Thursday, March 16, 2017

Media Complicit In Trump's Terror Tall-Tale

A major preoccupation of Donald Trump's protofascist project is to portray America as under siege by brown people from foreign shores, and among the many lies and misrepresentations offered by Trump in his February speech to congress, the "president" asserted,
"According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country."
The Associated Press partially checked this claim, concluding:
"It’s unclear what Justice Department data he’s citing, but the most recent government information that has come out doesn’t back up his claim. Just over half the people Trump talks about were actually born in the United States, according to Homeland Security Department research revealed last week. That report said of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to attempt or carry out an attack in the U.S., just over half were native-born citizens.

"Even the attacks Trump singled out weren’t entirely the work of foreigners. Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his Pakistani wife killed 14 people in the deadly 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California, was born in Chicago."
As fact-checks go, this falls significantly short of exposing the enormity of this particular Trump lie. Trump's claim was about "those convicted for terrorism-related offenses" in general, not just terrorist acts committed by those "inspired by a foreign terrorist group." Beyond the fact-check, the false impression Trump is perpetually trying to create with these sorts of claims is an even bigger lie. Most terrorism in the U.S. isn't committed by foreigners. It isn't even committed by American-born Jihadist rightists. It's committed by domestic non-Jihadist rightists, who, since 9/11, have launched more terrorist attacks, have killed more people and have been involved in more plots that were broken up by law enforcement before they could come to fruition. Numbers differ, as different sources use different methodologies and definitions of terrorism, but that's the conclusion of those who have studied the matter.

Earlier this month, a trio of academics released a new study of media coverage of terror attacks that puts some hard numbers to some obvious media trends. Monday, its authors published an accompanying article in the Washington Post. A few weeks ago, they write in the Post, Trump's administration "had provided a list of terrorist attacks it claimed were underreported by the news media. The list primarily included attacks by Muslim perpetrators." Trump furthering his false narrative. In their study, the academics explain, they examined coverage of terrorist attacks in the U.S. listed in the Global Terrorism Database over a five-year period and coverage of those attacks from American print sources in the LexisNexis database and CNN.com--nearly 2,500 articles in all. Their findings:

--A whopping 87.6% of the terrorist attacks in the timeframe studied were carried out by non-Muslims (or by perpetrators unknown).

--Muslims, on the other hand, perpetrated only 12.4% of the attacks. Foreign-born Muslims committed only 5% of total attacks.

--Nevertheless, 32% of total news coverage was devoted to the 5% of attacks by foreign-born Muslims and overall, 44% of coverage was devoted to the 12.4% of attacks carried out by Muslims in general.

--"In real numbers, the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks [by non-Muslims], which received an average of 18.1 articles."

--27% of attacks received no coverage at all in the sources studied.




This puts some numbers behind some things this author has been pointing out for years. Media coverage significantly distorts Americans' perceptions of terrorism, with potentially very negative consequences. Just last month, Adam Johnson of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted how "corporate media paved the way for Trump's Muslim ban" by this very behavior. Trump makes a show of despising the press but he's able to perpetuate this particular fraud because of it.

--j.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fact-Checkers Likely Understate the Magnitude of Trump's Latest Lie

Another day, another slanderous lie from Donald Trump. It's hard to keep up. Today, while the press commentariat is still all achatter about Trump's utterly baseless claim that last year, President Obama was wiretapping his campaign, Trump took to his Twitter account--the official Twitter account of the President of the United States--to offer up his newest fiction:


Trump gave no source for his claim but he made it half an hour after Fox News' Fox & Friends account had passed along a Fox News segment in which the same assertion had been made. Fill in the standard appropriate disbelief/bemusement/horror at the President of the United States, with all the resources of the U.S. government at his command, getting his "information" instead from political fantasists like Fox News. Right-wing figures have made similar claims about former Guantanamo prisoners for years. The fact-checkers went to work on this one today but while they refuted part of Trump's claim, they uncritically employed extremely dubious information provided by the government, information past analysis suggests grossly inflates actual recidivism by Guantanamo detainees.

Rebecca Shahab at CBS News:
"The number [122] appears to stem from a report released last September from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but the report clearly indicates that 122 of the 693 detainees, or about 18 percent, released under both George W. Bush and Obama administrations reengaged.

"A bulk of those detainees that returned to the battlefield, however, were released under the Bush administration, before the U.S. set up an interagency screening and hearing process for each prisoner. The report says that of the 532 detainees released from the detention facility under Bush, 113 returned to the battlefield, or about 21 percent.

"Under Obama, 161 detainees were transferred from Guantanamo Bay and only 9 have been confirmed to have reengaged and returned to the battlefield. That’s just under 6 percent of the total transferred since 2009.

"Of the combined total 122 that returned to the battlefield under both Bush and Obama, the report says that 30 are dead, 25 are in custody and 67 are not in custody."
Shahab's use of Trump's word "released" is potentially problematic, as many of those who are "released" are, in fact, transferred to the control of foreign governments, not, as that word implies, simply set free.

FactCheck.Org's Robert Farley used the same report (but also the same problematic wording), concluding that Trump's claim was "simply false"; the overwhelming majority of those 122 were released by the Bush administration.[1]

Politifact's Lauren Carroll uses the same figures: over 92% of those "the government believes have returned to some sort of terrorist activity" were transferred under Bush. On the terminology, Carroll, to her credit, is more careful and quotes DePaul University counterrorism professor Thomas Mockaitis pointing out that "many of those released are handed over to foreign states who assume responsibility for them." Carroll also references a 2014 report by the New America Foundation which investigated confirmed or suspected "militant activity" by former detainees and could only confirm 1/3 of the cases claimed by the government at the time.

Rather than spurring further investigation, that last bit of info is just left to lie there unexamined while Carroll rates Trump's claim "mostly false."

The government's claims with regard to recidivism by former Guantanamo detainees, which have been made in a periodically-issued report for many years, have long been called into serious question. The Center for Policy and Research at the Seton Hall University School of Law, which has released over 15 reports on issues related to the detainees, has tackled the recidivism claims repeatedly.[2] Among other things, the government can't document most of its claims of recidivism. It consistently makes sweeping assertions regarding this matter while refusing to name most of the alleged recidivists or provide any real information on their alleged recidivism. The material cited by the fact-checkers are just asserted numbers. Empty claims, and not consistent ones either--the number of asserted recidivists goes up and down over the years.[3] With regard to the much smaller group who have actually been named, the government's assertions are rife with problems. Contradictions abound. While "recidivist" clearly suggests someone who was guilty of some past offense returning to commit further offenses, most of the Guantanamo detainees--55%--were "not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies," which shouldn't be surprising given the fact that only 5% of them were captured by U.S. forces in the first place; the rest were, instead, turned over by third parties in exchange for U.S.-provided bounties on those who were supposed to be al Qaida or Taliban fighters. In so impoverished a country as Afghanistan, a get-rich-quick scheme. Some named were, in fact, never detained at Guantanamo at all. For years, the government conflated numbers on those whom it asserted had committed actual recidivist offenses and those merely suspected of doing so, admitting that some of the claims were based on unconfirmed, single-source reporting. Makes the number look bigger, see? For a long time, the government even identified as recidivists those who had merely written articles critical of their own detention or had publicly spoken out against same, a policy now discontinued but one that, like most of the rest of this, speaks to the bad faith of the government's claims. Remarkably, "the government admitted that its primary source of information was reporting by the press, not government intelligence," which makes the refusal to provide names to go with most of the claims even more suspect, as the names of everyone who had been detained at Guantanamo have been public information for years.[4]

To put the matter bluntly, the government's claims in this matter are bullshit. They've been bullshit for over a decade.

So while the fact-checkers have refuted part of Trump's claim, the dubious nature of the information on which those refutations rest--and which the fact-checkers mostly ignore--suggest the scale of his lie may be much larger than even those refutations suggest.

--j.

---

[1] Farley further notes that the Trump regime made a similar claim only a few weeks ago and was corrected by FactCheck then as well:
"On Feb. 22, we wrote, Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, wrongly suggested that a released Guantanamo Bay detainee responsible for a recent suicide bombing in Iraq was released by Obama. He was transferred from Gitmo in 2004 under President Bush. Gorka also wrongly claimed that among detainees released by Obama, 'almost half the time, they returned to the battlefield.' According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, about 12.4 percent of those transferred from Gitmo under Obama are either confirmed or suspected of reengaging.

"As we noted then, most of the former Gitmo detainees who are now suspected or confirmed to have reengaged were transferred or released under President Bush. Bush transferred a higher number of detainees--532 compared to 161 under Obama--and they have been reengaging (or are suspected of reengaging) at a higher rate — 35 percent  compared to 12.4 percent under Obama. That may change over time, but those were the percentages as of last July."
[2] As those reports have been released over the years, they've been almost entirely ignored by the corporate press. Having the fact-checkers now ignore them is, unfortunately, nothing new.

[3] The Center's March 2012 report even makes a chart of these shifting claims over three years:


[4] Even if one takes the government's worst-case assertions at face value, most detainees who were transferred have never become "recidivists." The actual documented cases of subsequent offenses are a much smaller number. The focus on alleged recidivists, rather than the bulk of detainees who aren't known to have ever committed any offense, is political, aimed at justifying the continuing existence of the GTMO detention facility when the known facts actually show it's been used to lock up people for years on end who have never been any threat to anyone.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Politico Targets Democratic "Lurch To The Left"

Much of the corporate press tends to worship at the altar of the political "center," which it always defines as well to the right of the public. Call it the alt-center. In the 2016 presidential cycle, Bernie Sanders found himself on the receiving end of the usual press treatment dished out to liberal or left political candidates who present themselves to the public; news media spent most of a year trying to ignore him to death then when he didn't die, tried to actively destroy his candidacy with relentless attacks. While Democratic politicans have been moving to the right for decades, one manifestations of this alt-center-ism is that mainstream pundits always portray them as too liberal and always counsel them to "move to the right." This has become a rather long-running joke. Liberal media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting has tracked the trend for decades.

The alt-center struck again this morning in a Politico story based on a new Politico/Morning Consult poll:

"Donald Trump begins his presidency facing unprecedented polling headwinds: Roughly a quarter of voters think Donald Trump is the worst president in the last century. Forty-three percent of voters are ready to vote for a nameless Democrat in 2020, while just over a third say they'll vote for Trump."

What possible point could there be, the reader may ask, in polling on a potential 2020 presidential race in February 2017? Well, in his next paragraph, Politico's Jake Sherman tells you:

"But, in the fourth week of Trump's presidency, a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows that Democrats could be in trouble--and Trump could triumph--if they continues their lurch to the left."

Readers not hobbled by alt-centerist assumptions--or who just pay any more than minimal attention to public affairs--will immediately ask, what "lurch to the left"? In the just-concluded presidential election, Democrats didn't go with the left candidate; they ran the far-too-conservative opportunist. The aftermath of Clinton's defeat hasn't, so far, resulted in any radical changes either. Senate Democrats chose Wall Street shill Chuck Schumer as their leader (to replace the retiring Harry Reid), while House Demos went with the same tired old line-up as before, including Nancy Pelosi at the top, a "leader" who, in the immediate aftermath of the election, went on nationwide television and said she didn't think people wanted a new direction for her party.

But while there is no "lurch to the left," there is a growing debate about the direction of the Democratic party--continue pursuing rightist economic policies in order to suck up to Big Money sources for donations or pursue a more liberal course more in line with the views of the overwhelming majority of the public?

That's the debate on which Politico just weighed in, in an article that is, on this point, editorializing in the guise of reportage. A poll on a potential 2020 presidential contest is meaningless but Politico's presentation of its results, while serving one side of that internal Democratic debate, is also fraudulent. Digging into the actual polling results, one finds that Morning Consult also asked respondents if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of Elizabeth Warren; 34% had either never heard of her or had heard her name but as yet lacked sufficient knowledge to have any opinion of her.


In assessing a potential Trump/Warren presidential contest, the fact that over a third of respondents don't even know Warren would seem a rather relevant fact. Politico's Sherman, while attempting to use the result of the head-to-head question to pour cold water on any Democratic "lurch to the left," declines to mention this finding. It seems a much bigger political story that, even with Warren's severe name-recognition deficit, the actual head-to-head question still finds her within 6 points (margin of error 2%) of not only the sitting President of the United States but of a new president, with all the advantages that entails,[1] but that's apparently not an editorial Politico wants to write.


--j.

---

[1] Americans typically extend to new presidents a great deal of good will and this has proven the case with Trump as well--though it never put him above 50%, he started his administration with more people approving of his job performance than disapproving. Once he started doing his job, this changed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Trump & Fascism: The Basics

An extraordinary thing happened during the recently-concluded election cycle: the rise of Donald Trump inspired some in the mainstream corporate press to utter the "f" word. Not "fornicating" but "fascism." This proved a brief flirtation; a few months later, those in the press have long since dropped this talk and have largely tried to go back to some semblance of business-as-usual while being tasked with covering a "president" who is entirely inexplicable in those terms. Applying the word to him was hyperbolic and arguably even irresponsible but not, as some would have it, because there's any great distance between Trump and fascism. Trying to cover  Trump without reference to fascism is, in fact, like trying to ignore an angry gorilla while crammed into a very small closet with it.

That isn't to say Trump is a fascist, just that the matter was handled indelicately and now needs to be handled with greater care, instead of just being ignored. Trump is the darling of the "alt-right," much of which is overtly fascist.[1] This isn't coincidental or in any way unintentional--he all-but-openly courted these elements during the campaign, often in ways that would have been political suicide for any other modern presidential candidate. Trump has a much larger fanbase among a faction of what's considered the "regular" right that would properly be described as protofascist--not the whole hog but well on its way. And that's Trump himself, a protofascist who, at present, lacks some of the important elements of the real thing.


"Fascism" is one of the most repeated but least understood words in political discourse, perhaps second only to "socialism" in words whose meaning has been almost entirely lost to relentless, politically-motivated misuse. As far back as the 1940s, George Orwell famously lamented that in common usage, it has come to mean merely "something not desirable." For decades, it was hurled as a multipurpose term of abuse, first by both conservative and liberal factions, then, for a long time, by liberals and leftists. In more recent years (in the U.S., at least), it has primarily been conservatives and rightists spewing it like a grudge. Reduced to virtual meaninglessness, its emptiness encouraged people with too much time on their hands to fill it with all manner of nonsense. Thus at a point in history when it has become a more important subject than it has been in decades, people aren't just uninformed about it, they're often very boldly misinformed. This isn't just troublesome, it's potentially dangerous.

Any effort to define fascism as a body of ideas must contend with the fact that one of its defining elements is a seething anti-intellectualism and a fundamental anti-rationalism that sometimes masquerades as a faux-rationalism, travestying the real thing but counterfeiting it in the service of the fascist cause. Fascism prioritizes action over reflection. Its basic antagonism toward serious, informed thought means it isn't so much a cohesive ideology as it is an impulse; reactionary, to use another word that has gone out of fashion in common political discourse. Any discussion of fascism must account for this. Few of those that occur in internet forums ever do.

Oxford defines fascism as "an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization." While correct, that's far too general, as dictionary definitions will tend to be, and to the extent that it feeds that vacuum that has developed around the word, it may do more harm than good.[2]

Fascism is militant far-right sentiment on legs. The fascist is ultranationalistic, which is the most important thing to understand about him and the source from which nearly everything else about him flows. He despises modern liberal democracy, which he insists has failed and betrayed the people, and calls for national renewal by sweeping it aside and replacing it with an authoritarian regime. He holds that liberals, labor unions, immigrants, democrats, radicals, racial or ethnic minorities, sexual "deviants," non-conformists, women who don't understand their place is in the kitchen and bearing male children, those measured as less than patriotic, not of the right ethnicity or religion, those pesky "intellectuals" with all their ideas about things, etc. are, by their mere existence, an attack on the established institutions and traditions (or imagined institutions and traditions) of the particular cultural milieu chauvinistically favored by the fascists--enemies who have no place in society. Fascists foster a cult of aggrievement against these "enemies," who are relentlessly demonized and scapegoated as a rationale for stamping them out in the name of that project of national renewal and are willing to employ an incredible amount of violence and even mass murder to crush them. As Benito Mussolini put it, "The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our program? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo. And the sooner the better." All of the fundamental values of the liberal society--freedom, self-determination, democracy, diversity, tolerance, openness, free inquiry--are held in contempt by the fascist, who projects strength, resolve and moral clarity against what he sees as weakness, softness, incompetence, betrayal, decadence, idiocy, relativism, appeasement, impurity, indecision, indecency, bleeding heart-ism and that Great Other--that which is outside that favored milieu. The fascist typically indulges in a perverse Romanticism that revels in the imagined glories of some mythologized past and seeks to recapture them. He embraces martial values, hyper-masculinity and glorifies in war and conquest--means of proving strength, superiority, heroism.

Fascist movements tend to congregate around charismatic demagogues who rise to power preaching this message and presenting themselves, rather than any specific political program, as the living embodiment of it. Because these movements are tied to the cultures from which they emerge, some specific details about the various permutations of fascism will differ but they're a bit like slasher movies; it may not be quite accurate to say of them "if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all," but it ain't far off the mark.

That's fascism, a far-right movement that preaches national renewal by means of the destruction of the liberal society, the suppression of the left and the adoption of an authoritarian state run along ultranationalistic lines. Hopefully, this makes clear how much any brief, positivist description--like, for example, the previous sentence--necessarily leaves on the cutting-room floor and helps knock some of the ambiguity out of the subject.

Nearly everything beyond this is merely ad hoc, and the failure to understand this is where the efforts of so many of the internet's amateur lexicographers fail. It's hard to do history and political science when you don't know either, and the matter of fascism is further complicated by the almost-constant presence of politically motivated revisionism that actively seeks to take advantage of the general ignorance of the subject for partisan advantage. In the name of further demystifying the matter, some of the many hashes made of fascism are worth same attention here.

A popular one is an effort to define it via a structural model and this hash's Exhibit A-Z is the following quote by Mussolini:

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

The first big problem: While Mussolini did put forth the idea of a "corporate" or, more typically, a "corporativist" state, this quote isn't real. It appears nowhere in the recorded utterances of Benito Mussolini. The next: Those selling this notion of fascism invariably treat "corporate power" as a reference to modern business corporations, a reading that is entirely alien to fascist corporativism. A repudiation of socialism, the "corporativist" state was one in which sectors of society were organized into corporate entities that made a pretense of representing these various interests but, of course, these entities were created and run by the state and those whose interests they were allegedly to represent usually had no real say in their direction. In practice, the application of corporativist notions under fascism was just another way the state controlled things.

That misperception regarding "corporate power" is often fed by another stream of commentary offered initially by Marxists who presented fascism as a form of capitalism in crisis, proposing a narrative wherein the established Big Money interests, feeling threatened by socialists and other radical reformers, turn to fascism in order to smite these foes and protect their interests. That basic narrative is largely correct. The support of the, broadly, capitalist class is typically critical in bringing fascist movements to power, after which the money-men enter into a mutually profitable arrangement with the regime that develops.[3] Where the cruder Marxists collapse into hash is in suggesting that the fascist states were merely the puppets of that capitalist class, a preposterious proposition. The money-men embraced the fascists movements and were made even wealthier by them but whenever a dispute arose between they and the government, the regime got the last word. While, in practice, these regimes are invariably pro-capitalist, this is usually just part of fascism's larger alliance with traditional conservative elites, not some doctrinal commitment to capitalism itself.[4]

Another hash--one of the most common, in fact--is made by those who attempt to present fascism as an economic doctrine or to examine it as any sort of cohesive economic system. Fascism isn't an economic doctrine and has no economic doctrine. As Hitler put it, "the basic feature of our economic theory is that we have no theory at all." Fascists aren't intellectuals sitting around reading economic texts--certainly not writing them--or putting any real effort into trying to learn how economies work. "Economic policy" under these regimes is ad hoc--whatever it takes at the moment to meet the goals (or perceived goals) of the day. Policy could radically change on a dime with circumstances then change again shortly after. There's no real consistency, either internally or between the different fascisms.[5]

Many-a-hash is made by those who try to explain fascism as one would any other traditional political movement. If its anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism doesn't trip them up, its relationship with doctrine will. If one wants to get a good general picture of the policies for which most political parties stand, one need only consult that party's current platform. Fascists tend to be very opportunistic though, and deploy propaganda in the worst sense of that word. In their hands, "doctrine" in the programmatic way ordinary political parties conceive it becomes fluid, that which needs to be said from day to day in order to achieve power. Mussolini had originally been a socialist. He'd been expelled from the Socialist party in 1914 for a growing list of heresies, principally, his support of the First World War, and in March 1919, he founded the Fasci di Combattimento--the Fascism from which we get the word--in order to, as he put it, "declare war against socialism." Initially, he tried to craft a sort of fusion of right and left views--the original Fascist manifesto, though anti-socialist, was quite progressive in many respects, even radical in others but this drew little interest and after being utterly squashed in the 1919 elections, the initial movement largely fell apart. Mussolini simply abandoned--or, more often, directly reversed--most of the left elements[6] and Fascism became a movement of reactionary ex-soldiers who mustered into far-right paramilitaries that were rented out to the industrial and agribusiness elite to physically crush the Italian left. In internet discussions of German fascism, some amateur professional will inevitably pull out the 25-point program of the National Socialist German Workers Party from 1920 as representative of that party. In that platform, there is, to be sure, plenty of the Nazism that would later emerge but the radical planks in it, the items that inevitably prove to be the reason it's brandished in these discussions, were entirely ignored once the Nazis seized power. Likewise, the German fascists' use of socialist slogans and imagery and even the word "socialism" itself amounted to little more than an effort to attract votes (at which it largely failed) and attention (at which it succeeded beyond what anyone could have expected). Those within the movement who took the radicalism seriously were successively purged.[7] Fascists freely discard doctrines professed solely to achieve power. Fascism doesn't have a traditional political movement's connection to programmatic doctrine. It's about recognizing the authority of the fascist leaders and doing what they say.

This hopefully provides an outline of where the Trump phenomenon is similar to fascism and wherein it differs. It's easy to understand why even reasonably intelligent and informed people would jump to the "f" word to describe him. The ultranationalism, the anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism, the lack of any real program beyond Trump as the strongman who promises to cure the liberal democracy that ails the nation, the promise of authoritarian rule and of national renewal to be achieved by it ("Make America Great Again"), the machismo, the persistent demonization of his "enemies," including helpless minorities, often to justify repressive policies--it would be far easier to list the few areas in which he differs from fascism than those wherein he echoes it. Nevertheless, some of those points of departure are important. Fascism revels in violence against its perceived enemies and while Trump spent months during the campaign encouraging his supporters to carry out violence against anti-Trump protesters and has always pimped a belligerent foreign policy, this is hardly the same as fielding a paramilitary force who battle opponents in the streets. Trump, likewise, hasn't called for the abolition of liberal democracy. His attacks on its institutions, however, are relentless and, in fact, form the basis of his popularity. While, in this writer's view, these differences rule out "fascist" as an accurate description of Trump,[8] it's also entirely reasonable to see these differences as merely matters of degree, as, if one follows Trump's "logic" on both, one reaches the fascist conclusion.[9] While Trump is no fascist, he's certainly protofascist.

An unfortunate fact of life on the internet is that baseless and stupid fascist comparisons, particularly Nazi comparisons, are, in political discussions, ubiquitous--like air but without any of its beneficial properties. Barack Obama, Mitch McConnell, Bernie Sanders, Mitt Romney--it doesn't matter who is being discussed, their background, how far removed from fascism they may be, if a conversation goes on long enough, someone will eventually chime in with some entirely inappropriate fascist analogy. It's just a sad reality that while everyone these days has a computer with an internet connection, not everyone has the real tools needed to participate in informed, thoughtful discussion of public affairs.[10] Those toting such understocked toolboxes routinely compare any politician they dislike to Adolf Hitler, frequently even depicting those pols as Hitler. Trump has gotten the same treatment. Here are some things that shouldn't have to be said: Hitler was the leader and, in many ways, the personal embodiment of arguably the most evil regime in human history, a regime that launched the most murderous war in that history and that, in fact, industrialized murder on a mass scale. Comparing any run-of-the-mill pol to Hitler is utterly ludicrous. Comparing Donald Trump to Hitler is utterly ludicrous. There are over 60 million graves between these pols and anything that could possibly justify any such comparison. When someone makes one of these comparisons, he marks himself as a thoroughgoing crackpot who is bereft of sound judgment.

Were that the only effect, there would be no need to do anything more than step back and let the fool cut his own throat. Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of these sorts of comparisons can also have a very negative impact, in that they can lead those bombarded with them to avoid or even dismiss more serious and informed conversations on the topics of fascism, protofascism, the current President of the United States and the movements that brought him to power. At the same time, those who, for partisan reasons, don't want such conversations to go forward will attempt to portray every effort at holding one as nothing more than just another iteration of Trump-with-a-Hitler-moustache memes. We have to be able to talk sensibly on such things. 

As president, Trump is in a position to do incalculable damage to the U.S. and the world and when it comes to items in need of attention, he's likely to suck up most of the oxygen for the immediate future but his rise is representative of what is perhaps an even larger problem. The manufactured disconnect between so much of the American right and reality has been a constant concern of this writer's commentary on public affairs for more than a quarter-century, in which time that disconnect has become more and more profound as right-wing and far-right-wing media have arisen to carefully nurture it.[11] Collectively, I've long referred to that media, after its principal function, as the Rage Machine. Only a few weeks ago, I wrote:

"What lurks behind [Trump adviser Kellyanne] Conway's alt-'facts' is the extraordinary social damage wrought--and nascent fascist movement birthed--by the right-wing Rage Machine. For better or worse, the U.S. is a fundamentally liberal nation. There's simply no significant popular support for conservative policies. To maintain power in the face of this, the American conservative elite have aggressively labored, through their massive media apparatus, to reduce 'politics' and the larger social discourse to the level of a simple good-vs.-evil tale, encouraging their followers to side with them not because their policies are more sound or they have any sort of better argument--any serious examination of such things is, in fact, discouraged--but because they've conjured a pleasing narrative in which they've positioned themselves as the virtuous heroes and everyone else as the evil villains. Nearly every major rightist outlet in the United States has spent a few decades making open war on both reason and on reality itself. Because objective facts would equal an agreed-upon yardstick against which claims can be assessed--and because conservative and reactionary claims can't withstand that scrutiny--breaking down confidence in them has been a major project of the Rage Machine, which attempts to indoctrinate its followers in the belief that the truth or falsity of any proposition can be judged entirely by its temporary political utility. 'Facts,' via this conditioning, become things that can be used as propaganda on the rare occasions when they serve the cause and can be otherwise discarded. The Machine tells its followers they're persecuted, feeds them a steady diet of manufactured outrages and utterly dehumanizes and demonizes liberals, minorities and anyone else who may stand against the hero of the tale. Liberals, in this fantasy, aren't those who may have a legitimate disagreement. They're an evil, lying, cheating, stealing, weak, moronic enemy actively seeking to do you harm, that have control of the levers of power by illegitimate means and that need to be defeated, destroyed, eliminated. When all reason, all serious thinking, all confidence in institutions has been burned away, all that's left are a bunch of fearful, rage-filled reactionaries who have been taught that though they're right, they're good and they represent The People, they're persecuted by this foe, whom they've been taught to despise. The American conservative elite hope those reared in this atmosphere will show up on election day and vote Republican, which is exactly what has, for some years, happened, but this smog has now given rise to something they didn't anticipate and can't control: a Trumpenstein monster, an angry, ambulatory representation of every bad impulse the Rage Machine has ever projected, with the fascist's promise of national renewal by means of the authoritarian dismantling of the liberal society. Trump's hardcore supporters were reared in this environment... For this particular group, there are no facts anymore, just a narrative to which they've been conditioned to respond." 

The Machine has relentlessly bred this protofascist cult, whose adherents are fed up with the liberal democracy with all its tolerance and diversity and built-in procedures that always seem to prevent them from getting their way. They wanted a strongman who promised to do what that liberal democracy wouldn't and in 2016, they allied with conservatives, actual fascists, those who wished to express their disapproval of the incumbent administration and its de facto continuation in the person of Hillary Clinton and others to successfully elect that very thing. While Trump has tapped this cult, it's larger than him, was there long before he came along and is likely to continue well beyond him, as its spawning pool is made up of most of the major institutions of the American right, particularly the media institutions, which show no sign of going away.

Despite the occasional effort by internet liberals to tar them with the label, conservatives aren't fascists. While the protofascists are drawn from the conservatives' ranks, fascists and protofascists are, in fact, as much a threat to conservatives as they are to anyone else. They run all over those principals conservatives profess to cherish. Conservatives don't control the public microphone of the right though. The voices that come through it may call themselves "conservative" but they're largely reactionaries, the protos, and while many of them were horrified by the rise of Trump, nearly all of them had helped create the toxic environment that bred him and that, left unreformed, will breed the next one and the next ten. Collectively, they are the Rage Machine. Like any machine, this one can't run without fuel and what's powering it now is its primary audience: conservatives. This puts conservatives in an unique position to make a difference. The only way these institutions will ever dry up and disappear (and hopefully be replaced with better ones) is if their audience willingly walks away--has a road-to-Damascus moment, turns off Fox News, shuts out Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, stops reading RedState and Breitbart and Coulter and Malkin, casts Glenn Beck into the sea. Confirmation bias can be an intoxicant and feeding it has proven a formula for right-wing media success, as the appetite for it on the right seems insatiable.[12] For a time. Conservatives are going to have to sort out whether their future is conservative or reactionary. At the moment, too many of them think they're sitting at a safe distance and delighting in watching a video feed of that gorilla in that closet raging away. They may soon discover they're actually stuffed in that closet with the rest of us.

--j.

---

 [1] The phrase "alt-right" was introduced by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, as an effort to rebrand the same old white supremacist/Nazi/fascist subculture.

 [2] Some of the other standard dictionary definitions are even worse. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition." Vocabulary.com calls it "a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism)." The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as "a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control of social and economic life, and extreme pride in country and race, with no expression of political disagreement allowed." And so on. Definitions so devoid of substance that they would cover nearly any dictatorship.

 [3] That doesn't, of course, prevent some of those capitalists from experiencing buyer's remorse. Even if one is becoming fantastically rich via the arrangement, it sucks to live under a dictatorship.

 [4] Nonetheless, this arguably makes fascism a form of capitalism. There's a history of both rightist "Libertarian" capital-C Capitalist ideologues embracing fascism and of fascism embracing them, perhaps most infamously in the Pinochet regime in Chile. This is a large subject that would quickly turn into an overly long tangent here, so I've set it aside.

 [5] In "The Anatomy of Fascism," Robert Paxton, one of the foremost living experts on fascism, wrote:

"This [economic policy] was the area where both fascist leaders [Hitler and Mussolini] conceded the most to their conservative allies. Indeed, most fascists--above all after they were in power--considered economic policy as only a means to achieving the more important fascist ends of unifying, energizing, and expanding the community. Economic policy tended to be driven by the need to prepare and wage war. Politics trumped economics... [F]ascist economic policy responded to political priorities, and not to economic rationale. Both Mussolini and Hitler tended to think that economics was amenable to a ruler’s will."

In a 2015 interview with Vox, Paxton said "it's hard to link those people [the fascists] to any one kind of economic idea."

In "A History of Fascism 1914-1945," historian Stanley Payne, who specializes in Spanish fascism but has written on the broader subject, writes that "economic policy under [Italian] Fascism did not chart an absolutely clear course." Of Germany, Payne concludes "no completely coherent model of political economy was ever introduced in Nazi Germany."

Daniel Woodley, from "Fascism & Political Theory":

"...as a political innovation, fascism is distinguished by an absence of coherent economic ideology and an absence of serious economic thinking at the summit of the state. Not only are economic factors ALONE an insufficient condition of understanding fascism, but the decisions taken by fascists in power cannot be explained within a logical economic framework."

Stuart Woolf, "The Nature of Fascism":

"No comparative study exists of fascist economic systems. Nor is this surprising. For one can legitimately doubt whether it is appropriate to use so distinctive a term as 'system' when discussing fascist economics... Nor, in the economic field, could fascism lay claim to any serious theoretical basis or to any outstanding economic theoreticians."

He describes fascist economics as "a series of improvisations, or responses to particular and immediate problems" and notes that "the actions of any single fascist regime... [were] so contradictory as to make it difficult to speak of a coherent and consistent economic policy in one country, let alone in a more general system..." And so on.

 [6] When the movement made its sharp rightward turn, Alceste De Ambris, the principal author of the 1919 Fascist manifesto, left it in disgust. When the Fascists rose to power, he opposed them and was eventually forced to flee Italy because of it.

 [7] An element of the fringe right has long gnawed on the farcical notion that fascism is some sort of movement of the left or even a socialist movement and the internet has helped make this . Essentially a form of Holocaust denial, it's the sort of idiocy that could only gain traction in a profoundly historically illiterate population.

 [8] Vox consulted several experts on fascism and they agreed Trump didn't qualify. At least one other has gone on record as saying Trump is a fascist. Some of those experts are, in this writer's view, being overly precious about their subject. Stanley Payne, for example, says fascism literally couldn't exist after the 1940s. Robert Paxton, who says Trump isn't a fascist, nevertheless notes that Trump "shows a rather alarming willingness to use fascist themes and fascist styles." It was a subject of some interesting discussion.

 [9] And Trump does practically nothing to counter this. American conservatives have long used a language of freedom to sell their agenda. That the notion of "freedom" they're peddling is usually a travesty of the real thing (and that language a cynical farce) is, here, secondary to the fact that this is the ideal to which they rhetorically appeal. There's nothing like that in Trump, who works from the usual fascist playbook about the nation in decline and presents America as a besieged and dying failure. Not an uplifting vision of America as the Land of the Free but a dark vision of it as a crazed, reactionary fortress.

[10] The best the rest of us can do is to try to educate them, which is one of the points of this article. 

[11] At least some conservatives seem to be recognizing the problem. Last year, longtime conservative talk-radio host Charlie Sykes offered some observations about the state of the American right. Speaking of conservative media, he said

"We've basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers. There’s nobody. Let’s say that Donald Trump basically makes... whatever claim he wants to make. And everybody knows it's a falsehood... The big question of my audience, it is impossible for me to say that. 'By the way, you know it's false.' And they'll say, 'Why? I saw it on Allen B. West.' Or they'll say, 'I saw it on a Facebook page.' And I'll say, 'The New York Times did a fact check.' And they'll say, 'Oh, that’s The New York Times. That’s bullshit.'... You can be in this alternative media reality and there's no way to break through it. And I swim upstream because if I don't say these things from some of these websites then suddenly I have sold out. Then they'll ask what's wrong with me for not repeating these stories that I know not to be true... We've created this monster... [W]e have spent 20 years demonizing the liberal mainstream media... But, at a certain point you wake up and you realize you have destroyed the credibility of any credible outlet out there. And I am feeling, to a certain extent, that we are reaping the whirlwind at that."

Unfortunately, Sykes then retired from the Wisconsin airwaves in December.

[12] On the other hand, the disaster that is Trump in power will probably do significant harm to the Machine and bring it into disrepute.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Yes, Sanders Would Have Won: Exploding False Clintonite Narratives

Clintonites in the press and the Democratic party, sometimes aided and abetted by Hillary Clinton herself, have spun a number of narratives to explain--or, more to the point, to explain away--the failure of the Clinton campaign in the 2016 presidential race and continue to labor to generate from them, by mere repetition, an artificial Conventional Wisdom about the outcome of the election. These narratives tend toward the self-serving and self-exculpatory--Clinton and her people are never said to have done anything wrong--and for the most part, range from grossly misleading to entirely false. The campaign generated a great deal of data and collectively, they stand as a bulwark against these misrepresentations. If, that is, anyone bothers to consult them.

"It's Bernie Sanders' fault Trump won," runs a popular one. "He fatally weakened Clinton by putting her through such a grueling primary contest."

Baked into this is a rather irritating sense of entitlement on the part of the Clintonites, one that turns up through many of their narratives. In this case, they're rejecting the notion that the party nomination should be conducted via a vigorously contested democratic process and asserting, instead, the view that their candidate was entitled to a coronation, free of serious challenge. During the campaign itself, there had already appeared a variation on this, when members of the party Establishment began posing as Noble Statesmen thoughtfully looking out for the greater good by insisting, from fairly early in the race, that Sanders should drop out, endorse Clinton and try to "unify the party" so that it may better face the Republican nominee in the fall. All of these insiders had, of course, endorsed Clinton and were, in this, merely doing their part for their candidate by trying to create the impression that there was something wrong with Sanders contesting the nomination. Toward the end of the race, this became so intense that it temporarily affected Sanders' favorability ratings. For anyone who accepts the basic premise of a party primary system, the sense of entitlement that underlies these notions is a non-starter. During the 2008 Democratic contest, Hillary Clinton herself had, by the end of February, virtually no statistical chance of winning yet continued to battle Barack Obama right into June, reluctantly dropping out only a few days after the last round of state contests.

Clinton had turned that earlier contest into a bitter, ugly fight--at one point, she'd openly fantasized about her (more popular) opponent being murdered--which added more and more baggage to the substantial pile she'd already accumulated (and would continue to accumulate). Even in 2008, she'd been an anachronism, a tired throwback to 1990s conservative "New Democrats" trying to sell herself to an increasingly liberal electorate that wanted "hope and change." Entering the 2016 race, she was the weathered face of a way of doing business most people thought they'd finally rejected and buried nearly a decade earlier. This is a chart of Clinton's favorability rating averages from 31 Jan., 2013--as far back as Real Clear Politics allows one to make these interactive charts--to 31 Jan., 2016, the day before the Iowa caucus:


HuffPost Pollster uses a lot of the same polls as RCP but includes some that RCP doesn't and its database goes back farther and thus offers both a slightly different and a longer-running look at the matter. But the story is the same:


Clinton's favorability ratings were in long-term decline. That Huffpost cart begins in Sept. 2010 because that's when they began dropping (and it runs through to the present). By mid-March 2015, they'd fallen below 50%, never to return.[1] By mid-April--the same week, in fact, Clinton officially entered the presidential race--it was underwater, with more people telling pollsters they disliked her than liked her. And it stayed underwater. It's still there today.

The unpopularity that proved Clinton's undoing wasn't brought on by Bernie Sanders. Rather, it was just a continuation of a very long-running trend. When, in the Spring of 2015, Clinton's average finally fell below 50% then went underwater, Sanders wasn't yet even a factor. In a March 2015 "people in the news" poll by Gallup, 62% of respondents said they'd never even heard of him. For a long time, he was one of American politics' best-kept secrets in the press (I'll return to that later). In a YouGov poll conducted at the end of April--the period when Sanders entered the presidential race--53% of adult respondents had never heard of him and only 9% of registered voters were then supporting his bid to become the Democratic nominee. And so on.

One of Clinton's major weaknesses was, of course, that voters didn't find her honest and trustworthy. As with her approval ratings, these numbers, too, had been disintegrating over an extended period before Sanders came on the scene. The data recording this are a bit more spotty. Clinton had left the State Department and was a private citizen for over 2 years before announcing her presidential run; pollsters tend not to systematically track such things until election season rolls around. CNN/Opinion Research offers the following through a series of polls:


During the campaign season, the ABC News/Washington Post poll proved to be a pro-Clinton poll, meaning it tended to yield results slightly more favorable to Clinton than her polling average,[2] but it told the same story. In May, 2014, it had asked, "Do you think Hillary Clinton is or is not honest and trustworthy?" At the time, 59% of registered voters said she was. By May, 2015 though, this was the chart included with the poll results on this question:


A Quinnipiac poll from mid-April: "American voters say 54–38 percent that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, a lower score than top Republicans." And so on. When Sanders entered the presidential race on 30 April 2015, Clinton was already in trouble.[3]

The Democratic primary campaign did Clinton's numbers no favors, to be sure, but as pollsters and commentators have noted, campaigns never do. Clinton's poll numbers have only ever been good when she's not seen as a partisan political figure. Whenever she is perceived as one, they sink. This isn't a Bernie Sanders-induced phenomenon either; it's a pattern that has been present throughout the whole of her time in the national spotlight. Nate Silver of 538 was writing about--and charting--it as far back as 2012. Silver revisited this theme in 2013. In Sept. 2015, as Clinton's polling continued to crash, Greg Sargent at the Washington Post's Plum Line covered it as well. Though none of these commentators offer the thought, it's also entirely reasonable to assume that all of those crashes would eventually have a cumulative effect, with each new occurrence reminding people why they'd come to dislike her in the past.

This writer covered most of this ground in real time in various internet venues during the long 2015-'16 campaign season. For anyone who bothered to look, the seeds of Clinton's eventual destruction were right there in the often-brutal data. A few items from my notes:

--A Fox News poll, conducted in May 2015 (only days after Sanders threw his hat in the ring):


--An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from October 2015 asked,

"Now, which of the following best describes how you would feel if Hillary Clinton were elected president--optimistic and confident that she would do a good job, satisfied and hopeful that she would do a good job, uncertain and wondering whether she would do a good job, or pessimistic and worried that she would do a bad job?"

A plurality--a whopping 43%--chose "pessimistic and worried," with another 13% choosing "uncertain and wondering." Only 24% chose "optimistic and confident," with 19% opting for "satisfied and hopeful." That same poll asked respondents to rank, on a scale of 1 to 5, how "honest and straightforward" they saw Clinton: 40% chose 1--the lowest rating--with another 10% choosing 2 (only 13% chose 5, with another 13% choosing 4).

--When a CNN/ORC poll in mid-December 2015 asked if Clinton was "someone you would be proud to have as president," 56% answered in the negative. Asked in that same poll if Clinton "shares your values," 58% answered in the negative.

--In the head-to-head polling, Clinton's initially-commanding double-digit leads over Donald Trump had disappeared by August 2015. Here are the Clinton-vs.-Trump polls in the RealClearPolitics database from December 2015 and January 2016, the months leading into the first contest of the primary season:


When one takes into account the margin of error (listed in the column marked "MoE"), Clinton was in a statistical tie with Trump in five of the 11 polls, is only leading by one point in a sixth, two in a seventh and only beats Trump by a significant margin in the four that remain. Additionally, a Zogby poll, a CNN/ORC poll and two Morning Consult polls from January (here and here), not included in the RCP collection, also showed the two in a tie (a third Morning Consult poll that month gave Clinton a 4-point-over-MoE lead over Trump).[4]

All of this before a single vote in the primary season had been cast.

For this writer, Clinton's weakness as a candidate seemed obvious all along and I'd shared that thought (and the considerable supporting data behind it) throughout the campaign, most often on various Facebook groups. By the end of February 2016, I assembled my accumulated thoughts into an article that handicapped Clinton and her candidacy. The present article is very much a companion piece and sequel to it. Interested readers can check it out--I've tried not spend too much time recovering the same ground. Briefly, Clinton, laden with more baggage than anyone else in American politics, was running as a Democrat in the shadow of a two-term Democratic administration, which is always a hard sell, but instead of trying to differentiate herself from the incumbent or blaze any sort of new course (which voters want), she tried to present herself as Obama's Siamese twin for short-term gain. The ultimate Establishment figure in a screamingly anti-Establishment election, she was an opportunistic flip-flopper whose instincts, in a liberal party, were conservative, who positively oozes insincerity and who ran a demoralizing and utterly defeatist "No, We Can't" primary campaign peddling diminished expectations and aimed at crushing, by whatever means necessary, the energizing "hope" candidate who had sprang up as an alternative. The myth of her inevitability, carefully nurtured by Clinton and her surrogates in the press, appeared to have been depressing interest in the Democratic contest. She ran a horrible campaign, making all the wrong calls, pointlessly antagonizing the Sanders voters she was going to need to win and wasting time and resources trying to recruit "moderate" Republicans and flip red states that obviously weren't going to flip while ignoring states she was going to need to win. Throughout all of this, the Democratic party Establishment seemed to be under some sort of suicidal spell, closing its eyes, plugging its ears and chanting to drown out reality while, come Hell or high water, it pushed ahead with a campaign that seemed not only doomed but obviously doomed (I certainly predicted, early on, that Clinton would probably lose any general-election match-up against Trump). Clintonites, whose machinations have now saddled the U.S. with the Trump regime, are constructing these false narratives with the aim of absolving themselves but the hard, inescapable truth, now born out by the predictable election outcome itself, is that Clinton was always a weak, loser candidate and if the goal was to beat the Republican nominee, it was never responsible to back her in the first place. In a sane world, the Clintonites have now been as utterly discredited as anyone in American politics can be with their pants still on.

And to finally tackle the other of the big, false Clintonite narrative, yes, Bernie Sanders probably would have beaten Donald Trump. Not only that, there's significant evidence he may have rolled right over Trump in a complete rout the likes of which the American presidency hasn't seen in a few decades.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was much beloved in his home sate of Vermont but when he launched his presidential campaign, he was virtually unknown on the national stage. For most of 2015, much of the corporate press tried to keep it that way, carrying out what became known as the "Bernie Blackout." Even basic name-recognition was pretty long in coming. What little coverage Sanders received in 2015 often had a dismissive and/or mocking tone and this mingled with the general lack of coverage to negatively impact the candidate's numbers for some time. When he eventually started to break through this effort to ignore him to death and became a genuine threat to Clinton's candidacy, much of the press switched to the usual Rabid Attack-Dog Mode always reserved for left candidates who become popular, buttressed, in this case, by the slanderous assaults of the Clintonites, both in the press and in the Democratic party. Despite these prolonged efforts to bury he and his candidacy, Sanders persevered and and when people finally began to get to know him, they found they liked him. A lot. Most of the public's good will toward Clinton was already history when Huffpost Pollster started keeping track of Sanders' favorability ratings and while hers steadily sank into oblivion, here's the arc of Sanders' own over the course of the last 21 months:


One of the manifestations of that press Blackout is that, when it came time to sanction head-to-head polls, news organizations frequently matched Republican hopefuls against only Clinton, pretending as if Sanders didn't exist. There is, as a consequence, less data in this area than with Clinton but there's still more than enough to tell the story. The RealClearPolitics database contains 46 head-to-head polls matching Sanders against Trump between 20 July, 2015 and 5 June, 2016. Of that, Trump only managed to beat Sanders above the margin of error 3 times, the most recent of these happening way back in mid-November 2015. In another 4, they were in a statistical tie. The last of the latter happened in mid-February; from there forward, the chart below tells the story: Sanders won every poll, all but three of them by commanding, double-digit leads[5]:


To the 46 polls at RCP, we can add 18 Morning Consult polls:


In all but two of these, Sanders is beating Trump by double digits above the margin of error. Ipsos/Reuters also conducted 7 Sanders-vs.-Trump polls from late January to mid-March; Sanders won all of them.[6]

Clinton lost the election in the Rust Belt. That is the correct characterization. Trump didn't win those critical states, the ones that gave him the election; she lost them. Writing in Slate last month, Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr provide an invaluable analysis:
"Commentators in charge of explaining Donald Trump’s surprise victory seem to have settled on the idea that the white working class in the Rust Belt played a decisive role. In the New York Times, for example, Thomas Edsall notes that Trump won 14 percent more noncollege whites than Mitt Romney, and that those working-class voters Trump carried by 'huge margins' were heavily concentrated in the Rust Belt states of Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (which we will call the Rust Belt 5).
"But this emerging consensus around a Rust Belt revolt is wrong. People like Edsall have missed the real story: Relative to the 2012 election, Democratic support in the Rust Belt collapsed as a huge number of Democrats stayed home or (to a lesser extent) voted for a third party. Trump did not really flip white working-class voters in the Rust Belt. Mostly, Democrats lost them.

***

"Compared with Republicans’ performance in 2012, the GOP in the Rust Belt 5 picked up 335,000 additional voters who earned less than $50,000 (+10.6 percent). But the Republicans’ gain in this area was nothing compared with the Democrats’ loss of 1.17 million (-21.7 percent) voters in the same income category. Likewise, Republicans picked up a measly 26,000 new voters in the $50–$100K bracket (+0.7 percent), but Democrats lost 379,000 voters in the same bracket (-11.7 percent)."
Large portions of these states, which were the industrial heartland of America, have, for decades, been devastated by policies aimed at deindustrializing the U.S. in the name of corporate profits. Ohio is a perpetual swing-state but heading into this election, Pennsylvania and Michigan had been blue states for a quarter-century, Wisconsin had been for even longer and Iowa had backed 6 of the last 7 Democratic presidential campaigns. Clinton, to speak bluntly, is an unprincipled, Wall-Street-backed, tone-deaf "free trader," who, whenever there's an election in front of her, comes out against the latest grant-superpowers-to-the-multinationals proposal--that which is misleadingly sold as "free trade"--then "evolves" back to supporting them as soon as she's in power. Presented with this living embodiment of the policies that had laid waste to their homes, it wouldn't have been at all surprising if a large number of voters in these states, the long-suffering victims of these policies, had cast their lot with Trump, the first general-election candidate who seriously promised to do anything about their situation. Some did, but many others, it seems, wanted, instead, a sane alternative. Someone like Sanders. Something the Democrats, once Clinton was made the nominee, weren't offering anymore. Overall, write Kilibarda and Roithmayr, "Democrats lost 1.35 million voters. Trump picked up less than half, at 590,000. The rest stayed home or voted for someone other than the major party candidates." That's one of the consequences of fielding a candidate as deeply disliked as Clinton, consequences that extend well beyond those key Rust Belt states.[7] Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by razor-thin margins (0.23%, 0.73% and 0.77%, respectively) while underperforming--often grossly underperforming--Obama's 2012 take among white voters (particularly white males), young voters and independents. She underperformed in many other demographics as well--her campaign did just about as badly as any Democratic campaign would ever do in those states[8]--but those are perhaps particularly worthy of note here because all of them were Sanders strongholds. Throughout the primary season, he'd won huge, lopsided majorities in these categories; repeating that performance again would alone have given him those states and thus the presidency. And, of course, Sanders would have done significantly better in far more demographics than just in those three--those are just some of the headline items. Sanders had, in fact, already defeated Clinton in primary contests in two of these three states.

For obvious reasons, Clintonites who maintain that Sanders would have lost to Trump retreat from the hard data, preferring, instead, to rely on nebulous, unquantifiable assertions. Americans, it's said, would never vote for Sanders because he identifies himself as a "socialist." And, indeed, one can point to polling data wherein people say as much. The only thing such polls really measure, though, is respondents' reaction to a contentious word. This is a phenomenon well-known by pollsters. One of the most remarked-upon examples in recent years occurs in polling on the Obama healthcare law. If pollsters ask about "the Affordable Care Act," the name of the law, it draws much better numbers than if, instead, they refer to it as "Obamacare," a word that causes the numbers to go down, even though it refers to exactly the same policy. For many years, there were few more demonized words in American political discourse than "liberal." As a consequence, the number of people who self-identify to pollsters as "liberal" was anemic. Today, it's difficult to find a single issue of major import on which Americans don't hold to a liberal view by overwhelming margins, yet the overwhelming majority of that same public--76% in Gallup's 2016 survey--identifies as either "moderate" or "conservative" (and "conservative" has significantly outnumbered "liberal" for decades). The one word in our political discourse that has been more demonized than "liberal"--both much more intensely and for much longer--is "socialism." What really matters here isn't in-the-abstract public reaction to a word. What Sanders defines as his "democratic socialism" is a slate of policies, one with, for the most part, immense public support. Last year, co-writer/researcher Mitch Clark and I put together a fairly extensive article about the polling data on Bernie Sanders' major issues and found that most of his top agenda items are supported by huge majorities of the public, often even by majorities of Republicans.

Hold that thought.

Another of these fuzzy Clintonite claims--a sort of corollary to the first, really--is that Sanders never faced any real political attacks and that his campaign would have withered in the face of them. For anyone who lived through the 2016 campaign cycle, the first part of that amounts to a "don't believe your lying eyes" claim--ludicrous on its face. Clinton, who, herself, mercilessly pounded Sanders with constant--and mostly scurrilous--attacks, contributed to it, saying, "I don't think [Bernie Sanders has] had a single negative ad ever run against him," a claim Politifact debunked. Adam Johnson at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting tackled the wider claim in even more detail, pointing out that it's an empty, unfalsifiable assertion, outlining only a sample of the savage attacks Sanders had weathered and noting the obvious:
"Is there some undiscovered bombshell waiting to blow up about Sanders? Of course, it’s possible he murdered someone with his bare hands in a Calcutta bazaar in 1991—we can’t know for sure. What one has to believe in order to accept the entirely theoretical assumption that a damning piece of news about Sanders awaits to be revealed is that the Clinton team, armed with $186 million dollar warchest, either A) can’t find something the GOP will or B) found something but is just too darn nice to expose it. Neither of these scenarios seems plausible."
Donald Trump's numbers throughout the presidential race were abysmal. His approval ratings were typically even worse than Clinton's. From the day he entered the presidential race, a majority of Americans disliked him. On election day, his average stood at 39.4% favorable, while Clinton's was at 41.6%--a tie. Just as with Clinton, a majority of respondents consistently told pollsters they didn't consider him "honest and trustworthy." In a Quinnipiac poll, for example, only 37% thought he was. But in that same poll, only 30% would say the same of Hillary Clinton. In fact, of the 7 different candidates then in the race about whom that question was asked, Clinton scored the lowest.[9] The highest-scoring candidate, on the other hand, beat everyone else in a rout. Matching a pattern that continued throughout the campaign, a whopping 68% said they found Bernie Sanders honest and trustworthy. Even 54% of Republicans said so. That poll was conducted on Feb. 10-15, 2016, only days after the primary/caucus contests had started.

Something to keep in mind while you're sitting in front of the evening news tonight watching the protofascist buffoon in the White House trying to dismantle the liberal society with strokes of the pen. It didn't have to be this way. It turned out like this because of those Clintonites who now tell you Sanders couldn't have beaten Trump.

Consider what goes into that claim. Those offering it insist we ignore all the actual accumulated data (all of which suggests there would have been a significant Sanders win) and accept the proposition that, by the end of a Sanders-vs.-Trump contest, most voters would have decided to vote against a candidate they like and whose policies they love because of a word that candidate uses to describe those policies and would, instead, cast their ballots for the most disliked candidate in the history of polling, against whom Sanders would somehow do worse than did the 2nd-most-disliked candidate in the history of polling.

Yeah.[10]

I'm sure this will be argued--and fulminated over--endlessly but history's final word on the subject comes from a privately-commissioned Gravis poll that was conducted in November only two days prior to the general election. It asked likely voters for whom they would vote if the looming presidential contest were between Sanders and Trump. Readers will no doubt be shocked to learn that it, too, showed Sanders destroying Trump. Margin of victory: 12%.

The election is now a few months in the past and many would prefer to stop talking about Hillary Clinton, put aside the divisions of that ugly campaign and focus on the problem the U.S. has inherited as a result of it. It's a legitimate perspective. Whether or not his reactionary fanbase yet recognizes it, Trump is a threat to every American, to American society and to the entire world. Not just an embarrassment or the butt of a joke: a threat. A protofascist Twitter troll running the most powerful nation in the world is dangerous. This business of how he go there, however, is a matter that needs to be hashed out and it's not a distraction from dealing with Trump, it's a critical part of it, because if any of these false Clintonite narratives are allowed to harden into a Conventional Wisdom, nothing will have been learned. The Clintonites who brought about this calamity won't be held accountable for their part in it, won't be pushed aside in disgrace and will only try to do it again. And again. And there's an unreformed system still in place that would allow them to do it. Trump doesn't present an ordinary political situation that can afford to tolerate that.

--j.

---

 [1] Huffpost Pollster uses some different polls and had Clinton's approval average going below 50% even earlier, in July 2014.

 [2] And to cut off the knee-jerk implication, that's not necessarily because of any unfair bias; much more likely just a quirk in the methodology.

 [3] Clinton favorability ratings bottomed out at just a hair about 36% in late May 2016 before stabilizing in the low 40-percentile, where it remained for the rest of the campaign. Her "honest and trustworthy" ratings bottomed out around 27%, though some anomalous polls put it even lower.

 [4] The polls at RCP matching Clinton against other GOP contenders during that same time period were even worse. Of the 9 Clinton-vs.-Ted Cruz polls, one had Cruz winning by 3 points over MoE, one had Clinton winning by 0.5% and the rest were ties. Of the 9 polls matching Clinton against Marco Rubio, Rubio beat Clinton by 6 points in one and was tied with her in the other 8.

 [5] In the last month in which Sanders was included in the head-to-heads, he was still rolling right over Trump, while the Clinton vs. Trump polling was already showing what would eventually happen in the general: Clinton was tied with Trump in 6 of that month's 10 polls and losing to him above the MoE in a seventh:


 [6] The Morning Consult and Ipsos/Reuters material is archived, with details and links, at HuffPost Pollster.

 [7] On top of the class of regular Democratic voters who stayed home because they weren't willing to cast a ballot for Clinton, there are also an additional group who supported Sanders in the primary but wouldn't support Clinton. Sanders was the energizing candidate in the Democratic race and drew large numbers of people to his campaign who wouldn't have ordinarily voted Democratic and, in fact, wouldn't ordinarily have voted at all. Harry Enten of 538 (among others) has written about these "nontraditional" voters. Relatively speaking, they, like the regular Democrats who were anti-Clinton, are probably a rather small group--polling suggested that 85-90+% of Sanders voters at least said they would vote for Clinton--but as Enten notes, in a close election, every little bit helps. Or, with Clinton as the candidate, doesn't.

That most of Sanders voters went for Clinton also presents an obvious problem for some of the Clintonite "blame Bernie" narratives. Sanders drew in people who weren't ordinarily part of the process and at least some of them--maybe even most of them--voted for Clinton. While some Clintonites advance the notion that Sanders caused Clinton to lose votes, the reality is that Clinton's vote-count is padded with a number of these voters. In short, if, as those particular Clintonites had preferred, Sanders hadn't been in the race to recruit those irregulars, Clinton would have received even fewer votes.

 [8] CNN maintains a handy archive of exit poll data from the 2012 race, the 2016 primaries and the 2016 general.

 [9] Pollsters sometimes directly pitted Clinton against Trump on this question. CNN did so in September and found that by a 50-35% split, respondents said Trump was more honest and trustworthy than Clinton.

[10] Trump certainly knew better. He said repeatedly he'd rather face Clinton than Sanders. Reince Priebus, then the head of the Republican party and now Trump's chief-of-staff and right hand, did as well.


Post-Credits Scene - The obvious caveat. Campaigns ain't static--it's are always about how you get there. Probabilities are just that.