presidential debate

A Tragic Tale of Tools

#lulz | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from FLCL episode 2, 'Firestarter'.

Trying to explain #pizzagate reminds of an old lyricα: “Baring your soul was the in thing to do. It’s fun and it’s easy for an empty-headed fool.” And it’s true, those recalling the period closely―and thus painfully―enough, yes, the line works well enough. Indeed, we might cringe recalling Iron John and the mythic Fire in the Belly, but the vinyl memory also brings to mind a trend of men exploring their feelings, shedding fear about shedding tears, and, of course, reinforcing the stereotypes they would ostensibly otherwise break by pursuing their feminine sides. It is then, merely coincidental―or, you know, not, given how the interconnectedness of all things is most affecting of our lives when asserting through the historical record―that scattershot assertions of traditional masculinity find themselves so close to an invented scandal asserting child sexual exploitation by one group while relying on an opposing group wallowing in child rape fantasies.

Never mind. Andrew Breiner takes his turn for Salon:

But a small number of people on message boards like 4chan and Reddit were more interested in seemingly mundane emails about small social gatherings and parties hosted by Podesta and his friends. Specifically, they noticed that these emails mentioned pizza a few times.

Boldly disregarding the simple explanation that the emailers, like most Americans, eat pizza regularly and find it to be an easy food to serve and eat while socializing, self-appointed Internet detectives decided that “pizza” was a complex code for pedophilia. Using this code, Pizzagaters claim, Podesta and his well-heeled pals could brazenly discuss their plans for throwing disgusting sex parties exploiting enslaved children, in between exchanges about Clinton’s campaign strategy and setting up conference calls.

It’s important to note that since the theories that would become Pizzagate began on 4chan and Reddit, sites known for trolling people with cruel, complicated pranks, it’s likely that many of the conspiracy theory’s originators were joking―coming up with absurdities to entertain themselves.

But it took a very short time for /r/Pizzagate, the now-closed Pizzagate-focused Reddit subforum, or subreddit, to fill with people who appeared to be true believers. The theory also became popular on Reddit’s “The Donald,” a hub for Trump supporters. From there, Pizzagate caught the attention of conservative fake news sites, minor white supremacist celebrities, and supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It’s been amplified for unknown reasons by Twitter bots traced to the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Vietnam.

To the one, we can only reiterate the question of whether or not Trump supporters are complaisant assets to the machinations of international interests, but perhaps more importantly we should note, to the other, the question of lulz.

That is to say, we might recall Brendan Gauthier’s report for Salon in September:

Perhaps the most noteworthy admission came from a 4chan user who openly acknowledged the big scary alt-right’s satirical (and inflammatory) edge: “CTR shills still not realising that pol is a board of satire and our only mission is to meme the retarded manchild to the white house for the lulz.”

This is one of those weird facets we might wish to pay some attention to. Overseas twitterbots are sufficient to move a soft-headed religious fanatic to terrorize a pizzeria as a means of taking up arms against Hillary Clinton; the lulzaholics ought to be proud, but what about the rest of Donald Trump’s supporters?

In the end, it’s all the same. They get played by Russian trolls, international misinformation bloggers, and botnets around the world because they want to.

It is easy enough to remind that it always has been about supremacism and lulz; as the excuses fall away, what else will be left?

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α Memory insists it comes from a Seattle band from the late eighties into the early nineties called Chemistry Set, but that vinyl echo is really dusty.

Image note: Naota gets screwed. (Detail of frame from FLCL episode 2, “Fire Starter”.)

Breiner, Andrew. “Pizzagate, explained: Everything you want to know about the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria conspiracy theory but are too afraid to search for on Reddit”. Salon. 10 Deceember 2016.

Gauthier, Brendan. “Pepe’s post-debate identity crisis: Online alt-right turns on Donald Trump after his presidential debate fiasco”. Salon. 27 September 2016.

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The Donald Trump Show (Conway-esque)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee donald Trump is greeted by (L-R) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka, and son Eric after the conclusion of the third and final debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Reuters/Pool)

This actually takes some explaining. Or maybe not. Okay, so Robert Costa of the Washington Post issues a tweet amid the third presidential debate, criticizing Donald Trump, describing the Republican nominee’s now infamous “bad hombres” line as “Trump being Trump”, and the rest of the game show host’s answers by the lovely term, “Conway-esque”.

Five minutes later, with Hillary Clinton eviscerating the Republican nominee, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway retweets Costa’s critique as a boast.

Or, as Sophia Tesfaye put it: “Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is already auditioning for her next gig”:

Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, must be making a covert cry for help, as nothing short of desperate confusion could explain a tweet she sent in the middle of the third presidential debate ....

.... After Trump’s “bad hombres” comment caused a ruckus on social media, Trump’s campaign manager took to Twitter to retweet a compliment of herself and backhanded diss to her boss.

Somewhere in the load of not-necessarily transcribed, good luck finding it on the website pile of campaign coverage segments from msnbc’s relentless branding campaign is a bit with a few seasoned, liberal-leaning hands chuckling about the fact of major Republican players showing enough wisdom to stay clear of the Trump presidential bid. There is some merit to the point: Corey Lewandowski, a Koch lobbyist is no longer with the campaign; RNC consultant and Scott Walker’s primary campaign manager Rick Wiley has come and gone; consultant to notorious international figures Paul Manafort has come and gone; and former Dole staffer turned lobbyist Jim Murphy has stepped back from his role as national political director with less than three weeks remaining in the election contest. Donald Trump’s campaign is currently run by an alt-right publisher and, well, Kellyanne Conway. None of these were truly first-tier to begin with. But, still, while it’s not quite pitching for delegates in the 2020 race at the 2016 Republican National Convention, neither is it … er … ah … y’know?

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Image notes: Top ― Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump is greeted by (L-R) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka, and son Eric after the conclusion of the third and final debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Reuters/Pool) Right ― Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Conway, Kelly. “— >”. Twitter. 19 October 2016.

Costa, Robert. “Bad hombres”. Twitter. 19 October 2016.

Tesfaye, Sophia. “Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is already auditioning for her next gig”. Salon. 19 October 2016.

A Question of Legitimacy

At eight minutes after the hour, Hugh Hewitt went there with a line about whether the Democrats nominated the Republican nominee.

It’s been a pet thesis, counting up the bizarre things Republicans might say in order to explain themselves after the Trump presidential bid is over. One is that this was somehow the plan; don’t ask. The other is that Hillary Clinton’s election is illegitimate because Republican voters were denied a say in their nomination process.

It was a joke, and then, well, they’re Republicans. Little hints. Charlie Sykes on All In last week, for instance, simply saying that Donald Trump doesn’t really represent the Republican Party; we know what he means, but conservatives lack nuance about some things, and this easily qualifies. Kyle Cheney’s report for Politico on RNC sympathy for delegitimization includes a committeeman from California explaining the Republican outlook: “Should Hillary get ‘elected'”, Shawn Steel wrote, “she is immediately delegitimized”. His explanation is that “Wall Street Bankers” are involved in a “massive Left Wing Conspiracy”. That’s right. American bankers … and Communists.

And Hugh Hewitt, at eight minutes after the hourα, offering his analysis of the debate for msnbc, defended Mr. Trump’s invocation of a conspiracy theory and voiced the question of whether Democrats nominated the Republican nominee.

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α 19 October 2016, 20.08 PDT.

Cheney, Kyle. “RNC members agree with Trump: It’s rigged”. Politico. 18 October 2016.

Clinton|Trump (iii)

Pre-debate notes: NPR took a few minutes today to consider Chris Wallace as moderator, which is in its own right a milestone; David Folkenflik’s three minutes and forty-six seconds for All Things Considered is worth the time; it will also make for an interesting reflection when all is said and done:

Fox News’ Chris Wallace is known as a tough interviewer but his role as moderator of Wednesday’s presidential debate has raised questions. Fox has been highly sympathetic to Donald Trump, and Wallace has lavished praise on his former boss, Roger Ailes, who was ousted as Fox News’ chairman after accusations of sexual harassment. Ailes is also serving as an adviser to Donald Trump.

NPR will also feature a live fact check, and, y’know, best of luck to them. (more…)

The Donald Trump Show (Blood & Cannon)

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listen to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University, 9 October 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty Images)

It is not entirely certain just how we ought to take James Oliphant’s headline for Reuters, “Trump may have stopped the bleeding, but not the worrying”. The lede is one of those double-takes, not because it is unbelievable but because it seems worth checking to make certain you read it correctly:

Donald Trump may have done just enough in Sunday’s presidential debate to keep his leaky presidential campaign afloat―and that may have put Republicans considering abandoning him in an even tougher position.

It is, in fact, a reasonable thesis but not exactly reflective of the headline. Indeed, the most curious thing about bleeding is just how the Trump campaign is bleeding, or not, might well be the section header, “Red Meat for the Base”, describing the last third of the article, and here Oliphant brings the point home:

Against this backdrop of panic and condemnation, Trump on Sunday sought to rally the party’s base with a fresh barrage of provocative attacks on Clinton that will give the media something other than the tape to talk about.

He offered a blistering critique of her handling of foreign policy while the country’s chief diplomat and brought his rally cry for her to be jailed to the debate stage. He also carried out a threat to make an issue of her husband’s sexual history.

In doing so, Trump may have stopped the bleeding, but he did nothing to stop the worrying.

The base. Donald Trump stopped the bleeding, but not the worrying, among his base? Suddenly the lede, with Mr. Trump having “done just enough” to “keep his leaky presidential campaign afloat”, seems nearly an overstatement. That is to say: What counts as afloat?

(more…)

Clinton|Trump|Deux

So after a couple days like that, Donald Trump turns up zombified and sniffing.

There is no point to the observation, yet, as we have yet to see if he brought anything other than concussed spite. But the first bit has been, shall we say, strange.

(more…)

The Donald Trump Show (Telltale Taxes)

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

This is one of those things that has just been bugging me, even though it’s kind of moot. Well, okay, work with me, here. Let us, first, rewind.

It was arguably one of the most important moments of this week’s presidential debate. Hillary Clinton was speculating about why Donald Trump would choose to be the first modern American presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns. “Maybe,” she said, “he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Unprompted, Trump interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”

A Washington Post reporter, watching the debate with undecided voters in North Carolina, noted there were “gasps” in the room after the exchange. “That’s offensive. I pay taxes,” one said. “Another person would be in jail for that,” another voter added.

Steve Benen’s telling of the tale is not unfamiliar; indeed, his formulation of the moment is not unique, because it reads a little better that way, like a one-two. But it is also inaccurate, as is any telling in which Hillary Clinton sets up Donald Trump by saying, “Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Hillary Clinton did say that. And as part of the setup. But this telling gives Donald Trump a bit of wiggle room, which Benen, in turn, aims to debunk:

Perhaps now would be a good time to note that “That makes me smart” and “That would make me smart” are not the same sentences.

Indeed, let’s also not forget that in the same debate, Trump talked about how the government doesn’t have the necessary resources for public needs. “Maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years,” Clinton interjected. Trump fired back, “It would be squandered, too.”

As we discussed the other day, the comment was striking because of its apparent acceptance of the underlying premise. By saying his tax money would have been “squandered,” Trump seemed to be conceding that Clinton’s argument was correct: he hasn’t paid taxes.

That analysis responds to Donald Trump’s appearance on FOX News two days after the debate:

O’REILLY: Okay. And those of us in Manhattan know that’s true. Now, they are going to come after you, they being the Clinton campaign, on the statement that you made that you were as smart for paying as few taxes as you could possibly pay. You know it’s going to be in the next debate, it’s going to be on campaign ads. Do you have any defense for that right now?

TRUMP: No. I didn’t say that. What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.

O’REILLY: Right.

Right there, you see Donald Trump lying and Bill O’Reilly helping him: “I didn’t say that”, Donald Trump explained of saying he was smart to not pay taxes. “What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.” And this is what Benen picked out, and he is exactly correct insofar as the point goes: “Perhaps now would be a good time to note that ‘That makes me smart’ and ‘That would make me smart’ are not the same sentences.”

O’Reilly teed the point up again:

O’REILLY: All right. I’m Hillary Clinton in the next debate. And I say to you what she said yesterday in North Carolina. Hey, if is he not going to pay any taxes and he thinks that’s smart, what does that make us? We pay taxes. Are we stupid? How are you going to answer that?

TRUMP: Well, first of all―first of all, I never said I didn’t pay taxes. She said maybe you didn’t pay taxes and I said well, that would make me smart because tax is a big payment. But I think a lot of people say that’s the kind of thinking that I want running this nation.

O’REILLY: Okay.

Note they are using the same narrative Benen did. So, here’s the thing about stylistics and narrative: Sometimes tailoring for the punch actually weakens the narrative. And this time, the tailoring hands Donald Trump his talking point.

What Hillary Clinton actually said, and how Donald Trump actually responded:

CLINTON: Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

(Washington Post)

The thing is that Hillary Clinton really did say, “maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes”. And then she said, “because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax”. And that is when Donald Trump said, “That makes me smart.”

Telling the story the way Steve Benen and Donald Trump alike tell it overlooks a specific point: Certes, there is a difference ‘twixt, “That makes me smart” and, “That would make me smart”. But what did Donald Trump actually respond to?

CLINTON: … the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

In this telling, Donald Trump doesn’t get to rely on “maybe”. He acknowledged Secretary Clinton’s argument. Despite his protestations and Mr. O’Reilly’s agreement, Donald Trump really did say paying no federal income tax makes him smart.

And while the latest absurd chapter illuminated by the New York Times pretty much renders last week’s maybe moot it still seems worth pointing out.

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

Barstow, David, et al. “Donald Trump Tax Records Show He Could Have Avoided Taxes for Nearly Two Decades, The Times Found”. The New York Times. 1 October 2016.

Benen, Steve. “Has Donald Trump paid federal taxes or not?”. msnbc. 29 September 2016.

Blake, Aaron. “The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate transcript, annotated”. The Washington Post. 26 September 2016.

O’Reilly, Bill. “Interview with Donald Trump”. The O’Reilly Factor. Transcript. FOX News. 28 September 2016.

Not the Name of My Next Band (Lester Holt and the Wicked Elements)

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt arrives at the 9th Annual California Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the California Museum in Sacramento, 28 October 2015. (Photo by Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee)

Acknowledging that the filters or priorities by which one notices anything else are entirely unto that individual, and thus a psychological mystery generally describing anyone’s particular expression, there are also days when, you know, whatever, because I sure as hell didn’t―

• The Perfect Christmas Morning

• Talk About Your Grandmother

• Achieving Erection

―put those elements in that order. Talk to Jason Linkins about that.

Nor am I volunteering to psychoanalyze the fact that he’s on about Lester Holt.

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Image note: NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt arrives at the 9th Annual California Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the California Museum in Sacramento, 28 October 2015. (Photo by Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee)

Commission on Presidential Debates. “Moderator Announces Topics for First Presidential Debate”. 19 September 2016.

Linkins, Jason. “First Presidential Debate To Focus On Vague Platitudes”. The Huffington Post. 20 September 2016.

The Mike Huckabee Show (Republican Virtue)

Mike Huckabee: "I trust @BernieSanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador! #DemDebate" (13 October 2015, via Twitter)

In truth, given the terrible rhetoric earning Ben Carson rewards, why wouldn’t Mike Huckabee, go out of his way to throw down a racist jab that only invites reminders about the time his son sadistically killed a dog.

This is Mike Huckabee, after all.

And this is your 2016 Republican presidential clown car.

Oh, right. That. You’re going to love the follow-up.

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Image note: Composite ― Detail of photo by Charlie Niebergall/AP; tweet by Mike Huckabee, 13 October 2015.

Huckabee, Mike. “I trust Bernie Sanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with a labrador!” Twitter. 13 October 2015.

Lavender, Paige. “Mike Huckabee Got Pretty Racist While Live-Tweeting The Dem Debate”. The Huffington Post. 13 October 2015.