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.

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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.

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“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.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The hunting of the presidency 2016 (Part 9): Trump,
the end of the reality sideshow, and the next 185 days

WHEN Donald John Trump acquired operational control of the soul of the Republican Party on Tuesday night in Indiana, it was a victory so long predicted by the media and campaign seers, no other outcome seemed possible. For those opposing him, which includes about 50 percent of active Republicans, the news of a resounding Trump win over Ted Cruz’s deeply dysfunctional campaign was bad enough (or not so bad, depending on how they felt about Cruz).

By some perverse acclimation, Trump has become the presumed standard-bearer of the party of Lincoln; there, all resemblance with the party of Lincoln ends. As Trump’s pugnaciously racist, xenophobic, exclusionary dog-whistle lovefest of a modern presidential campaign has ground on and on for the last 11 months, it’s highlighted not just how loose a cannon the billionaire attention addict really is. It’s both revealed the fissures in the Republican party and those in the nation itself.

Race, class, gender, economy, world-view: these are the pressure points in a campaign year that’s already seen its share of rancor, and the bullet points with which the Trump campaign has tuned and sharpened its identity. Now, with Trump on the cusp of formalizing what Republican National Committee chief Reince Priebus said was already a working reality, what’s next for the campaign, the party and the country? There are challenges at every level.

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The Trump campaign’s next move is complicated: Keep dancing with the ones what brought him to (lead) the party. The Donald has found favor with some very unlikely bedfellows: disaffected Republicans unhappy with the direction in Washington; Reagan Democrats unhappy with the direction of the Democrats they elected in 2008 and 2012; independent voters unhappy with everything; and moderate Republicans who can’t abide Trump but who like Hillary Clinton even less,

And oh yes, a solid bloc of white supremacists whose public profile and personal style have lately been reinvigorated, and (disturbingly) maybe even sanitized, by their juxtaposition with the campaign.

Trump can’t walk away from any of them. He needs this base of various conservative ingredients to build solid momentum for the fall. But Trump also needs more, a wider constituency, more Americans by the millions in a country that’s philosophically democratic — small-d democratic — and demographically more diverse than at any other time in its history. Americans who are inclined, by temperament, persuasion and/or life experience, to be either independents or upper-case D Democratic.

Party registrations tell the story. Democratic voter registrations outpace Republican registrations, and registrations for independent voters outpace those for Democrats.

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So achieving the crossover that’s necessary for a successful primary season to translate into a successful general-election campaign was already a challenge for Trump.

The party he’s running to lead is by definition one that thrives on the idea of exclusion, a willful  separatism from consequential communities the GOP has chosen to alienate for years. Trump’s provocative, divisive scorched-earth antics on the campaign trail have only made that basic situation worse with the vast cohorts of Americans he needs to win.

The general election campaign is, necessarily, all about reaching out, expanding the sphere of influence, broadening the reach. It’s very hard to do that (to say nothing of unbelievable) when a campaign has been passionately doing the opposite for 11 months, demonizing the Latino and minority and women voters that campaign requires for victory.

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AND AS TRUMP goes, so likely goes the party. One reason that Republican policy makers and party officials are so concerned about Trump’s campaign: The impact isn’t just from Trump per se; it’s also from the effect a Trump wipeout would have on their political fortunes down-ticket — whether they endorsed the man or not.

With Trump as the GOP standard-bearer, Republican candidates seeking other offices can’t run or hide their affiliations; they’re lashed to the same mast as the man at the top of the presidential ticket, Whether they like him or not. You can ask John McCain about that.

And with the resources of the RNC slowly and reluctantly beginning to coalesce around the Trump campaign, down-ticket candidates will increasingly find there’s nowhere else to go for the kind of mainstream party recognition and organizational support a fledgling state campaign needs from the RNC. Republicans are reliably very big on everybody falling in line. If the candidates won’t get behind Trump, how far would the RNC go to get behind them?

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Like any salesman, Trump’s looking for customers, but his reach for Sanders supporters will almost certainly be a bridge too far, a preposterous bid for support that doesn’t consider Trump’s lack of a value proposition in the transaction.

In his outreach to Sanders partisans, Trump’s trying to get something for nothing. He’s not about to move in their direction politically, and Sanders loyalists don’t look a thing like the people supporting Trump. So what would Sanders supporters gain by voting for him, besides a silly, spiteful nose-thumbing of the Clinton campaign?

Politically, Sanders and Trump are economically and philosophically polar opposites. At an almost cellular level, Sanders is opposed to Trump’s economic ethos, his world view, his personal style and his ruthless, incendiary brand of politics.

What on earth would Trump have that they’d want, that they can believe in? The Trump campaign’s notion that Sanders supporters are persuadable completely overlooks the reason why they're Sanders supporters in the first place.

You could make a more compelling case going in the other direction. A Tuesday CNN exit poll found that 53 percent of Republicans feel betrayed by their own party. On that basis, is there any reason not to believe that disaffected Republicans might be as inclined to cross over for Clinton as Trump thinks Sanders supporters might cross over for him — instead of voting for Clinton?

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TRUMP’S WIN in Indiana can be attributed to a lot of things: Cruz’s inescapable perceptual momentum as a loser; Trump’s outsize personality; the ever-fading campaign of John Kasich.

CNN’s Dana Bash may have got it right on Tuesday; paraphrasing, she observed that, at this point in the long march of the primary calendar, voters may be just worn down by the ubiquitous Trump juggernaut, exhausted by a suitor who won’t take no for an answer.

By extension, Bash said, voters finally decided that a vote for Ted Cruz — a man with a firm grip on second or third place, with half the delegates Trump has — would be nothing more or less than a vote for a contested convention in Cleveland.

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The impact of the presumptive Trump nomination on the country may be the biggest known unknown variable. His scorched-earth campaign, big on style and substance that reinforce white cultural identity by coincidence and design, has seeped its values and its distinctions into the country as a whole, and revealed itself in many ugly ways.

Clinton, Sanders and the post-Indiana campaign

I KNOW that the Clinton campaign thinks this campaign is over. They’re wrong,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told The Associated Press on Tuesday by phone from New Albany, Indiana. “Maybe it’s over for the insiders and the party establishment, but the voters today in Indiana had a different idea.”

Sanders can be forgiven for indulging in a moment fit for Mark Twain or Jon Snow. Like the great American humorist after hearing the news of his own demise, like the major warrior of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” come back to life, reports of Sanders’ end as a presidential candidate have been greatly exaggerated.

The death notice for his campaign may just be early but for now, the Lazarus of the 2016 presidential campaign is very much with us, celebrating an upset victory over challenger Hillary Clinton in the Indiana Democratic primary.

Sanders predicted he’d have “more victories in the weeks to come” in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon and California. Admitting he faced an “uphill climb” to the nomination, Sanders said that, regardless, he was “in this campaign to win and we are going to fight until the last vote is cast.” Tuesday’s win makes that more than an idle boast.

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We’d thought it was just about over when Hillary Clinton won the April 26 five-state Acela/I-95 primary; the smart money figured she’d effectively shut the door on Sanders’ spectacularly refreshing maverick campaign.

That seemed to be pretty much confirmed on Wednesday, when Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN more than 200 workers would be getting pink slips. Sanders told The New York Times the same thing, in an interview. “It will be hundreds of staff members,” he said.

The delegate count makes clear how “uphill” that climb for Sanders still is. Sanders may be doing this to extract leverage in helping to write the Democratic platform at or just before the convention in Philadelphia. But Sanders has been fighting the good fight, raising tens of millions in small-donor contributions, and dragging the Democratic party, kicking and screaming when necessary, further to the inclusive, panoramic left. Not bad for a septuagenarian first-timer on the campaign trail.

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WHAT HAPPENS next is open for debate. With nine state primaries left, Clinton still has a commanding delegate lead. But there are scenarios emerging in which Sanders could make this sprint to the end of the primary season more of a photo finish than Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, imagined.

Seth Abramson, writing in The Huffington Post, came up with five reasons why Sanders may be the major beneficiary of the end of the campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Abramson suggests that with the Indiana victory of billionaire attention addict and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump essentially securing him the nomination, there’s no strategic reason for Republican voters to vote for Trump anymore — and that, with open primaries to come, independent voters or Republican voters might cross over and vote for Sanders.

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Abramson writes: “Sanders will pick up a huge number of what would otherwise be Trump votes in states where voters are still able to register for upcoming Democratic primaries, or are able to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary due to being a registered independent.

“Sanders’ vote share in nearly every upcoming primary and caucus just increased, though we don’t know by how much. In some instances, it could be a substantial bump, given that there’s no strategic reason to cast a vote for Donald Trump anymore — now that the Republican National Committee has officially declared him the presumptive nominee.”

On its face that doesn’t make much sense. OK, independent voters might vote for Sanders; that much isn’t just possible, it’s flat-out logical they’d go all in for an independent senator from very independent Vermont. But this scenario also assumes that the Republican voters Abramson speaks of — “what would otherwise be Trump votes” — would find enough common cause with Sanders to vote for him.

That’s nuts. There’s no more of a reason, strategic or otherwise, for Republican voters to vote for Sanders then there is reason for Sanders voters to cross over and vote for Trump. Either way, you’re talking about voters casting their lot with someone who’s their philosophical opposite. What’s the rationale for doing that?

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ABRAMSON AGAIN: “Sanders now has a greatly increased chance of winning all of the remaining Democratic primaries and caucuses.

“Sanders was already looking strong in Oregon, West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota, Kentucky, North Dakota and California, but given that he’s within single digits in New Jersey (where Trump is very popular) and performed incredibly well with nonwhite voters in Indiana (meaning New Mexico could be in play), it’s not unthinkable that Hillary Clinton could lose all of the remaining primaries and caucuses and therefore as many as thirteen or fourteen contests in a row to finish the Democratic primary season.”

This could happen, but a straight Sanders sweep of all the remaining contests would be a real stretch. It almost presumes that Clinton walks off the field of battle completely, vacating her familiar biography and a formidable ground game in the heartland she’s drawn strength from. She’s way too invested, too deeply entrenched there for that to happen.

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And anyway, the math still works against Sanders, even if he ran the table from here on in. He’s too far back mathematically to get that much closer to Clinton.

And never mind Sanders’ challenge to superdelegates: In The Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart takes Sanders to task for his “insistence that superdelegates choose him over Clinton. As reporters at The Post, NPR and Vox have pointed out, even if superdelegates in states that Sanders won switched from her to him he’d still lose the nomination. And those folks don’t really have any incentive to do so. With Tuesday’s results from the Indiana primary factored in, Clinton now has 3.1 million more raw votes than Sanders. So the superdelegates are already backing a winning candidate.”

The one item Abramson may have gotten dead on is the last one, and in some ways the most possibly disturbing:

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THE DEMOCRATS will have a contested convention, and the Republicans won’t,” Abramson says. “Few saw this coming, but assuming Bernie Sanders maintains his pledge to contest the Democratic convention unless Clinton can get 2,383 pledged delegates by June 14th — which she can’t, barring a miracle — only one of the two major parties will go to their convention divided, and with (not for nothing) the sort of logistical hurdles that come with that. For instance, when does Clinton roll out a Vice Presidential candidate? Before a convention she knows will be contested?”

Abramson advances a Chicken Little scenario here, one in which the sky (and everything else) falls in July for the Democrats. And it’s true, if Sanders sticks absolutely to his guns, it’s not just possible, it’s almost a certainty. But this campaign mockup assumes that Sanders himself doesn’t eventually recognize the fragmenting dangers of a contested Democratic convention, and how blowing up the convention in Philadelphia does damage to the drive to keep the White House in Democratic hands.

Bernie Sanders has his ideological side, we sure as hell know that by now. But by extension, there’s also a pragmatism about Sanders, a recognition of the difference between that which is navigable, and that which is non-negotiable. It’s a grasp of realpolitik that strongly suggests that when the chips are down, with the White House at stake and the existence of a Trump administration in the balance, he won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. One suspects that voters won't, either.

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With Clinton close-but-not-close-enough to the needed 2,383 delegates between now and the time of the delegate-rich motherlode primary in California, in June, the time’s come to heal the wounds created by four or five months of furious infighting.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Harriet, Martin and John:
America rethinks its iconography

MARION ROBERT Morrison made more than 160 movies over 40 years during the heyday of Hollywood, won an Academy Award and achieved a level of stardom and respect most actors could only dream of, then and now. But all of that might never have happened if not for a change of his name, the tweak to his identity that helped elevate him to the status of an American cultural dynamo.

By the time Marion Robert Morrison had morphed into John Wayne, the rules for joining the honor roll of American cultural iconography were pretty much established, if not set in stone. (1) It helped immeasurably if you were white; (2) it helped even more if you were a white male. Presidents were automatically admitted, some more quickly than others. Selected actors, esteemed scientists, brilliant generals and notable writers also got past the velvet rope, if in accordance with (1) and (2).

Generally speaking, though, women and people of color need not have applied.

There’s evidence that that’s starting to change, with a shift in the national symbolism that’s not so much socially profound as it is socially inescapable. The ongoing evolution of the national demographics; a wider bandwidth for symbols of American change, and a corresponding intolerance for our more corrosive legacies have led to this nation finally taking a hard look at who its collective heroes are, and who they’ve almost never been.

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On Friday, the California State Assembly rejected (36-19) a resolution to commemorate Wayne’s birthday — May 26 — as John Wayne Day throughout the Golden State. The resolution was rejected due to what were described as Wayne’s “disturbing views on race.”

The resolution was introduced by Matthew Harper, a Republican State Assemblyman from Huntington Beach, who advanced the proposal after a similar one in Texas was approved last year. The opposition in California didn’t shrink from the Duke’s long shadow.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez were two of the sharpest critics of the resolution, using Wayne’s own words against him. Alejo quoted from a 1971 interview Wayne had with Playboy magazine.

"I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” Wayne said. “I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people."

Remember, this was 1971, long after Jackie Robinson and Ralph Bunche, Thurgood Marshall and the Rev. Martin Luther King had become highly admirable fixtures of the national self-image. Among others.

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GONZALEZ, READING from the same interview, mentions how Wayne defended the systematic takeover of land from Native Americans. "Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival,” Wayne told Playboy. “There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves."

Also mentioned were Wayne’s support for the virulent, divisive House Un-American Activities Committee and the extreme-right John Birch Society.

After the bill, ACR137, went down to defeat, Harper had some parting shots, saying that the proposal died because of “the orthodoxy of political correctness.”

"Opposing the John Wayne Day resolution is like opposing apple pie, fireworks, baseball, the Free Enterprise system and the Fourth of July!" Harper said in a statement. Assemblyman Travis Allen agreed, saying that Wayne "stood for those big American values that we know and we love."

Harper represents the district that contains John Wayne Airport, the Orange County airport that was renamed after the Duke died in June 1979, at the age of 72.

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Some institutions have developed a thicker hide about making immediate amends for ennobling a racist antecedent; they’re more open to insisting that bygones be bygones, what matters is now ... and anyway, there’s all that stationery with the old name printed on it, they can’t just throw that away.

On April 4, Princeton University’s board of trustees announced that former President Woodrow Wilson’s name will stay attached to Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, in spite of calls to change it because of Wilson’s segregationist leanings when he was president of the institution.

Yale University similarly pushed back against calls to change the name of its residential Calhoun College, named for the quasi-hysteric former senator and slaveholder John Calhoun, “Removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it,” Yale President Peter Salovey wrote in an email blast.

The AP reported in March on just how insidiously nasty pushing against social change can get in America. “Backlash against a plan to remove prominent Confederate monuments in New Orleans has been tinged by death threats, intimidation and even what may have been the intentional torching of a contractor's Lamborghini.

“For now, at least, things have gotten so nasty the city hasn't found a contractor willing to bear the risk of tearing down the monuments,” The AP reported. “The city doesn't have its own equipment to move them and is now in talks to find a company, even discussing doing the work at night to avoid further tumult.”

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SOMETIMES, redressing past ills is less about enrolling an historical figure in the American elite than it is about rescuing said figure from generations of layered assumptions. It’s about trying to put an historical phantom into context.

Nate Parker’s film, “Birth of a Nation,” blew up the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Moviegoers were in tears watching Parker’s account of the August 1831 Virginia slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, a revolt in which Turner and his band killed at least 50 white people. Rights to the film were acquired for $17.5 million by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The film will be released theatrically in October, intact with its title, which Parker was proud to repurpose from the 1915 film by movie legend D.W. Griffith.

"Griffith's film relied heavily on racist propaganda to evoke fear and desperation as a tool to solidify white supremacy as the lifeblood of American sustenance,” Parker told Filmmaker in January. “Not only did this film motivate the massive resurgence of the terror group the Ku Klux Klan and the carnage exacted against people of African descent, it served as the foundation of the film industry we know today.

“I've reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America, to inspire a riotous disposition toward any and all injustice in this country (and abroad) and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change."

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The elevation of Nat Turner to at least a wider level of national curiosity has been preceded by a gradual shift in how other historical figures in the South have been regarded. The evil of slavery that provoked Turner’s actions had its champions, and those regional Confederate icons, reified in concrete and stone, have been humbled and questioned at an unprecedented rate.

In Louisiana: In December, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four monuments to the Confederacy from various high-visibility locations, including near the New Orleans Museum of Art. With the 6-1 vote officials will dismantle statues of Gens. Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy; and an obelisk dedicated to the Battle of Liberty Place.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu told CNN the move was a "courageous decision to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future."

“It is patently clear that the intention of putting these statues up was to lord over and oppress African-Americans, and this is a symbol in this city of the continued oppression of black people,” activist Malcolm Suber said in August to the New Orleans Advocate.

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IN KENTUCKY: On Friday, James Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer jointly announced that a Confederate monument topped with a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, would be removed from a location near the university campus where it’s been since 1895.

The monument honoring Kentucky Confederates who died in the Civil War will be moved to another location, they said during Friday’s announcement. "It's time for us to move this monument to a more appropriate place," Ramsey said according to The Associated Press.

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In Maryland: A task force for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recommended in January that two monuments honoring Confederate-era leaders should be moved out of the city's public parks, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Larry S. Gibson, a University of Maryland law professor, proposed the removal of monuments to Roger B. Taney, the fifth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court; and the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

Gibson called Taney's authorship of the infamous Dred Scott decision, holding that black people couldn’t be citizens, to be "pure racism."

"In my view,” Gibson told The Sun, ”he deserves a place in infamy."

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In South Carolina: the state General Assembly voted last July to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, and Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill authorizing its removal.

In a solemn ceremony, a highway patrol honor guard removed the flag from the grounds, where it’s flown since 1961. “No one should drive by the statehouse and feel pain,” Haley said on NBC. “No one should drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”
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