No Middle Ground: Welcome to the Age of Incivility

It’s time to Break It Down!

Before moving to concentrate on today’s post, I want to highlight an issue related to the special significance to the current political narrative. On Monday evening, CNN and the Associated Press declared that Hillary Clinton has crossed the threshold to reach the combined number of Pledged and Super Delegates requited to clinch the Democratic Presidential Nomination. The New York Times added its imprimatur yesterday morning.

That was all before taking into account the six Primary contests conducted yesterday in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The candidates are expected to split the 694 available delegates. Next Tuesday, Washington, DC will officially close out the 2016 Primary Election season. Twenty delegates are at stake there.

Let me be clear, the quest for determining the Democratic Party’s nominee for President ends “officially” in Philadelphia on July 28th, at the Democratic National Convention. That is an incontrovertible fact. There are expected to be 4,765 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, so a candidate needs a simple majority of 2,383 delegates to win the presidential nomination. However…for all practical purposes, the contest ended Monday evening, when Hillary Rodham Clinton became the Party’s presumptive nominee.

Bernie Sanders has done an incredible job with his campaign. He exceeded expectations, most likely, including his own. He engaged youth and Millennials in historic fashion. He has vowed to fight on until the Convention. At the outset, Senator Sanders argued that the country was poorly served by crony Capitalism and the Party’s reliance on big money donors, and its penchant for rewarding the financial industry with bank bailouts, the auto industry with its own bailout, and generally dismissing regular middle class Americans.

His message resonated with many Americans and as a result, he built a small donation based Campaign that rivaled the big PACs, in fundraising, and enabled the Senator to take his Campaign through the entire Primary Season in a competitive way. Alas, there was one major problem. Secretary Clinton held her own in the early contests in the Northeast, built a sizable lead in the South, and held on and in some cases expanded her margin as contests moved to the Midwest and the West. As she maintained and/or expanded her lead, the Senator was forced to pivot. He could no longer focused solely on the crony Capitalism argument; he added that the Party electoral process was also corrupt.

Since then, the Sanders Campaign has made a huuuuge issue of the Democrat’s Super Delegate process. He and his supporters also skewered the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is a Clinton supporter. Undoubtedly, the next seven weeks will be filled with intrigue and maneuvering as the Clinton and Sanders campaigns navigate and negotiate a truce that in the end must produce something between Détente and a unified Party.

The 2016 General Election is scheduled for Tuesday, November 8th, five months from yesterday. You can be sure I will have a lot to say about politics and the election in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, with all due deference to Bernie Sanders for conceiving and constructing an outstanding and an incredibly productive effort, Secretary Clinton has fashioned a lead among Pledged Delegates, among Super Delegates, in the popular vote, and in the number of state contests won. Congratulations to Hillary Rodham Clinton on positioning herself to become the first female Presidential Nominee of a major Party in American History.

That highlight was longer than I intended. Let me move directly to addressing the main topic. As a nation, we have become a prickly lot. I’ve written volumes about the notion some Americans label us an Exceptional nation. Indeed, we have amassed many accomplishments that render us distinguished. Yet, I must inject, America has long held a rather high-minded view…of itself. A home team media; a biased political class of powerful elites armed with a self-serving agenda, often crafts this narrative. Regardless of its origin, millions of Americans routinely buy into or co-sign such views.

Regardless of the appellation applied to a particular age, whether in this country or others, the name often is intended to convey some positive aspect or attribute of society, or of it’s people. That is as true for the largely European Age of Enlightenment as it is for the current worldwide Information Age. As you may know, the Information Age, also known as the Computer Age, Digital Age, or New Media Age) is a period in human history characterized by the shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on information computerization. The onset of the Information Age is associated with the Digital Revolution, just as the Industrial Revolution marked the onset of the Industrial Age.

I want to momentarily elevate a different kind of Age, the Age of Incivility. In a paradoxical kind of way, President Barack Obama’s critics frequently credit or blame, you decide which is appropriate, him for the rise of incivility in America. While I am inclined to characterize any such attributions as bovine excrement, I do see how, and in select instances why, some folks might feel that way.

Donald Trump has been the Presumptive Republican Nominee for President for several weeks now. Mr. Trump bogarted his way to the top of the heap of GOP Presidential candidates by relentlessly attacking his fellow competitors, as well as a host of others, including Mexicans and Muslims. Mr. Trump has vacillated between controversial and flat out toxic, even in his own Party.

How controversial/toxic has he been? Just yesterday, Republican Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, called Trump’s comments on (Kappa Alpha Psi Man) Judge Gonzalo Curiel “indefensible,” “wrong” and “racist.” At a news conference in the Anacostia section of Washington, DC yesterday, with a full complement of African Americans in attendance, Representative Ryan said, “Claiming that a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Trump suggested Curiel could not adjudicate his case without bias because “He is Mexican, and I am building a wall.”   For the record, Judge Curiel was born in Indiana.

When Ryan was later asked on Fox News Radio’s Kilmeade and Friends program whether he considers Trump racist, Ryan responded:

“No, I’m not – I’m saying that the comment was. I don’t know what’s in his heart, I can’t speak to that whatsoever. What I’m saying is to suggest that a person’s race disqualifies them to do their job is textbook – that’s what I’m saying. I’m not saying what’s in his heart because I don’t know what is in his heart and I don’t think he feels that in his heart but I don’t think it is wise or justifiable to suggest that a person should be disqualified from their job because of their ethnicity.”

Despite his frustration, Ryan, who initially declined to endorse Trump said he would still vote for him. This exemplifies the challenge leaders of the GOP face. They appreciate the demographic filters associated with winning the White House. They also know, unquestionably, what it is like to lose two White House bids in a row.

I am certainly not going to say Donald Trump cannot be the next President. He does, however, continue to take actions and make statements that exasperate those in his own Party, who possibly want that high office more for him than it often looks as though he wants it for himself.

In retrospect, watching and listening to Ryan alternately prod Candidate Trump to be better, tiptoe around inconvenient truths, and dissemble with passion, all in an apparent effort to maintain a shred of credibility, I am reminded of the Biblical admonition found in Matthew 19:14, which advises, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” (–KJV) I think of this passage, not because of Mr. Trump’s wealth, though, as he frequently reminds us, he has done very, very well in amassing a fortune, but rather due to his propensity to spew venomous uncivil statements. To close the metaphor, it appears from my vantage point, it is more difficult for a camel to traverse the eye of a needle than for Paul Ryan and the GOP Establishment to corral and manage TrumpSpeak.

Republicans leadership has spent 7 and a half years demonizing and lambasting President Obama. The level of disrespect has been so prevalent. How pervasive and disrespectful has it been? From SC Congressman Joe Wilson’s 2011 “You lie” comment, directed at the President as he addressed a joint session of Congress on various aspects of the Affordable Care Act, to then House Speaker John Boehner’s, Ohio, bypassing the President and issuing an invitation to Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to address Congress in 2015, to Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton initiating a letter to the leaders of Iran, signed by every Republican Senator except, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins, of Maine, and Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, also last year.

It is because of an innumerable list of reasons like those above that I have noted many times that Trump is effectively the anointed one; the anti-Obama, if you will. Therefore, it becomes a natural progression that the newly minted presumptive Republican Nominee takes off where his recently adopted Party left off. So yes, Obama haters can blame the President as often and as fervently as they like. Just be mindful, calling a pigeon a pimento cheese sandwich doesn’t make it be one.

Historically, we like to summon data rather than rely on “a feeling” to underscore the most vital of points. To that end, I submit two studies that suggest support for Trump is highly correlated to concerns about race and ethnicity. In one study, Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner analyzed data the 2016 American National Election Study in a representative sample of 1,200 Americans to compare feelings toward Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He evaluated the degree to which economic opinions, racial attitudes, and demographic variables predicted an individual’s feelings toward the two. His research showed one factor was much stronger than the others:

“My analysis indicates that economic status and attitudes do little to explain support for Donald Trump. Those who express more resentment toward African Americans, those who think the word ‘violent’ describes Muslims well, and those who believe President Obama is a Muslim have much more positive views of trump compared with Clinton.”

Klinkner found racial attitudes were highly determinative:

Moving from the least to the most resentful view of African Americans increases support for Trump by 44 points, those who think Obama is a Muslim (54% of all Republicans) are 24 points more favorable to Trump, and those who think the word “violent” describes Muslims extremely well are about 13 points more pro-Trump than those who think it doesn’t describe them well at all.

In the second study, the Washington Post conducted a similar analysis using data from a national poll co-sponsored by ABC News comparing Trump’s support to the other Republican primary candidates. The survey questions asked Republicans and Republican-leaning voters whether they themselves were struggling economically, and whether white people’s troubles were a direct result of “preferences for blacks and Hispanics.”

The biggest predictor of Trump support among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters was a belief that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens U.S. values.” Republicans holding this belief felt 18 points more positive toward Trump on a 100-point scale, than Republicans who didn’t feel this way. Belief that Islam encourages violence, and that it’s “bad” for the country that blacks, Latinos and Asians will someday make up the majority of the population, accounted for eight-point jumps in positive feelings toward Trump. In summary, it’s about to go down. It’s up to you to fight, and especially vote to change this dynamic if you believe it’s inappropriate. For the time being, what we all face is…”No Middle Ground: Welcome to the Age of Incivility!”

I’m done; holla back!

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