Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

March 16, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom says “Let Trump Make Our Trans-Pacific Trade Deal.”  He offers a list of U.S.-friendly demands he’d no doubt make and win.  It’s satire, but it still operates under the idea that the TPP is really about trade instead of giving corporations more power.  Mr. Bruni considers “Rubio’s Exit and the G.O.P.’s Spoiled Buffet” and says the Republican race is down to three, two of whom still make party leaders queasy.  Here’s TMOW:

What if the United States had had a truly savvy deal maker like Donald Trump negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord instead of the wimpy Obama team? I mean, be honest, folks, would you let Barack Obama sell your house? I’ve researched the deal and concluded Trump would have gotten us this:

He would have begun by saying “a baby could figure out” that since 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners come into our country duty-free already, and so much of our stuff is still hit with tariffs in their countries, if we eliminate 18,000 tariffs we’ll be able to keep more production at home and sell more abroad. “We’ll export so much we’ll actually get tired of exporting,” Trump would say.

After all, America’s total manufacturing output was nearing an all-time high at the end of 2015. True, it was with more robots and fewer people, but we’ve still created nearly 900,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010 because we have cheap energy, skilled workers and good rule of law. Our workers can compete if we level the playing field, so Trump would have told opponents of the trade deal, “Just do the math, people.” Our average applied tariff is already only 1.5 percent while the tariffs of these Pacific countries can range much higher — Vietnam has peak tariffs of over 50 percent on cars and machines — so if we get rid of those tariffs our exporters are poised to benefit.

Since Trump cares about blue-collar workers, unlike the elitist Obama, he’d have demanded that in return for free access to our markets the 11 other TPP countries had to agree, some for the first time, to freedom for their workers to form independent trade unions, to elect their own labor leaders, to collectively bargain and to eliminate all child and forced labor practices. He’d also have insisted that they adopt laws on minimum wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health, again, precisely to level the playing field with U.S. workers.

Trump would also have required that the deal prohibit all customs duties for digital products, make sure companies did not have to share source codes in order to get into new markets and ensure free access for all cloud computing services in all TPP countries — all areas of growing U.S. strength.

Trump, because he respects women, surely would have demanded that this deal require all signatories — especially Malaysia — to take real steps to halt human trafficking from such countries as Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh and require each signatory to improve access for human rights groups to assist victims of trafficking. If you don’t comply, you lose your trade benefits. (Trump’s no sucker for a wink and a smile.)

Moreover, Trump would have made sure that the accord, in a first for any trade deal, put restrictions on state-owned companies that compete with our private businesses, like Vietnam’s oil company. These state-owned companies often get special benefits that enable them to undercut our companies. Trump’s trade deal would also have been the first requiring criminal penalties for stealing our industrial secrets.

“No more ripping off America,” Trump would have said.

He certainly would have insisted on strong intellectual property protections for America’s software industry, one of our greatest export assets, and taken an approach to pharmaceuticals that splits the difference between what the big drug companies want in the way of intellectual property protection time for their products and what the generic manufacturers want. Everybody would have gotten something but nobody would have gotten everything. It’s called “the art of the deal,” folks!

Trump would also surely have required that all signatories combat trafficking in endangered wildlife parts, like elephant tusks and rhino horns, and end all their subsidies that stimulate overfishing.

And Trump, who has a lot of Chinese restaurants in his hotels, would know that if we walk away from the TPP all our friends in the Pacific will just sign up for China’s R.C.E.P., or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will set trade rules in Asia and include weak intellectual property protections, no labor or environmental protections and no disciplines on state-owned industries.

So that’s the Pacific trade deal Trump would have struck! And by now I hope you’ve figured something out: This is the trade deal Obama actually struck.

You don’t know that because Trump doesn’t know it himself; because Bernie Sanders knows it and doesn’t want to tell you; and because Hillary Clinton knows it but, sadly, won’t tell you, choosing instead to play “Bernie Lite.” (Remind me how that worked out for her in Michigan.)

No trade deal is perfect. No single deal will save every job or remake our economy. And we must be more generous in caring for workers hurt by trade. But we also have to recognize that smart deals, like the TPP, help keep us the most efficient and innovative economy in the world and strengthen our security alliances — as opposed to abandoning our allies to regimes that don’t support our values.

Thank goodness we had a former community organizer negotiating for us.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

As he exited the race for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday night, Marco Rubio told a crowd of dispirited supporters that “this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message.”

I’ll say. It’s a year for florid disruption, fisticuffs and a rejection of anyone and anything blessed by the guardians of the status quo.

Rubio was thus blessed, and so he was cursed. There’s little surprise in his political demise, though it was a mesmerizing development, given how long and confidently many Republican leaders and pundits clung to their forecasts of his eventual transcendence.

Equally mesmerizing was Donald Trump’s string of Tuesday victories, including his trouncing of Rubio in Florida, because they came after several tumultuous days of violent campaign rallies, intensified denunciations of his candidacy and a barrage of negative advertising against him. He easily weathered it all.

For party stalwarts, the race for the Republican presidential nomination began in a state of euphoric excitement about a buffet of political talent, with governors and ex-governors galore.

Tuesday’s results left the party with slim pickings. John Kasich, who notched a life-and-death victory in Ohio, is the best of the remaining three candidates and would be fiercest in the general election, but has little to no chance of pulling past either of the other two in the delegate count. Those two, Trump and Ted Cruz, are merely different flavors of rancid fare.

Trump had a much bigger night than Cruz. He not only overwhelmed Rubio in Florida but also won Illinois and North Carolina, where Cruz had hoped to stage upsets. Those triumphs bolstered his lead and showed that the turmoil of recent days — and the violence at his rallies — didn’t scare off his fans.

But it’s not over. Not even close. And many Republicans are still faced with grim calculations, compromises and reckonings.

They see a probable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is so personally flawed, politically clumsy and out of sync with this anti-establishment moment that she’s ripe for defeat. Then they look at their own contest and see an outcome that might well ensure her victory.

Kasich and Cruz together should do well enough in the states ahead to prevent Trump from getting a majority of delegates. That foretells a chaotic convention, and it’s hard to see how the bedlam will position the party well.

There’s no consensus yet among Republicans. There’s more acrimony than clarity. Who’s to say whether former Rubio supporters and donors flock to Kasich, Cruz . . . or even Trump?

There are traditionalists rooting for Trump over Cruz, and the thinking of some goes like this: Neither candidate can win the presidency. But while Cruz has almost no crossover appeal beyond committed Republicans, Trump might draw enough independents, blue-collar Democrats and new voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania to buoy Republicans in tight Senate races there.

Besides which, he scrambles all rules and all precedents so thoroughly that you never know. Victory isn’t unthinkable, and better a Republican who’s allergic to caution, oblivious to actual information and altogether dangerous than a Democrat who’ll dole out all the plum administration jobs to her own party.

Republican traditionalists who prefer Cruz are no more ebullient in their outlooks.

“Cruz is a disaster for the party,” one of them told me. “Trump is a disaster for the country.”

“If Cruz is the nominee, we get wiped out,” he added, with a resigned voice. “And we rebuild.” The party needs that anyway.

In fact, some Republicans have insisted to me that a Cruz nomination and subsequent defeat would have a long-term upside. It would put to rest the stubborn argument, promoted by Cruz and others on the party’s far right, that the G.O.P. has lost presidential elections over recent decades because its nominees weren’t conservative enough.

If anything, those nominees weren’t sufficiently moderate. A Cruz wipeout would prove as much.

He moved assertively over recent days to send a message to Republican leaders who loathe him that a partnership is still possible — that love could yet bloom! The talk of Trump’s culpability for his menacing rallies has given Cruz a new opening to encourage supporters of other candidates to take the Cruz plunge.

“Come on in,” he said at a rally in North Carolina on Sunday. “The water’s fine.”

Sounds like something someone in “Jaws” blurted out right before the shark made an appetizer of her ankle. The water’s fine only if the alternative is the River Trump, a bloody churn of piranhas and Palins.

Republicans started out with what they thought was a feast of possibilities. Now they’re poised to be eaten alive.

Brooks, Bruni, and Krugman

March 4, 2016

Another outpouring of angst from Bobo.  In “Donald Trump, the Great Betrayer” he wails that Republican officials have a responsibility to their country to spread the nasty truths about Trump.  Right, Bobo.  But in their debate last night all the others said they’d vote for The Donald if he got the nomination.  In the comments “Jack Chicago” from Chicago had this to say:  “That Trump’s leading competitors for the nomination can express their opposition to him in such crude terms, that he admittedly introduced, and yet then state their support if he wins the nomination, says it all. GOP politics is about the sacrifice of principle for power. The electorate don’t know which way to turn when their supposed leaders are such a cynical bunch of rogues! I cannot express adequately my feeling of helplessness as the country seems to be circling the drains.”  And “gemli” from Boston began his comment with this:  “This is rich. The party of scammers, betrayers and lying egomaniacs is warning us about Trump.”  Mr. Bruni has “Five Big Questions After a Vulgar Republican Debate,” and says it was a night of truth, consequences and puerile boasting for Donald Trump.  Prof. Krugman considers the “Clash of Republican Con Artists” and says Donald Trump isn’t the only fraud running for the Republican nomination.  Here’s Bobo, drenched in flop sweat:

Now, at long last, the big guns are being brought to bear. Now, at long last, some major Republicans like Mitt Romney are speaking up to lay waste to Donald Trump.

For months Trump’s rivals and other Republicans have either retreated in silence or tentatively and ineptly criticized him for exactly those traits that voters like about him: for being a slapdash, politically incorrect money-hungry bully.

But now finally — at long last — major Republicans are raising their heads and highlighting Trump’s actual vulnerability: his inability to think for an extended time about anybody but himself.

He seduces people with his confidence and his promises. People invest time, love and money in him. But in the end he cares only about himself. He betrays those who trust him and leaves them high and dry.

It’s unpleasant to have to play politics on this personal level. But this is a message that can sway potential Trump supporters, many of whom have only the barest information on what Trump’s life and career have actually been like.

This is a message that can work in a sour and cynical time among voters who already feel betrayed. This is a message that can work because it’s a personality type everyone understands. This is a time when it is not in fact too late, when it may still be possible to prevent his nomination.

The campaign against Trump has to be specific and relentless: a series of clear examples, rolled out day upon day with the same message. Donald Trump betrays.

It can start with Trump University, where Trump betrayed schoolteachers and others who dreamed of building a better life for themselves.

Trump billed his university as a place people could go to learn everything necessary about real estate investing. According to a 2013 lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, more than 5,000 people paid $40 million, a quarter of which went to Trump himself.

Internal Trump University documents suggest that the university wasn’t really oriented around teaching, but rather around luring customers into buying more and more courses.

According to the New York lawsuit, instructors filled out course evaluations themselves or had students fill out the non-anonymous forms in front of them, pressuring them into giving positive reviews. During breaks students were told to call their credit card companies to increase their credit limits. They were given a script encouraging them to exaggerate their incomes. The Better Business Bureau gave the school a D- rating in 2010.

“They lure you in with false promises,” one student, Patricia Murphy, toldThe Times in 2011. Murphy said she had spent about $12,000 on Trump University classes, much of it racked up on her credit cards. “I was scammed,” she said.

The barrage can continue with Trump Mortgage. On the campaign trail, Trump tells people he saw the mortgage crisis coming. “I told a lot of people,” he has said, “and I was right. You know, I’m pretty good at that stuff.”

Trump’s biggest lies are the ones he tells himself. The reality is that Trump opened his mortgage company in 2006. Others smelled a bubble, but not Trump. “I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,” he told CNBC. “The real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”

Part of the operation was a boiler room where people cold-called clients, sometimes pushing subprime loans and offering easy approval.

Jennifer McGovern had trusted Trump and went to work for him. But she got stiffed in the end. In 2008 a New York State Supreme Court judgeordered Trump Mortgage to pay her the $298,274 she was owed. The bill wasn’t paid. “The company was set up in a way that we could never recover what we were owed,” she told The Washington Post.

The stories can go on and on. The betrayal of investors when his casino businesses went bankrupt. The betrayal of his first wife with his flagrant public affair with Marla Maples. The betrayal of American workers when he decided to hire illegals. The people left in the wake of other debacles: Trump Air, Trump Vodka, Trump Financial, etc.

These weren’t just risks that went bad. They were shams, built like his campaign around empty promises and on Trump’s fragile and overweening pride.

The burden of responsibility now falls on Republican officials, elected and nonelected, at all levels. For years they have built relationships in their communities, earned the right to be heard. If they now feel that Donald Trump would be a reckless and dangerous president, then they have a responsibility to their country to tell those people the truth, to rally all their energies against this man.

Since the start of his campaign Trump has had more energy and more courage than his opponents. Maybe that’s now changing.

Brooks, Bruni, and Krugman

February 26, 2016

Bobo has taken to his fainting couch, clutching his pearls and moaning.  In “The Governing Cancer of Our Time” he wails that Donald Trump’s candidacy is the culmination of 30 years of antipolitics.  He tried to weasel in some “both-siderism” but got called out in the comments.  In the comments “DNcgo” had this to say:  “”But not exclusive to the right”! – ??? Mr. Brooks, please devote a future column detailing all the “left-leaning” politicians who support a scorched earth policy. I suspect not much ink will be needed.”   (This comment was also a NYT pick.)  Also in the comments “Don Salmon” from Asheville, NC had this to say:  “”But not exclusive to the right”! – ??? Mr. Brooks, please devote a future column detailing all the “left-leaning” politicians who support a scorched earth policy. I suspect not much ink will be needed.”  Mr. Bruni, in “Five Big Questions After a G.O.P. Debate That Targeted Trump,” tells us what the Republican candidates accomplished and risked in their latest showdown.  Prof. Krugman, in “Twilight of the Apparatchiks,” says the Republican establishment’s “wingnut welfare” made Trump possible.  Here’s Bobo:

We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.

Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.

But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.

As Bernard Crick wrote in his book, “In Defence of Politics,” “Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

This antipolitics tendency has had a wretched effect on our democracy. It has led to a series of overlapping downward spirals:

The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.

The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.

The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder.

We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution. We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.

And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.

Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

I printed out a Times list of the insults Trump has hurled on Twitter. The list took up 33 pages. Trump’s style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron or a loser. The implied promise of his campaign is that he will come to Washington and bully his way through.

Trump’s supporters aren’t looking for a political process to address their needs. They are looking for a superhero. As the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams found, the one trait that best predicts whether you’re a Trump supporter is how high you score on tests that measure authoritarianism.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Politics is in retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide. The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements. As Harold Laski put it, “We shall make the basis of our state consent to disagreement. Therein shall we ensure its deepest harmony.”

Next up we have Mr. Bruni:

Were Brakes Just Put on the Trump Juggernaut?

Something profound happened on the stage in Houston on Thursday night. Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz stopped focusing on each other long enough to turn toward the person who is actually beating both of them and at this point favored to win the Republican nomination: Donald Trump.

Cruz dismissed Trump as someone who’d discovered certain concerns — who’d discovered conservatism, really — only when he became a candidate. Cruz said that while he was working to combat the illegal immigration that so inflames Trump now, “Where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’”

But Rubio turned in Trump’s direction with particular force. Withferociousness, in fact. He recited a meticulously memorized litany of Trump’s transgressions, especially those that contradict Trump’s words now: the illegal immigrants that Trump reportedly hired for his construction projects, the litigation against a college bearing his name, multiple bankruptcies associated with him.

Referring to Trump’s promised barrier along the Mexican border, Rubio sniped: “If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.”

He went after the notion that Trump is a good businessman. He went after the idea that Trump is a straight talker. He called Trump a liar — repeatedly.

In other words, he finally hit Trump where Trump lives: image-wise. Thishad to happen, because one explanation for Trump’s success is how reluctant his adversaries have been to confront him as they quarreled with one another instead.

And this had to hurt Trump, because he was shown in a harsher light than he’d been shown in at any previous debate, and his face reddened in the glare.

But Thursday night may well have been too late, and Trump has been made to mimic a ripe tomato before — with minimal political damage to him.

Besides which, Trump at times pushed back as effectively as possible, brushing off charges of hypocrisy and painting Rubio as a pipsqueak with no knowledge of business, and Cruz as an obnoxious scold despised by his Senate colleagues. Those were the smart colors to apply to them.

Did Rubio Go Too Far?

Almost each of his attacks on Trump made good sense. All were entirely fair. But as they piled up higher than even the most majestic Trump-envisioned border wall could ever reach, he came across as strident, mocking, condescending, bratty.

And it was impossible not to wonder if he was doing precisely what Chris Christie had when he tried to take Rubio down in the debate just before the New Hampshire primary: bloodying his adversary at a cost of seriously wounding himself.

He talked over Trump. Trump talked over him. He talked louder over Trump. Trump talked even louder over him. There was one extended exchange, with each of them accusing the other of being more robotic and programmed, that will live on in highlight reels forevermore.

“Now he’s repeating himself,” Rubio pointed out, referring to Trump.

“I don’t repeat myself,” said Trump.

“You don’t repeat yourself,” Rubio responded — disbelievingly, facetiously.

And so it went. Rubio’s hectoring melody overlapped Trump’s exasperated harmony.

But when music gets that ugly, everyone involved can wind up sounding equally bad. And the flip side of Rubio’s — and Cruz’s — assertiveness was desperation. They were both on the offensive on Thursday night because they were both on the ropes. Some viewers undoubtedly perceived it that way.

What’s more, Rubio undercut his considerable efforts so far to be — and to label himself as — the candidate of optimism, uplift, positivity. He took another risk as well. He incurred Trump’s wrath, and while Trump has savaged Cruz and Jeb Bush during this campaign, he hasn’t vilified Rubio to the same extent.

Tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, he will.

How Much Does the Vagueness of Trump’s Proposals Matter?

It was predictable that Rubio and Cruz would portray Trump as someone whose campaign contributions over time, comments from yesteryear and herky-jerky swerves in the present all call into question how committed and trustworthy a conservative he is.

But they lavished nearly as much energy on revealing Trump as an empty suit — as someone who cannot provide any policy details because he doesn’t have any detailed policies. They asked for those details. Again and again. He responded with insults and boasts.

The moderators pressed him for those details. He responded with boasts and insults. And at one cringe-inducing moment, he batted away a question from Hugh Hewitt by saying: “Very few people listen to your radio show.”

Trump never got around to explaining how his health care plan would keep people from dying in the streets without committing the government to significantly increased spending. He never got around to explaining much of anything.

And in the context of that void — and of Rubio’s imitation of a typical Trump answer — his most shopworn, banal phrases stood out.

“We’re going to win a lot,” Trump said, for the millionth time.

And now we finally get to Prof. Krugman:

Lack of self-awareness can be fatal. The haplessness of the Republican establishment in the face of Trumpism is a case in point.

As many have noted, it’s remarkable how shocked — shocked! — that establishment has been at the success of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign. Who knew that this kind of thing would appeal to the party’s base? Isn’t the G.O.P. the party of Ronald Reagan, who sold conservatism with high-minded philosophical messages, like talking about a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks?

Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.

What I find even more amazing, however, are the Republican establishment’s delusions about what its own voters are for. You see, all indications are that the party elite imagines that base voters share its own faith in conservative principles, when that not only isn’t true, it never has been.

Here’s an example: Last summer, back when Mr. Trump was just beginning his rise, he promised not to cut Social Security, and insiders like William Kristol gleefully declared that he was “willing to lose the primary to win the general.” In reality, however, Republican voters don’t at all share the elite’s enthusiasm for entitlement cuts — remember, George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security ran aground in the face of disapproval from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Yet the Republican establishment still seems unable to understand that hardly any of its own voters, let alone the voters it would need to win in the general election, are committed to free-market, small-government ideology. Indeed, although Marco Rubio — the establishment’s last hope — has finally started to go after the front-runner, so far his attack seems to rest almost entirely on questioning the coiffed one’s ideological purity. Why does he imagine that voters care?

Oh, and the G.O.P. establishment was also sure that Mr. Trump would pay a heavy price for asserting that we were misled into Iraq — evidently unaware just how widespread that (correct) belief is among Americans of all political persuasions.

So what’s the source of this obliviousness? The answer, I’d suggest, is that in recent years — and, in fact, for the past couple of decades — becoming a conservative activist has actually been a low-risk, comfortable career choice. Most Republican officeholders hold safe seats, which they can count on keeping if they are sufficiently orthodox. Moreover, if they should stumble, they can fall back on “wingnut welfare,” the array of positions at right-wing media organizations, think tanks and so on that are always there for loyal spear carriers.

And loyalty is almost the only thing that matters. Does an economist at a right-wing think tank have a remarkable record of embarrassing mistakes? Does a pundit have an almost surreal history of bad calls? No matter, as long as they hew to the orthodox line.

There is, by the way, nothing comparable on the Democratic side. Of course there’s an establishment, but it’s much more diffuse, much less lavishly funded, much less insistent on orthodoxy and forgiving of loyal incompetence.

But back to the hermetic world of the Republican elite: This world has, as I said, existed for decades. The result is an establishment comprising apparatchiks, men (mainly) who have spent their entire professional lives in an environment where repeating approved orthodoxy guarantees an easy life, while any deviation from that orthodoxy means excommunication. They know that people outside their party disagree, but that doesn’t matter much for their careers.

Now, however, they face the reality that most voters inside their party don’t agree with the orthodoxy, either. And all signs are that they still can’t wrap their minds around that fact. They just keep waiting for Donald Trump to suffer the fall from grace that, in their world, always happens to anyone who questions the eternal truth of supply-side economics or the gospel of 9/11. Even now, when it’s almost too late to stop the Trump Express, they still imagine that “But he’s not a true conservative!” is an effective attack.

Things would be very different, obviously, if Mr. Trump were in fact to lock in the Republican nomination (which could happen in a few weeks). Would his raw appeal to white Americans’ baser instincts continue to work? I don’t think so. But given the ineffectuality of his party’s elite, my guess is that we will get a chance to find out.

Bruni, solo

February 24, 2016

In “The Devil in Ted Cruz” Mr. Bruni says he makes angelic claims about his conduct and campaign. But he’s diabolically hypocritical.  Here he is:

When Ted Cruz announced this week that he was firing his campaign’s communications director for circulating a false insinuation that Marco Rubio had belittled the Bible, he told reporters, “Even if it was true, we are not a campaign that is going to question the faith of another candidate.”

Really? Huh. Then I must have been hallucinating last month at a Cruz event in Iowa where several of his handpicked supporters, who spoke just before him, mocked and dismissed Donald Trump’s professed Christianity.

They marveled at a past comment of Trump’s about never asking God for forgiveness. One of them chose a bizarre, religiously coded analogy for a boast Trump had just made about how much voters loved him, saying that the billionaire’s bragging was an echo of John Lennon’s infamous claim — an outrage to American Christians in the 1960s — that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

But no, Cruz’s campaign would never question the faith of another candidate.

The Texas senator is some piece of double-talking, disingenuous work. While the so-called dirty tricks that he and his lieutenants have been charged with aren’t all that shocking by the standards of bruising presidential campaigns, they really do stand out in the context of Cruz’s flamboyant claims of rectitude and righteousness.

He directs you to his halo as he surreptitiously grabs a pitchfork. His rivals aren’t so diabolically hypocritical.

At a town hall in South Carolina that CNN televised, he answered a question about his miserable relations with fellow lawmakers in Washington by assuring voters that “it’s not that I speak with a lack of civility or respect.”

“The Bible talks about if someone treats you unkindly, repay them with kindness,” he added. “That has been the standard I’ve tried to follow. That’s how I’ve approached it in the Senate. So I have not attacked or insulted my colleagues in the Senate, Democrat or Republican.”

Is he suffering from delusions? Amnesia? On the Senate floor he called Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, a liar. He also likened Senate Republicans who recognized the impossibility of defunding Obamacare to Nazi appeasers.

Where was his vaunted “civility or respect” when, on the heels of his election to the Senate in November 2012, he derided Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid — to an audience including Romney supporters — by saying that during one presidential debate, “I’m pretty certain Mitt Romney actually French-kissed Barack Obama.”

And where was that “civility or respect” during subsequent Senate hearings to confirm Chuck Hagel as the secretary of defense? Cruz’s repeated suggestions that Hagel had been corrupted by money from America’s enemies were so out of bounds that senators from both parties were appalled.

Cruz continues to congratulate his campaign for its high-mindedness even though his allies and operatives spread an erroneous report, during the Iowa caucuses, that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race. And they had the niftiest bit of counsel for Carson voters. Switch to Cruz!

Then, in South Carolina, Cruz operatives doctored a photograph so that it showed Rubio shaking hands with President Obama in front of the United States Capitol.

These shenanigans profoundly contradict the godly styling of a candidate who was the first ever to announce a presidential campaign at Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world, and who incessantly invokes the Bible, Jesus and morality.

And they surely reflect the campaign culture that Cruz has created. Political allies and aides tend to behave in a manner largely consistent with their boss’s directives and understood values.

Or they’re brought aboard a campaign because they behave that way. As Matt Flegenheimer reported in The Times this week, Cruz hired a campaign manager, Jeff Roe, who is widely known for destructive gossip, for malicious tactics — and for winning.

Cruz’s hypocrisy may be catching up with him. In Iowa, he drew more evangelical Christian voters than his rivals did, but in South Carolina, Trump beat him among those voters, and Rubio wasn’t far behind. Some of them told reporters, including me, that they’d been turned off by behavior of Cruz’s that they deemed un-Christian.

This dynamic could cripple him in the Southern states that vote in the first half of March, and his strategy hinges on those states.

With their evangelical voters in mind, he frames himself as the candidate truest to Scripture and fiercest in the battle against such scourges (in his estimation) as gay marriage. That framing implicitly questions rivals’ devotion.

And his onetime proclamation that “any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief” is a summons to rivals to prove their faith. He should focus instead on conduct that proves his own.

Bruni, Cohen and Krugman

February 22, 2016

Mr. Bruni has a question:  “Is There Any Stopping Donald Trump?”  He says there was thought—and hope—that he’d fade. Think again.  In “Smartphone Era Politics” Mr. Cohen says people are outpaced by forces they can’t grasp, and that in political discourse, reasonableness dies, provocation works.  Prof. Krugman considers the “Cranks on Top” and says the illusions of the G.O.P. elite may be no better than those of the leading candidate.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Over the last few months and even weeks, the question among many flabbergasted Republican traditionalists and incredulous political analysts was when the forces of gravity would catch up with Donald Trump and send him tumbling to earth.

It was going to happen. Of course it was going to happen. You just had to be patient. You just had to be strong.

But in the wake of his victories in New Hampshire and now South Carolina, the question is no longer “when.” It’s “if.” And the answer isn’t clear at all.

Consider this: From 1980 forward, no Republican presidential candidate has won both the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and gone on to lose the party’s nomination.

And this: Over that same time period, only one Republican victor in South Carolina failed to become the nominee, and that was Newt Gingrich, in 2012. But Gingrich didn’t have Trump’s durable (and sizeable) lead in national polls. He didn’t dominate the race’s narrative and capture an exasperated electorate’s mood the way Trump has.

As it happens, Gingrich was on Fox News on Saturday night to discuss Trump’s latest triumph, and he didn’t say: “South Carolina? It’s a muggy, marshy, inconsequential tease. I bagged it four years ago and all it got me was this gig babbling in the wee hours about election returns.”

No, Gingrich marveled at what he made clear was “a huge night for Donald Trump.”

“Nobody should kid themselves,” he added.

Trump didn’t just win South Carolina, and he didn’t just win it by a margin of 10 points. He won it despite what looked, over recent days, like a concerted effort to lose it. He won it after what appeared to be one of the worst weeks that a candidate could have.

It began at the most recent debate, where he trashed the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and accused him of lying to the American people as he led them into war in Iraq. He sounded like a liberal Democrat. Republican primary voters, especially those in the South, aren’t typically receptive to that.

Over the next days, Trump sounded even more like a liberal Democrat, at least as described by Ted Cruz, who went after him relentlessly, armed with Trump’s own past statements in support of abortion rights and Planned Parenthood.

The week got messier from there. Trump picked a fight with the Pope. Trump picked a fight with Apple. It became evident that no personage or brand, no matter how beloved, was safe from his wrath. You had to wonder what or whom he’d go after next. Kittens? Betty Crocker? Betty White?

Then Trump spoke up for a key aspect of Obamacare before realizing what he’d done and assuring everyone that he deplored every aspect of Obamacare, which paled in comparison with Trumpcare, whatever that might turn out to be.

This prompted extensive commentary on Trump’s inconsistencies and a fresh round of murmuring about an imminent tumble.

But what we incredulous political analysts keep failing to take into account—what I was reminded of when I went to a Trump rally last week and listened hard to his supporters—is that the people voting for him aren’t evaluating him through any usual ideological lens. They’re not asking what kind of Republican he is. They’re not troubling themselves with whether the position he’s selling today matches the position he was selling yesterday or even what that old position was.

They want to try something utterly different—utterly disruptive, to use the locution du jour—and that leaves them, on the Republican side, with the options of Trump and Ben Carson. Trump has the fire.

One woman told me that she loves the idea of a billionaire who is funding his own candidacy and won’t be beholden to contributors and special interests. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? Couldn’t that be transformative? Why not give it a shot?

She’d also been to a Marco Rubio rally and was impressed: what a nice young man. But she’s not in the market for nice and young, not this time around.

Another woman told me that she craves a president who is fearless, reallyfearless, and that of all the candidates in the race, Trump seems the least bowed, the least cowed. She trusts him to fight. All he does is fight. And a fight is what’s in order.

A man who served in the Air Force and now works as a trucker told me that over several decades, through several presidents, the Veterans Administration has remained dysfunctional and his wages haven’t gone up. If he keeps voting the same way, for the same run-of-the-mill politicians, shouldn’t he expect more of the same? Trump isn’t the same.

Gingrich analyzed his appeal perfectly during that Fox News appearance. “It’s a very simple rule,” he said. “If you think Washington is so sick you want someone to kick over the kitchen table, then you like Donald Trump and you frankly don’t care about the details.”

In an exit poll of voters who participated in the Republican primary on Saturday, there was a near even split between those who said that the best preparation for the presidency was political experience and those who put more faith in someone from outside the political establishment. Rubio performed best with the former group, getting 38 percent of their votes. But Trump performed best with the latter group—and got 63 percent of theirs.

Going forward, Rubio is probably the bigger threat to Trump than Cruz, who won only 26 percent of South Carolina voters who identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians despite having campaigned as narrowly and fiercely as possible for their favor. More of them chose Trump, who got 34 percent of the evangelical vote, and plenty of them chose Rubio, who got 21 percent.

That potentially spells trouble for Cruz in the Southern states on Super Tuesday that he’d hoped to dominate. Rubio, meanwhile, is better positioned than Cruz to pick up former supporters of Jeb Bush, who ended his candidacy Saturday night, and to compete well in states outside the South.

And in the days and weeks to come, Rubio will get even more help and money than he has so far from Republican bigwigs who are desperate to see someone less truculent and divisive than Trump or Cruz burst into the lead. His South Carolina showing redeemed his New Hampshire embarrassment and renewed their faith.

But Rubio hasn’t notched a single victory yet. Trump has notched two, and whether they fully lived up to the advance polling is irrelevant. They’re victories, plural. They’re no fluke, no fad.

Naysayers can’t claim that he’s just a bad gaffe or an ugly revelation away from doom. There have already been gaffes aplenty—if you can call them gaffes. There have been revelations galore.

All Trump’s fans see is someone barreling forward without apology and with a largeness that makes them feel a little less small. They see a winner. And it’s no longer an illusion.

They’re morons.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The time has come for a painful confession: I have spent my life with words, yet I am illiterate. I can ape the vocabulary of my times but it is not mine. Certain things I cannot say, only mouth.

I grew up with readers and, by extension, readership. The readers have vanished like migrating birds. They have been replaced by users and by viewers and by audience. The verbal experience has given way to the visual experience. Where pages were turned images are clicked. Words, those obdurate jewels, have been processed to form content, a commodity like any other. The letter has given way to the link.

I do not have the words to be at ease in this world of steep migration from desktop to mobile, of search-engine optimization, of device-agnostic bundles, of cascading metrics and dashboards and buckets, of post-print onboarding and social-media FOMO (fear of missing out).

I was more at home with the yarn du jour.

Jour was once an apt first syllable for the word journalism; hour would now be more appropriate. The yarn of the day, culled from the local press, was the foreign correspondent’s bread and butter. “Yesterday’s news, today’s story!”

That was in the time of distance. Disconnection equaled immersion. Today, connection equals distraction.

I read therefore I am. I am “liked” therefore I am. I am of the place I am in. I am of the device I inhabit. Talk to me. Facebook me. These are distinct ways of being. They lead to distinct ways of communicating.

We find ourselves at a pivot point. How we exist in relation to one another is in the midst of radical redefinition, from working to flirting. The smartphone is a Faustian device, at once liberation and enslavement. It frees us to be anywhere and everywhere — and most of all nowhere. It widens horizons. It makes those horizons invisible. Upright homo sapiens, millions of years in the making, has yielded in a decade to the stooped homo sapiens of downward device-dazzled gaze.

A smartphone is no longer enough. We must have a smart car and a smart home. Or so we are told. A low-I.Q. home feels good enough to me.

Perhaps this is how the calligrapher felt after 1440, when it began to be clear what Gutenberg had wrought. A world is gone. Another, as poor Jeb Bush (!) has discovered, is being born — one where words mean everything and the contrary of everything, where sentences have lost their weight, where volume drowns truth.

You have to respect American voters. They are changing the lexicon in their anger with the status quo. They don’t care about consistency. They care about energy. Reasonableness dies. Provocation works. Whether you are for or against something, or both at the same time, is secondary to the rise your position gets. Our times are unpunctuated. Politics, too, has a new language, spoken above all by the Republican front-runner as he repeats that, “There is something going on.”

Yes, there is something going on. The phrase resonates with people who feel they have somehow lost control. Stuck, they seek movement above all.

I am not alone in my illiteracy. All around me I see people struggling to understand, anxious they cannot keep up, outpaced by forces they cannot grasp. With knowledge of, and access to, the billions of people sharing the planet has come a new loneliness. How cold and callous is the little screen of our insidious temptation, working our fingers so hard to produce so little!

That acronym, FOMO, is used by Nir Eyal, a former game designer, in his book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.” In it he describes the fear-of-missing-out mood that triggers people to turn and return to a successful app: “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation.”

I nodded my head at this in Jacob Weisberg’s review in The New York Review of Books. In the same review, Weisberg writes, “Once out of bed, we check our phones 221 times a day — an average of every 4.3 minutes — according to a U.K. study.” He also notes that one thing young people don’t do on their smartphones “is actually speak to one another.”

This appears to be some form of addictive delirium. It is probably dangerous in some still unknowable way.

But if this is a confession, it is not a lament. Yes, I feel illiterate. Technology has upended not only newspapers. It has upended language itself, which is none other than a community’s system of communication. What is a community today? Can there be community at all with downward gazes? I am not sure. But I am certain that cross-platform content has its beauty and its promise if only I could learn the right words to describe them.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If prediction markets (and most hardheaded analysis) are to be believed, Hillary Clinton, having demonstrated her staying power, is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination. The Republican race, by contrast, has seen a lot of consolidation — it’s pretty much down to a two-man race — but the outcome is still up for grabs.

The thing is, one of the two men who may still have a good chance of becoming the Republican nominee is a scary character. His notions on foreign policy seem to boil down to the belief that America can bully everyone into doing its bidding, and that engaging in diplomacy is a sign of weakness. His ideas on domestic policy are deeply ignorant and irresponsible, and would be disastrous if put into effect.

The other man, of course, has very peculiar hair.

Marco Rubio has yet to win anything, but by losing less badly than other non-Trump candidates he has become the overwhelming choice of the Republican establishment. Does this give him a real chance of overtaking the man who probably just won all of South Carolina’s delegates? I have no idea.

But what I do know is that one shouldn’t treat establishment support as an indication that Mr. Rubio is moderate and sensible. On the contrary, not long ago someone holding his policy views would have been considered a fringe crank.

Let me leave aside Mr. Rubio’s terrifying statements on foreign policy and his evident willingness to make a bonfire of civil liberties, and focus on what I know best, economics.

You probably know that Mr. Rubio is proposing big tax cuts, and may know that among other things he proposes completely eliminating taxes oninvestment income — which would mean, for example, that Mitt Romney would end up owing precisely zero in federal taxes.

What you may not know is that Mr. Rubio’s tax cuts would be almost twice as big as George W. Bush’s as a percentage of gross domestic product — despite the fact that federal debt is much higher than it was 15 years ago, and Republicans have spent the Obama years warning incessantly that budget deficits will destroy America, any day now.

But not to worry: Mr. Rubio insists that his tax cuts would pay for themselves, by unleashing incredible economic growth. Never mind the complete absence of any evidence for this claim — in fact, the last two Democratic presidents, both of whom raised taxes on the rich, both presided over better private-sector job growth than Mr. Bush did (and that’s even if you leave out the catastrophe of Mr. Bush’s last year in office).

Then there’s Mr. Rubio’s call for a balanced-budget amendment, which, aside from making no sense at the same time he is calling for budget-busting tax cuts, would have been catastrophic during the Great Recession.

Finally, there’s monetary policy. Republicans have spent years inveighing against the Fed’s efforts to stave off economic disaster, warning again and again that runaway inflation is just around the corner — and being wrong all the way. But Mr. Rubio hasn’t changed his monetary tune at all, declaring a few days ago that it’s “not the Fed’s job to stimulate the economy” (although the law says that it is).

In short, Mr. Rubio is peddling crank economics. What’s interesting, however, is why. You see, he’s not pandering to ignorant voters; he’s pandering to an ignorant elite.

Donald Trump’s rise has confirmed something polling data already suggested, namely, that most Republican voters don’t actually subscribe to much of the party’s official orthodoxy. Mr. Trump has said the unsayable on multiple issues, from declaring that we were deceived into war to calling for higher taxes on the wealthy (although his own plan does no such thing). Each time, party insiders have waited to see his campaign collapse as a result, and each time he has ended up paying no political price.

So when Mr. Rubio genuflects at the altars of supply-side economics and hard money, he isn’t telling ordinary Republicans what they want to hear — by and large the party’s base couldn’t care less. He is, instead, pandering to the party’s elite, consisting mainly of big donors and the network of apparatchiks at think tanks, media organizations, and so on.

In the G.O.P., crank doctrines in economics and elsewhere aren’t bubbling up from below, they’re being imposed from the top down.

What this means, in turn, is that Mr. Rubio’s consolidation of establishment support isn’t a testament to his good sense. In fact, it’s almost the opposite, a reward for his willingness to echo party orthodoxy even, or perhaps especially, when it’s nonsense.

So don’t let anyone tell you that the Republican primary is a fight between a crazy guy and someone reasonable. It’s idiosyncratic, self-invented crankery versus establishment-approved crankery, and it’s not at all clear which is worse.

Friedman and Bruni

February 17, 2016

Tommy Friedman has a question:  “Who Are We?”  He gurgles that the leading presidential candidates are missing the real America if they believe their attacks on the pillars of the nation’s strength.  In the comments “Socrates” from downtown Verona, NJ had this to say:  “Who Are You, Tom ?  Your column is yet another superficial stalactite hanging from the cozy cave ceiling of 1% indifference, dismissal and condescension.  We’re not socialists, you say…except for our taxpayer-funded FBI, Justice Dept., SEC, EPA, police and fire departments, highways, public schools, NIH, CDC, the strongest army in the world, world-class national park system and a thousand other items of common good established by the government.  We are socialist to a large degree, but are afraid to use the word because right-wing propagandists have successfully brainwashed Americans into ignorance, incoherence and glorious myths of exceptional psychopathic greed.”  Mr. Bruni considers “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Trump” and says as new outrages overwrite old ones, it’s easy to forget the sum of his sins.  Here’s TMOW:

I find this election bizarre for many reasons but none more than this: If I were given a blank sheet of paper and told to write down America’s three greatest sources of strength, they would be “a culture of entrepreneurship,” “an ethic of pluralism” and the “quality of our governing institutions.” And yet I look at the campaign so far and I hear leading candidates trashing all of them.

Donald Trump is running against pluralism. Bernie Sanders shows zero interest in entrepreneurship and says the Wall Street banks that provide capital to risk-takers are involved in “fraud,” and Ted Cruz speaks of our government in the same way as the anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who says we should shrink government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” (Am I a bad person if I hope that when Norquist slips in that bathtub and has to call 911, no one answers?)

I don’t remember an election when the pillars of America’s strength were so under attack — and winning applause, often from young people!

Trump’s famous hat says “Make America great again.” You can’t do that if your message to Hispanics and Muslims is: Get out or stay away. We have an immigration problem. It’s an outrage that we can’t control our border, but both parties have been complicit — Democrats because they saw new voters coming across and Republicans because they saw cheap labor coming across. But we can fix the border without turning every Hispanic into a rapist or Muslim into a terrorist.

Trump seized on immigration as an emotional wedge to rally his base against “the other” and to blame “the other” for lost jobs, even though more jobs, particularly low-skilled jobs, are lost to microchips, not Mexicans.

What we have in America is so amazing — a pluralistic society withpluralism. Syria and Iraq are pluralistic societies without pluralism. They can only be governed by an iron fist.

Just to remind again: We have twice elected a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim and who defeated a woman to run against a Mormon! Who does that? That is such a source of strength, such a magnet for the best talent in the world. Yet Trump, starting with his “birther” crusade, has sought to undermine that uniqueness rather than celebrate it.

Sanders seems to me like someone with a good soul, and he is right that Wall Street excesses helped tank the economy in 2008. But thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, that can’t easily happen again.

I’d take Sanders more seriously if he would stop bleating about breaking up the big banks and instead breathed life into what really matters for jobs: nurturing more entrepreneurs and starter-uppers. I never hear Sanders talk about where employees come from. They come from employers — risk-takers, people ready to take a second mortgage to start a business. If you want more employees, you need more employers, not just government stimulus.

I have just the plan for him: The 2015 “Milstein Commission on Entrepreneurship and Middle-Class Jobs” report produced by the University of Virginia, which notes: “The identity of America is intrinsically entrepreneurial [enshrined] by the founders, popularized by Horatio Alger, embodied by Henry Ford. … With enough hard work anyone can use entrepreneurship to pave their own way to prosperity and strengthen their communities by creating jobs and growing their local economy.”

In short, we’re not socialists.

The report outlines many steps government can take — from deregulation to education to finance — to unlock more entrepreneurship in America, and not just in Silicon Valley, but anywhere, like Louisville, where “a vibrant start-up community has developed. … Today, the city boasts five accelerators, a vibrant angel investor community and partnerships with large companies to support start-up enterprises like the GE FirstBuild center, which brings together micro-manufacturing and the maker movement.” We can do this! We are doing it. “Roughly half of private-sector employees work in small businesses, and 65 percent of new jobs created since 1995 have come from small enterprises.”

Unlike Sanders, Ted Cruz does not have a good soul. He brims with hate, and his trashing of Washington, D.C., is despicable. I can’t defend every government regulation. But I know this: As the world gets faster and more interdependent, the quality of your governing institutions will matter more than ever, and ours are still pretty good. I wonder how much the average Russian would pay to have our F.B.I. or Justice Department for a day, or how much a Chinese city dweller would pay for a day of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or Environmental Protection Agency? Cruz wraps himself in an American flag and spits on all the institutions that it represents.

America didn’t become the richest country in the world by practicing socialism, or the strongest country by denigrating its governing institutions, or the most talent-filled country by stoking fear of immigrants. It got here via the motto “E Pluribus Unum” — Out of Many, One.

Our forefathers so cherished that motto they didn’t put it on a hat. They put it on coins and then on the dollar bill. For a guy with so many of those, Trump should have noticed by now.

Well, Tommy, in one and a half Friedman Units the election will be over and you can go back to talking to cab drivers in Bangalore.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Donald Trump has been recognized for his mastery of the media, his fascination with gilt and his bold advocacy for baffling hair.

But I think his greatest distinction is as a surrealist. Not since Salvador Dalí has someone so ambitiously jumbled reality and hallucination.

I’m thinking of his news conference in South Carolina on Monday and of one assertion in particular, though with Trump it’s always hard to pick and choose.

In an appeal to African-American voters, he charged that Barack Obama had done nothing for them, and drew a contrast between himself and the president by saying: “I’m a unifier. Obama is not a unifier.”

The second of those sentences is debatable. The first is just a joke. Trump sneeringly divides the world into winners and losers, savagely mocks those who challenge him, dabbles in sexism, marinates in racism, and on and on.

To call that unification is laughable under any circumstances. To make that claim to blacks is perverse. Not long ago, he insistently questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency by latching onto the popular right-wing conspiracy theory that Obama had been born in Kenya and couldn’t produce a proper American birth certificate.

Has he forgotten that? Or is he simply betting that Americans have?

Every campaign is a painstaking manipulation of memory, an attempt to get voters to focus on only certain parts of the past and disregard the rest.

Candidates say that they’re eager to run on their records, but what they want from voters isn’t total recall. It’s selective amnesia.

Hillary Clinton would have us dwell on her fight for civil rights in the 1960s. She’d prefer that we edit out bits of the 1990s, when she supported the crime bill and welfare reform.

Bernie Sanders would have us luxuriate in his vision of economic justice. He’d rather us not glance backward and note how little headway he’s made to date.

But Trump is in a different category altogether. He doesn’t so much recast his yesterdays as utterly reinvent them, confident that the brio of his proclamations will mask their bogusness.

Lately he’s been trumpeting his prescience in having urged the Bush administration not to invade Iraq back in 2003, but there’s no such urging on record.

The website PolitiFact went in search of it, combing through newspapers and television transcripts, and came up empty-handed.

“Trump makes it sound like he stood on a railroad to try to stop the Iraq war train in its tracks,” PolitFact reported. “In reality, by the time he got around to forcefully criticizing the war, that train had already left the station.”

His greatest trick, though, isn’t to toy with memory but to overwhelm it, rendering insults and provocations at such a hectic pace that the new ones eclipse and then expunge the old ones. It’s as if the DVR of the electorate and the media can store only so many episodes before it starts erasing earlier indignities.

His flamboyant present overwrites his distressing past. It’s the eternal sunshine of the spotless Trump.

His proposed ban on Muslims coming into the country exited the discussion much more quickly than it should have. So did his false claims that Muslims in Jersey City celebrated by the thousands on 9/11.

At the Republican debate last Saturday night, when Jeb Bush brought up Trump’s galling dismissal of John McCain’s ordeal as a prisoner of war, he was like a D.J. dusting off a golden oldie from the vault. We hadn’t heard that song in a while.

We seldom read much anymore about Trump the birther (unless it’s in relation to Ted Cruz and Canada). And while that’s partly because his Republican rivals see no profit in an attack on him that could be taken as a defense of Obama, it’s also because there’s been so much other, fresher fodder since.

The sheer volume of his offenses minimizes each affront, and as his shock tactics become predictable, they inevitably grow less menacing, too.

I hear it in the conversations around me; I see it in media coverage that increasingly treats him as a normal candidate. Familiarity breeds surrender, even rationalizations: He doesn’t actually mean what he says. He doesn’t ultimately believe in anything. It’s all strategy, all spectacle. Sit back and enjoy the show.

“It’s so fun to watch,” Ezra Klein of Voxrecently wrote, “it’s easy to lose sight of how terrifying it really is.”

I might quibble with “fun,” but not with the notion that Trump has used a kind of sensory overload to numb us to the fictions he spins, the indecency he indulges.

We can’t lose track. We must keep score. The sum of them is the essence of him, a picture worth a thousand slurs.

Bobo from yesterday, Friedman and Bruni

February 10, 2016

I had some minor eye surgery yesterday, so didn’t spend any time on the computer.  But I couldn’t POSSIBLY not post Bobo’s cri de coeur from yesterday, titled, and you can’t make this stuff up, “I Miss Barack Obama.”  Turns out that President Obama is okay after all…  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Let’s skip the disingenuous ode to Obama. Of course he’s a decent man. But instead of mourning the upcoming loss of his grace and equanimity, we ought to be lamenting the loss of eight years of potential that Republicans squandered in their utter refusal to work with him. Conservatives like Mr. Brooks have undermined everything he’s stood for, and helped to create the polarized chaos out of which these embarrassing excuses for Republican candidates have emerged.  Brooks dismisses them all, except that he find Rubio charming when he breaks out in a nervous sweat and robotically repeats talking points under the pressure of a Republican debate. Imagine how charming he’ll be when North Korea launches missiles.”  Poor Bobo has a terrible case of the flop sweats.  Today The Moustache of Wisdom ponders “The Many Mideast Solutions” and says our presidential candidates can retire their platitudes about standing with Israeli and Sunni Arab allies.  Mr. Bruni considers “Feminism, Hell and Hillary Clinton” and says gender informs her quest, but it’s not the main reason to be for or against her.  Here’s Bobo from yesterday:

As this primary season has gone along, a strange sensation has come over me: I miss Barack Obama. Now, obviously I disagree with a lot of Obama’s policy decisions. I’ve been disappointed by aspects of his presidency. I hope the next presidency is a philosophic departure.

But over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.

The first and most important of these is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.

We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she’s trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she’s taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that.

He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.

Second, a sense of basic humanity. Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.

He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.

Third, a soundness in his decision-making process. Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.

Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

Take health care. Passing Obamacare was a mighty lift that led to two gigantic midterm election defeats. As Megan McArdle pointed out in her Bloomberg View column, Obamacare took coverage away from only a small minority of Americans. Sanderscare would take employer coverage away from tens of millions of satisfied customers, destroy the health insurance business and levy massive new tax hikes. This is epic social disruption.

To think you could pass Sanderscare through a polarized Washington and in a country deeply suspicious of government is to live in intellectual fairyland. President Obama may have been too cautious, especially in the Middle East, but at least he’s able to grasp the reality of the situation.

Fourth, grace under pressure. I happen to find it charming that Marco Rubio gets nervous on the big occasions — that he grabs for the bottle of water, breaks out in a sweat and went robotic in the last debate. It shows Rubio is a normal person. And I happen to think overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws. But a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis. After Saturday night, this is now an open question about Rubio.

Fifth, a resilient sense of optimism. To hear Sanders or Trump, Cruz and Ben Carson campaign is to wallow in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of complete collapse. That’s simply not true. We have problems, but they are less serious than those faced by just about any other nation on earth.

People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.

No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

About the only thing I’ll add to that is to take everything he said with a larger than usual pinch of pink Himalayan salt because he cited Megan “Where Does That Decimal Point Go?” McArdle.  Now we get to TMOW:

In December at the Brookings Saban Forum on the Middle East, Atlantic magazine reporter Jeff Goldberg asked the right-wing former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this provocative question: “Things are shifting radically not only in non-Jewish America but in Jewish America as it concerns Israel and its reputation. My question is: (A) Do you care? (B) What are you going to do about it? And (C) how important is it to you?”

“To speak frankly, I don’t care,” Lieberman responded, adding that Israel lived in a dangerous neighborhood. Give Lieberman credit for honesty: I don’t really care what American Jews or non-Jews think about Israel.

That conversation came back to me as I listened to the Democratic and Republican debates when they briefly veered into foreign policy, with candidates spouting the usual platitudes about standing with our Israeli and Sunni Arab allies. Here’s a news flash: You can retire those platitudes. Whoever becomes the next president will have to deal with a totally different Middle East.

It will be a Middle East shaped by struggle over a one-state solution, a no-state solution, a non-state solution and a rogue-state solution.

That is, a one-state solution in Israel, a no-state solution in Syria, Yemen and Libya, a non-state solution offered by the Islamic caliphate and a rogue-state solution offered by Iran.

Start with Israel. The peace process is dead. It’s over, folks, so please stop sending the New York Times Op-Ed page editor your proposals for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The next U.S. president will have to deal with an Israel determined to permanently occupy all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including where 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians live.

How did we get there? So many people stuck knives into the peace process it’s hard to know who delivered the mortal blow. Was it the fanatical Jewish settlers determined to keep expanding their footprint in the West Bank and able to sabotage any Israeli politician or army officer who opposed them? Was it right-wing Jewish billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, who used their influence to blunt any U.S. congressional criticism of Bibi Netanyahu?

Or was it Netanyahu, whose lust to hold onto his seat of power is only surpassed by his lack of imagination to find a secure way to separate from the Palestinians? Bibi won: He’s now a historic figure — the founding father of the one-state solution.

And Hamas is the mother. Hamas devoted all its resources to digging tunnels to attack Israelis from Gaza rather than turning Gaza into Singapore, making a laughingstock of Israeli peace advocates. And Hamas launched a rocket close enough to Tel Aviv’s airport that the U.S. banned all American flights for a day, signaling to every Israeli, dove or hawk, what could happen if they ceded the West Bank.

But Hamas was not alone. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, sacked the only effective Palestinian prime minister ever, Salam Fayyad, who was dedicated to fighting corruption and proving that Palestinians deserved a state by focusing on building institutions, not U.N. resolutions.

They all killed the two-state solution. Let the one-state era begin. It will involve a steady low-grade civil war between Palestinians and Israelis and a growing Israeli isolation in Europe and on college campuses that the next U.S. president will have to navigate.

Meanwhile, a no-state Syria — a Syria that Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers only partly control — will be a chest wound bleeding refugees into Europe. I am certain that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is deliberately bombing anti-regime Syrians to drive them into Europe in hopes of creating a rift in the European Union, strain its resources and make it a weaker rival to Russia and a weaker ally for America.

And the non-state Sunni caliphate (ISIS) and rogue-state Shiite Iran will feed off each other. I love it when both Democratic and Republican candidates say, “When I am president, I’ll get Sunni Arabs to take the lead in fighting ISIS.” Gosh, I bet Obama never thought of that!

The Sunni Arabs are never going to destroy a non-state ISIS as long as Iran behaves like a Shiite rogue state, not a normal one. It’s true, Iran is a great civilization. It could dominate the region with the dynamism of its business class, universities, science and arts. But Iran’s ayatollahs don’t trust their soft power. They prefer instead to go rogue, to look for dignity in all the wrong places — by using Shiite proxies to dominate four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Sana and Baghdad.

So my advice to all the candidates is: Keep talking about the fantasy Middle East. I can always use a good bedtime story to fall asleep. But get ready for the real thing. This is not your grandfather’s Israel anymore, it’s not your oil company’s Saudi Arabia anymore, it’s not your NATO’s Turkey anymore, it’s not your cabdriver’s Iran anymore and it’s not your radical chic college professor’s Palestine anymore. It’s a wholly different beast now, slouching toward Bethlehem.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

I’m 51. My health is decent. And while my mother died young, there’s longevity elsewhere in the family tree.

I could live to see an openly gay presidential candidate with a real chance of victory.

Will there be a “special place in hell” for me if I, as a gay man, don’t support him or her?

I can guess Madeleine Albright’s answer. She more or less told women that they’re damned if they’re not on Hillary Clinton’s team.

I’m still trying to get my head around that — and around Gloria Steinem’s breathtakingly demeaning assertion that young women who back Bernie Sanders are in thrall to pheromones, not ideas or idealism, and angling to score dates with the young bucks in the Sanders brigade.

That’s right, “democratic socialism” is a known aphrodisiac: the oyster of politics. There’s nothing like denunciations of oligarchs to put you in the mood.

Also, has Steinem forgotten about lesbians? More than a few of them support Sanders, and it’s not because of the way some 26-year-old doctoral candidate looks in his L. L. Bean flannel.

There’s a weird strain of thought swirling around Clinton’s campaign: that we should vote for her because she’s a woman. Or that she’s inoculated from certain flaws or accusations by dint of gender. Or that, at the least, there’s an onus on forward-looking people who care about gender inequality to promote her candidacy.

I care about gender inequality, and I don’t buy it. It’s bad logic. It’s even worse strategy. People don’t vote out of shame. They vote out of hope.

Perhaps that was among the lessons of Clinton’s defeat in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where she lost to Sanders among all women by at least seven percentage points, according to exit polling, and among women under 30 by more than 60 points.

Clinton is on sturdy ground, morally and tactically, when she mentions a double standard for women. So are her surrogates. Actually, there are so many double standards that you couldn’t fit them in a column eight times the length of this one, and she has bumped into plenty, including, yes, the fuss over her raised voice.

But the argument that she’s somehow not a full-fledged member of the establishment because she’s a woman — as she contended during the most recent Democratic debate — is nonsense. On that night, she also echoed a past statement to CBS News that she “cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president.”

Really? Anyone? Off the top of my head I can think of a person who might quibble with that. His name is Barack Obama.

Admittedly, there’s no easy way to navigate the terrain she inhabits. Eight years ago, she denied her campaign the romantic sweep of Obama’s by playing down and trying to correct for gender. This time around, she was advised, rightly, not to repeat that mistake. But how to do that without going too far?

I think she started out perfectly, with incontestable reflections on women’s challenges in the workplace and with casual asides about the historic nature of her bid. Discussing her age, she said, “I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

But more recently, things have fallen out of whack. Bill Clinton’s diatribeabout the misogyny of some Sanders supporters sounded like a defensive outsourcing of blame for the Clinton campaign’s disappointments in the polls and the returns: the narrowest of victories in Iowa followed by the resounding New Hampshire defeat.

The Clintons are always quick to point fingers and slow to look in the mirror. On top of which, Bill Clinton’s invocation of sexism felt too pat, his citation of gross language on Twitter (which, sadly, brims with it) too easy.

Clinton’s gender indeed matters. Just as you couldn’t properly evaluate Obama’s arc without factoring in race, you can’t see her accurately without recognizing that she’s a woman of her time, with all the attendant obstacles, hurts, compromises and tenacity.

That informs — and, ideally, illuminates — her perspective. And her presidency would carry a powerful, constructive symbolism that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

But those are considerations among many, many others in taking her measure and in casting a vote. To focus only or primarily on them is more reductive than respectful, and to tell women in particular what kind of politics they should practice is the antithesis of feminism, which advocates independence and choices.

We’re all complicated people voting for complicated people. We’re not census subgroups falling in line.

I’ll go to the barricades for that imagined gay candidate if he or she has talents I trust, positions I respect and a character I admire. If not, I’ll probably go elsewhere, because being gay won’t be the sum of that person, just as womanhood isn’t where Clinton begins and ends.

Friedman and Bruni

February 3, 2016

In “Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?” The Moustache of Wisdom says a man who helped set off the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt has drawn some conclusions about “Facebook revolutions.””  Mr. Bruni, in “Hillary Clinton’s Dutiful Slog,” says her campaign declared victory in Iowa, but she has no reason to celebrate.  Here’s TMOW:

Over the last few years we’ve been treated to a number of “Facebook revolutions,” from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the squares of Istanbul, Kiev and Hong Kong, all fueled by social media. But once the smoke cleared, most of these revolutions failed to build any sustainable new political order, in part because as so many voices got amplified, consensus-building became impossible.

Question: Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?

Last month an important voice answered this question with a big “ yes.” That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

In December, Ghonim, who has since moved to Silicon Valley, posted a TED talk about what went wrong. It is worth watching and begins like this: “I once said, ‘If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.’ I was wrong. I said those words back in 2011, when a Facebook page I anonymously created helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The Arab Spring revealed social media’s greatest potential, but it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.”

In the early 2000s, Arabs were flocking to the web, Ghonim explained: “Thirsty for knowledge, for opportunities, for connecting with the rest of the people around the globe, we escaped our frustrating political realities and lived a virtual, alternative life.”

And then in June 2010, he noted, the “Internet changed my life forever. While browsing Facebook, I saw a photo … of a tortured, dead body of a young Egyptian guy. His name was Khaled Said. Khaled was a 29-year-old Alexandrian who was killed by police. I saw myself in his picture. … I anonymously created a Facebook page and called it ‘We Are All Khaled Said.’ In just three days, the page had over 100,000 people, fellow Egyptians who shared the same concern.”

Soon Ghonim and his friends used Facebook to crowd-source ideas, and “the page became the most followed page in the Arab world. … Social media was crucial for this campaign. It helped a decentralized movement arise. It made people realize that they were not alone. And it made it impossible for the regime to stop it.”

Ghonim was eventually tracked down in Cairo by Egyptian security services, beaten and then held incommunicado for 11 days. But three days after he was freed, the millions of protesters his Facebook posts helped to galvanize brought down Mubarak’s regime.

Alas, the euphoria soon faded, said Ghonim, because “we failed to build consensus, and the political struggle led to intense polarization.” Social media, he noted, “only amplified” the polarization “by facilitating the spread of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech. The environment was purely toxic. My online world became a battleground filled with trolls, lies, hate speech.”

Supporters of the army and the Islamists used social media to smear each other, while the democratic center, which Ghonim and so many others occupied, was marginalized. Their revolution was stolen by the Muslim Brotherhood and, when it failed, by the army, which then arrested many of the secular youths who first powered the revolution. The army has its own Facebook page to defend itself.

“It was a moment of defeat,” said Ghonim. “I stayed silent for more than two years, and I used the time to reflect on everything that happened.”

Here is what he concluded about social media today: “First, we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.” Second, “We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else. Third, online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. … It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.

“And fourth, it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet.”

Fifth, and most crucial, he said, “today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”

Ghonim has not given up. He and a few friends recently started a website, Parlio.com, to host intelligent, civil conversations about controversial and often heated issues, with the aim of narrowing gaps, not widening them. (I participated in a debate on Parlio and found it engaging and substantive.)

“Five years ago,” concluded Ghonim, “I said, ‘If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.’ Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Late Monday, as the unfinished vote count suggested the slimmest of victories for Hillary Clinton, she stepped to a microphone, flashed an Oscar-worthy smile of triumph and told supporters that she was “breathing a big sigh of relief.”

She wasn’t. She isn’t. And she definitely shouldn’t be.

That’s not because what happened in Iowa — almost a tie between her and Bernie Sanders — substantially loosens her grip on the Democratic presidential nomination. Iowa was better terrain for Sanders than much of what lies ahead, and the dynamics that made her a heavy favorite to be the nominee before the state’s caucuses make her a heavy favorite still.

But Iowa demonstrated, yet again, what a flawed and tarnished candidate she is. And on the Republican side, the caucuses augured the possibility of a retreat from the party’s craziness and the rise of an adversary, Marco Rubio, who could give her trouble in a general-election matchup.

She should have trounced Sanders. Yes, he communicates authenticity to an electorate ravenous for it and has given potent voice to Americans’ economic angst. But little in his Senate career suggests that he’d be able to turn that oratory into remedy.

He’s no gushing font of political charisma. He’s a 74-year-old, self-proclaimed socialist who until fairly recently had minimal name recognition outside of Vermont.

President Obama clearly prefers Clinton. And in a poll of Democrats showing up for the Iowa caucuses, well over half said that they wanted someone who would continue Obama’s agenda — which is the precise pledge that Clinton has been making over the last few weeks — while only about one-third said that they preferred someone more liberal.

Even so, Clinton appears to have edged out Sanders by mere decimal points. How to explain it?

Perhaps with the sturdiest truism of politics: Elections are about the future. And so much about Clinton screams the past.

A rally of hers that I attended in Iowa last week actually began with a highlights reel of Clinton through time, including plenty of footage from the 1990s.

I understand why. The retrospective underscored her extraordinary experience. But nothing in her subsequent speech looked forward as stirringly as those images looked backward.

She’s forever stressing what she’s put up with, what she’s survived. “I’ve been around a long time,” she said in Des Moines a week ago, answering — but not really — a young voter’s question about the dearth of enthusiasm for her. “They throw all this stuff at me, and I’m still standing.”

It’s the language of drudgery and duty rather than inspiration, and she can sound as if she’s collecting on an i.o.u. and asking voters to complete hertrajectory rather than begin one of their own.

Bill Clinton may well garner applause, but every time he stumps for her, it’s an implicit promise to revisit yesterday, not to chart tomorrow. On Monday night, he and Chelsea stood with her as she spoke, and I was struck by the overwhelming familiarity of that tableau. It has been with us for a quarter of a century.

At this point the Clintons are royalty, and royalty sits at a remove from all else. Among Democratic caucusgoers most concerned about voting for a candidate who cared about people like them, 74 percent picked Sanders, while only 22 percent chose Clinton. (Martin O’Malley got the remainder.)

For caucusgoers acting primarily on the basis of who they deemed most “honest and trustworthy,” 83 percent voted for Sanders, while just 10 percent voted for Clinton. That’s the toll of all the attention to her emails, a topic that’s not disappearing anytime soon.

She has a habit, whether addressing a large group or a small one, of diving so deeply into the weeds of a subject that she doesn’t so much impress listeners as exhaust them. To her credit, she has educated herself more thoroughly than other politicians. But she somehow hasn’t learned to wear that erudition lightly.

For months Democrats have been heartened by the absurdity with which Donald Trump infused the Republican primary and by the prospect of him or Ted Cruz as the party’s nominee. But his second-place showing could be his twilight, and Rubio’s strong third-place finish supports the scenario that he’s the one.

He poses a bigger threat to Clinton. He understands that she, like Jeb Bush, is an awkward fit for the national mood, and he’d try to take advantage of that. He leans hard on his youth. He talks about a new generation.

Clinton needs to persuade voters that as much as they’ve seen of her, she can still lead them to a place they’ve not yet seen. She hasn’t succeeded, and she slogs on from Iowa much as she did eight years ago: with more to prove than to savor.

Brooks, Bruni, and Krugman

January 29, 2016

Bobo thinks he knows “What Republicans Should Say.”  He says David Cameron has outlined a truly conservative, pragmatic response to poverty, and we need an American version of it.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “This is why conservatives make my skin crawl. They treat poverty as a disease that some people catch, and then try to cure it by improving their character. Feed them religion instead of steak. Teach them how to live in poverty instead of paying higher wages.  Conservatives fret about values, as if they don’t emerge from the day-to-day experiences of people who struggle through unemployment and the economic abandonment of entire cities.”  Mr. Bruni, in “G.O.P. Debate Stars the Ghost of Donald Trump,” says during a night of spirited exchanges, there was no getting away from the spirit of the missing Republican front-runner.  In “Plutocrats and Prejudice” Prof. Krugman says an unspoken agenda is behind the ugliness in American politics.  Here’s Bobo:

For a few decades, American and British conservatism marched in tandem. Thatcher was philosophically akin to Reagan. John Major was akin to George Bush.

But now the two conservatisms have split. The key divide is over what to do about the slow-motion devastation being felt by the less educated, the working class and the poor.

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have appealed to working-class voters mostly by blaming outsiders. If we could kick out all the immigrants there wouldn’t be lawbreakers driving down wages. If we could dismantle the Washington cartel the economy would rise.

In Britain David Cameron is going down another path. This month he gave a speech called “Life Chances.” Not to give away the ending or anything, but I’d give a lung to have a Republican politician give a speech like that in this country.

First, he defined the role of government: basic security. In a world full of risks, government can help furnish a secure base from which people can work, dream and rise.

Cameron argued that both sides in the debate over poverty suffered real limitations because they still used 20th-century thinking. The left has traditionally wanted to use the state to redistribute money downward. The right has traditionally relied on the market to generate the growth that lifts all boats.

The welfare state and the market are important, but, he argues, “talk to a single mum on a poverty-stricken estate, someone who suffers from chronic depression, someone who perhaps drinks all day to numb the pain of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Tell her that because her benefits have risen by a couple of pounds a week, she and her children have been magically lifted out of poverty. Or on the other hand, if you told her about the great opportunities created by our market economy, I expect she’ll ask you what planet you’re actually on.”

Cameron called for a more social approach. He believes government can play a role in rebuilding social capital and in healing some of the traumas fueled by scarcity and family breakdown.

He laid out a broad agenda: Strengthen family bonds with shared parental leave and a tax code that rewards marriage. Widen opportunities for free marital counseling. Speed up the adoption process. Create a voucher program for parenting classes. Expand the Troubled Families program by 400,000 slots. This program spends 4,000 pounds (about $5,700) per family over three years and uses family coaches to help heal the most disrupted households.

Cameron would also create “character modules” for schools, so that there are intentional programs that teach resilience, curiosity, honesty and service. He would expand the National Citizen Service so that by 2021 60 percent of the nation’s 16-year-olds are performing national service, and meeting others from across society. He wants to create a program to recruit 25,000 mentors to work with young teenagers.

To address concentrated poverty, he would replace or revamp 100 public housing projects across the country. He would invest big sums in mental health programs and create a social impact fund to unlock millions for new drug and alcohol treatment.

It’s an agenda that covers the entire life cycle, aiming to give people the strength and social resources to stand on their own. In the U.S. we could use exactly this sort of agenda. There is an epidemic of isolation, addiction and trauma.

According to an AARP survey, one-third of adults over 45 report being chronically lonely. Drug overdose deaths of people ages 45 to 64 increased 11-fold between 1990 and 2010. More than half the American births to women under 30 are outside of marriage. Poorer parents are too strained and stressed to spend as much quality time raising their kids. According to the sociologist Robert Putnam, college-educated parents spend 50 percent more “Goodnight Moon” time with their kids than less-educated parents.

Meanwhile social support systems are fraying, especially for those without a college degree. Religious affiliation is plummeting. Since 1990 the number of people who declare no religious preference has tripled. Social trust is declining. Only 18 percent of high school seniors say that most people can be trusted.

There are two natural approaches to help those who are falling behind. The first we’ll call the Bernie Sanders approach. Focus on economics. Provide people with money and jobs and their lifestyles will become more stable. Marriage rates will rise. Depression rates will drop.

The second should be the conservative approach. Focus on social norms, community bonds and a nurturing civic fabric. People need relationships and basic security before they can respond to economic incentives.

But Republicans have walked away from their traditional Burkean turf. The two leading Republican presidential candidates offer little more than nativism and demagogy.

David Cameron has offered an agenda for a nation that is coming apart. There desperately needs to be an American version.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni, writing from Des Moines:

Donald Trump’s absence, of course, was the most compelling presence.

At the Republican debate here on Thursday night, Fox News didn’t put up an empty lectern. It didn’t need to. Trump was remembered. Trump was invoked. His ghost lingered, because he’d reshaped his Republican rivals’ images, reconfigured the challenges in front of them, rewritten the rules of this extraordinary race.

“Let’s address the elephant not in the room tonight,” said Megyn Kelly at the very start, and there was no doubt that the tusked behemoth in question had an oddly shaped swirl of vaguely cantaloupe-colored hair. She then asked Ted Cruz what message Trump’s failure to attend the event sent to the voters of Iowa.

Cruz didn’t just discuss Trump. He imitated him.

“I’m a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly,” Cruz said. Addressing Ben Carson, he added: “You’re a terrible surgeon.”

“Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way,” he continued, “I want to thank everyone here for showing the men and women of Iowa the respect to show up.”

He was mocking Trump, but in the process affirmed that everything revolves around Trump.

Almost a half-hour later, he was still making fun of Trump.

“If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage,” Cruz warned sarcastically.

Marco Rubio got in on the action by chiming in: “Don’t worry, I’m not leaving the stage no matter what you ask me.” The point of reference remained Trump, who was also the subject of some of the first words out of Jeb Bush’s mouth.

“I kind of miss Donald Trump,” Bush said. “He was a little teddy bear to me.” He then claimed that in debates past, he had taken on Trump more boldly than any of his competitors on the stage. Trump, in other words, was the proof of his mettle, the dragon that he alone set out to slay.

Shortly before the event began, Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, tweeted, “Republican candidates must be looking forward to tonight’s debate. Speaking without Donald getting all attention.”

Wishful thinking.

Trump got plenty of attention, because the drama offstage matched the drama onstage. For the two days leading up to the event, the main story — seemingly the only story — was his decision to skip it: Political suicide or stroke of genius?

In the hours before it, CNN could speak of almost nothing but Trump. It kept flashing footage of the fan-packed rally he had orchestrated just a couple of miles from the debate, to compete with it.

“There are thousands who have waited hours throughout the day,” the anchor Erin Burnett marveled.

When her colleague Anderson Cooper then interviewed a CNN correspondent at the debate itself, the first question he asked her was about how the debaters were likely to adjust to a Trump-less event.

“His shadow is looming large, even though he is not there,” Cooper said to the correspondent, then he turned to the network’s panel of political analysts, who talked about Trump, Trump, Trump.

And here I am, writing about Trump, Trump, Trump.

It’s impossible not to. It would be irresponsible not to, because believe it or not, hate it or love it, he’s the Republican campaign’s great and sobering lesson to the country, telling us things about its discontents that we didn’t properly understand. He’s the campaign’s undeniable force of gravity, exerting a pull on everyone and everything around him.

You could feel that pull at the debate, where the toughness with which Kelly grilled Cruz and Rubio on immigration — even showing footage of past remarks that caught them in flips, flops and contradictions — was a clear demonstration of her readiness to put any candidate on the skewer, not just Trump.

You could feel that pull in the fieriness of many candidates’ manners and the extremes to which they pushed their positions. Trump has set the temperature of the conversation, and it’s a blistering one that had Rubio pledging over and over to keep Guantánamo Bay open and stuff it full of terrorists.

You could feel that pull above all in the duration and emotionalism of the immigration discussion itself. It’s Trump’s promised wall and Trump’s pledges to deport millions of immigrants that have made this issue so prominent and compelled Republican candidates to take harder lines than they previously had.

On Thursday night, those lines tripped up Rubio and Cruz, whose difficult time onstage had everything to do with the fact that Trump wasn’t there. He’s the front-runner; he would have been the main target. Without him, they drew more fire.

“I’m kind of confused,” Bush said of Rubio’s approach to immigration reform over the years. “He led the charge to finally fix this immigration problem that has existed now for, as Marco says, for 30 years. And then he cut and run because it wasn’t popular among conservatives, I guess.”

Rubio didn’t have a persuasive response, but later went after Cruz, insinuating that he once had an approach to immigration less unyielding than the one he’s promoting on the campaign trail.

“Now you want to trump Trump on immigration,” Rubio said.

Political observers have been waiting for Rubio’s breakout moment, and many predicted that he’d have it at this debate. He didn’t. Put frequently on the defensive, he reverted to lines he’d used before and nuggets from his stump speech, and he kept returning to ISIS and military might, military might and ISIS. He came across as overly programmed, one-dimensional and itchy to go to war.

And Cruz couldn’t banish a sour expression and an air of grievance.

Three of the underdogs — Bush, Chris Christie and Rand Paul — had the best moments. Christie circled back too frequently to his beloved, overworked boast that he would make sure that Hillary Clinton never again got close to the White House, but he had a terrific retort to Cruz’s and Rubio’s explanations of their legislative histories on immigration reform.

“I feel like I need a Washington-to-English dictionary,” Christie said.

Bush was genuinely funny, as when he reintroduced Trump toward the end of the debate.

“I mentioned his name again just if anybody was missing him,” Bush said.

Missing him? Not really. I’d be glad to have him gone for good.

But he isn’t and he wasn’t, not on a night when the candidates molded their answers to the reality (and the reality show) that he’s created, not when they felt obliged to bring him up, not when he dominated the discussion without even taking part of it. Nifty trick, that.

Elephant, bear, dragon: Those aren’t the right beasts.

What the debate made clear is that Trump is all fox.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Every time you think that our political discourse can’t get any worse, it does. The Republican primary fight has devolved into a race to the bottom, achieving something you might have thought impossible: making George W. Bush look like a beacon of tolerance and statesmanship. But where is all the nastiness coming from?

Well, there’s debate about that — and it’s a debate that is at the heart of the Democratic contest.

Like many people, I’ve described the competition between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as an argument between competing theories of change, which it is. But underlying that argument is a deeper dispute about what’s wrong with America, what brought us to the state we’re in.

To oversimplify a bit — but only, I think, a bit — the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

The Clinton view, on the other hand, seems to be that money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn’t the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right. This may not seem like a very big difference — both candidates oppose prejudice, both want to reduce economic inequality. But it matters for political strategy.

As you might guess, I’m on the many-evils side of this debate. Oligarchy is a very real issue, and I was writing about the damaging rise of the 1 percent back when many of today’s Sanders supporters were in elementary school. But it’s important to understand how America’s oligarchs got so powerful.

For they didn’t get there just by buying influence (which is not to deny that there’s a lot of influence-buying out there). Crucially, the rise of the American hard right was the rise of a coalition, an alliance between an elite seeking low taxes and deregulation and a base of voters motivated by fears of social change and, above all, by hostility toward you-know-who.

Yes, there was a concerted, successful effort by billionaires to push America to the right. That’s not conspiracy theorizing; it’s just history, documented at length in Jane Mayer’s eye-opening new book “Dark Money.” But that effort wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as it has without the political aftermath of the Civil Rights Act, and the resulting flip of Southern white voters to the G.O.P.

Until recently you could argue that whatever the motivations of conservative voters, the oligarchs remained firmly in control. Racial dog whistles, demagogy on abortion and so on would be rolled out during election years, then put back into storage while the Republican Party focused on its real business of enabling shadow banking and cutting top tax rates.

But in this age of Trump, not so much. The 1 percent has no problems with immigration that brings in cheap labor; it doesn’t want a confrontation over Planned Parenthood; but the base isn’t taking guidance the way it used to.

In any case, however, the question for progressives is what all of this says about political strategy.

If the ugliness in American politics is all, or almost all, about the influence of big money, then working-class voters who support the right are victims of false consciousness. And it might — might — be possible for a candidate preaching economic populism to break through this false consciousness, thereby achieving a revolutionary restructuring of the political landscape, by making a sufficiently strong case that he’s on their side. Some activists go further and call on Democrats to stop talking about social issues other than income inequality, although Mr. Sanders hasn’t gone there.

On the other hand, if the divisions in American politics aren’t just about money, if they reflect deep-seated prejudices that progressives simply can’t appease, such visions of radical change are naïve. And I believe that they are.

That doesn’t say that movement toward progressive goals is impossible — America is becoming both more diverse and more tolerant over time. Look, for example, at how quickly opposition to gay marriage has gone from a reliable vote-getter for the right to a Republican liability.

But there’s still a lot of real prejudice out there, and probably enough so that political revolution from the left is off the table. Instead, it’s going to be a hard slog at best.

Is this an unacceptably downbeat vision? Not to my eyes. After all, one reason the right has gone so berserk is that the Obama years have in fact been marked by significant if incomplete progressive victories, on health policy, taxes, financial reform and the environment. And isn’t there something noble, even inspiring, about fighting the good fight, year after year, and gradually making things better?

Friedman and Bruni

January 27, 2016

In “Friends and Refugees in Need” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that a tidal wave of people threatens to overwhelm our top ally, the E.U.  In “The Twinned Egos of Cruz and Trump” Mr. Bruni says the Republican front-runners are quite the self-infatuated pair. What does that say about the future of politics?  Here’s TMOW, writing from Stockholm:

Now in his last year in office, President Obama is in legacy mode. He has much to be proud of. But if he doesn’t want his achievements muddied by foreign policy, he’ll spend his last year redoubling his efforts to contain the Middle East refugee crisis before it goes from a giant humanitarian problem to a giant geostrategic problem that shatters America’s most important ally: the European Union.

I know — putting “European Union” into the lead of a column published in America is like a “Do Not Read” sign. Maybe I should call it “Trump’s European Union.” That would go viral. But for the two of you still reading, this is really important.

The meltdowns of Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, Mali, Chad and Yemen and our takedowns of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan — without proper follow-up on our part, NATO’s part or by local elites — has uncorked the worst refugee crisis since World War II. This tidal wave of migrants and refugees is a human tragedy, and their outflow from Syria and Libya in particular is destabilizing all the neighboring islands of decency: Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan and Turkey. And now it is eating away at the fabric of the E.U. as well.

Why should Americans care? Because the E.U. is the United States of Europe — the world’s other great center of democracy and economic opportunity. It has its military shortcomings, but with its wealth and liberal values, the E.U. has become America’s primary partner in addressing climate change, managing Iran and Russia and containing disorder in the Middle East and Africa.

This partnership amplifies American power and, if the E.U. is hobbled or fractured, America will have to do so many more things around the world with much less help.

At a seminar in Davos, Switzerland, sponsored by the Wilson Center, I interviewed David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, which oversees relief operations in more than 30 war-affected countries. He made several key points.

First, one in every 122 people on the planet today is “fleeing a conflict” at a time when wars between nations “are at a record low,” said Miliband, a former British foreign secretary. Why? Because we now have nearly 30 civil wars underway in weak states that are “unable to meet the basic needs of citizens or contain civil war.”

Second, he said, last year the rescue committee assisted 23 million refugees and internally displaced individuals. Some 50 percent of those going to Europe come directly out of Syria and most of the rest come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea — and the international humanitarian relief system “is now being overwhelmed by the numbers.”

Last year, within the E.U. bloc there were 56 million truck crossings between countries and every day 1.7 million crossings by people. Preserving that free movement of trucks, trade and people, Miliband added, is a huge “economic prize,” but it will not be sustained if E.U. countries feel swamped by refugees who can’t be properly registered or absorbed.

More and more countries are now sealing their borders, and anti-immigrant parties are rising everywhere. Sweden has imposed border controls, and its ultranationalist Sweden Democrats party has grown from the fringe to one of the largest. Many in Germany, Sweden and Austria, which have accepted the lion’s share of refugees so far, want to seal off Greece from the E.U.’s passport-free internal travel zone if Greece — the first port of entry of many refugees — is unable or unwilling to hold them.

In the past few days, The Guardian reported, national leaders and top E.U. officials warned “that Europe’s passport-free travel zone could crumble within weeks, risking the dissolution of the union.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was well intentioned when she opened her country to 1.1 million Arab, African and Afghan migrants last year, but it was also reckless of her to think that so many immigrants, primarily Muslims, could be properly absorbed so quickly into society in Germany — a country that took two decades and billions of dollars to absorb East Germans. Merkel’s open-door policy drew even more refugees to the E.U., and now that the Germans want to stop the flow, their neighbors won’t take them.

“This refugee crisis is a real arrow pointed at the heart of the European Union,” said Miliband. “There is no solution that confines itself within the borders of Europe.” As long as there is “war without law and without end in Syria,” the refugee flow will continue, with all its destabilizing implications.

Obama did not cause this Syria problem, and he can’t fix it alone — but it’s not going to get fixed without U.S. leadership. I have shared the president’s caution about getting involved on the ground in Syria. But I now believe we need to take another look at establishing some kind of U.S./E.U./NATO safe zone inside Syria and Libya to create space for refugees to remain in these countries. It’s not a panacea or cost-free, but letting this refugee disaster fracture the E.U. will be a lot more expensive.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni, writing from Osceola, Iowa:

For a few minutes I wondered if I’d wandered into the wrong barn.

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, was introducing the candidate I’d come to see, but with descriptions that bore no relation to the candidate I’d come to know.

He called this man “one of the great listeners that I’ve ever been around in my entire life.” He praised him as “a person who is full of humility.”

Then it hit me: Perry was playing defense and asserting the precise virtues that the candidate famously lacks.

Because when most people think of Ted Cruz, they don’t think: listener.

And when Cruz took the microphone and made his remarks, I hardly thought: humble.

It was Tuesday morning, six days until the caucuses. Dozens of voters sat among bales of hay and cows could be heard mooing in the background at such perfectly staggered intervals that I suspected a soundtrack rather than the real thing.

Cruz explained what he regarded as the seven battles of our time, and guess who was the conquering hero in each? (Hint: not Barack Obama.) He expressed the need for a Ronald Reagan of the here and now, and guess who’s perfect for the part? (Hint: not Donald Trump.)

His voice swelled and swooped and dropped at times to a whisper so fraught with foreboding that it belonged in a bad afternoon soap. There are speakers who smoothly get the job done, and then there are those who dance to the music of their own voices, pirouette after pirouette. Cruz is the 2016 campaign trail’s prima ballerina.

But then Trump is its black swan.

As each tries to muscle the other into the wings, they emphasize their contrasts. So does the media, describing the dissimilar paths that these two Republican front-runners traveled.

But to me they’re as alike as they are different, with an overlap that helps to explain the intensely, passionately negative reactions they elicit. They’re both transcendently — and transparently — self-serving and self-infatuated. They scale new pinnacles of egotism in a profession (politics) and pursuit (the presidency) that’s already a veritable mountain range of it.

They’re grim prophecies come true. Many of us have worried that the increasingly circuslike, invasive, round-the-clock nature of modern campaigns would frighten off anyone with an inkling of modesty, an iota of self-doubt. Who would endure this ordeal and make this bargain?

The answer, all too often, is someone who finds the spotlight so mesmerizing that the ugliness on its periphery doesn’t matter, or someone whose hunger for validation is so prodigious that only Air Force One will sate it.

Here in Iowa four years ago, I marveled at the Everest of vanity that was Newt Gingrich. But he doesn’t even reach base camp on the slopes of Trump, whose campaign is one bottomless, boundless soliloquy of self-congratulation. On Sunday he stunned journalists by sitting through a church service, but it wasn’t really the religious gesture that impressed them. It was the fact that for a solid hour, he assumed a posture of deference, and he couldn’t brag.

Cruz is cut from the same flamboyant cloth. It’s striking how many explorations of his past wind up focusing on the magnitude of his confidence, the scale of his ambitions and the off-putting nakedness of both.

As a cocky teenager, he said that his life goals were to “take over the world, world domination, you know, rule everything.” He separately wrote of plans to “achieve a strong enough reputation and track record to run for — and win — president of the United States.”

That last detail comes from a recent story in Politico whose themes included Cruz’s zest for attention, quickness to grab credit and utter self-consumption. It opened with a scene in which Cruz, gearing up to run for the Senate, visits George W. Bush to get his backing, then holds forth at such tone-deaf length about his disruptive plans for the Republican Party that the former president is appalled and repelled.

In The Times on Monday, Matt Flegenheimernoted discrepancies between Cruz’s accounts of his vital contributions to Bush’s legal team during the 2000 Florida recount and the memories of others. “There are a lot of people who claim to be in Florida at the time of the recount,” Joe Allbaugh, Bush’s campaign manager, told Flegenheimer.

Every successful politician is a self-promoter. Every campaign is a sequence of boasts. In an ideal political environment, the narcissism is tempered and the worst narcissists foiled.

But the current ecosystem is toxic, and Trump and Cruz flourish. Neither demonstrates an especially robust appetite for listening, though listening is important. Both are full of a great many things. Humility isn’t among them.


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