Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

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Donald Trump was up early, or maybe he was up late — or maybe he hadn’t slept at all, or maybe he hasn’t slept in weeks.

We don’t know. What we do know is that while much of America presumably slept, Donald Trump was up and apparently too wide awake, banging away at The Twitter, where his millions of followers — and how apt the word “followers” seems — could see their leader gone mad.

How else to describe the would-be leader of the free world when he suggests that we check out an apparently nonexistent sex tape of Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe and his present-day nemesis, to prove his point that … well, it doesn’t prove any point. But Trump wants to discredit Machado because last Monday — light years ago in campaign time — Hillary Clinton pointed out that Trump had once fat-shamed the beauty queen by calling her Miss Piggy.

It was a disastrous debate for Trump. But Trump, instead of studying for the next debate, just wants to re-litigate the last one, calling it rigged and unfair, blaming the microphone and blaming The Google, all the while trying to wriggle free from the Miss Universe trap that Clinton laid for him.

Which is why Trump was back to his old tricks, doubling and tripling and quadrupling down on his latest misstep, unable to let it go, unwilling to take advice from the people he pays to give him advice, incapable of controlling his most basic, and basest, impulses.

This was Donald Trump letting Donald Trump be Donald Trump.

And so came the tweets, one after the other, one more embarrassing than the last, and the only question is who should be more embarrassed — Trump or the people planning to vote for him.

Here’s my favorite of the tweets:

It’s all Trump, who likes to boast of his sexual prowess, who used the debate stage to draw attention to his, uh, manhood, who releases his testosterone numbers but not his tax returns, calling Machado “disgusting” (she once posed for Playboy) as he heads into his latest conspiracy theory: that Clinton, many months ago, must have plotted the whole thing, probably with the help of whoever forged Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Don’t laugh. It’s not funny.

Nothing about Trump is funny.

All right, some things are funny. I mean, Newt Gingrich has joined Trump in the fat-shaming game. Yes, Newt Gingrich. Not that there isn’t precedent here. It was Newt Gingrich who went after Bill Clinton for adultery. (And now it’s Rudy Giuliani who wants Trump to take on Clinton’s sex scandals, which is funny, if only in a weird, sick, twisted, Trump-Gingrich-Giuliani way.)

In any case, it should go without saying that it doesn’t make a bit of difference what Machado has or hasn’t done with her life. It doesn’t change the fact that Trump called her “Miss Piggy” for gaining weight or that he called her “Miss Housekeeping” because she is Latina. You’ll notice that Trump hasn’t denied either.

But what can’t be overlooked is the turn in Trump’s fortunes. It began with his refusal to do serious debate prep for Monday’s debate, and it continues as he turns a one- or two-day story into a weeklong story, just as he did with the Gold Star Khan family story. His advisers have said (anonymously, of course) that Trump was too distracted to study for the debate, that he ignored lines of attack that had been prepared for him. They’ve said he is convinced he won this debate, just as he was convinced he won all the GOP debates, citing insta-online fan polls that are, not to put too fine a point on it, worthless.

The most dependably Republican and conservative editorial boards in the country are snubbing Trump. The Arizona Republic has endorsed a Democrat for the first time in its history. The Detroit News endorsed Gary Johnson, as did the Richmond Times-Dispatch. USA Today has advised its readers not to vote for “ill-equipped” Trump, “a serial liar” who “traffics in prejudice.”

According to Nate Silver, as of this writing, there have been 11 swing-state polls released since the debate Monday and Clinton is leading (or, to put it another way, Trump is trailing) in all of them.

Editorial boards are not going to decide this race, and polls are only a snapshot. But before the debate, Silver had put Trump’s chances of winning the presidency at over 40 percent. Now, his odds favor Clinton 2-to-1.

Meanwhile, Clinton got to the heart of the matter with a much-later-in-the-morning tweet of her own:

It’s a tough but fair question, but I’d put it another way.

What kind of nation could ever sleep again if it elected that kind of man its president?

Photo credit: clurichaun, Creative Commons, Flickr 

Littwin: Be afraid. Very afraid.

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Once, we had a choice.

We could imagine Donald Trump in the White House when the news comes of a Chelsea-like explosion, one that has all the hallmarks of terrorism but with not yet enough information to say for sure.

Or we could tell ourselves that the idea of Donald Trump in the White House is beyond imagining – and leave it that.

But now that we’re seven weeks out from Election Day, there is no longer any Option 2. If you doubt it, just check in, as I do far too often, with the Nate Silver prediction model, which today gives Trump a 41 percent chance of becoming president. That’s four chances in 10. For the math-impaired, that’s dangerously close to 50-50, a coin flip.

So we have no choice but to consider what a Trump presidency might look like. And for this exercise, all we can do is extrapolate from candidate Trump, who on the night of the Chelsea explosion, tells a Colorado Springs rally that a bomb went off in Manhattan and that we have to toughen up if we’re going to save ourselves. “Nobody knows exactly what’s going on. But boy, we are living in a time — we better get very tough, folks. We better get very, very tough,” Trump said, before moving on to brag on his latest poll numbers in Colorado.

And then when it turns out that the explosion was a bomb – as anyone could have guessed, but as anyone in a position of responsibility would not have, because, you know, it would be irresponsible – Trump went on Fox & Friends the next morning to congratulate himself for being “right,” when, of course, by even the lowest of presidential standards, he was absolutely wrong.

Trump bragged that he “called” it “before the news” when he actually “called” it – as if that’s what a prospective president should be doing – before the police.

In other words, he guessed. If he were president, presumably he could have at least made an educated guess, having access to briefers and also to the FBI director’s cell phone number. But why would he be guessing? Why not wait the few extra hours until he actually knew something? Because to not guess is to give in to political correctness? Because following 200 years of guidelines is boring? Because stirring up panic is the best way to ensure that your audience will embrace a strong man?

We’re going to take this slowly because it matters. Forget the name calling between Trump and Clinton. That’s just politics. Each is trying to find the advantage in an act of terror – Trump by blaming Clinton for ISIS and Clinton by saying that Trump is a “recruiting sergeant” for ISIS. Whatever your thoughts are on Clinton, we pretty much know how she’d react in this situation as president. But we have to remind ourselves on Trump because there has never been anyone like him anywhere near the White House. And we have to wonder when he gives us some insight on his secret plan to deal with ISIS. On Monday, he said we need to “knock the hell” out of them.

You may remember when Trump was slammed for congratulating himself immediately after the Orlando shooting. What he was “right” about then, apparently, was in saying after San Bernardino that there would be another terrorist attack sometime, somewhere, and that we had to toughen up immigration standards – that was in the days of the religious test, I believe – to prevent yet another attack. Of course, it turned out that the Orlando killer was born in America, meaning, for Trump’s plan to have worked, we would have had to have done a better job vetting his parents not just as potential U.S. citizens, but also as potential parents.

But, because he’s Trump, he chose to double down after Chelsea. He said the problem was – I knew you guessed this one – “political correctness” because the FBI was afraid of being sued if they had put bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami on a watch list. It’s absurd, of course, and demeaning to law enforcement who had quickly found Rahami, thankfully a pretty hapless bomber, sleeping in a doorway.

Or did he triple down? He wildly overstated the number of Syrian refugees that Barack Obama has admitted to the country and then wildly overstated the number that Hillary Clinton wanted to admit. He does this time and again. The fact-checkers say his nose his growing or his pants are on fire. (And Don Jr., of course, has now added to the conversation his infamous Skittles tweet on Syrian refugees, which I won’t spoil for you. Just Google it.)

Meanwhile, Trump Sr. said again that the problem here was a lack of extreme vetting. Of course, Rahimi came to the country from Afghanistan when he was 7, So, what “extreme vetting” must mean, in Trump-speak, is No Muslims Allowed Ever. Add No Muslims Allowed Ever to “knock the hell” out of them, and you pretty much have your President Trump.

Yes, President Trump. Imagine it because we must. Imagine it when Trump says the “bad” thing about getting Rahimi is that he’ll now get “amazing” health care and an “outstanding” lawyer, as if it would be better for an American citizen, even if he’s a suspected terrorist, to just bleed to death on the street.

Meanwhile, Trump is asked whether there’s a foreign connection in the Rahimi bombing, and he says there probably is. The thing is, he has no idea. He has no more idea than you or I do. If Rahimi did have a foreign connection, it must not have been a good one. As terrorist plots go, this one was clearly amateurish. But it was successful enough for Trump to fear-monger. It’s what he does. It’s what he would do as president. You don’t have to imagine it at all.

Flickr photo by Davide D’Amico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So what do you do with someone who admits, sort of, to telling an egregious, racist lie by telling even more lies?

In the United States in 2016, you very much consider electing him president.

You’ve seen the clip by now. Donald Trump calls a news conference at his new D.C. Trump hotel – yep, the campaign is still all about the brand – to say what every sentient person already knew: that Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A.

The news isn’t about Obama, who would say he was already aware he was born in the United States. It’s about Trump and why it took him so long to say the words and why he needed a news conference, at this late date, less than two months from Election Day, to state the obvious.

We know why.

If he tells the truth, he might as well admit that birtherism was nothing more than Trump’s pathway to winning the hearts of the fringe “deplorables” – you know, like the apologetic Mike “Obama’s Not an American in His Heart” Coffman. And once he admits that, he also admits that he was spreading a lie meant to delegitimize America’s first black president. And if he goes that far, he might as well go the full distance and admit to being the con man that everyone should know he is.

So, here’s the quote:

“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

Let’s see. Hillary Clinton, whatever her faults, did not and would not start the birther controversy. As lies go, that’s nearly as big as the Obama-born-in-Kenya lie. Or the I’ve-sent-detectives-to-Hawaii-and-they-can’t-believe-what-they’ve-found lie. Or the lying insinuation that Obama had something to do with the death of Hawaii’s state health director who had verified Obama’s “birth certificate.” The scare quote marks are direct from a Trumpian tweet.

I covered that Clinton-Obama campaign in 2008. Some diehard Clinton supporters did question Obama’s citizenship. Clinton did not. Her campaign did not. (Yes, we know about the infamous Mark Penn memo in which he suggested Clinton should raise the issue of Obama’s otherness for having lived in a foreign country. Clinton wisely ignored the advice. And in any case, it had nothing to do with his citizenship.) Every fact-checker known to God and man has checked this. Every one comes to the same conclusion. Who you gonna believe, Trump or your lyin’ eyes?

The funny thing is that he’s trying to shift the blame (undeserved) to Clinton for bringing up the phones-baloney issue, while at the same time trying to give himself credit (undeserved) for resolving the non-issue issue.

Trump did not finish it. The scare quotes come from 2013, long after Obama released his long-form birth certificate. This year, Trump said in a CNN interview that he’d love to “keep talking” about the birth certificate, about which he had tweeted in 2012 and 2014.

He did not finish it with this news conference because, among other things, he didn’t apologize (of course) for being the most prominent advocate of a conspiracy that had no basis in fact, or even in evidence for that matter. And he didn’t say why, if he was wrong about Obama’s birth, he was so easily duped. Or if he wasn’t duped, what he had to gain by spreading this calumny.

And, of course, it’s worse than that.

We got to this point because Trump sat down in his airplane for an interview with the Washington Post’s Robert Costa, who asked if Trump finally believed, as his spokespeople had been saying, that Obama was born in Hawaii. Trump refused, saying, “I’ll answer that question at the right time. I don’t want to answer it yet.”

The right time was apparently the next day, five years – that’s right, years – after Obama had released his long-form birth certificate.

As he made his statement, which James Fallows described as not unlike a negotiated hostage statement, Trump was having his best week of the general-election campaign. When it looked as if the birther non-statement wasn’t playing well, Trump adviser Jason Miller put out a statement that Trump did, in fact, believe Obama was born in the United States. But, in the most amazing part of Miller’s argument, he then credited Trump for bringing “this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate.”

So, that’s the story. Clinton brought this up. Trump, patriotically, carried “this ugly incident” forward to its conclusion so all America could rest easy. He’s right. It was an ugly incident, one that goes to the heart of racism that lingers still in America.

Of course Trump didn’t call it an “ugly incident.” And he didn’t apologize for all the lies and all the insinuations and all the grandstanding and for not having the cojones, political or otherwise, to say that he was wrong. So, for the record, let’s say it for him: Trump was shockingly, disturbingly, demagogically, unpatriotically, unrepentantly wrong.

Flickr photo by oSonoUnaFotoCamera

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So, like, what were the chances?

Donald Trump and his team – old Rudy at the barking front of the pack – kept insisting, with absolutely no evidence, that Hillary Clinton was facing disqualifying health issues. That she was frail (read: old), lacking in stamina (read: female) and was hiding something (read: Clinton) terrible about her health. Parkinson’s. A stroke. MS. Dysphasia. Aphasia. Southeast Asia.

And then comes the video – the Zapruder film of the 2016 campaign – of Clinton leaving the 9/11 memorial early, stumbling as aides assisted her into a waiting van, and it was as if Trump knew more about Clinton’s health than the doctors, just as he knows more about ISIS than the generals.

I mean, what were the chances?

But here it was. A piece of terrible luck. And how did the Clinton people respond? Well, we can add another piece of conventional wisdom to the ever-growing pile: The cover-up is always worse than the cold.

Or the pneumonia. Or whatever it is.

After hours of silence from the campaign – which said nothing more than she was “overheated” and was now feeling fine – we are told, six hours into the story, that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia the previous Friday and had ignored her doctor’s advice to rest for five days.

Instead, plowing through, she gave her “basket of deplorables” speech Friday night and raised new issues about her health and her transparency Sunday. And so, if it’s true that Trump couldn’t possibly be elected in November barring some dramatic shift in fortunes, we are left to wonder whether this may have been it.

Certainly, it was yet another example of the debilitating Clinton transparency issue that fit neatly, say, with the private-server email issue or a hundred other issues made far worse by Clinton’s insistence on privacy above all while running for the least-private job in the world.

David Axelrod’s critique cut the hardest, as he tweeted: “Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia. What’s the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?”

They call this an unforced error. But what do you call it when you make the same error over and over again?

This should have been an easy one. As Clinton left the event early, reporters should have been told that Clinton had gone to the doctors two days before for her cough and learned that she had “walking pneumonia” and that, though she should have listened to the doctor’s advice to rest, she really felt she needed to be there for the 9/11 memorial. With a bit of truth serum, the story all but goes away. The doctor releases her diagnosis. The Clinton campaign releases a full medical history. The story goes back to Trump’s ludicrous “letter” of health and how, while Clinton ignored her press pool, Trump won’t even allow a press pool and then it’s on to unreleased Trump’s taxes, unreleased secret plans, unconfirmed charitable gifts et al.

How hard would that have been? Instead, the Clinton campaign said nothing for hours, allowing the overheated rumors to come to full boil, and leaving the Clintons with nothing more to say in the end than that their candidate is being held to a double standard – and what about Trump?

Oh, and there is Bill Clinton telling Charlie Rose in the ultimate Clintonism: “She hasn’t been not forthcoming” about her health.

And, of course, Trump is being held to a different standard. There is the regular-candidate standard – that’s the one for Clinton – and there’s the candidate-without-precedent standard that goes to Trump. The fact that he’s entirely unfit for the job is baked into the Trump standard. It’s not just Trump being Trump. It’s clearly unfit Trump being clearly unfit Trump. But the problem, as Matt Lauer sadly showed, is that it takes real effort – and some real journalism – to show Trump for what he is.

And though the media will clearly be the big loser in this campaign, my guess is still that it will be a bigger problem for Trump than it is for Clinton. There’s a reason he’s losing in the polls. There’s a reason in a season that historically should be good for Republicans that this weekend probably won’t rescue him, unless, of course, the pneumonia is more than pneumonia or unless the pneumonia is exactly that, but Clinton’s recovery takes longer than expected. Then, who knows?

Trump wanted to move past Clinton’s stumble and onto what he hopes is a full-blown Clinton pratfall. He argued that it was disqualifying – that again – for Clinton to have called his supporters deplorable and demanded an apology. Clinton said she shouldn’t have said “half,” but otherwise left it to her supporters to point out all the polls showing just how many of Trump supporters casually admit to bigotry and sexism. It was only Sunday that Trump was again calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” and claiming the Fed was corrupt and that the debates would be rigged.

Despite what you may have heard, Clinton “deplorables” riff was not a traditional gaffe. It may or may not prove to be a mistake, but it was clearly planned. Clinton wants this argument, even if not in quite the way she framed it. She should not have said that half of Trump’s supporters fit into the racist/bigot/sexist/homophobic/paranoid conspiracist basket. She should have said that Trump encourages a disturbingly significant subset of Americans looking for that kind of leader and then go on to make her point that most Trump supporters see a complicated world not of their making and are desperate to find a way forward.

On Monday night at a rally in Asheville, N.C., Trump showed that he wants to have this argument, too. He said, in Rovian style, that Clinton was running a “hate-filled” campaign that produced “no policy, no solutions and no new ideas.” It would have been laughable except for the thousands of cheering Trumpists who have cheered every anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant word Trump has said during this campaign.

Then there was this: As usual at a Trump rally, there were protesters. As usual, the Trump crowd grew angry. As usual, the protesters and fans exchanged words and, uh, hand signals while the protesters were being led from the arena. As sometimes happens, at least one Trump fan took it upon himself to be, well, deplorable. As ABC News caught on camera – because, as Clinton now knows, everything these days is on camera — a man pushed and shoved two male protesters and attempted to slap a female protester.

And so ended another day of the 2016 campaign, leaving tens of millions of Americans asking the same question: How many days until Nov. 8?

[Flickr photo by dustingrzesik]

Littwin: Why are we so wounded by the knee?

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I tuned into the Broncos’ season opener Thursday night because it was a big game – the much-anticipated Super Bowl rematch between Denver and Carolina – and because I’m a sports junkie who told myself I needed a 31/2-hour break from the news of the day and because, sadly, I’m even more of a news junkie who needed to see whether some Bronco would take a Colin-Kaepernick-inspired knee to protest during the National Anthem.

And sure enough, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, one of the stars of last winter’s Super Bowl and a Kaepernick college teammate – took the knee.

Marshall explained after the game that “I’m not against the military. It’s not against the police or America. I’m against social injustice.” And whatever else you think about the protest, it’s undeniable that Kaepernick has put the issue front and center (and linebacker and quarterback).

It was headline news, of course, but hardly shocking, unless you consider shocking any time an athlete takes a stand that is not in his own interest. In fact, the most shocking thing about the Kaepernick protest – and protests, remember, are designed to bring simmering issues to a near boil – and those that have inevitably followed has been the relatively restrained reaction to them.

I mean, the National Football League might as well be a U.S. military adjunct, but one on otherwise-league-banned steroids. There’s flyover country and then there’s jet-fighter-flyover country. You can’t have a Super Bowl without at least one camera constantly trained on troops watching the game from some country most Americans can’t find on a map while, back in the States, they’re unfurling a football-field-sized American flag to show just how much, as measured in cubic yards, we love America.

I remember covering a Super Bowl in Tampa the year of the first Persian Gulf War. On that day, the unabashedly pro-war NFL – which handed each fan a tiny American flag, presumably to show you can love America even when waving an inexpensive, disposable, probably-made-in-China flag – proved that you don’t need to wear patriotically revealing outfits to be a cheerleader.

Here’s what I wrote that day: “What the NFL philosophy majors are telling us, in effect, as the hundred million-plus viewers around the nation look on, is that support for the war is the only possible response to the Gulf crisis. And, even better, they’re telling us that a football game is the proper forum to express that opinion.”

So, I was shocked to see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell basically support Kaepernick’s right to protest. When asked about it, Goodell wanted to be clear that “we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL” and that he clearly wished that Kaepernick would just get with the program and that, by God, he always stood for the National Anthem or any other song with America in the lyrics. But he also said, “Players have a platform, and it’s his right to do that.” You know, so long as the players are respectful and don’t put anything on their helmets not specifically endorsed by the league or, God forbid, celebrate too vigorously following a touchdown. There are limits, after all.

And while people have, of course, burned Kaepernick’s jersey in protest of his protest – as is their right – his jersey is also the biggest seller in the league just now.

And, sure, Kaepernick has been burned himself for weeks on social media, but the same could have happened if he’d thrown an ill-considered pass at a critical moment. At the Broncos game, untried quarterback Trevor Siemian was actually booed at times during some of his rougher moments and all he had done was failed to get a first down. It’s a tough world out there. Just ask Olympian Gabby Douglas, once America’s sweetheart, who was brought to tears by social media critics who didn’t like her, uh, facial expressions.

But it’s also a difficult time for the love-it-or-leave-it crowd. The best remark I’ve seen about Kaepernick was in a tweet from @BettyBowers, who wrote: “FUN FACT: Most people saying Colin Kaepernick is unpatriotic for criticizing America are wearing red ball caps that say America isn’t great.”

Meanwhile, those same people are having to defend Donald Trump’s full-on embrace of Vladimir Putin, who has crushed Russian democracy while harassing, jailing and/or killing those who oppose him. Is it unpatriotic – or simply ignorant – to compare Putin favorably to Barack Obama?

In either case, it’s his right, just as it was Brandon Marshall’s right. In Marshall’s case, the stakes are much higher. The idea that rich, spoiled professional athletes risk nothing by making a stand betrays, well, not a deep understanding of how the games work. Marshall risks everything. Even as his coach, Gary Kubiak, has expressed his support for Marshall’s right to protest while also saying he wished all the players would stand, everyone knows that Marshall’s right not to stand extends only as far as Marshall’s ability to stand up the next running back he encounters. This isn’t Muhammad Ali’s territory, but you can’t doubt that football careers matter, too.

As a quarterback, Kaepernick had even more at stake. For many, he’s a pariah. And while his status on the 49ers was already in question, many fewer teams would now be willing to take him on, because while, say, accused rapists usually get a second or third chance, taking an unpopular political stand is an entirely different matter.

This Sunday, there will be other individual protests. And there are rumors that some of the Seattle Seahawks are planning a group protest. And the unlikely movement just may grow, or maybe it won’t. But in the end, it was just football. The Broncos won, and I’m guessing most Bronco fans, whatever their politics, can live with that.

Flickr photo by Erwin Bernal