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.

Ben Shapiro Hates BLM’s Goals, Not Its Tactics

Ben Shapiro

Recently Ben Shapiro was on Joe Rogan’s podcast. And he made this very nuanced argument that when it comes to protest, Colin Kaepernick was wrong but Martin Luther King Jr was right.

His argument was that King said that “In the name of the flag you should stop racism” but that Kaepernick is saying that America is racist.

But really: this is a distinction developed to justify a predetermined conclusion. And Shapiro’s conclusion is based upon his visceral dislike of Black Lives Matter and all modern social justice movements.

Shapiro could as easily argue that King was right because he showed respect by wearing a suit. Or that Kaepernick is disrespectful because his hair is too long. Or that we should listen to religious leaders but not sports figures. It does not matter!

If Ben Shapiro Had Been Alive in 1963

As I’ve noted in the past, conservative beliefs only has a shelf-life of a generation or two. After that, the beliefs’ naked racism and general villainy is clear even to present-day conservatives.

If Ben Shapiro been around in the 1960s, he would have been like William F Buckley Jr was. In his 1963 book, Rumbles Left and Right: A Book About Troublesome People and Ideas (1963), Buckley wrote:

Dr Martin Luther King is more sensitive, and so more bitter, than the average Southern Negro, and hence unqualified as a litmus of the Southern Negro’s discontent.

You see, conservatives always have a reason to explain being against the justice movements of the moment. In fact, when NBA players recently staged a walk-out over police shootings, Jared Kushner responded condescendingly, “Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially.”

The subtext is clear: what are all these rich guys whining about! This is what Buckley was saying: they don’t have the right to speak for ordinary blacks. The only thing that distinguishes Ben Shapiro is his specific justification for discounting what Colin Kaepernick says.

Ben Shapiro Can’t Admit What He Thinks

The problem for people like Shapiro is that they can’t come out and say what they believe: that all the struggles of the past were great but all the modern ones are wrong and are tearing this country apart. Saying that would make it clear that they are hateful, clueless, or both.

No modern conservative would say that a poll tax is okay. That is a relic of the racist past! If, however, you propose a poll tax in the form of new ID requirements that black people disproportionately don’t have, well, that’s just common sense. And, of course, that’s just what Ben Shapiro believes.

Ben Shapiro Isn’t Against Racism

Let’s be clear here. Ben Shapiro isn’t against Colin Kaepernick for the way he makes his argument. He is against Kaepernick’s goals. And Shapiro is not acting out of ignorance. He will not admit the existence of systemic racism. But it isn’t just an opinion he repeats.

He has lots of cherry-picked research (usually also distorted) to back up his position. And the only way you can cherry-pick is to go through the orchard. So Ben Shapiro is well aware that the arguments he’s making are not well-supported by the data. Yet he makes them anyway.

I cannot say why it is that conservatives are determined to find that the world is right and just — however it happens to be at the moment and regardless of how often their previous claims are shown to be wrong. But that is what this is all about: pushing a particular narrative of the world.

Ben Shapiro Is Disingenuous

That requires that you discount any evidence the pushes against your utopian narrative. And we all do this to one extent or another. So I don’t exactly blame Shapiro for that.

But I do blame him for not being honest: for not simply saying that he doesn’t believe in what Colin Kaepernick is protesting. Instead, Ben Shapiro tries to sound high-minded. Like he disagrees with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it!

But he’s not willing to do that. So he wants to shut down the conversation. He knows that ultimately the facts are not on his side. So in order to stop people talking about the stuff that makes him feel uncomfortable, Shapiro must distinguish between the good black protest of MLK and the bad black protest of Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter.

That makes Ben Shapiro an evil man. He’s nothing even in the realm of an honest broker. It’s no wonder he’s so beloved on the right. It’s no wonder the rich shovel so much money at him.


Ben Shapiroby Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Jay Leno and Monica Lewinsky

Jay Leno Is a Dick

I didn’t pay much attention to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At that point in my life, I didn’t pay much attention to politics. But I remember the time. I considered myself a libertarian, but I couldn’t believe all the nonsense that the right-wing did to the Clintons.

And that was all the Monica Lewinsky scandal was: an opportunity for the right-wing to further attack Bill Clinton. It’s kind of hard to imagine now. I mean, Bill Clinton had an affair. It was improper. He didn’t have an open relationship with his wife. And Lewinsky was a subordinate.

But the great wrong done to her way by the right-wing with the fawning help and approval of the mainstream media. Ultimately, it didn’t really affect Clinton all that much. But Lewinsky became an object of public shame. She was only 22 when the affair started. But that hardly mattered. She was a woman so it was open season.

I didn’t know quite how bad it was until I watched this excellent segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, “Public Shaming.”

Jay Leno

According to Oliver, the comedian who was the worst when it came to attacking Monica Lewinsky was Jay Leno. On one level, that’s not at all surprising. Although I thought Leno was pretty good early on in this career, his work on The Tonight Show was very much like the meals I always imagine him eating: large and poorly prepared.

Monica Lewinsky jokes are not hard to write. You can see upwards of a dozen groaners in the video. So of course Leno dipped into that well deep and often.

What does surprise me is who the consumers for this material were. For example, my mother used to watch his show. I remember Leno was seen as the middle-of-the-road comedian who didn’t offend anyone.

But I probably should have known. Whenever something is held up as an ideal for middle-America, it usually means that it is overflowing with the prejudices of the time.

John Oliver’s Response

In the image above, you can see that Jay Leno presented a Dr Seuss parody to go after Lewinsky. It’s called, “The Slut in the Hat.”

So John Oliver offered up the following Dr Seuss parody: “Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!”

But I will give Leno this: he has largely gone away. But I’m sure we can count on him to turn up every now and then to complain about how people are doing things that he doesn’t like. You know: things he used to do.

Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!

Images taken from the John Oliver video under Fair Use.

Letters From Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’ll try to post something later. I’m super busy at the moment so I don’t have time for a regular article.

But I got a letter posted to my business partner, William, at our business address. It had handwriting on the envelope. I opened it to see if there was a check inside. There wasn’t.

But there was a handwritten letter. It was in rather bad cursive and I couldn’t easily read it. So I contacted Will and rather than come over, he had me read it to him, which I did with some effort.

Jehovah's Witnesses Letter

Jehovah’s Witnesses COVID-19 Waste

Will figured it out long before I did. In fact, he might have known from the start. The letter says it is from one of his neighbors, Janell, and that if he is looking for meaning in this crazy world, he is in luck! It ends by mentioning that there is a website that will answer all the big questions like:

What is the purpose of life and many more answers [to] the questions that you can ask and search out. Something for everyone including cartoons for the little one. The website is J.W.Org [sic] and I hope you will take time to check it out.

It’s clear that this is a pre-written letter. So the Jehovah’s Witnesses are now limited in terms of going door-to-door. So they are having their members sit at home and hand-write these things. And they are apparently going to people in databases because I can’t imagine how else this letter would have found its way to our business address.

Will tells me this is nothing new. The church has people do this who can’t normally go door-to-door. So even if you are confined at home, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a way for your to waste your time annoying the wider world!

Witnessing Is Nonsense

Many years ago, I read an article by Bible scholar Robert M Price about this idea that all Christians should be out witnessing to the rest of us. He argued that the books that make up the Bible were meant for the priest class. So when the Bible talks about witnessing, it means the priests, not the ordinary followers.

I think it is horrible that any group does this. And it is only because we are all extra gentle to religious people that we don’t meet them on the porch with our guns. What they are doing is not just useless; it is rude.

It also involves child abuse. They always use the “little ones” because they are great calling cards.

Truly, I say to you: any church that must depend upon indoctrinating children worships a false god.

The only thing that is good about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they don’t vote. I assure you, if they did, they would be all-in for Donald Trump.

Nick Sandmann, Donald Trump, and the Modern GOP

Nick Sandmann at the RNC

I wasn’t at all surprised that the GOP announced that Nick Sandmann would be speaking at the Republican National Convention. In a sense, he’s the perfect speaker because the party is nothing but a reactionary group with nothing to offer but whining about how mean everyone is to them.

If you don’t remember, Nick Sandmann is a high school bully who got into a stand-off with a Native American who interceded between some Covington Catholic High School students and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.

Sandmann’s creepy grin and his racist comrades got some bad attention on Twitter and in the news. So his parents hired a PR firm and he went on a media tour culminating with nuisance lawsuits against The Washington Post, CNN, and others.

Nick Sandmann Gives a Speech

So the GOP gave him 5 minutes at the RNC. The worst you can say about the media coverage of the original incident is that it was too critical. I happen to think it wasn’t critical enough. Sandmann was a bully running the usual, “I’m not touching you!” play.

But it was interesting to watch Sandmann’s speech because he changed his story notably from what he told while on his media tour. What’s more, it made the Native American involved in the incident, Nathan Phillips, out to be the bad guy. Of course, I knew that was always what laid behind his behavior. It was always just a bunch of privileged white kids acting racist.

The last quarter of Sandmann’s RNC speech was about how badly Donald Trump had been treated by the media. “I know that you’ll agree with me when we say that no one in this country has been a victim of unfair media coverage more than President Donald Trump.” Because we all know who the real victim is in all this: the leader of the free world!

Whining and Moaning

But the next day, Sandmann told Fox News:

I would have given this same exact speech at the DNC if the Democrat National Convention actually cared about holding the media accountable. But I haven’t seen that, and they never invited me to give such a speech. So, I used the platform I had.

(Note that it is the “Democrat” National Convention, not the “Democratic” National Convention. This is a typical bully move: not calling people by their names. Sandmann can’t resist this even when on his best behavior!)

First, a quarter of the speech was a love letter to Donald Trump. Is Sandmann confused on that point? Does he really think the DNC would be interested in that speech? But more important: he’s making a stand for media accountability?!

Even if you agree with him that the media was unfair, how is this a major issue? The single largest news channel is Fox News, at it is nothing if not reactionary in favor of the right. The day after Sandmann’s speech, Tucker Carlson was on the network apologizing for an apparent murderer.

I saw people on Twitter claiming that Kyle Rittenhouse is being “wronged” the way Nick Sandman was. (Don’t be surprised if Rittenhouse is turned into the same kind “victim” who was just acting in self-defense.) People on the right who claim that the media is unfair are just saying that the wrong people are being attacked.

This Is the Modern GOP

And Sandmann wasn’t alone in this regard. Most of the speeches at the RNC were filled with the same kind of whining that have come to define the Trump era. They claim to be the alpha-men who are strong and powerful. But they can’t take even the most minor criticism.

The truth is that relative to his behavior, Donald Trump has been given a pass. The mainstream news is still trying to figure out how to respond to his continual bald-faced lies. But there is Nick Sandmann and all the other Trump enablers. They don’t spend much time talking about Trump and what he does. (I wonder why?!) Instead, it’s all the world is being mean to Donald Trump — and other rich white guys who, for example, get PR firms to protect them when they behave badly in public.

Afterword

It is now widely accepted that Nick Sandmann was just a non-violent kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Nathan Phillips got in front of him because Sandmann and his friends were walking toward the Black Hebrew Israelites with clear (admittedly understandable) negative intent.

But it goes to show that in America, the truth doesn’t matter when you have money and a PR firm behind you.


Image of Nick Sandmann taken from ABC News under Fair Use.

Odds and Ends Vol 26

Odds and Ends

Here we are with another week’s worth of stuff that caught my attention for a few moments.

Jade’s Trick

I came upon this article I wrote six years ago, “Jade’s Trick” in Shakespeare. It’s rather good. There are three plays in which That Bard uses the phrase and so I’m able to nail-down it’s meaning.

I came upon it because I saw a video where Jordan Peterson was complaining that English majors can now get a degree without ever encountering Shakespeare. It’s a typical conservative complaint.

But more than that, people who speak like this usually know little of Shakespeare and only mention him because “everyone” thinks he’s such a great writer. Well, he wasn’t such a great writer. He was among the best at his particular place and time.

I’m sure if I ever got into a discussion of this, Peterson would pull a jade’s trick. I know him of old.

Blake Neff and Conservative Plausible Deniability

So it turns out that Tucker Carlson’s top writer, Blake Neff, has been posting “racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content” anonymously for the past 5 years. As a result of this information coming to light, Neff quit.

Notice that I didn’t say that he quit because he was racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. I didn’t say he was fired because he’s a white supremacist. And I certainly didn’t say that he was fired because he was having a nefarious effect on our political discourse.

That’s because we always knew that. Tucker Carlson is a white supremacist and he spews out those toxic beliefs on his show nightly. But in modern America, as long as you have a patina of respectability, as long as you don’t use the forbidden words, you can spout the worst stuff in the world and you’re fine.

This gets to my main problem with the #NeverTrump movement. It isn’t about Trump’s incompetence and horrible policies. The truth is, the last Republican president was incompetent. And he had roughly the same policies as Trump too. No: the problem is how crude Trump is.

And this is why America is at a very dangerous point. The next Republican president will be more like Tucker Carlson (or be Tucker Carson himself). And since he will say the “acceptable” things even while doing what Trump is doing — And worse! — there will be no uproar. In fact, he will be the new Ronald Reagan: the authoritarian Americans have so long craved!

Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson will continue to have the highest-rated cable news show in history. And all Right-Thinking Americans will pretend that it’s just a coincidence that he happened to have had a writer who was a full-on white supremacist. And they can get away with think that because Tucker Carlson knows better than to spout his racist garbage unfiltered.

Free Speech Hypocrite Bari Weiss Resigns

For decades, it’s been widely accepted that The Wall Street Journal editorial page is a toxic stew of lies, ignorance, and villainy. So why The New York Times thought that “diversity” would be increased by bringing on Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss from there, I can’t say. There have always been two problems with them:

  1. Apart from having vile opinions, they are simply bad at their jobs.
  2. Coming from inside the conservative echo-chamber, they both have extremely thin skins.

This second one is critical because it makes them claim that any disagreement is oppression. Liberals are supposed to pretend that they aren’t disingenuous ideologues and respond always, “I politely disagree but not like I disagree with the people who impolitely disagree with you!”

So after 3 years of The New York Times making all manner of accommodations for for Bari Weiss, she has resigned because the paper didn’t defend her from the other reporters at the paper who disagreed with her. So good riddance.

But she will continue to have a good career as a professional moderate even as the only stuff she writes is right-wing nonsense.

Ivanka Trump Wants You: To Be a Phlebotomist

The White House is pushing a campaign for workers to learn new skills. On one level, that’s great. People should constantly learn. It’s good for you and it’s fun. But this does seem to imply that the reason you hate your job is that you just suck and that you should do something about it.

Also part of this is the current conventional wisdom that workers should take all the risk and spend all the resources on making themselves employable. Then the companies should make the big profits because, according to conservative dogma, they took all the risks!

Here’s one of the ads. The phlebotomist is in there but she isn’t highlighted:

But can we all take a moment and marvel that the person the administration has spearheading this is a trust-fund baby (Ivanka Trump) of a trust-fund baby (Trump).

Let’s look back at the last two Democratic presidents: Obama and Clinton were both from working class families. The last two Republican presidents were both born into wealth and never did anything of significance.

Yet it’s the Republicans who claim to be salt of the Earth and just regular guys. In this regard, Ivanka Trump is the perfect person to tell the nation to learn new skills. Her trust-fund husband probably helped her with the project.

The Price of Folly

It’s well known that gold is not that useful a metal. In industry, it can usually be substituted for. That isn’t really true of silver, which is a more usable metal generally. Right now, the price of gold is roughly 100 times the price of silver. This is an indication of gold being purchased for other reasons — mostly for investment.

In terms of its use and rarity, gold is clearly over-priced. Yet only a fool would say it isn’t a good investment because of this. The price of gold is not driven by normal considerations. It is driven by the fact that hoards of people are convinced that it is a safe asset. So it’s price always peaks during economic downturns because people are sure gold is a safe haven.

There’s a weird kind of thing that goes on with this. The truth is that gold is not a good investment over the long-run. But even while central banks have made inflation a thing of the past, gold people continue to believe that hyperinflation is just around the corner. So they push up gold prices thus continuing the belief that gold is a good investment. Of course, this only goes on for so long.

Another thing gold people say is that inflation really is high but that the government is lying. The go-to example is the price of milk. “Have you seen how expensive milk is!” But if you look at milk prices since 1930, you’ll see they only went up substantially at the start of the Great Depression. Even during 1970s, milk only went up about 5 percent per year.

So gold continues to do better than the US dollar — but only because a bunch of fools keep buying it based on the same misunderstanding of economics. Ultimately, the price of gold will crash. It’s high price now is an indication that we are a wealthy country and so fools can continue to push up the price of gold.

But I will give the gold bugs this: at least gold does have some intrinsic value. That cannot be said of bitcoin and the thousands of other cryptocurrencies. But that doesn’t void the fact that the gold market is driven by a bunch of people who know just enough economics to be dangerous.

Reel Bad Arabs

Reel Bad Arabs is a one-hour documentary based on Jack Shaheen’s book of the same name. I recommend checking it out. Most of it is stuff I’m well aware of. But I had never noticed the stuff about Network. Give it a view.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly to Chuck Woolery

Four years ago, I wrote, Why So Many Conservative Game Show Hosts? In it, I explained why game show hosts are so often conservative. One of the hosts I highlighted was Chuck Woolery. He’s been one of the most outspoken.

Sunday night, Wollery tweeted, “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid-19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.” [I fixed a couple of typos but kept the redundant content.]

Then Monday morning (H/T: JJC):

Chuck Woolery COVID-19 Tweets

Fifteen hours and 22 minutes later, he followed it up with, “To further clarify and add perspective, Covid-19 is real and it is here. My son tested positive for the virus, and I feel for [all] of those suffering and especially for those who have lost loved ones.”

According to Showbiz 411, Woolery shut his account down. I’m glad to see that. Ranty old men shouldn’t have Twitter accounts. Of course, Woolery hasn’t really backed off his claim. On his podcast, he said that he never used the word “hoax.” In other words, he left Twitter because he couldn’t take the heat. But on his podcast where no one can challenge him, he’s as awful as usual.

H/T: Dave L from alerting me to this.

Now Playing at Psychotronic Review

Psychotronic Review is featuring a low-budget horror film from 1973, Messiah of Evil. It was made by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, a married couple well-known for their screenplays for American GraffitiIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Howard the Duck.

I checked the film out because I’ve been watching a lot of Italian horror films. I heard Kate Ellinger say that Messiah of Evil had a kinship with the Gates of Hell trilogy in its Lovecraftian basis. But it’s more than that. Much of the film looks like what we later see from Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Here’s the trailer:

Until Next Time

I hope there is enough to write about in the coming month…

Relativism Doesn’t Lead to Authoritarianism

The Ominous Parallels

In The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff makes the argument that relativism was leading the US to Nazism. It isn’t a great argument. It is based mostly on some really pathetic readings of Kant and Hegel that show that he doesn’t understand them. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that his analysis is nonsense.

But right now, we are in a situation where the US is moving towards authoritarianism with people justifying it with relativism.

This is not leftist relativism. It is the opposite of what Peikoff (or Paul Johnson or David French or any other “serious” conservative) told us. This is right-wing relativism.

In decades past, people criticized leftist for their relativism. And by and large, leftists thought it and turned against it. It’s very hard to find anyone on the left who accepts it today.

Authoritarianism Leads to Relativism

The right did not accept relativism in a general sense, however. Instead, conservatives got more and more authoritarian over the last few decades. Then they grabbed onto relativism as a post-hoc justification for it.

So it’s not relativism itself that led to authoritarianism. It was the other way around. Authoritarianism led to relativism.

And this shows the problem with people like Leonard Peikoff who complained that leftists were going to bring about authoritarianism. They may have been right that authoritarianism is coming but they totally missed the mechanism — and even where it was coming from.

It is also interesting that a lot of supposed libertarians who are anti-authoritarian naturally turn to someone like Donald Trump when he gains power. Fundamentally, philosophy of this nature is not strong enough to protect you. It seems to work the other way around.

The Limits of Ideology

Many people want to believe that they are Masters of the Universe. They think that they should have the right to do anything they want. So they grabbed on to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. It is not, as they almost always claim, the other way around.

People do not start with first principles and then base their political views on that. Philosophy is almost always used as a way to justify what people already believe not to guide them in what they ought to believe.

And that’s even more true on the right where they so limit the information that can get to them.

The entire world would be better off if people just tried to be decent. What we are seeing in the US is that vilifying groups of people and empowering demagogues leads to authoritarianism. And the people will grab hold of any justification available.

Leonard Peikoff and other conservatives and libertarians have spent decades predicting authoritarianism from the left. They ignored the growing authoritarianism of their allies on the right. I don’t think it was a mistake. It was just a question of priorities.