Wednesday, August 31, 2016


As I write this, Republican presidential nominee Donald
Trump is returning from Mexico City where he met, on
unprecedented short notice, with Mexican President
Enrique Pena Nieto.

The meeting was cordial and introductory. Apparently a
number of topics were discussed, including the construction
of a wall along the U.S- Mexican border. Mr. Trump, however,
has already indicated that the discussions were preliminary,
including no discussion of how the proposed wall would be
paid for.

The invitation by President Pena Nieto had been a surprise
(he also extended it to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton,
but she declined to visit Mexico at this time). Mr. Trump’s
acceptance of the invitation was an even bigger surprise. Mr.
Trump’s popularity in Mexico is extraordinarily low (in the
single digits). But President Pena Nieto’s popularity in his own
country is also quite low (below 30%). A Mexican president
serves only one 6-year term, and a new president will be
elected in 2018.

Mexico is one of two major nations which physically border
the United States. Although their populations are much smaller
than those in the U.S., each has major world economic impact.

As someone who has lived in Mexico, speaks Spanish fluently,
and is an admirer of Mexican art, literature, music, folklore and
cuisine, and a student of Mexican history and culture, I have
little time for many U.S.-held stereotypes of our neighbors to
the south. On the other hand, since declaring its independence
from Spain in the early 19th century, Mexico has struggled to
overcome the drawbacks of its legacy from the violent and
claustrophobic Spanish colonial heritage, a struggle, I might
add, which has faced virtually all of the former Spanish colonies
of Central and South America. (For those who want to understand
this Mexican condition, I recommend The Labyrinth of Solitude,
the great sociological book by the Mexican author Octavio Paz.)
Unlike our long-term relationship with our other continental
neighbor, Canada, to the north, our relationship with Mexico has
been troubled. Past U.S. governments have interfered in Mexican
affairs, and Mexico holds some long-standing claims to parts of
the southwestern U.S. which, before becoming U.S. territory and
achieving statehood were Spanish and later Mexican territories.
The current controversy over illegal Mexican immigration to the
U.S. is only the latest of many disputes between the two nations 
during the past 200 years.

Mr. Trump, at the outset of his presidential campaign, made some
inflammatory remarks about Mexico, its emigrants to the U.S. and
our trade relationship with that nation. His last-minute decision
to suddenly accept the Mexican president’s invitation represents
a desire to modify the impression he made then, but without
fundamentally changing his basic views about the relationship.
Mr. Trump declared five serious areas of reform while in Mexico
City. I will leave it to each of my readers to judge whether his short
visit accomplished that or not, but there can be little doubt now
that a President  Trump represents likely major change in the
foreign policies of President Barack Obama (and presumably of
Mrs. Clinton as well, should she win the election).

As a journalist, I might be expected to  complain about the fact that
Mr. Trump left his campaign media entourage behind while he
visited Mexico City for a few hours, but I will not do so --- nor
should the U.S. media establishment which has ignored the plain
fact that Hillary Clinton has not held a press conference for almost
the entire presidential campaign so far.

I continue to be critical of both major party presidential candidates,
and I continue not to endorse either of them, but I would be less
than candid if I did not acknowledge that Mr. Trump has emerged
as a master of media drama and focus as few other political figures
have ever done before him.

Just as our U.S. relationship with Mexico is far more complicated
than meets the eye, this presidential campaign is revealing itself to
be far more complicated than I think anyone has anticipated.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 29, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Political Ride Without A Driver

Most  of us have not yet traveled as a passenger in a car which
has no driver, but I think the next two months are going to
give all of us a virtual political ride in a presidential contest
which has no one truly at the wheel.

The two presidential nominees have already begun a duel in
name-calling which is taking place in an airless media tunnel
that has no light --- neither at its entrance nor at the end of
it. Hold your breath if you can.

All of this is going to be sorted out by an electorate already
overwhelmed by a plethora of grievances and frustrations.

In the past, the final presidential campaign stage began on Labor
Day, but this cycle we can observe that the contest has been
non-stop since the two major party conventions. Some serious
money is going to be spent in advertisements, get-out-the-vote
(GOTV) efforts, and in producing campaign rally extravaganzas.

These strategies have almost always produced results, but this
is such an unusual cycle, they might not matter as much as
conventional analysis thinks they will.

What then will matter most to voters?

I am beginning to think it is going to settle into a simple
question, and not a lot of complicated ones. That question to
be answered by voters will be a choice between "more of the
same" and "uncertain change." The Democratic Party chose
between a change candidate, Bernie Sanders, and a status quo
candidate, and settled on the latter, Hillary Clinton. The
Republican Party, by contrast, ended up with a controversial
unorthodox nominee instead of 16 other relatively conventional
candidates. As the post-convention dust settled, Donald Trump
appears more and more as a candidate of significant (if not
abrupt) change.

There is always a central psychology to any presidential
campaign, and this is even more intensely so in an especially
volatile one. I am not a trained psychologist, so I will defer for
now on any attempt to predict which psychological themes will
predominate for most voters on election day. But I will observe
the obvious --- the race is between stalemate and uncertain
change. This is not, as some might think, a cop-out on my part;
as my readers know, I usually incline to the contrarian and
unconventional, and am not shy about doing so.

It is now accepted that both major party nominees are both
unlikable and flawed, more so perhaps than any nominees in
memory. Many voters have already made their ballot box
decisions based on their take on these two personalities. But
with a bit more than two months to go, a great many voters are
either undecided or wavering.

I have recently and consistently argued that the polls are not
telling us how the electorate really thinks and feels about the
presidential contest. Many of my colleagues do not agree, and
some of them have told me so directly. They might be correct,
and I might be wrong, but I’m sticking to my belief that the
final decision that will result on November 8 has not yet been
made, nor do any polls prove that such a decision has been

I do think that the three debates soon to take place will be very
important to the psychology of the 2016 electorate. They will
juxtapose the personifications of the choice the voters will have
to make.

If I knew who was driving the transportation of this election
cycle, I would say more, but since I only share the passenger seat
with my readers, I can merely now probe further and further into
the question of where we are going.

The good news, if it is to be good news, is that this ride is getting
closer an closer to its climactic destination.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. Al rights reserved.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend Update 21

Before the British vote (‘Brexit’) on leaving the European Union
(EU), its opponents warned of imminent economic and political
disasters if it were to pass. After Brexit did pass, the same
opponents promptly reiterated their warnings. Now, months
later, the dire outcomes have yet to appear. There has been,
of course, some impact in remaining EU nations. led by
Germany, to regroup and to head off further defections. Still
an EU member for at least a year, the United Kingdom (UK) is
preparing for new economic and trade relationships, many
which will be with EU nations. The Brexit vote did precipitate
new leadership in the UK government, including a new prime
minister and cabinet. Economic problems continue to fester
in various EU member states, provoking some banking crises.
Complications in continental immigration policies continue to
plague even the most prosperous EU member states, most
notably Germany. Brexit might turn out to be one of the least
of Europe’s challenges.


A series of major insurance companies departing from
participation in the Obama administration’s healthcare reform
program known as Obamacare plus much higher rates in many
existing state Obamacare policies have brought the contentious
issue back into the political election of 2016. The issue proved a
major problem for the national Democratic Party which had heavy
losses in the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections, but did not seem
to affect the outcome in the 2012 presidential election year.
With Obamacare now in full force, still very unpopular, and with
rising premium rates, the issue is giving several vulnerable
Republican U.S. house and senate candidates some valuable
ammunition against their liberal challengers.

Although the Obamacare issue previously cited is helping
Republican vulnerable congressional incumbents in close races
this cycle, other issues, including GOP nominee Donald Trump’s
controversies, are potentially helping Democratic challengers in
other races. Incumbent Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri has a
tightening race with Democratic challenger Julian Kander ---
although Blunt maintains a lead. Incumbent Pennsylvania GOP
Senator Pat Toomey had led his challenger Katie McGinty until
recently, but several recent polls have him trailing. The two most
endangered GOP senate incumbents, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
and Mark Kirk of Illinois, continue to trail their liberal
challengers. Arizona GOP Senator John McCain, his party’s 2008
presidential nominee, had been thought to be safe for his 2016
re-election, but with his Democratic opponent on the left and some
lingering opposition from some conservatives, his seat now looks
more and more competitive. GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte of New
Hampshire is locked into a close contest with her challenger
Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. A few bright spots for
Republicans are in Florida where incumbent Marco Rubio is
looking stronger against either of two potential Democratic
challengers, and in Nevada where GOP nominee Joe Heck is
ahead of his Democratic opponent Catherine Cortez Masto in the
race for the seat being vacated by Democrat Harry Reid. Races
also looking better for conservatives are in Iowa where veteran
GOP Senator Chuck Grassley now has a bigger lead over his
opponent, and in Ohio where incumbent Rob Portman continues
to lead Democrat Ted Strickland. Democrats are feeling much
better about the race in Indiana where they had been far behind
GOP candidate Todd Young. Then their nominee left the race
to make way for for former Democratic Senator Evan Bayh who
instantly made the race competitive. Democratic incumbent
Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado continues to have a notable
lead over his GOP challenger, but this race could become
competitive, as could some other races now considered safe for

One feature of most election cycles, even ones much less volatile
than this one, is that a few contests often develop into close races
in the closing days of the campaign.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Do We Know Who Will Vote?

The key notion in any election is almost always who will turn
out to vote. Pollsters usually have two categories of potential
voters with which to measure anticipated voter sentiment.
The first is registered voters (RVs) and the second is likely
voters (LVs). The former are easy to identify, but since so many
RVs don’t actually vote, a poll of these persons is relatively
useless once an actual campaign begins in earnest. LVs are
much more difficult to identify, and require a number of
subjective assumptions by pollsters. One of those assumptions
is based on whether or not someone voted in the previous
election. A second is what the person being polled tells the
pollster. It takes many more inquiries to find a likely voter,
and thus many pollsters prefer to employ registered voters as
their sample.

At this point in the 2016 national election cycle, and particularly
in the presidential contest, a poll based on RVs is virtually

Historically, a poll based on carefully chosen LVs is much more
likely to be accurate, although even these polls have limited
utility until just before election day itself.

In 2016, the value of LVs is even less than usual because of an
important new circumstance. That circumstance is a
consequence of what I have called the “mutiny of the voting
masses” in the nation. Although quantifying the number of
voters who usually do not vote, but will likely vote this year, is
difficult, the reality that there will likely be a very high turnout
of these voters in 2016 is not speculation. An examination of
the results of the caucuses and primaries in the past months
leading to the two major party conventions is irrefutable
evidence that there is a new category --- what I call “new likely
voters” (NLVs).

NLVs are obviously more difficult to identify than ordinary LVs.
For pollsters, it means more time and more expense. Private
(and almost always unpublished) polls for individual candidates
and political parties are paid for with the understanding that
they will be relatively accurate. Pollsters who do this kind of paid
polling might be expected to spend the extra time and expense,
especially because if they are inaccurate, they will soon be out of
business. But the polls that most of us see, those done by media
outlets and major public polling firms will likely not spend the
time and money in 2016 to identify NLVs. Instead, they will rely on
LVs --- and hope for the best.

That hope is not likely to be fulfilled, I suggest, because there will
probably be so many voters on November 8 who have rarely if ever
voted before, but are motivated to go to the polls this year.

A lot of anticipation, even assuming this is true, remains as
speculation. Traditional demographic electoral analysis often
breaks down voters into ethnic, religious, gender and racial
categories. This would include the categories of female, male,
black, white, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish voters
among many other groupings. It is not only the percentage of
these groups that a candidate might receive, but the numerical
turnout. For example, the Democratic nominee could be expected
to receive approximately 90% of blacks who actually vote, and that
might not change much from recent previous elections, but what
percentage of the total of black voters will actually turn out?
Is it reasonable to think that Hillary Clinton will draw a black
turnout similar to the turnout that Barack Obama drew? In the
case of Hispanic and Jewish voters, there is some evidence that
the percentages who will vote for the Democrat or the Republican
might actually change somewhat. In the recent past, more women
have voted than men, but what if in 2016 there are more male
voters than women who go to the polls? I suggest that the likely
turnout of NLVs significantly upsets the polling models we have
accepted in the past.

I have lived through an election such as this one might be, albeit
one on the state level. Even those who do not live and vote in
Minnesota might well remember the extraordinary upset election
of non-traditional politician Jesse Ventura in 1998. A month
before the election, every poll had him in single digits against
two very well-known major party candidates.  Even very late
polls only indicated that he was gaining substantially, but not
that he would win. In fact, this election had a major influx of
NLVs --- virtually all models of voter turnout were broken.

For several weeks both national and state polls indicated that Mrs.
Clinton has a growing lead over Mr. Trump. Most recent polls
have indicated that this lead has narrowed notably. In at least one
major poll, Mr. Trump is now ahead, and in others, the race is a
virtual tie. Even assuming that most polls are now composed of
LVs, how many of them are accurately polling NLVs?

Many of my colleagues are depending on the polls to analyze this
election, particularly the presidential election. A number of them
have already concluded that the election is already over, and that
the only question is about the size of Hillary Clinton’s victory.
She might indeed win, and might even win by a big margin, but I
would suggest that this is not proven by any polls we now have.

In fact, if my contention about “new likely voters” is accurate, and
barring the unforeseen (always possibly in a cycle like this one),
I think the voting patterns of 2016 indicate that the election could
be heading for an historic upset of the political assumptions and
models most of us now use.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Caution About What Some Wish For

With two such controversial major party nominees for
president in 2016, some folks are indulging in not a little
wishful thinking about whom will remain on the two major
party tickets on November 8.

There is currently some conversation among some
opponents of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton
contending that she is unwell, and that she might have to
resign from the ticket before election day. While anything is
possible in 2016, her alleged disability is, at this point, just
partisan speculation. Presidents and presidential nominees
do have some history of hiding their illnesses including
President Grover Cleveland’s secret operation for cancer
(it was successful), President Woodrow Wilson’s crippling
stroke in office (he did not recover), President Franklin
Roosevelt’s paralysis (unreported by the media; it did not
hamper him as president), and President John Kennedy’s
fatal Addison’s Disease (undisclosed and incurable in his
era). Each would not pass electoral or public muster today.
But diagnoses, even by physicians, without an actual
physical examination and reliable tests, is just gossip, and
should be treated as such.

There is also some conversation among some opponents of
Republican nominee Donald Trump (including some in his
own party) that he should and will resign from the GOP
ticket because he is doing so badly, according to some polls
and most of the media. Equally speculative as is that of Mrs.
Clinton’s alleged illness, Mr. Trump continues to defy
prognostications of his political demise. New and respected
polls are showing him with either a narrow lead or  in a virtual
tie with Mrs. Clinton, after most polls saw him briefly much
further behind. Moreover, the polls have been wrong about
Mr. Trump’s support continually in the past year. A Trump
campaign shake-up has, at least initially, proved positive,
and the presidential contest remains very much up in the
electoral air.

I might also point out, as others already have, that those who
wish the nominees to resign from their tickets (for whatever
reason) should be very cautious about what they wish for.
First of all, should the unlikely happen, i.e., that one of the
nominees actually resigns, it is almost certain that the party’s
national committee would replace them with someone much
more likely to win the general election. If Mrs. Clinton were
replaced with, say, Vice President Biden, the Democrats almost
certainly would win in November; conversely, if Mr. Trump
were replaced with, say, Paul Ryan, the Republicans would
likely win easily on election day.

Anything can happen, yes, but with less than 80 days to go,
it is self-indulgent to speculate about last-minute changes in
the national tickets.

Perhaps more fruitful conversation might be about the impact
of the two third party candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian)
and Dr. Jill Stein (Green Party). Many traditional liberals,
conservatives and centrists are considering voting outside the
two-party choices.

We know from the 1992 and 2000 presidential elections, that
third party candidates can make a decisive difference, although
President Harry Truman, facing strong third party desertions
on both his left and right, and trailing badly in all polls until
election day, won the 1948 election, something no one then

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Trump And Ryan Come To Minnesota

The two top Republican leaders came to Minnesota on successive
days in August, and their reception was instructive.

Speaker of the U.S. House Paul Ryan is the highest ranked elected
Republican in the nation, not only the leader of his party in the
U.S. house, but second in line to a presidential vacancy (after the
vice president). He is also widely (although not universally)
popular in the conservative party, and respected on both sides of
the political aisle. He was the pre-eminent GOP leader/spokesman
until his party chose a presidential nominee.

That nominee in 2016 is Donald Trump, the surprise winner to be
the GOP standard bearer, and one of the most controversial major
party nominees in recent history.

It is an unsettled debate about which of these men is the leader
of his party until the general election in November. A sitting
president is always the leader of his party; a losing nominee is
usually not.

The two men are already historical figures. Mr. Ryan is a former
GOP vice presidential nominee (2012), later speaker of the house,
and a potential future presidential nominee. Mr. Trump has
won one of the greatest nomination contest upsets in modern
history in an unprecedented campaign that broke most of the
contemporary political rules.

In mid-August, on successive days, they came to Minnesota
which is not usually considered a battleground state, but is a state
which offers the Republicans some political gold.

Speaker Ryan came to campaign for two Republicans with
competitive races, Erik Paulsen, the incumbent in Minnesota’s
3rd district; and Stewart Mills, the GOP challenger to Democrat
(DFL) incumbent Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s 8th district.

The only reason MN-3 is considered competitive is that GOP
presidential nominee Donald Trump is thought to be trailing
Hillary Clinton in this suburban Minneapolis district. In fact,
private polling is reported to show Mr. Paulsen with a
comfortable lead. More importantly, he is taking the race
seriously, and has significantly raised more campaign funds
than his liberal opponent DFLer Terri Bonoff. Nonetheless,
Speaker Ryan showed up to help his colleague, and he drew a
large crowd. Mr. Ryan is a man with a mission, that is, to enact a
program of conservative policies, and to keep his current majority
in the U.S. house to pass it. He has endorsed and is supporting
Mr. Trump for president, but he does not discuss the presidential
campaign unless asked about it. Mr. Ryan speaks of his six-point
reform program for 2017 to his audiences.

The next day, Donald Trump made his first visit to the state as a
presidential candidate. A crowded fundraiser was held at the
Minneapolis Convention Center. Although the total attendance at
both fundraisers was approximately the same, and the cost to
attend each was also similar, they were mostly quite different
crowds. Mr. Trump had made a previously unscheduled visit to
flood-ravaged Louisiana earlier in the day, as well as later a speech
in job-ravaged Michigan. In Minnesota, he gave warmly-received
but relatively brief remarks. It had been, however, a very big day
for the GOP nominee. The largest online political website in the
nation, The Drudge Report, had headlined all day that Mr. Trump’s
visit to Louisiana had made him seem very presidential in contrast
to Mr. Obama who played golf on holiday, and to Mrs. Clinton who
made excuses for not showing up.

The visit to Minnesota on back-to-back days of the two
Republican leaders, Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, did not
resolve for me the question of which of them is the truest leader
of their political party. Mr. Trump is the man of the hour, if you
will, and appears to be holding his own so far in the contest with
Mrs. Clinton --- in spite of so many in the media declaring the
race already over. (These same commentators have been plainly
wrong about the race for the past year, and they are showing no
signs that they suddenly have it right.) The big news of the day
of Mr. Trump’s visit to Minnesota was not his fundraiser in
Minneapolis, but his political coup of going to Louisiana, making
President Obama and Mrs. Clinton appear as uncaring as
President George W. Bush did a decade before when he failed to
show up promptly to a similar disaster also in Louisiana.

Mr. Ryan might be the last electoral “eagle scout” at the highest
level of U.S. politics. A man who does not wear his ambitions on
his sleeve, genuinely interested in developing and enacting reform
policies, tough and persistent, and easily likable for an earnest
personality and manner, Mr. Ryan will remain in the spotlight no
matter how the 2016 election turns out. If both win this year, they
will be two very powerful personalities in a partnership to change
the direction of the American government. Their up-and-down
relationship so far would, in that case, probably continue, with a
Vice President Mike Pence acting, as he already has, as go-between.

Minnesota probably will vote Democratic in the 2016 presidential
race; it has been a reliable “blue” state in the recent past. Parts of
the state, particularly the outstate and rural regions will vote

This cycle, however, has been one which has seen most of the
political rules broken. The media and most of the polls favor the
Democrats; the “mutiny of the masses” so far has been an
insurrection of the voters against both parties' establishments.
The only mutiny leader on the ballot in November is a Republican.

It is an historic contest in which the very rules of political
engagement are at stake. With less than 80 days until November 8,
we will now see the greatest test of strategies, polls and political
assumptions in memory.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Two American Languages?

In my quest to understand the “mutiny of the masses” that has
erupted in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, I have tried
to understand what’s on the minds of the American electorate.

The anger, frustration and anxiety of many in that electorate is
now well-documented, but I continue to think that these emotions
are not enough in themselves to explain the political upheaval and
the emergence of unlikely candidates such as Donald Trump and
Bernie Sanders,

In my ruminations I might have come across an additional clue.

Over the years, I have often discussed my interest in language
and its role in our lives. I have even written a few short books on
the subject. I have, as a writer, a particular interest in the language
of English, and more specifically our own version of it, American

Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the English written in the
U.S. maintained its overwhelming debt to the English spoken and
written in its former colonial master, Great Britain. Then, most
Americans, in fact, were descendants or settlers from England,
Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Frontier life, of course, produced
local and regional spoken dialects, but it took two American
figures, one who had almost no formal education, to begin to
create a truly “American” English. The first was a politician who
was mostly self-educated. That he also happened to be the most
revered president in the nation’s history is probably no accident.
Abraham Lincoln, even before he became president, wrote and
spoke in a distinctive and eloquent language which, even today
(175 years or so later,) has an originality and freshness unlike
any other. His language and thought had a universal influence.

Most of the world’s major languages were advanced to their
modern versions by literary writers. In the case of British English,
it was William Shakespeare, the great playwright. For Italian, it
was Dante, the great poet. For Russian, it was its sublime poet
Pushkin. For German, the poet Goethe; and for French, its
philosopher-essayist Montaigne.  The great Spanish novelist
Cervantes had very much to do with advance of his language.
In the new and first world republic, the United States of America,
it was Lincoln, the politician, and a midwestern humorist/novelist
Samuel Clemens (universally known by his pen name Mark Twain).

Like Lincoln slightly before him, Clemens captured an essence of
American spoken English as it had evolved for more than a
century on the western frontier and in the former colonial regions
of its eastern and southern settlements.

For more than a century afterwards, during a time of extraordinary
advances in communications technology, a shared American
English, albeit with its various local accents, has emerged.

Until now, that is.

The American experience, of course, is unique in the world for its
ethnic and religious complexity. The earliest British settlers were
followed by German, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, and Scandinavian
waves of immigration. French and Spanish North American
colonies were absorbed. Many other groups, with their own
languages and cultural traditions followed.

The printed word in newspapers, fiction and non-fiction books
helped share American English nationwide, as did the then-new
phenomena of the movies, radio, and television. The internet and
social media continue this process.

So we all speak the same “American,” yes?

Perhaps not. I think the “mutiny of the masses” might reveal that
there are now at least two American English languages. The first,
of course, the “American” spoken and written for the past century,
and celebrated in our literature, our films, on television and radio;
taught in our schools and universities, and articulated by our
establishment politicians and bureaucrats, is the language we all
think we know.

But there might be another language, unintimidated by established
assumptions, not “politically correct,” untaught in schools and
colleges, and shared primarily person-to-person and also on the vast
and uncontrolled internet. I do not claim to be able to define this
language, nor to be able to construct a dictionary of it, but I think it
is very much out there in the minds and on the lips of millions of
Americans I recently described as “voiceless, ignored and scorned”
by the new and established elites in our country.

A linguistic professor at Harvard might want to refute this, but two
unlikely figures, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, each in their
own way, embraced this notion and tried to speak to the millions of
Americans who perhaps speak another English.

These two American languages usually employ the same words, but
they often have quite different meanings to those who speak them and
understand in them. Most languages hold some ambiguities for those
who speak them, but rarely do so many words and phrases hold
such greatly different meanings.

I am not suggesting that any one meaning is more valid than another,
but simply that large numbers of Americans hold them.

This subject deserves, and I hope will receive, a more detailed
examination than I have made here. I might even have got it wrong.

But I think there is more to this than meets the ear.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 15, 2016


by Barry Casselman

Voting is always a risk in time.

In the amalgam of persons who live near each other,
and under a flag with each other,

it is the sole universal act
which defines their society together,
an act which is a rare but periodic moment
when something is actually decided.

Everything their politicians do is provisional,
but what voters do is permanent briefly in time.

Once made, a vote cannot be taken back.

Of those who can vote, there is no true alternative
to making a choice, of making a decision,
of causing no consequence from whatever they do.
Those who decide not to cast their ballot,
cast their ballot anyway, choosing in advance  

whomever collects the most votes actually counted.

Voting is the purest emotion of freedom,
the least guaranty of an outcome,
the most certain guaranty of liberty,
the riskiest of all shared risks,
the legal signature of our species,
a testimony in the unimaginably long program
now playing in the uncountable and moving particles
of this brief world we must live in.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


I don’t think it’s very useful anymore to merely proclaim
how unprecedented the 2016 presidential election seems to be,
and simply to lament that the two major party nominees are
so flawed. Those two circumstances might have much truth in
them, but just to complain and not probe further does not
seem to me very illuminating about what is happening in the
nation, and what we might do next November.

The first complaint states that there seem to be few historical
precedents, and contends that current political conditions have
come about because the U.S. presidential nominating process is
hopelessly archaic and unworkable. But is the problem the
political process itself, a process which has evolved much in the
past century as it fits into our contemporary technological world?
The anti-establishment nature of what I call the “mutiny of the
masses” has been mostly treated in the media and (understandably)
by the various political establishments on the left, right and center
in a defensive manner. By that I mean that the media and the
establishments have taken up the popular mantra of being victims
of rude and disruptive forces. Many go even further, stating or
implying that the mutinous masses are uninformed, unappreciative
and gullible. In short, it is all the fault of the masses (sometimes
labeled in certain academic circles as the “rabble”).

Although disdain for the electoral grass roots has historically been
ascribed to the political right, we have now had almost eight years
of an administration in Washington, DC which thinks it knows
best what public policy should be. This administration has
unmistakably moved government policy to the left and to a much
more centralized role, and yet a liberal mutiny has come from the
left. On the right,  the conservative establishment has done a lot of
talking and theorizing, but has proven to be a relatively weak in
domestic policies in practice.

The bottom line, of course, is economic well-being --- improving
prosperity and confidence in the future in domestic policy; and a
sense of hope and security about our role in the world.

The mutinous masses, it would seem, found little to like with
16 serious Republican candidates for president, most of whom
had a long and impressive resumes. Those on the Democratic
side were so unsatisfied with their prohibitive favorite that
they voted in great numbers for a hitherto fringe figure who
repeatedly proclaimed himself a “socialist” and only offered
unsupportable programs and plans that have not ever before
been taken seriously in U.S. politics. The few other liberal
candidates attracted almost zero attention.

Nevertheless, we are told that the villain in this piece is the
process itself, a process which nonetheless has enabled
candidates for president to compete openly and freely for the
support of voters.

It’s the fault of the media, we are further told. The media enabled
Donald Trump to emerge from obscurity by giving him so much
attention at no cost during the nominating process. Does that
argument suggest that such opportunity was not available to any
of the other candidates? Does anyone today suggest that the media,
left or right, now favors Donald Trump? Or that it takes Bernie
Sanders seriously?

I suggest that conventional wisdom continues to search for
explanations for 2016 with just more conventional presumptions.
Everyone is at fault, this thinking goes, except those in both parties
who have been in charge over the past two decades.

Lest I be considered vague and non-specific in challenging the
leadership performance of the past quarter century, let me name
names, that is, specify festering unresolved issues facing most

Since the 1970s, I have been writing about looming problems with
private and public sector pension funds. The political leadership
in both parties, and in both the Congress and the White House,
have kicked this ball chronically down the road, applying band aids
and not cures. Today, many corporate and public sector pension
funds are imminently out of resources.  The box of band aids is
empty. This affects millions of senior Americans.

Public school education, K-12, is imploding all across the nation,
especially in inner cities. Millions of working parents with young
children cannot afford to send their boys and girls to private
schools. As for higher education, some of our most prestigious
and expensive colleges and universities have become caricatures
of their former reputations, spending more public time on political
correctness than on providing adequate preparation, especially
at the undergraduate level, for working in the adult world.
Millions of parents face enormous costs, and millions of students
and recent graduates face costly loans to pay back.

The issue of legal immigration, long a positive staple of the
American “melting pot” culture, has become controversial to
many in the U.S., especially in the past seven years, as tens of
thousands of refugees have entered the U.S. during a period of
national alarm and concern about terrorism.The Obama
administration has appeared to relax border controls, and
increased refugee admissions in the face of the anxieties and
concerns of many Americans.

American foreign policy under President Obama has reversed
the direction of several previous administrations of both parties.
U.S. military withdrawal, originally welcomed by most Americans,
has been combined with severe cutbacks in U.S. forces, and many
U.S. voters have now become increasingly concerned that U.S.
withdrawal is emboldening terrorist and other potentially hostile
forces and nations to take advantage of this policy which might
be judged not to be in U.S. best long-term interests.

The 5% official unemployment level is much better than it was in
2009, but it does not include those unemployed who are not
currently actively seeking jobs, and thus disguises the fact that
the real unemployment figure is probably more than double the
official rate. Even more concerning is the extraordinary high rate
of unemployment among young black Americans. Both major
parties have been complicit in this public policy failure for years.
No political candidate of either party, furthermore, is talking
about solutions to the long-term permanent loss of millions of
U.S. jobs to automation, a crisis which is coming nearer and nearer.

These are only some of the major areas of U.S. public policy
which are chronically not working well, and which directly and
negatively affect millions of voters and their families.

Meanwhile, elected officials at all levels of government, and
many more bureaucrats in these levels, have seemingly taken
great care to protect their own incomes, increased their security
and benefits, and fastidiously paid attention to the entitlements
which affect not only them but the “special interests” which
support them politically.

Is there thus any surprise that large numbers of unspecified
voters, considering themselves voiceless, ignored and scorned
by the nation’s elites, would at some moment stage a grass roots
mutiny against the establishments of both parties?

Perhaps it’s time for all of us to take a good look in the mirror
of our daily life.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 8, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Advice To Those Already Exhausted By Campaign 2016

We are long past the realization that the presidential campaign of
2016 has been, and will likely continue to be, different from any
other campaign we have ever observed or experienced.

The up-and-down quality of the candidates, polls, and political
rhetoric had been relentless, even in the usually quiet period just
after the national party conventions. I think this will continue
until election day. There will almost certainly be not only October
“surprises,” but a few in September as well. After this election,
we will likely have a new definition of what are political surprises.

As for the two nominees themselves, they will probably continue
to speak and act consistent with their lifelong personae. Hillary
Clinton will repeat the mantra that she has told the truth, even
though the evidence is overwhelming and beyond reasonable
doubt that she has not done so. Donald Trump will again and again
go off message with inappropriate statements that will disappoint
his supporters and further fuel his opponents arguments against him.

There are good-faith supporters of both nominees who hope my
comment above is wrong, and I might add that if either or both of
them would overcome these major flaws, it would likely change the
dynamic of the election. Out of concern for our nation and its
political process, I also hope I am wrong. We need a president that
Americans can rally behind on January 21, 2017 ---  in these very
critical and dangerous times --- be that person a Democrat or a

My counsel, however, is not to expect the nominees to transform
themselves in 90 days. They are each about 70 years old, and set in
their ways. Each of them has been successful with their persona in
the past, and even if they do realize that running for president as
their party’s nominee is unlike anything else they have ever done,
lifetime habits are incredibly difficult to change.

My counsel to all is this:  whether you are a Democrat or a
Republican, whether you like your party’s nominee or not, no
matter how disappointed you are with the choices you have,
expect the nominees to stay in character, ignore all or most polls
until late October, weigh what you think each party will bring
about in the next four years, and be true to what YOU (not any
candidate) believe in.

For those who thinking about either staying home or not voting
for any candidate in protest, I caution that this is ultimately an
empty gesture. As I have pointed out countless times in the past,
everyone votes in an election --- those who stay home or leave
the ballot blank are in very real effect endorsing the person who
does eventually win. This is not symbolic; it’s reality.

This might not be pleasant or reassuring advice to many of my
readers, be they liberals, conservatives or centrists. But there will
be a choice made on that Tuesday in November, and each of us
must live with that choice every day for the following four years.

Some might opt for voting for the other party’s nominee, and some
might choose to vote for one party’s candidates for U.S. house and
senate, and the other party’s candidate for president. That is a
deliberate strategy for stalemate, but it is a strategy. I have argued
that stalemate is not likely to be useful any longer in these troubled
times, but I might be wrong.

In any event, I know of no strategy for any voter to “opt out” of this
election. No matter what each of us does, it will affect the outcome
one way or another. If the party nominees and some of the other
candidates in both parties don’t act like grown-ups, that does not
mean we have to imitate them.

This might or might not be the most important election of our
lifetimes, but it is clearly the most difficult.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 5, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Campaign Update 20

With the current controversies surrounding the Republican
presidential nominee Donald Trump, there are signs that a
quiet but massive effort is being made by GOP activists,
donors and PACs, to concentrate on U.S. house and senate,
as well as state legislature, races in November. The
conservative party currently controls these institutions, and
the prospect of the Democratic Party possibly keeping the
White House in 2017, has provoked an unprecedented effort
to prioritize the down-ballot races in 2016. The liberal media
is not reporting this, and GOP strategists are strategically not
yet calling attention to their efforts. There is considerable
historical basis for this strategy. Landslide victories in the
presidential contests in the recent past have not always meant
down-ballot disaster for the losing political party. The GOP
majority in the U.S. house is currently so large that some
Democratic gains were expected even if the GOP presidential
nominee were to win. With a liberal win in November, that net
gain might be larger, but there are still Democratic seats that
could be lost (such as Minnesota District 8) even should Hillary
Clinton win. Although many more conservative U.S. senate
seats are up for re-election this cycle, there seems to be only
limited opportunity for liberals to pick up the necessary four
or five seats to regain the majority. With polls indicating who
the vulnerable GOP incumbents are, that party’s leaders and
operatives appear to be putting enormous resources, both
financial and feet-on-the-ground, into these races, resources
the Democrats, concentrating on the top of the ticket, might
not be able to match. A second factor that might help the GOP
down-ballot effort is the unprecedented number of vulnerable
incumbents putting political distance between themselves
and GOP nominee Donald Trump. The issue of who would
nominate new U.S. supreme court justices, and whether they
could be confirmed by the new senate, remains a major issue
in the November campaign on both sides.

While conservatives have high hopes of a few pick-ups in U.S.
house seats in November, they face several almost-certain
losses. With the GOP party primary in Minnesota slated for
August 9, maverick Jason Lewis has the party endorsement
and is expected to win the primary in District 2. Openly
supporting the disruptive GOP Freedom Caucus, Lewis would
not have the support of many conservatives in November,
and likely lose to Democratic nominee Angie Craig. Retiring
GOP incumbent John Kline and party activists are supporting
corporate executive Darlene Miller --- who many observers
consider more likely to give Ms. Craig a close race in November.
Voting is expected to be lquite ight in the August primary, and
this further favors Mr. Lewis, although a massive effort by
Miller supporters could produce an upset.

While most non-Germans might sympathize with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s humanitarian stand on
immigrants, and understand that nation’s sensitivity to
humanitarian issues seven decades after World War II, there
is some serious question about how long she can maintain her
current open immigration policy in the face of rapidly rising
opposition to it in the German electorate. Frequent terrorist
events in Germany and elsewhere in Europe are fanning not
only anti-immigrant feeling, but are fueling new nationalist
groups throughout the European Union.

Although it would be historically unprecedented, and even
now seems very unlikely, the recent controversies surrounding
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign
have provoked some speculation of what might happen if the
New York billionaire were to resign from the ticket. The
technical answer is that the Republican National Committee
(RNC) would choose a successor by majority vote. The list of
possible successors is large, and includes House Speaker Paul
Ryan, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, Ohio Governor John Kasich,
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Speaker Newt
Gingrich. A compromise choice not on this list would also be
possible. A big question to be answered in such a circumstance
would be the status of GOP vice presidential nominee Mike
Pence --- although his positive performance so far might lead
to his remaining on the ballot no matter who is chosen to head
the ticket.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: We Interrupt This Program.....

I had planned, and so stated, to set down a three-part commentary                     
on the 2016 presidential campaign to date, and why it has turned
out as it has. In fact, I had already published in this space Part 1,
and was intending to write part 2, on Donald Trump’s meteoric
rise and success on the Republican side.

Newest developments, however, cause me to postpone Part 2, at
least for a few days, as the latest crisis in the Trump campaign,
including rumors of his possible withdrawal, erupts in the national

If Mr. Trump’s behavior were not that of someone seeming in a
conscious or sub-conscious fashion to self-destruct, I would
otherwise say there is close to zero chance he would resign from
the GOP ticket. Mr, Trump is, if nothing else, a street fighter, and
during the past year has given little evidence of willingness to
back down or shrink from battle. On the other hand, he seems to
be doing everything possible to turn away some of his most
fervent supporters, not to mention make those who have
reluctantly endorsed him now regret their decision. Compulsively
and obsessively striking out repeatedly at anyone and everyone
who has criticized him might please a few supporters, but it is
simply no formula for success. As I have said before, just do the

It is undeniable that during the past year Mr, Trump has connected
with a large sector of voters who feel they have been ignored, taken
for granted or exploited by establishment politicians in both parties.
As I recently wrote, Bernie Sanders also connected with a
significant number of alienated votes on the left, albeit he failed to
win his party’s nomination, and disrupted the Democratic
presidential contest. Mr. Trump, however, not only disrupted his
party’s contest, he actually won it.

Following the two party conventions, the simple (but large) task of
the two nominees is to assemble a majority of votes in the electoral
college via the popular vote in the states. Every election is different,
and a contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is bound
to have its own character. No part of this task, however, should be
to deliberately give away votes either to your major opponent or to
one of the two third party candidates who will be on all or most state
ballots in November.

I often speak of the laws of political gravity, laws which follow
human psychology and common sense. In recent hours, I have heard
and read  that Donald Trump is going to go on in the manner he has
so far --- from verbal crisis to verbal crisis for the next three months.

I have been fastidious about not making predictions about the 2016
presidential race, but I will say this:

The U.S. electorate will not accept favorably 100 days of incessant
self destructive controversy after controversy, no matter who is doing
it and no matter his or her cause.

I explicitly make this point not only in regard to Mr.  Trump, but also
to Mrs. Clinton who has lingering controversies of her own.

When I recently wrote that “anything can happen” in 2016, I don’t
think I fully realized how true that might turn out to be.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 1, 2016


There is a sense just now, in the invisible territories of our
American political logosphere, that a great preventable
accident has happened in the presidential election of 2016.
This accident, as if it were the unanticipated collision of
two automobiles at an urban street intersection, it is
further implied, had only short-term causes, like failing to
make a turn signal, or to look at a side mirror, or running a
yellow light.

I have repeated now several times recently, as might virtually
any other U.S. political commentator, that I did not see Bernie
Sanders or Donald Trump coming, nor did I see in advance
the sheer energy of grass roots anger and frustration that
would be, and has so far been, unleashed in the political arena
of this cycle.

Conceding this lapse, however, does not automatically
disqualify me or any of my colleagues from attempting to
uncover the true mechanisms of what I have come to describe
as a “mutiny of the voting masses” in what we have now
been forced to recognize as an extraordinary, possibly
transformational, election.

To come up with the descriptive phrase “mutiny of the
masses,” however, is hardly adequate in itself to the task of
understanding what has happened, is happening, and most
critical of all, what will happen.

Beneath the verbal and political turmoil of the early stages of
the campaign, the primary and caucus stages, and the
nominating conventions, there is a map and a glossary of the
attitudes, emotions, hopes and frustrations of millions of
Americans who rose up to overthrow the captains and officers
of the major political party vessels.

Without the final decision of the voters next November,
reconstructing that map and explicating that glossary remains
a speculative exercise. I presume to do no more than that over
the next three months, and I can offer no guarantee that I will
not err again, in whole or in part. But as I will try to do my part,
I need to ask my readers (a very diverse group going from left
to right, establishment-oriented to transformationally-inclined,
young and old, and with so many other different characteristics)
to try to suspend any conclusions they have already made until
a full range of this political puzzle has been examined.

Note, however, I am NOT asking any readers to change their
political beliefs, and or to change any decisions they might have
made about whom they will vote for (or not vote for). I have not
endorsed any candidate of any party, nor have I made any
prediction who will win or lose. If the reader must have now
an endorsement or a prediction, my speculations will only
be unsatisfactory until early November (when I might or might
not endorse someone or make an outright prediction).

Let’s get to the subject at hand.

No matter what you think of Bernie Sanders’ politics, his
almost-successful challenge to Hillary Clinton was no accident.
From the outset, Mrs. Clinton was the overwhelming frontrunner
for the Democratic Party’s nomination. As happened in her
husband’s first race in 1992, her most formidable potential
challengers did not enter the race. In 1992, the reason for so many
well-known Democrats passing up the race was that in 1991,
President George H.W. Bush was so enormously popular following
the Persian Gulf War, that any effort seemed doomed from the
outset. By the time an economic downturn made the race
competitive, it was apparently too late to compete for the
nomination. A few major liberal candidates did run that year, but
it turned out that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was a large new
political talent. Nor did many foresee the independent candidacy
of Ross Perot coming. Most have forgotten that as late as early
1992, Mr. Perot led both Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton in the polls, and
in the end he received 17% of the vote, probably altering the
outcome in November. Mr. Perot was a billionaire, a centrist
populist, and like certain figures in 2016, he had nothing to lose
by getting into the race.

In a field of political nobodies challenging Mrs. Clinton in 2016,
Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was not even a
member of the Democratic Party (although he caucused with
Democrats in the senate), but knew he could be the voice for an
ignored and passionate group on the left of the U.S. political
spectrum, a group which liberals had always counted on to vote
with them, but which received very little more than some
rhetorical nods over the years in return. I don’t know if Mr.
Sanders knew in advance he could stir the Democratic pot as
much as he did, but once the campaign began, it became very
clear that some large segments of the liberal party were not
happy with their presumptive nominee. The Democratic
establishment had already concluded that their presumptive
advantage in the electoral college, and with black, Hispanic,
Jewish and union voters was enough to win, even with an
unpopular nominee. Using the tactic of seating a large number
of ex-officio “super-delegates” to their convention, the
Democratic National Committee (DNC) made it almost
impossible for any challenger to Mrs. Clinton to win.That
Bernie Sanders almost did win, is a testament to the “mutiny”
of voters on the left in 2016. In spite of his endorsement of Mrs.
Clinton in Philadelphia, many of his supporters remain
unconvinced. Some of them will vote for Green Party nominee
Jill Stein (whose policy positions mirror Mr. Sanders’). and
some of them will stay home. Many will vote for Mrs. Clinton,
but the lingering split could still affect the outcome.

The Sanders mutiny did not occur in a vacuum. While there was
always a neo-socialist faction and voice in the party, the election
of Barack Obama in 2008 gave a new and growing stature to the
party’s left wing, especially among younger voters. The Obama
administration has been intentionally, if somewhat erratically,
“redistributionist. Its rhetorical attacks on the “1%” did not go
unnoticed. By 2015, however, many voters on the left had not
received the economic benefits the Obama rhetoric had promised.
A incipient recovering economy was growing very slowly;
long-term problems such as pension reform and education reform
had not been resolved, and no one seemed to care beyond empty

Enter Bernie Sanders.

His mutiny failed to nominate him, but his movement has turned
the Democratic Party base to the left.  The Philadelphia convention
tried to make it seem there was no party split, but so far, division
remains. How much that split will continue until election day is

In my next column, I will examine the “mutiny” of voters on the
right, and how the Republican Party contest turned out with a
contrasting result. The GOP, however, also is split, also has a
controversial nominee, and also heads toward election day with
considerable electoral ambiguity and doubt.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.