THE LONELIEST MAN ON EARTH

Posted in Rants on November 7th, 2016 by Ed

As I write this on Monday evening I'm aware of how many people feel about jinxes and other such tempting forms of bad logic, so let me preface this by saying that the assumptions here are based on all of the available data (actual data, discounting hunches, gut feelings, magical theories about how data is wrong, and so on) suggesting that Trump is highly unlikely to prevail on Tuesday.

If you're Donald Trump, this has been a hell of a ride. He relishes attention like whales relish krill, and it's hard to think of any person in the history of the modern world who has gotten more attention of this duration and intensity. American media, and to a lesser extent that of the world, has been Trump-focused for the better part of 18 months now. It has been impossible to get away from him or to avoid hearing his name, and god knows a lot of us have tried. If his goal was to bask in publicity and attention, to force everyone to focus on him whether they want to or not, then inarguably he succeeded. He succeeded beyond even his own wildest dreams. 2016 has been the Year of Trump.

It's all about to come to a screeching halt, and I think he knows it.

Three weeks ago, noted twit David Brooks offered a surprisingly thoughtful take on "Donald Trump's Sad, Lonely Life." It felt premature; as long as this election continues, he will be surrounded with people variously doing his bidding or kissing his ass. I do think Trump is sad, as Brooks muses, but I believe it's because some part of his twisted psyche knows that he isn't going to win and he knows, ultimately, what that means for him. On Wednesday morning, he is going to wake up to find himself the most hated man in the world. He will be able to count the people who want anything to do with him on one stubby little hand. That everyone to the left of Mitt Romney hates him is obvious, not to mention already true. But for the sake of the party, many people in the Republican orbit have been…well, they've pursued a number of strategies. Humoring him. Faking enthusiasm. Going through the motions. Tepidly and generically offering ambiguous statements of support. Endorsing him in language that does not actually endorse him. It's rational behavior on their part.

But here's the thing about Republicans, and about American conservatism more broadly: the movement can never fail or be wrong. It can only be failed and be wronged. It is always the candidate's fault. And oh my god and baby jesus in heaven are they going to throw Trump under the bus the second this election is over. He thinks, at this moment, that his followers are going to be loyal to him. Some of them will retreat into fantasies that he was cheated out of victory. Most of them will grow to see him (with the encouragement of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and its mouthpieces) to see him as that most loathsome of all things in their worldview. They will see Donald Trump as a loser. For a movement based entirely on concepts like superiority, dominance, and nonspecific Winning, for a group of people that adulate Winners above all else, Donald Trump is not going to be able to survive being a Loser.

The Republican establishment, already in full Damage Control mode, will declare him persona non grata. His paid campaign staff will drift away and sell their stories to salivating media outlets – "You won't believe how terrible he was!" The media will leap at the opportunity to stop pretending for the sake of Balance to treat him as anything but a joke. And that army of numbskulls he believes will follow him to Trump TV will find that Fox News, right wing radio, and the rest of the noise that makes up their lives is pushing a new, curiously convenient message: He was the problem. He's a loser. He failed. We need a winner. We need to move on. We were so close, and we would have won if he didn't screw up so much. People who screw up and say "Grab 'em by the pussy" on tape aren't winners. They're losers.

We all know how effective the noise machine is at establishing its preferred narrative of reality. It will turn on Trump. Everyone associated with him will run for cover. Every Republican failure in this election year will be laid at his feet. And then it will move on. Fox and the RNC and the Koches and everyone else will say, "See? We told you so. Now never disobey us again," and the entirety of the Trump phenomenon will go down the memory hole. He will be marched before the firing squad and preserved as a corpse that will be dragged out only when the base needs to be reminded of the consequences of deviating from the path determined by their right wing elders.

Remember, nobody in the GOP wanted or likes this guy. Fox News banged the drum against him and only recently (and half-heartedly) supported him out of some sense of obligation toward the R next to his name on the ballot. We've seen the right tear into one of their own with amazing ferocity even when that person is someone they generally hold (or held) in high regard. Imagine what they will do to a con man who infiltrated their ranks at a time of weakness and made a mockery out of the party to the point where the brand name may be damaged permanently.

Trump on Tuesday evening will be a convict enjoying his last meal before execution, and he knows it. The saying goes that in politics that first they love you and then they turn on you, a bit of wisdom that bodes particularly poorly for someone who They didn't love in the first place.

AND HERE WE ARE, EXACTLY WHERE WE HAVE BEEN FOR MONTHS

Posted in Rants on November 6th, 2016 by Ed

The real kick in the teeth about this transcendently horrible election is that we've suffered through it mostly for naught. Very little about the candidates' relative standing has changed since the conventions. The recent FBI / Emails commotion, for example, was a textbook example of a non-story. No new information was involved. "Something something Hillary Clinton's emails or something." We've all been hearing about this for months. To anyone inclined not to vote for Hillary because of the email thing, nothing changed here. For people who don't care about the issue at all…well, nothing changed here either. In fact, the only movement in the polls since October 1 has been a slight bump for Trump – from defecting Gary Johnson voters. Johnson has gone from 8-10% to a predictable 4-5% (and probably won't do even that well on Election Day). The difference has accrued to Trump, presumably because your average Johnson supporter is a disaffected Republican.

Here we are, one day before the election, exactly where we have always been. My best prediction today is no different than what I said in June or in March or in 2015: There is no plausible scenario in which a candidate can win a presidential election in the modern era with essentially no votes from black or Hispanic voters. Factor in how much Trump has done to alienate women and you have no argument that does not involve an MTS (Magical Turnout Scenario). Every single prediction of a Trump win that I've read or heard over the past couple of months relies on an MTS. There's a "silent majority." There are people who have never voted before who will come out of the woodwork to vote Trump. African-Americans and Hispanics won't vote, because reasons. People are too scared of Scary Liberals to admit in polls that they support Trump but they're totally going to vote for him on Election Day. Huge conspiracies to vote fraudulently will be unraveled by patriots bravely monitoring polling places. On and on it has gone. Deluding themselves that improbable scenarios – in some cases pure fantasy – are going to save them has become an art among Republicans.

That leaves the related question of why we keep hearing that the election is so close. Neck-and-neck. On a razor's edge.

I'm beating a dead horse here, but just remember how "close" the election was claimed to be in 2012 versus the reality we observed. The media are driven by ratings. This is not a crazy conspiracy theory or some kind of adolescent Chomsky-esque slander; it's a simple statement of fact. Elections are their biggest ratings events, and they have every possible incentive to sell the narrative that the horserace is coming down to the wire. They have no incentive whatsoever to tell you that Clinton has a lead outside the margin of error and Trump needs some sort of miracle to close the gap. Already suffering from low ratings in the more competitive environment of modern media, TV news networks and political news sites badly need people to buy into the narrative that the race is close. If not, they will stop watching in the same way that the TV audience is likely to wander away when the Super Bowl is 50-0 at halftime.

Mitt Romney and John McCain were not exactly blown away or routed, but they were solidly defeated. That happened with each candidate getting something like 25-30% of the Hispanic vote. Trump is barely in double digits. Romney and McCain similarly did not go out of their way to alienate women, something Trump has turned into an X-Men superpower. While it is true that Hillary Clinton is statistically less popular and likable than voters felt Obama was in those two elections, none of the available evidence suggests that Democratic-leaning voters are any less likely to show up this year.

If I'm wrong I'll refund your money and we can start digging bunkers together. But I am highly confident that the scenario that plays out on Tuesday is going to be reminiscent of 2012, when the major media outlets declared 15 states "toss ups" and then one candidate won 14 of them, in some cases by large margins. No matter how many ways they try to convince themselves that there are, there simply are not enough dumb, old, or dumb and old white people to make an electoral majority without appealing to any other demographic in the electorate. In 1952 it was enough. The GOP seems hellbent on learning every four years that it no longer is.

NPF: FORGET-ME-NOT

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 4th, 2016 by Ed

So this is sports, but it's not sports.

It has been very interesting from an armchair sociological perspective to watch the nation (and certainly the city of Chicago) lose its marbles over the World Series win by the long-suffering Cubs. At 108 years, their championship drought certainly was unprecedentedly long. That's not interesting outside of a sports context. But the fact that national media outlets devoted exclusively to covering sports apparently forgot that the Chicago White Sox won the World Series just 11 years ago is.

I'm somewhat biased here, as a Sox fan. I was at Game 2 of that World Series. But the distinction between Cubs and White Sox fans in Chicago is something we can describe without being affected by our own preferences. The Cubs are the North Side. The Sox, the South Side. The North Side is wealthier, whiter, younger, and where people go to have a good time. The big music venues, the fancy restaurants, the theaters…all north of the loop for the most part. The South Side is not glamorous. It is traditionally less wealthy, not a place people associate with having a night on the town, and heavily composed of black, Hispanic, Irish, Polish, and other identifiably "ethnic" populations. The North Side is residential and cosmopolitan. The South Side is industrial and without frills.

In 2005, the year the White Sox won the Series, it was interesting to watch how little anyone outside of the South Side gave a crap, here or nationally. The previous year, the Boston Red Sox won their first series since 1918 and everyone in the national media treated it like the second coming. Yet when the White Sox were going for their first win since 1917 – an even longer drought – nobody seemed to care. That they played the equally anonymous (but excellent) Houston Astros probably didn't help. And now ten years later everyone is going crazy for the Cubs and their drought again. Hmm.

The excuses for people hopping on the Cubs bandwagon – everyone loves an underdog, etc. – fall flat. It's clear that *some* underdogs and *some* droughts are worthy of our collective sympathy. As long as the team is one for whom being a supporter is sufficiently cosmopolitan and has sufficient social cachet attached to being a fan, then everyone cares. If your fan base is 25% native Spanish speakers and your stadium is located across the highway from what was once America's most notorious public housing project, then nobody even notices let alone cares.

I don't mean to read too much into reactions to a sporting event, and I have no doubt personally that the Cubs fans outnumber Sox fans in Chicagoland. Yet the White Sox victory parade in 2005 was attended by 3 million people, a staggering number that I'm sure today's Cubs parade will match. I can't help but feel that which 3 million people were excited about the White Sox is a significant part of the explanation for why their World Series championship inspired so little interest compared to what happened for the Cubs and Red Sox.

CODA: And it was great baseball, too. The White Sox went 11-1 in the playoffs, won a 15 inning marathon in Game 3 of the World Series (the kind of game that legends are made of), and won in the 9th inning of Game 4 on two plays by Juan Uribe that, had Derek Jeter made them, would have been the subject of feature films.

HOW TO VOTE FOR BERNIE IN YOUR STATE

Posted in Quick Hits on November 2nd, 2016 by Ed

To the many people asking, "Hillary Clinton is no different than Trump. How do I vote for Bernie Sanders?" the answer is not simple because procedures vary by state. Nonetheless this short step-by-step guide will walk you through the process.

1. Don't. He conceded on June 7 and ended his campaign on July 25.