Monday, June 27, 2016

Divided Kingdom: Brexit and its consequences

They say immigrants steal the hubcaps
Of the respected gentlemen
They say it would be wine an' roses
If England were for Englishmen again

--- “Something About England,” The Clash

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING, what just happened in Britain looks like a lot like an image from a scene in the Wachowskis’ “V for Vendetta” – when all hell is breaking loose at the end of the movie to the sound of the “1812 Overture,” and the terminal threat to the established order is brilliantly distilled in a single shot:

As the city skyline glows with fire ... Big Ben explodes at the stroke of midnight.

The vote on Friday to take Britain out of the European Union after 40-plus years of common continental identity may be that “shot heard ‘round the world,” the one that we Americans like to think presaged the American revolution. But the Brexit referendum and its outcome weren’t just apocryphal events, they happened. This shot literally was heard around the world — and a far smaller and thoroughly more interconnected world than the one of the 18th century.

And the national, regional and global repercussions of this could be monumental. Brexit was a reaction to a loss of British autonomy on matters of trade and finance in an increasingly interconnected Europe. But at the end of the day, it was also — and most viscerally — a deep bow to a cultural and racial isolationism that's hardly isolated itself.

The vote breakdown (52 percent Leave, 48 percent Remain) can be interpreted as Britain’s at-least temporary surrender to a nativist streak, a mood against immigration, a fear given expression in previous and more graphic examples of life in other countries.

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LIKE GERMANY, where neo-Nazis have made and continue to make life hell for immigrants. Or Austria, where a neo-Nazi who threatened to kill refugees was recently arrested. Or the Netherlands, the former home of Anne Frank, where attacks on Islamic mosques have become too commonplace. Or Italy, where patience with immigrants is wearing thin. Or the United States, where the very foundation of our immigrant history has been overlooked in a new rush to xenophobia. Or Britain itself.

David Milliband, the former British foreign secretary, and now the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he wasn’t really surprised.

“I think that for Americans, it's worth understanding that this referendum was really an up or down vote on the European institutions, which are at best unloved and undervalued, and in some ways derided,” Milliband said Sunday.

“I mean, there's been 20 years of very poisonous attacks on the European Union. The current issue was immigration from other European countries into the U.K. And so in an up or down vote on an institution that is unloved, in a way it's not surprising that you get a downvote. The trouble is you have to live with the consequences. And I always say to people, ‘Populism is popular until it gets elected. And then it has to make decisions.’ And that's when the trouble starts.”

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Milliband was no less straightforward when assessing the question of how Britain was taken to the brink, and then pushed beyond it. “I think that the failure of the European Union to construct an adequate response to the Middle Eastern refugee crisis, alongside the continuing travails of the Euro, meant that there was a really difficult backdrop. ... the European institutions were seen to be struggling to master the challenges that were being presented to them. And that presented a very difficult backdrop.”

Milliband continued: “As I said earlier, the major immigration issue was about Poles, and Bulgarians, and Romanians, other European countries coming to the U.K., contributing, I have to say. The unemployment rate among Poles in Britain is lower than the unemployment rate among Brits, which itself is very low at five percent on the American level.

“But the backdrop of the refugee crisis certainly colored this situation. Obviously for the U.S., you're in a very different situation because the blessings of geography mean that you can pick and choose which Syrian refugees you want, unlike in Europe where over probably three quarters of a million people have arrived across the Aegean Sea in smuggled rafts and boats.”

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THERE MAY BE some perverse upside to Brexit — though in real terms, “upside” means looking for a way to make a shit sandwich taste like foie gras. The narrow victory of the Leave campaign hardly suggests a mandate; winning by 4 points is close enough to indicate the broad sentiment of those on the losing side (just not broad enough to win). That ain’t nothing.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A spy in the hothouse of fashion:
Bill Cunningham (1929-2016)

IT MAY BE the height of irony that a man who never went to the movies or owned a television set could be a profound, outsize presence on the worlds of style, fashion and popular culture. Such was the photographic professional, the ascetic creative, the joyful iconoclast the world knew as BILL CUNNINGHAM.

Cunningham, who died on Saturday at the age of 87, was a legend at The New York Times, where for 40 years he chronicled the evolution of fashion and style in the petri dish of the streets of the city that never sleeps. And much of the “streetwise” personae that fashion has taken on over the years is a direct result of Cunningham’s genial-guerrilla approach to photojournalism. It was his invention.

He had the lifestyle of a monk, the instincts of a sniper and the eye of an artist. And he was a colleague and a friend of mine. ...

Read the rest at Medium

Image credit: Cunningham: Carlo Allergie/Reuters

Thursday, June 23, 2016

‘Any Given Wednesday’: Bill Simmons and guests get salty for sports nuts

Bill Simmons has never been a shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his opinion on sports, pop culture and anything else crossing his radar.

On two websites (the now-departed ESPN-powered Grantland and his latest online venture, The Ringer) and his cancelled ESPN program, Simmons weighed in on various hot-button topics animating the national water-cooler conversation, eventually running afoul of ESPN’s managers.

“Any Given Wednesday,” Simmons’ eagerly-anticipated weekly show, premiered Wednesday on HBO, a television platform known for edgy programming. Simmons needs no cable-TV liberation from the constraints of language to get his point across, but “Any Given Wednesday” reveals the sportswriter-turned-mogul hosting a show that, to go by the premiere, is a marked departure from most TV talk shows.

In the bespoke-suit world of high-profile sports television, “Any Given Wednesday” stakes out different territory, with a style that’s refreshingly Converse All-Stars, a shot and a beer.

Read the rest at TheWrap

Image credit: Ben Affleck and Bill Simmons: HBO/Jordan Althus

Monday, June 13, 2016

'BrainDead': ‘Good Wife’ creators
skewer the D.C. horrorshow

You might think you’re losing your mind in this crazy-crowded political season. To go by the events in “BrainDead,” CBS’ new comic thriller series, you’ve got plenty of company.

The show, from Robert and Michelle King, creators of CBS’ “The Good Wife,” skewers Washington with a charmingly twisted commentary on this election year in particular, and politics in general, balancing humor and dread. ...

“BrainDead” is promisingly original, a deft combination of the tropes of a horror movie, the pace of a forensic drama and the barbs of a political satire that’s thoroughly of the moment.”

Read the rest at TheWrap

Image credit: Mary Elizabeth Winstead: CBS.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

ALI: All that he was endures

SUCH IS the measure of this man: We’ve had more than 30 years, five presidential administrations in which to prepare for a time without Muhammad Ali, and when that time arrived on the night of June 3, like a blow to the solar plexus, it staggered us into the incomprehensible. Ali? Absent from the world he helped shape and challenge and embrace? The very idea.

When Ali — the most electrifying, dazzlingly original, spiritually courageous, pugilistically lethal sports figure of the age— finally passed from the scene, there were the usual reflex reactions common to a nonstop era of ubiquitous information. Twitter exploded, demand for the You Tube videos of his championship bouts similarly went off the charts, and the talking heads of cable and broadcast television parsed his life into the manicured convenience of soundbites and commentary.

But the volume of praisesong that’s accompanied his passing couldn’t fill the vacuum that followed. We’re all still fighting to understand, more than a week after his departure, what he meant and what our lives mean now.

The Greatest is gone from our lives. WTF do we do now?

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In our right-now this minute digital age, there’s an unspoken diktat demanding that the subject or topic of a news story, just about any news story, has a prescribed public shelf life, a predetermined period of duration in the public square until (by some unspoken acclimation) it’s time to move on. It’s the tyranny of the short attention span.

It’s as if the roles of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the Three Fates of Greek mythology, are in our culture all performed by the same being — the hydra-headed creature that’s both the public and the media, the audience and the performer, at the same time.

The adulation that’s attended Ali’s passing has complicated enforcement of that unspoken tyranny, and for good reason. Muhammad Ali broke the fourth wall — not the one common to actors relating to their audience, but the one that, until Ali arrived, existed between prizefighters and their fans. Until Ali, and with only the notable exception of Joe Louis, boxers were often if not always willingly cast as bit players in their own drama, mumbling, shambling knuckleheads with little sense of themselves and their place in the wider world.

Ali shattered that illusion for good. With utterances and pronouncements that reflected an unstoppable self-confidence and an insatiable curiosity about the world around him, Ali was engagement personified. And when the world insisted that Ali buy into its nightmare dreams — that Ali sign up for a war he didn’t believe in, that Ali hold on to his government name, that Ali observe the obsequious rituals of interview — well ... he pushed back on that too.

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UNTIL, of course, he couldn’t fully engage with anyone. Until he couldn’t push back against the velocity of his history in the ring. The Parkinson’s disease that ravaged his body but left his mind intact was his constant companion since 1984. Never mind Frazier or Foreman or Holmes or Spinks: that disease was his toughest opponent.

We knew it as he receded from the public square he dominated in his prime, ushered into silence against his will. We knew it, without question, when he lit the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta ... when he broke our hearts by accident.

How he did what he did was formidable; we watched while he trembled as a prisoner of the disease, shaking uncontrollably but soldiering on, gutting it out in a display of personal courage that made grown men weep. After everything, after all he’d been through for 30 years ... this may have been his finest moment.

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And now, a time without him. Or maybe not. When his time came and he passed beyond these things, we witnessed one more show of courage. At his bedside, his daughter Hana wrote this on Instagram: “All of his organs failed but his HEART wouldn’t stop beating. For 30 minutes...his heart kept beating. No one had ever seen anything like it.”

His exit was a bookend with his arrival. “No one had ever seen anything like it,” but then no one had ever seen anything like him. Even on his way out, he had something to teach us, everything to teach us, without uttering a word.

Such is the measure of this man. His life reverberates. His message continues to resonate. His heart still beats, in each of us.

All that he was, is still.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The hunting of the presidency 2016 (Part 10):
Clinton, Sanders and the sprint to the finish

WITH ABOUT THREE weeks left in the primary season, the postwar map of the Democratic campaign world is coming into its sharpest relief yet. We can see where this thing is going, short of a repeal of basic additive mathematics and majority rule. That arc of an increasingly fractious campaign is clarifying two distinct, distinctly different campaign styles -- one reflecting a shortage of energy, the other reflecting what may be the wrong kind of energy.

For Hillary Clinton, the delegate total that determines who will or won’t win the Democratic nomination inches slightly higher. With her May 17 win in the Kentucky primary, Clinton is more than 95 percent of the way to winning the prize outright, with at least 2,299 delegates of the 2,383 needed to clinch.

Bernie Sanders won the Oregon primary on May 17, pretty much expected given the state’s progressive political inclinations, but certainly due in part to Sanders’ tireless campaigning and a steadfast belief in his message. But the phrase “uphill battle” isn’t even an apt directional metaphor for his campaign anymore. Trailing Clinton by more than 750 delegates, the senator from Vermont is like a man moving around in a scene from Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” the shape and direction of space changing as he moves, a horizontal surface dizzyingly transformed into a deeply vertical chasm. The floor becomes a ceiling becomes a wall.

◊ ◊ ◊

This, give or take, is what’s likely to keep happening from now until June 7, when the big harvest of delegates comes in from California. The 475 delegates at stake in the Golden State primary won’t likely go completely to Clinton or Sanders; whatever the breakdown is, it’ll be another split decision (this time of delegates).

With a deficit of just 84 delegates to win the nomination, Clinton is in pole position — a fact that compromises not just the drama for the Democrats from here on in (you can hear the network news show producers crying right now), but also the intensity Clinton likely brings to the rest of the primary campaign.

The Democratic electorate has been spoiled, to some extent, by the built-in lightning rod phenomenon of Barack Obama. Starting with his first campaign in 2008, Obama came to arouse an almost primal energy in a rapidly changing, younger, technologically savvy electorate. Excitement at rallies and on the campaign trail was almost electric, and thoroughly infectious. “The Big O” had more than one meaning that year.

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MAKING HISTORY was a fact of both his campaigns, but especially the 2008 model, when everything seemed possible. That’s no less true of Clinton’s campaign; breaching the historically-cultivated presidential glass ceilings of gender and race — making that kind of history twice in a decade — would certainly be a signal moment in American politics.

But up to now there’s been something flat and rote and monochromatic about the Clinton presidential campaign. In no small part because the nomination math is so decidedly in her favor, and because (quiet as kept) of the implicit entitlement that seeps from every pore of her campaign and its messaging, we’ve seen a Clinton presidential bid that appears to only exert itself when it absolutely has to. There’s little push, not much urgency or drive coming from Team Hillary right now. They’re the juggernaut, the bell cow, the shiznit ... and they know it.

That kind of self-confidence has its place. The Democrats need a campaign whose self-confidence and numerical certitude match that of the GOP frontrunner, the billionaire attention addict Donald Trump. Clinton fills that bill.

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But being the presumptive nominee opens the possibility of a certain organizational insulation. The moment the nominee is formally named, the big walling-off begins as the primary season ends and the campaign for the general begins. The relationship with the public will change; so will the relationship with the media, and the one with donors, large and small, to her campaign.

Energy could be what makes the difference in those relationships, whether they work or fall apart in the next five months. And it’s that special, singular energy -- that ineffable buzz about a historic campaign and a groundbreaking candidate -- that’s in short supply at Team Clinton right now.

It may just be primary season malaise, and something that’ll lift in mid-June. It may be a matter of energy conservation. Or maybe it’s something else. Clinton’s current campaign isn’t exactly the shock of the new; hell, we’ve known she was going to run in 2016 since her campaign ended in 2008. And new’s what the public craves now. Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. Politically, familiarity may just breed indifference. On Election Day, one’s about as bad as the other.

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IRONICALLY, and despite the volatility of the turbulent relationship between Clinton and Sanders, the Democrats have the luxury of some relatively quiet time. The next primary is in the Virgin Islands on June 4, and in the 10 days between now and then, we may see both campaigns roll out new tactical methods of dealing with Donald Trump, the man one of them will go up against in the general-election campaign.

Clinton may have done exactly that -- gotten a head start on going on offense -- over the weekend. Lisa Lerer and Catherine Lucey of Talking Points Memo reported Sunday that Team Clinton is beginning a campaign narrative whose basic thrust is “Let Trump be Trump”: While Clinton & Co. keep eyes on the prize, the thinking goes, Trump will go on painting himself into a corner by way of his own words from the campaign trail.

Monday, May 23, 2016

From superhero to civil rights icon, Anthony Mackie plays the creative field

For Anthony Mackie, shuttling between worlds has been an everyday thing, not as a superhero but as a working actor. Six years ago, he opened in a new Broadway play; days later he was in Hollywood at the Academy Awards, on stage celebrating as one of the actors who powered “The Hurt Locker” to a Best Picture Oscar.

Call it an actor’s versatility: the ability to hold multiple roles in the mind and heart at (or about) the same time and still be able to function. As one of Hollywood’s busiest performers, the 37-year-old New Orleans native does it more than most, parlaying impressive chops as a theatrical actor into an equally stellar film career. ...

Read the interview with Anthony Mackie at TheWrap.

Image credits: Mackie: Getty Images.

Review: HBO's 'All the Way' reveals links between turbulent 60's and turbulent now

THE DEMOCRATIC Party just lost the South for the rest of my lifetime, and maybe yours,” President Lyndon B. Johnson tells a Vice President Hubert Humphrey ebullient about civil rights gains. “What the f–k are you so happy about?”

Such was the style of LBJ, the profane, bullying, politically calculating 36th president of the United States. In an earlier time of congressional gridlock, Johnson — by turns charming and tyrannical, jovial and autocratic — practiced an in-your-face style of politics that frustrated and terrified adversaries and allies alike in the year after the Kennedy assassination.

HBO’s “All the Way” revisits the civil rights era that defined the Johnson White House, but this is no quick ride in the wayback machine. Then as now, the nation was culturally and racially divided; police use of force had often-fatal consequences for African Americans; voter registration efforts were under attack; the country was at a crossroads in the run-up to a pivotal election. The production, which premieres on May 21, suggests the inescapable parallels between America of the turbulent ’60s and America today.

Read the full review at TheWrap. "All the Way" airs on HBO through June 15.

Image credits: 'All the Way' promo shot: © 2016 HBO.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The dog whistle everyone hears

WHEN YOU first see the Pantone-red baseball-style cap, whether it’s on the head of its designer or not, you know that in this stupefyingly satire-rich political season, it could only be the work of Donald Trump, the working presidential nominee of the Republican party, heir to Lincoln and Reagan, the greatest carnival barker who ever worked the midway of the earth.

First there’s the color, long adopted as the GOP’s existential hue. Then there’s the slogan, in Trump’s signature bloviating style, its presumptive room for improvement suggesting it might have once been a tag line for Trump Hypothetical University:


The ubiquity of that damn cap throughout this campaign season, and its underlying theme of Trumpian madness, have been bad enough. What’s made it worse, made it that much more of a maddening everyday trial for millions of Americans is what that scarlet chapeau symbolizes: the endless injection of race into the narrative and the subtext of the current campaign.

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OF COURSE, this is America and race is never far away from anything. Some of the political discourse falls along racial lines as a default, by-extension line of inquiry, analysis and commentary that proceeds from race being what it’s always been: the inescapable third-rail issue, visible and invisible at the same time.

But the mainstreaming of racial dog-whistle politics this year is anything but incidental, and nobody’s accident. Throughout the campaign season, and certainly since Trump got into the contest almost a year ago, the discourse on the conservative campaign trail has been reliably crowded with the coded language of race in the service of a partisan agenda.

The dog whistle’s back, and in the hands of Donald Trump. But unlike a dog whistle, this one’s being easily heard on two frequencies: as a preaching to the choir of the most dogmatic conservatives, and, to everyone else, a statement of utter indifference to how the new conservative messaging comes across.

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Writing Tuesday in Salon, Chauncey DeVega goes a long way to explaining how we got to where we are. Conservatives this year welcomed back an old favorite: the birther meme:

“Fifty-four percent of Republicans believe that Barack Obama is a ‘secret Muslim,’” DeVega writes. “Forty-four percent also believe that Obama was not born in the United States. That’s now wedded to a new nativist mindset: “Forty-two percent of Republicans believe that Muslims should be banned from the United States.”

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THIS RIDICULOUS fiction has roots in the downbeat thinking expressed in a March report by the Pew Research Center, in which 66 percent of Republican and Republican-inclined respondents “say life in this country has gotten worse over the past half-century for people like them.” For want of a better phrase, these people seem to want to return to the “good old days.”

The “good old days” phrase isn’t Pew’s idea; the report never uses it. But as a distillation of what these Republicans are thinking — its emotionally animating sentiment, its wistful language — it works, and only too well. Their response to the Pew survey is a clear desire to usher in some imaginary grandeur of the past, to “bring back” the America lamented in 2012 by contributors to the White People Mourning Romney Tumblr web site. And even earlier.

It’s a longing for the America Before Obama. When presidential politics was happily ordained to forever be a contest among white Christian males and nobody else. Back before the darker hordes Invaded Our Shores. Back when women and people of color did what they were told. Back when they stayed in their place. Back when LGBT Americans stayed out of sight. “The good old days.”

DeVega writes: “This yearning for a return to a fictive golden age of white male Christian domination over American social and political life ... shows how white people are much more pessimistic about their futures than Hispanics and African-Americans.”

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In some ways, the right wing has had it easy for a while. Since 2008, those on the hardest edge of the right wing have had the ultimate target of opportunity: the face and biography of the African American 44th President of the United States. As candidate and as president, Barack Obama may have done more for image-editing software sales in this country than any other living person.

During both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, in posters and e-mail attachments, cartoons and rally placards, Obama was digitally dehumanized and vilified, transformed into an ape, a witch doctor, a street thug, The Joker, Big Brother, Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden and many other figures and creatures besides.

And it’s not just the president himself. Just this week, cartoonist Ben Garrison published a cartoon comparing first lady Michelle Obama and first lady manqué Melania Trump, a side-by-side look at the two women through a conservative lens.

It’s every racial stereotyper’s dream: Michelle stands, masculinized, frumpy and frowning, next to Melania, sleek, sparkling, smiling, alluring according to the Eurocentric model. Garrison’s caption says it all: “MAKE THE FIRST LADY GREAT AGAIN!” Quiet as kept, the thinking behind his cartoon is hardly an isolated thing; he’s not saying anything that the Republican base hasn’t said privately for years.

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THE PASSIVE-aggressive rhetoric that drives much of the current not-dog-whistle campaign was brought to you by Lee Atwater, the late Prince of Darkness Republican strategist and master of how to speak volumes to a constituency without saying a word. Or at least that word:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.

“Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites ... ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘nigger, nigger.’”

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DeVega picks up the threads: “Ronald Reagan and other Republican elites would leverage Atwater’s approach to winning white voters and elections. To point, Reagan began his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the locale where American civil rights freedom fighters Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were killed by white racial terrorists. In that speech, Reagan signaled to the ghosts of Jim and Jane Crow and the neo-Confederacy by stating his support for ‘states’ rights.’”

“Reagan would continue to use overt and coded racial appeals to gin up white support through his references to a ‘lazy,’ ‘violent’ and ‘parasitic’ class of black Americans who he described as ‘welfare queens’ and ‘strapping bucks.’ George Bush would continue with the Southern Strategy when he summoned up white racist stereotypes and fears of ‘the black beast rapist’ in the form of Willie Horton during the 1988 presidential election.”

All of which establishes the antecedents, sets the stage for the rise of a billionaire attention addict to the pinnacle of the Republican party:

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DONALD TRUMP is not a political genius” DeVega says. “He understands what the Republican base yearns for and has been trained to believe – like a sociopolitical version of Pavlov’s dog – by its leaders.

“Trump says that Muslims should be banned from the United States because Republican voters respond to such hatred and intolerance.

“Trump lies that undocumented Hispanic and Latino immigrants are rapists and killers who want to attack white women because Republican voters find such rhetoric compelling.

“Trump uses social media to circulate white supremacist talking points about “black crime” because modern conservatives nurtured on ‘law and order’ politics believe that African-Americans are out of control ‘thugs’ possessed of ‘bad culture’ who live to prey on innocent and vulnerable white people.

◊ ◊ ◊

“Trump talks about China ‘raping’ the United States because this arouses anger and fear of a new ‘yellow peril’ where the manhood and honor of (white) America is sacrificed to a ‘sneaky’ and ‘scheming’ ‘Oriental’ horde who twist their Fu Manchu mustaches and seduce white women in opium dens while simultaneously negotiating multibillion-dollar trade deals.

“And perhaps most damning, Donald Trump has been endorsed by neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and the Ku Klux Klan: he has been reluctant to publicly reject and denounce their support.”

Dog-whistle politics? That’s not a dog whistle. That’s a train whistle. That’s a civil-defense siren warning of a tsunami on its way in.

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WHAT WILL BE missing this year is the conservative convenience of the singular racial symbol. There’s no black face at the top of the ticket this time; that fact complicates the dog-whistle tactics conservatives have employed before. Inference, innuendo, guilt-by-association are all they have right now, and that may not be enough.

As objects of ridicule, Clinton and Sanders may work almost as well. We’ll find out: The television sets of America are the test kitchens of the modern political campaign, and if history is any indicator of what’s next, Republican opposition research will be robust for months to come.

So will the Democrats’. Trump’s given them plenty to work with. Never mind the earlier 25 or 30 years of lavish, pugnacious, adulterous, ostentatious public life: The job #1 for his campaign is to convince the American people in the vast numbers that the xenophobic, willfully divisive candidate we’ve encountered for the last chaotic eleven months was all a figment of our imagination. That he in fact didn’t exist. That the real Donald Trump lies just offshore from our reality, waiting for the right time to walk up from the beach, with the right answers for everything (details TBD). Working on that will keep the Democratic war room happily busy.

And as this campaign plays out through late October, the GOP’s oppo marketeers may soon look back longingly at the last eight years, as their target-of-opportunity president surfs into the sunset, and they feverishly try to fit the Clinton or Sanders campaigns with the perceived misdeeds of the Obama White House ... pining for the times when things were better, when one image was worth a thousand ad buys, when the face of Obama made everything so incredibly, visually easy.

You know ... the good old days.

Image credits: The cap: Trump top: via @salon. Pew Center logo: © 2016 Pew Research Center. Michelle/Melania cartoon: Ben Garrison. Atwater: Dennis Cook/AP archive. Trump lower: John Minchillo/Associated Press. Official Obama 2nd term portrait: © Pete Souza. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Paging Mr. Trump! A message from Mr. Khan

ON FRIDAY, while much of the world (and most of the incurious United States) sifted through the results of the Indiana primary just three days earlier, the city of London took receipt of its future, and sent Donald Trump a message he’s well advised to pay attention to for the next six months.

Sadiq Khan, Member of Parliament, Labour Party candidate, husband, father and devout Muslim, is now the Mayor of London, and (as The Daily Beast put it) “the most powerful Muslim politician in the Western world.”

His victory over Zac Goldsmith, Khan’s opponent from the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron, is (or should be) an object lesson in the political risks of hate-mongering and character assassination — a risk that a certain billionaire attention addict and presidential candidate would do well to avoid from now until Nov. 8.

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In his Friday story in The Beast, Nico Hines documents some of the backstory of Khan’s rise to power:

“Claims that Khan could not be trusted to protect London’s 8.5 million inhabitants backfired spectacularly, with senior Conservatives admitting that the divisive campaign drove voters away from the party.

“Former Conservative chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi said her party’s strategy would cause lasting damage. ‘Our appalling dog whistle campaign for #LondonMayor2016 lost us the election, our reputation & credibility on issues of race and religion,’ she wrote on Twitter as the results came in. ...

“Khan, whose father became a bus driver when he moved to Britain from Pakistan, will command a $23 billion annual budget and oversee London’s policing, housing, and transport infrastructure.

“The 45-year-old former human-rights lawyer was elected as a Member of Parliament for Tooting in South London just 11 years ago but he rose quickly through the Labour ranks.”

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WHAT’S ESPECIALLY striking in Khan’s biography – and what probably gave the Conservative oppo researchers fits in London – is his relative ordinariness. No firebrand demonstrations in his past, no shadowy trips to a secret undisclosed location as a kid. From all indications, Khan’s was a life lived out loud, in public. He’s everyday people according to the U.K.

“We all have multiple identities,” Khan told Hines. “I’m a Londoner, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m a long-suffering Liverpool fan.”

Those facts, and their certain duplicatability among millions of other Londoners and UK citizens of Muslim faith, fly in the face of the vilification strategy Cameron’s Conservatives sought to arouse in the hearts of Londoners who knew better.

That fact of living ordinary lives of quiet achievement puts to rout one of Trump’s few documented policy ideas: to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

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One former Conservative candidate made the connection between us and our British counterparts perfectly clear by dropping the right name in exactly the right place.

“Shazia Awan, a former Conservative Party candidate, broke ranks ahead of Thursday’s vote to accuse her party of running a “racist” election campaign. She told The Daily Beast she was relieved by the result.

“I’ve voted Labour for the first time in my life and it is David Cameron’s and Zac Goldsmith’s vile racially charged rhetoric that has made me do so. We will not tolerate the vitriolic politics of hate,” she said. “We do not want the divisive campaign of Donald Trump in the U.K.”

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KHALID MAHMOOD, a Member of Parliament, agreed with Awan. “The people of London have spoken and I think that should be a lesson to all politicians who try to go down that route, because people are not prepared to take that.”

London! Here’s to you for understanding that, while we’re animated and enlightened by our faith, we’re not necessarily defined by it. Thanks for understanding that one’s religion isn’t the be-all and end-all of an identity.

Cheers for having the courage to take a step that, end of the day, needn’t be so courageous at all. Please, if you would, send as much of it to the United States as possible, soonest.

No worries. We’ll get it through Customs.

Image credits: Khan top: Eyevine via The Economist. Khan lower: The Mirror.
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