Friday, September 16, 2016

Media Has to Stop Enabling Trump!

According to the Oxford English Dictionary--a Mountebank is "an itinerant quack" and an "impudent pretender to skill a charlatan, one or resorts to degrading means to obtain notoriety" The word is derived from an Italian phrase ---and applies to anyone who  mounts a bench inorder to appeal to an audience through the use of showmanship and tricks.  Does this sound like anyone we know? OK Yes the GOP nominee Donald J Trump whose major trick was to get himself into the presidential stakes by claiming that Obama was not an American citizen and thus an illegitimate president. Today he went back on that claim and issued a statement without any reason or apology that President Obama was born in the US as if he now is the ultimate arbiter of who is and who is not an American citizen.  The sheer chutzpah,  the lack of shame or embarrassment that he has been fronting what became known as the birther movement should stop anyone in their tracks but Trump's consistent lies and lack of shame no longer is of much interest to the media. They consistently cover him as if he were a serious candidate --no one so far in the media (with the possible exception of Chris Mathews on the issue of abortion) has been able to ask any solid follow up questions of Trump. They have allowed one question on one topic, usually a soft ball one and allow his bluster to go unchallenged.

Take a look below of a typical interview. This was high stakes debate on the military -

LAUER: You said in the speech today, you said history shows that when America is not prepared is when the danger is the greatest.
TRUMP: And we’re not prepared.

Why is that Mr Trump--we spend more on the military than the next nine major countries combined

LAUER: Will you be prepared on day one, if you’re elected president of the United States, to tackle these complex national security issues?
TRUMP: One hundred percent. Hey, Matt, again, she made a mistake on Libya. She made a terrible mistake on Libya. And the next thing, I mean, not only did she make the mistake, but then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed you know what out of Gadhafi. I mean, she made a terrible mistake on Libya. And part of it was the management after effect. I think that we have great management talents, great management skills.
LAUER: But you are prepared?
TRUMP: And I have to tell you — totally prepared. But remember this. I found this subject and these subjects of interest all of my life, Matt. This hasn’t been over the last 14 months. I’ve found these substantiates of tremendous interest. That’s why they were asking me about Iraq 14 years ago. They were asking me these questions. They don’t ask businesspeople those questions.
What exactly prepared you Mr Trump? What exactly did you study? That makes you "100 percent" and  "totally prepared"? 
LAUER: Let me end in kind of the same place I started. Have you given much thought, Mr. Trump, if you’re elected president and commander-in-chief, to that moment where you’re going to have to make that first decision that puts American men and women in harm’s way?
TRUMP: I think it’s the most difficult decision you can possibly ever make. You’re talking about death. And we’re talking death to not just our side. We’re talking death all over. I would be very, very cautious. I think I’d be a lot slower. She has a happy trigger. You look, she votes for the wars, she goes in Libya…

Notice no follow up questions. My questions are in blue highlight. His hyperbole and lies are in yellow highlight. The first question Lauer should have asked in any normal environment gone like this --what makes you feel prepared to be commander in chief after your five military deferments in Viet Nam; your recent attempt to demean the character of a former prisoner of war, Senator John McCain and your questioning of the sacrifice of a Gold Star family.

If Trump is elected in November the media will bear heavy responsibility for not calling this Mountebank, this charlatan, fraudster out. Meanwhile did you hear the news--if Trump loses he is going to set up his own  Trump TV network to be bigger than Fox. Watch out mainstream media Trump also wants a piece of your mega billions as well.
If you don't like the media's treatment make your views known to the FCC
and/ or to the major national TV stations. Tell them to stop chasing after ratings (Lauer was clearly fearful of offending the very thin skinned Trump who might dare to boycott his highly rated morning show if he got a question he did not like) and live up to the broadcasting traditions of Morrow and Cronkite.

Media Has Created Trump the Mountebank

According to the Oxford English Dictionary--a Mountebank is "an itinerant quack" and an "impudent pretender to skill a charlatan, one or resorts to degrading means to obtain notoriety" The word is derived from an Italian phrase ---to mount a bench and proceeds to appeal to an audience through the use of showmanship and tricks.  Does this sound like anyone we know? OK Yes the GOP nominee Donald J Trump whose major trick was to get himself into the presidential stakes by claiming that Obama was not an American citizen and thus an illegitimate president. Today he went back on that claim and issued a statement without any reason or apology that President Obama was born in the US as if he now is the ultimate arbiter of who is and who is not an American citizen.  The sheer chutzpah,  the lack of shame or embarrassment that he has been fronting what became known as the birther movement should stop anyone in their tracks but Trump's consistent lies and lack of shame no longer is of much interest to the media. They consistently cover him as if he were a serious candidate --no one so far in the media (with the possible exception of Chris Mathews on the issue of abortion) has been able to ask any solid follow up questions of Trump. They have allowed one question on one topic, usually a soft ball one and allow his bluster to go unchallenged.

Take a look below of a typical interview. This was high stakes debate on the military -

LAUER: You said in the speech today, you said history shows that when America is not prepared is when the danger is the greatest.
TRUMP: And we’re not prepared.

Why is that Mr Trump--we spend more on the military than the next nine major countries combined

LAUER: Will you be prepared on day one, if you’re elected president of the United States, to tackle these complex national security issues?
TRUMP: One hundred percent. Hey, Matt, again, she made a mistake on Libya. She made a terrible mistake on Libya. And the next thing, I mean, not only did she make the mistake, but then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed you know what out of Gadhafi. I mean, she made a terrible mistake on Libya. And part of it was the management after effect. I think that we have great management talents, great management skills.
LAUER: But you are prepared?
TRUMP: And I have to tell you — totally prepared. But remember this. I found this subject and these subjects of interest all of my life, Matt. This hasn’t been over the last 14 months. I’ve found these substantiates of tremendous interest. That’s why they were asking me about Iraq 14 years ago. They were asking me these questions. They don’t ask businesspeople those questions.
What exactly prepared you Mr Trump? What exactly did you study? That makes you "100 percent" and  "totally prepared"? 
LAUER: Let me end in kind of the same place I started. Have you given much thought, Mr. Trump, if you’re elected president and commander-in-chief, to that moment where you’re going to have to make that first decision that puts American men and women in harm’s way?
TRUMP: I think it’s the most difficult decision you can possibly ever make. You’re talking about death. And we’re talking death to not just our side. We’re talking death all over. I would be very, very cautious. I think I’d be a lot slower. She has a happy trigger. You look, she votes for the wars, she goes in Libya…

Notice no follow up questions. My questions are in blue highlight. His hyperbole and lies are in yellow highlight. The first question Lauer should have asked in any normal environment gone like this --what makes you feel prepared to be commander in chief after your five military deferments in Viet Nam; your recent attempt to demean the character of a former prisoner of war, Senator John McCain and your questioning of the sacrifice of a Gold Star family.

If Trump is elected in November the media will bear heavy responsibility for not calling this Mountebank, this charlatan, fraudster out. Meanwhile did you hear the news--if Trump loses he is going to set up his own  Trump TV network to be bigger than Fox. Watch out mainstream media Trump also wants a piece of your mega billions as well.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Three reasons why Trump Candidacy May Not be a Total Negative


Laurence Peters

In the immortal words of what has become a Monty Python theme tune--”always look on the bright side” dare I propose three reasons why we might take a more positive look at the Trump candidacy? Yes the billionaire buffoon has lowered the tone of American politics immeasurably by his juvenile name calling, brought racial hate  of the kind we have not seen since the 1960s back into the mainstream of American politics, embarrassed us on the world stage with his shameful ignorance etc etc. So what good has come out of the billionaire bloviator’s candidacy? I count at least three reasons why the Trump run at the nation’s highest office might not be a total zero.

First--it has exposed the fact that the Republican party really had no core principles that it was willing to defend. Trump ripped apart any of their so carefully harbored beliefs in free trade, entitlement programs, immigration policy, foreign policy and fiscal conservatism. He also tore the mask of the rhetoric about the GOP being an open inclusive party, the party of Lincoln and all that nonsense. Post Trump the GOP must decide if it is going to follow the blustering liar into the political wilderness of right wing extremist politics or if it is going to reject him. If it decides to reject him it will then be forced to examine its core principles and offer a coherent and rational alternative to the democrats. This will not be a bad thing. The elite GOP leadership has been allowed for too long to have it both ways---to allow corporate interests to hold sway over major policy decisions while feeding their base with red meat "social issues" like abortion and a variety of constitutional amendments that would only come to pass if there were a political earthquake. The shake out has begun and the result--possibly the establishment of a third party following the November election returns may make our politics more interesting and more democratic.

Second it is clear that the task of repairing our politics is more urgent than ever. Trump rose to prominence by calling both parties corrupt and beholden to monied interests. This call for a less corrupt system struck a deep nerve and allowed Trump to knock over his primary opponents as if they were paper dolls (rolled from US currency we might hasten to add). Trump reminded us that if monied voices that continue to call the shots for both parties then we will see the further decay of the vital institutions like political parties, informed political candidates who possess integrity that give meaning to our democracy. While Trump pointed to the problem in typical fashion he could not point to any solution other than electing him, the patriotic billionaire who clearly had the nation's best interests at heart. What he should have said and the democrats should have jumped on is that Trump's diagnosis means that we any new democratic administration should repeal the zany Citizens United decision. Money is not speech and it never was. The power to dominate the media through buying politicians and media is antithetical to democracy. The rise of Trump helps us learn the importance of that lesson and the reasons to address the source of the problem and not indulge ourselves with the nonsensical notion that we now need to be ruled by the top 1 percent because only they are the ones that cannot be bought!

Thirdly,  Trump has given us all a teachable moment by providing us with a startlingly vivid insight into how American style fascism might quickly become a reality in this country. As Sinclair Lewis showed us (and Slate magazine has pointed out) in his prescient semi satirical novel, It Can't Happen Here published in 1935. Sinclair's book teaches us that the descent into fascist madness begins by populist patriotic appeals that quickly descends into nationalism and finding scape goats for our economic and security woes. Trump rose in the polls by demonizing Muslim and the Mexican immigrants--and even went so far as casting them all as either terrorists or rapists.  Then we were treated to the threats of violence with regard to people who disagree with them--first at the Trump rallies and then outside of them and lately with threats of appealing to gun owners to take unspecified actions against elected officeholders. We should have learned from the Nazis in the 1930s that this is how democracies are destroyed by resorting to violence over the ballot box. We learned during this dark Trump dominated period in our politics who process the enablers --the elites who refused to condemn these anti democratic sentiments and the craven political hacks who try to defend their champion using phrases like he's only “telling it like it is." and other apologies for inexcusable behavior.

It is no accident that Trump in a moment of self revelation proclaimed his love for "poorly educated people. Trump's rise reminds us in the last analysis why education matters. No matter that Trump seems not to have read a history book let alone one on foreign affairs we all need to reflect on Jefferson's caution that if a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why We Must Avoid the Trump Disaster at all Costs




At the start of the summer things were going fairly normally and we were headed for two reasonably boring candidates--Clinton and if not Bush then Cruz. Trump was dismissed as a bloviating billionaire with a penchant for late night tweets, rude barbs and other nasty ways of grabbing the attention of the media. Having succeeded in getting people’s attention like the student at the back of the class prepared to mock the teacher, curse and generally make a ruckus the media then prepared to provide full coverage for his speeches given inside “huge” stadiums and aircraft hangers to mostly white males who when they were not cheering for his familiar "build a wall” line, were looking for hecklers to eject or otherwise beat up when the cameras were not around. The billions of dollars in free media attention the ratings focused media owners were prepared to donate to Trump gratis served to turn a small forest fire into a national environmental emergency. True the kindling was all around--stagnant wages, a perception that Trump helped foster that immigration both from Mexico and from Middle East was out of control and it did not help that the other GOP candidates lacked both policy ideas, passion or convincing solutions. They also had no credibility as it turned out with the mass of the electorate, just like the experts who were wheeled out in the UK’s Brexit debate to persuade the voters to stay in the Remain camp, people preferred to follow their gut that simple solutions would do the trick.--a wall, or in the case of Brexit rejecting the EU treaty. Then some more disturbing things happened. The GOP leadership in the form of Paul Ryan and to a lesser extent Mitch McConnell decided they were not only going to stand in his way to the nomination. Just like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio they folded in the wake of the Trump steamroller so despite his racist views, his counter productive terrorism strategy, his 19th century views on abortion and his efforts to undermine the NATO alliance, he managed to make the GOP into his own image. The GOP is now no longer the party of Lincoln, it is the party of Trump, a crazy megalomaniacal billionaire. Despite the fact that Trump regularly lies, has been bankrupt four times, has not read or shows any interest in reading anything that could be loosely called a briefing book, let alone a normal book, has no experience of governing, this man is now only a few percentage points (if latest opinion polls are to be believed) from winning the presidency of the United States. It is all too shocking to behold. This is a man who has no sense of shame for his lies, who has clear case of narcissism, who has no empathy for others, who created a sham university whose sole purpose was to milk old and vulnerable people of their life savings. He is a publicity seeking amoral monster the media has helped to create.

What can we do? First we all must demand:
1. Trump release his tax returns. These will show most probably the ways that Trump not only skirts the law, does not give to charity, sends jobs abroad etc
2. The media not allow Trump to avoid answering the question and insist on asking follow up questions
3. Insist that your own Senator, Congressman denounce Trump’s racism and counterproductive views on terrorism.
4. Actively register people in your community and make the argument that this is an election no one can afford to sit out.
5. If you know anyone slightly inclined to vote for Trump--that has said one or two positive things about him--please confront them with the one question that counts--would you want his small fingers on the button--they are itchy enough to send insulting crazy tweets at 3:00 am that a 5th grader would never send.

This is the election of our lifetimes. To those who try to find fault with Hillary--she has after all spent 40 plus years in the public spotlight we can only say this --there is no comparison between the kind of tried and tested temperament of Hillary as Senator from New York and as Secretary of State and Trump. Trump has never been elected to anything. He has devoted his entire life to his one object of affection--himself. The email issues have been resolved. We are talking about the future of the country here if not the world. A Trump presidency is unthinkable.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Time for Hillary's Team to Craft a New Message




Some of the reasons why Bernie still lingers around winning the odd primary here and there, and dominating a  news cycle or two, is the difficulty Clinton has had so far articulating a winning message. One way to characterized the problem is whether after so many speeches, campaign rallies and interviews the difficulty anyone experiences in trying to sum up precisely what  Hillary’s candidacy is all about? Take her first major speech that launched her candidacy the one she gave on Roosevelt Island in New York back in June last year.  A speech that was far from off the cuff--one she had time to prepare and refine for a two years after she had resigned from Secretary of State back in February 2013. The speech’s central conceit  that there is a unifying bond that connects FDR with the other successful presidents, notably her husband and of course Barack Obama and that is “America’s basic bargain. If you do your part you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.” But also woven into the speech is her unique background as a problem solver and a compassionate believer in an inclusive society. But  what is noticeable is the  scant reference to the last eight years and the fact that eight years after the depression was supposedly fixed in which Wall Street bankers profited to the tune of $281 billion dollars, a majority of working Americans are still suffering. She nods her head to this in a fairly routine way,

“You worked extra shifts, took second jobs, postponed home repairs… you figured out how to make it work. And now people are beginning to think about their future again – going to college, starting a business, buying a house, finally being able to put away something for retirement.”

 It is not that Hillary cannot excite her audience or refrains from giving them red meat or is afraid of stoking a class war it is that the language she uses to describe their plight is so lifeless and abstract that it reeks of condescension.

She does not seem to be able to grasp that the Obama administration has to also account for why most middle class people feel squeezed and why in many US cities more African American youth stand more chance of going to prison than to college? Is it purely due to a poor economy that has not recovered from the great recession? Or that the economy is not working for all Americans the way it once did. In either case what has the Obama administration done to alleviate these trends?  One of the reasons that Bernie Sanders has resonated so well among young people is that he at least has found the language to describe the last eight years, used in his own campaign launch speech back in May last year.

“There is something profoundly wrong when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable.”

Bernie makes what happened to the American economy in the last eight years-- underlines the economic crises moral dimensions by focusing on the way the billionaire class has flourished during this period. He does not blame Obama but he does not want to run for his third term either as Clinton seems to want to do. Bernie wants fundamental reform of the system, starting with the repeal of Citizens United and campaign financing. What is Clinton's narrative?
If you parse her words carefully her Roosevelt Island speech --goes something like this--trust me I know I know you are all frustrated with a gridlocked dysfunctional Congress but I rather than Obama have the political skills to fix the mess. How else to interpret the following passage,

“Our political system is so paralyzed by gridlock and dysfunction that most Americans have lost confidence that anything can actually get done. And they’ve lost trust in the ability of both government and Big Business to change course. Now, we can blame historic forces beyond our control for some of this, but the choices we’ve made as a nation, leaders and citizens alike, have also played a big role. Our next President must work with Congress and every other willing partner across our entire country. And I will do just that — to turn the tide so these currents start working for us more than against us. At our best, that’s what Americans do. We’re problem solvers, not deniers. We don’t hide from change, we harness it.”

So President Obama is not a problem solver?  Wasn't it rather the case that the GOP Congress in the second term refused to cooperate with the President? The question she does not answer is why given the obstructionism of the GOP should a Clinton administration be treated  any differently?  That is the central flaw in the message. Hillary wants us to see her as a transcendent political force that can somehow magically make the system work again and get the Republicans to behave more reasonably when it comes to their determination to continue to shower their rich backers with tax cuts.

How should she approach the challenge?  For a winning message in 2016 she must stop believing that simply having Bill join her as economic tsar will convince the 65% of the electorate that believe that the system is fundamentally unfair to support her in the swing states. The days of the Clinton magic if they ever existed are over for a variety of reasons--but mostly due to the cozying up of billionaires and hedge fund managers to the Clinton's various operations.  To win she will have to come clean and make public funding of elections as the Atlantic magazine argues "the first issue in her presidency, just as Johnson made passing the Civil Rights Act the first issue of his administration."  It will involve a difficult pivot --but one that she is fully capable of making--from successful power broker to acknowledging the system’s flaws that involve capture of the Congress by special interests most notably by Wall Street. She has no alternative but to  stop taking money from Wall Street and PACS and argue that she henceforth will like Bernie only be accepting donations from individuals. Only then can she find the political breathing space to craft a campaign that genuinely addresses the future and contrast that with the GOP's effort ever since Reagan was elected to turn the country into a plutocracy. She must help the electorate connect the dots between the GOP refusal to acknowledge climate change as a real threat to the planet’s survival by connecting the campaign contributions of Koch and Company to the Republican coffers. She must skewer their tax plans that are based on yet again another discredited idea that trickle down tax relief for the wealthy helps to create jobs. She needs to argue that the GOP are driven by a narrow right wing base that do not believe in government and would prefer to see government fail than work for ordinary people. She has to talk directly to the American people about her candidacy as a moral crusade for the future of the  country. Her candidacy must be less about her as a dynamic competent person (we all know that she is) and more about responding to the current generation who will be graduating from college deeply in debt and with fewer prospects of getting on the economic ladder to start families and to enter the middle class. To make this morally based politics resonate with the electorate she must accept the new political realities that are shaping 2016 as the year when Americans have had enough of status quo politics that no longer works to improve their lives.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Trump Supporters Share One Disturbing Quality

What unites Trump supporters? The media like to suggest that they are all angry at elites, upset by their declining living standards and are less educated. According to a recent University of Massachusetts,  poll as reported in Politico of 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. found that "education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter."


According to Mathew McWilliams the author of the survey,  "Political pollsters have missed this key component of Trump’s support because they simply don’t include questions about authoritarianism in their polls. In addition to the typical battery of demographic, horse race, thermometer-scale and policy questions, my poll asked a set of four simple survey questions that political scientists have employed since 1992 to measure inclination toward authoritarianism. These questions pertain to child-rearing: whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian."

We have seen this movie play out before. In Nazi Germany a despondent group of rabid nationalists, wanted to make "Germany great again"--and were looking for scapegoats, simplistic solutions and a totalitarian leader to show them the way.  His bully boy tactics at his rallies where he glories in the crowd's desire to expel any dissenting voices, his contempt for what he sees as weakness--McCain cannot be a war hero because he was captured, people with special needs deserve to be mocked and women who appear too aggressive and his anti Muslim rants need to be put in their place all resemble proto fascist moves. Lately his quick shout out to the KKK and David Duke and his song and dance with torture, suggest how far this ego maniac would go if left to his own devices.

If we learned anything from Nazi Germany it is that such people need to be consistently rejected not to be politely tolerated. Their abhorrent views need to be exposed and confronted at every turn. The Chris Christies' of the world that try to cozy up to power should get their reputations and their careers permanently damaged and the media should be ashamed if they start showing Trump speeches without serious critical commentary that rises above the "oh what large crowds he is attracting variety." They just need to examine the above picture to gain a sense of how Trump is currently taking a look at Mussolini's photo ops to fashion his current "serious" image. They might also benefit themselves and their audiences by reading a little history.  A course that Trump University unfortunately never provided.