defending the wrong people

I have a Twitter account that I completely neglect. I have friends, though, who sporadically alert me to Interesting Stuff That Happens On Twitter. It didn’t take long for them to inform me that the Republican National Committee tweeted this:

Exclusive: Republicans Launch Willie Horton-Style Attack on Kaine

Kaine, of course, is Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. But there are probably a lot of folks who aren’t familiar with the name Willie Horton. He was featured in a racist campaign advertisement used by George H.W. Bush against Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. Here’s the original ad:

This is unquestionably one of the most notorious political attack ads in US election history It was the brainchild of Bush campaign manager, Lee Atwater, one of the most vile and venomous political ratfuckers of modern political history. That’s not an exaggeration. You want proof? Here’s something Atwater said in a 1981 interview:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.'”

Atwater was a sort of evil genius. He gave a lot of serious, creative thought about ways to encode racism into political speech. He was an early adopter of ‘dog whistle’ campaigning, devising methods for emphasizing race that non-racists might not even hear. For example, Atwater shortened Horton’s given name, William — the name he went by — to Willie. Why? Because he thought Willie sounded more black. Atwater said this about the Horton ad:

“By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

And hey, it worked. Bush won the election. At the end of his life, however, when he knew he was dying, Atwater apologized to Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of the campaign he ran. A lot of people doubt the sincerity of that apology.

Lee Atwater, with Strom Thurmond and Ronald Reagan.

Lee Atwater, with Strom Thurmond and Ronald Reagan.

Atwater died in 1991. This is 2016, and in 2016 the Republican National Committee is seemingly proud to return to the naked cruelty of Atwater and the Willie Horton style of campaigning. The RNC quickly deleted their tweet about running a Willie Horton ad. The ad is still out there, of course. And the message is still the same: associate your opponent with the ‘wrong people’ — but do it in a coded way that doesn’t appear hateful.

Here’s the anti-Kaine advert:

The ad concludes by stating: “Tim Kaine, he has a passion for defending the wrong people. America deserves better.”

I spent seven years as a criminal defense investigator, working to defend the ‘wrong’ people. I helped defend murderers, rapists, arsonists, armed robbers, gun traffickers, and child molesters. I helped defend them knowing that almost all of them were guilty. They weren’t always guilty of the crime they were charged with, but most of them were guilty of something — sometimes guilty of something not as bad, sometimes guilty of something even worse.

Some of you — maybe most of you — are asking the obvious question: how could you defend somebody you knew was guilty of a heinous crime? It’s a valid question. There’s an answer that I believe is valid, though not everybody agrees — and even those folks who agree with the answer in the abstract find it uncomfortable to accept in practice. I often found it uncomfortable too. Here’s the answer:

Sometimes the police make mistakes.

That’s it, basically. Sometimes the police arrest an innocent person. I like to believe that most often the police are truly certain they’ve arrested the right person — but sometimes they’re just flat-out wrong. And in order to protect the folks who are truly, factually innocent of the crime they’re charged with, it’s necessary to force the police and the prosecutor to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt every single time. Every single time. Even if the defendant is clearly, blatantly, obviously guilty, we have to hold the prosecution to a high standard of proof. Because if we don’t — if we fail to protect the legal rights of every person every single time — then it becomes easier for them to convict those who are truly innocent.

Tim Kaine defended accused murderers — defended guilty murderers. Nobody does that because they support murder. They do it because the believe in — and are willing to do ugly work to defend — the legitimacy of the Constitution of the United States. That may not be popular, but it’s patriotic.

When the Republican National Committee attacks Tim Kaine for defending accused criminals, they’re actually undermining the U.S. Constitution. They’re basically suggesting there are citizens who are the ‘wrong people’ and as such, they don’t deserve the same rights as ‘decent’ people.

Of course, they’ve been suggesting that for a long time. They suggest the wrong people shouldn’t be allowed to marry, they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, they shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the military or receive food assistance if they’re poor or be guaranteed safe working conditions or receive financial assistance if they’ve lost their job or become citizens of the United States.

They’ve become very good at suggesting stuff about gays and Muslims and women and poor folks and people of color. Because 2016 and you can’t say ‘nigger nigger nigger’ out loud anymore.

which, of course, he has every right to do

A friend of mine — well, not really a friend. An acquaintance, really. A guy I know only from brief discussions online or through email. Anyway, this guy tells me he’s disappointed and dejected about the election. He was an early Bernie or Buster, and vowed he’d never vote for Hillary Clinton. After she got the nomination, he moped for a while, then decided he’d vote for a third-party candidate — which, of course, he has every right to do.

He attached himself to Jill Stein. She was a progressive, he said, and she’d gain a LOT more supporters if only she was given a chance to be heard. Then, sadly, she was given a chance to be heard. He heard her praise the Brexit vote in England; she called it “a victory for those who believe in the right of self-determination.” Then, after she drew some flak from folks who pointed out the Brexit vote was driven in large measure by Islamophobia and racism, he heard Stein revise her opinion and speak out against it. He became disillusioned not just by her swift change of heart, but by her attempt to disguise the fact that she changed her mind. He became even more disillusioned when she appeared to stake out positions that were both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine, depending on the audience she was addressing at the moment. Then she appeared to suggest that wi-fi might be hazardous to the physical health of children. And finally, she refused to release any of her tax records — which, of course, she has every right to do.


So, my disillusioned friend (acquaintance, whatever) decided to support Gary Johnson instead. Okay, he admitted Johnson wasn’t exactly a progressive, but he was a libertarian who believed in legalizing marijuana. My friend said if Johnson was given a chance to be heard, he’d gain a LOT more support from progressive Democrats. Then Johnson, sadly, was given a chance to be heard. And what did my friend hear? This: “Aleppo? What’s Aleppo?” That was bad, but probably forgivable. But failing to be able to name a single foreign leader he admired? Well, that’s pretty much inexcusable. I mean, Johnson has the absolute right to be ignorant of foreign leaders, but it’s not exactly a quality that inspires confidence, is it.


So here’s my friend — he sure as hell won’t vote for Trump and he’s pretty much lost faith in both third-party candidates, but he’s sworn he’ll never vote for Hillary. What to do? Now he’s talking about just staying home; not voting at all — which, of course, he has every right to do.

He has an absolute right to stay home, sit on his ass, and let other folks shoulder the responsibility for choosing who’s going to run These United States. He has an absolute right to see this election only in terms of himself. If he can’t vote for the perfect candidate, he has the absolute right to sit in a dark room and pout.

And why should he vote? I mean, he’s not gay — so really, what does it matter to him if a Trump administration fights to limit the civil rights of gay folks. And he’s white and middle class, so it won’t disrupt his lifestyle if a Trump administration makes life more difficult for poor black folks. He’s already got a Master’s degree, so if a Trump administration makes it harder for regular folks to go to college, it won’t affect him. And he CAN vote IF he wants to, so who cares if a Trump administration makes it harder for minority communities to vote? And hey, he lives in a red state, which means Trump is almost certain to win his state anyway — so his vote doesn’t really matter, right?

No. Wrong. Very wrong. It matters. Of course it matters. The popular vote may not determine who wins the presidency, but the popular vote matters in terms of authenticity and legitimacy. Even if Trump DOES win that state, the size of the victory matters. It matters whether the victory is by a large majority or by a slim margin.


It also matters in terms of respect. I don’t really care if my friend hates Hillary Clinton. I DO care if he fails to reject Donald Trump. If his reaction to a Trump victory in his town, in his county, in his state is a noncommittal shrug — then I lose respect for him. If he has a chance to voice his disapproval of Donald Trump and fails to do so — then I lose respect for him. Let me be clear: I think Trump is a popcorn fart; I don’t think he has any real chance of winning. But it’s not enough for him to lose; it’s important that he be soundly rejected by the American people.

If my friend/acquaintance/whatever goes to the polls and votes for Stein or Johnson — or even just writes in the name of Bernie Sanders — I’ll think he’s wasting his vote, but it won’t cause me to lose respect for him. But if he stays home and refuses to cast any vote at all, that makes him a narcissistic, self-centered prick.

Of course, he absolutely has the right to be a narcissistic, self-centered prick.

what trump forgot last night

The best thing about last night’s debate? It perfectly encapsulated both candidates. It was a distillation of the qualities and defects of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Clinton did what she’s done her entire life. She prepared. She studied, she armed herself with facts and figures, she practiced, she devised various strategies for different possible scenarios. When she walked out on stage she was confident, in control, ready to debate. She knew what to expect and was ready to deal with it.

And Trump did what he’d done his entire life. He winged it. He didn’t bother to study, he didn’t prepare, he didn’t practice. He figured he knew what he needed to know and assumed his ability to out-talk, out-negotiate, and out-bamboozle his opponent would be enough for him to succeed. When he walked out on stage he was cocky, but sadly unprepared. He had no idea what he was in for, and didn’t know how to handle it.


Why was he so unprepared? The qualities that have allowed Trump to be successful at business simply aren’t the qualities needed to win a debate with a serious candidate (or to run a democratic nation). When Clinton accused him of ‘cheering’ the housing crisis, Trump truthfully and accurately replied “That’s called business.” When she accused him of paying zero federal income tax, he said “That makes me smart.” When she referred to the Justice Department’s lawsuits against Trump for racial discrimination, he said, “[Y]es, when I was very young, I went into my father’s company, had a real estate company in Brooklyn and Queens, and we, along with many, many other companies throughout the country — it was a federal lawsuit — were sued. We settled the suit with zero — with no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do.” When she brought up his multiple bankruptcies, Trump said, “I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company. My obligation right now is to do well for myself, my family, my employees, for my companies. And that’s what I do.”

And there it is; that’s what he does. More accurately, that’s what his lawyers do. Profiting off home foreclosures — that’s business. Not paying taxes — that’s smart. Settling a discrimination case without an admission of guilt — easy. Avoiding liability by declaring bankruptcy — just taking advantage of the law. That’s why you hire lawyers, right?

That’s what got left out of all those exchanges last night — Trump’s lawyers. When he talks about his successful business negotiations, what he really means is he has enough money to hire good lawyers. He doesn’t have to go to the negotiation table prepared; his lawyers do all the preparation. He doesn’t have to know the details of the issue; he’s hired people to do that for him. He can sit in a room with business opponents and, in effect, say “This is what I want; this is how it’s going to be.” But then he leaves the room and lets the lawyers pound out the details. Trump’s lawyers have made him a lot of money. Trump seems to think having a lot of money and a lot of lawyers is the same as being smart and powerful.

Last night we saw one candidate who was willing do the dull, un-glamorous grunt work necessary to succeed. We saw the other candidate who was largely lost at sea without a cadre of legal fluffers doing the hard work for him. Last night Trump failed to bring his checkbook and his team of lawyers (and maybe Sean Hannity) to the debate stage.

the black death, cheap pans, and trump

So last week Donald Trump promised to make a ‘big announcement’ about President Barack Obama’s…no, wait. First, we should probably talk about the social and economic upheaval that followed the Black Plague in the 14th century, because…no, wait. It might make more sense to explain the Dutch language spoken from about 1100-1500 CE is known as Middle Dutch. That’s only important because…no, wait.

Okay, let’s try that again. The Black Plague killed off a hefty chunk of the population of Europe, right? Right. One result of that was the loss of village merchants. Before the plague if you needed a pan, you’d walk into the village and buy a pan. No big deal, easy peasy lemon squeezy. But then the plague comes and your local pan dealer goes toes up, and suddenly there’s no place to buy a pan. And you need a pan, right? What are you going to do — cook your porridge in a boot?

Business opportunity! There was a surge of wandering pedlars who traveled from village to village in the Low Countries selling and repairing cheap wares: pots and pans, knives and scissors, cheap jugs and pitchers. These wares were known as hoken and the men who sold and repaired them were called hokesters. They not only sold and repaired pans, the best hokesters regaled their customers with news and gossip from other villages.

You need a pan? I got a pan. Such a pan, shiny, best ever, people tell me.

You need a pan? I got a pan. Such a pan, shiny, best ever, people tell me. People love my pans, I can tell you that. 

But there were also shady hokesters. They were basically con men who charmed their customers, played on their vanity, fed into their prejudices, encouraged their desire to win a bargain through haggling, said whatever they needed to say in order to sell them some cheap-ass, shoddy hoken that soon needed to be repaired or replaced. These asshole hokesters effectively created a revolving market. They’d sell you a shiny cheap-ass pan that dented easily or broke because it was good for business. They could either charge you to repair it or sell you another cheap-ass pan, which would also break soon.

Over time, the population of Europe recovered from the Black Plague. Honest pedlars set up shops in town, and you could buy a damned pan without much fuss again. Only the shifty hokesters continued to travel the pan circuit. The Middle Dutch word hokester morphed into the modern term huckster.

Which brings us to Donald J. Trump.

The news media is constantly baffled by Trump’s willingness to say completely different things to different audiences, without any regard to consistency. They continue to view him as a person running for political office — but he’s not. He’s just a huckster selling his product. Everything he says and does is said and done to move a product — and Trump’s product is his name. Not Trump as a person; Trump as a product. Here’s what’s important to remember: a huckster says whatever he thinks will entice the customers in front of him right now to buy his product. He’s not interested in what he said to a different set of customers yesterday. It doesn’t matter. He’s already sold them a shiny cheap-ass pan, and he’s moved on. A huckster shifts his pitch to entice the customer at hand.

What, your pan broke? It happens, pans break. Pans break. They break, trust me. If you want, I can sell you a better pan.

What, your pan broke? It happens, pans break. Pans break. They break, trust me. If you want, I can sell you a better pan.

Trump isn’t driven by ideology, or principle, or religion, or concern for the public, or any of the other motivations that drive politicians. He’s driven by the desire to move the product.

Is Trump a racist? Maybe, I don’t know. He may not give a shit about race. But he’ll play along with racists if he can sell them a shiny pan. Is he anti-Muslim? Maybe. Maybe he’s go no interest in religion at all. But if it helps him unload some cheap-ass scissors, he’ll say anti-Muslim shit all day long. Is he a patriot? Don’t know, but there’s product to be moved and if waving a flag will help move it, then he’ll be Betsy fucking Ross for a couple of hours.

Trump is a huckster, plain and simple. A huckster on a very big stage, but still a huckster. He’s selling shiny, cheap-ass pots and pans to chumps. There’s always somebody who’ll buy that shit.


trump-level derangement & gazoony rays

I haven’t written much lately about Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President of These United States, for the following reasons:

  1. The tsunami of offensive, idiotic shit Trump says is just overwhelming; no human can keep up with it — not writers, not readers. It would take a damned cyborg to process the daily load of Trump bullshit.
  2. The phrase Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President of These United States is troubling in itself. I recognize all those words individually, but they make no sense when arranged in that order.
  3. C’mon, seriously, what is there to say about this guy?

But there are some Trump moments that are so entirely deranged that they bear repeating, if only as evidence that there’s a reason the term ‘deranged’ exists. Yesterday in Florida (of course, it had to be Florida), we saw two (2) such moments take place within minutes of each other. According to the New York Times, Trump said this:

“[W]hen Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”

Got that? If Iranian sailors in small craft approach a U.S. warship and make rude gestures, we should obliterate them. That’s deranged, of course, but it’s ‘normal’ derangement. I mean, it falls into the conventional range of crazy. What makes it deranged on a Trump scale is that moments later he said this about Hillary Clinton:

“She’s trigger happy.”

He wants to blow Iranian sailors out of the water for making rude gestures, but she’s trigger happy. This is the key to understanding Trump-level derangement. It creates a neural state in which a sentence spoken aloud exists independently, entirely devoid of any context or connection to the sentences that precede or follow it. Make a rude gesture and die. She is trigger-happy. To a ‘normal’ human, that would seem inconsistent. Not to Trump, though, because they’re two totally separate and completely unrelated sentences.

But that’s just ONE of the deranged Trump moments that took place in public yesterday in Florida. The other? Trump said Clinton:

“…is being so protected. She could walk into this arena right now and shoot somebody with 20,000 people watching, right smack in the middle of the heart, and she wouldn’t be prosecuted. Okay? That’s what’s happening.”

In case you were wondering what was happening, that’s it right there. Hillary Clinton can shoot somebody and not get prosecuted. That’s altogether different from what Trump said about himself back in January. He said:

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?”

Again, to a ‘normal’ person, it would seem hypocritical to complain that one’s opponent could get away with shooting somebody after having bragged about personally being able to get away…wait. Wait just one fucking minute. What sort of person uses the capacity to get away with shooting another person as a metric for…well, for anything? I mean, Jeebus Caliber, what the fuck?

Trump emitting high-power Gazoony Rays

Trump emitting high-power Gazoony Rays

See, this is why I don’t write much about Trump. His level of derangement distorts all normal measures of derangement. Instead of being appalled by his bluster about being able to shoot somebody and not lose voters — which is REALLY APPALLING — you find yourself instead examining his hypocrisy about other folks being able to shoot…fuck me, I’m doing it again.

There’s only one possible explanation for this — only one explanation that makes any sense at all. Donald Trump must be emitting extremely powerful Mind-Distorting Gazoony Rays. There’s no other explanation.

battle of fuckwits

Jeebus Caramba! Donald Trump is going to Mexico! That’s bizarre enough on its own, but wait…he’s going there to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. And if you’re wondering if this is the same President Enrique Peña Nieto who publicly compared Trump to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, the answer is yes.

Almost nobody in Mexico likes Trump. Almost nobody in Mexico likes President Enrique Peña Nieto. This is like mixing snot with pus. Nothing worthwhile can come of this. This meeting makes no sense in any rational universe. Maybe Enrique Peña Nieto thinks he can humiliate Trump, thereby finally making him popular among Mexicans…despite the fact that his invitation to Trump has made him even less popular. Or maybe Trump thinks he can humiliate Enrique Peña Nieto, thereby making him popular…among the people who already like him?

Donald J. Trump meets with Mexican President President Enrique Peña Nieto

Donald J. Trump meets with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto

Seriously, on the surface this move looks completely fucking insane for both parties. I have no idea why they’ve agreed to meet, President Enrique Peña Nieto must have been drunk when he issued the invitation. And Donald Trump — well, who the hell knows why he does anything. They’ll very likely both come off as…wait.

Wait just a minute. Is there…could it be possible…what if…?

What if they’ve both made themselves immune to iocaine powder?

a special kind of asshole

Yesterday a casual acquaintance sent me an email today with a link to a Baltimore Sun editorial by Richard J. Cross III. I wasn’t familiar with the name, but he’s the guy that wrote the ‘Benghazi Mom’ speech for Patricia Smith — the woman whose son died during the attack on the consular outpost. Cross, in the editorial, says this:

In that speech, I concluded with the following line: “If Hillary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?” As a political speechwriter, that was something of a home run moment for me. The New Yorker called the speech “the weaponization of grief.”

He considers the weaponization of grief to be a home run moment. That should tell you just about everything you want to know about this guy. He wrote a speech for a grieving mother — an emotionally powerful speech he knew would be given in front of a large audience at the Republican National Convention — the convention at which Donald Trump would accept the nomination.

In the speech Cross describes Trump in this way:

Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not. He is blunt, direct, and strong. He speaks his mind, and his heart.

In the speech, Cross directly blames Hillary Clinton for the death of this poor woman’s son. He writes:

For all of this loss, for all of this grief, for all of the cynicism the tragedy in Benghazi has wrought upon America, I blame Hillary Clinton. I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son.

Now Cross says he can’t bring himself to vote for Trump. Why? Because Trump “embraces fear.” Because Trump has said ugly things about Muslims. Like this is some sort of revelation. In his editorial Cross says:

The central question in 2016: Are Muslim Americans an equal and welcome member of the American constituency? For me, the answer is a clear “yes.”

So he’s decided he has to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Richard Cross III

Richard Cross III

Well, fuck him. Fuck Richard Cross the Third. Fuck him three times. Fuck him in the neck. This guy deserves no praise. When you wave the bloody shirt, you don’t get to pretend you were just doing your job. You don’t get to repudiate Donald Trump while celebrating a speech that praised him. You don’t get to refer to the reality that Trump isn’t qualified to be the President of These United States as “an inconvenient fact.”

If Hillary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?

You have to be a special sort of asshole to get a mother grieving for her dead son to stand on a stage and ask that question and then answer it by saying you’re going to vote for Hillary Clinton. Richard Cross III is that special kind of asshole.

maybe the worst thing

On Friday I overheard a passing fragment of conversation — a question, and the question repeated — and it’s sort of lodged irritatingly in my mind. You know — like a popcorn husk caught between the teeth; you keep worrying at it pointlessly with tongue. Here’s a fair approximation of the conversation fragment:

“Okay, what’s the worst thing about Trump?”

“The worst thing about Trump?”

There was a very distinct Are you fucking kidding me? vibe to the repetition of the question — as if the answer was so obvious it didn’t need a response, or that there were so many answers that it was impossible to respond. But it got me thinking. What IS the worst thing about Donald Trump?

The ease with which he tells lies? The fact that he’s completely unconcerned about getting caught telling lies? His possibly pathological need for attention? His brittle arrogance? His constant self-congratulation? His willful ignorance? His ignorance of his ignorance? Trump really DOES have so many offensive personal qualities that it’s difficult to pick which one is worst. Hell, there are so many offensive personal qualities that it’s difficult even to catalog them. You’d need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them.

But at the moment, I’m inclined to think the worst thing about Trump is that he’s so unrelentingly awful — both as a candidate and as a person — that he might immunize the Republican Party from their worst defeat in recent history. Let’s face it, the Republicans have been increasingly horrible as a political party for two or three decades. This year they put up seventeen of the most ghastly, reprehensible weasels imaginable to run for President of These United States. Seventeen candidates, each completely horrible in his or her own way — and they ended up nominating that worst of them.

Donald Trump is such a hopelessly dreadful candidate that when he loses in November he’ll likely drag down a big chunk of the Republican Party with him. If any of the other potential GOP candidates had been nominated, they almost certainly would lose in November as well — but their loss might have triggered a moment of genuine reflection among Republicans. They might have found themselves asking the questions the GOP really needs to be asking: ‘How did we allow our party to become the party of obstructionist fuckwits? How did we turn from a party of principled conservatives into a party of hateful, bigoted pus-buckets? How did we become the party of fear and anxiety? Why did we convince ourselves that it was more important to prevent the president from succeeding than to find ways to make the government work?’

"'Twasn't us who threatened the Maid of America, 'twas that asshole Trump!"

“‘Twasn’t us who threatened the Maid of America,” cried Republicans, “’twas that asshole Trump!”

For a while I honestly believed a crushing Trump defeat might be the spark Republicans need to reignite themselves as ‘the loyal opposition’. I thought his loss might create an atmosphere that would encourage Republican legislators to remember that their primary responsibility is to help sustain a functioning government while fighting for policies driven by their political ideology. But, again, it looks like a Trump defeat might allow them to avoid asking those uncomfortable questions.

That might actually be the worst thing about Donald Trump. Not any of his odious personal qualities, but the fact that he might give the GOP a Get Out of Jail Free card for four more years.

When Trump loses in November, they can tell themselves “It wasn’t the Republican Party that lost; it was that asshole Trump.”