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Category: Politics

The Real Thing
David Brooks, rightish columnist for the New York Times, wrote a piece last week entitled “Donald Trump Isn’t Real.” I agree that he isn’t, although I do think that his hair is (for the record, my definition of “real” includes hair plugs harvested from one’s armpits).

Otherwise, the only things that are real about Donald Trump’s candidacy are in a special category that encompasses reality-TV-real, also known as fake. Pro wrestling is also in that category, and Brooks cites Trump’s association with the WWE as a lens through which to view the macho bravado of his political campaign. The column doesn’t pursue the concept of unreality much further than that.

So allow me. Specifically, I want to talk about the other contenders in the race — in both parties. Who is real, who is fake, who is in-between?

Bernie, I think we can all agree, is the most real. The hair, the rumpled suits, the effortless staying on message — they all spell authenticity. I rate the Bern at 92% real.

John Kasich is the Republican Bernie Sanders, at least by my reading. Unfortunately, he is infected with the same “uncertainty” about science that all the Republicans suffer from, so Bernie beats him handily on that score. If you can get past his conservative policies, though, Kasich has the same cranky, unpolished credibility that the veteran socialist has. 71% real.

At the risk of shocking the world, I’m going to say that Hillary is mostly real. That’s just my overall impression, of course. It’s pretty hard to get through her elaborate defenses and sort out which parts are real and which come as a result of being too long at the center of power. If you could get inside, I think you’d find she’s roughly 63% real, give or take a fib or two.

As we have seen, Rubio is no more or less real than any robot with sketchy software. You can’t really fault him for his messaging glitch in last Saturday’s debate. For that malfunction, blame his programmers. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt at 50%.

Jeb Bush is clearly doing something he doesn’t want to do, so he loses points for that. He also defended his meathead brother’s foreign policy — more evidence that he’s just going through the motions. It’s like he’s running for president because he’s expected to, and that is dangerously unreal. 39%, and he’s lucky to get that.

I was going to take the time to trash Christie the Crook and Carson the Martian, but why bother? After New Hampshire, they will soon be self-deporting from the race. Carly Fiorina might have to be forcibly removed, although anyone who gets near her risks a face full of spat venom.

And that brings us back to Trump. To him, every situation is a “disaster,” but he will fix it “very quickly, I can tell you.” If he were holding forth on “The Apprentice,” I might believe him. Here on planet Earth, however, we should ask for a bit more data about how he would fix it. So far, all I’m getting from him is the unmistakable aroma of bullshit. And that’s just through the telly. It’s a wonder to me that people in the same room with the guy aren’t gagging from the stench. 6% real.

But is Donald the least real of all the candidates? Oh, not by a long shot. For the purposes of this discussion, I need to stretch the boundaries of mathematics and assign a negative reality rating. How else can I adequately express the other-worldly artifice of the Junior Senator from Texas, the Snidely Whiplash of politics, Ted (shiver) Cruz. Like most people, I felt a deep revulsion for this man from the first moment I saw him. The very sight of his sallow, rotten-toothed visage fills me with dread. His clammy touch, I know, would turn me into a pillar of salt, and the blood would freeze in my veins.

Or perhaps I’m being unfair. Let me check…

Nope, he’s pure evil. – 0%, and that’s as real as I can make it.
Demo Memo
Okay, it’s either a democratic socialist or a genuine feminist.

What an excellent dilemma.
The Stars Impel
If I had foreseen this moment, I would have dreaded it. But now it is upon us, and all I can do is react. The political stars have converged to give us the most alarming spectacle yet in this unprecedented presidential season. Donald Trump, megahuckster and candidate for Most Powerful Person in the World, has been joined by another TV star. God help us; it is none other than the Alaskan half-governor: she-who-must-not-be-clicked.

You know who I’m taking about: the dim-and-dimmer light on the right, the master chef of word salads, the click-bait I have solemnly vowed to avoid. No, I will not name her, nor will I ever execute another caricature of her in one of my cartoons. But there she is, sharing the stage with another character I have been forced to pay attention to. In a sense, they are not so much converging stars as aligning planets. Two gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, transiting across the political firmament. They are huge, they are bright, they are spellbinding…but neither has a solid core.

The reason I find this celestial event so dread-worthy is that it threatens what is left of my own political innocence. I still want to believe, really and truly, that democracy can work, that human beings can overcome their own stupidity and actually make the world better. These two characters laugh in the face of that hope. They are reality TV personae who have entered the real reality, bringing with them all of the consequences of stupid politics but no substance to go with it. And now they are together! This has all caught me by surprise, and I find it more than a little frightening.

Politics is silly enough already without adding another layer of fakiness. People can’t stay focused on the real world as it is. When ersatz reality is added to the mix, there’s no telling what will happen. Donald and she-who-must-not-be-clicked offer nothing of value. They are astronomical phenomena more vaporous than the Kardashians themselves, yet they can distract us from the things that are important.

And so, I am forced into a steel cage death match against my own cynicism…again. Can my innocence survive? I think of all those people who seem so eager to be conned, and it worries me. My faith in my fellow citizens can’t take much more of this.

Perhaps it makes no difference that I didn’t see this coming. I couldn’t have done anything to prevent this reckoning, because these buffoons have thrust it upon me. They are in the mix; I can’t ignore them.

The stars can only impel, they say. But gas giants, it appears, have the power to compel.
Slippery Flip
I was out in the garden last week, checking the yard for any damage after those big rains. As I stood at the edge of a small incline, I noticed that its slope had become quite slippery. If I took one step over the edge, I thought, what was to stop me from sliding down the slope, into the creek, then out into the Pacific Ocean where I would surely be devoured by giant mutant sharks?

This is the essence of the slippery slope rationale: one false step, and all is lost. Never mind that there would be a nearly infinite number of chances to correct my slide before I was chewed to death by sea monsters. According to the argument, I would not take advantage of any of those chances. My fate, once I started to slide, would be sealed.

We see a lot of slippery slope argumentation in politics, most notably on the right. (Am I correct here, or am I on the slippery slope to self-deception?) It can be a seductive argument, especially if you’re not on guard against it.

Take old Rick Santorum. He famously predicted that legalizing gay marriage would open the door to polygamy, pedophilia, and man-on-dog relationships. I’m pretty sure none of that has happened yet, but I’ll admit that Rick has prompted me to look at my dog in new ways. If you tend to be against gay marriage already, however, and you’re not paying attention, his absurd extrapolation (or domino fallacy, if you like) can seem quite plausible.

Even to people who should know better. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the lawsuit over Obamacare’s individual mandate, Justice Scalia seriously entertained a similar line of reasoning. If the government can force us to buy health insurance, he suggested, then why couldn’t it command us to buy broccoli? He failed to note, among other things, that we could always secretly feed it to the dog (hi there, sweetheart) under the table.

Laura Ingraham argues that if we provide a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, no matter how stringent the requirements, “we might as well have no borders at all.” Or laws, or culture, or common sense, apparently.

In an attempt at irony, Forbes.com opinion writer Carrie Sheffield asks, “Why not raise the minimum wage to $100?” Hey, why not a million, cheapskate?

And on it goes. Almost every lesson Glenn Beck draws from the news relies on the slippery slope argument for its credibility. Why not? It’s a great time-saver. Since this trick of non-logic requires no evidence, you don’t need to waste time thinking critically about your positions.

So why don’t we give it a try? This time, though, let’s tilt the slope in the opposite direction.

For instance, we could claim that denying the right to gays to marry would have taken the first step on a slippery slope that would lead to denying that right to everyone. R.I.P., holy matrimony.

Similarly, if we hadn’t allowed the individual mandate, wouldn’t the next step have been taking away all of our government’s powers? Wouldn’t we have slid, helplessly, into a chaos where absolutely anything goes? Theft, rape, and murder would all have become legal! That was a close one.

If we deny a path to citizenship to the ten million-plus undocumented workers already here, won’t they eventually form their own shadow government and destroy us from within? Or, worse yet, they might actually self-deport — leaving us to do all the hard work!

And lastly, by not raising the minimum wage, aren’t we guaranteeing that our society slides into further income inequality, eventually ending up with an oligarchic state in which most of us are slaves?

This last example demonstrates another truth about the slippery slope argument. Its logic may be fallacious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that its conclusions are wrong.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon