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Are U.S. Presidential Politics Beyond a Joke?

“I really do respect the press,” President Barack Obama joked at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 2013, shortly after his second successful election campaign. “I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be president; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”

Obama’s comedic skill has, itself, been a key ingredient of his political success. Yet neither of the current presidential candidates appears to have much interest in following in his footsteps. “Wit and humor have been drained from our politics,” the Washington Times lamented earlier this month.

The emptying of humor in the current U.S. election campaign is striking, reflecting both the personal limitations of the current candidates and the exceptional gravity of the moment. Whether or not we are witnessing the rise of American fascism, the end of the Republican Party or the disintegration of freedom in the Western world, there is clearly a crisis in U.S. democratic culture.

In this dark political climate, displays of humor – for centuries, a mainstay of leadership – have become increasingly out of place.

A serious turn

Hillary Clinton, it is true...

Why Trump's Immigration Switch Won't Move the Needle

The top­ic du jour is Don­ald Trump’s at­temp­ted walk-back of his po­s­i­tion on im­mig­ra­tion—roughly speak­ing, from an ab­so­lut­ist policy to one that’s merely tough. The op­er­at­ive ques­tion is wheth­er he can strike a bal­ance, en­ti­cing in­to his column the un­de­cided voters that he pre­vi­ously ali­en­ated with his “send ‘em all back” po­s­i­tion, while sim­ul­tan­eously hold­ing onto those who sup­por­ted his ori­gin­al, hard-line po­s­i­tion. This is es­sen­tial to his win­ning the elec­tion; he can­not win with just the sup­port he cur­rently has, as he is now a hand­ful of per­cent­age points and dozens of elect­or­al votes shy of win­ning this elec­tion.

My hunch is that there is both good news and bad news for Trump in this move. I don’t think he will ali­en­ate many of his core sup­port­ers with this at­temp­ted rhet­or...

Who Will the Police Back in the Presidential Election?

Hillary Clinton met behind closed doors with top law enforcement officials on Thursday, August 18 at a time of particularly tense relations between police and the public, following several police shootings this summer and killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

They will be discussing the “challenges and opportunities” that the police face; participants will include New York police commissioner Bill Bratton, Los Angeles police chief Charles Beck, former Philadelphia and DC chief Charles Ramsey, The Washington Post reported. Members of this group have been actively advocating for criminal justice reform in recent months.

Thus far, Clinton, whose campaign surrogates include mothers of victims of high-profile police shootings, has been cautious about appearing too cozy with law enforcement. The country’s largest police union, National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), was vocally outraged when the Democrat did not return a questionnaire the union gives to presidential candidates to determine whom to endorse in early August.

“It sends a powerful message. To be honest with you, I was disappointed and shocked,” Chuck Canterbury, the union’s president told The Hill at the time. “You would think with law enforcement issues so much in the news that even if she...

Hope Is What Separates Trump Voters From Clinton Voters

It’s pretty clear who Donald Trump wants to help, because he names them at every rally. Miners. Steelworkers. Guys on the assembly line, whose jobs are either being stolen by the Chinese or strangled to death by Obama’s regulations. If globalization has put your livelihood in jeopardy, Trump wants you on his side. And given his sky-high popularity among white men without a college degree, I’d argue this pitch is gaining traction.

But here’s the weird thing: Folks in hard-hit industrial towns aren’t voting for Trump. When Michigan Republicans went to the polls in March, economists expected to see huge Trump turnout in areas with the most shuttered factories. Instead, they got the opposite: Trump’s support was strongest in towns that hadgained manufacturing jobs. He did about 20 percentage points worse in areas where layoffs were most intense. It was completely the opposite of what everyone expected. 

Earlier this month, Gallup economist Jonathan Rothwell published a working paper expanding the Michigan analysis to the entire country. This time, he used opinion poll results instead of vote totals, making the data more current. Rothwell found the same trend: Trump did worse in towns that...

Clinton's Roads to Victory

They are the two longest north-south highways in the United States, and main arteries of the Interstate Highway System. Like a massive asphalt river, the I-95 corridor stretches through the eastern seaboard from the Canadian border to Miami, creating the Northeastern megalopolis, connecting the nation’s financial capital with its political capital and the maple forests of the Northeast with the orange groves of the Florida flats. I-75 courses south from the Michigan Upper-Peninsula through the Straits of Mackinac and connects Detroit with Cincinnati, Lexington, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Miami. The two roads pass through states containing about 45 percent of the United States population, facilitating commerce, travel, and the gravity of American cities. 

Those long distances mean each transits a wide swathe of land—and of political opinion. They run through the liberal cities of the Northeast, through blue-collar counties of the Midwest, through Republican strongholds in the Deep South and the cosmopolitan cities they surround, and through Latino neighborhoods in southern Florida. Most swing states, including the battlegrounds of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, lie along these two routes, and since interstates were created in 1956, only one candidate—Ronald Reagan in 1984—has managed to sweep all...

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