It’s time to Break It Down!
In his 1984 tragicomedic novel God Knows, Joseph Heller asserted “The truth is whatever people will believe is the truth. Don’t you know history?” Over the course of the past eleven months, the 2016 Presidential Campaign has unfolded all across our beloved country, from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, from the mountains to the valleys, and from sea to shining sea. During that time both Parties have experienced what by historical terms must be considered unconventional races.
There are a number of reasons both races would be deemed unusual by almost any benchmark or analysis. On the Democratic side of the Aisle, the aspect that stands out most (at least to me) is that the principal challenger, in fact the only one remaining, to the presumed favorite is a Democratic Socialist, by his own appellation. After victory in last night’s West Virginia Primary, he reiterated his intentions to compete all the way to the Democratic National Convention, July 25-28, 2016, in Philadelphia. He insists that he has a challenging but existent path to catch the frontrunner, flip Super Delegates, and win the nomination. While the math suggests it’s improbable, Alexander Pope noted in, An Essay on Man, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Small though it may be, I suppose he has a chance.
On the opposite side of the Aisle, the Republicans have had, arguably, an even more unconventional contest. It began with seventeen candidates that were considered viable, and gradually winnowed down to one. The sheer volume of candidates, in and of itself, makes the contest “different,” but there are other aspects as well that tend to stand out. When looking at the group as a whole, the success of non-politicians, and the total rejection of the so-called political class in general, and of the Party Establishment in particular is in a word, astonishing. However, besides those delineators of difference, the thing that stands out most to me on either side is the apparent creation of a fact-free universe by the GOP frontrunner.
In the March 13 Edition of Politico, in an article entitled Trump’s Week of Errors, Exaggerations and Flat-out Falsehoods, the magazine makes the case that Donald Trump is a veritable truth avoidance machine. This was a month ago, and several weeks before Trump was elevated through a series of convincing Primary wins to the GOP’s presumptive nominee status. The magazine in effect fact-checked a week’s worth of Mr. Trump’s verbal stump speech stylings. This amounted to 4.6 hours of speeches and press conferences from North Carolina to Missouri.
In summary, what they found was more than five dozen statements deemed mischaracterizations, exaggerations, or just flat out false. These were deemed material that would not have made it into one of the magazine’s stories, or in some instances would have lead to scuttling a story altogether. According to Politico, it amounted on average to roughly one misstatement every five minutes.
So with that in mind, I will focus on a single example of Trump spin, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I specifically selected that topic because there is a historical record, which I will use to underscore the premise captured in the title, and to re-emphasize the point so forcefully made by Politico.
Here is Mr. Trump attacking Secretary Clinton last week on her lack of personal depth of knowledge on trade issues, and more importantly, her husband’s role in the bill’s passage and enactment:
“She doesn’t understand trade,” Trump said after his win in Indiana forced Sen. Ted Cruz to drop out of the race and all-but cemented the nomination for the real estate mogul. “Her husband signed perhaps in the history of the world the single worst trade deal ever done. It’s called NAFTA.”
In the world according to Donald Trump, Bill Clinton is totally responsible for the “scourge of NAFTA.” It’s as oft repeated as any of his fantastical assertions. It appears to be swallowed by the masses, certainly by Trump World, hook line & sinker. There’s only one small fact-riddled problem with the claim. It’s really not true…or at the very least, it is a misleading characterization.
Trump’s assertion makes NAFTA sound like Clinton’s idea, and a Democratic-led bust. In fact, George Herbert Walker Bush negotiated and subsequently (admittedly) ceremonially signed NAFTA. December 17, 1992 (before Clinton took office). It’s time to Break It Down! December 17, 1992 (before Clinton took office). In fact, just as important, when legislators ratified the bill, more Republicans than Democrats in both Houses voted for the measure:
The bill passed in the House: 232-200, with support by 132 Republicans & 102 Democrats
November 18, 1993
The bill passed in the Senate: 61-38 with support by 34 Republicans & 27 Democrats
November 23, 1993
There is no denying Bill Clinton did support the measure, and he ultimately signed it. However, as you can see clearly from the evidence above, NAFTA’s passage was not only a result of bi-partisan support, but drew it’s initial energy from a Republican President, and was passed with more GOP than Democratic support in the both the House and the Senate. The bottom line is President Clinton didn’t negotiate the bill, and a majority of Democrats in both Houses of Congress voted against it.
This makes it at best a misleading attack, and at worse, another example of Mr. Trump promoting an argument sans media, and up to this point, GOP rival’s pushback. It is my hope the Democratic opposition will do better. All-in-all, just more evidence that Trump’s campaign has existed and operated in the realm of what I have coined a “fact-free” universe.
How is it possible for a responsible media to not push back, with fervor, on such a bogus narrative? Full-throated ramblings of this nature are just one element of what has allowed the Trump phenomena to eat its own and position it to do the same thing to Democrats if left unchecked.
It is fair to say, Democrats have their own issues, and we do. The Party is still sorting them out. I believe there is inherent danger in relying upon the perceived demographic advantages the Party holds to carry the day in the fall General Election. In the end, victory will be predicated by turn out. If the Party is splintered, Team Trump is certainly capable of running roughshod over whomever emerges from the Democratic side. If he is permitted to dissemble and/or assert falsehoods, without resistance, he will continue to create his own reality, absent facts.
By the way, his “self-funded” campaign seems to be headed out the window too. I’m not sure whether to characterize that evolving development as simply misleading, or a case of bait and switch. Perhaps Republicans will take note.
I have a very good friend who insists Trump will not win in November. Alas, the most sobering of caveats follows his confident sounding assertion. “If he does,” my friend insists, “We will get what we deserve!”
I absolutely do not believe I got what I deserved in 2010, nor in 2014, when Democrats stayed home in bourgeoning droves, while Republicans first gave us the Tea Party, then took the Senate in consecutive midterm elections. Instead, I felt abandoned by folks who lost their vision regarding the importance of exercising their franchise at the most critical of times…and then rinsed and repeated the damaging action four years later. A Trump victory in November would leave me no less underwhelmed, disappointed, and feeling bereft. Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware)…”Fact Free Universe: The Quintessential Trump Advantage!”
I’m done; holla back!
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