Oddities, reflections and vignettes from the cratered road to Election 2016
10 min read
What an election year. I feel like I’ve been transported through a cosmic squirrel hole into a baffling political universe where facts are fiction, bizarre is normal, and corruption is a virtue. For example, as I’m writing this, I see a blustery, bullying buffoon with neon greenish-yellow hair smirking fiendishly as he’s hoisted throne-ward by a mass of frenzied believers. Am I hallucinating? Or has this insanity really happened?
Here’s more insanity: I’m writing this before there are any actual … you know … results to analyze. So since I can’t yet conjure up the deep meanings (or lack thereof) in this year’s national vote, I’ll offer instead a mess of tidbits, oddities, reflections, and vignettes from this rutted and pot-holed general election road we’ve traveled, jouncing through destruction brought largely by the furies howling from deep within The Donald.
Finally, who can forget Donnie Trump’s assessment of his own magnificence in a 2015 Lincoln Day speech, when he declared: “Bing bing, bong bong, bing bing.” Honest Abe couldn’t have said it better, could he?
Enjoying Hightower? How about a weekly email that gives you the full scoop?
Source note: Kudos and thanks to Garry Trudeau for collecting many of the above Trumpisms in his June 19 Doonesbury comic strip.
Profiles in poltroonery
Trump’s limitless ego wasn’t the worst of the spectacle, of course. Again and again this year, packs of Republican Congress critters rushed to the media to denounce the boorish comments and bullying behavior of their party’s presidential nominee. And then, having blasted Trump as being somewhere between thuggish and morally depraved, they proceeded to urge voters to elect the brute our nation’s leader.
The worst of these gutless lawmakers are the top two GOP leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Like clowns in a jack-in-the-box, they kept popping out to decry The Donald’s latest attack on the myriad people he hates. Then this pitiful duo meekly folded back into the box, reiterating that, well, they still endorse him to be president of our US of A! For example, after October’s stunning revelation that Trump had bragged on video about how easy it is for him to assault women sexually, here came McConnell, professing outrage: “As the father of three daughters,” he sputtered, “I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize … for the utter lack of respect for women.” In turn, Ryan proclaimed that he was “sickened by what I heard.” Nonetheless, neither Mitch nor Paul was offended enough to withdraw his embrace of Trump, instead insisting that the misogynist should be our president. How sickening is that?
Then came the Congressional two step, a Republican line-dance featuring stalwarts so appalled by the Trump Access Hollywood video that they summoned the integrity to withdraw their endorsement of the serial groper. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska declared Trump’s attitude “disgusting and totally unacceptable under any circumstance,” calling on him to withdraw; Sen. John Thune of South Dakota also demanded that the nominee step down, fuming that Trump’s boasting of grabbing women’s genitals was “more offensive than anything that [he] had seen” from the narcissistic candidate. At last, some political courage! But only momentarily. Scorched by a furious backlash from Donald diehards, Fischer and Thune quickly stepped back into line, obediently dancing again to Trump’s tune and pledging anew to support him.
Down-ballot candidates gone wild
Years ago, a popular Austin bar and political hangout featured a hot-air hand dryer in the men’s room. Printed on the big chrome button that powered the blower was this instruction: “Push here for a message from your Congressman.” Here is a sampler of hotair messages gusting from the mouths of legislative candidates this year:
US Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Tea Partier and Trump enthusiast, was asked during a TV interview if he would stick with his endorsement even if Donnie had been caught on tape saying, “I really like to rape women.” At first, Blake conceded, “that would be bad,” but then he blurted: “I would have to consider–I’d consider it.” Later that night, Farenthold frantically tried to clean up his mess with a trio of classic tweets. (1) The Oops tweet: “I apologize for my failure to immediately condemn anyone who would say something as outrageous as they like raping women.” (2) The It’s-Not-My-Fault tweet came one minute later: “I was thrown off by the anchor’s use of a hypothetical question.” And finally, (3) the Moral High Road tweet: “I do not and have not ever condoned rape or violence against women.”
Jon Girodes, GOP nominee for a New York state senate seat, reached out to African-American voters with an event offering free food: “We will [donate] Kool Aid, KFC [fried chicken], and watermelons to the public on 125th Street in Harlem. Please join us to help the community.”
Ron Johnson, a multimillionaire corporate exec and Tea Party darling spent a ton of his wealth six years ago to win a Wisconsin senate seat. Like his term in office, his re-election effort this year has been light on substance and heavy on right-wing ideological falderal. For example, when confronted with the widespread problem of single moms working low-wage jobs that leave them unable to afford childcare, Ron’s knee-jerk response was to reject any public role (such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour or providing free daycare). Instead, he thought real hard and–voilá!–came up with a “free-market” solution: “Let single moms actually work in daycare,” he exclaimed. Brilliant–put ’em all in daycare jobs. Never mind that (1) most daycare centers offer rotten pay with no benefits and terrible working conditions, (2) the jobs are already filled–by workers who presumably would be fired by the learned senator to clear space for his new wave of low-wage moms.
Darryl Glenn, the GOP’s anti-choice extremist running for a Colorado senate seat, had his own Trumpian experience in October with a video from his past. Unearthed by the Colorado Springs Independent, the clip shows Glenn sermonizing on abortion last year. His message: Even a woman impregnated by a rapist must bear his child. “That’s a gift from God,” he intoned with the moral authority of a man who’ll never have to endure such a god-awful gift. “There are no exceptions,” Glenn preached, sadistically punctuating his condemnation with a sanctimonious twist: “But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to pray for you.”
2016’s best political buttons
Many worthy contenders here, but I favor buttons with messages that are simple, pack a subtle punch, and are witty without being wordy. In the positive category, this one became a national phenomenon, capturing the passion (“hotter than high school love,” as we say in Texas) of Bernie’s base of mad-as-hell populist rebels. The “Bern” theme was conjured up by Winnie Wong, a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement and co-founder of People for Bernie.
The art of negative buttoneering, however, is especially difficult, for the tendency is to go with a heavy-handed cheap shot that turns off all but the humorless diehards (this year’s “Hillary for Prison” slogan being a prime example of an artless yuk-yuk). But here is one “anti” pin that I think works to convey the smug essence of The Donald. (Of course, you do need a touch of Spanish to get the punchline.) “Pendejo” is a noun widely used in Mexican-American communities as a laughing put-down of someone who is full of themselves. A pendejo can take a variety of forms–from a snotty-nosed kid to a pretentious, silly person to a contemptible jerk–and they all perfectly fit with Donnie.
Whatever happened to Whatzizzname?
Ted Cruz, who always considered himself the Machiavellian master of political machination, ran a dismal campaign and ended up down in the dumps. Financed by a handful of billionaires, and counting on masses of fervent, right-wing Christians to power him to glory, he had his path all mapped out. Until he hit a speed bump named Trump.
"Two wrongs don't make a right, but three left turns do." --Jim Hightower
At first, the Cruzer tried buttering up the fulminating Donald by declining in the early Republican debates to condemn the tycoon’s mad-dog attacks on other candidates, Mexicans, women, immigrants, reporters, et al. But when Trump turned his withering attacks toward Cruz, it reduced the haughty Texas senator to whiney retorts. Their feud culminated in Ted’s disastrous speech at the GOP convention, which was met by an avalanche of boos when Cruz obstinately omitted any endorsement of the party’s nominee. This put Machiavelli Cruz in a downward political spiral within the party, endangering his own re-election chances in 2018. He tried to portray his deep pout as a noble stand on principle, but few Republicans were buying that. Panicking, Cruz then doubled down on disaster by flip-flopping. Abandoning any pretense of principle or dignity, he belatedly endorsed Trump–who basically shrugged it off with a “whatever.”
Cruz surfaced only once in the campaign after that: A video crew found him in an obscure GOP boiler room in October, woefully doing phone-bank duty for The Donald.
2016 election disregards the needy
What about those left out of this presidential campaign? Imagine how it feels to have your needs ignored or even mocked by the political system. As one despondent leader of a group of disenfranchised Americans put it in July: “There’s a great sense of frustration here.”
That heart-heavy advocate for the politically discarded was John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable. His outfit consists of the chief executives of many of the country’s largest corporations, from American Express to Walmart. They are wailing that– despite their members’ collective $7 trillion in annual revenue and nearly 16 million employees–they’ve become invisible to Hillary Clinton, Donnie Trump, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson. The group even extended a special invitation to Clinton and Trump, to come sit with the CEOs for off-the-record discussions about the corporate agenda–but both candidates were no-shows!
Used to being courted by Republican and Democratic leaders alike, Roundtable members are apparently flabbergasted and feeling betrayed by the two-party duopoly they’ve long financed. What’s America coming to, they wonder, if there is no longer any compassion for the corporate needy? As Engler sadly noted: “Everything has been upended.”
If you’re among the multitude of progressives who aren’t sure what Hillary Clinton really believes in, that’s understandable. It seems she can’t decide what to have for breakfast until her sprawling coterie of aides, pollsters, speech writers, image consultants, and others calibrate every aspect of the decision, with the determining factor being what PR pros call “optics” (i.e., how it will look and play out politically).
Constantly calculating, testing, tweaking, and repositioning has been the hallmark of Clinton’s long public career, as confirmed by the October Wikileaks dump of thousands of internal email exchanges among her campaign staffers. A lengthy October 11 New York Times article based on the emails, revealed that the campaign “struggles in defining her politics and her reasons for wanting to become president. The private discussions among her advisors about policy–on trade, on the Black Lives Matter movement, on Wall Street regulation–often revolved around the political advantages and pitfalls of different positions, while there was little or no discussion about what [she] actually believed.”
Trying to craft a slogan that would sum up her candidacy, one of Clinton’s trusted ad makers offered this gem of obfuscation: “Neither change nor continuity, but the different way. The new way.” Now there’s an inspiring bumper sticker!
If she wins the White House–and as I write this in late October, the odds look like she will–this wobble factor will be worrisome, but it can also offer real opportunities for a vigilant, organized, and aggressive movement of grassroots progressives. Look no further than this year’s Democratic primary campaign and the party’s Bernie-esque platform to see Clinton’s willingness to adopt very progressive positions in response to pressure from America’s ascending populist constituency.
From my experience in the Sanders campaign, and from serving on the Dem’s platform committee, I believe that, rather than worrying about “finding Hillary,” we should do our best to help define Hillary. Of course Wall Street and Corporate America will swarm a Clinton White House (as they did Bill’s), but this time progressives have an organized and battle-tested ground force of Sanders campaign veterans who are on-watch and on the move, capable of countering the corporate swarm and holding her to the commitments she has made to us.
Moreover, by continuing to organize and mobilize across the country around populist issues and local campaigns, the uprising sparked by Sanders is the future of American politics. The Working Families Party, the Greens, the majority of Democrats (including Hillary backers), and the no-party people are in open rebellion against the moneyed plutocracy, and change is coming. To advance it, thousands of us Berniecrats have launched Our Revolution, an independent, state-based political network that flows from, and is building on, the progress and grassroots structures of Sanders’ seminal run. It’s already organizing for next year’s local elections and looking toward the 2018 congressional races, the 2020 presidential contest–and beyond. Link up at www.ourrevolution.org.