Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Comic Relief Wins

When Donald Trump entered the Republican race to be the party’s presidential nominee, I did not believe he was a serious candidate.  He was the comic relief out to build his brand.

While he would strongly deny it, Donald Trump did not enter the race to be the nominee. When he announced his candidacy, he lacked a long game. He lacked depth on issues and lacked concern about getting up to speed on issues, because he was not going to be in the campaign long enough to need them. He was slow to hire a staff to help him run a national ground game, a team that would help Trump in the caucus states to track potential delegates, then secure and solidify those delegates. His Iowa ground game was anemic. Why? Was it Trump’s brilliance that saw that none of that was necessary?  While Monday quarterbacking his answer was his plan from the outset, the is highly doubtable. He didn’t have a ground game because he did not think he would win it all.

A master at amassing wealth through image branding, Trump’s goal was to broaden and deep his image, his “brand”. Hence, from the outset, what he did was designed for one purpose, to gain as much media attention possible in the most media intensively covered story that comes around every four years and which he could ride for six to nine months. His outlandish statements and over-simplified controversial solutions did just that, and quickly he was being in more stories than any other candidate.

In the wake a lot of conservative Republican firebrands were left in shock. In Cruz they had a “purist”, a man who was a darling of the Tea Party and who could as president serve as a quasi-evangelist-in-chief in the eyes of the evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians. They had a man who treated compromise as four letter word. As it turns out their ideal champion could not make it out of their own party let alone go on to win a national election. 

So what happened? While many books will be penned and expounded upon for years to come, as an outside observer, and listening to comments by people who voted for Trump, I venture to put forth the following list of what happened.

1.  Rubio, Bush, Cruz, Christy, etc. ran political campaigns. In contrast, Trump ran a brand marketing campaign. Such a campaign is designed to catch media attention, suck up as much attention as possible, create buzz by tapping into the fears of his intended audience, articulate those fears in a stark manner and then give a solution. Not only did Trump define himself he also defined his opponents who were not prepared to fight a branding campaign. As Trump was running a branding campaign, what he said to grab attention and move people may or may not be views he holds.  

2.  For about two decades talk radio and a handful of widely listened to right-wing commentators have increasingly generated anger in their followers. They have spoken of compromise, the basis upon which this nation was founded and the foundation of sound governance, as evil. These commentators sowed the seeds created the ground for dysfunctional government. As such, these stirrers of anger tilled the ground for Trump’s seeds to take hold and bloom. Trump became the standard bearer for their rage. His statements channel their rage and his simplified contentless promise to do something made them feel good.

3.  Coupled with anger is a dysfunctional delegitimized Congress that is accomplishing little helped create an environment for Trump’s success. At the state and national levels our politicians have through their demonizing of those in the opposite party, and an unwillingness to compromise and work together brought into existence dysfunctional government. When proposals by one party are being rejected and opposed by the other, even those proposals that were once one’s espoused by the rejecting party, they were delegitimizing the governing process.

When reasonable proposals are put forth it is not uncommon for the proposal to be framed to contain poison pills knowingly that they are forcing the party opposite to reject the idea. Extreme minorities in both parties through their rigidity have created a deep distrust of politicians across the nation. It is a shame that a nation that prides itself on the process by which it was founded has turned its back upon that founding process and delegitimized government officials, Congress, the Supreme Court and the governing process. Instead of working to make government more responsive to contemporary needs of the citizenry they have been through their bickering destroying government.

In such an environment, why would the general populist line-up behind Bush, Rubio and Cruz when they have Trump as an option serving as the piper with his enchanting song?  As government is delegitimized in the eyes of the average Republican primary voter, when looking at content-challenged Trump they follow him thinking, “Anything is better than one of these idiots. How could Trump do worse.”

4.  Throughout history economic trauma and insecurity gives emergence to voices of protectionism, nativism, xenophobia and outright bigotry. And sometimes major sea changes in a nation’s political life. Trump is tapping into and playing off those fears. He gives voice to those fears and unwashed reactions.

Such voices tend to point to particular groups for the cause of the nation’s woes, and warn that these people will destroy the nation unless they are strongly addressed. They create the ground in which a person of a different ethnicity is viewed by their neighbor with high suspicion. Such voices imply that if the nation stands against “those people” that the woe’s experienced by the citizenry will be reversed.  Trump is channeling and giving legitimacy to such discontent with his “believe me, I will make it so much better” statements.

5.  In the first months, neither the party nor the other candidates directly challenged Trump’s attention catching statements. They did not repudiate them firmly and state how they are clearly unrealistic and/or contrary to the values upon which the nation was founded.

Instead they remained silent or gave an empty and soft objection. It seems they didn’t do so for three reasons. For some they could not challenge him because either they lacked a position and wouldn’t venture forth onto foreign ground.  For others, such as Ted Cruz, they wanted to play nice with the hope to ingratiate themselves to his supporters so as to attract his supporters when he dropped out of the race.    For a few it may well be possible that they remained silent because they had a similar but softer position that Trump stated more starkly. Hence for this third group, Trump turned their right flank them and routed them into a retreat.

6.  A significant portion of the Republican primary voters are older than 55 and white, a demographic that is highly concerned that the government not destroy or tamper with their retirement benefits. Though many of the people drawn to Trump may state that they want small government and have concerns about religious liberty, for these older voters, those issues are secondary to their concern about hawks drawing the nation in additional foreign wars, and protecting their Medicare and Social Security. A hawkish Cruz was likely to tamper with their retirement benefits, and send their grandchildren off to die on foreign soil.   

7.  Trump captured as many evangelical voters as Ted Cruz which indicates that that group is not a monolith. While evangelical voters, and who are primarily 40+ and white, have concerns about religious liberty and various other morality issues, this group are more concerned about a host of other issues. One of those concerns is the coloring of the nation.

Cruz’s pushing his evangelical credentials worked against him with some evangelicals. Recently two evangelicals noted to me that the sincerity of Cruz’s faith was put into doubt in their minds when word came out that he had not been tithing to his church. As tithing is viewed as a mark of spirituality, Cruz not even coming close to doing so for many years raised questions. For these two people, the tithing issue opened them up to voting for Trump.

8.  Cruz tried to portray himself as an outsider and a Tea Party politician, yet as the campaign heated up the outsider image became hollow. Compared to Trump, Cruz was the insider who used insider tactics and techniques like other insider candidates. His effort to get “Trump delegates” to switch to him at a contested convention reinforced the impression that Cruz was a typical politician. 

His ethics and truthfulness came into question. When compared to Trump’s populist unwashed statements, Cruz’s obfuscating statements further demonstrated that he was a typical politician. Cruz’s Trusted signs in the eyes of many resonated as Trust Ted??  His effort to stack state delegates Naming his VP choice was viewed as a sign of desperation, the shooting off the fireworks as the ship flounders.  Trump came across as the true outsider, not carrying what people thought and saying what he was thinking.

9.   Populism triumphs over ideological purity, which differs from the assumption Cruz and his funders hold about the common Republican voter. Cruz and the ideological driven Republican purists advocate that if the party rallied around an ideological stalwart that Republicans would win the White House as well as increase their majority in the Senate and House. It is on this basis that the Freedom Caucus have been conducting themselves as if they represented the majority of the party and the general population (Cruz likely will hold that this is true for he argued recently that the majority of the party supports him. In doing so he is implying that a good portion of those who considered themselves Republicans and voted in the primaries are Rinos and therefore not truly Republicans.) 

Ideological purity does not to give you a victory and if ideological purity does not give you victory within the party, then it is correct to question what would be the results in a general election. 

10. Cruz's team were in error in thinking that as other candidates dropped out that they would get most of the supporters for those candidates. Instead, Trump gaining the lion share of those Republicans showed how limited Cruz's support was in the party, how flawed he was, and that the party would rather go with the comic relief who lacked policy that vote for Cruz.   

11.   Rubio gained no traction. He came off as a man who planned four years ago to run for President but who ran four to eight years too soon. Rubio was too unrefined and poorly articulated his positions. Also Rubio lacked a fire and passion that could have helped off-set his immaturity. Where was his heart?

12.  Jeb Bush was listless, and lacked passion. He gave people no vision and cause to vote for him. He was not prepared to give people a reason to vote for a third Bush to be president.

13.  Kasich lacked a vision around which people who were lukewarm to cold on Trump could rally. He seemed to have no burning fire to move people and stir them to support his run. His greatest argument was that he was a second term governor of Ohio. A major shortcoming was that he was a second term governor of Ohio, a state that economically under her leadership has at best been average.

14.  Bridgegate undermined Christy's run.   

Will Trump win the national election?  The chances are high that he will but will only be a one term president.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

To Cry or To Laugh Over Words Never Spoken

Two days ago was the anniversary of (May 9, 1912) William Booth delivering his final public address to members of The Salvation Army. His final words sought to reassure his followers that all would be well with the organization he founded after he passed away. His words were also intended to inspire his officers and soldiers to continue onward in the fight to help people in need and save souls. Hence, Royal Albert Hall was packed for the address. The press was there to capture his final words and so were the author's of the various Salvation Army publications. 

For nearly nine decades members of The Salvation Army have taken great pride in the following words that are attributed to William Booth on that occasion and held as final words.

“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end.”  

The common image is that once William concluded with these words that he then sat down as the crowd embraced his I'll fight charge.  

There is an audio clip on YouTube that some maintain is a recording of Booth. For a 1912 recording, it is not only amazingly clear for the state of the recording technology of the day, and even more remarkable that in an age where national leaders were not being recorded that someone set up what must have been a huge recording device to catch these last words. Given the state of the technology of the era, and the recording’s more recent emergence, for most listeners it is evident that the recording is a modern effort to give life to these dramatic words.

From my early teens I’ve been fascinated with history and the evolution of global/societal thought. Being raised in The Salvation Army I was naturally interested in the history of my faith community. Early I learned that due to various levels of hagiography I needed to be careful in my acceptance of what was considered to be my faith tradition’s history. One of those items that came into question during my college and post-graduate years was the attributing of the above inspiring words to William Booth.

Back in the 1980s, the issue I had was with silence of The Salvation Army’s primary historical documents from the 1910s through to World War I in noting these rousing words and when they were spoken. While William and Catherine Booth were alive, The Salvation Army’s primary publications, “The War Cry” and “All the World” took great care to accurately publish for Salvationists across the Great Britain and around the world, the major addresses of their leaders. Particularly so for Catherine, whose addresses were later gathered together and published in a serious of books.

When I read The War Crys and the All the World from mid May to August of 1912, there were a good number of references to his last address. I was disappointed that none contained these inspiring words, or even portions of them. The reports on The Salvation Army’s publications did note various other statements made by Booth, most of which were far from being inspirational, especially when compared to these immortalized words. The special edition of The War Cry covering the final address made no mention of the address. Later that year in describing his final speech All the World didn’t mention any portion of the words attributed to him. Over the months, Booth’s other well known statements from his final address, as well as lesser known and non-inspiring portions of his address were quoted repeatedly in Salvation Army publications without a mention of even a phrase from the quote in question. Subsequently, in learning that none of the news reporters who covered caught any of these words reinforced my solidifying belief that the words were not spoken by William Booth.

By 1985 I found myself with two options, a) hold that these inspiring words which have resounded in Salvationist hearts for decades was totally missed by the primary recorders of the day, both the news reporters and Salvation Army publication authors, or b) take the position that the primary recorders missed the words simply because these words were never spoken by William Booth.

Back then the heart was pulled in one direction but common sense and the mind directed to holding to option “b”. Years later, in extensively researching Catherine Booth my belief that these words were not William’s firmed further. The wider attribution of these words to William did not commence until 15 years later, in 1927, and even then the two authors that attributed the words to William have significant variance from each other and from the words above.  In 1929 Bramwell Booth claimed his father spoke the immortal words, but Bramwell’s assertion should be viewed in the context that he was embroiled in a leadership fight and was seeking to increase his legitimacy.

Over the subsequent decades, the myth has been perpetuated. So where did these inspiring words originate? First, we must recognize that the words are viewed as inspirational because of to whom they were attributed, and what grew from his work and leadership. If the words were spoken or attributed to a more common person, they would have long been lost. Second, we must recognize that the words and the myth have continued to live on because we want to believe in the words and until recently the organization's leadership has continued to publically attribute the words to their founder. What of those who claim to have heard them that day in May 1912? This can easily be accounted for by common human dynamics. Decades later many of those who were in Royal Albert Hall that day and recounted how they heard those stirring words, and how the address moved them, just thought they heard them. They recall being there and hearing William speak and as the words became attributed to William that day, they claimed to have actually heard them because they wanted to believe that they heard them from his lips and were not wishing to admit that they could not actually recall hearing his immortalized last words.

Do we know the source of the quote? While the true author of the final form may well be lost to history, the first portion of the “I’ll fight” appeared as a poem in a 1906 edition of “All the World”, six years before William was said to have authored them. It appears that core of the quote was penned by an early Salvationist, and possibly added onto by one or two others and then attributed to William.

While I’ve not been a member of The Salvation Army for years, it is my faith heritage and valued by me. At the end of the day I’m conflicted as to whether I should cry in sadness or laugh over how hagiography readily distorts history so that the words he never spoke have become William Booth’s most famous. Hopefully the poem's message will be embraced by the organization and its membership for it speaks to the ongoing spirit which drives them to provide a hand of assistance to those who are hurting and in need in our communities.