Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Do Republicans Care About Hispanics?

When the President speaks, every word is parsed carefully across the world. Everyone wants to know what the President is thinking, and his words are among the best clues. That is true for every President, and so it is true for every presidential candidate. We assume their words are a mirror of their thoughts and beliefs, and thus pointers to what policies they will pursue.

So let’s listen to the words of Republican presidential candidates. Donald Trump said some significant words about immigrants in the announcement of his candidacy in June. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.... They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

A week ago, Trump claimed that Hispanics are “going to love Trump.” Maybe he doesn’t realize that Mexicans are Hispanic.

Trump’s whole campaign is a media show. His campaign paid actors to cheer at his candidacy announcement. Trump won’t be our next President or even the Republican nominee. He will gradually alienate potential voters by intemperate attacks on other Republicans, like John McCain. His appeal to the angriest and least informed right-wing voters won’t be enough, although with so many candidates, he may win a primary or two.

More significant than his words are the words of the other Republican candidates. One of them will be on the ballot next November. Their words about immigrants and immigration will be taken to reflect what “America” thinks. What did they say?

One voice in strong opposition to Trump was Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida. “Trump’s comments are not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry was also critical, but somewhat less definite on Fox News: “I don’t think he’s reflecting the Republican Party with his statements about Mexicans. I think that was a huge error on his part.”

Rubio and Perry just register in the single digits among Republicans in the latest presidential preference polls. A Republican front-runner who clearly condemned Trump’s comments was Jeb Bush. He said, “To make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party.”

Bush’s words set a standard for Republican rejection of Trump’s allegations about Mexican immigrants. The majority of Republican candidates were not willing to reject what Trump had said. Some, like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, agreed with Trump. Cruz told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, “I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration.” Cruz explained why he was not willing to criticize Trump. “I like Donald Trump. He’s bold, he’s brash. And I get that, that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I ain’t gonna do it. I’m not interested in Republican on Republican violence.” Then last week Cruz called Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell a liar. Perhaps we can’t take these men’s words that seriously.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie said, “The comments were inappropriate and have no place in this race.” But added, “I like Donald. He’s a good guy.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul dodged the issue: “I don’t know what he’s been saying, but he apparently is drawing a lot of attention.” Rick Santorum was unclear about where he stands: “While I don’t like the verbiage he’s used, I like the fact that he is focused on a very important issue for American workers and particularly legal immigrants in this country.”

Another one of the poll leaders, Scott Walker, said nothing that I could find about Trump’s comments on Mexicans. But when Trump said John McCain was not a war hero, Walker denounced him.

Reince Priebus is the chair of the Republican National Committee, so he offers the official Party line. At a press conference a few days after Trump’s comments, Priebus said, “Some comments can be helpful, some comments can be hurtful. Those particular comments, not helpful.”

The Republican party is divided about immigrants. Officially, the Party cannot bring itself to condemn false and defamatory comments about Mexicans. They can’t manage to say clearly that “Mexico” as a state is not sending anyone across our borders. A few individual candidates condemn Trump, but the majority of those leading in the polls, who are most likely to become the Republican candidate, prefer to avoid attacking his comments because they reflect the views of too many conservative Republicans.

In a poll done last week, 62% of respondents said they would definitely not vote for Trump if he were the Republican nominee. That number rises to 84% among Hispanics. Among conservative Republicans, 32% would definitely vote FOR Trump. There is the conflict for Republican contenders. Should I pander to the hatreds of my most prejudiced primary voters?

That may be a short-sighted approach. Giovanni Mata, the former chairman of the Suffolk County (NY) Hispanic Advisory Board, says voters “won't soon forget” the candidates who have refused to condemn Trump’s remarks.

Steve Hochstadt
Springbrook WI
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 28, 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Meaning of Donald Trump

At this moment in the long-distance race of the Republican nomination for President, the leader is Donald Trump. Leading the pack at this point doesn’t require much support, because there are so many candidates. In the most recent polls, taken by USA Today and by FOX News, Trump leads with only 17-18%, among 15 men and Carly Fiorina. Scott Walker (15%) and Jeb Bush (14%) also scored in double digits. Trump’s share has quadrupled over the past 2 months, Walker and Bush have stayed about the same, and the most conservative also-rans, like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee, have lost voters to Trump.

Unlike every other entrant, he is not a politician and has never held public office. Just a few years ago, he wasn’t even a Republican. What could it mean that he is in the lead?

When Trump pretended to be a Republican presidential candidate in 2011, his history of political donations leaned Democratic, including sizable donations to Harry Reid, Rahm Emanuel, and John Kerry. He gave often to Hillary Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation.

His behavior and public statements are most un-presidential. Trump was able to use student and medical deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. Yet he claimed to Bill O’Reilly, “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” At a Republican gathering on Saturday, he disparaged John McCain’s well known Vietnam service record: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s personal life appears to be the opposite of what conservatives prefer. He was married three times. In 2004, he told the Daily News, “All of the women on ‘The Apprentice’ flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.” In his 2007 book, Trump boasted, “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I’m getting?’ ”

Those things appear not to matter as much to conservatives as his recent remarks about immigrants, which have catapulted him in the polls. In his June announcement that he was a candidate, Trump claimed that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

When conservatives explain why they like Trump, they often use the word “truth”. What does it mean when Trump’s supporters say that he tells the truth? People who labeled themselves Tea Party supporters in the recent FOX poll were the LEAST likely to vote for a candidate who is “sometimes less than honest and would lie to cover up the truth.” No age group, racial group, gender group, or income group put a higher value on truth than Tea Party supporters.

Extreme conservatives want the truth as they believe it, and Trump gives it to them.

Here is that truth as shown in that FOX poll. Tea Party supporters see the least benefit in any kind of immigration and the most danger. When asked several questions about possible benefits of LEGAL immigration, Tea Party people had the least interest. When asked a series of questions about concerns they might have about ILLEGAL immigration, Tea Party supporters consistently gave the highest negative answers. 76% are “very concerned” about an increase in crime, and 80% about “overburdening government programs and services”. Other possible issues, such as “taking jobs away from U.S. citizens”, are of much less concern. Over half, much more than any other group, wanted to deport as many illegal immigrants as possible.

Less than half of Americans think Donald Trump was correct in his claims about whom Mexico is “sending” over the border, but three-quarters of Tea Party supporters agree with him.

Donald Trump is a vain, self-promoting, amoral man, whose focus on himself and his money would make an awful President. I think most of the people who say they support him now, more than six months before the Iowa Caucuses on February 1, already know that. By picking Trump, they are sending a message to the Republican Party, and to us all, about their distaste for immigration and especially Hispanic immigrants. Trump is saying what they want to hear about immigration. Right-wing Americans don’t want him – they want the other Republicans to listen up, to learn their truth.

Trump is just riding that wave. Soon he’ll go down. What matters is what other Republicans do with their most vocal and extreme voters.

We all need to pay attention. And we must keep saying, as often as possible, that just like everything else Trump says about political issues, this too is a lie.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 21, 2015

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Myth of Liberal Media

Popular myths live long after they are disproved. One of the most significant political myths is about the “liberal media”, the supposed tilt of American public media to the left. This claim by Republicans is nearly as old as I am. It was false when it began, and it still is, although less so.

When I was growing up, the great majority of newspapers endorsed Republican candidates. The magazine “Editor and Publisher” surveyed presidential endorsements of newspapers since 1940. The first time a Democrat won more endorsements was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 against Barry Goldwater. The next time was Bill Clinton in 1992. John Kerry barely edged out George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama won in 2008, although many fewer papers endorse candidates these days. In 2012 more papers endorsed Romney, but those which endorsed Obama had a higher circulation.

Over the long term, Republican presidential candidates won nearly three-quarters of newspaper endorsements from the 1930s through the 1980s. In other elections at the state and federal level, a similar pattern holds: from an overwhelming majority of endorsements from the 1940s through the 1960s, newspapers shifted to a more even split in the 1970s and 1980s, to a slight national majority for Democrats since the 1990s, with significant regional differences. In the 2014 governor’s race in Illinois, 12 of the 14 largest newspapers in the state endorsed the Republican Rauner.

Nevertheless, Republicans asserted that the media leaned against them. In 2009 Sarah Palin, who as candidate for Vice President admitted to doing virtually no reading, nevertheless argued that all the mainstream media were unfair to conservatives, making the term “lamestream media” popular. At the same time, researchers at Media Matters for America studied media politics at a different level. They surveyed every daily newspaper in the country in 2007 to see which syndicated op-ed columnists they published. The winner? George Will, syndicated in more papers with a higher total circulation than anyone else. No matter how one measured it, conservative columnists had an advantage over liberals. 60% of daily newspapers printed more conservative columnists than liberals, with only 20% of newspapers in the other direction. Newspapers with more conservative columnists reached more readers nationally. Only in the Middle Atlantic region of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey were liberal op-ed voices more prominent.

Why does the false characterization of the media have such strength against the facts? Conservatives overwhelmingly do not trust the media. Conservative Americans, unlike everyone else, trust only the few news sources which match their political views. Those very conservative sources, like the programs of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, repeat this claim about the liberal media all the time.

When the media leaned strongly Republican, Republicans had a much more favorable view. In 1956, a study found that 78% of Republicans thought that newspapers were fair. The shift towards more equality, their loss of dominance, was perceived by conservatives as an unfair trend, much as the still incomplete shift towards more racial and gender equality has led to conservative complaints about reverse discrimination.

I have one more explanation. Conservatives have declared their distrust of factual information. When decades or even centuries of scientific work clash with traditional beliefs, the science is declared bad. Conservatives have attacked and tried to eliminate the government institutions dedicated to informing and educating the public, like the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts, and public television and radio.

Higher education has been under attack by conservatives for decades. In 2012, Rick Santorum criticized the idea of sending more students to college as an effort to “indoctrinate” them and wanted states “to get out of education”. Scan the country now for Republican efforts to do that. Scott Walker proposed to change the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin from the effort to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” to “meet the state’s workforce needs.” Then he demanded a cut of $300 million from the University’s budget over the next two years. Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona, proposed eliminating all state support for the two largest community college systems. Here in Illinois, one of the first institutions to be threatened with closure due to Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget cuts is the Illinois State Museum, a center for public education and scientific research.

By cutting funding of public schools and higher education, Republicans show their allegiance to the interests of the wealthiest Americans. A remarkable survey of rich Chicagoans (average wealth $14 million) shows that only one-third agree that “The federal government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that all children have really good public schools they can go,” against 87% of the general public. Only 28% of them agree that “The federal government should make sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so,” against 78% of the rest of us.

The children of the wealthy will go wherever they like, and the poor will scramble to get ahead. To get average Americans to support that system, Republicans must shield them from the real news, must keep them away from science and the scientific method of thinking about the world, must make the financial hurdles to education high. Telling everyone not to listen to the most informative media is one part of that plan.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published by the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 14, 2015