Archive

April 6th, 2016

Who had the worst week in Washington? Donald Trump

    If the only bad thing that happened to Donald Trump this week was that his campaign manager was charged with battery after grabbing a reporter at a campaign event last month in Florida, he might have escaped this "honor."

    After all, Trump insisted that Corey Lewandowski, the manager in question, had never even touched the reporter -- and that Michelle Fields, the reporter in question, had been bothering him and had made up what actually happened on that day at the Trump National golf course. Trump, said Trump, was the one who was the victim here!

    Yes, in the normal world of politics, your campaign manager being charged with battery would be bad. And not only refusing to fire him but going on the attack against the female reporter who had been grabbed would have been really, really bad. But, this is Donald Trump we're talking about. He has turned every piece of political conventional wisdom on its head -- so why not this one too?

    Then came Trump's town hall interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday. And that's when his week from just bad to horribly awful.

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Trump Has Reached Peak Incoherence

    Perhaps the laws of political gravity are about to take hold in the case of Donald Trump. But the lesson of this appalling primary season cautions against discounting Trump's appeal -- which prompts another Trump column, this one on the utter incoherence of his policy views.

    It's not simply that Trump is wrong on policy. Ted Cruz is wrong on policy. Trump is wrong on policy and argues for policy positions glaringly inconsistent with his asserted principles. All politicians do this, sure. But Trump's incoherence is classically Trumpian -- huge, glitzy, unembarrassed.

     That phenomenon was on vivid display last week, as world leaders gathered for a summit on nuclear non-proliferation. On this topic, Trump stands, or says he does, with the global consensus. He raised the issue in his discussion with The Washington Post editorial board, in response to a question about whether he believes in man-made climate change.

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The End of Trump

    It's time to go back where we began: not only that Donald Trump will lose the Republican presidential nomination, but that he could be so weakened by the end of the primaries that his party will not even have to worry about choosing someone else.

     I feel your skepticism. Hasn't Trump so far defied all predictions of his demise? Absolutely. Hasn't every claim that "now he's gone too far" been wrong? Of course.

    Let's be honest about journalists: We find a lot of ways of being wrong.

    One trap is "presentism," the idea that whatever is happening now will keep happening. And it is, indeed, easy to project Trump's impending doom after his most miserable week yet.

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The changing campaign TV battleground

    As the presidential primary campaign heads into the backstretch, the debate format appears to be giving way to "town halls." That is, face-to-face candidate confrontations are largely being replaced with single candidates undergoing voter and moderator interrogations in various states.

    In the early stage of the 2016 Republican nomination cycle, televised debates on network and cable carriers dominated, with 17 competitors involved -- so many, in fact, that the field had to be split into a main event and an "undercard."

    Many of the debaters shunted to the latter complained of receiving second-class treatment, and others lamented that even in a two-hour marathon, insufficient time was allocated to them. As the field was winnowed down, the complaints lessened.

    Still, with debates so frequent and bunched up, they began to sound repetitive, both in questions posed and answers given. They often descended into noisy personal name-calling and he-said, she-said nitpicking, as the combatants struggled for an advantage.

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Stolen Easter Island statue deserves a trip home

    The British Museum contains a stone statue known as Hoa Hakananai'a. It was hand carved from basalt 400 to 900 years ago on the island of Rapa Nui, commonly known as Easter Island. Hoa Hakananai'a was kidnapped from that distant outpost of Chile 148 years ago by British Navy Commodore Richard Ashmore Powell. Dominating Room 24 on the museum's ground floor, the moai is magnificent, mysterious -- and totally out of place.

    The world's museums -- mostly those of rich countries with a history of overseas pillaging -- are stuffed with artifacts plundered from other countries. It's time they started being returned to their rightful homes where they can be seen in their native context, even if that means some viewers miss out on seeing culturally significant objects while others have to add more stamps to their passports.

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Give this civil rights hero the Medal of Freedom

    On March 2, 1955, a young African American woman boarded a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., took her seat and, minutes later, refused the driver's command to surrender it to a white passenger. "It felt like Harriet Tubman was pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth was pushing me down on the other shoulder," she mused many years later. "History had me glued to the seat."

    Two police officers arrived and pulled her from her seat. They forced her into the back of a squad car, one officer jumping in after her. She prayed furiously as they sped out, with the cop leering over her, guessing at her bra size. She was fingerprinted, denied a phone call and locked into a cell. Charged with disturbing the peace, breaking the bus segregation laws and assaulting the officers who had apprehended her, she was released later that night.

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Does Trump really want to win?

    I used to chuckle when Donald Trump called himself a "unifier." So far, the Republican front-runner has been about as unifying as a fox in a henhouse.

    Yet unity appeared in unexpected ways after his comments on abortion rights in a town meeting with host Chris Matthews on MSNBC. The Donald's views, which he appeared to be sorting out even as we watched, amazingly brought pro-choice and anti-abortion leaders together on common ground -- against him!

    Hemming and hawing like a student who had forgotten to study his homework, Trump tried and failed to change the subject before he finally seemed to decide what he believes.

    That required a big leap for him. He supported abortion rights through all nine months of pregnancy in the 1990s. Now as frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump has evolved. Now, he said, he believes that women who have an abortion should be subject to "some kind of punishment."

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A sickening spotlight on my hometown

    Like many longtime reporters, I celebrated the Oscar victory for "Spotlight" and the fearless journalism that exposed the Catholic Church's clergy sex abuse scandal.

    I would soon see the story, and the scandal, from a very different perspective.

    Two days after the Oscar ceremony, news broke about another widespread church coverup. I found myself poring over a grand jury report outlining in sickening detail the abuse of hundreds of children by at least 50 priests and religious leaders in western Pennsylvania's Altoona-Johnstown Diocese - in my hometown.

    I moved away long ago, but I still have family there. I visit regularly, and my mom was a devoted parish volunteer during her lifetime. I figured I might recognize a few of the accused or some of the churches. I quickly realized things stretched far beyond that.

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A basic income is smarter than a minimum wage

    Just as Britain raises its minimum wage and as Bernie Sanders's demands for a 50 percent increase in minimum pay keep winning him votes in the U.S., some politicians in one of the world's most socialist countries, Sweden, are in favor of going in the opposite direction. They could be right, especially if nations can find a way to unhitch basic subsistence from work.

    Sweden, along with some other countries with big social safety nets -- Denmark, Norway, Switzerland -- doesn't have a legally mandated minimum wage. Instead, the minimum salary is collectively bargained. The country's strong unions and socially responsible employers make sure that, at 20,000 kronor ($2,468) per month, it reaches about 64 percent of the average wage -- more than twice the U.S. rate. Now, though, three opposition parties in the Swedish parliament are in favor of legislating to lower it as a way to adjust for the arrival of an army of immigrants with relatively low skills.

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When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Revisited

    Let’s start with a quiz. When researchers sent young whites and blacks out to interview for low-wage jobs in New York City armed with equivalent résumés, the result was:

    A) Whites and blacks were hired at similar rates.

    B) Blacks had a modest edge because of affirmative action.

    C) Whites were twice as likely to get callbacks.

    The answer is C, and a black applicant with a clean criminal record did no better than a white applicant who was said to have just been released from 18 months in prison.

    A majority of whites believe that job opportunities are equal for whites and blacks, according to a PBS poll, but rigorous studies show that just isn’t so.

    Back in 2014, I did a series of columns called “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” to draw attention to inequities, and I’m revisiting it because public attention to racial disparities seems to be flagging even as the issues are as grave as ever.

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