Reliving the Thirties

When times are tough people look for someone who will make things all better, someone who will knock a few heads together and get things done, not like useless fools now in power, who got us into this mess – and there were no times tougher than the thirties. The Great Depression was a worldwide depression, and there weren’t a lot of strong leaders around – but there were a few. The word was that, say what you will about Mussolini, at least, over there, the trains ran on time. That wasn’t quite true – not that it mattered. The idea was that even if he was an awful man, Mussolini cut through the crap and got things done. Italy was recovering from the Great Depression. We were not. He was a strong leader.

Charles Lindbergh felt the same way about Hitler. After the kidnapping and murder of their son, he and his wife moved to Europe for a time, and Lindbergh attended a few Nazi rallies. These folks had their act together, and as one of the many isolationists here at the time, he saw no reason we should go fight them:

Upon Lindbergh’s return to the States, he agitated for neutrality with Germany, and testified before Congress in opposition to the Lend-Lease policy, which offered cash and military aid to countries friendly to the United States in their war effort against the Axis powers. His public denunciation of “the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt Administration” – as instigators of American intervention in the war – as well as comments that smacked of anti-Semitism – lost him the support of other isolationists. When, in 1941, President Roosevelt denounced Lindbergh publicly, the aviator resigned from the Air Corps Reserve.

We eventually forgave him. Jimmy Stewart played him in a movie – but the thirties had been like that. People were enamored with the idea of a strong leader who would cut through all the crap and get something done – anything – even if that leader was a murderous psychopath like Hitler or a buffoon like Mussolini. Times were tough. It took years, but mostly another World War, to straighten out all of this. Mussolini should have been laughed off the world stage. Many expected that, but Mussolini was impervious to his own buffoonery.

ThinkProgress reports that so is Donald Trump:

After his now-famous comments deriding the war record of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) last weekend, Donald Trump was supposed to be toast. NBC’s First Read asked if this was a “tipping point.” “Trump GOP Candidacy Blows Up” … a Weekly Standard headline. “DON VOYAGE: Trump is toast after insult,” proclaimed the front page of the New York Post. “Trump is toast,” the conservative magazine Commentary put it simply.

He’s “not running a real campaign,” according to Rick Wilson, and in fact, “the Donald Trump candidacy is almost over.” The Huffington Post re-categorized Trump news into their entertainment section.

“Trump will continue to be loud and defiant,” ABC’s Rick Klein said, “but he will cease being relevant long before votes are cast.” Mitt Romney tweeted, “The difference between Sen. John McCain and Donald Trump: Trump shot himself down.”

“It’s still a great question how this Republican nomination race will sort out once this Trump nonsense ends,” wrote National Journal’s Charlie Cook. The establishment reaction to Trump’s McCain comments “will probably mark the moment when Trump’s candidacy went from boom to bust,” according to the New York Times.

They were all wrong:

Trump continues to surge in the polls, with a CNN-ORC poll finding he continues to lead the field nationwide at 18 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 15 percent and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 10 percent. The rest of the field was in single digits. Beyond the 18 percent giving him their support, well over half of white evangelicals, conservatives, and Tea Party supporters want him to remain in the race. Trump has now led five out of the last five national polls.

One NBC News-Marist poll found that Trump led the GOP field in New Hampshire with 21 percent support – Bush followed with 14 percent and Walker at 12 percent. The other 14 candidates were in the single digits.

Another poll in Iowa showed Trump almost tied with Walker’s lead position there – 17 percent for Trump and 19 for Walker. Bush trailed at 12 percent and the rest of the field in single digits. The Iowa poll was conducted before and after Trump’s comments about McCain – in New Hampshire his support and favorability rating dropped after the comments while in Iowa they actually increased.

This item also mentions that a survey of early-state GOP “insiders” conducted by Politico found that three-quarters of respondents thought Trump had peaked – so everyone was wrong – and everyone made adjustments:

Some candidates have lashed out at Trump while others have taken a “well if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee recently said Trump was “fascinating” and “sort of unfiltered in a way that’s refreshing.” In fact, Huckabee said, perhaps Huckabee was Trump before Trump was Trump. “I’ll be honest with you, a lot of the things that he’s saying, those are things that, in many ways, I’ve been saying those for eight years.”

For his part, Trump explains his surge as being larger than himself.

“This is more than me,” he said on CNN. “This is a movement going on. People are tired of these incompetent politicians in Washington who can’t get anything done.”

That sounds familiar, but Amber Phillips in the Washington Post says this may not be a big deal:

Republicans are in the midst of a primary battle with an unprecedented number of candidates (16!) and no clear leader. In fact, the 2016 Republican field is the most fractured in recent memory. Nasty primary battles are never a great time for any party. On top of all that, Republicans are dealing with Trumpmania.

The real estate magnate’s improbable and inescapable presidential campaign has clearly tapped into a small but fervent anti-Washington sentiment (a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found about 14 percent of the population supports Trump’s run for president).

But for obvious reasons, Trump is incredibly divisive: That same poll found 61 percent of Americans would never, ever consider voting for Trump under any circumstances.

Trump is going nowhere, but David Atkins isn’t so sure:

Phillips’ argument strikes me as a case of wishful thinking with precious little evidence behind it. Yes, the Republican Party has become too extreme for the general public; yes, Donald Trump and Tea Party candidates only have the support of the angriest conservative voters in the country; yes, primary battles are difficult.

But none of those facts, singly or collectively, signals that Republicans are dismayed at their own party because it has gotten too extreme. Rather, the enormous burst of base support for Donald Trump is simply yet another piece in a long trail of evidence from the ouster of Eric Cantor to the formation of the Tea Party itself that the Republican base feels that its establishment wing isn’t nearly extreme enough.

That seems to be the situation:

Fervently nativist Republicans, having found in Trump a voice that actually speaks for them and represents their interests, have grown disgusted with the establishment Republicans whom they regard as in hock to what they call the “cheap labor” big business crowd. It may have escaped the notice of most pundits, but even before Trump’s candidacy many base Republicans were already seething at the party’s corporate-friendly, anti-American-jobs stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership…

As usual, there’s just no reason to believe the conventional wisdom here. Republicans probably aren’t upset with their own party because it has become too extreme and too much like Donald Trump. In all likelihood it’s the other way around.

Atkins also adds this:

Witness the spectacle of Mike Huckabee this morning claiming that the negotiated deal with Iran would constitute President Obama marching “Israelis to the door of the oven.” Even by modern Republican standards that sort of rhetoric is a bridge too far. But it’s the sort of thing a Republican presidential aspirant has to say these days to get attention and support from the Republican base.

Or consider Rick Perry today, whose brilliant solution to mass shootings is for us to all “take our guns to the movie theaters.” As if the proper response to suicidal mass murderers using guns as the easiest, deadliest and most readily available tool to inflict mayhem is to arm every man, woman and child in the hope that the shooter dies slightly more quickly in the crossfire of a dark auditorium. Even as other moviegoers settle their disputes over cell phone texting with deadly gun violence.

Under normal circumstances these sorts of statements would be a death knell for presidential candidates. But these are not normal times. The Republican Party is locked into an autocatalytic cycle of increasing and self-reinforcing extremism.

There’s a reason for that. Tough times, like the thirties:

The blue-collar white males who make up the GOP base are struggling more and more as business-friendly trickle-down economic policies continue to rob them of their economic security – but their inherent racism, sexism and distrust of government leads them to inherently reject reasonable liberal solutions in the fear that someone they don’t like might get a “handout” with their tax dollars. Hardcore political Republican partisans are slowly realizing that they no longer hold a silent majority in the country if they ever did, that every passing year demographic change makes their electoral prospects increasingly difficult, and that only a combination of gerrymandering, small-state-favoritism and accidental geographic political self-selection allows them to hold onto the House and Senate for now. And conservatives of all stripes can feel the ground shift underneath them irrevocably as liberals continue to win battles on social issues even as unfiltered left-leaning economic populism becomes increasingly mainstream.

Unwilling and unable to moderate their positions, the Republican base has assumed a pose of irredentist defiance, an insurgent war against perceived liberal orthodoxy in which the loudest, most aggressive warrior becomes their favorite son. It is this insurgent stance that informs their hardline views on guns: many of them see a day coming when their nativist, secessionist political insurgency may become an active military insurgency, and they intend to be armed to the teeth in the event that they deem it necessary. The GOP electorate isn’t choosing a potential president: they’re choosing a rebel leader. The Republican base doesn’t intend to go down compromising. They intend to go down fighting.

That’s why Donald Trump is so popular. That’s why the Republican Party’s brand is weak even among conservatives – because it’s too extreme for everyone else, but not extreme enough for them.

Jeffrey Tucker in Newsweek makes the obvious connection:

I just heard Trump speak live. The speech lasted an hour, and my jaw was on the floor most of the time. I’ve never before witnessed such a brazen display of nativist jingoism, along with a complete disregard for economic reality. It was an awesome experience, a perfect repudiation of all good sense and intellectual sobriety.

Yes, he is against the establishment, against existing conventions. It also serves as an important reminder: As bad as the status quo is, things could be worse. Trump is dedicated to taking us there.

His speech was like an interwar séance of once-powerful dictators who inspired multitudes, drove countries into the ground and died grim deaths.

All it takes is “failed economies, cultural upheaval and social instability” and someone “stoking the fires of bourgeois resentment” and you get Trump, and something else:

Since World War II, the ideology he represents has usually lived in dark corners, and we don’t even have a name for it anymore. The right name, the correct name, the historically accurate name, is fascism. I don’t use that word as an insult only. It is accurate.

Though hardly anyone talks about it today, we really should. It is still real. It exists. It is distinct. It is not going away. Trump has tapped into it, absorbing unto his own political ambitions every conceivable resentment (race, class, sex, religion, economic) and promising a new order of things under his mighty hand.

You would have to be hopelessly ignorant of modern history not to see the outlines and where they end up. I want to laugh about what he said, like reading a comic-book version of Franco, Mussolini or Hitler.

But this isn’t a comic book:

Of course, race baiting is essential to the ideology, and there was plenty of that. When a Hispanic man asked a question, Trump interrupted him and asked if he had been sent by the Mexican government. He took it a step further, dividing blacks from Hispanics by inviting a black man to the microphone to tell how his own son was killed by an illegal immigrant.

Because Trump is the only one who speaks this way, he can count on support from the darkest elements of American life. He doesn’t need to actually advocate racial homogeneity, call for whites-only signs to be hung at immigration control or push for expulsion or extermination of undesirables. Because such views are verboten, he has the field alone, and he can count on the support of those who think that way by making the right noises.

But he’s really about business. He’s rich – really rich. That settles matters:

What do capitalists on his level do? They beat the competition. What does he believe he should do as president? Beat the competition, which means other countries, which means wage a trade war. If you listen to him, you would suppose that the United States is in some sort of massive, epochal struggle for supremacy with China, India, Malaysia and pretty much everyone else in the world.

It takes a bit to figure out what this could mean. He speaks of the United States as if it were one thing, one single firm – a business. “We” are in competition with “them,” as if the country was IBM competing against Samsung, Apple or Dell. “We” are not 300 million people pursuing unique dreams and ideas, with special tastes or interests, cooperating with people around the world to build prosperity. “We” are doing one thing, and that is being part of one business.

In effect, he believes that he is running to be the CEO of the country – not just of the government… In this capacity, he believes that he will make deals with other countries that cause the United States to come out on top, whatever that could mean. He conjures up visions of himself or one of his associates sitting across the table from some Indian or Chinese leader and making wild demands that they will buy such and such amount of product, or else “we” won’t buy “their” product. He fantasizes about placing phone calls to “Saudi Arabia,” the country, and telling “it” what he thinks about oil prices.

Maybe it is a comic book after all, but not a funny one:

These people are all the same. They purport to be populists, while loathing the decisions people actually make in the marketplace (such as buying Chinese goods or hiring Mexican employees).

Oh, how they love the people, and how they hate the establishment. They defy all civic conventions. Their ideology is somehow organic to the nation, not a wacky import like socialism. They promise a new era based on pride, strength, heroism, triumph. They have an obsession with the problem of trade and mercantilist belligerence at the only solution. They have zero conception of the social order as a complex and extended ordering of individual plans, one that functions through freedom.

This is a dark history, and I seriously doubt that Trump himself is aware of it. Instead, he just makes it up as he goes along, speaking from his gut, just like Uncle Harry at Thanksgiving dinner, just like two guys at the bar during last call.

Still, Tucker is hopeful:

My own prediction is that the political exotica he represents will not last. It’s a moment in time. The thousands who attend his rallies and scream their heads off will head home and return to enjoying movies, smartphones and mobile apps from all over the world, partaking in the highest standard of living experienced in the whole of human history, granted courtesy of the global market economy in which no one rules. We will not go back.

Salon’s Conor Lynch isn’t so sure about that:

The thing is that his style – full of race baiting, xenophobia and belligerent nationalism – is not unique to Trump; he is simply the most blatant and vocal about it. There’s a reason he’s leading in the GOP polls: the party’s base likes what he’s saying. The people are angry about illegal immigrants murdering white women (anyone who has followed Bill O’Reilly over the past week knows what I’m talking about), homosexuals destroying the tradition of marriage, and so on. Much like fascism reacted to modernity and social progress in the early 20th century, right-wingers are reacting angrily to social progress of the new century. (Of course, there has been no economic progress, which is why the left is also angry.)

So is the GOP becoming the new fascist party? That might be an exaggeration, but it does share many similar features, and Trump, with his demagogic style, is simply exposing how very similar the passions of the GOP base are to the passions of fascism of the early 20th century.

That may seem farfetched, but here’s Lynch’s argument:

Overall, however, the GOP has a pretty straightforward idea of its platform. Like fascism, tradition is holy – the tradition of marriage, family values, Christian ideals. Controversy over the confederate flag has also been based largely on tradition – a tradition that the South cannot give up. Another similarity is its belligerence. After news of the Iran deal agreement came out last week, the GOP faithful were outraged that America would actually practice diplomacy with an Islamic country in the Middle East. … The GOP alternative would indeed be military force, as it has been many times before. …

Beyond these values, the GOP tends to preach and practice intolerance, xenophobia, nationalism and anti-democratic values (i.e., voter suppression). In many ways, the GOP is anti-enlightenment, and embraces passion over reason. The dangerous denial of climate change and other scientific facts seems to come out of the corrupt alliance of anti-intellectual traditionalism and corporate influence (i.e., oil and gas).

And that completes the argument:

Giovanni Gentile, the “philosopher of fascism” and ghostwriter for Mussolini, said of the definition of fascism in the Encyclopedia of Italiana: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” This definition may very well fit the GOP ideology: a kind of corporate fascism, where large corporations have the ultimate power; where the politicians spew a hateful, intolerant ideology based on “traditional” values, on a platform funded by corporate interests, elected by the people to serve those very corporate interests; and deny environmental degradation because it would be unprofitable for the funders to do anything about it, using the anti-intellectual hostility to convince the people that it is nothing more than a left-wing conspiracy.

Donald Trump is no doubt a wealthy buffoon – but he is a buffoon who understands the underlying passions of the GOP base. Fascist leaders also understood these passions, and knew how to exploit them for political gain. These passions may seem irrational, but they should not be underestimated.

This is serious stuff, but there is the buffoonery:

As Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign lurches from one controversy to another, the real estate mogul on Friday gained the support of a widely-recognized celebrity with experience in international diplomacy: NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman.

Rodman tweeted his support to his “great” friend’s campaign for the White House.

“@realDonaldTrump has been a great friend for many years. We don’t need another politician; we need a businessman like Mr. Trump! Trump 2016,” the tweet reads.

The context:

Rodman made his reality TV debut on Trump’s NBC show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” in 2013, but their friendship extended outside the boardroom after he famously played diplomat that year by visiting North Korea and meeting with dictator Kim Jong Un.

Back then, Trump praised Rodman’s trip, calling the basketball player “smart.”

“Dennis is not a stupid guy. He’s smart in many ways; he’s very street-wise,” he told Fox News.

“You look at the world – the world is blowing up around us. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have,” Trump added.

There were Rodman’s trips to North Korea – he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and later said Kim was “a friend for life” and suggested that President Obama “pick up the phone and call” Kim since the two leaders were basketball fans. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have?

One does think of the thirties, or actually the decade before, when a young Ernest Hemingway was a European stringer for The Toronto Daily Star. On January 27, 1923, the Star published his “Mussolini: Biggest Bluff in Europe” containing this:

The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press. Everybody came. We all crowded into the room. Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering dictator. Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to give. And he remained absorbed in his book. Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents. As we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up from the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration…

I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary – held upside down.

Things haven’t changed since then. The parallels are a bit unnerving.

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Changing Lanes

There used to be a crosswalk near a park in South Pasadena that generated a lot of income for the city. A few days a week a patrol car would be parked nearby, and one of the local cops, dressed as a civilian, would stand on the curb, and as a likely looking car slowed for the crosswalk, and the driver looked each way to see if anyone was about to cross the street, that cop would just stand there – and as the car moved on, he’d simply put one foot in the street at the very last moment. That parked patrol car was on your bumper in an instant. You’d get an expensive ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian at a crosswalk, and the locals knew this and avoided that stretch of road. Others, once they understood what was going on, would play games with that cop on the sidewalk. They’d come to a complete stop. The cop would stand still. They’d inch forward just a bit. The cop would move to step into the crosswalk – then the driver would hit the brakes and stop cold – the cop would pull his foot back – the driver would inch forward again, the cop would move his foot forward again, then the driver would stop cold again, and the cop would pull his foot back again. By this time you were both grinning – but you were going to get the ticket anyway. At least you could make the guy dance – but you were going to get the ticket anyway.

Everyone knows the cops always win. You pay the fine and move on. You certainly don’t get out of your car and get in the cop’s face – you might end up dead. You submit to the inevitable. Life is like that. Move on – but of course you’ll harbor a bit of rage. The trick is to swallow your rage, all of it, from every hour of every day, and to die peacefully in your sleep before the sheer mass of it makes you explode. If you’re driving through Waller County, Texas, and a cop, in a hurry flashes his lights and you move over to let him by, and he suddenly pulls you over for failing to use your turn signal to signal a lane change, you sit meekly, hands on the wheel where he can see them, making no sudden moves, and let him write you up. You thank him. Don’t thank him and he won’t like your attitude. Then you’ll really be in trouble. Everyone knows this.

Sandra Bland didn’t know this – she was pulled over in Waller County, Texas, on July 10, 2015, for failing to use her turn signal when she moved right to get out of that cop’s way – the same sort of trap those guys in South Pasadena set up long ago. Force people to get out of the way. Ticket those who don’t use their turn signal. But Sandra Bland, a twenty-eight-year old black woman, who had been a bit of a civil rights activist in Chicago, and a part of the Black Lives Matter campaign, thought this was bullshit – and said so – and she wouldn’t put out her cigarette. State trooper Brian Encinia didn’t like her attitude. He told her to get out of the car. She refused. He said he’d “light her up” with his Taser – so she ended up outside her car, on the ground, with his knee in her back. Encinia slammed her head in the ground a few times – it’s all on the dash-cam tape – but she was charged with assaulting a public servant. They took her to the county jail and placed her in a cell alone, because she was a “high risk” to others.

On Monday, July 13, 2015, they found Sandra Bland dead in her cell. Police said that she had hanged herself – their own autopsy eventually showed that, maybe. Results from a second, independent autopsy are pending. Texas and the FBI announced a joint investigation. Something odd was going on here. The Waller County district attorney’s office said that her death would be investigated as a possible murder – but a motion-activated camera outside her cell showed no recording in the hallway for ninety minutes before they found her dead. There’s not much to go on, other than she had an attitude. Encinia was placed on administrative duties for failing to follow proper traffic-stop procedures. Sandra Bland is still dead.

Heather Parton takes it from there:

The arrest and resultant death of Sandra Bland in Texas after a petty traffic stop has justifiably caught the imagination of the American public. The video of this young woman’s treatment at the hands of police – by all indications for failing to be verbally submissive – is terrifying. National reporters are shocked, and wondering just how something like this could happen in the good old USA.

But those of us who follow these stories all the time know very well that this sort of altercation happens every day in America and often results in tasering, physical violence and worse, as police officers demand total deference in both word and deed in their presence.

When citizens attempt to assert their rights, argue with officers or demand justification for being taken into custody, cops move to immediately establish their dominance and often physically force the citizen to comply, regardless of the pettiness of the alleged crime.

She then cites this:

If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you.

Parton:

That’s from an Op-Ed by a former police officer and current criminal justice professor by the name of Sunil Dutta. His argument is, of course, complete nonsense. Yes, on a practical level, knowing what we know about how police behave in this country, one would be wise to just try to get out of any dealings with a cop alive. Here’s a stop that ended with the police breaking a window and tasering a black male passenger inside the car while his kids screamed in the backseat. Here’s one in which the police thought a bike-riding black man (who happened to be a firefighter) was “throwing signs” at them. (He was just waving hello.) In the end, he got lucky. They only threatened to Taser him.

But I sure hope all those nice white conservatives who back this police behavior don’t have the misapprehension that the same thing couldn’t happen to them. This stop ended in violence between a police officer and a young white dad who was just disputing what the sign on the highway said. Here’s one with an elderly white woman who mouthed off to the cop when he stopped her for speeding. This one has disturbing parallels with the recent Walter Scott murder in South Carolina – a police officer shot a Taser in the back of a handcuffed suspect who was fleeing the scene. As with most Taser victims, she went down very hard and later died from the head injuries.

And there’s this:

A mentally ill woman who died after a stun gun was used on her at the Fairfax County jail in February was restrained with handcuffs behind her back, leg shackles and a mask when a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times, incident reports obtained by The Washington Post show.

Natasha McKenna initially cooperated with deputies, placed her hands through her cell door food slot and agreed to be handcuffed, the reports show. But McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax to seek help for her, then began trying to fight her way out of the cuffs, repeatedly screaming, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” the reports show.

Then, six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, arrived and placed a wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn’t bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser, enabling the other deputies to strap her into the chair, the reports show.

Parton notes that these are just the incidents that make it to videotape, bit it’s more than that:

This happens far more often to African-Americans, who are also stopped more often and taken into custody more often on bogus charges. But it can happen to anyone, even a privileged white male who naturally thinks that it’s okay to argue and otherwise interact with a cop because: rights. Well, we all have rights, in theory. In practice, in the presence of a police officer we have none.

That’s just the way it is:

The events of the last year, starting with Ferguson, have brought into sharp focus what some of us have been observing for years, and African-Americans and other people of color have been experiencing forever. Law enforcement in this country is dysfunctional. The Black Lives Matter movement and the national attention it has brought to the issue has finally awakened the press, the political establishment and, perhaps most important, the law enforcement community. But change isn’t going to come easily.

And there is the matter of who should change:

It’s stressful to be stopped by a cop, and we don’t always behave with perfect control when we feel we’re being treated unjustly. When we have mental and physical problems, we aren’t always able to properly follow orders. And yet it’s the citizens who are being told they must behave with perfect emotional control, lest they provoke the anger of officers, who are supposed to be professionals.

Well, forget that:

When police adopted the “broken windows” strategy of citing people for lane changes without signaling and the like, they lost focus on teaching de-escalation methods. They also lost interest in professionalism, patience and psychology as necessary tools in the police arsenal. In fact, they came to believe they only need loud voices, Tasers and guns (maybe in a pinch some body armor, Humvees and some tear gas). They certainly lost sight of the common sense understanding that authoritarian tactics are anathema to a free society.

Police officers have tough jobs, nobody disputes that. Our streets are flooded with guns, which police officers’ fiercest defenders don’t seem to care about. But to paraphrase “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, that’s what the great benefits, early retirement and generous pensions are for! They deserve everything they earn and more. But the fact that the job is tough does not mean they are entitled to make citizens grovel before them and offer them unquestioning obeisance.

In fact, it’s the other way around. It’s people like Sandra Bland who are entitled to their rights, which are guaranteed under the Constitution. None of us should have to give them up simply because we’re in the presence of an officer of the law. It was to protect us from exactly that sort of abuse that the founders wrote down the Bill of Rights in the first place.

The Bill of Rights, you say? Mark Joseph Stern looks into that:

The rules of Bland’s stop are dictated by the Fourth Amendment, which bars “unreasonable searches and seizures.” A traffic stop qualifies as a “seizure” of the person, so an officer can’t pull you over unless he has reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime. Here, Trooper Brian Encinia clearly had reasonable suspicion that Bland committed an offense: She changed lanes without a signal, in violation of Texas traffic law. Leaving aside the question of whether Encinia effectively forced Bland to change lanes (which she alleges in the video), the footage demonstrates that the trooper acted within the law when pulling her over.

Score one for the cops:

After detaining Bland, Encinia asked her to put out her cigarette, and Bland refused. Some outlets are reporting that Encinia arrested Bland for this refusal. But there is another reasonable interpretation of the exchange: Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette; Bland refused, on the grounds that she was in her own car; so Encinia asked her to exit her car in order to remove her excuse for continuing to smoke.

This interpretation keeps Encinia on the right side of the law. The trooper had every right to ask Bland to step out of her car: The Supreme Court has held that during a routine traffic stop, officers may ask drivers to exit their cars for the sake of safety, the idea being that an officer can more easily monitor someone who’s standing face to face than someone who’s inside a car. (In this light, it seems that Encinia probably had the right from the very beginning of the stop to expect Bland to comply with minor requests – like putting out a cigarette – that facilitated his ability to safely observe her during their interaction.) Encinia’s affidavit about the arrest says his order was made so that he could “conduct a safe traffic investigation,” which is legal.

Score two for the cops, but only two after Bland refuses Encinia’s request:

Encinia says gruffly, “Get out of the car, or I will remove you.” What was a mere detention up to this point has now almost certainly become an arrest. There is no bright-line rule to differentiate between a detention and an arrest. But the fact that Bland obviously could not voluntarily leave the encounter likely means it qualified as an arrest.

Did Encinia actually have the right to arrest Bland? Yes. The Supreme Court has found that officers may arrest people for committing the most minor of crimes, including commonplace traffic violations. And by verbally refusing to comply with Encinia’s detention, Bland resisted arrest under Texas law, thereby committing a misdemeanor. (Even if Encinia’s initial stop and detention were illegal, that wouldn’t matter: The Texas statute that bars resisting arrest declares that “it is no defense” that “the arrest or search was unlawful.”) Both of these offenses would justify Bland’s arrest. Finally, Encinia is right that he has given Bland a “lawful order”: Again, under Supreme Court precedent, he had the right to pull Bland over; to ask her to leave the car; and to formally arrest her.

But this is where Encinia’s actions veer from the lawful to the questionable – and then to the probably illegal. By leaning into Bland’s car and seemingly attempting to yank her out, Encinia initiated the use of force to “seize” her (in Fourth Amendment terms). Here, the case law is clear: The Fourth Amendment requires that the use of force during a seizure must be “objectively reasonable” and not “excessive.” To gauge reasonable force, courts weigh the severity of the alleged crime; whether the suspect poses an immediate safety risk; and whether the suspect is resisting or evading arrest.

That’s where this all falls apart:

As Bland repeatedly notes, her alleged crime (a failure to signal) is astonishingly minor. Moreover, Bland does not appear to pose any kind of real safety risk to Encinia or to others. Bland does verbally resist arrest, but at no point does she attempt to flee. In light of her behavior, Encinia’s actions seem objectively unreasonable. He violently grabs Bland, aims his stun gun at her, and threatens to “light [her] up,” then roughly pulls her out of her vehicle. Although part of the encounter occurs off camera, Bland verbally accuses Encinia of slamming her head into the ground.

Encinia claims he subdued Bland after she kicked him, but both the alleged kick and head-slamming occurred off-camera. If Encinia is correct, a court will have to carefully weigh the situation using all evidence available. Encinia certainly had a right to subdue Bland if she kicked him. But his response may have been so brutal as to still qualify as an excessive use of force. Bland, of course, is now dead.

There is that, but Ben Mathis-Lilley gets to the heart of the matter:

It seems clear from the video that Encinia’s actions, not to mention his initial verbal escalation of the situation, happened in large part because he took offense at what he perceived as Bland’s disrespectful attitude – what is known in legal circles as “contempt of cop” – rather than any belief that she presented an imminent threat to anyone’s safety.

In 2010, Christy Lopez, the Department of Justice official who led the federal investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, police department after Michael Brown’s death, wrote a paper on the subject of “contempt of cop” arrests. (Lopez’s Ferguson investigation found that officers in Ferguson had a habit of making unjustified and abusive arrests.) Lopez opens her report by noting that disagreeing with, criticizing or otherwise being verbally difficult with a police officer is behavior protected by the First Amendment. Legally, you should be able to say anything you want to an officer, or even make an obscene gesture toward the police, without fearing punishment. Practically, though, Lopez writes, “there is abundant evidence that police overuse disorderly conduct and similar statutes to arrest people who ‘disrespect’ them or express disagreement with their actions.”

Lopez observes that since arrested suspects in “contempt of cop” cases often did very little if anything that was illegal, many of those arrests end in dropped charges and lawsuits.

And of course there are examples:

A 16-year-old in Portland, Oregon, was acquitted of charges against him in March after a judge found that police had beaten him for no reason other than he had used profanity when responding to an officer who had clapped at him to get his attention.
In 2014, the New York Post reported that only 6 percent of cases (in an unspecified time period) in which resisting arrest was the most serious charge against a suspect resulted in convictions in New York City.
An ongoing Washington, D.C., lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs accuses police of making bogus arrests under a statute that prevents “incommoding,” or blocking a sidewalk—a statute that itself was put into place after an official 2010 report found that the city’s vague disorderly conduct laws were facilitating improper “contempt of cop” arrests.
A D.C. woman won nearly $100,000 in a lawsuit in 2011 after police arrested her when she made a derisive comment toward them at a 7-Eleven.
Charges were famously dropped against Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009 after he was charged with disorderly conduct following an interaction with a police officer that began when a break-in was reported at Gates’ own home.
A 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer report found that nearly half of cases in the city in which the sole arresting charge was “obstructing a public officer” were ultimately dropped. (Half of the people arrested for obstruction were black; Seattle is eight percent black overall.)

And so it goes:

As the Seattle and Gates items suggest, the targets of “contempt of cop” arrests are often nonwhite. When you consider that black drivers may also be disproportionately subject to “investigatory stops,” in which minor motor vehicle violations are used as pretexts for searches and interrogations – and that Bland herself was stopped only for failing to signal a lane change – Sandra Bland’s experience in Waller County might even be considered typical…

And that attitude is real:

CNN contributor and former NYPD detective Harry Houck argued on Tuesday that a Texas woman would not have died in police custody if she had not been “arrogant from the very beginning.”…

“An officer does have the choice to bring anyone out of the vehicle when he stops them for his own safety,” Houck told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday. “The whole thing here is that she was very arrogant from the beginning, very dismissive of the officer, alright?”

CNN political contributor Marc Lamont Hill pointed out that Bland did not have a legal responsibility to “kiss the officer’s butt.”

“She has a right to be irritated,” Hill said. “A lot of us get irritated when we get pulled over. This officer comes to her and says, ‘Is there something wrong? You seem like you have an attitude.’ He’s trying to pick a fight with her.”

“Sometimes police officers act as if you’re not completely kowtowing and deferential, that somehow you’re violating a law,” he continued. “This is a perfect example of how vulnerable black women are in public spaces to law enforcement.”

Houck interrupted: “Even if he de-escalated that whole situation, she would have kept coming at that officer the way she did.”

“I don’t think he baited her at all. She just wanted to be uncooperative,” Houck continued. “She had a problem with the officer, she had a problem with being stopped, she didn’t like the fact that she was being stopped. Her whole arrogant attitude.”

“I refused to legitimize police violence against people by telling them that if they behave differently, maybe they won’t die,” Hill insisted. “Harry said maybe you won’t end up on the ground. Yes, there are strategies we can use to survive. But the fact that we live in a world where we have to deploy strategies not to be murdered or killed or assaulted by police unlawfully is absurd.”

“What Harry is calling arrogance, I’m calling dignity,” Hill declared. “Black people have a right to assert their dignity in public. And just because it doesn’t cohere with what police want doesn’t mean they are being arrogant or dismissive.”

“There’s no indication that this is racial at all,” Houck shot back. “None whatsoever.”

“This happens to white women all the time,” Hill quipped sarcastically.

And so on and so forth – but the cops always win. You submit to the inevitable. Life is like that. Move on – and of course you’ll harbor a bit of rage. The trick is to swallow your rage, all of it, and hope to die peacefully in your sleep before the sheer mass of it makes you explode. But it may be too late for that now. There will be an explosion soon.

Posted in Contempt-of-Cop, Sandra Bland | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frayed Affiliations

Americans have always held that all men are created equal, with a qualifier. Talent and good looks and intelligence are certainly not distributed equally at birth. Some people are born into money. Some are born in Altoona. The idea we posited, jumping on the Enlightenment bandwagon, was that all men are born with certain inalienable rights – to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone has those rights. That’s the way all men are equal, the only way. There are natural-born fools – but in terms of the law, and all the ways society agrees to operate, everyone has the same rights – sort of. We’re still working out the details. Check back later on gays and unarmed young black men.

This was a fine idea, and had nothing to do with human nature. We become who we are by differentiating ourselves from all others. Equality was death or at least meaningless existence – so what you did with your life was who you were. If you weren’t a great writer or a captain of industry, you could be the best father anyone could imagine, and so on. Equality in terms of basic rights was one thing. Real life was another. You weren’t like “those others” at all.

This was hard work, so most people settled for affiliations that differentiated them from all others – clubs, associations, religious denominations, political parties and all the rest. That was a shortcut to being unique and wonderful. You were one with those who were unique and wonderful – but postwar consumerism offered an even better differentiation. By the late fifties you were what you drove. General Motors had you covered, with four different lines that were actually the same car – the same chassis and mechanics, but with different bodies bolted on top. If you drove a Chevrolet, you were a working-class guy doing just fine. If you drove an Oldsmobile you were a manager of some sort, but not the boss – you were different – you’d moved up. If you drove a Buick you were the boss, or a doctor or lawyer. If you drove a Cadillac, you were the owner and you bought yourself the very best, out of pocket change. It was the same car. The socioeconomic affiliations were different. General Motors made a lot of money.

Those days are over. The sixties counterculture crowd shrugged. Those folks drove beat-up old VW vans or anything ironic, and now, with the rise of Uber, and Google developing self-driving cars, which will probably be owned and operated by municipalities, who will need or even want their own a car? There will have to be other socioeconomic affiliations that work against the notion of soul-crushing equality, and there were for a time. In the late seventies and early eighties you weren’t what you were, you were who you wore. There were big designer labels on everything, which publicly proclaimed your socioeconomic affiliation – “Gucci” was infinitely cool, “Nike” was brain-dead defiant – but the most ironic of these was the wildly popular Members Only jacket – “When you put it on, something happens.”

Yeah, you become a jerk. Anyone could buy one. Millions did. An entire generation had lost its sense of irony – but by 1985 things were changing. That year there was that glorious scene in Back to the Future – Marty wakes up back in 1955 in bed, with a big lump on his head, and sitting next to him is the sweet young thing (his mother, actually, as this is a time-travel story) who keeps calling him Calvin, Calvin Klein. It’s the purple underwear. That trend was over. Folks would just have to find another way to publicly proclaim their socioeconomic affiliation – their unique level of cool.

Luckily, there’s always that one fallback that always works – political affiliation, by party – and that’s where things have been odd for Republicans. They know they’ve not been cool in quite a while. After Romney lost in 2012, there was the Reince Priebus autopsy – offered after Romney lost almost all the Hispanic and black vote, and lost the women’s vote and the vote of the young, and the vote of anyone with even a year or two of college, by wide margins, and after the Republicans didn’t win back the Senate when two or three of their Tea Party candidates imploded. It was time for outreach to minorities, and women, and the young and maybe even gays.

It sounded so hopeful – the Republicans were going to reach out and become inclusive and we’d have two evenly-matched political parties again, espousing their competing philosophies without demonizing anyone at all. There’d be no more angry old white men sneering at anyone unlike them, and sneering at science too. There’d be no more rich white guys sneering at anyone who wasn’t a millionaire just like them – or they’d tone it down, trying to be a bit more sympathetic to the total losers out there. And there’d be no more old men talking about “legitimate rape” and how women’s bodies really work. In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee had already been training incumbents on how best to interact with women voters – there’s a nice way to tell them they can’t be trusted with moral choices like abortion, or any choices about their own body, and how their accepting less pay than a man for the same work is really good for the economy, so they ought to do their part.

The presumption was that America was basically a conservative country, and everyone actually agreed with them on all the big issues of the day. There was that natural socioeconomic affiliation. They just had to explain themselves better, but that wasn’t going to be easy. It’s hard to show respect when you explain your views, that minorities and women and gays are lesser people, and that wealth is the only reliable indicator of moral worth, and that all science is bunk and you’re a fool if you believe any of it. Sure, respectfully say the new Pope is a Marxist who hates everything America stands for, because he seems to think vast wealth is a moral trap, and respectfully call him a fool for being willing to accept the idea that gays and atheists and even true Marxists are good people, good people with what he considers the wrong views, but good people nonetheless. Be respectful of him when you explain that this guy just doesn’t understand Christianity at all.

Needless to say, this didn’t go well. After a few months no one mentioned this autopsy ever again. The effort shifted to making sure certain people found it very difficult to vote. The Republicans retook the Senate and increased their already massive majority in the House. The presidency was something for later. Now it’s time to see if, after eight years in the wilderness, they can retake the White House, and that’s where the difficulties begin, given the new Pew poll:

The Republican Party’s image has grown more negative over the first half of this year. Currently, 32% have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 60% have an unfavorable view. Favorable views of the GOP have fallen nine percentage points since January. The Democratic Party continues to have mixed ratings (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).

The Democratic Party has often held an edge over the GOP in favorability in recent years, but its advantage had narrowed following the Republicans’ midterm victory last fall. Today, the gap is as wide as it has been in more than two years.

They’re just not cool:

Neither party has an edge in perceptions about which could better manage the federal government: 40% say the Republican Party, while an identical percentage prefers the Democrats. … On issues, the Democratic Party holds double-digit advantages as better able to handle the environment (by a margin of 53% to 27%), abortion and contraception policies (50% to 31%), education (46% to 34%) and health care (46% to 36%). The Republican Party has wide leads for better reflecting people’s views on gun control (48% to 36%) and dealing with the terrorist threat at home (44% to 34%).

And there’s this:

Recent Pew Research Center surveys have found signs of dissatisfaction with the GOP among Republicans. In May, just 41% of Republicans said they approved of the job performance of the leaders of the GOP-led Congress. In 2011, after Republicans had won control of the House, 60% of Republicans approved of the job being done by their party’s leaders in Congress. The current survey finds that positive views of the GOP among Republicans have declined 18 percentage points since January, from 86% to 68%. Independents also view the Republican Party less favorably; 29% today, compared with 37% six months ago.

The brand is damaged and the affiliations have frayed, and there’s this:

Five months ago Republicans were seen by more Americans as the party better able to handle foreign policy (48% said Republicans, 35% Democrats); today, the public is equally likely to say Republicans (38%) as Democrats (41%) could better handle foreign policy. And while the GOP maintains a 10-point advantage as the party better able to address the terrorist threat at home (44% vs. 34%), that edge has narrowed since earlier this year.

Daniel Larison at the American Conservative can explain this:

The party’s numbers on foreign policy have started slumping during the same period in which Republican candidates for president have been going out of their way to emphasize their foreign policy views. My guess is that the party benefited in 2014 and early 2015 from the continuing spate of bad news stories from overseas that reflected badly on administration policies, but more recently as the many Republican candidates have been holding forth on the kind of foreign policy they would conduct those gains have evaporated. This suggests that Republicans really shouldn’t want 2016 to be an election with a heavy emphasis on foreign policy issues, and if these issues do play a large role in the election it is going to work against them.

In short, things got better, not worse, so just shut up:

Despite substantial and in some cases well-deserved dissatisfaction with Obama’s foreign policy record, most Americans are still understandably wary of trusting the GOP on foreign policy given the previous administration’s record and the aggressive hawkishness of its presidential candidates. There may be many Americans that perceive Obama as being insufficiently “tough” in his foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean that there is much enthusiasm for a party pushing a hardline agenda, either. The more that the Republican candidates advertise their hardline views on Iran, Cuba, or anything else, the harder it will be to win over the public to their side.

And there are other things that don’t help either. Jeb Bush appeared at a New Hampshire event sponsored by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and managed to say this:

The left needs to join the conversation, but they haven’t. I mean, when [Rep. Paul Ryan] came up with, one of his proposals as it relates to Medicare, the first thing I saw was a TV ad of a guy that looked just like Paul Ryan … that was pushing an elderly person off the cliff in a wheelchair. That’s their response.

And I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.

Yes, he went there. He wants to “phase out” Medicare, and Steve Benen suggests he’s wrong on both politics and policy:

The Florida Republican is convinced that “people understand” the need to get rid of Medicare. He’s mistaken. Given the polling from the last several years, what people understand is that Medicare is a popular and successful program, and a pillar of modern American life.

Previous attempts to “phase out” the program have met with widespread public scorn and if Jeb Bush believes he can “persuade people” to get rid of Medicare, he’s likely to be disappointed.

As for the policy, there’s no point in denying that the Medicare system faces long-term fiscal challenges, but to argue, as Jeb Bush does, that Democrats have ignored the conversation is plainly incorrect. On the contrary, while Republicans fight to eliminate the Medicare program, Democrats have had great success in strengthening Medicare finances and extending its fiscal health for many years to come.

The secret, apparently, was passing the Affordable Care Act.

Before “Obamacare” was passed, Medicare was projected to face a serious fiscal shortfall in 2017. As of yesterday, Medicare trustees now believe the system is fiscally secure through 2030.

Kevin Drum explains that trustee’s report:

Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090.

Six percent! That’s half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn’t spectacular, I don’t know what is.

Benen:

Obviously, all of these projections come with caveats because no one can say with certainty what will happen in the future, but the projections are encouraging – and far more heartening than they were before the ACA passed. But Jeb Bush is under the impression that Medicare is, without a doubt, doomed, so we might as well get rid of the program now and see what Paul Ryan has in store for seniors in his far-right bag of tricks.

Kevin Drum also speaks to this:

Republicans have been talking for years about “reforming” Social Security. Usually this involves privatizing it in some way, which they insist that people will love. In fact, they’ll love it so much that, um, Republicans don’t dare suggest that their reforms should apply to current recipients – or to people who are within even a decade of retiring. Why exempt these folks? There’s a lot of blah-blah-blah when you ask, but the real reason is that these people vote, and they actually pay attention to Social Security. They know perfectly well that the current system is a better deal for them. It’s only younger workers, who don’t pay as much attention and have been brainwashed – by conservatives – into believing that Social Security will never pay them a dime anyway, who give this nonsense the time of day. Even if the GOP’s reformed version of Social Security is a lousy deal, anything is better than nothing. Right? But I’ve never really heard this argument about Medicare. Until now.

But the argument is nonsense:

Boom! If we don’t gut Medicare, they’ll have nothing. When they turn 65 they’ll be out on the street dying, with no one to help them. Why? Because Democrats let the system go bankrupt. Wouldn’t it be much better to offer them some crappy, rationed system instead? At least it’s something, after all.

Jesus. You’d think we were Greece. Oh wait – these guys do think that Democrats are turning us into Greece. So I guess it makes a kind of sense.

In any case, Jeb sure picked the wrong time to make this pitch. Just yesterday we got the latest projections for Social Security and Medicare. If they’re correct, the cost of both programs will top out at a combined 12 percent of GDP by the middle of the century and then flatten out. That’s about 3 percent of GDP more than we’re spending now.

So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can’t afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would – what? I don’t even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?

Drum is not impressed:

This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That’s it. That will keep Social Security and Medicare in good shape. Why is it so hard for people to get that?

It’s so hard for people to get this, or for these people to get this, because this is about affiliation, about being special. They are Republicans – fiscally responsible, no matter who gets hurt, even if what they’re proposing isn’t even necessary. And they don’t make deals with bad guys over in the Middle East – they humiliate them until they give in, or they wipe them out. And they stand around, smug, in their Members Only jackets. But no one wears those anymore.

Posted in The Republican Brand | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chameleon Politics

In the summer of 1964 it was two weeks at a music camp in Elkhart, Indiana. It took two weeks to get the Pittsburgh accent back. The flattened vowels and the drawl were gone just before that senior year in high school began – a good thing. It’s best to fit in, to take on the color of the environment – especially in high school. Adolescents need to know how they fit in, or that they fit in, in some way, with some core group, even if it’s the nerds. That’s how chameleons survive after all, but it’s the same with anyone’s first real job – you learn the jargon, you have the right attitude about the right things – or you’re gone. It was the same starting in 1997 with those yearly trips to Paris each December – two weeks, travelling solo. Alone in a foreign land you have no choice. In France you learn to be formal and polite and courteous, and quiet and private in restaurants – and you don’t smile a lot for no reason, and you certainly don’t blurt out personal stuff no one cares about. You don’t grin and say “Hi” to absolutely everyone – and two weeks of that each year made the end of December here in Hollywood seem odd. In Hollywood, the land of celebrity, everything is confessional, even if you don’t want to know about Kim Kardashian’s latest tattoo. But sooner or later you’re back in the swing of things. You find yourself saying the oddest things to total strangers. You’re an American again.

Donald Trump wouldn’t last a minute in France, unless he bought the place. The French never talk about money. You never, ever, ask someone what they earn, and they’re certainly not going to tell you. Discuss sex, it’s safer – or discuss religion or politics or philosophy or fashion. But Donald Trump will tell you he’s rich – very, very rich – and expect you’ll be impressed. He’s been doing a lot of that lately, and he brags a lot about how great he is. Everyone knows the French attitude about that. If you don’t know how impressive a person is, then you’re an uninformed fool. That’s your problem. You’re supposed to keep up on things. The cool successful people are silent. They need say nothing. If you don’t know how cool they are, you should be ashamed of yourself.

This makes Donald Trump the most American of all the candidates this time around. He’s loud. He’s brash. He’s crass – and proud of it – and he’s running away with things on the Republican side. Americans love it – at least certain Americans do – the ones who hate the French – the ones who visit Paris and whine about how snooty the French are. The other Republicans, who want to win the primaries, and thus the party’s nomination, have not adapted to how All-American the race has become. They want to be seen as serious, because the presidency is a serious thing – the most deadly serious job in the world, and the presidency demands and commands dignity. They want to show they’re “presidential” – staid and proper, and not likely to make any sudden moves that could get us all killed.

Donald Trump laughs at them. The Republican base is laughing at them. No one is calling them French, yet, but tensions are rising:

Donald Trump is on his way to the Mexican border, the latest event in a presidential campaign some of his rivals would like to dismiss as a sideshow — a “carnival act,” as one puts it. But he’s been stealing their thunder for days and left them scrambling to adjust to a race dominated by a bombastic longshot.

The billionaire developer and reality TV host will be in Laredo, Texas, on Thursday, highlighting his unyielding stance on immigration. The trip will revisit a topic that has stirred criticism that has now grown into open hostility from some Republican contenders.

From party heavyweights like Jeb Bush to recently announced candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the contenders are confronted by Trump’s hair-trigger habit of calling out his critics by name, vilifying the GOP establishment and roiling the debate over immigration and more.

Someone has to say something:

In Washington, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked about Trump’s planned trip on to Laredo. He snapped, “I hope he can find the border because I’m not sure he’s ever been there before.”

This, after Perry denounced Trump’s campaign as a “cancer on conservatism” and “barking carnival act” in a speech that laced into “Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.”

Indeed, the insults flying between Trump and his fiercest critics have been caustic. Sen. Lindsey Graham called him a “jackass” a day earlier and Trump responded by calling Graham an “idiot” and giving out the senator’s cellphone number, jamming his voice mail.

Others in the field have been more measured, though showing signs of growing exasperation. Jeb Bush, in particular, has conspicuously tried to avoid alienating Trump’s supporters – “good people” with “legitimate concerns” – even while branding Trumps’ rhetoric “ugly” and “mean-spirited.”

Jeb Bush wants to have it both ways – that’s why they call him a moderate, even if his policy positions are as far-right as any of them – but it doesn’t matter:

Trump remains unbowed. “I’m called a jackass,” he said Wednesday on CNN. “You have to fight back. The country has to fight back. Everyone’s pushing our country around. We can’t allow that.”

Meanwhile, federal regulators made public records that show, as he has said, that he is rich. He has assets of at least $1.4 billion and debt of at least $240 million, the regulators said in a report with such broad categories that his wealth could well be much greater.

There you have it. In a way, he’s the ultimate Ugly American that’s been showing up on the streets of Paris since the early fifties – loud and embarrassing – but he’s the Real American here. How can you compete with that? Do you call him out? Do you meet buffoonery with quiet dignity? Or do you practice chameleon politics, changing colors to match the environment, to survive?

One candidate made his choice:

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is taking his frustrations with Donald Trump out on his old cellphone after the billionaire businessman was responsible for an influx of calls.

The latest throw-down between the GOP presidential hopefuls was ratcheted up Tuesday when Trump, speaking in Graham’s home state, slammed the senator as a “stiff,” a “lightweight” and an “idiot” and gave out Graham’s personal cellphone number to attendees.

That jab was in response to Graham, who had called Trump a “jackass” earlier. That slight from the GOP South Carolina senator came after reality TV star Trump went after Arizona Sen. John McCain’s war record at an Iowa event Saturday. Trump said the 2008 presidential nominee was “not a war hero,” because he was “captured.” McCain was a prisoner of war for five years in Vietnam, where he was tortured.

That had consequences:

After Trump gave out the phone number on Tuesday, Graham immediately started getting thousands of calls. His voicemail quickly filled up, and by that evening, the children of his friend, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., were answering it on their way to see the Minions movie with him at a Georgetown theater. …

By Wednesday, Graham seemed to find a more humorous – and perhaps cathartic – way to get rid of the phone that wouldn’t quit ringing.

Graham decided to be a buffoon too:

In a video shot by the conservative website IJReview, Graham found plenty of different ways to destroy his old phone. The dramatically filmed video titled, “How to Destroy Your Cell Phone With Sen. Lindsey Graham,” shows him taking a meat cleaver to a blue Verizon Samsung flip phone, dropping it in a blender, putting it in a toaster oven – with Bagel Bites – hitting it with a golf club and dropping it off a building.

“Or if all else fails, you can always give your number to ‘The Donald,'” Graham says at the end.

“This is for all the veterans,” the retired Air Force colonel adds, another jab at Trump, as he throws the phone out of frame.

The video is here – and it is pretty cool, even if it’s not “presidential” in any way at all. The use of Vivaldi is curious, but as Keith Brekhus notes, Graham is not alone:

On Tuesday, presidential hopeful Kentucky Senator Rand Paul released a video showing how much he hates the U.S. Tax code. In the bizarre 51 second video, the Republican Senator unleashes his latest gimmick to stay relevant in the GOP presidential race. He wants to be the candidate who can devise the most creative way to kill the tax code.

In the video, Rand Paul finds three different ways to demolish the pages of the U.S. tax code. He uses a wood chipper to shred the pages, starts a fire to burn the pages, and he saws the tax code into paper “sawdust” with a chainsaw. He does so while sporting an oxymoronic “Detroit Republican” T-shirt, because nothing says Detroit, like a white Libertarian-leaning Senator from Kentucky who was raised in East Texas.

Presumably, Rand Paul thinks America needs a leader strong enough to defeat reams of paper with a chainsaw. It may seem like overkill, but maybe he just isn’t familiar with a conventional pair of scissors.

In the circus-like atmosphere of the GOP primary where Donald Trump is lapping the field with his loud, unhinged brand of crazy, Rand Paul is struggling to return to his past glory as the pied piper for the Republican fringe.

That video is here – the soundtrack is the Jimi Hendrix Star Spangled Banner solo from Woodstock – because Rand Paul is hip – or he’s old. Donald Trump actually generated these two videos. These two had to do something.

The perpetually frightened-looking senator from Florida went the other way:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that President Obama has “no class.”

In an interview with “Fox and Friends,” Rubio argued that his GOP rival Donald Trump has not behaved in a way that is “worthy of the office that he seeks.” Then, he pivoted to going after Obama.

“We already have a president now that has no class,” said Rubio. The Republican, like most of his GOP opponents, has been an outspoken critic of Obama. But his disapproval has mostly been on policy, making his Wednesday comments especially notable.

“I mean, we have a president now that you know, does selfie-stick videos, a president that invites YouTube stars there, people that, you know, eat cereal out of a bathtub,” Rubio continued. “You just saw the interview he did right now, where he goes on comedy shows to talk about something as serious as Iran. The list goes on and on.”

Rubio has no use for buffoonery. Trump would be just another Obama – no class, simply no class – and he himself is one classy guy. He is? Well, he says so.

Heather Parton thinks he’s on safe ground, because we all know how it’s always the undisciplined young hippies versus the Real Americans:

Reagan was the original Republican “grown-up,” the Big Daddy figure who symbolized everything the Republican Party wanted to stand for: masculinity, maturity, dominance. This simplistic archetype has characterized the media’s celebration of GOP leadership since that time. When Bill Clinton, the first baby boomer to become president, first took office, there was a brief sense of excitement about the young commander-in-chief, but it immediately deteriorated into the usual anti-hippie diatribes among the media for the administration’s alleged lack of “discipline” and unruly approach to governance, what with the blue jeans in the Oval Office and the like. This early Miss Manners-esque critique morphed shortly thereafter into the willingness among political reporters to pass along any and all bits of gossip and innuendo, even including dark insinuations of drug running and “murder.” After all, everybody knows hippies have no morals.

And despite his own checkered baby-boomer past as a heavy-drinking hell-raiser, when George W. Bush was “elected” in 2000, the entire village celebrated the return of the Republicans to the White House. …

Rubio knows what he’s doing, but maybe times have changed:

This has been the way the press and the establishment have looked at the two parties for nearly half a century. But recently something has been changing. Say what you will about him, but President Obama cannot believably be described as undisciplined or unruly. In fact, “professorial” and “aloof” have been the adjectives most often used to describe him amongst beltway types. Not exactly the stuff of countercultural excess.

Meanwhile, at the same time that Obama was modeling a very mature organizational style, the Republicans all took their clothes off, held hands, and collectively jumped off a proverbial cliff. Now, they aren’t a youth movement by any means. In fact, they are mostly baby boomers too, members of the so-called “Silent Majority” who are having a delayed wing-nut Woodstock in their golden years. From the Tea Party town hall antics and the government shutdowns to the VP nomination of Sarah Palin, the Republicans have been on a rapid descent into Crazy Town over the course of just half a decade.

A delayed wing-nut Woodstock? So that’s why Rand Paul used Hendrix, not that it matters:

This is the most puerile presidential campaign in American history – and that’s before we even consider candidates like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Chris Christie. I suggest we give them all a bottle and put them to bed.

Frank Rich says the Republicans have only themselves to blame for this:

Whatever else is to be said about Trump, he is a master salesman. And in the GOP presidential marketplace, he has a near-monopoly on the product he is selling now: hardline, unapologetic, xenophobic opposition to both immigration reform and Mexican immigrants.

That is their issue:

Immigration is the fault line of the GOP. The party’s establishment – from its corporate backers to The Wall Street Journal editorial page to Jeb Bush (when he’s not hedging) – wants immigration reform. They know that no national Republican ticket can win without Hispanic voters. But the base that dominates the primary electorate loathes immigration reform – so much so that even Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, had to retreat from his original embrace of it to be a viable presidential contender. Hence, the question you ask is classic Catch-22: If the ultimate Republican presidential candidate does appropriate some part of Trump’s message to win the nomination, he will be as doomed as Mitt Romney was after he embraced “self-deportation” for undocumented immigrants in 2012. Or more doomed, given the trajectory of the Hispanic population explosion in America.

For all the other much-discussed factors contributing to the Trump boom – the power of celebrity, his “anti-politician” vibe, his freak-show outrageousness, his Don Rickles–style putdowns – it is the substantive issue of immigration that remains the core of his appeal to his fans. That’s why Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are defending him; it’s why Bill Kristol did until last weekend. And those Republicans who are now demanding that he desist are mostly hypocrites. John McCain himself, after all, enabled and legitimized those Trump partisans he now dismisses as “crazies” by putting Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008. Other GOP leaders waited too long to disown the conspiracy theories about the president’s birth certificate that Trump would eventually exploit to reboot his political aspirations. Romney ostentatiously courted and received Trump’s endorsement in 2012. Many of the Republican politicians now condemning Trump for attacking McCain’s heroism in Vietnam were silent (or worse) when John Kerry’s Vietnam heroism was Swift Boated in 2004.

They created this problem:

The GOP can blame the media all it wants, but the party has no one to blame but itself for weaponizing Trump. It subsidized and encouraged the market for what Trump is now selling. Now the Republicans’ only really hope is that Trump will blow himself up, Herman Cain style. Maybe he will, and he certainly has no chance of getting the nomination no matter what he does. But in the meantime he can keep wreaking havoc. Nine other GOP candidates were onstage at the Ames, Iowa, forum last weekend where he trashed McCain, and no one remembers anything anyone else there said unless it was in response to Trump. The same may well happen at the first national debate on Fox News on August 6, which is likely (because of Trump, and much to his delight) to be the highest rated primary debate in history.

Even over the short term, the Republicans are clueless about how to deal with him; they keep playing into his hands.

This is a problem, and Gabriel Sherman, the man who wrote the definitive book on Fox News, points out how this is playing over there:

The mounting problem Donald Trump poses to Republicans is also a mounting problem for the country’s most powerful conservative media mogul: Rupert Murdoch. This morning’s New York Times gives front-page treatment to the billionaire grudge match that has become a major story line in this year’s (already) fractious GOP primary. The piece by political reporters Amy Chozick and Ashley Parker chronicles Murdoch’s intensifying efforts over the past week to blunt Trump’s surge to the top of the crowded GOP field. In recent days, Murdoch has tweeted that Trump is “wrong” and “embarrassing.” On Sunday, the New York Post mocked Trump on the cover with the headline “DON VOYAGE” and featured him marooned on a life raft being circled by a shark. The same day, The Wall Street Journal ran a scathing editorial that labeled Trump a “catastrophe.”

Rupert Murdoch owns those two newspapers, and he owns Fox News, but he doesn’t control it:

One reason Murdoch is taking to social media and deploying his publishing properties to attack Trump may be the simple fact that he hasn’t been able to control his most powerful media organ: Fox News. According to sources, Murdoch has tried – and failed – to rein in Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who, insiders say, is pushing Fox to defend Trump’s most outlandish comments. This week, Ailes told his senior executives during a meeting that Murdoch recently called him and asked if Fox could “back off the Trump coverage,” a source told me. Ailes is said to have boasted to his executives that he told Murdoch he was covering Trump “the way he wanted to.” The implication was that he wasn’t going to budge.

Sherman’s book is The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News and Divided a Country – and here, Roger Ailes seems to think that All-American Buffoonery wins elections for Republicans, which is the whole point of Fox News anyway. Rupert Murdoch, on the other hand, seems to have a thing for dignity and restraint – or at least he doesn’t want to be associated with this loud, crass blowhard. Maybe he’s not really Australian. Maybe he’s French. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste, but Rupert Murdoch is certainly not a chameleon. Everyone else is one these days. This will not end well.

Posted in Donald Trump, Looking Presidential | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Not More of the Same

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 – President Obama spoke to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars – in Pittsburgh this time. It was what everyone expected. The Iran deal makes sense. The military option is not the only option America has in world affairs, and it’s seldom the best option. What are John McCain and the rest of the Republicans thinking? Even Ronald Reagan knew better, and implicit in this was another question. What’s this America-is-always-wrong-and-Israel-is-always-right crap? He just didn’t put it that way – but it didn’t matter, because no one paid attention to this speech. He’s said all this before. And then he hopped on Air Force One and flew to New York for a final appearance on Jon Stewart’s show. People will pay attention to that. Manhattan is not Pittsburgh.

As Obama was speaking in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump was speaking at a retirement community in South Carolina – very old and very angry and very white people outraged at what “their” country has become. Everyone paid attention to that speech. It was far more entertaining:

Hours after South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump “the world’s biggest jackass” for questioning Arizona Sen. John McCain’s “war hero” status, the real estate mogul and Republican presidential candidate responded by giving out Graham’s personal cellphone number. … Trump told the crowd that Graham once called “begging” him to put in a good word with “Fox & Friends,” the Fox News morning show on which the billionaire businessman and “Celebrity Apprentice” host was a frequent guest.

Trump read aloud Graham’s private telephone number from a piece of paper at the podium.

“Maybe it’s an old number,” Trump told his supporters. “I don’t know, give it a shot.”

Lindsey Graham has changed his number. Trump also called him an idiot, but Graham is nothing special:

Earlier in the speech, Trump lobbed insults at both Graham and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who Trump said “put glasses on so people will think he’s smart – it just doesn’t work.”

“What a stiff,” Trump said of Graham. “He doesn’t seem like a very bright guy. He actually probably seems to me not as bright as Rick Perry. I think Rick Perry probably is smarter than Lindsey Graham.”

He lit into Jeb Bush too, but as with Obama, Trump has said all this before. All the other Republicans campaigning for the party’s nomination are total losers. He’s a winner, and he’s rich – he’s really, really rich. That’s what America wants now, and by the way, everyone in government right now is a total loser. Elect him and you’ll be electing a winner, who will replace all the total losers in government with real winners. Imagine the first weeks of his administration as something like his reality show “The Apprentice” – he’ll say what’s necessary – “You’re Fired!” At least that seems to be the general idea. The crowd went wild. Then they went home and yelled at those kids to get off their lawn. That seems to be the theory of government at play here too.

This too was more of the same, but there was a simultaneous third event in Columbus, Ohio, which wasn’t more of the same:

Saying “big ideas change the world,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination Tuesday. Kasich, 63, launched his campaign at Ohio State University before a crowd of 2,000. The event marked the entry of a strong-willed and sometimes abrasive governor into a nomination race that now has 16 notable Republicans.

“I am here to ask you for your prayers, for your support, for your efforts because I have decided to run for president,” Kasich said in a scattered 43-minute speech packed with family anecdotes, historical references and calls for national renewal.

A veteran congressman as well as governor, Kasich told voters he is the only GOP candidate with experience in three broad areas of political leadership – the federal budget, national security and state government. He also spent nearly a decade at the Lehman Brothers financial services firm.

“I have the experience and the testing,” he said, “the testing which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world, and I believe I know how to work and help restore this great United States.”

As budget chairman in the House, he became an architect of a deal in 1997 that balanced the federal budget.

Now in his second term in swing-state Ohio, he’s helped erase a budget deficit projected at nearly $8 billion when he entered office, boost Ohio’s rainy-day fund to a historic high and seen private-sector employment rebound to its pre-recession level.

That’s fine, but that’s not what was odd, not what was the same old Republican line:

Kasich embraces conservative ideals but bucks his party on occasion and disdains the Republican sport of bashing Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Visiting the early voting state of New Hampshire on Tuesday following his announcement, Kasich said his political career has taught him that the two parties must work together to get things done.

“I realized that purpose was more important than party,” Kasich said. “In my political career my whole vision is: How do we make changes and improve things for the people that we serve?”

That may not be bullshit, but he wasn’t always a rebel. He evolved in an odd way – from a former Ohio congressman of many a term. He actually should have been down-to-earth boring. After all, he grew up in Pittsburgh, in McKees Rocks of all places, and one side of his family was Czech and the other side Croatian. You don’t get much more down to earth than that. Those of us, who also grew up in the Czech enclaves on the north side of Pittsburgh, at roughly the same time, know that. You don’t put on airs. There’s no point. But somehow, after congress, Kasich ended up at Lehman Brothers’ investment banking division in Columbus as a managing director. He was playing in the big leagues. And after seven years there it was over – Lehman Brothers was gone in a puff of smoke as the whole economy imploded – so he ended up with his own show on Fox News, offering their usual blend of contempt for both government and greedy workers, cheering for the captains of industry – the few guys at the very top, the really important people.

The people of Ohio elected Kasich governor anyway – after which he and his new hyper-conservative Republican legislature went about privatizing everything in sight and going after the public sector unions – excoriating teachers in particular, along with cops and firefighters and road workers and whatnot. Suddenly there was a new law stripping them all of their collective bargaining rights. After all they were useless folks. None of them ever “created wealth” and they certainly weren’t job creators. They had no right to demand more money or any sort of benefits package or retirement plan. They just sucked up money, money that should go to tax cuts for corporations or the wealthy. One has to make the state business-friendly after all.

Scott Walker had done the same thing in Wisconsin and found himself facing a recall election. He survived but many members of his new Republican legislature didn’t. Kasich got off easy – the people of Ohio gathered the necessary signatures and forced a vote on the new law. They repealed it by popular vote. Too many people knew teachers, personally, and too many of them also kind of liked cops and firefighters – and no one really had a gripe about the workers who fill the potholes in summer and plow the snow off the roads in winter. Those folks got their collective bargaining rights back. Kasich may never work at Fox News again.

This made the national news for a time but then Ohio returned to the bland obscurity of the kind of place where nothing much ever happens – just how they like it there. Let everyone else get all hot and bothered. But something happened. John Kasich decided he could work for everyone’s good and still be a Republican. The New York Times’ Trip Gabriel in late 2013 reported on that:

In his grand Statehouse office beneath a bust of Lincoln, Gov. John R. Kasich let loose on fellow Republicans in Washington.

“I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor,” he said, sitting at the head of a burnished table as members of his cabinet lingered after a meeting. “That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”

“You know what?” he said. “The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the WPA.”

Gabriel noted that ever since Republicans in Congress shut down the federal government in an attempt to defund Obamacare, Republican governors had been trying to distance themselves from Washington, but this was more than that:

Once a leader of the conservative firebrands in Congress under Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, Mr. Kasich has surprised and disarmed some former critics on the left with his championing of Ohio’s disadvantaged, which he frames as a matter of Christian compassion.

He embodies conventional Republican fiscal priorities – balancing the budget by cutting aid to local governments and education – but he defies many conservatives in believing government should ensure a strong social safety net. In his three years as governor, he has expanded programs for the mentally ill, fought the nursing home lobby to bring down Medicaid costs and backed Cleveland’s Democratic mayor, Frank Jackson, in raising local taxes to improve schools.

He also told his own conservative Republican state legislature to stuff it. Ohio would accept that Medicaid money that was part of the Affordable Care Act.

This was odd or maybe too odd – he signed a budget that cut revenues to local governments and mandated that women seeking an abortion listen to the fetal heartbeat – and Democrats were suspicious:

This is someone who realized he had to get to the center and chose Medicaid as the issue,” said Danny Kanner, communications director of the Democratic Governors Association. “That doesn’t erase the first three years of his governorship when he pursued polices that rewarded the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.”

But he is puzzling:

He supported President Bill Clinton’s assault weapons ban while in Congress in 1994, and he teamed with Ralph Nader to close corporate tax loopholes.

In the interview in his office, he criticized a widespread conservative antipathy toward government social programs, which regards the safety net as enabling a “culture of dependency.”

Mr. Kasich, who occasionally sounds more like an heir to Lyndon B. Johnson than to Ronald Reagan, urged sympathy for “the lady working down here in the doughnut shop that doesn’t have any health insurance – think about that, if you put yourself in their shoes.”

He said it made no sense to turn down $2.5 billion in federal Medicaid funds over the next two years, a position backed by state hospitals and Ohio businesses.

One can be conservative, but there’s no need to be stupid about it:

“For those who live in the shadows of life, for those who are the least among us,” Mr. Kasich said in a February speech, echoing the Bible, “I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored.” … The governor cast a cold eye on hard-liners in his party, especially in Washington. “Nowhere in life do we not compromise and give.”

Then, in March of this year, there was this curious incident:

Dining with a group of influential pro-growth conservatives at the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan on Wednesday – economists Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore were in attendance – Kasich voiced his support for Medicaid and for renewing a spirit of bipartisanship within the Republican party. Fox News hosts Bill Hemmer and John Stossel, and Gristedes Foods founder John Catsimatidis were also on hand.

Kasich, a former nine-term congressman who won a resounding reelection victory in November, is eyeing a presidential bid but, at the dinner’s close, there was little appetite for a Kasich presidency among those who’d assembled to hear him.

The governor showed his prickly side during a testy back-and-forth with Manhattan Institute health-care scholar Avik Roy, who has provided advice to several of the potential 2016 contenders. “Is it fair to say you support repealing Obamacare except for the Medicaid expansion?” Roy asked. Kasich answered in the affirmative.

“Obamacare’s a bad idea because it’s top-down and does not control costs,” Kasich said. Roy interjected again, “You’re saying Obamacare is top-down government. Is Medicaid not top-down government?”

Kasich appeared to view the remark as a jab at Medicaid recipients. “Maybe you think we should put them in prison. I don’t,” he told Roy. “I don’t think that’s a conservative position. Because the reality is, if you don’t treat the drug addicted and the mentally ill and the working poor, you’re gonna have them and they’re gonna be a big cost to society.”

That’s just who he is:

The governor took heat from his fellow conservatives two years ago when he bucked Ohio’s Republican legislature to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The reason he offered for his decision further inflamed their passions. “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor,” Kasich said at the time. “You better have a good answer.”

So now he’s the actual Christian running for president? That may be what he wants evangelical voters to assume, although they have a different view of Jesus. Jesus had the poor and hungry pee in a little cup – the mandatory drug test – otherwise, no loaves and fishes for them! He didn’t? This must depend on the translation.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball points out the bigger problem here:

Erick Erickson, the RedState.com editor, has called him “a bully”; Steve Deace, a conservative radio host in Iowa, calls his candidacy “a non-starter for conservatives.” The conservative health-policy expert Avik Roy, writing in National Review, said last year, “The chances of John Kasich marrying Kate Upton are higher than the chances of John Kasich contending for the GOP nomination.”

Kasich’s transgressions against conservative orthodoxy are many. He supports the Common Core educational standards, which the right loathes; he says he would consider allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens; his state budgets have cut a lot of taxes, but raised others; and spending has increased on his watch. Conservatives’ primary complaint is that Kasich singlehandedly accepted the Obamacare-Medicaid expansion for his state, thus making him complicit in the most loathed policy of the loathed Democratic president.

But Kasich’s heresy is bigger than these specific ideological transgressions. It is tonal – he has golfed with Obama and generally declines to attack the president personally; he has justified his Medicaid decision on the basis of Christian compassion for the poor. And it is philosophical – Kasich is witheringly dismissive of the anti-government absolutists in his own party. “There’s a sort of fantasy out there, or a myth, that we can just cut all the government and that’ll give us our lower taxes,” he told me when I visited him in Ohio in February for a profile I was writing. “It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just get rid of all these programs and say, ‘People, just spontaneously do it!'”

This guy doesn’t buy the standard conservative argument that almost all government aid could be replaced by private charity:

“We do need to reawaken people” to help their fellow man, he said. “But that doesn’t mean government just disappears.” His definition of conservatism, he told me, is lifting people up by giving them the tools to help themselves. “People in Ohio are more hopeful [now] that they’re included. What’s better than that?” he said. “I think that’s conservatism. If it isn’t, it ought to be called that.”

No one knows what to call it:

Kasich’s current pitch to GOP voters rests on these twin pillars of trickle-down economics and Christian compassion. New Day for America, the nonprofit backing him, has been airing television ads that tout his work balancing the budget in the 1990s – he was the Budget Committee chairman under then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich – alongside footage of regular people and the slogan, “John Kasich’s for us.”

That may confuse people, and Ball sees the gamble here:

Is there a constituency in the Republican primary electorate for Kasich’s philosophy? Some are now comparing him to Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who ran to the left of the Republican field in 2012 and failed to make much of a mark. Kasich has retained the same strategist, John Weaver, who worked for Huntsman; after I quoted Weaver in my profile of Kasich, the strategist, who had not previously met Kasich, reached out to offer his services, he told me. Weaver, a former adviser to John McCain, is also persona non grata on the right for having worked for Democrats and for calling the GOP a “party of cranks.”

In profile, Huntsman and Kasich are similar: conservative pragmatists tarred by association with Obama. (Huntsman served as Obama’s first ambassador to China. Unforgettably and unaccountably, he spoke Chinese during a GOP debate in 2012.) But in temperament, they are very different. Huntsman, the heir to a vast fortune, exuded upper-class pretension as he lectured voters on what he called the “trust deficit.” Kasich, the son of a Pittsburgh mail carrier, has a feisty, irreverent, determinedly unpretentious demeanor. He can seem charmingly unpolished – or he can seem like a jerk, as when he harangued two fellow Republican governors and a wealthy donor during a meeting hosted by the Koch brothers.

But don’t underestimate him:

It’s true that he’s an instinctive and unscripted politician, but he may not be quite as much of a loose cannon as he appears; he’s capable of being disciplined when he needs to be, and his outbursts may be calculated to feed his image as authentic and down to earth. The example of Donald Trump, who supports universal healthcare while questioning the president’s birthplace and noisily insulting other Republicans, proves that there’s a segment of the GOP base that doesn’t really care what a candidate stands for as long as behaves in a reckless and impolite way.

Kasich has obviously been watching Donald Trump. Kasich can be reckless and impolite if that’s what the people want, but he’ll slip a little common sense and common decency in there on the side. That may not be conservatism, but he thinks it ought to be called that. They’ll never know what hit them.

Neither will the liberals. There’s nothing wrong with being conservative. Being cautious about change is a good thing. Being prudent with the limited funds available to government is a good thing. There might be such a thing as a good conservative, and a fine and sensible conservatism, which Andrew Sullivan, back on July 30, 2012, described this way:

I view conservatism as the practical engagement with policy and political institutions to adapt modestly and incrementally to social and economic change with the goal of maintaining the coherence and stability of a polity and a culture. It is a philosophy of moderation and balance, constantly alert to the manifold ways in which societies can, over time, lose their equilibrium. It is defined, along Edmund Burke’s foundational lines, as an opposition to ideological and theological politics in every form. … The point is a pragmatic response to contingent events that threaten social coherence.

John Kasich is not a good conservative. He’s only a good conservative in the pragmatic non-ideological sense, and conservatism is now an ideology, not practical engagement with policy and political institutions to adapt modestly and incrementally to social and economic change – as Sullivan went on to explain.

That doesn’t seem to matter to the base of the party – Donald Trump’s constituency – and to what might be called the donor class – Jeb Bush’s constituency. Ideology matters. Whatever John Kasich is, we need another name for it. There can be no good conservatives now, unless he’s one of them. That made this day not more of the same at all.

Posted in John Kasich | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Phenomenology of Trump

Complex and puzzling and persistent phenomena have always driven men crazy. There must be an explanation for why things are as they are – and in biology, Darwin’s theories on evolution over time – where critters who end up with certain useful traits survive and reproduce, while those without don’t survive and obviously don’t reproduce, and thus, slowly, a species can evolve into something quite new – has been tested again and again. Things do seem to work that way. Students in the public schools in Texas and Louisiana, however, are taught that’s still only a theory, in spite of all the fossil history and carbon dating and DNA overlaps – these complex and puzzling and persistent phenomena could just as easily be the work of a supernatural creator, and might well be. If so, these phenomena should be admired as mighty fine work and folks should leave it at that. Some things are beyond human comprehension. God works in strange and mysterious ways. Don’t ask questions. That only pisses Him off. You really don’t want to do that.

Americans have been arguing about this since the Scopes Monkey Trial – and the rest of the world has been laughing at us since then – but some theories just don’t work out. For about two thousand years, everyone just knew that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person – those four humors – black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood – directly influenced temperament and health. When these four fluids got out of balance people became phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine or melancholic. This covered problems with both physical and mental illnesses.

Cool. Adjust the fluid levels. Things will be fine, but modern medical research in the nineteenth century showed that this was utter nonsense. There are germs, you know. With a microscope you could even see them. So much for that theory…

Phenomenology is tricky. Theories of how things work must be tested against observable evidence. Sometimes the evidence shows that you got it all wrong – and it works that way in politics too. Donald Trump should be gone by now, given what he has been saying. The country is full of Mexicans. Most of them must be here illegally. They’re everywhere – in the schools, in the emergency rooms, in the streets. They’re taking over. Donald Trump says they’re rapists and murderers, or at least drug dealers. A few weeks ago he said we should have invaded Mexico, not Iraq – but cooler heads in the Republican Party will work to marginalize and make him go away. America doesn’t elect buffoons – and the cooler heads in the Republican Party lucked out with Trump’s John McCain comments. He said John McCain wasn’t really a war hero – he was captured – he was a loser, even if he did spend more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison, being tortured, and surviving. Trump likes the guys who weren’t captured – the winners, not the losers.

That ticked off a lot of people. John McCain is a hero. This was unforgivable – and if politics is anything like evolution, the survival of the fittest, where those with useful traits move on and that without die off – and Donald Trump should be gone, but he’s not gone:

Businessman Donald Trump surged into the lead for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, with almost twice the support of his closest rival, just as he ignited a new controversy after making disparaging remarks about Sen. John McCain’s Vietnam War service, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Support for Trump fell sharply on the one night that voters were surveyed following those comments. Telephone interviewing for the poll began Thursday, and most calls were completed before the news about the remarks was widely reported.

Although the sample size for the final day was small, the decline was statistically significant. Still, it is difficult to predict what could happen to Trump’s support in the coming days and weeks as the controversy plays out.

Trump took a hit, but it may not matter:

Even with the drop in support on the final night of the survey, Trump was the favorite of 24 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That is the highest percentage and biggest lead recorded by any GOP candidate this year in Post-ABC News polls and marks a six-fold increase in his support since late May, shortly before he formally joined the race.

Forget the old theory. Josh Marshall says it’s time to look at the real world:

Has Donald Trump finally done it? Finally gone too far?

Coming from Trump, the comments seem more ridiculous than outrageous. And let’s not forget that, only a decade ago, Republicans ran an entire presidential campaign around a more pervasive and aggressive denigration of another decorated Vietnam combat vet’s service record. But whatever I think of it, will Trump’s latest outrage finally sink him with his growing ranks of supporters? I very much doubt it.

That 2004 business with John Kerry did come up on CNN but, Marshall says, that doesn’t much matter now:

Let’s not forget: these are supporters who have cheered Trump as he’s called Mexicans rapists and criminals and all the rest. They don’t have delicate sensibilities. Let’s also not forget that these kinds of attacks on McCain (actually considerably uglier ones) have a long history among hard-core base Republicans, just the folks Trump is spiking with. They claim he had a lackluster career before his capture (some real truth in that) and they hint he may have been turned in some way by captors or betrayed his fellow POWs during his captivity (zero evidence for this). But even beyond the hard-core fringe that believes those things, McCain is just really not popular with base Republicans, especially not those who define themselves around the immigration issue. He’s the ultimate RINO. All of which is to say, if you’re someone who’s cheered to Trump’s clown-car-of-aggression and derp over recent weeks, I see little here that will make you reconsider your enthusiasm. In fact, I see a lot that will make you see this as more of a brash truth-teller who won’t take any crap from the Republican establishment, the media or its favored leaders.

At the risk of stating the obvious, resurrecting Mitt Romney to denounce Trump or having Jeb or the increasingly hapless Reince Priebus do so is unlikely to shift this perception of what’s going on.

Trump will just call them losers. He already has. If it’s survival of the fittest, the fittest may be Donald Trump:

Is Trump a joke? Of course, he is. But if we judge politicians by any other standard than their ability to garner votes and polling support, we’ll soon run out of candidates. If clowns are above your dignity to report on, find another line of work, especially with this primary field. Trump isn’t a distraction or mere entertainment any more than the rest of the GOP field is. In fact, this version of his candidacy (I can imagine him running more as a Perot-type centrist figure in earlier cycles) is the logical end result of the Tea Party-ization of the GOP since 2009.

Trump is running an angry, populist campaign focused on xenophobia and “I don’t care what you think” aggression against ‘the establishment’ and ‘elites’ of all stripes. To think that trash talk against an establishment favorite, who is only marginally relevant to the politics of the moment in any case, will upset that apple cart is to thoroughly misunderstand the politics of the moment. Trump is the Frankenstein’s Hair Monster, finally walking among us, who is the inevitable product of a decades-long embrace of clown-show anti-establishmentism and the stoking of xenophobic and racial paranoia.

How did that happen? The blogger BooMan suggests this – “I still believe that John McCain ripped a tear in the fabric of the universe and let some alien form of Stupid arrive here on our planet when he gave us Sarah Palin.”

He may be onto something:

Asked about the dispute between Donald Trump and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona – the candidate at the top of the ticket when she was 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee – former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin Monday afternoon called both men heroes.

“I have the good fortune of knowing both John McCain and Donald Trump well,” Palin told CNN in an email. “Both men have more in common than the today’s media hype would have you believe. Both blazed trails in their careers and love our great nation.”

Palin, who attached a photograph of McCain returning from Vietnam to her email, wrote, “Sen. McCain dedicated his life to serving our country, and in my humble opinion the sacrifices made by all ethical service members are heroic – putting it all on the line to defend freedom IS heroic – and Donald Trump is a hero in another arena.”

Follow her logic:

“Trump is the candidate giving voice to untold millions of fed-up Americans witnessing a purposeful destruction of our economy and the equal opportunity for success that made America exceptional,” Palin said. “We’re watching career politicians throw away our kids’ future through bankrupting public budgets and ripping open our porous borders which, obvious to all us non-politicians, puts us at great risk.”

Seeming to take issue with some of the language used by McCain in the past to describe attendees at Trump rallies and some of the Senate tea party members, Palin added, “Everywhere I go, hard-working patriotic Americans – not ‘crazies’ or ‘wacko birds’ – ask me to pass on to Mr. Trump encouragement to keep educating the masses about true ramifications of illegal immigration, and in general the real state of our union.”

Josh Marshall had it right about these people, and then there’s Rush Limbaugh:

Trump is not following the rules that targets are supposed to follow. Targets are supposed to immediately grovel, apologize, to say something like, “You know, it wasn’t me. That wasn’t me. That’s not the real me. That’s not who I am. And I forever apologize. I have the utmost respect for Senator McCain, and I really regret saying it, and I don’t know that I can go on.”

And then everybody cheers that the target has seen the light and is now going to shrink away from public life, never to ever be heard from or seen from again. And that usually means another Republican has been taken out. And again, guiding all of this is the arrogant presumption that the majority American people are as outraged as all these media types are. So we shall see. Not only is Trump not following the rules, he’s doubling down on the criticism.

The American people haven’t seen something like this in a long time. I’m serious. They have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down, and tell everybody to go to hell. What they’ve seen is an embattled public figure apologize and shrink away.

The Republican Party has lost control of its own party, as Ryan Lizza notes here:

Ever since the nineteen-seventies, when both parties opened up their nominating systems to become more democratic, the parties have been less and less able to exercise control over the messy system of producing a Presidential nominee. Self-funded personalities with no history of working their way up through the ranks have been a feature of almost every campaign.

Even worse for efforts to control the process, the recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance have meant that much of the important work of parties has moved over to Super PACs. Earlier this year, before it was dealing with Trump’s kamikaze-like assault on the GOP, the RNC was grappling with the Koch brothers’ attempt to essentially set up its own alternative to the Republican Party.

One can laugh at Trump and his absurdities, but it’s wrong to say that he doesn’t matter. He has exposed and exploited the Republican Party’s two great weaknesses: the fact that many of its voters don’t agree with Party leaders on immigration and the fact that the Party is powerless to do much about it.

Things have changed. Our theories of how our political parties work seem to be wrong. We might as well be talking about black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. Ask an expert. Ask Heather Cox Richardson, who wrote To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party – the definitive work on the matter. She’ll tell you this:

Trump is the product of a deliberate Republican strategy, adopted by Richard Nixon’s people in 1968, to attract voters with an apocalyptic redemption story rather than reasoned argument. It has taken almost 50 years, but we have finally arrived at the culmination of postmodern politics in which Republican leaders use words to create their own reality.

So, follow her logic:

After World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower and men like New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller led the Republican Party with policies based in reasoned argument. They used the government to regulate the economy and to promote social welfare, much as Democrats did, although with a philosophy that emphasized social unity rather than class conflict. The policies of these “Me Too” Republicans infuriated Movement Conservatives on the far right, who insisted that all government activism was communism. In 1964, Movement Conservative spokesman Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination when Rockefeller’s womanizing spectacularly imploded his candidacy. Movement Conservatives used their hero’s nomination to advance a new kind of politics.

America’s moderate consensus was enormously popular, but Phyllis Schlafly, the president of the Illinois Federation of Republican Women, flat-out denied that reality. In her famous book “A Choice Not an Echo,” she insisted that studies showing that voters opposed Goldwater’s extremism were part of a “propaganda machine” that used fake polls, radio and newspapers to destroy anyone but the chosen candidates of an elite cabal. She explained that all government activism outside of military buildup was a conspiracy to bankrupt regular Americans. Financiers and banking interests fed off expensive policies, pushed by an educated Eastern elite, and together these men were dragging America into the web of communism.

The world was really quite simple, Schlafly insisted, and it could be understood without any fancy education. It was divided in two, black and white, Communism and Freedom. Eggheads complained that Goldwater “had one-sentence solutions” for complicated problems, she wrote, but simple solutions were the answer. What should America do about communism? Stop it! The very fact that establishment Republicans opposed Goldwater’s nomination proved that he was the right man for the job. He was the “grass roots” candidate, the candidate for the little guy who voted his principles, not because he wanted a payoff.

That should sound familiar now, because that’s Donald Trump. Goldwater crashed and burned, but Richard Nixon didn’t:

Nixon’s handlers used new media to play to Schlafly’s script. They ignored people’s brains and went for their guts.

“Voters are basically lazy,” one Nixon media adviser wrote. “Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand… The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable…”

Nixon’s people hired advertising executive Harry Treleaven, who believed the new medium of television had changed the nature of politics. For him, politicians were no longer policy wonks; they were actors with a narrative. Under Treleaven, Nixon’s people ignored policy positions and instead used television to create a candidate with a simple message: America was on the brink of disaster, and only Nixon could save it. They hired a brilliant young photographer to put together a series of television ads from stock photographs strung together to create a sense of doom; at the end a voice intoned “Nixon” over an iconic image of the nation. At the end of every ad ran the words: “Vote like your whole world depended on it.”

The campaign also hired a young television producer named Roger Ailes to stage “town hall” events for the candidate. Ailes hand-picked “regular” people to question Nixon in carefully managed shows from which the press was excluded. Ailes arranged applause, the set, Nixon’s answers, the camera angles, the crowd cheering the candidate, the careful shading of Nixon’s makeup. “Let’s face it,” he said. “A lot of people think Nixon is dull. Think he’s a bore, a pain in the ass.” But carefully managed television could “make them forget all that.”

It did. And so, after 1968, Republicans increasingly relied on their apocalyptic redemption story. America was in terrible trouble, because grasping minorities, women and workers wanted government policies that would suck tax dollars from hardworking white people. Democrats backed those policies because they would do anything to buy votes. It was up to Republicans to restore America to its former glory. In a time of dramatic economic and social upheaval, this story reassured voters left behind in the new conditions that the answers to their problems were simple and that coming up with those answers required no great education or thought. It simply required the right principles.

That made Donald Trump possible, by setting the stage:

Ronald Reagan’s Welfare Queen represented the misuse of tax dollars for lazy African-Americans, for example, but he also incorrectly insisted that President Carter had slashed the nation’s military budget, and warned in his inaugural address that the nation was in a crisis that rivaled the Great Depression, a crisis created by government activism.

To avoid niggling fact-checkers, in 1987, President Reagan’s FCC abandoned the Fairness Doctrine, a decision that meant that public broadcasters were no longer required to provide their audience with opposing viewpoints. Within a year, talk radio had taken off, with hosts like Rush Limbaugh hammering home the vision of a nation gone to ruin, awaiting redemption from the latest Movement Conservative candidate. In 1992, Limbaugh began to broadcast a television show, produced by Roger Ailes, to take the story to viewers. By 1994, the show was carried by 225 television stations. Two years later, Ailes would become the CEO of a new media channel, Fox News, which used the same formula – albeit updated – that Ailes had used to package Nixon’s story almost 30 years before.

By the time of the George W. Bush administration, the Movement Conservatives had erased the line between image and reality. In 2004, a senior adviser to Bush famously dismissed “the reality-based community” to journalist Ron Suskind. Gone were the days when politicians could find solutions based on their observations of the careful study of discernible reality. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore… When we act, we create our own reality… We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do,” he said.

Donald Trump was inevitable. The Republican Party had evolved into a new species.

Frank Bruni, who spent two years as the New York Times’ man in Italy, has a different theory. Donald Trump is really Silvio Berlusconi – George W. Bush’s best buddy – and that goes like this:

They have the same obsession with their wealth. Same need to crow about it. Same belief that it’s the irrefutable measure of their genius. Same come-on to countrymen: If I enriched myself, I can enrich you.

They’re priapic twins, identical in their insistence on being seen as paragons of irresistible lust. If hideously sexist utterances ensue, so be it. Loins before decency. Pheromones over good sense.

And the vanity. Oh, the vanity. During my meal with Berlusconi, who was then the prime minister of Italy, he grew most animated when complaining about Italian journalists’ put-downs of him as a dwarf.

A dwarf! He stressed to me that he was taller than José María Aznar, Spain’s leader at the time. A few years later, on a television talk show, he informed Italians that he was “definitely taller” than Napoleon. And a few years after that, at a political rally, he proclaimed: “I am taller than Putin and Sarkozy,” referring to his Russian and French counterparts. “I don’t understand why all the caricaturists portray me as a dwarf, whereas the others are allowed a normal height.”

We give in, Silvio. You’re a mountain among midgets.

And we admit it, Donald. No one’s hair sweeps the heavens like yours.

You two are the biggest, the best, shaming all the rest.

That’s the general idea:

Trump is Berlusconi in waiting, with less cosmetic surgery. Berlusconi is Trump in senescence, with even higher alimony payments.

Trumpusconi is a study in the peril and pitfalls of unchecked testosterone and tumescent avarice. It’s a commentary on wealth in the Western world: how ardently certain blowhards pursue it, how much the rest of us forgive in those who attain it, how thoroughly we equate money and accomplishment.

It’s a comedy. It’s a tragedy. It’s even a porn flick.

Of course it is:

“Best Sex I Ever Had” blared a front-page headline in the New York Post in 1990. It ostensibly quoted Marla Maples, the second of Trump’s three wives, but a skeptical reader wondered who really planted that story, especially as the years went by and Trump’s boasts flowered.

“All of the women on ‘The Apprentice’ flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

“Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I’m getting?'”

“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

But those are puny bleats next to Berlusconi’s trumpeting. A few years ago he assessed his erotic impact, musing: “When asked if they would like to have sex with me, 30 percent of women said, ‘Yes,’ while the other 70 percent replied, ‘What, again?'”

The two billionaires’ tasteless words are so interchangeable that it’s sometimes hard to tell who said what…

And that’s not the only parallel:

Like Trump, Berlusconi built his fortune with real estate. He then bought media outlet after media outlet, infiltrating people’s hourly lives, imprinting himself on their very consciousness. A similar impulse animates Trump, who has emblazoned his name not just on skyscrapers and casinos but on mattresses, clothes, cologne.

They’re both after omnipresence, and they both understood early on how crucial television was to that. Berlusconi took ownership of Italy’s airwaves, which he used to broadcast game shows and news programs with women in various states of undress. Trump took partial control of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, and played the lord of all capitalism on “The Apprentice.”

To their profound chauvinism they add racial insensitivity, though, in fairness, Berlusconi’s doesn’t have Trump’s calculated, mean-spirited edge. Berlusconi’s infamous crack about the Obamas – that the couple must have gone to the beach, because they looked tanned – pales next to Trump’s anti-immigrant tantrums and xenophobic rants. In a clip from a radio interview released on Friday, Trump called for a boycott of Mexico, saying that “it’s a corrupt place” that treats America “very, very badly.” He pledged not to set foot there. A howl of grief rose from Guadalajara, and Ciudad Juárez wept.

And thus we are in a new world:

Both men have learned that they can turn such cloddishness to their advantage, by casting it as unvarnished candor. Sloppy talk becomes straight talk. Insult becomes authenticity, even if it’s pure theater and so long as it’s a hell of a show. And self-regard goes a long, long way. It can be mistaken for wisdom. It can masquerade as vision.

Complex and puzzling and persistent phenomena have always demanded an explanation, a theory that explains such things, and Bruni offers this Grand Berlusconi Theory of Trump. Heather Cox Richardson offers an evolutionary theory. Trump is the inevitable quite new species of Republican that had to evolve, given what had been happening since 1964 in the party. This was natural selection at work.

Each theory is possible. The only theory that is not possible is the theory that Trump will soon be gone. He’s a phenomenon.

Posted in Donald Trump, Republicans Lose Control of Their Party | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What They Should Have Said

That was quite a weekend – three ambitious men, who each tell us that they are the only one among all those other fools running who should be our next president, said what they really shouldn’t have said. One apologized, one said he really didn’t what to talk about it, and the third refused to take anything back, because he never takes anything back, and that’s why people love him, even if the polls show most people despise him. The third was Donald Trump, of course.

No one was surprised – but if voters have to choose who gets to be our next president, they have to choose between different ways of making adjustments when you really step in it – when you should have known better. That sort of thing comes up in every presidency. There will be things a president really shouldn’t have said – George H. W. Bush shouting “Read my lips, no new taxes” – Bill Clinton pounding the podium and declaring that he “did NOT have sex with that woman” – George W. Bush quite publicly telling the bad guys in Iraq to “bring it on” (they did) – Barack Obama talking about “red lines” that Syria shouldn’t cross. Oops. That’s four presidents in a row. It will happen again, and what do the American people want their president to do with these unfortunate statements? Take it back or at least explain it better? That shows you’re a flip-flopper who will say anything and who believes in nothing. Refuse to talk about it? You’ll look like you’re hiding something. Say the same dumb thing over and over again, but louder, until everyone gives up and moves on? That shows you’re strong, with unshakable convictions, that you’re a rock – or that shows that you’re dumb as a rock, and proud of it. There are no good options here.

The forgotten Democrat in the race at the moment chose the first option:

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley apologized on Saturday for saying “All lives matter” while discussing police violence against African-Americans with liberal demonstrators.

Several dozen demonstrators interrupted the former Maryland governor while he was speaking here at the Netroots Nation conference, a gathering of liberal activists, demanding that he address criminal justice and police brutality. When they shouted, “Black lives matter!” a rallying-cry of protests that broke out after several black Americans were killed at the hands of police in recent months, O’Malley responded: “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.”

Later that day, O’Malley apologized for using the phrase in that context if it was perceived that he was minimizing the importance of blacks killed by police.

“I meant no disrespect,” O’Malley said in an interview on This Week in Blackness, a digital show. “That was a mistake on my part and I meant no disrespect. I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.”

He figured it out. Say “All Lives Matter” and you’re telling a whole lot of outraged black folks that they’re not so special, so sit down and shut up. If they want to hear that sort of thing they can tune into Fox News all day. “Black Lives Matter Too” might have been a little better. That hints at equal treatment under the law. What he seems to have been trying to say, however, is “BLACK LIVES MATTER AS MUCH AS WHITE LIVES” – that’s nicely militant and a challenge to the Fox News crowd. Are those folks going to deny that? Let them pull out their little pocket-Constitutions and try – but O’Malley didn’t say that. He threw out a compressed platitude.

Hillary Clinton made the same mistake in June and skipped this Netroots Nation conference in July. She learned her lesson. She has built a careful campaign on endless nice-sounding unremarkable platitudes – she doesn’t want to offend anybody. These Netroots Nation folks would have eaten her alive, so O’Malley now knows what Hilary knew. You don’t have to walk back statements you never made – and white votes matter too. You can’t be too careful. There are a lot of angry white folks who want to tell these outraged black folks that they’re not so special, so sit down and shut up – everyone’s got problems. You win elections with strategic silence.

Scott Walker tried that:

Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker is continuing to struggle over questions about gay rights, telling CNN this weekend that he does not know whether being gay is a choice.

“I don’t have an opinion on every single issue out there,” Walker told CNN in an interview aboard the Winnebago that is transporting him around Iowa, where he is focusing much of his time and campaign resources. “I mean, to me, that’s, I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question.”

That’s curious. He may not have an opinion on every single issue out there, but he ought to on this one:

After the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to allow gay marriage in all 50 states, he called for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to ban same-sex marriage. Walker’s two college-age sons have said that they support gay marriage. Tonette Walker, Walker’s wife, has said that she’s emotionally torn on the issue, as a close relative is gay and recently married her partner, but that she stands with her husband on the issue.

One might wonder where he stands:

Early last week, Walker told the Independent Journal Review, an online news outlet aimed at young conservatives, that the Boy Scouts of America should keep its ban on gay leaders because it “protected children and advanced Scout values.” That immediately ignited a backlash, with gay rights activists saying he needed to apologize for implying that young boys must be protected from gay leaders. Walker later said that he wants to protect Boy Scouts from a “political and media discussion.” He has since said that it is up to the Boy Scouts, not him, to decide whether the policy should be changed.

But he wants a constitutional amendment that would allow states to ban same-sex marriage, but when CNN asked whether being gay is a choice, Walker said that’s “not even an issue for me to be involved in” – so go figure. If being gay is a choice, these people should be shunned and humiliated and excluded from marriage, and much else, because they made that choice – until they choose to be straight. If being gay is not a choice, then why exclude them from marriage and all the rest? They didn’t “do” anything. The question Walker was asked goes to the underlying premise that drives his efforts to exclude gays from much of American life. Are you trying to exclude them for being who they cannot help being? That doesn’t seem fair. We stopped excluding black folks from much of American life, because, after all, they didn’t exactly choose to be black. They are who they are, so we decided they had the same rights as the rest of us. Isn’t this the same sort of thing? Or did they choose to be evil and thus forfeit their rights? Which is it?

Walker wouldn’t say. He’s hiding his answer, for political reasons – two thirds of the country is fine with gay marriage but he really needs that evangelical vote – or he has no answer, because he never really thought this through. Either way he looks bad. He won’t talk or he doesn’t know. And he wants to be president? That’ll be a tough sell. What’s the campaign slogan? “Don’t bother me”?

Of course Donald Trump won’t shut up:

Presidential candidate Donald Trump refused to apologize on Sunday for his remarks about the war record of U.S. Senator John McCain despite a growing fire storm among fellow Republicans, and said he had no plans to drop out of the race.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” if he owed McCain an apology for saying the former prisoner in North Vietnam was only considered a war hero because he was captured, Trump said, “No, not at all.” He again blasted McCain’s support for fellow veterans.

“John McCain has failed,” Trump said, citing delays in healthcare for veterans. “I believe that I will do far more for veterans than John McCain has done for many, many years, with all talk no action … Nothing gets done.”

McCain, a Navy fighter pilot, was imprisoned and tortured in a Hanoi prison for five years during the Vietnam War after being shot down.

Trump drew fire on Saturday for telling an audience in Iowa that McCain was “not a war hero,” and got that distinction only because he was captured…

All he had to say is McCain is a hero for surviving and for how he held up in that Hanoi prison for five years – McCain was fighting for us, after all – but say that sometimes heroes end up being jerks, after they were heroes. Don’t deny the heroism. Thank him for his service, and then talk about what happened after that. How hard could that be? That would have avoided this:

Republican commentators said the latest remarks could mark the beginning of the end of his presidential bid.

Trump rejected calls by fellow Republicans that he drop out of the presidential race and said they were simply upset about his lead in recent polls in North Carolina, Nevada and other states.

On Saturday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Trump’s comments were “shameful”.

“And so is the fact that it took so long for his fellow Republican candidates to start standing up to him,” Clinton was quoted as saying in Politico.

Forget her:

Two fellow Republican presidential candidates, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, speaking on different Sunday talk shows, said Trump’s remarks made him unfit to serve as commander in chief.

“This is not just an insult to John McCain, who clearly is a war hero and a great man,” Rubio told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It’s not just absurd. It’s offensive. It’s ridiculous. And I do think it is a disqualifier as commander in chief.”

Perry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Republican Party needed to reach out to diverse populations, not drive them away, citing Trump’s recent, widely criticized comments about Mexican immigrants.

Trump predicted he would win the Hispanic vote if he won the Republican presidential nomination.

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski did not indicate the candidate would be changing tack, or holding back.

He is who he is. Why listen to McCain or Romney or the rest of the Republicans? McCain and Romney lost presidential elections – and at this point, Trump leads in all the polls on the Republican side of things. Sure, he’s a buffoon who says increasingly more outrageous things. Sure, the base of the party is increasingly more outraged – the Supreme Court, which they had counted on as their own, ruled once again that Obamacare was just fine, legally, and that no state could ban gay marriage, as gays had a legal right to marry, just like everyone else. Then the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina, and it’s coming down everywhere. They lost their proud symbol of sticking it to big government – the one in Washington. Or that was about a proud heritage? And abortion is still legal. And every time they call to complain about their cable service being out again, the disembodied voice says “Press 1 for English” – and that’s really irritating. The country is full of Mexicans. Most of them must be here illegally. They’re everywhere – in the schools, in the emergency rooms, in the streets. They’re taking over. Donald Trump says they’re rapists and murderers, or at least drug dealers. He understands the outrage about those folks and about everything else – and that explains why he’s doing so well.

Ah well. Cooler heads in the Republican Party will work to marginalize Trump in subtle ways, or wait for the outrage to burn itself out. They don’t want to lose a third presidential election because all they offer the nation is a loud temper tantrum. The smart money is on Jeb Bush. He understands the outrage that the base feels. He gets it. But he’s careful not to be a buffoon about any of it. America doesn’t elect buffoons – and the cooler heads in the Republican Party lucked out with Trump’s John McCain comments. Maybe they can force him out now.

William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the University of Michigan, thinks that might be dangerous:

The billionaire may play the buffoon, but he is an important one – one whom Americans appear to adore. A USA Today-Suffolk University poll released Tuesday shows him leading all Republican presidential hopefuls. And while establishment candidates in both parties might want to ignore him, or express a milder version of his anti-immigration opinions, an enormous number of voters clearly like his views. Pretending they don’t allows Trump and other immigration firebrands, such as Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz, to resuscitate a century-old nativism that could stick around beyond this election. Given that the United States is undergoing a demographic diversity explosion, our workforce – our very future – is tied to people Trump is rallying support against.

Trump’s message is a call to 1950s American greatness and a simmering, mad-as-hell populism that blames Chinese imports, freeloading Saudis and Mexican immigrants (and Mexico) for the nation’s ills. It appeals to a vein of the U.S. electorate that will remain a significant voting bloc for several election cycles to come: older whites. Trump calls his supporters the “silent majority,” the same name Richard Nixon used to marshal support from a white, middle-class, middle-aged population that felt underappreciated and feared the dramatic social change wrought by activist, antiwar youths and the civil rights movement.

Don’t ignore those folks:

Pew Research Center data from 2012 showed that more than half of white baby boomers and seniors believed that increasing numbers of newcomers from other countries represented a threat to traditional American values. They were less likely than minorities and younger whites to hold a positive opinion of the growing numbers of Hispanics and Asians in the United States. These views translate into negative attitudes toward government programs they see as not benefitting their own children and grandchildren. A 2013 Pew survey showed that, given the choice between a larger government that offered more services and a smaller government that offered fewer, less than a quarter of white baby boomers favored larger government, compared with 7 in 10 minorities of the Gen X and millennial generations.

Trump has targeted them:

It is fitting that Arizona was the site of Trump’s biggest splash so far. Last weekend, he held court there with an enthusiastic throng of mostly older supporters after an introduction by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a renowned immigration hard-liner. Arizona leads the nation in an emerging generation gap that reflects both culture and race. Because of its continued draw of mostly white seniors from other parts of the country and its sharp gain in youthful immigrants and U.S.-born minorities over the past 20 years, the state’s over-65 population is far whiter than its child population (82 percent vs. 41 percent white). It has, in many ways, become ground zero for the politics of fear, famous for tamping down ethnic studies in public schools and passing strict immigration measures, such as the law that requires police to ascertain immigration status when they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the country illegally. (When the bill was proposed, it was favored by 65 percent of whites but only 21 percent of Hispanics; 62 percent of those ages 55 and over but only 45 percent of those under age 35.)

Trump is more dangerous because of this:

Democrats cannot make the politics of fear go away simply by courting the young-adult and minority voting blocs. While it is true that the supersize turnout and support of those groups helped elect President Obama twice, the white portion of the electorate, which votes strongly Republican, underperformed in support of John McCain in 2008, and white turnout was down in 2012. Rhetoric playing to the fears of older Americans could change that pattern and draw more white voters to the polls in 2016.

While racial minorities now account for 95 percent of U.S. population growth and represent 38 percent of the population, as reported by the Census Bureau last month, there is a sharp lag in diversity between the overall population and the portion that turns out on Election Day. A disproportionate number of Hispanics and Asians are either too young to vote, are not citizens or are not registered, qualities that will not change for several more election cycles. Even in 2012, with strong minority turnout, whites made up 74 percent of all voters. And within the white voting bloc, it is the older electorate – those most greatly fearing change – that will be gaining as baby boomers continue to age. By my calculation, the number of (mostly white) eligible voters over age 45 will be 26 percent larger in 2024 than those under age 45. This disparity will be further widened by the higher turnout of older white voters, who may not determine future elections but will continue to have a strong voice.

We’ve been warned, and a background item in the New York Times offers this:

In what passes for normal inside Donald J. Trump’s unorthodox campaign for president, he flew from Arkansas to Iowa on his Trump-emblazoned jet on Friday, arrived the next morning at a candidate forum without any prepared remarks and, wearing a bright red tie that evoked his days on “The Apprentice,” told the world exactly what he thought about Senator John McCain’s reputation as a war hero.

It was an improvised fit of pique, roundly and vigorously denounced by his rivals all weekend, that exposed the biggest vulnerability of Mr. Trump’s campaign for president: It is built entirely around the instincts and grievances of its unpredictable candidate – and does not rely on a conventional political operation that protects presidential hopefuls from themselves.

There you have it. Martin O’Malley apologized and clarified. Scott Walker would say nothing. Donald Trump makes it up as he goes along:

The remarks about Mr. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, ended any qualms party officials had about criticizing Mr. Trump for fear of alienating his supporters and might normally have led to days of backpedaling and extended explanations. Even as Mr. Trump insisted that no one was troubled by his comments, his small group of aides emailed one another about how to respond to the growing criticism. But the word “sorry” is not in Mr. Trump’s lexicon, and apologizing was not an option that was discussed, people privy to the internal debate said.

In a sign of the seat-of-the-pants nature of his campaign, it sent out a series of dissonant messages, some trying to tamp down the controversy (by showing support from veterans) and others going on the attack (especially of the media).

This is not a typical campaign:

Never mind that his top rivals for the Republican nomination treat campaigning like a full-time job. For Mr. Trump, the task of seeking the White House occupies half his time, he estimated in an interview. (“It’s probably 50-50,” he said.)

The rest of the Republican field’s top tier has cast a wide net to find experienced political aides. But Mr. Trump has plucked much of his team from inside his own corporate empire. (The résumé of his Iowa co-chairwoman: She was a contestant on “The Apprentice.”)

While his competitors may be busy working through thick stacks of books on world affairs to prove their qualifications, Mr. Trump says he has little use for such. (“One of the problems with foreign policy,” he explained, “is that it changes on a daily basis.” As a busy man, he added, he prefers newspapers.)

There is no real policy shop churning out position papers, or for that matter a well-staffed central headquarters plotting his long-term message, or speechwriters drafting – or modulating – his words. And there is a circular, interoffice quality to what the campaign does with its money.

That may work a bit longer:

Is the man known for the catchphrase “You’re fired!” willing to soften his caustic language? Will he slog through the grueling rituals of a long campaign? And, above all, will his message keep resonating – or will his own outlandishness undermine his candidacy, turning it into his latest exercise in brand-building?

So far, tellingly, he is continuing to criticize Mr. McCain, and has shown little interest in building a conventional campaign…

The reality is that Mr. Trump is pulling off something that, for now, requires little planning, spending or organization: He is giving voice to a profound rage in the Republican electorate – over economic displacement, illegal immigration and America’s diminished place in the world.

“I have a pulse to the ground,” he added. “I think I know what’s wrong with the country, and I think I’ve been able to portray that in a way that people agree with.”

Or else he’s got it all wrong. He speaks for only angry white baby boomers, and this is their last hurrah. But he does speak. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t just shut up. He says whatever comes to mind. That’s his appeal, until everyone realizes the quality of that mind. One should be careful about what one says. People will figure out what you really think.

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