A tale of two parties

My recollection, and I was writing about it pretty much daily at the time, was that passing the Affordable Care Act was pretty difficult business, involving a ton of work by President Obama and congressional Democrats.
Obama held countless meetings with Republicans and Democrats, including more than one public forum.
Senate Democrats worked for months with a group of Senate Republicans to shape a bill that could find bipartisan support. (Republicans, sadly, were not working in good faith.)
The bill was introduced nearly a year before it would win final passage.
There was endless debate, and endless lies from the right, about what was in the bill. Experts weighed in. Insurance companies, hospital associations, doctors, other interest groups all participated in the long, rigorous debate.
Passage was arduous and difficult.
But the policy goal was clear: Make health care coverage more affordable for more Americans. Begin bending the cost curve of medical inflation to bring it closer to normal inflation. Preserve Medicare and expand Medicaid.
Watching Republicans thrash about trying to dismantle Obamacare — something they’ve been waiting nearly eight years to accomplish — is an entirely different experience.
They’ve attempted to push through bill after bill, all of them written in secret. No debate. No public hearings or other forums.
And, more importantly, no clear idea — beyond erasing the signature policy achievement of America’s first black president — of the policy goal they’re attempting to achieve.
The Republican “repeal and replace” bills wouldn’t have expanded access to health care. They would have restricted it. They wouldn’t have made health care coverage more affordable; they would have made it more expensive. They wouldn’t have preserved Medicare or expanded Medicaid.

The policy goal appeared to be to reduce health care spending in order to give tax breaks to the wealthy.

For the moment, thankfully, those efforts seem to have collapsed. The “repeal and we promise to come up with something better in the next two years than what we managed in the last eight years” gambit has also, apparently, failed — though, inexplicably, they are moving forward with trying to bring it to a vote.
I think the process used to pass Obamacare and the process attempted to repeal it are very illuminating about the state of America’s two parties.

One party wants to govern. It wants to make life better for Americans. It is willing to discuss policy ideas and goals and work on different ways to reach them.

The other party cares about power, and about winning. Once it gains power, it doesn’t seem to know what to do with it, beyond trying to cut taxes on the wealthy.

Democrats are far from perfect. They need a more coherent vision. They also sometimes seem to want power for power’s sake. But they can govern, and they want to govern. The Republican Party has no center, no guiding principle — which is how they ended up with Donald Trump as a leader.

I hope the Republican Party heals itself, but it may be too late. America may need a genuinely conservative party to start from scratch. The sooner the better.

Al Smith Dinner proves once more Trump doesn’t have the character or grace to serve as president

161020205119-trump-clinton-al-smith-dinner-medium-plus-169Donald Trump got booed at the Al Smith Dinner — and he deserved it.

The Al Smith Dinner is an annual fundraiser for Catholic charities in honor of Alfred E. Smith, the first Catholic to run for president. In election years, the tradition is for the presidential candidates to attend and engage in some light-hearted, self-deprecating banter. As Barack Obama said during his remarks at the 2008 dinner, “You know, the fact that each — each October in the closing weeks of a hard-fought campaign, people of all political persuasions can come to this dinner and share a meal in honor of the work of this foundation underscores the reality that, no matter what differences or divisions or arguments we are having right now, we ultimately belong to something bigger and more lasting than a political party. We belong to a community. We share a country. We are all children of God.”

Trump didn’t understand that. Perhaps Trump is incapable of understanding that. His idea of self-deprecating is to compare himself to Jesus. Seriously.

“I do recognize that I come into this event with a little bit of an advantage. I know that so many of you in the archdiocese already have a place in your heart for a guy who started out as a carpenter working for his father. I was a carpenter working for mine.”

The closest he actually came to self-deprecating — or to any self-awareness — was when he said this: “You know, they say when you do this kind of an event you always start out with a self-deprecating joke. Some people think this would be tough for me, but the truth is … I’m actually a modest person. Very modest. It’s true. In fact many people tell me that modesty is perhaps my best quality. Even better than my temperament.”

Yes, for Donald Trump, the closest he can come to self-deprecating is to say nice things about himself that everyone knows he probably actually believes — but at least understands that others will find comical.

After that, he pivoted directly into vicious, barely funny attacks on Hillary Clinton, including several that earned him loud boos from the crowd. The first boos came when he repeated debunked lies about her getting kicked off the Watergate commission. Then he made the astonishing and unsupported claim that she had to pretend not to hate Catholics. It was a crude, immature performance from a crude, immature man.

Compare that to Barack Obama’s 2008 appearance at the dinner. Here’s how he began:

I was thrilled to get this invitation, and I feel right at home here, because it’s often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Newman.

But I have to say tonight’s venue isn’t really what I’m used to. I was originally told we’d be able to move this outdoors to Yankee stadium. And can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested?

I do love the Waldorf Astoria, though. You know, I hear that from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room. It is an honor to be here with Al Smith. I obviously never knew your great-grandfather, but from everything that Senator McCain has told me, the two of them had a great time together before prohibition. So wonderful stories.

The mayor of this great city, Michael Bloomberg, is here. The mayor recently announced some news — made some news by announcing he’s going to be rewriting the rules and running for a third term, which caused Bill Clinton to say, “You can do that?”

The president’s better half, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is also here. I’m glad to see you made it, Hillary. I’m glad to see that you made it, because I heard Chuck Schumer actually try to tell you that we really did move this event to Yankee Stadium.

But I’ll tell you all from personal experience Hillary Clinton is one of the toughest and most formidable presidential candidates in history. She has broken barriers. She’s inspired millions. She is the — she is the primary reason I have all this gray in my hair now.

He reserved the sharpest digs for himself, got in small digs at Sarah Palin and John McCain, then a couple more at members of his own party. He then went on to praise his primary opponent and, in the process, take another jab at himself.

That’s how you do it. He didn’t lay off McCain completely, but his attacks were proportional and funny, like a dig about how the housing crisis “has been eight times harder on John McCain” (who owns a lot of homes). And it probably won’t surprise you to find that the one moment that came closest to self-deprecating for Trump echoed, though didn’t plagiarize, something Obama said about himself, recognizing the criticism that he thought, perhaps a bit too highly of himself: “If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome.”

Hillary, stepping up after Trump, got in her digs at him. Probably more than normally fly at such an event. I wonder if she had two versions of her comments prepared — one for the off-chance that Trump managed to behave in a remotely dignified manner and the one she read if he did what his character demanded. But she still took many shots at herself, talking about taking a break from her rigorous nap schedule, describing tuxes as “formal pantsuits,” made fun of her reputation as boring and her failure to get health care reform through in the early 1990s.

Trump proved — once more — that he has neither the character, the temperament, the grace — or the sense of humor — needed to be president.

Scott Adams: Trump shill and master of self-denial

Here’s the latest example of Trump idolatry from Dilbert creator Scott Adams.758695469ea1f51ccfc0ffd287a1af56
Here he is trying to convince America that, despite what we’ve seen of Donald Trump’s campaign, Trump is not a “racist, sexist clown with a dangerous temperament.”
Adams ignores all the evidence that Trump is a racist and a demagogue and tries to write off that impression as a mass hallucination by everyone who opposes Trump — and even some of his supporters.
Of course, he includes the obligatory assertions that he doesn’t really support Trump, he just wants America to be free to make a choice based on the reality he sees, he being a master of persuasion and a trained hypnotist and all. But then he says this: “Trump represents what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring real change to a government that is bloated and self-serving.  Reasonable people can disagree on policies and priorities. But Trump is the bigger agent for change, if that’s what you think the country needs. I want voters to see that choice for what it is.”

That sure looks like an endorsement to me. But what do I know? I’m no master persuader. As more of his defense of Trump, Adams writes, “In my elephant-free view of the world, Trump is a guy who uses provocative language (as New Yorkers do) while succeeding across several different fields. And he knows risk-management. You can see that in everything he does.”

Really? Adams can see risk-management in everything Trump does? Like when he tweets out insults and advises his public to seek out nonexistent sex tapes at 3:30 in the morning? That’s a stunning example of risk management?

Adams’ conclusion is this: If one person disagrees with you about Donald Trump being a racist, sexist clown with a dangerous temperament, then you must be hallucinating it. That fails every test of logic or sense.

Bottom line for me: Donald Trump is a racist, sexist clown with a dangerous temperament, and that has been clear for everyone to see for more than a year now.
The fact that Scott Adams doesn’t want to see that doesn’t make him a Master Persuader. It only makes him a master at self-denial.

What happens to Republicans post-Trump?

To my Trump-supporting conservative friends: Donald Trump is toast. That’s a reality you need to get used to. You might be able to forgive the glib, boasting talk about sexual assault (and sputter, “Hiliary! Benghazi! Emails! But… But… But… She killed Vince Foster!!!!” But the rest of America has seen Donald Trump’s twisted, broken soul, and they are repulsed. He is going to lose — by a lot, even more so if he spends the next several weeks attacking Hillary for Bill’s infidelities and otherwise tossing red meat to people like you, the people who wouldn’t desert him even if he did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.

The only real question now is what will rise up to take the GOP’s place when Donald is done grabbing you all by the pussy.

Will it be a rational, conservative party that puts forth fact-based policy arguments to counter what Democrats believe are the better ways to move forward in society.

Or will it be Alex Jones-style conspiracy nonsense that appeals only to those who don’t have a clue what’s actually happening in the world and are susceptible to batshit crazy theories.

I hope for the former; but fear it will be the latter. The GOP has spent too much time convincing its base that no authority can be trusted, that the media is lying to them, that the craziest conspiracy theories are true.

You all believe it, admit it. Otherwise, you couldn’t support Trump. You actually think Bill and Hillary Clinton have had dozens of people murdered and gotten away with it. You wonder whether Obama was actually born in America (though doubting this means you BELIEVE that someone went back in time to put the birth announcement into the Honolulu newspaper; or that the conspiracy to elect this Muslim Kenyan was in place even before he was born). Some of you might even think, deep in the heart of your hearts that 9/11 was an inside job.

You believe this because you’ve been fed a diet of lies and misinformation to further one party’s political fortunes. And it worked, for a bit. Republicans took back the House and the Senate, though they couldn’t quite knock Obama out because the whole country votes for president, and the whole country isn’t misinformed or insane.

But because you’ve isolated yourselves geographically and found your safe places online and in the media, you actually think what you believe is normal and rational and sane.

It is not.

You have a choice. Come out of your bubble after Nov. 8, after Trump falls to what I hope will be the biggest electoral college defeat in a generation. Shake off the dust and the debris. Re-engage with the real world. Quit watching Fox News and thinking that sites like Breitbart and Daily Caller are telling you anything even resembling the truth. Start seeking out legitimate sources of information. Figure out what have been lies and what have been truths. Then go from there.

Or sink ever deeper into the swamp of right-wing fever dreams. Isolate yourself even more from mainstream American thought. Delve more completely into right-wing paranoid fantasies.

And you know what? If you do that, some day someone might come for your guns just like you’ve been fearing. Not because anyone wants to take all Americans’ guns away; but because nearly everyone believes that crazy people completely disconnected from reality should not have access to deadly weapons.

I told you so

Way back, I suggested the best course of action for Republicans would be to disown Trump. I said they should refuse to endorse him. They shouldn’t fund him. They should simply concede the presidential election and devote their resources to trying to keep control of the House and Senate and state races — and purging their party of the racists and bigots that Trump attracted.

Bet they wished they had listened to me now.

The final nail in the racist coffin for Scott Adams

758695469ea1f51ccfc0ffd287a1af56This is really pretty sad.

Scott Adams, creator of the very funny Dilbert, threw in with the racist, bigoted asshole Donald Trump. Adams put up a lot of smoke screen nonsense about how he didn’t actually agree with Trump, but he just was WOWED by Trump’s alleged persuasion skills. Oddly, those skills all seemed to center around Trump saying very racist, douchebaggery stuff. Somehow, that impressed Adams, and we were all supposed to think that had nothing to do with the racist douchebaggery content, and all to do with the PERSUASION MASTERY of it all.

I was skeptical from the beginning, though I wanted to believe the best of Adams because, well, you know — Dilbert is cool, and funny.

Anyway, the Adams’ latest post is the true reveal. He throws in with the racist douchbags, completely. He accuses Clinton of saying that ALL of Trump’s supporters are racists:

But Clinton just insulted 40% of American voters by calling them racists. Clinton literally – and publicly – turned on her own citizens.

In actuality, she did the opposite. Even though she explicitly called out the times when Republicans REJECTED racism — when Bob Dole told racists to take the clearly marked exits, extolled George W. Bush for going to a mosque after 9/11 and praised John McCain for reassuring a poor misguided woman that Barack Obama was an American, not an Arab, who wanted the best for our country — Adams said she explicitly said all of Trump’s supporters were racists. In fact, she did the opposite. She said that the Republican Party had been hijacked by racists. She said they were better than that. And she said they could do better than Donald Trump and the bigotry he brought in to the GOP.

This was not subtle on Clinton’s part — and, in fact, there were some in her party who argued that she should take the other tack. They said she should lump everyone who stood with Trump with the racist douchebags he had brought into the party. They said it would be better to tie the racists around the GOP’s neck and let the entire party sink with Trump. But Hillary Clinton did not do that. She gave principled Republicans an out. She told them they did not have to follow Donald Trump down the alt-right rabbit hole, and explicitly begged them to abandon that path.

Scott still has the chance to follow that advice. I hope he does. I like Dilbert, and I would really hate to see that very funny cartoon sunk because its creator sided with racist douchebags.

But that seems less and less likely with every passing day.

Trump can be both a con man and a racist

Scott Adams continues his sad descent into incoherence. Trump is clumsily attempting a general election pivot (a month or two too late), and Adams insists this is creating a “cognitive dissonance trap” for Trump’s critics. Because Trump says he wants to help black people (while grossly distorting and, yes, stereotyping their lives), he’s acting “non-racist” and thus ruining the mental models of those who have turned from him in disgust because he’s racist.
According to Adams:
“This creates a situation in which the pundits either have to change their self-images and admit they were wrong about Trump all along, or they have to reinterpret Trump’s clearly non-racist actions as racist actions in disguise. Cognitive dissonance happens when people are unwilling or unable to modify their self-image to match the observed facts. In this case, to protect their self-images as wise pundits, they are forced to default to pretzel-like explanations of their reality.”
He goes on to say: “The anti-Trumpers have two conflicting mental models of Trump now. Is he a racist or a con man?”
But Adams apparently never considered that Trump could be both a bigot and a con man, and that the con is what’s happening now, not what happened during the primary. We’ve seen the real Trump all these months: The Trump who disparaged a judge because of his Mexican heritage. The Trump who proposed a blanket ban on Muslims (even American citizens) coming into the United States. The Trump who attacked a Gold Star mom because of his misconceptions about her faith (“maybe she wasn’t allowed to have an opinion”). The Trump whose campaign assumes black people at his rallies are protestors (even when they’re high-ranking state campaign officials for Trump).

But now, as he’s in a polling free fall, Trump is attempting to project a softer image. (Adams even calls it “The Softening” — which, I have to say, from a “persuasion standpoint” is pretty devastating rhetoric for a 70-year-old man who is oddly obsessed about the size of his hands. Just sayin’.) Part of that softer image includes an explicit appeal to African-Americans — but one always made in front of Trump’s usual lily white audiences, and one made, as I mentioned before, using gross distortions and stereotypes of the black American experience. Not all blacks live in poverty. (Most don’t.) Not all blacks live in violent neighborhoods. (All neighborhoods are much safer from violent crime than they were 30 years ago.) Not all black teens are unemployed. (Too many are, but Trump’s 58 percent figure is grossly distorted; using his methodology, 50 percent of white teens are also unemployed.)

According to Adams, all this is supposed signal that those who saw Trump as a racist and bigot while watching him during the primaries (and, let us not forget, beyond) came to the wrong conclusion. He isn’t a bigot. If he was acting like a bigot, it’s because he was trying to win the Republican nomination (and, yes, that notion isn’t going to help the Republican brand much).

It’s been fascinating to read Adams’ blog and note all of his attempts (which I’m sure he believes are oh-so-subtle) to tweak how Trump is viewed by his readers. My favorite recent example is from the post where Adams attempts the argument that Trump won’t be a disaster because, essentially, he has no principles and will change his positions to match whatever the public tells him. Adams writes: “If you think a Trump presidency – guided by the kindness of the public – would be extra-dangerous, you have been hypnotized.”

No one wants to be hypnotized without knowing it, right? So I just have to rethink my notion that Trump would be dangerous — even though Trump has repeatedly demonstrated he absolutely lacks a presidential temperament and would, indeed, be an incredibly dangerous president.

Sorry, Scott. But your persuasion attempts are falling flat. Maybe you need some refresher courses.

Trump is Tommy DeVeto

Every time I watch Donald Trump give a speech, I’ve been reminded of someone, and trying to figure out who has been driving a little bit crazy. Was it Frank Pantengeli in Godfather 2? Was it one of the Three Stooges?

Then Trump appeared to throw a baby out of one of his speeches. It was astonishing:

Then, later, he claims he didn’t actually throw the baby out. It was a joke, he said, and a Washington Post reporter sitting nearby backed him up. Okay, fine. It didn’t play like a joke. Or if it did, it played like a mean one. What kind of man makes a joke about throwing a baby out of a rally. Well, a man like Donald Trump. But then something clicked in place. Another scene of a guy making a joke that no one could tell was a joke. Was he joking? Or was he serious? No one really knew, and that had life-or-death implications because this guy, well, he has impulse-control issues. Watch below (NSFW language).

And there it was. That association I’ve been searching for all year: Trump reminds me of Joe Pesci, playing Tommy DeVeto, the unhinged mobster who could be baited into violence at the drop of a hat.

This, like the revelation that Trump was only joking about the baby, is not really comforting.

The Republican Party can still walk away

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersNot long after Donald Trump clinched the nomination, I wrote a blog post encouraging Republicans not to support him. I wrote:

There have been a lot of Republican leaders who go on and on about how unacceptable Trump is, what a disaster he would be as president. But, then, when asked if they’ll support him if he’s the nominee, they meekly say yes.

If Donald Trump actually becomes the nominee, that has to stop. Republican congressional leaders — who know how awful Trump is — should refuse to endorse him. The party apparatus should refuse to support him. Super PACs loyal to the party should refuse to fund him. Take the lead of the Koch brothers, who have indicated they’ll pour their resources into trying to blunt the down-ticket damage of a Trump candidacy.

Apparently, the Republican establishment is beginning to understand why I suggested that. Trump has proven to be every bit the steaming dumpster fire of a candidate that many predicted. He’s insulting the parents of a war hero who gave his life to save his men because they had the gall to speak out against his unconstitutional policies. He’s refusing to endorse Republican Speaker of the House in a fit of pique worthy of a three year old. He kicked a baby out of a recent rally. He suggested “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something to stop Hillary Clinton’s judges. He accepted the Purple Heart medal offered by a supportive vet, then said, “I always wanted to get the purple heart. This was much easier.”

In other words, Trump has been Trump: Thin-skinned, narcissistic, petulant, childish, boorish, dangerous.

Republicans are actually starting to hope he drops out, though as Josh Marshall pointed out, that wouldn’t really improve the situation all that much for the Grand Old Party.

But some party allies are reportedly trying to stage an intervention to get Trump back on track.

That’s a foolhardy endeavor. Trump is Trump, and he isn’t going to change now. He’s tried before to pivot to the presidential. Each attempt lasts a day or two, then he is compelled to let his inner Trump screaming out on stage.

So I come back to my pre-convention advice: Republicans may be stuck with Trump as their nominee, but they don’t have to endorse him. The party apparatus doesn’t have to support him. Super PACs don’t have to fund him. Trump has said he could do this on his own. Let him try. Salvage what’s left of the Republican brand and sever all possible ties. Paul Ryan can return Trump’s favor and unendorse him. Other Republicans who have bemoaned Trump’s words but begrudgingly maintained their support of the nominee, like Sen. John McCain, should sever their relationship. Let Trump stand or, more likely, fall on his own.

Yes, there will be collateral damage to the party. But that’s inevitable at this point anyway.

The Republican Party is locked into an abusive relationship with Donald Trump.

It’s time to walk away.


Scott Adams jumps the shark

13606924_10154405463673588_6014692515529747999_nI continue to be dismayed by the descent of Dilbert creator Scott Adams into a particular brand of alt-right asshole wingnuttery.

He’s turned into a Trump cheerleader (all the while assuring everyone he doesn’t really support Trump, but is just AMAZED by his persuasion skills, but his posts show him to be fully onboard the Trump Train).

And that would be fine. I mean, I’d lose all political respect for him, but I’d still be able to laugh at Dilbert, which has never really been about politics.

But his pro-Trump posts are becoming ludicrous, as I’ve mentioned before. In his latest, he worries that the Democratic National Convention is forcing his testosterone levels down.

The celebration of the first female major party nominee isn’t just a celebration of the advances women have made, Adams argues. If you’re a man, it is a “celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished.” Watching Alicia Keys sing her anthem, “Superwoman” — which, contrary to Adams, does not tell America that women are the only answer to our problems — Adams writes, “I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite.”

If your testosterone levels can’t handle a song by Alicia Keys, I’m pretty sure you’ve got medical issues. And enabling and empowering women to do jobs they are fully capable of doing doesn’t diminish men — unless they can’t keep up.

Again, I keep hoping this is some sort of blog-based performance art, something akin to Joaqim Phoenix’s rap career.

But I think Adams actually believes his nonsense.