Ok, so, we’re five days out from this election now, and two months before Trump takes office, and here’s where we are.
This morning, the president-elect took to Twitter to attack the press (again), and then told an easily-disprovable lie about his stance on nukes, one that even Breitbart, run by his blatantly anti-Semitic campaign head — now his chief strategist — wrote about.
As of this writing, he has also said nothing about the emboldened hate attacks happening all over America now. Speaker Paul Ryan, when asked by Jake Tapper about them, just shrugged and said those aren’t Republicans doing those. (Ryan, for his part, is busy plotting the end of Medicare.)
Meanwhile, the President-Elect has tried to move the trial on his fraudulent business practices at Trump University, because being president-elect is too hard. (Spoiler: the job gets harder after January.)
Despite this apparent busy-ness, the President-Elect *has* taken the time to openly complain about protestors, so that’s speech, press, and assembly — three of your five first amendment freedoms, already getting challenged.
In the first five days.
When asked about the President-Elect’s many ethical conflicts-of-interest at the moment, Rudy Giuliani, who’s apparently up for Attorney General, said “Those laws don’t apply to the president.”
(Note: Giuliani also wants to “fix” cybersecurity — trust me, that’s not going to be in the direction of your privacy.)
Newt — yes, he’s back too — is calling for a new House Un-American Affairs Committee. Yes. HUAC. You’re not reading that wrong.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway today, when asked about Harry Reid’s rightfully angry press release about the new president, said the former Senate Majority Leader should “be very careful about characterizing someone in a legal sense.” In other words, she threatened to sue and/or imprison the political opposition.
Across the pond, Putin is telling Trump to withdraw NATO forces from Eastern Europe, while Britain is putting more long-range missiles there to protect it. However you feel about Russia or NATO — I would think Republicans are very divided on this point at the moment — this is the type of situation where things can very quickly spiral out of control if a steady hand is not at the till.
A steady hand is not at the till.
All of which is to say, we have to start recognizing what is happening here, and plan accordingly. People my age have had a good run, but the shit has finally arrived.
There are many good articles floating around right now about the election. One of the best, imho, is this one. Step one: Believe the autocrat.
It doesn’t do any good to hope Trump somehow turns out to be a closet lefty, or is just content to play Don the Builder and invests massively in infrastructure. That’d be great (tho’ his version of infrastructure — prisons, pipelines, walls — may not be your version.) I hope so too – that’d be the best case scenario at this point. But there’s also a lot of bargaining going on, and we’re all going to have push through the steps here and get to action.
I don’t want to tell you how to get involved, donate, volunteer, or organize — that’s up to you. Some of us are more privileged than others in that regard. But make a list of the things you are going to do to stand against what’s coming, because it sure does seem to be coming.
A few other thoughts on the inter-Dem recrimination happening at the moment, which I think is good and necessary to move forward. As others have pointed out, in the UK after a losing election, the party leadership usually quits. We need strong Dem leaders right now in the field. But we also need the people who failed here to be held accountable. No more failing upward or pundit tenure.
There’s obviously a lot of back and forth right now about whether Clinton lost because of racism or sexism or economic anxiety, Comey or WikiLeaks or just a terribly run campaign. The answer here to me seems to be…yes? Many of these things are not at all mutually exclusive. She lost the Electoral College in a handful of places, and a lot of things could’ve changed that — no Comey, or more money/visits in Wisconsin, or a media that wasn’t disastrously bad at figuring out what stories merit continuous coverage, or a message that better resonated with working white people.
I will say that I helped write a book with Bill Press this past January, Buyers Remorse, about how Barack Obama failed progressives in many ways, and I think it definitely holds up now. If his administration had addressed the foreclosure crisis in a way that was less banker-friendly and more people-friendly, or if he hadn’t continued building out Dubya’s extra-constitutional foreign policy of surveillance and kill-strikes, we’d be in a better place right now.
That being said, and as others have pointed out, Obama in 2012 also ran much better on the Rust Belt front, aggressively pointing out that Romney and Bain Capital were giant hypocrites that hated the auto bailout and took people’s jobs. (Mike Pence, FWIW, was against the auto bailout too.) Clinton did some of this with Trump’s outsourcing and whatnot, but the overarching message of the campaign was “he’s a deplorable human being.” Which he is, but clearly that didn’t matter for a lot of people.
In any event, Trump pulled his voters and Clinton didn’t pull hers. That was the difference. There was no massive white surge to Trump. He got the people who would vote for any Republican, and enough in a select few states in the middle who were angry about how things are going. That’s it. This isn’t a Reagan landslide. It was a close election with terrible turnout where many people disliked both candidates, and Republicans, as always, were more motivated to show up.
There’s been a lot of talk about how Dems need to pop their elitist bubble and talk to white working class people again. This is definitely true to an extent. But, by all that is good and holy, that doesn’t mean turning Trump voters into some sort of exotic Heartland “real Mur’ican.” Nor does it mean meeting fools halfway on the racist, sexist nonsense. I grew up with a lot of these folks — they don’t think they’re racists and get offended when you call them thus, but then go on to say and post deeply racist things.
As @theshrillest pointed out on Twitter, saying Clinton lost solely because of racism/sexism is like saying a plane crashed because of gravity. Both are real and pervasive, especially in the 99% white enclaves that went for Trump, and that’s how it is.
So for God’s sake let’s not lose our nerve on these issues and look for a Jim Webb type to save us. Let’s do a better job of conveying the true story about who the real villains are here — not poor people of color, struggling every single day, but the rich white assholes who now control every single facet of the federal government, and will use it as a trough.
Bernie clearly was much better at this sort of thing, and as someone who supported him, I’m more than a little annoyed that various people on our side were telling us to ignore what the polls were telling us back then. But that is water under the bridge, and we have a tsunami right in front of us.
Let’s get it sorted, let’s hold the people who failed our party accountable, and let’s get ready to fight. Because, again, the shit is here. This is not a drill.
Remember how I wrote that Trump is already drawing dead because of lack of minority support? As my college friend Shawn Zeller points out in CQ Roll Call, and on the eve of an RNC that promises to go Full Wackadoodle, Trump’s team appear to be aware of the math and are leaning into it, hoping to grow the (old, angry) white vote as a share of the total. “Offending Latinos might even be a good electoral strategy, Frey says: ‘The older white population has a hard time dealing with changing demography, and wedge issues like immigration play well.'”
A good electoral strategy, perhaps, but terrible for the polity…and I still don’t see Trump pulling it off. So he has to grow the overall white vote by 5 percent over 2012 — but he’s running far behind Romney with white women and is still polling egregiously with Latinos. Even notwithstanding Clinton’s iffy approval numbers, it’s a longshot at best. I’ll stand by my earlier prediction: Trump’s gonna lose, handily.
Update: Or, perhaps not.
In the Prospect, David Dayen explains how deficit-witch-hunting and hubris paved the way for Brexit. particularly David Cameron and the Tories’ “general belief in expansionary austerity, that you could cut your way to prosperity. For those that don’t recall, this led to the brink of a triple-dip recession, and terrible growth numbers for years and years…What Leave offers, a toxic stew of isolation and racism, isn’t any good either. But when elites spend this long doing nothing for large swathes of the population, they’re willing to listen to anyone with a different idea.”
Since the UK’s faceplant last week, there’s been some talk (and. for some, wishful thinking) that Brexit is the prelude to Trump, fact-free appeals and all, and lord knows we spent far too much time of late playing the austerity game also. But I’ll stand by my “nope, not gonna happen” prediction here: The UK electorate is 90% white, America’s is one-third non-white — That’s a big difference, and the same sorts of nativist appeals just aren’t going to play here anymore — which I am very thankful for.
Still, Brexit is another sterling example of how, when people are justifiably angry about being screwed over, many of them may not vote in their best interests. And it’s emblematic of one of the more insightful comments I’ve heard recently about 2016 (and unfortunately I can’t figure out where I first saw it): When you have Latin American levels of inequality, you’ll end up with Latin American politics.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s nomination, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi gleefully tramps the dirt down on the Grand Old Party. “Th[e] avalanche of verbose disgust on the part of conservative intellectuals toward the Trump voter, who until very recently was the Republican voter, tells us everything we need to know about what actually happened in 2016.”
At this point, the world doesn’t need any more bloviating and/or hot takes about the 2016 horse race — it’s already a cottage industry. And my hope going forward, in the “be-the-change-you-want-to-see-in-the-world” sense, is that GitM political posts will focus on policies over personalities. But, in the interest of old times and catching up on recent events, let me make a few points about that ubiquitous carnival bunker, reality TV buffoon, and now Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.
Don’t get me twisted here: A Donald Trump presidency would be a catastrophic disaster for America. However liberal he was until very recently, he has made the calculated decision to run as an openly racist authoritarian, and exploit white anxiety like he’s the second coming of George Wallace. And, true, even if he isn’t a Fascist himself, he’s got white nationalists all happy and energized, and would do until the trouble gets here. But an actual, honest-to-goodness Fascist? No, not really.
Why make this distinction and even try to defend a jackass like the Donald on this point? Because I think it’s important to recognize that:
In other words, Trump is basically just pitching what the GOP’s always been selling — he’s the evolutionary Pat Buchanan. “Frankenstein’s monster” isn’t quite the right analogy here, because the Republicans didn’t “create” Trump, exactly. Rather, Trump is a con man who, seeing the grift at work over the years, decided to execute a hostile takeover of the GOP’s flim-flam operation.
Let’s take Trump’s open racism, which is vile, indefensible, repugnant…and pretty much par for the course from the GOP. Ever hear of the Southern Strategy? Or consider Saint Reagan. In 1976, the Gipper ran on reining in “welfare queens” and in 1980, he sang the praises of “state’s rights” (wink, wink) within spitting distance of the 1964 Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman murders. His successor, George H.W. Bush — the nice, statesmanlike Bush — won his election mainly by threatening a black rapist on every block under Dukakis. Just last cycle, those compassionate conservatives Romney and Ryan were happily dogwhistling about “takers,” “makers”, and the 47%.
(Dems aren’t immune to this sort of pitch either, of course. It wasn’t for nothing that, when he wanted to show he was a different kind of Democrat in 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned at a prison on Stone Mountain of all places. This picture from that event explains the optics of that ridiculousness all too well.)
Same goes for the authoritarianism. For a good half-century now, Republicans have gone out of their way to paint themselves as strongmen father figures who keep ‘Murica safe, and Democrats as bleeding-heart, touchy-feely wimps that are soft on communism, crime, and/or terror. We all remember George W. Bush strutting around an aircraft carrier in military fatigues while his campaign had John Kerry windsurfing like a brie-eating, Swift Boat surrender monkey. When his dad H.W. wasn’t race-baiting with Willie Horton in 1988 election, he was insinuating his opponent looked like a girly-man in a tank. Just this year, we had sneering Ted Cruz promising he would “carpet-bomb” Syria “back to the stone age.”
The point being, racism, authoritarian brow-beating, and catering to white grievance has been the GOP’s bread-and-butter for decades. Trump’s brand of evil is their brand of evil. The Donald just gave up the dogwhistle.
But that’s not all he gave up, and this is where the Trump candidacy gets interesting, and where he may spell doom for the GOP as currently constituted.
Instead, the GOP base seems to be motivated by Buchananism these days: the (correct) sense that the system has been rigged against them — stagnant wages, blue-collar jobs getting outsourced/downsized, the rich getting away scot-free with everything from not paying taxes to destroying the American economy — and the (deeply incorrect) feeling this is the fault of minorities and outsiders. On one hand, as the saying goes, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” which is why so many white people whine ridiculously about reverse racism. On the other hand, they are being screwed over, just like everybody else, by rampant inequality, a disappearing middle-class, and an eroding social safety net. Some (though by no means all) Trump supporters are feeling that pressure particularly acutely.
In any event, like southern Populists of old (Tom Watson comes to mind), Trump wrestled power away from the GOP Bourbons by tapping into the economic and racial grievances of angry whites, but then chose to blame minorities for those problems. It’s an age-old trick that got him through the white-people-only primaries, but, as I’ll get to in a moment, it will be his downfall in November.
Still, even after he gets his hat handed to him in a few months, Trump’s ascension could well mean a very different GOP from now on — less “conservative”, more nationalistic. While the freak show types who obsess over public bathrooms will always have a home in their little tent, there may well be less talk of Big Guvmint going forward, and more railing against free trade and outsiders. (But, if they maintain their current trajectory, even that will likely only buy them a decade or two.)
And, of course, Trump gamed the broken fourth estate like there’s no tomorrow, garnering $2 billion in free media as of March 2016 simply by being a loudmouth, racist, (and thus click-baity) douchebag. (Ten Dumb Things Trump Said Today – You Won’t Believe Number 4!) CNN in particular has been covering him like he’s the OJ trial unfolding on a missing Malaysian plane. And now that he’s the actual, honest-to-goodness nominee, the media will normalize every nonsense thing that comes out of his mouth — even flagrantly racist bunkum — all in the spirit of Fair and Balanced.
As I said back in 2011 of Trump and at various other times, this is what our broken, High Broderian “both sides” punditocracy does. It’s the same reason we have Paul Ryan, easily as much of a huckster as the Donald, among us these days, and why we get stories like (I kid you not) “Paul Ryan’s Greatest Weakness: Is He Too Smart To Be President?” Er, no, J.R., he’s not.
Anyway, the real upshot here, after the next several months of sturm und drang, is that:
Graham is right. The Californication I talked about after the 2010 midterms is, at least in presidential years, becoming inexorable. Last time around, Mitt Romney won white people by 20 points (59-39)…and still lost handily. The electorate is even less white now than it was then, and will only grow more so. Even Karl Rove concedes that white people alone can’t get it done anymore.
So, what did the GOP do? Their only possible chance in 2016 was to open the party to people of color — maybe a Rubio or Cruz could’ve gained some headway there, tho’ I doubt it. Instead, like alcoholics to the bottle, they chose to double down yet again on angry white people. Donald Trump is the inevitable result of their demographic implosion.
In any case, to be elected president in November, Trump would have to perform even better among whites than Romney did. That doesn’t seem likely. Trump’s numbers are horrible with women. He doesn’t seem to believe in using 21st century GOTV efforts. He’s extraordinarily thin-skinned and always one or two steps away from a campaign meltdown. And, if anything, his constant racism will energize Latinos and other minorities to come out against him in force.
I’ll go ahead and lay down a marker: This election is not going to be close. In fact, it’s going to be a shellacking. There’s only two conceivable ways, as I see it, that Trump could eke it out. There could be some sort of catastrophic event leading up to the election — a major terrorist attack or financial collapse or somesuch. Or the Democrats, for some reason, decide to choose a really, really unpopular candidate to run against him. And neither of those are going to happ…
(Nah, he’s still going to lose.)
“‘Trump’s presidential run is no longer being treated as serious by the easily distracted and resolutely frivolous political press that covered it so thoroughly just a few short weeks ago. While it was always an unamusing joke…we had what felt like a lifetime of New Hampshire trip coverage and Piers Morgan interviews and ‘President Trump? It might be more likely than you think!’“
With last month’s embarrassing Trump boomlet seemingly run its course in the Village, Salon‘s Alex Pareene comes to bury, not praise, the Donald. “[T]ransparent idiocy didn’t cause the press to take Trump less seriously, but it did lead people to gradually grow to hate Trump, which made his ratings suffer, and the exposure of the artifice of the Trump persona was decidedly damaging to his ‘brand.’ Once your ‘brand’ has been damaged, say goodbye to credulous political press coverage!“
To be honest, I couldn’t care less about Trump, and mostly avoided all of his Birther shenanigans as they were unfolding two weeks ago for the same reason I try to avoid any political coverage — from right or left — of the “You won’t believe what Sarah Palin just posted on Facebook!” variety. It’s lazy, it’s boring, and it’s actively pernicious given all the real problems we face right now. (But at the very least, both Trump and Palin are noteworthy indicators of how far the GOP done fell.)
I’m only posting on this now to point out that the Trump boomlet was by no means a one-time-thing. When the President of the United States actually had to come on TV two weeks ago to prove he was an American citizen, there was much pearl-clutching by the Village press about what a travesty this had all become. “What a sad day in American political history,” lamented MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. Meanwhile, the Washington Post opined that the release “says something embarrassing — actually, make that disturbing — about the state of American politics” — soon after that newspaper of record invited Trump to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. (An evening, by the way, that’s as good as reflection as any of how desiccated and domesticated today’s establishment press has become.)
For his part, ABC’s Jake Tapper — a fellow who, let’s remember, got his big break as a hard-hitting journalist by kissing-and-telling on Monica Lewinsky back in the day — tried to defend the press by pointing to a Pew study which found that the deficit debate was actually the most-covered news story of the week. The problem with this line of argument is that conducting lousy journalism in one arena does not absolve you of conducting lousy journalism in another. And in fact, Village criers have been just as incompetent and/or duplicitous on the deficit.
For months, as you all know, the Serious People in the media have been banging the drum of the deficit witchhunt even though, from an economic perspective, austerity at this hour makes about as much sense as Birtherism. And, in the past few weeks, they have doubled down on this idiocy by trying to elevate the most recent flavor of the month, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, as a Serious Man, come to tell us hard truths about the need for sacrifice.
In fact, Congressman Ryan is scarcely any less of a huckster than the Donald. This is a guy who laments the intrusions of the welfare state at every turn, but only made it to college thanks to Social Security benefits received upon the passing of his father. (To be fair: Ryan is only emulating his hero with this sort of hypocrisy.) This is also a guy who, when confronted with the Clinton budget surpluses of a decade ago, then lamented that the debt was too small.
And this is a guy whose budget proposal — which he was quick to deem not a budget, but a cause — is basically the same vile, stale concoction of malice and magical thinking that the right has been peddling for decades. It uses made-up numbers to argue that privatizing Medicare (and leaving seniors with the bills), slashing the social safety net, and lowering taxes on the rich will somehow end deficits and save America. (Short answer: It won’t.)
By any reasonable standard, the Ryan budget should have been laughed out of the room as soon as it dropped. But, no, the press needed A Serious Man™ on the right for its lazy he-said, she-said approach to any political story. And, so Ryan got the Trump treatment and the rest is history. Ostensibly liberal pundits fell over themselves praising Ryan’s budget. In response, the president eventually drew progressive kudos for pitching his own deficit reduction plan. (More on that in a sec.) With both sides established, the press can now continue to happily indulge in the usual medley of content-free, he-said, she-said inanities that, to them, constitutes political journalism. And everyone in Washington can continue to ignore the fact that, actually, more spending, not cutting the deficit, is what is needed to fix the economy right now. Win-win!
Regarding President Obama’s deficit proposals, he delivered an eloquent speech on the subject last month, to be sure — one of his best as president. But, even if we hadn’t already been burned far too many times by his rhetoric not matching up to his policies, it’s hard for me to take his remarks as some great moment of the left just because he finally articulated what should be pretty basic principles of American government. Particularly when you consider that the Obama plan is, of course, center-right-leaning, and yet it has nevertheless become the left pole in an exceedingly narrow economic debate.
(By the way, if you’re really worried about the long-term deficit, the answer isn’t rocket science. Try raising taxes on the rich. Or passing real health care cost controls. Or going where the money’s at. Or growing the economy and putting people back to work. Or, y’know, doing nothing — that would work too.)
In sum, the Trump boomlet of last month was not the exception. It was a clear and distilled expression of the rule, a sideshow to a sideshow. And because the Village press is so terrible, our entire politics is distorted — We are living out the consequences of this disaster yet again in the deficit debate. Only the sheer amount of money flooding the system right now is a bigger political problem than the broken state of the newsmedia.