A political year, like our nation itself, seriously out of kilter.
The dictionary definition of “inane” stresses the adjectives “silly” and “stupid.” A better pair of descriptors could not be found for what the 2016 campaign has given us.
Voter Tunnel Vision
Voters have a long history in the open primary era of supporting candidates without regard to electability, leading Fred Barnes to call electability “the worst primary argument” in a recent article. Voters begin by conveniently presuming their preferred choice electable. Only during the general election campaign do these voters factor in electability. And that is how a party can come to be buried in an epic landslide.
Donald Trump lives in two campaign modes, presidential and vulgarly pugnacious. Hillary Clinton also lives in two modes. She campaigns in landlady scold mode, whilst living in“rules are for other people” (she means you, reader, and me) mode. Historically, candidates could be different things to different people, and always deny saying “yes” in one state and “no” to the same thing in another. Absent audio or video recording they could challenge the reporters’ notes. Now everything is online minutes after it gets out. Even if, as he says he will, Trump goes into all-presidential mode, his serial vulgarisms are already floating merrily around cyberspace, where they will stay to the end of time. But so, too, are Hillary’s serial lies about her emails and evasions about her cash-in schemes. Yet their supporters to date seem not to care. But neither candidate should expect that independent voters would compartmentalize so readily, if at all.
Trump and Bernie Sanders have, in different ways, destroyed their establishment wings. Trump used the GOP as a flag of convenience, to obviate the need for him to spend massive amounts of his wealth; the New York Times estimates that Trump reaped $2 billion in free publicity. He thus gained access to widely watched televised debates, where he hogged the spotlight. (Yes, he deserves credit for helping swell the audience for the debates.) Far from being treated unfairly by the GOP, when he complained after the Colorado primary, he had garnered 37 percent of GOP primary/caucus votes but won 45 percent of the delegates, a 22 percent delegate bonus. Trump has in effect hijacked the party and steamrollered its establishment wing.
Sanders, for his part, though a declared independent who voted Democratic in Congress, garnered unexpectedly large and persistent support at the expense of Hillary, the overwhelming corporate, big-donor and party insider candidate. He openly threatens to play the small “d” democratic card—one person, one vote—at the convention, if Hillary does not have a delegate majority without counting super-delegates.
A nation that is making issues out of transgender bathrooms and playing name games with its currency, amidst domestic and international chaos, is a nation seriously out of kilter. The first issue has emerged in the past year, in a republic that managed quite well since 1789 without making it a centerpiece of public debate. The latter issue concerns a genuine heroic figure in the abolitionist movement, but dethrones the president who won all the wars he fought, and founded the modern Democratic Party (with help from Martin Van Buren, who succeeded Old Hickory in the Oval Office).
At the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama openly praised the elite press corps for its pro-Obama partisanship, thus making it as official as anyone can make it, saying:
[I]t’s not enough just to give people a megaphone, and that’s why your power and your responsibility to dig, and to question, and to counter distortions and untruths is more important than ever. Taking a stand on behalf of what is true does not require you shedding your objectivity. In fact, it is the essence of good journalism.
Then he added:
I want to close my final White House Correspondents’ Dinner by just saying, thank you. I’m very proud of what you’ve done. It has been an honor and a privilege to work side-by-side with you to strengthen our democracy. [Italics mine.]
Bill Clinton had too much savvy to openly thank the pro-Bubba press, and even Hillary, she of no natural political talent whatsoever, was circumspect enough to keep mum. In a fresh example of reportorial and pundit bias, the elite press tried to make a case of sexism out of Donald Trump’s recent gibe about Hillary’s gender politics. Here is what The Donald said:
I think the only card she has is the woman’s card. She’s got nothing else going. And frankly: If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card. The beautiful thing is, women don’t like her. [Italics mine.]
Far from being outrageous, the only thing Trump missed was in giving Hillary 5 percent too many votes. Here is what Trump should have said to neutralize the gender politics play:
Were Hillary a man, she would not have married Bill Clinton, the biggest political talent of his generation. She could never have made the Oval Office on her own. She would never have had a platform of public access and political power from which to run for any major elective office—senator, president, anything else. She would never have had the ability to reap a mega-fortune via the money-laundering Clinton Cash operation masquerading as a charitable foundation. She would never have been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to supposedly give speeches. She would never have become the darling of progressive elites in the press and Hollywood. In sum: she would have been just another left-wing feminist lawyer with a big mouth and hyper-inflated ego.
Political correctness on campus reached a new milestone recently, as P.C. thugs at UMass-Amherst shouted down a campus forum on—you guessed it—political correctness.
Yet another campus-style P.C. moment—this time, between the candidates—arose over Hillary’s using the phrase “off the reservation” as to handling wayward men (like her hubby); Trump responded that she didn’t do so well in such cases. The usual identity-politics suspects assailed Hillary, and she apologized to “Native Americans” for using the forbidden phrase. Worst of all, Latino activist adults enlisted their children, getting them to hurl profanities at Trump supporters, including dropping the “F” bomb.
Ex-Big Apple mayor Michael Bloomberg shook up the campus crowd with a speech none of the candidates has shown the courage to give:
“The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through ‘safe spaces,’ ‘code words,’ and ‘trigger warnings’ is, in my view, a terrible mistake,” Bloomberg said to a chorus of cheers. “The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations – not run away from them.…
“[I]n a macro-sense, one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.”
As with the French Revolution, the P.C. revolution is “devouring its own children.” And in our future lies a growing totalitarian movement that aims—literally—to criminalize speechfrowned upon by self-anointed elites. Hillary, for her part, is at the forefront of suppressing contrary political speech. They might ponder (h/t Glenn Harlan Reynolds, in free-speech post linked above) Title 18, U.S. Code, sec. 241, which provides in pertinent part:
If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same.…
They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
If the GOP takes the presidency, 2017 could bring unpleasant surprises for progressive attorneys-general waging war against constitutionally protected speech.
Tom Wolfe, Call Your Office
In his 1987 masterpiece novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe chronicles the decline and fall of a self-described “Master of the Universe,” a Wall Street zillionaire super-trader in a seemingly impregnable economic and, hence, societal position. Yet through ill-luck finds he himself caught up in and, eventually, destroyed by corrosive racial politics. Wolfe’s fictional Sherman McCoy would be hard pressed, were he a living person, to top the arrogance, conceit, and overweening sense of entitlement that Hillary and The Donald evince on a daily basis.
Trump, in real life imitating Wolfe’s art, thinks he can defeat identity politics. Hillary thinks she can prevail, betting that most women are less enamored by The Donald than is Miss Sweden 2014. At least one—perhaps both—may be proven wrong.
But the ultimate electoral Masters of the Universe are the voters. If politicians are spreading gasoline on the ground, and elites are handing out matches, the voters, it seems, are ready to light them. If they do, the bonfire will be immense. And like forest fires, once started they can burn with potentially vast intensity and spread widely. But unlike with Mother Nature’s conflagrations, with political bonfires there are no designated firefighters with a chartered mission to limit the damage.
Inanity and elections mix like pyromania and combustibles.