He’s playing you for a fool; don’t prove him right

To everyone who is pissed off at what America’s political system has devolved into, let me say, I get it; I’m with you.  It shouldn’t too much to ask for a political and governmental system that can get things done, that treats people fairly, and that will be about protecting the freedom of all its citizens.  I get it that you want something better; so do I.  But just because you hate Hillary Clinton is not a good enough reason to turn power over to an ignorant, truth-impaired narcissistic megalomaniac with the attention span of a two year old.

Donald Trump is a liar.  I don’t mean that in the sense that all politicians shade the truth in order to put things in the best light–the one that shines on themselves; I mean to say that Trump lies to us.  All the time.  About things that matter, and about things that don’t matter.  He just does.  He may not even see that he’s making this shit up as he goes along, but he says whatever will make him look good in the eyes of the people he’s talking to…and if that’s not true, if it contradicts what he told the crowd yesterday or the day before, no matter.  It’s as if he doesn’t think anyone will remember.

But we do!  And telling the truth matters, or it should, to all of us.  Regardless of what you think of Clinton, do you really want a president who lies consistently, if not constantly?  (“I know you’re lyin/Cause your lips are moving…”)  He lies when it’s convenient, he lies when he’s caught in a lie, he lies to promote himself, he lies when telling the truth would be just fine…he lies to try to persuade us all that the world of his imagination is the real world we all inhabit together.  He lies.

The New York Times has a long list of Trump’s lies…31 from just this week!  They’re broken down into “Tales About Himself,” “Unfounded Claims About Critics and the News Media,” “Inaccurate Claims About Clinton,” “Stump Speech Falsehoods” and “Esoteric Embellishments.”  I won’t bother with the most famous ones; others include:

◊He said a supportive crowd chanted, “Let him speak!” when a black pastor in Flint, Mich., asked Mr. Trump not to give a political speech in the church. (Fox News interview, Sept. 15.)
–There were no such chants.
◊“You see what’s happening with my poll numbers with African-Americans. They’re going, like, high.” (Speech in North Carolina, Sept. 20; made same claim in Ohio, Sept. 21.)
–Polls show him winning virtually no support from African-Americans.
◊“Almost, it seems, everybody agrees” with his position on immigration. (Remarks in Texas, Sept. 17
-Most Americans oppose his signature positions on immigration.
◊The presidential debate moderators “are all Democrats.” “It’s a very unfair system.” (Fox News interview, Sept. 19.
–Only one, Chris Wallace of Fox News, is a registered Democrat.
◊He said it “hasn’t been reported” that Mrs. Clinton called some Trump supporters “deplorable.”  (Speech in North Carolina, Sept. 20)
–It would be difficult to find a news organization that didn’t report her remark.
◊Mrs. Clinton destroyed 13 smartphones with a hammer while she was secretary of state.
(Speeches in Florida, Sept. 15 and Sept. 19.)
–An aide told the F.B.I. of only two occasions in which phones were destroyed with a hammer.
◊Mrs. Clinton is “effectively proposing to abolish the borders around the country.”(Numerous speeches, including in Texas, Sept. 17.)
–She is not even proposing to cut funding for the Border Patrol.

Look at the publications that have endorsed Clinton.  It’s not just The New York Times, it’s places that haven’t endorsed any Democrat in generations: The Cincinnati Enqurier has endorsed the Republican candidate for a hundred years, and although it has problems with Clinton it still said no to Trump:

Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. He has no history of governance that should engender any confidence from voters. Trump has no foreign policy experience, and the fact that he doesn’t recognize it – instead insisting that, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do” – is even more troubling. His wild threats to blow Iranian ships out of the water if they make rude gestures at U.S. ships is just the type of reckless, cowboy diplomacy Americans should fear from a Trump presidency. Clinton has been criticized as being hawkish but has shown a measured approach to the world’s problems. Do we really want someone in charge of our military and nuclear codes who has an impulse control problem? The fact that so many top military and national security officials are not supporting Trump speaks volumes.

The Dallas Morning News feels that “Resume vs. resume, judgment vs. judgment, this election is no contest.”

Those are real shortcomings [for Clinton]. But they pale in comparison to the litany of evils some opponents accuse her of. Treason? Murder? Her being cleared of crimes by investigation after investigation has no effect on these political hyenas; they refuse to see anything but conspiracies and cover-ups.

We reject the politics of personal destruction. Clinton has made mistakes and displayed bad judgment, but her errors are plainly in a different universe than her opponent’s.

Trump’s values are hostile to conservatism. He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.

The Los Angeles Times:

Donald J. Trump, a billionaire businessman and television personality…has never held elected office and has shown himself temperamentally unfit to do so. He has run a divisive, belligerent, dishonest campaign, repeatedly aligning himself with racists, strongmen and thugs while maligning or dismissing large segments of the American public. Electing Trump could be catastrophic for the nation.

I can’t sign on with someone who says, seemingly with all sincerity, that he will deport many millions of people from this country–but can’t explain how he plans to accomplish it–and that he will make another country pay for our border security–even after the leaders of that country say they will not and you can’t make me–and that he knows more about fighting foreign terrorists than the military professionals–really, how do you know that?–and lies about, well, he lies about what feels like everything else.

The only thing I can think of that Trump possibly has in his favor is that he is not Hillary Clinton.  When the campaigns started rolling last year, my hope was that certainly the Democrats wouldn’t nominate Clinton: there had to be other, better, trustworthy candidates, and I don’t want to have to listen to the litany of conservative freakout about her all over again.  But Trump’s not being Clinton isn’t enough, not when what he is turns out to be so disqualifying.

The biggest lie is right there on the front of his stupid cap: no matter what he says, no matter what stories he makes up to tell you what he thinks you want to hear, no matter how he tries to appeal to the lesser angels of our nature, the fact is America is great and always has been.  Because of its people, and the ideals that we try to live up to, this is a great country.  I didn’t say it was perfect, but Trump is lying to our face when he insinuates that America is anything less than great, and that he is the only person who can fix it.  It’s time to call him out to his lying face.

Attention American citizens, time for another quick reality check

Only the people who are employed in America’s political-industrial complex can afford to keep up with all this stuff day to day to day, but some of it you just can’t avoid knowing about.  The Republican candidate for president is:

–seemingly sabotaging one of his own alleged rhetorical strong points–that he will hire “the best people” to take care of America’s problems–with almost every personnel move he makes:

Trump’s campaign has been a roiling, noxious, dysfunctional mess from the start, characterized by public feuds, subject to sudden leadership changes and unable to fulfill key functions (like actually having a campaign apparatus in key states). And Trump’s personnel selections have been both instructive and disastrous.

–finding yet another new way to demonstrate his ignorance of American ideals:..

…more concerning than Trump’s usual lack of specificity was his declaration that “We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people.”

(snip)

what, exactly, are “our values”? I’m betting you and I have some differences of opinion when it comes to what we value. But the good news is, the Founders accounted for that with the First Amendment, allowing for all kinds of different beliefs. Whatever Trump values, citizenship — much less entry into the country — does not require you agree with it.

What citizenship does require, in addition to service, is that immigrants “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” So, if by “our values,” Trump means our laws and Constitution, we’ve already got that covered, Donald. You can take the day off.

But of course, that’s not all Trump means.

contributing to the long-simmering “confusion” of much of the American voting public:

Trump, who says he doesn’t read much at all, is both a product of the epidemic of ignorance and a main producer of it. He can litter the campaign trail with hundreds of easily debunked falsehoods because conservative media has spent more than two decades tearing down the idea of objective fact.

If Trump supporters knew that illegal immigration peaked in 2007, or that violent crime has been on a steady downward spiral nationwide for more than 20 years, they would scoff when Trump says Mexican rapists are surging across the border and crime is out of control.

If more than 16 percent of Americans could locate Ukraine on a map, it would have been a Really Big Deal when Trump said that Russia was not going to invade it — two years after they had, in fact, invaded it.

If basic civics was still taught, and required, for high school graduation, Trump could not claim that judges “sign bills.”

The dumbing down of this democracy has been gradual, and then — this year — all at once.

–and causing a freak-out in the conservative media that wouldn’t have been believed just a year ago:

throughout the election season, it has appeared that Republicans have fielded more attacks from their supposed friends on the right than their political opponents on the left. It’s an incidental twist, considering how Republicans helped foster the growth of the conservative news media in order to avoid the skewering of mainstream journalists.

Instead, it appears their plan of using friendly pundits to tap directly into the vein of red-blooded Americans sympathetic to their political views has backfired. That has boosted the candidacy of Donald Trump

And all of that was just last week!

Nevertheless, each day I read that there are still plenty of people who supported Trump in the primaries and are still behind their man, no matter anything on that list up there or the fact that he seems to be backing off some of the strong rhetoric–and outrageous positions and promises–that (presumably) won him their support in the first place.  In fact, it’s becoming more clear that those people aren’t much interested in the details of what he’s had to say during the campaign so far:

Boz says illegal immigration is a problem, but when it comes to policy, he trusts Trump to figure that out. “Whatever he wants to do, I’ll back him. That’s all I can say. It’s tough,” Boz says.

Inside, Judy Callahan, 69, says she’s preparing to retire from her job as a hospice cook — and devote her free time to volunteering for the Trump campaign. Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Callahan says she has supported the real estate developer from the beginning.

“I just love him — I love every second of him,” she says.

Callahan says she opposes amnesty and wants Trump to be “strong” on immigration, but it doesn’t bother her that his policy positions can sometimes seem unclear.

“I listen to half of what Trump says,” Callahan explains. “And then I move on because you have to get people’s attention.”

The Onion has been able to describe this new reality most effectively:

“Do you really think you’re going to come up with some new criticism of his policies or his preparedness that will finally make us reconsider our votes?” Gallagher continued. “Please, you should all just save yourself the effort.”

The loyal Trump supporters said their message was directed at everyone who has actively sought to convince them that voting for the real estate mogul is against their own interests, a group that includes current and former members of Congress, members of past Republican administrations, America’s NATO allies, human rights advocates, the pope, and many veterans, as well as their own families, friends, and coworkers. The candidate’s backers added that, considering how they have already gone along with everything he has said and done in the 2016 election cycle, those trying to communicate Trump’s shortcomings to them should “quit wasting their breath.”

Where we go from here

We’ve endured the Democratic and Republican parties’ conventions, which spit out the nominees for president that we’ve been expecting for many many weeks.  What are we faced with, looking at the 100 days left before the general election?

Donald Trump is not well known, perhaps in his inconsistencies unknowable, but what he has shown us, or what we’ve been able to learn despite him, troubles many people–including some leaders of the Republican Party, who even now refuse to endorse him.  Hillary Clinton is not an unknown, and what we know isn’t especially inspiring. She is not well liked by many Democrats and has been demonized for so long by her enemies on the right that it’s hard to imagine her being able to work with Republicans in Congress and get much done.

Ezra Klein on Vox.com makes the case that we have a choice between normal and not normal.  It seems to me that, given today’s dysfunctional dynamic between Republicans and Democrats, making a “not normal” choice could be a good thing, and I guess many of those who support Trump feel the same way.  But let’s agree that while something better than what we have would be welcomed, simply being different doesn’t automatically make a thing better.  A Trump presidency would not be better.  Not by a long shot.

The Washington Post calls Trump “a unique threat to American democracy”:

He is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance. To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions. Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew.

Any one of these characteristics would be disqualifying; together, they make Mr. Trump a peril.

Frank Bruni in The New York Times finds that Trump’s simple patriotism “doesn’t add up.”:

But there’s nothing simple about a patriotism that allows someone to brag, as Trump has done, about paying as little in taxes as he can possibly get away with, and that permits him to flout an important political tradition of candidates’ releasing their tax returns.

There’s nothing simple about a patriotism that advocates torture, as Trump has also done, when our conduct in waging war is ideally what sets us apart from less principled countries and earns us the respect of the world.

And there’s nothing simple about a patriotism that’s really an amalgam of nativism, racism, isolationism and xenophobia and that denies this country’s distinction as a land of fresh starts, its arms open to a diverse world.

The specter of Trump was enough for Mr. Republican, George Will, to decide to terminate his membership in the Republican Party, for former GOP congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to urge Republican candidates to keep their distance from the top of the ticket, and for Republican political pro Mark Salter to deliver a clear and concise list of reasons why Republicans with any sense of integrity or shame should avoid him, including:

He’s an ignoramus whose knowledge of public issues is more superficial than an occasional newspaper reader’s. He casts his intellectual laziness as a choice, a deliberate avoidance of expert views that might contaminate his ill-informed opinions.

(snip)

He’s a charlatan, preposterously posing as a business genius while cheating investors, subcontractors, and his own customers. He’s rich because his father left him a great deal of money. He couldn’t turn a profit with a casino, for crying out loud.

(snip)

He possesses the emotional maturity of a 6-year-old. He can’t let go of any slight, real or imagined, from taunts about the length of his fingers to skepticism about his portfolio.

(snip)

He doesn’t appeal to a single honorable quality or instinct in our society. He exploits fear and incites hatred. They are the emotions that impel him. He wants us to make our way in the world as he does: selfish, insecure, angry, scapegoating, small.

Do we want change for the better?  Sure we do.  But do we want to change to someone who is radically outside of the norms of political activity as we’ve known it, and as it’s developed in this country over hundreds of years?  If this is the available choice, I don’t think so, and I’m not alone.  Today Houston’s Leading Information Source joined the group of publications that are already endorsing Clinton because Trump is so damn terrible!

An election between the Democrat Clinton and, let’s say, the Republican Jeb Bush or John Kasich or Marco Rubio, even the hyper-ideological Ted Cruz, would spark a much-needed debate about the role of government and the nation’s future, about each candidate’s experience and abilities. But those Republican hopefuls have been vanquished. To choose the candidate who defeated them – fairly and decisively, we should point out – is to repudiate the most basic notions of competence and capability.

Any one of Trump’s less-than-sterling qualities – his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance – is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, “I alone can fix it,” should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.

After more than a year of campaigning–a hell of a slog for us voters to endure, if you ask me–this campaign still has more than three months to go, and there’s a danger that we may become inured to the outrageousness of Trump’s actions and words.  Let me warn again: please, do not let the craziness of Trumpism become normal; don’t let yourself come to believe that what he’s doing and saying isn’t so bad because we’ve been hearing it for so long.  They are far from normal, and we need to still be able to see that when election day finally gets here.

The Airing of Grievances, 2016 election edition

When Thomas Jefferson was noodling around for a device to explain the British colonies’ reasons for declaring independence, he settled on the direct approach: yes, he got all fancy with his language, but that was scattered around a simple recitation of “the causes which impel them to the separation.”  He went with the straightforward airing of grievances, a tactic later employed by the founders of Festivus and now by a prominent Republican political pro in making the case against Donald Trump.

Mark Salter’s essay in Real Clear Politics is the piece I wish I had written: a string of declarative sentences which plainly and damningly gather the indictment against the man who is about to win the Republican Party’s nomination for president.  Read the whole thing, and then try to excuse your way to voting for Trump…especially you, Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders who condemn Trump’s actions but still profess support for the nominee of your party.  What kind of party unites behind this:

He’s an ignoramus whose knowledge of public issues is more superficial than an occasional newspaper reader’s. He casts his intellectual laziness as a choice, a deliberate avoidance of expert views that might contaminate his ill-informed opinions.

(snip)

He’s a charlatan, preposterously posing as a business genius while cheating investors, subcontractors, and his own customers. He’s rich because his father left him a great deal of money. He couldn’t turn a profit with a casino, for crying out loud.

(snip)

He possesses the emotional maturity of a 6-year-old. He can’t let go of any slight, real or imagined, from taunts about the length of his fingers to skepticism about his portfolio.

(snip)

He doesn’t appeal to a single honorable quality or instinct in our society. He exploits fear and incites hatred. They are the emotions that impel him. He wants us to make our way in the world as he does: selfish, insecure, angry, scapegoating, small.

There’s more; please read it.  On issues both foreign and domestic, on the economy and national defense, from personal to professional, Salter reminds us of things we should consider when choosing a candidate to support and to vote for, and notes how Trump fails to meet the standard.

None of this makes it easier to vote for the deeply flawed candidate of the Democrats, but Salter notes of Hillary Clinton “she’s not ignorant or hateful or a nut. She acts like an adult, and understands the responsibilities of an American president.”  Well, it’s a place to start.

Fight the normalization of Trumpism

A year ago the Republican establishment felt pretty good about its prospects, crowed about the outstanding group of people who were running for president, and acted confident about the party’s chances of winning back control of the executive branch of the national government.  Today we see party leaders trudge to the microphone with all the cheer of a condemned man on the way to the gallows to endorse He Who Has All But Won the Party’s Presidential Nomination, while a growing Greek chorus is warming up a “not so fast” refrain for an electorate faced with two bad choices.

Stepping out from the chorus today, in National Review, Charles Murray issues an important challenge to what he calls the conservative establishment: go on the record—now; right now—with your view of Donald Trump.  It’s not good enough for Republicans or conservatives to shrug their shoulders and side with Trump because they disagree with Hillary Clinton on the issues and think she’d make a worse, or much worse, president, he argues.  Although voters often have to pick from among two or more bad choices, Murray calls on those who make politics their livelihood to assess Trump as a candidate for president without comparing him to the presumed Democratic nominee or any other particular candidate.  Tell us, does the man meet your standards as a potential president; what’s your real opinion.

Murray answers his own challenge: “Donald Trump is unfit to be president in ways that apply to no other candidate of the two major political parties throughout American history.”  OK.  It is not, he says, just that Trump is greedy and venal and narcissistic, or even that he’s a liar…anyone could miss a few facts:

Then it gets a little more important, as when [Trump] says Paul Ryan called to congratulate him after his victory in the New York primary, announcing a significant political event that in fact did not happen. Then the fictions touch on facts about policy. No, Wisconsin does not have an effective unemployment rate of 20 percent, nor does the federal government impose Common Core standards on the states — to take just two examples plucked at random from among his continual misrepresentations of reality. That he deals so heedlessly in those misrepresentations makes it impossible for an opponent to conduct an authentic policy debate with him.

It’s one thing when a candidate knowingly deceives the public on a few specific topics. Hillary Clinton has knowingly tried to deceive the public about her flip-flop on gay marriage and her misuse of her e-mail server. That’s bad. It should be condemned. This aspect of her character should affect one’s deliberations about whether to vote for her. It’s another thing entirely when a candidate blithely rejects Pat Moynihan’s (attributed) dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.”

Murray links to other writers who have made their own contributions to the growing collection of reasons why Trump is unfit, and it turns out they are some of the very same pieces I’ve been saving for future reference: Ross Douthat, Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, among others.  They have identified aspects of the candidate’s character that should make any reasonable person nervous at the prospect of a President Trump: the bullying, the unreconstructed pandering to voter fear and racial prejudice, the threats against journalists who dare ask pointed questions, the unrealistic view of the modern world and America’s place in it.

I am told that it is unfair to speak in such harsh terms of a person I don’t know personally: Look how nice his kids seem to be. Look at all his friends who say that he’s really a pleasant fellow in private. Sorry. I don’t need any secondary sources. Donald Trump makes the case for David Brooks’s assessment in every public appearance. When a man deliberately inflames the antagonism of one American ethnic group toward another, takes pleasure in labeling people “losers,” and openly promises to use the powers of the presidency to punish people who get in his way, there is nothing that person can do or say in private that should alter my opinion of whether he is fit to be the president of the United States.

I know that I am unlikely to persuade any of my fellow Establishmentarians to change their minds. But I cannot end without urging you to resist that sin to which people with high IQs (which most of you have) are unusually prone: Using your intellectual powers to convince yourself of something despite the evidence plainly before you. Just watch and listen to the man. Don’t concoct elaborate rationalizations. Just watch and listen. [emphasis added]

That’s important.  His ability to (apparently) win the nomination of one of the two major political parties for president of our country, as stunning as it is, shouldn’t be our excuse to relax and think, well, if the GOP thinks he’s fine then I guess he must be; I must’ve misunderstood some of what he said (or the media reported it wrong!).  It will be tough to do, but don’t let the sheer lunacy of what he says wear off—don’t just get used to the outrageousness and let it become normal, become just another opinion.

And, one more thing from Murray:

…contemplate this fact about history: We have had presidents whose competence once in office was better than we could have anticipated. Truman, for example. We have had presidents whose characters were subsequently revealed to be worse than they had seemed during the campaign. Kennedy, for example. We have never had a president whose character proved to be more admirable once he was in office than it had appeared during the campaign. What you see on your television screen every day from Donald Trump the candidate is the best that you can expect from Donald Trump the president. “Hillary is even worse” doesn’t cut it.