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So I wound up watching the first third of the Trump-Clinton debate on Monday, and listened to the next third of it on radio. Truth be told, it wasn’t hugely exciting to me–only an idiot could fail to see the obvious jabs Clinton was throwing at Trump, but luckily for all of us, Trump is indeed an idiot. But I’m enough of an old fart to remember when Republicans were terrified that Donald Trump would wind up ripping up their precious wealth-defending ideology. They need not have worried. Debater Trump defended it to a tee, hitting all the de rigeur talking points:

We cannot let it happen. Under my plan, I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously, from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies, small and big businesses. That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan. It’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.

Companies will come. They will build. They will expand. New companies will start.

Man of the people, Donald J. Trump, cutting the tax on corporations. Woulda made Woody Guthrie change his tune on the Trump family, were he alive today. And while Trump is still not quite a traditional Republican on trade, the days where he would talk about threatening and punishing businesses who relocate overseas are long gone (remember back when the Fonzi of Freedom sniffed so mightily):

HOLT: Back to the question, though. How do you bring back — specifically bring back jobs, American manufacturers? How do you make them bring the jobs back?

TRUMP: Well, the first thing you do is don’t let the jobs leave. The companies are leaving. I could name, I mean, there are thousands of them. They’re leaving, and they’re leaving in bigger numbers than ever.

And what you do is you say, fine, you want to go to Mexico or some other country, good luck. We wish you a lot of luck. But if you think you’re going to make your air conditioners or your cars or your cookies or whatever you make and bring them into our country without a tax, you’re wrong.

And once you say you’re going to have to tax them coming in, and our politicians never do this, because they have special interests and the special interests want those companies to leave, because in many cases, they own the companies. So what I’m saying is, we can stop them from leaving. We have to stop them from leaving. And that’s a big, big factor.

“Stopping them from leaving” via the carrot of smaller corporate taxes, and the mighty stick of a new reciprocity tariff? Sure, it ain’t Mitt Romney, but aside from the tariff, it’s well within what Republicans usually propose, more goodies for “job creators” and nothing for the rest. And it’s good to know that, like most Republicans, he doesn’t give a shit about clean air or workplace safety:

You are going to approve one of the biggest tax increases in history. You are going to drive business out. Your regulations are a disaster, and you’re going to increase regulations all over the place. […]

When I go around — Lester, I tell you this, I’ve been all over. And when I go around, despite the tax cut, the thing — the things that business as in people like the most is the fact that I’m cutting regulation. You have regulations on top of regulations, and new companies cannot form and old companies are going out of business. And you want to increase the regulations and make them even worse.

I’m going to cut regulations. I’m going to cut taxes big league, and you’re going to raise taxes big league, end of story.

Admittedly, he’s not good at this. Republicans are generally good at finding some regulations that sound silly, insidious, or damaging, and are usually able to name some corporate executive or other who can back them up. Back before going full wingnut, someone like Jack Welch could be counted upon to lend credibility to this cause. Alas, Trump cannot name a single businessman or a single regulation, and his usual bluster reigns. The amazing thing is that Trump himself is a businessman and he could have just used himself as a source. He could have just named one regulation that bothered him and it would have been enough. Sad!

Donald Trump: a normal Republican who supports a tariff, which basically makes him a normal Republican from 1938. And when it came to women and minorities, he probably wouldn’t even have been the most progressive Republican on the subject back then either.

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Seems like recently I’ve been reading a ton of “just imagine if x had done y” type arguments. More than usual. Hypocrisy arguments are fine if you have nothing better, or if the scale of the hypocrisy is mind-boggling and harms people like, say, a Roy Cohn, or a Ted Haggard, or in something like the Breaker Morant case. But I’m not really convinced it’s the strongest way to put an opponent in their place. Living with any kind of moral or ethical structure is hard! People have to choose between competing values all the time. Sometimes these choices deserve criticism, no doubt about it, and peoples’ ability to rationalize is boundless, but while judging people for failing to live up to their own standards is more “damning” in a sense, it has its downsides as well: it plots all actions on a black-and-white moral plane, does not convey a point of view, and ultimately only values surface consistency rather than real substance. It is, ultimately, the morality of small children, though perhaps it’s not so surprising that it’s so embraced by that clearinghouse of easy moralism, the media.


I liked Sam Wang’s piece on how the “expectations game” is overblown:

Think about this for a moment. What does it mean for a candidate to “exceed expectations”? It usually means that he/she was the weaker candidate to begin with. So if some commentator emits hot gas about either candidate doing better than expected, there is a good chance that candidate will be the loser in November.

Also, I’ve ditched Nate Silver after today’s update. Nobody else has been as pointlessly volatile or as Trump-leaning with their model (not to mention such flubs as the GOP primaries and the “now-cast”), so I’m gonna stick with Wang and Nate Cohn from here on out. They’re not famous and don’t have a massive enterprise to preserve and expand, so their incentives are just to get it right and supplant Silver.

Alas, I will not be watching the debate because of a prior engagement. But I’ll try to watch it after the fact.

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Trump’s recent poll surge didn’t exactly make me think he’d win, though it did raise my level of anxiety about it. Even if the outcomes look favorable, elections are naturally higher anxiety times for me! At any rate, the polls are shifting away from The Orange One, resuming the usual equilibrium of a public that has made up its mind about Trump, and despite the “expectations game” I don’t really think the debates are going to help him to turn that around. Debates are basically the only presentational element of politics that Clinton excels at, and while the stories of his debate prep (or lack thereof) may be deliberate disinformation, it’s basically impossible to make a candidate who knows nothing learn everything within a few weeks. In terms of beating expectations, Sarah Palin did okay in the 2008 debate, and it didn’t help her from dragging down John McCain.

Still, it seems crazy that Trump is still in this, and while I don’t agree with everything in the article I think that John Judis makes a solid point here:

Compare for a moment Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton’s response to the consumer fraud perpetrated by Wells Fargo. During Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s appearance before the Senate Finance Committee, Warren told Stumpf, “You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

By contrast, Clinton’s response was an open letter to Wells Fargo customers. “I was deeply disturbed when, last week, we found out that Wells Fargo had engaged in widespread illegal practices over many years… Today, Wells Fargo’s CEO will appear before Congress. He owes all of you a clear explanation as to how this happened under his watch. There is simply no place for this kind of outrageous behavior in America.” Clinton then went on to present a raft a proposals for reforming the banking system:

“First, we need to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau… Second, we need real consequences when firms on Wall Street break the law…it’s frustrating that a bank can simply pay a fine and keep doing business as usual – with massive compensation for the executives responsible. That compensation should be clawed back. I’ve put forward an agenda to enhance accountability on Wall Street. Executives should be held individually accountable when rampant illegal activity happens on their watch. .. Third, we need to make sure that no financial institution is too big to manage. I’ll put additional safeguards in place to address the risks that the big banks continue to pose to our system. .. I’ll appoint regulators who will stand with taxpayers and consumers, not with big banks and their friends in Congress.”

It is a telling difference. Warren’s response is visceral, unambiguous, hard-hitting. You can tell immediately where she’s coming from, why she’s bothered, what she things should be done. It’s a response that is designed to be shared on social media and that will make people say, “Hell yeah!” Clinton’s is cerebral and even intellectualized. While there are phrases that could fit into Warren’s reaction (“deeply disturbed”, “outrageous behavior”) they’re not nearly as sharp, and the bit about a clear explanation defangs it. What explanation could there be, other than fucking greed? And then there’s the inevitable pivot to policy, as one expects from Clinton, which kills any remaining emotion there. You really do see why Warren is the better politician here: Warren can certainly rattle off policy proposals and details about financial reform with the best of them. But she also understands anger, knows when to channel it, and understands the effectiveness of symbolism and political theater (not to mention thematic and narrative politics). Clinton, ultimately, only has policy to fall back on. Wondering what might have happened had Warren run against Clinton is the ultimate what-if, but moments like this make me think she could have won. Much as we might want to blame the media for covering Trump obsessively, Clinton’s relative lack of facility with crafting a narrative and developing resonant themes (particularly compared to Warren) make her a less dynamic candidate, and while it could certainly be argued that the even keel makes a good contrast with Trump, you still want to be able to break through the clutter. And while I continually find myself reading articles about how sexism explains away virtually every negative feature of this campaign, I can’t help noting Warren isn’t generally known for secrecy or lack of transparency. I could be wrong, but I’ve never particularly considered those sexist stereotypes. Plenty of men get that reputation as well. Such as Chris Christie, who may just face impeachment as well as legal punishment over BridgeGate.

Ultimately, Clinton’s mastery of policy is going to fit well with the debate format, and even during the now-over Trump surge I never thought her likely to lose. But the “this is the only woman” crowd have long accentuated the positive and ignored the negative with regard to Clinton: in an era of personality-based politics, populist anger, and deep distrust of politics and politicians, Clinton is not exactly an ideal match for the times. Granted, Trump embodies almost every negative element of these things in a funhouse-mirror way that horrifies key voters, and having Clinton as a foil for that should work out. But that’s why it’s close.

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In 1997, Tony Blair won the sort of victory that few politicians ever do: a landslide election win, near-North Korean personal approval levels, and a completely disorganized and hopeless opposition. Almost no obstacles to fundamentally remaking British government and society presented themselves. His failure to do just that is explored deeply by Bower’s book, and it argues that Blair (and New Labour in general) simply weren’t up to the task. Blair’s incredible belief in himself, his distaste for introspection or reflection and his tendency toward an oversimplified and moralistic view of matters continually lead him awry, and his “big picture” thinking led him to avoid crucial details that invariably snowballed into major crises, such as his Brexit-precipitating immigration rules. (Incidentally, when you consider these traits of his personality, the “inexplicable” friendship with George W. Bush becomes a lot more comprehensible–they’re deeply similar people.)

Bower also makes a strong case that Blair was in some ways a remarkably weak leader, particularly in his dealings with Gordon Brown, who formed the only effective obstacle to his ability to make change. Rather than firing Brown or otherwise seeking to reduce his influence, Blair simply declined to deal with him, and gave his subordinate veto power over domestic policy out of his own fear of losing power.

Blair’s ignorance of history, geopolitics and the basics of government comes into play continuously. And his preferred management method–setting ambitious targets in the press for, say, energy, failing to follow up, and then weathering a crisis when bad headlines arrive–is not exactly something that makes any sort of intuitive sense if you want results, though it does if you only care about what the media is saying. This is not to mention his, ahem, checkered post-political career, though Bower convincingly connects the secretive and money-obsessed modern Blair with his political self, and all those donor scandals, among other things. Overall, the man comes off as a slippery salesman: an absolute believer in whatever he’s selling you, kept going by a corresponding belief in himself, but any ethical principles, genuine morality or depth are merely an illusion, part of the sell. The principal difference between his political career and afterward was the product: first himself, then his influence. I enjoyed the book quite a bit–there is an editorial slant and elements of it have been disputed, but it’s an undeniably coherent and plausible take on the subject matter, not to mention readable.

It is interesting to read the book in the light of the still quite recent downfall of one of Blair’s biggest acolytes, David Cameron. There’s considerable irony to their trajectories. Comparing the Iraq War to the Brexit referendum is more than a little facile: one caused numerous deaths and destroyed a state, the other will most likely have indirect economic effects. Still, in both cases, the leader saw political problems through the primary lens of media management. Both were more salesman than statesman. And while Blair may arguably have broken the Labour Party beyond repair–absent the balm of election wins, its ancient and vituperative rivalries have snarled once again–Cameron’s legacy may likely be sacrificing his country’s future to win an election. It’s enough to make a person bemoan the combination of boundless self-confidence, crudely oversimplified morality, and a taste for power bereft of real substance that has caused countless damage over the past decade. The system truly is broken.

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Nice to see the Times (among other publications) showing a newfound willingness to call a spade a spade and denounce Trump lies as such. Though the cynical part of me thinks it has more to do with Trump bamboozling the media into showing his infomercial than to any real fear of Trump than a change of heart on the false balance question. But that is slouching back toward empiricism a bit.

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Apple yanking the headphone jack smacks of trying to create talking points to continue to show themselves as the future. That is all.

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