Joe Arpaio Is Terrible, and Trump Pardoned Him

joe_really_uncool
Joe Arpaio is a real son-of-a-bitch. Forget about being pardoned for criminal contempt of court—he’s lucky he’s not in jail for worse. (Photo Credit: Angie Wang/AP)

In the interim before Donald Trump was sworn into office, no one was quite sure what to expect when the orange-faced one with a predilection for comically long ties would take the reins. He was, by most accounts, long on rhetoric and short on defined policy goals, such that when he finally was made official as the 45th President of the United States of America, observers were keen to look for any signs of possible shifts in our country’s approach to various economic, political, and social issues. In the early going, the White House’s official website proved to be quite the good indicator of where the Trump administration stands on key topics. Before we had even gotten to February, Trump and Co. had purged the site of pages referring to climate change, civil rights/LGBT rights, and regulations.

Obviously, these were symbolic gestures, but given how swift and specific the changes were, as well as the weight they took on considering they were coming from the leader of the nation, they spoke volumes. More than half a year since these alterations went into effect, Pres. Trump has since pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement—a symbolic device in it of itself—has vowed to roll back Dodd-Frank, backed by Paul Ryan and his pro-business lackeys in Congress; and has issued a directive to ban transgender people from the United States military, with apparent intentions to remove protections for the LGBT community within the Affordable Care Act and having communicated a position that favors the ability of businesses to discriminate against homosexuals all in the name of “religious freedom.” In short, it was evident early on in Donald Trump’s presidency that this was a new day and age for the U.S.A.—except that it was a return to previous positions marked by a deliberate reversal against progress we’ve made over the years and decades. We were “making America great again”—two steps forward and five steps back.

Perhaps the most notable change made to the White House’s official website, however, particularly in light of how Donald Trump started his campaign, was the removal of Spanish-language content from whitehouse.gov. As you’ll recall, Trump began his political ascendancy by essentially boiling down the entire country of Mexico—one with a rich culture and history—down to a haven for crime, drugs, and rape. You know, with some decent folks sprinkled in. As Trump stayed more than relevant in the polls, his message grew no more nuanced regarding his characterization of our neighbor to the south and his potential policies to be enacted, with calls for a costly, ineffective, imprudent, and literally divisive wall to be built growing ever louder and threatening to start a row between the countries with the insistence that Mexico pays for the wall after the election. Or, if you’re former Mexican president Vicente Fox, that f**king wall. Guy likes his expletives—what can I say?

Heretofore, that bleeping monstrosity has yet to be constructed, but an appreciably different tone has been taken toward the issue of immigration—both legal and illegal. While the Obama administration was responsible for its fair share of deportations, the increased vigor with which ICE agents have gone after undocumented immigrants regardless of whether or not they have committed violent crimes has evoked greater feelings of fear and a heightened sense that these deportations are being carried out as a measure of deliberate cruelty. As for the legal immigration aspect, so too does a shift seem to be underway regarding white supremacists’ notions of empowerment and entitlement following Trump’s electoral victory that would see America reject an international mindset and multiculturalism as detrimental forces to the country. To those who are willing participants in what is termed as a “culture war,” this is a conflict for the very soul of the nation. As protracted conflicts go, so too does collateral damage, and one need look no further than the violence in Charlottesville to see just how much people believe this ideological clash to be one worth physically and emotionally fighting.

The latest turn in the ongoing saga that is Donald Trump’s America vs. Mexicans, Muslims, and other people of color, is related to his pardoning of a figure central to the issue of immigration. A figure that, to call him controversial, would be akin to calling water wet. With Hurricane Harvey barreling down on the state of Texas and much of the United States duly distracted, President Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, known to many as “Sheriff Joe.” Arpaio was facing a contempt of court charge stemming from his willful disregard of a federal court order from 2011. The original complaint was filed in 2007 when his department detained a Mexican man with a valid tourist’s visa for nine hours. Arpaio and the rest of the MCSO were found to be in violation in this instance and others, stopping motorists based on racial profiling and effectually trying to enforce immigration law out of their jurisdiction (immigration law is a federal issue, not a state matter). Joe Arpaio, though, not one to go gently into that good night, openly defied the order, even going as far as to tell local news media he wasn’t going to abide by the court’s mandate and lying under oath to misrepresent the fact his department was still profiling and making immigration-based arrests. So, in 2015, Arpaio, still Maricopa County sheriff, was charged with civil contempt of court, and last year, when a U.S. District Judge assessed that Sheriff Joe still wasn’t doing a very good job of not doing the feds’ job, she found him guilty of criminal contempt and set sentencing for October 5. That’s when President Trump swooped in and pardoned Joe Arpaio, no longer head of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office after losing in his re-election bid this past November.

OK, so maybe the Artist Formerly Known as Sheriff Joe was a bit zealous in wanting to uphold immigration law as well as that endemic to Maricopa County. One would imagine he is not the only lawman to feel this way, and Arizona does possess its own unique challenges within the immigration sphere. Moreover, as Arpaio’s supporters would allege, this trial was, above all else, a “show trial.” The man was working with the federal government to help them in their pursuit of those who had failed to abide by the law. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? You’d really put an octogenarian in jail for up to six months? If it were just about giving the federal courts the proverbial middle finger, perhaps one might be tempted to agree with Joe Arpaio’s fervent champions. Might, I stress, might.

Thus far, however, we have only scratched the surface of how Joe Arpaio became one of the most hated sheriffs, if not the most hated sheriff, in all of America. Michelle Mark, writing for Business Insider, profiles the litany of policies enacted under Arpaio’s watch that human rights activists would find more than disagreeable. He removed salt and pepper as well as coffee from the meals at county jails, of which there were only two a day. He held inmates outside in “Tent City” in extreme conditions in summer and winter with limited amounts of cold water during the former and meant no heaters or jackets during the latter. His office was regularly cited for use of excessive force, including use of pepper spray and restraint chairs. He approved of “random” searches of cars for people suspected of being illegal immigrants (which, often enough, were Native Americans instead of Hispanics/Latinos), and supported Arizona SB 1070, also known as the “Papers, Please” law and ratified in 2010, which essentially allowed uniformed police to harass and intimidate people within Arizona’s Spanish-speaking community. For all his bluster about being America’s “toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office were sued an inordinate amount of times from the families of those convicted of crimes, alleging police brutality. What makes this all especially egregious is that the Justice Department knew full well of the scope of Arpaio’s use of racial profiling and other misdeeds, but let him off with little more than a slap on the wrist. Democrat Janet Napolitano, prior to becoming governor of Arizona, led that investigation. So, naturally, whose endorsement did Napolitano seek and get in advance of her first gubernatorial election victory? Joe Arpaio’s. Politics is great like that, huh?

But, wait—it gets better. And, of course, by “better,” I mean, worse. Reporters like Michelle Mark and pontificating bloggers such as myself speak about Joe Arpaio’s transgressions from afar, but the powers-that-be behind the Phoenix New Times, a free local newspaper, have had a front row seat to the kind of bullshit Arpaio and his former department regularly pulled in the name of “law and order.” In an epic series of Tweets, the periodical’s official Twitter account provided additional context for how Sheriff Joe ran the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Here are some of the, ahem, “highlights”:

  • Going back to that Tent City business, Arpaio unapologetically referred to his creation as a “concentration camp.”
  • Inmates in his jails died at a disproportionate rate to other such facilities, whether because they took their own lives or as a direct result of harsh treatment by their jailers. Often, the MCSO had no explanation for these fatalities.
  • One time, as a publicity stunt, Arpaio had Latino inmates marched into a segregated area with electric fencing.
  • He also ran, before its ultimate cancellation, a “Mugshot of the Day” feature on the MCSO website where the public could vote on pictures of prisoners for their enjoyment.
  • The department failed to investigate scores of sex abuse cases, but had enough time to send a deputy to Hawaii to try to procure Barack Obama’s birth certificate. (Yup. He was/is a birther.)
  • Following the official finding by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow that Arpaio had been profiling Latinos, he hired a private investigator to investigate the judge and his wife. He also attempted to destroy evidence specifically requested by the judge.
  • Arpaio had a “Sheriff’s Posse,” one of whom was brought up on child porn charges, and according to the New Times, the Sheriff’s Office was “responsible for countless fiascos” like a “botched SWAT raid, where deputies set a puppy on fire.” That doesn’t exactly sound like serving and protecting, if you ask me.

It is with a hint of irony, then, that Joe Arpaio’s supporters talk about court proceedings against him being a “show trial” and that Arpaio himself derides it all as being a “witch hunt” when he has exhibited all the signs of being a showman—even when countless lives stand to hang in the balance. That Donald Trump, a consummate showman and strongman in his own right, would pardon him sends a clear message about where we are in the state of American politics, and it likewise clearly communicates to his core supporters that the fears and prejudices of white America will be held sacrosanct above the rights of all others. Justice for all? Not by a long shot.


The debate over whether or not Joe Arpaio deserved his pardon unfortunately can invoke the kind of conflicts which denote the existence of the phrase “Blue Lives Matter.” Arpaio was a lawman, and I imagine he and the MCSO were responsible for their fair share of apprehending legitimate violent criminals. This does not, however, and should not exculpate him of what would appear to be a long list of offenses against the civil rights of inmates in Maricopa County jails, not to mention those who suffered physical harm, psychological distress, and/or death as a function of being housed in these “correctional facilities.” Simply put, two wrongs do not make a right, and that Arpaio might’ve gotten six months in jail for criminal contempt of court would have realistically been getting off light in light of the destruction he has encouraged in Hispanic/Latino communities. I’m not a religious person, but if Hell exists, I firmly believe Joe Arpaio may have earned himself a spot there—if only temporarily. Moreover, by characterizing Sheriff Joe in this way, I am recognizing that those sworn to uphold the law may abuse their privileges, but I am not condemning police forces and uniformed police wholesale. I believe most individuals who wear the badge do the right thing and want to do so because it is the right thing. Some, on the other hand, are bad actors, as with any profession. At least from where I’m standing, rather than reacting defensively to any outside criticism, those police should want to know when one of their own has been irresponsible or derelict in his or her duties. That is, the universal fraternity of policemen and policewomen has its limits.

Returning to an earlier notion and somewhat of a devil’s advocate distinction, Arpaio is not the only sheriff who has been accused of approaching law enforcement at all levels with—shall we say—extreme robustness. Still, he and others like him shouldn’t be celebrated or pardoned by the President of the United States, much less have their latest book plugged on Twitter. Such was the case when Donald Trump took to his favorite medium to hock Sheriff David Clarke’s book and to cheer him as a great man. There’s any number of problems with these sentiments coming from POTUS, not the least of which is that, based on what we know of Mr. Trump, dude doesn’t read all that much, so how he can recommend something he almost certainly has never cracked open? Besides this, though, Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, is a notorious figure in his own right. As with Joe Arpaio, David Clarke and his office have been the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging abuse and neglect of inmates, even to the point of death. Plus, while we, ahem, shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I’m not immediately sure why cowboy hats should be a thing in Wisconsin. Is this standard issue or does Clarke just wear it because he’s the “Sheriff?” This is the Midwest, not the Wild West.

We like to subscribe to the black-and-white narrative in the United States of America that all police are of exemplary character and, conversely, that all people behind bars are deserving of their fate because of some character defect. The reality, of course, is much more complicated, and as literal issues of black and white go, matters of race factor heavily into why. The seemingly never-ending tally of black suspects being murdered at the hands of police despite relatively minor offenses (see also “driving while black”) demands accountability of the individual officers responsible for the escalations that lead to these deaths as well as that of the departments which assign and train these arms of the force. Racial profiling and disproportionate apprehension/sentencing of people of color are critical to understanding the systemic racism inherent in our modern-day prison-industrial complex. Joe Arpaio’s pardoning at the hands of Donald Trump was a symbolic gesture, but this is not to say it doesn’t resonate deeply with Americans of differing demographics and ideologies. It is basically the President of the United States thumbing his nose at Latinos, liberals, and those who would reject a “tough love” approach to law enforcement in this country, and pouring more kerosene on the Republican Party’s burning bridge between white America and people of color. It sets a terrible precedent, and should not be sanctioned by neither the left nor the right in the name of common decency.

On Affirmative Action and White Victimhood

porch_torch_supremacists
This is a reaction to the loss of privilege. This is white victimhood. This is white supremacists holding lit torches in the year 2017. (Photo Credit: Anatolu Agency)

Donald Trump is on his campaign, as President of the United States, to turn back the clock. By now, we already know the phrase “Make America Great Again,” which has adorned umpteen baseball caps and bumper stickers of Trump supporters—and which may also be borderline unpatriotic by insisting that the country isn’t great when it already may be. Many of Trump’s executive orders and appointees have targeted Obama-era regulations with the intention of rolling them back, making a broad appeal to industry leaders, especially those in the banking/financial, fossil fuels, and telecommunications fields. In particular, Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who, if he were any more of a dinosaur, he’d be staring down Chris Pratt in Jurassic World—has been right behind Donald Trump in the quest to hurtle the nation back in time by decades. For one, Sessions, continuing his Reefer Madness-esque rhetoric from his tenure as a U.S. senator, has made a target of marijuana, and even commissioned a task force to look into possible actions to take regarding the drug’s legality at the state level. Which, it should be noted, does not recommend any actions be taken. Sessions also has toed the Trump line on immigration, recently identifying supposed “sanctuary cities” from which federal funding might be withheld, including, for whatever reason, Baltimore, as well as that of crime enforcement and “cracking down” on illusory rampant lawlessness, favoring reduced restrictions on police forces and sending more people to prison. Every strongman needs henchmen to do his bidding, and Jeff Sessions vis-à-vis Pres. Trump fits this description to a T.

In line with the notion of “making America great again” and returning the country back to a nameless, mythical time in which it had no problems and the streets were paved with gold on the backs of cheap immigrant labor, and commensurate with Jeff Sessions’ own racist tendencies, the Department of Justice recently indicated its desire to pursue an investigation into “race-based discrimination” in college admissions practices. That’s discrimination against whites, mind you. Obviously, this re-ignites the debate over affirmative action that has dogged discussion of race relations, not to mention class warfare, as it intersects with the sphere of higher education. Ira Katznelson, political science and history professor at Columbia University, president of the Social Science Research Council, and author of a freaking book on affirmative action—so, needless to say, someone who might have some insight into this subject—wrote a piece for The New York Times which specifically addresses the Justice Department’s memo seeking an inquiry into discrimination in recruitment at colleges and universities.

Per Prof. Katznelson, this focus by the DOJ on affirmative action in higher education is a distraction from the systemic affirmative action backed by the federal government since the Great Depression which has largely benefited whites. Indeed, New Deal- and Fair Deal-era reforms addressed/established various social welfare programs which helped create a “modern middle class,” but the machinations of Southern Democrats and the long reach of Jim Crow made it so this new middle class was not an inclusive one. In fact, they specifically disenfranchised blacks and Mexican-Americans by excluding certain classes of laborers which were predominant to people of color from eligibility for benefits . What’s more, the ripple effects of these racist exclusions are still being felt today in terms of ever-widening gaps in income, opportunity and wealth inequalities along racial lines. In other words, Jeff Sessions and his ilk are confronting admissions policies at institutions of higher education and vague notions of unfairness under the assumption that there is a level playing field among larger socioeconomic factors at their intersection with race. Knowing our history and looking at the evidence, however, this is far from true.

Besides being on the wrong side of history, arguments about the unfairness of affirmative action are part of a worldview highly correlative with that of Trump supporters that appeals to diversity are a hindrance to the success of hard-working white people and create a false sense of equality between people of different races. Sean McElwee, whose analysis has been featured here on United States of Joe before, plotted out back in February in a piece for Salon how Trump’s crowd, ever wont to assail liberals for being a bunch of “snowflakes” dependent on safe spaces and trigger warnings, tend to claim victimhood in their own right. Citing reported data from the 2016 American National Election Studies pilot survey, McElwee notes how respondents who favored Donald Trump were much more likely to agree with statements that Christians face “a great deal” of discrimination and that the federal government treats blacks “much better.” This phenomenon has been termed white victimhood, and for Sean McElwee, it is the byproduct of perceived discrimination when the loss of privilege makes equality feel like something is being taken away. McElwee closes his essay with these thoughts:

Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy. It is one that requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization. This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist attacks en masse (they aren’t at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it’s the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving black people (black people receive government support in accordance with their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.

At the same time, the right has created a caricature of their opponents on the left. In this imagined caricature, the left is sensitive to being “triggered” at every corner, but also capable of unspeakable political violence. The activist left are “snowflakes” on one hand, and brutal killers on the other. In reality, political violence has long been a tactic of the right, from the labor violence that left thousands of workers dead to lynchings to brutality against peaceful protesters inflicted by corporate security and police to the harassment of women seeking abortion, the destruction of abortion clinics and the assassination of doctors who provide abortions. The rhetoric of victimization has costs — white supremacists are committing unspeakable violence to combat the perceived threat of immigrants, Muslims and people of color. For the next four years, we are likely to have a government driven by perceptions of white Christian victimhood.

“Trumpist” white victimhood, to put it bluntly, feeds on promulgated falsehoods that cater to deeply-held prejudices held by those persons who wave its banner. Most disturbingly, this deception-fueled ideology has the potential to become dangerous in the wrong hands, as it has in the past. Once more near the forefront and emboldened by Donald Trump’s electoral victory, white supremacists—who are not the entirety of Trump’s base, it should be stressed, but a significant subset regardless of their size—are more visible and are acting more recklessly than they did during Barack Obama’s tenure or even George W. Bush’s stay in the White House. With Trump at the helm, all but sanctioning the violence and unrest already encouraged by a us-versus-them mentality, the threat faced by all Americans, especially those of color, is a clear and present one.


Concerns voiced by white people about discriminatory practices related to affirmative action in college admissions policies are not something new to the Trump-Sessions brain trust. Much as Donald Trump’s concessions to the United States’ racist and xenophobic underpinnings are not a starting point, but rather an outgrowth of a resentment among white Americans to changing cultural and population trends, the Department of Justice’s reservations about affirmative action are variations on the same theme. In December of 2015, this issue made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Per the case, Abigail Fisher’s contention was that she was denied acceptance to the University of Texas back in 2008 because she is white and despite being more qualified than minority candidates for available slots. As you might imagine, failing to garner acceptance at UT did not severely impair Fisher’s ability to secure a quality education; by the time her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court a second time, she had already graduated from another institution.

The case was eventually and narrowly decided four to three in 2016 to uphold the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in favor of the university. This was not before public comments were made by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which were characterized by his dissenters as falling anywhere on the spectrum between outmoded in one’s thinking and morally repugnant. Scalia suggested that minority students with “inferior” credentials may fare better at “a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.” He went on to say that most of the black scientists in the United States did not come from schools like the University of Texas, but “lesser” schools “where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.” These kinds of lines drew muted gasps from the audience, and perhaps rightfully so given how shockingly antiquated they seemed. Before burying Justice Scalia even further in his grave on this issue, it is worth noting his beliefs likely were grounded in what is known as the mismatch theory, which supposes that minority students will be hurt by affirmative action practices which match them to schools above their academic credentials and will struggle to succeed in this unfamiliar environment. It should also be noted, meanwhile, that numerous studies outside those of Richard Sander and other like-minded scientists have produced results which oppose this theory. For many, this would stand to reason, but it doesn’t hurt to have empirical data to give one’s argument its due weight.

For a significant portion of Donald Trump’s base of support, however, the sense of loss they feel transcends the refusal of the highest court in the United States to effectively abolish the use of consideration of race in admissions. For them, this is but one cog in a machine tuned to greater cultural sensitivity, but with this, a sense that their “cultural identity” is disappearing and the America they know with it. This is the context in which we can place the events of the last few days as they transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a reaction to news that authorities plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park, a mob of white nationalists holding torches rallied and marched on the University of Virginia campus. The white nationalist protestors were met by counter-protestors more than twice their number, and as might be expected, violence and unrest ensued when the two groups descended upon one another. Regrettably, people were killed and injured as a direct result of the upheaval in Charlottesville. Heather Heyer, one of the counter-protestors, died after being struck by a vehicle helmed by a man who had a fascination with Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and some 19 others were also struck and injured by the rogue automobile. Two police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died as well Saturday in a helicopter crash outside the city.

The response across the country to not only the senselessness of the violence following clashes between the groups of protestors, but especially the very showing of an antagonistic group of white supremacists, was swift and vocal. Irrespective of party affiliation, politicians and non-politicians alike condemned the white supremacists and the hate which fuels them and lent itself to the turmoil in Charlottesville. Vigils were likewise quickly organized and continue to be held across the United States as a show of solidarity against the discrimination inherent in white supremacy and the terroristic nature of their assembly in Virginia this past weekend. In the immediate aftermath, however, the silence from one source on the subject of white supremacy was deafening. Unsurprisingly, that source is President Donald Trump, who only on Monday categorically spoke out against the aims of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. On Saturday, he criticized the violence in Charlottesville, but very generally and somewhat dismissively, referring to the actions of protestors on both sides rather than explicitly naming white supremacist groups. By the time Trump had made his speech on Monday denouncing their hatred, it was too little, too late. He had effectively shown his true colors, and evidently was more interested in lashing out at Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Twitter than adequately addressing what happened in Virginia.

With Trump’s refusal to more strongly decry white nationalism in America, outside observers were left to wonder whether it were because he is a coward who doesn’t want to lose the white nationalist vote, or whether he tacitly approves of the white nationalist agenda. Michael D’Antonio, author of a whole book on the subject of Donald Trump, explained in a piece for CNN “why Trump won’t stand up against hate.” In reality, as D’Antonio details, it’s a little of Column A and Column B. On the side of the former, and as we’ve discussed, Trump is waving the banner of “Make America Great Again,” spurring visions of a time before the intensification of the civil rights movement and tapping into this central phenomenon of white victimhood. As for the latter, meanwhile? Trump has evidenced a pattern of bigotry in his own personal and professional life. When the Trump Organization was forced to follow fair housing practices, he invoked the idea of “reverse discrimination.” He once took out full-page ads in newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in response to the case against five teenagers and persons of color accused of the rape of a Central Park jogger. (Turns out they were innocent, which DNA testing had to prove after the fact.) He also has—huge shocker!—pointed to affirmative action as an unfair advantage for black students, and has done a poor job of naming black people within his company as executives. Plus, let’s not forget his lingering identity as one of the most outspoken leaders of the “birtherism” movement, as well as his, you know, wholesale diminishment of Mexicans as drug peddlers, rapists, and violent criminals. In short, Donald Trump is not only a coward, but a bully and a bigot. No wonder he failed a test in his response to Charlottesville that he should have aced.

As it must be emphasized, though, Trump’s catering to racists and his own racist attitudes, while they can and should be assailed, are nothing new. The response of many Americans appalled at the events of Charlottesville is something akin to “this is not my America.” Others who condemn the anger, racism and violence marking these events would be apt to point this is, in fact, your America, one built on subjugation of people of color as well as a patriarchal power struggle. While raising these considerations indiscriminately and attacking the other person is a self-defeating prospect, at the core of this drama, the need to discuss these subjects in a productive way is paramount. For too long, we have been reluctant in this country to have a honest dialog about race and associated topics like affirmative action and white privilege. Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, it is incumbent upon we, the people, to force the issue and raise our voices when silence would otherwise stunt our social progress as a nation.

Trump’s Election Commission is a Crock of Shit (But You Probably Already Knew That)

kris-kobach
“Look at this guy! He’s as big of a racist asshole as I am!” (Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ladies and gentlemen, President Donald Trump is very concerned about the integrity of the results of our elections. Very, very concerned. In fact, President Trump is so concerned about rooting out voter fraud that he created a special election commission devoted to this purpose, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice-chaired by Kris Kobach, Kansas’s Secretary of State. In its letter to the Secretaries of State of all 50 states, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity reportedly asks for names, addresses, birth dates, and party affiliations of all registered voters, as well as felony convictions, military statuses, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, and voting records dating back as far as 10 years ago. It’s a lot of information that’s being requested, and potentially sensitive information, at that. This explains why roughly 9 out of 10 responding states have told Trump and his commission, in a manner of speaking, to go screw. In fact, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a fellow Republican, had this to say of the Commission’s inquest: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.” Ending on a preposition notwithstanding, these are tough words, and quite the negative response irrespective of party affiliation of the government official.

Often, proposed policies and ideological stances will be euphemistically titled or otherwise surreptitiously structured so that the superficial idea seems appealing or plausible when the underlying intent of the shift is of ill intent. “Right to work” legislation has awful implications for unions and other forms of organized labor, but having more rights is better, no? The concept of school choice is patently destructive to public schools and only helps to further divisions based on race and socioeconomic status in our country, but choice is a good thing, right? The aims of the Presidential Advisory Commission, meanwhile, even on their surface do not pass the smell test. Since scoring his upset electoral victory in November, Donald Trump has consistently invoked claims of voter fraud as the reason he, too, lost the popular vote. Millions of “illegals” aiding Hillary’s cause! Rampant, widespread fraud! California, a hotbed of electoral impropriety! Except that exactly as much as Trump and members of the alt-right have advanced conspiracy theories to this effect, actual reputable sources have consistently refuted them. Time and time again. Despite it seeming almost silly now, it must be emphasized and re-emphasized that there is no credible, verifiable evidence for Trump’s claims. They are as hollow as those of his absurd and hateful birther claims levied against Barack Obama. And yet, his cadre of supporters holds on to notions like these in the face of any and all disconfirming proof. It fits the narrative they wish so desperately to believe.

Hence why all but a handful of states have pledged to refuse the Commission’s request, at least in part. Whether based on the illegitimacy of Pres. Trump’s claims, the sensitivity of the information involved (especially SSNs, political party affiliations, and birth dates), or both, a number of Secretaries of State charged with responding to the electoral commission’s supposed fact-finding mission have rejected what they consider to be a rather flagrant example of government overreach and violation of privacy. Now, on one hand, some might construe this widespread antipathy to the work of Kris Kobach and Company as unreasonable and hiding an ulterior motive. And by “some,” I mean essentially just Donald Trump, who took to—you guessed it—Twitter to cast his aspersions, suggesting those states who won’t play ball with his “very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL” might be hiding something. Right. 40+ states are conspiring to hide pervasive, unsubstantiated fraud all for the purpose of? Making the President look bad? Does everyone have an ax to grind against Donald Trump? Even those led by Republicans? As with Trump’s attacks on the media and shameless reposting of Photoshopped GIFs depicting himself landing wrestling moves on a fighter with a CNN head, this kind of rhetoric and inflammatory imagery would be worthy of mockery but for his stature and the tone it sets for elevating him as a cult figure above time-honored American institutions. Unsubstantiated as his claims are, Trump and his level of discourse are yet dangerous.

Going back to the idea of policy as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and while there is little to redeem the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity even on its face, as with other better-constructed parts of a broadly-stated conservative agenda, there are more sinister applications to this push for “voting integrity.” As Bridgette Dunlap, writing for Rolling Stone, explains, the Commission is really about voter suppression, and we need look no further than the figure at the center of this whole operation. From Dunlap’s piece:

Trump’s commission is led by Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who’s now running for governor. Kobach is the legal mind behind a slew of anti-immigrant and anti-voter laws implemented across the country, many of which have been struck down by courts. He’s been called “the king of voter suppression” by the ACLU and “the most racist politician in America” by Kansas’ Senate minority leader. Kobach was such a dedicated birther that he demanded even more information after Obama released his birth certificate before placing him on the Kansas ballot. He was recently fined by a federal court in a case challenging his state’s voter restrictions for making “patently misleading representations to the court” regarding a memo he provided to Trump about such restrictions.

More racist than even Steve King, Representative from the state of Iowa? That’s pretty racist! OK, OK—even if the source of that comment was speaking in hyperbole, Kobach’s is the kind of history which fails to inspire confidence in his ability to ensure election integrity. In fact, given his track record, “integrity” is not a word that should enter one’s vocabulary, regardless of the context. Like any number of Pres. Trump’s appointees, Kris Kobach appears to have been selected specifically to undermine the office or function he was tapped to represent. Forget for the moment the request for personal identifying information may be illegal on numerous counts—as Dunlap details, it probably violates both the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act, and has already been challenged in court by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Bridgette Dunlap notes how Kobach has been a vocal supporter of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is designed to weed out fraud by comparing voter registrations in different states and eliminating duplicates based on name and birth date. Sounds great, right? Except that it produces scores of false positives from different people who possess common names and therefore easily may share both a name and a birth date, or seeks to assign intent to defraud when the same person is registered in two different states and he or she may simply have moved. This is the kind of faulty system that Kris Kobach champions, one that nullifies voters who are legitimately registered for the privilege. As Dunlap alleges, Kobach knows this full well, and is charged with facilitating the completion of a database that serves to “produce junk analysis to support [his] claims that people are voting in multiple states and noncitizens are voting in large numbers.” The concept of pervasive voter fraud is a gigantic red herring, but again, it feeds into the story that undocumented immigrants are not only taking our jobs, but stealing our elections as well. Quite the sleight of hand from the election officials who are truly pulling the strings, no?


Bridgette Dunlap leaves us with some reasons for optimism, albeit a cautious brand of optimism, at the end of her article. Her closing remarks:

The U.S. has an ugly history of racially discriminatory voting laws. Trump and Kobach have made it impossible for anyone who cares about empirical evidence to deny this is the latest chapter. But whether state Republican officials will continue to protect voters in defiance of Trump, or join him in winning elections by any means necessary, remains to be seen.

What Dunlap seems to be saying is that Donald Trump and Kris Kobach have done and said enough that it should be objectively clear that their election commission, of flimsy standing to begin with, is even less meritorious than stated and designed specifically to disenfranchise voters from minority groups. The key word here is should. More and more, members of the GOP and conservatives appear to be more than just amenable to arguments that show a disdain for facts—in fact, they look to be embracing such a mentality (before we get ahead of ourselves here, Democratic supporters also increasingly seem to be falling prey to fake news and judgments based on opinions, not verifiable facts). So, how exactly has this prevailing trend within the Republican Party manifested itself with specific respect to voting rights? Greg Palast, in another piece which appeared in Rolling Stone, addresses what he calls the “GOP’s stealth war against voters.” The aforementioned Crosscheck Program appears front and center in Palast’s analysis, and a key passage in his article governs the purging of voter records predominately among non-whites.

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

Swedlund’s statistical analysis found that African-American, Latino and Asian names predominate, a simple result of the Crosscheck matching process, which spews out little more than a bunch of common names. No surprise: The U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. If your name is Washington, there’s an 89 percent chance you’re African-American. If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94 percent chance you’re Hispanic. If your name is Kim, there’s a 95 percent chance you’re Asian.

This inherent bias results in an astonishing one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans and one in nine African-Americans in Crosscheck states landing on the list. Was the program designed to target voters of color? “I’m a data guy,” Swedlund says. “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.”

Now, does this correlation prove causation? Well, no, correlation never does, and furthermore, can produce false positives. For the sake of a classical example, ice cream sales and violent crime are strongly positively correlated—not because the ne’er-do-wells among us have a sweet tooth, mind you—but because both ice cream sales and violent crime become more frequent when it’s hot out. This is to say that there is a confounding variable. Still, even if we can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Crosscheck Program is blatantly discriminatory, that its performance in producing arrests is so poor in spite of allegations of widespread malfeasance is reason enough to put the program into question. Of course, another way to look at this matter is to say that Crosscheck is doing a fine job of deterring fraud. It’s a stupid way to look at it, but it’s another way. You can’t prevent rampant fraud when it doesn’t exist in the first place.

So, voter suppression methods like the Crosscheck Program don’t actually root out voter fraud. Furthermore, they produce results which serve to discriminate against minorities of all makes and models. Beyond the wastefulness and the unfairness of this all, is there a yet larger significance? You bet your patootie, there is! Let’s check in with our friend Greg Palast again, and review a piece he penned immediately after the 2016 election. You see, Palast is an investigative journalist, and through his analysis of Donald Trump’s margins of victory in key battleground states such as Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina alongside the figures of purged voting records from each of these jurisdictions, he concluded—not merely to be grandiose or inflammatory—that the Republican Party and Trump’s operatives helped steal the election. Chief among those operatives is none other than—you guessed it—Kris Kobach, and Crosscheck is also waiting in the weeds. Moreover, as Palast details, this voter suppression explains in large part why exit polls on the day of the election could have been so poorly predictive of the actual results. As he instructs, exit polls can only assess who voted for whom. They can’t, meanwhile, know whose vote was counted and whose vote was not. Indeed, Greg Palast asserts that based on the evidence, it was Jim Crow, not the voters, who elected Trump. He sums up his thoughts nicely with the following:

This country is violently divided, but in the end, there simply aren’t enough white guys to elect Trump nor a Republican Senate.  The only way they could win was to eliminate the votes of non-white guys—and they did so by tossing Black provisional ballots into the dumpster, ID laws that turn away students—the list goes on.  It’s a web of complex obstacles to voting by citizens of color topped by that lying spider, Crosscheck.

In short, the fix was in. Granted, this doesn’t excuse the poor strategy employed by Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and the Democratic National Committee, nor does it exculpate the Democratic Party of its larger structural flaws re its losses in congressional races, but it certainly adds context. And it provides a point of focus for political activists across the political spectrum in the critical area of election reform. Because when elections are stolen, we all lose.


Assuming Greg Palast’s analysis is correct—and I have no reason to doubt it, mind you—and given what we know of Donald Trump, Kris Kobach, and the Republican Party, the considerations within this piece are markedly frustrating. Trump is a fraud masquerading as a legitimate President—who, backed by Kobach, is pushing a voter suppression agenda masquerading as a legitimate operation to deter and eliminate fraud. The layers of illegitimacy are both astounding and aggravating. Cue the #NotMyPresident and #NotMyCommission hashtags. What makes the very existence of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity all the more irksome is that while some of us who are just average citizens and not even all that well versed in the subject of voting rights get that this operation is a sham, more Secretaries of State who do possess the requisite experience and, furthermore, are charged with safeguarding the sensitive identifying information of their constituents aren’t likewise telling Trump and Co. to go jump in the ocean. Even if states are pledging only to share information that is already available to the public and nothing more, that they would give the Commission credence is either a symbol of their complicity, their incompetence, or both. The same goes for those states and Secretaries of State who are “still reviewing” the request or “still waiting” for a letter—and you can add their symbolic cowardice to the mix of what their response or lack thereof may represent.

This commission and the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Registration are just two examples of devices and techniques which serve to actively bar/suppress voter turnout or otherwise purge legitimate voters from minority communities. Denying the vote to felons, disinformation campaigns, photo ID laws, strategic closure of polling places, and voter caging are just some of the methods employed to this effect. Returning to the concept of Democratic Party electoral approach, while the Dems definitely should be criticized for adhering to a losing strategy denoted by the absence of a unified path forward and for failure to credibly invite progressives and working-class Americans to the table, that they are not more robustly fighting this aspect of a white conservative Republican agenda only speaks to their questionable priorities, i.e. big-ticket donations and special interests over true grassroots fundraising and organization. In other words, they don’t give a shit about the little guy much more than the Republicans do—if at all.

As usual, meaningful change in this area will have to come from the bottom-up, not to sound like too much of a Bernie Sanders supporter. We as voters must keep one another informed and demand accountability from our officials on matters of voting rights and voter suppression for the sake of all voters, and maintain this involvement and pressure on those charged with ensuring our privacy and the sanctity of the voting process throughout our campaign and theirs. Donald Trump’s election integrity commission is a crock of shit because he is pointing to a level of voter fraud that doesn’t exist, but this doesn’t mean our system is perfect and that there aren’t important issues to address. Far from it, in fact.

These Things Need Buzzers or Mute Buttons, and Other Observations from the First Presidential Debate

694940094001_5142607252001_highlights-from-the-first-presidential-debate
Sure, they’re all smiles now, but belying their grins for the photo op is a shared unquenchable thirst for winning. And designer suits. They like expensive clothing. (Photo retrieved from foxnews.com.)

Well, the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has come and gone and the results are in—people are curled up in the fetal position because one of these two will become our next President and they don’t really like either of them! OK, so maybe I’m not speaking for everyone watching, but I tend to wonder how much what was said in the debate will actually change people’s opinions on whom they plan to vote for come November. As for who won the debate, I’m not here to try to pass judgment. After all, I’ve watched boxing fights after which I was pretty sure one participant should emerge victorious because he seemed to dominate the other boxer, but left to the judges’ decision, the actual results were completely the other way around. If you ask the candidates and their campaigns, each side would definitely say they were the winners. For what it’s worth, early polling suggests the American audience thought Hillary won, though I’m more loath as the days go by to trust the veracity of some of these surveys, if I may say so.

But like I said, I’m not here to crown a winner. I seek only to provide commentary where I think it warranted, as well as to offer suggestions for how future presidential debates may be improved. With this behind us, let’s take a narrower look at what went down in the first presidential debate—you know, if we can stand it. Might I suggest some unhealthy snacks or some liquor to sustain you as you read through?

UNITED STATES OF JOE’S ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY COMMENTS ON THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

1. First of all, let me confess that I didn’t actually watch the debate, which was starting before I had even gotten home from class. To be fair, though, I probably would have been distracted by watching my Fantasy Football team’s hopes of a win go down in flames anyway. To the tandem of Devonta Freeman and Coby Fleener, who proved instrumental in my defeat, let me say that I hate you both with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system (not really), since I didn’t see the event live, I can’t really comment on what kind of job Lester Holt did as moderator. The general response of viewers and pundits, though, seemed to be a positive appraisal of Holt’s handling of the affair. Although let’s be fair—next to the dumpster fire that was Matt Lauer’s presiding over the Commander-in-Chief Forum, pretty much anything halfway decent would feel like a great success. Kudos, Lester! You’re better at taking Donald Trump to task than Jimmy Fallon!

Achieving Prosperity

2. As you might already know/remember from viewing the debate on television, the opening segment was devoted to “Achieving Prosperity.” Sounds like something in Trump’s wheelhouse, doesn’t it? The candidates were first asked about what they would do to stimulate job creation. Hillary Clinton gave her familiar lines: the wealthy need to pay their fair share, let’s invest in infrastructure, raise the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, affordable child care, debt-free college, close tax loopholes, was there anything on the Democratic Party platform I didn’t check off? Donald Trump, meanwhile, railed about China and Mexico and vowed to cut taxes, and also said he was going to renegotiate a lot of trade deals. Because it’s just that simple.

When pressed specifically on how we get companies to bring jobs back to America, Trump was, well, largely incoherent, and pivoted to the notion NAFTA was a bad trade deal. Which may be true, but that doesn’t answer the question. The best the man of the orange and thin skin could come up with was that he wouldn’t let corporations leave, but whether this involves the threat of taxes should they relocate, or literally stopping them at the airport and barring them from getting aboard their overseas flights, Trump’s remedy is woefully impractical.

3. The candidates, under Lester Holt, moved swiftly onto the next question. Well, at least the moderator tried to make that happen. Holt attempted to segue into a discussion about taxes, but first, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had to argue about taxes before they could, well, argue about taxes. To be fair to Clinton, Trump started it, talking about how Clinton would jack up taxes and he would slash them and how wonderful that would be for the US of A. Hillary then countered by saying Donald’s loose semblance of an economic plan would jack up the national debt, while hers would reduce it. Then Donald Trump was all, like, nuh-uh. And Hillary Clinton was all, like, yuh-huh. And then Trump was all, like, whatever! When the dust was allowed to settle, Trump tried to suggest that the wealthy were going to create tremendous jobs. (Except they don’t.) He also—and give El Diablo his due—mentioned eliminating the carried interest loophole, by which wealthy hedge fund managers are allowed to claim a more favorable tax rate by classifying their income as capital gains, even though there is no legal basis for this, and even though President Obama could apparently totally f**king end this practice with little more than a phone call but hasn’t. Then Clinton was alleged to have been given two minutes to respond, but her opponent wouldn’t shut his big yap.

Eventually, what passed for a conversation moved to the subject of Donald Trump’s tax returns, which, as I’m sure you know, he still hasn’t gone and released. Once more, Trump claimed he couldn’t comply with this request because he is under audit. If there’s one thing I have stressed in this blog, perhaps other than the logical fallacy of saying “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter,” it’s that THIS IS NOT A VIABLE EXCUSE FOR TRUMP NOT TO RELEASE HIS TAXES. THE IRS SAYS IT’S PERFECTLY OK. Trump’s stupid explanations and deflecting with mentions of private E-mail servers notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton brilliantly took the opportunity to insert possible reasons as to why Trump is dodging calls for his tax returns like he (allegedly) dodged the draft. Maybe he isn’t worth as much as he says he is. (Highly likely.) Maybe he isn’t as charitable as he would have us believe. (I can almost guarantee it.) Perhaps, quoth Hillary, it is his hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to Wall Street and foreign banks, or that he has paid little to nothing in taxes over the years.

Donald Trump spins this last notion as a virtue, that he’s a smart businessman. Not only isn’t it like he cleverly came up with the idea for any loopholes he exploits, however, but this also puts him at odds with average Americans who aren’t wealthy enough to be able to afford such preferential treatment. You’re not smart in this regard, Mr. Trump. You’re lucky you were born rich with a daddy who bailed you out when you made dumb decisions, and that you could file for bankruptcy (also not your invention) the rest of the time.

America’s Direction

4. The second of the first presidential debate’s triptych of topics was devoted to “America’s direction,” which, not for nothing, is a depressingly vague category. Not to mention it invites the retort from the peanut gallery at home that the country’s direction is headed straight to “the shitter.” But I digress. Lester Holt first confronted the candidates with the question of how the United States can heal its bitter racial divides. Hillary Clinton stuck to, ahem, her guns, by primarily calling for more comprehensive gun reform. She also spoke in broad strokes about the need to improve community relations between police and civilians, as well as the need to address systemic bias in the quality of education among different groups and to deal with glaring disparities in arrests and sentencing of people of color. Beyond the gun issue, I’m not so sure how convincing her answer was or should be, but as usual, it sounded good in a superficial way.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, spoke about how we need law and order—and he wasn’t talking about Special Victims Unit starring Mariska Hargitay. He also casually dropped the suggestion that stop-and-frisk is a good idea, even though it’s ineffective, unconstitutional, and unfairly targets African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. Hillary responded with more of how she opened the segment—essentially pandering to the minority vote. Next, when prompted by Holt to comment on implicit racism, Clinton correctly asserted that we all suffer from it to a degree, but you could tell she was framing it in a way so as to drive home the notion she respects police and, at the same time, try not to further alienate potential undecided voters who possess a great deal of respect for officers of the law and, perhaps, are OK with, you know, the occasional murdering of unarmed black citizens.

Then, Donald Trump—ugh. Look, I could try to parse through the gobbledygook that was his response for a coherent message, but let me just pick out the highlights. Trump gave a shout-out to the NRA. He made a quick, offhand remark about no-fly and watch lists. He, apropos of nothing, invoked Clinton’s use of the term “super-predator.” He argued about how crime was going up in New York City without his beloved stop-and-frisk in place—even though this is patently false. And at the end of all this, Lester Holt actually reminded the Republican Party nominee the conversation was supposed to be about “race.” If this isn’t an indictment of Donald Trump’s inability to provide consistent, coherent answers on topics that make him uncomfortable, I don’t know what is.

5. And then came the part when Lester Holt asked Donald Trump about all the times he pushed the narrative that Barack Obama was born in Africa and demanded he produce his birth certificate just to prove him and other conspiracy theorists wrong. Now, before we get to Trump’s part in the whole “birther” controversy, let’s acknowledge that there is a more complicated truth to Hillary Clinton’s side of the story to which the GOP nominee was referring. Once upon a time, in 2008, when HRC was running against Obama for the Democratic Party nomination, her campaign did help to spread this myth. Much as the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton 2016 campaign were apt to latch on to the idea that, say, Bernie Sanders is an atheist to help her chances with more religious voters, it should be no great surprise that Hillary and her handlers would try to gain any advantage to win.

The notion that Hillary Clinton, anyone who has worked on her campaign, or anyone currently serving such a function came up with birtherism, however, is decidedly untrue. The origins are indeed murky as to who or what exactly devised this whole delegitimizing strategy, but regardless, if there was one person who took this awful baton and ran with it, it’s Donald J. Trump. As Holt even noted in his initial question, Trump persisted with the birther train of thinking—even when most Americans were satisfied that Barack Obama was, in fact, born on American soil. That he “succeeded” in getting Obama to produce formal proof of the circumstances behind his coming into this world is an achievement of dubious distinction. Donald Trump should be as proud of his role in the birther movement as he should be of Trump Steaks. And you can’t even eat birtherism. Believe me—I’ve tried.

Securing America

6. Last but not least, Lester Holt moderated a segment called “Securing America”—between one candidate who issued E-mails on classified matters from one or more unsecured private servers and unencrypted devices, and another who suggested the Russians hack his opponent to find missing/deleted messages. (I hear you banging your head against the desk in frustration through the screen over there, and I second that notion.) Things being what they are, Hillary Clinton uttered something vague about “making it clear” to other nations, especially China, Iran and Russia, that we’re not going to take their hacking BS. Donald Trump, as usual, didn’t really answer the question, and implied that maybe it wasn’t Russia who was behind the hacks—even though it’s entirely f**king likely that it was Russia, amirite?

Clinton, in her rebuttal, quickly pivoted to talk of more air strikes against ISIS, because if there’s one thing HRC likes, it’s blowing up parts of other countries. Trump, in his rebuttal to the rebuttal, um, blamed Hillary again for causing ISIS—which indirectly may be partially true, but she sure had a lot of help. Then Hillary Clinton pointed out her opponent supported the Iraq War. Donald Trump said he didn’t—but he’s a big f**king liar. Clinton said we’re working with NATO. Trump effectively said NATO can kiss his ass, and invoked, of all people Sean Hannity in his self-defense about support for the Iraq War. After that, they argued about who has the better temperament of the two for the job. I don’t know—this was probably the low point of the debate for me personally, because I think both of them have shitty temperaments. Go ahead—argue about how you’re both going to help perpetuate our country’s involvement in unending wars in the Middle East in elsewhere, while I curl up into a ball underneath my bed, sobbing gently to myself.

7. In the second half of the “Sky is Falling” segment, as I like to call it, Lester Holt began with Donald Trump about President Obama’s considerations of changing America’s policy on first use of nuclear weapons (as in not using nukes first), asking Humpty Trumpty what he thought about the current policy. “The Donald” rambled on about not “taking anything off the table” and invoking China to help deal with North Korea, before launching into a tirade against our deal with Iran and our cash giveaway which has been likened to a ransom payment for American hostages. Hillary Clinton responded by acknowledging that problems do exist within our relationship with Iran, but that they involve more than just our nuclear deal, and furthermore, that there are other more global concerns to contemplate. She also fired back at Trump’s criticisms of the deal, saying he talked an awful lot about how bad it was without providing a suitable alternative.

As it apparently inevitably had to, the conversation was then steered to who had the right “temperament” and “stamina” to be President of the United States given the gravity of these matters, not to mention Holt’s probing about Donald Trump’s earlier statement that he didn’t think Hillary Clinton has “the presidential look.” Le sigh. Maybe this was the low point in the debate, because after all, much of this is shenanigans. Hillary doesn’t know how to negotiate. Donald can’t be trusted with weapons of mass destruction. Hillary is experienced, but it’s bad experience. Donald has repeatedly degraded women. Hillary has cooties. Donald not only smelt it, but dealt it as well. See what I mean? It’s disenfranchising hearing 60- and 70-year-olds talk like catty teenagers when they’re vying for the country’s top political office, but that’s really the vibe I, for one, get, at least.

The debate was brought to a close by Lester Holt asking both candidates if they would support their rival should he or she win. Hillary Clinton said she supports any democratic result—BUT PLEASE DON’T VOTE FOR THAT ASS-CLOWN TRUMP. Donald Trump said he would, sure, THOUGH THAT CLINTON BROAD DOESN’T HAVE THE CHOPS. Great. You don’t like each other, we don’t like you. Let’s bring on the shots of alcohol already, shall we?


2010 -- Randy Sager
If presidential debates were run like ESPN’s Around the Horn, Donald Trump would be muted ’til the cows come home. (Photo retrieved from espnmediazone.com.)

As noted earlier, I’m not going to get too caught up in who won or who lost, though I’m pretty sure you could tell from the tenor of my responses who had the better performance in the first presidential debate. Of course, all this focus on “winning” and “losing” only takes us so far anyway. First of all, while the winner may stand to get a bump in the polls, this effect may be temporary, not to mention polling data doesn’t always translate equivalently to votes (in fact, often enough, the actual results are significantly different from what even exit polls predict). More importantly, a large swath of the audience likely believes that no matter who wins the debates—or, for that matter, the election—America loses anyway. So, who won the debate? Who cares, that’s who.

From my point of view, aside from any morsels of substance I can find in all that has been said in these debates throughout the campaign season, my interest in this format for political discussions lies in how the whole process may be improved. The following suggestions are ones you and likely scores of others amateur political analysts have come up with, but nonetheless, bear stating or repeating for the sake of concreteness.

JOE IS STILL NOT DONE WRITING, AND HAS SOME IDEAS FOR MAKING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES BETTER

If they won’t stop talking, mute ’em

The sports talk show Around the Horn on ESPN, in addition to using a subjective scoring system whereby host Tony Reali awards participants points based on the perceived strength of their arguments, is known for its inclusion of a mute button that cuts off a player’s mic for ten seconds when he or she says something disagreeable to Reali (self-promotion, in particular, tends to be rewarded with the silent treatment and a loss of points). I feel a similar sort of system could be employed with presidential debates. If one of the candidates, say, interrupts incessantly (cough, Donald Trump, cough), he or she can be zapped for 10-second increments, or even could be given a more prolonged time-out if he/she can’t behave in a more adult fashion. Not for nothing, but these presidential hopefuls are discussing topics that may affect millions, if not billions, of people, and billions, if not trillions, of dollars. They should be able to act with a certain amount of dignity if they’re going to be interacting with world leaders—and at the very least, make it easier for us average folks to watch on our televisions.

Throw the red flag

If there’s one thing that fans of different sports teams can agree upon, it’s that referees/umpires routinely blow calls. Some are more egregious than others, but to a certain extent, errors in judgment are understandable given the speed at which professional sports are played. Such is why sports like football have implemented a challenge system whereby coaches can throw a red challenge flag, request that the head referee examine video footage of the play in question of which the ruling is being challenged, and confirm, overturn or let the call stand accordingly.

As fast as human beings and spheroid objects move in sports contexts, lies and misleading statements are fast and furious in presidential debates. In light of this notion, I submit candidates should be afforded two or more fact-checking challenges to use at their discretion. If someone claims he or she never called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” in trade deals, or professes he or she never Tweeted that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, on-site fact-checkers can be consulted to catch candidates in obvious untruths. In fairness, this does run the risk of prolonging already laboriously-long presidential debates, but rather than rely on voters to do their own homework and sift through all of the garbage nominees speak, this could more easily bring the truth to light, as well as shame the prevaricator worse than Cersei Lannister being made to walk the streets of King’s Landing in her birthday suit while her subjects hurl epithets and vegetables at her. OK, maybe not that bad, but you get the point.

Wrap it up!

If you’ve seen any award show like the annual Oscars telecast, you know that when winners go up to accept their well-deserved tokens of appreciation, they tend to run long with their speeches. That’s when the orchestra hits them with the hurry-up music, signaling their allotted time has been spent and that they need to call it an acceptance speech. On a similar note, when candidates are about to go over their specified response time, they should first be given a visual warning like a red light, as stand-up comedians might get when performing in a comedy club, and then when they finally do exceed the given number of minutes, how about we hit ’em with a horn? At least some uptempo clarinet or something—the exact instrument can be negotiated. We should let these candidates for public office know when we say “two minutes,” we mean two minutes, gosh darn it! If you want to talk a bunch of nonsense to get around the fact you lack a strong intended policy, do it when millions of people aren’t watching.

PHYSICAL CHALLENGE!

Am I the only one who doesn’t think a Double Dare-esque physical challenge would be a welcome diversion during these debates? Let’s see Donald Trump talk about stamina when he tries to run through a 10-part obstacle course! Or Hillary Clinton wear designer suits when she knows she could get Slimed! Come on, fellow millennials—are you with me?


These are just some small tweaks that I, humbly speaking, believe would really make presidential debates more enjoyable to watch without making these events any less informative. Although judging by this first presidential debate, the proverbial bar to clear may be fairly low. And who knows—with the right changes and better candidates in the future, when we talk about winners of the debate, we can put the American audience in that category. Until then, we can all dream, right?