Trump “took everyone who should know better by surprise”

The presumption is revealing.

‘We, the media, should have known better’ was the message and the admission, or confession, in some cases. Confession, because some now see how they treated, or disregarded, the people who decided.

Some commentators in various types of media went at least as far as admitting to arrogant bias all along, and the need to learn from such (egregiously) flawed dissemination of information as they were practicing in their various outlets throughout the whole, long campaign for the presidency.

This wasn’t a new self-awareness by the entire pack. Back in May, New York Times’ columnist Nicolas Kristof wrote this ‘Confession of Liberal Intolerance’. How prophetic it would turn out to be. “We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.” It was mostly about American universities, disciplines like the Humanities, the (apparent) lack of conservatives on campuses. But it prevails over the political culture.

It’s easier to find a Marxist in Academia, studies found, than a Republican, Kristof wrote. And he admitted that “bias on campuses creates liberal privilege”. It shows. And whole populations of Americans across the country, ‘flyover country’ so often sneered at among cultural elites, not only noticed, they kept their resentment in check for years.

In the aftermath of Election 2016, I’ve been traveling a lot and abroad, working on other news stories but gathering an interesting collection of post-election analysis pieces that reveal ‘out of touch’ media trying to reckon with their stunning failure to know or even notice such a wide swath of America and the Americans who live there.

This CBS News commentary just after the election captures “The unbearable smugness of the press”.

This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.

So much for that. The audience for our glib analysis and contempt for much of the electorate, it turned out, was rather limited. This was particularly true when it came to voters, the ones who turned out by the millions to deliver not only a rebuke to the political system but also the people who cover it…

They hate us, and have for some time.

And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.

It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing.

That line captures it well.

But the admission continues.

There’s a place for opinionated journalism; in fact, it’s vital. But our causal, profession-wide smugness and protestations of superiority are making us unable to do it well.

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

What’s worse, we don’t make much of an effort to really understand, and with too few exceptions, treat the economic grievances of Middle America like they’re some sort of punchline. Sometimes quite literally so, such as when reporters tweet out a photo of racist-looking Trump supporters and jokingly suggest that they must be upset about free trade or low wages.

We have to fix this, and the broken reasoning behind it. There’s a fleeting fun to gang-ups and groupthink. But it’s not worth what we are losing in the process.

Fun? To gang up on people, fall in with groupthink, chuckle and snicker at ‘those people’ who ‘don’t think like us’?

You’d think that Trump’s victory – the one we all discounted too far in advance – would lead to a certain newfound humility in the political press. But of course that’s not how it works…

Journalists exist primarily in a world where people can get shouted down and disappear, which informs our attitudes toward all disagreement.

Journalists increasingly don’t even believe in the possibility of reasoned disagreement, and as such ascribe cynical motives to those who think about things a different way. We see this in the ongoing veneration of “facts,” the ones peddled by explainer websites and data journalists who believe themselves to be curiously post-ideological.

That the explainers and data journalists so frequently get things hilariously wrong never invites the soul-searching you’d think it would. Instead, it all just somehow leads us to more smugness, more meanness, more certainty from the reporters and pundits. Faced with defeat, we retreat further into our bubble, assumptions left unchecked. No, it’s the voters who are wrong.

As a direct result, we get it wrong with greater frequency. Out on the road, we forget to ask the right questions. We can’t even imagine the right question.

He, they, should go back to this intention, admitted several paragraphs earlier:

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

Emphasis added.

Such self-examination cut across different levels of media. Take this blogger, for example.

It was all a lie.

Time for some truths: America’s governing class is bound together more by geography, education, and manners than anything else; it does not understand and cannot relate to the lives of most of their countrymen. Socially and economically the led and the leaders are distinct. In less than two decades, this elite has launched this country into three wars, and lost each of them. None were punished or held accountable for doing so. They plunged the earth into recession, a recession entire regions still feel–but none were punished or held accountable for doing so. This class is fundamentally unaccountable: bankrupt Americans, bankroll cartels—in the end, none of that matters if you’ve made the right connections and you speak the right shibboleths. The gateways into this class are shrinking. The privileges it claims grow larger…

It is time to destroy the lies.

This stinging rebuke of fellow travelers is almost hard to read. Almost.

The Democratic Party is without a leader. The President and his administration are packing up shop…The DNC is a mess. A civil war is brewing. The battle for your party’s soul is coming—and when it is over, the winners must be people with better judgement than those who ran the last campaign.

That is only the first part. The second may be more important—the cadre of “thought leaders” who led you all into this mess must be cast aside…

These men and women…built an echo chamber and mistook its confines for the world outside it. They sold their self-deceptions to you as fair and reasoned truths—but they are and always were deceptions. You and I were fed a diet of lies. Now the liars and those who believed them both find themselves locked out of power, utterly unprepared for the age about to dawn. These people need to be held accountable.

‘The New York Times publisher vowed to rededicate the paper to reporting honestly‘. A lot could be said here. The publisher says enough, for now.

It’s rather rich that he promises readers to rededicate the paper to its mission of journalism that will strive “always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences” in the stories the paper carries, given its record on some political perspectives and certainly some “life experiences”. And “to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly”. Now that a wild card Republican will be in the Oval Office.

You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.

The same as what? I would have liked to have seen Arthur Sulzberger Jr. finish that sentence, or that thought, that comparative assertion. I’m a subscriber, a reader, therefore one to whom the publisher penned that letter, asking for our “continued loyalty”. I’m not going anywhere, I like to read the Times and will continue to for its smart and especially international reporting, where and when its found in those pages, and the arts and culture and book reviews and entertainment culture features, and food and film and sport. The crossword puzzles. The editorial and op-eds, and very often especially the op-eds.

But we want to see improvement.

New York Post columnist and former Times reporter Michael Goodwin wrote, “because it [The Times] demonized Trump from start to finish, it failed to realize he was onto something. And because the paper decided that Trump’s supporters were a rabble of racist rednecks and homophobes, it didn’t have a clue about what was happening in the lives of the Americans who elected the new president.”

Kudos due here.

Sulzberger’s letter was released after the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, took the paper to task for its election coverage…

Spayd wrote, “Readers are sending letters of complaint at a rapid rate. Here’s one that summed up the feelings succinctly, from Kathleen Casey of Houston: “Now, that the world has been upended and you are all, to a person, in a state of surprise and shock, you may want to consider whether you should change your focus from telling the reader what and how to think, and instead devote yourselves to finding out what the reader (and nonreaders) actually think.”

Maureen Dowd tasted humble pie at Thanksgiving. Good for her.

But already, the Times is in a quandary (along with other media, apparently) over how or whether to cover Trump’s tweets, if he keeps posting them (and one hopes he doesn’t, for everyone’s sake).

It was a rare and unexpected surprise to see Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi publish this column, although the title ‘President Trump: How America Got It So Wrong’ seemed to signal a blame piece coming, against Americans who voted for Trump. There was plenty of blame alright, but self directed, for a change. Though Taibbi gets his shots in there, he takes plenty himself, on behalf of his style of writers with influence. Who didn’t seem to notice when things were wrong if their guy, or their party, were the ones in charge.

On President-elect Trump…

He takes office at a time when the chief executive is vastly more powerful than ever before, with nearly unlimited authority to investigate, surveil, torture and assassinate foreigners and even U.S. citizens – powers that didn’t seem to trouble people much when they were granted to Barack Obama.

Right.

Trump made idiots of us all. From the end of primary season onward, I felt sure Trump was en route to ruining, perhaps forever, the Republican Party as a force in modern American life. Now the Republicans are more dominant than ever, and it is the Democratic Party that is shattered and faces an uncertain future.

And it deserves it. The Democratic Party’s failure to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016 will go down as one of the all-time examples of insular arrogance. The party spent most of the past two years not only ignoring the warning signs of the Trump rebellion but vilifying anyone who tried to point them out. It denounced all rumors of its creeping unpopoularity as vulgar lies and bulled anyone who dared question its campaign strategy by calling them racists, sexists and agents of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But the party’s willful blindness symbolized a similar arrogance across the American intellectual elite. Trump’s election was a true rebellion, directed at anyone perceived to be part of the Establishment. The target group included political leaders, bankers, industrialists, academics, Hollywood actors and, of course, the media. And we all closed our eyes to what we didn’t want to see…

Those of us whose job it is to cover campaigns long ago grew accustomed to treating The People as a kind of dumb animal, whose behavior could sometimes be unpredictable but, in the end, almost always did what it was told.

Whenever we sought insight into the motives and tendencids of this elusive creature, our first calls were always to other eggheads like ourselves. We talked to pollsters, think-tankers, academics, former campaign strategists, party spokes-hacks, even other journalists…

And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast.

Yes, he’s finally got something right.

When Barack Obama was elected president, a great many Americans felt that their voice would finally be heard, that he represented them and their beliefs and best interests. Now, a great many other Americans feel the same thing about Donald Trump. President Obama has handled the election outcome and beginning of the transition of power with gracious dignity, crediting President George W. Bush for doing the same for him, and vowing to carry on the tradition seamlessly and with the same goodwill.

It would be nice, to say the least, if the press corps “who should know better” would rise to the occasion as well, and serve “The People” whose trust they need to earn again. If they ever will.

The Everyman Election

Another vote that stunned pollsters and pundits.

‘Can you hear me now?’ should be the headline.

Establishment, inside, elite politicians and media have heard and are still stunned. They don’t quite know yet what to make of the results of Election 2016 in America because as of the moment this is being written, the results aren’t yet fully in. But from what we do know, they’re realizing that they didn’t see it coming. At all. And some of them fear these strange, almost foreign people in this country who went to the polls Tuesday. People they have dismissed for so long, they never took the time to listen to them and their concerns in this major election year, or longer.

This NYT opinion piece, published ahead of the long night of election returns, had a pretty good idea that something was happening that would require a reckoning.

Whatever the result of the United States election, politics has been “changed, changed utterly,” to use the words of the poet W.B. Yeats on Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising. And not just in America. Across the Western world, there is a rising anger at “the system.”

That nails it. It’s spreading across the world, including the United States, but was hardly noticed and certainly not for what it was given elite media coverage of the election cycle and the Trump v. Clinton race for the presidency. “The center is struggling to hold” the Times op-ed piece continues. Why? Because the battles, political and cultural, have been between the left and right, sometime the further flung of the two. Bernie Sanders was left of Clinton, who is left of Obama. On Election Day in America, it turns out that many Sanders voters, feeling disenfranchised by establishment politics, voted for Trump, exit polling showed.

What happened?

Establishment politicians, economists and policy makers know something is happening, but…they don’t know what it is…The source of much of the anger is the very social system that they have created these last 40 years – globalized, neoliberal and destructive of the social contract between governments and peoples on which the political center rests.

The piece keeps referring to “the angry”, which is a stronger way of saying ‘the fed up and determined’, or better yet, ‘the fully engaged’. We are, after all, a Representative Republic, and the time has come to stand up, speak out, and collectively activate to make a difference that’s been long promised by politicians but never delivered. Things have only grown worse for the left out and left behind, the jobless and over-regulated and over-taxed, the everyday American trying to serve and survive and meanwhile, earning less and being strapped with higher prices for fewer choices for healthcare, if they’re working at all. Paying more property taxes and sales taxes and other costs companies have had to add to pay for the over-regulation, themselves.

And all this time, the meritocracy has had a lot of disdain for the everyday people.

The Times op-ed continues:

The striving middle class is pushed into the ranks of the poor as well-paying jobs, and the social mobility they bring, disappear, sometimes overseas, sometimes as a result of trade deals the establishment parties insisted were in the popular interest. Communities have been devastated, as the civic ecology on which a politics of the common good depends for most folk has been shattered: stable work on which to build a home and a family, pride in identity and place, and a network of supportive institutions and relationships cultivated across generations.

This U.S. election has been compared so much with the Brexit Referendum, British experts have been brought in for analysis on what’s happening in America. In recent months, I’ve commented on radio, along with guests, how similar the two are in the divisive atmosphere that grew around them, to the point where husbands and wives turned on each other for their fervent political differences, neighbor against neighbor, and friendships even ended over these splits in political views, so deeply have they run.

It’s been a year of global judgment on such people, too, which caused further resentment, cast in a string of pejoratives, and lumped together in a “basket of deplorables” by candidate Hillary Clinton at one point, which struck deeply into the base of Donald Trump supporters.

U.S. media and reporters, writers, bloggers and commentators here and abroad have spent months talking about Trump with a disclaimer that to say anything even remotely open about him didn’t mean they actually accepted this bombastic, repulsive, disgusting creature, but ‘hey, let’s give him a break because he’s come so far for a reason, and maybe has something to say’. Everything was thrown at the man, including the ‘creepy, crawly’ imagery of the atmosphere and mindset in which he dwelt. But it was he who said he wants to drain the swamp that was so much of the inside establishment of government and enablers in media.

So some voters who wanted a pro-life, pro-family, religious freedom defender who at least promised good laws and good Supreme Court Justices, who may not have even voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton but hoped somehow, better government would prevail, went into election night waiting with dramatic tension to see what the pundits never could predict.

And they all got it wrong, in that even as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, Donald Trump was actually close to the threshold of securing the electoral votes to become the next U.S. President. Against that prevailing wisdom that was just demolished.

As I write this, the deal just got sealed. Mr. Trump was just declared to have won the presidency. This is historic. Now, a lot of healing has got to follow.

Fuller election coverage will follow as it comes out in the next day or so. But for now, I think of a few different things. One, I saw remarkably few (maybe historically few) yard signs or bumper stickers for any candidate, and if there was one here or there, it was for a local county or state office. Not the presidential race. That is unprecedented in my lifetime.

Another is the recall I had on Election Day of President Gerald Ford’s first line of his hastily arranged inauguration address, succeeding Richard Nixon, saying “My Fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” As I approached my polling place, I wondered if that would be true on this day. But then wondered, what would be over, and what would be about to begin?

We’ll soon find out, but it is a pivotal moment in our history. And just as the people have spoken in the only poll that mattered, the people will need to work together to heal a wounded, divided nation. That is up to each and every one of us.

Trump, Clinton after Catholics

He pledged reform. Her campaign planned revolt.

For half of this election year, ‘the Catholic vote’ got virtually no mention or attention in media coverage of the campaigns, while the Evangelical vote got plenty. Just before the summer conventions, Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine as her running mate for VP, and the press featured his Catholicism in a usually laudatory light, even casting him as a ‘Pope Francis’ Catholic without understanding what that even means, and how wrong that portrayal is considering his willingness to support abortion, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment protections against taxpayer funding of abortion, and same sex marriage law which he celebrated. He said he believed his church would change its teaching on that, in time.

And then there’s his life changing mission trip to Honduras, and involvement in liberation theology there,

an explicitly Marxist political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching that was planted in South America for the purpose of stirring up the poor to violence against their government.

At the time, this was a theology radically at odds with the Church and condemned by the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, and political leaders in the United States. The Marxist elements of the theology are still condemned by the Church today, including Pope Francis.

So the new prominence Catholicism gained in the elections by late summer was colored by Tim Kaine’s practices and stated beliefs. And ‘the Catholic vote’ suddenly became a focus for media and campaigns.

Recently, Donald Trump sent Catholic Vote president Brian Burch a letter promising to protect religious freedom, conscience protection and the rights of Catholics. Within two days, Catholic Vote issued a statement after a 2005 video was released with what Burch called “disgusting and simply indefensible” comments. He said what needed to be said at that moment.

Then came another. The first of the Wikileaks revelations of emails exchanged within the Clinton campaign at the highest levels revealing a deep disrespect for Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and ideas to back dissident Catholic groups that would agitate for a change in Church teachings. Those emails revealed insulting language and therefore, attitudes, about Catholics, as well as Latinos, showing a deep disregard for the people and their faith, and instead reflecting a strategy of seeing them as identity groups to be dealt with in politics.

HotAir.com pointed out the ‘silliness’ of calling the Church’s teaching a ‘middle-ages dictatorship’ and the call for a ‘Catholic Spring’ highly insulting. Crux noted that those emails were seen as hostile and mocking.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found a teaching moment in this unprecedented assault on Catholics from within the political hierarchy to issue a statement.

And scholars like Princeton Professor Robert George published opinion pieces like this, casting this moment in our political culture and history in a clarifying light.

…I can’t say I’m surprised by the noxious anti-Catholic bigotry contained in emails exchanged between leading progressives, Democrats and Hillary Clinton operatives. These WikiLeaks-published emails confirm what has been evident for years. Many elites, having embraced secular progressivism as not merely a political view but a religion, loathe traditional faiths that refuse to yield to its dogmas.

The election is just weeks away, and people of faith – already caught in a quagmire for so many months over the choices for president – are deliberating deeply over this extremely pivotal moment in our history. They are anxious and worried and wondering who to trust and what to do.

Somewhere in all these years, we largely have lost the ability to trust ourselves, our understanding of truth and justice, honor and virtue, and leadership. It won’t be a ‘top down’ answer that will save the Republic in some magical turn of events. It’s time to find the courage within our own ability to shape the future, within our families, our communities, our most local networks of influence.

People in alleged ‘power’ do not define us and cannot subvert what we stand for or believe, what ‘hill we would be ready to die on’ as some put it, to fire the imagination. We will decide ourselves.

Candidates, issues, debates, media and voters

It’s not as complicated as it’s made out to be.

How the U.S. presidential election came down to two distasteful candidates in the end is a matter for historians. But it’s now a decision between what scholar Hardley Arkes calls “a matter of a wild card versus a brutal sure thing”, with many dividing issues but a singular and essential defining one that matters the most in grounding all others.

Clinton is staunchly pro-abortion. Trump identifies as pro-life, has made promises to defend life at all stages regarding legislation and name pro-life judges regarding law, and has named a pro-life coalition of advisers to assist his trajectory to what he hopes is the position to turn promises into protections. That hasn’t convinced a lot of conservatives. And commentators in media, if not outright hostile to Trump and defensive of Clinton, at the very least have the almost universal tendency to express their anti-Trump bona fides before saying, essentially, ‘but let’s give him a look, a chance, a listen.’ If they even get to that point.

That first presidential debate last week was a disaster, just about wrapping up now in its week long play in prime time media and late night comedy for its wince-worthy moments. But even that aside, Arkes says this about the longer term race and consequences at stake.

My friends who are concerned about national security worry about the temperament of Donald Trump. But what is it that the national defense is supposed to “secure”?

…if our main interest lies in protecting the lives of our people, why do the mavens on national security show no concern for the 1.2 million innocent human lives taken each year in abortion? Does it matter that 177 Democrats voted against the bill to punish surgeons who kill babies who survive abortions? The Democratic position, led by President Obama, is that the right to abortion is not confined to pregnancy; it entails nothing less than the right to kill a child born alive. That is the position that Hillary Clinton should be called upon to defend right now. Have we suffered such an erosion of sensibility as a people that this killing of children born alive is no longer worth noticing?

Important question to consider and answer. When will Clinton be asked about the right to live, before talking about what a good and just and respected life requires? Nobody in media is asking her.

Will it come up in the vice-presidential debates Tuesday night? Doubtful. Big media coverage of Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine has focused on his resume, and featured his Catholic commitment to social justice and his life-changing mission work in Honduras earlier in life.

But here’s what the media aren’t reporting.

During his stay in Honduras, Kaine openly embraced liberation theology, a controversial political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching, but radically at odds with the Catholic Church and with the United States. At the time, this extremist ideology was adopted by activists and even some clergy who were openly hostile to the Church, the Pope, and the United States. The Marxist elements of this ideology were condemned by the Vatican in the 1980’s and 1990’s. During his time in Latin America, Kaine was surrounded by radicals and their influences took root in the version of Christianity he adopted. According to the New York Times, it was this theology that set him on a “left veering career path” influencing his politics to the present day.

Although the Marxist roots of liberation theology were condemned by the Church, the new theology did have the support of another superpower – the Soviet Union. Scholars of the period, and the top Cold War defector to the West, have shown the Soviets created liberation theology to undermine the Church and advance the Soviet cause against the United States. In Honduras, the phony Marxist-tinged theology was planted to manipulate poor Catholics, instigate terrorism, and stir up a violent revolution in Honduras — then the key ally of the United States opposing Communism in the region.

Will the debate between the vice-presidential candidates draw much attention from voters, especially those drawn by Kaine’s Catholic identity? Media will try to frame that as much as anything. But it’s important to know. And it’s out there to learn.

I’ll be covering these issues on Tuesday’s radio program, trying to get to the heart of the matter.

Donald Trump prevails

Against all conventional wisdom, he has become the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president.

But the only consistency in this wild political season has been its unpredictability, in both parties. This has been an election cycle far out of the bounds of political models and establishment control and certainly, conventional wisdom. Very different winds have been blowing in America since the early GOP campaigns launched last year and over a dozen candidates joined the crowded field by early 2016. Who would have thought back then that it would wind up like this.

That unforeseen force of nature has caught up American Democrats since Hillary Clinton began what was supposed to be an easy stride to the convention podium this summer to accept the Democratic nomination for president, only to be outshone in popularity by longtime Democratic Socialist Senate veteran Bernie Sanders. She may well be the inevitable candidate, but it’s May and she’s not there yet. That’s remarkable.

It has been a bruising, belligerent, demeaning, undignified and uninspiring battle to date. Conventional wisdom had Ohio and/or Florida as always pivotal in putting candidates over the top. This time, all the states played a key role, but it was Indiana that handed Donald Trump the decisive win that, suddenly, turned him into the inevitable GOP candidate for presidency. It also knocked Sen. Ted Cruz out of the race all of a sudden.

Here’s the New York Times early analysis, one of the few outlets swift to offer anything more than a placeholder paragraph or two until they could process what just happened. Essentially, it shows a matchup of two unpopular candidates, another remarkable reality in this year’s election. Donald Trump packed stadiums and arenas and picked up momentum on ‘the Trump Train’ as time went on, but for all those primary victories, he continually polled behind Clinton in a general election matchup. Until the night of the Indiana primary.

The Times story doesn’t report this, but one of the latest polls showed Trump about even in that faceoff. The bigger story is that polls and predictions haven’t meant much this year, as people at the grassroots defied them again and again. The Times article had to fill the analysis with something, so it resorted to conventional wisdom. Which makes no sense. People reacted. We have become a reactionary nation, visceral and impulsive and driven by emotion. How voting polls show one thing in people registering to vote for the first time or first time in a long time, longer lines at many polling places, reflecting engaged citizens, while popularity polls show the ‘unlikeability’ factor rather high for the now presumptive GOP and Democratic candidate, is beyond reason and virtually beyond precedent.

I recently heard former Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry on a news show, asked for his opinion on Trump. He said: “We have never had anyone on the political stage who is as talented at selling a brand as Donald Trump. Now selling a brand is different from managing a country, so we’ll see.”

We’ll see whether and how the tone, tenor, content and character change in this new stage of Election 2016. And we’ll be watching, and listening, closely.

 

Rubio’s last stand?

If it is, he goes out with noble dignity.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is young and could have a great future ahead of him in leadership, whether at the state or federal level. His candidacy for president took a precipitous turn recently and never recovered from the slide. He came out acknowledging his mistakes in judgment, a rare act of humility for a public servant and a candidate for the presidency, singular among a field who mostly don’t see themselves at all as a public servant, and some of whom seem to betray a sense of entitlement and aspiration to a high and mighty position of power.

When he was on the slide in recent weeks and even the past several days, pundits and analysts said he should get out of the race to save face from losing his home state of Florida, which would set back or negate his chances to run for governor of that state in the future, with a wide open road to future runs for higher office. Even his supporters started expressing that wish, so he wouldn’t stand to lose his own state. But Rubio  learned from listening to others than to his own heart and conscience.

With a couple of poor debate performances causing his slide in the polls, he took the bad advice to counter the verbal assault with low blows and to ‘punch back’, which he almost immediately regretted. As low as it got in an exchange with Donald Trump (a regular and a veteran in the arena of disgraceful assaults), Rubio knew he should never have gone there, and he publicly apologized. He exposed his regret at having humiliated himself, his family, his supporters, American voters and everyone involved in the process. It has been a rare public accounting for one’s errors of personal judgment, an examination of conscience that allowed him to express remorse and the will to serve as a public witness to higher goals.

It’s rare in a public official, a leader, especially one who seeks to be the top leader in the land. And before he exists the race, if he does after Tuesday’s elections, he deserves recognition and appreciation for this honesty and noble dignity.

On the eve of the Florida primary, a reflective Marco Rubio looked out at a roaring crowd of diverse supporters and, once again, expressed regret.

“The fact that I’m here now in front of those cameras comes with responsibility, and I’ll confess, I’ve learned that myself,” the Florida senator said…

He ran through the list of people he embarrassed with his bawdy rumble with Donald Trump — his children, his wife, his young supporters.

“I felt terrible about it,” Rubio said. “I realized that win or lose, there are people out there that see what I’m doing and follow it as a role model.”

After days of unflinching optimism on the campaign trail, the gravity of Tuesday’s Florida primary appeared to bear down at one of Rubio’s last stops of the day. And potentially, one of the last stops of his presidential campaign…

“Leadership is not about going to angry and frustrated people and saying, ‘You should be even angrier and more frustrated, and you should be angry and frustrated at each other,'” Rubio said. “That is not leadership. You know what that is? That’s called demagoguery, and it is dangerous.”

He lamented Trump’s over-the-top style, from his use of profanity — “we have never had a presidential candidate that has to be bleeped out” — to his apparent willingness to pay the legal fees for a supporter who sucker punched a protester.

“I know there are people that like this stuff because he says what they want to be able to say,” Rubio said. “Presidents can’t say whatever they want to say. You have to be honest, you have to be correct and you have to be truthful. But you can’t say whatever you want to say.”

There’s a significant lesson in that. A great sign of maturity as a citizen, and a candidate for high office.

Later Monday, Rubio’s bus pulled up to a crowd of hundreds gathered on a brightly lit, outdoor basketball court in West Miami, where Rubio would hold his potentially last rally as a presidential candidate. He hopped up on the bed of a pick-up truck and used a bullhorn to address the enthusiastic crowd, as a giant American flag hung on a building behind him.

It was a homecoming of sorts, given that Rubio said he used to play basketball in this park and it’s an area where he campaigned to run for city commissioner two decades ago.

“And this is the park I wanted to be in tonight, on the eve of the most important election in a generation, in the state that always makes the difference…

Speaking more in Spanish than in English, Rubio thanked the community for their support over the years. He had fun joking around with the crowd — especially in Spanish — and appeared more relaxed and at ease than he has in days.

“No matter where I’ll go or where I’ll be, I will always be a son of this community,” he told them. “I will always carry with me the hopes and dreams of generations who made possible the hopes of mine.”

A while back, in the thick of the debate season and beginning of the caucuses and earliest primaries, someone asked him what his reaction would be to losing. Without a pause, he instinctively responded that God’s will would be done, and that’s all that mattered. On this eve of what may be the ultimate Super Tuesday of this election year, Rubio seemed more at peace than he has in many months.

Looking for a ‘genuinely reformist candidate’

Not Donald Trump.

There are too many initiatives, publications and organized efforts around those three words to get into here. But it’s growing, this counter-appeal to voters to direct their energies around a tried and true reform candidate that appeal to their passions more than their anger.

This one by two top Catholic scholars, signed onto by nearly three dozen other top names in academia and scholarship and leadership, is short, succinct and sobering. I saw it within minutes after it posted, know both writers as well as many of the signatories to the appeal, and realized what a new moment it represented.

Though National Review Online devoted a whole symposium and special edition ‘Against Trump‘, with top commentators and writers contributing provocative essays on the theme, and CatholicVote.org broke from tradition and went so far as to issue the public statement ‘Not. Trump.‘, and individual writers of exceptional depth and experience have issued their own strong statements, this was something different. It is extraordinary.

Here’s the essence:

In recent decades, the Republican party has been a vehicle — imperfect, like all human institutions, but serviceable — for promoting causes at the center of Catholic social concern in the United States: (1) providing legal protection for unborn children, the physically disabled and cognitively handicapped, the frail elderly, and other victims of what Saint John Paul II branded “the culture of death”; (2) defending religious freedom in the face of unprecedented assaults by officials at every level of government who have made themselves the enemies of conscience; (3) rebuilding our marriage culture, based on a sound understanding of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and (4) re-establishing constitutional and limited government, according to the core Catholic social-ethical principle of subsidiarity. There have been frustrations along the way, to be sure; no political party perfectly embodies Catholic social doctrine. But there have also been successes, and at the beginning of the current presidential electoral cycle, it seemed possible that further progress in defending and advancing these noble causes was possible through the instrument of the Republican party. That possibility is now in grave danger. And so are those causes.

Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States. His campaign has already driven our politics down to new levels of vulgarity. His appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice are offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility. He promised to order U.S. military personnel to torture terrorist suspects and to kill terrorists’ families — actions condemned by the Church and policies that would bring shame upon our country. And there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments…

The two highly esteemed writers acknowledge Trump supporters’ concerns, with due respect.

We understand that many good people, including Catholics, have been attracted to the Trump campaign because the candidate speaks to issues of legitimate and genuine concern: wage stagnation, grossly incompetent governance, profligate governmental spending, the breakdown of immigration law, inept foreign policy, stifling “political correctness” — for starters. There are indeed many reasons to be concerned about the future of our country, and to be angry at political leaders and other elites.

However, they contend, there are other candidates more worthy of support who address these concerns without the ‘vulgarity’ and ‘demagoguery’.

And they conclude with this appeal:

Mr. Trump’s record and his campaign show us no promise of greatness; they promise only the further degradation of our politics and our culture. We urge our fellow Catholics and all our fellow citizens to reject his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination by supporting a genuinely reformist candidate.

Signed, Princeton Professor Robert P. George, and Ethics and Public Policy Center Distinguished Senior Fellow George Weigel. And nearly three dozen signers after them.

That is a snapshot that at least offers clues to where we are in American politics in this most unusual, defiant season. This appeal to voters is at least one piece of a puzzle as yet so incomplete, it remains incoherent. And with a hold that remains, so far, only tenuous.

Does America suffer a malaise?

Or is it the consequence of a crisis of government?

There is certainly a dis-ease here and it has spread for quite a long time. Justin Dyer makes the attempt to diagnose.

On a stage in St. Paul, Minnesota (in 2008), the first-term Illinois senator (Barack Obama) positioned himself as a visionary leader ushering in a new era of American politics, shedding past partisan divisions and uniting a generation around the promises of hope and change.

So what went wrong?

Perhaps we were just not willing to work for that vision, to fight for it and believe in it. Or perhaps—as James Piereson suggests in Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order—Obama misread the moment, trying to make it into something it was not. In his new book, Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, argues that the Obama presidency marks the end of a political era rather than a beginning.

Intriguing. So far, Piereson posits, American political history can be divided into three major chapters, up to the present time. But now we’ve arrived at a grave turning point.

A major premise of Piereson’s book is that broad consensus “is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges”; his thesis is that “such a consensus no longer exists in the United States.” (emphasis added) Without a consensus on basic priorities, Piereson predicts, our “problems will mount to a point where either they will be addressed through a ‘fourth revolution’”—ushering in a fourth major chapter in American political history—“or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental commitment.”

At the moment, a “broad consensus” is unimaginable. America is more divided and polarized and at odds than it has seemed to be in a very long time.

Simply put: we have a greying population with fewer workers and no consensus about the purpose and mission of our vast military infrastructure. At the same time, many of our state and local governments face unsustainable pension obligations born of the same demographic trends and short-term political calculations…

One thing both parties generally agree on is maintaining those government programs—Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security—that require massive amounts of money we don’t have. As Piereson suggests, the blueprint for a successful political order in the twenty-first century will require meaningful entitlement reform, pro-growth economic policies, regulation or elimination of public sector unions, and a reinvigorated American federalism. To this we undoubtedly must add a vibrant and healthy civil society.

How to get from here to there? Can anyone running for president right now, among other elected offices, aspire to envision such a plan, embody the leadership to execute it and inspire the necessary consensus so people will really invest in the growth of civil society to something once again healthy and vibrant? Really?

Or, as some people ask, can anyone inspire true hope for positive change?

In Reagan’s 1980 nomination-acceptance speech, he cited a “community of shared values.” He repeatedly paid homage to the power of individuals, in voluntary community, to overcome obstacles. He ran on a platform of bold new tax cuts (when tax cuts were not yet fully Republican orthodoxy), energy development, domestic spending cuts, a devolution of power to states and localities, and a bolstered military. The Republican platform that year called for a firm re-commitment to protecting private property from government intrusions…

Reagan’s announcement speech in November 1979 described an America that was “a living, breathing presence, unimpressed by what others say is impossible, proud of its own success; generous, yes, and naïve; sometimes wrong, never mean, always impatient to provide a better life for its people in a framework of a basic fairness and freedom.”

…Reagan said America could be great again not because he himself was a powerful magician who could make it so, but because the people themselves were resourceful and would succeed if only the government didn’t hamper them. As he said in his 1980 convention speech, “’Trust me’ government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us. My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties. The trust is where it belongs — in the people.”…

All of this — and more — should be promoted in terms of unlocking vast human potential, and especially American potential, not by administrative command-and-control but through the incentives and dynamism of ordered liberty in a strong, voluntary, civil society.

These visions are closely related. But how do people feeling adrift and unmoored from once shared principles recover the courage of conviction and motivation to speak out, encourage others and try to re-order liberty together, for “a strong, voluntary, civil society”?

Robert Royal at least offers some sobering thoughts to start this consequential election year.

In 2016, the disproportion between the magnitude of our problems and the smallness of the candidates who claim to be able to fix them is large, perhaps larger than ever before in our history.

(His respected and considered opinion. I don’t entirely share it all. It’s a taller task than in recent memory. One or two candidates may be up to it, “may” being the operative word.)

And here it gets, in his word, “interesting”.

The central difficulty is our core doubt about what America and Western civilization are – or might be – anymore. This is no mere policy question. The feeling is widespread and non-partisan. People across the political spectrum – and, I’ve found, in other developed nations as well – complain that they “don’t recognize” their own countries anymore. An extraordinary, almost unprecedented thing.

We’re like the Israelites in exile, except we haven’t gone anywhere…

Striking line.

Does anyone think that if we only get taxes right, or immigration, or foreign policy, or healthcare, we’ll be back on the right road? Important issues, to be sure, but singly or together don’t address the real problem: a failing national vision…

And we ourselves are deeply troubled. Many particulars need fixing in America, but the thing we lack, the thing no political candidate currently seems to be able to give us, is a renewed and realistic sense of ourselves – something that has to be rooted in a truth deeper than economics and politics, in the “Creator” our Founders invoked and the condition of the American people. Without that spirit of confidence about the foundation, reforms won’t mean much.

So maybe take heart from that Reagan address so filled with hope and inspiration, because inspired, hopeful people can overcome considerable challenges.

I have seen the human race through a period of unparalleled tumult and triumph…

I have not only seen, but lived the marvels of what historians have called the “American Century.” Yet, tonight is not a time to look backward. For while I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future. So this evening, for just a few minutes, I hope you will let me talk about a country that is forever young.

There was a time when empires were defined by land mass, subjugated peoples, and military might. But the United States is unique because we are an empire of ideals. For two hundred years we have been set apart by our faith in the ideals of democracy, of free men and free markets, and of the extraordinary possibilities that lie within seemingly ordinary men and women. We believe that no power of government is as formidable a force for good as the creativity and entrepreneurial drive of the American people.

Those are the ideals that invented revolutionary technologies and a culture envied by people everywhere. This powerful sense of energy has made America synonymous with opportunity the world over. And after generations of struggle, America is the moral force that defeated Communism and all those who would put the human soul itself into bondage.

For a host of reasons, we seem to be seeing a lot of human souls in bondage again, in one form or another.

A fellow named James Allen once wrote in his diary, “many thinking people believe America has seen its best days.” He wrote that July 26, 1775. There are still those who believe America is weakening; that our glory was the brief flash of time called the 20th century; that ours was a burst of greatness too bright and brilliant to sustain; that America’s purpose is past.

My friends, I utterly reject those views. That’s not the America we know…Whether we come from poverty or wealth; whether we are Afro-American or Irish-American; Christian or Jewish, from big cities or small towns, we are all equal in the eyes of God. But as Americans, that is not enough, we must be equal in the eyes of each other. We can no longer judge each other on the basis of what we are, but must, instead, start finding out who we are. In America, our origins matter less than our destinations and that is what democracy is all about.

So, wrapping up that moment in time and hopefully inspiring future generations…

I want you to know that I have always had the highest respect for you, for your common sense and intelligence and for your decency. I have always believed in you and in what you could accomplish for yourselves and for others.

And whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way…

May each of you have the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute works that will make the world a little better for your having been here.

Does that sound outdated considering the times we’re now facing, and all that’s gone on since then, and all that fills the global news cycles now? We face an existential threat, we’ve grown so diverse (it was inevitable and can be good) and splintered (which is always bad) that recovering such values expressed not that long ago, but a lifetime ago, is daunting for some and undesirable for others.

However, as Justin Dyer wraps up his diagnosis of Our American Illness:

Now—before the next revolution—it is time to think on a practical level about what it will take to restore health to the American political system.