Friday, April 29, 2016

'Pathway' campaign metaphor blinds us

The media’s coverage of the 2016  presidential nominating campaigns is wedded to the “pathway” metaphor. Like all metaphors, this one locks us into unchallenged and misleading assumptions.

Pathways are “narrow,” “wide,” “closed” or “clear of obstacles.” They promise inevitability.

Oh really?

Has Bernie Sander’s “pathway” now disappeared? End of story?

Are the anti-Trump candidates on the Republican side also left with no path to nomination? Or a very, very “narrow” path?

Beware the metaphorical story line; reality has its own narrative.

For instance, there’s just enough vitriol and talk of violence in this campaign, that some insane act could alter events. In these United States, it has been known to happen. Think Bobby Kennedy. For that matter, think JFK.

Then, as a friend pointed out, the whole course of the campaigns could be upended by an act of terrorism here. What would a 9-ll, or worse, heaven forbid, do to the campaigns and voter sentiment?

Nor is mayhem all that could change the story line.

Consider that the Democratic Convention will be held in late July, three months from now. What might happen if the intervening polls show Trump actually beating Clinton in November? Suppose that with each new poll the gap between the two widens?

Frankly, it’s not hard to imagine. Clinton has all the charisma of an Oregon slug. Her surrogates are nearly as offensive as Trump. In an anti-establishment year, her ties to the political elites (financial and otherwise) become more and more suspect. What DID she tell those folks at Goldman-Sachs?

Meanwhile Trump, for all his ignorance and bigotry, seems impervious to criticism largely because he is the darling of frustrated, irrational and angry hordes who are weary of political elites of all stripes.

And then there is Trump’s media-savvy theatrics. Who draws the bigger audience and the largest media profits? Clinton or Trump? No contest. Schedule him!

Meanwhile disaffected, despairing Sanders’ supporters might support Trump (a "new Trump"). Any appeals for their votes by a distrusted Clinton could be seen as insincere pandering.

Trump is at least sincere, foremost about himself.

And so Democratic Party super-delegates may witness a widening polling spread between a tanking “weak” Clinton and ascendant “strong” Trump. Couple that with polls continuing to show Sanders clobbering Trump in November.
That scenario could well inspire some serious rethinking at the Philadelphia Democratic convention.

How do any of these narratives fit with the “pathway” metaphor? They don’t.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Distrust Test for Voters in November

One of the most important questions a voter should ask is whether a candidate can be trusted.

But as this frightening presidential primary season unfolds, in the Fall we likely will not have the opportunity to ask the question.

Instead, with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the ballot, the question will be, tragically,  “which candidate do I distrust the least.”

That’s a sad state of affairs for the body politic, but polling supports just that level of  distrust.

Still the answer is clear. Trump himself has said that what he is saying today will be different once he is actually nominated. In essence, he is telling us that he is a liar, and, worse, his saying it doesn’t matter. Lying is a "justifiable" means to his ends.

Indeed, the most frightening thing about Trump, beyond the question of his sanity, is that he is utterly unpredictable…even  to himself.

Clinton, for her part, seems spineless in her pursuit of victory. If Bernie Sanders is driving her ever so reluctantly to the Left, just think of what Trump will do. In desperation, will she cave on immigration? Will she waffle on climate change? Will she play to the nativism of the Trumpites. Will she, like Rubio, play the bodily fluid card?

She has already adopted the Trump’s meme about “America’s Greatness.” He says he’ll restore it; she says it was never in question.

Really? Talk to Native Americans, talk to farm workers, talk to college graduates saddled with debt, talk to the homeless, talk to kids trapped in impoverished, overcrowded schools, talk to victims of police brutality, talk to veterans contemplating suicide because of PTSD.

No, this country is about promise, as yet unfulfilled. I don’t trust any politician unwilling to say so. And that’s why I’ve been sending checks in dribs and drabs to Bernie Sanders, who is nothing if not trustworthy.

But for reasons that seemingly have nothing to do with trust, “The People” seem set on offering you and me Clinton and Trump this Fall. Which one do I distrust the least?

Clinton by shameful default. He greatest strength steps over the lowest of bars: she is NOT Donald Trump.

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The Panama Papers: Waiting for the other shoe to drop

And now, in the middle of this wild political season, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I speak of the “Panama Papers” revelations. We are told there are more to come.

And could the “more” shake up the already shaky presidential primary races?

Could Donald Trump, who has yet to release any of his tax returns, be mixed up in the off-shore tax-evasion? What are the odds? Would you be surprised if Trump paid no taxes at all?

Trump has already confessed his proud affinity to greed. Hiding assets would be just another manifestation of it. Oh, and the evasions, as they say, are “perfectly legal.”

That true enough. But are they ethical. They means that the rest of us who are “stupid,” in Trump’s eyes, are making up for the lost tax revenue through the checks we responsibly write to the IRS.

That’s right, you and I could be paying Donald Trump’s tax liability, which is passed on to us.

The lost tax revenue also means that our schools are underfunded, veterans are forced to live on the streets and the nation’s infrastructure continues to crumble. The list goes on and on…

And then there’s Hillary Clinton.

Of course we don’t know (yet?) if the Clintons have been hiding assets off-shore, out of sight of the IRS, but we do know that they are cozy with the Saudi Royal family. The Saudis are big donors to the Clinton Foundation. It should come as no surprise that Saudi King Salman is in the massive data base of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, which administers these tax dodges.

And what about the big-dollar donors to the Clinton campaign? Could their contributions be ill-gotten gains stemming from off-shore tax dodges? If so, will Hillary give the money back or perhaps turn it over to the government?

If (or when) the other shoe drops, in the words of Bernie Sanders, it could feed the much-needed “revolution.”

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

A "Good Trump" should endorse Garland for the Supreme Court

If Donald Trump were just a fraction as smart as he claims to be, he would endorse the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to be on the US Supreme Court.

Say what?

Trump needs to prove there is indeed “another” Trump, as ex-candidate Ben Carson claimed in endorsing Trump. If there is a “Good Trump,” it's time for him to step up, and there's no better way than by endorsing Garland.

Trump could certainly benefit from the “halo effect” that surrounds the eminently qualified and virtuous Garland. No senator in either party argues that Garland is anything less than a prudent, thoughtful judge who would bring much to the Supreme Court.

In supporting Garland, Trump would once again set himself apart from the hide-bound conservative Republican establishment. That would prove that he can at least be consistent in his willingness to buck the hide-bound orthodoxy of the Republican Congressional leadership.

He would take a stand against partisan gridlock. In short, he would be seen as rising above politics, something many yearn for.

He would prove that he knows character when he sees it and that he believes it should be rewarded.

He could wrap himself in that holy of holies, The U.S. Constitution.

He could, at last, begin to be seen as a healer rather than the terrible divider he has been for the past year.

And finally, he would begin to expand his base, which he desperately needs to do to win in November.

The problem is that so far Trump has given no evidence that there is a “Good Trump,” except apparently to Carson.

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Saturday, March 05, 2016

The Political Consequences of Suspending Disbelief

Those who have studied media literacy know the concept of “the suspension of disbelief.”

Here’s how it works. When we read fiction, watch films and most TV drama, we shut down our disbelief and critical abilities. We permit ourselves to accept fiction as being true. How can we enjoy fiction if we are constantly telling ourselves it’s not “true”?

And so we “accept” lies of a sort. At its best, fiction becomes “art” and reveals larger truths. At its worst, and all too often, it is a lie appealing to our baser instincts. If we have suspended our disbelief, we often can’t, or won’t, appreciate the difference.

The suspension of disbelief comes at the cost of making us vulnerable. We find it difficult and even impossible to switch back to critical thinking after hours of having shut it down.

That’s why advertising, with all its visual and associative manipulation, is so effective. We actually believe if we buy this car or that soap, we will be better, just like the “beautiful people” in the ads. We carry these fictions into the market place and put our money on them.

Enter Donald Trump (and most other candidates for that matter). They hit us with their advertising when we are most vulnerable to its distortions (grainy footage, patriotic symbols, reassuring voices, creepy music etc.).

Trump does his distorting largely without advertising because he is, at root, a oddly and crudely engaging performer. Those who are most unquestionably believing of him become “true believers.” They idolize him, accepting uncritically whatever he says – even when he contradicts himself, even when he offends and demeans “others.”

In so many ways, Trump is no more harsh, cruel or obscene than much of popular media today. Note that he speaks in the truncated, venom-laced language of the internet.

In short, Trump’s behavior is made to order for our media culture. Those who have become immersed in it (and many watch TV or are glued to the internet for hours on end) feel right at home with a bullying, bigoted, thoughtless brute. (Rush Limbaugh also comes to mind....)

Trump, like much of media, plays upon and amplifies the dark, fearful, hateful, violent side of life. (There’s even a name for the phenomenon: “The Mean World Syndrome.” (vis. the late George Gerbner.)

if you can’t, or won’t, return to a questioning state of disbelief (which, be warned, requires work), you find yourself accepting distorted, outrageous and even immoral solutions.

Exploring the real causes of problems facing us just doesn’t lend itself to 30-second TV spots and 140-word tweets. Besides, who wants to know that we ourselves are part of the problem and will have to change?

Why else would global warming be seemingly unworthy of public discourse in this campaign?

Instead, sound bite “solutions” (torture, walls, intolerance) threaten to make  "real world" life for all of us and our progeny worse…much, much worse.

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