If you’ve been paying attention, it’s pretty clear that Donald Trump supporters don’t care much for members of the media, and the feeling is mutual. While charges of liberal media bias go back further than I can remember, something else is at play here. Why do so many journalists disdain this man? After some deep reflection, I’ve identified some compelling reasons that have little to do with his political philosophy, lack of experience or in some cases, even his temperament.
First, I suspect that writers — trained to be pedantic — have a particular problem with Trump. If I ever thought of saying, “Many, many people” told me this or that, I would stop and self-edit. Likewise, I would also never say, as Trump so often does, that “a lot of people are saying” such and such, because the obvious rejoinder from an editor would be: "Prove it." I suspect that Trump’s rhetorical style is especially annoying to writers, who also just happen to be essential when it comes to covering politics.
This helps explain the disconnect between journalists and average Americans. When Trump speaks, he sounds more like a regular (non-writer) person. The public rewards him for this, and we punish him because we find it so reflexively discordant (and secretly suspect his vagueness conceals his dissembling). This differs from his refusal to bow to our cosmopolitan shibboleths (something that might also be a source of subconscious bias). To most writers, precision and documentation take on an almost moral status.
Second, Trump’s shoddy campaign bothers the hell out of me. Why should I care how he runs his campaign? Unlike many Trump fans who view the process as inherently corrupt, I grew up respecting the game of politics. Over the years, I have read and studied hundreds of books on politics — Chris Matthews’ “Hardball,” John Brady’s “Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater,” James Carville and Paul Begala’s “Buck Up, Suck Up … And Come Back When You Foul Up” (to name a few) — as well as countless leadership books by the likes of Peter Drucker, John Maxwell, and Stephen Covey, and volumes on the leadership lessons of great men like Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.
These books have ingrained in me indelible maxims about politics and leadership — lessons that Trump constantly flouts. Now, when Trump ignored all the traditional rules and won, I was introspective enough to at least consider the possibility that everything I had learned about campaign politics — not my values or ideology — might have become outdated. But it turns out that, in the long run, the old rules still matter; he’s not winning. Hillary Clinton has created a superior campaign operation, and Trump’s lack of discipline and lack of a campaign has contributed to his blowing what was an eminently winnable race.
Lastly, there is admittedly a yawning chasm between the ways elites actually live versus most working-class whites in America today. Political scientist and think tank scholar Charles Murray has a theory that goes like this. Once upon a time, working-class whites were basically the salt of the earth who worked hard and played by the rules. But, for a variety of reasons — economic and moral — they are coming apart at the seams. Today, working-class whites are less likely than are elites to be married, attend regular church services, etc.
The two classes have switched places. Once thought of as bohemians, today’s elites actually live rather bourgeois lives. We (despite being the son of a prison guard, based on my chosen profession, I'm counting myself as "elite" here) generally live very conservative and moral lives, even if we don’t, in Murray’s words, “preach what we practice.”
This, I hypothesize, has led to an interesting phenomenon, whereby Trump’s vulgarity is actually celebrated by the formerly salt-of-the-earth working class and rejected by the so-called elites who view it not only as aesthetically Philistine but also as morally repugnant.
Why am I telling you this? In the interest of greater understanding and disclosure — but not as a confession or apology. As Joan Didion’s dictum suggests, “Style is character.” And Donald Trump’s style — the way he talks, the way he decided to “wing” his campaign instead of running a smart one — says something about him as a man — and possibly the way he would govern. Something that should be ignored at your own peril.
Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @MattKLewis.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A persistent criticism of Hillary Clinton has been her overly cautious nature, her reluctance to take bold stands, her preparation to the point of predictability. Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live” has taken these traits to parody on her way to an Emmy. But anyone who sees candidate Clinton frozen in that place hasn’t been paying attention this election season.
Of course, Clinton never will be “wild and crazy,” particularly when compared with her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, the very essence of both. It’s also true that her views on many issues have remained remarkably stable. But those who say Clinton really doesn’t believe in anything only have to look at how, and how frequently, she has spoken with nuance about race to an electorate anxious about the changing demographics and power.
Clinton said the words “systemic racism” and “implicit bias” in the first presidential debate while explaining her thoughts on why achieving true equality in jobs, education, policing and so much more is challenging in an America with a history of injustice that didn’t end when slavery was abolished and the grip of Jim Crow loosened.
Clinton has her own complicated history, her work with the Children’s Defense Fund and in exposing segregated schools countered by her onetime support of President Bill Clinton’s crime bill and its role in a mass incarceration crisis that persists. She has apologized for the latter, a step beyond her husband’s spotty statements of justification.
Hillary Clinton has done more than she needs to if her only goal was to distinguish her positions from those of her Republican opponents. Mike Pence, the GOP vice presidential candidate, has said the problem is too much talk about racism; the candidate at the top of the ticket has a tendency to pivot from any random question from a black person, as Trump did in debate No. 2, to an answer limited to violence, crime and living in hell.
In North Carolina over this past weekend, Clinton campaigned in Raleigh with the Mothers of the Movement — including Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin), Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner), Lucia McBath (mother of Jordan Davis), Maria Hamilton (mother of Dontré Hamilton) and Geneva Reed-Veal (mother of Sandra Bland) — whose children were killed in gun violence or after confrontations with police.
Clinton called the women “remarkable,” according to an NBC News report, noting “the fierce sense of urgency to try do what they can to help us meet the challenges we face in our country.”
With Trump’s endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police — though not from several groups that represent minority law enforcement officers — and his unwavering support of “stop and frisk” to reduce crime, that was one endorsement Clinton was never really competing for, even if she had declined to support the Mothers’ group.
But when the Mothers of the Movement — without the candidate — previously made an appearance in Charlotte, I heard them speak movingly of how Clinton reached out to them and met with them, one-on-one, with no cameras in sight.
Publicly standing with them could be a risk in battleground North Carolina, where polls are tight and a Clinton win would eliminate any chance Trump has. She is still wooing suburban white women, many of them traditional Republicans and some of whom might not see themselves in the faces and experiences of grieving African-American mothers seeking justice from a system they see as wanting.
It would be cynical and unfair, then, to say that Clinton’s alliance with them was merely a no-consequence move to shore up her support among African-Americans.
After her Raleigh stop on Sunday, Clinton traveled to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where her appeal to millennials was clear; Bernie Sanders got a shout out. Yet there, again, she talked about racial and social justice, after being introduced by Thurston Alexander, an African-American student who, in his introduction, said: “Hillary Clinton understands me.”
Clinton seemed relaxed, dressed in the school’s signature green, and embraced her historic role as potentially the first woman in the Oval Office.
But Clinton also mentioned the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and the Moral Monday movement demanding economic and racial reform that has become his signature. The NAACP state leader energized the Democratic National Convention this summer, but his sometimes disruptive actions fighting conservative laws from the Republican-dominated state legislature are not universally hailed in North Carolina.
Have rising poll numbers freed Clinton to speak about issues closer to her heart? Talking about systemic racism, police-community relations and the movement for black lives is far from a cautious move. It was those words as well as her promise to achieve equal pay that led UNCC freshman Samaria Parker, 18, to call Clinton “an amazing woman.” Parker, who is African-American, said she is telling her fellow students, “You can’t complain if you don’t vote.”
Talking about an issue that has become the third rail of politics may be a chance Hillary Clinton feels she can afford to take.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.
The 1946 Academy Award for best picture went to “The Lost Weekend,” a harrowing account of an alcoholic bender starring Ray Milland. Seventy years later, a presidential campaign has turned into a harrowing political bender starring Donald Trump.
Even Trump himself recognizes some of the costs of “The Lost Year.” Campaigning in Nevada early this month, Trump said with rare honesty, “If I don’t win, this will be the greatest waste of time, money and energy in my lifetime by a factor of one hundred.” He made the same point in North Carolina last Friday saying, “What a waste if we don’t pull this off.”
Of course, the wasteful excess that haunts the altruistic Trump is $56 million that he put into his campaign, mostly for the primaries. And, presumably, when a ray of realism penetrates Trump Tower, the bilious billionaire recognizes how seriously his low-rent campaign has damaged his high-rent empire of gold-plated glitz.
The undeniable truth is that Trump has already lost an election that a rational Republican might well have won. Even if a meteor were to hit the earth before Election Day, Trump would still be toast. Amid such a global calamity, Hillary Clinton would gain support as the candidate offering calm leadership. And if America took a direct hit from this mythical meteor, Clinton would still have the edge from early voting.
In a presidential race in which Utah is a swing state and Texas is contested, the only mystery left is the extent of Clinton’s margin. In a just world, Hillary would even win Indiana, which would leave Trump fuming about how Gov. Mike Pence was part of the diabolical conspiracy to “rig” the election.
While it may be unseemly to celebrate two weeks before Election Day, the good sense of the American voter appears to have again prevailed. But that fabled good sense certainly took its time getting here. What is unfortunate is that it required Trump’s vile conduct and his ungovernable temper to bring him down.
Far better if Trump had self-destructed the first time he had talked of banning Muslims or if the voters had rebelled as soon as the former reality-show host displayed his ignorance of nuclear weapons and gushed over Vladimir Putin. From the beginning Trump was obviously unsuited to take on the burdens of the presidency. But the election would still be competitive if Trump had not boasted about assaulting women in 2005 while wearing a TV microphone.
Never in modern history have issues played so scant a role in a presidential campaign. Most of the vitriolic opposition to Hillary Clinton stems from her home brew email server and the blurred ethical lines between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department during her tenure. Trump himself acknowledges this content-free campaign every time he suggests that his sexual misdeeds are less reprehensible than Bill Clinton’s.
As a result, Hillary Clinton’s electoral mandate will be on par with Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize. Obama won the Peace prize in the first year of his presidency primarily for not being George W. Bush. Hillary is poised to win the most sweeping presidential victory in two decades mostly because she isn’t Donald J. Trump.
The Democratic nominee was certainly prepared to campaign on the issues. A bit more hawkish on military policy than Democratic orthodoxy, Clinton had positioned herself to run as a domestic liberal concerned with the price tag of her programs. As she put it in last week’s final debate, “I pay for everything I’m proposing. I do not add a penny to the national debt. I take that very seriously, because I do think it’s one of the issues we’ve got to come to grips with.”
Such centrist sentiments are unlikely to gladden the hearts of Bernie Sanders’ supporters. Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary on the most recent “Saturday Night Live,” came close to capturing this truth when she asked in a mock debate, “Who do you trust to be president? The Republican or Donald Trump?”
Since Trump is running for president unmoored to any party or coherent ideology, it is nearly impossible for any discussion of policy issues to get traction with the voters or in the news media. Remember that Clinton was discussing the Social Security Trust Fund when Trump interrupted with his high-minded policy dissent: “Such a nasty woman.”
Guttersnipe politics drives all political debate to the bottom. The tragedy is that the 2016 election should have been a time for the nation to make hard choices since America is operating on autopilot in so many areas.
Fifteen years after 9/11, the voters deserve to hear a robust debate on the merits of America’s drone wars from Yemen to Pakistan. Three years after Edward Snowden revealed the extent of NSA’s monitoring of citizens’ telephone calls and emails, the nation has yet to hold an honest political discussion of the tradeoffs between privacy and security in an age of terrorism.
On the domestic front, what is the formula for breaking the congressional logjam on funding infrastructure projects? What are the most effective ways to battle addiction to heroin and painkillers? And is there any relief possible for those workers who have already lost their jobs from NAFTA and other trade treaties?
Everyone lost when Donald Trump hijacked the GOP nomination. Trump’s rank-and-file supporters lost a serious candidate to articulate their concerns. Principled conservatives lost their party. And Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost the give-and-take of a policy debate that could have produced a governing mandate.
Such are the costs to American democracy from a lost year battling the authoritarian temptation.
Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. His book on his con-man great-uncle was just published: “Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.” Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.