America’s Orange Devolution
Thursday, August 23rd, 2016
By Reed Galen
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Dirty politics, ugliness and saying horrible things about your opponents is a tradition in American politics as old as the Republic itself. In earlier times, broadsheets, pamphlets and rumor mills were the channels by which you spread damaging or embarrassing information. They remained in place until the early 20th century when radio, and subsequently television, became dominant and far-reaching media; allowing information, good and bad, to travel instantaneously to anyone listening or watching. In the 21st Century, we’ve eclipsed even the “24 hour news cycle” and in 2016, we’re dismantling the last vestiges of the phrase “out of bounds” in American politics.
Donald Trump certainly did not start the trend, but his ability to overwhelm all forms of American media — mainstream, conservative, online and otherwise, has helped create an environment in which words and deeds normally associated with other countries in other times have arrived on our shores. Perhaps more troubling than even Trump’s daily antics is Americans’ willingness to now accept them as normal.
What time are we living in when a candidate for the highest office in the land can say, “I could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and they’d still vote for me.” We may have our first truly issue-free presidential general election campaign because our candidates focus on judges, TV personalities and avoiding the press as a matter of course.
Burning the Edges of the Envelope
Most of us have believed, up to now, that if we call, text or email a friend or colleague that somehow that information is in a magical lockbox in the “cloud” somewhere. Members of both political parties were likely brought up short and put on notice that everything, every keystroke, is now fair game.
The Wikileaks hack of the Democratic National Committee, likely perpetrated by a wing of the Russian secret service is a new and unwelcome entrant into the Big Book of Dirty Tricks. After all, we aren’t Greece or Italy in the 1950s where both the US and the USSR actively participated in swaying elections in a foreign land. We’re America. This isn’t supposed to happen here. But it happens, and will continue as a fact of life in our political life and beyond.
This month it was reported that three #NeverTrump Republican operatives, Rick Wilson, Liz Mair and Cheri Jacobus were the targets of “spear phishing” attacks by someone supportive (if not allied) with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Taking down rival operatives is also nothing new, though it is only generally only a marginally successful tactic against a candidate.
As troubling as this act is, what it portends is even more concerning. If in 2016 it is okay to go after political consultants with poorly designed email scams, will it be okay in 2020 to hack their personal accounts, or worse, attack them personally?
Will the scorched-earth politics and tactics of Breitbart (full disclosure, I have written for Breitbart California on Golden State policy and politics) and its attendant foot soldiers escape cyberspace and enter the real world? Their actions already have practical consequences, but what if the genie gets completely out of the bottle? What if the target of a Twitter shaming suddenly becomes fair game on the sidewalk outside their house? How far is too far when defending and/or advocating for your beliefs or belittling those of someone else?
Past Actions ==> Future Behavior
The Donald and his new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, have made careers of attacking those they consider enemies. Trump has often used the courts to further his aims or kneecap an opponent. Bannon, who when he’s not running Trump 2016, is the chief of Breitbart has been called “the most dangerous man in politics.” No doubt Bannon revels in this moniker but the fact he now controls both a presidential nominee and a nominally independent media organization puts him in a unique position in American presidential campaign history: That’s not a good thing.
Hillary Clinton, though, is also no stranger to questionable behavior in political life. On a daily basis, there are new revelations that she, her staff, the former president or the Clinton Foundation engaged in activity that by any objective standard is unethical. With more than three decades of backroom political dealings and hundreds of millions of dollars in both donations and personal profit, it is impossible to believe that as president, Mrs. Clinton could suddenly shake this behavior. That she keeps her inner circle so close and insular, and assuming many of them are also indoctrinated, the spirit of “if we say it’s okay, it’s okay,” will likely live on in the next Clinton White House.
Donald Trump is the B-52 bomber of the 2016 campaign. He flies over, drops his bombs, turns the sand to glass and moves on to the next target. Those below, shell-shocked can do little but shake their heads and hope he doesn’t navigate toward them again. Because DJT has broken every traditional rule of political life, highly damaged candidates such as Clinton may safely within the confines of Martha’s Vineyard or Holmby Hills, as she approaches her ninth month without appearing before the national press corps.
Instead she goes on Jimmy Kimmel and makes jokes about her own transgressions or sits down with a local reporter who has likely been threatened within an inch of their lives to keep the interview “light” and restricted to “only the important issues.”
Because of Trump’s daily Toon-Town talk and Hillary’s hiding, the major issues that concern Americans: the economy, jobs, national security and the daily uncertainty that many now contend with, are pushed aside, found not interesting enough to be discussed.
While no one other than reporters and researchers made read a candidate’s plan for the economy or the country, voters need to hear something more than a saccharin stump speech to adequately make a decision on who should lead the country. Without hearing directly from the would-be presidents, voters will run to their own safe spaces — outlets that bestow upon them only glossy, sanitized information in support of their chosen candidate.
The Drowsy Fourth Estate
When then-Governor George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 (a campaign on which I worked), a media availability every two or three days was a common occurrence on the road. There was an understanding that giving the traveling press even five or ten minutes served as a pressure-valve and left to their own devices, the reporters would find something else, and less flattering to cover. After all, who can watch the same event three times a day for a week and not look for a juicy process story?
In Trump and Clinton the press has a dichotomy on its hands. Trump won’t shut up. Every word out of his mouth is more bombastic than the last, and therefore dictates some level of coverage. Clinton won’t even look in their general direction, hasn’t spoken to them in 270 days and her sequestration gets only sniping on Twitter or a line in an article. But as the self-appointed arbiters of what is good and bad for American politics, they’ve determined that Clinton, for all her faults, is a less-bad option than Donald Trump.
They may well be objectively correct in that assessment, the fact that the media does not take her more to task is troubling. Clinton and her people are well aware of this dynamic and will gladly take advantage of it for the next seventy eight days.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (After November)
On Wednesday, November 9th, Americans will wake up to as divided a country as they had been the day before. Regardless of the victor on Election Day, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is likely to change their modus operandi in any meaningful way. As I wrote earlier this summer and Politico’s Eli Stokols reported last week, far from going quietly into that good night, Trump will likely declare the election rigged from the start and millions of his followers will likely believe him.
Trump, and Bannon and Roger Ailes know how to sell anger and resentment. Just because he’s not president doesn’t mean Donald Trump and his dark wake won’t be with us for years to come.
Conversely, while President Barack Obama pledged to have the most transparent White House in history, we should not expect such grand pronouncements from Clinton 2.0. What we see from today’s White House, or the State Department (a $400 million payoff to Iran comes to mind) or the Pentagon, half-truths or “technically correct” statements will likely only metasticize if Hillary takes office. Truth is always in the eye of the beholder. If Team Clinton believes that their version (or vision) of the truth advances their goals and ambitions, veracity be damned.
Mad? Frustrated? Get Up. Do Something.
Governance at every level of this country leaves much to be desired. Whether you’re a central economy loving socialist or a Don’t Tread on Me Tea Partier, almost every American can agree that our elected (and all too often the unelected) leaders don’t do right by citizens, voters and taxpayers. From the ongoing disgrace at the Department of Veterans Affairs to the bureaucratic heartlessness of Flint, Michigan, we should expect more from those we entrust with our votes, our money and our safety.
Ticked off? Frustrated? On your last nerve? Pick up the phone and call your city council, your state rep and your Member of Congress. If there is anything, literally anything in the world that people in government like less, it’s hearing from their constituents. Lobbing 10 or 15 calls into a Congressional office will send them into orbit. Dozens of emails showing up in their inbox will send them straight to the liquor cabinet. Have the audacity to show up at their office in numbers, asking for a meeting? You may well find your rep running out the back door to catch a last minute, unexpected flight to Mauritius. Representative democracy only works if we as the Demos do our job — and that is holding those we elect accountable. If we don’t, no one else will.
Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.