Friday, July 29, 2016

Good on 'ya, Democrats

[I originally posted this on Facebook but I liked it so here it is for prosperity:]

I think the Democrats -- with whom I have many, many issues -- did an excellent job of articulating the essence of Trumpism in fundamental terms and framing the election as a referendum on it (which it is). That is almost unprecedented in contemporary politics and deserves high praise.

This was particularly true of POTUS' speech and the (sadly too few) good parts of HRC's acceptance speech. Way better stuff than anything the media has done in covering or analyzing Trumpism, where I find them to be at best superficial and at worst enabling of Trump.

I've been thinking about this and railing against Trumpism for a year, yet things they said genuinely helped me crystallize my own thinking. That's saying something. Specifically:

1. Great job (again, esp. by POTUS) referring to 'Trumpism' as a thing: a belief system shared by a group of people. It isn't just Trump coopting the Republican party and his supporters being bamboozled: this is an ideology embraced by his ardent supporters because they believe it.

2. Not only articulating what the core intellectual principles of Trumpism are -- nativist tribalism, protectionism and economic nationalism -- but also making it clear that those principles are unAmerican. Being a Trump supporter *means* you embrace those things. The enthusiastic ones embrace them proudly and the reluctant ones do so tacitly, but *that* is what it means to support or vote for Trump.

3. Recognizing that the nature of those beliefs *requires* totalitarianism. The Trumpies admire Trump's authoritarian tendencies because on some level they understand that bringing their fundamentally unAmerican ideals to this country requires us to abandon American principles -- individual rights, freedom of religion, acceptance of people with different ideas -- and replace them with a strong man who tells us what to do, because those things can't happen in a country where our form of Constitutional government functions. To paraphrase POTUS, these people want to be ruled.

4. They articulated much of this in simple, understandable terms (unlike what I just did), weaving in concrete examples, idealogical content and a sense of contrasting tone/worldview.

If the Democrats can keep this up and the election results in a rejection of the very essence of Trumpism, they will have done this country a great service.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The lesson of 2016: America is ready for a dictator

The politicians are watching, folks. Not Trump and Clinton and Bernie (though they are, too). I mean the guys and gals who will be running for Congress two years from now. And President four years from now. And beyond.

They're watching and they're learning the lessons that the electorate is teaching them during this election cycle, same as they always do. They're learning because when we support the candidates we do, we're continually sending the message "yes, please give us more of that." More candidates like that. More of that approach.

But this time around, I fear we've reached the tipping point, because the lessons we're teaching them sure aren't good. They're not good for constitutional government. They don't say good things about us as a people. They don't bode well for the future.

It may take the media and politicians a while to catch on, but here's what I think they'll figure out once they do, because this, is apparently, who we are and what we want more of:

You don't need to present policies or a vision --  It used to be that a Presidential candidate had to have a platform. It used to be that they at least had to pay lip service to the issues. They had to present a reason why you should vote for them. Not anymore. Trump paints a picture of a weak and damaged country that he can somehow "make great again," but offers nothing that stands up to even the most modest scrutiny in terms of how to do that. Hillary offers no compelling reason why she should be President other than A) She really wants to be and B) She isn't Trump. Both candidates' argument for why they should be elected amounts to "Vote for me because I want to be President and this is how I act," -- and, shockingly, that's going to be enough to get one of them elected.

We don't care if what you say is true -- We are so apathetic that we don't even make an attempt to check what the candidates are saying against reality. It doesn't matter if there is any data to support an assertion. It doesn't matter if you support an ideology that has failed historically and is failing spectacularly elsewhere in the world as we speak. We're not even going to look -- even in an age where it takes just a few seconds to verify information using Google. It used to be that you had to be at least a little concerned with the truth. Now, to succeed as a politician, you can get away with spouting utter BS: making statements that you know to be false while being indifferent to that fact because you know your base is equally indifferent.

It's all about tone -- A reality show performer locked up the Republican race long ago because a plurality of that party's voters respond to his pseudo-self confident "tough talk," in spite of his beliefs and policy positions (to the extent he has them) being outliers from the traditional Republican platform (e.g. limited government, Christian values, etc.). And Hillary has still failed to secure her party's nomination because of the widespread (and true) belief that she is a shifty, robotic opportunist who will say and do anything to become President. Sanders' slogan is so (I think unintentionally) telling: "Feel the Bern." The message is "Support Bernie because it feels right." We're evaluating the candidates based on how they strike us.

... and the tone we responded to is anger -- Bernie exploits popular anger against perceived Wall Street excesses and alleged responsibility for the Financial Crisis. The picture on the homepage of Bernie's supporters' website is portrait of righteous indignation. Trump galvanizes his supporters with nationalist, xenophobic rhetoric. And because the truth is unimportant (see above), this is what it's about: whipping people up into a frenzy and playing nakedly to anger, fear and resentment. This validates those emotions and, for many people,  a candidate's "I acknowledge and share in your anger" is enough reason to support them.

We don't value freedom -- As catalogued elsewhere (including by me), Trump's policies are in conflict with a boatload of fundamental American principles, including those related to free speech, freedom of religion and personal liberty -- yet he's the candidate drawing supporters from what used to be the libertarian-leaning political party. Sanders and his supporters are the intellectual force behind the Democratic Party and they unapologetically advocate a doctrine based on the subordination or abolition of property rights and fundamental economic freedoms. On both sides of the aisle, we are not only indifferent to freedom: we're actively looking for folks who will throw it out the window if it means solving a problem, real or imagined, that we've been lead to believe is important.

Right now, someone in Washington is in the process of putting all of this together. I don't think it's terribly hard to do: it's the glaring message we, the voters, are actually sending (as opposed to whatever message the more conscientious among us think they're sending). Maybe one of the current crop of candidates already has it figured out.

When that person realizes that a plurality of Americans 1) really respond to angry rhetoric, 2) don't care if that rhetoric is true or even coherent and 3) don't hold freedom as a significant value -- they're going to take the surprising yet logical next step and conclude that the American public is ready to embrace an actual dictator.

Soberingly, all the checks and balances in the world (or in the Constitution) aren't going to prevent that dictator from coming to power when he does step forward. The effectiveness of our system of government -- as well as the nature of the candidates for elected office within it -- are consequences of the dominant intellectual climate among the American people, not the causes of it. And right now, that climate isn't looking too good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

It's closer than you think

It's pretty apparent that the media doesn't know how to cover the 2016 Presidential Election, so here's a little public service announcement: it's closer than you think.

I think I've made my own no-fan-of-Trump views clear, but that aside, I am dumbfounded that the mainstream media (who supposedly are anti-Trump) continue to laugh off his candidacy despite his continually proving them wrong. I don't think this is intentional or the result of some bias on their part: I think it's that they literally have no idea how to make sense of the Trump phenomenon because it is so unprecedented.

I'm not saying Trump is going to win. I am saying, though, that there are completely plausible, realistic scenarios in which he does. From the beginning of his candidacy, in fact, I've been saying that he was the only one in the Republican field who had a shot of beating Hillary due to his ability to mobilize non-traditional Republican voters (sorry John Kasich).

Don't believe me? Try playing around with 538's tool and see how easy it is to flip the map based on the assumption that Trump mobilizes non-college educated white voters who break his way.

Wanna see how close it is? Here's a plausible (as of this writing) path to Trump victory:
  • He holds all the red states that Romney took in 2012. I think this is quite plausible. The only competitive red state in 2012 was North Carolina, where Obama lost by just 3% of the popular vote. In every other red state, Romney won by at least 8% (GA) and 10% or more everywhere else.
  • He flips Florida, Ohio and Virginia (or, less plausibly, two of those plus PA), which all went to Obama narrowly in 2012. I think this is possible if Trump focuses on mobilizing his base in those states since the latest polling shows a dead heat in OH, PA and FL. All four of those states were decided by 5% or less of the popular vote in 2012.
  • He also flips at least one of CO and NV. Both of these were decided by 6% or less of the popular vote in 2012, but it’s interesting given the Hispanic population in both states, who I understand are not Trump's biggest fans.
Per the above, let’s say Trump takes FL, OH, VA and CO — the 4 states from the above scenario that were closest in 2012. If this happens, he wins with 275 electoral votes to Clinton’s 263 (270 needed to win), and it’s All Hail President Trump:

Click the map to create your own at

Not saying it’s going to happen, just saying it could…

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The evolution of Star Wars marketing

If your waffles aren't shaped like the Death Star, I hope you choke on them.

When Star Wars first came out, it was like: "Here's this amazing movie. If you are a Star Wars fan, here is some merch you can buy."

When The Phantom Menace was coming out, it was like: "Here's the next installment of this thing that is an amazing cultural institution. Star Wars fans -- you should totally see this movie. And here's some new merch you should buy."

Now with The Force Awakens, it feels like: "As everyone knows, the next chapter in our shared mythology is soon to be handed down. Previously uncontacted tribes in the highlands of New Guinea have already purchased their tickets. We won't even waste our time suggesting that you see it, because obviously you (and every other human) will.

"Star Wars fans -- since everyone on Earth is going to see this movie, you need to step up your game. You don't want to be less Star Wars than those non die-hard Star Wars people, do you? Well guess what: the only way to prevent that is to fill every possible facet of your life with Star Wars merch. Seriously, if you're not making toast in the Darth Vader toaster, you're not a real Star Wars fan. If your kid isn't sleeping in the Millennium Falcon cockpit, you should put him up for adoption. Ladies, if you show up at the screening and your face isn't covered in Cover Girl Star Wars makeup, your man should probably murder you and dump your remains out of the nearest garbage shoot before jumping to hyperspace."

That being said...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Cruz Robotics

Boudoir Androids. Conservative Values. Even Presidential candidates need a side project. So do videogame makers.

A little something I threw together for The Daily Show's‪ 'Cruz Your Own Adventure' campaign. Some fun with election 2016 after the serious stuff earlier in the week.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Supporting Trump is un-American

An open letter to well-meaning Trump supporters everywhere.

Dear Trump Supporter,

You might not know it, but you're keeping company with some folks who believe some pretty disturbing things. Things like banning all Muslims from entering the US. Things like surveilling all American Muslims. Things like outlawing Islam entirely.

I’d like to focus on and draw out the implications of a few of these things:

To advocate a ban on Muslims entering the US or to assume someone is a terrorist (or potential terrorist) solely because they are a Muslim (i.e. absent any specific evidence of terrorist intent or membership in a terrorist organization) is to accept the idea that one should judge people primarily insofar as they are members of groups, rather than as individuals. That is a collectivist premise that is at odds with the principles of individualism and individual rights.

To advocate a ‘Muslim registry’ or the surveillance of Muslims in the absence of reasonable suspicion/probable cause/evidence of illegal activity on the part of specific individuals is at odds with the 4th, 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments specifically and the notions of due process and equal protection generally.

To advocate the outlawing of Islam (or any other religion) is at odds with the 1st Amendment specifically and the principle of freedom of religion generally.

To embrace these ideas -- all of which are supported by a majority or plurality of Trump supporters according to recent polling data -- is to reject (at least) these four bedrock principles of our country (individual rights, due process, equal protection, freedom of religion). These principles were held by the Founding Fathers and enshrined in the Constitution, both of which you (rightly) claim to venerate. The equal protection clause (the idea that all people are entitled to the same treatment under the law) is part of the 14th Amendment, which is the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President.

To support such proposals is to stand against these principles.

To stand against these principles is profoundly un-American.

The (by no means exclusively Democratic/Obamian/potentially-Clintonian) failure to deal effectively with terrorism is a serious issue facing our country. But a weak, haphazard and ineffectual foreign policy does not constitute, in its essence, the betrayal of (or the danger to) America that the rejection of our core principles does. Nor, I would add, does a ‘poor' response to the imaginary ‘threat’ posed by Mexican immigrants.

Do you know who you actually stand with if you stand with Trump in rejecting individual rights, due process, equal protection and freedom of religion?

Islamic terrorists.

They see the world as primarily composed of groups (in their case true believers, infidels, apostates, etc.), not individuals, and believe how people should be treated under the ‘law’ is governed primarily by their membership in certain groups, not individual rights. They regularly behead people for the ‘crime’ of not being in their preferred group without any sort of actual legal system or due process. And they certainly don’t think anyone should be free to practice any religion: everyone should subscribe to (their particular, niche variant of) Islam or die.

I’d like to believe that the majority of you are conscientious, sincere individuals who care deeply about the future of our country. To such individuals I say: please understand that you are going down the path of rejecting the very essence of the country you love and of becoming the philosophical allies of the very people that you are concerned with protecting it from.

If, as I suspect, you are horrified by the thought that you share substantial philosophical common ground with folks like ISIS, perhaps it is time to reassess your views, including your support for candidate Trump.

A patriotic American 

Why you should take the Donald Trump phenomenon seriously

Some of my friends have questioned whether Donald Trump is sincere in the ridiculous things he says. I don’t want to speculate as to whether he is personally sincere or not. I don’t think it matters much.

But I do think it is a mistake to dismiss the Trump phenomenon in this way: i.e. as an (increasingly less) amusing sideshow, or as the ravings of someone who has become ‘unhinged', or as the behavior of an attention-seeking spoiled child or as ‘Trump being Trump.'

Here's why: these two articles provide an overview of polling data. While I disagree with some of the conclusions and interpretations, I think the data contained in these articles persuasively show that a majority or plurality of Trump supporters and, crucially, a plurality of likely Republican voters in certain states and possibly overall, agree with positions as extreme or more extreme than those articulated by Trump. These include:

  • Supporting a ban on Muslims entering the US
  • Backing the creation of a national database of Muslims
  • The idea that government should engage in surveillance to monitor ‘most Muslims’ (i.e. absent specific reasons to suspect specific individuals of illegal activity)
  • That Islam should be made illegal in the United States (seriously, a plurality of Trump supporters in North Carolina -- 44%! -- believe this according to that second article)

Again - all of these are supported by a majority or plurality of Trump supporters and/or all Republican voters in various polls. ‘Majority’ means ‘more than half’. ‘Plurality’ means ‘more people support this than not.'

So, yeah, I think Trump should be taken seriously.