26 October 2016

In the Shadows

In 1989 Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen and V for Vendetta, published the following comic book: Shadowplay: The Secret Team. (He also published a companion piece which will follow shortly here.)

For those of you too young to remember, this concerns a so-called Shadow Government being run out of the "basement" of the Reagan White House that engaged in illegal deals with the Iranian revolutionary government, drug smuggling, and arms running—and included elements of the CIA and the National Security Council. If you think there are shenanigans going on in the current election cycle, this was a genuine conspiracy—no theory here. Pres. Reagan admitted it on national television. There were actual convictions (subsequently overturned on technicalities having to do with prior Congressional grants of immunity). This was ugly. People died.

Sometimes a dark comic book can be the best way of bringing home the reality of that era. Nothing about it, however, is funny.

[If the above embedded comic book is not fully functional, you can find the web archive here and even download it for free.]

21 October 2016

This Week in Water

I apologize for not posting regularly. I've been distracted by clamorous U.S. politics, the glimmer at the end of the tunnel of my second novel, Twitter, October baseball, inter alia. However, our home planet's most precious resource is still in peril and should lay claim to our attention.

Plastic pollution, virtually indestructible, is choking oceanic ecosystems and threatening coastal economies.

The presence of trillions of pieces of plastic garbage in Earth's oceans is a chief component of evidence for the argument by scientists that the planet has entered a new epoch, the Antropocene, defined by human meddling and spoilage. The Smithsonian looks at the global water shortages to identify truly stressed areas in the Anthropocene.

Tropical fish collectors in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are killing the coral reefs with cyanide and bleach used to stun the colorful aquarium dwellers.

High salt and arsenic concentrations are threatening one of the world's largest freshwater aquifers in South Asia which supplies some three-quarters of a billion people.

Unified Native American and First Nations tribal groups continue to protest a Dakota Access Pipeline on reservation land near Standing Rock, North Dakota, that will endanger freshwater sources. Keep up with the news here.

Flint, Michigan's drinking water crisis continues. News here.

Water has become a luxury for the people of the Indian state of Punjab, much of it shipped in from elsewhere as the drought there continues.

A large sinkhole sent contaminated water and fertilizer plant waste into Florida's main drinking-water aquifer.

An unknown but substantial amount of coal ash was discharged from Duke Energy storage ponds into the Neuse River as a result of flooding from Hurricane Matthew in Eastern North Carolina.

The largest recorded earthquake in East Texas was triggered by hydrofracking, the high-volume injection of wastewater from oil and gas activities deep underground.

The world is unprepared for the "truly staggering" effects of a warming ocean.

Iran's salty Lake Urmia turned from a deep green to blood red due to algae and bacteria blooms caused by drought, heat, and demand for irrigation water.

Greenland's ice is melting even faster than scientists previously calculated.

The island nation of Kiribati is doomed by rising seas and will soon be completely underwater.

Migrants seeking refuge in Europe continue to die in unprecedented numbers in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted evidence of water vapor plumes on Europa, one of Jupiter's moon. Meanwhile, NASA's Cassini space probe has found evidence of a global ocean beneath the icy crust of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons.

22 September 2016

This Week in Water

Lots to report on this week. It's easy to focus on the depredations of flood, drought, overheating and rising seas, pollution, &c, with respect to our world's most precious resource. However, as promised last time, this post will focus on some positive and interesting aspects on this always timely subject.

Spending time in, on, around, and under the ocean reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases the feel-good hormones—serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine—in humans. [And you wonder why scuba diving is one of my favorite things in the world!]

President Obama has quadrupled the size of the world's largest natural marine sanctuary, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.

Wondering what we can do to preserve our oceans and other international bodies of water? Here's one look at the subject.

Dolphins use complex language and sentences to chat with each other much the same way humans do. We have yet to crack their code or effectively translate.

Deep water desalination from Monterey Bay may resolve environmental problems posed by seawater intakes from shallower, closer in sources.

One of the driest countries on Earth, Israel, now makes more freshwater than it needs.

Scientists are improving desalination technologies throughout the Middle East, reducing both (a) excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the region's oil and natural gas extrusion industries and (b) excess briny salt waste from desalination.

Engineers from Georgia Tech and Nanjing University have developed a new solar desalination process based on self-assembling nanoparticle membranes using low-cost, abundant, stable materials.

After raising some 1.5 billion Euros, a 21-year old whom we've reported on before is set to test his technological solution for ridding the ocean of plastic.

Harvard scientists have created an artificial photosynthesis system—a bionic leaf—that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels—which may obviate someday the need for drilling for fossil fuels.

Nanotechnology may save the Cascajo wetlands an endangered and contaminated lake near Lima, Peru.

NASA plans to map coral reefs from the air to further demonstrate the impact of climate change and ocean warming.

NASA's Dawn space probe has found signs of water on dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered evidence of volcanoes erupting under ice sheets on the Red Planet billions of years ago.

NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft discovered a distinct water-ice signature on the surface of Pluto's outermost moon, Hydra.

NOAA scientists discovered a new form of jellyfish that lights up like a children's toy.

Physicists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered a new state of water molecule—beyond gas, liquid, and solid.

Good stuff!

06 September 2016

Baby Blue

I used to do more of this—themed DJ-ing, that is. Got a wild hair this Labor Day weekend and decided to publish a playlist of songs from my iTunes with "Baby Blue" in the title (at least the ones I could find on YouTube). And, still, the greatest use of a power pop tune by a television show or movie has to be the Badfinger version in the final scene of Breaking Bad. Simply. Perfect.

(P.S. There's a terrific song by Evelyn Forever which I cannot find on-line. It's from their album 'Lost in the Supermarket'.)

26 August 2016

This Week in Water

Still playing a bit of catch-up here. Lots to report, so let's dig in:

In the U.S., the state of Louisiana experienced unprecedented rainfall and widespread destructive flooding.

The historic drought in Southern California has caused a spate of catastrophic fires in and around the Los Angeles area.

Algae blooms in U.S. bodies of water are becoming all too common.

Farm fertilizer runoff is creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of the state of Connecticut.

Permafrost below shallow Arctic lakes is thawing as a result of increasingly warmer winters.

Arctic sea ice may be reaching its lowest-ever levels and could become ice-free for the first time in 100,000 years.

In Syria, amid the on-going civil war and devastation, the embattled city of Aleppo has no running water.

In Iran, Lake Urmia has turned from a deep green to blood red due to algae and bacteria blooms.

In Africa, Lake Tanganyika fisheries are declining from overfishing and the effects of global warming.

Historic flooding in Paris threatened artworks in the Louvre and Orsay museums.

Let's leave it off here. Next time we'll look at some positive developments in the world of our planet's most precious resource.

17 August 2016

Frameworks, Pt. 6

Let's see if we can bring this unruly essay full circle. We began with a general ethical framework for looking at the two major U.S. political parties. Republican candidates, we asserted, tend to be 'deontological' in orientation, and Democrats tend to be 'consquentialist' in their choice of candidates.

That's a couple of pretty big terms. Don't let that turn you off. Let's try to unpack them. Deontological ethics, which has its origins in religious texts and moral codes, judges the rightness or wrongness of a given action by whether it adheres to a given set of rules or, generously, principles. It looks at the character of the act itself, and in certain political iterations at the virtuous intentions of the actor to adhere to those rules. Shorthand version: rule-following is good; purity of intentions is better.

Consequentialist ethics, which is a by-product of the rationalist Enlightenment, judges the rightness or wrongness of a given action by the effects it seeks to bring about. Utilitarianism (see, e.g., Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill) is a species of consequentialism which states that a given political action should produce the greatest amount of pleasure (or good or happiness—however defined) for the greatest number. Consequentialism tends to favor a certain pragmatism in action, but is more concerned with the effects a given action causes. Shorthand: what's good is what's good for the greatest number; what's best is what's good for all.

These, of necessity, are very cursory definitions of these two approaches to gauging political actions, but for purposes of this blog essay, they will suffice.

Generations of philosophy students will be familiar with the old hypothetical thought experiment of being thrust into a situation in a remote village where you are forced to make a decision either (a) to personally execute one innocent member of a group of hostages, or else (b) to do nothing, in which case the hostage-takers will murder the entire village. If you are a confirmed rule-follower who operates under a "thou shall not kill" ethos—that is to say a deontologist—then you will likely choose as a matter personal morality not to kill the innocent hostage. If you are a consequentialist, on the other hand, you might decide that it is better to swallow your pride and sacrifice your integrity and kill an innocent person in the hopes of saving the rest of the village.

Neither choice is particularly savory, obviously. But political decisions, I suspect, can often be like that. Bright-line rules don't always apply. Principles crumple in the face of unforeseen circumstances. I do believe that this type of analysis can help to understand the two major presidential candidates this year.

Within this ethical framework, we've looked at the candidacy of Donald Trump as projecting the image of a strong individual whose every action as President will inculcate a certain set of rules and principles (specifically conservative ones)—regardless of outcome and effect on, for example, the economy or international relations or entire classes of people. Hillary Clinton's image, by contrast, is that of a competent and experienced political actor whose actions seek the input of the broadest manageable coalition of her constituents and therefore will redound to the benefit the greatest number of people—beholden to no hard and fast particular ideological set of rules or principles (right or left).

Philosophically, this is how I see the choice this year. This has been my look at how I believe the candidates propose to govern, not what their specific policies or promises might be. I believe this is an incredibly important analysis because, frankly, no one can predict what sorts of issues or changed circumstances the next president will have to face. Promises are promises and often fall by the wayside in the face of obstruction and opposition or changed circumstances. Likewise, policies are policies, but unreasoning or even forced application of a given set of policies to different situations could have unforeseeable and potentially disastrous results.

[As a footnote, a quick analysis of Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, on this framework might look something like this: like Trump, she appears to be a deontologist, but unlike Trump her operant rules and principles are doctrinaire leftist in orientation. Her intentions might be pure (as, for example, an environmentalist)—and that is her strong allure—but she doesn't have the coalition of constituencies necessary at the outset to be able to gauge what would be the best sort of particular actions to bring about a desired set of results in any given situation. Even a pure leftist cannot rule by fiat in a democratic society.

Gary Johnson, by contrast, looks to me like a consequentialist of sorts, but a wrongheaded one. His policies are libertarian in orientation. He seeks to cut government out of nearly every aspect of life. The inevitable, direct result of radically cutting government regulation and taxes will be increased inequality—whether this is intentional or unintentional is unknown. His actions will directly benefit those few already in a position to maintain or even advance their economic and political interests on their own. It will directly remove protections for the most vulnerable. He seems to believe that such a move will indirectly and at some future point in time benefit the majority—though that can never be guaranteed.]

15 August 2016

Frameworks, Pt. 5

To recap Part 3, Donald Trump's tactical approach to consolidating and energizing his base is to manufacture outrage. In Part 4, we discussed the contrasting strategic approach of the Hillary Clinton campaign. How, then, is Hillary Clinton attempting to carry out her 'all things to all people' strategy?

Where Trump needs to build toward an electoral majority from a solid base on the extreme right wing, Clinton needs to stake out a broad segment of the general electorate from a center-left position. To do this, her campaign is seeking to expand her coalition by moving both leftward toward the Sanders base of the Democratic party and allied independents and rightward toward the middle in order to capture a broad majority.

As we've seen, Trump's is a bit of a blunderbuss maneuver—earned media, tweets, gigantic rallies (all empowered by his ratings manipulating outrageous "bullshit"). Clinton's tactical approach is the tried-and-true use of data-driven messaging, or micro-targeting.

If the Clinton campaign wants to appeal to a certain demographic that relies heavily on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, &c.) they employ celebrities and commenters the users of these platforms like/follow/&c. To appeal to serious policy types, she and her influential surrogates publish policy papers and statements in important journals and magazines and newspaper editorial pages. To target informed members of the boomer generation who get most of their information from cable television, her campaign distributes talking points and deploys winsome, attractive talkers to significant programs and talk shows. To appeal to traditional Democrats, the campaign brings out party bigwigs to rallies, fund-raisers, television and radio programs to extol her policies and virtues. She holds private fund-raisers for wealthy donors. She gives talks to a wide range of interest groups. She holds campaign rallies in key precincts and swing districts (something the Trump campaign has yet to master!). Moreover, the campaign and its allies are using traditional, professionally-created ads to reach specific low-information populations through the television and radio programming they consume. And, lastly, the campaign is deploying many professionals and many more volunteers to battleground areas they believe they can win in order to get out the vote—the so-called ground game.

This is the traditional data-driven path to electoral victory we are used to seeing in U.S. elections. It is expensive and involves an enormous amount of energy and resources. It also requires precise data and precision targeting of resources. The Clinton campaign has drawn on and updated Obama's wildly and unexpectedly successful 2008 campaign playbook. It is a very professional operation which seems to have learned key lessons from it previous mistakes and failures.

The essential message of the campaign, as we've indicated, is that Hillary Clinton has the knowledge, experience, and competence required for the job of the presidency. Again, in contrast to Trump's wildly outlandish and, frankly, amateurish claims, her message—agree or disagree—is precise, consistent, and focused.

She has been the wife of a President, a U.S. Senator, and the Secretary of State—all of which count as relevant experiences. It is certainly appropriate to take exception to any of her specific policy proposals or to debate the merits of her specific prior actions or performance in government or out (and that's not what this series of posts is about). Only one of those prior roles, however, specifically and directly relates to her 'all things to all people' strategic claim: her experience as Senator. And there are really only two data points worth considering in this regard.

Clinton was first elected Senator from the State of New York in 2000 by a 55-43% vote. She served for 6 years and ran for re-election in 2006, winning by a 67-31% electoral landslide. That's an enormous 12% increase in popularity after serving for 6 years, with a population sample size of 19 million and during which time New York had a Republican Governor, George Pataki (1995-2005).

Can she be all things to all people? No. But she proved to the people of New York that she could increase her popularity and outreach to a very broad spectrum of a diverse electorate.

The Clinton organization knows who the targets of her campaign should be, and they are aggressively messaging them. They seem to be willing to write off the 10% or so of the Bernie Sanders supporters who will never vote for her in order to appeal to the broad moderate middle of the electorate. They know, too, they can never win over the staunch, near-extremist base of support for Donald Trump. But between those two constituencies there is a lot of room to maneuver, and that's where they've chosen to set their sites and target their message.

11 August 2016

Frameworks, Pt. 4

[Quick reminder: in this first major section of this on-going Frameworks essay, we are attempting to analyze the strategies of the two major presidential campaigns. This is not an issue-by-issue policy examination or critique; it's more in the nature of a look at the animating, or structural, philosophies behind whatever specific rhetoric and policy provisions they have and will put forth.]

As we've seen with in Pt. 2 and Pt. 3, Trump and the GOP are using controversy and even fractious conflict to manufacture outrage in the belief it will be sufficient to drive an expanded and newly energized base to the polls in November.

The Democrats and Hillary Clinton are pursuing a very different strategy. At their convention, they trotted out a dizzyingly diverse array of political star power—the sorts of cabinet members, Governors, Senators, Representatives, and local and regional politicians that were noticeably missing from the Republican convention. They appealed to a broad range of constituencies. Where Trump and the GOP are directing their efforts specifically to a circumscribed base, Clinton's approach is more of an "all things to all people" approach.

The Democrats reached out to the passionately committed supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders' insurgency campaign as well as to the national security professional class. They spotlighted Black Lives Matter as well as police unions. They specifically appealed to various individual identity interest groups: LGBTQ people, African-Americans, Latinos, Arab-Americans, Jews, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, among others. They actively sought the votes of working and middle class folks as well as billionaire donors—labor, management, and owners. They even courted moderate Republicans!

Their hope is to expand their coalition of constituencies rather than constrict their focus to their base. Their convention was a clamorous and somewhat racous cacophany of competing interest groups vying for attention. It used a grand spectacle replete with a mixture of unabashed patriotism and specific policy proposals to attempt to ensure everyone who wanted to be was heard on the issues that matter to them. If the Republicans sought to move toward a more right-wing extremism, the Democrats sought to expand from the middle outward in both directions.

Where the GOP convention offered a vision of a crumbling, humiliated America, the Democratic convention proclaimed that America was once again on the rise—a great nation that will only get greater. The overriding theme had to do with the progress the country has made since President Obama took office after the disastrous Republican presidency of George W. Bush in the midst of the deepest and most serious recession since the 1930's and two seemingly interminable quagmire wars while admitting that there was more work to be done, more progress to be made.

Where Trump is selling outrage in the face of despair, Clinton is selling steady progress and calm continuity. Clinton's campaign is more policy- and performance-driven. She is running on her resume, her knowledge, and her competence. She claims that, by virtue of her vast experience in government, she is ready to hit the ground running on day one. She offers a smorgasbord of well-developed and well-thought-out and vetted policies suggested by a broad range of constituencies. And she knows how to work the levers of power to accomplish those aims.

The Democratic convention also offered a direct and precise emotional counterbalance to the Republican's Trumpfest. If Trump projected an image of the pessimistic, stern, domineering, even distant father who always knows what's best for his dependents but who assures them he is there to defend them, Clinton projected an image of the compassionate, empathic grandmotherly figure standing ready with open arms to soothe the emotional scars and welcome and protect the child from the intemperate outrages of the abusive father. "Love Trumps Hate," as the slogan goes.

[This may sound like simplistic psychobabble, but make no mistake about it: infantilizing the electorate is always a part of both political conventions' emotional subtext. George Lakoff's brilliant essay "Understanding Trump" explains why this so: "What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families." This is the rhetorical frame Republicans are particularly good at exploiting, he asserts, and that Democrats perennially fail at. It is my hope that this series of posts will explain, at least in part from a philosophical point of view, why this is necessarily the case and why that is not necessarily a bad thing.]

If the Democrats' strategy works, it could be a game-changer, signalling a new political landscape balance and reversing what has been the standard demographic trends since the Reagan era.

Next: How does Hillary Clinton hope to carry out this strategy?

08 August 2016

Frameworks, Pt. 3

Picking up where we left off Part 2, we were trying to think through what I take to be the best case for Donald Trump—or at least the best case the GOP and Trump are trying to make for his candidacy. (Note: Part 1 of this series can be found here.)

Recall: Trump's strategy involves expanding, solidifying, and energizing what he considers to be his base and getting them to turn out to vote in hopefully unprecedented numbers come November.

How does Donald Trump hope to win? By selling outrage.

In practically every single campaign rally or press release or campaign statement or personal tweet, Trump says or does something that would in any other year be deemed outrageous, and possibly disqualifying, in a presidential candidate. It's almost impossible to keep up with his outrages. It's all very entertaining. There has never been a candidate quite like him.

He uses vague adjectives—"huge", "great", "bad", "the best", etc. He insults people—both politicians and celebrities and otherwise. He draws attention to protestors, demeans them, and even encourages his followers to boo them (or worse). He attacks the media covering his spectacles. He draws conclusions from demonstrably false assumptions. He recirculates rumors and gossip. He makes vague, veiled implications that can lead sympathizers to one conclusion about what he believes and critics to an entirely different inference (often referred to as 'dog-whistle' politics). He misleads and lies while at the same time, and often in the very next sentence, telling accepted truths and bromides that confirm the assumptions of prejudices of his followers. He is quite deft at these tactics.

And, I would submit, these are not gaffes. It doesn't matter whether what he says is true or false. You can keep your fact-checkers; for by the time they've broken down whatever he has said most recently and shown it to be false or misleading, he has moved on to another statement. Facts do not matter to Donald Trump. What matters is the outrage and controversy whatever he says or does creates. It is a carefully crafted marketing strategy, one modeled on a professional wrestling/reality TV model. Let me elaborate.

In my Twitter account back on July 31, I ran the following quote from the monogram called "On Bullshit" by moral philosopher Harry Frankfort:
What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicat the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby resonding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off; he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Trump generates conflicts and controversies in his public appearances and statements because he knows they will draw attention to him. That is his true enterprise. It brings free television network coverage and large crowds to his rallies. Audiences attend and tune in in the hopes of being entertained in much the same way TV audiences and stadium crowds are entertained by fake, highly produced wrestling matches.

[N.B.: This is a very sly and savvy move on Trump's part because it plays into the structural constraints of corporate news broadcasting. The corporations who own the 24-hour cable news networks have a legal, institutional duty to make a profit for their owners and shareholders. In fact, it is singularly their principal duty. The way their news operations make money is by generating ad revenue. The costs of ads are determined by ratings in competition with their rival networks. Trump coverage—protestors at his rallies, outrageous statements, name-calling, etc.—brings ratings, drives up ad costs, and therefore increases their profits. It's often referred to as "earned media"—a ridiculous euphemism. It's a lovely synergy Trump knows how to take full advantage of—and does!]

So, Trump's outrages generate eyeballs on TV and put butts in the seats at his rallies. Butts in the seats and eyeballs mean ratings and popularity. And popularity and ratings bring further coverage and the chance of even higher ratings and greater popularity. The equation here is a simple one, really: Trump believes he can translate these TV ratings and large crowds into votes on election day.

Don't believe me? Take a look at this quote from Trump's interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos where he makes this assumption explicit:
Look, I think the Republican convention was great or I wouldn't have had the bounce that I had. As you said, I had 3 million people more than she [Hillary Clinton] had on the final night. She had a Thursday, I had a Thursday, she had a speech, I had a speech, I had 3 million people more than she did. And I had a lot of people. There were a lot of people. I think I had 30 million. They had 27 million. I think we're going to do very well in this election.
"My speech had more viewers, therefore we are going to do very well in this election." Could Trump's assumption be spelled out any more clearly than that? That's the key metric animating his entire enterprise. [It is an assumption, however, that remains to be borne out in practice. For example, Mitt Romney and his followers made the same assumption four years ago to disastrous effect, as did John Kerry before him.]

Fearful of a world spiralling out of control? Angry at others who you feel are preventing you from achieving the American dream? Feeling humiliated both personally and by an America in decline abroad—whether in trade, sport, or war? Outraged by a corrupt Establishment—whether it's Obama and Crooked Hillary or Jeb and Lyin' Ted? Angry at the media for their complicity in this decline? Feel like this country needs a strong man who can fix all these problems? Well, frankly, you have bought the outrage Donald Trump and the GOP are trying to sell. You have been well and truly played by a consummate bullshit artist with designs on becoming one of the most powerful men in the world. And I've just shown you the powerful strategy he's employing to achieve it.

Next, Hillary.

06 August 2016

Frameworks, Pt. 2

Assumptions aside, let's look at the strategies suggested by the two parties' conventions and how the candidates are implementing these essential orientations. Starting with Trump and the GOP.

The Republican convention made clear that their strategy this year is to lock down their electoral base, stir them up, and hope they come out to vote in unprecedented numbers. They painted what has been described as a dystopian vision of America, one besieged by terror abroad and chaos and disorder at home, one where economic rot and ruin hamper aspirations, one where government corruption is rampant and pernicious, one where a humiliated America projects weakness around the world in both trade and military affairs.

Donald Trump claims he "alone can fix it" as if by force of personality. He is charismatic and projects a swaggering attitude. Calls himself a winner. Asserts he is stronger and better than any of his rivals. Claims to be a "counter puncher": he doesn't start fights, but he knows how to end them.

In my view, this is precisely what his base (and at least a plurality of the Republican base) wants in its candidate. It is less his principles and policies and knowledge of the issues—or, I would submit, his bleak world view—and more an attitude of superiority and a politics of dominance they want from their candidate. This is slightly different from the traditional, principled conservative Republican approach—but only in degree, not kind. It substitutes charismatic force of personality for conservative principles, but is more concerned with the personal bona fides of the candidate than with whether that candidate's policies will address, much less solve, the problems confronting the country.

Trump projects the image of a wealthy businessman. He is handsome and charismatic. He lives a lavish lifestyle of fame and riches. He has his own jet plane. He is married to a former super model and has doting, beautiful, brilliant, devoted children. His largely male, largely disaffected base identifies with him though most can only dream of having these things.

Trump's partisans feel aggrieved, feel they too deserve this sort of lifestyle. But something is preventing them from attaining these things. And Trump aptly articulates a litany of potential scapegoats (Muslims, Mexicans, Immigrants, Politically Correct Liberals, Establishment Conservatives who have betrayed the base, etc.) to explain why they don't. They want a champion—a counter-puncher—to help them vanquish these bogey men that have put them down and knocked them out. The want Trump to help them reclaim their own personal swagger. And that is precisely what he promises. If Trump wins, America wins; and if America wins, they win. Trump alone is great; only Trump can make America great again; and when America regains its greatness so will his followers.

Trump wants to be seen as the anti-Establishment candidate. And he is without question a political outsider: he is an American businessman and reality television entertainer/celebrity who has never held political office. As the outsider, he is content to pick fights with Establishment figures even in his own party, including everyone from Jeb(!) Bush to Ted Cruz to Paul Ryan to John McCain to Mitt Romney. These feuds only enhance his cachet with his base.

But these intraparty spats are merely the preliminary bouts to his big confrontation with the ultimate Establishment figure: Hillary Clinton. Clinton, to Trump and his base, personally embodies all the evils in the system. By showing he can dominate the entrenched GOP bigshots, he hopes to show he can dominate Clinton and, by the projective principle of transference, dominate the system and, ultimately, the world on behalf of his disaffected followers.

[And, I would note, it is with this anti-Establishment, anti-Hillary appeal—a structural appeal, that is to say—that he specifically reaches out to supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost a hard-fought, passionate insurgency campaign against Clinton. Apparently, Trump hopes Sanders' young, idealistic supporters will look past the vast substantive disconnect between the progressive things they want their 'revolution' to accomplish and the policies espoused by Trump and his GOP base and join Trump's anti-Establishment 'movement'.]

(End Part 2)