The real danger of ‘post-truth’ fake news

Lunatic fringe guy Edgar Maddison Welch thought he could "investigate" loony story about sex slaves at a D.C. pizza parlor.

Lunatic fringe guy Edgar Maddison Welch thought he could “investigate” a loony story about sex slaves at a D.C. pizza parlor. Instead, he faces felony weapons charges.

A recent incident at a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant shows how the continued lies of Donald Trump and his allies are putting people’s lives in danger.

A North Carolina man said he had “read online” about child sex slaves being kept in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. Oh, and the whole thing was led by the Clintons. So he took an unlicensed AR-15 assault rifle and drove to Washington to terrorize the pizzeria and perform his own “rescue” operation. Luckily, he was arrested before he shot and killed anyone but not before restaurant employees were forced to flee in terror at the sight of a man with a huge weapon and not before the bozo in question, Edgar Maddison Welch, fired the rifle inside the restaurant.

Just putting those words together would cause most normal people to laugh incredulously. Child sex-trafficking? It sounds like a bad B movie script made by a schlock film outfit. To say that this was a fringe conspiracy theory is like saying Ted Cruz’s father killed JFK. (Oh, wait, that was another lie Trump and his cronies spread.)

But to the tinfoil-hat-wearing crowd, it must be true, because they read it on Facebook. Or on Twitter. Or on a fringe website. Or in tweets by members of the president-elect’s transition team and the lunatic Trump picked as his national security adviser.

Yes, the man who Trump wants to advise the nation on matters of national security, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, helped indirectly spread the “pizzagate” story on social media. As a matter of fact, Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., who may or may not be part of Trump’s transition team (they keep changing their story), has been front and center spreading the Clinton-sex-trafficking-pizzagate rumors, along with fringe conspiracy sites.

It’s not just pizzagate. Like the Orange Menace, Flynn Sr. has busy Twitter fingers, as he “has reportedly promoted conspiracy theories and unfounded accusations at least 16 times since August,” according to a story on Talking Points Memo. A Politico story has the details of Flynn derangement:

Flynn, who has 106,000 Twitter followers, has used the platform to retweet accusations that Clinton is involved with child sex trafficking and has “secretly waged war” on the Catholic Church, as well as charges that Obama is a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for Muslim terrorists. (Note: the links take you to wacko Twitter accounts, but trust me, it’s nutso territory.)

Now some say Flynn’s fondness for spreading fake news casts doubt on his fitness to serve as the White House’s national security adviser, suggesting that he either can’t spot a blatant falsehood or is just ideologically bent to believe the worst of his perceived enemies.

“Casts doubt on his fitness to serve”? YA THINK?

Remember that Flynn was the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and was fired. The post of national security adviser does not need Senate confirmation, so we’d be stuck with Trump’s pick of this whackadoodle. Flynn also has a history of rabidly anti-Islamist (“Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”) and anti-Semitic (“Not anymore, Jews”) tweets.

Of course, Flynn’s would-be boss, the liar-in-chief due to take office in January, has been a master of spreading falsehoods on Twitter. The latest claim that “millions” of Clinton voters voted illegally is hogwash, but true Trumpeters continue to lap up garbage about voter fraud like poisoned mother’s milk.

Let’s just clarify: This is not normal. This is so far beyond normal that otherwise-decent Americans are being duped into complacency about what’s true and what’s not. Of course, the fact that they voted for a proven liar such as Trump puts their decency in question.

The pizzagate jerk didn’t hurt anyone, but how long will it be before a Trump true believer kills someone, if it hasn’t happened already? There have been reports of nearly 900 hate crimes and other incidents since the November election. The Southern Poverty Law Center has an online form for anyone who wants to add to its hate crime database.

The Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” as its international word of the year. Post-truth is defined as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In other words, lies. Lies based not on facts but on how people feel about things.

Why are we surprised? Trump supporter and CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes said on NPR that “there’s no such thing as facts anymore.” She made this jaw-dropping claim seemingly without irony. After blowback, she tried to “clarify” her remarks by invoking false equivalency, saying Trump supporters listened to him and believed one set of facts, and supporters of Democratic candidate and popular vote winner Hillary Clinton listened to her and believed another. (Clinton now leads Trump by more than 2.5 million votes and two percentage points of the national vote, by the way.)

Let’s look again at Politifact’s statistics about who told the truth in the 2016 election and who didn’t. Remember: Trump lies more than 75 percent of the time. Who was the most truthful candidate? That’s right. Hillary Clinton.

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After this election, 2016 feels more and more like George Orwell’s 1984 and its “Newspeak” all the time.

“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”

How should journalism function in the age of Trump?

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Our nation’s media are in uncharted territory with President-elect Donald Trump, and they know it. What is the best path forward for them to do their jobs?

Media have taken some much-deserved criticism for their failings in covering the election. But a few seasoned journalists are offering some advice, and it seems like some in the media are starting to wise up.

Marty Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, recently received the Hitchens Prize, honoring the memory and legacy of the late Vanity Fair contributing editor and columnist Christopher Hitchens. The award goes to a “journalist or author whose work reflects a commitment to free expression, a depth of intellect, and an unwavering pursuit of the truth.”

Baron, you might remember, served as editor of The Boston Globe when it exposed the priest sex scandals in the Catholic Church’s Boston archdiocese. His low-key character was played by Liev Schreiber in the film Spotlight, which won the Academy Award for best picture as well as a slew of other awards.

A story in Vanity Fair describing the award and why Baron was chosen said the Post editor “shared certain attributes with the prolific contrarian and polemicist Hitchens, who died in December 2011, most notably a shared respect for the truth and for the media’s duty to hold government to account.” Baron said Trump’s “frequent denigration of the press was probably a taste of things to come and that the media in general now faces an enormous challenge.”

At the dinner where Baron received the award, he shared some thoughts on how to move forward, as have other media notables.

Baron told his audience that he knows the profession is facing a new kind of challenge.

Values are what matter most. And this is a good time to talk about them. A good time to reaffirm what we as journalists stand for.

This is a time we are compelled to fight for free expression and a free press—rights granted us under the Constitution, yes, but also the very qualities that have long set us apart from other nations.

We will have a new president soon. He was elected after waging an outright assault on the press. Animosity toward the media was a centerpiece of his campaign. He described the press as “disgusting,” “scum,” “lowlifes.” He called journalists the “lowest form of humanity.” That apparently wasn’t enough. So he called us “the lowest form of life.” In the final weeks of the campaign he labeled us “the enemies.”

As always, Trump was never the master of subtlety.

Baron talked about the real dangers faced by his reporters.

It is no wonder that some members of our staff at The Washington Post and at other news organizations received vile insults and threats of personal harm so worrisome that extra security was required. It is no wonder that one Internet venue known for hate and misogyny and white nationalism posted the home addresses of media executives, clearly inviting vandalism or worse. Thankfully, nothing that I know of happened to anyone. Then there was the yearlong anti-Semitic targeting of journalists on Twitter.

Donald Trump said he wanted to “open up” libel laws. And he proposed to harass unfriendly media outlets by suing them, driving up their legal expenses with a goal of weakening them financially.

Despite all of that, Baron said he still saw a path forward.

Many journalists wonder with considerable weariness what it is going to be like for us during the next four—perhaps eight—years. Will we be incessantly harassed and vilified? Will the new administration seize on opportunities to try intimidating us? Will we face obstruction at every turn?

If so, what do we do?

The answer, I believe, is pretty simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done.

Jack Shafer, senior media writer for Politico and a longtime media critic, offers seven points on how to cover Trump, with some pretty specific and useful tips. “There has never been a president like Trump before, and the usual press reflexes won’t produce copy that allows readers to see through his lies and deceptions. The Trump challenge demands that the house of journalism gives itself a makeover,” he advises. From his suggestions:

Always pair the latest Trump deception with the news story he’s deflecting attention away from. Feel free to qualify Trump’s thrust by writing something like “in an apparent attempt to bury negative news about his recent proposal” when he tweets his cockamamie best. …

By decoding his misdirections we can make it harder for his administration to impose its bull on the majority that didn’t vote for him. In other words, many times the story isn’t what Trump says but the meta concept behind why and how he’s saying it. …

John Dickerson of Slate and CBS News, whose thinking informs mine on this topic of Trump coverage, suggests that the key to covering a Trump administration will lie in the cabinet departments, the states, the Pentagon, and the courts—venues with entrenched bureaucracies. We can expect gushers of leaks, especially from the agencies, as Trump flexes his authority and they defy him. Obviously, Trump’s lies must be policed, but news consumers will profit more if the press digs harder into what the fake news-generating president is actually trying to do rather than what he’s saying. Let a billion FOIAs bloom!

Where were these approaches during the last 18 months? Too late for all of that now — it’s time to look ahead. Media across the board made some pretty dunder-headed moves in covering the election. That includes The Washington Post, broadcast media, and The New York Times, which is now asking in all seriousness if Trump’s tweets should be treated as news, even when those tweets are blatantly false.

But election coverage also offered some high points and great work, even if that work didn’t move enough voters in the right direction. David Fahrenthold of the Post did dogged and top-notch reporting on the Trump Foundation. Sopan Deb of CBS News (now moving to The New York Times) was tireless in his Trump coverage, even when it got him arrested for resisting arrest (he wasn’t) while covering protests at a Trump rally in Chicago. Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek was must reading about Trump. The New York Times did a terrific roundup of Trump’s business conflicts of interest, even if it was published after the election, not before.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, recently received the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Her whole speech from the awards ceremony is worth reading. Says Amanpour:

We must also fight against a post-values world.

And let me hit back at this elitist backlash we’re all bending over backwards to accommodate.

Since when were American values elitist values? They are not left or right values. They are not rich or poor values, not the forgotten-man values.

Like many foreigners I have learned they are universal. They are the values of every American from the humblest to the most exalted. They form the very fundamental foundation of the United States and are the basis of America’s global leadership. They are brand America. They are America’s greatest export and gift to the world. …

For better or for worse, this is the world’s only superpower. Culturally too.

The political example, the media example set here, are quickly emulated and rolled out across the world.

We, the media, can either contribute to a more functional system or to deepening the political dysfunction.

Which world do we want to leave our children?

As Marty Baron said in his speech:

When there are allegations of grave wrongdoing, we can’t settle for the truth never being known. … The truth is not meant to be hidden. It is not meant to be suppressed. It is not meant to be ignored. It is not meant to be disguised. It is not meant to be manipulated. It is not meant to be falsified. Otherwise, wrongdoing will persist.

Covering a president who sidesteps the media and communicates tweet by tweet is going to make it harder to uncover the truth. Trump already ditched the reporting pool once by going out for a fancy dinner, and given the mockery of the photo of Trump and Mitt Romney eating frogs’ legs, he’s likely to do it again. Trump banned certain news media during the campaign. Traditional media are being shut out, and Trumpland thinks that’s just fine. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told USA Today:

He argues that Trump, who hasn’t held a news conference since July, should feel no obligation to hold any as president, suggesting instead he solicit questions from the public to answer. “The news media so totally disgraced itself in this election, if I were Trump I would just say no,” Gingrich says. “And if the White House Correspondents’ Association doesn’t like it, I’d say, ‘Fine, disband.’ “

I think we might disagree with the Newtster on exactly who was being the most disgraceful during the election.

But if Trump is going to disappear to Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago on weekends—if he’s not there during the week, too—at least we won’t have to put up with a “comedy routine” from Trump during the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Let’s face it: Following up Barack Obama’s epic mic drop in 2016 would be a hard act to follow. (And as my old college roommate, who was a White House reporter during the Bush I and Clinton administrations once told me, those dinners were basically an excuse for reporters to get drunk.)

So no matter how bad the media can be, they’re all we’ve got. Let’s hope they’re learning from their mistakes.

Subscribe to your local paper. Those ads on media websites don’t pay for good reporters’ salaries. Because when it comes down to it, many of the decisions that affect us the most occur on the local level, even when they’re as mundane-sounding as building code variances, municipal projects, and property tax rates. So we need to pay attention — and vote.

Originally published on Daily Kos on Dec. 4, 2016.

Why media failed so badly in 2016 election, and why they’re still failing

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The election was horrible, the coverage was worse, and the outcome was unbelievable. Yet here we are, soon after being served up an orange turkey on a Thanksgiving platter, and the traditional media still haven’t learned their lesson.

We waded through nonstop screaming coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails on every channel and every inch of print. Yet there was so little coverage of Donald Trump’s coming conflicts of interest, his fraudulent practices at Trump University, and his pay-to-play dealings with the Trump Foundation that the average voter would react with a shrug and a big, “Huh? Never heard of it.”

Media Matters has a rundown of how the news media avoided reporting on Trump’s conflicts of interest before the election. Even now, there are scant stories outside of left-leaning blogs and small mention in traditional media about the obvious ways Trump and the Trump offspring are already profiting off his new status as scammer-in-chief. Trump tweets that only the “crooked media” think there’s a problem with his set-up.

There is growing normalization of the extremist positions taken by those with possible appointments in a Trump administration and of his supporters. A Los Angeles Times story about a white nationalists’ meeting in Washington after the election referred to the group as a “think tank” (this used to be referred to as “propaganda,” but I guess now it’s a “think tank”). A video of these neo-Nazis giving a straight-arm Hitler salute was too dramatic to be ignored, so it got more coverage.

Trump summoned about 40 major television media players to Trump Tower for an off-the-record meeting (nothing wrong with that; Obama sometimes did the same thing), but they got played again. Leaks (no doubt from Trumpland to show what a “real man” he is) reported that he screamed that they were all liars, deceitful, and corrupt. Even worse, they run unflattering photos that made him look fat! (Do we need to point out that Trump has not had an actual press conference since July, which Hillary Clinton was excoriated for repeatedly during the election?) Now Trumpland is claiming that the meeting was “substantive.” There was also an on-again, off-again, on-again meeting with The New York Times.

This problem is about more than just corporate ownership of newspapers and television networks. We won’t soon forget that statement from CBS CEO Les Moonves about overplaying Donald Trump: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” We won’t forget the $2 billion in free media coverage, just to increase clicks and eyeballs.

No, what’s worse is that it’s lazy journalism that adheres to group-think. Media are still going out of their way to avoid being labeled “liberal.” Instead of election coverage worth reading or listening to, we got pablum and drivel, with constant updates about poll numbers and horserace coverage. And I fear it’s not going to get any better anytime soon.

A perfect example is the kerfuffle about Hamilton. Vice president-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the Broadway megahit and was booed by the audience. (I admit that was rude, but he and Trump better get used to such treatment. Talk about living in a bubble!) After the cast took their bows, Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor playing Vice President Aaron Burr, politely delivered a message to Pence asking that Pence include everyone in Trump’s America, without fear of discrimination. This was not “breaking the fourth wall,” as some have suggested; actors often address the audience after the performance, especially this time of year as they collect money for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fund.

President-to-be Thin-Skin started tweeting his outrage, demanding apologies from the Hamilton cast. There were lots of fun reactions, including #NameAPenceMusical with suggestions such as White Side Story, Deport Miss Saigon, and (of course) Springtime for Hitler. Others opined that if Trump is such a wimp that he can’t handle a bunch of musical theater kids, how’s he going to fight ISIS?

The problem, of course, is that Trump was able to change the subject from the settlement of the Trump University fraud suits. Instead of having him face trial, his lawyers convinced the other sides to settle, and the Orange Menace got off with paying $25 million, which (a) is only a fraction of the money lost by the Trump U. students and (b) is being written off on Trump’s taxes.

Trump U.’s fraudulent practices quickly dropped from media attention. They probably never penetrated public notice. Can you imagine the weeks’ worth of nonstop coverage if a Democrat had a similar fraud suit pending against him or her?

Trump tweets, and the traditional media are still his lapdogs. “Why do you care?” former Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway asked when CNN’s Chris Cuomo brought up the Hamilton tweets. They care because without the Trump tweets, they would have to do more actual reporting. NPR is starting to lead its newscasts with “Trump tweeted today …”

New York Times Public Editor Liz Spayd, who is turning out to be one of the worst public editors the paper has ever had, wrote an apologetic column about how the paper was unfair to Trump voters by implying they were racist or homophobic, mirroring their candidate. She claimed that many of the letters and comments she gets (“not picked randomly,” she insisted) were from readers who wanted the Times to drop the “liberal” viewpoint in its news coverage, especially when it came to coverage of the Trump voter.

The national desk of The Times has correspondents around the country, and they filed a steady stream of compelling stories from voters between coastal America. And yet between the horse race and the campaign drama, much of their work was simply drowned out.

Excuse me, but are we talking about the same newspaper? I saw plenty of stories in The New York Times and elsewhere about Trump voters that did not imply overt racism or homophobia. Yes, there were stories of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, especially their outrageous behavior at Trump rallies, but there also were stories about working-class voters with economic concerns. If those stories got drowned out, it was because of the over-reliance on horserace coverage and the fact that the Times and other outlets were devoting so many column inches and so much airtime to Clinton’s emails.

Of course Spayd has received letters and comment with complaints about the Times’ overplay of Clinton emails. But she doesn’t address that at all in this column. If anything, all of the media outlets are bending over backward right now to explain the poor, misunderstood Trump voter. But I guess the Times and the rest of the media are so hyper-sensitive about being labeled liberal that they’re all willing to give Trump a pass for the moment, except for the most egregious mistakes and statements from Trump and his transition team.

This is from Media Matter’s reaction to Spayd’s column:

Yet not a single reader whom Spayd chose to include in her post-campaign analysis expressed any concern about the daily’s Clinton coverage. Nor did she feature any complaints that the paper’s coverage of Trump may have been insufficiently rigorous. Instead, criticism from the left of the paper’s general election coverage was entirely absent.

The omission and complete lack of introspection is also strange simply because the Times’ treatment of Clinton has been the topic of an ongoing media debate, as a wide array of writers have detailed what they viewed as the paper’s patently unfair treatment of the Democratic nominee. Even the Times’ former executive editor, Jill Abramson, agreed that the newspaper gives Clinton “an unfair” level of scrutiny.

She was hardly alone this campaign, as numerous media observers and readers alike criticized the paper’s treatment of the Democratic nominee, calling the coverage a “biased train wreck” that indicated “a problem covering Hillary Clinton,” who was “always going to be presumed guilty of something.”

What about Trump’s conflicts of interest? They are many, but how are they being covered in the media? From a different Media Matters piece:

Between September 14 and Election Day, the networks only aired approximately seven minutes of stories about or at least mentioning a conflict of interest. In the week after the election, they aired approximately 14 minutes — but only half of that explicitly called the issues “conflicts.”

Trump has said throughout his campaign and following his election that he intends for his children to run his business empire while he is president. But on September 14, Newsweek reported that if Trump and his family don’t cut ties to the family’s business conglomerate, Trump would “be the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” due to the Trump Organization’s relationships and financial entanglements with foreign interests.” Responding to that story, Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told Media Matters that the only way to avoid serious conflicts of interest would be for Trump and his family to sell all of their holdings in the Trump Organization. Painter also stressed that the issue was a “serious problem” that warrants increased media attention.

There already have been instances of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., catering to foreign diplomats. The Trump team denies anything untoward, but there were reports of Trump talking to government leaders in Argentina, India, and Japan while trying to beef up business on the side. He used talks with former UKIP leader and Trump fanboy Nigel Farage to renew complaints about how offshore wind farms are a “blight on the stunning landscape” at his Scottish golf course. But coverage has been scant.

We probably shouldn’t count on the younger generation to see through Trump’s lies, either. A new study by Stanford University says that students aren’t able to distinguish between real and fake news on websites. “Many students judged the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or whether a large photo was attached, rather than on the source. More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help,” said a story in The Wall Street Journal about the findings.

I know that Media Matters has a liberal viewpoint. But as they say, facts have a liberal bias. And speaking of facts, I wonder what Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular presidential vote is by now? It was past 2 million last I checked.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Nov. 27, 2016.

How to fight back after Trump win: Start with voting

Early vote totals were way up, but Election Day totals were down. The outcome was too many losses for Team Blue.

Early vote totals were up, but Election Day totals were down. The outcome was too many losses for Team Blue.

The final votes of the 2016 election are still being counted as the last mail-in and absentee ballots arrive. But once again, the American electorate came up woefully short.

No doubt most who are reading this did his or her civic duty. But too many people didn’t, and we’re stuck with the results, as painful, disheartening, and frightening as they are.

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote count is now nearly 1.7 million and likely will go even higher as up to 4 million more votes in all Western states are tabulated. But the Electoral College votes are the ones that count, and that will give us President-elect Donald Trump. Not that we should ever stop pointing out who won the popular vote.

Many of us keep hoping we might still wake up from a nightmare and see that the election results are different. It’s tempting to just burrow under the covers again to avoid the pain. Some are coping by continuing to protest; wearing safety pins; and donating to progressive causes like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Planned Parenthood.

All of those are important. It’s also useful to examine why not enough Democratic voters showed up at the polls, and explore ways to get more of them out next time around.

Was voter suppression a factor? Yes, although not the only one. A story on Think Progress outlines how voter ID laws and other forms of voting restrictions might have been the difference between a Trump win and a Clinton victory in three states with Republican-run legislatures and governors—Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida. All of these new laws were made possible by a June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling essentially gutting the Voting Rights Act.

In Wisconsin, for example:

Donald Trump won the state by fewer than 30,000 votes. According to the state’s own records, ten times that many eligible voters in the state — as many as 300,000 people — lacked the proper ID and may have been disenfranchised.

Neil Albrecht, the executive director of Milwaukee’s Election Commission, believes the policy depressed turnout in the blue counties Clinton desperately needed to carry Wisconsin. Compared to 2012, 60,000 fewer people voted this year in Milwaukee — the county that holds the vast majority of the state’s black population. Statewide, turnout was the lowest it has been for a presidential election in two decades.

Albrecht said his office received a flood of calls from voters in the city’s poorest districts who said they were unable to cast a ballot because they lacked the proper identification. According to new data released by the state, nearly 600 ballots will be thrown away because voters did not have the right ID. And Albrecht said he worries many more did not even attempt to vote because of the law.

One North Carolina county cut early voting sites from 16 sites in 2012 to just one in 2016; early voting by African-Americans dropped by nearly 9 percent. In Florida, roughly 1.5 million Florida residents (almost 2.5 percent of the state’s population) are permanently disenfranchised because of a law banning ex-felons from voting.

But voter suppression doesn’t excuse the voters who just don’t bother to show up.

As of right now—and all of these numbers are still estimates at this point—only about 1.4 million more people voted in 2016 than voted in 2012, even as the U.S. voting-eligible population grew at a faster rate than that. “About 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots this year, down from 58.6 percent in 2012 and 61.6 percent in 2008, which was the highest mark in 40 years,” says a story at FiveThirtyEight.com.

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Let’s face it: Not enough voters came out for Clinton and other Democrats down the ballot. There might have been more Democratic votes than Republican votes overall in congressional races as well as the presidential race, but that still doesn’t change the outcome. As FiveThirtyEight says:

On average, turnout was unchanged in states that voted for Trump, while it fell by an average of 2.3 percentage points in states that voted for Clinton. Relatedly, turnout was higher in competitive states — most of which Trump won. In the 14 swing states — those where either the winning party in the presidential race switched from 2012 or where the margin was within 5 percentage points — an average of 65.3 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. In the other 36 states and Washington, D.C., turnout averaged just 56.3 percent. That gap exacerbates a tendency for turnout to be higher in the places where candidates concentrate their travel, advertising, and other get-out-the-vote efforts.

The low turnout outside of swing states could have affected the national popular vote margin (though not the outcome in the Electoral College). Clinton trails Trump in total votes from swing states but leads him in the other states and overall. Clinton’s popular-vote lead probably would be roughly 40 percent higher if turnout in uncompetitive states caught up with turnout in the swing states — though there could be other factors that make turnout higher in the group of states that are most competitive in presidential races.

A recent Washington Post column by Philip Bump discussed a survey done by the Post and the Schar School for Public Policy at George Mason University on how people felt about the election results. The responses “upset, terrible, scared, and shocked” outweighed “happy and hopeful,” and responses from Clinton voters and Trump voters were pretty much opposites, as you might expect.

Here’s the thing, though. The responses from those who didn’t bother to cast a ballot fell much more heavily in the negative category than on the positive side. As Bump writes:

It’s a small sample size, but the responses were more evenly distributed. More nonvoters said they thought the results were terrible than expressed happiness about them, for example.

To which I say: Are you kidding me?

Some people aren’t able to vote on Election Day because they’re working or have some sort of emergency that prevents their doing so. Those people are excused from the following critique. For those who were eligible to vote but chose not to: Your opinion is bad. Voting is the price of admission for complaining about the results. Nothing’s stopping you from complaining, of course; the First Amendment protects complaints more than anything else, really. But don’t roll up to America and say “you made a bad choice” after not weighing in on that choice. It’s like showing up to dinner with a group of friends an hour in and complaining about what they ordered. Tough luck, man; eat your liver.

This also reminds me of the NFL players who have every right to protest the playing of the U.S. national anthem by taking a knee, either because they are calling attention to racial inequality or to Trump’s election. But several of those players admitted that they didn’t bother to vote, like Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers. As a matter of fact, Kaepernick has never even bothered to register to vote, according to a story by the Sacramento Bee.

There have been a plethora of stories about how Trump voters were looking for change; how the media “misread” the Trump voter; how the 11th-hour James Comey letter on Clinton’s emails tilted too many people against Clinton (YA THINK?); how the media’s free pass for Trump and laser-like overblown reporting about Clinton’s emails turned the tide; how the Clinton team didn’t bother to court the white working class; how the white working class voter has been left behind. There is truth in all of those factors, even as they don’t deal with Trump’s open courtship of white nationalists. And those stories never bother to point out the programs President Obama proposed that would have helped the working class but were stymied by congressional Republicans.

So what are some ways to drive voter turnout for more success next time around? Various groups like Latino Decisions pushed voter registration, and the number of Latino votes was up: 79 percent went for Clinton, reporting on bad exit polling notwithstanding. We can only be grateful for those efforts. Here are some other possibilities.

Automatic voter registration. Many rejoiced when Oregon instituted automatic voter registration this year. According to a story in The Oregonian, more than 2 million in Oregon cast ballots, breaking the 2008 record of 1.84 million. Yet the 2016 total with added automatically registered voters produced a lower percentage of the state’s population—78.9 percent—than the last three presidential elections. Some 42 percent of voters who benefited from automatic voter registration took part in the 2016 election.

Oregon is only one example; California, Connecticut, Vermont, and West Virginia also have such laws. Illinois is one step closer, as the Illinois Senate overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of proposed legislation; if the Illinois House follows suit, Illinois will become the sixth state to register voters automatically when getting a driver’s license or using other state services.

But that won’t overcome voter suppression in too many states with GOP-controlled legislatures. Midterm voting is crucial to have some of those state houses swing back into the “D” column. Democrats actually lost influence this election; Dems lost control of houses in Iowa and Kentucky, while Republicans successfully defended their majorities in most states. Democrats now hold governors’ mansions and state legislatures in only five states; before Nov. 8, that number was seven.

Vote Democratic, damn it. The old saw is: Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line. And boy, did GOPers fall in line this time around, even for the most abhorrent candidate possible. Some who denounced Trump after the Access Hollywood tape exposed him as a groper-in-chief changed their minds and announced their support only weeks later. Because emails, of course.

Not all Democrats fell in line behind Clinton. As good as we felt about the reports of early voting numbers, the post-Comey Election Day numbers killed her.

A Wall Street Journal story claims that the 4 percent of the popular vote going to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein had little effect on Hillary Clinton’s vote totals in the swing states that she lost. The Journal argues that she would have needed an outsize percentage of third-party votes to gain those electoral votes. But a close look at the numbers shows that’s not so.

A small percentage of those votes could have swung either Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. Nearly 224,000 votes went to Johnson and Stein in Michigan, and Trump took the state with less than 12,000 extra votes. The same is true for Wisconsin (27,000-plus for Trump vs. 137,000 third party) and Pennsylvania (68,000-plus for Trump vs. 191,000 third party).

We obviously don’t know how those voters would have voted had they not voted for Johnson or Stein. But in Wisconsin, had Stein’s voters alone gone for Clinton, she would have won the state.

We need a deeper—and younger—bench. There are some rising stars in the Democratic Party, but not nearly enough. There are many new Kossacks on the site (think of all of the “first-ever diaries” you’ve read throughout this election season). Who’s ready to pass around some nominating petitions? For school boards, for city councils, for state legislatures? How about going back to Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy and winning more congressional seats? How about some more Democratic governors? A governor post often serves as a springboard to the White House. The fight for 2018 starts has already started.

Stop running retreads. If you’ve lost an election, it makes little sense to face the same opponent in another election. Every now and then, the voters will return you to office, but not often. Former Rep. Brad Schneider took on Republican incumbent Robert Dold in Illinois’ 10th District in a rematch and won, but he was the exception.

Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh was polling well until the end of the campaign, mostly on name recognition, but heavy GOP spending hitting him for being out of state so long (among other charges) did him in. In the race that really hurt, former Sen. Russ Feingold, despite being smarter, more honest, and just a better human being, lost in a Wisconsin Senate rematch with Republican incumbent Ron Johnson after a huge infusion of outside GOP spending. But Wisconsin voters earlier showed, in the Gov. Scott Walker 2012 recall election against Democrat Tom Barrett, that once defeated, you stay defeated (Walker also defeated Barrett in 2010). The sting of losing the Senate hurts almost as much as losing the presidency, especially because 25 Senate Democrats face re-election in 2018.

Midterms, midterms, midterms. Voter turnout in presidential years usually approaches 60 percent, while turnout in midterm elections is 40 percent or less. The turnout nationwide for the 2014 midterm elections was a paltry 36.3 percent. In that election, 37 percent of voters were 60 or older, and only 12 percent were under 30. And older voters skew more conservative and more Republican.

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REDMAP, the Republicans’ Redistricting Majority Project, was an enormous success in 2010. It was organized by the Republican State Leadership Committee and flipped control of 19 state legislatures as well as the House. GOP control of states let them redraw gerrymandered congressional districts throughout the country. What kind of similar effort are Democrats planning?

Democrats will be doing the usual post-mortems after an election defeat, especially one that stings as badly as this one does. I’d love to hear more ideas and strategy. In the meantime, let’s remember what Hillary Clinton told an audience at the Children’s Defense Fund’s “Beat The Odds” Gala in Washington.

“We have work to do, and for the sake of our children and our families and our country, I ask you to stay engaged, stay engaged on every level,” Clinton said. “We need you. America needs you, your energy, your ambition, your talent. That is how we get through this.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Nov. 20, 2016.

Trump awakens a sleeping giant — on the left

People protest outside Trump Tower following President-elect Donald Trump's election victory in Manhattan, New York, U.S.

The results of the election were discouraging, depressing, maddening, and downright scary for progressives across the country.

Actually, not just for progressives. For women everywhere. For Muslims. For immigrants. For people of color. For LGBT folks. For anyone who falls outside Trumpland and the viewpoints of Steve Bannon, the CEO of Donald Trump’s campaign who gave a megaphone to the worst of the white nationalists at the conspiracy theory site Breitbart News. Breitbart regularly ran anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist, and worse headlines like “There’s no bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews,” “Gabby Giffords: The gun control movement’s human shield,” and “Racist, pro-Nazi roots of Planned Parenthood revealed.”

And now Bannon will be Trump’s closest adviser in the White House.

Despite the fact that Hillary Clinton won over a million more votes (and counting) than Donald Trump, the Orange Menace will be the 45th president. He edged her just enough in swing states to overtake Clinton in the Electoral College. Thanks a bunch, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein voters!

Within two days of Trump’s victory, there were more than 200 reported incidents against minorities by Trump supporters. Within three days, there were 300 incidents.

The Southern Poverty Law Center already has documented the “Trump Effect” at the nation’s schools. “Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail,” says a report on the phenomenon. This is from the introduction:

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants, and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.

All of that was before Trump won. It’s only getting worse. And with the GOP in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress, basics like Social Security and Medicare are now at risk. House Republicans are already developing a timeline to privatize and overhaul Medicare, probably the most successful part of the safety net. You wonder how the GOP-voting senior citizens are going to like that.

Here’s the thing, though. People are realizing what they are up against, and they’re starting to fight back.

There are continuing anti-Trump protests throughout the country. Donations have been pouring in for Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other groups dedicated to protecting access to health care for women, minority rights, and the environment. Those protestors are vowing political action, even before the 2018 midterm elections.

David Cole, the incoming legal director of the ACLU, put it this way in an essay in the New York Review of Books:

We let a minority of voters give Trump the presidency by not turning out to vote for Clinton. (Trump didn’t even get as many votes as McCain and Romney, but Clinton received nearly five million fewer votes that Obama in 2012). But if we now and for the next four years insist that he honor our most fundamental constitutional values, including equality, human dignity, fair process, privacy, and the rule of law, and if we organize and advocate in defense of those principles, he can and will be contained. It won’t happen overnight. There will be many protracted struggles. The important thing to bear in mind is that if we fight, we can prevail.

Let’s end with the words from the blog of our favorite octogenarians, Margaret and Helen. They were as gob-smacked as anyone by Trump’s win, but this post shows that they’re the ones who are as mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it any more.

Maybe the big news didn’t happen on Tuesday. Maybe it was Wednesday. They say Trump woke a sleeping giant, but maybe that giant didn’t wake up before the election. Maybe it woke after the election when we all finally realized that everything we hold true and dear about this nation can indeed be taken away. Maybe, just maybe, the sleeping giant is actually the millions who trusted in hope and love instead of those who walked into a polling booth and secretly voted for hate and fear. …

I’ll be damned if we go down without a fight. We’ll promise to try and hold on until 2020 if you promise to hold on with us.

First up, 2018 midterms. We’ll be here. Will you?

Whomever we are and whatever color we are, and whatever age we are, and whatever gender we are, and whatever sexual preference, religious belief, city or town, church, mosque or synagogue … we are awake now. And this is our country.

Election 2016 aftermath: Where does America go from here?

"This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it."

“This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it,” Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech.

The losing side in an election often asks itself such a soul-searching question the morning after experiencing a devastating loss. And make no mistake: The election of Donald J. Trump is a devastating loss for America.

As of this writing, ballots were still being counted. And although Trump won the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton is winning the popular vote. “If the trend holds, Clinton is on track to become the fifth candidate to win the popular vote while losing the election,” said a story on Talking Points Memo.

But lose she did. In a gracious concession speech before a packed hotel ballroom of supporters, many of whom were openly weeping, Clinton called for America to accept the result, hoping that Trump would be “a successful president for all Americans.” From a transcript of the speech:

Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.

We don’t just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them. …

We spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone.

For people of all races, and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities. For everyone. …

Let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart. For there are more seasons to come and … more work to do.

The visual of Clinton, her family, and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, dressed in somber colors of black, dark gray, and purple, told the story as much as anything. The darkness matches the mood of many in the country, Republicans as well as Democrats.

The ugliness of this campaign will not soon fade. The insults; the denigration of minorities, immigrants, refugees, and women; the threats and hints of fascism — all of that is still fresh in our memory. Some Trump supporters were gleeful in their win, as bad as they were at Trump rallies.

The GOP “Never Trump” crowd offered congratulations, but you could tell their hearts weren’t in it. Trump campaign advisers already were claiming to be “taking names” of Republicans who didn’t support their candidate.

The Rev. John Pavlovitz, a pastor at the North Raleigh (North Carolina) Community Church, writes a blog called “Stuff That Needs To Be Said.” He eloquently described the deepness of this loss in a post with the title, “Here’s Why We Grieve Today”:

Hillary supporters believe in a diverse America; one where religion or skin color or sexual orientation or place of birth aren’t liabilities or deficiencies or moral defects. Her campaign was one of inclusion and connection and interdependency. It was about building bridges and breaking ceilings. It was about going high.

Trump supporters believe in a very selective America; one that is largely white and straight and Christian, and the voting verified this. Donald Trump has never made any assertions otherwise. He ran a campaign of fear and exclusion and isolation — and that’s the vision of the world those who voted for him have endorsed. …

This is the disconnect and the source of our grief today. It isn’t a political defeat that we’re lamenting, it’s a defeat for Humanity.

We’re not angry that our candidate lost. We’re angry because our candidate’s losing means this country will be less safe, less kind, and less available to a huge segment of its population, and that’s just the truth.

So we have a President-elect Trump. He says he will find a way forward for all Americans, but I wonder. Besides the divisive campaign, we have a president-elect who knows only surface information about the world and about America. He’s still a bully and unwilling to listen and learn. Whether a wall ever gets built (it won’t), whether Muslims or others are banned from entering the U.S. (doubtful), whether free trade agreements are totally scrapped (unlikely), he’s not going to do many of the awful things he promised in the election. But no doubt he will do some of them.

Will a president’s staff take away his cell phone so he can’t send tweets at 3 a.m.? Can you imagine listening to a State of the Union address from President Trump? Can you envision what his legislative agenda will be like, with a Republican Senate and House? Can you picture his cabinet and Supreme Court nominees?

Does anyone actually think he’ll stop lying constantly?

The Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Well, we can’t deny what happened. There’s no bargaining to be done. We’ll have to accept it. But we’re going to be angry and depressed for quite a while.

Somewhere out there is a young girl with big dreams who might someday break the ultimate glass ceiling and become the president of the United States. But not today.

The most over-covered news stories of the 2016 election

If this doesn't scare you, I don't know what will.

If this doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It’s almost Election Day, and it can’t come a moment too soon. For 20 months, we’ve been inundated with nonstop cable news coverage, a never-ending stream of Donald Trump rallies, endless stories about trivial matters, pontificating pundits, “breaking news” that isn’t, parsed polls, unskewed polls, nothing-burger scandals, and so much more.

What a relief it will be to no longer receive continuous emails asking for donations, often dozens a day. It will be a welcome change to have the media cover other newsworthy topics. I won’t have to see “countdown clocks” to the next debate or state poll closing. I won’t miss having my Twitter feed explode the minute a new poll is released.

Three things, though, stand out as getting a lopsided amount coverage this election season. These are presented in no particular order. But you’ll likely agree that news media were overly fixated on three things in this election: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the Trump voter.

Donald Trump. The money figure is that the GOP presidential nominee received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage, twice that of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and over six times more than any other Republican candidate. It’s the biggest reason he became the nominee (Republican “values” being the other driver). When another presidential hopeful was giving a speech, whether it was a Democrat or Republican, cable news shows cut into that speech to show viewers a live speech from a Trump rally.

A study from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy showed that most of Trump’s early free media was positive or neutral, and it worked.

In the early going, nothing is closer to pure gold than favorable free media exposure. It can boost a candidate’s poll standing and access to money and endorsements. Above all, it bestows credibility. …

Although journalists play a political brokering role in presidential primaries, their decisions are driven by news values rather than political values.  Journalists are attracted to the new, the unusual, the sensational — the type of story material that will catch and hold an audience’s attention. Trump fit that need as no other candidate in recent memory. Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch.

We’ll never forget—or forgive—the now-infamous quote from Les Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Trump loves to blast the media, but “instead of bashing the press as dishonest, Donald Trump should get on bended knee and thank it,” said a story from the Poynter Institute about the Harvard study.

Now let’s focus on over-hyped story No. 2:

Hillary Clinton’s emails. In 2015, The New York Times first published the story of Clinton’s use of a private server while she was secretary of state—a practice used by previous secretaries and others in government. The Washington Post joined in, although both papers have had to walk back incorrect information. We all know what happened next. The media hasn’t let up since.

There have often been “updates” with nothing more than gossip and rumors fed to the media from Republicans. There are constant threats of congressional investigations, which won’t stop when Clinton is sworn in. Republican office holders have called for Clinton to be shot in front of a firing squad (just in case “Lock her up!” wasn’t enough). Some are already talking impeachment. All of this was before the recent letter from FBI Director James Comey that insinuated more wrongdoing and that sent the media into a feeding frenzy — even though a week later, he basically said, “Never mind.” Reminds us of Gilda Radner playing Emily Litella on Saturday Night Live.

According to a blog post by Eric Boehlert at Media Matters, the media aren’t even bothering to attempt a balance anymore between coverage of Clinton’s emails and coverage of her policy proposals. “ ‘Email’ has been mentioned more than 2,000 times on the three cable news channels since last Friday’s FBI announcement,” he writes.

Pretty lopsided, no?

Pretty lopsided, no?

“Would serious policy coverage have withered and died this election cycle even without the media’s email obsession?” Boehlert asks. “It’s certainly possible. But I think the email fixation quickened the demise.”

But really, the most over-hyped story of this election season is …

The Trump voter. It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to turn on NPR just in case “Morning Edition’s” Steve Inskeep has yet another five-minute interview with a Trump supporter, giving the guy (and the Trumpeter is almost always male) a chance to spew conspiracy theories and Hillary hatred. NPR tries to make us believe it’s bringing us “voices” from across the country. As the election drew nearer, Inskeep and others have started including some Clinton supporters, but it’s been pretty Trump-heavy all along. (Hey, NPR, we’ve heard them. Over and over again. And while you’re at it, how about offering some real analysis, instead of overworked talking points from Cokie Roberts?)

In case you didn’t notice, Trump voters are “angry.” We’ve heard that nonstop on every cable news channel and read it in every column. In The Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance wrote about growing up in a working-class Rust Belt town in Ohio after moving there from Kentucky. He discussed the many reasons for the anger of the white working class. He never mentioned Trump, but Trump supporters felt vindicated with the sympathetic treatment, if for no other reason than it went beyond racism. Throw in drug addiction, job loss, poverty, and class resentment, and you’ve got a best seller.

We’ve listened to Trump supporters being interviewed. We’ve read their racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-Islamic quotes and tweets. We’ve witnessed shouting, punching, and yelling threats to news media and protestors. We’ve seen their deplorable T-shirts and campaign souvenirs.

A satirical blog post from The Awl gave a pretty funny rundown of Trumpeter overexposure. “Except for roughly 7,200 articles on the subject, there has been scant effort made by the mainstream media to understand the kind of voters who say Trump speaks for them,” writes Benjamin Hart, who also contributes to Huffington Post. The whole thing had me laughing, but here’s a sample:

My suspicions were confirmed when I spoke to Ed Sherman, a sixty-seven-year-old retired teacher who has a thirty-seven-foot-tall sign outside his house that reads “Barack Obama Is A Demogorgon From Hell.” Though he believes that Obama is a secret member of ISIS who has recruited Hillary Clinton to smooth the group’s transition into witchcraft, he insists his support for Trump has nothing to do with race or gender.

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re white, yellow, or colored. I’m just worried about these Muslims forcing Shariah Law on us here in Bleaksville. Trump’s gonna put a stop to that.”

When I pointed out that there wasn’t a single Muslim in the county, he cut me off.

“Trump’s a businessman,” he said. “We’re angry,” he added.

I wanted to hear more, but he explained that David Brooks had scheduled an interview with him to discuss whether he ate dinner with his family every night, and what it means for America.

Where are all the stories of people supporting Hillary Clinton? Few and far between. Maybe the media just figured that interviewing a bunch of women—especially women who might be older than their target demographic—would be too boring, so they seldom bother. It’s easier to write about an “enthusiasm gap.”

A recent Washington Post story about supposed missing “empathy” for Trump voters has received some well-deserved mockery. Look, I feel sorry for anyone who has lost a job, but job loss from the Great Recession in the last decade hit people from all over, not just a swath of working-class white men. I’m saving my empathy for the members of the historic black church in Mississippi that was burned and painted with the words “Vote Trump.” I’ve got more empathy for the women who went public with stories of Trump’s sexual assault, reminding women across America that so many of us have experienced the same thing. I’ve got more empathy for the African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims who are being bullied in the nation’s schools, a result of the “Trump Effect,” according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

It’s producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.

Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment, and intimidation of students whose races, religions, and nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.

Not much time left until Election 2016 is history. We in Chicago are still on a high from the Cubs winning the World Series. So I’m just going to end with this image:

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Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 6, 2016.

Need a laugh? 2016 election memes to carry us through

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As awful as this election as been (and boy, has it been awful), it also has brought us memorable phrases, memes, and tweets that cracked us up, made us bang our heads against our desks, and caused innumerable face-palms.

We’ve seen countless jokes and images of Donald Trump’s hair, often with the words, “We shall overcomb.” Donald Trump Junior tweeted about poisonous Skittles, comparing them to refugees, which caused actual pushback from Mars, maker of the candy. There were a slew of jokes (that I won’t repeat) when Trump bragged during a Republican debate about the size of his penis, which says something about the state of the Republican Party.

This is but a sampling. May they inspire you to get out the vote for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, cast a ballot on Nov. 8 if you haven’t already done so, and hope that U.S. democracy survives, despite the worst attempts of the Orange Menace and his allies to turn America into a Russian subsidiary.

Taco trucks on every corner. These words were uttered by Marco Gutierrez, the founder of the group Latinos for Trump (there are enough to be a group?) in an interview on MSNBC. If Donald Trump is not elected, he warned, there would be “taco trucks on every corner” because “my culture is a very dominant culture.” (His big trouble was that he didn’t mention if margaritas also would be offered. If so, I’m in!)

The line was so silly that of course it went viral, producing deserved mockery on Twitter and elsewhere. One of my favorite treatments was to insert taco trucks on street corners of famous paintings:

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The Advertising Specialty Institute, which keeps track of how promotional products sell, put together a video of some of the wackiest political items offered for sale to campaign supporters this election season. There were Trump socks with images of Trump that included thick wisps of orange-blond hair (EWWW). There were both Clinton and Trump talking pens, chia heads, dolls, and piñatas (I happen to know that Trump piñatas sold very well in Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago).

This doesn’t include some of the tasteless shirts and items sold at Trump rallies, such as buttons that said, “Trump: Finally a president with balls,” and T-shirts with messages about women’s anatomy that I’m not going to repeat, but that Trumpeters were perfectly happy to wear even as they brought small children to Trump events. So glad that that Republicans are still the party of family values.

Other advertising/election information: In a nationwide poll on political bumper stickers, the advertising institute found that Clinton led Trump 52 percent to 48 percent on the question of  which candidate’s sticker people be most willing to put on their car. Also, Trump spent nearly five times as much as Clinton on promotional merchandise. Guess those “Make America Great Again” hats are more expensive than official “Woman Cards,” issued by Hillary for America after Trump accused her of “playing the woman card.” They were available either as a single card or a whole deck.

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Nasty women. In the final presidential debate, Trump (as usual) told lie after lie and offered insult after insult. But the one that really hit home for the women of America was when Trump interrupted Clinton to say, “Such a nasty woman.”

Well! #NastyWomenVote took off faster than Donald Trump chasing a supermodel. Twitter exploded with women promising to do just that on Election Day. And whoever thought there could be a mashup of Hillary Clinton and Janet Jackson?

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“Grab them by the pussy.” Trump’s now-infamous words were caught in a hot-mic moment in 2005 on the set of Days of Our Lives. He was speaking with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush (since fired), whose giggling response made him sound like he was on Beavis and Butthead. Trump’s crude comments cemented his image in the minds of American women. His son and other surrogates tried to pass off the conversation as “locker-room talk,” but since so many women have suffered their share of unwanted kissing, groping, and worse, they didn’t buy it.

How about this Election Day, the women of America take Donald Trump and

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A Trump presidency would wreck the world’s economy. Ask investors

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Many economists already have weighed in about what would happen to the U.S. and the world economy if Donald Trump were elected president. Most give a thumbs down to his proposals and policies of massive tax cuts and trade restrictions (and we’re using the term “policies” loosely), but a new academic study was able to measure the Trump effect in real time during the first presidential debate.

The debate between the Orange Menace and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on Sept. 26 was the most-watched presidential debate in U.S. history, with more than 80 million viewers—and that’s just on television. Poll after poll (except for the troll-driven online polls artificially pumped up by Trumpeters) showed that Clinton basically cleaned Trump’s clock.

And no one was happier about Clinton’s performance—and Trump’s collapse—than investors around the world.

According to a story in The Atlantic with the non-subtle headline “Why Investors Are Terrified of a President Trump,” an “event study” by two economists showed that world markets reacted to Clinton’s Trump-thumping with major rallies.

Clinton’s victory triggered the financial equivalent of a worldwide happy dance. Soon after the debate ended, stock markets celebrated the news of Trump’s loss. Markets in the U.S., U.K., and Asia soared, the price of crude oil rose, and the currencies of America’s closest trading partners, such as Mexico and Canada, ticked up as well. It was “the most consequential single event (so far!) during the 2016 general election campaign,” [the paper’s authors] wrote.

The market reaction was the subject of an academic paper from Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan, and Eric Zitzewitz, an economist at Dartmouth College. (A summary of the paper can be found here.) As they wrote:

During the debate event window, U.S., UK and Asian stock markets rose, crude oil rose, the currencies of trading partners such as Mexico, South Korea, and Canada rose against the dollar, and expected future U.S. stock market volatility dropped sharply. Given the magnitude of the price movements, we estimate that market participants believe that a Trump victory would reduce the value of the S&P 500, the UK, and Asian stock markets by 10-15%, would reduce the oil price by $4, would lead to a 25% decline in the Mexican Peso, and would significantly increase expected future stock market volatility. …

All told, these movements suggest that financial markets expect a generally healthier domestic and international economy under a President Clinton than under a President Trump.

Remember that the debate was less than two hours long. That’s all it took for investors around the world to vote with their portfolios.

The Atlantic story describes the phenomenon as “Trump Shock.”

The economists use this data to estimate the perceived cost of a Trump presidency to the global economy. They say investors believe a Clinton loss would reduce the value of American, British, and Asian stock markets by up to 15 percent and lead to a 25 percent decline in the Mexican Peso. “Markets believe this election will have huge ramifications for the global economy,” Wolfers went on to write on Twitter. “It’s not just about us; it’s about the world.”

Just because investors believe something will happen doesn’t make it an inevitability. But Wolfers and Zitzewitz aren’t saying they can prove Trump will destroy the economy, only that a Trump presidency would, in the short run, severely shake investors’ confidence in steady economic growth and trade. And that in itself can prove destabilizing.

A Politico story further quotes the two economists comparing the fallout of a Trump presidency to the downturn after the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote. “You saw Clinton win the first debate and her odds jumped and stocks moved right along with it. Should Trump somehow manage to win, you could see major Brexit-style selling.”

The new report suggests that the stock market is worth 11 percent more under a Clinton presidency than a Trump presidency. This is a highly unusual circumstance because markets historically prefer Republican policies on taxes, regulation and trade to those of Democrats.

Before that September debate, polls had tightened after widespread reporting of Clinton’s pneumonia and her stumble at the Sept. 11 memorial service. The idea of a Trump presidency so frightened most economists that a major stock tumble was predicted if Trump won the debate, according to a CNN story.

As the old saying goes, the market loves good news, it can deal with bad news, but it hates uncertainty. And Trump is the motherlode of uncertainty.

“The typical investor just can’t contemplate the possibility of a Trump victory,” says Cary Leahey, chief U.S. economist at Decision Economics.

Clinton clearly won the debate, and investors rejoiced. The academic paper from the two economists measured the effects of that one debate. But those economists are not alone in their observations.

Look what happened when, in an obvious attempt to throw some shade on Clinton and the ubiquitous email “scandal,” FBI Director James Comey released a vaguely worded letter about “new” emails on the laptop computer of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The market tanked. A few hours later, when it came to light that the “new” emails may never even have gone through Clinton’s private server, were not written by her, and were not received by her, the market rebounded.

The British research firm Oxford Economics also predicted a worldwide economic letdown if Trump ever becomes president, according to a story in the Washington Post. “Broadly speaking, economists have been critical of Trump’s proposals, which depart from the standard approach that Republican politicians have taken in the past.”

If the Republican presidential nominee was able to fully implement his plans to impose tariffs on goods from China and Mexico and force large numbers of undocumented immigrants to leave the United States, the U.S. economy would begin to stall by 2019, the research firm determined. Economic expansion would also slow globally as weakness in China and the United States spread to their trading partners.

Globally, the rate of expansion would decline to about 2.2 percent annually, compared to a forecast of 2.9 percent if Trump’s policies were not implemented. Without the policies, the U.S. economy would be $430 billion larger after five years, according to the research.

Another economist quoted in the Post story paints an even bleaker picture of the effects of a Trump administration.

While grim, the forecast is in fact optimistic compared with another that Moody’s issued earlier this year. That forecast—authored by economist Mark Zandi, who has advised politicians in both parties—predicted that Trump’s policies could in fact create a recession in the United States. In other words, economic expansion would not just decelerate as Oxford Economics forecast, but would actually begin to reverse.

Trump loves to brag about his business acumen, despite nearly $1 billion in losses and his multiple bankruptcies. But his understanding of business and economics is really limited to his real estate deals, his hotels and casinos, and his brand-name products. Despite his bluster about China, trade deals, and other enterprises, he is showing that he doesn’t truly understand the concept of macroeconomics, his degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School notwithstanding.

What Trump has never understood (or has chosen to ignore) is that success in business depends upon satisfying multiple stakeholders: owners, stockholders, customers, suppliers, and employees. Trump is concerned only with satisfying himself. How many stories have we read of Trump stiffing small businesses that supplied his hotels and casinos? How many tales have we seen of workers who got laid off from closed Trump casinos? How often have we heard about students, or customers, of Trump University who got shafted?

There are so many reasons to vote against Donald Trump for president. We might as well add “let’s not tank the world’s economy” to the list.

Originally published on Daily Kos on Oct. 30, 2016.

Why Hillary Clinton will succeed as president: She listens

hillary-shot

When you think of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, chances are you think of her at a scene like the one above.

In a diner or a cafe. In someone’s living room or kitchen. In a small group or on a small stage. Around a table, taking people’s questions and listening to people’s concerns.

Listening is a skill that most women have had to master, because too many men tend to interrupt, seldom giving women a chance to put in their two cents. Not everyone is a good listener. Hillary Clinton, however, is very good at listening to people.

Some candidates have large rallies with wildly cheering supporters. Hillary Clinton certainly has had her share of rallies and speeches. But Clinton has always preferred the smaller venue, the town hall meeting, the sitting-around-the-table talk. Instead of just telling people what she wants to do, she asks people what issues affect them, what topics she should tackle, what actions they want her to take. Then she uses those answers to broaden her policies. As a story in The Atlantic put it, the strategy is to “build the candidate’s credentials as one that connects with voters, knows the issues they care about, and makes it clear she isn’t taking anything for granted.”

When Clinton was considering a 2000 Senate run, she famously went on a “listening tour” to all parts of New York state. She started in July 1999, traveling from New York City and its suburbs to upstate New York and all points in between. She visited all 62 of the state’s counties and talked to all kinds of residents on farms, in diners, in venues small and large. She always carried a notebook so she could take notes on what people were saying.

Clinton and her constituents-to-be discussed issues ranging from taxes to jobs to health care to education to college tuition to dairy price supports. At the time, the approach was derided by many in the media, but it worked. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani abandoned the race, and Clinton beat GOP Rep. Rick Lazio by 12 percentage points.

Clinton used the same approach in her presidential campaigns for 2008 and 2016. Her 2008 campaign was launched with a video in which she looked straight at the camera and said, “Let’s talk. Let’s chat. Let’s start a dialogue about your ideas and mine. … Let the conversation begin.” In the more sophisticated video launch for the 2016 race, the message was, “I’m doing something new, too. I’m running for president … So I’m hitting the road, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”

In this election, how many photos, videos, and ads have we seen from the Clinton campaign that started with a question from her audience, often from a young girl or teenager? Sometimes the questions were about bullying. Sometimes a girl asked if Clinton would be paid the same as a male president. Sometimes a teen asked about body image. Clinton’s answer was often followed with a quick hug.

When Clinton was secretary of state, she visited 112 countries, spending 401 days on the road. It was her own State Department listening tour, learning about the concerns of America’s allies and not-so-allied nations. It was aimed at repairing the damage done to America’s reputation and relationships during the years of the George W. Bush administration. According to a separate story in The Atlantic:

The secretary, despite all the telecommuting options available to her, reinforced the power of being there — in a place, in a context, in a moment.

A July story on Vox by Ezra Klein explored what he called “the Gap” between the negative public image some hold of Clinton and the real human being known by her friends, staffers, and colleagues. Klein interviewed many who know Clinton well, and here’s his conclusion:

Every single person brought up, in some way or another, the exact same quality they feel leads Clinton to excel in governance and struggle in campaigns. …

Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens. …

The first few times I heard someone praise Clinton’s listening, I discounted it. After hearing it five, six, seven times, I got annoyed by it. What a gendered compliment: “She listens.” It sounds like a caricature of what we would say about a female politician.

But after hearing it 11, 12, 15 times, I began to take it seriously, ask more questions about it. And as I did, the Gap began to make more sense. …

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination by forming a coalition. And part of how she forms coalitions is by listening to her potential partners — both to figure out what they need and to build her relationships with them. This is not a skill all politicians possess.

A 2005 academic paper (published version gives only the abstract; this is a pdf) from the International Journal of Listening by University of Maryland communications professor Andrew D. Wolvin described the benefits and effectiveness of Clinton’s listening approach as it applies to different styles of leadership. As Wolvin said in the abstract: “Public leadership has been conceptualized as the leader who has the ability to shape a vision and to articulate that vision. Before the leader can shape a vision, however, he/she needs to listen to constituents to know how that vision should be best framed and best implemented.”

The listening leader communicates with his/her followers in order to understand their needs, motivations, and issues. These understandings serve as the foundation for solid decision-making to further the relationship/organization to its goals. “Good leaders are good listeners.” …

Leaders who are good listeners “do not fake attention, pretend to comprehend, or ignore members. Instead, they work as hard as they can to better understand what members are saying and how those comments affect the group and its goals.”

Sounds like Hillary Clinton, doesn’t it?

When Hillary Clinton is sworn in as president, she’s not going to have time to go on a new listening tour of the country. She won’t have time to do one as a transition project, either. But as a start, according to a Politico story, she’s planning on reaching out to listen to allies that have been “rattled by Trump’s candidacy.”

In a way, Trump’s outlandish comments — demanding Mexico pay for a border wall, questioning U.S. support for NATO allies, and so much more — gives Clinton cover to be unusually direct about her desire to shore up global faith in U.S. leadership in the post-Obama era.

We hope the new President Clinton will continue President Obama’s practice of reading 10 letters each day that were sent to him via email or snail mail. The letters, chosen by staff in the Office of Presidential Correspondence, aren’t necessarily positive or negative. They just represent issues that the country is thinking and talking about. They might be from children, veterans, people out of a job, people who need health care, people with problems, people with ideas, and just everyday Americans who want to get something off their chest or share something with the leader of the free world. Reading those 10 letters each day can be Clinton’s way of listening to the American people.

I like the idea that our president will be a listener in chief, as well as a commander in chief.

After all, when has Donald Trump ever listened to anybody?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 23, 2016.

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