Truth and Fantasy

I play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

— Donald J. Trump, The Art of the Deal (1987)

This week’s featured post is “Four False Things You Might Believe About Donald Trump“.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump-Ryan meeting

Trump dominated the news cycle even more than usual this week. His meeting with Paul Ryan was covered like an international summit, even though there was really nothing to say about it: We’re not sure what they talked about and nobody expected a clear result. It sounds like they have agreed to agree at some point in the future, though the content of that agreement has been left open.

In general, and with a few notable exceptions, this was the week when elected Republicans realized they have no choice: Trump is their nominee, and his positions are vague enough to leave room for imagining that he will do something they’ll like.

Trump is still refusing to release his tax returns, giving very implausible excuses for his refusal.

It’s hard to imagine what could be in there that is worse than what the media is already imagining. I think the most likely thing we’d learn is that he’s not nearly so rich as he claims. Using a separate source of information, Crane’s New York Business argues that his annual income must be less than $500K.

The NYT did a deeply researched article into Trump’s interactions with women. Trump thinks it’s a hit piece, but it actually captures some of the ambivalence of his character: On the one hand, Trump made room for women to advance in his organization, giving them opportunities they would not easily find elsewhere in the real-estate-development business. On the other, he feels like this should give him cover when he misbehaves, which he frequently does.

The other Trump news story falls into the WTF category: The Washington Post released a tape of a 1991 conversation in which Trump is posing as his own publicist and talking to a gossip columnist. The conversation is largely about all the women who either want Trump or want him back.

I’m a bit at a loss about how much importance to give this. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual political-scandal categories. It’s more like: “Who does that kind of thing?” I’m reminded of the damaging YouTube of John Edwards primping his hair.

Trump’s response is more telling than the story itself: He reiterated his threat that the Trump administration would start an antitrust case against Amazon, whose owner (Jeff Bezos) also owns the WaPo. Josh Marshall comments:

and polls

Lots of Democrats freaked when a Quinnipiac poll showed tight Clinton/Trump races in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — i.e., the states that have been the deciders in most recent elections.

Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie dug into the numbers to see what was going on, and discovered something interesting: Quinnipiac is assuming that these states will have a significantly whiter electorate than in 2008 or 2012.

The standard narrative for nonwhite voting in a presidential year is this: Before Barack Obama, blacks and Latinos turned out to vote in modest and static numbers. After Obama’s 2008 campaign, they began to vote in droves, transforming the American electorate. Now, with Obama and his historic candidacy off of the ballot, they’ll return to the sidelines.

Every part of this narrative is wrong.

To me, the compelling part of Bouie’s counter-narrative is the Hispanic vote, where turnout is traditionally low, but went up to 50% in 2008 and 48% in 2012. Somehow, I think Trump is going to inspire a lot of Hispanic voter turnout.

So the Q poll should be read as more of a cautionary tale than a prediction: If Democrats forget about non-white turnout, or if Clinton makes the mistake of competing too hard for the angry white voter and blurs the choice between herself and Trump, things could get close.

In general, you shouldn’t let yourself get too upset by any one poll. The media has a tendency to publicize polls precisely because they say something unexpected. (In the primaries, any poll showing Sanders unexpectedly close to Clinton made headlines, while polls showing Clinton comfortably ahead didn’t.) In practice, that means that the polls you’re most likely to hear about are the outliers, the ones fall outside the range of the other polls. Those are precisely the ones you should be most suspicious of.

and bathrooms

The Obama administration has sent a letter to all the school districts in the country, warning them that bathroom rules discriminating against transgender students (like the ones mandated in North Carolina by HB2) will be seen as violations of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. Vox has an informative article about this.

[Until they are tested in court] the Obama administration’s guidelines are simply a legally non-binding guidance. Still, they suggest that the Obama administration will attempt legal action against violators. And if courts do ultimately rule in the administration’s favor, schools and states could lose billions in federal education funding for violating civil rights laws — a position no public official wants to be caught in.

The article also contains a map showing all the states where some kind of transgender-rights protection already exists. In other words, there’s no reason why opponents of trans rights need to make up hypothetical examples of men claiming to be trans so that they can enter women’s bathrooms and locker rooms for whatever nefarious purposes. If such things are going to happen, they should already be happening all over the country.

For example, last week I watched Bill O’Reilly raise these kinds of fears on his TV show. Bill’s show comes out of New York, where the law already includes protections of trans rights. So if trans rights cause a problem, he’s perfectly situated to report on that problem, not speculate hypothetically about it.

Religion writer Jonathan Merritt has written an interesting article about how the religious right is playing this issue. His claim is that they learned nothing from their battles against gay rights, and so they’re making all the same mistakes: They’re making abstract arguments based on dogma and stereotypes, and aren’t paying attention either to the experiences of real people or to what science is finding out.

When it comes to transgender issues, conservative Christians advocate for a privileged majority that is not currently under threat while ignoring the plight of an oppressed minority that is currently being harassed. Are you starting to see the parallels to the way Christian activists bungled the gay rights fight?

In the early 2000s I began predicting that the battle over gay marriage was already over. My conservative friends called me crazy, but time proved who was right. Because conservative Christians seem hellbent on perpetually making the same mistakes ad infinitum, today I’m predicting that the transgender conversation is over. And once again, conservative Christians will be the authors of their own demise.

Scare tactics only work until real experience starts to develop. Conservative Christians could claim anything they wanted about same-sex marriage leading to the fall of Civilization as long as no states had legalized it. But eventually you could go to Massachusetts or Canada and see for yourself that Civilization was doing just fine.

and you might also be interested in

Mistakes are bigger in Texas. This TCU typo is the worst since the commencement of the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs in 2012. I’m not making that one up either.

Also in Texas: An 8th-grade girl in Houston was held by police after she tried to buy her school lunch with a $2 bill her grandmother had given her. The bill failed the current counterfeiting test because it was printed in 1953. The link (from the local ABC affiliate) tells of numerous other cases in which school officials and police have treated students like adult felons rather than give them the benefit of the doubt while an anomaly is investigated. Oddly, this seems to happen almost entirely to non-white students.

West Virginia Democrats are a confusing bunch. In their presidential primary, they picked Sanders over Clinton 51%-36%. But on the same day, in the governor’s race, they nominated a billionaire coal baron who denies global warming and has a history of safety violations in his mines.

and let’s close with something big

A life-size Foosball game.

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  • Abby Hafer  On May 16, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    “Because conservative Christians seem hellbent on perpetually making the same mistakes ad infinitum, today I’m predicting that the transgender conversation is over. And once again, conservative Christians will be the authors of their own demise.” Or perhaps conservative Christians are being successfully trolled by Fox News. They are the ones who are benefiting from all the sturm und drang surrounding trans rights. Trans people are not benefiting from the unpleasant attention. Conservative Christians are driving themselves extinct by turning more and more people away from them, while not presenting an attractive vision that will entice people to follow them. But Fox news, on the other hand, only needs good ratings, and this is golden for them. And that’s all they care about. When trans people get hurt because of this, Fox doesn’t care. When churches close because they have too few members and most of them are elderly, Fox doesn’t care. Fox will just move on to other sensational, eyeball-attracting things and generate new ratings for themselves.

    • jh  On May 17, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      I’m not sure that they are the victims of Fox’s quest for mega ratings. This may be a synergistic relationship where each group is feeding off of each other. After all – misery loves company. Fox get’s to energize it’s base which is old and conservative. The conservative Christians get to enjoy feeling “persecuted”, having a media voice that agrees with their discomfort in this society, and be catered to by the media/politicians. There are strong whiffs of delusions of grandeur coming from this group. They take it as a given that all people are interested in what they think and respect their positions. Having the republican presidential candidates genuflect to their beliefs is icing on the cake to them.

      As for the closing churches – that just feeds into the conservative christian narrative. They are the chosen few who are under constant demonic attacks. Those churches that folded were obviously not spiritually sound. The leadership is worried about attrition and loss because their business needs customers. But the common rank-and-file aren’t forced to actually take responsibility for that loss. They get to keep their “I’m a better christian, getting into heaven card” while looking down on the immoral savages destroying this country.

    • weeklysift  On May 19, 2016 at 8:31 am

      There’s a long history in conservative Christian thought of applying abstract dogma and being slow to consider what it means in the lives of people. A lot of counter-conversion narratives center around having a friend, and then realizing “My church tells me that God hates my friend and will damn her to eternal torment.” Suddenly you realize that you just can’t worship that God.

      I remember one story of a young woman from a Christian college who was on a summer missionary trip to China. She looked out her bus window and for the first time it really hit her that there were a billion people out there who were going to Hell. They weren’t evil; they were just farming their land and raising kids and whatever without the grace of Jesus Christ. And it hit her that her theology couldn’t possibly be right.

      Trans-rights is going to hit that same note. As transgender folk become real people to more and more Americans, the idea that they are an abomination unto the Lord is going to sound crazier and crazier.

  • JJ  On May 17, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    “Somehow, I think Trump is going to inspire a lot of Hispanic voter turnout.”

    I’ve read of some voter registration efforts among Hispanics. The quotes might have been cherry-picked, of course, but people are quoted as saying that the reason they are registering to vote is so that they can vote against Trump.

    I think that we’ll see higher than normal Hispanic voting.

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