Archive

May 8th, 2016

Don't mainstream Trump

    Donald Trump's Republican primary triumph means that this cannot be a normal election. Americans who see our country as a model of tolerance, inclusion, rationality and liberty must come together across party lines to defeat him decisively.

    Many forces will be at work in the coming weeks to normalize Trump -- and, yes, the media will play a big role in this. On both the right and the left, there will be strong temptations to go along.

     Refusing to fall into line behind Trump will ask more of conservatives. Beating Trump means electing Hillary Clinton, the last thing most conservatives want to do. It would likely lead to a liberal majority on the Supreme Court and the ratification of the achievements of President Obama's administration, including the Affordable Care Act. Conservative opposition could deepen a popular revulsion against Trump that in turn could help Democrats take over the Senate and gain House seats.

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Turkey's last shreds of balance are disappearing

    In the beginning, nearly 14 years ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose a team of smart and qualified people to run Turkey with him. He now appears set to force out one of the last of that group -- Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu -- and replace him with someone more pliant. This is disastrous for Turkey, as financial markets have recognized.

    To know why, look at the issues over which Erdogan and Davutoglu -- who is no rebel or hero of a Turkish secular democracy -- have sparred, fraying what was once the tightest and subservient of political relationships to breaking point.

    The earliest split came soon after Davutoglu's appointment as Prime Minister, when he proposed an anti-corruption package in response to allegations of corruption made against Erdogan's family and closest political allies. Erdogan said the idea was premature and it was dropped.

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Trump won the stand-up competition

    Donald Trump's triumph in the race for the Republican nomination is no reason to stop seeing his act as stand-up comedy. Perhaps his remarkable run, however it ends, is a harbinger of things to come, and future races may well be won by the person with the best stand-up routine.

    Don Waisanen of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, who has devoted himself to the study of political humor, wrote in a 2013 article that until the 1990s, "by and large, the public thought politicians were supposed to be serious."

    "From the 1990s through the present, comedy and politics have become inseparable, with candidates like Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing their gubernatorial ambitions on 'The Tonight Show,' and figures like Sarah Palin paradoxically both being mocked by and interjecting themselves into programs like 'Saturday Night Live.' This evolving trend of what some have termed infotainment continues unabated through popular programs like 'The Daily Show.' "

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Trump is on track to be the next McGovern

    Donald Trump has had the worst first day as de facto nominee of a major party since George McGovern in 1972. And we know how that ended up.

    Trump enters the general election with the worst polling numbers since polling was invented. But there's good reason to think that a lot of his negative numbers are relatively soft. Not among the ethnic groups he's insulted and their allies; he's unlikely to win them over. But plenty of Republican voters who supported other candidates during the nomination battle, and swing voters who haven't paid all that much attention yet, are likely to warm to Trump.

    Under one condition: if he is the one enthusiastically backed by his party.

    If highly visible Republicans rally around Trump, he'll wind up looking, to most Republican voters, like a relatively normal Republican candidate, and they'll support him. If not -- if they receive mixed messages -- his unfavorable ratings may never recover, and he might never make the election competitive.

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These are the threats you get when you lead a gun-safety group

    The day after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., I started a Facebook page aimed at uniting American mothers in a fight against gun violence. Married and living in suburban Indianapolis, I was a stay-at-home mom of five and not in any way political, aside from voting. But I'd seen the difference the women of MADD made around drunken driving. Why, I wondered, couldn't we do the same?

    I was wholly unprepared for the blowback headed my way.

    Within hours of speaking out about our nation's lax gun laws, I received my first threats of sexual violence and death. Over the next several months, my phone throbbed with angry texts and phone calls, often in the middle of the night. My fledgling Twitter feed -- which I didn't really know how to use yet -- was on fire. I started getting letters mailed to my home, complete with cut-outs from magazines to spell out threats to my life.

    My email was hacked; my Facebook photos were downloaded and distributed publicly; my phone number and home address were shared online; my children's social media accounts were hacked and the names of their schools shared online.

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The 'Trump effect' will help authoritarians around the world

    It's too late. Even if Hillary Clinton beats him in November, even if the Republican Party is wiped out in the polls, Donald Trump's emergence as the Republican presidential candidate has already dealt an enormous blow to the reputation of the American political system, and indeed to the reputation of democracy itself. There will be many consequences to the Trump nomination, both in the United States and abroad. But here is one to start with: The vulgar, vicious, dirty Clinton v. Trump campaign that will play out over the next six months will further shore up the positions of dictators and autocrats around the world.

    I realize that this sounds paradoxical: After all, Trump has been the beneficiary of democracy. If American politics were rigged by wealthy donors, as they are often said to be, then Jeb Bush would be the candidate, not Trump. If omnipotent party leaders were secretly choosing the candidates against the public's wishes, then Trump would not be the Republican candidate either.

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The Constitution won't stop President Trump

    My 10-year old put it best: "First you said Trump wouldn't win any primaries. Then you said he wouldn't win the nomination. So why exactly are you so sure he won't become president?" Given this reasonable question, it's time to start asking: Is the Constitution in danger from a Donald Trump presidency? How far can he push the envelope of our constitutional structure and traditions?

    To be clear, I'm not talking about who Trump would nominate to the Supreme Court. Though it's worth noting that, unlike potential running mates who so far seem wary of a poisoned chalice, judicial nominees would probably be glad to serve if named by Trump. He'd already be president; and once confirmed, they'd no longer be beholden to the man who named them.

    The real threat seems to be that the candidate who has made it this far by throwing out the election rulebook would be inclined to do the same with the rules of governance. I think we can usefully break up the question into domestic policy and foreign policy components. In each instance, there are practical limits. Yet Trump could credibly push the system to places it hasn't yet been.

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Republicans can drag democracy down with them

    Donald Trump's pending presidential nomination has confirmed what many have argued for years: The Republican Party is not well.

    The party's heightened political obstruction and ideological extremism during the presidency of Barack Obama undermined governing norms and political standards. Now Republican voters have gone the distance, choosing a presidential candidate who functions as a performative and rhetorical riot, smashing to bits rudimentary expectations of competence, coherence and civility.

    As Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, wrote at Vox, "This represents the most colossal failure of an American political party in modern history."

    Which raises an uncomfortable question. If one of the parties in a two-party democracy is a "colossal failure," how secure can that democracy be? Is Trump's rise an instance of democracy letting off steam or evidence of systemic failure?

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Police can ignore protesters, but not municipal insurance companies

    In 2010, the police department in Rutledge, Tennessee, was riven by scandal. The police chief, a 12-year department veteran, had been charged with assault and was under investigation by state authorities. But that wasn't what Mayor Danny Turley cited when he fired the top cop that year. Turley "had no choice," he said - his "hands were tied" - because the city could have lost its liability insurance if the chief kept his job. That would have left Rutledge responsible for paying out on future lawsuits, potentially crippling its small budget. So the insurance company got its way, and a police officer got early retirement.

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Judges are thinking more about excessive force

    The Black Lives Matter movement may be starting to affect the thinking of federal judges, if a Texas case is any indication.

    Wednesday, a George W. Bush appointee wrote a dissent that started this way: "Wayne Pratt received the death penalty at the hands of three police officers for the misdemeanor crime of failing to stop and give information."

    The opinion was a dissent because the two other judges on the appellate panel thought the officers who killed Pratt during an arrest were entitled to immunity from being sued. So it's not as if the social protest movement has yet won a complete victory. But the Republican appointee's language was noteworthy and her opinion deserves analysis.

    The facts of Pratt's case, decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, are complicated, even according to the lawyers representing his mother. By Erony Pratt's account, which the court assumed to be true for purposes of a motion to dismiss her case, officers from the Harris County, Texas, sheriff's department came upon Pratt after a minor traffic accident.

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