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The Clintons came through for the Obamas in 2012. Last night Michelle Obama returned the favor.

In the midst of a tough re-election campaign that centered around a struggling economy, President Obama turned to Bill Clinton to give the nominating speech—and Clinton delivered, lending his high approval ratings and his legacy as a competent economic manager to the cause of defeating Mitt Romney. Obama at the time was at a low point, voters were tuning him out, and Clinton made the case for his re-election that Obama was unable to make himself, combining his gift for homespun oratory with a policy wonk’s command of the issues to dismantle Romney’s agenda. The speech lit up the convention hall. “He went long,” E.J. Dionne wrote at the time, “and they wanted him longer.”

The same could be said of Michelle Obama’s speech last night. It was much lighter on the policy, but was about as sophisticated a political speech as we have seen in the Obama era, giving voice to a public figure who has sometimes struggled to show her best side. This was not some obligatory quid pro quo—Michelle Obama at times seemed to channel a better version of Hillary Clinton, absorbing the themes of her campaign, internalizing them, and making them new, almost like a remix of a Clinton stump speech. Clinton’s long public track record fighting on behalf of women and families seemed like a reflection of Obama’s own political life. Even Clinton’s catchphrases—“I’m with her”, “cracks in the glass ceiling”—were woven in, with new life breathed into them. And in the ultimate tribute, Obama extended two of her strongest legacies to Clinton: that of a beloved role model and that of the first African-American first lady. The connection is made in this poignant passage:

...I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.

And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.

And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.

The crowd—even the Bernie or Bust people!—wanted her longer. Has that ever happened before, in a speech about Hillary Clinton? It is especially remarkable when you compare it to another convention moment, in 2008, when Clinton gave a speech endorsing Barack Obama after a bruising primary. Throughout it all, Michelle Obama clapped politely, jaw clenched, looking for all the world like she couldn’t wait for Clinton to leave the stage.

This was true in a figurative sense as well. President Obama started his career as the anti-Bill Clinton, who was characterized in the 2008 primary as a cynical small-bore politician who had failed to make the lasting impact of a Reagan. But Obama soon discovered that, for all his political gifts, he couldn’t break free of the Clintons and leave them behind—in fact, he needed them. He especially needs them now, to protect and extend his legacy. For all the talk of Bernie’s revolution, the main story of this convention will be Obama handing back control of the party to the Clintons and the dawn of what one day may be known as the Obama-Clinton era. And the two sides, the two poles of the Democratic Party, first openly accepted their hyphenated fate in 2012.

December 09, 2016

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The mainstream media is advertising a huge platform for Trump loyalists.

An important subplot of the 2016 campaign was a decision CNN made early on to sideline its existing stable of conservative commentators and hire a new roster of Donald Trump loyalists, as a counterweight to his liberal critics. The conundrum they faced was actually a microcosm of the entire election: The most committed conservatives and Republicans in the country considered the GOP frontrunner, and eventual nominee, unacceptable. But rather than allow that central reality to be reflected on air, CNN erased it, and instead broadcasted an alternative reality in which there was a broad pro-Trump consensus on the right. 

It would be an insult to bad punditry to say the commentary these Trump loyalists offered was, and continues to be, terrible. Because Trump shifts positions on issues constantly, it is incumbent upon his loyalists to be wildly inconsistent and unprincipled themselves. Because Trump was the most aberrant presidential candidate in modern history, it is incumbent upon his loyalists to use whataboutist fallacies as first-line argumentative defenses.

And the good news is we’re about to get a whole lot more of it! In an article titled “Mainstream media puts out the call for pro-Trump columnists,” Washington Post’s Paul Farhi finds editors at major publications are in the market for the kind of opinion writers who will, say, demand that Hillary Clinton shut down her family’s charitable foundation, then turn around and say Trump’s conflicts of interest are completely tolerable. Or tout Trump’s campaign against elites, and tout the plutocrats he’s recruiting to run the government. 

Can teenage drama save the Spider-Man franchise?

Spider-Man has been one of the most popular Marvel comic book superheroes since his creation in 1962, but he’s recently had a hard time replicating that success on the big screen. The Spider-Man movies have seen dwindling returns at the box office, suffering in comparison to the Avengers movies. To judge by the new trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which will be released next year, the latest reboot will be a return to the webslinger’s roots as a teenage superhero. As played by Tom Holland, Spider-Man is a gangly, nerdy, squeaky-voiced adolescent ectomorph, who has trouble paying attention in school and pubescent dating problems.

Spider-Man is really Spider-Teen. As befits a still budding superhero, Spider-Man also has a mentor, in the form of Iron Man, brought into the movie to link it to the ever-expanding Marvel cinematic universe. Spider-Man is eager to impress the older hero and join the Avengers, but it looks like he has to go through some rites of passage first. Whether the latest incarnation of Spider-Man will work on the screen or not is an open question, but this return to the niche of teendom does help set the character apart from the other masked vigilantes.

Saul Loeb / Getty

The first act of the Trump administration will be to build a wall around women.

The Mark Burnett-produced inauguration of Donald J. Trump (“After the Rose: America’s Happily Ever After”) will take place on January 20, 2017, and in the days surrounding the inauguration, more than 20 groups have protests planned, including the Women’s March on Washington, which aimed to have an iconic backdrop on the National Mall.

But the National Park Service has preempted any protest in front of the Lincoln or Washington memorials by filing a “massive omnibus blocking permit,” reports the Guardian, that would take these spaces out of commission for months. “Inauguration bleachers and viewing stands started being erected on 1 November and it will take until 1 March to completely clear the major public spaces from all of the inauguration works,” said Mike Litterst, spokesman for the NPS.

The Women’s March, which has received 138,000 RSVPs according to its Facebook page, will need to secure another location outside of the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue. But they will have to wait until the inauguration committee secures its own permits, and if they drag their feet long enough, the protests may be derailed by a classic Trump tactic: obstruction by construction. (“Angry women complaining about not getting to go to the mall! Sad!” Trump will surely tweet later today.) Bureaucracy may turn out to be a friend to the Trump administration after all.

It’s almost as if Donald Trump is just a plain old Republican.

Last night at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, the president-elect addressed criticism of his cabinet appointments, a motley group of plutocrats, hacks, and hangers-on. “One newspaper criticized me, ‘Why can’t we have people of modest means?’” Trump said. “Because I want people that made a fortune. Because now they’re negotiating with you.”

Never mind that these cabinet members should be negotiating for you and not with you. Trump was supposed to be an unorthodox Republican, a champion of the (white) working class. Instead his cabinet picks represent mainstays of the Republican elite: neoconservative hawks, Wall Street bankers, climate change deniers, a guy literally nicknamed the “foreclosure king.” His pick for Labor, Andrew Puzder, is even pro-immigration, a classic GOP elite position.

If voters were hoping to express their disgust at both Republicans and Democrats in electing Trump, too bad.

Update: CNBC is reporting that Trump will name Gary Cohn, the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, as the head of the National Economic Council.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Is violence against women disqualifying in the age of Trump?

Old reports have resurfaced that Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Labor, abused his first wife in the 1980s. The former St. Louis attorney, who is now the head of a fast-food empire that includes Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has long denied the charge, but police were called at least twice to the couple’s home. The Riverfront Times reports:

In her divorce filing, [Lisa] Henning alleged that Puzder hit her, threw her to the floor and unplugged the phone after she tried to call the police for her help. Puzder would later acknowledge in a deposition that he “grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her back,” but said he did it to stop her from hurting herself.

The divorce filing also detailed two other incidents: One in the late ‘70s in which the neighbors called the police after a shouting match turned into a plate-throwing fight, and one in which Lisa Henning alleged that Puzder punched her in 1985 while they were driving in a car.

Henning has since retracted the claim. In an email to Puzder dated November 30 and disseminated by Trump’s transition team, Henning declares, “You were not abusive.” She also writes, “I impulsively filed for a divorce without your knowledge and was counseled then to file an allegation of abuse. I regretted and still regret that decision and I withdrew those allegations over thirty years ago.”

It would appear that the Trump team has its bases covered. And there are plenty of reasons to oppose Puzder’s nomination beyond his domestic affairs, most notably his outright hostility toward policies that would improve the lives of workers. But one of the (many, many) depressing aspects of Trump’s election victory was that it showed that a lot of voters simply didn’t care that a candidate for the highest office in the country was facing nearly two dozen allegations of harassment and assault against women, most of whom decidedly refused to retract their allegations. Why wouldn’t Trump think he could get away with putting like-minded men in his cabinet?

December 08, 2016

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Rodrigo Duterte should work on his Trump impression, which is bad.

Everyone thinks they can do an impression of Donald Trump because Trump himself always seems to be doing one, from his gruff but oddly high and nasal voice, to the creepy way he moves his mouth, constantly pushing his lips together in a tight, often gross oval. The two most popular Trump impressions have been on Saturday Night Live, where the transition from Darrell Hammond’s buffoonish Trump to Alec Baldwin’s thuggish one mirrored a change in thinking about Trump on the left—almost overnight, he went from being a joke to a threat. (Anthony Atamanuik’s Trump is my favorite, but calling it an impression is a bit of a stretch.)

On Wednesday Philippine strongman/president/Trump’s id Rodrigo Duterte unveiled his Trump impression. Suggesting he may have a finer and subtler grasp on irony than previously imagined, he regaled a conference at the U.N. Convention Against Corruption with his take on a recent conversation he had with Trump.

This is a horrible Trump impression. Duterte does what many comedians do with Trump—ramp up his vulgarity, in this case by cursing a lot—but he makes no effort to get the voice or the mannerisms right. The substance of what he had to say, though, is interesting. “Oh, President Duterte,” Duterte says, speaking as Trump. “We should fix our bad relations. It needs a lot of, y’know, you just said something good here. And you’re doing great. I know what’s your worry about these Americans criticizing you. You are doing good. Go ahead. I have this problem on the border of Mexico and America and these goddamn shit guys are [unintelligible]. ... Maybe you can give me a suggestion, one or two, how to solve this goddamn bullshit son of a bitch.” If this is what Trump said to Duterte it makes almost no sense.

Duterte’s Trump impression did not address Trump’s alleged support for the ongoing, Duterte-instigated massacre of thousands of Filipino citizens.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

If Democrats go left, donors may get in the way.

According to a new Demos report, both major political parties draw from a mostly white, mostly male donor classand those donors tend to be more conservative than voters overall. Among the key findings from Whose Voice, Whose Choice:

While three-quarters of the adult population is white, and about 63 percent of the total population is white, 91 percent of federal election donors in 2012 and 92 percent of donors in 2014 were white. Among donors giving more than $5,000, 94 percent were white in 2014 and 93 percent were white in 2012.

• Men make up slightly less than half of the population, but comprise 63 percent of federal election donors. The pool of donors who give more than $1,000 has less gender diversity, with men making up 65 percent of donors giving more than $5,000.

• White men represent 35 percent of the adult population, but comprise 45 percent of federal election donors and account for 57 percent of money contributed.

Democratic donors are ideologically closer to the party’s voter base than Republican donors are to theirs. But when Democratic donors did diverge from voters, the results frequently undercut progressive policy initiatives. They mostly fought Obama’s push to expand SCHIP, his stimulus plan, and the Affordable Care Act. White male donors overall were more conservative than women donors on reproductive justice and specific policy issues like the Hyde Amendment. And the wealthier the donor, the more conservative they were likely to be.

These trends offer a partial explanation for the Democratic Party’s reluctance to take on a more progressive policy platform: It’s still beholden to the whims of a few exorbitantly wealthy white men. And that’s a significant obstacle to the party’s populist wing.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Trump’s Labor pick proves that he was never about the working class.

Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., which owns fast food chains like Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, is expected to be Trump’s pick to run the Department of Labor. It’s hard to think of someone who has been a worse advocate for workers over his career. Puzder consistently rails against raising the minimum wage, even to just $9 an hour, and advocates for rolling back regulations on corporations. He also opposed President Obama’s new overtime rules. When investigated by the DOL, more than half of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants examined had at least one wage and hours violation. And, according to Talk Poverty, Puzder makes more in one day than one of his minimum wage employees makes in an entire year.

If he could, Puzder would replace all those pesky human workers with robots anyways because, in his own words, robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

Puzder isn’t foreign to such cases. Do you remember those sexist Carl’s Jr. ads featuring blonde women eating burgers in bikinis that tons of women found offensive? Puzder defended the ads, saying that he was shooting for the “young hungry guy” demographic. As he told Entrepreneur magazine, “I’m 64, I want to be a young hungry guy. Some young ladies in your age group like to date young hungry guys.” This “young” hungry guy is now going to be in charge of our country’s labor policy.


Nigel Farage had an even better 2016 than Donald Trump.

Barring some dramatic turnaround, the Brexit leader and former head of the UK Independent Party has accomplished his longtime goal of ejecting the United Kingdom from the European Union. Moreover, as Thursday’s Bloomberg Businessweek profile makes clear, he’s gone from leading a small, anti-immigration political party—which only recently got a major foothold in British politics—to being a worldwide symbol of what he sees as a populist uprising and white working class backlash.

Farage is now beginning a whole new act in American politics. He appeared at a campaign rally this year with Trump, who, Businessweek’s Joshua Green writes, “adopted Farage as something between a talisman and a mascot” and promised an election result that would be “Brexit times 50.” After delivering on that promise, the president-elect made sure Farage was the first foreign politician he met with and even lobbied on Twitter for Farage to be Britain’s ambassador to the United States.

Now Farage is running around Washington as a right-wing celebrity among Republicans, going to parties, taking selfies with admirers, and pitching members of Congress like Senator Rand Paul on his latest political project: a bilateral trade agreement between America and the United Kingdom. “His ideas will always be listened to seriously in a Trump White House,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, told the magazine.

The best part for Farage is that he has no real responsibilities. He can bask in his newfound influence and celebrity, and promote his agenda—which partly is to promote himself. But unlike Trump, he doesn’t bear the burden of actually having to govern.

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Rest assured: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg says fake news didn’t sway the election.

Facebook, you may have heard, has a fake news problem. That is a problem because Facebook has a stranglehold on news distribution online, which means that Facebook itself is the problem.

A week after Donald Trump’s election, it was revealed that the company had a fix for fake news, but didn’t roll it out, presumably to avoid pissing off lunatics and other people who love posting crazy stuff online. Mark Zuckerberg has since addressed the issue, outlining steps to curb the dissemination of fake news posts. But Zuckerberg has also, as my colleague Sarah Jones notes, refused to take real responsibility for the crisis, saying that “of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic” and that “identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated.”

With the controversy still swirling, Facebook sent celebrity feminism avatar Sheryl Sandberg to the Today Show to calm everyone down. “There have been claims that it swayed the election, and we don’t think it swayed the election,’’ Sandberg told Savannah Guthrie. “But we take that responsibility really seriously. And we’re looking at things, like working with third parties, helping to label false news, doing the things we can do to make it clearer what’s a hoax on Facebook.”

There are a few problems here, however. The first is that Hillary Clinton lost a number of key states by fewer than 100,000 votes. Without evidence, Facebook’s insistence that it did not play a major role in the election should be treated with an enormous amount of skepticism, considering that a lot of Americans get their news from the social network.

Second, Facebook’s market-oriented response to the problem does not ameliorate any of these concerns. “We know that people don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook, and we don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook,” Sandberg told Guthrie. “And so we’re working on it because misinformation is something we take seriously and something we’re going to continue to iterate on the service.” Facebook cares about fake news only because it cares about “user experience,” not because it is invested in nurturing a new kind of public discourse after it disrupted the old kind. This problem won’t go away until Facebook takes that responsibility seriously.