The Woman Who Should Be President Is Now Part of the Resistance

Hillary Clinton was interviewed today at a “Women for Women” town hall. The story making news is that, after admitting she made many mistakes in the 2016 campaign, she repeated what the statisticians who have studied the election say: if the election had been held ten days earlier, before the Comey letter was leaked, she would be President. That’s true, but apparently she’s not supposed to bring it up, according to some observers. Those observers can go to hell.

When you lose the Electoral College by 80,000 votes in three states, there are lots of reasons why. But we should never forget that interference by Russia and the FBI, along with the bizarre attention paid to Clinton’s emails by the corporate media, were major factors in putting a buffoonish but dangerous con man in the White House.

Here is the interview:

Those TV People Are Arguing Again

I stopped watching television news during the Clinton administration (the real one, not the administration Comey killed in its cradle). I got sick of lengthy, supposedly balanced coverage of the Whitewater non-scandal and the Clinton/Lewinksy episode. But from what I hear, TV news has gotten even worse during the past 20 years. Vox has a little bit of text and a six-minute video that helps explain why:

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, CNN president Jeff Zucker described the network’s approach to covering politics, saying, “The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way.” That politics-as-sport approach has placed a heavy emphasis on drama, with much of CNN’s programming revolving around sensationalist arguments between hosts, guests, and paid pundits.

… CNN’s fixation on drama and debate has turned the network’s coverage into a circus of misinformation. CNN’s [DT] supporters derail segments critical of the president, misrepresent [his] positions to avoid tough questions, and peddle false and misleading information on national TV while being paid by the network. In many cases, CNN’s [DT] supporters repeat the same lies and talking points that CNN’s serious journalists spend all day trying to debunk….

All of this would be fine and normal for a [sports] network like ESPN — but when you treat politics like a sport, you end up with news coverage that cares more about fighting and drama than it does about serious truth telling.

The video is interesting in a train wreck kind of way. Everyone who watches CNN should watch it.

But so should everyone who wants to better understand what the hell’s going on in our modern world. The Vox thing reminded me of Neil Postman’s classic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, published way back in 1985. Here’s a quote from Mr. Postman:

… television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this world almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information–misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information–information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.

In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well-informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?

And it’s gotten worse since then. Here’s the video.

We Need To Outnumber Them

DT is a terrible person, yet almost 63 million Americans voted for him. Although it’s tempting to blame his Electoral College success on mass psychosis, perhaps his win wasn’t so outlandish after all. Charles Pierce argues that DT was a “helluva candidate”:

In fact, for the cultural and political context within which [the 2016] election took place, he might have been a perfect candidate….There really was a big slice of the electorate, concentrated in states that were vital in the Electoral College, that was uniquely susceptible to [DT’s] appeal. He and his people spotted it and campaigned accordingly….

[DT] is merely a cruder manifestation of the political prion disease that has afflicted conservatism and the Republican Party since it first ate the monkey brains 35 years ago. It was all leading to someone like [DT], and something like last year’s election.

Prion diseases destroy brain cells and are always fatal. Fortunately, they’re rare. What Mr. Pierce calls “political prion disease” doesn’t kill the people who have it and is much too common. 

The same day this week that Mr. Pierce published his comment, a blogger who calls himself “Driftglass” expressed an equally harsh opinion:

You see, the overwhelming majority of the rank-and-file of the [Republican Party] are unsalvageably fucked-in-the-head.  They are happily brainwashed nitwits and racists who would gladly belly-flop their entire family into a live volcano if Fox News told them to and would spend their last moments on this Earth before being incinerated into iconoclastic ash cursing Obama or Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or Susan Rice for the ouch ouch burning.

After watching Republicans for 30 years marching down and down and down this long and horrifying road to smug, snarling, mindless political bestiality, it is about goddamn time that we started treating this grim fact as a fact.

(Note: I think it’s clear where Driftglass stands.)

Driftglass argues that we shouldn’t try to change these crazy people’s minds or even try to meet them halfway. They’re beyond hope. He points out that President Obama tried and tried again to work with them. Obama was much too optimistic:

At this late date it absurd to believe that we will find any potential converts on the Right, primed and ready for a Road to Damascus moment if only [DT] fucks them over enough… Of course President Obama was never going to say this out loud, or apparently every let himself think such terrible thoughts at all.  To him, every Republican pile of horseshit was taken as proof that a pony could not be far away, if only we clapped a little louder, bent over a bit further and were never so crass as to mention that the GOP was run by amoral thugs and hobgoblins.

Not everyone on the left agrees with this position, of course. We’re still being told to see things from the perspective of DT’s ardent supporters, so that we can address their concerns with intelligent, progressive policies that don’t offend their sensibilities. Bernie Sanders, for example, keeps saying there is common ground between us. Everybody hates the big banks! Everybody wants peace and prosperity for all! When salt of the earth, “real” Americans realize the Republican Party has been selling them a bill of goods, they’ll see the light.

I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m even less optimistic after reading a very interesting article by Zack Beauchamp last month. Its title is: “No easy answers: why left-wing economics is not the answer to right-wing populism”. Beauchamp describes Senator Sanders delivering his usual message after the election: 

Sanders had a simple answer. Democrats, he said, needed to field candidates who would unapologetically promise [to] “to stand up with the working class of this country and … take on big-money interests.”

Democrats, in other words, would only be able to defeat [DT] and others like him if they adopted an anti-corporate, unabashedly left-wing policy agenda.

That’s a belief widely shared among progressives around the world. A legion of commentators and politicians … have argued that center-left parties must shift further to the left in order to fight off right-wing populists such as [DT] and France’s Marine Le Pen. Supporters of these leaders, they argue, are motivated by a sense of economic insecurity in an increasingly unequal world; promise them a stronger welfare state, one better equipped to address their fundamental needs, and they will flock to the left.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that shows otherwise:

The problem is that a lot of data suggests that countries with more robust welfare states tend to have stronger far-right movements. Providing white voters with higher levels of economic security does not tamp down their anxieties about race and immigration — or, more precisely, it doesn’t do it powerfully enough. For some, it frees them to worry less about what’s in their wallet and more about who may be moving into their neighborhoods or competing with them for jobs… 

A more populist Democratic platform might rally more voters to [DT], as many whites will see it as a giveaway to undeserving minorities.

It’s hard to believe it’s true, but Beauchamp makes a strong case:

European social democrats have been proposing ideas that more objectively speak to the material interests of voters … for decades. In virtually every country in Western Europe, however, it hasn’t been enough to help the [left-wing] parties maintain their historic levels of public support….

[One political scientist] argues that the combination of rapid economic growth and a robust welfare state have provided voters with enough economic security that they could start prioritizing issues beyond the distribution of wealth — issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and, most crucially, immigration.

So it’s not that European social democrats failed to sell their economic message, or that economic redistribution became unpopular. It’s that economic issues receded in importance at the same time as Europe was experiencing a massive, unprecedented wave of nonwhite, non-Christian immigration.

That, in turn, brought some of the most politically potent non-material issues — race, identity and nationalism — to the forefront of Western voters’ minds. How comfortable were they, really, with multicultural, multifaith societies? The traditional social democratic message didn’t really speak to these cultural anxieties. But the right’s did….

[A German professor] studied data on working-class voters [and] found that the stronger the welfare state, the bigger the gains for far-right parties among the working class. The top third of countries — that is, the ones with the largest welfare states — saw roughly four times the rate of far-right support among the working class as the countries in the bottom third did…. Right-wing populists typically have gotten their best results in wealthier areas of countries — that is, with voters who experience the least amounts of economic insecurity.

This doesn’t bode well for the approach Senator Sanders keeps promoting. But it does correspond to what’s known about the typical DT voter. On average, his voters were more prosperous than Clinton voters (i.e. doing relatively well) but nevertheless intensely opposed to America becoming more diverse (even though diversity is part of our strength). For them, “make America great again” meant “make America like it’s 1955 again”. 

If, however, we can’t make them see the light, how do we stop them from electing so many crazy people? If a strong progressive message and policies that benefit society as a whole will only make them angrier, more fearful and more likely to focus on “social” or “cultural” issues, it seems to me that the only thing we can do is outnumber them. We have to oppose mass deportation and restrictions on immigration. We need to welcome refugees. And most importantly, we need to fight for voting rights and always, always, always vote in every single election. Especially for candidates who aren’t crazy.

If There Was Any Doubt

Polls indicate that Americans are evenly split regarding DT’s cruise missile attack on the Syrian airfield last week. A Washington Post poll found 51% in favor, which corresponds to results from Gallup (50%) and YouGov (51%). CBS found 57% in favor, but their poll didn’t mention the unpopular DT by name. We can conclude that the Washington Post poll was reasonably accurate.

Here’s the interesting thing:

In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

[The] new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support [DT’s] decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.

Republican support for attacking Syria went from 22% to 86% when a Republican replaced a Democrat in the White House!

You might say that’s how people are. The Democrats probably switched sides just like the Republicans.

You would be wrong:

For context, 37 percent of Democrats back Trump’s missile strikes. In 2013, 38 percent of Democrats supported Obama’s plan.

In other words, changing Presidents didn’t matter to the Democrats at all (a 1% difference is well within the margin of error).

Do you get the feeling that our Republican friends belong to a tribe in which group loyalty is a paramount virtue? And that other values play a secondary role? For that matter, that facts aren’t as important to them as group loyalty?

Some of the explanation for their astounding fickleness is, no doubt, that the right-wing propaganda they swallowed in 2013 was anti-missile attack, while the right-wing propaganda only four years later was pro-missile-attack. But being this easy to manipulate is just as bad as putting tribal loyalty above everything else. It’s all part of the same sad and dangerous phenomenon. Millions of right-wing Americans care more about group loyalty than reality or morality. If there was any doubt.

Making Sense of Our Attack on the Syrian Airfield

What we think we know:

Chemical weapons were used against a rebel-held town in Syria this week. Up to 100 people were killed and hundreds were injured. The attack was probably launched from a military airfield used by the Syrian government and their Russian allies. DT ordered an attack on the airfield, so the Navy launched roughly 60 cruise missiles. It isn’t clear how much damage was done. The airfield was being used again within 24 hours.

In October 2012, DT predicted that President Obama would attack Libya or Iran in order to raise his poll numbers:

UntitledDT’s approval rating has been remarkably low for a new President. Based on multiple polls, the 538 site says 40% of Americans approved of him this week while 53% disapproved.

We told Russia about the attack in advance in order to minimize its effects. It isn’t known whether the Russians told the Syrians, allowing them to move people and equipment away from the airfield before the cruise missile arrived.

Cruise missiles are often used to “send a message” from a safe distance. They aren’t the weapon of choice when attacking an airfield. 

Russia did not attempt to intercept the cruise missiles, either because their defenses wouldn’t have been effective or because they decided not to interfere.

The attack was warmly received by members of Congress, including Republicans who had warned against Obama doing anything similar.  

News coverage of the attack has been extremely (I’d say ridiculously) positive. Fox News even went so far as to tell their viewers that the airfield suffered “massive damage” and was “almost completely destroyed” (despite being operational again a day later).

The Syrian government is once again bombing the town where chemical weapons were used.

Russia has criticized the American attack and taken a few steps in response.

The DT/Russia Connection; the Republicans’ failure to change the Affordable Care Act; DT’s continuing violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses; and power struggles in the White House aren’t leading the news, because DT replaced those stories with this one. His poll numbers are sure to rise.

This chain of events might lead one to be skeptical about DT suddenly becoming a serious person, even “presidential” as one talking head put it (the last time people said DT was suddenly “presidential” was when he was able to read a speech from beginning to end). I mean, this is DT we’re talking about. That’s why there could be more to the story. Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC raised that possibility in the first three minutes of a video that is no longer available. Here’s what he said:

It’s perfect. Just perfect. I wish it wasn’t. If, if, if Vladimir Putin masterminded the last week in Syria, he has gotten everything he could have asked for.

Vladimir Putin was essentially the man in charge of making sure that Syria got rid of all its chemical weapons under a deal with the Obama administration. And so it makes perfect sense to question whether President Bashar al-Assad would have checked with his most important patron, Vladimir Putin, before using chemical weapons that Vladimir Putin was supposed to have helped get rid of. It would be terribly embarrassing to Vladimir Putin if president Assad had exposed Vladimir Putin failed to get rid of those chemical weapons. You wouldn’t want to be Bashar al-Assad in a conversation with Vladimir Putin after that.

Unless you had a conversation with him before that. Unless Vladimir Putin said I have an idea. ‘Go ahead. Do a small chemical attack. Nothing like the big ones you have done in the past. Just big enough to attract media attention so that my friend in the White House will see it on TV.’ And then, Donald Trump can fire some missiles at Syria that’ll do no real damage. And then the American news media will change the subject from Russian influence in the Trump campaign, and the Trump transition, and the Trump White House.

It’s perfect. It doesn’t just change the subject. For most of the news media, it changes the conventional wisdom about the dynamic between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. President Trump has finally dared to do something that Vladimir Putin doesn’t like. It changes everything. As long as you never question whether Vladimir Putin wanted all of this to happen this week. And when you question that and you look at what has happened, it’s always worth remembering that if Vladimir Putin really does have ways, known or unknown, to influence Donald Trump, then every day that is a good day for President Trump, is a good day for President Putin.

Now not one word that I have just said could possibly have been said about any President prior to Donald Trump. Don’t you miss those days when if there was a chemical attack in Syria you could be absolutely sure that President Assad and President Putin did not do that in order to help the image of the President of the United States. That is the world that Donald Trump has given us.

Finally, political cartoonist Mike Lukovich of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution weighs in:

lk040917_color

Populism and the People

Our new President, henceforth known as DT (or maybe DDT, as in Damn DT) is often called a “populist”. That suggests he’s somehow especially close to “the people”. But during last year’s presidential campaign, it was often said that Bernie Sanders, the self-described “democratic socialist”, was a populist too. Using the same terminology for both DT (DDT?) and Sanders sounded odd, since their political campaigns were so different. How could they both be populists? Besides, don’t all successful politicians in a democracy say they represent “the people”? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be successful politicians.

The answer is that populist politicians claim to represent regular people, in particular the regular people who are suffering at the hands of the rich or powerful. According to John Judis, the author of The Populist Explosion, “populists conceive of politics, or affect to conceive of politics, as a struggle between a noble populace and an out-of-touch, self-serving elite”.  

Thus, during the campaign, both DT and Senator Sanders vigorously attacked the Wall Street bankers and CEO’s who regularly rip off the rest of us and send American jobs overseas. In similar fashion, they both complained that corporate media and party officials had “rigged” the system against them. They both implied that without the interference of corrupt media and political elites, a wave of popular support would carry each of them to the White House, at which point the interests of salt-of-the-earth regular people would finally be protected. 

All politicians claim to represent the interests of the average citizen, of course, but DT and Sanders both emphasized their populist credentials. Clinton, for example, delivered a positive, inclusive message. She promised to work hard to help us all live up to our potential. We would be “stronger together”. Her opponents sounded much, much angrier. Just give them the chance and they’d bring the powerful to heel and “drain the swamp”!

Nevertheless, there is something wrong with how we use the word “populist”. The term comes from the Latin populus, which means the people or the general population. Since “the people” includes everyone, it would make more sense if politicians who promised to help the people in general were called “populists”. Between Clinton, Sanders and DT, it was Clinton who most deserved to be called a “populist”, even though that’s not how we use the word. To be a populist in the standard sense, a politician needs to divide the people into at least two categories: the good people and the bad people. A populist politician promises to punish or corral the bad people in order to protect the good people. That’s what Sanders and DT both promised to do, over and over again.

Even so, there is a difference between the populisms of the left and right. The difference is explained by Richard King in a review at the Sydney Review of Books site:

Judis does make a distinction between populists of the left and the right. For while left populists tend to preach a ‘vertical’ politics of the bottom against the top, right populists will often posit a third entity, living among the people and said to be in allegiance with, or given special treatment by, the elite. [The] content of this third group is variable: Jews, intellectuals, Jewish intellectuals, Muslims, the media, Mexicans, Poles – the list is as long as human bigotry is deep. Judis calls this ‘triadic’ populism and it is clearly very different in character from the dyadic populism of the left….

Indeed, so different are these two forms of populism … that I wonder whether grouping both under the same rubric obscures more than it reveals. Judis is very careful to distinguish between these two forms of populism, and it’s clear that he does so morally, too. But the division of ‘the people’, in the right wing model, into legitimate and illegitimate entities – in-groups and outgroups; friends and foes – is so different from most left wing conceptions of “the people” that we are really talking about a separate phenomenon.

Right-wing populists aren’t satisfied drawing a line between the noble majority and a corrupt elite. They look for others in society to attack, either because those other groups are working with the corrupt elite, or benefiting from the elite’s bad behavior, or simply because they’re (supposedly) up to no good. The review quotes another author, Jan-Werner Müller, who says that a populist like DT willclaim that a part of the people is the people – and that only the populist authentically identifies and represents this real or true people”:

Recent instances of this mindset are thick on the ground. Post-the Brexit vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared the Leave vote a victory for ‘real people’. Similarly, at a campaign rally last May, [DT] announced that ‘the only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything’…. This is fundamentally different from a politics that paints the interests of the large mass of people as at odds with a ruling class or establishment….

In terms of populism, therefore, we can categorize politicians in three ways: 

True Populists: Those, like Clinton, who promise to represent the people as a whole. They should be called “populists” but aren’t;

Standard Populists: Those, like Sanders, who promise to represent the common people and fight the corrupt elite (e.g. Wall Street, party leaders); 

Fake Populists: Those, like DT, who promise to represent some people (“the Silent Majority”, “real Americans”), to fight the corrupt elite (e.g. the press, party leaders, government bureaucrats) and also to fight dangerous “others” among us (e.g. “bad hombres”, “radical Islam”).

For the time being, we’re stuck with the last kind.

So DT It Is Then

He may have won the Electoral College, but that doesn’t mean I have to refer to him by name. It’s not because I’m afraid to say it like Harry and the gang wouldn’t say “Voldemort”. It’s because using someone’s name is a matter of respect and if there’s anyone in the world I don’t respect, it’s him.

Of course, I’m not alone here. It’s one reason he has acquired so many nicknames, almost all of them disrespectful. They are legion. For instance:

Putin’s Puppet
Cheeto Jesus
Fuckface Von Clownstick
Toddler-in-Chief
Short-Fingered Vulgarian
Agent Orange
Man-Baby
Whore of Babble-on
Amgry Creamsicle
Hair Hitler
SCROTUS (So-Called Ruler of the United States)
Boy President
Orange Menace

If you want more, there are plenty out there.

Now, I’m partial to “Orange Menace” and may still use it occasionally, but for everyday use it would be better to have something shorter and closer to his real name. So far, I’ve either used or considered:

Donnie (he supposedly hates it)
Drumpf (his old family name)
Drump (easier to type and anatomically evocative)
Donald Drump (sounds like “Donald Duck”)
Don the Con (what should be stamped on his forehead)

45F (he’s the 45th President and was able to find a doctor who agreed to say he was unfit for military service or “4-F”)

and simply:

T_____

But I really want something else. Something that will make sense and also be disrespectful.

Of course, we have a tradition of referring to Presidents by their initials. There was FDR, JFK, LBJ. The person who should be President today was sometimes known as HRC. So in theory I could use DJT.

But DJT is too respectful. It even sounds a little friendly. So that’s out. 

But it’s very close. Instead of the full DJT, I think DT will work just fine. It’s short. It’s related to his real name. And it’s creepy. Why?

Consider that DDT (short for Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is a dangerous pesticide that’s been almost totally banned for years. The Bald Eagle, our symbolic national bird, is coming back because we stopped using the stuff. Also, DEET (diethyltoluamide) is a common insect repellent. It’s nasty stuff you don’t want to inhale or get in your eyes.

Furthermore, the DTs is the common expression for delirium tremens, a terrible state that sometimes results from alcohol withdrawal. Its symptoms include shaking, confusion, high blood pressure, fever and hallucinations. It can be fatal. Fortunately, it’s rare.

Unfortunately, DT isn’t rare at all. It seems like he’s everywhere, a noxious cloud that can’t be avoided. But now I’ve got a name for the problem: DT for general use and the DTs for what we’re going through as a nation. And maybe Deet will catch on and be good for conversation.

Now all we need is a nice name for the DT/Russia connection.