How the Democrats blew it and how to not blow it next time

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m over the initial shock of the election, although it follows me into unwelcome places, like my dreams. The election seemed pretty easy to call in advance. Pollsters were in agreement. Everything had been sliced and diced. Although a two-term president is rarely succeeded by someone from his own party, it sure looked like with the worst Republican candidate ever things were going to break for Team Blue.

Obviously it didn’t, leaving pretty much everyone except Michael Moore and Scott Adams with egg on their faces. Heck, even the Trump campaign was planning for defeat. You could see in Trump’s “victory” speech that he was a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing; it’s almost liked he hoped to lose. Trump’s visit to the White House yesterday was also surreal. He had a stunned-bunny sort of look, like this is the last sort of job he wanted. And it’s worth noting that while Trump trounced Clinton in the Electoral College vote, Clinton still won the popular vote. She joins Al Gore and Samuel J. Tilden in the exclusive club of candidates who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote (and who had not been president already.) By any standard, Trump’s election is not the will of the people.

In retrospect pollsters failed because no one had come up with a way to model the racist vote. Racists generally won’t self identify themselves but based on the results the unidentified racists were about 5% of voters, all voting for Trump. And the reason they couldn’t be identified before was that Trump was our first modern openly racist candidate, well, at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So it’s important to understand that even with the wind at their backs Democrats had the odds stacked against them. Generally presidents don’t quite deliver the change envisioned, even if they are well liked, so voters will be inclined to try the other party. And Trump was all about change. But he also had people enthusiastic about him. Enthusiastic people vote. While there certainly were Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, most of us were half-hearted supporters. Those who show up to vote with the most passion get their candidate elected.

It’s not that Democrats didn’t have a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was that candidate. He had amazing crossover appeal. During the Democratic primaries, Sanders generally won the rust belt swing states that normally vote Democratic but were picked off by Trump. It’s impossible to know that if Bernie had been the party’s nominee whether he would have done better than Clinton, but my guess is he would have. At least some of Clinton’s firewall states would have fulfilled their function and that may have been the edge that was needed.

So it’s worth recalling just how Clinton got the nomination in the first place. It’s not that she didn’t do a lot to earn the nomination. But she was the Democratic establishment’s choice. Clinton spent years cultivating these relationships and of course she also had Bill to help her as well. It was obvious that DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz had her finger on the scales for Hillary. But even if she hadn’t, long before Bernie had even entertained the idea of running for president, Hillary had an in with the various Democratic state party establishment. She had banked most of the party’s superdelegates. If every eight years is going to be a change election, it’s counterproductive for a party to have a system in place that discourages change candidates. The Republican Party did not, and it worked in their favor in this election.

So the lesson for Democrats should be clear: get rid of the party’s superdelegate system. To his credit Sanders brought this to the attention to the party after his nomination was out of the question, and sort of won. Superdelegates don’t go away but they will be reduced by two-thirds. This will make it easier for candidates like him to get a foothold in the future, increasing the odds that the eventual party nominee will be a rank and file pick, rather than the establishment’s. It’s a pretty good bet that rank and file will be closer to understanding who can actually win an election than the party’s elite as they won’t be living their lives in the insular political bubble that the party’s elite do.

But can real party change happen? Getting rid of most of these superdelegates helps. It would be better to get rid of all of them. What’s critical for 2018 though is to find a new party chairman that gets this. Howard Dean, who became the DNC chair after the 2004 election is willing to give it another try. His 50-state strategy was very successful. It allowed Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate just two years later. We need Dean or someone who believes the same things. We don’t need Wasserman-Shultz or Donna Brazile again as both have proven ineffectual.

We also need to say goodbye to the Clintons. Both came with baggage and it dragged down the ticket, even if some of their issues were more smoke than fire. (Hillary’s emails, for example, was mostly a big nothing burger.) They represent the “new Democrat” that Bill Clinton invented in 1992. That business-friendly, Republican-lite branding no longer works and does not distinguish the Democratic Party. Both Bill and Hillary need to exit stage right. The party needs to hear from a variety of voices, hopefully mostly new voices to see what resonates within the party of today. The party is morphing too, but feels moribund. It’s a party that is increasingly diverse and multicultural. But it should not be the party of non-whites. It should appeal to those Trump voters who were sucked in by Trump’s popular and economic message. Whites still form the majority of voters in this country. Elections cannot be won without significant number of crossover white voters. For whatever reason, except for younger white voters, whites and white women in particular failed to deliver for Democrats in this election.

If you want people to vote for you, give them some compelling reasons to vote for you. Democrats failed here, choosing an establishment candidate with baggage and high unfavorables over a change candidate. Voters need to feel like the candidate is someone that gets their concerns, and has a track record of fighting for their issues. It’s hard to relate to a candidate who is a millionaire and gives $250,000 speeches to Wall Street firms. You need someone authentic with fire in their belly instead, someone a lot like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The only good news for Democrats is that Trump is likely to quickly implode. He brings a lot of baggage to his presidency including a lot of civil suits and possible criminal charges for having sex with a minor. If he chooses to do those things he says he will do, he will piss off his voters who buy his brand but not most of his policies, like throwing undocumented immigrants out of the country. The Democratic Party need not be down for long. But if it is to recover quickly, it must do so with agility and intelligence. It needs to morph into a populist party again.

Election 2016 postmortem

The Thinker by Rodin

I owe Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) an apology based on recently lampooning him. So sorry Scott, and congratulation on being one of only a handful of the few pundits who correctly called Donald Trump’s win last night. In retrospect his reasoning was sound although counter-intuitive: voters voted their fears, and not their aspirations. Like in Dilbert he sees humans as fundamentally flawed and easily led astray. Point taken last night.

Trump’s win was nothing short of astounding and flew in the face of conventional wisdom and polling science. Trump turned out his supporters, not that Clinton did not, just not in the way Trump did. And that made the difference in state after state, giving him narrow wins in one swing state after another, and not so narrow wins in states that had fewer hues of the rainbow among its populace. (Ohio, I’m looking at you.)

If Trump has a talent, it’s in instinctively knowing what people want to hear and then pandering to it. Married with an ability to make the news by being outrageous, he proved it was an effective model for winning the presidency. And so here we are on the day after trying to figure out what this means. It sure doesn’t look good.

It is tempting to blame Hillary Clinton, a flawed candidate in the opinion of a majority of Americans, but actually far less flawed than Donald Trump. Perhaps I’m naive, but I think that if Bernie Sanders had won the Democratic nomination, he and Democrats would be the big winners this morning. One of the amazing things about yesterday’s election is that Trump triumphed in spite of polls of his own supporters that said he was terribly flawed candidate. But he was different, an anti-politician and that apparently was all that mattered. He pushed their buttons because he knows how to do that so well. They don’t seem to care that his policies if enacted will probably depress their standard of living, as it is already doing with world markets. They don’t care about deficits and unemployment his policies will create, and that more of their income will go to people like him. And they sure don’t care about the impact on global climate change, if he follows through on withdrawing us from these compacts.

And so we have very likely the least qualified candidate ever as our president elect, an impetuous, vain, spiteful and frankly deeply evil human being, lofted to this position principally by people who approve of these moral failures. They want someone to be their champion. If Trump’s experience is any guide, he will be the last person to be a champion of the white middle class.

Democracy is very scary at times. I think it’s fair to say except with the election of Abraham Lincoln which started the Civil War, no election will be of more consequence to our country or is more likely to explode in our faces. Politically though it was very successful. Republicans retained a lock on Congress, Democrats picked up only two Senate seats and we’ll get another very conservative jurist on the Supreme Court. It’s quite the surprise ending, only it feels more like a horror show, except this is no show but real life. And it was accomplished by pandering to the worst about us, rather than the best.

I sit here in the deeply red state of Tennessee which voted roughly two to one for Trump, despite the churches pretty much on every street corner. Tennessee though like most red states is full of contradictions. Here in Nashville sin is rampant and easy to acquire, along with temporary salvation when you fail. You can buy moonshine in the liquor stores, I found a “gentlemen’s club” (titty bar) across the street from my hotel and the cars tend to be large and very noisy. I return home to Massachusetts today where I am hoping the wreckage of last night and the natural world around me can help wipe this foul taste from my mouth.

And I’d like to sleep again.

There is little about this election that is amusing, but there is Scott Adams

The Thinker by Rodin

Scott Adams, the force behind the phenomenally popular comic strip Dilbert has a blog and too much time on his hands. One thing I like about Scott is his Machiavellian detachment, which comes across in his comic strip, principally in the character Dilbert. Dilbert sees the systems around him for what they are: full of chaotic forces that make little sense and are frequently evil. Dilbert is rarely shown with a mouth in the comic strip, but he sure has one. He feels free to say whatever is on his mind. These are usually thoughts that you would not utter in the workplace. They are also frequently contrary to conventional opinion.

Scott claims to be apolitical and doesn’t plan to vote in the upcoming election. However, this hasn’t kept him from “endorsing” candidates for president. First he endorsed Donald Trump, a man he obviously greatly admires. I suspect his admiration for Trump comes from (like Dilbert) Trump feeling free to tell people what he really thinks, even if it comes off as crazy and abrasive most of the time. When you have Trump’s fortune and lawyers you have pretty much free speech without consequence, as long as you don’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Scott’s fortune is smaller than Trump’s, but he is obviously very successful and likely has a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So Scott can say what he thinks too without much fear of consequence.

Scott of course has a right to his opinions. If he wants to support Donald Trump, more power to him. He discovered in the Bay area where he lives that it has some downsides, as in he is losing friends. So some months back he unendorsed Trump and endorsed Hillary Clinton instead. He did so because (as he said) he fears for his personal safety, not because he actually likes Clinton or her policies. The Bay area is obviously a liberal hotbed. Maybe he imagines hordes of liberals coming at him with hot pitch and pitchforks. While he was “endorsing” Clinton though he continued to plug for Trump, praising him as a “master persuader”. Based on his attending a hypnosis course, he was noting what he perceived to be Trump’s meta-messages that were persuading our hidden brains somehow. He felt certain that Trump would win the election. At one point he gave Trump’s odds of winning at 99%.

But as I noted back in June he seemed to have grasped the reality of Trump’s situation and conceded that Clinton was likely to win. And then there came the presidential debates. Most of us saw an unhinged Donald Trump but Scott saw a master persuader at work. Against conventional wisdom he said that Trump had “won” the first debate because of Trump’s master persuader power. It would be like a snowball going downhill and turn into a Trump avalanche at the end. Also around this time he decided that maybe he could endure the pitch and pitchforks and he decided to endorse Trump again. Those of us reading his blog breathed a sigh of relief. It was obvious that his endorsement of Clinton was insincere and that he was very much rooting for Trump, just not officially.

So Trump the master persuader continued to spin his magic by going completely off the rails by insulting pretty much anyone who was not a white male, leaving Scott to figure out whether to continue to support Trump’s losing campaign or unendorse him again before his face was completely covered in egg. Shortly after the first debate and particularly as the Alicia Machado debacle unfolded, Scott’s Machiavellian brain reasserted itself. However much a “master persuader” Trump was, it apparently was only with his base. Trump obviously had no clue how to persuade the rest of us, plus he ran the most ineffective and unorthodox campaign ever, eclipsing even George Wallace’s veiled-racist 1968 campaign. Woken to cold reality again, Scott withdrew his endorsement and endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson instead. Yes, that Gary Johnson who when asked did not know what Aleppo was and could not think of any foreign leaders that he admired. (At least Trump knows and admires Vladimir Putin.)

And so it will go probably through the remainder of this strange campaign. But with Scott you never know for sure whom he will endorse next, not that it matters in the least because no one is persuaded by his arguments. You do know though whom he would vote for, if he elected to vote and it would be Donald Trump. It’s transparent to all of us.

Meanwhile, to get away from all the flack he is receiving, he had “temporarily disabled” comments on his blog. Scott is at least consistent in being unorthodox. It does come at a price though since his income from paid speeches is declining, even though he gets the occasional TV interview to talk about Trump and his “master persuader” thesis.

While I am not surprised by Scott’s choice, I do think he would be better served by staying away from politics altogether. It’s not easy to be taken seriously in this arena. Even the highly polarized ones are at least wonkish policy nerds steeped in this subject. He would be much more persuasive if he had a degree in political science.

Scott’s opinions don’t matter at all as he is persuading no one at all. He is needlessly pissing people off who might like other stuff he blogs about and undercutting his brand. Since he already made his fortune, maybe it doesn’t matter. Stepping so forcefully out in an area where his knowledge is keenly lacking though is kind of amusing and sometimes hilarious. It’s like watching a slow moving train wreck so sometimes you just have to look away.

I hope Scott changes his mind and actually votes. If he does I’m sure he’ll be voting for Trump, not Johnson. As appalling as Trump is he is at least better informed than Gary Johnson, although not by much. Trump needs all the votes he can get in California, and it won’t be many. Meanwhile, I can at least take some schadenfreude observing the way Scott so badly and repeatedly misses the mark.

Defusing the angry Trumpsters

The Thinker by Rodin

Sorry I haven’t been posting lately. For being sort of retired, my life has been plenty busy lately. Mainly I’ve been hosting family, who seem to have finally accepted that we have moved to Western Massachusetts and suddenly want to visit. My brother arrived for a weeklong visit. In the middle of it my sister arrived, along with my stepmother. For eleven days we enjoyed their company, fed them and took them places. Now things are getting back to normal and I can think about blogging again.

What thought that have been occupying my brain these last couple of weeks have not been Donald Trump, but the people who support him. Trump has been true to his form, going from crazy to crazier. I no longer worry at all about him winning the election. As I said in June, Trump is toast. I’d like to think he is smart enough to realize this, but he is surprisingly tone deaf to things like his ultra high negatives and polling that shows him pulling farther behind Hillary Clinton.

He seems convinced that he will somehow pull this election thing off somehow, unless it gets “stolen” somehow. (What a strange concern from a party that has been putting up voting roadblocks for poor and minorities.) Even Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) has thrown in his towel. For months he was dogmatically certain that Trump had us all hypnotized. He had said he had 98% confidence that Trump would win the election because he excelled at mass hypnosis and persuasion techniques. I do give him credit for one thing: Trump certainly has his followers hypnotized. It seems there is nothing too wild that he can say (the latest is that President Obama “founded” ISIS) that will dissuade his followers from voting for him. Fortunately this is but a sizeable minority of the country. To quote Bertrand Russell, the rest of us aren’t hypnotized; we are “uncomfortably awake”. You know you are in trouble when my stepmother, who reads Bill O’Reilly’s books and watches Fox News told us she couldn’t vote for Trump. Hillary will get her vote.

This is not my first rumination about Trump’s followers. This is America, and we’re entitled to believe any crazy thing we want, which is why many of us are dogmatically certain the earth is only 6000 years old. We don’t give up our prejudices easily and I’m no exception. Rest assured though that if Bernie Sanders were the pompous, gaseous windbag that Donald Trump is I would have been the first to run away from him. A few of Trump’s halfhearted supporters have seen the light, which is mostly figuring out what side their bread is buttered on. Establishment Republicans are working hard to shut their eyes and stop their ears until after the election. They too live in the real world and they know a political disaster of potentially Biblical proportions is about to be unleashed in November against them. They are hoping their firewall of gerrymandering will allow them to maintain some modicum of political control, at least in the House. The Senate is looking likely to flip back to the Democrats.

The late Eric Hoffer wrote a number of interesting books, including The Ordeal of Change and The True Believer. It is the latter book that I am thinking about tonight. Most of us are true believers in the sense that we have certain core beliefs that virtually nothing can change. I fall into this category too. We are not open to evidence that contravenes our predetermined positions, which is why it’s very hard to get someone to change those opinions and beliefs they are most passionate about. Sometimes it takes cataclysm. In the case of Japan, it took two nuclear bombs to get them to surrender and a benevolent overlord (the United States) to introduce rational government (democracy). Just to be on the safe side though we clipped Japan’s wings, not allowing it to develop nuclear weapons or an army capable of fighting in a foreign war. In Trump’s supporters I see a lot of people behaving a lot like the Japanese before their surrender, i.e. true believers. Trump seems to be egging them on with a recent comment that suggested that those who favor the Second Amendment might unseat a President Hillary Clinton using their guns, which most read as his sanctioning her assassination.

The most dangerous day for our democracy since the Civil War may be the day after the general election, November 9, and what comes out of Trump’s mouth when he loses. Based on his bullheadedness and lack of impulse control, I would not be surprised if he asked his followers to rise up. After all, it will be the only way to “make America great again” if we unwisely choose “Crooked Hillary”. It would probably land him in jail, but it’s unclear if this would bother him, as stoking his ego seems to be all that matters. Would his supporters actually try insurrection? And if so how can it be prevented?

I think at least some will, with or without an overt call. Trump will probably call for it using weasel words that will sound like he is not directly calling for such an action, but his supporters will know what he is signaling. I think even if he says nothing at least some of his supporters will attempt to take matters into their own hands. It may be a handful of incidents or it may turn into something much more long term: attempts at insurrection that could look indistinguishable from terrorism. After all, if your cause is just, terrorism is just another tactic.

It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for Trump supporters. If any group deserves to hit the concrete, it will be his supporters. In reality, the whole Republican establishment could stand for a tar and feathering. We Democrats though are too nonviolent to do something like this. His supporters though are full of energy and certainty about the rightness of their positions. If we know anything about energy, a pocket of energy will eventually burst its container if it grows large enough. So how does an enlightened society gently prick this Trump balloon so rather than explode violently it gently drains away? How do we lead the Tea Party and Trump supporters to a better and more productive place?

Ideally, Trump would be statesmanlike enough to do this, but that’s not a likely option here. Part of the solution would be for key Republicans to forcefully and repeatedly state that insurrection and violence are not options. It wouldn’t hurt if Republicans said that anyone advocating these things would be expelled from their party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be a good person to say this, as his loathing for all things Democratic is hardly unknown. Speaker Paul Ryan can and likely would do the same thing, but he has considerably less influence and power than McConnell. Doubtless the Bush family, Mitt Romney and most of the Republican presidential candidates would say the same. It’s important though for these people to speak up on this now, be clear and be loud throughout the general election campaign. At this point none of these people seem to be entertaining the idea that anyone in their flock needs such a lecture.

They also need a plan for the day after the election that Tea Partiers can latch onto with some measure of hope. It will be mostly more of what they did after Obama was elected: promising total obstruction, something Mitch McConnell was quite effective in doing. It won’t make a President-elect Hillary Clinton happy but it may staunch a rebellion. Hillary Clinton probably can and will speak forcefully after her election calling for calm and making it clear that she will not propose anything more than modest gun control legislation. (She is already doing the latter, but Tea Partiers aren’t listening or simply don’t believe her.)

What will prove key is how President Obama reacts to any scattered attempts at insurrection. We still have a National Guard that has controlling insurrection as part of its mission. However, when incidents are scattered and low-key, they won’t prove effective using traditional tactics. We do have police forces with plenty of armaments more suited to warfare than policing. That will help.

My suspicion is that Obama is already all over this, and this is part of his daily national security briefing. There are likely all sorts of contingency plans and all sorts of discreet surveillance going on by the NSA and FBI to nip a lot of these in the bud. But not even the NSA can be everywhere and it’s easy to acquire firearms. More lethal armaments are likely out there for those with the money and connections. All we can really do is hope they are doing their job. If they are, the bomb that are Trump supporters may mostly diffuse before Election Day.

Trump tries the master illusionist trick

The Thinker by Rodin

About a month ago I took my first look at the Donald Trump as a presidential candidate phenomenon. A month later he’s still a phenomenon. The press goes gaga over the man, as apparently does a good portion of the American public. This creates something of a virtuous loop, at least if you are Donald Trump. Even his detractors will admit that while he may be jingoistic and a misogynist, he rarely fails to entertain. He’s been the subject of countless editorials, op eds and internet comments. I too am feeding the beast with this second post on Trump.

Political analysts are spending a lot of time trying to understand the Trump phenomenon, as he comes out of far right field. Holding left field of course is Bernie Sanders. Sanders is actually attracting a bigger crowds than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but the press for the most part is not interested and is chasing Trump instead. I was at the health club the other day and watching the TV screens on the walls there in front of the exercise machines. I was wondering if CNN had become 24/7 Donald Trump channel. He was at the Iowa State Fair and the camera kept lingering on Trump and his showy helicopter. He was attracting crowds but Bernie Sanders was drawing bigger crowds. CNN didn’t bother to follow Bernie, maybe because he doesn’t have a private helicopter.

Trump remains mesmerizing to watch not to mention to try to figure out. Trump is an expert at understanding his brand, as he’s been in the self-promotion business for most of his adult life. With his bombastic comments and his reality TV show where he kept busy firing underlings, virtually every American already knew him. We all had opinions on the man. Most were negative but even I would not say that Trump is not interesting. To quote some lyrics from the band Heart, he’s a magic man.

Magic of course is purely illusion and Donald Trump is an illusionist. The author of the comic strip Dilbert, Scott Adams, is fascinated by Trump (see his blog), in part because Adams some years back took a course on hypnotism. He is convinced Trump is hypnotizing us and he gives him 98% odds of being our next president. I can’t be as clairvoyant as Scott Adams, but I can read the polls. While he definitely appeals to Americans who want a strong leader, and particularly those who want someone of action instead of another weaselly politician elected in 2016, the polls are clear that while most of us find him entertaining, the majority of American have still soberly assessed the guy and won’t vote for him under any circumstances. I’ll never say never, however. Americans have a history of voting for bamboozlers. I mean we put George W. Bush in the White House twice, although technically the Supreme Court put him in the first time.

The best characterization of Trump I’ve seen is his comparison to Ronald Reagan. Reagan said it was Morning in America when he campaigned. Trump goes everywhere with his branded baseball cap saying “Make America Great Again”. Like Reagan he is a divorcee and like Reagan he is an accomplished actor and salesman, although Reagan sold mostly Borax. Reagan was elected twice and had pretty good approval ratings, even though he proved to be a pretty poor president. We identified with him as a sincere common man who spoke his mind and did what he thought was right.

Trump is betting on a number of things in his campaign. He is betting that even though almost no Hispanics or Blacks will vote for him that he can whip up white voters to vote massively and mostly for him, which is the only way he can overcome the quickly changing voter demographics. And since white voters as a class tend to be Republican, he looks for our soft underbellies. Just like Nixon realized his path to the White House went through white voters in the South, Trump realizes that he must make outrageous statements about Mexicans, women, John McCain and a whole lot of other people to gain the attention and affection of white voters, many of whom are scared that their country is in decline because of those others. Unlike most of the other candidates who have no name recognition to most voters, he was already a brand. It’s not surprising then that he quickly rocketed to the top of preferred candidates among Republicans.

His success at least so far has opened my eyes a bit. He understands that what Republican voters really want is not necessarily someone with conservative values, but someone with a certain attitude. It’s his in-your-face attitude that connects to these voters, and it’s what they admire. Trump says occasional things that should be anathema to Republican ideologues, things like the rich should pay more taxes and there are parts of Obamacare that he likes. None of this seems to matter to his fans, most of who are Tea Party types. They just sense his character, latch onto his pugnacious style and see a successful businessman who manages to get his way. They project this to the national stage and think: if anyone can make Washington work, Trump can!

Trump of course has never held an elective office, something his supporters see as an asset. Given Trump’s attitude, he would likely take liberties with the Office of the President far beyond what even George W. Bush or Richard Nixon could have ever imagined. If he takes these sorts of liberties, he stands an excellent chance of being impeached and convicted rather quickly. Even Donald Trump cannot trump the Constitution of the United States. Moreover, he will encounter the same institutional forces every president has to deal with, as well as lots of pesky rules and regulations that he ignores or bypasses at his peril. Whoever is president must be a politician first or he or she will fail. It drives us voters nuts, but that’s the way it is. Trump too will have to do inconvenient things like follow contracting laws to build his wall along the Mexican border, assuming he’s sincere about it, which I doubt. He will also have to persuade Congress to fund it. The president is not a dictator. The president must persuade not just voters but Congress to actually wield power his way. Democracy is slow, painful and inelegant by design. Trump won’t make it dance.

I continue to believe (perhaps naively) that Trump understands all this upfront. He understands that he won’t be the next president so perhaps his aim is to change the national conversation, or to push for his agenda or he is a secret Democratic operative that even the Democratic Party is oblivious to. I wouldn’t put it past the man. Or I could be all wet and he actually plans to be our next president and his following his instincts that served him well so far. All he has to do is persuade enough of us, and he’s a master at the persuasion business. It starts with commanding our attention, and he sure has done that. Maybe for him the thrill is to close the ultimate sales pitch. If anyone has the skills to bamboozle us into doing so, he probably has it, which makes him dangerous to our democracy.

I am certain that Trump is being disingenuous and doesn’t actually believe half the stuff he is saying. I’m hoping that voters will eventually figure this out. Perhaps many of them have and simply don’t care because they like his pugnacious attitude. It’s clear though that voters are looking for someone who can break our national gridlock and institute real change. Many see in Trump that shiny man of practical action that could do this.

While Trump is not sincere, Bernie Sanders is sincere and has a forty plus year career of sincerely pushing his agenda. When Sanders starts attacking Trump directly, the fireworks are going to get very interesting, assuming the press deigns to pay attention. Like Jimmy Carter, Sanders can speak with a consistent moral authority. Trump simply cannot. If anyone can pull the curtains and expose the mere mortal that is the Great and Powerful Trump, it’s probably going to be Bernie Sanders. There is authenticity and there is showmanship. Sanders has authenticity, which is why at least so far Trump can only dream of getting the crowds to his rallies that Sanders draws routinely.

In which I attempt to psychoanalyze Scott Adams

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s been a while since I’ve discussed Scott Adams, the author and artist behind the comic strip Dilbert. Scott has been in the news, or perhaps I should say in the blogosphere, because in addition to his comic strip he also has a blog. And back in March, Scott penned an entry called Men’s Rights. When I read it in my news reader, I immediately thought, “Scott’s going to have to take that one down” which in fact he did less than a day later.

I feel Scott’s pain because some years back I also wrote not exactly on the topic of men’s rights, but on the stereotypes that men assume, particularly here in the United States. I argued that it is hard for us men to be human beings because of the expectations that come with being a man. I caught some grief on that post, but it is nothing like the grief that Scott got for his Men’s Rights entry, a copy of which he posted in his belated response to the controversy. America’s feminists were all over Scott and in their critiques the world misogynist came up a lot. Perhaps it was for paragraphs like this:

The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.

I have wondered for years if Scott was a misogynist. Why? Well, I have virtually all of his Dilbert comic books, not to mention most of his books and I have read them repeatedly. I confess I enjoy Dilbert and I often find Scott amusing. I could be wrong but in all his published material I cannot come across anything in which a woman comes across in a complementary manner. Every woman Dilbert dates, for example, comes across as self-centered and shallow. Dilbert rarely makes it to a second date and when he does his girlfriend likes to treat him like a fly caught in a spider’s web. All of his recurring female characters are at best annoying. Carol the secretary hates everyone and love being malicious. Alice lets her temper fly regularly and likes throwing things off or out of buildings. Tina the Tech Writer feels persecuted for being an English major and earning a fraction of the engineers’ salaries. If through one’s writings one could be convicted of misogyny, Scott would be easily convicted as women are never shown as admirable creatures. Alice comes the closest to having a good point. She at least is a Type A overachiever, but somehow never learned how to be tactful.

And that’s basically how it goes in the land of Dilbert. Its humor mainly comes from its characters and their entire lack of tact, not to mention the constant victimization that goes on at all levels. Dilbert’s world is a wholly nihilist one. The real world of white collar tech people is not quite that bad, but there are places that are nearly as bad as Dilbert’s company. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s there was a fascinating now defunct site called NetSlaves.com where various Dilberts and Alices conveyed real life stories of impossible deadlines and overtime as technology companies pushed for dominance, profits and market share. It made fascinating and quite frankly horrifying reading. There but for the grace of God go I, I thought. While overall they were a small sliver of the technology market, they did exist and some of them closely resembled Dilbert’s company. I am sure there are companies like this still out there, burning through series of dispirited and overworked employees. I know they exist in retail. Visit any Wal-Mart store.

Most of us have to be concerned what other people think and consider that before opening our mouths. Scott is literally a one in a million person who now usually doesn’t have to care what other people think, because Dilbert has made him independently wealthy. Twenty years of reading Scott has also convinced me that he is Dilbert. Granted, he is not an engineer, but he hung around them. At least in print or on the web he has freedom that the rest of us can only dream about: the freedom to express himself fully and without restraints, to basically just be who he is. And so he does. Readers of his blog, however, are a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions who read his comic strip every day. Scott argues that they are their own peculiar community, and when he wrote Men’s Rights it was for that community, not the world at large. Men’s Rights was, however, a bridge too far. I bet his wife Shelley beat him up about it too, because it’s the only entry on his blog that I’ve seen withdrawn in the six months or so I’ve been reading his blog.

Is Scott a misogynist? If he is, does it matter? When I first read Men’s Rights, it cemented the idea in my mind that he was one, perhaps not explicitly but implicitly. I could find zero evidence to suggest otherwise and twenty years of reading the guy made me feel I knew him pretty well. I have since reconsidered myself. I don’t think Scott is a misogynist, I just think he largely lacks the empathy gene. If he were alive, his biggest fan would be Niccolò Machiavelli, the famously dispassionate political scientist who wrote The Prince back in the 16th century. What Scott really is is supremely dispassionate. There are likely a few things he is passionate about, including tennis, but he has an excessive engineering and scientific outlook to life. He sees things as they are, or as he thinks they are if you could remove these annoying feelings from the human equation. Then he has the audacity to write or blog about them. Moreover, lacking much in the way of self-restraint and sanctions for speaking his mind, he speaks his mind.

Feminists and others can rail against Scott’s heretical thoughts and opinions, but I’d suggest they just save their breath. I don’t think Scott is a misogynist. I think he likes women just fine, but is not tuned into their feelings, and probably isn’t tuned into anyone’s feelings in particular, except maybe his wife’s. For the most part he is not hurt when they attack him; he just sort of shrugs his shoulders. He does his best to explain himself from his point of view, and it largely doesn’t work, but if it doesn’t, it mostly doesn’t matter to him. He is who he is. And he is largely Dilbert. Read him if you find him amusing, or don’t. It won’t bother Scott at all. Even if Dilbert never earned him another dime, he is set for life. He has the freedom most of us can only dream about: to be who he is on the inside on the outside. And for him it works, because it is consistent with whom he is. It is the rest of us who must live dual lives. We must be one person on the inside but project something of a façade to the rest of the world. We do this so we can get harmoniously through another day. We have learned painfully to keep our lips buttoned in polite society. Much of the rage against Scott may be that he has the resources not to have to live this duality, and just be who he is, warts and all.

I might have turned out that way if I had Scott’s money and talent too. My empathy gene is also somewhat recessive. This blog allows me to speak my mind about lots of things, but even so there are topics I will not discuss, or have learned not to discuss anymore. For example, I learned not to discuss much about where I work or people I know personally, because some of them have discovered my blog and as a result it has made my life difficult. So I obscure my real name and am circumspect discussing certain topics, like pornography, because I might say something that some friend of my spouse will come after me with.

The fact is that Scott could be a whole lot more annoying than he is. For the most part he is civilized, weird but civilized. His example of living an authentic life suggests to me though that maybe I am healthier and happier being somewhat inauthentic. I suspect I am, but I also suspect Scott never was wholly authentic until money gave him the freedom and opportunity to be publicly the flawed person he so clearly is. It’s just easier to see it in him than in the rest of us.

Welcome to Scott’s World

The Thinker by Rodin

Scott would be Scott Adams, also known as the artist behind the very popular Dilbert comic strip published in newspapers and pinned to cubicle walls everywhere. The strip is now close to twenty years old, and has been popular for the last fifteen years. Scott capitalized on an emerging trend, which brought the strip enormous popularity and he a very comfortable life. In his comic strip, he chronicles the white-collar dysfunctional cubicle world where many of us spend the majority of our lives, and made us laugh at the absurdity of it all. Along the way he wrote a number of best selling books with the world Dilbert in the title, opened a few restaurants, became a vegetarian, married a woman named Shelly and makes extra shekels by doing the lecture circuit.

Life gives us few opportunities to really know someone. If for some reason you want to really know Scott Adams, then you need to pick up his latest book, Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! Just be careful for what you wish. By the end of the book (which I finished a couples weeks ago), you may find yourself like me wondering if you really wanted to know Scott Adams quite this well. Most likely, the answer is no. It is like discovering that man you so admire for his professionalism at work lives in a hovel with pizza boxes stuffed to the ceiling and breeds ferrets in the basement.

Scott is both intensely interesting and intensely peculiar. You can grasp this from his comic strip. When I finished this book, it was hard for me to escape the feeling that Dilbert is Scott Adams, minus the engineering degree. Okay, based on his picture he is probably more attractive than Dilbert. Moreover, since Scott is a vegetarian and a regular tennis player I doubt very much that he is also oval shaped. Other than that, I do not see much difference between the man and his character. This comes across in the numerous essays that populate this book, all of which first appeared on his blog. Scott is a strange enigma of a man. It is probably a good thing that he runs his own business. I suspect during his cubicle days he found it hard to refrain from being the sticky widget that gummed up the machine. He comes across as a natural gadfly.

How many of us who had a next-door neighbor who was a self-employed vegetarian atheist would want to get to know him? Would you invite him to join your for an outdoor barbeque? Suppose he was also the type of man who would amuse neighbors with stories about his male sexual organs becoming caught up in his briefs when he wandered around airports? You might laugh along but I suspect most people would discreetly forget to invite him the next time you were planning a barbeque. In his book at least, Scott comes across as this sort of person.

I strongly suspect that in real life Scott is not like this. Particularly now that he is married, I suspect he is house trained even if, like Dilbert and me, he has no dancing skills whatsoever. One of the benefits of blogging though is that, if you choose, you do not have to put on airs for anyone. Particularly if you are independently wealthy and self-employed, there is no need to present a false picture of yourself, as many of us do.

You may have noticed that my blog has a bit of an imperious tone to it. It comes naturally, as I grew up Catholic. Catholics are privy to all the great answers in life, so naturally even though I gave up that religion long ago, I remain a highly judgmental creature. The nice thing about Scott Adams though is he knows and is comfortable with himself, foibles and all. He has no need to put on airs because he has no one he needs to impress. This gives him a privilege few of us except Henry Higgins have: the ability to live his life precisely on his own terms.

I cannot help but admire Scott for his honesty. He lets it all hang out in this book, including his actual private parts. What we discover is not so much a man as a human being, full of foibles, interesting, peculiar, with many grand ideas but with little inclination to convince you of their validity. In a way, he is humble. He freely admits he may be completely off base with many of his ideas. Scott is equally comfortable reveling in life’s mundanities. Consequently, many of the little essays that populate this book are on subjects perhaps even too trivial for Seinfeld. Yet occasionally he generates a thoughtful idea. One I really enjoyed was: Who is holier, Mother Teresa or Bill Gates? With his foundation and fortune, he figures that Bill Gates will save the lives of 100 to 200 million human beings. Mother Teresa certainly did good work in relieving the suffering of the dying and desperate, but Bill Gates is saving lives by doing obvious things no one else will do, like providing mosquito netting to people too poor to afford them in places like Thailand. It is unlikely though that after his death Bill Gates will be granted sainthood. I doubt he is even a Catholic.

Scott’s opinions are universally strange and unorthodox. He has plans to live for hundreds of years. He has all sorts of solutions to the world’s problems, yet he cannot be bothered to vote. He does not care about issues like global warming, but does worry about stuff he knows is very stupid, like being unable to empty his bladder before he can get to a restroom. He wonders why it is okay to accommodate Mormons who feel the need to wear special underpants but it is not okay to accommodate a man who says his religion requires him to wear a stuffed rhino penis on his hat. He asks ethical questions like “If you had the body of a supermodel, would you sell our DNA for $100 million if you knew your clone would become a sex slave to a billionaire?” Scott’s brain is busy thinking about things like this and thanks blogging you now have the opportunity to think about them too.

Most of us Dilbert fans will continue to appreciate the strip, but probably do not want to know its creator this well. Nonetheless, if you do, then this is a must-read book. It remains a mystery to me how he ended up married. (His marriage to his wife Shelly is detailed in the book. It sounds like his first marriage.) The cynic in me thinks she married him for his money. Presumably, he is loaded. If they married for love, then thank goodness because Scott Adams probably found the one person on the planet who could love him for whom he is, in all his inglorious peculiarity.