One of the most disturbing parts of this election season for me, and also for our democracy and institutions, is the normalization of Donald Trump by both the Republican party and many in the media.
There has sadly been little policy discussion this campaign because there is a huge policy gap. Clinton has pages of policy plans on practically every issue, while Trump typically has some vague sentences thrown together like an intern copied and pasted them in the wrong order from conservative web sites. As noted in the link:
Mr. Trump’s health care platform “resembles the efforts of a foreign student trying to learn health policy as a second language,” said Thomas P. Miller, a health economist at the American Enterprise Institute and a harsh critic of President Obama’s health law.
The only detailed plan Trump has touted is a tax cut plan written by the usual supply-siders on the conservative side, which would add over $5T to the debt. It's tough to have a debate of competing policy plans when only one candidate appears to have devoted any staff time and resources to come up with actual plans.
So to absolve the media a little, this makes it easier to just cover the horse race and the competing, although disproportionate, number of 'scandals.' But not to the extent that they have.
This graph from July shows the percentages of negative stories about the candidates:
For example, Clinton's aide Huma Abedin is still maybe possibly kinda under investigation now for sending a few handfuls of sensitive Clinton emails, out of hundreds of thousands from the private email server to her home computer, without either actually being charged with anything. The statute on this makes it nearly impossible to charge them for being careless. It's a nothingburger.
Whereas, Trump currently is under investigation for massive fraud and possible tax evasion via the Trump Foundation, as well as court dates fighting actual racketeering and fraud charges filed against Trump University on 11/28 and, oh by the way, child rape (!) on 12/16. And there are other lower profile cases against him, most notably not paying contractors what is owed to them for work they did on his properties. But you know, EMAILS! Has the media covered these investigations equally or with the correct proportionality given the severity of the charges? The fact that some of you reading this post are just hearing about the Trump charges but know about the Clinton case answers that question loud and clear. Also, for all the coverage of the emails I feel like there are maybe 1000 people in the entire country who can actually explain what the accusations are and why there could be a 'there' there. Another giant #FAIL by the media.
And this chart shows the number of stories devoted to Clinton emails 'scandal' vs Clinton's policy proposals.
But getting back to Trumpism.....
Many in the conservative intelligentsia were apportioning blame for the rise of Trump over the summer. Some of the soul-searching critiques and explanations were good by the #NeverTrump writers at the Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Weekly Standard. But I felt like some of them had a underlying tone of decrying Trump only because the racist, misogynist, xenophobic candidate their primary voters had chosen would harm their short and long term electoral prospects, not because of the multitude of other reasons he and his campaign were unacceptable. "Trump's appeal to the white working class on trade is totally screwing up our chances to cut taxes and regulations" or "His rhetoric about the wall is going to cost us votes with Latinos!" was what I got out of many of the columns.
Trump has normalized unprecedented campaign maneuvers like not releasing his tax returns, not severing his multiple national and international business relationships before running for President, claiming the election is rigged if he loses and preemptively laying the groundwork for not honoring the results, openly cheering on a foreign adversary's partisan criminal activity, and the FBI's partisan procedural breaches in trying to influence an election, and dozens more outrages.
But more disturbingly a fascist campaign strategy has been normalized. "Only I can fix it" is what a dictator says, not a President of a parliamentary democracy. The many things Trump has said in the course of this campaign are gross, racist, sexist, and sadly accepted and/or seconded by a scary number of his supporters. Has anyone ever seen more people feeling comfortable openly saying c*nt and b*tch in public at his rallies? They feel like they are in a safe space at Trump rallies. Not to mention the antisemitic chants, racist remarks and offensive swag being sold with racist memes disparaging women, blacks, Latinos, and Muslims.
His overt and covert appeals to the Alt-right is beyond the pale. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups have not had a candidate making so many open appeals along with the usual covert signaling to them since segregationist George Wallace.
But again, what did we expect? Trump basically launched his political career with Birtherism - a racist signal of not accepting the citizenship and legitimacy of the first black President. That is what made him a star in conservative circles and got him booked on Fox News so often. The rise of Trump began the day the spineless leaders of the Republican party didn't denounce the Birtherism conspiracy theories on the Alt-right because they were hoping to gin up turnout to win back the House in 2010. The entire party owns this.
Here are clips of Republicans in Congress literally running away from reporters in 2009 so they could avoid answering whether they believed President Obama was born in the United States:
Birthers on the Hill
Birthers on the Hill, pt 2
So, the party leadership uses a disgusting racist smear in order to try to win back or hold power. This is a common theme. Many of the people waving confederate flags and complaining about high taxes in 2010 at Tea Party rallies are now claiming 'economic anxiety' in 2016 at Trump rallies waving confederate flags and also spouting racist and sexist memes. That's how far we've normalized this in just 6 years. The excuses for their anger keep changing. Yet they keep showing up waving confederate flags and hanging their political opponents in effigy. Something is going on, but I don't think it's high marginal tax rates or economic anxiety.
So who is really to blame?
- Mainly, Republican leaders. They didn't denounce Trump and Trumpism early on frankly because they recognized many of his base as their base and didn't want to aggravate them. And that impossible position has carried on through the entire election. That's why so many Republican politicians seeking re-election are trying to have it both ways denouncing every disgusting thing Trump says and does, but also still supporting his candidacy for President or "supporting the ticket" or "supporting the platform" or however they phrase it. RNC Chair Reince Preibus, Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Jason Chaffetz, et al....you own this.
And John McCain, geez come on. A draft dodger dishonored your military service and bravery as a POW, one of the most genuinely heroic acts by any American serviceman in the last 50 years. And McCain still endorsed him and supported him throughout the entire campaign, up until about a month ago when the Billy Bush tape came out. Was winning your 137th term in the Senate really worth it to endorse a person we all knew you hated and knew was unacceptable? Which begs the question - was everything else Trump said and did from 1975 until October of 2016 totally OK with you before that? This was the last straw? Come on. The Straight Talk Express must have left the station without McCain on board in 2016.
- Most of the Republican presidential candidates. They didn't denounce Trump early on for the same reasons. They wanted his base to come join their campaign after Trump inevitably flamed out. And they were afraid Trump would run as an Independent and split the party after he lost. At the first debate if all 10 or 12 of the other candidates had just taken on Trump and his unfitness for the office, hammered him on the stuff we all knew about, we may not be here. But again more political cowardice on display. Most spineless of all were Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who changed their position on Trump so often I can't keep track. From "He's unacceptable and cannot be President" to "He's unacceptable but I will support him if he's the nominee" to "I will not endorse him and fight for the nomination at a brokered convention" to "Vote your conscience and the constitution" to "OK, fine I will endorse him, but I still find him unacceptable and may or may not vote for him and will not be photographed standing next to him ever." Enough, cowards! You knew how dangerous and repugnant he is. History will not treat you kindly. I'm keeping a list of all of you and checking it twice.
- Republican voters. Not the "deplorables" or the Alt-right types. I'm talking about your average suburban somewhat moderate Republicans or "constitutional conservatives" or "small government conservatives" or "fiscal conservatives" or whatever they brand themselves as when try to explain to Democratic friends their ideological reasons for voting Republican. These voters know better. They know Trump isn't fit for the office. They know he's a loathsome person. They disagree with him on so many things. But they are enabling Trumpism by "voting for the platform" or "voting for SCOTUS appointments" or however they justify voting for the most unqualified major party candidate and frankly worst human being to get this close to the Presidency in several generations. This isn't a normal election. Get it together and focus, people.
- Some in the media. As mentioned previously some in the media have aided and abetted in this election by normalizing Trump because that is the only way they are equipped to cover a Presidential campaign. There seems to be a real inability to cover an unqualified, unfit, pathologically dishonest, grotesque candidate in any way other than the usual "generic Democrat vs generic Republican" choice. It's just horse race or 'scandal' coverage and it must be he said/she said, both sides,"some Democrats have said this, some Republicans have said that, so things are totally normal" coverage. Treating it as equal when one candidate says dishonest things 78% of the time and the other candidate 18% of the time (78% is WAY higher than the average politician and 18% is more honest than the average politician), is a failure to cover things in the proper context and proportion. This failure was exposed in a poll this week where respondents found Trump to be the more honest/trustworthy candidate. It is mind-boggling. And I also think people associate not being politically correct with being honest for some reason. Saying whatever is on your mind, even if it is not politically correct may be a more honest expression of how you feel, but that doesn't mean the words that are coming out of that mouth are actually true.
Others in the media have done an excellent job this election season - most at the Washington Post, particularly David Fahrenthold, as well as the New York Times, some of the political magazines and numerous conservative-leaning newspapers who have refused to endorse Trump, and for that we who enjoy our little 240-year democratic experiment are eternally grateful. When I refer to media failure it's mainly the websites and news shows that will do anything for clicks and eyeballs and shares on Facebook.
And kudos to the Bush family, John Kasich, Lindsay Graham, Ben Sasse, and some other notable elected Republicans who were #NeverTrump from the beginning and pretty much never wavered. And also my in-laws, lifelong Republicans, who are voting for a Democrat for President for the first time ever on Tuesday.
Currently we have low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, stocks are up, wages are up, crime is down except for in a few big cities, net immigration is flat, imports are down, exports are up and yet a candidate like Trump still has an outside shot to win. Luckily this isn't a "change" election. Obama is going to leave office with the highest approval rating of an exiting President in the modern era. We dodged a giant bullet, America. If Trump had run say in an environment like 2008, where the country was dying for change to shake things up and we were on the brink of a Depression, there's a good chance he'd have won. Germany had the misfortune of Hitler running at the right time in the early 1920's with the country still ravaged from World War I. Authoritarianism, nationalism, and racial/ethnic scapegoating is a much easier sell when everything is terrible.
This election may leave a lasting stain on our country, no matter the outcome. And I fear a close Trump loss will only encourage more candidates like Trump who are a little more polished and experienced stoking the same fires. Or at the very least some will follow the same campaign footsteps making the same appeals, more norms being destroyed, more playing footsie with white supremacists, more acceptability of detestable monsters as just business as usual.
So I look forward to casting my vote for the first female President on Tuesday and encourage everyone who is voting for her to pull a straight Democratic ticket and not putz around with ticket-splitting for a "divided government, checks and balances, blah, blah blah." I have long despised ticket-splitters. That would send the message that this was kind of a normal election with two normal candidates.
No! Splitting tickets at this point only continues to empower the cowards and extremists in the Republican party who have continually enabled Trumpism for political gain. This condition can only be cured with an amputation not antibiotics. So a complete up and down ballot rejection at the polls is the only answer so the Republican party can finally cleanse itself of this disease and return to being a functional governing party again.