Some Thoughts on Media, Trump’s Apparent Victory et al.

clintontrumpI have been postponing the somewhat painful but necessary task of assessing the factors contributing to outcome of this election.  Unless the growing call for a recount proves successful (and this seems unlikely but not absolutely impossible), Donald Trump will be the President of the United States for the next four years. This was not a popular outcome in my household.  My nine-year old son saw Trump ahead early in the evening and threw up on the street. My wife cried herself to sleep. Certainly we have been very concerned  for some of our friends whose status in the US leaves them vulnerable to deportation.  It has been difficult talking to some friends, particularly white women professionals of my age, who are not just distressed but furious over the outcome.  Some simply state that Hillary won the popular vote by over 2 million –so she really won.  It is deeply unfair.  Well, not according to the Constitution of the United States.  Some have decried white males because they won’t vote for a woman.  However,  according to New York magazine, white women voted for Trump by 53%.

One often-cited explanation for Clinton’s loss is that the white working class failed to vote for her and, as Paul Krugman and others point out, against their economic interests.  While this is true, this is a result of the Democrats’ failed campaign –not a cause or explanation.  So this might not be a popular post, but it attempt to answer the question: how was Trump, a political novice whose inexperience and character would seem to make him certain to lose this election. able to win?

  1. For better or worse, we need to start with Hillary Clinton’s self-inflicted wounds.

deleterA.  That she had a private email server while Secretary of State was not a huge problem in itself.  The much more serious problem was that she deleted 33,000 emails and then erases the hard drive. She claimed they were personal but 1) that is not really for her to decide and 2) it created the assumption that she had something serious to hide.

qatari_officials_offered_to_donate_1_million_to_bill_clinton_s_c-m-23_1476537801363B. The Clinton Foundation was seemingly a cesspool of corruption and conspiracy.  While she was Secretary of State, the Clinton Foundation under her husband’s leadership was soliciting monies from foreign governments and private individuals.  This involved obvious conflicts of interest.  Qatar’s $1 million donation to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State is but one example.  Let’s be honest: if a Republican did this, the Democrats would be screaming bloody murder.  The problem here is that Americans accept the fact that a president can take advantage of his (and “his” is the proper pronoun to date) position as ex-president to enrich himself.  But such laxity does not apply to someone who is or will be running for president.  The entanglements were and are disturbing.  If she had won, Republicans in Congress would have had a strong case going after her for corruption. Trump played this for all it is worth.

trump-university-780x439But what about Trump?  Clearly he was gaming the system and engaging in various illegal practices (Trump University, taxes and so forth).  This is true, but many accepted his argument that as a private citizen he had a right to pay as little taxes (or no taxes) as possible.  One can accept or not accept that argument but the point is that Hillary lost the high ground. And it enabled DJT to focus his attacks on HRC without dealing with policy issues, where he was on weak ground.

Hillary’s self-inflicted wounds were (and are) serious.  This was certainly one reason why many Democrats favored Bernie Sanders in the primaries.  Sanders also had potential weaknesses as a candidate in the general election, but some considered them potentially less severe than Clinton’s. Neither was a perfect candidate.  In retrospect, Biden might have been the strongest candidate for the Democrats, but it is easy to say that now. The question of Clinton’s emails and the Clinton Foundation have not entirely disappeared even now.  For instance, one wonders: if Clinton were to join the recount bandwagon, would Trump see this as an occasion to re-activate the investigations against her?

2.  As already noted in this blog, Trump was able to keep the attention focused on himself–in part through his twitter activities.  Clinton never learned to counter this.  Here Trump’s experience as a reality TV personality paid off.  His most outrageous tweets grabbed attention and seeming provided a aura of spontaneity and honesty.  Clinton always seemed managed and calculating.  Now this was not, in my opinion, fatal to her candidacy.  These were two different styles.  But given her above mentioned, self-inflicted wounds, this sense of a carefully managed persona did play into the idea that she had something to hide and could not be trusted.

3.  Clinton’s most moving and effective ads went after Trump for his misogyny.  His objectification and denigrating treatment of women was one of the most disturbing aspects of his persona as well as his campaign.  Her particularly effective “Mirrors” ad was posted on YouTube on September 23rd–six weeks before Election Day.

One week before the election, she followed this up with “What He Believes”:

When people argue that Trump’s victory points to the end of identity politics or, as David Brooks suggests “The Danger of a Dominant Identity,” they are pointing at something that is important to examine but they miss the point.  When we vote for president, we want to vote for the person we believe is the best candidate–male, female, African American, Asian or white, Jew or Catholic (but not atheist or Muslim).  Barack Obama was a better candidate than John McCain, particularly given the economic crisis of 2008.  That he was African-American was an added plus for many.  Obama did talk about race from time to time but it was not at the foreground of his campaign.

Simply put, Clinton doubled down on one of her compelling strengths in a way that overplayed her hand.  Others were going after Trump on this account. She should have let others do the damage–it is always more effective.

Clinton should have let them damm Trump and put her energy elsewhere.  Was this the only reason why we should vote for Clinton over Trump?  I don’t think so; but by focusing on this issue yet again, it made her look weak–like this was the main issue of the campaign.  But Clinton skeptics could note that many people say things they later regret.  Trump apologized…. So what’s the big deal?  Of course, Trump has a long and consistent pattern in this respect. Trump had already somewhat neutralized this line of attack by pointing to Bill Clinton’s well-known extramarital shenanigans. Trump’s offensive misogyny was a worthwhile point for Clinton to make in September but to be repeating it again in November meant she was just repeating herself.  This was also closely linked to the idea that it was time for a woman president, that Hillary would break the glass ceiling. Yet for most people, this was not a strong reason, in and of itself, to vote for her.  Certainly the US was ready for a woman president (or so voters could tell themselves), but was she the right woman? And didn’t we just have a black president?

Aspects of Trump’s candidacy other than his misogyny were at least as disturbing and could have/should have been introduced in the later stages of the campaign.  His bankruptcies, for instance.  Trump’s campaign promises to spend more on infrastructure, the military and to cut taxes is a recipe for bankrupting the US.  Is that what Americans want? Climate change and the environment is certainly something that concerns many of us.  Clinton never went after Trump on this.  And at a time when Americans clearly yearn for change, Clinton was offering more of the same. One suspects that even Obama does not want more of the same. The Republican congress had undermined the chance for real change. One of Clinton’s mistakes was not to hammer at the Republicans and Trump’s failings in these areas as hard as she might have.  (In fact, she seemed to be wooing those Republicans who were not pro-Trump, which may have been a bad mistake.)

So Clinton entered the campaign with wounds that were more serious than many acknowledge.  She was hammered late in the campaign by leaks from Russian email hacks.  The sexting activities of Huma’s estranged husband gave a new opening to the FBI’s conservative head James Comey, who revived the email issue in the closing 10 days of the campaign. (Here I am truly puzzled: my wife has her computer and I have mine.  We don’t share. Do you?)

Could Clinton have put Trump away after he strong performance at the debates? Perhaps prematurely she was coasting her way to apparent victory. The Clinton campaign’s returned to Trump and his “locker room,” pussy tape (released October 7th) in its “What He Believes” ad released Nov 1.  It hit a familiar and apparent dependable–certainly seemingly safe–note.  But in its repetition, it was offering somewhat of a “holier than thou” position–as she was seeking to brand Trump as the candidate clearly outside proper society.  When Comey re-raised the email spectre one day later, the media’s passion for political scandal focused squarely on her––tying her to Anthony Weiner’s recurrent sexting, raising all sorts of issues anew.

Misogyny is an issue that concerns all Americans.  Anti-Muslim speech concern all Americans.  But they are usually seen as issues being directed at specific subgroups (women, Muslims or at least religious subgroups).  If in the final weeks of the campaign, would Clinton have done better by focusing on issues that did not seem to have such limited appeal? Trump’s repeated refusal to pay people who worked for him is not just a working class issue–and certainly not just a white working-class issue–it is an issue that concerns us all. Perhaps what she needed was her own Progressive version of Steve Bannon.  Someone who knew what it means to go for the jugular.


When Presidential Campaigns Began to Deploy New Media

So this blog has been stalled.  For the right reasons, I hope.  I have been working on a new documentary, but I also wrote the following “editorial” for History News Network.  It can be found here.  But I am posting what I wrote below:


It started in the 1890s. Can their deployment offer us some kind of historical perspective on the current election? Certainly the cutting edge use of new media has been influential in presidential elections of the last 125 years. Understanding this can offer some engaging perspectives on campaign dynamics while distracting us from the more fraught conflicts of personality and policy which have generated a deep sense of frustration among many of our colleagues. It was the complex use of media in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections––and particularly Barack Obama’s successful use of the Internet as he defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and then John McCain in the general elections––that sent me back to the 1890s.

If the use of new media for presidential campaigning really began in the long 1890s, no one had examined it systematically. As I learned in researching and writing Politicking and Emergent Media: US Presidential Elections of the 1890s, John L. Wheeler originated the campaign documentary in 1888: his evening-length illustrated lecture, The Tariff Illustrated focused on the preeminent issue of that election––the tariff (sound familiar?) which was also closely tied to issues of jobs and immigration. His program, seen by almost 175,000 people in the key swing state of New York, was considered a crucial contributor to Republican Benjamin’s Harrison’s victory over sitting president Grover Cleveland.

Eight years later, Republican candidates and their associates invested in the American Mutoscope Company, which would soon become the foremost motion picture company in the world. The Republican National Committee sponsored the official premiere of its biograph projector in October 1896, showing McKinley at Home at Hammerstein’s Olympia Music Hall in New York City. Republican presidential candidate William McKinley was conducting a front porch campaign: apparently the only way to get him to leave his hometown of Canton, Ohio, was through the vehicle of projected motion pictures. The screen has been Republican from the outset, declared Terry Ramsaye in 1926. And with a reality TV star as the current Republican candidate––and movie star Ronald Reagan constantly evoked, Ramsaye was both historically accurate and all too prescient. Obama in this regard has been a remarkable exception.

So what are some of the historical antecedents that resonate with present day politicking? Consider “the newspaper of record.” The New York Times was strongly pro-Democratic in the 1890s. Nonetheless it railed against Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and his 1896 Free Silver platform with the same ferocity that it now deploys against Donald Trump.

Comparisons are always apt: the issue-focused illustrated lectures on the tariff in 1888 and 1892 gave way to motion pictures that were issue free as Biograph’s filmmakers surrounded McKinley at Home with images of America’s natural grandeur (the American Falls at Niagara), culture (Joseph Jefferson in Rip van Winkle) and technology (the Empire State Express train). It appealed to viewers’ emotion rather than their intellect. Reflecting on a more recent shift in new media, we can see how Barack Obama’s YouTube channel was central to his 2008 campaign. That is where his “Yes We Can Speech,” following his defeat in the New Hampshire primary, was posted and viewed by millions of users. And YouTube was where’s “Yes, We Can” music video was also posted––undoubtedly the most potent campaign song in the history of presidential politicking. Obama’s opponents were rank amateurs by comparison. Eight years later Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may both have YouTube channels, but the action has moved to Twitter. Trump has used Twitter aggressively and in the first person. Clinton has used Twitter more cautiously, typically as a pro-Hillary news aggregator. When Cruz finally endorsed Trump (after the Donald had trashed his wife and father), the Republican candidate graciously expressed his appreciation. After Clinton was endorsed by the New York Times, the endorsement was simply posted to her Twitter page. Not only has Trump used Twitter to dominate any number of news cycles, he seems largely responsible for changing the way journalists now report the news. Since Trump’s run for the presidency, reporters rarely call relevant sources looking for a quote. They post pertinent tweets instead.

Campaign songs were often popular in the 1890s, but the level of interest fluctuated from election to election. The American Protective Tariff League, the largest political action committee in the 1890s, had sponsored Wheeler’s tariff lecture in 1888 and 1892: in 1896, it featured sheet music for campaign songs in the pages of its journal instead. These songs often had an upbeat even utopic cast to their lyrics. In this they anticipated the hundreds of campaign songs written on behalf of Obama in 2008. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly such songs continued to appear in 2012. Although songs related to the current campaign remain part of the politicking landscape, they are fewer in number and consistently satirize or mock one or even both of the candidates. The mood—on both sides—has completely changed. Enjoy “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Trump (Grinch Parody)” or “Liar Liar Pants On Fire Hillary Song.” Randy Rainbow, a blogger and Internet celebrity, offers numerous song parodies such as “The Nasty Woman” and “GRAB ‘EM BY THE P***Y! (Censored).

In a political universe with two such different candidates, it can be helpful to note their frequent symmetries. In September 1896, Abner McKinley, the candidate’s brother, supervised the taking of McKinley at Home, Canton, O. A mere two days later, William Jennings Bryan showed up on Edison’s doorstep for his cameo: Bryan Train Scene, Orange, NJ. Since Bryan was pioneering the whistle-stop tour, each candidate was shown in his representative campaign mode (the Bryan film does not appear to have survived). However, this apparent parallelism hides a dirty trick. Norman Raff was one of the partners who owned the Vitascope Company, which exhibited and distributed the Bryan film. Raff was not only from Canton, Ohio, he was a personal friend of McKinley. The Bryan film languished. Finally screened a week after the McKinley program (it could have been shown much earlier), Bryan Train Scene was embedded in a program of comedies that included Wash Day and Feeding the Chickens.

In the current election we might note that Gennifer Flowers opened a new Twitter account in May 2016, around the time that Trump seemed a certain winner of the Republican primaries. At the same time The Daily Mail online posted an updated profile of Flowers, which included her claims that Hillary was bi-sexual. Meanwhile that same month Alicia Muchado, a former Miss Universe who had been repeatedly criticized by Trump, became a US citizen. In June she came out as a Hillary supporter. When Trump taunted Clinton by threatening to bring Flowers to their first debate, Clinton brought up his treatment of Muchado during the debate—a provocation that worked very much in her favor. This time the Republican was outplayed.

With our current presidential campaign seemingly stuck in the gutter, it can be helpful to realize that nothing is entirely new. When Democrat Grover Cleveland battled Republican James Blaine for the presidency in 1884, Cleveland was faced with a sex scandal. Republicans would chant: “”Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?” When he won New York State by 1,000 votes, the Democrats had the final retort: “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” Cleveland was victorious because Blaine had his own problems with the 19th century version of email. Letters were found which indicated that he sold his influence while in Congress. One such letter concluded “Burn this letter.” So the Democrats chanted “Burn, Burn, Burn this letter”: Now Republicans mockingly sing ”Delete It” to the sound of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”

People sometimes wonder why the 2016 election isn’t a blow out–like McKinley’s laugher in 1896––instead of a race that now seems close and filled with uncertainty. Each candidate has weaknesses ––flaws that would be fatal under other circumstances. Trump as a candidate may be the William Jennings Bryan of the 1896 campaign but this election has finally begun to look more like 1884. You can wonder if Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump will still be friends after this election, or you can read Politicking and Emergent Media and find out how politicking and the world of commercial amusements began to merge in the 1890s.

The Feminist and the Rampaging Elephant

So far as last night’s Second Presidential Debate is concerned, I find it hard to maintain the kind of ironic distance as a position from which to blog.  It was a shameful debate–a debate that started out in the gutter and stayed there. There was Trump’s ludicrous tax plan coupled with his outrage over the Federal Debt, which was absurdist theater but most importantly lost in the avalanche of sexual scandal.  And then there is Global Warming and Climate Change. Campaigning is probably not the place to educate voters on these matters but it is at least worth hearing briefly what they plan to do with it. Trump’s accusation that we are energy dependent is about 5 years out of date.  But he may be appealing to US oil and gas companies which are eager to start exporting the stuff. If we can find an issue that is being debated in the course of their confrontation it is a narrowly focused and distorted form of feminism, which is actually of prominent concern on college campuses: sexual harassment, abuse and worse.

In a funny way if Bush versus Kerry (2004) was a campaign that refought the Vietnam War, this election–some 12 years later is a return to Feminist issues that emerged on campuses–and certainly at Yale where HRC and I overlapped–in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Is any of this worth sorting out?  We might not have any choice.  Obviously media in different forms pays an important role here.

Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight; or, The Symmetries of Politicking

There is no point in hiding my personal preferences regarding this presidential election, but this blog seeks to take an ironic distance on the media scene that surrounds it.  And so two reminders that US Presidential elections often mobilize symmetrical elements.

19finalbiographpicturecatalogmckinleyathomeMy first example is drawn from the 1896 election when the cinema was brand new.  The two major American motion pictures entities in the fall of 1896 were the Biograph company, owned by a number of Republicans including Abner McKinley–the brother of Republican presidential candidate William McKinley, and the Vitascope Company in alliance with the Edison Manufacturing Company.  Biograph filmed McKinley at Home and premiered it in the company’s official debut program at Hammerstein’s Olympia Music Hall on October 12th.  The screening was sponsored by the Republican National Committee, and many powerful Republicans filled the theater to cheer their standard bearer.  Although the Edison group was also pro-McKinley in principle, commercial expediency forced them to promote Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan by filming Bryan Train Scene at Orange, NJ.  The two films were shot two days apart.  Bryan’s operatives had arranged for their candidate to stop in Orange, NJ for a photo-op that the Edison team could not afford to ignore.  McKinley was filmed first, but the Vitascope Company could have easily gotten Bryan Train Scene at Orange, NJ into vaudeville theaters first.  But they failed–almost certainly due to political sabotage.  (It appeared on New York screens exactly one week later but with little fanfare.) One question is: How did the Democrats find out about the plans to film McKinley, so they could respond so quickly? Did they have a mole in the Biograph Company? Had Vitascope partner Norman Raff, who was from McKinley’s hometown of Canton, Ohio, try to film McKinley but was denied access?  Despite the Democrats quick response, they were  completely outplayed by the Republicans in this battle of the motion pictures.

My second example is a contemporary one: Donald Trump’s campaign has formed an alliance with Gennifer Flowers while Hillary Clinton has befriended Alicia Machado.  Hillary has played it cool in the face of the Donald’s amazingly rude and ultimately quite
gennifer-flowersaliciamachadopanteradespicable threat to invite Flowers to attend the first debate and place her in the first row.  (For those who forget, Flowers had a longstanding affair with Clinton back in his days as Governor of Arkansas.) In contrast, when Hillary evoked Machado in their first debate, Trump lost his cool––not only during their TV exchanges but on Twitter later in the week.  The resulting displays of misogyny may well contribute to his undoing, but what might interest us at least for the moment is the symmetry.
In May 2016, as it became clear that DJT was going to be the Republican nominee and HRC was going to be his Democratic rival, Gennifer Flowers opened a new Twitter account (she had closed an old one several years earlier). We should assume that the Clinton camp was keeping tabs on Ms. Flowers, since she had been used as a political weapon against the Clintons in the past and was likely to pop up somewhere again.screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-5-34-06-amTrump’s operatives, we can only assume, were reintroducing Gennifer Flowers to the public, waiting for the right moment to use her in the campaign. That same month an old article in Murdoch’s Daily Mail was updated.

This updated article gained little traction when it appeared, but that changed in the week leading up to the debate when Trump threatened to have Flowers attend as his guest––and she tweeted her acceptance.   In the resulting firestorm of news stories, the Daily Mail profile of Flowers enjoyed renew attention. The on-line journal The Frisky was one of many to jump in:

These days, Flowers writes a sex advice column, “Ask Mistress Gennifer” for, a website dedicated to the lad mag publisher Bob Guccione. There she writes about topics posed by readers, like “I want my boyfriend to dominate me” and “My girlfriend wants me to get circumcised.”  If you follow Mistress Gennifer’s sex tips, you might experience a little bit of Bubba “I’m going to have to thank Bill for some of the advice I’m going to be giving. It will be based on experiences I had with him,” she said. “Really, he taught me a lot.”

Incidentally I have not been able to find “Ask Mistress Gennifer” and is a long dead website. The big “news” that Trump’s operatives were apparently eager to share: Bill and Hill have a kind of arrangement or understanding about his extra-marital affairs because Hillary is bi-sexual. The implication––never quite stated––is that Hillary and Huma (Anthony Weiner’s soon to be ex-) have a thing.

Was it coincidence that Alicia Machado became a US citizen in May 2016 and then became an active Hillary supporter the following month? Trump does not think so.
screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-43-56-am Hillary may well be familiar with the expression, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.” Machado was a Miss Universe when Trump was running the show, and the two had a difficult relationship and ultimately a falling out.  As reported in Wikipedia:

“She has spoken out many times against Donald Trump, who, during her year as Miss Universe, she claims called her “Miss Piggy” because she gained weight and “Miss Housekeeping” because of her Hispanic background.[3] Trump said: “She was impossible” and that “[s]he was the winner and you know, she gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that, her attitude, and we had a real problem with her.”[

Trump was not prepared for pro-Machado remarks during the debate.  In this respect, Hillary used surprise to her advantage.  And as is well-know at this point–Trump started tweeting about the two of them early in the morning of Sept 30th–the day I was on my way to Italy for my book launch (October 4th is the official pub date).

HRC was impressive in the first debate, and she came out on top in the Flowers vs. Machado match up. Trump’s misogyny and his disdain for Latinos were on full display. Nevertheless, it says something about the state of American politics when these two women–both of whom were center folds in Playboy–are at the center of  a presidential campaign that is just one month away from Election Day.  Certainly it gives the lie to the fact that the Donald is a good negotiator and deal maker.  On one hand, Machado was his employee: apparently he failed to have her sign a nondisclosure agreement.  On the other Hillary completely outmaneuvered him.

The Republican candidate would have been wise to remember the 18th century maxim, “Hell has not fury like a woman scorned.”







Who really won the “debate”? Just ask Trump’s Traitors.

As I went to bed on Monday night, I had the unsettling sensation that Hillary Clinton might well have won the debate.  In this I was hardly alone, but my feeling was “unsettling” because I  knew that Clinton was appealing to people like me. So we must be ready to discount our own impressions––as well as the impressions of the liberal media. Indeed, when I woke up the next morning, the Donald offered compelling confirmation that these impressions had indeed been inaccurate:


And this…screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-37-03-pm

Pretty impressive.  And then Mark Shields of PBS fame apparently found HRC to be abrasive and off putting. A colleague of mine said the same thing.





So it must have been true. Donald Trump, reality TV star, knew instinctively what Americans wanted to hear.  And he confirmed it, remarking:

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-11-08-08-pmAnd who can disagree, given that Real Men don’t watch CNN.  Poor Hillary was left posting and boasting about one lousy poll:screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-57-25-pm

Clearly enthusiastic Trump supporters were mobilized to respond, flooding these polling sites as if they were voting for their favorite singer on American Idol. Indeed, as CBS noted, “According to data released by Twitter, Donald Trump dominated Twittersphere. Sixty-two percent of Twitter conversation went to @realDonaldTrump compared to @HillaryClinton who claimed 38 percent.” If nothing else, this confirms what we already know: Trump (but also his supporters) know how to use media–particularly social media–far more effectively than his Democratic rival.

Of course, in the more extended aftermath, as the more scientific sampling came out, our initial impression was confirmed:  Clinton had “won” the debate. But the Charlotte Observer fought back: “Presidential debate surprise: Clinton loses ground among some voters in swing state.” Good for the Charlotte Observer! Their certain to be one of the best seats on Trump press plane.  As CNN perhaps somewhat gleefully reported:

Washington (CNN)Donald Trump is angry that his aides and advisers have conceded to reporters — largely without attribution — that the Republican nominee struggled in his first presidential debate.
In a conference call with surrogates Wednesday afternoon, Trump aides made clear the Republican nominee is upset that his allies publicly acknowledged they pushed him to change his preparation and tactics before his next bout with Hillary Clinton. And he wants them to stop it immediately.
The message was “not subtle,” a source familiar with the call said.
Trump wants his supporters to make an energetic defense of his performance and refuse to concede that he didn’t nail it.

Looking for evidence that would support his contention, Trump emailed his supporters.screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-11-46-10-pmOf course, having assumed the role of an identified Trump supporter, I quickly replied that Trump won the debate.  Didn’t all the polls–particularly the polls on his website–already prove it?
  OK.  This is nothing new, really.  During the 1896 presidential campaign, all major New York City newspapers but one endorsed Republican presidential candidate William McKinley.  The sole exception was William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal.  Hearst insisted that Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan would win New York State–and so the presidential election–until the polls close and the returns proved otherwise.  In fact, Bryan didn’t even manage to carry New York City–the Democrat’s Gibraltar––and lost the state by over 250,000 votes.
So Trump is right to insist that he won the debate whatever the evidence to the contrary.  Nonetheless, he may not be able to have it both ways as he also complains about the questions and his bad mike.  What does the Donald do when he falters in this circumstance? He announces that he will not be so nice the next time and bring up Bill Clinton’s sexcapades. So maybe Gennifer Flowers will finally get that ringside seat that she has been hoping for after all.

Trumped Up, Trickle Down

trump-vs-clintonTonight I am here watching the debates with some Film & Media Studies graduate students…

First it is interesting that there is only one shot–a split screen–of the two candidates, which runs throughout the debate.  The sole exceptions are occasion cuts to the moderator asking a question.  HRC is calling him Donald, perhaps because she would like to be called Hillary–making a clearer separation from her husband.  DJT makes a point of calling her Secretary Clinton perhaps because he wants to appear respectful and so more presidential.

It seems that Hillary is doing pretty well so far. I quickly looked at their Twitter pages. Trump’s twitter page is silent while Hillary Clinton’s page is active as her staff tweets away–very effectively.  This is the upside of the third person twitter feed.  The Donald can’t tweet while he is on stage.



Hillary’s twitter feed on the other hand is often voicing her debate highlights.  I am intrigued by their consistency but at this moment, hers is clearly more effective.

clinton-twiitter-during-debateWoops, I take it back.  His Twitter page must have frozen on my computer–and maybe on others since the Clinton page kept on updating. Did someone hack his twitter page?

Note that Trump is wearing a blue tie and Clinton is wearing a red pants suit.  They switched colors, flipping the usual blue states and red states dicotomy.  What is this about? Was that agreed on in advance–or just coincidence.  A shared gesture to reduce polarization?  I don’t normally go for these fashion analyses but red was a strong color for her–better than white (at the Democratic Convention) or blue. And clearly she has decided that pants suits are the right dress code for these occasions.  She looked good–not like some of those zombie pictures the alt-right likes to show on sponsored posts.


It is going to be interesting to see how voters who are not deeply committed to either candidate are reacting.  It certainly seems from my vantage that Hillary is showing an authority and confidence that make her impressive.  Her line on Trump’s economic plan –“trumped up, trickle down”–is clever.

According to Politico…

A composed Hillary Clinton got under Donald Trump’s skin during their high-stakes showdown on Monday night, with the Republican nominee persistently interrupting Clinton as she needled him on his business record, the size of his fortune and his relationship with the truth.

Certainly Trump’s acknowledgement that he paid no federal taxes and was proud of it should not endear himself to most voters I would think.  But you never know.  Much of this is in the eyes of the beholder.

I bet FOX News disagrees. But maybe not so much.  Here are the headlines:


Some sites are saying that she won big.

So how might this be compared to the 1890s? Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison never met face to face in 1888 or 1892.  In 1896, the only places where William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan met were in the phonograph parlors where adjoining phonographs offered speeches from each one––their words but voiced by someone else. Patrons often compared:

A phonograph parlor arond the time of the 1896 Presidential Election
A phonograph parlor around the time of the 1896 Presidential Election

In 1900, the phonograph was moving into the home.  In their rematch, the candidates were more likely to be given equal time in the vaudeville theaters–by impersonators who would mimic both candidates and by motion picture exhibition services which would show films of both candidates.  These theaters needed to offer balanced programming–otherwise they could lose many of their patrons.

Tonight’s split screen goes back to this notion of symmetry.  As I remember, in the past, the cameras would move around to keep the shots interesting.  Here the candidates knew that they would both be on camera the whole time–speaking or reacting to the other’s speaking.

And of course, this discretely reinforces the two party system.  In the 1890s, there were third, fourth and fifth parties but the major newspapers consistently favored either the Democrat or the Republican.  The media does a lot to keep the two party system in place–then and now.  The televised debate would have us see voting for Johnson or Stein is clearly a throw away vote. They were kept safely off the stage.  The Coke/Pepsi comparison–the split screen–would not have worked nearly as well with three or four candidates. The two candidate comparison undoubtedly worked to Clinton’s advantage. Moreover, I think she ended up on the more desirable side of the screen.  One might also argue that this, too, was a conscious reversal with Trump on the Left and Clinton on the right.  But it was more important for her than for DJT.  One must assume that these were all carefully considered and negotiated.cnn-trump-hillary-998x699The other thing that happened was that she appeared on the right side of the screen

Next time around Donald may insist that he be allowed to be Donald.  The gloves will come off. As he said, he could have said mean things about her and her family but he was trying to be nice.  But it didn’t work.

Politicking on Twitter with Gennifer Flowers

Stop Right Here:


For one moment, let’s just forget the content of the above Tweet. The tweet and so Twitter should interest us as a phenomenon in and of itself.  The social media of choice for Barack Obama was YouTube. So let me quote the first paragraph from my book Politicking and Emergent Media:

In 2008 Barack Obama utilized the new possibilities of the Internet far more effectively than did his rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain, giving the young Senator a crucial edge in the Democratic nominating process and general election. For example: After suffering unexpected defeat in the New Hampshire primary, Obama delivered an inspirational speech on live television in the late evening: “Yes We Can.” Although this address to his disheartened supporters went largely unseen due to the late hour and the many competing campaign narratives of the day, his campaign organization immediately reposted the broadcast to the candidate’s YouTube channel, where it became an Internet phenomenon. Its impact was further augmented by Will.I.Am’s immensely popular “Yes We Can” music video, which echoed Obama’s New Hampshire oratory as an array of performers voiced what may be the most potent campaign song in US political history. This speech is often said to have propelled Obama to the nomination and ultimately the presidency, but it was the Internet that made that possible. Likewise, Obama supporters from around the world expressed their heartfelt enthusiasm for his candidacy on the Internet, usually in song. This ran the gamut from a popular video showing members of Obama for Obama––a group from Obama, Fukui, in Japan––joyously singing “O-B-A-M-A OBAMA!” to a YouTube posting by a young Swedish woman of Finnish ethnicity who was working in the United Kingdom as a nanny: alone in her small, underfurnished room in the early hours of the morning, she sang a song to celebrate his nomination. It would barely receive 100 views.

Has any one gone on YouTube to look for campaign songs this election? It is hard to imagine someone writing a campaign song to celebrate either Clinton or Trump unless it was tongue in cheek–or they got paid a lot of money.    There were a few music videos for Bernie Sanders––such as the Simon & Garfunkel song America. But even then the song wasn’t written about Sanders.  He lacked a “Yes, We Can” song.  But it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.  Internet energy was headed elsewhere–to Twitter.

Twitter is the social media form of the 2016 election, and Donald Trump is not only the master of it, he is the person who made it the media form of choice.  He has 11.7 million followers–not quite 2 million more than Hillary Clinton. But compare the ways each of the candidates use it.  Whatever you think of Trump, you are getting Trump.  It is first person Twitter.  Hillary’s page is all in the third person. Consider how they just handled two key endorsements:

Clinton was endorsed by the NYTimes: clinton-and-ny-times

Her twitter feed shows it off, but frankly I already knew that she got the Times endorsement.  Nothing new here. What did she think about it? Of course it was a certainty but she could have at least offered up a thanks.

That’s what Trump did when he got an endorsement from Ted Cruz:


Of course, I already knew that Cruz endorsed Trump. But I didn’t know how Trump was reacting to Cruz’s cave-in.  Magnanimously as it turns out.  Having been humiliated and defeated by Trump, Cruz finally pays fealty to his lord and master.  Trump could have dismissed the endorsement with distain, sending Cruz to the coal mines, but he didn’t.  He is generous in victory.  In contrast, Hillary’s twitter feed is like a news aggregator.

But let’s now go back to the first tweet:

My God, Donald Trump is taking the low road even as he goes nuclear.  Bringing Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his special guest: Isn’t that misogynistic? It probably is.  But why at this moment? First, it is a response to the announcement by Mark Cuban that he was going to be Hillary Rodman Clinton’s guest at the Monday debate.



Presumably having Cuban at the debate might unsettle or distract the Donald.  The Texas billionaire is not only a Hillary supporter but in longstanding feud with Trump.  It is interesting that Cuban (with his 5.57 million followers) announced this piece of news–not the Clinton campaign.  Perhaps it was Cuban’s idea?  In any case, it makes her look a little weak.

Trump wants to ensure a favorable debate environment for himself.  He doesn’t need a fellow billionaire in the front row mocking him. In any case, the Donald won’t allow himself to be upstaged. So jujitsu. Gennifer Flowers will get a lot more attention from the press than Cuban. Once again Trump is top dog.  He must have been waiting for a chance to play the Flowers card, and Hillary gave him the opening (it was only a question of time). Will we have both Mark Cuban and Gennifer Flowers in the front row?  Who knows.  Las Vegas has probably established the odds already.  The campaigns are doubtlessly negotiating as we speak.  And it will be interesting because this is the kind of “art of the deal” that Trump savors.  So stay tune.  It should ensure a record breaking audience for the first debate.

But haven’t we forgotten something? Well yes. Certainly this is all a lot more titillating than some boring New York Times endorsement, which is hardly a surprise and barely news.  Isn’t your salacious mind much more inclined to google Gennifer Flowers, reflect on her scandalous past with Bill Clinton and speculate on how upsetting it might be for Presidential candidate Clinton to have her in the front row. Why worry about actual issues and the candidates’ vision for America when we have this political blood sport to watch?  Once again Trump seems on top–doing to Clinton what he did to Cruz.

How does this connect with politics in the late nineteenth century?  Well when Democrat Grover Cleveland was running against Republican James Blaine, he was viciously attacked for an illicit affair and a child born out of wedlock.  Blaine’s supporters ridiculed Cleveland by chanting “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa? After Cleveland won in a squeaker,  his supporters happily responded: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.” The Gennifer Flowers card is a powerful one, but it could also backfire.

 More on Flowers in my next post.

Politicking and Emergent Media: US Presidential Elections of the 1890s

Charlie Musser opens a package from UC Press and sees his actual book for the first time.

This is the site where I (Charles Musser) will be talking about media and US Presidential elections both in the present (the 21st century) and the past  (the 19th century).  Perhaps even moments in between.  I am interested in some of the similarities and some of the differences.  cover_musserI am not myself always media fluent.  I’d been trying to get this site off the ground for the last two months.  But today my book Politicking and Emergent Media: US Presidential Elections of the 1890s finally arrived in my mail box.  And it appeared just ten minutes before my first book talk. In fact I opened the package at the presentation (see above).  Fortunately, despite some initial teasing, the  right book was in the package. I eventually turned it into a reverse book signing–getting everyone who was there to sign the book so I know who witnessed this unveiling.  So let me savor this moment. Afterwards I went over to the Digital Humanities Lab and we finally got this website launched as well.  One media form reaches completion, the other takes off. A nice ending to a complicated week.