Who Persuades and Who Should be Persuaded? Gorgias and Socrates
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in different ways undermined the importance of sophists because the latter concentrated more on argumentative technique and less slavish subservience to what they considered an elusive goal, tying those techniques to virtue. In the contemporary world, ironically, in the teaching of humanities, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are far more revered as stars in the stellar universe of the Athenian intellectual world than Protagoras or Gorgias, Thrasymachus or Cratylus, even though the premises of the sophists dominate in the contemporary world. Excellence is now attached primarily to the methods used to advance knowledge rather than to a general ideal of how to develop virtuous souls.
The sophists fell into disrepute for many reasons, but perhaps the most important one was the war waged by their philosopher allies to undermine them. Further, a number of sophists had, in turn, used their techniques to teach how a public could be manipulated and not just influenced. They were ancient precursors to our current set of psychometric gurus who employ mass data and feedback loops. Teachers like Socrates used this reality to paint all sophists with the brush of corruption, with catering to populism rather than the pursuit of truth, as if those two were the only dichotomous options.
The reverse was more descriptive of reality. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, all apologists for an aristocratic political system from different perspectives, used rhetoric to turn the term “sophist” into an epithet of abuse, to heap contempt upon these teachers. They accused the sophists of being servants to false facts in service and subservience to undercutting ideals and traditional values. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, in their turn, became apologists for what we would now call the resurgent right.
Look at the case of Protagoras, perhaps the greatest of the sophists who taught relativism in opposition to a search for absolute Truth, Beauty and Justice. Reality was a matter of interpretation. Each person experiences the world in a different way and understands that world differently because of the frame brought to understanding the world. What we know are constructs. “Man is the measure of all things,” was the distillation of his most famous aphorism. More fully, he claimed that, “Of all things, the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not.” The rules of determining what is true and what is not true are constructed and made by humans. So, one might conclude, there is no Truth.
In fact, sophists were generally agnostic on that question. The more important issue was not whether the standards for establishing Truth were absolute, but that both the Constructivists and the Realists by and large generally adhered to a common body of rules. The methods for establishing truths as distinct from falsehoods were shared. In the end of days, whether knowledge was a matter relative to experience, judgment and interpretation, or about absolute values, did not have to be determined.
In Plato’s dialogue, Gorgias, like the dialogue Protagoras, there is a conversation between Socrates and his sophist rivals. The topic of Gorgias is rhetoric itself. It is about the art of persuasion. Gorgias himself happened to be a foreigner who had immigrated to Athens, attracted by its intellectual and artistic reputation as well as its political solidity. The nub of the debate was Socrates’ contention that rhetoric had to be subservient to philosophy; without the guidance of philosophy, rhetoric disaggregated into techniques of flattery and manipulation. Proper persuasion can only exist within a moral frame, Socrates argued. Otherwise rhetoric only serves the making of money and the acquisition of power and not a higher purpose.
Sounds familiar? In Plato’s telling, Socrates traps Gorgias and the sophists by insisting they first provide a definition of rhetoric. If Plato had not been telling the tale, they would have replied, “Look at our practices.” You cannot define hockey or baseball or basketball with a simple definition. Each sport is a set of practices and rules. The same is true of rhetoric. But Plato’s Socrates in the dialogue Gorgias reveals his true colours. He no longer professes his ignorance as a technique for sucking his opponents into self-contradictions and incoherence. Socrates reveals himself as an evangelist for Truth. In his discussions with three sophists, first Gorgias, then Polus and finally Callicles, Socrates ends up preaching and exhorting rather than arguing and persuading.
However, that is not how he starts out. Speaking of Gorgias, Socrates states, “I want to learn from him what is the scope of his art and just what he professes and teaches.” (447c) So the conversation begins with Socrates asking Gorgias to introduce himself, to say who he is and what he does. And when reading the answer, we immediately sense a set-up. For Gorgias comes across as an arrogant know-it-all, as someone who can answer any question posed, and do so concisely; further, Gorgias insists, that he has not been asked a new question in years.
Socrates begins with an argument very familiar from other dialogues – the analogue of expertise. A doctor is called a doctor because he has an expertise in medicine, in treating and healing patients. A shoemaker is designated as such because he has an expertise in making and repairing shoes. Polus agrees and says, “There are many arts…experimentally devised by experience, for experience guides our life along the path of art, inexperience along the path of chance.” (448c) We know then and there that we are into a rip-roaring discussion, for Socrates was the last to allow experience to serve as the arbiter of Truth, Beauty and Justice.
Socrates then makes a vital distinction, one between dialogue and rhetoric with the clear implication that he, Socrates, is wedded to dialogue in contrast to the Sophist reverence for rhetoric. At the same time, Socrates uses the distinction to put down Polus before Gorgias, his teacher, and to use irony and sarcasm to put down Gorgias. Socrates is clearly not fazed by dissing his opponents.
The path to logical ruin for the sophists begins with the admission that many arts have to do with words, not just rhetoric, but medicine does not have to do with just words, the skill previously ascribed by Gorgias as characteristic of rhetoric. Therefore, the mastery of the use of words is not specific to rhetoric. Thus, Socrates concludes, “rhetoric is not concerned with every kind of words.” (449e) The difference, Gorgias claims, is that rhetoric deals exclusively with words. But then he commits hara-kiri when he asserts, compatible with the character Plato gives him, that the subject matter of rhetoric is “the greatest and noblest of human affairs. (451d) Once Socrates has moved Gorgias from the safe ground of technique to a claim to serve the highest values, Gorgias is finished and Socrates metaphorically murders him with his own words deliberately, systematically and without mercy.
There is a major lesson here. In discussing how to deal with the phenomenon of Trumpism, stick to technique and do not get into debates about the highest and most important values. Stick to falsifying and establishing facts. Stick to the formal and informal rules of argument. Do not get into a debate over values. And the reason is rather simple. If you debate values, one party in Camp B holds the ones they esteem with far more dedication and commitment than you do. For you consider values to be debateable; they do not. They are mostly unbudgeable on those values, especially in dealing with those who have such a weak dedication to ultimate values. Stick to arguments about civility and process, values which many of them share.
In sum, if the persuaders spend their time undercutting one another, the true opposition will move in to occupy the territory left in the vacuum.
In the case of the other party in Camp B, our contemporary cynics, note the following. They can be subdivided into four groups – Tom Friedman in the NYT 22 February 2017 suggested five, but two were the same group looked at from different angles – Trump as entertainer and monopolist of the news day and the essential Trump who holds loyalty to himself as an absolute, exclusive and highest value. These are but two sides of his malignant narcissism.
The second group led by Stephen Bannon, the Rasputin of the White house, along with Stephen Miller and others, represents what Friedman calls Trump crazy. We are not certain to what degree they are part of the backdrop to make Trump look like a relative moderate, or whether they have Trump under their spell with their combination of cynicism and apocalyptic vision or the degree to which Trump is an integral member of that group – a position I tend to take. I believe it is important to make the distinction, but it is one irrelevant to the discussion of persuasion. For Trump and his acolytes and Bannon and his fellow crazies, all are unreachable.
There is another group, not really separable from the Trump narcissistic ideological camp, the incompetents – Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Price, an ex-orthopedic surgeon, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Ben Carson, another retired surgeon, Secretary of Housing. They are different members of the crazies in the Trump camp, milder, not so mad, and not as bent on general mayhem and destruction, but more focused in the service they are willing and eager to perform. A few of them possibly could be reached, but it is questionable whether it is worth the effort.
It is the other two groups that are of greatest interest. Friedman conflates two different mismatched groups. There is the clean-up crew, who appear on television, bask in the shared limelight and manage to share extensively in Trump’s lying and deception, who are Trump’s acolytes. They ae but appendages to Trump’s malignant narcissism. They should not be conflated with the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, and Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the UN. The latter two are NOT clean-up crew. They are independent voices who serve as correctors – a very different function – to Trump’s statements, often overtly contradicting his policy preferences. The Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, and The National Security Adviser, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, belong in the camp of correctors and offsetters to the madness and chaos of the Trump enterprise. They will all listen to reason and conduct policy with the same attention to facts and logic as the members of Camp A. They have strong convictions, but are open to communication. This suggests that foreign affairs and defense may be the least to suffer least, at least on the ground, from Trump’s rambling, inchoate and dangerous musings.
The other group that is more difficult to make cognitive contact with are members of the traditional Republican Party, including the Tea Party members, who supinely bowed to Trump both before and after his unwanted takeover. Reince Priebus represents this group in the White House and it is questionable how long he can last among the chaos of the competing groups since his greatest quality, his willingness to be a supplicant, is the last one needed to bring discipline and order to the White House. But that is a matter strictly to the benefit of the opposition. For the real centre of power for the party members in the takeover are in Congress. Their pact with the devil to get their favourite priorities through Congress – tax cuts, dismantling Obamacare, appointing right-wingers to the Supreme Court, deregulation – will mean that most of them, except for the bravest such as John McCain, will stay loyal to Trump as long as he advances their domestic agenda.
The bottom line – foreign affairs and defense seem to be in safer hands than the domestic agenda. But the two are conflated when it comes to immigration and refugee policy. Does John F. Kelly belong to the cluster of incompetents in the Trump camp eager and willing to serve as his surrogate in his main enterprise of bashing aliens? Or, given his military record as a Marine Corps General and former commander of the U.S. Southern Command, there is every indication that he is both a loyal and obedient soldier to his Commander-in-Chief and an independent individual, like Mattis and Tillerson. He also has considerable political experience having served as the Commandant’s Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives starting in 1995. However, he has little respect for the “chattering classes” and those who push a softer approach to ISIS. But he does know and understand Islam.
The real danger is that these independent thinkers and doers will be alienated by the opposition if they are regarded simply as Trump supplicants. They are not and will not be. Further, they have their independent and various definitions of what is greatest and noblest in human affairs – from courage and service to country to the ex-Goldman Sachs boys in the Trump entourage who I have not discussed who “judge wealth to be the greatest blessing for man.”
Recognizing all of this, how and who can be persuaded to deviate from the mad Trump enterprise if rhetoric is indeed in its sum and substance, the art of persuasion? (452e and 453a) As mentioned above, the constituencies discussed and analyzed above are divided in accordance with whether, and to what degree, they can be appealed to through persuasion. But I must return to the prior issue – the persuaders, for they too are a motley crew and some of them are as likely to undercut the enterprise of persuasion as advance it. I mention here only those who disrupted the meetings of members of congress when they returned to their home constituencies and proved they were more devotees of chaos in their commitment to resistance than to victory for reason and civility.
On the other hand, I listened to the debate among the candidates vying to be chair of the Democratic National Committee. The debate made clear that the issue of how to confront Trump and his supporters and how to develop a unified strategy in Camp A will require much more work. I was very encouraged by the civility, the reasonableness, the understanding of the various candidates and their comprehension from different perspectives of the challenges they face. I did not choose a favourite, though I had my inclinations (they tended to come from the second level rather than the first or third level candidates), but I would be happy with any one of them as leader of the Democratic Party.
I did agree with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor from South Bend, Indiana, that it would be a mistake if too much focus was placed on Trump, which the tactics of the two leading contenders, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, seemed to stress. I found the Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party to be very winning. Generally, they all recognized the need to peel away support from Republicans in general at the grass roots level through hard work and dialogue in areas that the Democratic Party had neglected. The defence of democracy seems to be in good hands.
If the liberals concentrate on expanding their base rather than fighting among themselves, peeling away support from Trump and Republicans rather than insisting on total and absolute resistance and non-cooperation, they can rebuild the opposition into a victory machine. At the same time, they must enter into dialogue in areas and with persons who are reasonable even when they are not Democrats. The commitment to reason, the commitment to civility, the commitment to institutions, all must take priority over partisanship.
With the help of Alex Zisman
Mad as Hell
“Mad as Hell” can stand for uncensored speech, telling it as it supposedly is in a professed unwavering dedication to speaking the truth. It is also often associated with despair and an unwillingness “to take it anymore.” I am mad as hell, but I hope my speech remains sensitive and self-censored (it does not always). Further, instead of leading to cynicism and uncontrolled rage, I hope my anger reignites the fire in my belly and my quest to right the wrongs of the world. Most of all, I trust that the rage will not undermine my dedication to objective analysis and detachment.
I woke up late this morning, very late. I was furious. Not for waking up late. I had slept so long because I was so angry. I am raging. And when I get very emotional, I knock myself out and fall asleep. It is the other side of my sleep condition that allows me to be very productive between 4 and 8 in the morning. It is why my writing is perceived to be objective and cool. This morning I am not cool. I am mad as hell.
First of Four Stories
In the first news item I read, a handsome, young, clean-shaven police officer’s picture of Sgt. Paul Parizek from the Des Moines police department appeared above a story that included the following: “There have been at least 49 officers shot and killed in the line of duty this year, according to preliminary statistics from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths. In a report released earlier this year, the fund said that more than half the officers killed by that point were shot in ambushes.” (my italics)
Is this true – two dozen police officers shot in ambushes in the U.S. this year? I did recall that eight officers had been murdered in attacks in Baton Rouge and Dallas, but this horrendous event was only a quarter of the number killed up to that date in 2016. But it was the fatal shooting of the two police officers this morning that made me sit up and listen, made me pay attention to the pattern. Why I have been so obtuse is another story.
In the United States, there is a war against police officers. Crime has been down. Murder rates are way down. Policing had become significantly safer in recent years. But there has been a dramatic change in 2016. In Urbandale in Iowa, one officer was shot and killed sitting alone in his patrol car next to Urbandale High School. 20 minutes later, a Des Moines police officer responding to that first shooting was also shot and killed.
Modernity is based on the rule of law. Professional police are a key component in maintaining the rule of law. Police have two prime functions. They try to prevent crime in part by capturing criminals and bringing them before courts of justice. But police have a second function. Whether they are engaged in traffic management or the protection of property by demonstrators and potential rioters, they also protect that property, the system in the West by means of which our needs are satisfied. Police are concerned with the well-being of each individual as well as the protection of society as a whole. Our basic welfare and our lives depend on the ability of these men and women to fulfill their job. An attack on the police that now appears systemic and deliberate undermines the fundamental foundations of our society.
This story began with a simmering fire in my kishkas (look it up) by one of the emails I received in response to my blog the day before yesterday. In part it read, “Trump is a talented leader, who calls out the liberal and greedy elite.” [He calls out the greedy, he who is the icon and advertisement for greed!] “Like King David. He likes women like all healthy males including you and me. Most women play to their sexuality through makeup and choice of clothes. Healthy and tasteful. Bill Clinton rapes and abuses women. Hillary destroys women who speak up against her husband’s victims so that this power couple can play the corrupt system.”
It is NOT natural and healthy to grope women. It is not natural and healthy to force yourself upon women. It is sick. And to boast about it makes it sicker. And to claim your money and power entitles you to engage in such behaviour and allows you to get away with it is sickest of all.
Aside from the libels against Bill and Hillary Clinton that have been repeated so many times that Clinton-haters take for granted that they are true, what really kindled my ire was the description of Donald Trump as being a healthy male who admires women, a man who boasts and has possibly a record of groping women and physically assaulting them, a man who admits that he becomes furious if his dinner is not put on the table by his wife when he arrives home.
That was the kindling. The fire in my belly broke out in full flame when this morning I read a story about Jane Doe who was raped by a champion swimmer, Brock Turner. He was only sentenced to six months in prison and was out on parole after three months. The rape victim’s 21-year-old younger sister wrote, “Today I am still sick thinking about it, sick to my stomach every time I am reminded of the incident.” And I felt sick to my stomach as I read about the devastation visited on both these women, the rape victim and her sister. The court records showed that Brock Turner had behaved in the same way that Donald Trump boasted of behaving, initially repeatedly trying to kiss the eventual rape victim against her will greeted with an unquestionable and demonstrated lack of interest.
But what set off the roaring fire in my belly that has made me so nauseous this morning is Judge Aaron Persky’s sentencing statement and the response of the rapist’s father to the rape of a woman who had been left unconscious, naked from the waist down, behind a dumpster. The two sisters suffered at the public humiliation of exposing what happened to the older one in full detail on the internet. The two sisters were both raped over and over again in their minds as they both sat through the court sessions over a six month period. The younger sister addressed Brock Turner directly: “Where has your remorse been? Really, truly: Do you feel guilty because you were sexually assaulting her or because you were caught?”
Male assaults on females are not only despicable and outrageous, they symbolize everything a civilized society must oppose. These assaults have absolutely nothing to do with sex, nothing to do with the pleasurable and passionate intercourse between sexual partners and everything to do with aggression and hatred of women. So this morning a report reads that in Greensburg Indiana, when a woman turned down her boyfriend’s offer of marriage, he shot and killed her. Recall that the two Swedish heroes, Peter Jonsson and Carl-Fredrik Arndt, who had seen Brock Turner attacking the victim and ran after him and tackled him after he fled, testified that the victim was motionless on the ground at the time and could not be woken up, totally contradicting Turner’s insistence that the sex was a product of consent.
But what happens? The two sisters live with the experience for the rest of their lives. In an open and shut case – which very few are – the judge responds favourably to the letters requesting leniency when there has been no demonstrated contrition nor open admission of responsibility. Just lies. And a father who paints his son as the victim! At least Ari Shavit immediately owned up to his responsibility and expressed deep contrition when the stories of his assaults on women became public.
As the Republicans face the real and imminent possibility of a Clinton presidency, they have already evidently begun to plot a campaign of obstreperousness, about continuing the campaign to refuse filling Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat, thereby bringing the whole system of justice into disrepute. For the system depends not only on a responsible and empathetic administration of justice, on a conscientious and informed legislative body, but on an independent judiciary at the very highest levels. When ideology dictates how issues of justice are handled, the end of democracy is near. It is not only a break with democratic tradition to refuse to approve an appointment, but an effort to blow up the fundamentals of democracy altogether. When cynicism takes the reins of justice, we are all doomed.
This tale might seem the most remote from the story of a wanton ambush and killing of police officers, dealing with assaults and rapes of women and sabotaging the whole system of justice when your side is defeated. But in the end, I suggest that it goes to the heart of the matter.
The background of the story is over the use of the Wailing or Western Wall in Jerusalem, not the conflict between Arabs and UNICEF over proprietary rights to religious sites among Jews, Muslims and Christians, but the fight over whether Orthodox Judaism should retain monopoly control over what is now regarded as the holiest site in Judaism – the exposed sector of the old temple wall. In 1967, the government, as a gesture to the religious party allies and an indifference to religious symbolism, had assigned responsibility for administering conduct on the plaza outside the wall to the Orthodox establishment. That establishment maintains a strict separation of sexes and limits even the way women can worship at the wall. Hence the protests by many orthodox women against the patriarchy that controls access. Hence other counter-protests against non-Orthodox Jews who have insisted on a place for egalitarian services at the wall. A political compromise had been forged to build a new section of plaza that would permit that new area of plaza to be used for egalitarian religious services.
The Netanyahu government, under pressure from his Orthodox political allies, in spite of Supreme Court orders, has repeatedly stalled on implementing this compromise. This morning, there was an effort of hundreds of demonstrators led by leading Conservative and Reform rabbis to carry Torah scrolls to the Wall and conduct an egalitarian service. They were resisted by force by Orthodox young men as police stood by and refused to interfere. What followed was unprecedented pandemonium and violence.
Some of the most prominent clergy in the diaspora were shoved, pushed and thrown to the ground. But they persisted. Netanyahu, the same man who refuses to implement the compromise arrived at after years of negotiations, stated that, “unilateral breaches of the status quo in the Kotel harm our attempts to reach a compromise,” even though a compromise had been reached and the issue was its implementation. There was no condemnation of the violence perpetrated by the young orthodox men.
When, because ideology and not negotiation and compromise, lawlessness ensues, when courts are ignored, when police choose to remain passive in the face of overt assaults, when politicians practice the politics of inaction, when supreme courts are blatantly ignored, democracy is at stake.
And it all starts with the mistreatment of women and the resentment of many men and women to allowing a woman to become President of the United States. This resentment goes much deeper than even racist attitudes against Blacks. The story goes back to Bereshit and the myth of the birth of history and time in our world and the story of Adam and Eve.
With the help of Alex Zisman
The Mid-West Presidential Primaries
We are now in South Dakota in a little town called Chamberlain known for its trout fishing. We will do no fishing, but that seemed to be the main attraction for all the men in Charlys Restaurant & Lounge last evening where N’s chardonnay was terrible and her filet minion even worse. I remind myself that we should follow my personal guideline – never order a steak in cattle country because the best meat gets shipped to the high class restaurants in New York. (This conclusion is, of course, based on extensive empirical research.) However, we very much look forward to visiting the Akta Lakota Museum this morning before we set off further west.
Yesterday morning in Des Moines, Iowa, we had an auspicious start. Instead of writing my blog, I got up early to move the top tarp on the packed trailer we are hauling to deliver a load of personal belongings to our son Daniel who has become a farmer in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. The tarp was luffing and one of the straps on top seemed to have gotten loose. eyes, problematic enough, but because of how I process visual information. I have difficulty recognizing faces, though nowhere as difficult as Oliver Sacks. I had enormous difficulties in medical school in recognizing what I was looking at through a microscope. A neighbour who had helped me finish covering the trailer and fastening the ratchet straps sent me a video with clear and simple instructions on how ratchets worked.
I watched it perhaps five times. It was short, direct and clear, but when I went to translate what I had seen into practice, I seemed to bugger it up every time. I did not tell N what an idiot I had been, but told her that everything was perfectly tied down. For, after two hours – most of the time admittedly not spent on the ratchets – I finally asked a truck driver in the parking lot for help. In less than a minute, he corrected my mistakes and had the straps properly tightened. I relearned what I have learned many times before. I have the visual intelligence of an idiot. I may be terrific with abstract thought and analysis, with absorbing reams of material, but my visual intelligence is sub-moronic. And to think that I was admitted to medical school! Can you imagine all the lives I saved by quitting medicine?
We then had to find and go to an auto shop, for our right brake and blinker light on the trailer were not working. The mechanic had to rewire the connection because the plug was in poor shape and one of the wires had been pinched. Then we stopped at an auto parts dealer to purchase and put on some universal reflector plates for the side of the rear lights on the trailer that had gone missing and that we had been advised to put in to prevent moisture getting into the rear trailer lights. Not to worry. In addition to all the driving, N did the job. Such are the joys of pulling a trailer.
Yesterday was the first day of spring. The temperature rose from 28 degrees Fahrenhei t in the morning – there was frost on the top of the tarp on the trailer – to 65 degrees F. It was a glorious day. However, we are lucky. If we had delayed our departure by two days, we would have run into rain later today and snow tomorrow in Sioux Falls and Sioux City. As it is, the temperature will drop today when we get to Billings, Montana to 42 F and we may get 1” of snow the next day on route to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, but no high winds or squalls, so we are almost in the clear weather-wise all the way to Oregon.
In the past two days we have travelled from Michigan through the north-west corner of Indiana through Illinois and stayed overnight in Des Moines, Iowa, actually a suburb called Urbandale. Yesterday we traversed the rest of Iowa, the north-east corner of Nebraska and ended up in South Dakota. So in two days we have traveled through six of the fifty American states, not a bad sample size, except het the states come from only a few geographical regions. I have already written about Michigan, but I will first reply to two of the responses for clarification. But first, one correction!
I think the number of electors in the electoral college for each state equals the number of that states number in congress: representatives plus senators. For Michigan, I think it is 16.
Dead on! My apologies.
- I would not norm around Michigan. Ohio’s a better index for the Dems. From here on in, Hillary should lock up most of the states and especially the big ones. The question lingers: why she captures the votes but not the hearts. It’s interesting to hear Jacob on this, because he captures an important, lingering sentiment. It’s about trust. People trust Sanders even though his policy program is unrealistic. One is tempted to say this is the hangover from 2008 and Obama’s hope pitch.
- Is Trump a winner or the GOP a loser? I think it’s the latter; as the GOP coalition splinters, Trump benefits. Their worst nightmare was Ohio. Kasich will now stay in the race and continue to splinter the anti-Trump bloc. His latest declaration that Merrick Garland should come up for a vote is part of his gambit to seem moderate. This will only perpetuate the divide. With Rubio gone, which really was the GOP establishment’s last, very flimsy, hope, the pathway to Trump is clearer than ever. Neither Cruz nor Kasich can possibly win so long as the other stays in. Once CA and NY vote, and it seems likely Trump will win both, there is no real alternative without shattering the party, which the brass may choose to do: smash it all in order to rescue it. See below, nuclear options.
You have to love the irony of the anti-country clubbers voting for the man who builds country clubs. Literally. What has surprised many observers, though is that the breaks don’t go the anti-Trump way — that’s to say, when a rival drops out, his backers (or in the case of Carla F, her backers) they don’t go to the runner up to Trump; they break in his favor more than many expected.
Hillary could lose to Trump is the right conjugation. But it is implausible. The only demographic he has a chance at winning is white men. That’s a small fraction of the US population now. About 35%. So, even if he takes 55% of that vote, he’ll get swamped by the tide going the other way. This is the reason why the GOP brass are in a total panic; for the long term health of the party, it’s a disaster. Have a look at this report:
Of course, I am mindful of the fact that we should presume the triumph of reason. It’s happened before that demagoguery — of the hard and soft kinds — have prevailed.
If Trump runs for president as the GOP candidate and loses, will he then self-describe as a loser? If Trump wins, it is guaranteed more Americans will leave for points south and north. Will that not make him a loser of citizens? If Trump wins as an expression of the ugly, stupid and AND angry American, what can he possibly do to make that contingent happy and calm? Won’t they quickly become disaffected and, once again, he is a loser? Bottom line: if Trump wins, isn’t that just a loss by another name?
- I did not offer Michigan as a norm but as an outlier given the results the following week, but there are lessons to be learned from outliers. You are correct that Ohio is a better indicator for the Democrats, but why did Sanders win Michigan, why were the polls so wrong, and is there any implication for the presidential election even as Hillary clinches the nomination?
- Re Jacob’s leaning towards Sanders, Gabriel too has for a long time been a strong Sander’s supporter’ So are his friends who think about politics, but he admits most are uninterested.
- In my examination, it is better to keep Kasich in the race since, if he dropped out, many of his supporters would not go to Cruz, who is at least as unrealistic as Trump and much further to the right. Some would go to Trump because he is relatively more appealing to Reagan democrats and working class Republican voters than Cruz. The only way to keep Trump from winning is to make sure he cannot win on the first ballot and then fight for the votes released, particularly from the winner take all states. Given the broader base of Trump supporters, Trump would be a riskier opponent for the Democrats than Cruz.
- Is Trump the winner and the GOP the loser? Other than replying that everyone is a loser if Trump wins, including Trump, the real issue the Republicans face is whether they want a very different party or whether they are better off trying to put together the shattered pieces of what is left, especially since, for many Republicans, Trump is believed to be a disaster for America as well as the Republican Party. Though neither Cruz nor Kasich can possibly win as long as the other stays in, it is also true that neither can win if the other drops out. The only way Trump can lose is in a brokered convention, admittedly a nuclear disaster for the Republican Party. Who will blink? Definitely not Trump.
Back to the primaries.
Tonight we will have the results from Arizona which, in the Republican primary, has 75 delegates in a winner-take-all state where Trump is expected to win big. Cruz may win both Idaho (23 delegates) and Utah (33 delegates), but those states are divided proportionately, so Trump is once again expected to be the big winner. As of today, he has 680 delegated to 424 for Cruz and 123 for Kasich, more than the other two put together. Because of carryovers from other delegates in the race and his expected performance in the remaining primaries (South Dakota’s is not until 7 June), he is not likely to get the 1237 required, but is expected to come close and to easily beat both his rivals by considerable numbers. So the issue has now become whether the party will observe the will of the largest plurality of voters or behave in accordance with the rules and let the delegates decide on the second and possibly subsequent ballots. I suspect they will not give in to Trump’s bluff and bullying and will let the delegates choose, even though Trump is still expected to win even then.
Passing through Iowa the day before yesterday and yesterday, helps recall the state which was a turning point in the primary race. Last night on CNN in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Trump was boasting he was likely to win a majority of delegates in the primaries and, in any case, would come so close that, given the distribution of delegates among the 17 candidates who started in the race, he would deserve to be crowned as the winner. He also insisted that he had the momentum, winning 4 of 5 states last week and losing to Kasich in his home state of Ohio by only a very small margin. True to Trump’s pattern of constructing reality out of his imagination rather than actuality, the vote in Ohio was 956,762 (46.8%) for Kasich to 727,585 (35.6%) for Trump (Cruz received 267,592 votes – 13.1%). When Trump wins by 10%, for him his victory is “huge, really huge,” but when Kasich beat him by more than that margin, Trump contends he came “close, really close” and only lost by a small margin. Trump is almost impossible to fact check simply because the number of facts he gets wrong and distorts is so enormous. But mostly he obfuscates and evades.
Bernie soldiers on now, no longer as the surprise real contender but as the leader of a movement rather than a force seeking to be the Democratic candidate. Of course, Ohio was really the end of the road for Bernie, because he could not carry over his victory in Michigan to Ohio and received only 42.7% (513,549) to Hillary’s 679,266 votes (56.5%), so the real excitement remains the Republican race. And it ends in Ohio in the convention in Cleveland. One interesting observation in Ohio: Kaslich captured the eastern and southern third (geographically) of the state, while Trump won in the western third. In contrast, in the democratic race, Bernie won a smattering of counties in the south-east, the south-west, the north-west, the centre, but only one county in the north-east.
In contrast to the Ohio primary, where it was hoped that Bernie would come close to or even beat Hillary, Illinois was a virtual tie, with Hillary eking out a very slight psychological victory with only 50.46% of the vote, but only the same number of 78 pledged delegates as Bernie. But Hillary is expected to get 100% of the 22 unpledged or super-delegates. In Illinois where Trump won his “huge, really huge” victory, he received only 38.8% of the vote (exactly as the average of the poll projections) to Cruz’s 30.3% and Kasich’s 8.7%. Together, his two opponents beat him and both came in slightly higher than poll expectations. However, Trump must get a majority of the delegates. Even more interesting, Trump boasts that he brings out huge numbers of new voters, but his total vote in Illinois was only 556,916. In contrast, Hillary garnered over a million votes.
In Iowa, Ted Cruz was the big winner with 51,666 votes to Trump’s 45,427 in a clear two-way race in the Iowa caucus, even though in the polling prior to the vote, Cruz had been trailing by roughly 5%. As we listened to talk radio in Iowa yesterday, the radio host on the phone-in show was a clear Trump supporter. One of his callers was a woman who had just been in a verbal political argument at her chiropractor’s office. She had emerged totally frustrated. The media were all against Trump playing one video clip over and over again showing a supporter hitting a protester. (Last night, Trump insisted that they were not protesters but professional agitators.) For the female Trump supporter, Trump was for peace as he said and she ignored the statements (as did Trump) that Wolf Blitzer in his interview cited of his encouraging violence. After all, as Trump said, he opposed any violence at the Cleveland Convention, but if the establishment denied him a victory, the voters were very angry and, he was just saying, you can expect riots. The female call-in supporter said she just would not vote if the Republican Party denied her candidate the right to be on the ballot in accordance with the will of the people.
Nebraska, though it only has a small number of delegates, is interesting because, in a Republican state, in the Democratic primary, Bernie won 57.1% to Hilary’s 42.9%. In South Dakota, all the men up early with me in the motel breakfast room were far more interested in discussing fishing than watching or analyzing the replays of Clinton and Trump addressing the AIPAC meeting yesterday. (I did not see any replays of Cruz or Kaisich – perhaps they speak today, and Bernie rejected AIPAC’s invitation to address them.) The men at breakfast all seemed to be Republican voters, but rather than enthusiastic for one candidate or another, politics as conducted just seemed to turn them off. Perhaps not one of them would actually vote.
With the help of Alex Zisman
Nomination Time in the U.S.A. 1. Michigan
There is no magic or appropriate rationale for beginning this exploration of the current electoral mood in the United States except that Michigan is my first stop in my American tour. I begin writing, not in order to predict what will happen in the rest of the presidential nomination process in the U.S., but to understand the process and the factors that have pushed it one way or another and to anticipate possible rather than likely outcomes. The direction of the Southern States is now clear, but not the Northern tier or the Western cluster; Bernie Sanders stands virtually no chance of winning the nomination as the Democratic candidate. Yet without Bernie Sanders, if Michigan is an indication, in a faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Hilary could be the loser. That is a provocative assertion, but after I clear the underbrush, I will explain my thinking. But before you get all worked up with anxiety about the future of the leadership of the Western world, keep in mind that I wrote, “if Michigan is an indication.”
Given the data, there is an obvious puzzle over why Hillary Clinton, who was projected to win Michigan by a substantial margin according to virtually all polls, lost by a narrow margin. Since the polls for Republican voters were reasonably accurate, what happened? Further, the polls in the subsequent elections in Illinois and Ohio were reasonably accurate, so what happened on 8 March in Michigan, the 24th state to vote
in this year’s American primaries? And what is the relevance for the Presidential election in which Michigan holds 242 votes in the electoral college that will select the President?
I begin with the GOP. The Republican race in Michigan was a primary with a minimum threshold of 15% to even win any delegates, a key factor for Marco Rubio. At the half-way mark, with the contenders reduced to four, Michigan was supposed to offer a good indication of the eventual results. Note that although any candidate whose vote exceeds 50% wins all at-large delegates (as distinct from congressional district delegates) from the state, no candidate did.
Understanding the following basic data is important in Michigan where the total number of delegates at stake in the Republican primary was 59 to be distributed proportionally among the candidates receiving at least 15% of the vote.
Candidate % Projections Votes Delegates Targets
Donald Trump 36.5 39 483,751 25 345,000
Ted Cruz 24.9 24 330,015 17 345,000
John Kasich 24.3 23 321,655 17 ?
Marco Rubio 9.3 14 121,672 0 ?
A key indicator was whether Ted Cruz could bring on board white voters without any college experience who, in large proportions did not normally vote. Could his formidable ground force of evangelical/Tea Party supporters, using old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning to bring out the vote, achieve their target of 345,000 votes? They came reasonably close. At the same time, could Donald Trump continue his streak of bringing on board large numbers of previous non-Republican voters and non-voters, especially again among white voters, again without college experience. He succeeded beyond his expectations. John Kasich hoped his track record of creating jobs in neighbouring Ohio could stand in good stead in Michigan where underemployment and unemployment were major issues. He did about as well as expected.
The big loser was, of course, Marco Rubio. As the election approached, Marco Rubio was panicking over polls in his home state of Florida and he shifted to concentrate his efforts there. But his decline in the number of expected delegates and failing to achieve the minimal 15% left him branded as a loser that multiplied his troubles in Florida. The shift in resources and surrender in Michigan proved to be a big mistake, compounded by his stooping into the gutter to engage in dissing with a master of the art, Donald Trump. Elections are not simply or even mostly about policies and programs, especially this year’s Republican primary. They are about stamina and the communication that the candidate in question is a winner. Rubio made a major mistake and lost the Florida primary to an even larger extent in Michigan.
Mitt Romney, a prince among Republicans, had called Donald Trump a phony and a fraud among a large number of epithets thrown at the candidate leading the Republican pack. Mitt Romney was a former governor of Michigan. Although the combination of unaffiliated PAC ads and candidate-affiliated super PAC ads as a percentage of all GOP ads that were anti-Trump grew from 9% in February to 47% in the first week of March, and given that the pro-Marco Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC accounted for five times as many anti-Trump ads as the next-highest group, the ads were, nevertheless, counter-productive and reinforced the anger against the country club establishment in the Republican Party. Donald Trump benefited more from the Rubio loss of votes than either Ted Cruz or John Kaslich.
Look at the results of the exit polls:
- Trump won 44% of male Republicans, 28% from women.
- Kasich posted a strong and early lead in the country club counties such as Oakland as expected.
- Cruz did well considering that Republican congressional representatives tend to be moderate in a state ranked as very liberal generally; Cruz is at the extreme right in the Party, but so are Bill Huizenga and Justin Amash from Michigan.
- The Trump vote increased by 3.5% over projections.
All of the above are critical to understanding the path of the Republican primary vote, but in the last half dozen presidential races, Michigan voters have supported the Democratic Party’s candidate. So the primary results may help choose the Republican candidate but probably not the winner in the presidential election where the Democrats are expected to take the 242 Michigan electoral college votes.
That is why the Democratic race with 130 Michigan delegates at stake (340 overall that day) is so crucial to determining the eventual results. Clinton entered the Michigan primary with 677 pledged delegates (59%) to Sanders’s 478 (41 %) making her, by far, the most likely candidate to win even if Bernie Sanders took Michigan. Bernie was a long shot, but emerged as a long shot winner, nowhere sufficient to ever catch up to Clinton, but an important psychological victory nevertheless. The primary vote indicated that the younger the voters, the lower the minority population as a percentage of the total and the greater the percentage of educated as well as working-class, the better Sander’s chances are.
According to the weighted (based on record of accuracy) average of a large number of polls, Hillary Clinton was projected to win 59.2% of the delegates (range of 52%-66%) to Bernie Sanders 38.3% (33%-47% range). Only one poll came close to the margin of error in predicting Bernie’s win, the Mitchell Research and Communications Poll, with52% for Hillary Clinton and 47% for Bernie Sanders. Given the surprise for both candidates at the actual results, it seems that internal campaign polls did not differ from the various external ones. On the other hand, the number of targeted delegates by each candidate indicated that the results were not totally surprising since the Clinton campaign’s target was 63 delegates while that of Sanders was 67 delegates. The targets and the actual results were congruent.
As stated above, the results were psychological more than political, boosting morale in the Sanders camp and initiating a recalibration in the Clinton camp, but with no deep concern that Clinton would not eventually win the nomination, though the prospect of a dark horse candidate had now become real even though implausible. Even more significant, according to exit polls, was Sanders increase in support among Black voters – up from 10 or so percent in the South to 30% in Michigan. He was projected to win 21% of Black voters in Michigan, but won 30%. The oddest result was that Sanders, a Jew and a self-declared socialist, did very well among Arab Americans, especially in Dearborn where Sanders won over Clinton by a huge 2:1 ratio (64:36).
- Was Sander’s increase in the Black vote in part due to his appeal to blue-collar workers because he was so opposed to the free-trade deals which did not provide a net for workers earning good wages and now requiring retraining?
- Since self-identified independents also seem to vote for Sanders, does this bode ill for Clinton indicating that these voters might switch to Trump rather than Clinton since Trump also has been very critical of those trade deals?
- Further, since Sanders has benefited from much higher turn out of voters, and this is the same phenomenon that has buoyed the Trump campaign, will Trump benefit from a good proportion of these voters?
Aside from the fact that I am in the most liberal part of the state, in Ann Arbor, my personal “extensive” polling last evening and this morning of people exiting, not the polling booth, but the motel, indicates that the largely unexpected results in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Michigan may have been due to a number of factors:
- The polls were inaccurate because younger voters get their news and information from the new social media and it is very difficult to access their opinions using traditional methods so that, when it comes to determining the preferences of younger voters, polls may not be reliable.
- There seems to be some overlap between the voters to whom Trump appeals to those flocking to Bernie Sanders, not among the young educated voters, but among the disaffected working class in Michigan that have turned voters against any establishment, Republican or Democratic.
- In the primary vote, it was safe to vote for Bernie because he was unlikely to be the presidential candidate and, even if he was, polls showed him beating Trump by an even larger margin than Hillary Clinton, evidently because Sanders was a more formidable competitor for the disaffected vote than Donald Trump.
- Local conditions, especially considering the subsequent vote in Ohio, seem to have had a powerful influence on the disposition of the voters in the primary in Michigan.
Let me expand on those local conditions. Perhaps the most important factor has been the reams of stories about the lead poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and, even more importantly, the apparent indifference and insensitivity of the previously well-esteemed Republican governor to the plight of the citizens of Flint, Michigan. First of all, it was learned that Michigan authorities adopted cost-saving changes in the city’s water supply that caused mass lead poisoning. The governor, Rick Snyder, as a Republican accounting technocrat determined to cut costs. He had set the tone for such policy decisions. In 2013, an official appointed by the Governor decided to save money by changing the water supply for Flint Michigan. Though the problem of lead poisoning quickly became evident in tests of the water supply, it was not until 2015 that the old source of water was reinstated. Contrary to the efforts of Republicans in Washington to blame the Obama administration, states are in charge of enforcing drinking-water standards, not Washington. In fact, the Republican- controlled Congress has hamstrung the federal government and even eliminated the power of the EPA to intervene.
Donald Trump has promised to eliminate the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, as have other Republicans. For voters influenced by issues rather than by assertions of a faith in the strength of the leader, by voters who have come to understand that government, rather than being the source of the problem, is, in reality, the sine qua non of adequate services and the foundation, economic as well as social, for the well-being of a society, “socialism” in the U.S. has subsequently been retired among many as an epithet of abuse, Bernie became the preferred option in the fight over the good versus claimed evil of governance and government.
Another powerful and continuing scandal resulted from the enormous $18 billion municipal bankruptcy of Detroit. In the bankruptcy resolution, just as in the bailout of the automobile industry, the big institutions were protected, but not the salaries or pensions, even of the 12,000 existing retirees.. Not only did pension cheques shrink by 6.7%, but large numbers of pensioners were required to pay back “overpayments” of tens of thousands of dollars, not even spread out over time, but in a lump sum. If the pensioner opted to pay over time, the account was subject to a 6.75% interest charge. To make matters worse, the settlement was initiated in the beginning of March for the repayment for what former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr said was excess interest paid out in special payments on top of the regular pensions.
In Ann Arbor this past weekend, there is a large swim meet with high school students participating from all over the state. The meet has been plagued evidently by poor air quality and consequent skin irritation and rashes for the students caused by the chlorine in the pool mixing with the oil on the skin of the swimmers, exacerbated by large numbers and the desire of the swimmers to compete with dry bathing suits and, therefore, avoiding washing off before they plunge into the pool. However, the problem is evidently easily relieved by a good up-to-date ventilation system, but the school infrastructure is old and has long been in need correction, just one relatively minor item in a very long list of capital improvement deficits that plague states and municipalities given the last three decades of assaults on taxation and governments.
It was not clear to me than any of those whom I questioned who came from the nether reaches of the State of Michigan made any connection between political ideology and current practices and the capital deficits, unemployment and condition of rust-belt America. They tended to blame the problem on the kids for not showering, though they acknowledged that, given the importance of small advantages in competitive swimming, it was understandable why students did not shower properly.
In the process of the discussion, I believe I acquired a greater understanding of why, even if Bernie Sander’s campaign to become the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party may be hopeless, the movement and its long term effects on American society and attitudes is probably more important than even Bernie winning. That is why I believe he is staying in the race.
I write this as more reports on altercations at Trump rallies are being broadcast on CNN this morning. Will these unaffiliated voters be drawn towards a posture of strength in a leader or towards someone campaigning against the critics, not of bad government or of corrupt government, but at government in general? Given Clinton’s shifts in her rhetoric recently, perhaps she can win most of those voters to the Democratic camp.