A Smart, Informed Journalist Interviews Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief of Vox, interviewed Hillary Clinton for 51 minutes this week. I thought she avoided answering one question. It was something like, how would you rate American voters in general? Aside from that, I was tremendously impressed. It is a tragedy that she lost.

A few topics discussed:

16:00  How the media handled the presidential campaign

17:45  Healthcare, including the important distinction between universal care, which should be our goal, and single-payer, which is only one way, and probably not the best way, to get universal care

26:30  American politics today

36:00  The 2016 election

42:00  How women voted

44:50   The effect of the Comey letter plus the Electoral College, voter suppression and dangers ahead.

 

Hillary Clinton Isn’t Going Away

And that’s a good thing. She was interviewed at a conference in California yesterday. There was also a Q&A session.

She talks about the election and the challenges we face, including what she calls the “weaponization” of social media. She doesn’t mince words. I thought she could have answered one of the questions better, and I disagree with one thing she said, but after listening to her speak for an hour and 17 minutes, I came away feeling better about America and the future. Maybe you will too.

The video and a transcript of the whole conversation are available here at the Recode site.

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:

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.

In Case You Missed It, Let’s Review the Crime That’s Still in Progress

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Republican FBI Director James Comey, with help from Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange, are in the process of stealing our election. They’ll do it unless the Electoral College does its constitutional, patriotic duty nine days from now and elects Hillary Clinton or some other qualified person.

The indictment:

According to the CIA, and probably the NSA too, neither of which are generally considered left-wing organizations, Russia hacked both Democrats and Republicans this year, but the Russians only gave the Democrats’ stolen information to Wikileaks. Wikileaks then gave the information, some of which was embarrassing to the Democrats and the Clinton campaign, to the world.

In September, President Obama informed Congressional leaders that the Russians had done this in order to elect the Orange Menace. Obama also requested a bipartisan declaration opposing the Russian interference in our election. But Senator McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, wouldn’t make a joint statement, arguing that it would interfere with the election.

Instead, on October 7th, the Department Of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued their own watered-down joint statement on Russia’s hacking activity, not pointing out that only information damaging to the Democrats was being revealed:

The U.S. Intelligence Community [which includes the CIA, FBI, NSA and thirteen other agencies] is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process….We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

Furthermore, on October 31st, the Financial Times reported that the Republican Director of the FBI was against making even that announcement:

FBI chief opposed US statement blaming Russia for hacks

Government official says James Comey had election timing concerns

Of course, only three days before, and only eleven days before the election, Director Comey ignored the Department of Justice policy against making such announcements near an election and sent a letter to Congressional leaders announcing a new investigation into emails possibly involving Hillary Clinton.

That letter was immediately leaked to the press and led to a blizzard of news coverage. The Orange Menace immediately declared that “this changes everything”. Although nothing at all came of the investigation, the Clinton and T—p campaigns agree that the FBI’s new suggestion of scandal was the crucial last-minute event that swayed enough voters to change the election. From Politico:

Top officials for both campaigns said the revelation—which turned out to be an inconsequential cache of previously parsed emails kept on the laptop of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner—was a game-changer in a race in which Clinton had little margin for error. Elan Kreigel’s team saw her numbers collapse in the most volatile swing demographic: educated whites who had been repulsed by Trump’s sexual misdeeds.

To sum up: Vladimir Putin releases hacked emails in order to defeat Clinton. Julian Assange makes the emails public. Mitch McConnell and James Comey interfere with voters being told about Russia’s plan on the grounds that it will affect the election, i.e. hurt the Republican candidate. Meanwhile, Comey ignores Department of Justice policy and tells the world that there is more to the supposed Clinton email scandal, not caring that his last-minute “revelation” will affect the election, i.e. hurt the Democratic candidate.

Despite everything, Clinton gets almost 3 million more votes than T—p nationwide. But in three “swing” states that Clinton expected to win, T—p gets 77,000 more votes than Clinton, giving him the Electoral College majority necessary to become President.

As the saying goes, can you spell “coup d’état”? How about “treason”? If you think that’s too harsh, how about “putting party ahead of country”?

The solution:

At this late date, the only ones who can prevent this crime from succeeding are the Republican members of the Electoral College. Thirty-seven of them can deny an unqualified, dangerous person the presidency and let the House of Representatives choose someone else. Forty-eight of them can switch to Hillary Clinton and elect the qualified person who got more votes. It’s that simple. 

And yet it’s that unlikely. What are the odds that there are more than a handful of Republicans among the 306 who will vote on December 19th who are sufficiently patriotic and sufficiently respectful of the Constitution to do what Alexander Hamilton said was necessary? Regarding the Electoral College, from The Federalist Papers, number 68:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?…

But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment….

All these advantages will happily combine in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the President….

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.

I mean, how amazing would it be, if a band of brave citizens, now being referred to as “Hamilton Electors”, rose to the occasion, saved the world and got complimentary tickets to the Broadway smash “Hamilton” too?

PS – Forgot to mention that T—p is going to appoint Senator McConnell’s wife to a cabinet position. Others in T—p’s cabinet, like the head of Exxon who will be Secretary of State, are very pro-Russian. But emails!

PPS – Nate Silver, respected political analyst and statistician, on Twitter: “Clinton lost 4 states (FL, MI, WI, PA) by ~1 point. If not for Comey/Russia, she probably wins them all by ~2 points & strategy looks great.”

It’s Too Painful To Read Every Word

But the opening paragraphs of this article by Rick Perlstein are worth considering:

I was curious, so I did a bit of research on theories about why great civilizations fall. Some scholars point to the danger of overextended militaries, others to overwhelmed bureaucracies. Sometimes the key factor is declines in public health, often caused by agricultural crises. Political corruption is another contender, as are inflated currencies, technological inferiority, court intrigue, rivals taking control of key transportation routes, or an overreliance on slave labor. Others point to changes in climate, geographic advantages won and lost, or the ever-popular invasion by barbarian hordes.

None I could find, however, mentioned what may become future historians’ most convincing explanation for America’s fall, should [T—p] end up her author and finisher: bad journalism.

It’s fitting when you think about it, however. Deep thinkers (and shallow thinkers too) have been saying for years that we live in the Age of Information. Now, thanks to the internet, we also live in the Age of Misinformation. 

We have crackpots with keyboards (looking in the mirror here) who publish whatever they want online. We have the “fake news” phenomenon in which rumors, lies, conspiracy theories and government disinformation are gobbled up and shared worldwide.

Mr. Perlstein reminds us that, when asked to identify the most important issue in the recent campaign, 17% of voters picked “government corruption”, even though the last eight years of Democratic government have been the least scandal-plagued in recent American history. Furthermore, “voters trusted [T—p] over Clinton … on the issue by a margin of 48 to 39 percent, her worst deficit on any issue”.

The reason, of course, for this bizarre state of affairs is that professional journalists made Clinton’s emails the biggest campaign story of the year, while the monster’s documented history of fraud and corruption and his incredible array of pending conflicts of interest were downplayed or ignored. They also made millions of voters think the Clinton Foundation, which saves lives, was corrupt, even though the Trump Foundation is nothing more than a tax scam.  

Bad journalism, even from reputable media companies, contributes to the flood of misinformation every day. One reason is that “news” comes at us in shorter and shorter bursts, more quickly all the time. What used to be called “sound bites” are now more likely to be a few words on a screen without any context or room for explanation.

The problem is much more serious now that we have a mentally ill businessman/TV personality/politician whose every thought instantly becomes “news”. Just in the past few days, he announced to the world that he had saved “over 1,100” jobs in Indiana. That number immediately became front-page news all over the country. Now it turns out that 730 jobs are staying in the U.S. but 550 jobs are going to Mexico. A union leader later said T—p “lied his ass off”. And 700 jobs from one of the company’s other facilities are still going to Mexico. 

Yesterday, T—p declared that “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” Again, the “news” was suddenly everywhere. Boeing’s stock price dropped and gullible people proclaimed that T—p is already getting tough on government spending. In reality, Boeing hasn’t built anything yet. They don’t even have the government contract to build something. In fact, they are the only company willing (partly for the publicity value) to build two extremely high-tech, nuclear-war-resistant planes to replace the ones that are now almost 30 years old. The government estimates that each plane will cost $1.6 billion. One aviation analyst said that anyone who thinks they should cost less is “completely ignorant”.

It’s been said that this election killed journalism. It looks like journalism, abetted by the internet, may have killed us first.