Archive for February, 2017

Trump and the Media

Friday, February 24th, 2017

ink barrel

Trump’s base of support have developed a remarkable ability to take what Trump says and replace it in their minds with their own interpretation of what Trump means.

This is not surprising because right-wing media have been doing this since the start of Fox News.  They manipulate facts to support a larger political agenda.

Ethical media, however, are seriously challenged when their fact-based reporting is regularly challenged as biased because the facts themselves are consistently less favorable to the current administration than the spin that right wing media and Trump’s own supporters employ.

One obvious example is Kellyanne Conway.  Her role in the current administration isn’t clear, but until recently she was a frequent defender of all things Trump on national TV.  Her statements, however, became so unreliable and seemingly out of step with what others in the White House said, that the programs that otherwise would book her are now not interested.  They have determined that she can’t effectively speak for the White House because the White House has contradicted so many of the things that she has said.

This is evidence of how the relationship between the press and the White House is changing.  There used to be this cozy exchange of information that allowed the White House to leverage the media to get their message out.  This White House isn’t interested in that relationship.  They would prefer to go directly to the people using social media and their own array of spokespeople.  The problem is that they are not all delivering the same message.

The media has responded by reporting on these discrepancies in messaging and finding the “inside information” that is news from unofficial sources.  They have returned to good old investigative journalism of the sort that was glorified in the “All The President’s Men” days.

When the White House WAS a reliable source of information for the press, they were much more concerned about losing that source.  The result was a cozy symbiotic relationship where both the White House and the press worked together to give a consistent message to the country on what was going on.

The press is no longer concerned about losing a relationship with their White House sources.  They have no relationship.  This has freed the press to perform the role that they are supposed to perform – holding elected official accountable for what they say and how they act.  The result is that interactions with the press both in print and broadcast sources is MUCH more confrontational.  They are willing to ask tough questions when the conflicting messages come out of the White House.

Trump partisans interpret this renewed activism as evidence that the press has a liberal bias because they are treating the Trump administration MUCH more aggressively than they treated the Obama administration.  The reality is much less conspiratorial.  The Trump administration created this atmosphere by creating an adversarial relationship with the press and failing to manage their internal messaging.  The Trump administration left the press no other choice because the press needs news every day.  When conflicting messages come out of the White House, that quickly becomes news.

Here’s just one example of how that plays out.

One of the questions circulating in the press is how close the Trump administration is to the nation’s anti-Semitic groups.  That is a legitimate question because of Bannon’s past history of providing a platform for anti-Semitic groups.  A recent rash of attacks gave the press an opportunity to explore this concern.

Trump’s first response to a question on this subject was to talk about his popularity.  The implication of that response was that he doesn’t have to address this issue.  As he continued to be asked, he modified his response to say that this racism and other forms of discrimination are nothing new.  The implication of that answer was that Trump was saying that he wasn’t responsible for the recent spike in anti-Semitism.  The next day when asked by a Jewish reporter about a spike of bomb threats being received by synagogues across the county, Trump said that he was “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

Finally four days later, he had a typical political response condemning anti-Semitism and saying the “it’s going to stop”.

Spicer then took a swing at this in response to a critical press release from the Anne Frank Center.

SPICER: Look. The president has made clear since the day he was elected — and frankly going back through the campaign — that he is someone who seeks to unite this country. He has brought a diverse group of folks into his administration, both in terms of actual positions and people that he has sought the advice of. And I think he has been very forceful with his denunciation of people who seek to attack people because of their religion, because of their gender, because of the color of their skin.

It is something that he’s going to continue to fight and make very, very clear that [it] has no place in this administration. But I think that it’s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this that it’s never good enough.

Today I think was an unbelievably forceful comment by the president as far as his denunciation of the actions that are currently targeted toward Jewish community centers, but I think he’s been very clear previous to this that he wants to be someone that brings this country together but not divide people, especially in those areas.

So, I saw that statement. I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area. Hopefully as time continues to go by they recognize his commitment to civil rights, to voting rights, to equality for all Americans.

  1. The polls document that Trump has failed to unite the country. He has ignored and criticized those that oppose him.  He and his administration has gone so far as to suggest that his opposition include paid provocateurs.  The message from his administration has consistently been that either you get with the program or shut up.  That same attitude is reflected in Spicer’s comment that the Anne Frank Center should be praising Trump for his “leadership”.
  2. Trump’s cabinet is not diverse. Until the recent nomination of a Hispanic to replace Pudzer, this cabinet was the most white male cabinet since Reagan.  Spicer did include the “people that he has sought the advice of” – but we don’t know who those are.
  3. Finally Spicer throws another bomb at the media claiming that Trump has been “very forceful with his denunciations” and that “no matter how many times he talks about this that it’s never good enough.” The facts don’t support that claim.

    Even when a Jewish reporter interviewing Melania Trump was attacked by anti-Semitic Trump supporters, Trump told Wolf Blitzer that “I don’t have a message to the fans. A woman wrote a — a article that was inaccurate. Now, I’m used to it. I get such bad articles. I get such — the press is so dishonest, Wolf, I can’t even tell you. It’s so dishonest.”


In summary, the press has become more aggressive.  To those interested in an active independent free press, that’s a good thing.  Holding elected officials accountable is what the press is supposed to do.  The REASON the press has become more aggressive is simple.  First the press can’t depend on the White House for consistent messaging, so White House can’t use ACCESS as a method to manage the news cycle.  Second, in the absence of consistent messaging the press are forced to dig up their own news.  Third, the White House continues to be fact-challenged.  Those are easy stories for the press to write.

There is not a vast left-wing conspiracy in the press.  They are simply doing their job.  They are responding to a White House that has chosen to cut the press out of the loop.  They think they can win with their base by claiming the press is biased against them. We’ll see how wise that decision was.

The Perils of Trump

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Trump nation-tracker-overall-1

Trump has become one of the most unpopular President’s in history in the shortest time on record.

Because he lost the popular vote by such a wide margin, he didn’t enter office with much support outside his party. That support is now gone.

Whether Trump’s approval rating will drop further depends largely on independents and Republicans — he has almost no support to lose among Democrats. If those voters do sour on him, that could pose a threat to Republicans in the midterm election in 2018. The incumbent president’s approval rating historically serves as a good predictor of how many seats his party will lose at midterm.

Based on recent studies, we can make some predictions of where future erosion could occur.

His core support represents about 22% of the population. These folks are going to support Trump no matter what.

The next group are going to support him based on what he delivers. These represent another 22% of the population. These first two groups, the “believers” and the “conditionals” make up the 44% of the population (more or less) that approve of Trump’s performance so far.

The “conditionals” are interested in an improved economy, cleaning up Washington corruption, defeating ISIS, and building the wall in that order. If he fails to do any of those things, he will lose their support.

Let’s look at the challenges that Trump has with this group of “conditionals”.

Trump’s economic plan has a big problem. There aren’t enough workers to support the growth that he has promised. Worse than that, Trump is also expected by this group to put a tough immigration plan in place. Immigration is the easiest place to find the workers that Trump’s economic plan REQUIRES.

Here’s the math. We currently employ 152M people. Trump wants to add 25M more jobs. He needs that job growth in order to deliver the 4% a year GDP growth that he has promised. He’ll get 8M from population growth. If we are able to return to historical highs in workforce participation, he’ll get another 8M. That still leaves him 9M short.

There are only two places he can find those extra jobs. Either immigrants are going to fill them or he’s going to have to figure out how to convince baby boomers to come out of retirement.

The problem is that he can’t fill them with immigrants because one of the other things that the conditionals are going to hold him accountable for is keeping immigrants out and deporting those who are here illegally. That leave seniors. 19% of those 65 and over, work today. In order to hit his numbers, that percentage has to increase to 32%. Even that won’t get the job done, because 7M jobs are filled today by undocumented workers. If you deport all of those workers in addition to keeping new workers out, Trump’s plan adds only 9M new jobs. That’s not nearly enough to hit his GDP numbers. It barely keeps up with the jobs that population growth will require.

Trump is left between a rock and a hard place. Investments to grow the economy without increases in both productivity and workforce are going to spike inflation as demand exceeds supply. That’s going to lose him the support of the conditionals who will have a harder time buying a house, paying their adjustable mortgage, buying a car, and paying their bills. If he reneges on his immigration plan, he will lose the support of the conditionals even if it does help him keep his economic promise.

Trump has already lost the last two groups (curious and resister). He won’t get them back because their views are diametrically opposed to his base and the conditionals. They don’t want a wall.  They want to keep Obamacare. etc.

The only logical result is a continued erosion of the “conditionals” as Trump fails to deliver on his promises.

Most presidents lose ground during their first two years. The average decline since World War II is just short of eight points, according to a compilation by Marquette University political scientist Charles Franklin. If Trump follows that pattern, he could end up with an approval rating in the high 30s — perilous territory for congressional candidates running in swing districts.

If he survives all of the other challenges that currently seem to surround his administration, the historic patterns leave him in very dangerous territory. Bush II lost control of both the house and the Senate in 2006 because the country was tired of the Iraq War. His approval ratings were in the 30’s.

House members are already dealing with tea-party-like disruptions at their local town halls. Republicans are already backing away rapidly from any immediate action on Obamacare replacement because of fears of the impact that might have on the 2018 elections. Trump hasn’t even started to try to get his agenda through Congress, and the news cycles are dominated by stories of disarray, conflict, and foreign intrigue.  By way of comparison, by the third week of the Obama administration stimulus legislation was already being debated.

The closer that we get to the 2018 elections, the less likely it will be that at least House Republicans are going to be willing to take controversial votes. If healthcare reform remains undone, some voters are going to hold him accountable for NOT making the healthcare changes he promised. Other voters are going to vote for Democrats to PREVENT him from making the changes that he promised.

There is no clear path for Trump to improve his situation.

There are only many opportunities for it to get worse.

Get With The Program

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson and the other framers of the constitution made sure that our democracy included a free press.  They understood that it was a vital check on the power that they were investing in government

What happens to our democracy when a significant number of voters reject even the concept of an unbiased media?

The American Journal of Political Science recently released a study to answer the question of how this could happen.

Political affiliation is now a stronger predictor of behavior than even race.  People are much more accepting of someone of a different race as a potential spouse than they are of someone who has differing political views.

Many who are sharing fake news understand that it may not be accurate, but they share it none the less because it supports their point of view.  More importantly it also demonstrates to their peers that they are trusted members of that social group.

Conservatives may also be more fearful.

According to a study slated to be published in the journal Psychological Science, it might be true that conservatives are more likely to fall for false, threatening-seeming information, but it’s not because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re hyper-attuned to hazards in their world. If they spot a sign of danger, they figure trusting it is better than ignoring it.

That’s all fine and good for Facebook users.  But what happens when the President of the United States starts saying things are aren’t supported by facts?

You’ve got frivolous things like the size of the inauguration crowd (smaller than Obama physically and virtually), blaming his loss of the popular vote on illegal voting (voter rolls have problems, but no evidence of illegal voting, supported by recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan), the biggest Republican victory since Reagan (Bush I was bigger), and his standing ovation at the CIA speech (CIA officers stand until requested to sit.  He never asked them to sit.)

But then you have things that affect people’s lives.

An executive order that counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce when the federal workforce is the same today as it was 8 years ago.

A ban on Muslims from 7 countries including Syria, when no Muslim immigrants from those countries has ever committed an act of terrorism in this country.

Trump suggested that there were only 100 or so people affected.  His lawyers later testified in court that over 100,000 were effected.  How could he have been so far off?

Trump provided preference to Christians because he said that they were having a more difficult time previously getting into the country.  That’s not true either.  We admitted Christians and Muslims at roughly the same rate. The smaller number of Syrian Christians is due to the fact that they are only 5% of the Syrian population.

His administration cited a fictitious massacre in Bowling Green, KY as evidence that we should fear Muslim immigrants.  The data suggests that US citizens are MUCH more likely going to be the perpetrators of mass killings than immigrants.  This ban will likely only alienate the domestic Muslim population further, at the precise time that we need their help.

At home as well, Mr. Benjamin said, the president’s order is likely to prove counterproductive. The jihadist threat in the United States has turned out to be largely homegrown, he said, and the order will encourage precisely the resentments and anxieties on the part of Muslims that fuel, in rare cases, support for the ideology of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

In our country, journalists have the responsibility to hold elected officials accountable.  They do that by informing voters and speaking truth to power.  There is no one else.  Yet Trump is systematically delegitimizing the trustworthiness of the press.  Why is that?

Some claim that this is the influence of Bannon.  His world view is that the old order is corrupt and must be overthrown.  He believes that we are literally at war with an expansionist Islamic philosophy and the solution is to exert our own sovereignty.  Rather than make the world safer through alliances, he would prefer that the US protect itself through power and nationalism.  The press, in his opinion, is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  That’s because he views himself as a radical and he feels his own cause justifies ANY ACTION.

This is an old and proven strategy.  Create fear of “the other”.  Convince people that the only way to be safe it to eliminate “the other” from our society.  The simple math is that you are either with us or you are against us.  If you are against us, you become part of “the other” should be treated in the same way that we are treating “them”.  You hear some of that language coming from the administration today in reactions to dissent.

In a democracy, we have to hold our elected officials accountable to telling the truth.  It is THEIR responsibility to separate belief from fact.  If we can’t trust that our elected officials are making their decisions based on the best facts available to them, our institutions begin to unravel because they can no longer be trusted to deal fairly with all people.  And that’s the key here. Bannon isn’t interested in dealing fairly with all people.  He is interested in a revolution where HIS OWN VISION of the future triumphs, not the vision of the founders, or even the vision of the majority.

The danger to democracy when people stop believing the press is that they will ultimately stop believing in the rest of the institutions that are the foundation for our society.  That’s the moment that demagogues can gain followers by claiming that they are the only ones that are willing to tell the truth.  The reality is that they are the ones manipulating the tribalism they create and the fear they instill to undermine democracy and usurp power.  It is a proven formula.  Don’t let it happen here.