human frailty

What They Voted For: Clash of Incivility

#antiAmerican | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of cartoon by Matt Bors, 9 February 2017.

Joe Conason asks the obvious question:

What if the purpose of the Trump administration’s travel ban is not to protect America from terrorist infiltration, as the president and his top advisers insist? What if the true aim of their anti-Muslim rhetoric, articulated over and over again, is actually to offend Muslims—and intensify their alienation from the West?

The big variable here is why. That part makes no sense.

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The Donald Trump Show (Pants on Fire)

Donald Trump announces his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in New York City, New York, 16 June 2015. (Photo: Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency)

At this point, it’s so damn ridiculous we could go on like this all day today and tomorrow and not feel any better even after Hillary Clinton wins, because, really, the Donald Trump presidential nomination is one of those American wild somethings in the whatnow that we really ought not try again, and I won’t say anything about swamp eels.

Damn it. Okay, anyway, it is easy enough to get distracted by the tale of the twitless wonder, but we might also take a moment to raise a glass to the one and only Steve Benen, who took a moment amid his own astonishment at talk of Donald Trump’s vengeful ways to appreciate a great symbol of the Republican nominee’s gaslit campaign, coming as it did while the team rallied to capitalize on James Comey’s clodhopping bombshell. Or, as the New York Timesα put it:

Stephen Bannon, CEO of Republican nominee Donald Trump's presidential campaign, meets with the Trump Hispanic Advisory Council at Trump Tower in Manhattan, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Carl Allegri/Reuters)But they insisted that to truly exploit it, Mr. Trump needed to do something he had been incapable of in the past: strictly follow instructions, let a story unfold on its own and resist the urge to endlessly bludgeon his rival.

They headed to a fleet of cars that whisked them to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Manchester, where a crowd of thousands was waiting for the candidate to take the stage.

But his aides needed time to sketch out what Mr. Trump should say―and not say. They sent Michael T. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, onstage with a mission: stall.

As the aides agonized over which words to feed into the teleprompter, they become so engrossed that a hot light set up next to the machine caused Mr. Bannon’s Kuhl hiking pants to begin smoldering.

“I think my pant leg is on fire,” he said after noticing the acrid smell.

Yes, apparently, really.

Wouldn’t it be nice to say this is one of the silver linings we get from having suffered the Donald Trump Show? After all, what better emblem of the emblematic? This is, unfortunately, the sort of experience for which there really is no excuse. And it is easy enough to say we all have played our part in American society and its reinforcement of some terrible aspects about our human frailty, but let’s face it, this time it’s pretty much all on conservatives themselves. They’re already trying to blame Democrats for Donald Trump, and the election technically hasn’t happened, yet.β

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α And hoist again for the four reporters required to bring us this heady glimpse inside Donald Trump’s existential uncertainty: Maggie Haberman, Ashley Parker, Jeremy W. Peters, and Michael Barbaro.

β Is there a rule about putting a footnote on the last sentence? In the moment, it seems like there ought to be. Nonetheless, it seems necessary to remind that the 2020 Republican presidential nomination contest is already at least informally underway; it has been since, well, before the Republican convention was over, and we even got the fun little joke last month about Kellyanne Conway pitching her credentials toward the next cycle. And, you know, it is possible Ted Cruz has already lost. Republicans are amazing, sometimes.

Image notes: Top ― Donald Trump announces his candidacy. (Photo: Justin Lane/EPA) Right ― Trump/Pence 2016 campaign CEO Stephen K. Bannon. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Benen, Steve. “Driven by vengeance, Trump is eager to ‘punish his enemies'”. msnbc. 7 November 2016.

Haberman, Maggie, et al. “Inside Donald Trump’s Last Stand: An Anxious Nominee Seeks Assurance”. The New York Times. 6 November 2016.

Rozsa, Matthew. “The big loser in Donald Trump’s war against the GOP is Ted Cruz somehow”. Salon. 11 October 2016.

The Donald Trump Show (Business Acumen)

Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Trump hiring Steve Bannon might go down as the worst campaign hire of all time.”

Eric Kleefeld

This is a point worth considering.

First off, it opened up the field for Hillary Clinton’s blistering speech yesterday against the alt-right, as well as the Clinton campaign’s other attacks linking Trump to not just Breitbart, but to Klansmen and other sundry white supremacists.

Next, the Trump campaign’s clumsy efforts to deny its alt-right connections has become utterly impossible. In the latest example, Trump himself got tripped up by Anderson Cooper. After the candidate claimed, “Nobody even knows what it is … this is just a term that was given that—frankly, there’s no alt-right or alt-left.” Cooper had only to point out that Bannon himself proclaimed Breitbart to be the voice of the alt-right. Trump’s reply: “I don’t know what Steve said.”

Certainly, it makes for a neatly-packaged talking point to call Donald Trump the candidate of the internet trolls, but the label also happens to be true. And in that context, there really is a method to the madness.

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The Jeb Bush Show (Seriously Inadequate)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush waits for his introduction at the Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, 7 March 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Consider, please, that while Donald Trump managed to get into a stupid fight with Rick Perry and win, this is actually about Jeb Bush:

Almost immediately after Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) military service, Republican officials denounced the criticism in a specific way. “There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably,” the Republican National Committee said in an official statement.

The problem, of course, is that Republicans appear to apply that principle selectively. In 2004, John Kerry faced ridiculous lies about his heroic military service, and at the time, GOP leaders saw great political value in smearing a decorated war veteran.

Take Jeb Bush, for example. In January 2005, the day before his brother’s second inaugural, the Florida governor wrote a letter to the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ringleader, expressing his appreciation for the smear campaign. Celebrating the “Swifties,” as Jeb Bush called them, the Republican wrote to retired Col. Bud Day, “Please let them know that I am personally appreciative of their service to our nation. As someone who truly understands the risk of standing up for something, I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry.”

In this case, “stand up to” was apparently a euphemism for “tell lies about.”

(Benen)

And while we might refer to the former Florida governor by his derisive title as the Serious Clown, the question remains as to why anybody thought Mr. Bush was a serious candidate. Maybe he needs another do-over.

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Your Morning Metal (One Foot in Hell)

Detail of front cover art for 'Twisted into Form' by Forbidden, 1990, by Kent Mathieu.

In a strange way, the caricatures driving rebellion in metal-laden explorations of conscience do not seem so exaggerated today. Once upon a time, we argued about listening to the music. And it feels both strange and familiar, perhaps the one for the other. That is to say, the shape of these arguments going on today, about boys wearing skirts and girls having babies really does feel like nothing more than the heavy metal wars all over again, and this time for higher stakes. It isn’t fair, I don’t think, to say that we got it, understood the mere fact of caricaturization, but they didn’t. Still, that’s how it feels. We built monstrous, shadowy legends to represent the hatred we feared. They really do seem to be dressing up in it. Or, at least, that’s how it feels.

Regression! Progressive downfall! Grabbing what’s there and still wanting it all! On words they fall. Obsession! Religioius belief! Worshipped on Sunday, forgotten all week! One foot in Hell. Taking the truth from “The Book” and then twisting it, feeling they’re touched by the Lord. Loving their neighbor, yet tasting the flavor of sin but seeing no wrong. Cramming the wisdom that righteously flows in them, walking the crooked straight line. Closing of minds to these innocent crimes, now they’re deaf, dumb, and blind! One foot in Hell! Wretches! This pitiful man, preaching and teaching with Cross in hand. On words he falls. Into his final mistake; this fool was fooled, it was all give and take. One foot in hell. I look to the Heavens and call the Lord’s name. Praying on my knees, with much faith, and little doubt. I have a yearning for the answers to my calling in life. Am I wasting away on spirits of myth? Am I questioning the Lord’s prayer? Is this unholy temptation or my final realization? Please, God, if you’re there for me, give me wisdom for faith. Help me, Lord! God help me! Show me the way; point to the light. Is there a Heaven after I die? What is a truth, where does it lie? Give me the answer! Bare my soul, naked and cold! End confusion, shed my last tear! Take me, Lord! Open your Gates! End my deep sorrow! One foot in Hell. Who’s answering the bell?

Forbidden, “One Foot in Hell” (1990)

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An Attempt to Explain Republicans to an Overseas Neighbor

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) (C) speaks during a news conference to introduce a GOP-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla)

Ed. note: The following is a repost of a Facebook comment offered to a friend from New Zealand who is constantly baffled by what he witnesses in the American political process, and happened to inquire about Republican efforts to … well, right. It has to do with recent House bills pertaining to the role of science in government policy.

I think the best way to explain it is to once again invoke a Cold War analogy; after all, depicting Democrats as “liberals”, with “liberals” meaning “Soviet Communists” was a key to Ronald Reagan’s electoral success.

But think about it this way, too: By that analogy, Republicans are the “capitalists”.

So it goes, then, that if we look at votes as “capital”, then the actions of the RNC, Congressional Republicans, and various surrogates and allies make sense: Get the capital by whatever means necessary.

That’s why the whole thing is so puzzling to people who, you know, have a conscience. The GOP ain’t playin’ that way. This is about winning votes, and nothing more. And in the United States, conservative voters will take whatever they can get to reinforce their platform. Additionally, superstition and subjective moral outrage are much more attractive to most American voters than obvious logic that, if attended, would skip the melodrama and slapstick that has become our political system.

To that end, we might consider Manichean dualisms or, simply, reality television. Just as many people believe in a basic struggle between good and evil, so also do many people believe reality television depicts reality.

In that context, it becomes a capitalistic ratings game; our elections become a functional part of our entertainment industry.

What Republicans are trying to do here is twofold: (1) Bolster their own political fantasies by excluding reality; (2) create a situation in which government will experience an even greater failure about its performance of duty so that they can complain even louder that government just doesn’t work.

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Abrams, Lindsay. “House Republicans just passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research”. Salon. 19 November 2014.

Benen, Steve. “Republicans take aim at imaginary target: ‘secret science'”. msnbc. 20 November 2014.