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“Back To The Future, Way Back”: Trump’s Core Supporters Long For A Bygone Era

For nearly a year, Donald Trump has been pitching a vague slogan: Make America Great Again. Even if we put aside the questions about how Trump intends to do that – and how, exactly, the Republican candidate defines “great” – it’s a phrase that inevitably leads a question about when America was great, if it’s not great now.

Margot Sanger-Katz explained in the New York Times today that Trump’s followers don’t necessarily agree on an answer, but they have a few ideas.

The slogan evokes a time when America was stronger and more prosperous. But Mr. Trump doesn’t specify whether he’s expressing nostalgia for the 1950s – or 10 years ago. That vagueness is reflected by his voters, according to the results of a new survey, conducted online by the digital media and polling company Morning Consult.

When asked to select America’s greatest year, Trump supporters offered a wide range of answers, with no distinct pattern. The most popular choice was the year 2000. But 1955, 1960, 1970 and 1985 were also popular. More than 2 percent of Trump’s supporters picked 2015, when Mr. Trump’s campaign began.

The same Times article flagged a Pew Research Center report from last month in which 75% of Trump supporters said life was better 50 years ago. Most Republicans also endorsed the idea, but it was Trump backers who were the most enthusiastic about it.

I don’t imagine many will find this surprising, but it’s nevertheless a notable validation of a broader thesis. Much of Trump’s core base includes older, white men, who’ve seen generational changes with which they’re generally uncomfortable. Over the last half-century, the United States has grown more diverse; women have made great strides towards overdue equality; and the current role of African Americans and LGBT Americans in society would have been difficult for much of the public to imagine 50 years ago.

It’s hardly shocking that Trump, pushing a nativist nationalism, has supporters who’d prefer to roll back the clock.

As for what Americans in general consider their country’s greatest year, apparently 2000 “was the most popular choice, a preference that cut across political party, candidate preference, gender and age.”

In all candor, without giving it a lot of thought, 2000 was my first choice, too. The economy was booming; there was relative international peace; and the nation’s reputation abroad was sterling and unrivaled. George W. Bush had not yet taken office, which means we’re talking about a time before 9/11, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, before the Great Recession, and before the radicalization of Republican politics reached a fever pitch.

There’s plenty of reason to believe we’ve achieved greatness since – marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, etc. – and have bright days ahead, but is it really that surprising that so many would point to 2000 as the greatest year?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 26, 2016

April 27, 2016 Posted by | America, Donald Trump, Trump Supporters | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“America Needs An Attitude Adjustment”: Here’s A Reminder About The USA’s Many Accomplishments

A wise friend once pointed out to me that the relationship between an individual and her to-do list is called “attitude.” Profound, right? If we think “I can’t do it all,” then we can be sure that we won’t. Whereas if we decide “I can do this,” we have a good chance.

Attitude applies to everything from work, to relationships, to weight loss. It also applies to things beyond ourselves, such as politics, leadership and governing.

So picture, for one moment, each of our leading presidential candidates. Are they smiling? Any of them? I didn’t think so.

Picture the American people, however you might conjure that. Do they look happy?

I’m sure you can see where I’m going here. The “I can do it” or “we can do it” attitude is embodied by one of the most beautiful human characteristics: the smile. “I can’t do it” or “we suck” is characterized by the most-unflattering frown or scowl.

Our country is past due for an attitude adjustment. We yearn for a leader to bring us that gift – to renew our optimism, our healthy attitude. We remember great leaders like Reagan and Kennedy as men who were smiling.

But if we aren’t going to get that type of leader any time soon, it might be up to us to enact a national attitude adjustment. So let us take a break from criticizing our politicians and our government. Let us focus on the good things about the U.S. of A.

We live in a country where a young, brilliant and stunningly wealthy entrepreneur – Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker – just announced he is contributing his innovative leadership and personal wealth to cutting-edge efforts to cure cancer. That kind of thing happens here. It doesn’t happen everywhere in the world.

We have contributed – and continue to contribute – the most incredible technology, medicine and art to the world. To illustrate, I’ll point out just a few in each category: the light bulb, the telephone, television, airplanes, the personal computer, transistors and the integrated circuit, social media and, thanks to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the swivel chair. General anesthesia, immunotherapy for cancer, 3-d printed prosthetics and organ transplants. Hemingway and Faulkner, American television (OK, bear with me, I’m talking about “Seinfeld,” “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad,” not “The Bachelor”), American movies, and American music. (How sad the world would be without the blues and jazz.)

Seriously, when you look at that very-short list, why are we – and our leaders – so busy beating ourselves up? I mean, I didn’t even mention how many medals we win at the Olympics. I didn’t even mention Oprah. Or Oreos. Or Yellowstone National Park. Or small business. Or Uber.

We all like to complain about our own political parties a lot, too, and maybe we ought to ease up a bit. After all, both the Republican and Democrat parties have produced some excellent leaders and public policies. When the parties have worked together, they’ve achieved many incredible successes, such as defeating the evils of fascism and imperialism in World War II, and then helping to rebuild post-war Europe and Japan, standing up to Soviet expansionism, and enacting civil rights laws to protect all Americans. Oh, and yes, it was America that put the first man on the moon.

A reminder to both citizens and leaders: If beating ourselves up was an effective way to make things better, we’d all be amazing. (For example, I, personally, would be very, very thin if my own hurtful self-critiques somehow magically produced weight loss.)

But that kind of attitude doesn’t work. Not for individuals, not for our country, not for our leaders. And if those leaders haven’t figured that out yet, we – the people – are just going to have to be the example. This power, like the power of our country, does still rest in our own hands.

 

By: Jean Card, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog; U. S. News and World Report, April 14, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | America, Politics, Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why America Will Never Be Great In Trump’s Eyes”: He Has Never Been Very Impressed With America

To all but Donald Trump’s most loyal followers, it’s now a truism that he can change his positions at any moment, as he did multiple times last week on abortion. Trump’s “guiding conviction is winning, and he’ll say pretty much whatever he thinks will get him there,” Elizabeth Williamson observed this week in The New York Times. In a recent piece for Slate, Franklin Foer argued that Trump’s misogyny is his single core belief, the one idea that has remained consistent as all of his other views have shifted with the political winds over the decades.

Trump, to be sure, is astonishingly inconsistent on many issues, and terrifyingly consistent in his misogyny. But Trump’s critics aren’t being quite fair when they accuse him of wavering on every other topic. He has also been entirely consistent on another key point: He has never been very impressed with America.

Trump first flirted with running for president in the late 1980s, as Ronald Reagan’s presidency was drawing to a close. It’s an era many Republicans consider the height of American power and greatness, but Trump, at the time, didn’t like what he saw. In a September 1987 open letter that he spent nearly $100,000 to publish in a number of major newspapers, Trump fixated on a single issue: the exploitation of America by countries that fail to pay for our military protection. “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help,” Trump wrote. The letter wasn’t an aberration. The next month, Trump traveled to New Hampshire, where he stuck to the same theme, telling 500 Republicans at the Portsmouth Rotary Club that America is “being kicked around” by Japan and the Arab oil states.

The most remarkable thing about Trump’s 1980s view of America as a weak, loser nation is that it’s nearly identical to the views he has expressed in recent weeks during a series of rambling discussions of foreign policy: In a conversation with The New York Times, Trump argued that America takes “tremendous monetary hits on protecting countries” and that “we lose, everywhere.” In Trump’s mind, the root of America’s woes has always been the same: Other nations, particularly Japan and Saudi Arabia, don’t pay us enough for all we do for them. Indeed, while it’s sometimes argued that Trump has shrewdly crafted his appeal to a newly fragile American psyche, it might be more accurate to say that Trump has been waiting 30 years for Americans to catch up to his unwaveringly primitive, pessimistic view of America’s standing in the world.

As Trump has explained it—both in the 1980s and today—his focus on foreign spending is a byproduct of his concern about America’s deficit spending. “It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and others who can afford it, pay,” Trump stated in his 1987 letter. But even Trump must understand today that eliminating all of the money America spends to station troops around the world would fail to make a dent in our deficit spending—only 16 percent of the federal budget is spent on defense, and only a fraction of that 16 percent is spent on peacekeeping troops. So, the mystery is why this relatively minor expense has remained so central to his thinking, even as so many of his other positions have changed time and again.

As Adam Davidson points out in The New York Times Magazine, it makes perfect sense that someone with Trump’s real estate experience would understand political agreements as zero-sum deals with winners and losers, rather than as mutually beneficial pacts. But Trump’s business background doesn’t quite explain his obsession with foreign spending. After all, there are plenty of American real-estate tycoons who aren’t losing sleep over the prospect of spending money to defend Japan.

The most likely explanation for Trump’s obsession with foreign spending may simply be that he has a deep visceral reaction to the very thought of a stronger party having to spend money on behalf of a weaker party. And if the issue drives him a little crazy, it’s perhaps because peacekeeping troops presents a fundamental paradox for Trump: He wants nothing more than for America to dominate the world, but dominating the world as a superpower is an expensive proposition. The more powerful America grows, the more it has to spend across the globe to maintain its influence, and thus, the weaker it becomes in Trump’s eyes.

This paradox explains why Trump will never find greatness in a truly powerful America, and why, when pressed by the Times to name a laudable era in U.S. history, he went back more than a century: “[I]f you really look at it, the turn of the century, that’s when we were a great, when we were really starting to go robust.” Trump added that the 1940s and ’50s were okay because “we were not pushed around” and “we were pretty much doing what we had to do.” Never mind that, as Max Boot writes in Commentary, the U.S. “went from defeat to defeat” against Communism in the late 1940s, or that America wasn’t nearly as powerful as it would become by the end of the twentieth century.

Trump’s only way out of this paradox is to insist that other countries pay America to dominate them. This is why it’s so important that Mexico pay for building the wall he wants along our entire southern border. Indeed, forcing Mexico to pay for the wall might be the real rationale for the wall itself. Trump’s foreign policy amounts to a vision of international extortion, America as a mafia thug squeezing protection payments out of our weaker allies. The problem, as the Times’ David E. Sanger recently pointed out to Trump, is that rather than pay America, a country might instead wish America the best and spend its money on weapons, including nuclear arsenals—hardly a recipe for sustained global influence.

Why Trump can’t grasp that America’s willingness to spend on global peacekeeping forces is not a reflection of its weakness, but a source of its power, is hard to say. But this much is clear: In Trump’s world, nothing is more upsetting than a powerful nation failing to fully dominate a weaker nation. And because American power, unlike the power of Trump the businessman, is mutually exclusive with squeezing every last dollar out of weaker parties, Trump might as well give up on his campaign promise. America will never be great again in his eyes.

 

By: Sam Apple, The New Republic, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | America, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Every Group Has Its ‘Other'”: Here We Go Again, Trash-Talking The Working Class

Bear with me, please, as I start this column with a brief story about my two grandmothers who lived in trailer homes.

They lived in Ashtabula County, which is tucked into the northeast corner of Ohio, an hour east of Cleveland. If ever you’ve travelled a good distance along U.S. 90, you likely passed our county’s handful of exits on your way to somewhere else.

For all of my childhood, this was home, and I was seldom happier than when I had time alone with my maternal great-grandmother, Ada, who raised my mother from the age of 8. In the late ’60s, after her husband died, Ada sold her house and 20 acres to move into a trailer home a couple of miles down the road. It was closer to her church, her second home.

I spent weeks at a time in the summers with her, freed from the responsibilities of the oldest child always on duty. She taught me how to cook, garden and quilt. Every Sunday after church, rain or shine, we walked to the cemetery to tend my great-grandfather’s grave and say a prayer of gratitude for the time we’d had with him. We had our evening rituals, too. She believed a steaming cup of tea at sunset was a great way to settle the mind for the big thoughts that show up only under the night sky.

My maternal grandmother, Vivian, lost custody of my mother when she was 8 and spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to her and taking care of my uncle, who had a mental disability. His name was Francis, and she never spent a day away from him until he died from complications of diabetes in his late 50s.

Grandma Vivian was the first person I knew to buy an aluminum Christmas tree. What a sight for my siblings and me. My mother stood behind us and whispered orders to close our mouths and stop acting like we’d just seen a ghost.

This was the grandma with the trunk full of antique dresses and hats for us to play with whenever we visited. When my mother wasn’t around, Grandma often served me a cup of coffee loaded with milk and sugar — a grown-up reward for “being so responsible.” When her house in Ashtabula County became too run down to be safe, my grandmother closed it up and lived in a trailer on the back lot until Alzheimer’s robbed her of the ability to take care of herself.

I wanted you to know a little bit about my grandmothers so that you might better understand my outrage over a Cleveland Plain Dealer writer’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president:

“Thanks to Trump, the entire Palin clan is now back in the spotlight they so crave. Come July, Republican National Convention organizers should house the whole dysfunctional family at a trailer park in Ashtabula.”

This is surely not the first time a pundit has cast the Palins as “trailer park folks” — which is code, of course, for “white trash.” We are hearing these phrases more frequently as pundits try to make sense of Donald Trump’s soaring poll numbers.

In her book “Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America,” sociologist Diana Kendall describes how in 2008 then-“Late Show” host David Letterman “maintained a night-after-night monologue about Sarah Palin and why she is white trash.” He was joined, she writes, by “print media, television and Web blogs … full of descriptions of Sarah Palin’s trailer park lifestyle.”

Much closer to home, since Donald Trump’s charade of a candidacy caught fire, I have heard many fellow liberals freely toss around the terms “white trash” and “trailer trash.” These are people who would never dream of telling a racist joke, but they think nothing of ridiculing those of lesser economic means.

Every group has its “other.” For too many white intellectuals, it’s the working class.

Neither of my grandmothers had much money, ever, but they contributed so much to the lives of the people they loved. They were both storytellers who helped me understand the long-ago sacrifices of people I would never know but who live on in the blue of my eyes and the ambitions of my heart. They are why I’ve devoted a number of columns and stories over the years to people who live in trailer parks.

Just this week, I was remembering Marjie Scuvotti, a 24-year-old mother of four. I interviewed her in 2002, on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She talked to me in her home in a trailer park as she painted her 6-year-old son Issac’s face red, white and blue for a parade celebrating first responders.

“You’re my American-flag boy,” Marjie whispered in his ear. She couldn’t have been a prouder mother.

This campaign year has barely begun, and it promises to be a long one. Regardless of which partisan lens we look through, we will see some voters who confound us.

Mocking them will never bring us closer to understanding them, but it will surely reveal us, and we will not benefit from the exposure.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional-in-Residence at Kent State University’s School of journalism; Featured Post, The National Memo, January 28, 2016

January 29, 2016 Posted by | America, Poverty, Working Class | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What You Missed While You Were Trumping”: 2015 Provided Reasons To Believe That America Never Stopped Being Great

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Year of Trump, besides everything, was the viciously cyclical nature of Trump coverage. Attention and outrage are the fuel of Trumpism, and attempts to explain his rise wound up re-inscribing the central falsehood of his campaign: that people are angry about an America in decline and a government with suspect motives and marginal competence. But what if none of that were true?

What if people aren’t really angry, America isn’t actually in decline, and our government is neither malicious nor incompetent?

Are people angry? Americans as whole say they are and I’ve been through enough counseling that I hesitate to tell anyone how they feel. But Trump supporters aren’t angry; they’re terrified. There are forms of righteous anger—the kind of communal eruption that happens when there are no other legitimate forms of expression. Trump supporters, on the other hand, do not lack for legitimate forms of expression. People are asking them what they think and feel all the time. There is not a second of time in the last 600 years that the world has had to guess at what American white people want.

Numerous progressive commentators (and Saturday Night Live) have pointed out that the nostalgia inherent in making America great “again” is little more than a pull toward a time before a gaymarriageblackpresidentscarymuslims. As one analyst put it, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Is America in decline, no longer “great”? I’m tempted to indulge in a poetic interpretation, to delve into the areas of American culture and society that produced greatness on a regular basis—from rescue workers to scientists, artists to educators. But Trump (and his supporters) are at once thuddingly literal and immeasurably ambiguous: “Greatness” seems to be a combination of economic success and world-leader dick-measuring. But if the U.S. has fallen so far in world esteem, how come the immigrants that so upset Trumpkins want to come here? Less concretely, there are actual data about how the rest of the world views America and it’s largely positive—we have an overall 65 percent approval rating, with some countries giving us the kind of marks that are a distant memory for America’s political class: 75 percent positive opinion in France (France!), 80 percent in both El Salvador and Kenya.

Economically, well, by the measure of the white, working-class, non-college-educated Trump supporters, they are either extremely late to the realization that their wages have stagnated (indeed, in real terms, the average hourly wage peaked in 1973) or—and we’re happening on a theme here—the complaint isn’t about the loss of “greatness” so much as the emergence of a perceived threat to the status quo. I don’t think it’s even about America being less great for them. It’s an alarm over the possibility that America is becoming great for people who aren’t them.

Whether American greatness is, in fact, becoming more widely accessible is a separate but related question—and it brings us to the final falsity of the Trumpian theology: Government is both evil and inept.

There’s no doubt that it can be; it’s mostly been evil and inept in the way it’s treated the very people Trumpkins worry about sharing the greatness pie with. Those communities continue to suffer, but here is where the Trump theology finds purchase: In 2015, our democracy—the functioning one, outside the circus of the party primaries—did a lot right by its citizens.

Some old wrongs began to be righted: The death penalty is increasingly unpopular not just in the public eye, but with state legislatures and judges. Courts in Texas (Texas!) issued two (two!) death-penalty sentences in all of 2015—the fewest since re-instating the penalty 40 years ago. Across the country, death sentences dropped 33 percent from 2014, with 49 people being sentenced to death this year. By comparison: In 1996, 315 people were put on death row. Also in 2015, just six states carried 28 out executions, the fewest since 1999—when 98 people were killed.

And while officer-involved shootings continue to be flashpoints for community unrest, cities have grabbed on to the Department of Justice’s best practices—hard-won lessons from Ferguson, Missouri, being put to use in places such as my adopted hometown of Minneapolis, where the biggest headline of the year might be the riot that didn’t happen in the wake of the death of Jamal Clark.

Also this year: Politicians embraced the end of the war on the drugs and the beginning of the movement to aid those in addiction. (A turn of events that may be the only lasting memory of Chris Christie’s presidential campaign.) Police departments are experimenting with a policy that puts treatment before arrest: In Glouchester, Massachusetts,, addicts who ask police for treatment will be assisted into a program—on the spot. More than 100 have found help so far. At the federal level, almost unnoticed this month, Congress ended the federal enforcement of drug laws where the state has legalized medical marijuana.

Somewhere between old wrongs being righted and new paths forward: The fight to raise the minimum wage continues to catch on among activists and allies in government. In 2015, workers won higher hourly wages in 13 states and in 14 municipalities (PDF). These weren’t just soft-hearted coastal governments’ blue bleeding hearts in action, either: Michigan and Nebraska went to $15 an hour, as well as Missoula, Montana, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, New York.

And in more forward-looking changes, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, now in its fifth year, has become the exact kind of watchdog-with-teeth Elizabeth Warren envisioned. It’s taking in a record number of consumer-generated complaints (through November: 749,400; 24,300 in October alone—more in one month than it saw in all of 2014). AND it’s stepped in on some of the longest-running but legal scams in America, cracking down on (and getting huge payouts for consumers from) payday lenders and for-profit colleges. How successful is the CFPB? Its right-wing critics have resorted to fearmongering about the importance of payday loans in the fight against terrorism.

This isn’t to say that the year didn’t also see tragedy and horror, many instances emerging from governmental abuse or ineptitude, but it’s important to remember that the fear that Trump has based his campaign on is not real.

The idea that small-d (and, occasionally, big-d) democratic government works undermines the entire framework of Trumpism. Programs like the CFPB and the slow turn toward true criminal justice are kryptonite to the strongman ideology of Trump, not just because it fucks with his message of government incompetence or maliciousness. Its successful tenure is evidence of government for the people, to be sure, but its existence is also evidence of government by the people.

The image of Obama as capricious dictator, making social-justice decrees out of pique, is Trumpkins’ favorite myth because it cuts out the part of our American story that they are the least able to explain or process: Obama and Democrats have facilitated these incremental bits of forward progress because they won. They were elected to do so.

Grappling with the fact of a functional government requires more than the admission that protecting citizens is legitimate activity—it also forces the argument that government protects and fights for people because that’s what its people want.

The fearful coverage of the Trump’s fear-filled campaign has created an echo of terror on the left, of course. Part alarmist fundraising necessity on the part of Democrats, part symptom of a conflict-obsessed media, many rational and sane Americans now think that there is a real possibility of Donald Trump will be elected president. I don’t want to encourage complacency by denying the possibility, but I do want to remind everyone: We’re better than that. We’ve shown ourselves to be better than that. Don’t be afraid. Be aware.

 

By: Ana-Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, January 1, 2016

January 1, 2016 Posted by | America, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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