Friday, May 25, 2018

ain't it hard to stumble and land in some funny lagoon?

"If you have class, you have it.  It doesn't matter who you're with."
~ Julia Sugarbaker

     I've heard of people "binge-watching" a television show, but can you "binge-watch" an episode?  I've been watching "Designing Women," Season 1, Episode 19, on You Tube several times over....  

     It's the one where the Sugarbaker interior designers are hired to renovate some rooms for a super-wealthy partying married couple, the Tates.  One by one, and each in their own style, Julia, Suzanne, Mary Jo, Charlene, and their delivery driver Anthony Bouvier all get "sucked in" to the Tates' lifestyle which is sort of based on a lack of impulse control.

     During a party on the Tates' boat, Mary Jo fixes a toilet, and Sissy Tate's so grateful, she takes the diamond bracelet off her own wrist and puts it on Mary Jo.

     Mr. Tate fancies a stone-crab dinner, so he flies from Atlanta to New Orleans and brings Julia with him. 

     Later in the episode, there's gunplay.

     I don't know why, but ever since I discovered "Designing Women" on You Tube, the recollection of that episode kept walking stealthily around my brain, a memory from clear back in the Reagan years -- and I wanted to see it again.

     I scanned episode titles from Seasons 5, 4, 3, and 2, thinking it was in one of the later seasons, but then -- no, found it in Season 1.

     What makes this DW episode resonate? 

 (Perhaps it's the uneasy truth that a sanguine desire to connect with others exists side-by-side with the awareness, whether naturally assumed based on one's temperament, or learned from experience, that "others" can be trouble.)

     (Makes me think of Bill Cosby -- he would wear a shirt with the caption on it reading, "Hello, Friend."  The man wants to be everyone's friend.  Now, that's beautiful.  A natural, and very sweet, human sentiment.  [Until somebody gets slipped a mickey...]  In an interview, Cosby's music collaborator Stu Gardner said, with layered meaning, "He -- invites people into his life"....)


{"Donald Trump Is Saving Our Democracy"
an article written by Frank Rich
published in New York Magazine,
September 20, 2015}

---------------------------- [excerpt, to end of article] -------------

If the best his intraparty adversaries can come up with as dragon slayers are his fellow outsiders -- the joyless scold Fiorina, who presided over the firing of 30,000 Hewlett-Packard workers (a bounteous gift to Democratic attack ads), or the low-low-energy Carson, who has never run anything except an operating room -- that means they have no plan.  

And thanks to another unintended consequence of the GOP's Citizens United "victory," the PACs it enables will keep hopeless presidential candidates financially afloat no matter how poorly they are faring in polls and primaries, thereby crippling the party's ability to unite early behind a single anti-Trump alternative.  In a worst-case scenario, the GOP could reach the spring stretch with the party's one somebody still ahead of a splintered field of nobodies.

     By then, Trump's Establishment nemeses, those who march to the beat of the Journal editorial page and Krauthammer and Will, will be manning the backroom battle stations and writing big checks to bring him down.  

The specter of a brokered Republican convention loomed briefly in 2012, when Romney was slow to lock up the nomination.  

Should such a scenario rear up again in 2016, the Koch brothers, no fans of Trump, could be at the center of the action.  

Whatever happens, there will be blood.  

The one thing Trump never does is go quietly, and neither will his followers.  As Ross Douthat, a reform conservative, wrote in August, Trump has tapped into the populist resentments of middle-class voters who view the GOP and the elites who run it as tools of "moneyed interests."  

If the Republicans "find a way to crush Trump without adapting to his message," he added, the pressure of that resentment will keep building within the party, and "when it bursts, the GOP as we know it may go with it."

     Even if this drama does not play out to the convention, the Trump campaign has already made a difference.  Far from being a threat to democracy or a freak show unworthy of serious coverage, it matters because it's taking a much-needed wrecking ball to some of what has made our sterile politics and dysfunctional government as bankrupt as Trump's Atlantic City casinos.  

If that's entertainment, so be it.  If Hillary Clinton's campaign or the Republican Party is reduced to rubble along the way, we can live with it.  Trump will not make America great again, but there's at least a chance that the chaos he sows will clear the way for those who can.



Thursday, May 24, 2018

the unsure thing

     The 2015 Frank Rich article about the Trump Phenomenon in America's political life continues here today, & concludes tomorrow.  (Phew!  That was a two-week-long article!  When Frank Rich writes -- he writes!)

     I wanted to mention also, first, last Saturday's royal wedding.  I found myself getting interested, in spite of not being interested.

     I was working at a stockbroker company in Boston 

when Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981.  A stockbroker in the office was named (I think) Jim Brady -- or something like that -- and he brought to the office that day a small television set so he could have it on his desk, and watch the royal wedding.

     He said he really enjoyed all that tradition and formality.


----------------------- [excerpt, Frank Rich NYMagazine article, continuing] -------------------- 

Having no Citizens United-enabled political-action committee frees him to remind voters daily that his Republican adversaries are bought and paid for by anonymous wealthy donors.  

The notion of a billionaire playing this populist card may seem counterintuitive, but paradoxically Trump's populism is enhanced by the source of his own billions.  

His signature business, real-estate development, is concrete, literally so:  He builds big things, thus visibly creating jobs, and stamps his name on them in uppercase gold lest anyone forget (even when he hasn't actually built them and doesn't actually own them).  This instantly separates him from the 

"hedge-fund guys" and all the other unpopular one percenters who trade in intangible and suspect financial "products," facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs, and underwrite much of the Republican presidential field and party infrastructure, to some of the Republican-primary electorate's dismay.

            The simplicity and transparency of Trump's campaign funding are going to make it harder for his rivals -- and perhaps future presidential candidates -- to defend their dependence on shadowy, plutocratic, and politically toxic PAC donors.

     The best news about Trump is that he is wreaking this havoc on the status quo while having no chance of ascending to the presidency.  

You can't win the Electoral College in 2016 by driving away women, Hispanics, blacks, and Asian-Americans, no matter how large the margins you pile up in deep-red states.  

Republicans who have started fretting that he might perform as Barry Goldwater did on Election Day in 1964 have good reason to worry.

     But Goldwater won the nomination in the first place by rallying a disaffected hard-right base that caught the GOP Establishment by surprise, much as the remnants of that Establishment were blindsided by Ronald Reagan's insurgency that almost denied the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976.  

Trump's ascent, like the Goldwater and Reagan rebellions, makes it less likely that the divide between the GOP's angriest grassroots and the party elites who write the checks will be papered over in 2016, as it was by the time the 2008 and 2012 Republican conventions came to order.  

     Probable as it may be that Trump's poll numbers will fade and that he will flame out before the Republicans convene in Cleveland in July, it's not a sure thing.

---------------------------- [end, excerpt] ------------- which leads us to 

...publish several pictures of 

to represent the 


...of that last sentence.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

planning to be spontaneous

"All that we don't know is astonishing.  Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing."
~ Philip Roth
   American novelist
   1933 - 2018

{"Donald Trump Is Saving Our Democracy"
an article written by Frank Rich,
published in New York Magazine, September 20th, 2015}

----------------------- [continued] ------------- A perfect paradigm of how lame old-school, top-heavy campaigns can be was crystallized by a single story on the front page of the Times the day after Labor Day.  Its headline said it all:  "Clinton Aides Set New Focus for Campaign -- A More Personal Tone of Humor and Heart."  

By announcing this "new focus" to the Times, which included "new efforts to bring spontaneity" to a candidacy that "sometimes seems wooden," these strategists were at once boasting of their own (supposed) political smarts and denigrating their candidate, who implicitly was presented as incapable of being human without their direction and scripts.  

Hilariously enough, the article straight-facedly cited as expert opinion the former Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom -- whose stewardship of the most wooden candidate in modern memory has apparently vanished into a memory hole -- to hammer home the moral that "what matters is you appear genuine."

     We also learned from this piece that Clinton would soon offer "a more contrite tone" when discussing her email woes, because a focus group "revealed that voters wanted to hear directly from Mrs. Clinton" about it.  The aides, who gave the Times "extensive interviews," clearly thought that this story was a plus for their candidate, and maybe the candidate did, too, since she didn't fire them on the spot.  

They all seemed unaware of the downside of portraying Clinton as someone who delegated her "heart" to political operatives and her calibration of contrition to a focus group.  

By offering a stark contrast to such artifice, the spontaneous, unscripted Trump is challenging the validity and value of the high-priced campaign strategists, consultants, and pollsters who dominate our politics, shape journalistic coverage, and persuade even substantial candidates to outsource their souls to focus groups and image doctors.  

That brand of politics has had a winning run ever since the young television producer Roger Ailes used his media wiles to create a "new Nixon" in 1968.  

But in the wake of Trump's "unprofessional" candidacy, many of the late-20th-century accoutrements of presidential campaigns, often tone-deaf and counterproductive in a new era where social media breeds insurgencies like Obama's, Trump's and Sanders's, could be swept away -- particularly if Clinton's campaign collapses.

     Another change Trump may bring about is a GOP rethinking of its embrace of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision unleashing unlimited campaign contributions.  

Citizens United was supposed to be a weapon wielded mainly against Democrats, but Trump is using it as a club to bludgeon Republicans.  "I'm using my own money," he said when announcing his candidacy.  "I'm not using lobbyists, I'm not using donors.  I don't care.  I'm really rich."  

By Washington etiquette, it's a no-no for a presidential candidate to gloat about his wealth.  Especially if you're a wealthy Republican, it's axiomatic that you follow the George H.W. Bush template of pretending to savor pork rinds.  But Trump has made a virtue of flaunting his fortune and glitzy lifestyle -- 

and not just because that's the authentic Trump.  His self-funding campaign may make him more effective than any Democrat in turning Citizens United into a political albatross for those who are enslaved to it.



Tuesday, May 22, 2018

with a little bit of luck, a man can duck

"I personally find H.P. Lovecraft quite cheerful.  However depressed I am about the real world I'm unlikely to be devoured by gibbering squamous horrors from beyond space and time so the contrast is refreshing."
~ Reader Comment from The Guardian, UK edition.


{"Donald Trump Is Saving Our Democracy"
Article written by Frank Rich.
Printed September 20, 2015, in New York Magazine}

--------------------- [excerpt, continued] ----------------

     Kimberley Strassel, a conservative columnist at the Journal who regards the Republican field as "teeming with serious candidates," has complained that Trump is "not policy knowledgeable."  That's for sure.  You won't catch him following the example of "serious" candidate like Fiorina, Rubio, and Walker, who regurgitate the boilerplate drilled into them by foreign-policy tutors.  


Why bother, Trump explains, since "one of the problems with foreign piolicy is it changes on a daily basis."  Such thinking, or anti-thinking, may not win over anyone at the Aspen Institute or the American Enterprise Institute, but does anyone seriously doubt that it plays to much of the Republican-primary electorate?  That's precisely what is spooking conservatives like Strassel.

     What's exhilarating, even joyous, about Trump has nothing to do with his alternately rancid and nonsensical positions on policy.  It's that he's exposing the phoniness of our politicians and the corruption of our political process by defying the protocols of the whole game.  

He skips small-scale meet-and-greets in primary-state living rooms and diners.  He turned down an invitation to appear at the influential freshman senator Joni Ernst's hog roast in Iowa.  He routinely denigrates sacred GOP cows like Karl Rove and the Club for Growth.  

He has blown off the most powerful newspapers in the crucial early states of Iowa (the Des Moines Register) and New Hampshire (the Union-Leader) and paid no political price for it.  Yet he is overall far more accessible to the press than most candidates -- most conspicuously Clinton -- which in turn saves him from having to buy television ad time.

     It's as if Trump were performing a running burlesque of the absurd but intractable conventions of presidential campaigns in real time.  His impact on our politics post-2016 could be as serious as he is not.  

Unsurprisingly, the shrewdest description of the Trump show's appeal has come from an actor, Owen Wilson.  "You can't help but get a kick out of him," he told the Daily Beast, "and I think part of it is we're so used to politicians on both sides sounding like actors at press junkets -- it's sort of by rote, and they say all the right things.  

So here's somebody who's not following that script.  

It's like when Charlie Sheen was doing that stuff."  As Wilson says, for all the efforts to dismiss Trump as an entertainer, in truth it's his opponents who are more likely to be playacting, reciting their politically correct and cautious lines by rote.  The political market for improvisational candor is as large as it was after Vietnam and Watergate, and right now Trump pretty much has a monopoly on it.

view from Room 603, Watergate, 1974

     He also makes a sport of humiliating high-end campapign gurus.  When Sam Clovis, a powerful Evangelical conservative activist in Iowa, jumped from the cratering Perry to Trump in August, it seemed weird.  Despite saying things like "I'm strongly into the Bible," Trump barely pretends to practice any religion.  

The Des Moines Register soon published excerpts from emails written just five weeks earlier (supplied by Perry allies) in which Clovis had questioned Trump's "moral center" and lack of "foundation in Christ" and praised Perry for calling Trump "a cancer on conservatism."  

But, like Guy Grand in The Magic Christian, Trump figured correctly that money spoke louder than Christ to Clovis.  He was no less shrewd in bringing the focus-group entrepreneur Frank Luntz to heel.  After Luntz convened a negative post-debate panel on Fox News that, in Luntz's view, signaled "the destruction" of Trump's campaign, Trump showered him with ridicule.  

Luntz soon did a Priebus-style about-face and convened a new panel that amounted to a Trump lovefest.  One participant praised Trump for not mouthing "that crap" that's been "pushed to us for the past 40 years."  It's unclear if Luntz was aware of the irony of his having been a major (and highly compensated) pusher of "that crap," starting with his role in contriving the poll-shaped pablum of Newt Gingrich's bogus "Contract With America."