Can dawn break again?

This July Fourth will likely be a bleak one

Source: SweetwaterNow

As July 4 approaches, I feel myself in mourning. I grieve for my country and worry for the nation that my children and grandchildren are inheriting.

Unless something dramatic intervenes, we face a difficult choice in the fall presidential election. We elect a man who is decent, moral and right on his policies, but whose diminished capabilities will only decline further. Or we pick a man who has said he’d be a dictator (perhaps for more than just a day), whose personal morality is that of “an alley cat” (as his opponent memorably said), and who promises to sow chaos in government, domestic civil society and foreign affairs.

This is a Hobson’s choice, of course. The second route surely leads to disaster. But the first, the road we should take, spawns uncertainty, fear and doubt. Could we count on President Biden’s aides, colleagues and advisers to make sure he manages the reins of power well? Certainly, we could expect the seemingly more vigorous Trump to clutch and pull at such reins to monstrous effect, doing even more damage than such moves as packing the Supreme Court and lower courts has already done.

Yes, Biden’s deterioration is on full display these days. Without a teleprompter, he is at sea, a worrisome thing in a man who will need to deal with grave threats from abroad and mystifying polarization at home. It’s no wonder he’s lost the support even of longtime friends and loyalists.

Source: Getty Images, via New York Magazine

But Trump needs no electronic aids to showcase his bigotry, divisiveness, self-interest and ignorance. He need only to deliver his erratic and rambling speeches, ones in which he claims that “Catholics are being persecuted,” that people will be arrested if they say they “answer to God in heaven,” that terrorists “in record numbers” are coming over our borders, that Social Security and Medicare are “being destroyed,” that his conviction by a jury on 34 felony counts was a politically motivated “show trial,” that the 2020 election was “rigged.”

Trump’s claptrap, dishonesty and demagoguery are extraordinary. Out of sheer opportunism, this longtime huckster paints a dystopian picture that seems to sell. Never mind that unemployment continues to be at record lows, that government spending has led to improved roads, bridge and transportation systems around the country, that inflation is subsiding. Never mind that the reason the border continues to be a problem is that Trump, desperate for an issue to run on, deep-sixed a plan backed by conservative legislators that would have fixed it.

And what would the man do if he ousts Biden? As The New York Times reported, he would step up the trade war that already is riling global relations, imposing stiff tariffs that will drive up prices on broad ranges of goods for Americans. He would set up WWII-style detention camps to hold rounded-up migrants for mass deportations, try to end birthright citizenship, use the Justice Department to persecute his enemies, strip employment protections from tens of thousands of civil servants, purge intelligence agencies and other bodies of people whose work he dislikes, and he would cut taxes for wealthy friends, driving up the national debt anew.

Source: AP, via NPR

And all that is just for starters. Trump would also further pack the Supreme Court and the judiciary with untalented ideologues who could wreak damage that no successor could undo. In foreign policy, he would greenlight Vladimir Putin’s expansive ambitions and embrace and embolden dictators in other places, such as Hungary and, perhaps, North Korea. He also might try to overturn a constitutional amendment so he could seek a third term to impose even more chaos.

I mourn the passing of the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, men with whom one might disagree but who were patriots committed to doing right by the country, not desperately seeking to salve damaged egos and shield themselves from prosecutions. I miss such aides as trade advocate Clayton K. Yeutter, whose actions enriched both the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. In his place, we have convicts such as Steve Bannon, Peter Navarro and Roger Stone, as well as extremists such as Stephen Miller.

We, of course, also have a long list of former Trump lieutenants who now disavow the man, including his own former vice president, who has declined to endorse him. Trump’s ex-chief of staff, former Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, said his ex-boss is “a person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators” and “has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.” Think Jan. 6, if you doubt the last point.

Indeed, Trump is a man who memorably mocked former POW and GOP presidential contender John McCain, saying “I like people who weren’t captured.” He ducked military service by faking a bone spur and more recently called fallen soldiers “suckers” and “losers,” as noted by Kelly.

As the nation’s first felon-in-chief, Trump would surround himself with toadies determined to march in lockstep with him, no matter the legal impropriety. They include potential vice presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who once called Trump a “con artist” but who now endorses him, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who once labeled Trump “utterly amoral” but now backs him.

And while Biden’s acuity is likely to decrease, Trump’s mental challenges have long been on sorry display and appear to have worsened. As his rambles have suggested, he seems deeply unwell. A Biden operating on fewer cylinders surely would be less of a danger than a rampaging Trump.

Source: New York Times

So, I grieve for my country. The only thing that gives me heart is that it’s possible American voters will make the right choice. Indeed, perhaps Biden will make it easier by stepping aside, clearing the way for a more vigorous person with similar sensibilities and sanity (though all indications so far are to the contrary). It’s possible that my fellow citizens will repudiate the corrupt and ideologically blind GOP of the Boeberts and Greenes. It’s possible that they will see through the party’s leading conman’s games.

But it’s hard at this point to be optimistic. Will the disaffected, gullible and ill-informed among our voters have their day? Will those rule who are taken in by slick TV-friendly imagery, who don’t school themselves beyond that? Will a minority of the nation again choose a would-be-tyrant thanks to a flawed Electoral College system? Recall that Trump won with just 46% of the vote in 2016.

If one can invoke Revolutionary War history, there were times when the cause seemed lost back then. Generals stumbled, turncoats betrayed their leaders, soldiers deserted. Yet, somehow the patriots prevailed. Can that happen again? Can dawn break after this darkening stretch? For now, it seems a long way off.

Time’s a wastin’

Can a successor to Joe Biden emerge in time, if at all?

Source: AFP, via Fox News

In February 1968, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite editorialized on the air against the Vietnam war. After watching the broadcast, President Lyndon B. Johnson supposedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” And then, a month later, LBJ announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Well, it seems LBJ did not in fact utter those words – which have been repeated in various forms over the years – and he never even saw that Cronkite program. Or so a revisit to the myth by journalism academic W. Joseph Campbell found. Johnson at the time was in Austin, Texas, celebrating the birthday of his longtime friend, Gov. John Connally, Campbell recounted.

“The Cronkite program was neither decisive nor pivotal to his thinking on Vietnam,” Campbell maintained. He suggested that the media exaggerated their role in affecting a president’s thinking.

I’m reminded of this now, after many journalism outlets and pundits have called on President Joe Biden to throw in the towel on the election after his disappointing debate performance. They want him to yield the Democratic nomination to someone – anyone – who could put on a better show.

The key question: will the media angst make a difference to the president?

“The president appeared on Thursday night as the shadow of a great public servant,” The New York Times editorialized. “He struggled to explain what he would accomplish in a second term. He struggled to respond to Mr. Trump’s provocations. He struggled to hold Mr. Trump accountable for his lies, his failures and his chilling plans. More than once, he struggled to make it to the end of a sentence.”

Thomas Friedman, source: The Jerusalem Post

Echoing that, Times columnist and reported Biden-whisperer Thomas Friedman called on those closest to the president to persuade him to quit the race. “The Biden family and political team must gather quickly and have the hardest of conversations with the president, a conversation of love and clarity and resolve,” Friedman wrote. “To give America the greatest shot possible of deterring the Trump threat in November, the president has to come forward and declare that he will not be running for re-election and is releasing all of his delegates for the Democratic National Convention.”

More predictably – and nastily – The Wall Street Journal said the president looked like “a feeble man” with no business running. “Mr. Biden lost the debate in the first 10 minutes as he failed to speak clearly, did so in a weak voice, and sometimes couldn’t complete a coherent sentence,” the paper said. “His blank stare when Donald Trump was speaking suggested a man who is struggling to recall what he has been prepped for weeks to say, but who no longer has the memory to do it.”

Chiding those who encouraged or tolerated the president’s choice to run again, the WSJ accused such supporters of failing to heed warning signs of the president’s deterioration. “It was clearly a selfish act for him to seek a second term,” the editorial said.  “But did they really think they could hide his decline from the public for an entire election campaign?”

Labeling Biden’s debate performance an “unmitigated disaster,” WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan argued that Democrats must “admit what the rest of the country can see and has long seen, that Mr. Biden can’t do the job. They have to stop being the victim of his vanity and poor judgment, and of his family’s need, and get themselves a new nominee.”

For my part, I give the president high marks on substance – indeed, despite his shortcomings, his mastery of many of the details he recounted was impressive. Regrettably, however, he seemed at times like a man desperate to recall and regurgitate those details — like someone grasping for lost memories. Certainly, he lost on style, with too many slips and too much confusion. And, as we learned way back in the Kennedy-Nixon debates, style and appearance make all the difference.

But can a man who fought so hard and long to attain the prize Biden did now give it up? Does Biden have enough self-awareness to pack it in?

It’s possible that some of the media outpouring will unsettle Biden enough to help him do so, but we are in uncharted territory here. History offers little guidance.

Despite the Cronkite myth, the media’s desertion of LBJ, it seems now, had little influence on his prosecution of the Vietnam war; it dragged on through President Nixon’s term years later. Moreover, it’s likely that LBJ’s decision to quit the election race was less influenced by the media than by impressive threats from challengers Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

For his part, Biden in the spring had a sole credible challenger. But that man, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, racked up pallid results that persuaded him to drop out and endorse the president in early March. Before getting into the race, Phillips had called for a “moderate governor” to challenge Biden, who he said could not defeat Trump.

Now, if the media and pundits are correct, Democrats may have to scramble to a) persuade Biden to quit and b) find a credible challenger to Trump. Both seem like herculean tasks, complicated by the short time frame left.

It’s not that there would be a shortage of pretenders. Indeed, it seems likely that a free-for-all would precede the party’s convention, slated for Aug. 19-22 in Chicago. The names being vaunted include Vice President Kamala Harris, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky. Other potential candidates include Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Gretchen Whitmer, source: National Review

“If Democrats can somehow work through all of this, someone like Gretchen Whitmer would be a much tougher opponent for Trump on paper,” National Review editor Rich Lowry argued. “She’s a young, relatively popular governor in the key swing state of Michigan. She wouldn’t have to answer directly for any of Biden’s failures and has a history of presenting herself in campaigns as a non-ideological Democrat. ‘Fix the damn roads’ was her slogan when she first ran for governor.”

Would there be enough time for Whitmer or any of the others to mount a successful effort to knock Trump aside? Would they fracture the party in a desperate battle royal, carving one another up while Trump bides his time, taking potshots at whoever seems the most likely to emerge?

If Biden can be persuaded to step aside, it’s possible that the ambitious folks who could succeed him would do one healthy thing: they would deprive Trump of the media oxygen he so desperately depends on. Their fight, should it materialize, would dominate the headlines, superseding such things as his veep choice.

But the Dems would need to choose wisely. Not only would they need a person of substance, but that person must be able to skewer Trump while avoiding descending to his level. As many observers – even those at the Wall Street Journal – reported, Trump’s debate performance was filled with misstatements that he routinely echoes on the campaign trail. Highlighting them would just be the beginning for a credible Trump challenger (while Trumpists may not care about facts, reasonable voters might).

Making the case for taking Biden’s mantle would require passion, thought and vitality. It’s not impossible for those potential candidates to bring such qualities to bear, but it’s a tall order and time’s a wastin.’ At the moment, that job seems like a far easier task, though, than would be needed for Biden to recover from his debate disaster. Going forward, every appearance now by the diminished president would likely just deepen the hole he’s in.

Trump’s odd appeal

How a high school student council offers some insight

Source: Facebook

“History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce,” as Karl Marx is reputed to have said.

I’m reminded of the maxim as I mull over the prospects of a second Trump term, though I wonder if the order of the tragedy-farce progression would be reversed if the former president takes power again. The man’s first term was a bad joke and his second seems to promise many truly ugly things. Just see the recent Time cover story for evidence of how bad things might go: using the military to evict undocumented millions, detention camps, immunity for harsh police action (and for himself), stiff trade barriers, and, as noted elsewhere, removal of protections against political retribution for government employeespresidential control of the independent Fed, etc.

So why might Trump win? Well, the hush-money trial in New York is far from a lock, even as it looks damning for Trump, with an accountant testifying that Trump signed checks from a personal account to reimburse his lawyer for the payment to his paramour, Stormy Daniels. Certainly, that trial has had plenty of farcical elements – reminders of a porn star and a Playboy model, marital infidelity, illicit payments, disregard of the law and ordinary decency, etc. It would be a laughable parody, if it weren’t distressingly real.

But it’s not clear whether the evidence produced so far will persuade a jury (beyond a reasonable doubt) that Trump broke the law personally by knowingly falsifying business documents. Did he do that or order that? Or did his minions just do that while he was busy running for president in 2016? Can the prosecutors prove the former? That seemingly boring detail is the pivot on which the case turns.

And, even if the jury does pronounce him to be a felon, it’s doubtful that his legions of fans will decline notably. Even as his sordid history is rehashed — as Times columnist Bret Stephens put it — Trump’s favorability ratings in polls still linger at or above 40%. Despite knowing about much of his seedy and dishonest behavior during his first campaign, his fans backed him then; indeed, evangelical supporters saw him then (and likely see him still) as G-d’s flawed instrument, a sinner who nonetheless would do their bidding on things such as abortion and gay rights. Against all odds, a cousin of mine, for instance, is still posting amazing imagery about the divine embrace of Trump:

Source: Facebook

What is Trump’s secret sauce? Well, the usual suspects are white fear of national ethnic change (of which illegal immigration is actually a small part), rage at economic dislocation (global trade eroding jobs), and social change. Trump is brilliant at exploiting all that, for sure. Unlike the tumultuous and complex present, he invokes a gauzy past in seeking to “Make America Great Again.”

But some part of this is something more subtle and, perhaps, more pernicious – and for that, I must hark back to a small-bore event of over a half-century ago. Bear with me, gentle reader, as I draw your attention to my central New Jersey high school student council election, of all things.

Len E. Carmella, Source: Loomis Funeral Home

In my junior year at the all-male prep school, a most unusual candidate ran for president of that council. Unlike his academically distinguished and sober-minded opponent – a boy who later went on to graduate from Wharton and become a health insurance company vice president – this candidate, Len E. Carmella, was described by a longtime friend as “a showman and an entertainer.” As the friend wrote in our school paper, Lenny sought his identity in applause, “in the warmth afforded all beloved clowns.”

Noting that Lenny’s campaign was marked by “a lack of depth,” this friend pointed to his ability, instead, to “make sweeping gestures and rhapsodize.” And he quoted him on his trenchant platform: “I’m going to be known as the entertainer-king. Every month, there’ll be a Dance, a Movie Night and a folk night. And we’re going to put on three shows, with costumes and everything. Movies, bus trips, anything like that, I’ll give money to. Anything that’s gonna keep them happy, that’ll take their minds off their problems, that’ll keep them entertained, is fine with me.”

Mind you, this was in the spring of 1971, when Nixon was still in office and the Vietnam War was still much on the minds of all of us of nearly draft age. Anything distracting would be welcome and Lenny, if nothing else, was remarkably distracting.

Lenny and some fans

Lenny won. And his time in office was notable for just one major thing, a dance night featuring Bruce Springsteen and his band. Also, at one point, Lenny somehow was photographed strutting in front of a line of dancing girls, certainly an improbable image at our school (one where girls in the halls caused many to gape, stumble and stagger). Few of us are sure to this day of how either thing came to be.

So what’s the connection to events now, 53 years on? Well, if nothing else, Trump is an entertainer, even if a far meaner spirited one than Lenny ever was (though Lenny did enthusiastically and — often with Trumpesque vulgarity — back Trump back in 2016). After all, Trump made his name in “The Apprentice,” where he looked every bit like a capitalistic dark clown. And he continues to entertain even today, grabbing center stage in the news as he faces an astonishing legal onslaught. Even as President Biden claims all sorts of real gains – for helping keep the economy afloat, rebuilding our infrastructure, etc. – Trump dominates the headlines.

Because of his personal style – his autocratic strongman image – Trump is the dominant figure in our politics today, lording himself over other Republicans and Democrats alike. Next to him, Biden looks pallid and old.

“Politicians’ language reflects their dominance orientations,” a writer in The New York Times contended in an unsettling opinion piece. “Mr. Trump uses entertaining and provocative parlance and calls opponents — and even allies — weakgutless and pathetic. Still, neuroscientists monitoring listeners’ brain activity while they watched televised debates found that audiences — not just Mr. Trump’s followers — delighted in the belittling nicknames he uses for his opponents. His boldness and provocations held audience attention at a much higher level than his opponents’ play-it-safe recitations of their policy stances and résumés.”

It’s as if Trump took a page from my high school student president’s handbook (which at times included taking shots at some fellow students). Substance – the sort of bland, by-the-numbers approach that marks Biden and other establishment pols – is nothing to many in the electorate. It’s all a matter of style, a question of keeping the masses entertained. Voters have a hard time with boring (see Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter).

It’s also a matter of offering the middle-finger to those establishment types in both style and content. As the writer John Ganz put it in a conversation in March with Times podcaster Ezra Klein: “Yeah. I think that there is no separating form and content, as you said. That the figure has to represent the middle finger in order to be effective and get the constituency behind them…. But I don’t think it works without the theatrical, outrageous parts of it. And I think that that is part of the reason why people gravitate towards it. I think you speak — you could speak to people, and they may not have very clear ideas about any given policy issue, and yet, what they do believe is that the political establishment sucks, and they like somebody who tells them to fuck off.”

We have a long history of raucous table-pounding figures appealing to voters. Klein pointed to Pat Buchanan, an anti-immigrant firebrand who in many ways paved the way for Trump,  and former KKK head David Duke, who was elected to the Louisiana State Legislature and made an unsuccessful run as a Republican for governor of the state. As Klein put it: “… there has long been demand for a right-wing populist showman in the United States. That demand has been at times unmet. It has been at times suppressed. These people were not given a candidate to vote for in a two-party system. But it never went away. Perhaps it will never go away.”

Oh, and there’s one more thing. At a time of seeming chaos in many quarters – see the many campus protests over the Gaza war – the strongman appeals to many. That’s no small part of the reason Nixon was reelected in 1972, when he ran as the law and order candidate against the dovish and gentlemanly George McGovern. In this, the campus protesters may inadvertently help Trump oust Biden from the White House, as writer David Brooks argues, and that is something that likely won’t go well for their cause.

Sadly, we lost Lenny a few years ago. He had many friends in our high school and later in college at Loyola in Montreal, where one person described him as a “genius at satirical graphics,” sharing his illustrations with staffers at The Loyola News. He was an entertainer and a mold-breaker in a small political way, but he had real talent and basic decency, something that the all-but-named GOP nominee lacked in 2016 and lacks even more now.

Will economics matter in November

Social issues — together with some economic factors — could decide the fate of Team Biden

Source: Investopedia

Economics, we were taught in grad school, assumes that people will act rationally and in their self-interest. But do they always? And do they always act on valid information? Beyond that, can other factors outweigh economic ones?

The coming election may test some common economic assumptions. And it may be decided on matters entirely apart from household finances.

By most Big Picture indications, the U.S. economy is faring pretty well. As President Biden has repeatedly noted, the unemployment rate has been below 4% for the last 26 months, the longest such stretch in more than 50 years. That is a stunning contrast to the 14.7% jobless rate of April 2020, when Covid shut down much of the economy.

And, to take a couple more key indicators, wages have grown substantially since January 2021, when Biden took office, with the 12-month moving average of wage gains starting at 3.4% that month and rising to 5.4% in February 2024 (with an uptick a year ago to 6.4%). By contrast, inflation has slipped to a 3.2% annual rate so far this year, down from its annual high of 7% in 2022, and falling well below the gains in pay most workers are enjoying.

Even in manufacturing – a long-declining sector – employment recently has been topping 12.96 million each month, the largest number since the fall of 2008. While still a far cry from the 17.9 million jobs in the sector we saw in 1990, it’s a healthy gain from the 11.4 million of the worst Covid period in early 2020.

But it is also true that we live in a split-screen economy. Behind the big numbers are unsettling realities that many Americans are having trouble coping with, factors that could outweigh the macro achievements that Team Biden points to. As a friend noted, things are pretty good for the upper middle class and above. Below that, not so much.

Mortgage rates and housing prices are too high for many folks to afford homes, for instance. And high prices, coupled with high loan rates, even put cars out of reach for some — certainly the electric cars that the administration is incentivizing.

“Anyone who wants to buy a house or a car faces a double whammy of higher prices and far higher rates,” The Wall Street Journal noted. “Few are even bothering to apply for a mortgage, with applications for loans to buy a home in the past year at their lowest since 1995. Those who have already achieved the American dream are fine, but it’s getting further away for those still reaching for it.”

And, while inflation rates are coming down, the price of groceries isn’t dropping. Sticker-shock at the cash register continues to be the kind of in-your-face reality that American shoppers face regularly. “Average annual food-at-home prices were 5.0 percent higher in 2023 than in 2022. For context, the 20-year historical level of retail food price inflation is 2.5 percent per year,” the USDA reported. “Price growth slowed in 2023 compared with 2022, when food-at-home prices rose by 11.4 percent.”

Gerald Ford’s failed effort against inflation, source: Wikipedia

Such inflation, it has been said, had a lot to do with turning Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford into one-term presidents. While the average inflation rate under Biden has been far lower than the others experienced (9.9% on average under Carter and 8% for Ford), Biden’s 5.7% average rate so far has him tied with the rate that obsessed Richard Nixon in his day – hardly a welcome comparison for Team Biden.

And inflation hits some folks far harder than others. Those on the lower end of the economic scale – historically more likely to vote Democratic – are those struggling the most. Many may not realize that presidents have little power over inflation, a challenge that falls to the independent Federal Reserve. But they keenly understand the cash-register effect and that could drive them to seek a change, especially since inflation during the Trump years averaged just 1.9%.

So, if one asks whether a voter is better off now than he or she was four years ago – a line that got Ronald Reagan elected over Carter in 1980 — the answer will vary. Are most voters in Michigan, Ohio and other swing states better off? Unquestionably, they are better off than when Covid raged, but aside from that aberration, are they faring well enough to reward Biden with a second term? Have they been aided enough by the billions Biden pumped into the economy to prevent a repeat of recession after the two-month downturn of early 2020?

Beyond questions of economics, though, social issues such as immigration and abortion policy may weigh heavily, along with the age of both candidates and perceptions about their mental capacities. Will voters recall that Trump quashed bipartisan efforts in Congress to fix the southern border problem, or will they just hear his often-racist podium-pounding on it? Will they react to Republican efforts to bar abortion, even to the extent of curtailing IVF procedures, as the Alabama Supreme Court sought to do before state lawmakers hastily decided to put in protections? Will they consider Trump’s questionable thinking processes, which may far overshadow Biden’s gaffes, as well as Trump’s many self-induced legal woes?

Source: LA Times

Indeed, provided he stays out of jail, will those legal woes help Trump with his backers, as they play into his victim narrative? They certainly keep him in the headlines.

Voters have an extraordinary ability to overlook flaws in the candidates they pin their emotions on. The passion that MAGA enthusiasts feel for their candidate blinds them to his legal and personal flaws, it seems, and their depth of commitment far exceeds the feelings that Biden generates among his backers. Will such passions, coupled with a mixed bag of economic realities, be enough to put Trump back into office?

Moreover, given the distortions of the Electoral College system, where each vote in a less populous and more socially conservative state counts more heavily than each one in more urbanized states, the coming election is hardly assured for the man whose team can claim a lot of credit for restoring a healthy U.S. economy. It’s no wonder the polls put the contenders pretty close to neck and neck. The coming few months promise a lot more drama and, one hopes, better things for voters in time for November.

Just what do we want in a President?

A look at what drives Trumpism and its potential for the fall election

Bret Stephens, source: New York Times

It’s funny how important things often come in threes. At the base of today’s triptych is Donald J. Trump, the likely victor in tomorrow’s sweep of primaries. All the matters that popped up today deal with the mystery of the man’s appeal and his potential second term. They are worth probing.

First, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens offered some interesting insights on what drives Trumpism – a source of wonder for anyone with half a brain, a sense of history and respect for responsible and responsive government. How can this boorish, immoral, often-unhinged would-be autocrat seem so inspiring to so many people?

Stephens, in a conversation with a colleague, offers the following:

             “He’s a raised middle finger at all the people whom his supporters see as a self-satisfied, self-dealing cultural elite. The more that elite despises him, the more they love him. That’s why any good analysis of the Trump phenomenon has to begin with an analysis of the Us phenomenon, if you will: Where did those of us who were supposed to represent the sensible center of the country go so wrong that people were willing to turn to a charlatan like Trump in the first place? I have endless theories, but here’s another one: We tried to change the way people are instead of meeting them where they are. Neocons (like me) tried to bend distant cultures in places like Afghanistan to accept certain Western values. Didn’t work. Progressives tried to push Americans to accept new values on issues like identity, equity, pronouns and so on. That isn’t working, either. Trump represents a complete rejection of all that. For every American he scandalizes, another one feels seen, heard, reflected and understood by him.”

Source: USA Toda

There’s a lot there. To unpack it, consider the “basket of deplorables” phrase that Hillary Clinton deployed to disastrous effect in September 2016. Speaking of half the Trump supporters, she said: “They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic.” The deplorables phrase was quickly snapped up proudly by such supporters, who took to wearing T-shirts emblazoned with it. Clinton even mentioned it in a book as contributing to her loss.

As Stephens suggests, the more the elites loathe Trump (and his supporters), the more his backers love him. The more they are pilloried by those of us who have benefitted from such forces as globalism, economic change and the need for education, the more Trumpists dig in behind the lead critic of such forces. The more they are accused of racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc., the more they will bask in such traits, wearing such qualities all the more brazenly.

Source: KRCR

The second development has to do with the national Supreme Court and its ruling that Trump can remain on the ballot in Colorado, despite the state Supreme Court’s ruling striking him from it because of his role in the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021. The decision was not surprising, of course, given that the Colorado ruling was a 4-3 one to begin with and, as a cynic might suggest, the conservative majority on the national court includes three Trump appointees.

But it was surprising that the national court’s decision was unanimous as the justices agreed that individual states don’t have the right to bar candidates from federal offices, noting “especially the Presidency,” although they may do so for state offices. The majority held that federal legislation would be needed to determine who would be disqualified under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars insurrectionists from holding office. Interestingly, the justices dodged the question of whether Trump had engaged in insurrection.

Unless something extraordinary happens – perhaps turning on any one of several Trump legal woes that all seem, oddly, to entrench Trumpists even more deeply — this decision suggests that we will see a Trump-Biden rematch in November. That prospect looks troublesome for Team Biden, in large part because voters seem to see Biden as much more enfeebled by his age (81) than they do Trump (77). Of course, both men are prone to mixing up facts and faces (Trump recently confusing Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi and suggesting Barack Obama was still in office, and President Biden confusing the presidents of Mexico and Egypt). Experts say such verbal stumbles aren’t necessarily signs of a loss of mental acuity, though Joe Q. Voter may disagree, at least in Biden’s cas

Allen Weisselberg, source: Rolling Stone

The third development involves Trump’s dishonesty and the hold he, nonetheless, commands on some associates. Some go to the mat for him, lying or refusing to cooperate with investigators, even when that means jail terms. The latest is former Trump chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, with his guilty plea for lying under oath in the Trump civil fraud trial that will cost the former president $455 million. Weisselberg faces five more months in jail after the 100 days he served in an earlier case, but he can console himself with a $2 million severance payment Trump provided on the condition that he not cooperate with law enforcement unless forced to.

In that case, Trump seems to have purchased an underling’s loyalty. An exceptional number of Trump associates and supporters have been convicted of or faced various charges, with many going to jail without such payouts, though. Former aide Peter Navarro, who devised a plan to overturn the 2020 election, recently got four months in jail for ignoring a subpoena to testify in Congress about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Of course, some Trump loyalists turned against him. Former longtime attorney Michael Cohen is perhaps the best known because his testimony was instrumental in Trump’s most costly civil fraud trial. But others have owned up to missteps they made on Trump’s behalf.

Trump’s support among the undereducated is well-documented. He even bragged about this in 2016, saying “I love the poorly educated.” But just why he appeals to people who should know better is a mystery as profound as that of his appeal to a broader base of Republicans. Along with the support his associates provide, his backing among college-educated white GOP members doubled to 60 percent over the last year, according to polling by Fox News.

What do they see in the man? How can they back him in spite of – or perhaps because of – his broad array of legal problems? How do they fall for his victimization narrative?

I’m reminded of a day in 1992, when I spent time with Trump visiting one of his then-bankrupt casinos in Atlantic City for a story for BusinessWeek. He was in financial ruin, his empire controlled by others for the benefit of his many creditors, and his reputation in New York City real estate was in the toilet. And yet, as he strode through the since-sold (and renamed) Trump Taj Mahal, gamblers reached out to touch him for luck, one begging him to autograph her slots-playing hand. No matter the reality that he was a wreck financially, he looked to them like a god, much as he does now to those at his rallies.

Part of this may be narcissistic self-delusion on his part. He casts himself publicly – and perhaps in his mind — as paradoxically godlike (“I alone can fix it”) and as a victim, perhaps much as his followers see themselves as victims of social and economic change. But it also may all be good acting of the sort that he honed on his years on “The Apprentice,” the show that elevated his tough-guy image for a national audience. For all his many verbal flubs, he is an extraordinary performer, one who even managed to disguise ill-health during and after his time in the White House.

Source: Whyvert

If one believes he is the alpha, perhaps he is the alpha, at least to his devotees. The analysis I find most intriguing – albeit the most unusual and entertaining – is research related to animal behavior.

As Wikipedia notes, psychology researcher Dan P. McAdams pointed to the dominance behavior of alpha male chimpanzees such as Yeroen, the subject of a study of chimp social behavior by primatologist Frans de Waal.  McAdams describes the similarities: “On Twitter, Trump’s incendiary tweets are like Yeroen’s charging displays. In chimp colonies, the alpha male occasionally goes berserk and starts screaming, hooting, and gesticulating wildly as he charges toward other males nearby. Pandemonium ensues as rival males cower in fear … Once the chaos ends, there is a period of peace and order, wherein rival males pay homage to the alpha, visiting him, grooming him, and expressing various forms of submission. In Trump’s case, his tweets are designed to intimidate his foes and rally his submissive base … These verbal outbursts reinforce the president’s dominance by reminding everybody of his wrath and his force.”

Primatologist Dame Jane Goodall compared Trump’s behavior with that of other male primates. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: Stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks,” Goodall said. “The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

The comparison has been echoed by political observers sympathetic to Trump, Wikipedia recorded. Nigel Farage, a Trump backer, said that in the 2016 United States presidential debates where Trump loomed up on Clinton, he “looked like a big silverback gorilla“, and added that “he is that big alpha male. The leader of the pack!”

Sadly, in all his reasonableness and moderation, as well as his frailness, Biden looks like someone the alpha chimp can stomp at will. Just how the two will compare in face-to-face debates (assuming that Trump doesn’t hide from them, as he has in the primaries), will be a telling spectacle, I suspect. Will America go for sober, thoughtful and measured, albeit it physically challenged, or will it go for a more ape-like manner? What will that choice say about our country?