms – and in politics things get even trickier. What are we to make of all these people running for office?

Political socialization is a special case. For years Bill O’Reilly has been telling America who the “pinheads” are, and who the “patriots” are, but over on MSNBC they’ll tell you that O’Reilly is a bit of a pinhead himself. There’s competing shorthand – putative norms that sort of cancel each other out – and that sort of thing is for folks who have already made up their mind about which politicians, and parties, and policies, are beyond the pale. Broader norms are established in the press, by pundits who are widely read by those who find cable news tedious and tiresome.

One of those is the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd – lively and sometimes caustic and snarky, who reduces politicians to one-word caricatures. Obama is “Spock” or “Barry” or “Bambi” – she has no use for thoughtful men who won’t just do stuff, no matter what the rules are. She comes from a big Catholic family. Her father was a police inspector – the Irish cop of legend. She doesn’t like weak men. In the run-up to the 2000 presidential election she wrote that “Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct that he’s practically lactating” – and that stuck. He was the wimp leading the “mommy” party. He wasn’t a real man.

None of this was ever about policy of course. This was about certain things one never says, and this and that one never does, in the political world – as everyone knows. Dowd is widely read. Like the advertisers who tell you what everyone is buying at the moment, because anyone who is anyone is, she lets you know what everyone is thinking, as she sees it.

That made her current comments on Donald Trump somewhat predictable:

Trump could explode at any moment in a fiery orange ball. But meanwhile, he has exploded the hoary conventions, money-grubbing advisers and fund-raising excesses of the presidential campaign, turning everything upside down, inside out, into sauerkraut.

It is a fable conjured up in several classic movies: A magnetic, libidinous visitor shows up and insinuates himself into the lives of a bourgeois family. The free spirit leaves, but only after transforming the hidebound family, so that none of them can see themselves the same way again.

That is the profound metamorphosis Trump has wrought on the race. The Don Rickles of reality shows is weirdly bringing some reality to the presidential patty-cake.

She can’t help it, she likes the guy:

Because Trump is so loud, omnipresent, multiplatform and cutting, he’s shaping the perception of the other candidates. Once he blurts out the obvious – Jeb is low energy, Hillary is shifty, Mitt choked – some voters nod their heads and start to see his targets in that unflattering light as well.

Trump has trapped his Republican rivals into agreeing with his red-meat opinions on immigration or attacking him, neither of which are good options. Trump bluntness only works for Trump, and getting into a scrap with him is like being tossed into a bag of badgers.

You have to love it:

The real estate developer has turned a fetish for the biggest and the best – in everything from dinner rolls to skyscrapers – into a presidential vision for “the silent majority.” He’s tapped into a hunger among those who want to believe that America is not a shrinking, stumbling power passed like a pepper mill between two entitled families.

And there’s this:

He was mocked when he said that he got his national security advice from watching “the shows” on TV. But voters know that top diplomats, spooks and generals led presidents down the tragic paths to the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam and Iraq. Jeb Bush gets his advice from Paul Wolfowitz, who naïvely bollixed up Iraq and gave us ISIS. And Hillary and top Republicans say they get valued counsel from Henry Kissinger, who advised Nixon to prolong the Vietnam War for political reasons even though he thought it might be unwinnable.

She may be in love, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog is having none of it:

Yes, the son of real estate millionaire Fred Trump is, according to Dowd, the champion of ordinary Americans in the battle to wrest control of the Republic from “entitled families.” Dowd writes this in a newspaper whose publisher’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all held the title of publisher before him, a newspaper published in a state whose governor was once campaign manager for his father, also a multi-term governor of New York. And if we may be indelicate, let’s not forget that Dowd’s most famous romantic relationship was with Oscar winner Michael Douglas, the famous Hollywood son of the famous Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas.

There are a lot of entitled families in Dowd’s world. Only some of them upset her.

That may be nitpicking, but the New York Times news folks looked into what is going on here – interviews with voters in Michigan and New Hampshire after Trump events. They found that no one cited his policies as motivation for backing him. They like the fact that he has a brash personality:

His support is not tethered to a single issue or sentiment: immigration, economic anxiety or an anti-establishment mood. Those factors may have created conditions for his candidacy to thrive, but his personality, celebrity and boldness, not merely his populism and policy stances, have let him take advantage of them.

Tellingly, when asked to explain support for Mr. Trump in their own words, voters of varying backgrounds used much the same language, calling him “ballsy” and saying they admired that he “tells it like it is” and relished how he “isn’t politically correct.”

Trumpism, the data and interviews suggest, is an attitude, not an ideology.

Some did say that were especially impressed by Trump because he’s rich, freeing him from the demands of donors and special interests – but that still doesn’t speak to policy. Dowd is smiling, but the Documentarian Ken Burns sees Trump as the racist reaction to President Obama:

We pretend with the election of Barack Obama that we’re in some post-racial society. And of course, you know, we’re not. The Onion magazine got it right when he was inaugurated. It said ‘black man given the worst job in the world.’ And what we’ve seen is a kind of a birther reaction to this. The birther movement of which Donald Trump is one of the authors of is another politer way of saying the N-word. It’s just more sophisticated and a little bit more clever. He’s other, he’s different. What’s actually other and different about him? It turns out it’s the same old thing; it’s the color of his skin.

Trump is no more than that? There’s this – Watch Trump Supporter Yell Out “White Power” During Alabama Rally – so maybe so.

Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, has a different take on this:

As I said in my “How to Fail” book, if you are not familiar with the dozens of methods of persuasion that are science-tested, there’s a good chance someone is using those techniques against you.

For example, when Trump says he is worth $10 billion, which causes his critics to say he is worth far less (but still billions) he is making all of us “think past the sale.” The sale he wants to make is “Remember that Donald Trump is a successful business person managing a vast empire mostly of his own making.” The exact amount of his wealth is irrelevant.

When a car salesperson trained in persuasion asks if you prefer the red Honda Civic or the Blue one, that is a trick called making you “think past the sale” and the idea is to make you engage on the question of color as if you have already decided to buy the car. That is Persuasion 101 and I have seen no one in the media point it out when Trump does it.

The $10 billion estimate Trump uses for his own net worth is also an “anchor” in your mind. That’s another classic negotiation/persuasion method. I remember the $10 billion estimate because it is big and round and a bit outrageous. And he keeps repeating it because repetition is persuasion too.

Ben Yakas comments:

The scary part is despite recognizing that Trump is a “narcissistic blow-hard with inadequate credentials to lead a country,” Adams can’t bring himself to take a position on Trump.

Which is maybe why, even after their own columnist lambasted him as “a ridiculous parody of a Nietzschean superman” who is “encouraging people to be as uninhibited in their stupidity as he is,” Rolling Stone magazine is reportedly featuring Trump on the cover of their next issue. Even the people who know better can’t help themselves when it comes to Trump.

That columnist was Matt Taibbi with this:

Trump is probably too dumb to realize it, or maybe he isn’t, but he doesn’t need to win anything to become the most dangerous person in America. He can do plenty of damage just by encouraging people to be as uninhibited in their stupidity as he is.

Trump is striking a chord with people who are feeling the squeeze in a less secure world and want to blame someone – the government, immigrants, political correctness, “incompetents,” “dummies,” Megyn Kelly, whoever – for their problems.

Karl Rove and his acolytes mined a lot of the same resentments to get Republicans elected over the years, but the difference is that Trump’s political style encourages people to do more to express their anger than just vote. The key to his success is a titillating message that those musty old rules about being polite and “saying the right thing” are for losers who lack the heart, courage and Trumpitude to just be who they are.

But this was a long time coming:

The political right in America has been flirting with dangerous ideas for a while now, particularly on issues involving immigrants and minorities. But in the last few years the rhetoric has gotten particularly crazy.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert proposed using troops and ships of war to stop an invasion of immigrant children, whom he described as a 28 Days Later-style menace. “We don’t even know all of the diseases, and how extensive the diseases are,” he said.

“A lot of head lice, a lot of scabies,” concurred another Texas congressman, Blake Farenthold.

“I’ll do anything short of shooting them,” promised Mo Brooks, a congressman from the enlightened state of Alabama.

Then there’s Iowa’s Steve King, who is unusually stupid even for a congressman. He not only believes a recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage allows people to marry inanimate objects, but also believes the EPA may have intentionally spilled three million gallons of toxic waste into Colorado’s Animas river in order to get Superfund money.

Late last year, King asked people to “surround the president’s residence” in response to Barack Obama’s immigration policies. He talked about putting “boots on the ground” and said “everything is on the table” in the fight against immigrants.

So, all of this was in the ether even before Donald Trump exploded into the headlines with his “They’re rapists” line, and before his lunatic, Game of Thrones idea to build a giant wall along the southern border. But when Trump surged in the polls on the back of this stuff, it caused virtually all of the candidates to escalate their anti-immigrant rhetoric.

For example, we just had Ben Carson – who seems on TV like a gentle, convivial doctor who’s just woken up from a nice nap – come out and suggest that he’s open to using drone strikes on U.S. soil against undocumented immigrants. Bobby Jindal recently came out and said mayors in the so-called “sanctuary cities” should be arrested when undocumented immigrants commit crimes. Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have both had to change their positions favoring paths to citizenship as a result of the new dynamic.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, polling at a brisk zero percent, joined Jindal and Lindsey Graham in jumping aboard with Trump’s insane plan to toss the 14th Amendment out the window and revoke the concept of birthright citizenship, thereby extending the war on immigrants not just to children, but babies.

All of this bleeds out into the population.

Of course it does. Social norms change over time – “In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking…” – and political norms change too. That’s what Cole Porter was writing about in 1934 – and it’s no different in politics. In olden days, politicians didn’t talk about using drone strikes on American soil against undocumented immigrants, but now anything goes.

That’s why Taibbi says this:

Trump isn’t really a politician, of course. He’s a strongman act, a ridiculous parody of a Nietzschean superman. His followers get off on watching this guy with (allegedly) $10 billion and a busty mute broad on his arm defy every political and social convention and get away with it.

People are tired of rules and tired of having to pay lip service to decorum. They want to stop having to watch what they say and think and just get “crazy,” as Thomas Friedman would put it.

Trump’s campaign is giving people permission to do just that. It’s hard to say this word in conjunction with such a sexually unappealing person, but his message is a powerful aphrodisiac. Fuck everything, fuck everyone. Fuck immigrants and fuck their filthy lice-ridden kids. And fuck you if you don’t like me saying so.

This is the new normal:

America has been trending stupid for a long time. Now the stupid wants out of its cage, and Trump is urging it on.

David Atkins sees this:

Most of the commentary about Trump’s immigration stance has focused on his hateful near-fascist rhetoric and his incoherent policies. But Trump’s immigration position is important for another reason: it’s a direct challenge to the big money funders of the GOP. The only reason that the GOP has so far avoided a direct spiral into outright xenophobia is that the establishment at the top of the party is conscious that it needs to please the Chamber of Commerce and the billionaires who actually fund their racket. It takes an army of communications professionals, expert in dogwhistle politics, to align the GOP’s cranky conservative populist base with the interests of its wealthy puppeteers.

That feat is hardest to accomplish on immigration. The Chamber of Commerce wing wants the GOP to adopt a pathway to citizenship for immigrants not just for political reasons (permanently losing the Hispanic vote would be a death knell for the party) but also for financial ones: the employers who make most frequent use of undocumented immigrant labor don’t want their gravy train of underpaid, abused workers to dry up. In conservative circles, the Chamber wing of the party is often called the Cheap Labor wing of the GOP – and many movement conservatives despise it with a passion.

Donald Trump’s candidacy is a direct challenge to the Koch Brothers and the GOP’s other big funders as much as anything else.

Here we have a case of inadequate socialization. The accepted norms contradict each other, and then there’s this:

In a telephone interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Trump vowed to reform the tax laws if elected and said the current system was harming middle class Americans who currently faced higher tax rates than traders on Wall Street. “The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky,” Trump said.

“They are energetic. They are very smart. But a lot of them – they are paper-pushers. They make a fortune. They pay no tax. It’s ridiculous, ok?” …

“Some of them are friends of mine. Some of them, I couldn’t care less about,” Trump said. “It is the wrong thing. These guys are getting away with murder. I want to lower the rates for the middle class.”


Being virulently anti-immigrant and calling for higher taxes on hedge fund managers isn’t a political contradiction. This is part and parcel of Trump’s intentionally play to wedge the GOP’s voters away from its funders. Unlike Scott Walker or Jeb Bush, Trump doesn’t need the Chamber of Commerce or the hedge fund managers because he doesn’t need their money. He can self-fund his own campaign.

And that in itself is a genuinely interesting development, because Trump could in a single campaign make it difficult if not impossible for the puppet masters to keep the troops in line – not only this cycle, but in future cycles as well.

While many of them may not explicitly realize it, many blue-collar white GOP voters who would never vote for a Democrat for cultural reasons, are making a bet that their support for a single, capricious populist plutocrat may save them from the collusive predation of a group of plutocrats who they know don’t care about them. All things considered, that’s not an irrational bet.

Maybe so, but who knows what’s rational anymore? In complex political structures, as in complex social structures, everyone eventually does what everyone else is doing. It’s best to act as others act and say what others say – that’s how you survive. You don’t have to like it, but you will be socialized – if you read Maureen Dowd.

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Something Wicked

Everyone remembers that scene from Macbeth – a cavern, in the middle, a boiling cauldron – thunder. Enter the three witches – and then there’s that “Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” stuff. Macbeth in his rise to power has had a strange team of political advisors – these three witches – and they know he’s about to drop by for another strategy session. The second witch senses it. “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” Enter Macbeth.

The odd thing is that Macbeth doesn’t think of himself as wicked. It’s just that the rather nasty things he finds himself doing to become king do add up. He comes to understand what he has become and falls into despair with those famous lines about how “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more.” And there’s his final analysis. “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Sure, he’s now the king, but so what? The choices that he felt he had to make to become king ruined him. He feels nothing now. Nothing matters. Some people just aren’t cut out for politics. Second thoughts will kill you, and who hasn’t felt by that pricking in the thumbs, when a politician is speaking, that something wicked this way comes? Politicians must be advised by some really nasty people, perhaps with a boiling cauldron, and they certainly don’t have second thoughts. And Donald Trump is not Macbeth.

Trump seems to embrace the wicked. It makes him happy. That’s why he just went south:

Thousands of people showed up to hear Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump speak at an Alabama rally Friday, in which the business tycoon vowed, “We’re going to make America better than it’s ever been.”

The crowd filled about half of the 43,000-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile. It was a hot night, and humid. Trump looked upwards and joked: “If it rains I’ll take off my hat and prove, I’ll prove, once and for all, that its mine,” while stroking his hair.

Then it was down to business:

Trump repeated his tough stance on immigration, vowing “we’re going to build a wall,” and saying Congress could end the guarantee of being granted citizenship upon being born within the U.S.

“The 14th Amendment – I was right on it. You can do something with it, and you can do something fast,” Trump said. “In the case of other countries, including Mexico, they don’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. … We’re the only place just about that’s stupid enough to do it,” he said.

The “it” in question is declaring anyone born here is a citizen. That’s what he wants to change, and the crowd was huge – twenty thousand cheered him on:

Trump got some of his biggest cheers from the crowd Friday when he pledged to strengthen the military and take care of veterans, and when he extolled his skills as a businessman – while taking a swipe at GOP rival Jeb Bush.

“Who would you rather have negotiate with China, Japan, Mexico, any other: Trump or Bush?” Trump asked. The crowd cheered, and some began to chant “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

The Associated Press had other details:

Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Friday joked, “Now I know how the great Billy Graham felt” as he addressed the largest crowd yet of his thriving presidential campaign. “I would like to have the election tomorrow,” Trump crowed. “I don’t want to wait.”

He knows his audience:

Before Trump arrived, his fans – some carrying signs, others wearing T-shirts supporting the billionaire businessman – spoke of his outsider status in a crowded field dominated by former and current elected officials as the song “Sweet Home Alabama” blared from loudspeakers.

“Donald Trump is telling the truth and people don’t always like that,” said Donald Kidd, a 73-year-old retired pipe welder from Mobile. “He is like George Wallace, he told the truth. It is the same thing.”

Billy Graham and George Wallace, that duo plays well in the South, so they loved their Donald:

Savannah Zimmerman, a 27-year-old registered nurse from Mobile, agreed. “I think he appeals to us Southerners because he tells it like it is and he has strong opinions. That is the way we are here in the South,” she said.

Mary Anne Bousenitz, 59, a retired psychiatrist from Tuscaloosa, said she isn’t offended by the insults Trump has directed at women, like “dog” and “bimbo.”

“I’m not married to the man and it’s not like I’m going to have to sit across a turkey at the table with him,” she said.

And before the rally, Trump tweeted this – “We are going to have a wild time in Alabama tonight! Finally, the silent majority is back!” Add Nixon to Graham and Wallace.

That made this pathetic:

Republican rival Jeb Bush’s campaign e-mailed thousands of supporters in Alabama on Friday night, denouncing Trump as a Republican presidential candidate. The campaign statement said Trump favors partial-birth abortions, supports restrictions on gun rights and backs laws that infringe on states’ land rights.

“Trump’s positions are deeply out of step with the Alabama way of life,” the campaign said in the email. “We know Alabama cherishes life, especially the life of the unborn.”

No one cared, but up in Washington, Charles Krauthammer cared, at least about mass deportation:

Last Sunday, Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd that all illegal immigrants must leave the country. Although once they’ve been kicked out, we will let “the good ones” back in. On its own terms, this is crackpot. Wouldn’t you save a lot just on Mayflower moving costs if you chose the “good ones” first – before sending SWAT teams to turf families out of their homes, loading them on buses, and dumping them on the other side of the Rio Grande?

Less frivolously, it is estimated by the conservative American Action Forum that mass deportation would take about 20 years and cost about $500 billion for all the police, judges, lawyers, and enforcement agents – and bus drivers! – needed to expel 11 million people. This would all be merely ridiculous if it weren’t morally obscene. Forcibly evict 11 million people from their homes? It can’t happen. It shouldn’t happen.

It is wicked:

And, of course, it won’t ever happen. But because it’s the view of the Republican front-runner, every other candidate is now required to react. So instead of debating border security, guest-worker programs, and sanctuary cities – where Republicans are on firm moral and political ground – they are forced into a debate about a repulsive fantasy.

This is madness:

Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote by 44 points and he was advocating only self-deportation. Now the party is discussing forced deportation. It is not just Hispanics who will be alienated. Romney lost the Asian vote, too. By 47 points. And many non-minorities will be offended by the idea of rounding up 11 million people, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding members of their communities. …

If you are a conservative alarmed at the country’s direction and committed to retaking the White House, you should be concerned about what Trump’s ascendancy is doing to the chances of that happening.

That’s practical advice. Don’t promise to be mean and nasty. Regret it.

But that’s too Macbeth. That’s not Trump, as Heather Parton notes:

Ever since The Donald descended that escalator at Trump Tower a couple of months ago to announce his entry into the presidential race, Democrats have been laughing. Watching the Republicans squirm and Fox News jump through hoops has made the GOP presidential primary a delightful entertainment for their rivals on the other side of the aisle. I don’t know how many of them had it in them to watch the whole Trump Town hall extravaganza in Derry, NH, on Wednesday – but those who did were unlikely to be laughing by the end of it.

There was the standard braggadocio and egomania that characterizes his every appearance and weird digressions into arcane discussions of things like building materials (for The Wall, naturally.) He complained about the press and politicians and declared himself superior to pretty much everyone on earth. But after you listen to him for a while, you come away from that performance with a very unpleasant sense that something rather sinister is at the heart of the Trump phenomenon.

She was the second witch. She sensed wickedness approaching, and so did Chris Hayes that same night:

I want to talk about what we are seeing unfold here because I think what we are seeing is past the point of a clown show or a parody. I believe it is much more serious and much darker…

You have someone now who is getting huge crowds, who is polling at the top of the GOP field, who polls show is beating Jeb Bush by 44 to 12 percent on the issue of immigration, going around the country calling little children, newborn babies, anchor babies saying that he’s going to use that term which I find a dehumanizing and disgusting term. Talking about giving the local police the ability to “do whatever they need to do to round up” the “illegals”. Building a wall, talking about basically chasing 11 million people out, talking about deporting American citizens to “keep families together”, talking about what would essentially be the largest most intrusive police state in the history of the American republic to go about this task – that is the person that is right now at the head of the Republican party’s presidential contest.

Parton sees that too:

Trump repeatedly paints a picture of America in decline – weak, impotent and powerless, in terrible danger of losing everything unless we get a leader who will cast off all this “political correctness,” this effete insistence on following the rules. He promises to “make America great again” by cracking down on the “bad people” and being very, very strong.

When talking about Iraq, he characterized the Iraqi people as cowards, “running whenever the bullets are flying.” He said “the enemy has our best equipment, we have the old stuff” and that the country is a mess because of all the “years of fighting unsuccessfully – because of the way we fight.” (The implication is that we didn’t take the gloves off.) He said, “The problem is that as a country we don’t have victories anymore. When was the last time we had a victory?” And he declared, “I believe in the military and military strength more strongly than anybody running by a factor of a billion… We are gonna make our military so strong and so powerful and so incredible, so strong that nobody’s gonna mess with us, folks, nobody. And we don’t have that right now.” This garnered huge cheers from the crowd.

On economics, it’s all about other countries taking advantage of the US. He said, “They’re up here, we’re down there. I don’t blame China or Mexico or Japan. Their leaders are smarter and sharper and more cunning – and that’s an important word, cunning – than our leaders. Our leaders are babies…our country is falling apart.”

And none of it is true. Trump saying this sort of thing just feels true, like saying the people in the streets in Ferguson and Baltimore weren’t really black. Everyone knows they were Mexicans who slipped across the border to murder our men and rape our women:

We have to build a wall; we have to get the bad people out. A lot of the illegals, if you look at Chicago with the gangs… you look at Baltimore, you look at Ferguson, a lot of these gangs, the most vicious, are illegals. They’re outta here. The first day I will send those people … those guys are outta here. [Cheers]

And this:

They talk about guns, I’m a big second amendment person, I believe in it so strongly [cheers]. Big! But they talk about guns and you look at Chicago, Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the US by far, and people are being shot with guns all over the place. You need enforcement but you also have to get the bad people out, the people that aren’t supposed to be here and we’re gonna get em out so fast, so quick — and it’s gonna be tough. It is not gonna be “oh please will you come with us please will you please come with us.” Because you know these law enforcement people, and I know the guys in Chicago, the police commissioner’s a great man. They can do it, if they’re allowed to do it. I know the guys, I know ’em, New York, they’re great. Bratton, great! They can all do it. They can all do it. But they have to be allowed to do their job – they have to be allowed to do their job. [Cheers]

Parton notes that it’s not only liberals like Chris Hayes who are becoming alarmed by this, but Republican strategists like Alex Castellanos with this:

When a government that has pledged to do everything can’t do anything, otherwise sensible people turn to the strongman. This is how the autocrat, the popular dictator, gains power. We are seduced by his success and strength… As our old, inflexible government grows beyond its capacity to service a complex and adaptive society, and its failures deface our landscape, it creates demand for efficiency. Who can bring order to this chaos? Who has the guts and the strength to make the mess we have made work?

Then, the call goes out for the strongman. Who cares what he believes or promises? And with the voice of the common man, though he is anything but, the strongman comes and pledges to make America great again.

Mussolini promised to make Italy great again, and Mussolini made the trains run on time, damn it. And he didn’t take any shit form anyone. Many Americans thought he was the ideal leader way back when – in the thirties, in the middle of the Great Depression. Something wicked this way comes, again, and Parton sees why:

It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s ramblings as the words of a kook. But he’s tapping into the rage and frustration many Americans feel when our country is exposed as being imperfect. These Republicans were shamed by their exalted leadership’s debacle in Iraq and believe that American exceptionalism is no longer respected around the world – and they are no longer respected here at home. Trump is a winner and I think this is fundamentally what attracts them to him.


I will be fighting and I will win because I’m somebody that wins. We are in very sad shape as a country and you know why that is? We’re more concerned about political correctness than we are about victory, than we are about winning. We are not going to be so politically correct anymore – we are going to get things done.


His dark, authoritarian message of intolerance and hate is likely making it difficult for him, or any Republican, to win a national election, particularly since all the other candidates feel compelled to follow his lead. (Those who challenged him, like Perry and Paul, are sinking like a stone in the polls.) And while Trump’s fans may want to blame foreigners for all their troubles, most Americans know that their troubles can be traced to some powerful people right here at home. Powerful people like Donald Trump.

Still, history is littered with strongmen nobody took seriously until it was too late. When someone like Trump captures the imagination of millions of people it’s important to pay attention to what he’s saying. For all his ranting, you’ll notice that the one thing Trump never mentions is the Constitution.

There’s a reason for that. President Trump could tell the Supreme Court what he tells all fools. You’re fired! If the Supreme Court rules that the words of the Fourteenth Amendment mean exactly what they say, well, he could abolish the Supreme Court by executive order – and Congress too, if they get uppity. You’re fired!

He seems to think that way, and folks seem to like how he thinks. Or many do. This is getting very strange. Maybe it’s dangerous.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein offers a warning about that:

Almost all the commentary from the political-pundit class has insisted that history will repeat itself. That the Trump phenomenon is just like the Herman Cain phenomenon four years ago, or many others before it; that early enthusiasm for a candidate, like the early surge of support for Rudy Giuliani in 2008, is no predictor of long-term success; and that the usual winnowing-out process for candidates will be repeated this time, if on a slightly different timetable, given 17 GOP candidates.

Of course, they may be entirely right. Or not entirely; after all, the stories and commentaries over the past two months saying Trump has peaked, Trumpmania is over, this horrific comment or that is the death knell for Trump, have been embarrassingly wrong. But Trump’s staying power notwithstanding, there are strong reasons to respect history and resist the urge to believe that everything is different now.

Still, I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.

As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.

And there’s that other factor:

Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.

That means we’re in new territory now:

First, because of the amplification of rage against the machine by social media, and the fact that Barack Obama has grown stronger and more assertive in his second term while Republican congressional leaders have become more impotent. The unhappiness with the establishment and the desire to stiff them is much stronger. Second, the views of rank-and-file Republicans on defining issues like immigration have become more consistently extreme – a majority now agrees with virtually every element of Trump’s program, including expelling all illegal immigrants.

Third, unlike in 2012, when Mitt Romney was the clear frontrunner and the only serious establishment presidential candidate, and all the pretenders were focused on destroying each other to emerge as his sole rival, this time there are multiple establishment candidates with no frontrunner, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. And each has independent financing, with enough backing from wealthy patrons to stay in the race for a long time, splitting the establishment-oriented vote.

The financing, of course, raises point four: We are in a brave new world of campaign finance, where no one candidate can swamp the others by dominating the money race. When establishment nemesis Ted Cruz announced his campaign, he had $38 million in “independent” funds within a week, $36 million of it from four donors. There is likely more where that came from. Some candidates may not find any sugar daddies, or may find that their billionaires are fickle at the first sign of weakness. But far more candidates than usual will have the financial wherewithal to stick around – and the more candidates stick around, the less likely that any single one will pull into a commanding lead or sweep a series of primaries, and thus the more reason to stick around.

Fifth, the desire for an insurgent, non-establishment figure is deeper and broader than in the past. Consider that in the first major poll taken after the GOP debate, three insurgents topped the list, totaling 47 percent, with Donald Trump leading the way, followed by Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. And, as Trump and the insurgents have shown depth and breadth of support, desperate wannabes like Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal have become ever more shrill to try to compete.

Ed Kilgore can only add this:

The burden of persuasion in the current cycle is increasingly shifting to those pundits and political scientists who insist we’re all being hysterical and we’re guaranteed a nice, calm “centrist” general election between Bush or Rubio and Hillary Clinton that will turn on economic statistics rather than all the wild-ass messages we’ve been hearing from the right non-stop since 2010 at the latest.

Something wicked has been coming this way for a long time now. Enter Donald Trump.

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It was a long time ago – Saturday, April 4, 2009 – in a place where nothing much ever happens – Pittsburgh – so it’s forgotten now. That was the day a twenty-two-year-old angry white guy set up an ambush for the Pittsburgh police and killed three of them – two others survived, barely. These were the first Pittsburgh police officers killed in the line of duty in eighteen years – Pittsburgh is that kind of place – and no one knew what that hell was going on. The young man, Richard Poplawski, was armed with an AK-47 and a shotgun and three handguns, including a Dirty Harry .357 Magnum, and he was wearing a bulletproof vest. He was serious, but how did it come to this?

That took some digging. It turned out that Poplawski was a white supremacist Stormfront kind of guy who had been filling his head with conspiracy theories for years, but there are lots of those. Something had pushed him over the edge. The investigators asked around. His friends said he was convinced Obama was going to take everyone’s guns and take over – he’d been listening to Glenn Beck – and he had posted a link to a video on the Stormfront website, of Ron Paul discussing the possible existence of FEMA-managed concentration camps with Glenn Beck, on Fox News. Obama was going to put anyone who disagreed with him in those concentration camps. Beck was sure of that. That was good enough for Poplawski. Beck had also been warning, over and over, that Obama was going to take everyone’s guns, so the people couldn’t do anything about the government they hated – other than voting, which never works out of course. Beck was sure of that too. That was also good enough for Poplawski. He decided it was time to do something about that.

At the time there was some talk about Glenn Beck being responsible for what had happened – “incitement to violence” is a serious crime and there had been other incidents of this sort, but cut off before anyone died. Glenn Beck fired back that sure, he had talked about those FEMA concentration camps, and he had said over and over that Obama was coming for everyone’s guns, but he NEVER told anyone to DO anything about it. He had never called for violence. Poplawski had acted on his own, and what about free speech? Beck had only been saying what he saw. Everyone has a right to say what they see. It’s a free country.

Then it was all forgotten – one news story drives out another every twenty-four hours – but Fox News eventually cut Glenn Beck loose. They have a legal department, and defending the network against incitement, in open court, is a loser, even if you win.

Get it straight. “We report, you decide” – and we disavow any responsibility for what happens next. No one here told you to go out and kill a few cops. Bill O’Reilly may have called that Kansas doctor who performed late-term abortions a murderer on air over and over, but he didn’t say someone should shoot him dead in his own church. O’Reilly was clear about that:

When I heard about Tiller’s murder, I knew pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters would attempt to blame us for the crime, and that’s exactly what has happened. … Every single thing we said about Tiller was true, and my analysis was based on those facts. … Now, it’s clear that the far left is exploiting – exploiting – the death of the doctor. Those vicious individuals want to stifle any criticism of people like Tiller. That – and hating Fox News – is the real agenda here.

O’Reilly is the real victim here, and he’s angry about it. Speaking the truth isn’t incitement.

Maybe so, but as Dana Lind reports, this is happening again:

Two Boston men were charged yesterday in the beating of a homeless Mexican man. The victim was allegedly sleeping outside a subway station when brothers Scott and Steve Leader rummaged through his things, then started beating him around the face and neck and hitting him with a metal pole. One witness heard the brothers laughing as they walked away.

Here’s what police say Scott Leader told them to justify the assault: “Donald Trump was right – all these illegals need to be deported.”

Here’s what Donald Trump said when told about the alleged assault (according to the Boston Globe) at a press conference in New Hampshire: “I haven’t heard about that. It would be a shame, but I haven’t heard about that.” Then the crowd buzzed, and Trump added: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate. I will say that, and everybody here has reported it.”

Lind is appalled:

When people are committing hate crimes in your name, you do not call them “passionate.” You do not say they “want this country to be great again.” You say they do not represent you or your beliefs. You talk about why your followers are different from people who beat up homeless men because they’re “illegal.”

Donald Trump isn’t explicitly saying it is okay to beat people up because of how they look, but at least two men have interpreted it that way. And instead of telling them, and the rest of his followers, that that interpretation is unequivocally wrong, he’s – at best – framed it as a moderately regrettable downside of his movement’s “passion.”

Even Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly knew better. They didn’t say ambushing and killing those cops, and shooting that doctor dead in his church, were understandable things that happen when true patriots are passionate about making their country great again – a bit of a shame, but quite understandable. These things happen. Cut them some slack.

Phillip Bump adds this:

Every cloud has a silver lining, I guess, and in the case of two intoxicated brothers that urinated on a homeless man and beat him with a pole simply because he’s Hispanic, the silver lining is that they are passionate about America.

The focus on Trump’s comments, though, distracts from another point worth isolating: Hispanic immigrants have been regular targets of hate attacks – and are more likely than non-immigrants to feel as though they’ve been mistreated in everyday life.

That latter point comes from data published by Gallup on Thursday. The firm asked Hispanics how many times in the past 30 days they’d felt as though they were treated unfairly because of their race. One in 10 said that this had happened to them at work, when interacting with the police, at a restaurant or when receiving health care.

But that’s not the half of it:

Perceptions of being treated unfairly differed widely between Hispanics born in the United States and those who’d immigrated here. In most cases, immigrants were four or five times as likely to report having been treated unfairly. …

Between 2011 and 2012, hate crime attacks on Hispanics increased three-fold. For every 1,000 Hispanics over age 12, two reported having been attacked.

There’s some reason to think that even what is reported is low. As Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center noted to the Huffington Post in 2011, “Latinos, and in particular undocumented immigrants, are among the least likely to report hate crimes because they fear deportation.” It stands to reason they also might not tell a pollster. So an actual figure is hard to establish.

Which makes it hard to say whether this incident is a function of the current critical focus on immigration – and the real estate magnate that prompted it – or a fairly common occurrence onto which was stapled a bit of 2016 rhetoric.

Trump’s response was newsworthy for how tone-deaf it was. It was also much more novel than the crime itself.

Heather Parton adds this:

Obviously these are bigots just looking for an excuse to beat people. But “movements” like the one Trump thinks he’s building tend to attract people like that, don’t they?

There is a very dark and dangerous side to Trump’s appeal. Yesterday he reiterated his earlier insistence that we have to “give power back to the police.” In his earlier comments he was referring to Black Lives Matter. Yesterday he was saying that the cops had to be given the ability to round up Latinos “very quickly” and deport them.

I know that nobody thinks this creep has a chance. But doesn’t it worry anyone that millions of Republicans think this stuff is just great?

There is something a bit disquieting about someone who wants to be a national leader approving of citizen mobs going out and beating the crap out of undesirables, but something is spreading here:

Iowa conservative radio host Jan Mickelson told listeners recently his idea to remove undocumented immigrants from Iowa – give them a deadline to leave and make them “property of the state” if they don’t.

Mickelson opened the Monday segment, which was flagged by Media Matters, by saying he had been asked by an “immigration open borders activist” how he would get all “the illegals” in Iowa to leave.

“‘Well how you going to do it, Mickelson?'” the radio show host said. “‘You think you’re so smart. How would you get thousands of illegals to leave Iowa?'”

He said he would “just put up some signs” that would give undocumented immigrants a deadline – perhaps “30 to 60” days – to leave. If they didn’t, he said, they’d become “property of the state” and be placed in “compelled labor.”

And they’d build Trump’s Wall on our southern border:

Mickelson said on his show that, under his plan, the “illegal Mexicans” and the “illegal aliens” will build it.

“We’re going to invite the illegal Mexicans and illegal aliens to build it. If you have come across the border illegally, again give them another 60-day guideline, you need to go home and leave this jurisdiction, and if you don’t you become property of the United States, and guess what? You will be building a wall,” he said. “We will compel your labor. You would belong to these United States. You show up without an invitation, you get to be an asset. You get to be a construction worker. Cool!”

A caller phoned to the program and said that Mickelson’s plan sounded like slavery. To which Mickelson responded, “What’s wrong with slavery?”

And how are the Republicans going to win the Hispanic vote again? Margaret Hartmann sees it this way:

Donald Trump is truly the Republicans’ worst nightmare, and they aren’t worried about waking up to a nasty pinch. Buried in the immigration plan Trump released last weekend – amid forcing Mexico to pay for a wall on the border and decreasing legal immigration – was a brief proposal to “end birthright citizenship.” On Tuesday night Trump clashed with Bill O’Reilly when the Fox News host argued that deporting American children of undocumented immigrants violates the 14th Amendment, which was adopted in 1868. “I don’t think they have American citizenship, and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers – some would disagree. But many of them agree with me – you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship,” Trump said. “We have to start a process where we take back our country. Our country is going to hell. We have to start a process, Bill, where we take back our country.”

Trump added that he wouldn’t pursue a Constitutional amendment (that “would take too long,” duh), but he said he intends to “find out whether or not anchor babies are citizens” by testing the law in the courts.

Ah, those anchor babies:

Someone who swore off political news just after the 2012 election, when Republicans were fretting about Mitt Romney’s poor showing among Hispanic voters, might assume that the party took this opportunity to woo Latinos by declaring Trump had finally gone too far. However, about half of the GOP’s 2016 candidates actually back Trump’s war on “anchor babies” and the 14th Amendment.

In the past few days, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Ben Carson said they agree with Trump. Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz had already registered their opposition to birthright citizenship, and Cruz thanked Trump in an interview this week, saying, “I welcome Donald Trump articulating this view.” Chris Christie said last week that the issue needs to be “reexamined,” adding that birthright citizenship “may have made sense at some point in our history, but right now, we need to re-look at all that.”

Even Jeb Bush, who famously called illegal immigration an “act of love,” tacked to the right. While he called birthright citizenship a “constitutionally protected right” and said he does not support revoking it, he used tougher language on immigration in a radio interview with Bill Bennett on Wednesday. “If there’s fraud or if there’s abuse, if people are bringing, pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement,” Bush said. “That’s the legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.”

NBC’s Suzanne Gamboa is not impressed:

Any GOP hope that time would ease the sting many Latinos felt when Donald Trump opened his campaign by deriding Mexicans may have been quashed by Jeb Bush and his use of the term “anchor babies,” which drew swift criticism from many in the community. … Trump has used the term as well, giving more fodder to Democrats.

“From the depths of my heart, I look at someone like Jeb Bush, who really should know better and that all I can think of is the Spanish term, sinvergüenza, which means somebody who is completely without shame to attack children this way,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Sanchez, the daughter of immigrants from Mexico, pointed out that her parents had seven children in the U.S., including two who are serving in the U.S. Congress and are “law abiding and tax paying.”

Like other children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents, “I’m a citizen of the United States. Does that make me an anchor baby?” asked Sanchez, D-Calif.

The term is basically an insult, but, like “nigger” perhaps, to some, useful shorthand:

Bush, whose wife is from Mexico and has children who were born here, said he didn’t regret using the term on a radio show. He explained that he didn’t use it as his own language, but said “it’s commonly referred to that.”

“Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I’ll use it,” he said when asked if the term was bombastic. When it was suggested he say children of undocumented immigrants, he said that was too many words.

Trump who was questioned about using the term at a town hall had a similar response, when asked if knew the term is offensive. “You mean politically correct and everybody uses it,” Trump said and then asked for another term.

He didn’t want to use the longer description of American-born children of undocumented immigrants.

He prefers the compact insult to the longer more descriptive term. He must think it’s a good thing the niggers settled on “black” – because African-American is seven damned syllables.

At least Jeb Bush gets the concept:

In response to a question about the 14th Amendment, which allows children born in the United States to become citizens regardless of the legal status of their parents, Mr. Bush said, “The courts have ruled that it’s part of the 14th Amendment of our Constitution and my belief is that it ought to stay that way, that this is part of our noble heritage.”

Then he mentioned Senators Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba, and Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban-born father, to buttress his point.

“Now if people are here legally, they have a visa, and they have a child who’s born here, I think that they ought to be American citizens,” he said. “People like Marco Rubio, by the way, that’s how he came. You know. So, to suggest that we make it impossible for a talented person like that not to be a candidate for president – or Ted Cruz. I mean, I think we’re getting a little overboard here, and we’re listening to the emotion rather than to the reality of this.”

That may be the whole point, as Kevin Drum notes:

Right now, Donald Trump appeals primarily to voters who are just plain angry and want a president who’s willing to call a spade a spade. Still, these voters are also conservatives. They like Trump’s stand on immigration and political correctness and taking away all the oil from ISIS. But what are they going to do when they find out that Trump has an awful lot of liberal views? I’m not talking about stuff he said years ago and has since changed his mind about. I’m talking about views he’s advocated in the past couple of months.

That would be these:

He thinks affirmative action is okay.

He would fund Planned Parenthood except for abortion. (This is current federal policy, though Trump doesn’t seem to know it.)

He supports a progressive income tax. He does not favor a flat tax.

He doesn’t believe you should be able to fire someone just for being gay.

He doesn’t want to cut Social Security or Medicare.

He’s in favor of a ban on assault weapons.

He invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to his wedding.

He doesn’t “fully” believe in supply-side economics.

He wants to “lead from behind” on Ukraine. Trump believes that Germany should take the lead on Ukraine.

He hates the Iran deal, but he wouldn’t abrogate it after taking office.

This is odd:

Even one or two of these would sink any other Republican candidate – but ten? Even if Trump’s appeal is mostly based on bluster and affinity politics, how long can he last before his fans begin to wonder just how conservative he really is?

That may not be an issue as long as his fans can get together with their friends to go out and beat the crap out of some hapless undesirable, because they’re patriots, passionate about making their country great again, and do that with the tacit permission of a new national leader – not to say that Donald Trump is inciting that. He’s just calling as spade a spade, even if that term has racial overtones too. What happens next is not his business, unless it is.

Posted in Anchor Babies, Inciting Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


The past recedes in a pleasant haze. There’s an old song on the radio that brings back memories, but only good memories, if they are memories. Most people remember what should have happened, or might have happened – the good stuff. No one wants to remember the bad stuff, so they don’t, and if asked what was going on in a specific year, they can’t remember a thing – unless it’s 1968 – the year that rocked the world and all that. All the other years are a blur. What happened when? Take 1994 for example. What happened that year?

That’s where lists are useful – Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the right leg by a guy under orders from Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, which seemed to matter a whole lot at the time. NAFTA went into effect too. And we had a monster earthquake out here in Los Angeles. Seventy-seven people died. Kurt Cobain also died that year. So did Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan announced he had Alzheimer’s. The Channel Tunnel opened. OJ Simpson may have murdered his wife. We invaded Haiti. Newt Gingrich led the Republicans in taking control of both the House and Senate in the midterms that year. For the first time in forty years the Republicans had complete control of Congress, and George W. Bush was elected Governor of Texas. Something was up – and in March, in London, Ontario, Justin Bieber was born.

That was an odd year, but memory is selective. Others would choose other items from that list – and others have. Some remember what happened on September 13, 1994 – President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 into law. Joe Biden, the senior senator from Delaware back then, wrote the thing. He’s thinking of running for president now. Hillary Clinton, the first lady back then, was all for the bill, and she is running for president now – and the past is coming back to haunt her, as it will haunt Biden if he pulls the trigger and runs.

It has to haunt them. This is an albatross. This legislation funded nearly ten billion dollars for building giant new prisons all across America, and they were built, and filled. The bill also strictly forbids any federal educational funding for inmates – no more learning anything behind bars on the taxpayers’ dime. If you ever were released from prison you’d leave as uninformed and useless as the day they locked you up – and the Act also funded the hiring of one hundred thousand new police officers all across America, as fast as possible, no questions asked – and it added forty-one new capital crimes, new reasons the government could put you to death. It did have a strict ban on assault weapons, but that’s expired. No politician, Democrat or Republican, dares move to restore that ban – the NRA would end their political career right then and there. The Act did require the Department of Justice to issue an annual report on “the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers” – but no such reports have ever been issued. No one complained. Until recently, no one wanted to hear it. Some still don’t.

Some do. The use of excessive force by law enforcement officers has gotten out of hand – and we do have the highest incarceration rate in the world, and the bulk of those locked up are minorities, mainly black, and a whole lot of them are doing hard time for non-violent crimes – and this one bit of legislation set it all up and funded it. That matters to these people:

Black Lives Matter is a grassroots activist movement in the United States that began in the wake of the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. The Black Lives Matter movement campaigns against what it calls police brutality against African Americans in the United States. The group received fresh impetus from the 2014 deaths of two unarmed African Americans, teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City; in both cases the grand jury did not indict the officers and no charges were brought. Several unarmed African Americans who died at the hands of law enforcement have had their deaths protested by the movement, including Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray (whose death sparked the 2015 Baltimore protests). Numerous media organizations have referred to it as “a new civil rights movement.”

The movement was co-founded by three black activists: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Although the three run a stable website and organization, the overall Black Lives Matter movement is a decentralized network, and has no formal hierarchy or structure. The movement reached national awareness with the protests and unrest in Ferguson in August 2014, although Garza, Cullors and Tometi were not initially involved in those events.

The shooting of Walter Scott by a white policeman was recorded by a bystander, who contacted a local activist involved with Black Lives Matter; they, in turn, contacted Scott’s family to take possession of the video. Soon after the video was released to the public, the officer was arrested and charged with murder. The case is pending.

The movement may have no formal hierarchy or structure but those three words – Black Lives Matter – have become a rallying cry for everyone across American except for angry white Republicans and employees of Fox News. Those three words are on the walls in our cities, and that led to this:

Last week, Hillary Clinton met with five Black Lives Matter activists who were denied entry to her town hall in Keene, New Hampshire. The at-times tense, 15-minute discussion centered on her family’s role in shaping criminal justice policies – specifically her advocacy for the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which her husband signed into law – and what needs to happen next.

On Monday night, GOOD Magazine published video of the exchange, which heated up when the presidential candidate suggested that the movement needed to focus on specific policy goals, not changing hearts. “I think that there has to be a reckoning, I agree with that, but I also believe there has to be some kind of positive vision and plan that you can move people toward,” Clinton said.

In subsequent media interviews, protesters Daunasia Yancey and Julius Jones, the founders of Black Lives Matter chapters in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, respectively, said that they were looking for a “personal reflection” from Clinton on her specific role advocating for policies that lead to the mass incarceration of black and brown individuals, not just a reflection on failed policies. They also disagreed with the Democratic front-runner’s belief that you can’t change people’s hearts.

“This unwillingness to ‘change hearts’ is really an unwillingness to look at white supremacist violence for what it is, which is bigotry at its core,” Jones said Tuesday during an interview with Yahoo News.

She has her albatross, and Andrew Prokop has more on this meeting:

When Hillary Clinton met with Black Lives Matter activists last week, she told them, “I don’t believe you change hearts. You change laws.” And this wasn’t just an offhand remark – it was a frank explanation of Clinton’s fundamental approach to politics.

Deep in her bones, Clinton is a pragmatist. She has little patience for lofty ideals if they’re not paired with achievable, specific next steps for policy change. It’s an approach that has long animated her politics – from college and law school to the 2008 presidential campaign, she’s continually argued that pragmatism is crucial to achieving progressive change. If you want to actually help people and solve problems, she says, you have to focus on practicalities.

Yet her critics fear that her approach could merely be a cloak for self-advancement – a typical politician’s excuse for not doing enough, for taking only half-measures, or for selling out when deeper change is needed.

For Clinton’s campaign to benefit from an enthusiastic and committed left, she’ll have to convince them that they’re wrong.

That’ll take some doing, but she did tell these folks this:

Activists should unite around a specific policy agenda: “What you’re doing as activists and as people who are constantly raising these issues is really important. So I applaud and thank you for that. I really do. Because we can’t get change unless there’s constant pressure. But now, the next step – so, you know, part of you need to keep the pressure on, and part of you need to figure out, what do we do now? How are we going to do it? … There has to be a reckoning. I agree with that. But I also think there has to be some positive vision and plan that you can move people toward.”

We should focus on changing laws, not just hearts: “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential.”

Ideas for change need to be sold to the American people: “The next question by people who are on the sidelines, which is the vast majority of Americans, is, ‘So, what do you want me to do about it? What am I supposed to do about it?’ That’s what I’m trying to put together in a way that I can explain it and I can sell it, because in politics if you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on the shelf.”

Prokop goes on to explain that even when she was Hillary Rodham, in college and law school, she “repeatedly positioned herself as the person who’d bring idealistic activists down to earth, and make them focus on specifics.” She wanted to get things done. That’s why she exploded at Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign:

Now I could stand up here and say “Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified. The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing. And everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.” Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be.

She was serious. She’s a practical person. But then there’s 1994 and how cold practical pragmatism seems:

Clinton herself says she was just trying to help. “There was a very serious crime wave that was impacting primarily communities of color and poor people,” she told the activists. “So you know, you could argue that people who were trying to address that – including my husband, when he was president – were responding to the very real concerns of people in the communities themselves.”

But there’s a common concern on the left that Clinton has long been too willing to back policies they see as deeply misguided – from a “tough on crime” agenda to the Iraq War to helping Wall Street – to advance her own political career. Under this interpretation, the language of “pragmatism” is merely used to obscure that true purpose.

If she hopes to have anywhere near as much progressive enthusiasm as Barack Obama did, she has to convince liberals of her sincerity, and hope that policy specifics are what they truly want. “You can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it you may actually change some hearts,” she told the Black Lives Matter activists. But without policy change, she said, “we’ll be back here in ten years having the same conversation.”

Do you want to fix the problem or change hearts? The former can be done. The latter is unlikely, and you’ll never know if you do change hearts – nothing can be verified. Do they smile more?

Dara Lind has more:

The crux of the conflict is this: The activists see the 1994 crime bill, and the “tough-on-crime” agenda more generally, as “extensions of white supremacist violence against communities of color.” Clinton agrees with them that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed, but refuses to accept that characterization of the bill.

At first, she characterizes it as something that made sense at the time but might not make sense anymore – a position her husband has also taken in offering a partial apology for signing the bill.

But when one activist associates the bill with a project of “white supremacist violence,” Clinton buckles. She takes it as a statement about intent – that laws like the 1994 crime bill were deliberately passed out of malice toward black communities. And so she counters that she and her husband were deeply concerned about black victims of crime, and were simply acting out of a desire to protect them…

In fact, that does make some sense:

Many black Americans, including black leaders, welcomed “tough-on-crime” policies as a way to protect their communities. A majority of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the 1986 law that created the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. And in 1994, it was the CBC that saved President Clinton’s crime bill after an unexpected loss on a procedural vote.

This is a history that’s been largely forgotten – partly because many of these leaders regret their positions now or – like former Rep. Kweisi Mfume – deny that they supported the bill at all. And in fairness, there was plenty of black opposition to tough-on-crime policies. There are probably good questions to ask about who is trusted to speak for black communities, and whether black leaders felt politically pressured to denounce the crime in their midst as a condition of being taken seriously.

But they certainly weren’t white supremacists. Clinton was correct. Yet it’s not clear that she was answering the right question.

But the “right question” is illusive:

The problem is that the conversation isn’t clear whether “extension of white supremacist violence” is about the intent of these policies or their consequences. This is a common problem with discussion of racism: Structural racism isn’t about feelings in individuals’ hearts – it’s about systems and outcomes. But it’s easy to slip from talking about systems to talking about people, and that’s what happened here.

Personally, I think the intent simply doesn’t matter. Clinton herself said, “You don’t change hearts. You change laws.” What matters is the external reality, not the feelings of the people who create it; caring about people will not save you from making policy choices that will hurt them. And – especially with hindsight – it’s possible to see that the consequences of the 1994 crime bill, as well as the tough-on-crime laws it encouraged states to pass or keep, were part of a system that has created widespread immiseration in black America.

Those consequences may have been intended or unintended. But people often confuse “unintended consequences” and “collateral damage” – and the damage done by the bill wasn’t collateral. By 1994, the crime wave had already peaked; the crime rate was starting a quarter-century of decline. Increased incarceration is responsible for a small fraction of that – but by 1994, the people being put in prison, on the margin, had long since stopped being the people who posed a serious threat. The suffering caused by the bill wasn’t a caveat; it was the primary consequence of its passage.

Kevin Drum isn’t so sure of that:

There’s an important point here, one that I became more deeply aware of when I wrote about childhood lead poisoning and violent crime a couple of years ago. Here it is: there really was a huge crime wave in the 70s and 80s. And it wasn’t uncommon for liberals to downplay this at the time, something that turned out to be a political disaster for liberalism. That’s because the crime wave wasn’t a myth, and it wasn’t made up. Rape, assault, and murder skyrocketed far above their previous highs, and inner-city neighborhoods in particular were especially hard hit. This is the reason that so many black leaders supported tough-on-crime bills of various sorts.

And while Lind is right that violent crime had peaked and was starting a long descent by 1994, no one knew it at the time. The peak had happened only a couple of years before, and there was no reason to think that a small drop in a single year or two was significant. So it’s not right to say that the people being put in prison in 1994 had “long since” stopped posing a threat. They posed a plenty big threat, and literally everyone who studied crime at the time thought they’d continue to do so for years. At the time, there was simply no reason to think that violent crime was about to plummet.

And there’s chemistry:

Now, everyone knows my take on this: both the rise and subsequent fall of violent crime was largely due to childhood lead poisoning caused by lead paint and leaded gasoline. Tough-on-crime measures, it turns out, probably didn’t contribute much to the fall in crime during the 90s and aughts. But again, at the time no one knew this. In 1994 no one had even an inkling that lead might be the culprit for high crime rates.

This in no way takes race out of the crime picture. It just explains it – black crime really did soar during the crime wave, and the reason was simple: black families lived disproportionately in inner cities, where both lead paint and exhaust fumes from cars were rife. Racism is behind this everywhere. Blacks lived in these neighborhoods in the first place largely because of redlining and racial animus. The neighborhoods then became worse because politicians built highways through them (the richer, whiter communities fought them tooth and nail). And they were never cleaned up because no one wanted to spend money on them. Paint and automobile lead poisoned black kids at a higher rate than white kids, and the result was higher black crime rates.

No one knew this at the time. And in a way, it didn’t matter. Even if we had known that lead was responsible, it wouldn’t have changed anything. Once the damage was done, it was done. And no matter what caused it, nobody wanted to let rapists and murderers roam the streets.

That’s what he remembers about 1994, and then there’s this:

Lind suggests that intent doesn’t matter. Something is racist if it has racist consequences. But I think you have to be pretty careful about that. Lind is right that, whether racially inspired or not, it’s important to face structural racism clearly and work relentlessly to overcome it. Nonetheless, intent does matter. Calling someone racist does nothing except make matters worse unless they really do have racist intent.

So was the 1994 crime bill racist in intent? No. Lots of black leaders, including black mayors who faced rising crime rates daily, supported it. Violent crime really was a huge problem – and it really was especially severe in black communities. Nobody at the time knew that lead might be the culprit for this, so they had to address it as best they could, given what they believed. So they did. The 1994 crime bill was not a white supremacist project. It was a crime bill.

One should be fair about this:

Hillary has defended her support of the 1994 crime bill given what she knew at the time, but she has also proposed criminal justice reforms that make it clear she has learned and has changed her mind. If those reforms are insufficient, fine. Fight for more. But both Clintons have made it clear that their views on crime have changed. There’s simply no excuse for pretending that either one of them was involved in a conspiracy of “white supremacist violence” against black communities.

Ah, but memory is selective, isn’t it? People remember what should have happened, or might have happened, or what they thought happened, when none of it did. People screwed up in 1994, when they were only trying to fix things. Major damage was done. It’s time to get to work and undo the damage, and write off that whole year as a mistake, including Justin Bieber.

Posted in Black Lives Matter, Clinton Crime Bill, Hillary Clinton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment