Donald Trump, the Ultimate Affirmative Action Candidate

After I watched the first presidential debate last night, I asked myself how someone as unprepared to serve as president, as ill informed about the world and national policy, and as badly composed could be the nominee of one major political party.   Many citizens must have been asking the same question, and I will add, although I shouldn’t have to, that the question pretty much ignores the politics of it all.  The perplexity has to do with the candidate, not his policies (?) or his Party’s policies.

It then occurred to me that Trump may be the ultimate affirmative action candidate, and here I am using “affirmative action” in the parodied, distorted sense its many critics have used it.  In their minds or in their cynical rhetorical strategies, affirmative action means that unqualified candidates take jobs that White candidates deserve because of liberals and their quota systems.  In reality, affirmative action mostly means this: because racism and bigotry have been at the heart of American history from the get go, perhaps some proactive (affirmative, as opposed to passive) steps to enlarge candidate pools should be taken.  I teach at a university that is “an affirmative action employer.”  All that has ever meant here is that the university advertises jobs so as to attract women candidates and candidates of color.  It has never meant that any department or program must hire person X because of that person’s gender or ethnic background.  Never.

But using affirmative action in the reactionary, parodic way, one may easily conclude that Trump is that affirmative action candidate the White Right has always warned us about.  He is completely unqualified for the job, if we take experience, temperament, knowledge of history, knowledge of global politics, grasp of policy, grasp of economics, ability to handle complexity soberly, patience, etc., into account.  But a mass of “angry White voters” wants him because they must have a White reactionary, and even a White Supremacist, president.  Birtherism is nothing more than an iteration of showing that “uppity” Black man who’s boss.

Trump’s supporters suffer from the cognitive dissonance of there having been a Black president for 8 years.  Even White evangelicals are flocking, so to speak, to Trump’s candidacy. Don’t laugh!   I’m just spit-balling here, but I can’t see evidence of Trump’s representing a Christian view of the world.  He is, for one thing, the Mammon candidate.

Even the media are in on the game.  They tend to normalize the horror he represents. They discuss him as just another Republican nominee, except for his fame and eccentricity.  The appropriate responses–incredulity, perplexity, outrage, urgency, figurative evisceration–are infrequent, at best.

Somewhere between 35 and 40 million citizens will vote for Trump–maybe more. They will do so because they must have a White male president, a White avaricious male demagogue, racist, misogynist, and xenophobe.  Qualifications be damned.  The country be damned.


All Politics Are (Not) Local

Herein the blog asserts that Governor Chris Christie’s journey from New Jersey (where he is caught in the consequences of using the other kind of bully-pulpit to bully politicians who didn’t support him) to Las Vegas, where he must kiss the ring of a GOP Mega-Funder, is emblematic of the pseudocracy.

Such is the pseudocracy that ancient adages may be threatened.  Probably the adage, “You can’t beat something with nothing,” remains reliable, although didn’t John Ashcroft lose to a dead person in Missouri? Oh, well: the exception that tests the rule.

The blog believes (here I imitate Bill O’Reilly: “The Factor believes . . .”) that the adage “all politics is [are] local” is endangered. True, Chris Christie has his eye on the White House, so it is expected that he would suck up to a national Mega-Funder. That said, Mega-Funders such as the Koch Brothers pour money into House elections, flooding Congressional districts, and those elections frequently feature state officials wishing to climb, but they don’t climb based on how they brought farm-money home; they run on how well they conform to a nationalized Tea Party formula.

Moreover, the “issues” seem increasingly national. That is, if you associate with or want to please the Tea Party, you must be rabid about the budget in a Tea Party sort of way, viciously anti-Obama (not merely anti-Democratic), nativist, Randian, and NRA-friendly. You must, essentially, run on the implied promise of getting nothing done. “I will do nothing about immigration. I will do nothing about health-care, except oppose ways to deliver it. I will not work on the budget. I will work against it. I will not soil my hands with policy. I will vote regularly on symbolic ‘legislation.’ I will make government not work.”

And the idea of a New Jersey Governor flying to Vegas–Vegas: how perfect is that?–to perform for cash somehow captures what the Citizens United decision not so much did to politics in the U.S. but what it completed. The coup de grace.

Of course, candidates in both Parties must suck up to Big Funders, although it must be said that one way Obama and Democrats fought back against oligarchical money was to raise money online from “small” donors–three bucks a pop, even. Nonetheless, the Dems have their bundlers and Mega-Donors. In this sense, it is a one-Party system.

And even the online appeals to small donors have a national character, so that (for example) if a citizen gave money to Obama’s campaign, he or she will be asked every day to contribute to election-campaigns in a wide variety of states and Congressional districts, however far-flung.

There may come a time when Democratic candidates must fit themselves to a constrictive mold. For the moment, it seems as if only the GOP is functioning that way, so that experienced politicians (like Dick Lugar) get undercut by primary-challengers who have agreed to shape themselves according to assembly-line specifications. Model Tea Party.

Christie is in trouble because of painfully provincial, local, and stupid politics. Shutting down a bridge? Really? But he hopes to escape by doing a pole-dance (block that image) in our real national capital, Vegas. Viva, Chris Christie!

Meanwhile, the blog sentimentally longs for the old days of moderately corrupt pork-barreling, when at least we could count on incumbents to bring home money for roads, bridges, and buildings, and thereby (wait for it) put people to work. What a quaint idea. Horse-and-buggy thinking. Dear Blog: Grow up! Way too local and pragmatic for the pseudocracy, which, like our data, lives in a Cloud and cannot, must not, concern itself with what might be productive for a state, a district, a county, a city, or some people.

All politics are vaporously national. Does the assertion hold up? The Blog must ask some political scientists.

The Unintended Literature of Politics

Here is a brief quotation from a story in the San Jose Mercury News about Senator Santorum’s quitting the primary-campaign:

Bridget Nelson, a Tea Party activist who co-hosted a March 29 fundraiser for Santorum in Alamo, spoke with him Tuesday and said she’s “bummed” but will soldier on.

“I felt that for the first time in a long time, here’s a presidential candidate the conservatives can get behind who loves God first, country second,” she said. “He just said he wants to be involved still in politics and hopefully in the future possibly running again in 2016, but right now this is the best decision for him and his family.”

If this conversation were depicted as “overheard” in a novel like WAR AND PEACE, we’d be fascinated by all the ironies and nuances. Consider just the mixture of language itself:

“Tea Party,” “Alamo,” “bummed,” “soldier on,” “loves God first, country second.” The first two samples are often interpreted simplistically, but anyone who looks carefully into the Boston Tea Party and the defeat at the Alamo will ponder the unintended complexities in Ms. Nelson’s statement. Then comes “bummed,” straight out of “bum trip” or “bad acid trip,” from the 1960s. “Soldier on”: voters as PFCs. And finally, “loves God first, country second.” I don’t mean to be difficult, but shouldn’t all voters want a candidate who respects the country and more or less keeps his or her faith to himself? Aren’t a hefty number of Americans perturbed by some Muslims, who indeed love God first and country second, as their faith instructs?

If you haven’t read the first page of WAR AND PEACE in a while, you might give it a go. There’s a party going on–a high-class one–in St. Petersburg. War is about to happen. But the odd entanglements of language, egos, and petty desires–as they often do–intrude.

The Issue of Wedge-Issues

The noted semi-pro source, Wikipedia defines a political “wedge issue” as ” […]a social or political issue, often of a divisive or otherwise controversial nature, which splits apart or creates a ‘wedge’ in the support base of one political group.”

That I can’t immediately think of a wedge-issue Democrats have used to attract GOP voters (or independent voters) or to suppress GOP voting (by cheating fair and square, as opposed to legislating voter-suppression) probably only means I haven’t been paying attention; it could also mean that the GOP is simply better at using wedge-issues. They seem to be better at a lot of things associated with campaigning. In a moment, I will take a stab at identifying a Demo-wedge-issue, however.

It most certainly also means that my definition of a wedge-issue would be limited to those issues that–however they are decided, and they may have already been decided–they will not materially affect the lives of the voters whom are wedged.

My favorite example is “gay marriage,” which the GOP, by putting the issue on state ballots, has used as a wedge issue. There I am, voter X, a man married to a woman. For whatever reason, I oppose gay marriage. So I find myself leaning toward the GOP on this issue and in general because the issue is on the ballot this time. The proposition on the ballot will outlaw gay marriage, but maybe gay marriage isn’t even legal in my state. Moreover, even if it were legal, how would two gay men’s getting married materially affect my life? And what if other things proposed by the GOP were going to affect my life negatively? I might ignore all that because I’m quite emotional about the wedge-issue. So the tactic has not just peeled me away from the Democrats; it has pulled me away from my own self-interest–arguably.

One probably could argue, with some good reason, that what the Dems call “the war on women” is a wedge-issue designed to attract Independent and Moderate-GOP voters–of all genders. However, if for the moment we use my narrower definition of “wedge issue,” a reasonable counter-argument might be that, if I live in a state that has passed the mandatory invasive-imaging law governing women who go to a clinic that offers abortion, I am voting based on something that could, if I am a woman, materially affect my life and other women’s lives. And men’s. Many fathers of women must be appalled by this law.

Such a situation doesn’t make the Democrats less cynical than the GOP, of course, and I mention this example chiefly to highlight the difference between a gratuitous wedge-issue and one that might have more legitimate impact on lives.

In any event, the concept of a wedge-issue and the deft deployment of referendum-voting to drive wedges home may reasonably be viewed as one more element of the pseudocracy–an element deployed by both major parties.

Of “Statesmanship”

A far-flung colleague with some personal experience with Congress wrote the following:

“A statesman can get elected, but never re-elected. Much of the voting populace thinks it’s begging for a statesman, but what it really wants is Pontius Pilate. The impact of the ever increasing media and the various outlets for immediate and accessible communication have made statesmanship impossible. What allows for statesmanship is the desire of the voters to elect someone whom they trust to do the right thing on their behalf. In this day and age, virtually all of the voters think they know the right thing regardless of how this knowledge may have been acquired.”

To follow up on the point(s) a bit: the more confused voters are, then, by the process–lies, truthiness, spin. baiting, propaganda–the less likely they are to know who might have their genuine best interests in mind, and the less likely they are to identify correctly what their best interests are. In this regard, it is interesting to observe the reactions to the bombing of Libya. The reactions from politicians seem chiefly calculated; some may be “philosophical” or principled: hard to say. The reactions from common folk seem products of predispositions against or for intervention (in general) or against or for President Obama. One wonders how many of the reactions are based on a thorough calculation or consideration of “self-interest.”

My own “self-interest” in the political arena tends to include a desire for long-range planning–in matters of foreign policy, the revenue-side of the budget, the environment, land-use, energy (precisely how safe are the reactors–I mean really?), and so on. I’ve never been tempted to vote for a candidate (for example) because she or he might lower, raise, or leave alone my personal local, state, or federal taxes. I cite this example merely to demonstrate how flexible the “self” part of “self-interest” can be, not to suggest my way is correct.

The Oxford Dictionary online links statesman and statesmanship to the good or expert management of the state and its interests, but I think the terms have taken on a connotation that suggests the politician in question is acting with a bit more honor and a bit less personal calculation than does the usual politician.

Once in a meeting of our faculty, a good friend and colleague could have pressed for a vote that would have gone his way, but instead he chose not to press the issue and to let the issue be unresolved until the next meeting, when his side of the issue may well have not prevailed. A dean at the time remarked, “That’s very statesmanlike of you.” Just so. The friend and colleague was being fair-minded–another connotation of “statesman” and “statesmanship,” maybe.

The word “statesman,” by the way, goes all the way back to 1600–the first OED citation being from a play by Ben Johnson. Also of interest (to me) is that we the people haven’t quite yet found a non-sexist equivalent; “the language,” that protean force, hasn’t accepted “stateswoman” or “statesperson.” Something satisfactory, idiomatically, to our “ears” will come along.

But back to the original points from the far-flung colleague: politicians, their handlers, and the media have so confused most citizens that most citizens may not know what their long-term self-interest may really be–as condescending as that may sound. People really do vote against what reasonably seems to be their self-interest. At the same time, politicians seem so caught up in zero-sum games, posing, baiting, and playing to the base that an old-fashioned, even quaint, notion of “statesmanship” never occurs to them.

Was President Obama behaving in a statesmanlike way when he compromised on health-care? I don’t know, but at the moment I’m leaning 60% toward a “Yes.” What is far more interesting, even to me, than my opinion (or lack thereof) on this matter is that it is probably impossible to have this discussion with most citizens. Many progressives’ visceral response is that he “caved in” on the single-payer option and sucked up to large health-insurance companies. Many conservatives and other GOPers and apparently all of the “Tea Party” will have the visceral response that he let the federal government “take over” health-care. There just doesn’t seem even to be the elbow-room available to conduct the discussion.

Is No Rhetoric Worse Than Spectacle-Rhetoric?

I think Thom Hartmann made a good point on his radio show yesterday: that Congress at least should have discussed if not voted on the president’s decision to direct American airplanes to bomb Libya and the broader decision to get involved in the civil war there.

Hartmann’s reasoning is that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war and not, therefore (an implicit therefore, Hartmann admits), the president.

Of interest is that a Rep. on the right and one the left agree with him: Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich. But therein, perhaps, exists a symbolic demonstration of how little power Congress, and thus the people they allegedly represent, has/have over the decision to go to war. For Paul and Kucinich are Congressional eccentrics; some even view one or the other or both as crackpots. This view doesn’t mean they are wrong on the subject; it just means that their position on war-powers will have no influence.

One topic we explore variously on this blog is the decline of public and political discourse, to the extent that such discourse now consists almost entirely of slogans, sound-bites, truthiness, wedge-issues, deceptions, fibs, baiting, astro-turf events, and so on–even as debate, adult conversations, data, common ground, agreed-upon facts, and subtlety have all bit disappeared.

But is no rhetoric–that is, Congress said nothing about bombing Libya–better than pseudocratic rhetoric? A close call, but I’d say no. Even if a “debate” about whether to bomb Libya were nothing more than a posturing-fest, with gas-bags fully inflated, at least Congress would have almost gotten off its Constitutional duff.

On the other hand . . ., I have five fingers: that is, does any of us believe that Congress will take back “war powers” from the Executive Branch? Ever? Still, as sick as I am of listening to politicians talk the way they talk, I think I’d still like the ones in Congress to start talking about war.

Facts Are Good: Walker Meets With Luntz, and 1 Billion Is a Lot of Money

Running errands in an ancient Volvo yesterday, I heard two facts from a radio interview between Norman Goldman and a member (Democratic) of the Wisconsin legislature (whose name, alas, I have forgotten).

Fact one: In the midst of the budget-crisis, Scott Walker met with GOPer dis-information specialist Frank Luntz. The meeting was unearthed by a Wisconsin newspaper and reported widely elsewhere, including at Mother Jones by Andrew Kroll, who noted:

On the right, Luntz is the man behind the message. He described last year’s much-needed financial reform bill as “a permanent bailout fund.” (Which it wasn’t.) He urged GOPers to paint President Obama’s health care reform bill as a “Washington takeover.” (Wrong again.) He also coined the phrase “death tax” to replace estate tax. In their fights against Democrats, Republicans have eagerly latched onto each of these Luntz-isms and more. And he likely offered Scott Walker, whose public support had begun to erode at the time of their meeting, some tips on how he, too, could rework his message.

“Disinformation specialist” is not unfair or unkind to Luntz, who revels in his ability to deploy language precisely in ways to which Orwell objected.

What does the fact of the meeting mean? Opinions vary, but I think it adds to sense that Walker and other Republican governors are following a strategy set out by Rove, Luntz, and others. One purpose of the strategy seems to be to wreck unions and thus deprive President Obama’s campaign of money; another purpose seems to degrade public education further. Another purpose borders on insane: to refuse federal money for important projects–just to make some kind of point, which eludes me. Approximately 70% of Wisconsin’s population lives within easy access to a railway that federal funds would have turned into a high-speed corridor. So refusing the money is at least a two-fer: reject a project that will put people to work; reject a project that will be good for the economy in the long run.

Fact two, provided by the Democratic legislator, who displayed a kind of bemused, sanguine attitude we’ve come to expect from the Midwest: there are @ 1 billion dollars of outstanding, uncollected taxes “out there” in Wisconsin. They remain uncollected because the revenue department has lost so many employees. Pragmatically, the legislator suggested increasing the staff and collected the money. The overall budget-gap is, I gather, about 2.5 billion, so 1 billion of outstanding tax-revenue is, as highly technical economists would say, quite a chunk of change. But let’s be cautious and assume the Democratic politician may be over-stating. Let’s only “give him” half a billion of un-recovered tax-revenue: still a large percentage, large enough to make one wonder (or not), again, why Walker is spending so much time and political capital on breaking a union–and on “reworking his message.” Love that euphemism: reworking. It means keeping the same message, which isn’t effective, and restating it in such a misleading way that it might well work. Go, Luntz! Damn Eric Blair, full speed ahead!