Friday, December 16, 2016

Christopher Moltisanti And Our Political Media

A few weeks ago I tried to grapple with the election of President Game Show Host with cultural artifacts from the Clinton years and I think it sort of worked. So inspired by Trump's political theory of just-doing-the-same-crazy-shit-over-and-over-again-and-hoping-it-works (it did!) I'll give it another go. But this time I'm going to talk about The Sopranos.

I think it's pretty obvious that much of our political media's behavior during the 2016 election cycle was pretty terrible. Sure there were many brave voices against the madness of EMAILS! (as we called it on Twitter) but much of the political media, especially "mainstream" outlets like The New York Times, cable news, the networks, and The Washington Post, chose to focus almost obsessively about things like email servers. All the while largely eliding bigger questions like, "what are the major differences between these two candidates' plans for the country?"

Matt Yglesias summed it up recently in an article aptly entitled "Fake news is a convenient scapegoat, but the big 2016 problem was the real news" where he points out that:
This coverage [of emails], though extremely extensive, did an extraordinarily poor job of explaining the actual legal issue at stake in the server matter. Network television newscasts from ABC, NBC, and CBS chose to devote three times as much airtime to Clinton’s email server as they gave to all policy issues combined. The Associated Press ran a major investigative story into Clinton Foundation influence peddling that treated a meeting with a Nobel Peace Prize winner as evidence of an insidious pay-to-play scheme. The New York Times did a Clinton Foundation investigation that treated Bill Clinton successfully rescuing American hostages from North Korea as scandalous. The fact that public health experts believe the Clinton Foundation saved millions of lives, by contrast, played extremely little role in 2016 campaign coverage. 
Which means that:
The sum total of this media coverage — real stories based on editorial decisions about how to weight and present real facts — was to give the public the impression that two similarly ethically flawed candidates were running against each other in an election with low policy stakes. The reporters and editors responsible for that coverage can reasonably (if a bit absurdly) consider themselves proud of the work that led the public to that conclusion, or they can consider themselves ashamed of it. But the idea that voters were moved by fake stories about the pope rather than all-too-real ones about email servers is a preposterous evasion. 
When many journalists are confronted with this complaint, they tend to just abruptly change the subject. Generally to why Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate, or something about Bill. As in most things linking pathological Clinton hatred, destructive "leftier than thou" politics, and bad journalism Glenn Greenwald is the Platonic Archetype here, but other people like Andrew Sullivan have fired off some similar takes.

You can also see this going on 24/7 on Twitter as well.

The reality is that this sort of topic switching just simply won't do. Scott Lemieux put it this way when riffing off a similar column by Paul Krugman:
The effect of yadda-yaddaying the media’s malpractice, Wikileaks, and a rogue FBI is both to normalize Trump and to make Trumps more likely in the future. That Clinton’s campaign, like all campaigns, made mistakes is worthy of discussion but is also entirely immaterial to this question. 
For some reason Scott's point really reminded me a classic scene from The Sopranos. I'm not a huge fan of the show for a variety of reasons, but I will acknowledge that it certainly belongs in any list of "Great TV Shows" and I think it's really helpful here.

The scene in question is the one depicting Christopher "Chris" Moltisanti's intervention. Chris is an up and coming younger mobster with some profound substance abuse problems and (I assume) narcissistic personality disorder, who is also the protege (to the degree that they have those in the Mafia) of Tony Soprano played by the late great James Gandolfini.

It's a great scene that really shows The Sopranos at it's best. From mixing humor with very serious subjects to highlighting the themes of some of the shows best characters. From the fundamental tragedy of Adriana's life, to Carmela's willful blindness to the truth that's all around her, to Tony's almost desperate need for control, to the fact that Paulie Walnuts really is crazy and really believes in the whole "Cosa Nostra Code" bullshit, this scene has it all.

Chris responds to being confronted about his raging addictions by changing the subject and pointing out everyone else's problems. Silvio is a misogynistic womanizer! Tony is fat! Fuck you too mom! Then the Mafia guys beat him up. Good stuff.

So why does this scene remind me of so much of the aftermath of the political media's coverage of the 2016 election? Well it's not just because of the tactic of responding to your own crisis with rampant topic switching and going on the offensive against people who are pointing out inconvenient truths about you, although those parallels are pretty obvious. But also because of the great insight the scene provides into Chris' own psychology.

Chris is a vicious, murdering little shit, but he's pretty smart. Probably the smartest of all of Tony's henchmen, which is a big reason why Tony tries so hard to groom him for leadership despite his massive other failings. As I see it Chris is smart enough to have figured out how bad he really did screw up by going into the Mafia lifestyle and in no small part uses booze and drugs as away to try and escape this hard reality. Just consider his position. Sure he's in a crime family and has the boss's ear, but that really just means that he's chosen a career where there isn't any way to get out, other than cooperating with the government, going to prison, or dying (probably in a really horrible way). Meanwhile his "family" is filled with stone killers almost as narcissistic as him who he can never really trust. Meanwhile the organization he's chosen to dedicate his life to serving is getting weaker and more dysfunctional day by day. Meaning that even if he is able to succeed Tony, which is a big if, he'll end up being the boss of a dying organization with no way out.

Thus why Chris gets so angry, and begins attacking anyone who points out the obvious. He screwed up big time, he's stuck with it, and the top person to blame is himself.

Which strikes me as being similar to the thought process of a lot of people contemplating what "covering" the era of Trump is going to be like in DC. Like Chris the political media "won", in this case by finally driving the Clintons from the stage after an epic 25 year death struggle. But that's been rewarded with something much worse than Hillary's dissembling or legalizing which so many journalists found so annoying for so many years. Instead they've gotten Trump whose already claimed his first scalp of members of their profession.

Meanwhile nothing his administration says can be trusted because they lie all the time. No source is worth developing because they might turn on you at any time. And there's no way to write about him without pissing off huge sections of the country.

The political media screwed up big time, and they're stuck with it, and one of the biggest actors to blame is themselves.

When us angry liberals shout like Tony that, "We're here to talk about you screwing up the country by how you chose to cover this election, not Hillary Clinton's fucking personality!" it seems to me that far to many political journalists act like Chris and come back with really witty answers. She's terrible! Not enough events in Michigan! Neera Tanden should never email! And fuck you too liberal subscribers!

The problem of course is we're all about to suffer the beat down for the next four (or maybe more) years. I wish that more people could come to grips with this, or at least acknowledge the validity of our complaints. But some people aren't very good at self improvement, instead they decide to just kill their friends for no good reason.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What the Downfall of World Championship Wrestling Says About Trump.

The attempts to explain what Donald Trump being elected president of the United States of America remains one of the big themes of what I've been reading about lately. Theories of course abound, so much so that it's hard to keep track of them. If you want a refresher check out David Robert's great piece at Vox for a great rundown of the most popular ones, as well as some valuable insights of his own as well.

Which one's are right and which ones are wrong? I honestly really just don't know, although I have a few pet favorites. But while we're trying to sort things out please let me outline an idea that's been kicking around my head about Trump's shocking success. And to do it I'm going to have to talk about the rise and fall of World Championship Wrestling.

First a brief history. The thing we now know as professional wrestling was invented largely as a carnival attraction back in the 19th and early 20th century. After World War Two it gradually rose in prominence as a wealthier society with more free time and increasing access to television looked for new hobbies. By the 70's it was something of a cottage industry controlled by regional promoters who agreed informally not to directly compete with or poach each others talent.

This all changed in the 80's when a guy named Vince McMahon owner of the New York area World Wrestling Federation (or WWF, later to become World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE) through a combination of media savvy, ruthless business tactics, and luck was able to eliminate most of his competition.

Except for a few hold outs, including one southern promotion named Jim Crockett Promotions which having over extended itself trying to compete with the WWF was bought out by yet another egotistical rich dude with things to prove named Ted Turner. He renamed the company World Championship Wrestling (or WCW) and decided to take on the WWF head to head.

(I know this all sounds very boring but I am going somewhere with it I promise.)

The upshot of all this was that the world of professional wrestling in the 90's was dominated by two rival companies, backed by two egotistical gazillionaires, with powerful TV networks in tow, wanting nothing more than to trample their enemy into the dust. There was a phrase for it, The Monday Night Wars, named after the two companies' flagship Monday night cable shows.

The story of the Monday Night Wars is a long an epic saga, Wikipedia summed it up pretty well:
In the mid-1990s, WCW dramatically improved its economic performance, largely due to the promotion of Eric Bischoff to Executive Producer (to guide the overall direction of the on-screen product); the strategy of hiring former WWF main eventers; the introduction of the Monday Nitro series on cable TV, and the resultant Monday Night Wars with the WWF's Monday Night Raw; the successful creative and marketing execution of the New World Order (nWo) brand/stable of wrestlers; and other innovative concepts...
...WCW eclipsed the WWF in popularity throughout the United States for much of the latter-1990s. However, numerous financial and creative missteps led to the company losing its lead over the WWF.
At the core of these "creative missteps" was a man named Vince Russo who by the late 90's had been put in charge of "booking" (deciding who wins and loses matches and how) and writing creative story lines for the whole company. Russo was obsessed with a theory of television he called "Crash TV." That is the key to keeping wrestling fans, or anyone watching really, was to just do more of everything, because more is more is more is more is more. (Russo's many critics inside the weird world of wrestling fandom have long said he based most of his "theories" of television entertainment on The Jerry Springer Show.)

Wikipedia sums the results up well:
"...only at an accelerated pace, including edgier storylines, more lengthy non-wrestling segments, constant heel [bad guy]/face[good guy] turns [changes in character], an increased amount of sexuality on the show, fake retirements, more backstage vignettes, expanded storyline depth..."
This strategy of hyper stimulating the audience can work for a time, not unlike how Who Wants To Be A Millionaire came to dominate television in 1999 and 2000. But pretty quickly the audience will start demanding ever more and if you can't provide it you're finished.

That's basically what happened to WCW which began losing tens of millions of dollars, lost it's TV deals, and was bought up by WWF for a pittance in 2001 after Ted Turner himself got tired of bankrolling the whole thing.

So what does this have to do with Donald Trump? Well, Trump's no stranger to professional wrestling, in fact he was featured in a major story line in 2007 where his chosen wrestler beat Vince McMahon's champion in "The Battle of the Billionaires", allowing Donald to both win owners of the WWE's RAW show and get to shave Vince's head.

This might seem totally idiotic and irrelevant to you (and it sort of is) but I still think there's something to be learned here. In many ways Trump has been running a political version of "Crash TV" which has allowed him to beat 18 other rivals for the GOP nomination and win a close election in which the Republican nominee was slight favorite. In no small way it's turned him into the WCW of the political world: whatever anyone actually thinks about it, it can only be expressed by talking about him. "What Trump Doesn't Tell Us About American Politics" is a story nobody is writing. Indeed his inauguration will probably be a bit like a nWo promo from WCW's heyday: even if you think it's stupid you agree its a bit fascinating to watch, at least once.

WCW of course didn't last forever. Russo's constant attempts to escalate his
"Crash TV" style of programming led very weird things like B movie actor David Arquette being crowned World Champion among other poorly thought out stunts. It didn't take long until the company was bankrupt.

Trump has been following a WCW "Crash TV" style of politics for a long time now. He's dominated the conversation stem to stern whether you are talking about grabbing women by the their genitals, or chants of "lock her up", or threatening to "spill the beans" about Ted Cruz's wife. Indeed this weekend's news has been heavily dominated by Trump flying to Indiana to save 2,000 (actually 850) jobs from being sent to Mexico and radically altering American foreign policy by arranging for a call with the president of Taiwan.

Does trying to bully every single factory in America one by one make sense? Does changing a decades long American policy towards China  via a phone call you didn't bother to run past the State Department make sense either? Who cares! It's  political "Crash TV", the point is to grab the spotlight. And since most political journalists don't really cover policy issues at all anymore you're unlikely to get push back.

Trump's strategy obviously paid of for him electorally. Political scientist Matt Dickinson did a great job of explaining how Trump used the "Crash TV" style of politics to his advantage during the GOP primaries. Read his whole piece but it could be summed as pointing out the media covered Trump overwhelmingly from the beginning and in a very positive light that focused on that he was "winning". Since most voters (even in primaries) don't follow what's going on very much, really good press about how your wining can carry you to 40% of the vote which makes you win under the GOP's byzantine delegate allocation system.

Dickinson (and I) thought at the time that this strategy wouldn't work in the general election. But then again the cycle favored the GOP nominee, add in a political press that in many ways doesn't care about issues other than email servers and if you're Trump you're on your way...

One of the reasons I got this election so wrong is that I assumed there was some sort of inflection point that would make Trump's media strategy run out of gas. I kept thinking that losing some states, or narrowing the field, or GOP rival deciding to go after him could be that inflection point during the primaries. But even after he won the primaries "fun is fun, but now this is serious" was the line that seemed to sum up my thinking through out the summer and fall. Surely his corruption and double-talk would sink him. Surely boasting about sexually assaulting women on tape would sink him. Surely Hillary whipping his ass in no less three debates would count for something.

But no. Like "Crash TV" each outrage and failure seemed to make him stronger. Like terrible booking and creative decision that are rewarded with more viewership.

I still think that inflection point is out there. I still think most white people will stop thinking he's funny and cool once the economy goes into recession or President Game Show Host blunders us into a shooting war with China for no good reason. But I could be wrong.

World Championship Wrestling's business model worked for a while, but not forever. My fear is that we the American people will have to pick up the tab once all the fun and games are over. Ted Turner seems to have washed his hands of this whole business a long time ago.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thoughts On Trump

Well that just happened.

I’ve seen a lot of back and forth on social media and also on some email threads I’ve been cced on about what to make of a racist know-nothing game show host being elected President of the United States. And though there really is a lot to unpack here I think most post-election think pieces are missing a really big point that really need to be reiterated (probably again and again) when it comes to explaining Trump’s victory.

The big point is this: whatever Trump “means” the fact that he won isn’t that inexplicable. He won because he was the Republican nominee and in an era of intense partisanship that was enough to get him over the finish line. Basic “fundamentals” of the election, things like the state of the economy in the election year and the fact the Democrats held the White House for two terms going into the 2016 election, give us all the explantion we need in terms of why Trump was able to win a majority in the Electoral College. Political scientist Seth Masket did a great job explaining this by making, “…a simple scatterplot showing the relationship between economic growth (using per capita real disposable personal income) and the incumbent party’s share of the vote. Clinton’s vote share was right on the line.” 

The simple reality is that the aggregate behavior of the American electorate doesn’t lend itself to telling interesting narratives no matter how much journalists, pundits, and bloggers like me want it to. It’s really hard to hold the White House after your party has held it for two terms, it’s only happened once since World War 2, and so while we should be shocked at who the GOP nominated and is now our president elect, it’s not surprising the GOP candidate won. In fact, from a certain stand point the fact that Hillary won the popular vote by what will probably end up being over 2 million votes shows that she actually ran a pretty good campaign all things considered (or Trump ran a really poor one) even if the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College stopped her from becoming the 45th president.

Still all sorts of people have come up with big explanations for what happened, does this make them wrong? Well not exactly, it’s just there’s no real way to prove Jamelle Bouie was right or wrong when he chalks the outcome up to white racism plain and simple. He could be right! But it’s a really hard thing to ever be able to prove. Kevin Drum summed it up this way right after the election:
When an election is close, you can blame pretty much anything for your loss. There are dozens of people, events, and movements that can make a difference of 1 percent or so. In this election, you can blame Hillary Clinton, Berniebros, Facebook, Jill Stein, neoliberalism, the DNC, white racism, CNN, Obamacare, or anything else you want. They all deserve a share of the blame, so pick your favorite and go to town.
Personally if I’m going to blame anyone I’d go with a broken and hysterical national press corps and their coverage of Clinton, James Comey, and the fact that lots and lots of American men of different races just couldn’t stand the idea of a woman president. But there’s no way for me objectively “prove” this right now and since it will take a while for the CPS data to come out we probably won’t have good answers for years, if ever.

In other words, most explanations for Trump (white people are racist, the Democrats should have nominated Bernie etc) come down to people restating their strong Bayesian priors, which is very understandable, humans as a species love to find ways to justify their preexisting beliefs in the light of new and chaotic events. In fact, Ross Douthat went so far as to blame people not having as many kids as him for Trump. But this doesn't mean these explanations are correct, no matter how much we wish they were.

But while the electoral outcome of the 2016 presidential election wasn’t very surprising at all in terms of vote totals, the substantive consequences of making Trump president are very large. We’ve never had someone like this president and so it’s just really hard to determine how he’ll behave. I could see Trump taking the path of least resistance and going along with Paul Ryan’s plans to gut the social safety net and deregulate the economy as much as possible, in short Trump might behave like a generic Republican. Or I could see Trump being a lot like Jesse Ventura and get bored with governing pretty quickly and not do much of anything other than promote his brands, pick petty fights with other politicals actors, do some popular “free lunch” stuff like cut license plate tab fees, and host some WWE pay per views. Or we he might turn into an American version of Berlusconi and as Brad DeLong sees it govern as:
…somebody who will try to loot as much as he can for him and his friends, and under whom policy will be a combination of random and rent-seeking. Italy seems to have lost a decade of economic growth as a result of Berlusconi.
Other more darker possibilities are out there as well but I don’t really want to write about them right now.

As a liberal though the consequences of his election will most likely be disastrous for what I care about. The Supreme Court will probably be controlled by conservatives now for decades making change in future presidencies even harder. Trump's environmental record is likely to be the worst in American history. He’ll end numerous protections for workers and consumers from things from overtime wages to food safety. The government will be packed full of charlatans, con men (they will mainly be men), and idiots that could do a lot of damage over the long term. His negative impact on issues related to racial, economic, and gender inequality will probably be massive in its own right. A list like this could go on for pages.

But the explanation for why this is happening is actually pretty simple: the GOP nominated him and if you’re the nominee of a major political party you have a good chance of becoming president.

Political scientist Julia Azari recently compared this year’s election results to a short story about parents in a children’s cancer ward. I haven’t read the story so I can’t really comment on it per se, but her description of a story, “about reordering not just priorities but fundamental assumptions about what you can expect from the world” seems to be part of why people like those I cited in this article and myself felt so much anguish over this election. In terms of short stories it reminds me a bit of Shirley Jackson's classic "The Lottery", where an ordinary small town engages in an annual rite of human sacrifice for the most banal or reasons: they've always done it. In fact they've done it for so long they don't even remember why the whole thing started (because this isn't a metaphor for why the press obsessed over Clinton "scandals" for the last 25 years at all). In other words while the reasons for the annual "lottery" might be "normal", that is people tend to follow social traditions in small rural societies, the consequences for Tessie are very real, even as she points out the unfairness and arbitrary nature of what is happening.

The idea of horrific consequences coming from simple and in many way meaningless causes like party incumbency and wage growth in the summer of an election year is a really hard thing for most people to stomach.  But as Azari points out the world still works that way, no matter how hard we wish it didn't.

Friday, November 4, 2016

We're Not Doomed Yet!

Someone I know posted on his Facebook he quite literally couldn't sleep because of the prospects of a Trump presidency. I also had conversation with someone else who asked what my panic level was and I responded with “more like existential dread”, they thought this made sense. I’d argue the possibilities of a Trump Presidency make these behaviors pretty rational, but I don't think we are doomed quite yet. Anyway while the media is freaking out about emails and how Trump could win I want to make four big points that hopefully will let you sleep better.

1. Most of the models have Clinton as a heavy favorite: Nate Silver has been bearish all cycle about Hillary winning and has her odds at around 67 percent, but other fancy models are much more bullish. The NYTime's Upshot model gives her a 85% chance of winning, Huffpo's is in the high 80's, Drew Lizner (formerly of Emory) has her in the low 90's and others have here even higher. Maybe Nate’s right, but then again the whole boy genius thing might be a bit overrated.

2. GOTV: Jeff Blodgett (of Paul Wellstone fame) made a great point on Twitter yesterday that HRC et al have huge get out the voter organizations in crucial swing states. This includes her campaign, state parties, labor, allied organizations, everyone and your mom etc. Trump appears to have, well nothing. This is a crucial point largely ignored by reporters who want juicy stories or something with a universal scope like debate performances; getting your more marginal voters to the polls really, really, yes really matters. If one side is gangbusters and the other is nope this adds up, maybe up to 1-2 percentage points in the final outcome, maybe more.

3. Trump’s Latino Wall of Doom: Trump rode a wave of white anger about Latino immigration to political glory during the primaries, but this tactic isn’t as helpful in a general election. Who knows what Tuesday will bring, but Trump racism and nativism seems to be hurting him in the Silver State where crack reporter and long time student of Harry Reid’s Big Mean Nevada Machine has pointed out early voting statistics show Trump is doomed in the state. The Democrats just banked too many early votes to put it in play for Trump. He put it this way at 10 pm Friday night: “They just extended voting hours at a Mexican supermarket to 10 PM. Close to 1,000 voters in line. If you have a panic button GOP, find it.” That’s just one state, maybe an outlier, and Latinos aren’t as prevalent in more eastern swing states. But then again since most polls are still focusing on land lines, and few publicly released polls use bilingual staff it’s not crazy to think there’s huge turnout in the Latino community that’s not showing up in the polling and most of those voters are going for Clinton. 

4. Stop reading this dumb blog post! And go vote and knock doors! No seriously! It you want to influence the outcome on Tuesday you don’t have much time left!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Thoughts On Trumpocalypse

Donald Trump’s meltdown/explosion/revealing-to-more-white-and-polite-parts-of-America-who-he-really-is continues apace. Rather that writing some long drawn out essay type post I just want to give a few quick hits thinking about what’s happened in the past 30 or so hours.

1. This is a YUGE deal: There have been so many episodes of Trump Awfulness over the past 18 months that it’s honestly hard to categorize them. Is what Kevin Drum is now calling “pussygate” 2, 10, 100, or 1000 time’s worse that the Trump’s trashing of the Kahns? How does this compare to him swindling desperate people out of their meager savings via his for profit “university.” Is his comments saying NATO should be turned into a protection racket even worse? I don’t know anymore and won’t even try to ranks them. Trump has seemed to be so unsinkable since the summer of 2015 that it seems each new revelation of his awfulness probably won’t matter that much because all the previous ones didn’t stop him before.

Having said that the political science literature is quite firm that the huge number of Republican elected officials jumping off the SS Donald will have an impact. Julia Azari recently outlined this in a post at 538  

It’s early October, with both conventions down and two debates in the books with two to go. Much of the partisan activation that’s going to happen has already happened. Still, for the campaigns and lower-information voters, who may be just tuning in, this is an intense time. And for high-information voters, political journalists and other people who have been paying attention to the campaign for a long time, we’re at the point where it’s become a bit of a slog. Anything resembling a real campaign development is unexpected and welcome for this second group. This could prove a potent combination. It offers a new and salacious story just as the final stage of the campaign ramps up.

In other words what politicians say at this point in an election really does matter. If everyone in the party is saying the same message over and over again in the lead up to Election Day you really can activate your more marginal voters; turn the base out; and win back people who swore off the nominee and maybe even politics itself for some slight or disappointment in the past. This is exactly what’s happening on the Democratic side where here in Minnesota (not really a swing state in the cycle) where you have the Lieutenant Governor running around with none other than Gloria Steinem to turn out the vote.

Meanwhile on the GOP side you have dozens of governors, senators, members of congress, and important party figures denouncing Trump. In other words this disconnect matters.

2. The Vulgarity Isn’t The Problem Here: Okay a lot of other people have already written about this so I won’t rehash it. I’ll just say this, Joe Biden famously said on a hot mic he didn’t know was on that Obamacare was “a big fucking deal.” That’s a curse word generally rated as being worse than “pussy”, and while there was some pearl-clutching in the political media at the time most people understood that he meant a law that expanded health coverage to 20 million people and reduced inequality in our society was, well “a big fucking deal.” Again the swearing isn’t the issue here, the content of Trump’s remarks is what’s “problematic” as they say.

3. No Way Out: There’s been a huge amount of chatter online and in news organizations about how the GOP will make Trump drop out and then Pence will be the nominee. This is utter nonsense. Sure the RNC has its “Rule 9a” which allows for a nominee to be replaced if the nominees or dies of choses “declination” but, well, here are the important bullet points:

  • The only way to invoke this is if Trump “declines” the nomination ie voluntarily drops out.
  • I guess anything is possible, but Trump has been ranting all afternoon about why he will never do this on Twitter.
  • Under the rules the RNC has to wait 10 days to reassemble to do this. So even if Trump “declines” on Monday the RNC has to wait until 10/20 at least.
  • This is ignoring the huge logistical problems of assembly the RNC on an emergency basis. It’s a YUGE deal to do that in its own right and trying to figure out how to do it with a Republican Party basically engaged in a civil war as we see right now is even harder.
  • One of the reasons the Republican Party failed so spectacularly this election cycle is because they couldn’t solve a basic collective action problem. That is most party actors thought Trump was terrible but they could never agree on who rally around instead. The idea of “picking our best guy to go against Hillary” presents the same problems, why would they be better at solving this now compared TO THE ENTIRE CALENDAR YEAR they had to deal with this from the summer of 2015 to the convention?
  • Trump is already on the ballot. People are already voting (see my link above). There’s some hypothetical possibility where you could get faithless electors to cast ballots for Paul Ryan or Ronald Reagan’s Ghost or whatever, but in the real world no. They’re stuck with him.

4. Oh God, It’s Infected Me Too: I saw the Trump thing break in real time on Twitter on Friday afternoon. When I saw it my first reaction was “now he’s done it” which pretty quickly changed into “he does this all the time”. Which made me think the whole thing was pretty funny. I have a very black (gallows) sense of humor and working professionally in politics in the past I think has taken a bit of a toll out my ability to be “outraged” about any one thing. I want to be outraged about Trump, but I’m so outraged about so many other things it can be hard to find more outrage to go around.

 So Friday afternoon when I first saw it break live on Twitter my response was largely “Oh yet another one of Trump’s infamies, what a horrible person.” Like so much of his general awfulness. I honestly didn’t realize what a bombshell this really was. Part of this might be to my “white male privilege” or whatever, and maybe I’m just a horrible person as well, but I think my own experience highlights a bigger point.

One of the worst parts of Trump is how he’s been systematically destroying what Jonathan Zasloff once called “the informal institutions of American governance.”:

By “informal institutions,” I mean those habits and customs outside of formal, written law that make democracy work.  Some things are simply not done; everyone agrees to resist the temptation for political advantage in order to make the system work.

Trump of course throws this whole idea out the window every day, whether you are talking about his serial lying or his threats to beat up reporters. And it’s infecting the mainstream. Most journalists decided that Tim Kaine lost the VP debate on style points (He kept interrupting! How rude!) while Mike Pence coasted to victory on what Jamelle Bouie called “A National Gaslighting” ie lying constantly. The idea that a VP nominee would not say on national television “he never said X” when in fact the nominee did in fact “say X” on national television early seems like a problem. But Pence hung tough when it came to lying again and again and so most political journalists went with the “views on shape of earth differ” style of coverage.

But as I thought about this more and more today I became a bit more surprised at my own reaction; I realized I had become so numb to Trump’s awfulness that even a political bombshell like this, something that as Julia Azari points out is hard to find a historical comparison too, struck me initially as being awful but about par for the Trump course.  

In other words the damage Trump has done to our democracy and society, even if he loses (which he almost certainly will), is already done. I’ve internalized his behavior as being normal even though it’s not normal at all. God knows how many other Americans have done the same. And I don’t know what we can do to repair it, other than make sure he goes down in flames in November.