Trump’s first 100 days, the legislative agenda

Following up on yesterday’s post, in which I outlined Donald Trump’s agenda for his first 100 days in office. Here, then, is his legislative agenda.

  1. Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act. The title’s misleading; this is a tax cut for billionaires. Trump says it’s designed to grow the economy at 4% a year, and create 25 million new jobs. Those figures are fantasies; his plan will do nothing of the kind. Essentially, he wants to reduce the current 7 tax brackets to 3, with corporate taxes reduced from 35% to 15%. The highest tax bracket, currently 43.6%, would drop to 33%. He claims it would provide a 35% tax cut for middle class families with 2 children. But that depends on what you mean by ‘middle-class’. Poor families will derive no benefit from it at all. The big point is that the Trump tax cut is so huge, it will add trillions to the deficit. Of course, Trump supporters insist that those concerns are overstated; that the Trump tax cuts will free up trillions of dollars for domestic investment, that the corporate tax cut will incentivize companies that have moved off shore to come back. There’s no reason to think any of that will happen. Essentially, Trump’s economic plan is an argument that our two highest national priorities must be to let rich people get richer, and corporate profits to be higher. ‘Cause if we do, fairies and unicorns will flourish.
  2. End the Offshoring Act. Would use tariffs to discourage companies from moving jobs overseas. Sounds good; won’t work.
  3. American Energy and Infrastructure Act. Leverages private/public partnerships and private investments through tax breaks to spur 1 billion dollars in infrastructure investment. Okay, what does that mean? Some liberals are actually applauding this plan, saying that maybe infrastructure is an area where we can work with Trump. And, in fact, building bridges and highways and electric grids is a public good. And needs to be done, efficiently and effectively. Which Trump’s plan won’t accomplish. See, he wants to privatize it. First, by offering a trillion dollars in bonds, which people can invest in. Then letting private contractors do the building, with profits built into their bids. So why is this bad? First of all, it incentivizes construction companies to maximize profits by skimping on road quality. It also incentivizes the private sector to profit from public projects. That’s the private/public partnership part; you give private businesses control over a city’s water supply, or parking meters, or toll roads. Prices rise, quality falls. This is, in other words, ideological. Private good/public bad. That’s nonsense. You end up with roads built where they’re not needed, and badly needed projects in poorer communities neglected.
  4. School Choice and Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to allow parents the right to send their kids to any school they want to–religious, charter, private, magnet, or home school. Trump’s plan is a mishmash, frankly. Most federal funding goes to Title 1 schools; schools that are struggling, in poor areas of the country. It’s reasonable to assume that ‘redirecting federal education dollars’ to ‘promote choice’ means more money going to more affluent districts, to increase choice. As for the rest of it, who knows? He wants to end Common Core; but that’s not really a federal program. Right now, about all we can say is that, under Trump, public education takes it on the chin. This might also end school testing, which is the only good thing about it.
  5. Repeal and Replace Obamacare. That was always inevitable; you can’t really campaign harder against something than Trump campaigned against the ACA, and Republicans in Congress hate it too. The ‘replace’ part is the tricky one. Health Savings Accounts are the hot conservative idea right now. But they’ll only really help upper middle class people, and will prove inadequate for people with major medical events. ‘Selling insurance across state lines’ sounds good. Health insurance is generally cheaper in Utah than in New Jersey, for example. That’s because Utah insurance companies have negotiated prices with Utah providers. A New Jersey resident can buy Utah-based insurance, but he’ll have to visit Utah doctors, pharmacies, clinics. Also, what will happen to people with pre-existing conditions? What about children under 26, who, under the ACA, can keep their parents insurance? Repealing Obamacare will accomplish one thing; it will deprive millions of Americans of health coverage. People are going to die.
  6. Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act. A tax deduction for childcare and eldercare. It will provide no benefit whatever for families who don’t pay federal income tax. In other words, this is a great deal for Ivanka Trump. She gets to deduct her nanny’s salary from her taxes. But you single Moms out there, desperately trying to make ends meet? Won’t help you one iota.
  7. End Illegal Immigration Fully. In other words, Trump’s building a wall. And Mexico’s going to pay for it. Also, if you’re deported once, and try to come back, you can get five years in federal prison. It’s just not possible adequately to express how loathsome everything about this proposed legislation is. I do rather hope that reasonable Republicans will temper this bill somewhat. I also don’t believe the wall’s ever getting built. I think we’re going to end up with a huge pile of concrete and rebar somewhere in Texas or Arizona. The question is, how long will it take Trump’s economic plan to bankrupt the government? I think we’ll run out of money to finish the wall. Hope so; what a stupid racist idea.
  8. Restoring Community Safety Act. It will create a National Task Force on Violent Crime, and give money to local police departments for extra training on how to do deal with gangs. Obama’s already done most of this, and in fact, violent crime is lower now than any time in the last fifty years. But I suppose some more money for cops isn’t a terrible idea. Lester Freamon gets to keep his Wire going a little longer.
  9. Restoring National Security Act. It increases Defense spending, because of course it does. It provides some money for efforts to reduce cyber attacks, like the Russian hacks that got Trump elected. Here’s the nasty part: “establishes new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values.” We’re going to ensure the loyalty (already unquestioned) of Muslim Americans by making their lives suck a little more.
  10. Clean up Corruption in Washington Act. He wants to Drain the Swamp, he says. As he goes into the White House still owning businesses providing him with the most blatant conflicts of interest in the history of the Presidency.

So. That’s the legislative agenda. He’ll get most of it through. None of its likely to do any good at all. It’s going to be a long four years.

Trumps first 100 days, annotated

Donald Trump is President. What does that mean? What will his agenda be?

Fortunately, back in October, he gave a speech in, of all places, Gettysburg PA, outlining his plans for his first 100 days in office. These are just his priorities as President; it does not include his legislative agenda. Here’s the text. I thought I would go through it with you, with commentary.

  1. Propose a Constitutional amendment imposing term limits on Congress. Constitutional amendments are really really hard to pass. This won’t make it through the Senate.
  2. A hiring freeze on all federal agencies, to reduce the size of government through attrition (exempting the military, public safety and public health). He’ll be able to do this. It’s one of those ideas that looks okay on paper, but ends up being practically unworkable.
  3. A requirement that for every regulation passed, two other regulations have to be eliminated. A nightmare to implement, with the probable result being all sorts of comical negotiation between agencies. The underlying assumption, of course, is that all regulations are bad, period. That’s nuts.
  4. A five year ban on federal employees and Congresspeople becoming lobbyists after leaving public office. I think he can’t just do this one; it’ll require Congressional action. So good luck; Congresspeople like lucrative lobbying jobs.
  5. A lifetime ban on White House employees becoming lobbyists for foreign governments. Is this seriously a problem? He actually might get this dumb idea through Congress.
  6. A complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections. As opposed to hacking DNC computers? Does anyone doubt that the Russian-hacked Wikileaks revelations contributed to Trump’s victory?
  7. Renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from it per article 2205. Yes, as it happens, the US can unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA. What would happen? Well, the last time the US withdrew from a previously negotiated trade agreement was 1866; there’s no precedent here. Pulling out of NAFTA absolutely will wreak havoc on American business. It almost certainly will start a trade war. It won’t bring back any jobs, and it will lead to a price hike for a whole range of consumer products. Positives? There really aren’t any. But, yeah, article 2205 says he can do it.
  8. Announce the US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership. That one was inevitable. Again, Article 30-6 says we can just unilaterally withdraw. If we really want trade wars with most of the countries along the Pacific Rim. Consumer prices should rise, and the negotiated intellectual property rights provisions will be null and void. Watch how long it takes Vietnam to reverse-engineer I-phones.
  9. China declared a currency manipulator. Okay, this is complicated. Here’s a Wall Street Journal article that explains it pretty succinctly. Essentially, China’s monetary policy involves a small amount of currency manipulation, just as America’s monetary policy involves a similar amount of interest rate manipulation. It’s not a big deal either way; a normal exercise in sovereignty. As the WSJ concludes: “Movements in the nominal yuan exchange rate have almost no long-term impact on global flows of exports and imports or on broader considerations such as average wages.” In other words, worrying about Chinese currency manipulation is typical Trumpian nonsense. Yeah, they do it, so do we, and it’s not a big deal either way. But making this kind of official declaration, by Treasury, would be bitterly resented by the Chinese, and could result in a trade war. And China, as a market for imported goods, is just about ready to explode.
  10. The Department of Commerce will identify “all foreign trading abuses.” This one won’t mean much, honestly.
  11. Lift restrictions on the production of American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal. Screw environmental safeguards, in other words. Trump thinks this will free up 50 trillion dollars worth of energy reserves. “Fifty trillion dollars” is a nice, big number Trump just invented. Here’s what this means: fracking. You know those rural communities that voted for him? They’re going to be able to light their drinking water on fire.
  12. Allow ‘vital energy infrastructure projects’ to go forward. In other words, the Keystone Pipeline’s getting built. Big deal. Both opposition to and support for Keystone was always more symbolic than anything–it’s a minor issue on its merits.
  13. Cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure. The US commitment to lead the international effort to combat climate change just went pffft. And no, that money’s not getting spent on infrastructure. Bet that’s what pays for The Wall.
  14. Cancel every executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama. In other words, petty spitefulness and partisan rancor are officially the policy of the Trump administration. I do know that the Right dislikes some Obama executive actions, so this was inevitable. What bothers me is how indiscriminate this order is. No pause to consider if any particular order is a good idea or not. Just full-out de-Obamafication.
  15. Replace Justice Scalia with a conservative. Nothing we can do about that one. That’s a consequence of losing an election. Just pray for the health of Justice Ginsburg.
  16. Cancel all federal funding for Sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are cities that generally try to shelter undocumented workers, and will sometimes block federal efforts to deport people. Salt Lake City is usually considered one, for example. San Francisco, Phoenix, LA, San Diego, Austin, Miami. We’re all being targeted. This is where it starts, with losses of funding for cities who harbor innocent people.
  17. Begin removing 2 million ‘illegal immigrants’ from the United States. Cancel visas to countries who won’t take them back. He’s talking about deporting neighbors of mine, people I know. My wife and I have room in our basement for four families. That’s how we respond to Trumpism–we open our homes to Anne Frank.
  18. Suspend immigration from ‘terror-prone’ regions where vetting is impossible. All vetting will be extreme vetting. Again, this is inevitable. Elections do have consequences. But it’s inhumane, unAmerican, and cruel beyond understanding. Syrian refugees, the greatest humanitarian crisis of our day, are getting the back of Trump’s hand. No succor, no help, no aid, and no refuge. And the extreme vetting addendum suggests a religious test for anyone getting aid. Paranoid xenophobia has become the order of the day.

In that same Gettysburg speech, Trump also announced his legislative agenda. That will be the subject of my next post.

Final thought: we know he’s foolish, delusional and cruel. It helps to actually look at his agenda, though, and see just how radical and how dangerous he is. It’s going to be a long four years.

Trump won. What now?

Driving up to see a play last night, ordinarily a 50 minute drive, traffic on I-15 was stop-and-start the whole way, because of accidents. I saw the aftermaths of seven crashes. The one that sticks with me was a minivan, crushed, with a Mom and four little kids huddled together in the middle lane, just behind their destroyed car, while a cop tried to get them somewhere safer. The kids were all crying. The Dad was lying on the ground. That’s all I saw. I got to the play, and told a friend about all the accidents. “Checking their cell phones for election results,” was his immediate response. Could be, though it was early for that. Still, that one crash stays with me. Those crying children.

That’s where we are now, we Americans, huddled together crying behind the wreckage of our country. We had two possible candidates for President, one superbly qualified, but with many dedicated enemies, the other completely unqualified, but with a message that, for some people, for some reason, resonated. “We’re losing our country,” he said. “We white Americans, real Americans, we’re falling behind. It’s the fault of the Others, the brown-skinned, the Spanish speakers, and also the worshippers of a different God than Jesus. Washington’s corrupt, so corrupt that reform isn’t possible. What we need are hand grenades. Explosions and chaos: that’s how we make America great again.” An appealing, if appalling pitch from a lifelong con man.

And look what I just did. Cast this in partisan terms; accused my political opponents of racism. I should apologize, I suppose. I should work to heal, express love and unity and solidarity, invoke our shared patriot ideals. How do we do that, though, when we see the core base of Trump’s support? Check out (the website whose CEO was also CEO of the Trump campaign, the website that provides a home to the alt-right, the website of the most savage misogynists (Milo Yiannopoulos, take a bow!), and of the various post-modern iterations of the KKK. It doesn’t feel like we elected a President. It feels more like we chose a new Grand Dragon. Or Imperial Wizard, or whatever nomenclature is au courant with the Klan.

So, no, I don’t feel much like seeking common ground. Normally that would be my instinct and preference; not this time. Nor do I feel much like mourning. We lost. We took it on the chin. It’s time to get off the canvas. It’s time to fight.

We don’t have a lot of viable political resources, and Trumpism provides a target-rich environment. We’re going to have to pick our fights. Here’s what I suggest:

Much has been made of the enmity of Paul Ryan and Donald Trump. Don’t believe it. They’re going to work together, because so much of what they want overlaps. Paul Ryan’s agenda is clear enough; he wants tax cuts for rich guys, he wants to cut the social safety net into ribbons, he wants smaller government and less spending, except for defense. He’s going to get it; his program will pass. We should let him; urge the Senate not to filibuster the Ryan budget. Let corporate taxes fall, person income taxes for rich guys lowered, cuts in discretionary spending. In the meantime, Trump will go ahead and start trade wars with China, South Korea, Japan, Mexico. Consumer prices will rise precipitously. And funding will be passed to built a Great Wall.

The results will be catastrophic. As Paul Krugman mordantly predicted this morning, if we’re lucky, the result will be a world-wide recession. By 2020, the myth that businessmen can run a country or that Republicans can manage an economy will be exploded once and for all. Donald Trump will be a one-term President. Our country has survived recessions before; we’ll survive the next one. And then President Warren will step in and set things right.

What we have to hope for is that we can contain the disaster–incur moderate, but not permanent damage. What we have to pray for is that Trump’s legacy doesn’t include hyper-inflation and complete world-wide economic collapse. He’s going to be the worst President in US history; that’s a given. We have to hope that’s all.

So we can’t fight him on economic grounds; or at least we shouldn’t. What we want is an economic debacle sufficient to discredit conservative economic orthodoxy forever, but only that. We want a fiasco we can recover from. And yes, there will be suffering, yes, there will be homelessness, yes, forty million Americans will lose their health coverage, yes, people will die. That’s all unavoidable. It will be our task to point out, as often as necessary, who caused all that destruction. And blame, not just on Trump. Ryan, too, conservatism generally.

As a patriot, I suppose I should now say “or, I could be wrong.” And that’s certainly true; I might be wrong. What if Trump is a good President; what if the economy thrives under his stewardship. Well, all right then. That would be swell. That would be groovy. And since it ain’t gonna happen, let’s not worry about it.

No, let’s not fight Trump on the economy. Let’s stand back and let the inevitable calamity take its course. Give more to the foodbank; volunteer at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. No, where we need to fight is in matters of race and prejudice.

We need, more than ever, to comfort and support and embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters. We need to oppose Trump’s immigration ban. We need to oppose his mass deportation scheme. We need to insist on keeping the progress we have made in race relations and civil rights. We need to fight for our Latino brothers and sisters. Above all, we need to protect and support the LGBTQ community. We need to work with moderate, virtuous Republicans (who exist, and in profusion), to ameliorate the worst of Trump’s racism and misogyny. We need decency and kindness and toleration and love. Show it, demonstrate it, fight for it. If the Senate is going to use the filibuster (and they should), use it to fight racism. Use it to block deportation.

Donald Trump is a liar and a buffoon. He’ll expose himself often enough. We need to fight the next two years to keep him from destroying America, and we need to fight like crazy in 2018 to deprive him of Congressional majorities. And then, in 2020, as our country gasps for air, we need to win.

We need new, aggressive leadership in the Democratic party. That new generation of leaders could include you. Get on it. Right now, though, let’s not feel sorry for ourselves. Organize. Fight. Convert people. And win.

Predictions, either way

Election day tomorrow. It’s likely to be a long night, watching the returns. The race is tightening, and both candidates have a shot. On the one hand, there are an unusual number of undecided voters this year, and if enough of them break Republican, Trump could win. On the other hand, the Democrats have a state-of-the-art get-out-the-vote ground game, and already we’re seeing long lines of Hispanic voters waiting to vote early, people who are generally not included in polls. So there’s reason to think that Hillary Clinton may do better than polling has suggested. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be the next President of the United States. And right now, we don’t know who it will be.

If Trump wins:

Right now, Republicans control the House; that’s unlikely to change. If Trump wins, it bodes ill for down ballot races; probably, a Trump victory means the GOP keeps control of the Senate. I think that means there will be some deeply relieved Republicans in Washington inclined to give Trump most of what he wants. Democrats in the Senate can always filibuster, but they’ll have to pick their fights.

Trump will get his tax cut–Republicans love tax cuts anyway. He’ll also get the additional defense spending he’s calling for. He’ll get a ban on Muslim immigration–there’s certainly historical precedent for that kind of targeted savagery in American immigration policy. He’ll get initial funding for his wall. And the Affordable Care Act will be rescinded. The Republicans will replace it with a mix of unworkable conservative proposals–selling insurance across state lines, Health Savings Accounts, other inadequate half-measures.

The results will be catastrophic. The tax cuts and defense spending will blow the budget up; the deficit and debt will both explode. Any kind of social spending will be reduced. We’re going to start seeing news stories about families losing food stamps, about hungry kids in schools, and people losing their homes. Homelessness will increase. Also millions of people will lose their health insurance. Emergency rooms will be flooded, and health care costs will explode. Hundreds of people will die. Remember ‘pre-existing conditions?’ We’ll see those kinds of nightmare stories again.

Trump will start trade wars with China, Mexico, South Korea, possibly Japan, possibly Europe, and likely several other major trade partners. The new I-phone will triple in cost. US manufacturing will decline precipitously; no markets to sell to.

One major worry with massive deficit spending is that the government will issue huge amounts of money to cover it, leading to inflation, possibly even hyper-inflation. Donald Trump knows essentially nothing about economic policy, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see inflation rise. That’s if we’re lucky–hyper-inflation, destroying the economy, is also possible, and wouldn’t surprise me. But if inflation does rise, the Federal Reserve will have no choice but to increase interest rates. Trump doesn’t know anything about government either, and could illegally pressure the Fed to keep inflation low, for political reasons, leading to a constitutional crisis.

Either way, that wall’s never getting built. We’ll run out of money to pay for it, and Mexico sure won’t. I predict this huge pile of concrete and rebar and steel out in the middle of the Texas desert. That’s what will remain of the Trump wall. It’ll be kind of a grim tourist attraction; this huge rat infested pile of building materials. That will be Donald Trump’s Presidential legacy. Anyway, that will be the Trump Presidency. A ruined economy, shattered families, xenophobic restrictions on immigration, and, if we’re very very lucky, merely the worst recession in US history.

Okay, so what if Hillary Clinton wins? Well, she’ll face a hostile Congress, especially the House, which will continue to be dominated by zealots. I know she’ll fight for immigration reform, but I doubt she’ll achieve it. If Paul Ryan works with her on that volatile issue, he’ll lose his Speakership; possibly to that appalling little weasel Jason Chaffetz. (He’s my congressman. I don’t like him).

But I think Democrats should win the Senate, and that means she’ll have a chance to appoint Supreme Court Justices who will judge sensibly. I think she’ll be able to pass at least some of her agenda. Obamacare is another hot button issue, for some reason, but she’ll certainly fight to reform it, and she may well succeed.

I think US foreign policy will continue to be reactionary, and at least mildly interventionist. That’s disappointing, but there will be political pressure on her to continue the ‘war on terror,’ though doing so is surely a foolish priority. Terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology.

Hillary Clinton’s three main domestic policy priorities will be a) reforming Obamacare, b) comprehensive immigration reform, and c) tax increases, to pay for other parts of her agenda. Those are three very tough policies to get past rock-ribbed Tea Party Republicans. She may have more success passing bills that aren’t as high priorities for her, but would still do a lot of good. She might get a national minimum wage increase passed, for example. She may find common ground with some Republicans on paid family leave policies. Quite a few Republicans are interested in criminal justice reform–I think that maybe an area where she will get some traction.

Right now, Hillary Clinton is disliked and mistrusted by many many Americans. That’s been true before for her. She was disliked when she ran for the Senate, but well-liked when she was actually in office getting the job done. She may surprise people. She’s got the executive skills to be a very good President. She’s a good listener, and she’s respectful of those with differing views. She’ll try to work with Congress, and she may turn out to be pretty good at it.

Also, I predict that we will never hear the word ’email’ again in connection with her.

There will be another scandal again, and she may face impeachment. What will the nature of that scandal be? Who knows? Something silly, and unimportant. But her enemies will never, ever, let up on her. She’s that hated. She won’t actually be impeached, but there will be a call for it from the conservative fringes. It’s not like will go away.

Historians will judge Hillary Clinton a reasonably effective President. Trump will go down in history as the worst President in history. Now, we’ll see how good my Nostradamus act is.



One last try

In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election next week. It’s kind of an important one. I meant to spend this last week writing about it, and would have, but for a nasty bout of bronchitis. Still, here are a few final thoughts.

The Daily Show did an entire post-apocalyptic bit, imagining a guerrilla broadcast of the show four years from now. It was grim and bleak and surprisingly unfunny, considering that the Daily Show is supposed to be, you know, comedy. The First Amendment suspended, Muslims and Mexicans deported, the economy collapsed–a Trevor Noah desperately calling for someone, anyone, to vote for underground heroine Elizabeth Warren. Still, it captured how many of us think right now about the prospect of a Trump Presidency.

Of course, our brothers and sisters on the Trump bandwagon feel just the same about the possibility of a Hillary Clinton Presidency. She’s corrupt, she’s a criminal, she’s dangerous. If she wins, she’ll take away your guns and she’ll take away your rights and she’ll pack the Supreme Court with liberal demagogues. The precipitous collapse of American power and prosperity begun by President Obama will continue under President Hillary, only she’s likely to be much much worse. Remember that a sizeable percentage of the electorate believes that Hillary Clinton has murdered or arranged for the murders of dozens of people. The Right is terrified, and furious. The Left is similarly anxious. One thing both groups can agree on; this is one scary election.

And neither Trumpists or Clintonians can even agree on something as basic as reality. We’re not operating from the same set of facts. My father, a kind and generous man if ever there was one (and no fan of Donald Trump), nonetheless believes that the Obama Presidency has been a disaster for our country, economically and internationally. I don’t think the evidence supports such conclusions. And so we find ourselves arguing–affectionately, but still.

So that’s where I want to start. I want to start by describing reality. I want to start by describing the world as I see it, with some attempt at non-partisanship. And then I want to make a fact-based case for Hillary Clinton.

In 2007, the United States (and the rest of the world) faced a major financial crisis, caused by a collapse of housing markets, leading to a major recession from which we have not yet fully recovered. Since then, the combined efforts of the Obama administration, Congress, and the Federal Reserve have led to a long period of sustained-but-tepid economic growth. Unemployment is way down, but lots of people have also stopped looking for work. Some manufacturing sectors have been hurt, while others have prospered. We face a large trade deficit; how big a problem is that? The US economy remains a colossus; we’re still the richest country in the history of the world. But income inequality is a problem–rich people are doing fine, poor people are struggling. There have been gains, there have been losses.

Put another way; we’re a rich country, and we have problems as well. We’re prosperous, but prosperity is unevenly shared. Rural Americans are really struggling; so are many in inner cities. We’re not anywhere close to where we’d like to be. But I’d still rather live here than almost anywhere else on earth.

I don’t know if global warming is a problem or not. I’m not a climate scientist. If climate change is a major problem, it hasn’t affected me yet. But I also don’t think we should risk doing nothing. Climate scientists mostly agree; there are many things we can and should start doing. Surely, wantonly burning fossil fuels is unsustainable. And alternative energy is a rapidly growing sector in our economy. And I look around the world, and I see that countries that rely on oil and gas economically tend to be the most politically and economically unstable. If in fact climate change is the threat many scientists think it is, it’s massively irresponsible for us to ignore that possibility. And I think we can address climate change without wrecking our economy. Can’t this be an issue liberals and conservatives can work together on?

Immigration seems to be a big issue this year, but I can’t see why. Immigration is a good thing. I’m the child of an immigrant. Immigrants bless our country culturally and economically. We need more immigrants, not fewer. Agree on that basic principle, and we can work out the details.

I also think that babies are wonderful. I think it’s a great blessing to any family when children arrive. And that it’s okay for government to make policies making that easier for people. So why not mandate a paid leave policy, so Moms and Dads can spend time with infants without incurring crippling financial costs? That seems fair to me, and reasonable, and I think businesses would adjust to it if they had to.

I also think that access to basic health care is a fundamental human right nowadays. The Framers of our Constitution didn’t think so, because medical practice was so atrocious in their day. But nowadays, we know so much more than they did, about disease and how to prevent it and treat it and cure it. That shouldn’t be something only rich people can afford; anyone can get sick, and everyone should have a chance to get better. And there’s got to be a reasonable, cost-effective way to make that happen. I think abortions are a tragedy, but that they should nonetheless be safe and legal but hopefully also way way less frequent, and I think we know how to make that happen, with better education for teens about human sexuality and with better access to birth control.

How do we pay for all this? Well, Americans are undertaxed in comparison to the rest of the world. We don’t like to think that that’s true, but it is. But we also spend unconscionable amounts of money on our military. We spend more than any other nation. We spend more than the next sixteen high spending countries combined. And yet, the biggest threats we seem to face as a nation all have to do with terrorism. We’re not likely to face big armies in the future, but smaller insurgencies. Surely we can cut defense spending by a substantial amount, and still have a leaner but still effective fighting force. Also, explain to me why the United States still has an Army, and a Navy, and an Air Force, and a Marine Corps? Surely it would be more efficient and more cost effective to just have one entity, the Armed Forces, with ships and planes and soldiers, working together.

In other words, we can revive our economy, and we can fix social problems in our society; we can do it all. We’re a rich and prosperous nation.

So now, in this election, we have two choices; Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, and Donald Trump, the Republican. Let’s talk about them.

Hillary Clinton has an outstanding resume; she has great credentials. She’s accused of being dishonest and corrupt, but the more you dig down into the details of those accusations, the less there seems to be. The email scandal is really nonsensical. She was a little careless with her emails; big deal. It’s worth a scolding, perhaps, and FBI director James Comey provided one. But there’s no evidence of criminal wrong-doing, and according to most sources, it wasn’t a difficult call. She certainly hasn’t gone around murdering people–that’s just silly. Hillary Clinton is likely to be an effective President, if Congress will work with her. That’s who I intend to vote for.

Donald Trump is a bomb thrower. He wants to renegotiate trade deals, even if it leads to trade wars. He wants to completely appeal the Affordable Care Act (which is a flawed piece of legislation, and does need careful revision). He wants a massive tax cut, which he insists, would stimulate the economy.

Here’s the thing about Trump; we don’t know. We know more or less what the results would be from Hillary’s policies, because they’re not all that different from President Obama’s policies, and because most of them have been tried out in other countries. We don’t know anything about Trump’s policies. What will a big trade war with China do? We don’t know. What will the effects of a wall between the US and Mexico be? We don’t know. What will happen if Trump gets his tax cut? No one knows; no one’s tried anything like that before.

Trump’s personality seems volatile. His temperment seems . . . eccentric. He doesn’t seem to be able to handle criticism. He pursues vendettas, either via Twitter or via threatened lawsuits. Do we know how that would play itself out on the Presidential stage? No, we don’t.

That’s why I think that voting for Trump is taking a risk we can’t afford. That’s why I urge you to vote for Hillary Clinton. She’s the safer choice. And safe is good. And predictable is good. So, vote. And vote wisely.

The wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing

It’s not over. I know, I know, I’m as sick of it as you are. November 8 is 10 days away. Donald Trump has run an abysmal campaign; Hillary Clinton a much more focused and professional one. She’s ahead in the polls, and she’s likely to win. Still, it’s not over. We cannot relax.

On the West Wing, President Bartlett is about to be re-elected. His staff begins to celebrate prematurely. Toby Ziegler is asked if he wrote a concession speech. His furious response: “Of course I wrote a concession! You want to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?”

Don’t jinx it! Is the point. Don’t risk angering the ancient Gods. Call it hubris or karma or the pride that goeth before the fall, but celebrating early is nearly always a bad idea. Don’t take a chance; go outside, turn around three times. Curse. Spit. Or both.

Not to wax hyperbolic or anything, not to overstate, but the future of Western civilization as we know it depends on Donald Trump losing this election. Never before have we seen a candidate so astonishingly ill-prepared for the Presidency; never before have we seen one so contemptuous of the democratic traditions of our nation’s history. Never before have we seen someone willing to joke about not conceding defeat. Or answer ‘I’ll keep you in suspense’ when asked directly if he would abide by the clear mandate of the electorate, if he loses. Not to mention his appeal to racist, xenophobic, white nationalist and misogynist elements in our culture. He can’t win. Still. He might.

There’s still time for him to pull it out. And the drip drip drip of wiki-leaks revelations continues. And there’s still the email thing.

Today, for example, FBI director James Comey sent notification to House committee chairs that he was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. This may mean nothing. In his notification, he wrote that “the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that may be pertinent to the investigation.” He provided no details, and added that the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.” Still this is terrible news.

The infamously and flamboyantly corrupt former governor of Louisiana, Eddie Edwards, with a big lead in his race for reelection, famously said once that the only way he could lose was if he was caught in bed “with a dead girl, or a live boy.” I think it unlikely that Hillary Clinton is going to wrap her car around a tree while driving drunk. But what might bring her momentum to a halt is something like this, a reminder to voters of the email ‘scandal.’

The narrative on the Right is that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt candidate for the Presidency in the history of our country. She isn’t. In fact, that’s silly. But if you say something like ‘that particular narrative is unsupported by evidence,’ the response is bafflement. Of course she’s corrupt. Look at everything. Look at her whole career. It’s nothing but scandal after scandal. And if you defend her, you’re accused of drinking the koolaid.

It hasn’t really mattered that much. Of course, there are always going to be people who don’t like Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, and will take you to task if you say you support her. And she’s in front, winning.

We cannot get complacent. We cannot stop campaigning, or stop supporting Clinton for President financially. We cannot anger the whatever atop the thing. She has to win. She hasn’t yet. Don’t jinx it.


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2017 vote

Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the nineteen finalists for induction in 2017. We get to vote for five of them.

I love this. This is one of my favorite exercises every year, especially when I call my sons and we spend hours talking about who should be in, who should be out, how to vote. This, despite the fact that I have essentially no respect for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and won’t until they give prog rock its due and nominate Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Gentle Giant.


Anyway, let’s start. I’ll list the nominees, offer some thoughts, and tell you my vote. Love to hear what you think!

Bad Brains: Really interesting band. Started off as a jazz fusion ensemble, then shifted to a driving punk sound, then added reggae beats. Rythmically complex, with proto-rap lyrics. Black Rastafarians doing punk music; really fascinating. I’m going to vote NO, because their discography is pretty thin; only 8 albums, really, and a history of breaking up and reforming. But glad to see them recognized.

Chaka Khan: One of the great, smooth R&B voices, and a track record of great songs. She keeps getting nominated, and she still hasn’t been inducted. Not this year either; too many other great nominees. A reluctant NO.

Chic: A great disco innovator. Le Freak is one of the great songs, with that terrific guitar riff. Ten time nominees for the R%R HOF. They’ve got to get in sometime. Two problems; first, disco is not exactly underrepresented in the HOF, and second, Nile Rodgers, their great guitarist and songwriter and producer should probably get in before the rest of the band does. NO.

Depeche Mode: I don’t like Depeche Mode. I never have liked their music; I just can’t help but regard that 80’s electronic sound as an unfortunate sidestep in the history of rock and roll. Even their best song, Personal Jesus, was better when other people covered it. Still, they’re massively influential, and a genuinely important band. YES.

Electric Light Orchestra: It’s just hard to take them all that seriously. They did the music for Xanadu, for heaven’s sake. Sure, Eldorado is a good album, and Time. Honestly, it’s the same as with Chic; if they inducted Jeff Lynne, I’d be all for it; great songwriter, great producer, in addition to his work with ELO. I would just remind you of the chorus of ‘Don’t Bring me Down.’ “Don’t bring me down. Groos.” NO.

The J. Geils Band: Their biggest hit is a novelty song called Centerfold. Their second biggest hit was a novelty song: Love Stinks. They were a good, solid rock and roll band, of which the HOF has many. NO.

Janes Addiction: Really important alternative rock band, for about four years in the late ’80s. Founded Lollapalooza. Still.  Just too thin a resume. NO.

Janet Jackson: She’s sold millions of records. She’s an important performer. Her candidacy bores me to tears. She’s getting in eventually; not this year. NO.

Joan Baez: Important sixties singer/songwriter/activist. Is it rock and roll? The HOF kind of gave up on that criterion when they inducted Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. Gorgeous voice, of course. I’m voting YES.

Joe Tex: Great nominee. An innovator, an early rapper, a southern rock pioneer, a guy who influenced everyone from James Brown to Little Richard. An electric performer, who never really had the one breakthrough hit that would have made him a legend. This is exactly the kind of performer the HOF should honor, really, to fulfill their role as a museum, telling folks about great musicians they may not have heard of. Problem is, the ballot is loaded this year. Exceedingly reluctant NO.

Journey: They’re getting in, along with Janet Jackson, and everyone knows it. And I’ll sing along with Don’t Stop Believin’ every time it’s played at a ballgame. Still, they’re just not good enough. NO.

Kraftwerk: My older son has finally talked me around on these guys. They were immensely influential, and not the Germanic joke band I’d always thought them to be. Not this year, though. NO.

MC5: Terrific live performers, with a roots-rock and roll sound that shaded into hardcore punk. But they really were only important for three years. NO.

Pearl Jam: You pretty much have to put Pearl Jam in the HOF, especially now that Nirvana’s in. The one slight reservation I have has to do with influence; isn’t Pearl Jam the progenitor to bands like Creed? Still, they’re getting in. So, bowing to peer pressure: YES.

Steppenwolf: Really important big name late sixties rock band, with maybe three big hits, including Magic Carpet Ride and Born to be Wild. But they were a big deal from 1968-72, and didn’t do much else. NO.

The Cars: Same thing; didn’t make that big a difference, didn’t survive all that long. NO.

The Zombies: One of the original British invasion bands. Basically, the same thing you could say about Steppenwolf could be said about the Zombies, only their few hits lasted longer, and seem more significant. NO, but a harder call.

Tupac Shakur: Is rap a subset of rock and roll? That’s really the only question. Because Tupac is incredibly good and incredibly important, almost as much as a political figure than as a rapper. I vote YES.

Yes: The easiest call of the year. Of course, you have to vote YES for Yes. One of the greatest prog bands of all time. Long discography, with many huge hits over decades of amazing work. You question the induction of Yes? Listen to the opening guitar riff for Roundabout. Or the opening bass line in Close to the Edge. Or Bill Bruford’s drumming. Or Rick Wakeman on keyboards. Or Jon Anderson’s exquisite falsetto. YES, YES, a thousand times YES.

So that’s my five. Depeche Mode, Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur and Yes. Love to hear your responses!


Masterminds: Movie Review

Since Napolean Dynamite in 2004, Jared Hess has continued to follow his own quirky, weirdly comic muse. And power to him. I didn’t initially much like Nacho Libre (2006), but have since had a chance to reevaluate, and have found unexpected pleasures in the world of luchadores. Gentleman Broncos (2009) is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, and I absolutely do mean that as a compliment. I haven’t seen Don Verdean yet–it’s on my Netflix DVD queue, and I’ll catch it this week. I looked forward to seeing Masterminds. And was disappointed by how, I don’t know, conventional it was.

Masterminds is basically a caper film. It’s about a mismatched gang pulling off a big robbery. It’s loosely (very loosely) based on an actual event, an armored car driver who robbed his own company. Most caper films, however, emphasize the cleverness of the robbers, their careful plotting and skills, the mechanics of how they pull off the heist. In this one, they’re all dumb, essentially, incredibly stupid. They’re utter dolts. As such, it can feel awfully misanthropic–not that that’s all that unusual for Hess. Napolean Dynamite is punctuated by flashes of misanthropy–the cruelty of the other high school kids, for example. What saves it is the friendship between Napolean and Pedro, and Napolean’s fabulous dance of support and kindness at the end of the film. And, to a lesser extent, the budding, awkward romance between Napolean and Deb. That’s pretty much what saves Masterminds too.

Zach Galiafinakis plays David Ghantt, a driver/security guard for an armored car company. He’s partnered with Kelly (Kristen Wiig), who wears her uniform shirt unbuttoned just that one button more than is strictly needed for comfort’s sake, and he’s completely, permanently, hopelessly smitten. And when she idly mentions, conversationally, her fantasy of robbing the car, he laughs it off, but we can tell, is tempted.

Meanwhile, he’s engaged. To the frozen-smiling Jandice, a marvelous comic creation from Kate McKinnon. And we get one of the real Jared Hess moments in the film; a montage of preposterous engagement photos, with Dave and Jandice striking a series of ridiculous poses. Hess gets tackiness, and relishes it.

Kelly, meanwhile, has fallen in with a criminal gang–they seem to share living space. The leader of this gang is Steve (Owen Wilson), not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the most forceful of personality. (I think it’s revealing that when Steve and his girlfriend, Michelle (a marvelous Mary Elizabeth Ellis) do come into money, they immediately get braces for their teeth. Straight teeth are their calling card as middle-class. Plus, of course, they overspend for a mansion). Anyway, Kelly is persuaded to persuade David to pull off the robbery, assisted by Steve et al. And amidst some low-rent farcical hijinks, David does exactly that. He’s given a fake ID, with the name of another Steve acquaintance, Mike McKinney (Jason Sudeikis), a professional contract killer. And he’s sent to cool his heels in Mexico, while Steve and Michelle go on a spending spree. And Kelly gets to string David along telephonically, promising to join him down south ‘some time soon.’

Eventually the cops (led by Leslie Jones, who is a comic delight in the role), put together the case against David, and Steve decides he needs David to be gone. So Mike is dispatched to Mexico to bump David off. Sudeikis is suitably menacing as this cartoon sociopath, but when he actually meets David, and sees his (fake) ID, he’s entranced by the fact that there’s this other person in the world with his exact same name and birthday. And David and Mike click, become immediate BFFs.

Meanwhile, Kelly, who was never actually that into David, feels bad over the way Steve’s treating him, and her heart starts to soften. She realizes that this good-hearted criminal schlubb really is completely devoted to her. She’s maybe, possibly, a little won-over.

And that nascent romance, between David and Kelly, becomes the movie’s saving grace. These characters are all very very stupid, and at times the movie feels a bit condescending. And they are caricatures, all of them; cartoons. So does this movie have any humanity to it, the way Napolean Dynamite ultimately did, beyond all the stylization and the terrible food and Uncle Rico’s ridiculousness? Yes. There is a genuine, human connection between David and Kelly. Kristen Wiig pulls it off. Her character is a sexpot manipulator, but she’s not evil, just indolent and, we suspect, a bit contemptuous of men. Under all that, she does have a heart. And without a lot of comedy to play, she walks off with the movie.

It’s a pretty conventional Hollywood comedy, and Galiafinakis’ performance doesn’t wear well. And it’s not quite funny enough to survive the incomparable stupidity of its characters. Having said all that, it does have its moments. I laughed quite a bit, more than I thought I would. And I hope Hess gets better material to work with for his next film.

The Spirit of the Game: Movie review

The Spirit of the Game is an LDS film, a Mormon movie. I’m a Mormon, and a movie nut. So my initial inclination is to go easy on a film that is certainly well-intentioned. And it tells an interesting story. And Aaron Jakubenko, who stars in it, is very good, even though he can’t play basketball. There’s a lot to like here. The theater was half-full when I saw it (an early weekday matinee), so that’s encouraging. And it’s certainly not as bad as, say, The Home Teachers, which remains the flaming dragon’s breath of hell worst movie ever made, ever, by anyone.

On the other hand, The Spirit of the Game starts off not very good, and ends goshawful, and that also needs to be said. And if we want cinematic depictions of our faith and culture to improve, we do need to foster a candid critical culture. And sorry, gentle readers, but spoilers will abound. Advance apologies to everyone.

The Spirit of the Game is about the Mormon Yankees, an LDS missionary basketball team that was asked to teach the Australian national team hoops fundamentals in time for the 1956 Olympics. It focuses on one guy, DeLyle Condie (Jakubenko), an Idaho kid who, we’re told, is one of the stars of the University of Utah basketball team. He falls in love, gets engaged to a nice girl named Emily (Emilie Cocquerel)–the movie spends lots of time on that romance. And then she breaks his heart, dumps him for another dude. So Condie, rebounding, decides to go on a mission, and is sent to Australia.

Written and directed by J. D. Scott, it’s not really about basketball much, or the Olympics at all. Really, it’s about the power of male Mormon patriarchy. Every single major decision in the movie made by any character is preceded by an Inspiring Speech by a male authority figure. Or not, actually; Condie gets engaged precipitously, without permission from her father, or an Inspiring Speech from his father. That’s why the engagement fails.

When writing a screenplay, you have to decide that sorts of scenes to privilege. Obviously, a certain amount of screen time has to be given to basic exposition–who are these people, what do they want, why should we care? This movie gives immense amounts of screen time to Inspiring Speeches. It just stops dead in its tracks, and lets a male authority figure deliver an IS. At which point, Our Hero, Elder Condie (the least volitional protagonist in the history of film), is redirected. Except when its him giving the speeches.

So, he arrives in Australia, meets the mission President–Inspiring Speech. He meets considerable opposition–nobody’s interested, kids throw tomatoes at him. He gets discouraged, writes his Dad (Kevin Sorbo!). Inspiring Letter keeps him going. He’s offered the opportunity to help coach up the Aussie national team. But the mission President (Mark Mitchell), says no, in an Inspiring Speech full of appropriate bromides. Condie writes his father. And then, see, we get what passes for a plot twist. Condie wants to play basketball, but he’s stymied. But his father is also a male authority figure, and knows a higher one. So Dad writes President David O. McKay, who gives an Inspiring Speech to the rest of the First Presidency about the proselyting power of basketball, then orders the Mission President to let the boys play. And Condie becomes the coach of the Mormon Yankees. Which means he’s now a male authority figure, and authorized to give Inspiring Speeches too. Which he does, repeatedly. And so, finally, the movie half over, we get to seeing people play basketball.

And, oh my gosh, are they bad at it.

There are two basic approaches you can take when making a basketball movie. You can cast actors, and teach them how to play. Or you can take basketball players, and teach them how to act. Both can work. The greatest basketball movie of all time, Hoosiers, cast guys who could actually play basketball. White Men Can’t Jump took the other approach. They’re both good movies. Jakubenko is a good looking kid, and fairly athletic looking. I don’t doubt that he worked hard. But he has a high dribble, where he runs really fast kind of slapping at the ball, which bounces up around his chin. He dribbles like every kid on my son’s Junior Jazz team when he was six. And Condie’s supposed to be the point guard! Jakubenko can’t shoot, and never has to–they cut around him, use lots of hand-held camera, and basically fake the basketball sequences. (Condie does hit a couple of layups). He’ll shoot a jumper–and oh, that form!–and then they cut to a ball going in. And it’s called ‘the hoop’, people–at one point, they actually call it a ‘ring.’ I wanted to strangle someone.

I don’t mean to be unkind, but if you’re going to make a movie about basketball, let me gently suggest that you have someone on-set who actually knows something about basketball. One kid in the movie had a decent jump shot, and another kid could jump a little–they let him get all the rebounds. But mostly, during the basketball bits, I averted my eyes.

Sports movies always have to build to a Big Game climax, and this one is no exception. The movie kind of forgets about how the Mormon Yankees are supposed to be coaching the Aussie team, and lets them play in a pre-Olympics warm up tournament, a decision that requires another IS. And they’re really good, we’re told–able to hold their own against all the Olympic teams. The Big Game is against the nasty wasty French team. (The coach of the French team has a moustache, and twirls it, I’m totally not kidding). So that’s the big game–a nationally televised (in Australia) game between the Mormon Yankees and the thuggish French nationals. And, see, the French play dirty. And our virtuous boys can’t respond in kind, of course, as Condie reminds them in one of his Inspiring Speeches. They’re playing for God or something.

This is a major Spoiler, but I have to do this; at the end of the Big Game, this movie goes completely off the rails. Let me set it up for you. There are 9 guys on the Mormon Yankees team. That’s important–remember that number: 9. The game is very close, though how close we don’t know because the movie never shows us the score. Anyway, our guys are all wearing brave little dabs of makeup blood on their faces, to show how dirty the French are. There’s a collision between Condie and a French kid. Condie looks dazed. Time for a concussion protocol intervention, except, wait, this is 1956 and they didn’t worry about concussions. So Condie (who is also the team coach) may have to come out of the game. And the referee says “you’re down to three players, you’re going to have to forfeit.”

What? Are you kidding me? I sat there in the theater, absolutely dumb-founded. They have 9 guys on the team. They’re down to 3?!?!? How did that happen? How did (carry the 7, multiply by pi) 6 guys either foul out or get injured? We didn’t see anyone foul out. We didn’t see anyone get injured. What we see is Condie getting fouled, resulting in . . . someone else on his team getting disqualified? And the French team getting the ball out of bounds? Also, the ref (an Olympic referee) is talking forfeit? He doesn’t know the rules well enough to know that you are, actually allowed to play 3 on 5?

What happens is this: Condie shakes off his brain fog, gives an Inspiring Speech, and he and his pals do battle, 3 on 5. And for once, the movie gets the basketball a little right–the French, with a two man advantage, spread the floor and go backdoor for the game winning layup (though the final score remains a classified military secret). Condie hangs his head for a bit. But the Aussie crowd goes wild, standing O, cheering with enthusiasm, and then rushing the court to make appointments with the missionaries for discussions leading to mass baptisms. (I may have made that last bit up).

If that ending doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because it doesn’t make sense. (6 guys fouled out, that’s like 60 free throws–no wonder that the Frenchies won). I was reduced to sitting there in the movie theater going “What? What?” This is not how you should feel at the end of a feel-good sports movie.

I will say this about it: the cars all looked great. It used all these vintage ’50s cars, and they all looked terrific. And there’s a throwaway character, a little kid named Lindsay Gaze, who I assume was Andrew Gaze’s grandfather. And teenaged Bill Russell makes a brief appearance. (And why oh why do the opening credits run over footage from Texas Western beating Kentucky? In 1966?) So it had some nostalgia value for fans. (Also, I’m a Utah Jazz fan, and there are two Aussies on our squad this year).

Still. This. A story of a group of missionaries teaching the inept Australian basketball team how to play basketball is an inherently comedic one, isn’t it? Isn’t it hoops Cool Runnings? But instead, we get this exercise in patriarchal sanctimony. It’s not terrible. But it was unfortunate. That’s a good story. Hope someone tells it better some day.

A fundamental question of patriotism

There was a debate last night. For the last time in this election cycle, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made their case to America. At times, they engaged in a fairly substantive discussion. An early question about abortion allowed each to establish their, respectively, pro-choice and pro-life bonafides. I don’t think either of them won any voters over on that most polarizing of issues, but both defended their positions with some passion. Trump did, I think, badly misrepresent the pro-choice position, but it’s likely that my pro-life friends would say the same about Secretary Clinton.

I wouldn’t say, up to that point, that Donald Trump did well. He spoke forcefully enough. But he’s woefully ill-informed about the issues, and is much given to strong declarative statements on policy that turn out to be entirely and completely untrue. And I wish I could say that Hillary Clinton confined her comments to substantive discussions of policy, but Trump has made too many bizarre pronouncements on the campaign trail to really ignore. She spent much of the debate plucking that low-hanging fruit. That works tactically for her, as he’s sufficiently thin-skinned that he can’t help but respond to what he perceives as insults, finally blurting out “what a nasty woman.” (The nimbleness of the Clinton campaign is evidenced by the fact that, within minutes, they had purchased the web domain, which now redirects to the Clinton For President website).

But then came the defining moment of the debate, the headline in every paper in America this morning. Here’s the exchange. I’m going to quote it at length, because it’s so important:

Wallace: Mr. Trump, I want to ask you about one last question in this topic. You’ve been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you. Your running mate Governor Pence pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, will absolutely accept the result of this election. Today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you’ll absolutely accept the result of the election.

Trump: I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now, I’ll look at it at the time. What I’ve seen, what I’ve seen, is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt and the pile on is so amazing. “The New York Times” actually wrote an article about it, but they don’t even care. It is so dishonest, and they have poisoned the minds of the voters. But unfortunately for them, I think the voters are seeing through it. I think they’re going to see through it, we’ll find out on November 8th, but I think they’re going to see through it. If you look —

Wallace: But, but —

Trump: Excuse me, Chris. If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote. Millions. This isn’t coming from me. This is coming from Pew report and other places. Millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote. So let me just give you one other thing. I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people. I’ll tell you one other thing. She shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s — She’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run, and just in that respect I say it’s rigged because she should never —

Wallace: But, but —

Trump: Chris. She should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things.

Wallace: But, sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact, one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power and no matter how hard fought a campaign is that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?

Trump: What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?

Clinton: Well, Chris, let me respond to that, because that’s horrifying.

“I’ll keep you in suspense.” “That’s horrifying.”

In 1800, John Adams lost the Presidency to Thomas Jefferson. It was a nasty, contentious election, and although the two men would eventually reconcile, at the time Adams was furious. But when the votes were counted, he graciously conceded defeat, and stepped down. That precedent for the peaceful transfer of power has become one of the great strengths of American democracy. When Presidential candidates lose an election, they concede, completely and without reservation. They pledge their support for the new President.

Two examples, one from each party. In 1960, the Presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was exceedingly close. Kennedy won by a little over 100,000 votes nationwide: 49.72% to 49.55%. Kennedy did win the electoral college 303-219.

But the vote totals were questionable, Kennedy’s victory tainted. In Illinois, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was widely perceived as corrupt (because he was), and the Daley political machine guilty of voter fraud, which was, uh, not unimaginable. (“I see no reason to deprive a loyal, life-long Democrat of his voting franchise merely because he has passed on to a better world,” a Daley flunky is supposed to have said). And Texas politics were similarly colorful. And Kennedy’s running mate was “Landslide” Lyndon Johnson, whose place in the Senate was due to widely suspected chicanery, as he defeated former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson by 87 votes in 1948.

My father-in-law, a lifelong Republican, was convinced that Kennedy’s victory was illegitimate. He believed that Kennedy won both Texas and Illinois due to voter fraud, and that both states should have gone to Nixon, which would have given him exactly 270 electoral votes, enough for the win. And Nixon’s advisors wanted him to contest the election. Make a fuss. Insist on a full investigation, including recounts in both states. Nixon refused. He said “I want Senator Kennedy to know he has my wholehearted support.” It had been a bitterly contested election, and Nixon would not allow divisiveness to continue.

In that moment, Richard Nixon proved himself a patriot. He put the good of the nation ahead of his own personal ambitions. And, of course, he was eventually elected President, and we all know how that turned out. Still, he deserves full credit for his 1960 concession. He upheld the American democratic tradition. If you lose, you step down.

Next example: 2000. Al Gore and George W. Bush engaged in one of the closest elections in American history. Gore won the popular vote, 50, 999, 879 to 50, 456, 002. The deciding state was Florida, and the margins were razor thin. Initially, it appeared that Bush had won Florida by 537 votes; that total was close enough to trigger a mandatory recount according to Florida law. The exact mechanics of the recount was extensively litigated. Finally, the US Supreme Court stepped in, and by a 5-4 margin, Bush was declared the winner.

Again, Gore might have contested it in the court of public opinion. He did not. Al Gore was a patriot. Citing “the strength of American democracy” as his guide, he conceded the election.

I could discuss other examples. Democrat Samuel Tilden, in 1876, won the popular vote by a substantial margin. But electoral votes were disputed for three states–Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. A commission was appointed to resolve the issue, and a deal was struck, ending Reconstruction in exchange for the election of Rutherford Hayes, by one electoral vote. And Tilden was a patriot. Tilden conceded defeat.

The time and energy and money and, above all, emotional investment required to run for President of the United States must be far above anything most of us ever go through. (Probably the one thing we might compare it to is pregnancy–that level of total commitment). Therefore the ultimate test of the strength of our democracy comes when the election is over, when we peacefully transfer power to the new President. Our losing candidates go into the process aware of our traditions, hoping to win, aware that they might lose, aware as well of the absolute necessity of a graceful concession.

That’s why the post-debate commentary last night was so strongly stated and so unanimous. “I’ll keep you in suspense?” Not in America. Donald Trump’s refusal to state unequivocally that he will concede defeat if he loses was the main topic every commentator addressed. Steve Schmidt (John McCain’s campaign manager) condemned it. Nicolle Wallace, who worked with Schmidt, agreed with Hillary Clinton: his comments were “horrifying.” And Hugh Hewitt (conservative commentator) called Trump’s comments “disqualifying.”

And Hewitt’s right. Wallace’s question went right to the heart of who we are as a democracy. Donald Trump was faced with the ultimate test of his patriotism. And he failed. Donald Trump has disqualified himself to serve as President of the United States. He put his ego over his country. He has proven himself insufficiently patriotic.