So Clear

A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street.

– David Hilbert

This week’s featured post is “Instead of Dumbing Down“. It’s basically my explanation of how to explain things.

This week everybody was talking about the Commander in Chief Forum

This was supposed to be a preview of the presidential debates, with Clinton and Trump appearing on the same stage, one right after the other, and fielding questions from the same audience (military veterans on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, anchored in New York harbor) and moderator (Matt Lauer). If you missed it, you can watch the full video or read the transcript.

It’s not obvious whether either candidate “won” the Forum, but the clear losers were Matt Lauer and the country. Each of the two interviews was terrible in its own way. Lauer opened Hillary’s interview with a softball: “What is the most important characteristic that a commander-in-chief can possess?” But when her answer (steadiness) didn’t give him the segue he wanted, Lauer badgered her into repeating the word judgment, which is the Trump-campaign codeword for a long list of stuff. That gave him his transition into a long discussion of her emails, leaving only a little time to talk about ISIS, and none at all for Russia, China, NATO, and a lot of other important matters.

Trump’s interview consisted almost entirely of softballs, like “What kind of things are you reading as you prepare for the day in two months where you might be elected the next president of the United States?” When Trump repeated his predictable and easily refutable lie about being “totally against the war in Iraq”, Lauer moved on without comment.


Josh Marshall believes that Lauer actually did Trump some damage by not challenging him:

he was a sort of Trump whisperer, nudging Trump on to expand on his ridiculous points. At various points he simply let Trump be Trump. And that turned out to be really bad for Trump.

He drew Trump into gobbledygook about his plan for fighting ISIS (which he either has had all along or is going to ask the generals for or is going to combine the two plans or something), into fawning over Vladimir Putin, into saying that rape in the military comes from putting “men and women together”, into expressing his distrust of our current generals, into saying that we should have taken Iraq’s oil, and so on.


Trump’s valentine to Putin — “he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader”, admiration for his high approval rating (in a country where criticizing him can get you killed), and his “very strong control over a country” — was subsequently echoed by Mike Pence and the Twitter followers of GOP public-opinion expert Frank Luntz.

Slate’s Joshua Keating brings in the disturbing context:

Today’s Russia is a place where government officials are corrupt, life expectancy remains stubbornly low, young soldiers are sent to die in wars their government won’t even acknowledge, opposition politicians and critical journalists are murdered or arrested in alarming numbers, LGBTQ people are subject to state-sanctioned violence, and entire regions are run as the personal fiefdoms of despotic warlords.


Trump’s evidence that he was against the Iraq War from the beginning (March, 2003) was an Esquire interview from August, 2004, as opposed to the interview before the war where he supported an invasion. But even to Esquire, he doesn’t say what he would have done or not done, he just criticizes how the invasion has turned out. As National Review pointed out back in February:

In keeping with his penchant for playing all sides of every game, Donald Trump was silent on Iraq right up to the moment at which it turned nasty. He must not be allowed to pretend otherwise.

It’s important to realize just how bizarre his re-remembering of history has been. In a Republican debate, he spun a wild fantasy about a delegation that came from the White House to “silence” him, because his criticism of the upcoming invasion was getting so much publicity in stories that no one can find now.


Combined with the continued tightening of the polls, the Forum “shocked and horrified” Jonathan Chait, who “had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency” until witnessing this failure of journalism.

John Amato, though, wonders if the ultimate effect will be positive: The moderators of the debates must have been watching, and one hopes they will be trying not to make the same mistakes. This could be part of another turning: The Washington Post finally admits that “The Hillary Clinton Email Story is Out of Control“.

In fact, Ms. Clinton’s emails have endured much more scrutiny than an ordinary person’s would have, and the criminal case against her was so thin that charging her would have been to treat her very differently. Ironically, even as the email issue consumed so much precious airtime, several pieces of news reported Wednesday should have taken some steam out of the story. …

Imagine how history would judge today’s Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of . . . a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Ms. Clinton’s wrongs and Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for office.

For what it’s worth, the tightening in the polls may already have turned: Nate Silver’s polls-plus model had its tightest spread on September 7, and has eased slightly since then.

and Hillary’s health

Sunday, Clinton left a 9-11 anniversary event and had to be helped into an SUV; she looked like she was about to collapse. Later in the day, she was walking down a sidewalk, waving to people, and answering reporter’s questions, saying she felt “great”. Her doctor reports that she has been suffering from pneumonia, and got dehydrated.

The open question is how much mainstream cover this will give to all the wild conspiracy theories that have been spun about her health, including everything from seizures to brain damage.

and the “basket of deplorables”

At a fund-raiser Friday, Clinton separated Trump supporters into two baskets, which basically are the ones Democrats should be reaching out to and the ones we can’t reach out to.

You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of these folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket–and I know this because I see friends from all over America here–I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas–as well as, you know, New York and California–but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

Trump’s people are trying to turn this into a gaffe comparable to Mitt Romney’s 47% speech, but I’m not seeing it. The “deplorable” group — the racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes — is she wrong that they’re deplorable? Is she wrong that they’re united behind Trump, and that he is moving their rhetoric into the mainstream?

and the Kaepernick protest spreads

This weekend opened the NFL football regular season, and a number of players demonstrated in one way or another during the national anthem, by kneeling, raising fists, linking arms as a group, and so on. There’s no telling where this goes from here. In the meantime, I’ll yield the floor to the Liberal Redneck.

but there was good news from North Dakota

The Keystone XL Pipeline (rejected by the Obama administration last November) got all the headlines, but it’s far from the only pipeline project. More recently, Native American groups have united to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Friday, it looked like they had lost, when a court rejected the request for an injunction stopping the project. But within hours, the Obama administration stepped in with a temporary halt until the Army Corps of Engineers could reevaluate.

and let’s close with something adorable

Sometimes a lullaby just works.

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Comments

  • Miles Stirewalt  On September 12, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Your DAPL response is “dumbed down” and does not admit that the White House response was not to stop construction except for in very limited areas around the lake. Moreover, the way I read the news, the Army Corps has no legal ground to actually stop construction if it were to start and finally, it answers none of the broader points of the biggest tribal protest in over 100 years like, are Tribes really in control of their own land? Moreover, why would the Malheur occupation get daily coverage while this one barely gets a blurb on major media outlets?

    • weeklysift  On September 12, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      You are correct. This was more a case of throwing the paragraph together too fast and getting it wrong, than of intentionally dumbing it down.

      • Miles Stirewalt  On September 13, 2016 at 2:19 pm

        Thank you for your great blog, however. I have been a weekly reader since the “Why I am not a Libertarian” post. I just hope you continue to concentrate on issues that are missing major media coverage like DAPL rather than perpetuate the political circus that is 2016 presidential politics.

  • cgordon  On September 12, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Never heard of this Lullaby composer evidently named Brahm.

  • GeoOT  On September 12, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    I think your comment about the attempt to make Clinton’s “deplorables” gaffe will not be so successful is off the mark. You were closer to right on with your extensive discussion of “dumbing-down” Clinton yielded to the temptation of being dismissive to some of her voters at a time when the lines that divide groups of voters has fuzzed beyond the recognition of political analysts. Your point of that always being a bad idea was the big idea of the week.

  • Abby  On September 12, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    I suspect that the “deplorables” comment may be just the type of bait that Don the Con can’t resist. The more he talks about the comment, the more he reminds people that many Don the Con supporters ARE deplorable. Most swing voters don’t want to think of themselves as being deplorable, and this may move them to swing away from Don the Con. Even when HRC apologizes for saying that “half” of them are deplorable, she reminds people that many of them ARE deplorable. Again, people don’t want to either be deplorable, or associate with those who are.

  • weeklysift  On September 16, 2016 at 7:17 am

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I intend to come back to it whenever I cover a story like the 69-year-old woman who got punched for protesting at a Trump rally in Asheville. Whoever did that sounds pretty deplorable to me.

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