Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

20 October 2016

Decision Time, Except for Trumpets

[For a riff on voting this year, click here. For recent posts on Hillary playing the gender card and our president as our cultural leader, click here and here.]

It’s over! The campaign is done. Twenty days remain before the last voters cast their ballots, and only twelve for an October surprise. As PBS commentator Amy Walter said, the campaign already feels like a hundred years long.

Yet there is no rest for the weary. Hillary seems poised to win, but Donald has refused to accept her winning, at least in advance. He wants to keep us in suspense.

So even a decisive victory for Hillary may give us no relief. Will a revolution of sorts follow? Will it be soft or hard? Will there be yet more GOP pols refusing to do what our Constitution says they should do? Or will there be blood in the streets?

Ever the narcissist and showman, Donald thinks it’s all about him. He doesn’t ken that it’s about democracy, the rule of law. It’s about the customs of American civilization that, so far, have kept tanks off the streets of our capital when power changes hands. It’s about whether this 240-year-old experiment in democracy will die a violent death, fade away into oligarchy, or somehow survive by the skin of its teeth.

It’s easy to dismiss Donald’s rabid followers as “Trumpets.” Like him, they have more brass than sense. They are loud and hard to ignore. And now, from the lead Trumpet, they have caught the tune that all is rigged.

In theory, they are capable of anything, so we plebes take little comfort from the debates. There’s the truth that those who swallow lies and fantastic promises are followers, not leaders. There’s the jibe that, as the President and pundit Mark Shields pointed out, a “strongman whiner” is an oxymoron. Yet Hitler and Milošević had grievances, too, and they did a lot of damage in their times.

The Trumpets have been pliable as putty, at least in Donald’s hands. So how he responds to his loss matters. It matters a lot.

The great showman probably knows this. No doubt he wants to make his last hurrah a moment to remember.

The final debate was full of ironies. A man from the “fair and balanced” network that is in truth human history’s most effective propaganda organ managed to evoke the most substantive policy discussion of all three debates. The candidate who won’t credit experience gained visibly from his own: he was far more polished than ever before. If he had started out this way, who knows how much further he might have gone?

But as it happened, Donald gained nothing outside his sycophant “base.” The reason? Hillary, too, produced the best debate performance of this campaign, if not her entire career. She was poised and unflappable. She showed appropriate flashes of apparently real anger and indignation. She took Michelle’s advice to go high when they go low. And she was chock full of facts and figures, as always. But this time every one was on point and hit home. It’s hard to imagine how she could have done a better job against the opponent whom she faced.

As for Donald, his true self reeked through his new polish. Far from apologizing for his unauthorized groping and kissing, which his own recorded voice had corroborated, he denied everything. All the charges against him were lies, he said. His Trumpets may believe that, for they believe anything he says. But how many women will? Probably about as many as the Russophobes who believe his denials and explanations against the views of our seventeen intelligence agencies that his clowning has aided Putin.

In the end, Donald’s biggest whopper was what must do him in. All the past thirty years, he held, were a disaster, a series of terrible deals and stupid moves by incompetent people, including Bill, Hillary and the President. Although he didn’t admit it, those years and people included Dubya. As Hillary also pointed out, he had had the same attitude toward Ronald Reagan. Only Donald can do it right, and without experience, yet, so follow him . . .

You don’t have to be a psychologist to recognize this as megalomania and narcissism, mixed with a little paranoia. Donald’s constant failure to adduce facts to back up his claims helped. So did Hillary’s pointing out the “pattern” in his claims.

But in the end, either you drink the Cool Aid or you don’t. Those who drink deeply number, at most, between thirty to forty percent of voters. So in theory they can’t govern us. If our democracy holds, maybe they won’t. But they can still hurt us, tie us up, and slow us down.

It would be nice to think that Donald is some political space alien who will soon return to his native planet and leave us all in peace. But that would ignore the last forty years of American politics. It’s not just the bald vote suppression under the flimsy excuse of non-existent “voter fraud.” It’s not just the gerrymandering with districts that resemble amoebae which move their pseudopods wherever minorities move. It’s not just the rampant filibusters, now routinely used at rates 142 times the historical.

It’s also the Hastert Rule, which lets a minority rule in the House. It’s the exploitation of Senate “holds” as virtual single-senator vetoes. It’s the refusal even to hold hearings on a legitimate President’s legitimate (and moderate!) Supreme-Court nominee. It’s Mitch McConnell’s declaration, following the slimebag Limbaugh, of total political war a day after Obama’s first inauguration, obviating the long custom of a new president’s “honeymoon.”

It’s the apotheosis of non-issues like abortion, marriage equality and transgender bathrooms, which, although important to the people involved, having no bearing on life-or-death matters like global warming, education, the economy and national security. It’s Citizens United, which turns our pols into sycophants and lackeys of the rich. It’s making propaganda into a form of art and entertainment and calling it “fair and balanced.” It trading science for profitable lies, whether in minimizing the health risks of tobacco, denying global warming, lying about renewable energy, or promoting long wars that go nowhere, make no sense, and have horrendous unintended consequences like the annihilation of Syria and the rise of ISIS.

As all these things attest, the rich and powerful people behind the GOP are goal-oriented and relentless. They will do anything they can conceive to rule us for their benefit. They are like the Sunni Iraqis who, just as our “Mission Accomplished” was disintegrating into civil war, explained to a reporter, “You see, we want to rule Iraq.” The powers behind the GOP expect nothing less of our country, and they are well on their way.

Donald Trump is hardly an exception to these trends. He’s a result and consequence of the rules that the rich and powerful have made and twisted to govern this nation, in ways that would give our Founders nightmares. He’s a step along the road to oligarchy and empire that ancient Rome knew well.

Can we avoid the same fate? The prognosis is not good. Bernie tried to warns us, but Hillary was too powerful, and it was her turn. She’s not for a much-needed “political revolution.” That’s not how she thinks, and it’s way beyond her comfort zone. She’s for making things better, incrementally, for the middle class and for women and children.

For the moment, we seem to have dodged the Trumpets’ bullets. But only if one of Hillary’s children grows up big, strong and wise do we really have a chance. In the meantime, we can hope that her competence and women’s revulsion will produce a three-branch sweep, which will stem the tide of the rich, powerful and relentless for the nonce. If not, we may be left hoping that the Trumpets’ revolution will be political and weak, and not like Caesar’s.

Which Side Are You On?

    “They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there;
    You'll either be a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair.”
    — Pete Seeger
There are times in human history when you have to choose sides. You may not want to. You may want more nuance, more subtlety. You may want, unlike Solomon, to split the baby. You may want to preserve an imagined moral superiority. But you have to choose.

This is one of those times. If you vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, you will throw your vote away, because neither is going to come anywhere near winning. If you don’t vote for Hillary, you will, in effect, aid Donald.

But choosing sides goes far beyond the presidency. You have to choose sides down ballot, too.

One party—the Dems—stands for a strong middle class, equal opportunity for all, strong unions to protect working people from exploitation, the same single-payer health insurance that every other developed nation has, reducing global warming, and creating jobs the same way we did after the Great Depression and during World War II, by targeted government investment. The other party—the GOP—stands for the opposite of all these things, because its rich backers think the opposite will make them richer in the short term. They don’t give a damn about the long term, the state of society, the middle class, or you.

And one party—the GOP—will twist, turn and bend every rule of our democracy to get what they want: short-term profit. And they will tell you, with a straight face, that it’s all good for you: trickle-down, vote suppression, and bashing Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTs and any other minority that’s unpopular at the moment. They will tell you with the same straight face that they will say vote suppression will stop “voter fraud,” which is virtually nonexistent.

In the post above, I’ve made a partial catalogue of ways these pols try to deceive you and stretch to rules to get what they want. If you want to stop the bending, stretching and distorting, you have to vote for every Dem on your ballot, all the way down to the minor judgeships, city council and board of education. Because if you don’t, those minor officials will bend the rules even more, teach your kids propaganda, and (a few decades later) end up being the next generation of Mitch McConnells, Mike Pences or even Donald Trumps.

What do you do about so-called “nonpartisan offices”? You do a little research. You get on the Web, put the candidates’ names into Google, and look for statements and news reports that reveal their party affiliation or views, or advice from pols or organizations you respect.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. I’ve only lived and voted in New Mexico since 2010. So my knowledge of down ballot candidates is spotty. What should I do about nonpartisan “judicial retention” elections for state Supreme Court justices?

The New Mexico Supreme Court is just as important in New Mexico as the US Supreme Court is nationally. Insofar as state law is concerned, it makes key decisions on the state Constitution and on all those issues of “culture” and equal rights that can make or break a democracy, let alone a minority.

Every few years, justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court must stand for re-election. The question presented to voters is whether they should be “retained” in the highest judicial office in the state.

No “Dem” or “Rep” appears by their names on the ballot because judges are supposed to be “nonpartisan.” Yet we all know that’s a myth fast becoming a lie. In everything from abortion, through marriage equality, to gerrymandering, there’s now a partisan position.

So you can put your head in the sand and pretend that judges just “call balls ands strikes,” as US Chief Justice Roberts said in his confirmation hearings. Or you can accept the reality of our times, that on virtually every societal and cultural issue, there’s a partisan position that you can hear debated pro and con, on everything from PBS to talk radio.

You can pretend that judges are what they ought to be, or you can accept sad reality and choose sides.

I decided to choose sides. I took fifteen minutes to do my duty as a citizen and looked up the records of the four candidates for judicial retention, insofar as I could find them on the Web.

Three of the four were apparently Democrats with records of fighting for human rights, economic justice and equality. But one, Jonathan B. Sutin, was different. An ex-Marine with a good education and business background, he seemed well-qualified at first. But then I found a record of the kind of dispute that can make or break our democracy.

New Mexico Democrats had accused New Mexico Republicans of gerrymandering legislative districts. A well-respected judge from a lower court had been assigned to resolve the dispute. On appeal, a majority of the New Mexico Supreme Court didn’t think the judge’s report went far enough to cure the gerrymandering, so they sent it back to him for reworking. Justice Sutin dissented.

What caught my attention was not so much the result that Justice Sutin wanted. It was his attitude. As reported, he wrote in dissent that the “quest for the perfectly neutral reapportionment map devoid of partisan effect or bias is illusory. . . . Democrats keep their statewide majority under the plan. . . . [T]he matter is not in need of remand.”

In other words, striving for fair elections is vain, and what matters is the result. If Dems win, they have no right to complain, even if the deck may be stacked against them for future elections.

How many times have we heard that tune from the GOP? The imperfectability of Man and politics is ever an excuse when it favors them. But taxes? They always must go lower, ineluctably, no matter how great the deficits or the need for economic stimulus.

When I vote early on Saturday, I will be voting not to retain Justice Sutin. Of course politics is never perfect. It’s a system of constant struggle, full of disputes and checks and balances. But a man who declines a chance to make the system more perfect has, in my view, no place on the highest court of any state.

I may be spitting into the wind. To my knowledge, there is no current campaign, partisan or otherwise, not to retain Justice Sutin. But if every voter did what I will do, we would have judges devoted to improving the system constantly, whatever the cost, risk and chancees of failure, rather than accepting as “inevitable” flaws that just happen to favor one party over another.

If that’s the standard, then I know which side I’m on.



  • At Thu Oct 20, 02:05:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am still a bit fearful that many Trump voters have not told pollsters that they are voting Trump, but rather either hung up on the pollsters or said "I'm voting Hillary" just to get off the phone without looking like a deplorable. I am shocked that in my "professional job" here in Ohio/Canton that very many educated people with advanced degrees are solidly voting Trump but would never tell a pollster that!

    It is not fair how Bernie was unfairly squeezed out of any chance of defeating Hillary. If it were Bernie vs. Trump, it would be a 90% to 10% landslide at best. I just hope Hillary avoids jail.

    Just one typo after your rapid post after tonight's debate? "It’s hard to imagine how should could have done a better job against the opponent whom she faced."

    Warmest Regards, RH

  • At Thu Oct 20, 07:20:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Rod,

    Thanks again for your support and thoughts.

    The problem of voters hanging up on or lying to pollsters is a real and important one. I discussed it in depth in an essay posted about a month ago. In addition, there are other sources of systematic error in polling, including technological bias, inadequate or overshooting attempts to anticipate error, and inadequate sample size.

    You can get an idea of the real margin of error by looking at how various different polls addressing the same question differ. My own unscientific guesstimate of the real margin of error is 5-6%, or about double the 3% margin that most pollsters cite based on random sampling alone.

    So, yes, the polls are not worth much. The only thing that matters is the actual election.

    But don't worry too much about males hiding their preference for Trump. There may be just as many females who tell their men or pollsters they'll never vote for Hillary but do so anyway, in the privacy of the voting booth. I call this the “Yes, dear,” vote.

    The most important consequence of all this is not the uncertainty itself, but what unjustified confidence in polls might do to voters. Some might stay home or vote for a protest candidate, thinking that Hillary can’t lose. If enough voters to that, she might lose.

    The simple fact is that this is an “all hands on deck” election. One candidate is self-evidently imperfect. The other is utterly unqualified and unfit and a threat to our democracy and way of life. And even in a state like California or Maryland, where the chance of Hillary losing is virtually non-existent, there are still all those down-ballot offices and issues that every voter has a sacred duty to address. Do you want to let the next Donald Trump win a Senate or House seat, or a seat in a state legislature, just because you’re too lazy to vote?

    As for Bernie, I’m deeply sorry he lost, but I don’t think he lost unfairly. He got a late start and made some key mistakes. Perhaps his most important blunder was failing to point out (every single day!) that his social programs, even if enacted fully, would not destroy capitalism or free enterprise, but would make both work better. Hillary beat him fair and square because he failed to sell his revolutionary program as necessary, possible, and beneficial---all of which it still is. Now his best hope to effect real change is to become Budget Committee Chairman, which he will be if Dems take the Senate, or to receive a more important appointment (hard to see what) in Hillary's cabinet.

    “Stronger together!" is not just a slogan. It took Obama eight years to set the stage for our first female president and what may be the biggest Dem landslide since Johnson-Goldwater. Now Hillary and Bernie, working together, must make the best of the good hand they've been dealt. If they can do that, we may well look back at 2016 as a turning point in restoring our democracy and taking our country back from the Dark and Selfish Side. But that will happen only if we all vote, and vote for people who can win. For progressives, that means Hillary.

    Best, and keep on fighting,


  • At Wed Nov 09, 01:09:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Amazing. The media and "pollsters" never did figure out Trump. He completely connected with every hard working laborer here in NE Ohio in an apparent sincere way. Hard working folks here may not be college educated but are still 100% patriotic Americans and making the very, very basic mistake by and extremely highly educated person calling them a "basket of deplorables" was huge. A similar mistake was made by enthusiastically stating a whole bunch of coal miners were going to be put out of work. Those "elites" running for president should have had the smarts as well as a much better understanding of the deplorables, because their votes count equal to educated individuals, as it should be under our 240-year-old constitutional system justly requires.

    Yes, Trump is basically a bully and very tough businessman that often uses laws and tax codes to his advantage because without doing so he could never have constructed a single building in NYC where great "toughness" is absolutely required to get anything built with the crooked construction labor unions. Donald explains this, how he deals and negotiates with NYC unions and contractors, well in his books.

    Yes, I am scared that someone "unqualified" and often irrational has his fingers on the "nuke buttons"! However, the same man watched NYC try multiple times to try to build Woolman Ice Rink. After six or so years of watching the government repeated screw that project up, Trump asked for a chance to complete that project.
    In Trump style, he consulted with Canadian "ice experts" and the informed him that using metallic piping was crazy and new plastic piping is much better. Additionally, Trump had the unique ability to get the unions to line up countless cement trucks around the clock to allow for a single continuous concrete pour as opposed to NYC not having the ability accomplish this huge continuous pour with the unions, that is critical for a successful creation of a large ice rink. Forbes probably says it better than I can:

    We best understand the world through compelling narratives. Here’s one that helps us process the phenomenon known as Trump for President:

    “Once upon a time there was an ice skating rink in Central Park that could no longer make ice. No one could figure out how to fix the skating rink. Years went by and millions of dollars were spent and still no ice. One day a white knight wearing a bright red tie showed up and said: ‘ Let there be ice!’ Four months later there was ice. When asked by the press why the people had been unable to fix the rink themselves the knight said ‘they’re very nice people and I like them very much but they’re all idiots!’ And everyone lived happily ever after.”

    "Pretty much the true story of the Wollman Skating Rink fiasco. You can even check the New York Times. On May 31, 1986 Donald Trump said in an interview with the Times, “I don’t want my name attached to losers. So far the Wollman Rink has been one of the great losers. I’ll make it a winner.” Shortly after Trump decided to slap his name on Wollman Rink, if you read the fine print. Now, 30 years later, Wollman Rink is a winner and the Trump name is still associated with it. Just check the Wollman Skating Rink website. There it is! The famous, or, according to some, infamous TRUMP red logo."

    "The Wollman Rink incident underrscores the fascinating impact that Donald Trump is making on the political landscape and the American psyche irrespective of the outcome of the presidential campaign. Wollman Skating Rink today is one of the most iconic amenities for New Yorkers and tourists located in Central Park just a stone’s throw north of the Plaza Hotel (which was once owned by Donald Trump)."

    Best Regards, RH

  • At Wed Nov 09, 01:10:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, I meant to say that we can all hope that Trump brings his Woolman rink skills to solving problems in the WH

  • At Sat Nov 12, 04:04:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Rod,

    Thanks much for this comment. It deserves a wide audience, so it should be on my post-election comment, The Next Step for Dems.

    I hope you won't mind if I put it there, too. I'll respond there as well.




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