The Impact of the Democratic Convention: Waiting for the Bump

I watched much more of the Democratic convention than I thought I would because it was a great convention, or at least it seemed so to me and most commentators.  But I don’t know how many Americans took it that way as I don’t know what so many Americans will base their vote on. That’s why I am anxiously waiting to see if Hillary Clinton gets a nice bump in the polls this coming week.

I am anxious because I think voters are much more idiosyncratic than all our polls and pundits would seem to indicate.   Except for those who are clearly against Trump, like me, or clearly against Hillary like some friends of mine, the voting decision will depend on one or two aspects that seem clear to them amidst the confusion.

Trump’s rise is proof there is a wide swath of resentment and blame that wants a chance at change, no matter what.   If you are in that mind set, the thought of voting for Trump must be exciting.  Whatever Trump would do as president would be unusual, hence interesting.  And you will have had a role in that, which is a powerful feeling given the sense of political impotence most of us have.

I get that feeling, but I also feel scared at the thought of what might happen because Trump’s genius has been in self-promotion and his primary drive has been to make himself always the center of attention.   Tony Schwartz, the fellow who actually wrote The Art of the Deal (not just co-wrote it) has talked about Trump’s incessant need for attention, and it doesn’t matter if it is laudatory or defamatory, as long as he gets it.

Just watch the guy.  Isn’t that obvious?   And isn’t there something wrong with a guy like that, especially as our president?   Well, apparently for many not so much, which is why I am  anxiously waiting to see that convention bump appear in the polls this week.

With that in mind let’s turn to Scott Adams’ blog about the election.  Adam’s, the creator of Dilbert – one of the few comic strips I read -has asserted for months that Trump will win the election by a landslide because he is a “master persuader”.  Adams knows because he is a long time student of persuasion, including being a hypnotist.

Frankly, I often find his analyses dubious, but the emphasis he places on the irrational nature of our political decisions (and most else it seems) is especially relevant to this election.   His forays into our irrationality are thought provoking whether you cotton to them or not.

In a recent post he conjures up reasons why Hillary’s polls might surprisingly go down this week, not up.  While he notes the convention went great for those already pro-Hillary, he argues for the possibility that for men who are undecided, she did nothing to attract their votes, but instead the reverse, making them feel, well, less manly, even if it is happening only at a sub-conscious level.  Adams even talks about testosterone levels going down.  And along with that decline so might go Hillary’s  polls.

Rather than me trying to summarize his rationale I suggest you go to his post found here.

My hope is that Adam’s theory falls flat, but if that bump doesn’t appear, I’ll reread the post and think about the issue some more.

In any event, I agree with his emphasis on the significance of irrationality in this election even when I doubt his rationales for this irrationality.

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The Republican Convention: How more Surreal Can Politics Get?

I can barely stand to watch the Republican convention because I don’t believe anything Trump says.  Nor do I believe most of what those in the Republican party say in favor of him as many of them were sharply critical of him only a few months ago, including his VP running mate Mike Pence.

What makes the convention so surreal is that that most of the delegates are pretending this is a normal convention while it is actually an elaborate pretense.  Trump is pretending to be a Republican and the Republicans are pretending to believe him.  When it comes to party standards, no one knows what Trump actually believes, so how can anyone believe in him?

Talk of unifying the Republican party is a sham.  What holds it together with pins and needles is a common antagonism towards Hillary Clinton.   They have been hating her for so long many probably believe she is as bad as they say she is.

In the attempt to make the party seem unified phoniness prevails.  Did you see Trump and Pence with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes Sunday?  Pence has often criticized Trump but Sunday they acted as if whatever was said in the past doesn’t matter. They understand each other now and are basically on the same page.  Of course, whatever Trump has said in the past doesn’t matter because he changes the story whenever it suits him while acting as if what he says now is what he meant before.

Leslie pushed the points of apparent difference, but showed in the process once again how feckless the media are when trying to pin Trump down.  He never really answers a tough question – like how is he going to accomplish anything he promises.  He just keeps dodging or stonewalling  until the reporters finally give up.   He looks strong.  They look weak.  More image points.

Leslie was so congenial I wondered if she is not bothered at all by what a “faker” Trump is, as pointed out by Justice Ruth Ginsberg.  An inappropriate comment in normal times I think, but these are not normal times.  Trump erased the lines of political propriety a long time ago.

And in agreeing to play ball with a faker like Trump, Pence became one as well.  Speaking of fakers, I can’t wait to see Ted Cruz give a speech tomorrow backing in some way the guy who insulted his wife and the memory of his father while labelling him “lying Ted” the Canadian.

I’ll be curious if Cruz says anything good about Trump, thinking he’ll primarily just hit the Hillary piñata around, but he is such a weasel himself, he might say something nice here and there.  Whatever might help his future political life.

It is ghastly the way Trump has personified our politics at their worst.  Most unsettling he has taken the worst parts to new lows and turned them into a winning formula.  Jeb Bush said:  “You can’t insult your way to the White House?”  Well, Jeb, we’d better hold our horses on that one.

So, what do the reporters do?  Impotent in general, they try to pin Trump down where they can with some minutia like the plagiarized phrases in Melania’s speech last night.  Given all of the lies and distortions that are standard fare served up by the Trumpeteers, this stuff is miniscule.  And I think his supporters and the cliff hangers see it as more proof the press is out to get him.  Overall people seemed to like Melania’s speech.  That impression is what is important, not a few stolen words.

Haven’t the press learned by now that facts don’t matter in this surreal political world, especially puny ones like a little phrase borrowing in a speech.  It’s all about the impressions one leaves with the many.

The goal of this convention, besides heaping more scorn on Hillary, is to broaden the appeal of Trump as a good father and a loyal boss who many people actually like working for despite his demanding nature.  The campaign wants us to see the  “other Trump” who in private moments won over the likes of Ben Carson and may help swing some voters who have been troubled with the Mr. Bluster act.

I don’t think that is all bunk, which is why I have argued against labelling Trump a racist or any other “ist”.   I don’t think he is a bad man in his private life, but what makes him such a danger in his public one is his willingness to do or say anything to get what he wants.  While he acts like his wants are synonymous with the needs of our nation, his entire life has been characterized by self-aggrandizement.  Why would a man so preoccupied with himself for all these years suddenly become predominantly concerned about the rest of us?

I think his fans are dreaming, or to put it more harshly, reverting to an infantile stage with longings for someone to take care of them.  They are so tired of changes in American life which I think are mostly a result of changes in the entire world that leave us still great but not supreme as we had been for decades, so tired of these changes including the ever greater complexity of living day to day that many just want to hand over all those problems to someone who promises to fix them. Enter big daddy Trump.

Those who say Trump is more trustworthy than Hillary don’t mean the statements that he makes, in exactly what he says – they know he exaggerates for effect and attention, even making up stuff such as the things he has said about opponents.  What they trust is his proven ability to win.

They extrapolate from his past successes, topped  off by winning the nomination against all odds, that he will be a winner as president as well, whatever that might mean.  In contrast, I believe the skills it takes to be the President of the United States are greater in nature and more complex than what it takes to win the office, a subject I will give attention to in later posts.

My assessment of Trump is more along the lines of how Trever Noah of the Daily Show has described the scene in Cleveland:  “It is quite a thing to see a party succumb to the will of a ….really dangerous buffoon who has hijacked their party.”

What makes it so surreal is that most of the people at the convention are acting like this is not the case.

The Black White Divide: Sadness and Hope in Dallas

The recent shooting deaths of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota by white police in extremely questionable circumstances and then the vengeance killings of five white policemen and the injury to several others in Dallas Thursday attests, despite steady progress over the past 50 years, our ongoing failure to surpass our long standing racial divide.

While cable chatter is brimming with coverage of these issues and speculation about what could and should be done the plain truth is whatever positive changes can be made regarding this divide will be small and incremental and satisfying to no one in the short run.  That’s the way it has been and will be, but there is still hope.

We are continuing to pay the price of the Faustian pact that underlies the birth of our United States, that to come together as a nation back in the 1700s required that slavery be tolerated.  There would be no United States had the founders not allowed for it, because the Southern states would have rebelled, as they later did.  Most of the founders saw slavery as something that would evolve out of existence, or should I say that was their hope.

It took a civil war to decide the issue, but the results were far from perfect and we continue to try to get it right in imperfect ways.

It boils down to blacks being treated differently by police than whites.  Festering anger in black communities is because of that or the perception of that.  Numerous studies support the assertion that blacks are treated more often with excessive force than whites.  We could consider higher arrest and conviction rates, too, but that gets too complicated for this short post.

At an individual level it is the norm for black parents to have “the talk” with their children, emphasizing the danger of not acting carefully and politely if stopped by the police.  For you fellow whites out there, “the talk” for us more likely means the one about the birds and the bees.

I try to imagine the movement towards bridging the divide between blacks and whites and the most concrete results seem likely to stem from developing better relationships between the police of any given city and their black and Latino minority populations, what is called “community policing.”  I know you have heard it all before, many times as it has been mouthed by many over the years and progress has been uneven and slow.

However, it is heartening that this Dallas police department is arguably the best in the nation in terms of community policing and, according to Police Chief David Brown, the best department in the country overall.  In a press conference this morning he listed various impressive statistics  including a 60% decline over the last six years in excessive-force complaints.

How ironic is that?  That the shooter would take his anger out on the very department that seems to have been doing its utmost to reach out to people like him.  He murdered  police officers who were helping to keep peaceful protestors safe.

The best thing I can envision coming out of this tragedy is for other cities to pay closer attention to the Dallas form of policing because it clearly has worked, despite the exception of this apparently demented shooter whose life goal came down to killing as many whites as possible.  That could happen anywhere.

Unfortunately, the shooter developed his hatred apparently unaffected by the wise words of Martin Luther King:  “That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind.”

In sharp contrast Police Chief David Brown looks like he can see clearly.   Perhaps he and the citizens of Dallas can help the rest of us see better.


P. S. – A recent article by Radley Balko in the Washington Post describes Brown’s work in Dallas.  Balko praises the work overall but fears unrest will prompt authoritarian reactions rather than reformist ones.   I can only hope he is wrong about that.

Hillary Clinton’s Emails: “The Best Worst News.”

The good news for Hillary Clinton is that charges won’t be brought against her for her handling of government emails.  The bad news is she definitely looks guilty of being dishonest and incompetent regarding those emails.

According to FBI Director James Comey, she and her associates were “extremely careless” in the handling of sensitive information.  She also appears to have lied a number of times in public statements about passing around a number of emails that either were marked classified or should have been interpreted as classified by someone in Clinton’s position, including eight considered Top Secret.  She also used several servers and mobile devices over the years which were less secure than a gmail account, which made it quite possible, though not proven, her emails were hacked by a number of nefarious actors.

Though a stretch, I ponder if it would have been better for the Democrats if she had been indicted;  hence opening the door for Bernie to get back in.

This is likely to be a reoccurring nightmare for the Clinton campaign, something the splintered Republican party can gather around like a shark frenzy in bloody water.  Besides the usual “crooked Hillary” Trump tweets, House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to bar her from receiving the secret intelligence normally accorded the two major candidates.  Also, Director Comey was called into a House hearing today for questioning about his decision not to press charges, while I have heard Attorney General Lynch will be called in next Tuesday.

The Comey hearing is on my TV as I write and the Republicans are doing a great job of portraying Hillary at her worst.  And, unlike their last Benghazi hearing, they are making valid points in their questioning of Comey.   For example, one Republican asked whether someone with Hillary’s email history would be accepted to join the FBI.  Resisting hypotheticals, Comey would only say it would be one important criteria, but to most of us, I think the answer is simply “no.”

The one point that Comey made in Hillary’s defense, although in a backhanded fashion, is that some of the issues may have evolved because of her lack of sophistication about the internet to the point that she did not recognize one common way of marking classified emails cited by Comey.  Frankly, I have had the thought for some time that maybe Hillary, like me and many others in our general age range group, just doesn’t want to think much about the internet, as long as it works.  Not exactly something a presidential candidate would want to publicize though.

So far Hillary’s approach has been to just stonewall the issue and focus on Trump’s own weaknesses.  Fortunately for her there is plenty to focus upon, as was the case yesterday when she made a speech at Atlantic City trashing Trump for his business failures there along with his pattern of often not paying contractors and engaging in over 3,000 lawsuits over the years, often just as a form of intimidation.

That was a strong attack, but my enthusiasm was sapped by thoughts of the email scandal and how hard it is for her to now stand solidly on the moral high ground in any sphere.

However, she still has the advantage of whom she is running against for president.  I agree with Ben Carson when he asks:  “Are Americans willing to place everything in the hands of somebody with such poor judgement?”

Given Trump as the alternative,  I still say Hillary.   Or, as Jon Stewart sardonically said awhile back, he would take Mr. T. over Donald Trump.

Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch: What on earth were they thinking?

I was planning on doing a post on the recently completed two year, $7,000,000 attempt by a Republican congressional committee to purportedly get at the truth of what happened at Benghazi back in 2012, but to any fair minded individual this seventh investigation by them has been actually aimed like most of the others at blaming Hillary Clinton for as much as possible.  Never mind that the Washington Post editorial board has concluded that their 800 page report adds “exactly nothing substantial to the story.”

None of these investigations have proven any egregious actions by Hillary, but innuendo-wise, they have been a great success.  Altogether they form one of several pillars that hold up Hillary’s public image of untrustworthiness.  One of the great jokes of the race is that Donald Trump, who blatantly lies whenever he feels like it, gets a better score on trustworthiness in polls.

“Benghazi” has been a long running scam, but unfortunately for Hillary it accidentally uncovered the use of her private email server and the investigation of that has not been a scam.  It is that email folly that still gives Bernie Sanders a reed of presidential hope to cling to, assuming the Justice Department will come out with a report before the election.   If by chance Hillary is indicted for something, welcome back Bernie.

Here is my take on the Clinton email folly.   I agree with them that there has been something like a “right wing conspiracy” for decades to nail them in any way possible.  So I understand the paranoia that led Hillary to have a private server so she could control access to her emails. Benghazi exemplifies how much bad press the right will make out of anything.

But she didn’t think it through, the security issue, and just how bad it looks in general.  Is there anyone out there who actually believes that the only emails she deleted were personal,  all talk of baby baptisms or the like?   Of course, some of those emails had political aspects to them.  Frank talk that could be spun like a top by her enemies.  Pretending that is not true is like taping an “I’m lying” label on your forehead.

Ironically, that sense of self-protection and that odd, Clintonesque assumption that somehow they can get by setting their own rules (a tendency developed through past success I guess) has given her foes a fat carcass to feed upon as long as the email issue lingers.

It can only be the Clintonesque mind set that allowed Bill Clinton to think he could “stop by” Lynch’s plane in Phoenix for a social visit while they shared the same airport for awhile a few days ago.  It is hard to imagine no one pointing out the awful optics of this meeting with the Attorney General while his wife is still under investigation. Also, it is hard to understand Loretta Lynch allowing him on the plane, but what is she going to say to the former president who helped in her own career:  Get off the damn plane?  How many times have any of us found ourselves in a situation which we realize is not good but felt so awkward that we did no more than hope it would pass soon?

This TV morning I watched Jonathan Capehart grill Ms. Lynch on the inappropriate meeting and he was like a dog with a bone, much better than the usual political interview.  In one form or another he wouldn’t let go of the question:  “What on earth were you thinking ?”   And the Attorney General kept repeating a mantra about how little she had to do with the investigation and that she would accept the FBI’s recommendations, but it all sounded so bureaucratic. And Capeheart kept coming back to the question of “what on earth….?”

Can’t these politicians and bureaucrats just occasionally get real and say:  “I screwed up.”

Loretta.  Can I call you Loretta?   After all I call Hillary, Hillary.  Look, here’s what you needed to say:  You know what?  I just wasn’t thinking.  I’ve know Bill Clinton for……etc. and when he stopped by I was happy to see him and, frankly, the optics never occurred to me.  It hurts a lot that this has cast a shadow on the impartiality of the investigation, but I assure you that the investigation has been conducted by the FBI separate from my office and I plan on enacting whatever recommendations I am given.  Since that has been so clear to me, I forgot for a moment how it would look to others and believe me, I could not be more sorry about that.

Had she said something like that, Jonathan Capehart would have shut up a lot sooner.  Oh, well.

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P. S. – Thinking of how often Bill and Hillary serve up questionable practices to their enemies to skewer reminds me of Tiger Woods playing golf in his hey day.   Occasionally he would hit a very bad shot and then make a brilliant recovery with his next stroke.  I often imagined him unconsciously making the bad shot, so he would have the opportunity to make a great one.  Ponder that for awhile.