Tag Archives: donald trump

“Your President”

During the first presidential debate, Donald Trump, a candidate for the office of the President of United States of America, referred multiple times to Barack Obama as “your president” when speaking to Hillary Clinton. The sentiment is not a new one nor one that has not been heard a number of times before. 1

Speaking anecdotally, a number of my near and less-near relatives will often and rather emphatically refer to Obama in ways that are equal parts in poor taste and emblematic of an attitude that has pervaded the republican party and perhaps the nation at large. This attitude has extended to a recent rash of would-be democratic voters withholding their vote from Hillary on the grounds that she is not “their” candidate, as if they can really stake any sort of ownership to any candidate, who are themselves people with ideas sure to diverge, at least in one or two ways, from the voting population at large.

In the latter instance, the condition afflicting former Bernie Sanders’ supporters 2 is something that has crippled the Democratic party’s attempt to swing back to normalcy, with a disenfranchised left emerging from the primaries rubbed raw by rhetoric characterized by dismissiveness if not vitriol—both sides determined to spike the ball in the end-zone as sure as victory was assured and contradictorily assuming everything would fall into place with the result decided.

Having buried the lede, the purpose of this post is not to harp or impose voting standards or criterion on anyone. 3

If there is one thing that has been made more clear by the nature of this past election cycle, it is the dangers of political rhetoric. These dangers are manifold. Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous on one level in the manner of a promise, or a threat – the first sort of danger comes through not in what he is saying but the promise that those words will birth actions that live up to the violence of the threat and its delivery. This danger is potential energy, and it is the kind that can be avoided. 4

The second kind of danger is the danger rhetoric subtly evokes in people, the ways in which lies can give way to genuine belief. This danger’s edge is almost too keen to feel at first, yet is in many ways as real as the former. While the one is the hypothetical danger of the concretely horrific, the latter is the inevitable danger of something that already fucking happened. The damage of Trump’s policies is a specter haunting us from November, but the real damage of his campaign’s rhetoric has already been felt.

Anecdotal claims catch a lot of flak, and deservedly so. Anecdotes can be used as shields against broader systemic issues that people would rather ignore. 5 These sorts of claims abound in any instances where groups are involved, and often use the experiences of individuals to prop up systems. That shit is a fallacy, and is terrible. I am going to use an anecdote here, but I think it is a bit different:

Dujie and I have been blogging off and on for a while, and we do not have a huge readership. His interest in politics is real, and he brings real knowledge to the table in his discussion of it. My opinions towards politics tend to latch themselves more to the atmosphere surrounding elections than the practicalities of their results. I live that atmosphere, but, like many, can only guess at policies’ results using the tools for research available to me (which I should use more, and more intelligently, as should everybody) and intuition (which I should use less).

The nature of this election has been good for readership. There is a lot of content out there, but there is also a healthy appetite for that content – urgency is high. When we publish something, more people have read it, and more people come commenting, and messaging. As, our leanings are pretty clear, there have been a number of Trump supporters who have come commenting, which we welcome despite our differences. Trump supporters are the people who are done the greatest disservice by his rhetoric. Trump’s primary appeal—and the structure from which his arguments begin—is similar to how marketers sell products. He begins by identifying an issue with you, a problem with yourself. He is not specific, but speaks broadly as one would when writing a horoscope or selling wrinkle cream or zinc supplements at whole foods. 6 Person becomes people. People becomes country. We are a nation of the afflicted, and he is our cure. 7

Donald Trump’s rhetoric presupposes inadequacies in human beings and paints the causes for those inadequacies on the faces of people who are different. When you see people with special needs, people who are old, poor, and too young to know any better, casting hate speech into the shitstorm that is social media, you can see the damage the past year has already done – damage that lives independently from policy. Politicians now will say anything to get elected, but freedom of speech is not only a right, it is a privilege, and if there is an appeal to this post that appeal is to exercise that privilege with the dignity it should be afforded. Donald Trump’s words have already made America a worse place and the hate speech he preaches (that for him, might be a fiction) has already become the reality for those he has targeted.

He has found supporters with gaps in their lives, those with wounded pride, those who have lost loved ones, those who are despondent with their lots in life. He has taken their collective agony and loss and made it something universal to soften the blow – ‘the problem isn’t with you,’ he says, ‘it is with the country. The problem is you are being wronged, the tragedy and loss and hopelessness you feel isn’t your tragedy, its everybody’s, and that tragedy has a cause with the face of Barack Obama.’ He has used the vacuum left by sadness, hopelessness and fear and filled people’s souls with hate.

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Trump is currently running for the office of President of the United States. He also repeatedly denies that Barack Obama is his President. Let’s talk about the dangers of refusing ownership and the rhetorical fuckery at play when a presidential candidate consistently uses the term “your president” when describing the sitting president.

I have always been leery of people who take to the “respect the office” argument in these sorts of discussions as if those words brokered no discussion and were somehow an end-all, be-all to how one should speak of or consider the sitting president. I think looking to the protests being made in relation to the anthem-as-metaphor for national respect are a good analogy here. The office of the president is significant to citizens of the country, it being the unquestionably highest elected office in the nation, and the only one to carry with it symbolic significance equal to or exceeding its practical equivalence. If respect is indeed earned as the cultural idioms of our parents’ would suggest, it seems that the office of the president is, if anything, something imbued with meaning worthy of respect only in the hands of the right individual. This is likely what many people mean when they say “your president,” they are expressing that the values of the current president are not in keeping with their own and are disowning him as such.

Unfortunately, this attitude strays from a simple lack of respect for the man in presidential office by rhetorically constructing an alternate universe implying that Republican voters have been living in a state erected against their choosing, presided over by a dictator – an outsider – foisted to power on the backs of an unknowable other. This premise rests on the fiction that democracy can be uncompromising, and it supplies a notion of foreign-ness to the “other side” who becomes somehow less American for doing what they thought was best for the country’s welfare.

The birther myth is the bedrock to this dreamscape, offering an out-clause for a vocal minority who once cried “respect the office!” in indignation when criticism was lofted at George W. Bush’s decisions and policies. The “not MY president” rhetoric harmonizes beautifully with the birther myth, forming a symphony of bigotry filling the ears of a vocal white minority, discarded relics of our country’s worst years, with Donald Trump taking his place at the head of the orchestra. The ideas are not new ideas, but Trump’s shamelessness lends renewed boldness to organizations and people who have seen the world changing and felt the hatred that was their voice become shriller and lonelier as history 8 continues to leave them behind. In its best case, Trump’s candidacy is the death wail of a once-dangerous animal rendered toothless in its senescence; at worst, it is a rabid thing, infecting a younger generation and perpetuating itself into the future.

When you consider the birther myth and “not MY president” rhetoric side by side, “respect the office” gets complicated. The same people who once admonished others to respect the office of the president can now turn around and insinuate that the sitting president is a foreigner legally disqualified for the presidency. Taking this as truth 9 the “not my president” line moves from an expression of dissent 10 to something starkly literal, an assertion that the sitting president is a foreign dictator 11 in a country of which the utterer no longer considers themselves a part. I mean, if the President of the United States isn’t your President, how American can you really be?

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Word games aside, it is time to get in on that fearmongering game. Monday’s debate concluded with an interesting question, one that is emblematic of this election cycle at large:

One of you will not win this election,” said the moderator, Lester Holt. “Are you willing to accept the outcome as the will of the voters?”

Think about this. In a presidential election in the United States of America, a country which has held 44 presidential elections, a debate moderator trembles and asks the two individuals running for office, whether or not they will accept the outcomes as the will of the voters. This is the stage divisiveness has set for us. The Trump campaign and the arguments that birthed it are an agent sowing seeds of distrust and granting validation to the most paranoid and conspiratorial aspects of a population looking for someone to blame. In so doing, the reputation of the presidential office has already been dismissed as selective. In a world of “Your President” and “My President” the states cease being united, and that’s where we are today. It’s fucked.

The result of this attitude is a competitive, political divisiveness, that values winning and strength as virtues and not means to the betterment of the country as a whole. This attitude is too often carried to the extent that failure in the country is lauded by the opposition, if for no other reason than being an opportunity to hang points on an imaginary scoreboard with Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other. If the country is failing, it’s your fault too. If you are a citizen of the United States, Barack Obama is your sitting president. If you are running for the office of President of the United States, Barack Obama is your sitting president. If you are failing to confirm a Supreme Court Justice, you are working to directly undermine one of the 3 pillars of the US government, the government that people pay you to serve. Rooting for the president to fail doesn’t make you a patriot, it makes you an idiot. You fucking live here too.

Beware the ides of March: This is where it stops being funny

The first wave of primaries1 is now over. Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders in the delegate count 766-576 (465-25 superdelegates), and Trump has nearly a triple digit lead on the field—459 to Ted Cruz’s 360, Marco Rubio’s 152, and John Kasich’s 54.2

States have been voting for six weeks now. The narratives that drive political momentum have been baked—Trump is made of Teflon and very electable, Clinton has a lock on minority voters and probably the nomination—and as we approach the ides of March, shit is getting real. Clinton and Trump both took big leads on Super Tuesday, and have, by and large, ran the table since. At some point in each cycle though, the math takes over. Enter the March 15th primaries—which include four of the 10 most populous states: Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. A strong showing from both frontrunners in those states could sew up their respective nominations.

At this time, it’s only natural that Trump and Clinton pivot towards the general election—trying out their messages aimed up and across, squarely at each other.

Pandering or Pampering?: Democrats hone in on the Black and brown vote

“I can’t help Trayvon at this time, but there are other Trayvon Martin’s I can help.” –Sabrina Fulton

The tone of the Democratic campaign has shifted. Sanders shocking victory in Michigan exposed that perhaps Clinton doesn’t have the Warriors-esque hold on the minority vote we had initially surmised from her Super Tuesday performance in the South. The Sanders camp worked hard to make sure Michigan grabbed all the headlines, but let’s be clear: the math is squarely still in Clinton’s favor. It’s easy to forget that Clinton won the delegate count the Tuesday after Super Tuesday. She whopped Sanders in Mississippi, winning over 82% of the vote and 30 of the state’s available 34 delegates.

Many3 called Sanders’ win in Michigan the greatest primary upset in modern political history. 70% of Michigan Democratic primary voters were white,4 and Sanders won whites 56-42—in line with national polls and anecdotal evidence. Sanders still lost the Black vote,5 but chipped away at the astronomical leads Clinton’s been putting up in southern states. Sanders won nearly a third of Black Democratic Michigan voters, giving the Clinton camp a dose of anxiety.

On Friday, Clinton released an emotional “Mothers of the Movement” ad that features the mothers of slain young Black men and woman Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Sandra Bland, and Trayvon Martin. Both endorsement and heartfelt narrative, the mothers tell their story in this three minute ad that is perhaps most notable for its near complete lack of Clinton screentime. She has a 15-second soundbite at the end and only appears on stage with the mothers at a campaign rally—a brilliant move.

 

 

Earlier in the week, during a debate hosted by Univision in Miami, Florida aimed at Hispanic voters, both candidates promised to not deport children or criminals.6

During the debate, Sanders unveiled a beautifully shot, emotionally fraught ad almost entirely in Spanish about a small agriculture town in Florida, Imokalee, and the plight of its undocumented farm workers who were paid poorly and treated worse.

 

 

The ad is clearly meant to show Sanders’ history of devotion to and success on behalf of workers’ rights—and by extension, the Hispanic community. The format of the Imokalee ad presages the candidates’ presence in the Clinton ad—minimal.

Cynics will surely call what Sanders and Clinton are doing pandering. Sure. It might be, and if these ads were the only evidence of minority engagement, then both Sanders and Clinton could rightly be called phonies. Instead, these ads reflect a deep history and relationship with Black and Hispanic issues. Sanders, with his civil rights record, and Clinton, with her deeply entrenched relationships with Black leaders in the South.7

The Democratic Party could do a lot worse than make the remainder of the primaries about minorities and the issues we face. Coming off of the first ever Black president whose campaign expanded the Democratic Party and turned out the greatest number of primary voters ever, the two white Democrats running for the nomination need to demonstrate that they care about minority issues to keep us invested.

The percentage of non-white voters has been steadily increasing, so the decision to pivot on minority issues isn’t just good primary politics, it’s a foreshadowing of the general election.

Courtesy of United States Election Project
Courtesy of United States Election Project

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that minority and immigrant issues are fundamentally American issues. That fact only becomes more salient as America becomes browner and blacker. As the Republican Party seemingly doubles down on a white electorate afraid of the teeming mass of melanin, this is a good long-term strategy that will factor in in 2020 and beyond.

Violence begets hate begets clownshoes

 “I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here.” – Donald Trump

Thursday night’s GOP Presidential debate was by many accounts unspectacular. These performances have come to represent the highest form of reality television. The combination of personal ego, utter disregard for fact, and highness of stakes have made them must-watch television.

This past week though, neither Ted Cruz nor Marco Rubio tag-teamed Donald Trump. No dick jokes were made. Even the absence of Ben Carson was felt8 The crowd was post-Burning Man blood-thristy.9 The debate offered the same old policy but without the fireworks of ad homonym attacks.10

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve suspended my generally high expectations for presidential-level policy debates in lieu of something baser that appeases the animal part of my brain. Hell, they’ve been fun to watch and the candidates don’t seem to give a shit about higher political discourse. Why should I?

I and so many others have willfully blinded myself to the glib and glamour of the last dozen GOP debates. Every one of the candidates have dazzlingly misstepped and gaffed right into a Twilight Zone of ineptitude.11 With the lights dimmed down to a level that we could actually see the substance of their positions, it was sparse and uninspired.

Trump struck a civil tone. Rubio denied global warming in his home state.12. Cruz had a moment in one of the very few attacks on Trump, but it didn’t do anything to make him any more likable.13 Kasich got nearly the same screen time as Cruz and Rubio.

Buried somewhere in there was a blip of a moment that, in the grand scheme of things, will be forgotten by April.

 

 

Did you miss it? It was that moment Rubio–the reasoned, well-mannered wunderkid–didn’t categorically deny racism and xenophobia because it’s absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

Instead, Rubio pivoted to Christian Missionaries, a married couple14 that chose to go into a culturally rich, economically poor Bangladesh leveraging a lack of resources for blind devotion to their church.15 Rubio posited” don’t be mean to the angry Muslims because they’ll be mean back, especially to the16 Christians who consciously went into a Muslim-heavy country with the explicit purpose of telling said angry Muslims that their religion is wack.17  Following it up by saying, “But the military is great and there are Muslims in the military so those Muslims are great too!” does not make it better. If anything, Rubio is assigning them a value based on their willingness to defend and die for a cause he supports politically but not in reality.

By all appearances, Rubio should be a conservative worthy of disagreement rather than abject disrespect.18 There are even elements of his personal narrative that resonate strongly with liberals and immigrants.19 However, his willingness to consistently belittle and denigrate a group of people in order to score political points is a character flaw unworthy of the office of President.

Speaking of unworthy of the office of the president, a Trump rally was cancelled in Chicago the day after the GOP Debate in Miami. A group of largely Black and brown protesters descended on the University of Illinois at Chicago where the event was supposed to take place and shut that ish down. They even chanted some Kendrick:

 


This was an inevitable outcome. Protest and violence are increasingly becoming frequent occurrences at Trump rallies.

Earlier in the week, a North Carolina Trump supporter John “Whitey” McGraw was charged with assault for sucker punching a Black protestor who was already being escorted out. He later told Inside Edition,20 “Next time, we might have to kill him.”

Even earlier in the same week Breitbart21 reporter Michelle Fields was grabbed and bruised by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Washington Post reporter Ben Terris corroborates Fields’ story. The Trump camp has categorically denied the claim, saying both Fields and Terris are making it up and that Fields has a history of histrionics.22 Fields has since filed charges.

Trump’s rallies have a history of violence, one perpetrated by the vitriolic rhetoric the GOP frontrunner employs to rally his base. When the more-often-than-not Black and brown protestors are escorted out of Trump’s eyesight, he’s said things like “I’d like to punch them right in the face,” or “Back in my day, they’d be taken out on a stretcher.”23

On Saturday, an Ohio man jumped a fence during a Trump rally in Dayton. He never made it to the stage. The commotion it caused gave Trump the opportunity to compose himself while whipping his supporters into a fever-pitch.

 

 

Trump is practically rabid. I see foam coming from his mouth24 We’ve seen xenophobia in the context of a presidential election cycle for so long, we’ve just come to accept it.

Race: The most important issue in America, American politics

On the one hand, Democrats are side fighting for minority votes. On the other, we’ve come to normalize racism. America is becoming browner and it’s scaring the shit out of low-income, poorly educated white people. They’re turning out in Republican primaries in record numbers, and observers like myself have vacillated between being awestruck or actively cheering on the Hindenburg-level GOP catastrophe in the spirit of entertainment25.

Whether overtly stated or not, race is quickly becoming the most critical issue of this presidential election. Sanders and Clinton will continue to position themselves as the most in tune with and natural inheritor of race relations. All while reasonable conservatives watch Trump26 dance around the dumpster fire masked as a racial divide masked as an effort to make America great again.

We can rationalize it away. We could pretend that this is just the nature of campaigning and election cycle politics. We can accept that maybe this is just an aberration.27 At this point, we’re just waiting until the general election, which will show that the racists hijacking the GOP are actually a subset of a subset.28 With sublimated aggression after sublimated aggression bringing us to this point, the circus of American politics eventually stops with the fun and games, the grip and grins, the rallies and baby-kissing.

Whether dramatically bringing new minority and immigrant issues to center stage or feeding anger with hate, the tone coming from both sides are becoming decidedly more serious. This is where it stops being funny.

 

 

Your Candidate is a bad person and so are you!

I saw The Big Short and Hillary likes banks and I am really mad about it

“All Hillary supporters are capitalist sell-outs who would happily close their eyes and mortgage 1 the future of our country to investment bankers and their lobbyists in exchange for the promise of incremental improvement and a bulwark against the Trumpocalypse. They lack agency and support Hillary because they have been conditioned to do so.”

First, Candidates have been sponsored by corporate interests for all of our adult lives unless you are about 120 years old. The fact that people are paying attention and reacting to the means by which corporate interests are represented in politics is less a symptom of some new illness and more people learning that waking up and puking every morning isn’t actually normal. Hillary is an exceptional politician with decades of experience functioning within a political system that has always demanded compromises. She is taking money from the same people Obama took money from. Everyone does it and always has. To think that electing Clinton will be somehow cataclysmic because she will work, in part, for the interests of the same banks who the last 10 presidents worked for doesn’t make sense. 2

Additionally, many ad hominem attacks on Hillary and her supporters are suffused with sexist rhetoric. The word “shrill” is maybe a bit on-the-nose but still a decent example for the kind of ostensibly “defensible” descriptors that an anti-Hillary blogger might use. Sure, that word and many others like it exist and can describe things, like say, an annoying bird. 3 But, we really shouldn’t need to prove that sexist rhetorical connotations for certain words and archetypes exist and we definitely shouldn’t have to do so via explicit means because that is sort of missing the entire point (words having connoted meanings and all…). Said anti-Hillary blogger can write a post about how Hillary is “calculating and efficient” and step away claiming they were being somehow complimentary, but they are still pretty much just saying she is sinister and/or a bitch and they probably know that.

Bernie Bros are white and I am white and I hate them because they are unrealistic and because we are white

“All Bernie Sanders supporters are unrealistic ideologues who hide a misogynist and possibly racist agenda behind thinly veiled claims to populism. Any policy Bernie promises on the campaign trail will be summarily voted down by a Republican congress with a Democratic Party minority that may not be in his corner either. Bernie supporters are all white people in their mid-20’s which automatically disqualifies them from having anything interesting to say – particularly in regard to the liberal agenda they try to defend but do not truly understand.” 4

First, has the current Republican Congress left anyone the illusion that ANYBODY would be able to get them to act in support of ANY agenda? No matter which liberal candidate is elected, that candidate will face complete and unilateral obstruction from a Republican Congress. Bernie is a liberal Jew who stands in direct opposition to the interests who got the majority of them elected and, himself, pretty much never compromises. Hillary is a slightly-less-but-still-liberal woman with the last name Clinton. Neither will be invited to many BBQs and both will likely hear the typical impeachment bullshit before they even step into office. 5

The Bernie bro narrative has also been a frustrating rhetorical condemnation. Essentially the narrative became centered around the idea that Bernie Sander’s supporters were white, male misogynists who were categorically abusive and sexist in their online behavior. While the initial article was pretty much just a playful jab and actually pretty funny, the narratives spinning out of that initial moniker -developing original have become increasingly condemning and try-hardy as the “I need to push this idea to the brink of sanity to get more clicks” machine got itself humming. 6 Bernie stands for a few uncompromising populist ideals that get pushed around the internet a lot. It is easy to write passionately about how things should be. Idealists like him and idealists are often young and vocal which means you end up having to read a lot of re-posted articles. I guess that is annoying enough to write and repost a bunch of other articles about how they post too many articles.

Fun with ad hominem attacks

What is represented in these admittedly lazy strawmen examples of the rhetoric on both sides is the emphasis on the supporter rather than the candidate. Debates  between liberals, people who by and large think of themselves as being compassionate and empathetic, should be about meeting in the middle. One of Hillary Clinton’s selling points is her ability to work within a system predicated on compromise. Why would somebody support a person like that with inflexible, antagonistic arguments? Bernie sells himself on being compassionate and progressive. Why would somebody support a person like that by condemning friends and family as corporate shills?

Why are policy debates that should be centered on compromise so antagonistic? 

Outrage is easy. It is the simplest thing in the world to dismiss a dissenting attitude by assuming that attitude is backstopped by a mind that is either critically misinformed or incapable of operating at your level.

Lashing out at a group of individuals in a condescending “I-can’t-believe-you-would-think-that” tone is the rhetorical equivalent of throwing your work papers up in the air – an exciting and seemingly-impressive gesture that’s essentially hollow and unconstructive.

It is an unfortunate side-effect of an outmoded two party system that people begin to relish the opportunity to identify as a “supporter” of a candidate or an ideal rather than as an individual who happens to be more partial to the ideas and policies espoused by one candidate or the other. The mono a mono competitive facets of the political system in the United States have become so perfected over time that the election cycle feels like a game, and people love to win games whether on the micro or macro scale. Dismissing another group’s opinion as insane, silly, or unfounded, particularly when among like-minded individuals, is comforting. It makes you feel superior, it makes you feel like you belong, like you are with the “in” crowd. 7

The part that gets left out is how we need to live with– not only the result of these political games, but — the violent versions of dissent this system fosters from friends and family on the day after Election Day. I have had family members send me angry, hateful emails prior to major elections since they expect me to vote for a Democrat. This isn’t healthy and this isn’t some symptom inherent to elected democracy. 

We are all personally responsible for feeding into an environment where people’s intelligence and integrity can be questioned on the basis of political preference.

If you have an issue with a Hillary supporter, talk to them and try to understand where they are coming from. Do the same with Cruz supporters. Dismissing a dissenting view as stupid is useless especially if the view is stupid. Even if you are dealing with somebody who violently offends every sensibility that you have, reacting with outrage and dismissal just allows that sentiment to fester in the margins of society, where a feedback loop of like-minded people allow any idea or belief to regress to its most self-certain iteration.

A person’s view doesn’t change if you embarrass them and dismiss their thoughts as misinformed, as stupid. When you conflate an opinion with the person who has the opinion, the person hardens their position until they identify with their opinion further. Their view of themselves becomes inseparable from the opinion they hold and any further appeal to alter that opinion comes through the wires as a personal attack, because that is how you have conditioned them to feel. They are no longer somebody who agrees with Hillary or Bernie or Trump – they are a Hillary or Bernie or Trump supporter. An attitude formerly reserved for die-hards becomes universal.

Sort of like Identity Politics but without the aspiration to usefulness

Individuals in underserved demographics have found that by sticking together and affirming their difference from mainstream culture, they could influence that culture and find a place beside it. 8 The politics surrounding the democratic primaries has piggybacked on the sentiment of identity politics while foregoing the underlying substance. The effect is a lot of wealthy white people online yelling at other wealthy white people for being too white9.

Whether you agree or disagree with the efficacy of affirming difference as means for inclusion into mainstream culture, you can at least respect that there is a reason to do something.

What makes the political rhetoric of 2016 so divisive10 is that the us-against-them attitude is meant to reaffirm difference when this, out of the last four, year feels like a good time to find common ground. Among current Republican voters, I can’t really blame them. When squaring off with a Trump supporter, I can imagine suppressing outrage and disbelief is challenging. Particularly given the dismissive and fact-averse attitude that works its way from the top-down and somehow seems to permeate about a third of the American south which is still important in deciding who runs the whole country 11

Being outraged is really easy . Coming to a discussion with an argumentative mindset is easy. Being open-minded is hard. Disagreeing amicably is almost impossible. The thesis of this rambling exercise is to be a little less hard on one another. Try to find out why people disagree with you. Be less of a “supporter” and more of a person. The second we subsume our ability to process facts and alter opinions under an ideology or a candidate’s opinions, we lose the ability to think critically. Don’t do that. I’ll try also.

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What a Super Tuesday it was! But what does it mean?

And the circus continues. The weeks following Super Tuesday,1 are when see the shape of the general election beginning to form. Smarter folks than I start drawing out narratives. Here are some stories.

The singular and inescapable takeaway of Super Tuesday is that the stage is set for a Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump general election. Both won seven out of 11 states and American Samoa. Both didn’t exactly surprise observers in the states won column, but the strength of the respective coalitions Clinton and Trump have coalesced is truly eye-opening.

It turns out both can win in the south—but that means dramatically different things on each side. It’s important to keep in mind when we talk about primary voters, especially in the south, that their demographics vary wildly.2 A tale of two electorate bodies, if you will.

More stark in the south than any other, Democratic primary voters don’t only have different values from their Republican counterparts, but they look very different too. In Georgia for example, the African American community makes up less than a third (31%) of eligible voters, however, they cast over a majority (51%) of 2008 ballots. Turnout numbers from that election cycle are by no means a good corollary for this year, 3 however, the numbers still point to the major racial chasm that underpins our parties’ polarization.

Great Orange Porpoise (GOP)

Trump has a hefty delegate lead (316-226-106 according to RCP early Wednesday morning) but a lot critics are quick to point to the fact he didn’t win the majority of the vote or even a majority of the delegate count. The inevitable outcome of Trump’s inability to pull together a majority coalition is a brokered convention4—painted by critics as the last possible stand to stop the Great Orange Porpoise. An open convention doesn’t shut Trump out of the decision making process though. By virtue of numbers and representation an open convention is less populist for sure,5 but it’s not inconceivable that he offers John Kasich or even Ted Cruz a spot on the ticket or in his cabinet in exchange for their delegates.

An open convention would be good television—and, right in the weird vortex of 2016 presidential election cycle wheelhouse, an incredible opportunity for Trump to flex his deal-making skills. That’s right, his candidacy may very well rest on his ability to close a deal.6

In the meantime, Trump’s lack of a majority coalition and others’ inability to pull fundamentally alter the course of the campaign keeps the GOP field fractured and all the candidates in the race.7 So a plurality of ego will maintain the status quo, and Trump won’t ever need to win more than 40% of the primary vote to ride into the convention with proportionally the same lead he has now.

To celebrate his Super Tuesday victory, Trump’s campaign declined the typical rally and victory speech made by nearly every candidate since Hoover.8  Instead he opted for a brief statement and a press conference. It was strange. Trump was conciliatory but on fire. Reporters were on the attack. Chris Christie was silently trapped in a living nightmare. Cable news carried it for forty-plus minutes. Trump supporters were absent. On the whole, it was a magnificent piece of performance art.

My one gripe is that I wish Trump had gone longer. If he’d chosen to run a 90-minute to two-hour presser, CNN and MSNBC would have stuck with him. I cannot iterate enough how novel the choice was to hold a q and a with reporters on Super Tuesday night. Compared to the other candidates—who looked like candidates at a campaign trail rally—standing behind a podium backing off radical positions, weaseling a bit more to the center, and generally captivating the national conscious for nearly an hour was a feat that looked downright presidential.9

Dems the Yams

Hillary Clinton crushed the South, like bless-her-heart-and-these-stars-and-bars-by-the-good-grace-of-Dixie steamrolled to a 543-349 delegate lead (according to RCP early Wednesday morning). And where the republicans relied on older, conservative and evangelical white voters, Clinton won on the back of black and brown voters.

She absolutely dominated the African American vote, thumping Sanders routinely by 60-point margins and creeping into 90% territory for several states.

Clinton also dispelled any notion that Nevada augured trouble with the Hispanic vote.

Bernie wins 4! Is a semi-popular narrative pushed out by the Sanders’ campaign and its acolytes, but that still also points to a state-focused—not precint-, district-, and delegate-focused—campaign strategy. Whether by design or nature, the middle to upper-middle class white coalition that Sanders has such a firm hold on will not deliver him the Democratic Party nomination.

Without a retail politics approach applied at full-court press intensity in black churches and community organizations across the South, Sanders now relies on a Ray-Allen-corner-three-in-the-last-game-of-the-NBA-Finals-but-on-the-grace-of-a-fortunate-offensive-rebound-type wild finish.10

It almost certainly won’t happen.

Ironically, despite a stronger civil right record, the Jewish organizer from Brooklyn, New York just couldn’t break through. Sanders fundraised a whopping $42M in February though, all but ensuring that he’ll be around till the end, acting as the liberal conscience11 of the party.

Clinton is already using the message of togetherness12 to pit herself against Trump. Unity will be a word continues to use more and more as she positions herself as the elder stateswoman that is the only real choice in the general election.

As long as Sanders sticks around and progressives continue to rally, she’ll have to do some unifying of the Democratic party too. Looking forward, Clinton will have to tap Sanders or at least someone in the liberal flank of the party13 as her running mate.

For a guy who was polling at 3% a year ago, that’s a pretty significant impact to make on one of the craziest presidential election cycles ever.

 

 

What the hell happened Saturday? – Pt. 3: Antonin Scalia’ death, the South Carolina GOP primary, and a losing type of politics

This thinkpiece1 is my final toast to Saturday. Quick recap of the crap that I couldn’t let go all week: The night started out with a GOP Debate that was clearly written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. During this time, the greatest NBA Slam Dunk competition in the history of ever happened (and by extension, the best overall mini-games day of All-Star Weekend in recent memory). Then, Chance the Rapper killed Saturday Night Live—like I-was-transported-to-an-otherworldly-church killed—presaging the release of Kanye West’s latest album, which is singularly the most erratic, momentarily brilliant filament of platinum I’ve consumed in a long time. Needless to say, I stayed up late trying to make sense of it all. I’m still digesting.

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“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” –George Washington

The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia threw the entire political world out of focus. The haze had barely set in before the lights were up for the South Carolina GOP debate, and CBS moderator John Dickerson opened the show with the politics of nominating a replacement.

“If you were President, and had a chance with 11 months left to go in your term, wouldn’t it be an abdication to conservatives in particular, not to name a conservative justice with the rest of your term?”

It might as well have happened at this point that the audience started booing. South Carolina has a reputation for dirty, Real Housewives of Raleigh-type politics, and for the last two election cycles, the audiences at the debates have done their part to carry on that proud tradition.2

The GOP primary debates of the last few election cycles have been the highest form of reality television, and this latest iteration was the Jesse James of the damn bunch.  

The debate experience itself was wild. Less a group interview for the most important jobs in the world, it was reminiscent of an antebellum saloon brawl somewhere along the Mason-Dixon. The presidential hopefuls ran headlong into each other with onlookers swinging from the rafters and the barkeeper3 ducking out of sight. The GOP primary debates of the last few election cycles have been the highest form of reality television, and this latest iteration was the Jesse James of the damn bunch.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about the whole affair was how quickly the crowd got involved and, how even quicker, the GOP candidates—being as impressionable as they are to political convenience—indulged the mob. The debate devolved into “Liar, liar, pants on fire!,” “No, your pants are on fire!” exchanges. The moderators let it.

In an sudden show of one-upmanship,4 Ted Cruz started shouting in Spanish5 at Marco Rubio in an apparent effort to court the Hispanic vote by out-Latinoing each other.6 It’s unclear which candidate more solidified their bona fides, but it was clear who tried the hardest.

And we haven’t even gotten to the circus and utter lack of governing or policy detail that is Donald J. Trump’s campaign.7

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“I have never known a peace made, even the most advantageous, that was not censured as inadequate, and the makers condemned as injudicious or corrupt. “Blessed are the peacemakers” is, I suppose, to be understood in the other world; for in this they are frequently cursed.” –Benjamin Franklin

It’s easy to go there for a laugh—to make jokes, to indulge in the vitriol. Hairdos make for easy punchlines after all. Pettiness is cheap and self-reinforcing. There’s a case to be made—and more people should be making it—for elevating the level of public discourse, but what I don’t understand is the GOP’s embrace of a losing political strategy.

It’s not news that the GOP has been bending to its radical wing since for most of this century. Cow-towing to radical elements of any party through anger and fear is thoroughly untenable, and the Republicans’ inability to craft a coherent statement not involving prejudice or exclusion will come back to bite them.

A politics of negation only has one outcome—disagreement, which is not a position from which you can govern. The choice to govern comes with an implicit agreement to come together with whoever else is there8 in the common spirit of doing some goddamn good.

  The GOP strategy to the extent there has been one has relied on pitting white middle class insecurities against the ever-growing brownness of popular culture and the White House.

The GOP strategy to the extent there has been one has relied on pitting white middle class insecurities against the ever-growing brownness of popular culture and the White House.9 As a whole, the party has seemingly doubled down on that demo. As white middle class voices get pushed to the margins and mainstream America more resembles the cast of Hamilton, GOP adherence to a that demo ensures diminished votershare. They’ve set the course to be on the outside of the White House looking in for a long time.

Kasich did well throughout Saturday’s SC GOP debate—at least insofar as he was the only candidate who mentioned the word togetherness. There’s tinge of bipartisanship to him, and in 2016, that’s enough to make him look like a Roosevelt. At minimum, Kasich would be so uninspiring so as to not raise the ire or fervor of the crazy, hateful people that the GOP is committing suicide over right now. So, that is something to consider.

On Thursday, Marco Rubio picked up a trio of endorsements from SC Congressman Trey Gowdy, Senator Tim Scott and Governor Nikki Hailey. Hailey called the final photo op a “Benetton commercial.”[/note]Or a prospective students brochure cover from an exclusive liberal arts college. Although, I still can’t get the cast of Hamilton out my mind.[/note] Good for them. If they turn out to be the next ruling class of the GOP, I’ll hold some hope for a responsible opposition. Don’t underestimate a diverse electorate as a force to drive political will, and the class of Rubio, Hailey, and Scott may wind up with the keys.

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“Americans have one of the greatest legal systems, but not a monopoly of the sense of justice, which is universal; nor have we a permanent copyright on the means of securing justice, for it is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.” –Earl Warren

Public grief is a crappy phenomenon, and the social media spaces carved out by liberal millennials in the wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death were riddled with its most self-indulgent form. It was off-putting, if not shocking, two scroll through the argle-bargle. There were primarily two strains of responses: 1) “Ding dong! The witch is dead!” 2) “Stop cheering the death of a human being, asshole.”

Ultimately, this dialectic is self-indulgent and not even really about the person that died. Participating in the discussion and taking one of these positions becomes a proxy for the type of person you want to signify to the world that you are.10

As the most opinionated conservative on the Supreme Court, Scalia would time and time again give insight into the what conservatism really meant in the realm of law—an unshakable belief in a constitution preserved in amber and that with every new law, a little more freedom gets taken away.

Scalia was an important11 figure in American life. You didn’t have to agree with him to appreciate his impact. When he came to the high court, Scalia changed the dynamics of oral arguments. The question and answer section of proceedings used to be a fairly blasé affair, but Scalia arrived on fire and turned this part of the process into a line of questioning as a proxy for debate. Lines were drawn and feelers were dispatched. The intensity and insistence he brought to the bench made the whole affair a spectator sport and gave us a sliver of a window into closed door debates.

To the crowd who would dance on his grave, I would point out that liberal lion that she is, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg12 counted Scalia as her “best buddy.” There’s even an opera centered on their friendship.

As the most opinionated conservative on the Supreme Court, Scalia would time and time again give insight into the what conservatism really meant in the realm of law—an unshakable belief in a constitution preserved in amber and that with every new law, a little more freedom gets taken away.13

In today’s discussion on what and how much government can and should do, the US Supreme Court sits on a largely unexamined perch, wielding a tremendous amount of influence. And while the political side of American government has turned into a circus of flash and mob mentality, the Scalia-Ginsburg professional and personal relationship reflected a deep kind of affection forged out of fundamental disagreement.

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“[D]emocracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with use are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.” –Barack Obama

The GOP-controlled Senate will have to nominate a Supreme Court Justice—this year or next. Maybe Senate Republicans don’t want to give anything more to the Obama legacy, maybe they actually think they’ll get to vote on a nominee of their party’s own choosing. Either way, their decision to stall is a refusal to do a job.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell among others has gone even further, demanding that POTUS not fulfill his constitutional duty.14 I get it. The GOP doesn’t want the balance of the court to shift away from them. But that’s why there’s a process—supported by will of the people. Let the senate vote. Let senators run re-election campaigns on that vote. Republicans may win their primaries with obstructionism, but the calculus changes significantly in a general.

  Wherever one falls on the ideological spectrum, there’s plenty to argue about—where should education funding come from? How do we eradicate poverty? What can we do to build, once more, the most robust economy and vibrant literary and arts culture in the world?

In some ways, not taking up the vote is playing at good short-term politics—fighting to preserve a conservative court while not being able to hang the senate vote around Senate Republican necks. It’ll help keep McConnell and others in office this November, but selectively doing their job combined with a shrinking votershare spells a long presidential drought for this incar party.15

In my whole adult life, I’ve never known a responsible opposition.

If you lose an election over a position or vote, that’s confirmation that you’re not suited to represent that constituency. If the people want obstruction then stand for it and let them validate your position. That’s the ball game.

Alternatively, if you have to raise barriers to vote and redistrict yourself into a more favorable electorate, then you’re really not doing your job and you’re not doing democracy and favors. If Rubio and Hailey become the central figures in the GOP, gerrymandering becomes obsolete. A little less pettiness offers a little more room for real issues.

Wherever one falls on the ideological spectrum, there’s plenty to argue about—where should education funding come from? How do we eradicate poverty? What can we do to build, once more, the most robust economy and vibrant literary and arts culture in the world?

Fighting pettiness with pettiness yields only pettiness. When there is no substance to confront, no real ideas to engage with, you get the SC GOP debate,16 and an opposition party that’s alienated damn near everyone and now they’re looking at the date that brung ‘em, wondering how the hell they ever ended up here.

 

 

Make America Great again: An open, untimely letter to Ammon Bundy

Dear Ammon,
You and your crew are actors in a great American tragedy.

With your semi-automatic weapons, legitimate grievances, and calls for violence, and my English degree, penchant for public policy, and lazy allusions to Euripides, it would seem that we’re destined to rip each other apart. Political campaigns, a relentless news cycle, and an ever-connected world have conspired to ensure the rhetoric coming from our respective corners remains divisive. We’ve forgotten how to disagree. That a race to arms, an invasion of federal land, and a public invitation of violence was considered a strong opening salvo to you is as much proof of this as it is a tragic irony.

There seem to be two pillars to your position—the reckless nature of mandatory minimums, and federal mismanagement of grazing fees and land rights—the former of which I wholeheartedly concede.

You see, we agree on mandatory minimums—the catalyst for your misguided incursion. You and I, improbable allies, both recognize mandatory sentencing laws are unjust. Sentencing statutes do irreparable damage not just to the individuals victimized by blind laws but to the very principle of justice; they strip judges of the very thing they were trained to do.
The mandatory five-year minimum sentences imposed on Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven have moved you to protest. I applaud your effort. The injustice of these sentencing laws must have been made apparent to you when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the original, much lesser sentences of three months and one year, respectively. Bring me a petition to end mandatory minimums. I will happily sign it.

To your apparent second point: federal land management should be a great, historic debate. We’d sit across the table from each other and talk. I’d start with the Homestead Act, pointing to originating injustice of receiving free land while Native Americans were robbed of their homes and freed slaves never receiving their 40 acres. You’d say that was before your time and isn’t germane. I’d say you get steep discounts for grazing on federal lands, and you’d say that the cost of remaining compliant is killing your livelihood. I’d point to the subsidies you receive from the same federal government you villainize. You’d point to a bureaucratic villain 3,000 miles away making grazing and water rights decisions without your input. I’d concede that the Bureau of Land Management policy disproportionately affects western states. You’d concede your business model is unsustainable in today’s economy. I’d offer recommendations. You’d share insights. I’d listen. You’d organize other ranchers to take legal and civil action. I’d call your congressman for you. We’d celebrate and commiserate, together, over sections of watered-down legislation that made some, if incremental, change.

Compromise might offend the ultimately unimpressive and ineffective machismo pose you’ve struck. But the same founding fathers called upon in the heat of unbending rhetoric would call that same compromise fundamentally American.

Disagreement is good. It’s how we know we live in a free society. Responsible opposition is necessary to a thriving democracy, and democracy is about the incremental movement of the whole of society to a better place.

The extreme and illegal action you’ve chosen to take skips several steps of jurisprudence and peaceful civil disobedience—the better angels of American history and tradition. A great nation requires great citizenship, and your act of ill-advised aggression undermines every core value we have ever stood for. It constitutes an act of terror.

As an Asian-Arab-American, I’m acutely aware of profiling and of labels that may limit better outcomes. Take the privilege you have been afforded and go home peacefully. Participate in and demand a higher level of discourse. Don’t be a terrorist, and make America great again.

Sincerely,

Dujie Tahat