2016 Election, Civility, O'Connor, Political Correctness, Trump

Civility and Citizenship…

 

      “And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Robert F. Kennedy speaking shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination

——-

The man who will soon be the Republican candidate for president of the United States has diagnosed what ails the country in the 21st Century. “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Donald Trump said during one of the shouting matches that passed for debates during the primary season. “I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”

Robert Kennedy speaks to a crowd in Indianapolis after Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination in 1968.
Robert Kennedy speaks to a crowd in Indianapolis after the King assassination in 1968.

Surveys tell us Trump has hit a nerve. Across the political spectrum Republicans, Democrats, independents agree that “political correctness” is a big problem even if, as I suspect, most Americans would have trouble defining the term. Political correctness is the problem for all seasons, an all purpose explanation for any position that someone else holds that you find disagreeable.

As with most things he says Trump has misdiagnosed “the big problem.” And the misdiagnosis is glaringly apparent in the roiling wake of post-July 4th America. America’s diverse culture – a nation of immigrants – with class, racial, educational and wealth disparities doesn’t really suffer from an over abundance of political correctness, but rather the illness is a deficit of essential civility and engaged citizenship. Our challenge, as the distinguished scholar Danielle Allen says, is reflect on our own history to find how diverse individuals live together in a shared public life.

To put a fine point on it: way too many Americans are ignorant of how their government really works and woefully deficient in understanding the country’s history and how that history informs and effects what is happening today. It is nothing less than a national crisis.

It’s Insane…

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been a voice in the wilderness trying to arouse a new American commitment to civic education. “In over half the states in the union, civics education is not required,” O’Connor told the Washington Post in 2012. “The only reason we have public school education in America is because in the early days of the country, our leaders thought we had to teach our young generation about citizenship … that obligation never ends. If we don’t take every generation of young people and make sure they understand that they are an essential part of government, we won’t survive. We don’t teach our own kids. It’s insane.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has made civic education her cause
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has made civic education her cause

It is insane. And if you think about it O’Connor’s point helps explain a lot about the current state of American democracy. When Trump says he is going to “build a wall” and a foreign country will pay for it or when Bernie Sanders promises health care for all, a well-informed, civically-aware American says, “hold on. How you goin’ do that?” The informed voter might well ask: What is the role of Congress in getting that done? Can you bring along the other side? What will it cost? Do you know even what you are talking about?

Politicians have always made grand and unrealistic promises, but voters should be well enough grounded in civic reality to reel in the truth and discount the blarney. Hard to do if you don’t have the basic understanding of how government works.

Trump’s utterly fanciful claim that he can eliminate the national debt in eight years, while slashing taxes is a good illustration of the disconnect between what a candidate says and what politics and reality allow. As Politico reported, “Trump’s budget and policy proposals have resonated with the Republican base, even if elements of his plan run entirely counter to conservative economic orthodoxy. But taken together, they are a series of puzzle pieces that just don’t fit into a coherent whole, according to experts on both sides of the aisle.”

Translation: May sound good, cannot happen. To reach the goal of eliminating the national debt in eight years, Trump would need to slash all federal spending by two-thirds. No serious person believes that could either happen or should happen. The economy would tank and the political and economic dislocation would be enormous.

“I don’t know that he’s really taken the time to understand the complexities of some of these areas of policy,” Lanhee Chen, policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution told Politico. “I am concerned about that.”

Former Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said it even more bluntly in a recent Washington Post op-ed: “Trump repeatedly, blatantly and knowingly makes up or gravely distorts facts to support his positions or create populist divisions…Simply put, a Trump presidency is unthinkable.”

But to make those judgments requires a working knowledge of government and how budget and fiscal decisions are made. An engaged citizen doesn’t need Hank Paulson’s experience, but they do need to know more than Donald Trump does. Far too many don’t.

Mom would not have tolerated this guy…

The other foundational piece to a better informed and engaged citizenry represents, not surprisingly perhaps, the antithesis of what the GOP nominee has been offering for months. When Trump fumes against “political correctness” what he is really rejecting is what my mother would have called “civility.” Or simply being nice, respectful, courteous. Making an attempt to understand the other person’s perspective.

Donald Trump during a GOP debate
Donald Trump during a GOP debate

Insulting women, repeatedly referring to a United States senator as Pocahontas, constantly referring to your opponents as “liars” or “crooks” or “low energy” is not politically incorrect it is rude, vulgar and beneath the playground taunts of a junior high school bully let alone a presidential candidate. Imagine – I hope you can only imagine – such language at your dinner table or work place. Few would tolerate it simply because its wrong, hateful and mean. Who can really argue that these are the characteristics we should encourage or value in our leaders.

The presidential campaign of 2016 will be remembered for many things not least, I suspect, a further coarsening of our already raw political dialogue. The Donald Trumps of the world must be kept at the political fringes. They are in no way representative of what Lincoln so rightly called “the better angels of our nature.”

An essential responsibility of leadership, whether in the corporate boardroom or the Oval Office is to educate, explain, to empathize and illuminate rather than divide, degrade and preach a politics of despair and hatred.

In a brilliant and also shocking piece of political reporting, the New York Times Nick Confessore honed in on the connections between citizenship and civility and how Trump, in the name of disowning political correctness, has broken something that will be hard to mend.

“In the months since Mr. Trump began his campaign, the percentage of Americans who say race relations are worsening has increased, reaching nearly half in an April poll by CBS News. The sharpest rise was among Republicans: Sixty percent said race relations were getting worse,” Confessore writes. Trace that increase directly to the Republican nominee.

And Confessore continues: “And Mr. Trump’s rise is shifting the country’s racial discourse just as the millennial generation comes fully of age, more and more distant from the horrors of the Holocaust, or the government-sanctioned racism of Jim Crow.” This is the intersection between coarseness and lack of civility and the American citizenship deficit.

The Better Angels of Our Nature…

Former President and Mrs. Bush with President and Mrs. Obama at Dallas memorial for murdered police officers
Former President and Mrs. Bush with President and Mrs. Obama at Dallas memorial for murdered police officers

President Obama tried to remind us this week what America should be about, what it could be about. In a moment of profound national distress the nation’s first non-white president appealed to our better angels. He was, of course, immediately criticized and critics continue to offer the fiction that the president is “anti-police,” still Obama’s words demand our attention, demand that we reflect, not merely react.

“In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work,” Obama said. “It’s about forging consensus and fighting cynicism and finding the will to make change.

“Can we do this? Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? And it doesn’t make anybody perfectly good or perfectly bad, it just makes us human.

I don’t know. I confess that sometimes I, too, experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these things. I’ve seen too many families go through this.

“But then I am reminded of what the Lord tells Ezekiel. ‘I will give you a new heart,’ the Lord says, ‘and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.’

“That’s what we must pray for, each of us. A new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens.”

That open heart begins with genuine civility and new commitment by each of us to real engaged and informed citizenship.

 

2016 Election, Clinton, Trump

So We Beat On…

 

      “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

———

Good Lord it is tough work explaining let alone supporting Hillary Clinton.

She may be the living proof of the old political axiom that the worst wounds are self-inflicted. She is the poster child – at least the Democratic poster child – for secretive, damaging dissembling. A very sophisticated political friend suggests an apt analogy: Clinton is the American version of Dodgy Dave Cameron, the newly deposed British prime minister. Both crave power for power’s sake with few core convictions and even less shame.

Careless, not criminal
Careless, not criminal

Clinton’s email debacle will be recorded as among the worst handled “political scandals” in modern times. An original stupid decision to use a private email set-up rather than a government run system – why she did it can only be explained by the secretive side of Hillary, the side hoping to never have to explain anything during her State Department tenure – was compounded by the cover up. For weeks – months – she ham-handedly strung out the story, never admitting until really forced to do so that the whole thing was a stupid mistake. Now the director of the FBI has pointed out for the world and for Donald Trump all the inconsistencies and incompetence. Clinton was not criminal, just “extremely careless,” said James Comey. Now that is a great campaign slogan: “She may be careless, but at least she is not criminal.”

One holds out the hope that Clinton will be a better president than she has been a would be president. She has a tin political ear, a well-developed capacity to foster mistrust and, considering she will be the first woman nominated as a major party presidential candidate, a remarkable inability to stir enthusiasm. Among the best things you can say about Hillary Clinton is that she is not Donald Trump. Another good bumper sticker.

Clinton is in for a rough few days, but her good news is that the country is just days away from watching what will surely be a bat s@#t crazy spectacle of a Republican convention where the GOP will turn over the party to a pathological liar whose latest contributions to American politics has been to energize white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, while praising Saddam Hussein.

"He was a bad guy — really bad guy," the presumptive Republican nominee told supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina. "But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights. They didn't talk. They were terrorists. Over."
“He was a bad guy — really bad guy,” the presumptive Republican nominee told supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina. “But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over.”

Ask yourself what is worse: an ethically challenged careerist with a lust for power who believes, along with her husband, that the rules don’t apply to them…or Donald Trump?

Clinton’s handling of her email scandal combined with the stunning takedown of her “carelessness” by the FBI director would be disqualifying for any other candidate any of us can think of, but this is a two person race and the other person is a racist bully whose impossible boasts and claims and nonsense should be cause for a mental health intervention.

Campaigns come down to a choice between two people, most often two flawed people. This is our choice in 2016 and it is ugly and dispiriting and disappointing. Clinton will be a better president, I hope and suspect, than she has been a candidate. With Trump what you see is what you get. One person will muddle through, while the other may well destroy the country.

There is a danger here – we are already seeing it in press coverage of the two candidates – of false equivalence. Clinton with all her faults is not Trump. The email scandal is serious stuff. Trump’s demeanor, his temperament, his incoherence and ignorance are disqualifying. There is no equivalence between the careless and the utterly dangerous.

Like Scott Fitzgerald’s Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Bill and Hillary Clinton are reckless people with a remarkable sense of entitlement. Not much to admire here. The messes they have made are legion. But the other guy represents a level of evil, intolerance, racism and hate not seen at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So we beat on, boats against the current…and I’m with the careless one.

 

2016 Election, Brexit, Britain, Churchill, Great Britain, Trump

Stop, Think and Ask “What If…”

 

According to the Financial Times, Michael Gove, a champion of Britain’s exit from the European Union and now a candidate for prime minister, refused during the recent Brexit campaign to name any economists who back exit from the European Union, saying that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” 

——–

It can be difficult, when watching politics unfold in real time, to identify and see clearly the larger currents and fault lines that define where we are and where we might be headed. This reality – not always being able to comprehend the present – is why history matters and why, regrettably, so many Americans – and Brits apparently – have forgotten lessons from the past.

Americans face an obesity crisis and a epidemic of gun violence, but perhaps just as seriously we face the plague of historical amnesia. Increasingly we cannot connect the dots of the past with the issues of the moment. That can be a fatal disease in a democracy.

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos
Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

The recent decision by voters in the United Kingdom to abandon more than 40 years of increasing interconnection with Europe, and in the process turning their backs on the last century of European history, and the Republican presidential candidacy of Donald Trump illustrate how we forget our history at our peril. Two striking examples make my case.

Europe in 1940…

Imagine the world, and particularly Europe, in the spring of 1940. Nazi armies have overrun Poland and Norway, invaded the Low Countries and are pressing toward Paris. Hitler’s Panzers and Stuka dive-bombers have terrorized Warsaw, Krakow, Brussels and Antwerp. The Wehrmacht – perhaps the greatest offensive army the world had ever seen – was routing the French army, thought at the time to be the best fighting force in the world, and guns booming on the front lines could be heard at the Eiffel Tower. Would France fight on, resist the awful weight of invasion or would defeatists in the French government and military surrender?

A German tank in France in 1940
A German tank in France in 1940

The new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a Francophile who loved Champagne and the ships of the French Navy among other things, was desperate to keep France in the war – and the French Navy out of German hands – and he embraced an audacious plan to buck up the faltering and besieged government in Paris.

At the suggestion of several French diplomats serving in London – among the group was Jean Monnet, considered the founding father of the European Union, and the junior French General Charles De Gaulle – Churchill pitched to the French Premier Paul Reynaud a “declaration of indissoluble union.

The formal proposal declared, “The two governments declare France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union…every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain and every British subject will become a citizen of France.” Once united the two countries would have a formal association of Parliaments, joint management of defense and finance and a single war cabinet to direct the defense of western Europe. “Its all embracing character,”as one historian has written, “went further than anything before in the history of war-time alliances. Even in the subsequent history of European unity, no Government ever proposed a more radical and far-reaching plan for supernatural integration.”

Astounding.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Great Britain and France would, symbolically and practically, become one and fight on against Hitler’s armies. We know how the story turned out. Reynaud could not sell the idea to his government, most members of whom had already indicated a willingness to throw in the towel and surrender. The World War I hero Marshall Henri Petain, who went on to collaborate with the Nazis and was later found guilty of treason, rejected Churchill’s proposal out of hand saying it would be better to become “a Nazi colony” than to unite with Britain. Reynaud resigned as prime minister without a formal vote on the British proposal and later said the failure of Churchill’s idea was the greatest disappointment of his political career.

As for becoming a Nazi colony, France certainly did, to the enduring shame of many who advocated capitulation rather than embrace new and radical thinking. The name of Petain is forever stained, while De Gaulle is celebrated as the greatest Frenchman of the 20th Century.

I’ll leave it to you to arrive at your own Brexit takeaway from this little historic tableau from 75 years ago, but one lesson seems clear: when faced with the greatest threat in modern times Winston Churchill was prepared to join his nation’s fate in the most fundamental ways with France, indeed with all of Europe. His imagination was equal to the moment.

Reed Smoot is Smiling…

The presumptive nominee of the Republican for the presidency is, on the other hand, beyond imagination. Donald Trump spent the week, with a few Trumpian deviations, outlining his remarkable views on trade. Reed Smoot must be smiling.

Utah Senator Reed Smoot on the cover of Time
Utah Senator Reed Smoot on the cover of Time

To the extent that Smoot, an austere apostle of the Mormon Church and a Republican senator from Utah, is remembered at all today it is for being the architect of the 1930 tariff legislation that bears his name. The Smoot-Hawley tariff – Hawley was Willis Hawley, an Oregon lawyer and educator who became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee – dramatically increased tariffs, led to a stifling of American exports just as the Great Depression took hold and sparked an international trade war against the United States.

As historian Douglas A. Irwin points out in his history of the tariff legislation, Canada, the largest U.S. trading partner in 1930, immediately retaliated with its own trade sanctions, while other countries formed “preferential trading blocs that discriminated against the United States” shifting world trade away from the U.S.

Saddled with the political, not to mention financial cost of protectionist trade policies after Smoot-Hawley, Republicans generally became “free-traders,” adopting a fundamentally conservative view that goods and services should move freely in the global economy, largely unhindered by artificial controls. Trade wars were to be avoided, exports encouraged and imports not feared. Trump’s approach – a trade war with China and mostly incoherent, but clearly protectionist measures regarding U.S. imports – as much as any policy he proposes, upends long-established Republican orthodoxy and flies in the face of historical experience.

Smoot-Hawley was largely designed to protect American farmers. It didn’t and many voices, including hundreds of economists, warned against its passage. The widely respected columnist Walter Lippmann called the protectionist legislation “a wretched and mischievous product of stupidity and greed.” You wonder if he knew Trump? And one advisor to the Republican president who signed the controversial legislation said, “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot Tariff. That Act intensified nationalism all over the world.”

America in the Great Depression
America in the Great Depression

Donald Trump’s rhetoric about trade, in addition to doing violence to a deeply held Republican tradition dating to the Great Depression, would almost certainly cost rather than protect American jobs. Other nations would surely retaliate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce pointed out this reality in what amounted to a stunning rebuke by American business of the GOP nominee. Even some of those who developed the economic analysis Trump relies upon for his position on trade repudiate his approach. Experts, of course, are so out of fashion, just like facts and history.

Meanwhile, across the pond, after more than 40 years spent embracing European integration the United Kingdom is certain to discover in the days ahead that the cost of isolation from Europe will be great and painful. In both cases – Brexit and Trump – opportunistic politicians, feeding on the fears of worried citizens, peddle fanciful ideas that simply can’t withstand careful evaluation. But, unfortunately our collective historical amnesia leaves us susceptible to the crude charms of charlatans.

Historical analogies are never perfect, of course, but history can help illuminate enduring truths, one being that simple answers to complex problems are almost always wrong.

Another lesson taught by history is simply to stop, think and ask “what if”? What if the French government in 1940 had had more courage and imagination? What if Herbert Hoover would have listened to his advisers? What if?

 

2016 Election, Brexit, Britain, Trump, World War I

Brexit and America

   

       “We have fought against the multinationals, we have fought against the big merchant banks, we have fought against big politics, we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit.”

Nigel Farage, advocate of the UK exit from the European Union

——–

It will be remembered as one of the great unforced errors in modern political history. In the language of soccer – this is Britain after all – soon to be former British Prime Minister David Cameron scored an “own goal,” kicking the ball into his own net. In one crazy act of political suicide Cameron threw a referendum bone to his political opponents. They ate the bone and then consumed him for good measure.

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

The Brits may have become the first people in the history of the world to vote for a recession. For sure they have voted for months – maybe years – of financial turmoil, economic and political isolation and very likely an independent Scotland. Brits also voted to validate the ugly kind of nationalism that is seeping across Europe. When the Brexit outcome is applauded by France’s ultra-right Marine Le Pen, the Kremlin and Donald Trump you instinctively know you are on the wrong side of history.

The Self-Inflicted Wound…

Cameron, a nominally successful politician before Brexit, will now be remembered for crashing his Conservative Party and speeding the disunion of Europe at the very moment the region needs even greater unity to deal with everything from trade to terrorism. Comparisons to Neville Chamberlain are inevitable. Meanwhile, the chief opposition party, Labour, is also in disarray and it seems inevitable that the party’s far left leader will have to go.

Why? Why reduce the United Kingdom’s long-term future to a plebiscite? Why risk it all on a one-off election with the highest of high stakes? The answer, of course, is political and here we begin to see the real relevance for the United States in 2016 of what has so dramatically happened in Britain.

Cameron set off these falling dominos of destruction in 2014 when in order to win an outright Conservative majority in the British parliament he attempted to placate radicals in his own party and in the uber-nationalist rightwing UK Independence Party (UKIP) with an up or down, in or out vote on the EU. Rather than fight the 2015 election over staying in Europe, Cameron tried to have it both ways even saying at one point that he might led the effort to leave the EU after he was re-elected. It was rank political opportunism from the guy one British Labour Party member recently dubbed “Dodgy Dave.”

Cameron compounded the dangers of his risky EU gamble by presiding during the recent campaign over a shambling Conservative Party that spoke with many discordant voices. Several of Cameron’s own cabinet ministers campaigned against him and remaining in the EU. Chaos follows chaos.

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson - more in common than a bad hair day
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – more in common than a bad hair day

The “leave” campaign was led by another artful dodger, albeit one more colorful than Cameron, the former mayor of London Boris Johnson, a New York born gasbag with Churchillian ambitions who now maneuvers to replace Cameron. Leave it to an Irishman, the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, to correctly sum up BoJo, as Johnson is nicknamed: “He has a streak of Churchill’s brilliant opportunism and reckless charm, but he does not have behind him the national consensus that an existential struggle created behind Churchill and he is, in everything but girth, a lightweight.”

The U.S. Plays This Cynical Game Too…

None of this so much compares to Churchill-type politics as to the cynicism and recklessness of Congressional Republicans in the United States like Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (not to mention all of Ryan many predecessors, one of whom just reported to federal prison). This is why the British action looms so very large across the American political landscape.

The vote to leave the EU doubtless has its roots in a variety of toxic soil – anti-immigration, fears of globalization, misunderstandings about free trade, hatred of the “privileged elites,” long simmering class resentments and totally valid concerns about growing income inequality. Johnson and UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage, Britain’s Donald Trump with a better haircut, are ironically both men of wealth and privilege who played on the fears of many Brits, concocted fanciful stories about the benefits of leaving and now inherit a diminished UK more badly divided than ever. Sound familiar?

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage

Writing in The Guardian Zoe Williams condemned Farage’s hateful rhetoric after the referendum, language that sounds remarkably like Trump’s “knock the crap out of ’em” talk. “But for poor taste and ugly triumph,” Williams wrote, “nothing matched [Farage’s] assertion that [the Leave vote] had happened ‘without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired.’”

A ridiculous comment, of course, since a pro-EU Member of Parliament was murdered days before the voting, the first MP lost to an “act of terror since the darkest days of the IRA and, leaving Ireland aside, the first since 1812. His words seemed to carry a tang of regret – echoing his dark mutterings of some weeks ago, when he predicted violence on the streets and sounded exhilarated by it.”

This is not the political talk or action of a western democracy, but something much more sinister, something to be condemned and defeated. It is the politics of cynicism, hatred and despair, of yesterday not tomorrow.

For most of the last eight years Congressional Republicans have done something similar by promising their mostly white, older base that obstructing political action on everything from immigration reform to climate change was the American way. They have mostly refused to condemn the fevered claims of white supremacists and talk radio that a duly elected president of the United States is somehow not one of us. They set out not merely to merely disagree with Barack Obama, but as McConnell infamously said, to “make him a one term president.”

Refusing to Set Expectations with Your Voters…

Republicans refused to really engage on big issues from health care to Syria, even voting no on a sensible economic stimulus and an essential auto bailout in the wake of The Great Recession knowing all the while that they could gin up the base with Barack bashing and yet one more promise to repeal Obamacare.

Now their presidential candidate tweets regularly about what “Obama has done with the debt,” while never acknowledging – or probably knowing – that no president spends money that has not been authorized and appropriated by the Republican Congress. Trump’s own claims to eliminate the debt are as unrealistic as the claims made by Britain’s anti-Europe crowd and just as widely discredited.

Yet simple lessons in civics and finance eludes not only the candidate, but his followers. Facts be damned. Even if a claim is pure poppycock, shot down by an “expert” who knows something, so what? it still makes a good message in 140 characters.

Failing to deliver for their base on undeliverable promises the GOP leadership now finds itself roughly where Dodgy Dave Cameron sits – on the outs with one-time supporters who feel conned, left trying to explain how a phony billionaire “populist” who traffics in insults and conspiracy theories has hijacked their party.

The Farage-Trump analogy even works to the level of both men’s penchant for the sleazy insult. Farage once told a former Belgian prime minister and top EU official to his face that he had “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” At least Farage’s insults are more original than Trump’s.

Chaos leads to chaos
Chaos leads to chaos

This stunning turn of events in both the UK and the U.S. is evidence of an appalling lack of political leadership, leadership willing to acknowledge that moderation in the pursuit of progress is actually a virtue.

It should also be said that the American left hardly has clean hands at this moment of upheaval. Bernie Sanders continues to stoke too many of his supporters into a populist lather with a message that, while more optimistic and forward looking than what is coming from the populist right still often ignores political reality. The hardest thing to do in politics is to say no to your supporters and the second most difficult is to temper their expectations. We are seeing this populist revolt in no small part because of a failure to do either.

Cameron likely could have shutdown the EU debate in 2015 by forcefully making the conservative case for the UK staying in Europe – British conservatives led the country into the EU in the first place in 1973 – but he gambled the country on his own election and now he has lost it all.

Finding the Center Again…

McConnell and Company have embraced a similar level of political opportunism, shunning any obligation to negotiate with Obama and displaying no willingness to instruct their base voters in the finer points of how democracy works. On the immigration issue alone Republicans might have found a sensible middle ground with Obama years ago. Some of them, including Marco Rubio, came close in 2013 to a political solution only to cave to the rampant xenophobia among the Tea Party faithful that now powers Trump’s campaign. The resulting division, exacerbated even more by an evenly split Supreme Court unable to rule in a recent critical case – again McConnell’s doing – has created racial tensions not seen in the country since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Writing from his own political exile brought on by his reckless embrace of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, former British prime minister Tony Blair nevertheless made an essential point in a post-Brexit op-ed in the New York Times. With Britain and the U.S. clearly in mind, Blair wrote, “It was already clear before the Brexit vote that modern populist movements could take control of political parties. What wasn’t clear was whether they could take over a country like Britain. Now we know they can.”

Blair might have noted that Brexit and Trump have completed the transition of the once principled right of center conservative parties in Britain and the United States into collections of angry, aggrieved nationalists whose real currency is neither the pound or the dollar, but rather fear and hatred.

Remembering History, Acting Responsibly…

“The center must regain its political traction,” Tony Blair says, “rediscover its capacity to analyze the problems we all face and find solutions that rise above the populist anger. If we do not succeed in beating back the far left and far right before they take the nations of Europe on this reckless experiment, it will end the way such rash action always does in history: at best, in disillusion; at worst, in rancorous division. The center must hold.”

Battle of the Somme , 1916
Battle of the Somme, 1916

Next Sunday – July 1st – marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the worst battle on the western front in The Great War. A million Europeans and most of a generation of Britain’s finest perished in one of the worst battles in human history all in order to prevent Europe from descending into a new dark age. The peace following The Great War lasted barely twenty years before an even more destructive war ravaged Europe. From that wreckage, barely seventy years ago, Europe began to come together in a genuine union – some wanted to call it a United States of Europe – with the belief that economic connections and open borders were the keys to security and peace, that cooperation was vastly more productive than national rivalry. All that idealism, all that reality stands torn and tattered now and the future is, at best, uncertain.

Winston Churchill, considered by the EU as one of the movement’s founders, once quoted a French politician as saying, “Without Britain there can be no Europe.” Churchill immediately added, “This is entirely true. But our friends on the Continent need have no misgivings. Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.”

That is what political leadership sounds like.

These are not the times for opportunists and demagogues who peddle simple answers for the problems of a complex, rapidly changing and profoundly interconnected world. Send the populists of all stripes packing. They are the sowers of discord, the merchants of chaos. Britain has sent us a signal. It would be wise to pay attention.

 

2016 Election, Trump

There is Something Going On…

               

                           “…the contest is downright dangerous.”

 Elizabeth Drew on the presidential election

——–

We knew it was coming. Certain things are simply inevitable. When every possible issue is subject to a polarizing political debate in a deeply divided nation it was just a matter of time – a short matter of time. Most of us were left at a loss for words, but not one man.

Vigil outside the White House on Monday
Vigil outside the White House on Monday

In the space of a few hours early Sunday morning 49 Americans died in a wanton massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando. Police killed the terrorist, a young American Muslim perhaps mentally troubled, leaving the death toll at 50 with at least as many more wounded. Shock and disbelief greeted most of us Sunday morning and on to Monday.

Then the inevitable came. The man who will be the Republican candidate for president of the United States implied that the current president was complicit in the attack, clearly the most outrageous of the vast host of outrageous things Donald J. Trump has said. But he said it.

The American Authoritarian…

During a television interview Monday Trump said, “There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.” According to students of political rhetoric this is a phrase Trump repeats time and again, implying a conspiracy so immense that the president of the United States must be involved.

The presumptive Republican nominee
The presumptive Republican nominee

With Trump there could be no real, let alone decent interval – can you use the term “decent” with this horrible man – to mourn a travesty, no calm and responsible call to come together in the face of home grown terrorism, no respect (not a smidgen) for the law enforcement and intelligence professionals who spend every day keeping us safe, at least as safe as we can be in a nation that makes the purchase of battlefield weapons as easy as buying a can of soda.

Trump, ignorant, intolerant, small minded, simplistic, and wrong, almost immediately went full demagogue – again. He congratulated himself on social media for “being right” about terrorism. The Atlantic called it “a victory lap in blood.” Trump doubled down on his promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States when he becomes president, a promise that prompted the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to wonder, “How long will it be before American Muslims are forced to wear yellow badges with the star and crescent?”

In essence Trump said the president of the United States is guilty of treason for being complicit in the Orlando assault, a further outrageous perversion of his “birther” conspiracy theories. For good measure Trump also found time to attack Mitt Romney (again), get one of his henchmen to call a top Clinton aide who is Muslim a likely terrorist spy, ban the Washington Post from covering his campaign and, of course, tell bald faced lies about the inadequacy of U.S. immigration policy and much more.

He offered no credible response to the problem of international terrorism, a problem that vexes every western democracy, but rather blustered and thundered. Trump channeled his inner dictator.

I’ve been writing about this dangerous man now for months and like many I initially discounted him as a freak show that surely would bloviate himself to pieces. I counted on the principled conservatives who daily watch their movement perverted by this con man to find a means to stop him not merely for the good of their party, but for the good of the country. While calling Trump a classic demagogue, I resisted, until now, what are becoming increasingly common comparisons to totalitarian, authoritarian figures from the darkest pages of 20th Century history.

Revisiting 20th Century History…

The CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Meg Whitman, a significant Republican figure and one-time candidate for governor of California, made the explicit charge. Trump is behaving like Hitler and Mussolini, Whitman said. A former Republican senator, Larry Pressler of South Dakota, endorsed Hillary Clinton saying Trump’s rhetoric “is starting to sound like the German elections in [the late 1920s]. This is a very dangerous national conversation we’re slipping into.”

The German dictator in 1935
The German dictator in 1935

It’s a wicked charge. The kind of overheated claim that Trump might make, except after Orlando it’s obviously true. John Gunther is an original source.

Gunther, a Chicago-born journalist and author, was likely the most famous foreign correspondent in the world in the 1920s and 1930s. He reported from Europe for more than 15 years, covering all the major capitols and the biggest stories. His 1936 book – Inside Europe – was a publishing sensation selling more than half a million copies. Gunther followed with books providing insightful commentary on Asia, Africa, South America, Russia and the USA. I’ve collected all the books and they still provide a fabulous, nuanced and intelligent take on the world before the 1960s.

John Gunther on Hitler in 1936…

In January 1936, Harper’s published a lengthy Gunther piece from Berlin. The subject was Adolf Hitler who was still consolidating his power in Germany. To read the piece today, as I recently did for the first time, is to shudder at the striking similarities to our homegrown authoritarian.

I’ll quote just a few lines from John Gunther’s article and as you read them just replace the word “Hitler” with the word “Trump.” See if you come away with a cold shiver down your spine.

John Gunther
John Gunther

Gunther’s piece began with these words: “Adolf Hitler, seemingly so irrational and self-contradictory, is a character of great complexity – not an easy nut to crack. To many he is meager and insignificant; yet he holds sixty-five million Germans, a fair share of whom adore him, in a thralldom compounded of love, fear, and nationalist ecstasy. Few men run so completely the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. He is a mountebank, a demagogue, a frustrated hysteric, a lucky misfit. He is also a figure of extreme veneration to millions of honest and not-even-puzzled Germans.”

And there are these observations of the man who took Germany to the brink and beyond and plunged the entire world into darkness:

“He reads almost nothing.”

“He dislikes intellectuals.”

“His lies have been notorious.”

“Foreigners, especially interviewers from British and American newspapers, may find him cordial and even candid but they seldom have opportunity to question him, to participate in a give-and-take discussion. Hitler rants. He is extremely emotional. He never answers questions. He talks to you as if you were a public meeting, and nothing can stop the gush of words.”

“By a man’s friends may ye know him. But Hitler has none.”

Gunther analyzed Hitler’s religious convictions and concluded there were none. His passion was himself and power.

He “bases most decisions on intuition…his vanity is extreme…Hitler is a man of passion, or instinct, not of reason. His ‘intellect’ is that of a chameleon who knows when to change his color, of a crab who knows when to dive into the sand; his ‘logic’ that of a panther who is hungry, and thus seeks food.”

“His brain is small and vulgar, limited, narrow, suspicious, but behind it is the lamp of passion, and this passion has such quality that it is immediately discernible and recognizable, like a diamond in the sand.”

He is a Bad Speaker…

“Then there is the oratory. This is probably the chief external explanation of Hitler’s rise. He talked himself to power. The strange thing is that Hitler is a bad speaker. He screeches; his mannerisms are awkward; his voice breaks at every peroration; he never knows when to stop…yet, Hitler, whose magnetism across the table is almost nil, can arouse an audience, especially a big audience, to frenzy.”

The Trump manifesto
The Trump manifesto

Even Gunther’s references to Hitler’s Mein Kampf presage our demagogue’s repeated praise of his own mostly unreadable book The Art of the Deal.

Mein Kampf, for all its impersonality, reveals over and over again Hitler’s faith in ‘the man.’ After race and the nation, personality is his main preoccupation…’a majority,’ he says, ‘can never be substituted for the Man.’”

Writing recently in the New York Review and before the awful events in Orlando the venerable Elizabeth Drew, a political observer of American presidents and would-be presidents for decades, centered on those – interesting choice of words –  who “collaborate” with Trump.

“The real test is whether there are any circumstances under which Republican leaders in Congress will finally stand up to Trump, renounce him as their party’s standard bearer even if they can’t cancel his nomination. This could mean risking that their party loses the election and their majorities in the House and the Senate. This is a length to which the congressional leaders Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and some others who’ve endorsed Trump or waffled—not opposing but not endorsing—have thus far been unwilling to go. McConnell’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump is apparent; he’s recently been on a book tour and said something negative about Trump in virtually every interview. But like the others who’ve endorsed Trump, he’s still a collaborator, no matter how much he squirms.”

This election, perhaps particularly after Orlando, has become unlike any in our lifetime. A true referendum on just what America intends to be, an election where one candidate – this is no longer hyperbole – has many of the characteristics and inclinations of the most destructive dictators of the 20th Century.

To continue the European analogy, Republican “collaborators” of Donald Trump have become like those in Vichy France after 1940 who found it expedient and often in their own self-interest to collaborate with a hate mongering dictator even at the risk of surrendering the heart and soul of their nation. History regards them as morally bankrupt and fatally wrong.

Trump has gone from novelty, to laugh line to legitimate threat to American democracy. Those who refuse to acknowledge and vigorously resist the dangers of this frightful man embrace a monumental national disaster. History is our guide. In 1936 John Gunther wrote an early draft of the story we are living.

 

2016 Election, Bush, Civil Rights, GOP, Reagan, Trump

Racist-in-Chief…

 

            “The textbook definition of a racist comment.” 

     Speaker Paul Ryan on criticism of Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel 

——–

How did it come to be that the party of Lincoln is about to nominate an openly racist billionaire to be its presidential candidate, a candidate so toxic to the party’s need to broaden its appeal to African-American and Latino voters that those efforts could well be set back by a generation or more?

What happened to this man's party?
What happened to this man’s party?

The answer to that simple question is deeply entwined with the complicated history of the party’s evolution over the last 60 years. The modern Republican Party has made a series of pivotal decisions over those decades – policies, decisions designed to capture short-term political advantage, decisions about candidates, even Supreme Court appointments – that have systematically communicated to its older, white, angrier base voters that racism, or at least racial intolerance, is acceptable.

As America has changed, become more diverse and more tolerant in many ways, one major political party’s base voters cling to attitudes and beliefs that are no more and, in many respects, should never have been. Republican leaders have no one to blame but themselves for catering to a slice of the electorate that warmly embraces a racist as their candidate.

From “Dog Whistles” to Overtly Racist Language…

For decades Republicans leaders from Barry Goldwater to George H.W. Bush have often practiced a dangerous kind of politics where racial “dog whistles” stirred up base voters. Trump has dropped the clever, more “politically correct” symbolism and language of “state’s rights” and Willie Horton ads in favor of what we might call his “candid” form of racism.

The judge handling the Trump University lawsuit is an Indiana-born American of Mexican heritage, but in the simple, straightforward racism of the Republican candidate for president that disqualifies Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel. Donald Trump “is building a wall,” after all, and the judge’s Mexican heritage can’t possible allow him to be fair. As Paul Ryan says it is textbook racism.

Date the modern GOP to 1964
Date the modern GOP to 1964

How did this happen, the Republican Party dancing with racism? How did they – how did all of us – get stuck with a racist heading one of the country’s two great political parties? The answer begins during the time when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House and Barry Goldwater wanted to get there.

In 1964, a badly divided Republican Party turned for its presidential candidate to an outspoken conservative and a vocal opponent of the historic Civil Right Act that Congress passed that same year. Goldwater’s opposition to civil rights legislation put him at the fringe of his own party in 1964. Only six Republicans voted against the Civil Rights Act, while Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, the Senate minority leader and a very conservative guy on most things, played a pivotal role in pushing the landmark legislation past a Democratic filibuster, a filibuster led by conservative Southern Democrats.

Civil Rights Act of 1964…Crossing a Political Rubicon…

It was a political Rubicon moment. Liberal northern Democrats joined northern Republicans to do what had not been done since the Civil War – pass legislation that finally began to deliver on the reality of full citizenship that African-Americans had been promised in the wake of the Civil War. Goldwater, the GOP candidate for president, stood in opposition and his fierce state’s rights stand hurt him at the polls, as black voters moved in droves to the Democrats.

Lyndon Johnson with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
Lyndon Johnson with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Still, Democrats were hurt as well, with Lyndon Johnson famously predicting that signing the civil rights bill would hand the South to Republicans for a generation. Goldwater won six states in 1964 – his own Arizona, as well as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Prior to 1964, only two Republicans represented the states of the old Confederacy in the United States Senate. Today no Democrat represents the region.

Anyone who thinks racial politics has played no role in that remarkable transformation doesn’t know American history. Preserving that political advantage, in effect the most dependable Republican region for generations now, is the real aim of the modern GOP.

Goldwater’s loss brought predictions of the end of the Republican Party, which of course did not happen. What did end in 1964 was a growing bipartisan consensus about race in America. After 1964, Democrats increasingly appealed to African-American and other minority voters and Republicans increasingly became the party of older, white, conservatives, particularly in the South.

The GOP “Southern Strategy”…

Richard Nixon, who narrowly lost the White House in 1960 – he got 32% of the black vote against John Kennedy and enjoyed the support of, among others, the baseball legend Jackie Robinson – warned that Goldwater’s brand of conservatism was toxic to the party’s long-term interests. But, Nixon, always the skillful political adapter, parlayed his own brand of racial politics to a narrow win in 1968.

Richard Nixon campaigns in Philadelphia in 1968
Richard Nixon campaigns in Philadelphia in 1968

Nixon both benefited from and refined the racial politics of Alabama’s segregationist Governor George Wallace. Wallace, running as the candidate of the American Party, won five deep South states in 1968. Nixon won the rest of the old Confederacy stressing “law and order” and appealing to a “silent majority” of mostly white voters tired of hippies, anti-war demonstrations and various efforts to end racial segregation. The Republican “southern strategy” was born.

Only southern Democrats Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1992 broke up the now solid Republican south, but it was Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 who really built on what Goldwater started. Reagan, astutely or cynically or both, opened his 1980 general election campaign in the small Mississippi town where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered in the late spring of 1964. In front of an all-white crowd Reagan pledged his support for state’s rights.

Ronald Reagan in 1980 in Mississippi
Ronald Reagan in Mississippi in 1980

Reagan “was tapping out the code,” New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote in 2007. “It was understood that when politicians started chirping about ‘states’ rights’ to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you.”

Because any past Republican presidential candidate now looks positively stellar next to the current GOP standard bearer, the one term of George H.W. Bush is being remembered these days as a time of civility and political progress. But it was Bush’s 1988 campaign that benefited from the barely concealed racial politics of the infamous Willie Horton ad. The television spot – you can still see it on YouTube – was likely less important than the widespread news coverage it generated and, while Bush’s campaign could disclaim any direct involvement with the ad’s dog whistle message of black crime against whites, Bush never hesitated to mention Horton and his opponent Michael Dukakis in the same breath. It was nasty, it was racial and its was effective.

Screen shot of 1988 "Willie Horton" ad
Screen shot of 1988 “Willie Horton” ad

The real legacy of the first Bush may ultimately turn out to be the man who is still the only African-American justice on the Supreme Court. When civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall retired from the court in 1991, Bush elevated the little known Clarence Thomas to the high court. Where the liberal Marshall had been a celebrated lawyer, civil rights advocate, court of appeals judge and solicitor general, Bush replaced him with one of the most conservative lawyers to ever served on the court. Bush called Thomas the “most qualified” person he could find for the court, as marvelously inaccurate a statement then as it remains today.

Justice Thomas and the GOP Judicial Agenda…

Thomas has been, however, a completely reliable vote on key elements of the Republican judicial strategy for 25 years, consistently voting to expand the opportunities for money to corrode our politics, gut the Voting Rights Act – a key accomplishment of Thurgood Marshall’s generation – and most recently being the lone vote in a remarkable case out of Georgia dealing with a prosecutor’s determined efforts to keep black jurors from participating in a murder trial.

Long-time Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse was stunned by Thomas’ lone objection to overturning the murder conviction of a black man in Georgia, not because, as she wrote, Thomas harbors “some kind of heightened obligation to take up the cause of black defendants,” but because he went so far out of his way to rule in the most prosecutor friendly way. With dogged determination, Thomas also denied what seven other justices acknowledged, that new evidence can call into question an old court decision.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, the anti-Clarence Thomas.
Justice Thurgood Marshall, the anti-Clarence Thomas.

“In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Supreme Court overturned a 30-year-old murder conviction,” Greenhouse wrote, “ruling that racial discrimination infected the selection of the all-white Georgia jury that found a black man guilty of a white woman’s murder. The vote was 7 to 1. The dissenter was Justice Thomas. His vote, along with the contorted 15-page opinion that explained it, was one of the most bizarre performances I have witnessed in decades spent observing the Supreme Court.”

The remarkable Justice Thomas has become, as Greenhouse says, “the anti-Thurgood Marshall,” perversely championing the dismantling of Voting Rights Act and increasing obstacles for minority voters.

Making It More Difficult to Vote…

Following a concerted campaign by conservative Republicans, 17 states this year will have restrictions on voting that did not exist in 2012. As the Brennan Center at the New York University Law School notes, “This is part of a broader movement to curtail voting rights, which began after the 2010 election, when state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote.”

Eight of the states with new voting restrictions are in the solid Republican south. Add in Arizona, where Hispanic voters could amount to more than a quarter of the voting population, and you see a strong pattern of reliably GOP states trying to limit the franchise to non-white voters. And consider this: had the Supreme Court not effectively gutted key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2012, few if any of the state level voting restrictions could have gone into effect without the blessing of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Arguing that the prudent terms of the nearly 50 year old act, a law repeatedly renewed by Congress, should remain in effect in order to help ensure the voting rights of minorities, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote, “First, continuance would facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made; and second, continuance would guard against back­sliding.”

But, of course, “back-sliding” was the political point of gutting the Act and then having Republican legislatures and governors make it harder for minority Americans to vote. Considering the inevitable demographic tide that will continue to change the color of America, fiddling with how we vote is, to be sure, a temporary means to maintain white, conservative, Republican political power. But, rather than acknowledge the demographic change and try to appeal to vast numbers of new voters – precisely what many Republicans argued after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012 – the GOP has doubled down on its old, old strategy that dates back to 1964.

Federal Judge Gonzalo Cureil
Federal Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel

Donald Trump’s improbable presidential campaign – charging Mexicans with “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” banning all Muslims from entering the country, saying that a distinguished federal judge who was once an aggressive prosecutor of drug dealers couldn’t do his job because his parents had been born in Mexico – has finally brought into the harsh sunshine the nastiness and division that has consistently marked the dark side of GOP presidential politics for generations.

Trump is the perfect messenger to illustrate the corrosive power of racial politics. After all his rise to the GOP nomination began with his habitual feeding of the fiction that Barack Obama was foreign born and clearly “not one of us,” a pervasive myth stoked by social media and the ultra-right echo chamber. His attacks on a Latino federal judge, his pledge to “build a wall” and deport millions of immigrants intersect perfectly with an entirely new generation of conservative white voters who once would have flocked to Barry Goldwater.

Trump: The Perfect Messenger…

Some elected Republicans, Speaker Ryan for one, understand the fire that threatens to burn down the GOP future, but they seem powerless to really distance themselves from the toxic new leader of their party. Do they do the principled thing and once and for all disavow their racist standard bearer or do they try to condemn what he is, while not condemning his angry, white followers?

The ethical call is easy, but Republicans like Ryan face a hell of a political dilemma particularly when you consider that 65% of Republicans in one new poll don’t see Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel as racist. But, how could they? They’ve been conditioned by so many of their leaders to think that way at least since Goldwater’s campaign more than 50 years ago.

Goldwater, it should be remembered, was nominated in 1964 after a bruising fight at the Republican convention – the beginning of the end of the “moderate’ Republican – and only after the full convention refused to acknowledge the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act.

The party has been on this course for a long, long time. Trump is the living proof.

 

2016 Election, Journalism, Trump

The Ministry of Truth…

 

      “By the way, newspapers are the first of over 50 companies that I started where my employees tell me how to run my business.”

Sheldon Adleson. Casino billionaire, Trump supporter, newspaper owner

——–

There is a move afoot to bring a National Football League team to the city where things that happen there stay there. The most likely team to relocate to Sin City are, at least by Las Vegas terms, the aptly named Oakland Raiders, owned now by Mark Davis son of one the original NFL bad boys Al Davis.zVFIAIDi

But, as ESPN reported recently, the “sins” of Al Davis, including a penchant for litigation, might not hamper his son’s ambition to embrace the Valhalla of American excessiveness, the Shanghai of Sin.

The NFL and its billionaire owners once took a dim view of gambling, which ruled out locating a team where people bet on games all the time, but the NFL’s oligarchs have now set aside any misgivings about either excess or sin. What happens in Vegas wouldn’t really stay there, but would flow out across the country fattening the wallets of NFL owners. So bring on the Raiders, bring on billionaire Sheldon Adelson and bring on the money, money, money.

In order to host an NFL team, Vegas needs a big ol’ stadium and boy oh boy does Sheldon Adelson think building one is a great idea. His recently acquired Review-Journal newspaper – the Adleson clan originally attempted to keep its purchase of the paper secret – has lavished uncritical front-page coverage on idea of building the stadium, while breathlessly endorsing the convoluted financing that has been proposed. Meanwhile, as he maneuvers to bring the NFL to southern Nevada, Adelson has pledged $100 million to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and has his aides at work creating a Trump Super PAC.

Sheldon Adelson
Sheldon Adelson

Another of Trump’s billionaire friends recently secretly financed a lawsuit aimed at destroying an internet media outlet, a move that, at the least, will have a chilling effect for other outlets reporting on the lives of America’s high roller class.

The richest family in Utah now owns the venerable Salt Lake Tribune and, of course, Rupert Murdoch is in a class all his own. Influence is a growth industry even if real journalism is not.

What a country.

Adelson is frequently referred to as a “supporter” or “financial contributor” to the Las Vegas stadium project and perhaps a part owner on a relocated team, but it is clear, at least when it comes to football, that Adelson is really not that much of a gambling man. Back in January before his minions at the Review-Journal began sanitizing coverage of the stadium proposal the paper actually reported some news about who will pay for the expected $1.2 billion football palace.

“Developers would seek $780 million in public financing, according to a document provided by Las Vegas Sands Corp., which is leading a consortium behind the project,” the R-J reported.

“Private investors would contribute $420 million toward the planned 65,000-seat stadium, with various tourist-driven tax sources — commercial conveyance on taxicabs, rental car taxes or hotel room taxes — providing the bulk of the funding.”

Other accounts have indicated that the Mark Davis owner’s contribution will be conditioned on $200 million “loan” from the NFL, further decreasing the contribution of “private investors” like Adelson. It doesn’t take a PhD in finance to see who is really going to pay for the new stadium. At least two-thirds of the cost will be born by the public.

A former Review-Journal columnist, John L. Smith wrote recently in The Daily Beast: “There’s been a conspicuous lack of skepticism in the local press, which with few exceptions has obsessed on the odds of the Raiders’ arrival instead of the audacity of the stadium’s financing plan. Only political journalist Jon Ralston has consistently questioned the deal’s leaps of faith and lack of transparency.”

Ralston, Nevada’s most respected political journalist, has also reported on the “gag order” that prompted Smith’s departure from the paper. Smith had aggressively covered the big name Vegas casino moguls, including Adelson and Steve Winn, for years, often quite critically and that coverage occasional brought a lawsuit. Now, under the new Adelson regime, Smith was ordered not to write about anyone who had ever sued him. Poof. There goes coverage of the Las Vegas power structure.151222212046-las-vegas-review-journal-sign-780x439

Oh, yes. I forgot to mention that before Sheldon Adelson bought the Review-Journal the paper had been an outspoken critic of the process of financing a Las Vegas stadium project.

Now – are you surprised – the paper calls the stadium a “must do” project.

Adelson denies, of course, that his attempt to secretly buy Nevada’s largest newspaper at a cost substantially over its market value and then use it as a sort of house ad to enrich his Vegas hotel and entertainment empire carries any sinister connotations. If you want to believe that I know where you can buy a bridge.

With the “news business” now as fluid and in flux as it has been in generations, perhaps we should welcome guys with fat wallets bringing new resources to newsrooms, as Adelson claims he is doing in Las Vegas and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos clearly has done at the Washington Post. Still, put me down as a skeptic about the altruism of billionaires. As the New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg says, “billionaires do not become billionaires by being passive about their own interests.”

America has a rich history of rich guys owning newspapers – Hearst, Pulitzer and McCormick, to name just a few – and using their power to advance their interests and punish their foes, but this new trend of billionaires meddling in the media somehow seems more sinister and more dangerous, perhaps because it is happening at a time when so much of the media is financially weakened and vulnerable.

So this is America in the 21st Century. The Republican candidate for president calls for a crack down on a free press and wants to change libel laws, he routinely denies access to media organizations that offer critical (read factual) coverage of his nonsense and labels as “sleaze” reporters who dare ask legitimate questions. Meanwhile some of the pals of the Number One Media Critic in the country – fellow oligarchs all – use their unlimited money to intimidate and influence reporters, editors and news organizations. Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” doesn’t seem all that far fetched in 2016.

The rise of the American demagogue and the companion triumph of the fabulously wealthy has happened for many reasons, not least because there unfortunately exists an ill-informed or misinformed American public. It also doesn’t help that we have a political class that encourages a Sheldon Adelson and his favorite candidate.

It’s a leap of faith to believe that a bunch of self-obsessed billionaires owning their own newspapers is going to improve this dangerous reality. The old journalistic notion that the job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable has been turned on its head.

 

2016 Election, Clinton, Trump

How to Beat Donald Trump…

 

      “The poll suggests that Trump has more vulnerabilities than Clinton, but that opposition to the former secretary of state can lead some voters with a mixed to unfavorable view of Trump to support him nonetheless.”

Detail from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll

——–

One key lesson from two of the most recent presidential campaigns holds the key to how a very weak general election candidate, Hillary Clinton, can defeat an unscrupulous, position shifting showman like Donald Trump. Clinton, as is frequently pointed out, has no compelling message, is running a 1990’s campaign based only on a resume. Additionally, she is packing around a heavy load of old, old political baggage.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

If Clinton is to win in November she will need, in the language of scorched earth politics, to “disqualify” Trump. With Trump’s negative poll ratings starting to improve as he consolidates the Republican vote, time is a wasting for Clinton.

As Clinton’s strategists consider their totally unorthodox opponent, the raft of potentially disqualifying material Trump has placed on the public record surely must appear to be an embarrassment of riches. But there is folly in attempting to throw all that Trump garbage back at the voters. It’s just too much.

Clinton Needs a Strategy…

Clinton will make a strategic error – potentially fatal – if she over plays the fact that should she win she will become the first woman elected president of the United States. It’s a natural for her and her supporters to suggest this as a compelling message, but even Trump’s toxic standing with many women doesn’t necessarily mean the so called “women’s card” will be a winner. Clinton’s own negatives may well trump – pardon the pun – any advantage that goes with the potential of being first.

Clinton's challenge: Destroy the myth
Clinton’s challenge: Destroy the myth

So far the Clinton campaign’s line of attack against the insults, lies and wholesale flips of Trump has been to label the faux billionaire “dangerous” or “unfit to be president.” He is demonstrably both, but given Clinton’s dismal approval ratings and her own struggles with the question of whether she is fit for high office make her attacks limp and largely ineffective.

Clinton must focus her Trump message and simplify for voters as to precisely why the bragging, blustering con man is unfit. She must also carry the fight to Trump. She needs to land blows because Trump has already proven he’s a much better counterpuncher that Clinton will ever be.

Let’s just admit the obvious: this is going to be a disgustingly nasty contest. Both candidates are widely disliked. This will be an election about tearing down, not building up. Who does the best job of defining the other person will win.

Trump has already accused Bill Clinton of rape and repeatedly labeled the former secretary of state “crooked.” Coming from a guy who accused the father of his chief Republican rival of being involved in John Kennedy’s assassination, rape and crookedness represent merely the mere tip of Trump’s sleazy general election iceberg of political slime. Brace yourselves.

Attacking a Con Man Where He’s Most Vulnerable…

Clinton needs to move quickly – certainly no later than the Republican convention and perhaps much earlier – to systematically define Trump around what appears to be his strongest advantage: his business success, his money, the very notion that his high rolling ways somehow qualify him to move into the White House. By focusing on Trump’s “character” as a real estate developer and an allegedly successful businessman, Clinton truly has a target rich environment that voters can grasp.

One of many, many failures
One of many, many failures

Trump’s business failures – a smelly pile of “Trump steaks” and “Trump Vodka” and “Trump Airlines” – his several bankruptcies, the failure of “Trump University,” the recent claim that his tax returns “are none of your business,” his multitude of shady deals with questionable characters and his extraordinary litigiousness add up to a credibility bomb waiting to go off. The most devoted Trump followers will shrug off this cavalcade of business sleaze, but many voters, particularly independent leaning voters, will discover that at the soul of this con man is a con job.

In the recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows the two candidates virtually tied is this nugget: “Six in 10 independents believe Trump should release his taxes, and almost all of them say they feel strongly about it. Even 44 percent of Republicans want the billionaire businessman to release his returns before the November election, though they are less passionate.”

Trump signing the tax return he refuses to release
Trump signing the tax return he refuses to release

Trump, of course, probably cannot release his tax returns because it’s almost certain he rarely, if ever, pays any tax. The one year his returns were a matter of public record, thanks to a requirement of the New Jersey gaming commission, Trump paid zero tax. Offshore accounts? He must have some. In what state does he claim residence? New York or Florida? If he’s been audited as often as he says, what did those audits show? Has he paid penalties?

Raise the questions. Taunt the tax dodger. As Lyndon Johnson might have said, make the SOB deny that he doesn’t play by the same rules the rest of us follow.

Trump’s recent release of a personal financial disclosure (PFD) statement, a statement as bogus as his claim that he will build a “beautiful wall” along the Mexican border, is ripe for the pulling apart. Trump brags of “great cash flow” and huge “revenue increases” at his properties, but that is, at best, misleading since we know nothing about his expenses and he offers (as usual) no proof for his claims. As Forbes magazine noted in an article on Trump’s PFD the statement raises more questions that it answers, “Since Trump freely interchanges the terms revenue and income as if they mean the same thing.” This guy may have graduated from the Wharton School, but he can’t read his own balance sheet.

And, as Forbes also noted, “the Office of Government Ethics reviews the disclosures for technical compliance (for example, assets have to be properly categorized), but does not audit for accuracy, nor are candidates required to provide supporting documents to prove their numbers.” In short, the Trump statement of his net worth is as confused and phony as his hairdo.

Trump University: Subject of an ongoing lawsuit
Trump University: Subject of an ongoing lawsuit

Bloomberg had a great piece recently headlined “How Trump’s Self Worth Became His Net Worth,” focusing on the fact that most of Trump’s much hyped wealth is based upon his own perceived value of his name.

Bloomberg’s Steven Mihm observed, “In Trump’s case, the value of his name is a complicated notion, resting on both the “right to publicity” as well as the more conventional foundations of trademark law (Trump has filed more 200 trademark applications, including Donald J. Trump, The Fragrance).” That fragrance smells to high heaven.

Timothy L. O’Brien has been following Trump’s business boasts for years and he writes, also in Bloomberg: “Trump, who flirted with personal bankruptcy in the early ’90s, has never publicly offered an independently vetted assessment of all his debts. Indeed, much of the financial information he discloses is self-reported. Until that changes, there’s a good chance that a strong dose of grade inflation runs through all of the net worth figures.”

Let’s put a finer point on it: Donald Trump is a fraud, which sounds like a good tagline for a television ad campaign.

The Model Already Exists…

Screen shot of 2004 "Swift Boat Veterans" ad against John Kerry
Screen shot of 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans” ad against John Kerry

The models for a Clinton strategy of taking apart The Donald are – I hesitate to say – the shameful “Swift Boating” of then-Senator John Kerry in 2004 and the often unfair characterizations in 2012 of Mitt Romney’s private equity career at Bain Capital. In both those cases, the opponents of Kerry and Romney – George W. Bush and Barack Obama – made strategic decisions to attack at a point of the opponent’s apparent greatest strength.

Kerry was a legitimate and highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and Romney was a demonstrably successful businessman. But the relentless attacks shredded the fundamental strengths of Kerry and Romney to the very great benefit of the ultimately winning candidates.

In fairness, many of the most effective attacks against Kerry and Romney were carried out by so called “independent” campaigns legally separate from the presidential candidates. But, unless you were born last night it’s impossible to believe that the 2004 and 2012 attacks were not conceived as part of the overall strategy of the Bush and Obama campaigns.

Kerry didn’t deserve the “swift boating” and much of the story line about Romney was based on inherent skepticism about his success in an industry that often cut jobs as a business strategy. Trump, on the other hand, is in an entirely different world. He deserves all the scrutiny he should be getting.

The Wizard Unmasked
The Wizard Unmasked

Political generals, like military generals, often mistakenly fight the last war, but in 2016 the lessons from presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2012 hold the most valuable lessons for the Democratic campaign.

Attacking the phony billionaire where he is perceived to be the strongest is a winning approach. Millions of Americans are upset with their presidential choices and many are fed up with a political system that has come perilously close to imploding, but they will understand a self-proclaimed billionaire that doesn’t pay taxes and they will be able to analyze the evidence about a guy whose entire rationale for his candidacy is built around a level of business success that simply doesn’t exist.

Donald Trump’s business acumen is a little like the “all powerful” Wizard of Oz in the famous movie. Once you pull back the curtain you’ll find a little, insecure man who has spent a lifetime bragging about his accomplishments, a man living an illusion, a man who has gotten away with a con job it for a very long time.

Exposing Trump’s business record will also have the added benefit for Clinton of diverting the egomaniac from his own attacks on her. Can you imagine Trump’s response to a sustained assault on his most valuable asset – his self-image as a successful tycoon? It would be a fine thing to watch.

It’s time to get on with pulling back the curtain.

 

2016 Election, Arizona, John McCain, Trump

The Last Tango of John McCain

 

      “If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life.”

           Senator John McCain who says he will support the GOP nominee.

——–

Let’s call it the Trump Tango, the awkward, unprincipled, downright disgusting dance of various Republican politicians desperate to get right with their “presumptive nominee.” The stumble to the dance floor with Trump comes, of course, after the same crowd spent months believing their new best friend to be, as John Boehner might say, “the devil incarnate.”

Still, unlike the sexy Latin dance, this political tango has no grace, no style, no elegance. The Trump Tango is only about ending up in the same place locked in an uncomfortable partisan embrace when the music finally stops.

Senator Kelly Ayotte
Senator Kelly Ayotte

New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, a vulnerable GOP incumbent in this weird, wild year, is a prime example of one of the delicate dancers. Ayotte says she will vote for the bumptious billionaire, but quickly adds that we shouldn’t consider that an endorsement. You might call that dancing on eggshells.

Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking Republican in the country, began his own graceless tango toward Trump a few days ago. Emerging from a closed-door meeting with the man who has repeatedly dissed his policy proposals, including Medicare and Social Security reform, the Speaker indicated he is warming to Trump’s dance music of racism, Muslim bans, narcissism and misogyny.

A Warm and Genuine Person…

“I was very encouraged with what I heard from Donald Trump today,” Ryan said, “I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified, to bridge the gaps and differences.” Right.

House Speaker Paul Ryan AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
House Speaker Paul Ryan AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Proving that he can dance backward while wearing high heels, Ryan is clearly pirouetting in the direction of turning the last remnants of the Republican Party over to the charlatan from Queens. “He’s a very warm and genuine person,” Ryan concluded about the man who regularly calls people who challenge him “losers” or “dopes” or “clowns.” Such calm and measured language from the presumptive nominee obviously passes for “warm and genuine” in the new Trump-led GOP. Can the full Paul Ryan embrace followed by the deep swoon be far away?

At least Ryan hesitated before his inevitable jump into Donald Trump’s arms, signaling at least a momentary brush with genuine political principle. By contrast the one-time captain of the “Plain Talk Express” toppled like an old, tired, withered Sonoran saguaro.

John McCain is, of course, running for re-election in Arizona. He has two Tea Party challengers in the August primary and, assuming he survives, McCain will face a very creditable Democrat, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, in November. McCain is already forecasting the most difficult election he had ever had. Given his shameless embrace of Trumpism he deserves everything he’s going to get.

With Trump at the head of the ticket the one-time “maverick” had to make a choice: he could resist embracing a man that puts the lie to most everything McCain once stood for or he could set aside all principle in the interest of political self-preservation and dance with the devil. McCain has made his choice and The Last Tango of the Maverick has indeed become a sorry spectacle.

Not Oscar and Felix, but certainly an odd couple.
Not Oscar and Felix, but certainly an odd couple.

McCain, perhaps as much as any incumbent Republican in the country, is caught in the ethical and political dilemma that the party has created for itself.

McCain once earned considerable bi-partisan support for pushing back against the tax and spend policies of George W. Bush’s Administration. He worked across the aisle to try and ensure that the Senate actually confirmed qualified judicial nominees. He forged alliances with Democrats to try and limit the corruption of big money in our politics. He once advocated immigration reform. McCain even once shut down a woman at one of his rallies who launched a tirade about Barack Obama being “an Arab.”

Now, afraid to confront the Tea Party, McCain caters to the original birther and supports a guy who disparages his own military record.

I Like People Who Weren’t Captured…

Admittedly it can be difficult to keep all the Trump insults straight, so as a reminder it was way back in July of last year when McCain became one of Trump’s first high profile insult targets. McCain had criticized Trump’s racist rants about Hispanics and worried that such incendiary rhetoric would, as he said, “bring out the crazies” in Arizona. Trump, of course, did what he does – he attacked.

Trump, having never served a day in the military, dissed McCain’s six years of torture and imprisonment in a North Vietnamese POW camp as the story of a loser.

McCain and Sarah Palin
McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008

“(McCain’s) a war hero because he got captured,” General Trump thundered. “I like people who weren’t captured.” Asked later to elaborate, Trump said he wasn’t impressed with McCain’s Senate service since he wasn’t doing enough for veterans. More recently Trump again refused to back off his sleazy comments about McCain saying, in essence, he never apologizes.

On another occasion Trump called the Arizona Republican “another all talk, no action politician who spends too much time on television and not enough time doing his job.” As if spending time on television constituted a political crime in Trumpworld.

But John McCain, the “maverick” straight talker, can’t bring himself to reject the hate monger who has appropriated his party. As E.J. Montini, the political columnist for the Arizona Republic notes, McCain is really concerned only about getting re-elected.

“Instead of being direct and plain-spoken,” Montini wrote recently, McCain is “being cautious and political, calculated.

“He’s teeter-tottering on a tightrope between appeasing the Trump voters he wants and the Latino voters he needs, trying not to topple in either direction.

“As for the ‘Straight Talk Express’ – call a tow truck, it’s out of gas.”

If any Republican had both a reason and the gumption to tell Donald Trump to kiss him where he sits it ought to be John McCain. Surely McCain privately agonizes over a presidential candidate who praises Putin, advocates a return to torture, talks loosely about encouraging nuclear proliferation and will, should he be elected, demand about as much respect from the American military as Jane Fonda.

Still, McCain says he will support the nominee of his party. There is apparently nothing that would disqualify this charlatan. Republicans, and even John McCain, are proving to be partisans first, last and always. When it comes to the presumptive nominee, like his party, McCain has abandoned the last shred of principle in order to rally behind a man – it’s not even a close call – most Republicans know is a dangerous fraud.

McCain might have made his last go round an example of class and courage. He might have danced to a different drummer. He might have called Trump what he is. But he did none of those things. And, who knows, the abandonment of principle may work. McCain may well win re-election by hitching his wagon to Trump’s phony politics, but if he goes down in flames with the crass, conniving businessman it would amount to a certain type of poetic justice. Giving in to a clown only makes one look like a clown.

McCain has long courted Arizona’s large and expanding Hispanic population. He needs a certain degree of support from Arizona’a Hispanic community to win a general election and he might have calculated that telling the truth about Trump would position him well with Hispanics, but he didn’t. McCain instead embraced the very “crazies” he once predicted would come out of the woodwork to support a fundamentally race-baiting candidate. The maverick has become the enabler.

Win or lose this is undoubtedly McCain’s last campaign. The old John McCain might have gone out being remembered for something better than creating Sarah Palin, a decision, which come to think of it, helped create Donald Trump. Yet, McCain’s last tango has turned into a stumbling lurch. As Trump might say – Sad.

 

2016 Election, Clinton, Trump

The GOP’s Joe McCarthy Moment


     

     “Donald Trump delivered a very good foreign policy speech in which he laid out his vision for American engagement in the world.”

Statement by Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker.

——–

The nation’s Republican “elites” have entered the final stage of grief – acceptance.

After wringing their hands for months over the prospect that the most demonstrably unprepared person to every get near a presidential nomination would hijack their party and drive it over a cliff, the GOP “elites” now face the almost certain reality that a race-baiting, woman-hating, foreign policy clueless narcissist will be their presidential candidate.

The denial, distress, disbelief and all the “stop Trump” efforts have now arrived at what conservative columnist David Brooks calls “a Joe McCarthy moment.” Every Republican officeholder, every consultant and lobbyist, every American conservative who wakes up, looks in the mirror and sees an engaged, thoughtful citizen will forever be measured by where they stood on the defining political issue of our time: Do you support Trump?

Republicans once had the guts to say “No” to a man bent on destroying their party and the country. Will enough of them do it again?

The GOP’s McCarthy Moment…

Vermont Senator Ralph Flanders
Vermont Senator Ralph Flanders

In the 1950’s, Republican members of the United States Senate, not Joe McCarthy’s Democratic opponents, finally brought the red-baiting, fear-promoting GOP demagogue of that generation to heel. Vermont Republican Ralph Flanders stood on the Senate floor on March 9, 1954 and spoke directly to McCarthy. It was the beginning of the end of the McCarthy Era. Read the speech today in the Era of Trump, 62 years after Flanders spoke, and its insights ring true, eerily so.

“Mr. President,” Flanders said, “the junior senator from Wisconsin interests us all – there can be no doubt about that – but also he puzzles some of us. To which party does he belong? Is he a hidden satellite of the Democratic Party, to which he is furnishing so much material for quiet mirth? It does not seem that his Republican label can be stuck on very tightly, when, by intention or through ignorance, he is doing his best to shatter the party whose label he wears. He no longer claims or wants any support from the Communist fringe. What is his party affiliation?”

Flanders conclusion about Joe McCarthy then could well be applied to Donald Trump today. “One must conclude that his is a one-man party, and that its name is ‘McCarthyism,” a title which he has proudly accepted.”

McCarthy, driven by ego and political opportunism, was missing the point, Flanders argued. America had enemies to confront and issues to address, just not the ones McCarthy pursued blindly and ruthlessly. Trump is the second coming of the authentic Republican demagogue.

Not all of Flanders’ constituents approved of his speech, but many did and  the bookish Vermonter – he authored or co-authored eight books – had his McCarthy moment, which still stands as an enduring example of great political courage and genuine intellectual honesty. Flanders later introduced the resolution that ultimately led to McCarthy’s censure by the Senate.

Even then Senate Republicans split evenly over condemning an odious and dangerous man. Twenty-one Republicans joined Ralph Flanders in rejecting McCarthy and his tactics. Twenty-two others have had to answer to history for failing to condemn a fomenter of discord and discontent.

Trump and Christie. Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Trump and Christie. Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The shameless and self-promotional among the GOP have, of course, already made their decision about Trump. Chris Christie, once a semi-serious political figure who might have re-defined his own diminished brand by shunning Donald J. Trump, did just the opposite. Christie blew past his McCarthy moment and voted demagogue.

Newt Gingrich, the disgraced former House Speaker who is just as desperate to remain “relevant” as Christie, allows as how he would be available to serve as Trump’s running mate should the great man pick up a gold plated cellphone and bring Gingrich back to political life.

The Shameless and Self-Promotional…

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions endorsed Trump early, as did Trump’s female political doppelgänger Sarah Palin. And Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who has already endorsed two other Republican candidates, now says, “It looks to me like he’s going to win, and if he does, I’m going to do everything in my power to help him.” Even the formerly sane Jon Huntsman says Trump’s his guy.

Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, often an example of the levelheaded conservative, sent shivers down the spine recently when he actually praised Trump’s completely incoherent “major foreign policy speech.” It was the precise moment, with all Trump’s ignorance and bluster on display, for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to declare the blowhard-in-chief unfit for the awesome responsibilities he seeks. Corker punted. Count on more doing the same. Count on them living to regret it.

In addition to their McCarthy moment, the Republican Party, at least the “elites,” face an existential question: Do they embrace this awful man, the very essence of division and lack of seriousness? Or do they broadly reject the modern equivalent of Joe McCarthy and risk, as a Ralph Flanders did in the 1950’s, the wrath of those drawn to his message of division and hatred? Either way they risk blowing up their party for an election cycle or maybe a generation or maybe forever.

Trump’s new political wise guy, Paul Manafort, a fellow who made his political fortune representing repressive thugs from places like Ukraine and Angola, is confident the “elites” will come around to his new boss. “As he becomes the Republican nominee, there will be a consolidation behind him,” Manafort told the Washington Post’s Dan Balz. “Once he is the nominee, some of that is going to come down naturally. . . . It’s a big deal when you’re the presumptive nominee as opposed to being the nominee.”

Joe McCarthy and his counsel, Roy Cohn, who tutored Donald Trump in the arts of politics
Joe McCarthy and his counsel, Roy Cohn, who late in his life tutored Donald Trump in the art of nasty politics

The media will also get even more on board as the general election nears. The political press, particularly television, which loves the thought of the looming contest between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton and has done so much to enable Trump’s rise, will soon began to offer up more of what we might call the “coverage of false equivalency.”

Trump’s utter lack of political experience will continue to be portrayed as an advantage as opposed to the grievous risk it represents. His shady business dealings and stunning lack of historical perspective on foreign policy will receive short shrift when he turns full-time to trashing “Crooked Hillary.” And trivialities like Trump’s endorsement by the reprehensible character that once coached the Indiana University basketball team is treated as if it mattered to the future of the republic. It doesn’t, by the way.

Do They Really Hate Hillary So Much…

The company Trump’s keeps, from Bobby Knight – Trump misspelled the name of his “dear friend” – who was given to throwing chairs and assaulting his players, to convicted sex offender Mike Tyson, is treated as though it is all just part of a rollicking reality television show passing as a presidential campaign. It should be reported for what it is, a window into what passes for the man’s soul. Get over waiting for the media, especially television, to bring down Trump. That’s like waiting for Godot. Not going to happen.

Clinton’s flat-footed, unimaginative, uninspiring candidacy is apparently all that now stands in Trump’s way and (I can’t believe I’m writing this) it may not be enough. Trump has controlled the political narrative every single day since he slid down his own escalator and into position as Republican frontrunner. There is no reason to believe he won’t continue to dominate, unless that is those with standing in the party he plans to takeover decide to really push back.

This is their Joe McCarthy moment. Do they really hate Hillary so much they would risk turning the country, not to mention their party, over to this dangerous buffoon?

Senate GOP Leadership: Waiting for Trump
Senate GOP Leadership: Waiting for Trump

In a remarkable and utterly sobering article in the most recent New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan summed up our national dilemma: “An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: ‘We Respectables’ deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.”

Enter Trumpism.

Republicans, of course, brought much of this on themselves, but pointing that out now is about as useful as engaging in the false equivalency that says the candidacy of a hateful, arrogant, uninformed demagogue is really just the same as that of an experienced candidate. Even with her all too obvious “trust” issues, Clinton has served as first lady, a U.S. senator and secretary of state. She is competent and informed. The almost certain Democratic nominee isn’t my first or even eighth choice for president of the United States, but good lord she is no Donald Trump.

Andrew Sullivan puts it directly to those Republicans who waffle and waver about whether to push in their chips with Trump, as well as those who will just pretend to ignore him. “They should resist any temptation to loyally back the nominee or to sit this election out,” he writes. “They must take the fight to Trump at every opportunity, unite with Democrats and Independents against him, and be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their country.

“For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.”

A handful of Republican consultants, a few conservative journalists and columnists and one GOP senator, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, have drawn a line they will not cross to support a political pretender. It’s not enough.

This really is a Joe McCarthy moment for the Republican Party and the nation. Republicans should be asking where are the Ralph Flanders?