Category Archives: Character

NO! The problem is NOT that the election was ‘divisive’

I’m getting sick of people saying this, so I need to speak up.

A story today in The Washington Post by the eminent Dan Balz, headlined “Raw emotions persist as Donald Trump prepares for his presidency,” repeats a fallacy that needs to be countered:

But everyone knew or should have known that the wounds from an election that was as raw and divisive and negative as campaign 2016 would not be quickly healed…

No, no, NO!

The problem is not that the election was “divisive,” or even “negative.” Those factors have been givens in American politics in recent decades. We’ve had negative campaigns across the country since the early 1980s, when the old guideline that a candidate would damage himself if he “went negative” died and was buried. Lee Atwater rose during those days, but the rule was being broken by others, such as Robin Beard, who used creative, negative ads against Jim Sasser in the 1982 Senate race in Tennessee (where I was at the time), gaining national attention but failing to win the election (which briefly seemed to confirm the old commandment against negativity).

As for divisive — well, it’s been pretty awful ever since the election of 1992, when bumper stickers that said “Don’t Blame Me — I Voted Republican” appeared on cars even before Clinton was inaugurated in January 1993. Since then, the parties have not been satisfied merely to disagree, but have increasingly regarded leaders of the opposite party to be illegitimate and utterly beyond the pale.

So it is that the terms “divisive” and “negative” say nothing about the recent election; they do not in any way distinguish the presidential election of 2016 from any contest that preceded it.

And yet we all know that this election was different from every one that preceded it in American history, right? So how do we describe that difference?

THIS is the difference, folks.

THIS is the difference, folks.

Well, it’s really not all that hard — although describing the underlying causes is more difficult. The difference is Donald Trump.

This was an election between a relatively normal, reasonably qualified candidate, and a grotesquely unfit one — a crude, rude, petty, childish, ignorant, unstable man who had done nothing in his life that in any way prepared him for the job.

You can complicate it if you wish. Feminists want to characterize Hillary Clinton as a groundbreaking candidate of historic proportions — which is silly. She was as conventional as can be: As a former senator and secretary of state, you don’t even have to mention her time as first lady to describe her qualifications. She was Establishment; she was a centrist (center-left if you prefer); she was someone completely at home in the consensus about the role of the United States in the world that has prevailed since Harry Truman. The main thing is, she was qualified.

Yes, she was the second most-hated major party nominee (second to the man who beat her) in the history of keeping track of such things, which is an important reason she lost. Some people who should have known better hated her so much that they were able to rationalize voting for the astonishingly unfit Trump in order to stop her, so that was definitely a factor. But aside from that, she was a normal candidate, from the usual mold, a person who people who knew what they were about — such as Republican foreign-policy experts — were comfortable voting for, knowing the nation would be in reasonably safe hands.

She was business-as-usual (which also helped sink her, as we know), while Trump was a complete departure from anything that had ever before risen its ugly, bizarrely-coiffed head to this level in American politics. It wasn’t just a matter of resume. This man got up very early every morning to start making statements — by Twitter before others rose, out loud later in the day — that absolutely screamed of his unfitness. A rational employer would not hire someone that unstable to do anything, much less to become the most powerful man in the world.

I need not provide a list of his outrages, right? You all remember the election we just went through, right?

TRUMP is what distinguishes this election from all others. TRUMP is what people are trying to get over — which we can’t, of course, because he’s now with us for the next four years. I ran into a former Republican lawmaker yesterday — a member of the revolutionary class of 1994, the original Angry White Male revolt — who expressed his utter bewilderment and sense of unreality that has been with him daily since the election. To him, as to me, the fact that Trump won the election can’t possibly BE a fact. Nothing in our lives prior to this prepared us for such a bizarre eventuality.

Yes, there are complicating factors — the populist impulse that has swept the West recently, which sometimes seemed would prevent Hillary Clinton from winning her own party’s nomination, despite her socialist opponent’s clear unsuitability and the fact that it was understood in her party that it was Her Turn. The roots of that are difficult to plumb. As is the fact that the GOP was bound and determined to reject all qualified candidates and nominate someone completely unsuitable — if not Trump, it would have been Ted Cruz, whom tout le monde despised. Both factors can be attributed to the populist obsession, but contain important differences.

So yes, there was a force abroad in the land (and in the lands of our chief allies) that was determined to sweep aside qualifications, good sense and known quantities in favor of the outlandish. And that helped produce Trump.

But still, particularly if you look directly at what happened on Nov. 8, the difference is Trump himself.

And that MUST be faced by anyone attempting to explain what has happened.

Ever since he started closing in on the nomination, I’ve been begging everyone in the commentariat and beyond to resist the lazy temptation to normalize Trump, to write or speak as though this were just another quadrennial contest between Democrat and Republican, to be spoken of in the usual terms. I was hardly alone. Plenty of others wrote in similar terms about the danger of pretending this election was in any way like any other.

And now, we still have that battle to fight, as veteran (and novice) scribes seek to describe the transition to a (shudder) Trump administration in the usual terms, even though some have admirably noted the stark difference. (I particularly appreciated the Post piece yesterday accurately explaining the similarities between this unique transition and Reality TV. — which is another new thing, folks, as we slouch toward Idiocracy.)

It’s a battle that must be fought every day, until — four years from now, or eight, or however many years it takes (assuming our nation even can recover from this fall, which is in doubt) — a normal, qualified person is elected president.

Another of the many basic things Trump has never thought about

realdonald

Trump voters wanted an outsider, but I doubt that they, or I, or anyone yet fully grasps just how out-of-the-loop this guy is.

I think I have a pretty good idea, based on the last year and a half. I’ve long known enough to see that — if you see the same things — you’d have to be stark, raving mad to want to put this guy anywhere near the Oval Office. But look what’s happened.

So, each day will bring us face-to-face with yet another thing that demonstrate that Donald Trump has never spent a moment of his garish life thinking about things that are second nature to people who — regardless of party or philosophy — possess the most basic qualifications to be president.

Sometimes it’s something small — but telling — such as this:

Now here’s a place where my own gut feelings are the same as those of our president-elect. The idea of someone showing such hatred and contempt toward the flag that our bravest Americans have given their lives to defend, and to raise over such places as, say, Iwo Jima — a flag that symbolizes the noble ideas upon which our nation was founded — is profoundly offensive, even obscene. I have utter contempt for anyone who would even consider such a thing.

But I wouldn’t use the power of the state to punish someone for it, certainly not to the extent of loss of citizenship, or a year of imprisonment. You might have me going for a moment on something such as writing the protester a ticket, but ultimately I’d even have to reject that. Why? Because of those very ideas that the flag stands for. If burning the flag causes a person to be burned or causes some other harm, then you have a crime. But if the expression itself is punishable, then it doesn’t matter whether the flag is burned because it doesn’t stand for anything.

(This is related to my opposition to “hate crimes,” one of the few areas where I agree with libertarians. Punish the crime — the assault, the murder, the arson, whatever the criminal did — not the political ideas behind it, however offensive.)

People who have their being in the realm of political expression have usually thought this through. And true, even people who have thought about it may disagree with my conclusion, wrong as they may be. Still others cynically manipulate the feelings of millions of well-meaning voters who haven’t thought the issue through themselves.

But I don’t think that’s the case with Trump. I think he’s just never really wrestled with this or thousands of other questions that bear upon civic life, so he goes with his gut, which as I admitted above is much the same as my own on this question. He engages it on the level of the loudmouth at the end of the bar: I’ll tell ya ONE damn’ thing… 

In a time not at all long ago — remember, Twitter didn’t exist before 2006 — we wouldn’t know this as readily as we do now. Sure, a political leader might go rogue during a speech, or get tripped up on an unexpected question during a press conference. But normally, the smart people surrounding a president would take something the president wanted to say and massage and process and shape it before handing it to a press secretary to drop into the daily briefing.

Now, the president-elect — or Joe Blow down the street — can have a gut feeling and without even fully processing the thought himself, immediately share it with the entire planet. As this president-elect does, often.

That’s a separate problem, of course, from the basic cluelessness of this president-elect. Not only does he not know a lot that he should, he has the impulse and the means to share that lack of knowledge and reflection with the world, instantly.

Quite a few people in public life haven’t figured out social media. They don’t understand something that editors know from long experience — that you have to be very careful about what you publish. (And yes, posting a random thought on Twitter does constitute publication.) Our governor, soon to be our U.N. ambassador, had a terrible time learning that, although to her credit she hasn’t done anything notably foolish on Facebook in a while.

As Aaron Blake writes on The Fix, it might be nice to think we could ignore these outbursts:

For the second time in two weekends, President-elect Donald Trump stirred controversy, bigly, using only his thumbs.

With a trio of tweets Sunday alleging millions of fraudulent votes and “serious” fraud in three states, Trump effectively hijacked the news cycle for the next 24 hours with baseless conspiracy theories. A week prior, it was Trump’s tweets demanding an apology from the cast of “Hamilton” for disrespecting Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience the previous night.

It can all feel pretty small and sideshow-y at times. Some have a prescription: The media should resist the urge to cover Trump’s tweets as big news. Others even say we should ignore them altogether….

But we can’t. In the months and years to some — assuming no one gets control of him, and I doubt anyone will — we must treat them as seriously as if the president strode into the White House Press Room and made a formal announcement.

This is what we’ve come to. Our window into the mind of the most powerful man in the world will to a great extent be these spasmodic eruptions onto a tiny keyboard.

We might as well brace ourselves…

Is Graham trying to out-Trump Trump on Clinton?

graham-clinton

I thought this was an odd response from Lindsey Graham to the news that Trump was dropping the idea of prosecuting Hillary Clinton:

On Reports President-elect Trump Will Not Pursue Clinton Investigation:

“Well so much for ‘Locking Her Up’ I guess. The bottom line is that I think the Clinton Foundation, the whole mess, should be looked at with an independent view, not a political agenda. I never believed Obama’s Justice Department would seriously look at what she may have done. I can understand wanting to put the election behind us and heal the nation, but I do hope all the things President-elect Trump said about how crooked she was – well, we just don’t let it go without some serious effort to see if the law was truly violated.  I think that would be a mistake.”

I find it odd for several reasons, including:

  • Graham is not a guy who has been shy about holding Trump accountable, as demonstrated anew with his comments after the president-elect chatted with his would-be buddy Putin.
  • Possibly the most egregious moment in the campaign was when Trump threatened — in a nationally televised, live debate — to turn the United States into a banana republic by locking up his political opposition.
  • Graham is a big advocate for the rule of law, and an intelligent politician, and I can’t believe that he doesn’t see it would be impossible for Trump to pursue a prosecution against Hillary Clinton after having said what he said and have that be seen as anything other than abuse of power.
  • He certainly understands that any prosecutorial moves on her would be a judgment call — it’s not like she clearly and with malice aforethought went out a committed a major crime, something that couldn’t be overlooked no matter the political and constitutional ramifications.
  • Graham isn’t one of these guys with a 20-plus-year record of Clinton Derangement Syndrome. He got along pretty well with her when she served in the Senate, so it’s out of character for him to express reluctance to let go of this bone.

All of that adds up to it being weird for him to go “Are you sure you want to do that?” when Trump, of all people, is willing to let it go — possibly at the price of loss of favor among a lot of the folks who voted for him.

Oh, and as long as I’ve got you, I should share the other topic he addressed — Jeff Sessions. Here’s a quote, and it’s all on the video below, two-and-a-half minutes in:

On the Nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General:

“I’ve known Jeff for twenty years. I think he’s a principled conservative. I’ll have some questions for him before the Judiciary Committee. These attacks on his personal character, about him being some kind of closet racist or what he may have said thirty or forty years ago is complete garbage. Jeff Sessions is one of the finest people I have ever known. I don’t think there is a hateful bone in his body. We have some policy differences so I’ll be glad to challenge Jeff where we disagree, but support him in terms of him being a good, decent man. And to my Democratic colleagues, you better watch what you do here.”

Why didn’t Graham, McCain and the Bushes stand up?

File photo

File photo

Lindsey Graham sent out this release yesterday:

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on the 2016 Presidential Election

November 9, 2016

“Secretary Clinton’s concession speech, like President-elect Donald Trump’s last night, was appropriate in tone and substance.

“She should be congratulated on doing her part to bring about healing of our nation and setting the right tone in terms of working with President-elect Trump.  All Americans should follow her counsel and try to work with our next President.  I intend to do so.  President-elect Trump will need all the help he can get given the many challenges we face as a nation.

 “Secretary Clinton ran a hard fought campaign and I genuinely wish her well.”

#####

“Secretary Clinton ran a hard fought campaign and I genuinely wish her well.” Yeah, uh-huh, OK. So… Why didn’t you help her?

As I said in a response to a comment from Phillip

I’ve long had a lot of respect for Sen. Graham, and for John McCain, as readers of this blog will know. I’ve endorsed them, stuck up for them — a lot.

But I’m kind of ticked at both of them right now.

They’re part of that large group of Republicans Who Knew Better — and failed to lead in this election.

These are guys who have exhibited a lot of courage in the past, but that was not in evidence this year. They both failed to do the one thing that might have helped — stand up and declare that they were voting for Hillary Clinton, which was the only way to stop Trump (who they knew was a nightmare), and urge others to do the same.

I know why they didn’t — they wanted to keep getting elected, and a Republican most likely can’t do that after saying he’ll vote for someone the party despises so much.

But as much as I want both of them in the Senate, stopping Trump was more important. I suppose it’s human nature — human weakness — that they didn’t see it that way.

But if anybody could have done it, it would have been them. Anyone who paid attention could see that they both worked well with her when she was in the Senate. There was mutual respect there. Their willingness to step over the partisan boundary to try to get things done together made me feel better about all three of them.

They really should have stood up and told the truth, instead of playing along with the fantasy on the right that she was just as bad as Trump, if not worse.

At least they had an excuse, though. What’s the excuse of the two President Bushes? Their political careers are over. Both probably DID vote for Hillary. They should have come out and said so. What stopped them? A desire to protect Jeb’s political future? WHAT political future?

I suspect that all of them thought she was going to win anyway, and didn’t need them to step up.

Well, if so, they were wrong

There’s really nothing anyone can say that helps, apparently

tragedy

Today, I read the newspapers with which I start my days (The State, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal) with far less interest, less avidity, than usual.

That’s because no one had anything to say, or to report, that offered any way forward out of the extreme darkness into which Tuesday’s result has plunged this nation.

A large part of my reading every day is opinion, which I suppose is natural enough given my background, but it’s also because I feel that I get more out of journalism that makes an argument — whether it’s one with which I agree or disagree. I learn better when my mind is challenged.

Anyway, none of the opinion or analysis pieces I read today were helpful. There were all these smart, well-meaning people trying to make sense of what’s happened and offer a way forward, and they pretty much all fell flat. Because really, at this moment there’s nothing to be done, and we’re all braced, waiting for the awfulness that is to come.

The only thing that has spoken to me at all today is this piece published yesterday in The New Yorker, because it fairly well sets out the awfulness of what has happened. So at least this resonates; at least it has a ring of truth. Oh, bits of it are off-key from my perspective: Being a liberal New Yorker, this writer is far more concerned than I about what he is pleased to call “an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court.”

But other parts seemed to fit quite well. Excerpts:

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety….

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”…

That’s probably as far as I can go without violating Fair Use; perhaps I’ve gone too far already.

But the parts I quote were spot on. And I think before the vast numbers of people who did all they could to prevent what has happened can move forward, they need to come completely to grips with just how bad the situation is. Plumb the depths, you might say.

One other phrase from the piece that wasn’t included in the excerpts above: “Trump is vulgarity unbounded…”

In that vein… I haven’t spoken to any of my children or grandchildren yet about what has happened to their country. I’m not sure what to say when I do. I want it to be something that helps, but I don’t know what that will be. So I’ll close with the Clinton ad that more than any other hit right to the heart of why it was utterly unthinkable for this man to become president of the United States:

These two relatively mild modifiers are enough to completely disqualify Trump

A lot of them may RUN from him, but too few stand up to be counted.

A lot of them may have RUN from him, but too few stood up to be counted.

Some of you have expressed the opinion that I’ve just gone overboard in describing the unique threat to our country that is Donald Trump.

I entirely disagree. The one thing that, for me, would make a Trump victory even worse would be if I were kicking myself tomorrow, thinking, If only I’d tried harder, maybe I could have persuaded one or two people…

What’s that sports expression? I don’t want this to end with me thinking I’d left anything on the field. Or that, wait… that I hadn’t left it all on the field. Whatever. Something like that.

Besides, there are so many things to be said about the worst man ever to capture a major-party endorsement for POTUS. And the fact that anyone would consider voting for him a good idea is so stunning that at the very least, I must give vent to my amazement. (Today, I read yet another piece purporting to explain why people would support him, and sorry — it doesn’t get the job done. It still doesn’t add up.)

But let’s say, as Jerry Brown used to say, that less is more. Let’s say a minimalist approach would have persuaded more of my interlocutors — or, at least some.

I think I got a glimpse of how to do that last week, while reading a Washington Post editorial headlined, “History will remember which Republicans failed the Trump test.” (Which it will.)

Since the many things that are wrong with Trump were not the subject of the piece, his disqualifying qualities were dealt with merely in passing, very quickly. An excerpt from the piece:

WHEN THE republic was in danger, where did you stand? History will ask that question of Republican leaders who knew that Donald Trump was unfit to be commander in chief.

Some said so, despite possible political risks. Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former high-ranking officials such as Brent Scowcroft, Colin L. Powell, Henry M. Paulson Jr., Michael V. Hayden and Robert M. Gates did their best to help Americans understand the risk of electing an ignorant, thin-skinned man with no relevant experience. Scores of respected former ambassadors and assistant secretaries also spoke out. Meanwhile, other senior statesmen were quiet; George P. Shultz and Henry A. Kissinger, for example, said only that they would endorse neither candidate. Their voices could have made — could still make — a difference. So could the voices of former presidents: Though there have been hints that former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush support Hillary Clinton, they have not taken the public stand their nation needs….

Did you notice it? The Post‘s editorial board dealt adequately with Trump using only two, relatively mild, modifiers: “ignorant,” and “thin-skinned.” (They also said he had “no relevant experience,” but that was hardly necessary. That’s just one reason why he is so ignorant.)

Only one thing is missing, really, to completely persuade any reasonable, informed person that there is NO WAY this man could be considered for this job, even for a second: The fact that he is not merely ignorant; he is unwilling to learn. (He’s not like these guys.) Which, of course, is the worst, most damning, and permanent sort of ignorance. This man actually thinks he knows everything he needs to know. He’s utterly convinced of it.

That, in and of itself, completely disqualifies him. Maybe, under desperate circumstances, we could deal with a guy who could learn on the job, but not someone who refuses to.

The “thin-skinned part” takes him from merely grossly unqualified to being dangerous. This is a man who stops everything when he believes he has been disrespected — which is, of course, a lot of the time (and, in his defense, he’s not always imagining it). There is no issue so important that it cannot be dropped while he goes on the attack against the offender. Getting even is, for him at such times, the number-one priority in his universe.

You just don’t hand the awesome, historically unprecedented power of this job — which includes (and while it gets tiresome with repetition, one feels obliged to mention this until people actually listen) the ability to destroy most life on the planet in a matter of minutes — to someone who considers his own personal grudges so pathetically important. Even if he doesn’t decide to nuke somebody because they made a comment about his hands (I actually think the chances of his doing so are slim, although not quite “none”), the fact is that for a time, he wouldn’t be able to think about anything else. We’ve seen it. And that’s bad enough.

Yes, there are many, many other things that can be said against this man — the racism, the xenophobia, the lifelong habit of treating women like dirt. Other stuff.

But to a reasonable, thoughtful person who takes voting seriously, “ignorant” and “thin-skinned” should be more than enough…

Zuckerberg’s right about diversity, although I question his judgment

In defending Facebook for having Trump supporter Peter Thiel on its board, Mark Zuckerberg said:

“We care deeply about diversity. That’s easy to say when it means standing up for ideas you agree with. It’s a lot harder when it means standing up for the rights of people with different viewpoints to say what they care about,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post visible only to Facebook employees, a photograph of which was shared on Hacker News on Tuesday.

“We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” Zuckerberg continued….

Absolutely. Diversity of thought is the most important kind — and too often, the kind people have the greatest trouble accepting. If you have a wide variety of skin colors and a perfect balance of gender, but everyone in your group thinks exactly alike, you have utterly failed to achieve a diverse result, and your group is weaker because of it.zuckerberg

Zuckerberg probably should have stopped there, though. He kind of lost me when he went on to say, “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”

Are there? At this point, it’s getting a little hard to see those “many reasons.” Hard for me, anyway; perhaps the vision of others is sharper.

So let’s assume those many reasons exist. There’s another problem here.

Diversity of thought, of ideas, is indeed critically important. It is essential, in a liberal democracy, to respect those who see things differently. (And to accept it if they win an election.)

But in 2016, we’re not experiencing a contest of ideas. We’ve gone well past that. We’re experiencing an election in which one of the major-party nominees is a man of demonstrably contemptible character, not just somebody you or I may disagree with on matters of policy.

And there’s a point at which, to the extent that we respect our own ability to reason and to form opinions that may or may not differ from the opinions of others, we have to make a judgment.

And in doing so, it’s legitimate for us to question Mr. Thiel’s judgment in continuing to support Mr. Trump despite shock after shock. And to question Mr. Zuckerberg’s for defending having someone of such questionable judgment on his board.

Mr. Thiel, and Mr. Zuckerberg, are entitled to their opinions. And we are entitled to ours…

Again, Trump completely disqualifies himself

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less...

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less…

Sorry I haven’t had time to post today, ere now… Anyway, to business…

As bizarre and grotesquely inappropriate as some of the things Donald Trump said in the second debate were (“tremendous hate in her heart”), the most important and instructive was his threat to imprison his opponent if he wins the election.

Similarly, as agog as we may be from such outbursts as “Such a nasty woman!”,  the one thing we heard in the third and final (thank the Lord) debate last night that was easily the most important, and instructive, was that Trump will not agree to abide by the results of the election. Something that was not a slip of the tongue or a momentary lapse, as he doubled down on it today.

As I said via Twitter last night:

If there were referees in American politics, Trump would have been thrown out of the game for the offense in the second debate (actually, much sooner, but let’s stick with the debates). He completely and utterly disqualified himself.

And if the refs had been deaf and blind in that instance, they would have tossed him out for the offense last night. He showed in both instances that he has no idea at all what elections are about in this country.

The gift that America gave to the world was not merely the promise, but the fact, of the orderly and peaceful transfer of power from one person, party or faction to another. As I said above, the miracle of the election of 1800 — one that for sheer nastiness at least deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as this one — was that Jefferson took over from rival Adams, and everyone accepted it.

This miracle has been repeated every four years, with one exception: South Carolina, and a number of other Southern states, refused to accept the results of the election of 1860. Thanks to the preternatural wisdom, leadership and political skills of the man who won that election, and the blood of hundreds of thousands, the nation was saved. But that was the central crisis of our history, as Lincoln himself explained. It was the great test as to “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

So we got through that and made it all the way to 2016, and Donald Trump — a man who does not have a clue what this nation is all about, and does not care. Trump, the nominee of the party of Lincoln. God help us.

When he is asked whether he will accept the results of the election if he loses, he thinks it is a question about him, and what he wants, and how he feels. Because in his universe, everything is all about him.

The nation, and the things that make it exceptional and wonderful, matter not at all…

The NYT, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a lawyer who can WRITE

McCraw

McCraw

You’ve got to read the letter that David E. McCraw, a lawyer for The New York Times, wrote in response to a letter from an attorney for Donald Trump asking the paper to retract an article that featured two women accusing Mr. Trump of touching them inappropriately years ago, and issue an apology.

No, really, you should read it. It’s not the usual legalese that gives you a headache before you get through the first sentence. It’s pretty awesome. It tells home truths, lays down a challenge and dares ’em to come on.

Click here to see the original document. Here’s the full text:

October 13, 2016

VIA ELECTRONIC DELIVERY

Marc E. Kasowitz, Esq.
Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP
1633 Broadway
New York, NY 10019-6799

Re: Demand for Retraction

Dear Mr. Kasowitz:

I write in response to your letter of October 12, 2016 to Dean Baquet concerning your client Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States. You write concerning our article “Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately” and label the article as “libel per se.” You ask that we “remove it from [our] website, and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology.” We decline to do so.

The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a “piece of ass.” Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

But there is a larger and much more important point here. The women quoted in our story spoke out on an issue of national importance – indeed, an issue that Mr. Trump himself discussed with the whole nation watching during Sunday night’s presidential debate. Our reporters diligently worked to confirm the women’s accounts. They provided readers with Mr. Trump’s response, including his forceful denial of the women’s reports. It would have been a disservice not just to our readers but to democracy itself to silence their voices. We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

Sincerely,
David E. McCraw

Well said, sir.

Could we go ahead and adjudicate this now?

The interesting debate we could have had, under other circumstances

immense-power

Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.

Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:

RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…

Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.

Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.

As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.

But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.

The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).

People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.

Back to the debate

Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:

As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…

Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)

The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.

And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.

Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.

At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.

Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.

So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.

As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:

It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…

Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).

Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.

When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.

Hence what she said in that leaked speech.

I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.

So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.

It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?

Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?

What needed to happen last night did not happen

brighten

What needed to happen in the debate last night was this: Hillary needed to beat Trump — or rather, he needed to beat himself — as soundly as in the first debate. That, combined with the recording of Trump being Trump in 2005, would have meant the end of this drawn-out farce. Continuing the weekend trend, virtually every Republican who has gone along with his campaign would desert him, and we could all talk about something else for the next four weeks, secure in the knowledge that he would be so crushed on Nov. 8 that nothing like this will ever be repeated.

That didn’t happen. Not that Trump debated well, or in any way acted like the standard-bearer of a major party. But the bar for him is the lowest in living memory, perhaps in U.S. history, and in the expectations game, he held his own, since he was no worse than he is on an average day.

There were many low points in this debate, but what was the lowest? It was this:

Only that had been lacking to complete the portrait of Trump as the jefe of a banana republic: The use of the power of the state to persecute and imprison political opponents. All hail the caudillo!

This was no doubt lost on people who support Trump, and those who might consider voting for him. But this was a low point in American democracy, another bold step toward fascism. By contrast, his statement that his opponent has “hate in her heart” — also something we’ve never seen before — was less remarkable. And all the talk about adolescent sexuality was just background noise.

His supporters will protest: But Hillary said he had run a “hateful, divisive campaign!” Yes, she did, and that would indeed be a terrible thing to say if it weren’t true. Even being true, it’s not helpful, only a step or two above deplorable. But the difference between running an awful campaign and having hate in your heart is considerable.

What was Hillary Clinton’s lowest point? Well, I was most bothered by this:

See what she did there? She normalized Trump. She mainstreamed him. She did the thing that I, and many others, have begged people not to do: pretend this is just another election like any other, a contest between (in Republican eyes) wild-eyed, left-wing statists and (in Democratic eyes) fat cats who look like the little top-hatted man in Monopoly. She watered down one of the most disturbing things about Trump — that he’s always out for himself, not the country, or a party, or a class, or a faction. Just himself.

Yeah, I know why she does it: To please the “feel the Bern” crowd in her own party. But this is NOT a contest between classes, or of ideas. This is an election to decide whether an out-of-control, deeply narcissistic, crude, avaricious, vindictive, unbalanced man with fascist tendencies and no concept of what a liberal democracy is about will hold the most powerful position in the world.

That is all this election is about. It could have been about other things, had the Republicans seen their way clear to nominating a normal person. But it isn’t, because they didn’t.

(Perhaps this is a good moment to pause to speak to those just joining us, who have not followed my blog over the past 11 years, or my long career before that: I’m not one of the “liberal media” one hears so much about. I’m a guy known for only endorsing Republicans for president during all those years leading The State‘s editorial board — although we were about 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans on the state level. I’m a guy who is stunned that the GOP didn’t nominate someone normal, such as John Kasich — someone who is as disgusted by Trump as I am, someone I would gladly vote for instead of Hillary Clinton. I just thought I’d mention all that, in case you don’t know me and you think, like Hillary Clinton, that this is about Democrats vs. Republicans.)

Maybe in four years we can have a normal election, talking about the usual tiresome stuff, with 40 percent of the population voting one way without thinking and 40 percent doing the same in the other direction, and the 20 percent of us who don’t subscribe to either brand of nonsense will step in and made the decision.

From the perspective of this election, that almost sounds lovely. But we don’t have that luxury this year…

Even the Gray Lady has been dragged through the mire

Bill Castronuovo, a former editor at The State, shared this with me today.

This is what Trump, the candidate from Howard Stern, has done to America. He’s dragged the Gray Lady, the most staid newspaper in America, down to the point that she has to publish gutter language in to cover what’s going on in the campaign for president of the United States.

He’s also caused my blog to get down on the same level in order to tell you about it.

And the world is not better for that having happened…

crude

Could this farce be at an end? No, because Trump won’t quit

Donald Trump has “apologized” for the things he said on a hot mic on the above video in 2005 — before launching into an attack on the Clintons and saying there was no way he was going to drop out of the race, despite calls from some Republicans that he do so.

So, he’s determined to weather yet another storm that would end the political career of anyone else. Because, you know, he has no shame.

Fortunately, a lot of mainstream Republicans do, which is why Speaker Paul Ryan, regaining his pride and courage, refused to let Trump appear on a stage with him yesterday.

Oh, wait: Did I say Ryan had regained his pride and courage? Well, sorta, kinda. We don’t need to hold a ticker-tape parade for him or anything:

But Mr. Ryan did not go so far as to withdraw his support for Mr. Trump, which for now keeps him in the political purgatory of endorsing the Republican nominee for president while continually having to say why he finds his remarks and policy positions despicable….

On one level, I’m thinking, why is this even a news story? We all know this is what Trump is like. What’s new here? But for some, this has been the last straw, and the pressure on him actually went to the point that he had to issue a statement refusing to resign.

The shock and horror that some Republican supporters, or former supporters, are expressing is reminiscent of Captain Renault’s “shocked!” in “Casablanca.” Really? They didn’t know he was like this? Riiiigghhttt

And do you think this will affect Trump’s support out among the hoi polloi? No, of course not. It never did before when things arose that should have caused his support to evaporate. Why would it happen now?

I wish this would have an effect on the polls; it would raise my estimation of the electorate somewhat from the depths to which it has sunk.

But I fear not.

So, as Trump said in his “apology” (below), on to Sunday night’s debate…

Yet another thing that will roll off Trump’s back

the_apprentice_logo

So much about the candidacy of Donald Trump — a man who should have been laughed off the presidential stage more than a year ago — defies all reason, and everything we’ve learned about politics in my lifetime.

For instance, POLITICO tweeted this today:


It haunts him? For any actual politician, that would be a death knell. Seriously, can you imagine any other political figure being best buds with Howard Stern for decades, and regularly going on his show to speak in crude terms about his sex life, continuing to be a political figure? Not even as shameless a yo-yo as Anthony Weiner could accomplish that.

I can’t imagine it, either. We’ve spoken in the past of this or that pol having a Teflon coating, but they were nothing compared to this guy. One thing after another that would destroy anyone else I’ve ever seen in politics, and his fans just love him more.

Then there’s this, in The Washington Post a couple of days back:

The headline alone would send a shudder down the spine of most elected officials: “‘Apprentice’ cast and crew say Trump was lewd and sexist.”

That’s the top of a story from the Associated Press posted Monday morning that details Trump’s often-inappropriate behavior toward women who both appeared and worked on his hit TV show “The Apprentice.” The AP talked to 20(!) former contestants or crew members on the show including 12(!) who spoke on the record to the news organization. That’s remarkable. And what’s as remarkable is that they all told a very similar story about Trump: While on the set of the show, he would openly discuss women’s looks and whether he would sleep with them….

For any normal political candidate, a story like this one would be an absolute cataclysm. Almost two dozen former employees and contestants speaking out about behavior that the average voter would deem deeply inappropriate in a workplace environment?  It would be enough to push some candidates out of a race entirely. For others, it would be a deep wound from which they might not be able to recover.

For Trump, it’s just another Monday….

Absolutely. Everyone, from his fans to those of us who see him as anathema, will just shrug it off. Why? Because that’s Trump. We know that’s who he is. We’ve known it for years, which is why it was so ridiculous when he started running for president last year. The nerve of this bozo!

Which is why it strikes me as pointless that the story currently leading the Post’s site is headlined, “Trump’s use of debts and tax laws spurs concerns about his methods.”

Really? Yawn… You think that’s going to affect anything? Not with this guy, with far more lurid stuff being shrugged off multiple times daily…

The vice-presidential debate last night

Still from NYT video feed.

Still from NYT video feed.

Yeah, I watched it until the end, although I want you to know I didn’t enjoy it.

I liked this Tweet:

… to which I responded by reTweeting, with the added comment, “Rephrase: ‘Please, be gentlemen!’…”

A few general observations:

  • If you have to pick a winner, it was Mike Pence. But it’s less that he won, and more that Tim Kaine lost it — threw it away, really. Yeah, I understand that the running mate is supposed to be the attack dog so that his principal seems more likable, but now we have a situation in which neither Hillary nor Kaine is seen as likable — which means, I don’t think we saw the real Tim Kaine. He was playing a different character last night, and it was awful.
  • When I say Kaine lost, we’re talking in terms of the impressions we got of the candidates’ characters, not about issues. I can’t begin to tell you who did better on issues, although I’ll say that with some exceptions, Kaine did better on facts, especially when the facts involved Donald Trump — which most did. Kaine would cite an incontrovertible fact, and Pence would look incredulous, pained, saddened that Kaine would say such awful things — when all Kaine was doing was quoting Trump. Since Pence stayed above the fray, but failed to offer any substantive defense of his principal, some analysts today are saying Pence won, but Trump did not. (The one way Trump would be a winner is if he did a credible impression of his running mate in the next debate. But is he capable of that?)
  • About that moderator… Last night, I saw something bizarre happening over on Facebook — a couple of Trump fans I’m friends with were protesting vehemently about how the moderator was biased against their guy. One said of Pence, ” Poor guy had to deal with PLANNED INTERRUPTIONS FROM TWO!” Another said, “Can you not see that the questions are biased?” Which kind of made me wonder what debate they were watching. The moderator was a cipher, a nonentity, utterly ineffectual. I know that she asked some questions, but I can’t remember any of them. She was like a substitute teacher in middle school, pathetically trying to keep order, completely in vain. The moments I came closest to turning the thing off was when all three of them were talking at once, and no one listening to anyone.
  • I started off praising them for their civility and maturity, and then having to quickly eat those words. Which were not tasty.
  • Civility returned at the end when both men talked about their faith, for which I was grateful. It caused me to Tweet that “At least they’re not shouting over each other over their religious beliefs. So our politics have made SOME progress since the 15th century.” Toward the end of that segment, Pence did get on Kaine’s case a bit over abortion, but then he was just saying what I was thinking — especially after having read this piece that morning in the WSJ. And it stayed civil.
  • I liked a point that Mark Shields made after the debate was over on PBS. He said yeah, the veep candidate is supposed to build up the head of the ticket, but Kaine was just too fawning when talking about Hillary. Absolutely. Yeah, she’s way, way better than Trump, but she’s not that awesome.

Shields also said this, which I appreciated: “This was supposed to be the nice guys.” Right. So the night was a great disappointment — especially Kaine. I still think he’s a guy I’d like in a quiet meeting in an editorial boardroom. But he did himself no favors last night…

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant 'moderate?'

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant ‘moderate?’

A restrained, disciplined Trump is scary

On a previous post, Bud was complaining about Hillary’s “fainting spell” continuing to be a story three days later.

Well, first, it’s not a fainting spell. It’s pneumonia. She was warned by a doctor to rest, but she ignored it, went to an event sick and said stupid stuff about the opposition (“basket of deplorables”), then was seen collapsing leaving a big-deal public event.

All while trying to tough it out and keep the pneumonia a secret. Which is just too like her.

All of which made it more of a story than it might have been otherwise.

As for it continuing to be a story for days afterward — well, of course it is. Because now she IS resting, and not making new news to compete with it. What else is there to say about her right now?

You know what concerns me in this situation? That Trump is acting like a grownup and not talking about her health problem right now. He’s following the playbook and letting his opponent’s illness work against her without pulling the attention to himself. Instead, he’s sticking to complaining about the “deplorables” comment.

That shows discipline. Trump showing discipline worries me. Normally we could depend on him to blow the advantage of having his opponent out of action by saying stupid, horrible things about it.

He may still have supporters punching out 69-year-old women up in Asheville, but the loosest cannon on his ship — the captain himself — is restraining himself.

He’s playing to win now. And he could win now. And that’s just unthinkable…

Oh, and to the helpful citizen who provided video of the grandma-punching incident (screenshot below): Turn your phone sideways!

Sheesh…

sideways

Graham: ‘Tell the administration to go F themselves’

Speaking of intemperate speech…

This is in The Washington Post today:

After long and arduous negotiations, Israel and the Obama administration have agreed on a landmark military aid package that would increase U.S. aid to Israel over the next 10 years. But the White House is reluctant to sign the deal because officials are upset one leading lawmaker won’t go along: Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

graham-mug

Lindsey Graham/File photo.

The new agreement, which officials say would raise Israel’s annual package of military aid from $3.1 billion to $3.3 billion starting in 2018, is a complicated deal that both the White House and the Israeli government badly want to announce before President Obama leaves office, and preferably much sooner. A senior administration official described the deal as “the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history.” It’s Obama’s parting attempt to establish a legacy of strong U.S. support for Israel’s security. The negotiations on the memorandum of understanding (MOU), as it is known, have been finished for several weeks.

But before announcing it, the White House wants to make sure that Congress won’t undermine the deal by going its own way on aid to Israel. Graham, the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the foreign affairs budget, has already marked up a bill that would give Israel $3.4 billion next year, more than the number the White House negotiated.

The administration hasn’t complained to Graham directly; it told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about its problem, and he talked to Graham about it in a phone call last month. But in Graham’s view, Congress has no obligation to agree to the deal, given that it was not included in the negotiations….

I can understand Lindsey Graham being irritated at the Obama administration for enlisting Bibi to lobby him. He is right to say, “If they don’t like what I’m doing, they can veto the bill.” I can also see his objection to the administration trying to steer the appropriations process, a legislative prerogative.

But I don’t appreciate him saying this to the prime minister of Israel: “Tell the administration to go F themselves.”

That’s uncalled-for, and I expect better from him.

Pundits execute pincer movement on Trump & GOP

E.J. Dionne, on a visit to Columbia in 2011.

E.J. Dionne, on a visit to Columbia in 2011.

They’re closing in from the left and right.

E.J. Dionne went further than he has to date in a piece headlined, “The Republican Party has lost its soul.” An excerpt:

Let’s focus on the most revealing aspect of this week’s turmoil within a party now aghast over the unstable egotist at the top of its ticket.

Trump could falsely claim that Obama was born abroad, but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him. He could call Mexican immigrants “rapists,” but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him. He could lie repeatedly — about, for example, whether he had met Vladimir Putin and whether he had opposedthe Iraq War — but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him. He could call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him. He could make degrading comments about women and mock people with disabilities, but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him.

No, it seems, all this and more were sufficiently within the bounds of acceptability for House Speaker Paul Ryan to tell delegates to the Republican National Convention that “only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way.”

So what really set off the crisis in the Republican Party this week? Trump suddenly became unacceptable because, in an interview with Philip Rucker of The Post, he refused to endorse Ryan and John McCain in their Republican primaries.

No matter what Trump said, Reince Priebus, the Republican national chairman, was willing to bow and scrape before Trump for months in trying to pull the party together behind him. Now, and only now, is Priebus reported to be “furious” and “apoplectic” at Trump. The message: Trump can say anything he wants about women, the disabled, Mexicans and Muslims, but how dare The Donald cause any trouble for Priebus’s friend Paul Ryan?

The corruption of a once-great political party is now complete….

Attacking simultaneously from the right, George Will wrote that “Trump’s shallowness runs deep.” An excerpt from that:

His speeches are, of course, syntactical train wrecks, but there might be method to his madness. He rarely finishes a sentence (“Believe me!” does not count), but perhaps he is not the scatterbrain he has so successfully contrived to appear. Maybe he actually is a sly rascal, cunningly in pursuit of immunity through profusion.

George Will

George F. Will

He seems to understand that if you produce a steady stream of sufficiently stupefying statements, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net effect on the public will be numbness and ennui. So, for example, while the nation has been considering his interesting decision to try to expand his appeal by attacking Gold Star parents, little attention has been paid to this: Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Crimea has escaped Trump’s notice.

It is, surely, somewhat noteworthy that someone aspiring to be this nation’s commander in chief has somehow not noticed the fact that for two years now a sovereign European nation has been being dismembered. But a thoroughly jaded American public, bemused by the depths of Trump’s shallowness, might have missed the following from Trump’sappearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

When host George Stephanopoulos asked, “Why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?” — removing the call for providing lethal weapons for Ukraine to defend itself — Trump said: “[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay? Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.”

Stephanopoulos: “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?”…

I deeply appreciate Will’s efforts recently to try to focus our attention on international affairs, and Trump’s utter and complete lack of preparedness or inclination to properly address them.

Sure, you can dismiss my friend E.J. as a consummate liberal, and wave away Will as a supercilious snob who doesn’t think Trump’s supporters are of the right sort.

So how about something closer to home? Check out this piece by a South Carolinian who has long admired Pat Buchanan, which is as conservative — as down-home, no-frills, paleoconservative — as anyone can get. Jeff Quinton writes:

Trump is wholly unqualified for the job of president. On top of that, his character is so fundamentally flawed that he cannot be trusted. On the character issue, I feel the same way about Hillary Clinton so I will not be voting for her either.

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton

As a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the military, I will not vote for Trump based on national security and foreign policy issues. As a former soldier, Trump’s assurances that the troops will follow his orders, even if they are illegal ones to target civilians just because he says so are troubling. Trump’s vow to violate our treaty obligations to NATO are a major problem as well. I have concerns about Trump and his campaign manager’s connections to the Russian government—whether it was the Republican platform plank that hangs Ukraine out to dry or the Russian connections to Trump corporate finances. That doesn’t include the investigation of the DNC email leaks and where that might lead. Another foreign policy issue that bothers me relates to immigration and religious intolerance.

Trump’s immigration policies play to the basest fears in society. Whether it is his proposed Muslim ban or his criticisms of Pope Francis, it brings out the worst in his supporters online. From Ann Coulter tweeting that the Founding Fathers were right to distrust Catholics to Trump’s own proposal to keep a registry of Muslims in the country, it reminds me of one of the worst parts of American history for religious freedom—the Know Nothing era.

Trump’s appeals to the “alt-right” are nothing but a dog whistle for the fringes of the Republican Party. I have seen them get caught up in questionable conspiracy theories. They post about “false flag” theories after mass shootings that were supposedly were arranged in support of gun control. Jewish critics of Trump have been threatened and ridiculed for daring to question anything the man says. Polls show self-identifying evangelical Christians largely support him—a fact that leaves many observers scratching their heads.

As a faithful Catholic, I have also been active in the pro-life movement both locally and nationally. I do not trust Donald Trump’s pandering on pro-life issues. Being around the conservative movement in Washington for the past few years, I should not have been surprised to see so many conservatives and pro-lifers in the capital who were dead set against Trump in the primaries roll over for him as soon as he became the presumptive nominee. It is about nothing but being team players for access, power, and fundraising purposes….

And so forth. Go read the whole thing at The Daily Beast.

As a lagniappe, I’ll close with this, the first in a series of seven Tweets from Bill Kristol yesterday:

Graham, McCain on Trump and the Khans

Khan

OK, vacation’s over and I’m back in the saddle, and we are in mid-outrage over the latest deeply offensive nonsense from Donald Trump. And, as is so often the case, the most pointed criticism is coming from leading members of the party that nominated him week before last for POTUS:

Already, the party’s leaders in the House and the Senate have distanced themselves from Trump’s remarks, and other Republican figures are attacking their nominee forcefully.
Sen. John McCain issue a very personal statement Mondaay blasting Trump’s comments about the Khans and paying homage to their son Humayun’s sacrifice. McCain noted that his son also served in the Iraq War and the McCains have been serving in the US military for hundreds of years.

“It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party,” McCain said. “While our Party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.

“Lastly, I’d like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Khan: thank you for immigrating to America. We’re a better country because of you. And you are certainly right; your son was the best of America, and the memory of his sacrifice will make us a better nation — and he will never be forgotten.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in a statement: “This is going to a place where we’ve never gone before, to push back against the families of the fallen. There used to be some things that were sacred in American politics — that you don’t do — like criticizing the parents of a fallen soldier even if they criticize you.”

“If you’re going to be leader of the free world, you have to be able to accept criticism. Mr. Trump can’t,” Graham said. “The problem is, ‘unacceptable’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.”…

As I noted last week (you’ll recall that I did spend most of my evenings blogging despite being on holiday, because I’m just that kinda guy), a lot of the Democratic Convention consisted of fare and themes we normally get from the Republicans — upbeat “Morning in America” patriotism, appeals to fundamental, traditional American values and the like.

Which has to be eating at Sens. McCain and Graham almost as much as anything else. Their values used to be what their party was all about. In recent years, that’s been changing, as ideological loonies have been squeezing them out. It was happening already in 2008, which is why I wrote this column, “Give me that old-time conservatism.” In 2012, the “base” (can an insurgency be called “the base?” Oh, yeah, I guess it can) reluctantly settled for the sane Mitt Romney after spending much of the primary season flitting from one extreme to another.

And this year, of course, it went screaming off the rails, which is why people such as McCain, Graham, Romney, John Kasich and the Bushes did not attend their party’s convention.

Cindi Scoppe’s Gonzales Award acceptance speech

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn't ideal...

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn’t ideal…

Yesterday, as I mentioned, was my day for awards ceremonies. The best, for me, was the one at The State at which Associate Editor Cindi Scoppe received the paper’s Gonzales Award (named for the paper’s first editor, who was shot and killed on Main Street by the lieutenant governor in 1903).

It was the second time she had received the award, having gotten it in 1999 as well.

Bud Ferillo, Bob McAlister and I had written letters supporting her nomination, which is why we were there.

The work for which Cindi was honored took place during her first months alone, as the last remaining member of the editorial department. (There were once nine of us.) I addressed the significance of that in my letter supporting her:

When it comes to cold, dispassionate, hard-eyed assessment of South Carolina government and politics, no one touches Cindi Scoppe. Not in 2014, and not in 2015, either.

But in 2015, she did something else as well. She grew. She still did everything she had always done, the stuff no one else could do, but she added a couple of new ingredients: Heart and Soul.

There was a time when she didn’t have to do that sort of writing, and that comforted her. She liked being, in her own assessment, the board’s “Designated Mean Bitch.” When empathy and violins were called for, she was more than happy to let other associate editors “resonate” with the proper emotion for the moment – and some of them were really good at it. She would stick to the hard stuff.

But by mid-2015, there were no other associate editors. Warren Bolton – an ordained minister who could speak to the heart as well as anyone who had ever served on the board – left in the spring, and by June, Cindi was alone….

That sort of sets up what Cindi had to say in her acceptance speech. Here it is, shorn of some personal acknowledgments at the beginning:

The day after Dylann Roof slaughtered those nine innocents, Bertram Rantin stopped by my office to chat. I probably said I knew I needed to write something about the massacre but I had no idea what to say. Because what our community needed, what our state needed was not policy prescriptions but emotion and understanding. What was needed was RESONATING. And I don’t do resonating.

And Bertram said, you know, we used to have two people who could speak to this sort of situation. And isn’t it ironic that this would happen just weeks after we lost both Warren Bolton and Carolyn Click.

We talked some more about other things, and he left, but his words stayed in my head. And at some point, I realized that I had to step up to the task. I realized, as Brad wrote in his letter supporting my nomination, that I had to grow. I had to become a writer I had not been willing to.

Three thousand years ago, when God wondered aloud who he could send to speak to his people, the prophet Isaiah answered saying “Here am I, send me.” I think that’s one of the coolest passages in the Bible. Christians and Jews see that as a great act of faith. But it could also be seen as an act of dedication, of commitment to a cause, to a calling.

And don’t we all have a calling? Isn’t that what journalism is?

Shouldn’t we all be willing to ask, in the secularized iteration of Isaiah’s response: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Isn’t that the commitment that all of us need to give to our craft, to our community?

Now, except for Paul, there’s no one on the second floor who should be doing what I do routinely – advocating for policy positions. It’s probably not often that you should be writing about your personal experiences. Certainly not about how your faith informs your life decisions, or how it relates to public policy.

But what I had to do last year – after the massacre and a few months later, after the flood – is something every one of us can and should be willing to do every day: Look for where we can make a difference, fill roles we might not be comfortable filling, grow, if necessary, into the bigger demands of our jobs.

In his supporting letter, Bob McAlister said this about our jobs:

“I have spent my professional life in South Carolina’s political/media axis and have seen the media, especially newspapers, evolve. Of this I am certain: Our citizens have never needed good journalism more to help them wade through the complexities of life and the chaos of the Internet.”

As newspaper staffs grow smaller and the cacophony of self-interested voices grows louder and objective truth becomes increasingly optional, what each one of us does becomes exponentially more critical.

I would urge all of us to focus on the critical nature of what we would do: Not duplicating what others are doing, but providing our readers with important information they can’t get anywhere else. I urge you all to be truth-tellers, not just stenographers.

Today people in public life just make stuff up..

I can remember a time when it simply didn’t occur to journalists that we needed to verify basic facts from someone in a position of authority. Oh, we needed to watch for spin. We needed to make sure they weren’t manipulating numbers or not quite telling the whole story. But if a governor said half the job applicants at the Savannah River Site failed drug tests, it was safe to assume that was true. Not anymore.

Unfortunately, there’s no way we can fact-check every single thing that public figures say. We can’t even fact-check every single thing a governor says.

But at the very least, we can do this: When people say things we know are not accurate, and we report what they say, we can point out the facts. We can say this is what the law actually says. This is what was actually spent. Or this is what the audit actually recommended.

This isn’t being an editorial writer. This is being an authoritative voice. This is being a journalist. This is something I did as a reporter. It’s something y’all do sometimes as reporters. It’s something we all need to do more of. We need to help our readers understand what is true and what is not. We need to give our readers the facts and the context they need to make informed decisions. It doesn’t matter whether we agree with those choices or not; it matters that they are informed.

Of course, as Jeff will remind us, we need to write things that people will read. And this is the hardest part. It’s never been easy to get people to read the stuff they need to know, and now we have metrics that show, at least in the online world, how little they read it. So it’s very tempting to just give up and give people what they want. That’s the easy way to drive up our unique visitor numbers.

It is not the right way.

The right way is keep trying to figure out how to turn what people need into what they want.

It is a daily battle. It is a battle that I often lose.

But it is a battle that I absolutely must keep fighting.

It’s a battle that you absolutely must keep fighting.

We have big and difficult jobs, and they are getting bigger and more difficult every day. And we have to stretch and grow to fill those jobs.

We have a calling. We work for our community.

Not to entertain our community. To inform our community. To give our readers the tools they need to be active citizens.

It is not an overstatement to say that our system of self-governance depends on our willingness to fulfill our calling.

Amen to that.