Banter M Issue 60

In this week's edition of Banter M:

Trump's House of Cards - After what can only be described as a week of utter insanity, Ben Cohen reveals the main reason why Donald Trump's campaign is imploding in the most spectacular way conceivable. 

Would You Vote for a 'Democratic Trump'? - Bob Cesca asks a particularly difficult question: if Democrats had their own version of Donald Trump running for president, would they vote for him or her? 

Gone Girl - Chez Pazienza writes a painful and emotional account of having to say goodbye to his 8 year old daughter when she moves across the country, and how he will attempt to deal with the heartbreaking separation that only a parent could fully understand. 

Trump's House of Cards

by Ben Cohen

A few days ago I was speaking to a member of my family and discussing why I thought The Daily Banter had ultimately succeeded after many years of struggle. I thought about it for a while, and came to a rather simple conclusion: talent.

If it had not been for the writers I built the site with, my vision for the site simply could not have been realized. 

I had some fairly simple goals when I started the Banter professionally -- be open, be funny, and maintain the quality and integrity at all costs. The original team consisted of Bob Cesca, Chez Pazienza and myself, and we worked day in day out to make a name for ourselves. The site grew month after month for several years, and as the site expanded, so did the team. The criteria for joining us was very narrow: be able to write really, really well.

While our blood sweat and tears were responsible for much of the success, our continued ability to attract visitors back to the site was down entirely due to the talent of the writers. If you could articulate yourself well, you were in. And over the months and years, our focus on talent has kept us growing consistently and means we now have a sustainable independent website that -- touch wood -- is completely free from outside interference. 

I bring this up because of what we are seeing in the Donald Trump campaign -- a venture that is so completely devoid of talent it is remarkable they have raised any money for their candidate whatsoever. It is this lack of talent that I believe will be Trump's ultimate undoing. And it is not something he can change. Trump's brand is so toxic that he simply cannot attract anyone vaguely competent to come in and turn the train wreck around.

After firing birther advocate Corey Lewandowski as his campaign manager, Trump brought in Paul Manafort -- an aggressive and corrupt political hack who made a career advising brutal Third World dictators. While Manafort is begrudgingly respected in Washington DC for his thuggish approach to politics, he is no David Plouffe and no Robby Mook. And with the ongoing crises that are occurring on an almost daily basis, it is unlikely Manafort will get much work after this. 

In an age of instantaneous news and public reaction, campaign teams and policy advisors must be highly intelligent and adaptable in order to keep their candidate on the pulse and in the race. They need to properly prep their candidate before any media appearance, understand the press, deal with crises, and above all develop a coherent strategy. Trump's team has been able to do none of the above, partly because their candidate is so volatile, but in large part due to their combined ineptitude. The campaign team consists of yes men and women who don't stand up to him and won't intervene when he makes offensive and nonsensical statements. That they could not even be bothered to create an original speech for Melania Trump at the Republican National Convention speaks not only of their lack of professionalism, but a sloppiness that has no place in the upper echelons of campaign politics. It was an amateur mistake so egregious that any sane candidate would have fired every single member of their campaign team. But of course Trump cannot, because no one with any credibility wants anything to do with him. If Manafort had a shred of dignity, he would have resigned over the gaffe, but of course he's likely in it for the money and not much else at this point.  

The convention was perhaps the most bizarre, half assed spectacle in modern political history. Trump's team put together a list of F list celebrities, underwear models, and a fight promoter and had them speak in primetime slots about how great a guy Donald Trump is. "The nominee seemed to mine the very bottom of his Rolodex for the exercise," wrote Matt Taibbi of the event. "To the point where we even heard a testimonial from Natalie Gulbis, the world's 492nd-ranked professional woman golfer." Quoting Gulbis, Taibbi continued:

"The first time I played golf with him, in 2005, I shared two things I had told countless CEOs, billionaires and politicians before him," said Gulbis. The two things sort of turned out to be one thing, i.e., that she wanted to open a Boys & Girls Club and she was tired of having such business ideas rejected.

"Those words previously fell on deaf, albeit well-intentioned ears," she went on. "But that day was different. They finally fell on ears that cared enough to take action." Trump funded her Boys & Girls Club!

Who in Trump's campaign team gave the green light for this? In what world were any of them living in to think any of the dimwitted minor celebrities delivering dull paeans to Trump would play well with the electorate they need to attract to win? While it may have catered to the Sarah Palin crowd of social climbers and lawn mowing dads with shot gun collections, everyone else thought it was an utter disaster. It wasn't just bad, it was sad

Earlier this year, The New York Times reported on Trump's foreign policy team -- a group of people literally no one had ever heard of:

When Donald J. Trump finally began to reveal the names of his foreign policy advisers during a swing through Washington this week, the Republican foreign policy establishment looked at them and had a pretty universal reaction: Who?

Many foreign policy experts have been wondering for months about who might be counseling the leading Republican presidential candidate, who has unfurled such provocative proposals as reinstating waterboarding and barring foreign Muslims from entering the country.

Mr. Trump has promised to hire the world’s brightest minds to make up for his lack of political experience, but his new foreign policy team left some of the country’s leading experts in the field scratching their heads as they tried to identify his choices. 

It isn't exactly a wonder Trump has not been able to get anyone vaguely competent to advise him on foreign policy given he doesn't have any concept of how international relations are conducted, or even a basic knowledge of the world outside of America. In just the past week it was revealed that Trump not only didn't know that Russia has already invaded Ukraine, but wondered out loud why the US couldn't just nuke its enemies

When Sarah Palin joined John McCain's campaign as his VP pick in 2008, she at least had experienced policy advisors around her who tried to inform her about the basics of the world outside of America. She was obviously too simple to grasp what they were saying in any meaningful way, but Palin was broadly kept on message after a disastrous start and was managed ruthlessly until the bitter end. 

Of course there is no one managing Trump though, and the wheels are coming off his campaign faster than anything we've seen in recent history. This, ultimately, is what happens in organizations headed by idiots and staffed with idiots. The dysfunction is simply breeding more dysfunction, and there are no grown ups stepping in to stop it. 

It is a remarkable spectacle to observe -- one of America's supposedly greatest businessmen falling apart in the most public and humiliating way possible. Above all though, Trump's spectacular implosion is proving the bluster and bravado of his brand is nothing more than an act covering up the flimsy house of cards he has built his legacy on.  

Because when this is all over, the American public will know who the real Donald Trump is -- an ignorant, narcissistic sociopath who rose to the top for all the wrong reasons, and fell because he ultimately had no talent. 

Next: Would You Vote for a 'Democratic Trump'? - by Bob Cesca

Would You Vote for a 'Democratic Trump'?

by Bob Cesca

As I write this piece, the following headlines are dropping all around. 

  • Trump's staffers are reportedly suicidal. 
  • Trump's campaign architect, Paul Manafort, is apparently "mailing it in." 
  • Trump doesn't understand why we can't use our nuclear weapons against our enemies.
  • Trump gets into a feud with a baby.
  • Judge Curiel, presiding over the Trump University case, ordered Trump to stand trial for racketeering.  
  • The GOP is planning to replace Trump in case he suddenly drops out.
  • And just a few minutes ago, Trump was speaking in Daytona Beach, Florida, when he told his throng of angry white superfans that he watched a video of Iranians unloading from an airplane $400 million in cash from President Obama. While the transfer of cash did, in fact, occur, it's impossible to find any actual video of it being unloaded. So, either Trump made up the story about the video or he watched it as part of one of his national security briefings. Either way, he said it was "the first thing" he saw this morning.
  • Later, at the same rally, Trump admitted that he was, in fact, mocking disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski. Trump screamed, "He was groveling!" and "I won't do the [arm] motions because... [trailed off]."

That's 24 hours of Trump, and if Wednesday's rallies were any indication, he's definitely not pivoting to be more presidential any time soon. As Hillary Clinton said during her acceptance speech, "There is no other Donald Trump. This is it."

Not too long ago, I raised a question on Twitter that I'd been thinking about for some time. We also discussed this question a few times on my podcast, co-hosted by The Daily Banter's own Chez Pazienza. It's intended as a thought experiment to determine the willingness of Republicans to vote against their party because they can't stomach Trump's style and the potential existential nightmare of a would-be Trump presidency.

One more time in proper non-Twitter English: Is there a Trump-like leftist who you'd vote against if he or she was nominated for president by the Dems?

The most tweeted answer was Alan Grayson, followed closely by Cornel West. Other names included Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Uygur, Michael Moore or Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Sounds like my readers, doesn't it?) 

If you've heard my recent monologues on the podcast, you'll already know that I'd have to go with either Cornel West -- or another "West" named Kanye. If the election came down to a contest between a less kooky Republican like John Kasich or even Mitt Romney and either of the Wests, I'd have a really, really difficult time voting for the Democrat. Not solely because he'd be far more ideologically radical than I am, but simply because either West would be utterly embarrassing, as they already are today. 

If I had to narrow the two options down to one nominee, the most Trump-like Democrat would probably have to be Kanye and not Cornel. At least Cornel is erudite. Even though he seems earnest, Kanye is just an ego-maniacal trainwreck, not to mention a serious doofus. Shortly after "announcing" his 2020 presidential run, Kanye said, “I’ve already decided that when I’m at debates and I don’t know, I’ll say, ‘Look I don’t know, I’ll get back to you,” Yeah, awful grammar aside, something tells me that'd happen a lot. A Kanye West presidency would be hell on Earth in so many ways, potentially banishing the Democratic Party to the fringes while squandering all of the progress that's been made since the triumph of the Obama presidency. 

That's not to say Cornel is a much better option. He's not. In fact, while watching the most recent edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, I had no choice but to mute the television every time Cornel spoke, but not before Cornel made the buggy-eyed case that Jill Stein could actually win the general election, noting that Bernie Sanders once polled at three-percent and look what happened. An academic like Cornel ought to have known that the electoral college discourages third party victories, making it nearly impossible to win. Just ask Ross Perot, who won 18 percent of the popular vote in 1992, but won exactly zero electoral votes. Nevertheless, Cornel is a cartoon character, complete with eccentric costume and hair. No thanks.

While discussing the exact same question Tuesday night on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, podcaster Sam Seder raised a salient observation about the validity of this particular thought experiment. Seder told Hayes that it's impossible to select a "Trump of the Left" because Trump is a uniquely Republican Party phenomenon. He said that Trump is the consequence of the GOP's slow-motion divorce from facts, science and reality throughout at least the last sixteen years. Trump himself likely wouldn't rise to be the nominee of the Democratic Party because Democrats aren't wired to support an ignorant despot like him, even if he superimposed progressive ideas into his scattered rants instead of paleoconservative ones.

It's a fascinating-though-nearsighted take on the discussion. While there are more than a few embarrassing weirdos on the Democratic side, exactly none of them would be capable of rising to Trump's current status because Democratic voters are more savvy and wise to the shenanigans of clowns and trolls. So, while I think Seder is correct on that point, I also think he's missing the core idea of the experiment, which is to think like GOP voters today: are there Democrats whom you'd vote against if nominated? If the answer is no, you'd probably vote for Trump if you were a Republican. If yes, you'd be intellectually honest enough to sidestep Cornel or Kanye or Alan, licking your wounds after the fact and looking to the next election. (There are also down-ballot choices, by the way, to check and dampen the power of the executive.)

Contra-Seder, the Democratic Trump would speak and behave differently than today's Republican Trump. He or she wouldn't market in xenophobia or violence, that's for sure. But he or she might bring other forms of risky, awful narratives to the table. The Democratic Trump wouldn't market in misogyny or racism, though he or she could propose wildly unattainable ideas and nearly unlimited investigations into former Obama officials. Indeed, Obama's use of drones might even be viewed as a war crime by this hypothetical chief executive and subsequently targeted for investigations. The Democratic Trump is easily capable of ranting incoherently during rallies. The Democratic Trump might pop-off with random nonstarter ideas. Like the real Trump, the Democratic Trump might pose a serious threat to our national reputation abroad and national security at home, while refusing to offer consistent, disciplined, thoughtful leadership. Beyond anything else, the Democratic Trump could very easily step outside the boundaries of constitutional and traditional constraints, just like the real Trump.

So, no, there's no literal one-to-one Trump equivalent. But there are absolutely Trump-like leaders on the left simply because, yes, there are powerful weirdos on the Democratic side. Not nearly as many as on the GOP side. But enough. The good news is that it's highly unlikely one will ever rise to become the nominee. We can thank the necessary superdelegate system for that, along with a much larger percentage of sensible Democrats than Republicans.

Ultimately, in order to attain a sense of what our political opponents are thinking, it's important to slide our feet into their big, fat clown shoes for a moment. The Republicans who are putting country ahead of their party (and issues!) right now by voting against Trump should therefore be applauded. It's just a shame that it required this kind of presidential brinksmanship to push them into the light. Likewise, would we, as Democrats, be willing to forego our issues, and perhaps the Supreme Court, in order to stop a potential Trump-like Democrat from destroying not just everything that's been achieved but much, much more? As difficult as it might be, the answer has to be "yes." 


Gone Girl

by Chez Pazienza

The other day, as I drove Inara from our weekend together down to her birthday party, where I already knew I would stay with her for a little while then kiss her goodbye and go, she asked me to change the radio station in the car. She saw a channel she didn't recognize on the dashboard monitor and requested it. I'd never really listened to KCSN, the college radio station at Cal State Northridge, but as I do so often, I acquiesced to her desires. And so, I clicked over -- and was confronted with the opening strains of Joni Mitchell's beautiful cover of Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. My daughter asked who it was who was singing. I told her. I explained that it was one of the greatest singer-songwriters to ever grace this planet and that if she had the chance she should listen to as much of her material as possible. She said that she really liked it. Somewhere in my mind, I took a snapshot of the moment, because it was something magical I never wanted to let go of. It was a moment I wanted to return to again and again and again during the times she was far away from me. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. It was so perfect it was enough to nearly bring me to tears.     

I had a ritual. It was how I kept myself sane for years. Every time I dropped my young daughter off at her mother's home after our time together, I'd make it a point to, immediately afterward, do something brazenly adult. Actually, maybe adult is the wrong word. I would do something to signal to my brain not only that I was an adult but that I was a single man, completely independent, with the ability to do anything he wanted because there was nothing to hold him back and no restrictions placed on him by anyone. I would commit an act of defiance against the supposed strictures of parenthood. I would figuratively spit in the face of the person I had been for the past few weeks or even months. When Inara's mother lived in New York and I was in Miami, this was easy, as I would simply stay an extra few days in the city after the hand-off -- drinking, eating, doing adult things with adult friends. One time, however, when her mom picked her up at the airport in Florida, I remember driving to a nearby mall after watching my daughter walk away from me and into the next agreed-to two-month-long separation -- wiping away hot tears the entire way -- and plunking down $500 on a tight leather moto jacket. That was how I told myself that the "other" me was back and that I was just fine with it.

This was my ritual. It was designed to highlight the schizophrenic nature of my life rather than hide from it. It was me taking full ownership of my dual-identity as a means of maybe, just maybe, making it hurt a little less. It was a lie I told myself quickly and authoritatively -- that it was good to be without my child for a while. 

Two years ago, the ritual was finally put to rest. It was put to rest because I didn't need it anymore. My daughter, who was five at the time and whose entire life to that point had been spent living half or even most of her life in a different city in a different state was finally moving to my state, within driving distance of my city. Inara and I were spending our last day together for a while, eating hot dogs at Carney's on Sunset, when I got the text from my ex telling me that she and her husband were selling their house and moving to Laguna Beach. As we were walking outside, on a cool late afternoon under a brilliant blue sky, I squatted down to be level with her and said to my little girl, "Hey, guess what? You're moving here." What happened next is sculptured in my memory and on my soul in high relief. She seemed to take it in for the briefest moment, processing what she'd just heard, but then a smile crept across her face as her eyebrows peaked and her brown eyes grew wide. "Really?" she said in almost a whisper -- then threw her arms around me and held me tightly. It was finally happening. I was going to be able to watch my child grow. I would be able to attend dance recitals, and go to school events, and spend weekends with her at a time. She would simply know that I was always there -- just a little over an hour away.

For the past two years I have indeed attended dance recitals. I even took her to a competition in Las Vegas that turned into a three-day dad-daughter adventure. I have indeed taken her to school events, like her elementary school's Halloween carnival. And I have indeed spent weekends and more with her, always with the knowledge that we were a mere car ride apart. Not once have I ever taken this new and improved situation for granted. True, my work schedule has always been hectic -- and is now exponentially more so -- but having Inara close has felt like a gift from a benevolent deity. She's gone from being a sweet and curious five-year-old with a brilliantly offbeat sense of humor to a brash, confident eight-year-old with the same humorous bent, all seemingly in a flash. And that's the thing: There are times when it feels like the past two years have been a long and worthwhile journey with Inara, from one little milestone to the next, and times when it feels like the whole thing has gone by in an instant.

It's the latter half of that equation that now feels like some cruel trick, because as of this moment the life I've had with my daughter for the past two years is officially over. She's moving again. Her mother and she, along with my ex's husband, will be going back to where they lived before they moved here. They have a new baby in the family and their home in Laguna Beach is too small -- plus his business is elsewhere -- so they made the decision to pack it up and make a return trip. Believe it or not, I understand. I get why they're making the move and logically it makes perfect sense, which is probably why I'm not the least bit angry or resentful. What I am, however, is hurt beyond the words to properly express it. I don't want to be apart from my little girl again. I don't want her to feel like her father isn't real but is instead some distant mirage on the horizon, that day to day he doesn't really exist except as a phantom. I don't want to miss all the things I used to have to miss, especially now that she's getting older and those wayposts on the road of her life come more frequently and at a quicker pace. I don't want to feel like I'm an outsider, not really a part of her "family." And I don't want to go back to the ritual. I don't want to go back to the hurt.

There was a specific reason for the ritual. It was designed not just to make an abstract statement but to overcome a concrete crisis. After spending weeks into months with my child and then leaving her behind, there was always the inevitable moment when I returned to my life and was immediately confronted with the reality that she was no longer in it. There was the unbearable silence. The void. There were her toys and stuffed animals put away in the corner and her sheets and pillows with the little monkeys on it folded up at the end of the bed and her cereal sitting there on the counter -- remnants of what had been, the residual heat from a sun that had burned out. Her things were still there, but she wasn't. I would go to the grocery store and walk the aisles like a zombie, grieving because I couldn't hear her voice asking for every colorful thing she saw. The sun, my sun, was gone. The light had gone out of the world. And I would cry, right there in public. That would sometimes go on for days. So eventually there came the ritual, designed to thrust me out of my empty stupor before it could take hold. 

Now here I am again. Maybe enough time has passed and I'm centered enough to be able to handle the separation this time around, but I can't help but doubt it. In an effort to avoid what I know is inevitably coming, I even gave serious thought to moving closer to her, since as of a month and a half ago I could work anywhere a wi-fi connection could be found. But then came a new job in television, something that for the first time in almost a decade tethered me to a location. I'm in L.A. now for real, for at least as long as the show lasts. And so I'll go back to plane rides and vacations and summers and, if I'm lucky, the occasional weekend flight to her to just spend a little time. There are moments I won't be there for. There are things I'll miss. And I'll hurt so much. Because I'll miss her so much. But I've learned over a lifetime of exhilarating victories and suffocating defeats that it all rarely turns out the way we plan. Certainly not the way we hope. But if we believe, we can somehow make it work. It'll be messy and chaotic, but it'll work. 

A few weeks back, I drove down to Orange County for Inara's final recital of the season. Her final performance with the troupe she's been a part of for the past two years. Most of the routines I'd seen before, but one was new -- and it stood out. It was the girls in Inara's age group, all wearing white cotton dresses with angel wings on their backs. They one by one stepped up to their mics and sang lines from Colbie Caillat's Try, a genuinely gorgeous and moving song. Seeing my child, her head down and eyes closed, hands placed lightly on either side of the microphone stand, pouring her heart out -- as I've done so many times since becoming her father, I had to fight back tears. Because for the first time in her life I didn't see my little girl. I saw the women she'll become. I saw the future. Maybe I'll miss some of the sights on the journey toward it, but I'm determined to be there every minute I can -- and to be front and center to marvel at how it all turns out.