Friday, November 11, 2016

The ego begins

One thing to keep in mind is that Donald J. Trump is not the typical Republican. There's nothing particularly "conservative" about him, especially when it comes to being recognized as the smartest guy in the room. Anyone who remembers this

should understand that easily. So this article by Politico should already be tickling some Democrats.
“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” Trump said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure — which will become, by the way, second to none — and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”
You're looking at every county commissioner and city mayor whose jurisdiction contains one or more of the above.
Trump wants to be known as the 21 century's Justinian II; the guy who saved/restored the Roman Empire (kinda... for a few years.) You can't have that if The Beast is dodging potholes every time the president goes out to review the peasants. This is part of why people like Paul Ryan and mainstream Republicans were leery of getting on board with Trump in the first place. He doesn't play ball in the typical DC fashion and will be loathe to abandon any project that makes him look the magnanimous overlord to plighted Americans. He doesn't answer to the donor class and he doesn't really care about "conservative principles." The problem for all of us is that he doesn't really care about anything that doesn't burnish the image of Trump. But navigating those waters while watching Ryan and Co. wrestle with the more hardcore budgetarians in the House will be endlessly entertaining.

And the crowner of that piece is, of course, the quote from the Heritage Foundation's Dan Holler:
“It would be a mistake to prioritize Big Government endeavors over important issues like repealing Obamacare, reforming our regulatory system and expanding domestic energy production,” Holler said. “Along with confirming a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, these are the type of legislative efforts that will help anxious families and folks struggling all across the country.”
'Cuz, y'know, every former pipefitter stuck working at Home Depot that I know is direly concerned about how a conservative justice on the Court or the profits of Chevron will help his anxious family. I mean, seriously, how could you be thinking about anything else while working for $10 an hour? Priorities, yo.

Going back to the well

Here we are, two days out, and I've been involved in a number of conversations with people trying to understand the whys and wherefores of president-elect, Donald J. Trump. I get that. It's a surprising turn of events for many people who figured there was no way that the voting public could be so irrational as to elect that idiot. But I don't think irrationality is the issue here. I've also been involved in a couple conversations wherein people objected to my overtly humorous reaction to the election. I get that, too. A lot of people are frightened of what a Trump administration could look like, especially as we are now regaled with stories of who is under consideration: Ann Coulter, Myron Ebell, Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, etc. A couple things about that:
  • My sense of humor has been described as anything from "macabre" to "quaint" because I tend to find humor in situations that many people find abhorrent. There's a certain level of cosmic perspective ("Nothing will ever match the depredations that would accompany the world being taken over by Yog-Sothoth!") but it's often a Robert Frost thing ("If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.")
  • I TOTALLY called the Palin as Secretary of the Interior thing. There's no better indication of a collection of people that have no clue as to how government (to say nothing of Interior) actually functions than to believe that she's the right choice for that post.
  • Ann Coulter as White House press secretary. Can't you just imagine Trump barging onto the dais in the press room to interrupt Coulter saying something outrageous with a pronouncement that's even MORE outrageous? Pardon me while I convulse with laughter again. It helps if you have absolutely zero respect for most of these institutions as a whole, given that they largely deserve none.
 Those people all sound horrible for those of us actually concerned about things like, say, climate change or police-community relations. But what concerns me even more is the number of Democratic voters and media types who are continuing with the "race" and "likeability" angles as to why Hillary Clinton lost to the most outrageous and incompetent candidate and campaign in the last century.

Race is a factor, as David Duke and his execrable ilk are now happy to tell you. Clinton's difficulties on the stage and with regular folks are a factor, as has been cited often. But just because some of Trump's supporters are bigots

and just because Clinton was a suboptimal candidate on the stump

doesn't make those the defining traits of her loss. Anyone remember what Bill Clinton's in-house slogan was for his campaign in 1992?

And there you go. When you have a block of voters that have missed out on the benefits of the "new economy" and are, at best, serially lied to by politicians promising to help them or, at worst, are labeled as losers by the media for not succeeding in said "new economy", presenting them with a candidate whose message is just more of the same is a sure recipe for disaster. The only thing that kept this race close for Clinton was the fact that Trump is such a horrible human being (and who goes on trial for fraud in a couple weeks. 'Merica!) If she'd been running against Romney, it would have been a slaughter. But, again, one of the reasons someone like Romney or Jeb Bush didn't get nominated is that they represent the same things Clinton does: Goldman Sachs, concentration of weatlh, and continued oligarchy. In the emails that were hacked from the DNC, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress put it best:
“I mean it makes my life more difficult after telling every reporter I know she’s actually progressive but that is really the smallest of issues. It worries me more that she doesn’t seem to know what planet we are all living in at the moment.”
Here's a hint: She doesn't.

So, what now? Well, what this presents us with now is opportunity. Yes, the next four years are going to be a bit of a trial with the GOP controlling all of the government and that idiot loose in the White House. But the opportunity comes in the fact that so many people dread that reality. This should be a galvanizing event. Don't be one of those Facebook warriors screeching at me about how others are going to suffer more than I am. I'm aware of that. What I'm saying is that there were plenty of people already suffering, including those highlighted by the keyboard champions whose only real expression of concern was to hit a Paypal button to toss $20 toward the Clinton campaign and feel like they were "contributing" to anything other than a stagnant edifice that's already rolling in cash, thanks. Again, borrowing from people who are likely expressing it better than I am, take a listen to Marc Lamont Hill on The Breakfast Club from a few months back:

The pertinent stuff begins at the 11:05 mark, but the whole thing is worth a watch, as he's a very interesting guy. But, in short, what he says is that he's not interested in voting for the same thing that continues to not work and a Trump presidency may be the thing that gets the majority of people to finally fight back against a system that is largely designed to make them passive observers (i.e. the equivalent of walking into a voting booth every four years), rather than active participants.

We can't just keep dismissing this event as the work of closed-minded racists. That's missing the point. The point is that a genuinely democratic and/or representative republic has to work for more than just the wealthy and ours simply doesn't.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So, here's the thing

When this whole thing started and I was as surprised as anyone that a narcissistic buffoon with little record of accomplishing anything without someone else's money (i.e. Daddy's) was going to be the Republican nominee for president, I told several people that it would be the most fitting result possible for modern American politics and, if he did win, I was going to laugh my ass off. You'll have to pardon the exaggeration of intensity, because I actually dozed off while reading tonight (and, yes, ignoring election results) and when I woke up, the media were declaring President Trump. The first thing I did?

I'm letting this picture break the margin because... yeah.
I mean, actually, it was me laughing and the cats looking at me with exasperation like I know so many other people in my life will, but this is a pretty good representation. Everyone is going to try to highlight this or that factor that supposedly led to this result, be it emails or racists or a supposed reluctance to keep the same party in office, three terms in a row. But that last one is kind of crucial because, in the end, they're all the same party.

"What?!!", you scream. "There's no way you can compare that bigoted man-child to any rational candidate!" Oh, but I can, because he's part of the same class of people that own both major parties and, in effect, make them essentially the same party. So is Hillary Clinton. And there's your problem. That problem isn't bigotry or ignorance or religion or ideology, although all of those do contribute to the mess. That problem is money; who has it and who doesn't.

I hang out on a lot of gamer sites, both electronic and the old-fashioned cardboard type. Games are kind of a dominant hobby in my life, whether watching them (Michigan, Liverpool) or playing them or both. Strangely enough, I detested the game theory side of political science when I was in school. But a few months back, there was a post on a gaming forum (Fortress: Ameritrash) that called for people to register to vote in the upcoming election because of the perceived importance of the result. This forum has a number of regulars from around the world, so many of them chimed in with questions about the impending election and why Americans didn't go to the polls and so on. Someone suggested it was simply a matter of laziness on the part of the electorate. My response was this:

We might get better turnout if, like every other modernized nation, people had the day off to vote. We also would get better turnout if people thought their vote actually had an impact on the process by getting rid of the Electoral College and instituting ranked (or instant runoff) voting, so that there would be more viable candidates in the race and an actual choice for many people. You can't blame people for not participating if they've been told that either they have no choice but to vote for someone they find detestable or that their choice doesn't matter at all. And that they should spend hours standing in line away from their families and their jobs while they're making that useless or nonexistent choice. When people are encouraged to not participate, they won't. You can't castigate them for that.
At that point, someone asked for a perspective on the current state of American politics. I've been, uh, out of the scene for a few years, but I like to think that I still have a grasp of some of the nuances, so I chimed back in:

Just to clarify my perspective and position, I built the Green Party from the ground up in the state of Michigan and chaired it for 5 years, so those are my politics. However, I spent a long time trying to deal with the tunnel-visioned in those circles, who often declared that if you weren't part of the solution (that they would happily remonstrate to you at all times), then you were part of the problem. Needless to say, this is how so many good ideas get marginalized, as people attempt to be "Greener than thou" or whatever label they choose to follow or affix. I'm not active anymore for a variety of reasons, but I still know a lot of people in various political circles, on the Hill, etc. and I still like to drop into local meetings and have been, for example, to several Tea Party gatherings over the past few years because I like to know what people are saying and thinking, rather than what other people SAY "those people" are saying and thinking. 
The mood in the US right now isn't especially positive and it's driven by a number of things but, at root, the problem is economic. America, the Land of Opportunity is no longer so for the vast majority of the population and that trend has finally enveloped the bulk of the white population, who were the ones who most believed in the concept of that opportunity because it was sold to them from every politician, every neighbor, and every form of media. The American Dream is kinda dead. This is why Avik Roy, a fairly prominent conservative thinker, said the other day that the GOP is dying because it can no longer mask the fact that its central ideology isn't economic conservatism, but, rather, white nationalism. They can't sell the former idea because the concept of moving up the economic ladder is no longer a sure thing, hard work or no. So they've had to rely on the latter idea since Goldwater and it's only accelerated in the past couple decades. The frustration, on the left and the right, is paramount. This is why Donald Trump is where he is. 
Think about it: This is a man who, in the course of the past week, dismissed the Geneva conventions, talked about exiting NATO and then the amount of money the other members would have to toss at the US to rejoin, suggested that the president of Russia should release more negative info about Trump's primary electoral rival, and refused to release his tax returns. Any one of those statements or actions would be heavy damage, if not death, to any normal campaign. But Trump's supporters don't give a shit about any of that because it doesn't matter to what's in front of them right now. What's in front of them right now is a pretty stark reality: They need an education to hopefully get a decent job, but the old reliables like law school are no longer so reliable. If they tried to get that education, they'd have to go six figures into debt and, aside from that incredible burden, who'd be working to support their family (whether it be children or parents)? Meanwhile, they're still constantly berated by the stories of the success of the 1% and told that if they work hard they, too, can be "successful". But the reality says that that won't be the case and so now they're looking for answers. Trump is providing those answers in the simplest manner possible and using tried and true methods that are inherent to American politics from the dawn of its existence. Race has always been an element of American politics since before those fabled founding documents were written and it always will be. It will always be easy to divert people's attention from the real cause of their troubles (lack of opportunity caused by the concentration of wealth) to some other vague reason that usually involves people who look differently (race) or act differently (sexuality) or worship differently (obvs.) 
What's accelerated the process in the past 20 years is this thing we're currently all sitting on: the Internet. It is, in turn, the greatest and worst communication device ever created. It's the greatest because it allows thoughts and ideas to travel instantly around the world and for people of like mind to find each other and exchange those ideas. It's the worst because it allows people of like mind to segment themselves from the rest of humanity until they hear only what it is that they're comfortable hearing. When what you're already predisposed to believe is repeated to you hundreds of times a day, it's difficult to abandon it even when confronted by the stark reality that it's not true. That's why Trump is lauded for "telling it like it is", even when much of what he says are flat out lies. But those people that support him have been lied to constantly by "regular" politicians (like Clinton, for example) for all of their lives. Hearing different lies from a guy who clearly is not your regular politician is invigorating in a way because it provides some tiny element of hope that he might be able to turn a couple of those lies into reality, if only because he'd try to do something (outlandishly) different. And that's what most of these people are lacking: hope. In other modernized nations, you have socialized medicine, daycare, education, maternity leave, and a dozen other things that support the idea of changing your circumstances and moving on to something new and better. That's hope. That's not present in the US right now because almost none of those things are available, since American Individualism speaks against the idea of socialism in all of its forms (except when it comes to bailing out major banks, but that's another rant...) 
This is why there was so much commentary (usually in very dark terms) about how Bernie and Trump supporters were saying the same things. "But they're on opposite sides of the spectrum!", the wealthy and appropriately-threatened talking heads shrieked. No. They're just looking at the same problem from different perspectives. Trump is saying that everything is broken for one set of reasons. Bernie was saying so for a different set of reasons. Clinton, representing the "I got mine!" Democrats, is basically saying that they're both wrong and if we keep doing what we've been doing, everything will be fine. And it will be fine, for the very wealthy segment of the populace that she actually represents. But it won't be for everyone else, including the vast majority of her supporters.
That's the key, yes? As has been said so many times before, it's not about race, or sexuality, or religion, or gender. Those things all have some impact, but when we're talking identities it's really about one thing and one thing only: class. Class means money: who has it and who doesn't. Trump can't identify with the vast majority of the people who voted for him. But neither can Clinton. She travels in the same circles that he does and speaks the same language. Some may call that a necessary evil of US politics. I call it the thing that's making politics virtually irrelevant to the bulk of the population, who might just be inclined to deliver a "vote of change", as it were, no matter how apparently irrational. Yes, I realize that Nate Silver's polling data indicated that Trump's supporters, on average, were wealthier than Clinton's but somehow a good chunk of Mr. Silver's results never seem to conform to the reality that I see on the ground. One begins to question the math.

And already the howls of outrage are beginning to rise; not by Democrats against Trump and the GOP, but Democrats against anyone who didn't vote for their fatally-flawed candidate. This is identical to the situation in 2000. The Democrats put forth a candidate that really stood for no one but the money. When voters went for Bush, instead of blaming their own milquetoast efforts, they blamed minor party candidate, Ralph Nader, and, specifically, Green voters in Florida. This is despite the fact that Nader's votes in Florida were about 10% of the total of registered Democrats who voted for Bush. I suspect we will see similar results here, given that a significant number of former Obama supporters have apparently cast their lot with Trump. Once again, that outrage bespeaks a lack of understanding of or a lack of empathy for the people who, as I noted above, have little hope for improvement in their lives. Asking them to elect another Clinton when the impact of the policies of the first one (NAFTA, Reinventing Government, rescinding Glass-Steagall, Commodity Futures Modernization Act, etc., etc.) helped shape the current economic reality in largely negative ways is asking quite a bit.

But the root of that whole issue goes deeper than just venal Democrats. When discussing the minor party spoiler effect on the aforementioned forum, I also mentioned the pernicious effect of ballot access laws in many states and the denial of actual choice to much of the public, who are thus left with poor selections like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton:

Most minor parties run presidential candidates for two reasons: 1) Visibility. In a presidential year, no one pays attention if you don't have someone in the horse race. Those are also the years when most fundraising is done and the way to raise the most $ is via high profile races; presumed fool's errands or not. 2) Even more importantly, ballot access laws. See, the laws are written by Dems and Reps to ensure their dominance. The majority of states require you to get a certain percentage of the vote of the highest candidate to stay on the ballot. That's usually a presidential or senatorial race. If you don't run one, you're basically conceding your ballot access next time. Having organized multiple efforts, I can tell you that ballot access drives are often quite difficult and expensive, using time, energy, and money that could otherwise go toward those smaller campaigns. So, no, it's not just because we're all idealistic fools thinking we can win the White House. It's because the laws are written to make it as difficult as possible for the public to actually have a choice. We managed to change the law in Michigan by coordinating every minor party in the state along with a Libertarian-leaning GOP state rep and a sympathetic writer in one of the major papers. Now minor parties only need a certain percentage of the vote of any state-wide candidate, but that's an exception and we took advantage of extraordinary circumstances to get there.
Remember that all election laws are written by and for the two (one) major parties and are written to serve their interests. That primary interest is to stay in power. So, there it is.

I'm no soothsayer. As I mentioned at the start of this ramble, I was as surprised as anyone else when Trump did manage to land the nomination. But the more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense, in the same way that his victory yesterday makes sense. And here we are: President Trump. (Honestly, I convulse with laughter every time I think of that. If that idiot's term in office demonstrates anything, it will be just how absurd the whole situation has become. Non. Stop. Entertainment.) 

When the financial crisis of the last decade began in 2008, my opinion was that the only genuine way to solve many of the structural issues it revealed was to let the banks burn. There should be actual consequences for their actions and all that. Instead, they were bailed out and now wield more power than ever. Once again, we have come to a point of reflection. Will the half of the populace who didn't vote for Trump agitate in favor of actual structural change, both economically and electorally, like many of those who did vote for him apparently desire? Or will they just return to the status quo and let big money continue owning the government that's nominally of, by, and for? This would seem to be the moment to take a stand, yo. I'm just going to be over here chortling while thinking about that idiot trying to interact with other nations. Or anyone, really. His victory speech tonight was still him talking about how many generals and admirals were on his side. Hello? Donald? You won, dude. Most humans' egos would no longer need the massage. But, well, yeah... (Seriously. I can't stop laughing.)