Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Anti-Trump

Update: Holy Crap, Tim Kaine just killed it in his first speech with Clinton, writes Michael Tomasky, in his piece entitled The Anti-Trump. Also this description of their first joint appearance, with tweets in response.

And as usual, Borowitz has the last word:"The involvement of a seemingly decent human being in the 2016 election campaign left American voters stunned and deeply bewildered on Saturday. In interviews across the country, voters expressed reactions ranging from shock to total incomprehension at the campaign d├ębut of a man who, at first blush, exhibits none of the outward characteristics of a sociopath or clinical narcissist."

Like many, I didn't recall a lot about Tim Kaine.  I'm embarrassed to admit that in some respects I even had him a bit confused with the current Virginia governor, who I don't much like.  But everything I've read about him today has me believing that he's an excellent choice for Clinton's vice-president.

It's been clear for a few days that he was going to be the choice, especially once Clinton said that her top priority was someone who could take on the job of President immediately, if necessary, and who had foreign policy experience. Apart from the sitting Senators that were considered earlier, only Kaine qualified in both respects.

 It's worth noting in this regard that Kaine was on the shortlist for Obama's vp in 2008, and his lack of foreign policy experience then was a factor against him.  It was after that he ran for the Senate and made sure he got on armed services and foreign affairs committees. That's something that Tom Perez and others mentioned should consider if they have national aspirations.  Perez (as I noted) would be a politically galvanizing choice, but Hillary probably judged him as not quite ready for the big chair in terms of experience.

In any case, Kaine is a good choice.  In most respects, he is the Anti-Trump: he is genial, self-effacing, compassionate, positive, respected for working across party lines, knowledgeable and free of scandal.  He is deeply experienced at governing, moving up from city council to governor of Virginia to the U.S. Senate.  He's never lost an election.

Politically he has a perfect score on women's issues from Planned Parenthood, and an F from the NRA.  He's got a pretty strong environmental record (though nobody mentioned was especially known for focusing on the Climate Crisis.)  He was the first major officeholder to back Barack Obama in 2008.

The Bernicrats seem to hold two things against him.  One is his support of trade agreements--reasonable people can differ on this, though I believe the effect of trade agreements on jobs is overdrawn, especially in comparison to other factors. (I know for example that the loss of Big Steel in Pittsburgh had little to do with it, and I was there.)

The second is his recent request that the differences between community banks and credit unions on the one hand, and big commercial banks on the other, be considered in banking regulations.  Some Bernicrats say this means he's for bank de-regulation, which is the kind of nonsense that may get donations for your organization but which is a destructive distortion.  (Maybe people in urban areas don't appreciate the roles of community banks and credit unions, but in small places we do.)

When Trump went all fear and hate, the opportunity that the Dems are likely to take is to go all hope and we're in this together.  Kaine is perfect for that.  Not only is he basically positive, even his negative campaigning includes the positive, as when he asked the Hillary crowd: Do you want a ‘You’re fired’ president or a ‘You’re hired’ president? Do you want a trash-talker president or a bridge-builder president?"

What's especially going to make Kaine an effective candidate (if the campaign plays these cards right) has more to do with the details of his story.  He grew up in the Midwest and succeeded as a liberal in a fairly conservative southern state.  As Governor, he managed the state through the Virginia Tech gun violence aftermath and became a strong advocate for gun control.

As a lawyer he represented death row prisoners and victims of housing discrimination.  Even Republicans admire him both for being bipartisan and for being true to his convictions.  He didn't waver or waffle, one said.

 His son is an infantry officer.  He attends a mostly black Catholic church (and sings in the gospel choir), and lived in an integrated neighborhood in Richmond.  He speaks Spanish, having learned it teaching in a Jesuit school in central America.

He's low-key and says he's boring.  But he plays the harmonica.  He carries one with him, loves to play with bluegrass bands.  Anybody who does that is not, to my mind, boring.  Even if he may not be that good.  (He says his wife says 'Hey, you ought to play anytime they ask you because as soon as you're not in elected office, they're not going to ask you anymore.' ")

Elizabeth Warren is still a superstar, and her appearances with and without Hillary will still electrify crowds.  Same with Cory Booker. Tom Perez is less known generally but still can be helpful with Latino voters.  And of course there's Bernie, Bill and the most popular politician in America at the moment: President Obama.

Kaine brings out the best parts of Hillary's biography and record, and balances against the worst.  I hope they are working overtime to get this across at the Dem convention next week.

For that's the opportunity here: like me, most people don't know much about Tim Kaine.  Everybody knows way too much about Hillary and Trump (or they think they do.)  The GOPers blew whatever opportunity they had to introduce Mike Pence as a real person.  The ball is now in the Dems court, and they better not drop it.

The Red-Faced Menace (continued)

Reaction to Trump and his acceptance speech continued on Friday, with striking strength and unanimity: this guy is truly dangerous.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times editorially warned of the disaster to the United States that a Trump presidency would be.  Other news organizations suggested the same, while some opinion sites were even stronger.

Individuals added insights, elaborations and unique expressions.  In his WAPost opinion piece called This is how fascism comes to Amerca, scholar Robert Kagan delineated the possible process that only begins with Trump's election.  "To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche."  If Trump succeeds in winning based on these, they will play out and entrench themselves.

Those GOPer pols who back him for political expediency will find themselves just as victimized as everyone else.  (JFK had a metaphor for this in his Inaugural: Those who try to ride the back of the tiger might wind up inside.) Kagan:

 "What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command..."

Trump's election is unlikely to happen, but among those who insist that it could happen are Frank Rich at New York and John Cassidy at the New Yorker.

And another voice has been added to those wondering about Trump's ties to Putin and Russia--the estimable Paul Krugman, in his column The Siberian Candidate. Noting Trump's public infatuation with Putin (along with other rabid rightists), the involvement of his campaign manager in Putin-backed political campaigns, he wonders about the extent of Putin and Russian involvement in Trump's business empire, much of which is not known, partly because Trump refuses to release his tax returns. "We do know that he has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian businesses. You might say that these are private actors, not the government — but in Mr. Putin’s crony-capitalist paradise, this is a meaningless distinction."

Krugman concludes: At some level, Mr. Trump’s motives shouldn’t matter. We should be horrified at the spectacle of a major-party candidate casually suggesting that he might abandon American allies — just as we should be horrified when that same candidate suggests that he might welsh on American financial obligations. But there’s something very strange and disturbing going on here, and it should not be ignored.

Of all the pieces published since Trump's speech that I've read, Timothy Egan's column Make America Hate Again in the New York Times is the most succinct and eloquent.  Evaluating the entire GOP convention he wrote: "For a campaign now devoted to “law and order,” the launch was mob rule: in spirit, in tone, in words. Long after we’ve forgotten Trump’s closing speech — that paean to self, that nightmare portrait of an America where the lights have gone out — we will remember the savagery just below the surface."

That savagery emerged in one pointed set of terms popular at the convention, described in the New York magazine blog piece called How 'Bitch' Became the Word of the Republican National Convention. 

Absorbing and evaluating all this is not pleasant, so as usual we turn to Borowitz at the New Yorker for his take:

Trump Succeeds in Delivering Speech No One Will Want to Plagiarize

According to his staff, Trump and his speechwriters had been working overtime during the week to create a tirade that was sufficiently bloated, unhinged, and terrifying to discourage potential plagiarists from reusing excerpts in the future.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Red-Faced Menace

The Hitler side of Trump won out over the appeaser in his acceptance speech, which should be taught in any self-respecting class on demagoguery.

The speech is built on the three pillars of demagoguery:

1. Assert (with lies) that everything is dangerously falling apart, and everyone else in authority is in on it.

2.  Assert that "I" am the only one who can fix it.

3.  I will fix it as the voice and the servant of the humble masses, who no one else is listening to or understands.

Jeff Greenfield: In this speech, we have finally seen the answer to the perplexing question of just what political philosophy Donald Trump embraces. It is Caesarism: belief in a leader of great strength who, by force of personality, imposes order on a land plagued by danger. If you want to know why Trump laid such emphasis on “law and order”—using Richard Nixon’s 1968 rhetoric in a country where violent crime is at a 40-year low—it is because nations fall under the sway of a Caesar only when they are engulfed by fear. And the subtext of this acceptance speech was: be afraid; be very afraid."

Caesar was about the kindest comparison.  Jonathan Alter and Bill Maher referenced Mussolini, as much for style. Other words used to described this approach include authoritarian, totalitarian, or more plainly, dictator.  There are nuances of difference in all these terms, but there's no nuance in Trump.

"This is the classic theme of an authoritarian seeking to manipulate the masses by raw emotion," wrote conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin.

What else can you say about someone who misidentifies the problems, then offers absolutely no solution but electing him, without any idea of what he will do to, for instance, end crime on the day he takes office, or create full employment?

I've been calling him Comrade Trump, partly as irony for the Red-baiting tradition of (among others) Trump's mentor, Roy Cohn; partly to emphasize Trump's ties to Putin and the resulting and disquieting possibility of Russian interests trumping American; partly to emphasize Trump's totalitarian tendencies. I suppose there's further irony in that there don't seem to be any functioning Communists even in Russia.

(Speaking of Russia, A  roundup of global reaction to the speech--not exactly laudatory-- included two tweets from former chess champ and dissident Russian political figure Gary Kasparov including: "I’ve heard this sort of speech a lot in the last 15 years and trust me, it doesn’t sound any better in Russian." Maybe that's why most official Russian response was positive.)

But it's Trump the dictator, with the racist message of a Hitler, that comes across most clearly in this speech.  It's all out there now.  

GOP pollster Frank Luntz is among those who think Trump's acceptance speech worked, and he'll get at least a temporary poll bounce.  Friday morning's talking heads will doubtless include others.  Andrew Sullivan thought so based on the leaked text, but changed his mind after seeing and hearing Trump's delivery.  Filmmaker Michael Moore believes Trump's message as expressed will resonate.

Even excluding consideration of the dark content and the accuracy, others felt it was a lost opportunity.  Both GOP and Dem vets thought so in this NYT piece that began: " It was Donald J. Trump’s best chance to escape his own caricature. He did not."

Doyle McManus at the LA Times agreed. "The general election Trump is no clearer, and no more disciplined in his thinking, than the Trump of the primaries was. What you saw then is what you’ll get – in both the general election campaign and in the White House, if Trump should win."

  It was long--the longest since Nixon in 1972--and at nearly 80 minutes went longer than prime time and perhaps a lot of attention spans (I'm surprised Trump managed to read a teleprompter for that long.)  How many viewers stayed tuned for the balloon drop?

Trump yelled the speech, getting redder in the face as he went on.  That plus his apocalyptic message may have been too much.  How many children will have nightmares?  Not to mention adults.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump Lies, More Lies and Plagiarism

The Washington Post begins a detailed fact-check of Trump's acceptance speech: The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.

When facts are inconveniently positive — such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent — Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991.

In his speech, Trump promised to present “the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper.” But he relies on statistics that are ripe for manipulation, citing misleading numbers on the economy, for example, through selective use of years, data and sources.

And my own reading of an account of the speech yielded this significant "plagiarism," once again from an Obama:

Trump received a standing ovation when he declared: “An attack on law enforcement is an attack on all Americans”.  July 21.

"Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us," Obama wrote, repeating what he told the nation Sunday after three police officers were fatally shot in Baton Rouge.  July 17 & July 19.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Comrade Trump's Preemptive Surrender to Russia

We know that Trump's ego is Yuge.  But now Trump is attempting to be Hitler and Neville Chamberlain at the same time.

Previewing his acceptance speech, Trump gave an interview to the New York Times in which he refused to say that the United States would honor its NATO commitments in a specific instance, involving Russia, invoking the Comrade Trump Doctrine:

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

The answer is nonsense at best, and preemptive surrender in effect. Bad enough he's destroyed the mutual defense pact and by inference every important treaty to which the honor of the nation is pledged.  But his pal Putin must be in orgasm.  Perhaps as he's pulling the strings.

But of course, the word of the world's superpower and the country he is aspires to lead, as well as world peace and the freedom of the western world is secondary to the Trump Ego:

When asked what he hoped people would take away from the convention, Mr. Trump said, “The fact that I’m very well liked.”

Has anyone told the Manchurian Candidate that the office he's running for is President of the United States, Leader of the Free World, Holder of the Nuclear Codes, and not Prom King?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

For What It's Worth: Nominating Comrade Trump

Apparently somebody in the process of nominating Trump quoted the first two lines of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."  Even more surprisingly, he attributed it to Buffalo Springfield.  But still.  Wow.

There's something happening here and what it is may be all too clear.  The Cleveland Festival of Fear and Hate finished its second theme day; the first day was Fear, Tuesday was Hate.

It's not getting particularly good ratings, though.  Speaking of ratings, apparently the House of Ailes is falling over at Faux News.  Richard Wolffe in a piece called Roger Ailes built the Republican party – now both are crumbling in plain sight
 : "Ailes has lost control of the empire he built at the same moment he lost control of the party he in effect controlled."

As epic as that might be, the story of the day you really couldn't make up: In her speech at the RNC on Monday night, the wife of the nominee--he's the guy who demonizes President Obama at every turn--was caught plagiarizing an entire sequence from Michelle Obama's speech about her husband at the DNC convention in 2008 that nominated him.

The major media highlighted the robbery with side by side transcript quotes, audio and video mashups, while quaintly referring to "apparent" plagiarism.  What was especially interesting for a party and especially this group of people, who had so far shown a complete disdain for the concept of a "fact," is that they were faced with evidence in sight and sound that anybody could understand, and no one could contradict.  And yet, they did.  Or tried to.

Among the speakers on Tuesday was Chris Christie, who decided to organize the festival's favorite chant "lock her up" into a prosecutorial speech with the audience as lynch mob jury.  Not exactly reassuring in a potential Attorney General.  But I don't take that AG talk seriously.  I have to believe that the only way Trump is keeping Christie on board is that he's promised him a spot in the White House itself, where the power is, as chief of staff or some high position--so that when Trump gets bored with the job, as he will on Day Two,  Christie can wield the power.

Big Brother is watching you, and you're unbelievable.
Meanwhile the evidence of connections between Putin and Trump continues to build, including the role that Trump's current campaign manager (Paul Manafort) played in Russian politics, serving Putin.

These ties suggest more than a metaphorical relationship to authoritarian rule.  They suggest a dictatorial Trump in league with dictator Putin.  The GOP just nominated the Manchurian Candidate, Comrade Trump.

These ties suggested something specific to one of Andrew Sullivan's readers on his liveblog of the festival:

"Every time I hear “lock her up” at the convention, I just cringe.  When I think about Paul Manafort’s effort to help elect the pro-Putin Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, and they yelled “lock her up” in Ukraine, that’s exactly what they did. On trumped up political charges (ironically because she accepted, under duress, an unfair natural gas deal), Yanukovych threw former prime minister and his 2010 opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, in prison."

But temporarily free Hillary Clinton is set to announce her v.p. choice this weekend.  Signals coming out of her camp are all but announcing that it's going to be Tim Kaine.  Hillary told Charlie Rose her first priority is someone with the experience to take over as Pres, and she stressed to others that she's looking for foreign policy experience.  The only person on the leaked short list that fits this description is Kaine, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee.

Counter Programming

Tired of the Cleveland Festival of Fear and Hate?  Try this on for size.  (You'll want to go full screen for this one.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Trumpence, Conventions and the Rolling Stones

To the strains of the Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (and no, I'm not making this up), Donald Trump introduced his vice-presidential running mate, sort of.

In the small scale Saturday event in a New York City hotel, Trump talked for more than 20 minutes about himself, his victories, Hillary etc. before glancing down at the paper he was carrying and saying "back to Mike Pence."  After a few words more Pence came out, they shook hands, Trump left.  Pence talked about himself for 12 minutes.  Then he left for a hastily scheduled and not well attended welcome home rally in Indianapolis.

At least the event changed the subject, from reporting and speculation on Trump's reluctant choice (his first choice of Christie, some said, was vetoed by his daughter, whose father-in-law Christie as a prosecutor had sent to prison.  So, family values) to the most awkward, least organized introduction of a vp candidate anyone could remember.

The only folks happy with the choice apparently are the GOPer establishment, maybe in exchange for helping to quell the anti-Trump rebellion at the convention. Pence is unpopular in his home state, unlikely to have won reelection as governor, unknown nationally and otherwise a divisive figure.  And for the t.p. rabid right, I think Andrew Rosenthal chose the right word in the New Yorker, in his piece titled "Will Mike Pence Satisfy the Insatiable Right?"  Insatiable is the word.  So basically Pence doesn't help and doesn't matter.

Now coverage of the back-to-back conventions begins.  The first impression of the programs (Dems released theirs Saturday) is that the GOPer is mostly negative (Benghazi Night?  Now there's a prom theme) and the Dem's is all positive, thematically anyway. (GOP eventually released their positive themes.)  And the etiquette questions are different.  For instance, at the GOP it's "where can I bring my big guns?"

It's not really that funny, as the NY Times indicated: Police officials are promising there will be no untoward episodes as conventioneers confirm Donald Trump as their presidential nominee. But this seems small comfort in the aftermath of the carnage in Dallas last week caused by a deranged, and reportedly legally armed, rifleman who shot and killed five policemen during a demonstration organized to protest earlier shootings by the police in Falcon Heights, Minn., and Baton Rouge, La.

In the panicking crowds that night in Dallas were 20 to 30 armed individuals legally carrying rifles as self-appointed vigilantes who had vowed to somehow protect the demonstrators. Their presence — some were dressed in macho camouflage gear — greatly confused the police when the sniper started firing and protesters ran for cover. “We don’t know who the ‘good guy’ versus who the ‘bad guy’ is,” the Dallas police chief, David Brown, said.

But beyond such serious dangers, the electoral danger appears to be the current media overkill on how bad the GOP convention is likely to be (to which I gleefully contributed.)  With these expectations for an obvious clown show, anything less will be touted as a surprising success.  For one thing, it's very likely that the GOP convention will get high TV ratings (especially for all the Trumps), as it is the biggest reality show ever.

But with some polls tightening (mostly taken at the FBI moment) the question will be asked: if professional politicos and the media are so unanimous that Trump is doing everything wrong, what does it say about them or this election if on August 1 he is neck-and-neck or leading?

Things are aligning for Clinton to be pretty far ahead then.  Even if Trump's convention isn't a disaster, her convention comes immediately afterwards and it's the last one.  His post-c bump should be obliterated before it starts, while hers can build and linger.

But what if that doesn't happen?  What do the pros say, what does the media do?

Regardless, there is still one compelling argument, and Adam Gopnik makes it:

Hillary Clinton is an ordinary liberal politician. She has her faults, easily described, often documented—though, for the most part, the worst accusations against her have turned out to be fiction. No reasonable person, no matter how opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton’s accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump’s accession to power would not be.

"No reasonable person" is unfortunately the weak link.  Trump seeks to stir up unreasoning anger.  The rabid right will continue to do so, aided by their underground of Biblical prophets--and they're available to you on YouTube--who tell their followers that God tells them electing a woman President will mean that the United States will be a smoking ruin within months.

Reasonable people however may at worst have to suppress their Hillary distaste and realize that you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.