The Donald’s Primitive Appeal

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Trump-mania continuing to build, a lot of time and energy is going in to trying to understand why. Not among his most enthusiastic supporters, of course. Those folks, the ones proudly and completely without irony offering Nuremberg-like salutes pledging fealty to The Donald, seem to be pre-introspection. In their own odd way they’re hippie-like in the “If it feels good, do it” approach to tribal leadership.

Elsewhere though there’s plenty of cogent analysis of Trump’s basic, and I do mean “basic”, appeal. One of the best I’ve read is this piece by Amanda Taub on Vox a week or so back. (Hat tip to PM for recommending it.)

Taub writes about fresh research on the appeal of authoritarian personalities by several teams of socio-psychologists, serious professionals building on numerous previous studies that established the significantly greater, almost instinctive respect conservatives have for authority — group consensus, workplace bosses, police, the military, cultural and government leaders in general — than liberals.

Or as Taub writes, “ … a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.”

And, “Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms.”

The problem with most previous surveys is that they began in an unambiguously political context which likely led interviewees to shade their responses so to appear more or less authoritarian-minded, depending on how they felt they might be judged. More to the point, it was hard to get an honest answer to questions like, “Do you fear Muslims?”

The beauty — the elegance — of these new tests, and some are based on work began 25 years ago but largely ignored until recently, is the way scientists masked the intent of the survey by asking subjects about their philosophy of … parenting.

Sample questions:

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

As the article lays it out, the parenting line of questioning proved far more accurate in identifying people with latent authoritarian impulses — the desire to be protected, guided and feel part of a conforming mass. Beyond that the correlation with Trump’s devotees, who are clearly something beyond traditional authoritarian-minded conservatives, was even more startling.

“The third insight came from [Vanderbilt professor Marc] Hetherington and American University professor Elizabeth Suhay, who found that when non-authoritarians feel sufficiently scared, they also start to behave, politically, like authoritarians.

But Hetherington and Suhay found a distinction between physical threats such as terrorism, which could lead non-authoritarians to behave like authoritarians, and more abstract social threats, such as eroding social norms or demographic changes, which do not have that effect. That distinction would turn out to be important, but it also meant that in times when many Americans perceived imminent physical threats, the population of authoritarians could seem to swell rapidly.

Together, those three insights added up to one terrifying theory: that if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awaken a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats.”

It’s a long read, but I think a valuable one for anyone trying to comprehend the appalling spectacle we’re all watching.

By coincidence I’ve been reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, a reexamination of biological and social evolution, very much rooted in primitive concepts of personal safety, tribal unity, resistance to change and suspicion of “others”. The takeaway for me, not that it offers any great consolation for the sight of thousands of well-protected, reasonably prosperous Americans pledging fealty to a TV celebrity, is that the evolutionary process of survival of the fittest — in this case the success of those best able to manage irrational fear — is at minimum, a process thousands of years from completion.

The two-to-five thousand years of global-scale human interaction doesn’t even yet amount to a blink of the evolutionary eye. While the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and today’s cyber revolution have/are forcing radical adaptations (i.e. evolution) on us sapiens, slowly diminishing our primitive fears of any/every new tribe intruding on our hunting ground, there’s no good reason to believe we aren’t still hundreds-to-thousands of years away from the demise of the last over-active, primordial amygdala.

As I say, there’s no great comfort in considering this thesis. But in the face of something as primitive as Donald Trump any kind of explanation helps.

The More Relevant Poll Finding Pundits Are Ignoring

trump_angry_-_Google_SearchDonald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now pretty assured of winning their party’s nomination for president, both because they are far ahead and because it seems unlikely either will implode with their respective bases. They have both had fundamental vulnerabilities exposed, yet they both continue to have a sufficient amount of support to win their nominations.

As the campaigns shift to the general election, Team Clinton shouldn’t take Donald Trump lightly, says the boy who watched slack jawed as a sophomoric but entertaining professional wrestler with no real policy agenda became Governor of Minnesota.   The Trump-Ventura parallels are imperfect. For instance, the Minnesota electorate in 1998 was divided by three strong general election contenders, making the general election threshold unusually low for the middle finger voting block to attain.  Still, that experience has given me a healthy amount of respect for the electoral appeal of entertaining protest candidates.

But to put this in casino terms, in honor of the candidate who somehow finds ways to regularly bankrupt rigged casinos, I’d much rather have Hillary Clinton’s hand than Donald Trump’s hand. Here’s why:

As pundits continually remind us, Trump is indeed the runaway Republican front-runner. But this doesn’t mean he is broadly popular.  All this really means is that his antics have charmed about 40% of the one-third of Americans who participate in Republican primaries. That equates to about 14% of the general election electorate.  So, yes, he’s the front-runner for the nomination, and that’s a shocking thing.  But we have to keep in mind that eight months from now, he needs to win over a lot more people to win a general election.

The problem for Trump is, general election voters are a very different audience than the people currently voting for him. Most notably, they include large numbers of Independent voters. To win a two-candidate — don’t you even think about it, Michael Bloomberg — general election Trump has to win Independent voters.

What do Independent voters think of Trump’s nomination campaign performance.  As of December 2015 poll showed 47% of Independent voters would be embarrassed to have Mr. Trump as President.  Only 20% of Independents would be proud to say “President Trump.”  Even pilloried Hillary, one of the more systematically smeared political figures in modern political history, has a much lower 32% of Independents who say they’d be embarrassed to vote for her.
National__US__Poll_-_December_22__2015_-_Half_Of_U_S__Voters_Embarrasse___Quinnipiac_University_Connecticut

This is a big problem for Trump, because the “would be embarrassed” question is a reasonable approximation of “would never vote for.”  Therefore, the finding shows that Trump’s pandering to his authoritarian-loving base has badly damaged his chances in a general election, perhaps irreparably so.

Now, if anyone is uniquely positioned to dig himself out of this hole, it may be Mr. Trump. First, he’s instinctively talented at reading audiences and adjusting to them on the fly. He’s like a veteran door-to-door salesman in that way.  Second, he’s no ideologue.  He’s perfectly comfortable changing positions to win over whichever audience happens to be in front of him at the moment, and skilled at deflecting “flip-flopper” criticisms. Therefore, as soon as the Republican nomination is in the bag, we can expect Trump to quickly be moderating his positions and tone, and that should help him partially rehabilitate himself with some Indies.

Still, it will be very difficult to erase the memories of Trump’s boorish behavior over the past several months.  Social media and massive ad buys will keep Trump’s Greatest Hits fresh in general election voters’ minds.  Moreover, over the next eight months Trump will still have his hard core Trumpeters coming to his rallies, which will continually tempt him to pander to them, both to win their adoration in that moment and to ensure that they don’t stay home in November.   So, Trump will moderate compared to his current self, but he probably will remain plenty embarrassing.

These same numbers also show how critically important it will be for Hillary Clinton to partner with Bernie Sanders to get Sanders’ 18-34 year old supporters to the polls in November.  After all, an astounding 73% of these younger voters would be embarrassed to have Trump as their President. This should be a solid voting block for Secretary Clinton in the general election, but they could easily stay home in large numbers if they can’t get more excited about her than they are now.

So as the nomination fights wind down, it’s time to stop obsessing about the nomination horse race numbers and delegate counts, and start focusing on the more general election-relevant data points in the survey research. When you dig a little bit deeper into the data, there still is a very high wall around the White House for the wall-obsessed Trump to scale.

You’re Mad as Hell. I’m Happy for You.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Every family has its classic stories. Legendary face plants and screw ups. Moments of never-to-be-lived down buffoonery. Hell, recalling such things is practically what families are for. Everyone has leverage on everyone else. It isn’t possible for anyone to stay all high and mighty for longer than it takes a spouse, a sibling or a child to “remember that time when you … .”

So … .

Quick story: A few years ago, after a hiking trip, I’m checking in for a flight at the Phoenix airport. Eyeing my backpack the ticket agent asks, “Do you have any gas canisters in there? Anything flammable?”  No, I tell her, thinking to myself, “How much of a rube do I look like? Gas canisters. Right.  Let’s go, Toots. Chop, chop. I’ve got better things to do than stand here answering your official list of stupid questions.”

“Anything that has been used with gas?”

“What? What do you mean, ‘used with gas’?”

“Like a stove, a camping stove.”

“Well, yeah. But there’s no gas.”

“You’ll have to take it out. It can’t be in checked luggage.”

“There’s no gas. It’s just a piece of metal you screw into canisters. But there are no gas canisters.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’ll have to remove it.”

With that my demeanor, uh, deteriorated … rapidly. “Removing” the screw-in “stove” meant unpacking the entire backpack right there on the floor in front of the counter, clogging the aisle and slowing down the 20-30 people behind me. Pretty soon there are empty water bottles, metal cook kits, spoons, dirty socks and underwear heaped on the terminal floor as I drilled down to the stove.

Finally I come up with the thing. A piece of inert metal the size of a manual can opener. I hand it to her, and with as much snot as I could lay on a line say, “Here you go. No gas. No canister. No nothing. It’s a piece of metal.”

She holds it to her nose and announces, “I can smell gas. This can’t fly. You’ll either have to forfeit it or mail it back to yourself. [For $25].”

Without belaboring a lot of other not exactly mature details, pretty soon — because I know my rights, dammit! — I’m demanding her name, her superior’s name, the airport commissioner’s name and stopping juuuuuust short of dropping a few highly politically incorrect stupid/corporate drone epithets on her.

She doesn’t budge. But she does however press the button for security, which shows up in the form of three burly guys on bikes, who tell — not ask — me to gathering my belongings and step out of line.

Off to one side the oldest of three, a muscular ex-military guy looks me in the eye and says, “I’m going to need you to calm down.”

Truth be told, he alone could have taken me. But with the two younger dudes, a physical defense of my precious Constitutional liberties — it’s in there somewhere: “Thou shalt not be jacked around by [bleeping] dimwits” – was not an option.

But I do whip out the gas-less, canister-less piece of metal and waggle it in his face.

“You know what this is?”

“Yeah, it’s a camping stove. One of those screw-in things.”

“Right. And there’s no gas here is there?”

“No.”

“So what in the [bleep] is the logic of this?”

He pauses, looks at the two younger dudes, then over his shoulder at Nurse Diesel behind the counter, leans in to me and says, ‘There is no logic to this. But that doesn’t mean this could not end up being a very bad day for you if you don’t settle down’.”

This is just a very long set-up to an observation (okay, a complaint) about our popular culture of outrage. Specifically, what a misplaced, counter-productive, self-pitying waste of energy it is, especially for middle-class Americans who by any measure have things pretty damned good these days.

A lot of Donald Trump’s appeal is believed to be rooted in the “rage” and “anger” felt by white Americans who feel marginalized by government, the media and the super rich (other than Donald Trump, of course.) But on closer inspection most of these people are getting along fine or at least well enough that they shouldn’t be nearly as whipped up and pissed off as they say they are. Not many of them are homeless, or getting stopped and gunned down by the cops for broken tail lights. But being “mad as hell” is a great act. It feels cathartic. It attracts attention and pity for their plight, which as all sorts of surveys are showing, is really rooted in crudely filtered resentments of … people in far worse predicaments than they are.

It’s nuts. But in a cultural moment when “outrage” is a standard commodity for sale on reality TV shows, political pundit panels and talk radio, getting in on the act in your own personal way seems like a serious and (very ironically) sophisticated thing to do. “Hey! Look at me! Look at how pissed I am! You should take me seriously! Hell, I should be on TV!”

These are the people I’ll charitably describe as the knuckleheads. The Trumpists, feeling their moment in the raging sun. But theatrical rage is also evident, and arguably even more misplaced among today’s liberals and progressives.

I’ve long had a pet theory built around the notion of “Stress as status”. People, usually in a business environment, who exaggerate and wrap themselves in the stress and tension of their job as a way to A: Extract pity from others, and B: Legitimize their emotional responses to routine workplace disagreements. The more stress you demonstrate, the more serious a person you are.

Liberals at this moment have good reason to be concerned about Donald Trump and his swelling “movement idiocracy”. It is phenomenal. But for the time being it is contained within a Republican party that has been pandering to racial and class resentments since 1968 and is now getting it’s face blow-torched off by the inmates. (It really does remind me of a prison riot.)

By the starkest contrast, the Hillary-Bernie “fight” has been as civil and responsible and mature as anything you’d want to teach the kids in a high school government class. Trump may very well win the nomination. But who can imagine Team Clinton being as feckless and clueless about demolishing Trump as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? And the reaction of blacks, Hispanics, women and other rational adults to seven months of Trump’s act? Please.

Point being, there is only suspect status in rage. Mainly, people just adjust and keep their distance from you. In a glutted market for anger, rage is actually kind of boring. It’s a tired cliche. Composure is a more salable long-term product.

And I say that as the guy who would have been a lot better off giving the Phoenix ticket agent one of my patented long, silent, dismissive stares and handing over the camp stove, than throwing an indignant scene.

So as the man said, “I’m going to need you to calm down.”

BTW: The punch line to the Phoenix story comes after I walk across the terminal to some office and lay out $25 to mail the $25 gizmo to Minnesota. As the clerk rings up the charge I ask, “Just out of curiosity, how is this thing getting back to me?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, does it go on some super secure flight or something, you know like in a lead box?”

“No man, it just goes with the regular mail on the plane.”

“You mean like the same plane I’m going on?”

“Yeah, probably. That’s what they do.”

P.S.  Yeah, it’s a new mug shot. December in Furnace Creek.

Sanders Drawing Wrong Parallels To Explain Democratic Socialism

Cursor_and_Denmark_flag_-_Google_SearchWhen presidential candidate Bernie Sanders explains why Americans shouldn’t fear his “democratic socialism,” he usually points to Scandinavia.

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people. In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what “freedom” means… they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity. Instead of promoting a system which allows a few to have enormous wealth, they have developed a system which guarantees a strong minimal standard of living to all — including the children, the elderly and the disabled.”

His opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, who clearly understands American exceptionalism biases, quickly shuts down Sanders’ arguments with a smug shrug: “We are not Denmark.”

By continually citing countries other than America to explain democratic socialism to Americans, Senator Sanders is hurting his case. Instead of pointing to Norway, he should more consistently cite the New Deal.

First, let’s consider the definition of “democratic socialism” offered by Democratic Socialist’s of America:

“Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”

Truth be told, the United States of America is no stranger to this kind of democratic socialism. It was brought to us during some of the most successful and popular presidencies of the past century. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower enacted a whole series of popular measures that fit under this definition of democratic socialism.  At the time their ideas were proposed, they were criticized as infeasible, un-American and socialistic, just as Sanders’ ideas are today.

Therefore, Senator Sanders should be explaining his democratic socialism with American examples that a large majority of Americans already know and love. Sanders might say something like this:

You want to know what democratic socialism is? When the great Republican Teddy Roosevelt dissolved 44 corporations to protect the middle class, and when he protected ordinary Americans from the railroad companies and other big corporations, his critics said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed them anyway, because the American people demanded it.

When the enormously popular Franklin Roosevelt used government funding to put Americans to work building community infrastructure, they said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.” When FDR proposed a Social Security system of government-run pensions that lifted millions of American seniors out of poverty, conservatives said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the people demanded it.

When Harry Truman enacted Medicare, people like Ronald Reagan called that socialism too.

And you know what? When Republican Dwight Eisenhower invested in an enormously expensive interstate highway system and had 90% income tax rates on the ultra-wealthy, they said it again: “You can’t pass that, because that’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the American people demanded it.

And despite the dire predictions from critics, America’s economy prospered under these policies that were all predicted to be catastrophic for the economy.

So in 2016, when the defeatist “no you can’t” crowd tells Americans “you can’t pass bills to provide higher education and health care to all, because that’s socialism,” I get my inspiration and courage from Teddy, FDR, Give ‘em hell Harry and Ike.  Because of them, I know America can overcome the cynics’ name-calling and naysaying to do great things for the middle class now, just as we did then.”

Democratic socialism is already in America, and it is enormously popular. Surveys consistently show that Americans are vehemently opposed to cutting or eliminating democratic socialist programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and the minimum wage.

Americans not only have embraced democratic socialism in the past, they strongly support it for the future. A recent GBA Strategies poll shows that likely 2016 voters overwhelmingly support a whole range of Sanders’ ideas being dismissed as socialist ideas lacking sufficient political support:  Allowing governments to negotiate drug prices has 79% support. Medicare buy-in for all has 71% support. A $400 million infrastructure jobs program has 71% support. Debt-free college at all public universities has 71% support. Expanding Social Security benefits has 70% support. Taxing the rich at a 50% rate — the rate under conservative icon Ronald Reagan — has 59% support, and only 25% in opposition. Breaking up the big banks has 55% support, and only 23% in opposition.

This is hardly a portrait of a nation that opposes democratic socialism.  Overwhelming support for democratic socialism is already there, ready to fuel a 2016 presidential candidate.  But for two reasons, Senator Sanders needs to cite American parallels to explain his approach, not European.

First, citing examples of American policies will help build confidence that bold measures can be enacted over fierce opposition now, just as they were in the days of Teddy, FDR, Truman and Ike.  Second, citing American examples will paint Sanders’ democratic socialism label and his policy ideas red, white and blue, rather than just red.  It will show that such ideas have been embraced in the past by idolized Republicans and Democrats.  It subsequently will normalize democratic socialism.

Americans are in a very nationalistic, ethnocentric and nostalgic mood. So, rather than continually pointing to the Rikstag, Storting, and Folketing to explain democratic socialsm, Sanders needs to point to the faces on Mt. Rushmore.

Note:  This post was chosen for re-publication in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Ten Questions You Won’t Hear Asked By Intimidated Political Reporters

With all of the horse race and insult-related content in the GOP presidential debates, there is a huge opportunity cost: A lot of substantive questions simply are going unasked.

Megyn_Kelly_bimboMaybe that’s because reporters are worried bullying candidates will give them the Megyn Kelly Treatment/Rebecca Quick Treatment. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t take the time to learn policy issues. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t respect voters’ intelligence enough to think that they will care about, or understand, policy issues

Whatever the reason, the most consequential questions simply aren’t being posed, and the result on the Republican side is the most vapid set of presidential debates of my lifetime. Here just a few of the questions that I would love to hear asked at the upcoming Republican debate:

  • PAYING FOR TAX CUTS FOR WEALTHY? Which Americans’ services are you going to cut or eliminate to pay for your proposed tax cuts, which go disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans?
  • PAYING FOR PENTAGON SPENDING SPREE? You claim President Obama has destroyed the military, despite the fact military spending is at historically high levels, and is 23% higher than under President Reagan.  But if you do want to further beef up the military, which specific Pentagon spending programs will you increase, how much will that cost and what service cuts and/or tax increases will you offer to pay for that large increase in spending?
  • BUSHONOMICS AGAIN? President George W. Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy didn’t lead to economic growth and deficit reduction, yet your tax proposal is remarkably similar to the Bushonomics that didn’t turn out so well for Americans. Why do you think that approach will lead to a booming economy if it didn’t turn out that way under the last Republican president?
  • CAP-AND-TRADE. One solution for reducing greenhouse emissions is the cap-and-trade approach. The last three Republican Presidents, including conservative icon Ronald Reagan, embraced this market-based approach. But suddenly Republicans now oppose the cap-and-trade approach to protecting the environment. Has cap-and-trade changed since President Reagan, or has the oil industry’s control of Republican leaders gotten that much stronger?
  • ELIMINATE OIL COMPANY SUBSIDIES? Given that you oppose subsidizing alternative energy sources, and government spending in general, would you support eliminating the $4.8 Billion in subsidies the petroleum industry is given every year? If not, why give an unfair competitive advantage to dirty, non-renewable, and foreign sources of energy over cleaner, renewable, American-based sources?
  • MAKING BANKS SMALL ENOUGH TO FAIL? The largest banks in America are now actually even larger than they were in 2008, when leaders judged them to be too big to fail.  Will you break up the nation’s largest financial institutions so that they are no longer “too big to fail?” If not, aren’t you leaving American taxpayers wide open to another crippling bailout?
  • DETAILS ON DEPORTATION. Explain specifically how you would deport 11.2 million undocumented immigrants, an amount roughly equivalent to the population of the State of Ohio? For example, how would you pry 11 million people away from their lives and families, and get them onto trains or buses? Would you use the military, National Guard or police? How would you pay the estimated $400-600 Billion cost of deporting 11.2 million people?
  • VETERANS VOTING RECORD. You all talk a lot about needing to honor and help military veterans. But if you all love veterans so much, why do groups like the Disabled American Veterans of America (DAV) rate your voting records so low. For instance, the DAV says Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz supported veterans 0% of the time in their most recent rating of them, while Senator Sanders supported veterans 100% of the time and Senator Clinton supported them 80% of the time.   Don’t legislative actions speak louder than your words?
  • DEFICIT SPENDING FOR WARS? Your comments on foreign policy indicate that you are inclined to send American troops to another armed conflict in the Middle East. If you do, will you increase taxes to pay for those operations, or will you fund the conflict with deficit spending, as the last Republican President did? If you’d run up the deficit with trillions of dollars of war spending, how can you claim to be a fiscal conservative?
  • AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (ACA) ALTERNATIVE? What’s your specific plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act? No, really, it’s been six years since the ACA passed, so this time you are not going to get away with dodging the question. If you still can’t name an alternative you support, isn’t it fair to assume that the claimed “repeal-and-replace” rhetoric is actually just “repeal,” which would lead to 1) about 15 million Americans losing their coverage and 2) another 65 million losing their ACA protection from discrimination due to a pre-existing condition?

Oh, and here is one over-arching question I’d like them to add. “For every tax cut or spending increase you didn’t know the cost of today, will you pledge to the American people that you will disclose the estimated fiscal impact within the next month? If not, why won’t you shoot it straight to the voters.”

There are dozens of other questions that need to be asked by reporters, but this would be a very helpful start. Yes, such questioning will cause reporters to get booed, heckled and bullied by the candidates and their cheering sections. But frankly that happens even when they ask softball questions, so what exactly do they have to lose?

There’s Only One Connection Between Bernie’s People and Trump’s People

Brian_LambertNew Hampshire is now in the past and if we agree on nothing else, let’s settle this: Bernie Sanders’ people and Donald Trump’s people have nothing in common … nothing that is other than the realization that we’re all chumps in an epic con game.

Beyond that, in terms of what they really understand about The Big Con and what actually has to be done to pull the plug on it, we’re talking a gulf as vast as, oh I don’t know, the difference between an episode of “Duck Dynasty” and a “Frontline” documentary.

I’ve watched way too much punditry over the past week, yesterday and last night in particular. And amid the flood of exit-polling data and the sage analyses of anchor desks groaning with marvelously well-remunerated players of the DC-media establishment, I was amazed at how little discussion there was of a key statistic that keeps leaping out at me. Namely, the education level of Trump’s core supporters and how he dominates the field among people with a high school diploma or less.

Says ABC: “Voters who haven’t gone beyond high school were Trump’s best group by education; he won 45 percent of their votes. His support fell as education increased, to 21 percent among voters with a post-graduate education – still highly competitive even in that group.”

That single fact goes a long ways to explaining the much more frequently discussed 66% of Republicans who like The Donald’s idea of closing the borders to all Muslims, which is linked to other gob-smacking numbers like the 60% of Republicans who think Obama is a Muslim and not an actual citizen, not to mention Trumpists’ irrational level of fear of rampaging terrorists. For whatever the reason, the pundit class chooses not to make so much of that startling 45% number, much less dwell on it as they should.

No doubt they’re terrified at the thought of calling Trump’s people “stupid”. I mean what would The Donald say about that in his next live call-in interview … after his last call-in interview 15 minutes earlier? Moreover, The Donald’s people watch a lot of TV, and what TV performer dares call their viewers “stupid”.

The thing is there’s a more nuanced and interesting discussion to be had than just saying, “Trump’s voters are dolts”. To be sure they are unsophisticated and largely ignorant of critical facets of reality, but drooling morons? No. What they seem to me is a very large chunk of the American population that has never paid a lot of attention to why things are the way they are, much less who is responsible for making it that way, and — this is the part that Democrats are going to have understand and twist to their advantage if Trump makes it to November — this is a group of rare-to-never voters who mainly consume information that comes saturated with entertainment value. They need sugary frosting on everything.

I suspect these are the kids we all remember from high school, the ones who only perked up in class when something was funny, or easy. The stuff that was “boring”? Not so much. (I should know. That was me in Algebra.) Which of course goes a long ways to explaining their predicament in life today. Honest? Most likely. Hard-working? I don’t doubt it. Good neighbors? Yeah sure, friendly enough. But disciplined enough to exercise critical thinking in their own best interests? No way.

Everyone has noted that Trump’s people carry no white-hot ideological torches. All that standard Republican blather about religion and “Godliness” and “My Lord above”? It’s a big “whatever” to them. Having been “educated” primarily through pop culture, and by that I mean commercial radio and TV, they have developed an appetite, an addiction you might say, to the entertaining, politically incorrect ear candy spouted by celebrities and stars. People who are bona fide success stories, omnipresent larger than life characters who never fail to dominate their environment and enemies.

The fact that show biz acts like Rush Limbaugh and Trump “win” by a carefully calculated design that avoids genuine confrontation, isn’t something this audience notices particularly. The bigger point is that these guys talk like winners and live like winners. (They can buy all the cool stuff advertised on TV). Plus, they have mastered the art of using a vernacular this particular audience understands.

And this audience understand it because it is essentially the same language they use. And that’s because … to keep the perpetual wheel turning … they picked it up from pop culture.

So when Trump gets up in front of an auditorium of the faithful and calls Ted Cruz a “pussy”, the crowd howls with delight. Sheeeeeit! It’s like night out watching a stand-up comic at the nearest casino. And the guy’s a billionaire!

Weirdly, all this seems “authentic” to the Trump faithful. But I doubt the notion of authenticity is tied so much to Trump personally as it is that what he’s saying and the way he is saying it sounds so familiar to them. I mean, it’s their grievances and grudges blasting back at them … in their own words, from the mouth of a super rich, super-famous star. It’s a long-sought confirmation that while they’ve been dealt a shitty hand, they’ve been right all along.

In no way though does this describe the Sanders crowd. Yes, they too smell a grand, grotesque con. But they see, as the Trumpists don’t, the symbiotic connection between the conniving elite and the hapless chumps who routinely vote to keep them in power, sometimes by not voting at all.

Sanders’ authenticity on the other hand is, well, “authentic” and as much about him as a person as his message. In terms of critical thinking in pursuit of their best interests, Sanders’ people correctly assess The Bern as honorable. There is, as I’ve said before, a lot of misty-eyed idealism about what President Bernie could actually accomplish in a Quixotic fight against Wall St., UnitedHealth, Pfizer and on and on. But his appeal to his followers has nothing to do with pandering to chronically low levels of accurate information.

All that said, I repeat something from a few posts back. Roughly 48% of eligible voters never bother to show up on election day. That describes a big chunk of the crowd hooting and howling for Trump right now. If he gets 10% of them to vote in November we’ve got serious problems.

Whoa! An actual debate.

Brian_LambertWell, that was actually interesting. And not because it was a night filled with hysteria and off-the-leash narcissism.

In case we’ve forgotten what a “substantive debate” sounds like, Bernie v. Hillary Thursday night in New Hampshire was a refreshing reminder. Two people arguing stuff that matters … most … right now … and not trying to out hyper-ventilate the other guy in imagining bloodthirsty, color-other-than-white terrorists gunning us down in our pickups on our way to Wednesday night prayer service.

Predictably, the morning after pundits are seizing on Hillary’s “artful smear” line against Bernie, by which she was plainly trying to coax him into saying directly that she’s taken bribes from Wall St. The line didn’t play well. Sanders is simply too honorable and too defiant (some might say “courageous”) in his attack on the country’s most dominant minority (the super-super wealthy) for a shot like that to land with the feel of validity and with any sticking power, especially from Hillary Clinton. I seriously doubt she’ll go there again.

And not because her kissing-cousins relationship with Goldman, Sachs and the rest of the .1% mob will go away … ever. But because Clinton, as she demonstrated again last night, both adapts well to the combat of politics and has plenty of fight in her. And I say that as two good things. The Clintons are unrivaled in their facility with the machinery of the political game, which is one reason Bubba not only swatted back the Gingrich Revolution in ’94-’95, but survived impeachment and left office with an approval rating higher than dottering St. Ronnie.

I keep imagining what the first Clinton years might have been like if they knew as much about neutralizing Republican cynicism as they do now and had no interest in compliant interns.

Someone was saying this morning that the Sanders phenomena is much more about the message than Bernie himself, and that sounds right. You could swap Bernie out with anyone saying the same thing and be in pretty much the same level of contention. But it helps that Ol’ Bern comes off simultaneously as fair-minded and mightily pissed-off.

Certainly until the general election, Hillary will be on serious defensive for her “establishment” (i.e. there’s no way in hell you can call this “progressive”) pas de deux with our 21st-century robber barons. (And this new crew gives guys like Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockefeller a bad name). That’s her punishment. The hope has to be that she is aware of how much she has to prove she has not been bought off, as so many suspect.

I thought Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, who did a very good job with both the line and quality of questions and their willingness to play back and let Bernie and Hillary have at it, missed at least one juicy follow-up.

After Bernie reiterated his familiar charge that Wall St. today — still paying off billions in fines for fraudulent behavior — is really, let’s call it what it is, a massive on-going systematic fraud, Todd and Maddow should have turned to Hillary and asked, “Madam Secretary do you agree that Wall St. as it functions today is a systematic fraud?”

Personally, I would have gone a step further and asked, “Madam Secretary, do you believe JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon should be indicted for fraud?” But that’s just me.

Todd, and certainly Maddow, might have also pursued a line of questioning along these lines: “Senator Sanders, your essential message, talking of a revolution, has demonstrated substantial appeal. But you seem to gloss over the steadfast opposition the current Republican majority has to literally everything a Democratic president proposes, and that includes minor policy shifts they themselves have previously championed. Aren’t you showing a rather blithe disregard for the size and virulence of the opposition to the enormous and fundamental changes you’re proposing, to the banking and health insurance industry in particular? Your reluctance to lay out how, with minorities in both houses, your plans could survive such a torrent of opposition leaves many people deeply concerned you have not fully accepted the probability of that scenario.”

I’m still waiting for a convincing answer from Bernie on that one.

Still, by way of stark contrast, the debate’s focus on financial corruption and that disease’s impact on middle-class Americans was like sucking in a chestful of pure oxygen after the relentless freak-outs and idiocy of the Republican brawls. Everyone’s sense of real-time security will improve immeasurably when we get a license-to-indict grip on our supremely entitled class.

Bernie’s limitations vis a vis Hillary though were dramatically apparent when the topic turned to foreign policy, a range of issues pretty much on the periphery of his appeal. There was no comparison. There’s simply no one in this race or in any race since Bush 41 who rivals Clinton on first-hand understanding of who’s who in the world and how to handle the best and worst players. The question of course remains, facing the next international crisis, does she go with the option that is best or Halliburton et al, or follow Barack Obama’s much less trigger happy strategies?

(The crowd selling Clinton as an inveterate war-monger, primarily for her Iraq invasion vote, is engaging in its own brand of hysteria.)

Not being a believer in perfect candidates, Thursday’s debate was a satisfying confrontation of two sets of valuable virtues and vices, aspirational and idealistic vs. pragmatic and battlefield savvy.

The Health Reform Middle Ground Between Bernie and Hillary

Cursor_and_bernie_hillary_debate_msnbc_-_Google_SearchTo hear Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign tell it, you would think that there is absolutely no way to transition from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) world of today to an eventual Medicare-for-All world that her opponent Senator Bernie Sanders promotes.

The Clinton campaign asserts that the ACA and Medicare-for-All are effectively mutually exclusive. That is, they claim that if you support Medicare-for-All, you must be against the ACA. For instance, former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton was put out on the stump to play Chicken Little:

“Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance. I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era — before we had the Affordable Care Act — that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

Chelsea’s mom, a bona fide health care policy expert, knows better. She knows that Senator Sanders proposes to consolidate public insurance programs to make coverage better and more efficient, not eliminate public coverage.

The Clinton campaign’s dire warnings aside, there is a potential middle ground between Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-All Model and Secretary Clinton’s Stick With The ACA Model.  It’s a middle ground that is more politically viable than what Sanders proposes, and more progressive than what Clinton proposes.

The middle ground is this: Amend the Affordable Care Act to allow ACA exchange shoppers the option of voluntarily buying into Medicare.

This middle ground approach would effectively empower patients to decide the fate of Medicare-for-All.  Here’s how:  If over the years enough ACA exchange shoppers choose of their own free will to buy into Medicare, we will be making progress towards a public single payer system, which in numerous other western countries has proven to be a more effective and efficient model than America’s current model.

On the other hand, if private insurance options prove to be the most attractive, on a quality and/or price basis, the Medicare buy-in option will die off, because it will be exposed as being as inferior as Republicans claim it to be.

But with this Medicare buy-in option, patients would effectively decide Medicare-for-All’s ultimate fate, not politicians.  That’s why it’s a middle ground position.

Senator Clinton maintains that a public option lacks sufficient congressional support to pass, and that is certainly a distinct possibility. But if she proves to be correct and it gets defeated, the ACA will still be there. At that point, we would simply stay with the status quo ACA model.

But I’d like to see an aspirational President who was willing to lead a campaign to enact this middle ground approach.  Because this would be merely optional for patients, it is much more politically feasible than Sanders’ proposal to mandate Medicare-for-All.  Even if a Medicare buy-in option loses, promoting the issue now may pave the way for eventual passage in the future.   It moves the national debate forward.

I actually think a passionate, committed President would have an outside shot of passing this.  After all, there already is a great deal of support for this approach. GBA Strategies recently asked 1,500 likely 2016 voters whether they supporting giving “all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurances, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.”

An overwhelming 71% supported this Medicare buy-in option, including 63% of Republicans and 71% of Independents. Only 13% opposed. 

After the special interests start their multi-million distortion and lobbying campaigns, the Medicare buy-in option may well get defeated in a Congress that defeats just about everything. (In fact, any of Senator Clinton’s ideas for incrementally improving the ACA also face a steep uphill battle with a Republican-controlled House).   But this survey tells me that there is a solid foundation of support to build on. So why not lead the American people towards this place halfway between Bernie and Hillary, and at least try to make some progress.

Note:  This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Caucuses: Democracy Of, For and By the Extroverts

minnesota_caucus_-_Google_SearchOn March 1, Minnesota’s two major political parties will select its presidential nominees with a caucus system.  Iowa will use a similar system in just a few days.  So maybe we should take a moment to consider who gets the most and least representation out of this system.

The caucus approach requires that party members gather in groups in various locations to debate issues and candidates before they vote.   If a citizen wants to be a party delegate, they must attend additional lengthy gatherings.

In contrast, with a primary system for nominating candidates, party members simply cast a vote and leave.

Who is Over-Represented?  

Ideological Extremists.  It’s pretty well established that the caucus system over-represents ideological extremists. As Brigham Young University researchers Christopher Karpowitz and Jeremy Pople  found:

“The average primary voter is not at the center of the spectrum either, but such voters tend to be center-left or center-right. Caucus-goers, on the other hand, tend to be much more ideologically extreme. In fact, in their issue attitudes, caucus attenders are indistinguishable from representatives currently serving in our polarized Congress.”

People With More Time. Beyond over-representing ideological extreme party members, the caucus system works best for those who have free time.  For instance, citizens who you have children or other dependents, travel for work, and/or work long hours are going to find it more difficult to attend a caucus than to cast a primary vote. The caucus system doesn’t work very well for them.

Extroverts.  But there is also a less obvious type of group that the caucus system inadvertently discriminates against – introverts.

Introverts have a preference for less stimulating environments over more stimulating environments, using the definition used by many psychologists. Obviously, bustling caucus meetings and conventions are significantly more stimulating than sedate voting booths, so the former is much more off-putting to introverts.

Sure, some introverts attend caucuses, but overall introverts are about as attracted to frenetic caucuses and conventions as extroverts are attracted to all-silent retreats. You could hardly design a better system for driving away many introverts.

Why Care About Introvert Non-Participation?

Introversion isn’t just any trait.  Psychologists say it is a particularly influential one. Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking describes it like this:

“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most aspect of personality — the “north and south of temperament,” as one scientist puts it — is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.”

Not A Small Group.  Experts estimate that between one-third and one-half of Americans are introverts who have a preference for less stimulating environments. So, depending on which estimate is correct, introverts are a sub-population that may be as large as many major religions, races and ethnic communities.

If political parties designed a nomination system that they knew drove away any of those groups, would we okay with that?  So, why are party leaders comfortable with an approach that many introverts will be strongly inclined to avoid?

If party leaders did a personality profile of party members who regularly sit out caucuses and conventions, it’s a fair bet that they would find that a disproportionate number of the non-participants are introverts. Extroverted party activists may think these introverts are so far outside the mainstream that they should be shrugged off, but the parties do pay a price for effectively driving away up to half of the electorate.

Important Perspectives.  Researchers describe a range of positive traits that introverts could be bringing to political party decisions. For instance, introverts are highly empathetic. They tend to be more spiritual and philosophical, and less materialistic. They notice subtleties that others miss. They like to think before they speak. These are not bad things for any political party to have in the mix.

Party leaders should be uncomfortable driving away the participation of introverts, given that people like Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Laura Bush, George Stephanopoulos, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffet fall into that category.

I understand that this will strike many as a peculiar argument.  Contemporary society is much more inclined to divide the world by gender, race, ethnicity and income than by personality types. I also know this argument will particularly baffle extrovert party activists, who are so profoundly energized by caucus and convention gatherings that it can be almost impossible for them to comprehend that so many others could be repelled by those gatherings.

It’s awfully easy for extroverted party leaders to dismiss introverts as being an insignificant and odd minority that is flawed, lazy, or not civic-minded. But ignoring the strong preferences of up to half of Americans is pretty bull-headed and self-defeating for leaders who need attract every vote they can get.

Note:  This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Bernie v. Reality

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterFor the past week the trending buzzword for Bernie Sanders has been “reality”. As in: “Is Bernie out of touch with reality?” “Bernie’s ability to win is not connected to reality.” And, “Revolution in 2016 America is not a concept rooted in reality.”

If he weren’t about to throw a serious scare into Hillary Clinton, who is sort of Reality-Plus, or Reality-Minus, depending on your enthusiasm for her, no one would bother to think too long about Bernie Sanders setting up as Our Guy. I mean, Bernie as the one sent out to do battle with all the massed forces of the Wall St. kleptocracy, Big Pharma, UnitedHealth and all the other richer-than-Croesus “managed care insurers”? Not to mention chilling out every panicked authoritarian convinced “total war” with someone now is the only way to keep rabid jihadis from stepping off the 7 bus and cutting all our heads off. Until recently not too many of us actually stopped and considered Bernie Sanders being that guy.

Like a lot of the people I hang around with, I get a big smile on my face whenever I hear Bernie laying into the 1%, which as he is quick to point out is really the .1%.

“[Bleeping]-A right, Bern!”, I yell back at the TV, scaring the dog.

In terms of isolating and drawing big, bold neon-colored circles around the fundamental issues, no one comes close to Bernie. He’s absolutely right. Income inequality in the USA is off the charts, at least for an alleged democracy. The system is rigged. Big money has bought off not just Congress but most of the conglomerate media as well, to the point that at this moment, there is, truly and genuinely, no effective resistance or counter-narrative to the most affluent forces in the country accumulating even greater control over our supposedly free markets, government and culture.

Other than the issue of how to best achieve effective gun control, which has to be a federal system, I don’t really disagree with Bernie on anything. Medicare for all. Check. Free tuition for higher education. Check. And on and on.

My problem — my “reality” dilemma — is that I haven’t believed in the one-man revolution theory in a long, long time. Every empirical piece of data you can gather and pretty much every historical touchstone you can summon tells us it It is a physical, sociological, intellectual impossibility for one man (or woman) to make sweeping, radical, revolutionary change in the way the United States does business.

Can one person crank the rudder another 5 or 6 points starboard or port? Maybe. But even that’s easier if it’s a conservative “trimming big government” and cutting taxes for big donors than a Democratic Socialist handing the fat cats a big new tax bill and adding to the authority of government.

But come on. Pulling the control, the profits, the share-holder value out from under UnitedHealth and Cigna and the others? Essentially dismantling them? And not just “breaking up the big banks” but larding them with serious levels of unavoidable taxation to fund free-tuition and infrastructure repair? Am I really supposed to wonder if one guy, and in this case a cranky 74 year-old, can pull this off in four years? A 180-degree financial revolution? In the United States as it is today, if it took less than 100 years without a counter-revolutionary firestorm it be would be a miracle.

I just don’t see it. I wish I did. But I don’t. Life doesn’t work that way. It never has. Anywhere.

The “primal forces of nature”, as Mr. Jensen explained to Howard Beale in “Network” are simply so big, so vastly more influential and, as public-companies, so deeply integrated into middle-class dreams for an RV and a few winters in Florida, that President Bernie Sanders would first have to have a Congress as progressive as he is to achieve even his most modest proposal, like improving veterans health care or some small beer like that.

And that’s the key to “Bernie reality.” As it is currently elected and convened, Congress has one overriding goal, and that is to hustle and shill for enough money to stay in office. Anything it ever does for middle class voters is strictly a happy, residual accident. Bernie’s entirely admirable progressive agenda, his fervid revolutionary dream, requires that that equally progressive Congress to be there when he arrives, and that ain’t going to happen. Citizens United and gerrymandering are years if not decades away from being gutted and replaced with something, you know, democratic.

Further, many of the people most eager for Bernie’s revolution have a bad habit of taking Congressional elections off. They get whipped up every eight to twelve years, and then fade off when the one-man revolution fails to single-handedly dethrone the royal families in the first couple weeks. And this crowd isn’t all dewy-eyed college kids. It was striking to listen to adults my age grumbling and throwing up their hands over Barack Obama within a year of his first election. The naivete, from allegedly intelligent adults, that one guy could swiftly transform everything they despised into gems of unblemished purity was startling to behold.

Startling, but utterly familiar to any student of human nature.

So what then? Cautious, triangulating, incremental Hillary Clinton?

Well, I gotta tell ya, when you look at Mitch McConnell controlling the Senate and Tea Party holding the House hostage and the banks and corporations controlling controlling all of the above, not to mention the banks and corporations controlling most every other Democrat too, (including Clinton), there’s something to be said for a couple more rounds of Obama-style pragmatism. Something to be said for someone who is (way) smarter than the raving Tea Party lunatics and wily enough about how the game works to balance the feudal greed of JP Morgan Chase, K Street and UnitedHealth with the goals of progressives, labor, women and minorities.

The reality of Bernie’s revolution is pitched warfare, which is fine and righteous and noble, but a lot better idea when you have a good chance of victory.

I wish it were different. But right now Bernie doesn’t have enough firepower on the front line.

When Sarah Met Donald. The Transcript.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterBy sheer good fortune we have been able to obtain a transcript of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin in an Iowa hotel suite prepping for her endorsement speech a couple days ago. Some editing has been required.

Trump: Sarah! Hello! Welcome! You’re looking fabulous, just terrific. Why is at all the smartest women are also the best looking?

Palin: Well thanks, thank you. (Sound of cheek kissing.) I’m just so thrilled and ready to you know fight and talk and get out there and say all the stuff that …  .

Trump: Yeah. Terrific. And I like the shoes by the way. Jimmy Choo, am I right? Melania wears Jimmy Choo. He’s the best. Classiest, smartest designer out there. Knows what women want. Like me. I have a deal for his stores in all my best buildings. They’re all the best, obviously, my buildings. But some don’t have stores … .

Palin: You know, I don’t know if now is the right time, but I was going to ask you, I might need, you know, to spiff up my look a little if we’re going to be out there and on TV a lot. We will be on a lot, right? The McCain people, they were a lot of fuddy duddies as you know, but  … .

Trump: They were losers, just say it. Come on! It’s you and me. Losers. Those people understood nothing about winning. Nothing. If they flipped a coin a hundred times they’d lose a hundred times. Pathetic. Really pathetic.

Palin: Oh fer sure, fer sure. And they never listened to me. I told them, “Go big! Go bigger! Don’t be such a bunch of scaredy cats. Strut your stuff. A wink and a wiggle, you know?” Heck almighty, I learned that covering hockey on Alaska TV. There’s a reason they call it show biz, am I right?

Trump: (Chuckling). When you’re right, you’re right. And I only put people on my team who are right. All the time. If they’re wrong they’re gone. I don’t apologize for that.

Palin: But what I was going to say is McCain’s people … .

Trump: Losers … .

Palin: Fer sure. But they put aside a little, you know, a little allowance to freshen up my look. Just a little. Not much. Because, you know, the people who come out to see me expect to see something other than dumb-o, baggy pantsuits and tacky old lady jewelry. Democrat looking … .

Trump: We’ll see what we can do. I know some people at Lord & Taylor … .

Palin: Bergdorf Goodman?

Trump: We’ll fix it. This is first class, all the way. It’s the only way. Second class might as well be steerage. I expect my people to look like winners. But listen, I’ve got TV thing with “Fox & Friends” here in about 15 minutes, so let’s just get a taste of what you’re going to say at the “reveal” today, OK?

Palin: Okey dokey. Todd and I put something together on the plane coming over here. (Sound of paper crinkling.) I thought I’d open with … .

Trump: Listen, Sarah. I think you’re terrific. You know that. You and I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t. I only bring in terrific people.

Palin: The terrificest!

Trump: Right. But the thing is, we don’t do, you know, speeches. TelePrompter stuff.

Palin: Like our Hopey Changer in Chief … .

Trump: Exactly. The crowds coming to see me, and I get the biggest crowds. We could rent football stadiums and I’d still be turning people away. Except it’s too cold out here today so we’re indoors. But they like it spontaneous, from the soul. People don’t think of me as a big soul guy, but I’m the biggest. I saw a poll just the other day … .

Palin: So … no speech?

Trump: No, no. But just say it. Get up there and do your thing. Go, what is it you say you go again?

Palin: “Go again”? Oh, you mean rogue? Go roguey?

Trump: Right. Rogue. We’re not doing the same old thing. There’s no win in same old same old. Look at my numbers. They never go down. Only up. I do an hour, just telling people what I know.

Palin: Like how His Majesty the  Obama-issar has messed everything up so bad.

Trump: Exactly. Who needs a speech? Everything’s a mess, a total disaster. That’s what people want to hear. A complete disaster. Nothing but losing. Terrible stuff everywhere. Killers. Thieves. So, and I have to get a little makeup on before this Fox thing, so just give me some of that rogue stuff and I’ll give you a little feedback. You’ll be great. Don’t worry about it.

Palin: Who does your hair? I think I need a cut and blow out … .

Trump: So hit me with it. Give me your best shot.

Palin: (Sound of standing up.) OK. Just hear me roar? Right?

Trump: Like the baddest lion on the Serengeti.

Palin: Oh, I love Italy. Todd and I went there on a cruise one time. I had a linguini … .

Trump: Let it fly. Be the best you you’ve ever been.

Palin: OK. So this is after I come out and we do the little kissy huggy thing and everyone stops all their clapping and cheering and applauding stuff, OK?

Trump: Great.

Palin: OK … . (Deep breath.) Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Wow! It just so terrific and awesome to be back here with you. I love South Carolina … .

Trump: Iowa.

Palin: Oh, sorry. Iowa! The other one had the flag thingie, right?

Trump: Right.

Palin: OK, so all the cheering stops and I start by saying … let’s see. Go strong right from the getty-go, right?

Trump: Right. You’ll be great. Just let it fly. Right from the gut.

Palin: Right. (Another deep breath.) So Iowa, are you ready to put a chill, a chill as cold and icey as the weather outside, so cold your snow machine doesn’t start on the first try, into the snobby, elitey people who sit there in their comfortable chairs, which are so high up in big cities, way way far away from a Sam’s Club where they’re too good to be seen shopping for things you like to shop for, for your family, which you’re trying to protect from the ISIS’s terrorists who want to cut off your children’s heads but can’t as long you still have the right to be a militia for yourself and your family with the guns you have, which it says right there in the Constitution you have a right to buy and own, without you know, any fancy-word talker that used to be an organizer of, you know, communities in Chicago, where people are always being shot with guns that they wouldn’t have shot if you had guns to shoot back at them back first?

Because I am! And Mr. Trump, Donald, here is too, because we know what you want. Because we are just like you specially when I go outside my house in Alaska, where I hunt a lot to protect my family, for moose that aren’t “endangered” like the scaredy-cats in Washington and in the New York Times are always saying, but are lots and lots everywhere you see, and which I see from the helicopter when me and my beautiful, at least I think he’s beautiful, husband Todd, go out and look at the beautiful country that is being taken from us, with all our rights, by the same people who made you pay for Obamacare with its death squads that tell you when the government says you have to die and when you can’t get pills for whatever is your problem, which is a lot of things after eight years of hopei-ness and changei-ness, especially how, you know, when it means you can’t drill baby drill on the land your forefathers made and the government, this elitey government in Washington but that is really all from Chicago, where gangsters shoot decent people all the time, says you can’t graze on even though you live right next to it and … .

Trump: Uh, OK. Good. I like it. I would say maybe slow down just a little. A little pause to let it sink in a bit. I do it on “The Apprentice” all the time. Pause for effect. It makes the audience, and mine was yuge by the way, all the time, NBC begged me to stay, it makes them eager to hear what you say next. They’re hanging on that next line. And, also, even though this is Iowa, which is not, you know, down South, give it a little Southern kick, something that’ll tease the ear just a bit when the media, which always plays everything I say, runs this in Georgia and places like that. Southern fried. Paula Deen. Just a little. Try it.

Palin: Southern?

Trump: Just a little, and churchy, too. You know, Jesus this, Jesus that. The Bible. Old time religion. Just a little. For flavor. But be hip. Young and Southern.

Palin: Okey. I can do that. (Another breath.) And what is also true even though y’all never hear those other folks, who aren’t like you or me or the good old boys that ride their snow machines with Todd and do all that huntin’ on Sundays after church but before the big games come on is that the Bible, what the Great Creator up there even farther north than Alaska has always said, even back before Hollywood started fillin’ our kids minds with all that loosey goosey talk about sex and hippy hoppy stuff is that you got to have codes, codes like Jesus had and we all have but the media doesn’t have because Jesus is a dirty word to them when they’re eating their expensive bagels on top of the Empire Building looking down on all of us like they do, like they don’t want to get their fingers dirty eating good old home-cooked chicken, that has been fried and tastes really good if you have to get up early and protect your family for a living the way the Lord said in the Bible, in the Book of Leviciousness, where if they poke you in the eye, like ISIS, you poke them in the eye, too. Maybe even poke them out.

Voice off: Mr. Trump Fox is ready for you.

Trump: Listen, I think you’ve got it, Sarah. This is terrific stuff. Really terrific. See if you can work in something about pickup trucks and dogs, like you did with McCain, and we’re good to go. Did I tell you you look great? I don’t know how you do it. But all my people look great. I only hire people who look the best. The best. The best people look great. Its not difficult. Why some people can’t I don’t understand. And it’s the only thing I don’t understand. But thanks for coming in. These Fox people need me. It’s a favor I do them. They’d have no ratings if it weren’t for me. So, see you at the rally, OK?

Palin: Gee thanks, Donald.

(Sound of Trump moving away).

Palin: Could you call your people at Bergdorf … ?

 

 

 

 

 

Why Trump Can Win it All, and I Mean “All”

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI missed the Hillary and Bernie show last night, partly because I am still fighting off the depression of last Thursday’s “No, I Am More Apocalyptic Than Thou” Republican shoot out, in particular the moment when I realized that Donald Trump could win it all, as in become not just the anointed candidate of The Doomsayer Party, but POTUS 45.

The argument is this: After six months of doing presidential campaigning his way, traditional courtesies and decorum be damned, Trump is at worst as strong as he’s ever been, and all others, with the exception of Ted Cruz, are demonstrably weaker, to the point of irrelevance. Moreover, Trump continues to demonstrate a quality — a talent — none of the other Republicans possess, least of all Cruz, which is  … wait for it … likability.

In a pond of alternately flailing lost causes (Kasich, Christie, Bush) and panicking empty suits (Rubio), Trump has not only maintained his cool, but continued to flash an everyman sense of humor as well, or at least sustain a style of rebuttal the infamous, mythical “average voter” not only relates to but is familiar with, thanks to our pervasive pop culture. Sure, to prissy, wine-sipping elites like me his standard comeback of, “Who cares what you say? You’re a loser” seems beneath the dignity of a President of the United States. But I’m not the crowd that could put Trump up on the south steps of the Capitol Jan. 20 2017.

Trump’s game, and so far he’s succeeding at it, is to rally millions of your and my fellow ‘Muricans who haven’t voted in probably 25 years, and even then Ross Perot didn’t have anything like Trump’s pop personality appeal. The psycho/sociological specs on this large herd of regularly untapped voters are pretty well known. They’re not ideological. They’re not particularly religious. They’re certainly not evangelical unicorn people. But they are pissed off. Chronically, and pretty much about everything, certainly everything that reminds them that for one reason or another they’ll never be “great again”, never mind that they never were.

These people, fueled by a vast methane-like sea of resentments, are indisputably ill-informed. But so what? Their vote counts as much as yours and mine.

So, if the first choice comes down to Trump or Cruz, it’s, IMHO, a no-brainer. Cruz’ palpable vibe is that of a fer de lance, a truly dangerous untrustworthy snake with no redeeming personal qualities whatsoever, other than that he’s not Hillary Clinton or a pathetic, mumbling nob like Jeb Bush. If this heretofore untapped crowd slides off their bar stools and turns out to vote — and that’s the question Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will begin to answer — they go with Trump, a guy who cracks lines they laugh at instinctively, as he confirms that the whole country has gone to shit, 99 times out of 100 over Cruz.

Then … the great revolutionary dynamic becomes this: Does that same crowd — chronically angry and ill-informed — feel a mojo they’ve never before felt in their lifetimes, a pleasurable tingling sensation that says, “My time has finally come”?

A time to pull the damn rug out from all the self-serving, prevaricating, “smartest kids in the class” who have deprived them of their, well, self-respect to put a fancy phrase on it, and install someone totally different? Someone who sees, or at least describes a world exactly as they see it, full of thieves and killers, and with whom they feel entirely comfortable, in part because he’s already so familiar to them by virtue of having been on TV most of their adult lives?

The choice then is Trump, as the official Doomsayer Party nominee, still taunting, confident and funny or Hillary Clinton, yet another one of them, and who cares if she uses the other rest room? 99 out of 100 at that point becomes 100 out of 100.

A Trump coronation by the Doomsayers will energize Democrats like no other election I can think of, not even Bush in ’04, which we all thought was ours to lose, and we did. (Thank you, Ken Blackwell and Ohio.)

My theory is that Trump has the potential to tap a bloc of voters — this would be the “rarely-if-ever” vote crowd — far larger than Clinton, even with with the full Democratic coalition of liberals, minorities and every catalyzed woman. Trump after all, and let’s be honest about this, is this year’s “transformational candidate”. Hillary is nothing of the sort. Never mind the pantsuits.

Moreover, Trump has the enormous advantage of not being tethered to anything more than a fleeting whiff of fact-based reality. Nothing he says has to be true, at least as you and I know it. It just has to feel right … to millions of people who have been waiting for an engaging character who sees the world exactly as they see it.

Trump does not have to lay out a single tedious position paper, demean himself with one “Hey look, I’m a manly dude out hunting in fresh-off-the-rack camo gear” photo op, or even really press all that much flesh with the people who want him so badly.

Ask yourself, what line of attack could Clinton or any institutional/Beltway/political lifer make on Trump that hasn’t already been leveled and that he can’t shrug off — to the utter delight of the crowd I’m talking about — with another variation of, “Well you say that because you’re a loser.”

For some reason, the potential in this reserve of until now disaffected, apathetic voters reminded me, as so much in ‘Murica today does, of this snippet from Richard “Boyhood”, “Dazed and Confused” Linklater’s under-appreciated film, “Waking Life”, a clever, dream-within-a-dream concept full of questions about the primary conflicts of life.

At one point our REM-drifting hero has a drink with University of Texas philosophy professor, Louis Mackey, who asks him, ” … which is most universal human characteristic? Fear … or laziness?”

Trump has the line on both.

 

 

Characters from the Not So New West

AMMO AND ME“I never learned anything listening to myself talk.”

Me.

(Although I probably heard it from someone else).

 

A road trip is one of life’s simple pleasures. Get in the car with only a vague notion of where to go. Take it as it comes. See what happens and who you meet.

Over the recent holiday week I took a 2000-mile spin up from Phoenix around central Nevada and back, veering through Death Valley in hopes of shaking off the high plains chill. I had no explicit intention of feeling out Trumpist America. But I have an affinity for the truly unaffected, or at least the unconsciously unaffected, although that’s a bit of an oxymoron. Point being: Spend enough time around media and PR types and you develop an appreciation for people who say whatever is on their minds, cautious, delicate, socially-strategic parsing be damned.

Here are vignettes of a few characters of the new west.

Gene and friends. Manhattan Bar. Manhattan, Nevada.

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You get to Manhattan by turning east off Nevada 376, a 120-mile long north-south parallel to the stunning  Toiyabe Range, the longest range in the state. The winter snow made the range, arcing over the north horizon,  look a couple thousand feet taller. Maybe seven miles up the hill you reach the town, such as it is, years past its brief prime in the silver business. Keep going further up the hill from Manhattan and you get to Belmont, which is literally off the grid. Generators provide all the juice. Another 20 miles up 376 is Round Mountain Mine, a truly gargantuan gold mining operation with tailings bulldozed up high as a 30-story building.

In the Manhattan Bar a tired old lab had staked out prime real estate on an oily piece of carpet remnant directly in front of the wood-burning stove, which was putting out an impressive blast of BTUs.

Gene, the guy in the white shirt in the photo, asked where I was from, then asked, “Why are you here?” “To see the Statue of Liberty”, I said, which made the rest of them laugh, even though I’m pretty sure they hear that a lot. Or at least whenever some rube wanders up the hill.

Gene told me he had just moved to town from Seattle. “My wife’s from here, and I caught on with the mine”, grading the giant pit he said.

“You liking it?”

“Yeah. It takes a little getting used to. Not a lot to do. But I like being outdoors, hiking and walking the mountains. And the money’s good. Nothing to spend it on, either, so it adds up.”

“So you a hunter? I ran into a bunch of kids back in Caliente all stocked up for a week up somewhere hunting elk.”

“Nah. Not my thing.”

I told him about a dead coyote I found while I was taking pictures of the abandoned bar at Warm Springs. The beast was feet from the steaming sulphur spring, making me wonder if it was so desperate it drank the water.

“Nah, somebody shot it. They shoot everything around here. I was up past Belmont a while ago and I came across a pile of coyotes, stacked by the road. Maybe 20 of them.”

“Twenty? What do they pay a bounty on ’em?”

“Nope. People just shoot ’em. I don’t get it.”

***

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Gail and Victor. Owners of the International Serbian Bar. Austin, Nevada.

 

Austin is a forlorn mining town 7000 feet up in the Toiyabe Range on U.S. 50, a.k.a. “The Loneliest Road in America”. Appropriately, there was no one in the cafe or bar either the night I arrived in town or the morning I left. Just them and me. Even if there was another place open, the giant “Make America Great Again” banner hanging off the second floor porch and the “Silent Majority Stands with Trump” signs plastered everywhere the eyes settled told me I had to have a burger and beverage with whoever was responsible for all that.

Turns out it was mostly Gail. Her iPad is her constant companion and she bought the banner for god knows how much off some Trump website. When I said, “You know, Trump’s got plenty of money. He should have sent you one for free.” She said, “I don’t care. I wanted one now.”

She cooked a burger that Shake Shack back in Vegas would have charged me $12 for, after I stood in line for 45 minutes. I could tell Gail was stifling a torrent of opinions, but I wanted to get at least one beer in me before hearing how a buffoonish billionaire living high above Fifth Avenue way, way back in New York City was going to make her … great again.

“Damn cold, isn’t it?” said I. “The car thermometer showed 2 degrees coming over the pass.”

“Yeah, and some billionaire is making it that way.”

“Uh, what? Really? Who?”

She started tapping on the iPad. “He’s been doing stuff in the sky. I read it. Tests and rockets to change the weather, making it colder.” Tap tap.

“Really? Well, there are drones everywhere.”

“His name is … ” tap, swipe. “Bill … Gates.”

He’s changing the weather? Bill Gates? From Microsoft?”

“Oh, is that who he is?”

“Well, I don’t know. Is that what it says there? What are you reading?”

“Just a thing I like. It’s got a lot of good information.”

She wouldn’t tell me what site she was getting this news about Bill Gates Controller of Weather from, but pretty obviously it was the same one that was telling her and husband Victor about Muslim terrorists’ plans to take over the country right after the government confiscates all the guns. I met Victor the next morning. He’s a wiry, taciturn guy in his mid-Sixties, or maybe mid-Fifties. His meaty leathery hands suggest he probably has restored the 1863 building all by himself and as a side job repairs refrigeration units around the sprawling county. We sat at the counter and he ordered the same breakfast I did: Two eggs over easy and toast.

While Gail seemed more the proselytizer of the two, Victor played the deeply suspicious, war-weary savant with a (very) dark cautionary tale for every topic you could suggest. Like for example getting Historical Preservation status for his building, with the ornate bar that he says was cut apart in England 150 years ago, floated around the horn to San Francisco, then disassembled again and trucked up into the mountains during Austin’s boom days.

“Then they own you. We’ve talked. But those [Historical Preservation] people get involved and it’s not yours anymore. You can’t do anything to it. Can’t paint. Can’t change a light bulb.” Somehow this soon led to a tale of being a 12 year-old kid back in the old country and sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking coffee with a relative when Communist troops showed up and started machine-gunning everyone in sight.

“He told me, ‘Open that manhole and jump in. Now!”

The message? Never trust any government and stay ready to shoot back.

***

Greg De La Posa. Middlegate Station. U.S. 50. Nevada.

Middlegate

Greg

 

 

 

Middlegate Station is on the old Pony Express route. We’ve milked a lot of tourist shtick out of an episode of history that barely lasted a year. Every stop along the route, which more or less follows U.S. 50, is chock full of Pony Express tchotchkes. But since I collect refrigerator magnets I was a happy chump.

Greg helps manage Middlegate in some way and the empty stool was next to him. He was on the phone ordering supplies from Fallon, over by Reno. At the other end of the bar, which featured a stripper doll on a miniature pole, were four twenty-somethings in heavy duty hunting gear. They were trying to impress the cute-enough bartender that they were so badassed they were going to need “two bottles of Jager” to do the serious shootin’ they had come to do. Oddly, the only other vehicle out front was a wimpy looking Chevy Equinox. They weren’t going up country in that thing.

Once we had semi-sorted out his “hired hand” role around the bar, Greg, who could be anywhere from 45 to 70, told me he was adopted Sicilian. “My folks came over from the hill country.”

“Tough crowd, the Sicilians,” I joked. “They love a good feud.”

“Damn right. Especially with other Sicilians.”

When I asked to take his picture, explaining it was just a thing I did with characters I met along the way, he stood up, walked behind the bar and pulled down a big, glossy coffee table book. It was in German. Underwritten by National Geographic, it was the photo essay of guy’s solo bicycle trip across America, including U.S. 50, Middlegate Station and Greg, looking 15 to 20 years younger.

“Long ways from anywhere out here,” I said, nursing my beverage.

“Yeah, I guess. But it’s one of those places interestin’ people pass through. Like to say they’ve been here.”

That might have been a compliment. Not sure.

***

 

Russ and Diane. Chili Burro Bar. Beatty, Nevada.

 

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Beatty is barely a reason to stop if you’re driving from Vegas to Reno. Some cat pretty well owns the whole town as I was led to understand. In the summer, tech guys from Audi and BMW rent out garages in Beatty for next years’ models they test in the heat of Death Valley 30 miles west down Daylight Pass. They leave behind a lot of top quality tools for the local school’s shop classes rather than ship them home. And they drink a lot of beer at the Chili Burro.

Years ago I dropped the only quarter I’ve ever gambled into a slot machine at a ratty casino on the main intersection. It’s now a hardware store. The Big Dude, I forget his name, owned that place and has since thrown up the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino, where in what counted as a low moment of the trip I ate breakfast in a Denny’s.

The Chili Burro is something else. It’s about as big as the average suburban garage and, I was told, has made some BuzzFeed list of “America’s 12 Best Dive Bars”. In fact, it’s kind of cozy. A tall German kid and his stunning black girlfriend were huddled in a corner, maybe thankful they weren’t at the joint next door, where 30 or 40 bikers were throwing up a lot of noise and smoke.

“Sit over here with us,” said Diane, the better half of a friendly, happy hour-loving couple. In his 40s, Russ was part of the Iraq invasion in ’03, and then talked himself into six months at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Since all I know about the poles comes from movies I told him about a documentary I had seen where these guys had to sno-kat out from McMurdo to a weather station across the bay. In summer it’s a 10-minute jaunt. In winter it took six hours. He had been there.

Diane worked “for the government” for 35 years until the day someone explained just how much her annuity would pay her. “I quit on the spot,” she laughed, taking another swig of beer. The two of them, she says, “Use Beatty as a base. We have places up north of Austin we go to a lot and other places around the country.”

Pleasant “normal” folks. We joked with another patron in wall-to-wall squeaky clean camo about his hunting rig, a $60,000 pickup, tricked out for the back country, and what that worked out to per pound of elk, or coyote.

About then Russ mentioned in passing, and with a laugh, that “You know, Beatty may be the safest city the country.” At first I didn’t pay it any attention. But on second thought, “OK, I’ll bite. Why is that?”

“Well, I’ll tell you why. Because we’ve got 300 permanent residents here in town, 3000 registered guns and over two million rounds of ammunition.”

***

Eli. Furnace Creek Ranch. Death Valley.

1451443588211Eli asked if he could sit next to me at counter of the 49er Restaurant. He works for the park concessionaire and was stopping in on his morning off to razz the waitresses and line cooks.

He played high school football back in Springfield, Mass. and was one of those (rare) guys you can have what seems like an intelligent conversation about … football with, if such a thing is ever possible. He had a pretty good breakdown of the NFL play-offs, including the part where the Vikings have, “too one-dimensional an offense. Bridgewater has talent. He’s calm. You can see he’s learning. But he isn’t there yet, and may never be a good passer. So right now it’s too much Peterson.”

After a while I told him the story of Beatty being “the safest city in America”. He shook his head. “It’s crazy man. But that’s what it’s like out here. That’s the way it is. That isn’t unusual. You been to Pahrump? [60 miles south]. It’s where you go to disappear.

“I tell you, last week I had to go over to North Vegas to a Kirby vacuum cleaner store to get some vacuum bags. Vacuum bags! I find the place in this strip mall and when I walk in I see this skinny little old lady. Couldn’t weigh more than 90 pounds, and she’s got not only a .45 in a holster on her hip, she’s got a damn Doberman on leash. Are you kidding me? In a vacuum cleaner store!”

Bob. Texas Spring Campground. Death Valley.

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After a cruising some of my favorite haunts in the park, including a long walk out on the enormous salt pan, I rolled back to my campsite well past sunset. As I unpacked a few items from the car a shape emerged out of the darkness. I could make out an extended hand. “My name’s Bob, I’m camping over there”, pointing to a cobbled-together trailer with gear spilling out all over into a tamarisk-like tree. Clearly, he had been there a while. Nearly a month, it turned out. Built the trailer/camper himself. Drove down from Alaska. Had a dirt bike for day trips. (Had another stashed in Bulgaria waiting for him to ride it again next summer.) Heading to Tucson eventually and some relatives he wasn’t all that wild to see.

But before that, before he really said anything after, “My name’s Bob”, he launched into the story of the ex-EMT driver from British Columbia who had been camped where I was.

It seems that after a week the EMT guy came over and told Bob the reason why he was solo camping in the desert, 1200 miles from home.

“The guy’s on duty and he gets the call there’s a drug overdose or something at a local hotel. A guy is passed out. So he roars over there and goes charging in through the lobby with his equipment and everything. But this is a small town and the people at the desk know him. They yell something like, ‘Uh, Bill … Bill ...’ trying to get his attention. But he charges on by up to the room where the OD’d guy is laid out on the floor.

“What he finds is this dude in a Superman costume. Big ‘S’ on the chest, cape, boots, the whole thing, but with the crotch cut out of the tights and his dick hanging out. The guy’s out cold. It’s a drug deal.  But then, out of the corner of his eye he sees his wife, spread-eagled naked and tied to the bed. And now she’s screaming at him, ‘Untie me you idiot! Untie me!’. Turns out she’d been boinking not only Superman, but every guy in the EMT unit. So that’s why he was out here in the desert.”

While the part where the hotel staff wouldn’t have untied the naked woman on the bed in the time it took the EMT guy to arrive didn’t compute, as introductory tales told by a dark figure in a desert night go, it was pretty damned funny. I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir. He cracked a bottle of whiskey, we drew up folding chairs and sat, in the 40-degree darkness, under a deep black sky and talked for another three hours, the Milky Way ablaze overhead.

“Up in Alaska there are three different Republican parties. I’m not shitting you, and each one is more motherfucking batshit than the last one,” was one of Bob’s many memorable lines.

The other was after I told him the story of Gail and Victor, the Trumpers up in Austin, the heavily-fortified folks in Beatty and a couple other tales of irrational fear and suspect wisdom I had come across in the past few days.

“Yeah, you know, there is no end of crazy out there, and I’m as guilty as anyone of getting pissed off at it. People tell me I’m too direct. My ex-wife told me that, too. But you know what? After a while, after you listen to all the crazy ass shit they say and what they believe, I still think most people are doing the best they can. Really. It’s the best they can do. Maybe they’re just not very smart. Maybe their parents were fuck-ups. Maybe they never had anyone in their life who pointed them at what was real and what mattered. They never learned any better. So they’re going through life … .”

“Playing with what they’ve got.”

“Yeah. They’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got.”

 

 

An Unlikely Liberal Explains Himself

I have a nearly perfect profile for a political conservative. I check all the “right” boxes: I’m a straight white male. I’m a native born American, with northern European heritage, and my family’s immigration happened several generations ago.   I was raised in a middle class family with a stay-at-home mom in a small city in a bright red state. I attended a religious elementary school.

Now, I am married with three kids. I go to a protestant church. I worked in the corporate world for a while, and started my own successful small business 16 years ago.  I’m beyond middle age, in my mid-50s.  I’m financially comfortable.

That’s a whole lot of right wing risk factors. If you presented that profile to a political scientist or demographer and asked them to guess my political leanings, they’d surely guess that I’m a conservative.   After all, Pew Research has found the following about contemporary political conservatives:

More than nine-in-ten (92%) non-Hispanic white and 56% male. The oldest of the groups (61% ages 50 and older). Married (79%), Protestant (72%, including 43% white evangelical), and financially comfortable (70% say paying the bills is not a problem). Many are gun owners (57%) and regular churchgoers (57% attend weekly or more often), and fully 81% are homeowners.

Other than the gun, that is me. You might as well fit me from my Tea Party tricorne hat right now.

So how is it that the guy who would be Central Casting’s idea of conservative is a liberal?  My conservative friends speculate that I must be a) uninformed, b) brain-washed by the liberal media; c) deranged; and/or c) stupid.

But I have a different explanation: I’m liberal because I recognize a few fundamental things about myself.

I GOT A HEAD START, AND OTHERS DESERVE OPPORTUNTIES TOO. First, I recognize that I had a head start in life, and others deserve an opportunity to catch up. I have come to realize that being a straight, white, male, Christian American who was not born into poverty has given me unearned societal privilege.  After all, we’re a nation whose private and public sector have always been controlled by straight, white, male, Christians of means, and that fact has given me significant built-in advantages that others don’t enjoy.

I often try to deny it, and chalk up my successes to my hard work, charm and talent. But the fact is, in many ways I was just plain lucky. Through an accident of birth, I was born with traits that the ruling class shares, and that helped me enjoy extremely important things in life, such as a stable childhood, a solid education, good jobs, raises, wealth and equal protection under the law.

For this reason, I support public policies that bring equal opportunity for those who, through no fault of their own, didn’t have that kind of head start — poor people, non-whites, non-Christians, and new immigrants, among others. Fairness dictates that those folks have equal opportunities, and that’s why I support affirmative action, law enforcement reforms, targeted education scholarships, targeted income supports, pay equity legislation, progressive taxation, and civil rights laws.

Instead of protecting the privilege that fell into my lap as a newborn, the fair thing to do is to take steps to level the playing field for people who weren’t lucky enough to win the birth lottery.  Extending equal opportunity to less privileged Americans is how the American Dream of upward mobility lives on, and I want it to live on.

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I’M SELFISH, AND I NEED TO BE SAVED FROM MYSELF. Second, I’m a liberal because I recognize that I and all humans need to be saved from ourselves. I know that we are all continually tempted to do things that helps us individually, but hurt the community as a whole. For instance, to feather our own nest many of us will cheat on our taxes, pollute, mislead fellow citizens, or otherwise harm others. Given that unfortunate part of our collective human nature, we need governmental rules and enforcement bodies to deter us from selfishly harming the community on which we all rely.

Because humans are selfish, we need the IRS, cops, soldiers, environmental and business regulations and civil and criminal laws.  We need laws and law enforcement to have the stable, safe, fair and efficient communities that individuals and businesses need to thrive.  And if you agree that administration and enforcement of laws is necessary, you have to be willing to, sigh, pay for it.

I BENEFITED FROM GOVERNMENT, AND NEED TO PAY IT FORWARD. I’m also a liberal because I recognize that government played a big role in my success. To some extent, I actually did “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” as the conservatives like to say. After all, I studied and worked hard, and overcame difficulties. But fortunately, I wasn’t alone in my pulling.   I pulled, but so did past generations of taxpayers, with the government services and public goods they funded. The taxpayer-funded GI Bill, public schools, Social Security and Medicare pulled my parents up into the middle class, so that I could have a stable household in which to develop.  My parents’ generation of taxpayers pulled me and my wife up, so that we could attend subsidized schools and universities, own a home, and benefit, directly and indirectly, from a government-funded infrastructure, safety net, regulatory structure and security force.

A lot of folks in past generations paid to lift up my family, and I appreciate their sacrifices. So now that I have benefited, fairness dictates that I return the favor to the people coming up the ladder behind me.

I NEED GREAT COMMUNITIES FOR SELFISH REASONS. The things I just mentioned may sound very altruistic, and I do hope the Golden Rule underpins my liberalism. But there is also a very selfish reason I am a liberal.

I support liberal policies because I, my kids and my grandkids will all benefit from living in stable, pleasant, efficient, and stimulating communities full of a diverse group of happy and successful people.  It would suck to live in a gated community surrounded by a chaotic society, a crumbling infrastructure, crime, squalor and people who hated me, even if it meant my taxes were  lower. That’s a more selfish reason why I’m willing to pay to help the community-as-a-whole succeed together.

This is not to say that I support unlimited government.  Of course, I want government to continually strive to get more effective and efficient. Of course, I oppose illogical and unnecessary laws and regulations. Of course, I want incentives for people to work hard, and take personal responsibility for their actions.  Of course, I want equal opportunity rather than equal outcomes.

But there are still plenty of very good reasons for successful white males like me to support progressive policies.

My Vikings Legacy Brick

Vikings_brickMy kids are all too aware of my unhealthy obsession with the Minnesota Vikings, so for Christmas they splurged and got me a “Legacy Brick”, which will be part of the plaza on the front porch of the Vikings new stadium.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much this gift pleased me.  After all, I’m a grown ass man. I understand this is just an appeal to vanity and hero worship as a way to have rubes like me finance an asset that will make billionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wealthier.

But come on, it’s granite, with my name on it, in the Vikings’ front yard! How AWESOME is that? The Vikings and I were both born in 1961, and I and other family members, living and dead, have closely followed them for as long as I can remember.  This is a chance to memorialize our collective misery.

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Better yet for a guy who likes to write, the accompanying brochure pledges that “your personal message” will be engraved on the brick. Hot damn, a blank slate!

As a long-suffering fan of the historically snake bit franchise, my mind immediately went to trolling. That is, I considered capturing a grievances in granite.

For instance, in homage to the embattled offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who fans particularly love to hate when the offense is sputtering, I considered a paver inscribed, “Walk all over me, just like Kalil gets walked on.” Petty, but gratifying.  Similarly, to celebrate the storied career of the plodding tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, I thought about submitting “This brick is faster than Kleinsasser.”  Or to honor running back Adrian Peterson (AP), who has 33 maddening fumbles as part of his Hall of Fame career, I was tempted to go with “Me: One on the ground for my team. AP: 33.”

And then there are the numerous scandals that could have been cathartic fodder for brick copy.  The Love Boat sex scandal.  The Adrian Peterson child abuse.  The endless player prosecutions.  The arrogance and immaturity of Randy Moss.

I also considered commemorating my own lameness as a fan. I waxed nostalgic about a frigid day in December 1980 when a boyhood friend and I left a game at Met Stadium early. As it turns out, we missed seeing the greatest comeback victory in Vikings history against the Cleveland Browns, only to be scolded by a highway patrolman during our solemn drive back to South Dakota. The paver could mock us, just as the officer did that day: “You boys left early, huh? 12-14-80.”

That friend also suggested a granite haiku that captured the epic tragedy that is Vikings fandom:

Left early against Browns,
Take a knee, wide left Atlanta.
Life of a Vikings fan.

I don’t mind telling you, that one made me misty.

Political animal that I am, I also really would have loved to make a political statement, such as “Bought this brick for a billionaire.” That would really stick it to The Man, and bring some progressive awareness to the old town square!  It also would effectively clarify that “yeah, I’m a chump alright, but I’m a politically savvy chump!”

Naturally, I considered Packer hating: “Packers fans got 13 championships. I got this brick.” I also wondered if I could get this past the censors “Puck the Fackers.” See what I did there?

But alas, after all of my fantasizing, I finally read the fine print on the Vikings’ website:

Discriminatory, political, offensive, or inappropriate messages as determined by the Minnesota Vikings and MSFA will be declined. References to other NFL teams will not be accepted. The Minnesota Vikings and MSFA reserve the right to approve all brick inscriptions. Inscriptions that do not conform to these inscription guidelines or that are deemed unsuitable will be declined and will require a new inscription to be submitted.

My creative visions all were ruined by the Vikings. Between this censorship and a rather severe character restriction, my options were very limited. So, I played it straight:

Skol or uffda,
bleeding purple
since 1961.
Loveland Family

Booooooring. Schmaltzy!

Hey, but it’s my name, in granite, in the Vikings’ front yard!

Why Do Big Newspapers Still Allow Ugly, Racist Comments?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOne of the things that comes with a writer’s territory is a story that never gets published, for reasons that are not entirely clear. This is one of those. The topic of public comments on newspaper web sites is interesting for a number of reasons, among them the way anonymity may (or may not) encourage truly ugly racial invective, something you’d think a large newspaper with a sense of civic responsibility would seek to avoid whenever possible and at the very least edit out prior to publication, particularly in times of racial tensions, such we’ve seen here in Minneapolis this fall.

Anyway, as I say, this media column didn’t pass muster, so I’m  posting it here. Because I believe it’s a discussion worth having.

IT BEGINS:

Anyone even remotely familiar with the internet is aware of and frequently appalled by how quickly any “discussion” among website commenters, especially a big city newspaper’s site, degenerates into juvenile name-calling and worse. It was definitely worse recently when Star Tribune readers piled in on what was, ironically, an uplifting story by John Reinan about a Muslim family’s successful home-owning experience with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

Rather than embrace an opportunity for some holiday season good-will-among-men, the Strib’s commenters immediately, predictably, descended into all-too familiar hostility and racist epithets. (The Strib has removed that particular comment thread.) The waves of vitriol, mainly against the family featured in the story, led Abdi Mohamed, the homeowner to respond with a letter to the Strib several days later.

“I don’t think this awful name-calling would have happened had we had American-sounding names,” he wrote. “We have always considered ourselves American, by any measure, and have been good citizens, paying our fair share of taxes and volunteering in our community. But my faith as a Minnesotan is shaken. I have been calling Minnesota my home for the last 17 years, and my kids were born right here in Minneapolis. My take from the readers is that ‘you don’t belong here in America’.” Dozens wrote in in support. But very soon a minor flame war broke out even on that thread over one anonymous commenter’s admonition to Muslims like Mohammed’s wife, to “lose the costume.”

In other words, all-in-all, real edifying, high-caliber stuff.

Comment sections have an undeniable voyeuristic appeal. Commenters say things most of us would never imagine ourselves saying, much less in public. Our reaction varies between snorts of derision, guffaws and utter dismay.

The conventional argument in favor of comment sections is that they offer an unfiltered vox populi. Like it or not, delighted or horrified, this is what your neighbors are thinking. The question though is this: Is there a point where reader comments become too ugly and cruel that a large public entity like a daily newspaper has a civic obligation to turn them off? Does an important community asset like the Star Tribune have a responsibility to re-assess its attitude toward commenters and draw a line at the point where a vicious, repugnant and — key word here — anonymous few hijack the paper’s social media heft to incite others to spasms of racist verbal attack?

In a perfect world someone among the Strib’s top editorial echelon would offer an answer to this question, or more specifically, as I asked, “What is your best argument for keeping the Star Tribune’s comment policy as it is?” Unfortunately, calls and e-mails to editor Rene Sanchez, Sr. Managing editor Suki Dardarian were not returned. Only Asst. Managing Editor Eric Wieffering responded, and then only to confirm that Strib editorial management had no interest in discussing the topic. So much for an informed, civil dialogue.

If the topic ever does interest them we’ll revisit it. Until that time the conversation is this: The Strib might strongly consider adjusting its comment policy and following the lead of either us here at MinnPost or, failing that, Popular Science, (or USA Today, or The Wall Street Journal).

Recognizing the near inevitability that anonymous commenting will quickly degenerate into a battle of flaming trolls and grossly under-informed invective, MinnPost’s policy from the get go requires commenters to, A: Register and post using their full, real name and, B: Submit to moderation. No doubt the policy seriously diminishes the quantity of comments. But the upside is that commenters maintain a dramatically higher level of civility while arguing their ideological points. If they don’t they’re deleted before they are published.

A case may also be made that a full-disclosure, moderated comment forum provides a safer harbor for the articulate if fainter-hearted souls who recoil at the thought of being assaulted in public by some unidentified CAPS-LOCKING!!! troll.

Or, if moderation, which would require a pretty much full-time employee, is a step too far, the Strib may consider the path Popular Science took two years ago and disconnect the comment option entirely. At the time, the venerable tech and DIY magazine essentially threw up its hands at the way anonymous commenters regularly hijacked discussions of god-knows-what, — hyper-sonic jets graphene or climate change — with rants about Barack Obama … the Kenyan Muslim terrorist sympathizer.

Said Suzanne LaBarre for the magazine, “A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’ on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

LaBarre referred to a University of Wisconsin study on the peculiar psychological effect anonymity has on people, on-line commenters in particular. Among the findings, which come as no surprise to anyone who follows this stuff, the loudest and most active of the anonymous commenters were also those in least possession of accurate information about a given topic and yet the most certain — defiantly certain — of their point of view. (Her central point was that the study also showed how ugly, defiantly ignorant comments had the effect of eroding casual readers’ trust in the accuracy of the story itself.)

Writing about Popular Science’s decision, Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker a month later added, “Multiple studies have also illustrated that when people don’t think they are going to be held immediately accountable for their words they are more likely to fall back on mental shortcuts in their thinking and writing, processing information less thoroughly. They become, as a result, more likely to resort to simplistic evaluations of complicated issues, as the psychologist Philip Tetlock has repeatedly found over several decades of research on accountability.”

Konnikova also cites a couple studies suggesting that the most vitriolic of the anonymous crowd are, thank god for small blessings, given less credence by the sum of all readers. But the response to that, from a large broadly-marketed community entity like the Star Tribune, should be a concern for the effect vitriol has the smaller, shall we say, “most impressionable” fraction of their audience.

Over at the Pioneer Press, editor Mike Burbach found time and sufficient interest to return the call and refer me to Jen Westphal, the paper’s Deputy Editor for Digital News and Social Media. She explained that the PiPress, while requiring registration with a valid IP and e-mail address making the commenter known to the paper, still permits anonymity as well post-publication moderation, which is to say someone at the PiPress steps in only when alerted to egregious behavior.

The Star Tribune policy appears to be much the same, although as I say, no one in the paper’s editorial management or its digital services department would discuss it. Clearly though, given the ugly flame wars that break out with depressing regularity, no one is moderating/approving comments prior to publication.

There are also filters a the PiPress, Westphal says, for certain key words — the usual cussing — and the obvious racial/ethnic invective. But otherwise vox populi rules.

“We used to use Facebook commenting,” she says, “which theoretically required them to use their real name, even though there are ways to get around that, too. We used it for about two years, I think. But we found it didn’t help with what you’re talking about. People said things just as bad as when they were anonymous.”

Coincidentally, Facebook was under criticism this past week for prohibiting anonymity. “Vulnerable communities” demanded a special exemption, to avoid being targeted by trolls.

Facebook consented, but reiterated it’s policy. “We require people to use the name their friends and family know them by. the company said. When people use the names they are known by, their actions and words carry more weight because they are more accountable for what they say. We’re firmly committed to this policy, and it is not changing. However, after hearing feedback from our community, we recognise that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalised or face discrimination.”

Sad Westphal at the PiPress, “We prefer to keep comments, at least for now, things can always change, and we have talked about it, because we still see them as a valuable forum for public discussion. It’s the best place a normal resident of St. Paul can go to discuss parking meters on Grand Avenue or whatever.

The flare-up over the Reinan story erupted simultaneous with racial tensions spiking in Minneapolis following the terror attacks in Paris and the police shooting of Jamar Clark. Far too much demagoguery was already in the air. Which is why it is fair to ask whether responsible establishments with broad and deep community roots, like a daily newspaper, are reexamining the role they play in churning the cesspool.

Essentially: Why offer a venue for adding fuel to these fires?

None of which is to say that if the Strib pulls the plug on comments, vitriolic anonymous trolls will slink away and observe some kind of monastic silence. There are literally millions of other websites where they can and do collect. Fringy places where they can huddle and out-vitriol each other and whoever stumbles in. But those sites aren’t hosted by an organization of professional journalists, a company speaking to and representing hundreds of thousands of reader/citizens more interested in information than hyperbolic attack.

Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Tea Boys

When I watch coverage of the 2015 Republican presidential rallies and look out into the audiences roaring their approval of every outrageous statement, I sometimes hear an old tune going through my head.  With  apologies to Waylon and Willie:

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

Tea_Party

Tea boys ain’t easy to love, if you’ve ever been trolled.
He’d rather cut taxes for Koch bros than help your household.
Grim, grey, and grumpy: “Get offa my lawn, boys!”
Keepin’ his weaponry near.
We can’t understand him, conspiracy delusions.
He’s gotta heart full of fear.

Tea_party_racistMamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

tricorn_hat_and_tea_bag

Tea boys like Rush rantin’ mornings and Fox Newsin’ evenins,
whole lotta snake flags and tea bags and black machine guns.
Them that don’t “ditto” won’t like him, and them that do
sometimes look awesome in tricorns.
He’s quite well-intentioned, but his angst won’t let him,
resist the extreme far right.

Tea_Party_guns_2Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

GOP_presidential_candidates_tea_party

Think Marco Rubio is “Moderate?” Think Again.

The popularity of Donald Trump among Republicans poses huge long-term threats to the Republican Party. In a nation that is increasingly diverse, the nomination of Trump could further cement the party’s image as the party of bullying white bigots and misogynists. But if there is a silver lining associated with the dark Trump cloud, it is this: It sometimes creates the perception that Trump rivals like Senator Marco Rubio are “moderate” by comparison.  If Rubio gets the nomination, such a “moderate” label would serve him well.

That’s quite a gift to Senator Rubio, because he is far from a moderate. Rubio’s positions put him far, far to the right on the American political spectrum. For instance:

  • Marco_Rubio_Tea_PartyRubio ran for Senate in Florida as the candidate of the extremist Tea Party, not as the moderate alternative to the Tea Party.
  • He has a lifetime pro-choice record of 0% from NARAL Pro-choice America.
  • On safety net issues, the Alliance for Retired Americans gives him a lifetime voting record rating of just 5%.
  • On environmental issues, the League of Conservation Voters gives him a lifetime voting record score of only 9%.
  • On science issues, the Evolution Institute rates his voting record a rock bottom 0%.
  • On veterans issues, the Disabled Veterans of America gave the flag waving Rubio a 0% on its most recent rating.
  • Overall, the American Conservative Union (ACU) gives Rubio a lifetime voting record rating of 98%. In other words, Senator Rubio favored this ultra-conservative group’s positions 98% of the time. For context, conservative Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got an 87% rating, conservative House Speaker John Boehner got an 83% rating, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), an actual “moderate,” got a 47% ACU rating.

Admittedly, the definition of a political “moderate” is not a precise one. But I think we all can agree that the definition of “moderate” is not “one who supports conservative or liberal positions 98% of the time.”

no_moderate_Rebulicans_chartBy any reasonable measure, Senator Rubio is a far-right extremist, as is Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich (88% lifetime ACU rating), who is also sometimes inaccurately labeled a moderate by simplistic pundits.  Political scientists have documented the fact that Republican members of Congress have moved sharply to the right in recent years, and that seismic shift away from the political center is reflected in this year’s field of Republican presidential contenders.

Senator Rubio is not even a moderate in comparison to Mr. Trump. Rubio is more considerably conservative than Trump on several issues, such as affirmative action, Planned Parenthood funding, a progressive income tax, gay rights, and an assault weapon ban.

It is true that Senator Rubio’s rhetorical tone is more mild than Trump’s, and that often drives shallow pundits’ characterization of him as a “moderate.” The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart explains Rubio’s smooth style well:

Rubio has mastered the same technique Barack Obama used so effectively when he was seeking the presidency. When faced with a controversial issue, he doffs his cap to the other side, pleads for civility and respect, insists that it’s a hard call—and then comes out exactly where you’d expect him to come out. On social issues, Rubio is as predictably conservative as Obama is predictably liberal. What they share is their moderate-sounding rhetorical style.

But in the end, moderation is not a function of decibels and diplomacy. Ultimately, it is a function of positions on the issues. If moderate voters are searching for a substantive moderate in this year’s Republican presidential field, the truth is they’re not going to find one.

The Home of the Brave Has Gotten Irrationally Fearful

Elevator_crashThese are very scary times. Who among us does not lie awake at night worrying about dying in an elevator? I mean, what if one came crashing down while you were riding in it? Makes me shudder just thinking about it.

So I don’t care how tall the building is, I’m taking the stairs.  So are all of my family members. Better yet, we usually avoid going into structures with elevators.  Frankly, I wish they’d just outlaw them.

Or dogs. Oh sure, dogs look cute and all. I do understand that some of them actually aren’t killers. But still, I don’t let my family near dogs, because some have killed humans. Therefore, my family usually carries concealed firearms to protect themselves from being killed by vicious canines.  For goodness sake people, let’s not let any more dogs into our communities!

Paranoid, you say? I should accept the relatively low risk associated with elevators and dogs?  I shouldn’t let irrational levels of fear steal my peace-of-mind and quality-of-life?

Well, the risk of being killed by a dog (1-in-18,000,000) or dying in an elevator (1-in-10,440,000) is actually a bit higher than the risk of being killed by terrorism (1-in-20,000,000).  As context, consider that 1-in-100 Americans will die in a car crash in our lifetimes, yet Americans routinely ride in cars and don’t get particularly stressed about it.

Fear_of_terrorism_surveyDespite this relatively low level of risk, many Americans are overcome by our fear of terrorism. Even in June 2015, well before the recent Paris and California terrorist attacks, Gallup was finding that about half (49%) of Americans were worried that they or someone in their family would personally become a victim of terrorism.  Given the 1-in-20,000,000 odds, that level of fear is not rational.

Because of Americans’ extreme level of fear, we’re stocking up on guns. We’re betraying our national values by persecuting people who look and worship differently than us. Surveys even show that we’re willing to send young Americans to fight in yet another lethal, mega-expensive, and terrorism-provoking middle east quagmire.

Terrorism is a threat. We absolutely should take reasonable steps to limit and reduce the undeniable risk terrorism poses.   But we also need to keep the risk in proper perspective, so that we can continue to truthfully say that we are the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Note:  This post was also featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

“Trump Wave” Is Only In A Very Small Pond, Except When It Comes To The Issue of Terrorism

Cursor_and_trump_supporters_-_Google_SearchWatching the news coverage of the Republican presidential campaign, you get the feeling that there is a wave of support for the ideas of leading Republican candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. For example, Talking Points Memo recently reported:

GOP Campaign Official to Senate Candidates: Ride That Trump Wave

The Republican Party is preparing Senate candidates for the very real possibility that Donald Trump could be the party’s presidential nominee.

According to a seven-page memo obtained by the Washington Post, National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Ward Baker is encouraging Senate candidates to understand Trumpmentum, use it to their advantage, and then ignore Trump’s most bombastic positions.

But is there really a national wave in support of the positions of Trump and the other extremely conservative contenders? Remember, only about one-third of the general election electorate votes in Republican primaries, so even front runner Trump is only winning about 31% of one-third the overall electorate. So, yes, Trump is riding a wave of sorts, but it is still a relatively modest wave on a relatively small pond.

Ideological Wave?

So, in the midst of all of this Republican primary coverage, it’s important to keep an eye on what the nation as a whole — as opposed to the narrow slide of Republican primary voters — thinks of the positions of the Republican contenders. Public opinion surveys show that there is no wave of support for most of their extremely conservative positions.

  • Americans oppose deportation of undocumented immigrants. While bombast about mass deportation of immigrants fueled Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican heap, Gallup finds that only 14% of Americans support deporting all undocumented immigrants to their home country. Among the Independent voters Republicans need to persuade in order to win in November, only 19% support such deportation.  In the general election, this position is a liability, not an asset.
  • Americans oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Every major Republican candidate wants to repeal the ACA, and primary voters love them for it.  But among all Americans, a November 2015 Kaiser survey finds that 42% either want to expand the ACA (26%) or keep it as is (16%), while only 30% support the Republicans candidates’ repeal position.
  • Americans oppose tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Every major candidate’s tax proposal dramatically cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. But an April 2015 Gallup survey finds that 62% of Americans say that upper income people pay too little in taxes, not too much. The same survey found that 69% of Americans think that corporations are paying too little in taxes.  Americans want to increase taxes on the wealth and corporations, while Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio all want to cut them.  Again, in the general election, this position will be a leg iron for the Republican nominee.
  • Americans want stricter gun control laws. Every major Republican candidate opposes stricter gun control laws, a wildly popular position at Republican rallies. But an August 2015 Pew survey finds that Americans actually overwhelming support a wide range of stricter gun control laws. For instance, there is huge support for background checks for gun shows and private sales (85% support), laws to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining guns (79% support), a federal database to track gun sales (70% support), and a ban on assault-style weapons (57% support).

So for the most part, the Republican candidates’ ideas are extremely unpopular with the Americans who will pick the next President less than a year from now.

The Anti-Democratic Wave

But there is one major exception to this trend, and it’s a very significant one.  According to a November 2015 ABC News/Washington Post poll, battling terrorism is currently the second most important issue to Americans.  It ranks just behind the economy, and ahead of health care, immigration and tax policy. On that issue, a majority of Americans are much more aligned with Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio than they are with Clinton and Sanders.

  • Americans want military intervention to counter terrorism. In the direct aftermath of the Paris terrorist assaults, an NBC News poll finds that 65% of Americans want to send troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Also, 58% believe that “overwhelming military force is the way to defeat terrorism,” while only 38% believe that “too much military force creates hatred that only leads to more terrorism.” Similarly, Democrats have a losing position when it comes to Syrian refugees, with 56% of Americans opposed to increasing the number of Syrian refugees in the nation.

Public_Attitudes_Toward_the_War_in_Iraq__2003-2008___Pew_Research_CenterIn other words, the national mood is much like  when America rushed into the Iraq War in 2003.  Pew found that public support for that military action was 72% in 2003, but ultimately decreased to 38% by the end of the war.

While Vice President Dick Cheney estimated that war would cost about $80 billion and end quickly, the last Iraq War lasted seven years and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says it cost about $1.9 trillion, or about $6,500 per American.  The human toll for America was also high – 4,487 American troops died and at least another 32,226 were seriously wounded.  Still, almost three-fourths of Americans are ready to do it all over again.

Overall, this notion of a Trump wave is not supported by public opinion data. Americans are not buying most of what Trump and the other Republican contenders are selling. But if the election becomes dominated by the need to combat terrorism with military interventions, such as if there are a steady stream of ISIS attacks, Democrats could be in big trouble.