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kottke.org posts about Donald Trump

“Life is a preexisting condition waiting to happen”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2017

I posted earlier about Atul Gawande’s piece in the New Yorker on the importance of incremental care in medicine. One of the things that the Affordable Care Act1 did was to make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with “preexisting conditions”, which makes it difficult for those people to receive the type of incremental care Gawande touts. And who has these preexisting conditions? An estimated 27% of US adults under 65, including Gawande’s own son:

In the next few months, the worry is whether Walker and others like him will be able to have health-care coverage of any kind. His heart condition makes him, essentially, uninsurable. Until he’s twenty-six, he can stay on our family policy. But after that? In the work he’s done in his field, he’s had the status of a freelancer. Without the Affordable Care Act’s protections requiring all insurers to provide coverage to people regardless of their health history and at the same price as others their age, he’d be unable to find health insurance. Republican replacement plans threaten to weaken or drop these requirements, and leave no meaningful solution for people like him. And data indicate that twenty-seven per cent of adults under sixty-five are like him, with past health conditions that make them uninsurable without the protections.

That’s 52 million people, potentially ineligible for health insurance. And that’s not counting children. Spurred on by Gawande, people have been sharing their preexisting conditions stories on Twitter with the hashtag #the27Percent.

The 27% figure comes from a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation:

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million adults under 65 — or 27 percent of that population — have pre-existing health conditions that would likely make them uninsurable if they applied for health coverage under medical underwriting practices that existed in most states before insurance regulation changes made by the Affordable Care Act.

In eleven states, at least three in ten non-elderly adults would have a declinable condition, according to the analysis: West Virginia (36%), Mississippi (34%), Kentucky (33%), Alabama (33%), Arkansas (32%), Tennessee (32%), Oklahoma (31%), Louisiana (30%), Missouri (30%), Indiana (30%) and Kansas (30%).

36% uninsurable in West Virginia! You’ll note that all 11 of those states voted for Trump in the recent election and in West Virginia, Trump carried the day with 68.7% of the vote, the highest percentage of any state. The states whose people need the ACA’s protection the most voted most heavily against their own interest.

Update: An earlier version of this post unfairly pinned the entire blame for the lack of coverage of those with preexisting conditions on the insurance companies.2 I removed the last paragraph because it was more or less completely wrong. Except for the part where I said we should be pissed at the Republican dickheads in Congress who want to repeal the ACA without replacing it with something better.3 And the part where we should be outraged. And the part where we regulated cars and cigarettes and food to make them safer, forced companies to build products in ways they didn’t want, and saved millions of lives. We can’t make everyone healthier and raise taxes to do it? Pathetic for what is supposedly the world’s most powerful and wealthy nation. (thx @JPVMan + many others)

  1. I hope, for the love of Pete, that everyone reading this site is aware that the Affordable Care Act (the ACA) is Obamacare. Obamacare is the derogatory name the Republicans gave to the ACA that everyone, including Obama himself, ended up using. Which is unfortunate. President Obama and his administration deserve neither all of the credit nor should shoulder all of the blame for the ACA.

    I would also like to add that I, as a (very) small business owner, rely on the protections afforded by the ACA to get insurance coverage for me and my family. Something to keep in mind if you otherwise don’t know anyone who would be affected by the ACA’s repeal. (Of course, the cushy insurance policy you get through work might be affected as well, you never know.)

  2. At the heart of the ACA is a compromise between the US government and the insurance companies. The insurance companies don’t want to sell people insurance only when people are sick…that would be prohibitively expensive. That’s where the preexisting conditions thing comes in. So, the ACA says, ok, you have to sell insurance to people with preexisting conditions and we’ll make sure that everyone has to buy insurance, whether they’re sick or not. That bargain makes sure more people are covered and gives the insurance companies a larger pool of people to draw premiums from.

    You can see why Republicans don’t like it: it forces people to buy something even if they don’t want to and it forces companies to sell things to people they would rather not sell. And as a bonus, people the Republicans don’t give a shit about — women, the poor, people of color — are disproportionately helped by the ACA. So they’ll repeal it and replace it with magic! And the only cost will be an increase in dead Americans.

  3. I am all for this, BTW. If Paul Ryan and Donald Trump come up with a plan to give better and cheaper healthcare coverage to everyone in America, let’s do it.

We Work Remotely

Meryl Streep on our current political moment

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

Last night, as she accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep made some comments about the current political situation and about Donald Trump in particular (although she never mentioned him by name). The clip above (which may not last long on YouTube) is worth watching.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. OK, go on with it.

And the NY Times — in an effort to “get both sides” of the story, I guess? — ran a story that I’m not going to link to called “Donald Trump Says He’s Not Surprised by Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech”. Is it newsworthy, what he thought of Streep’s remarks? Unless he agrees with her and plans to honestly reevaluate how he treats others when he speaks, I would argue it’s not at all worth printing what’s essentially a Trump press release full of bullshit. And news outlets that actually care about the truth and not just printing spin should stop doing it.

Is liberal democracy in trouble? “Warning signs are flashing red.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2016

Political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa have been doing research on the stability of contemporary liberal democracies, looking in particular at the assumption a country becomes a democracy, it will stay that way. Their conclusion? We may be in trouble: “liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline”.

But since 2005, Freedom House’s index has shown a decline in global freedom each year. Is that a statistical anomaly, a result of a few random events in a relatively short period of time? Or does it indicate a meaningful pattern?

Mr. Mounk and Mr. Foa developed a three-factor formula to answer that question. Mr. Mounk thinks of it as an early-warning system, and it works something like a medical test: a way to detect that a democracy is ill before it develops full-blown symptoms.

The first factor was public support: How important do citizens think it is for their country to remain democratic? The second was public openness to nondemocratic forms of government, such as military rule. And the third factor was whether “antisystem parties and movements” — political parties and other major players whose core message is that the current system is illegitimate — were gaining support.

Regarding that first factor, public support for democracy, their research indicates a worrying trend: younger people around the world think it’s less “essential” to live in a democracy.

Essential Democracy

Younger people would also be more in favor of military rule:

Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.

That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.

What’s interesting is that Trump, who Mounk believes is a threat to liberal democracy in the US, drew his support from older Americans, which would seem to be a contradiction. It is also unclear if young people have always felt this way (i.e. do people appreciate democracy more as they get older?) or if this is a newly growing sentiment (i.e. people are now less appreciative of democracy, young people particularly so).

Something I think about often is cultural memory and how it shifts, seen most notably on kottke.org in my mild obsession with The Great Span. Back in July, writer John Scalzi tweeted:

Sometimes feels like a strong correlation between WWII passing from living memory, and autocracy seemingly getting more popular.

Scalzi is on to something here, I think. Those who fought in or lived through World War II are either dead or dying. Their children, the Baby Boomers, had a very different experience in hunky dory Leave It to Beaver postwar America.1 Anyone under 50 probably doesn’t remember anything significant about the Vietnam War and anyone under 35 didn’t really experience the Cold War.2 Couple that with an increasingly poor educational experience in many areas of the country and it seems as though Americans have forgotten how bad it was (Stalin, Hitler, the Holocaust, Vietnam, the Cold War) and take for granted the rights and protections that liberal democracy, despite its faults, offers its citizens. Shame on us if we throw all of that hard-fought progress away in exchange for — how did Franklin put it? — “a little temporary safety”.

Update: The graph above showing public support for democracy is misleading and overly dramatic. Looking at the average scores is more instructive for people’s feelings on democracy:

So where does this graph go wrong? It plots the percentage of people who answer 10, and it treats everyone else the same. The graph treats the people who place themselves at 1 as having the same commitment to democracy as those who answer 9. In reality, almost no one (less than 1 percent) said that democracy is “not at all important.”

Here’s a less misleading graph:

Essential Democracy

The kicker?

Vast majorities of younger people in the West still attach great importance to living in a democracy.

  1. Well, white male Baby Boomers did. Everyone else, less so.

  2. I remember the Cold War vividly — it’s why an increasingly autocratic Putin-led Russia scares the shit out of me — that feeling of ominous dread, day after day, that the world could end, actually end. I’ve only felt that way one other time in my life: in the months after 9/11. And that feeling passed after many months…the Cold War dread was constant for years.

Voting under the influence of celebrity

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2016

Dave Pell from Nextdraft on the connection between OJ Simpson and Donald Trump and how celebrity warps American minds.

By the time OJ Simpson was arrested after the infamous ride in the White Ford Bronco, it was totally impossible to imagine he’d be found not guilty.

By the time Trump reached election day, he had broken every rule of politics. He committed more campaign-ending gaffes in a week than most losing presidential campaigns during an entire run.

Both men had a fame that completely cut across all American demographics.

I thought I’d mentioned this somewhere at the time — Twitter? kottke.org? Can’t find it… — but when I watched the excellent OJ: Made in America documentary this summer, the parallels between the OJ story and Trump made me feel very uneasy. Two men, both broadly famous, both wealthy, both charming, both outcasts from their respective social groups, both misogynist abusers, both committed crimes, both gamed the American political and legal systems to get away with something that they shouldn’t have. OJ eventually got his but will Trump? Are Americans doomed to keep repeating these mistakes when it comes to celebrity?

The United Red and Blue States of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2016

United Blue States

The New York Times took a map of the US and split it in two based on areas that voted for Clinton and Trump in the 2016 election. (Clinton’s map is pictured above.)

Mrs. Clinton’s island nation has large atolls and small island chains with liberal cores, like college towns, Native American reservations and areas with black and Hispanic majorities. While the land area is small, the residents here voted for Mrs. Clinton in large enough numbers to make her the winner of the overall popular vote.

That’s fun, but it’s another reminder of how strictly geographical maps distort election results.

P.S. They missed a real opportunity to call the chain of islands in the southern states The Cretaceous Atoll.

The 14 Features of Eternal Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2016

In 1995, Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books on fascism.1 As part of the article, Eco listed 14 features of what he called Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism. He began the list with this caveat:

These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

Here’s an abbreviated version of Eco’s list:

1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”

2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”

5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”

8. The humiliation by the wealth and force of their enemies. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”

10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”

11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”

12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

I found this list via Paul Bausch, Blogger co-inventor and long-time MetaFilter developer, who writes:

You know, we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I’d like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.

It difficult to look at Eco’s list and not see parallels between it and the incoming Trump administration.2 We must resist. Disagree. Be modern. Improve knowledge. Welcome outsiders. Protect the weak. Reject xenophobia. Welcome difference. At the end of his piece, Eco quotes Franklin Roosevelt saying during a radio address on the “need for continuous liberal government”:

I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.

And Eco himself adds: “Freedom and liberation are an unending task.”

  1. You’re probably going to be hearing that word a lot in the coming months, so before we get to Eco’s list, here’s a quick dictionary definition of fascism: “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization”. That’s imprecise as hell, but “authoritarian” and “nationalistic” are components you’ll always see associated with fascism.

  2. As an exercise as you read through the list, think about statements and policies made by Trump and his team that reflect each point. As I said, it is not difficult.

An American Tragedy

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2016

David Remnick, writing on the occasion of Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency of the United States.

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President — a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit — and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet David Remnick — he calls Obama “a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit” because it takes one to know one — and it is remarkable to hear him write like this. At times, he sounds downright unhinged. But he’s not wrong. This is our reality now and looking for upsides right now seems like grasping at straws. Donald Trump has told us, repeatedly and proudly, who he is over the past 16 months, and it seems foolish not to take him at his word.

On a personal note, I am so emotionally overloaded right now I feel empty. It’s difficult to see how to move on from this, where to go from here, even as it relates to my work. Right now, I can’t access the part of me that knows kottke.org, if only in a small way, is a thing that needs doing. At its best, I hope that the site is a source of thoughtful optimism and that it celebrates the best of humanity, the spirit of curiosity, and the necessity of art, writing, photography, science, music, and other pursuits that allow people tell their stories and explore what it means to be human. I hope we’ll be able to explore those things together again soon, but not today.

Today, hug your loved ones. Connect with your friends. Be there for someone else. Yes, look for the helpers, but also take a moment to help someone out. Start small. Build. We’ll get there.

Dear Donald Trump, you should visit your hometown someday

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

In a short essay from Literary Hub titled New York is a Book Conservatives Should Read, Rebecca Solnit writes an open letter to Donald Trump urging him to take some lessons from the city in which he lives. Solnit argues that Trump’s wealth has insulated him from experiencing one of the true pleasures of American cities like New York: energetic and meaningful diversity.

You treat Muslims like dangerous outsiders but you seem ignorant of the fact that the town you claim to live in has about 285 mosques, and somewhere between 400,00 and 800,000 Muslims, according to New York’s wonderful religious scholar Tony Carnes. That means one out of ten or one out of twenty New Yorkers are practitioners of the Islamic faith. A handful of Muslims, including the Orlando mass murderer, who was born in Queens, have done bad things, but when you recognize how many Muslims there are, you can stop demonizing millions for the acts of a few.

NYC is only one-third white and is home to hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews and millions of blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

Speaking of African-Americans: have you ever been to Harlem or the Bronx? You keep talking about black people like you’ve never met any or visited any black neighborhoods. Seriously, during that last debate you said, “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs. I will do more for African-Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes. All she’s done is talk to the African-Americans and to the Latinos.” Dude, seriously? Did you get this sense of things from watching TV-in 1975?

Solnit wrote the piece after compiling her most recent book, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.

Bringing together the insights of dozens of experts — from linguists to music historians, ethnographers, urbanists, and environmental journalists — amplified by cartographers, artists, and photographers, it explores all five boroughs of New York City and parts of nearby New Jersey. We are invited to travel through Manhattan’s playgrounds, from polyglot Queens to many-faceted Brooklyn, and from the resilient Bronx to the mystical kung fu hip-hop mecca of Staten Island.

This NY Times piece on the political inclinations of rural areas vs cities is an interesting companion to Solnit’s letter.

“There is something really kind of strange and interesting about the connection between peoples’ preferences — what they view as the good life, where they want to live — and their partisanship,” said Jonathan Rodden, a political scientist at Stanford. His precinct-level maps of presidential election results show deep blue in the densest, central parts of metropolitan areas, where you’d find the Main Streets, city halls, row homes and apartment buildings. The farther you travel from there, the redder the precincts become. And this is true whether you look around New York City or Terre Haute, Ind.

Donald Trump is modeling his life after Charles Foster Kane

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

Last year, back when he was only one of more than a dozen GOP candidates, I discovered Citizen Kane was one of Donald Trump’s favorite movies via a video filmed by Errol Morris.

Trump acquits himself pretty well on Kane and its lessons — although I would not characterize Kane’s fall as “modest” — and his commentary about the film is probably the first actually interesting thing I have ever heard him say. But I watched all the way to the end and he shoots himself in the foot in the most Trumpian & misogynistic way — it’s actually perfect.

Spurred by a recent re-watch of Citizen Kane, Anthony Audi digs deeper into Trump’s misunderstanding of the film and finds that the course of Trump’s life has followed that of Charles Foster Kane.

He understands instinctively that by controlling the press, he can shape opinions on a mass scale — bending the truth as he sees fit. Over time, and through his marketing savvy, he develops a powerful media empire. Because that’s not enough, he then turns his sights to politics, running for New York governor as a stepping-stone to the White House. At campaign rallies, Kane gleefully brags about his poll numbers, and vows to lock up his opponent Jim Gettys, whom he condemns as an establishment tool. “Here’s one promise I’ll make,” he finally thunders. “My first official act as governor of the state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of “Boss” Jim W. Gettys!”

Kane never gets to fulfill that pledge. Instead, he loses the election-his campaign derailed by a last minute sex scandal. His editors know what to do, and the following day their headlines scream: “FRAUD AT POLLS!”

The piece is entitled Donald Trump Modeled His Life on Cinematic Loser Charles Foster Kane. Consciously or not, Trump does seem to be following Kane’s playbook here, right down to the fascism.

Specifically, Citizen Kane was a vision of what fascism might resemble in America. Both men knew better than to expect Hitler or Mussolini on our shores. They knew that our demagogue would be glossier, more entertaining-more American; and the man they conjured, inspired by real-life plutocrats like William Randolph Hearst, happened to look an awful lot like Donald Trump.

Read the whole thing…this is right up there with the best explainers of why Trump is the way he is. And part 2 is coming soon, an interview with Morris about Trump’s love of Kane.

Update: Audi’s interview with Morris was posted a couple of weeks before the election. Morris says Trump suffers from Irony Deficit Disorder.

Somehow he identifies clearly with Kane. Kane is Trump. And it’s not the kind of identification that I would make if I were Trump. Of course that issue — if I were Trump, what would I do, what would I think, what would I say? — it’s one of those counterfactuals I’m probably not equipped to address. But, if I were Donald Trump, I would not want to emphasize that connection with Kane. You know, a megalomaniac in love with power and crushing everything in his path. The inability to have friends, the inability to find love. The moral that Trump takes from Kane — I mean, it’s one of the great lines that I recorded. I ask, “Do you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane, sir?” You know, let’s get down to the psychiatric intervention. How can we help this poor man? He’s obviously troubled. How can we help him? Donald, help me out here!

And Donald says, “My advice to Charles Foster Kane is find another woman!” And you know, I thought, is that really the message that Welles was trying to convey? That Kane had made poor sexual choices, poor marriage choices?

Trump fact-checked in the style of Ron Howard’s Arrested Development narration

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

I am soooo tired of this election and this stupid, lying, racist, sexist, bullying predator of a candidate and the memes but this Arrested Development-style fact-checking of Donald Trump is really pretty good and right in my wheelhouse. I am terrible at following my own advice.

The Central Park Five

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

In the late 1980s, five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping a woman jogging in Central Park. The Central Park Five is a documentary film directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon which tells the story from the perspective of the those five teens. I’ve seen the film, it’s excellent, and it’s currently available to watch for free on the PBS website.

The five men and this terrific miscarriage of justice are back in the news because of Donald Trump. In 1989, just a few weeks after the attack in Central Park, Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News denouncing the crime and the teens in which he calls for bringing back the death penalty.

Perhaps he thought it gave him gravitas, that spring, to weigh in on the character of the teen-agers in the park: “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

When NYC finally settled with the wrongly convicted men in 2014, Trump denounced the settlement, joining a police detective in calling it “the heist of the century.” And just before Trump’s crowing about sexual assault of women broke over the weekend, Trump reaffirmed that despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes that the five men are still guilty.

The Choice: Frontline’s program on the 2016 election

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2016

Frontline has posted their 2-hour documentary about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the 2016 presidential election to YouTube.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in modern history. Veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk goes beyond the headlines to investigate what has shaped these two candidates, where they came from, how they lead and why they want one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

This looks excellent…I might watch this instead of the debate tonight.1

  1. To be clear, there’s no way I’m watching the debate tonight under any circumstances. I’ve already decided on my vote so there’s no need and I have no desire to gawk at a particularly gory traffic accident that’s doing long-term damage to American society.

The NY Times and the truth of profanity

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2016

When the story about Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women broke, the NY Times took the unusual step of publishing exactly what the presidential candidate said.

In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.

“You can do anything,” Mr. Trump says.

He also said he was compulsively drawn to kissing beautiful women “like a magnet” — “I don’t even wait” — and talked about plotting to seduce the married woman by taking her furniture shopping. Mr. Trump, who was 59 at the time he made the remarks, went on to disparage the woman, whom he did not name, saying, “I did try and fuck her. She was married,” and saying, “She’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”

It was unusual because of the Times’ policy of not printing profanity, even if the profane words themselves are newsworthy. In this case, the editors felt they had no choice but to print the actual words spoken by Trump.

In piece published earlier the same day the Trump story broke, Blake Eskin, who has been tracking the Times’ non-use of profanity at Fit to Print, highlights the racial and classist implications of the policy.

As I’ve noticed over the years while documenting how the Times writes around profanity, a lot of the expletives the Times avoids come up around race: in stories about hip-hop, professional sports, and police shootings. (I’m getting all the data into a spreadsheet so I can back up this assertion.)

The Times seems compelled both to tell readers that people curse in these contexts and to frown upon it.

It’s as if profanity is like a sack dance or a bat flip, a classless flourish that the archetypal Times reader, who is presumably white, can take vicarious pleasure in without having to perform it himself.

You cannot tell authentic stories about people who are systematically discriminated against in our society without using their actual words and the actual words spoken against them related to that discrimination. Full stop.

Update: Eskin wrote a follow-up about his data analysis of the NY Times profanity avoidance for Quartz.

The “other” category includes faux-folksy formulations such as “a word more pungent than ‘slop,’” and “a stronger version of the phrase ‘gol darn,’” as well as the straightforward, “He swore.” When I began the Fit to Print project, I could enjoy the cleverness of some of these contortions. But after reading through hundreds of examples over several years, expletive avoidance no longer strikes me as an interesting puzzle for a writer to solve. The policy just seems prissy, arbitrary, and delusional.

The more I think about the Times’ policy, the more absurd it becomes. There seems to be a relatively simple solution: if the profanity does work in the service of journalism — particularly if the entire article is about the profanity in question — print it. It is doesn’t, don’t. I mean, are Times editors afraid their reporters will start handing in articles with ledes like “Well, this fucking election is finally winding down, thank Christ.”?

Trump paid the stereotype tax in the first debate

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2016

Jeet Heer writing for The New Republic: Clinton Proved Trump Is a Man You Can Bait in a Debate.

In her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Hillary Clinton called out Donald Trump memorably, saying, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” The insight that Trump is easy to provoke formed the core of Clinton’s successful strategy in the first debate on Monday, as she repeatedly incited the Republican nominee to both adopt an off-putting aggressive tone and to make a series of damaging self-admissions.

This reminded me of poker player Annie Duke’s explanation of how she used the gender stereotypes of her male opponents against them.

I figured it was part of the game that if somebody was at the table who was so emotionally invested in the fact that I was a woman, that they could treat me that way, that probably, that person wasn’t going to make good decisions at the table against me. So I really tried to sort of separate that out and think about it from a strategic place of, how can I come up with the best strategy to take their money because I guess, in the end, isn’t that the best revenge?

Trump sounds like he’s a combination of the angry and disrespecting chauvinists:

VEDANTAM: She says she divided the men who had stereotypes about her into three categories.

DUKE: One was the flirting chauvinists, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.

VEDANTAM: With the guys who were like that, Annie could make nice.

DUKE: I never did go out on a date with any of them, but you know, it was kind of flirtatious at the table. And I could use that to my advantage.

VEDANTAM: And then there was the disrespecting chauvinist. Annie says these players thought women weren’t creative.

DUKE: There are strategies that you can use against them. Mainly, you can bluff those people a lot.

VEDANTAM: And then there’s a third kind of guy, perhaps the most reckless.

DUKE: The angry chauvinist.

VEDANTAM: This is a guy who would do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman. Annie says you can’t bluff an angry chauvinist. You just have to wait.

DUKE: What I say is, until they would impale themselves on your chips.

Although I suspect his chauvinism is only part of his poor debate showing…his insecurity is off the charts as well.

Who will play Trump in Clinton’s prep debates?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2016

The Clinton campaign is currently wrestling with how to prepare for the first debate with Trump coming up at the end of September. Part of that challenge is picking a proper sparring partner for the mock debates.

It’s one of the most uncomfortable and important jobs in Democratic politics: trying to embarrass the woman who could be the next president.

The person picked to be Hillary Clinton’s sparring partner in her upcoming debate prep sessions is expected to confront her about the death of Vincent Foster, label her a rapist’s enabler, and invoke the personally painful memories of Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers.

I’ve been thinking about this since the Republican convention and there’s an obvious choice here: Stephen Colbert. Clinton needs to prepare to deftly counter energetically delivered nonsense, personal insults, and things no politician would ever say. Does that sound like the host of a certain Comedy Central show? Colbert’s smart, quick, knows the issues, and, with his talent, could tweak his Colbert Report persona toward the Trumpesque. He wouldn’t have a problem tearing Clinton down in person; he did the same thing to George W. Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner. I bet he’d jump at the chance to do it too. Let’s make this happen, America!

Update: They’re getting closer

At least a few old Clinton hands have suggested enlisting professional entertainers, like Jon Stewart or Alec Baldwin.

Colbert! He could do it with his eyes shut!

Trump quotes in Zapp Brannigan’s voice

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2016

Billy West, who does the voice of Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan, is taking quotes from Donald Trump and speaking them in Brannigan’s voice. This is silly and dumb, but I can’t help loving these.

Update: The addition of Kif’s reactions really takes these to the next level.

Kif sighs for all of America. And this one, I mean…if they wrote this dialogue for the show it would be rejected because not even Zapp is that outlandishly dim and egotistical.

How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2016

Now that Donald Trump’s officially the Republican candidate, here’s a summary of how a party once led by Abraham Lincoln came to select Mr. Orange as their #1. The Republican Party hasn’t been “the party of Lincoln” for many decades now, but I’m sure Abe is spinning particularly rapidly in his grave over his party’s latest turn. (As I’m sure Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Davis have been doing as well over the past eight years.)

How did Hitler rise to power?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2016

From the transcript of the video:

Disturbingly, many of Trump’s early measures didn’t require mass repression. His speeches exploited people’s fear and ire to drive their support behind him and the Republican party. Meanwhile, businessmen and intellectuals, wanting to be on the right side of public opinion, endorsed Trump. They assured themselves and each other that his more extreme rhetoric was only for show.

Oh sorry, looks like autocorrect misspelled “Hitler” a couple times there. (Boy, Godwin’s law makes it difficult to talk about the historical comparisons, although Mike Godwin himself sanctioned the comparison if “you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history”. Not sure I’m meeting the standard here, but at least we’ve learned something about Hitler?)

Why is Peter Thiel supporting Donald Trump?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2016

As Elon Musk plans to introduce a fleet of completely autonomous self-driving vehicles to America’s roads, another PayPal co-founder is giving a speech in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. But why exactly is a canny libertarian with a penchant for undermining the fundamental pillars of democracy to forward his own personal aims supporting Trump? Jeff Bercovici has a not-so-crazy theory:

I think Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump because he believes it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to weaken America’s attachment to democratic government.

I’m not accusing Thiel of any ambitions he hasn’t more or less copped to. In an often-quoted 2009 essay, Thiel declared, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

He also wrote that his fellow libertarians were on a “fool’s errand” trying to achieve their ends through political means: “In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called ‘social democracy.’”

Here’s the essay Bercovici refers to: The Education of a Libertarian. Tyler Cowen, who interviewed Thiel last year and admires him (or at least finds his views interesting), has another take on Thiel’s support of Trump, which is perhaps related to Bercovici’s:

The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there. They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying “the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal. That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways. We are a small church seeking to become larger.” Is that not how many smaller churches behave? Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved? Did they have any influence?

What does Donald Trump actually want? What does Thiel want? What do Republican voters want? I’d wager their actual goals have less to do with the party’s official platform and what people are saying at the convention and more to do with broader opportunities to gain power that arise from disruption and the energetic application of fear.

The radicalization of the US Republican Party

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2016

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann argue that the Republican Party has been radicalized and Trump is the result.

Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party’s steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.

While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion.

To the supporters of Donald Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2016

A number of political thinkers have penned a non-partisan letter to supporters of Donald Trump. The letter is striking for its non-confrontational tone in nevertheless painting Trump as a dangerous authoritarian.

We aren’t criticizing or praising Mr. Trump’s policy proposals or his likely appointments. Our objection to him is deeper-we believe that his entire way of behaving represents a rejection of the essential character traits (the “qualities”) that our democracy requires of its leaders. We of course acknowledge that policy positions matter. But doesn’t political behavior inimical to democracy matter more?

A good read, but I’m skeptical of its impact. I keep thinking of Tyler Cowen’s description of the Brexit vote as “the one lever” for sending a political message to the country’s leaders:

Cities such as Bradford, while still predominantly white, no longer feel as English (and German!) as they once did. And if you are thinking that voting “Leave” does not at all limit Pakistani immigration, you are truly missing the point; this vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians.

Many Americans share a frustration of the current political system and how it is wielded against us in our name by skilled political practitioners, but I do not believe the US is a country filled with small-minded, intolerant racists, despite the perplexing level of national support for a proudly dishonest and bigoted TV personality, whatever his keen political instincts. Trump is the one lever being given to those frustrated voters for sending a message to their politicians and many are choosing to use it despite many of the reasons listed in that letter. Sending that message is more important than its potential consequences. (via @marcprecipice)

2016 Presidential election odds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2016

According to the first national election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the Presidency.

538 Trump Hillary

A 20% Trump chance is waaaaay too close for my comfort…that’s better odds than ending up dead playing one round of Russian roulette. We gotta Mondale that Cheeto-faced shitgibbon.

Britain votes to leave the EU

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2016

I awoke at 3am last night, perhaps having sensed a disturbance in the Force, read a late-night text from a friend that said, “BREXIT!!” and spent the next two hours reading, shocked and alarmed, about Britain’s voting public’s decision to leave the European Union. Although according to a piece by David Allen Green in the FT, the decision is not legally binding and nothing will immediately change with regard to Britain’s laws or EU member status, the outcome is nevertheless distressing for the reasons outlined succinctly by an FT commenter.

A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages, and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Well novel. When Michael Gove said ‘the British people are sick of experts’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?

Reading this and casting your mind to Trump and the upcoming US election is not that difficult.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a book I read several years ago by Robert Wright called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. In it, Wright argues that cooperation among individuals and ever-larger groups has been essential in pushing biological and cultural evolution forward. From the first chapter of the book:

The survey of organic history is brief, and the survey of human history not so brief. Human history, after all, is notoriously messy. But I don’t think it’s nearly as messy as it’s often made out to be. Indeed, even if you start the survey back when the most complex society on earth was a hunter-gatherer village, and follow it up to the present, you can capture history’s basic trajectory by reference to a core pattern: New technologies arise that permit or encourage new, richer forms of non-zero-sum interaction; then (for intelligible reasons grounded ultimately in human nature) social structures evolve that realize this rich potential — that convert non-zero-sum situations into positive sums. Thus does social complexity grow in scope and depth.

This isn’t to say that non-zero-sum games always have win-win outcomes rather than lose-lose outcomes. Nor is it to say that the powerful and the treacherous never exploit the weak and the naive; parasitic behavior is often possible in non-zero-sum games, and history offers no shortage of examples. Still, on balance, over the long run, non-zero-sum situations produce more positive sums than negative sums, more mutual benefit than parasitism. As a result, people become embedded in larger and richer webs of interdependence.

The atmosphere of xenophobia on display in the US, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe is affecting our ability to work together for a better future together. World War II ended more than 70 years ago, long enough in the past that relatively few are still alive who remember the factors that led to war and the sort of people who pushed for it. Putin, Brexit, Trump, the Front National in France…has the West really forgotten WWII? If so, God help us all.

P.S. I also have a couple of contemporary songs running through my head about all this. The first is What Comes Next? from the Hamilton soundtrack:

What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?

You’re on your own
Awesome. Wow
Do you have a clue what happens now?

And the second is a track from Beyonce’s Lemonade, Don’t Hurt Yourself:

When you hurt me, you hurt yourself
Try not to hurt yourself
When you play me, you play yourself
Don’t play yourself
When you lie to me, you lie to yourself
You only lying to yourself
When you love me, you love yourself

Britain just played itself.

Update: Excellent op-ed in the LA Times by Brian Klaas and Marcel Dirsus.

This is the glaring contradiction in the muscular nationalism of right-wing populism, blended with isolationism, that seeks to withdraw from international unions: It cannot shape a better world by shutting the world out. The same people who cheer when Trump laments the decline of American leadership want to ignore key global issues and put “America First.” The people who voted for Brexit, attempting to create a border between Britain and challenges such as the refugee crisis, seem to think Britain can solve such problems without consulting Germany or France or, worst of all to them, Brussels.

The world doesn’t work that way, and it hasn’t for decades. Ever-increasing globalization has created an unprecedented surge in prosperity, but it has also ushered in jarring changes. The rough edges of those changes can only be overcome with more aggressive cooperation and engagement, not less. Whether it’s the risks of terrorism, the tragic flow of refugees, or economic shocks, Britain cannot solve problems alone and neither can the United States.

On bullshit and Donald Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2016

In this video, Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit, talks about what bullshit is and how dangerous it is to society.

The reason why there’s so much bullshit I think is that people just talk. If they don’t talk, they don’t get paid. The advertiser wants to gain sales. The politician wants to gain votes. Now, that’s ok but they have to talk about things that they don’t really know much about. So, since they don’t have anything really valid to say, they just say whatever they think will interest the audience, make it appear they know what they’re talking about. And what comes out is bullshit.

The bullshitter is more creative. He’s not submissive. It’s not important to him what the world really is like. What’s important to him is how he’d like to represent himself. He takes a more adventurous and inventive attitude towards reality, which may be sometimes very colorful, sometimes amusing, sometimes it might produce results that are enjoyable. But it’s also very dangerous.

It’s at this point that the video cuts to Donald Trump, who is the Lionel Messi of bullshitting; it is his singular dazzling gift. He cultivates convenient facts and deliberately remains ignorant of inconvenient ones so as to be most effective. As Frankfurt notes, bullshit is a serious threat to the truth because it’s not the opposite of truth…it cannot be refuted like a lie can:

Liars attempt to conceal the truth by substituting something for the truth that isn’t true. Bullshit is not a matter of trying to conceal the truth, it is a matter of trying to manipulate the listener, and if the truth will do, then that’s fine and if the truth won’t do, that’s also fine. The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth in a way in which the liar is not. He’s playing a different game.

It is Trump’s indifference to the truth that makes him so effective and so powerful. Much of what I read from people who oppose Trump attempts to counter his rhetoric with facts. That hasn’t worked and is not going to work. The truth is not the antidote for bullshit. So how do you defeat the bullshitter? This has been a genuine problem for his political opponents thus far. Frankfurt doesn’t offer any advice in the video (perhaps his book does?), and I’m at a loss as well, but I do know that factual refutation will not make any difference. I hope someone figures it out soon though.

American white male anxiety

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2016

In Trump Taps Into the Anxiety of American White Males, Anand Giridharadas writes:

Yet there is some evidence that a sizable number of white men see the push toward diversity, along with the larger changes it telegraphs, as less about joining and more about replacement, and a country that is less hospitable to them.

That sentiment is perhaps expressed in a quote widely circulated online in these discussions, though the origin is unknown: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

This is perhaps what Tyler Cowen was getting at with his highly speculative and provocative What the hell is going on?

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them? Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

I wouldn’t recommend it, but a spin through the comments on Cowen’s piece provides some examples of what he’s talking about.

An Honest Liar

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2016

A few days ago, I watched An Honest Liar, a documentary about the magician and charlatan-debunker The Amazing Randi. I had forgotten that in the 70s and 80s in America, belief in psychics like Uri Geller, faith healers like Peter Popoff, extraterrestrial abductions, and the like was not all that far from the mainstream. Such events and people were covered in newspapers, on the evening news, and featured on talk shows, including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

The media is awash in pieces attempting to explain the success of the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Many are puzzled…how could this happen in America!? After watching Randi debunking hoaxes, I’m no longer surprised at Trump’s success. Maria Konnikova, author of a recent book on scams and cons, wrote about Trump and con artists for the New Yorker.

A line, thin but perceptible, divides even egregious liars from confidence men. People deceive one another for all sorts of reasons: they might lie to stay out of trouble, for example, or to make themselves seem more interesting, or to urge a business deal toward its consummation. David Maurer, a linguist turned historian of the con, said, “If confidence men operate outside the law, it must be remembered that they are not much further outside than many of our pillars of society who go under names less sinister.” Still, there is a meaningful difference between an ordinary liar and a con artist. A grifter takes advantage of a person’s confidence for his own specific ends — ends that are often unknowable to the victim and unrelated to the business at hand. He willfully deceives a mark into handing over his trust under false pretenses. He has a plan. What ultimately sets con artists apart is their intent. To figure out if someone is a con artist, one needs to ask two questions. First, is their deception knowing, malicious, and directed, ultimately, toward their own personal gain? Second, is the con a means to an end unrelated to the substance of the scheme itself?

She doesn’t express an opinion on whether Trump is a con artist — it’s difficult to tell without knowing his intent — but it’s clear that like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff, Trump is adept at making people believe what he is saying without a lot of hard evidence. Like The Amazing Randi said in the movie: “no matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived.” Hopefully, like Geller, Popoff, and UFOs eventually did, the idea of Trump as a viable candidate for President will soon disappear back into the fringes of American discourse.

John Oliver’s 22 minutes of pain for Donald Drumpf

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 29, 2016

On Last Week Tonight last night, John Oliver took on the #brand running for President known as Donald Trump. Or, as he would have been known had one of his ancestors not changed his last name, Donald Drumpf. If you’d like to play along at home, you can install the Drumpfinator Chrome extension, which will replace any mentions of “Trump” on the web with “Drumpf”.

Donald Trump on Citizen Kane

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2015

Many years ago, Errol Morris interviewed Donald Trump about Citizen Kane as part of a project called The Movie Movie.

The table getting larger and larger and larger with he and his wife getting further and further apart as he got wealthier and wealthier, perhaps I can understand that.

Trump acquits himself pretty well on Kane and its lessons — although I would not characterize Kane’s fall as “modest” — and his commentary about the film is probably the first actually interesting thing I have ever heard him say. But I watched all the way to the end and he shoots himself in the foot in the most Trumpian & misogynistic way — it’s actually perfect.

The Movie Movie, according to Morris’ web site, was based on the idea of putting modern day figures like Trump and Mikhail Gorbachev into the movies that they most admire. So Trump would star as Kane in Citizen Kane and Gorby would be in Dr. Strangelove as who, Strangelove himself? Man, what a fantastic idea. Joshua Oppenheimer used a variant of this idea to powerful effect in The Act of Killing, a film executive produced by Morris.

Morris himself turned a bit of the original The Movie Movie idea into a 4-minute clip for the 2002 Oscars of people — some of them famous: Trump, Gorbachev, Tom Brady, Christie Turlington, Keith Richards, Philip Glass, Al Sharpton — talking about their favorite movies.