In this issue of Banter M:
John McCain is Responsible For Donald Trump - There are many competing theories as to why a madman like Donald Trump is running for president. But Ben Cohen argues that John McCain's 2008 bid for the White House paved the way for the emergence of Trump for one, very good reason.
Why Donald Trump's Zero-Percent Tax Rate Turns Me Into a White-Hot Ball of Rage - Bob Cesca explains the unbridled anger he felt after learning Donald Trump hasn't paid any income tax for the past 20 years. Why? Because like most Americans, Bob actually pays his taxes.
In the Aftermath of Donald Trump, How Much Lower Can We Go? - Even if Trump loses the election in November, the damage is done, argues Chez Pazienza. Trump didn't emerge in a vacuum, so what the hell happens to American politics in the wake of his ascension?
John McCain is Responsible For Donald Trump
by Ben Cohen
In 2008, the Republicans running for president would be considered moderate in comparison to the Republicans who ran for president in 2016. While there were a couple of loons in the field that consisted of John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, Alan Keyes, Duncan Hunter and Rudy Giuliani, no one completely crazy made it through to the final three. And when you compare McCain, Romney and Huckabee to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson, the 2008 finalist look like far left Democrats.
After 2008, it became open field for the Republican crazies, and the 2012 lineup was jam packed with the candidates who should have been receiving psychological care rather than running for president. With Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry parading their stupidity on the national stage for months on end it was hard to see how it could get worse. But it did, and 2016 has been so completely insane it is hard to know how to accurately describe what is going on in any meaningful way. The major Republican candidates this year were so far to the right that the word conservative isn't really applicable. The combination of religious nut job Ted Cruz's free market fundamentalism and Donald Trump's half-baked, fascistic vision of America made for a showdown devoid of all hope for the future of humanity. The major Republican candidates weren't advocating a smart, principled 21st century political philosophy, but an archaic form of authoritarianism the rest of the industrialized world has spent 80 years getting away from.
In truth, this trend rightward has been going on for several decades, but the 2008 election marked a seismic shift toward utter, utter madness. So what exactly happened?
While there are many competing theories as to why the Republican Party has gone completely off the rails in recent times -- and probably all of them partially correct -- one figure in the GOP can be held primarily responsible for its descent into intellectual and moral depravity. And that figure would be Sen. John McCain.
While this might seem a stretch to pin the emergence of Donald Trump on the actions of John McCain, when you look at the effect of his presidential candidacy in 2008, it becomes clear that his actions alone legitimized politicians like Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Donald Trump. Because if he hadn't foisted Sarah Palin upon the nation and gave the darkest elements of the American psyche validity on the national stage, there's a good chance we wouldn't be in the situation we are in now with the very future of the human species on the line.
While there has always been a sizable minority of fundamentalist, conspiracy theory prone lunatics in American society, for the most part mainstream society has managed to marginalize them. But as soon as McCain decided that the only way to revitalize his ticket after the disastrous Bush years was to bring on a barely literate airhead who was more interested in using campaign donations to expand her wardrobe than run for office, every moron with a gun and a 4x4 started believing his opinion actually mattered. And as the feckless media continued their "both sides are equal" mantra, they started to.
In a deeply revealing interview with New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait, President Obama noted that he saw "a straight line" from the announcement of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential nominee "to what we see today in Donald Trump." When asked about the almost unprecedented Republican obstructionism and partisan nature of politics in Washington today, Obama stated the following:
I see a straight line from the announcement of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential nominee to what we see today in Donald Trump, the emergence of the Freedom Caucus, the tea party, and the shift in the center of gravity for the Republican Party. Whether that changes, I think, will depend in part on the outcome of this election, but it’s also going to depend on the degree of self-reflection inside the Republican Party. There have been at least a couple of other times that I’ve said confidently that the fever is going to have to break, but it just seems to get worse.
It must be remembered that Sarah Palin did not emerge by herself. She was plucked out of almost complete obscurity by McCain and his team, and touted as a "breath of fresh air" for the party and the country. At the age of 71, you could understand why McCain chose a younger woman to boost his favorability amongst women and young people, but he did no vetting whatsoever and is single handedly responsible for giving credence to a woman with no business running for office. The Palin phenomenon was a terrifying sight to anyone with a functioning brain and concern for the future of the country, and McCain's implicit endorsement of unadulterated idiocy as a legitimate political philosophy should be seen as an act of treason. As Andrew Sullivan wrote at the time:
McCain made a decision [in picking Palin] that revealed many appalling things about him. In the end, his final concern is not national security. No one who cares about national security would pick as vice-president someone who knows nothing about it as his replacement. No one who cares about this country's safety would gamble the security of the world on a total unknown because she polled well with the Christianist base. No person who truly believed that the surge was integral to this country's national security would pick as his veep candidate a woman who, so far as we can tell anything, opposed it at the time.
McCain has never apologized for this fatal mistake. To the contrary, he has continued to enable it and has gone as far as endorsing Donald Trump -- a man who insulted him in the most appalling way imaginable.
John McCain is proud of his moniker "Maverick" -- a nickname that would infer extreme independence and boldness. But McCain is no maverick, and his behavior in recent years betrays the rotting of his integrity. Because McCain is no longer independent and no longer bold. He is simply a hack politician who sold his soul for glory and refuses to take responsibility for the almighty mess he left his country in.
Next: Why Donald Trump's Zero-Percent Tax Rate Turns Me Into a White-Hot Ball of Rage - by Bob Cesca
Why Donald Trump's Zero-Percent Tax Rate Turns Me Into a White-Hot Ball of Rage
by Bob Cesca
Here's one of the many reasons why Donald Trump's apparent zero-percent effective tax rate for the last 20 years infuriates me. Again, there are myriad other political, moral and policy reasons, but this one is deeply personal.
I pay my taxes.
It's not quite that simple, but it basically comes down to that. For most of my adult life, I've paid federal income taxes every year. Like you, I've received refunds from overpaying during certain years, and, in a few harrowing years, I've had to pay significantly at tax time. I've had to pay a lot, in fact. So much so that I've had to engage the IRS in the sad, pointless task of negotiating lesser amounts.
Back in 2007, I was blogging for The Huffington Post while simultaneously running a cartoon studio. At the time, I didn't realize that it was the last year in which my studio actively produced cartoons because halfway through we began to feel the distant early warning signs of the forthcoming Great Depression.
Likewise, during that Summer, another animation professional named John Kricfalusi, the creator of "Ren & Stimpy," baseless and publicly accused me of stealing one of his characters and threatened to sue me. Suffice to say, the charges were ludicrous but the threat was enough to scare away a potential buyer who was interested in acquiring my studio. (The Kricfalusi story is a tale for another Banter M edition.)
Between the lawsuit that didn't go anywhere and the forthcoming recession, work for my studio slowed to a crawl. I was forced to short-sell my studio space; I also had to fire my dwindled staff and move the operation in the basement of my house -- a house, which, three long and desperate years later, would succumb to foreclosure in the belly of the crisis.
However, for the first six months of 2007, business was booming enough so that my studio turned a profit -- for the eighth consecutive and final year. In other words, the first half of the year was lucrative enough to carry the subsequent six months. But because the work dried up, and unbeknownst to me, my accountant wasn't making sizable enough quarterly payments for the rest of 2007.
By 2008, the recession was crushing everything in its path, including and especially the animation business, which is often seen as a luxury by studios and networks when revenues are good enough to afford the more expensive genre. When the economy sucks, no one wants to pay for cartoons.
At tax time, while also struggling to pay my mortgage and utility bills for my family, my accountant informed me that I owed the IRS $28,000 in taxes for 2007. Worse, the profits from the first half of 2007 had completely dried up by April, 2008. I distinctly remember feeling like George Bailey on the bridge during the third act of It's A Wonderful Life -- desperate, broke and no immediate way out. The money I was earning in 2008 was only enough to keep my house afloat and food in the fridge.
Being in this kind of tight spot, there's no really good way out. If there's no money, there's no money, and my priority became simply making sure my bank didn't take my house. All I could do was to make monthly payments as best I could, while racking up more credit debt to try and mitigate the interest and penalties.
2008 was kind of a blur -- hopeful in so far as Barack Obama won the presidency, but tragic in so far as I was running out of options as the economy fully crashed that Fall.
And it only got worse. My tax due for 2008 wasn't nearly as bad as 2007 because I was earning much less, and even though I had tried to make quarterly payments, it wasn't enough. Another $8,000 was added to my tab in April, 2009. When I got the word, I proceeded about two activities: firing my accountant once and for all, and driving to my attorney's office to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. There were no other options. I was broke. My car was repossessed, I was behind on my mortgage and a home equity loan I had taken out several years earlier, and I still had business debt in the hundreds of thousands.
The Chapter 7 put a stay on IRS collection activities, gratefully, not to mention the nightmarish creditor phone calls. Once the bankruptcy proceedings wrapped up in August, 2009, all of my debt was discharged -- except for the close to $40,000 in back taxes from 2007 and 2008. Tax debt never gets discharged.
Between 2009 and early 2015, long after the recession faded, I fought the IRS with the help of a lawyer, my friend Charles Bowen, in order to reach an Offer in Compromise that was ultimately rejected after months of document submissions and, it seemed, colon X-rays. In the meantime, though, an old colleague from MTV hired me to develop an animated TV pilot and the leftover revenue was enough to cover my back taxes. In February of 2015, my debt was erased and the tax lien the IRS socked me with in 2009 was stricken from my credit report. (Of course, I also had to pay taxes on the revenue I used to pay the back taxes.)
This is the sort of hellscape that normal people have to deal with, unlike Donald Trump, who, simply because he lost a billion dollars of other people's money (winning!), was somehow able to carry those losses forward in the form of tax deductions that, according to The New York Times, knocked his effective tax rate to zero. For nearly 20 years.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't resent the living fuck out of Trump for an endless menu of reasons -- this one, the tax thing, being near the top of the list. I didn't have a high-end team of Manhattan tax attorneys and accountants at my disposal to handle my crisis. (Trump isn't the "smart" one for not paying taxes. He simply hired smart and expensive people to do the work for him.) My former accountant, who ran her firm out of her garage, would've never in a million years taken the risks that Trump's team has taken -- exploiting the gaping tax loopholes that keep the wealthy wealthy and the rest of us scrambling just to make ends meet. Most of us, with our H&R Block and Quicken tax preparation tools, don't have the resources to risk Trump's annual audits, so we end up paying out the ass.
I should note here that I don't mind paying taxes. I do mind, however, paying more than what's fair compared with the super-rich, especially given that entitled bastards like Trump aren't paying a goddamn thing even though they can easily afford a lot more. While they've profited greatly despite it, progressive taxation is under constant assault by Trump and his peers, while millions of "suckers" who make less money than I do and who have greater financial burdens than mine are the first in line to be utterly porked. And it'll only get worse if one of these gold-plated Republican pigs implements a flat tax -- arguably the worst idea to emerge out of modern conservatism. Tell me, who's better suited for a flat tax of, say, 14 percent? A laborer who earns $20,000 per year and is forced to pay $2,800 in federal taxes, or a billionaire (??) like Trump who can easily afford to pay millions in taxes and never miss it? (Putting a multi-billionaire's income into perspective: someone who's earning, say, three billion per year could give you or the federal government a billion dollars in cash, and he'd still have two billion dollars. From that year alone.)
When Bernie Sanders talked about the "millionaires and billionaires," it's this kind of unforgivable disparity that's at the core of his income inequality crusade. The system offers elite earners colossal tax advantages that simply aren't available for middle classers like you and me. I completely get the idea that wealth affords us certain material advantages and comforts, but the advantages shouldn't be ones that are systemically unfair or, in some cases, punitive against lower earners. I've faced business losses and, like you, the crushing impact of the recession, but I've always paid my taxes via standard or itemized deductions that've been tallied by modestly equipped tax professionals. Trump, on the other hand, has sashayed between the rain drops and, aside from expenses, has pocketed nearly every dollar he's earned through financial masturbation -- through whoring out his name.
Why? Because he can afford to play fast and loose with the tax code -- a tactic unavailable to the rest of us without serious legal repercussions. Tax code problems aside, those who can afford the help end up paying far less than those of us who are on our own.
We have so many reasons to be furious with Trump and his supporters, but his tax situation is one that ought to have mustered thousands of torches and pitchforks to permanently gather outside Trump Tower. And many of those enraged citizens should be the same kinds of people who are voting for him next month -- in spite of themselves.
Next: In the Aftermath of Donald Trump, How Much Lower Can We Go? - by Chez Pazienza
In the Aftermath of Donald Trump, How Much Lower Can We Go?
by Chez Pazienza
Donald Trump is an idiot. This is the kind of thing that shouldn't ever be forgotten, not by anyone at any time. For decades he's conflated comically exaggerated financial success, breathtaking arrogance, and the largesse of a legitimately wealthy father with an abundance of personal intelligence. But the truth has always been that Trump is a dummy, one who attempts to make up for his lack of erudition by dazzling those around him with the garish spoils of his supposed big business victories. In the end, cut through the gold thrones, the penthouse view, and the parade of Eastern European models he calls the gossip pages as "John Barron" to promote his relationships with and all that's left is a pompous hack in a cheap tie -- a tie made in China.
For some reason, for me at least, nowhere is the reverse correlation between Trump's narcissism and his cranial capacity more pronounced than when he talks about his temperament. Obviously, Hillary Clinton has gotten under his skin by insulting his overall personality and temperament, claiming that they make him not just unqualified by entirely unfit for the presidency of the United States -- the highest and most influential position on the planet. To counteract Clinton's criticism, Trump has insisted over and over again that, in fact, he has the perfect temperament to be president -- because he has a "winning temperament." Whatever the fuck that means. See, that's exactly it: "Winning" is by no means an adjective that makes sense being attached to "temperament." There's no such thing as a "winning temperament"; it's just that Trump is so used to claiming that he's a winner that he figures that word goes with anything.
Donald Trump is too stupid and too arrogant to realize that a winning temperament just isn't something people have, not even him. And he's one step away from the White House. This offensively stupid, willfully ignorant, racist, nativist, misogynistic pathological liar and thin-skinned bully is a single vote away from becoming the most powerful person on earth. Now granted, there's a better than average chance he won't win -- that Hillary Clinton will knock his dick in the dirt. But as unthinkable as it is, at best she's going to win by maybe five or six points when, in a sane world, she would utterly blow him out. Clinton needs to utterly annihilate Trump so that a) he can't claim that the election was stolen from him by Crooked Hillary and be taken seriously, and b) not just Trump goes down in flames but the grotesque alt-right movement he's given voice to is silenced everywhere but the bowels of the internet from which it came, as well.
But here's the problem: What's next? Even if Trump loses, the damage is done, so what happens to American politics in the wake of his ascension? Throughout the course of this ghastly race, myself and my Banter colleague, podcast partner and good friend, Bob Cesca, have pondered aloud the obvious ramifications of Trump's Cinderella candidacy. It works like this: Trump didn't occur in a vacuum; he's not a one-off deal. In fact, the rise of Trump has always represented the culmination -- or at the very least, the next logical step -- for a Republican party that's willfully let itself careen off the rails over the last several years. As the years have gone by, the bar has been lowered over and over again -- so what happens in a post-Trump world? What happens when the bar is lowered beneath the ground.
Because that's the thing about lowering the bar -- every time it's dropped, that represents a new standard, a "new normal" to stoop below. Barring some sort of societal shift, there's really nowhere to go but down because we've already learned to accept the crazy we're at. Put it this way: Sarah Palin changed the political landscape in 2008. She was so gleefully ignorant, so completely out of her depth, so obviously a reality TV star in the making that she had no business being anywhere near a U.S. presidential ticket. And yet she was. And her presence there shifted everything down. She paved the way for Donald Trump. Without Palin, there would likely be no Trump. So here's the question: Who is Donald Trump paving the way for? Imagine that for a moment.
Granted, Trump is a singular cultural presence. It takes a special kind of all-encompassing narcissism to lie as unapologetically as he does, to traffic in the kind of shamelessness he does, to be so thoroughly full of shit and not fret one bit about that. Trump doesn't play by anyone's rules other than his own. He makes his own reality and refuses to accept the facts the rest of us adhere to. He's the embodiment of the Fox News bubble, only inflated even further because he's got more hot air at his disposal even than the institution that's permanently damaged GOP politics by giving the fringe its own fantasy world. Trump is that fantasy world times a thousand and made human and sentient.
So what happens next? What happens if Trump loses in November? Besides him refusing to concede, which is a distinct possibility because Trump has nothing to gain by admitting defeat and to do so would go entirely against his "winning" temperament, what will the loss mean for the party and whoever follows in the wake of Trump? If you've noticed how quiet guys like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus have been over the past few months, as Trump has shambled from one PR catastrophe to another, it's pretty obvious that if Trump wins they'll cyncially embrace the fact that he's nominally a Republican and revel in his conservative Supreme Court pics and the paleo-GOP policies he'll push through. If he loses, they'll disavow his entire campaign, pretending he never existed rather than doing even an second of soul-searching or hand-wringing.
But who will rise in the wake of a Trump defeat? The bajillion assholes with Pepe the Frog avatars on their Twitter feeds aren't going anywhere and they've loved their brush with the legitimization. Someone will know that this audience exists and that it wants a voice. It's not the least bit discerning -- quite the opposite, in fact. It wants ranting and raving, bullying and bluster. It wants what Trump gave it, maybe multiplied by a dozen. It doesn't care about intellect since it wants ignorance. Trump, some have said, is like a YouTube comment section come to life and running for the highest office in the world. So what could possible top that -- and by top that, I mean slide underneath that? Underneath that ever-dropping bar. And once that bar drops even further, below even Donald Trump -- which is admittedly unthinkable -- who comes on the scene then?
How low can we go?