Don’t Miss The Forest For The Sleaze

Because I have watched MSNBC’s Morning Joe for so long now, I guess I have become sort of use to what has been happening. The show has, after all, become a platform for defending, advising, and promoting Drumpf, who is friends with or acquaintances of most of the regulars on the show. They just can’t bring themselves to admit the obvious about him.

Today was no different. Morning Joe’s opening segment at 7:00 am CST was all about that New York Times article (“Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private“) published over the weekend that documented some of Drumpf’s boorish encounters with women, claims of sexual harassment, as well as a few of the good things he has done in promoting women in his business. Morning Joe, though, was all about attacking the Times rather than criticizing Drumpf’s behavior. Panelist Donny Deutsch, who has admitted to being a Friend of Drumpf, even gave him a hint this morning on how to proceed: hit the whole Jeffrey Epstein-Bill Clinton thang. It really was an embarrassment for MSNBC, although it won’t stop. Drumpf = ratings. And insulting Drumpf = boycott. Thus.

I just wanted to remind you of something critically important that may, now, get lost because one of the women in the Times report said her story was misused by the newspaper and that she “did not have a negative experience” with Drumpf. What may get lost has nothing to do with that Times article. Anyone paying attention knows that Drumpf’s problems with women have much more to do with what he has said since he has been a candidate than any revelation that he once had the hots for a model, whom he outfitted in a bikini so he could show off her assets to a group of Drumpf groupies at a Mar-a-Lago pool party, the same model who now says she was flattered by the whole episode.

So, before it gets lost in the storm of nonsense and ugliness that is the Drumpf campaign, before it gets lost in the ADHD-like television coverage of that nonsense and ugliness, let’s look at a weird story, published in The Washington Post on May 13, “Donald Trump masqueraded as publicist to brag about himself.” I know by now you know most of the details—Drumpf posing as publicists “John Miller” and “John Barron”—so I won’t go into them. Suffice it to say that the story, if it weren’t about Drumpf, would, like so many other things he has said and done, doom anyone else. It would disgrace any other presidential candidate, who would slink away with a shame-hung head. But this is Drumpf. His answer to it? Lie. He didn’t do it. The voice that everyone knows was his, on those phone calls to reporters, wasn’t his, he says. And his groupies, both professionals and amateurs, are behind him. If he says it wasn’t him, it wasn’t. Move on. No biggie. There are more important things to talk about.

Surprisingly, the journalists I have seen covering this issue on television, and those paid to be “analysts,” have it all wrong. They are focusing on the lie Drumpf told. They want him to come clean about that. Their coverage goes something like this: “If only Drumpf would simply admit he was ‘John Miller’ or ‘John Barron’ and confess to doing something dumb, a joke really, this would all go away and we’d move on to something else.” I heard CNN’s Chris Cuomo say something like that the other day.

Well, no. That isn’t the point.

We all know Drumpf is a liar. That has been established beyond doubt, just as it has been established beyond doubt that he was John Miller and John Barron (he has actually admitted as much before). So, any revelation that he is currently lying about the fact he was pretending to be his own publicist would not be surprising. It would just be an addition to what we already knew. What we don’t know is what it is that makes a prominent man do something so clumsy and crass. What is it in his brain that makes him want to do it in the first place, but then—most important to mewhat makes him think no one would catch him doing it? That’s what has been lost in all this. There is, truly, something wrong with his mind, with his thought process, with his ability to understand what is going on in other minds.

I’ve said before that since I’m not a medical doctor, I can’t diagnose Drumpf’s problems—although others have done so. We can all see that he acts and talks like a narcissist. We can see that he lies, when telling the truth would be a much easier path to follow. His lying appears to be pathological. We can all see that Tiny Hands is insecure, which also appears to be some kind of disease. All that is troubling enough. But think about it. This man called reporters, reporters who knew his voice, pretending to be someone else. Why couldn’t he figure out in advance that those reporters would know it was his voice? That he would be asked about it? That he would be asked to produce John Miller and John Barron at some point, since they allegedly worked for him? Huh? And why can’t he see that now?

Disturbing stuff. And it isn’t just limited to gossip magazines or tabloids. It has real-world implications. Consider Drumpf’s embrace of Vladimir Putin. In that sorry case, did some kind of pathological disorder get the best of Drumpf? Remember that Putin, a murderous authoriatarian, said the GOP candidate was “a very bright and talented man,” and an “absolute leader.” Rather than responding as any normal American would do, that is, by rejecting the endorsement of a trained and practiced Russian killer, Drump said,

When people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.

“It’s always good.” Always. If Charles Manson calls you brilliant from his prison cell, that’s good. If Kim Jong-un takes time out of his busy day in North Korea and calls you brilliant, that’s good, too. For a Drumpfed-up mind, there are no conditions under which receiving flattery is a negative.

When confronted with the charge that Putin has either ordered the killing of journalists in Russia or created a climate in which they could be essentially killed with impunity, Drumpf has responded in different ways. Once he said, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing, too…” Another time,

Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone. … He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.

Now, that comes from a man who, with exactly no evidence to back him up, has questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship and Christianity, who says he sent investigators, perhaps John Miller and John Barron, to Hawaii and “they cannot believe what they’re finding.” It comes from a man who, just last year as a presidential candidate, said of President Obama, “I don’t know if he loves America.” Who said, “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice Scalia if it were held in a Mosque?”

Giving the benefit of the doubt to a horrific Russian despot who strategically strokes your ego, while trashing the credibility of your own president, is a symptom of some profound personal problem, as far as I’m concerned as an American. It demonstrates that Drumpf’s awareness of himself, that his perception of others, is twisted. It proves that he is unfit to be our commander-in-chief because his judgment about what may be happening in the minds of other people, whether they are reporters or world leaders, is so utterly and hopelessly flawed.

Drumpf’s petty attempt to pass himself off as publicists John Miller and John Barron—and expect that he could get away with it—just adds to the case that he is a very disturbed man. But it is also disturbing that much of the press, at least on television, isn’t that interested in the original disqualifying behavior, but only in getting Drumpf to admit to it so cable news can move on to the next act in this gloomy Gong Show. Perhaps the only thing that can save us all is if Drumpf comes out soon and lets us in on his little joke. And The Washington Post can write a new article, “Donald Trump masqueraded as presidential candidate to brag about himself.”

[Mural image by artist Mindaugas Bonanu]


The Devil On Drumpf

Every now and then, the Devil comes by the spacious offices of The Erstwhile Conservative for a short interview. He only had a few minutes, since this is his busy season, but I managed to get in some important questions. Here is the lightly edited interview:

TEC: Thanks for stopping by. I want to quickly ask you what I think is a fairly obvious question, but one I’ll ask anyway: What part have you played in the rise of Drumpf? I can see your fingerprints all over this.

TShutterstockHE DEVIL: Yeah, I know. It is kind of obvious, isn’t it? But that couldn’t be prevented, given what we were working with. Look, I don’t want to give away too much right now because there is still so much to be done, but I can’t help but brag a little bit. This is one of the most brilliant campaigns we have ever run—

TEC: One of the most?

THE DEVIL: Okay, dammit. You got me. It is the most brilliant campaign we have ever run. Okay? And I’m so damned proud of it I can’t barely hide it. 

TEC: How did you get this all started anyway?

THE DEVIL: Oh, this thing has been in the making for years now. It started out with that whole birther thing. Do you know how hard it was to get someone to take that bait? It was damned hard, let me tell you. But we found him! And when I first started getting reports from the field, from our demons assigned to the task, that Drumpf was biting on it, I couldn’t believe it. But I gave orders to keep after it and keep after him and see if there was something more there we could build on. And it turns out there was a lot there we could build on.

TEC: So, what was the next step, after he took the birther bait?

THE DEVIL: This is where it gets good. And this may surprise you. But it came to me one night in hell, as I was thinking—seething, really—about how miserably we have failed to get a majority of Americans to give into their cultural anxieties and put a real hate-generating reactionary in the Oval Office. We’ve been successful in Congress, but we need it all to do our devilish damage.

TEC: And, so, what came to you?

THE DEVIL: Political correctness! We simply had to do away with it. We had to get people to resent it, to will it away. 

TEC: Why?

THE DEVIL: Because by getting rid of political correctness that would allow people to act out their racism and sexism and other forms of anxiety and hatred without fear of retribution.

TEC: Without fear that someone would call them on it.

THE DEVIL: Exactly. If we could get rid of the idea that there are some things Americans shouldn’t say about each other, we could get our foot in the door. So, one of our most promising demons came up with the idea of planting in Drumpf’s head the notion that political correctness had to go. And like the birther stuff, he bit. He went for it. And from there, it was easy to get him to run for president, and the next thing you know, he’s starting out his campaign by talking about Mexican rapists. Brilliant!

TEC: But it didn’t stop there.

THE DEVIL: Of course not. Once the political correctness door got knocked down, no one was immune. Blacks, Muslims, women. Drumpf would say anything. We could literally get him to say anything. He puts up almost no resistance! Heck, just for fun one day, one of our demons told him to say that he could shoot someone on the street and he wouldn’t lose any voters. And he went out and said it! 

TEC: Yeah, I remember that.

THE DEVIL: But we’ve done other things just for the hell of it, just for laughs.

TEC: Like what?

THE DEVIL: We got the Drumpf campaign to put a white nationalist on the delegate ballot in California!

TEC: I heard that.

THE DEVIL: Who could have believed that a year ago? Or who could believe that we could get David Duke to whisper to his racist followers that Drumpf is really one of them? I get chills just thinking about how successful we’ve been with this thing. It’s massive. 

TEC: You mean yoooge.

THE DEVIL: Let’s be serious.

TEC: Okay, okay. What is it you like most about what has happened so far?

THE DEVIL: Without a doubt my favorite part of this effort has been taking those devil-hating evangelicals and turning them into Drumpfkins! They are always talking about how much they love God, the Enemy, and now they’re running to the polls voting for my guy! How sweet is that? Now, I don’t want to brag, but I’ve heard that even God himself is impressed by that feat! And, listen, take it from me, God’s not easy to impress.

TEC: I bet he isn’t. But I want to ask you about Bernie Sanders and how he fits into all this.

THE DEVIL: Well, I hesitate to talk about that too much right now because it’s a subtle operation and it is still ongoing. But just look at what we did last night in West Virginia. Our ground operation there was so good—our dsanders voters not voting for clintonemonic forces in that region are some of the best—that we got Bernie a victory—

TEC: But Bernie has won a lot of states—

THE DEVIL: Sure he has, but what happesanders voters voting for trumpned last night was remarkable. We got him a majority of voters, most of them saying they would never vote for Hillary! And, get this, we got a lot of those who voted for Bernie last night to say they wouldn’t vote for Bernie in November! Now, dammit, that’s a hell of an accomplishment, isn’t it?

TEC: Yeah, I suppose that’s pretty impressive. 

THE DEVIL: You’re damn right it is! But, hey, I have to go. There’s still a lot to do. We’ve got to stop all that damnable talk of a third party out there.

TEC: Okay, but before you head out, where do we go from here? What’s next with the Drumpf campaign?

THE DEVIL: Look, you know I can’t tell you what’s coming next, as much as I want to. Suffice it to say it will be the general election from hell. We intend to see one of our own sitting in the White’s House next January. That’s all I’m going to say about it right now because, dammit, we want this campaign of ours to remain unpredictable!

TEC: Oh, my. Well, thanks for stopping by. 

THE DEVIL: No problem…heck, okay, I can’t help myself. I’ll tell you something we’re working on right now with Drumpf. We’re trying to get Newt Gingrich on the ticket!

TEC: Wow. Are you serious? Newt bleeping Gingrich?

THE DEVIL: I have probably said too much. I gotta go.

[dark image: shutterstock; Drumpf evangelicals: Getty Images]

The Grand Orange Party

This Thursday Drumpf will meet with some of the GOP bigwigs in Congress, including the Speaker of the House, who hasn’t quite got both feet on the crazy train. Their hopes are that they will either find out Drumpf has just been pretending to be a fool on the campaign trail or that he is someone whom they can mold into a real conservative nutjob, as opposed to just a nutjob.

In any case, it’s hard to tell these days whether some conservatives are afraid Drumpf will lose in November or are afraid that he will win. Famous right-winger Bill Kristol, who has correctly pronounced Drumpf as unfit to be president, was on TV this morning all worried about the latest polling—the meat and potatoes of TV journalism these days—in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida that shows the race is really, really close. Drumpf might win! Who’da thunk it? Kristol is doing his best to get someone like Mittens to run as a third party candidate. Good luck with that, Bill. I’m rooting for ya.

Here’s the deal, though. As Kristol suggests, GOP leaders in Congress, along with governors and other politicians with clout, can “normalize” Drumpf. They can do so in several ways. They can fully embrace him and say good things about him. Or they can half embrace him and say he is a work in progress. Or they can sort of slink away without saying anything. No matter how it happens, if they don’t come out and tell the world that Drumpf is not presidential material, they will legitimate him, put their stamp of approval on him, and thereby signal to voters that it is okay to vote for him. But will they do that? Will they normalize someone so obviously unstable and unfit?

You’re damned right they will. There’s no doubt about it. And when they do, they won’t get a mulligan. No do-overs. They’ll have to live with him and what he says and does for the next six months. And, Allah forbid, if Drumpf does win in November, they will be responsible for the considerable damage he will do to the country, and quite possibly, the world.

As many people have remarked, if Paul Ryan and other Republican big shots in Congress and around the country do, explicitly or implicitly, welcome Drumpf into the comfy confines of the establishment, it will then become Drumpf’s party. The Grand Orange Party. He’ll own it and its leaders, and they all will go down in history either as colossal losers or as dangerous winners.

The truth is, though, that Drumpf isn’t just a Republican problem. Sure, he makes Republicans look bigoted and ridiculous and small. But to some extent he also makes the country look that way. None of us can get through this mess, even if Drumpf ultimately loses, without getting a little Orange Stink on us. That’s the way it is with a guy like Drumpf. You see him on TV, you listen to him talk for a couple of minutes, and you feel like you’ve been slimed with orange ordure. You want to run through a car wash. No, that’s not quite right. You want to slowly walk through the car wash to make sure not one drop of Drumpf has stuck to you.

Last December, Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, said about Drumpf, “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party.” Well, it is May now.  Republican voters have made him their choice to represent the party. On Thursday, Republican leaders, including Missouri’s Roy Blunt, will ratify that choice, either with sounds or with silence. Either way they will essentially embrace the race-baiter, the xenophobe, the bigot. They will authenticate an ignorant and ill-informed man, a man who is stuck in a strange adolescence, who is unstable and unpredictable and therefore unacceptably dangerous.

And the orange shitstorm that will follow Drumpf’s blessing will touch us all.

Not A Morality Play, An Amorality Play

Let’s be clear about something.

Republicans now have as their presumptive nominee for the presidency of the United States a man who was called a “pathological liar,” a “narcissist” and “amoral” by the guy who came in second in last night’s Indiana primary. And that guy, Ted Cruz, had every reason to attack Drumpf in that way on Tuesday. After all, Drumpf had embraced earlier that morning the latest crazy conspiracy theory going around: Ted Cruz’s dad was involved in the killing of Johncruz goes ballistic F. Kennedy. “This is nuts,” said Cruz, who is sort of an expert himself on nuttiness, “This is just kooky.”

Of course it is. But for God’s sake, people, what the hell is going on? Have Republicans really lost their collective minds?

Let’s start by looking at what “amoral” means:

a :  being neither moral nor immoral; specifically :  lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply <science as such is completely amoral — W. S. Thompson>

   b :  lacking moral sensibility <infants are amoral>

2:  being outside or beyond the moral order or a particular code of morals <amoral customs>

Think about that. Is calling someone amoral worse than calling them immoral? There is a certain predictability in immorality. But amorality is totally unpredictable. And when you think about it, unpredictable amorality is actually the Drumpf brand. Just look at what Drumpf said this morning:

“Lyin’ Ted” is now — we will now put that aside.

After months of saying he had never “met a person that lies more than Ted Cruz,” or saying how “unstable” Cruz was, it’s all over now. Last night Drumpf said that Cruz was “a tough, smart guy. And he has got an amazing future.” Now that is amoral. That is Drumpf.

As I mentioned, Cruz also called Drumpf a pathological liar and a narcissist. Here’s how he put it:

This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.

He accuses everybody on that debate stage of lying. And it’s simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist. A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.

I’ll leave the clinical diagnosis to others. Is Drumpf a narcissist? He sounds like one. Is he a pathological liar? He sounds like one. But pathological or not, Drumpf is most definitely a liar. He does lie all the time, as Cruz said. But do Republican voters think he is a liar? We will look at that in a minute, but first:

Exit polling in this country is done by a firm called Edison Research. On its website, the research and surveying company says:

When you hear election projections, results or analysis about who voted for whom, that information comes from Edison Research.

Something called the National Election Pool, which is essentially a collection of all the big news organizations in America—NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox “News,” and the AP—contracts with Edison Research to provide the exit polling data upon which analysis is done and projections are made.

If we wanted to know whether Republicans who cast votes think Drumpf is truthful, it would be Edison Research who would find out for us. So, what did the company find out when it conducted exit polling and asked Republican voters in Indiana yesterday whether Drumpf is “honest and trustworthy”?

We’ll never know.

Edison Research never asked that question. Didn’t bother. Didn’t think it was relevant, I guess. And apparently the big news organizations didn’t either, since they didn’t demand such a question. Maybe it’s because they believe everyone already knows Drumpf is a liar or maybe it’s because they don’t want to know. Beats me.

But what about the other side? What about Democrats? Was the question of honesty brought up by pollsters?

Yep. You guessed it. Edison Research did ask Democrats that question about their candidates. They were asked if they thought Hillary and Bernie are “honest and trustworthy.” Why do you suppose Edison Research would ask that question of Democrats and not of Republicans? Could it have something to do with an institutional bias against Hillary Clinton? Of course it does. It’s painfully obvious. There is never any talk about Bhillary and bernie trustworthy poll in indianaernie being dishonest or untrustworthy. But pollsters had to ask voters about him to cover up the real reason they were asking, which was to find out how deep was the belief that Hillary is not to be trusted, an idea pushed by television pundits and journalists. Talk about dishonesty. (By the way, exit pollsters have asked that question of Democrats since the New Hampshire primary on February 9 but have not asked it of Republicans even though both Drumpf and Cruz have poor ratings with fact-checkers.)

If you watch a lot of TV news, like I do, there are two things you notice right away about the general coverage of the primaries. One is obvious: TV news is wild about Drumpf. He is a boost to the corporate bottom line. The more stupid and nasty and offensive things he says out loud, the better for ratings. That’s pretty easy to see and, unfortunately, easy to understand. The TV news business is in fact a business. Ratings come first, journalism awaiting drumpf rally.jpgsecond, often a distant second. Drumpf can phone in interviews from Trump Tower and many of his rallies are broadcast on cable news television for large chunks of time. They preempt other programming to bring them to us. Why? Because you never know what controversy might erupt right there on “our” network! I’ve even seen, numerous times, a little box on the side of the screen featuring a Drumpf-less podium, indicating that soon, very soon, Drumpf will be speaking! Stay tuned!

The second thing you notice about general TV news coverage of the primaries is that it is quite slanted against Hillary Clinton in an important way. That’s where the “honest and trustworthy” question comes in. Pundits and reporters mention it all the time—but only in connection with Hillary Clinton. Most of what Bernie Sanders says about health care or college tuition or wage inequality is ignored. But when he attacks Clinton’s honesty, it’s all over the place.

But the honest and trustworthy question never comes up in the context of Drumpf. Why? Because there is no ratings price to be paid for questioning Hillary Clinton’s integrity. There is a price to be paid for being too rough with Drumpf. He’ll bully and boycott you. He’ll attack you. He’ll embarrass you. And reporters and pundits do not want to displease their bosses, so they tiptoe around all the lies and amorality. They really do. It’s sort of like when you are around a volatile person who you know is just waiting to go off on someone and you don’t want to be that someone. It’s that bad.

It’s not that journalists on television, at least some of them, don’t point out Drumpf’s lies—well, they don’t use that word; it’s usually put much more delicately—but his lies are never put in a larger context of his “honesty” or “trustworthiness.” It’s more of a “well, that’s just Donald being Donald” critique. It’s almost like Drumpf’s propensity to lie is part of his charm. I remind you of what I posted the other day about pundit Elise Jordan’s remark on MSNBC: “there’s something kinda likable about the guy even as he’s being kind of terrible.” She essentially explained why we see the kind of coverage we see of Drumpf on cable television.

Is it even possible to imagine something similar being said about Hillary Clinton? That she is “kinda likable” despite being allegedly dishonest? Of course it’s not. Hillary Clinton not only has to pay a heavy price for all of her past mistakes and misstatements and policy flips, she is held accountable for Bill’s too. Part of Drumpf’s general election strategy will be to tie her to her husband’s philandering. Another part will be to tie her to her husband’s trade and Wall Street policies. And another part will be to attack her for being dishonest and untrustworthy. That’s pretty much how it will go.

And how will cable news handle all that? All the outlets will be there to cover every insult, every attack, every lie, as if it wasn’t coming from a man who could call Ted Cruz a liar every day for three months and then one night wipe it all away with an “Attaboy, Ted!” As if it weren’t coming from a man who pretends to be a friend of the working class but who thinks their wages are too high. As if it weren’t coming from a man who claims he was against the war in Iraq but was for it before he was against it. As if it weren’t coming from a man who claims to love Hispanics but got the idea for his infamous Mexican rapist rant from a hater named Ann Coulter.

And as if it weren’t coming from a man who wants to change libel laws so journalists can be subject to more lawsuits from politicians, a man who said:

The press is amazingly dishonest. The press is a real problem in this country. I’m dealing with some real sleazebags up here…[but] they’re worse than the politicians.

Thankfully, not all of the press is “amazingly dishonest.” Print and online journalism is doing a pretty good job of covering Drumpf. But, outside of three glorious hours on MSNBC every weeknight, cable television journalism, at least as I have witnessed it for months now, is not. There is a lot of dishonesty involved, but it is not hurting Drumpf, it is helping him. I have already heard talk of how Hillary-Drumpf will be a cage fight, of how the ratings will soar when the two finally debate. It will be a circus, a freak show, made for TV. Well, we shall see. But my fear is that if it is—if it is allowed to be—the amoral Two-Headed Man will steal the show.

The “Likable” Drumpf?

At the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore told some good jokes and some bad jokes, but he got at some real truth when he said this:

…whenever I turn to the TV, I see Trump’s family campaigning for him, gushing all over him. Or as it’s also known as, “Morning Joe.”

Have you seen “Morning Joe”? C’mon, guys, seriously. No, you know it’s true. Guys, “Morning Joe” has their head so far up Trump’s ass they bumped into Chris Christie. You know that’s true. You know I’m not lying. You know that’s true.

Nobody on MSNBC’s Morning Joe had a thing to say about it today. Why? I guess because it’s the awful truth and there isn’t any point in disputing it.

This morning the show actually validated Wilmore’s claim, dancing even deeper into Drumpf’s crowded colon, where not only Chris Christie lives, but so too does other human polyps like player-assaulting Coach Bobby Knight, convicted rapist Mike Tyson, and unrepentant birther and racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and many of the other regulars on Morning Joe, which is actually transmitted from Drumpf’s poop chute, are in good company.

In any case, I will only share with you one comment by a Morning Joe panelist this morning. Elise Jordan, who is now a political analyst for MSNBC, but who worked in the Bush II administration and recently was a foreign policy aide to Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, was part of a discussion on how irritating Ted Cruz is—everyone on Morning Joe hates Ted Cruz. Using that as her springboard, Jordan said the following:

I think for Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz is a much better contender to go up against her, from the Democratic perspective, just because he wears so thin so quickly. And Donald Trump, you just don’t know what you’re gonna get out of him. And he’s got a likability factor—yes, he has huge unfavorables and, yes, he offends basically every women [sic], but there’s something kinda likable about the guy even as he’s being kind of terrible.

elise jordan.jpgWhere does one start dissecting that stunningly strange analysis? How about with a kind word to Ms. Jordan: You got it right that Cruz would be easier for Hillary to run against. But you got it wrong as to why. It has very little to do with his wearing thin on people. It has a lot to do with the fact that the guy is a religious zealot who abhors compromise and has no sense of where the country is on any of the social issues, not to mention his tax plan would reward the wealthy and hurt the poor, while starving the country of revenues to the tune of nearly $9 trillion over ten years.

But since Cruz is the longest of long shots to win anyway, it ain’t worth discussing him. What is worth discussing it the idea advanced by Jordan that Drumpf’s competitive strength is “you just don’t know what you’re gonna get out of him.”  First of all, we have a good idea of what we’re going to get out of him: more of the same we’ve been getting for months now. Childish insults and incoherent policies—including his own ridiculous tax and tariff policy that would harm ordinary folks—and “two” Corinthians and Tan-ZANE-i-a. He ain’t gonna change that stuff because he can’t change that stuff.

But I’ll grant that there will be some real unpredictability with Drumpf. Why? Because he’s a brilliant strategist? No. Because he’s unstable. His unpredictability is a product of his instability. Period. The man is unhinged, when it comes to the world of facts. He has a love affair with lies. His intellectual boat doesn’t have an anchor. It drifts with the flow of the moment. So, in that sense, there is some, and some dangerous, unpredictability associated with him. But Mrs. Clinton can respond to it by making sure people know that his unpredictability is a sign—a warning—that there is something seriously wrong with the guy’s approach to and understanding of the way the world works, if not something wrong with his mind. The presidency isn’t an office where instability-driven unpredictability is a virtue. At least it shouldn’t be.

In light of that, let’s look at the rest of what Elise Jordan said, something so strange about Drumpf that it bears repeating:

And he’s got a likability factor—yes, he has huge unfavorables and, yes, he offends basically every women [sic], but there’s something kinda likable about the guy even as he’s being kind of terrible.

What do we make of this? It came from a female analyst, one with much experience in the world of policy and politics. Is this something only a female analyst could say about a male candidate? Is this an example of the bad boy syndrome? I ain’t going there. But where I will go is to a New York Times article from 2012.

Richard Friedman is professor of clinical psychiatry. He wrote a piece for the Times titled, “I Heart Unpredictable Love.” It’s an interesting read. Dr. Friedman discussed why people are attracted to “unpredictable romantic partners,” but it has application to what Elise Jordan said about Donald Drumpf, who has a weird romance going with no small number of voters.

Friedman focused on a study done using brain scans that attempted to measure what happens to the brain “when people are given rewards under two different conditions: predicted and unpredicted.” Results indicated there is a “greater activation in the brain’s reward circuit when the reward was unanticipated than when it was delivered in a predictable fashion.” More dopamine—an organic chemical that helps regulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centers—is released when receiving unpredictable rewards than predictable ones, said Dr. Friedman. And he also said:

If you are involved with someone who is unpredictably loving, you might not like it very much — but your reward circuit is sure going to notice the capricious behavior and give you information that might conflict with what you believe consciously is in your best interest.

Does this explain why people, people who should know better, are tempted by Drumpf? Does it explain Elise Jordan’s jaw-dropping remark about Drumpf this morning? Before you are tempted to call me a sexist for implying that her remark is related to her femininity, note that the study Friedman cited, on what happens in the brain regarding unpredictable-predictable rewards, included both women and men. It is clear enough that there are plenty of men who are attracted to Drumpf’s bad boy image and his “you just don’t know what you’re gonna get out of him” unpredictability. Just watch the men react to him both inside and outside of his rallies.

All of this may be loosely connected to another phenomenon that may or may not be something Democrats have to worry about in the upcoming Clinton-Drumpf brawl. It’s called “social desirability bias,” a concept from social psychology that has applicability to the polling numbers we’re all bombarded with every day. The idea is that the results of a poll are dependent on whether a respondent is surveyed online or is asked questions by a live interviewer on the phone. It turns out that it makes a difference in Drumpf’s numbers. From The New York Times last November:

Ever since Mr. Trump rose in the polls, he has fared best in the online ones — sometimes by as much as 10 points better than live-interview telephone surveys conducted over the same period.

There are a number of possible explanations for Mr. Trump’s strength in online polling, which was first noted by Jonathan Robinson, an analyst for Catalist, a data firm associated with the Democratic Party.

One is that voters are likelier to acknowledge their support for Mr. Trump in an anonymous online survey than in an interview with a real person. Plenty of research suggests that the social acceptability of an opinion shapes the willingness of poll respondents to divulge it, and it’s imaginable that voters would be reluctant to acknowledge support for a controversial figure like Mr. Trump.

As Vox points out about his phenomenon,

In the case of Trump…social desirability bias appears alive and well. It seems even Trump’s supporters understand that favoring him is not entirely socially acceptable. But that doesn’t diminish their backing — that Trump is loathed by political elites is part of his appeal.

Elise Jordan, a Republican, may have simply said something out loud this morning that other Republicans, men and women, may only say to themselves or behind closed doors. For them, especially since it appears Drumpf will be their nominee, there is obviously something “likable about the guy even as he’s being kind of terrible.” What these people find likable is beyond my ability to understand. But what they find terrible, and obviously tempting because it is so terrible, is plain to see.

Drumpf Foreign Policy Speech: “Rambling To The Point Of Being Incoherent”

Drumpf’s sophomoric and laughingly “serious” foreign policy speech today was, needless to say, an embarrassment—and an embarrassment of riches for Pinocchio-awarding fact-checkers everywhere. I won’t bore you with the details now, scary as they are, but I will hand you a gift in the form of instant analysis provided on CNN by a very smart guy, Fareed Zakaria. After noting that Drumpf “stuck to his guns” in terms of a “populist, nationalist, protectionist” message, Zakaria then dropped the hammer:

It was sort of rambling to the point of being incoherent. He contradicted himself several times, it struck me. He said we’re gonna get out of nation building, but we are gonna create stability. Well, how do you do that? You get out of nation building in Afghanistan, you’ll get more instability. You got out of nation building in Iraq, you got more instability. He said the allies can rely on us, but we will be completely unpredictable. He said we will spend what it takes to rebuild the military, but we’re gonna pay down the debt. Uh, we’re gonna spread Western civilization, but we’re not gonna spread democracy. And he ended with a truly bizarre statement about the greatest problem in the world is that we have too many weapons, and, once again, a strange place where you might find that he and Bernie Sanders are one.

So, I thought that when he tried to flesh out an actual foreign policy, it was pretty incoherent. He was very strong on his protectionism, anti-trade, American unilateralism. He was very strong on attacking the Obama-Clinton legacy…really that’s mostly the Bush legacy when he talks about the trillions of dollars spent trying to nation build in the Middle East. That’s the Iraq war, that’s the Afghanistan war, both of which were initiated by President Bush. So, I don’t know that it’s gonna convince anyone, certainly it didn’t strike me as a careful, analytic laying out of a Trump foreign policy.

Others on CNN, including Mike Rogers, a former Republican congressman who was Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, joined Zakaria in his critical analysis, Rogers saying, “It was not exactly coherent.”

Who couldn’t have guessed that?

The State Of Drumpf’s Mind

Finally, someone has, out loud, gone there: What if Donald Drumpf is on the verge of Alzheimer’s?

Sophia McClennen published an article today with the provocative title, “Maybe Donald Trump has really lost his mind: What if the GOP frontrunner isn’t crazy, but simply not well?

McClennen is not a medical doctor. She is a Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Penn State University. But she has recently co-authored a book on satire called “Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.” It is from that perch she is examining Drumpf and makes an interesting humanitarian point:

I need to be reassured that Trump is indeed OK so that the jokes about him remain funny. Public mockery has been the only way to stay balanced this election. And, of course, the best jokes about Trump have come from political satirists because satire does more than poke fun. It encourages critical thinking in the face of blind acceptance. It doesn’t just make Trump look silly and stupid; it points out that he’s dangerous to democracy. It’s the difference between jokes about his orange face and jokes about his demagoguery.

She goes on to say:

Satirical humor only works if it is punching up.  Humor that punches down is just mean.  A joke about Trump’s brain is amusing; one about an Alzheimer’s patient is twisted and cruel.

Her article cites examples of Drumpf’s odd behavior and his strange habits of speech and his inability to focus. She uses the recent example of Drumpf’s encounter with The Washington Post’s editorial board, a member of which had asked the candidate about whether he might use nuclear weapons against ISIS:

DRUMPF: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way, he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…

POST: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?

DRUMPF: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good-looking group of people here.  Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?

McClennen writes about this bit of weirdness:

We have become so accustomed to these sorts of ramblings that we don’t really register them as anything more than standard nonsensical Trump-speak—a pattern of speech we have seen crop up across the GOP in recent years, most notably in Palin’s gibberish.  But I urge you to re-read the exchange above and register the range of nonsense—the lack of basic grammar, the odd syntax, the abrupt shift in topic, the disconnect from reality, the paranoia, and the seeming inability to even grasp the question.

The writer then asks whether Drumpf’s campaign gives us a clue that the candidate is more than “a savvy politician channeling Tea Party political rhetoric and reality TV sound bites,” that he might be “an example of someone who doesn’t have full command of his faculties.” She goes on to sort of indict a larger group of folks:

At times it can be very hard to distinguish between extreme right-wing politics and symptoms of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that if two of the following core mental functions seem impaired then it is time to seek medical help: Memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, visual perception.  Alzheimer’s carries other symptoms besides memory loss including difficulty remembering newly learned information, disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes.

Does she go too far? And does she go beyond what the evidence suggests when she writes:

Much to the chagrin of the reasonable conservatives who wonder what has happened to their party, it is now often difficult to distinguish Republican rhetoric from the ravings of someone suffering from diminished mental capacity.

Let me start by admitting the obvious. I’m not a doctor of any kind, nor do I know Drumpf in any other way than from his public appearances. Thus, I am not going to say there is something mentally wrong with the guy, other than he acts like there is. Likewise, I am not going to say that extremist right-wingers are literally sick people. I know plenty of them who are quite clearly not mentally impaired in any way but who still believe what I consider to be crazy shit. So, I think it is a little irresponsible to go so far as Sophia McClennen did in her piece. Besides that, there are plenty of people on the left who believe crazy shit, too.

But—you knew there was a but, right?—I will say this: I am worried about the state of mind of people who will believe unbelievable things just because those things fit into the way they model the world, or who won’t take a minute to critically ask whether there is any real evidence for their beliefs. Some people, for instance, believe when bad things happen, like when the AIDS crisis came upon us or when Hurricane Katrina hit, that God is judging us for our sins. Is believing that a form of mental impairment?

Other folks believe that chemtrails may have killed Merle Haggard and Prince. Don’t believe me? Just look at a headline from the right-wing conspiracy site, Infowars:


Are folks who believe that nuts? You can go on that website, which is run by a strange and
dangerous man named Alex Jones—who also has a show on which Drumpf has appeared—and find all kinds of stuff that makes you wonder whether folks who take any of that stuff seriously are in their right minds. And you can do the same thing on Facebook or other social media, where many of these ridiculous conspiracy theories get replicated on a massive scale by earnest believers passing them on to friends and family.

But Drumpf isn’t just an ordinary person with a Facebook or Twitter account. He is the front-runner for the presidential nomination handed out by the Republican Party. So, it is natural that we hold him to a higher level of scrutiny than Grandma Orleta passing on some Obama-cancelled-the-National-Day-of-Prayer nonsense as a kindly warning to her fellow Christians. And when we look at Drumpf closely, we do find a man who could be mistaken for someone with a serious mental flaw, someone who often appears to be untethered to reality.

Without even exploring the fact that he has no real understanding of most of the issues of the day—an odd thing itself for someone running for president—the biggest example of his detachment from the way things are is his fondness for, or entertainment of, conspiracy theories. Most famously, of course, is his utter fascination with Obama’s birthplace and the easily falsifiable idea that the president wasn’t born where he obviously was born. The press has nearly forgotten about this weird fascination and I won’t go into the details here. But I can’t remember the last time he was asked to account for it, despite the fact that it should come up again and again because it reveals something important about the way Drumpf’s mind works—or doesn’t work.

I mentioned Alex Jones, the king of kooky conspiracists. As Mother Jones reported, after Antonin Scalia died, Jones speculated on his show that Obama “killed him, and all the intellectual evidence lays it out.” The next day, as it happened, Drumpf appeared on Michael Savage’s radio show—Savage is another conspiracy lover—and was asked about Scalia’s death. Here’s how Mother Jones wrote it up:

Savage raised the possibility that Scalia had been murdered, and asked Trump whether an immediate autopsy was necessary.

“Well, I just heard today and that was just a little while ago actually—you know I just landed and I’m hearing it’s a big topic—that’s the question,” Trump said. “And it’s a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”

Now, it isn’t just the fact that Scalia was not found with a pillow on his face or that Scalia, for God’s sake, was 79 years old and could easily have passed on quite naturally, as most people lucky enough to live that long or longer do. It is the fact that a man running for president, for leader of the free world, would first go on a thoroughly disreputable show like The Savage Nation and then, without knowing anything about the subject, say something based only on the kind of rumors one would find coming from conspiracy junkies. “I’m hearing it’s a big topic,” Drumpf said. And, as far as I can tell, no one has ever asked him from where he heard such a thing. But it is important. And, again, it says something about the mechanics of his mind.

So, too, does his disturbing refusal to accept real knowledge about vaccinations and autism, around which survives one of those horrible conspiracy theories that some lefties, particularly lefty celebrities, push. We know today that there is no evidence that vaccinations cause autism. One study, from 1998, that argued that there may be a connection was shown to be a massive fraud and it was eventually retracted by the prestigious journal that published it. But despite all the evidence against a connection, Drumpf has continued, as late as a debate in September of last year, to perpetuate the dangerous myth that there is a connection. We have to ask: What kind of mind won’t surrender to the facts?

Finally, there is Drumpf’s less well-known flirtation with another mind-numbing and terribly dangerous conspiracy. Like many Republican politicians and pundits, Drumpf doesn’t believe global warming is real. Last November he tweeted:

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

This theory is a new twist on an old theme, popularized by Rush Limbaugh a long, long time ago, that the entire climate change issue is being used by Democrats and other socialists [sic] to get their hands on and subsequently destroy capitalism. So, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that February and March of this year were the warmest, by far, of any two of those months on record, that doesn’t mean a thing. The conspiracy will live on in the minds of too many people, despite the facts. And in light of that, we are entitled to ask: Does the fact that evidence, real evidence from real climate scientists, has no effect on the brain state of Donald Drumpf mean that there is something inherently wrong with his brain?

Such questions are essential when considering a president. We need someone whose mind, at least eventually, bends to the will of the facts, who won’t persist in a belief that has been proven false or never had plausibility in the first place. And whether one concludes that Drumpf is suffering from some form of dementia or whether one decides, for whatever reason, that Drumpf’s mind is just too unpredictable or unstable to install in the Oval Office, the facts are that he is showing us, day by day, tweet by tweet, that a President Drumpf would be a very dangerous man.

The Drumpf Is Still A Drumpf

Much has been made of the “change in tone” of the Republican front-runner’s victory speech last night in New York. He actually got a ton of credit from media personalities for not calling Cruz “Lyin Ted” for a change. And suddenly the nationally unpopular GOP leader has been getting a lot of credit from journalists for being “more disciplined” as a candidate. Well, as Antonin Scalia might say if he weren’t permanently visiting that great hunting ground in the sky, what a load of jiggery-pokery. Once a Drumpf always a Drumpf.

I don’t give a damn if he tidies up his act for the cameras, now that some real professionals are taking over his campaign, replacing the creepy groupies who have helped him get this far in a creepy Republican primary. He can’t un-birth his birtherism. He can’t un-bigot himself. He can’t take back all those nasty things he said about Mexicans and Muslims. He can’t suddenly cast away the David Duke-ish nature of his quasi-racist campaign or slither away from his slimy, misogynistic meanderings. He paladino and trump.jpgcan put on a Mr. Rogers mask, but underneath there will always be a Drumpf peeking out.

Just last night, while trying to sound “presidential,” there stood behind the GOP buffoon one of the most buffoonish characters in New York Republican politics, second only to Drumpf himself. His name is Carl Paladino, a prominent Drumpf surrogate who ran for governor in 2010 and promptly got crushed by Andrew Cuomo because, well, the guy is a weirdo. Oh, and he likes to promote racism, too.

And what I found amazing about all the cable TV coverage of Drumpf’s decisive victory last night, coverage in which he was given too much credit for changing his manners, no one on TV, at least that I saw, mentioned that Carl Paladino was standing right behind him on th20100409-g67jy9ubexh98eptq85jiykxjte stage. Why is that? In all the rush to anoint an allegedly new and improved GOP presidential candidate, why wouldn’t it be relevant to mention that the “more disciplined” Drumpf was sharing the stage with someone who was caught forwarding racist emails, one of which depicted President Obama as a pimp and his wife as a hooker, and another—once all the rage on white supremacist websites—that was titled “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal” and featured a video of African tribesmen dancing? Is this the way the straight media are going to cover a slicker Drumpf from now on? Just ignore shit?

I doubt it. After journalists get over the shock of Drumpf’s slight change in campaign etiquette, Hillary Clinton will be around to remind them all of just how bad even a lipsticked Drumpf really is.

Black Lives Matter Vs. Democrats?

I have avoided the entire controversy surrounding the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994, Hillary Clinton’s use of the word “superpredator” in a speech at New Hampshire’s Keene State College in 1996, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement’s protests at Democratic events. I just haven’t wanted to get into it.

Since Bernie Sanders was essentially forced to surrender the microphone to a Black Lives Matter activist last summer; since Hillary Clinton was confronted in South Carolina a few months ago by a Black Lives Matter activist demanding the candidate apologize because “I’m not a super-predator Hillary Clinton”; since Bill Clinton was confronted during a speech the other day by someone holding a sign that read, “Black youth are not super predators”; and since Bernie Sanders has now somewhat unfairly exploited what Bill had to say to those protesters, it’s time now to address it, even though some folks won’t like what I have to say.

First, the context of that 1994 bill. Steve Drizin, a law professor who has written a lot about “juvenile justice, wrongful convictions, and false confessions,” wrote:

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was a rapid increase in violent crime on the streets of many urban centers in the country. Much of this violence was related to the crack cocaine trade and some of this violence was committed by youthful offenders. Adult gang members recruited teens as their child soldiers, armed them with high-powered weaponry, and dispatched them to do battle over with other gangs over turf in the drug trade.

That is what Bill Clinton was referring to last week when he was defending both Hillary and his record as president and, probably too aggressively, said this to the Black Lives Matter protesters:

I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack, sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t! You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter! Tell the truth. You are defending the people who cause young people to go out and take guns.

Bernie Sanders then chimed in and tried to take political advantage, while he was in Harlem, of Clinton’s “unacceptable” remarks. The Washington Post reported it this way:

“We all know what the term meant in the context that it was said years ago,” Sanders said after the applause died down. “We know who they were talking about.”

“Black people,” yelled someone in the audience.

“That’s exactly right,” Sanders said, “and I think the president owes the American people an apology for trying to defend what’s indefensible.”

Let’s stop here for a moment and take a breath. Let’s look at some facts. First, that 1994 Crime Bill enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. And many black leaders and activists, responding to rampant crime in their cities related to drugs, also supported the bill, cbc vote on crime billincluding two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus. Oh, and so did Bernie Sanders. Not only did Sanders vote for the bill, he used that vote in his campaign for Senate in 2006 to make the point that he was “tough on crime.” And while a little less outrage from him about President Clinton’s recent remarks would have been nice, given his position in the past, I don’t really mind Bernie playing politics with this issue, since he is, despite what some of his most ardent followers seem to believe, a politician.

In any case, both Bill and Hillary Clinton have admitted that they regret parts of the 1994 Crime Bill and have argued that reforms are needed to fix some of its negative consequences, like over-incarceration. In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s first big policy speech of this campaign was about criminal justice reform. Hillary has also apologized for using the term “superpredator” in that 1996 speech—the term was coined in this context by a Republican political scientist named John Dilulio, who also now regrets both the term and the policies built around it because “demography is not fate and criminology is not pure science.” Here are the original remarks from Hillary Clinton’s now-infamous New Hampshire speech:

They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘superpredators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.

Mrs. Clinton said the following to The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, after an activist in South Carolina confronted her about the above remarks:

In that speech, I was talking about the impact violent crime and vicious drug cartels were having on communities across the country and the particular danger they posed to children and families.  Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.

My life’s work has been about lifting up children and young people who’ve been let down by the system or by society.  Kids who never got the chance they deserved.  And unfortunately today, there are way too many of those kids, especially in African-American communities.  We haven’t done right by them.  We need to.  We need to end the school to prison pipeline and replace it with a cradle-to-college pipeline.

As an advocate, as First Lady, as Senator, I was a champion for children.  And my campaign for president is about breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of all kids, so every one of them can live up to their God-given potential.

So, we can see that Mrs. Clinton has learned something in 20 years. Isn’t that a good thing? And, as Capehart points out, Bernie Sanders, while voting for the Crime Bill and using it to make him look tough on crime, did have wise reservations at the time. In a floor speech in 1994, Sanders said:

Mr. Speaker, it is my firm belief that clearly, there are some people in our society who are horribly violent, who are deeply sick and sociopathic, and clearly these people must be put behind bars in order to protect society from them. But it is also my view that through the neglect of our Government and through a grossly irrational set of priorities, we are dooming tens of millions of young people to a future of bitterness, misery, hopelessness, drugs, crime, and violence.

Capehart, who is an African-American columnist, wrote:

No one would question Sanders’s commitment to justice before or after he voted for the crime bill. Nor should anyone do the same to Clinton, who didn’t even have a vote. Sure, her words sting in the light of 2016, but they should not blind anyone to what she did before and after she uttered those 42 words in the span of 12 seconds.

All of this leads me to the part that will likely get me in trouble with some folks. I’m a white guy from Kansas who now lives in a mostly-white part of southwest Missouri. It happens that, growing up in Kansas, I lived around a lot of African-Americans. I lived in a fairly poor neighborhood. The old dodge, I’m-not-a-racist-because-I-have-black-friends, was actually true of me when I was younger. I did have black friends, good friends. To the extent that a young white kid could understand what it meant to be black in this society—and I admit that ain’t much—I tried my best to understand. I always have.

I have written a lot on this blog about the unfair and demonizing way police, and the larger white society that usually supports them no matter the circumstances, too-often treat African-Americans, especially young males. I have written a lot about the white angst that leads to so much of what we have seen in hate-filled Republican politics, especially as regards the treatment of President Obama. I have written a lot about the attempts of white Republicans to suppress the votes of blacks and Latinos. I have done my best to understand, as an adult, what I tried hard to understand as a teenager, when I was hanging out with my African-American friends: why are so many white people afraid of, or disdainful of, black people?

Thus, I think I understand the point of the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe I get it. In too many cases, black lives haven’t seemed to matter all that much to those entrusted to protect them: the government, in the form of people wearing uniforms and badges. And in too many cases white people in general overlook or excuse the injustices done to Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland and Walter Scott and countless others, injustices done not just by the police, but by prosecutors and courts.

But here is what I don’t understand about the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t understand that rudely conducted protest at a Bernie Sanders rally last August. I don’t understand that rudely conducted protest at a Hillary Clinton event in South Carolina in February. I don’t understand that rudely conducted protest recently during a speech given by a former Democratic president trying to help his wife get into a position where she can beat a Republican in November. While I understand holding Democrats accountable, I don’t understand either the rudeness in doing so or what seems to me to be a lack of focus, at this crucial point in a presidential campaign, on who the most egregious offender in all this is: the Republican Party, both nationally and at the state and local level.

Republicans have stood in the way of criminal justice and other reforms. Republicans have almost always defended the most outrageous actions by police. Republicans, almost everywhere they’re in control, are trying to suppress black voters and voices. Republicans have as their front-runner a candidate for whom white supremacists have openly campaigned and supported, a candidate who had trouble disavowing David Duke and who doesn’t think our first African-American president is legitimate. Republicans have another leading candidate who defended his father’s remark that President Obama should be sent “back to Kenya” and whose signature issue in the Senate and in his campaign is repealing ObamaCare, a program that has greatly helped African-Americans and would help them even more if Republican governors and state legislators would expand Medicaid in their states, many of them poor states in the South with large African-American populations.

I know there have been many protests at Drumpf rallies by members of the Black Lives Matter movement. But not enough. And not enough at Cruz rallies. And especially not enough at rallies for Republican candidates for all offices, at all levels of government. The focus and overwhelming political force should be on where the biggest problem is now, not on the sins of the past by the Democratic Party, sins that go all the way back to supporting slavery and Jim Crow and, yes, to overreacting in the 1990s to outrageous violence in our cities.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both supported the Crime Bill in 1994, a bill that was trying to tackle what was then perceived as a real problem and a bill that did some good things but had some bad consequences for African-Americans. However, both Hillary and Bernie have expressed their unequivocal support for reforms that would help fix some of the problems that old legislation didn’t create but contributed to. And it’s not that either should be given a pass now, but it seems to me that there are more important things for the Black Lives Matter movement to do than so aggressively confront two people who are their clear allies.

The most prominent targets these days, of both their wrath and their efforts to hold public officials and offenders accountable, should be those folks with that “R” featured proudly by their names, those who try to suppress and thereby silence black voters, who crave “states’ rights” to protect their pedigree of white privilege, and who—like here in the state of Missouri where all the Republican gubernatorial candidates have said they will support Donald Drumpf—would eventually, if necessary, embrace a man for president who is little more than a race-baiting bigot.

Advice To The Left: Leave The Paranoia To The Experts

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, host Brian Stelter began the program with a segment on the “troubling behavior by Donald Trump’s right hand man, campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.” It was almost as if CNN just now discovered that there reliable sourceswas anything “troubling” about Drumpf’s campaign at all, let alone what his gangsterish groupies, including those working for him, have been doing at his hateful rallies for months now. But at least, you may have noticed, CNN and MSNBC have lately been critical of some aspects of Drumpf’s effort to become con man-in-chief. That’s a good thing. But.

A guest on the segment, Jeff Greenfield—a television journalist whose political experience goes back to 1960s—made the point that “an appetite for the ratings” has turned much of cable news into Castro-like “state TV” on behalf of Drumpf. Greenfield also made an additional point about the kind of journalism we have been seeing since the GOP front-runner hit the stage with his bigoted act:

I think the desire to have him on—and the unpreparedness of so many of the people interviewing him—will stand for a long time as a serious black mark on the American press.

That indictment is true enough and bad enough. But perhaps Greenfield’s most important point was something else he noted, what he called “one of the essential questions.” He explained:

reliable sources and greenfieldAs the media, some of it, had gotten critical about Trump, it has had no effect on his support, and one of the really central questions we’re going to have to face is whether a chunk of the American electorate has been taught to distrust the media so long and so completely that even when the media zeroes in on some of Trump’s blatant falsehoods or the dangerous rhetoric, his supporters say, “Oh, that’s coming from The New York Times or CNN or in some cases even FOX. We don’t believe it.”

And the whole theory about what the press is supposed to do in a free society, to put spotlights on political people seeking power…we may be in a situation where a fairly large chunk of the United States electorate is saying, “We don’t care what you say. We don’t believe you. If Trump says it, it’s true.”

And that’s a real problem. I don’t know how we deal with that.

Yes. It’s a real problem. And I don’t know how we deal with it either. For years, going at least back to William F. Buckley’s dominance of the movement, conservatives have always distrusted journalists who weren’t conservative. Beginning in the 1980s, right-wing radio made a fetish out of attacking mainstream journalism, with Rush Limbaugh calling it the “drive-by media” because it was, in his paranoid, ideological mind, completely biased in favor of liberals. In fact, there was so much distrust of the press, so much of a market for niche journalism that would tell conservatives what they wanted to hear, that a new cable channel, masquerading as a news channel, was born. And now, ironically, many conservatives, as Greenfield noted, don’t even trust Fox to bring them “the truth.”

But, sadly, it’s not just conservatives these days who are sowing seeds of distrust by attacking the press. Some liberals are doing it too. And such liberal attacks would be okay, if they were actually making specific, valid claims of bias—for instance, lefty Amy Goodman was also on “Reliable Sources” and she made the point that, in 2015, Drumpf “got 23 times the coverage of Bernie Sanders”—rather than just blanket statements that, like what conservatives do, sow general distrust of mainstream journalism. If journalistic malpractice is going on, liberals (or conservatives) should point it out, but they should be specific and not generalize. A general distrust of the mainstream press hurts the country by making us collectively dumber.

Let me give you just one example of such a harmful generalization coming from a liberal, an example from this morning. Robert Reich—a man whose opinion I normally greatly respect—tweeted the following:

reich tweet on bernie

Now, I listened to right-wing talk radio religiously for almost two decades, mostly as a right-winger myself, and I can say that the phrase, “Pay no attention to the national media, who want you to think” is exactly the kind of phrase that would, day after day, slide off the lips of Limbaugh, Hannity, and all the other conservative zealots on the air. And it’s the kind of claim that goes to what Greenfield was talking about when he said a “large chunk” of the electorate so distrusts the press that they simply refuse to believe even basic facts.

delegate count march 21 2016I realize Robert Reich is a fierce Bernie Sanders supporter. Fine and dandy. He can say all kinds of nice things about Bernie and even tell people the race is not yet over if he wants to. But come on. Just because journalists are, quite accurately, reporting how exceedingly difficult the math is for a Bernie comeback, that doesn’t mean Bernie supporters should undermine the role of journalism by resorting to that old Limbaughesque “they want you to think” nonsense. I see no difference between saying, as Greenfield put it, “We don’t care what you say. We don’t believe you. If Trump says it, it’s true,” and “We don’t care what you say. We don’t believe you. If Bernie says it, it’s true.”

The press, particularly television journalism, has a lot to answer for regarding the Drumpfing of America, that’s for sure. The CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, did really say that Drumpf’s presidential run was a “good thing,” mostly, I am sure, because of what he also said: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Thus, it is completely fair to criticize on-air journalists and their producers and their corporate bosses for specific cases of malpractice, like the way coverage of Drumpf has been handled since last summer. But the conspiratorial rubbish—“Pay no attention to the national media, who want you to think”—is the kind of paranoia that belongs on the right, not on the left.

We should be better than that.

[Delegate graph: AP]
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