The “Reality-Based” Campaign is Struggling

img_1087Every day brings some new level of audacity from Tiny Hands, the skewered norms, the progressive destruction of civil discourse under the bombardment of bombast from Der Furor. Politics as usual is dying a quick and painful death.

We struggle to grasp the meaning, the motivation, the psychopathy of The Donald. We are reliving a scene from Alien in which a horrific beast blows through the chest of the body politic, exploding blood and guts everywhere, foretelling a great danger to spaceship earth that will put our wits to a life or death challenge. Deny as we might, this is the reality of American politics today.

But didn’t reality get a bad name some time ago? The term “reality-based community” has its roots in an October 17, 2004, The New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, in which he was told by an aide (Karl Rove?) to George W. Bush:

“…guys like [you are] “in what we call the reality-based community,…people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. … That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

We’ve come through eight years of the Republican Party doing its best to oppose every reality-based policy to rub reality’s nose in the dirt. I don’t need to go into a litany of examples. There are many. Yet these words–Karl Rove’s “reality”–are now coming back with a force never encountered in American politics: Trump, Bannon, Ailes and Conway are concocting a daily drumbeat of jaw-dropping, extra-judicial assassinations of reality that are leaving the media and Democratic campaign in the dust, judiciously studying yesterday while being overrun by today.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve attended rallies with every member of America’s “Royal Family”–Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. These campaign events are announced by email. RSVP is required. Everyone attending must complete a form with name and contact info. Security is tight, movement highly controlled. Local law enforcement and Secret Service are out in force.

Bill and Hillary Clinton were in Durham and Greensboro. A bank of cameras was set up facing the podium with several rows of media tables set up behind the cameras. The rest of the space inside was unused. People attending are herded, standing, to the front and sides of the podium, framing the media shot of enthusiastic crowds on bleachers behind and on the sides. Maybe one-third of those who showed up for Hillary’s event were admitted. The rest listened outside.

Bill was his usual smooth self. His delivery is facile, friendly, peppered with local information that he connects to national issues. He defends Hillary, the Clinton Foundation, draws as many sharp contrasts with Trump as possible, lauds Obama, names all the local politicians, the state issues (HB2), and what’s at stake now. When it comes to campaigning, there’s just nobody better. Trouble is, just like Hillary, it’s all about fact-based reality.

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Chelsea was smart, sweet, speaking as a recent parent, talking about education from pre-school to graduate, touting Hillary’s student loan program. The event was smaller, celebrating the opening of the Durham campaign headquarters. For the reality-based community, she was sharp, warm, clear, relevant, everything within the foul-lines.

Hillary’s was the first event since she was diagnosed with pneumonia. She showed up early, delivered 20 minutes of rhetoric and departed. I wanted to hear passion, but it wasn’t there. She has a long resume of service (without getting too fine about the content) and she’s her own best advocate. Her history of working for health care and children is long and distinguished. She can talk policy in multiple areas as well as any other single person in government or any other candidate. She has a record as an effective legislator whose most notable accomplishments remain largely unknown.

But there’s no fire. I wanted to feel her talking from her toes, inflamed by passion, delivering surgical zingers. No deal. In this sense, she is also her own worst enemy. I can imagine that some of the long-term antipathy of the right has to do with her wall of intellect that obscures emotion. Their relentless attacks and the media’s obsession with innuendo only inspire greater effort, deeper suspicion and vilification because she never cracks. They’ve want her to crack not because they really believe she’s done something wrong. They just want to break her any way they possibly can. And when she doesn’t break, they are even more incensed.

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Trump is the one grabbing the moment by the cojones. And many Americans, God bless us, are so conditioned to be fascinated by shiny objects that–as we see every day–it almost doesn’t matter what comes out of his mouth. Forget that it’s been Republicans who have opposed any infrastructure spending. Forget that alternative energy is poised to create massive job growth. Forget that Republicans are the ones who want to deny health care to 20 million people who now have Obama care. Trump’s the personality-even if what he’s saying has nothing to do with reality.  Hillary is the opposite-a relatively flat persona talking about nothing but reality.

Of course, there are pretty good reasons why she doesn’t show real fire. There have certainly been opportunities to verbally skin Trump alive. The sexist double-standards of this cycle are on full display every day, on the television news, the talk shows, the Commander-in-Chief event, the Op-Ed pages. Trump is not only stoking them, he’s taking advantage of Hillary’s restraint.

But it’s the latest assault on reality, the lie that Hillary herself started the birther movement, that has brought the entire scheme into sharp relief. In terms of driving the narrative, creating the reality, Trump is Karl Rove’s wet dream. If Hillary intends to win, she has to get out in front of this toxic wave and set the pace and tone herself. I mean Herself–not through ads or through her surrogates. People need to see a fighter, a truth-talker, someone who will not lay down or wait for Breitbart to define reality. Trump is a fraud, a racketeer, a bigot, a scam artist, an incurious know-nothing who instantly resorts to personal attacks. Yeah. That will definitely work in international diplomacy. He needs to be exposed and humiliated for what he is, a coward.

This week, the founder of LinkedIn offered to donate $5M to a veterans organization of Trump’s choice if he released his taxes. What if Hillary made the same offer? What if Hillary launched a national fund to be given to a veterans organization or a children’s or a refugee relief organization if Trump did three things: release his taxes, release his medical records and release his obligations to Russian investors? I could relish contributing to that…and hearing Hillary announce the totals at every campaign event. And that’s just for starters.


4 thoughts on “The “Reality-Based” Campaign is Struggling

  1. Great post. “Trump is … taking advantage of Hillary’s restraint.” Thanks for this, and all these words I’ve been looking for to describe the enigma of American ‘reality’.


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