31 March 2016

Trump yields to political correctness

Implicitly apologizing for yesterday's statement that there should be "some kind of punishment" for women who have abortions should the practice become illegal, Donald Trump's campaign now says that Trump misspoke and only wants punishment for doctors who perform abortions. Is this the beginning of the end for Trump, now that he has plainly, blatantly backed down on an issue in the face of almost universal outrage? To date, his unapologetic stance has been an important part of his appeal, but now Trump's fans have no choice but to acknowledge that he has apologized for something he said. Worse, he has done so under pressure from the media and both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" activists, when for all Trump knows his supporters may agree with his original statement. That certainly would be in keeping with their punitive mentality, their desire to see those they blame for the state of the country humiliated, at a bare minimum, by Trump's election. Meanwhile, as the Trump machine reels from its own humiliation, it's been interesting to see people attempt to explain why women who choose to have an illegal procedure that some deem murder should not be punished. As I predicted yesterday, the consensus against punishing women, against holding them responsible for their choice, is based on denying women the capacity for free choice on this particular subject. Here's what a theologian who sees himself as a pro-life feminist says on the subject:

Women’s equality was not about getting equal pay for equal work. Not about getting mandatory family leave and affordable child care. Not about passing strict anti-discrimination laws in hiring practices.What was essential for social equality, according to those responsible for our abortion laws, was that women are able to end their pregnancies when they are a burden on their economic and social interests. But being pregnant and having a child is often so burdensome precisely because our social structures have been designed by and for people who cannot get pregnant. Notice how, in this context, our abortion laws end up serving the interests of men and coercing the so-called “choice” of women.Someone who is coerced into having an abortion as a means of having social equality should not be put in jail. 

A right-wing anti-Trump website cites a 1989 survey showing that only 9% of professed anti-abortion people believe a woman should be punished for having abortions. The head of the March For Life organization argues against women's capacity for responsibility, arguing that they should not be held accountable for aborting because "women who choose abortion often do so in desperation." This desperation apparently makes women incapable of a morally or legally responsible choice -- especially if you buy the idea that evil abortionists and birth-control fanatics trick or brainwash women into choosing abortion. By this logic, people who purchase illegal drugs should not be prosecuted, since their addiction reduces them to a "desperate" state, but how many Republicans will follow the logic to that conclusion, especially when it isn't necessary to get votes. But if you see the belief that women who seek illegal abortions shouldn't be punished as illogical, then you may as well call yesterday's backlash against Trump by Republicans and pro-lifers what it seems to be: political correctness -- a reluctance to offend women based on a fear of electoral consequences. To make that clear, pro-choice women should use this moment to affirm their agency and responsibility when it comes to reproductive sovereignty, and to deny that they're dupes or victims of Planned Parenthood or the abortionists' union. They should say that even when abortion appears to be a matter of economic necessity, it remains a matter of moral responsibility that they accept for themselves, while doctors only implement their will. Let enough women say that, and we may start to hear something different from the right that probably comes closer to what they believe, or what Trump thought he believed.

30 March 2016

Trump's modest proposal and Republican hypocrisy on abortion

Senator Cruz and Governor Kasich are scandalized by Donald Trump's statement during an MSNBC interview that there should be "some kind of punishment" for women who abort their pregnancies if abortion is made illegal. "Of course women shouldn't be punished," says Kasich, while a Cruz spokesperson recommended "healing" rather than punishment for women who abort. I'd understand and sympathize if Trump were baffled by these statements. He probably expects them from the Democratic candidates, and the Clinton campaign has predictably delivered, but his assumption, now that he's a committed Republican, surely was that Republicans want abortions to be illegal. His assumption is correct, but when it comes to the people who have abortions, Republicans have long been strangely reticent about treating them as criminals, which is why I like to propose amending any anti-abortion bill poison-pill style with criminal penalties for women who abort. Perhaps they have some notion that they'll appear less misogynist if they don't demand some kind of punishment, but any such notion is naive. If anything, they may seem more misogynist if their refusal to criminalize women who abort is interpreted as a denial of women's responsibility and agency. Could Republicans believe that impressionable women have abortions only because they're tricked or brainwashed by wicked doctors or birth-control fanatics? Probably they could, since that seems to be the logic behind all proposals requiring women to be shown pictures and other information intended to dissuade them from aborting. If so, then while the reproductive rights movement claims agency, responsibility and sovereignty for women -- their mantra, after all, is "choice" -- the anti-abortion movement, in its patronizing way, denies them all these things by refusing to recognize them as criminals rather than ditzy dupes of the doctors. Millions of women no doubt are furious at Trump today -- and in the long run his statement may prove one of the nails in his general-election coffin, but despite his caveman reputation they should recognize that, while still their enemy, Trump for once actually respects women more than his Republican rivals do.

29 March 2016

Dictating the tone of a political campaign

Senator Sanders trails Hillary Clinton in the delegate count but continues to win states, sweeping weekend contests in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington. Sanders has challenged Clinton to debate him in New York, a state where she should have a big lead as a twice-elected Senator but also borders on Vermont. The Clinton campaign grows tired of debates and uses the occasion of the challenge to chastise Sanders for running a negative campaign, advising him to change his "tone" if he wants to share the stage with Clinton again. That Clinton is thin-skinned is well-known, but she and her people seem to be confusing the stance of the Senator with the attitude of many of his supporters, be they supposedly chauvinist "Bernie Bros." or leftists who see Hillary as a stooge of Wall Street. The Clintonites' own tone is ironic given how clearly Sanders has been battling Clinton with one hand tied voluntarily behind his back. The contrast with the Republican campaign is telling. Democrats boast lately of the high tone of their debates, and there's obvious truth to the boast. But is it really a flattering comparison when Sanders won't go as all-out to stop Clinton as Senator Cruz and his allies are going to stop Donald Trump? After early, calculated reticence toward Trump the campaign has become personal for Cruz and passionate for many Republicans who have no problem saying that they consider Trump unfit to lead their party, much less the nation. If the Sanders campaign lacks that same sense of urgency, Democrats may say that's because Hillary Clinton is no Donald Trump, but that's not saying much. Being liberals, Democrats idealize a campaign and debate in which each candidate says of the other, "You have some good ideas, but mine are better." That's presumably what the Clintonites want to hear from Sanders, and they may even claim that you do hear that about Sanders from Clinton, though what I've heard from her during the debates is that everything Sanders proposes is impractical or impossible. To be fair, she hasn't said that Sanders is unfit to be President because he calls himself a socialist, or for any other reason, but Bernie Sanders is no Hillary Clinton. It should not be off-limits during a primary campaign for one candidate to say that another is unfit to be President. You're not supposed to do that, of course, because the party is expected to rally behind the nominee and it'll look bad if someone now endorsing the nominee said earlier that he or she is unfit for office. The Republicans are tearing that rule book apart this year, and that may hurt them this fall, but there is a compelling if ugly honesty to the GOP race that transcends the stupidity of the front-runners and is absent from the Democratic campaign, where the party line, apparently, is that everything you've heard about Hillary Clinton is a big Republican lie -- and misogynist to boot! -- and Sanders doesn't give a damn about any of it. The only thing that seems to bug him is the speaking fees and the corporate donations she receives -- and his saying so was enough to get him branded a negative campaigner -- but things that bug so many others, not all of whom are chauvinist conservatives, are nothing to him. It would be strange if Sanders is refraining from going negative out of loyalty to a party to which he doesn't even belong, but he may well believe that he shouldn't say anything to damage Clinton considering what the Republicans are likely to vomit forth. But if you worry about how your words will impact someone else in November, haven't you really given up on yourself already? Sanders may talk a good game by demanding debates and drawing big crowds to his speeches, but if he hasn't already resigned himself to Clinton's nomination, his unwillingness to run an all-or-nothing campaign practically concedes it to her. If Clinton has a problem with Sanders's tone despite all this, she must have an intolerance of criticism that could rival Trump's -- which ought to make their debates really interesting.

28 March 2016

The liberation of Palmyra

Syrian government troops, supported by Russian air power, retook the historic city of Palmyra from the self-styled Islamic State over the weekend. Syrians, Russians and Iranians will say that Palmyra, home of many spectacular Roman-era ruins, has been liberated. Others will be reluctant to use that word, since the city now returns to the control of the old tyrant after a brief time under a new tyranny. But if we take a step back from the usual politics, we may remember that Palmyra's invaluable relics had been hostage during the IS occupation to the whims of iconoclastic religious fanatics who were proud to do damage to some of the sites that had been pagan temples. By comparison, the Assad regime has no motivation to damage the ruins, which in peacetime are sources of tourist revenue and, presumably, national pride. In the worst case scenario the government and Russian forces might have annihilated the site had that been necessary to dislodge the Daesh, but initial reports indicate that that wasn't the case. It seems safe to say that the ruins have been liberated, and it should be self-evident that wherever the Baathist government retakes land from the IS there is a relative liberation. The people who return to Syrian government control may be little or no more free politically, but many are more free to practise their religions. That may be a small thing to some outside observers, but it's not nothing to the people on the ground. To think of the Assad regime as a liberating force ought to be chastening to many armchair statesman and strategists in the U.S. and the west in general. Too many of us waste time wishing for a third force, better than either of the antagonists and something we can identify with, when if someplace like Syria should matter to us at all our obligation should be to identify the better of the two that exist. not on the basis of geopolitical partisanship but in terms of humanitarianism and international law. Under whom will the land's people be better off and the region surrounding the land more stable? There was a moment before the ascendancy of the IS when the west could see Syria as a simple struggle between tyranny and its opposite. Too many of us persisted in seeing things that way well past the time when anyone ideologically appealing to us had a chance. Once the Daesh became the greatest threat to Assad the "Assad must go" rhetoric should have stopped for the duration. To the extent that IS success in Syria would strengthen its ability to threaten other countries, and that the war-driven refugee crisis threatened to destabilize even more countries, the entire international community should have recognized an objective obligation to secure the Assad regime and drop support for any other faction, IS or otherwise. That wouldn't have meant lying to ourselves by calling the Assad regime a just or fair one, and nothing the international community might do or say should have obliged conscientious Syrians to obey unconditionally what remains in many ways a gangster regime. But once you determine objectively that the Assad regime is the least worst option realistically possible for Syrians today, you have to tell yourself that any genuine freedom fighters in that unfortunate country are on their own. It cannot be American or western policy to destabilize Middle Eastern governments while the risk of Islamist uprisings persists. If Syria is a representative sample, it proves that when outsiders try to incite or subsidize the internal liberation of distant nations from tyrants, it's the tyrants who'll end up the liberators.

25 March 2016

The Cruz-Trump duel: if only!

Senator Cruz is making a spectacle of himself this week and I don't know if it's doing him any good. The trouble began, as you'll recall, when Trump held Cruz responsible for an ad -- if you can call it that -- from an anti-Trump organization that insulted the current Mrs. Trump. Cruz quite plausibly denied responsibility, but an unappeased Trump threatened to "spill the beans" on Cruz's wife. Since then, another ad -- or was it just a tweet? -- compared Mrs. Cruz unfavorably with Mrs. Trump on aesthetic grounds. That was more than Cruz could stand; he couldn't stands no more! The Senator has called Trump a "sniveling coward" for attacking or threatening to attack Mrs. Cruz -- and that was before the National Enquirer published an article claiming that Cruz has had five extramarital affairs. The circle closed with Cruz blaming Trump for the tabloid accusation, accusing either the Enquirer itself or its sources of being Trump's "henchmen." While the supermarket tabloids all seem to support Trump -- I presume they're just pandering to the preferences of their regular audience -- there's no more reason to hold Trump responsible for what a tabloid publishes than to hold Cruz responsible for every anti-Trump expression within the Republican party.

Cruz may hope that this will be the "have you no decency?" moment that marks the beginning of Trump's end, but by now Trump's supporters, if not the man himself, have shown that they have no decency. What is "decency," after all, but another word for "political correctness" that gets in the way of telling people what you really think of them? Trump's fans probably will listen to Cruz and hear only whining. Two hundred years ago, there was another way to hold people accountable for dishonorable statements and slurs against your character. Fans of the hot Broadway show Hamilton will know what I'm talking about, and I wonder if that hip-hop historical play has made people think twice about dueling in an age when the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination are brawling in an outdoor sewer. Right-minded people frown upon dueling today because "honor" seems like a poor reason to kill someone. In fact, dueling actually did little to elevate the level of discourse then, mainly because relatively few people resorted to it. Jefferson never called out anyone who told stories about him and his slaves, for instance, while many contemporaries found dueling as barbarous as we do. But ask yourselves: when even the potential for being called out and challenged on the field of honor existed, how close could someone like Donald Trump come to political power before he was called out and really held to account for the crap he said? We can all deplore dueling, but if we agree that Trump and Cruz have dishonored the political process this year, what can be done about it apart from, if you're a Republican, voting for Gov. Kasich? There should be something we can do, beyond voting, to stop this from happening again, because we share in the responsibility for all of it by letting Trump and Cruz become popular. If we expect political candidates to behave honorably -- presuming that "honor" isn't just another word for political correctness -- then Americans probably should learn some code of honor themselves.

23 March 2016

The Cruz-Trump debate: best two out of three falls

Last night Donald Trump won Arizona while Senator Cruz took Utah, leaving Gov. Kasich in the dust of the west. The Republican party has reached a point where the most hated U.S. Senator within his own party is now the "establishment" or "stop Trump" candidate. There's little to choose between the two front-runners, but if forced to choose in some nightmare scenario I think I'd go with Trump, trusting that the billionaire would be so thoroughly checked by his own party -- assuming, as I do, that he doesn't have the fascist tendencies hysterics attribute to him -- that he'd do little damage despite his obvious idiocy, while Cruz is a smug stone cold ideologue whose face I can't look on for long without feeling an urge to punch it. As the Republican campaign appears increasingly to be a two-man race, the real debate between them -- as opposed to the talk shows they and Kasich occasionally participate in -- has found its appropriate level.  They and their supporters have gone past ad hominem attacks to ad feminam or ad uxorem tactics. It's no longer enough for Trump's opponents to note, as I did yesterday, that their nemesis performed briefly, and not so long ago, as a professional wrestler. Moving beyond that, one anti-Trump organization enraged the candidate by posting a cheesecake shot from her teen years of Trump's current trophy wife, arguing that such a creature, however, comely, was unworthy of the title of First Lady. Trump holds "Lyin' Ted" responsible despite the Senator's disclaimers, and warns Cruz that he can "spill the beans" on Mrs. Cruz if further provoked. The Texan responded to the threat by calling Trump a classless coward, which might have meant something if either man had a real sense of honor. Meanwhile, a Washington Post reporter has saved Trump some of his trouble by speculating (with some sources) on what the "beans" might be on Mrs. C. Things should really get interesting if Trump takes this spat beyond social media and starts attacking Mrs. C at rallies or, better still, at a debate. Senator C. might well sew up the nomination if Trump does something like that, as long as the Senator can pull off a Stone Cold Stunner. Of course, while Cruz celebrates Kasich could hit him with a chair -- except that the candidates stand at lecterns at the debates. The debate organizers should consider changing that arrangement if they want a debate Republicans would really understand.

22 March 2016

The foreign vote for Donald Trump

Since some people like to say that Donald Trump's speeches are perfect recruiting tools for the self-styled Islamic State -- I've heard that again today -- turnabout is fair play: the IS attacks on Brussels today make perfect campaign ads for Trump. In fact, while I don't really buy the argument that Trump will radicalize anybody, I have a stronger suspicion that each Daesh attack this year will radicalize more Americans, if you think voting for Trump is a radical act. The next thing you know, someone here will predict that IS will step up the attacks this year in order to get Trump elected, on the assumption that his words and policies will radicalize more Muslims, prove the IS point about a war on Islam, etc. etc. This would be a really narcissist stance for Americans to take, though I suppose it's inevitable when you think of terrorism as violence intended to change victims' minds. But it's easy to get tangled up analyzing the motivations of terrorists, especially when you throw in the whole notion of "propaganda of the deed." Are those people perpetrating terrorist acts in order to terrorize us into complying with their geopolitical or religious demands? Or are they doing it in order to provoke the enemy into showing its true, evil face, and thus drive more people to the terrorist side, as the "propaganda of the deed" concept suggests? I think it's a lot simpler than some people make it, and I don't think it's about us as much as other people make it. Muslim terrorists do their thing because they're convinced that they have a duty to do so. A generation or so ago Arab terrorists may have been reacting to specific acts of oppression, but by now terror is an end unto itself, a religious duty imposed not so much by the persistence of oppression as by the persistence of jahiliyyah, the state or pre-Islamic "ignorance" now identified by Islamists with wherever sharia doesn't prevail -- including many Muslim-majority countries. For those who've bought into that idea of Islam, there's nothing we can do short of submission to stop them from taking the fight to us. With the proclamation of their would-be caliphate, they're the aggressors now, and I don't think they care at all who gets elected President this year -- they're getting bombed now, after all, and that's unlikely to stop next January. Nor should we care what they think of whom we might elect. None of that means they can't have an influence on the election, as I suspect they inevitably will; it just means they don't do it in order to influence the election. In any event, why should it benefit Trump in particular? Senator Cruz is as belligerent on Islamism as Trump, after all. But somehow Cruz doesn't project power and resolution the way going-on-70 Trump does. Cruz has not stood in the squared circle the way Trump has. He has not taken the Stone Cold Stunner and survived, like Trump did. Obviously if Trump can do that he has nothing to fear from the headcutters of Raqaa.

Well, maybe that's not how all Trump's supporters see it, but what they all probably like about him, and what many others abhor, is Trump's indifference to consequences, or more specifically his indifference to what some will think of him doing what he thinks has to be done. Fortunately, what Americans think of him can have a consequence in November. But what we do about Trump should have nothing to do with whether the terrorists want him as President or not.

21 March 2016

Politics is the continuation of fighting by other means

Charles Krauthammer wrote a well-meaning column last week condemning both Donald Trump's belligerent rhetoric and the tactics of protesters seemingly out to silence him. He probably goes too far when he describes the protesters as "totalitarian," but that's an issue for another time. The real problem with his column is that, in attempting to explain why Trump, his more pugnacious supporters, and the protesters are all wrong, he unwittingly explains part of the nation's belligerent mood. He does this in one sentence: "Politics is the civilized substitute for settling things the old-fashioned way -- laying your opponent out on a stretcher." This is a dig mostly at Trump, who's expressed nostalgia for a former time when the sort of agitators who disrupt his rallies would be stretchered out of them. But I'm not sure whether Krauthammer himself entirely understands what he wrote.

In what way does politics substitute for physically beating down your opponent? According to Krauthammer, it's a more civilized way of settling things. But if more people in 2016 seem to want to beat opponents down, or drown them out by screaming, that's probably because politics, i.e. elections, seem less and less capable of settling anything, because no one really acknowledges that they are -- figuratively speaking, for now -- beaten. There's no deference to the electorate by those in the political minority, and the presidential electorate gets the least deference of all. In part that's because American constitutional government limits the amount of deference a President can expect. Our system of checks and balances gives each legislator in Congress the prerogative to defy the President, a power exacerbated by partisanship, while the President's own prerogative is inherently limited by the Constitution. No American is obliged to give the President anything he wants simply because he won an election. At the same time, Americans feel that elections entitle the President or the winning party to something, but they see the major parties conceding virtually nothing. They may even agree with strategies of obstruction, depending on who the President is, while complaining that politics accomplishes or settles nothing.

With the modern intensification of ideology and identity politics, more Americans may feel that the winning candidate or party simply doesn't represent them and thus is owed nothing by them -- not even the benefit of the doubt for a "honeymoon" period. It was probably inevitable that this would rub against the democratic (or should I say "populist?") grain. Whatever the Constitution says, common sense tells people that the result of an election should settle something. Specifically it should settle that the country should move in a chosen direction whether the opposition likes it or not, though within constitutional bounds. Common sense probably tells people that those who supported the losing side have an obligation, if not to roll over and obey, then to respect that the winning party represents the majority and can't be treated like an alien menace, subject to something more akin to unconditional resistance than to principled opposition. Common sense most likely tells people that the opposition may have a right to say that the winning side is wrong, but also has something like a moral obligation, presuming that democracy itself is a moral imperative, to give the President or party in power a chance, if not the benefit of the doubt.

The anger of 2016 is based largely, I suspect, on a feeling that politics settles nothing because no one will give anyone else a chance. Democrats, liberals and progressives -- throw some other groups in and call it "the Left" -- are angry because they feel that Republicans have never given President Obama a chance. Trump's supporters started angry over many things but are growing even more angry that many seem unwilling to give Trump a chance. Behind all this is a feeling, perhaps incompatible with the Constitution, possibly consistent with "authoritarian" impulses elsewhere in the world, that opposition needs to be toned down to some extent between elections. That feeling is complicated in this country by both the First Amendment and the fact that, for now, the U.S. is governed, if that's the word, by a concurrent majority, a Democratic President and Republican Congress checking each other. But who thinks things will be settled if a Republican (especially Trump) wins the White House while the GOP retains Congress? Or if the White House remains Democratic and that party reclaims the Senate, as some think possible? Yet this country, to coin a paradox, will never get moving again until some things are settled, and on an instinctual level both the protesters trying to bumrush Trump rallies and the Trump supporters itching to clobber the protesters seem to understand this. They may recognize that if politics alone doesn't settle things in the way Krauthammer suggests, they may have to be settled the old-fashioned way. If Americans want to avoid that sort of settlement, they should acknowledge that no matter what their political philosophy or their demographic stake in government, they are answerable to everyone else in the country and bound in some inextricable and irrefutable way --which still needn't put a gag in their mouths -- to the will of a majority of their equals. In short, if your party or your candidate lost, you can't act like the other one didn't win, or else winning means nothing and neither does democracy. Such an acknowledgment may come hard to those conservatives who want government to do nothing or those liberals who want elections to settle nothing (if settling things requires any self-restraint of opinion), but that would only confirm our established impression that neither liberalism nor conservatism as practiced here can help us much. What does that leave?

18 March 2016

No civility, no peace?

Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, defends the protesters at Donald Trump rallies and implies strongly that they were justified in forcing the cancellation of a Chicago rally one week ago. In the face of Trump's desire to see protesters arrested, Robinson warns the candidate that "demonstrators have the legal right to protest — and that a candidate for president of the United States has no countervailing right not to be protested." Trump and his people might attempt a distinction between protest and disruption, saying that the latter crosses some legal line, but Robinson contends that protesters have just as much right as anyone else to attend a Trump event, as long as they are peaceful. Here's another sticking point. Trump insists that the protesters are not peaceful, implying that they behave violently before security ejects them or before his own supporters attack them. Robinson and many others dispute this claim, and to my knowledge no video exists showing protesters spontaneously attacking Trump supporters in the seats. Robinson also defines "peaceful" protest as broadly as possible, to an extent Trump and others might not accept. "I’m talking about nonviolent demonstrations, of course," Robinson writes, "but nonviolent does not necessarily mean quiet, timid or small."

In effect, Robinson is arguing for protesters' right to drown Trump out, but it's fair to ask, as Trump himself has, whether liberals would feel the same way were Trump supporters organizing to drown out Hillary Clinton or Senator Sanders. However you fell about any of these politicians, the honest answer can only be that liberals would accuse pro-Trump hecklers and shouters of being bullies like their hero. Likewise, it could be argued that a cross burning on its own is a non-violent form of protest, but would Robinson agree, or would he see it as some unacceptable form of intimidation? In Trump's case, Robinson seems to believe that a desired end ('[T]hose who believe in the hallowed American values of openness, tolerance, decency and the rule of law have the absolute right to say “No!”') justifies means he might not justify when used for different ends. The volume, brazenness and size of anti-Trump demonstrations are justified for Robinson mainly because he sees Trump as a bigot. "These protests are important because they show that Americans will not take Trump’s outrageous nonsense lying down," he writes, "I believe it is important to show that those who reject Trumpism are as passionate and multitudinous as those who welcome it."He rejects the cautionary objection that shouting Trump down will only strengthen him by "heighten[ing] the sense of persecution and victimhood that Trump encourages among his supporters."Instead, he believes shows of mass disapproval "might help energize voters to come out and reject Trump in November."

On one level, Robinson is making the leftist argument that "bigotry" isn't entitled to a respectful hearing and deserves to be shouted down, whether the "bigot" sees himself as one or not. But since he's defending the protesters on freedom-of-speech grounds, he ought to acknowledge that the freedom to drown out your opponents can only be mutual and not reserved for subjectively-defined thoughtcrimes. He writes that Trump has "the absolute right" to say the things Robinson finds awful and bigoted, but he doesn't quite mean that. In effect, Robinson is arguing for a primitive sort of democracy in which public speech is equally the prerogative of everyone yet ultimately competitive in a zero-sum way. If a critical mass of protesters silences Trump in Chicago, to Robinson that seems to be democracy at work. It is, in an old sense of the word according to which the vox populi belonged to whoever gathered more people to yell louder in some public square. It's still true, however, that Trump's supporters greatly outnumbered his supporters at the Chicago venue. Could they have drowned out the protesters had Trump decided to go on with the rally? It wasn't an option, since drowning them out would have drowned out Trump himself. The pro-Trump majority would have no alternative but an appeal to a still-more primitive sort of democracy, since determined protesters can be silenced only by physical force, as when security guards remove them individually. Only the sort of mass brawl Trump apparently feared could have "drowned out" the Chicago protesters, apparently. Why wouldn't that be democracy at work as well? Robinson's answer would be that the counter-protesters would have resorted to violence, but if they want to hear their man, why should their will be vetoed by a loud minority? The implication of refusing them would be that if any minority is so angry and loud that only physical force can silence them, the majority must defer to them. Has a minority -- a political minority, that is, -- any obligation to defer to a majority? Not so much as you'd think, since this is America, but more Americans may be coming to believe that in a real democracy the will of the majority should, if you'll excuse the word, trump most minority objections, particularly when those objections are expressed in the arguably nonviolent but also uncivil manner seen in Chicago and elsewhere this year. And as I've asked before, what will the protesters do if Trump becomes President? Would the winter of his inauguration be followed by a "spring" of the sort seen in Egypt or Ukraine, and then by a long, hot summer?

Democracy in America wasn't meant to be a matter of who can yell the loudest or who can bring more fists to a fight. The Framers probably never imagined a time when a candidate for office -- who by their rules of etiquette shouldn't electioneer for himself anyway, much less in Trump's vulgar manner -- was so odious to so many that he could barely make himself heard on the stump. Of course, had any of them rivaled Trump for any office the billionaire probably would have found himself called to the field of honor, if he wasn't caned in the street. Perhaps Trump should consider himself lucky he lives in our time, the only time, perhaps, when as vacuous a boob as he could vie plausibly for the highest office in the land. We can argue that attempts to shout him down are an affront to liberal democracy, but his success to date probably means that liberal democracy was in big trouble before any of Trump's antagonists raised their voices, not just because the party-primary system lets him flourish, but also because people have grown so disgusted with the whole political process that they just want to see Trump wreck things and humiliate people. Inevitably, that makes people want to humiliate Trump and his fans. Democracy has become a petty thing, but unless you can name any likely dictator material out there I guess we're stuck with it, though neither Donald Trump nor Eugene Robinson are doing it any favors.

16 March 2016

Trump's priorities

During the recent brouhaha over David Duke's endorsement of Donald Trump some people noted that while Louis Farrakhan had not formally endorsed the billionaire candidate, the Nation of Islam leader had spoken favorably of him. Farrakhan was particularly pleased that Trump, whose campaign is self-financed, was not currying favor with Jewish donors. To my knowledge, no one asked Trump to repudiate Farrakhan's praise, but if he hasn't done so with words he now does so by action. Claiming a schedule conflict, Trump says he'll skip the next Republican debate -- and thus will kill it, since Gov. Kasich says he won't attend just to debate Sen. Cruz -- in order to address AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Granted, this isn't the same thing as putting on a show of Zionist devotion to impress Sheldon Adelson, but while Trump may not need any Jewish donor's money, he obviously feels a need to nail down the Jewish vote. Apparently they're the one group other than white Christian males that he dares not alienate.

For what it's worth, AIPAC routinely invites all major-party presidential candidates to its annual conference. Hillary Clinton also will be there, while Senator Sanders has not yet confirmed his participation. Since the AIPAC conference is a three-day event there are openings for Cruz and Kasich to appear also, but their plans are unclear. Cruz probably is the most fanatical Zionist of the remaining candidates, having notoriously walked out of a gathering of Christian refugees from the Middle East, whose cause he normally champions, when they booed Israel. Sanders is the only Jewish person in the race but is non-observant. Kasich is a critic of President Obama's stance toward Israel. What Trump will say is hard to predict, but it's easy to say at this point that he'd rather have a podium to himself than debate his rivals again. I wonder, however, what his populist base would say if either of Trump's rivals had the guts to state plainly that he'd rather perform for the Israeli lobby than test himself against them. If his base leans toward Christian Zionism, seeing Israel's existence as part of God's end-times plan, there probably isn't much to wonder about.

15 March 2016

Inclusiveness as a form of extremism

Katha Pollitt is a diehard supporter of Hillary Clinton and in the minority among Nation magazine contributors, as attested by the magazine's endorsement of Senator Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Pollitt believes that a double standard prevails when feminist Clinton supporters are accused of being "vagina voters" but male Sanders supporters must not be called sexist or labeled "penis voters." Sanders himself has disavowed any appeal to male solidarity or chauvinism, as Pollitt notes, but as with many self-appointed representatives of groups that have suffered discrimination, she sees privilege behind his attitude. "When the whole system has been set up by men for men since the founding of the Republic," she writes, no explicit appeal to male supremacy is necessary -- and no appeal to gender-blind objectivity is adequate. In a recent Nation column Pollitt states bluntly that "Women should have 50 percent of power in every area of life, if not more....It's simple justice." She believes the U.S. should emulate Ireland, which recently enacted a law requiring political parties to give at least 30% of their nominations to women in order to receive public campaign funds. She remains convinced that despite all the counterexamples available of reactionary female politicians, from Margaret Thacher to Sarah Palin, "more women in government benefits women."

"Is that such a wild thing to say?" Pollitt asks immediately afterward, and I'd answer that it is if she believes that only more women in government can benefit women. I suspect that Pollitt does believe that, since she spends the rest of her column asserting that the one big thing Sanders can do as President to benefit women is to make sure there are more women in government. Pollitt's kind of feminism is a form of extremism. In her insistence on proportional representation by gender as a minimum demand she's asserting an extremist form of "inclusive" politics, at the opposite extreme from the blatantly discriminatory, exclusionary politics of the recent past. This sort of inclusivism shouldn't be confused with the compensatory policies designed (or desired) to counter past discrimination. Those policies, viewed objectively, are designed to level a playing field with an eye toward the true meritocracy dreamt of by Martin Luther King. While debates continue to rage over when the compensatory regime should end, most advocates of those policies envision an end, however distant and however unilaterally determined. Pollitt is advocating something else: inclusivity as a permanent principle of government, according to which there must always be a certain minimum of women in power. That demand is based on the sort of essentialist thinking we were supposed to have overcome, the assumption being that women, as women, have something unique to contribute to any deliberation or decision, both for the common good and for women especially, so that the community as a whole and women in particular suffer when women are insufficiently represented in government. The implicit corollary assumption is that no man can represent or serve women's interests as well as women, for reasons of temperament, perhaps, or as a plain matter of identity. At some level, the demand for permanent proportional representation for women (or for men) presumes an inimical element in gender relations. Pollitt half-jokingly suggests minimum representation for races as well, and the message would be the same then: one race can't be trusted to serve the others' interests fully or all equally. She may as well demand minimum representation for gays, with specific quotas for lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, etc., but we really should discourage this sort of thinking, especially if all of this is an argument for Hillary Clinton. To say that questioning Clinton's integrity  is misogynist, as some (if not Pollitt) imply, is as bad as saying that any critic of Israel is an anti-semite.

The whole point of the great anti-discrimination movements of the 20th century and beyond, or so I thought, was not just that no group was superior or inferior to the others, but that no group had special qualities or attributes to exalt or stigmatize them. The argument against racial discrimination was that there was no difference between black and white, yellow or brown. The argument against gender discrimination was that the biological differences between male and female were irrelevant to their intellectual capacity or fitness for responsibility. Any argument for proportional representation rejects these premises, asserting instead that women, for instance, do have essential, exclusive qualities and attributes, the only difference being that now these must be recognized and included -- in some cases without asking too many questions about who specifically is included -- rather than excluded. But if every group recognized (or stigmatized) under the old hierarchy of discrimination and chauvinism has some essential quality or attribute, then what is the special particular attribute of the white male -- or, if you will, the Christian or the straight white male? I can't help suspecting slightly that some if not many outside that circle, however you draw it, will say its special quality is evil. If that group is assumed hostile to every other group, what else can you assume about it? Granting that many straight white males (to include myself), not to mention Christians (to draw the circle wider) have done evil in history, to believe, as extremism like Pollitt's implies, that this group is inherently adversarial if not oppressive toward all the others, and incapable of representing anything but itself, is to be a bigot.

14 March 2016

Counting coup on Trump doesn't count

Student groups celebrated their driving Donald Trump out of Chicago over the weekend, while the man who tried to rush Trump's podium in Dayton OH --without a weapon, as far as I know -- boasts of having "bullied the bully" and "delegitimizing" Trump. In other words, there's a lot of self-delusion going on if these people think they have at all weakened the Republican front-runner. If anything, they'll probably make him stronger as a backlash builds against increasingly organized disruptions of Trump's campaign events. People like these should know from experience that nothing enrages or emboldens extremists than attempts to silence them. They should understand that they aren't delegitimizing Trump at all for anyone outside their ideological safe space. Seeing an older video of Tommy DiMassimo, the Dayton provocateur -- whom Trump seems to have mistaken for an Islamic State sympathizer -- makes it plain that people like him are operating on id as much as Trump and his fans are. They seem to be driven by the same impulse to denounce by insult while basking in their own righteousness. You don't make a spectacle out of stepping on the American flag and expect to accomplish anything positive in this country. Iconoclasm and a threat to occupy the public sphere are all such people have to offer. I'm not normally bothered by this sort of leftist excess, but for leftists to mistake their exhibitionism for political accomplishment at this time, much less exalt it to a higher plane of activism than the electioneering outreach necessary to stop Trump, is pathetic. What do they propose to do if Trump is elected President? Bumrush the inauguration? What will that prove? That they won't accept Trump as their President? They don't get to do that unless they do everything in their power to get people to vote against him,and if they fail he'll be just as much their President, whether they like it or not, as Obama is the President of his haters, whether they like it or not. And even though the Obama haters were dedicated to opposition and obstruction from day one, they did not make a scene at either of Obama's inaugurations of the sort that you know the Trumpophobes are planning should the day come. The sort of displays DiMassimo puts on, equivalent to the tantrums of Trump and his people, won't accomplish anything toward any goal he may have for a better country or world. But I doubt whether he has any real goal apart from self-expression, which under a decadent sort of liberalism becomes an end unto itself, whatever else happens to the nation. After all, isn't that what we boast of, in essence, when we condemn the authoritarians of the world: that we are free as long as we can say Fuck You to our leaders and our fellow citizens? You'd think the authoritarians would take note and let their people blow off steam as ours do -- but they probably take their people too seriously to do that.

13 March 2016

Sauce for the gander: what is Sanders' responsibility?

Fair is fair: if we want to hold Donald Trump responsible for his fans when they attack protesters -- if we want to say that Trump has a responsibility to tell his fans not to hit protesters, or not to wish they could be hit -- than Senator Sanders has to be held responsible to the same extent when avowed supporters try to shout Trump down at his rallies. That is, Sanders has to disavow any attempt to shut down Trump rallies and to remind his fans that Trump has as much right as any candidate to get his message out. To be clear, I feel pretty certain that Sanders is in no way encouraging anyone to make scenes at Trump rallies. But if one candidate is to be judged by those who support them, so must all the others. Like it or not, Trump was right this weekend when he said that the media would go berserk in a way we haven't really seen yet if his fans disrupted rallies by other candidates, especially the Democrats. He surrendered that moral high ground a bit when he threatened to have Sanders rallies disrupted, but the point remains valid independent of the man. The fact is, the left does get a free pass to an extent in cases like this because they're perceived as the common people speaking truth to power, while Trump, to the extent that he is perceived to preach "hate," is implicitly deemed eligible to be shouted down.

The real problem remains that there's a failure to communicate even before the hecklers get started. A typical scene took place yesterday: Trump repeatedly had to utter his "Get 'em out!" catchphrase as protesters rose up one by one. Finally he vowed that he would "take the country back" from them. He really needs to clarify from whom he means to take the country back, because people insist on hearing that he wants to take it back from ethnic minorities while restoring political if not also cultural primacy to whites. I really don't think that's what he means, but he shouldn't take it for granted that everyone knows what he means, especially if he believes that people are out to distort his message. I don't advise this thinking that he can clarify his position to everyone's satisfaction, since some people are bound to link or stake their personal identity to whatever political faction or class from whom Trump might want to reclaim the country. Unfortunately, it's probably impossible to completely detach Trump's sort of populist-conservative discourse from racial politics, since it seems inevitably at odds with the compensatory regime on which many minorities and women feel dependent for protection from perceived straight-white-male-christian hegemony. In turn, the other side is so convinced of its moral superiority, which could never be subject to a vote, that it finds an "all means necessary" defense against Trump tempting, however limited their means may actually prove, even though not all Americans will share their assumption that silencing a perceived hater is a moral victory. If Bernie Sanders still dreams of winning a national election, he needs to set these people straight and take responsibility for their future conduct without accepting blame for their past deeds. If Sanders himself entertains the idea that it's right for anyone to disrupt Trump's rallies and try to silence him, then in that respect he's no better than Trump himself and possibly worse. Nothing would be more likely to confirm Trump's perception of Sanders as a "Communist" in the worst sense of the word. Again, I don't think Sanders is guilty of ordering or approving of the disruptions, but if Trump continues to spin these incidents into a left-wing conspiracy it won't be enough for Sanders to be not guilty. He has to make a stand for civility as soon as possible and leave Trump to hang himself with his own words.

11 March 2016

The whole world is watching...

Donald Trump sounded almost philosophical about cancelling a rally in Chicago after fights broke out inside and outside the venue between supporters and protesters. He personally did not sound angry; rather, he seemed more cognizant than ever of the anger breaking out on all sides during this presidential campaign season. He seemed unwilling to acknowledge that the protesters were angry at him, but he seemed to concede that they had reason to be angry at the general state of things in the country. Presuming the protesters to be mostly black, he mentioned the high unemployment rate among black men and blamed it on incompetent government. He obviously meant the Obama administration but, this being Trump and no respecter of the Bushes, he may have been thinking further back in time as well. I think he sincerely believes he can offer blacks a solution as part of his effort to make American great again, but he seems at a loss to comprehend why they and other minorities seem so hostile to him, why they seem to assume that he and his simply want to kick them to the curb or beat them away from the lifeboat. For all we know, any of Trump's remaining Republican rivals, and even his new friend Dr. Carson is more likely to want to throw masses of Americans to the wolves in the name of ideology or "morality." But Trump is trapped, by his fault or not, in a perception that his is the angry white movement, that all his appeals to national pride are coded appeals to whites only, and he may not know how to reach out, especially at a time when some minority spokesmen seem determined to make it more difficult for others to reach out to them. Democracy, as I keep on saying, means mutual accountability. On the most primitive level, you saw that if you saw Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters fighting tonight. If Trump wants to convince the enduring majority of skeptics that he's the sort of uniter he claims to be, let him figure out a way to move the debate to a higher plane.

10 March 2016

Idiot confirms Trump voter stereotype

John McGraw is now the face of the Donald Trump movement, whether Donald Trump likes it or not. This 78 year old North Carolinian is an angry, old white male. Taking Trump's wish that he could punch protesters in the face to heart, McGraw saw his chance last night when the usual delegation of protesters was getting escorted out of a Fayetteville venue. I'll let InsideEdition tell the rest.

Dismiss David Duke and his ilk if you will, but I think Trump does have to repudiate this guy, or at least what he did. Trump and his people may resent hecklers, and others besides them may resent these hecklers' agenda, but unless you're going to buy into the dubious idea of "free speech zones" you have to concede that democracy comes with a certain amount of confrontation. People want the powerful to hear them, and that means getting in their faces in a sometimes obnoxious way. But no matter how obnoxious they get, it's the first person who resorts to violence who loses. McGraw hasn't made his hero's life any easier, since people already suspect Trump and his followers of "fascist" tendencies, and Trump himself has shown an impatience with dissent. To an extent I can empathize with him -- Trump, that is, and not McGraw. The hecklers clearly don't go to his rallies to give Trump a fair hearing; they clearly have a set notion of what he's about and they don't like it. Trump has a right to feel that his own rights are being violated, but the sort of dissent he's encountering should be taken seriously as a warning, just like the dissent authorities try to restrict to "free speech zones" wherever the WTO or the G8 gathers. It may be bad form for some people not to listen respectfully to Trump, but if the rest of us are obliged to respect the anger behind the Trump movement, then Trump as a candidate for elected office has an even greater obligation not to ignore people's anger at him or wish it beaten into submission. Despite his self-proclaimed outsider status, he is exactly the sort of power to whom all should be free, or should have the courage, to speak the truth as they see it.

09 March 2016

The Michigan Mystery

Senator Sanders won the Democratic presidential primary in Michigan by a very narrow margin, but it now looks like his mightiest blow of the campaign so far. The Vermont socialist is showing endurance and unexpected strength. Michigan was most unexpected and may go down as a debacle for opinion pollsters on a level with their call of the 1936 presidential election for Alf Landon. They were predicting a comfortable victory for Hillary Clinton, but as Wired magazine points out -- and they're not the first -- conventional polling simply isn't reaching the younger voters who form Sanders's base because pollsters haven't yet adapted to the age of the smartphone. Their polls are based disproportionately on callers who can be reached on landline phones, and they disproportionately favor Clinton. Beyond this apparent blind spot, opinionators were predicting a Clinton win since the last debate, believing that Sanders was alienating minorities with his body language and word choices, and that Clinton had nailed him by bringing up his vote against a bailout bill she credited with saving the Detroit auto industry. As far as demographics went, Sanders benefited because blacks, despite Detroit and Flint, formed a smaller part of the overall vault, while those who voted favored Clinton by a considerably smaller margin than their counterparts in southern states. The real color that dominated in Michigan may be rust. As many have noted the morning after, Michigan favored the two candidates, Sanders and Donald Trump, most hostile to bipartisan free-trade orthodoxy. Whatever else they were thinking by voting for either man, their Michigan supporters deserve credit for not thinking as consumers first, as Republicans in particular want them to do when it comes to working-class issues like trade, wages, etc. For nearly two hundred years, the argument for free trade has been an argument for the primacy of consumers' interests, as laissez-faire advocates have urged citizens to think of themselves primarily as consumers who can only benefit from tariff-free competition. They've said the benefit comes when domestic manufacturers are compelled to make better products, but the real benefit, such as it is, has always been cheaper products, better-made or not, and the real consequence inevitably is jobs lost. This has only grown more obvious once labor markets around the world could compete practicably for the privilege of manufacturing products. The reigning consumerist ideology asks each of us only to think of our own pocketbooks, but doing so is an economic equivalent of the "first they came for..." complacency Martin Niemoller denounced in Nazi Germany. No job or sector of a national economy is an island, after all, and both Sanders and Trump signal that they understand this, though Trump, as a Republican, is still more likely to scapegoat government and labor for the mass outsourcing he denounces. Michigan may show the ascendancy of a protectionist electorate that no Republican but Trump is likely to win, while Clinton's challenge, should she prevail over Sanders, is to repudiate a major part of her husband's legacy. Enduring uncertainty about what she stands for -- the right thinks her a far leftist, but of course the left knows better -- helps explain the Michigan result as well. The state wasn't exactly make-or-break for Sanders given his wins over the weekend, but it was certainly the greatest opportunity this week for Democrats to say that they don't want this primary campaign to be over just yet. Just as the more ideological Republicans are keeping Senator Cruz viable, either to stop Trump or to force him towards orthodoxy, so many Democrats, including many donors, are keeping Sanders in the running, even while realistic about his long-term chances, in order to show Clinton what a real Democrat, or a real liberal, or a real progressive should look like -- and I don't mean the gender.

08 March 2016

The gospel of Trump?

Many prominent figures on the "religious right" oppose Donald Trump's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. They seem as baffled as anyone over Trump's success so far. Here is a self-evidently decadent celebrity who flaunts a foreign trophy wife, and yet he polls strongly among religious conservatives despite efforts to anoint Senator Cruz as their secular messiah. Of course, although Cruz is a Southern Baptist -- his Cuban father was born Catholic but was "born again" in this country -- some religious conservatives may look at his name and assume otherwise, and the coincidence of two Cuban-Americans competing with Trump does seem to be triggering some nativist backlash. But Trump's appeal can't be explained entirely by the negatives of other candidates. Some speculate that, in spite of his lifestyle, Trump's promise to "protect Christianity" inspires loyalty in believers who feel beleaguered by Muslims, secular humanists and so on. Yet one doubts whether Cruz or Rubio, at least, would be any less zealous in defending a constituency on which all Republicans depend. What I want to know is if anyone has attempted an exit poll asking whether primary or caucus voters believe in the "prosperity gospel." I suspect that the numbers would correlate pretty strongly with support for Trump. One Washington Post writer has picked up the scent, and a google search will reveal a number of stories from last fall about Trump attending a prayer meeting with preachers identified with the prosperity gospel. To such people, Trump probably would look like the Lord's anointed. Since Puritan times, many Protestants have felt that material success proves you one of the Elect. The prosperity gospel is a decadent form of this faith, little more than magical thinking. All you need to do is pray and give to the pastor and God will make you prosper. Voting for Trump is even easier: he doesn't ask for donations and all you have to do is vote a couple of times and America will be great again. Of course, not all Trump's followers are Protestants, much less the sort of Evangelicals or Pentecostals who espouse the prosperity gospel. But it may be helpful to think of the Trump campaign as a secularization of the prosperity gospel, an appeal to faith in Trump's powers with a promise of material rewards in this life, in the form of renewed American prosperity. Skeptics' questions about how Trump will accomplish this are irrelevant to the faithful, since for them his past success is sufficient proof of his ability to accomplish what he promises. It would be good for Trump if more Americans thought this way. Were he elected, and were he to fail to deliver on his promises, he could simply tell the people, as the marks of the prosperity gospel must, that their faith wasn't strong enough.

07 March 2016

Will political correctness burn Sanders?

While the recent Republican presidential debates have been disgraceful by the standards of rhetoric and decorum, some of the post-debate commentary following last night's showdown between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may be nearly as embarrassing. The hypersensitive condemnation of the Vermont senator's mere words and gestures makes you understand what so many Americans like about Donald Trump. We are being told now that it is wrong (and probably sexist) for Sanders to point his finger at Clinton and tell her not to interrupt his answer to a question, and that it is wrong (and possibly racist) for him to describe black neighborhoods as "ghettos." As an old white guy, Sanders is presumed guilty of "patronizing" attitudes and postures even when he attempts to empathize with people or defend his own rights against an aggressive rival. It should be clear by now that there are many Democrats with whom Sanders literally can never win. Before I get jumped myself, let me make clear that "many Democrats" do not include "all blacks" or "all women." But there are many Democrats of all ethnicities and gender identities who apparently cannot look at or listen to Sanders without having their antennae out for signs of anything "patronizing," or cannot think of Hillary Clinton as anything but the representative of all women.

Amid ongoing speculation about the biases or pathologies of so-called "Bernie Bros," I think I see a definitive difference between Sanders supporters and Clinton fans. "Bernie Bros" are resented for assuming that many Clintonites support Clinton only because she's a woman, but it doesn't follow from that that they oppose her because she's a woman. Instead, while Clinton supporters can't keep themselves from thinking of Hillary as representative of women -- if they don't support her solely because of her gender, they assume that people oppose her because of it, and they see Sanders' behavior toward her as representative of his attitudes toward women  -- Sanders supporters, male and female, see her only as Hillary Clinton, a public figure with a specific record of policies, opinions and actions that make her less suitable than Sanders for the highest office in the land. Of course, if so that will only convict the Sandersites of insensitivity in the eyes of their opponents, who themselves are arguably guilty of a sort of bigotry if they presume, as their criticisms imply, that Sanders' "patronizing" attitude is characteristically if not exclusively male and/or white. Since Barack Obama was accused of being "patronizing" toward Clinton at times in 2008 (e.g., "You're likable enough.") I think this "patronizing" thing is more gender-based than race-based, despite some resentment of Sanders' "ghetto" remark. If the "patronizing" issue hurts Sanders in the Democratic primary, however, it's just as likely to bounce off whichever battle-hardened Republican emerges with the presidential nomination. Whether the GOP nominee is Trump or not, he will certainly campaign against "political correctness" in a way that will preempt all protests, at least for his own supporters if not also the undecided, against his attitude or demeanor during debates with Clinton.

As for Sanders, I worry that one lapse into political correctness of a sort months ago will prove his undoing this spring. That lapse, for a time the most memorable utterance of his campaign, was when he said that no one -- meaning Democratic primary voters and himself -- gave a damn about those State Department e-mails. I don't actually think he was being chivalrous toward Clinton then -- for wouldn't chivalry be "patronizing?" -- but I do suspect that Sanders reflexively took the party line that Clinton scandals are fake issues counterfeited by Republicans and thus not worthy of discussion in Democratic debates. But by granting Clinton partisan immunity on the e-mail issue Sanders arguably condemned himself to battle her with one arm tied behind his back. Still, it's hard to know whether he could have done otherwise, since it seems politically incorrect to question Clinton's personal integrity among Democrats -- apart from criticizing her speaking fees and who paid them. Of course, Sanders could renege on whatever promise he made to himself at any time, but by now it may too late to start that attack, just as Sen. Rubio seems to have discovered the scandals of Trump University too late to help his own cause. Still, it might be worth Sanders' while to throw the long bomb. It could well blow Clinton up, and it would also signal, for those looking for signs of strength this year, that Sanders doesn't plan to be "politically correct" with Trump or whomever the Republicans vomit forth. Unfortunately, Sanders has to make his case now with possibly the most "politically correct" part of the electorate, the Democratic primary base, and when you're "politically incorrect" with them, you can actually pay a price -- as may the rest of us.

03 March 2016

A modest proposal for Mitt Romney

What on earth makes Mitt Romney think he can stop Donald Trump by giving a speech? Whose minds, exactly, does Romney think he can change? It's more likely that Romney's intervention will only make Trump supporters double down, while it might make still-skeptical Tea Partiers, those sticking to Sens. Cruz or Rubio, to reconsider their resistance to The Donald. To many Republicans, and many conservatives outside the party, Romney is the embodiment of a GOP establishment incapable of motivating the hidden majority -- those traditionalist Americans who've allegedly remained aloof from politics because no one really represents their reactionary values -- the way Trump seems to have or promises to do. Romney himself now seems to believe in a hidden majority of his own: the center-rightists who secured his nomination in 2012 but presumably stand aloof now because all the remaining contenders, except perhaps for Gov. Kasich, are too far to the right. Romney failed, however, to do the one practical thing he could do at this moment and endorse one of Trump's three remaining rivals, instead saying that any of them would be better, and have a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton, than Trump. It might have been more practical still for Romney to skip the speech and use whatever influence he still has to convince two candidates to drop out and turn the race into a mano-a-mano that Trump would be more likely to lose. It's a pretty good guess, however, that neither Rubio nor Kasich is willing to stand down in favor of Trump's strongest rival, the almost equally despised Cruz. The Republican situation now is the reverse of what it was when Romney won the nomination four years ago. Then, the insurgents were divided while the "establishment" was united behind Romney. Now, insurgents are coalescing around Trump while the establishment remains divided. And on the other side of the Republican divide, no one wants to listen to a loser insult Trump. This is what the "establishment" candidates still don't get. The reason their attacks on Trump haven't seemed to work is because the attacks are coming from them, and thus can be dismissed on ad hominem principles. The Stop Trump forces need to find a credible "outsider" spokesman willing to take the fight to Trump on his own terms, as a spokesman if not a candidate, or else there's one thing Romney could do to get the Trumpeteers' attention at a level they can comprehend.

Mitt Romney, as everyone knows, is a pretty rich guy, if not as rich as Trump. He's telling Republicans now that Trump is sure to get beat in the general election. So what? many will answer; so did you, Mitt. What Romney should do now is tell people that Trump will get beat worse than he did, and put some money behind the prediction. If he's so confident that Trump will be crushed in November, let him bet an appropriate amount of money, at least seven figures -- not to give to Trump, but to donate to some charity chosen by rank-and-file Republicans -- that Trump will get fewer electoral and/or popular votes than he did in 2012. If that happens, Trump makes the big donation and Romney can look toward 2020 with the same sort of "I told you so" line Jeb Bush is sure to offer. If Romney loses the bet, it's unlikely he could look much worse to the TPs than he does already, and if Trump actually wins the election Romney may still be able to say he told them so four years later if President Trump effs up as badly as many expect. This is the sort of pro wrestling level challenge that would actually intrigue Trump's fans, and you might well see some pressure placed on Trump to take the bet and prove his monetary manhood. The idea may sound outlandish and unbecoming the dignity of a presidential election, but dignity is down the drain already and anti-Trump Republicans should be willing to try anything now. I won't even ask to be credited with the idea; consider it my bit of disinterested benevolence during the campaign season.

02 March 2016

Jeffrey Lord can't tell left from right

Jeffrey Lord acts as Donald Trump's spokesman or cheerleader on CNN. He often provides entertainment by getting into arguments with Van Jones, a liberal activist. The entertainment seems to come from Lord saying incredibly stupid things. I thought I'd heard the stupidest thing he could possibly say back in December, when he told Jones that people who oppose Trump's immigration policy should also have opposed the civil rights movement, presumably because both phenomena have made bad people angry. But Lord may have topped himself last night during CNN's Super Tuesday coverage. He and Jones were arguing over what Jones felt was Trump's too-tepid disavowal of David Duke and, by extension, the Ku Klux Klan. Jones was observing that Trump did not seem as passionate about denouncing people associated with the Klan, a historically terrorist organization, as he did denouncing other terrorists, when Lord interjected that the Klan was a "leftist terrorist organization." Jones was outraged over Lord's attempt to play "word games" with history, but Lord wouldn't back down from his characterization. He was, in fact, taking the familiar line of Republican sophistry that holds the Democratic party of today responsible for the sins of long-ago Democrats who supported racial segregation and other offenses against equality. He described the Klan as "the terrorist wing of the Democratic party," which was arguably true back in the days of Reconstruction, but how does that put the Klan on the historical Left?

For Lord, the key seems to be Woodrow Wilson, who was both a "progressive," and thus a pariah to the modern right wing, and a segregationist whose reported endorsement of The Birth of a Nation helped inspire the Klan's resurgence. But even if you want to hold modern "progressives" responsible for Wilson's failings, how does that put the Klan of the 1870s, forty years before Wilson, on the Left? The answer depends ultimately on how you define "Left." Lord's comments seem absurd to most people because they know that the Klan opposed racial equality and federal sovereignty, which puts them on the "Right" by the standards that have prevailed for the last 50 years. Lord himself may think that the Democratic party has always been the American Left, its consistent sin, as he described it last night and this morning, being that it "divides the country by race." Originally, as the party of slaveholders and segregationists, it divided the country by denying blacks equality. More recently, through some alchemy Lord did not explain -- he denies that segregationist Democrats became Republicans, despite the example set by "Dixiecrat" standard-bearer Strom Thurmond -- Democrats have divided the country by overcompensating on blacks' behalf, by making them a dependent or favored class, presumably, and by playing the race card against Republicans, and so on.  Leftists have often been called divisive, of course, though it's more common to accuse them of dividing a nation or people by class, but to use the Democrats' historic flip-flop on race as a reason to call the Klan leftist is simply mind-boggling. Maybe he thinks the Klan was just like the Nazi party, an entity Republicans like to assign to the Left because it called itself  "national socialist." But if anything, in its consistent opposition to non-WASPs, a hatred that extended to Catholics, Jews and most immigrants and contradicted the historic efforts of Democrats outside the South to integrate these groups into American citizenship, the Klan more closely resembles the stereotype of the Trump movement, as David Duke presumably assumed when he endorsed the billionaire. Lord's attempted sophistry is unlikely to alter anyone's perceptions, and it only makes Trump look bad if he's actually authorized this idiot to speak for him. I'd bet that Trump himself, if put on the spot, would say the Klan was right-wing rather than left, but while he's not a conventional Republican, Jeffrey Lord -- a veteran of the Reagan administration -- is. Trump may want the Republican nomination, but he'd be better off without Republican cheerleaders like Lord.

01 March 2016

Put up your Duke

David Duke is one of those gifts that keep on giving. As this is a free country, Duke has as much right as anyone to make public statements of support for political candidates. Apparently he's too dumb to realize -- unless you want to use your imagination and think of him as an agent-provocateur -- that he can only make trouble for anyone he supports publicly. Add to that a confused Donald Trump, who had forgotten that he'd denounced Duke many years earlier,  and now we have rabid right-wing Republicans playing a race card against the GOP front runner. Trump, they say, has a moral obligation to disavow Duke's endorsement, and Trump has done so, though apparently not to the satisfaction of his rivals and some leaders of the party, who fail to see how this, like so many attacks on Trump, can backfire on them. Usually when Duke endorses a Republican, the Republican response to inevitable criticism is to remind people that until very recently a former Klansman was a very powerful Democratic U.S. Senator. This time Republicans are doing the criticizing,  while Democrats are waiting their turn, but Trump's supporters, who feel no need to apologize for anything this year, may find his Republican critics as hypocritical as they claim Democrats are.

Isn't any Republican -- especially any southern Republican -- hypocritical to demand that Trump disavow the endorsement of a white supremacist? Does anyone doubt that Sen. Cruz and Sen. Rubio received endorsements from tens or hundreds of thousands of white supremacists -- presumably holding their noses while endorsing Cuban-Americans, however redeemed by their Castrophobia -- during their senatorial campaigns? Yet neither man volunteered to have those endorsements stricken from his vote total. That's understandable at a practical level, since we can't know exactly which voters were white supremacists, but neither man can really believe that he received no white-supremacist votes. Of course, Republicans like to say that there aren't any white supremacists out there except for the pathological few who can't help advertising their bias with white sheets or brown shirts. If you're guileless enough to avow yourself a white supremacist, you can be disavowed, but if you keep it on the down low -- on the radio call-in line or on the Internet or at the bar, for instance, or nowhere but at the polls -- it's all good. Someone like Duke proves useful when right-wingers want to smear their rivals on the right, but Republicans will need to be careful about that tactic this year. Consistency may demand that if Trump can't have a white-supremacist endorsement, his rivals should refuse white-supremacist votes in advance. Normally that would be a no-risk tactic on the "no one's a white supremacist" principle, but this time people might actually take offense. This year the white supremacists probably are siding with Trump, whatever his own actual feelings on race, but their endorsing him for their stupid reasons shouldn't stop anyone else from supporting Trump for their own unrelated stupid reasons.