Saturday, August 06, 2016

Remember This

Remember this on November 8, 2016: August 6, 1945.

"But there came another event, one beyond prediction, which sprang out of minds that lived apart from my world of social context, a development of the secret laboratory and not the public market place or parliament--an unsocial event which yet bore upon society with a depthless profundity, unmatched in immediacy and portent any social idea with which I had been familiar.  I did not hear of the revolutionizing fact until a couple of days after the news had stupefied the literate world.  I had wandered into the village [on the California coast] and was reaching over the drugstore counter when my eyes fell on the headline that announced the transaction of Hiroshima.  It was like a heavy blow on the chest, and the concussion left me in a kind of mental coma for days.  It seemed then for a time that everything was not only uncertain but pointless.  It seemed to me that everything I had learned was junk for the trash barrel, that everything I had seen was senseless illusion, that all I had come to believe was hollow mockery, and that all my life to this point had been lived for nothing.

...Life must go on.  Now the issue was squarely put to me and my generation, whose real trial and test was now revealed to be not at all accomplished, as I had imagined, but to lie just ahead.  How was life to go on?"

Eric Sevareid
Not So Wild A Dream (see previous post below)

Not So Wild A Dream

Today the culture is dominated by social media, which multiplies the power of the fashionable and new, many times over. That probably includes new books, or an old book mentioned by a public figure, especially if it inspires a Twitter storm.

I understand the gestalt involved in the conversation on new books, having been over many years a book reviewer and at times a book review editor.  There's the journalistic agenda of focusing on the new, and the economic incentive for media of reviewing books that publishers are currently advertising. You want to participate in the main conversation, especially if you're looking to be a successful journalist, if not a cultural arbiter.  (Although I once actually persuaded a book editor to publish my review of a book that was not only old but out of print.)

But those days are mostly over for me, and my reading takes other patterns.  There are times--as in the past few months--when I'm aware that the book I'm reading is probably being read at the same time by very few people, perhaps no one else at all.

This is not a depressing thought, actually.  It sometimes has the feeling of discovering buried treasure.  But more times, I feel good about honoring the work of these perhaps forgotten authors, and learning what they had to say.

This has been especially true recently, as I found myself avid about getting a better feel for the first half of the 20th century, especially the 30s and 40s.  So these perhaps obscure books (which were often popular when new) were news to me, and I read them eagerly and with gratitude.  

This string of book was as usual the product of serendipity, my favorite research tool, along with selection.

One hand of chance was finding a 1968 first edition of The Generous Years by Chet Huntley, in a "free box" on the street (common in our campus town as students move out.) This particular volume had been a gift. Though the recipient's name is smudged, it appears to have been a birthday gift from "Mary Ellen & Lyle," when this book was new.

This is Huntley's vivid autobiographical account of his early years in the northern Montana frontier--literally a frontier, for his family was among the first to settle and attempt ranching and farming on this recently available government-deeded land.

It was incredible to me that this was Chet Huntley's early 20th century childhood--the newscaster on the Huntley-Brinkley report I watched in the 1960s, reporting on the space program.  He grew up when even radio was a novelty.  His writing is surprisingly precise, descriptive and evocative. (Surprising perhaps because his on-camera persona was so spare and matter of fact.) Through his recollections, the specifics of the land and the times as he experienced them says a lot more generally about America in the first 30 years or so of the 20th century.

Also by chance I happened on a video version of another TV journalist's autobiography (though it's likely that it caught my eye because I'd started reading the Huntley book.) It was so fascinating that I got a copy of the book itself--Not So Wild A Dream by Eric Sevareid. Originally published in 1946, it is a more lengthy autobiography covering more of his life. The edition I got (U. of Missouri Press 1995) includes an introduction he wrote for the 1976 anniversary edition.

I knew Sevareid from his reporting and commentaries on the CBS television news, and I have a vague idea I saw him in person once as I covered the 1972 McGovern campaign. His boyhood in North Dakota had definite similarities to Huntley's, though his book also covers his college years and early reporting in Minnesota, his pre-World War II reporting in Europe, and his war reporting in China, Africa, Italy, Paris and London (where he began and ended the war, working with Edward R. Murrow.)

It's a fascinating book, not only for the pith and depth of his thoughts but for his sharp scene creation and narrative. The book describes at least two outsized adventures, once when he was young, and another when he survived an emergency parachute jump and several weeks among a tribe of headhunters in remote Asian mountains.

The book has a shape as well. It begins describing the functioning democracy of his small North Dakota town of Velva, and ends with the end of the war that tied the world together as never before, with a new role for the US. "America was involved in the world, all its little Velvas were in the world, and the world was now in them, and neither the world nor America would ever be the same."

The bulk of this book about the late 30s and 40s is a window on that era, and on what the war meant to those close to it. Sevareid's title--Not So Wild A Dream--is a quote taken from one of the most famous radio programs to that date, "On A Note of Triumph," about the end of the war in Europe, written by Norman Corwin.

A separate stream of my reading had already brought me to Corwin. I came upon Gerald Nachman's Raised on Radio among books that Margaret had on her office shelves as she prepared to retire from chair of the theatre, film and dance department. From this book I learned how many more than I realized of the early TV programs I watched as a child were originally radio shows, and I learned about Norman Corwin.

I didn't know the name, but Norman Corwin was famous and influential from the late 30s into the 50s, but most prominently during World War II. As a writer, producer and director, he was variously called the Bard, the poet laureate, the Shakespeare of radio. Corwin's works, Nachman writes, "were sui generis, blending drama, history, journalism, verse, narrative, music, and sound into a kind of radio tone poem, using the finest actors, composers, poets and special effects available."

Yet as strange as they may sound now they were very popular programs, and CBS gave Corwin a free hand, never even asking to see scripts in advance. There are several of the actual broadcasts available on the Internet, including "Untitled" , and the more directly topical (and patriotic) "We Hold These Truths" and the aforementioned "On A Note of Triumph," probably the most famous of his many World War II programs. They still sound impressive.  (I did a post here back in June relating "We Hold These Truths" to the 2016 election.)

Scripts for a selection of mostly World War II programs comprise the volume Untitled And Other Radio Dramas by Norman Corwin (Holt 1947--available in libraries and ex-library used.) Especially with Corwin's explanatory postscripts, it is a document of the times, with insights well beyond the surviving cliches about WWII. Some of these scripts were subsequently done on stage all around the US and elsewhere in the world.

I suppose the chief surprises, especially in the postscripts, are a couple of cliches knocked down. We think of soldiers marching off to fight Hitler with a firm idea of what they were fighting for, and everybody on the homefront pitching in happily to do their bit for the boys in uniform. In fact, a lot of businesses and individuals groused about wartime restrictions, including businesses on the coasts that were irate about being told to turn out their lights so that American transport ships weren't sitting ducks for enemy submarines. And a lot of soldiers--and the general public--had no idea what the war was about.

So Corwin gave an American's perspective on England (the two peoples were not especially close at the time) with a series about an American's experiences visiting England. He made founding concepts contemporary--and gave them some flesh and blood--in "We Hold These Truths." And so on.

Another insight lost in the cliches was a purpose that gets ignored but that Corwin emphasizes--bringing the values of equality and cooperation that helped win the war into a lasting peace--not another debacle like the Great War's end. It meant in part sustaining international cooperation, raising standards of living, and breaking down old barriers like the class system. They weren't fighting just to defeat evil. They were fighting for a better future.

That was expressed for example in those final words of "On A Note of Triumph" that Sevareid quotes: "Post proofs that brotherhood is no so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend..."

Also (and not unrelated) in these months I read playwright Arthur Miller's collected prose pieces (Echoes Down the Corridor) and re-read his autobiography (Timebends.) He has a lot to say about the 30s, 40s and 50s. I'm currently reading the third volume of his Collected Plays (Library of America) which includes his unjustifiably neglected late plays and some early work, including--for the first time in print--his 1930s/40s radio plays, some of which were commissioned by Norman Corwin.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Trump is Delusional and Other Addenda

Friday Aug. 5: This is an addendum to the previous post, to add to the record--I really do want to get away from the campaign for awhile.  I would normally just add some links to that post but I had problems with it last time so I'm reluctant to open it again.

Anyway, WPost adds documentation to my assertion that Trump was not only wrong about the video he said he saw but he was delusional about it.  The story shows that he made up (by the Post's count) nine separate things in a 300 word account: "He has played loose with the facts many times before, yes. But if you break down his comments in this case, it's pretty remarkable the number of things he simply invents as he goes along. He basically made up nine details about the video over the course of just 300 spoken words."

Russian connection fallout: An ex-CIA chief who served under Obama and Bush II not only strongly endorsed Clinton as a chief executive and commander-in-chief, and dissed Trump, but suggested Trump would be a national security risk--probably not a novel thought among security and military leaders, but he's saying it out loud. He also makes a direct connection between that risk and Trump's embrace of Putin: "In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation," Morell said.

The WPost added some information, notably about another Trump advisor with ties to Russia, on the whole Russian Trump thing.

The CIA guy endorsement is seen as part of a concerted Clinton campaign effort to get national security folks behind her--and it seems to be working, according to the Guardian: "Hillary Clinton has the endorsements of nearly two dozen retired generals and admirals, as her campaign indicates an eagerness to seize the national security agenda from Donald Trump and the Republican party."

On Trump and the Bomb: Ed Kilgore has a nice summary, which I of course consider an addendum to my own earlier post.  But he does include videos of a new Priorities USA ad (superpack supporting Hillary) on this topic, plus a rerun of the original 3 a.m. Clinton ad from 2008 and the now iconic nuke ad from 1964 (which according to legend aired only once.)

Lots of stories predicting Trump will endorse Ryan today, as I surmised he would.  Update: He did. Nevertheless, the NY Times reports that GOPer strategists for various congressional and senatorial campaigns are preparing to distance themselves from Trump, and engage the kind of campaign Ryan's fundraising letter suggested, i.e. vote for GOPers to counterbalance President Clinton.

And while we're still obsessing on the campaign, poll news:  Another state poll shows Clinton ahead---in Georgia. More parsing of the national poll numbers show--at least right now--Trump is losing support in his supposed base, the white working class.  They also show increasing support for Clinton among white men in general.  Everybody--including the Clinton campaign--cautions that the polls are likely to tighten, but if Clinton's leads hold for another couple of weeks, they could mean something.  Analysts will be especially watching those white male and white working class numbers.

But Richard Wolffe concludes that this past week was "decisive":  Trump is toast.  

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Long Abyss (With Updates)

Get set for a long hot summer and fall, with the Sword of Trump hanging over our heads by a thread.

Though the headlines and opinion pieces continue to focus on GOP and Trump campaign disarray, the only actual news Wednesday might have halted this momentum: Trump raised enough bucks to actually finance a campaign.

It's possible that the unraveling that seemed to have spectacular momentum 24 hours ago is just in a public pause, and will resume Thursday (or before I stop typing this.)

But it feels to me likely that it's over.  If Trump deploys that money with new hires and so on, and if (as is likely) he eventually endorses Paul Ryan, the public hand-wringing will cease and things will go back to what they were going to be: Republican candidates and Trump each running separate and seldom overlapping campaigns.

For how many times can Trump insult a Gold Star family?  He can call Clinton the founder of ISIS all he wants.  The Republican party has so thoroughly and openly demonized President Obama that they'll just nod in approval.  Sure, they may know by now that Trump really is dangerously unfit for President, but they aren't going to say so.  Why would anyone expect Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the rest of them to commit a moral act, and put country over their own jobs and future earnings?  They've shown no signs of such a capability before. Quite the opposite.

If Trump's numbers threaten those jobs and their power, then maybe they'll separate themselves publicly.  But as long as their numbers are running independently, and as long as Trump raises money for the RNC, they can ignore him.  Some of them (who truly believe he's dangerous, or who want to avenge being bullied) may silently subvert him at election time--there are lots of ways powerful politicians in their districts and states can influence how people vote.  Especially a candidate who shows no interest in staffing a ground game of his own.

This isn't to say that the past few days changed nothing.  It has probably weakened Trump a great deal, perhaps fatally.  But that won't be known for three long months.

In the meantime, it has raised the stakes for Democrats--and their temporary allies against Trump.  Trump has proven himself a cruel, vindictive liar with no conscience and no attention span.  He is the essence of a bullshit artist, and--in sum--he is (as President Obama said) dangerously unprepared and unfit to be President, and as it turns out, he is one of only two people who might be elected to that office.  If people were somewhat amused by this before, they aren't anymore.

What we also re-learned is that Trump's base, however small or large it is, has supported him enthusiastically through all this.  Their rage--as is clear from this painful NY Times video compiled from various Trump events--is deluded but paramount and irredeemable. TTrump is Hate is one of the milder signs they carry.  In other countries they would be terrorists.  TheyHate Tr are the zombie apocalypse.

Put together with their quieter enablers who rationalize the rage they deny, they constitute a political force that is almost as dangerous as Trump.  Therefore, as  Bob Cesca at Salon writes, it's not enough just to defeat them:

Donald Trump is an existential threat to American democracy, and therefore he can’t simply lose the election. He has to be electorally humiliated. Crushed. Embarrassed. The candidate who pledged “so much winning” has to be personally mortified by an unequivocal loss — an electoral massacre so severe that it leaves little room for screeching about rigged elections, and, more importantly, the loss has to be so overwhelming that it discourages any similar would-be populist tyrants from emerging in the future. Trump and anyone similar needs to be politically put-down in a way that permanently ends whatever derangement led us to this point.

Trump's recent implosion gave hope that this could really happen.  The NY Times:

Democrats, prompted by Mr. Trump’s latest antics and the string of Republicans who have spoken out against him, have, perhaps prematurely, started discussing a loftier goal than just winning in November: a wide margin of victory, driven by a record turnout among black, Latino and young voters, that could help squash Mr. Trump’s movement.

David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign manager, proposed the idea in June. “It is not enough to simply beat Trump,” he wrote on Twitter. “He must be destroyed thoroughly. His kind must not rise again.”

This may be a strategic intent.  The Clinton campaign--and Hillary herself--reached out to Republican Meg Whitman.  This could be part of a wider effort to create a coalition from the center-right to the left, anchored on women voters.  (More likely this year than young voters.)

But as Cesca continued: Sadly, however, the latest polls continue to indicate that the popular vote will come down to a five-point contest.  Even Plouffe suggests a close Clinton victory is the most likely (though a blowout is second, a Trump victory third.)

However, we won't know the outcome until November 8 at the earliest.  The polls will be of little comfort the closer we get.  We won't know if voters are tuning out Trump's obvious bullshit, the baldfaced lies of his campaign manager, the trolling masked as comment by his press representatives (one of whom actually blamed Captain Khan's death on President Obama, though it happened as a result of President Bush's invasion of Iraq while Bush was in office.)  Or if indeed Trump has touched a nerve that sends true believers to vote in vast numbers unknown, while apathetic others stay home.

For it's unlikely that Republicans will dump Trump or induce him to quit so they can nominate somebody else, or that electoral college electors will revolt--some of the scenarios feverishly discussed on Wednesday.  It's unlikely Trump is going to disappear this week in a cloud of suddenly patriotic Republicans.  And that's going to make for an unpleasant three months.

We won't really know until the final election night if Trump has actually tumbled into the abyss already or not.  We only know that Trump is the abyss.

Thursday Updates: Most news today supports what I said above.  Paul Ryan refused to repudiate Trump directly but clearly went his own way with a fundraising appeal for congressional Republicans that seemed to concede the presidential to Clinton.  The WPost did an article on Clinton's outreach to Republicans, while New York noted she can do it without moving to the right.  Meanwhile, the Trump campaign rattled on, with Trump insisting everything is going great, in the face of two new polls that show Hillary up 9 points and 15 points, kind of a record.  Swing state polls also went to Clinton.  In the McClatchy poll (the 15% one), the entire field of four prez candidates was surveyed, and with young voters Trump came in fourth, with 9%.  This is better than he did with black voters in a poll not long ago, when he got 0%.  He was up to 1% in one poll today.

  Trump tried to concentrate on attacking Clinton, but instead became the story once again when he insisted on describing a video that only he has seen in his own head, after his own campaign more or less said he was delusional.  His quixotic appearance in Portland, Maine (a Democratic stronghold in a non-swing state) was continually interrupted by protests (including the silent display of those best selling copies of the Constitution) while his v.p. Mike Pence's entire strategy was unmasked by an eleven year old boy.

Meanwhile President Obama talked about the real ongoing war on ISIL, mentioned that a year after the nuclear deal with Iran it is working and Iran has no breakout capacity to make a bomb--and even the Israelis admit this and are happy about it, even if it's not worthy of a news story here, and he debunked various Trumpian fantasies, including a federally rigged election and the paid debt to Iran as ransom "defies logic."

That reminds us fondly of the Obama as Spock stories of yore.  After his press conference, the President prepared to celebrate his 55th birthday with a White House bash, and then head out for a two week vacation.

Sounds good to me.  A vacation from this loooong campaign at least.

P.S.  Almost forgot--in my attempt to leave you with at least a twisted smile, the latest headline from Borowitz:


WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Borowitz Report)—A humanitarian crisis has been unfolding over the past week as Republican refugees seeking asylum have overrun the Democratic National Committee headquarters, in Washington, D.C.

D.N.C. staffers have confirmed that they were woefully unprepared for the masses of desperate Republicans who have shown up at the D.N.C.’s door, looking for safe harbor.

“These people have been brutalized for months and have decided to risk everything to save themselves and their families,” D.N.C. staffer Tracy Klugian said. “When they tell you their stories, they are absolutely heartbreaking.”

Trump and The Bomb

Because he's an ignorant thin-skinned bully with ADD,  a lot of people understandably do not want Donald Trump to get his hands on the nuclear codes. Now it appears there's a more specific reason.

It started with Joe Scarborough, who said this on his MSNBC show on Wednesday: “I’ll have to be very careful here,” Scarborough said. “Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on international level went to advise Donald Trump, and three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked, at one point, if we have them, why can’t we use them? That’s one of the reasons he just doesn’t have foreign policy experts around him. Three times, in an hour briefing, why can’t we use nuclear weapons.”

Scarborough did not name his source or the expert involved.  Trump's campaign denied it happened.  But as the LA Times suggested, it sounds like something Trump would say.

In his public statements, even in this campaign year, Trump has been all over the place on nuclear weapons.  And the Scarborough quote--which has been widely misquoted in press accounts, by the way--is entirely non-specific.  Is Trump asking about nuclear attacks on cities?  Or so-called tactical or battlefield nukes?

In terms of policy, even this much could have global implications, and I'm sure there are a lot of worried heads and pained stomachs among higher ranks of the military tonight.

But here's the biggest problem I see.  Trump's statements show a lot of ignorance about the role of nuclear weapons and nuclear policy, but the worst is ignorance of what they really are.  Politico described some of his statements, mostly in an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, including:

Trump also seemed to tell Matthews that he might retaliate against an attack by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, with a nuclear bomb.“Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” Trump asked.

Politico follows this with a key quote:

He talks about nuclear weapons very loosely, casually—as if they’re just another tool in the toolbox,” said Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit that advocates nuclear arms reductions.

Such talk, while unusual these days for a major party presidential candidate, nevertheless reflects--it seems to me--a dangerous tendency in contemporary life and especially in popular culture.

After all, it's been more than 70 years since what are now relatively small atomic bombs destroyed two Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands.  It's been 50 years or so since any media has covered a nuclear test blast with pictures of the mushroom cloud.  The realities of radiation haven't been topics for decades.

These days, nuclear explosions are just video game effects.  Movies depict nuclear explosions as just bigger than usual blasts with mushroom clouds, and seldom come close to acknowledging actual consequences.  (The 2014 remake of Godzilla is a notorious example.)

The last time there was any serious explanation of what nuclear bombs are really like was during the brief debate in 2006 over the Bush administration's plans to use so-called nuclear bunker-busters against Iran.  (Cooler heads prevailed.)

I wrote about this at the time, and have written extensively on the subject--for example, here.  But here are the tweets: Nuclear bombs vary tremendously in size, but the smallest strategic bomb is orders of magnitude more destructive in blast, firestorm and long-lasting radiation than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Though smaller in yield, so-called tactical nukes are still nukes.  They are orders of  magnitudes more destructive than conventional weapons and for long periods of time.  Because their effects aren't controllable, they aren't actual "tactical."

There is no scenario in which "nuking" ISIS (which is after all not a place but a badly depleted army and decentralized terrorist organization) makes any sense, except as insane vengeance.

Nuclear weapons are by their nature doomsday machines.  A nuclear exchange of any size threatens not just large areas of the globe, but human civilization and much of life on Earth.  The latest research suggests that even an exchange of a few "small" nuclear weapons could be enough to kick up poisonous dust high in the atmosphere where it could block sunlight in what used to be called the Nuclear Winter, for long enough to starve out the human race, among other species.

We avoided nuclear holocaust during the Cold War by the skin of our teeth--in some specific instances, by the decisions of single individuals.  The Cold War may be history but the nuclear weapons aren't.  Some analysts believe the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange is higher now than during the Cold War.

Nuclear weapons are restrained by leaders who understand, at least dimly, the consequences. The one leader who has talked the most loosely about them recently is Putin, though presumably he has some idea of what they are.

  And now, there's Donald Trump.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Staring into the Trump Abyss

More scare headlines and stories on the Trump campaign Wednesday, but so far no new major GOP defections--and reasons why there may not be any, at least in public.

As for the scare stories, there's Politico:

"Donald Trump is facing a whirlwind of criticism from Republican leaders — including some of his closest allies — as he fends off reports of a staff shake up, another intervention and even rumblings that he could be urged to step aside as the party's nominee."

However, there's not much supporting substance in the story--an account of a stern talking to by Reince, and numerous quotes from Manafort, Trump's campaign head, who at this point can't be believed on anything.  But stories on agitation and despair within the Trump campaign are many, and there have been recent firings.

And the Washington Post:

"The Republican Party was in turmoil again Wednesday as party leaders, strategists and donors voiced increasing alarm about the flailing state of Donald Trump’s candidacy and fears that the presidential nominee was damaging the party with an extraordinary week of self-inflicted mistakes, gratuitous attacks and missed opportunities."

But there's little here that wasn't in the NYTimes story referenced last night.

Jonathan Chiat at New York has a very good summary of the Trump jump into the abyss over the past several days, but he is among those concluding today that GOPer leaders like Ryan are unlikely to repudiate their support for Trump, for fear of blowing downballot races for Congress.  As I said in a previous post, they would be forced to reevaluate this position when and if polls show that Trump is hurting their Senate and House candidates, which so far polls have not shown.

Frank Rich at New York agrees, and even downplays the significance of GOPer defections so far, as coming from people out of power and with no constituency.  Here I disagree slightly in this regard: I think it is significant that apart from the New York lame duck congressman,  the three highest profile defectors are women: GOP fundraiser and former candidate Meg Whitman, ex-Christie staffer Maria Comella and GOP strategist aligned with Jeb Bush Sally Bradshaw.  One of these women has officially left the GOP, two endorse Hillary and one (Whitman) is using her considerable contacts to raise money for Clinton.  These are powerful signals liberating other educated Republican women to vote against Trump and for Clinton, and even gives them cover and cache to actively work against Trump.

And what would a new day be without another connect-the-dots piece on Trump's ties to Russia, this time a very good one by Jonathan Chiat that begins: From the standpoint of the United States, the prospect that a President Donald Trump would be unduly influenced by Vladimir Putin has paled beside the far more harrowing prospect that he would be Vladimir Putin. Still, Trump’s relationship with Putin is creepy and mysterious.

Today's polling news so far: Fox has Hillary up by 10 points.  An Arizona state poll has the race there statistically tied, though the underlying numbers suggest that Clinton has a shot to be the first Democrat to win the state since another Clinton in 1996.

 However, Trump's July fundraising success from small donors turned some heads in the Republican party, probably contributing to tamping down imminent revolt.

The most significant news so far today is based on Repub talkie Joe Scarborough claiming that in a one-hour national security discussion with an unnamed expert, Trump asked--three separate times--why the US can't use its nuclear weapons.

That little tidbit and its fallout (and just where did we get that term?) merits its own separate post later.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Donald Diving Into the Abyss--with the GOP

Things are unraveling for Trump so fast that I can't keep tacking on to the previous post, which barely covered stuff that happened today (Tuesday.)

When we last saw our hero, the RNC chair with the improbable name was letting it be known that he was very angry about Trump failing to endorse the GOP darling, House Speaker Paul Ryan.  Now the NYTimes sez Trump is doubling down, on...well, everything:

Donald J. Trump’s unabashed and continuing hostility toward the parents of a slain Muslim American soldier, and his attacks on Republican leaders who have rebuked him for it, threaten to shatter his uneasy alliance with the Republican Party at the outset of the general election campaign.

After reporting Trump's statements Tuesday in public and to reporters, the Times concluded:

Republicans now say Mr. Trump’s obstinacy in addressing perhaps the gravest crisis of his campaign may trigger drastic defections within the party, and Republican lawmakers and strategists have begun to entertain abandoning him en masse.

Some have done more than entertain abandonment.  The third woman in the past 24 hours or so--and the most high profile Republican yet--Meg Whitman declared she opposes Trump, called him a demagogue, and said she would support Hillary Clinton--and more:

Meg Whitman, a Hewlett Packard executive and Republican fund-raiser, said Tuesday that she would support Hillary Clinton for president and give a “substantial” contribution to her campaign in order to stop Donald J. Trump, whom she berated as a threat to American democracy.

“I will vote for Hillary, I will talk to my Republican friends about helping her, and I will donate to her campaign and try to raise money for her,” Ms. Whitman said in a telephone interview.

Whitman also used the phrase that is becoming a mantra among Republicans opposing Trump, placing "country above party."

Whitman, a one-time Republican candidate for governor of California, is the second woman today who had campaign ties to Chris Christie to dump on Trump. Whitman described Trump's deficiencies in much the same language as President Obama.  This LA Times piece also notes Trump's doubling down on virtually everything that has caused firestorms of criticism over the past few days.

Meanwhile, Time details Trumps "many many many ties to Russia."

And a heartbreaking story about Captain Khan, so much more a man than Trump.  All these stories should be about him.

Unfit--and Unbalanced

This Trump mess is looking like something unprecedented in national politics at least in my lifetime, so I feel compelled to chronicle it as it happens.

The dominoes continue to fall.  Today President Obama made the strongest possible statement as a sitting President of the United States.  He said in a news conference that Trump is "unfit to serve as President" and "woefully unprepared." He suggested Republicans should withdraw their support.

Obama cited the Khan affair but also Trump's demonstrated ignorance of the world.  The NY Times: “This isn’t a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily,” Mr. Obama added. “There has to be a point at which you say, this is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party. The fact that that has not yet happened makes some of these denunciations ring hollow.”

Also in the press conference, referring to Republican leaders,  President Obama asked:"What does this say about your party that this is your standard bearer?"  He noted this was not the ordinary policy or political difference but a question of basic fitness for the most powerful job in the world.  Alot of people depend on the White House, he noted, "to get stuff right."

This story is exploding across the media as I write this.  The C-Span clip above is of the relevant portion of the President's press conference.

And this domino: using almost identical language, US House Republican Richard Hanna of New York declared that Trump is unfit to serve as President, and will support Hillary Clinton.  Citing the Khan affair he said:“I was stunned by the callousness of his comments,” Mr. Hanna said. “I think Trump is a national embarrassment. Is he really the guy you want to have the nuclear codes?”

Hanna is the first  Republican member of Congress to withdraw support from Trump over the Khan affair.  He's been a maverick before, and is not running for reelection.

In campaign news, the NBC poll confirms Clinton's convention bump, after its poll found Trump got none. This includes gains in every region, including a flip from Trump to Clinton in the Midwest. The CNN poll showed voters preferred the DNC and that Dems are increasingly united, despite the Bernie or Bust folks.  More GOPers by far believe their party is not and will not be united by election time.

 NYTimes The Upshot summarizes:All seven national surveys conducted since the Democratic convention show her ahead, by an average of nearly seven percentage points. It’s a seven-point boost over where those same surveys showed the race after the Republican convention — enough to erase Donald Trump’s bounce and more. She is about three points ahead of where she was before the two conventions.  This piece gives various reasons for why this post-convention bump has a good chance of lasting.  If her lead does hold, it warns: No modern presidential candidate who trailed in the polls a few weeks after the conventions has gone on to win the popular vote.  (On the other hand I imagine that includes Al Gore.)

  Yesterday Trump was bragging that his campaign received $35 million in donations last month.  Today the Clinton campaign reported taking in $90 million.

And apropos of my Monday post, NBC has a story headlined: Trump's Mental State is Becoming a Campaign Talking Point with this quote:

On MSNBC Tuesday, Joe Scarborough said he's heard similar questions from party insiders. "I fielded calls all day yesterday, from conservatives, from Republicans, from officials, people that the media would call right-wing bloggers ... and everybody was asking about his mental health," the "Morning Joe" host said. "It was all everybody was talking about yesterday ... everybody was calling me saying, 'What's happening to him?', 'What is wrong with him?'"

Much of the rest of this piece is historical, showing that questioning a candidate's mental state has happened before, and suggesting that the psychiatric jury is still out on Trump.

But here's the thing: Presidential candidates have been called ignorant (though none as ignorant as Trump) and some have been called crazy.  But not in my recollection has anyone so widely and openly been called both.

afternoon update: Using Paul Ryan's language against him, Trump said he was "not there yet" on endorsing Ryan in his primary.  Trump also refused to endorse John McCain.  I'm not sure anybody's picked up on the irony of his words, which is what Ryan said before endorsing Trump.  But Trump couldn't help lying as well, saying Ryan had asked for his endorsement which Ryan's campaign denied.

Later: RNC Chairman 'apopleptic' over Trump's failure to endorse Ryan, sez NBC.

Chris Cillizza in the WPost confirms my earlier observation that President Obama's words about Trump at this morning's press conference were a big deal:

  This wasn't Obama speaking at the Democratic National Convention last week in Philadelphia or out on the campaign trail in support of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. This was at the White House. And not just that. It was during a press event standing alongside a foreign leader. This was Obama as statesman and diplomat, the face of the United States to the world. That Obama would be willing to say what he said on such a stage is telling — and decidedly unusual."

Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin also called for Republican leaders like Paul Ryan to repudiate Trump, especially in light of the Khan affair: But now that the public seems to grasp the depths of Trump’s depravity, Ryan and others can no longer treat his character as irrelevant. If they cannot lead the voters, perhaps they can at least follow them in pulling their support for Trump, citing his manifest cruelty and unfitness for office. That would not give House Republicans the moral high ground, but it would provide an escape hatch.

Another issue that is sticking to Trump is sexual harrassment, resulting from his defense of Rodger Ailes and suggestion that if his daughter Ivanka were harrassed, she should find another job.  Now his only real surrogates--his sons--have also failed to address the issue coherently. His most recent answer didn't do much to put the issue to rest.  USA Today reports that sexual harrassment claims have been a problem at Trump-owned businesses.

And to top off the evening, another Republican political professional--a top campaign aide to, of all people, Chris Christie-- has announced she will vote for Hillary.

 Politico: Maria Comella, who served as Christie's chief messaging officer, blasted the Republican presidential candidate as a "demagogue" who has been "preying on people's anxieties with loose information and salacious rhetoric, drumming up fear and hatred of the 'other.'""I'm voting for Hillary Clinton in November, and I'm voting for her because I don't believe it's enough to say you aren't for Donald Trump.

Behind all the politics is the national perceptual and experiential divide, nicely analyzed in US News.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Donald Into the Abyss--and the GOP With Him

It's gone beyond sucky.  It may be crash and burn time for Trump.

The Captain Khan story continued to dominate media all day Monday.  It led to both the WPost and NYTimes, among others, to delve into Trump's own dubious history with the military draft.  All day military and ex-military leaders and the VFW condemned Trump's remarks on the Khan family.  Basically every story about the controversy recounts all the events, so more and more people know about it.

Speaking on behalf of Hillary Clinton in Nebraska, billionaire Warren Buffett repeated some of the lines that others in the media were highlighting, the rebuke to Joseph McCarthy as he persecuted a young lawyer, "Have you no decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Buffett also challenged Trump to show him his tax returns, which normally would have been the story.  But Trump was not done.  In Ohio (and again on Faux) he warned that the general election is about to be rigged.  In Pennsylvania he called Hillary Clinton the devil.

Trump running against the Great Satan is one thing, but with his usual fact-free assertion, casually forecasting a rigged election?  The WPost pointed out: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has suggested that he fears the general election “is going to be rigged” — an unprecedented assertion by a modern presidential candidate. Trump’s extraordinary claim — one he did not back up with any immediate evidence — would, if it became more than just an offhand comment, seem to threaten the tradition of peacefully contested elections and challenge the very essence of a fair democratic process.  

Put together all that Trump has said in the past few days, plus his sinking poll numbers (plus Tues. a.m. release of NBC poll confirming a Clinton bounce to lead Trup by 8 points, 50-42)that provide some cover for critics, and the editorial response has taken on a new tenor.

 "One wonders if Republican leaders have begun to realize that they may have hitched their fate and the fate of their party to a man with a disordered personality," wrote Robert Kagan, in a WPost oped headlined There is something very wrong with Donald Trump.

Regular WPost columnist Eugene Robinson wrote under the headline Is Donald Trump just plain crazy?  In addition to these wild swings and misjudgments that suggest sociopathology, Robinson hones in on the habitual lies--the self-interested lies, as when he claimed direct contact with Putin and now when he denies it, and his lies by reflex, as this weekend when he claimed he gotten a letter from the NFL questioning the presidential debate schedule, or turned down a meeting requested by the Kochs. "It is theoretically possible, I suppose, that Trump is telling the truth and everyone else is lying — although in the case of the Putin relationship, it’s Trump’s word against Trump’s."

At the Guardian Richard Wolffe asks Trump has gone totally off the rails. Will his base finally notice?

Probably not, if this is any indication:

Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was questioned at a Nevada event by a military mother who asked whether he would confront Trump over the "disrespect" Trump has shown to veterans and Khzir and Ghazala Khan, the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan. She was booed by the crowd.

His base may not, but what about presumably sane Republican officeholders and candidates?  So far no big names have specifically un-endorsed him.  But that's the next shoe that may drop.  Trump is almost inviting it from Paul Ryan by complimenting Ryan's primary opponent.

Officeholders who haven't already bolted seem deer-in-the-headlines still, but political professionals have been more outgoing--that is, going out of their way to trash Trump and now going out of the GOP.

 The big move Monday was by Sally Bradshaw, aide to Jeb Bush but also one of four strategists who developed a plan for the Republican party to go forward.  Thanks to Trump, Sally is riding completely out of the party, and said that if the election looks close in her home state of Florida, she will vote for Hillary. In an email to CNN, Bradshaw wrote that the GOP was “at a crossroads and have nominated a total narcissist — a misogynist — a bigot.”

If indeed a cascade of repudiations ensue, what in the world would happen next?  If Republican leaders repudiate the nominee of their party?  It's terra incognita.

While the moral force and political pressure may not do it, what would they do if polls start to show, in race after race, that Trump is pulling down Republican candidates?  So far the polls have suggested no such connection, so GOPer pols are trying to quietly work their own vineyards and forget what happened in Cleveland.  But Trump hasn't let them, and this may show in the next round of polling.

The dominoes are tumbling, but the media is also a little cautious, aware of how many times it had seemed that Trump has self-destructed, only to see him resurrected.  They're afraid of crying wolf.  But eventually, the wolf finally came.

It's REALLY Starting to Suck to be Donald Trump (with Updates)

Update 8/1: Two of the major polls came out Monday, both showing an impressive bump for Hillary. The New York Times CBS  poll gave her a 4 point bounce, so she leads Trump 46%-39.  The CNN poll shows an even bigger 7 point bounce for a whopping 52-43 margin.

Moreover, a Gallup survey shows that the DNC did much better than the RNC in lifting their candidates positives and driving down negatives.  Trump's negatives in particular went up. In viewing the RNC, a majority of viewers said they were "less likely" to vote for Trump--a 15 point change that is by far the worst dive Gallup has recorded.

CNN: By any conventional standard, Donald Trump just blundered through the worst three days of any presidential candidate in living memory.While Trump tells supporters the general election may be rigged and he continues to be denounced even by Republicans (though few are withdrawing support), he has helped to create a new Best Seller--the U.S. Constitution (as featured in the picture of the Khans), which ranks just behind the latest Harry Potter.

7/31: First was the powerful appearance of the parents of Captain Khan, a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq, at the DNC on Thursday, the night Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination.  It was widely showcased in reporting the next day.

Then Donald Trump put his mouth in it in a couple of interviews, guaranteeing at the very least that the Khans riveting rebuke would be in the news for another day.

Then one of the Trump interviews aired on Sunday morning, Trump tweeted himself deeper into his hell hole, the Khans were invited onto more TV shows and suddenly the Washington Post and the New York Times were wondering if this wasn't a major event in the campaign.

Trump not only picked on private citizens and parents of an American soldier killed in action.  He not only pushed back at the father, Khizr (currently a consultant on immigration law) but on the Gold Star Mother Ghazala, for not saying anything at the DNC, where she was too moved to speak.  Plus he just really picked on the wrong people.

 Captain Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq in 2004.  After sending his troops to safety he confronted a vehicle that turned out to be suicide bombers.  He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.  He graduated from the University of Virginia, where he was part of its ROTC program.  His parents have kept in touch with the program, and especially the new cadet graduates.  WPost:

Every year since their son’s death, the Khans have invited the cadets to their house for hot dogs and burgers, to honor their son, a graduate of the program, and to give the students their first exposure to a Muslim home, to see “how similar it is to their own,” Khan said. “They’d feel like this is our aunt or uncle’s home. And I have cards from them, understanding the gesture of giving them the Constitution, because they were getting ready to take an oath to that Constitution.”

It was one of these ninety cent copies that Khizr Khan offered to lend to Trump from the DNC podium.

This story summarizes the surrounding events and the strong responses to Trump.  The Post noted the strong reaction, speculated that this might be a serious problem for Trump, but might appeal to his core constituency who prize his outrageousness. (Though both might be true simultaneously, and what they prize may more likely be his racism.)

A trio of reporters in the NY Times however, were less cautious in their appraisal:

"The confrontation between the parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, and Mr. Trump has emerged as an unexpected and potentially pivotal flash point in the general election...And Mr. Trump’s usual political tool kit has appeared to fail him. He earned no reprieve with his complaints that Mr. Khan had been unfair to him; on Sunday morning, he claimed on Twitter that Mr. Khan had “viciously attacked” him. Mr. Trump and his advisers tried repeatedly to change the subject to Islamic terrorism, to no avail. Instead, Mr. Trump appeared to be caught on Sunday in one of the biggest crises of his campaign..."

By early Monday morning, NBC reported: The families of 11 service members who died fighting for the U.S. demanded an apology from Donald Trump on Monday, accusing him of "cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost."  They were joined by other military vets later Monday. The WPost article cited above mentioned that if Trump loses military families, it could be a significant part of his apparent constituency.

Also in his ABC interview Sunday, Trump stumbled in his answers about Russia and Ukraine, showing basic ignorance of the current situation.  Along those lines, new pieces by NBC and a more detailed piece by the Guardian  kept alive the questions about Trump and his campaign's connections with Russia and Russian spies.

Meanwhile the Clintons and the Kaines were quietly barnstorming Pennsylvania and Ohio, largely ignored by the national press (except for quotes on Trump) which is presumably as they like it.  In Pittsburgh, Clinton was endorsed by local bad boy made good, Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavs) who called Trump a quintessential Pittsburgh name: a "jagoff."  Cuban is kind of a jagoff himself, but I guess now he's our jagoff.

New polls taken after the DNC should begin to come out early this week.  A couple of minor polls that have been issued so far show Hillary getting a bump and ahead again--in one poll, substantially ahead.  The postconvention bump is important to keep donors donating and campaign workers enthusiastic, but otherwise may mean little. August is a long month.  But one campaign story suggests that at least some persuadable swing state voters are turning against Trump for his derogatory statements, including this latest against a Gold Star mother.

If you can still laugh about any of this, there's The Simpsons: According to NBC, The Simpsons reproduced the famous 3 a.m. global emergency call to the White House ad, speculating on how it would go with each candidate.  When it rings in the Clinton White House, a wide-awake Bill Clinton answers eagerly, but glumly hands the phone to Hillary: "It's for you."  Trump doesn't take the call,  too busy tweeting about having exiled Elizabeth Warren.

The ad is "paid for by Americans who are really starting to miss Obama."