Wooing the soft parts of Trump’s support

A friend sent me a link to an essay by Tim Wise, which the reader will find here.

Basically, Wise argues that programmatic issues like health care, schools and jobs will not be what gets people to vote against Trump. Wise, who wrote that he worked against white supremacist David Duke in his two statewide races in Louisiana, argues that only the race issue can beat Trump:

“First, trying to flip Trump voters is a waste of time. Any of them who regret their vote don’t need to be pandered to. They’ll do the right thing. Don’t focus on them. That said, very few will regret their vote. They cannot accept they voted for a monster or got suckered. Duke [between first- and second-round voting] retained 94 percent of the folks he got the first time out (and got new people too), as Trump likely will. So, forget these people–or at least don’t wast time tailoring messages to them. And policy plans for affordable college don’t mean shit to them, nor health care. Their support for Trump was never about policy. It was about the bigotry, the fact that he hates who they hate. Second, as for the undecideds, [there are] not many of these, but seriously? If you’re still undecided at this point about this guy, then there is almost no way to know what would get you to make up your mind. I doubt it’s a plan to deal with Wall Street though, or infrastructure, or tax policy.” (Here and below, I have corrected the text to make it more readable.)

This is what I wrote back to my friend: There are distinctions between the two candidates, and between the U.S. electorate and the Louisiana electorate. Trump is more skilled at concealing his racism by avoiding troublesome associations and by speaking in code. It is difficult to point to any single sentence spoken or written by Trump to prove he is a racist. Duke, however, was a Klansman. That left little room for doubt.

It seems to me that the Democrats need to lure some of Trump’s supporters. Not a lot – it is always essential in planning to remember that Trump LOST the election to a candidate with no electoral vote strategy. That is easily remedied by the Democrats nominating a candidate who does plan for presidential electors. But a larger cushion of safety than Hillary Clinton had would still be prudent, and that can’t be done emphasizing race. On that issue, both sides are locked into their positions. That’s not a rich lode of votes to mine. Those who support Trump based on racial issues are not going to be turned around. Those who support Trump on economic issues could be. Remember that the Democratic Party was once the party of economic populists.

The very first thing Trump talked about in his 2015 candidacy announcement was workers: “But they’re going to have incentive to work, because the greatest social program is a job. And they’ll be proud, and they’ll love it, and they’ll make much more than they would’ve ever made, and they’ll be – they’ll be doing so well, and we’re going to be thriving as a country, thriving. It can happen. I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I tell you that.”

If he had stopped there, I might have supported him. Once he turned to talking about migrants, of course, that ended my interest. But still, it was a signal to hard-pressed workers. There are now plenty of adverse signals about Trump for workers. Did you see Dana Gentry’s report on Nevada in May? “State’s richest save 14.7%, poorest save .35% (that’s period-35-percent) under Trump tax cuts.” With that kind of material, workers who expected more of Trump than he delivered can be attracted by the Democrats. People who were attracted to Trump by race are likely happy as clams with their candidate and prepared to vote for him, and people who oppose him on race are already prepared to vote against him. In 1968, in the last couple of weeks before election, labor unions nearly turned the election around by swamping their members across the nation who had been planning to vote for George Wallace with material that showcased Wallace’s anti-worker policies in Alabama. “Don’t let anyone fool you into voting against your best interests. Wallace’s Alabama is a low wage, right to work state.… How sympathetic could you expect him to be to demands for higher wages?” said a machinist union’s election guide. The AFL-CIO distributed statistics on child labor, school funding, the literacy rate, and per capita income in Wallace’s state. Some unions drew attention to the high crime rates in the law-and-order Wallace’s Alabama. The result? Union support for Wallace started dropping like a rock.

That leaves intensity of turnout as the only uncertain factor. Consultants say appeals to the economic pain of workers turn other voters off. Racial pitches are likely to be spun by journalists as mudslinging. (Journalists tend to treat ALL negative campaigning, however issue-based, as mudslinging.) To me, that – not what issue approaches to take – is the real question of how to win.

In a later post, Wise also wrote, “If you think Trump voters can be converted, you need to put down whatever opioids you are taking and join the real world. These are Q believing conspiracists who believe whatever their Uncle Cooter posts on FB (Facebook) about Sharia law taking over Rivertown. Defeat them & drag them into 21st century.”

First, the hard core of Trump’s support will not be moved. But for the rest – and they are a higher percentage of the population nationally than those who supported Duke in Louisiana – there is no need to convince some Trump voters that he is a monster or that they got suckered in order to get their votes. In fact, putting the pitch to them that way would likely get their backs up and harden their resolve. But while nearly all of Duke’s base was hard core, that is not true of Trump’s. In June, Trump’s leaked internal polls showed softness in his support, which prompted him to fire his pollsters, like someone blaming the rooster for the sunrise.

Rather, some of his supporters only need to be convinced that their original votes for Trump were mistakes – a less loaded term – because his presidency is costing them and their families money. With new economic figures showing that his trade war is dragging down growth, that is an easier case to make with each passing quarter.

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Speaking clearly about enunciation

I received a phone call, and when I answered it, a sentence was spoken. I could not make out what was being said, and I told the speaker so. The sentence was repeated, a second time, which again I could not make out, and I told her so again. Then there was a third try, and finally, on the fourth rendition, I was able to make out two words—“Joe Biden.” Since I am a Nevadan and the state has the third or fourth presidential nominating event next year, I figured out what this was. But I was not willing to sit and hear the entire spiel, given the experience so far. So I declined the rest of the call and hung up.

Setting aside the absurdity of telephone candidate sales pitches seven months before the Nevada caucuses, candidates who want to use them should make certain that their sales pitch can be understood.

For as long as I can remember, one of the things that has most exasperated me about the education system is its indifference to the way students talk.

No, I’m not talking about profanity or racial slurs.  I’m talking about enunciation, sometimes (and not altogether accurately) called diction. Things have gotten so bad that half the people in our society sound like the announcements at the Greyhound bus depot.

All over the country, there are diction classes to correct the way adults talk, which forces the question of why we aren’t teaching them correctly in the first place when they are in grade school.

I have heard public address systems used in casinos, businesses, and innumerable other places to amplify mumbled and unintelligible verbiage. What’s inexcusable is that I have heard the same thing happen on school public address systems.

In 1988 I was covering a disabled veterans convention in Reno at which the speakers’ words were captioned on a screen at the front of the hall for the benefit of vets whose hearing was not what it once war. A voice recognition device rendered the speakers’ (who included George Bush the Elder and Al Gore) verbal words into written words for projection on the screen. The machine could not make out an appalling proportion of the words it took in and so spit out gibberish on the screen.

William F. Buckley Jr. once spent a day with a new acquaintance and looked forward to hearing what he had to say, but could not understand what his friend was saying. He later described an experience everyone seems to have gone through: “But after an hour or so I gave up. … My responses became feigned, and I was reduced to harmonizing the expression on my face with the inflection of his rhetoric. It had become not a dialogue, but a soliloquy and the conversation dribbled off.”

Buckley noted that renowned English scholar William Strunk, author of The Elements of Style, said it was even more important to speak clearly if the speaker did not know what he was talking about: “Why compound ignorance with inaudibility?”

Going to movies is nowhere near the pleasure it was when I was half my age because much of what I hear I cannot understand. A director named Kevin Reese has written an essay on “Why Actors Don’t Get Cast.” He listed 41 reasons. Four of them: “Your articulation was sloppy.” “You have a speech problem.” “I couldn’t hear your voice.” “Your reading skills aren’t very good.”

Each reason was followed by a paragraph of elaboration. This was one of them: “The number one job of an actor is to communicate the life of the character to the audience. How can you communicate if you mumble or have bad speech habits? I don’t have time in the rehearsal process to teach you how to use proper diction—you should have learned that long ago.  If you need speech or diction classes—get them.”  Too many performers are disciples of the Clint Eastwood squint-and-grunt school of acting.

Theatre is as bad as cinema. Critic Christina D’Angelo observed of the Broadway production of Rent that “Take Me As I Am” was “one of the very few songs that were intelligible. … The majority of the cast are in dire need of some serious diction classes, and a few could use a voice coach. I would say that over seventy-five percent of the lyrics were completely unintelligible. It seems they’ve confused screaming with singing.” Keep in mind that actors are among the people in our society with the best enunciation.

My own profession is just as bad. Media consultants (people who advise broadcasters how to get higher ratings) always advise television reporters to write stories in conversational style. Unfortunately, to most reporters, this means using contractions, which is the last thing they should do. Most of them don’t have the diction to make contractions work on the air. Television tends to exaggerate everything it broadcasts, and there’s nothing more confidence-inspiring than hearing a supposedly knowledgeable reporter saying “dint” for “didn’t,” “woont” for “wouldn’t.” A variant on this part of the problem is actress Olivia Munn playing a broadcast journalist in Newsroom and fumbling her pronunciation of couldn’t” and “wouldn’t”.

As I wrote this, I heard a television commercial advertising a CD by Pol Pot. I had to look up at the screen because the notion of the one-time leader of Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge government as a singer was a grabber. It turns out that the singer is Paul Potts and the announcer’s enunciation was lousy.

There are plenty of superfluous non-academic requirements like physical education in the schools that can make way for a more essential need—learning to talk.

And if you are a candidate for office, screen those phone solicitors—if you have to use them.

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Joe Biden and the Segregationists

A group of Democratic politicians have decided they have the right to judge 20th-century senators by the ethics of the 21st century.  Nice idea, but Joe Biden and a lot of others would have served very short careers if they had followed that lunatic course. After all, in those days the southern states were known for electing politicians to the Senate and then leaving them for decades on end. By the time Biden—and other senators of his generation—arrived in the Senate, it was the segregationists who had the power.

Donald Trump is pretty ignorant about the issue—immigration—that he keeps popping off about. The same was not true of Ted Kennedy. He learned the issue in part because one of his first three subcommittees was Immigration.  He got it shortly after being sworn in as a senator in 1963 by quickly responding to a summons to the office of the vicious racist James Eastland, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who plied him with scotch in the morning and gave him his three chosen committees. Should Kennedy have disdainfully kept his distance from the distasteful old bigot and thus screwed his constituents and migrants of all types?

I have little admiration for Joe Biden. He was the worst of the Democratic drug warriors. As Judiciary Committee chair, he discouraged some of Anita Hill’s supporting witnesses from testifying.  But he’s getting a bum rap from Cory Booker and others who are trying to apply post-20th-century morality to the society that existed decades ago.  Consider, for example, who the segregationists were.  Should the Vietnam doves have kept their distance from segregationist J. William Fulbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most effective critics of the Vietnam war?  Should the members of the Senate Watergate Committee, and other political reformers, have refused to cooperate with the chair of the committee, Sam Ervin?

By attacking Biden for working with segregationists, Booker and company are attacking other senators who did exactly the same thing: Mike Mansfield, all three Kennedys, Estes Kefauver, William Proxmire, Albert Gore, George McGovern, Thomas Kuchel, Phil Hart, Hubert Humphrey, Joe Tydings were all cooperative with segregationists.

Today’s group of amateur political journalists are just as bad.  CNN’s Stephen Collinson wrote that Biden “can’t seem to get out of his way” because the “backlash Biden faces from his rivals is less about his record on race—he has long fought for racial equality—and far more about whether he truly appreciates the changes that have taken place in his party during a career that began in the early 1970s.” Collinson fails to realize that the biggest change is not involved with race but with the polarization and dysfunction in Congress that Newt Gingrich and other Republicans intentionally engineered into the system. Biden is speaking right to the most important new issue on the scene and in the Democratic Party, which has never found a way to end the polarization.

NPR’s Scott Detrow dug up the most vile quote he could find from Eastland (“In every stage of the bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking niggers”) to show the kind of person Biden was cozying up to.  How can Biden or anyone defend against that?  Could Detrow not know that because politicians of competing views—Kennedy and Hatch, McGovern and Dole—are pals, it does not mean they embrace each other’s opinions? The technique Detrow employs is sleazy and designed to inflame. Is he suggesting that Ted Kennedy—whose biographer wrote of Kennedy and Eastland, “They hardly ever voted alike on an important issue, but they genuinely liked each other”—sympathizes with that quote?

Those kinds of political and journalism tactics may be why the Congressional Black Caucus is backing up not Booker, Kamala Harris, and others, but Biden. “I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life,” U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina said, referring to the governor and senator from Clyburn’s home state who ran as a white supremacist candidate for president in 1948.

Democrats can’t have it both ways.  Either people work with their adversaries and Congress works—or they don’t, and it doesn’t.  They can’t complain about congressional Republicans not wanting to work with Democrats and then turn around and complain that Biden worked with segregationists in an era when that got things done, something Democratic senators are not doing today in the dysfunctional Senate.

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