Friday, August 19, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Demagoguery Fatigue

Despite shakeups among the Trumpettes (with the second shoe falling today as superceded chair Paul Manafort resigned, just ahead of possible indictment for failing to report millions from Russia) the campaign narrative didn't change this week, because the polls didn't.

The Pew poll, which shows Hillary's lead shrinking since June, suggests the narrative might shift next week. But the fundamentals remain with Clinton: ads, expertise, personnel, ground game; in general, a campaign structure.  The question becomes how big might she win, afffecting Senate and even House majorities.

But that's not to say there weren't revealing moments.  One sits just beneath major notice: the hypocrisy at the heart of the Trump campaign's attacks on Hillary's health.

The background is the rabid right conspiracy theory nonsense about various dark disorders Hillary is supposed to have.  While Trump himself has so far only complained of her low energy (with dog whistle signal referring to the alt-right narrative), his crazy spokesperson Katrina Pierson, who previously asserted that President Obama started the Afghan war (though he was a state senator at the time), went public with one of the alt-right assertions, that Hillary has dysphasia resulting from her concussion, a charge that the WPost decorously calls a "counterfactual."

But the most interesting piece on this topic is by Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek, who not only exposes the Trumpeted lies about Hillary's health but makes a convincing case that the doctor's letter extolling Trump's health is a fake.  That is, it was written by Trump or his campaign, and not the doctor who signed it.  And, as he deconstructs it, the letter isn't a very credible fake at that.

Speaking of which, it's Friday: time for the Guardian's "The lies Trump told this week."  Most of these are lies Trump told about his own past positions.

The "small" lies, the big lies.  The first Trump TV was unveiled, which Greg Sargent at WPost described as "ugly and dishonest," pretty much in the spirit of his primary ads."In one respect, the new ad also goes further in its demagoguery than the original GOP primary ad did — it claims that the border is “open.” Broadly speaking, the new Trump ad echoes some of the ugliest elements of the picture Trump’s convention speech painted of what ails America and what must be done about it — a speech that may have further alienated some of the voter groups he needs to expand his appeal among if he is to turn around his slide."

The current media narrative may have gone about as far as it can go this week, especially with contentions by Michael Moore and others that Trump isn't really trying to win the presidency, and this New Yorker piece, which suggests his goal is actually to create a new cable news network.

If polls tighten even slightly in the next week or so, it will likely be enough to change the narrative, because, well, the same story gets boring and media interest thrives on shifting plots, dramatic developments and suspense.  With its tiny shifts in tone at the end of the week, the Trump campaign may be counting on this sensitivity to a possible new narrative.  We'll see.

Late update: Reuters poll shows Clinton maintaining lead, 8 pts. among likely voters. This comports with the earlier NBC's tracking poll on Thursday that showed Clinton's 9 pt. lead unchanged from the week before.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


What is reality?  For some in southern California, a monstrous fire trumps Trump.  In areas of Louisiana, the worst flooding since Katrina has resulted from rains that were off the charts--where 20 inches would constitute a 1,000 year storm, they got 30 inches.   According to the Red Cross, it is the worst natural disaster in the US since Sandy in 2012.  I doubt Hillary's emails matter there.

Weather tends to be background reality, but when it hits extremes, it moves up: it has costs and long consequences.  Sometimes it moves from background to consequential over time, as in heat waves or droughts or weeks of rain and storms: it requires different planning, affects activities and "productivity," and may move back and forth from a subliminal, mammalian threat, to a conscious danger.

It's been very hot and humid this month in the eastern U.S., in London, and elsewhere.  Now the northwest is experiencing intense heat.  Forecast for Ashland, Oregon (where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is humming) was 106F today, 108 tomorrow.  Even the southern Oregon coast is not exempt--temps there forecast to nudge 90F.  (So far our fog is still protecting us on our far northern CA coastal strip.)

All of this is part of the predicted climate crisis pattern, only now it's not prediction anymore.  It's reality.

According to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground: Global mean temperatures in July 2016 were the warmest on record not just for July, but for any month dating to the late 1800s, according to four separate newly-released analyses.

 A state of the climate report issued by NOAA Wednesday said that July 2016 was Earth's warmest month in records dating to 1880... NOAA said that July 2016 also marked the 15th consecutive warmest month on record for the globe. That is the longest stretch of months in a row that a global temperature record has been set in their dataset."

Evaluating the whole of 2015, scientists saw the unmistakable evidence of the climate crisis rushing into the present.  CBSEarth's fever got worse last year, breaking dozens of climate records, scientists said in a massive report nicknamed the annual physical for the planet.

After detailing the research and its conclusions, the report includes the quote:"This impacts people. This is real life," said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden...

There are very great differences between what the presidential candidates are poised to do about the climate crisis, and that's a critical part of the decision ahead. More on that in a later post, but for now, I want to stick with this theme of reality and how we are ignoring it so irrationally, clinging to our more familiar foci of attention.

Extreme weather can kill people and destroy homes.  The more frequent bouts of extreme heat will have longer term consequences.  And the effects of sea level rise, already displacing entire communities permanently, will continue to accelerate.

In a Washington Post piece on these matters:“You’d find no scientist would disagree with the fact that a changing climate is and will continue to put people out of their homes,” said Greg Holland, a hurricane and climate expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Holland said that far and away the most obvious reason for this is rising seas swallowing coastal zones, as in the case of Shishmaref. “As far as sea level rise is concerned, there’s zero doubt about it,” he said.

Though governments are taking meaningful steps to address the climate crisis, including the Obama administration in the US as well as states like California, they may not be enough.  As the Guardian reported, Leading climate scientists have warned that the Earth is perilously close to breaking through a 1.5C upper limit for global warming, only eight months after the target was set" in the Paris agreement.

Those who are facing these realities are calling for increasingly extreme measures.  Bill McKibben has a new essay in the New Republic calling for a national effort as strenuous as World War II mobilization to address the climate crisis.  (I also plan to critique this in more detail soon.)  And in an assertion I've been anticipating, a philosopher questions whether having children is morally justified, given the climate crisis future.

Why there is this disconnect between the most knowledgeable and the public discourse is a question with many possible answers. (Some form of collective, societal psychological despair or grief expressed as denial is explored in this Scientific American article, and I'm inclined to explorations in this direction.) Nor is this kind of disconnect unprecedented.  

But for the moment I only want to speculate on what the current political campaign might look like if we were really facing the climate crisis reality.

It would probably mean that at least one of the candidates was talking often and in great detail about the climate crisis as the greatest challenge facing the nation.  That candidate would describe in a series of speeches what is happening, what the causes are, what the effects are now and are likely to be, all in specific terms, and not in the unfortunate jargon that has distanced the realities of the climate crisis from the public in general.

That candidate would relate these efforts to other ecological crises that threaten to make human civilization much more difficult to support.  That candidate would show how efforts to address the climate crisis can also address other economic and social problems in beneficial ways.

That candidate would suggest, in every stump speech, what needs to be done.  The other candidate would then be forced to talk about it.  If that candidate were as sensible as most national politicians of both parties were on this subject even 15 years ago, the debate could be about the most realistic and effective ways of addressing the causes and the effects of the climate crisis.

Right now, presidential debate preparation would be focusing on climate related issues.  Members of Congress and officeholders at state and local levels would announce support for one or the other of the major candidates largely based on their climate crisis analysis and plans.  News organizations would be regularly interviewing scientists on the plausibility and efficacy of each candidate's plans. Voters would be engaged, offering opinions, demanding answers in every town hall opportunity.

All of this should have happened in prior campaigns, but certainly it's a reasonable expectation that it would be happening this year, given the realities.

But it's not.  And that's the reality.    

Homegrown Hitler Chronicles: More Hate Ahead

E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post:

"If you thought the old Donald Trump campaign was wild and crazy, just wait for the new Trump campaign now that Breitbart’s Steve Bannon has taken over as chief executive. The new leadership — with Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway displacing Paul Manafort of the Ukrainian Connection at the top of the heap — is likely to steer Trump even more in the direction of the European far right. It also tells you something that Bannon sees Sarah Palin, about whom he made a laudatory documentary, as a model for anti-establishment politics.

Judging from Bannon’s history, Trump’s campaign will become even harsher in its attacks on Hillary Clinton and work hard to insinuate anti-Clinton stories into the mainstream media."

But as everything associated with Trump and his Trumpettes, this has possible significance for the future beyond Trump.  As Ben Shapiro , former Breitbart writer, in WPost notes, the installation of Steve Bannon at the top of the Trump campaign means that the most rabid of the rabid right--the so-called alt-right that has supplanted the Tea Party--is inside the Republican establishment.

What characterizes the alt-right, according to Shapiro, is its public support for racism and xenophobia. "The takeover, now a virtual fait accompli, represents the dangerous seizure of the conservative movement by the alt-right. Constitutional conservatives can’t stand the alt-right. Conservatives — real conservatives — believe that only a philosophy of limited government, God-given rights and personal responsibility can save the country. And that creed is not bound to race or ethnicity. Broad swaths of the alt-right, by contrast, believe in a creed-free, race-based nationalism, insisting, among other things, that birth on American soil confers superiority." 

Shapiro's column details reactions from alt-rightists to him personally, some of them identical to the hate spewed by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s.

A New Yorker piece describes Trump's history of racism, which has focused recently on Latinos and Muslims but in the past has victimized African Americans. In my view it isn't this past that African American voters are thinking of, however, when they give him 1% support at best.  It's his racist innuendos aimed at President Obama.

Ed Kilgore shows how GOP efforts to suppress minority voters is moving to the local level.  Such efforts in Florida in 2000 cost Al Gore the presidency.

And in Siberian Candidate news, Michael McFaul in WPost: Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to see Donald Trump become the next president of the United States. To that end, Putin and his government have taken unprecedented steps to influence our electoral process to help the Republican Party’s nominee."  The reasons he gives are general: Trump's isolationism and likely chaotic administration domestically will provide Russia the openings to do what it wants, in Ukraine for example.  

Polling news: The NY Times examines internal numbers in recent polls to show that Trump is losing core support among white men, his only demographic lead.  Several recent analyses of the electoral map (NBC, Sabato) conclude that Clinton right now has enough likely electoral votes to win the presidency.  Add states where she is leading and it's a landslide.

However, there is one troublesome new poll, and it is the gold standard Pew Poll.  It shows Hillary ahead by 4 points nationally, which is down from her 9 point lead in June--contradicting the trendline of other polls from the Dem convention until now.  The poll is structured a bit differently, adding Jill Stein (Green Party) but that doesn't entirely account for the difference.  Whether this poll is an outlyer or the first in a different trend direction remains to be seen.

Trump finished the day on an apology tour, trying to redefine his message in a more palatable way.  The Politico report on this speech, easily spending as much time debunking as describing it, suggests his credibility may be too shredded---at least unless and until the polls turn in his direction.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Homegrown Hitler Chronicles: Our Trump in Washington

The march of our homegrown Hitler continues, in lockstep with his ally and America's adversary, Russia.  Trump gets his first national security briefing today, information that now seems likely to be passed on to the Russians.  In advance of the briefing, Eric Levitz reports, Trump told Faux News he doesn't trust US intelligence agencies and he's bringing his own advisor with him to the briefing:

"former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn. “He’s been a real fan of mine and defender of mine and he’s a terrific guy, a terrific general — tough, smart,” Trump said of the Putin-friendly former general — who co-authored a book with America’s foremost defender of Italian fascism — in an interview with Fox News. “He wants to make sure the right people are coming into our country, not the people that we’re probably taking in right now.”

Frank Rich comments on recent revelations about Trump's campaign chief (who he just demoted) and his ugly and illegal ties to Russian oligarchs, and on Trump himself as a national security risk.  He faults Republican leaders for ignoring this tangible threat: "A party that during the Joe McCarthy era prided itself on rooting secret Communists (real or imagined) out of the federal government is now looking the other way when its own presidential candidate and one of his top operatives are in open, even proud, cahoots with a Kremlin hostile to America’s national interests."

Ed Kilgore at New York flags a reason that Trump's voter intimidation strategy may work, thanks to a Supreme Court decision: But as Julie Fernandes recently pointed out at Democracy, the decision also eliminated the basis for a separate Justice Department program providing for federal election observers in Section 4 jurisdictions. So there will not be any this November, for the first time in 50 years.

The main function of these federal observers was to deter by their presence and, if necessary, report on efforts to intimidate or otherwise discourage voting by minority citizens."

David Remnick in the New Yorker:

"You have to say this for the crooked demagogues and reactionary populists of the American past: they may have stirred the bitter soup of nativist resentment with as much zeal as Donald J. Trump, but their family counselors did not take time out from politics to cruise the Aegean on a plutocrat’s yacht; their rhetorical counselors did not attempt, for decades, to instill fear in their employees through the most squalid sort of sexual terror; and their political counselors never worked in the interest of Slavic autocrats. Oh, Father Coughlin, we hardly knew ye!

Day by day, news bulletin by news bulletin, the Trump campaign spirals to new depths of strategic confusion and moral chaos. On the escalators at Trump Tower, the direction is always down, down, down."

Letting Hitler Be Hitler

The Washington Post:

Donald Trump, following weeks of gnawing agitation over his advisers’ attempts to temper his style, moved late Tuesday to overhaul his struggling campaign by rebuffing those efforts and elevating two longtime associates who have encouraged his combative populism.

Stephen Bannon, a former banker who runs the influential conservative outlet Breitbart News and is known for his fiercely anti-establishment politics, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive. Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster who has been close to Trump for years, will assume the role of campaign manager.

Trump’s stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clear than ever, that the real-estate mogul intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side.