Marketing Gimmicks Often Destroy Websites

Marketing GimmicksWhen you clicked over to this page, were you unnerved by the lack of a popup advertisement that you had to hunt around to find where the × was hidden to close? Did it make you uncomfortable that the top thing on page is the site’s name and logo and not an ad? Are you terrified at the thought that if you move your mouse out of the window that you will not be offered the chance to sign up for our newsletter? If so, you are suffering from the “Marketing Gimmicks Fad” syndrome.

Don’t worry. It isn’t a disease that you have; it’s a disease that website owners have. The problem is that you and all the rest of us suffer from it. But it’s hard to blame website owners. The truth is that advertising rates on the internet have always been too low and they have only gotten worse. So people are trying to stay in business. I just think that the use of such marketing gimmicks isn’t an effective approach.

Most Marketing Gimmicks Are Fads

What’s more, these things go in waves. You’ll notice almost overnight, a large percentage of websites will start using a new technique. But eventually they go away. I suspect that all of these tricks work at first. But then people get used to them and just close them. They are just one of many of life’s annoyances like the guy next door who plays his television loud enough for people in the parking lot to hear. But I can’t help but think that they do damage to the website’s brand.

My best example of this is Washington Monthly that I slowly stopped reading because there were so many ads that the pages took forever to load. It’s a great compliment to the site that I stayed with it so long. But there’s something more that should terrify website owners. Since that time, the site has been totally redesigned. I wouldn’t exactly call it a fast site, but it’s reasonable: in the middle of the pack. It has been for a while. I know this. Yet I almost never visit the site.

It’s Hard to Regain a Reader

Once you lose a reader, it’s hard to win them back. The truth is that there are damned few websites that are so great that you will go no matter what. I read Greg Sargent’s The Plum Line every day. It’s mostly because I have a vague fondness for him. And it’s good to get a rundown of the news from a liberal perspective. But it isn’t that great. I could certainly find the same thing elsewhere.

What every website owner wants is to have a site that is so good that people will put up with anything just to get its amazing content. But we all need to understand that we are unlikely to attain that. (We should all strive, though.) And so we should do our best to not annoy our readers. If they are in the habit of visiting, let them keep up the habit. A short-term boost in profit is not worth a long-term loss of traffic.

Two Kinds of Websites

Of course, I’m writing from the Frankly Curious perspective. For websites that depend upon ad revenue, regular readers aren’t that great. They are actually less likely to click on the Google ads that litter the page, because they are focused on the content. It’s the people who just showed up via Google who are more likely to click on a shiny advertisement. And annoying them is not such a big deal. If your regulars (who aren’t making you any money) disappear, so what? Well, for a blog like this, so a lot.

I’ve begun to see the internet as being divided in two: the commercial and the non-commercial sides. And even though Frankly Curious is certainly not the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it falls much closer to the non-commercial side of the internet. I think website owners should decide on this when they start a site. Because I see a lot of sites that clearly aren’t meant to make (much) money that follow along with annoying trends.

Marketing Gimmicks Won’t Make You Rich

But if I’m so smart, why aren’t I rich? Part of it is my overall negativity. But I think there is much too much talk of making money on the internet anyway. A much smarter approach is to use the internet to leverage something else that you can make money off of. But I know that many of these marketing gimmicks are a bad idea because they come and go. If people are serious about making money from their websites, there are tried and true things that can be done. The smartest website owners work on them and don’t worry about these marketing gimmicks.

It’s of note, however, that it is often well established websites that use such marketing gimmicks. And that may be because they are being conned by consultants. That’s a topic for another day. But my advice to website owners is to focus your front-end on being user friendly. And grow your site by getting more people to visit by using the standard techniques of creating good content and developing backlinks. Or you can be like Neil Patel and help make the internet a progressively less useful place.

The Real Lesson of Bill O’Reilly Is Not Rosy

Michael Hiltzik - The Real Lesson of Bill O'Reilly Is Not RosyThe lesson likely to be widely drawn from the eviction of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, announced Wednesday, is that even the biggest of big shots can’t evade their comeuppance forever. Put simply, “What goes around comes around.”

This will no doubt gratify the legions who detest O’Reilly for his politics, his abusive manners, his baleful influence on American public discourse, and his reported history of sexual harassment, the proximate cause of his departure from Fox.

But it’s the wrong lesson. The right lesson is less uplifting. It’s that if you bring in lots of money for your employer and have the right friends in the right places, you can get away with the most egregious conduct almost forever.

O’Reilly, after all, has been at the top of the broadcasting world for at least a couple of decades. He made it all the way to the post-retirement age of 67 before getting fired despite having been publicly accused of sexual harassment, in great detail, by a Fox producer in a quickly settled lawsuit nearly 17 years ago. The terms of his separation from Fox haven’t been disclosed, but it’s a safe bet that it will be measured in the millions of dollars.

–Michael Hiltzik
The Bill O’Reilly Case Shows How Much Fox News and UC Berkeley Have (Horrors!) in Common

The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party as Outsiders

Paul Wellstone - The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party as OutsidersI’ll admit it: I’m an extremist. If I had my druthers, I’d dismantle the capitalist system. It’s morally indefensible. But I’m also a practical guy. So I’m more than willing to accept the Democratic Party. But I want to push it in the right direction. It’s hilarious that Bernie Sanders goes around calling himself a socialist and people don’t slap him. Do words no longer have any meaning?!

But I’m definitely part of the “Sanders wing” of the Democratic Party. I’m willing to accept a party that supports unions and takes care of the poor and doesn’t apologize for the fact that, yes, we have to pay taxes for that. And just to prove it, I just paid over 22 percent of my income last year to the federal government. And I’m proud to do it, even though I don’t make that much money. I assure you that Donald Trump and Mitt Romney both paid a far smaller percentage of their incomes.

Allies Who Disagree

But hey: we’re stuck together for right now. We are on the same side: the side that thinks the government should actually work for the people.

So what I’m saying is that as a practical matter, I’m a good old fashioned New Deal and Great Society Democrat. But I understand that the New Democrats still have enormous power in the party. And I understand that the party is still wedded to neoliberal ideas. It’s always a better idea to give money to the rich so they can give a job to the poor than to just give the money (Or the job!) to the poor. Everything has to be complicated because — Damnit! — Ezra Klein and Bill Clinton are both really smart guys and they don’t cotton to no simple answers!

But I get it. Somethings things are complicated. I’m not against that. But just as Republicans approach every problem with a long list of things they absolutely can’t do because of their ideology, the New Democrat side of the Democratic Party approaches every problem by assuming that simple answers won’t work. I think they’re wrong. And I will argue with them. But I understand that they are on my side.

The problem is: I don’t think they understand that I’m on their side. I think they are like the The People’s Front of Judea:

Intra-Fighting Trumps (!) Inter-Fighting

It seems to be worse in the United Kingdom, where the establishment of the Labour Party (You know: the ones who kept losing elections!) seem happier to see the Tories in control of the government than Labour if scary old Jeremy Corbyn leads the party. And this was always my single biggest concern about Bernie Sanders during the last Democratic primary. For all the bellyaching about Sanders supporters not supporting Clinton in the general election, we did — in a big way.

But I feel certain that had Sanders won the primary, the establishment would have treated him the way they treated George McGovern in 1972. “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front!”

Democratic Party: Too Big a Tent

And actually, there’s a reason for this. The United States is a one-party country. The Republicans aren’t a political party. They’re just a group of nuts. The only people who are actually interested in how the government is run are now in the Democratic Party. And in that way the New Democrats and the New Deal Democrats really are two parties. But hey: we’re stuck together for right now. We are on the same side: the side that thinks the government should actually work for the people.

Sure, you would think the Republicans would be for that too, but they aren’t. And that’s the reason that the Democratic Party with its far too big a tent needs to stick together. And that is why I was a strong supporter of Hilary Clinton. Because on the issues that are open for discussion in our deeply troubled country, I agreed with her the vast majority of the time.

We’ve Got to Get Along — for Now

My question to the New Democrats is whether they can see that. I got into a big fight with an old friend over Glenn Greenwald, even though I have little doubt that my friend not only agrees with me the vast majority of the time but that he agrees with Greenwald the vast majority of the time.

The only way we save this country is if we hate the “Romans” more than the “fucking Judean People’s Front!” And if we do, we can destroy the Republicans. Then we can dig deeper and disagree enough to have two different political parties. (Actually, all the New Democrats would just become Republicans. Or we would. What’s in a name?) But if the New Democrats think that’s going to happen by brushing the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party aside, they are sadly mistaken, and we might all just give up now.

Afterword

That phrase “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” is most known from Howard Dean. Other than his stance on the Iraq War, I’m not much of a fan of the man. He is a New Democrat. Dean took the phrase from Paul Wellstone and so I claim it as ours: the people who want more Great Society and less welfare “reform” and education “reform” — the people who want more equality and less of the false promise of “equality of opportunity.”

Another Afterword

And don’t go complaining that there is a tiny group of liberals who won’t vote for the Democratic Party. This has been true my entire life. Just because they liked Bernie Sanders doesn’t mean anything. The vast majority of Sanders supporters voted for Clinton — about the same as the number of Clinton supporters who voted for Obama in 2008. I have one thing to say to anything anyone wants to say on this issue: all Indians walk in single-file, at least the only one I ever saw did.

Learn statistics, folks!

Final Afterword

I’ve more or less changed my mind about who gets to be a dick around here.

Jon Ossoff Crushes It in Atlanta

Jon OssoffDemocrat Jon Ossoff fought to capture a Republican-held House seat in Atlanta’s wealthy, conservative suburbs Tuesday with a groundswell of grass-roots activism and millions in donations fueled largely by antipathy to President Trump.

At 1 am, unofficial returns showed that Ossoff had fallen below 50 percent of the vote, the threshold needed to declare an outright victory. Instead, with 48.3 percent, Ossoff appeared headed to a runoff against Republican Karen Handel, the top GOP vote-getter in a special election to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. …

Ossoff took the stage at his own party, his voice hoarse. “I know it has been a long evening, and it looks like it may be a longer one. We may not know the outcome for some time.” But, he added to the roaring crowd holding signs, “there is no doubt this is already a victory for the ages.”

“We will be ready to fight on and win in June if it’s necessary,” Ossoff said. “Bring it on.”

–Robert Costa
Democrat Jon Ossoff Appears Headed to Runoff in Georgia House Race

Trump’s Tax Returns With Be Issue in 2018

Brian Beutler - Trump's Tax Returns With Be Issue in 2018In the normal course of American political life, Tax Day plays a fairly limited role — an ideological emblem either of the yoke of government power or the obligations of citizens to contribute to the common good. President Donald Trump’s secrecy, and his unprecedented financial entanglements, have expanded that role dramatically. This year, the approach of Tuesday’s tax filing deadline inspired anti-Trump protests across the country, and renewed demands for the president to do what every president since Richard Nixon has done voluntarily and release his recent tax returns.

At his Monday briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated the justification Trump has offered for withholding those returns from the public all along. “The president is under audit,” Spicer said. “It’s a routine one, it continues, and I think that the American public know clearly where he stands. This was something he made very clear during the election cycle.” Trump has asked the press to take this audit excuse at face value for almost two years, even as it is now within Trump’s power to ask the IRS to certify that he is, indeed, under audit.

Spicer, along with other White House officials and Republicans in Congress who are abetting Trump’s corruption, must be incredibly confident about the outcome of next year’s midterm elections.

Only the majority parties in the House and Senate have subpoena power. The chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees have power under the law to secure Trump’s tax returns and make them public. So although Democrats can’t promise voters huge legislative gains while Trump is president, they can credibly promise to address many of the ethical questions that have swirled around him since last year’s campaign — and that, if they’re not given control of one or both chambers of Congress, those questions will continue to go unanswered.

–Brian Beutler
Trump’s Tax Secrecy Will Haunt Republicans in 2018

Scott McConnell’s Latent Emotions in Politics

Scott McConnellI’m rather fond of The American Conservative — there is much that I admire about what I consider real conservatism as opposed to the proto-fascism that passes itself off as conservatism in this country. Just the same, I think they are mostly wrong. But I feel like I can have a conversation with this kind of conservative. Or at least until I read Scott McConnell’s Vox article, I Voted for Trump. After the Syria Strikes, I’m Second-Guessing My Choice. Maybe it says something that this ridiculous article didn’t run in The American Conservative.

McConnell drags us through the history of his thinking, as if anyone cares. That’s knock number one. But eventually, he lands at the “neoconservatism is bad” position. He’s an “America first” guy. Well, that’s pathetic anyway. I’m not for keeping America out of foreign wars because I care so much about America. I’m for staying home because it’s good for the world. So there’s knock number two against McConnell: he believes the myth that we have the biggest empire in the history of world because we’re just such nice guys. I understand that my uneducated 84-year-old father falls for this. But the co-founding editor of The American Conservative? Geez.

Scott McConnell’s Greatest Sin

But those were nothing compared to what he really wants to talk about, “When Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2016 [Close! -FM], I found myself surprised by how bold and, often, how cogent his foreign policy perspectives seemed.” Oh yeah. He said: let’s not get into wars; it’s stupid. I agree. But that’s hardly the result of deep thinking. And McConnell admits that.

Here is a presidential candidate who isn’t even smart enough to be an anti-intellectual. Trump makes Pat Buchanan look like Noam Chomsky. But Scott McConnell was willing to roll the dice! Why not?! How could he have known that once newly elected presidents get to town, all the institutional pressure is brought to bear. “You don’t want another 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, do you?!” Oh, I just had a thought: Scott McConnell could have known that by watching literally every president during either of our lifetimes.

McConnell also claims, “Hillary Clinton would likely seek confrontations everywhere.” Really?! I don’t think anyone imagined her getting us into a nuclear war (give him time). I don’t think anyone imaged her making tensions with North Korea worse. Sure, from my perspective, Clinton is a hawk. I know that because she’s been a politician for a long time and so I know what she stands for. But the co-founding editor of The American Conservative picked his president in the same way that a high school boy picks his girlfriend: he knew nothing of Trump, so therefore, he must be great!

McConnell Voted for Trump Because He Would Have Voted for Any Republican

But I’ll tell you what really went on. McConnell is a conservative in the regular American sense of the word. Sure: on international issues, he’s more liberal. But all the toxic waste that is the conservative mind is there in McConnell’s mind. His cerebral cortex might have told him that he was voting for a non-interventionist president. But the drums were beating in his lower brain: tribe, tribe, tribe!

It’s not even 100 days into Trump’s administration and Scott McConnell is already “second-guessing” his choice. Has he not noticed that Trump has got the little good press of his presidency for bombing Syria? Imagine what 4 or 8 years will bring.

I really don’t care that McConnell voted for Trump. Like almost all conservatives I’m sure he would vote for a little yellow dog if it had a “(R)” after its name. But why can’t he shut up? Nothing Trump has done has been a surprise to me. And it shouldn’t have been a surprise for McConnell. All his Vox article does is give him the ultimately get out of jail free card. If Trump turns out to be what Trump will turn out to be, McConnell will claim that early on he said Trump was no good. And should fairies descend on Earth and make Trump a non-interventionist, then McConnell can say, “Well, I just said I was concerned.”

Here’s my note to McConnell and all Trump voters: I blame you for everything and nothing you say will change that because nothing Trump does is surprising. McConnell is in a particularly bad place in this regard, because he doesn’t have the excuse of being an idiot.

The Soviet Union in 1960s Television – Unconscious Propaganda

Star Trek - The Soviet Union in 1960s Television - Unconscious PropagandaIn my page on Space: 1999 at Psychotronic Review, I wrote, “And the original Star Trek had its stupid Soviet Empire proxy in the Klingons — actually more pernicious propaganda than you got from the John Birch Society newsletter.” Lawrence defended the show, pointing out how liberal it was. And he’s right. But it wasn’t my intent to pick on Star Trek. For one thing it was hardly alone.

Hogan’s Heroes had Marya (played by the television Rosalind Russell, Nita Talbot), who was a Russian spy who perfectly encapsulated American’s strange reaction to the fact that the Evil Empire was our ally during World War II. First, she could never be trusted. In the end, she always turned out to be on the ally’s side, but her commitment was at best unclear. What’s more, she just stood around and let the Americans take care of everything. This was, and still largely is, the way that Americans see the war. The idea that in the simplest terms it was the Soviet Union more than anyone else who defeated the Germans and the Japanese is something most Americans have a very hard time dealing with.

There’s also The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show where Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale act as the perfect foil to our all-American heroes: evil for the sake of itself and incompetent. But note: I’m a big fan of both Hogan’s Heroes and The Rock and Bullwinkle Show. And I am rather fond of the original Star Trek — especially when it did comedy. So I’m not putting these shows down just because they fully embraced our country’s international propaganda. In the case of Hogan’s Heroes and The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, it was done in quite a charming way. And I certainly don’t think that any of the writers of these shows thought they were creating propaganda.

Unconscious Propaganda Is the Most Powerful

To my original claim, I do think that Star Trek was far more effective anti-Soviet propaganda than the John Birch newsletter.

But it is exactly because these shows didn’t know what they were doing that made them such powerful propaganda delivery devices. This is another issue of fish and water. If someone says that the Soviety Union is the Evil Empire, you can question the claim. But when such a belief is simply in the air — when no one even knows that they are making an assumption — that is when you are really in the danger zone. That is the sort of thing that causes the Cuban Missile Crisis.

(And speaking of the Cuban Missile Crisis: who won that confrontation? Certainly it was presented to Americans as a victory. But that’s not true. The US installed nuclear weapons in Turkey — a clear first-strike threat to the Soviet Union. In response, the Soviet Union installed nuclear weapons in Cuba. The Soviet Union got what it wanted: nuclear weapons out of Turkey and southern Italy. It was the US, not the USSR, that blinked.)

My point is that it is the unstated assumptions that are the most dangerous. Lawrence noted, “For when it was made Star Trek was about as liberal as you could get.” And that’s exactly the point. When the conservative assumptions go unnoticed, even the liberals spread them. And they do it even when they are specifically trying to be liberal.

The John Birch Society

So to my original claim, I do think that Star Trek was far more effective anti-Soviet propaganda than the John Birch newsletter. It’s not hard to read Birch material and see that they are true believers who have a faith-based take on the world. It’s hard to fight against the Klingons given that they don’t actually exist.

But note that in the first run of the show (Klingons have evolved as a people), Klingons weren’t very good characters. There was no depth to them. They were just bad. And accepting that the world worked that way in the 23rd century makes it all the more easy to accept that it works that way today.

The Chicken and the Egg

The Federation wanted to allow people choose for themselves but the Klingons wanted to force people to do as the Klingons said. It’s funny that this is literally exactly what the United States still says of itself; why we support so many despots is just one of those unknowables. Every war we get into, we do so reluctantly. It’s truly amazing how different we think we are from every other empire in history. The one way we are the same as every other empire in history is in thinking that we are different and only trying to do good.

Now I understand: there is a chicken-egg issue here. People accept the Klingons between they accept the Evil Empire mythology. But the truth is that the two feed each other. And this is why people should watch for the themes in movies other forms of entertainment. It is also why I’m not crazy when I talk about fascism in super hero movies.

Our entertain defines us. And I think we were doing far worse in our 1960s television shows than the Ancient Greeks were in their myths and stories. And that embarrassing.

Trump Was Always an Establishment Republican

Donald Trump Was Always an Establishment RepublicanAn article at Vox got me thinking, Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Is Becoming Everything He Said He Hated. And of course: Donald Trump is an establishment Republican, and he always has been. He claimed not to be. But so does every Republican who ever runs for president.

The Export-Import Bank

Of particular interest to me is his reversal on the Export-Import Bank. That’s one of these things that conservatives and neoliberals alike just love. It’s really just corporate welfare. But you will hear otherwise reasonable liberals make claims like “80 percent of its loans are to small businesses.” In case that claim isn’t obviously ridiculous to you, just image if you gave out $10,000 loans to 8 small businesses, and then $50 billion each to Boeing and General electric. That would be 80 percent of its loans going to small businesses, yet no one would think the Export-Import Bank was a boon for small businesses.

Trump is now in favor of the Export-Import Bank. It’s one of many supposed reversals that Trump has made that have turned him from a populist into an entirely typical establishment Republican.

Trump on Afghanistan

Another example of this came yesterday with the dropping of the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan. In the reporting in The New York Times, it said, “The statement [from the Pentagon] did not say how many militants were killed, or whether the bombing caused any civilian casualties.” Yeah, like the government can be trusted to tell us this; the US media is more of a government lapdog than Pravda ever was.

But what bugs me is to think back during the general election campaign for president and how many fellow Democrats — and my kind of Democrats — liberal or leftist Democrats — claimed that Hillary Clinton would be the hawk. I remember a friend of mine asking me with some fear about a report she had heard on (very liberal) KPFA claiming that Clinton would start Word War III.

I never have been a big Clinton booster, but I think everyone understoond that for all her faults — real and imagined — she wasn’t a liar. She is, by my standards, a hawk. But she isn’t an establishment Republican. And Trump is and was.

Trump’s 2020 Campaign Will Look Different

Yes, I suppose that a lot of us were hopeful (after Trump won) that the total chaos of his brain might make him more liberal than he appeared. But as Alfie Kohn has noted, his conservative beliefs are determined by his psychological dysfunction and are “far from accidental.” It seems that day by day Trump becomes more and more simply a typical Republican. Any pretense that Trump is the savior of the white working man is all gone.

In discussing Trump’s children, one insider said, “The fundamental assessment is that if they want to win the White House in 2020, they’re not going to do it the way they did in 2016, because the family brand would not sustain the collateral damage.” And what does that mean? In 2020, hopefully the economy will be doing well and Trump will run as Romney did in 2012. Because other than being mentally unstable, there really is no difference between Trump and Romney. That’s because Trump is an establishment Republican.

And that brings up the lie that we worker bees are going to be saved by some kind-hearted billionaire. That’s always been a joke. Remember when Trump came out with his big tax plan back in September 2015 and it was far more regressive than even establishment Republican Jeb Bush’s? Well, the other night, he told Fox News, “We haven’t failed [with Trumpcare] — we’re negotiating, and we continue to negotiate, and we will save perhaps $900 billion … we have to do health care first to pick up additional money so that we get great tax reform.” Great tax reform for him.

The Establishment Republican Tactics

For most of my life, the Republican Party has been based on tricking lower income people to vote for them on social issues, and then passing economic legislation that harmed the very people who voted for them.[1] All Trump has done is to be more upfront and vulgar about it. His was just a variation on the establishment Republican con. And part of that is claiming each of your opponents is an establishment Republican.

Trump’s trick was that he didn’t specifically pick on black Americans. That’s the one minority group in the US that explicitly attacking really is a bridge too far for middle-of-the-road voters. (Being against them, as Trump is in his embrace of Blue Lives Matter, is totally fine.) So Trump came up with the brilliant idea of being blunt with regard to Latinos and Muslims. But that’s tactics. Just tactics.

Otherwise, it’s all the same: just another establishment Republican trying to get elected. Trump promised that his policies would be great for working people — just like Romney, McCain, and Bush. And just like them, he was lying. Thus far, Trump’s administration has been one after another giveaway to the rich. Republicans claim that they hate redistribution of wealth, but that’s not true. As Trump (and every other Republican president in recent history) shows, they are all for redistributing money from the poor and middle-class to the rich.

Trump’s Agenda: Tax Cuts for the Rich

So when Trump was told that the biggest losers under Trumpcare would be his own voters, his answer was a shrug and, “Oh, I know.” The fact that 24 million people would lose healthcare meant nothing compared to “great tax reform.” And this is what that great tax reform looks like:

Trump and Bush Tax Cuts

Like every other establishment Republican, this is what it comes down to. Poor people die, but that doesn’t matter because rich people will be even more rich!

Trump’s Tricks Work — Just Like the Republican Establishment’s

What’s so concerning about all of this is that Trump has been so politically crude. He really did reinvent politics. He showed that you don’t have to even have a pretense at a plan. Just say that you are going to come up with something “terrific” and the people will buy it. Sure, 80 percent of the people who voted for Trump don’t have to worry. But there were some really important poor and middle-class voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania who voted for their own destruction based on absolute fairy tales. But this is only different from an establishment Republican in the most trivial ways.

And nothing will change in 2020. This has been a winning formula for Republicans for the last 4 decades. The only thing that has changed is the demographics. And I do hope that they will save us. But I’ve come to see the Republicans as being very good at winning elections. And the Democrats as being very good at losing them. So who knows?

But no one should be surprised that Donald Trump sounds less like a populist every day. It is more surprising that he still maintains the pretense. Because his kids are right: 2020 will be different. I can see the basic campaign strategy right now and it is totally establishment Republican: “1. The economy is good [or improving — one or the other will most likely be true]; 2. Trump didn’t get into a nuclear war and so is just like any other Republican.” If the economy is good, we’ll get a repeat of Reagan’s “Morning in America” ad. And nothing else will matter.

Trump Is an Establishment Republican President

The Republican establishment would have won no matter what because they couldn’t possibly lose. If Trump had been a real populist — even a racist one — he wouldn’t have gotten the nomination. The only sense in which he wasn’t an establishment Republican was that he was new to politics. And the establishment push against him was anemic. There are more people with more political activity at Frankly Curious than there ever was with #NeverTrump. Just look at the graph above. They knew they had their man. And they knew when he said he was going to drain the swamp, what he meant was that he was going to drain it of any nutrients that were left in it.


[1] I know the data on this. The richer you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican. But without the 10, maybe 20, percent of the poor who vote for them, the Republican Party would not be competitive.

Two Articles About Rick and Morty

Rick and MortyThe Pain of Rick

In the television series Rick and Morty, there have been a few episodes that indicates that despite Rick’s obvious persona, he is a deeply unhappy man. First, of course, there is the fact that he’s a drunk. But more important, in the episode “Ricksy Business,” Birdperson explains what Rick’s catchphrase “Wubalubadubdub!” means. He says, “In my people’s tongue, it means, ‘I am in great pain. Please help me.'” (Note: the producers will regret killing off Birdperson, who is one of the best characters created in the show.) But this is not when we see Rick at his worst.

Rick and Unity

In the episode “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” Rick is reunited with Unity, a collective hivemind, who he used to date. At the end of the episode, Unity leaves him, and Rick returns home, dejected. But when asked what happened, he says, “Honestly, we’re talking about an entity that thrives on enslavement, you know? Not cool. Fun’s fun. But who needs it.” And then he walks into the garage and does something very odd — something that Schopenhauer would have done if he had made cartoons.

Rick creates (or reanimates) a creatures that is clearly in great pain. He pets the creature lovingly. And then he puts the creature in between two beams that disintegrate it. It is clearly an act of kindness. Then Rick changes some kind of power supply, and sticks his head between the beams. But before they can fire, he passes out, thus surviving.

The Ethics of Rick and Morty

That is undoubtedly the most shocking moment in all of Rick and Morty. But it’s probably key to Rick’s likability. Morty has a child’s understanding of morality. Rick’s idea is much more sophisticated. That’s especially on display in the episode “Mortynight Run.” In it, Morty is angry with Rick for selling a gun to an assassin. Rick’s thinking on the matter is that the assassin will get a gun whether it is from Rick or not.

Morty says, “Selling a gun to a hit-man is the same as pulling the trigger.” Rick responds, “It’s also the same as doing nothing. If Krombopulos Michael wants someone dead, there’s not a lot that anyone can do to stop him.” And it turns out that Morty’s attempt to stop the hit ended in killing Krombopulos Michael and dozens of other people. What’s more, it turned out that Fart (the gaseous target) was going to kill all organic lifeforms in our universe. So Morty is forced to kill it anyway.

On Being Whores

This relates to my blunt admission that I’m a whore. It’s not that I, like all people, don’t have my own ethics. But I’ll do pretty much anything if the price is right. And the reason for this is that I’ve learned that it is the system that is screwed up. I have friends who work for do-gooder non-profits, and they feel as much like whores as I do. In fact, it is usually worse for them because they feel like hypocrites too. Most of the work of non-profits is to sustain themselves.

So Rick is right. And being right makes him hate himself. As I wrote before (see below), it is Rick and not Morty who hides his true self from the world. All his antics are in the service of hiding that. And Unity dumping him affects him in a more profound way that usual, because like a teenager, even Rick thinks that love can save him. And when he’s reminded that it can’t, he impulsively reaches for the logic of suicide. In a meaningless universe, you either pretend that it has meaning or your exit stage left. When Rick tries to kill himself, he is being the most authentic that he ever is.

Update

I just saw the first episode of season 3 and I see that they brought back Birdperson. Kind of. And the friend of Summer who was going to marry him is alive. I thought she was killed. But I guess not.

–Frank Moraes (13 April 2017)

Rick and Morty and Me

Some time ago, I was watching an episode of The Simpsons. And in the opening “couch” section, a spaceship crashes into their house, killing the family. And out pop these two characters named Rick and Morty who I had never seen before. Thus was I introduced to Rick and Morty. It looked to me like the kind of show I would love. I mentioned it to Andrea and she pooh-poohed it, saying it was coarse and vulgar. Well, I’ll put up with a lot of coarse and vulgar for brief moments of brilliance. Still, it took until this weekend for me to watch an episode. I ended up watching the entire two seasons.

First, an example. In the episode “The Ricks Must be Crazy,” the spaceship won’t start. Rick and Morty get out of the ship and Rick pops the hood. Morty says, “Is it the quantum carburetor or something?” Rick is disdainful, “Quantum carburetor? Jesus, Morty, you can’t just add a sci-fi word to a car word and hope it means something… Huh. Looks like something’s wrong with the micro-universe battery.” Yes, I know: I’m a sucker for this kind of meta-humor. But that’s a solid joke no matter how you look at it.

The Most Cynical Show

While watching the shows this weekend, I was struck by the fact that Rick and Morty was about the most cynical television show I’d ever seen. And it amazed me that Andrea said she didn’t like it. So I asked her again, and she too had gotten drawn into it thanks to her husband, and now appreciates it. (Clearly, she could do with fewer of the sexual references and the ridiculous amount of gore.) That made me feel as though all was right in the universe. Too much of it is typical of her sense of humor. This may also explain why I’m one of her few remaining friends. (Oh, I kid! Sorta.)

I think much of the appeal of the show to its target audience (basically me, but skewing younger) is that we all wish (at least superficially) we were Rick but always feel like Morty. (Excluding the evil Morty with the eye-patch who we met in “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind.”) Rick is, after all, the cool kid in high school. Indeed, he becomes so explicitly in “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez.” But I’ve seen it a lot during those unfortunate times when I’ve been on the bus when the high school lets out. Almost everyone in high school wants to be Rick (not caring about anyone else) and lives in terror of being seen for the Morty who they are.

The Essence of Rick

You’ll note that I said “almost.” Rick is, as far as any likable character can be, a psychopath. The show does an excellent job of showing just enough of Rick’s inner life to see that ultimately he is Morty — just older and wiser. In “A Rickle in Time” he proves, mathematically, that, “As far as grampa is concerned, you’re [Morty and Summer] both pieces of shit.” But as a viewer, I’m unconvinced. I’m just impressed with any character who would be willing to say such a thing. And it is, after all, in the service of saving their lives.

Maybe We Have Rick and Morty Backward

But if Rick is really just Morty with a great con, then isn’t he the one who is really insecure. Morty just is who he is. Sure, perhaps this is just a function of his youth and stupidity. But he is authentic in a way that Rick clearly is not. So in the end, I’m ashamed to want to be Rick. Because the truth is: I am Rick — just not a very successful one. And I’ve long ago reached a point where I value authenticity above any of my childhood dreams.

What’s most interesting about Rick and Morty is that the series seems to understand this. It knows that all of Rick’s brilliance is ultimately impotent. Why has he come to live with his daughter? Because he knows he’s a fraud. He’s seeking meaning. But like the rest of us, he’s lost. It’s like in the episode, “Something Ricked This Way Comes.” Rick creates a robot to pass the butter. When it finds out that its purpose, it reacts as any of us would. Although I have to say: that’s more of a meaning that I think my life actually represents. And I’m not just saying that because Rick would. I’m in my fifties. Some insights are inevitable.

–Frank Moraes (12 December 2016)

Trump’s Conservative Beliefs Follow From His Character

Alfie Kohn - Trump's Conservative Beliefs Follow From His CharacterPerhaps you’ve heard it said that Donald Trump is all about ego, not ideology. The reason many conservatives were so slow to warm up to him, on this view, is that they realized he’s not really one of them. He is driven not by any political or philosophical principle but by his desperate need for attention and approval. Thus, as one columnist suggested hopefully after the election, he may “tilt in whatever direction, and toward whichever constituency, is the surest source of applause.”

If that were literally true, if Trump were a demagnetized compass needle, then it is just by chance that he is in fact governing from the extreme right, that the American Conservative Union pronounced his cabinet “the most conservative of any Republican president.” And instead of slashing funding for social needs and the environment in order to funnel an additional $54 billion to the military (even though the US already spends more on soldiers and weaponry than the next seven or eight countries combined), he might just as well have done the reverse.

Merely to propose this scenario, though, is to expose its implausibility. And while the man’s wealth may help to explain his animosity toward redistribution and regulation, it appears that something else is going on. That something else is his psychological profile. It does indeed affect the direction in which his needle points, but it is not politically neutral. Put differently, Trump’s conservative beliefs don’t simply exist alongside what many have described as his character disorder. Rather, those beliefs are determined by it — and therefore far from accidental.

–Alfie Kohn
Is Trump a Conservative Only by Accident?

Movies! Or Why I Stopped Worrying About Politics

Movies, Movies, Movies!

Why so much writing about movies?

I don’t quite know what it is, but it’s hard to write about anything but film these days. In the past, people have asked why I didn’t write about this or that political issue. Sometimes the answer was just that I hadn’t had the time. But more often, it was that I didn’t have anything new to offer. I’ve noticed that a lot of political bloggers are fine just regurgitating what others have said. In fact, this is what blogging is for a lot of people: a brief introduction, and then a long quote by someone else.

Politics Is Depressing

These days, I find I don’t have that much to say about politics. The election of Donald Trump as president has really been a bad thing. What is there to do but wait for the next election. I suspect that 2018 will go okay. But what if Trump wins re-election in 2020? Political parties aren’t mostly about ideology. If this really is the country of ethno-nationalism, what is the Democratic Party going to do? I don’t know. And it is really depressing to even think about.

Movies Are Fun

As a result, I’m writing more about movies than ever before. And that means less work to be done here. So I’ve created another page over at Pyshchotronic Review: Space: 1999. It includes an article, Great 1970s TV: Space: 1999. Hopefully, I can get Will to write something for the page. I remember that he was something of a fan of the show at the time, whereas I had never even seen it until the last year.

But I hope that the continued posting of quotes will keep you all engaged and discussing the issues of the day. They do seem to get a fair amount of discussion. But I’ve noticed that I tend to get more comments when I have something to say myself. And I will continue to have things to say. Just the same, my political thinking has gotten broader. I still think elections are really important. But I’m more worried about the system itself. I fear we are doomed if we continue to think that the way things are is the way things ought to be.

Our Biggest Political Problems

Hierarchy is the fundamental problem. Our belief that we should have a pecking order is what allows us to continue to justify ridiculous levels of income inequality. And it’s what makes everyone think that capitalism is somehow natural and right.

I get tired of having to argue with people who tell me how capitalism is the reason we have cool phones and without it, the poor would be even worse off. I can counter these arguments, but it’s exhausting. Why is it that most people just accept an economic system that doesn’t work for them? I really don’t know. And so it’s more fun to write about movies, even if Space: 1999 clearly demonstrates a hierarchical society in a positive light. Even when you are reduced to 311 individuals, people don’t question hierarchy.

Yes, we are doomed, but I have some great movies we can watch as the end approaches.

Trump Is Saving Obamacare Cost-Sharing Reductions

Greg Sargent - Trump Is Saving Obamacare Cost-Sharing ReductionsEver since the GOP repeal-and-replace bill crashed, President Trump has confidently vowed that it’s only a matter of time until Democrats come groveling to him on their knees, begging for a deal that will save them from the collapse of the Affordable Care Act. In other words, Trump and Republicans needn’t take any steps to shore up the ACA’s exchanges, because they have all the leverage in the battle over its future — indeed, they have suggested, the ACA’s implosion is inevitable, ongoing, and already nearly complete.

But Trump just blinked. And in so doing, he inadvertently revealed that despite the bluster coming from him and Republicans, the politics of the battle over the ACA’s future tilt against them.

The Trump administration has now quietly announced that it will refrain from taking an important step that could have pushed the ACA’s individual markets toward collapse. Specifically, The Post and The New York Times report that the administration will keep on paying so-called “cost-sharing reductions” to insurance companies to cover their reimbursement of out-of-pocket costs for about 7 million lower-income customers.

If Trump stopped the payments on his own, it could cause insurers to flee the exchanges, which would melt them down, potentially leaving at least 10 million people without coverage. Trump could do this right now. Here’s how: House Republicans had sued the Obama administration to block the payments, and last year a federal judge ruled that they are invalid but kept them going, pending the former administration’s appeal. Trump could drop that appeal, which would cause the payments to stop. But the Trump administration has decided not to do this — at least for now — and to keep the payments going.

“The withdrawal of the cost-sharing reductions would essentially torch the exchanges in most states,” Nicholas Bagley, a law professor and health policy expert at the University of Michigan, told me. “The Trump administration must think that it would be blamed for that. They’re admitting the politics are against them, at least with respect to something that has the potential to devastate the exchanges in a hot minute.”

Instead, by keeping up the payments, the administration has sent a signal to insurers that they should not exit the exchanges, at least for now. The administration does deserve credit for doing the right thing and averting the human toll that pushing the exchanges into collapse would have unleashed. But in pure political terms, this amounts to a concession of weakness.

–Greg Sargent
In the Battle Over Obamacare’s Future, Trump Just Blinked