Tag: politics

Donald Trump cartoon by Michele Paccione via Shutterstock.

I thought we were gonna get television. The truth is, television is gonna get us.

Over the weekend, I watched the 1994 film “Quiz Show” again. Like a lot of movies, books, short stories, TV shows, documentaries and news stories I’ve revisited in the past year or so, it unexpectedly spoke to the ugly realities of this point in time.

The movie is based on “Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties,” a book by Richard Godwin, who became curious about rumors of scandals and rigged television quiz shows during the 1950s. As a congressional lawyer, he was able to do something about it. Working as special counsel to the Legislative Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, he was part of an investigation that included “Twenty One,” the quiz show featured in the movie.

The investigation proves the show was rigged, but Godwin (played by Rob Morrow) is disillusioned by the outcome, in which the network (NBC) emerges largely unscathed. There are many reasons for this. The often-blurred line between reality and fiction in entertainment is one of them.

Nothing speaks to that more loudly and with more serious implications than the rise of Donald Trump from lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous ’80s television curiosity to his role on “The Apprentice” to his improbable 2016 election as president of the United States. “The Apprentice” (on NBC, it’s worth noting) furthered the creation of a Donald Trump character made to stand for the real Trump but one that obscured the real Trump, the truth about his business practices and his many character flaws. There is superb reporting dating to the ’70s and ’80s that reveals the reality of the man, but to viewers whose primary exposure to Trump was on television, the myth became real. Many voted for the myth and elected the man. And here we are.

To anyone paying attention the past 28 months, since Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency, television’s role in his election is clear. It helped enable his branding in the ’80s by focusing more on style than substance. It glossed over his many business failures in later years by continuing a tabloid-like flavor to its coverage of Trump. Cable news became his greatest ally early in his campaign and could never cure itself of what amounts to journalistic malpractice. And as much as he tried to explain it away as a joke, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves showed his hand with his comments in February 2016.

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

“Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

Watching “Quiz Show” again, my mind instantly recalled television’s fingerprints on Trump’s presidency when the Godwin character summed up the unexpected turn at the conclusion of what had seemed like a successful investigation into scandal. I heard it differently than I had the other times I’d seen the movie.

I thought we were gonna get television. The truth is, television is gonna get us.”

“Movie Quote Stuck in My Head” is self-explanatory, but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dig inside an old quote for new meaning, or a new quote for an old truth, or to chew on a line for fun or sustenance. It’s also inspired by and a tribute to “Real Time Song Stuck in My Head,” a popular feature on the Twitter feed of the late Craig Stanke, a former editor for CBSSports.com and, for too short a time, a leader by example to me during my time working there. You can read about him here.

Barack Obama and his family at his election victory speech Nov. 4, 2008, in Chicago’s Grant Park. We are not the nation I thought we were becoming as I watched that night. (Everett Collection via Shutterstock)

Donald Trump is like a guy who takes a dump on half the yards in the neighborhood, somehow gets elected neighborhood association president, and then says it’s time for everyone to unite behind him.

Trump crapped on immigrants. He crapped on women. He crapped on President Obama. He crapped on you, even if you don’t think so. He crapped on America. He crapped on the world.

He denied, then bragged, then denied some more, despite proof. And yet, he won, because half of those in the neighborhood who didn’t get this treatment loved him. Now, he and his inner circle have urged the rest of the neighbors to come together, to heal and move forward — and without apologizing to any of them. Really? Forgive and forget? No way. The arrogance of expecting the people he dumped on to meet him all the way, not just halfway, would be mind-boggling if it were anyone else. But he has flung so much poo in getting the best of the party that owes its current existence to poo-flinging, we are well beyond what we once considered normal.

I have watched every U.S. presidential inauguration since Nixon’s second. That streak ends Friday. Call it a boycott if you’d like, although almost no one will notice. But in a still-defining-itself #notmypresident form of personal protest, I am doing my small part to refuse to normalize and legitimize Trump’s presidency.

Yes, I have read pieces — most of them by people seemingly lacking self-awareness regarding the blind spots inherent in their privilege — deriding the substance of, and the hashtag within — the previous paragraph. Many such pieces popped up amid post-election demonstrations across the country and the anti-Trump backlash on social media. A main point is, “Not your president? How’s that supposed to work?” My answer today: That’s for me to figure out. You can treat as normal and legitimate the people and events of your choosing.

As it turns out, I have plenty of company in some or much of my thinking. Dana Milbank and I have similar opinions on the Trump team’s angry call for respect. On the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s ascendancy, Paul Krugman and I (and Rep. John Lewis) largely agree. For a far more eloquent expression than I am capable of writing, I recommend Adam Gopnik’s The Music Donald Trump Can’t Hear as a foundation for what’s to follow below.

Despite Trump’s insistence that he “will be president for all Americans,” there is no evidence that he is even remotely interested in proving it, in reassuring marginalized people that he is a man of his word. In fact, he has been known for decades as a selfish opportunist who is decidedly not a man of his word. As someone who has enjoyed the privilege of being a white male from birth, I consider it my responsibility to speak — for myself and for those who are now more vulnerable — about why I will not acknowledge his inauguration Friday.

Read More…

More than a month ago, acquaintances who support Sen. Ted Cruz — or, more accurately, despise Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama — parroted ad nauseam Cruz’s talking points about “radical Islamic terrorism.”

“Why won’t they say ‘radical Islamic terrorism’?” they asked me, perhaps thinking I am a part of the Clinton and Obama inner circles. “How can we defeat ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ when we have a president who refuses to say those words?”(Spoiler alert: Obama said them as recently as Dec. 6, as you’ll see below.)

It was if they were speaking from the same briefing distributed in the same clubhouse, or from the same long-running thread of email forwards. It was as if someone said, “Go out and ask all your liberal friends this.” It turned up everywhere, and I wondered if people truly believed that saying those three words held the key to prevailing against evil. There was a crazed obsessiveness about those words, or their absence from the speeches of Democratic leaders, that reminded me of Sam Kinison’s character in “Back to School” screaming “Say it! Say it!” at Rodney Dangerfield.

I watched the Republican debate Tuesday night curious to see if Cruz would double down on the phrase in the aftermath of the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. Instead, he tripled down on them, as noted by others watching and commenting on Twitter.

And the number of the counting shall not be three, because there was more.

Last month, Cruz evaded a question by Jonathan Karl of ABC News by asking Karl if Karl could say “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Cruz wouldn’t say it so often and for so long if it didn’t resonate with the type of people he wants voting for him, including Trump supporters he hopes to acquire by the primaries. As evidenced by the exchange with Karl and in the debate Tuesday night, Cruz is dropping it into conversation wherever he can. Good morning, Sen. Cruz. “Can you say radical Islamic terrorism?” What would you like for lunch, Sen. Cruz. “Can you say radical Islamic terrorism?” He reminds me of evangelizing Christians who will enter your personal space and ask if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. What’s more, Cruz has a lot of people repeating the phrase, including other GOP candidates. It has the feel of people working off a script, perhaps because they’re unable to do their own thinking.

One reason I watched the debate was to see whether Cruz would keep hitting this theme even after Obama mentioned radical Islamic terrorism in his Dec. 6 address to the nation in the wake of the San Bernardino killings. From that address:

Obama said it

It’s right there. The two went “down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam” and committing an “act of terrorism.” Obama said it, just not in the way Cruz wants him to say it — like Dorothy, believing that simply by saying a few words, magic will happen. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” While clicking her heels, of course.

I’m not alone in seeing this obsession Cruz has with such magical thinking.

And Tuesday night:

I nodded Dec. 6 after Obama said the lines cited above, because I knew he’d just said what he supposedly was afraid of saying, and that he wouldn’t get credit for it. No, he didn’t say “radical Islamic terrorism” in that exact, uninterrupted word sequence, but no reasonable person would come away from hearing that address to the nation thinking he had not mentioned radical Islamic terrorism. In fact, I admire him for phrasing it his way rather than taking the bait, as if to say he’s not going to jump through hoops to satisfy some ultimately meaningless demand or challenge by desperate, angry, calculating political foes.

But he said it. So, now what, Sen. Cruz? What else do you have?

Without getting into how slimy Cruz appears to be, how many previous snake-oil salesmen he calls to mind, how much like an evangelist he acts and talks, and how woefully inept he seems when he tries to come across as a regular guy, it’s easy in the wake of the debate to find take-downs of his attempts at laying out a strategy.

His absurd misunderstanding of carpet-bombing and how he’d be able to do what we’re already doing, only better, is another example of how in over his head Cruz is regarding serious foreign policy.

Which is probably why he sticks to repeating what he sees as magic words, the apparently foolproof incantation that leads to victory over ISIS, and convincing his followers that we’re in the mess we’re in because of liberals’ refusal to use those three magic words.

For him, and for his followers, I have three more appropriate words: Shock and Awe.