“Illegitimate” Trump is a seductive idea, and dangerous

A nesting doll in a Moscow souvenir shop—photo by Andrey Rudakov

Like many people, I would like to believe that Russia made Donald Trump president of the United States. That would solve a lot of problems for me—for example, the problem of reconciling tomorrow’s inauguration with my faith in American democracy and the people who operate it. That took kind of a hit in November. As a person who would not like to see Trump and his ilk win again and again, believing Russians hacked the election would also relieve me of my concern that Democrats could not beat the worst presidential candidate in American history.

But that phrase—“Russia hacked the election”—is simplistic and dumb. There is no evidence that Russia or its agents did anything to interfere with ballots or their counting. No election-related computer systems were compromised. Russians “hacked the election” by releasing to the public emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta. Surely, Russia favored Trump, because it could have done the same thing to him but didn’t. But the fact remains that Russia “hacked the election” only in the sense that it gave voters accurate information about Clinton they didn’t already know.

The actual election—the part where Trump becomes president by winning the electoral college—happened at the will of the American people in accordance with our constitution. It’s completely terrifying and sad that it happened that way—more terrifying and sad, probably, than if the Russians changed the vote count. But we should confront this state of affairs in our politics, so we can cure it. Blaming the Russians and declaring Trump illegitimate only denies that we are sick.

It is for this reason I must humbly disagree with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who told Meet the Press he will not attend the inauguration because he does not consider Trump a legitimate president. Lewis is a damn hero, and he can do whatever he wants. But I think it’s a mistake to pretend that Trump did not ascend to the presidency within our existing system, according to the will of the American people constitutionally expressed. Russia didn’t do this. We did. I think we should reckon with that, and the narrative that Russian interference renders the result of this election illegitimate lets us off the hook. You can read all about it in this week’s column in the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Clinton took Michigan for granted, non-Russsian source reports

If you want to know how the Democratic Party is both not wrong and not likely to win an election ever again, consider this sentence from a recent letter to the Missoula Independent:

Blaming the Democratic Party for the election of Donald Trump excuses the real culprit: the uninformed electorate.

If you programmed a computer to identify Yogi Berra aperçus, this one might fool it. It’s not my fault I lost; they were the ones who didn’t vote for me. Anyway, Beth Taylor Wilson of Missoula is right: on every issue, Hillary compared to Trump as sense compares to nonsense, and the Democratic Party put up a progressive platform this year. They were also the only major party not to nominate a walking personality disorder. And yet they lost. They lost even though the admittedly uninformed electorate did its job and picked Clinton, by a margin of three million votes.

My question for the B.T. Wilsons of the world: How is it the voters’ fault that Hillary lost the electoral college? Perhaps some share of the blame lies with the professionals who spent nearly one billion dollars in donations to get her into office. Like you, I assumed the Democratic Party attracted the canniest politicians in America. Then I read this Politico story about how they campaigned in Michigan. Here’s a morsel:

The only metric that people involved in the operations say they ever heard headquarters interested in was how many volunteer shifts had been signed up — though the volunteers were never given the now-standard handheld devices to input the responses they got in the field, and Brooklyn mandated that they not worry about data entry. Existing packets with notes from the volunteers, including highlighting how much Trump inclination there was among some of the white male union members the Clinton campaign was sure would be with her, were tossed in the garbage.

I don’t want to be a negative Nancy Pelosi, but this is the second time Clinton has blown a sure thing. Sure, it’s mostly Russia’s fault. But sometimes I wonder whether Democrats are overestimating how many people are still with them. They might even be taking some of their constituents for granted. That’s easy to do when the Republican Party has gone berserk and nominated a Batman villain for president. Only an idiot would vote for that, obviously. It was so obvious that here we are, now, a nation of idiots without even a smart lady to lead us.

“The voters were too dumb to pick Clinton” might be true. It sure looks that way from a certain perspective. But if that is your perspective, “it’s the voters’ fault” is a poisonous idea. If you believe electing Trump was a mistake, as I do, then you have to consider how the Democratic Party allowed that to happen given the electorate we have. Democracy means the customer is always right.

A note from the management


Last night I dreamed I was on trial for attempted murder. I didn’t do it. The man I was accused of trying to kill said that I didn’t do it. I only stood next to him when he was shot, and it was all a big misunderstanding. He was friendly and sad, an old drinker who kept telling me how ready he was to testify on my behalf. My lawyer was ready, too. She thought we stood a good chance of winning this thing. I was innocent, and that helped, although obviously anything could happen. “It’s a jury trial,” she said. My heart sank.

For months I planned the post that I would write today. It was going to be about how I decided to stop writing about politics in Combat! blog. I would still write about it indirectly, sometimes, through close readings of political rhetoric or analogs to history, but I would be done with the horse race, the daily news. That’s not where my talents lie. It’s not what has advanced my career. But more importantly, it’s not where the kind of nuance I care about abides. Political arguments converge on answers so firm and binary they cannot be the truth. When your inquiry can only reach a handful of conclusions, you’re not doing inquiry. You’re doing propaganda.

I stand by my plan to stop writing about horse-race politics, but the post with which I planned to announce it is useless now. It only read in the context of Hillary Clinton winning. I expected to turn away from politics today smug and disappointed. She was a flawed candidate, exciting as a woman but depressing as a woman who responded to our contemporary crisis by promising more of the same. Her campaign drifted into a bland centrism that seemed to synthesize all of American politics: trans rights and war in Syria, a friend of Wall Street who would tax the rich, endorsed by Henry Kissinger and Bernie Sanders. She seemed to represent the dingy underperformance of our entire system— a form of government that, to paraphrase Churchill, was the second worst after all other forms of government.

I guess she represented that to a lot of other voters, too. Her stunning loss, which contradicted months of polling that continuously put her lead between a few points and a landslide, suggests a whole American democracy out there we don’t know about. It takes a frightening shape. The prospect of President Donald Trump scares me, but more worrying are the people who elected him.

To me, and to everyone I know or read, he was a recognizable type of huckster. His presentation was so phony and self-aggrandizing that he was funny. Remember when Trump was funny? Remember when he was an exaggeration of what a lying egomaniac might be? That is what the American people chose this year, not as a comedy sketch, but as our president. They heard him say only that he would be great, and they believed it. To watch this person rise to the nomination was alarming, even awful. But to watch him win, when no one we trusted thought he could, is to suddenly learn our mounting worries where actually a pleasing fantasy.

America did not get to the point where a game show host could almost be elected. It got to the point where he won. What Trump did worked. It worked on a numerical majority of voters. Those are the people who took charge of the nation’s future yesterday, and they are the people we live with now.

It is tempting to turn against them, or at least away from them. It would probably feel good to say enjoy your president, assholes and retire to some perch. Back when President Trump was an absurd daydream, I thought that if he were elected, it might be my excuse to give in to my natural misanthropy. But that would be only another capitulation. When people disappoint us this badly, in a way that leaves us feeling this bereft and powerless, loving them is all we have.

So. Now Donald Trump will be the president, and he will lie to us about what he did instead of what he is going to do. Today beings a period of transition for the country, probably, and definitely for Combat! blog. I planned this. These are not the circumstances I planned for, but they will not change what we do here going forward. We will only have to ignore a politics that demands our attention a little more insistently, and when we look at it out of the corner of our eye, it will be a little uglier. But our gaze does not change with what we look upon. It changes with what we look for, and on what we choose to focus, and how.

Over the next few days, I would like us to have a conversation. If you can think about anything but what happened yesterday, I encourage you to use the comments section. What do you like to see in this blog? What disappoints you? When have we been at our best here, and when have we gotten bored? I have my own ideas, obviously, but I would like to hear from you. Combat! blog has been a practice for me. It has also been a community, and in moments like this I value your readership especially. Welcome back, friend. So much has changed since last we spoke. Thank goodness we are here together, again.

“Islamic States of America” ad is straight Goebbels, not for profit

The title card from Secure America Now's 60-second election spot

The title card from Secure America Now’s 60-second election spot

Secure America Now is a non-profit, non-partisan organization. It doesn’t advocate for or against any specific candidate; it just brings “critical national security issues to the forefront of American debate.” Granted, its homepage includes such links as “Footage of Hillary in Prison,” “Prevent Four More Years of Obama’s Terrible National Security Policies,” and “Hillary Clinton is a Foreign Policy Disaster.” But those aren’t election advocacy. They’re just critical national security issues that mention presidential candidates by name. By the same token, the ad warning of an imminent Muslim takeover of the United States that Secure America Now released this weekend isn’t election-related. It’s just Nazi-style propaganda about the danger posed to America by adherents of a particular religion. Video after the jump.

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Donald Trump loves Citizen Kane but maybe doesn’t understand it



There is very little Combat! blog today, because I have been assiduously preparing my application for the Clickhole writing fellowship and assiduously stretching my supraspinatus in yoga. In the midst of all that, bills must be paid. So I have neglected most of my duties today in favor of gross commerce. Fortunately, A. Ron Galbraith has ridden to the rescue. He recently sent me this unsettling essay on Donald Trump and his favorite movie, Citizen Kane.

You know Citizen Kane—it’s the one about a guy who inherits a fortune at age 25 and goes from playboy to media magnate to politician, before he flames out spectacularly and tells his supporters the election is rigged. Trump seems to have sympathized with the pathologically ambitious plutocrat without realizing he was also supposed to hate him. That’s one of the hypotheses Anthony Audi puts forward:

Trump either fails to see the moral emptiness at Kane’s core, or else he does, and it doesn’t strike him as exceptional. Either way, however we spin it—wherever we draw the line of his self-delusion—Trump is admitting that he’s every bit as hollow as Charlie Kane; every bit “the empty box” (as Welles called him); every bit the liar and narcissist and demagogue.

“And it doesn’t strike him as exceptional” is economical as fuck, brah. Kudos to Audi for so elegantly creeping us out. We’ll be back tomorrow with news from Missoula’s deeply problematic Day of the Dead parade.