Banner over Main Street, 2016

Each Presidential Election year, I take photos of events starting with the primaries and ending with an all day series on election day. Last year was no different and to mark a full year since the Trump victory, I looked through my Politics photo file and decided to share some of the moments I’ve captured over the years. It kind of evolved into something more.

John King, Hollis NH, 2008

My first foray into primary politics was at a small pharmacy in Hollis New Hampshire (owned by a loyal GOP donor) the day after the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, where Barack Obama officially became a front runner in that race. That morning, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain were in New Hampshire, and I went to this little store to wait for the Straight Talk Express bus to pull up. There I found CNN’s John King deep in thought. (Off topic: I just noticed the framed Corona beer sign on the right. Interesting counterpoint to the stenciling on the left. That’s New Hampshire for you.)

As the pharmacy began to fill up with media and the very few voters who could squeeze in, King would chat with people between writing emails and taking calls on his blackberry – at the time juggling devices like this was still rather extraordinary. A native of Dorchester, MA, the bitterly cold morning was not bothering him even though he admitted that most days he wasn’t even sure where he was as long as he was on the heels of a candidate.

John McCain, Hollis, NH, 2008

Senator McCain arrived with former Senator Warren Rudman (not pictured here) whose endorsement was announced at this event. He shook hands with the few citizens who were within reach  – most had been pushed back into the aisles of band aids and shaving cream behind him. The tiny pharmacy was so jammed that Cindy McCain chose to stay on the bus, and the chaos was intense enough that McCain never again scheduled a campaign appearance at a private business. At the time I thought he looked old and tired, but compared with the man today, he looks positively chipper.

Press Pool at the Nashua Airport, January 2008

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton was flying in to speak in a hangar at the Nashua Airport, where there was plenty of room for the media.

Hillary Clinton buttons and tee shirts for sale, 2008

And, unlike McCain, lots of merch.

Hillary Clinton unveils her new campaign bus, January 2008

Clinton’s airport event included the unveiling of her new campaign bus, intended to be a counter punch to the straight talk express. Alas, Obama’s victory was all anyone could talk about.

Bill and Chelsea Clinton watch Hillary speak the morning after her defeat by Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses, 2008

As she got up to speak, the the expressions of former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea pretty much said it all.

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Nashua, NH Airport, January 2008

Like the pharmacy, the hangar had more media in it than voters but the campaign was sure to create good optics for the event.

Bill Clinton works the crowd at the Nashua Airport on behalf of Hillary, January 2008

What they didn’t show was Bill working the crowd like he was still the candidate.

Braving the elements for Obama on Super Tuesday in Groton, MA 2008
Super Tuesday voter and friend, March 2008

Super Tuesday, 2008.

I didn’t take my camera to the polls in November, 2008. I was preoccupied with other things and also didn’t want to jinx it. I wish I’d thought of that in 2016.

 

Barack Obama campaigns in Manchester, NH, October 2012

In October 2012, President Obama campaigned in New Hampshire. The group of voters on the bleachers in front of us brought giant pieces of foam core cut to spell OBAMA.

A homemade Obama sign, 2012

I thought of this home made sign a lot in the fall of 2016, when the side of this house and whole lot of yards were empty.

In 2008, the slogan was “Hope.” In 2012, Obama perhaps understood that his path forward would be blocked at every turn by an obstinate and xenophobic Congress.

Mitt Romney was undone by a comment about the 57%. How quaint.

Screen shot of the Five Thirty Eight election analysis, November 6, 2012

Nate Silver and his Five Thirty Eight statistical analysis first emerged in 2008 and changed the face of political prognosticating for good.

 

Screen shot of a Facebook post of the NYT front page, November 7, 2012

Foreshadowing: For a lot of people, this was as close as they got to the front page of a New York Times – by 2012 more people were getting their news online than ever before, and the influence of Facebook on the electorate in 2016 is a story that is still unfolding.

Elizabeth Warren’s victory over Scott Brown proved that, at long last, a woman could win a state-wide election in Massachusetts. Niki Tsongas is giving up her seat in 2018, leaving Veterans without one of their strongest advocates in Congress. It’s a race to watch.

 

Pro-Trump yard signs in Westford, MA, Fall 2016

2016 was an ugly campaign in so many ways, illustrated by this display I drove by several times each week. The house (unseen here) looks like Boo Radley might live there. The center side says “Jail Hillary.”

Anti-Hillary yard sign in Ayer, MA, Fall 2016

Someone actually had these signs printed up – and we live in a blue state.

Clinton-Kaine sign across from a dinosaur mailbox, Fall 2016

By the time I took this photo I was starting to get the hint. There weren’t nearly as many signs up as in 2008 or 2012.

Three Trump sign displays in MA and NH, November 8, 2016

Hillary ultimately won the states in which these signs appeared, but the strength of Trump’s message and how it was delivered could not be denied. A year later, there are still some Trump signs posted, despite local ordinances saying political signs must be removed after an election.

This New Hampshire sign, backlit by the early morning sun on Election day, marks the moment where I first felt that Trump might win. I had been driving down a road dotted with Trump sings and no Hillary signs and I had to pull over to get this shot.

Democrats at a MA polling place, November 8, 2016

And then, at a local polling place, all of my shots of this group had this line through them. All of them.

Republicans at a MA polling place, November 8, 2016

Over in the shade, at the same polling place, these steadfast women held their ground.

Republican supporters at the entrance to a polling place, November 8, 2016

Out on the main road, Trump supporters dominated the entrance to the polling place. Again, Hillary won the town and the state, but you’d never know it from the signs.

The beginning and end of our day – we started with cake and ended with booze. At one point while watching the returns – everyone else had gone to bed – I needed to stress eat so much I took Christmas cookies from 2015 out of the freezer and ate them. They were delicious, but needless to say they didn’t help.

I watched all of the debates, read the news, and sat in disbelief that people could be diverted by Benghazi and email servers. I was befuddled by references to Russia, annoyed by anything having to do with the Clinton Foundation, and furious with all the free media time given – without rebuttal or correction to the endless lies – to the Trump rallies. Bannon and Conway were admired for their Machiavellian brilliance with absolutely no understanding of what that might mean for America.

iPad screen shot, November 9, 2016

We woke up to this.

Even though it has taken me a year to process the results of the 2016 election, I am no longer mystified by the reality of President Trump. There is no single reason for a success even he did not anticipate. If he really thought he would win, he and his associates would have hidden their ties to Russia better. I underestimated the antipathy of voters toward the Clintons (yes, plural) and the tone-deafness and sheer incompetence of the Democratic party. One need only look at the pitiful minimum wages and job losses in key states like Michigan to see that the Democrats lost touch with their base and did not take care of working class people at the state or federal levels. Whether Bernie Sanders could have solved that problem is a question that will be long debated but never answered, because he was never tested by the fires of a general election.

The Weinstein scandal came too late to help Hillary, but there is no guarantee that wouldn’t have backfired, too. Bill Clinton’s harassment, perjury, hypocrisy, draft-dodging and perpetual obfuscation paved the way for Donald Trump to do the same things, only exponentially worse because he has surrounded himself by people who, like him, are morally bankrupt, scientifically illiterate and clueless about governing. Add to that the unanticipated mendacity of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence and John Kelly – the “cooler heads” we kept telling ourselves would prevail in a Trump administration – and we are left with the too little too late types embodied in Jeff Flake and John McCain, whose political careers are effectively, almost tragically, over anyway.

And so we are left with a leadership – and in some ways moral – vacuum in the Democratic party.  Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had worn out their welcomes with the larger electorate by 2014, but their fundraising prowess obscured their lack of appeal to the next generation of voters, who were looking for a champion like Bernie and the only thing the democrats had to offer was…Bernie. Debbie Wasserman Schultz proved herself to be the Democratic versin or Reince Priebus – and somehow she got re-elected. Now, as in 2014, Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken are doing all of the heavy lifting. I haven’t read Donna Brazile’s book yet, but it appears she is owning the failures of her own party, and taking a terrible hit for telling it like it is – or was.

Even if the Trump presidency does not last, the GOP line of succession still guarantees that moneyed interests will prevail over the common good. The Democrats still have not figured out who is a worthy successor to Barack Obama. The solution is maddeningly simple in theory: authenticity. It’s what Obama has down to his very fingertips, and what every major Democrat with a wide audience beyond but Franken and Warren lacks. Franken and Warren are the first to admit they are not the saviors of the party, but they do set an example for what a competent Congress looks like. It’s a start.

As for what happens next, Robert Draper wrote a must-read piece on this topic in the November 1 New York Times Magazine. The money quote comes from an Army veteran named Bill Hyers, who helped create a brilliant ad for a challenger to Paul Ryan’s House seat. Referring to Pelosi and company, he says:

“What’s terrible about Democrats like [former congressman, democratic strategist, White House chief of staff and current Mayor of Chicago] Rahm Emanuel,” Hyers said, “is that it matters more to them if you’re a candidate who can raise money from very wealthy people than if you have an argument to make. They look at everything through the old Clinton triangulation strategy. Put out very carefully prepared statements. Don’t let anyone get to your right. Deny and ignore. Never have an honest dialogue. It was a bad strategy back in the ’90s. But it’s even worse today, because we can now have 24-7 access to candidates, and people can see when they’re not being authentic. Everything Hillary Clinton did was carefully scripted — they could see that.”

We need a Bernie Sanders for the 21st Century or we could very likely end up reliving in the 19th century.

President Obama, driving away from a campaign rally, October 2012

Note to Self: Time to Rethink Social Media

It's evening in America.
It’s evening in America.

The Inauguration and the marches are behind us and now the work begins in earnest. On the radio earlier this week I heard a Russian journalist warn against being distracted by “chaff” news, and the example he gave was the inaugural crowd size kerfuffle from the weekend. In Russia, ridiculous lies about non-essential news is a tactic used to distract from significant news that consequently gets underreported. To paraphrase, he said that they deliberately draw attention to what they are saying to distract reporters and the public from the things that they are doing.

My new mantra: We cannot allow things that are tangential or invasive to distract us from what is important, nor can we ignore the glimmers of good even as we expect the worst.

I am totally guilty of pouncing on the snark currently dominating Facebook, even though I also try to share substantive news.  Recently I shared numerous pieces about the departing First Family, the stark differences in style and manners, the copycat cake, and signs from the march. I didn’t march myself, but all month long I wrote emails and made calls about cabinet appointments and pending legislation. I am grateful to those who did march, and I try to be sensitive to those that felt the march was not as inclusive as they had hoped. Can you appreciate enthusiasm and check privilege at the same time? I hope so. I’m trying.

No amount of fire could challenge the fairy tale he had stored up in his heart. – F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

I keeping picturing the green light blinking in the fog across the sound in The Great Gatsby. The careless carnage of the Buchanans is playing out in front of us and sometimes it feels like we are helpless to stop it. The voters are Gatsby, who thinks the billionaires club is itching for us to join when really we will just be taking the fall for them.  If we let the pomp and the parties distract us – if we let the real news sink under the weight of the confetti – the careless couple (Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, to be precise) will blithely continue to put their interests before ours and we will end up face down in the water.

Meanwhile, the media will chase the confetti. NBC has plundered FOX News’ anchors not to improve its journalism but to improve its ratings. In 2015 Trump hosted SNL playing a candidate and now they have Alec Baldwin coming back to host SNL playing Trump (February 11). CNN is only “discovering” now that broadcasting lies upon lies with real-time coverage is tacitly endorsing those untruths. For 18 months Donald Trump got all the live, unedited, un-factchecked coverage he could ask for at his rallies and only now is CNN delaying broadcast of a White House press conference so they can decide whether it is newsworthy. I’m hard pressed (pun intended) to believe that the only reason they are doing that now is that it won’t cost them much in terms of ad revenue – the people who ate up Trump’s rallies with a spoon will not give the same attention to a White House press conference. But if a conference is deemed “newsworthy” they can take the juicy bits and tart them up for prime time, right? Talking about what they say and giving short shrift to what they do. Putin will approve.

2008-01-04-015All last fall we heard the allegedly liberal media speak admiringly of how brilliantly Kellyanne Conway was taming Trump and keeping him on message. They looked on her lies and deflections with bemusement, thinking surely the sideshow would never make it to the center ring. They must be rubbing their hands with delight now that the Kellyanne and Donald show will go on and on, right up to the impeachment, which will also be fantastic for ratings.

And Congress wrings its hands and explains wanly that what we thought were checks and balances are actually gentleman’s agreements: it turns out tax returns, blind trusts and anti-nepotism rules are not codified, really, just suggested.  Who knew? And Mitch McConnell has proven that even the rules that are codified in the Constitution, like those governing Supreme Court appointments, can be completely ignored as long as you have a big enough majority.

But it was the targeting of the President’s young son on social media that made me stop short and reassess my own social media priorities and boundaries. There is a lot that could be said about this young man that might be insightful and helpful, but the fact is it’s really not our business to speculate about how the fishbowl of the White House might affect him. The best we can do is leave him alone and hope that he never has to feel alone.

So from now on I am going to try and be more careful about how I use my accounts and platforms, drawing a more thoughtful line between fun and news. I will be bypassing pussy hats for corgies in the snow, posting fewer retweets and more legislative alerts, and sharing the kinds of art, food, and literature that keep me optimistic. I will continue to emphasize news about disability and autism (saving Medicaid and the preserving the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act) and trying not to overshare the “chaff.” I hope people will share my posts that matter to them without my asking.

This post is my way of holding myself accountable: to keep my social media eye on the ball and pay less attention to what people in power are saying and more attention to what they are doing. Words matter. Actions matter even more, and sharing and retweeting alone do not count as action.

 

Two Steps Back: “The Week” is weak.

IMG_7349There are plenty of reasons I haven’t  posted much lately, but it took this little media gift to send me scurrying back to my blog.

The Week arrived in my U. S. Mail box yesterday. That’s right, a magazine with Santa on the cover arrived on January 6, 2014. It’s dated December 27, 2013, so they even published it after Christmas thinking that Santa was the best cover story. It came with a paper cover inviting me to subscribe. A quick glance though this new aggregator revealed that I had read – literally – 95% of all the articles or topics (I missed the crossword, incest in Australia and a piece on Vespas.) None of the pieces – none – contained any news from the past week – and it’s all content that has already appeared on the web. It does turn out to be a good guide to the sites that provide (reasonably) hard, accurate news, but then again all you would need to do is subscribe to the Times and you’d have the news at least within 24 hours of it breaking instead of three weeks late. I love paper, I love type, I love design. Part of me sincerely wants something like this that fills a real because I miss paper, I really do. But I am addicted to immediacy and now I am paid to feed that addiction through social media and journalism, so my complaints are only that.

IMG_7350
The type is too small for the folks who would actually read this publication.

You know, The Week would actually be a great publication for doctor’s offices and nursing homes – for anyone who has limited or no access (or interest in) the Internet. Except the type is too small for anyone over 55.

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