In Case You Were Unaware, Mitch McConnell Is the Worst

Senator Mitch McConnell has a 36% Favorable rating and 50% Unfavorable rating from his constituents. The other 14% “Don’t Know,” and one can only presume that’s because they’ve somehow never heard of him. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Donald Trump is a moron and a lousy president. Some of you may disagree, but this is not exactly a “hot take.” Trump and his oafish buffoonery have been decried and lampooned long before he became the 45th President of the United States.

Since beginning his campaign in 2015, Trump’s flouting of convention, ethics laws, and other principles—legal or otherwise—have been a source of great consternation and embarrassment to scores of Americans. He’s petty and vindictive. He spews incendiary misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and otherwise discriminatory vitriol regularly to his Twitter followers. He’s clearly not a student of history, or for that matter, spelling. He enriches himself and his family at taxpayer cost. He emboldens other bigots like him. He consistently breaks promises. He’s a liar, a fraud, and a suspected sexual predator. His administration has manufactured humanitarian crises in Puerto Rico and at the border with Mexico. I could go on.

Of course, Trump is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to rich white racist assholes. For him to succeed both in politics and in life in spite of his incompetence, the man has needed help.

In terms of his career in business, he has received a lot of assistance on the financial and legal front. A lot of it. Donald Trump grew up rich, and when he faltered, there was daddy Fred Trump on hand to bail him out (recall his infamous “million-dollar loan” comment, which, in its tone-deafness, was yet a massive understatement). Or there were his bankruptcy filings (business not personal) centered around his casinos, which he has touted as a symbol of his shrewdness as an executive, but this argument makes little to no sense in light of his numerous failed business ventures over the years. More recently, Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank and his ability to keep securing money from the institution despite his defaulting on his loans has come under scrutiny. In all, it’s easy to avoid disaster when you have such a safety net at your disposal.

As for his career in politics, despite the apparent mismanagement of his campaign, Trump still managed to emerge triumphant from the 2016 presidential race. Once more, a lot of things had to go his way—and these factors were not simply a byproduct of good luck (unless we’re counting the fortune of being born into wealth).

Trump’s Republican primary challengers were a hopeless lot. The Clinton campaign and the DNC didn’t do themselves any favors. The media, seeking clicks and viewership, loaded up on coverage of his day-to-day doings. WikiLeaks. Russian meddling. James Comey. The very existence of the Electoral College. Without any one of these elements helping pave the way for Trump’s ascendancy, his bid for the White House might have ended as the joke many of us thought it was when he began. Instead, he won, riding the perfect shitstorm to victory. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the fact millions of Americans voted for him.

Donald Trump’s functionality as the CEO of the Trump Organization is, for the time being, null (this neither abrogates Trump’s myriad conflicts of interest nor Congress’s responsibility to investigate them, but we’re speaking of explicitly-stated positions). The 2016 election is over and we’re closer to the end of his first term than its beginning.

As the saying goes, however, what’s past is prologue. In his administration’s elaboration of a destructive agenda, President Trump has had a big assist from Republican lawmakers, including those individuals who were frequent objectors but have since turned into apologists or have remained critics only in the most tepid sense of the word. What’s more, with the House under Democratic control (whether or not Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership is above reproach is another matter, but I digress), one figure’s enabling of the president looms large as calls for impeachment grow more numerous seemingly by the day: Mitch McConnell.

If you’re not familiar with Addison Mitchell McConnell, Jr., you probably don’t follow U.S. politics in the slightest or have been living under a rock for the last five years or so. McConnell has been Senate Majority Leader since 2015 and has served as a U.S. senator from the state of Kentucky since 1985. If you think spending over 30 years in the Senate means McConnell is particularly well liked among his constituents, think again. As of the first quarter of 2019, McConnell owns the distinction of being the only senator currently in office with a disapproval rating of 50% or worse. His 36% approval rating puts him in the bottom 10% of the Senate. The remaining 14% “don’t know” presumably because they somehow have never heard of him, so they might disapprove of him without really knowing it.

McConnell’s position as Senate Majority Leader has taken on a new significance since Trump was sworn in, but even before that, he drew the ire of his constituents and non-constituents alike when he refused to even allow a hearing on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court following Antonin Scalia’s death.

Obama and McConnell were essentially playing a game with Garland’s nomination. The Senate Majority Leader had a chance to confirm Obama’s nominee, someone GOP leaders haughtily predicted he would never choose, and Obama would effectively call McConnell’s bluff. McConnnell’s other option would be to stonewall the nomination, look like an asshole, and risk losing in 2016 and have the new Democratic president nominate someone worse. Either possibility was a losing cause, forcing him to swallow his pride or look like an asshole and piss a whole lot of people off. He did the latter, of course, actually being an asshole.

Ultimately, the gamble paid off with Trump’s upset victory. Do I think McConnell deserves credit for this, though? No. Not for refusing to do his job (if this were you or I, we would get suspended or fired) and for being a partisan obstructionist. This kind of behavior is exactly why people don’t like Congress.

But yes, since Trump took the Oath of Office, McConnell’s tenure as Senate Majority Leader has become that much more meaningful—and not in a particularly good way either. Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota, who was appointed to the role following Al Franken’s resignation and who won a special election to earn her position full time, recently penned an op-ed for CNN outlining why McConnell’s leadership of the Senate has been a “big, fat waste.”

Before we begin, let’s acknowledge the proverbial gorilla in the room: Smith is a Democrat and McConnell is a Republican. By this token, she would seem predisposed to view Sen. McConnell and other GOP members, especially in the current political climate, negatively. That said, an honest assessment of McConnell’s steering of the Senate would most likely agree with Smith’s criticisms herein.

So let’s get to those criticisms. As Smith tells it, “McConnell has transformed the Senate into little more than the Trump administration’s personnel office, the place where good ideas go to die.” She points out that as of July 3, less than 20% of votes taken up by the Senate have involved legislation. The rest have involved pushing Trump-appointed federal judge nominees through Congress. And we do mean pushing them through. Since rules changes made effective in April, the time to debate these nominees has been reduced from 30 hours to two.

On top of this, these nominees tend to espouse nakedly conservative views and/or are borderline unqualified. Smith points to a week that was “pretty typical” by present standards in which 11 nominees were voted on, seven of them for lifetime appointments. One hadn’t ever tried a case in court. Another doesn’t believe divorce laws should apply to members of the LGBTQ community. Others don’t believe in providing women with access to contraceptives or can’t say definitively that Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided. Yup, you read that last one right.

It’s not just nominees to the judiciary either. McConnell and his fellow Republicans have made it a habit of rubber-stamping executive appointments. You may not be surprised to find out many of these nominees are similarly—and dangerously—unqualified. One was Gordon Hartogensis, nominated and later confirmed as Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation head. Hartogensis is married to Grace Chao. Grace Chao is the younger sister of Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation. Elaine Chao is married to—you guessed it—Mitch McConnell. On a related note, amid accusations that Chao used her position as Transportation Secretary to steer benefits to McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, the Senate has done nothing to initiate investigation into this potential conflict of interest. Nice how that works.

In all, rather than advancing meaningful legislation that has bipartisan appeal, the Senate has become a haven for obstructionism. Smith closes her piece with these thoughts:

Every day, I talk to Democratic and Republican colleagues with lots of ideas about the work we should be doing. Passing the Violence Against Women Act, protecting our elections from cyberattacks from hostile nations, stabilizing our health care system, expanding rural broadband — these are all issues where most Democrats and Republicans share an interest in getting something done. But in this environment, the already-hard work of legislating has become nearly impossible, thanks to the majority leader’s steadfast commitment to packing the courts to the exclusion of almost everything else.

I had always heard that Mitch McConnell was a master legislator and a true loyalist to this institution. But in the 18 months I’ve been in the Senate, what I’ve seen is an astonishingly limited vision for what the Senate can and should accomplish. What a waste.

It’d be one thing if McConnell would try to make it seem like he and the Republican-controlled Senate were actually trying to get things done legislatively and blame Democrats for the inability to accomplish them. It would be outrageous and disingenuous deflecting, but at least there would be some pretense involved.

Instead, Sen. McConnell revels in being the kind of legislator everyone (at least on the left) loves to hate: the kind who does nothing useful and does so with a shit-eating grin on his face. When asked about Senate Republicans’ priorities this year, he proudly proclaimed they would be in the “personnel business.” In other words, stacking the judiciary with Federalist Society-approved candidates hell-bent on making the U.S. legal system in the image of the Constitution’s original interpretation and a conservative/libertarian one, at that.

McConnell has also welcomed comparisons between himself and the Grim Reaper, the personification of Death itself. As McConnell frames it, he is pleased to be associated with such bleak imagery in the service of defeating the “socialist agenda [Democrats] have been ginning up in the House.” As writer and comedian Dean Obeidallah, for one, would argue, opposing “socialism” has nothing to do with protecting women from violence and unwanted pregnancies or preventing foreign hacking of our elections. Failure on these fronts, rather, further demonstrates the extent to which McConnell has become the prototypical partisan hack.

Again, Sen. Smith has a politically-motivated ax to grind. Republicans have their prejudices against Nancy Pelosi. (For that matter, an increasing number of Democrats appear to be frustrated by her leadership.) That McConnell seems to relish his unpopularity and openly supports our ding-dong of a president (after initially opposing him in favor of Rand Paul, no less) speaks volumes. Mitch McConnell is the worst, knows he’s the worst, and doesn’t care. How do you root for someone like him?


As you may have heard by now, Mitch McConnell has a Democratic challenger in Amy McGrath, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel. When news broke that she was making her candidacy official, the outpouring of excitement was immediate and palpable. Someone is giving Kentuckians an alternative to the hated McConnell in 2020! Democrats might oust the Grim Reaper and flip a Senate seat in one fell swoop! Don’t let my words alone tell the story, though. Let the $2.5 million in donations McGrath’s campaign raked in on the first day exemplify the fervor shared by McConnell’s detractors around the country.

Regrettably, McGrath has already demonstrated that while she’s running against McConnell, it’s not immediately clear what she’s running for policy-wise. When prompted about the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice, McGrath initially indicated she “probably” would’ve voted in favor of Kavanaugh in spite of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, which she (McGrath) termed as “credible.” Within the span of a day, however, she reversed course, evidently impacted by the wave of negative responses her comments received. Regardless of what McGrath truly believes, her “flip-flop” on such a highly-charged issue puts her conviction in doubt.

Likewise puzzling is her remark that Mitch McConnell is the one standing in the way of President Trump elaborating the agenda he promised voters while on the campaign trail. This reasoning is, at best, naïve and, at worst, a lie. Trump isn’t living up to his word because he’s a liar and a fraud. McGrath’s strategy seems to take a page right out of the establishment moderate Democrat playbook: don’t do or say anything that might potentially alienate Trump voters and independents. It should be no surprise then that McGrath’s announcement comes after months of recruitment by Chuck Schumer. Going against the Grim Reaper with guns blazing, this is not.

Much in the way Doug Jones was a better choice for Alabama than Roy Moore because he is, well, not Roy Moore, Amy McGrath is a quantifiably superior option over Mitch McConnell, the unapologetic entrenched politician who single-handedly is doing his part to undermine an already-low public confidence in the legislative branch.

Even noting McConnell’s unpopularity, however, she is facing an uphill battle. Kentucky is a red state and has only gone for a Democrat twice in the presidential election in the past 40 years. Also, McConnell is still in office because he keeps getting re-elected. In 2014, he beat his Democratic challenger, lawyer Alison Lundergan Grimes, by more than 15 percentage points. Anything but an authentic challenge on the part of McGrath or another Democratic candidate could not only make it an easy victory for McConnell at the polls, but could undermine public perception of the Democratic Party as a whole in the process.

America deserves better than President Donald Trump and Kentucky deserves better than Mitch McConnell. Whether voters truly comprehend this much, meanwhile, is another story. If the Democrats are going to find success in 2020, they’ll need to come with it. After all, it’s not many people who have stared Death in the eye and won.

We’re in the Midst of a Culture War. Do We Actually Like Fighting It?

elizabeth_berkley
The protests at UC Berkeley in 2017. As much as “the culture war” between liberals, conservatives, and everyone betwixt and between may be characterized by outrage, we should consider it’s become so pervasive because we actually relish fighting it. (Photo Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Funcrunch Photo/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, took to his blog to explain his reasoning for why he switched his endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump in advance of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Though he acknowledged it wasn’t his biggest reason—positions on the estate tax, concerns about Hillary’s health, and a lack of concern about Trump being a “fascist” and belief in his talents of persuasion also were factors—part of his decision was the subjective experience of being a prospective voter in the election. In a subsection of his post titled “Party or Wake,” Adams had this to say about the Clinton-Trump audience dichotomy:

It seems to me that Trump supporters are planning for the world’s biggest party on election night whereas Clinton supporters seem to be preparing for a funeral. I want to be invited to the event that doesn’t involve crying and moving to Canada.

Silly and privileged as it might seem—I want to have a good time and not a bad time—there might be something to Adams’s sentiments as they relate to Trump’s base. In a sprawling piece for Politico, senior staff writer Michael Grunwald delves into how the culture war has pervaded our modern political landscape. Speaking on the mood at Trump’s rallies during the campaign, he evokes that party-like atmosphere to which Adams referred:

The thing I remember most about Trump’s rallies in 2016, especially the auto-da-fé moments in which he would call out various liars and losers who didn’t look like the faces in his crowds, was how much fun everyone seemed to be having. The drill-baby-drill candidate would drill the Mexicans, drill the Chinese, drill the gun-grabbers, drill all the boring Washington politicians who had made America not-great. It sure as hell wasn’t boring. It was a showman putting on a show, a culture-war general firing up his internet troops. It wasn’t a real war, like the one that Trump skipped while John McCain paid an unimaginable price, but it made the spectators feel like they were not just spectating, like they had joined an exhilarating fight. They got the adrenaline rush, the sense of being part of something larger, the foxhole camaraderie of war against a common enemy, without the physical danger.

“How much fun everyone seemed to be having.” From my liberal suburban bubble, it seems strange to imagine an environment that feels akin to a circle of Hell from Dante’s Inferno as fun.

And yet, there’s the feeling of inclusion (without really being included) that his fans apparently relish. As much as one might tend to feel that Trump gets more credit than he deserves, he has tapped into a genuine spirit of Americans feeling ignored or replaced and desiring to be part of a celebration. We don’t want change. We don’t want a level playing field for everyone. We want America to be great again. We want to keep winning. Never mind that we don’t exactly know what winning means or if we’ll still be winning five, ten, or twenty years down the road.

There’s much more to dwell upon than just the tenor of Trump’s rallies, though. Which, despite having won the election back in 2016, he’s still regularly holding. Is he already running for 2020? Or is he doing this because winning the election is his biggest achievement to date? Does anyone else think this is weird and/or a waste of time and other resources? Or is this Trump being Trump and we’re already past trying to explain why he does what he does? But, I digress.

Before we even get to present-day jaunts with the “LOCK HER UP!” crowd, there’s a historical perspective by which to assess the tao of Trump. Grunwald starts his piece with a trip back to a John McCain campaign rally in 2008. In a departure from his more measured political style, McCain railed against a Congress on recess and high gas prices by issuing a call to arms on drilling for oil, including in offshore locations. McCain sensed the direction in which his party was headed, a moment which presaged the rise of Sarah “Drill, Baby, Drill” Palin, unabashed in demanding more energy no matter how we get it.

As Grunwald tells it, the audience ate this rhetoric up “because their political enemies hated it.” Damn the consequences as long as we “own the libs.” Ten years later, McCain is gone, Trump’s in the White House, and every political confrontation is a new iteration of a perpetual culture war. Instead of motivating his supporters to vote and institute policy reform, Donald Trump is “weaponizing” policy stances to mobilize them.

Accordingly, even issues which should be above partisanship like climate change and infrastructure are framed as part of an us-versus-them dynamic. Granted, Trump may not have created the tear in the electorate that allows him to exploit mutual resentment on both sides of the political aisle. That said, he has seen the hole and has driven a gas-guzzling truck right through it. Meanwhile, foreign adversaries are keen to capitalize on the disarray and disunion. Russian bots and trolls meddle in our elections and spread fake news online, and don’t need all that much convincing for us to help them do it.

The threat to America’s political health, already somewhat suspect, is obvious. It’s difficult if not impossible to have substantive discussions on policy matters when so much emphasis is on the short term and on reactionary positions. Expressing one’s political identity has become as important as putting forth a meaningful point of view. And Trump, Trump, Trump—everything is a referendum on him and his administration, even when there’s no direct causal relationship. It’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

What’s particularly dangerous about this political climate is that it obscures the reality of the underlying issues. Along the lines of expressing our political identities, emotions (chiefly outrage) are becoming a more valuable currency than facts. As much as we might dislike the perils of climate change or even acknowledging it exists, it’s happening. Our infrastructure is crumbling. The topic shouldn’t be treated as a zero-sum game between urban and rural districts. But tell that to the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C.

President Trump, while, again, not the originator of divisive politics, is well-suited for capitalizing on this zeitgeist. As Grunwald describes it, he understands “how to use the levers of government to reward his allies and punish his enemies.” This means going after Democratic constituencies and giving bailouts/breaks to Republican-friendly blocs. With GOP leadership in Congress largely in step with his policy aims, too (this likely gives Trump more due than he deserves because it implies he actually makes carefully crafted policy goals), ideologically-based attacks on certain institutions are all the more probable.

What’s the next great hurrah for Republicans, in this respect? From what Mr. Grunwald has observed, it may well be a “war on college.” I’m sure you’ve heard all the chatter in conservative circles about colleges and universities becoming bastions of “liberal indoctrination.” Free public tuition is something to be feared and loathed, a concession to spoiled young people. And don’t get us started about a liberal arts degree. It’s bad enough it has “liberal” in the name!

As the saying goes, though, it takes two to tango. In this context, there’s the idea that people on the left share the same sense of disdain for their detractors on the right. How many liberals, while decrying giving Republicans any ammunition in Hillary calling Trump supporters “deplorables,” secretly agreed with her conception of these irredeemable sorts? There are shirts available online that depict states that went “blue” in 2016 as the United States of America and states that went “red” as belonging to the mythical land of Dumbf**kistan. For every individual on the right who imagines a snowflake on the left turning his or her nose up at the “uncultured swine” on the other side, there is someone on the left who imagines and resents their deplorable counterpart. Presumably from the comfort of his or her electric scooter.

This bring us full-circle back to our experience of waging the cultural war first alluded to in our discussion of the party vibe at Donald Trump’s rallies, and how people could be having a good time at a forum where hate and xenophobia are common parlance and violence isn’t just a possibility, but encouraged if it’s against the “wrong” type of people. The implications of a culture war fought eagerly by both sides are unsettling ones. Close to the end of his piece, Grunwald has this to say about our ongoing conflict:

This is presumably how entire countries turn into Dumbf**kistan. The solutions to our political forever war are pretty obvious: Americans need to rebuild mutual trust and respect. We need to try to keep open minds, to seek information rather than partisan ammunition. We need to agree on a shared foundation of facts from authoritative sources. But those words looked ridiculous the moment I typed them. Americans are not on the verge of doing any of those things. Once the dogs of war have been unleashed, it’s hard to call them back. And we should at least consider the possibility that we’re fighting this forever war because we like it.

“Because we like it.” It sounds almost as strange as “how much fun everyone seemed to be having” with respect to Trump’s pre-election events, but it rings true. Sure, some of us may yet yearn for civility and feelings of bipartisan togetherness, but how many of us are content to stay in our bubbles and pop out occasionally only to toss invectives and the occasional Molotov cocktail across the aisle? I’m reminded of actor Michael Shannon’s comments following the realization that Donald Trump would, despite his (Trump’s) best efforts, be President of the United States. Shannon suggested, among other things, that Trump voters form a new country called “the United States of Moronic F**king Assholes” and that the older people who voted for him “need to realize they’ve had a nice life, and it’s time for them to move on.” As in shuffle off this mortal coil. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s my second Shakespeare reference so far in this piece.

I’m reasonably sure Shannon doesn’t actually mean what he said. Though who knows—maybe his creepy stares really do betray some homicidal tendencies. I myself don’t want Trump voters to die—at least not before they’ve lived long, fruitful lives. But in the wake of the gut punch that was Trump’s electoral victory, did I derive a sense of satisfaction from Shannon’s words? Admittedly, yes. I feel like, even if temporarily, we all have the urge to be a combatant in the culture war, assuming we invest enough in politics to have a baseline opinion. Because deep down, we like the fight.


Wars among ideologues can be messy affairs because each side holds to its dogmas even in the face of factual evidence to the contrary and in spite of signs that portend poorly for their side. Regarding the culture war, there’s nothing to suggest a cessation of hostilities in the near future. To quote Michael Grunwald once more, “Once the dogs of war have been unleashed, it’s hard to call them back.” Rebuilding mutual trust and respect. Keeping open minds. Agreeing on a shared foundation of facts from authoritative facts. Indeed, we are not on the verge of doing any of that. Having a man like Donald Trump in the White House who not only fans the flames of the culture war but pours gasoline on them sure doesn’t help either.

What’s striking to me is the seeming notion held by members of each side about their counterparts across the way that they actively wish for life in the United States to get worse. While I may surmise that many conservatives are misguided in how they believe we should make progress as a nation (i.e. “they know not what they do”), I don’t believe they are choosing bad courses of action simply because they want to win over the short term. Bear in mind I am speaking chiefly of rank-and-file people on the right. When it comes to politicians, I am willing to believe some will make any choice as long as it keeps them in office and/or personally enriches them.

But yes, I’ve experienced my fair share of attacks online because of my stated identity as a leftist. Even when not trying to deliberately feed the trolls, they have a way of finding you. One commenter on Twitter told me that, because I am a “liberal,” I am useless, not a man, that I have no honor and no one respects me nor do I have a soul, and that I hate the military, cheer when cops are shot, and burn the flag—all while wearing my pussyhat.

Never mind the concerns about soullessness or my inherent lack of masculinity. Does this person actually think I want our troops or uniformed police to die and that I go around torching every representation of Old Glory I can find? In today’s black-and-white spirit of discourse, because I criticize our country’s policy of endless war, or demand accountability for police who break protocol when arresting or shooting someone suspected of a crime, or believe in the right of people to protest during the playing of the National Anthem, I evidently hate the military, hate the police, and hate the American flag. I wouldn’t assume because you are a Trump supporter that you necessarily hate immigrants or the environment or Islam. I mean, if the shoe fits, then all bets are off, but let’s not write each other off at the jump.

With Election Day behind us and most races thus decided, in the immediate aftermath, our feelings of conviviality (or lack thereof) are liable to be that much worse. The open wounds salted by mudslinging politicians are yet fresh and stinging. As much as we might not anticipate healing anytime soon, though, if nothing else, we should contemplate whether being on the winning or losing side is enough. What does it to mean to us, our families, our friends, our co-workers, etc. if the Democrats or Republicans emerge victorious? Do our lives stand to improve? Does the income and wealth inequality here and elsewhere go away? Does this mean the political process doesn’t need to be reformed?

As important as who, what, or even if we fight, the why and what next are critical considerations for a fractured electorate. For all the squabbling we do amongst ourselves, perhaps even within groups rather than between, there are other battles against inadequate representation by elected officials and to eliminate the influence of moneyed interests in our politics that appear more worth the waging.

American Horror Story: Presidential Election Edition

US-VOTE-REPUBLICANS-DEBATE
Oh, no, America—what the f**k did you do? (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP Getty Images)

“President-Elect Trump.” Sweet Baby Jesus, I hate the sound of that.

In case you were living under a rock or had recently slipped into a coma and just emerged from your unresponsive state, I potentially have some very bad news for you. Defying the pre-vote polling and forecasting models, Donald J. Trump has won the 2016 presidential election. In one of those lovably quirky outcomes of a system based on the electoral college (read: many people are not loving it right now), Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote, but Trump garnered the necessary 270 electoral votes to carry the day. As of this writing, according to The New York Times‘ election tracker, 279 electoral votes are officially Trump’s, 228 are Clinton’s, and Arizona, Michigan and New Hampshire are still being contested, though CNN is calling Arizona for Donald Trump, and I tend to think no amount of recounting is going to allay that result.

As far as Democrats are concerned, the night was especially bad when factoring in the results of House and Senate races. Prior to the polls closing, Dems had hopes of either the House, the Senate or both turning blue in terms of a majority, but those hopes were quickly dashed when the actual results came in. Republicans will maintain a narrow majority in the Senate, despite losing two seats, and have retained control of the House of Representatives as well. Talk about a whitewash, or “red-wash,” as it were.

Not that I really wish to belabor the the mechanics of how exactly Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton and supporters of human compassion and understanding lost, but it may be instructive to go into detail for future reference, i.e. preventing any unqualified buffoon like Trump from winning again. Some considerations on how the 2016 presidential race shook out the way it did in terms of the electoral map and what we’ve learned from exit polls:

Regional concerns

Looking at the electoral map at large, there’s an awful lot of red to behold. Clinton carried the bulk of the Northeast and has a nice strip of blue to show for her efforts along the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. The Democratic Party nominee also recorded victories in Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and New Mexico. But that’s it. When the smoke clears, Trump will likely have won 30 states to Clinton’s 20, owing to his greater share of the popular vote among Midwest and Southern states, as well as those less populous states in the Northwest like Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.

Perhaps most significantly, Donald Trump emerged victorious in a number of key battleground states, including Florida (29 electoral votes), Iowa (6 electoral votes),  Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10). That’s 83 electoral votes right there, and if you count Arizona and Michigan as GOP wins, then you’re over the century mark. This is to say that those close contests really did make a difference in this election. Also, Florida and Ohio were instrumental in screwing over Democrats yet again. They can shove oranges and buckeyes up their respective asses right now, for all I care.

Gender

OK, so this one is perhaps no big shock. According to exit polls conducted by CNN (to which I will refer for the rest of the demographic information referenced herein), men, by more than 10%, chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. A similar margin informed women’s votes in favor of Hillary. Is this election, then, a referendum on a woman’s ability to be President/a leader in the United States? Perhaps partially, but that alone does not explain how Trump won so decisively. So, while gender is a factor, let’s not make it out to be some end-all-and-be-all.

Age

Here, too, the splits were pretty stark. Voters 18 – 29 overwhelmingly chose Clinton over Trump, and within the group from the ages of 30 – 44, 50% to 42% were “with her.” Once you get above the age of 45, however, the script flips, as the baby boomers and old codgers among us opted to ride the “Trump Train.” This is not unlike the divide experienced with Brexit, in which millennials and other youths voted overwhelmingly to Remain. In both cases, though, it was the younger voters, arguably, who behaved more like adults.

Race

Gender and age were significant factors in the 2016 presidential race, but the issue of race looms largest. Just look at these tallies. Whites, 58% – 37%, sided with Donald Trump. Non-whites (Asians, blacks, Latinos, et al.), by a whopping 74% to 21%, were in Hillary Clinton’s camp. These disparities are too big to ignore, and prompted CNN contributor Van Jones to refer to the results as a “white-lash,” a portmanteau of “white” and “backlash” which explains the public’s reaction against a changing electorate and a black president.

Looking at the race through the lens of race, it’s kind of hard to argue otherwise. Trump supporters may aver that it’s the Obama administration’s policies which have them so incensed. But when their candidate of choice has been so deficient in the area of policy—be it domestic or foreign—how can they claim to be so principled in their vote? The majority of people who voted for Trump voted based on emotion, not on conscience or principle, and in all likelihood based one or more of the uglier emotions in the human expression at that.

Education

Broadly speaking, voters who have not gone as far in their education (high school or less; some college) tended to go for Donald Trump, while college graduates trended toward Hillary Clinton, and even more so for those with a postgraduate degree. It should be noted, though, that at the intersection of education and race, non-white voters without a college degree voted 75% – 20% for Hillary. In other words, they didn’t need fancy book learnin’ to be able to see through Trump’s bullshit.

Income

Though slight preferences, voters who make $50,000 a year or more tended to cast their ballots for Donald Trump, while voters under that threshold chose Hillary Clinton more often. Hmm, I guess they really don’t want to pay their fair share.

Marital status

For what it’s worth, married voters sided more heavily with Trump, while unmarried voters aligned more frequently with Clinton. It should be noted that even with the subset of married voters, though, it was married men who really brought the overall rates of Trump’s supporters up above the 50% mark; married women showed a minuscule 2% preference for Hillary Clinton. A similar effect was observed for unmarried women pushing up support for Clinton, as unmarried men exhibited a slim bias toward Hillary.

Religion

Christians, by and large, supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Per the CNN exit polls, a majority of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and other Christians allied with the GOP on Election Day, with white born-again Christians/evangelicals in particular throwing their support for the Republican Party nominee (81% of respondents!). By contrast, Jews, atheists, and those under the broad designation of “other religions” favored Hillary Clinton. To a certain extent, this appears to be another manifestation of the liberal-conservative divide, though noting “Two Corinthians” Trump is not exactly known for his adherence to “the good book,” it’s yet a little surprising.

On the most important issue facing America

As with the earlier discussion of race, results along this dimension are pretty telling. For those voters most concerned with matters of foreign policy or the economy, double-digit majorities voted for Hillary Clinton. For those voters most troubled by immigration trends and terrorism, meanwhile, Donald Trump was their strongman, er, man. The exit poll did not indicate what either side, meanwhile, thought of climate change, keeping with the election’s theme of not giving a shit about the Earth, escalating global temperatures, and declining species. But that’s OK—let’s keep worrying about Mexicans crossing the border.

On which candidate quality matters most

Also speaks volumes about the state of American politics. On whether they thought a particular candidate cares about them, has the right experience, or exhibits good judgment, a majority of respondents indicated this was true of Clinton, but not of Trump. However, on the notion of which candidate is more likely to bring about change, voters who sided with Donald Trump overwhelmingly agreed with this statement. Apparently, experience, good judgment and giving a shit about people are not requirements for the top political office in the United States. The vague concept of change is enough to get you a seat in the Oval Office—even if it turns out that change is distinctly negative.


reid_between_the_lines
Yes, Democrats, you bear some responsibility for Donald Trump’s rise, too. (Image retrieved from latimes.com).

For someone like myself, a progressive-minded white guy residing in a state, New Jersey, in which a majority of voters did not choose Donald Trump, the results of the election were pretty damn disappointing. I feel powerless. I feel scared. I feel as if I should be apologizing on behalf of white people everywhere for ushering in a candidate who has made appeals to our baser tendencies his way of interacting with the world and who has inspired a culture of bullying that parents have passed on to their children, leading to harassment and taunts on school playgrounds. And as bad as I feel, I feel worse for those segments of the population who stand to be most adversely affected by a Donald Trump presidency, especially immigrants and Muslims. We all stand to suffer under President Trump, but realistically, I have had and will have it easier than most.

Regardless of any tiered system of potential personal misfortune, so many people are reacting to the news of a Trump presidency with a mix of raw emotions, and in their anger, disappointment and shock, they likely are looking for someone to blame. Based on the narrative one seeks, there are any number of options for scapegoats. Certainly, in a few of those aforementioned battleground states, having names like Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and even Harambe stealing votes was not inconsequential. I’ve talked about this subject at length, and to this charge of “spoiling” the election for Hillary Clinton, I say phooey. Ralph Nader, accused of the same “crime” in 2000, talks about this phenomenon as political bigotry perpetrated and perpetuated as a result of the two-party oligarchy represented by the Democratic and Republican Parties. Not only does this attitude demean the individual’s right to choose, but by meekly giving in to choosing the so-called lesser of two evils, we lose our bargaining power as voters to entice the major parties to put forth policies that authentically reflect the needs of the electorate. The onus is—or at least should be—on the major party and the major-party candidate to convince the voters he or she is the best choice to lead the country. Gary Johnson was never going to win the presidency, but to intimate that he or any other candidate cost Hillary the election is a falsehood.

OK, so if blaming the Libertarian Party or Green Party candidate is disingenuous, who instead might be deserving of our scorn? Some disenchanted Democrats point to James Comey’s 11th-hour revelation that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s E-mails, as well as apparent attempts by Vladimir Putin and Russia to meddle in the U.S. election by hacking the private E-mails of prominent Democratic Party officials. On the latter count, while few would relish the idea of foreign governments influencing our domestic political affairs, the counterargument can be made that the hacks are merely exposing the kinds of attitudes and secrets the American people deserve to know. On the former count, meanwhile? While, again, the truth should be known regarding possible wrongdoing, what good does the announcement of the reopening of the E-mail investigation so close to the day of the election do? James Comey’s reputation had already taken a hit in the decision not to press charges in the first place. This just further undermines his and the Bureau’s credibility. With confidence in public institutions eroding year after year, these shenanigans just grease the wheels of a flaming car careening down a winding mountain path.

Ultimately, though, it’s Hillary Clinton’s use of one or more private E-mail servers and unencrypted mobile devices which prompted the FBI and Comey to intervene. Besides, the Bureau director himself can’t be held responsible for the rise of Donald Trump in the first place. Might we, therefore, look to groups of people/organizations and trends in politics rather than individual people and dead zoo-bound gorillas? You know, beyond the obvious in those who voted for Trump, because they evidently don’t know any better? Robert Reich, in a recent piece on his blog, weighed in on the three biggest enablers to Donald Trump’s path to the presidency. You probably can guess them offhand, but here they are in writing, just to make sure we are on the same page:

1. The Republican Party

When you allow an asshat like Donald Trump to become your party’s nominee, um, yeah, you’re culpable in this regard. As Reich explains, Trump’s racism and xenophobia, while extreme, are not out of character for more recent iterations of the GOP, nor is his “disdain of facts” and the due processes of law and lawmaking. In other words, Donald Trump may be among the Republican Party’s worst examples, but he’s not the only one.

2. The media

Conservatives and right-wing extremists already had a bone to pick with the mainstream media due to perceived liberal bias. Now, liberals have a legitimate gripe against this same institution with respect to all the free advertising they gave Donald Trump, and if public confidence in networks like CNN suffers catastrophically in the coming years, we might look back on this moment and know why. In no uncertain terms, major news outlets gave Trump a megaphone in exchange for a ratings grab, all the while failing to truly vet him as the unqualified candidate, shady businessman, and reprehensible person he is—at least not until it was too late, and even then, they underestimated the depth of Trump’s appeal. And Fox News can eat a dick. Just for general principles.

3. The Democratic Party

Wait, but the Democrats ran extensively against Donald Trump. How can they be blamed for his ascendancy? This is perhaps Robert Reich’s most damning round of criticism and seemingly so in light of what would appear to be higher expectations for the Democrats, evidently unfounded after this electoral debacle. Within the larger fault-finding of the Dems as enablers, Reich points to specific failures of the party in representing the needs of working-class Americans, including:

  • Forsaking the working class in favor of Wall Street money and other big-ticket donations, as well as seeking votes primarily from upper-middle-class suburban households in areas designated as important voting blocs (i.e. “swing” states).
  • Failing to protect jobs and wages while in control of one or more congressional houses.
  • Pushing job-killing free trade agreements under the Clinton and Obama administrations.
  • Allowing corporations to chip away at the bargaining power of unions or to violate labor laws without meaningful consequences.
  • Permitting antitrust laws to stagnate or otherwise become less effective, paving the way for larger corporations and consolidation of power within industries into the hands of the few.

You can feel free to argue the relative merit of Robert Reich’s assertions, but for the Democratic Party, as well as the other two enablers, it would seem that each needs to some soul-searching, because it’s a sure bet each of these parties dislikes one or more aspects of a Donald Trump presidency, including the press, who may find themselves at a disadvantage if Trump’s intention to weaken First Amendment protections of publications against claims of libel/slander actually comes to pass. The pertinent question, though, as Reich frames it, is whether or not these enablers have learned anything from the results of this election, and I would tend to doubt they have—at least not yet. They don’t call them the stages of grief for nothing, and if the hashtag #NotMyPresident trending the day after the election is any indication, those not thrilled with Trump’s victory are still a way’s away from acceptance. This includes, of course, those responsible in part for Donald Trump’s rise accepting their responsibility.


Not only do I personally agree with Robert Reich’s assignment of culpability in these three instances, but I embrace his call for a reformation of the Democratic Party, if not the need for a new political party or more enthusiastic recognition of third parties. In a follow-up to his piece on the role of the GOP, the media, and the Democrats as Trump enablers, Reich builds on many of the same themes, but in a more provincial context that directly confronts the necessity for change within the Democratic Party. From the opening of his essay:

As a first step, I believe it necessary for the members and leadership of the Democratic National Committee to step down and be replaced by people who are determined to create a party that represents America – including all those who feel powerless and disenfranchised, and who have been left out of our politics and left behind in our economy.

The Democratic Party as it is now constituted has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests. This must change. The election of 2016 has repudiated it. We need a people’s party – a party capable of organizing and mobilizing Americans in opposition to Donald Trump’s Republican party, which is about to take over all three branches of the U.S. government. We need a New Democratic Party that will fight against intolerance and widening inequality.

What happened in America Tuesday should not be seen as a victory for hatefulness over decency. It is more accurately understood as a repudiation of the American power structure.

“Widening equality”—that sounds familiar. Strange. It’s not like anyone talked about this on the campaign trail. Oh, wait—that was Bernie Sanders, and he talked about it LITERALLY AT EVERY F**KING RALLY AT WHICH HE SPOKE. Noting Sanders’ consistent domination of Donald Trump in theoretical presidential election polls pitting the two men from New York against one another, a number of people have played “Wednesday morning quarterback,” if you will, wondering whether or not Bernie could have saved us from “the Trumpocalypse.” Reich, for his part, was a fervent Sanders supporter until the Vermont senator suspended his campaign, at which point both men honorably got behind Hillary Clinton and tried to sell her as an alternative to Trump.

Prior to that, however, Robert Reich consistently made his distinction between Hillary and Bernie. Clinton, Reich insisted, is an accomplished, experienced politician, and indeed was the better candidate to work within the system we have in place now. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, was the better candidate to get us to the kind of political system we desperately need, one not dominated by lavish donations from business executives and Hollywood stars, or too cozy with special interests to insist on practical, substantive reform. A democracy of the people, for the people, and by the people. At the time, Reich’s focus on this progressive agenda seemed a bit remote, even for those like myself who believe in Bernie’s vision, in light of Hillary Clinton’s near-certainty of capturing the Democratic Party nomination.

With Donald Trump pulling off the upset to win the 2016 election, however, and with Hillary Clinton’s march to the White House and into the history books halted perhaps permanently, unexpectedly, Democrats must take a cue from Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich sooner than later and more aggressively pursue policy that would benefit the American people and the planet as a whole. Whereas leading up to the election, the media elites suggested the Republican Party was in shambles, thus enhancing the likelihood that Clinton would win, now, in the overreaction to Trump’s victory, people are saying the Last Rites for the Democratic Party. Perhaps this is mere wishful thinking, but I believe, relative to the GOP, the Democrats, by preaching the virtues of inclusion and equality, are still in a better place than the Republicans in the long term, in spite of their poor showing on Election Day. Sure, right now, Trump supporters are popping off, getting in the faces of those who don’t fit their mold and convinced they personally have won something as a result of their candidate’s electoral college win. And while outward shows of discrimination in its various forms shouldn’t be tolerated, to the extent conservatives and the alt-right might now underestimate liberals and progressives, this could be the silver lining of this debacle. Up until the votes came in, much of the world didn’t see President-Elect Donald Trump coming. Come 2018 into 2020, though, the shoe may just be on the other foot. For the sake of our country and perhaps even the world, I can only hope that’s the case.

All Votes are Final, and Other Notes on the Impending Election

2015_12_09_46_trumpeagle-b225d
Don’t regret your vote like Donald Trump regretted coming too close to this eagle. (Image retrieved from mashable.com.)

Mere days before the U.S. presidential election—one that will decide which rich, arrogant white person voters really don’t seem to like gets to be our next Commander-in-Chief—I can’t help but think about another recent vote overseas which garnered a lot of attention. Like with the anticipated margin of victory/defeat in the American general election, the results of this referendum vote were nail-bitingly close. And as is distinctly possible with our choices in the ol’ U-S-of-A, a majority of the participating constituents, as slim as that majority may have been, made a very dumb decision.

By now, you probably realize I am alluding to the so-called Brexit referendum vote in the United Kingdom, in which voters, deceived into believing false promises made by the party about steering 350 million pounds a week to the UK’s National Health Service, or otherwise exploited for their concerns about greater control over the country’s economy and borders, opted for Britain to leave the European Union. The exact mechanics of the United Kingdom’s jettisoning itself from the EU are still being discussed/litigated, in particular, when exactly the change occurs. The extent of the damage, as it likely will bear out, is also up in the air. When the news broke, one specific aspect of the Brexit vote and its immediate aftermath was striking to me. No, not that Boris Johnson looks like the human version of a Muppet, or that Nigel Farage is a weasel-faced liar, though both are indeed applicable.

What struck me is that a good number of UK voters did not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the circumstances behind the referendum vote, or otherwise failed to comprehend exactly what was at stake. In the wake of the bombshell news that the United Kingdom opted to Leave rather than Remain, as this Vox piece by Katie Hicks encapsulates, there was, for many, a quick turn to regret, especially among those who voted to Leave as a sort of “protest vote” while thinking all the while that the Remain side would prevail. The natural response of many hearing this was, “Um, are you f**king kidding me?” Of course, a number of these armchair detractors may not have even voted, so take this criticism for what it’s worth. Perhaps even more confounding, though, after polls had closed following the Brexit vote, Google searches for “What is the EU?” spiked precipitously. The natural response of many was to curl into the fetal position, rock gently back and forth, and weep trying to remember a time when their fellow man or countryman could be trusted to do a lick of research before voting. In these Internet surfers’ defense, I realize the average person’s hours are at a premium, and that many people do not have much time to look things up alongside working and trying to raise a family or whatnot. BUT SERIOUSLY, IF YOU WERE VOTING TO LEAVE THE EU, YOU SHOULD HAVE SOME IDEA OF WHAT THE F**K IT IS. JUST A BIT.

As Samantha Bee quipped about the relationship between Brexit and the state of American politics shortly after the UK’s fateful decision, the parallels between the rise of nationalism in Britain and Trump’s ascendancy to the Republican Party presidential nomination are so obvious a “brain-damaged baboon” could see them. Indeed, the comparisons to be made herein are pretty stark. The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza—decidedly smarter than a brain-damaged baboon, mind you—plotted the similarities between the Brexit movement and a Trumpian undercurrent that has been building largely within white America for some time now. In fact, the strength of Donald Trump’s “anti-establishment” support is such that the undercurrent has since risen to the level of full-on current. Disaffected prospective voters are chanting “Lock her up!” at the mention of “Crooked Hillary” Clinton’s political scandals, alongside the white supremacists feeling perfectly comfortable in, say, punching black protestors at Trump rallies, or burning historically black churches and writing “Vote Trump” on them. You stay classy, racists of Mississippi.

So, what parallels does Cillizza identify? Broadly speaking, he points to three areas of similitude:

Immigration is “out of control”

Obviously, xenophobic sentiment in the United Kingdom has little to do with worry about Mexicans crossing illegally across the border. Such is a uniquely American concern. That said, with migrants from over 20 European Union nations able to move freely across borders, there is at least superficial reason to understand why Team Leave was able to pull off the upset win, as some might see it. It’s the fear of outsiders. The fear of loss of cultural and national identity. The fear something could be taken away. Those same feelings of fear and worry about loss are pervasive among Donald Trump’s supporters, who express genuine enthusiasm about the concept of building a wall at the country’s southern border or favor a ban on Muslims under the vague notion this will keep us safe. Make America Great Again. “Take back control.” Either way, the idea is about going back to a better, more prosperous, simpler time. Such a time may not actually exist, mind you, or at least not as those looking through rose-colored glasses may see things, but you can’t fault voters too much for latching onto a candidate who not only professes to know what is truly ailing the United States, but exactly how to fix it.

Political leaders are “clueless and corrupt”

As Chris Cillizza explains, Brits have had a long-standing issue with rules and standards being dictated to them from European Union headquarters based in Brussels, Belgium. Add to that flagging confidence in pre-Brexit-vote UK prime minister David Cameron, and it’s no wonder the Leave vote had the kind of support it did on this dimension. In the United States, meanwhile, faith in institutions has declined in recent years pretty much across the board, and Congress, for one, is no exception to this rule. Unfortunately, Donald Trump has been given a lot of ammunition in this regard, including but not limited to his political rival, Hillary Clinton, whose various political scandals have dogged her throughout her campaign. It’s worth saying that Trump himself has proven woefully clueless at points in the past year, and umpteen reports have hinted at his own malfeasances. The difference is “the Donald” seems more capable of shrugging off accusations of impropriety, while Hillary’s wrongdoing has stuck to her like glue. This disparity might just be enough to sway the election, at that.

Consequences are “overrated”

Just how bad could a Brexit prove? Even in advance of the referendum vote, as Cillizza notes, experts were warning a break with the EU could not only send the UK into recession, but it could lead to further secession from the European Union, as well as Scotland to just say, “The f**k with ye!” and secede in its own right from the United Kingdom (Scotland, for its part, overwhelmingly voted to Remain, which Donald Trump somewhat infamously failed to recognize after the smoke had cleared). And yet, a majority of voting Brits opted to Leave anyway. Recession, shmecession, am I right?

In terms of Donald Trump’s intended policies—as poorly-defined as they are—his supporters have also damned the potential fallout from his winning the presidency and exacting such measures, defying the predictions of many, myself included. After Trump’s whopper of a speech announcing his intentions to run for President of these United States, I imagined he would find some way to torpedo his campaign, if this didn’t manage to achieve that effect to begin with. Seeing the frustration with establishment politics from the progressive angle, meanwhile, I admittedly underestimated initially just how fed up everyday Americans are with “politics as usual” and the state of affairs in the country today. Chris Cillizza closes his piece on the Brexit-Trump with these thoughts, which sound like a warning more than anything:

We are in the midst of a worldwide sea change regarding how people view themselves, their government and their countries. The Brexit vote and the rise of Trump — while separated by thousands of miles and an ocean — are both manifestations of that change. There will be more.

“There will be more.” Sounds ominous. Like, “there will be blood.” Only Donald Trump is Daniel Plainview. And he’s about to drink all our milkshakes.


david-cameron-brexit
Is this face the epitome of regret, or “Bregret,” as some would term it? Perhaps. At least the man had the decency to resign in disgrace. With Trump, we’d have four years of a disgrace coming into office. (Image retrieved from excelaviation.ie.)

Like I said, I, at first, underestimated just how afraid and angry average Americans are, and how they might be willing to look past what many of Donald Trump’s critics see as detestable incompetence. Not to mention dude’s a first-rate asshole. He lies. He deceives. He cheats. He lies some more. And he belittles, bullies or sues anyone who runs afoul of him—which is not hard to do either because the man’s got the emotional maturity of a second-grader. Yet for all his shortcomings, those who intend to vote for him see a greater danger in letting Hillary Clinton get to the White House. I think an essential element of this is that with Trump, there is at least the perception that what you see is what you get. It may not be true, but by saying so much crazy shit over the past year and change, people get the sense he is being forthright with you—even when he’s off-color or off the mark completely.

With Clinton, though, the name of the game is secrecy, built on a mistrust of the press and a fundamental misunderstanding of the electorate. True, she possesses a vague feminist appeal in that she would become the first female POTUS (her suffragette white pantsuit has also played to female voters), as well as the notion she appears to genuinely care about the rights of women and children in particular. She also has received the support of progressive figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Moore and Robert Reich, who have tried to make it seem as though Hillary is the greatest political candidate to ever grace a ballot—if for no other reason than she would be a vastly more rational leader than Donald J. Trump. If not connecting with voters based on a sense of historical achievement or pragmatism, though, she’s pretty much swinging and missing on an emotional front. Trump at least makes his supporters feel like he cares about the average Joe. With Hillary Clinton, however? She is so far removed emotionally from John and Jane Q. Public it’s scary—and I think the Democrats, in general, are too. To a certain extent, so are establishment Republicans. Going back to the Cillizza article, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were cited as figures who believed Americans would “come to their senses” eventually. They were right, but not in the way they meant it. Americans are coming to their senses—but in the form of realization than neither of the major parties really get why so many of us are pissed off. Especially for Hillary’s and the Democrats’ sake, who have been celebrating her likely inauguration before she started running, it might just take a loss to Donald Trump for that aforementioned “sea change” in global politics to sink in and for the party to make meaningful changes.

The question is, then: what are the odds Trump could actually pull off his own Brexit-like reversal of expectations? As it always seems to be the case, the mainstream media and liberal news publications highlight favorable national polling numbers for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, albeit less favorable than they were, say, a month ago. As we know, though, this is not how presidential elections are decided in this country—electoral votes are tallied on a state-by-state basis with the winner needing to get to 270 votes. And the most recent updates are not exactly good for the would-be Madam President. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight indicates Trump is polling well in key swing states. Moreover, CNN’s most recent electoral map projection puts Clinton two electoral votes short of the necessary 270, with 66 votes up for grab in “battleground” states and blue-leaning states like Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin anything but sure bets. Of course, Hillary Clinton is yet the odds-on favorite to win on November 8, but, to borrow a phrase you will likely hear quite often this coming Tuesday, the race is still “too close to call.”

In other words, Donald Trump could conceivably win this whole g-d thing. Bringing back the conversation full circle, much as people voting Leave in the Brexit referendum vote may have regretted their choice, believing Remain would carry the day, if you’re voting Trump but really thinking Clinton will win, don’t. Just don’t. Also, much in the way people were mystifyingly Googling “What is the EU?” after voting, you need to understand what it as stake if Donald Trump wins. Mark Kleiman, public policy professor at NYU Marron Institute of Public Management, enumerated the “damage” a Trump presidency could entail, either with the stroke of a pen or with the sanction of a Republican-led Congress. Read it. The whole list. If you’re still riding the Trump Train after all these points, that’s fine. But if you don’t understand the scope of who or what you’re voting for prior to casting your ballot, you probably shouldn’t even be voting.

I am likely preaching to the choir with a lot of my sentiments in this piece and in this closing. I realize that. Still, it deserves to be said, and as such, I’ll make my own final plea: don’t vote for Donald Trump. Again, just don’t. This is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Far from it. I’m not voting for her, after all. But I’m not voting for Trump either, because he is clearly the wrong choice. Sure, it’s a free country, and you can vote for whomever you want. Just remember, however, that all votes are final, and that lasting consequences may result whichever way you choose.

Why I’m Voting for Jill Stein, Or, If Not Now—When?

Not only is Dr. Jill Stein a strong and qualified candidate for President, but she speaks with authenticity about a plan for the issues facing the country. Can you say that about your candidate of choice? (Photo Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA)
Not only is Dr. Jill Stein a strong and qualified candidate for President, but she speaks with authenticity about a plan for the issues facing the country. Can you say that about your candidate of choice? (Photo Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA)

Though it likely means very little in the grand scheme of things—including to her campaign—I am endorsing Jill Stein for President of the United States. If you know me personally, this may not surprise you, though you’re probably thinking you didn’t imagine me to be so impractical, nor did you consider me to be that interested in politics. Up until recently, though, I wasn’t really that interested in U.S. politics. (On the “impractical” front, meanwhile, I’ve always kind of been that way. Oh, well.) Like so many Americans, I was disgusted with the doings of lawmakers and other politicians. I still am, mind you, and this current slog of a presidential race has perhaps only increased that sickened feeling, but nevertheless, I think it’s important to know where this country is headed, and who’s leading it. Especially if it’s headed to “the shitter,” as some might term it, and it’s being led by a bunch of idiots and children professing to call themselves “adults.”

I may be in my 30’s, and thus have a limited frame of reference for matters of domestic and foreign policy, but seeing a bunch of jokers twice my age do what I would judge to be a poor job of steering our country in the right direction, I figure I might as well do what I can to equip myself and others with knowledge, or at least a different viewpoint in relation to today’s events. People have even made offhand references to me running for President someday, or if I were to run, that they would vote for me. At present, this is merely very flattering to me, but who knows—the ol’ US of A might need someone like me in the future.

But I digress. I imagine a number of you reading and others if they knew are/would be upset at my announcement of my intention to vote for Jill Stein. Accordingly, I have prepared responses as part of an imaginary Q&A. It’s like participating in a debate, only with myself, and thus, if anyone interrupts me, I literally only have myself to blame. So, here goes nothing:


Good evening, Mr. Mangano. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions.

Well, thank you for having me, and a special thanks to everyone reading.

Sure thing. They’ve already probably started skimming, so let’s not waste too much time, shall we? About your decision to support and vote for Dr. Jill Stein in the upcoming presidential election—

Yes.

Um, don’t mean to be a dick and all, but you know she can’t win, right?

Well, yeah, I understand that.

So, you’re OK with wasting your vote?

I mean, if you consider it a waste of my vote, then yes. Though I might submit that if Hillary Clinton beats Donald Trump by, say, a million votes in the general election, then barring a situation in which Trump wins the presidency based on electoral math despite having lost the popular vote, 999,999 people casting their vote for the GOP might be considered to be wasting their votes as well.

Listen, don’t get cute. If you want to go ahead and make a “protest vote,” why not just go whole hog and vote for Donald Trump?

Um, are you serious?

Indulge me.

What exactly am I “protesting” by voting for Donald J. Trump? Equal treatment of women and people with brown skin? Decency? Having a functioning brain in one’s head? There are so many reasons why voting for Trump is a bad idea, including but not limited to his childishness, his hard-on for Vladimir Putin, his lack of concrete policy ideas, his litigiousness, his racism, his sexism, his vendetta against the mainstream media, his xenophobia, and that he’s a cheat, a fraud, a liar, poor businessman, and potential rapist. And the notion of voting for him because the DNC “screwed” Bernie or that Hillary is part of the “establishment” and he’s an “outsider” is just plain dumb. He’s not “one of us.” He’s a spoiled rich brat who has enjoyed tax breaks and other privileges that were only available to him because of the name his daddy created. I would rather trust a pack of wolves with watching my steak dinner than give Donald Trump the keys to the country.

What I’m hearing is a lot of reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Yeah, well, that seems to be many people’s stance, but I don’t feel the same way.

Oh, great. You’re one of those folks who’s going to help independents “Nader” this election.

Ugh. I assume you’re referring to the assertion Ralph Nader “lost” Al Gore the 2000 election, that he played “spoiler” to his hopes. This is a narrative the media has spun about the results of that presidential election which I find wholly disingenuous. First of all, let me point out the fact Gore did not even win his home state of Tennessee in that election. So right then and there, this says something about the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) behind his candidacy. This notwithstanding, there were an awful lot of shenanigans surrounding hanging chads and recounts in the state of Florida, besides the idea thousands of Democrats in the Sunshine State voted for George W. Bush. With all this in mind, suggesting Gary Johnson and Jill Stein could collectively “Nader” this election is a whole lot of misdirection. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t become the first female President of the United States following the results of the vote in November, it won’t be because Bernie Sanders or Johnson or Stein ruined it for her, it’ll be because she lost and she didn’t make a compelling enough case to voters, especially Democrats.

I’m invoking Ralph Nader himself here, but to even refer to someone as a “spoiler” in this context is to be politically bigoted. After all, what are the scores of people who are voting for Hillary Clinton because she’s not Donald Trump and vice-versa doing but playing spoiler to someone else’s vote? In a sense, we’re all playing spoiler by voting, and even those who can vote and don’t plan to come out—who deserve to be admonished, by the way—are making a choice by “not making a choice.” If we’re blaming anyone after Election Day, let it be those who, without irony, cast their ballots for the Republican Party nominee. They’d be the ones “Brexit-ing” this election.

Fine. No excuses for Hillary Clinton if she doesn’t win. Even though she’s trying to single-handedly break through the glass ceiling and deal with centuries of patriarchal oppression.

Right, yes, if she’s playing the “woman card,” then “deal her in.” She’s used that line quite a few times. Though I would like to note Jill Stein is, herself, a woman—

And she’s immensely qualified for the office of President, perhaps more so than any other candidate in American history.

Yes. We know. First Lady and U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. Lots of qualifications—

She’s fighting for us!

OK, but—

We’re stronger together!

Yes, but—

Love trumps hate!

Would you quit it with all the campaign slogans?

Sorry. It’s just she inspires so many people. I mean, all these Hollywood endorsements can’t be wrong, can they? Why aren’t you “with her?” Why aren’t you on the side of a progressive who gets things done?

Whoa. Let me stop you right there. Don’t get me wrong—I want Hillary Clinton to win this election. As with the number of voters out there who are behind HRC to foil Donald Trump, I pray Gropey McOrange-Face never holds any public office, let alone President of these United States. Moreover, I don’t wish to rain on the parade the Clinton campaign and women of all ages are envisioning should Hillary win. There’s something to be said for giving young girls, in particular, hope that one day they can rise to the same heights, afforded opportunities the women who came before them never dreamed of. Pardon the expression, but it’s a yuuuuuuge deal.

Going back to Trump, meanwhile, there is a real danger in the prospect of seeing him potentially filling the upcoming vacancy in the Oval Office, and I’m not even talking about the damage he could do with the stroke of a pen or at the behest of a Republican-led Congress, as well as the injury he could inflict on America’s credibility among the nations of the world, which already has taken a hit as a result of him merely becoming a major-party nominee. I’m talking about the sense of empowerment a Donald Trump presidency stands to give stupid racist assholes like himself—that they are justified in their hate and wanting to somehow “take their country back.” No, f**k-wads. You’re taking our country backwards. Our country. Not yours. As Jon Stewart so correctly put it, you don’t own the United States, and you don’t own patriotism. Trump can’t fix America. Trump can’t give you back the nation you think you remember. And Trump can’t “make America great again.” It could be better, sure, but it already is great—and far better than the third-world country he makes it out to be to gin up your anger and fear in trying to get your vote.

But Hillary Clinton, a progressive? No way, José. Before we even get to her exact position on the political spectrum, let’s first consider her track record of, ahem, getting things done. As First Lady? The Clinton health care initiative spearheaded by Hillary and designed to bring the U.S. closer to a universal health care system went down in flames, and HRC was criticized and even litigated against for her part in the apparent secrecy of developments within her Health Care Task Force. As U.S. Senator? Her legacy of bills that she sponsored passing the Senate in two terms? Three became law: one to establish the Kate Mullany National Historic Site, one to rename a post office, and one to rename a highway. And let’s not forget her vote for the Iraq War. How about her role as Secretary of State? I’ll grant you her work to secure the Iran nuclear deal, and possibly even her influence in the decision to take out Osama bin Laden, but let’s ask the people of Honduras and Libya about meddling in their countries’ affairs. Or mention the deal that sent 20% of America’s uranium stores to Russia. Or perhaps casually talk about her reckless use of E-mail and mobile devices, which may or may not have coincided with hiding sensitive information about the Clinton Foundation or drone strikes. Is this the kind of experience we’re touting?

No, Hillary Clinton is far too jaded from her years in politics to embrace the truly progressive spirit America needs. Universal health care? Pie-in-the-sky fodder! Let’s just keep pushing the Affordable Care Act no one seems to like! $15 minimum wage? Not conciliatory enough! Blame the big banks for their role in the 2007 financial crisis? But the banking industry knows what’s best for it! Free trade? Why not? Climate change? We need to fight it, but what the heck, let’s have some fracking while we’re at it! More military to fight ISIS? Done! Tim Kaine? He’s vanilla as they come, but that’s what we’re after! You see, Clinton hews too close to center on so many issues, and even when she professes to support a more progressive agenda, you can’t be confident she’ll actually live up to her promises. For instance, Hillary claims she’s against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but do you really feel comfortable in the notion she’d break ranks with Barack Obama and move against the agreement should it fail to pass in the lame-duck session? I sure as hell don’t.

As Obama’s ascension to the presidency was a symbol of progress for African-Americans, so too would Hillary Clinton as POTUS signify a breakthrough for women. But is this enough? Both Obama and Clinton seem to favor incremental change rather than bold ideas, and neither has called for the requisite amount of reform of the financial sector in the wake of the credit crisis of a decade ago, which could see a reprise with Wells Fargo and other “too big to fail” institutions playing fast and loose with ethics and our money. Hillary may be a better candidate than Donald Trump, but this doesn’t necessarily make her a good one. She’s a moderate in progressive’s clothing, a warmonger, and not for nothing, pretty damn arrogant. Not as much as Trump, again, but still. She and the rest of the Democratic Party appear content to ride out the “we’re not Trump” strategy up until the election, convinced he’ll self-destruct or that we’ll vote for them anyway. By choosing the “lesser of two evils,” that’s exactly what we’re doing—and giving them every reason to think they can pander to us and put us into boxes. See? There’s danger in electing Hillary Clinton too.

Wow, you really don’t like Hillary, do you?

Not too much. I think there was a time when Hillary Clinton was perhaps more idealistic, and I do feel she genuinely cares about certain issues, namely children’s and women’s rights. Somewhere along the way, though, I believe she decided that politics is a dirty game which should be played to win, and that the acquisition of funds by whatever means necessary is justifiable. In this respect, I suppose HRC is, in part, a byproduct of the money machines known as the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and the conflation of politics and business. But this does not completely exonerate her.

OK. Let’s recap real quick. Donald Trump is a scumbag, so you’re not voting for him.

Yup. I mean, you heard about the Trump Tapes, right?

Shit, those were awful. I feel dirty just thinking about them. And Hillary Clinton is a phony in expensive designer clothing, so you’re not voting for her either.

Uh-huh. And it sounds like she’ll be pretty cozy with Wall Street if elected based on the latest leak from Wikileaks.

Yes, yes, Bernie supporter. We know. Wall Street is bad. Money is the root of all evil.

I’M NOT SAYING THAT! THAT’S NOT EVEN THE REAL QUOTE! IT’S “THE LOVE OF MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL!” MONEY IS A USEFUL MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE!

Hey, hey! Stop yelling at me! I’m just a figment of your imagination!

Sorry. I just get upset when people take things out of context.

Yeah, I noticed. All right. Where were we? Ah, yes—your third-party vote. Or fourth-party vote. What is the technical term for your choice?

How about the Green Party vote?

Fine. Whatever. Don’t you think you’re suffering from a serious case of white privilege in refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton to stop Donald Trump? After all, dude wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out and ban Muslims from entering the U.S. You’re in a better position to suffer through a Trump presidency than minority groups are.

I don’t deny I am white and privileged. Let me stress—I don’t want Donald Trump to win. Again, though, I feel like it’s unfair to say to people, “Hey, you need to get out there and vote. Don’t f**k this up for the rest of us.” Already, the Hillary apologists and other people fearing a Trump presidency are creating a scapegoat, when it should be incumbent upon the candidate to convince the people to vote for him or her, and not just vote against the alternative. Besides, what message does this send to new voters exercising their rights as citizens? Vote your conscience, but not this time. We know you don’t like either choice, but fall in line. Don’t think about the issues so much—there’s too much at stake to vote independent.

The rationale against Donald Trump is that he more or less is, you know, Hitler, but if both major-party candidates are as unlikable and untrustworthy as Donald and Hillary, and we’ve been voting for the lesser of two evils within the two-party system for this long, gosh darn it, maybe we’re doing it wrong. Maybe the Democrats and Republicans need a signal they’re not meeting the needs of the electorate, and of the planet at that. If we don’t tell them by voting outside the box, if you will, how are we going to ensure that they absorb this notion and produce better candidates for 2020? If not now, when?

Hmm, not even your boys Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich can sway your mind, can they?

I respect these guys immensely, especially Sanders for backing a candidate he campaigned against during the primary season. I also understand where they’re coming from, at least from an outsider’s perspective. Donald Trump. Adolf Hitler. If all people can say in the former’s defense is that he hasn’t called for ethnic cleansing or that he doesn’t have a mustache like the latter, that pretty much tells you all you need to know. Still, while I don’t wish for a Trump presidency, the damage his antics and rhetoric might do to down-ticket Republicans hoping for congressional bids might be quite a boon for the country. Regardless, I think we need to move beyond a mere red-or-blue paradigm, and I feel I need to be true to myself. So come November, I’m voting my conscience—and watching the election results with bated breath.

Wow. You’ve certainly given us a lot to bite off and chew.

Yeah, it’s what I do.

Maybe you should get out more.

Probably.

Before you go, you talk about voting for a candidate as opposed to voting against another? So, what’s so great about this Jen Stein anyway?

It’s Jill Stein.

Sure, sure. Jill Stein.

She’s a doctor.

What, like, a real one?

No, she just plays one on TV. OF COURSE SHE’S A REAL DOCTOR!

Hey! What did I say about yelling?

OK, I’m sorry!

Ben Carson is a doctor. Why didn’t you support him?

Very funny. Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, not only is eminently qualified like Hillary, but also has a forthright plan to address the major issues facing the United States and the world today. As with Bernie Sanders, Stein believes in a people-powered solution to high poverty and unemployment rates, not to mention a sustainable economy for a sustainable world, and one that functions within a society built on respect for the rights and dignity of all people.

Among the key components of her agenda as the Green Party’s representative are cutting military spending, eliminating student debt, enacting a $15 minimum wage, ending police brutality and mass incarceration, ensuring the right to live and work comfortably for all people, establishing a single-payer public health care system, expanding women’s rights, moving away from corporate influence on politics, and, of course, transitioning America to renewable energy sources as a function of a commitment to protecting the Earth. Of the remaining presidential candidates, she appears to the most focused and genuine among them. And unlike certain people in this race, she knows where the heck Aleppo is.

I knew that was coming sooner or later.

Couldn’t help myself. Sorry.

Phew. That was a long one.

That’s what she said.

God, what are you: twelve?

I know you are, but what am I?

Sigh, I think we’re nearing the end of the road here. Any last words to you want to impart to the audience?

Sure. Thanks again to all for reading, and for more information on Jill Stein and her campaign, visit www.jill2016.com.

Great. Joseph Mangano, ladies and gentlemen! You realize they’re clapping for me, not you, right?

Oh, shut up.

The Death Dance of the Mainstream Media

soledad
Soledad O’Brien had to come back to CNN recently to verbally bitch-slap her former employer over their “shoddy” coverage of Donald Trump. Sadly, this seems to be a microcosm of mainstream news media’s woeful coverage of the 2016 election. (Image Credit: CNN)

A few days ago, NBC News aired a Commander-in-Chief Forum with presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prominently featured, and to say it was not well received would be a bit of an understatement. To be fair, NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack—not to be confused with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck—singularly praised moderator Matt Lauer’s performance during this television special, and the presentation did garner some 15 million viewers. To be less fair, however, Lack’s lauding of Lauer’s handling of the forum may be singular in that he seems to be the only person who thought the whole shebang was capably handled. Members of the press, officials from past presidential administrations, pundits, and social media critics alike blasted Matt Lauer’s handling of the admittedly-limited thirty minutes devoted to interviewing both Clinton and Trump. Among the points of contention from the dissatisfied peanut gallery:

  • Lauer spent about a third of his time with Hillary Clinton talking about her ongoing E-mail scandal, while glossing over a number of arguably more important topics, such as national security.
  • Lauer did not fact-check Donald Trump when he made the claim that he never supported the Iraq War, even when most of the audience seemed to be aware he totally f**king did.
  • Lauer appeared to let Trump be, you know, himself and talk over the person asking him the questions, while frequently interrupting Clinton, inspiring allegations of sexism.
  • Lauer did not press Trump more strongly on stupid shit he said or has said in the past, such as the Republican Party nominee’s Tweet which evidently suggested it’s women’s fault by enlisting in the first place for getting sexually assaulted in the U.S. military, or his assertion that he knows more about ISIS than the actual American generals in charge of combat operations in the Middle East, or even his continued support for Vladimir Putin, a man who was instrumental in the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and who may or may not be behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee.
  • In other words, Lauer more critically interviewed Olympic swimmer and professional moron Ryan Lochte than he did a man who might actually become President of the United f**king States.

Perhaps it is no great wonder with public relations disasters such as the Commander-in-Chief Forum in mind to hear news such as this report back from June from Gallup that Americans’ confidence in newspapers has gone down 10% in the past decade from 30% to 20%, and that their faith in television news has likewise declined by 10% from 31% to 21%. It should be noted that other institutions asked about in this same survey have their own confidence problems, including churches/organized religion (down 11% to 41%), banks (down 22% to 27%), and Congress (down 10% to a mere 9%). Still, Americans’ distaste for and mistrust of the news media is real, something that neither bodes well for the success and continued survival of various news outlets, nor augurs particularly auspiciously for an informed public, at that. Seeing these statistics in a vacuum, it’s hard to tell, in chicken-egg fashion, whether flagging confidence in the mainstream media has fueled the downturn of newspapers and cable TV, whether public interest has waned in response to an inferior product already on the decline, or, like the ouroboros—the snake eating its own tail—these two trends exist not within a linear cause-effect relationship, but rather as part of a circular duality that feeds on itself. If the last case is indeed true to reality, this is doubly bad, for not only does this set of circumstances likely accelerate the process of disintegration, but if we are still thinking of serpents after the last metaphor, we are likely profoundly scared in an Indiana Jones-like way. DAMMIT! I HATE SNAKES, AND I HATE MSNBC!

On the subject of the decline of newspapers as a source of information, undoubtedly, the rise of television and later the Internet meant there was only so much consumer attention to go around, and online content and news providers have an added leg up on newspapers in being able to tailor advertising to individual users, which hurts print media’s ability to generate valuable ad revenue. From a cost perspective, too, newspapers fight a losing battle in trying to limit expenses in light of the burden of overhead, with clear disadvantages in the price of physical circulation, printing each edition, or even rewarding writers and other employees for their services. There are additional challenges faced by newspapers and all media for that matter, such as the fragmentation of the market to reflect niche interests, the social media requirement faced by businesses irrespective of industry, and the lingering economic effects of the Great Recession, to consider. All in all, it’s a potent brew of negative influences on newspapers’ ability to thrive today, and a number of publications serving major metropolitan areas have been forced to limit print circulation or fold altogether over the years.

Meanwhile, on the matter of television news networks, while recently the networks have enjoyed ratings coups owing to people tuning in to witness the shit-show that is the 2016 presidential election, on the long-term whole, as of May 2015, cable news has seen its overall median daily audience shrink 11% since 2008, according to Pew Research. Potentially outmoded statistics aside, many reason what happened to newspapers vis-à-vis cable news will repeat itself with the likes of CNN, FOX News and MSNBC relative to blogs and other online media. As Paul Farhi, writing for The Washington Post, outlines, prime-time cable news shows are heavily reliant on an aging audience, and face obvious competition from online news sources better served to meet the needs and desires of younger generations. Meaning that while the network that professes to offer “news” but really just utilizes fear-mongering, prejudices and unsubstantiated claims to gin up its viewers is enjoying a long-standing run atop the charts, even it might have trouble sooner than later. And not just because the GOP is a shell of its former self and has been co-opted by idiots and white supremacists.

Indeed, going forward, the traditional news media has its work cut out for it if it wants to stay afloat in a sea of competing interests. To this end, various media outlets need to generate clicks, ratings and subscriptions, and to do this, they have to find some hook with the consumer-user. How these news services achieve this end, and whether or not this will only guarantee them a worse fate in light of the public’s fragile confidence in them, is the multi-billion dollar question. Right now, as noted, the corporate media is riding high. After all, almost 15 million viewers tuned into NBC News’s Commander-in-Chief debacle—and that wasn’t even a debate! Whether or not the American people will actually turn out to vote in November is another story, but in the lead-up to the election, there certainly seems to be a great deal of interest in who stands to become our next President and what sort of damage he or she might inflict on the country should he or she win. At the end of the campaign season, though, and following the election and even inauguration, it almost seems inevitable there will be a drop-off in interest, and in the post-election hangover in which America will find itself after months of a tiresome primary/debate schedule, the traditional media may discover it has less clout and more competition than it might otherwise have considered.

From the swivel chair on which I’m sitting, news media has not done a good job of covering the 2016 presidential election cycle. Nor has it done a fair job, or even a “Needs Work” kind of job, as a child might see on his or her grade-school assignment. No, the mainstream media has done a piss-poor job of serving the public interest when it comes to the campaign season. (I perhaps would’ve referred to it as a “deplorable” job, but Hillary has ruined that word for the foreseeable future—and may have even done damage to her election bid with her “basket of deplorables” turn of phrase.) The powers-that-be behind today’s remaining major newspapers and big-name news networks would be apt to protest this characterization, and furthermore, would insist they are providing fair and balanced coverage that considers all viewpoints. While under most circumstances, objectivity in reporting is highly advisable, when the situation warrants a firmer hand in steering the discussion, particularly when representing all angles means to give a voice to elements whose arguments are little more than bigotry and deliberate misrepresentation of reality, the refusal of the news to intervene is a failure, and a seemingly cowardly one at that, or else it values ad revenue over integrity.

Former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien recently took her old employer to task over its lack of discretion in reporting on the U.S. presidential election. O’Brien’s takedown of CNN’s coverage, particularly in the network’s kowtowing to the more reprehensible voices on Donald Trump’s side of the fence, is to be commended for its directness as well as its consideration of the implications not only for the outcome election, but for the fate of CNN and television journalism itself. What most agree are the critical points of Soledad’s impassioned remarks:

On giving white supremacists a platform because they are Trump supporters/delegates…

“I’ve seen on-air, white supremacists being interviewed because they are Trump delegates. And they do a five minute segment, the first minute or so talking about what they believe as white supremacists. So you have normalized that. And then Donald Trump will say, ‘Hillary Clinton, she’s a bigot.’ And it’s covered, the journalist part comes in, ‘They trade barbs. He said she’s a bigot and she points out that he might be appealing to racists.’ It only becomes ‘he said, she said.’ When in actuality, the fact that Donald Trump said she’s a bigot without the long laundry list of evidence, which if you looked at Hillary Clinton’s speech, she actually did have a lot of really good factual evidence that we would all agree that are things that have happened and do exist. They are treated as if they are equal. That’s where journalists are failing: the contortions to try to make it seem fair.”

And on CNN and others building up Donald Trump for ratings…

“Hateful speech brings a really interested, angry audience. ‘This is genius! We should do this more often. What shall we do when this election is over? We’re going to have to think about ways to really rile people up, make them angry and divide them.’ Because that is something that cable news, frankly, and everybody can cover really well. So, I find it very frustrating. I believe he was over-covered at the beginning. Now, it is ‘he said, she said’ all the time. We have lost context. We actually don’t even cover the details of something. We just cover the back and forth of it. It’s funny to watch if it weren’t our own country and our own government actually operating.”

What supposed “bigot” Hillary Clinton believes at heart about the key voting demographics to which she panders, one can’t be sure, but Soledad O’Brien is right: at least she has not made attacks on minorities the cornerstone of her campaign the way Donald Trump has his. Furthermore, I’d argue she’s deadly accurate on what the media has done, by and large, to frame the ultimate showdown between Clinton and Trump. Make no mistake—a winner-take-all electoral competition between Hill and Don is exactly what print media and the major news networks wanted. The aggregate favorability rating of the Democratic Party and Republican Party nominee is an almost-historically low one, if not the lowest altogether, such that viewers and even the supporting casts related to each campaign themselves have strong feelings one way or another. Throw in the apparent belief of media outlets that their audiences are stupid, don’t care about “the issues,” and would rather see these party heads squabble than speak substantively on important subjects, and you’ve hit on, to a large extent, the news media’s approach to covering this election.

Indeed, the mainstream media is trying to dance precariously between two functions, and the discussion of whether or not their routine is a winning one is accordingly worthwhile. On the one hand, America’s major news outlets, like many concerned citizens, don’t have a death wish. Donald Trump, who hasn’t been good at very much in his 70 years—let’s be honest—would make an even worse President of the United States than the shady businessman the more informed among us know him to be. Hillary Clinton, by proxy, is made to look through headlines and clickable, shareable content that much stronger as a candidate on matters of policy, aside from her obviously superior experience after years in politics. On the other hand, however, said outlets really, really like the ratings and traffic the mere mention of Trump’s name generates, including that which derives from the man’s more, shall we say, outspoken supporters, and so, despite their better judgment, they all but waive their editorial discretion in the name of “fairness.” The result is that both candidates have not been pressed by the press as strongly as they could or perhaps should be questioned, and as a result, the detractors of both Clinton and Trump can claim the media is letting them off the hook. To a certain extent, they’re all right.


untitled
Mr. Trump, where in the holy hell are your tax returns? (Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

If I were in Matt Lauer’s shoes, granted, I would be likely be a bit apprehensive about confronting the two biggest figures in American politics right now, and I would also have to balance the probing nature of journalistic intent with the direction of the NBC brass—you know, provided I wanted to remain employed. All this aside, if I were to have the opportunity to interview  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I would want to pose these types of questions:

HILLARY CLINTON

1) OK, we get ityou regret voting for the Iraq War. Now that you’ve adequately expressed your remorse for political purposes, what do we do about our continued entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere abroad? What is our timetable for a meaningful reduction in military spending, or for that matter, a reduction in the number of American troops deployed in combat areas, if at all?

Dating back to the party primary season and even during the Democratic National Convention, Hillary caught a lot of flak from Bernie Sanders supporters and surrogates from her stances on the Iraq War and her perceived hawkishness. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton seems to be a bit right of center on the subject of the use of the military and spending to accomplish its goals, so these are worthwhile questions, especially for those who got behind the Sanders campaign and support more progressive aims of the Democratic Party. With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 just behind us and talk of “we will never forget,” it seems ironic to employ such verbiage when the U.S. still is invested heavily in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thus can’t forget a War on Terror still ongoing. More like “we will never get out,” if you ask me.

2) Unless you’re hard up for donations—and judging by your big-ticket fundraisers and speaking fees, you have plenty of cash at your disposal—why should the Clinton Foundation wait until after winning the election to stop accepting monies from corporations and foreign interests?

Hillary Clinton already has a bit of an optics problem regarding trustworthiness in light of her ongoing E-mail imbroglio, concerns about where monies are going after they reach the Hillary Victory Fund, and other scandals which may be somewhat trumped up by Republicans but otherwise do reflect legitimate character concerns. The Clinton Foundation, which has come under fire recently for insinuations it is emblematic of a pay-to-play paradigm which coincided with her affairs as head of the State Department and thus may have crossed ethical lines, and has been characterized by some vocal dissenters as more or less a money laundering operation, by these tokens, is not helping matters.

Among others, Robert Reich, who avidly supported Bernie Sanders until Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination, and now has put his influence behind Hillary because of his recognition of the danger of a Donald Trump presidency, recommends the Clinton Family divest itself of operational ties to its namesake charitable organization, in the interest of propriety and transparency. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign were smart, they wouldn’t wait to effect these changes, and certainly wouldn’t make them contingent on an election victory, but this a major-party presidential campaign we’re talking about here—sound judgment often falls by the wayside.

 3) Don’t you think it a bit douche-y to wear a $12,000 Giorgio Armani jacket and talk about income inequality?

I’ve brought this up before, but I would have to ask HRC directly just to gauge her reaction. Follow-up question: why did you or anyone pay so much for something that looks so hideous?

4) Why exactly were aides of yours smashing devices with hammers? What reasonable explanation is there for this that does not involve wanting to hide or obscure information?

Like Tom Brady smashing his phone in the midst of the Deflategate controversy, this is pretty much a rhetorical question, but I’d like to see and hear her explain why so many Blackberries and iPads had to be obliterated. Though I will admit it was probably oddly pleasurable for the person or persons tasked with doing the destroying. But still.

5) At this point, what does it matter whether the DNC and your campaign were hacked by Russia, or by Guccifer 2.0 acting independently, or by aliens, as Susan Sarandon jokingly suggested? What does it matter, Mrs. Clinton?

OK, so getting hacked is obviously a concern for any organization, and thus society as a whole, as is the theoretical publication of private information of individuals pursuant to matters of privacy in various data leaks. Still, the Democrats seem a little eager to point to Russia and shout, “Look what they did!” when the content itself of the leaked messages is objectionable. Whether it’s intentional bias against the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign or the influence of money on leadership within the party or even in government as a whole, these connections give the public a clearer picture of the kinds of people and institutions with whom/which they are dealing, and how democracy continues to be constrained by party politics and corporate/individual wealth. To this end, the DNC Leaks et al. are a public service, even if the manner in which they were obtained is suspect. Confessedly, though, as much as I feel I’m making a valid point, I kind of just wanted to take a swipe at Hillary Clinton’s semi-infamous “What does it matter?” moment from the hearings of Benghazi. When Americans die, in a potentially avoidable way, and the public is misinformed as to whether or not the attack was terroristic in nature, it does matter. Perhaps not as much as to warrant the extent of the costly investigation into the events surrounding Benghazi to date, but it does.

DONALD TRUMP

1) Why won’t you release your tax returns?

I’ve also discussed this before, musing as to why Donald Trump so obstinately has refused to acquiesce on this count. Some suspect it is because of his supposed ties to Russian businesses (though the Clintons have profited in their own right from Russia, including through the sale of uranium), but I suspect, perhaps more benignly, that Trump wants either to conceal the likely situation that he pays little to no taxes through loopholes, or—even worse in his eyes—that he doesn’t have nearly as much money as he says he does. This may not sound terrible to you or I, but when your entire brand is built on the image of you as a successful entrepreneur able to afford a lavish lifestyle, losing this appearance of obscene wealth could be devastating to this myth. It would be like the storied emperor with no clothes—and I’m immediately sorry for any mental images you now own because of this comparison.

2) How do you explain the immense rent increase for the Trump campaign headquarters in Trump Tower in July after you started receiving considerable funding from donors and weren’t just “financing your own campaign?”

The Trump campaign has explained the nearly four-times spike in its rent expense at Trump Tower resulting from adding “two more levels to its existing space,” whatever that means. While there’s no proof of anything shady, that purchases leading to greater expenses are synchronous with the addition of benefactors, and that Trump stands to indirectly benefit from this arrangement, is enough to raise one or more eyebrows. The deflection that the Clinton camp pays more on rent doesn’t assuage potential culpability either. Saying you spent less than Hillary Clinton on rent is like saying you smoke less weed than Tommy Chong. It’s not exactly something to hang your hat on.

3) Do you care to comment on reports that a number of key staffers in your campaign left after not getting paid, or that you have a history of doing to this people in your personal and professional lives?

One thing the press has not discussed nearly enough regarding Donald Trump’s business dealings is that he has repeatedly screwed people out of money, and then has shielded himself behind the cloak of litigation or has relied upon the auspices of bankruptcy law to avoid having to pay all his bills. If Trump can’t pay his staffers as he should, why should we expect him to do what’s right for America’s finances, or for that matter, give him the keys to the country?

4) Would you like to personally apologize to Jersey City, and in particular, its Muslim population, for making claims about thousands of people cheering in the streets when the Towers fell, even though this has been thoroughly debunked?

OK, I gotta say this one’s for me. When even Crazy Rudy Giuliani disagreed with Trump’s steadfast assertion that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City were celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center, you knew the man was full of shit, and anyone else who sides with Trump on this issue is either full of shit too, or has spent too much time watching Fox News and has had the parts of their brain devoted to higher-order thinking and encoding of memory eaten away by the stupidity. I don’t care if you’re talking about Muslims, undocumented Mexican immigrants, or members of the Borg collective—if they’re from New Jersey, step the f**k off.

5) Seriously, though, release your f**king tax returns.

Not really a question anymore, but then again, it shouldn’t be. If you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem complying. Shit, even Crooked Hillary obliged on this front. You don’t want to be worse than Hillary at something, do you, Donald?


Returning to the theme of journalistic accountability in the mainstream media and perceptions of bias, even before the events of this election cycle and the rise of online content/social media, a core group of outspoken Americans took to distrusting the “liberal media” and its leftist agenda. How dare they believe in concepts like gender and race equality? How come their “facts” don’t match what I know deep down in my gut? Why do they insist on telling me I’m wrong for hating gays and transgender people and telling them they can’t buy wedding cakes in our shops or pee in our bathrooms? TOO MUCH POLITICAL CORRECTNESS! TOO MANY BIG WORDS! AAAAAHHHH! This kind of mentality, I believe, has helped fuel the rise of the alt-right and eschewing of more reputable news sources for airheads such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and even conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones. Which, though it may chagrin network executives and digital content managers, might not be a huge loss for the rest of the viewing population. Not for nothing, but the fewer trolls we have on Comments sections of major news providers’ sites criticizing “libtards” and demeaning them as a bunch of whiny, sissy babies, I feel, is a good thing.

However, in news media’s indiscriminate push for ratings and revenue, that liberals and conservatives alike can be alienated by CNN, or The New York Times, or even Huffington Post, suggests that corporate-owned media outlets, buoyed by short-term successes, may only be riding a road to ruin in the long term. For libertarians, progressives, skinny people, fat people, people who try to ford the river or caulk it and float it, there are umpteen options, and while not all of them are winners (many, indeed, are not), by appealing to a more provincial audience, they stand to draw away attention from the big players in the mass media market. Again, when survival is anything but assured, prominent networks and newspapers are justifiably desperate for the public’s consumption. Catering to a lower common denominator, however, or failing to curb those who pander to a more deleterious element, seriously risks undermining the public’s trust and guaranteeing that they won’t come back. After all, when trust is gone, what else is left worth keeping?

Sorry, Hillary: I Might Vote for You, but You’re Not “the One”

giphy-facebook_s
Careful, Agent Clinton—Bernie Sanders and his supporters see past your neoliberal programming. (Photo retrieved from media.giphy.com.)

Brace yourselfI’m about to reference a movie that came out over 15 years ago with respect to the current election cycle.

I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with a particular scene from The Matrix. You know, the first onebefore the then-Wachowski Brothers ran the story into the ground with the next two installments. The sage Morpheus offers the hacker Neo/mild-mannered computer programmer Thomas Anderson a choice between two pills: a blue pill, which will restore him to the life he knows (or thinks he knows), and a red pill, which Morpheus describes as allowing him to “stay in Wonderland” and him showing Neo/Anderson “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

This U.S. presidential election cycle, the American people essentially have a choice between two “pills”the red one (Donald Trump) or the blue one (Hillary Clinton)though with much different possible side effects. In the former, many prospective voters are desperate to avoid the “Wonderland” that Trump insists his presidency would create, believing the country would instead be that much worse for it, and look at those who have swallowed the red-pill-laden Kool-Aid of “making America great again” with an air of horrified incredulity.

As for the latter, meanwhile, a good percentage of Americans are confronting the reality they might have to swallow a bitter pill in voting for Hillary. Many of those who have already willingly taken the required dosage to be “with her”believing what they want to believe, as Morpheus puts itlook at those who have yet to gulp down the blue pill with a certain degree of condescension or derision, especially those dadgum “Bernie or Bust” types. Why doesn’t Bernie just find a nice rocking chair somewhere (even though he’s less than a decade older than Hillary) and pat himself on the back in running a fine race? Why don’t his supporters fall in line and support history in the making? WHY ARE THEY SAYING #HILLNO INSTEAD OF #HILLYES?!?

While Red Pill Donald has received the lion’s share of media coverage in spite of a lack of substantive policy and an abundance of vitriol, Hillary Clinton has garnered quite a bit of press in her own rightand even more now that she’s the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. Much of it, for better or for worse, has had to do with the notion she is preeminently unlikable. (Donald Trump is yet more unlikable, but as with one-time rival Ted Cruz, this reality is pretty much taken as a fact of life.) This has led to all sorts of pieces on why HRC is unlikable, why she is very likable, why the question of her likability is based on an unfair double standard related to gender, how male voters tend to have a problem with strong women, how Sanders supporters are often sexist, misogynistic thugs who have no regard for how the real world works and are only looking for a handout (sorry, got carried away on that last one). In whatever form, much of the discussion about Clinton’s support has been in the form of reactions to the folly of this anti-Hillary prejudice, usually peppered with an illustration of just how qualified the former Secretary of State is.

Is the writing on the wall with respect to the Democratic Party nomination? Yes, and on newspapers, blogs, Facebook Walls and across the “Twitter-verse.” Is Hillary subject to a different standard than that of many of her male contemporaries? Definitely. Have some Bernie Sanders supporters and other right-wing detractors been guilty of prejudice and worse toward women? I fully admit as much. But is a resistance to supporting Clinton in her bid to be the first female president in U.S. history necessarily a failure on the part of those who resist?

As someone who begrudgingly would vote for Hillary in the general election, I submit the answer to that last one is a resounding no. I mean, it’s nothing personal, Ms. Clinton. You’re just not “the One.”

Why aren’t you the One, former Madam Secretary? It’s not youit’s me. Sorry, I have that the wrong way. It’s not meit’s you. That is, it’s your politics, not your gender, or my latent chauvinism, or that cackle. OK, so the cackle probably doesn’t help. But, yes, it’s what you represent. Anis Shivani, in a lengthy piece in Salon that makes even my usual “TL;DR” status blush, outlines how the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump facing the majority of pragmatic American voters represents a “neoliberal nightmare,” even going as far as to identify the crux of neoliberal theory which explains why the Clinton-Trump binary is so troublesome. At its core, explains Shivani, “Neoliberalism presumes a strong state, working only for the benefit of the wealthy, and as such it has little pretence to neutrality and universality, unlike the classical liberal state.”

For someone like Clinton who boasts of her identity as a “progressive who gets things done” in contrast to someone like Bernie Sanders, this is indeed a problem, for a strong state that works only for the benefit of the wealthy is decidedly not progressive. As Shivani goes on to say:

It should be said that neoliberalism thrives on prompting crisis after crisis, and has proven more adept than previous ideologies at exploiting these crises to its benefit, which then makes the situation worse, so that each succeeding crisis only erodes the power of the working class and makes the wealthy wealthier.

In this way, the neoliberal tradition seems particularly, dare we say, insidious, for, within this purview, it is not only responsible for widening disparities of wealth and power, but gets excused for its role in promoting such inequality. As Shivani argues, the market is the ideal structure for the neoliberal politician, such that attempts to regulate the literal markets or rein in this philosophy are met with swift rebuttal. A particularly instructive example would seem to be found in the Salon piece’s example of Hillary Clinton’s hesitancy to support regulation of Wall Street and commercial banking under the premise that we as Americans have to “abide by the rule of law” (Bernie-or-Busters, please try to hold your laughter at the apparent hypocrisy), in which everyday individuals are subjugated in favor of the corporation.

By no means is Hillary the only influential neoliberal in politics today; Obama is also referenced heavily in Shivani’s thought piece, as is Mr. Clinton and even George W. Bush. That said, its author views the presumptive Democratic Party nominee as the example par excellence, and views her espoused policies—many of them critical points of contention for Sanders supporters—as indicative of the internalization of the neoliberal mindset. The attack on trade unions, climate change and a messy break with fossil fuels and fracking, Clintonian criminal justice and welfare reform, debt/deficit reduction and slashing taxes, the $15 minimum wage, free college tuition—these issues and the people behind them matter. In Clinton’s neoliberal world, however, people are more or less “human capital,” as her shameless pandering to and trotting out of minorities in her campaign ads suggests. Even the references to her “firewall” among African-American voters in the deep South are, for all intents and purposes, dehumanizing. There is a wide range of experiences and opinions among the larger black community in the United States, and terminology such as this sends the wrong message about politicians thinking they do not and perhaps should not have to earn each and every vote.

The antithesis to the neoliberal movement marked by figures such as Clinton, Dubya and Obama has been identified by Anis Shivani and other social critics in the persons of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. A growing negative reaction to neoliberalism’s maintenance of the status quo within the American people, characterized by an anger toward established economic and political institutions, is seen as a key reason why both politicians have maintained such a high profile until the end of the primary season. In fact, many pundits envision Sanders and Trump as two sides of the same red-faced coin. In reality, the objects of scorn for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are quite different, as is their level of insistence on a reform of the political process to benefit the public. For Sanders, political reform is his raison d’être; for Trump, such matters are of secondary performance because the Republican primary produced a winner—him.

Accordingly, it is Bernie who has taken it upon himself to wage a personal war against the erosion of the middle class in the United States and the influence of money in politics that makes our vaunted American democracy so disturbingly undemocratic—and helping lead a revolution against our so-called corporate overlords. Returning at last to the Matrix analogy, this would make the 74-year-old secular Jewish democratic socialist from Brooklyn Neo—or maybe Morpheus—I’m still working out the kinks on this whole Matrix parallel thing. His path, one of freedom from the cycle of pay-to-play, my-more-expensive-vote-counts-more-than-yours politics, I believe, is the true path, and I also hold to the belief that the establishment politics of figureheads such as Barack Obama, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan—the “Matrix” of moneyed interests—is living on borrowed time.

So, addressing you directly one more time, Ms. Clinton, consider yourself lucky. If not for the threat of a Donald Trump presidency and all hell breaking loose, you might not be on the march to the White House that you find yourself. For all your hard work in playing the political game and for your decades of professed service to the American people, because of your neoliberal politics—more than any other factor which might lack legitimacy—you are playing the wrong game, and serving the wrong interests. Hillary, if I may call you that, you may be the first female POTUS, reaching a long-overdue milestone in U.S. politics, and you may have my vote come November, but in spite of yourself. Though your attitude betrays a sense of entitlement that your coronation is a long time coming, you’re not the One. Not by a long shot.