Category Archives: Elections

On ‘truthiness’ and the 2016 election

pilate-cropped

What is truth?” asked Pilate, and washed his hands. Sometimes I ask the same question, because it’s not always as simple as people like to think it is. At least, not in politics. (As a Catholic, I accept that the One of whom Pilate asked the question did trade in actual Truth.)

I had the chance to explore that a bit over at WACH-Fox studios this morning. Cynthia Hardy asked me to participate in a discussion of truth, lies and the current presidential election for the weekly TV version of her OnPoint show. Catch the show on WACH Sunday morning at 8:30. (Hey, you can DVR it, can’t you?)

At this point, I don’t recall precisely what was said during the taped segments, because we were talking about all this before and after the taping, and during breaks. But here are some of the points I made at some time or other while I was there:

  • Someone raised the question of why, with so many of his statements being easily proved to be false, Donald Trump’s followers still accept, and even cheer, them. I mentioned the point, made here so often before, that even though most of us once accepted Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” people today believe they are entitled to the “facts” they prefer, and gravitate toward those who offer them such.
  • Continuing on that point, I said we should think in terms of the Stephen Colbert concept of “truthiness.” Trump regularly says things that are wildly untrue, but his supporters eat it up because his claims strike them as “truthy.” It’s what they want to be true, and they appreciate him for saying it is, and never backing down on the point.
  • I tend to look askance at all these people who propose to do “fact-checking” in real time. First, even if one can determine incontrovertibly whether a statement is true or not, getting the job done frequently takes a lot of time. Not all facts can be instantly Googled. And sometimes — quite frequently — there is no pat answer. Some things are demonstrably untrue — for instance, we are spending tens of billions updating our nuclear arsenal, in direct contradiction of something Trump said in the debate Monday night. On the other hand, some assertions are more slippery, more matters of opinion. For instance, the NYT tried to “fact-check” Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that the U.S. needs an “intelligence surge” to stop homegrown terrorists before they act. The Times said we already collect and share more intel than ever. Perhaps so, but if something happens because we didn’t know something that might have enabled us to prevent it, how can one say we had enough intel? That said, there is the eternal debate over how much we need to protect people from snooping. Since Snowden, we’ve unfortunately erred in the wrong direction on that, but striking a balance will always be difficult. Bottom line, I can give you a pretty good answer to whether what she said was true if you give me 1,000 words or so to do it. Anything less and I’m shortchanging you. But be forewarned that the answer will contain a lot of my own opinion. Why? Because it’s that kind of question.
  • Elaborating on that: People who think it’s easy to separate fact from opinion should try editing editorial pages for a couple of months. The challenge is this: You’re publishing a lot of stuff written by nonprofessionals with strong opinions — letters to the editor and their big brothers, guest columns. If you’re me, you’ll have a rule against letting people make assertions of fact that are false in the course of expressing their opinions. Frequently, in the proofreading process, one of the editors — some of the top, most experienced journalists in South Carolina, when I was doing it at The State — would cross out something in a letter or oped because it was false. But then a terrific argument would ensue as we editors disagreed over whether that point was a matter of fact, or of opinion. In the latter case, we’d allow the writer to say it. These matters were never easily settled, because if you’re intellectually honest and doing your best to be fair to people and not dismissive of their views, it’s complicated.
  • It’s seldom black and white. Even lies have gradations. That’s why The Washington Post‘s pinocchio_1respected Fact Checker feature has levels. A “lie” can earn one, two, three or four “Pinocchios,” with four denoting something that is completely false. Then there is the rare “Geppetto Checkmark” for things found to be completely true. And these judgments are subjective. I forget the “fact” in question, but a couple of months ago, they gave Donald Trump four Pinocchios for something that, having read their findings, I thought should only have earned him two or three. (Of course, even if they had amended that would, Trump would still be the all-time record-holder for four-Pinocchio statements.)

I could go on and on, but there’s real work to be done. I’ll check back in and see what y’all think…

Sure, Hillary ‘won’ the debate, but does it matter?

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To most people who know anything about debating, or about national and international issues, or about the presidency, Hillary Clinton pretty much cleaned Donald Trump’s clock last night.

She was serious, focused, informed, composed, presidential. He was thin-skinned, blustery, illogical, inarticulate, uninformed — the usual.

But does it matter? Does it make a difference? In 2016, that is the operative question.

I’ve had several conversations with folks this morning, and everyone has more or less agreed with this assessment. But I tend to speak to well-informed people.

I keep thinking about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Debate experts said Nixon won. So did most people who heard it over the radio. But those who saw it on TV said Kennedy won. And that was the new factor that the professionals, the experts, didn’t take into consideration.

Today, the new factor is that a significant portion of the electorate has gone stark, raving mad.

A debate like what we saw last night would have been inconceivable in 1960. Regardless of whether you think Nixon or Kennedy won, both of them did an excellent job by any informed standard. It would have been completely impossible for someone like Donald Trump to be on that stage. (Some would say it would be impossible for someone like Hillary to be there, but such people are looking at the superficiality of gender. The fact is with regard to factors that matter, she fits comfortably into the Nixon-Kennedy set of candidates.)

No one like Trump would be the Republican nominee. No one like Trump would have made any kind of showing in the primaries. Anyone as blustery and undisciplined as Trump would have been lucky to have been allowed to sit in the audience and watch.

So the difference between him and Hillary Clinton last night is far, far starker than the minimal contrast between Nixon and Kennedy. It’s not a contest between two qualified candidates. It’s between a qualified candidate and a nightmare.

But our politics are so messed up today, the electorate’s Kardashian-numbed sensibilities so accepting of the unacceptable, that the fact that she beat him like a drum last night — in the eyes of the knowledgeable, the thoughtful — may be as irrelevant as Nixon beating Kennedy on points. More so.

Trump’s support is such an illogical phenomenon that one cannot logically predict the effect of the debate.

And that’s yet another very, very disturbing thing about this election…

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Dreading tonight’s debate (but follow me on Twitter)

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Come join me on Twitter tonight, if you’re so inclined. Just click on the image anytime after 9 p.m…

I have been dreading this presidential debate tonight, which I think may be the most hyped that I can recall.

Perhaps something good will come of it. Perhaps Trump will do or say something that causes him to lose all his support, and the nation will be saved. What that would be, though, I have no idea. The bigger jerk he makes of himself, the more they love him.

Or maybe…

No, that’s the only thing good I can see coming out of it. I honestly can’t imagine anything in particular that Hillary Clinton can do to help herself in this debate, against such a damage-proof opponent. About all she can do is hurt herself, and there are plenty of ways she could do that. I wouldn’t be in her shoes for anything.

But I’m less concerned about her, and truly concerned about the nation.

I’ll be there on Twitter tonight, commenting away. Come join me if you’re so inclined. The torment begins at 9 p.m., pretty much anywhere you care to look…

Sho Baraka could head up the Faith and Family Left Party

sho-baraka

Remember a couple of years back when Pew Research Center offered a group of political typologies that sought to find better ways of thinking of our political proclivities than “right” and “left?”

I took the test, and it put me in what it called the “Faith and Family Left.” Briefly Pew defined the group thusly:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives. Compare groups on key issues.

At the time, my reaction was “faith and family OK, but left?” If was not a perfect fit, but better for me than the other options, such as “Solid Liberals,” “Hard-Pressed Skeptics” or “Bystanders.”

And then I didn’t think about it much until I was listening to NPR this morning and heard an interview with a guy who could very well be the chairman of the Faith and Family Party, were that group to form a party.

He’s a hip-hop performer named Amisho Baraka who was talking about how uncomfortable he is with both major political parties. He recently described his predicament this way in an essay (you know me; if I’m going to get interested in a hip-hop “artist,” it’s going to be one who also writes essays):

As a black Christian in an urban environment, I consciously struggle to give my allegiance to either political party. In this way, this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today.

As an African American, I’m marginalized by the lack of compassion on the Right. As a Christian, I’m ostracized by the secularism of the Left. As a man, I’m greatly concerned by subversive attempts to deconstruct all “classical” definitions of manhood.

I fraternize with a remnant of people who have the cultural and theological aptitude to engage both Carter G. Woodson and G. K. Chesterton. We walk the tightrope between conservatives and progressives. We share an anxiety and sense of displacement in the current sociopolitical landscape.

I have had zero interest in either candidate this election. Many people are fearful about the next president, as they should be. Our newly appointed chief will likely nominate Supreme Court justices. The thought of either candidate appointing justices scares me. Many Clinton supporters seek a secular utopia that progresses past logic. Many Trump supporters want to resurrect bigoted ideologies. Neither of these Americas is great to me….

I can sort of identify (especially with “sense of displacement in the current sociopolitical landscape”), right up to the point when he says he’ll vote, but not for Hillary or Donald. I can’t begin to agree with that. That is truly an assertion of false equivalence, to use the terminology of some of my critics here. Dislike Hillary all you want, but she’s the only semi-normal person in the country in a position to save us from Donald Trump, and a vote for anyone but her is inexcusable. I don’t care how tightly you have to hold your nose.

But anyway, I think this young man’s political journey is worth watching…

Jaime Harrison and Matt Moore are my heroes

Matt, me and Jaime, on the day the legislation was signed to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds.

Matt, me and Jaime, on the day the legislation was signed to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds.

You might say “heroes” is a tad strong, but I wanted to draw you in and get you to read this, and both of these young men really do deserve a rather hearty pat on the back.

This is especially remarkable since y’all know how much I despise both parties, and Matt and Jaime are, respectively, the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties in South Carolina.

But they are remarkably free of many of the most objectionable characteristics associated with being party chairmen in the 21st century.

To begin with, rather than being enemies who reflexively spit on the ground whenever each other’s names are mentioned, they are buds. CNN noted this in a piece back in February — the month of the presidential primaries here — headlined, “Odd Couple: How a Republican and a Democrat became friends in South Carolina.

The AP’s Meg Kinnard followed up this month with a piece headlined “South Carolina party chairs beat vitriol with friendship.”

And you’ll recall when I celebrated their unanimity on the day the legislation to bring down the Confederate flag was signed. See the above photo.

But there are additional reasons to applaud these guys.

Back to how much I despise parties… I’m not going to go into all the reasons I do, but let’s look at two biggies — two things that have done more to make the parties into destructive forces in our republic than any other. Particularly the first one:

  1. Party-protecting reapportionment. This is the biggie. If we fixed this, we would repair most of the damage the parties have done to our country. As things stand, almost every congressional or legislative district in the country is drawn — by lawmakers of whichever party controls the body — to make it completely safe for candidates of one party or the other. This makes the November elections a joke, and puts the real contest in each district in the primary of the controlling party. That means the only competition an incumbent has to worry about is a primary challenge from someone who is more extreme, more ideologically pure, in terms of that party’s ideology. That means both parties get pulled to their respective extremes, and the space in the middle — where members of each party can talk to members of the other, the place where solutions are found and commonsense legislation enacted — becomes depopulated. And our government flies apart, and ceases to function. Nobody can even speak the same language, much less find commonalities to build on.
  2. Straight-ticket voting. I hate this for what it encourages voters to do, and even more for what it encourages them not to do. It enables them to avoid thinking. Voters who choose this option don’t have to think about any of the candidates on the ballot. They don’t have to be informed; they don’t have to discern; they don’t have to make comparisons. Which means they don’t have to pay attention before Election Day, or on Election Day. They just choose a party, and go home. This makes an utter travesty of the voters’ role in our representative democracy. And most shockingly, half of the voters in South Carolina choose this option.

Knowing how much I despise those things, imagine how pleased I was to find Jaime and Matt speaking out against both of them.

Particularly the way reapportionment is done.

From a recent story by The State’s Jamie Self:

One way to make S.C. races more competitive, Moore and Harrison say, is to end lawmakers’ control over the process of drawing district lines.

The GOP and Democratic party leaders suggest a nonpartisan or bipartisan panel draw district lines, instead of lawmakers.

Massey, R-Edgefield, said convincing lawmakers to cede their influence over the redistricting process – and their political futures – would be a heavy lift. Even he would be “reluctant to give up that authority to an outside group.”

But Massey said he would support ending straight-party voting.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to take 30 seconds to push all the buttons,” he said. But, he added, there will be “partisans on both sides that are going to go ballistic over that if you try to change it.”

Yes, they would. As they would totally freak out over reapportionment reform. There is probably nothing that incumbents will fight harder to hang onto than their enormously destructive power to draw district lines so as to choose their voters, rather than letting the voters choose their representatives.

But that makes me appreciate all the more Matt’s and Jaime’s willingness to take a stand on this.

Jamie’s story also delved into the evil of straight-party voting. The story wasn’t as clear in term of communicating what the party chairs think of that, so I contacted them both yesterday to find out.

I reached Mr. Harrison via email, asking whether he was willing to take a stand against straight-ticket voting. He responded, “Personally yes… It isn’t the stance of the party, because the issue hasn’t come up for a party position.  Nonetheless, I personally believe that is one of the many reforms we need.”

Amen. Later in the day I reached Matt Moore by phone and posed the same question. I didn’t ask for an official party position, but just asked whether he, Matt Moore, would take a stand.

And he did. There’s no proposal currently before lawmakers, but “in theory, I am for doing away with it.” He sees a need for “more informed voters,” and doing away with the straight-ticket copout would certainly be a way to demand more more knowledge, more attention, from voters.

We also chatted a bit about reapportionment, and it was along the lines of what he said about it in Jamie’s story:

Moore said he is glad his party controls the state Legislature, but the way district lines are drawn is taking its toll on the GOP nationally.

“It’s led to Republicans being in control of Congress, but being unsuccessful in presidential elections,” Moore said, adding the GOP’s difficulty in appealing to minority and younger voters stems from its candidates not having to campaign for their votes at home.

More competitive districts “would force candidates to go out and talk to people who don’t look like them.”…

And wouldn’t that be something wonderful? Lawmakers paying attention to everyone in their communities, rather than the narrow constituencies they’ve carved out for themselves through reapportionment.

I firmly believe it would cure a great deal of what ails our politics today.

And while it’s not a concrete step, I think it’s a great first step to have the chairs of both parties willing to talk about the need for change, rather than defending the intolerable status quo.

What’s different about Hillary Clinton this time

Where's Waldo -- I mean, Hillary? When I shot this way back in May 2015, she was surrounded by the usual suspects, from the SC Democratic Women's Council.

Where’s Waldo — I mean, Hillary? When I shot this way back in May 2015, she was surrounded by the usual suspects, from the SC Democratic Women’s Council.

Today, our good friend Doug (who for some reason is calling himself “Douglas” this week) Ross got me going when he said this about Hillary Clinton:

She is running to win the votes of her faithful followers…

Which made me say no, not this time…

I think that was true in 2008 — very much so. It’s one of the things that made Sen. Barack Obama look so good by contrast. At that time, her support base seemed made up of:

  • Diehard loyal Clintonistas who, for instance, still saw Bill’s impeachment as something that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” had done to THEM, rather than arising from Bill’s actions.
  • 1970s-style feminists who were just excited as all get-out because she was a woman, pure and simple.
  • The Democratic Party’s angriest partisan warriors who were hyper-anxious to “take the country back” after the Republicans holding the White House for 8 years.

By contrast, Barack Obama ran as not only the post-racial, but post-partisan candidate who wanted to lead us beyond the bitter sniping of the Clinton and Bush years.

This time, though, it’s different. Not necessarily because she, Hillary Clinton, is different, but because of the overall political environment in which this campaign is occurring. It’s pushed her into an entirely different role.

Now, she’s not the representative of an old ’60s-’70s “New Left” — she in fact spent most of the past year fighting to  survive a huge challenge from someone who represented that far more than she ever had.

But nothing recast her role as much as the way Trumpism took over the GOP.

Circumstances have conspired to make her the sole representative remaining from either party of the broad, moderate governing consensus of the post-1945 America. There’s a category into which you can fit every president (and most if not all major-party nominees, but especially the presidents) we’ve had since FDR, regardless of party. And she is the only person left — now that the likes of Jeb Bush and John Kasich are long departed from the scene — who fits into that category, or even lives in the same universe as that category.

So yeah, you’ve got the standard Clintonista hangers-on, sure. But you’ve also got independents like me, and you’ve got pretty much the entire Republican national security Establishment, all rooting for her to win this.

Because she’s all that’s left for any of us…

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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…

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Cruz lost the nomination, but he’s running against Hillary anyway

You know, it would be hard to explain to an intelligent alien why Ted Cruz — who decidedly lost his bid to oppose Hillary Clinton this fall — is sending out email appeals that are essentially aimed at getting voters to join him in … opposing Hillary Clinton.

Yeah, we know that politicians are always raising money, and their preferred way to do that is to generate rage in their base, and the best way to do that if you dwell on the right fringe is to mention Hillary or Obamacare… but there’s no way to explain all that to a neutral, rational observer who hasn’t live with it for decades.

Anyway, this came into my In box six days ago, and I’m just now looking at it:

Cruz For
Senate
Brad,

While the Clinton campaign and the Obama Administration may have wanted to bury the revelations from Hillary Clinton’s FBI interview over the holiday weekend, the story is even worse than any of us could have imagined.

Back during the presidential campaign, our team released a parody video about the lengths Hillary Clinton would go to hide her corruption and reckless handling of classified information. Little did we know at the time, how true this reenactment would turn out to be.

SIGN THE PETITION —–> STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

We wanted to share a recent headline with you from The Right Scoop:

REMINDER: This is how RIGHT Ted Cruz was about Hillary Clinton

What Senator Cruz said then and continues to believe now is that Hillary Clinton plays by a different set of rules than you or me, and she knows it.

< —– WATCH —–>

Even a CNN anchor reporting on the story could not hide her stunned reaction to the confirmation that Hillary Clinton aides destroyed Clinton’s old mobile phones by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.

Unfortunately for you and me, Hillary knows it’s “Good to be a Clinton”, which is why we must all stand together against this shameful double standard and for the rule of law — equally applied to everyone!

SIGN THE PETITION —–> STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

For liberty,

Team Cruz

P.S. – Despite the FBI calling her “extremely careless” Hillary Clinton has faced no consequences for mishandling classified information; please sign the petition today to send a message that the American people STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

Of course, there was a green DONATE button at the bottom.

Note that there’s no indication of how Ted plans to “stand against Hillary” with our help. There’s no indication of where this “petition” is headed, or what it is intended to accomplish, exactly — or even vaguely, for that matter.

It’s just about OPPOSING. And there you have American politics in the 21st century in a nutshell.

And no, there’s nothing remarkable or newsworthy about this email. I just think it’s important to stop now and then and note how absurd the routine has become…

Samuelson comes out for a wall — and actually makes a decent argument, unlike you-know-who

Robert Samuelson has joined his Washington Post Writers Group colleague Charles Krauthammer in saying that maybe a wall along our southern border isn’t such a crazy thing after all.

Of course, he does so based in facts and political realities rather than bluster and xenophobia, but that’s because he’s a rational person, and not Donald Trump. And it makes him worth listening to:

Just because Donald Trump isn’t qualified to be president — and just because much of his agenda is hateful and undesirable — doesn’t mean that everything he says is automatically wrong. Some of his ideas deserve consideration and enactment. One of these is building a wall across our southern border with Mexico….

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Robert J. Samuelson

The crucial question is: If we had a wall, what would we get for it? The answer: A wall probably represents our best chance of reaching broad agreement on immigration policy, a subject that has frustrated Congress and the two most recent presidents….

Without a wall, it’s doubtful that Republicans would enter meaningful negotiations on immigration policy — and without Republican participation, the stalemate would continue. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 63 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters supported a wall and only 34 percent opposed it. The distrust is deep. Republicans think Democrats don’t truly care about stopping illegal immigration; they mainly want “amnesty” for existing undocumented immigrants. In the same Pew poll, 84 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democrat opposed a wall….

In other words, we may need to build the wall because the GOP, now fully in the grip of Trumpistas, will never agree to the rational parts of immigration reform without it. To put it another way, we don’t need a wall, but they’ll never stop thinking we do, and we need to move on and deal with some actual problems.

No, Samuelson hasn’t gone ’round the bend. He knows as well as the rest of us how absurd Trump’s approach is:

Let’s be clear on one issue: Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall is absurd . No self-respecting Mexican president would accept it. If one did, the wall would become a subject of endless bickering between the two countries as to who actually owned and controlled it. The fact that Trump made this so central to his proposal suggests that he’s simply grandstanding….

Indeed. But Samuelson, economics writer that he is, says that the ridiculous amount of money that a wall would cost could be a good deal in the long run:

If we could buy an immigration bargain for $25 billion, or even a bit more, it would be a fabulous deal. That’s the opportunity facing the next president. But we won’t make it any easier by stigmatizing the one change — a wall — that could be the foundation for compromise….

Here we go with Hillary’s ‘health issue’

falls-ill

In the last couple of days, we’ve seen two things happen that illustrate just how fragile Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump is — a fact that leaves our nation suspended by a hair over disaster.

First, there was her “basket of deplorables” remark. Remember Mitt Romney’s “47 percent?” This could be worse, for the simple fact that it’s more quotable, more vivid. The “47 percent” needed at least a brief footnote of explanation. “Basket of deplorables” travels on its own.

And today, we have this:

Hillary Clinton left a New York memorial service marking the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks early after feeling “overheated,” according to a campaign spokesman.

“Secretary Clinton attended the September 11th Commemoration Ceremony for just an hour and thirty minutes this morning to pay her respects and greet some of the families of the fallen,” spokesman Nick Merrill said. “During the ceremony, she felt overheated, so departed to go to her daughter’s apartment and is feeling much better.”

Clinton arrived at the memorial at 8:18 am and greeted Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and his wife as she exited her van, according to the pool.

Reporters traveling with Clinton became aware about 9:36 a.m that she was no longer in the place where she had been standing. By 9:48 a.m., her campaign confirmed that Clinton left the viewing area as early as 9:30 a.m.

Clinton’s daughter lives on East 26th Street, in the Gramercy neighborhood of lower Manhattan — about a 15-minute drive from Ground Zero….

The headline of that snippet, which will become a full-fleshed news story over the next hour or so, begins “Clinton falls ill…”

Here we go. Granny’s had a spell, and we will all stop remembering 9/11 and start talking about the fact that she’s a granny — and do we want Granny running the country?

Never mind that the woman has way more stamina than most of us. She wouldn’t be where she is otherwise.

While I may go on about nagging health problems here on the blog from time to time, I’m actually in pretty good shape. My blood pressure and pulse always draw remarks of approval from health care professionals. I have zero signs of heart disease, my cholesterol is OK, all major organ functions are nominal, in the astronaut sense of the word.

But I’m not perfect. For the past week, I’ve been getting these sinus headaches that I think are related to a minor cold that my grandson brought home to my wife from 4K. They start in the late morning, and by the end of the day, all I want to do is lie down and make it go away. On Friday, while everyone else at ADCO was at lunch, I lay down on the carpet of my office with my head resting on a rolled-up sweater for about 10 minutes, and got up feeling renewed for the rest of the day.

If I were a presidential candidate, and someone had seen me do that, the headlines would be “Warthen collapses on campaign trail” or some such. Everyone would be going on about my “spell” and what it said about my fitness for office.

And maybe I wouldn’t have the stamina for such a job. Most of us wouldn’t. Look at how it’s aged Obama.

But Hillary Clinton? The woman’s been running full-tilt for president for a quarter-century now. After this, the presidency itself should be breeze. She can take naps, like Reagan.

I’m not terribly concerned about Hillary Clinton’s health one way or the other. What I am concerned about is that she’s running against the least-qualified, most appalling man ever to win a major party’s nomination, and it’s so close that something like this could lose it for her.

That’s what worries me.

A couple of days back, I meant to write something about this story, which was written, I should note, before both the “basket of deplorables” remark and the “overheating” spell: “Democrats wonder and worry: Why isn’t Clinton far ahead of Trump?

As well they might. For my part, I don’t wonder. I can see the things Democrats are blind to.

But I do worry. A lot.

Voters commit this sin against democracy in election after election

Be proud of your vote. Don't throw it away...

Be proud of your vote. Don’t throw it away…

You may think the fact that Donald Trump being the Republican nominee is the worst case of serious dysfunction in the history of our representative democracy.

And you may be right. This may even be a greater indictment of the electorate than when voters chose Andrew Jackson over John Quincy Adams in 1828.

But there’s another shocking thing that occurs in election after election, and what really gets me is that too many of us accept it as normal. It’s mentioned in this story in The State today:

Most S.C. districts are drawn to favor the incumbent or that politician’s party.

Straight-ticket voting also takes a toll on the competitiveness of S.C. political races, observers say. About half of S.C. voters who show up at the polls on Election Day will push one button to vote for every member of a single party, regardless of who they are, instead of selecting candidates in every race….

The boldfaced part of that excerpt tells us that about half of S.C. voters shouldn’t be voting. Anyone who would pull a party lever (or rather, touch that option on a screen), thereby avoiding giving any thought at all to the qualities of the individual candidates, should lose the right to vote permanently.

That is an utter negation of the responsibility given us as voters. The option absolutely should not exist, and it’s a scandal that it does. Sure, people could still go through and vote for only the candidates of a single party, but at least they’d have to make individual gestures to do so, and that would create room for some thought to come creeping in. Maybe, just maybe, in one or two instances, reason might overcome partisan obstinance and cause the voter to think, “No, not this one.”

But since parties control our legislatures, there’s little chance of this problem being addressed as it should. Parties don’t want voters thinking for themselves.

So let me implore you, if you’ve chosen the party option in the past, please don’t ever do so again. Have respect for democracy, and for your rights and responsibilities as one of a sovereign people. Think, about each choice before you. Don’t throw your franchise away.

Primero país, y después partido

At the risk of making Trump supporters’ heads spin (They’re speaking Spanish in my presence! Make them stop!), I share with you this new Hillary Clinton ad, which features Carlos Gutierrez — who was George W. Bush’s commerce secretary for four years — explaining that he’s supporting Clinton in part because, as a lifelong Republican, he can’t possibly support Trump.

For you gringos, the translation:

gutierrez-mug“Donald Trump doesn’t have the qualities necessary to be president. I know, because I served in the Cabinet of George W. Bush for four years,” Gutierrez says in Spanish. “I was born in Cuba, but this country gave me my success. I’ve been a Republican my entire life, but first I’m an American. Vote for Trump? I can’t. It’s dangerous and we don’t want to go back. Hillary Clinton has the experience and I trust her. For me, country first, and then party.”…

It’s a good ad. I especially like the UnParty sentiment: “Primero país, y después partido.”

Here’s another like it…

Should SCETV air congressional debates?

I hadn’t really focused on this until I got the release from the state Democratic Party complaining about it:

Dear Brad,
Earlier this week, SCETV announced they do not plan to televise any 2016 general election debates because they do not view the races to be “highly competitive.”  We are circulating a petition asking them to reconsider this misguided decision; clickhere to add your name.
It is regrettable that SCETV has apparently decided to focus on political punditry rather than informing the public about the choices facing voters this November.
What’s more, their political punditry is woefully off the mark.  A recent poll conducted by the Feldman Group found that 37% of South Carolina voters are more likely to vote for a Republican for Congress, while 34% are more likely to vote for a Democrat.  For the state legislature, 36% of South Carolina voters are more likely to vote for a Republican, compared to 33% for a Democrat.  Both of these results arewithin the poll’s margin of error of +/- 4%.  And while Republicans did their best to rig the districts through undemocratic gerrymandering, the poll found that in the 1st Congressional District, voters’ preferences are evenly split, and in the 5th Congressional District, voters favor a Democrat by a 5-point margin.  These results are the definition of ‘highly competitive.’
Moreover, SCETV is assessing the competitiveness of these races more than two months before Election Day, when few voters have tuned in to down-ballot races.  Denying voters the opportunity to directly compare candidates because SCETV thinks voters favor the better-known incumbents is putting the cart before the horse.  This sort of amateur political punditry is unbecoming of an institution like SCETV with such a stellar track record of enriching our democracy.  Sign the petition asking SCETV to draw upon their public interest roots and reverse this decision.
In addition, SCETV will be holding a public meeting on September 13 at 11:00 amat 1041 George Rogers Blvd. in Columbia.  Join us there as we ask SCETV to do what’s right for our democracy.  With the support of thousands of South Carolinians like you signing the petition, we can give South Carolina voters a chance to make more fully informed decisions in November.  The stakes are too high for anything less.
Sincerely,
Jaime Harrison
SCDP Chair

I wasn’t entirely clear on what the specific issue was here, so I wrote to Jaime Harrison to get clarification. Was he talking about congressional debates here, or what? The way this read, ETV could be refusing to carry presidential debates, but I didn’t think that was what this was about. And there are no statewide elections for state offices this year…

And was he saying ETV should stage debates, or merely televise (“televise” is the word the release used) debates that others are staging?

He replied:

Hi Brad!  So traditionally ETV has staged/televised debates between candidates.  They recently had such a debate between Republican primary candidates Horne and Sanford.  They also held several debates in the 2014 cycle.
In this situation, Wilson and Bjorn have agreed to have a debate.  The Bjorn campaign approached SCETV as did the SCDP.  We were told that they had decided not to stage/televise any debates this cycle.  It is one thing if this was a budgetary decision, but the quote in the paper made it seem as if it was an editorial one based on competitiveness.
Jaime

I think what he’s referring to there is this, from The State:

South Carolina’s public broadcasting network will not televise debates between S.C. candidates ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

SCETV made the editorial decision Monday – not long after receiving a request to televise a planned 2nd District debate between U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, and Columbia librarian Arik Bjorn.

“The main thing is our own resources and our staffing,” said Tom Posey, SCETV’s director of news and public affairs. He added the decision might have been different if the state had a series of “highly competitive” general election races….

I can see ETV’s point: The way our congressional districts are gerrymandered, we do pretty much have foregone conclusions in the general election. Joe Wilson has little to sweat about, to say the least. Pretending, even for the space of an hour’s debate, that this is an actual contest can have a certain Theater of the Absurd quality.

But on the other hand, should our public TV network just acquiesce in the way the Republican Party has taken control of our elections? Should the only debates it airs be between conservative incumbents and the primary challengers who keep pulling them farther and farther to the right? (OK, admittedly, the Horne-Sanford contest was an exception to that pattern, but that’s usually what Republican primaries are about.)

Should no other views get a hearing on ETV?

I appreciate ETV wanting to be careful with its resources. But saying “That’s just the way things are” to the ugly reality that gerrymandering gives us doesn’t seem right at all to me. It’s either naive — based in a lack of understanding of the way our lawmakers stack the deck — or it’s really cynical.

It’s one thing if the free marketplace of ideas has produced a race with a popular incumbent and a super-weak candidate who has no support. I could see not wasting money on that. I’ve spent a career using the brain God gave me to decide which races are worth spending finite resources on. (The political parties do the same thing, by the way.) But this isn’t a free-market thing. Elections this lopsided don’t just happen. You know how Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and other paranoids are always going on about how the system is rigged? Well, in this case, it actually is. And our media — especially our public media — ought to be confronting that fact, not shrugging at it.

The Dems’ interest in having ETV give their guy a boost is plain, but they do have a point on this one. Their guy is going to get creamed not because he’s such an awful candidate, but because the Republicans in our Legislature have done their best to put as many of the state’s black voters they can into Jim Clyburn’s one district, making all six other districts unnaturally white, which in SC translates to Republican.

What do y’all think?

An illustration of the advantage of incumbency

Susan Brill, Senate candidate, watches as members of the Richland County delegation call on RCRC members to resign.

Senate candidate Susan Brill, left, watches as members of the Richland County delegation call on RCRC members to resign.

You hear tell of the advantage that incumbents enjoy over challengers in elections, and here is a prime example.

This morning, I went to the presser (which I’ll post about separately after this) where several members of the Richland County legislative delegation called on the worst five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign.

You’ll recall that Mia McLeod did the same alone on Monday, and got good coverage for it (Mia was not present today, but signed the letter along with three other lawmakers who couldn’t make it).

Looking very alone standing back behind the assembled TV cameras, watching the proceedings, was Susan Brill, Rep. McLeod’s Republican opponent in the race for the seat Sen. Joel Lourie is giving up.

She told me after that she agreed with what the lawmakers were doing: “I think their action is appropriate, and long overdue.” But the fact that she is not the incumbent, and therefore not a member of the delegation, relegated her to the status of spectator at the event.

Could she call a press conference of her own? Sure. Would it be as well attended as this one was, or as Mia’s was Monday? Probably not. They are legislators; she is not. She showed her interest by showing up, though. (Of course, Mia isn’t the incumbent in the particular office she and Susan are seeking, but she’s in the House, which is almost as good.)

I didn’t see any of the other media types talking to her afterward. They were busy talking to an employee of the commission who had attended and thanked the lawmakers (who I missed talking to because I was talking with Susan and the lawmakers). But I could have missed it…

Mia joins calls for accountability on recreation board

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website.

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website…

This would have made my Open Thread last night, but I didn’t see it on The State‘s home page at the time. Maybe it hadn’t been posted yet.

In any case, I had heard late last week, off the record, that this was in the offing, and yesterday she made it official:

The Richland County Recreation Commission’s embattled executive director and five board members “who support him” should quit, a Richland County legislator said Monday.

State Rep. Mia McLeod said the resignations are necessary for the commission to regain the public’s trust amid ongoing state and federal law enforcement investigations into corruption at the office, and given civil lawsuits accusing director James Brown III of sexual harassment and other improper behavior.

Brown has denied any wrongdoing.

The Richland Democrat also announced she will push to give Richland County lawmakers the power to fire Recreation Commission board members if she is elected to the state Senate this November….

Sen. Joel Lourie — whom Mia is running to replace (the release about this came via her “miaforsenate” account) — welcomed her to the ranks of those calling for accountability. (Lourie, by the way, has remained neutral in Rep. McLeod’s contest with Republican Susan Brill.) You’ll recall that Mia was conspicuous in leading the charge against incompetence on the election commission, but was until now less so on the recreation commission scandals.

Rep. Beth Bernstein, who backed off last year after her House colleague’s aggressive announcement of interest in the Senate seat, also applauded:

And if you’d like to read her prepared remarks in their entirety, here you go:

“Thank you for joining us at one of Richland County Recreation Commission’s shining examples of what we can do right….The Adult Activity Center.

I’ve called this press conference today, not only as a member of the Richland County Legislative Delegation that appoints members of the County Recreation Commission, but also as a parent.

You see, my sons grew up playing rec league sports and our experiences were positive.  So when I get calls and emails from concerned parents, employees and community members whose fears are real and whose experiences aren’t positive…it’s heartbreaking.

We must remember, our actions will have a lasting impact on our children. As a legislator and parent…I know that we must come together to fix this situation.

So before I tell you what this is about…let me begin by telling you what it’s not about.  The issues and challenges we’re facing are not about race.  They’re not about politics.  And I would argue that they’re not even about the guilt or innocence of those who have been accused of wrong-doing.

This is about the people we are elected and appointed to serve…about their perceptions and their trust in our leadership.  It’s about honest, responsible and accountable government.

That’s why it’s critical that everyone understand that the dynamics at play within our legislative delegation are only exacerbated when members and the media engage in race-baiting and other divisive rhetoric, which diverts attention away from the real issues and positive solutions.

We may represent different constituencies within Richland County, and like the people we serve, we may be of different races, genders and political parties…but we can find common ground and work together for the good of this county and state that we love.

And while this unfortunate situation may be about a lot of things, race isn’t…or shouldn’t be…one of them.  When it comes to competency, corruption, leadership or accountability…what’s race got to do with it?

Don’t all of us want public officials who are competent and represent us with honesty, integrity and professionalism–regardless of race, party or politics?

Allegations of corruption and incompetence are not new to Richland County.  Just four years ago, I led the fight for accountability, transparency and restoration of the public’s trust when many Richland County voters were disenfranchised.

That’s why I can’t agree with colleagues who insist that we shouldn’t get involved. Truth is…we “get involved” every time we appoint any Commissioner to any County Commission. When things go badly as they have here, we don’t have the luxury of throwing our hands up and doing nothing.

That’s not leadership.

From sexual harassment to bribery, the allegations facing this Director and Commissioners are beyond alarming.  And although the FBI and SLED are investigating and multiple lawsuits are pending, none of us know when or how this will end.

If every allegation, rumor or innuendo prove to not be true….this Recreation Director and the Commissioners who support him will still be operating under a cloud of suspicion, facing a disheartened and frustrated public that simply has lost faith and trust in their ability to govern and guide this agency into the future.

Irrespective of guilt or innocence, these positions of public trust and the reputations of those who hold them have been tarnished to the point where public perception has become our reality.

I’m not here to speculate about anyone’s guilt or innocence. Obviously, elected and appointed officials are and should be held to a higher standard and sometimes legal and ethical probes are justified.  But there are times when we too, can be unfairly targeted and prosecuted in the court of public opinion without cause and due process.

And while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, these allegations must be addressed, either privately or publicly.  When those who must defend against allegations like these choose to do so publicly, as the Director and Commissioners have here, they aren’t the only ones who are impacted. Their family members, the Commission’s employees and their families and the children and community members the Commission serves…all feel the brunt of an agency in turmoil.

I believe that the Director and the Commissioners who support him, want to do right by our children and this community. That’s why, today, I respectfully ask them to resign so that this Commission, its employees and our community can begin to face the challenges ahead–openly, honestly and without the cloud of suspicion and distrust that always accompanies allegations of corruption.

Stepping aside to defend themselves isn’t an admission of guilt.  It is simply a way to step out of the spotlight so that we can put it back where it belongs… on the children and communities that this Commission serves. That’s how we begin to heal and move forward.

It doesn’t matter who signs letters of inquiry. What matters is whether the Commission answers those questions. I implore the Commission to fully and truthfully respond to the FOIA request that my delegation colleagues have submitted. Those answers are due this week and although important, won’t change the way the public views this agency or those who hold positions of public trust within it.

What matters most now is our leadership and how we collectively address the challenges before us. I think we begin to do that through legislation that facilitates accountability.

Just a few months ago, I was proud to sign on as a co-sponsor of Representative Beth Bernstein’s bill, H.5293, which would remove County Legislative Delegations’ authority to appoint Recreation Commissioners and transfer the Commission’s powers to the County.

One of our biggest challenges is that our County Delegation, basically has the statutory authority to appoint County Commissioners, but lacks that same authority to evaluate or remove those Commissioners for cause, when the need arises.

But we can change that.

That’s why I plan to prefile legislation that will allow us to suspend or remove county commissioners we appoint.  Whether there are allegations of criminal misconduct or malfeasance, those who are appointed to serve the public cannot do the jobs for which they’ve been appointed, if the public no longer trusts them or the process. While this bill may not prevent wrongdoing, it’ll go a long way towards accountability and transparency.  That’s a first, but very important step towards restoring the public’s trust and confidence.

The people of Richland County deserve a Recreation Commission that serves the community in a transparent, responsible and responsive way.

Whether true or not, the perception is that this Commission recklessly disregards the public’s interest and concerns and wreaks havoc on employees who are simply trying to do their jobs free from threats, harassment, intimidation and retaliation.  And the fact that that perception has become our reality…is utterly reprehensible.

In the meantime, delegation members can send letters and recommendations all day long—but Recreation Commissioners aren’t bound by law to respond or comply.   Until we fix that, we’ll continue to operate the Recreation and other Commissions under an antiquated, failed system of governance that perpetually insulates public officials, to the detriment of the people they purport to serve.

Although our delegation may appear to be divided and some may argue, complicit with what has been happening, I’m encouraged and extremely hopeful that we will come together on this issue…that we will find common ground and continue to work together for the good of all of the people of Richland County.”

Trump’s huge, but not ‘massive,’ problem with Catholics

Catholics were the first to feel nativist hostility: Bill 'the Butcher' and his Know-Nothing pals in 'Gangs of New York'

Catholics were the first to feel nativist nastiness: Bill ‘the Butcher’ and his Know-Nothing pals in ‘Gangs of New York’

First, a bit of pedantry.

My first boss in the newspaper business after college, Reid Ashe, was an MIT-trained engineer, which affected his approach to newspaper editing. A pet peeve for him was the improper use of the word “massive.” Something could be big, and imposing, and extensive, and impressive, but if it did not have actual mass, it was not massive.

I’m sure he would have hated this hed in The Washington Post this morning: “Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem.” Well, no, he doesn’t, Reid would say. It may be “yuge,” but it is lacking entirely in mass.

So. Moving on…

After that bad start, it’s a pretty interesting story. Obviously, I’m far from the only Catholic who can’t imagine how anyone can morally justify backing Trump. As far as I knew before reading this, it was just me and the Pope. And some friends and family members, of course. But if I’d thought about it, I’d have assumed there were a lot of us.

Which there are. An excerpt:

Yes, the man who once feuded with the pope (how soon we forget that actually happened) is cratering among Catholics.

Back in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote by just 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent. And the GOP has actually won the Catholic vote as recently as 2004 and in 5 of the last 11 presidential elections.

But Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month painted an even worse picture for Trump’s Catholic support. He was down by 27 points, 61-34.

If you compare the difference between Romney’s margin among Catholics in 2012 and Trump’s margin among Catholics this year, the 25-point difference is tied for the biggest shift of any demographic group in the Post-ABC poll….

This is significant because Catholics make up a quarter of the electorate.

A number of reasons are offered for this, including the Donald’s tiff with the Pope. But the most convincing is the most obvious: Catholics — particularly Irish and Italians — were the very first targets of the nasty nativism that forms the core of Trump’s appeal. And they (I use “they” instead of “we” because I’m a convert, so this narrative forms no part of my personal heritage) haven’t forgotten.

These lads are unlikely to back you, Donald.

These people’s descendants are unlikely to back you, Donald.

Is this whole campaign just a business move for Trump?

Roger Murray at the wheel in 1978. As the compleat journalist, I did my own photography.

Roger Murray at the wheel in 1978. As the complete journalist, I did my own photography, of course.

When I was a young and inexperienced reporter at The Jackson Sun in 1978, I spent a few days covering Roger Murray, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Tennessee.

It was an immersive experience, one that would seem quite alien to reporters today. I went on the road with him for several days as he traveled across Middle and East Tennessee. (For those of you not familiar, we speak of the Three Great States of Tennessee, and Jackson was located in the middle of West Tennessee.) And when I say “on the road,” I mean something more reminiscent of Kerouac than a typical political campaign.

I rode with the candidate himself, who drove his own car. I was on my own for finding places to spend the night, which wasn’t easy in some of those small towns. One night, I nearly had to double up with the woman from The Commercial Appeal who had joined us in the car for part of the trip. At least, she offered — in a matter-of-fact, platonic way. I must have looked particularly lost. But I managed to get a room of my own.

When on the road like that, I’d write out my story each night for the next day’s paper in my notebook, call it in and dictate it first thing in the morning (it was an afternoon paper), and call in updates and new ledes — from pay phones, of course — before each of the two editions. At one point on this trip, Roger asked if he could read what I’d written for that day (in those days before the web, children, he wouldn’t see the paper until we got home days later), so I handed him my notebook. He read it while driving down a two-lane highway, which I’ll have to tell you was a bit unnerving.

But Roger was like that. He was a bustling, charge-ahead, multitasking kind of guy who operated on full speed whether he was legislating in Nashville or running his business — a private security company — back in Jackson. He had made something of a name for himself chairing hearings looking into the shady doings of Gov. Ray Blanton, and he was trying to parlay that into a shot at the governor’s office.

Speaking at a Democratic rally somewhere east of Nashville. I think this was the rally at which I first met Al Gore. Note all the Butcher and Clement posters.

Speaking at a Democratic rally somewhere east of Nashville. I think this was the rally at which I first met Al Gore. Note all the Butcher and Clement posters.

And inside the bubble — going everywhere he went, seeing everyone he saw — it felt like it was working. There had just been a televised with the other four or five candidates running, and everywhere we went — Democratic party rallies, factory shift changes, talking to loafers sitting on benches around a sleepy small-town courthouse — people said he had been the one who made the most sense. Which made me think that meant they were going to vote for him. But I should have listened to the few who said, “You made the most sense, but I’m going to vote for Jake Butcher or Bob Clement.”

I dismissed those who said things like that, because what they were saying was irrational. But they were the ones telling the truth. I did not yet understand two things about politics: One, voters don’t necessarily vote rationally. Two, the bandwagon effect: Clement and Butcher were seen as the two front-runners, and some people were going to vote for them simply for that reason.

I forget how much of the vote Roger got in the primary, but he came in well behind Clement and Butcher. (Butcher won the nomination, and went on to lose the election to Lamar Alexander.)

I found it shocking. Caught up in the bubble of my first gubernatorial campaign, I had thought he made the most sense, too. That was his slogan, by the way: Murray Makes Sense

Yeah, I know. I’m digressing all over the place. But I’m coming to the point.

A few days after this foray onto the campaign trail, we were visiting my in-laws in Memphis and I was telling them about my adventures on the hustings. My father-in-law, who had a more realistic impression of Murray’s chances than I did, offered the opinion that Murray was just running to raise his profile for the good of his business.

I found that a shocking idea. It seemed dishonest to me, and I didn’t see Roger as a dishonest guy. To my father-in-law, it just made sense. He, too, was a businessman. In retrospect, I’ve had occasion to think he may have been right. Roger was older and more experienced than I (which didn’t take much), and I’m sure had a much more realistic idea of his chances than I did. And whether he intended it or not, the campaign did raise his profile a bit, and may have helped his business. If I remember correctly, not all that long after, he left public office.

Which brings me to my point.

Friday morning, I heard a segment on The Takeaway suggesting that maybe Donald Trump’s whole candidacy has been a business move — something that would not shock me nearly as much as what my father-in-law said about Roger Murray, back when I was so much younger and more naive:

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is in a tough spot heading towards the November general election. Projections from FiveThirtyEight and our partners at The New York Times have former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commanding a serious lead over the Republican presidential candidate.

So when Trump recruited Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News Network, the conservative alt-right website, as his chief campaign executive this week, it was a perplexing strategy. If you’re failing to attract mainstream voters, why further align yourself with the margins of the right wing?

Sarah Ellison, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of “War at the Wall Street Journal,” suggests that Trump — understanding that a loss in November is imminent — has ulterior motives post-election: To create his own conservative media empire.

This I could believe, especially with Trump. It would explain a lot — such as his running like a guy who wants to make a big splash (to build the brand), then lose.

If, of course, all that trying-to-lose stuff wasn’t a fake.

Thoughts?

court square

A classic old-school campaign shot: Murray works the courthouse square in a small town in Middle Tennessee, greeting the loafers — that classic Southern stereotype — and handing out leaflets.

Did Trump just head-fake us into looking the wrong way?

The main narrative the last couple of days is that Donald Trump has essentially delivered the coup de grâce to his moribund campaign.

By demoting Paul Manafort — the guy who was trying to get him to run a serious political campaign and reach beyond his base of Trumpkins — and elevating the man from Bretbart, Trump was “doubling down,” betting it all that the loudmouthed nativist, populist approach that won the primaries for him was the way to go from now to Election Day.

And that, says conventional wisdom, means it’s all over for Donald J. Trump. His campaign is finished. Liberal pundits are celebrating the inevitable.

But what if he’s faking them — all of us — out? What if he’s getting us all to look in one direction — at the disarray in his campaign, underlined this morning with Manafort’s resignation — while he moves in a wholly new direction, one that could lead to victory?

After all, while everyone’s focusing in horror on Breitbart’s Stephen K. Bannon, the new campaign manager is in fact GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, who is more someone you might characterize as the pro from Dover — someone who can read the numbers and knows how to speak to women, which Trump could use help with, to say the least.

Look away, for a moment, from the apparent train wreck of the Trump campaign, and see what he’s actually doing out there on the campaign trail.

Look at what happened Thursday night: “At a rally in North Carolina, Trump gave a speech that was the sort of speech that presidential candidates give, not the sort that Donald Trump gives.” It involved a teleprompter. It involved sticking to script. It involved doing those things that Manafort had been trying to get him to do, and which supposedly, he just decided to utterly reject.

And this was not just a one-time thing: “Thursday marked Trump’s third teleprompter speech since Monday, a departure from his typically free-wheeling campaign rallies.”

So he has head-faked in one direction — “Let Trump be Trump” — while his body has moved in the direction that offers his only chance of winning the election.

Perhaps most telling of all, in that speech Thursday night just up the road in Charlotte, he did the unthinkable, by Trumpian standards:

CHARLOTTE — Donald Trump on Thursday expressed regret over causing “personal pain” through ill-chosen words he has used “in the heat of debate,” an unexpected and uncharacteristic declaration of remorse for a candidate whose public persona is defined by his combative and bombastic style…

Don’t believe it? See the video above.

This shift has not gone unnoticed by every player on the court. Philip Bump of The Washington Post has picked up on it. To quote more fully from a piece I quoted partially above:

On Thursday night, 106 days since his last opponent dropped out of the Republican primaries, 28 days since he accepted the nomination and 82 days until Election Day, Donald Trump started running for president.

This is sort of an exaggeration, but only sort of. At a rally in North Carolina, Trump gave a speech that was the sort of speech that presidential candidates give, not the sort that Donald Trump gives. Speeches are one of the three ways that Trump gets himself into trouble (the other two being interviews and Twitter) so let’s not get too crazy assuming that Thursday-night-Trump is here to stay. But just in case he is, it’s worth planting a flag on where the race was when this change (however fleeting!) was made….

As Mr. Bump notes, if this is the start of a Trump comeback, he has a long, long way to climb.

But still. Must give us pause. And maybe we should stop focusing so much on the inside-baseball stuff, obsessing about what’s happening in the front office, and notice what’s actually happening out there in the game

regret

Allegations against this Sheriff Arpaio guy

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of Trump supporters… I don’t know this Sheriff Arpaio guy from Adam’s off ox, but this release from the state Democratic Party at least lets me know what is allegedly wrong with him.

Consider the source all you like, but it’s quite a list:

SCDP STATEMENT ON JEFF DUNCAN AND MICK MULVANEY HONORING RACIST SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO
Columbia, SC – The South Carolina Democratic Party released the following statement today on the announcement by Rep. Jeff Duncan that racist Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be a “special guest,” alongside Rep. Mick Mulvaney, at Duncan’s Faith & Freedom BBQ next Monday in Anderson:
“The fact that Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney would honor a racist and sexist bigot like Joe Arpaio is disgusting, but given their support of a racist and sexist bigot like Donald Trump for president, it is not surprising.
“Pasted below is a list of 10 of Joe Arpaio’s policies, taken from a 2012 article by Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress based on a U.S. Department of Justice legal complaint.  We are interested in hearing which of these policies Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney believe are appropriate.”
1. Forcing Women To Sleep In Their Own Menstrual Blood: In Arpaio’s jails, “female Latino LEP prisoners have been denied basic sanitary items. In some instances, female Latino LEP prisoners have been forced to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation because of MCSO’s failure to ensure that detention officers provide language assistance in such circumstances.”

2. Assaulting Pregnant Women: “[A]n MCSO officer stopped a Latina woman – a citizen of the United States and five months pregnant at the time – as she pulled into her driveway. After she exited her car, the officer then insisted that she sit on the hood of the car. When she refused, the officer grabbed her arms, pulled them behind her back, and slammed her, stomach first, into the vehicle three times. He then dragged her to the patrol car and shoved her into the backseat. He left her in the patrol car for approximately 30 minutes without air conditioning. The MCSO officer ultimately issued a citation for failure to provide identification.”

3. Stalking Latino Women: “In another instance, during a crime suppression operation, two MCSO officers followed a Latina woman, a citizen of the United States, for a quarter of a mile to her home. The officers did not turn on their emergency lights, but insisted that the woman remain in her car when she attempted to exit the car and enter her home. The officers’ stated reasons for approaching the woman was a non-functioning license plate light. When the woman attempted to enter her home, the officers used force to take her to the ground, kneed her in the back, and handcuffed her. The woman was then taken to an MCSO substation, cited for ‘disorderly conduct,’ and returned home. The disorderly conduct citation was subsequently dismissed.”

4. Criminalizing Being A Latino: “During raids, [Arpaio’s Criminal Enforcement Squad] typically seizes all Latinos present, whether they are listed on the warrant or not. For example, in one raid CES had a search warrant for 67 people, yet 109 people were detained. Fifty-nine people were arrested and 50 held for several hours before they were released. Those detained, but not on the warrant, were seized because they were Latino and present at the time of the raid. No legal justification existed for their detention.”

5. Criminalizing Living Next To The Wrong People: “[D]uring a raid of a house suspected of containing human smugglers and their victims . . . officers went to an adjacent house, which was occupied by a Latino family. The officers entered the adjacent house and searched it, without a warrant and without the residents’ knowing consent. Although they found no evidence of criminal activity, after the search was over, the officers zip-tied the residents, a Latino man, a legal permanent resident of the United States, and his 12-year-old Latino son, a citizen of the United States, and required them to sit on the sidewalk for more than one hour, along with approximately 10 persons who had been seized from the target house, before being released”

6. Ignoring Rape: Because of Arpaio’s obsessive focus on “low-level immigration offenses” his officers failed “to adequately respond to reports of sexual violence, including allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of girls.”

7. Widespread Use Of Racial Slurs: “MCSO personnel responsible for prisoners held in MCSO jails routinely direct racial slurs toward Latino prisoners, including calling Latino prisoners ‘paisas,’ ‘wetbacks,’ ‘Mexican bitches,’ ‘fucking Mexicans,’ and ‘stupid Mexicans.’”

8. Widespread Racial Profiling: “[I]n the southwest portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are almost four times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct. . . . In the northwest portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are over seven times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct. . . . Most strikingly, in the northeast portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are nearly nine times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct.”

9. Random, Unlawful Detention Of Latinos: “MCSO officers stopped a car carrying four Latino men, although the car was not violating any traffic laws. The MCSO officers ordered the men out of the car, zip-tied them, and made them sit on the curb for an hour before releasing all of them. The only reason given for the stop was that the men’s car ‘was a little low,’ which is not a criminal or traffic violation.”

10. Group Punishments For Latinos: “In some instances, when a Latino [Low English Proficiency] prisoner has been unable to understand commands given in English, MCSO detention officers have put an entire area of the jail in lockdown—effectively preventing all the prisoners in that area from accessing a number of privileges because of the Latino LEP prisoner’s inability to understand English, inciting hostility toward the LEP prisoner, and potentially placing MCSO officers and other prisoners in harm’s way.”

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Do you think critics have been too rough on Trump voters?

trump_ghp_fayetteville_(1)

An image from the Trump campaign website of a rally in Fayetteville. Who’s to blame — Trump, or all those thousands cheering him?

William McGurn, writing in The Wall Street Journal today, thinks critics on the left and right have been excessively mean to “Trumpkins,” the people who have inflicted Donald Trump upon us.

Says he:

In the land of NeverTrump, it turns out one American is more reviled than Donald Trump. This would be the Donald Trump voter.

Lincoln famously described government as of, by, and for the people. Even so, the people are now getting a hard lesson about what happens when they reject the advice of their betters and go with a nominee of their own choosing. What happens is an outpouring of condescension and contempt….

Start with the fondness for the word “Trumpkin,” meant at once to describe and demean his supporters. Or consider an article fromNational Review, which describes a “vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles” and whose members find that “Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.” Scarcely a day goes by without a fresh tweet or article taking the same tone, an echo of the old Washington Post slur against evangelicals as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”…

Sure, plenty of dismissiveness has been directed at the Trump voter. Many a critic has written or said something along the lines of, “We blame Trump too much; we let those who voted for him off the hook.”

I’ve seen that; you’ve seen that.

But on the whole, those who say that are more in the right of it than Mr. McGurn, I think. Those of us who are appalled by Trump pile on him day in and day out. He’s a big guy, a billionaire tycoon; he can take it — right? (Except, of course, that he can’t — we may never have seen a more thin-skinned presidential nominee.)

And while there is the occasional slap at his supporters, by and large, we don’t seem to blame them as much as we have their candidate. There’s good reason for this — most of us have an aversion for going after “the people” themselves, even when we’re just talking about a minority subset of the people. In out secular religion, it seems impious to blame them. We’re supposed to mumble about their economic dislocation and other things that allegedly give them an excuse for what they’re doing.

Well, I don’t buy that. I’ve been more economically dislocated than most — the average Trump voter easily has a higher income than I currently do — yet I have not lost my freaking mind and joined a movement to elect a fascist blowhard to the highest office in the world.

So I really don’t buy the idea that Trump voters have it so hard that it’s worth doing something like this to the country. In fact, no amount of hardship is worth that. But that’s not really what it’s about, is it? It’s about the fact that a lot of people actually like the nasty, spiteful, ignorant, clueless things that he says.

And remember — without the people voting for him, and telling pollsters they’d do so again in November, Donald Trump would still be the joke he was a little over a year ago, and no kind of threat to our country.

So I appreciate that Mr. McGurn is taking a swipe at elitist snobbery and all that. I’m not for calling anyone names or otherwise hurling insults. But we should not for a moment regard Trump voters as blameless. They’re the reason we’re in this mess.