Putting Off the Apocalypse

Apocalypse

As I write this, Associated Press has called all the states and Joe Biden beat Donald Trump 306-232. And it also looks like we have a chance in the two Georgia Senate races.

This is good news. But we need to be honest. The future looks very bad indeed.

Reagan vs Trump

In 1980 Ronald Reagan ran for president with a very positive message: that conservatism was going to make us all much happier. It was bullshit of course. But the people were voting for something positive — something that would make their lives better.

I’m the first to point out that Reagan was the Trump of his time. Proportionally, Reagan harmed our country as much as Trump. But at that time, Republicans still believed that they could and should win majority support.

Right now the Republicans are not offering anything to the American people. They don’t need to. As bad as Trump was, he almost won re-election.

Razor-Thin Margin

As I write this, Biden won the popular vote by 6 million. And that will likely grow as the vote continues. That’s 52 percent of the popular vote (excluding third parties). But he won 57 percent of the Electoral College. What am I complaining about?

Trump would have been re-elected had he won Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. So let’s look at the number of votes Biden won those states by:

StateVotesPercent
Arizona10,4570.31%
Georgia12,2840.25%
Wisconsin20,5650.63%
Total43,3060.38%

Let’s put this in context. This is roughly half the number of votes that Trump won by in 2016 and we all rightly noted that it was basically nothing.

What these numbers mean is that this country is every bit as in love with Trump as they ever were. In my darkest moments I think about how I might eventually retire elsewhere because I don’t want to die in a fascist country.

The System

Because of the American system, Republicans grew their numbers in the House of Representatives. And it is likely they will stay more or less where they are in the Senate. So there will be no fundamental changes to that American system. And this is very bad indeed.

By the time we have our next election, the states will be even further gerrymandered to the benefit of the Republicans. And we have a Supreme Court that will absolutely not stop them from doing that. At the same time, we can count on the Court to stop Biden from doing everything possible via executive action — something that a less-conservative Court was not willing to do to Trump.

It’s good that Biden won. It’s better than Trump having won. But things look very bleak. It looks like there will be Republican minority rule for a generation because half of America thinks the benefit of expressing their racism publicly is more important than fighting a pandemic and saving the economy.

Our only real hope is that the Republicans will, as usual, do such a bad job governing that they throw it back to the Democrats. But that’s just at the national level. States like Michigan and Pennsylvania are still controlled by Republicans because of their 2010 election gerrymandering. And now they get to do it again!

Brace Yourself

So I think things are really really bad. Access to abortions will be gone within a couple of years. I had thought Obamacare would be gone next year with nothing to replace it, but it looks like some conservatives on the Court are exhausted by this issue. (But don’t count them out!)

In a fundamental sense, America is exceptional. We have an exceptionally bad anti-democratic system largely the result of slavery. And we still have huge numbers of white people who think the only racial problem in this country is that they aren’t given special privileges for being white. Hopefully, this will change. But there’s no indication that it will.

The Republican party has fully embraced authoritarianism. And even if people like Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio had not embraced it, the base would have demanded it. Forty percent of this country is made up of authoritarians.

Brace yourself. This is going to get bad.


Image by ArtTower via Pixabay. I cropped it.

The Problem With “No Evidence of Voter Fraud”

Sherlock Holmes

There is an asymmetry in the way that those on the left and those on the right discuss voter fraud and similar subjects.

On the right they talked about how there is voter fraud. On the left we talk about how there was no evidence of voter fraud. This is bad.

To most people this sounds like those on the left are splitting hairs. Saying that there is no evidence of fraud implies that there might be fraud, “Sure, there’s no evidence of voter fraud but we all know there is, right?”

In terms of science, it is good to make clear that there is no evidence. You want to be nuanced and only say things that you know are true. But in that situation, the other scientists wouldn’t be stating that there is voter fraud as a matter of fact. They would be saying, “Here is the evidence of voter fraud.”

Rhetorical Catastrophe

From a rhetorical standpoint, this is catastrophic. People on the right are making a simple declarative statement: “There is voter fraud!” The counter to that must be as emphatic: “There is no voter fraud!”

If evidence does eventually appear that shows there is the kind of voter fraud conservatives claim, then we can either change what we believe or make more nuanced arguments. But until then, the argument should go like this:

Con: There is voter fraud!
Lib: There is no voter fraud!
Con: How can you say that?!
Lib: Show me the evidence! You say this but you never provide evidence. And that’s because tons of people on your side have looked into it and found nothing. There is no voter fraud!

Notice what’s not happening here: we aren’t countering their statement with a less-clear statement that uses their framing of the issue. I realize that to a reasonable person, this is nonsense. You shouldn’t have to counter absurd claims with their opposite. But no one counters “Angels are real!” with “There is no evidence that angels are real.” Or at least if you do you look like an idiot.

In general when talking about things, you don’t talk about evidence. You don’t say there’s no evidence that I have cancer. You say I don’t have cancer. In the absence of evidence, you don’t assume something that’s unusual.

Tell It Like It Is

So people on the left sound like disingenuous assholes when they can’t spit out the equivalent of, “Bullshit!” People on the right at least sound like they actually believe what they’re saying.

So all over I’m hearing Republicans saying that there’s a huge amount of voter fraud. And people on the left are saying no there’s no evidence of voter fraud. Or even worse they’re saying there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Why can’t we just make a declarative statement?! There is no voter fraud! If Republicans want to come back and say yes there is and here’s the evidence, fine! But this is just bullshitting.

The truth is that people on the left think they’re being careful and honest. And they’re paid back with disbelief.

Let’s stop this nonsense. There’s no evidence that a teapot is orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars. But no one says that. They just say that there’s no teapot because there’s no reason to believe there is a teapot! If someone wants to say that there is a teapot, then they better be willing to present evidence that there is a teapot orbiting the Sun! How fucking hard is this?!


Sherlock Holmes image by OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay.

Why Wasn’t There a Blue Wave? Maybe Because People Thought One Was Coming

Blue Wave 2020

This is a “hot take” so don’t hold me to it. But I’ve had this idea ever since the results started coming in Tuesday evening and it became clear that the Blue Wave was not happening. Instead, we got the kind of election that most of us were assuming back in March. What happened? Why were the polls so bad?

I haven’t seen any analysis and it will doubtless turn out that there were a number of reasons that the polls to not do a good job predicting the election results. But I want to suggest that a big one may be feedback.

The idea is a common one in physics. The act of measuring an attribute of an object changes that object. For example: you can’t see what something looks like in the dark. You have to shine a light at it.

Under most circumstances, this doesn’t matter. It’s normally only at the quantum level that the effect is big enough to be concerned about. As a result, this is normally an issue that is only discussed along with quantum mechanics.

Polling Feedbacks

Could it be that the polling results affected voting?

During this election, a large percentage of the news coverage talked about the polls. Remembering 2016, everyone was clear that the polls could be wrong. But maybe they weren’t.

Maybe instead, the polls got people to change their behavior. In Arizona, most of the late-arriving mail-in ballots (Saturday through Election Day) favored Trump by a wide margin. This could just be votes from people who normally mail-in ballots. Elderly people often use mail-in voting.

But it could also indicate that people who might have sat out the race were motivated to vote because they didn’t like what they were seeing.

The other side is also possible: people on the left didn’t think they needed to vote because there was obviously a big lead for Biden. But this seems unlikely because (1) most liberals were suspicious of the polls and (2) the turn-out was high.

C&H Sugar Factory

Just a Thought

I don’t know if this was a big effect or not. I do, however, feel certain that public polling and election models are bad for our society.

They feed “horse race” coverage. People watch them the way they watch a sporting event. And by “people” I mean “everyone I know including me.”

The media is really good at giving us what our basest instincts crave. This is the political equivalent of gorging ourselves on refined sugar. On the other hand, we are already well sorted in terms of policy preferences. And we know that the kind of policy detail we might hear on The Weeds will never come to pass. So it’s understandable that we would pour those political white crystals directly from a C&H bag into our mouths.

But we need to find a way forward without polls. Because for whatever reason, they aren’t very good at predicting modern American election results.


Blue Wave 2020 image by AnnaliseArt under Pixabay License. C&H Factory by Cullen328 under CC BY-SA 3.0.

There Was an Election?

Boxing

Well, I guess we had an election? People keep telling me that anyway. I try to avoid thinking about it and so I’ve been watching even more horror films than usual. Of course, this is all a change.

The night of the election, I was very excited. I thought it would be a great night for the Democrats. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I was depressed. But eventually, I adjusted my expectations and saw that a win for Biden was a win for America.

Or maybe it’s better to say that a win for Biden gives America a chance. But it’s not a great one.

Republican Senate

We seem to be stuck with a Republican Senate despite the fact that there were far more votes for Democrats. And that means that there will be no stimulus for the economy for at least 2 years.

And that’s sad. Because a small number of people think it is to their advantage electorally, millions of people are forced to suffer.

It’s also a short-term strategy. Destroying the economy will probably work for the Republicans in 2022. But by 2024, the economy (despite the best efforts of Republicans) will be recovering. And that will be good for Democrats.

Why We Can’t All Get Along

I am very much in a “Why can’t we all just get along?” mood. The problem is, I know why: the Republicans. The truth is that any political party will be as extreme as it can get away with.

Because of the construction of our electoral system, the Republicans can be very conservative — far more conservative than the voters are — and still have power.

For my friends on the left who like to complain that most people agree with the left on policy, there’s your answer. The government is set up such that it does not reflect the will of the people. It reflects the will of people a good deal more conservative.

What We Know

As I right this, Biden is on the verge of taking the lead in Pennsylvania and Georgia. At the same time, he’s almost 4 million votes ahead of Trump nationally. I’ve heard estimates that when all the votes are counted, he will win by 5 million.

Think about that. This election isn’t even close. Yet 3 days out we still don’t know. We have razor-thin margins in a number of states. This is not how a democracy should work. (Yes, for the idiot conservatives: “democratic republic” — every time I hear someone talk about this it is clear they know very little about political systems.)

We’ve all gotten to the point where we just accept it. And we shouldn’t.

I’ll leave you with that. I hope to write another article over the weekend about Paula White’s speech. I have a different take on it than many others. See you then!


Boxing image via Pixy in the public domain.

Beware the Trade: Absentia and Loss

[I love this film and think everyone should see it. But Andrea’s overview is very interesting. Note that it contains a bunch of spoilers! -FM]

Absentia (2011)

Absentia is about loss and torment, elements that form a solid foundation for any horror film. Unfortunately, even with all the missing people, missing pets, and misplaced watches, Absentia is filled more with suspense than scares so if you’re looking for terror and gore, keep moving. However, if you enjoy more cerebral, psychological horror films, this could be your thing.

The opening sequence shows us Trish, a very pregnant young woman as she is replacing the weathered “Have You Seen Me?” flyers that she’d put up some time ago. You might be thinking, as I did, “Oh! That’s sad. She’s expecting a baby and its father is missing. This is going to get dark. Cool!” However, as with all horror/suspense films (good and bad) things are rarely as simple as they first appear.

We soon find out that Trish’s husband, Daniel, has actually been missing for more than just a few weeks. In fact, Trish has endured his loss to an unknown fate for seven years. She has but one small, agonizing step left between her and closure: filing for a certificate of “Death in Absentia.”

The Helpful but Unstable Sister

Fortunately for Trish, she has the support of her younger sister, Callie, who comes to stay after a long absence of her own, one that included a few stints in rehab. Hoping to be a good sister and aunt, Callie hands Trish a little Three Billy Goats Gruff storybook. An absolutely useless trifle to give an expectant mother, but does offer a bit of foreshadowing to the story.

As the sisters get reacquainted Trish talks about how, through the long years of waiting, wondering, and hoping, she has conjured up a multitude of possibilities to explain his disappearance; everything from amnesia to alien abduction. The most comforting of her imaginings is the “amnesiac scenario” in which Daniel was bonked on the head or some such thing, but is alive and well and happy somewhere, just not with her.

She coyly avoids spilling the identity of her mystery sperm donor. But why? Because, that’s why.

The Boyfriend

The detective assigned to Daniel’s missing person case, Ryan Mallory, stops over to check on Trish and it isn’t awkward at all. He is introduced to Callie, heartily agreeing with her that Trish should move to a safer neighborhood, something he’s been encouraging her to do for years.

Being pregnant and inexplicably alone adds leverage to Mallory’s professional concern for her well-being. By now you’ve had time to do the math and know that it is impossible for the little stranger Trish is incubating to belong to her presumably dead husband.

People! Hold back the judgment. She obviously waited at least five years before allowing herself the unprotected comfort of another man. Despite Trish’s adroit avoidance, Callie can clearly see the gun-carrying elephant in the room. Mystery date spotted and no fucks given.

Unfortunately, the closer Trish gets to closure, the weirder things get. Suddenly her dead and very angry husband starts popping up willy-nilly to abuse the shit out of her. Is he truly a vindictive ghost or merely the manifestation of her guilt for even thinking of moving on?

The Man in the Tunnel

Unaware of her sister’s silent suffering, Callie is having a little adventure of her own. During her daily jogs to a local park, she takes a shortcut through a nearby tunnel.

One morning she sees an unconscious man and his stylish pocket watch propped against the wall. Mistaking him for a fellow addict, she dismisses his request for a trade and pleading for her to get a message to his son, Jaime.

Not being a monster, Callie later returns with food for the emaciated man, but he’s moved on. Back at the apartment, she finds bits of old, rusty watches and whatnot on the doorstep of the apartment.

She concludes, as anyone would, that the deranged man had left her a gift in exchange for the meal. Callie heads back to the tunnel, intending to return his magpie treasure, but the man isn’t there.

As she’s leaving the little pile on the ground, a young man walks up with a garbage bag in his hand. He cryptically remarks, “Don’t leave that there” before leaving something there himself. Least helpful Good Samaritan ever.

Calling the Cops

Later, when Callie finds another, more generous stash of found objects under the covers of her perfectly made bed, she contacts the police because she didn’t have the number for the Ghostbusters.

The cops are not amused by being asked to check things out. In their umbrage, the baby-daddy detective and his loathsome, gum-chomping partner, Det Lonergan, accuse Callie of leaving the door unlocked, putting her pregnant sister at risk. How careless to provide a perfect opportunity for someone to enter and not steal anything!

The police remove the evidence, taking note and offense at her dilated pupils. Calling the cops while impaired is never a good idea.

Daniel Returns

Trish is finally ready to move on, willfully ignoring her maybe-ghost-husband who continues to bully her. The “Death in Absentia” certificate and wedding rings go in the drawer with the photo of her and Daniel.

Done and done. But not really.

Daniel suddenly reappears, literally out of nowhere, assaulted, abused, and severely traumatized. After a quick visit to the ER, the doctors discover, somehow, that his stomach is filled with small animal bones. He’s sent home to recover there. Nevermind the fact that he clearly needs a lengthy hospital stay, intense psychiatric treatment, and heavy pain meds. (Trish’s walk-it-off health plan is absolute shit so it’s a good thing he heals quickly.)

There’s no easy explanation for his disappearance or return. The “content amnesiac” hypothesis is out and even the alien-abduction theory is untenable since it’s well known that visitors from space are gentle probers and not given to beating the living hell out of their guests. Maybe when Daniel can speak again the matter will be cleared up.

In the meantime, rather than waiting for Daniel to heal well enough to call his parents, Trish decides she’ll give them the news that their son is alive, sparing them the “just barely” part. While his parents excitedly purchase plane tickets, Trish and Daniel try to reconnect. Not an easy thing to do after seven years, a boyfriend, and an impending birth. But the catharsis of slapping Daniel about the head and neck for putting her through that shit helped a lot.

Say Goodbye to Daniel

Callie is a well-meaning and kind sister-in-law, tending to Daniel while Trish is at work — and out in the garage making out with her cop boyfriend. Just as everyone starts calming the fuck down, Callie’s inadvertent trade deal escalates when the demon monster roach decides that, yes, in fact, take backs are allowed, and resnatches Daniel.

She hysterically explains that to Trish that it was a demon monster roach’s fault, not hers. This is where her one drug-induced hallucination about bugs under her skin comes back to haunt her. To make things worse, her relapse doesn’t go unnoticed and the gum-gnawing dick of a cop notices her dilated pupils. Again.

Daniel hasn’t come home and Trish is asked to file a second missing person report. She considers calling Daniel’s parents, but has no idea how to tell them their son is missing. Again. No. She decides to break the news in person, that way they might not notice the whole pregnancy thing because she can’t even right now.

When a pretzel of a dead man is found at the at the tunnel, conveniently within trotting distance for a pregnant woman, Trish and Callie rush to see if the corpse belongs to anyone they know. Trish is relieved it isn’t Daniel and Callie tells the police that she’d the mangled guy alive just the other day. Well, he’s dead now.

The police identify him as someone who’s been missing since 1995 and that he had a son named Jaime. The police promptly arrest Jaime, now a grown man, after he’s caught leaving an adorable puppy in one of his regular garbage bag deliveries at the tunnel. Missing pets explained, future serial killer pegged.

Callie the Sluth

Frustrated by the relentless incredulity of everyone involved, Callie turns sleuth. According to her thorough movie-Google search, every civilization has stories of unseen terrors, sneaky and quick like trapdoor spiders, pouncing from caves and holes to whisk away their oblivious prey.

These creatures from “underneath” are invisible when they aren’t visible, can pass through solid matter, and make a tidy bed when so inclined. Callie decides that one of these evil, and rather unctuous, demon monster roaches has been lurking underneath the concrete passthrough under the highway since the time it was a mere footpath.

But this particular entity is also quite clever, having adapted from snatching the occasional passerby to a renewable source of victims. Beware the trade! If only the Good Samaritan had said something sooner.

Bye Bye Trish

Daniel’s blissfully relieved parents arrive looking for their son. Trish tell them they’d just missed him and they leave. I suspect they never liked Trish anyway. They may have felt some comfort if they had known that Trish and her unborn baby would be dragged away by the demon monster roach later that night.

Callie had warned her, but once a victim of a mental health crisis always a liar. Distraught, Callie comes up with a plan to get her sister back. She prints out the results of her extensive online research, placing it in an envelope to be found by the boyfriend detective.

Trade!

In a final expression of sisterly love, Callie faces the tunnel and offers herself as a trade. Why she anticipates her sister and not a handful of buttons, there’s no telling. But the sound of previous victims screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” assures her that nothing could go wrong and her sacrifice will totally be worth it.

Breathlessly waiting for the fulfillment of the exchange, Callie is horrified to find that she hadn’t made her expectation of would be tossed back from underneath. It seems that demon monster roaches are devious fuckers. Rather than returning Trish, the demon monster roach bastard spits out her unborn child.

This is by far the best moment in the movie and not nearly enough time or effort was spent on it. It took a moment to even realize it was supposed to be a fetus and not a spleen. A truly impressive concept poorly executed.

The end of the movie brings us back to where we started, except now it’s the mourning detective who is stapling up flyers, asking anyone to call with information about Trish and Callie. When he sees a broken Callie standing in the entrance of the tunnel, his cop instincts kick in. No point in getting close enough to see her dilated pupils, so he walks away.


Absentia poster taken under Fair use.

Odds and Ends Vol 32: Psychotronic Review Edition

Odds and Ends

I’m on vacation and I feel like I’ve already done my civic duty by watching the final presidential debate. And that was some major pain!

The more I see of Biden, the more that I like him. Just the same, it is very clear what the argument for him is: normalcy.

A lot of people are applauding moderator Kristen Welker. I didn’t think she did a good job. But really: no one could do a good job. With someone who is willing to break all norms and lie constantly, pretty much every part of society breaks down.

The fact that 40 percent of the nation still likes Trump shows that 40 percent of the nation is made up of authoritarian followers. I admit: Trump comes off in these debates as more dominant in the way that one dog might dominate another. But does that matter when it comes to being the president?

He plays second-fiddle to most world leaders — as he does to Mitch McConnell at home. It’s all fake. In his bluster we see all of his insecurities. And people with even a modest amount of cunning use it against him.

So let’s forget all that and talk about all the cool stuff that’s been happening at Psychotronic Review!

Christopher R Mihm

There’s a writer-director of direct-to-video films made primarily in the style of 1950s science fiction and horror. They are often amusing but that isn’t so much the point of them. They are more loving tributes of these earlier films — generally better than the originals.

Mihm is a prolific guy. He’s made one film each year since 2016. (The film for this year has been delayed due to the pandemic.) And I watched them all and wrote a 4,000-word discussion of each with stuff about his work in general and specific actors (he has something of a stable).

At this time, all but two of his films are available on Amazon Prime for free. I recommend checking them out!

Diani & Devine

About a year ago, Elizabeth and I began looking for ways to watch films together. Eventually, we settled on a great service, Watch2gether. Lots of services allow you to watch and text. But W2G allows you to talk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with things like Amazon Prime. So now we combine services when necessary: using W2G for voice and Amazon with its Watch Party.

This has also allowed me to watch films with Andrea, which we haven’t been able to do much in recent years. And since our relationship is heavily film-oriented, this is great. She suggested that we watch a 2011 horror-comedy, The Selling.

It introduced us to a really good comedy team, Diani & Devine. They remind me a bit of Nichols and May with Etta Devine getting the more outrageous parts and Gabriel Diani usually playing the reasonably normal man in an insane world.

Check out my article, Diani & Devine, How Hollywood Sucks, and One Reason to Be Hopeful. They’ve made two excellent films and they are both on Amazon Prime for free!

John Carpenter’s Vampires

I saw John Carpenter’s Vampires in the theater. And I liked it. I noticed that it didn’t do well and that a lot of critics didn’t much like it so I bought the Blu-ray and created a complete review of it. (One thing that annoys me is when people review a DVD or Blu-ray as a straight film review. Read my review and you will see the difference.) It also includes overviews of all the other releases of this film (there are a lot).

I could have written about Vampires on Frankly Curious. Although I admire the film in most ways, it is filled with toxic masculinity. The main character Jack (played by James Woods) is just awful. It wouldn’t be hard to say the same thing about Snake Plissken. But he abuses bad guys. Jack treats everyone badly.

Now I understand: apologists would say, “He’s just kidding!” But if you’ve spent any time around bullies, you know that “just kidding around” is one of the most common claims made by bullies. “Why are you hitting yourself?” is supposed to be a joke.

The Gates of Hell Trilogy

Lucio Fulci was one of the greatest Italian horror directors. From 1980 through 1981, he released three Lovecraft-style horror films known as The Gates of Hell trilogy.

It’s interesting what my love of these films shows about my evolving tastes. I suspect that 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have cared that much for them. But over time, I have come to appreciate what I would call “pure horror.” It doesn’t matter to me if things make sense. In fact, it is often the attempt to explain that ruins films.

This was seen a lot in 1950s science fiction films where the writers went out of their way to provide preposterous explanations for what was going on. It’s so common that I rather like it the way you might come to appreciate a horrible scar on a lover. I’m happy every time I learn that Glenn Manning is going to die because his heart is only increasing in size at half the rate of the rest of his body.

The Gates of Hell films aren’t like that. But they also don’t exactly explain anything. For example, in City of the Living Dead, the four main characters are discussing what to do next. Suddenly, the doors fly open and a wind of thousands of maggots are blown all over them. Why? I don’t know! But it’s creepy, disgusting, and effective!

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust

Let me leave you with another nice discovering: I Survived a Zombie Holocaust. It’s a New Zealand film about people making a zombie film when there is a zombie outbreak and they are attacked. It’s not as good as The Selling, but it’s a lot of fun and very funny throughout the first hour.

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust is playing over at Psychotronic Review. Watch it now!

Until Next Time

This is my last day of vacation. I may be really busy when I get back. Then again, I may be looking for anything to avoid paying work. So maybe I’ll do something here.

Trump Is Bad at Politics

Donald Trump
Fakest smile ever!

Before I get to it, here’s the disclaimer: Trump may still win re-election. But I stand by everything that I write below.

Even after Trump won the presidency in 2016, I think most people understood that he simply got lucky. It wasn’t brilliant strategy and tactics that brought that result to light. It was only later that a narrative started indicating that it wasn’t dumb luck.

How could it be that?! The reporters of the nation weren’t bested by random chance. All that reporting on “Hillary’s emails!” was wrong only because they were defeated by the brilliance of Trump Inc!

The first article about this nonsense, that I saw, was at Forbes, How Jared Kushner Won Trump the White House. Have you heard?! They had computers and analysts to determine where Trump should campaign! That was unheard of! In 1952.

But here we are in 2020. And it’s not like people are saying that Trump is good at the whole politics thing. But there is a subtext that maybe there’s a method to his madness.

There isn’t. Trump is very clearly losing. And his response is to flail around and make things worse.

Trump’s Bad by the Numbers

Let’s start with the numbers. Remember that in 2016, the polls were by and large not wrong. Some of the state polling was weak. But the biggest issue is that the undecided voters broke heavily for Trump.

This is not surprising. People who are undecided late in an election are low-information voters. They vote with their guts. As Rob says in High Fidelity, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”

I do not think this will happen in 2020. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. Biden is consistently polling over 50 percent nationally. And in the states, he is near to that or over it. Here are the critical states that Clinton lost:

StateBiden (Undecided)Biden Lower Bound
Michigan49.8% (7.6)52.3%
Pennsylvania50.2% (6.1)52.2%
Wisconsin49.9%(6.5)52.1%

In 2016, Trump got about two-thirds of the undecided voters. So if Biden does only as well as Clinton did with undecided voters, he wins these states handily. If he does this nationally, he will get 53.7 percent of the vote — almost a percentage point more than Obama got in 2008 against McCain.

Trump’s Bad Over Time

Trump has had ups and downs since the short peak he had in mid-March when Americans (typically but bizarrely) gave him a boost because of the pandemic he was doing such a bad job on. But since then, it’s mostly been downhill.

What’s remarkable is that the mainstream media would have been falling all over themselves to crown him Greatest Leader Ever had he done even the most basic job fighting this pandemic. But Trump couldn’t do it. He just denied there was a problem, I guess figuring he could bluff his way to re-election.

The real problem is that no one believes Trump’s bullshit like Trump himself. Part of the reason there is a narrative that Trump is a political genius is because Trump pushes it. And by that theory, Trump saying stupid and vile things was not an error. It was what made him president! (Never mind that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes.)

Trump’s Bad by the Focus Group

But to get the ultimate indication of just how bad Trump is doing, listen to Our Man of the Focus Group, Frank “Say ‘Democrat’ because it sounds like ‘rat'” Luntz:

But sure: Trump might win re-election. It might be that all the crazy and stupid stuff he’s doing is what allows him to win. But Trump isn’t doing that because he thinks it will work. He’s doing it because it’s the only thing he can do.

He isn’t good at this. We have a lot of people in the US who will vote for any man who beats his chest enough. And I expect that the next demagogue who comes along will be good at politics. But Trump is not.

Trump image cropped from Donald Trump Official White House Portrait by Shealah Craighead in the public domain.

Mike Pence Shows Trump Isn’t the Problem

Mike Pence

I appear to be in the small minority of people who found the vice-presidential debate even harder to watch than last week’s presidential debate. But I don’t think I should be. Most people just have a high tolerance for bad behavior when it comes in a soft-spoken package.

For the most part, Trump can’t help who he is. He’s clearly a man of limited intellect who has had anger problems since he was a child. And he’s lived in a culture that has mostly rewarded him for his instinctual bad behavior.

Pence’s Assembly Line of Bullshit

One of the most common ways that people described Trump’s debate performance was “feral.” That certainly isn’t a word anyone would use to describe what Pence did. Instead, he did a few things over and over:

  1. Talked way over his allotted time
  2. Ignored the question
  3. Engaged in an argument already finished
  4. Asked Kamala questions
  5. Shook his head and rolled his eyes
  6. Lied.

And he did this over and over again like it was a fucking assembly line.

Talking Over Women

What was most annoying was him continuing to speak after moderator Susan Page had asked him to stop. At times he seemed to go on well past a minute. And I would be totally understanding of this if it happened a few times. But it was clearly the plan to just keep talking.

And that gets to an important issue: this is sexism. Being a short and (until recently) painfully skinny man, I know the experience of being talked over in meetings and literally having men repeat what I said minutes before and get congratulated for their brilliance.

So I don’t react well when a man calmly talks over women and generally treats them as “little ladies” who don’t need to be taken seriously. Especially when the reaction to either Harris or Page had they lost their tempers would be to attack them as “nasty” and other gender-coded slights.

Other Annoyances

Like Trump, Pence also asked Harris questions. This is just ridiculous — and not just because neither of them did much question answering. The implication is that they are the arbiters of truth. They have nothing to answer for. But by God, they are going to get the answers for the American people from these interlopers!

Similarly, Pence consistently mischaracterized what Harris had said. For example, Harris attacked Trump for his response to COVID-19 and Pence went through all kind of contortions to claim that he would not stand by while she insulted the American people’s response to the virus!

I wouldn’t mind this stuff so much if I didn’t know that it works really well for most viewers. That’s why we need the moderators to be able to cut mics. We can’t have a situation where a total lack of regard to the rules of the debate comes off as them being “strong.”

Lies

In general, I don’t care much for Glenn Kessler. But if you read his stuff, he does get the details right. And he and his crew did a good job here, Fact-Checking the Vice-Presidential Debate Between Pence and Harris.

He did, of course, have to find two instances where Harris was wrong — even though in both cases its more of a matter of opinion. But the 13 Pence cases were devastating. Most of them were flat-out lies. And they are the kinds of things that Pence must know are not true. But he’s more than happy to push them.

Your Republican Party

The main thing is that Pence shows you what Trump really means to America: damned little. Yes, Trump is ignorant and stupid and he combines that with peak-level coarseness and villainy. And if he died, the country would be led by a man who speaks calmly. But he offers only average intelligence. He is incurious. And most important of all: he is a villain.

I really worry about this. Too many people in this country think that Trump is the problem. Trump is only important in that he pulled the mask off conservatism in this country. He showed what Republican voters really want it to be. Forget the nonsense about fiscal conservatism. Forget social conservatism! They want one thing from their party: to anger the people who care about making this country more accepting, more caring, and (Dare I say it?) more liberal.

Once Trump is gone, the party remains. The rest of America needs to see that. And at Wednesday’s debate, it was on full display with Mike Pence.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Party!


Mike Pence by Gage Skidmore (Who else?!) under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Who Was Fooled by Melania Trump?

Melania Trump

A tape of Melania Trump from 2018 was released Thursday by her former senior adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff to publicize her new book, Melania and Me. On the tape, Melania shows that she agrees with her husband on policy and that she has the same childish entitled temperament too.

It doesn’t really matter except for this: over the years, I’ve see a lot of people claim that she was secretly disgusted by her husband. There was the ridiculous #FreeMelania hashtag. Yet there was plenty of reporting that showed who she was.

In particular, far from not liking Trump, she actively helps him. She provides him to reviews and pointers for his talks. Frankly, they seem to have a pretty good relationship. As you would think, right?

Women Are Vile Too!

But I’ve been hearing the same thing about the wives of conservatives for years. It’s actually really sexist — as though these women are being held captive. Now that was doubtless the case in the past. But today, among the rich at least, if a woman is married to a vile man, you can bet she is vile too.

If none of that was clear enough, the “I really don’t care. Do U?” jacket incident should have clarified it. First Ladies don’t just put on whatever. She was making a statement. And that statement was clear: fuck the kids in cages!

I’m glad this tape came out, though. It certainly means that for a time liberals will stop pretending that Melania Trump is anything another privileged sociopath. In fact, I’ve seen #FreeMelania used in reference to her having COVID-19. That’s not nice and I wouldn’t celebrate her death. But that’s a better use of the hashtag than before.

Of course, after Trump is out of office or dead, I’m sure Melania will do the media rounds and rehabilitate her image. And liberals will forgive all and pretend that she’s a Good Person™. “Remember that Be Best campaign!” As for me, I’ll take a hint from Anonymous. I will not forget; I will not forgive.

Afterword

I find Melania Trump a distinctly unattractive woman. I only mention it because, as usual for the women that surround Donald Trump, they are held up as beautiful women. They are all of a type. Maybe without make-up, Melania would be attractive. To me, she looks like a space alien who’s about a probe me anally.


Image of Melania Trump taken from a larger image in the public domain.

Trump’s Got COVID-19 — That’s Not Good

Donald Trump

The big news last night was that Donald Trump has COVID-19. I know it’s easy to rejoice. “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!” But it’s actually bad for a couple of reasons.

First, I don’t want Trump to get sick and die. And I don’t just say that because I think he should live long enough to be punished for his crimes. I don’t wish death and disease on him. I hope he’s okay.

(If he manages to win re-election or stage a coup, I am open to changing my mind about this.)

But I really think Trump is not the issue in this country. Roughly half of us voted for him in 2016. Everything that’s come out about him has only proven what was already well established. The worst things about him — his racism, bullying, and laziness — were not things that people didn’t know. They were reasons that so many Americans voted for him.

Beyond that, without the entire Republican Party protecting him, he wouldn’t have been able to do one-tenth the damage that he’s done. But they care more about tax cuts and destroying the regulatory state than they care about preserving at least a hint of democracy in this country.

Why Trump’s Condition Is Bad

But the biggest reason that it is bad that Trump has COVID-19 is because he is losing this election badly. The other day, David Pakman reported that the presidential election polls were tightening. He actually got me a little concerned.

So I went and checked out the Real Clear Politics averages. And yes, they are tightening — but exactly as we expect them to. Trump’s numbers have risen a small amount. Biden’s are rock solid. And most important: Biden is averaging about 50 percent in polls. That means there isn’t the possibility that Biden could lose because the undecided voters break heavily for Trump. (This is what happened in 2016.)

As a result of Trump doing so badly, chaos is his only hope. That’s what explained his absolutely disgraceful performance at the debate on Tuesday. It’s like the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. After it falls into molten steel, it transforms into various forms, looking for something that will work.

And in a presidential campaign, you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t really think that Trump getting sick is going to cause Biden voters to feel sorry and change their votes. But Trump could get a political advantage from this. Anything that upsets expectations can do this.

Other Fears

Another concern is that Trump will not get symptoms. If that’s the case then there will be more bloviating about how there is nothing to the disease. Because obviously: if it doesn’t harm Trump, what does it matter?

This isn’t a big concern however because I’m not sure that there is anything else Trump can do along these lines that would make matters worse. It would just be annoying. But there is another thing that would be bad…

If Trump were to die of COVID-19, it would be terrible for the country. His base would develop a conspiracy delusion that he was murdered by the “deep state.” This would not only turn him into a martyr; it would add fuel to the dangerous QAnon conspiracy delusion. And I’m already worried what these people are going to do if Trump is defeated next month.

In a Better America

There was a time when you could depend upon Republicans. They lacked empathy. But if a Republican learned that their son was gay, they would suddenly learn the importance of gay rights. But we don’t live in that world that existed just 20 years ago.

If we did, the Republican President getting sick with COVID-19 would make the whole party stand up and take this pandemic seriously. But I’m sure they won’t. Trump himself will continue to minimize this.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope this causes a sea change. Regardless of who’s in power, we need to shape up when it comes to COVID-19. It’s killing large numbers of people. And it makes our country a joke on the world stage. And our economy continues to limp along, economically.

But all that will likely come out of this is more of the same. And that’s not so bad as long as Trump doesn’t benefit from a disease he most certainly deserves to get.


Trump image cropped from Donald Trump Official White House Portrait by Shealah Craighead in the public domain.

Democrats Have a Path Forward If They Take It

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

When I heard that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, I reacted better than most of my liberal friends. I was sad, of course. She was not only a brilliant liberal jurist. She was also the end of a generation. She was the last liberal to be put on the Supreme Court.

But I didn’t freak out at the news. Part of it was just that I’ve been checking the news each morning looking for this since the start of the year. There was nothing surprising. It would have been a miracle if she had made it to next year.

But more than that, I had a very pleasant thought. “Now the Democrats have no choice but to do what I’ve been begging them for years.” Those things are:

  • End the filibuster
  • Expand the Supreme Court
  • Add Washington DC and Puerto Rico as states.

Let’s go over these.

Filibuster

I’ve been on this forever. A lot of liberals don’t like the idea of getting rid of the filibuster. They say, “But what happens when the Republicans are in control?!” There are two issues here.

First, it is ridiculous to think that the Republicans have maintained the filibuster out of a sense of fairness or commitment to norms. They have cut back on the filibuster exactly as much as has been necessary.

They don’t need to worry about the filibuster for tax cuts. Sure, they are limited to ten years. But they know they won’t be in power that long anyway. And that brings us to the second issue.

The filibuster hurts the Democrats more because they want to govern. It isn’t like the Republicans want to pass any other legislation. (This may change after the Court strikes down Roe v Wade. Then they will be quick to pass a law outlawing abortion nationwide because it turns out that state and local control really doesn’t matter to them.)

If this isn’t enough for you, consider this: if we don’t get rid of the filibuster, the Democrats will not be able to do anything. The Republicans will have established minority rule for a decade or more.

Expand the Court

The Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat in 2016. As a result, for the last 4 years, we have had a conservative court when it should have been liberal. (Actually, there are no liberals on the court. There are only centrists now. But I’ll refer to it as liberal because it’s easier.)

The death of Ginsburg should now realign the court to be conservative. As a result, we should increase the size of the court to 11 members. Or 13. The truth is, the Republicans should be punished for their behavior.

But I understand: if the Democrats do this, the Republicans will just expand the court when they get in. I know! It will help change attitudes about the court. It will allow people to see that the Supreme Court is just another partisan branch of the government.

Liberals need to understand that historically, the Supreme Court has been aggressively conservative. Ian Millhiser discusses this at length in his excellent book, Injustices. The Court’s main use over the years has been to stop social progress. And we are going to see that in a big way if the current situation stands.

It’s not just that Roe v Wade is dead. Obamacare could be dead within a few months. And the woman we are looking at on the Court is a real loon. And young so she’ll have lots of time to “build the Kingdom of God.”

Add New States

Republicans are saying that the addition of states for DC and Puerto Rico is unfair. Well, the mainstream media can pretend that this is anything but disingenuous, but we don’t have to.

The truth is that if these two areas had leaned Republican, they would have been made states decades ago. I’ve been for making them states for years without even considering it from a partisan perspective.

But the truth of the matter is that the Senate is a highly undemocratic institution. It leans heavily Republican despite the fact that the nation votes heavily Democratic. And if we add these two states, the Senate will become less ridiculously unfair. But it will still provide a major advantage to Republicans.

Reality Sets In

I was actually feeling good that maybe this horrible event would lead to something good. But then reality set in. Dianne Feinstein set in. She said:

I don’t believe in doing that. I think the filibuster serves a purpose. It is not often used, it’s often less used now than when I first came, and I think it’s part of the Senate that differentiates itself.

This is the problem. For all the complaining about Joe Biden and other supposed centrists, the real problem with the party are these supposed institutionalists who have somehow missed the last three decades of Republican behavior.

I’ve been told that if it comes to it, Feinstein will fall in line. And she may well. But there are others. There are too many people who would rather install permanent Republican minority rule than give up the moral high ground.

They remind me of the cosplay socialists who can’t soil their moral purity by voting for a Clinton or a Biden. Except these Democrats are potentially far more harmful. I’m just hoping that they will bend to pressure. We will need to press hard.


Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the public domain.

Town Halls: Trump vs Biden

Joe Biden 2019

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden attended cable news town halls this week. And the difference was stark.

Trump

Trump’s town hall was pretty bad. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but in his press conferences, Trump relies a whole bunch on yelling at reporters. If he gets a difficult question, he just calls the reporter “nasty” (especially if it’s a woman) or “fake news.” Then he moves on.

But with the town hall, he couldn’t really do that. And the fact that he didn’t shows that he’s more together than he often appears. So he was left with his other weapon: bold-faced lies. And he used it a lot.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Donald Trump

Daniel Dale has been documenting Trump’s lies for a long time. After the town hall, he said, “There was just so much lying, Don. I’m going to go quickly here so literally just stop me whenever you need to.” Over a minute and a half later, he said, “Don, this is a preliminary list. I have hours of fact-checking to do today because there is even more of this. This was just a fire-hose of lying, again, from the president.”

And when cornered, he just blamed Obama. Remember back in June 2009 when Republicans were outraged that Obama occasionally mentioned Bush? Republicans really are a postmodern party that believes in nothing other than that it is good if they do something and bad if the Democrats do it.

“I Don’t Feel Your Pain”

But it’s more than just the lying. It’s also that Trump seems to be unable to empathize with other people. When he was asked if he understood that the MAGA slogan was tone deaf for African Americans, Trump responded that things were better for blacks under his administration.

It went so poorly that Laura Ingraham called the town hall an “ambush.” It doesn’t make any sense to call it that. Trump must have known what he was getting into. And frankly, it wasn’t all that hard a venue. It’s just that Trump is really, really bad at this stuff.

Biden

The only bad thing I can say about Biden’s town hall was that he’s showing his age. But he’s still the same old Joe. And one thing I thought while watching it was that he was standing throughout it. Yeah, I know Trump will be standing in the debates. But he sat for his town hall and that’s how I always think of him: sitting. Or wandering around on the grass.

Biden was really focused at the town hall. Again and again, he showed himself to be really informed about policy and related minutia. I guess that’s what comes from dedicating your life to this stuff.

Biden Is Good at Politics

Check out the following clip of Biden answering a question from a woman whose mother has cancer. Biden engages with her. He even manages to remember that the woman said “multiple myeloma” in her question (a feat I could not accomplish). And he still manages to use it to attack Trump.

During part of the answer, he veers off to talk about his son and attack Trump’s comments about soldiers being “losers.” I’m sure that’s something that Biden cares deeply about. But it was still a brilliant piece of political theater. His son died of cancer so it was related. And I’m sure Biden has no problem getting choked up when thinking about his son.

Watch this; it really is brilliant.

Republicans Respond

Of course, just as the right-wing came to the defense of Trump’s horrible town hall, they had to trash Biden’s. And the best idea they came up with was from Bill O’Reilly.

The truth is that Bill O’Reilly knows better than this. But it doesn’t matter. They have to come up with some reason to claim that Trump is right and true and Biden is not.

Dean Baker responded, “Yeah, someone must have told Biden there would be questions on the pandemic and the economy. Otherwise, how could he be so well prepared.”

But most of the better responses were like BrooklynDad Defiant! who said, “Hilarious that Joe Biden is supposed to be Sleepy and Slow, but guys like Bill O’Reilly think he has the mental acuity to memorize a ton of questions AND answers.”

Final Analysis

I’ve become far more pragmatic in my politics over the last year or two. I think Trump does that to people. This isn’t to say my goals for politics have changed — just that I’m more risk averse and focused on the short-term.

I like Biden and I think he’s a decent guy. If he becomes president, I won’t be thrilled with his foreign policy, but it will be far better than Trump’s. And I’ll generally find his domestic policies to be less bold than they should be. But I fully expect to be significantly more pleased than I was with Obama.

And Biden showed that he is rather good at this whole politics thing. Who would have thought?! I mean, he’s only been doing it for 50 years. But it’s more than that. I’ve said before: Joe Biden is the best retail politician of my lifetime — with the possible exception of Bill Clinton.

Trump is a bad retail politician. He’s at his best in front of big adoring crowds. He will struggle in the debates. His only hope is that the media grade him on a curve. And they have so far.


Image cropped from Joe Biden by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.