Baltimore should adopt Trump’s sense of outrage over urban violence.

Donald Trump is right; too many American cities are facing daily carnage.

Let’s give our president credit where it’s due. In his inaugural address President Donald Trump brought something to the battle against urban violence that long has been needed: a sense of outrage over the plight of inner-city residents trapped in poverty and victimized by an epidemic of murder. Bombast or not, his use of the word “carnage” appropriately conveyed the need for a sense of urgency in tackling the crisis that has been conspicuously absent among many of our local, state and national leaders, including those in Maryland.

In his speech, Mr. Trump referred to the “different reality” that exists for mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities where decent jobs are non-existent and where dysfunctional schools leave “young and beautiful students” deprived of knowledge and where “crime and the gangs and the drugs … have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.” Mr. Trump dramatically proclaimed that “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

The self-consciously cerebral editorial boards of newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post accused Mr. Trump of overstating the problem. In attacking the president for a “graceless and disturbingly ahistoric vision of America,” the New York Times referred to Mr. Trump’s description of inner city violence as a “sweeping exaggeration” at odds with the fact that crime in general remains far lower than in past decades. The Washington Post accused Mr. Trump of painting a “false picture of an impoverished, crime-ridden country,” although conceding that Mr. Trump’s “dystopia” may exist in some places.

Yeah, like in a significant number of neighborhoods in Baltimore. Maybe the bluebloods who write editorials from their offices on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and K Street in Washington would like to take a walk in the Coldstream Homestead Montebello or Belair-Edison neighborhoods in Baltimore. On second thought, taking a walk through those neighborhoods is not such a great idea, but they can take look at some statistics from the safety of their desks.

A report by Justin George of The Baltimore Sun last year revealed that in the previous five years there had been 75 shootings in Coldstream Homestead Montebello, 32 of them fatal; in Belair-Edison 92 shootings, 33 deadly. Baltimore has started 2017 averaging one homicide per day. If that is not carnage, what is it?

The editorials by the Times and the Post missed the bigger picture: the need for an end to the business-as-usual attitude of our political leaders in which the daily violence on city streets almost is accepted as an immutable fact of urban life. Why not view Mr. Trump’s statement on the issue as a rallying cry for immediate and concerted action that should be echoed by state and local officials? Sometimes you need passion to drive solutions to complex problems; it is part of leadership.

Several weeks ago, The Sun published an editorial that admonished Baltimore officials to start acting like the city is in a homicide crisis, because it is. The governor needs to step forward as well, and city and state leaders need to actually do something. I have a suggestion: Why not a state summit on the crisis? I don’t mean one more forum for pontificating and hand wringing; I mean something scholarly and useful that results in the commitment of city and state leaders to a long term plan with specific goals and objectives against which progress can be measured.

Ask the dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work to chair the summit, because the underlying problems are socioeconomic in nature. In some sense the consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice regarding the Baltimore Police Department has become a distraction. Solving the problem of police misconduct is important, but it is not going to change the fact that in Baltimore too many young black men are lost to life on the streets by the time they are 12 or 13.

Gov. Larry Hogan can deliver the keynote address. If he does, he could do a lot worse than borrow the words of President Trump in referring to citizens who live in neighborhoods like Coldstream Homestead Montebello and Belair-Edison: “We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams. And their success will be our success.” A productive summit and words like that might give us something else that has been in short supply in Baltimore as the murder rate continues unabated: Hope.

January 28, 2017

[Published as an op ed by The Baltimore Sun on January 28, 2017 but not posted to my blog until May 18, 2017.  The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]

How not to win a war.

Here is my message to the media, especially CNN, about President Trump’s declaration that he is at “war with the media”:  Stop obsessing about it and continue to do what you are supposed to do.  What you are supposed to do is to accurately and fairly report the news and present responsible commentary political commentary.  I.e., just do your job and stop complaining how hard Mr. Trump is making it for you.

Commentators from news organizations talking about the issue endlessly not only is tedious it also tends to convey the impression that the news organizations are insecure and defensive, as if there is something to the accusations by Mr. Trump and his cohorts that these news organizations have been biased against him.  Maybe they are just afraid.  In any event, most of the preoccupation on CNN with the issue probably has to do with filling time.  We know that gases expand to fill their containers, and the same principle applies to subject matters and news talk air time.

In this case, however, the media is naively falling into a trap set for them by Mr. Trump and his team, and will just end up proving his argument that he is the target of media bias, at least to those favorably disposed toward Mr. Trump.  Some outlets in particular have decided that the best defense is a good offense and go out of their way to find fault with everything that he says or does, and there is almost an anti-Trump hysterical tone to it.  Those outlets will have lost the battle if viewers or readers conclude that their reporting and commentary is reflexively anti-Trump.

Why don’t I watch Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity?  Answer:  Because they lack objectivity and have zero credibility.  For the same reason the networks and newspapers under assault by Mr. Trump should bend over backwards to maintain the appearance of objectivity.  The president wins this war if the credibility of all networks and newspapers (including Fox) is neutralized and the media in general is tuned out by the public.  That would leave Mr. Trump with the stage to himself.

It is pretty obvious that many reporters and commentators are uncomfortable having the tables turned on them by having someone question their motives and integrity.  To that I’d say suck it up, and that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Welcome to the world in which you have to be able to take it as well as dish it out.

It dawned on me on how generally self-absorbed the major media organizations are when watching the coverage years ago of the death of a prominent news anchor, I forget which one.  You would have thought that a sitting president or pope had just died.  I understand professional courtesy and respect, but there also is such a thing as a bit of perspective and professional humility – get over yourselves.  I am on the side of the press in this war, so call this advice and counsel a bit of tough love.

The framers of the United States Constitution were so concerned about a president going rogue that they had to plan to deal with it, and that plan includes the first two amendments to the constitution.  I am not saying to reporters, columnist, and editorial writers that you should go out and arm yourselves as provided in the Second Amendment (at least not yet), but stick to the plan set forth in First Amendment, and trust that the freedom of the press will work as intended.

As a young lawyer I heard a lecture from a prominent trial lawyer from New York City.  One of the things that he said was that the most powerful themes for juries are the ones that jurors figure out for themselves.  Keep putting the facts in front of the public and eventually all members of the public willing to listen will conclude that our president is a dangerous narcissist and megalomaniac, and a pathological liar.

Stop trying to persuade your readers, viewers and listeners how important you are and how bad it is for you to be attacked by the president.  Don’t let Mr. Trump get under your skin.  He will have the edge as long you continue to whine and complain and are focused on yourselves.  Stop talking about the war and go out and win it.  I’m pulling for you.

January 27, 2017

More on the Baltimore SAO and PD, and something on the proposed consent decree.

The subjects of this wide-ranging (rambling?) post are an informative article by The Sun’s Justin Fenton on the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, a recent comment by Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, and the proposed consent decree agreed to by Baltimore and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).  First up is my latest critique of the State’s Attorney’s Office.

In yesterday’s paper Fenton reported that 11 out the 17 police shootings in Baltimore during the past 16 months remain under investigation by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.  Fenton noted that prosecutors in Baltimore and elsewhere routinely take months to make legal determinations about police actions, even when suspects who survive the encounters are charged immediately.

Fenton cited unnamed analysts for the proposition that “the standards by which police actions are judged are more complicated.”  The standards certainly differ but are not necessarily more complicated.  It is true that applying the standards governing the use of deadly force by police officers to the facts of specific cases can involve some very fine legal judgments, but that is not what is delaying the outcomes of these investigations.

There are two plausible explanations for the delays in Baltimore. The first is that sufficient resources are not being allocated to the task of investigating police shootings simply because there are too few attorneys in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office with the requisite knowledge and experience to competently handle the task – an entirely possible scenario given the exodus of veteran prosecutors from the office.

The second plausible explanation is that there is no management interest in moving the cases along any faster, and that adequate resources therefore are being deliberately withheld or the cases are intentionally being placed on a slow track.  In other words, to use Fenton’s term, the cases “languish” by design.  In either case the frustration of Baltimore police union president Gene Ryan is understandable:

“If the officers did something wrong, prosecute them,” said Ryan, whose union represents all city officers below the rank of captain.  “If they didn’t, let them get back in the saddle and protecting the citizens of Baltimore. What are they waiting for?”

I agree with Ryan.  If the slowness is intentional then State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby may be trying to convey the impression of a more thoughtful and deliberate process when it comes to alleged police misconduct.  After the Freddie Gray debacle Mosby likely wants to avoid more accusations that she is prone to rash actions and rushes to judgment.  In all fairness, she would not be the first chief prosecutor to be preoccupied by appearances in such matters, with the appearance of deliberateness being more important than deliberateness itself.

It would be hard to fault Mosby for being careful except for the fact that the explanation of the review process for police shooting cases by Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe suggests that the process is designed to take as long as possible but is not designed to achieve the most careful decisions.  According to the article, the evidence in a police shooting case is examined by an assigned prosecutor, then the supervisor of the homicide or police integrity unit, then Bledsoe, then Schatzow, and ultimately Mosby.  “It goes through a number of screenings so we can answer all the questions and get a decision,” Bledsoe said in explaining the delays.

If that review is being done sequentially then the process is both inherently inefficient and unlikely to reach the best conclusion.  Let me respectfully suggest that the following is the best practice:  Have the assigned prosecutor and his or her supervisor come up with a recommendation, and then have them present that recommendation with the supporting facts to a panel that includes the final decision maker, Mosby.  If both Bledsoe and Schatzow also need to be on the panel, fine.  After reading the file, listening to a full and frank discussion about the pros and cons of the case, and soliciting the opinions of the individual panel members, Mosby can make the final decision whether to charge or not charge, or to send the case back for more work.

Unless the decision is made in this fashion Mosby and the other panel members do not get the full benefit of each other’s thoughts and questions.  The synergy of the group process leads to more informed decisions in this type of matter.  This should come as no surprise to a bunch of lawyers, because it is one of the theories underpinning the practice of having appellate tribunals hearing oral arguments in panels, with questions and responses flying back and forth.

The multi-level screening process described by Bledsoe is not appropriate to making decisions in police shooting cases where all final decisions whether to charge – or not to charge – should be made by the chief prosecutor.  At the current rate of police shootings Mosby and her deputies would have to sit down about once a month to review police shootings; it seems like a worthwhile expenditure of their time.

◊     ◊     ◊

The next subject is a comment by Commissioner Kevin Davis to city lawmakers last week that the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) lacks enough sergeants to adequately supervise patrol officers.  I have been making the point for two years that it is patently obvious that the front-line supervision provided by BPD sergeants and lieutenants is woefully inadequate and is the area in which the critical breakdown in police performance and discipline has occurred.  Police sergeants in particular have been as much part of the problem as part of the solution in terms of disciplinary infractions.

The issue is not one of sheer numbers, however.  The quality of the individuals in the positions and their training are crucial factors, as described in the report of the DOJ investigation of the BPD.  Simply adding more sergeants to the barrel will not have the desired effect until the bad apples are removed, and removed quickly.

In an op ed published in The Sun in 2015 I said that the first step was for the city to get sergeants and lieutenants out of the same union as the patrol officers that they supervise in order to combat the over-identification of supervisors with the officers that they supervise.  Also, the pay differential for supervisors is going to have to be great enough to persuade the best and brightest officers to apply for supervisory positions.

Setting the pay of supervisors at adequate levels is infinitely harder if the same union represents both the rank-and-file and supervisory tiers of employees.  The rank-and-file members vastly outnumber their supervisors in the union and that situation invariably results in the compression of pay scales, not elevating the pay of the relative handful of supervisors to adequate levels.  This concept is so fundamental that I have trouble believing that the city’s Labor Commissioner has not addressed it.

In another op ed published last year I suggested that the General Assembly enact a public local law that would have the effect of exempting BPD sergeants and lieutenants from the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, making it easier to get rid of bad ones.  Neither measure proposed in the op eds has been enacted which, in my opinion, makes it less likely that Commissioner Davis is going to see much improvement in the quality of the supervision of his patrol officers any time soon.

◊     ◊     ◊

The final subject is a remark made by United States District Court Judge James Bredar in a letter seeking additional information on the consent decree proposed to the court by the DOJ and the City of Baltimore.  Judge Bredar appeared to question the wisdom of a provision in the decree that would prohibit officers from using a high-crime area as a basis for a stop or detention, or base a detention on someone’s attempt to avoid contact with an officer.  I had the same reaction.

Bredar asked if the parties “intend to impose a standard on the BPD different from that set out in Illinois v. Wardlow.”  In Illinois v. Wardlow the Supreme Court held that a person’s sudden and unprovoked flight from police officers in a high crime area was sufficiently suspicious to justify the officers’ stop of that person; once stopped, the person could be questioned and frisked for contraband or weapons.

I do not have a problem with the Police Commissioner deciding as a matter of policy that he does not want his officers exploiting the full extent of their powers to stop and detain citizens because he has determined that such aggressive policing does more harm than good.  I do have a problem incorporating into a legally binding consent decree a restriction on the powers of BPD officers that exceeds constitutional limitations and does not apply to other officers in the state.

Stated as simply as possible, a ban on lawful police conduct does not belong in a consent decree intended to prevent unlawful police conduct.  To place this in perspective keep in mind that if the DOJ took their case against the BPD to trial and prevailed no judge would as a remedy enjoin the BPD from engaging in lawful police practices; it’s not what judges do under the law.  

The provision in the decree is consistent with the philosophy of the DOJ under President Obama, which opposed using stop-and-frisk (also known as stop-question-and-frisk) as a routine police tactic.  If you ask me why the DOJ believes that it has the expertise to dictate the practices of big city police departments in fighting crime in intense urban evironments I won’t have an answer for you.

In my experience with federal agencies I found that some of them tend to lack what I would describe as institutional humility and are prone to think that they know best, even when it comes to matters that are within the province of state or local government.  State or local officials, no matter how competent, often are regarded by federal officials as local yokels who need to be led around by the nose.

I would not be surprised if this provision attracts the attention of President Trump’s nominee to be Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, because it is the type of overreach by the DOJ that he has described as objectionable in the past. It also is the kind of attitude by federal agencies that has fed the anti-regulatory frenzy of the president and his supporters.  If Sessions sees this provision as objectionable then I would have to agree with him.

It makes no difference whether the current Mayor and Police Commissioner agree with the provision.  They have no more right than the DOJ to make policy decisions for the next Mayor and Police Commissioner.  Times and circumstances change, and police practices may have to change as well.  It is a bit arrogant for current elected and appointed officials to try to impose their policies and beliefs on future elected and appointed officials by memorializing them in a court judgment.

If the existing level of gun violence in some Baltimore neighborhoods does not abate in the near future then even the current Mayor and Police Commissioner may come to regret their agreement to give up the right to use stop-and-frisk in Baltimore’s deadliest neighborhoods, even if the practice offends the sensibilities of some citizens.  Stop-and-frisk can take some additional guns off of the streets.  With homicides in the New Year averaging almost one per day in Baltimore it seems premature and almost foolhardy to remove a perfectly legal tool from the police tool bag before we know exactly how desperate the situation will become.

January 23, 2017

Time for AG to act before it is too late to save the Baltimore City SAO.

Under Article V, Section 7 of the Maryland Constitution the State’s Attorney for a county or Baltimore City may be removed for incompetence or willful neglect of duty by a vote of two-thirds of the Maryland Senate upon the recommendation of the Attorney General. The power of the Attorney General to inquire into the performance of duties by a State’s Attorney is necessarily implied by the section.  Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh should open an inquiry into the manner in which Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is running her office before it is too late to repair any damage that is being done.

In the latest upheaval within the office both the chief administrator and the chief spokesperson for Mosby resigned this week with the chief spokesperson, Rochelle Ritchie, taking a parting shot at Mosby’s leadership of the office. These two resignations followed the resignation of last month of another administrator, Mosby’s chief of external affairs, who had been Ritchie’s supervisor.

The warning signs of mismanagement have been there from the first month that Marilyn Mosby took office as the State’s Attorney for the City of Baltimore, beginning with the large-scale and disruptive exodus of experienced prosecutors who carry out the day-to-day responsibilities of the office.  In some cases vacant prosecutor positions were filled with administrators – who now have joined in the exodus.

The problem of gaffes by prosecutors compromising the prosecution of criminal defendants in the city did not start with Mosby but she has done little or nothing to fix it, and it has continued on her watch; indeed, the dearth of experienced prosecutors in her office makes the problem much harder to address.  Last month yet another defendant was acquitted of murder because of what appears to be the inadequate preparation of a case for trial by police and prosecutors.

I don’t need to mention the Freddy Gray debacle, as well-documented as that was. I made my personal views known in an op ed that appeared in The Baltimore Sun.  Even a good chief prosecutor would have difficulty recovering from a performance as dismal and questionable as that, and in my opinion Mosby is not a good chief prosecutor.

One action in particular taken by Mosby in the aftermath of the Freddy Gray cases caught my attention and the attention of other experienced prosecutors.  Mosby and her two chief deputies were under fire in the national media, and a complaint had been filed against them with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission.  At a time when Mosby need to make sure that the routine operations of her office were in good hands she hired a third deputy, Valda Ricks, to be her Chief of Operations.

Ricks was a career public defender without any experience as a prosecutor.  It is no insult to Ricks’ general competence as a lawyer to state that I and others were flabbergasted that Mosby would appoint a lawyer without any prosecutorial experience to oversee an office with over 200 prosecutors.  The functions of a public defender and a State’s Attorney have little in common other than they both involve the practice of criminal law.  It was an odd appointment that did not seem to strengthen the office where it needed the most, which is in the area of experienced oversight of prosecutions.

In an article published in November the Wall Street Journal reported that during Mosby’s tenure prosecutors have dropped or dismissed the charges in 43% of the felony cases handled by her office.  That is a very high number, and in my own post I expressed frustration at Mosby’s unwillingness or inability to explain why so many cases are being washed out.  At this point my hypothesis is that she and her staff are so fearful of additional embarrassing acquittals and a further nosedive in their conviction rate that only the cases that they deem most winnable are allowed to go forward.

On her way out the door this week Rochelle Ritchie stated that in the future she looked forward to working under “respectable and seasoned leadership,” an obvious jab at Mosby. Mosby’s peevishly retweeted a horoscope in response:  “An Aquarius usually has no patience for people with tiny minds.” Mosby later deleted the tweet, but that did nothing to diminish the perception that there is a troubling lack of maturity in certain of her decisions.

In all of my years in government I can count on one hand the times I have heard an employee hopeful of landing another job somewhere say something like Ritchie did upon resigning from a job.  In and of itself it means little, but it is one more piece of evidence suggesting that something destructive is going on inside Mosby’s office.

As I did with my op ed suggesting that the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission investigate Mosby for the manner in which she handled the Gray prosecutions I want to emphasize that I am offering no conclusions other than to say that sometimes where there is smoke there is indeed fire, and an inquiry needs to take place.  Let the chips fall where they may after a fair and impartial inquiry.

Article V, Section 7 is in the Maryland Constitution for a reason, and it imposes a duty on the Attorney General to act if he has reason to believe that Mosby is not competently managing her office. The issue is certainly worthy of the Attorney General’s time because Baltimore can ill afford a lack of competence in any component of the criminal justice system.

January 5, 2017

 

 

 

 

The perils of looking down your nose at the rubes and hicks.

A column by David Zurawik that appeared in The Baltimore Sun a couple of weeks ago struck a responsive chord.  Zurawik is the Sun’s media critic, and the television coverage of president-elect Donald Trump’s recent stop in Zurawik’s hometown, West Allis, Wisconsin, caused Zurawik to launch into a tirade on the patronizing and demeaning manner in which the national media tend to cover places like West Allis.  His observations are worth a conversation about losing touch with the ordinary working people of this country and they also give me a chance to get something off of my chest about the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Zurawik lambasted network executives in New York and Washington for thinking that “people in places like West Allis are rubes and hicks and somehow less entitled to being treated in a non-stereotypical manner than they and their fine, fine reporters and anchors are.”  The segment that sent Zurawik over the edge included a reporter commenting on the size of the stack of pancakes served at Johnny V’s, a local diner in West Allis.  Zurawik noted that he could not “recall one political report I saw in the last two years from a breakfast place in New York, Washington or Los Angeles with reporters dressed like they were auditioning for ‘Hee Haw,’ marveling at the locals’ capacity for pancakes.”

Zurawik said that except for funerals he hasn’t returned to West Allis since he was 18.  He has not, however, forgotten where he was from and how experiences there shaped his life; he described the job that his out-of-work father was given collecting garbage as the salvation of his family.  His father eventually became safety director for the city.  Zurawik suggested that had the national media not been so out of touch with people from places like West Allis they might have realized what an error Hillary Clinton committed by not making a single stop in Wisconsin during the final week of her campaign.

That brings bring me to Hillary, and to my own perceptions.  I know that Zurawik was restating the conventional wisdom that Hillary erred in neglecting the “core constituency” of her party by a lack of attention to Wisconsin.  I wonder, however, if a visit or two would have made any difference given her general inability to connect with working class voters from Wisconsin and elsewhere.  My moment of clarity on that issue came in August when Vice President Joe Biden accompanied Hillary on a campaign stop in Scranton in my home state of Pennsylvania.  As they spoke to a rally in Scranton the contrast between Hilary and Biden, who lived in Scranton until he was 13, could not have been more pronounced.

After listening to Biden speak I was convinced that he could still walk unannounced into any diner or barber shop in Scranton and strike up a friendly conversation with the locals.  Hillary, on the other hand, was like an alien from outer space.  Her father may have been from Scranton and she may have spent summers on Lake Winola northwest of Scranton but Hillary was no more at home in Scranton than she was in anywhere else in working class America during the campaign.  If she ever had any working class roots she had long since left them behind.

Zurawik has strong feelings because he still identifies with the people of West Allis, something that I can appreciate.  I grew up in Spring Township near the city of Reading.  My parents and I actually spent the first five years of my life my living with my mother’s parents in the borough of West Lawn until my parents got their own home a few miles to the west in Spring Township.  West Lawn no longer exists, however, having been merged into Spring Township, so now I can just say that I am from Spring Township; it makes it easier.

I earned my own spending money from delivering newspapers from the time I was eleven and later worked during the summers and on holidays in varying places including a brass foundry, a deep shaft iron ore mine, a state highway crew, and a cardboard box factory.  I even spent a few weekends helping out on my buddy Bruce’s family’s dairy farm.  I didn’t set out to sample the various kinds of unskilled manual labor performed in the Reading area but it did seem to turn out that way.

My stint in the brass foundry grinding the rough edges off of brass hose bibs was mercifully short and ended when I got a job as a laborer in Grace Mine, located south of Reading and owned and operated by Bethlehem Steel.  Compared to standing in front of a grinding wheel for eight hours a day in the brass foundry working in Grace Mine was a picnic, once you got used to the cramped spaces, the dampness, the darkness and the idea of being up to 3,000 feet underground.  The work was hard and dirty, but less monotonous than grinding hose bibs.

Many of the miners at Grace Mine while I was there were former coal miners who had lost their coal-mining jobs when the demand for anthracite coal began declining in the 1950’s.  Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region stretches roughly from Schuylkill County north of Reading to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area, and some of the miners drove almost two hours each way to work at Grace Mine.

After graduating from college I never again worked in a foundry, mine or factory or on a road crew or farm but I still tend to bristle when I detect a whiff of snobbery on the part of those who tend to look upon manual labor as less noble or worthy than whatever it is that they do; I know how wrong they are.  Zurawik described the issue in geographic terms, but it is of course also socioeconomic.  Network executives and other elitists long have tended to look down their noses at the working men and women who reside in what they regard as the vast cultural wasteland between the coasts.

It seems to me that Hillary is not much different from the network executives to whom Zurawik referred.  In my opinion, it was what Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of The Sun, described as Clinton’s haughty demeanor that doomed Clinton with the working class.  Yes, Clinton had plenty of other baggage, some deserved and some not, but I believe that the supervening cause of her defeat was the fact that many Americans, particularly members of the working class, simply did not like her – and in many cases despised her.

Some of her problem establishing a rapport with working class voters had to do with her tendency to come across as guarded and stiff in front of an audience.  Hillary had what Kasie Hunt of NBC described on the night of the election as an “authenticity” problem that made it impossible for her to connect with many voters, but it was more than that.  She could talk about working class voters but she had trouble talking to them.

If I recall anything about the ordinary working folk of Pennsylvania it was how little they cared for people who talked down their noses to them or talked to them as if they were children.  Being a snob was the cardinal sin; you could be rich – most of my friends and neighbors in Spring Township would have preferred to be rich – but putting on airs was unforgivable.

Hillary never appeared comfortable mixing with the hoi polloi.  There is sort of a rule of thumb, and it goes like this:  If the hoi polloi sense that you don’t like them, they won’t like you.  I think that is what happened to Hillary.

Trump, on the other hand, convinced the hoi polloi that he liked and cared about them.  He doesn’t actually give a rat’s ass about them, but that is a whole other story.  And he is anything but a snob in the conventional sense, at least when it comes to his behavior – no one I knew in Spring Township was as crass or vulgar as he is; the snobs acted better than you – not worse.  In the end I believe that his general coarseness worked to his advantage by sharpening the contrast with Hillary’s tendency to come off as holier-than-thou.

Your father did not have to be a garbage man or you did not have to work in a mine to relate to working class voters.  It is more a matter of attitude than experience.  I just don’t think Hillary has it in her, and she seems to feel genuinely ill at ease in places like Johnny V’s in West Allis.  In a revealing article that appeared in the New York Times in September the authors described Hillary as “especially relaxed, candid and even joyous” in the company of ultra-rich supporters in places like the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Beverly Hills and Silicon Valley.

According to the authors of the Times article some of the closest relationships Hillary and her husband have are with their longstanding financial contributors.  “If she feels most at ease around millionaires, within the gilded bubble, it is in part because they are some of her most intimate friends.”  She needed to feel more at ease around non-millionaires, or at least be able to avoid giving the distinct impression that she’d rather be elsewhere when in the company of less-sophisticated people.

Let me say that I don’t hate Hillary for who she is; if she is only comfortable around her intellectual and socioeconomic peers, so be it.  That doesn’t make her a bad person and it only became a problem when she decided to run for the presidency as the candidate of the Democratic Party.

It was incumbent upon Hillary to be able to get down off of her pedestal to establish a rapport with working class voters, especially because her candidacy carried with it a sense of entitlement – another strike against her with the working class.  She was unable to do that and it doomed her campaign.  Failing to climb down from her pedestal was an invitation to voters to knock her off of that pedestal and that is exactly what they did.

I believe that more voters would have overlooked her other baggage had they simply liked her.  Far too many voters within the Democratic Party’s core constituency were left feeling ice cold toward the party’s nominee.

Finally, let’s try to accept that responsibility for the loss to Trump lies with the Democratic Party and its nominee.  The Democratic Party employed a flawed nominating process that resulted in the selection of a flawed candidate who ran a flawed campaign.

Paul Krugman wrote a column this week in the New York Times on the subject of Obamacare.  He couldn’t resist beginning with a gratuitous comment that bore no relationship to the rest of on the column:  “If James Comey, the F.B.I. director, hadn’t tipped the scales in the campaign’s final days with that grotesquely misleading letter, right now an incoming Clinton administration would be celebrating some very good news. Because health reform, President Obama’s signature achievement, is stabilizing after a bumpy year.”

Mr. Krugman, ask yourself this question:  What kind of candidate loses to an offensive, bombastic and crass narcissist who appears to have an attention deficit disorder and is temperamentally and morally unfit to be President?  Hopefully you will agree that the answer is a candidate who never should have been nominated by a major party.  You can torture yourself by wondering what would have happened had Comey kept his mouth shut but the bigger picture is that it never should have mattered because the election should not have been a close one.

Before the first Democratic primary took place national polls showed that 50% of the registered voters in the country viewed Hillary unfavorably.  For a candidate who had been in the public eye for over 24 years that hole was far too deep; minds had been made up.  When a Democratic candidate for president manages to lose Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan to a business magnate who has his brand-named goods manufactured overseas it tells you that there was a deeper problem than a letter from the FBI director.

I don’t mind agreeing with Zurawik but it bothers me to admit that Anthony Bourdain, who generally grates on my nerves, had a point when he said that working-class Americans were tired of “privileged eastern liberals.”  He overstated the point, but the hard truth is that many working class voters found little reason to trust Hillary with their future.

Some of the mistrust had to do with her general reputation for shading the truth and ignoring rules that apply to lesser folk.  A lot of it, however, had to do with the way that she and her husband had parlayed their public service into a fortune estimated at $111 million, most of which was earned in “speaking fees” paid to the Clintons by large corporations and foreign governments.  The Clintons were by no means the first politicians to capitalize on their public service but that does not mean that it endeared them to voters living pay check to pay check.

Even if you don’t believe that it was an implicit pay-to-play scheme for the Clinton Foundation to accept donations from foreign countries and multi-national corporations while Hillary was Secretary of State (even though that is what it was) the practice had an unseemly feel to it.  It confirmed an uncomfortable perception that for Hillary and her husband public service has become as much a means to an end as an end in itself.  To compound the problem the Clinton Global Initiative, a major focus of the Clinton Foundation conveyed the image of Hillary and her husband as more interested in hobnobbing with Nobel Laureates, world leaders, and other global elites than spending their time with ordinary Americans.

It is hard to think of any activity more removed from the experiences of everyday Americans than a group of intellectuals getting together to sip wine and share lofty ideas for solving the world’s problems.  Let’s just say that it doesn’t have the same down-to-earth feel as former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn nailing up drywall for Habitat for Humanity.  Indeed, the concept oozes elitism.

Hillary is a Midwesterner by birth.  After they left the White House the Clintons moved to Chappaqua, a toney hamlet in Westchester County, so that Hillary could run for the United States Senate from New York.  The Clintons didn’t move back to his home state of Arkansas or her home state of Illinois.  They became “privileged eastern liberals” by choice.  Again, I don’t want to overemphasize the point but by the time of the presidential campaign in 2016 Hillary had made it very hard for working class voters in places like West Allis, Wisconsin and Spring Township, Pennsylvania to see her as their champion.

Van Jones, a CNN commentator that I do like, also saw the 2016 election as a rejection of a certain kind of “elitism” in the Democratic Party:  “You can’t run and hide. You’ve got to be an authentic person from the beginning,” he said. “You’re going to be judged based on your authentic commitment to the actual base of this party. And if you don’t do that, you can’t win.”

I think that is an accurate observation.  I am not suggesting that Hillary is not dedicated to public service and to making the lives of all Americans better.  I believe that she is.  Given her background and where she was in her life and the limitations of her personality and communications skills, however, there was no chance that she ever was going to persuade the working class base of the Democratic Party that she was the person best suited to advance their interests.  She became, instead, the perfect foil for the demagoguery of our president-elect.

January 1, 2017