6/28/19 Gov. Whitmer blasts Legislature for taking most of summer off without passing budget. Legislature explores bonding to find money for “Fix the Damn Roads,” and Gov is open to it.
MI Republican Party Chair Cox, a former ICE agent, is victim of vandalism at state headquarters. MSU to issue another report, and Prez didn’t fare well in poll against Dracula, Attila, and a zombie. Interview with Rob Fowler, CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM). Sponsored by www.Vanguard-pa.com and www.DeadlineDetroit.com.
6/21/19 AG Nessel says that the MI Civil Rights Commish can ignore an opinion by her predecessor that the commission has no authority to enforce LGBTQ rights under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. More candidates surface in MI’s 3rd Congressional District.
Financial problems in the Benton Harbor School District and whether its high school must close have not been resolved by Gov. Whitmer, but parties negotiate. In Senate R’s search for new revenue to “fix the damn roads” without raising gas taxes, they consider securitization of state assets, bonding, and extending the deadline by which time MI is supposed to finalize the paydown on its long-term debt. Interview with Vanguard’s Jen Eyer. Sponsored by www.vanguard-pa.com and www.deadlinedetroit.com.
President Donald Trump likes to think of himself as a statesman, an author, an A-level negotiator, but at heart, he’s one thing: an insult comic. Every day in D.C. is a roast, the insults and belittling nicknames wielded like tiny comedy bullets. And if you haven’t seen enough of the fusillade on Twitter, all you need to do is turn on late night TV.
Television comedy has a strange, symbiotic relationship with the real political world, something between a feedback loop and a funhouse mirror. The Smothers Brothers flirted with the subversive side of the 1960s; the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal of the ’90s was filtered through Jay Leno’s guffawing misogyny. And then, from 1999 through roughly the start of the Trump administration, the prevailing comedy tone was a kind of ironic detachment, perfected by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”
Odds are, even if you barely watched the show, you can still picture the Jon Stewart repertoire: the knowing pop culture references, the sharp satire, the wry take on America at large. His go-to move was perplexity at the absurdity of it all, and the message was detached and a little self-deprecating: If politics was absurd, well, so were we. “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people,” he once said. “It wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.”
Stewart did make fun of both parties, but his style was fundamentally liberal, says University of Delaware communications professor Dannagal Young: playful, subversive, at once cynical and weirdly optimistic. It was far different, she argues, from the tone of Fox News talk-show hosts, who draw an audience for reasons that are “almost physiological.” Social science research has shown that liberals and conservatives are (on average) wired differently, with social and cultural conservatives personally more attuned to danger, worried about intruders, primed to protect an establishment under threat.
There’s no greater threat to the liberal establishment than Donald Trump. And in the past three years, something about comedy has shifted. In class, Young has her college students diagram late-night jokes and label the incongruities—the hidden arguments that aren’t actually stated in the text. When they come to the May 2018 moment when Samantha Bee, in a rant about immigration on her TBS show “Full Frontal,” called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c—,” the exercise breaks down. The line drew a laugh, but there was nothing to puzzle out. No irony, no distance. She just meant it.
“There was no incongruity in what she did,” says Young, whose upcoming book, Irony and Outrage, examines the psychological underpinnings of political entertainment. “I don’t care she’s used the c-word a bunch. I care that she, like, didn’t make a joke.”
Or maybe Bee had made a joke, but a joke for the era of Trump.
Like the red meat at Trump’s rallies, it was pitched to the base, satisfying in the way that calling someone a “libtard” feels for people on the right; less a wry observation than a hard push back against a persistent enemy or a looming threat. If Trump has changed the tone of the presidency, he’s done the same for TV humor, creating a kind of insult comedy for the Resistance: less subtle, less civil—and, strangely, more conservative.
Jon Stewart is often tagged as left-leaning—and it’s true that he was secretly invited to the Obama White House—but what he really represented wasn’t a political perspective so much as a distance from the fray. His “Daily Show” persona was fit for a deeply cynical age: a naïve, detached observer, trying to navigate the news, who kept stumbling across absurdity. His signature move was a reaction shot: after a news clip would play, the camera would return to Stewart, his eyes popping out as if his innocence were shattered by some fresh horror. His targets weren’t only politicians; he skewered the media, lobbyists, the whole self-aggrandizing, self-perpetuating system that made politics so frustrating. And he could be mercilessly bipartisan: In one 2015 segment that predicted Trump’s nickname, he mocked Joe Biden’s handsiness. One punchline was a faux book called “The Audacity of Grope.”
Then along came Trump, who wasn’t part of the system at all, and thus didn’t fit into Stewart’s man-versus-the-machine framework. The day Trump descended a Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy, in June 2015, Stewart was ecstatic. He treated the real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-star not as a viable player, but a professional clown. “America’s id is running for president!” he gushed. At the end of the segment, he and two “Daily Show” correspondents mimicked having orgasms.
By and large, though, Trump’s humor is different from droll, intellectual wit. “It’s impulse-based and it’s hyperbolic,” Young says, and its broadness is a key to his political appeal. His insanely impolitic language sends the media reaching for Xanax, but to his fans, it’s ongoing proof of his authenticity.
At the start of his administration, many speculated that Trump would turn more measured and sober once he felt the gravitas of the office. But his insult-comic persona isn’t artifice; he can’t be shamed or cajoled into being anyone but himself.
That’s great for his base. Most conservatives, love him or not, have found ways to brush off his rhetoric as Trump being Trump. But liberals see the language as not just authentic, but dangerous—they draw a straight line from the speeches and tweets to the murderous white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, caged kids on the Mexican border, and nuclear retaliation threats directed toward Kim Jong Un. So the chorus of left-leaning comedians who evaluate Trump every night has switched from detached amusement to sounding the warning bells.
And in posture, if not politics, the language often matches what Young has observed about conservative outrage. Not only is it positioned against fighting a threat, it’s also straightfoward in perspective—not a multilayered critique of a system, but a blunt roadmap for politicized anger.
“When satire is doing a good job, it’s not just punching up. It’s reminding us of our complicity,” Young says. But there’s no double meaning in outrage: “Outrage tells you, ‘Here is the thing, here is the thing that’s bad, here is the thing that’s good. … It says exactly what it should conclude. You don’t have to draw conclusions.”
That change might be personified, these days, by “Daily Show” veteran Stephen Colbert, whose Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” was a masterpiece of cynical-age satire: a sustained, high-energy, high-wire parody of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, in which the comedian played a blowhard conservative host named “Stephen Colbert.” The show ended, and the character was retired, before Trump entered the 2016 race. And a few months into Trump’s candidacy, Colbert took over CBS’ “The Late Show,” this time appearing as himself.
Candidate Trump was one of real Colbert’s first guests, and while the appearance didn’t produce a moment as iconic as Jimmy Fallon’s hair-mussing, Colbert cheerfully let Trump repeat his campaign lines about building a wall that Mexico would pay for. The humor, at the time, was in the contrast between Trump’s unapologetic Trumpiness and Colbert’s bemused reaction.
But these days, when he talks about Trump, Colbert isn’t so easygoing; his jokes are more vicious and often less surprising. In a mid-May “Late Show” monologue, Colbert described a recent Trumpian insult: comparing 2020 Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg to the MAD Magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman. “I see the similarity,” Colbert said, “in that they both are more qualified to be president than Donald Trump.” The audience roared, the band played a little victory tune, and Colbert, smiling, muttered under his breath, “They all came for that joke.”
Colbert has changed less than Bee, his fellow “Daily Show” alum. In 2015, Bee was part of the “Daily Show” sketch that mocked Joe Biden for groping. She played a star-struck, self-deluded reporter who had just come from a one-on-one interview with Biden, and now had brightly-colored hand marks on her chest and rear end. (She cheerfully explained that the then-vice president had just been touching chalk, strawberry preserves, motor oil and Cheetos.) The joke lay, again, in the disconnect: The audience knew Biden’s behavior was wrong, but the establishment, represented by Bee, pretended it was perfectly normal.
Today, Bee’s faux innocence is gone; her “Full Frontal” persona understands everything that’s happening. Her fury is directed not just at Trump, but at everyone on the right; she apologized for the c-word episode, but her anger hasn’t faded. A recent segment on Alabama’s stringent new abortion law, “Sex Ed for Senators,” explained that when a woman is designated six weeks pregnant, it actually measures the number of weeks from her last period, not from the moment of conception. “Bet you didn’t know uteruses were also time travelers,” Bee said. “That’s science, bitch!”
Like many late-night comedians, Bee has also become more didactic, delivering researched lessons about the dangers of Trump’s favored policies. On HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver, another “Daily Show” veteran, offers up even more facts: The central component of his show is a weekly Rachel Maddow-style lecture, only slightly more lighthearted, sprinkled with jokes that are often hilarious, but are also basically non sequiturs. The Netflix show, “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” (starring another “Daily Show” alum), and Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look” segment on NBC’s “Late Night” serve up similar material. It’s comedy, in the sense that it contains setups and punch lines. But it isn’t necessarily fun.
Ethan Porter, an assistant professor at The George Washington University, notes that multiple studies have documented Fox News’ influence on conservative Americans—tracking how increased Fox News ratings have correlated not just with Republican shares of the vote, but with judges’ likelihood to impose longer prison sentences. “What you think of as ‘soft media,’ whether it’s humor or celebrity journalism,” Porter says, “people can actually be impacted by that, in ways that are interesting and surprising.”
In May, Porter and his colleague Thomas Wood, an Ohio State political scientist, published a paper in the journal Electoral Studies with the irresistible headline, “Did Jon Stewart Elect Donald Trump?”—though, as with most clickbait, the actual point was more nuanced: the authors claimed that the decline in “Daily Show” ratings after Stewart left correlated with a higher share of Republican votes in 2016. But that turned out not to be true: After they found a computational error in their data, the authors retracted their study a week after publication. But the absence of hard proof, Porter says, doesn’t mean the theory isn’ttrue—and they’re continuing to explore ways that the changing landscape of TV comedy has altered the outcomes of American elections.
They may just need to factor in the fact that comedy has changed—as has Stewart himself. It’s not just his increased likelihood to deliver dead-serious congressional testimony, as he did this week before a House Judiciary subcommittee, pleading for compensation for 9/11 first-responders. It’s not just the regret he’s voiced for treating Trump as such a joke in the beginning. He also sounds different when he pops up from time to time for a comedy bit, appearing as a kind of sage, greying Jewish Yoda who pretends to be living under Colbert’s “Late Show” desk. In one Colbert appearance last summer, Stewart’s comic timing was as good as ever, but his rhetoric was less playful. “No matter what you do, it always comes with an extra layer of gleeful cruelty and dickishness,” he said, looking into the camera and addressing Trump directly. Then he turned to immigration, saying, again to Trump, “Boy, you f—-d that up.” The audience laughed and cheered. But it wasn’t the kind of sharp satire that had made Stewart such a meaningful cultural figure in the first place.
As outrage, however, it does contain something that satire lacks, Young says: a consistent call to action. That feels like the purpose of this brand of late night comedy—not to wryly observe the world and encourage us all to do better, but to harness people’s anger, make them ready to revolt.
What effect that will have is open to debate; historically, it’s hard to draw a straight line between jokes and votes. But comedy, like all entertainment, can broaden awareness, rile up the base, focus attention on issues that drive emotions.
It could be that this new tone will be a left wing mobilizing force. The midterm elections drew unusually high numbers of Democratic voters; some predict a similar wave in 2020. Late night comedy could be a small part of that movement. But if that happens, it will be because comedians were less like Jon Stewart—the original version—and more like Sean Hannity and Trump.
6/14/19 Poll shows challenger James Lower leading incumbent Congressman Justin Amash in 2020 Republican primary by a whopping 16 points. D-Day arrives for Benton Harbor to come up with a plan to solve their K-12 school system’s fiscal crisis, or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she’ll close down their high school.
Legislative Republicans’ scramble to find cash to “fix the damn roads” inspires them to recommend stopping work on Gordie Howe International Bridge. Interview with former legislator Buzz Thomas about Detroit, Prez. politics and more. Sponsored by www.Vanguard-pa.com and www.deadlinedetroit.com.
Michigan military veteran and businessman John James is hoping the second time’s a charm in a run for U.S. Senate, this time challenging Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in 2020.
The 37-year-old Republican from Farmington Hills declared Thursday — the 75th anniversary of D-Day — that he’s again seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Michigan.
“I’d like to announce I’m running for U.S. Senate after careful deliberation and thoughtful prayer. I believe that the time, again, is to serve. I believe that, right now, nothing has changed,” James said on Fox News.
His announcement comes seven months after James lost to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing by a closer-than-expected 6.5 percentage points.
“We need the courage what was exhibited to us on D-Day. We need politicians who will go into Washington and will put service before self,” James continued.
“We need people who understand that this country is broken because career politicians continue to run on the issues without any inkling or desire to fix them.”
Peters, who is seeking a second term, has been ramping up fundraising efforts in recent weeks. A new online fundraising pitch late Wednesday told supporters, “John James is in! We need your support.”
“I’m focused on continuing to deliver results for Michigan,” Peters said in a Thursday statement.
“I’ll keep working with anyone to improve life for Michiganders, whether it’s to expand training programs so everyone has the skills needed to find good-paying jobs, protect our Great Lakes or lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs.”
Political analysts suggested James announcement likely clears the GOP field, allowing him to avoid the expense and effort of the primary challenge he experienced last year in defeating well-funded Grosse Pointe businessman Sandy Pensler.
“I’m sure the Republican poobahs are relieved he finally made up his mind about challenging Peters. It would seem to give the Michigan GOP its best chance at a 2020 U.S. Senate win, but it will be tougher than they think,” said longtime analyst Bill Ballenger, a former GOP state lawmaker in Michigan.
“The big unknown is that Trump himself is going to be on the ballot, and James is extremely identified with Trump. Assuming he still runs as a Trump Republican, as Trump’s fortunes go in Michigan, that will have a great effect on how well James may do against Peters.”
Trump trailed five of the top Democratic presidential hopefuls in Michigan in a May 28-30 Glengariff Group poll, with former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont holding 12-percentage-point advantages. The survey had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.
Battle of military credentials
A former congressman and investment adviser from Oakland County, Peters also has military credentials, serving over a decade in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He volunteered again soon after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Peters reported more than $1.89 million in fundraising for the first three months of the year, finishing the quarter with over $3 million in the bank. His campaign said it was the largest first quarter haul for any U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan history.
Peters’ Twitter account made no mention of James’ Thursday campaign news, instead honoring D-Day and the “brave men and women stared tyranny in the eye, stormed the beaches of Normandy — and won.”
“My dad served in the Army in World War II and fought Nazi forces to liberate Europe,” Peters wrote.
“It was my dad’s service that inspired me to volunteer for the Navy Reserve — and why I’ll continue to fight for our brave men and women in uniform, and all those who served.”
James is an Iraq war veteran who was endorsed by Trump and Kid Rock during his 2018 campaign. He plans an official campaign kickoff early next year.
“John James is a true patriot who has dedicated his life to the service of our nation,” said Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox.
“I am confident that next year Michigan will send a leader to the U.S. Senate who will get something done for the people of our state. It’s time for a change from Gary Peters, who has been so ineffective that 43% of Michigan voters don’t even know his name.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said voters “soundly rejected” James and his platform in 2018.
“Michigan voters will not be fooled by a reworked image of a failed candidate. We are very fortunate to have Gary Peters working hard for all of us in the U.S. Senate and representing the interests of Michiganders in every corner of the state, Barnes said.
“The Republicans are making a bold choice in trying to remake John James into a palatable candidate following a failed campaign filled with missteps and policy plans that did not represent the best interests of Michiganders.”
James a ‘rising star’
In recent weeks, James had been recruited by Republican leaders in the Senate and House, where they hoped to convince James to run for Congress in Michigan’s 11th District against freshman Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills.
He was considered by the White House as a candidate to be the next ambassador to the United Nations earlier this year before the nomination went to U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft.
Trump has called James a “rising star,” though he never visited Michigan to campaign for him in 2018.
In his 2018 campaign, James repeatedly said he would back Trump “2,000%,” aligning himself with Trump’s agenda of opposing sanctuary cities, securing the Southern border and backing the president’s economic policies.
James is president of the James Group International, a supply-chain management firm, his family’s business, in southwest Detroit.
“I understand what we need to do, because I have experience as a business leader, as a job creator, how to protect our economy from socialism, how to bring people together and unite people to make sure that we can defeat the evils that face us today,” James said Thursday on Fox.
“I also, as a combat veteran, understand the service and sacrifice that our veterans make every single day and (am) willing to stand up for this country — not any party, not any ideology. But putting country first, putting Michigan first and looking forward to continuing my service.”
Last year, James won the most votes of any Republican top-of-the-ticket candidate in the past decade, topping the 1,874,834 votes that Rick Snyder won in his 2010 gubernatorial landslide victory, which is the third-highest in the 2008-18 period.
James also received about 648,600 more votes in 2018 than Peters’ opponent, Terri Lynn Land, did in 2014. Peters defeated Land by 13 percentage points.
James raised nearly $12.6 million to Stabenow’s $17.9 million. James said Thursdayhe plans to donate 5 cents from every dollar he raises for his campaign to charity.
James’ campaign said he got the idea from an Army tradition known as the Nickel Ride, where first-time pilots give a nickel from the year they are born to their flight instructors.
“My parents have always taught us to give back. My faith tells me to give back. I’ve been blessed, and I’m going to do just that in my campaign,” James said in a statement.
Challenges for James
Dennis Lennox, a Republican strategist in Michigan, said James is a good “get” for Cox, noting James could have sat on the sidelines while building a political network in preparation for the governor’s race in 2022.
“This time James is going to have change things up. He must move past the platitudes and his military service by getting a solid grasp of the issues and policy,” Lennox said.
“Peters is as good as it gets for Democrats. Don’t forget he overcame the Republican tidal wave of 2014.”
Ballenger cautioned that Peters needs to improve his name identification, which is not as recognizable in Michigan as Stabenow’s.
“Peters has worked very hard, and he’s improved dramatically as a candidate and public speaker and has positioned himself somewhat to the moderate side of Stabenow and stressed bipartisan cooperation,” Ballenger said.
“He hasn’t really done anything wrong, but he just wasn’t penetrating with the electorate. … He’s just not as strong of an incumbent as Stabenow.”
The biggest challenge for James and the GOP is likely to be activating the thousands of Trump voters who didn’t vote in 2018, Lennox said.
“There’s no history in Michigan of Senate nominees driving turnout, so this will be a massive challenge for the party and its Senate nominee,” he said.
James, who is African-American and part of the millennial generation, brings diversity to the overwhelmingly white Republican Party.
Although he’s popular with traditional GOP rank-and-file, James struggled to attract black voters despite aggressive campaigning. He received less than 5 percent of the vote in the Democratic stronghold of Detroit, which has the most African Americans in the state.
Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said James’ decision to run is a good development for Senate Republicans because it gives them a “credible candidate” in one of their few opportunities next fall to pick up a seat.
Kondik edits the The Crystal Ball politics newsletter, which rates Michigan’s Senate race as leaning Democratic.
“My guess is that the Senate results will largely mirror the presidential results. As of now, I think I’d rather be the Democrats in Michigan than the Republicans,” he said.
“Trump’s 2016 victory there was the most tenuous of any of his statewide wins — but if Trump wins the state, having a Senate candidate who can capitalize on that is good for the Republicans.”
Trump won Michigan in 2016 by 10,704 votes, or two-tenths of a percentage point. Polling over the last two years has since shown the president’s approval ratings to be below 50% in Michigan.
Fewer than 36% of likely Michigan voters said in a recent statewide poll they would vote to re-elect Trump, compared with more than 51% who said they plan to vote for someone new.
The same poll found about 44% approved of the job the president is doing while 52% disapproved.
Trump polled especially poorly among African Americans and women.
Staff writer Jonathan Oosting contributed
6/7/19 Gov. Whitmer journeys to Benton Harbor to defend high school closure plan. Any attempt to amend term limits faces Denno Research/Vanguard PA polling data showing voters like status quo. A legislator claims state could reap up to $800 million by selling the Blue Water Bridge and more. Republican John James says he’ll take another shot at the U.S. Senate, this time against incumbent Democrat Peters. Republican legislative leaders file suit against AG Nessel’s opinion that petition law reforms enacted last year are unconstitutional. Interview with Lance Binoniemi from MI Infrastructure and Transportation Association. Sponsored by www.DeadlineDetroit.com and www.Vanguard-pa.com.