The rise of Trump explained in four graphics


How did he get this far this quickly?

A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump opened his presidential campaign by gliding down the golden escalators of Trump Tower, with paid extras hired from the New York theater community to pad the crowd size, it was easy to dismiss the real estate mogul as a self-promoting dilettante more interested in publicity than politics.

So many people got it so wrong. His Republican rivals, in the famous words of George W. Bush, “misunderestimated” him. The Pundit Elite kept predicting that just one more embarrassing gaffe would extinguish his White House hopes. The nation’s best newspapers kept churning out damning investigative pieces questioning Trump’s business acumen, his honesty, his ethics, his wild flip-flops on issues and his command of basic knowledge of the world ~ and it seemed to matter nary a bit.

Historians will be discussing the Trump phenomenon for decades. Yet here we are, the general election upon us. How did Donald Trump, a political neophyte and nearly lifelong Democrat, emerge as the self-proclaimed champion of conservative values, the master of the Republican National Committee, and the voice of angry white people?

It’s easy to oversimplify Trump’s appeal, but I’d like to try to explain the rise of Trump in four informational graphics.

#1: Americans have grown increasingly alienated from major institutions


Until the 1960s — amid Vietnam, civil rights struggles and social unrest — Americans had almost universally positive views about basic institutions in U.S. society. The trend has been downward ever since. But there has been a significant drop in the past decade in institutions as diverse as religion, schools, banking, the news business, the courts, and, of course, the Congress. There are two major reasons: self-inflicted wounds, such as congressional dysfunction and the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal, and a partisan media led by Fox News, which has made it a constant theme of its programming to tear down institutions in order to rebuild America in its ideological image. Donald Trump positioned himself as the champion of the “little guy” against all the big, bad institutions — from Wall Street, to the news media, to big business, to the “rigged” Congress and court system … even against the Pentagon generals who know less about military strategy than the reality-TV star.

#2: There has been a rapid, dramatic shift to the left on social issues


Within the past decade, the United States reached a tipping point on social issues. On gay rights, the nation went from strong opposition to same-sex marriage to overwhelming support for the new reality that was blessed in 2013 and 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The younger generation — Democrat, Republican and those disgusted with both parties — is almost unanimously in favor of social change that affects women (“no means no”), gays (“marriage equality”) and the environment (climate change is real, not a Chinese-inspired hoax). This rapid shift has proven to be disconcerting to many older people, particularly men, who cling to (no, not their guns and bibles) their now-unpopular views. They want to say no to social change. Trump says they’re right. And he says that he’s their voice.

#3: We’ve seen a partisan reversal on globalization


For decades, Democrats were the protectionists and Republicans were the free-traders. Democrats, influenced by labor unions and environmentalists, resisted trade liberalization as bad for workers and the environment. Republicans embraced globalism and immigration as good for business, good for America, and, ultimately, a net plus for American workers.

Not any more. The Republican Party, radically altered by a massive influx of middle-aged white men displaced by a global economy for which they no longer have the requisite skill set, has become the party of protectionism and economic nationalism. They see immigrants as a threat to American jobs and American values.

Democrats and independents are now more open to international economic liberalization than the Republican Party, the traditional home of the U.S. business community. Trump is the big winner in this new reality. His “America First” backers crushed the internationalist Republicans like Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries and are challenging Democratic dominance in the nation’s economically distressed industrial heartland.

#4: People now get political information from self-selected partisan sources


We live in parallel information universes. Left-of-center Americans rely on a mix of CNN, NPR, MSNBC and the New York Times for their political and government news. Most of those news outlets present news from a predictably liberal mindset. Right-of-center Americans overwhelming rely on Fox News and local radio for their information. Fox and the Rush/Hannity/Coulter axis is not just conservative, it is almost anarchic in its desire to tear down institutions of the “elites” and the “establishment” while advocating for the grievances of whites who feel they are innocent victims of racial minorities, immigrants, non-Christian religions, China, Japan, Korea, Iran, Israel, Mexico, NATO … you name it.

The result of this Great Information Divide is that facts have become obsolete. The news of the left may be biased, but it is rooted in objective fact. Nonpartisan fact-checking websites can tell you how often politicians tell you the truth or lie to you. The news of the right has increasingly become resistant to globally accepted facts (evolution, climate change) and has allowed the virus of “fake news,” often generated in countries like Russia and Macedonia, to infiltrate the political mainstream. As Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said after Fox News retracted a false story that Hillary Clinton would soon be indicted, “The damage was done.”

Social media has exacerbated the divide. Citizens follow information sources on Twitter and Facebook that confirm their preconceptions of reality. This has become the first post-fact-check presidential election. Trump, with his finger on the “tweet” button of his smartphone and a knack for creating viral content, is the perfect politician for this moment in history.

Day 1 Analysis: Heavily scripted convention tries to make Clinton seem more authentic

Screenshot 2016-07-26 11.04.20

Hillary Clinton has the nomination, but Bernie Sanders had the passion on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

Americans claim to want their politicians to be “authentic.” Even if the authenticity comes by way of Hollywood (like Ronald Reagan’s aw-shucks, cowboy hero persona) or Madison Avenue (Bill Clinton’s rural roots in “a place called Hope”).

That’s one of the things I’ve heard over and over from Donald Trump supporters. Some concede he’s a bigot, others admit he’s a bully and a blowhard, many acknowledge he’s a narcissist of the first order. But they like how he’s willing to “stick it” to “them.” The “them” is elites (however you choose to define them), minorities, foreigners, Muslims, the “politically correct,” even his fellow Republicans.

Hillary Clinton has a problem with this concept of being “real.” Many voters remain uncertain of who she is at her core, what she believes in, who she trusts, or if she can be trusted. Only 30 percent of Americans consider her honest and trustworthy, according to a pre-convention CNN poll. It’s imperative for Clinton to use her week in the national media spotlight to shift public perceptions of her, if she is to win what is now a close race with Trump.

Screenshot 2016-07-26 14.55.57

Hillary Clinton’s image has been damaged during the 2016 campaign, as seen in HuffPost Pollster graphic.

On the first day of the convention, Team Clinton may have tried too hard. Message: she cares. Message: She’s passionate about people’s problems. Most of the speeches were too smooth and too predictable. (Exceptions: Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders. More on that later.) 

“Every speech here feels vetted to death,” Adam Nagourney, Los Angeles bureau chief of the New York Times, wrote during a convention liveblog. “I’m sure they have an extensive speech reviewing-shop.”

The action on the convention podium was disciplined and carefully scripted, even if the crowd was raucous and often off-script. Somehow, the DNC managed to squeeze the intelligent ridicule out of Al Franken. Instead of coming off as clever, he came off as somebody reading a speech written by someone else, which it undoubtedly was.

The most unscripted moment of the event came when Franken and comedian Sarah Silverman were directed to waste time so that ’60s music legend Paul Simon could get comfortable at his piano. She filled the “dead time” with a pointed message to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd: “You’re being ridiculous.”

Franken, who became famous as a political commentator by roasting Rush Limbaugh as “a big, fat idiot,” looked momentarily stunned. Then the convention returned to script.

The most effective scripted moments came during First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech. In a speech praised by political analysts from both parties, she described her life in the White House and its impact on her family. In a gentle reminder that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, she noted that the 2016 election will determine “who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.” She also noted politely that you can’t solve complex policy problems in 140 characters.

“Michelle Obama tonight delivered one of the best speeches I have ever seen in my career in politics,” former George W. Bush adviser Mark McKinnon wrote on his Facebook page.

Obama was followed by a keynote address by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was predictable in her attacks on Trump and her “proud” support of Hillary.

(The password of the night was “proud.” Democrats are proud of Hillary.)

Warren’s address, which did not receive nearly the applause of Obama’s, served as a bridge to Bernie Sanders’ gracious speech endorsing Clinton. The Vermont senator spent 30 minutes making the case both for Clinton and against Trump, all the while thanking his supporters in the Democrats’ socialist, populist revolution. It was no concession speech. He conceded no ground. But he did advance the cause of party unity.

One Sanders speech is unlikely to mollify his hard-core supporters. Acrimony  was evident everywhere on Monday. In state delegation meetings. On the steamy streets of Philadelphia. And in a convention hall that was packed (unlike Cleveland), but abnormally unresponsive to speakers’ calls for unity — at least until Obama and Sanders came along late in prime time.

“It was a rough day earlier on,” Senate Democratic Leader-in-Waiting Chuck Schumer admitted on NBC. But it could have been worse, he quickly added: “Compare this to Ted Cruz”

If this was your first time watching a national convention, you might think these public displays of division are bad news for Democrats’ hopes of winning. But for those of us who’ve seen Democratic schisms in the past, this was relatively mild. Past divisions have been deeper and far more fundamental. Take it from this Republican activist:

Team Hillary hopes that’s the case.

What’s in and what’s out in 2014


Moonrise over the ancient city wall, Xi’an.

Just a few things have changed in my life this year.

New job. New city. New country. New life.

Teaching journalism in China. It’s almost as much of a challenge as practicing journalism in America.

Here are some of the things that are “in” in my new life at Tsinghua University — and some of the old, familiar things I’ve left behind.

OUT: Texas on the Potomac
IN: Yankee on Tiananmen Square

OUT: Hikes on the National Mall
IN: Hikes on the Great Wall

OUT: Bike helmets
IN: Anti-pollution masks

OUT: Turn signals
IN: Chaos on the road

OUT: The second most congested commute in America
IN: The second most congested commute in the world

OUT: Considering something three days old as new
IN: Considering something three centuries old as new

OUT: Finnish saunas
IN: Chinese massages

OUT: American Chinese food
IN: Real Chinese food

OUT: DC Metro
IN: A subway system with trains every two minutes, polite employees and escalators that actually work

OUT: Dysfunctional democracy
IN: Democracy?

OUT: Taking your shoes off at airports
IN: VPNs to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WordPress

OUT: Rush Limbaugh’s rants against Barack Obama
IN: Chinese media rants against Japanese Prime Minister Abe

OUT: The New York Times
IN: People’s Daily

OUT: The Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial
IN: The terracotta warriors of Xi’an

OUT: Delicious Chesapeake crab cakes
IN: Delicious Chinese dumplings

OUT: Lobster rolls from food trucks
IN: Stinky tofu from street vendors

OUT: Scrapple
IN: Chicken feet, fish lips and duck brains

OUT: The Washington Redskins
IN: Mao’s little red book

OUT: Obscenely expensive Internet service
IN: Unreliable Internet, spotty WiFi and the Great Firewall of China

OUT: Obamacare
IN: Truly socialized medicine

OUT: Soccer moms
IN: Ping pong dads

OUT: 24/7 deadlines
IN: Monthlong breaks between semesters (We call them “district work periods”)

OUT: Suits and ties
IN: Casual Friday every day

The dress code is a lot more casual -- even for a China Radio International appearance.

The dress code is a lot more casual — even for a China Radio International appearance.

Ten things I really miss living in China — and ten I definitely do not

Birthday barbecue: Plates of tasty food at Home Plate BBQ in Beijing (with Troy Hernandez, Agnes Kreitz, Sara Balajthy, Caroline Ward and Mengfei Chen)

Birthday barbecue: Plates of tasty food and chocolate cake at Home Plate BBQ in Beijing (with Troy Hernandez, Agnes Kneitz, Sara Balajthy, Caroline Ward and Mengfei Chen)

It’s been nearly three months since I arrived in Beijing, and I’ve finally had my first attack of homesickness.

It started two weeks ago with a trip to a local Western market to pick up the fixings for macaroni and cheese (the real thing, not the Kraft version). It was followed by my birthday dinner of Texas BBQ and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. Then I broke down completely yesterday and went to Jenny Loo’s supermarket with my friend Eunice. My haul — a rare taste of Americana — included fresh bagels (“Montreal style”), feta cheese, olives, canned diced tomatoes for pasta sauce, fresh tortillas, tortillas chips, salsa, peanut butter and a Woody Allen movie.

A pretty pricey splurge, all told, except for the Woody Allen movie (“Midnight in Paris”), which cost 13 yuan, or $2.16.

I’m whipping up my famous linguini tonight with some of my big food purchase. But before I do, here’s a quick list of ten things I really miss after 11 weeks in China — and some that I decidedly do not.

What I miss:

1. My wife and family

2. The National Press Club

3. Live NHL hockey

4. Hummus

5. My good friends back home

6. Weekend trips to Philadelphia or New York

7. Trader Joe’s

8. Gossiping with my Texas political sources

9. Good wine at good prices

10. Target

What I Don’t Miss:

1. CNN

2. American cable news in general

3. The newspaper world I left behind

4. Cable TV

5. Congress

6. Driving

7. Texas BBQ (I’ve been surprised by the fine barbecue here.)

8. The Washington football team with the racist name

9. Rush Limbaugh and the vast right wing conspiracy

10. U.S. media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination

The most prominent American political figures in the global media — and a dozen who get no respect

President Obama at my last White House press conference in August. (Photo by Rick Dunham)

President Obama at my last White House press conference in August. (Photo by Rick Dunham)

After covering the White House and the U.S. Congress for 29 years — and being inside the 24/7 news bubble — it’s fascinating to be, for the first time, on the outside looking in.

Here’s a new outsider’s perspective on which American politicians figure most prominently around the world, and which DC figures vanish from the media scene when you cross the Pacific.

America’s Face around the World

1. President Barack Obama

The president is the president. He gets global press on some stories that earn barely a ripple in America-centered domestic media.

2. Secretary of State John Kerry

He didn’t get elected president, but his stentorian voice is everywhere on international issues. He comes across as knowledgeable, poised and, well, diplomatic.

3. House Speaker John Boehner

The Ohio Republican is the scowling face of the opposition. His soundbites are almost all partisan and negative. Not much of an image to project.

4. Sen. Ted Cruz

The first-year lawmaker from Texas has exploded onto the international stage as the leader of America’s ultraconservatives, which the global media love to highlight. Even people who don’t understand the concept of a filibuster understand that Cruz is the man who shut down the federal government. And he’s not even president.

5. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew

The American media almost never cover the charismatically challenged Treasury Secretary. Most Americans know him as the man with the illegible signature. But he’s often on TV and Internet news reports around the world. He comes across as measured and authoritative.

6. Hillary Clinton

The former U.S. Secretary of State is treated as America’s president-in-waiting. She’s also covered like the leader of the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party, as opposed to the dove-ish Obama.

The Dead-to-the-World Dozen

1. Vice President Joe Biden

Never mentioned. Well, almost never.

2. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

Who is less important than the minority leader of a body that has been eclipsed by the hard-right Republicans in the other chamber?

3. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Maybe the only person less important than the Senate Minority Leader is the House Minority Leader.

4. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

He only appears on international TV when he comes up with his sound-bite zingers tearing into the Republicans.

5. Sen. John McCain

A media darling in the U.S., his mavericky style doesn’t translate to an international audience.

6. Sarah Palin

The only thing people in Asia remember about 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is the report in Game Change that she didn’t know the Korean peninsula was divided into two countries.

7. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the Fox News crowd

They may get good ratings in the USofA, but they don’t exist outside of its borders. And that’s probably fine with them.

8. Sen. Marco Rubio

The Florida freshman’s mystique hasn’t stretched to Asia and Europe, only Latin America and South America.

9. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

There’s only room for one face of the opposition on international TV, and that’s John Boehner, not his (occasionally) loyal deputy from Virginia.

10. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

Barack Obama and John Kerry speak for the U.S. on global issues. The Pentagon chief is a bit player on the international stage.

11. White House press secretary Jay Carney

President Obama’s spokesman, a ubiquituous presence on domestic media, makes only cameo appearances on media outlets outside the U.S.

12. The U.S. Trade Representative

Who is the U.S. trade rep anyway? There are lots of trade stories, but the U.S. Commerce Secretary and U.S. Trade Representative are never quoted. Only Obama or Kerry.