Trump's Defense Fund — Fleecing the Rubes

December 7, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

What Trump learned at Trump University was the value of fleecing the rubes. Most of the other victims of his salesmanship had been big-money people and institutions — banks and other supposedly wise investors. The $3000 that Trump U students lost — and some got ripped off for tens of thousands — is serious money for the individual but small potatoes for Trump.

He made it up in volume. The scam grossed at least $40 million.

Now he’s at it again. So far, his Election Defense Fund has raised over $200 million.

I can understand the Trump U victims. They thought that their money would buy them the secrets to real estate success. They would be repaid a hundred fold. But what do the Election Defense Fund contributors get?

First, and most obviously, they think that the money will get them four more years of Trump. This belief requires a prior belief that is axiomatic among Trump loyalists:  believe Trump, not the so-called experts.

From the start, the consensus among legal scholars was that Trump’s cases would not win. As one lawyer I heard on (I think) NPR said, “His chances are slim and none, and silm just left town.” But if Trump and his lawyers say that they have a ton of evidence of massive fraud, it must be true, and these other voices must be fake legal opinion.

It has now become clear that the experts were correct. Trump has lost one legal challenge after another. So much losing. But still the donations roll in.

For Trump, of course, everything is, to use the current term, “transactional.” The fine print on the Election Fund website says that for donations of less that $5000, nothing will go to the legal fight.  Instead, 25% will go to the Republican National Committee, and 75% to “Save America,” a Trump PAC. There are restrictions on what Trump can do with that money. For instance, the rules say that he can’t use it to pay off his campaign debts and certainly not his personal debts.

But, as Brendan Fischer, Federal Reform Program director at the Campaign Legal Center, said, "Although Trump cannot use campaign funds to pay himself or his family members excessive salaries, or to buy enough copies of Don Jr.'s book to land it on the bestseller list, he might try to use leadership PAC funds for such purposes.”

Remember, we’re talking about Donald Trump. If nobody can or will effectively enforce the rules, the rules don’t matter. Even if the rules are enforced, breaking them might have been worth it. After all, Trump U was fined $25 million, probably less than half of what it brought in. And in the end it wasn’t Trump who paid the judgment. It was some billionaire supporter. 

Even if Trump did use the money for whatever he wanted, including paying of personal debts, he probably wouldn't lose much support. For his followers, a donation is not transactional. The rewards it brings are intangible: it strengthens their identity as members of the group; and it reaffirms the value of that group. Those functions are especially important for those who perceive their group as being under attack. And Trump supporters, correctly or incorrectly (mostly incorrectly) see themselves as being discriminated against because of their race (White), their religion (Christian), and their views on gender roles (“traditional”). Trump embodies their ideas, and he perfectly and loudly expresses their resentments against those who are supposedly discriminating against them. You can’t put a price on that.

Trump Claimed Vote Fraud in 2016. What’s Different This Time?

December 4, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

I was having an e-mail conversation with a Christian conservative. He still believes Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud. I’m willing to accept the conclusion of all those judges (including some Republicans and at least one Trump appointee), governors, secretaries of state, and election officials.

But Trump still has a large core of believers who, despite Trump’s losing all those court cases, still believe his claims that the election was rigged. That seems new. If  if McCain or Romney, or on the Democratic side Hillary, had made similar claims that had similarly failed in court, would their supporters continued to believe them? Would they have made the kind of high-volume protests that we now hear? Probably not. But why, I asked. Why is 2020 different?

Usually, I find myself on the structural side of these questions and shy away from explanations based on individuals and  individual-level variables. But this time, it was my conservative correspondent who looked first at structural changes. (He is not a sociologist, not a political scientist, not an academic.) He wrote:

It's hard to compare this 2020 election with any before it, at least in my lifetime, with the preponderance of mail-in ballots.  It was shocking to me to see the vote counting stopped simultaneously in these key states.
For me, the big difference was the relation between Trump and his supporters. It wasn’t Trump himself. The similarities between Trump 2020 Trump 2016 are too obvious to ignore. In 2016,
    1. Trump lost the popular vote (about 3 million in 2016, 7 million this year).
    2. Trump claimed that the vote was rigged and that there was fraud.
    3. He appointed a commission to investigate and prove him right. The person he appointed to head the commission, like his lawyers this time around, was an ardent supporter, who echoed Trump’s claim of fraud even when other Republicans were silent on the matter.
    4. The commission could not find evidence of widespread voter fraud.
    5. Trump disbanded the commission but still that Clinton’s numbers were due to massive fraud.
    6. Trump continued to lie about the commission and the election.

Trump 2020 was perfectly predictable. He did the same thing when lost at the Emmy Awards — insisted that the voting was rigged. The important difference in 2020 is not the mail-in ballots. It’s the reaction of several Republican politicians and millions of Trump voters. Their continued belief is partly a simple matter of confirmation bias — recognizing only the evidence that confirms your idea, even when that evidence has been discredited, and finding reasons to reject disconfirming evidence. But given how extreme their reactions have been — death threats against election officials and their families — there has to be something else going on. But that’s a matter for another post.

Can “Up” Make Masks Masculine?

November 6, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

A lot of people in this country still refuse to wear masks. In most places, no laws require masks, so anti-maskers will have to be persuaded. But how, especially now that those same people associate masks with weakness and femininity? Appeals to altruism run up against American individualism. As the subway rider in New York said this week when other riders repeatedly asked him to wear a mask and even held out masks for him to take, “I live by my principles. . . I don’t wear a muzzle.” (The full story is here )

One strategy that seems to have caught on is “Mask Up.”

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

These campaigns remind me of “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Now it’s an all-purpose slogan, but it originated in 1985 as a campaign to get “Bubba,” the stereotypical Texas truck-driving male, to stop tossing beer cans and other litter onto the highway. Highway beautification had the same problems as masks. It required that the individual inconvenience himself for the sake of a goal that benefited only the general society, not himself, and in a way that was not immediately visible. In addition, the goal highway beautification reeked of flowers and femininity.

A slogan like “Let’s Keep Our Roads Beautiful” wasn’t going to cut it. But “Don’t Mess With Texas,” with TV ads featuring Dallas Cowboys linemen, combined masculine toughness with state chauvinism.*

Covid is a far more serious problem than litter, but the strategy is the same — masculinity and local patriotism.  The pugnacious “Philly Never Backs Down. Mask Up” seems too similar to “Don’t Mess With Texas” to have been a coincidence. But it’s the “up” that I find most interesting. “Mask Up.” to my ear at least, sounds more masculine than “Wear a mask.” I’m not sure why. Maybe the “up” implies a bold action, like an athlete suiting up for the big game, a game for which he is also amped up, revved up, and even juiced up.

“Listen up,” says the coach in the locker room just before he gives his speech to get the team psyched up. To “Listen up” is active than to merely “listen.”

The Texas campaign reduced highway litter by 72%. Unfortunately, I don’t know any research showing the effect of “Mask Up.” 

* See my 2009 post Lone Star Litter and Values.

Sarah Loves Biden, So Does Barbara

November 2, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Times ran a quiz (here ) where you have to guess people’s voting preferences knowing only their names. For  example,

The trick is to guess the correct demographic variable that goes with the name and with political preferences. If you know that Biden does much better among young voters and that Sarah skews younger (median age 33), this one’s easy. Similarly, Betty (median age 77) goes for Trump by a whopping 26 points.

But age isn’t the whole story. Here’s the Times chart  of the most common male and female names, but I have added indicators showing the median age for each name.

 (Click on an image for a larger and clearer view. I put in the yellow age
markers by hand. Their location may be slightly off

Barbara may be old, median age 70, but she’s strongly for Biden. In fact, among these twenty names, it’s only among men that age goes with increasing support for Trump.

Of course, the most common names will be older. Today’s youthful Noahs and Emilys are the leading edge of those names. Not until they are older and with decades of as yet unborn Noahs and Emilys coming behind them will they outnumber Richard and Jennifer. The median age of these 20 names is 56 compared with the national median of 38.

The Times shows preferences of the 110 names worn by at least 30 people in the sample of 17,000. The most pro-Biden men are younger — Anthony (37), Samuel (27), Justin (32). But so are some of the most pro-Trump men — Aaron (32), Ryan (31), Joshua (36). The most pro-Biden guy is Patrick; he favors Biden by a 42-point margin.

Among women, the most pro-Biden is also one of the oldest. Dorothy (age 79) favors Joe by better than two to one. Following her are Catherine (58), Margaret (69) and Jane (68).  But the most pro-Trump women (Cheryl, Debra, and Donna) are also in their mid-sixties.

Gender and median age for a name are easy to know. Race and social class, not so much. But in a few cases, these peek through. The Times notes that Debra goes for Trump by 24 points, Deborah leans to Biden by 10 points. The age distribution of these names is almost identical.

But there’s a social class difference. “Debra is a trendier spelling that . . .was more popular with younger parents, often those without a college degree. Deborah. . .is the sort of old-fashioned name that appeals to older parents with bachelor’s degrees, especially in the Northeast.” I would also hazard a guess about Tiffany and Taylor on the one hand, Maura and Margot on the other.