America’s 2016 Nominee? Themselves.

American’s have decided to vote for themselves this year.  No really, they have.  In the swelling support of Donald Trump, voters have shown that they would rather elect someone who shares their flaws than a leader of the traditional presidential mold.

Nearly every candidate not named Trump has spent years carefully crafting their image.  Honest, hardworking, caring, decisive.  Even Ted Cruz, who tries mightily to be viewed as an outsider, has a finely tuned political brand years in the making.

Most people are far from perfect and have flaws that range from occasionally lying to moments of racism to selfishness and arrogance.  Trump is unabashedly all of these things and in an age where polished politicians have been cast as the enemy, this mirror recognition is sufficient.

Trump may be a liar, but so are most people.  A 2002 study by the University of Massachusetts found the 60% of people tell at least one lie in every conversation.  Some of Trump’s supporters undoubtedly see this personal quality reflected in his candidacy as a sign of normalcy.  Trump claims to not have heard Jake Tapper say “KKK,” and well, who hasn’t forgotten a project at work and told their boss they didn’t get the email.  It may not be right, but the common man does this every day.

A polished politician, on the other hand, doesn’t have this luxury.  They are elected to be shining pillars of personal conduct and ethical purity.  Ted Cruz recently saw his poll numbers take a dive after days of harsh media coverage surrounding ethically questionable statements and tactics by his campaign.  The attacks were so effective that he fired his communications director to try and repair his image.  Meanwhile, non-politician Trump won a majority of Super Tuesday primaries just days after claiming a bad earpiece prevented him from condemning the Ku Klux Klan.

More likely than not that was a bold faced lie.  As HBO’s John Oliver pointed out earlier this week, Trump’s difficulty in condemning David Duke hinted that he was either racist or pretending to be, neither of which is decent.  If it was the latter – and I suspect it was – it was an incredibly effective dog-whistle to many within his core constituency.

Across the south there are still those who wouldn’t identify themselves as racist, but will still sing David Allen Coe songs with plenty of gusto.  To them, Trump’s hesitation in rebuking the David Duke endorsement was a nod that he is like them, someone who is forced to mask their internal compass because it doesn’t mesh with the decency norms of today’s society.

Then there is the matter of Trump’s wealth.  Candidates in every past election cycle have been ridiculed for being out of touch with the common man due to their vast fortunes.  The difference is that each of them were trying to run away from their upscale lifestyles while Trump embraces it as emblematic of the success others could see if he is elected.

For example, in 2008 John McCain tried to shrug off his inability to remember how many houses he owned.  Meanwhile, Trump holds press conference in front of a plane with his name emblazoned on the fuselage.  

This works because what American doesn’t dream of jet-setting around the world in their own jet.  It’s the embodiment of the American dream that we yearn for from a young age.  To a blue collar worker, seeing someone of Trump’s wealth preach a doctrine of unapologetic winning is exciting and inspiring.

Trump doesn’t need voters to ascribe to all of his opinions.  Rather, he just relies on people who can say “Hey, I’ve been there too. I can relate.”  Have most Americans not at one point thought about the satisfaction gained from torturing those who planned 9/11?  You bet they have.  But actually doing so would be in stark contrast to how America operates.  

George Washington once said that we should treat our prisoners in a way that proves the moral superiority of the American cause.  That wisdom is precisely why we elect leaders who have the temperament to steer us away from the temptation of revenge.

Nearly all of Trump’s support can be seen through this lens.  There is a substantial bloc of Americans want to “take America back” and to them a wall along the southern border sounds glorious.  A true leader knows how damaging that is.

Trump isn’t campaigning on the platform of being a leader.  He is campaigning as a megaphone for every dark thought buried deep in America’s conscience.

Career politicians though, spend so much time trying to appear perfect that any chinks in their armor revealing those human flaws can prove fatal.  Someone like Trump has proved immune to these traditional poison pills because he has never pretended to be a polished politician.

Make no mistake about it, politician or common man, Donald Trump is no statesman. He is, however, a perfect patchwork of frustrated American personalities and that may just be all he needs.

Trump’s Televised Puppet Show

If Donald Trump wins the presidency he better give every major network host a front row seat at his inauguration. It is the least he could do.

For months now they have eaten out of his hands like a puppy in pursuit of a Beggin’ Strip.  They repeat his vociferous accusations, his vulgar quips, his insults, and his lies.  They provide the hot air for every single ludicrous trial balloon he floats.

Seriously, does the truth even matter anymore? Does good journalism?

On February 22, Trump re-tweeted an allegation that Marco Rubio was not eligible for the presidency because his parents were immigrants.  It was outrageous, egregious, and preposterous.  

Yet all day on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, every single anchor drank the Kool-Aid, attached their puppet strings, and led with the “Is Marco Eligible” story hour after hour.  This wasn’t only done by antagonistic hosts like Joe Scarborough but by “respected journalists” like Andrea Mitchell.

I honestly do not get it.  In no way shape or form was this news.  It was an outright cheap shot and yet every major network gave it credence when they covered it with 1000% more seconds of airtime than it deserved.  A 15-second review of the account of the original tweeter @ResisTyr would reveal that Trump was quoting a Tea Party wacko, not a vetted political scientist.

But you’re right, maybe that is too much to ask of a major network.

These same people wonder how Trump manages to stay at the top of the polls.  This is precisely how.  As Newt Gingrich pointed out so astutely on Fox and Friends the other morning: “Look, {it is} because of you guys. Donald Trump gets up in the morning, tweets to the entire planet at no cost, picks up the phone, calls you, has a great conversation for about eight minutes, which would have cost him a ton in commercial money, and meanwhile his opponents are all out there trying to raise the money to run an ad. Nobody believes the ad.”

To further this point, a few months ago Trump phoned in to CNN and stated that the reason he says outrageous things is solely to remain in the headlines.  Host Carol Costello stared blankly back at him as she is wont to do, letting Trump’s admission that he was using her as a puppet fly right over her head.

Over the next few months he has proceeded to say outrageous thing after outrageous thing, and do you know what happened?  Every morning Costello leads the A-block of CNN’s Newsroom with “Donald Trump says…”

The journalistic argument is that there is an obligation to cover the front runner, but I don’t buy that for one second.  From the day Trump descended down his escalator to declare his candidacy, the media hasn’t looked away.  But staring is about the extent of their efforts.

They haven’t analyzed, they haven’t dug, they haven’t questioned.  They have just blindly regurgitated every last word that has come out of his mouth.  Even when they do push back on his claims, it is with barely enough force to move a feather.

The Huffington Post once made a noble attempt at addressing the Trump problem by promising to cover his candidacy in their entertainment section.  But alas, as with every high school kid who claims they won’t drink, after missing out on all the fun week after week, they too found themselves standing around chugging a Trump Lite.

But the truth is, Trump really isn’t entertainment.  His candidacy is scary and threatening to the American tradition in so many ways.

At a rally in Vermont, Trump kicked out protesters while shouting instructions to deny them their jackets so they would learn their lesson standing jacket-less in the frigid Vermont air.  And then in Nevada he said he wished a protester harm to the point that he would have to “leave on a stretcher.”  And do you know what the media did?  They chuckled and dismissed it as just Trump being Trump.

As it has become painstakingly obvious that the Trump bubble isn’t going to burst anytime time soon, the media has an obligation to treat him the same way they would have treated Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

Stop reporting his tweets like breaking news and giving legs to stories that are more deserving of being ignored like body odor in an elevator.  Stop airing every single one of his rallies live as if it were Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate.  Stop laughing at his antics that are an embarrassment to American democracy.

This is someone campaigning to be the president of the United States.  The highest, most respected, and honorable office in the world.  We are supposed to be the nation of freedom, of compassion, of caring, and of goodwill.  Trump’s nasty and mean-spirited campaign is more befitting of an African dictator than a major party candidate in the United States and it’s high time the national media stopped treating it as a joke.

 

Mitch McConnell Has Forgotten His Poker Face

Mitch McConnell has forgotten his poker face.  Last week he placed his opening ante in a remarkably large gamble.  In what many consider to be a new political low, Majority Leader McConnell issued a statement a mere hours after Justice Scalia’s death was announced saying the Senate would not consider a new Supreme Court nominee under President Obama.  This is a gamble in its own regard, but then yesterday voters in South Carolina gave Donald J. Trump a rousing mandate heading towards the Republican nomination.

In a normal presidential election year this gamble would have a decent chance of paying off.  Most elections in the past couple decades have been relatively close and only but a couple times in the past hundred years has a member of a two-term president’s party been elected.  Thus, by waiting until next year, McConnell could envision a Republican president nominating the next Justice.

However, this isn’t a normal election year and if Donald Trump becomes the nominee next fall, we will more than likely end up with a Democratic president.  McConnell is taking a huge personal risk here and the blame will fall squarely on his shoulders should the chips fall on the wrong side of the table.  

The Republican electorate is shaping up to bet the farm on Donald J. Trump as their nominee for the White House.  While he may have gained traction among blue collar Republicans as a symbol of the revolt against the political establishment, he has very little – some would say no – appeal among Independents and Democrats.  Failure to broaden his support would likely lend him to the same fate as Wendell Willkie, the last business mogul candidate, who lost in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

If Trump or any other Republican loses in the fall, McConnell will likely be left with a narrower majority in the Senate and a new Democratic president who will have a mandate to nominate a Justice of their choosing.  After all, in McConnell’s hastily released statement he asserted that the people’s decision next fall should speak for the type of Justice to be nominated.  

Before the South Carolina primary, there was still a glimmer of hope that Republican voters would come to their senses and choose a more classic candidate.  But the Trump machine kept rolling, fueled by record turnout and relentless media coverage keeping him in the headlines.

Trump’s base of support primarily comes from white, non-college educated voters.  Along with picking off parts of the evangelical and hardline conservative vote, Trump has formed a speckled coalition that likely can carry him to the Republican nomination.  The problem however, is that his brand is unlikely to appeal to anyone whom it hasn’t appealed to thus far. His divisive nature has alienated Hispanics, Muslims, women, Democrats and a host of other voters whose support is required to eventually secure 270 electoral votes.

All of this makes McConnell’s hardline stance on the Supreme Court nomination that much riskier.  If Trump succeeds in becoming the Republican nominee and then fails to form the broad, bi-partisan coalition needed to win the general election, then McConnell’s bet will have backfired.

Had he not issued such a reactive statement last week, McConnell could have played his cards in a number of other ways that would have allowed him to hedge his bets against next November’s outcome.

First, he could have issued a statement saying he’ll give the Obama’s nominee a fair hearing. Then as the year wore on, he could delay, stall, and offer countless excuses until the Senate recesses for the campaign season next fall. With the clock expired he could then blame Democrats for picking an “extreme” candidate and failing to reach a consensus on the next Justice.

Or, with the American people’s best interest in mind, he could have used his position as a power-broker in the Senate to force the President to nominate an ideological centrist whom the Senate could confirm, thus denying Democrats the full liberal shift they foresaw with Scalia’s passing.

While neither of those tracks would produce a 100% ideal outcome for McConnell, they would certainly be preferable to allowing a President Hillary Clinton to nominate and confirm a truly liberal Justice.

Only time will tell how this story plays out, but if I were a betting man, I’d place my money that it won’t end well for Mitch McConnell.  His overt attempt at obstructionism to deny President Obama the ability to seat a new Justice on the Supreme Court was short sighted, reactionary thinking that will in all likelihood produce a worse result for conservatives than the alternatives.

Photo Credit: Getty

Clinton’s Royal We

They say generals are always preparing to fight the previous war.  Well, General Hillary Clinton is running a campaign for an election that has come and gone.  The 2016 election is not about the resume at the top of the ticket.  It is about the movement they inspire.  

Bernie Sanders has captured the imagination of America’s liberal youth by representing a revolt against economic unfairness.  Donald Trump represents anger against the political status quo and America’s “incompetent leadership.”  Ted Cruz represents dissatisfaction with the inside baseball that takes place in Washington.

Clinton’s campaign isn’t about a movement.  She has made it about about her resume and qualifications and, quite frankly, we’re tired of hearing about your damn qualifications.

Her credentials undoubtedly are fantastic.  She has served as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State, and their is no doubt that her credentials are as strong as anyone who is running for president.  The problem is that this cycle, nobody, especially first-time voters, cares about records.

In the New Hampshire primary Sanders took more than 80% of the under-30 vote.  What Clinton doesn’t get is that millennials don’t want to just simply cast a vote.  For everything that has been written about the millennial generation, it’s well establish that they don’t believe in the traditional order.  They demand promotions before they’ve completed training.  They don’t want to fall in line.  And in politics, they would rather be a part of a movement than just check a box.

This ability to be a part of something bigger than themselves is exactly what Sanders has given them.

Contrast the concession speeches of Sanders and Clinton after the New Hampshire primary: Sanders used “we/our” nearly 50 times while only using “I/me” 24.  Clinton, on the other hand, used “we/our” just 15 times while using “I/me” nearly 40.  Controlling for the length of their speeches and uses such as “I thank Secretary Clinton,” the ratio of “I” to “We” was roughly 2:1 for each candidate, although reversed.

Sanders preaches a doctrine of “we.”  Just as Barack Obama did in 2008 with his rallying cry of “Yes We Can,” Bernie Sanders has empowered voters by leading them to believe that they are part of a movement that has the power to change the world.  Clinton, however, continually pontificates about her personal qualifications.  She asks people to “join me” in her campaign while Sanders asks his audience to “join us.”

Even in defeat she doesn’t seem to get it.  After millennials abandoned her in New Hampshire, she said in her concession speech, “Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.”  Newsflash, Secretary Clinton, young people don’t want another parent looking out for their well-being.

This is a generation that wants to do it themselves.  They don’t want to sit in an office and work for “the man,” they want to open their own business.  They don’t want to climb the corporate ladder, they want to appoint themselves CEO.  They don’t want a grandmother-in-chief to tell them what is good for them, they want a revolutionary who they can point to and say “I helped make that happen.”

Presidential politics is about appealing to the masses and sometimes that means you have to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  Young people don’t care whether someone’s plan is feasible or not.  They don’t care whether a platform could be passed by Congress.  They don’t care whether your experience qualifies you to handle the stress of the most powerful office in the world.  

They vote with their hearts not their heads.

Secretary Clinton, if you want to win back the support of the youth of America, start empowering them rather than preaching to them.  Start including them in your revolution rather than asking them to pack the stands to watch someone else’s show. Start showing them how they can be the change they believe in rather than just being a name on a “pledge to caucus card.”

Photo Credit: USA Today

The Conservative Frankenstein

For the better part of the past decade, Republicans have been preaching the doctrine that Washington’s dysfunction is the sole barrier standing between the American people and the promised land.  They have railed against every facet of the federal government, decrying “career politicians” and looking for leaders from Main Street.

I wish I could name every conservative politician who has uttered the phrase “Washington is the problem,” but doing so would consume the vast majority of this article.  For the past eight years, Republican politicians have been using this slogan to define their party.  The strategy has worked, but maybe a little too well.

By the second half of the Obama presidency, most of red America was not only outraged at the Democrats for their policies, but at their own party’s  representatives for not fighting hard enough against those policies. Virginians went so far as to oust majority leader Eric Cantor in a primary election in favor of a college professor who ran on a tea-party, anti-Washington platform.

For the better part of Obama’s term, Republican thought leaders have set unrealistic expectations for what can be accomplished in Washington. When the initiatives inevitably fail, they cast Republican leadership as weaklings of the conservative movement.  

In the current campaign, Republican presidential candidates with legitimate governing experience have been cast aside in favor of candidates who lack any credible political experience, or who have spent their careers attempting to bring down the institution from within.

After eight years of hearing that Washingtonians are the problem, can you really blame Republican voters for rejecting those with Washington on their resumes?

By virtue of being Republican, many conservative voters are inclined to favor anti-Washington sentiments. Primarily this manifests itself through hostility toward Democratic policy: they want smaller government, less regulation, and lower taxes. Traditionally, strict adherence to these principles was good enough to be called a conservative leader.  Not anymore.

Since Mitch McConnell declared it his goal to make Barack Obama a one-term president, the only real way to be a conservative was to oppose anything and everything at each opportunity.  If you voted for a budget that included 99% conservative priorities but 1% of Obama’s priorities, you were cast as a traitor who enabled a tyrant.

Groups like the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth began scoring elected officials not on their traditional conservative principles, but rather on their fortitude in the face of Obama’s agenda.  By the time the midterm elections came the Tea Party revolt was in full swing and Washington as a whole, not just the left, had become the enemy.

The election of 2012 should have been a sign of things to come.  While relative moderate Mitt Romney eventually emerged as the nominee, several Tea Party darlings threw their hat into the ring as anti-Washington candidates.  In her speech announcing her candidacy for president, Michele Bachmann declared “More than ever, Washington is the problem.”  Throughout his first campaign, Texas Governor Rick Perry released a series of ads claiming that “Washington is the problem” that he needed to be elected to fix.

The fact that the Republicans picked up 67 seats in the House between 2008 and 2014 only helped reinforce the anti-Washington narrative among elective hopefuls.  It has become a classic case of short term thinking that caused long term damage.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015.  The field of Republican presidential hopefuls was taking shape.  Among the candidates are your traditional government executives.  Governors of Florida, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. Senators from Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.  Among those individuals would you like to guess who generated the most excitement among conservative voters?

Answer: A bellicose real-estate mogul, a mild-mannered former neurosurgeon, and a sharp tongued former Hewlett-Packard Executive.

Meanwhile, former governors of Texas and Wisconsin, and senators from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina were the first to drop out.

No longer is good governance a starting qualification to run for President within the Republican party.  John Kasich helped balance the federal budget as a Congressman.  Sinful.  Chris Christie accepted President Obama’s help while New Jersey was recovering from Hurricane Sandy.  Unacceptable.  Rick Perry is the longest serving governor of the country’s second most populous state? No matter.

Rather, the most important qualification voters sought was that the candidate had nothing to do with Washington.  The well has been so poisoned by years of trashing the established political order that candidates who fight in opposition to this tradition can get away with almost anything.

Ben Carson, for all his success as a surgeon, would have been laughed off the stage in any other presidential election year.  He speaks with a tone more fit for a lullaby and he is about as charismatic as a throw pillow, except even those get fluffed up a couple times a day.  Yet, in 2015 the fact that he could say he had never held public office gave him great credibility to the conservative audience.  His star has since faded, but the fact that he ever led in the polls is a testament to the anti-Washington monster that has been created.

Donald Trump has a similar anti-Washington appeal, albeit in a slightly different way.  As was articulated in my earlier article Fear and Loathing in Washington he has been able to tap into voters frustrations by becoming the most untraditional campaigner ever.  He insults people, he makes outlandish statements, and he refuses to compromise or cooperate with any standard political norms.

Finally, Ted Cruz has become the ultimate example of the anti-Washington movement.  Despite holding the title of United States Senator, he has spent every waking second in that position fighting anyone with a pulse at the Capitol.

Since coming to Washington, Ted Cruz’s desire to prevent anything from moving through the Senate has been well documented.  His biggest claim to fame is the engineering of the 2013 government shutdown over the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Cruz popularized the impossible theory that if only the Republicans would work together, the ACA could be successfully repealed.  This was pure fiction from the beginning, yet his branding of the issue made red America believe that the failure to do so was the fault of the weak within their party.

He has advocated for refusing to pass budgets unless Planned Parenthood is defunded.  Also a fictional theory.  These types of demands and negotiations conducted at the end of a barrel are not, and will never be, how Congress gets things done.

Cruz regularly gives speeches accusing his fellow Republican’s of wilting instead of fighting for conservative causes that he alone champions.  He has burned so many bridges that he often waits in his car until the end of votes, dashes inside, and returns seconds after casting his yay or nay.

All of his antics have increased the gridlock that many Americans have long lamented.  Yet, rather than fault him for being a cog in the wheel, they hail him as if he were Leonidas from 300 — though they forget Leonidas eventually finds himself riddled with arrows.  

If Ted Cruz manages to succeed in securing the Republican nomination, there is no doubt the United States will elect its first woman President.  Cruz may excite the extreme right of this country who believe that government default is more desirable than a budget that includes the ACA, but they are not the majority.  

A governor like John Kasich who shows a willingness to work across the aisle and speaks of America’s greatness rather than its demise would be much more likely to pick up independent voters against a candidate like Clinton who has dealt with years of trust issues.  

This will never happen though, because the Republican’s have created a Frankenstein that may not be able to be contained.  After seven years of setting unrealistic expectations for their leaders and then faulting them for failing to achieve those same pipe dreams, the Republicans have created an environment in which only one type of candidate can emerge from their primaries.

Ted Cruz versus Donald Trump may not be the race registered Republicans want, but it is absolutely the race they deserve.

Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

America’s Character Limit

American doesn’t listen anymore.  Not because we’ve become petulant children, but rather our attention spans have been reduced to 140 characters or less. For comedy, this change has reaped large benefits, as bite sized observations of everyday hilarity truly are wonderful.

For politics however, this phenomenon has had a disastrous effect.  As traditional morning papers have seen their subscriptions plummet, people no longer take the time to listen, understand, or comprehend an idea that may be different than their original inclination.  Nor do people judge a candidate beyond the five word headlines they inspire.

Politics may be a game, but policy is not.  There is a reason that bills written in Congress are hundreds if not thousands of pages long.  New laws that affect a population of 300 million people require an increasingly intense attention to detail.  They require days, weeks, and even months of back and forth between various stakeholders to consider every possible side effect an idea may have. 

How will a change in a business tax rate affect those with few employees or minimal revenue?  Could a new regulation written for polluters produce an unforeseen externality for small business?  These are not simple deliberations.  Too often in the public arena these series considerations are shunned for the shortened, hyped, and radical characterization of how a move may either make America great, or turn us into a third world country.

Twitter is not individually to blame for this phenomenon.  Rather, it’s a symptom of this modern age, one in which we can order meals on our smart phones to be delivered within the hour.  This instantaneous satisfaction is great in any arena except politics.

Let’s look at three examples in which shortened debate has had a largely negative effect, starting with the Affordable Care Act. 

Currently there are only two acceptable positions when it comes to the ACA.  The act is either the single best thing to ever happen to this country, or it is the single reason freedom is dead.

Providing health care for the sick and poor by every means is a positive thing for this country.  Our European counterparts have done it for years to a very successful tune.  Does that mean the ACA is perfect? Of course not.  The exchanges have flaws, the economics haven’t worked entirely as planned, and some claim that provisions such as the medical device tax will be burdensome. 

Yet seldom ever discussed in the halls of Congress are any fixes or improvements.  Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or cripple the ACA, while Democrats refuse to offer any amendments because they fear being cast as traitors to their president.

In a perfect world, voters would take the time to analyze what their representative has done and consider that casting their vote for an improvement to the ACA wasn’t an abandonment of their party’s ideals, but rather a sensible move towards good governance.

I don’t expect that fantasy to become a reality anytime soon.  When a CNN poll from the past summer shows that 43% of Republicans still believe that President Obama is a muslim, one can’t expect that group to think that the only reason they are covered for health insurance is because of that same person. For example Kentucky residents have been the single largest beneficiary of the ACA, yet its residents have voted for Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell both of whom are dead set on repealing every last word of it.

Next is the oft-cited one of the sinking of immigration reform in 2013. 

That year, the “Gang of Eight” which included current presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, authored a bill that would have reformed the immigration process while adding nearly 40,000 border agents (jobs program anyone?), creating new visa categories, and creating a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.

This bill passed the Senate, but it never came up to the floor in the House because the path to citizenship portion quickly became branded as an “amnesty” program for those who had violated United States law by bypassing our legal immigration process.  In 140 characters that does sound unfair.  But in a few paragraphs… not so much. 

The bill required anyone seeking legal status to:

  • Apply for a permit and pay a $1,000 fine.  This allows them to work and is good for six years.
  • After six years they must pass another background check to renew that permit.  No crimes may have been committed.
  • After an additional four years, they can apply for a green card and pay another $1,000 fine.
  • After 3 more years – 13 years total – they can apply for citizenship if they have paid all owed back taxes for the years in which they have lived in the United States.
  • BUT WAIT, there’s more.
  • All of that work and time is null and void if the United States Congress doesn’t declare the southern border secure, hasn’t hired all 38,405 full time border agents, and hasn’t completed 700 miles of fencing.

Whether you think it is wrong or right for people to have come into this country illegally, you can hardly look at a process that takes over thirteen years, costs several thousand dollars and is contingent on the United States Congress to declare a 1,989 mile border “secure” (which is about as politically feasible as unicorns are real) and call it “amnesty.”

But in the national debate that surrounded immigration reform, none of those details mattered.  All that mattered was the word “amnesty.”  The public was robbed of an intellectual and thought provoking debate around a very important issue in favor of tag lines and compact sentences.

To this day the “Gang of Eight” association has hurt Marco Rubio.  On the campaign trail he is often forced to defend himself and toe the party line of “secure the border” because his attempt to be a lawmaker and an example of good governance has become a liability.

The final shining example of this saddened state of affairs came on January 7, at a CNN “town hall” featuring President Obama on the topic of new gun safety measures.  The town hall itself was remarkably civil and featured honest discussion of the pros and cons of gun laws.  And then we cut back to the CNN panel of partisan pit bulls. Sigh.

Almost instantly the Twitter politics returned.  Former police detective Harry Houck called the measures a “slippery slope” and suggested that Obama wanted to charge $1,000 for a gun license – there is literally zero evidence for this.  The left side of the room erupted, repeating their own tag lines of “common-sense safety measures” and accusing the right of perpetuating conspiracy theories.  Conservative talking head S.E. Cupp then asked why it was called a conspiracy to think Obama wanted to “take your guns away” because, well, it is his ultimate goal after all.

One step forward, two steps back. 

After a couple hours of honest discussion, CNN filled a room with attack dogs each ready to blast their entrenched positions in the form of soundbites and tag lines.  And this is why we can’t have nice things. 

Our national media has an obligation in correcting this degradation of our political discourse.  Because CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have essentially become 24-hour political new channels, they are the main way that the majority of this country learns about what is happening in Washington. 

As a result, when they publicize a political attack that boils a thousand pages of negotiations down to a dramatic headline they’re perpetuating this volatile discourse.  Anytime I hear someone on the street or at a nearby table in a coffee shop repeat a hyper-sensitized version of current events, I almost inevitably see that same headline flashing beneath Wolf Blitzer’s furry face a few hours later.

While it is certainly true that our attention spans need to expand, our media and political leaders have the primary obligation to increase their character limits.  They are the drivers of our national dialogue and people are only as informed as their sources of information. We need to move beyond twitter politics and be reminded that their is more to any policy than just the press release.

Fear and Loathing in Washington

Few emotions are more powerful than fear. Laughter must be prompted and happiness must be induced, whether by an environment or another person.  But fear—fear can overtake you the way a wave swallows up a sandcastle.  It can consume you in an instant, raise your heartbeat, cause you to set aside rationality, and instantly numb any other senses so that the body may form a response to the fear-inducing stigma.

In nature this has served humans well—it is what has allowed us survive as a species for millennia.  Normally fear subsides when the stimulus vanishes.  Unless, that is, the stimulus is a six-foot-two figure with wispy blonde hair wearing a red tie and white dress shirt bearing down on your from your flat screen. 

For the all the things Donald Trump is not, he is certainly clever – albeit in a very Machiavellian way.  He has tapped into our most primal sensation and kept his foot on the gas, blinding us and denying us the ability to take a step back to rationally analyze the situation.  Because in nature, if you step back to analyze… you’re dead.

The good news is we’ve come a long way from those primordial days.  For the most part we are sitting comfortably on a couch when this fear creeps into our life.  We are in a state where we ought to be able to set fear aside for even the briefest of seconds in order to ask ourselves what kind of danger we are truly in.

In the final Republican debate of 2015, several candidates once again presented the outright fallacy that the fight against ISIL is a clash of civilizations that only ends with one man standing. 

Let’s get something straight: as President Obama said  in his State of the Union address, the United States of America is the single most powerful nation the world has ever seen.  We have more naval power idling domestically than most other nations have en masse.  We can project enormous power to any corner of the globe within a matter of days, if not hours.  ISIL is a band of desert-dwelling ideologues whose most advanced weapon of war is a used Toyota with a gun mounted in the bed.

By contrast, during WWII the United States sacrificed nearly half a million of its sons to defend our way of life in a true clash of civilizations, the advent of Nazism and fascism that was swallowing up Europe.  At this point in the fight against ISIL, the United States is primarily committed to aerial bombardments and to this date has lost one soldier.  In the famous words of John Paul Jones: We have not yet begun to fight.

Yes, self-radicalized individuals within our borders have killed our fellow citizens in dastardly attacks at our strip malls and education centers.  But that is nowhere near what a clash of civilizations looks like.

Which brings us back to the element of fear.  Could you be killed the next time you leave your house by an AR-15 wielding terrorist? Sure.  But you are much more likely to be killed in a car accident, or struck by lightning, or killed by a falling tree. 

It is no more reasonable to ban every refugee or tourist from Syria than it is to deforest our lands, or to build underground bunkers for every time a thunderstorm rolls in.

Despite that rationale, the candidates this election cycle preach that we are as likely to be the next victim of terrorism as we are to be the “millionth user” of that website giving away free laptops.  And it is working.

According to Public Policy Polling, 56% of Americans either believe or are still deciding if Trump is correct in wanting to institute a blanket moratorium on Muslims entering our country.  By this logic we ought to ban white males from our schools.

With all the comforts of modern life, the fear we face is not one of immediate threat, but one of the unknown.  The language of the 2016 election has invoked fear of the “other” and brought out the worst in people, who as David Frum pointed out in the The Atlantic, are “irked” when asked to specify which language they would like to use when they call Comcast. 

These feelings are not new.  They have been simmering beneath the surface of the American psyche since before the ink of the words “all men are created equal” had dried. 

In the 1800s we banned the Chinese.  In the 1940s we interned the Japanese. And throughout that entire time and into the 1960s, we discriminated in every possible way against African Americans.  We – the white man – were afraid that the contributions of others may exceed those of our own, that they may create an environment in which we were not the richest, smartest, or most powerful person in the room.

What is different about today is that politicians—those who by raw definition we entrust to be our leaders—are addressing that fear not to raise the conversation above the din, but rather to lift themselves, propelled by the surge of this rising tide.  

Trump has mastered the ability to add to this wave in a way that a surfer could only dream of.  He has fueled his supporters’ fear while pitching himself as the only sensible savior.  Mexicans are rapists.  Muslims are terrorists. Republican leaders are weaklings.  Democrats will take your guns away.  The insinuation is clear:  This country is slipping away and Trump is the only one who can save you.

The good news in this madness is that the election is still more than 10 months away.  No matter how terrified one is, the ability to keep fear alive over that period of time is a task that even the grandiose and bellicose Donald Trump may have difficulty pulling off. 

At the end of the day, fear will always be surpassed by hope.  Hope may now be a tired promise of elections past, but as the sun rises after a nightmare, the light of hope will always outshine the shadow of fear.  Sometimes that shadow just takes longer to vanish.