Monday, February 22, 2016

Catching Up

It’s been a really busy weekend with my brother here for the car show and doing fun stuff with him all while trying to suppress the cold that I got earlier in the week.  But here are some things that caught my attention as I scrolled through my Newsblur account this morning.

  • Tom Hilton sitting in for Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog:

As the Democratic primaries tighten (and as I write this, Nevada seems to be a toss-up), we’re increasingly hearing Sanderistas argue that Bernie is more electable than Clinton–long an article of faith in the Sanders camp, now proclaimed louder and with greater confidence. And the first prong of these arguments, that Clinton has some electability concerns of her own, is valid up to a point (though they exaggerate it). Nobody who’s paying attention is going to argue that she’s a shoo-in. Where they go off the rails, though, is in arguing the affirmative case for Sanders.

I think anyone who remembers the Howard Dean primary in 2004 or, reaching way back, Eugene McCarthy in 1968, knows that passion doesn’t necessarily turn into election returns.  For many Democrats, there’s a lot to like about Bernie Sanders except for the overriding knowledge that there’s just no way this country will elect him in the general election.  Period.

Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand. Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point. My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country.

To understand the rise of Hitler and the spread of Nazism, I have generally relied on the German-Jewish émigré philosopher Hannah Arendt and her arguments about the banality of evil. Somehow people can understand themselves as “just doing their job,” yet act as cogs in the wheel of a murderous machine. Arendt also offered a second answer in a small but powerful book called “Men in Dark Times.” In this book, she described all those who thought that Hitler’s rise was a terrible thing but chose “internal exile,” or staying invisible and out of the way as their strategy for coping with the situation. They knew evil was evil, but they too facilitated it, by departing from the battlefield out of a sense of hopelessness.

One can see both of these phenomena unfolding now. The first shows itself, for instance, when journalists cover every crude and cruel thing that comes out of Trump’s mouth and thereby help acculturate all of us to what we are hearing. Are they not just doing their jobs, they will ask, in covering the Republican front-runner? Have we not already been acculturated by 30 years of popular culture to offensive and inciting comments? Yes, both of these things are true. But that doesn’t mean journalists ought to be Trump’s megaphone. Perhaps we should just shut the lights out on offensiveness; turn off the mic when someone tries to shout down others; reestablish standards for what counts as a worthwhile contribution to the public debate. That will seem counter to journalistic norms, yes, but why not let Trump pay for his own ads when he wants to broadcast foul and incendiary ideas? He’ll still have plenty of access to freedom of expression. It is time to draw a bright line.

This is not new; I remember writing as far back as last summer that it was time to stop treating Donald Trump and his candidacy as a joke.  Now that he’s won two primaries decisively it’s time that the rest of the world started paying attention.

Jeb Bush dropped out of the presidential race on Saturday, ending a quest for the White House that started with a war chest of $100 million, a famous name and a promise of political civility but concluded with a humbling recognition: In 2016, none of it mattered.

No single candidacy this year fell so short of its original expectations. It began with an aura of inevitability that masked deep problems, from Mr. Bush himself, a clunky candidate in a field of gifted performers, to the rightward drift of the Republican Party since Mr. Bush’s time as a consensus conservative in Florida.

“I’m proud of the campaign that we’ve run to unify our country,” Mr. Bush said, his eyes moist, in an emotional speech here Saturday night after his third straight disappointing finish in the early voting states. “The people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision.”

Mr. Bush’s campaign had rested on a set of assumptions that, one by one, turned out to be flatly incorrect: that the Republican primaries would turn on a record of accomplishment in government; that Mr. Bush’s cerebral and reserved style would be an asset; and that a country wary of dynasties would evaluate this member of the Bush family on his own merits.

Jeb Pulls Plug

I felt a little sorry for Jeb… for about a millisecond until I remembered Terri Schiavo and the 2000 election and charter schools in Florida and a raft of other things.  The only thing that’s redeeming about his rise and fall is that it seems almost Shakespearean: the good son whose fortune was dictated by the deeds of his father and brother and that were it not for George W. Bush, he might well have followed in his father’s footsteps.  Their next family get-together would make an interesting Act V.