Mainstream My Ass

Cursor_and_Trump’s_foreign_policy_goes_mainstream_-_POLITICOAfter a few TV-friendly bombings this week, many in the mainstream media and pundit-o-sphere are falling all over themselves to declare President Trump mainstream. That’s right, it seems our Muslim-banning, emoluments-pimping, Russia-colluding, climate change-denying, serial-lying President is now pretty much equivalent to Obama, the Bushes, the Clintons, Reagan and Ford.

For instance, Politico’s headline is “Trump’s Foreign Policy Goes Mainstream,” and it reports:

“(T)he substance of Trump’s decisions in his first 79 days in office reveals a surprisingly conventional approach, with personal quirks layered on top, according to a half-dozen foreign policy experts.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal headline readsFive Big Players Steer Trump’s Foreign Policy Towards the Mainstream” and National Public Radio (NPR) offers “Trump’s Flip Flops on Economics Move Toward the Status Quo.”

Okay, so the President recently has said a few sane things, such as NATO shouldn’t be defunded after all and Russia really should stop enabling the gassing of innocent children. Super. But before we throw the President a ticker-tape parade, let’s remember it was utterly outrageous that a presidential candidate or President ever took the opposite positions in the first place.

ann_schrantz_horton_-_Facebook_SearchLet’s also remember that in the same week the media declared Trump mainstream, we learned that a federal judge found probable cause that Trump’s campaign may have colluded with the Russians to undermine American democracy, and that the President threatened to withhold lifesaving assistance from poor people if Democrats don’t back his extremely unpopular Trumpcare plan to take health coverage from 24 million Americans. We also read the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Rolling Stone, and Wall Street Journal reporting and opining about the President’s unprecedented level of lying.

Yeah sure, but did you hear that the President failed to publicly praise his most empowered white nationalist? Moderate!

How does this happen? Former top aide for President George W. Bush David Frum explains:

“As President, Donald Trump benefits from two inbuilt biases of mainstream pundits:

“Bias 1 favors fair-mindedness: the wish to offer tips of the hat along with shakes of the finger. This bias exerts itself extra strongly with a bad actor like Trump. The worse he does, the more eagerly the pundit seeks something to praise. We’ve all experienced this. ‘There has to be something good to say about Trump. Even Hitler liked dogs!’

“Bias 2 is the bias in favor of surprise and novelty. Pundits don’t want – bookers won’t book – endless repeats of ‘He’s a liar & a crook.’ How much more interesting to say: “He’s a liar and a crook, but …” How boring to insist that the first part must always overwhelm the latter.

“And so TV punditry flits from one seemingly clever (but actually deeply false) pivot to another, chasing insight & missing truth.”

Say it with me people:  This presidency is lightyears away from normal.   An American President who bans people from entering a country that was founded on the principal of religious liberty because of the deity they worship…who empowers white nationalists that the neo-Nazis and Klansmen cheer…who praises murderous, democracy-hacking dictators as “strong” role models…who appoints his business-operating family members with no relevant experience to the most sensitive positions in the world…who covers up his tax returns so he can profit from policy positions and accept foreign bribes without Americans knowing it…and who lies at a rate that we have never seen in national history is not normal, moderate, or mainstream.

We have to judge presidents based on their overall body of work. And when a very high percentage of a President’s body of work is utterly outrageous and dangerous to the republic and world, we can’t give anything close to equal billing to the low percentage of his actions are not outrageous.  This week’s shamelessly fawning news coverage aside, Donald J. Trump remains the mother-of-all-abnormal Presidents.

GOP Debate #2: Sobriety is Your Enemy

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI watched the whole thing. Do I get an award? A ribbon? Another half dozen stiff drinks?

Actually, anyone who played the buzzword bingo drinking game during last night’s three-hour Chicken Little FearFest/GOP presidential debate would have blown a .55 by the 30-minute mark.

“Terrorists”. Glug.

“Limited government conservative”. Glug.

“Ronald Reagan”. Glug.

“They want to kill us.” Glug.

“Repeal”. Glug.

“On the first day.” Glug

“Radical liberal … .” Glug.

“Strongest military the world has ever seen.” Glug.

“Ronald Reagan.” Oh what the hell, finish the bottle.

Consensus thinking, the specialty of TV punditry depending on who their target consensus group is, seems to see Carly Fiorina as the big winner, and, once again, Donald Trump as the clear loser, a word he reserves only for less “really, really rich” others. Personally, I doubt that Trump will suffer much in the opinion of the really, really white and pissed-off crowd that has loved him up so much this summer … unless the vibe gets out that he is in fact not a “winner” but somehow, a loser.

As the rankest of amateur socio-psychologists, I maintain the view that “Trump people” regard themselves as losers, victimized losers to be sure, but bona fide entitled, exceptional Americans dealt a foul, unfair hand by “multi-nationals”, Hollywood liberals, Muslim presidents and assorted other uppity (pick your sub-group). As a consequence they seek out associations with “winners”, which in their mind is anyone who is on TV a lot, has gobs of dough and can call everyone else playground names with impunity.

But that “winner” thing is kind of like a digital TV signal. In other words, it is really great until you walk one step further and it’s gone. If Trump’s “winner” vibe cracks, which I think is inevitable, his true believers will jump ship in a split second, turn and truly believe in the next guy/gal who, like muttering Steve at the end of the bar, can call someone a horse-faced skank and make the rest of the midday crowd snort and cackle.

The Fiorina thing is actually kind of interesting. Clearly, the tri-corner hat paranoids aren’t interested in “insiders”. (And God help me, when Jeb Bush tries making the case for himself as an “outsider” how do you not just douse your self with gin and light a match?)  Fiorina may be the ultimate personification of the sociopathic corporate Dragon Lady and like Mitt Romney, the face (sorry) of the “entrepreneurial class” that has bayoneted the dreams of Trump’s white nationalist crowd. But she is a woman, and she is without question built to prosecute and endure a long, gruesome campaign. Her prospects for a match-up with Hillary Clinton strike me as far better than anyone else on the stage last night, including Jeb! (no last name, please.)

In fact, in a twist of irony, a rise in Fiorina’s fortunes, (including but not limited to the one she grabbed as part of her Hewlett-Packard golden parachute), might be an asset to Ms. Clinton. The theory being that with a Fiorina ascendancy Democrats would have to stop and seriously assess how many women-who-just-want-a-damned-woman voters they’ll lose if the Republicans, for chrissake, beat them to the punch with a gal on the top of a national ticket.

Other than that last night had a weird familiarity. Like dangerous, nonsensical characters in a recurring dream, I couldn’t get past the sense of having suffered through all this many times before. For instance, I suffered what I think was a brief seizure when Scott Walker again claimed to have balanced Wisconsin’s budget AND, having gutted the state’s college system to pad over that pesky $2.2 billion deficit, stared into the camera and touted his commitment to education as the key to “real job growth”, (glug).

Lord, I despise that guy beyond anything rational.







Franken-McFadden Ad Wars: Credibility v. Likeability

Al_Franken__Rigged_Ad_The tone of the TV ads of Senator Al Franken and challenger Mike McFadden could hardly be more different.

CEO McFadden has crafted his ads to remake his public image from Millionaire Mike into a jocular, lovable common man, a sort of Clark Griswold Goes To Washington.

Meanwhile, recovering comedian Franken has crafted his ads to remake his public image from shock jock Al into a earnest, wonky, propeller-headed legislator, a sort of congressional Mr. Fixit.

All of this raises an old political messaging argument:  How important is likeability in politics?  Is it more important for a candidate to be liked or respected?

Mike_McFadden_football_adIn his quest for likeability, McFadden’s ads stray into the absurd.  The millionaire explains the difficulty of living on a budget, with his polished McMansion on display over his shoulder.  He scripts grade school football players to ape his critique of the complex federal health care policy.  He goes for groin-shot guffaws and shallow symbolism in lieu of serious policy debate.

After all, who wouldn’t want to “have a beer with” the good time Charlie who goes soprano after pretending to get hit in the privates?

There is obviously a method to McFadden’s sophomoric madness.  He is trying to make his public self likeable in order to win over swing voters — moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats and independents — who McFadden apparently believes are not interested in the more detailed policy discussions Franken is featuring in his ads.

Who knows, McFadden might be onto something.  According to conventional political wisdom, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton particularly drew a lot of swing voter support due to their supposed want-to-have-a-beer-withism, while Mike Dukakis and Al Gore particularly suffered from appearing distant, dour and dorky.  Just because Millionaire Mitt made a mess of his 2012 likeability tour doesn’t mean that Millionaire Mike shouldn’t try to connect with voters on a non-millionaire level.

Meanwhile, Franken seems content to sit out the likeability contest.  In Franken’s rush to prove to Minnesotans that he is no longer a cartoonish comedian or pugnacious pundit, he is going all Mike Dukakis on us.

Mo Fiorina, a professor of political science at Stanford University, has researched the connection between likeability and winning at the presidential level, going back to 1952.   Professor Fiorina has good news for Franken.  He told National Public Radio (NPR) in 2010 that likeability is only a “minor factor” in voting:

“There’s very little historical evidence for it.  The fact is we decide who is likeable after they win, not before they win. If I had been advising Mitt Romney, I would have said in the end the American people are not going to decide who they are going to have a beer with, because the American people know that they are not going to have a beer with any of these people.  They are going to decide on the base of who they know is going to do the job.”

Still as a Franken supporter, I would be more comfortable if Franken wouldn’t completely cede the likeability ground to McFadden.  Right now Franken’s TV ad persona is grim and flat, and even a “minor factor” ought to matter to a guy who only won by 312 votes in 2008, a much better year for Democrats than 2014 is likely to be.

If only Franken knew a good comedic writer with political instincts who could write a TV ad to lighten him up.  Know anyone like that, Al?

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in the MinnPost Blog Cabin Roundup.

MN Senate Republicans Propose Improvements To Social Studies Standards

Saint Paul, MN — Minnesota Senate Republicans today detailed a series of suggested improvements for the new social studies standards originally proposed by the Dayton Administration’s Minnesota Department of Education.

 In a letter to the Department, Senate Republicans suggested a number of “pro-America reforms,” including:

  • Replace the term “social studies” with “Exceptional America Studies”
  • Substitute President’s Day observances with Reagan Day observances Continue reading

Dayton: Even a Flat Tax Better Than Minnesota’s Current Regressive Tax System

Not so long ago, there was a strong national consensus in favor of progressive taxation.   In the 1980s, conservative Ronald Reagan was running around telling his followers:

 “We’re going to close some of the loopholes that allow some of the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share.  In theory, some of those loopholes were understandable.  But in practice, they sometimes make it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver is paying 10% of his salary, and that’s crazy.

…Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?

(Crowd:  “More!”)

That was then, but this is now.  Now, conservatives call conservative Reagan’s pro-progressive tax position “socialism” and “anti-American,” a sign of just how radicalized Republicans have gotten in their desperation to pander to conservative talk radio hosts, wealthy donors, and Tea Party primary challengers.

Among the most radical things that Republicans now push is a flat tax.  While a flat tax is attractive at first blush because it is simple compared to the maddeningly complex federal income tax, it is the polar opposite of the progressive income tax that Reagan championed.  While a progressive tax is designed to take a larger percentage from the income of high-income earners than it does from low-income individuals, the flat tax takes the same percentage from everyone, whether you are a bus driver or a billionaire.

As the Founding Father of the modern conservative movement said, “That’s crazy.”

Yesterday in a Minnesota Public Radio interview, Minnesota Governor Dayton made an interesting point on this subject.  When asked what kind of tax reform he favors, Dayton said:

 I still believe in a progressive income tax.  But I sure don’t believe in a regressive income tax, which is what we have now.  …Conservative Senator Rod Grams was always talking about a flat tax.  Well that would be an improvement in Minnesota!  We have less than that now.

Ponder that.  A flat tax – which embodies the radical anti-progressive notion that conservative icon Ronald Reagan not so long ago mocked as “crazy” to the delight of his conservative followers – actually would be an improvement over the regressive tax system that Minnesota currently has on the books today.

Millionaire Mark Dayton is often characterized, by opponents and even by mainstream reporters, as favoring a “soak the rich” ideology.  That’s a silly characterization, because what Dayton actually proposes is not to “soak” the wealthy.  What Dayton recommends is simply a return to the common sense notion of progressive taxation supported by a strong majority of Minnesotans, and even the founder of the modern conservative movement.

 – Loveland