Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Al Smith Catholic Charities Dinner - best joke

The annual Al Smith dinner, put on by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York to raise money for Catholic Charities, was held on Thursday night.   By tradition, the white-tie social event features political rivals making self-deprecatory jokes and giving mild roasts of each other -- what Barack Obama is so good at.

Hillary Clinton took it that way, and her speech was a big hit with the crowd (made up mostly of politicians, celebrities, and wealthy Republican donors).   Trump on the other hand was actually booed and heckled over some of the low blows at Hillary that had no humor in them.   He was soundly skewered by the media for it.

He did, however, start off with the best laugh of the night.  It went something like this:  "The media is more biased than ever before this year.  You want proof?  Michelle Obama gives a speech . . . and ev-ery-body loves it;  it's fantastic, she's absolutely great.  Then my wife Melania gives the. . exact . . same speech, and everybody gets on her case about it.   I . . . don't. . . . get it." 

It was a great moment of levity and humanizing.   And he deserves some credit for it.   He even ad libbed, "and it wasn't her fault."  And he had her stand up to take a bow, which brought another round of warm applause and appreciative laughter.  Exactly the right tone.  Unfortunately, he went downhill from there, fast. 


Dan Rather: worth one more debate comment

I was done talking about the debate, but I just read this Facebook entry of the experienced and much admired television journalist Dan Rather.   He is always worth listening to.

    "I suspect the headline out of tonight may very well be Donald Trump’s refusal to guarantee that he will accept the decision of the voters on November 8. It is a horrifying and destabilizing betrayal of the norms of American politics. But it was just one part of the final debate in a campaign that seems to be firmly in the Twilight Zone. This is not what our democracy should be, but it is where we are today. I wonder if many minds were changed. I doubt it. 

    "Hillary Clinton has been judged the winner of the first two debates. Tonight, many felt Trump needed a knockout to get back in the race. But I think this was Clinton’s best performance - perhaps by far. I think she wanted this to be a preview of her presidency. Her tone was the most straightforward and direct I have yet seen. She didn’t try to run away from her policy expertise. She embraced it. It was as if she was saying, “I am here. I am smart. I am qualified. I will not be intimidated or silenced. And I am ready to be president.” 

    "The format of tonight’s debate favored depth over breadth on the number of topics. This meant that a lot of important issues (climate change?) were left unquestioned, but the benefit was that the able moderator Chris Wallace could drill down to real policy with the most important quality of an interviewer - the follow up question. And he used it to good effect. 

    "There has been a silly trope floating around the coverage of the Clinton campaign about "likeability". Many critics have claimed that the very notion is sexist. I agree. Yet tonight, Clinton seemed to throw those worries aside. There were fewer anecdotal flights of storytelling about her interactions with "average families" that you often hear about on the stump. Clinton was steely, determined, forceful. I think this will be the tone of her presidential face, and I think it is one she wears well and naturally

    "Clinton hit Trump hard on issue after issue with knowledge and facts - on Russia, the Supreme Court, nuclear weapons, immigration, and the list goes on. You could disagree with her on policy, but you can’t question whether she knows what she’s talking about. One big line that I think will play on was in the dust up over Russia. Who would have thought that years after the end of the Cold War the specter of Russia would loom over an American presidential campaign? But there you have it. When the discussion turned to Wikileaks and who was responsible for the hack, Trump, disagreeing with the assessment of the U.S. intelligence agencies, said we don’t know who is behind it. Clinton fired back - He would rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military professionals and intelligence officials. It’s a line you could expect from Ronald Reagan. 

    "By contrast, Trump has been skating through the campaign on buzzwords and applause lines that fire up his base. Tonight the format asked for more substance and he struggled. He often left topics dangling, meandered through head-scratching sentences, and fumbled with thoughts that went nowhere - all lines of thoughts wavering in the wind. Often his most cogent statements were cheap shots. When he would stop talking, I sometimes had to ask myself what was he talking about?

    "Trump’s millions of eager followers will continue to cheer as the majority of Americans seem to be turning the page on this ugly campaign. They have seen all they need from Trump and they have had enough. There were many lines from this debate that could make for powerful Clinton campaign ads. But I am not sure she will need them. 

    "Trump may not agree to abide by the results of the election. But hopefully the rest of the country can act with a bit more maturity and decency."

     Thank you, Dan Rather.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The day after the debate

1.   On Thursday, Trump doubled down on his refusal to concede, using a mocking tone to tell the Ohio crowd at his rally:  "Ladies and gentleman, I wanna make a major announcement today.  I would like to promise and pledge, to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States, that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election. . . . If I win.”  Later in his speech he did say that he would “accept a clear election result, but I would reserve my legal right to challenge” a questionable outcome.

2.   As of midnight Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have maintained an eerie silence on the subject of Trump's shocking declaration last night.  An RNC spokesman has said the party would accept the election results, even if the candidate does not.

3.  Conservative author, radio talk host, contributor to Fox News Laura Ingraham tweeted out, even before the debate was over:  "He should have said he would accept the results of the election.  There is no other option unless we're in a recount again."

4.  Here's John McCain:   "I didn't like the outcome of the 2008 election.   But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance.  A concession isn't just an exercise in graciousness.   It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader's first responsibility."

5.  From Harry Potter creator, J. K. Rowling:  "Well, there you have it. A highly intelligent, experienced woman just debated a giant orange Twitter egg. Your move, America."

6.   My favorite comes from Trump supporter, Maine's Republican governor Paul LePage, described by Politico as "pugnacious, hot-headed, and occasionally vulgar."  He matches Trump in racist, anti-immigrant, authoritarianism;  and even outdoes him in openly vulgar expressions, saying on television that the state NAACP should "kiss my butt."  LePage's advise to his buddy, Trump:  “It’s a stupid comment. I mean, come on, get over yourself. . . Donald, take your licks, and let’s move on.”


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hillary Clinton will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017

Last night's debate could have been the best of the three.   It actually started out that way.    Chris Wallace proved to be the best moderator of all the presidential debates.  Hillary Clinton has just gotten better and was at the top of her debate game.   Even Donald Trump, for the first 20 minutes or so, had his voice and his impulses under some control, and actually engaged in some discussion of policy differences -- most notably on the Supreme Court appointments, gun control, abortion, and Citizens United.  Trump's answers pleased his supporters and the Clinton crowd was equally happy with her answers.    So we were off to a good start -- good, that is, on the curved, Trump grading scale.

But that promising beginning did not last.  Clinton continued to just get better.   Writer Andrew Sullivan, live-blogging about the debate, was initially somewhat critical of her.   By 10:00 pm he was describing Clinton as "calm, composed, and powerful."    By the end, he referred to a bit of opposition research she dropped on Trump as "stunning," and said: "She has been superb tonight – and got better as she continued."

In contrast, Trump started at his highest point and slid, dived, and eventually fell to his political death when he refused to say that he would honor the election results and concede if he lost.   "I'll look into it at the time."  It wasn't just a misstatement.   Chris Wallace tried to help him walk it back, but Trump was adamant:
Wallace:  “Sir, there is a tradition in this country . . . that no matter how hard fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner. . . and the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?
Trump:  "What I’m saying is, I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”
There was an audible gasp from the audience.   Everyone knew that this would be the headline from this debate.   Within an hour, online versions of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, plus Reuter's, the Associated Press, and NPR were all leading with this news flash.

Almost forgotten were Trump's gratuitous insults -- "We've got some bad hombres here."   Interrupting his opponent time and again with "Wrong."   "Wrong."   "Wrong."  Saying his accusers of sexual assault were all lying, probably put up to it by Clinton.  His doubling down on his praise for Russia and Putin, and then adding Assad to his list of strong leaders he prefers to President Obama.

Perhaps the most blatant example of the cognitive dissonance involved in following Trump was this juxtaposition:  "Nobody respects women more than I do."  Moments later, he interrupted the woman on stage with him to call her:  "What a nasty woman."

While Clinton scored high points as a debater, she left some people dissatisfied with her answers to real questions that have hung over her campaign:   her destroyed emails, the FBI investigation into use of private email server, revelations from the hacked emails of her campaign staff, and the possibility of conflict of interest involving big donors to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. 

Wallace raised some of those questions, and she skillfully dispatched with those she didn't want to talk about and used them to bring up other issues that gave her an advantage.  On one issue, the Clinton Foundation, Wallace tried to push Clinton further;  but Trump interrupted to pile on his criticism, which turned the focus to the Trump Foundation.  It was so smoothly done that you hardly noticed that she avoided going very deeply into her own thorny issue.   Good debate skills;  good political tactic;   not so satisfying for those who are worried about those issues.

Clinton also had polished her skill in making her policy positions more concise and easier to understand.   Sam Stein of the Huffington Post wrote that her answer on abortion policy "was the most eloquent defense of reproductive freedom ever delivered on a debate stage."

She was even more adroit than before in needling Trump, getting him to take the bait, and then sliding in the shiv with a well-placed bit of opposition research data (his full page New York Times ad critical of Ronald Reagen;   his complaint that the Emmy's were rigged when he didn't get one for "The Apprentice.")

But far more important than debate skills was the overall impression.   Hillary Clinton had the grativas, the knowledge, the composure, and the wisdom to be president.   Donald Trump would get an F on each of those qualities.

Next in importance to his refusal to commit to accepting our electoral transfer of power, in itself, was the likelihood that he doesn't even understand why everyone else thinks that is so significant.  As he has defensively said, "Al Gore did it."   Yes, Al Gore contested the vote count in one state that would have tipped the election, and where his opponent had a margin of only 637 votes, with evidence of voting irregularities.   He called for a recount.   But when it got to the end of the appeal line, the Supreme Court, Gore did not hesitate to accept the decision and conceded the election.    Trump does not understand the difference between contesting a razor thin vote tally in one state that would flip the result -- and refusing, even before the election, to ascribe to the foundational policy of democracy that the will of the people decides who will be their leader and their representatives.

Close behind these grave concerns is the admiration he continues to express for dictatorial leaders of adversary nations.    Despite all the evidence that had led 17 different governmental and private internet security experts to conclude that the Russian government at the highest level is behind the hacking of Democratic emails, for the purpose of influencing our election toward Donald Trump -- despite that expertise speaking with one voice, Trump still says "we don't know that."    This is the man who bragged that "I know more than the generals about ISIS."

Going into the debate, Clinton just needed not to make any big mistakes.   Trump needed a character transplant, some evidence of real compassion and humility, a sudden stock of policy knowledge, evidence of the ability to think about complex issues regarding those policies, and the calm judgment to be the commander in the situation room.

Clinton not only made no mistakes, she added immeasurably to her stature.   Trump failed to display even one of those listed attributes;  instead he made one of the most egregious errors in modern political history.

At the end of the evening debate about the debate, CNN reported the results of its live poll of who people thought won the debate:   Clinton 52%, Trump 39%. poll:  Clinton 49%, Trump 39%.  That only adds some data to what we already knew.

It's over, folks.   Hillary  Clinton will be the 45th president of these United States -- and the first woman to occupy the Oval Office.   Hail to the Chief.


Gotta have an excuse -- so: "the election is rigged."

[written before the debate]

Going into the final debate, Donald Trump turned more and more to his fall-back claim that the election is rigged and will be stolen from him.   Forget Hillary's hacked emails that have come out so far.   Not much there except some embarrassments that could be called  'strategy-room-talk.'  And, according to reports, there may not be more from Wikileaks, at least until after the election.   The Ecuadoran embassy has cut off Julian Assange's wi-fi access, apparently concerned about an obvious attempt to affect the U.S. election coming out of their embassy.

So it pretty much leaves Trump 7 points behind in the national polls, and Clinton with a 90 to 95% chance of winning in the market-based prediction polls, and nothing much for Trump to grab as a life saver.   So, Plan B.    Blame the loss on someone else.

Hence, all the blather about voter fraud, illegal immigrants voting, dead people voting.   Rile up your base with paranoid ferver.   You've already primed them by emphasizing how much the Washington elite, even the Republican establishment, have taken away from them.    So they're an easy mark to convince that the election -- and their messiah -- are being denied them.

There is real danger that Trump can do severe damage to our democratic system of peaceful and orderly change of government. What if he simply refuses to concede?    Legal experts say this will be dealt with expeditiously in courts.    Each state will handle any challenge to its vote;   evidence will have to be presented, and most states have set up deadlines for filing a valid challenge.

But, aside from legalities, it will likely leave a large portion of voters feeling they have been cheated.    Trump can either stoke their anger, try to lead a movement/revolution .  . . or not.   If there's any substance to the talk of a new media empire, it would likely be in the Breitbart fashion of paranoid, conspiracy theory and outright, outlandish false stories.

This direction is supported by a report from the Guardian's Ben Jacobs that the Trump Campaign has hired Mike Roman to run its "Election Protection" program.   Roman came to public notice in the 2008 election when he circulated an 80 second video clip of two tall black men, dressed in black paramilitary uniforms with black berets, one carrying a night stick, and standing in front of a polling place in Philadelphia.     The screaming narrative accompanying this photo was that the New Black Panthers were patrolling voting places to intimidate white voters.   The Bush administration investigated and found nothing much to it beyond this isolated incident, and chose not to pursue the case further.

However, in the 2010 midterms, looking for something to smear the Obama administration as being white-hating racist, Fox News resurrected this video clip, found a long-time GOP operative who claimed he had witnessed the Obama officials at the Department of Justice trying to sweep the whole incident under the rug.    Fox News ran the clip and the story nearly 100 times over the next several days.    In fact, it was the Obama DOJ that won a default judgment against the man holding the billyclub in the video, after the Bush administration had opted not to pursue the case.

So the man who started that hoax is the one they have now put in charge of "protecting" the polling places.   Trump cajoles people at his rallies to sign up to be a poll watcher on election day -- especially in the big cities because that's where the voter fraud is going to happen, the "inner cities . . .  you know what I mean."

In fact, it is widely established and agreed to in high level court cases that voter fraud (meaning voter impersonation) is almost non-existent.   One study found a total of 31 validated cases of voter impersonation out of over 1 billion votes.

Further, not only President Obama, but many Republican leaders are now speaking out against the idea that the election will be -- or even can be -- rigged.   Each state runs its own voting process.   And of the 15 states where the polls are closest (the states a fixer would concentrate on), 11 of those states have a Republican Secretary of State, the official in charge of elections.

Even Trump's surrogates -- even his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Trump's own running mate Mike Pence -- say the election is not rigged.   They pitifully are trying to say that what Trump means is that the media is against him, trying to influence people to view him negatively.    But Trump just keeps on contradicting them, tweeting out his charges:   "It's going to be rigged, folks . . . . at the polling places. . . . in the inner cities. . . . you know what I mean.   Sign up. . . . go watch them.   You have to watch them."

One report says that the sign-up response has been tepid.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Something important happened in climate control last week.

Before the Wednesday night debate unleashes another round of awful, a few things have been happening in the world.   Here's one.

Last week, a new international agreement on climate-change change was completed that may be even more significant than the Paris agreement on carbon dioxide emissions that was recently ratified by the required number of nations.  Representatives from more than 170 nations, meeting in Rwanda, negotiated a legally binding agreement to cut the worldwide use of one of the worst planet-warming chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are used in air conditioners and refrigerators.

Secretary of State John Kerry called it "the biggest thing we could do in one giant swoop" to limit the warming of our planet. . . .  "a monumental step forward."  Reducing the single-target chemical HFC, which has 1000 times the heat trapping potency of carbon dioxide, is far easier than reducing the ubiquitous carbon emissions. Fortunately, it's not either/or.   We will be doing both.

Scientists estimate that reducing HFC alone will stave off an atmospheric temperature rise of 1 degree, a significant portion of the 3.6 degree rise that's considered the tipping point of no return.

This agreement is also a step forward in cooperation between nations, with wealthier nations helping poorer nations with the transition and with financing.  It also specifies timetables and sanctions for nations that do not comply, whereas the Paris agreement is voluntary.   In several ways, this represents a more serious commitment from the international community to actually achieve results -- and a model for the future.    Paris was a major advance;   this one seems a step beyond that.

I'm constantly amazed that the Obama administration just pushed ahead despite so many Luddites in congress who still deny that human activity is contributing to warming.  Fortunately they were distracted by all the Trump shenanigans and didn't interfere.   


Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore suspended again

This is the year of political circuses.   We've been so distracted by all the bright, shiny outrages coming out of the tall shiny Trump Tower, that this triple scandal from next door in Alabama hasn't gotten its due.  In fact, the main story is months old, and the followup I wanted to report has been waiting weeks for its turn.

To recap:   The three heads of the three branches of state government (executive, legislative, judiciary) were all under different scandalous clouds earlier this year;  and they all risked being removed from office.   Alabama already had a D+ rating from the Center for Public Integrity that grades states on corruption.   Then in May this "scandal trio" hit the national news.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard faced 23 felony charges of using his office to obtain financial favors from lobbyists to benefit his businesses.  Governor Robert Bentley faced potential impeachment over allegations of an affair with a former staffer, using public funds to facilitate and hide it.   And Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended on charges of violating judicial ethics by ordering Alabama's probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.

This is not Moore's first run in with judicial ethics.   In a previous term as Chief Justice, Moore defied orders from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary (the oversight group for the judiciary) to remove his 2+ ton, granite monument of the Ten Commandments he had installed in the lobby of the Judicial Building.   Because of his protracted refusal and other charges, they removed him from office in 2003.   Later he ran for governor and lost.   But then in 2012 the people elected him again to the office of Chief Justice.

Then along came the 2015 SCOTUS decision on gay marriage.  Moore claimed that the SCOTUS decision did not apply to Alabama law, and he ordered the state probate judges to ignore it and to enforce the state ban, under threat of legal action.  The Court of the Judiciary stepped in again, suspending Moore again, and setting an ethics trial before the full nine-member court in September.

That is what has just happened and why this is news again.  Moore was defended by the same Liberty Council law firm that defended Kim Davis.   At the trial, Moore did not deny the charges;  in fact, his own words convicted him, and all nine justices found him guilty.   The Court could have expelled him, removing him entirely from judicial practice.  Instead, they opted to suspend him, without pay, through the remainder of his term as Chief Justice, which goes through the end of 2018.   He is not eligible to run for another term because of his age, so this effectively removes him permanently from office.

Richard Cohen, president of The Southern Poverty Law Center, which brought the case against Moore, commented on the verdict:  “The Court of the Judiciary has done a tremendous service to the people of Alabama by stripping him of his judicial power. . . .  He clearly did not understand the difference between being a judge and being a preacher.”

If my tone seems condescending toward Alabama, let me say that every family, including mine, has some crazy uncles that don't represent the best of us.   I have friends in Alabama, and they are good people, kind and big hearted and inclusive.   And Georgia doesn't have room to be smug.   We're not too far from having our very own colorful Lester "Ax-Handle" Maddox as governor.    And, by the way, the Birmingham News has endorsed Hillary Clinton.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Melania Trump talks about her husband on CNN

Anderson Cooper aired his interview with Melania Trump on CNN. She came across as poised and confident, portraying a marriage of two independent, strong individuals.   She says her husband has apologized to her for the tape, and she has forgiven him.   She asks that we do the same.    She says of the tape, "I was surprised, because this is not the man that I know."  She blames Billy Bush for "egging him on" and likens their talk to two teen-age boys talking.  (Trump was 59 and Bush was 33 at the time.)   She blames the media for distorting his image and thinks it's part of a conspiracy.

Someone only hearing this interview would not recognize the angry, yelling, rabble-rouser who feeds red meat to the crowds at his rallies and incites fighting.  In Melania's description, I do not recognize the man who lies constantly and who threatens some of the foundations of our democracy.   She seems not to know the demagogue, the would-be tyrant, who wants to wield the powers of the presidency to punish his enemies and silence his critics.

I can believe that Melanie's Donald exists.   Perhaps she brings out the best in him.  But she apparently does not believe that the Donald we see, day after day, debate after debate, also exists.  


Trump as a little boy, yearning to be loved.

In my professional work as a psychotherapist, sometimes people ask if it's difficult to feel compassion toward people whose behavior is sometimes so terrible. "How can you tolerate listening to it, day after day?" they ask.   The true answer is that it's usually possible to feel empathy and compassion when you can get in touch with the hurt child that's hiding behind the defensive behavior.

Throughout this tortuous campaign, I've occasionally tried to imagine finding that hurt place with Trump.    Is there a damaged child inside him?   Could I open myself up to that hurt child?  A week ago, the following essay on the Huffington Post helped me almost get there.  "Donald Trump's Cry For Love" was written by Ralf Michaels, a chaired law professor at Duke University.

However, the nascent whiffs of empathy quickly evaporated the next day, when he doubled down and then went ballistic in vicious attacks on the women accusing him, on Hillary Clinton, on the Republican establishment, on the media, on our democratic institutions and values.    It was just too over-whelming for me to hold on to any openness or compassion for him, when he seemed so dangerous to our nation, if given the power of the presidency.   So I put the essay aside . . . to try again another day.

Now today (Monday) seems like a bit of a lull in hell.   So I'm going to post this, knowing that Wednesday's debate will likely exacerbate the negativity even further.  I do think the essay offers insight, and I want to share it.  Perhaps it may have the effect on some readers that it had on me . . . for a brief moment a week ago.

"Donald Trump's Cry For Love"
Ralf Michaels

"Sunday’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was bizarre, but in a sense, nothing was as bizarre as its end. All evening, Donald Trump had been deflecting questions, denying facts, spurting lies and accusations. His stress level had been palpable, from his panting to the word salads that left his mouth.

"And then, all of a sudden, something changed. After Hillary Clinton praised Trump’s children, his whole demeanor switched. Like a stray dog that is suddenly caressed for the first time, Trump first reacted with insecurity: “I don’t know if it was meant to be a compliment.” And when she smiled and nodded, his whole demeanor changed. He praised her for not quitting. For the first time all night, he seemed sincere. Now he was able to formulate coherent, brief and pungent sentences. For thirty seconds or so, he looked relaxed, in control, almost likeable.

"The moment demonstrated something important about what is driving Trump: he is crying out for love. Trump does not actually want to be President. Trump wants to be loved.

"His whole conduct shows it. When he told Hillary in the first debate, bizarrely, how much he wanted her to be happy, we should assume he meant it. When he complained in the second debate that everyone was teaming up against him (“one on three”) we should assume he was complaining about a lack of love. How happy he looked at the end of the debate, when Hillary finally offered him the handshake she had refused at the debate’s beginning.

"It is, I think, this desire that explains much of his misogyny (without of course excusing it). Remember: to gain that love and admiration, this man will even throw the women in his family under the bus. He will cheer Howard Stern for calling his own daughter a piece of ass. He will demean his own wife just to be considered a tough guy. The famous bus audio was revolting, but it also showed something pitiful: a 59-year-old man who, by bragging about his sexual encounters, begs, inexplicably, for admiration from a 33-year-old lightweight named Billy Bush.

"Think how bizarre this is: a man, running for President, just to be loved. A man for whom poll results are as important as election results because they both demonstrate levels of love. A man who will say whatever the audiences at his rallies want to hear from him.

"And then think how dangerous it is.

"Trump has often praised himself as unpredictable. In reality, he is the exact opposite. His desire to be loved makes him as transparent as a soap opera. He has been ridiculed, and rightly so, for being provoked by a simple tweet. The Clinton camp lured him into the Alicia Machado trap, and he could not keep his calm. He hates those who do not like him with a vengeance, down to the members of his own party.

"More dangerous than his impulse at lashing back, however, may be Trump’s softness for signs of love. He has told us as much: Whoever likes him he will like back. When he said this about his opponents in the campaign — Cruz, Carson, Christie — we thought he was strategic, but he was sincere. When he said it about Putin we could see what world politics is for him: a gigantic game of liking and not liking. Trump found it even difficult to reject an endorsement from David Duke.

"For a private person, such a dependence on the views of others is a problem. For a President, to be run by desire to be loved is deadly. How easy it would be for anyone who knows him to cajole Trump. We can be sure Putin knows this well.

"After the debate on Sunday, when Trump walked across the stage, he looked almost like a little boy. That little boy just plays tough. Like a little boy, with all his tantrums, he only shows how much he wants everyone to love him. And perhaps we should really offer him, if not love, then at least compassion. And allow him to go home.

"What we should not offer this little boy is the Presidency of the United States."

It's easy to lose sight of this basic understanding of Trump when his retaliatory vengeance is so immediate, so fierce, and so consequential.    But, as Professor Michaels makes very clear:   understanding this about Trump in no way suggests that it can be tolerated in a president.

In fact, it is completely disqualifying.    Just the fact, alone, that Vladimir Putin is trying so hard to help him get elected is proof enough.    Putin understands this fatal flaw in Trump -- and is eager to use it to Russia's advantage against the United States.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Economist magazine cover is worth 1000 words

The Economist is a British news magazine with primarily an economic slant.  It is a serious publication, not given to hyperbole or conspiracy theories.   This is the cover of their latest edition.

Three columnists look beyond the lascivious Trump to his fundamental danger to democracy.

Three columnists across the political spectrum, from the New York Times' liberal Timothy Egan, to the Washington Post's conservative Charles Krauthammer, with the Washington Post's Fareed Zakaria somewhere in the middle but close to the liberal end -- these diverse three all share their concern with the lasting effect of the Donald Trump candidacy on our democracy, our country, and our people.

Timothy Egan says that Trump "has made America vile," daily ripping at "the last remaining threads of decency holding this nation together. His opponent is the devil, [Trump] says — hate her with all your heart. Forget about the rule of law. Lock her up!"

Egan continues, "Now in the final days of a horrid campaign, an unshackled Trump is more national threat than punch line. He’s determined to cause lasting damage. . . .  Civility, always a tenuous thing, cannot be quickly restored in a society that has learned to hate in public, at full throttle."

Look at Trump's lesson for young minds, Egan says.  ". . . young athletes chanting 'build a wall' at Latino kids on the other side. He’s made it O.K. to bully and fat-shame."   By his example, he's made it O.K. to assault women, to not pay taxes, to lie, to flirt with treason, to stiff people who work for you, to mock the disabled, veterans, and families of war heroes.  

But Egan also sees hope in the young people.  A group of students at Liberty University confronted their own president Jerry Falwell, Jr. -- who continues to support Trump even now, as do some other evangelical leaders  -- calling on Falwell "to practice what the school preaches," and saying that Trump is “actively promoting the very things that we Christians ought to oppose.”

And Egan concludes that "It will take many people like those students, and like the first lady, Michelle Obama, a model of decency and class, to repair the awful damage Trump has done."

*  *  *
I disagree with Charles Krauthammer more often than I agree, but this is one time we agree.   He calls it odd that Trump's campaign crashed because of a sex-talk tape, which should have surprised no one.  In fact, he says, Trump offers "a dazzling array of other reasons for disqualification: habitual mendacity, pathological narcissism, profound ignorance and an astonishing dearth of basic human empathy."

Added to those, in the second debate, Krauthammer says, was Trump's "threat, if elected, to put Hillary Clinton in jail.  After appointing a special prosecutor, of course. The niceties must be observed. First, a fair trial, then a proper hanging."  In his rallies since then, Trump has joined the crowd's cries of "Lock her up," with his own cry, “Lock her up is right. . . .  She has to go to jail.”

Krauthammer says that "Such incendiary talk is an affront to elementary democratic decency. . . .  In democracies, the electoral process is a subtle and elaborate substitute for combat, . . . [but it] only works if there is mutual agreement to accept . . . the legitimacy of the result."   But Trump keeps claiming that the system is rigged, and his ardent followers say that the only way for him to lose is if the election is stolen from him.   They simply do not believe the polls.   They're rigged too.

Krauthammer adds that "Vladimir Putin, Hugo Ch├ívez and a cavalcade of two-bit caudillos lock up their opponents. American leaders don’t . . . [or] even talk like this.  It takes decades, centuries, to develop ingrained norms of political restraint and self-control. But they can be undone in short order by a demagogue feeding a vengeful populism" . . . .

"In America, we don’t persecute political opponents. . . .  What makes Trump’s promise to lock her up all the more alarming is that it’s not an isolated incident. This is not the first time he’s insinuated using the powers of the presidency against political enemies."  He then cites threats to use presidential power against journalists who oppose him, and the media in general, making it easier for public figures to sue for libel.  He has also hinted that he would use various agencies of government to punish those who oppose him.

Krauthammer concludes:  "This election is not just about placing the nuclear codes in Trump’s hands. It’s also about handing him the instruments of civilian coercion, such as the IRS, the FBI, the FCC, the SEC. Think of what he could do to enforce the 'fairness' he demands. Imagine giving over the vast power of the modern state to a man who says in advance that he will punish his critics and jail his opponent."  [Let me repeat:   Krauthammer is a Republican, although an anti-Trump one.]

*   *   *
Fareed Zakaria, also writing in the Washington Post, makes the unsurprising prediction that Donald Trump is losing and that the Republican party is dying.   "It will be messy," Zakaria says:  "Trump has now made it clear that he will not go gently into the night.  In fact, he has declared war on the GOP establishment. His goal is surely to take over the Republican Party and remake it into a populist, protectionist, nationalist party, the kind that his Breitbart-oriented advisers have been dreaming about for years."

Zakaria sees Speaker Paul Ryan as leading the more serious conservative intellectuals, "who will try to restore the party to its Reaganesque ideology;  and VP running mate Mike Pence leading the Christian conservatives, who will try to bridge the divides and "keep everyone in a big tent."   But it's Trump "who has — for now, at least — the crowds, the energy and a powerful message."

 "Trump will lose the election. . . .  But Trump will not sit in loyal opposition to Clinton. He tells his legions that the election will be rigged. He says that the media are lying and that reporting cannot be believed. He warns that the country will be utterly destroyed if Clinton wins. He is fueling a toxic movement of protest and insurgency.  Trump will lose.   And he will destroy the Republican Party.   The frightening question is what he will do to the country in the process."

*   *   *
Only a short time ago, I was looking forward to November 9th, when this would "all be over."    How naive.  This election -- with all its messiness and outrageousness -- is about who we are as Americans and what kind of nation we want to be.   Fundamental to any other values and ideals, however, is the basic one of free elections of our leaders by the people.   If you sew doubt on that, as Donald Trump's propaganda is doing right now, and if the opposition party does not accept the results of an election and the legitimacy of our government, then our democracy begins to unravel.   Already we hear people at Trump's rallies calling for revolution if he is not elected.  It brings to mind this quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Franklin was asked as he left Independence Hall on the final day:   "Well, Doctor, what have we -- a Republic or a Monarchy?"   To which Franklin replied:   "A Republic, if you can keep it."

". . . if you can keep it" seems a more serious uncertainty than at any time I can remember.   Our work to "keep it," is not going to be finished on November 8th.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Additions to the Clinton endorsements

More newspaper endorsements for Hillary Clinton:    The Washington Post and the Boston Globe, two of the nation's most influential large city dailies.  And thanks to my friend Wally Buckner for sending me the editorial from the Birmingham News, another courageous paper from a conservative part of the country that's breaking tradition to endorse Clinton.   To readers for whom, they acknowledge, "it will be a bitter pill to swallow," they write:

"The 2016 election is not a choice between two candidates equally fit to serve;  or a choice between the ideology of two parties.  Trump is a unique threat . . . [and] we see but one option.  Clinton may be the second-least popular major party candidate in 50 years, but she is also one of the most qualified candidates in history.  And ultimately, if it isn't her, it's him.  And that would be a disaster for America and the world."  -- the Editors.


The warm, human side of Hillary Clinton

 Colin Ebeling and Hillary Clinton

Gay filmmaker Colin Ebeling posted this letter about his personal relationship with his "aunt" Hillary Clinton on Facebook Thursday.   It has since gone viral and been picked up by DailyKos, The Advocate, and Huffington Post.  I'm reposting it here, because it shows the warm, human side of her that we don't often see in her public roles.   But this is only one of similar personal accounts I have read over the past couple of years.   She's warm, funny, caring, and generous with her attention and affection.

"I’ve known Hillary Clinton since my early childhood. She and my mother have been best friends since they were little girls growing up in Park Ridge, IL. As a child, I knew Hillary Clinton not as a powerful attorney, child advocate or the First Lady of Arkansas, but rather as Chelsea’s mom — a warm, funny lady who taught me how copious amounts of hot sauce on your scrambled eggs will keep you healthy.

"To see Hillary portrayed as an evil, conniving criminal is baffling to me. Throughout my life, I have only known her as my mom’s most supportive and loving friend. Hillary took me on my first roller coaster ride when I was 12 years old (afterwards we shared a funnel cake). She spoke at my high school commencement ceremony and took photos with every single one of my classmates. The woman who signs her letters asAunt Hillary” congratulated me when I came out of the closet, when I got my pilot’s license, when I married my husband and when we adopted our baby girl. She checked in with my family regularly while my mom underwent surgery and treatment for breast cancer.

"I often send Hillary photos of my daughter and she always writes me back immediately, telling me which photo is her favorite and how she can’t wait to give the little one a squeeze.

"Hillary has included me and my husband in countless events over the years and always greets us with warmth and sincere affection. Several times, we’ve had the privilege to sit down with her and swap stories and, let me tell you, this woman can tell one hell of a story. Her dry wit rivals some of the best sit-com writers I’ve had the pleasure to work with. I’ve even witnessed her make her husband Bill laugh until he has tears streaming out of his eyes.

"So it truly pains me to see this smart, caring woman made out to be some sort of monster. I don’t know if I should blame the scandal hungry media, a right wing conspiracy or her current political opponent, but whatever the case, I can promise you that Hillary Clinton is, as my mom puts it, a good girl. I am truly blessed to know her and to have been raised with her as a role model of how one can be driven and accomplished while remaining humble, personable and kind.

"When you cast your vote for Hillary, I just want you to know you’re backing not only the most qualified presidential candidate in history, but a real person, a woman who values family, friendship and service to her fellow Americans above all else. You’ll be sending a message to my daughter that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. You’ll be electing a good girl. So for the next few weeks, put a few extra drops of Tabasco on your omelette — the American people need you to be healthy on November 8!"