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Reading about the Donald Trump campaign day after day has gotten me thinking about one of the most influential–and mostly forgotten–media figures of our modern era, Morton Downey Jr. No, he wasn’t Iron Man’s brother, he was a career media guy who, among other things, had a right-wing talk radio show in the very time slot on Sacramento radio that Rush Limbaugh took over after he left (we native Sacramentans have so much to be proud of) and later had a televised talk show that was, for a moment, the biggest thing on television. It was a very big deal, actually–the obvious progenitor of the angry political confrontationalism of Bill O’Reilly, though it included a lot of the trashy/sleazy material that would later find a home with Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. Hell, even someone as anodyne as Jay Leno borrowed some moves from the guy, namely the running into the audience and shaking hands bit. Seriously, all of that stuff gets traced right back to Downey. And, for a year or so, people couldn’t get enough of it. Downey became a TV superstar who somehow managed to fit a music career alongside taping a daily show into what wound up being a very short window of fame. (Seriously, you have to check out his music. It’s insane.) Watch this (featuring a surprise special guest) and tell me that Trump isn’t cribbing Downey perfectly:

Downey’s show keyed off of confrontation. It was a sort of fantasy for very, very angry people: Mort Downey would tell the smartypants pointyheads to their face exactly what they wanted to say to them. There’s no intellectual component to the debate whatsoever. The clip is interesting because Paul is clearly getting the better of the argument on intellectual terms, and obviously is used to dealing with a hostile audience. But he clearly wasn’t used to dealing with someone who had no interest in debating ideas, and was only using Paul as a prop, in effect. He starts to get rattled. Downey keeps escalating, invades his space, lobs gratuitous insults at Paul. And yet Paul winds up looking not much better in the end. Now, admittedly, Ron Paul is a crank in real life, and is perhaps not the best example of a stable person. But this shows just how brilliantly Downey’s method of confrontation worked. Downey is clearly able to reach down into a person’s emotional core, bully them, shatter their composure. Paul after a point just sounds crazy, even though the points he makes are generally solid. It’s Downey who maintains his composure and control, so he ultimately “wins” in the eyes of his audience. Downey may prefer “scum” to Trump’s “loser”, but it’s the same basic strategy of using confrontation to allow an audience to experience some measure of uptake on their anger, vicariously of course. (Also, if you watch long enough, you get a spiel from Congressman Charles Rangel which serves as a forgotten reminder of just how avidly black elected officials supported the war on drugs, once upon a time.)

What ended Downey’s brief reign as the hottest star on television? As the truly excellent documentary about Downey from a few years back tells us, the show ran out of gas because, after a certain point, they couldn’t book guests anymore. Nobody was desperate enough to air their views and get subjected to such savage treatment. As a result, the show simply couldn’t provide the sort of confrontation that set it apart in the first place, and became increasingly reliant on the sort of sleazy programming that would become commonplace on Springer in the next decade. Didn’t save Downey, though, as his show was canceled not quite two years after it began, a mere part of the cycle of self-destruction that characterized Downey’s life generally. (Modern equivalents of Downey–O’Reilly and Bill Maher come to mind, though the latter obviously has different politics, both only go up to a certain point in their confrontations in order to keep guests coming and ensuring a steady dose of conflict that keeps those ratings aloft. Downey didn’t and maybe couldn’t.) Trump’s campaign has been highly successful in much the same way Downey was: by providing the thrill of confrontation with all manner of superior know-it-alls: the mainstream media, John McCain, Megyn Kelly. He knows how to deal with all of them, the respectable types are shocked, Trump wins. But eventually he’ll run out of targets, just like Downey ran out of guests. There are only so many people he can get into a public spat with, and eventually when he runs out of new ones, the thrill will be gone. Then and only then will his poll numbers begin to fade. The real question is: when does this happen? November? Next August? You really have to wonder if the Republican Party will actually be able to field someone other than Trump as the nominee if he’s able to suck all the oxygen out of the room until then. Couldn’t happen, you say? Keep in mind that Silvio Berlusconi–an extremely Trumplike figure–actually served multiple terms as Prime Minister of Italy. During which time he did such things as: have (not alleged, he was convicted) sex with underage prostitutes, comment incessantly and crudely on the attractiveness of female politicians, have all manner of tangles with legal authorities over enriching himself at public expense, not to mention speaking positively of Mussolini and Hitler. His Wikipedia controversies section is longer than most peoples’ full entries. Didn’t matter. After years of political instability and politicians’ scandals, people were extremely, utterly pissed off, didn’t trust politicians, loved the brash anti-politician. In fact, were he not legally ineligible to run for office, he could be running the country right now. Obviously, that’s a different country with a different political system. But people are people.

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I’ve just about had it with the theory that because Carly Fiorina is a woman, therefore she cannot be sexist/misogynist, and as a result can use whatever language she wants without giving offense. It’s profoundly silly. It’s perfectly possible to have self-loathing that manifests itself as a hatred for your own race/ethnicity/gender. It doesn’t count for any more or less than if someone of a different group does it. It makes me think of one of the Coen Brothers least-loved, most underrated films, The Man Who Wasn’t There, which is obsessive in its attempt to recreate the postwar era (many argue too much so), but it brings some interesting, often forgotten things to light. In the movie, Frances McDormand plays a full-blooded Italian woman who displays nothing but open contempt for Italian people, employs the usual stereotypes and uses derogatory language about them. This is because the character aspires to a certain WASPy suburban ideal, which leads to her disastrous marriage to the main character, played by Billy Bob Thornton, and these attitudes continue to work and lead to her affair with her boss at work, who is richer and more socially successful than BBT, and who is ironically played by James Gandolfini, though with a hearty hail-fellow affect. What we’re talking about here is identity politics, basically, though the flip side of the usual kind of identity politics, in which people aspire to a more “desirable” identity by dragging down the one they were assigned. FOX News makes the most of these folks when they happen to be women or minorities, of course. But it’s a sign of some kind of delusion at work to think that they will to any degree work in solving the Republican Party’s many diversity problems, as the only reason to make use of them is to convince older white FOX viewers that they’re right-on, everyone’s a right-winger deep down, they’re just being brainwashed, etc. Just let Michelle Malkin tell you all about it. Pushing Carly Fiorina’s candidacy is thus too clever by half: it is a non-serious bid by a notorious self-aggrandizer which is more likely to convince Republicans that horribly abusive language toward women is fine, which will ultimately be a disadvantage. The fact that she was, as Trump might say, a total disaster as a CEO and a loser at every political position she’s been in are beside the point.

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Dear Sir or Madam,

It might seem reasonable to make some sort of concession should you come under attack from right-wing critics. Believe me, it isn’t, and I’m speaking pragmatically here. Ignore any sort of ideological angle. Look at it this way. This isn’t personal. There’s a multibillion dollar industry made up out of whipping people into a frenzy, not to mention any number of freelancers and hobbyists either trying to get in on it or just having their own kind of fun. They scour far and wide to find things to get outraged about. You’ve landed on their list. It happens. But if you decide to play ball in hopes of avoiding being labeled as “loony left” or some such, then you will be sorely disappointed, because that will happen anyway and this will be merely the beginning of a long chain of harassment. Once they have a scalp, so to speak, they will never stop scrutinizing you and hounding you, since this constitutes “proof” and justification of their beliefs and actions. They will go on demanding more concessions until finally they go too far and you just say, the hell with it. By which point, you’ll have alienated just about everybody with nothing to show for it. Just take a look at what the New York Times has done over the years, such as trying to avoid using the word “torture” in reference to things it had historically described as torture during the Bush years, or its more recent blowup over a badly mistaken story about Hillary Clinton’s email. In going overboard to attempt to appear neutral, it has merely made people rightfully suspicious of them. Or take NPR. Or take whoever in the media Bill Kristol is drawing a paycheck from this week. It never works, they’re still incessantly criticized in spite of making serious compromises. Learn from this.

Plenty of organizations want to maintain a reputation for political neutrality, and that’s fine. For all sorts of organizations, that makes absolute perfect sense. But you have to realize that this is not always within your control, and while the FOX/Rush crowd is loud, their attention is constantly shifting from one world-ending disaster after another. The aforementioned industry may decide to come into your lives for no better reason than a whim, and they can be quite loud and quite irritating. The best choice is simply to stick to your guns, so to speak.

Most Sincerely,
Lev

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Someone tell me again how Republicans aren’t crazy, just misunderstood?

Definitive proof of the former?

Trump leads the field with 24% support among likely Republican voters.

Oh how the world laughs at us.

Continue reading »

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And yet, there was not so much as a gust of wind that day.

Three weeks into the Trump Era, we’re starting to see efforts to put the man into a broader context. Trump has perhaps hit his peak for the cycle in terms of media attention and polling support, but it’s worth remembering that the man is fundamentally volatile and unpredictable, and if you’ve ever seen an episode of The Apprentice, then you know that he considers this a point of pride. I could just as easily imagine him dropping out of the race next week as I can imagine him continuing on, with no hope, through every single primary just like Jerry Brown in 1992, and then even possibly taking on a third-party presidential bid when he loses. Or not. In any event, we have to assume that he’s here to stay, which raises the question of what impact he will have on the Republican race. And I think the obvious answer is that he fucks up Scott Walker’s shit. Most people taking this question on argue that Trump helps Bush, which I agree with. Nobody in Bush’s orbit is going to be remotely tempted by Trump. Walker, however, is attempting to replicate what his idol, Ronald Reagan, and previously Barry Goldwater accomplished, which was to beat the establishment from the right. A typical Republican field includes a large number of very conservative minor candidates who split up the vote, while the party’s political professionals and donors will decide on a single candidate and lavish their undivided support on him. It’s why the party wound up with Romney and McCain over Santorum and, well, Mitt Romney. (The party shifted quite a bit to the right over those four years.) But this year was going to be different: weak, compromised establishment choices in Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, and a uniquely strong hardcore conservative in Walker, who had widespread name recognition and a national base. For a noted Reagan idolater, Walker had to just be praising the stars at this setup.

The nightmare scenario for him, though, is a candidate like Donald Trump. While Walker has perfectly followed the Tea Party’s methods in office, as a communicator he cannot touch Trump’s mastery of the movement’s aggrieved, angry, antipolitical rhetoric. As this piece astutely notes, simply by running, Trump can fracture the field’s conservatives and make it much harder for Walker to win. Just by showing up and taking a nontrivial chunk of support, that’s it. And he can’t out-right the guy on substance, either. Trump is willing to go far beyond what best judgment dictates, and it just so happens that on his signature issue of immigrant crime, things on the right are turning rapidly in his favor, in ways that could wreck Walker’s whole strategy and derail his candidacy. I refer to the august Representative from Western Iowa, Steve King. Obviously, King has said some nice things about The Donald’s immigration views just in general. King says essentially the same things as Trump in much the same way, sometimes with even less tact, and it seems unlikely that anyone who actually cares about their general election is even going to try to one-up him/them. But even beyond that, events have conspired that could make this even more meaningful: the right-wing media has recently been caught up in a frenzy–easy for people outside the bubble to miss, given the multitude and rapidity of frenzies they engage in–over the horrific murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco. Why does this connect? Because San Francisco is a sanctuary city, which essentially means it doesn’t enforce deportation laws and the like, and the accused is an illegal immigrant. The right-wing media has been going full-tilt on this–according to my wife, who had unfortunate occasion to watch several hours of FOX News because she was visiting a family member post-surgery, every FOX show was running with this, each one interviewing a separate family member–and now Rep. King himself has weighed in in his typical, considered manner. He has directly tied this to Trump’s message:

King said that three weeks ago, he brought an amendment to the floor on the Commerce Justice Appropriations bill that prohibits any funds from going to any sanctuary cities or jurisdictions just has he has for years.

The amendment passed with strong support, but in previous years it has stalled in the Senate.

“We’ve got an opportunity to hold that language because of Donald Trump and because of this national crisis,” King said.

Though GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has been under fire for his statement that many illegal immigrants are bringing drugs into the country and that some are killers and rapists, King said recent events have shown he was right.

Would King endorse Trump? This is the key question. It would be almost too awesome to come true from a liberal perspective, but there’s very little reason to believe he wouldn’t strongly consider it. Trump donated significant sums to King in the past according to the National Journal article, they share a common stance on King’s pet issue, they are broadly similar in attitude and rhetoric. They like each other. If you find it impossible that King would endorse Trump, then I think you owe us all an explanation of why this couldn’t happen. Someone like Ted Cruz is clearly a con artist whose crazy exterior masks a cynical base, but I’m not sure you can say the same thing about King. He gives every indication of being a sincere kook who would gladly endorse a no-hoper who would damage the party, since that’s what’s so often said of him. And if King endorses Trump, you have to consider the possibility that Trump wins Iowa. If it seems odd that a Manhattan-based billionaire would win the Iowa Caucuses, long the best hope of evangelicals, ultracons and cornpone, well yes, it does. But with a King endorsement, I think it becomes a real possibility. There are, obviously, other hurdles. Winning Iowa would mean a lot of retail politicking that it doesn’t seem obvious Trump would excel at. And then there’s his well-covered history of supporting liberal causes and candidates. I am not entirely persuaded by the arguments that this will be his undoing–teahardists love purity but Reagan himself had a much more extensive record of left-wing politics and activism reaching well into the late 1940s. This sort of thing derailed Newt Gingrich’s moment in the sun three years ago, but Gingrich’s responses tended to be detached and professorial, while Trump’s would be anything but. And it’s also true that envisioning Trump as a man of deep faith is utterly implausible. So, obviously some challenges are there. But given that Walker’s current lead is basically based on name ID as governor of a neighboring state, Trump’s populist approach plus the support of Steve King would certainly put him in the game. And if Trump does win or finish a close second, Walker’s chances are basically hosed. It’s unlikely that he’ll win either in New Hampshire or South Carolina, and Nevada presents real challenges in the form of a genuinely moderate GOP governor who will have to be handled carefully, and a diverse, politically apathetic electorate very different from his exurban Milwaukee stomping grounds. It’s anyone’s guess who would win under those circumstances, but if Bush wound up winning (as I think he will), then that’s two in a row, and the stampede may well happen just from that.

Again, it’s worth saying that Trump is an unpredictable crazy person who could just drop out tomorrow. But if he remains in the race through the early primaries, by dint of fracturing conservatives and screwing up Walker’s strategy, he could end up making Walker 2016 look like Giuliani 2008. Watching Steve King should give us a good sense of whether this will happen. In the meantime, why not enjoy Tom Scharpling’s vintage recaps of The Celebrity Apprentice, easily among the best writing of that form ever. Here’s the web link, or you can download this PDF of The Celebrity Apprentice and let the hilarity roll on your mobile device, without all that scrolling and clicking.

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We’re spreading freedom across the world…freedom for future banksters to initiate their own coups that is:

The disastrous moment for Chase was a leaked memo to investors – written in January 1995. It said the president’s PRI party, which had ruled since 1929, “will need to consider carefully whether or not to allow opposition victories if fairly won at the ballot box”. It declared that a peaceful solution to the clash with the Zapatistas was unlikely. “While Chiapas, in our opinion, does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexican political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community,” it read. And then continued: “The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy.”

The punch line is the notion that the PRI needed encouragement to rig elections. In any event, this is from an article about Britain’s new Wall Street-bred Business Secretary and his history, and it’s nice to remove any doubt that the Tories are basically just Republicans now.

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Some men seek greatness, some have it thrust upon them. And some meekly hope to stumble into it somehow. My working theory is that Jeb Bush is only running for president to keep the Bush apparatus warmed up for his son’s inevitable run next decade. I doubt he really wanted to run deep down, but realized that a 12- or 16-year gap between Bush candidacies is too long to keep all those meticulously maintained connections intact, and decided to go for it largely out familial duty. I have no proof of this theory but it happens to fit the facts like no other one does, such as the fact that Bush is running a shitty, uninspired campaign that has been completely ignored for weeks now thanks to a buffoon from New York who has zero chance of winning, and also the fact that Bush seems to be unable to say anything that isn’t at best unhelpful or at worst completely tone deaf. Not only does citing one of slavery’s most successful champions as your favorite president not wash in today’s environment, but he’s also going to get it from the right for not saying Reagan is his favorite president. No doubt the intention was to imply that Bush would be similarly as effective as Polk, though it’s just as likely to imply a single-term pledge that seems to be a bizarre new Republican idea that gets kicked around every four years, as both McCain and Romney were known to contemplated it. This isn’t so much ill-considered as unconsidered. Bush has been running, officially and not, for months now. Debates are starting soon. One wonders if he’ll ever be in fighting shape at this rate.

Bush remains the frontrunner, in my consideration. But ultimately there’s no real rationale here for his candidacy, no fire in the belly, no nothing. Ted Kennedy got a significant amount of flak for seemingly running for president in 1980 based on being a Kennedy, but at least Teddy had significant identifiable policy differences with Carter that were a plausible basis for a run, combined with the fact that Carter’s 1976 win was due to his superior understanding of the brand new nomination system rather than to his broad appeal to the party, as well as Carter’s fundamental lack of competency as president–all this combined to make a decent case on paper for Ted, if not a winning campaign. Bush’s campaign rationale seems to be based largely on a sort of emotional blackmail, implicitly trying to cash in on all that “Dubya will be vindicated by history” nonsense from a few years back by party actors, along with a heavy reliance on the family’s political network to push him through, as well as a lot of lazy assumptions. He’s the “electable” candidate who isn’t appreciably more electable than any of the others, the “visionary” candidate whose only real departures from rightist orthodoxy are the same ones his brother had, and the “intelligent” candidate who seems to say ignorant and impulsive things as much as any other standard, non-Trump Republican does. And he’s still most likely to get the nomination, as his main competition are an amateur, his own protege, a Bible thumper, and a buffoon. But that may well be a Pyrrhic victory if his campaign damages the Bush brand even more than it already is, which is both incredible to consider and not at all impossible.

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