Eric's Daily Weblog

Trump the Vulgarian

Can Trump keep it up? When will he implode? What explains his rise in the polls? How do we stop him? 

The pundits wring their hands. Josh Marshall thinks Trump is a doofus who uses sophisticated military strategy. Peggy Noonan, who penned the phrase "1000 points of light" for George H. W. Bush, declares Trump to be a sign of molecules in motion. Statistician-pundit Nate Silver assures us Trump will meet his doom. Charles Blow has had enough and will no longer mention Trump's name. George Will was moved to pen a glorious sentence which begins, "Every sulphurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon..."

Pity Ted Cruz, Todd Walker, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal--if you can. As they fight to out-evangelical each other, a heathen bursts through the back doors of the church and steals their "market segment," to use Cruz's phrase. Yes, Trump, despite his pro-choice recent past, despite his obvious lack of a personal faith, leads amongst evangelical voters, the most coveted alleged "bloc" of voters in the Republican primaries.  

FOX News pollster Frank Luntz, a dark genius who assembles focus groups to test out phrases designed to pull the wool over the eyes of voters (it was Luntz who proposed that the super-rich should be called "job creators," and that the estate tax should be renamed the "death tax"), tested a group of 29 Trump supporters, assuming he would find their support to be shallow. He was wrong. "My legs are shaking," Luntz said after the session, so impervious were Trump's supporters to negative truths about their favorite. 

Through it all, Trump blusters on, obscuring his last outrageous statement with the next, dominating the news each day. The country has several months to grow tired of him, but signs that the Trump phenomenon will be short-lived are scarce. 

Too all the theories explaining his rise, I will add mine:

Donald Trump has siezed the moment because he addresses one of the most powerful and prevalent human emotions: shame

A story: In 1986, I spent a summer at Cambridge, England studying history. Most of my fellow students were from the East Coast, a more diverse set than I had been exposed before. 

At dinner one night, I said with pride that I had "jewed down" a clerk who sold me a sweater. The table fell silent. On the opposite side sat Louis Cohen, as Jewish as can be, a gentle soul who was too kind to point out my use of a phrase which had long ago fell into disuse amongst educated folk due to its obvious anti-semitism. 

My face burned red with shame. In the next few moments, I felt several emotions, emotions which I think are key to understanding the Trump phenomenon. After the initial shame, I felt rage. Rage at being shamed. Rage at those educated enough not to make my mistake, rage at the sophisticated, rage at the elite, rage at the restrictions "political correctness" placed upon my free expression, my use of homey phrases, my expression of myself.

Finally, and briefly, my mind tried to feel pride. Pride that I spoke the unvarnished truth. I mean, aren't Jewish people known for being frugal? Pride that I wasn't one of those constipated souls afraid of offending anybody. 

Eventually, I just ate crow and apologized to Louis privately. But my shame lived on to the point where I still blush, 29 years later, at the thought of offending such a nice person, and for acting like such a boor. 

Fast forward to Trump.

Trump shows no shame. He follows each new boorish statement, not with a tortured, contrived apology, but with another even more boorish statement. He is boldly himself, political correctness be damned. He gleefully offends this grievance group, that grievance group--all those educated puff heads who shame people for what amounts to, at the very worst, a mere lack of manners. 

I mean, who doesn't occasionally imitate Asian immigrants? Is it really that bad to indulge in stereotypes? Aren't stereotypes the source of much of or humor, either at the bar or on late night television? Don't stereotypes contain a hint of truth? Am I really a bad person for hating rap music, for preferring hamburgers to beans and rice, for fearing the inner city due to all the black people there, or for using the term "gyp?"

To those who feel shame for being made to feel less because they aren't up on all the things they aren't supposed to say in polite company, Donald Trump's vulgar public persona is pure meth. As he bulldozes forward, they vicariously bask in a sense of deliverance from their shame. Justification of one's base, unfiltered impulses is a powerful drug. Those who enjoy its effects won't give it up easily. 

So, why does Trump lead amongst the white evangelical right? Because he shamelessly proclaims what they see as truth but which they have been made to feel ashamed to say out loud.

Successful evangelical ministers play the same game. "He preaches the truth," admirers say of their popular new minister. But now more now than ever before, "preaching the truth" doesn't mean that the minister bravely preaches a proper theology, or the need to convert, or the need to act decently. No, what they relish is when the ministers bash groups that the pew-sitters deeply despise and fear, people who make them feel shame. Liberals. Gay people. People with many degrees. People of exotic origin who won't give up their traditional food to eat hamburgers. People who talk in different languages so we can't know when they are making fun of us. 

The above is as kind a twist as I care to put on the Trump phenomenon. He is many other things besides shameless. He appeals in other ways. People who feel powerless crave a strong man to cut through the political mess. The frustrated gravitate towards simple explanations and simple solutions to complex problems.

Evangelicals, in particular, often drift towards solutions as efficient as their own conversion. "It changed my life," they say of the latest herbal supplement or multi-level marketing scheme, attributing to it the same powers they often attribute to the Lord.

In Trump, they see a quick fixer. I mean, the guy's a billionaire!

But the real root of Trump's surprising ascendance is his shamelessness. 

It is not to his credit. In a civilized society, we should be polite. We should seek to understand others. We should see things from different perspective. We should learn Spanish. We should eat other foods and not view love for hamburgers as a sign of righteousness. 

But it is work. And you always run the risk of offending somebody along the way--and feeling your face burn with shame. 

Those moments of revelation when you realize that what you were yesterday isn't what you want to be tomorrow have another name: 

Education.

True education hurts. That is why we avoid it and seek refuge in proud ignorance. 

 

 

The Twins secret weapon

The Twins salvaged their season by sweeping the Orioles. Their offense is still stagnant, but their pitching seems to be gaining steam.

On September 1, the rosters expand from 25 to 40. In the past, the Twins have been conservative about bringing up prospects for the month of September. This year should be different.

With one of the richest farm systems in baseball, the Twins could make a September push by filling their bench with some very strong players, many of whom already have some major league experience. A pinch hit here and there could make the difference in a few games, as could an extra couple of arms in the bullpen. 

No team stands to benefit more from September call-ups than the Twins. 

Other thoughts: 

•Sano needs to play defense. He has a presence on the field. Heck, put him at shortstop. He played first base for a while yesterday and even there showed some flair. At bat, Sano has been a force. In the past few games, his home runs have just so barely cleared the fence--he really didn't get ahold of any one of them. But his base hits! Scorched. And he walks. He seems to be in the middle of everything, even as a base runner. Sano is going to create a lot of joy in Mudville. The phrase "not since Killebrew" keeps rattling around my head. 

•Torii Hunter needs to sit on the bench until the end of this season, and then retire. He has no future, and the Twins are a team of the future. Kepler languishes down in the minors hitting .340. He could be getting major league at bats. But no, the Twins give starts to Hunter and Shane Robinson!

•Buxton is in over his head. He needs to quit being a mentoree of Torii Hunter and come into his own. I am sick and tired of Hunter's alleged mentoring. Hunter seems to enjoy his profound wisdom more than anybody. 

•Something's wrong with Mauer. Lingering concussion issues? 

•This kid Tyler Duffy throws a curve almost worthy of Blyleven. 

•Opposing pitchers finally figured out that you can't throw Dozier high fastballs. With that settled, Dozier's bat has cooled. 

•TV announcer Dick Bremer's constant tone of utter amazement is wearing me out. So is his prattle about mentoring. Or his tiresome questions about how one prepares differently if you are batting third as opposed to second. Apparently, adjusting to a new spot in the batting order requires that one run to Torii Hunter for some mentoring. I would turn on Prebus and Gladden on the radio, but as soon as I do, Prebus says "eye-ther" instead of "eee-ther" (for "either") and makes me want to run for the hills plugging my ears. 

•Is it really worth it to chase the wild-card spot when it only gains you a one-game do-or-die playoff, essentially a 50-50 crap shoot? So you lose the game due to one bad pitch and go home. Suddenly you realize that you hung on to Torii Hunter for his playoff experience for two months past his expiration date for no reason. 

•The one failure of Paul Molitor's in-game managing this year has been base stealing. Molitor wants to steal bases, but the players don't execute. Yet he keeps sending them. Inning over. 

•I really enjoy the defensive shifts used by Molitor. Some people hate the strategy and think there should be a rule against moving defensive players around in such a radical manner. Bosh! Shifts bring fan awareness to defensive placement, a facet of the game given short shrift by television. You don't realize until you get to an actual game just how far in the infielders play when they are "drawn in," for example. (Thought: any manager who draws his infield in with Sano at bat should be prosecuted for reckless endangerment of innocent infielders.)

Norway

Lance and I are still shaking off jet lag after a week-long trip to Norway. The excuse for the trip was a wedding of two of Lance's friends, one from Norway and the other from Russia. However, we added a few days to the trip to tour a bit.

Norway is utterly beautiful. We toured the Lysafjord on a boat. Spectacular. However, everything we saw in our short stay was wonderful.

Oslo is a quiet capital. In fact, the whole country was quiet. At breakfast each morning in the hotel people went about their business in utter quietude. Very calming Nordic music played on the sound system as we sipped Norwegoian coffee made to wake up the dead.

Norwegians are very tall. Norway is a land of gentle giants. Norwegians are also very good looking. Walking around Oslo was a bit like trapsing through a photo shoot for some fashion magazine.

The wedding was quite a party. It was good to have a chance to visit with some Norwegians. The proceedings were performed in English.

We then went to Stavanger, a city of 130,000 on the southwest coast. That is the area where the Bergesons came from. In fact, there are statues of people we Bergesons like to think of as relatives all over the city--and the cemetery. There is some doubt as to whether we are actually related to Sigval Bergesen, the billionaire ship builder, but we'll assume the best--and wait for a check. 

Norway is wealthy. However, the myth that they can only support their impressive health care system and transportation infrastructure due to oil is just that--a myth. Although the state does own the oil in the North Sea, only 2% of the annual budget is directly from oil profits. The rest comes from heavy taxation, which nobody seems to mind. They see the benefits. 

 

Vidor and Chopin

Here is the best version of this old chestnut for organ I have heard in a while.  

And my present favorite piece by Chopin.

Mencken on education

It warms my heart whenever H. L. Mencken is cited in a modern publication, as he was today in an article in the Star-Tribune. 

Alzheimer's study

Here is a more local twist on Alzheimer's research, reported in the Crookston Times. 

The problem with most, if not all, of the research findings thus far: The scientists are finding correlation, not causation. So, just because there are certain sticky proteins on the brain doesn't mean those proteins cause the disease; it merely could mean they are a symptom of the disease. Breaking down those proteins, which some new drugs attempt to do, won't necessarily stop the progress of the disease. 

If you read every new study carefully, it eventually becomes apparent that mere correlation is all that is proven. "Coffee may prevent dementia," to use a hypothetical headline, usually breaks down upon closer examination to "coffee drinkers have been shown to develop dementia later in life," with no proof that the coffee addresses the cause of the disease. Instead, the onset of dementia might cause people to drink less coffee. 

Vitamin and quack cure magazines jump on correlations to push their scams; doctors and scientists have to maintain a higher standard. Many people get furious with doctors for not jumping on quack cure bandwagons. The difference between causation and correlation usually explains their reluctance. 

The study of early-onset families is very important, as researchers can know for sure that they are going to develop the disease at a certain age and can measure if their treatments actually delay or prevent onset.

It might seem awful to know in advance that you are going to get Alzheimer's disease, given the horrors of the disease––but I have met some people who, knowing they have the gene for a particular disease, have put themselves in research programs. They report great satisfaction and a sense of purpose at helping do something about their malady over the long-term, even if they themselves may not benefit.  

The problem with Ted Cruz

I have yet to hear any objections to the presidential candidacy of Ted Cruz based upon his most obvious vulnerablity: He was born in Calgary. He is not a "natural born" American citizen, at least by the definition used by defenders of the Constitution who alleged, falsely, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. If Cruz is able to serve as president, the arguments against Obama's "natural born" status become moot. 

I will patientliy await for the defenders of the Constitution to set upon Cruz with the same vigor they showed in attempting to paint Obama as an alien. If they don't, then it would be obvious that they did so, not out of a love for the Constitution, but to exploit Obama's unconventional skin color and name for political gain. And we know that couldn't be the case. 

Twins 5 A's 0

It is fun to have the Twins back, and I love the late night games on the West Coast. The Oakland Coliseum is sort of a relic of the 1970s. Oakland's public address announcer is of the old, booming understated bass school, not given over to the screaming hype of Target Field and most everywhere else. With the TV hooked up to the stereo system in the living room, the stadium noises fill the house. (Lance goes in his office and shuts the door). 

Jack Morris is filling in for the vacationing Bert Blyleven. Morris is a superior broadcaster. Self-effacing, articulate, yet calm. His observations are original, not trite and cliche-ridden. His only problem is his voice is a bit muffled and doesn't cut through the other noise. However, I think Morris tones down Dick Bremer's shrill, overwrought amazement at some stupid statistic the guys in the truck dug up. "I mean, if you eliminate the start against the Orioles in late June, you could make a plausible argument that the best right-handed starter in the Central Division since May 7, with the possible exception of Chris Sale, is Mike Pelfrey." Or Kyle Gibson. Or whomever. Doesn't matter. My eyes glaze over. 

Bremer provides analysis as the play unfolds, which is just irritating. Dozier hits a home run. Before he hits the dugout, Bremer declares, "This is the most electric moment in Target field in years!" That's something you say the next day, not as the moment unfolds. As the moment unfolds, you simply describe. 

These factors seem superficial, but these are the little things that create memories. I remember the summer late-night games in the mid-1970s when I put on the stereo headphones while everybody else slept in the darkened house. I listened to Herb Carneal's gentle baritone until I fell asleep. Back then, Herb and his broadcast partner Frank Quilici knew that their audience dwindled back home after midnight, so they hammed it up a bit, letting their conversations drift off to things like Frank's mother's cooking. 

Quilici had an awful nose-plugged voice. Calvin Griffith got Quilici the broadcasting job to make up for firing him as manager of the Twins. Calvin didn't pay his good players what they were worth, but he had a heart for those on the fringe who needed a few days in the major leagues to qualify for pensions, for example. He'd stick them on the roster for a week or two in September. And he didn't want Quilici to be without work, so he put him in in the broadcast booth despite Quilici's complete lack of natural ability. However, the good rapport between Herb and Frank made them a good team. I think Herb enjoyed those summers bantering with Frank more than any other, despite the futility of the Twins during that time. 

So now we have a fairly good Twins team playing fairly good ball with a propensity for tight, hard-fought games featuring good starting pitching. Twins fans are having a good summer. At some point in my life I suspect I will look back on these summer nights in front of the TV with nostalgia, even for Dick Bremer's perpetual tone of utter amazement. 

 

 

 

Barb

My friend Barb Wang passed away this week. Her funeral is today. She was probably the first or second regular reader of this weblog, and we have corresponded regularly over the past 15  years.

Barb was keenly intelligent, well-read and always thoughtful. I always wished she had a column or some other way to share her thoughts more broadly, as she was an impeccable writer.  

Her last years were difficult. Multiple spine fractures made it difficult for her to even sit at her computer. 

My sympathies to her family on the loss of a truly kind person. 

The Twins at the break

The Twins made it through the All Star break in a good position to make a move towards the top in the last 70-some games of the season.

Howard Sinker, a long-time observer at the Star-Tribune, has a good summation of the first half ot the season. His best observation, I think, is that the running game is still a work in progress under Paul Molitor. Many times, Molitor has sent the runners only to have them caught, thus killing a rally. It seems as if the players are still not able to execute his aggressiveness. That will eventually change as the more athletic younger players learn Molitor's game. 

The best hope for a great finish to the season comes in the form of the Twins' starting pitching. They have plenty. Starting pitching is the anchor of any good team, and the Twins' starters have been even better than their statistics might indicate, and certainly much improved over last year. 

Look at the Tigers for evidence: You can score lots of runs, but if you give up 10, you won't win many games. The Tigers only have two solid starters right now. The Twins have six, and as many as eight if you count Berrios in the minors and Nolasco on the disabled list. 

August is when pitchers wear down. The month will be very telling for the Twins. 

Terry Ryan and Molitor have done a good job trying to get the Twins offense moving.  

Successes:

Eddie Rosario. He is going to be a good one. His defense is solid. His exceptional natural ability with the bat will be accentuated by increased knowledge of pitchers as he goes along. 

Miguel Sano is the real thing. He takes walks. He hits doubles. Hit hits to the opposite field. He hits the ball 500 feet. He will be fearsome! The Twins need to get him a position on the field, however. Nobody wants to be a career DH. I doesn't seem to work. 

Buxton needs to learn, but he should be allowed to do so with the big league team. 

Aaron Hicks has natural talent, but is only now getting his head in the game. Many trips back and forth to the minor leagues used to be the norm. Eventually, things can click, as they seem to be doing now for Hicks. 

I was ready to give up on Joe Mauer, but now he is hitting, and he hits in clutch situations. He is no longer merely average, as he was for the first three months of the season. 

Torii Hunter has been as good as he was last year, which is pretty good. He's also better in the outfield than he was with the Tigers last year. 

Plouffe is doing about what was expected. 

Of course, Dozier has been amazing. 

Failures:

Danny Santana still could be good, but right now his average is 100 points lower than last year. And he still makes some bonehead plays at shortstop. 

Escobar hasn't done much. Vargas looks like a wash-out. Suzuki isn't hitting his weight. 

Over all, the offense had a poor first half. To be 49-40 with the offense in dormancy is a good sign. Every one of the players on the team has the capability to break out in the second half. If two do at a time, that will be enough. 

I have no opinion on the bullpen. Bullpens are always fluid and frustrating. Aaron Thompson succeeded for a while, then went bust. Boyer is a mixed bag. Graham is developing. Perkins is solid. You never know who might step up to do the job. Molitor and pitching coach Neal Allen seem pretty good at playing the hot hand. 

The fun part of a good season is the team looks different at the end than it did in the beginning. The 1987 Twins picked up Don Baylor for September, and he played a role in the World Series win. That same year, the Detroit Tigers ace in the playoffs was a pitcher they picked up in August, Doyle Alexander. 

There are new heroes waiting for their moment. When you have a farm system as rich as the Twins', it might be somebody we haven't even heard of yet.