Sunday, February 28, 2016

What's Next: Super or Stupid Tuesday?

It is dubbed Super Tuesday, the primary intensive day when voters in 11 states will express their preference for whom they want to see as the next president. But depending on how they cast their ballots, it might well be called Stupid Tuesday.

I doubt Democratic voters will anoint Bernie Sanders their favorite. Should he pull off an upset of historic proportions (Barack Obama in 2008 at least had a base of African-American voters to buttress his underdog candidacy), Bernie can expect Republicans to immediately start calling him Comrade Sanders as they imprint on the electorate’s mind the Vermont senator’s socialist leanings.

Based on their behavior during last Thursday night’s GOP debate in Houston, being called a comrade by whomever the Republicans nominate would be tame by comparison to the schoolyard taunts and bickering that emanated from the stage. The three frontrunners who covet being seated behind the desk in the Oval Office (Donald Trump and senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) belittled not just themselves but the presidency, as well.   

How are we to explain how Trump behaves and his appeal? Conservative columnist David Brooks says Trump is a byproduct 30 years in the making: “People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.” (http://nyti.ms/1LhxX9V)

His progressive colleague at The New York Times, Timothy Egan, thinks Trump acts bizarrely because he suffers from sleep deprivation (http://nyti.ms/1Rs4vgW).

For sheer chutzpah, conservative columnist Ross Douthat places a large part of the blame on Obama’s liberal policies (http://nyti.ms/1RvJOAL).  With an apparent straight face Douthat blames a president dedicated to inclusiveness for the viciously polarizing, demeaning and restrictive tenor of not just the leading candidate of the opposition but almost all of the other candidates. Douthat, no doubt, would absolve a rapist of guilt by asserting a woman provoked the attack because she was a … woman.

My own view is that the Trump-Cruz-Rubio smackdown, aided and abetted by a host of Republican presidential dropouts, is the offspring of years of raucous, aggressive television best exemplified by Maury Povich and Jerry Springer who encouraged extreme behavior, disrespect, physical confrontations, intolerance. 

Those in-your-face shows have inured us to bad behavior. To disrespecting authority. To reaching the point where a congressman could call the president of the United States a liar during a State of the Union speech and boast about it, or congressmen could dis the Office of the President by boycotting attendance during a presidential speech to a joint session of Congress.

When GOP aspirants to the highest office in the land (with the exception of Ben Carson and John Kasich) behave like poor white trash we know our nation’s character is being tested.

Consider for a moment the fact that neither Rubio nor Cruz, or any other Republican candidate or the moderators in any of the debates, have been able to stymie Trump’s advance with penetrating points and questions on policy. 

(Yes, the media have been complicit in Trump’s rise by not pinning him down on policy and contradictory statements. Trump has taken the offensive against the press—the Associated Press reported that during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, Trump said he “wants to make it easier to file lawsuits against newspapers over what they report. He said that if he’s elected, he will ‘open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.’ He added, ‘If I become president, oh, do they have problems.’”)

Trump is exploiting the baser instincts of the public. As Egan reported, “After a protester interrupted his speech in Nevada, Trump said, ‘I’d like to punch him in the face.’ The crowd roared. Trump continued. ‘You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.’ At an earlier event this year, he said a protester should be thrown into the cold without a coat.

If an image of brown-shirted thugs with red and black armbands springs to mind, you’re not alone. And though they were within their legal rights to hold a rally, the Ku Klux Klan’s open display in Anaheim on Saturday was a chilling reminder that bigotry enjoys a divisive hold in too many parts of our country.

So the bottom line is the electorate is to blame for Trump and his cohorts. Voters have not been sharp enough to demand and obtain real answers from candidates. Yes, perhaps the public has been manipulated. Trump, after all, is recognized as a great brand marketer. And a decade and a half before him enough voters chose to want to have a beer with folksy George W. Bush rather than with the cerebral Al Gore. 


So it’s on to Super or Stupid Tuesday at the conclusion of which we might have greater certainty as to the eventual nominees of both major parties. Even if you’re not religiously inclined, let us pray the republic survives these troubled times. 

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