Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Donald Trump's Confusion Over the Media's Role in the Election

The bedrock of a Democracy is free speech and an open, independent, free press. The media's fundamental role in a free society is to (a) report, analyze and investigate the news in a timely, factual and objective manner; (b) hold government leaders accountable to its citizens; (c) educate and inform relating to key issues and news; and (d) connect citizens with each other. In doing so, it is supposed to have unfettered access to those people and situations on which it reports.

But Donald Trump, his campaign officials and surrogates appear to have a different definition of the media's role not just in a Democracy like America, but within his very campaign. To Team Trump, the media is an extension of the campaign itself, much in the same way that publicists and surrogates function.

To understand Trump's relationship with the media is to start with his basic disdain for journalists. He sees them as the enemy. He neither understands their role in American society or appreciates the critical fact that without them we'd live in a fascist dictatorship (though the latter appears increasingly more attractive to him). With his incredibly thin-skin, Trump views challenges from the media as "vicious" criticism. An attack. A "ganging up" on him for which he responds, as a self-described "counter-puncher," with often ruthless, incendiary return-fire, public insults and/or, as in the case of the Washington Post, a ban from campaign events and rallies.

As a self-consumed, self-aggrandizing narcissist, Trump believes everyone else in the world exists to serve him. Even as he runs for president of the Unites States, Trump fails to understand and accept journalists' role, especially on the campaign trail. The press is viewed as an extension of his promotion, marketing and PR team. Rather than respect the media's watchdog role, Trump genuinely expects them to reinforce and help spread his message, and gets deeply shocked and offended when they don't. And when they don't they're mocked, ridiculed, called "disgusting" and accused of "rigging" the system.

When Trump makes ignorant, inflammatory, sexist, racist and ill-advised comments, he gets mad at the press for covering it as news. And when his unconscionable behavior impacts his campaign -- miring it in controversy and sagging polls, for example -- he then blames the media for his misfortunes. He's living the old Tina Fey parody of Sarah Palin: "I hope the lamestream media won't twist my words by repeatin' 'em verbatim!"

It's an incredibly dangerous state of being when a candidate for the highest office in the freest nation on the planet loathes and impedes its free press because of personal animus. This Constitutionally-bankrupt behavior on Trump's part should be an automatic disqualifier in the race. But bankruptcy seems to be a calling-card in this unprecedentedly bizarre election.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Donald Trump's Problem with "The Blacks"

Donald Trump has a major problem with African American voters. The latest national polls show him with just 1% support among blacks. That's virtually zero. Think about that for a second. A 2016 presidential nominee has zero support within a community that represents 14% of the total U.S. population, or about 46-million voters. Even the utterly elitist, tone-deaf Mitt Romney received 6% of the black vote in 2012.

To achieve this astounding near-zero standing, Trump's campaign appears to have masterfully executed a unique 3-point plan: (1) disengagement (absolutely no outreach to blacks); (2) indifference (no substantive policy proposals to help blacks on any socio-economic level); and (3) insults (a consistent pattern of making outrageously offensive, racist statements).

Trump's racist campaign began in 2011 when he led a racially-charged Birther movement designed to delegitimize Barack Obama's presidency (although many would argue that it started about 45 years ago when the U.S. Justice Department sued Trump twice for refusing to rent apartments to blacks). He's also reportedly claimed that blacks are "lazy." There are accusations that black workers were routinely removed from the floor of his Atlantic City casinos before his arrival. And he's been criticized for stoking the flames of bigotry in 1989 with his media campaign against the Central Park Five; black youths accused, convicted and ultimately exonerated in the brutal rape attack of a female jogger.

Since officially becoming a candidate for president in June 2015, Trump has ratcheted up his racist behavior to unthinkable levels. He refers to African-Americans as "the blacks." Asked "Where's my African American?" at a rally. Encouraged violence against a black protestor at another rally. Offered to pay legal expenses for a white supporter who sucker-punched a black protestor. Lied about knowing the KKK's David Duke and refused to disavow the racist organization or its former Grand Wizard. And frequently re-Tweeted white supremacy

The black community doesn't exist in Trump's elitist, billionaire purview. Blacks are not his equals and aren't worthy of his time. He's refused to attend the annual NAACP convention and turned down countless other invites to meet with black voters in their neighborhoods, at churches, at historically black colleges and universities or at scheduled town halls where he can address their comments, complaints and questions face-to-face. 

Trump's insensitivity towards the black community was on full display yet again during a rally Friday in Dimondale, Michigan, a predominantly white suburb of Lansing. Speaking before a typically all-white audience, Trump urged blacks to vote for him:

"You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed -- what the hell do you have to lose?"

Trump's latest comment is outrageously offensive for a couple of reasons. He provided no substantive basis for blacks to vote for him, offering no economic, education, health or environmental policy proposals. And more so, his remarks encapsulate his overall view of blacks as poor, unemployed, violent 'hood-living idiots who'd believe that their lives are so dreary that they can't possibly do any worse with him as president. It proved yet again that when it comes to understanding African-Americans, Trump is utterly tone-deaf and out of touch. 

Whenever Trump speaks of blacks it's limited to those afflicted by poverty and the judicial system. The struggling underclass (in Trumpspeak, that means 'lazy, shiftless, welfare criminals'). In his speech Friday he didn't speak to the systemic, institutional racism that affects blacks from all walks of life. He didn't acknowledge the challenges faced by black students applying to Ivy League universities. Or those faced by black lawyers trying to get hired by or make partner at the country's most prestigious law firms. He didn't offer any solutions for fighting discrimination against blacks seeking to buy homes in elite white neighborhoods. Nor did he lament that no African-American has been nominated for an Academy Award in two years.

To be sure, there's no 'America' to Trump. There's white America and black America. And black America is clearly something he knows nothing about, and appears to care about even less. Which is why he can lump an entire race of people into one sorry-ass stereotypical bucket and then claim they "have nothing to lose" by voting for him. It's precisely this ignorant, myopic view of African-Americans that's responsible for his staggering, unprecedented unpopularity among them. The truth is, he'd do better with blacks if he simply stopped talking about them.

Trump's overall "Make America Great Again" message appears to only be resonating with voters who long for the good old days when white men controlled America's wealth and power. His core support comes exclusively from angry old white blue-collar males. Trump can't win in November with just this narrow group of uneducated, disaffected, bigoted voters. And while the candidate himself knows it, he can't control his worst impulses, which keep pushing the Oval Office further and further away. Lately, Trump appears exhausted, frustrated and desperate, which is why this week he made his third leadership change in the past sixty days and only gives interviews to Fox News "surrogates" like Sean Hannity.

This week's major shake-up saw campaign manager Paul Manafort replaced by consultant and pollster Kellyann Conway (Manafort took the new title of campaign "chair," but resigned a day later). Machiavellian bully Stephen Bannon, head of hyper-conservative Breitbart News, was brought in as campaign "CEO." The Trump "pivot" was promised, and it appeared for a day that maybe it had finally arrived. But then Trump once again went off script in Michigan and did what he does best: insult people.

Conway certainly has her hands full. She's a woman co-captaining a sinking ship with a bunch of sexists (including Fox News' former Sexual-Harasser-in-Chief Roger Ailes) who likely respect her opinions as much as they do those of any other female. And with Trump she has the unenviable task of trying to reverse decades of colossal douchebaggery. I don't think at this point in the campaign homestretch that anyone believes anymore that "Let Trump Be Trump" is a winning strategy.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Here's Why You Can Stick a Fork in Trump. It's Over.

Donald Trump's unprecedented, bizarre candidacy appears to have finally driven off the proverbial cliff. And it's only August. Now before folks remind me that I've been wrong about him in the past--naively predicting his political demise countless times--let me assure you, this time it's different.

For starters, there's a major distinction between the realities of the Republican primaries, through which only about 16% of Americans vote, and the general election. Yes, I was wrong about Trump. Many times. Shame on me. I gave Republicans way too much credit than they deserved. Turns out they were way more ignorant and racist than I could ever imagine. But that was then. This is now.

Since last June, Trump's consistently defied conventional wisdom by re-writing the How-to-Win-a-Nomination playbook and getting much further than anyone (except maybe MSNBC's Joe Scarborough) ever imagined, especially the candidate himself. If there was a book titled "100 Things Never, Ever to Do or Say When Running for President," he'd be guilty of committing every single sin. And he gives no indication of ever changing, even when implored to by the Republican establishment, big donors, his advisors and after being subjected to a rumored 'intervention' by his family. The biggest proponent of "Let Trump Be Trump" is the man himself. His much anticipated, sorely needed 'pivot' has yet to arrive and likely never will.  

If Trump is to win the presidency, he needs to be expanding his base. He cannot and will not win with just angry blue-collar white men. His support among women, blacks, Hispanics and the college educated is almost non-existent. His latest gaffes over the Gold Star Khan family, his "2nd Amendment people" threat, and claiming President Obama is the "founder of Isis" appear to have crossed a very critical non-partisan line, offending not just liberals and Democrats, but military families, patriots and decent people of both parties. In short, at this late stage in the race, he's doing the exact opposite of what he should be doing.

Despite the enthusiastic cable-news spin coming from advisors and surrogates, the campaign is clearly in a state of chaos. Trump's been dropping precipitously in the polls (double-digits). He's trailing Hillary Clinton badly in many key battleground states (leads that will be hard to reverse). He's being abandoned by moderate, mainstream, influential Republicans (including 50 major national security experts). He's doing poorly with independent voters (who prefer substantive policy over whining about the media). His staff's in turmoil (they can't control their candidate, and he's blaming them for his misgivings). He lacks a meaningful ground game (impossible to win without one). And he can't stay on message (wasting time counter-punching every perceived slight).

But what's most telling is that Trump himself appears to be throwing in the towel, an ominous sign from a normally carnival-barking, poll-obsessed, self-aggrandizing, narcissistic "winner." He's all but conceded the key state of Pennsylvania, claiming it will be "rigged" for Clinton: "The only way we can lose, in my opinion...is if cheating goes on." And he's acknowledged a big problem in the heavily Mormon, red state of Utah:  "I'm having a tremendous problem in Utah."

According to a scathing front page inside account of Trump's campaign in Sunday's NY Times, he's become "exhausted, frustrated and still bewildered by fine points of the political process and why his incendiary approach seems to be sputtering." 

And as reported in Politico on Monday, no presidential candidate since 1952 in Trump’s low polling position at this stage of the campaign has won the popular vote.

To be sure, Trump's demeanor is changing, demonstrating behavior of a loser-in-waiting, apparently setting himself up for a face-saving exit from the most outlandish, unconventional, mean-spirited, divisive presidential election in American history.

"At the end, it's either going to work or I'm going to have a very, very nice long vacation," Trump said last week. Adding, "You know, I go back to a very good way of life."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Trump Attacks Baby (Satire)

Donald Trump, facing harsh criticism over his recent attacks on the Gold Star Khan family and what many believe is a call for Hillary Clinton's assassination if she became president, is now again embroiled in controversy over yet another unconscionable act: attacking a baby.

After catching flack at a Virginia rally two weeks ago for suggesting a crying baby should be removed, Trump this week got into a heated shouting match with a 9-month infant at Orlando Airport while en route to a speech before evangelical leaders. As supporters and protestors gathered in the terminal, the baby began hysterically crying, interrupting Trump's impromptu press conference:

"Shut up, baby!" Trump yelled.

The baby continued crying.

"What's with you babies, lately!? You're acting like little babies. Nasty, spoiled, mean little babies! Who sent you, Crooked Hillary!?"

But the baby just kept looking at Trump and crying.

"Get him outta here!" Trump barked at security. "Get that ugly, stupid, baby outta here! We're not gonna let any babies hijack this press conference! You're a stupid baby! Wah, wah, wah...what is that? You, you can't even speak English. Where ya from, Mexico? I'm gonna build a wall around your crib, now get outta here! We don't want any stupid babies here, am I right!?"

As supporters chanted "Lock up the baby!," the child's mother shouted an expletive at Trump and abruptly left.

Speaking on Fox News' Sean Hannity show later that evening Trump defended his actions at the airport.

"The baby started it. He was being a very, very disruptive mean little baby. Many people said I was right to do what I did. Look, I'm a counter-puncher. You hit me, I hit you back 100 times harder...and I don't care if you're a 9-month old baby. The baby deserved it. And he owes me an apology."

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Will Trump's Gun Gaffe Be the Last Straw?

Donald Trump was right about one thing: his red-meat-eating base would still likely support him even if he shot someone in the middle of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. But the not-so-thinly-veiled suggestion that someone else shoot Hillary Clinton just might be the final nail in the coffin in what has certainly been the most bizarre, incendiary, polarizing presidential campaign in American history. 

At a rally Tuesday, Trump warned his fans that Hillary Clinton will abolish the 2nd Amendment if she's elected president and stacks the Supreme Court with liberal judges. On its own, that sort of fear-mongering would be taken as just a typical Trump lie. But then he did the unthinkable: suggesting violence towards Clinton as a way to preserve and protect gun owners' rights.

"If she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."

So many words come to mind regarding Trump's latest diatribe: despicable, irresponsible, reprehensible, unconscionable, dangerous, unfit, un-American, treasonous, disqualifying.  Let's be clear here so that we know exactly what we're talking about: the Republican nominee for president of the United States has (wink-wink) advocated the assassination of a would-be sitting president. Which is why both the Secret Service and FBI are appear to be investigating.

To be sure, since he entered the race in June 2015, Teflon Don has defied the odds in surviving harsh criticism over sexist and racist comments; attacks on the Pope, war heroes, judges and the disabled; cursing; lies; business fraud; and inciting violence at rallies, to name a few offenses. But now he's entered new, uncharted waters, even for him.

Trump's super-amped-up, potentially campaign-killing rhetoric began after the Democratic convention, when he thought it wise to wage war with the Gold Star Khan family, whose son Humayun was killed in Iraq in 2004. That controversy has spilled into this week, accompanied by his 2nd Amendement comments and threat against Clinton.

The question now is the obvious one: will Trump's latest episode of narcissistic personality disorder, tone-deafness and unpatriotic, possibly criminal behavior finally do him in? Will his persistent heartless attacks on the Khans and his craven call for presidential assassination (even if said "jokingly") finally convince everyone but his most rabid supporters that he's not qualified to be Leader of the Free World and commander-in-chief of the greatest military on Earth?

Has Trump just convinced independents--the majority of whom he needs in order to win--that Hillary Clinton, while not the perfect candidate, is best suited for the job? Did he finally demonstrate that his temperament makes him dangerous and a threat to our national security? In the game of political survival, it would appear that Khizr Khan delivered a crushing blow to Trump, and the candidate's remarks this week about the "2nd Amendment people" is the fatal shot.

As the post-convention polls are indicating, Clinton appears to be pulling away as the race enters the homestretch. One thing's certain: the "Trump pivot" is not happening. He simply can't help himself. While he may try for a day or two to read from a teleprompter and not insult anyone as he attempts sounding "presidential" (it's astounding how low the bar is for him), the even-money's on him quickly lapsing back into vintage Trumpian. With almost three months left of campaigning, it's impossible to fathom how this pathological leopard can realistically change any of his self-destructive spots.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Khazr Khan: The Unassailable Voice of Reason

It was a horrible week for Donald Trump. He invited Russia to hack into the U.S. State Department, he disparaged a decorated 4-Star General, he was woefully unprepared to discuss Crimea and Ukraine, he lied about the NFL and the debate process, his wife Melania apparently lied about her college education, new nude photos of her surfaced, and he did the unthinkable: he attacked and has re-attacked the grieving parents of an American Muslim soldier killed in action.

By now you'd have to be living under a rock not to know Khazr Khan, father of Humayun Khan, a U.S. army captain who received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart after he was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. Khan's emotional, impassioned speech at the Democratic Convention last week ignited a firestorm of harsh criticism of Trump after he disparaged Khan's wife, Ghazala, who stood silently by her husband's side as he issued a stern rebuke of the Republican candidate's comments and positions involving Muslims.

"If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me," Trump said in an interview with ABC's "This Week." (not for nothing, but how many speeches has Trump himself given where Melania stands beside him without speaking?)

Since the convention, Trump has double, triple and quadrupled-down on his attacks on the Khans as his loyal legion of surrogates have embarrassingly attempted to spin his comments into something less than despicable and un-American. Through it all, Trump's been Tweeting up a storm, ranting like the super-thin-skinned petulant narcissist he is:

"Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same - Nice!"

And ever since the convention, Khan has quite effectively used the media to wage a moral war with Trump, issuing scathing criticisms shrouded in a heartfelt call for decency, dignity and empathy. He's been citing the U.S. Constitution (also a crowning moment of his convention speech, where he pulled out his personal copy and offered it to Trump, suggesting he read it) and the principles for which it stands.

To be sure, Trump has met his match. Khazr Khan is an accomplished, worldly, intelligent, articulate, dignified man who exudes grace, compassion and a strong moral compass. In what is a sea of campaign madness he has become an unassailable voice of reason. He has absolute honor, integrity and righteousness on his side. And Ghazala has become a quiet symbol of purity and virtue, earning not just our compassion and respect, but our tears as a Gold Star mother. They are both a shining example of America's greatness.

The Khan controversy may just be the tipping point that decent people on both sides of the political spectrum have been waiting for. It's hard to imagine how Trump can spin his way out of this disaster. Rather, it appears this unfortunate episode will haunt him throughout the remainder of the campaign, even growing in significance because it's probable that when threatened, he'll continue to strike back even harder.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump's unconscionable attacks on the Khans, together with his disparaging remarks towards Gen. John Allen, Sen. John McCain and the military in general (a "disaster") will hurt him with military families. Let's remember that it's families like those of Trump's blue-collar white base that generously serve up their sons and daughters to protect America. It's their children, not those of the rich and privileged (like Trump, who received four deferments and an exemption, or his two sons, neither of whom have served their country) who comprise the military's ranks. I'm sure almost every one of them has a loved one currently serving, or have perhaps experienced the ultimate sacrifice of losing them to war.

The Khans, who have generously allowed their hero son's tragic death to be a vessel for American exceptionalism, may just be this campaign's true change-agents.