Tag Archives: Trump

The Only Part of Last Night’s Debate You Need to See

Yesterday’s debate featured exactly the Trumpian performance we’ve come to expect: the Donald’s signature one-two punch of incoherence and lies, paired with enough bizarre non sequiturs—“I have a son who’s 10, he’s so good with computers,” anyone?—so as to border on the surreal.

With such a ‘bigly’ amount of sheer ineptitude, however, genuinely important debate moments are being forgotten. It’s easy to miss the insanity buried amidst the absurd, the moments such as when Trump accused Clinton of fighting for her entire 68 years of life against an organization started in 2004. But one of Trump’s less provocative monologues contains the most substantive policy revelation of the debate. It is a microcosm of the debate as a whole; if you don’t have the time to watch the full debate, all you need to do to understand Round One of Trump v. Clinton is to read this three-paragraph transcript of the Republican nominee’s response to the following question from moderator Lester Holt: “On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?”

The first paragraph seems innocuous at first: “Well, I have to say that, you know, for what Secretary Clinton was saying about nuclear with Russia, she’s very cavalier in the way she talks about various countries. But Russia has been expanding their—they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint. I looked the other night. I was seeing B-52s, they’re old enough that your father, your grandfather could be flying them. We are not—we are not keeping up with other countries. I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.”

Did you catch it? After Trump’s vague comments on Secretary Clinton, after Trump’s incorrect statement on Russia’s military capabilities, after Trump’s rambling anecdote about B-52s? The part where Trump says he was in favor of a policy that the U.S. has not endorsed throughout the over 70 years in which nuclear weapons have been existent?  Yes, right there at the end, Donald Trump states that he would never use nuclear weapons unless another country had already done so–a policy change that President Obama recently declined to enact, could signal American weakness, and of which Mr. Trump had previously spoken negatively. But in the next section, surely Mr. Trump must explain the rationale for his about face!

Nope.

“I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.”

Trump tries to explain his reasoning, but what he says is so vague as to defy interpretation. What exactly is this “nuclear alternative” of which he speaks? When he says he “can’t take anything off the table,” is he referring to the nuclear first strike policy he renounced seconds earlier?

What’s frightening about these two passages is what’s frightening about Trump and is emblematic of his performance in this debate. Trump tends to take fringe policy positions, and then indemnify himself from risk by making vague or contradictory statements so that he can change his narrative to fit the political mood du jour. This way, if his answer here is brought up in a critical way, he’ll use the hemming and hawing that immediately followed his answer to justify whatever flip-flop he deems to be politically expedient. Or alternatively, Trump just gave the first answer that came to mind and then equivocated to fill his time because he didn’t actually understand the question asked of him.

Oh, I almost forgot the third paragraph I mentioned; that’s actually just the sentence that immediately follows from where we left Mr. Trump. “And by the way, another one powerful is the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal.”

This passage is the scariest for hardcore Trump supporters. With their anti-immigrant sentiments, one can but wonder how they could ever bring themselves to vote for a candidate who can’t speak English.

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Image: Flickr

 

 

 

What Is Killing American Politics?

To find the greatest irony of this year’s presidential election, look no further than any one of the national polls conducted since the final presidential primaries took place in June.

Majorities of voters disapprove of and mistrust each major-party presidential nominee. Three-fifths of the electorate views Republican Donald Trump unfavorably, and less than one-in-three voters describe Democrat Hillary Clinton as “honest and trustworthy.” Third-party candidates—little-known even to some of their most ardent advocates—are earning historic levels of support. Libertarian Gary Johnson, who won less than one percent of the vote in his 2012 general election run, now regularly polls in the double-digits, backed by a ragtag coalition of millennial voters and political independents. And for the Republicans and Democrats who have decided to toe the party line in November, negative voting is more common than ever, with over half of Republicans and nearly as many Democrats viewing their votes more as opposition to the other party’s nominee than as affirmative support for the candidate they have chosen.

Dissatisfaction with the American political process has spread to nearly every corner of the national fabric, and for some voters, the sense of disillusionment could not be stronger. According to an editorial which appeared this month in The Boston Globe, over a third of likely voters from both parties agree with the statement that “the election will be rigged.” These are not wild-eyed conspiracy theorists who believe that their fellow Americans will cast more votes than the law allows. They simply have lost all faith in the system. For them, democracy has died. No matter their choice, nothing will change.

In reality, however, democracy is far from dead—and therein lies the irony. Today, though voters almost entirely control whom the major political parties nominate, their dissatisfaction with the process and the candidates it produces has reachedrecord-breaking heights.

The 2016 presidential primaries granted voters near-total control over the selection of party nominees. The vast majority of Republican delegates were bound to vote for the winners of their states’ primaries or caucus elections. In the case of the Democrats, a cadre of unbound superdelegates—composed of party leaders and long-time party loyalists—exists ostensibly to counter popular impulses, but it never does. In 2008, superdelegates threw their weight behind Illinois senator Barack Obama instead of their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, on account of the groundswell of popular support behind his campaign. This year, Hillary Clinton was the clear choice of Democratic Party voters, having won nearly four million more votes than Vermont senator Bernie Sanders over the course of the primaries. For the Republicans, Donald Trump won even more decisively, earning nearly six million more votes than his closest competitor to secure the nomination.

For both Democrats and Republicans, the modern presidential primary is democratic to its core—a far cry from the mid-twentieth century, when this process first took shape. State party bosses dominated the old system, exerting power over their crops of convention delegates in order to sway the outcome in favor of their preferred candidates. The national conventions of yore were private affairs, taking place in the backrooms where public input was nonexistent. In the early decades of the twentieth century, some states began to enshrine primary elections into law, but it was not until the late seventies that the Democratic Party became the first to bind delegates, requiring each to vote for the candidate chosen by voters in his state’s primary election. Before then, the results of primary elections were merely a suggestion for party leaders to consider—or, more often, to disregard.

Strangely enough, voters seem to recognize how much power they hold over party nominations. Though few participate in the primary elections as a percentage of the American population, turnout has surged across the board over the past decade. In 2008, the hotly contested race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama crushed turnout records in 23 states across the country and helped set a new record for primary election participation nationally. And this year, the G.O.P. has led the charge, with Republican turnout reaching its highest level “since at least 1980.”

If higher turnout is not sufficient to show that voters are getting what they bargained for during the presidential primaries, Donald J. Trump’s nomination should be. The entirety of the political establishment aligned itself against Mr. Trump during the primary season, mounting a fierce challenge to his candidacy when it looked like he might actually win. But when the voters spoke repeatedly in favor of his candidacy, handing him victories everywhere from Florida to New York, there was no escape from the inevitable. Party leaders begrudgingly began to back Trump’s campaign in late May, and by the start of the national convention in July, they were mostly united behind Mr. Trump. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus squashed the last-minute efforts of some delegates to torpedo Mr. Trump’s nomination at the convention and has spared no mercy for Republicans who continue refusing to support their party’s nominee.

So we return to our dilemma. If voters are getting what they voted for, what can explain the pessimism of the American public about both major party candidates? The answer is political polarization.

One clue can be found in the partisan breakdowns of support for each candidate. Despite a virulent media narrative proclaiming rampant defections from members of his own party, Mr. Trump commands overwhelming support from Republicans. In early June, as the G.O.P.’s bitter primary battle drew to a close, political analyst Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight—the brainchild of Nate Silver, the famed numbers guru—indicated that “Republican voters are rallying behind Trump as if he were any other nominee.” The same has held for Mrs. Clinton among Democrats, despite her early troubles converting Bernie Sanders’s most progressive backers.

Part of the reason for the remarkable show of unity within each party is the shrinkage of partisan coalitions. Over the past decade, as political parties have accelerated their shift away from the center, the percentage of Americans who identify with either party has shrunk considerably. According to Pew Research, nearly two-fifths of the country now call themselves political independents—almost a 10-point increase from 2004. Over the same period, both political parties have watched their ranks shrink.

The Pew studies also reveal that Republicans and Democrats alike are doubling down on their most ardent constituencies instead of broadening their appeal. Even as the percentage of Americans identifying as Republican declined six points over the past decade, a majority of whites from the Silent Generation—those born between the 1920s and ‘40s—now call themselves Republicans. Similar gains are visible among evangelicals, two-thirds of whom now view themselves as Republicans or G.O.P.-leaners. Meanwhile, Democrats have increasingly come to rely upon college graduates and young non-white voters to compensate for lost support among whites and older Americans.

The consequences of these trends toward polarization and consolidation are two-fold. First, with the hardening of core constituencies and the loss of centrist voters, both parties have come to favor candidates who are more extreme relative to the center, speeding the exodus of moderates who could have balanced against this impulse toward extremism or, as many within the party would call it, ideological “purity.” Second, moderate voters and independents increasingly seek alternatives to the major parties. Some of these voters tune out entirely, indirectly increasing the influence of partisans over nominee selection and general election outcomes. Others turn toward third-party candidates. In a poll from early September, Libertarian Gary Johnson took first place among independents who do not lean toward either party, besting Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by seven points.

Americans have lost faith in their democratic institutions for good reason. With both major parties fleeing the center, more voters have been left behind than ever before, and this year, they are locked into a false choice between two awful candidates.

When creating the Constitution of the United States, our nation’s framers built a system of checks and balances in order to control the worst impulses of government. When one branch grows too strong, others may control it. In politics of today, however, the checks upon the two-party system have failed. By catering to their core constituencies at the expense of middle America, the Republican and Democratic parties have insulated themselves from the moderating force of independent voters, taking advantage of their long-time place as the central actors in American politics to force upon voters an impossible choice between two extremes.

To create balance again, independent voters must exercise their considerable political power and rebel against this system. Third-party threats have produced some of the most extraordinary and important political transformations in American history—including the victory of the anti-slavery movement under Abraham Lincoln, the first president and the father of the Republican Party.

Fortunately, ending gridlock in Washington will not take a Lincoln. A strong third-party movement, drawn from a broad, deep coalition of disaffected partisans and political independents, could put enough pressure on the two-party monopoly to force them to the center—or to carve out just enough space for a new party, a moderating force in American politics.

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Image: Flickr

Could Trump Actually Win?

One of the enduring critiques of Donald Trump from conservative Republicans throughout the primary process has been that the businessman’s cocksure temperament and draconian immigration policy proposals, though popular among certain segments of the Republican primary electorate, will all but ensure his defeat in a general election campaign against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. I have levied this criticism against Mr. Trump in the past; after all, his approval ratings among women and Hispanics are awful and are unlikely to improve dramatically before voters cast their ballots in November, even if the businessman makes a concerted effort to soften his image within these critical demographic groups.

But since Donald Trump took his place as the presumptive Republican nominee, the long succession of general election polls which showed the real estate mogul trailing both of his potential rivals by a wide margin has been completely overturned. Before Mr. Trump’s decisive victory in Indiana’s primary on May 3rd forced Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the Republican nomination fight, the GOP frontrunner was polling badly against both potential Democratic opponents. General election polls taken in the month of April showed Mr. Trump trailing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders by an average of just about 10 and 12 percentage points, respectively. By contrast, in April 2012, Mitt Romney, who ultimately became the Republican nominee for that year’s presidential election, only lagged President Obama by an average of five points across seventeen general election polls.

But in the polls taken after his ascendance to the status of presumptive nominee, Donald Trump has gained ground rapidly. Though Bernie Sanders still trounces him by an average of 9.4 percent, Mr. Trump has closed what was a double-digit gap between him and Mrs. Clinton to a mere 1.2 point margin. Taking only the polls conducted in the last week, the businessman pulls ahead of Mrs. Clinton, albeit by less than one percent on average. Yet remarkably, these same polls show Mr. Trump to suffer still from the same likability problems which his critics and opponents have identified. According to a Fox News poll conducted this week, Mr. Trump is disliked by nearly three-fifths of the national electorate, yet he still manages to defeat Mrs. Clinton by three points. What gives?

First, though voters still dislike Mr. Trump immensely, they like him more now than they have in the past. Two months ago, the percentage of voters which view him negatively reached 65 percent, a record high for the duration of Fox News’s general election polling so far in this election. In the most recent survey, this number declined to 56 percent. This change could be reflecting a number of factors, including Mr. Trump’s move toward more moderate policy stances and less strident rhetoric as he shifts toward a general election strategy.

Second, Republicans are beginning to dutifully unite behind Mr. Trump as their party’s nominee. According to Gallup, which has tracked the businessman’s favorability among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents since July 2015, conservative voters are now more united behind him than ever, with two-thirds viewing him favorably now. Though many Republicans remain dissatisfied with Mr. Trump as their party’s nominee, they still largely plan to support him, and the once powerful #NeverTrump movement is now greatly diminished in strength and resolve.

Third, voters view Hillary Clinton as a poor alternative to Mr. Trump. According to this week’s Fox News poll, over three-fifths of the electorate—61 percent—view her unfavorably, while only 56 percent view Donald Trump in this way. Among independents, which have been a decisive force in the past several presidential contests, Mrs. Clinton’s favorability rating is atrocious, with a whopping 51-point gap between voters who view her favorably (23 percent) and those who do not (74 percent). Independents also dislike Mr. Trump, but his net favorability (-17 percent) is much better than Clinton’s. The former secretary of state also fares poorly on questions of trustworthiness, as many voters view her as the epitome of a slick career politician. Nearly half of voters view her as more corrupt than Mr. Trump, including nearly a fifth of Democrats.

Fourth, it is becoming increasingly unclear whether Mrs. Clinton will manage to unite the Democratic Party behind her candidacy. Though she has received strong support from registered Democrats in several recent surveys, what really matters is whether she will be able to woo Bernie Sanders’s supporters—best characterized as liberals who do not identify as Democrats—to her cause. But as relations between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have soured, her favorability rating among the Vermont senator’s following has cratered. According to a YouGov poll conducted early this month, 61 percent of Mr. Sanders’s supporters view Mrs. Clinton unfavorably, and only 55 percent said that they would vote for Clinton over Trump in November. Of course, much can change between now and the November election, and we will undoubtedly see Sanders’s supporters shift at least slightly toward Hillary Clinton once she clinches the nomination. But unlike Mr. Trump, whose base of support largely consists of disaffected working-class people of independent political persuasions, Mrs. Clinton draws most of her support from older voters who identify themselves with the Democratic Party.

This difference could ultimately prove fatal for Clinton’s campaign. It has long been the case that party identification is one of the best predictors of how people will vote. As one study of voting behavior in the 2008 election explains, “party identification is a perceptual screen: a pair of partisan-tinted eyeglasses through which the voter views the political world.” As such, it goes without saying that Mrs. Clinton will command most of the vote from Democratic Party-affiliated voters in November. But this portion of the general electorate is one which virtually any Democratic nominee would win anyway simply by virtue of his/her party affiliation. The real battle is for moderates and independent voters, who are agents of transformation in an otherwise static political arena, yet these voters do not like Mrs. Clinton at all.

Donald Trump is much better positioned in this respect. Though many Republicans are uneasy about his candidacy, their loyalty toward GOP-affiliated candidates will pull them inexorably toward their party’s nominee. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump will hold onto his core group of supporters—the powerful bloc of independent blue-collar voters which his candidacy has energized—for the November election.

For months, I and many political pundits believed that Donald Trump would be a weak general election candidate. But as the general election matchup between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump has solidified, it is becoming increasingly uncertain just who exactly is the underdog in this year’s fight for the highest office in the land.

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Was Colorado Rigged?

In an opinion editorial published in this morning’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump unleashes a blistering critique of the presidential nomination process, excoriating the party establishment for “defending a system that for decades has served the interest of political parties at the expense of the people.” The editorial embodies the anti-establishment flavor of Mr. Trump’s campaign as it rails against a “rigged delegate-selection process” while pledging to seek future reforms which maximize “transparency,” “representation,” and “voter participation” in the GOP’s nomination procedures.

Mr. Trump’s words come on the heels of a major setback for him in Colorado’s caucuses last weekend, where Senator Ted Cruz swept every delegate and affirmed the superiority of his well-organized national campaign. The massive loss was full of blunders for the Trump campaign, which printed a delegate slate full of errors and misdirected the votes of many Trump supporters at the state convention. But for Mr. Trump, poor preparation had little to do with his loss. On Monday, the New York businessman took to Twitter to air his grievances, calling the Colorado caucus process “totally unfair” and accusing Ted Cruz of bribing delegates with “all sorts of goodies” in order to gain an advantage.1 In Mr. Trump’s estimation, the corrupt election system dominated by party elites—not his own campaign team’s failure to understand and organize for the Colorado caucus process—should bear the blame for his poor showing there.

To evaluate this claim, I will examine the Colorado caucus process in the context of Mr. Trump’s complaints, focusing upon the history and the political justifications which undergird the changes made to the Colorado process last year.

 

The recent history of the Colorado caucuses

The establishment wins in 2012

In 2012, former Republican senator Rick Santorum won the Colorado caucuses, defeating Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who was the preferred candidate of the so-called “party establishment,” by nearly six points. Mr. Santorum’s victory came as a surprise, particularly in light of the fact that Mr. Romney had won the state’s caucuses handily back in 2008 with over three-fifths of the vote.

Yet when it came time for Colorado’s delegates to cast their ballots in the 2012 Republican National Convention, not a single vote was cast for Mr. Santorum. Instead, because the delegates selected for the national convention were not bound by the vote in the precinct caucuses, Mitt Romney received the support of most of the state’s delegation, while the others simply refused to participate. Many party activists and grassroots conservatives in Colorado felt betrayed by this sleight-of-hand, which they viewed as an effort by the Republican Party establishment to force its candidate of choice onto the voters.

Taking back control in 2016

With the rise of Jeb Bush in the early moments of the presidential primary process last year, Republican Party grassroots activists in Colorado became deeply concerned. As the National Review recalled early this week, many conservatives were worried about a repeat of 2012, where Colorado’s state delegation was press-ganged into supporting Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention. At the same time, a binding straw poll—though an improvement over the non-binding presidential preference vote which permitted Mr. Romney to win a delegate majority in spite of losing the state—would favor a well-funded establishment candidate, who could simply spend a few million dollars in the state to buy up advertising and build a traditional ground campaign in lieu of actually investing time and energy to reach out to grassroots conservatives.

For these reasons, party activists pushed for the abandonment of the precinct straw poll in favor of the direct election of delegates by voters in precinct caucuses, a move which gave Republicans the opportunity to elect grassroots conservatives in their communities as delegates to the county caucuses. These county caucuses would then choose delegates for the congressional-district and state assemblies, at which the final delegates for the national convention would be chosen. Unlike in 2012, all of the delegates selected for the national convention are bound to the presidential candidate for whom they have stated a preference, and each delegate’s preference is known to the caucus assemblies prior to the final vote.

The net effect of creating this complex system is two-fold. First, the elimination of the precinct straw poll, which enabled Coloradans to cast a vote for the presidential candidate of their preference, in favor of precinct caucus elections of county delegates ensures that passionate grassroots conservatives, rather than representatives of the best-funded campaign organization, would be favored for election as delegates to the county, state, and congressional-district assemblies. Had such a system existed back in 2012, Rick Santorum likely would have won significant majorities among the county convention delegations, which then could have assured him at least a majority of the state’s delegation at the Republican National Convention.

Second, by binding the delegates to the presidential candidate of their preference at the conclusion of this lengthy process, the state party rules safeguard against efforts by an establishment candidate to woo the state’s delegates and subvert the will of the conservative grassroots activists who participated in the precinct caucuses and organized for the candidate who best represents their views.

 

Evaluating Trump’s claims about Colorado

 Claim #1: “[T]he people of Colorado were not able to cast their ballots to say which nominee they preferred.”

Mr. Trump’s careful wording here is technically correct. Because the presidential preference poll was abandoned, Republican voters in Colorado could not vote for any of the presidential candidates by name.

That said, the alternative was not, as Mr. Trump seems to imply, the coronation of Mr. Cruz by Republican party elites. Though there was no presidential preference poll, Colorado voters participated in precinct caucuses to directly elect delegates—each of whom expressed a particular candidate preference—to the county assemblies, which in turn chose the makeup of the congressional-district and state conventions which would select the official national convention delegates. Therefore, in practice, the Colorado caucuses did permit voters to cast ballots for the nominee of their preference through the direct election of county delegates.

Claim #2: The delegate selection process in Colorado was “rigged” and “totally unfair.”

Complicated, perhaps. Rigged? Not at all.

The rules of the GOP Colorado caucuses are readily available online. Though they are complex, they are not difficult to grasp, and the rules clearly state how the process operates. And with respect to fairness, the mechanics of the caucuses were completely aboveboard. The vigorous debate within the state party last August about dealing away with the presidential preference poll occurred in full view of the public and culminated in a unanimous decision from the Colorado Republican Party’s executive committee to change the process to its current form. Mr. Trump had just as much time as all of the other candidates to prepare a campaign strategy that would succeed, and he was more than capable of posting a decent showing there had he made an effort to organize in the state. But no such effort was expended, and Mr. Trump lost.

Is there a better alternative to the current system?

Turning from Donald Trump’s specific criticisms of the Colorado caucuses, I wonder what sort of primary election process he would propose to replace the unrepresentative and opaque system which he claims we have now.

Mr. Trump appears to desire a simpler system which rewards candidates by proportion to their support in presidential preference elections. If a candidate has “by far the most delegates and many millions more votes than anyone else,” as the businessman tweeted last Friday, he or she should no longer have to “fight” for the nomination. In response to a debate question on the subject last month, Mr. Trump stated that “whoever gets the most delegates should win.”

These comments seem to support the adoption of a national proportional primary system, a similar process to the one which the Democratic Party currently uses. If a candidate wins a certain percent of the vote in a proportional primary, she should receive roughly that same percentage of the delegates from her victory. This sort of system is simple and fair, and I am not opposed to it.

However, Mr. Trump’s contention that the person with only a plurality—not a majority—of the delegates should be awarded the nomination anyway sets a dangerous precedent. A fractured nomination contest with multiple contenders could permit a fringe candidate with minority support to become the party’s representative in the general election, a development which would disenfranchise a majority of the party’s members and create a scenario in which one of the fundamental obligations of the political party—to tie its representatives to a distinct philosophical framework—would be left unfulfilled. It is in these situations, where the democratic process is unable to yield a decisive majority consensus, that political party leaders are so important to have. If Mr. Trump is unable to attain a majority of delegates—or, for that matter, a majority of the popular vote—there is no opportunity to turn back the clock and retry the election until he or another candidate can convince a majority of Republican voters that he is the best choice available to them. In the absence of time travel or do-overs, the delegates at the Republican National Convention must have the ultimate say if a candidate fails to demonstrate the evidence of consensus which a majority represents.

Footnotes

  1. Trump did not substantiate this latter claim, and I was unable to find any evidence for it myself.

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hispanic Pitzer Student Criticized for Denying the Word ‘Trump’ is Hate Speech

Over the weekend, several places on Pitzer College’s campus were spray painted with pro-Trump messages. Last Sunday, Brian Carlisle—the Vice President for Student Affairs at Pitzer College—responded to the vandalism and set off a firestorm of student responses.

Carlisle condemned the “hate filled message”—referring to the phrase “Make America,” presumably the first half of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign slogan—that was written over an on-campus mural. Carlisle also stated, “harassment and intimidation will never be accepted at Pitzer” and said that the administration is conducting an investigation to hold someone accountable.

Carlisle’s response was not sufficient for students who believe writing “Trump” is a racist hate crime and emblematic of “institutional racism” at Pitzer. “The way Administration has failed to classify these incidents as a hate crime has put students of color  safety at risk and has proved to students of color that their safety and well-being is not a priority of this institution,” claims Sarah Roschdi (PZ ‘17). “Students of color are being directly targeted by pro­trump messages and their [sic] has been zero steps taken to secure the safety and wellbeing of students of color on this campus.”

Haylee Sindt (PZ ‘18) did not agree with Roschdi’s sentiments. “Every person that has been affected by this, has the absolute right to feel this way,” wrote Sindt. “You may say that it makes you feel unsafe or that this is a hate crime,” she adds. “However… this is not a hate crime, it was not done to maliciously harass or intimidate ‘people of color,’ and in no way shape or form should it ‘negatively and personally impact people.’”

“Please tell me how the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Make America’ is threatening or triggering,” Sindt continues. “What would the campus’s reaction be if ‘Vote for Bernie’ or ‘Hillary is Awesome’ was written on the mural? Would people still be reacting to the degree to which they are? We all talk about how these colleges are a free space, however, in reality they are not. The second that someone with opposing views, [whose] ideals are vastly out numbered, expresses their opinions, people shut them down, tell them they are wrong, and that they are making them feel ‘unsafe.’”

Several students expressed outrage in response to Sindt’s email. “Your email dismisses the experiences of every person of color on this campus,” Lillian Horin (PZ ‘17) said to Sindt, who is Hispanic. Horin also criticized Sindt’s use of quotation marks around the word unsafe. “Do not trivialize how people of color feel on this campus and in the world around us. We do not feel ‘unsafe,’ we feel unsafe,” wrote Horin. “Just because you don’t feel it doesn’t mean the rest of us are merely whining. If we feel unsafe, believe us. We have no reason to lie.” Horin added that the words ‘Trump” and “Make America” are, in fact, racist because “one need only look at his [Trump’s] supporters to see that it is.”

“I am not here to explain stereotypes, micro aggression, white privilege, or systematic oppression to you,” stated Jessica Saint Fleur (PZ ‘18). “It is no secret that Trump’s campaign is centered around these aspects of oppression. His entire campaign is built on bigotry and hate.”

One student even accused Sindt of being the one who defaced the mural. “Your tone in your email sounds like you might be/know the person who vandalized the mural,” states Basha Brulee-Wills (PZ’ 17). Brulee-Wills then encourages Sindt to think about why she is at Pitzer, “because it possibly cannot be that you’re striving to uphold Pitzer’s core values.”

Pitzer’s Dean of Students, Moya Carter, shared her opinions regarding on-campus vandalism as well. “This is not the place to speak to the foolish, embarrassing, hate filled, Islamophobic, fact devoid behavior being represented by some of the candidates running for President of the United States,” wrote Carter in an email to the student body. Just sentences later, Carter claims that “Pitzer College is a community that strives for critical thought, diversity of beliefs and freedom of expression.”

“When they have nothing better to argue, they immediately accuse someone of being racist,” Sindt told the Claremont Independent. “Many students do not know how to accept what students with differing ideas have to say, so they immediately shut them down. People need to learn that not everyone in life will agree with them.”

#TheChalkening Hits Pitzer College

Yesterday, a student wrote the phrase “Make America” (presumably the beginning of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again”) in faint letters on a mural at Pitzer College. Additionally, the word “Trump” was spray painted on Pitzer’s clock tower.

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In a widely shared Facebook post, one student government representative described the statement as a “hate crime,” and calls for the student who painted it to be prosecuted. Pitzer College joins Scripps, Emory, Michigan, and other schools in protesting recent pro-Trump messages.

“A ‘post-racial America’ is far from what we have,” the student writes. “Instead, we face hate crimes like this across the nation and in high frequency. This isn’t simply vandalism. And, in case it’s too difficult to read, the mural with the flag and faces has, ‘Make America’ scrawled on it. This is a clear attempt to intimidate students of color at Pitzer College. I’m honestly in disbelief at how light the response has been.”

“We are a community with a core value of ‘social responsibility,’” the statement continues. “Yet the perpetrators most likely committed these acts in broad daylight? I have seen campuses across the country deal with similar attacks, and felt a great anger, but the proximity of these atrocious acts shake me to the core. This isn’t a lighthearted joke we can simply laugh away, this isn’t a drunken mishap that can be solved with a sheepish apology. Under California law, this is a hate crime and I hope the individual/s responsible are dealt with not only by the institution, but by the law of the state as well.”

The student does not state which California law he thinks defines writing part of the likely Republican nominee’s slogan as a hate crime.

Other Student government representatives expressed opposition to the Trump phrases as well. “Whoever wrote ‘Make America Great Again’ on a permanent Pitzer art piece – you are a f*cking piece of sh*t, lower than filth,” noted a Pitzer Student Senator in an email to the student body.

Some students were more concerned by the outrage in response to the Trump postings than by the actual postings themselves. “Many students today do not want to see their thoughts and opinions challenged by the opposition,” Patricio Aguilar told the Claremont Independent. “In many cases they call out the opposition by saying it is ‘offensive’ and ‘unsafe.’ Instead of embracing the opposition as what it is, students now want to silence others for beliefs that are different from what they agree with and with what is considered PC.”

Update: April 3, 2016 at 2:01pm

An earlier version of the story said the “Make America” slogan was written on Pitzer’s Free Wall. We’ve been informed that it was written on a permanent mural, and updated the story accordingly.

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Scripps Dean: Writing #Trump2016 is ‘Harassment,’ ‘Intimidation’

Last week, Scripps College’s Student Body President, Minjoo Kim, sent an email to the Scripps community describing a “racist incident” that occurred on campus. “A Mexican-American Scripps student woke up to find her whiteboard vandalized with the phrase: ‘#trump2016’.” A similar incident occurred at Emory University where students felt frightened and disturbed after pro-Donald Trump chalkings appeared on campus with the phrase “#trump2016.”

“This racist act is completely unacceptable. Regardless of your political party, this intentional violence committed directly to a student of color proves to be another testament that racism continues to be an undeniable problem and alarming threat on our campuses,” the email continues. “Campus Safety has been notified and we hope to find the person responsible so they can be held accountable for their actions.”

“This is not the inclusive, safe, and welcoming community that we have been striving so hard to create,” notes Kim. “Actions and words have consequences. Think before you act.”

Dean Charlotte Johnson also addressed the incident with a school-wide email.

“Scripps respects the First Amendment rights of its community members, and students who wish to advocate for a political candidate may certainly do so pursuant to all relevant policies and procedures,” Johnson writes. “However, while it is true that under most circumstances the mere iteration of a presidential candidate’s name would not be regarded as a form of harassment or intimidation, the circumstances here are unique.”

She further describes the “circumstances” by stating, “Given that the Scripps incident targeted a Mexican-American, who was the only student in her residence hall to discover the message on her door, the negative reaction registered by many members of the community is understandable and far from extreme. As all who have experienced can confirm, racist acts and intimidation are not always overt. But, for their targets such acts are always disconcerting.”

Dean Johnson ends her email by declaring, “We are all responsible for ensuring the Scripps community is a safe place for everyone.”

The Scripps Guide to Student Life makes no mention of any policies pertaining to whiteboards. Students in all dorms are given public whiteboards placed outside or on their doors, and many leave markers for other students to write on their board with.

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To survive, the GOP must stop Trump

Many journalists and political commentators have already opined on the problems which would accompany the selection of Donald J. Trump as the Republican Party’s nominee for the highest office in the land. Many conservatives are concerned that Mr. Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton in the general election, given his poor poll numbers against the former secretary of state. A survey conducted this week in Utah, a state which has voted Republican in every presidential contest since 1968, revealed that Trump would narrowly lose the state in a one-on-one matchup against Secy. Clinton.

Others have argued that Mr. Trump, whose juvenile humor and penchant for personal assaults have attracted much attention this election cycle, lacks the temperament to become president. Vanity Fair even published a piece which sought to characterize Mr. Trump’s demeanor and public statements as evidence of narcissistic personality disorder. And conservative writer George Will has discussed how Trump’s lack of fealty to conservative principles will cause the Republican Party to suffer defeat in November against Hillary Clinton.

Yet Mr. Trump’s supporters would dismiss these criticisms, at least in part. On the first point, general election polls this early in the presidential election have little predictive value. An article published in 2007 by the Pew Research Center explained that early general election matchups “are mostly wrong about who will win the White House,” and an extensive analysis by political scientists Christopher Wlezian and Robert Erikson of general election polling has shown that “polls from the beginning of the election year have virtually no predictive power.”1 Wlezian and Erikson’s examination also concluded that it is not until April that general election polls begin to carry some meaningful predictive value, but even then, they are only mildly predictive of the eventual outcome. Therefore, although Mr. Trump has performed the worst of all the other Republican presidential candidates in head-to-head general election matchups thus far, we should take these results with a grain of salt, at least for now, and not dismiss the New York businessman out of hand.

On the second point, though Trump does have his (many) moments of infantile behavior, he has demonstrated at least some capacity to restrain himself and act presidential. We saw this occur in the most recent Republican debate, where the Donald largely refrained from attacking his opponents, and in the businessman’s speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference this week. Attempting to characterize Mr. Trump’s ego as some kind of mental disorder or incapacity, as Vanity Fair attempted to do, is nothing more than tabloid journalism.

Supporters of Mr. Trump would also argue that George Will’s critique of the brash businessman’s conservative credentials misses the mark. In general elections, partisan candidates suffer the consequences of their brinksmanship at the ballot box unless they manage to convince moderates to come aboard. Mitt Romney, for example, drew a higher percentage of conservatives to the polls in 2012 than did Ronald Reagan in his 1980 election victory, but Mr. Romney’s poor performance among moderates—whom he lost by 15 points—cost him the election. Assuming that Donald Trump can obtain the GOP nomination, his moderate and liberal policy positions—such as his support for federal funding of Planned Parenthood—will only help him in a national election, where a centrist electorate decides the outcome.

Though I could summon a bevy of counterarguments to refute these points, let us assume for a moment that Trump’s supporters are correct on all three counts. Let’s assume that the general elections polls right now, which almost all show the Donald getting trounced by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are not predictive of the outcome on November 8th, 2016. Let’s presume also that Donald Trump is well-suited for the presidency, having the temperament and the judgment to be the leader of the free world, and that his moderate ideological dispositions might actually help him defeat the Democratic nominee for president by attracting centrist voters to his candidacy.

Even if all of these assumptions are held to be true, Republicans should still fight tooth-and-nail to defeat Donald Trump because his victory would fundamentally undermine the Republican Party and its critical role in American democracy.

Political parties are important for two main reasons. First, they represent particular visions of how society is and how it should be. Parties make it possible for voters to choose between these different perspectives—for example, between the desires for a smaller or a larger government—without necessarily knowing everything that there is to know about every single candidate who runs for public office. In other words, parties enable a voter to make an educated choice at the ballot box simply by casting his ballot for the candidate who identifies herself with the political party—and the political philosophy—which the voter himself finds agreeable. Second, by attaching holders of public office to distinct philosophical frameworks, political parties make the government comprehensible to its citizens. It would be impossible to make sense of Congress if the viewpoints of its 535 members could not be grouped by some sort of political party affiliation. When we say that the U.S. House of Representatives is currently controlled by Republicans, we are conveying something meaningful about the ideological makeup of the House as an institution and about the values and philosophies of its individual members.

But in order to realize these benefits, political parties must nominate presidential candidates who represent their values. If they fail to do so, the particular vision which the party represents will crumble into a confused mess as the nominee, who stands as the ostensible representative of the ideals of the party, presents a set of fundamental principles which directly clash with the views that he is supposed to defend. And though Donald Trump claims to embrace some conservative views, his most important policy ideas sharply contrast with the GOP’s core doctrine. Of all seventeen of the initial contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump is the only one who has categorically opposed any reforms of Social Security or Medicare. In a party which stands for a strong national defense, Mr. Trump has raised doubts as to whether the U.S. should remain in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—the “backbone of Western security policies since the Cold War“—and has intimated that he would remove American support for South Korea and Japan, which he sees as free-riders on the U.S.’s commitments in the Asia-Pacific region.2 He is a strong proponent of eminent domain3, a practice which conservatives regard as a transgression of our most fundamental property rights. And most notably, Donald Trump has railed against free trade agreements with Mexico, Japan, and other countries, saying that he would “renegotiate or break” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as president. Yet the last Republican Party platform hailed the TPP as an opportunity to “open Asian markets to U.S. products” and even proposed a “worldwide multilateral agreement among nations committed to the principles of open markets.”

If the decidedly not conservative Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, the party will be too hopelessly divided to articulate a clear vision of what it stands for in the months before the November general election. At his current pace, if Trump manages to clinch the nomination, he will do so without winning a majority of the popular vote. Yet as the party’s standard bearer, he would become the chief representative of the conservative worldview, a worldview against which he has openly rebelled throughout his campaign. This dissonance would ultimately lead to disaster, as most general election voters would conflate Mr. Trump’s views—particularly his unpopular stances on undocumented and Muslim immigration—with those of the Republican Party, even if most conservatives in fact strenuously disagree with his policies. And as the GOP’s fundamental philosophical tenets are pulled into his orbit, Republican candidates for public office all across the country would either have to renounce their party membership—thereby tacitly acknowledging that Mr. Trump is indeed accurately representing the GOP’s principles—or furiously deny that Donald Trump is in fact representative of their particular views on the issues or of the Republican Party as a whole. But with voters demonstrating an increasing tendency to vote for the same party in down-ballot elections as they do in the presidential contest, these arguments are unlikely to have much of an effect.

Even beyond the 2016 election, nominating Donald Trump would have severe repercussions for the Republican Party. As America’s population has become more and more diverse, the GOP has painstakingly worked to expand its outreach in minority communities and become more inclusive. Selecting Mr. Trump would upend all of that hard work and indicate that the party is willing to stand with a person who has called for barring all Muslims from entering the United States, who has promised to carry out the indiscriminate mass deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants, and who condones violence against protestors at his campaign rallies and stump speeches. If the GOP has any desire to survive beyond this November, it must defeat Donald Trump at all costs and resoundingly reject his poisonous rhetoric.

Footnotes

  1. See Erickson, Robert S., and Christopher Wlezien. The Timeline of Presidential Elections. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. Print. 3-5.
  2. In an interview on Meet the Press, Trump said: “We have 28,000 soldiers on the line in South Korea between the madman [Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea] and them…We get practically nothing compared to the cost of this [involvement].” Of course, this statement is demonstrably false—South Korea spends nearly a billion dollars to support the relatively small American troop presence there—but it does reveal the contrast between Mr. Trump and the Republican Party on foreign military commitments. While Mr. Trump views U.S. involvement in the Korean peninsula and around the world as a monetary and strategic cost, most Republicans regard international engagement as a tremendous strategic benefit which far outweighs its costs. In fact, the 2012 Republican Party platform emphasized the need for “U.S. leadership in the Asian-Pacific community” and increased engagement with South Korea.
  3. The Supreme Court legitimized the practice of private-to-private eminent domain—where the government transfers property from one private owner to another, usually for the ostensible purpose of economic development—in the landmark 2005 case Kelo v. City of New London. Proponents of the Court’s expansive definition of eminent domain, including Mr. Trump, argue that this sort of government-facilitated property transference is necessary in order to kickstart economic development in blighted areas. Opponents of the Kelo decision, however, believe that this view of eminent domain, which allows the government to forcibly transfer private property from one owner to another as long as “just compensation” is provided to the original owner and the transference is “for public use,” legitimizes the abuse of private property rights, particularly those of the poor, and enriches wealthy businessmen like Trump who have the means, knowledge, and access to use eminent domain to their advantage. As conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissenting opinion in Kelo, “[a]llowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities.”

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