*NOTE: This is another attempt to address those who mostly deplore Trump and assumes that much common ground. It argues against the position that Clinton is just as bad or possibly worse, and so she shouldn't be voted for.
Here's a candidate criticism to rankle any conservative: "You've been in the highest levels of government for 30 years, yet you haven't fixed anything. If you didn't do then what you're promising to do now, why should we believe things will be any different?" If the Democratic candidate said something like this (repeatedly) in presidential debates, a Wall Street Journal columnist would write a piece entitled: "[Democratic candidate] Brazenly Betrays Authoritarian Approach to Government". The article would be all about how the liberals had at long last stopped trying to mask their contempt for the Constitution and come right out with it.
The criticism does indeed betray a lot that should concern us all. For starters, Clinton was "first lady" of Arkansas 30 years ago, and first spouses don't have any official power at any level of government. More importantly, no one person has the power to fix just about anything on their own in the federal government, or in our country. Certainly not Senators or Secretaries of State. Presidents have their appointed powers and responsibilities, which is why a candidate for the office would propose things that she may have wanted to do for a long time, but would never have had the opportunity to pursue. Sorry for the basic middle school civics lesson. I'm sure you could do a better job than I of sitting Mr. Trump down and teaching it to him.
Besides ignorance of how the government he seeks to run works, Trump's "criticism" communicates his own yearning for authoritarian power. He's sick of the ineffectiveness of government and thinks it really only takes a business man like him to fix it. Personality, not knowledge of how government works, will finally force Washington to be effective. Recall that this man stood up at the Republican Convention, highlighted how bad crime supposedly has become (1. Totally False. 2. NOT the job of the President to fix), and said that he alone could fix it.
Hillary Clinton would never do anything like the above. Hate or love her, you know that Hillary Clinton is not basically ignorant of how government works (or do you want to say that Trump was simply pandering, which is arguably even worse?). And she is NOT so delusional to think that sheer force of Personality will fix the country (again, recall Trump at Republican debates: "How will you get the Generals to engage in war crimes they have said they will not do? Trump: "They will do what I say because I am a leader. I know how to lead."). She certainly knows her personality won't, as she is under know delusions about her famed lack of charisma. I submit that these facts favorably and decisively differentiate Clinton from Trump on an issue that conservatives care deeply about. You can believe that Clinton will abuse the powers of the Presidency. I know I do. Most Presidents have, including heroes from both Right and Left. But there is no reason to think that Clinton will be even as privately or "subtly" authoritarian as Trump has publicly promised to be.
But many argue that Trumpian flagrancy is better than Clintonian cunning because it is easier to spot and keep in check. While I agree that crafty manipulation of the system is a real problem, it is a dangerous mistake to think that Trump isn't also a wily manipulator. People hate Clinton because she embodies to them what is wrong with cunning politics. But Trump's record of cunning, deceitful business practices is well documented, if not yet well known, and he loves to talk about how his approach to business is just what government needs. Trump is crafty in different ways than Clinton. While his teenage levels of self-control and pathological narcissism do often betray him, he is a master of media manipulation. After all, his one brilliant business move has been a masterful cultivation of a substance-less brand. Trump rules at being famous for being famous. He craves media attention and is a magician at garnering it. The conjuring trick has been made continuously before our eyes for the past 16 months.
The informal power of the Presidential bully-pulpit is another reason for conservative and liberal alike to fear Trumpian flagrancy over Clintonian cunning. People hate Clinton because they think she speaks one way to the world and another way behind closed doors. I think people think the disparity is much wider than the evidence warrants, but she certainly does to an extent. She does what all politicians do, have always done, and should always do to some extent. Hating her is not going to remedy that fact, and nor will getting Trump elected. What we all know Clinton won't do is use the Presidential pulpit to spout conspiracy theories that have no evidence, or fear-monger based on wildly false pictures of society.
Trump has used the informal pulpit power of his celebrity and candidacy to foster all manner of outrageous falsehoods that are in another category from the lies of any recent Presidential candidate from the right or the left. He has used it to call for violence at his rallies. He has used it to encourage hysterical chants to lock up his political opponent. He refuses to use it to condemn the ubiquitous signs, slogans, and clothing at his rallies that trumpet explicitly violent, vulgar, and misogynistic messages about Clinton. Don't let outrage fatigue or Hillary-hatred inure you to this last point. This kind of collective behavior between a candidate and his followers is unprecedented in our lifetimes, wholly unfit for a minimally rational, democratic culture, and we all know neither Clinton nor her rallies are anything like it. Trumpian flagrancy means a Presidential pulpit squarely in tinfoil-hat-and-middle-school-bullying-land. This would be disastrous for our public culture and U.S. credibility abroad. It would also empower and legitimize the rising alt-right media (the Breitbart-Drudge led scourge), which is something that any rational conservative should realize is a huge threat to the future of principled conservatism.
What I'm trying to do here is argue that Trump is much worse than Clinton on some basic issues that conservatives tend to emphasize and that I agree we should all be very concerned about. So concerned that we have reason to maximize the chances of a Trump defeat. But I haven't addressed most of the common conservative concerns about the future of the US should Clinton become President. Presumably balancing all that against what I have emphasized here is what convinces many conservatives that Clinton would be just as bad as Trump. This way of thinking, though, fails to recognize that the Democrats have put forward a fairly traditional candidate by their standards, and the Republicans have not. But this election is NOT about the Republican vs. Democratic, or conservative vs. liberal view of the world. Intellectual honesty requires acknowledging that Hillary Clinton's approach to government is basically one that millions of Americans have endorsed for generations, and is ably defended by many political scientists, philosophers, and economists. That is, it is something for many other millions of Americans and just as able thinkers to rationally disagree with without pretending that it is a new threat to the future of liberty and morality in America. (Trump doesn't have a recognizably coherent or thorough approach to defend; mostly just authoritarian tics).
If you really believe that Clinton is some kind of threat on par with Donald Trump, then you should think that the Democratic party has been putting forward Donald Trumps for decades, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This ultimately amounts to more of a refusal to recognize fellow citizens across the aisle, than it does a reasonable or effective attempt to oppose Clinton-style corruption or overreach. I forthrightly encourage us all to be vigilant and to work hard to criticize and check the excesses of a Clinton Presidency. I also encourage all on the right and left to waste no time in finding great candidates to run against Clinton's re-election campaign, should she win. But I hope you will join me in recognizing that the threats of a Clinton presidency do not hold a candle to the threats of Trump, and that we all have a common interest in ensuring his defeat on November 8th.
It's Bootsy Collins' birthday today, so I'm posting 3 clips from different points in his career. The first is one of his early turns on the mic with Funkadelic. The second gives a taste of the driving energy from his solo band's concerts. The third showcases his legendary space bass solos from later on. Enjoy this funkiest of messengers of The One!
If, like me, you've never been cool enough to get into Frank Zappa, but figured at some point you'd need to know what the fuss is about, let me recommend a collection of his more accessible stuff that came out last month, ZAPPAtites. There's a lot of fun stuff on there and I think it succeeds in priming one for the next step into his odd, funky world, as in this one:
My last post argued that Trump's latest democracy-undermining and violence-fomenting rhetoric constitutes an emergency level situation that gives us all decisive reason to vote for the candidate that has the best chance of defeating him. This post will give a more positive argument for Clinton by way of urging that science deserves to matter more to our consideration of candidates. And I'll get there via an appreciation of those conservatives who have consistently and courageously stood against Trump. Bare with me.
This election has given me cause to wonder whether I would recognize a Trump-like demagogue among the Democrats and respond appropriately. I hope I would automatically vote for a John McCain-type whom I profoundly disagree with in order to defeat a lefty-Trump, and I resolve to should the need arise. But I haven't faced that test yet, so I admire those who have and who have consistently recognized the charlatan in Trump from the get go. While I strongly disagree with some of their politics, I applaud their character and courage. Among federal legislators, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska particularly comes to mind. As a brand new Senator, he put his cowardly elders in the Senate to shame by correctly calling out Trump's threat to the First Amendment (among so much else) from the start, and never wavered when the same cowards attempted to bully him.
Although I haven't been religious for years, I come from Mormon culture, and it is a point of pride for me that it has been so anti-Trump. Mitt Romney stated the obvious ("a fraud, a phony") early on, Trump was destroyed in the Utah primary, and Utah representatives led the way in the latest Republican denouncements and defections from Trump (also putting Orrin Hatch's cowardice on display, by the way). I'm also pleased that people are noticing the Mormon exposure of Evangelical hypocrisy.
There are few, if any, take-downs of Trump and his Republican lackeys as delicious and cathartic as those coming from conservative writers George Will, David French, and Jonah Goldberg. I know that they have received a lot of flak from the right, and I admire their consistent stand. Recently, I came across an interesting interview Goldberg did with a journalist from Slate who wondered why he couldn't bring himself to support Clinton. Goldberg, who has devoted so much energy over the years to critiquing Clinton, wouldn't really offer a full-throated reason why others shouldn't vote for Clinton at this point, but just insisted that he personally couldn't. I get it. Still, for those who haven't staked their careers on bringing down the likes of Clinton, I've been thinking of reasons that should tip the scales in her favor in order to convince people who have the power to help ensure a Trump defeat (good luck with that, Enoch).
And that brings me to science. In general, you can't simply arrive at the best policy positions by reading the latest issue of Science. But failing to promote scientific research and using the best available research relevant to any particular policy or decision is like insisting on operating heavy machinery in the dark. More: robust promotion, appreciation, and use of science is a sine qua non for a modern rational democracy. One of the most important reasons why comes from recent discoveries of science itself. Humans are prone to irrational tendencies and biases of very specific kinds (e.g., not so bad at some basic deductive reasoning; very bad at statistical reasoning). These tendencies no doubt infect public political discourse--our attempts to reason with each other about how to best govern ourselves. Scientific educations and the promotion of norms of respect and admiration for scientific reasoning are our best hope for effectively targeting these tendencies in public discourse. And for helping people be better critical thinkers more generally.
One of the hallmarks of science is the demand for public, intersubjective standards of verification. An example of this is the demand for reproducibility of results--scientists are expected to make their methods explicit, transparent, and public so that others can check and see if they can get the same results via the same methods. If others can't reproduce originally reported results, the acceptance of those original results is undermined. These practices can foster virtues transferrable to the political realm. For instance, the more a candidate promotes the use of science in informing his or her policies and decisions, the more that candidate binds him or herself to the highest public standards and checks on them.
Science also brings to our attention potentially disastrous problems that we and our political representatives would otherwise be in the dark about: pollution, agricultural sustainability, biodiversity, anti-biotic resistance, global climate change, the effects of advances in artificial intelligence, and so on (see this great book by my friend Phil Torres for more). For all these reasons, and more, candidates who are most knowledgeable about science, and supportive of its role in public discourse and policy decisions, automatically deserve a hefty deposit on the positives side of the ledger. Candidates who are least knowledgeable and supportive deserve a similarly large injection into the negatives side of the ledger. And when all other factors leave it murky in one's mind which candidate deserves their vote, or whether one of them deserves their vote at all, a clear difference in this category deserves to be treated as a decisive factor.
Fortunately, a group of scientific organizations constructed a list of science-related questions for the candidates, and Scientific American published each candidate's answers (from Trump, Clinton, Stein, Johnson). They also published grades for each answer. While I have some problems with some of the questions, and want to know more about their criteria for grading the answers, I think the magazine's judgments give an accurate enough assessment. None of our four major presidential candidates get a score as high as we should expect of them. Clinton comes closest by far, however, and Trump may as well have just written in that he is an anti-scientific ignoramus (surprise, surprise). The degree to which Clinton beats Stein and Johnson should also count as a major advantage over each. Overall, then, the fact that Clinton is the surest bet to beat the anti-scientific Trump combined with the fact that she is by far the best candidate on scientific issues gives us all excellent reason to vote for her.
This post (and maybe a few to come) is primarily aimed at friends, family, and acquaintances who lean either right or far left (where I usually hang), already agree that Trump doesn't deserve a vote, but also can't (yet??) bring themselves to vote for Clinton. As well as any who also have such people in their lives.
The last few days have brought another presidency disqualifying reveal about Trump. He has shown how he will react to (his own) emergency conditions: Trump will burn it all down, even if it doesn't appreciably increase the chances of saving himself. If he goes down, everyone does. He is even incapable of listening to his own advisory team, who have all the experience for dealing with emergency campaign situations that he does not. Against their advice to turn to the issues on which he has the best hope for making up lost ground, Trump has chosen to turn his own predatory behavior into a global conspiracy against him, one that justifies undermining the legitimacy of our democratic process. As such, he has turned it into an emergency situation for all of us. How should we respond?
Rationally, but with urgency. The rational thing to do is defeat him on election day by voting for the candidate most likely to defeat him (Clinton), and by as wide a margin as possible, in order to send a message that this kind of behavior is intolerable in civil society. In the mean time, we should call on our leaders, especially Republican ones, to condemn his conspiracy-mongering and democracy-threatening language in the strongest possible terms. They should also be called on to condemn any plans for voter intimidation on election day. For those who wonder, I say this as someone who has never been a member of one of the two major national parties; as someone who has voted for independent/non-mainstream party candidates more often than not; as someone who has never been a big fan of Clinton; and as someone who also deplores the fact that both Democrats and Republicans have falsely cried wolf on the emergency status of most of the presidential elections since WWII.
There is little I detest more in politics than fear-mongering, and I don't wish to reproduce it here. It is possible, though, to rationally assess, diagnose, and respond to emergency conditions, i.e., situations where it becomes imperative to temporarily set aside issues on which we fiercely disagree in order to save that which we can all agree is of fundamental importance.
While we'll differ widely over the specifics, most will agree that there are serious problems in our nation and that they aren't being properly prioritized or effectively addressed by our federal government. More importantly, we do, or should, agree that whatever progress we want via governmental means must come about through the democratic processes we have, such as they are now. This includes hope for those processes becoming more genuinely democratic. We cannot hope for democratic progress when democratic process is threatened. If there is one candidate, and one alone, who overtly threatens that process, especially by fomenting potential physical intimidation and violence to do so, we have decisive reason to use our votes to maximize the chances of that candidate's defeat. Voting for Clinton is the vote that does this.
If you haven't heard yet, Trump's tweets and speeches are increasingly full of hysterical invective claiming that there is a global cabal conspiring to defeat both his candidacy and "movement". Among those included in this cabal, besides any media that aren't sufficiently alt-right, are "international banks", a well-known piece of anti-semitic propaganda descending to us from at least the beginnings of last Century. Accordingly, the election is "rigged" (a term he employs for any public process that doesn't give the results he thinks it should), and he is calling on his followers to help "guard" against the election being "stolen" from them. With dilligent obedience, his followers are telling reporters that they plan on intimidating voters, including a sitting law enforcement officer who spoke for Trump at the Republican convention calling for mob violence. Let that sink in.
Assertions of global conspiracies to "rig" the US presidential election are serious ones that require correspondingly serious evidence. Does Trump, or his team, make any sincere attempt to present such evidence (let alone really have it)? NO. And there is none. (Although, there is evidence that Russia is attempting to influence the election, evidence that has been presented to Trump in security briefings, and which he ignored/denied in the last debate.) Using his current platform to make such irresponsible and baseless assertions is the kind of brazen abuse of power that should immediately disqualify Trump from serious consideration for highest office.
Now Trump himself has not explicitly called for violence. But this doesn't stop his followers from interpreting him that way. The fact that Trump himself has not and will not make any attempt to "correct" his followers' interpretations (unless there is enough of the right kind of public outrage to induce him to finally give one of his trademark dishonestly vague, hint-hint/wink-wink-style concessions) shows that physical intimidation against voters is precisely what Trump intends to communicate. The encouragement of violence and intimidation in our electoral process is truly beyond the pale; and, whatever else one may think of Clinton, it decisively distinguishes her from Trump. She has done nothing even remotely close to this. In the next few paragraphs I'll respond to some worries that some may have about this argument.
Worry #1: The media really has been more focused on Trump's weaknesses than Clinton's
This is true, but is not plausibly explained by a coordinated global conspiracy against Trump. Look, I think it is true that some parts of the mainstream media have leaned left for decades. I also think that parts of the media have especially turned up the heat on Trump of late. Many are covering his sexual predation more than the Clinton Wikileaks dump, for instance. In many ways, though, this is an appropriate response: Trump is a sexual predator and that deserves intense coverage. The Wikileaks dump reveals that.....Clinton is largely what many, supporters and opponents alike, believed: a wheelin', dealin' politician. The door to the sausage factory has been opened and we find there what the reasonable, though not what the hysterical, expected. We would find similar in most national politicians were their private correspondence released. Another partial explanation for the disparity is that Clinton has been one of the most scrutinized politicians for over 20 years now and her scandals have been aired ad nauseum. Trump avoided some of the most intense scrutiny until now because he hasn't been a politician and because the Republican party itself didn't do its due diligence in vetting him last year. Yet another partial explanation is that you reap what you sew: Trump's specialty, and driving motivation, has always been as much media attention as possible. He fought for it and continues to get it. Finally, multiple media outlets independently arriving at similar conclusions--that Trump is uniquely awful and the country deserves to hear about it--does not require an appeal to secret global collusion. Many prominent Republicans and conservative media outlets themselves have come to that conclusion.
While on the topic, though, Trump's alt-right brand of conspiracy-mongering media is another decisive distinguisher between him and Clinton, and a reason to maximize the likelihood of his defeat (BTW, would any of you be surprised if Trump uses his "concession" speech to announce the launch of his new media empire to "deliver the truth" to the American people about how the election was stolen from him?). The Drudge/Breitbart underbelly of right-wing (principled conservatism does not deserve to be associated with this bile) media would be significantly legitimized and empowered by a Trump victory, would pull Fox News further in their direction (no, my liberal friends, I don't think that much of its programming deserves to be classed in with the alt-right just yet), and would help normalize the kind of rhetoric that I've been arguing is a unique threat to our democracy. This would be a disaster to the role of reasoned discourse, such as there is, in the public sphere. While I would admit that liberal biases in the media are probably partially responsible for the rise of the alt-right, those biases don't come anywhere close to the utter disregard for evidence, reason, and truth that the alt-right media displays. There are constructive ways of giving principled conservatism more fair coverage in the media, that liberals should acknowledge and participate in. Empowering the alt-right with a Trump presidency would do more to set back that endeavor than a Clinton presidency would.
Worry #2: Clinton undermines democracy too
Does behind-the-scenes corruption contribute to the erosion of our democratic ideals and institutions? Yes. Has Clinton participated in that? Yes. More than most politicians? I'm not convinced, and certainly not more than many heroes of the right, but I'll grant that there is room for reasonable disagreement on the question. Does any of it come close to fomenting voter intimidation or political violence if things don't go your way? Not a chance. The fact is that the corrupt politicians will always be with us, at least for the foreseeable future, and we've survived much worse than Clinton. But we have yet to risk giving power to a demagogue who resorted to unprecedented overt threats to our democratic processes when his own behaviors began to sink his campaign. I don't want to take such a risk, and voting for Clinton is the course of action that most effectively minimizes that risk.
Worry #3: Haven't we heard that someone posed a "unique threat" before?
Yes, and as I indicated above, I regret that many have cried wolf so much in the past. Perhaps especially liberals. Actually, I think that the right is doing so now with Clinton. But no number of false cries can prevent a genuine wolf from actually appearing one day. And if Trump's current howls aren't enough to convince that that day has come, I don't know what could be.
If you made it through my rant, I encourage you to visit a much more convincing voice on this topic. If you still can't bring yourself to vote Clinton, I still encourage you to contact your representatives to call for a condemnation of Trump's conspiracy-mongering and election-delegitimizing rhetoric.
The announcement of Dylan's Nobel this week excited me--I thought it was nice that a lyricist was being honored that way. Later, a good friend of mine convinced me it might not be as nice a thing as I thought. After all, there are several brilliant writers out there whose work deserves to be recognized and known better, and Dylan isn't hurting on that score.
My friend also thinks that Townes Van Zandt is a superior lyricist. Dylan may be great at one-liners, he argues, but TVZ tells the better story. Whether or not he's right, the conversation reminded me of a singer-songwriter who was not known well enough, but was a good friend of TVZ's. His name was Blaze Foley and people like TVZ and Lucinda Williams thought he was brilliant. He was also a peculiar fellow. TVZ apparently said of him: "He's only gone crazy once. Decided to stay." Here are two songs of his:
"the Interwebs" is a phrase I often hear used to answer questions about how someone knows about something or where they saw something, etc. I prefer "the websites," tho it's a losing battle. I like imagining one of my grandmothers asking me, "Did you find anything nice on the websites today, dear?" Whatever they're called, it's fun stumbling on quirky, funky ones that I never would have dreamt existed.
One of my favorites that I've recently discovered is the website of the Cloud Appreciation Society. They've got a zany manifesto and a gallery of extraordinary pictures (complete with clouds of the month!). They also have info on clouds in literature and the arts. Fun and learning for days.
If anyone reading has the urge to share a favorite quirky website here, please do. Things will be getting darker on this site as I express some of my frustrations with our outlandish election, so I wanted to kick things off with something light. And I'd love to have more wacky stuff to distract me.
Although I'm not good at taking pictures of clouds I'll end with a recent attempt while in a certain Nevadan desert: