Sure Signs

Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

– James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1939)

This week’s featured post is “Trump Voters: Where they’re coming from, where they’re going

This week everybody was talking about the tightening polls … or not

It’s been a weird week to read political horse-race articles. On the one hand, a series of polls painted the presidential race as much closer than it was a few weeks ago, and one — the USC/LA Times poll that has consistently been the poll most favorable to Trump — even had Trump leading.

Simultaneously, I’m still seeing predictions of a Clinton landslide, or of a Republican “wipe-out” in the Senate, or even Democrats retaking the House.

What I think is going on is a confluence of several factors:

  • Clinton made the strategic decision to spend August building up her campaign in ways other than making public appearances. So she raised an incredible $143 million in August and continued to prepare an impressive get-out-the-vote infrastructure, both areas where she has a big advantage over Trump. But her voice all but vanished from the news shows.
  • To the extent that she got news coverage, it was all about nebulous pseudo-scandals (more about that below). None of the stories identified any specific wrong-doing, but they contributed to an atmosphere of suspicion. Meanwhile, what seem to me to be far more serious questions about Trump — did he bribe that state attorney general or not? — go virtually uncovered.
  • Trump managed to have it both ways on a number of issues, appearing to both soften and remain steadfast. I doubt that is sustainable.

I think Clinton continues to have a significant advantage, but the tightening polls makes it more likely that Trump will maneuver his way out of the debates. When he was far behind, the debates looked like his only chance to turn things around. But I find it unlikely that he will do well one-on-one against Clinton, because she knows her stuff and he doesn’t. If he thinks he has a non-debate path to victory, he might find some excuse to skip them.

What Clinton really needs now is a positive turn, one that draws attention to her agenda and how it will help working people. I keep hearing Republicans say that Trump loses if the election is about him, but Clinton loses if the election is about her. I think there’s a third path: Clinton wins if the election is about the country.

and Trump’s Mexico trip

He talked nicely to the Mexicans while he was there, then came back here and gave a hard-line speech.

So far, he’s managed to create a fog around what he would really do about immigration, other than build a fabulously expensive wall that Mexico really will not pay for, and which will not solve the immigration problem.

Sometimes he’s just talking about deporting undocumented criminals, and “working with” the rest at some point in the future — which is not far off from what President Obama is doing now. At other times he throws around numbers like 2 million deportations, which bear no resemblance to the actual number of criminals, unless you think all 11 million are criminals just for being here.

On the cost of the wall, BBC observes:

The 650 miles of fencing already put up has cost the government more than $7 billion, and none of it could be described, even charitably, as impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, or beautiful.

It also doesn’t cover the most difficult or remote terrain, where construction costs would be much higher. Recasting the existing fence as a wall, then adding 1000 miles more of it, would cost much, much more. (An engineer estimated $17 billion just for materials, excluding the cost of design, machinery, labor, or maintenance.)

The Hill makes an interesting point I haven’t heard anywhere else: One reason we haven’t had attacks by terrorists coming over the Mexican border is that Mexican and U.S. intelligence services are working together. If President Trump would alienate the Mexican government, that cooperation might go away.

One of Trump’s regular themes is to highlight examples of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and talk about the lives would be saved if we got rid of them. As many people have pointed out, the problem with this line of thought is that undocumented immigrants as a group commit fewer violent crimes than the rest of us.

I think pundits have been missing the obvious conclusion to draw from these facts: We should deport everybody, all 325 million residents of the United States. That would reduce crime within our borders to zero. Think of how many lives such a total-deportation policy would save.

and media coverage

A few big issues are interweaving, and I should probably do a long post on them soon. This CNN panel discussion is a good place to start:

A long time ago, Jay Rosen outlined the problems of the media’s habits of campaign coverage, particularly its desire to “balance” stories by making them fit a both-sides-do-it, he-said-she-said narrative.

So you wind up with what Soledad O’Brien describes in this video: Clinton gives a detailed, well-reasoned speech outlining how Trump has invited white supremacists into the mainstream of American politics, and Trump calls Clinton “a bigot” without any supporting evidence whatsoever. The day’s coverage is about how the candidates “traded charges” of racism, as if both statements are of equal merit.

Even worse this week was how hard major news outlets worked to find some sinister new story in the Clinton Foundation (when there just wasn’t one), or in the release of the FBI’s report on Clinton’s email use (which Kevin Drum thinks “almost completely” vindicates her), all the while ignoring much more serious sets of facts about Trump: He gave a $25,000 contribution to the Florida attorney general, who then dropped an investigation of fraud complaints against Trump University. (Worse, the money came from his foundation, which cannot legally make political contributions, which then lied about it in its reports. Trump paid a penalty to the IRS for that violation.) Also, Trump Model Management illegally used foreign models on tourist visas, something Melania Trump has also been accused of.

and still Colin Kaepernick

One point I’ve seen in several places this week: When black protests disrupted neighborhoods in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, and especially when they turned violent, the chorus from the Right was that this was not an appropriate way for activists to make their point. But now that someone has found a completely silent, non-violent way to protest, that’s not appropriate either. So what is the right way to make the point that racism is still with us and something needs to be done about it?

This discussion underlines the point I was making last year in “Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave“: If you ever find yourself protesting something, and the Powers That Be pat you on the head and say, “Well done, that’s the right way to protest” you can be 100% certain that you are wasting your time. Whatever you’re doing will have no effect. As James Agee wrote nearly 80 years ago:

Every fury on earth has been absorbed, in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been thus castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

A few people asked the same question I raised last week: Why do we sing the national anthem at sports events anyway? Mental Floss‘ Matt Soniak did the research:

After America’s entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into “The Star-Spangled Banner.”…

After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

Vox‘ Zack Beauchamp points out that it isn’t Kaepernick who is bringing politics into football; the NFL is already doing that by playing the anthem in the first place.

Inserting the national anthem into sports events can never be “apolitical,” because patriotism isn’t apolitical. Remember, bringing politics into the event was explicitly the point back in World War I and II — they were trying to drum up support for a war effort.

He also comments that honoring America isn’t the point any more, if it ever was; branding the NFL as patriotic is the point. The anthem-singing ritual doesn’t promote patriotism, it exploits patriotism.

and you might also be interested in

Positive trends don’t get as much press as signs of the Apocalypse, but this one should:

There are 42 percent fewer teen births now than just seven years ago. In 2007, 4.2 percent of teenage girls in the United States gave birth. In 2014, the rate was 2.4 percent.

The reason seems to be increased use of contraceptives during a period in which teen sexual activity remained fairly constant. Abortion rates are also down.

This is an area in which liberals and conservatives made diametrically opposed predictions, and the liberal one came true. Liberals have argued that getting teens to use contraceptives would lead to fewer pregnancies and fewer abortions. Conservatives argued we should teach teens to say no to sex, and that teaching them about contraceptives would encourage teen sex and perversely lead to more pregnancies and more abortions.

I have long argued that the real reason social conservatives oppose abortion isn’t because they really believe zygotes have souls, but because they’re against female promiscuity, which God punishes via unwanted pregnancies. As it becomes clearer and clearer that effective contraception prevents abortions, teaching kids about contraception would seem to be a moral imperative for anyone who believes abortion is murder, even if it does circumvent the penalty for the comparatively minor sin of promiscuity. But I have yet to meet a social conservative willing to follow that logic.

Back to signs of the Apocalypse: Hermine is unlike any storm we’ve seen in modern times. Not that it’s the strongest or most destructive, it’s just weird. It’s an ex-hurricane that might soon be a hurricane again, even though in any other year it would be too far north to pick up new strength. In the meantime it’s sort of like a nor’easter, which is supposed to be a different kind of storm. And it’s expected to sit in one spot in the Atlantic for about a week.

The Roger Ailes story got seedier and more sensational: Gretchen Carlson will get an 8-figure settlement because she had been taping her interactions with Ailes for more than a year.

Great report on how ISIS uses the “deep web” for propaganda.

That Stanford swimmer convicted of assault with attempt to rape, the one whose six-month sentence seemed so outrageously light three months ago — he’s free. He got out early for good behavior.

This case is depressing for a lot of reasons. Rape and sexual assault are usually hard charges to prove, because often the physical evidence could be explained by consensual sex and there aren’t any corroborating witnesses. (In cases like this, where the woman was unconscious or nearly unconscious, even she may not be a convincing witness.) But this one time justice got lucky: Two good samaritans interrupted the crime, captured the guy, delivered him to police, and testified at the trial. So unlike the majority of guys who do things like this, he got tried and convicted … and served three months. I’m sure that totally ruined his summer.

When a type of criminal is hard to catch or convict, the law can maintain deterrence by increasing penalties. (“You may think you’ll get away with this, but if you’re wrong …”) That’s why, for example, horse-stealing was a hanging offense in the old West. But if you’re unlikely to get convicted, and even if you do you’ll barely be punished, what kind of deterrence is that?

A training video for dealing with white fragility in the workplace. Do your white employees and co-workers face the trauma of being called racists just because they do something racist? Or the embarrassment of seeing evidence of their white privilege? Some simple understanding and compassion from non-whites could prevent this suffering.

and let’s close with a reminder that spelling is important

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  • Sacha  On September 5, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Matt Soniak writes for mental_floss. That link isn’t to a BuzzFeed column.

  • Paul Bradford  On September 5, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Thought-provoking column, as always. FYI, there seems to be work missing in the phrase “Positive trends don’t as much press as signs of the Apocalypse, “

    • weeklysift  On September 7, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      You’re right, and so is Abby right below you. Spell-checkers won’t help if you just leave the word out completely.

  • Abby Hafer  On September 5, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    “Positive trends don’t GET as much press as signs of the Apocalypse…”
    I thin you need to insert the word “get”, as indicated.

  • Rick B  On September 5, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Why don’t we just get rid of drunks and real estate developers. There would be no one left to commit crimes after that.

    Give Trump a one-way ticket to Mongolia and do not allow him a return visa and crime in America would drop by well over half.

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On September 6, 2016 at 8:18 am

    MY wife has long red hair and her black female co-workers and students (and only the black ones) want to pet it all the time.

  • flypusher  On September 6, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    “I have long argued that the real reason social conservatives oppose abortion isn’t because they really believe zygotes have souls, but because they’re against female promiscuity, which God punishes via unwanted pregnancies. ”

    That’s definitely the test of your top priorty- is it saving babies or shaming women? There is a middle ground for honest people from both the pro-choice and pro-life sides to meet, the place where you support comprehensive sex-ed and access to birth control, you stop demonizing single mothers, and support policies like parental leave and even public assistance to needy families that make it easier to raise children. You can only have one top priority, so which is it?

    • 1mime  On September 6, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      The irony is, saving babies can be achieved by not shaming women….Reduce pregnancy – reduce abortions; reduce abortions – enable families to provide more for their “right-sized” families; encourage single women to protect against pregnancy through contraception and make it affordable, accessible, and shameless.

  • GJacq726  On September 6, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    I would like to assume you are aware. In case not, check out:

  • John Bari  On September 7, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I think your deport everybody idea is the best idea yet. I expect when those of us of English ancestry get there it will be quite a crowd scene, but I’ll still take that over the mess we’ve made here. Meanwhile, the indigenous people can continue to repopulate from the south and can make of it whatever they choose. Fabulous.

  • Chris  On September 8, 2016 at 3:49 am

    FWIW, although I agree Brock Turner’s sentence was unconscionably lenient, his conviction ruined a hell of a lot more than his summer.

    His former life: Stanford student, Olympic hopeful. His new life: convicted felon, moved back in with his mom in Ohio, registered for life as a sex offender, so he’ll have severely limited options for employment, places to live, and so on.

    Not to mention that millions of people have seen his picture and believe he’s a rapist even though he wasn’t convicted of rape. (Of the thousands of people actually convicted of rape every year, approximately zero of them would ever be recognized by strangers on the street, despite the sex offender registry.) What he apparently did was seriously depraved, but with his current status as nationally pilloried creep, I’m actually kind of sorry for him.

    • GJacq726  On September 8, 2016 at 6:23 am

      It is a shame that he has had to bear the brunt as poster boy of a patriarchal epidemic being addressed in the the publicity of this crime. Yes, he was not convicted of rape, though I dare say he may have remained an unidentifiable rapist had those bikers not interrupted his actions. And, let’s not forget the incomparable scars his victim will wear her whole life.

      • Chris  On September 8, 2016 at 1:53 pm

        Totally agree. I was just surprised by Doug’s flippant dismissal of the seriousness of Turner’s punishment.

      • GJacq726  On September 8, 2016 at 3:40 pm


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