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The [Wednesday] Papers

Slight revisions and additions added Thursday.

Two encounters:

1. In June, I went home to Minneapolis for my father's surprise 80th birthday party. On the flight back to Chicago, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate, a white male who looked to be in his 60s. He was a union guy who spent many years as a trucker, working both for others as a Teamster and for himself as an independent. I was quite curious about his work and pretty engaged in his description of it. Inevitably, though, our talk turned to the presidential campaign in progress. He told me he leaned to the right, but considered himself an independent, and was greatly frustrated with the way facts had come to not matter much in public life. Simpatico! I thought.

I explained that I too considered myself an independent, but by that I didn't mean in the middle but outside of the spectrum. People are more complicated in their political beliefs than what the traditional spectrum describes, I said, and I despise the notion that we choose Republican or Democrat like we choose a religion (or are born into it), and then see the world, like religion, through an ideological prism, dispatching facts which do not fit our worldview and seeking out reinforcement for the facts that do. How insecure the most zealously ideological must be to need that constant reinforcement - from memes, Facebook posts, propaganda, cable TV news shows and the like. The world doesn't work according to an ideology. The economy certainly doesn't. The only laws the world abides with perfect consistency are the laws of physics - and even that's not wholly true once you delve into quantum physics.

My seatmate was a soulmate, I thought; he saw things the same way I did. I described the work I've done and continue to do to his interest. And then, upon learning of how much of that work has been in Chicago, he startled me by saying, "Oh, so you know all about Barry."

My heart sank. Referring to Barack Obama as "Barry" is part of the catechism of the crazed right-wing that includes the alleged Bill Ayers' authorship of Dreams From My Father, an allegedly disappeared video of Michelle Obama disparaging "whitey," the supposed dark secrets of Barack Obama's sealed college transcripts and, of course, that vanuted birth in Kenya, among other easily debunked, depressing falsehoods.

My seatmate, it turned out, had spent all those hours in his truck listening to Rush Limbaugh. And he believed every word Rush said.

I tried, patiently and respectfully, to explain. "See, this is where this whole facts thing comes in," I said. To me, both Republicans and Democrats, I said, made huge mistakes in in the 2008 campaign that haunted us to that day. Republicans focused their arguments against Obama on crazy (and racialized) conspiracy theories instead of around the very real issue of Obama's acquiescence (and in fact very real support) of the corrupt political machine here; he was hardly a change agent. For a brief moment, John McCain's campaign latched onto the theme of "real reform for real change" and then foolishly let it go. That theme was resonant when Sarah Palin gave her powerful, funny and persuasive speech to the Republican National Convention. (Really! In response, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos instructed his netroots troops that destroying Palin was the key to beating McCain. I've long been convinced that's what radicalized an unprepared-for-the-national-stage Palin, who up to then was a reform-minded governor whose biggest allies in Alaska were legislative Democrats.)

The GOP instead returned to crazyland even though many of the party's moderates, including McCain, knew full well that the litany of grievances against Obama, including that he was Muslim (not that there's anything wrong with that, except to crazy Republicans) was not true. Instead, they inflamed the rhetoric to nurture the very forces we see now ascendant in the Trump era. That decision by Republicans did great damage to the country, as well as to their own party when their leaders became hostage to invading Tea Party-related elements, preventing cooperation with the president in lieu of surviving primary challenges for not showing sufficient craziness. With that, the crazy didn't fade away, it got stronger.

Democrats didn't do much better; the notion that Obama was a closet socialist helped gain the support of their (relatively) extreme lefty elements while the offensiveness of the Republican rhetoric scared and energized the main of the party - and independents. To be clear, the Obama forces didn't douse the crazy; they used it for their own purposes just like the Republicans, to put a scare into anyone thinking about voting McCain. Look at who he brings with him to the party! Vote Obama.

I told my seatmate my view that both parties got Obama wrong - willfully so. Obama was neither socialist nor change agent. Instead, he was a centrist corporate Democrat who endorsed the Machine candidate over the reformer every single time in Chicago and Illinois. Democratic strategists didn't mind Republicans calling him a far-left liberal at all because that made the far left believe that's what he really was deep down, despite the reality of his moderate rhetoric, nature and record that soothingly captured Establishment support.

Disappointment in Obama, then, was inevitable, and not because disappointment in a president is always inevitable, but because, as Obama has said himself, folks projected whatever they wanted on him for their own purposes and satisfaction, and thus were bound to be disappointed by reality. But it sure helped him get elected. (Some of his early supporters, including the Tribune's Eric Zorn, actually argued that it was good that he ran for president before he actually put together much of a record in the U.S. Senate so there would be fewer policy positions for an opponent to hold against him. Keep him opaque.)

Take the birther movement - and its associated theories - that Donald Trump led for many years. I'm sure it seemed beneath the president to address for a long time, but it also could have been extinguished fairly early by not just releasing a birth certificate but directly challenging elected Republicans to take a stand for reality. But birthers were a great money-raising, outrage-inducing tool for Democrats too.

Of course, Trump only grudgingly and insincerely allowed during the 2016 campaign that the president was born in America. To his supporters, it was a feint; they didn't stop believing, and they sure didn't think Trump had stopped believing. He just wanted to take it off the table because the media was pestering him about it. And indeed, the media stopped pestering him about it instead of demanding to know, for example, if he ever really sent investigators to Hawaii as he claimed he had. (Not that the media failed to vet Trump and his presidential campaign; they just waited an awfully long time to get the ball rolling while cable TV milked him for ratings and the likes of Jimmy Fallon, having grown comfortable having fun with the oft-visiting, press-avoiding Obama, playfully tussled his hair instead of asking him about his ties to white supremacists.)

As many others have noted, reasonable Republicans nurtured their crazed conspiracy wing to suit their own purposes, but then lost control of it. It became an unmanageable beast broken free from its cage. (And unbeknownst to many, Trump began courting these elements, as well as evangelicals and the unsavory elements of the alt-right, a couple of years before beginning his presidential campaign; groundwork was laid unnoticed.)

My seatmate was polite and listened to what I had to say, but I could tell he didn't believe it - even as I described my aversion to Hillary Clinton. He believed what right-wing media told him, and while he didn't say it and probably wouldn't admit it, he believed it because it fit his pre-existing worldview, a worldview created by political strategists and media manipulators for the very purpose of exploiting people like him. The mainstream media's notable failings over the years only added to the dynamic through lost trust, much of it deserved, some of it not. (This dynamic obviously also exists on the left.)

So somehow in this man's mind, Rush Limbaugh knew more about Barack Obama than I did - not that I expected him to change years of thinking after a few minutes sitting next to me. But it was pretty clear a rethink wasn't in store. "Barry," he said with a smile, a sigh, a shake of his head and a chuckle.

2. This morning, at Filter, my favorite coffeehouse, in Wicker Park, I was talking to the owner, Jeff, about the election results. I told him what I had said to his cashier when I first came in:

CASHIER: What would you like? ME: A cup of democracy, please, if you have any left.

CASHIER: That will be $4.50.
ME (handing over $5 bill): Is this kind of money still good?

As we calmly discussed and joked about our concerns - including whether Confederate scrip was now our country's only legal tender - customer (middle-age, white male professional) overheard us and butted in with, "You're believing the rhetoric!" He explained that our fears were foolish, because what Trump had said during the campaign was "just rhetoric."

Now, it's true that, as some posit, Trump may have just been playing a role during the campaign. But his supporters believe his rhetoric even if Trump doesn't - I believe Trump does - and so he has, in the least, enabled and energized bigots. Jeff noted that the "rhetoric" includes actual policy positions, like Trump's infamous proposed ban of Muslim immigrants. "He didn't say he'd ban Muslims," the customer said. What? It was a central part of his "platform," if you can call his incoherent collection of issues that. "It's on his website!" I noted. "No it's not," the customer replied. What? I offered to bet him any amount of money he was willing to risk that it was. I offered to look it up on my laptop that very instant. "I don't need to look it up," he said. "That's just spin." He didn't need to look it up to know what he believed was true. His opinion was fact, and my fact was opinion.

I then remarked that Trump talked about the Muslim ban night after night at his rallies on the campaign trail. "No he didn't." He did! I said; I told him that I read Trump's rally transcripts every night. "If you did that, you really need to find something else to do in life," he said. "It's my job," I replied. "I'm a journalist. And every night the digital editor for CBS News posts transcripts and highlights portions of them with notes and fact-checks, including which lies he's repeating again." That's just spin, the customer said again. "No," I said, "it's things Trump has actually said himself. Is he spinning himself? I'm just talking about Trump's own words here. On video."

I told the customer that he could have any opinion he wanted - I didn't care if he voted for Trump - but facts are facts, and that's what I was defending. "I didn't vote for Trump," he said. "Then what are you defending?" I asked. "I didn't vote for Trump," he said, "but I think Hillary is worse."

Okay. But that doesn't mean Trump didn't say the things we can see for ourselves on video that he said. And that doesn't mean that what's on Trump's campaign website isn't on Trump's campaign website. The facts don't need you to be true.

And then the crux of the matter, at least for this fellow, and I suspect for many others, emerged, and it wasn't even about e-mails or Hillary, though I'm not dismissing either:

"What about Obama?" he said, his voice rising for the first time. "He energized and enabled black supremacists."

I was incredulous.

"What black supremacists?" I asked.

"Black Lives Matter," he said, "and . . . "

I can't remember the rest of his litany about black supremacists enabled by Obama, thus absolving Trump of his enabling of white supremacists, because I nearly lost consciousness from disbelief.

At that point, another customer in the nearly empty cafe intervened and begged us to stop arguing for the sake of his 3-year-old daughter, who seemed not at all interested or bothered by our argument, and in whose presence this man had casually used the word "shit" - which doesn't bother me, but just for context.

We shortly did agree to suspend our disagreement, but when I asked if his daughter was upset, he ignored me. Now, I usually would not question such a thing - I'm not a monster. I would not have such an argument in front of a 3-year-old, and I would immediately stop if I was doing so without realizing it and a parent asked me to. Of course! But me and Jeff both suspected he was using daughter because he, too, was, in the least sympathetic to Trump. His daughter wasn't paying attention and wasn't upset in the least. To the contrary, she was the happiest human in the room at that moment, and I thought it was pretty cheap to use her as a shield.

"You're both right about some things and you're both wrong about some things" he said, "and you're talking past each other." Which things, I wondered, was the other guy right about? And how does pointing to the facts of what one Donald Trump actually states constitute "talking past" someone? Having an opinion about those things is another thing. Then, yes. But in insisting what's on Trump's website is on Trump's website I'm "talking past" someone? No. Facts are facts. I wasn't expressing an opinion on them. The Cubs won the World Series, and insisting so is not "talking past" them. That's not what was happening there, and that's not what was happening in this campaign.

We do not know how to communicate in this country. Or, really, think. And maybe it's not just in this country, but it's a damn big problem.

Again, as many have noted, if you look at right-wing media (and, yes, left-wing media has similar, but not equivalent, problems) like Breitbart (whose CEO Steve Bannon joined the Trump campaign down the stretch) or the Daily Caller, or, say, the Facebook pages of Trump supporters, you enter an alternate reality where Hillary Clinton has murdered a dozen people and Trump's history of business fraud is just spin. You enter a world, some of which leaked into John Kass's Tribune column over the last year, where Clinton spent days sleeping between debate appearances because of life-threatening illnesses, and where Huma Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood agent. You enter a world where Alex Jones, of InfoWars, claims that sources, presumably from the Secret Service, tell him that, up close, Obama and Clinton stink of sulfur, because they are from the underworld. Really. That's where we're at.

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I don't like Hillary Clinton, as I explained here. But she is part of the reality-based community. The president-elect and his acolytes are not. They make shit up as they go, and they believe the propaganda of a vast right-wing conspiracy that has duped enough people to take power. There is no reasoning with them. You cannot reason with these people. You cannot present a set of facts before them as a starting place for a discussion - even one in which we can agree to disagree. You cannot present to them video of Trump himself saying what Trump says and have it accepted as fact. They don't care. (Again, Obama supporters are different in degree and possibly kind, but they, too, have never wanted to hear the facts about him or his record.) I don't know what to do about that. But it is without doubt one of the central challenges, if not the challenge, before us right now. Democracy seems to hang in the balance.

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The Political Odds
Updated to reflect recent developments.

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BeachBook

Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.

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'Please Not The Horror-Clown!' - How The Foreign Press Is Covering Election Day.

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Bernie Sanders Fills In For Factory Worker Unable To Take Time Off To Vote.

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Sassing Our Next Attorney General.

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Presidency Likely Won't Shield Trump From Pending Lawsuits.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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Rewrite: Half Of America Can't Even.

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The Beachwood Tronc Line: Customer needs assistance.



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Posted on November 9, 2016


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