Syndicated radio host-author Maria Armoudian joins me for a discussion about media coverage of the presidential campaigns, and how the new media landscape has impacted legacy media. Check out Maria’s book, Kill the Messenger: The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World, and a blog post by Naval Ravikant about how social media has replaced the elites with direct democracy.
A discussion about "anchor babies" and the persuasion techniques Donald Trump uses in his presidential campaign. Guests: cultural critic Geza X and immigration attorney Alex Voschinsky. Related post: The Art of Political Persuasion in the Age of Trump
Even though Donald Trump wrote The Art of the Deal and frequently flaunts his entrepreneurial, branding and management skills as qualifications to run the country, very few people have caught on that he’s using familiar negotiating techniques in his presidential campaign. Maybe the most obvious example is the magnate-cum-candidate's call to deport 11 million immigrants, the political equivalent of making an outlandish demand in a business proposal that one doesn’t really expect to be met. Asking capitalists for way more than is needed might raise eyebrows, but it doesn't generally provoke the sort of outrage Trump’s so-called immigration policy has evinced among Americans. A typical response to an aggressive opening volley in the world of commerce is to simply make a counteroffer. Which usually leads to more back-and-forth, and ultimately a deal that works for all parties.
Trump is making up his own rules if not his own game, and many Americans just aren’t ready for a salesman's posturing to be applied so crassly to the political arena. But unless he’s eliminated from the race sooner rather than later, look for Trump in the coming months to unveil a creative yet realistic immigration policy that everyone can live with. If he fails to transition from alarmism to pragmatism by Election Day, it will expose a profoundly flawed marketing strategy, and it will then be time to declare the emperor has no clothes. Not yet, though. It’s fair to call Trump a carnival barker, but he's also an accomplished storyteller and master of mass communication. Stories have arcs, and they take a while to be told. Consider this possibility: Trump's timing is better than yours.
Consider also, as if it were a negotiating position or film narrative, the Second Amendment argument made by Dorothy Samuels in the #4 most popular story on BillMoyers.com in 2015 (originally published by The Nation). Samuels was a member of The New York Times editorial board for 31 years, and is now a senior fellow at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. She denies the right to bear arms applies to individuals, and insists the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller is the product of rightwing bias that came about as a result of the National Rifle Association (NRA) “winning over…the conservative justices.” Samuels not-too-subtly characterizes the Court’s opinion as “radical,” “appalling,” “judicial activism” (natch) and “an epic feat of jurisprudential magic.” Her tall talk is as disconnected from reality as Trump’s immigration rhetoric.
Actually, the Court was influenced by renowned liberal law professors – including Laurence Tribe, arguably the nation’s preeminent constitutional scholar – and the Heller lawsuit was filed by then small-fry attorneys who regarded the NRA as interlopers more than allies. If Samuels were deploying conventional negotiating tactics, she would follow up the false premise she initially floated with a more reasonable position that at least concedes the meaning of the Second Amendment is debatable. After all, the ambiguity of "a well regulated militia" is the very reason its interpretation is so controversial. But according to Samuels, it’s obvious the amendment’s drafters didn’t believe firearms should be used in defense of one’s home, and the legal experts who concluded otherwise are outliers who lack credibility and deserve no mention.
Just as Trump will have failed if he doesn’t eventually espouse a truly viable immigration policy, people like Samuels must at some point stop pretending the majority opinion in Heller is judicial malpractice. How is it fair to impugn conservative justices whose reasoning is in alignment with well-respected liberal jurists? Moreover, millions of Americans believe they are constitutionally entitled to own guns, and that using deadly force in self-defense is sometimes necessary. Because they’re up against so many people who already have what they want, gun control advocates have a greater need to engage their ideological opponents than vice versa. It’s self-defeating to dismiss gun rights advocates as incorrigible nuts, because if they're perpetually brushed off, they will inevitably walk away from the “bargaining table" in disgust – and acquire more weapons.
Any good storyteller knows the audience won’t be satisfied unless the protagonists’ problems are resolved. It appears Samuels is bent on alienating gun owners by clinging to a trite myth that is more likely to prolong cultural stagnation than lead to a resolution. Trump seems to be fostering similar estrangement with other segments of the population, but his story is a much fresher work in progress, and his background suggests he has a more strategic game plan in mind. One needn’t endorse his methodology to recognize its usefulness as a frame of reference that helps us understand how influence is brought to bear in America. Second Amendment discourse is only one such comparison. You could likewise consider almost any issue of the day.
This story was also published by The Huffington Post.
Even though he disavowed personal attacks, negative campaigning, etc., Bernie Sanders thinks it’s perfectly fine to ridicule at least one presidential candidate. His skewering of Donald Trump is a comedic triumph, but it won't help Sanders defeat Hillary Clinton, whom he’s sadly afraid to criticize, especially in her presence. When Sanders knocks Trump for the same flaws he overlooks in Clinton, it reveals two things about the senator: 1) He's more fond of mockery than he admits, and 2) He’s not serious about competing.
A 2014 Virginia Tech study revealed "conservatives had a much stronger reaction to disgusting images than liberals.” WaPo’s Zach Goldfarb thinks that’s why Donald Trump is associating Hillary Clinton with excretory functions. I have a different theory. It’s even crazier, so maybe you’ll like it: Trump will argue he didn’t actually say that using the bathroom is disgusting. He’ll claim he only meant that talking about it is disgusting. He isn't rushing to defend himself, because the uproar serves to ensure nobody forgets Clinton struggled to get in and out of a lavatory. Trump hasn't told any potty jokes so far. He’s mocking and stigmatizing Clinton as too old, tired, out of shape and slow compared to the far more energetic Donald Trump. Soon he'll deride those who misinterpreted what he said, and many people will side with him just for fun. Over and over again in the coming months, Trump will return to the theme of Clinton lacking the stamina needed to be president. He will brag about his unbelievable energy, and Clinton’s bathroom lag will be legendary.
To understand what animates his shtick, it might be helpful to watch Trump razz acquiescing targets at a Comedy Central roast, where nary an eyebrow is raised over such shenanigans. Fueling his presidential candidacy with a relentless series of put–downs is an effective way for Trump to subject non-consenting elites to the same sort of mockery, and put them on the defensive. One need not approve of Trump's audacious performance art/political warfare to see that when he questioned John McCain’s heroism, it was not intended as a serious comment about the plight of POWs or any other service members. It was just a handy way to needle the senator. But for some it was nonetheless beyond the pale, maybe even more taboo than Trump’s digs at women.
In a recent Salon interview, Camille Paglia suggested Trump’s no holds barred approach is filling a comedic void. She said Trump "does better comedy than most professional comedians right now, because we’re in this terrible period where the comedians do their tours with canned jokes. They go from place to place, saying the same list of jokes in the same way. But the old vaudevillians had 5,000 jokes stored in their heads. They went out there and responded to that particular audience on that particular night. They had to read the crowd and try out what worked or didn’t work…Our politicians, like our comedians, have been boring us with their canned formulas for way too long. So that’s why Donald Trump has suddenly leapt in the polls. He’s a great stand-up comedian…he’s not afraid to say things that are rude and mean. I think he’s doing a great service for comedy as well as for politics!”
Paglia has a point, but it might not be entirely fair to fault the comedians. Even the most popular stand-ups are no longer allowed to perform certain material at once-permissive but now-dogmatic halls of academia, and some – including Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy – prefer to completely avoid colleges. Ordinary Americans have come to see that thought control is rampant, and they become alarmed nowadays when they hear news such as the University of California’s Committee on Education Policy wants to ban “questioning a student’s fitness for a leadership role.”
Almost no restriction is too oppressive for the legions of busybodies who want to decide for all of us what we can say to each other. It's a state of affairs that has free speech proponents more agitated than their rivals detect. The ongoing effort to quash disturbing but lawful speech is widely perceived as a plague on our society, not merely a difference in tastes. The buttinskies don't get it. They can't even fathom the notion that Trump’s war on political correctness is righteous or corrective. They think the bumptious New Yorker is so crude and juvenile he couldn’t possibly be up to something worthwhile. But Trump’s colorful insistence that offensive comments aren’t suppressible let alone punishable, is downright thrilling – and essential – to some of us.
The thought police and their defenders are not only clueless, but culpable for creating and sustaining the opportunity for Trump to shine as an anti-PC warrior. Their ongoing bewilderment over his ascension is obtuse in the extreme. For some reason, they don't grasp that those who appreciate Trump's brash intrusion into politics are less concerned about his sassiness than they are about nudniks thwarting free expression. I suspect many who abhor creeping censorship don’t see Trump as sufficiently presidential. But they nonetheless appreciate how his unorthodox tactics are impacting the political landscape, and that he makes other one-percenters very uncomfortable.
Despite Paglia’s renowned status as a public intellectual, Trump’s critics are quick to dismiss his supporters as barely literate conservatives. But neither the candidate nor his followers can be easily marginalized or categorized. Trump's massive numbers suggest his appeal is much broader than his adversaries are prepared to admit. 24 million people watched the August 6 Republican presidential debate on Fox News, three times more than any previous debate on a cable news channel. When Trump exercised his ample comedic chops with Jimmy Fallon on NBC last Friday night, The Tonight Show scored its highest rating in 18 months. Tonight's debate on CNN is expected to draw the network’s largest audience ever. All the candidates will again be exposed to many more potential voters than any of them could have reached if Trump were not running. Any time millions of people who would otherwise pay no attention are drawn into the political process, it’s hard to deny that democracy itself has been enhanced.
As we head into the fall season, it remains to be seen who – if anyone – will emerge as the clear Democratic frontrunner. Bernie Sanders has an achilles heel that Trump will likely exploit at some point soon. The Vermont senator reacted hysterically to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision by authoring a constitutional amendment that would empower Congress to regulate any spending by anyone that could somehow affect an election. Although the proposed new authority is unprecedented and absurdly overbroad, other candidates have embraced and even expanded on the sentiment. Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Sanders have all vowed to appoint to the Supreme Court only justices who want to "overturn Citizens United." That bizarre litmus test is a significant departure from the norm that has so far escaped scrutiny. But Trump has an uncanny ability to very quickly use plain language to highlight an opponent’s weakness, and to make his framing stick. How will Sanders, Clinton or O'Malley respond if Trump accuses them of criminalizing everyday discourse? If asked who they want to imprison for sharing information or an opinion, what will they say?
Many of the same people who detest political correctness are strongly opposed to the government regulating what’s spent on so-called political speech, especially when any communication could be prohibited simply because money changes hands. Those who believe opposition to such tyranny is the exclusive province of Republicans, may be in for a rude awakening. Building a wall between the First Amendment and political influence is no less problematic than building one on the U.S./Mexico border, and immigration isn’t the only issue that will mobilize a large segment of voters.
This post was also published by The Huffington Post.
Two views of how cops interact with civilians: A discussion about parking policy and enforcement in the City of Los Angeles with Jay Beeber and Steven Vincent of the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative, and watchdog Jessica Berk talks about the tragic death of Eric Garner after he encountered New York Police Department officers who claim he was unlawfully selling cigarettes.
My guests on The Norman Report podcast tonight are Rick Reyes, a remarkable Marine veteran who went undercover posing as a homeless veteran to find out how veterans are treated in shelters, and Cristina Garmendia, the co-founder of OpportunitySpace, a company that connects citizens with unused and underused government-owned property.