Thursday, September 22, 2016

Race to the White House

While I am a big sports fan, I confess I’ve never been able to generate much enthusiasm for bicycle racing. However, I do vaguely recall watching on TV some indoor banked track races, perhaps at an Olympic games competition. The singular quality of those races was that nobody appeared to want to win the race. The cyclists meandered along, as slowly as possible, watching to make sure that no one else started to move quickly. Eventually someone started to move and then the chase was on in the dash to the finish.

As the American presidential marathon grinds to an end, I am reminded of such races. Like the Olympics, the World Cup and the European Cup, this competition is held every four years, and as with those other contests, the qualifying events get started soon after the competition declares its current winners.

The presidential primary races got off to the same slow start as the cycling contests, with a huge field of competitors idling along, burning through campaign contributions while generating absolutely no momentum. Jeb Bush blew through $100 million in sponsorship deals without ever accelerating to more than a walk. He spent the most but he was not alone in never getting to the point where the race speeds up. Unlike the bikers, the political aspirants did not all share the same discipline. Donald Trump peddled to the front of the pack and started to pull away immediately, to the chagrin of both the other competitors and the sports press, who had all considered him a non-contender. His bike carried a bullhorn and he yelled “losers” to the audiences as he hurled his water bottles in the faces of the attending fans. None of the other bikers ever caught up and they got together later to agree that this was no way to run a race. His triumph was like no bicyclist in memory. Trump’s victory inspired reactions closer to those generated by Sonny Liston when he was boxing’s heavyweight champion: fear, grudging respect and a desperate wish to see someone eliminate him from the scene.

In the other heat, Hillary Clinton started very slowly but having friends on the competition committee, not to mention all the sponsors, she started three laps ahead of the others in a six lap race. The NYT and the WaPo sent race tracking vehicles to report on her every move, unmindful of the fact that they were blocking the track for other competitors. The TV reporters wearily, though happily enough, reported on her uncontested glide to victory, even as Bernie Sanders unlapped himself time after time as his ride generated double or triple the speed of the preordained champion. With the competition committee hurling sticks at his wheels, his final sprint fell short.
a race gone wrong

We have now moved on to the final race. The race to the White House. The media have done their part to assure that the race is unsullied by any mention of issues, freeing the track for a perfect race based on the character, or lack thereof, of the two approved contenders. Thus it will be Team Blue versus Team Red; the establishment Democrat, vilified by the opposition as a lying, traitorous, liberal, corrupt, greedy, opportunistic criminal against the non-Establishment Republican, vilified by the opposition, along with most of the MSM and much of the Republican Establishment, as being a shallow, dangerously ignorant, corrupt narcissistic boor with the emotional development of a small abused child and the personality of an eighth grade bully.

Hillary Clinton emerged from the Democratic Convention with a bump in the polls and the endorsement of her vanquished rival, Bernie Sanders. She extracted the latter by modifying the platform to bring it slightly more in line with democratic values, such as support for a higher minimum wage. Earlier, in response to similar pressure she had changed her position from pro to anti-TPP. However, just as she started to pull far ahead, she nominated Tom Keane, the former Governor and Senator from Virginia as her Vice-presidential choice. Tom Keane is by all accounts, a nice man with an admirable record as a civil rights lawyer. However, his two most recent public utterances prior to his nomination were in support of TPP and more banking deregulation, arguably the two most vital issues in this election year. (We must admit that issues count for even less than vice presidential candidates in presidential elections.) This came as a dagger to the heart of the small but energetic democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Donald Trump was not to be outdone. Shunned at the Republican Convention by the GOP leaders (the Bush family stayed away en masse) and ridiculed in the press, he saw a chance to pick up support from angry Democrats and he quickly maneuvered out of that situation by picking Indiana Governor Mike Pence from the scarier realms of the twilight zone. Pence is best known for saying:
  • smoking does not cause death.
  • Climate change is a hoax,
  • a HIV testing center in his state must be closed,
  • he would give personhood status to embryos, and
  • he would keep Syrian refugees out of his state.
A persistent theme emerged arguing that Trump had really never wanted to be president but simply sought to inflate coverage of his name and his brand. Michael Moore made the most compelling case for this scenario but he was not alone. Moore had also written that Trump would win and why.  For a time it seemed that a total blowout was in the works and Trump would be the biggest loser in history.. Matt Taibbi stated convincingly that the race was over but was being prolonged by the media to boost TV ratings. At about the same time, Hillary’s ratings started to plummet and Matt had to wonder what the hell was going on.

People had once again underestimated Clinton’s capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of landslide victory. The Keane nomination had been tone deaf but she followed it by naming former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar as her transition chief, and thus a top advisor, in her new administration. For the uninitiated, Ken Salazar was the poster boy for corporate rapaciousness with regard to the environment. He never saw a proposal to clear cut a forest or sell off government lands that he didn’t like. She followed that with her own Mitt Romney moment. Mitt had sealed his fate in 2012 by claiming that the 47% of Americans who didn’t pay income taxes (because they didn’t have sufficient income to be taxed) were parasites. Hillary thought, and foolishly said, that half of Trump’s supporters were “the basket of deplorables”, i.e. racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic. She may have been objectively correct, unless she underestimated the percentages, but it was not a politically correct or even politically clever thing to say.

All conventional wisdom would suggest that this would be a landslide election, even if Clinton is an unpopular candidate to a degree without precedent. She has done amazing things to alienate voters,from her failures as Secretary of State to her gaming the primary, but nothing like Trump. He started off last year by insulting everything and everyone that the Republican Party has venerated for the past three or four decades. He has insulted people of every identifiable racial, religious or ethnic group and lately has taken to suggesting the appointment of people to high office that in another time, when there where more institutions available for the mentally troubled, would not have been permitted out on the street. To be fair to Trump, he was the only Republican candidate who said that Americans need Social Security and need to have access to health care. However to counter allegations of sanity, he came up with a tax plan as deranged as anything that Paul Ryan could conjure. When serial sexual abuser Roger Ailes was ousted as chief of Fox News, he was immediately signed up as an advisor to the Trump campaign. Insulting a couple who had lost their son in military action would have appeared to be a sure path for Trump’s exit from the race but no, Donald Trump seems to be unable to lose support, no matter what he does or says. Many people are so disgusted by the political process, by what government has become and what it has done to the country that they would prefer to see it implode rather than see the status quo given new life.
David Bossie

Peter Thiel
Roger Ailes

If indeed, this is a race to see who can lose, Hillary Clinton has an ace up her sleeve. She has tied her campaign to continuing the legacy of Barrack Obama. That legacy is spiraling downhill fast, as Obama campaigns ceaselessly for TPP, the “trade policy” designed to end all legislative democracy throughout the world in favor of corporate rule. Tying her candidacy to him is about as astute as Trump accepting the support of former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke but conventional wisdom, or any wisdom at all, seems to have no bearing on this race.

Another race comes to mind. At the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, a rookie, JR Hildebrand, led the race on the final lap, to everyone’s surprise. He was trailed by another driver, Dan Wheldon, who was also not expected to be in contention. On the final curve of the final lap, Hildebrand lost control of his car , crashed into the wall, slid along the straightaway to the finish line just after Wheldon had slipped by for the win. Will we see something like that? Who is leading? Who will crash?

This race cannot and will not end well. Someone must lose and either way, it will be us, the public. Our best hope is that the country, and the world, will survive for four years and have another chance to set things right.