Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Dearth of a Salesman

It sickens me to hear Donald Trump speak.  Given free reign, he has become increasingly shrill and incoherent.  His invective is even more filled with lies and cruel attacks.  His face, when he speaks, is ugly, twisted, full of rage and hate.

So it took me a few days to get to the point where I had heard enough snippets of his rant at the Boy Scout Jamboree to wonder how Boy Scouts of America, a group rooted in building moral and ethical behavior, not to mention patriotism, in boys, was reacting to this ugly display.

There has been a great deal of blowback since his performance.  Facebook and Twitter have been filled with angry comments by past scouts and parents of scouts.  But of course, there has also been praise by the base that feeds off his tantrum-like attacks, and this is what keeps him going, his presidency a four-year continuation of his campaign, when each performance proved his popularity.  His red-faced envy of President Barack Obama, and his rage at Hillary Clinton's three million vote win, not only will never end in his warped paranoid mind, it continues to grow, his obsession becoming ever more dangerous.

Fed by Steve Bannon's fascistic rhetoric, surrounded only by those who fawn and flatter, Trump's lack of boundaries and poor judgment appear to be unstoppable.  In Warsaw, he was greeted by cheering fans, encouraged by Poland's right-wing government to come together to show enthusiastic support; his anti-democracy speech in turn showered praise on the government that is dismantling its democratic institutions, much as Trump is working to do here.

These days, Trump opens his mouth, and CNN airs the foul and stinking words that come out, often in their entirety.

When Trump performs at rallies that fuel his need for approval, they are not called rallies, they are presidential visits, like at the Boy Scout Jamboree.  When he gives interviews, they are rare and mostly with Fox News and like-minded devotees like Pat Robertson, where he can for a few moments control the public narrative once again.

As we have let Trump devour our lives, we have come to know him well.  And yet, it occurs to me, we are missing completely his defining trait.  Donald Trump has gone to great lengths all his life to build a persona.  The American people, much of his loyal base, got to know him as the successful entrepreneur of The Apprentice, charming but knowledgeable and firm.  This is not Donald Trump at all.

He is a lousy businessman.  He is terrible at making deals.  He has used his name and his inherited wealth to create a brand that falsely describes the person.

The brand was the creation of a first-rate salesman.  He has the instinct that comes from his own insecurities, that allows him to divine his target's needs and desires from his own.  To be a good salesman does not require honesty or integrity; in fact, he might have more appropriately entitled his best-seller, The Art of the Con.  Because that is what he does best.

However, success in sales requires control over one's audience.  Trump has always surrounded himself by people of power, like lawyer Roy Cohn, people who could teach him how to project an image of power.  And he has surrounded himself with devotees.

From the time he staged his entrance down the escalator to announce his war against Mexicans, Donald Trump was selling himself to a base that he knew well, people who had been responding to his politics for decades, people who were angry and insecure and looking for someone to focus their rage.  They were looking for a savior, and that is exactly what the bombastic and narcissistic Donald Trump planned on giving them.

And in the long con that was the 2016 election season, he succeeded in getting people from all walks of life to believe in him.  They thought they knew him from his role in The Apprentice, and from his absolutely adamant extremist claims, about Muslims, about "the wall."  He fed people's fears:  about violence, about loss of work, about unaffordable health care.  And then he made them promises:  he promised jobs, and that they would be safe on the streets.  He promised the best of everything, and that it would be easy, because he would be the one who would do it.

A con.

The problem with a con, though, is when the con artist loses control.  Suddenly, Trump as president had other people with power questioning him, contradicting him, saying no to him.

What happened next was inevitable, the dictator's path to maintaining control.  He berated the media because they were the ones confronting him with questions he couldn't answer.  He began firing people.  He became more isolated, surrounding himself with his entourage, those from whom he expected complete loyalty.  He began to publicly criticize not just enemies, but those who had supported him.

And he became angrier and more unstable.

The president we have is one whose powers a responsible congress would be checking, rather than cowering out of fear of losing their comfortable government jobs.  Mitch McConnell -- the real dealmaker -- with his lack of ethics and sleight of hand gave us a Supreme Court that will be very guarded in cases that involve presidential powers, as they did by allowing parts of the travel ban to go into effect while they waited to hear the case.

Donald Trump is no longer that great salesman.  He is a very poor con artist these days.  But because of the power he wields, those who have already signed on to ride his coattails continue to allow him to threaten them publicly.  They allow him transgression after transgression, cowed by his threats and their own insecurities.  He has been allowed to flaunt national security regulations, to profit from his position as president, to bring unsavory people into the most powerful corridors of government.  He has met secretly with our most dangerous opponent, flattered dictators and trashed our allies.  He has curbed media access, which is public access, to the presidency.

And he speaks to boy scouts as though they are having a bitch session in a bar.

No, he is no longer a great salesman.  Most all of us know the emperor is naked.  And that just makes him angrier, and crazier.  But with the power he has, and which he has usurped, he doesn't need to sell anybody anything anymore.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Ironic Cherry Reads... The Cynic

The Cynic: 
The Political Education of
Mitch McConnell

by Alec MacGillis

I was one of those with my mouth hanging open when Mitch McConnell announced that he would not bring to the floor President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  We should not have been surprised.  If we had been paying attention, and we had, we knew that there was no depth to which the republican Congress would not sink in order to win.  The Obama administration began with McConnell's announcement that his most important goal was to make this Democrat a one-term president.

In retrospect, I believe we don't give Mitch McConnell enough credit, because of his looks and demeanor.  His deer-caught-in-the-headlight, tortoise-y, stiff appearance leads one to imagine that he is, well, doofy.  And late night comedians have made the most of this, doing hilarious imitations.  The media has had no lack of material pointing out his conflicting statements over the years.  As though that would horrify, or even embarrass, McConnell.  It doesn't.

McConnell was the high school nerd that wasn't all that popular, but was drawn to politics.  He had a single-mindedness that no number of losses could derail.  Like the tortoise to which he is so often compared, he continued to plow ahead, setting goals and working at them, all the way back to vice president of his junior high student council.  The other thing he did was observe, and learn.  And he was fearless when it came to attempting to persuade people to his side.

What I did not know is that McConnell began his career as a moderate to liberal republican:  pro-choice, pro-union, pro-civil rights.  Along the way, though, he learned that going negative was the way to win.  And he learned where the money was.

McConnell knows how to get what he wants.  And what he wants is the power he now wields in the Senate.  He may not be likable, but that doesn't matter to him.  His colleagues know that he is the best power broker there is.  Trump thinks he knows how to make a deal?  McConnell is like a card-counter.  He is like a chess champion.  And the goal is winning.  He has no scruples, no guiding ideals.  He will do anything to win.

In his early years he hired Roger Ailes to create ads for his campaign and he hasn't looked back.  There is no dirty trick he will not be delighted to run if it will get him closer to winning, and indeed he takes great pleasure from crushing his opponents.  There have been many races in McConnell's life when he nearly lost.  But he is willing to say and do anything to best his opponent.  He has no scruples.  There is no line he won't cross.  And he is always willing to try something new and egregious.  He plays the odds very, very well.

In the Senate, he knows everything that is going on.  He keeps fellow senators close, and strategizes everything.  He is the master of procedural tricks.  And he doesn't give a damn what anybody thinks of him.  Those republican senators that don't like him nonetheless know he knows what he is doing, and they had better play his game.  AND YET, when the Tea Party came to Washington, people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz who came to government like gunslingers, aiming to take it down, McConnell figured out how to work with them and around them.  He knew how to act like he wanted to get government moving while not opposing tactics like shutting down the government.  He knows when to stay in the background and when to be heard.

We owe as much to Mitch McConnell for the dysfunction in our government as we do to the Tea Party.  He has been the mastermind.  His only goal is to stay in power, and anybody running against him or anyone else in his party needs to be ready for a dirty fight.

He is truly a strange bird in that he thrives on fund raising, as though getting money out of donors proves his self-worth.  He is good at it.  He gets the best -- in other words, the dirtiest -- people to manage his campaigns.  His ads are going to be plentiful, and as ugly as they come.  And, as we saw in the recent Georgia 6th Special Election, that is politics in 2017.

I have said recently that when they go low, we don't have to roll in the mud with them.  But we do have to educate voters that dirty tricks and ugly accusations will be out there.  We have to let them know about the kind of people who are paying to spread the lies, and what they have to gain, and what the voters have to lose.

We also have to learn to stick together.  One of the worst mistakes that Alison Lundergan Grimes made in her run against McConnell in 2014 was to back away from President Obama.  The moment she waffled on that question, McConnell's gang came in for the kill.  That's what he does.  So don't give him, or any other republican, the opportunity to pit us against each other.  We are far better than they are, and we need to be confident when we tell that to voters.

And we need to hit, and hit back, and then do it again, each time republicans are wrong.  That should give us lots of material, right?  Then I wonder why we haven't seen, all over the country, on every television station, ads about the republican health care plan.  And tax cuts for the wealthy.  And how about job losses?  We let Trump and Pence get away with claiming to save jobs at Carrier, but how about the massive layoffs that are beginning at Carrier next week?

And speaking of jobs, South Carolina's Boeing plant, paid for by Nikki Haley with our own tax dollars, celebrated with great fanfare and a visit by the liar-in-chief a few months ago the rollout of the 787 Dreamliner.  All the doting local news stations played the video of Trump promising great jobs blah, blah, blah.  Earlier, Boeing had put out a small -- actually what to most of us would be a rather large -- fortune in advertising, blanketing the media with anti-union ads.  Now they have announced layoffs.  If voters, workers, citizens don't hear us shouting about this from the rooftops, how will they know the promise of jobs was a lie?

I saw a crawl on CNN a week or so ago that announced that gas prices were now the lowest they had been in twelve years.  Really?  I keep a pretty close watch on gas prices and I know here in Charleston, before the election, I was paying somewhere under $1.60.  I also know that shortly after the election, the price jumped up by some twenty cents.  Since then they have jumped up and then crawled down, with them finally holding steady for a while around $2.00.  Check it out at SC Gas Buddy.  When the media swallows false information, we need to get in their faces.  Campaign managers, party officials and we citizens need to make sure the news is accurate.

The Cynic is a slim book, but an awfully important political education.  Mitch McConnell, incredible as it is to believe, was determined to become a force in politics, and he has indeed.  He has set the standard for political warfare.  If we are going to win against a cheater, we need to understand the cheater and the system.  This is a good place to start.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

When They Go Low...

In that sparkling election campaign that was Hillary Clinton's, Michelle Obama led the call and response:  "When they go low... we go high."  Problem is, and the election of 2016 is proof, when they go low... we lose.

This is what republicans are good at.  In The Cynic, a disturbing book about the political career of Mitch McConnell, we find a gawky, not-very-popular young man who supported women's reproductive rights (!) as well as collective bargaining (!) in his early years.  He soon found out, though, just how sweet was the taste of victory, won in any way possible.  And the easiest way to win was by attacking your opponent.  And claiming to support any cause that would win the election, followed by enacting legislation that benefits the wealthy and powerful.

This is the republican playbook.  The moral vacuity that is the republican party will stoop to any depth to win.  The wealthy and powerful pay their way.  Voters hear what they want to hear, and believe the lies they are told writ large:  in ad buys, billboards, Russian fake news (yeah, that's what fake news was until Donald Trump appropriated it to his narcissistic ends).

We Dems just aren't comfortable with lying to win an election.  We shy away from attacking our opponent, whether it is because of our values or fear of retaliation.  I don't believe we need to, or could possibly, stoop as low as has the republican party.  But we have let republican strategists beat us to a pulp while we fight among ourselves.

I imagine that republican opposition research just can't be any more fun these days.  What happens is:  they find some questionable detail about a candidate, toss it out, and watch Dems fight about it.  And if they can't find some small actual thing, they make something up.

Take Jon Ossoff.  It wasn't that long ago that he ran the most exciting campaign since Bernie, in the truly red (don't get me started on gerrymandering) district in Georgia from which Trump's handlers plucked the evil Tom Price to Orwellize the Department of Health and Human Services.  It is no accident that they have been plucking their deplorables from redder than red districts (South Carolina has been fertile ground).  But Georgia's 6th, while solidly republican, also has its share of intelligent republicans, who chose Trump over Hillary by only one percent.

So imagine their alarm when republicans saw the populist excitement over candidate Jon Ossoff.  Of course, they did not spend much time biting their nails.  They went into action, fund raising and scheming.  They (RNC, PACs, and those even shadier groups) went into overdrive.  Had the situation been reversed, Dems might have made excuses for why they probably wouldn't win, or complained about how unfair it was that someone from the other side was giving them a tough race (only Donald Trump, in his robocalls, did that, telling voters not to let Democrats STEAL THE ELECTION).  Republicans immediately regrouped.  McConnell's playbook from his early years proves to have been the gift that keeps on giving.  When you are running against a formidable candidate there are two things that work:  lying about your opponent, running attack ads, and running attack ads that lie about your opponent (three things...).

Beginning with an ad showing clips that under a more, shall we say, objective framework, would have us think: "What a fun guy, and he sure is clever."  But in the hands of the Congressional Leadership Fund, it became a dark-tinged piece of hysteria that nonetheless made national news.  And why shouldn't it?  Republicans and republican supporters know how to get oppo research and negative messages into every crevice of the American media.  That success was followed by pieces of work that became progressively more desperate and evil, from falsely linking Ossoff to "Bay area liberals" and Nancy Pelosi, to a last truly disgusting ad that pronounces that "Now the unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting republicans."  Of course, once it was out, it was an easy matter for opponent Karen Handel to denounce the ad.  But fact is, it may have gotten those last crazies out to the polls, for which she is no doubt quietly grateful.

Yes, there was some grumbling about the ugliness of these ads.  But what did not happen was Democrats coming out in droves to talk to the voters about what they were seeing, that is, a desperate, nasty effort to manipulate the election to vote for the least popular candidate of the two.

If you are planning on running for office as anything other than a right-wing republican these days, you need to start with the assumption that the first thing republicans are going to do is find dirt on you.  If it's not dirt, they will make it so.  If they can't find anything to turn into dirt, they will lie.  So you need to tell the voters that this is going to happen.  You need to say:

"Republicans are going to do everything they can to win.  They will turn over everything in my past to find something they can twist to make it look bad.  They will distort everyday aspects of my life to make them look questionable.  They will lie.  They will put ads on TV that you won't want your kids to watch....  Why will they do this?  Because they can't run honestly on the issues.  They know that if you take a good look at their candidate, you will see that they don't have your interests in mind.  They know that if you are able to hear my message, without their lies and distortions, you will vote for me.  So know that, and let's run this campaign on the issues."

And you need to say it and say it again, every time there is a negative ad or attack.  Keep bringing voters back to the issues.  Keep reminding them why your opponent is going so low.

The other thing we Dems need to all get together on is getting together on our candidates.  These are people who for the most part don't have donors with deep pockets.  If they do, as did Hillary, you can bet republicans (talk about the pot and the kettle) will bring up their ties to Wall Street.  If they have gone to Harvard, they will make the Ivies sound like dirty words.  For gods' sake, they will bring up Nancy Pelosi and make it sound like you cohabit.

And here is where they get us, every time.  I am still hearing the smackdown between Bernie and Hillary supporters.  Trump taunted us by talking about his love for Bernie, gloated in the in-fighting.  Could he have done better after Bernie's admittedly half-hearted pleas to support Hillary than to have us turn against each other?

And then they threw out the Ossoff bones and sat back and watched us fight.  Does he support Pelosi, and why didn't he stand up for Pelosi?  Republican hate of all things liberal even became, "Is Jon Ossoff really a liberal, or is he just pretending?"  After the attack ads claiming that Ossoff wasn't really a small business owner, I heard Democrats repeating their concern that he wasn't really a small business owner.  Boy-o, talk about getting bang for your buck.

In some ways it is truly nice that Democrats don't toe the line the way republicans do.  But it is time to get political, folks.  I may have my problems with the Democratic Party, but I value any candidate that steps up to what is likely going to be a bloodbath.  Republicans don't just control all three branches of government, plus most of the states.  They have made sure that their tentacles reach the media and college campuses, where they successfully divert attention from their own manipulations by attacks on "liberal media" and "liberal college campuses."

And what they will do every time in every way, is support their candidate.  Right-wing republicans represent corporate America.  Period.  And they will do anything they need to do to get that victory.  McConnell is the master at controlling the message and the race.  Ryan knows where his financial bread is buttered.  And voters routinely mistake the unity of those who run the republican machine for truth.

Democrats can "go high," but we need to recognize the reality of politics.  You are not going to get your perfect candidate.  That means you confront a candidate that threatens not to support those democratic causes that make us Democrats.  But when it comes down to the vote, you ALWAYS vote for the best person.  That means Hillary over Trump, no matter how your heart aches for Bernie.  That means Archie Parnell even though you could see Alexis Frank, another woman on the floor of the House over the years becoming a national treasure.  And that means, stop chasing those nasty old bones the republicans throw out so they can step back and watch us fight.

About Pelosi.  She is the person who brought a bunch of hissing cats together to get the Affordable Care Act passed.  And Hillary.  She is the one who has fought internationally for the rights of women, standing up to Putin knowing that he would be a nasty and powerful enemy.  When republicans are done with them as useful targets, they will turn their sights on Elizabeth Warren (as both Trump and McConnell have already done).

These women are being targeted, not only because they are women, but because they are smart, powerful women.  And they tell truth to power, and to everyone else who will listen.  We need them, and we need to support them, wholeheartedly.  Shame on those who say Pelosi is too old to be effective, when republicans stand behind the old white men who are united with Trump in his plan to destroy our democracy (After the Georgia election there was a time when I was hearing Dems say Pelosi is too old AND Ossoff was too young, both bones tossed out by republicans.).  And shame to those who have let the unproved allegations of thirty years keep them from taking a look at all Hillary has done for us.

Fact is, when they feel threatened they attack.  What threatens them is candidates that will fight for the people and for democratic values.  And the louder we shout, the more voters respond, the bigger and uglier the attacks.  We know this.  We can fight back.

2018 is happening.  Let's stand with our courageous candidates.  Let's stop fighting among ourselves; let's stop listening to the lies and rumors put out by republican opponents.  Let us vote for our values, but let us be loud in our outrage at the perversion of our democracy that has been created by money and power.

We can go high when they go low, but we need to get down to their level to look them in the eye when we call them out.