Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

High Hopes

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I’m not Lloyd Bentsen and didn’t know Jack Kennedy, but I do remember the Frank Sinatra theme song for the Kennedy campaign. Its original lyrics about a little old ant and silly old ram who achieved the impossible because of their “high hopes” remind me of the idealized hopes of Barack Obama’s supporters in 2008 and Donald Trump’s this year.

Both groups march to a drumbeat of hope and change, but in very different directions. Obama’s followers believed he would end the politics of racial, class, and ideological division that they felt had characterized the Bush presidency. Obama’s soaring rhetoric promised an America that was no longer red or blue but united. By contrast, Trump promises an overhaul of the body politic. His self-styled brilliance in the arts of negotiation will supposedly fix the structures of trade, immigration, and finance that favor elites and minorities over the common person (particularly if that person is white, male, and working class).

Trump’s followers hope their man will restore America, but how do they envision the restoration? Continue reading

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What Attica Prisoners Want Harvard Law Students to Know

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The last great book I read made me cry and grind my teeth and pace my cell. It was written by a Harvard Law School graduate. It was Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. With the best education in America, Mr. Stevenson chose to “get close to,” defend and ultimately save the lives of people on death row. People on these kind of missions—playing a bigger game in life—make murderers like me melt.

My name is John J. Lennon and I am a thirty-nine-year-old prisoner serving twenty-eight years to life at Attica Correctional Facility in western upstate New York. I was convicted of selling drugs and shooting a man to death on a Brooklyn street in 2001. I’m sorry for killing him, I’m sorry for it all.

That said, I’m not just a murderer. Today I’m also a journalist. Years ago, I fell into a couple of opportunities at Attica. In a privately funded pilot college program, I learned how to think better. In a creative writing workshop, I learned how to write clearly. Since then, my words have appeared in publications that make them matter. Continue reading

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics

Donald Trump  and Hillary Clinton at the second 2016 presidential debate. Screencap from NBC’s debate livestream.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the second 2016 presidential debate. Screencap from NBC’s debate livestream.

Early into last night’s debate, Donald Trump found himself in an awkward position. No, I am not talking about the question first asked about the Access Hollywood tape on which he boasts of sexual assault. I am talking about a more subtle moment: early on Donald Trump found himself calling himself a “politician,” incredulously admitting, “I can’t believe I am saying that about myself.”

Almost one hundred years ago, the German social theorist Max Weber gave a lecture in Munich called “Politics as Vocation” in which he argued that there was a big difference between the “occasional” politician and the “professional” politician. We are all, he claimed, occasional politicians, in as much as we all may vote, circulate a pamphlet or petition, or give a stump speech. But professional politicians are a different breed: For them politics is a vocation, a calling, and with the vocation comes certain burdens and responsibilities.

The biggest problem with Donald Trump in this election cycle is that he is, in fact, no politician, at least not in a vocational sense. And contrary to popular belief, that is a very bad thing for a person running for president. Continue reading

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Counting Deplorables

Juan de Zurbarán, Apples in a wicker basket, an opened pomegranate on a silver plate and roses, irises and other flowers in a glass vase, on a stone ledge. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Juan de Zurbarán, Apples in a wicker basket, an opened pomegranate on a silver plate and roses, irises and other flowers in a glass vase, on a stone ledge. Via Wikimedia Commons.

If Hillary Clinton’s remarks about “deplorables” were a blunder, as even many of her supporters believe, the fault may lie less with her choice of adjective than with her carelessness about the numbers.

How did she calculate that half of Donald J. Trump’s supporters are deplorable, or did she calculate at all? Apparently not, since she walked the calculation back after the uproar that ensued. But this only raises a question: If not half, how many? What percentage actually falls into the “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” basket to which Clinton was referring?

The Survey of American Political Culture, soon to be released from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, may offer some answers.

First, a general profile. Even though four out of five Trump supporters believe that Americans lived more moral and ethical lives fifty years ago, about three-quarters (74 percent) nonetheless hold that we should be more tolerant of people who adopt alternate lifestyles. And even though Trump supporters are overwhelmingly white (91 percent), the study finds, about two-thirds say their beliefs and values are similar to those of African Americans (62 percent) and Hispanics (68 percent). In fact, Trump supporters generally perceive greater cultural distance from the non-religious or the American cultural elite than they do from other American ethnic groups. Continue reading

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It’s the System, Stupid

Hillary Clinton at the DNC.  Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr.

Hillary Clinton at the DNC. Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr.

Back in 1992, when Bill Clinton first made a run at the presidency, his campaign strategist James Carville is said to have hung a sign in campaign headquarters reading, “The economy, stupid.” Oh, if it were still so. If it were, Hillary Clinton, despite her flaws, would be coasting to victory this November. The unemployment rate has fallen below 5 percent; in 2015, middle-class income grew at the fastest rate on record; and Wall Street is hitting historic highs. Not all the economic indicators are positive: Housing starts are down, and the income gaps between rich and poor, as well as black and white, continue to grow. Nevertheless, in any “ordinary election cycle,” as we’ve grown used to saying these days, the economic news would be a boon to Clinton.

But this election is not about the economy, stupid. It’s about “the system.” The “corrupt, horrible system” has been Trump’s electoral trump card.

The idea of “the system” has been fundamental to the sciences and social sciences since the middle of the twentieth century, when systems science, systems theory, and systems thinking came to dominate the U.S. academy. It was the academy in the middle of the last century that gave legitimacy to “systems” as accounting for the ways things really work, or don’t work, in the world. As in the human body, aging, a poor diet, genetics, and a sedentary lifestyle work together to cause heart disease, so “systems” integrate parts with a whole to produce results that transcend any one cause. Continue reading

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