Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thoughts on Paul Ryan's Retirement Announcement

Although I'd read a few speculations at various times in the past that Paul Ryan might decide not to run for re-election again, I was surprised and a little saddened by Speaker Ryan's April 11 announcement that his time in Congress will conclude at the end of his current term.  Of course, had things gone as I thought they should in 2012, Ryan would have left the House years ago and would be busy carrying out his Vice-Presidential duties in the Mitt Romney administration.  While I'm sorry he'll be stepping aside, a transition to a new phase of life will probably be positive for Mr. Ryan personally.  He's been a successful politician and has risen to a powerful position, but those achievements have also made him a target of copious amounts of criticism from multiple directions.

It's not always true, but in this case, perhaps upsetting those on all sides is an indication he's been basically on the right track.  Liberals have long portrayed Congressman Ryan as a mean and heartless ultra-conservative and an enemy of vulnerable people like the elderly and poor.  Meanwhile, plenty of folks on the "Right" now see him as a squishy "establishment RINO," whatever those terms even mean these days, and a dear friend of mine recently explained that she thinks he's part of the problem in Washington, D.C.  While different people can have legitimate criticisms of or disagreements with individual actions he has or has not taken, I think that the generalized negative judgments of Speaker Ryan are unwarranted.  This is a guy whose goals include a retirement system that will still be solvent for seniors in the future and an economy where out-of-work citizens can find jobs, and who spends time traveling to visit groups striving to improve lives in distressed communities.  These are not the hallmarks of some cruel monster.  Likewise, a pro-lifer who supports tax reform, second amendment rights and free trade, and is one of the few politicians willing to stick his neck out to try to get people to address the looming problems with Social Security and Medicare is certainly not a wimpy moderate.  This list sounds to me more like a pretty standard description of what was known as a conservative not that long ago.

But then, while I've always considered myself a conservative, my take on the political scene, which I guess involves a mix of realism and idealism, leaves me out of step with most Republicans right now.  I am well aware that politicians are only human and that our government systems don't always make it easy to make changes or solve problems.  As a result, I don't expect to agree with public officials about everything, and I don't deem them utter failures or sell-outs if they aren't able to achieve all of the things on which they campaign.  However, while this may currently be considered too high a bar, I would like candidates or office-holders to at least be basically decent people if they expect me to side with them, defend them, or invest in them.  (I'm thinking, for a start, of individuals who don't punch reporters, don't brag about tawdry actions in books or on video, and don't abuse minors -- go ahead, call me an "elitist" dreamer.)

I have some differences of opinion with Paul Ryan, including a less-lenient view toward immigration issues, and I would certainly prefer it if the federal government in which he plays an important role would stop increasing spending and deficits so much.  As a skeptic of the present occupant of the Oval Office, I've found it disappointing to see the degree to which Speaker Ryan appears to have become a friendly working partner of Donald Trump, but I can (rather grudgingly) understand that there really isn't much good that could come from a more antagonistic relationship with the president.  With Trump as a foe, Ryan wouldn't have much chance of accomplishing any of his legislative goals.  Plus, most of us don't have a lot of say in the sort of people our co-workers will be, but we still have to try to get along and work together.  Still, I do think that Congressman Ryan has sometimes crossed the line into saying overly positive things about Trump or making claims that Trump shares more conventional conservative views when these things just aren't true, although the Speaker may have somehow convinced himself that they are, and this has been my biggest problem with Paul Ryan's actions in the last couple of years.

None of these things has made me reject or turn against Congressman Ryan, though.  I still see him as someone on my side with whom I largely agree -- someone who is trying to do lots of the right things in office, and probably most importantly, someone who seems to be one of the "good guys," which can make up for a lot with me.  After all, if, for example, it's possible that a politicians faith might be an influence leading him to take positions I favor on life issues, maybe I shouldn't be too upset if it also might contribute to a more sympathetic take on "undocumented" immigrants.  And if I like someone partially because he is a "nice guy," I guess I can't fault him too much for being polite and collegial with others of whom I may disapprove.

In 2016, Congressman Ryan had a couple of campaign ads that struck me as notable, especially given the political atmosphere at the time.  They involved some constituents who talked about why they supported Ryan and described him as a good neighbor and husband and a man of integrity and faith, accompanied by images of the Speaker in church and at community events, etc.  I found myself wondering, a bit cynically, how much success any politician is likely to have making the public believe he or she isn't a corrupt, sleazy crook, considering the common popular view of those involved in the business, which, unfortunately is not unsupported by much in the news.  I was also curious, though, what made Ryan think that voters even cared about a candidate's character any more or that, if they did, they'd even find being the type of traditional upright citizen depicted in these commercials to be a desirable or positive attribute.  As for me, I don't presume to know what public figures are really like, but I do appreciate that Paul Ryan at least seems to believe that being seen as a good person is still a worthwhile aim.

All in all, then, there is a lot to like, admire, and respect about Paul Ryan.  He has been doing what has to be a very demanding job and dealing with a lot of pressure for some time now, and it's understandable that he might want to move on to something else and spend more time with his family.  Despite the complaints of Ryan's Republican naysayers, I'm not at all sure how likely it is that his successor, in Wisconsin's First District or the Speakership, will be a better representative of the conservative movement or a stronger spokesperson for conservative ideas and policies.  In any case, I am glad to have had a serious and responsible Representative for all these years.  I wish Mr. Ryan well in his future endeavors, and I hope that he'll be able to make the most of his last few months in Congress.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Should UW Tuition be Cut?

I have long been a supporter of Scott Walker, and I am glad that he is our Governor.  I also certainly do not consider myself a foe of the University of Wisconsin system, as I have connections to it as both a graduate and a staff member.**  Still, I find myself taking issue with a UW-related proposal Governor Walker made recently.  In his State of the State address, he said that, after freezing in-state undergraduate tuition at UW-System schools for the last few years, he now would like to actually cut it.  While this may sound appealing to a lot of people, my first reaction is that this is not really a desirable or wise idea.

In general, I think that the institutions of the UW-System are a pretty good value for students now.  However, I would be much more favorably disposed toward the tuition-cut notion if the Governor’s intention was to reduce expenditures at UW Schools so that the actual cost of providing an education at these colleges and universities would go down, and then to pass the reductions along to students.  Instead, though, it seems that Walker was suggesting sending more money from the state budget to the UW to offset reduced revenue from tuition.

Now, I am all for attempts to keep costs down for students at our state institutions of higher learning.  I’ve been concerned by recent or upcoming moves to increase or expand the use of existing fees (such as for applications, placement testing, graduation, etc.) or to add new ones (for first-time enrollment, for example), as these actions do not always seem motivated by a genuine need to cover rising costs of providing the associated services.  They sometimes appear to reflect a wish to generate more revenue to accommodate desired increases in spending, and I question whether this is a fair approach, especially for those who claim to be very concerned about student needs and access to higher education.

I also think that the System, which is always requesting more money from the state, could well do without some of what it seeks.  Some planned renovations or new constructions seem to be either elective or more elaborate than necessary.  Also, for an entity supposedly stretched financially thin by budget reductions and tuition freezes, some priorities and choices regarding the allocation of funds might perhaps be misguided.  Things like adding new positions, especially in narrowly tailored administrative roles; seeking raises for staff and fretting that, for example, UW-Madison might lose a particular professor they seek if they aren’t able to pay her as much as some wealthy private school can; and shopping for lots of the latest fancy and expensive new technological gadgets and software to replace things that are still working might not be particularly appropriate for a state University system that is supposed to be on a budgetary diet.  Many of these topics merit discussion in their own right, and more fiscal discipline regarding these and other matters could help to bring down costs for students in the future.

Still, overall, and compared to costs of other choices, UW tuition does not seem unreasonable, and students have the options to apply for financial aid, scholarships, etc. to assist them in paying for college.  Taxpayer money already provides some degree of subsidy toward education at Wisconsin’s public state University system and technical colleges, but I do not believe that we should go down the path of adding higher education to the ever-growing list of things to which everyone feels “entitled.”  (Sorry, Senator Sanders.)  One would think that conservatives, like the Governor, would especially want to avoid such a development.  Those wishing to attend our state schools should be ultimately responsible for the cost of their education.  If our public institutions of higher learning provide a valuable product to their customers, something of which they are surely capable, and avoid overcharging, students should find their expenses to be worthwhile, and we shouldn’t feel a need to shift more of the burden to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

I’m sure Governor Walker meant well and wanted to help Wisconsin college students when he proposed a cut in UW-System tuition.  It would be preferable, though, if he and the legislature stuck with a tuition freeze instead and looked for ways to encourage the most responsible use possible of resources at our state Universities.  That could lead to benefits for students and taxpayers, as well as for a reformed and better-appreciated system of higher education in Wisconsin.

**The opinions expressed here are mine alone, speaking as an individual Wisconsin resident and taxpayer.  No implications about the viewpoints of any other person or of any institution are intended.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why I Wasn’t Among Conservatives Celebrating the Presidential Election Results

So, the American electorate actually went ahead and voted to make Donald J. Trump the next president of the United States.  Ever since Trump announced his candidacy and was (shockingly, to me) taken seriously by influential “conservative” media figures, I’d been hoping against hope that this result would not actually come to pass.  Of course, I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1992, and the only times I’ve been pleased by the outcomes were George W. Bush’s victories -- one of which, you may recall, was a bit of a squeaker, so I did half-expect that my disapproval of Trump might be a strong indication that he would somehow manage to win.  Many Trump-skeptical conservatives are pretty thrilled that at least Hillary Clinton lost and that Democrats also had a terrible time in lower-level races.  I am glad that many Republican Congressional candidates, including our own Senator Johnson, were able to win and that the GOP will retain control of the House and Senate, but I still feel that the main story of November 8 -- the elevation of President-Elect (sigh) Donald Trump -- is a cause for serious concern and sadness.  A good friend of mine, who I guess would qualify as a somewhat reluctant Trump supporter, asked me a few days after the election what considerations made me believe that Trump’s victory is a worse circumstance than even having Hillary Clinton heading for the White House.  That’s a good question, and I’ll try to articulate a few of my reasons here.

Perhaps the most fundamental problem is that I just do not think Trump is fit for the presidency because he lacks the knowledge, experience, principled belief system and temperament to qualify him for a job with so much power and responsibility.  I think that this may lead to negative developments in many areas, but it is especially worrisome in the foreign policy realm.  The way he has been dismissive of the importance of long-standing alliances, praised violent authoritarians like Vladimir Putin and the Chinese leaders who crushed protesters, casually tossed around reckless ideas for handling terrorism and overseas conflicts, proposed actions that would violate international law, and belittled many of our military leaders while claiming to himself have greater knowledge of defense matters make me believe that Trump may actually be too unstable and dangerous a person to put in probably the most powerful position in the world.  I think it is possible that he could bring about some dire global consequences, and this alone was pretty much sufficient to make me conclude that, in a general election where either he or Clinton would be the winner, Trump was the least acceptable option.

Obviously, I was extremely unhappy with the choices we had in this November’s presidential election.  As much as I disagree with her on most things, I thought that Hillary Clinton was more reasonable and stable and less likely to wreak havoc from the Oval Office, particularly since she would face serious opposition, rather than a rubber stamp, from Republicans in Congress.  If Hillary Clinton had won, at least I could have hoped that, in four years, perhaps the Republicans would nominate a strong, respectable conservative candidate that I could happily support.  I seriously doubt that Donald Trump will want to voluntarily step aside after one term, so he’ll almost certainly be the nominee again in 2020.   That means it will be at least  eight years before there’s any chance of having a decent presidential candidate on the ballot, and that’s a pretty depressing thought.

In addition, I have many concerns related to the possible effects that Trump’s victory may have on the Republican party, the conservative movement, and our overall political culture going forward.  Donald Trump is, to say the least, not a traditional conservative, and he has long expressed views and taken positions usually more compatible with liberals and the Democratic party.  He continued to do so even during this presidential campaign, during which he also kept changing positions on many issues so that I’m not sure how anyone can guess which ones he’s supposed to hold at the present time.  Now, he will be the main face and voice of the GOP, so his views and pronouncements will be identified as Republican ideas, especially if, as is likely, most other Republican office-holders rally around to defend him against criticism from Democrats and the media and to help him enact items on his agenda.  (After all, it seems that once people join Trump’s side at all, even with reservations, they tend to eventually wind up as committed loyalists and apologists.)  We really don’t need another party happy to make deals with dictators, vastly increase government spending, add new entitlements for things like child care while refusing to consider any reforms to Social Security and Medicare, praise Planned Parenthood and government-provided health care, etc., so I continue to believe that Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is far from a positive development.

Because so many people who’ve been known as conservative politicians and media figures jumped on his bandwagon so enthusiastically, Trump will likely even be seen by many as a main representative of conservatism, even though he does not share many traditional conservative views and has gone out of his way to point out that the GOP is the “Republican” party, not the “conservative” party.  Also, I think Republicans may well decide that, since they were able to win with the “populist” (and, I’d say, largely liberal) Trump and not with recent more traditionally conservative candidates and messages, the party should commit to the Trumpian approach more completely and stick with it in the future.  In that case, conservatism as we’ve known it for decades might no longer play a leading role in the GOP -- and where else can it find a good home?  I still think that conservatism is a better option for the country, so I can’t cheer the possibility of it’s untimely demise at the hands of “Trumpism.”

To those enthusiastic about Trump’s campaign and victory, some of my other concerns probably reflect my status as a hopelessly “square” person and a clueless enabler of the so-called political “establishment.”  I’m one of those silly people who actually think that some relevant knowledge and experience would be good attributes to have in someone seeking the job of President of the United States.  Trump’s example may lead both major parties (and others) to conclude that it’s a great idea to nominate “outsider’ candidates with no experience to connect them with distrusted government institutions and no pesky records of actually having to deal with tricky political issues.  Ideally, the novices would also be celebrities, since they already have lots of name recognition and would not need to spend as much money on advertising or put in as much effort to get their names out to the voters.  Just imagine all of the actors, singers, and athletes out there who are quite famous and well-liked by the American public and who may have an interest in politics.  (Republicans might want to note that there are probably a lot more of these folks on the other side of the aisle.)  Is selecting our leaders from a pool such as this really a good idea?  I’m not convinced it is.

Then there is the issue of Donald Trump’s character, or lack thereof, and the extent to which that has become acceptable.  Near-constant lying, mocking and attacking opponents and whole categories of people, a history of questionable business practices, and bragging about leading a libertine lifestyle and of foisting unwanted attentions on women did not deter voters from electing the boastful billionaire.  Heck, this person is even the new “hero” of much of the religious Right.  Republicans used to marvel at the things Democrats overlooked to keep supporting guys like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy.  If Republicans and Independents are now also OK with a man as personally “flawed,” to put it nicely, as Donald J. Trump in the role of president, what does that say about our society and the direction our culture is headed?  Was Trump correct when he said that even shooting someone in public would not cost him votes?  What would it now take to disqualify someone from a position of importance or respect?  These are just more disturbing questions related to the Trump phenomenon. 

Nonetheless, the people have made their choice, and Donald Trump will be the next president.  I can only hope that he and his administration will manage to avoid bringing about any serious disasters, and perhaps he and the Republican Congress will even manage to do a couple of positive things during his term.  Maybe if I think about Trump as just another liberal president I wouldn’t have chosen, reality won’t seem so disappointing compared to what I’d have imagined might be possible with a “real” Republican in the White House.  Or, I could just try a news-avoidance strategy from now on and limit my presidency-related TV viewing to the fictional world of “Designated Survivor.”  In any case, i’d guess that even those of us who never willingly boarded the “Trump train” may be in for an interesting ride the next few years -- hopefully we’ll all make it through with nothing worse than a few minor scrapes and bruises...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

More Uncertainty as Election Day Draws Near

Well, we’ve almost reached the end of this agonizing election season, and it seems that the bizarre developments are likely to keep coming even in the last few days.  After following this crazy saga for well over a year, I still find it difficult to understand what much of the public will find persuasive or problematic.

It seems that the FBI director’s notification to Congress that the Bureau would be looking into some more e-mails they came across on a Clinton aide’s computer might make a big difference in the outcome of the race, but I’m not sure why it should at this point.  Nothing new has actually happened related to Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server, and we haven’t actually heard about any additional findings.  Actually, it appears that, when Director Comey’s letter was issued, the FBI had yet to look at the new e-mails to even discern if they were relevant to the investigation and were not duplicates of messages already obtained elsewhere, way less to have examined the content of any that might be unique.  While it makes sense that the FBI would study these new e-mails, publicizing this step so close to a presidential election without being able to also inform people of any results of this examination seems less than ideal.  Obviously, being reminded that a candidate has been investigated by the FBI is not going to be a point in her favor, but it seems odd to me that this would be the thing to finally push someone to reject Clinton or opt for her opponent.  Of course, this whole election cycle has constantly reinforced the fact that I’m out of step with much of the electorate, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if many people find this development much more significant than I do.

Actually, even before the FBI-related news broke, some polls had already shown a tightening of the race, and I must say that I found it quite strange for Donald Trump to have been gaining support during the weeks since the last debate.   During that time, he was devoting plenty of time in his campaign to complaints about supposedly “rigged” polls and not-yet completed balloting, attacks on House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans not supportive enough for Trump’s liking, and promises to sue the women who’ve alleged that Trump accosted them.  Are there really quite a few people who find these things to be convincing reasons, after this very long campaign, to back an inexperienced, inconsistent, ill-prepared, self-absorbed authoritarian like Donald Trump?  Maybe there are -- after all, Trump’s whining about the unfair treatment he claimed he was getting in the Republican primary process and from GOP leaders generally seemed to help him clinch the nomination over Ted Cruz this spring. Who would have thought that this sort of thing would actually appeal to voters?  I guess that a good portion of America really does like a whiner, or at least wants to reward one with sympathy votes.

So, we shall soon see if Donald J. Trump manages to pull off the ultimate con and secure himself a spot in the Oval Office.  If he does, who knows what we’ll see from him next year and beyond.  Which, if any, of the sometimes conflicting goals or proposals he’s brought up during the campaign might he actually try to implement?  How much might he use his powerful new office to indulge his vindictive impulses and punish those he sees as having opposed or wronged him in some way during his run for the presidency?  How much and in what ways will he “shake up” Washington or “burn down” the Republican establishment, as so many of his ardent supporters want him to do, and how destructive might these things be?  I do know that I see no reason to expect an administration that will really help move America in a better, more conservative direction, and I do not find at all persuasive the arguments some have made that Trump would be held in check by other members of "his " party because he’s enjoyed less then enthusiastic support from many of them.  I think it’s far more likely that a Donald Trump who managed to win the election despite all of the crazy things he’s said and done and the (almost entirely justified) criticism he’s received from so many of us would be even more emboldened and would believe that he has a mandate from the voters to be “unshackled” as President and to do what he wants.  I’m afraid that the best case we could hope for would involve Trump having no real interest in governing at all, so that he would just travel around holding rallies and other events at which he could bask in the adulation of his adoring fans while allowing more responsible Republicans in Congress or his administration to actually deal with things like setting policies and trying to enact legislation.  But Trump might well believe his own rhetoric that he alone can fix everything in our country and, as a result, try to impose his will regarding many issues on everyone.  There’s no way to know ahead of time what would happen during a Donald Trump presidency, but I’m dreading the possibility that we might have to find out.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Two Debates and a Video: More Steps on the GOP's Path to Disaster

The last couple of weeks have been a strange but eventful stretch for the 2016 presidential campaign, and we seem to have reached yet another new low for the GOP.  Recent developments, even some that many may have seen as at least somewhat positive, have only made me sadder about the state of conservatism and the Republican party.

It seems like a long time ago, but the Vice Presidential debate took place less than two weeks ago.  It appeared that Mike Pence was widely thought to have “won.”  I would agree that he probably came across as more personable and less annoying than his opponent, largely because he engaged in fewer interruptions than Tim Kaine.  Pence also had some success putting Kaine on the defensive about various aspects of Hillary Clinton’s record and platform, and he did express at least some more traditional conservative views, which have been sorely lacking in this general election campaign.  Yet, I can’t actually praise Mike Pence’s performance, because so much of what he said did not reflect reality.  For one thing, most of the more typically Republican things that Pence said don’t match up with the positions Trump has taken, so it might be rather misleading to suggest to viewers that they would be the policies supported by a Trump administration.  Kaine frequently brought up various controversial Trump comments or proposals, saying he couldn’t believe Pence would defend them.  It’s understandable that Pence often chose to instead change the subject to something he’d rather discuss, but on multiple occasions he opted to just deny that Trump had actually made the statements or suggestions, even when they were quite public and well-documented from speeches, interviews, campaign events, etc.  How dare anyone suggest that Trump and his team have said positive things about Vladimir Putin?  Of course Trump knew about Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and was actually asserting that such a thing wouldn’t happen again with Trump in charge.  There were plenty of other examples, as well, and Pence’s indignation as he tried to rewrite the history of this campaign was extremely exasperating.  Also, when asked to explain what should be done to better handle various troubling international security issues, Pence just said that a stronger America would be the answer, following his running mate’s lead of making broad promises without providing specifics about how they might be accomplished.  So, if Pence may have helped his ticket to some degree during the debate, he did so in large part by being vague, evasive, and either delusional or dishonest, reflecting the unfortunate spread of such tactics and characteristics from the nominee to others in the GOP.

Of course, any discussion of the VP debate faded into the background a couple of days later when the video of Donald Trump’s vulgar comments behind the scenes of an Access Hollywood appearance several years ago was released.  I can’t say that I was particularly surprised when I head about it, because I’ve been convinced for a long time that Trump is a man of exceedingly low character.  The reactions of various others to the tape were interesting, though.  There seemed to be quite a few commentators, even some who’ve been friendly to Trump, who felt that this new controversy had rendered him unelectable, but I wondered why they assumed this to be the case and thought we’d need to wait to see the impact.  It is certainly difficult to imagine past presidential candidates remaining viable after something like this, but voters have been letting Trump get away with outrageous things that they would never condone in other politicians throughout this campaign.  And, true to form, a great many of Trump’s supporters made it clear that they would be sticking with, or even defending, him in this case, as well.  Now, over a week later, it appears that even this video did not deliver a fatal blow to Donald Trump’s candidacy, but it did hurt him in the polls and even led quite a few Republicans to renounce support for him.  It struck me as particularly unfortunate that this episode might actually wind up spelling defeat for some of these other politicians instead of Trump, because it seems likely many of Trump’s overzealously devoted fans will refuse to vote for Republicans who have unendorsed or otherwise not supported Trump.  This might make the difference in competitive House and Senate races, and it’s another sad development that Republicans may now lose because they don’t want to be associated with blatantly immoral speech.

After the Access Hollywood comments became public, some conservatives even asked Donald Trump to step aside from the campaign and let someone else take over.  That’s a scenario I’d love to see, but, of course, Trump made clear that he wasn’t going anywhere.  Throughout last weekend, though, I did hold out hope that he might at least decide to skip Sunday’s debate, so that I would be spared from watching what promised to be an ugly spectacle.  Alas, he did show up, and, as expected, the debate was a pretty unpleasant event.  Naturally, Donald Trump and his fans thought that he won the debate.  I didn’t come to that conclusion, and, contrary to what The Donald has been claiming, plenty of poll results agree with me.  However, I will say that Trump did make much more of an effort this time to keep the focus on his preferred topics and talking points, and this made him seem somewhat less unprepared and out of place.  I still think that Donald Trump’s performance was very problematic and would have been considered disastrous for other candidates.  Trump once again was repeatedly sniffling loudly into the microphone, which is a small thing, but it seems notable from someone who has made a big deal of questioning his opponent’s health.  He also spent much of the time while Hillary Clinton was talking wandering around the stage or hovering behind her.  I don’t know if he was trying to be distracting or intimidating or if he just felt bored and restless, but I wouldn’t think this behavior would come across well to members of the general viewing public.  While Trump did manage to occasionally make a point about an actual policy issue, he still seems very out of his depth on matters of substance.  For example, listing some of the problems with Obamacare was a good start, but Trump still was very short on ideas of his own for a better policy, other than the elimination of “lines around the states” that we heard about in a memorable exchange with Marco Rubio during a primary debate.  Trump’s answers regarding foreign policy, exemplified on Sunday by his statements about Russia and the situation in Syria, also remain troubling.  He seems to almost reflexively defend Russia and to be unable to see that they and Iran are not on an anti-ISIS mission in Syria.  The controversy regarding Trump’s videotaped comments about women was obviously going to come up during the debate.  Trump may have started out by saying that he wasn’t proud of the things he’d said and was apologizing for them, but he also tried to immediately pivot to the idea that it was much more important to talk about terrorism and security.  Of course these are crucial topics, but there would be plenty of chances to talk about them in other segments of the debate.  In follow-up questions, moderator Anderson Cooper had to ask Trump three times whether he had actually done the things he’d described in his conversation with Billy Bush before Trump finally briefly said that he had not and again tried to change the subject.  Some have described Cooper’s questions as “a trap,” but I think they were entirely fair and reasonable.  Before and during the debate, Trump had been trying to downplay the statements in the video as just “locker room talk,” but this ignores the fact that it was talk in which Trump was saying that he had repeatedly engaged in unacceptable and abusive behavior.  Cooper was trying to get Trump to address this important issue, and he needed to be persistent because of Trump’s evasiveness.  To me, Trump’s overall response to this controversy has not been one that really conveys contrition or is likely to convince neutral observers that Trump really does, as he claims, respect women.

I’m sure that Trump’s fans loved the way he aggressively attacked Hillary Clinton and criticized the moderators in this debate, as well as his pre-debate press-conference with some of the women who’ve accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct, but I don’t know that these tactics will help him with the general public at large.  Trump said that Hillary would be in jail if he were president, referred to her as the devil, and said that she has “tremendous hate in her heart.”  (I’m not sure exactly where Donald Trump acquired the ability to discern what is in another person’s heart or whether he plans to use this skill in evaluating foreign leaders, potential advisors, cabinet members, etc.  Perhaps that’s a question for the next debate.)  To me, all of this rhetoric goes too far and is much more personally hostile than we’d expect from a candidate on stage with an opponent.  As a result, voters might dismiss Trump’s harsh criticisms as over-the-top rhetoric and could even come away with a more unfavorable opinion of Trump, not Clinton.  Trump complained about the moderators, saying that they were not giving him as much time to speak and making the debate “3 against 1” in Clinton’s favor.  While it might be safe to assume that the moderators are not fond of Trump, I’d say his criticisms were quite exaggerated.  The moderators did ask both candidates about matters they’d probably prefer to avoid and tried to keep both of them within time limits.  Especially since Trump criticized the moderating team for failing to bring up Hillary’s e-mails right after Martha Raddatz had asked her a question about that topic, many people may see his behavior as a whiny overreaction.

Now, Hillary Clinton did not have a fantastic night, either.  She seemed to want to deal with most of the things Trump threw at her by dismissing or ignoring them, and, while that might be the right idea generally, leaving some of these things unanswered might allow them to do more damage.  Time spent discussing her private e-mail server, her negative comments about some of Trump’s supporters, and the scandals of her husband’s presidency does not help her cause.  Clinton is certainly not my ideal candidate, so I naturally found plenty to disagree with in her answers, perhaps most notably her description of the considerations she’d use in choosing Supreme Court justices.  Her criteria didn’t seem to include knowledge of and faithfulness to the law and the Constitution, and she recited quite a list of liberal views she hopes the Court will either uphold or enact.  Still, I thought that she held her own during the debate, tried to connect with the audience members posing questions, and, overall, probably came across as a prepared and fairly reasonable candidate, especially in comparison to the still erratic and unconventional Trump.

There apparently can never be enough bizarre happenings in politics this year, and the week after the debate was a real doozy.  Several women came forward to allege that Donald Trump had, in fact, accosted them in the ways he described in his “locker room talk.”  He denied the accusations, but for some reason he also thought it was a good idea to call these women names and belittle their appearance, even though he’s been claiming that Hillary Clinton mistreated her husband’s accusers and using that as an indictment against her.  Despite all of the new scandalous allegations, Trump has still retained a great deal of his support, including from some (though not all) religious conservative leaders.  The way they’ve chosen to defend so many things that go against the values and behavioral standards they have long professed in order to justify their support of Trump is almost hard to believe.  Most Republican politicians are also still backing Trump to varying degrees, even if they don’t really want to talk about it.  House Speaker Paul Ryan told his fellow congressmen that he won’t campaign with or defend Donald Trump from now on, but he did not take back his endorsement of the GOP nominee.  Even so, Trump was not pleased, and he spent some time lashing out at Ryan, John McCain, and other Republicans he considers disloyal to him.  Some in Trump’s campaign even openly suggested that many of his supporters might vote only for him, not for other Republicans running for lower offices, in November, showing how little they truly care about the “team” or any real chance to enact any of their supposed agenda in Congress.  Trump also stated that, because he doesn’t  think he is getting sufficient support from the party, he now will feel free to toss off the “shackles’ and pursue his campaign to Make America Great Again the way he really wants.  Wow.  If Trump was restraining himself up to this point in the campaign, we should all be afraid of what might come next!  To sum everything up:  this whole political situation is a huge mess for Republicans, and speculation about the upcoming election results is a cause for apprehension.  Will Donald Trump deservedly lose, perhaps by a lot?  Will other Republicans, or even the whole party, be damaged by his takeover of the GOP and all that has gone on because of it this election cycle?  I guess we’ll find out some of the answers in a few weeks, but things look pretty bleak for conservatism and the Republican party right now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Thoughts on the First Clinton/Trump Debate

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump last Monday night was highly anticipated and watched by a very large number of viewers.  Many commentators have already weighed in with their opinions about how things went for the participants and what impact the event might have, but I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own.

After any political debate, I suppose that it’s understandable for people to want to discuss who “won,’ since we tend to focus on so many things as competitions and the eventual election will have a victor.  Determining the “winner” of a debate is not necessarily a straightforward proposition for multiple reasons.  Sometimes both candidates might objectively perform at about the same level, and supporters of each side will almost always claim that their guy or girl won,  no matter what happened.  Different observers also will use a variety of criteria to judge debate performances, as well.  Unfortunately, it seems to me that an evaluation of which candidate had the most memorable line or two, especially if it is critical of the opponent, often gets the most attention in deeming who had the most successful evening.  It would be nice if debates could be seen predominantly  as forums for the candidates to inform potential voters about their views on the issues instead, so that the person doing the best job of articulating sound policies would get the most credit, but that doesn’t seem likely to be the case anytime soon.

Ever since Donald Trump appeared in the first Republican primary debate, I’ve thought that his performances in these proceedings have continually shown that he does not belong anywhere near an important elected office, and last Monday’s showing was no different.  Obviously, many people disagree, or Trump wouldn’t be the Republican nominee and be competitive in general election polling.  Trump and his supporters have predictably, if not particularly rationally, claimed that he was the clear winner of his debate with Hillary, and even some who don’t share that belief have said they thought Trump may have won the early portion of the debate.  I wouldn’t say that, but I will agree that things went somewhat better for Trump early in the evening, as he was more able to stay in control and stick to his own preferred themes.  Even then, though, he was basically reiterating his stock complaints about the evils of trade deals and the lack of American “winning,” without sharing any specifics about his plans to make things better.  This did nothing to persuade me that Donald Trump should be President, but I expected that his fans and perhaps some potential supporters would appreciate his talk about the problems he sees in the country and his characterization of Hillary Clinton as part of the political class that has failed to solve them for a very long time.  In fact, I rather think that many would consider pretty perfect a debate in which Trump devoted all of his speaking time entirely to criticizing and insulting Clinton, Democrats, politicians in general, and other countries, but I’d prefer more concentration on substance from everyone involved.

As for Hillary Clinton, overall I thought that she acquitted herself well in Monday’s debate.  Especially after the first segment, where Trump had her on the defensive while attacking her for now agreeing with him about opposition to the TPP trade deal, she seemed to do a good job of remaining calm and focussed.  Clinton didn’t appear rattled or angry as Trump spent most of his time sending criticism and far-reaching blame her way, either personally or as some generalized representative of everyone who’s ever been part of the government.  She even joked about the way it seemed he’d blame her for everything that’s ever happened by the end of the night, and with the way Trump kept expanding the list of Hillary’s alleged failings, I really wouldn’t have been all that surprised had he eventually gotten around to accusing Clinton of causing the Great Depression, the Civil War, and the extinction of the dinosaurs.  So, I found her quip quite apt, but I would offer a couple of pieces of constructive advice.  While ignoring most of Trump’s attacks and sticking to her own points may well be a good idea generally, I do think that Clinton should be prepared to counter at least some of the criticisms clearly and briefly before continuing on to make her own case.  Also, while some of her die-hard supporters may think otherwise, I really don’t think it’s a good idea for Hillary to point to her lengthy testimony at the Congressional hearings on Benghazi as a demonstration of her stamina.  It’s probably best for her if voters think about that topic as little as possible.

Throughout the  debate, Donald Trump often avoided responding to the specific questions he was asked and seemed willing to offer only vague general goals or criticisms of those who’ve been in power rather than providing details of the way he proposes to Make America Great Again. While I wouldn’t agree with many of the policy proposals Hillary Clinton discussed on Monday, I do give her credit for making much more of an attempt than Donald Trump to actually answer the questions posed by the moderator and to tell the voters how she would intend to address matters should she be elected.  Of course, she also brought up a few side issues about Trump’s tax returns, business practices, and past insulting comments regarding women that he, notably, felt the need to defend rather than either ignore or deny.  Asserting that looking to make money on a housing crash is good business and that not paying taxes demonstrations smartness would almost certainly do serious harm to any other presidential candidate, but in Trump’s case, it’s entirely possible the public will either overlook these things or agree with Trump that they are points in his favor.  We’ll have to see.

Even when he was discussing issues, Donald Trump reinforced some of my concerns about him, as he once again talked about addressing the job situation by not letting companies leave and minimized the importance of our alliances with NATO and other countries.  Are we to believe that a Trump administration would protect the Constitution and freedom and make us safer by forcing businesses to do the president’s bidding and weakening our relationships with other nations?  I thought that one of Hillary Clinton’s strongest moments in the debate came when she made it a point to reassure our allies that the U.S. will uphold it’s international commitments, and this helped her to come across as a reasonable and plausible world leader.

In the end, I definitely thought that Hillary Clinton had a stronger showing in the debate by demonstrating both more command of substance and policy and an ability to maintain a calm demeanor under pressure.  Yet, Trump’s supporters have pretty consistently shown that they will stick with him no matter what, especially if they see him as fighting against the “establishment” of both parties and the media.  So, while I thought that Trump’s rambling, repetitive, and evasive answers, liberally peppered with boasting about his businesses and endorsements, added up to a pretty terrible performance, this may well not hurt him in the polls.  Actually, considering the success he had in the Republican primaries following a string of similarly awful debates, perhaps the voters will now be clamoring to crown Trump King for Life with near universal acclaim.  Sigh...  The only positive thing that I can say about the presidential election at this point is that at least it’s almost over...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sympathy for a Clinton??

This election cycle has brought many surprising developments that we wouldn’t have thought possible less than two years ago.  I personally would never have expected to find myself motivated to spring to the defense of Hillary Clinton, but this has been a very topsy-turvy year in politics.  So, such as they are, I’d like to offer a few thoughts related to recent criticisms of the Democratic presidential nominee.

I must say that I’ve found much of the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s recent health problems both a bit puzzling and disappointing.  Generally, I just don’t see “health-gate” as some sort of big scandal.  People have cited the “failure” to promptly disclose her pneumonia diagnosis or the details of her unsteadiness following the 9/11 memorial event as further evidence of a tendency towards secrecy and a lack of openness, but I think that they should stick to other areas in seeking to make those points.  Getting such a sickness is not a character flaw, nor does it render a person incapable of serving in high office.  I don’t think that it’s particularly shocking that a candidate diagnosed with what she expects to be a short-term illness that she can work through would not see the need to broadcast the information, especially when it is likely to divert attention from the more substantive issues of the campaign.   I also think it’s completely understandable for anyone actually feeling quite unwell and possibly faint at a particular moment to seek the opportunity for a couple  of hours of rest away from the press or other outside attention.  Hillary is still just a candidate, so we were not dealing with a situation where the public should feel a need to know whether a President’s health had become compromised to the point that the Vice President was now actually in charge.  I realize that, not without some good reasons, many people, including Republican and conservative media figures, dislike Mrs. Clinton.  Still, it seems to me that reacting to news that a person has pneumonia and nearly collapsed while leaving an event by attacking her for not sharing all of her health details with the press as they happen is more than a little uncharitable.  Some brief comments wishing her a quick recovery would have seemed more appropriate, even if followed by discussion of issue-related reasons for opposition to her candidacy.  Along these same lines, I find online headlines mocking Clinton as “old and sick Hillary” or commercials including her cough as a strike against her very unseemly.  People have frequently characterized Hillary Clinton as robotic, but -- news flash -- she is a human being.  Even if you don’t think she or other Democrats would return the favor, please try to treat her health problems with a little compassion, at least publicly.  

Hillary Clinton’s remarks at a fundraiser a few weeks ago, in which she referred to some of Donald Trump’s supporters as “deplorable,” caused quite a controversy.  To  me, the outrage over her comments is overblown, as was the negative reaction to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” statement four years ago.  It is clearly not politically wise for a candidate to criticize any sizable groups of the American electorate, but perhaps those commenting on races from the outside could acknowledge that the American voting public is not comprised entirely of perfect people who are above reproach and that some critical assessments of voters may be true.  There are some Trump backers who do hold the types of hateful views to which Clinton referred and who engage in terrible rhetoric to match on social media and in other places, and I don’t think it’s inappropriate to call these people “deplorable.”  They are, of course, nowhere near half of Trump’s supporters, and Hillary did acknowledge that she had overgeneralized in her comments. I think it’s unfortunate that so many on Trump’s side (including those sending out Republican fund-raising appeals), rather than emphasizing that the individuals who would fit in Hillary’s basket are rejected by the vast majority of those in their camp, instead preferred to act as though she’d condemned everyone intending to vote for the Republican in November’s election.  Many “regular” people also seem to have embraced the “deplorable” label (in online names, for example), which seems an odd response.  Even if you somehow feel that being criticized by Hillary Clinton is some sort of badge of honor, why would you place yourself into a targeted group that doesn’t actually include you?

The second half of Clinton’s statements about Trump supporters at the above-mentioned event did not receive as much attention, but I think they were also interesting and seemed to be an attempt to express a more balanced attitude toward Republicans, including Trump enthusiasts.  Mrs. Clinton described a second group of Trump supporters who feel hurt by economic developments, let down by the government, ignored, etc. and who are therefore mainly seeking change in backing Trump, and she said that it was necessary to understand and empathize with these people.  Bill Kristol (noted anti-Trump editor of The Weekly Standard, but also no fan of Clinton) characterized Hillary’s remarks as treating the people about whom she was talking as a “pitiable other” and as no way to successfully reach out or win anyone over.  I admire Mr. Kristol, but I don’t see it that way.  Clinton’s comments actually seemed to me to reflect some “lessons” many on the Right have been saying Republicans should learn from Donald Trump’s campaign success ever since he took off in primary polling.  I’ve never been at all convinced that there are any logical reasons for sensible American voters to believe Trump is a good presidential choice or that he’s the only one paying attention to their concerns, but perhaps Hillary Clinton should have gotten a little credit for showing some respect to many of Trump’s supporters instead of being accused of attacking all of them as racists, Islamophobes, etc. 

I happen to disagree with Hillary Clinton about a great many things, and I’d say that she doesn’t have the most naturally engaging speaking style, so she is far from my ideal presidential candidate.  However, especially as the race seems to have tightened in the last several weeks, there have been plenty of people suggesting that Trump only remains anywhere within striking distance because Hillary is such a terrible candidate.  The implication is that basically any other Democrat would be convincingly defeating Donald Trump by now, and I’m not at all sure that that is the case.  Does this mean that Trump would not have won the Republican nomination if only there had been at least one decent candidate in the field??  Please -- his opponents were a stellar group, but a plurality of voters wanted Trump.  Although I  can’t understand why anyone would make that choice, the same might hold true in the general election.  Might a different Democrat nominee (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, etc.) attract more voters?  Maybe, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing.  (I do wonder how tempted the party was during Hillary’s bout of pneumonia to use concern for her health as an opportunity to let someone else take over as nominee and test out the theory...)

One last point:  many right-leaning commentators have complained that Hillary Clinton has gotten a “free pass” from the media regarding topics such as her e-mail server and the Clinton Foundation, but I wouldn’t describe it that way.  The stories about these issues are in the news all the time.  Even if they are only mentioned briefly and don’t include editorial conclusions that Hillary was not honest or broke laws regarding classified information, these developments are not being ignored, and it seems likely they have been damaging to her campaign.  She may get friendlier treatment from the mainstream media than Trump does, but she hasn’t received a “free pass.”

Hillary Clinton has had a rough time lately in her run for the presidency, with criticism coming at her for everything from legitimate issues, such as the mishandling of classified e-mails, to things that would seem outside politics or her control, such as coming down with an illness.  As Election Day approaches, I’d expect the scrutiny to continue and even intensify, and the way she handles it will likely have a big impact on her chances of prevailing in November.  I’m willing to offer her a little sympathy, particularly when people “pile on” or kick her while she’s down.  How many others, especially among swing voters, will also feel this way?  This, too, may make a significant difference in determining who our next President will be.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Concerned about Honesty and Trust in a President? Trump's not your Guy

Although this particular nightmare of a presidential campaign has already been causing me anguish for what seems like far longer than its fifteen months, now that Labor Day has come and gone, many say that we have moved into what has traditionally been considered general election season.  Judging by some of the latest developments, it would appear that the political world will continue to be crazily disturbing during the final months of this campaign and very possibly for the next few years.

As a conservative whose first presidential election as an eligible voter saw a victory by the... ummm... rather shady Bill Clinton over the much more upstanding President George H. W. Bush, and who has seen the only two subsequent results that favored my preferred candidate take place in quite harrowing and narrow fashion, I have for a very long time been quite disappointed by and critical of the choices many of my fellow citizens have made in selecting so many liberal Democrats as our Chief Executives.  Now, though, trying to make sense of what people find acceptable or desirable in a president or what they see as making someone a good leader is even more incredibly baffling, as I find myself also disagreeing with those who support the Republican nominee. 

Donald Trump’s numbers in more recent polls have shown a much closer race between him and Hillary Clinton, so it appears that more and more potential voters are deciding that this tabloid and reality show “celebrity” is qualified to be the President of the United States.  I am well aware that Mrs. Clinton is a candidate with many flaws, but it seems to me that the extent to which Trump shares those faults is largely being disregarded.  For example, it is often reported that polls show most people do not think Clinton is honest or trustworthy, and the almost-daily stream of stories about her e-mails and the Clinton Foundation are unlikely to help her improve those perceptions.  However, I don’t find the argument that “Clinton is dishonest and corrupt, therefore we must vote for Trump” at all persuasive.  In fact, I find it rather mind-boggling, so let’s take a quick tour of just a few of Trump’s less-than stellar qualities.

Donald Trump is a habitually dishonest man.  He has been lying about things big and small throughout this campaign.  From his claims that he, in his superior wisdom, always opposed the war in Iraq and that his strong Christianity has led the IRS to hound him with constant audits since the administration of George W. Bush (not-previously known for an anti-religious bias), to his assertions that he was the one to promote Cleveland as the site for the Republican convention and that the NFL had written him a letter expressing dissatisfaction with the fall debate schedule, Trump apparently has no qualms about foisting an amazing number of untruths on the American public.  Since he does this even when his statements can easily be proven false, he doesn’t seem worried that a lack of honesty will hurt him, which is interesting for someone who felt assigning the nickname “Lyin’ Ted” to one of his chief primary opponents would be particularly damaging.  Perhaps Trump expects that, no matter how much contrary evidence there may be, voters will actually believe what may be his biggest lie of all:  that he will always tell them the truth.

During his run for president, Donald Trump has taken multiple and often-shifting positions on many issues.  Recently, he even spent around a week very publicly dithering about whether or not he would “soften” the tough stance on illegal immigration that people have come to identify as one of the most prominent features of his campaign.  In the end, he stuck to some plans about the topic and left others up in the air for the future.  To me, this was just another indication that no one should have much confidence that a President Trump (perish the thought) would actually pursue any particular policy that he proposes as a candidate, but Trump’s supporters don’t seem to let such things trouble them for long.  I don’t know if they assume that whichever of his contradictory ideas they like are the ones he really  means or if they just trust Trump so much that they believe whatever he finally decides to do will be the right thing.  For the latter scenario to be true for any significant number of people would be a pretty scary and depressing thought.  After all, in addition to his frequent flip-flopping, Trump’s long record of breaking promises and violating people’s trust, including his failure to live up to contracts and business deals, his personal/marital history, and his questionable business enterprises, should serve as ample demonstration that he is completely undeserving of any such devoted faith.  (By the way, why was that Trump University fraud court case postponed from summertime until after the election, again?)

It’s certainly understandable that many people are concerned about corruption in government and about the possibility of politicians using their positions for personal gain.  Donald Trump has spent quite a bit of time telling us that pretty much everyone in political life, especially in Washington, is bought and paid for by their campaign donors and that he would be different because he was paying for his own campaign.  This may sound good to voters at first glance, but Trump also told us that he knows about this terribly corrupt system because he himself was part of it for years, donating to various politicians so that they would do things for him down the line.  Furthermore, Trump’s claims to be self-funding during the   primaries weren’t really true, but, in any case, he openly moved to a donation-seeking model for the general election phase of the campaign.  Others have pointed out before that Trump’s own characterization of the relationship between donors and candidates would seem to mean that he would now be “owned” by those who give him money, but we needn’t dwell on that at the moment.  More to the point are eyebrow-raising stories about Trump spending some of the money donated to his campaign in ways that  benefit him, his family, and his businesses.  Using campaign funds to cover steadily increasing office-space rent at Trump properties or to purchase large quantities of Trump books for distribution to convention-goers, for example, don’t exactly epitomize good stewardship of supporters’ money or altruistic public service.  I would also point out that it seems those wishing to wield influence over Mr. Trump’s judgment don’t necessarily need to give him money or material gifts, but can merely offer a bit of flattery to sway his opinion.  For instance, Trump has repeatedly praised and defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin, even when interviewers point out that Putin has invaded neighboring countries and is believed to have had opponents and journalists killed.  Why does Trump have a positive view of Putin?  Well, in his own words, “if he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”  How reassuring to think that the pronouncements of our president might be determined by such criteria.  Finally, for those who believe that, no matter what, the Clintons and their friends are the champions of self-serving political corruption, we should not forget that, until very recently, Donald Trump was part of that very circle himself.  He praised Mrs. Clinton’s work at the State Department, said she would make a good president, and donated to both the Clinton Foundation and to Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign, and she (in return, according to his comments in a debate last year) attended his most recent wedding. 

It would be wonderful to have an honest, trustworthy candidate free from suspicion of corruption to wholeheartedly support in the presidential election, but the primary process has ensured that no such option is available from the major parties this year.  Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings in these areas are under near-constant discussion, but if dishonesty and questionable political or financial dealings disqualify her from the presidency, we’ll have to rule Donald Trump out of consideration, as well.   Of course, barring some stunning development, one of the two will be our next president, and it seems that, for whatever reason, Trump’s chances improved quite a bit during August.  We’ll see how things turn out, but no one should be under the illusion that, should Trump win, we’d have a Lincolnian “Honest Donald” rather than a Nixonian “Tricky Trump” in the White House.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Whose Party is it Now? Belated Reflections on the Republican Convention

Last week, as Donald Trump’s poll numbers declined and he continued his unusual campaign strategy of dwelling on self-destructive controversies and attacking other Republicans, there was talk that some GOP party leaders were getting increasingly concerned about having him as their nominee and speculating about the possibility of replacing him if he should choose to quit the race.  I would be ecstatic should such an unlikely event come to pass, but it’s quite strange to hear about this resurgence of Republican dissatisfaction with Trump.  After all, one of the main things that the Republican National Convention just a few weeks ago made clear was the appalling degree to which the GOP has thrown itself behind Donald Trump.  Far from a political organization trying to make the best of an unfortunate outcome to the primary season by giving qualified support to the outsider who crashed their party, they turned over the keys to him and became his dutiful, often fawning, minions.

Not only has the Republican Party become the GOT (Glorifiers of Trump), it seems that no dissent, or even skepticism, whatsoever is to be tolerated.  This was made all too evident throughout the convention by the dubious methods used to steamroll those making a last attempt to force a roll call vote on the rules, the exhortations from speaker after speaker that everyone must vote for Trump or be guilty of committing the horrific act of giving support to Hillary Clinton (who should instead be “locked up”), and the overwrought angry reaction to Ted Cruz’ non-endorsement ot Trump (to which I’ll return shortly.)

I’m sure that The Donald and his supporters enjoyed the four-day pep rally for his campaign, but, for me, the convention in Cleveland just brought ever more reasons to feel disappointed and dispirited.

I will confess that I couldn’t force myself to suffer through large doses of the convention proceedings themselves.  I did read and listen to quite a bit of coverage about them and watch a few speeches, including those by some of our prominent Wisconsin officeholders (Sen. Ron Johnson, Gov. Scott Walker, and House Speaker Paul Ryan) and former leading presidential contenders (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.)  From  the outside, it seemed  that the dominant common themes of the week centered on a) Hillary Clinton being utterly terrible so that b) it is therefore imperative for Republicans and conservatives to unite in support of the election of Donald Trump.  Governor Walker added in some mentions of the success of his conservative reforms here in Wisconsin, but, overall, his speech was a pretty typical example of this basic formula.

Now, I can certainly understand that it is a lot easier to provide right-leaning voters with reasons to be against Hillary Clinton than arguments to make them excited about being for Trump.  Still, one would normally expect a party’s convention speakers to devote considerable time to communicating the beliefs, goals, and policy ideas of the organization to the audience in the hall and at home.  Not only was this missing to a large degree, but, when conservative substance did make an appearance in a few addresses, the context or response gave it a bittersweet (to say the least) effect.  For me, this only added to the sense of frustration and exasperation caused by the GOP’s nomination of someone who does not represent traditional Republicans or conservatives at all.

For example, Paul Ryan’s speech did attempt to put forward a vision for moving the country in a better direction, and it’s good that someone was actually discussing things like freedom, tax and health care reform, and a government that protects liberty and respects Constitutional limits.  Normally, Ryan’s statement that politics should not seek to divide people into groups and play one against the other and his expression of the ideal that “everyone is equal... no one is written off” would be fine arguments to use when attempting to persuade voters to choose Republicans.   However, the GOP nominee this year has hardly avoided rhetorically lumping people (Mexicans, Muslims, the media, politicians, etc.) together, has been leading a campaign often described as some sort of populist uprising of the working class versus the “elites,” and is rather fond of deeming certain people “losers,” “weak,” “chokers,” or assorted other lovely nicknames that don’t exactly emphasize the inherent equality and worth of every individual.  Trump also is much more likely to share his thoughts about poll numbers, his admiration for various authoritarian dictators, and his plans to punish people who say things that he doesn’t like than to spend time talking about the Constitution or any of those other mundane conservative topics brought up by the House Speaker.   Considering all of these unpleasant factors, Ryan’s assertion that “only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way” doesn’t exactly seem like the most logical of conclusions. 

On a similar note, even though Marco Rubio only appeared to the RNC in what was basically a 90-second campaign commercial and spent most of that limited time criticizing Clinton, I found the remarks he did make in support of Trump less than convincing.  Rubio asserted that Trump would make conservative appointments to the courts, which is at least something that Trump has said, even though I’m skeptical about the worth of any commitments made by someone so completely unreliable.  Rubio’s claims that dealing with terrorism and bringing debt under control are good arguments in Trump’s favor were even more questionable.  Trump may recognize that there are problems in these areas, but his comments about foreign policy and terrorism (including his bizarre praise for Saddam Hussein as a fighter against terrorists) have not inspired confidence in his ability to lead on that issue.  During his presidential run, he’s suggested plans that would require even more government spending (for infrastructure, healthcare, etc.) while opposing any reform of entitlements and proposing various versions of tax cuts, so it’s difficult to see how he could avoid making our national debt worse -- not that he’d necessarily mind that, as someone who’s said that he “loves debt.” 

Ted Cruz’ address to the Republican convention was notably different.  For one thing, rather than just delivering some “rah-rah, vote for the GOP team” remarks, Senator Cruz actually aimed to give a well-crafted speech that went somewhere and made a case for his brand of conservatism.  I can’t say that I personally loved everything in the speech, like the criticisms directed toward the political establishment and trade policies, but those notes should have appealed to the Trump supporters in the crowd.  Overall, though, Cruz did a good job in describing some of the big ideals that are part of his vision for our country’s future.  He advocated more freedom in many forms and aspects of life, more limited government, and leaders who follow the Constitution and defend the rights and liberty of the people.  In the portion of Cruz’ presentation that received the most attention, he  encouraged listeners to vote in November’s election and offered up the advice to people to “vote your conscience; vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and be faithful to the Constitution.”  Ordinarily, Republicans would be expected to cheer someone stressing these themes, but in this backwards year, Ted Cruz received boos in the convention hall and plenty of criticism afterwards even from people who had been his supporters.  Why?  Because, while Cruz said nothing bad about Donald Trump, he did not give an endorsement to the man who spent months attacking him and his family.

I don’t actually see why Trump’s fans had such a problem with Cruz’ comments, unless even they know that their favored candidate would not meet the qualifications to be the choice of conscientious voters.  Cruz deserves credit, not blame, for declining to proclaim that Trump is an example of the type of leader he believes should be elected.  To me, attempts like those from Ryan, Rubio, and others to positively present traditional conservative policies or values and then imply to members of the public that they’ll be getting someone who believes in those things if they elect Donald Trump are highly inaccurate.  They seem like “bait and switch” efforts, aiming to convince voters of something that plainly is not true, even if those doing the talking sincerely want to believe in it themselves.  Considering the nominee’s history of deceptive business endeavors like Trump University and the Trump Network, this might be a fitting approach to take, but those trying to justify and promote Trump’s candidacy, however reluctantly, shouldn’t be surprised and upset if polls show that, at least for now, large segments of the voting public aren’t falling for the con (or slick sales pitch, to be more generous.)  It’s too bad that, thanks to the poor judgment of primary voters, Republicans don’t have the chance to offer the general electorate a much more appealing and higher-quality candidate.  Going forward, we’ll have to see if the party even attempts to showcase thoughtful, genuinely conservative politicians in the future or settles into its new role as the latest acquisition of the gaudy, celebrity-focussed Trump brand and likely heads for intellectual bankruptcy.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but the signs so far do not  look very promising.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

GOP Convention Not Much Reason to Celebrate

It’s no secret that I have been very upset and discouraged by the way this year’s presidential contest has played out.  For the last couple of months, I’ve certainly continued to have plenty of thoughts and opinions on the matter that I really wanted to express, but, for whatever reasons, this just didn’t happen for a while.  It would be nice if I were returning to writing due to a much-improved electoral landscape, but, alas, this is not the case.  Difficult as it might have seemed for this to be possible, I’m actually afraid that prospects for the future have been getting even worse.

Throughout the Republican primary process, I watched in horrified amazement as voters, many of whom have even called themselves conservatives, decided that Donald Trump, a long-time liberal who remained inconsistent, uninformed, and unprincipled, was qualified to be President of the United States.  Rejecting an array of vastly superior candidates, enough people cast their ballots for the bullying billionaire to make him the presumptive GOP nominee by early May.  As if that outcome, which I’d feared ever since Trump entered the race with sustained high poll numbers last summer, were not bad enough, further disheartening developments have followed his (presumed) securing of the nomination.

Despite the fact that Trump has spent a great deal of time during his campaign insulting, belittling, and attacking members of the GOP, he and his supporters now insist that the party must unify behind him.  Disappointingly, not only have more and more Republican voters, officeholders, and commentators gotten on board to support or endorse Trump’s campaign, but attempts have been made to pressure all holdouts to do so, as well.  The RNC, the very epitome of the so-called “establishment” that Trump and his followers hate so much and accuse of “rigging” the system against poor Donald, has been working overtime to squelch any opposition to Trump, including by defeating any proposals for changes at last week’s meeting of the convention’s Rules Committee.

For the moment, I can still wish that the GOP delegates will rebel anyway and choose to nominate someone other than Donald Trump at the convention or that something might actually come of the efforts to recruit another independent (hopefully at least somewhat conservative Republican) candidate to challenge the major-party tickets, but it seems highly unlikely that either possibility will come to the rescue.  With the Republican convention already upon us, we still face the prospect of a general election this fall with no good options, and I can accept that people will make different decisions about the best way to handle these circumstances.

Personally, I firmly decided last summer that I would never vote for Donald Trump, and I don’t intend to budge from that position, especially as Trump has only gotten worse in many ways over time.  I will probably always be upset with those who championed Trump during the primary process and voted to make him the nominee.  I cannot comprehend how anyone could have thought that it would be a good choice -- let alone the best option -- to make that man the leader of the free world, and I resent the fact that his fans have taken away our chance to vote for a Republican candidate worth supporting -- and there were many of them in the race this year.  Sigh...  Still, I am willing to have a little understanding or sympathy for some of those who’ve joined Trump’s bandwagon more recently, even though I find their decisions unfortunate.  Elected Republicans who might be troubled by things about Trump probably do feel a strong sense of loyalty to the party that would likely make them very reluctant to oppose its presidential nominee (even one who has never displayed any such attachment to the GOP himself.)  More generally, I can see how a reasonable person might recognize the problems with Trump, but come to the conclusion that the alternative, Hillary Clinton as president, is even more unacceptable, and therefore decide to vote for Trump anyway.  I don’t think, though, that it is helpful or fair for people to suggest that this is the only possible way to view the situation or that those who see things differently are somehow betraying the party or conservatism.  Nor do I believe that declining to cast a ballot for Donald Trump is equal to supporting Hillary Clinton, and this notion should not be used to try to “guilt” people still uncomfortable with Trump into voting for him.  (I wouldn’t even say that actually choosing to vote for Mrs. Clinton is unthinkable for a Republican this year, but that’s a different topic for another time.)

As bad as it is to hear politicians I do like and admire (such as Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan) endorsing someone as unworthy of the presidency as Donald Trump and having to offer awkward explanations for their support in light of their previous (and still valid) criticisms of him, recent signs point to an even more disturbing fate for Republicans.  I’ve been especially saddened to see that many in the Republican party seem to be moving well beyond giving Trump reluctant support as the “lesser of two evils” whom they hope might be at least a little better than Hillary Clinton in some areas.  They are now actually explaining away, excusing, or defending some of the ridiculous or outrageous statements that Trump makes all too often or even adopting some of his positions that are unorthodox for Republicans, to say the least.

Prior to the announcement of his selection as Donald Trump’s running mate, I heard a clip of Governor Mike Pence advocating the election of Trump, whom he described as a “good man” and a “strong leader.”  Fortunately for me, I wasn’t eating as I listened, or I would probably have become a choking victim, because I remain completely convinced that Trump is nowhere near either of those things.  In the past, Pence was very critical of Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration, but he now says he supports it.  I don’t think anyone will be very surprised if most of the other differences of opinion that have existed between the Governor and the reality TV host disappear in the very near future, with Pence migrating to Trump’s point of view -- whatever that might be at any given moment.

Closer to home, I’ve found some of Paul Ryan’s recent comments about Trump particularly disappointing and almost hard to believe.  He has criticized Trump in the past, including calling Trump’s comments about the judge hearing the Trump University case textbook examples of racism.  Even after Ryan endorsed Trump, he said that he would still offer criticism if necessary, although he hoped he would not have to do so.  Lately, it seems that the Speaker may be letting that latter inclination and his belief that the chance to enact positive legislation depends on the election of the Republican (even if in name only) nominee outweigh good judgment, common sense, and plain truth.  Following Trump’s speech about the way terrible, destructive trade hurts our country, Ryan, who has been known as a supporter of free trade and various related international agreements, claimed that he and Trump were basically “on the same page” on the topic of trade because they both want “good deals” for America (echoing one of the shallow celebrity’s favorite phrases.)  For this to be true, either that page must be awfully large to accommodate both Ryan and Trump, or Ryan has changed his mind pretty dramatically.  Even worse, after initially seeming concerned to learn that Trump had (again) said positive things about Saddam Hussein, Ryan later seemed to dismiss the problematic nature of these comments, saying that Trump had put them into the context of discussing toughness against terrorists.  What??  There is no proper “context” for Donald Trump’s statements.  Although I’m sure Hussein was quick to kill anyone who might have targeted him (along with lots of innocent people), he was no terror-fighter, as he harbored and funded many terrorists.  Also, until Trump came along, the notion that we’d be better off with Hussein still in power in Iraq or that we should emulate his methods of dealing with suspects or enemy combatants certainly didn’t seem to be a mainstream opinion.

If I were able to offer my Congressman some advice, I’d strongly suggest that he try very hard to avoid being pulled into the trap of Trumpism.  Having decided that a Trump victory is the best outcome he can hope for this year, Speaker Ryan may well be trying to look at the presumptive GOP nominee in the best light and give him the benefit of the doubt wherever possible.  This might be a nice thing to do on a personal level, but, if it leads Ryan to try to convince himself or the rest of us of things that just aren’t true (regarding the degree to which Trump shares common ground with traditional Republican politicians or the acceptability of Trump’s controversial statements, for example), it will be counterproductive for the advancement of any of the conservative principles the Speaker has sought to promote.  Although he has his strong critics, Paul Ryan seems to be one elected official who is fairly widely seen as a decent, principled person who cares about ideas and good policies.  That type of positive reputation isn’t all that common in politics, and I’d hate to see Congressman Ryan damage it in trying to lend some of his credibility to Trump’s election efforts.

Unfortunately, the entire Republican party may suffer harm of that sort as a result of Trump’s victorious attempt to conquer the GOP during this election cycle, especially considering the extent to which he is now being embraced by the party as a whole.  Whatever traditions, values, principles, and policies the GOP may have been known for in the past, it is likely that people will now associate it with the brash, reckless, authoritarian attitude and often incoherent proposals of Donald J. Trump, Republican-Come-Lately.  This is a very sad result from an election year that initially offered such promise for Republicans and conservatives.  I know there are those who would be glad to see the recent incarnation of the GOP go, but the new Trump-centric version is far from an improvement.  With these things in mind, it’s difficult to see the Republican convention in Cleveland this week as a celebratory party rather than a wake for the impending demise of the party as we knew it, so maybe the balloons and confetti would be more appropriately replaced with some solemn music and wreaths of condolence.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cruz, Ryan, and the Stampede to Trump

With the way things had been developing in the Republican presidential contest in recent weeks, lndiana’s primary on May 3 seemed like it might be the last real chance for those hoping to prevent a Trump nomination to turn things around.  Before the vote, most polls suggested that Trump was in the lead, possibly by a rather wide margin, over Senator Cruz, who really needed to do well to revive his campaign’s hopes, so the situation did not look promising.  By that Tuesday afternoon, I realized that Indiana felt very much like a repeat of Florida to me.  Back then, Marco Rubio, my candidate at the time, desperately needed to win in Florida to maintain any chance in the race, but polling, overall, indicated that Trump would almost certainly prevail.  As a supporter, while I definitely hoped that the polls had been wrong or that something would change voters’ minds at the last minute, I still expected the worst.  Of course, Trump did win easily in Florida, and Senator Rubio left the race that night.  And in Indiana, alas, there was no big, last-minute upset victory for Ted Cruz.  In fact, there were even more similarities to the Florida situation than I would have thought, because Ted Cruz unexpectedly suspended his campaign when the Indiana results came in.  With John Kasich doing the same the next day, Donald Trump was the only candidate left standing and the “presumptive nominee.”  Even though it most likely wouldn’t have affected the eventual outcome, in my view, it would have been preferable if someone had stayed in the race at least until Trump actually earned 1237 delegates.  You never know if something drastic might happen to alter the situation (such as Trump testing out his hypothesis that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing supporters,) but, in any case, people in the remaining states who do not support Trump would have at least had an active candidate for whom they could vote.  I can understand, though, that it would be tough to keep campaigning, dealing with negative media stories, and facing attacks from Trump and his supporters if you don’t really see any chance of success to make it seem worthwhile.  Ted Cruz was a very worthy candidate and went through some tough times during this race, and I wish him well as he continues to serve in the Senate.

It’s unfortunate, but the voters of America keep finding ways to disappoint me this year.  A few weeks ago, after Ted Cruz decisively won the Wisconsin primary, I mentioned that I was concerned about polls showing people really didn’t want to have a contested convention and that a majority of respondents thought the nominee should be the candidate with the most delegates, even if it was not a majority.  Well, it would seem that the views reflected in these polls were held by quite a few people and did indeed harm the anti-Trump movement.  While one would have hoped that Trump’s continued obnoxious behavior and outrageous statements would have motivated more people to seek to stop him and to choose another candidate, it seems that the opposite happened instead.  Voters apparently heard Trump’s whining and complaining about the rules and delegate selection processes and sided with him -- deciding that somehow Ted Cruz’ knowledge of the rules and success at getting friendly delegates elected was somehow a bad thing or even cheating.  As for Trump’s insistence that he was essentially entitled to the nomination, even if he didn’t get the required delegate majority, because he would have the highest number, and his related assertions that Cruz was not a viable candidate once he no longer had a shot at reaching 1237 delegates?  Well, despite the long-standing rules, voters seem to have agreed with Trump’s claims and/or not wanted to deal with the potential trouble he and his spokespeople “suggested” might happen at the convention and elsewhere if Trump were denied the nomination.  They voted for Trump in increasing numbers in the last several states, not only in the Northeastern contests which he was always expected to win, but also in the heartland state of Indiana, which finally snuffed out any hope of a better GOP nominee.  (The “momentum” generated by Trump’s big win in New York -- his liberal home state -- and the media’s heavy promotion of that notion probably contributed quite a bit to this trend.)  Sigh...

Then, of course, as soon as Donald Trump became the presumed nominee, more and more Republicans, including former critics, started announcing their support for Trump, with varying levels of enthusiasm or reluctance.  I will have more to say about this unfortunate development at another time, but for now, I’d like to focus on one prominent party leader who did not  immediately join the stampede to back Trump -- Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

(On a side note, I found it interesting that Paul Ryan expressed some surprise that we had arrived at the “presumptive nominee” point of the race so quickly.  He had thought that the competition would have lasted at least through the June primaries, if not all the way to the convention.  Until quite recently, many thought that would be the case, but, alas, some voters were extremely eager to nominate Trump.)

Especially considering Paul Ryan’s previous attempts to avoid weighing in much on the primary race and his prominent roles as House Speaker and chairman of the upcoming convention, I was a little surprised when I first learned that Ryan had taken the stance that he was not currently on board with announcing support for Donald Trump.  I was glad to hear it, though, because it was important for someone to make the point that Trump has not been representing conservative or Republican ideas and principles and that the party’s nominee should be expected to do so.  Ryan did say, though, that he wants to support the nominee but isn’t there yet, indicating that he most likely will eventually back Trump.  Still, the predictable response from Trump and some of his fans was to overreact and attack Ryan, with Sarah Palin even suggesting that this would end Ryan’s career as she vowed to help his challenger win this year’s primary race for his House seat.  Many people seem to believe that Paul Ryan (and presumably every Republican) owes blind, unquestioning, immediate allegiance to the new supposed “leader” or standard-bearer -- isn’t that really the sort of principle-ignoring action the so-called “anti-establishment” folks were supposed to be angry about??  I would think that the criticism directed at Ryan, along with some comments from Trump and his camp asserting that he doesn’t need (or even want) all Republicans to unify behind him in order to win, might actually make it more difficult for Ryan to shift his position on Trump while giving a rational explanation.  Trump so far doesn’t seem interested in running, as Ryan hoped, a “campaign Republicans can be proud of” -- unless shifting more positions to the left, belittling anyone who doesn’t bow down to him, and suggesting that the entire nation should follow his financial example by failing to honor our debts makes GOP hearts swell with pride these days.  Paul Ryan is in a tough situation, but I applaud him for at least temporarily stepping back from the wave of misguided “party loyalty” sweeping so many Republicans into the Trump camp.  Not that he asked, of course, but it would be fine with this constituent if Ryan did not “come around” to expressing support for Trump.  I’m sure that Ryan has plenty of Congressional business and elections to work on and discuss should he choose to avoid further comment about the presidential contest.

Of course, there’s not much chance of that happening, and efforts to try to bridge the gap between Trump and Ryan have already begun.  From what I’ve read and heard about the meeting the two men had this past week, I’m a little concerned about the way this discussion process may play out and the effects that it might have.  One account said that Ryan had explained basic principles of conservatism and their importance and that Trump was receptive to listening.  Once again, I was struck by the absurdity of the predicament we are now in.  Donald Trump is set to be the presidential nominee of the Republican party and has been running for the office for almost a year.  Yet, he still  needs elementary lessons in conservative beliefs like limited government, separation of powers, the right to life, etc.?  Heaven help us all...

That notion is bad enough, but other matters related to the conversation seem to come from an alternate reality.  The joint statement issued by Trump and Ryan afterward is one example.  It sounded more Trumpy than Ryan-like, containing generalities that minimized divisions within the party rather than presenting any evidence of resolutions regarding matters of substance.  When the statement and RNC chairman Reince Priebus referred to the “few differences” between Trump and Ryan, I’d expect that many of us simply didn’t believe the phrase was accurate.  But, if people did believe it were true, I think it would more likely make them think less of Ryan than reassure them about Trump!  To hear the Speaker himself talking about how positive it is that Trump has brought in so many new voters to the party, claiming that Trump had a “good personality” in their meeting, and saying that he believes he and Trump share some core conservative principles (concerning the Constitution, executive overreach, etc.) around which the party can unify this fall was rather painful.  The “new voters” issue is a common Trump talking point and may not necessarily be a good thing if it means people who’ve tended to vote for Democrats are opting this time for someone who’s running as a Republican because his views are really more those of a liberal Democrat.  And, while Trump may have managed to be nice to Ryan for a short time (when he wanted something from him), we’ve seen plenty of evidence over the years to show us the truly unpleasant nature of Trump’s insulting, bullying, and self-centered personality.  As for the matters of principle listed, the statements that Trump has made during the campaign about things he would intend to do have made it clear that he is not particularly concerned about the Constitution and the limits it places on executive powers.  He might complain about some things Obama has done, but he seems to envision an extremely powerful role for himself should he become President.  Ryan has stated that the party needs to have real, not fake, unity, so I’m concerned that he seems to be saying things about Trump that are not true, no matter how much Ryan would like them to be.  I certainly don’t think we need the ultimate result of Ryan’s substance-related reservations about Trump to be a final stamp of approval “verifying” to the public that Trump adheres to conservative ideals that he in truth does not.  If Paul Ryan wants to give his support to Trump, he can and should find reasons for doing so that do not mislead the voters and further increase the likelihood of Trump’s nomination distorting or destroying the conservative movement and its reputation, results I am confident the Speaker wishes to avoid.

Now, Paul Ryan did say that this meeting was only the first step in a process to work towards true party unity, and he doesn’t seem at this point to be in any rush to say that all of his concerns have been alleviated so that he can fully support Trump.  I appreciate that, as it helps to -- for now -- maintain at least a little distance between Trump and the Republican party as a whole, so that members, particularly conservatives, can still reasonably point out that they do not agree with all of Trump’s comments and positions.  Again, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if Speaker Ryan’s unification process remained ongoing all the way through the election.  However, I suppose that, all too soon, most remaining resistance among Republican officials to the not-so-charming reality show host will fade away, and the Trumpian takeover of the party will be complete.  At least until then, I’d like to offer my support and encouragement to Speaker Ryan for his efforts to keep reminding everyone about the things for which the Republican party and conservatism have traditionally stood -- ideas and beliefs that are far more important than big rallies, good poll numbers, or high TV ratings.