Category Archives: Politics

The coolness of Alt-Right

Hillary Clinton gave a big speech last week, about the connections between the Donald Trump campaign and a movement known as Alt-Right. Alt-Right is a complicated phenomenon, a toxic blend of nativism, nationalism, and white supremecy. It’s mostly found on-line, in reddit threads, and various websites, most prominently on the conservative site Breitbart.com. One key belief is authoritarianism, a belief that democracy has failed, and that a strong man figure is needed to restore order.

It sounds dangerous, right? But that description misses something crucial–tone. At least on Breitbart, they don’t always sound entirely serious. They actually remind me of the Futurists a hundred years ago, “young artillerymen on a toot.” Of course, futurists essentially grew up to become fascists, so that historical parallel does give pause. Anyway, perhaps they’re just jester-provocateurs, tweaking the establishment, saying deliberately shocking things to get a rise out of old fogey squares. They shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore than parents should have worried, back in the 70s, that their KISS fan kids were really turning into Satan-worshippers.

Maybe that’s true. It’s always difficult to assess tone when reading material coming out of a foreign belief system–and I do see Breitbart as foreign, as opposed to mainstream American values. But, of course, they’re not trying to be mainstream. They are deliberately transgressive and provocative. And their ferociously anti-immigrant stance does read as racist. Of course, in saying that, I may only be restating the values of current American political correctness. If the point is to epater la bourgeoisie, well, I’m pretty bourgeois, I suppose.

Still, the editor-in-chief of Breitbart is CEO of the Donald Trump campaign. Trump is the Republican candidate for President. His campaign is certainly built on anti-immigration sentiment, and racial insensitivity. Hillary was right to challenge him on the not-terribly-subtle ways in which an Alt-Right ideology has found expression in Trump’s campaign.

Or, maybe not. A conservative friend of mine was talking to the young guys he works with, who he describes as libertarians. And they found Hillary’s speech condemning the Alt-Right hilarious. And they said (apparently unanimously), that her speech would prove to be the turning point in this election. She took seriously a movement that is intentionally tongue-in-cheek. She gave them free publicity, and she came across as a nagging schoolmarm. She lost, in short, the coolness battle.

My friend said that he thought the turning point in the 2012 race came when Mitt Romney talked about ‘binders full of women.’ That awkward formulation marked him as terminally uncool. Obama, on the other hand, was cool. He’s hip to pop culture, he’s quick on his feet, he’s funny, he can turn a phrase. In that race, Romney came across as clumsy, square, old-fashioned and uncool. Trump, by embracing Alt-Right, has become cool. He gets it. That’s one reason why his most politically incorrect comments always seem to increase his popularity, not diminish it.

According to my friend, in her Alt-Right speech, Hillary came across as terminally uncool, a hectoring old bat. She doesn’t get it. She took seriously deliberately and intentionally tongue-in-cheek transgressive humor. Said my friend, quoting this group of guys, “she fed the trolls. Stick a fork in her. She’s done.”

Polling data since her speech could be seen as supporting this a little. I mean, it’s not serious, but she has lost 2% in the polls since this time last week. She did have a bad week, what with an AP story attacking the Clinton Foundation. I thought that story was rubbish, but it did make her look bad. Certainly, if the Alt-Right speech was supposed to make a positive difference, that difference isn’t discernible in polling data.

Here are the main two reasons, though, why I think my friend’s co-workers are wrong.

First of all, the coolness train left the depot months ago. Of all the candidates who ran for President in this election cycle, one, and only one consistently spoke to young people, consistently and constantly drew massive crowds to his rallies, consistently articulated a vision that spoke to the dreams and aspirations of millennials. That candidate was Bernie Sanders. His message wasn’t Alt-Right–it was thoroughly, unabashedly and unapologetically progressive. It was his ideas that matter, his policies, his views. Honestly, one of the most astonishing and encouraging aspects of this election is this fact: the coolest candidate in this election was a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont.

Why was he cool? Because he was himself. Because he was authentic. Because the views he articulating on the campaign trail are the same ideals he’s fought for his entire political life. Health care for everyone, as a right. Higher education, as a right. He didn’t quite win, but he came awfully close, and his ideas will continue to animate American policy discussions.

Hillary is not and never will be as cool as Bernie. It doesn’t matter. Trump isn’t cool either, and he’s not going to get cooler by preaching racism and nativism and a hostility to immigration.

But there’s another, incredibly important factor that needs to be taken into account. My friend’s co-workers are all male. And Breitbart is not just home to the most appalling ideas regarding race and immigration. (And Breitbart’s editor, once again, is Trump’s campaign CEO). Breitbart is also home to Milo Yiannopoulos. It’s home to the men’s rights movement.

Yiannopoulos recently made headlines because he was permanently banned from Twitter. He was banned because of utterly disgusting attacks he made on the actress Leslie Jones. Jones committed the following crimes against humanity: she’s African-American, and she starred in a movie. Imagine.

Yiannopoulos is an editor at Breitbart, and probably the site’s most popular writer. And his views are noxious. He’s a blatant and open misogynist. He has written that the two inventions that hurt women the most were the pill and the washing machine, because they both freed women to pursue careers. Birth control, he says, makes women unattractive and crazy. Is that supposed to be funny?

He is, in short, a humorless crank, a deeply disturbed young man with serious woman issues, who speaks to an audience of similarly damaged young men. He’s a gamer-gate bigwig. He’s not smart enough to engage with, not clever enough to read, and not kind enough to qualify as fully human.

And young women vote too.

I have no idea what the demographics say about any of this. I can’t imagine people of color reading Breitbart, for example, though I suppose it’s possible a tiny handful do. I haven’t been able to find any research on Alt-Right demographics, but my guess is that the movement includes essentially no women.

People support Trump for a variety of reasons, most of them undoubtedly benign. I’m not saying that supporting Trump automatically makes someone a sexist white nationalist. But it is true that Trump has a problem with female voters, and especially, educated single women. And that’s a group that Bernie really did resonate with. At any rate, as long as poisonous slugs like Milo Yiannopoulos infest the Alt-Right, and Trump retains his ties to that movement, I’m not much worried about the coolness factor.

 

Suicide Squad: Movie Review

Suicide Squad is one of those movies that audiences like a lot more than critics do. It’s gotten terrible reviews–its Rottentomatoes.com score is 26, and even the positive reviews have tended to be of the ‘ah, it’s not so terrible’ variety. I guess I’m in a critical minority; I rather liked it, and certainly thought it was an interestingly political movie, and not in some metaphorical sense.  It’s quite specifically and directly about the War on Terror, and about the American prison system, and the moral ambiguities of our age. It’s a zeitgeist movie, a movie that captures something about our age. Superhero movies often are.

It’s basically The Dirty Dozen. Remember that one? Lee Marvin, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes? The government recruits an army of bad guys to fight a particularly dangerous enemy? Well, that’s Suicide Squad, except the bad guys are superheroes.  Or, you know, people with enhanced powers.

We’re introduced to each of the characters’ backstories in a series of opening vignettes. Deadshot (Will Smith) is a professional assassin, deadly with any firearm. When we meet him, he’s got a bead on a target, but refuses to pull the trigger until his client ups the pay. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a former psychiatrist who grows infatuated with The Joker (Jared Leto), who then tortures her out of love, leading to her Stockholm Syndrome-type reciprocal love for him. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) has the ability to set things on fire, which he doesn’t control very well–he accidentally killed his family, and now refuses to use his powers. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Adbaje), appears to be half-human, half crocodile. Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is an expert with blades. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) has a sword that stores the souls of the people she kills. There were a few others, less well defined. They’re all deeply damaged, deeply troubled people, hostile to authority and with agendas of their own.

The US government is represented by a bureaucrat and a soldier. Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller, who brings the Suicide Squad together as an elite anti-terrorist unit because she’s afraid of what might happen if America’s enemies should find gifted/troubled superhero types of their own. She has recruited Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinneman) to lead her motley force. He’s got his own demons. He is in love with an archeologist, June Moone (Cara Delevigne), who is possessed by an evil witch spirit. But no worries–Waller has her heart–literally, she found it in the cave–and therefore controls her.

A number of critics disliked the movie because, as several of them put it, its plot is incoherent. But it’s not. The plot is perfectly coherent, just a trifle busy. Ordinarily, in a superhero movie, you’ve got your good guys and your bad guys; it’s all pretty clear. It isn’t here. Col. Flagg is one of the good guys, but he’s also in love with the main bad guy–the witch who has possessed his girlfriend. And that character, that evil spirit witch thing, wants to conquer the world, and may have the power to accomplish it. Among her skills is the ability to capture people and turn them into mindless killing monsters. That ability forms the basis for the first army the Suicide Squad has to contend with. Meanwhile, The Joker has allied himself with the Witch, and keeps texting Harley Quinn to join him/them. And Waller is hardly on the side of the angels. Davis plays her as an amoral pragmatist, perfectly willing to murder innocent people if it will advance her interests. Granted, she’s trying to protect the United States, but she also has a career to look out for. And the only reason the Suicide Squadders agree to help her is because she has bombs implanted in their heads. And she controls the phone app that will set them off.

Well, doesn’t all that seem familiar? In order to defeat the forces of terrorism, the US uses unmanned drones, and can kill bad guys remotely–though we do try to keep collateral damage down. And one of the two major party Presidential candidates currently running thinks this isn’t close to enough. He wants to bring back torture. Viola Davis’s brutal amorality in this doesn’t seem remotely overstated.

All these characters are damaged goods. All are traumatized and violent. The most extraordinary among them is Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie’s performance dominates the movie. She’s constantly smiling, but we never trust it; this is a violent woman, not the sexpot cutie-pie she affects. And under that is abuse, horrific abuse. And under that, some kind of deep seated insecurity. Check out Robbie’s IMDB page, and you’ll see a series of extraordinary characterizations. She was the best thing in Tarzan, the best thing in Focus, the best thing about Whisky Tango Foxtrot, the best thing in The Wolf of Wall Street. She even pulls off a feat that seems quite impossible. She convinces us that her character is genuinely in love with Jared Leto’s Joker. Leto’s a fine actor, but he’s just unwatchably bad in this movie. (There’s a moment where we think The Joker has died, and I realized how much I hoped it was true).

But everyone else was excellent. Will Smith brought the film some gravity, and Jay Hernandez, a conscience and some heart. Even Delevigne is good, in an impossible part–the archeologist/Witch character never really does make a lick of sense. And Viola Davis scared the wee out of me. Superheroes don’t actually exist. Bureaucrats willing to murder in order to combat terrorism? I wish I didn’t think they do.

Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. Movie review

I just watched Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America film, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

It’s a documentary, of the agit-prop variety, a ferocious assault on the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, and any semblance of civil political discourse. Essentially, it’s an assortment of anti-Hillary conspiracy theories, tied together by one overarching über false narrative of breathtakingly ludicrous audacity; that the Democratic party is not now and never has been a legitimate political organization, but is now and always has been a vast, all encompassing criminal conspiracy.

You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. It’s that bad.

The film’s master narrative goes like this. Dinesh D’Souza goes to prison, ostensibly for violating campaign finance laws, actually because the Obama administration is out to get him.

Which I love, by the way. The totalitarian, tyrannical, anti-Democratic Obama administration is out to get him! So what do they do? Sentence him to . . .  8 months in prison, plus he had to do some community service. Obama’s got to be the wimpiest tyrant in history. (Dinesh, some advice: if you don’t like prison, don’t commit crimes).

So: prison. A scary place, filled with scary people (though as we see him wending his way through general population, with all these plug-uglies glaring menacingly, you think ‘he’s going to be okay; the cameraman shooting all this is his employee, and should be able to protect him.’ Anyway, while in prison, he learns about how con men work. He finishes his sentence, and goes to Democratic headquarters somewhere. He scouts around, goes places he shouldn’t, opens ‘no admittance doors,’ (kept conveniently unlocked), where they keep all the hidden portraits of Andrew Jackson and copies of Birth of a Nation, and ‘learns’ the whole sordid history of the Democrats–all of which I knew when I was ten–which he then recites in the most obvious and insultingly simple-minded way. To wit:

Andrew Jackson was the founder of the Democratic party. And he was the author of the Trail of Tears, a slave owner, and a strong supporter of slavery. All true, and not remotely secret–I don’t know a single Democrat who doesn’t know all about Andy Jackson. Also, of course, irrelevant to the Democratic party today.

The Republican party was anti-slavery, and Republicans voted for the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, all opposed by Democrats. And Lincoln was a really good President, and (prepared to be shocked by this revelation), a Republican. The Ku Klux Klan was founded by Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was a southern general and a Democratic congressman. All absolutely true. No question; I’d have totally been a Republican back then.

Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat, a racist, and a big fan of the pro-Klan film, Birth of a Nation. Again, nothing new there. I’ve even showed Birth of a Nation in classes I taught. It’s a historically significant film, but D. W. Griffith was a Kentucky boy, and boy is it racist. Hard film to teach anymore; it’s just so comically racist.

The New Deal had racist provisions regarding some of the benefits it offered. Absolutely true. Southern Democrats generally opposed civil rights; the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was passed by a majority of Republicans.

All this stuff is presented as a secret history, as the kind of thing Democrats are ashamed of and try to cover up. And maybe that happens; I don’t know. Some Democrats may not know much history, like some Republicans don’t. But it’s irrelevant. There’s since been a major party realignment. There was a time when Democrats went out of their way to prevent black voters from voting. That ended. Now, it’s Republicans who pass bills restricting African-American voting. ‘Republican’ doesn’t mean the same thing that it meant 50 years ago, and neither does ‘Democrat’.

In 1960, there were essentially four major political groupings. There were conservative Republicans (like Barry Goldwater), and liberal Republicans (like Nelson Rockefeller). There were conservative Dixiecrat Democrats (like Richard Russell), and there were liberal Democrats, like Hubert Humphrey. I remember when I first was hired at BYU, talking to one of my new faculty friends, who surprised me when he said he was a Republican. Not that that mattered, but he seemed really liberal. Then he said he leaned Republican because of civil rights. Made perfect sense. As we continued to talk, it turned out we didn’t disagree politically at all. About anything. He didn’t even like Reagan, much.

To me, as a Democrat, reading about Andrew Jackson or Woodrow Wilson is somewhat akin to doing my genealogy, and discovering I have a pirate ancestor. It’s disreputable and more than a little embarrassing, but it doesn’t matter–it doesn’t reflect on me at all. The political issues of the 1830s or 1870s or 1920s or 1960s are not the political issues of today. I’m a Democrat because I generally prefer Democratic policies today. I don’t give a crap about what John C. Calhoun thought politically, except as a matter of historical interest.

There’s a biggish chunk of D’Souza’s film where he talks about the journalist Ida B. Wells, who he clearly admires. As well he should–she was a remarkable woman, and a courageous one. I admire her too. The fact that she was a Republican doesn’t matter; in her day, it would have been remarkable if she weren’t. The Republicans were the party of civil rights back then. So would I have been, back then. So why put Ida Wells in the movie?

Okay. The last quarter of the film switches gears, from a ridiculous ahistorical assault on the Democratic party to an even more ridiculous attack on Hillary Clinton. It’s all there; Whitewater, Benghazi, the White House travel office thing, and, of course, the email scandal. Also, the Clinton Foundation. D’Souza insists that the Clinton Global Initiative is a massive money-laundering scheme, with very few of the funds raised used to do anything good at all. He particularly attacks the Clinton’s for their involvement with Haiti, and shows anti-Clinton protesters outside the CGI headquarters in the New York.

It’s all nonsense, of course. Hillary Clinton has been lied about more than any other public figure in US history; D’Souza just repackages those lies. Case in point: Bill and Hillary didn’t skim off donations intended for Haiti: the CGI raised and spent 4 billion dollars for Haitian relief. They provided housing for 300,000 people, built hundreds of schools, built and staffed medical clinics all across the country. They’ve been extensively audited, and can prove exactly what was done with donations intended for Haiti. It’s an impressive list. Money laundering? Get real.

For a lot of people I know, the thing that makes them most uncomfortable with Hillary is the way she’s attacked the various women Bill is alleged to have had affairs with. D’Souza spends a lot of time on that issue. The most serious charge is that of Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill Clinton of having raped her. There are good reasons to believe her accusation, and equally good reasons to not believe her. I wasn’t there; I don’t have any idea. Bill Clinton did have multiple affairs, but they were always consensual. I don’t think there’s much doubt that Hillary chose not to believe rumors of his infidelity, and yes, she did trash the women making those accusations. I’m not willing to judge her too harshly for it. An adulterous spouse would tend to bring out the worst in any of us.

So maybe those attacks are a little bit relevant. None of the others have any credibility, at all. So she met Saul Alinsky. Big deal. So she once said nice things about Margaret Sanger (a fascinating historical figure, who did much more good than evil, though she did have her blind spots). Big deal. So Hillary got lucky with an investment one time. Good for her, and big deal. And yes, people pay absurd amounts of money to hear people give speeches. She’s made a lot less than Mike Eruzione does.

Anyway, the real question this film raises for me is this: what did Hillary Clinton ever do to Dinesh D’Souza?  What would cause a man to expend this impressive amount of pure vitriol and bile and hatred towards someone? I don’t get it. Why does Hillary have to be some combination of Lady Macbeth, Lucrezia Borgia and Livia Drusilla Caesar? Why does she have to be this monster? Can’t you just say ‘I disagree with her on matters of policy. Here are some specifics.’ Make a sensible argument, for heaven’s sake. This vilifying of a fellow patriot is unseemly, unnecessary, and, frankly, nonsensical. Dinesh, you were wrong about Obama, and you’re wrong about Hillary. Get over it.

I do regret one thing. I saw an early matinee, with about twenty other people. When the film ended, they all applauded. I booed. Very loudly–I’m a big guy with a big voice, and I really shouted out my ‘boo.’ I projected, you know? And they stopped applauding, and glared at me balefully as they left the theater (I was sitting in the front row). So I’m sorry, folks, if I ruined your movie. And shame on you for liking it.

Trump’s economic speech

Donald Trump was in Detroit over the weekend, giving a major policy speech on the state of the economy. Here’s the speech transcript, and here’s the Washington Post’s fact-checking article. So here we go, finally; a substantive description of what Trump’s economic plans might be.

I say ‘might be’, because it’s not like Trump hasn’t been talking about the economy all along. But he’s been doing it in his own idiosyncratic Trumpian way–dropping hints, riffing off the top of his head, dropping little factoids (none of them even remotely accurate), and commenting on them. And, of course, bragging. And what he’s said up to now hasn’t added up to, you know, ‘policy.’ He’s going to cut taxes; no, he’s not either going to raise taxes. He’s going to spend money on infrastructure; no, he’s not either going to do that. He’s going to make America great again. We’re going to win again. It’s all slogans and taglines, well seasoned with braggadocio. He has put some details of something that looks like an economic program on his website, but it bears little resemblance to his big Detroit address. He has now appointed a council of economic advisors. I think it’s likely they had a hand in writing his speech. So let’s dig into it.

Of course, the national news media has described the Detroit speech as a ‘campaign reboot.’ His tendency to make things up as he goes along has led to a very weird couple of weeks, in which he has picked a fight with a Gold Star family, suggested that Russia will never invade Ukraine (despite having done so two years ago), and kicked a baby out of a rally. He keeps shooting himself in the foot. He needs to quit. He needs to ‘appear Presidential.’ Hence a big, serious speech on economic policy. Read from a teleprompter. He looks like a loon right now; he needs to cut it out. He needs to seem grounded, serious, thoughtful.

So the mainstream media response to the Detroit speech is essentially drama criticism. Did he make this reboot look plausible? Was his delivery sufficiently grave? Did he seem Presidential?

I’m a drama guy, a theatre guy, and I don’t care. I’m interested in policy. I want to read his speech, and look at the specific proposals he offers, and see if they make sense. Under President Obama, the US economy has enjoyed the longest sustained period of economic growth. On the other hand, it’s not very robust growth–2 percent, more or less. We’d like it to grow more. Hillary Clinton has, on her website, a detailed job plan. It’s specific and detailed, with actual numbers you can look at. Trump’s never had anything like that on his website. But now we have a speech to look at.

It’s very . . . Republican. All the problems in our economy are caused by high taxes and regulation. And the first step, says Trump, is tax reform.

My plan will reduce the current number of brackets from 7 to 3, and dramatically streamline the process. We will work with House Republicans on this plan, using the same brackets they have proposed: 12, 25 and 33 percent. For many American workers, their tax rate will be zero.

Hey, your taxes are going down! Isn’t that great?

No. It’s not.

For most working people, the federal income tax is a negligible part of their tax burden. The federal tax that affects them the most is FICA, which pays for Social Security and Medicare. That won’t be diminished under Trump. The most effective federal anti-poverty program is the Earned Income Credit, which enables working families to pay a big annual bill–a car repair, replacing an appliance, put money aside for education . . . or pay a medical bill. Trump doesn’t address the EIC. No, this is a major tax cut for rich people.

And he has no way to pay for it. This tax plan will drastically reduce federal tax revenues. That’s all there is to it. He does not propose any corresponding spending cuts. If you are the kind of person who sees deficit and debt reduction as centrally important political issues, then you cannot, cannot support Donald Trump. He’s going to blow the budget up.

The corporate tax cut (which I actually agree with) is a tax that is easily dodged; very few big corporations pay it. Still, I don’t mind that tax cut; we’re not particularly competitive. But I had a warm fuzzy feeling when I saw Trump call for the end of the ‘death tax.’ Republicans have been inveighing against estate taxes since Caesar conquered Gaul; nice to see the New Improved Trump actually act, for once, like a Republican.

But it’s a terrible idea. The estate tax, let’s remind ourselves, was first proposed by that wild-eyed radical socialist commie, John Adams, who thought it would prevent the growth of a parasitic aristocratic class. (They had their own Paris Hiltons even then). Right now, the estate tax wouldn’t affect poor people, poor farmers, small businessmen of modest means, or the middle class. It’s a tax that really does only affect rich people; trust fund kids. How about, for once, leaving the estate tax alone?

But none of these proposals will help working class people at all. None of Trump’s proposals will lift anyone out of poverty, or in any sense whatever help lower class, lower-middle class, or middle class people at all. It’s trickle-down economics all the way. Trump is the Republican candidate for President of the United States. He’s got an economic council of Republican advisors. He’s gone back to the economic proposals of Jeb Bush. It’s a massive sell-out to his followers.

I found it a depressing speech. I’m enough of a cock-eyed optimist that I have, in the past, harbored some hopes that the Trump candidacy might actually accomplish some good. This speech ended that possibility.

For forty years, close enough, the Republican establishment has run for office on a platform of tax cuts for rich people, deregulation of business, and increased military spending. The Trump candidacy had, up to now, revealed how fed-up Republican voters were with an economic plan that wouldn’t help them at all, that would do nothing but increase income inequality. Trump’s kind of unhinged, but he did, at least, at times, talk dismissively of that particular agenda. (Of course, what he replaced it with was know-nothing nativism). Now, he’s acting Presidential (emphasis on acting–who knows what he really believes). The result is depressing. There’s not a single academic macroeconomist on his council of advisors. They’re all hedge fund guys (‘six guys named Steve,’ in Hillary Clinton’s clever phrase). They want to keep getting richer. And screw everyone else. So that’s what they put in the speech they wrote for Trump.

It’s a lousy plan, and it won’t work. The good news is, it has little chance of ever being enacted.

 

Trump’s appeal, and the white underclass

A conservative friend of mine sent me this article from American Conservative magazine. It’s an interview with J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Legacy, a recent memoir. Vance came from a dirt-poor Appalachian family, and eventually graduating from Yale Law School. Fascinating interview, and a must-read book. And an interesting look at the political phenomenon of our day, the Donald Trump candidacy.

Trump’s strongest demographic is white men, and especially white men without college educations. It’s a group of people easily demonized. I’ve been reading Nancy Isenberg’s terrific historical study, White Trash; when I finish, I’ll review it here. But in short, the history of our nation is the history of class tensions, and the wholesale denigration of poor white people. We know, of course, that America’s prosperity was built, in part, on the backs of slaves. But Isenberg makes a persuasive case for an equally insidious dynamic; the deliberate division of American whites into social classes. And that remains partly true today.

The Vance interview adds a fascinating perspective on class, as it played itself our in his life and career. And I was fascinated by his political insights. After some moving descriptions of the desperate circumstances poor whites face all over the country, Vance says that neither major party has anything to offer the rural poor. Democrats offer ‘smug condescension,’ exasperation over people voting against their own economic self-interests, plus some handouts, which folks don’t much want. Republicans, of course, offer deregulation, tax cuts, plus free trade. Then, this:

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.

I understand that. Trump’s candidacy resonates with a group of people who have been ignored, discounted and insulted. Trump’s rudeness, his thin-skinned inability to let any criticism go unchallenged, his willingness to break with what we have come to regard as the civilized norms for political discourse, all that makes him more, not less popular with his base. They share that sense of resentment, of having been put down and discounted. Trump speaks to them, precisely because he ‘tells it like it is.’ What strikes most of  us as rhetorical excesses resonate with his supporters.

Vance uses the word ‘elite’ a lot. And that’s become an important word in this election season.  It’s ‘the elites’ who rigged the election for Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders, ‘the elites’ who negotiated terrible trade deals that hurt the Rust Belt, ‘elites’ who condescend to and put down everyone who is not ‘elite.’

Vance talks about people he knew at Yale, who had never met a member of the white underclass, a professor who said that Yale should never accept students from state universities. Trump, says Vance, is the one guy who actively seems to fight elite sensibilities.

I get that. I understand that resentment, that feeling that people look down on you, or put you down. And I certainly think that Democrats can seem condescending.

But the ‘elite’ tag is most often applied to Hillary Clinton in his campaign. And I don’t get it. Yes, she’s a former First Lady; yes, she graduated from Yale. But her family background was anything but elite. Hillary’s kin were Pennsylvania coal miners. Her Dad got a football scholarship to Penn State, and was able to get an education. He became a moderately successful businessman, but Hillary’s childhood was hardly one of luxury and privilege. Bill Clinton’s family was dirt-poor. Okay, through a combination of hard work, good grades and scholarships, both Bill and Hillary made it to Yale Law School. (As did Vance). I wouldn’t say either of them come from ‘elite’ backgrounds.

An elite background would look more like this: a millionaire father, elite prep schools, Wharton School of Finance, and then a million dollar loan to start his business. Like, say, Donald Trump.

So, this season, we seem to be inhabiting a topsy-turvy world in which the Clintons are ‘elite’ and Trump is ‘champion of the working man.’ How do we liberals, we Democrats, we progressives reach out to those voters? How do we begin a conversation with this group of fellow Americans?

And at this point, I start to feel pretty pessimistic. I can think of lots of strategies that won’t work; I can’t think of any that might. We could, for example, do a point by point comparison between Trump’s policies (to the extent that he has any), and those of Secretary Clinton. Hard to see how that wouldn’t come across as kind of smarty-pants, in a ‘if you were smarter, you’d realize how bad Trump’s policies are’ kind of way. Or we could carefully explain to folks how much we enlightened Democrats can do for them. Mansplainin’ works so well when it’s men talking down to women; I’m sure it’ll work just fine if it’s urbansplainin’ to rural voters.

If Trump wins, we’ll have a stronger case to make. His policies will be disastrous, especially for the working poor; once the economy collapses again, we’ll have a case to make to fix things. But if (as I hope) Hillary wins, it’ll be time to really show what we can do. How about a major jobs effort in economically depressed areas? We have to do something. Because the kind of poverty Vance grew up with is not acceptable.

Setting aside emotion. . .

The Republican National Convention is over. I didn’t blog about it; I spent the week without computer access, and now the Democratic Convention is happening. But I thought I’d offer some thoughts about the Republicans, by way of catching up.

It was a fearful convention. The speeches were full of fear; the appeal was almost entirely emotional. People are scared. My parents were in town recently, and when we talked politics I could sense their fear, not for themselves particularly, but for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Everyday, we see it on the news; another mass shooting, another terrible terrorist attack. We feel vulnerable. A night club attacked, an airport, a public rally in a park. It’s not surprising that a political candidate would base his appeal to voters on those feelings. “We live in dangerous times. I promise to make you safe.” That’s an effective approach for a politician to take in these dark times. And Donald Trump’s nominating speech, the most important of his political career, played to fearful voters.

In addition, Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent, is not well-liked or trusted. It makes sense for Republicans to go after that vulnerability. But the tone grew uglier and uglier, with repeated called for her to be jailed, most especially in completely over-the-top speeches by Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie. Honestly, watching the convention, I was afraid for her. I thought that if she had shown up to the convention, she would have been physically unsafe.

I understand why the appeal to voters was so dark, so authoritarian, so full of dark forebodings and portents. It’s important to emphasize that Trump’s speech was specifically factually inaccurate. When he said “decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” that’s factually untrue. Violent crimes are down, not up. The Obama administration has not ‘rolled back’ criminal enforcement. Trump may have plugged into real feelings people have, but those feelings have no basis in fact. When he said “nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” he’s essentially making things up. No such threat actually exists.

But politicians need to respond to feelings too. I’m not attacking Republicans for addressing the genuine fears that their voters do seem to feel. Polling shows that voters generally feel like the country is on the wrong track right now. I don’t necessarily see that as a rejection of President Obama, who is quite popular right now. I think people are furious at gridlock, at a Congress that seems incapable of compromising or governing, at the ideological divide. That said, I would have appreciated a bit more emphasis on policy. What specifically will President Trump do, if elected?

We know a few things. He wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico. He intends to deport undocumented workers. He plans to prosecute the war against ISIS more vigorously. But what else? Granted that his speech was light on policy specifics; still, we can make some educated inferences.

“I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order our country.”

Law enforcement is almost entirely a local and state matter. The FBI investigates certain federal crimes, but they represent a tiny fraction of crimes committed. The only real way that the President can ‘restore law and order’ would be for him to declare martial law. If that’s not what he intends, he needs to clarify.

“We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS.”

He makes three specific proposals; to improve our intelligence-gathering in the Middle East, to work with allies, and “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.’ The first two involve efforts the Obama administration is already doing. The third requires clarification; what does he mean ‘any nation compromised by terrorism.’ After the convention, he clarified. He meant nations like France.  France.

“I am going to turn our bad trade agreements into great ones.”

In other words, he’s going to renegotiate trade deals. Specifically, he’s going to renegotiate trade deals with China, Mexico, South Korea, and the EU. This will almost certainly result in trade wars. Cycles of retaliatory protectionism rarely work out well, and even have a tendency to turn into real life shooting wars. Either way, they will not and do not result in economic growth. Expect another recession.

“I have proposed the largest tax reduction of any candidate who has declared for the presidential race this year.”

It’s very difficult to know what exactly the Trump tax proposal entails. As soon as his economic plans are scrutinized, he tends to change them. Still, he has made a proposal specific enough for the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center to analyze it. Here goes.

Currently, the tax code has seven brackets. He would reduce those to three: 10%, 20% and 25%. He would raise the standard deduction to $50,000 (married filing jointly), and lower capital gains and dividends. The corporate rate would be cut to 15%.

This proposal is almost comically regressive, and would add trillions to the deficit. Rich guys would benefit tremendously. It’s not a serious proposal. William Gale, co-director of the TPC, calls it “pie-in-the-sky nonsense.” To be fair, Trump has also said that this would merely be the starting point for further negotiations with Congress. Otherwise, this proposal would be ruinous for the US economy.

In his speech, in other words, Trump’s nomination speech, the most consequential of his political career, didn’t just appeal to fear and hatred and other negative emotions. It has policy implications. And the policies he either espouses or suggests are uniformly unworkable. A political campaign needs to appeal to the mind as well as the emotions. I would suggest that Trump fails both tests.

 

Secret Service Clinton Rumors

I have a family member who told me recently he could never, under any circumstances, vote for Hillary Clinton. The reason? Because his cousin knows a guy who knows a ward member who was a member of Mrs. Clinton’s Secret Service detail. And you wouldn’t believe the stories of depravity! Another friend of mine told me the same thing; her cousin has friends, good LDS people, I was assured, who know a Secret Service agent, and who had stories of literally hundreds of women smuggled into the White House for sexual trysts with Hillary Clinton. The Clintons have an open marriage, you see. And now, there’s one Gary Byrne, also former Secret Service, who declares himself ‘sickened’ by the horrible stuff he saw when serving in the Clinton White House in the ’90s, which he just had to put into print, now, twenty years later.

Byrne’s book has been hotly condemned by the non-partisan Association of Former Agents of the U. S. Secret Service. They point out that Byrne was a uniformed security officer, not part of the Clintons’ detail, and thus not in a position to have seen what he claims to have seen. Plus, Byrne’s book puts him, an obscure low-level agent that most of agents at the time barely remember, at the center of events. Byrne’s publisher, Center Street, is a Christian imprint that also does all kinds of rabidly right-wing political books, and that is also known for paying pretty well. Did Byrne make it all up? Was he passing on gossip? Because it’s easy enough to dismiss the possibility that he might be telling the truth.

Remember the Arkansas state troopers? Back in ’93, two troopers who had been assigned as security for then-governor Clinton claimed that they had arranged sexual liaisons for Clinton, an expose first published in American Spectator. David Brock, author of that article, later apologized to Bill Clinton, saying that the troopers in question were in it for the cash, and calling them ‘slimy.’

The fact is, we don’t actually know very much about most public figures. What we see is a carefully crafted image. And it’s shocking when we learn of ugly incidents or facts or opinions that contradict the family-friendly portraits we’re used to. We initially refuse to believe it. Bill Cosby can’t have done that. What, Tiger Woods? But John Edwards seems so wholesome.

But with someone like Hillary Clinton, there’s a huge incentive for some unscrupulous people to paint her in the worst colors imaginable. Gossip can go viral. And if the source is putatively someone like a Secret Service agent, someone in a position to see all sorts of, well, secrets, all the better. That’s why all this gossip comes from someone’s best friends’ cousin’s neighbor’s nephew. It sounds authoritative.

I don’t believe any of it, though. First of all, all these stories fit too neatly into pre-existing sexist narratives. Byrne’s book describes Hillary Clinton as a raging harridan, a foul-mouthed and abusive queen bitch. No one else ever describes her that way, but it’s easy to believe, because it fits a specific cultural stereotype. The other ‘secret service’ narrative fits a different stereotype: she’s sexually voracious, a (shudder) lesbian. Also, in one particularly nasty bit of slander I’ve heard, Hillary Clinton’s a poisoner, a murderess akin to Livia Drusilla, the supposedly lethal second wife of Caesar Augustus. (Her Secret Service codename was Livia, it seems. Except it wasn’t, of course).

There’s never any corroborating evidence for any of this. And there should be. If Hillary Clinton was indeed foul-mouthed and violent, there should be dozens of similar stories from former employees, associates, acquaintances, former friends. Especially given, let’s face it, a voracious tabloid press in this country willing to pay big bucks for any verifiable Clinton nastiness. By the same token, according to my friend’s story, Hillary smuggled hundreds of sexual partners into the White House. Well, White House visitors are logged. Those logs are public information. Shouldn’t be hard to prove, or disprove that specific allegation. (And, of course, it turns out to be bonkers).

This election is going to get nasty. It’s already been nasty, and it’s very likely to get nastier. Donald Trump is going to be subjected to attack ads. Probably, if the ads they’re running right now are any indication, they’ll just use his own words against him; that shouldn’t be difficult. But Hillary will be attacked too, and probably a lot of the attacks will take place under the national political radar. Expect to see viral emails. Expect an increase in this kind of gossip. There will certainly be more anti-Hillary books. And Trump’s use of social media in this cabin has been unparalleled. And he loves conspiracy theories.

As I’ve talked to many friends about this election, the main reaction from most people is to express their dismay for the two major party candidates. And national polling suggests that most Americans are as appalled with Secretary Clinton as they are with Mr. Trump. When you ask what their problem is with Clinton, they say, ‘she’s corrupt, she’s dishonest, she’s crooked.’ But then you ask for specifics. And they’ll say something like ‘Benghazi’ or ‘her emails,’ so-called ‘scandals’ that were thoroughly investigated, and in which Mrs. Clinton was cleared.

The distrust of Clinton is, in other words, inchoate, non-specific. It’s just ‘what everyone knows.’ You hear vague references to ‘all those scandals.’ If you point out that non-partisan fact-checkers have declared her the most honest politician in this election, they stare at you in incredulity. Surely, that can’t be true. Surely, I have to be kidding.

I’m worried about this election being decided in the shadows, in the murky darkness of gossip, slander, rumors and innuendos. That’s why these ridiculous Secret Service stories are so dangerous, and need to be challenged.

That’s why it’s so important, this year above all others, for fact-checkers to do their jobs. That’s why it is so important that we all vigilantly ask for evidence, for solid, corroborating proof of any particularly nasty allegation. Because this political year is about to get ugly. Hold on to your hat.

 

What I don’t know, what I know

I don’t want to watch anymore. I’m watched out. Another police shooting, another unnecessary and unprovoked killing, another panicky cop’s lethal mistake. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Only, wait, no, that’s not all; turns out there was another one a few hours later, in St. Paul, Minnesota. And so we add two more names to the list, two more African American men executed without cause or merit. Philando Castile. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Dontre Hamilton. John Crawford. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker. Akai Gurley. Rumain Brisbane. Jerame Reid. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Alton Sterling.

And yes, there were cops killed in Dallas last night. And that was tragic and awful and unnecessary too. And they go on the list too.  Absolutely. Brent Thompson. Patrick Zamarripa. There were three others; as of this writing, their names haven’t been released. But yes, police work is dangerous. I know a few cops, and I know the prayers their families offer every shift they work. “Please, let him come home safely. Please protect her. Please, not today.”

But the movement is called, rightly and appropriately, Black Lives Matter. That’s what needs to be said, repeated, insisted upon. Because that’s what, apparently, we in the white community don’t simply take for granted.

And I feel helpless, impotent, infuriated and heartsick. Mourning doesn’t seem to be enough. Posting and blogging and tweeting doesn’t make a difference. I’m an old, fat, sick white dude. I got nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do have a slight glimmering of a few somethings.

I don’t know much about the way police officers are trained. But I do know that a lot of police departments–Las Vegas, Seattle, New York–have implemented de-escalation training, a shift of emphasis from ‘control the situation’ to ‘calm the situation down,’ less confrontational, and that the results have been substantial decreases in violence, and in police shootings.

I don’t know all that much about gun laws, in part because I don’t know much about guns. Since Heller, we have to accept that, at least for now, the 2nd Amendment is understood to mean that private citizens have a constitutional right to own firearms. I think Heller‘s a foolish decision, wrongly decided. But it still allows the state to prohibit the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, it allows for laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in places like schools and government buildings, and it permits all kinds of laws imposing conditions on the sale of guns, or banning “dangerous or unusual” weapons. There are, in other words, a whole bunch of gun-restricting regulations that Congress could pass. Also, an Australian-style national gun buy-back program is constitutionally permissible.

I don’t know how to get rid of most Americans’ guns. I don’t think there’s much question that the fact that American gun ownership is off-the-charts internationally, and the fact that American gun deaths are likewise out of control are correlated. We’re a heavily armed people. We don’t need to be. When cops go out to maintain public order, they’re obviously on edge, knowing how heavily armed the populace is. Cops are human, cops are scared, and yes, cops make mistakes. We can support the police, and also hold policing to a higher standard. Those ideals are not incompatible.

I don’t know how to solve the problem of racism. I do know that we’re fighting a whole of history here, and that the fact that black people face less legal discrimination now than they did when I was a kid does not mean that the black community hasn’t been profoundly and significantly harmed. Larry Wilmore last night said that his home, in Pasadena, is also home to a significant Armenian community. He has lots of Armenian friends. But, he said, if you’re with them and you mention Turkey, the reaction is immediate, angry and harsh. It’s been a hundred years since the Turkish massacre of Armenians, but feelings are still raw. Why, then, should we assume that centuries of systemic violence and hatred directed towards blacks, by whites, in America, hasn’t been similarly damaging and hurtful, and with lingering, residual effects?

I don’t know how to change the political direction of this country, how to combat the effects of institutional racism, or how to reverse the tide of violence. But I do know this: nothing will happen for good or for ill unless millennials vote.

This is really important. And it’s not just about gun violence, or racism, or Black Lives Matter. It’s about climate change. It’s about paying for college. It’s about health care. There are a huge variety of life-or-death issues that have political ramifications and political solutions. And if you’re reading this, and you’re 18-35, you probably know the statistics on this as well as I do.

The General Social Survey, one of the most respected national surveys shows that millennials are, in fact, very politically engaged. You engage in political discussions on the internet. You post political views on social media. You’re very likely to attend a rally or a protest. That’s all great. And it means nothing–absolutely nothing–if you don’t vote. And you don’t. Less than 20% of you vote in local or state elections, and less than 40% in Presidential years.

Think about your grandparents. Grumpy old gramps, who watches Fox News all day, and yells at kids who cross his lawn, and whose favorite topics of conversation are his health and what a terrible President Obama is. I mean, you love him to death, but you don’t take him all that seriously, do you? Well, he has a much greater say on what’s going to happen in this country than you do. Because he votes. So does Grandma. Every election, without fail.

You remember the Michael Brown shooting? Remember all the protests, all the anger, all the people who showed up to express their outrage over that shooting? When you read about Ferguson, and how much more likely black residents of the town were to be pulled over and fined, and how essential those fines were to the city’s finances, and how few Ferguson cops were African-American, well, it was disgraceful, and infuriating, and the anger of the protesters seemed completely justified. And someone decided to do something about; set up a voter registration booth right there in the middle of the protests. If you were a Ferguson resident, and African-American, well, there was your chance to make a change, vote out an incompetent mayor and replace the police chief. Guess how many new voters were registered in Ferguson Missouri. Just take a stab at it.

128. One hundred. And twenty eight.

And I thought of Fannie Lou Hamer, testifying in 1964 about how badly she was beaten in Mississippi by the local sheriffs, for the crime of trying to register to vote. Because, as she put it, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. We want a change! We want a change in this society in America!”

Well, so do I. And I don’t know how to solve this. I don’t know who to blame, or what solutions to try. But I do know this: we have to try. Because this America, this violent and racially charged and furious America does not represent who I want to be, or who you want to be, or who we want to be together.

I believe, like Kendrick Lamar, “if God got us then we gon be alright.” I pray every night for peace, for our nation’s secular salvation. And then I listen to that still small voice and I realize what He’s saying. He gave us hands to work, to help our brothers and sisters. And we gave us minds, to think. And those hands and those minds have to work together. And we start by voting. Every election: vote. That’s all I got, and all I know.

 

 

 

I pray every night for peace, for our nation’s secular salvation. And then I listen to that still small voice and I realize what He’s saying. He gave us hands to work, to help our brothers and sisters. And we gave us minds, to think. And those hands and those minds have to work together. And we start by voting. Every election: vote.

The Purge: Election Year

I’ll say this about the Purge movies; they’re getting better. In James DeMonaco’s futurist dystopia trilogy, positing a future United States of America in which the economy booms due to a nasty annual bloodletting, the storytelling and basic filmmaking chops have clearly improved, film by film. And this third film, Election Year, is the first film to really explore seriously the ramifications of the films’ premise. In broad outline, the idea behind the Purge movies have become increasingly plausible. In detail, of course, they’re silly action movies. So how well do they speak to our day?

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir had a lot of fun with this kind of analysis, writing that there are two versions of an election year available:

One of them is a ludicrous and idiotic narrative about race and class in America, full of unbelievable characters and implausible plot twists, anchored in the naïve belief that popular revolt through the ballot box can bring down a corrupt oligarchy. The other one is a movie.

Yes, very funny. I would put it this way: for the Purge movies to really work, we’d have to find the premise sufficiently plausible that it sends a little chill down our collective spines. Parallels to our reality would have to really resonate, so much that we’d nod a bit in recognition. So, here’s the basic Purge idea. What do you think?

At some point in the future, at a moment of national crisis, a conservative party called the New Founding Fathers of America (the NFFA), establishes a new holiday, the Purge. For twelve hours, during the Purge, everything goes, with no legal penalties for any act by anyone. Including murder. From 7-7 some night, roving gangs, wearing garish costumes and masks, just randomly go around killing people. During the Purge, no emergency services are available; no cops, no EMTs, no ambulances.

As a result of the Purge, the US economy has boomed. Unemployment is essentially non-existent; inflation unheard of, profits are high. This is, the movie suggests, because the government doesn’t have to spend much on welfare, or health care, or food stamps. There just aren’t any excess people. Welfare recipients are, uh, culled annually, like English football relegation, only lethal. Rich people, of course, can afford really tight security systems, and are tend not to be victims of the Purge. Poor people are on their own.

This whole thing has a racial component, especially in the third movie. We see various NFFA leadership meetings, concluding with a religious rite scene, set in a cathedral, in which a succession of poor victims are ritually sacrificed by NFFA leadership. The NFFA consists entirely of older white people. Meanwhile, a multi-ethnic coalition opposes the NFFA. Led by a Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a blonde white woman, who is running for President (and might win, if she can just take Florida). Hillary Clinton? Kinda sorta maybe?

There’s another group out there, an underground revolutionary group, that sets up an emergency ward for the wounded, and is led by a charismatic gangster, Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge). Only Bishop’s done with conventional politics and do-gooding. He’s got a plan, to assassinate the entire NFFA leadership. And Senator Roan wishes he wouldn’t. She thinks she can win the election fair and square.

Of course, that’s all just background. The actual plot of the movie has to do with Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), head of Roan’s security team, and his efforts to protect her from an assassination attempt by, essentially, the entire US government. They’re joined by a convenience store owner, Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), who is determined to protect his store from a nasty girl gang of murderous teens wearing prom dresses and Catholic school uniforms, armed with AR-15s. Joe, and his one employee, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), an immigrant from Mexico (with, apparently, mad sniper skills), save Leo and Charlie when they’re set upon by a group of German tourists, Purging having apparently become Euro-chic. Joe and Marcos also have a friend, Laney (Betty Gabriel), who spends the Purge riding around in an armored van rescuing people in need. So Laney, Joe and Marcos join Leo and the Senator, and try to fend off mercenaries hired by American rich people conservatives. That’s the plot. It’s still basically an action movie.

So how plausible is it? Not very. I mean, come on. American conservatives, in my experience, tend to believe in a bootstraps narrative, in which America is defined as the place where anyone with sufficient gumption can be successful. Republicans want to lift poor people, not, you know, murder them.

But let’s suppose that high welfare rolls really were what was holding our economy back. Let’s suppose that high social spending on a parasite class really was a major drag on the economy. (Not true, actually, but for the sake of argument, let’s grant the premise). Could we really solve that problem by just shooting the bottom five percent every year? Or, you know, essentially deputizing all our sociopaths?

Probably not, no. And yet, here’s the paradox of this movie; it starts with this appalling premise. And the movie tells us, repeatedly, that the idea of the Purge is desperately immoral. And heroic Senator Roan campaigns on the idea that the Purge is violent and sick and needs to go away. And all the more sympathetic characters in the movie are all in agreement about how awful the Purge is.

And yet, the movie is also built on the idea that the Purge does, in fact, work. We see a debate between Senator Roan and her NFFA opponent, and when he asks her what she proposes (“more welfare spending?” he sneers), she doesn’t have an answer. In fact, the movie advances an even-more-contemptible idea–that poor people are nothing but a drag on the economy. A net minus for any advanced nation.

In a way, the Purge movies, when they’re not distracting us with firefights, are sort like Swift’s A Modest Proposal. An insane idea, presented tongue-in-cheek, to force us to confront our own prejudices. Only the Purge movies don’t just toss this awful, murderous idea out there. They build a narrative around the idea that the awful, murderous idea is also economically sound.

So, at first, I thought this series, for all the bloodshed it depicts, did at least have its heart in the right place. Now I’m less sure. I can at least say this. In our own time of scary, scary politics, we do have a blonde woman to vote for. At least there’s that.

 

 

 

Hillary’s emails

Yesterday, FBI director James Comey announced that no criminal charges will be filed against Hillary Clinton or any member of her staff in relation to her use of any unauthorized private server while she was serving as Secretary of State. So that’s over.

Ha.

Because Comey didn’t just say that Secretary Clinton wouldn’t be charged with anything. His statement was actually kind of remarkable. He went into great detail regarding the investigative process the FBI went through, and why the investigation reached the conclusions it did. He was thorough, and he was persuasive. I found his statement fascinating, and recommend it to anyone interested in these issues.

I don’t know why Hillary Clinton used a private email server and not the .gov server available to her. Still, I want to put this case into some perspective; view it in human terms. See if that brings some clarity.

The first thing that jumps out at me, reading Comey’s report, is the number 30,000. That’s the number of Hillary Clinton emails the FBI initially examined, but their investigation turned up several thousand more. She switched servers a few times, and switched devices. Here’s Comey:

Secretary Clinton used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send e-mail on that personal domain. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned in various ways. Piecing all of that back together—to gain as full an understanding as possible of the ways in which personal e-mail was used for government work—has been a painstaking undertaking, requiring thousands of hours of effort.

That’s a huge number of emails. 30,000, 35,000; whatever the number may have been, it’s a lot. I’m a pretty avid emailer, but I don’t send 50 a month.

Previous Secretaries of State had private email accounts, but used the official government email systems for public business. But they also didn’t send out anywhere near that many. Secretary Clinton really likes to communicate via email. Official procedure should have gone as follows; if she wanted to send a personal email, she needed to put away her official government device, step out of the room, and access her personal email device located in another room. That’s a colossal pain in the neck. It would work well if your life was really neatly compartmentalized; you deal with work when you’re at work, and you go home and open your email on your home PC. Her life isn’t like that; never has been.

Because she’s a woman? Because the balancing act–home/work–is different for women than it is for men? Because men can do this; step into another room, another space, to deal with the annoyance of a family situation? And women can’t?

Because, while she was Secretary of State, two big personal events also took place. Her mother died, and Hillary had to plan her funeral. (And isn’t it true that planning a funeral is different for women than it is for men?) And Chelsea Clinton got married. Hillary and Chelsea are very close, and you can imagine all the emails it took to plan Chelsea’s very nice, expensive, highly political wedding. And, again, isn’t planning a wedding a different experience for a Mom than it is for a Dad?

So, she’s in a meeting. They’re discussing some international situation. She’s got her Blackberry, she’s emailing various underSecretaries. She gets an email from Chelsea–‘what do you think of these flowers?’ She’s supposed to excuse herself, leave her meeting, get her personal device, respond to Chelsea’s email, then put the device away and go back into her meeting.

It strikes me as . . . unreasonable.

And so, she resisted. And in order to keep her personal account, in order to store all those emails, government regulations required that she print off every email, no matter what the content, and store them in big binders full of email hard copies. They tried it for a couple of months, and Secretary Clinton realized what a colossal pain the whole thing was going to be for her staff, printing off hundreds of emails every day, filing them, storing them someplace. So they quit doing it.

Why didn’t anyone stop her? Why didn’t someone say ‘you can’t do this?’ Because she was the Secretary of State. Her boss was POTUS. It was too trivial a matter for the President of the United States to worry about.

There are a couple of other factors to consider as well. Comey says that the FBI was unable to determine if anyone had hacked her private account; whether her carelessness with internet security protocols ever led to foreign actors getting hold of American state secrets. But whether or not anyone hacked her account, we know that US government computers, the official, secure computers that Hillary was supposed to use get hacked all the time. Google ‘US government computers hacked.’ Look at the links that pop up: ‘hacking of government computers expose 21 million people.’ Over and over again. (Is it possible that foreign hackers were so busy actually compromising US cyber security that they missed Hillary’s private server entirely?)

Comey’s statement has been parsed by everyone, on every side of the political spectrum. First, here’s Comey’s explanation of why he didn’t file charges:

Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

People who would, for political reasons of their own, very much like to see Hillary Clinton indicted, read this statement, and conclude that the fix was in. She’s a crook, and she got away with it. Elites protecting elites. But Comey’s actually referring to the principle of prosecutorial discretion. This is normal practice for law enforcement officials: to decide that a technical violation doesn’t rise to the level of criminality. Comey gives us a subtle, nuanced description of a complex process.

It also recognizes the reality that Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, and that she is now running for President. Comey adds this clarification, which some people have found confusing.

To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.

What does he mean by ‘security or administrative sanctions?’ Clearly, Comey’s not talking about any kind of criminal charges. He dealt with the issue of criminality in his previous paragraph. But it’s possible that the FBI could recommend some other kind of lesser penalty. In other words, someone else doing what Hillary did could be fired.

I’ve heard some people suggest that Hillary should be fined for her actions. That would be the kind of ‘lesser sanction’ that Comey suggests. But you can’t. The only way to fine Clinton would be as the result of a criminal procedure. You can’t just say ‘Mrs. Clinton, we’re not going to charge you. But could you please pay a fine?’ Can’t happen. A judge can fine someone in lieu of jail time. But that was never going to happen.

Didn’t Hillary Clinton know how bad this whole thing might look? Didn’t Bill Clinton realize how his innocent airport visit to Loretta Lynch’s plane would appear to people? This story, from Vox.com, explains it beautifully. Bill and Hillary Clinton are caught in a horrible, toxic cycle of suspicion and mistrust with the press.

I think it goes back to what was likely one of the most traumatic events of the Clintons’ lives: the suicide of Vince Foster. Foster was a close personal friend of them both, and a trusted aid. When he saw how badly the press overreacted to the travel office story, he fell into a deep depression, resulting in his tragic suicide. And then the Clintons found themselves accused of having murdered him.

I don’t think they’ve ever recovered from it. I think it’s even possible that Hillary Clinton suffers from untreated PTSD stemming from Vince Foster’s suicide. And she concluded, probably both Clintons concluded, as a result, that they are never going to be treated fairly by the national media. Scandals simply erupt, based on nothing, and there’s nothing they can do to prevent it. So who cares about appearances? So a private email server looks bad? It could become a big problem? Well, so what? If it’s the emails, it’ll be something else.

Hillary Clinton knows she will never be treated fairly, that her reputation will be maligned no matter what she does. And her reaction is to keep on keepin’ on. Her instinct is to hunker down, fight harder, study more, and try to do some good in this world. The email thing is over. Let’s elect her President.