Posted by: George | August 18, 2016

A Short Guide to American Political Parties

In the 2016 election, all four American political parties will be more fully present. They might all possibly participate in the debates. To prevent confusion, I offer the following short guide, which defines each political party with a simple statement. Note: This is an equal opportunity (that is, equal insult) post, so, if you are sensitive about your political party, it is best you stop reading right HERE.

Republican Party: “Don’t take my stuff.”

Explanation: Republicans like a strong military so other countries won’t take our stuff. They like low taxes because that’s their money. Etc.

Democratic Party: “You should like me because I’m a nice person.”

Explanation: Democrats like social programs that help people out because they are really nice and so people should appreciate them. They respect diversity because we should all love each other and, if you love everybody, they will love you back. Etc.

Libertarian Party: “Leave me the f*ck alone.”

Explanation: They don’t like a lot of laws because that means someone is messing with them. They don’t even really like roads because other people can drive on them also. Etc.

Green Party: “I am morally superior.”

Explanation: They are not so much for sustainability; they are more for ecological wisdom. They are for grassroots democracy, decentralization of power, and active participation in political decisions except they don’t really like everyone (actually, not much of anyone because most people are really stupid). Etc.

Posted by: George | August 15, 2016

Trump’s Nose

This is about Trump’s nose.

But before I make a point about Trump’s nose, I need to set some groundwork.

In August 1976, early in his presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter told a crowd of American Legion members, that he would, as president, pardon drafts dodgers. Feelings about the Vietnam War were still raw. Not surprisingly, the crowd of veterans booed Carter. He knew they would boo him. I am sure that he did not convince one person in that crowd of a few hundred veterans to vote for him, but millions of Americans watched coverage of the speech on the nightly news. Many of them thought, that was gutsy. That was honest. He won the election.

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was delivering his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention, he said, “And, the time is now to redeem promises once made to the American people by another candidate, in another time and another place.” He then read a long quote about reducing the size of the Federal government and ended by saying, “So said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention in July 1932.” The hall was silent. I am sure all of the Republicans in the hall were thinking, “Did he just quote FDR?” He did, and he created an entirely new wing of the Republican party called Reagan Democrats. He won the election.

FDR understood the power of national newspapers, which began to emerge in the late nineteenth-century. Kennedy understood the power of television, which began to emerge in the 1950s. Obama understood the power of the Internet and social media, which began to emerge in the late 1990s.

Both Carter and Reagan understood that, in the era of television, you are never speaking only to the people in the hall. Now, we are in the area of the Internet. Everything is recorded. Every word, every gesture, every grunt is replayed over and over again, each time in a different context to a different audience. Politicians should realize that they are always speaking to a complex audience, a broad audience, an audience of “another time and another place.” When you think about it, what Reagan was doing in 1980 was basically retweeting FDR, and then this portion of his speech was retweeted on national news shows. The audience in the hall is never the entire audience. Well, at least, not since the early nineteenth-century or so.

Now, in August 2016, Donald Trump is tanking in the polls, and he is saying that the polls are wrong. He is saying that, if he loses, the election will have been rigged. Why? Because is speaking to large crowds of 10,000 to 20,000, and they love him. How could the polls be right? How could he possibly lose this election, if the election is fair?

So what does all this have to do with Trump’s nose?

Simply this, he doesn’t understand anything that is not right under it.

He thinks that the crowd in the hall is his entire audience.

Posted by: George | August 6, 2016

Trump and Narcissism

When Todd Purdum was researching his Vanity Fair postmortem on Sarah Palin’s performance in the 2008 election, he kept encountering the issue of narcissism:

More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly.

Here we go again. Palin is more or less gone, but we have Trump. Once again people are consulting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and wondering if Trump’s erratic behavior fits the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’ll save you some time. To earn the label narcissist, an individual needs to have five or more of the following traits:

           Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.

           Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

           Believes that he or she is “special” and unique.

           Requires excessive admiration.

           Has a sense of entitlement.

           Is interpersonally exploitative.

           Lacks empathy.

           Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.

           Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Okay, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this list of traits fits Trump pretty well. I am pretty sure he has at least five of these. He might just run the table.

What the list doesn’t convey, though, is the extent to which narcissists structure their entire environment to maintain their inflated sense of self. They bully and intimidate those who disagree with them, and they expect family and close associates to match their mood. When they are intoxicated with their own glory, others must be just as giddy. They are skilled at keeping any doubts from rising into consciousness.

While Trump has been in the public eye for a long time, he is now moving through an even more complex environment, one that is more difficult to control. He has just finished what has to be one of the worst weeks of any presidential candidate—ever. He has even fallen behind Clinton is Georgia. That’s really bad news. Pundits are wondering if the election is already over. Republican leaders are talking about doing an intervention. Good luck with that.

Is Trump a narcissist? At this point, this is not a particularly interesting question—or one that deserves serious discussion. A more interesting question is, What happens to a narcissist who suffers so much criticism and faces so many personal disasters that he can no longer control his environment and, ultimately, his inflated sense of self? In other words, How does a narcissist act when he is in a state of collapse?

The one thing that the narcissist will not do is admit that he was in over his head, that he made mistakes, or that he is responsible. There have been some ugly moments in the Trump campaign. If, however, his poll numbers keep dropping, he will need to amp up what most of us consider his worse traits in a desperate attempt to keep his ego inflated. See Leon F. Seltzer’s “What Really Makes Narcissists Tick?” (Psychology Today Blog, July 28, 2015).

 It’s going to get ugly. Expect to hear more about the system being rigged. Expect to see staff fired. Expect to see staff quit. Expect paranoia. Expect anger. At lot of intense anger.

More troubling, we will likely see similar behavior from serious Trump supporters.

We might find ourselves being a little nostalgic for Sarah Palin.



Posted by: George | August 1, 2016

Trump and Political Correctness

In one of the many street interviews televised during the Republican National Convention, one delegate spoke about how glad he was that Trump had been countering political correctness in both his comments and the content of his speeches. He went on to say that, while he was not against Gays, he didn’t feel like he could, because of political correctness, criticize Gay marriage. I think this is an accurate paraphrase.

 The comment won’t surprise anyone. We have often heard this kind of remark from Trump and his supporters.

 If I could paraphrase my paraphrase, the basic thought here seems to be that political correctness is bad because it is a dogma, a set of nonsensical and random prohibitions that infringe on our right to free speech.

 College professors like myself have been part of the driving force behind political correctness, and we must accept part of the responsibility for it being viewed as a dogma. When I talk with my students, I am sure that I help them shape their language so that it is more politically correct and I am sure that I often fail to explain why I am suggesting certain kinds of revision.

 What I should be saying to my students is that words have consequences. Words create and reinforce certain socially constructed beliefs that marginalize entire groups of people and even give tacit permission for violence. Violence does not come purely from the body. Violence always begins with language, and it always returns to language.

 When I taught a World Literature survey years ago, I told my students, at the beginning of the class, that we were going to witness the historical unfolding of the holocaust. In the literature we would be reading, we will see the holocaust emerge over centuries. We will see it in the words written by people we consider to be great authors and great thinkers. Political correctness should convey this kind of understanding, but that is not easy to achieve, even in an entire semester. So, we fall back on prohibitions, and simple prohibitions can do harm as well as good.

 What troubles me about political correctness is that it can make people reluctant to talk about their prejudices. We need to talk about all kinds of discrimination, and good people are afraid to speak because they do not want to offend. If we cannot speak, we will not come to an understanding.

 To come to an understanding of each other, we have to speak with honesty, as true to our experience as we can, and with respect for those of a different race, gender, religion, or culture, those whose experience can be so different.

 This is why President Obama doesn’t like to use the word Islamic Terrorism. The term makes it sound like all Muslims are terrorists or all terrorism comes from the Islamic faith. Trump relishes in using the term, and he criticizes Obama for not using it. Not surprisingly, it is Trump who wants to ban Muslims from entering our country. Words have consequences.

 I want to quote a couple of paragraphs from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, a remarkable discussion about race. Fair warning, it’s going to get a little theoretical here:

 Not long ago you are in a room where someone asks the philosopher Judith Butler what makes language hurtful. You can feel everyone lean in. Our very being exposes us to the address of another, she answers. We suffer from the condition of being addressable. Our emotional openness, she adds, is carried by our addressability. Language navigates this.

For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person. After considering Butler’s remarks, you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such language acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present. Your alertness, your openness, and your desire to engage actual demand your presence, your looking up, your talking back, and, as insane as it is, saying please.

 Saying please, sir, and madam are forms of political correctness that predate the actual term. Politeness can prevent us from saying what needs to be said. As Rankin says at the end of the same essay, “getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.”

 Ideally, these terms and political correctness should not infringe on my ability to speak to—address—others, even on emotionally difficult topics. If we understand that respect for others is at the core of these terms as well as political correctness, then this reflective use of language, this awareness of the effects of language, should make an honest and open discussion more possible.

 We are all vulnerable to the effects of language, simply because we are with others and engage in dialogue with others. This is what Judith Butler is saying in a more philosophical language. This is, I believe, what Claudia Rankin understands. This is the message that was forcefully delivered by the Kahn family at the Democratic National Convention. 

Posted by: George | July 28, 2016

Hey Hillary, stop doing dumb sh*t, Part One

Let me begin with full disclosure. I am—and continue to be—a Bernie Sanders supporter, but I will vote for Hillary.

While I am a Sanders supporter, I have also been sort of a Hillary supporter since around 1992, when Bill was first running for president. At that time, I read a long article in the New York Review of Books about her work with legislation and legal reform to improve the lives of children. I was impressed. Why am I “sort of” a supporter if I was so impressed and continue to be impressed with Hillary’s accomplishments. Because, about the time I read the article, she also made a dumb statement about not wanting to stay home and make cookies. What do people remember? All her accomplishments? Or, the cookie statement? The cookie statement, of course.

And here, in this brief memory, we might have the entire election in a single anecdote. I agree that Hillary may be the most qualified person to be president—ever—as Obama said in his speech before the DNC. But people will not remember this if she keeps doing dumb sh*t.

What I hope to cover in this post—the first in a series, which is why I said “Part One” in the title, because I think the dumb sh*t will keep coming—is to provide feedback on how the Clinton campaign is doing. I want her to win. Even more, I want Trump to lose. I already released a post of my advice for how she could win (June 13, 2016), and I hope that this series will offer additional advice.

So, with Part One, I want to comment on the television ad that the Clinton campaign is currently running. The ad, in short, shows a series of Trump quotes out of context. The go “f*ck yourself” comment is one of them. Trump’s comments are played on television with cutaways to the faces of children, eyes glued to the tube. The screen goes dark, and then two captions appear in sequence. First: “Our children are watching.” Then: “What example will we set for them?” After the captions, Hillary comes on and says, “Our children and grandchildren will look back at this time, at the choices we are about to make, the goals that we will strive for, and the principles we will live by, and we need to make sure that they can be proud of us.”

The ad is effective in the way that it strips the context from Trump statements and inserts them into a new context. As I advised in that earlier post, Trump’s more outrageous comments often fail to register as inappropriate because they occur within the context of his stump speeches, which are basically structured like a standup comedy routine. The humor (say what you will, but Trump is entertaining) makes the comments seem more acceptable, less worthy of reflection. The Clinton ad strips that context and places the comments in a new context, as being viewed by young children. Viewers are forced to reinterpret the comments. Now, we think about how these comments are affecting our children. This is good. This is smart.

The second half of the ad is also effective in the sense that Hillary is speaking about core American values. In that same earlier post, I said this is what Hillary needs to do. In the clip featured in this ad, she is pitch perfect. She is speaking in just the right voice—the right stylistic register, the right tone, the right volume. She seems genuine and authentic. She is not trying to be forceful and project her voice, which makes her sound phony, which she does way too often.

So, what’s the dumb sh*t?

She put both of these things in the same ad. They should be separated. Hate to keep saying, “I told you so,” but this was also covered in that earlier post. I am sure that Hillary, or her people, wanted to create a stark contrast. However, that is not how the brain processes visual images. The ad wants to say, with a contrast in the words, separated by the blank screen with captions, that Hillary is not like Trump. Hillary is presidential. Trump is not. A is not B.

The mind, however, processes visual images that appear in close proximity with a different kind of logic. A is B. Trump is like Hillary. Neither one of them should be trusted.

I have two other concerns with the ad.

One is the timing, or what rhetoricians like to call Kairos, giving the right message at the right time. These Trump quotes are still fresh in most people’s mind. I think the first part of the ad would be more effective later in the campaign, close to the election, when people have forgotten the quotes, when their short-lived effect will last long enough to carry into the voting booth.

My other concern is that the ad is being run too frequently. Hillary will, by all accounts, have an enormous advantage in campaign funds. The downside to this is that she can afford to keep running ads until people tire of them, start to become annoyed with them, and then resent them. I am already tired of this ad.

More to come, I am sure.

Posted by: George | July 25, 2016

The Election of Uncertainty

Michael Moore has been getting some press for saying, just last week, on Real Time, that Trump is going to win the election. I am not so sure—about anything. This is the election of uncertainty.

While the outcome is uncertain, I do think there are some important focal points that we can watch as the uncertainty plays out.

Demographics. Over a year before the 2012 election, David Axelrod figured out that Obama could win reelection simply by pulling on a demographic advantage, largely by focusing on the increased number of Hispanic voters. In 2016, the demographics seem to favor Clinton. In fact, pundits (I always use the word with a degree of irony) have said there is no way Trump can win without drawing a significant portion of Hispanic and Black voters, and he is unlikely to do that. However, Trump has more support from working class white voters, even some unions, which has the potential for disrupting the electoral map, maybe even throwing traditionally democratic strongholds into play. Will Trump win Florida. Almost certainly not. Could he win Michigan. Possibly.

Scandals and Screw-Ups. We will certainly be dealing with non-stop scandals and screw ups. Clinton will have more scandals. Trump will have more screw-ups.

Clinton’s scandals never go away. We are still dealing with Benghazi and that email server in her basement. Now we have Debbie Wasserman Schultz emails suggesting she tried to rig the whole primary process to favor Clinton. The Clinton foundation, which has done tremendous good around the world, is a deep fund of potential scandal. I am not saying that there are scandals there to uncover. I don’t know. But there are a lot of dots, and it won’t be that hard to connect some dots and make it look like there are scandals.

On the other hand, Trump’s screw-ups seem to have little or no effect on his numbers. The RNC was a disaster, and, by some polls, he got a 6-point bump.

Money. Clinton will probably have a huge money advantage in official campaign funds. Some political scientists are excited about this election because they think they will have an experiment to track whether or not a huge money advantage can, in effect, buy an election. But I think it will be more fuzzy, certainly nothing like a controlled experimental design. Republican donors will probably throw millions into super pacs. Social media is more important that it was just four years ago, and it is basically free.

Bernie Supporters. We simply don’t know where Bernie supports are going to go. The assumption, if this were an ordinary election, is that they will eventually gravitate toward Clinton. Some will, but some will go in other directions. Some will vote the Green Party, some will vote Libertarian, and some might vote for Trump, as inexplicable as that might seem.

Social Media. During the 2008 campaign, Obama’s team dominated social media. Trump has used Twitter more effectively than any other candidate, past or present. At the same time, he does not have an adequate social media staff.

Voter Turnout. We have never had unfavorable numbers this high for the candidates for the two major parties. Most voters are going to vote against Trump or against Clinton. A lot of voters are going to say home, and many of these voters might be the so-called independents who swing an election one way or the other. This is, perhaps, the greatest uncertainty of the upcoming election. Clinton will have a larger staff to help get out the vote, but we might find that this kind of organization is not as important as it once was, even four years ago.

The One Issue. In the end, we might find that there is one issue in this campaign, and that is the character of the Supreme Court for the next twenty or thirty years.

Posted by: George | July 22, 2016

The Liberal RNC?

By most accounts, the Republican National Convention was a train wreck.

On the first day alone, six or seven PR disasters emerged, each of which could have dominated an entire news cycle. The disaster that rose to the top was Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech. Steve King’s incredibly racist comments about how all the great innovations of civilization came from Western countries (that is, white people) hardly received a sleepy nod.

Then, there was a parade, a carnival, of lukewarm endorsements (Nikki Haley said she would not vote for Hillary Clinton) or non-endorsements (Ted Cruz said to vote your conscience). It would be hard to catalog all the wacko comments from surrogates and delegates.

Trump’s acceptance speech sounded like a nostalgic return to Nixonian law and order.

And yet, within this broader context of incompetence and nonsense, this iteration of the RNC has been one of the most liberal ever.

Peter Thiel, entrepreneur and space cadet, a guy who wants to create seascape cities that can be libertarian paradises, said, “I am proud to be gay.” He received a hearty applause.

Ivanka Trump, as she introduced her father, talked about the issues working women face. She argued for affordable childcare, equal pay for women, and the need to protect mothers in the workplace.

Then, Donald—The Donald—spoke about the attack on LGBTQ people in Orlando and said he was going to protect them. This, too, received an enthusiastic round of applause. Donald said the he was glad they applauded that line.

It was only twelve years ago that the Republican party, under the leadership of Carl Rove, used gay marriage as a wedge issue.

Just for the record, I am not voting for Trump. I would not even vote for Ivanka, although she might just be a closet progressive. I am saying, however, that this RNC has an odd mix of retrograde conservative issues, like its take on immigration (Trump is still going to build a wall), and liberal values.

It’s a little confusing. Is it encouraging? I’m not ready to say that yet, but it’s confusing in a way that is maybe, just maybe, encouraging.

Posted by: George | July 20, 2016

Melania Trump and Plagiarism

I have had some experience with plagiarism. I have been teaching writing at universities for about four decades now. I have served as a writing program administrator at several universities and as a department chair, with a first-year composition program, for twelve years. I’ve seen it all.

Early in my career, I had a student turn in, as his major research project, a mimeographed copy of a speech given by the president of the university. The student, who worked as an intern in the president’s office, didn’t even retype the speech. He just pulled a mimeograph copy from the president’s files. Where the president had said “we,” the student crossed out the pronoun and wrote “I.” I guess I should have given him some credit for his revisions skills, but I didn’t.

At that time, before the Internet, I required students to turn in all of their notes and drafts. This student only turned in the slightly revised mimeographed copy of a speech he obviously didn’t write, which also had no documentation. I refused to grade it until he produced drafts, which he didn’t have, of course. About a year later, to his credit, he came to my office and admitted that the paper was plagiarized.

 When I confront students with a charge of plagiarism, I show them their text next to the text that they plagiarized, with passages highlighted. Most of them don’t argue. They explain. They talk about how busy they were, working two jobs, taking a full load, etc. Students do have extremely complicated lives these days.

 Occasionally, a student denies it. One student told me, “I didn’t plagiarize. My sister wrote it.” Well, okay. Then, your sister plagiarized, and you turned in a paper you didn’t write. Same thing.

 Once the Internet appeared, once students could cut and paste entire portions of someone else’s words into their documents, plagiarism became easier. What students don’t realize is that detecting plagiarism also became easier.

 In the first year I taught, a student, who was not a strong writer, turned in a beautiful essay. It was in the style of Time or Newsweek. So, I went to the library looked through recent copies of these magazines and found the article she had copied word for word into her beautiful handwriting. It took me almost an hour to confirm that the essay was plagiarized. I am sure the student assumed I would never come across the article she copied in a hundred years.

 Now, there are programs like Turn It In, which detect plagiarism. I don’t use them because I don’t have any trouble finding the source of plagiarism. If I see a suspicious shift in style, I pull a phrase from the section and Google it.  I don’t have to go to the library. I can find the source in a matter of seconds.

 All of this is just to say that I know something about plagiarism. So, for what it’s worth, here are my observations on the Melania plagiarism issue:

1.     The stupidity of people who plagiarize is incomprehensible. I don’t know how the story broke about Melania plagiarizing from Michelle Obama’s speech, but I suspect a reporter said, “That sounds familiar.” The reporter then Googled a few phrases and, in a matter of seconds, Michelle Obama’s speech popped up. Whoever was responsible for pulling an entire paragraph from Michelle Obama’s speech is a total idiot for not realizing it would be detected almost immediately.

2.     This is plagiarism. Students have been given a zero on an essay or an F for a course for cutting and pasting fewer words than this.

3.     Excuses for plagiarism can be creative but they just don’t hold up. Some people from the Trump campaign have said that it’s only a few minutes of a long speech, she was talking about common themes and using common words, it is entirely an accident that there are some similarities, and so on. One Trump operative appeared on MSNBC with a list of three to five word phrases from the plagiarized section. He had Googled the phrases and found multiple sources. His argument was these are all common phrases, part of the public domain, so she didn’t plagiarize. Nice try, but bullshit. If it were only three to five word phrases here and there, his argument might have held up, but we are taking about an entire paragraph.

4.     To be fair, there are some explanations for how plagiarism can happen. These are not excuses. You write down some notes, fail to put quotation marks around it, and don’t put down the source. Then, you look at your notes and forget these are someone else’s exact words. It’s sloppy, but it happens, even with accomplished writers. Sometimes, cultural issues come up. International students from Africa or China don’t have the same understanding of intellectual property as is common in Europe and America. I don’t think this applies to Slovenia.

If I could give advice to the Trump campaign, I would say, just admit it, apologize, and move on. If you keep trying to admit it’s not plagiarism, you are just extending the life of the story.

Posted by: George | June 13, 2016

A Strategy to Beat Trump

While Hillary Clinton has been slowly pivoting to the general election for several weeks, her speech on foreign policy on June 2 could be seen as the official rollout of her post-primary campaign, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Based on this speech, it seems that her message will be that Trump does not have the temperament or experience to be president and her strategy is to dismiss him as a serious candidate by utilizing a rather Trumploid (or, should it be Trumpesque or Trumpian?) strategy—ridicule.

 Hillary had taken much of the preceding week to write and rehearse the speech, so many were expecting a her to map her own foreign policy. Instead, she delivered a series of slights and insults that were, while more substantive and measured than those of her presumptive oppenent, still basically Trumpian (maybe the adjectival form of Trump needs to have different forms for different occasions).

 In De Inventione, Cicero says that we should fight fire with fire—that is, fight emotional appeals with emotion, and logical appeals with logic. So, perhaps, it makes sense to counter Trump’s ridicule with ridicule. However, in Cicero’s time, the rhetorical situation of political speeches was less complex. In our times, in a culture saturated by mass media and social media, most political debates involve people and media rather than two individuals and a medium. Cicero debated against another senator by projecting his voice across the senate chamber. Little of the encounter would echo beyond the stonewalls of the Roman senate, except for maybe a summary by the town crier in the forum.

 Ridicule and insults should certainly be part of the Hillary campaign against Trump, but I would argue this should be the role of surrogates. Hillary should not become like Trump to counter Trump. She should consistently remain unlike Trump. She should be about finesse and dignity and substance without becoming Trumpesque.

 (One brief aside here: have you noticed that, in this election, democrats are called by their first names and Republicans by their last names? We have Hillary and Bernie, but Trump, Cruz, Rubio, etc. This event though Trump was once known as The Donald.)

 Hillary should, in short, avoid playing to Trump’s strength (his ability to define his opponents with insults, usually crystalized in a single adjective); instead, she should engage Trump’s weaknesses. I will list three strategies (there are more), which should drive Hillary’s campaign.

 First, we know that Trump will not change his personality or strategy, but he will also be fairly consistent about values and not at all consistent about policies. He has been advised to act more presidential, and he has been advised to pivot to the general election. While Trump has made a few gestures toward a pivot (we have seen a teleprompter here or there), he continues to act in the same way that won him the nomination. For the most part, he will continue to speak without a script, delivering a series of comedic one-liners, insulting the opposition or anyone who criticizes him, and delivering policy in a single short simple sentence (“I will build a wall”). As evidence of his inability to change, ven though he has won the Republican nomination, even though he has won the Republican nomination.

 Second, he will not have many significant surrogates. Paul Ryan finally endorsed Trump, sort of. He made the announcement that he would vote for Trump in his hometown newspaper and on social media, during Hillary’s foreign policy speech. Ben Carson has endorsed Trump, but he doesn’t seem to be capable of explaining his decision. Chris Christie endorsed Trump, but he looks uncomfortable (embarrassed?) when he stands beside Trump. Except in rare occasions, Trump will have to speak for himself.

 Third, Trump’s campaign has focused on values that are essentially un-American, or, at least, at odds with America at its best. Certainly, America has its contradictions. It has embraced the ideal of immigration as it mistreated wave after wave of immigrants. Trump says he wants to make America great again, but it seems that this simply means we are going to be winners. To be a winner seems to be mean we will not be pushed around. We will be the bully who pushes others around.

 How can Hillary engage Trump’s weaknesses?

 While Trump will have few, if any, surrogates, Hillary will have many. While the strategy of using surrogates to attack the opponent as the candidate remains above the fray, that is, presidential, is not new, Hillary needs to use surrogates in a slightly different way. She needs to use surrogates who represent different constituent groups to attack Trump, not so much to deliver a message, but rather to provoke a Trumploid response. Elizabeth Warren has already being doing this. She has been attacking Trump on Twitter, his favorite medium, and Trump has predictably responded by calling her Pocahontas. If Hispanic surrogates attack Trump, he will respond by insulting Hispanics. If women surrogates attack Trump, he will respond by insulting women. If Black surrogates attack Trump, he will respond by insulting Blacks. Why? Because Trump cannot change. If Hillary uses her surrogates wisely, she will be able to reinforce her support with key demographics and attract some independents.

 Because Trump speaks in the moment and doesn’t seem to remember what he said five minutes ago, because he is only consistent about insults (from these insults, we learn his values), Hillary superpacs should develop a series of ads that use Trump’s own words against him. Some of the ads should show how Trump consistently demeans demographic groups like women or Hispanics. Other ads should show how inconsistent Trump is on important policy issues like abortion, even his party affiliation. The quotes included in these ads need to strip Trump’s words from its context. When Trump speaks to his people, he is entertaining. In fact, his stump speeches are basically standup routines. The audience laughs but does not analyze. Stripped of context, Trump’s comments will seem vapid. Strung together, they can either show the consistency of his values or the vapidity of his ideas.

 To remain as unlike Trump as possible, Hillary herself should focus on logical appeals (substantive policy discussion that require more than a single sentence to explain) and values that represent American at its best (America as the land of opportunity, America as a promoter of democracy, America as inclusive, etc.). If Hillary is consistent, if she speaks the best of American values, she will never need to mention Trump’s name. The contrast will be apparent.

Posted by: George | June 9, 2016

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle

I am binging and re-binging on Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, now streamable on Netflix.

This is not just a stand-up routine. It is a series, written and performed by Steward Lee, the forty-first best all time comedian in the UK, with six episodes available, each of which focused on a theme, like immigration.

It is more social commentary than jokes, with an occasional joke, thrown in, not for laughs, but to make a point. After one joke-based sequence, Lee turns to the camera and says, “You see, I can write jokes. I just choose not to.”

It is also comedy with layers of meta-text. Lee frequently interrupts a sequence by looking to the camera and commenting on his routine. His stage performance is also interrupted with scenes from him being interviewed by a reporter, who sometimes sound more like an aggressive therapist.

The whole package is brilliant, as the Brits say. And I mean brilliant in both senses of the word.

The series is brilliant because it is wickedly smart. So, it is brilliant in this sense, even if this pronouncement is made by a non-Brit, even an American, the most un-Brit of non-Brits.

It is also brilliant in the sense that Brits use the word, to mean something like wonderful or fabulous or magical, but really more than all that, more the essence of all things good, like you have taken the British Empire at its broadest expanse and condensed it into a singularity that you just happen to call, yes, that word—brilliant.

As a bit of a teaser, without crossing over into being a spoiler, let me give you a sense of what you might expect. The “England” episode begins with one of the interview interludes:

Reporter: “This series only came about because some craven idiot at the BBC was impressed with an award you’d won. It’s pretty ridiculous . . .”

Lee: “Well, I’ve lost my way. . . . I don’t know who I’m supposed to be anymore. I’m a person who sits every night and looks at a mantle piece literally creaking with awards, and yet every single one of those awards is like a vampire bat sucking all the energy out of me.”

Reporter: “It’s kryptonite isn’t it.”

Lee: “Yea.”

Reporter: “And I suppose it looks now like you’re thrashing about, desperately trying to prove that you have an identity. You have hordes of writers on the show, and you don’t seem able to summon a thought . . .

Lee: “My only hope is that the final moments of this aspiring talent have been captured and that, in itself, will be entertaining in some way, like you’re watching an animal expire after its throat has been slit.”

Reporter: “A sort of snuff . . .”

Lee: “Snuff comedy. Yea. Yea. Let’s watch the talent and purpose ebb away from this character. Maybe there’s something comical about that. I don’t know.”

Before Lee launches into his parody of British anti-immigrant politicians, in particular, Paul Nuttail of the UK Independent Party, or UKIP (who once said, as if he were addressing Bulgarians for their own good, “You need to ensure that your brightest stay and make your own country economically prosperous instead of coming to the UK to serve tea and coffee”), he offers a parody of himself and his entire show. Satire wrapped in satire.

Here is how Lee begins his assault on Paul Nuttail of the UKIP:

He’s very worried about all these Bulgarians coming over, and he said in July, ‘Bulgarians need to make sure that their best and brightest stay in Bulgaria and make it economically prosperous instead of coming to the UK to serve tea and coffee.’ That’s all well and good for Paul Nuttail who lives in Liverpool, but I live in London, and what I want to know is how am I supposed to get cheap tea and coffee unless there is a massively over qualified Eastern European philosophy professor prepared to make it for me for significantly less than the living wage? Selfish, selfish Paul Nuttail of the UKIP. Paul Nuttail of the UKIP is truly concerned for the economic prosperity of Bulgaria, I don’t doubt it for a minute, but that is threatening my access to cheap hot beverages in the central London area and what I say to Paul Nuttail of the UKIP from Liverpool is this, ‘Paul Nuttail, of UKIP, from Liverpool, abandon your parliamentary hopes and your dreams of London and stay in Liverpool where you belong, for you are clearly the best and brightest that Liverpool has to offer. So stay in Liverpool and concentrate on making Liverpool economically prosperous, and not just by climbing over the hotel bathroom cubical and stealing people’s coats, either. But how to make Liverpool economically prosperous? If only there were some way for Liverpudlians to make a profit from going on and on about the past in a whinny voice.

Then, Lee launches into a brilliant (either sense of the word works here also) example of reductio ad absurdum:

But the UKIPs seem to object to the Bulgarians on the grounds that they are skilled, which is a whole new angle to the anti-immigration debate. Here they are, coming over here with their skills. . . . We’ve seen it all before haven’t we? We’ve seen, ten years ago, with the Poles, the bloody Poles, coming over here, they always come over here and they’re all Polish, coming over here and mending everything, fixing all the stuff we’ve broken, too illiterate to read the instructions for, and they fix it better than us in a second language. Bloody Poles. When I was a kid, forty, forty-five years ago, it was the Indians, wasn’t it? And the Indians, Pakistanis and Indians, coming over here, inventing us a national cuisine. Before that, in the sixteen-century, it was the Huguenots, the bloody Huguenots, coming over here from medieval France, religious heretics, coming over here, doubting transubstantiation. Bloody French Huguenots coming over here questioning the Eucharistic symbolism with their feigned ability to weave little jerkins out of lace. We don’t want your lace here. We’ve got corduroy. My name’s Paul Nuttail of the UKIP and I say that we need to ensure the best and brightest Huguenots stay in medieval France and concentrate on revising its relationship with the Eucharistic tradition instead of coming over here to the UK and teaching us to make hats out of lace instead of coming over here to the UK and teaching us to make hats out of lace. And before them in the fifth century, it was the Anglo-Saxons, wasn’t it? Bloody Anglo-Saxons. . . .

It doesn’t end here. Lee keeps adding levels of the absurd, wrapping satire in satire. It’s all, the entire series, worth watching more than once.

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