Scary Home Companion 

Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference between incompetence (or, to be generous, mistakes) and intentionally deceptive behavior.

Take the recent brouhahas regarding the Shelby County ballot, for example. It's possible to believe that no one at the Election Commission bothered to test the "enlarge type" function on the voting machines, so they were as surprised as the rest of us when some voters discovered that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean's name was bounced to the second page of the ballot. That would be a mistake, at best.

If the commission did test the "enlarge type" function, saw that Dean's name got bumped, and thought, "Meh, no big deal," despite the fact that state law mandates that the minority party's candidate be listed second on the ballot, well, that would be incompetence, at best. At worst, it would reflect a conscious decision to tilt the scales to Republican candidate Bill Lee, whose name remained atop the ballot no matter the type size.

click to enlarge Rodney Dangerfield
  • Rodney Dangerfield

Hard to tell. Though it's pretty difficult to imagine any sentient election officials thinking such a glitch would go unnoticed and/or uncontested.

Similarly, if you were generous, you could make the case that the three referenda on the ballot for Memphis voters are just worded clumsily. Clumsy verbiage is a mistake. Intentionally confusing language is not, and after trying without success to wrap my brain around the syntax of these fool things, I think it's pretty clear that the ordinances were intentionally written by the city council and its attorney to confuse voters. They are attempting to extend term limits from two terms to three terms, but they don't have the courage to ask for it honestly. They are attempting to repeal Instant Runoff Voting before it's even been implemented. Needless to say, all three proposed ordinances should be handily rejected. This is done by voting "Against," despite the fact that the Election Commission's sample ballot instructed voters that their options would be to vote "No" or "Yes." Just another simple mistake, one can assume. Or not.

Of course, sometimes it's really easy to tell when someone's being deceptive, as in the case of President Trump, who makes blatant lying a central element of his persona. It's not even news anymore. Here's a recent example: The president said initially that the Saudi arms deal would provide 40,000 jobs. This week, in citing the number of jobs that would be lost if the Saudi deal got cancelled (because of the inconvenient assassination of a journalist), the president claimed it would be 500,000 jobs. The next day, it became 600,000 jobs. The following day, at a rally, Trump claimed a million jobs would be lost.

In 2017, the entire defense-contracting industry in the U.S. employed 375,000 people. The million-jobs claim is utter and complete horse puckey. But here's the thing: Trump doesn't care. And that's because no one in his base or his party holds him accountable. For Trump, lying and exaggeration are features, not a bug.

As I watched clips from Trump's traveling roadshows this week, I had a revelation: He's the Garrison Keillor of the deplorables, weaving tales and fables and jokes tailored to their predispositions and fears. Scary Home Companion.

If he says there are Middle Eastern terrorists in the Honduran caravan, his people cheer. He doesn't have to prove it; he just has to say it. If he says Brett Kavanaugh graduated at the top of his class at Yale, no one will fact-check him, at least no one he cares about. The Diane Feinstein imitations, the one-liners, the nicknames, the comic shrugs, and facial contortions — it's all part of President Dangerfield's schtick. It's meta bloviation — beyond truth — and without parallel in our presidential history.

After seeing all the political vitriol pouring forth on social media, I've decided America's great divide has come down to this: You either buy into Trump's act, or you think he's totally full of crap. That's it. That's the only issue. We're a binary country now. Trump has finally succeeded in making everything about him; it's a narcissist's wet dream.

So, when considering the candidates for varous offices, ask yourself this question: "Who would Trump vote for?" That ought to clarify things, one way or the other.

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