Trump Base Cannot Carry An Election

Repudiate Or Validate

We’re now well within a hopeful-but-still-fearful fortnight of the mid-term elections–and the illumination of a stark reality. Either the Trump-cult phenomenon was an embarrassingly ugly, worrisome, American anomaly or that we’ve inexplicably doubled down on the United States of Autocracy.

We’ve never really played zero-sum politics to this existential degree.

But there is always this. The Trump base is still a minority, however stuffed that deplorables-basket looks.

Because of its arrogant, unhinged leader with his literal bully-pulpit and Fox News bullhorn,  Trumpism has a high-decibel image and outsized impact. But the reality is that demographically diverse Democrats–from moderates to Bernie Sanders acolytes–to independents to old-school Republicans control our destiny.

The words of 18th century Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke still resonate. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

That hasn’t changed, even as the definition and context of evil evolves.

We’ve also experienced first-hand two years of chaos and anxiety that are grim reminders of where we are as an alarmingly polarized society. It’s what can happen with the Oval Office equivalent of the Rev. Jim Jones devolving the presidency with nativist dog whistles, media demonization and international free-lancing that alienates allies and appeases authoritarians.

As a result, the words of 20th century Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana should also resonate. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

But Burke and Santayana notwithstanding, there is this self-evident reality that doesn’t require a quote for the ages. If everybody just votes as if THEIR lives in THIS country depended on it, then this national nightmare will begin its ultimate decline.

Even though he’s not formally on any ticket, Donald Trump is a full, frontal 2018 election presence. That includes the scary reality that Trump’s fidelity to meaningful democracy is nil. These midterms come down to a reality that would fit on a bumper sticker: “Repudiate or Validate.” That’s how every ballot should be interpreted. Don’t give any of his sell-out surrogates–from governors, senators and representatives to state legislators–the rationale and wherewithal to prolong this nightmare.

Trumpster Diving

* There is still a discernible difference among Democratic strategists as to how to respond to in-your-face Trumpian dynamics. From “go high” to “(metaphorically) kick ’em.” I prefer the former; don’t look to replicate the same sort of MO you deplore. It should be beneath the cause–and, in the era of ubiquitous media, can give the other side gratuitous, “liberal mob” ammo. Stay with principles without playing the punk card at restaurants or at the annual Washington Correspondents Dinner. Put it this way: Don’t fight fire with fire; fight it with a fire extinguisher of better proposals worthy of the America we still want to be.

* Approximately 30 million women voted for Trump in 2016. Alas, that’s not “fake news.” It also remains embarrassingly inexplicable.

* Looks like the tax cut that would “pay for itself” has reached the credibility level of “Mexico paying for the Wall.” That wouldn’t be the way Mitch McConnell would actually frame it, but that’s the uncomfortable upshot when you advocate cutting entitlement expenses to try and undercut a burgeoning budget deficit. But who expected the senate majority leader to make the case for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid right before the mid-terms? Timing is everything, as we assumed McConnell knew.

* Imagine, the Saudis are still working on a cover story for the killing of journalist-critic Jamal Khashoggi. Whatever its ultimate iteration beyond “fistfight”-gone-wrong, this much is obvious. “Rogues” don’t operate independently of authoritarian leaders on anything of import. Underlings misunderstanding instructions or overstepping authorizations just doesn’t happen. That’s not how Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose personal agenda notably includes the silencing of critics, operates. And let’s not forget that if MBS had wanted a de facto green light to go after a Washington Post columnist residing in the U.S., he could hardly have missed the ongoing signals emanating from the White House in the form of Trump’s routine assaults on American media. We’re seeing the tragic consequences.

* “Vote against the GOP this November.”–This blunt directive was issued by George Will. Yes, THAT George Will. It’s THAT scary.

* “Despite us having the worst laws in the world and no help from Democrats, our administration is doing a great job on the border.” That was White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, not President Donald Trump. But, yeah, she not only shills for her boss, she now sounds like him too.

* Yeah, that was quite the shocker that the Philippines just won another term on the UN’s Human Rights Council–given that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has become synonymous with human rights violations–aka “extrajudicial killings”–in his beyond-brutal drug war. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano used some familiar phrasing in lauding the UN’s decision. “We are really greatly honored as this is a vindication that fake news and baseless accusations have no place in modern-day human rights discussions.” Yeah, that’s who else traffics in such familiar, media-bashing rhetoric.

* “Here’s a quote, from the late writer and political cynic Gore Vidal, that still has currency. “The great American formula: socialism for the rich, free enterprise for the poor.”

“Women For Gillum”

My wife and I checked out the “Women For Gillum” rally at Waterworks Park last Friday. A crowd of about 500 braved the humidity. And I was not the only guy. Nor the only guy to go next door to get a plastic cup of Ulele stout to offset the heat. Good synergy.

The stage was filled with A-list women Dems–from Kathy Castor and Janet Cruz to Ione Townsend and Alex Sink. The crowd was diverse, not unlike a Gasparilla Children’s Parade turnout–Black, White, Hispanic. Older, younger. Kids and parents. Not even an infiltrator with a bull horn yelling something about “George Soros” could dampen the enthusiasm.

We all know that a blue wave is not guaranteed, but it can’t happen without a show of activism and enthusiasm. Boxes checked.

Gillum, who was introduced by Congresswoman Castor, hit his main speaking points: from Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform to restoring power to environmental agencies,  raising teacher salaries and standing up to the NRA. He’s obviously a natural campaigner and patiently accommodated parents with little kids who had queued up for smiling selfies after the formal rally.

But he also underscored the bottom line. “If we vote, we win,” he declared, without cracking a smile.

Sports Shorts

* No, this is not the sort of football season that FSU fans were hoping for. And it could get worse. But here’s a consolation: a former FSU golfer, Brooks Koepka, is now ranked No. 1 in the world. But, yeah, if you’re a ‘Noles fan, that’s not consolation enough.

* “A relentless team that looked every bit the Stanley Cup favorite.”–That was a Chicago Tribune reference to the Lightning after the Bolts had soundly beaten the Blackhawks in Chicago. Sometimes it’s good to hear from the other side for additional perspective about a home team on a mission.

* The USF Bulls only lost two games last year–to Houston and UCF. Now, after going 7-0, comes the Houston-UCF part of the schedule again, starting with Houston on Saturday. A win at Houston would be huge. A loss would give pollsters all the reason they need to drop USF, a team known to play down unimpressively to the competition while winning, out of the Top 25 national rankings.

* Undefeated Ohio State lost–by a lot–to Purdue. Previously, Purdue had lost to Eastern Michigan. The bottom line: another reminder that, except for Alabama, there is still an any-given-day parity in college football.


* “What’s clear is that the only options on the table now from the prime minister are a bad Brexit deal, or no deal whatsoever.”–London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who joined some 700,000 people taking part in London’s “People’s Vote March.” Britain is scheduled to leave the EU this March.

* “Empires often think they can make some little mistakes … because they’re so powerful. But when the number of these mistakes keeps growing, it reaches a level they cannot sustain.”–Russian President Vladimir Putin, in reference to the U.S.

* “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s police and military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the southern border of the United States. I have alerted the Border Patrol and military that this is a national emergency.”–President Donald Trump.

* “The Saudis satisfy American greed, deftly playing their role as dollar signs in robes.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “You have never participated in an election that is as consequential as this election nationally and locally.”–Former Vice President Joe Biden, at a Democratic rally in Las Vegas.

* “If you want to protect America’s laws, borders, sovereignty and even your dignity, you need to go out today and vote.”–Donald Trump, at a Republican rally in Elko, Nevada.

* “It’s very simple–November 6, up or down vote. Up or down vote on the impeachment of Donald Trump.”–Former Trump chief strategist Steve  Bannon.

* “Fear is not a proper motivator. Hope wins out.”–Former First Lady Michelle Obama.

* “It depends on where Republicans are going low. If they’re going low in North Dakota, you offer to build a bridge to bring them back. If they’re going low in Brooklyn, New York, you hit them on the head with a two-by-four.”–Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

* “The only problem with a president who talks too much is that he might make his ignorance obvious. That’s why presidents get briefed, rehearse talking points, do practice sessions before facing the media and generally never do what Trump does, which is to wing it.”–Mike McCurry, former Clinton Administration press secretary.

* “(Trump) lives in the eternal now–no history, no consequences.”–Michael Gerson, former speech writer for President George W. Bush.

* “Intelligence is all about context … (Trump) gives weight to data based on who told him, not the evidentiary stack underneath it.”–Michael V. Hayden, former CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

* “Trump’s edge over everybody: He can do no wrong because he’s all wrong. He never really shocks because he’s a perpetual shock.”–Frank Bruni, New York Times.

* “I took the (DNA) test and released the results for anyone who cares to see because I’ve got nothing to hide. What are YOU hiding @realDonaldTrump? Release your tax returns–or the Democratic-led House will do it for you soon enough. Tick-tock, Mr. President.”–Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

* “The one disappointment of this Congress from a Republican point of view. … We’re not satisfied with the way ‘Obamacare’ is working.”–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

* “(Mitch) McConnell and (Paul) Ryan represent Wall Street interests that for years have been salivating at the prospect of using privatization schemes to get their hands on so-called ‘entitlement programs.'”–John Nichols, the Nation.

* “For most Americans, climate change has always been something that might happen in the future, but it hasn’t happened yet. That reality is changing. … Voters deserve lawmakers who would rather protect them from disasters than protect them from the truth.”–Emily Atkin, New Republic.

* “It’s highly targetable. It’s inexpensive. Until we screw it up, it’s the Holy Grail.”–Republican political consultant Alex Patton, on the increasing use of campaigns sending huge numbers of unsolicited texts to voters with the assistance of new apps and programs.

* “What ‘stand your ground’ has done is taken an unnecessary killing and made it into a justifiable killing.”–Bob Dekle, retired assistant state attorney and former University of Florida law professor.

* “(Funding education) should not be a partisan issue. Our environment should not be a partisan issue.”–Debra Bellanti, Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo for Florida’s District 60 House seat.

* “Looking at the month-to-month numbers, we are seeing continuous improvement in the Florida and Gulf Coast economies with solid job gains.”–PNC chief economist Gus Faucher. The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent in September. Tampa Bay’s rate plunged to 2.9 percent–with  Hillsborough County at 2.8 percent.

* “A huge win. Baker McKenzie will bring great prestige to Tampa and help fuel our increasing momentum.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, on the announcement that Baker McKenzie, a global law firm, would be opening a new business services center in Tampa with more than 300 new jobs.

* “This is more than just a transportation issue. It’s an economic prosperity issue and a competitive issue.”–Craig Richard, CEO of Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., on the significance of passing the sales tax for transportation upgrades.

* “Compared to Miami and Sarasota, Tampa Bay offers tremendous value.”–Bob Glaser, president and CEO of Smith & Associates Real Estate.

Abominable Autocratic Agendas

You don’t have to be a journalist to be worried about America’s eroding First Amendment and “enemy of the people” demonization of the media by this unprecedented president. Attacking and scape-goating the press are on every authoritarian’s bucket list. Always have been.

Too bad “American exceptionalism” doesn’t preclude autocracy. There was a day when we could criticize, sans hypocrisy, the usual cast of right-wing strongmen: from Russia and the Philippines  to banana republics and Middle East “stans.”

No longer.

Now, attacking the U.S. media–with certain sell-out and alt-Reich exceptions–is an MO for governing and keeping a Trump cult-following base stoked.

We’ve seen the domestic impact of the Oval Office avatar of “fake news” on our democracy in the era of “alternative facts.” Ask Jim Acosta what it’s like to cover a race-baiting, isolationist-promoting, mainstream media-bashing, Trump rally. George Wallace never looked so polished and presidential.

It has even impacted foreign relations.

Anyone think that the ratcheting controversy over the suspicious disappearance–if not dismemberment–of Saudi Arabian-born, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is coincidental to what has been happening here at home?

You’d have to be clueless to think that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the imperiously despotic “reformer” who doesn’t suffer critics, didn’t see some signals he liked from the Trump Administration. Most notably, arms-sales money talks and dissenting media opinions walk–if they’re ambulatory. Besides, who can account for “rogue killers”?

The United States is not a macro version of Las Vegas. What happens here doesn’t stay here. The rest of the world–from the Moscow puppet master to the Saudi Prince of Darkness–take it all in.  And play Trump–and America–accordingly.

Trumpster Diving

* Donald Trump and Kanye West deserve each other. The rest of us deserve so much better.

* Speaking of that bizarro visit of West to the Oval Office, it was yet another reminder that “Saturday Night Live” continues with its ongoing, Trump-era challenge: How do you spoof a farce?

* Trump rally playlists have typically included “Purple Rain” by Prince. Now the late rock star’s family members are asking Trump to rein it in and stop using it. No official word yet from the White House, but speculation grows that this might mean more exposure for Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and maybe Kanye West.

* “I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.”–That was Trump recently  on “60 Minutes,” in reference to Defense Secretary James Mattis. It was a reminder of why Trump no longer refers to Mattis as “Mad Dog.” The former Marine Corps general is too globally-oriented, too NATO-centric and too, well, geopolitically normal. Indeed, the Mattis exit signs are increasingly manifest–put, please, not John Bolton as a replacement.

* Maybe Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, should he knock off Ted Cruz in their uber-hyped, “America is watching” senatorial race, will be catapulted into the Democrats’ 2020 presidential-ticket scenario. Stranger things have happened. Ask Barack Obama. Although O’Rourke, 46, still trails in polls, his campaign just raised $38.1 million in the third quarter, which is a U.S. Senate record–and a lot more than Cruz is raising.

And it’s likely this quote from 2016 is making certain constituency rounds: “Ted (Cruz) is a nasty guy; that’s why nobody likes him.” That was Donald Trump, who certainly wants Cruz re-elected in defense of a Republican Senate majority.

* Every First Lady has a cause. We get that. A presidential spouse has an awkward niche–and optics matter. So why not use the high-profile forum for something bipartisanly good? What’s not to get? Well, this: Melania Trump has chosen an “anti-bullying” campaign for her cause. How, uh, ironic. At best. She married a celebrity misogynist with a life-long reputation of bullying people–from subcontractors and adultery enablers to immigrants and non-Fox media. “Be Best”? First, be honest.

* I miss Mikhail Gorbachev and Barack Obama. The world was better off, even if they were taken for granted and subject to inevitable, global-leader criticism.

Active Shooter Overkill

As we’ve been reminded recently, when the Florida Legislature drafted new laws to make schools safer, it included a requirement for schools to hold active shooter drills. But it didn’t specify how many. Presumably common sense would carry the day in each county.

Well, that doesn’t seem to apply to Pinellas County, which will have active assailant drills monthly–or 10 times this year. A number of parents have complained. That many drills, they worry, will more likely reinforce fear than expedite a safety precaution. Can only imagine how Pinellas County handled the duck-and-cover school drills during the Cold War nuclear crisis.

TIA Reminder

As we’ve all been noticing, there’s no lack of lists that rank cities and amenities for all kinds of things.  From relevant to immaterial. But the one from Conde Nast Traveler that ranked TIA the fifth-best airport in the country–and the only Florida airport to make the top 10–was spot on. It referenced TIA’s “vision of the future from 50 years ago” to the ongoing expansion projects that enable it “to jet into this century and beyond.”

In short, TIA, which was presciently built in a non-suburban location, has always prioritized passengers over planes. It became the model for urban-market airports. Ask Orlando.

Sports Shorts

* So, half way through the college football season, Florida still has two undefeated teams. And none of them are Florida, Florida State or Miami. They are USF and UCF, which both won on the road last weekend, each with a comeback, 1-point win against Tulsa and Memphis, respectively.  It probably won’t happen, but here’s hoping both stay undefeated until Nov. 23. That’s when the Golden Knights would bus down I-4 to play the Bulls at RayJay on national TV and in front of the biggest USF crowd in years.

* Last week I found myself “looking in” on the American League series between Boston and New York. I had the sound turned down while I was reading. I looked in because I like baseball, and I was curious. I kept the sound down because I wasn’t rooting for either the Red Sox or the Yankees. In fact, I like neither, because they get to play by rules that don’t apply to modest-budget franchises such as the Rays. Also, their fan bases always seem entitled. The geopolitical analogy would be indifference in a competition between ISIS and the Taliban.

* I don’t have serious rooting interest in the MLB playoffs, but, if pressed, I’d choose the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers had the most wins in the National League and are now playing the Los Angeles Dodgers to see who moves on to the World Series. This, despite the fact that the Brewers play in MLB’s smallest market and are in the bottom third of MLB payrolls. It can be done. As the Rays know.