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Friday, September 30, 2016

Fallout



Five days after the first presidential debate, the numbers are in and Trump lost. Not only was he declared the loser in every professional poll but his numbers, across the board, have declined by about 4% on aggregate. This should not be surprising:

  • Trump was clearly unprepared. The bar he had to pass was to not look like a bloviating bully for 90 minutes as the most important exam of his life and he couldn't do it.
  • Despite an initial burst of strategic attack (which lasted about 16 minutes) he was otherwise unable to execute a strategy, made unforced errors, and, by the end, lapsed into absolute incoherence (on the Birth Certificate issue).
  • Worse, he stumbled blindly into the Alicia Machado trap. Clinton was prepared for any sexist opening--the Alicia Machado ad was already put together and polished. When he provided an opening, she hit him with it.
  • Now, five days later, Trump is still keeping that story alive, despite all logic.


At This Point What Do You Say?

Today, if you are still supporting Trump (and if you supported him on Sunday, you are) you have to be fairly lying to yourself. This is a man who:
  1. Lacks self-control at an elemental level. He didn't do the homework, failed the exam, and then complained about it in depth--but not to anyone involved's face.
  2. He is running on a foundation of lies: his voters (as encouraged by him) believe he won the debate because of Internet polling. This is massive innumeracy and he, the would-be leader of the free world, is encouraging it.
  3. He has demonstrated a stunning willingness to use and promote cruelty aimed at people less powerful than him. However, he can't "take it" when it comes to having things like his own words used against him.
Acidic Super-Chef Gordon Ramsay would make a better president and be less abusive than Donald Trump. That's ignoring the boost he gives to racists in America. Even if you don't find yourself racist--and believe that Donald is not racist--it is inarguable that racists are cheering his rise.


The Questions To Ask Yourself

Today, if you are still supporting Trump (and if you supported him on Sunday, you are) there are a few questions you should answer, at least for yourself.
  1. Do you think he was decisively beaten in the debate? That's what the numbers show--if you think it was more or less a tie--or that he won, you are succumbing to conspiracy thinking. If you are, it is because you have a need to believe he won that overrides your cognitive functions. It isn't a matter of opinion (you can think you liked what he said better--but the idea that he unambiguously won is provably false).
  2. Is there any amount of support for white supremacists that Trump could have before you'd drop him? If he was an out-and-proud Klansman or Nazi, would that do it? If the answer is "Yes" then consider that he is courting those voters the same way that he is courting you
  3. If he could not get his act together for the debate, is there any evidence at all he could do it for the presidency? If not, is it possible for a president to be catastrophically bad (if you answered: "Yes, Obama!" then consider that Obama is notably collected. Perhaps over-cautious? Trump is a hot-head who is easily baited. Do you really want that guy in charge?)
  4. There are newspapers that in a cumulative 400 year history have never endorsed a Democrat. They are endorsing Clinton. USA today has never before endorsed a candidate. This year they are endorsing Clinton. These are conservative sources (or pretty neutral in the case of USA Today). Could they know something you are not admitting to yourself?


The Answer Is: He's Not Clinton

"But Omnivore," you say, "we must stop Clinton at all costs!" The Omnivore's response to that is "Why?" We were told we had to stop Obama at all costs--the country is still standing. We were told that We had to stop Bush at all costs. He got us in two very, very expensive wars but the country is still standing. We were told we had to stop Bill Clinton at all costs. He got two terms and the economy expanded and the National Debt (which, you say, is VERY, VERY Important) was wiped out--for a time, until Bush.

"Ah, but Omnivore," you protest, "if all that is true, then maybe the country could survive Trump?"

Perhaps--we are a hard nation to kill--but Trump is an anomaly in ways the others, and Hillary, are not. He is supported by a resurgent White Supremacist party--something that has never happened in modern history. He has no governing experience of any kind and, most importantly, shows little appetite to learn things. He has demonstrated, when the chips are down, that he will attack someone who slights him--this is a man who cannot apologize and, notably, has not even asked God to forgive him.

These are qualities that Hillary simply does not demonstrate. She is contained. She can shut up. She is not easily baited. She is studied. She may be all the bad things you say / believe / have been told--but she is not a disciple of Vladimir Putin. She does not parrot Russian talking points or polling conspiracy theories to the national media. She does not have an Alt-Right hero (Stephen Bannon) as the head of her organization.

If the answer as to why you are voting Trump is that he's not Clinton, consider that this may be true: from what we have seen--from only what we have seen--he is much, much worse than Clinton at this President thing.

Those are the facts. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Da Bait



Last night was the big show-down. After obsessive think-pieces by the media, pundits, and, well, everyone else, the two candidates met for the first time. Here are some take-a-ways:

  • Hillary is Old and Sick: This was probably the wrong message to set expectations. Hillary looked pretty spry and sharp. She didn't cough once. Trump had the sniffles. She didn't even drink any water.
  • Maybe Trump Really Didn't Prepare: Trump said he wasn't really prepping. People assumed that was spin. Doesn't look like it. He wasn't a quivering mess or anything but he wasn't all that sharp on his answers and got caught chasing his tail a few times (on whether he supported Iraq, for example). Worse, he never pivoted to attack Hillary's weaknesses--like her email, Benghazi, and so on. If Lester Holt was biased, Trump left all that on the table too.
  • This Is The Same Trump From the Primary: That's not necessarily a bad thing--but it isn't necessarily a good thing either. Trump is the same mix of bluster and bravado that served him well to get the GOP base. It may not work on the country at large though and if he can't expand his audience he's in trouble.
  • Clinton Was Pretty Polished: This isn't Clinton-fan-service. Her body language was clearly coached to wait patiently while Trump interrupted her. The Omnivore's guess is that the idea was to show "women everywhere" that Trump was a bully who talked over her.
  • Taking The Bait: The narrative here is that Hillary poked Trump and got under his (thin) skin and showed him to be a blustering bully. This is overstating the case but it's not entirely off-track. Trump did raise his voice, interrupt, and so on. Now, that might help him with some voters but Hillary (a) did a decent job of not being cowed (body language, patient smile) and (b) needed to show the world that Trump is that kind of guy. She more or less did that. Trump did not pivot into a calm, strong, presidential figure.

Who Won?

The real answer: wait a week and look at the polls. However--
  • Online Trump won almost all the polls. His electronic army is motivated and has high morale.
  • The pundits think that Hillary baited Trump and he took it, hook-line-and-sinker. That's a loss for him.
  • On policy depth, of course Hillary won, but Al Gore won on policy depth too.
  • The first 30 minutes of the debate are probably the most important and Trump's really weak answers came later.
  • After the debate, Team Trump had some issues with moderator Lester Holt. That's a tell. It means they think they didn't do well and are planning to create a counter-narrative that the fix was in.
  • The betting markets show a movement towards Hillary. This is money-where-your-mouth-is stuff.

Lester Holt

Lester Holt had a no-win job and he did not win. Team Trump says he's a shill for Hillary. Hillary fans are probably okay with him--but wonder why he didn't body fact check Trump into the floor. He got into it with Trump to a moderate degree but there was no surprise-attack Candy Crowley moment that left Trump dumbfounded.

Holt didn't hit Hillary on emails or her health--or any number of similar things--but, as noted above, neither did Trump. The email exchange was short and weak. Was Holt biased? Probably--he is the media--but The Omnivore doesn't think it rose to a level of malpractice.

Of course Trump made his own problems by saying he'd never caused Climate Change a Chinese hoax while a tweet from him saying exactly that was still up and re-tweeted 60k times (it has since come down). Facts are not Trump's friend and neither was Lester Holt.


The Omnivore's Take: No More Debates

Predictions without any teeth are pointless. While the smart money says Trump will do/will have to do another debate, The Omnivore is going to place some virtual tokens down that he doesn't. Why not? Well, the first reason is that he'd have to prep and (a) that's not really Trump and (b) if he's seen to take time out of his schedule to do it that would be like an admission that he lost.

Secondly, assuming Clinton gets a modest bump from this (let's say +2pts) the last thing Trump will want to do is have that happen closer to voting day. If it happens now, there's plenty of time for the "swelling to go down." If Trump's calculation is that it's better to take the hit by not debating, The Omnivore assesses he will.

The State of Play

There are two competing narratives coming out of the polling data. The first is that Hillary and Trump are tied and Trump may have an edge. That's fine--but the second is that while Hillary and Trump are close, Hillary has a ceiling above Trump's. Trump may have a 44pt total and if Hillary gets the soft-support, she can clear him by 8pts or so. In this model, Hillary gets people who are disgusted with Trump but don't like her either.

If the second model is, indeed, the case then this debate probably did not convince people who were worried about his temperament. It is possible that Hillary's general poise may have increased her already wide margins with women--and if that includes young women, that could be significant. 

Of course we will have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Biggest Debate EVER


We are approaching what will be, ratings wise, likely the biggest presidential debate ever. When Trump and Hillary square off against each other the stakes will be sky high and the pressure will be on like never before. For two unliked candidates, a close election hangs in the balance: Can either of them change or seal their fortunes in what is the last big event of the season (there are two more debates and what may be the most boring VP debate ever--but this is probably the big one).

Hillary

Hillary comes off her worst cycle yet with a modest (if somewhat uneven) rebound. Following her literal collapse from [ something ] there are rumors she is sick, rumors she is over-prepared, and rumors she has a body-double. Right now she leads by something like 70-30 and is pretty dead-even in all-important Florida. For her, she wants to hold or expand her lead.

Trump

Trump came off his best cycle yet, reaching near parity with Clinton and threatening the "Blue Firewall" of Democratic states on the margins. No one really knows what his electorate will look like so polls need to be taken with a bigger grain of salt than even usual. For Trump, slightly but significantly behind, this is chance to introduce himself to a portion of the electorate that may not have been as heavily immersed in politics but has certainly heard "a lot" from him (and about him) and want to see for themselves.

What Hillary Wants To Do

Hillary wants to connect with the 18-34 demographic who right now view her as largely better than Trump but still not worthy of a vote. She needs to prosecute the case against Donald Trump that he is unfit for office--while evidencing that she has the necessary skills and experience. She needs to come off as human, sympathetic, and (if possible) likable enough to bring people in.

She also needs to appear healthy, strong, and spry. While most people probably don't buy that she has dementia, after a caught-on-video collapse after falling ill at the 9/11 ceremony, the powerful image of her being weak or unwell is a real issue. Just as Reagan jabbed at Carter about his age (both Reagan's age and Carter's younger age) using a few humor beats to win over the audience, Hillary needs to convince people at a gut level that she is in good health.

What Trump Wants To Do

Benefiting from what Republicans have termed the "soft bigotry of low expectations," Trump needs to appear modestly presidential. If he can, he will bring home a portion of the #NotYetTrump Republicans and might sway some of the people who hate Hillary but consider him too much of a risk.

Trump needs to show people that he is not a shallow narcissist or racist. He can play the tough-talker well but he needs to assure people that he'd be a safe choice. For people who think Hillary would be a disaster on the Supreme Court--but that Trump could be a literal existential risk to America, he needs to lower the down-side perception. He also needs to show some humility in some kind of meaningful way.

How To Execute

The going theories here are that debates rarely make a difference unless something substantial happens and that they are best understood not as a full narrative of a policy speech but as a small collection of moments the candidates create that can be replayed or expose something about the candidate. Examples of a good moment would be Reagan's humor and a bad one, Rick Perry's "Oops."

For some of these, the candidates will be primed. The Omnivore has little doubt that Hillary is studying some laugh-lines and preparing to ace policy questions. It is likely that Trump is being coached about how to present himself as presidential and is deciding what lines of attack might be too risky or toxic to use vs. which ones he can unload on.

Who Has A Harder Time?

The answer is almost unquestionably Hillary. Firstly while both candidates are known quantities, Hillary may well be more ill than her supporters would hope (pneumonia is no small thing--and that's assuming it goes no further). Secondly, while she's very experienced in debates, she has a very unusual challenge in Trump. Her stated game-plan is to rattle him: that's outside her comfort zone. His stated game-plan is to be Trump, just a bit less so. That's not as far a reach.

Secondly, her expectations are that he won't catch her on anything--that she can debate rings around him. His expectations are that he can, maybe, name a foreign leader or something where appropriate. He can definitely manage that.

Some Deeper Thoughts

To a large extent this cake may already be baked. The Omnivore doubts that most millennials will be voting for Gary Johnson on election day. Some might not vote at all but it seems unlikely that the 3rd party candidates will continue to pull strong numbers after the debate in which neither of them are on the stage. While the 3rd Party people draw some from each, if we give them the likely allotments, Hillary gains 1 or 2 points in a few key states and that's a lot.

Her ability to pull them may not hinge on much beyond her showing up and being able to stand upright--Trump is a disaster from their perspective and seems unable or unwilling to correct that.

The question will be just how do they go at each other. Will Trump declare she is dying of brain cancer? Will he talk about her failing to sexually satisfy her husband? Will he accuse her of killing Vince Foster? In earlier days these would be unthinkable but they're at least on the table now.

Conversely, does she, to his face, accuse him of being racist? Does she bring his supporters into this? She has laid some of the ground work for this with her Alt-Right speech but doing it in person is . . . different. Secondly, there's a high risk of back-lash if you go for the throat. Trump doesn't want to look like a bully. Clinton doesn't want to look like a bitch. Threading those needles in mortal-verbal-combat is hard. There's a reason why these things usually don't happen.

On the other hand, Hillary wants to fire up her base and dropping some nuclear-grade Truth-Bombs on Trump might do that. Trump, trailing slightly, but significantly, needs to take her down a peg. His supporters are expecting him to destroy her. He probably is interested in that as well--we just don't know what that looks like to him.

In the debates we saw, Hillary was okay but boring and Trump had some good moments but then faded. He also never took a chance to pivot when it (probably) would have benefited him (a solid pivot would have put Cruz away earlier and maybe Kasich as well). Maybe he can't.

Close To The Line

By the time you read this, there will probably be two full days before the debate itself. Both sides seem to have concluded they'll each do at least this one and while we don't know what the moderator will do, it seems reasonable to assume that he will be forced to say something if Trump tells what the mainstream media considers a verifiable lie. If that's the rule in play then Trump is going to have some tough decisions to make because it seems likely that some of his previous statements will come up and battling with the moderator, even for Trump, probably isn't a winning move.

So we'll see. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Hand-basket (of Deplorables)



The race, coming out of the Labor Day gates, seems to have stabilized--or maybe metastasized. Clinton leads by 3-4 points nationally, has a substantial lead in PA, and might be too sick to continue the race--or maybe not. Trump's supporters are gleeful that their "conspiracy theories" about her health have been proven correct (except that the theories are that she has a neurological disease of some sort--not that she has pneumonia) and we are now about 2 weeks out from the first debate.

The first debate, barring various colors of Swan, will probably be the key event in September and may be the key event in the race. If, for example, Hillary is too ill to participate, she will probably lose / have to drop. If Trump manages an upset by either virtue of low-expectations or secret prep, the race could close to near even or even put Trump ahead.

If Hillary looks spry and dominates him, it's probably the last chance he had of real events to turn things around.

So that's the state-of-play.


The Basket of Deplorables

The underlying foundation of the 2016 race is that all the standards of political decorum that had previously existed no longer do. Back in 2008 neither Hillary as a candidate nor McCain as a nominee challenged Barack Obama's birth. In both 2008 and 2012 the opposing nominees rejected attacks on Obama using (a) falling Twin Towers and his ex-pastor's voice over saying "God Damn America!" and (b) an attack ad designed to to imply that Obama was a foreign-inspired black radical.

Today, were Obama running, that's what Trump would do.

There's almost no doubt about it whatsoever.

Where before now candidates might imply, surrogates might mention, and supporters would scream about conspiracy theories, today the candidate is talking conspiracy theories and his vice presidential nominee is saying he doesn't go in for the 'name calling.'

On the flip side Hillary called half of Trump's supporters 'Deplorables.' So is it both sides?

No. It's not.

Firstly the math suggests that depending on how you define a Trump-supporter (a person whose first pick was always Trump seems like a reasonable standard) Hillary might be understating the case if you think arguing that the South should have won the Civil War is deplorable.

To be sure, polling data does not look good for Trump supporters if you count his native base.

Secondly, unarguably, Trump inspires the Alt-Right and White Supremacists in ways no other candidate since George Wallace has. He is the candidate of the KKK. The fact that his victory would be empowering to them makes anyone associating themselves with him suspect:

  • Either they are ignorant or in denial about what his win would mean --or--
  • They (by some logic) judge Hillary to be a worse threat to the fabric of America than a KKK-favorite
Either way, this is a problem--and it's a problem on the face of the facts--not name calling.


The Immoderate Debate

Trump has started calling for a debate without moderators. This makes sense on two fronts. The first is that the media has decided they have to start fact-checking him in real-time (see CNN's Chyrons, the text under the news story, where they are 'correcting his record' as the story plays on TV). The second is that Trump's appeal, for now, has a certain ceiling (perhaps 40%). The debate will be his first real appearance for a lot of people and if he can nail it, he can break that barrier even if Hillary's health gets better.

The problem with moderators is that they're going to interfere with what has been his strategy thus far--to say what he wants to be true--and say it forcefully--to overpower his opponents or interviewers.

In a free-for-all it'll be his word vs. Hillary's. With a moderator, that won't be as easy.

The second issue that in 2012 Candy Crowley sand-bagged Romney with her 'fact-check' of his assessment Obama's Rose Garden speech on Benghazi. Now, there are a lot of nuances to argue here but it's hard to argue against the fact that (a) Romney's strategy was the wrong one anyway and (b) Romney didn't otherwise have that debate in the bag like the first one.

Even so, it appears likely that Trump will amplify his calls for a moderator-less debate because of the first set of reasons and will gain substantial support from Republicans because of the second. It seems very unlikely that the debate committee will bow to Trump's demands--but that will give Trump some air-cover to skip the debates. If he does, he will potentially undermine Clinton's best chance at a comeback if she is tied or behind. It will also, potentially, deprive her of a chance to open a substantial lead if she can seriously out-debate him.

This strategy is likely not to be a winner: Americans expect their candidates to debate and ducking it probably won't play well--but this looks like where Trump is signaling so we'll see.

Conclusions

Back in 2012 the idea was going to be that the gloves would come off and Team Romney would say the things that McCain wasn't going to. This was partially because they tested saying those things and found it didn't help--it hurt. That was against a very charismatic Obama. Against a much less charismatic Hillary, though, that might not be the case and Donald Trump is testing it. Hillary Clinton is testing it. The 2016 race is already ugly. It'll probably get worse.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Disruption: The Smartphone Peace Dividend

The Omnivore Would Like One Of These!
The Omnivore recently purchased two devices for his household:
The Almond Wifi Router / Range Extender

The Ray Super Remote
In both cases the reason was similar: The Omnivore had an older device (in the case of the Almond, a wi-fi extender, in the case of the Ray, a Bose universal remote) that had not kept up with modern requirements and was difficult to configure.

In both cases, the devices performed excellently, even solving some difficult problems such as providing iPhone apps (for the Almond) which confirm the signal strength and upload-download speed of the connection in rooms where the older laptops are having trouble connecting.

Both were quite easy to set up and configure. Both make use of what people have termed the Smartphone Peace Dividend.

The Smartphone Peace Dividend

A Peace Dividend is what you get when you move from a war-footing to a peace-footing and can now spend all that money on stuff to help grow your nation rather than just defend it. In the case of the Smartphone Peace Dividend, the idea is that the amount of money in the smartphone industry was so high that billions were poured into research and development as well as manufacturing and supply chain.

Now that smartphones are something of a commodity, the technology that was developed for them (tiny high resolution cameras, high performance, low cost touch screens, powerful, low energy-use microchips, excellent wifi connectivity, and so on) can be trained on other uses.

The first of these was drones wherein the technology necessary to make a good drone was very similar to the technology necessary to make a good smartphone (minus the rotors). Things like good cameras, video transmission, connectivity, and processing were all part of the drone-requirements slate. Those capabilities were perfected by smartphones and could be easily transferred.

For the home-devices this is a little different.


Thee Range Extender

The Almond can function as both a router and as a range extender. The older one The Omnivore had came with no user interface, no screen, etc. You had to connect it to your wi-fi without the benefit of any mechanism by which to enter passwords or whatever.

When The Omnivore changed wifi systems and had a different password, trying to reverse engineer how to do this was an incredible pain in the ass. It also didn't come with the iPhone app that has pretty conclusively proven that the 5 year old laptops don't have especially good wifi hardware.

Having a touch screen for set up, an app for diagnosis, and the ability to update automatically is a big deal. It goes from the device being something that The Omnivore could set up after a few minutes of either looking for very old documentation or googling--to being something anyone could use easily.


The Ray Super Remote

In the case of the Ray, the difference is even more striking. When The Omnivore got the Bose system every device he had basically ran through it and it did a good job of identifying and configuring itself. Today the original blu-ray player died--the new one wasn't as easy to control from the Bose remote (such as turning on captions). The Omnivore moved to a smart-TV making watching Netflix and Amazon Prime happen through the TV itself rather than through the Bose system.

The Bose didn't even identify the Xfinity cable box beyond basic recognition.

The Ray did all these things. Where it had difficulty with the Samsung Smart TV suite of apps, it just had The Omnivore point the remotes at each other and push the buttons. It learned them that way. Where the Bose doesn't even connect to wifi, the Ray did so first thing.

Universal remotes are plagued by the problem that using a modern entertainment set up is highly modal: you probably have to control different devices in similar but different ways (for example, Netflix has all the VHS controls--but is on a different device and some of them can have different implications such as Exit).

The app-driven nature of the Ray makes this much more implicit and transparent to the user.

Conclusions

The rise of touch-screen driven smart technology has been predicted for some time. The most common vision is that of a refrigerator that provides shopping intelligence and can display family functions or weather, etc. on it.

These are already here (kinda) but The Omnivore is pretty sure that rather than watches or refrigerators, the really disruptive applications of this technology are still being developed. If you had asked The Omnivore to name a device lacking a user interface the range extender would probably not have come to mind--but it was definitely one of them. The emerging interactive "door bells" with video cameras and motion sensors and smart-phone connectivity are certainly another.

The ability to put a powerful, intelligent, and very user friendly user interface on anything is what is disruptive, not the new functions in and of themselves (generally). This is where we should be looking for the next wave of changes.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Daily Signal: Advice To Conservatives



The Omnivore was recently linked to an article in The Daily Signal--with the note that it says what the person sending it wanted to say--but very clearly. This person, who The Omnivore greatly respects, is a conservative Republican who is voting for Donald Trump--although Trump was certainly not their first choice. The article is titled: I'm an African-American Woman. Here's My Advice to Conservatives Wooing My Community. It's written by Kay Cole James, a trustee of the (conservative) Heritage Foundation with a long political pedigree starting under Ronald Reagan. What was her advice? It starts like this:
The moment Donald Trump urged black voters to consider supporting him—asking, “What do you have to lose?”—the consultants and pundits sprang into coordinated action, bombarding the airwaves with their “r” and “b” words.
“Donald Trump is a racist,” posted Daily Kos. “Donald Trump is a bigot,” piped in The New York Times’ Charles Blow.
There’s a method to this madness, of course. Call someone a racist and they’ll no longer be heard. They’ve been accused of racism, after all, so they’re not just contemptible, they’re outside the realm of public discourse.
That’s why the noise makers are so busily at work.
When she describes the problems in the black community, it's this:
African-American poverty should be going down—instead, it’s rising. Our children should be thriving—instead, millions of them live in broken homes. Our streets should be peaceful—instead, violence continues to take a devastating toll. Our schools should be nurturing excellence—instead, far too many of them are factories of failure.
She goes into some detail--but finds the culprit here:
All that began to change under the weight of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” programs, as high-performing neighborhood schools gave way to bureaucracy-choked failure factories. Today, grim statistics and generations of wasted talent are the legacy of an agenda that has failed our children and community.
To solve these problems:
And it’s not OK that so many consultants and pundits would rather play politics than help save my people.
Fortunately, many others genuinely care about economic advancement and social justice for all Americans. They recognize we need to start over. Some now call the Republican Party home because they recognize conservative policies offer the commonsense solutions my community needs. Others try to encourage the Democratic Party to adopt more effective conservative policy solutions.
Finally, the advice:
As for conservatives, this will take focused effort, real trust, unwavering consistency, and sensitivity to symbols, as well as the powerful acts of just showing up and listening. Personnel decisions within campaigns, transitions, and governing will make a big difference too, since having experienced, politically savvy African-Americans with stature inside those three dynamics is vital to avoiding unforced errors.
Winning this battle, then, will depend on political parties and conservatives getting it together and getting it right.

What Does This Mean?

So let's take a look at this piece carefully--James has not written any other articles for The Daily Signal and isn't in the habit of writing Op-Eds in general (as far as Google can tell). She is intelligent, highly educated, and considered. She chooses her words carefully. What is she saying? What is she implying?


First: The Daily Signal

Let's start with her choice of venue. The Daily Signal was launched by the Heritage Foundation explicitly without advertising because of the mess that conservative advertising was back in 2014 or so. If you read that, and don't instantly know what The Omnivore is talking about, please look here. You can just look at the pictures. The Daily Signal is an explicit voice that will be highly doctrinaire conservative while couched for maximal credibility (and your credibility is, in fact, damaged if you have warnings of imminent disaster popping up over the articles).


Second: The Opening

James pulls off a little sleight-of-hand in her opening paragraph. The title of the piece is explicitly to conservatives--but she addresses charges of racism from The Daily Kos and The New York Times. The first is explicitly partisan liberal. The second is held up by conservatives as the number one example of what is wrong with bias in the mainstream media.

Considering that she could have found actual, for-real conservatives (such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) saying Trump is behaving in a text-book racist fashion, why not call them out?

The answer, of course is that she doesn't want to remind conservatives that Paul Ryan, 2012's pick for Vice President--under mainstream candidate Mitt Romney--called Trump a racist.

This piece is a message to #NeverTrump (the group of conservatives who have stated they will never, ever vote for Trump--regardless) to come home to the party. That's her position--the intent of the piece--Drop the NeverTrump thing, guys! We have to get it together if we're going to implement conservative policy.

There's an innate problem here, one that spreads through the rest of her article, but we'll get to that at the end.


Third: The Problems of the AA Community and Their Roots

Having established her position, James then makes her case. Her case is pretty straightforward. The black community is suffering from two types of problems:

  1. Cultural issues around broken families, violence, and attitudes towards education.
  2. Liberal policies around welfare and and the Department of Education (which is resonant today with Common Core, even though she doesn't call it out by name).
The sociological debate of the state of the black community does, in fact, have two nexuses--culture and society. In other words, she isn't wrong about that. This, on the other hand? Not so much:

And our community, once the self-sustaining citadel that enabled us to survive slavery and institutional racism, is now teetering on the brink of destruction.
This statement is telling--institutional racism has been survived. Past tense. Institutional racism is a form of discrimination against a given race by the methods and policies of government / society. For example, housing policies that cluster blacks in to lower-income neighborhoods by denying them loans, based on race, that they could otherwise get in more integrated, nicer neighborhoods is a form of institutional discrimination.

So is having a city government funded by fines leveled aggressively against people of color. That was what the Justice Department discovered in Furgeson in 2015. Many, many communities work this way. This is far, far from the only example. The Omnivore supposes that the black community "survived" institutional racism, having, perhaps, ended it a few months ago?


Fourth: Commonsense Solutions

It's telling that James doesn't list anything specific. When she speaks to conservative ideas that offer commonsense solutions, she might as well be talking about conservative pundit and frequent Fox guest Cal Thomas' book What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America.

The point here is that she's using a--let's call it a code word--to talk to her audience (conservative readers of The Daily Signal) that doesn't need to get into specifics. She knows that all of the people she's trying to reach will more or less agree with The Heritage Foundation's take on things--so she can just say "do the smart thing" (except the "smart thing" would sound too much like those lefty, academic, egg-heads) and get on with it.

There's nothing really wrong with this either. The article is trying to finesse conservatives to come back to the fold even if they can't personally stand Trump. She doesn't need to drag them through policy white-papers.


Finally: The Real Message

By the end she has established her position:
  1. Left-Wing people you don't like call Trump racist. If you keep doing that too, you'll be aligning yourself with the shrill, lefty Daily Kos. You can't have that, can you?
  2. There's a real problem that needs to be solved. You're not racist, so you agree with me--but let's make sure we keep this couched in very vanilla conservative terms. Black people need to pull their damn pants up, get an education, get jobs, and stop having babies out of wedlock. We can also get rid of Common Core.
So then what? Well, she's right that there needs to be "sensitivity to symbols" and "powerful acts" of showing up and listening. What she's saying here is stuff like:
  • Black people consider the Confederate battle flag racist, y'all--maybe stop fighting over that?
  • Stop saying "All lives matter"--yes, all lives matter--but if you keep saying that in response to Black Lives Matter you'll turn a lot of people off.
  • Please stop it with calling Brown and Martin thugs. Yeah, they were criminals--but the black community is wounded by their, and many other people's deaths. We wouldn't have had riots if Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin had gone to jail.
And so on.

Oh, and also: Guys, we have to win this election--that means voting for Trump. She doesn't say it--but given her opening, you can bet your last dollar she means it.


The Problem: Conservatives are Calling Trump Racist Too

The problem that James begins with--that she ascribes the charges of racism to an attempt by the left to completely (and unfairly) shut down Trump and, also, move the debate over solutions to African-American community problems out of the discussion by doing so--infects the entire piece. She ignores the elephant in the room (the GOP elephant, yes): other republicans--at all levels, are very, very uncomfortable with Donald Trump's behavior . . . his racist behavior.

On a second level, they are very, very concerned with the legitimizing effect that Trump's candidacy is having on explicitly and proudly racist forces in America.

The Omnivore is going to stop here for a moment because he is pretty sure some readers don't just buy into this as stated. The Omnivore assures you, though, this is the case.

When the Brexit happened in England hate-crime reports rose 5-fold. The popular vote to leave the EU--driven by promises to remove immigrants--made public displays of anti-immigrant behavior seem more socially acceptable. They were legitimized

Today we see literal white supremacists cheering the rise of Trump for the same reasons. Even if you think he is not racist, something about his rhetoric and support is empowering them in our society. The conservatives The Omnivore knows online have felt this plainly on the Internet where their emails and Twitter feeds fill up with racist comments. For the conservative Jews, their Twitter feeds fill up with literal Nazi propaganda.

The level of this--the intensity and the virulence--is new

So Kay Coles James has a problem: a comparatively small faction of the GOP base has nominated a candidate on the basis of white nationalist rhetoric and a (substantial) number of conservatives have rebelled against that. This is a very, very legitimate disagreement. Many of these voices are long-time doctrinaire movement conservatives (The Weekly Standard and The National Review are pillars of conservative thought--both are NeverTrump).

She can't address their position head on--to do so would be to deny reality (that Trump has said racist things, that Trump enables and empowers racists, and, finally, that Trump's policy positions are generally fanciful and poorly thought out). So instead she makes an appeal: Look, you're not racist--and in order to help the AA community we're going to have to have a friendly executive--so please stop acting like a liberal and come down off your pedestal. 

We've gotta win this one.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Barack Obama: The Divisive President


It is becoming clearer and clearer that, as a candidate (and potentially as President) Donald Trump is committed to becoming everything Obama's worst critics said he was. For example, a (bizarre) gig on Obama is that he is lost without a Teleprompter--today, when Trump gives a speech with one, Republicans breathe a sigh of relief.

Obama, allegedly a trained constitutional scholar, is commonly said to know nothing about the Constitution. Trump has pledged to defend Articles 1-12 (it has 7).

Obama, a former community organizer and then junior Senator was said to absolutely lack the intellectual and experiential chops to be president--but Trump has stumbled over things such as the Nuclear Triad, admits he can't tell the players apart (to Hugh Hewitt, not exactly a Liberal host), and seems to have very little idea of how state or government functions.

Perhaps nowhere is this so evident as in Trump's divisiveness. While Obama's racial and class divisions are certain a matter of record when it comes to conservative media, Trump's are a matter of math: race, class, and gender are more divided by Donald Trump as a candidate than ever before. In fact, his division is so strong that it crosses reasonably firm partisan lines leading many white women and white college-educated men (normally strong Republicans) into Hillary territory.

Never mind polling that shows him 99-1 out of favor with Black Americans.

However, The Omnivore is still quite interested in this situation for one reason: while it is an article of faith among many that Obama is a terribly divisive--and intentionally divisive--president, it isn't especially clear to The Omnivore what, precisely, Obama does or did that was so divisive.

Now: confirmation bias is a powerful thing--so let's go to the tape and look at what Obama's critics claim has made him divisive.

Obama's Methods of Division: A History

When The Omnivore puts 'Obama Divisive President' into Google, what are the top-line charges against POTUS? Let's see:

August 26, 2016: PowerLine - Who Made America Hate Again?
In the earliest days of his administration, Obama began a pattern of stirring up hate against police officers by intervening in a trivial incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts, deriding policemen as “stupid.”
Obama and others in his administration stirred up hate against whites on the part of African-Americans, as when Joe Biden outrageously told a black crowd that “[Republicans are] going to put y’all back in chains.”
Obama incited hatred against police officers in particular, and whites in general, as, for example, when he sent a White House delegation to the funeral of a black thug who had been killed in self-defense by a white police officer, as his own Justice Department later found.
This is an interesting slew of allegations. The first goes back to the very beginning of Obama's presidency where he called the act of arresting someone for breaking into their own home stupid--not the policeman in question, or even policemen in general. The second goes back to 2012 with a line by Biden.

It's a fair enough charge--but if we are going to start including surrogates and VP's, candidates will have an awful lot to answer for.

The most recent one deals with Obama sending a delegation to Michael Brown's funeral. Whether you see this as trying to calm racial tensions or show compassion for the grieving family--or attempting to start a race war, will, it appears, depend on where you stand. Notably, however, Bush went to a Mosque immediately after 9/11 and was not accused of being pro-Islamic terror.


July 15, 2016: NRO - How Obama Divides America
At the funeral service for five slain Dallas cops, President Barack Obama delivered another one of his needlessly politicized lectures. As is customary these days, those who were critical of his rhetoric were branded racists and unthinking haters.
In this case, just a few months ago, Obama had to address another mass shooting. He spoke out against easy access to guns.  It was in December of 2012 that Obama started calling out for less access to guns in his speeches--that was the Sandy Hook shootings. He had been called to speak on four mass shootings before that, beginning in 2009. So maybe Obama's high-handed, divisive rhetoric started in very, very late 2012?

December 27, 2015: PJ Media - Bitter Clingers 2.0
Does Obama believe that if he had balanced the budget, continued the prior war on terror against radical Islam, cut out the incoherent class-warfare rhetoric, kept peacekeepers in Iraq, enforced federal laws, avoided racially polarizing rhetoric, and sought to reform the tax code and entitlements rather than drive through Obamacare with prevarication and without a single Republican vote, his popularity ratings would now be at 43%?
Here Victor Davis Hanson calls back to the original Bitter-Clinger statement and then decides that if Obama's policies had been Republican he would be enjoying a much higher approval ratings. This July, Obama's Approval Rating stood at 53--equal in the same period to Ronald Reagan. Considering that Obama's policy has not changed, perhaps something else has.

March 23, 2012: ABC - Gingrich Calls Obama's Treyvon Martin Remarks 'Disgraceful[
He went added that it's "just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian American of if he'd been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American. It is sad for all Americans."
Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, said: "Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling."
This is in response to a question (i.e. not a prepared remark) that was posed to Obama on the killing that was making headlines. His full statement was this:
Well, I'm the head of the executive branch, and the Attorney General reports to me so I've got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we're not impairing any investigation that's taking place right now.
But obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together -- federal, state and local -- to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.
So I'm glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the governor of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what's taking place. I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.
But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.
Keep in mind that (a) Gingrich is disgusted by the above and (b) by 2016, Obama is being criticized for having sent a delegation to the funeral of a 'thug.'
October 30, 2010: Washington Post - A Divisive Obama Undercuts the Presidency
He has regularly attacked his predecessor, the House minority leader and - directly from the stump - candidates running for offices below his own. He has criticized the American people suggesting that they are "reacting just to fear" and faulted his own base for "sitting on their hands complaining."
As a charge, this is especially interesting. Obama attacked Bush and Boehner--two people that Donald Trump has roundly criticized and were often held up by the right as everything wrong with the GOP Establishment. Of course we don't get the nature of these attacks here, just that they are 'personal.'


The Fact Is That Obama Was 'Divisive' Before He Was Ever President

Obama's "divisiveness" actually started in 2008 when Hillary first launched the attack against him. His guns and religion and then his pastor were the basis for it. Attacks on Obama's policy, statements on mass shootings, and remarks about racial crime are simply extensions of a strategy that started before Obama had done much of anything.

He was deemed divisive for (a) sitting in a black church with a pastor that said a bunch of bad things (note: other candidates regularly get a pass for things their church says) and (b) talking in blunt terms about the alienation that people in rural areas are feeling. Since then, it has changed over time--the "divisive events" become more current, more resonant, but the idea is the same--Obama is divisive--it'll be applied to whatever is closest at hand.

So, of course, we now have an actually racially divisive candidate to prepare him to. Can you imagine Donald Trump's presidential remarks following a Sandy Hook?