Donald Trump Doesn't Hate Babies

07 Aug 2016

Trump doesn’t hate babies.1 Yet this week was dominated by stories about his open disdain for infants. This is a perfect example of the way that stories stick despite only being vaguely factual with the added difficulty for Trump being that his past unpredictability makes it easier to believe outrageous things about him.2

The Trump campaign doesn’t seem to understand why he keeps getting tagged by nonsense. Perhaps it is time that they brought in and had conversations with some actual political operatives.

Granted, it sure is a lot of fun to shout “I’m against the system!”, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have an easy time operating against it. Sanders’ campaign is the obvious recent example, but any anti-establishment candidate will inevitably run into difficulties that hamper success.

To run for president in the United States you need to be aware of the significance of the structures involved in the process. You don’t have to like it, but that’s the reality of contemporary politics. In Trump’s case, he needs the media to present him as a serious candidate with serious ideas.3 This is not an option. This isn’t the media’s “fault” though. There are no grand conspiracies here. Politics in a democracy is (and always has been) a popularity contest.

In a popularity contest, you need a method of engaging with those who are voting and few candidates have a microphone of their own sufficient to reach 315 million Americans. Trump certainly doesn’t. This mean that the media are the gatekeepers to voters. You don’t need them “on your side”, but you do need to know how to use them. For all Trump’s prior successes, he doesn’t appear to know how to use the media writ large. At least, not in a political environment. Even if his rhetoric is against the biased Media Party Elites, he still needs to work within that system. His team is failing him in that regard.

This, I would guess, is why Clinton isn’t doing press conferences. In a normal campaign, she’d be creating a dangerous vacuum, but Trump gives the media more than enough to keep them occupied – and voters (or readers, anyway) would much rather those stories. So speaking up, for Clinton, is all risk with little upside: stories about Trump’s missteps are easier wins than anything she could do.

In some ways, Clinton is running contrary to conventional wisdom: her campaign isn’t in control of the day to day messaging. That might be a problem in a normal election cycle, but when the message is this favorable to you, why would you try to change it? Clinton could very well win by Trump losing.

My guess: the first full week where Trump stays on message and avoids scandal and embarrassment is when Clinton does a full press conference. And I say this knowing full well that she took questions a couple days ago. That was a perfect example of an unforced error on the part of the Clinton campaign. Whether her answers (and the “kind of” press conference itself) is more interesting than whatever Trump says over the next few days, who knows. But it gave Trump an opportunity to let the message of the day be a negative one about Clinton. He should take it. He likely won’t.

And “he should, but won’t” is Trump’s campaign in a nutshell. There are times in the primaries where that attitude served him well, but a one on one campaign against Clinton is radically different than the free for all of the Republican primary process.

  1. At least not publicly.

  2. If only someone had been able to identify and articulate that problem earlier on…

  3. Or, I suppose, merely as he wants to be presented on the off chance that he has some strategy other than “seem like he would make for a good president”.

New Democrats and Minority Bingo

16 Jun 2016

The NDP federal executive has voted to establish a series of quotas for the nomination papers of candidates seeking leadership: of the 500 signatures needed, 250+ must be female-identified members, 100 must be from “equity-seeking groups”, and there are an additional series of wholly arbitrary regional categorizations that must also be met. This seems to be an attempt to ensure that leadership candidates have diverse bases of supporter from across the country. On the surface, this is a noble and worthwhile gesture, but when thinking through the details there are a number of concerns that arise with these guidelines that undermines their very aim.

Is the central party going to check if a candidate has enough black or queer supporters to qualify for leadership? Imagine a debate over whether names seem sufficiently Indigenous enough and having the party call supporters to ask their minority status. If the party is not checking then it really is nothing more than cheap publicity and lip service to diversity. If it is simply an honour system, then it is still forcing the candidates to engage in an absurd game of minority bingo for the “right” mix of Canadians.

Which brings up another problem: is the executive also going to clearly define what counts as Indigenous? As disabled? As sufficiently visible for minority status? Or will it simply be up to the candidate’s best judgment whether and how a supporter fits into these categories? Perhaps they will have to clearly identify for the party which signatures belong to minorities, women, and particular regions. This would end up being one of the more essentializing forms of bureaucracy to come from progressives in decades. Would the NDP keep and maintain a permanent database of minority supporters or would this information simply go into a filing cabinet to be ignored after the election?

As a white male, I have already seen a great number of politicians who look like me and we are long overdue for leaders who break with that tradition. All parties should seek to better speak to and represent the diversity of Canada, but the approach here is ill conceived. Not only are the criteria arbitrarily selected and extremely limited in scope, but the end result is little more than a form of checklist diversity among a very small sample size of supporters. If the goal is to appear to be a more diverse party, then this approach might be successful if nobody looks too closely. If the goal is to actually be more diverse, then it is time to go back to the drawing board.

The Power and The People

15 Jun 2016

George Kateb for The Utopian:

Morally speaking, democracy is an insufficient foundational value for a political system; democracy is not the sole value in political life. “The more democracy, the better” is not true – whether in political, social, or cultural life.

"A selfish vantage point"

14 Jun 2016

Chris Arnade for The Guardian:

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don’t. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility.

The Style Guide: On Canons [Episode 40]

13 Jun 2016

Some of my PhD work is on the nature of the political philosophy discipline and the canon that has been constructed around it. Having run into a bit of a wall, I was able to trick Dave into dedicating an entire episode that was aimed towards helping me climb that wall. Thanks Dave! PS: “I Will Never Speak To You Again. I Hate You.”

Float On

13 Jun 2016

Mike Miller:

Like the child you were, literally hold a real book and tune out, and turn off, the digital distractions. Embrace the content that lets you explore far off worlds where hours fly by in the blink of an eye. The king will always beckon you back to reality but, at least on occasion, make sure they are calling you back from some imaginary world.

"A palpable example of being a complete person"

13 Jun 2016

Khoi Vinh:

The act of shedding tears, hyperventilating, losing my balance, letting the despair beat me down without a fight… it all brings a real and tangible relief. There’s comfort in it, a feeling as warm and intimate as a cherished blanket.

"Everything’s like something else"

12 Jun 2016

Black Hockey Jesus:

I’m not a noun. Neither are you. Think car crashes, lightning flashes, flowing waves of crazed relations, long meandering conversations, smoke and mirrors and obfuscations. We’re fictional characters, fluid creations, in a story that never ends. Truth is just one reflection in this funhouse mirror of worlds. But don’t worry. It’s not so bad—being a dream.

Creativity Myths

11 Jun 2016

Eric Karjaluoto:

A number of myths around creativity are simply hardwired into our culture. In no particular order: The belief that designers are sensitive prima donnas whose needs must be catered to; The idea that “eureka” moments come only after great toil; The belief that you need to create a mess in order to pull out a gem; The perception that ideas occur as a result of random, chaotic action, and are only impeded by rational, clear-headed examination and planning.

Glengarry Glen Ross: The Speech

10 Jun 2016

Mike D’Angelo for A.V. Club:

All hail young, skinny Alec Baldwin.