Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Left is Making Unforced Errors

It is OK for the left to admit mistakes.   It is healthy.  It is part of the process of regaining the majority.

One mistake was confusing the progress in the culture war with the centerpiece of politics.  Bill Clinton's campaign understood something the current left forgot: "It's the economy, stupid."

 A lot of voters oppose abortion and gay marriage and they are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with transgender people, and--at least currently--they have lost the culture war.  But the left needs to have a bigger purpose than consolidating those cultural gains.    And they do, sort of.   But not publicly, front and center.  
This could have been Obama, but it wasn't

It wasn't just Hillary's fault--even though her campaign themes focused on inclusion, not jobs, even in the face of plenty of evidence that Trump was winning the jobs message.  Obama did not help.  Barrack Obama wasn't seen as fighting for jobs. It did not become a Democratic issue.  

Trump just got a big win with this story on Carrier.  He showed himself to be "can do."  It inoculates him from appointing a Goldman man as Treasury Secretary.  Worse, for Democrats, but it was also a big loss for them.  They could have acted but did not.   Why didn't Obama make a big public attempt to save those jobs?   If he had been rebuffed and criticized as a socialist, all the better for the politics of it.   What could be better for Democrats than for Obama to have been seen as attacked by big business and the national Chamber of Commerce with their Republican ties?  The optics would have been great--either way.   Either the Democrat saves the jobs or he is rebuffed by Republicans.   But he did not.

We elected a black president.  Gay marriage has been normalized and is now--currently--a constitutional right.  There is progress in the culture wars (although the election results suggest there will be retreat and possibly even reversal.)   But $25/hour jobs were going offshore.    It's the economy, stupid.  Click Here. Trump saves 1000 Jobs

Guest poster author Thad Guyer makes an extended argument picking up on these same themes.  Guyer's comments will be uncomfortable for many progressive readers who will consider him angry and pitiless.   Progressive readers should not take comfort in the popular vote victory.  The 2016 results showed that the progressive left has lost a critical part of a progressive coalition because their message no longer motivates working class white males for whom issues of reproductive rights and racial inclusion are not important--or are negatives.

Guest Comment by Thad Guyer

"The Left Loses Its Voice"

“The Russians are coming”, “fake news is undermining our democracy”, “electors have a right to ignore their voters”, “sanctuary cities stand at the ready to thwart deportation of criminals”, and “Trump wants to violate our constitutional right of flag burning”, our side’s newspapers proclaim. The sky is falling. We nee d to calm down. 

Thad Guyer:Guest Post
(1) The “fake news” label is now our bane. Obama didn’t use the term, but Germany’s Merkel did on the same stage with the President. Hence, it is now the coin of the Democratic party. (See, NYT, “Obama, With Angela Merkel in Berlin, Assails Spread of Fake News”,, Nov 17, 2016). No sooner did the left coin “fake news”, than the right has been able to throw it in our faces as to our own fake headlines. And it is a powerful delegitimizer of whatever credibility the NYT, Washington Post, and CNN had left. “The Russians” defaced our election? No, the left’s falsehoods about Russia defaced it as much as the right. (See, WP, “If you’re even asking if Russia hacked the election, Russia got what it wanted”,, Nov 28, 2016).

(2) A viral post by “Lawyers on the Left” touts the filing of lawsuits across the nation to strike down state laws requiring delegate loyalty to voters in the electoral college. See, DailyKos, “A lawyer in California just filed suit against the Electoral College as it violates equal protection”,, Nov 19, 2016). The November 29th post reads in part, “F _ _ k this peaceful transition of power”, and “let’s flood the federal courts this week”. Even assuming such lawsuits have legal merit, the sentiment that Democrats would be better off undermining the electoral system conveys a desperation and “anything goes” approach that can surely do one thing—undermine the left’s voice even further.

(3) Apart from Democratic values embracing immigrants and not terrorizing immigrant communities, the message that the left stands in unison with convicted immigrant criminals certainly resounds with most Americans—resounds very badly for us. With Democratic leaders from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles proclaiming that we most certainly will not let either the Obama or Trump administrations deport felons on the day of their release from jail sentences, well, who needs enemies? It’s a decidedly losing strategy to regain our majority.

(4) Finally, our left media is now ablaze with claims that Trump advocates violating the constitution in wanting to criminalize flag burning—something Senator Clinton voted for long after the Supreme Court articulated the 1st Amendment right to burn the flag. 
(See, Newsweek, “Before Donald Trump Called for Flag-Burning Jail Time, Hillary Clinton Did”,, Nov. 29, 2016). Few left media articles mention Clinton’s vote. And while we’re told the Supreme Court memorialized this flag burning right, most articles hide that it was a 5-4 vote. You’d think a boogey man of the alt-right wrote this dissent in insisting flag burning is a criminal act: “The case has nothing to do with 'disagreeable ideas.' It involves disagreeable conduct that, in my opinion, diminishes the value of an important national asset". The dissenter? Liberal justice John Paul Stevens. (See, Texas v. Johnson, 1989,, Wikipedia). Its the same for Trump’s suggestion that citizenship revocation might be an appropriate penalty, a constitutional prohibition established on a mere 5-4 vote when no ultra-conservatives even served on the Court. (See, Afroyim v. Rusk, 1967,, Wikipedia).

Trump doesn’t need to “violate the Constitution”. He just needs a new 5-4 majority to overrule these tenuously established constitutional rights. And as we alienate our pitched voice from majority America, we bring Trump closer to the “achievements” we want to prevent.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Crisis Technique

"Never complain and never explain."

The quote is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, and Wallis Simpson, and Katherine Hepburn.

Donald Trump gets it.

Trump:  So what?
Donald Trump is being accused of having conflicts of interest.  The Democrats on the House Oversight Committed write:   "The scope of Mr. Trump's conflicts of interest around the world is unprecedented.  Over the past two weeks new revelations have raised serious concerns about the intermingling of Mr. Trump's businesses and his responsibilities as president."

These conflicts are not "technical" or in some sort of gray area.  He mixes presidential visits with asking foreign leaders to use his hotels.  He has development projects that need foreign government approvals.  The conflicts are obvious and material.  More important, they take place in the context of Trump having said he wanted to "drain the swamp" of conflicts of interest.

Is Trump acting sheepish?   No.   Trump stands tall and says he can do it and says it is not a problem.  Case closed.

Trump called Hillary Clinton "crooked" and blasted her for illegal and dangerous handling of classified material.   FBI Director Comey distinguished between Hillary and General Petraeus, who pled guilty to mishandling material.   Petraeus did it intentionally, he lied to the FBI about it, and the FBI found the evidence of his guilt hidden within the ceiling insulation of Petraeus' home--obvious evidence of intent to deceive.  Hillary cooperated with the FBI's investigation.  Trump is openly considering Petraeus for Secretary of State.

No mumbling of excuses from Trump. 

Trump's recent tweets on the election have a direct contradiction, as this blog noted yesterday.  He was both indignant that Jill Stein would question the election result, and simultaneously said the election was fraudulent and rigged.   The news is calling him out, saying his comments are false, pure and simple.

No mumbling.  No apology, no explaining from Trump.

Trump is thin skinned and is very sensitive to slights.  He understands that he is the subject of questions and criticism.   Key to Trump's method is that he does not accept the validity of criticism.  He responds to this by attacking.  He accuses.  He is right and they are wrong.  Period.

No apology.  He was hungry.
I imagine that the lion does not empathize with the gazelle.  The lion sees dinner.  The lion's power and right to eat is absolute.   He is hungry.  What else matters?

President Obama projected a very different sensibility.   Obama communicated that he saw America within the context of other countries and saw himself and his presidency within the context of checks and balances.  Mitch McConnell certainly forced that consciousness onto him because Obama could get little passed.   This is the constitutional system and it fit Obama's tone.

Voters voted for it but they are simultaneously impatient with gridlock.   They were uncomfortable with Obamacare but Obama pushed forward with it, so the Democrats lost their majority and ability to legislate.   It made Obama look constrained.  Republicans called him weak and feckless and compared him badly with Putin.   Trump was the strongest and most Putin like of the Republican alternatives and a big part of that was how he handled being caught in contradictions or inaccuracies (sometimes referred to as "lies".)

He acts like he does not notice and he does not care, not one bit.  There is no apparent sense of guilt or shame or inconsistency.   He is impervious.  It come across to many people as strength and resoluteness.

Trump communicates that he will break through gridlock, because he cannot be contradicted.  This frightens Democrats but it excites a great many voters.   Trump will shake things up, people think.   He communicates that he won't be deterred by critics, and until he begins making actual changes people think they want things shaken up.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trump needs to choose his battles wisely. He isn't.

President-Elect Trump:  The election was completely fair, beyond question, so an audit is ridiculous.    And the election was totally rigged.   

Both, simultaneously.

Trump is angry and tweeting about election fraud.   He is trying to have it both ways.   Even Fox News has noticed and is doing damage control.  

Trump is furious about the recount and vote audit going on in Wisconsin.   Hillary said we should accept that Trump was elected, he said, so an audit is ridiculous and a scam.  Of course the election  was fairly and honestly held and counted, something self-evident and needing no further question.  Most people agree that it is extremely unlikely that his 15,000 vote margin would be changed by anything found in the audit.  There is no evidence of voter fraud or election irregularity.   

Trump apparently lost focus and clarity on the position he was taking.  He appeared to be drawn back into the issue of his legitimacy because of news reports that Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote was approaching two million votes.  He can't let that go.

His original response was that he could have won but didn't try because racking up extra votes in a California or Texas or New York and instead focused on the battleground states.  

He could not leave well enough alone.  Now he is raising the argument that in fact he would have won except for all the rampant voter fraud. 

In tweets today he said millions of votes were cast fraudulently thus denying him the popular vote victory.  This is dangerous territory for him.   If the election was rampantly fraudulent then audits of the kind being done by Wisconsin are not ridiculous.  They are reasonable and prudent, there and elsewhere.

Trump: Rampant Voter Fraud

Trump:   Actually, I won the popular vote in a landslide.

Is the election result credible or was there widespread fraud?     Trump wants it both ways, and his campaign statements and tweets argue it angrily in both directions.

When he was a candidate apparently it did not matter..  Voters did not seem to care--or notice--and the media covered stories of this kind by noting this.  But now he is President-elect and the NY Times is now flatly noting in the headline that Trump is making an unfounded claim. 

More significant, even his reliable allies at Fox News noted he wanted it both ways, undermining his own argument.  

"There's been no indication of widespread vote manipulation, illegal voting or hacking that materially affected the outcome one way or the other. It's that very lack of evidence that suggests Trump is likely to prevail in recounts."

There are two long term implications from the event.   First is the press coverage.  The New York Times and even Fox, on their website and on Fox and Friends this Monday morning, both openly acknowledged there was no evidence of the charge Trump was asserting.  They called him out as part of the story themselves, not relying on some other person to quote to say, "Hillary Clinton responded by saying. . . . "  This is brand new for Fox.

The second implication is that Trump is remaining in campaign-fight mode, taking on every perceived slight, every implication that he is not in total triumph.   Trump won the electoral vote.  He is creating an administration.   The only meaningful risk to his legitimate election as president would be if Trump himself managed to bring into question the entire election, calling it full of fraud.  He is now doing this.    Trump's tweets and talk are not going to change the election but it raises and confirms troubling personality traits of Trump, that he must fight every fight and battle every slight no matter its relevance and not matter if it contradicts his earlier position.   He is not a mere candidate now.  He is president elect and will become president.   Trump personally may choose to fight every battle but countries need to be able to choose battles wisely. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Outrage! Ridiculous! Scam!

Donald Trump mocks the audit recount in Wisconsin, calling it a "scam."    Campaign manager Kelly Ann Conway says,  "What a pack of sore losers."

NFL refs check he replay tape
He didn't have to do it this way.  President-elect Trump could be asserting the public's interest in an accurate count.

The election results in Wisconsin apparently had some discrepancies when first announced, at least according to some computer experts.   Apparently the vote in counties using voting machines were some 7% lower than were counties that used optical scanners, which leave a paper trail.  The amount of votes involved--30,000--is greater than the margin of Trump's victory.  It looked suspicious to people who were looking for suspicious evidence of computer hacking.

From Fox News
Everyone agrees that computer hacking was in fact involved in the election.  The Clinton campaign was hacked by somebody and the internal emails were turned over to Wikileaks with the stated intent of sabotaging Hillary Clinton's campaign.   It was presumably done by Russia but that is not confirmed.  Someone did it.   Everyone knows about it.  Hillary condemned it; Trump used the information and said its source was not important, only its content.  So more computer hacks are not inconceivable, though there is no public evidence of it on voting machines--yet.  

So some people want to check it out and lots of people are willing to pony up to pay for the audit.

The Stein campaign had standing to challenge the election results and did so.  It is what anyone would do under the circumstances.

From Breitbart, the web voice of the campaign
Trump and his campaign are blasting it, acting amazed and indignant that someone would question the accuracy of the election results and therefore the legitimacy of his presidency.   Trump is choosing to handle the re-count that way.  

He had alternatives.  

He could have said that the vote is sacred and he is dedicated to a fair and honest election, that he is dedicated to respect for the will of the people and votes should be counted accurately.  He could say that he has nothing to fear from an honest count, so go ahead and audit, that he is confident he won the election and that the good people who lead the government of Wisconsin (Republicans, top to bottom) did their job well. 

He is not doing that.   He is mocking Stein and Clinton, calling the audit a "scam".  The behavior positions Trump in the manner I used yesterday to characterize his campaign: a professional wrestling performance.  He is a fighter for himself, looking for personal advantage.   He could have been the serene president, a spokesman for the integrity of elections.  Instead, he belittles the audit, arguing to preserve his win, not the public interest in the accurate outcome.

President play a head-of-state role as well as a partisan role.  They are expected to represent the general interest rather than a private interest.   

Within the hard competition of sporting events the coaches are expected to respect the fairness of the game.  The refs look at the replay tape.  Did his knee touch the ground before he crossed the goal line, or after?   It isn't ridiculous or a scam to look, even if the result might reverse a call on he field--because the integrity of the game requires that the rules be followed.  Better--for the public-- that the game be fair than that the game be won based on an acknowledged and fixable error that the refs refuse to fix.    Sometimes the personal and public interests coincide, sometimes they do not.  Trump is condemning the audit.

Possibly as the installed head of state this behavior will change, but this is not a promising sign.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Trump, Professional Wrestling, and Fake News

We have watched a spectacle: the 2016 Presidential Campaign

The political establishment, the pundits, and the media did not quite comprehend that the political environment had changed.  Anger and spectacle were not merely normalized, they drew audiences.  The outrageous got watched, it got clicked on, and it got passed around and around.   Donald Trump understood something Hillary most certainly did not: the new metaphor for politics was not Lincoln-Douglas.   It was professional wrestling.
Professional Wrestling is Theater

Donald Trump is a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.  At one point he owned a competitor to WWE (formerly World Wrestling Entertainment) but he sold it to WWE after he flamboyantly counter programmed it to WWE and offered to refund the price of every paid ticket to WWE.   

Professional wrestling is not a "sport" in which the Portland Trail Blazers have a legitimate contest against the Golden State Warriors.  It is a spectacle, more like circus acrobats or a magic show.  The audience knows that the woman will not actually disappear into thin air.   Professional wrestling is scripted, with soap-opera like story lines.   In a spectacle the outrageous is not a flaw, it is a feature.  The magician does not merely offer to draw a line with chalk down the belly of his assistant.  He says he will saw her in half.  He does not swallow a straw; he swallows a sword.  The clown is shot from a cannon, with a loud boom and smoke.   In the context of "serious politics" the outrageous disqualifies.   But in the context of spectacle the outrageous is essential.

Donald Trump understood spectacle, he used it, he thrived because of it.

People study professional wrestling.   Here is an excellent, readable summary:   Click Here
 Advertisers like its audience  (Blue Collar, Male, Less Educated) and Ph.D. dissertations get written about the narratives (Complicated and Serious).   The content has moved from "fake" ("kayfabe" in the trade) to admittedly scripted, to its current form in which not only is it admittedly scripted but audiences are involved as critics and participants in the scripting.  Fans are understood to be part of the writing process so it is a participatory spectacle, with the audience helping to shape the outcome.

Professional wrestling has become participatory democracy.  Trump adopted the role of Savior Hero.  He positioned Hillary as the Corrupt Weakling.   His act had appeal.  He got the crowd involved.   He let them help him write the script: "Hillary for Prison!" 

Trump at a WWE match, in victory
Hillary Clinton was not doing professional wrestling.   She was doing standard politics.   When she gave policy oriented speeches she confirmed the Trump cartoon caricature of her--the plodding weak evil politician.  They were talking past each other in the big drama.  Hillary was normal politics and Trump was doing a performance of broad working class appeal.   The teleprompter-Trump of the last three weeks of the campaign reassured Republican voters that they could safely vote the Republican brand, and they did.  

Trump was inconsistent in his policy but he was unconventional and outrageous,  which made him authentic as a spectacle hero--and therefore interesting and a magnet for ratings, which television news rewarded by blanket coverage.   In the context of professional wrestling the various fake news stories that got circulated fit in perfectly.   Outrage was normalized    Click here to see how Hillary murdered 43 people and has gotten away with it every single time!  Click Here to read the secret love child Bill and Hillary keep in a metal cage in Little Rock!  

Trump understood spectacle.  I witnessed first hand his grand entrance into the rally at Boca Raton, with booming music and a helicopter fly over.  He was a star, a hero, larger than life.  

Professional wrestling is "low culture" and many readers may reject the association of the brutality of violence and suffering with politics.   It seems so cheap.  So vulgar.  So low-class.   It would be another iteration of the coastal snob reaction to "flyover" country so resented by people who view themselves as the heartland.  Besides, high culture includes sword fights and murder in operas and Shakespeare plays.    High culture involves spectacle, too.    And so-called middle-brow culture does as well:  college and NFL football, auto racing, action films.

Hillary Clinton carried the educated, prosperous Manhattan high culture vote, and she campaigned in a manner they respected--or at least expected.  She played by the rules of politics: problems, policies, process.   Trump played politics as a reality TV star, doing low-brow politics.   The establishment fuss-budgets of the GOP scorned him for it, which largely helped Trump because it defined him as an outsider and a reformer.  Romney's scorn was not scripted, but it was part of the performance.

By election day Trump had consolidated the Republican vote and his winning margin in the upper midwest were those traditionally Democratic blue collar men who voted for the larger than life hero--the people for whom professional wrestling is a good, fun show.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Making money off a Trump presidency

The investment world is awash in ideas:  Something big happened.  There is money to be made, maybe.  And not just in bomb shelters or food kitchens.  Somebody is going to make some real money.   Who?

I used to give investment and financial strategy advice, but I retired.  My retirement paperwork requires me not to give one-on-one advice, so I am not.  These are general observations and not necessarily relevant to any one person.   

If you want investment advice contact a highly competent financial advisor who know what they are doing.  There are many of them and you can find them on your own.   Here is who I use:   
Click Here  or  Click Here

NY Times View:  Rates will go up, at last
1.   Interest rates are overdue to go up, so I think they probably will.   But it is a matter of controversy.  People disagree on this.  People have been talking about the Fed moving interest rates up for a long, long time.  Now I think it will do it.  Why now?   The economy is stronger and there are places where asset prices seem frothy, like real estate in coastal cities.  Plus the PE multiple on stocks is not cheap.  Again, people disagree on this, but I think PE multiples are on the high side of average, which is a way of saying that stocks are probably not a bargain.  They would be a bargain if we are on the front end of a big ramp up of productivity and earnings, but doubt this.  We need to have a recession first .

Or maybe the Fed WON'T raise rates
Action step: Sell some or all of your bonds.    If interest rates go up your bonds and bond funds will probably go down.   Think about it a moment.  If you have locked in a 3% yield in a fund of corporate bonds and interest rates go up one percent, then your 3% isn't as good as the new rate of 4%, so a new buyer would only buy your bond at a discount so that she gets 4% which is the going rate.  So if you have $100,000 in a bond fund of ten year bonds it would fall to maybe $90,000 if rates went up one percent.   So watch out with your bonds and bond funds.

But wait, you might be thinking: it rates go up won't I start getting 4% instead of 3% and isn't that good?  No.  Remember, you locked in 3% and it is only new buyers who use fresh money who get the 4%, which they get because they bought off of you or someone like you at a discount.   Selling at a discount is what you are likely trying to avoid.  And if you hold you are holding a 3% yield in a 4% world.

Note:  if that explanation seems strange or hard to understand, don't worry.  You are in good company.  But it also means that you need a financial advisor.  There is no shame in getting help or advice.  

   Action step:   Sell some or all of your stocks.  If interest rates go up your stocks will have a major headwind.  In a world of 1% and 2% interest rates the value of your stock dividends and the value of future dividends look really good in comparison.  As rates move up the value of future earnings look less attractive so the value of the engine of those future earnings (the companies represented by the stocks) go down.   Think about it.  In a 10% interest rate environment a $1,000 check payable in a year is worth about $9,100.  $9,100 times 10% is about $900, so $9,100 plus the $900 is $1,000.   But in a 1% interest rate environment a check for $1,000 in a year is worth about $991, because  $991 times 1% is the measly $9 interest.  And $991 plus $9 is your $1000.   So, the value of some later check or later dividends goes up if the interest rate environment is low, and down when it goes up.

A New Yorker cartoon is not available to show here, but to summarize it:  two people are watching TV news and the announcer is saying, "The stock market fell on news that a giant astroid is aimed at the earth and will smash it to smithereens next Friday, but the market rebounded on news the Fed is lowering interest rates."

Will some companies or industries do better than others?   Yes.   Trump may well get through a deficit busting infrastructure bill like the one Obama tried to do 8 years ago but got blocked by the GOP in Congress.    The Republican strategy was to deny Obama any "victory" so that he could be blamed for the gridlock and weak recovery.   The strategy was politically successful in injuring Obama and bringing a Republican majority to both houses of Congress and now the White House, although it came at a political price of causing Republican voters to keep the party label but re-define the Republican party from a small government party to a populist party, thus marginalizing the authors of the successful stop-Obama strategy.  (This is that split in the GOP, which may stay split or may not.  We will see.  If Trump chooses Romney as Secretary of State it means to me that Trump is becoming a conventional Republican, not an insurgent.)

Expect construction and heavy equipment companies to do better:  Caterpillar and John Deere, plus companies that make the raw material of construction, like Montana Dakota Utilities, MDU, which owns aggregate and cement construction facilities.   

Fox News: Bank regulators are the political enemy
Bank deregulation.  Banks may well get relaxed regulation if Dodd-Frank is repealed or revised, and if Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is scaled back.   Trump said he wanted less influence from Wall Street and the special interests but he also said he wanted to scale back regulations.  Banks tend to prosper under lighter regulation right up until the time they explode.  It is not clear what Trump really wants but it is clear what the conservative media and the Republican congress wants: reduce bank regulation. 

The move in bank stocks has already happened.  JPMorgan and Citibank and Morgan Stanley and the rest of them have moved up some 10-15% in the three days after the election results came in.  

This is a mixed bag for investors.   Banks who are careful with their lending do worse than bolder banks during times of expansion so investors and boards of directors wonder why the stick-in-the-mud underperformers aren't doing better.  The history of savings and loans in the 1980s and hedge funds in the 1990s and commercial and investment banks in the 2000-2008 was that they competed to do riskier and riskier lending to keep up with their peers until the bubble popped and they all went on taxpayer-life-support.  Remember the Savings and Loan Crisis?  Then the Long Term Capital mess?  And, of course, the crisis in 2008 when GE, AIG, and a bunch of banks all needed emergency bailouts. The good news for owners of bank stocks is that Trump may well be ushering in a new growth cycle, taking off the restraints.  This may loosen up lending and help banks be more profitable (and more risky.)   The bad news is that history suggests that the growth cycle ends badly.

Drug Stocks.   The assumption is that they will experience lower regulation and they will prosper.  This assumes that whatever happens with health care--repeal and replace Obamacare, plus Medicare and Medicaid--will not reduce payments for drugs.

Summary:  Aren't there some clear and obvious really good things to buy in light of the dramatic election results?   To my mind, no.   The big thing that will affect stock and bond prices is whether the economy goes into recession--which is overdue--and what the Fed will do.  Both Trump and the general GOP establishment have been critical of the Fed and their zero interest rate policies, saying they were helping Obama by inflating asset values unfairly.   I expect the Fed to raise interest rates and the effect of that will dwarf the other things happening.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The 38 Reasons Why Trump Won

The news is full of reasons why Trump won and Hillary lost.   Each one is sufficient to explain it.   

It was almost inevitable.  History shows after 8 years the public almost always wants a change.  After 8 years of Obama it was time for a Republican.
Simple:  The taller candidate always wins

It was almost inevitable.  America wasn't ready for a woman, with voters interpreting her as shrill and bitchy and Trump as strong.

It was almost inevitable.  The taller candidate almost always wins, and that was Trump.  We "look up" to leaders.

It was almost inevitable.  Don't overthink this.  Elections are about change vs. continuity and Hillary was stuck being the continuity candidate and Trump represented change.

Hillary handled it wrong.   Message.
    her message was about identity and it should have been about jobs
    her message was about process rather than results
    her message was wonky and boring and un-inspiring

Hillary handled it wrong.   Personality and behavior:
    her email server was a fatal mis-step
    her loyalty to Huma, a Muslim, confirmed that Hillary was un-relatable
    her speeches to Goldman Sachs confirmed she was sold out
    her handling of Benghazi confirmed she was incompetent and uncaring
    her lies about little and big things confirmed she was untrustworthy
    her defensiveness and secretiveness make her seem in-authentic
    her un-likability and lack of extroversion make her a wonk, not a politician
    her being un-relatable to average people (not driving, vacationing with rich people, her social class) showed that she was a hopelessly out of touch elite

She handled it wrong.  Allies.
    her being tight with the political establishment when voters wanted an outsider
    her being tight with blacks and Hispanics and women, who didn't come through for her, and there are lots more whites than people of color
    her being tight with the Democratic establishment which locked her into being part of the corrupt political establishment 

She handled it wrong.  Primary., 
    Sanders had the correct message and was a more appealing candidate and should have won, but the weaker candidate slipped through thanks to super-delegates and the early southern state primaries
    Sanders split and de-motivated Democrats and the progressive left so she led a divided party

She handled it wrong.  Democratic Party is coming apart.
    she didn't realize that the progressive wing is populist--not "liberal" so her leadership of a coalition that included the political elites meant she lost crucial votes that made the difference

She handled it wrong.  The people in America's heartland, which include the upper midwest, resent the cultural imperialism and snobbiness of the coasts and Hillary let herself be allied with "Brooklyn" hipsters rather than Akron or St. Louis.  It was the revenge of the "flyover people."
Trump Twitter Followers
Trump handled it right.  Presentation.
    he understood the media landscape like no one else: be interesting and dominate the news
    he understood the social media landscape: twitter and Facebook reach tens of millions
    he is a charismatic politician and charisma wins
    he understands the gladiatorial psycho-drama of politics, which is really just professional wrestling  or comedia del arte with staged heros and cartoonish villains
    he projected confidence and dominance and looked like a commander in chief and voters chose strength

Trump handled it right.  Message.
     he understood voters' desire to retreat on social and racial and demographic change--it was mostly about race and white identity  
     he said aloud what people believed but were afraid to say regarding Muslims and race--it was mostly about getting real about offense and political correctness
     he successfully positioned Obama as "other" and "foreign" with his birtherism ploy and transferred that estrangement to Hillary
     he successfully identified voters' discomfort with globalism's economic victims
     he successfully identified voters' desire for full throated patriotism and America first and greatest and people liked his assertion of "winning"
     he successfully made himself the "peace" candidate with an end to foreign interventionism      
The election was rigged.    The FBI staged a coup with the announcement of the re-opened investigation.
Jill Stein is investigating:  counties without a paper record

The election was rigged.   The Kremlin hacked the Democrats and dished out embarrassing material through a Wikileaks accomplice openly and intentionally to help Trump and hurt Hillary.

The election was rigged.   Voting machines in the upper midwest show lower vote counts for Hillary than do counties with optical scanners which have a paper record.   The election was stolen.

The election was rigged.   The Constitution rigged it.  Actually Hillary won the popular vote and it is a constitutional quirk involving an 18th Century deal to get buy-in from small states and electors do the actual voting.

The election was rigged.  Fake news sites, some by the Russians and some by entrepreneurs, flooded the internet with defamatory semi-plausible stories that circulated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Polls Were Wrong. I Saw it Coming

I sing in praise of the liberal arts.

I am not a scientist.   I am a political tourist.   I watched performers.  I watched the audience.   I wasn't trying to measure things closely.  What I was doing was acting a little like a movie critic or an anthropologist visiting people in a strange country where I happened to know the language.   

Before the election Michael Moore predicted a Trump win.  Michael Moore (and I) saw something the polls did not see. 
How could this guy be right and the scientist be wrong?

Oh, the election polls were not wrong by much, but they were off some 5% in the areas that mattered—the upper midwest swing states.  And they were systematically wrong in all the same direction.  That was where it mattered in the electoral vote.

They weren't wrong because the election for fore-ordained, that it was the Republicans' turn in the pendulum nor that Hillary was unelectable from day one, nor that the election was rigged.   She lost the electoral votes because Trump had a message people wanted to hear in the crucial battleground states.   She was talking about identity and what was wrong with Trump while Trump was talking about the economy and what was wrong with Hillary.   The opponent bashing more or less cancelled each other out, leaving Hillary talking "fair-to-women" and "minority oppression" while Trump talked about jobs.  The jobs message was better than the identity message.   A majority of white women voted for Trump, pussy grabbing talk and all.

The scientists and the statisticians among the punditry missed something that Michael Moore saw.   How it is possible a grungy Michael Moore saw something missed by real scientists and statisticians who were measuring data to a tenth one percent?  

The story teller, the movie maker Michael Moore was looking at Trump’s message and he saw that identity politics was not as strong a bond as thought in the consensus view by the pollsters and data miners. He saw that “women”" were voting like “Republicans" or like “shoppers” not like "women."   It wasn’t the gender, it was the economy, stupid.  Same with Hispanics, except there was the added complication that voters—i.e. people who were here fully legally and now voting citizens—had some resentment about line-jumpers, even if these included extended family.  So some 30% defected.

Parents, don't be alarmed if your college student children study the liberal arts.  They are useful.  Watching people, hearing their stories, and evaluating the persuasiveness of message and story narrative is the stuff of literature and history and anthropology.   Students of the humanities can collect stories and pretend to measure it to 3 or 4 significant digits, but we are measuring hopes and aspirations and fears.  It is more honest to present what we learn as narrative and explanation, not closely measurable data, so we lack the credibility borne of precision.  The most important things in life—or at least in politics—are real but they are not precise.  They are the basis for ideas that persuade:  Hope and Change, or Make America Great Again.  It is hard to weigh or measure them, so the pundits focus on the pollster and not the narrative that may show the polls wrong.  We speak of “Political Science”, but there is another reality simultaneously: Political Humanities.  The humanists saw something the scientists did not.

Polling did not fail badly, just a little.  The failure seems large because so many had been so confident in it.  Its success in the last couple of elections went to the public’s heads.   People thought they were doing science and science can be precise and therefore persuasive, even when it is inaccurate.

So now the pendulum may move back on the credibility of polls, and the commentariat will better appreciate the soft and fuzzy and immeasurable elements of a campaign: who is interesting, who tells a story people want to hear, who connects.  And they will listen to voters better, in a long form rather than a quantifiable answer to a poll question.   In that case they might tease out that a black voter or a Hispanic voter or any other voter is complex and multi-dimensional, and that it reduces their full humanity to be seen as a demographic category.  A voter might respond to an identity message or a religious value or an economic message or a fear message or a combination of them.   The voters won't be voting something closely quantifiable.  They will be voting their hopes and dreams and aspirations.  

Hopes and dreams and aspirations are the work of the humanities, the liberal arts. The humanities have their place in the world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yes, Jon Stewart. Television worth watching.

Jon Stewart for President?   Surely, I jest.  Right? He is just an entertainer, a guy who people watch on television, not someone serious, right?

He is serious. And electable.

Yesterday's post got lots of positive feedback from readers.   Jon Stewart?  He is a comedian and social critic, not a politician.    Politicians put themselves out there, they advocate for things in the first person, without irony or comedic distance.  Comedians make glancing blows then run away:  "just kidding!"   A politician stands upright and states a position.

I mentioned Jon Stewart to put an idea on the table of public discourse.  But so as not to be like a comedian and say it was "just a suggestion, never mind" I will go ahead and assert that Jon Stewart would be an excellent president and that I see signs that he is exploring the possibility.   He has not committed himself and he may well back away, but he is doing what a comedic celebrity would do:

Strengths and Suitability:

  He cleared his plate.  He is no longer tied to a job with responsibilities and entanglements. He is free to speak his own mind.
  He wrote a book.
  He talks seriously about the issues of the day, in an engaging way, in the first person, earnestly.  He strategically put himself out of the line of fire during the previous battle so that he comes into the new battle as a fresh observer.  He has established familiarity and likability.  He has a political base (Democrats, urban, young, ethnic).  He has a political record, having taken a position that was forceful and principled but popular with a broad swath of the electorate (medical care for 9-11 First Responders, against Republican gridlock.)
  He is not a media person any more, nor he is a politician, but he has been involved with each of them and therefore has credibility in that space.
  He is still interesting to watch and he has the native skills of an entertainer.   He has a high "Q Factor", the media's measurement of familiarity and likability.   People tuned into Stewart.  There is something about him--something that was missing from Hillary.

Weaknesses and Problems:

Realistically, he has a couple of problems that I consider meaningful:  He is short.   Jon Stewart behind a desk wearing a dark suit looks authoritative, but standing next to average sized women and nearly all men he is short.   One rule of politics is that the taller candidate wins.  People "look up" to leaders, literally.
  His likability comes in part because he was funny, and people who are funny are read as "unserious", so he will need to stifle his most visible gift (ironic humor) in order to be the new-Jon-Stewart who is earnest.  Al Franken did this.  Franken isn't funny anymore and it makes him less interesting.
  He has a thin--but not zero--track record in politics.  He criticized "Crossfire" in his own voice earnestly and the show got cancelled.  He let a fight for First Responders but he had no organized opposition, only inertia.  We have not seen Jon Stewart bloody in the arena.  Any reasonable person hates being there which is why politicians are self-selected from a small group of people.  Stewart may not be in that group.

Democrats have a small bench of aspirants for the next generation, but it is an impressive one if they can command the attention of the public.    Jon Stewart may emerge precisely because that bench is small and the 2016 campaign showed that the public is drawn to a candidate to is interesting.  Hero or anti-hero is less important than that the candidate is watchable.  People who disliked Trump watched him and they voted for him.   

The Obama-Hillary style of politics elevated people who have minority associations:  Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro.  These are strong candidates: attractive, young, very well spoken, electorally successful, and they are "people of color."  Democrats may want to lean back toward a white candidate, Jewish, to choose someone un-tainted by public office.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Jon Stewart for President

Democrats are refiguring what it means to be a Democrat.  It won't be another version of Hillary

There are a flurry of thought-pieces coming out of places where Democrats get their news.  A frequent theme is that Democrats mis-placed their faith in identity politics.   They conclude that Hillary gathered up and named the sub-groups of the disadvantaged (women, blacks, immigrants, Hispanics, disabled, LGBTQ), named them and gave them grievance and voice while simultaneously pointing to their oppressor: the deplorables (white racists, mostly men.)   In this view, it was a war of coalitions and with women voting in big numbers for Hillary it was going to be a wipe-opt victory for Hillary.   Meanwhile Trump was actually helping out by coalescing the Archie Bunker vote, openly going after the uneducated male bigots which helped her in her job of raising the consciousness of the oppressed.

Bill Maher criticizes identity politics
Theoretically, Hillary and Trump were playing the same game, each choosing sides and Hillary had the better team.

The election showed that Hillary's premise was wrong.  Trump was playing the white racism game but he was also playing the "it's the economy, stupid" game.   And he was generally criticizing the game of identity politics even as he was playing it, decrying precious political correctness.   When the results came in it turns out that white women voted for Trump, not Hillary.   They voted their race, not their gender, and they voted their sense of their economic future more than their identity.   More amazing still to pundits, some 30% of Hispanics voted for Trump--more even than had voted for Romney.    If Hispanics voted money rather than identity, voting for Trump for goodness sake, there was no question that Hillary's strategy of identity politics was flawed.

Trump had a clear economic goal that complemented his white-identity coalition:  fix the economy by fixing trade, immigration, and bad deals struck by the entrenched elites.   The plan was vague but the intention was clear: America wins with more manufacturing jobs for regular Americans led by a guy willing to knock heads and change things.

Face Reality Squarely:   She lost
The article illustration from with the Bill Maher photo summarizes the growing consensus that identity politics forces liberals to deny reason and reality, excusing or ignoring crime and terror when it is done by members of "our team."  People of all ethnicities resent this, even people who are on the team.   Law abiding blacks hate black crime, law abiding Hispanics understand the damage done by Hispanic gangs, and law abiding Muslims hate Muslim terror.   Click Here.

There are other interpretations to what went wrong, so the identity politics mis-step is in competition with other theories.

1. One is the "revenge of the flyover people", and that this was a culture war between the wine and brie elite snobs on the coast versus the beer drinking rural church goers who were tired of being sneered at.   The political correctness part of the Trump message won it for him; how else could a vulgar, un-religious, three-times-married playboy overwhelmingly win the evangelical vote?

2. Another is that it was in fact a campaign mostly about race and there are more whites than blacks.  With all the other talk obscuring things this campaign is really best explained by white backlash against Obama, Black Lives Matter, and the immigration of brown Hispanics and Muslims.  Whites rose up.

3. Another is that it was really just about "same-old" versus change and Hillary was pretty much stuck with being same-old and nearly any change-oriented Republican was fated to win what with the pendulum making its swing back and forth giving each party a shot at the White House.   Eight years in the White House and people want change.  It is simple.

4. Another is that this is the revolt of the "unprotected" versus the "protected", i.e. the swing voters were the people who feel themselves vulnerable to the economic tides because they have jobs in pure competition with others versus people whose jobs are protected by licensure, tenure, education, or some other monopoly force.   Hillary represented the privileged and Trump represented the vulnerable.

5. Another is that this is a revolt by the bi-partisan people against the elites of both parties and that Hillary lost not because of her gender or politics but because she represented the corrupted political class while Trump represented an outsider who would fight the political class of both parties, which meant it was not a partisan victory but a victory of "the people" versus "the whole system."  We have seen this before:  Andrew Jackson defeating John Quincy Adams and the educated elites and their proper cronies.

6. It was simply a failure of a rigged primary system in which Democrats picked the weakest possible candidate, Hillary, against Bernie or Biden, so she lost when any competent Democrat would have won, so the problem wasn't what she said or represented; it was just a really bad candidate.   Don't overthink this: Hillary was even worse than Trump, so Trump won.  

7.  It was about American pride and patriotism and Obama and Hillary represented an America which cooperates and fits into an international system, which makes us a party to foreign interventions and a patsy and pushover in"fair" trade deals.  Meanwhile, Trump represented an America that was looking out for Number One in a struggle where we are a contestant and we should try to win, not get along.  America deserves respect as a winner, not as the den-mother paying out of pocket to keep everyone else from getting into fights.

There are other interpretations.   I could go on and on.

As of late November, 2016, with two weeks of head scratching, a cluster of opinion is forming around the "identity mis-step" thesis:  too much identity politics, not enough focus on the universal concern over jobs and prosperity.

There is good reason to think this is the framework that will inform the future strategy, because it was the one consciously tried by Hillary and it failed so badly.   Hillary overtly appealed to the women's vote.  Millions of women donated $25 and got "The Woman's Card." Hillary appealed to the ethnic and racial minority vote and called them out by name.  It didn't work well enough.  Too many Hispanics voted for Trump.  Had the Hispanic vote been 90-10, Hillary would have won the electoral vote.  Trump was thought a lightning rod for alienating and energizing Hispanics and she still lost, thus discrediting the notion of the Hispanic bloc vote victory route to victory.

So Democrats will look a different direction.

New coalitions are not built by committees and pundits.  They are built by spokesmen--candidates and officeholders who represent the politics of a new coalition.   

Democrats need an attractive, well spoken, experienced but still young Joe Biden, or a Bill Clinton as of 1992.  Remember, Bill Clinton in 1992 was a redneck who got an education and pulled himself up with smarts and hard work and empathy with people who struggle.   Running against George H W Bush Clinton was mocked for having been poor "trailer trash" who had a horn dog past with big haired bimbos, who ate at McDonalds, who had an Arkansas accent when he wanted it.  He was poor, white, and southern.   This frame obliterated the snooty "flyover country" meme and it made him the voice of change, it put him on the right of the pendulum swing of parties, and he was an outsider running against the guy who was part of the political system.   And his focus was the economy, stupid.  Bill Clinton won the primary and the general election.   People like a redneck-makes-good story.
Positioning himself correctly for 2020

Somewhere there is a man or woman age 40 to 60.  He or she already holds a serious office--a governor or senator probably.  Or he or she is a national celebrity with a reputation for discussing policy seriously:  Jon Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Ben Aflack, Mark Cuban, Eva Longoria, for example.  

That candidate will be on the correct side of the alternative thesis 1-7 above, but will overtly criticize the politics expressed by Hillary.   He or she will say that identity politics is wrong and dangerous.  

The candidate will say it is wrong to categorize by identity but instead by values of good and bad for America.  Law breakers of whatever color are bad.  Brave police and fire fighters whatever color are good when they do their jobs with honor.   He or she will identify with first responders.   People who go to work and support their families are good.  People who cheat the system, either by gaming their taxes or gaming the social safety net are bad.    This will mean calling out violence at BLM protests when they happen but praising peaceful protest.  It will also mean being critical of the areas where Trump will (likely--but it has not happened yet, and might not) profile people on the basis of identity not behavior.   He or she will be someone who has spoken thoughtfully about the media and been its critic for its failure to carry out its function of informing the public.   

That candidate is potentially out there, but I do not yet see that candidate for sure, but I know who is positioning himself for that:  Jon Stewart.   Click Here for the CBS interview
"America is tribal, Stewart said.   We have a multinational country and we need to make that work by treating people as individuals, not as tribal monoliths.  And some Americans, Stewart said, voted for Trump not because they were afraid of Muslims but because they were afraid of their insurance premiums.   Hillary could not say that back before the election and she didn't say it.   Jon Stewart just did.

And yes, there are others.  But he is saying what the successful Democratic will say.  He is saying it with respect for the people who voted for Trump and why they voted for him.