The Dangerous Discounting of Donald Trump

by Ali Minai

DJT_Headshot_V2By this point in US Election 2016, everyone acknowledges that the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is one of the most transformative phenomena to arise in American society in a long time – possibly since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, of which it is, in some ways, a perverted mirror image. However, it's ludicrous and perverse aspects should not blind anyone – including its adherents – to its corrosive but real power. Those who had until recently discounted Trump are gradually beginning to realize this, and mockery is being replaced with a mixture of fear and perplexity.

Foremost among the perplexed are the American elites and the chattering classes, who have tended to treat the candidacy of Donald Trump for President as a running farce. His frequently offensive and ignorant statements – usually via twitter – have become a staple of late-night comedy, and the cause for general derision in the news media. A surge in the polls after the Republican convention triggered a temporary bout of concern that he might actually win, but that concern receded as a very successful Democratic convention and Trump's disparaging of the Khan family boosted Hillary Clinton to a double digit national lead. A narrative settled in that Trump was finished, even as Clinton's lead has gradually declined, and now stands in the 2-4 percent range. While this has triggered a new round of anguish among Democrats, it has not yet completely changed the overall notion that, surely, the American people will not vote for someone as patently unqualified and irresponsible as Trump. The American people themselves have bolstered this assumption, with poll after poll showing that large majorities of voters consider Clinton more qualified and temperamentally suited to be President. A recent survey showed that nearly half of voters – including 22% of Trump supporters! – believe that he will use a nuclear weapon. Yet, what is often left unexplained is why the same polls typically show the head-to-head race between Trump and Clinton as very close. The implicit belief seems to be that voters will eventually come to their senses. In fact, this discrepancy should indicate exactly the opposite: That a certain chunk of voters have looked at both candidates, realized that Trump is unqualified to be President, but are nevertheless willing to vote for him. These voters have apparently considered and rejected rational arguments against Trump, suggesting that no further rational argument is likely to sway them. The same is true for the issues of bigotry and racism that are clearly relevant with regard to Trump. Most Clinton-supporters and the elite media have assumed that, once Trump's long history of bigotry against minorities and women became well-known, it would be impossible for him to win. The initial response to the Khan controversy reinforced this view. However, recent polling data suggests that this notion is not altogether justified either. As with competence, there is a segment of voters who know about Trump's bigotry, do not agree with it, but are still willing to overlook it. This segment is not necessarily identical with the one willing to overlook his incompetence, but there is probably considerable overlap. In any case, it appears that counting on the good sense of American voters to protect the world from Trump may be too optimistic.

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Capitalism as Religion: On Borislav Pekic’s Houses

by Ryan Ruby

Houses_2048x2048Over the past four centuries, the novel, that most most broad-minded of all media, has asked us time and time again to contemplate the humanity of those who by virtue of their profession, their views, their proclivities, or their character count as some of the most despicable examples of our species. There must be tens of thousands of pages devoted to representing the inner lives of torture-loving libertines, bored aristocratic seducers, grave-digging scientists, vengeful ship captains, ax-wielding ex-students, medieval religious fanatics, vainglorious ivory traders, social-climbing salonières, pedophiles with fancy prose styles, pedantic hot dog vendors, priapic misogynists, blood-thirsty scalpers, sadistic slavers, intellectual cannibals, and self-appointed masters of the universe, not to mention the scores of characters who, for one reason or another, have judged their souls to be so worthless that they were willing to sell them to the devil.

But before I read Borislav Pekic's Houses (translated by Bernard Johnson from the Serbo-Croatian in 1978 and re-released this month by NYRB Classics), I'd never come across a novel that had the chutzpah to draw its protagonist from the ranks of what is surely, as we're now reminded on a daily basis, the lowest of the low: the realtor.

The proud owner of Pekic's savage farce is Arsénie Negovan, scion of an old Belgrade family, Vice-President of its Chamber of Commerce, a Francophile and a recluse who surveys his properties with a pair of military binoculars from the living room of the house he shares with his wife, Katerina, and his maid, Mademoiselle Foucault. We meet him in 1968, shortly after his first foray into town since the Yugoslav coup of 1941, and shortly before his death, as he scribbles his last will and testament on the backs of old tax receipts and rental contracts, in what will be an unsuccessful attempt to dispose of his assets and to persuade his executors and readers that he is of sound mind and body.

Of course, precisely because he is the protagonist of a novel, Negovan does not buy and build to turn a profit. He is not motivated by anything so base as the desire for luxury, comfort, security, or status that property sometimes confers on its owners. Instead, like many of the monomaniacs in his literary ancestry and a few of his colleagues in the real world, Negovan bases his business practices on the hilariously uneven foundations of a specious, self-spun philosophy. Just as Raskolnikov has his essay on crime, Humbert Humbert his treatise on nymphets, and Donald Trump his art of the deal, Negovan elaborates a “philosophy of Possession” to justify his obsessive and often cruel behavior.

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The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

Teenager For Barryby Akim Reinhardt

Much has been made of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most loathed presidential candidates since the birth of polling. Each of them has managed to alienate roughly half the country. About a quarter of Americans despise both of them. They make Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney look beloved.

There has been a lot of focus on why these two candidates are so widely reviled. Simple partisanship doesn't seem to adequately explain it; fewer than a third of American view either of them favorably.

The Washington Post and ABC News tell us that Clinton-haters typically see her as a corrupt, untrustworthy flip-flopper, while Trump-haters hate too many things about him to list here, but it largely boils down to him being perceived as an inexperienced hatemonger.

Fortune magazine dispenses with the specifics and instead points to Clinton's and Trump's long and choppy resumés as repulsing the masses. Despite whatever accomplishments they may have racked up over the years, the thinking goes, voters simply can't get past the many “bad” things each candidate has done.

However, I'm less concerned with why exactly these two candidates are so widely detested. On some level, the why doesn't really matter; what's more pressing, I believe, is the how. In terms of American political mechanics, how could this happen and what does it mean? How did it get here, and what can we learn from it?

The one common mechanical process in almost every aspect of American politics is the two-party system: an extra-constitutional artifice that long ago hijacked government. And it is through those double swinging doors that we have stumbled into our current political purgatory.

This bi-polar orgy of villainy signifies that America's two-party system itself is badly broken; indeed, odds are that such a scenario would not have emerged if there were additional healthy political parties.

Let's start with Donald Trump.

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Why You’re Going to Vote for Trump and How You Can Win a Free Ticket to Mexico

by Akim Reinhardt
2+2=5
Hello. My name is Akim Reinhardt, I was very, very wrong, and now it's time for me to pay for my mistakes.

The good news is, when I pay, you just might be the one to collect. My loss can be your windfall.

The catch? You'll have to publicly debase yourself almost as much I am about to do right now.

Sigh.

How did it come to this? You and I publicly shaming ourselves on the internet, each of us desperately hoping to salvage a little bit of joy as the world burns around us?

It's all because of that goddamned Donald Trump.

Trump is about to claim the Republican presidential nomination, and a whole lotta pundits got that one wrong. Legions of professional gabbers, from every corner of the political spectrum, badly missed the mark, assuring you that he'd never be the GOP candidate.

Despite their wishful thinking dressed up in high falutin' gibberish, it's happening anyway; Trump is poised to become leader of the pachyderm pack. And so a lot of the yakkers had to make amends.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post literally ate his words. Pass the salt and pepper.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times and David Byler of Real Clear Politics each created a laundry list of everything they got wrong, which like most analysts, was quite a lot.

Perhaps the oddest mea culpa came from polling wunderkind Nate Silver, who explained away his spectacular failure by saying that he had acted like a barbaric “pundit” instead of staying true to the “scientific method.” Rather than relying on statistical modeling to figure out if Trump would win, Silver says he just made “educated guesses.”

Since Silver never really explains why he traded in true reason for such wild tomfoolery, I'm just gonna assume he went on a months-long bender.

Normally, it would be very easy for me to look down my nose at these losers. After all, I'm not a statistician or a professional talking head. I'm a historian. And if there's one thing studying history has taught me, it's that trying to predict the future is pure folly.

What were these dullards thinking? Guess the future? Good luck with those crystal ball shennanigans. Studying history has shown me, time and time again, that the future is unknowable. The past is a mystery and the future is an illusion. So allow me to haughtily point a sanctimonious finger at these morons.

Except for one thing. It turns out that I'm one of those morons. I, too, am a loser.

I spouted off like all the others, publicly assuring people that Trump would not win the nomination, offering up historically informed ramblings as evidence. And just like the rest of them, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

It was a fool's errand, of course. So why did I do it?

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Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

by Akim Reinhardt

You can fool all the people some of the time
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

Lincoln quotesFor example, some people will always believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered this famous aphorism, even though there is no record of him ever having written or said those words.

A French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie authored an early incarnation of the adage in 1684.

In 1754, the French editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert helped cement its popularity.

The phrase doesn't show up in American letters until some Prohibitionist politicians started using it in 1885. Twenty years after Lincoln died.

Until recently, I simply took at face value the common claim that these were Lincoln's words. It's not a very important issue, so what would push me to question it?

My decision to title this article.

A little healthy skepticism is all it took. After all, lots of famous quotes are misattributed to famous people, ergo the Yogi Berra line: “I really didn't say everything I said.” Which he really did say.

So before titling and publishing this essay, I looked up the maxim at a reputable site with citations, just to be sure. And presto: suddenly I am, at least in this regard, all of the people some of the time, and not some of the people all of the time.

You really don't want to be some of those people who get fooled all the time. Which brings us to Donald Trump.

He's very good at fooling people. At the moment, he's successfully fooling millions of Republican voters into thinking he'd be a good president generally, and more specifically, that if elected he could actually do many of the outlandish things he's claiming, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall.

Thus, the question lurks forebodingly: Are we living through “some of the time?”

Is this the moment when Donald Trump fools all of the people, or at least enough of the ones who call themselves Republicans, that he lands the GOP's presidential nomination?

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From Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump: Chasing the White Working Class

March 15by Akim Reinhardt

Progressives, moderates, and even many conservatives are aghast at Donald Trump's populist appeal. As this cantankerous oaf flashes ever brighter in the political pan, they fret that his demagoguery might land him the Republican presidential nomination, and perhaps even carry him all the to White House.

I'm not worried about the prospect of a Hail to the Trump scenario and never have been. As far back as August, I opined on this very website that he has virtually no chance of becoming president. I still believe that. He lost to Ted Cruz in Iowa, just like I said he would. And I'm sticking with my prediction that he'll be done by the Ides of March. Should Trump actually make it to the Oval Office, I'll buy you all plane tickets to Canada, as promised.

That being said, it's certainly worth investigating the Trump phenomenon. After all, how are we to explain the dramatic success of this heinous cretin? How could this man, who is not just a walking punch line, but also thoroughly repulsive in almost every way, be so popular, not just on a silly reality TV show with a dumb catch phrase, but also in the supposedly serious world of presidential politics?

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Are We Witnessing a Major Shift in America’s Two-Party System?

by Akim Reinhardt

DemublicansIn the 150 years since the end of the U.S. Civil War, the Republicans and Democrats have maintained a relentless stranglehold on every level of American politics nearly everywhere at all times. While a handful of upstart third parties and independent candidates have periodically made waves, none has ever come close to capturing the White House, or earned more than a brief smattering of Congressional seats. Likewise, nearly ever state and local government has remained under the duopoly's exclusive domain.

Why a duopoly? Probably because of they way the U.S. electoral system is structured. Duverger's Law tells us that a two-party duopoly is the very likely outcome when each voter gets one vote and can cast it for just one candidate to determine a single legislative seat.

However, in order to maintain absolute control of American politics and fend off challenges from pesky third parties, the Democrats and Republicans needed to remain somewhat agile. The times change, and in the endless quest to crest 50%, the parties must change with them.

Since the Civil War, both parties have shown themselves flexible enough to roll with the changes. The Civil War, the Great Depression, and Civil Rights era each upended the political landscape, leading political constituencies to shift, and forcing the Democrats and Republicans to substantially and permanently reorient themselves.

Now, several decades removed from the last major reshuffling of the two major parties, we may be witnessing yet another major transformation of the duopoly as the elephant and the donkey struggle to remain relevant amid important social changes. The convulsions of such a shift are reflected in the tumultuous spectacle of the parties' presidential nomination processes.

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On the Future of American Politics

by Ali Minai

072815_baierIt is only the fall of 2015, and the United States is already in the grip of the Presidential campaign for an election that is still more than a year away. Since the emergence of 24-hour news, and especially with the explosive growth in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, each successive American election cycle has become increasingly like a reality TV spectacle rather than a serious political event, culminating in the current ascendancy of an actual reality TV figure – Donald Trump – as the leading candidate from the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Millions are now watching Presidential debates purely for their entertainment value, and the American political system appears to have become a joke. But, of course, appearances are deceptive in this case. Anyone who pays attention to events around the globe understands that electing the leadership of the world's only superpower is extremely serious business with global consequences. And this is arguably more true today than at any time in history – even during the World Wars and the Cold War – because, while those challenges were dire and existential, the problems the world faces today are no less serious but even more complex. These problems – climate change, demographic and socioeconomic imbalances, the rise of jihadist militancy, mass migrations, etc. – all are, to a large extent, products of our hyperconnected, supercharged, always-on brave new world powered by the relentless march of technology towards ever higher activity, productivity, and connectivity. All of them, without exception, can be addressed only with global strategies, and not through piecemeal policy-making by national governments. But, at precisely this delicate moment, the world finds itself paralyzed with petty rivalries and feckless indecision. A lot of this is simply the inescapable product of history, but it is impossible to deny that increasing political dysfunction in the United States is a major risk factor for the many potential catastrophes staring us in the face. Anyone concerned about these dangers should care deeply about the political system of the United States and its prospects of recovery from its current funk.

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The Donald Is Coming! The Donald Is Coming!

by Akim Reinhardt

Donald Trump, image from Salon dot comI've lost track already. During the past month, too many people to keep count of, each with a look of bemused panic in their eye, has asked me if I think Donald Trump has a chance. Knocked back on their heels by the frenzy surrounding Trump's recent surge, they implore me to tell them what I think.

Is it possible that this crude, bombastic display of runaway hair known as The Donald will actually succeed Barack Obama in the White House?

Alas, it's hard to blame these worry warts. Of late, the press marvels at Trump's soaring poll numbers, and ruminates endlessly on his success in spite of his obvious shortcomings and endless string of outrages, and what it says about American society and its broken political system.

From NPR to Ezra Klein, there's no shortage of media mavens trumpeting Trump and theorizing what his success means. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Or if they don't, they're desperate to find one. Confused by it all, The Atlantic went so far as to simply ask people why, oh why, do you support this man? Then, sans analysis, the magazine simply threw up its hands and published the responses.

Why, oh why indeed. Why is this barbarian at the gate? Why is this roaring, fatuous pig of a man on the verge of undressing our republic and claiming its highest office?

In looking for an answer, I believe we should not dig too deep. After all, Donald Trump doesn't seem to over think much, so we probably shouldn't over think him.

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