Right-to-Work—Not Right, Especially Not for Workers

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Sure, right-to-work has nothing to do with the actual right to work and depresses wages for union and non-union workers, but let’s keep misleading people and extolling its virtues. (Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)

With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.

Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)

One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:

Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.

This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.

The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.

The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”

Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:

Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.

In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.

It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.

The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.


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Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and Chris Christie have all taken hard-line positions against union workers. They also all happen to be shitty governors. Coincidence? (Photo Credits: Reuters/Brian Frank/Mike Theiler/Mike Blake)

So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:

Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.

Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.

Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?

It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:

Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.

At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.

But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.

Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:

When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.

“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.


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If this man is introducing a piece of legislation, let alone supporting it, chances are it’s a terrible idea. (Photo Credit: Steve King)

In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?

Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:

Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.

Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.

This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.

This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.

For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.

The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:

As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.

During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”

In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.

Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.


Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.

Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.

Do We Deserve Better Than Clinton and Trump? Maybe, Maybe Not

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Ralph Nader would urge you to vote based on your conscience this November. The two questions you need to ask yourself: 1) Can you do with that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? 2) Does it matter? (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

I’m reasonably sure you’re familiar with Ralph Nader. If you were eligible to vote in the 2000 election, then you’re definitely familiar with the man. Nader, who has made a career out of activism on behalf of consumer protection (his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, is considered influential on safety standards for motor vehicles, not to mention consumer advocacy as a whole), environmentalism, humanitarianism and principles of democratic government, has run for president several times—either as a write-in candidate on individual state ballots, or as an official nominee of the Green Party or Independent Party.

It was the 2000 presidential election, however, where Ralph Nader’s third-party bid became perhaps the most relevant, at least in terms of perceived influence on the outcome. As you may recall, in the swing state of Florida, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by a margin of less than 1,000 votes, an amount Nader garnered more than 97 times over. The easy reading was that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election and left us with a man-child as the President of the United States. As Nader and others pointed out, however, and quite rightly, I might add, there were other factors at play. For one, there was a whole recount fiasco—hanging chads and all—that necessitated a controversial Supreme Court ruling and prompted critics to insist the Republicans stole the 2000 election. Also, it’s not as if there weren’t Democrats who voted for Dubya, aside from the notion that it’s not as if Ralph Nader intentionally set out to sabotage Gore. Moreover, Al Gore didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee in 2000. On those three counts, or three strikes as it may be, the “Nader as spoiler” theory swings and misses.

In this election in 2016, Ralph Nader will not have a bearing on the outcome—real, imagined or otherwise. With respect to third-party options, the names most likely to serve as flies in the proverbial ointment are Gary Johnson, representative for the Libertarian Party, and Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party nominee. Nonetheless, as a political commentator in an election cycle in which both major-party candidates are disliked by a significant portion of the potential pool of voters—and thus, choices outside the Republican-Democrat red-blue binary stand to have a real impact—Nader’s voice carries a certain amount of weight. When asked by Jorge Ramos for his thoughts on Bernie Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader expressed the belief that the move, in its enumeration of meritorious policy positions on Clinton’s part, was more politically calculated in his (Bernie’s) favor than others might read or spin it:

He set her up for political betrayal, which would allow him to enlarge his civic mobilization movement after the election and after she takes office. So I think it’s a very astute endorsement.

“Betrayal.” Not mincing words, are we, Mr. Nader? I’m not sure Bernie Sanders is being quite as scheming as Ralph Nader would give him credit for, as I believe Sanders’ top priorities are 1) beating Donald Trump, 2) promoting a truly progressive agenda for the Democratic Party, and 3) mobilizing support within the Democratic Party among workers and younger voters—as well as encouraging the Democrats to do their part for less wealthy Americans and the middle class. Then again, as a Sanders supporter throughout the primary, I might be naturally more inclined to believe Bernie threw his influence behind Hillary for the best reasons.

What intrigued me most, though, concerning Ralph Nader’s opinions put forth in the Ramos interview, was not his musings on Bernie Sanders’ political machinations, but rather what he thought about voting for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. As is no huge surprise, Nader said he would most likely be voting for the Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate, but as regards what you should do with your vote, Nader is one of those dreadful sorts who believes in voting based on your conscience—for crying out loud! In Darth Nader’s own words:

I always believe, Jorge, in voting your conscience. Not tactical votes, not least-worst votes. If you do tactical, least-worst votes, you’ve lost your bargaining power over the candidates. They never look back when you basically say to them, “Well, I don’t like either candidate but you’re not as bad as the other one.”

This man can’t be serious, can he? After all, this is America! It’s Democrat or Republican! Blue or red, red or blue! We don’t need another party confusing things! Unless, God willing, that party is the Bull Moose Party! Loves me some Bull Moose. But, yes, Ralph Nader, we can’t afford to play games with this election! The stakes are too high! When will I stop yelling?!?

Before we so quickly dismiss Ralph Nader’s assertions as the ramblings of a crazy person, might there be some validity to what this madman is saying? Have we, by implicitly giving our consent to party politics and feeding the “lesser of two evils” trope over the years, paved the way to our own dissatisfaction now manifested in a likely two-horse race between Hillary “Never Met a War I Didn’t Like” Clinton and Donald “No Mexican Wall Is Too High” Trump? Isn’t now the perfect time as a people to vote third-party and give the Democratic and Republican Parties their due comeuppance?


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Donald Trump, as President, would restore law and order to our once-proud country. By himself. With his magic powers. (Photo Credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

On the heels of the Republican National Convention, let’s first address the elephant in the room—the state of the Grand Old Party. Given the four-day scope of the event this past week in Cleveland, I initially thought about doing a whole post recapping it—though you’ll soon see why I’m covering it in (somewhat) abbreviated fashion. Donald Trump and the way he’s conducted his campaign have put him at odds with a number of Republican leaders and figureheads—as well as non-politicians with half a brain in their head. In fact, the public figures who made it known they would be skipping the Convention reads like a “Who’s Who” of Republican leadership over the past 15 years or so, or more: George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, Governors Matthew Mead and Brian Sandoval, of Wyoming and Nevada, respectively, and others.

In their absence, though, there were apparently enough B-list celebrities, crazy people and idiots to go around. Here are some of the highlights—if you can call them that:

Monday: “Make America Safe Again”

  • For some reason, Scott Baio was there. Yeah, you know, Charles in Charge, of our days and our nights, as well as our wrongs and our rights? He had some fairly generic comments to be made: it’s not about getting free stuff—it’s about sacrificing; Donald Trump is not the Messiah but a man who wants to “give back..to the country that gave him everything;” Hillary Clinton sucks. You know the deal. Nothing particularly illuminating. Thanks, Scott. You can go back to being all but irrelevant as an actor now.
  • Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame said something about both he and Trump having wives hotter than they are. How exactly does this “make America safe,” again?
  • Rudy Giuliani, touting his record on crime, actually addressed keeping American safe, albeit with a heaping helping of pointing out the dangers of “Islamic extremist terrorism.” His remarks were largely straight out of the GOP playbook: Obama made a shitty nuclear deal with Iran, Hillary Clinton sucks and had a shitty response to Benghazi, Syrian refugees are all potential terrorists in the making. Are you sensing a theme with respect to Hillary yet?
  • The speech of the night, however, belonged to Michelle Obama. I’m sorry, Melania Trump. It’s easy to get those two confused. Before I get to the story that Melania Trump’s speech became, let me first say that I find it highly odd, even for the ever-strange Trump campaign, to have a Slovenian immigrant born Melanija Knavs as the keynote speaker on a night devoted to keeping America safe from foreign influence. Just putting that out there. Now, let’s get to the speech itself. It soon became apparent that Melania’s address bore more than a passing resemblance to the one Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention eight years ago. I’m not sure what the standards are like at the University of Ljubljana—from which Melania dropped out but insists she received an architectural design degree—but at most universities, that’s the kind of thing that could get you kicked out for plagiarism. If Melania Trump was hoping to distinguish herself as more than just a pretty face through her speech, this controversy sure didn’t help matters.

Tuesday: “Make America Work Again”

  • Another day, another round of Trumps. Among the headliners on Day 2 were not one but two members of the Trump Tribe. Donald Trump, Jr. took to the podium, but in as similar vein as with Melania’s speech, discussion of its actual content was lost in the ensuing conversation about parts of his speech being hand-me-downs from a previously published article in American Conservative by F.H. Buckley. Even if sanctioned by Buckley himself, for Trump Jr. to deliver an address with borrowed material only a day after allegations of plagiarism with Melania Trump’s speech raises questions about the campaign as a whole. Tiffany Trump, whom I previously believed was only a myth, also made a rare appearance in support of her father. Tiffany, a recent graduate of Penn, made a speech that seemed like something you would hear out of a university commencement, and tried to make her dad seem, you know, human. People seemed to think it was a good speech, I guess, though being able to talk coherently for an extended period of time is a fairly solid achievement for that crowd. Also, it probably helps that she’s a cute young blonde. Whatever. As with a Slovenian waxing political on a night devoted to border security as an extension of foreign policy, there would seem to be a certain degree of irony inherent in two of Trump’s spawn—privileged descendants of a likewise fortunate heir of his father’s name and legacy—being centerpieces of a night devoted to getting the average American back to work. Then again, rarely do things make much logical sense in the political world of Donald J. Trump.
  • Paul Ryan waved a Steelers Terrible Towel for some reason. Ryan, you f**king moron—they do that in Pittsburgh, not Cleveland!
  • Checking in on Dr. Ben Carson—yup, still insane. His speech, in a stunning turn of Six Degrees of Separation, somehow tried to link Hillary Clinton to famous organizational guru Saul Alinsky to…Lucifer. Yes, that Lucifer. In this respect, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee is not only connected to the Beast himself, but by a slender two degrees, at that. Dr. Carson, I’m not sure what you’re smoking, but whatever it is, I think I want some.
  • And then there was Chris Christie, who not only failed to win Donald Trump’s pick to be his running mate, but apparently failed to secure a spot among the Tuesday headliners. As he exhibited in the primaries, Christie committed to talking about the one political topic he can seem to discuss with conviction and regularity: just how much the Republicans in attendance hate Hillary. In particular, Chris Christie hearkened back to his experience as a prosecutor to submit evidence of Clinton’s guilt in various foreign policy dealings, as well as the unending well of criticism from which the GOP can draw attack material ad nauseum: the State Department E-mail scandal. Again, nothing to do with the economy or jobs. Just rehearsed, tired attack points against Hillary, which, even if legitimate, sound desperate coming from Christie, not to mention hypocritical noting his own history with investigations of impropriety. Chris Christie, sir, you are a heel.

Wednesday: “Make America First Again”

  • Also known as the Vice President and Also-Rans portion of the program. Because it wouldn’t be a day at the Republican National Convention without hearing from at least one Trump, on Wednesday, we heard from Eric Trump, who, guilty by association, has had to assert the notion he didn’t lift his speech from an existing document. Regardless of who wrote his words, Eric spared no shred of Republican rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to absorbing: our current foreign policy is inept (*cough*, Obama, *cough*, Hillary, *cough*), the Second Amendment and Christmas are under attack, the national debt is too high because of Obama and high taxes (warning: may or may not be true), foreign countries are taking all our jobs, and so on and so forth. After that, Trump began the obligatory deification of his father, painting him as a man who has “revitalized run-down neighborhoods, shaped skylines across the country, and turned dreams into reality his entire career.” (Warning: may be seriously untrue.) Eric Trump finished by, among other things, extolling Donald Trump, Sr.’s record of giving to charities, which, as I’m sure you can guess by now, may or may not be true. Eric, I’m glad you’re so proud to be a Trump, but this does speech does nothing for me—or for the people who might actually believe it.
  • We also heard from Newt Gingrich, the man who almost was Trump’s VP pick, and Mike Pence, the man who, for whatever reasons, is that pick. Gingrich talked about keeping America safe, which he and the convention organizers apparently failed to realize was more appropriate for the first day of the Convention, but OK. He had a lot to say, but it basically boils down to these essentials: radical Islam wants to kill us all, Hillary Clinton is dishonest, we need a big military and a big wall, our police are great and so is Donald J. Trump. Stop me if you’ve heard this all before. As for Pence, whom Trump finally allowed to speak and who formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for Vice President, I’ll allow Katie McDonough of Fusion to put it succinctly: “Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night with a speech designed to communicate one thing: He is boring.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Last but not least, we had the also-rans. Wisconsin’s shitty governor Scott Walker said some things, and presumably, made a point, but evidently is not worth the trouble it takes to find the transcript of his commentary. Marco Rubio was there in video form, and more than one observer said his delivery resembled, more than anything, a hostage being filmed. And then there was the show-stealer himself, Ted Cruz. Cruz, despite not being well liked by, well, most people and small children, will likely run again for President in the future. This may at least partially explain why he delivered a speech, but somewhat surprisingly, ended it not by endorsing Donald Trump, but rather asking the convention-goers to vote their conscience. A regular Ralph Nader, this guy! Whatever his reasons, this was my highlight of the Republican National Convention, in that it was so straight-up gangsta of him to not endorse Trump. Ted Cruz, you may have heard boos that night and may continue to catch grief from other Republicans from bucking the trend, but I, for one, give you mad props. Respect, Felito.

Thursday: “Make America One Again”

  • With Big Papa himself officially accepting the Republican Party nomination, could there be a better theme for the ultimate night of the Convention than “Make American One Again?” This coming from the ultimate uniter, Donald Trump. (Please, try to hold back your eye-rolls, smirks and snickers.) Before the main event, you did have your fair share of notable “undercard” speakers. Republic National Committee chair Reince Priebus, whose name sounds like it belongs in the Game of Thrones universe, made an appeal to unity for Republicans—you know, to beat that dadgum Hillary Clinton. Prince Rhombus, sorry, Ranch Prius, dammit, Reince Priebus had this to say about what separates Republicans from Democrats: “What separates Republicans from Democrats is our belief in better. We believe in better schools. A better health care system. A better economy which rewards hard work no matter where or when you punch the clock. And most of all, we believe in a better chance at the American Dream for everyone.” Because Democrats want everything to get worse? Whatever, Ponce Rebus. Sell what you need to sell.
  • Peter Thiel, German-born co-founder of PayPal, entrepreneur, hedge fund manager, and venture capitalist, also took to the mic. As a foreign-born homosexual man living and working in Silicon Valley, you’d think Thiel would be a weird choice for the closing night of the Republican National Convention. And um, you’d be right. Matt Rosoff, in a piece for Business Insider, notes how Peter Thiel made numerous points that seem to be at odds with mainstream Republican thinking, particularly on the subjects of investment in science and technology, and the invasion of Iraq. Otherwise, though, he’s unfortunately on board the Trump Train. And, for whatever reason, he’s got a real bugaboo about who uses what bathroom.
  • Ivanka Trump, apparently the member of the Trump Tribe with highest standing outside of “the Donald” himself, served as the lead-in to the man with top billing. I’m not going to dissect Ivanka’s eloquent and impassioned speech except to say that numerous critics said she sounded more like a Democrat (probably in an effort to woo independents and women voters) than anything. In addition, and as has been argued repeatedly, with Ivanka impressing as much as she did and does, um, it looks like the wrong Trump is running for President. I mean, I know she’s only 34, but she’ll be 35 come November. That works, right? Shit, if Canadian-born Ted Cruz can run for President, why can’t Ivanka Trump?
  • Finally, the event we were all waiting for—sort of. Donald Trump, ever the strongman, depicted himself as the law-and-order candidate. In doing so, he delivered an address that the media roundly characterized as “dark.” In his tone of doom and gloom, Trump argued that anyone who doesn’t recognize the dangers that exist for the United States (hmm, could that be someone like Hillary Clinton?) is unfit to lead it, and that the time for political correctness is over. He also rattled off a number of “facts” about what a shitty state the country is in. And then he went in on Hillary directly, describing her legacy as one of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.” The rest was a mish-mosh of his familiar themes: putting “America first,” I am not a politician or a member of the establishment, Hillary this, Hillary that, the police are great, so is Mike Pence, say no to Obama and the Syrian refugees, sanctuary cities are bad, walls at the border are good, laws should be enforced, laws should be enforced, did I mention laws should be enforced?, we’re going to bring jobs back to America, we’re going to lower taxes, we’re going to repeal ObamaCare, we must protect freedom of religion and the Second Amendment, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! There. I just saved you more than an hour. You’re welcome.

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Congratulations, Debbie. You played yourself. (Photo Credit: Patrick T. Fallon)

This is where I’m supposed to warn you not to let the crazies get the keys to the asylum. This is where I’m supposed to tell you not to let bigots like Donald Trump, Steve King and David Duke think they’re right by openly running on platforms characterized by a belief in white supremacy. This is where I’m supposed to point out that “putting America first” is a red herring when, for all our griping about terrorist attacks in Orlando and shooting of cops in Baton Rouge and Dallas, we can kill 85 Syrian civilians in an air strike, call it an accident, and sweep it under the rug. This is where I’m supposed to plead with you to consider that Trump is a bully, a fraud, and someone who still won’t release his tax returns, even though the IRS literally has no problem with it.

So, yes, in short, there is every reason not to vote for Donald J. Trump, and likely a great deal of merit in voting strategically to keep him away from the White House. At the same time, however, if we are thinking in Naderian terms and voting based on our conscience, how many of us can say we’re all in on Hillary Clinton, and not just because she’s someone other than Donald Trump? Speaking purely for myself, I know that I can’t endorse Hillary on her merits alone. Moreover, even though I’m putting forth my personal views, I know I am not alone in this sentiment.

Even before Wikileaks’ latest “gift” to the world, I have had my reservations about voting Democratic on the basis of feeling as if the Democratic Party has done little to earn my vote and yours. But let me tell you—the DNC E-mail leaks just dropped on the world don’t help matters from my perspective, nor do they inspire a sense of confidence in Hillary or desire for party unity among fervent Bernie Sanders supporters and serial Clinton haters. Sanders supporters, I will concede you, have looked and will look for evidence of a conspiracy against their candidate of choice, and for months have alleged Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been less than impartial in her dealings with Clinton and Sanders, arguing that she (Wasserman Schultz) has been influential in tipping the proverbial scales in the former’s favor.

For all their talk of a “rigged” political system and claims of the Sanders campaign that they have had to fight an uphill battle against an entrenched Democratic, if the DNC leaks show one thing, it’s that the conspiracy theorists are, well, at least somewhat right on this point. With nearly 20,000 messages recovered from a hack of the DNC’s E-mail server(s), credited to the mysterious “Guccifer 2.0” and believed to be the product of Russian intelligence, I am not about to try to parse through the entire message dump. Besides, most of these messages feature rather uninteresting and benign details within DNC operations. A prized few, however, shoot through the idea that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other key figures within the Democratic National Committee were neutral in their private handling of Bernie’s and Hillary’s campaigns. Furthermore, their communications with the press—including figures such as CNN’s Jake Tapper, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, and Polirico’s Kenneth Vogel—suggest a favoritism toward Hillary Clinton, and worse, that the DNC may have worked to influence their content and undermine Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic Party nomination. In a piece for Heavy credited to Stephanie Dube Dwilson, a number of “the most damaging” E-mails are cited and highlighted. Among the revelations or potential revelations referenced in the article/slideshow:

  • The Democratic National Committee may have planned a joint fundraising party with The Washington Post.
  • Staffers, in talking about Rhode Island, a state that was reducing its primary polling locations and in which Bernie Sanders led in the polls at the time by a slight margin, derided the Sanders camp, suggesting they’d probably complain about the outcome regardless, and referred to the state’s governor, Gina Raimondo, as “one of ours.”
  • Mark Paustenbach, DNC staffer, suggested an anti-Bernie Sanders narrative to Luis Miranda, DNC communications director and the most-cited figure in the DNC leaks.
  • Miranda wrote simply, “lol,” to a report that Sanders welcomed an agreed-upon fourth debate in California in advance of the primary.
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz E-mailed Chuck Todd, saying that MSNBC on-air personality Mika Brzezinski calling for her to resign was “outrageous” and that “this needs to stop.”
  • DWS, responding to Sanders campaign Jeff Weaver’s comments on the unrest at the Nevada Democratic Convention, called him a “liar.” (In a separate E-mail, Wasserman Schultz refers to Weaver as an “ass.”)
  • Kenneth Vogel allowed the DNC to review an article about Hillary Clinton’s fundraising prior to publication.
  • The DNC may have crafted fake Craigslist ads for employment with Donald Trump’s organization, referring to Trump’s oft-cited disparaging attitude toward women.
  • The DNC may have planned to attack Bernie Sanders on his faith, implying he is an atheist to hurt his support among more religious Democrats.
  • Wasserman Schultz, after a CNN story in which Bernie Sanders insisted he would try to remove her as committee chair should he get elected president, wrote, “This is a silly story. He isn’t going to be president.”
  • The Clinton campaign may have violated Federal Election Commission laws by making out donations checks to the DNC.
  • Donna Brazile, who had professed her neutrality on matters concerning the Democratic Party, said she would “not touch” a story on reservations held by the Sanders camp about adequate representation on the Democratic Party platform and in the Democratic National Convention, adding “because she would cuss them out.”
  • Luis Miranda referring to a New York Times piece by Nicholas Confessore as “good as we could hope for,” as the DNC “was able to keep him from including more on the JVF (the Joint Victory Fund).”
  • Paustenbach laughed when Sanders commented on state Democratic parties not having enough resources and the more undemocratic aspects of the primary process.
  • DNC staffers elected not to reference an MSNBC story talking about favorable unity within the Democratic Party among voters, as it was a “heavy Bernie piece.”
  • The DNC may have had people inside the Sanders organization as effective “plants” reporting information back to them.

Reportedly, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will resign from her post as Democratic National Committee chair following the Democratic National Convention, a move Bernie Sanders had called for following news of the DNC leak being made public, and one for which Sanders supporters had been clamoring for months. At the minimum, DWS’ removal as DNC chair needed to happen for general principles. That much was a given. The damage, meanwhile, in terms of perception, may be done, and this in turn feeds all sort of “Clinton-Lucifer” degrees of separation connections. OK, maybe that stretch is Ben Carson’s alone to make. But it does make one wonder whether or not all the Committee’s machinations made a difference in the race to the Democratic Party nomination, or if not, like Tom Brady and his deflated balls supposedly, why they needed to engage in chicanery in the first place.

Support for Hillary Clinton among Bernie Sanders supporters and progressives, theoretical or otherwise, has been an issue for the Clinton campaign and mainstream Dems for months now. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, hopes for party unity have been seriously rattled by the one-two punch of the Wikileaks E-mail dump and the nomination of Tim Kaine for vice president. On the latter count—surprise, surprise—the mainstream media thought it was a great pick. “Clinton follows her heart!” “Clinton employs sound strategy!” “Kaine is able!” Lame last-name-related puns aside, as far as the rest of the potential voting pool is concerned, however, the choice of Tim Kaine as VP is either boring, infuriating, or infuriatingly boring. As comedian W. Kamau Bell reacted to the news on Twitter, “One glass ceiling at a time everybody. 🙂 — Hillary Clinton in a group text to Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren.” Progressives, too, are not very enamored with Kaine, and a lot of it stems from his perceived support for the big banks in his signing of multiple letters aimed at regulators to loosen regulations for community banks, as well as his past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fast-tracking it through Congress. Add to this the notion Bernie Sanders delegates have had to argue and compromise with top Democratic leadership to try to reduce the influence of superdelegates, a much-hated hallmark of the primary voting system, and you wonder whether or the Convention in Philadelphia will be even more “messy” as Sanders himself predicted months ago.


In his most recent essay on the state of the election, economist Robert Reich asks the pertinent question, “Does Hillary get it?” Likewise a critic of the choice of Tim Kaine as running mate for Hillary Clinton, he opens his post thusly:

Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?

I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.

A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me “now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.”

Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.

In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 – signing legislation on welfare reform, crime, trade, and financial deregulation that enabled him to win reelection in 1996 and declare “the era of big government” over.

In those days a general election was like a competition between two hot-dog vendors on a boardwalk extending from right to left. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. (If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales on rest of the boardwalk.)

But this view is outdated. Nowadays, it’s the boardwalk versus the private jets on their way to the Hamptons.

The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.

If what Reich believes is correct, Clinton’s “safe” pick is not all that safe given the current state of the American electorate. And now, because I feel compelled, let’s bring Ralph Nader back into the mix, and return to our main point. If, regarding the Republicans, we are taking Nader’s and Ted Cruz’s advice, and voting our conscience, rather than simply voting against Hillary Clinton, then Donald Trump, a man who preys on voters’ fear and hate, should never appear with an X on one’s ballot. If you don’t understand this by now, brother or sister, you’re reading the wrong blog. As for the Democrats, though, if you’re voting strategically for Clinton to Trump, then there is concern that you’re implicitly sanctioning their own bad behavior, in the form of arrogance, tone-deafness, and an unwillingness to play by the rules, and thereby thinking they’re in the right, or worse, that this much simply doesn’t matter. Under this assumption, the Democrats, like the Republicans, can turn around after the election and say, “Well, you voted for us.” In this scenario, give the Nader his due—we, as voters, will have lost all leverage in convincing both parties to reform to better reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Ultimately, when it comes to my advice for your vote, I’ve already been very clear that voting for Donald Trump—are you hearing this, Ben Carson?—is really making a deal with the Devil. However, if you’re voting for Hillary Clinton, more and more I’m convinced the only reason to do so is to choose the lesser of two evils, and even that seems likes a poor justification when the Democratic Party has seemingly done everything they can to screw the pooch on this election, and again, little to earn your vote. So, if you’re planning to “throw your vote away,” as the saying goes, and come November, give Jill Stein or Gary Johnson your consideration, maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe this is your chance to tell the Democratic and Republican Parties to clean up their act or else stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, to send a message that we deserve better. Either way, you can fire back at your critics and say—however condescendingly—”Well, I didn’t vote for either Clinton or Trump.” Besides, regardless, even if, like in 2000, the presidential race is as close as could be in 2016, when it comes to brass tacks, it won’t be Johnson or Stein which costs either side the election. It will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton who loses.