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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."



On April 19, I voted in the New York State primary. This, I learned four days later, was my one chance to materially affect the outcome of the 2106 race to the White House.

What happened four days later? Well, I attended a very interesting “Women in Media Conference” at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.


Its four panels (all of which consisted of one moderator plus three or four discussants) were entirely female, as was the keynote speaker, and maybe 90 percent of the audience.

This led me to wonder what proportion of the student body at the J-school was female. Turns out it’s a whopping 69 percent.

True, the percentages of women students are up all through Columbia’s various graduate faculties, but the business school is still only 34 percent women students, and the engineering school, only 31 percent.

Possibly this 69 percent in journalism is because women are less confident of their abilities, and therefore more likely to want study a subject before they plunge into it.

Possibly it’s also because women are more idealistic & less insistent on big-buck careers—and, since the ascendancy of the Internet, journalism has become a real crapshoot, from a monetary standpoint.


Anyway, I found it very refreshing to see so many young and mostly very attractive women dedicating themselves to a profession that, when I was most involved in it, was overwhelmingly male.

Aside from some illuminating points made in the session devoted to mentoring, most of the discussion at this conference that I remember centered on the Presidential campaign.

Not surprising, I suppose, since one of the two leading candidates to occupy the Oval Office is a woman, Hillary Clinton.

I wish I could say that the conference left me more rather than less confident of her chances to win in November, but I can’t.

The excellent keynote speech was delivered by Susan Glasser, editor of Politico, a newspaper/website based in a Washington suburb (Glasser worked for years on The Washington Post).

She led off the talk by telling us that the last time there was a contested Republican political convention was 1976, when the two contenders were Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

In 1976, she continued, the U.S. had 24 states that were ”competitive”—meaning that both parties had a sporting chance of winning their electoral votes. These are also known as “swing states” or “purple states”—and in 2016, there are just 10 of them.

They are Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Georgia, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Iowa.

Once the two parties have chosen their Presidential candidates, all or most of the Presidential politicking – and virtually all of the campaign advertising – will be directed toward those ten states.

Since New York is considered one of those safe states (albeit a blue one), it was sort of a pleasant novelty to have so much attention paid to the votes of me and all my neighbors during the few brief weeks prior to the primary.

As a registered Democrat, my choice was between Clinton and Bernie Sanders—and here were both of them, going to and fro almost on my doorstep, making speeches and presiding over rallies….

Hillary even went in for a modest amount of TV advertising..

What fun!

Among other things, this activity forced me to consider my own position, and think about why I wanted to vote the way I did.

Among other statistics that Glasser trotted out, she said that Bernie was getting only 40 percent of the women voters. I am one of that 40 percent. I voted for Bernie.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think Hillary is better qualified to be President than Bernie is, and has more relevant experience.

I also think that Bernie’s pie-in-the-sky platform doesn’t have a prayer of getting enacted, given our reactionary Republican Congress.

HOWEVER! I believe that Sanders could beat Donald Trump, and I seriously wonder whether Hillary can.

She’s a worthy campaigner, but she just doesn’t bring out the enthusiasm that Sanders has so far managed to evoke from younger voters.

He is a rabble-rouser, if you like, but so is Trump, and as I see it, the best and maybe even the only way to fight fire is – with fire.

Moreover, it is desperately important that we have a Democrat in the White House.

Otherwise not only can we kiss Obamacare and climate control goodbye, but also any chances of getting an even moderately conservative new justice in the Supreme Court to replace Antonin Scalia (whom I always referred to, in my private meditations on the Supreme Court, as “Scaly Scalia”).

Even if Trump isn’t a standard Republican candidate, as President he would be obligated to the Republican leadership in Congress.

Thus he would endorse budgets that scale back social spending which the country needs to make it more competitive with other developed nations but which the Tea Party considers an impediment to their plans to make the rich richer through tax cuts (even though he differs from them in endorsing Social Security and Medicare).

Glasser said – and I believe her – that 60 to 70 percent of the people in this country think that America is on the wrong track. This is true, she said, despite the fact that unemployment – at 5 percent – is low, and the economy is healthy.

She also said that – although Republicans blame Obama for this “wrong track” – the feeling goes back further. She suggested that Americans have really felt “disaffected” ever since 9/11. I would agree with that.

More specifically (though I’m not sure Glasser said so, in so many words), this larger public is disaffected with the existing political setup, and with presiding political parties.

It is this “wrong track” and “anti-establishment” sentiment that both Trump and Sanders are tapping into, and that Hillary can’t.

Because – no matter what else may be said about her– she is very much a part of the Democratic establishment. This is an establishment that Sanders has partially (if not entirely) distanced himself from by – among other things – voting against the war in Iraq.

Another way he has distanced himself is by relying for his campaign expenses upon small independent donors – whereas Hillary seems to make more use of standard funding sources, from Super PACs to speech-making to Wall Street audiences.

Most of all, he is a white male, and – as Susan Presser also said-- he has been getting 70 percent of men’s votes in the primaries.

I think we Democrats are living in a fool’s paradise if we assume that all those Democratic males are going to migrate to support of Hillary in November.

I think the odds are a lot better that an awful lot of them will migrate to the other candidate who has distanced himself from his party’s establishment, and is – like Bernie – tapping into this deep and widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Something else Glasser also said was that the U.S. was becoming polarized in terms of where you live: in 2012, cities (and presumably towns and rural counties) with populations under 150,000 went (or at least were more likely to go) for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, while cities with populations over 150,000 went (or were more likely to go) for Obama.

I have been looking at the very excellent little interactive maps at the New York Times website showing the various states where primaries have already been held.

And what bothers me is that time after time, I see most of each state’s far more extensive rural areas colored pink because they went for Bernie, while tiny areas right around the major population centers are colored blue because they went for Hillary.

This bothers me because I think that these underpopulated areas are where the larger percentage of the population is under-educated white males, and under-educated white Republican males at that.

I think the big cities are where you find the larger concentration of women , over-educated white males and minorities.

True, in actual statistics, those blue areas add up to the 60 or 70 percent of Democratic voters who opted for Hillary.

But they don’t say a word about how many Republicans in these areas would need to be factored into the equation next November.

My fear is that in November, you may find that a lot of those under-educated white males in the pink areas who voted for Bernie – an anti-establishment candidate – in the primaries, and have since decided that they’d rather have an anti-establishment, under-educated white male named Trump in the White House than an over-educated establishment female.

If so, then they will have joined ranks with all the Republicans in those areas – and very possibly outnumbered the voters opting for Hillary in the big cities.

Our over-educated pundits tend to forget that the “under-educated” population is like most of it.

As of 2014, only 88 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 25 had even graduated from high school – and only 32 percent had a college degree.

Supporters of Hillary like to point to her support in the African-American community, but despite all the publicity given to relations between the races, 72 percent of the U.S. population is white – and only 13 percent is black (the remainder being divided among Asians, native Americans and other races).

Another minority which is said to be enthusiastic about Hillary is the Hispanic or Latino vote. But again, many members of this community are included in the total percentage of black Americans – and only another 9 percent of the population is white Hispanic.

So if you combine these two minorities together, they still constitute only 22 percent of the population.

The only true majority that Hillary can count is the sexual one: there are 126 million adult females in the U.S., as opposed to 119 million adult males – but many of these women are not necessarily going to go for Hillary—not with all the publicity that Trump gets, has gotten and apparently will continue to get.


If there is one thing that is more distressing than any of these considerations, it is mount of free publicity that Donald Trump has gotten and continues to get.

He is a master at courting the media, having learned how to manipulate them by jousting with the Manhattan tabloids since the 1980s.

As a mogul with casinos, hotels, real estate and other millions in investments, he has over the years suffered four bankruptcies among his holdings, progressed through three marriages – wrote the best-selling “Art of the Deal” and made it big in television with “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Wow! What a resume! Does it qualify him for the Presidency? I don’t think so, but it all makes for great copy, the kind of funny-funny blow-hardism that readers and listeners lap up.

As a result, he gets his name on Page One so often that all the other contenders for the Presidency stand in danger of being forgotten in the media’s blind rush to pass along his latest stunt.

I don’t think many of the dozens (or rather, hundreds) of reporters and camera people who have rushed to chronicle Donald’s doings think much of him or his positions.

My experience with the media convinces me that most of its practitioners are good liberals, who in their heart of hearts abhor Trump’s racist position (on Mexicans), religious fanaticism (with regard to Muslims) and calculated ignorance on everything from trade to climate change.

But Trump turns it all into show biz, which means readership goes up, ratings go up – and so do earnings. It’s a devil’s bargain, but there it is.

On March 21, Jim Rutenberg, the media correspondent for the New York Times who has recently replaced the late David Carr, published a fine article in that paper headlined, “The Mutual Dependence of Trump and the News Media.”

The gist of it was that Trump offers a panacea (if only a temporary one) for the ailments that currently afflict the news media, with venerable newspapers, magazine and even networks fighting to hold their own in the face of round-the-clock competition for advertising dollars from newer online publications, billion-dollar business websites like amazon.com, search engines and the social media.

“I’ve been struck by just how much uncertainty there is,” Rutenberg wrote, “as I’ve talked to people across the mediasphere in preparation for lacing up the size 12s that are so closely associated with this space, last worn so smartly by our departed colleague David Carr….Things are changing so fast that no news organization knows whether the assumptions it’s making to secure its future will prove correct.

“In that environment, Mr. Trump brings a welcome, if temporary, salve. He delivers ratings and clicks, and therefore revenue….”

Specifically, according to Rutenberg, Fox News is enjoying “a roughly 40 percent prime time ratings spike over last year"

Even more dramatic is the situation at CNN, which entered the campaign season in terrible shape. A year and a half ago, its ratings were near a 20-year low, and Wall Street analysts were questioning its continued viability.

But, said Rutenberg “With CNN’s debates and heavy coverage of Mr. Trump, the networks ratings have increased about 170 percent in prime time this year.” The advertising rates that the network was able to charge on a debate night were 40 times what it was able to charge normally…..

The imbalance in coverage, Rutenberg also pointed out, has led to situations like the one of March 8, where all of the cable news networks covered a 45-minute primary night press conference of Trump’s in its entirety – and skipped Hillary’s victory speech entirely.

It is for this reason – if no other -- that I want Sanders to stay in the race. As long as he’s speaking up, the media are paying at least a modicum of attention to the Democrats.

And I will say that the New York Times (at least) is trying to keep its Trump coverage in perspective, and see that other candidates get a chance to speak…..

(POSTSCRIPT--ADDED MAY 4). Let me take that last statement back...On the morning after the Indiana primaries, that venerable newspaper got so carried away by the fact that Trump's victory had forced Cruz to pull out that it almost completely ignored the fact that Bernie had beaten Hillary, even though the Trump victory was highly predictable, and the pundits had been predicting that Hillary would win in Indiana...

As of this writing, Bernie is saying that he's staying in the race, and God bless him for that...will the Times pay any attention, or will they slavishly devote themselves to promoting the Trump juggernaut by covering its every whisper?)


At this point, it looks as though it will be Hillary versus Donald in November, and I just hope she can get her act together before then.

Among other things, I wish she would stop catering women voters long enough to deal with issues of interest to men as well – and to make it clear that she really wants white males, even under-educated ones, on her team.

A white male vice-presidential candidate would certainly help. Ideally, it would be Sanders…..

This is not going to be an easy election for any Democrat to win, given the way that the Republicans in many states have enacted voter-registration legislation that – all authorities agree – affect the less affluent and minority voters disproportionately.

The song and dance here is that we are only trying to avoid “voter fraud,” but the number of fraudulent votes cast is and has always been infinitesimal. What we are really after is trying to go back to the 19th century, when only property owners were allowed to vote. That way, we could be sure that the Republicans would always win.

People talk about Republican “radicalism.” Nonsense! Radicalism implies moving forward, but going back to the 19th century is reactionary, not radical.

I will say that since Rutenberg’s article, the Times at least – and especially during the New York State primaries – was doing its best to give us more or less balanced coverage.

It is probably paying for this in terms of clicks at its website…..but thank God it is doing it, just the same…because so many people will simply vote for whoever they’ve heard most about, as opposed to whoever most truly represents their interests….

As H. L. Mencken once wrote, “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

All of this is why I voted for Bernie – I think he has a much better chance of reaching “the great masses of plain people” than Hillary does, and I think Trump does have that have that power, too.

I think Trump would make a terrible President, of course, but the only reason he may not make it is because so many other people just don’t trust him.

Of course, an awful lot of people don’t trust Hillary, either. Last week, in the wake of the New York State primary, I was having dinner in a local Chinese restaurant, and got into a conversation about the candidates with a couple sitting next to me.

Both the husband and the wife had voted for Sanders, and both were seriously considering voting for Trump in November. The husband was the one who said he didn’t think there would be that much difference if Trump won.

The wife was the one who said she didn’t trust Hillary.

The only thing that may save Hillary on this sort of issue is the fact that more people don’t trust Trump. Or anyway, this is the way I read the results of a survey reported by Charles M. Blow in the New York Times for April 25.

(Actually, Blow was quoting a survey that had appeared in the Wall Street Journal, but since I don’t read the Journal I must give Blow credit for calling it to my attention.)

Anyway, Blow said that, according to this poll, “Clinton’s unpopularity – as measured by poll respondents saying that they either have somewhat or very negative feelings toward her – hit ‘a dubious new record of 56 percent.’

“The only problem for Republicans, however, is that “an astounding 65 percent” feel that way about the real estate developer, leading the paper to conclude that he and [Ted] Cruz ‘may be the only two Republicans who could lose to Hillary Clinton.”

Let's hope so!
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