Archive

May 11th, 2016

Truth and Trumpism

    How will the news media handle the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I suspect I know the answer — and it’s going to be deeply frustrating. But maybe, just maybe, flagging some common journalistic sins in advance can limit the damage. So let’s talk about what can and probably will go wrong in coverage — but doesn’t have to.

    First, and least harmful, will be the urge to make the election seem closer than it is, if only because a close race makes a better story. You can already see this tendency in suggestions that the startling outcome of the fight for the Republican nomination somehow means that polls and other conventional indicators of electoral strength are meaningless.

    The truth, however, is that polls have been pretty good indicators all along. Pundits who dismissed the chances of a Trump nomination did so despite, not because of, the polls, which have been showing a large Trump lead for more than eight months.

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Who Wants to Be on Trump’s Ticket?

    There's no reason you couldn’t do the Republican vice-presidential search as a reality show. Donald Trump is good at that stuff. Plus it’s more than two months until the convention, and I believe that many members of his party would welcome a diversion.

    The contest for the second slot is already a lot like “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Everybody has to refer to the candidate as “Mr. Trump” and pretend his boorish exhibitionism is actually a demonstration of sublime leadership.

    Don’t make jokes about nobody wanting to be the winner! There are plenty of contenders. Mike Huckabee made it clear he wouldn’t say no. And look at Newt Gingrich, hopping up and down and waving his hand. Whoops — Chris Christie just shoved Newt out of the spotlight. Trump said he might like a governor, so that should give Christie a boost. And a recent poll showed that as many as 15 percent of New Jersey Republicans think he’d be a good choice.

    Just imagine the reaction at the network:

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Sex and the Singular Pol

    When the histories of this warped campaign are constructed, when a lasting inventory of its every last ignominy is done, Donald Trump’s guarantee that all of his appendages measured up to greatness will be front, center and protuberant, evidence of the election’s vulgar endowment.

    But there’s a more specific reason to dwell on that pants-dropping moment during a jaw-dropping debate. It broke with decades of political history, challenging the belief that one of the greatest threats to a presidential future was a profligate past.

    John F. Kennedy admitted nothing. Bill Clinton denied everything. He had to persuade a leery electorate that his libido was overrated so that he could demonstrate, in the White House, that it wasn’t.

    From Gary Hart through Newt Gingrich, politicians raced to stay a step ahead of sexual scandal.

    Or they were relished for their apparent immunity to it. Four years ago, the GOP chose a nominee who wore special religious undergarments.

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Donald Trump or Paul Ryan: Who’s King of the Hill?

    Paul Ryan and Donald Trump sit down at Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill to hash out a couple little things, like who is running the party and who is the actual Republican.

    “Welcome to Washington, Donald,” Ryan says, shaking hands with the presumptuous nominee. “Reince says you’re far more gracious in private than in public and I sure hope that’s true.”

    Trump smirks and pulls out his bottle of industrial-strength sanitizer, squirting a prodigious amount on his hands.

    Trying to thaw the chill, the House speaker displays his best ingratiating Irish undertaker air. “Hey,” he says, “thanks for not calling me Lyin’ Ryan.”

    “I never use the same adjective twice,” Trump replies coolly. “As you know, I do have killer instincts. That’s how I knocked out 16 losers. So let’s try a few names for kicks. Pious Paul? Pompous Paul? Phony Paul? Back-Stabbing, Blindsiding Paul who hung me out to dry to protect his own presidential ambitions for 2020?”

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A Confession of Liberal Intolerance

    We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

    Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

    OK, that’s a little harsh. But consider George Yancey, a sociologist who is black and evangelical.

    “Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black,” he told me. “But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.”

    I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.

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Make America empathetic again

    The first rule in elections is: Go for the votes you can get. By that measure, Hillary Clinton is right to try to put the old Obama coalition on steroids.

     Donald Trump will expand the Democrats' opportunities among non-white Americans, and produce Clinton landslides among Latinos. They have good reason to fear and despise the man who has demeaned them.

     And watch Republicans for Clinton become a major force in American politics, an alliance of mostly well-off, well-educated voters -- plus women of all classes. The members of the party of Lincoln who support Clinton will see that against Trump, she is the safe and even, by the non-ideological definition of the term, conservative choice.

    But Clinton also has to challenge Trump for at least a share among angry and struggling white working-class voters with real economic grievances. Their votes matter if she wants to keep Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania in the Democratic column.

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Trump's sacking of the GOP

    The Republican Party this week is like fifth-century Rome must have been after the Visigoths stormed the city's gates. Anarchy and confusion reign, there is the sound of anguished wailing, and political leaders are making an urgent calculation: Resistance or collaboration?

    The suddenness of Donald Trump's final victory over the GOP establishment was shocking. On Monday, Pollyannas were still convincing themselves that Trump could be thwarted at a contested convention. Within 48 hours, he had won the Indiana primary in a landslide and his last two opponents, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, had surrendered. Even Trump couldn't have expected it to happen so fast.

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The November reckonings

    Now that the contours of the general election are reasonably predictable, it is time to start thinking about the tripartite institutional reckoning that should come in November's aftermath -- for the media, Republicans and Democrats.

    For the media, the assessment is simple, and unsparing: We underperformed our constitutionally protected role. Sure, every campaign cycle features hand-wringing over the primacy of horse race over substance.

    This one feels demonstrably worse. Mesmerized by the bright, shiny object that is Donald Trump, we collectively failed to plumb his gaping lack of policy knowledge and proposals. Not completely, just not enough, and way too late. And not just his: Distracted by Trump, we let the whole field off the hook.

    The purely commercial explanation for this dereliction would be that the media, television in particular, didn't want to kill the golden goose of traffic. That's too simplistic -- and too sinister.

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Sheryl Sandberg, corporate titan and single mom

    Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, would be the first to acknowledge that she is the world's least-typical single mom. But on this, her second Mother's Day in that unexpected status -- Sandberg's husband, Dave Goldberg, died suddenly last May, at age 47 -- she is using her Facebook platform, and that tragedy, to reassess and highlight the challenges of single parenthood.

    Sandberg's "Lean In," her guide to women navigating a male-dominated workplace and balancing the demands of work and family, brightly proclaimed the importance of choosing well in one's spouse. Picking the right partner, she wrote, is "the single most important career decision that a woman makes."

     Sandberg described how Goldberg, at the time of his death CEO of SurveyMonkey, pressed her to ask for a parking space near her office at Google when she was hugely pregnant, and later insisted that she could  -- she had to -- negotiate compensation with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg despite fears of alienating her would-be boss.

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Democracy, It Isn't

    Despite my long involvement in civic education, the Electoral College has hardly been in my sight. It was just one of those things that we have always had. My first reaction upon learning that Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush got the electoral vote was that it would bring a fresh look at the system. A brush-up of history brought the information that it had happened three other times, albeit it more than a century before, and no one seemed to think it mattered much.

    It did not cause more than a short-lived interest that Bush was actually given the office of the President of the United States by a Supreme Court's ruling preventing a recount of the questionable Florida vote that could have sent Florida's Electoral College votes to the winner of the national majority, thereby electing Al Gore. It is extremely difficult to change the Constitution but it has been done some 27 times.

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