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.
Matt Lauer, the host of the morning entertainment program, “Today Show,” is certainly no journalist, as his abysmal and justifiably criticized performance last week on NBC’s commander-in-chief forum made evident. He is a celebrity talk show host, and a minor celebrity himself, who gives his interviewees softball questions so they can brag about themselves. Lauer let each of Trump’s lies and blustery mischaracterizations completely slide, even as he garroted Hlllary Clinton over the non-event of the year: her “damned emails” (to quote the late candidate, Sen. Sanders).
Lauer deserves all the embarrassment his New York and Washington friends care to dump on him; one can only hope he’s truly chastised and will leave genuine reporting to more qualified professionals. No less than the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal lacerated him, in a column by former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. Fleischer was quite correct when he said Lauer should have “challenged” Trump on some of his more dubious claims. But Fleischer, being a Republican hack himself, could not let it go at that. Instead, he had to advance the preposterous notion that “it…should not be up to the moderators [of televised debates] to set the record straight.”
How’s that again?
According to the Fleischer playbook, hosts such as Lauer have no business calling out lies by candidates, no matter how obvious and outrageous those lies are. Instead, they should treat every statement, by all parties to the debates, as factually equivalent. The example Fleischer uses is this: When Trump says that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning—a totally false statement, easily disproved—“it [should have been] up to [Hillary]” to point out the statement’s lack of veracity, not the moderator.
Really? What if Trump had said, “The first President of the United States was Benjamin Franklin”? Is it the role of an intelligent moderator to immediately challenge such an assertion? One would think so. “I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, but I cannot allow that claim to stand.”
However, in order to challenge a Trump lie, Lauer would have needed two things: a knowledge of the truth, and the ability to withstand the obloquy that would have been heaped on him by Fox “News” and the rest of the Trump cheering squad by challenging their hero. Even if Lauer had the knowledge to challenge Trump’s lies (and we don’t know that he did), he clearly doesn’t have the cojones to directly confront the GOP candidate. But why not? Several answers suggest themselves: Either Lauer is a Trump surrogate, or he is trying to protect his $25 million annual salary from Comcast, which owns NBC.
I doubt if it’s (1), although who knows? Maybe he really does love Trump. As for that $25 million? Well, Comcast is one of the most hated corporations in America, a company that routinely rips off Americans. Yes, they tolerate MSNBC, for the time being (although Keith Olbermann and Melissa Harris-Perry were a bit too much for them). But you know how these things work: a subtle wink and nod at the executive level, just enough to let Matt know that Brian Roberts, who runs Comcast, might not like to be accused on O’Reilly of harassing the next President of the United States of America. ”Hmmm,” thinks Lauer, “maybe I better pull my punches with Trump. But not with Hillary! Brian will love that!”
We’ll never really know why Lauer did such a miserable job; all we can hope is that he will never again be entrusted with such responsibility. What we can do is to keep up the pressure on NBC (and CNN as well) to let them know we are thoroughly disgusted with their coverage of this campaign. They have repeatedly rolled over for Trump, spread their legs and eagerly allowed him to have his way with them. We expect that sort of whoredom from Fox “News.” That it has now spread throughout the media is the shame of American journalism.
So should debate moderators be fact-checkers? Of course they should! It just makes sense; moderators supposedly know what’s happening in the news and in politics. They live and breathe this stuff; they know when the truth is being slaughtered. They’re not just potted plants onstage there with the candidates. Why have a moderator at all, if he or she is simply to be a timekeeper? A smart phone could do the job. So, when Ari Fleischer says “The last thing moderators should do” is to call out blatant untruths, you have to wonder what his real motive is. Is it to elevate the level of Presidential debates, as he claims? Or is it to further degrade them to the advantage of the biggest liar on the stage—who, it just so happens this year, is Donald J. Trump.
It didn’t take Republicans much time to pin the New York-New Jersey bombings on—guess who?—Hillary!
I’m naming names. Here’s Deplorable Laura, on Twitter:
“Ahmad Khan Rahami is just another one of those peaceful Muslims that Hillary keeps talking about.” The delightful Ms. Laura also has an ungrammatic message for Democrats: “This is terrorism. This is Islam. Liberals, don’t get it.”
Paging Deplorable Laura: The Basket misses you! Please come back. We’ll even include a free guidebook, “Proper Use of the Comma in Punctuation.”
But wait, there’s more! Deplorable Laura again: “Hillary’s State Department Flooded Minnesota with Somalis. Minnesota’s US Attorney, Andrew Luger: ‘We have a terror recruiting problem in Minnesota.’” So, you see, all domestic terrorism can be blamed on Hillary Clinton. Not George W. Bush, who started this mess. Not the neocons, who continue to lie about it. Nope: it’s Hillary, who had a special department at State, “Office of Flooding Minnesota with Somalis,” which she funded lavishly, while cutting embassy budgets and sharing emails with ISIS.
Poor Deplorable Laura, whose real name is Laura Stietz. She apparently is a P.R. agent for a radio talk show person, Rod Eccles—at least, she calls herself his “National Promotional Agent.”
And who is Rod Eccles? A fear-mongerer who tweeted yesterday (following the bombs), “It soon may not be safe to visit, work or live in the Big Apple.” Stir up that slop, Roddy! That’s right out of the Trump-Kellyanne Conway playbook: make voters so afraid that they’ll vote for a dangerous lunatic. Hermann Goring took the same approach during the Nazi’s rise to power when he observed: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.” As Deplorable Laura knows well.
Here’s Eccles again on his Facebook page, proving that he’s not a single-issue deplorer: “I use the correct bathroom for my sex.”
The reason we have to know about these things is because Trump and his powerful backers would now have us believe that the candidate is “presidential.” He’s been running around striking solemn poses and posing for Mount Rushmore. Well, don’t be fooled. Trump emerged from the darkest sewers of the extreme right, and no amount of comb-overs can change that. To know where he stands, just check out his followers: Deplorable Laura, truly a paranoid hater if ever there was one, and Rod Eccles, possibly the only black Republican in the country whose name isn’t Herman Cain.
Here’s one picture from Deplorable Laura Stietz’s Facebook page that tells us all we need to know about her:
You know and I know and they know that President Obama will be on the short list of Great American Presidents (it drives the teabaggers nuts!). That’s quite an achievement, given the unprecedented hatred of Obama, led by Donald Trump, Deplorable Laura, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity and the rest of the wingnuts. How sad is it for somebody like Stietz to be so consumed by racism and xenophobia that she seems to spend all her time hating, hating, hating. Seriously, what’s up with that? Calling Obama an “asshole” is the sign of a mentally ill and possibly dangerous individual with massively unresolved anger issues. But then, that is exactly the species Trump decided to appeal to. He’s done a good job: they love him. He loves them. Truly a match of deplorables made in Hell.