Monthly Archives: October 2016

A Post-Script about Trump’s Reaction

I’ve been saying right along that I am skeptical of whether Trump seriously wants to win this election and become president.  If you click here and scroll down to the words “Never underestimate Trump’s ability to misplay a winning hand,” you can get another example of why.  Inexperience does not explain anything here, because Trump, like any other candidate, can conjure up advisers by the dozens who will tell him exactly what he needs to do to gain an advantage in an election.  The problem (for the party) is that he isn’t like any other candidate, and this doesn’t seem to be what he wants to do.  I’m not complaining about that, of course, just observing.

(I posted a question on the Discussion Board about whether Trump seriously wants to win.  As I note there, you can make a case either way, depending on what you look at.  What I’m posting here just happens to be my own take on it.)


The Election Obviously Isn’t Over Now

I observed a couple of weeks ago that the Hillary Clinton campaign seemed to be treating the election as already won.  Well, that’s changed:  the danger of a Trump victory is back.

In reality, the letter that FBI director James Comey sent to Congress this past Friday, October 28, should have been a complete non-event.  Here’s the letter; please click and read it to see how little real information it has, or even claims to have.  But the Republicans–not just Trump, but the party in Congress as well–are treating it as shocking new revelations, with Trump calling it “bigger than Watergate,” and House Speaker Paul Ryan trying to claim that the FBI is finally doing the right thing after having done the wrong thing before.  Now again, I see absolutely nothing in that letter to justify any such reactions–feel free to disagree with me on that when you read the letter–but what matters in an election is not the reality but the perception.

So, the big question is, how much of the voting public is going to perceive that startling new revelations of untrustworthiness have just come out about Hillary Clinton?  That remains to be seen.  Looking at Nate Silver’s statistical updates won’t tell us anything for a few days, because even when it says “updated 5 minutes ago,” that doesn’t mean that you’re getting a reading of what the situation was 5 minutes ago; you’re getting more of a reading of what was going on four or five days ago.  If you click it now, you’ll see Hillary’s probability ratings declining.  That’s been the case for days, and the FBI letter has not yet made a difference here.   As of Sunday, October 30, she’s in the high 70s (we’re talking percentage probability, not projected vote share); just a few days ago she was in the  high 80s.  And again, we do not yet know how the FBI letter will affect these estimates, because it takes days for Nate Silver’s blog to catch up with new changes.

Nate Silver also has an article here about how the Hillary Clinton campaign may respond in the coming days.  Already, the campaign is calling on the FBI to disclose the whole thing, in order to indicate that Hillary Clinton doesn’t think she has anything to hide on the matter.  Silver also speculates that the Clinton campaign may be sitting on a more shocking Trump scandal, waiting for the right moment to release it, but I would not count on that, because I see a strong possibility that what we’ve already learned may well be all that’s coming. I happen to think what we know about Trump is bad enough as it is, but almost half the country seems to disagree.

Three states to watch are Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.  The newest polls show Clinton and Trump at close to a tie in Florida, a state that Trump absolutely has to win if he’s to have a chance at winning the election.  As for Pennsylvania, the state where I’ve done some volunteering, Hillary is ahead there, but if Trump could make a comeback before he can make one again.  With Trump showing a chance of winning Florida, Hillary Clinton needs to keep her lead in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina, because if Trump takes either one of those states along with Florida, he can win.  (Politico story.)

There’s one more factor that I haven’t seen mentioned in the news outlets, but that I consider a real one.  Trump himself may come out with a tweet this week that outdoes his other ones in offensiveness and obnoxiousness.  Because I have never been convinced that Trump was serious about wanting to win this election, I see no reason why he’ll feel the need to restrain himself now.  Obviously, I’d be in way over my head if I claimed to actually know what’s going on inside that man’s head, but as you’ve heard me say, I have never really been convinced that he cared about winning, or even waned to win.

I am not enjoying this year.  It’s going to be a bad memory for me.  But it is always good to see all of you, and I strongly urge you to post some comments here and on the discussion board.  And, of course, there’s a line of links to the latest news stories at the right of this OpenLab page.





The Normal and the Abnormal: More Thoughts about the 2016 Election

In class, I keep using the words “when things are normal, unlike now,” with reference to a lot of the general principles of American government and politics that we talk about.  And yet I can’t help observing that a lot of the things that are happening now which are very abnormal can be seen as the extreme version of what goes on when things are normal.  For example:

  1. When things are normal, the political parties make their positions look very high stakes, and weighted with great moral authority.  It’s usual for the Democrats to accuse the Republicans of being racist, of being heartless to the poor and to foreign refugees, of being overly militaristic, and it’s usual for the Republicans to accuse the Democrats of wanting to get the poor dependent on welfare payments rather than trying to work, and of weakening the country’s defenses in the face of foreign attack.  This year, the Trump campaign actually has the support of racist groups, and Trump is accusing Hillary of having virtually created ISIS.  And, consistent with the idea of the Republicans being more associated with strength, we keep hearing it said that a terrorist attack close to Election Day could still swing the vote to Trump.
  2. When things are normal, candidates for president exaggerate the powers of the presidency.  When Romney and Obama debated in 2012 over whether Obama’s policies had been good or bad for the economy, they were both engaged in a pretending game, because there had been stalemate between the two parties in Congress for the past three years, and it was nobody’s economic policies that the country had been getting.  Candidates routinely say “I will..” when they really mean “I will ask Congress to…”  However, even by that standard, Trump is alarming when he talks about the things that will happen when he’s elected.  “People will say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays.”  “I’m going to build a wall, and have Mexico pay for it.”  (He’s modified that slightly in recent days, but still…)  And in talking about crime and other societal problems:  “I alone can fix it.”
  3. When things are normal, each party claims that the other has an unfair propaganda advantage.  From the point of view of the Democrats, the Republicans’ advantage comes from money, and from the Republicans’ point of view, the Democrats have the unfair advantage of a biased mainstream media.  Underneath it all is that each party claims to speak for “the people,” and neither party can accept the fact that large numbers of “the people” are voting for the other party unless they’ve been brainwashed and manipulated, hence the claims noted here.  However, Trump is still on an extreme when he claims there’s a rigged election, and when he claims that the news media (like the New York Times) deserve all kinds of retribution for their bad faith.

Things are very abnormal this year, it can’t be denied.  But a lot of the abnormality seems to me to be taking the form of exaggerated versions of the normal.


Some Pundits Think Clinton Has Finished Trump Off

I’ve already posted the link to Matt Bai’s column in the Discussion section; here’s what Nate Silver, keeper of the fivethirtyeight poll watch site, has to say:

Since I was looking for Trump to go totally wild and out of control, and he didn’t, it wasn’t obvious to me that this debate had been bad for his image.  I also made the comment, based on the first half hour or so, that if I didn’t know any better I’d think I was watching something that was taped three weeks ago, since it took them so long to get to the question of his groping women, and they seemed to calm and civilized and issue-centered.  But when it comes to Hillary winning, which seems to be the consensus of polls so far, what’s quite significant is that the moderator was a conservative who asked her some tough questions about her own character and background, and she answered them well.

The major headline from the debate seems to be Trump’s refusal to promise he’ll concede the election if he loses.  Like a lot of other things, I would have had no way of knowing this would make news, because it’s no surprise to me.  At one point Hillary rattled off a list of times when he didn’t get what he wanted and claimed systems were rigged, including when he didn’t win an Emmy for “The Apprentice.”  Trump walked right into that trap by chiming in, matter-of-factly, “We should have won an Emmy.”

In any case, though, since I was a little worried that this debate would help Trump, I am relieved to see that others don’t think it will.  Of course, there’s no telling what new dramatic twists this real-life horror movie will take between now and the election–and after.

People, do click onto “Discussion” and share some thoughts.

Michelle Obama Speech Scores High, Even with Glenn Beck

On Thursday, October 13, Michelle Obama delivered a speech at a New Hampshire fundraiser where she called the whole situation with the Donald Trump campaign disgraceful and intolerable, and said that the nation’s children deserved to have better male role models than a man who is so insulting to women.  Even the conservative pundit Glenn Beck, who at times panders to conspiracy theories and was considered too extreme even for FOX News, had to give her credit.

Article on her speech,

Glenn Beck’s reaction, 

Full video of the First Lady’s speech

Reminder, by the way:  The third and final debate between Clinton and Trump (for whatever point there is in it) will be Wednesday night, October 19, at 9.  Considering that Trump has been having such a narcissistic meltdown in his speeches this past week, I’m not sure how much of a difference his composure and civility at that debate (if he has any) will make.





Does this surprise you? (It certainly shouldn’t!)

The conventional wisdom says that a candidate in the primaries is more extreme than that same candidate in the general election after winning the primaries.  Thus, it’s been assumed for years that Democrats would jockey in the Democratic primaries over who was the best liberal, Republicans would tussle over who was the best conservative, and then the nominees of the two parties would pivot to the center to show the general electorate who was the more moderate, the more inclusive, the more appealing to a broad base.

With that in mind, it could be seen as understandable, up to a point, that Republican party officials and the New York Post, would expect Donald Trump to moderate his own behavior after the Republican convention, and campaign to the broadest possible electorate, try to make himself look like a candidate for all of the people.  And to a certain extent, he did pay some lip service to those expectations.  Not only that, there was a brief moment in September when he seemed to have a realistic chance of winning this election and becoming our next president.  But then the sex-tape revelations broke, followed by a series of personal accusations by women that he groped them, and as his ratings in the polls dropped (farther down than they had already after the first debate, which was already pretty low) and as Republicans started distancing themselves from them, what is he doing now?  He is in attack dog mode.  Mad dog mode.

In addition to digging up all the dirt he can find on Bill Clinton (and of course there is some–Bill Clinton is no choir boy himself, we all know that), Trump is now playing up the kind of conspiracy theories that we associate with the fringes.  The pull-quote from the Politico story says it all:  “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.”  This is, of course, totally contrary to what the Republican Party leaders want said, but as you’ve heard me say before, Trump cares as much about that as the cat cares about whether the mouse would like to be eaten.  And Trump is pandering to a fringe of hypernationalists who regard the Democrats, and even a lot of the Republicans, as being not only misguided but sinister.

The paradox of this is that, to some extent, Americans have always framed their political opinions in the language of a struggle against all manner of sinister plots, but that’s largely rhetoric: it’s only a narrow fringe that wholeheartedly believe it.  But it’s precisely that fringe that Trump is playing to.  And in the process, he is encouraging paranoid perceptions of government, he is encouraging people to think that they are under siege by their own political leaders, and thus he is encouraging the most irrational, emotional behavior in American citizens.

Now, back to my heading:  Is this a surprise?

I hardly think it’s a surprise, for this reason.  Back in 2012, when Trump was contemplating running for president, he was very loudly playing up the theory that President Obama has a fake birth certificate.  Now, in spite of the large number of Americans who believed that nonsense, it was truly nonsense, and it was obviously nonsense, considering the amount of vetting that candidates have to go through to be elected, and considering that at the time that Obama was elected the government was run by Republicans who had absolutely no rational reason to take part in a conspiracy to make Barack Obama the nation’s president if they could help it.  So Trump already has a track record of pandering to irrationality, and of doing what I, personally, call encouraging bad citizenship behavior.

So much for my words.  Here’s the Politico article.

New York Times Lawyer “Pwns” Donald Trump’s Lawyer

I will let the letter speak for itself.  Be assured, this is authentic.  This is the letter that the lawyer for the New York Times has just sent to the Trump lawyer who demanded that the Times retract a story.

Dear Mr. Kasowitz:

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

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

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


David E. McCraw

Politico article with full text:
Afternote:  Remember that the Supreme Court ruled in the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan that a public figure can only get damages for libel from a press outlet if the public figure is able to show that the press outlet acted with either malice or reckless disregard for the truth.  And it goes without saying that this Times story in question was gone over by staff lawyers before a word of it saw the light of day.

You may also recall that last spring Trump said in a speech that he would like to see it made easier to sue newspapers for libel.  Many interpreted that as yet another sign of his fascist inclinations.

The madness never stops.


Mad Dog on the Loose

First off, let me repeat a point I made some time ago:  The sex tape (Trump boasting in 2005 about how he liked to touch women) told me absolutely nothing that I didn’t already know about Trump, and after all that’s gone down in the course of this past year, it was not automatically obvious to me that this revelation was going to put his campaign into a seemingly irreversible crisis.  It wasn’t that his remarks weren’t shocking for a presidential candidate, just that there had already been so much else that was bad enough already.  Even a year ago, for any serious political officeholder or commentator to call Trump a viable candidate for president was looking for ways to be ludicrous for the sake of being ludicrous, so after a while I got used to the fact that a lot of people had decided that being ludicrous was the way to go.  The New York Post endorsed him last spring predicting that he would “pivot” (in other words, let’s just ignore the person he is and imagine that he’ll change into someone completely different by fall, incredibly stupid reasoning even for a rag like the Post), and New York State Republican Committee Chairman Ed Cox (Richard Nixon’s son-in-law) endorsed him while there were still other viable candidates in the primary race.  RNC national chairman Reince Priebus also announced, after the Ohio vote, that he thought it was time for Ted Cruz and John Kasich to concede to Trump.  Yes, even before he clinched the nomination, some Republicans decided to pretend that Trump was someone different than who he was, that he was in any way fit to be this country’s chief executive.

After he got the nomination, most regular Republicans felt they had no choice but to endorse him, or at last not oppose him.  There were a few exceptions; there were a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate who consistently held themselves up as anti-Trump, which took courage because they were getting tons of peer pressure from the party to conform.  Now, with that new revelation, Republicans are showing various degrees of horror.  Not all are denouncing him; Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, is essentially trying to have it both ways.  But generally speaking, the party at large appears to have lost enthusiasm for him and given up the presidential race for lost.

I got the feeling, on the Saturday when the revelation first broke (October 8), that some Republicans imagined that Trump might step aside for the good of the party.  They might better have imagined that he would grow wings and fly to the moon, but I think some imagined it.  But what’s happening now is quite the contrary:  with the party no longer giving him more than token semblance of support, Trump has declared that he’s unshackled, free to do anything he wants, because it’s the party that’s betrayed him.  Hence my post heading above: there’s a mad dog on the loose.

A couple of weeks ago I had a nice visit with the cousin I’m closest to, a dedicated education professional who follows all the rules of ethics and propriety to a T.  In talking about my own teaching situation now, I mentioned, “I don’t normally tell students my personal opinions about anything, but I’ve announced to all of my classes that I draw the line at pretending to be neutral about Trump.”  He replied, not argumentatively, just matter-of-factly, that if he were teaching about government, he would stay unbiased in talking about Trump even now.  Fair enough, but you know what?  I have to confess this:  I WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW to talk about Donald Trump, in the classroom or anywhere else, without letting it show that I am utterly horrified that this country would let such a man get to where he is now.  The man, right now, is the walking wounded, and being the narcissist that he is, he’s determined to do as much wounding of the people he feels have wounded him as possible, no matter what level of shame he drags the whole country down to.  The man doesn’t care about his party or his country, and members of the Republican Party who treated him as if he did have made total jackasses of themselves and have no choice but to be in crisis management and damage control mode from now until Election Day.

Politico article about the damage he may now do

Politico article about the frustration of the Republicans

Politico article about the sorrows of Speaker Ryan right about now

And, of course, there’s a lot more material in the links to the right of this page, from multiple newsfeeds, regularly updated.


Republican Party in Crisis (and the nation too)

First, an aside:  Trump is not the Republican Party’s only problem, only their biggest one at the moment.  The Republicans in Congress might appear, at first glance, both conservative enough and anti-Obama enough, but there has been a split for the last couple of years between a faction of House Republicans called the Freedom Caucus–essentially the Tea Party–and the more pragmatic, “establishment” Republicans.  Speaker Paul Ryan is not one of the Freedom Caucus–in fact, if you get him at the right moment, you’ll hear him almost sounding like a Democrat on the subject of poverty in America–but he did make some concessions to the Freedom Caucus to get their support as Speaker of the House last year when John Boehner decided he’d had enough and resigned.  (The key to where the two factions are different is that the more extreme Republicans will actually shut down the government to get Planned Parenthood excluded from federal reimbursements, among other hardline goals.)  This is the schism in the party that we’d be hearing a lot more about, if the party didn’t have bigger problems to deal with right now in the person of Donald J. Trump.

But, at the moment, the party’s biggest problem most certainly is Trump.  Here’s the thing.  Anybody who ever confused Trump with a team player who ultimately wanted what’s best for the party–or the nation–was indulging in willful self-delusion.  If anybody imagined that Trump would ever, under any circumstances, decide that the best thing he could do for the party and the country would be to bow out of the race, that fantasy is surely a snuffed-out ember now.  What’s happening now is that, as more and more Republicans either explicitly or implicitly step away from supporting Trump, Trump is now letting it be known that he doesn’t need them, that he doesn’t care what they want him to do and how they want him to do it in this campaign, and that “the shackles are off.”  (Making Bill Clinton’s past sexual indiscretions a campaign issue is a prime example of what party leaders did not want done.  Trump cares what they want done about as much as the cat cares about whether the mouse would like to be eaten.)

Now, there isn’t just one type of American who’s voting for Trump.  There are some who don’t like him but think he’s slightly better than Hillary Clinton, and there are some who will vote for him simply because he’s the Republican candidate and they want the Republican party to control the White House.  But when you strip those layers away, there’s the much smaller core of die-hard supporters: the ones who actually like Trump and think he is what the country needs.  And within those ranks–again, still not all of them–can be found what I, personally, Ben Alexander, consider to be a fascist movement.

A fascist movement feels no debt of loyalty to any political party or any government institution.  A fascist movement is driven by a kind of emotional, unalloyed hypernationalism, combined with the sense that the nation is under siege by subversive internal forces that it takes a strong leader to rescue it from.  A fascist movement is an expression of reactionary populism: the sense of a people’s uprising, a struggle by the people to restore a past glory, a past pride, a past birthright and heritage that has been usurped from them.  Usurped by what?  Liberalism, for one.  “Political correctness,” closely related.  Some number of Trump’s die-hard supporters don’t regard his opponents as fellow Americans with different political opinions.  They regard Trump’s opponents as America’s enemies.  And, though it doesn’t follow any simple straight line, race and racism certainly do play a part.  (There are those out there who actually regard the opposition to Trump as a war against white men.)

It needs to be remembered that Trump has already called for “volunteer poll watchers” to be helping guard against voter fraud on Election Day.  Translation:  Toughs prowling around the polls making their presence known, attempting to intimidate.  There may be violence on Election Day, spurred by the new, “unshackled” Trump who, feeling betrayed by the Republican Party, is rallying his core supporters in a war against the party, what he calls a war for the American people.

And he’s still the Republican nominee.

I do not envy Paul Ryan or Reince Priebus right about now.  The Republican Party has its problems.  Big ones.

The country does too.  BIG ones.

Politico story on Paul Ryan’s dilemma

Politico story on Trump’s new war on the GOP




A Few Words about the Senate

The average American does not understand this basic fact about our government:  it makes a huge difference which party has the majority in Congress, and when we vote for this or that candidate in Congress, we’re voting for a party to be in power, regardless of the personality or even the policy preferences of the individual on the ticket.  (This, by the way, is why in so many presidential debates, even when things are “normal,” it’s so customary for candidates to say “I will” when they really mean “I will ask Congress to,” because they’re playing to people who just don’t get how lawmaking works, and think the president can be credited or blamed for everything that moves in Washington.)

For much of my lifetime, I was so used to the Democrats having the majority in the House of Representatives that I could scarcely imagine anything else being possible.  The Republicans had the Senate for Ronald Reagan’s first six years, starting with the 1980 election and ending with the 1986 election, but the Democrats won the House in the 1954 election while the Republican Eisenhower was president, and the Republicans did not win it back until 1994.  Then, the Democrats retook both chambers in the 2006 election.  In 2008, of course, Obama won the presidency, and for the first year of his term the Democrats had not only a majority in both chambers but a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.  But in 2010 the Republicans retook the House, and in the most recent congressional election, 2014, the Republicans got a majority in the Senate.

Now, let’s consider this year’s election.  There is no realistic chance that the Democrats will retake the majority in the House; the Republicans redrew the districts after the 2010 census to make that virtually impossible, and they may well have a secure majority in the House for many years to come.  But the Senate could go either way.  The probability keeps going back and forth.  The Democrats have a slight advantage:  essentially, in the 538 projections, the Democrats bounce back and forth between being modestly favored versus being essentially tied.  And that figure does more jumping around from week to week than the presidential race.

When it comes to passing legislation, you can expect to see more gridlock if one party does not control the House, the Senate, and the White House, and it needs to be remembered on that score that no party actually controls the Senate without a 60-seat supermajority to shut down filibusters.  But a simple majority in the Senate alone can make an enormous difference on one specific point: the confirming of federal judges nominated by the president.  As we have seen federal judges, like it or not, are very much policy makers, and a huge chunk of national policy is in their hands, and at the moment there are numerous judicial seats going vacant–Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court is just one of them–because the Republicans in the Senate won’t even hold hearings on President Obama’s nominees.

Therefore, as we watch this election, even though the lion’s share of the attention is on Clinton and Trump, we need to be paying close attention to the question of whether the Democrats can regain a majority of seats in the Senate.