Trumping Truth

crowd

Donald Trump claimed 1.5 million people were at his inauguration.   Estimates are almost all in the 200,000 range.   He sent his press secretary out to dispute claims the crowd was smaller than Obama’s.  Sean Spicer claimed that the “grass protecting plastic” made it appear like fewer people were there.

The picture on the left is from January 20, 2017.   On the right is January 20, 2009.   There is no way to deny that Obama’s crowd was massive compared to Trump’s.   When his spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway was asked why the press secretary was sent out to lie, she dodged, weaved, and finally said he was giving “alternate facts.”

If the President is so shameless with his lies over something this easy to verify, this obvious, then how can we trust what he has about threats to the country and other issues where we lack first hand information?

People say all politicians lie.  In reality, all people lie.  But not all the time, and often with a particular reason.  President Trump seems to be in a different class – the truth is irrelevant, whatever “fact” would serve Trump, that fact is posited as truth.

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To be fair to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, he said he learned his techniques from Madison Avenue – the advertising business.  Truth is most easily subverted if people are being led by emotion.   The desire to believe will overcome the capacity to critically assess.  Those who try to promote truth will be derided as “dividers, traitors, subversives,” or to quote Rush Limbaugh, “Libtards.”

Even those who supported Trump, who believe he’ll do a good job, should be troubled by his lack of scruples.  He doesn’t care if it’s obvious he’s lying, he’ll do so anyway because he knows his supporters want to believe him.   He’s created an emotional connection to his “brand” and that trumps reason.  (Pun intended)

I don’t believe it will work.  The ridicule being heaped on Conway and Trump over these claims shows that the media and the public are ready to fight back.  The Women’s March (which I will write more about) demonstrates the beginning of a global movement.  But it’s essential that all Americans, even those who support Trump be united in demanding truth from our leaders.

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Most of us use a different term for “alternate facts.” We call them “lies.”

When I describe fascism in class, I note that fascism is an anti-intellectual, anti-rational, emotion driven way of thinking.  It is relativistic – truth does not exist, all that exists is different perspectives, and those who power can determine truth.  It might be a claim about crowd size, it might be a claim that Jews are a parasitic people.   The fact that the new President is so shameless in lying about things that are so easy to check is in my opinion they most disturbing thing about the new administration.

 

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Trumpism

trumpism

It seems a tad surreal.  Working class poor, Christian fundamentalists, all being drawn to Donald Trump as if he were a hero.  Trump, who has lived a life of luxury without much regard to the workers, and whose values are anything but Christian, does not seem a likely choice to play this role.   Yet somehow he inspires devotion from his fans, a devotion that seems to defy logic.

This isn’t normal.  While many people voted for Trump simply because they couldn’t stand Hillary, or decided an outsider might be good, there is a cadre of Trump devotees that see themselves as  part of a movement.  They have faith in the leader, revel in his tweets, attack his opponents, and see themselves as part of a wave that will take back America.

In an airport last month I overheard a conversation.  “Finally, this election brought some common sense back to America.  Things are going to change, they’ll be better.  It’s a great thing.”  She was white, about sixty years old, and appeared well off.  “Maybe,” said a young man in a military uniform, clearly not as enthused, “But if not, we’ll still get the job done.”   She would have none of that, “Oh, it will get better, finally the country has regained it’s senses!”

Right there was the essence of Trumpism.  A passionate belief that Trump has the power to make things different – better, alongside a belief that America is a mess, and the politicians have been unable to change things.

But while such a description could fit Sanders supporters as well, Trump draws a particular group – people who feel alienated by the cultural shifts of the last 20 years, and yearn for things to be “right” again.

This has an economic dimension.  Once worker could earn enough to provide for a household, send the kids to college, and have one spouse (OK, the wife!) stay home, keep house and take care of the kids.  Now often two incomes are required to keep afloat, and the good jobs aren’t there anymore, as factories have closed and the service industry resists unionizing or even hiring people full time with benefits.  The demon is “globalization,” and the response is nationalist.

There is a social dimension.   Gay marriage.   Transgenders coming out in the open.  Marijuana being legalized in state after state, while traditional Christians feel that they are being prejudiced against by politicians who ‘pander to Muslims’ and embrace ever more secular values.  All the change – including having a black President named Barack Hussein Obama – makes America seem like a cesspool to them.  What once was perverse is now normal, the old values of 60s sitcoms seem far away.

To each, Trump seems a savior.  He’s defiance of politically correct communication shows that he is rejecting the social change.  After all, people mock the handicapped all the time, there’s lots of Islamophobia out there, and homophobia is still rampant in much of the country.   While the elites stutter in disbelief when Trump, say, mocks a disabled reporter, his followers love it.   This guy doesn’t follow the rules of the liberal elite, he doesn’t believe in the America they somehow constructed.  He’ll bring back “real America.”

The response to Trump, however, has often been just as myopic.  Liberal elites, who delighted in the cosmopolitan sophistication of the hyper-rational Barack Obama, could not believe that someone like Trump could possibly be elected.  He’s not only not PC, he’s offensive!  He gets support from White Supremacists.  He insults people constantly – anyone who dares criticize him becomes the victim of the next day’s 3:00 AM Twitter rant.  Most recently it was Meryl Streep.  He seems insecure, a con man, who will say whatever  is in his interest, with no regard for the truth.  How can people support him?

The thing is – that’s not the Trump that Trump supporters see.   They see a strong man speaking boldly and defying the expectations of the liberal elite.  They would chant that Mexico would pay for the wall, even though polls show most of his supporters don’t really believe Mexico will.  It doesn’t matter – that’s part of the fun, being thoroughly disdainful of the elite, and shameless in defending even the most absurd claims.  It drives those secular liberals bonkers, after all!

So what then is Trumpism?  On the surface it does look a lot like fascism.  Leader worship, a desire to restore the “true values” of a country, a hatred of intellectualism, and a sense that truth doesn’t really matter.  It has the nationalism, emotion, and relativism associated with fascism.  But while someone like Hitler had a political program (re-fight the first World War without making the mistakes that lost it) diligently followed, Trump seems to have no real political agenda.  He is in it for the spectacle, the show, the attention.

In that, Trumpism is quintessentially American.  It is Jerry Springer, the World Wrestling Federation, and Nascar.  It appeals to emotion, but deep down it is more show than substance.  Trump is no Hitler, he’s a Don King.

What does that mean for Trumpism?  Trumpism will likely die.   In campaign mode it works, but it is spectacle not substance.  It is circuses, not bread.  In the real world of policy, Trump will be forced to deal with reality, and his supporters will be disappointed that he can’t change the culture or fix economic woes with the magic of his personality.

Will he fail as a President?  I think so.  But perhaps he’ll rely on advisors, make real compromises, and actually be able to confront some fundamental problems that are entrenched in the political establishment.  His believers think he’ll do that – I’m skeptical, but I have no choice but to hope that he rises to the task.  One test is Obamacare.  If he refuses to go along with just repeal, and demands something replace or reform it, that will be a good sign.

In foreign policy, sure – make nice with Russia.   If that’s part of a less aggressive US stance, perhaps that can work.   But at this point, it’s a crapshoot.  We don’t know what Trump truly believes, or how he’ll govern.  His insecure attacks on Meryl Streep cause alarm, but perhaps he won’t let his own demons guide his choices.

In any event, Trump reflects American culture at this point of time.  People want spectacle, they are willing to deny reality if it is unpleasant, and a lot of people don’t like the demographic and cultural changes of the last decades.

But in a ying and yang sense, Barack Obama also reflects American culture.  It is the embrace of cultural change and a desire to confront reality.  The US is divided, and the transfer of power from Obama to Trump represents that.  The future depends on the choices we make.

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Blog Hiatus Ending

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The world is in motion, we are living in an era of crisis and transformation that is dangerous and profound.  The purpose of this blog is to reflect on, document, and and make sense of this very consequential period in world history.   I’m back to my blog!

This blog started on May 9, 2008 with the first post being “Katrina vs. Nargis,” a comparison of the hurricane that hit the US in 2005 with a typhoon that savaged Myanmar that month.   I had dabbled with blogs before.  In 1999 I wrote a daily re-action to the Kosovo war, and in 2004 I started one on the university server as a part of co-teaching a course on children and war.  I continued that one until I decide to move to WordPress and have a blog with a theme and purpose.

For a large chunk of that time, I was prolific, posting an article a day.  Early on I was fascinated by the Obama-Clinton clash in the Democratic primaries, the appalling influence of hyper-consumerism on American society, and then the economic crash and why it happened.

Yet I also touched on spirituality, science, religion and philosophy.  I had some posts that were part of a series, like the game Quantum Life.   I made on line friends, generated followers, and my writing improved as I took more time to re-read and re-write.

So why did I slow down so much in 2016 and cease after the election of Donald Trump?

I found the entire 2016 campaign so mind numbing and appalling that I lacked a desire to follow it or write about it, a far cry from my blogs of 2008 and 2012.   I did not watch any of the Presidential debates, I gave up trying to reprise my “polls” page.  My heart was not in it.

Beyond that, I was busy with other things.  New friends, working out consistently, taking on the role of Faculty President at UMF, and being on the school board.  Mix having a lot to do with not having a drive to write and a blog hiatus emerges.

But I must write.  Especially in these times, if only so my children, now 11 and almost 14 can read what their father was thinking during this time of crisis and transformation.  The world remains in motion.

I’ve had time to reflect on recent events.   There is a lot to write about.

After Trump’s victory John Oliver said “this is not normal.”  True.  But in many ways, this entire era we’re living through is not normal.  The world is going through a period of immense cultural, social and political change.  The world is in motion, and it’s hurling into a vast unknown, in which the political and social structures we know and expect are likely doomed – or at least will be altered to become something quite different.

This is a consequential, dangerous, and turbulent era.    It’s exciting to watch it unfold, both the positives (and there are many) and negatives.  In my blog I’ll continue to try to make sense of it on a multi-dimensional level.   Politics, society, culture, meaning, spirit, economics, religion, and reflection of what it means to be human.  So the blog hiatus is over, starting tomorrow I’ll have regular posts concerning this era of crisis and transformation.

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Trump Wins – No Need for Panic

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Michael Moore called it.  While most of us were thinking the Latino vote surge or female voters would put Hillary over the top, white working class folk in the rust belt hurt by globalization and lower paying jobs gave the system a “big fuck you” as Moore predicted.  Unable to hold Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Clinton fell to Donald Trump, despite winning the popular vote.

Now what?   The internet has been a mess.   Many of Trump’s opponents are accusing Trump voters of enabling racism, sexism, and misogyny with their vote.  They are brutal in their critique, even attacking me for suggesting that the country could take Trump’s victory in stride and that things aren’t all bad.  On the right there is either gloating (fair enough – they suffered liberal gloating when Obama won) or annoyance at the vehemence of the anti-Trump rhetoric.

So, at the risk of annoying those who are angry about Trump’s victory, I’d recommend everyone relax.  Chill.    Or if you’re really upset, organize and get active!   This isn’t the end of democracy, we’re not going to have a resurgent KKK, gay folk don’t have to go back to the closet and Muslims are not going to be put in internment camps.   Some of the policies of the next two years will anger the left, but take it in stride.

In 2018 people vote again.  If Trump governs poorly or makes unpopular decisions, the Democrats will have a chance to do to the GOP what the Republicans did to Obama and the Democrats in 2010.  In 2020 people will have a chance to find a strong candidate to run against Trump, and try again.  In those two to four years, the world isn’t going to end.

There is also a generational thing going on.  The under 30 crowd has been raised in schools and universities where sexist, racism, homophobic and misogynistic language and ideals are banned – you can get in trouble in school now for saying, “that’s so gay,” something that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow not that long ago.   That’s good – this generation is in the process of creating a world where racism, sexism and homophobia are rejected.

But the over 30 crowd is still part of a culture where such ideas are common.  Many people think homosexuality is a perversion and shouldn’t not be tolerated as such ideas will corrupt the youth (let alone transgender bathrooms!)  Sexism is powerful despite decades of progress.  Those voices are real, and will be heard – at least until the older generation dies out.

Finally, unlike Ted Cruz and many other Republicans, Trump is not a conservative.  He is probably nothing – he doesn’t seem to have core principles, whatever is in his interest at any given moment is where he stands.  He’s a con man who just pulled the biggest con of his life!  So who knows – he might reshape the Republican party to a more centrist or even liberal bent, or he might end up with internal GOP dissent.

But even if Trump is as bad as his opponents fear, that’s motivation for the left to mimic the right after 2008 – their antipathy for Obama lead to the tea party, and huge gains in the midterm elections.  If Clinton had been elected, the Democratic party would have remained the party of the status quo and DC insiders for four more years; now the party can recast itself.  Being in complete opposition, it will benefit from frustration and anger at Washington in coming elections.

Ultimately, America’s democracy has lasted a long time.  I don’t think one bad President will create a collapse.  I don’t think homophobia and racism will be worse because of Trump.  But maybe this is the start of a process of reform for both parties – for the system.  In any event, if you’re a Democrat, don’t fret.  2018 and 2020 will come quickly and I would not be surprised if those elections evoke much different emotions than this one!

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Prediction: Clinton wins big

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

Donald Trump’s recent surge has awakened hope amongst his supporters, as Democrats look nervously towards tomorrow’s election day.   There are many reasons to think that Trump has a good shot at winning.   He has been moving up in the polls, independents and late deciders are breaking his way, and state polls have shown cracks in Clinton’s fire wall.  This appears a classic case of a late surge potentially upending the lead of the favorite, much like Reagan in 1980.

A Trump win is definitely possible.  But as I make my prediction – as I’ve done every election eve since 2008 — a few things push towards seeing this as not only a Clinton victory, but potentially a big Clinton win:

  1. Hispanics are voting in record numbers in swing states like Florida, Nevada and Arizonia (and may even surprise people in Texas).  A large chunk of these voters are first time voters who may be under-represented in the polls that screen for likely voters.  This leads me to predict that Florida, Nevada and even Arizona will go for Clinton.  These are three states that Trump must win.
  2. The Clinton get out the vote effort is first class – and Trump has dropped the ball on his.  He’s relying on the Republican National Committee for their GOTV efforts, but that falls far short of what Hillary’s campaign can accomplish.
  3. Early voting seems to be favoring Clinton in important swing states; and
  4. Almost every major poll has Clinton leading by 2-5 points on the day before the election, a pretty solid lead.

For Trump to win, the scenario is straight forward.  He has to win rust belt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, all places where US trade policy is unpopular and thus the Trump message resonates.  Then he has to win swing states like New Hampshire, Florida and North Carolina.  If he can do that — all of which is possible — he could eek out a victory, perhaps relying on Maine’s second district.  Maine divides up its electoral votes by district, so that the winner of the state gets at least three votes, but the other candidate can get a vote if he or she wins the district.  That could conceivably be the vote that gets Trump to 270.

But I don’t think that will happen.  Instead I think that Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump in both the popular vote and the electoral college.

In the popular vote, my final prediction is:  Clinton 48.7%, Trump 45.1%, Johnson 4.5%.

For the electoral vote, I’ll predict Clinton 333  Trump 205

The most far out part of that prediction is I have Clinton winning Arizona.   If the Hispanic vote is as strong as some say, it could tip the scales in Arizona.  Otherwise, I have Clinton winning all the important swing states except Ohio.  Tomorrow we’ll find out.

 

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Should Democrats Panic?

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What a difference a week makes!  One week ago it looked like Clinton was headed for a sure victory.  Trump had been tanking in the polls, and her probability to win was up to 87% on Nate Silver’s model, over 90% according to some others.

Now she’s down to a 69% chance — still good, though the trend is bad, and recent polls for Trump have looked very promising.  State polls where Clinton held a firm lead are now wobbly – and change is consistent across many states.  Trump has a path to victory, Clinton may have peaked too soon.

Should Democrats panic?  Are we staring into the abyss of a President Trump?

Well, panic is never a good idea, so no – there is no reason to panic.  But right now Trump stock is rising and Hillary looks to be sinking.  The possibility of “President Trump” is at a high.  So distress and fear are reasonable Democratic responses.   But there are reasons for each candidate’s supporters to be optimistic.

Why Trump supporters should be optimistic

  1. The black vote is down in early voting, all over.  This suggests that Clinton is in trouble; Obama won in part because of high African-American turnout.
  2. The narrative of this election ends not with “pussy grabbing,” but “e-mail rumors.”  Clinton has lost control of the narrative.
  3. The trend line is moving sharply to Trump; at this pace he’d have a clear lead by election day.
  4. The Brexit effect – voters who want to challenge the system might come out stronger than the polls indicated.  This could be enough to put Trump in the lead in many swing states.

Why Clinton Supporters should be optimistc

  1. Early voting looks strong for women and Hispanics, which is good news for Clinton.  A really strong Hispanic turnout may give Clinton more support than the polls indicate in a number of swing states.
  2. The impact of a new event – a debate, in this case the e-mail story – tends to dissipate after a week.  The e-mail news, which contained no bombshells or evidence against Clinton, may have had its peak impact.
  3. Clinton has a vastly superior get out the vote effort, which could make a difference in close elections.  Indeed, Trump’s focus on rallies and free advertising may cost him the election.   This may be Clinton’s secret strength.
  4. The state polls have tightened, but haven’t gone completely south for Clinton.  She’s still the favorite.

I’m hesitant to blame the e-mail story for this completely.  Trump’s tightening of the race started almost a week before that story broke.  But it is significant in helping energize Trump’s voters and shift the narrative towards one critical of Clinton.  On the other hand, any Democrats who were unenthusiastic about Clinton and thinking maybe Jill Stein might now decide they need to stick with the one who has a chance to win.  There is differently no more complacency in the Clinton camp.

So it looks like we may have a cliff hangar.   Or not.  If the get out the vote effort for Clinton is strong and the impact of the e-mail story starts to wane, it could still turn out a big night for the Democrats.  But this surreal election, now subject to a surreal October surprise, promises to defy expectations to the very end.   But in one week, we’ll know.

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Can Trump Still Win?

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The coronation of Hillary Clinton may be premature, despite the fact she won all three debates and has run a much better campaign than that of Donald Trump.

But first – why people are ready to call the election:  Clinton’s polling in swing states is very strong.  She not only leads by a significant amount in enough states to give her 270 electoral votes and the election, but she leads in many others, and has a fighting chance in Arizona, Georgia and even Texas.   This suggests that the battle is being fought on Trump territory, which is never good for a candidate late in an election cycle.

Given the polls, the fact Clinton has a lot more money for a late ad blitz, and she has a much better get out the vote operation, it’s possible that this could even be a Democratic wave, sweeping in a majority in the Senate and threatening Republican control of the House.

Or maybe not.

Politico has a story that quotes Republican operatives as believing there is a “secret Trump vote” out there, as people don’t want to admit to pollsters that they’re voting for the controversial media baron.  That is unlikely, however there are reasons to give such a theory credence:

  1.  The polls that are most kind to Trump are on line or automated polls – polls where one does not have to admit to a live person that they are voting Trump;
  2. The Demographics of the rust belt swing states – Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – are similar.  If there is an error in one, it probably affects them all since pollsters use similar methods.  In other words, if the polling errors were idiosyncratic to each state, the odds of them being wrong in all three (or others) would be high.  But really, if there is an error, it’ll impact all states.
  3. This is an odd election.  Trump was predicted to be all but dead long ago.  He keeps coming back like an Energizer Bunny.  So predictions of his demise are risky, even given current polling; and finally
  4. The race is tightening.  How much is a matter of question.  Nate Silver’s website, fivethirtyeight.com, currently gives Clinton an 81.2% chance of winning.  Earlier this week it hit 88% (this is in the polls only model).   She still has the odds on her side, but her strength is eroding.   Trump having a 1 in 4 shot of winning is not good odds – but if you were given a one in four shot to win the lottery, you’d snatch it up!
dailynews

This report of Trump’s demise is from February 2016. It turned out to be at the very least premature.

If Trump loses, it’s on him.  If he had come in to the first debate prepared and Presidential, he might have convinced a lot of moderates and educated women to vote for him.  If he hadn’t convened a forum of Bill Clinton’s former accusers and gone on an aggressive defensive attack of his own accusers, he could have handled the controversy with more grace.  He would likely be in a position to win, perhaps easily.  Moreover, his lack of a ground game and poor organization also are likely to cost him.  So if the polls are right, Trump has only himself to blame for the potential loss.

Trump is comparing the polls to the Brexit vote.   Those polls showed the race neck and neck going into the final phase, with the “stay” vote slightly in the lead.  The “Go” side won by four points.   A four point polling error here would definitely make it a very competitive race.   For team Clinton, the next eleven days promise to be the longest 11 day stretch of their lives.

I still predict a Clinton win – the polls are rarely so far off, Clinton does have a state of the art ground game, and the Trump campaign seems inept.   Moreover, Trump’s claims could be much like the “skewed polls” claim of 2012 – a desperate attempt to convince supporters there is still a chance.   Every political science indicator I can imagine points to a Clinton win.

But this year is an election cycle like no other.   We could be shocked by a Trump victory, or amazed by a Democratic take over of the House.  Most likely is a Clinton victory, Democratic take over of the Senate, and GOP hold of the House.  But in 2016 anything can happen.   Hold on, it’s going to be a wild ride.

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