We don’t know whether Trump himself or his surrogate deplorables will introduce Bill Clinton’s sex life into the campaign, but the latest reporting suggests that it’s coming. So desperate is the Trump camp to find something, anything to keep their candidate from tanking that they’re even willing to go “there.”
The question is, why? Trump has been married, how many times? Three. He’s admitted to adulterous affairs, which means he cheated on his ex-wives (and may be cheating on Melania, for all we know). So he’s hardly the perfect messenger to criticize anyone for sexual infidelities.
Besides, Bill Clinton was one of the most popular and beloved Presidents in recent U.S. history. Even after he was impeached by Republicans, his approval rating was an enormously high 73%, and when he left office, in early 2001, his approval rating was 65%, higher than any other departing President since Harry Truman. Even today, long after he last held office, his approval ratings hover in the mid- to high 50s. So it really doesn’t make much sense to go after Bill, does it? And besides, Hillary has enormous popular respect for the dignified way she suffered through the scandal and held her family together.
If Trump tries to get away with this trash talk himself, he’ll be roundly criticized, by the media, the public, even large segments of his own party. So who would be the lucky surrogate to get the dirty job? Giuliani? Haha. Like his idol, Trump, he’s been married three times, and any reader of the New York press knows how ugly his divorces have been, including the nasty little soap opera with wife #2, Donna Hanover. So it would be the height of ridiculousness to send Giuliani out there to criticize Bill Clinton. Besides, Giuliani was Trump’s chief coach for debate #1, and look what a fiasco that turned out to be. (There are rumors Giuliani has been relieved of that responsibility for future debates.)
Who else, then? Christie? Well, he’s apparently been happily married to the same woman, Mary Pat, for thirty years, so he passes the fidelity test. But Christie fails in other important capacities as a messenger. The people who know him best, New Jerseyans, give him historically low approval ratings, only 26% positive, and he has a gigantic albatross circling around his neck: Bridgegate. His coverup is rapidly unraveling, as his former aides turn against him hoping to escape major prison time for themselves. It would be rather embarrassing for the Trump camp to keep Christie on in a visible role, especially if an indictment comes in, as it easily might. Even if Christie could overcome these negatives, he’s not liked by the public at large. His run for the presidency was a joke: Americans took a look, and decided: No.
There’s always Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager and chief representative on television. She’s apparently happily married—good news there—but there is a hitch: her husband, a lawyer named George T. Conway III, was a top advisor to—guess who?—Paula Jones, one of Bill Clinton’s alleged paramours. The unfortunate Ms. Jones was utilized by rightwing Christian fundamentalist groups that wanted to destroy Bill Clinton. George T. Conway III was, in other words, an early signer-on to the vast rightwing conspiracy that tried, and failed, to take the Clintons down. To have been a part of that cabal, which has been roundly been rejected by the American people, really makes George T. Conway III radioactive, and by extension, his wife, too. All Hillary has to do is remind people that Kellyanne’s husband was one of those semen-sniffing rightwingers who tried to destroy her popular husband. The public will hate him.
So who else could do the dirty deed? Pence? He’s likeable enough, was an altar boy, and apparently has a solid marriage. But if Trump were to send Pence out there on a smut-spreading mission, his likeability would tank. The American people don’t like nastiness. Besides, Hillary’s supporters could always counter with Pence’s vicious homophobia.
There’s one more possibility: Gingrich. Now, I know he gives most of you the creeps—me too—but he was already out there yesterday, dropping hints. I, personally, would love it if Newt takes on this job, because he will get slammed so hard by everyone, he won’t know what hit him. Gingrich is yet another three-time husband, and the story about how he visited his first wife, who was in the hospital with cancer, to demand a divorce so he could marry wife #2 (whom he subsequently divorced for wife #3), has followed him for years. Again, Gingrich is just about the worst messenger for this kind of smut-peddling that Trump could find.
Look, voters have signaled that they don’t give a damn about Bill Clinton’s sex life. They made that decision twenty years ago, and today’s younger voters in particular don’t care what he did. Trump has absolutely nothing to gain from this stupidity. But then, without viable alternatives, sinking in the polls, he is grasping at straws, hoping against hope he can salvage what’s left of his reputation. He can’t. He can only further ruin it.
Hugh Hewitt is a bombastic rightwing talk show host, so rightwing in fact that he is pro-Trump even though Trump tore him a new one last year by calling him “a third rate radio announcer,” thus proving that, like a broken clock, even Donald Trump can occasionally be right. For some bizarre reason (perhaps because NBC is owned by the most hated corporation in America, Comcast), MSNBC has chosen to make Hewitt a regular commentator on their news segments. I think this is because Hewitt—handsome, well-groomed, articulate—has created a reputation for himself, quite falsely, as an independent analyst, which, as I say, is entirely incorrect, because he’s a tea party propagandist. But he can be clever, in that he couches his real views within statements that, taken on their face, can seem objectively fair. But advancing a rightwing agenda is always his hidden aim.
For example, the other day, following Trump’s fiasco during Monday’s debate, Hewitt told one of MSNBC’s hosts, who had asked him to give advice for the next debate (and I paraphrase): “The hosts of the next debate should move beyond birtherism and ask Trump about real issues, like the economy, trade and terrorism. Nobody cares about birtherism anymore.”
Well, when I heard this piece of propaganda, which reminded me of the old Soviet-style disinformation campaigns, I just about upchucked. Birtherism should be one of the primary issues of this campaign, and every future debate moderator should follow Lester Holt’s example and grill Trump about it, over and over and over, not allowing him to lie or insult his way out of it. Because birtherism is at the heart of Trump’s character, his vile personality, his intellectual dishonesty, and his utter unfitness to be President of the United States of America.
In case you’ve been on Mars for the last seven years, Donald Trump was the lead “birther” in America. He insisted, as recently as last January, that Obama was born in Kenya, is not a U.S. citizen, and that a vast leftwing conspiracy has kept Americans from learning the truth. A few weeks ago, his new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway—a political hack, but a smart one—convinced him, against his better judgment, that he had to admit Obama is an American. So Trump did, grudgingly, and evidently in the hope that he can now put his outrageous lie behind him. Unfortunately (for Trump), Lester Holt wouldn’t let him.
I salute Mr. Holt. For the past year, no American journalist has pressed Trump on the birther issue, much to their shame. Why is Trump’s birtherism so important? Because by promulgating this falsehood, this massive smear against the President of the United States, this frontal assault on reality, we can conclude about Trump only one of two things: either that he is so willfully stupid and biased that he—unlike the rest of us—actually believed Obama was not a citizen, or that Trump knew full well that Obama was born in America, but deliberately chose to lie about it, because he knew that there are millions of haters who are so racist and stupid—the “basket of deplorables”—that they would believe him, and more: that they would form the vanguard of a movement to elevate him to the White House.
We can’t know which of those is true—whether Trump is willfully stupid, or the biggest liar in the history of American politics. What we can know is that, either way, the man is mentally, morally and intellectually incompetent to hold power. A normal human being never would have gone down the birther road to begin with. After Obama produced his birth certificate, in April, 2011, a normal person would have apologized for being wrong, and moved on.
But Donald Trump is not a normal person. Not being a clinical psychologist, I cannot define what his mental problems are. Narcissism, certainly. A pathological liar, for sure. Perhaps a mild sociopath. Or just suffering from an older white man’s resentments at the colorization of America. But whatever the diagnosis is, you know, I know, and even most of his supporters know that there’s something wrong inside him—dreadfully wrong, troublingly wrong. Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone can come to a wrong conclusion despite evidence to the contrary. But to so blatantly make such an egregiously false statement, for so long, even after Obama produced the birth certificate, even when his fellow Republicans were embarrassed by Trump’s lies, even when Trump’s own campaign staff rued the day their man volunteered to lead the birther movement—to have persisted in such insanity for so long obviously is a complete disqualifier for Trump to hold office.
Hugh Hewitt knows all this. And he doesn’t care. Through his methodology—devious, obfuscating, misleading—he hopes to distract opinion-makers away from Trump’s dangerousness. All Hewitt cares about is getting a Republican in the White House. Which Republican doesn’t matter. If that Republican is thoroughly without a moral compass, Hugh Hewitt doesn’t give a damn, presumably because Hugh Hewitt is himself amoral. If that Republican is in many respects insane, Hugh Hewitt couldn’t care less. And so, when this Limbaugh wannabe tells future debate moderators to “move past the birther thing,” their red alerts should go off with loud sirens and klaxons.
No! Don’t listen to Hugh Hewitt, who wants Trump’s birtherism to go away because he knows it is lethal to his candidacy. Journalists must keep pressing Trump on this. Why did it take him five years to acknowledge Obama is an American? Why will he not apologize for lying to the American people for years? This goes straight to the heart of Trump’s character, and the moderators for the Oct. 9 debate—Martha Raddatz of ABC and Anderson Cooper of CNN—really need to hear from us on this. I don’t know anything about Ms. Raddatz because I never watch ABC News. As for Mr. Cooper, he seems to care more about the way his biceps flex in a tight black T-shirt than about being a real journalist. I hope both of them will do the right thing, if for no other reason than to preserve their reputations, or what’s left of them, and not let themselves suffer the embarrassment that Matt Lauer did, when he pitifully revealed himself to be nothing more than a T.V. celebrity stooge.
The dog that didn’t bark: Why Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal didn’t pick a debate winner. Plus: Trump’s tax plan
Not only did Tuesday’s WSJ not say who won, they didn’t even mention the debate in their editorials or in opinion pieces. It’s like the historic Clinton-Trump smackdown never happened.
Why the silence? Well, the answer is obvious: Hillary crushed Trump, and not even the WSJ’s most violent attack dogs dared claim otherwise. So they chose to keep it on the DL. The only political “journalist” I know of who claimed Trump won was the San Francisco Chronicle’s rightwing second-rater, Debra J. Saunders, the most locally-detested Big City columnist in the country.
Now, onto taxes!
The most telling point of Monday’s debate was when Trump declared, with that little self-satisfied smirk we’ve come to know so well, that not paying any federal income taxes, despite the billionaire status he brags about, “makes me smart.”
Well, that’s another lie from Melania’s husband. It doesn’t make him “smart.” It just means he’s another rich guy who can afford to hire expensive tax lawyers, who find loopholes for their clients to wiggle out of paying their fair share—loopholes that, not so coincidentally, were created by Republican lawmakers who personally benefit from campaign contributions by the very people they help to avoid paying taxes!
Now, the rich like to point out statistics showing that they actually pay the lion’s share of all taxes collected by the Federal government. For example, the newspaper of record of the rich—the Wall Street Journal—routinely publishes studies like this, stating that the “Top 20% of Earners Pay 84% of Income Tax.” By using figures like this, the Wall Street Journal attempts to shift resentment by ordinary middle-class Americans away from tax-dodging billionaires onto “the bottom 20% [who] get paid by Uncle Sam.”
That’s the good old-fashioned plutocratic way: use smoke and mirrors to make the middle class think that their real economic enemy isn’t tax-evading billionaires who rig the system, but poor people.
Republicans always have played into this propaganda; Donald Trump simply has exploited it to heretofore unseen heights. But let’s break it down. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, the richest Americans have been making more money, but paying less taxes, for the last fifty years. “The richest 1% of Americans own 35% of the nation’s wealth,” and yet the rate at which they’re taxed has been dropping like a stone: 91% in the 1950s, a paltry 43.4% today. And yet Trump is now calling for even further reductions in taxes for the ultra-wealthy. “I’m going to cut taxes big league,” he said in Monday’s debate (which must have been music to Rupert Murdoch’s ears). Now, where have we heard that before? From Ronald Reagan, of course, who famously instituted the Republicans’ practice of cutting taxes on the rich, which proved to have a disastrous impact on the deficit. Even Forbes magazine—the “capitalist tool”—said “The numbers don’t lie—why lowering taxes for the rich no longer works to grow the economy.” The Reagan deficits were awful, but led to an even greater and more disruptive consequence: income inequality, which is now the worst in the nation’s history. In this fascinating study, from the well-regarded (and hardly liberal) Financial Times, we see the statistics in stark horror: the poor getting poorer, the rich getting richer, the middle class getting squeezed. The result: “Inequality in income and wealth is a troubling headwind for the American economy, it’s getting worse, and it’s a real danger looming in our political future.”
And now here comes Donald J. Trump, the billionaire squire of Mar-a-Lago, defending this Republican policy of cutting taxes for his class, and promising to further cut taxes on his friends and neighbors in Palm Beach and Trump Tower. He could not get away with such nonsense, of course, if so many Americans did not vote against their own self-interests. But they do, blinded by religious or emotional malarkey and goaded by Republicans who exploit every resentment, every fear people have. It used to be Communists that Republicans utilized to make Americans afraid. When the Cold War ended and Communism could no longer be used as a straw man, Republicans went after their traditional scapegoats: the poor, as exemplified by Reagan’s “welfare queens” and George H.W. Bush’s use of Willie Horton to remind white people how terrified they were of blacks. Sept. 11 gave Republicans a new focus of fear: Muslims, a tool Trump has aggressively exploited. So for Republicans, it’s always the same: Protect their own kind, the ultra-rich, by terrifying Americans and blaming the middle class’s economic stresses on anything and everything, except the real cause: a gamed tax system that lowers taxes on corporations and billionaires, and that makes the rest of us pay the nation’s bills.
If Trump wins this thing it will be in large part because of the way white and Asian voters interpret the state of black America.
Yesterday there was a Facebook video making the rounds. It was of a rather angry middle-aged white woman, who said she was “in real estate,” decrying the condition of black people. Her more salient quote (I paraphrase): “If you’re black and haven’t advanced in America during the last 50 years, there’s something wrong with you.” She pointed out the dysfunction in the African-American community: babies having babies, babies born out of wedlock, the failure of young people to complete their educations, the drug addiction, the normalization of crime and asocial behavior, etc. etc. For these reasons, the woman said she was voting for Trump because “He can turn it around.”
We have to be clear here and separate out fact from fiction. (1) It is a fact that there is an enormous amount of dysfunction in the black community, of the type the woman described. (I myself see it every day, living in downtown Oakland.) (2) It is a fact that lots of white people are angered, mystified and terrified by what they perceive as a willful disregard of the conventional rules of society by black people, and an almost masochistic indulgence in self-defeating behavior. (3) It is a fact that this has been central to Trump’s messaging, and to his appeal.
If anyone denies any of these three facts, he or she is delusional, or “lying to themselves” as Nate Silver put it the other day.
So much for facts, upon which we ought to all be in agreement. Now we get to unquantifiable hypotheticals. What should we do about the state of black America? This is where things break down. Every American president at least since Thomas Jefferson has grappled with this problem. Not one of them has ever been able to solve it. Lyndon Johnson most famously applied the full power and resources of the Federal government to the cause, but as we see around us today, while there is a vast middle class of African-Americans, as well as a black president (whom I revere), there remains a huge black underclass. Just as that white woman is worried about it, so should we all worry.
Hlllary Clinton has no particular credibility here. She offers sympathy to black people and claims to support Black Lives Matter, and of course she (and Bill) have a long history of being supportive of black people (they used to call Bill “the first black president”). But beyond that, her views either are undeveloped, or she matter-of-factly believes that there’s not much the government can do to fix a problem that is essentially behavioral in nature. However, since her election depends on black people getting out and voting, she doesn’t really want to say anything that will alienate them.
White voters, like the real estate lady, hear Clinton’s reticence, and it annoys them. They believe that they perceive reality when they point out black dysfunction, and they believe that Clinton sees the same things, but is afraid to admit it. Trump, on the other hand, is “the guy who speaks his mind.” He “says it like it is.” He “says things everybody is thinking but is afraid to voice.” When Democrats accuse Trump of racism, it actually plays into his hands. Put yourself in the shoes of the white real estate lady. She doesn’t see herself as racist. She sees herself as a “behaviorist.” There are certain behaviors she resents because they are destructive to our society. She resents the implication she has something against black people purely and simply due to the color of their skin. She has something against the way some black people behave. She wishes for them to change that behavior. She believes that Hillary Clinton cannot solve a problem that she (Hillary) doesn’t even perceive, or is unwilling to admit exists. Donald Trump on the other hand has no problem admitting its existence. He also has the will power to resolve it. Therefore, she is voting for him.
Here’s what I think. Donald Trump is correct to point out the dysfunction, and the Democratic establishment by and large is wrong to deny it. Having said that, we have to play out in our imaginations how Trump’s philosophy would actually unwind if he is elected. This is where I think Hillary wins the argument. I can see no way for Trump’s anger, and the anger of his followers like the real estate lady, to resolve anything. How would that fix stuff, anyway? If you have a U.S. President, backed by an American Congress and a majority of American voters, angrily denouncing the black community, but offering no solutions except for platitudinous pieties that both parties agree on (stay in school, work hard, raise your children right), then you are simply going to raise the tension in the black community by an enormous degree. What will Trump do? Let’s say he finds money to hire tens of thousands more cops for our crime-plagued cities like Chicago, Baltimore, Oakland, Atlanta. What does that accomplish? More confrontations. More street deaths. More anger. It feeds on itself, like the wildfires that sweep through California at this time of year. You cannot pit the U.S. government against a sizable portion of the American people in a confrontational way and expect stability. This is the stuff riots and, eventually, the breakdown of order feeds off.
We’re supposed to believe that Trump—a greedy con-man, who has shown not the slightest sign of caring about black issues in his seventy years on this earth–suddenly has seen the light on the road to Damascus. That is not only not a convincing thesis, it’s an insult to rational minds. Hillary may not have specific solutions—do you? Does anyone?–but at least she gives the impression of thoughtful caring. Her body language is softer, her message more conciliatory, her attitude more embracing than anything that has ever emanated from any Republican politician. This may be of cold comfort to the real estate lady, who wants things to change Now! and who has seen decades of the rhetoric of harmony achieve so little. But really, when you think about it, what are her options? What are ours? The real estate lady may wish to demand that black people clean up their act, but obviously her demand has no impact whatsoever on the real world. It may make her feel better to vote for Trump, whose hard line she believes, sans proof, will work a miracle. But voting for Trump in the hope he will “solve” America’s race problem is naïve, will prove to be ineffective, and may eventually be severely destabilizing.
Well, the white lady replies, destabilization is exactly what Trump intends to do. Shake things up, from the top down. Make a revolution. The status quo isn’t working for anyone, she says: not her, not whites like her, not black people. Therefore, let’s sweep away the status quo and try something new.
And this is the crossroads at which this election stands. My own feeling is that America has made and is making steady progress in race relations. It’s not far enough or fast enough for anyone: conservatives, liberals, blacks, whites. Everybody wishes we could somehow leapfrog over the speed bumps and get this thing done.
But we can’t. That’s not how history works. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The question voters like the real estate lady have before them in this election is, do we continue slow but steady progress, as it has existed under both Republican and Democratic administrations? Or do we gamble everything on a person whose mental instability, narcissism, and mendacity continue to be displayed in awful blatancy? I personally prefer the former approach, which is why I’m supporting Hillary Clinton. If there are enough voters out there like the real estate lady to actually elect Trump president, I think we’re in for a horrendous future. They will regret the day they voted, and so will we all.
Well, I just wrote my 47th column on Hillary’s emails. They’ve all been pretty much the same—Hillary is a she-devil who did bad things and is crooked. Only I did come up with a clever new slogan: I called 2016 “the year of the Democratic email dump.”
Of course, just between me and you, Dear Diary, that’s not true. If anything, 2016 was the year of Trump. But “the year of the Democratic email dump” keeps people thinking Hillary did something wrong, and we have to keep that up, at least until the election.
God, I hate that Clinton b***h. Sometimes I myself wonder why. I don’t know, I just do. She’s so…perfect. Maybe I’m jealous? Successful career, the most successful female politician in American history, by all accounts a great mom, smart, funny, a policy wonk, rich, and she did stand by Bill’s side during Monicagate. And talk about grace under pressure! I can imagine myself, under other circumstances, liking her. But let’s face it, smearing Hillary is what they pay me for. I need this gig at the Wall Street Journal. We’re under orders, from the Murdochs on down through Baker, Blumenstein and Murray (sounds like a Wall Street lawfirm, doesn’t it, haha) to keep up the attack, and so we do, me and Rove and Henninger and Jenkins and Noonan and the rest of us op-ed junkyard dogs. Sometimes, I’ll run into one of them in the break room, and we’ll look each other in the eye and feel something like shame, or embarrassment, over how cheap and misleading our columns usually are. We never really talk about it. It’s not something you’d actually admit. But it’s there.
Peggy is the worst, she really is. I think she’s always resented me, since I’m the only other editorial page woman, and most professionals respect me more than her! Everybody knows Peggy was just a dreary little speechwriter for Reagan—they only gave her unimportant things, like D-Day, because she couldn’t handle anything bigger—but, good Lord, she’s ridden that “I worked for Ronald Reagan” horse for thirty years like she’d been one of the Apostles. She’s also a lot older than me, which quite frankly, Diary, she resents. So we avoid each other, if at all possible. But I will say this: there’s sort of a competition between us over who can be bitchier, especially towards Hillary.
Actually, I’m pretty proud of my latest column. You know what the trick is to writing a great column about Hillary? It’s to pack as many scandals into the piece as you can, and on this one I did a great job! I not only got the emails in there, but Benghazi, Blll’s adultery and all his other baggage, Hillary’s religious beliefs (or lack of them), her campaign contributions, the high price she (and Bill) charge for speeches, the way Bill sold ambassadorships to the highest bidder, her Hollywood friends, her relationship with Anthony Weiner—in short, the entire Almanach de Gotha of horrors. Now, Dear Diary, once again between you and me, let’s be honest and admit that the Clintons haven’t done anything any other politician, including other Presidential couples, hasn’t done. But that doesn’t matter. The important thing is to stir up anger and resentment against the b***h. My therapist, Dr. Fegelin, asked me the other day if I, as a woman, ever have second thoughts about stirring up anger against Hillary because she’s a woman, and it’s really easy to make white people, especially Christians, resent women with power.
Well, in answer to Dr. Fegelin, no, I don’t have any second thoughts. I have a lot of self-respect for myself; as my husband reminds me every day, I am beautiful!
It’s true that I could use a nip-and-tuck here and there, but really, I have fabulous hair (thank you Mr. Kenneth! Muah!), and with the right makeup and lighting, I could be one of those Fox News blond glamor gals (move over Megyn Kelly!). And to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t mind that. She makes, like, what? twenty times what I make here at the Journal, and what does she have that I don’t, besides good legs? Anyhow, if I keep churning out these hit pieces on Hillary, maybe Rupert will put me on T.V. One can always hope, right?
Look, life is war. We do what we have to do to win. Besides, I’ve been at this for so long that I barely have any moral compass left. You’d be surprised how easy it is to toss your conscience overboard, Dear Diary! Conscience is a hassle, anyway, especially for a Wall Street Journal columnist. It’s so much purer, and more lucrative, to peddle hate.
Trump is clearly pandering to a law-and-order crowd, overwhelmingly white, that is fed up with attacks—verbal and physical—against cops. Hillary is just the opposite: calling for more sensitivity on the part of cops, and in general siding with BLM. But there are risks for both.
Trump’s risk is obvious: he’s already pegged as a racist (and xenophobe) by a majority of the American people, so every time he suggests Black guys deserve to get shot if they resist arrest, he just feeds into that narrative. Hillary’s risk is also obvious: there is a great desire for law and order in America. People don’t like seeing unruly crowds of (mainly young) people trashing their cities. And people have a liking and respect for cops, so Hillary can’t be seen as anti-cop, which is the same thing as being seen as pro-violence.
Just as the risks are obvious for both, so are the potential rewards. Trump will probably win a majority of the white vote. The more he can appeal to frightened wobblers, the more chance he has of winning this election. Every time there’s a police-on-black shooting, the wobblers are confronted with a choice: listen to their better angels, or their demonic ones. This is a true moral and ethical conundrum for a lot of them, and I don’t mean to condescend or minimize it. They may not particularly like Trump, they may see him as the con artist he is, but if they think he’ll crack down on the rioters (and terrorists) and Democrats will coddle them, they’ll hold their noses and vote Republican.
Hillary has a chance at the wobblers, too. She’s got to convince them of something that’s very difficult to explain: no matter how angry and frustrated they are with violence, whether perpetrated by American rioters or by terrorists, they have to maintain their equilibrium. They should not and must not vote with their emotions, but rather think things through and be smart about it. The smart choice, clearly, is Hillary Clinton, but the emotionally satisfying choice is Trump.
Trump has the advantage here. He’s not asking for people to think. Rational analysis is not part of his message, his technique or his appeal, just as it never is for demagogues. Trump’s advantage is that the negativity is already there, in millions of white voters who don’t want BLM to put a target on the backs of cops. All Trump has to do is remind these voters that he’s on their side—on the cops’ side—on the side of law and order. Hillary’s task is so much harder. She has to get these same people to put on their thinking caps and not be stupid. That’s what she meant by the “basket of deplorables.” She meant that their inability, or refusal, to turn off their rage and actually think things through is what’s deplorable about them. In truth, there’s nothing especially new about this phenomenon in American electoral politics. It shows up, in one form or another, in most elections. When Richard Nixon ran for President for the first time, in 1960, he realized, at some point during the campaign, that he didn’t stand a chance wooing the African-American vote in the big northeast and Midwest cities, a vote that might have swung that historically close election to him. Instead, he—or his advisors—sensed the growing frustration among southern white voters who felt that “the gummint” was coddling Blacks (even though, mind you, the sitting President, Eisenhower, was a Republican). Nixon ran an early version of his “Southern strategy.” It didn’t work in 1960, but it did in 1968 and in 1972.
It’s always a challenge for politicians to try and educate voters instead of just playing to their feelings. Adlai Stevenson tried it twice (1952, 1956) and was roundly defeated both times. He was—to put it bluntly—too intelligent for the voters. Had Stevenson been more human on the stump, had a better smile, been warmer and fuzzier, he could have overcome the disadvantage of being smart. Alas, those qualities were not in his makeup (as they really aren’t in Hillary’s). They were in Obama’s makeup, in addition to the intelligence, but Obama is one in a million. With this Trump-Hillary battle, we’re actually back to a more normal election: Dewey-Truman, Kennedy-Nixon, Ford-Carter, Clinton-Bush 41, Gore-Bush 43 and Kerry-Bush 43. These were nail biters because neither candidate had the clear advantage. Each was flawed and gifted. In general, though, it can be said that Republicans historically play to peoples’ emotions, while Democrats appeal to their intellects.
I still think this election is Hillary’s to lose, but the more Charlottes and terrorism that happen between now and Election Day, the more the odds favor Trump. You might even say that this man, who has never been at all religious despite his pandering to evangelicals, gets down on his knees every night and prays for God to make some unhinged Muslim kill as many Westerners as possible, preferably right here in the U.S.A., and preferably cops. It’s his road to the White House.
Michael Mondavi, whom I’ve known for a long time, invited me to lunch the other day. Over a leisurely meal of sushi at Ozumo in Oakland, our chat naturally ranged all over the board, wine-wise, but it certainly included a good deal of reminiscing.
Hey, that’s what you do when you reach a certain age!
Michael, who’s a few years older than I, told me many charming anecdotes about his Dad I’d never before heard. Surely Robert Mondavi’s legend will only continue to grow as his place in wine history—iconic and inimitable—becomes ever more heroic. Tinged throughout our conversation was a certain wistfulness that bordered on nostalgia. The “good old days” seemed just fine to us, although one does always have to keep in mind Proust’s epigram: “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
Be that as it may, Michael prompted me to reflect on my time as a wine writer and critic, and it immediately became clear to me that I had lived through, and thoroughly enjoyed, being a part of the Golden Age of Wine Critics. One must be careful, too, of promiscuously applying the term “golden age” to things. There was a golden age of Greece, for sure, but the phrase contains a pejorative in its implication that the high point is over; never again will Greece be as spectacular as she was in 500-300 B.C.
We were long told that television’s golden age was in the 1950s: I Love Lucy, Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Alfred Hitchcock, Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, and some of the greatest live drama ever on such series as Kraft Television Theatre and Playhouse 90. But some critics also celebrate the television of our current era as the golden age, with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, The Sopranos and others too numerous to mention. So when was T.V.’s golden age–in the past, or is it all around us right now? One might paraphrase Zhou Enlai, the former Chinese foreign minister (under Chairman Mao), who, in reply to a query concerning his opinion of the French Revolution, said, “It’s too early to say.”
Still, I don’t think it’s too early to say that the years (roughly) from 1978 to 2008 were the Golden Age of Wine Critics. I date the start at 1978 because that is the year some of the major guidebooks to California wine first appeared; also the year Wine Spectator began gaining traction, and was in fact the year Robert Parker launched The Wine Advocate.
As for my end date, 2008, that was the year the Great Recession struck in all its force, with still unquantifiable repercussions in the wine industry; but more importantly 2008 marked the emergence of social media onto the American and world stage, as cultural pattern-shifters of major import. The important critics remained vital, but you could feel their importance fading among a younger generation that preferred the crowd-sharing intimacy of twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs to the sage counsel of older white Baby Boomer males pronouncing verdicts from lofty ivory towers.
Thus we had a span of thirty years, which is just about right for a cultural era, before it expends its energies and is replaced by some other paradigm. And it was my privilege to have been a successful part of that brief, shimmering illusion.
What a time it was! To have been at or near the center of vitality in the industry, especially here in California, which in many ways established itself as the center of the wine world. Not only in production, but in media, in the emergence of “celebrity winemakers,” in a wine-and-food culture especially along the coast, in wine getting interwoven into popular movies (Disclosure, Sideways), in wine becoming a huge public interest, when consumers needed all the help they could get figuring out what to buy, and we wine critics were more than happy to help them.
Never again, I suspect, will wine critics be treated with the reverence by producers as we were during those thirty years. We were courted and flirted with, wined and dined, as proprietors both wealthy and famous, and not-so-rich and obscure, sought the imprimatur of our good scores. We were interviewed by radio, television and magazine journalists seeking insight into our glamorous and esoteric lifestyles. We were asked to write books by major publishers, and trotted out as celebrities on the tasting and dining circuits. We were aware of that fact that a good review could deplete a particular wine overnight, while a bad one could jeopardize the owner’s ability to make payroll. We even, some of us, ended up in the movies.* We were part of an exclusive elite, and we knew it, although we tried to keep our fame in perspective. I did, anyhow: fame is fleeting, too soon gone, and containing nothing of value in itself, so that humility has much to recommend it.
I wonder how historical writers of the future will record this era of wine critics. Will they say the country went temporarily insane, giving so much power to such a motley crew? Will they view it as a necessary transition—sort of a set of training wheels–during which Baby Boomers went from near-total ignorance of wine to a near-obsession with it? Will there be a new golden age of wine critics that will be even more splendid than the old one? One thing’s for sure: no single wine critic will ever again enjoy the power that a handful of us did.
It was fun. Yet when I quit my job, on Sept. 2, 2016, I put the wine industry behind me forever. I think I left at exactly the right time: the torch was being passed, the times had changed, the practice of wine criticism was getting (for me) a little too baroque and stylized. And the playing field had definitely become mobbed. I personally like some elbow room. I have plenty of it, now. Goodbye, golden age of wine critics! It was a blast.
* My brief appearance in Blood Into Wine
was the high point of my film career!