This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
The other day as I was passing through a waiting room in my gym, I suddenly saw -- well, who else in 2018? -- Donald Trump on a giant TV screen. He was trying on a specially made hardhat and preparing to address the National Electrical Contractors Association Convention. ("We are truly grateful to our electricians, our wiremen, linemen, engineers, technicians, journeymen, contractors, and apprentices -- oh, I love that word. That was a great -- I love the word 'apprentice.' [Applause.] I love that word. You know, I did that show 14 seasons, and then I left. They wanted to sign me for three more seasons. I said, 'No, I'm going to run for president.' [Laughter.] It's true.") And one thing struck me from watching his face, something we never cease to do these days: he's having the time of his life. No kidding. He's the center of everything, the beau of every ball. He's historic! Yes, he truly is! No one has ever... no, never... been faintly attended to this way in the history of the media... in the history of anything. Period. Exclamation point!
Why would he want to do one thing differently? I can't imagine. And any moment he's feeling even slightly down, all he has to do is hold a rally and be buoyed and cheered (in both senses of the word). Really, it's his world and welcome to it. Yes, as the New York Times revealed recently, so much about the story that got him elected president was a con. He wasn't a self-made man, or rather a self-made billionaire, but a daddy's boy, a "self-made sham." He was already pulling in $200,000 a year (in today's dollars) by age three and a millionaire, thanks to daddy, by age eight. And he and his family, the Times suggested, cut corners and cheated on their taxes to give themselves money galore from their dad's businesses even as The Donald himself bounced from one disaster to another. (Who even remembers the Trump Shuttle or the moment the Trump-owned Plaza Hotel went bankrupt, not to speak of those five Atlantic City casinos that went down in a heap?)
But here's the thing: none of it really matters. As Hillary Clinton and crew didn't understand when it came to The Donald's unreleased tax returns in 2016, Americans love a con man. It's in the American tradition to admire someone who beats the system (even if you can't). And that applies to taking daddy's money, too, and claiming otherwise. Don't think for a second that it will shake his adoring base. The catch, of course, is that while Donald Trump can get away with being a self-made sham, most Americans can't and when the fat hits the fire -- and it will sooner or later -- he'll undoubtedly escape with the dollars, as he has in the past, but his base and so many other Americans won't (any more than they did in the 2008-2010 Great Recession).
Right now, the checks on him are so minimal that he can live it up until hell freezes over, which is why the coming midterms are undoubtedly an election for the ages. Whether it's a blue wave or an orange one will matter bigly, which is why those who are working to ensure that the oranging of America won't go on forever may be the unsung heroes of our moment. Here, then, is a report from TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, who usually brings us news about American torture practices and our never-ending wars, but in these months has found herself on another kind of front line entirely -- in Nevada and deep in the mid-term moment. Tom
A Chance to Swing the Senate
Cooks and Casino Workers Take on Trump
By Rebecca Gordon
It's what campaigners say every November, I know, but this year's election really is as important as it gets. Will U.S. voters choose to halt the progress of Donald J. Trump's slow-motion coup? Or will the tide just continue rolling over us? So much depends on what happens in Nevada -- a state that once elected a senator by a mere 401 votes. The race between Jacky Rosen and Dean Heller represents the best chance we have of taking the Senate away from the GOP this year. That's why 40 people are spending two months living in a hotel this fall, working to make it happen. I'm one of them.- Advertisement -
It's 11:00 on a Tuesday morning in Reno, Nevada, when Christina, Cesar, and Nate step to the front of the room to start the meeting. They begin a slow, accelerating clapping, and the room responds in kind. "Se puede o no se puede?" shouts Cesar. ("Can we do it or not?") "S se puede!" comes the thunderous answer. ("Yes, we can!")
Next, a canvasser named Tonya gives the weather report: "It's gonna get up to 92 today, with just a little bit of breeze. So drink lots of water." Then Christina goes over yesterday's numbers: "We knocked on 2,148 doors and talked to 612 voters. We identified 429 Rosen supporters and 419 for Sisolak. That's great!" Again, everyone applauds.
Christina, Cesar, and Nate are our team captains, the "leads," as we call them, of this election effort. We're all part of what's known as an "independent expenditure campaign"; that is, we do our work without coordination or even communication with any candidate's organization. Our campaign has been mounted by Culinary Workers Local 226 under the auspices of the AFL-CIO to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate and the governor's mansion.
Like the leads, Tonya is one of almost 40 rank-and-file members of UNITE HERE, the hotel, casino, and food-service workers union in North America. Along with some family and friends, they're now in Nevada for the duration. They've taken a leave of absence from their jobs as cooks, casino workers, hotel housekeepers, and airport catering workers to help elect Jacky Rosen senator and Steve Sisolak governor. For two months they're living away from their homes and families in an extended-stay hotel.
Six days a week, these men and women hit the streets of Washoe County, knocking on doors to talk with voters about the issues that truly matter: the rising cost of living, a stagnant minimum wage, the overcrowding and underfunding of local schools, and Republican efforts to deny health insurance to Nevadans with pre-existing conditions or throw hundreds of thousands of people off the Medicaid rolls. They listen to voters' stories and respond with their own.
I live in San Francisco, but until November 6th, I've joined them here in a campaign that seems to go on 24 hours a day. Most of my own work is done in a cramped office attached to the main room of the campaign's headquarters, where I share a desk with Paul, the other "data nerd." We spend our days hunched over laptops, preparing the lists of voters and their addresses that the canvassers will load into their electronic tablets the following day.- Advertisement -
Get-out-the-vote technology has come a long way since we used to buy expensive paper lists from private companies and photocopy precinct maps purchased from the local registrar of voters. Today, most progressive campaigns contract with NGP VAN, an integrated electoral database that facilitates all kinds of voter contact, from email to phone banks to door knocking. Using the VAN, campaigners can locate specific voters they particularly want to talk with, based on, among other things, age, gender, race, party affiliation, and voting frequency.
Data nerds like Paul and me can then explore individual precinct maps filled with the dots of target houses and use a mouse to draw boundaries around areas where the canvassers should be putting their energies. It's a process known as "cutting turf." Canvassers load these "turfs" onto their tablets daily and promptly have a map of where they're going, including information about each voter they're likely to run into. They can then add to our database by recording observations and the results of their conversations as notes for future canvassers: "Mean dog," "Confederate flag hanging in the garage," or "needs a ride to the polls." Each night, the results of that day's canvass are uploaded to the VAN.
Wonderful as it may be, however, the technology remains secondary to the true wonder of this Nevada campaign: the surprisingly powerful conversations that canvassers are having when they knock on those doors. More about those conversations later, but first a bit about why they're so important.