Tuesday, July 19, 2016

This is the bed you have made

So... yeah. As I was saying before, this is what happens when utter incompetence becomes the order of the day. Under ordinary circumstances, you'd have to work quite hard to pull off a display that bad but these are, as the proverb says, interesting times and, therefore, not ordinary. The above summary, which was reproduced on Twitter and in various spots around the Intertubes (I wish I knew who originally wrote it so I could give credit; feel free to comment if you know from whence it originates), doesn't even include what I thought was the pinnacle moment. That was when the live chat on the Youtube broadcast of the convention was shut down by the Grand Old Party because an actual elected official there to speak positively about Trump (precious few of those), was given a typical response by a portion of the Donald's base. See, Linda Lingle, the former governor of Hawaii, happens to be Jewish. Consequently, it took not very long for the anti-Semites to come creeping into the daylight of their monitors and begin reciting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Trump's new campaign slogan could be a self-reflective one: This is the bed you have made. That would, of course, require that the candidate be capable of any kind of reflection that didn't involve a mirror.

The biggest story was the one about Melania Trump lifting portions of Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic convention speech for her performance last night. Some questions on the board were posed about how this could even be possible since it was such an obvious gaffe and suggested that it was an inside job of some sort. My response is to cite the first rule of political journalism, which goes back at least to Goethe and has been much paraphrased since then (and he probably swiped it, too): Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. The Trump campaign has demonstrated an astounding talent for incompetence to date. Last night is just a continuation of that pattern. If the only people you can hire are fools and, even worse in this context, fools that have never run a major political campaign, this is what you'll get. Even Paul Manafort, interim campaign manager and veteran of campaigns going back to the mid-70s, has only ever been a consultant. He's good at putting out fires. But the Trump campaign is an inferno, lit largely by the misplaced anger of his base.

Based on my response to that question, another regular suggested that if the campaign is this bad, what happens when Trump has to hire people to actually run the government? Who will want to work with him? Who will he allow to work with him and his ego? Won't this be a disaster of Biblical proportions?!!

That answer is a bit more nuanced (inasmuch as anything can be nuanced that involves The Donald.) The federal government is a huge and lethargic entity, as any Trump supporter will be glad to tell you (many of them while cashing checks.) There's a certain degree of autonomy and inertia at the Cabinet level that tends to persist unless there's a crisis. That's how we got "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job!",because nobody really gave a shit who the apparatchik was that was running FEMA until he actually, you know, had to do something. A lot of people get into Cabinet posts as simply a way into the Beltway circles (I will forever recommend Mark Leibovich's This Town on this topic; it is, without a doubt, the best book on modern politics that I've ever read) so they can make money post-"public service." As long as nothing too crisis-like happens, they coast and get paid handsomely by whomever they've made deals with while in office and the country isn't too much the worse for wear. Or they take all of that inside knowledge and use it to exploit the system, typically working against the very interests they were supposed to be supporting while in office. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you former Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.

Obviously, State and a couple other agencies are a bit more pertinent to the hourly situation in the world, but that's just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in a Trump administration, anyway, since he'll be the equivalent of the racist old uncle that everyone endures at Thanksgiving in almost any situation. In the event of President Trump, I won't be able to sit still thinking about that loon at a state dinner with any national leader from a culture that's not white. Or France. The comedic possibilities are almost limitless.

But in terms of how disastrous his election could be, my suspicion is that there's not a ton of difference, tonally, between Trump's band of anti-government newcomers and the cadre of hardcore Cold Warriors that George W. Bush brought with him. They're both so suffused in their own ideology that it doesn't matter if reality conflicts with it. It's almost solipsistic. I remember that a year or so after the Iraq invasion, there was an interview in the NYT magazine where Ron Suskind sat down with some flack from the White House who decried the "reality-based community" (i.e. all of us) because they (the GWB administration) "create our own reality... and you'll just be left to study what we do." Does that sound like a quote that could emerge from the Great Oompah Loompah? It does to me. Bush did a lot of damage, but he basically just kept pursuing the policies that have been part of our government for a long time. The Iraq War is, of course, the huge, glaring exception but I'd suggest that Trump, xenophobe that he is, would be even less likely to hie off on some military adventure than Clinton, as she's expressed far more interest during her career of laying waste to whomever even thinks of threatening US cash flow. Plus, she'll carry the burden of constantly having to prove her "toughness" as a consequence of her gender because, y'know, American society is stupid like that. Yes, Trump may decide to spend billions on a sixty-foot wall, but he'll at least be creating a market for sixty-one-foot ladders, so.., job creation! Woo.

What that means, of course, is that the suggested campaign slogan isn't just for the Trump campaign. It's for the American electorate as a whole. This is what's been presented to you as "choice" by those that control the message, backed up as they are by nebulous things like "tradition" and the fallacious concepts of "wasting your vote" and so on ("Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past.") There are other choices out there. You don't have to lie down in that bed and take only what you're offered. I do, however, suggest that you take time out to watch the rest of the GOP convention, because it's going to continue to be high comedy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Faceplant of the "outsiders"

Donald Trump's campaign for president has been emblematic of many things: the celebrity nature of modern politics, the phenomenon of more information leading to greater ignorance, and the color orange.

But, in a pragmatic sense, it has been a greater example of another concept: This is what happens when people have no idea what they're doing. Today's moment has been brought to us by The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/04/donald-trump-antisemitic-hillary-clinton-tweet

Right away, depending on your inherent perspective, you're probably thinking one of two things: 1. This is just another example of Trump's/the campaign's/his supporters' obvious biases. or 2. This is 'the media' overreacting. Given the small number of people who read this blog, my bet is that the majority of you are thinking #1. But what you should be thinking is: Who the hell does this in a major political campaign?

Trump's supporters laud the fact that he's a "political outsider". He's never held elected office or even run a campaign for one. Given the Donald's notorious ego, it's not surprising that he'd try to start at the top. But if you are going to go big-time and have generated a substantial amount of support (which he has), the first thing you should think of doing as the presumed outsider is finding people that know how to play the game. You can say that you're not on anyone's payroll and that's a positive thing. But if you're going to run a major campaign, you want people on your payroll that know how to steer the battleship that your effort is going to become (whether you like it or not.) I've kinda been there. When I was chair of GPMI, during our first major election season post-Nader, I pushed the idea that we, as the outsider party, should look for people who didn't seem like the typical political candidates, since that's what people inclined to vote for us would find more appealing. I was wrong. Several of the people that we had on our ticket were simply not suited to the task and the people they had around them to ostensibly help in that task were, likewise, not up to it.

This latest story about Trump's efforts is the primo example to date of why you hire campaign staff with, you know, actual experience running a campaign: 1. So you don't have staffers apparently pulling images from toxic sources (unless you're really interested in promoting your half-assed Nazi connections.) 2. So you don't have said images roll all the way up the chain of approval without someone saying the obvious: "Um, doesn't that look like a Star of David on a pile of money?" 3. So you have enough experienced eyes looking at the image and asking: "Tell me again why you think anyone would assume that's a sheriff's badge and why we'd assume that that would make people think of corruption, especially among GOP voters where law enforcement is usually supported, if not venerated?" This is basic stuff and, even if it was a kneejerk Tweet and, boy, is Donald J. Trump known for kneejerk Tweets (and I don't think it was, since it was a targeted response), you still need someone overseeing ALL external communications by the campaign. Anything. Period. Full stop.

Granted, people are hypersensitive to that kind of imagery.(unless that image actually came from a white supremacist website, in which case, WTF are your staffers doing there?) but, given that, you have to be aware that people are hypersensitive to that kind of imagery. Trump's campaign is already fighting an uphill battle because of his previous (and continuous) statements of idiocy, so you have to know that everything is going to be interpreted through that prism. Everyone knows this, but these people are so out of their depth that this is like watching a David Blaine trick go awry: Man Actually Drowns in Front of Crowd.

It's one thing to be an outsider because you're saying something new. It's another thing to be an outsider because everything you're saying is repellent except to the minor band of crazies that make your public appearances look like a cross between a rock concert and a Klan rally. Good luck winning a national election with that so-called strategy. On the other hand, it is a source of constant entertainment in a period lacking it (which is why I stopped reviewing Preacher; I'll write something about that soon.)