Designated Survivor

We don’t normally comment on brand new shows at The NYRD, but it is worth talking about Designated Survivor, the Kiefer Sutherland political thriller about how a terrorist organization blows up the Capitol building killing most of the American government and leaving an earnest and inexperienced Housing and Urban Development Secretary as President of the United States. It is not the plot or the characters that we want to discuss but the deeper implications that such a show offers about the current American mindset and the fun-house mirror reflection that it casts on our current Reality-Star-in-Chief.

Mr. Kirkman Goes to Washington
It is worth remembering that Designated Survivor, premiered in the Fall of 2016, two full months before the election of Donald Trump. Yet the issues that the show tackled with casting the unassuming Tom Kirkman as President were very present in the political landscape of the election and the aftermath. We have mentioned before how our fictional Presidents often seem to be created in response to our actual Presidents, but with Kirkman and Trump there is something more going on. Not only did Kirkman precede Trump, but the turmoil surrounding his Presidency shares tones with The Donald’s ascent to power.

The most important correlation comes from the fact that both Kirkman and Trump are more or less Independents. Yes, Trump has an (R) next to his name, but there are also several asterisks next that too -and there will probably will be several more before the year is up. There is something about a man who holds no allegiance to any particular political party that is appealing to the American voting and viewing public, at this moment in history. Of course, that was evident in the campaigns leading up to the election, with the rise of candidates like Trump and Bernie Sanders. The difference -of course- is that Kirkman leans left, and Trump leans somewhere right of Stalin, but they are still both non-political outsiders who inexplicably found themselves in the most powerful seat in the world.

TV shows, like Designated Survivor, shoot their episodes several months before airing, and are written at least a few months before that. Stunt shots, location scouting, even craft services need to be set up well ahead of premiere time. Story-arcs and plot lines are developed so far in advance of air dates that it is hard for TV shows to really make concise comments about breaking news -except if you’re South Park. Still, even with that lag time it is obvious that the writers and producers were aware of this trend in American politics, -primaries seem to go on for years and years in advance of the actual election- and decided to capitalize on it for their show. Yet, we cannot imagine even they realized how cogent and timely some of their themes would end up being past November 9, 2016.

Spoilers in Politics
There has been criticism of the heavy-handed way in which Designated Survivor sometimes goes out of its way to criticize Trump, and we cannot argue that. This is Hollywood after all, and the second half of the first season -filmed after the November election- definitely made more than a few coy winks and nods at the idiocy of our actual President. Filming for Designated Survivor, began in July 2016, but did not wrap-up for the season until April 2017. Though we doubt it altered the overall story-arc of the show, the course of our real elections did give writers plenty of opportunities to tackle issues such as Supreme Court nominees, a politically motivated congress, refugee bans, military operations, and other C-plot political crises that demonstrated how well the serious and academic-minded Kirkman was able to handle governing as opposed to other current Presidents who will remain nameless… except if you look at one of his buildings.

The haters will call it “liberal Hollywood commentary,” and the cheerleaders will call it, “screw you President Orangeman,” but regardless of intent, comparisons will always be drawn between fictional and non-fictional Presidents. So, let’s go ahead and just do that right now: Tom Kirkman is a former architectural college professor who does not naturally seek the spotlight, and values his family above everything else. He is level-headed, rational, and fully cognizant of the weight and complexity of the office he must burden and the issues he faces on a daily basis. On the other side is Trump, a former building tycoon, a consummate con-man and reality star, who has had so many wives he has stopped counting. He is ruled by his emotions and his Twitter thumbs, and -for some reason– believed that being President was going to be easier than being a trust-fund baby who played golf all day and drove casinos into the ground. Kirkman shows a firm understanding of history and civics. Meanwhile it is questionable if Trump even understands the basic layout or function of the three branches of our government.

One of those is a description of a Presidential character so unrealistic that the pitch for it would have been laughed out of every TV executive’s office in Hollywood… the other is a character played by Kiefer Sutherland. However, these forced comparisons and the show’s obvious commentary are not really what we want to talk about. After all, anyone could write a show to overtly criticize the President -we’re pretty sure that is still legal. Anyone can write a scene where President Kirkman goes to a NATO summit and is articulate, well-meaning, and measured among our allies… you know, like an adult, and set it up in opposition to a real-life NATO meeting where our allies have to keep their comments to below four minutes to keep The Donald’s attention from wandering… you know, like a child. No, we do not want to focus on those obvious constructed moments. What we really want to talk about is the deeper implications.

The Unconscious Current
TV Presidents, like Designated Survivors‘ Tom Kirkman often arise as unconscious desires and feelings driving the American viewers. These same currents also drive us at the voting booth. They are worth examining. The rise of Kirkman and Trump show that America is looking for an Independent, someone new who is not beholden to the old political machinations of Washington. However unlike Trump, Kirkman is an every-man, Sure he is an academic, but his views on issues tend to reflect the majority opinion of Americans. Moreover, Kirkman inherited a country that was in an actual life-or-death crisis, as opposed to Trump -who only thought that, and- actually inherited a relatively peaceful country in the midst of an economic upturn and record low crime rates. Yet, we can also not deny that there is still some sense of overwhelming dread in the factual America. It is a sense that we have gone through some great tragedy in Washington, a perspective shift in how we see ourselves and our country. For Designated Survivor this comes in the form of an actual terrorist attack, but for us it something more subtle: foreign cyber-hacking, immigration issues, or just the felt affects of globalization. Designated Survivor manifests our feelings in a tangible and knowable way, and it sets up a competent -but not perfect- President to deal with it.

The overall plot of the first season deals with defeating the terrorist organization responsible for the bombing, but it is not an Islamic one. In the end, we learn that the terrorism that most affects the nation are not from Islamic extremists, but from crazy white people believing what they read on Twitter, all the while believing that they were doing the best thing for America. There can be an argument made that the make-up of the final conspiracy/terrorism group was altered a bit to more closely resemble Alt-Right ideals, but Designated Survivor did a pretty good job in the first half of the season -the pre-election half- of illustrating that the perpetrators of the bombing were always going to be an organization very similiar to what we think of as Alt-Right nationalist groups. The show’s Pax Americana group are extremists who ultimately believe that America had fallen from grace. They are authoritarians who follow a strongman leader that believes that the country is faltering in the light of refugees, globalization, and other “liberal” ideals. In a sense they want to return to an idealized past, in an attempt to make America… something… Again. You get the point.

The great attack perpetrated against America in Designated Survivor does not come from without, but from misguided patriots manipulated through false dogma. In the fictional America of the show, this group uses their influence and power to blow up the Capitol building, and throw a megaton brick through the window of the Washington establishment. Meanwhile, in our world a group of very similarly minded individuals spread false news and inflamed Facebook and Twitter to set off a bomb in the halls of Washington by the name of Donald Trump. In essence, Donald Trump is our national crisis, except unlike Designated Survivor we do not have a Tom Kirkman to guide us through.

Now, we are not making the explicit claim that all of this was done without forethought. On the contrary, some TV writers and producers are very good at anticipating the next big thing, and by the time of July 2016 it was hard not see the orange iceberg on the horizon -even if we thought we were going to miss it. The writers of Designated Survivor are semi-conscious humans living on this planet, so it is no surprise that they grasped at least some of the underlying tensions of the past Presidential race. However, the comparisons, the reflections, and all the rest would not resonate with the American viewing public unless there was not a majority of viewers ready to accept the reality and concepts of the show. The success of Designated Survivor comes from the fact that it touches a relevant nerve in us, and really that says more about the reign of Donald Trump than anything else we ever could.

electoral college

It’s time to pack your bags, get your books, and load up the car, because we are off to college. No, we’re not talking about the type of college where you sit in a classroom, live in a dorm, and get up to outdated stereotypical 90’s hi-jinks. We are talking about the Electoral College. We can only assume that there is less drinking… though maybe not this year. Our Electors have been in the news a lot recently, but before we judge them on their actions or inaction it will probably be beneficial to go back and look at the system as a whole, from a historical point of view.

Keg Stands for Democracy
According to Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the US Constitution: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

It may not have escaped your notice that there is nothing in there about popular election. That is because the Framers were not crazy about the American population voting directly for the President of the United States. Instead, they saw the President being elected more like how the Pope is elected, through the College of Cardinals -Go Fighting Cardinals!- Electors were meant to be the most knowledgeable and informed individuals from each State, and they were meant to select the President regardless of state or party loyalties. Before we go any further, you need to understand that this process was established not because the Framers thought the American population was stupid, -Well, everyone but Hamilton anyway- but because the Framers were dealing with different issues and fears that we don’t even consider today.

We have talked before about how our Founding Fathers were more concerned about issues we don’t even think about anymore. The Electoral College was set up because the Framers were dealing with thirteen colonies all jealously guarding their own power and fearful of a federal government. Our system was therefore meant to be a balance between states’ rights and federal authority. It was believed that if the President was elected through a popular vote, the public would not have enough information to make an informed decision. After all, at the time the the population of the US was 4 million people, all spread down a thousand miles of Atlantic seaboard. The fastest form of communication was a man on a horse. So the Founding Fathers believed that people would just end up voting for the “favorite son” of their own state, and nothing would get accomplished, or the vote would always go toward the states with the most people. So the Electoral College was created as a way to safeguard the rights of smaller states and assure the governors and legislators of all the states that they had a say in picking the President.

Now, you may still think it is a stupid system, but remember that you are looking at it through 21st Century eyes. When the Constitution was written, the world was a different place. Back then, the President did not have the kind of power he has today. In fact, until the 1930’s the President’s power was limited. Aside from a few exceptions, such as Lincoln and Roosevelt, Congress was seen as the more powerful entity. It is also worth mentioning that people like Washington hated the idea of political parties. Madison and Hamilton believed they were inevitable, but thought they would still be amicable toward one another. They created the Electoral College to be a tool of state’s rights, not for the benefit of political parties. The Framers did not anticipate the hyperpartisan world of 2016, and they did not foresee America being split by red and blue states.

Learning in College
Here is the thing, the system never really worked, even in the beginning, and the cajoling and backdoor politicking it encouraged had some pretty poor consequences. The Electoral College had a hand in the Election of 1824 where John Quincy Adams was elected over the more popular Andrew Jackson, and it may even be -at least- partially responsible for getting Hamilton killed. By the 19th Century it was pretty clear that the Electoral College needed to be changed, and it was. After the Election of 1800, and the rise of political parties, the 12th Amendment empowered the Electors to cast only one vote for a political ticket, instead of the two individual votes -for President and VP- they originally cast. Also, electors became selected by the voters, as opposed to the state legislators. By the mid-century all the states were voting for their electors making it a permanent tradition in US elections, but still not technically a law. Currently, 29 states have laws that force electors to vote based upon the popular election result, making the electors all but honorary positions.

As you can see, the Electoral College has never been static. It has been shifted and amended to deal with many new aspects of the growing nation, but it is still not the same as a populist election. Even during the debacle of 1800, the idea of moving to a popular vote system was not really considered. The horrors of the French Revolution tainted the idea of populist rule for a lot of the founders. In fact, even as early as 1788 people like Alexander Hamilton were rapping about the dangers of a populist movement: The process of [electoral college] election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union. Hamilton envisioned the Electoral College as a place where the most qualified political thinkers gathered and had a serious discussion over who was best suited to be President, so as to avoid demagogues from being able to ride into office on a swell of ridiculous promises made to an overly-zealous electorate. In France, that sort of populist movement led to the guillotine, but in America it has now led us to something far more dangerous and with much worse hair.

It is also worth mentioning that slavery played a part in the continued existence of the Electoral College -because of course it did. This is America and our demons haunt every institution we own- At the nation’s founding, James Wilson from Pennsylvania proposed and argued for a direct vote over the Electoral College, but James Madison of Virginia argued against it, The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. In other words, the Northern states had more free-white men of voting age than the Southern states did, and a direct election would result in more Northern victories. However, when counting non-voting slaves as two-fifths of the electorate population -even though they were not allowed to vote directly- than that gave Slave states an advantage when it came to the number of Electors they received. Thus, the slave state of Virginia became more power in the Electoral College system than the free state of Pennsylvania. That might also be why four out of our first five Presidents were from Virginia.

Final Exams in History
So what is the point, professor? Well, think about this: four times in our history this system has put the unpopular candidate in office over the popular one. By almost ever metric the Electoral College is broken. It does not even protect small states or low population areas from the power of big cities and large states. If anything it encourages candidates to spend most of their time campaigning in just a few swing states, while neglecting the larger country. If we had direct elections, than candidates could not afford to miss the “fly-over” states anymore than they could afford to miss New York or Los Angeles. Even worse, the system disenfranchises voter turnout. Voting Republican in California or Democrat in Texas feels like throwing your vote away, because it is. That is bad. People don’t show up to vote in national elections don’t vote in local elections either, and those are arguably more important. In a direct system, every vote would matter, no matter where you live, and that is a lot more incentive to go to the polls.

After the 1800 election, the 12th Amendment irrevocably changed the way we elect our President. Among other things, it openly acknowledged the influence of political parties and empowered them to select one candidate for President and one candidate for Vice-President. This idea literally ushered in the possibility for a populist President. It laid the ground work for the Electoral College we know today, not Hamilton’s idea of a room full of thoughtful electors, but just people nominated by political parties to rubber-stamp the predetermined election results. It created the idea of a popular vote in all but practice. Perhaps even more ironic, in 2016 the Electoral College system functioned exactly opposite as Hamilton intended. It did not prevent the election of a populist demagogue, but instead ensured it. If we had been using a direct vote system Donald Trump would have lost by over 2 million votes.

But this article is not really about Donald Trump. No, it is about Hamilton and Washington and Madison and Adams and all the rest. We have to remember that our Framers empowered us with the ability to change the constitution as we saw fit, because they may have gotten the Electoral College wrong but they still knew what they were doing. They lived in a world of 4 million Americans spread across thirteen colonies with only a few dirt roads connecting them. They could not envision the rise of the Internet, or transportation, or cable news networks, or even political parties -which only took less than 8 years to fully form. Yet, they gave us the tools to amend our founding document because the world changes and our needs inevitably change with it. That was why we ratified the 12th Amendment, and maybe that is why we need to change the Constitution again to do away with the Electoral College.

Russia

Do you expect me to talk?

No, Mr. Trump. I expect you to win.

Bond… James Bond, was a legend of Cold War fiction. He was a handsome, fearless, well spoken man of action during a time when the politics of America and Russia dominated the global stage. Now, we once again find ourselves in a new type of Cold War, and we again look toward a singular figure to step up and take charge. Unfortunately, we are not talking about the suave and martini swirling 007. We are talking about Trump… Donald Trump, and he is a bit less “International Man of Mystery” and more “Mystery Man of International Politics.” Despite everything, we still do not have a clear picture on what his International policies will be, but we now know one think for certain, thanks to Russia’s help our elections have been shaken, not stirred.

S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of Things to Come
You may have heard recently that the CIA has built a case that Russian hackers used their skills to sway the election for Donald Trump. For his part, Donald Trump rejected the claims outright and accused the CIA of being wrong about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, so obviously they must be wrong about everything-ever-in-the-history-of-all-time. Here’s the thing, the US Intelligence apparatus is not always right. Also, they have not found a conclusive smoking gun to say that Vladimir Putin put his thumb on the scales of our election process… but the CIA, has a lot of evidence to back up their claim.

Here is the timeline of events: On June 14, it was reported that the Democratic National Convention was hacked. We know that for a fact, because the hackers released the DNC’s emails to WikiLeaks who then distributed them to the public. It resulted in several scandals, including the news that the DNC was against Bernie Sanders winning, at least in part. That hack was investigated by the private cyber security firm: CrowdStrike. They identified two hackers by the name of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, -because what else would you call villains in a James Bond film. The two bears have been known to work as political and economic hackers for the Russian Government. This finding was verified by Fidelis Cybersecurity and Mandiant, two additional private cyber security firms hired to audit the findings. Then in August it was disclosed that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had also been hacked. This hack was investigated by 16 US intelligence agencies, including the CIA. They also independently confirmed that the hack was directed by the Russian government. Now it has been alleged that the Russian hackers also hacked the Republican National Convention, but did not leak the contents of what they found. The GOP denies this, but if it is true it would mean the Russian hackers only released documents that could hurt Hillary Clinton, but kept secret the ones that could hurt Trump or the GOP.

This may not sound as exciting as James Bond kicking down doors, shooting Russian spies, and sleeping with sexy femme fatales, but these days intelligence works tends to be less about dry martinis and more about dry math and computer code. Results are also usually less definitive than having your top agent knock the bad guy off the suspended platform housed in a secret volcano base. As any real 007 could tell you, spies often need to work with incomplete information, but it is also their job to draw conclusions from what they have available. Right now, the CIA and the entire American intelligence community are all drawing the same conclusion, Russia did everything it could to help Donald Trump win the election.

Octopussy Grabber
Realistically, it makes sense. Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton have historically not had a good relationship. Putin blamed Clinton -who was Secretary of State at the time- and President Obama for legitimizing the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Both revolutions ousted pro-Russian governments. Putin saw that as a deep affront to the Russian sphere of influence. Trump, on the other hand, has praised Putin for his leadership style, and they both share a similiar flair for right-wing nationalism. Trump also has a certain affinity for hiring people associated with Putin, including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman that had to step down for having business ties with the Russian government and organized crime; and -of course- Trump’s new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin, and has many business ties with the government-owned Russian oil companies.

For the record, we are not saying that Trump is some kind of plant by Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is a reality star and a buffoon but he not a secret Russian spy, nor is he some automaton begin controlled by the Kremlin. Trump is a narcissist and he will always do what is best for himself, and Putin knows this. It seems incredibly likely that Putin saw what was happening with our election and took advantage of the situation to put in power someone he believed that he could control. With right-wing candidates and initiatives gaining power in parts of Europe, and with a more pro-Russian American President, it leaves the door open for Putin to gain greater global influence and dominance in Eastern Europe.

We are pretty much living the plot of one of the weaker Bond movies. -Basically anything staring Roger Moore- We have a foreign, shirtless bond villain using diabolical means to influence the most powerful man in the free world. Except instead of using mind control, or kidnapping, or even the raw sexual musk of 1960’s Sean Connery, Russia is using the kind of tactics that hackers use on old people to get their social security number. Russia sent Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, a phishing email that asked him to change his password on his email account… and he did. So the Russian hackers got access to his email and then the DNC servers. So in this scenario, 007 could have been played by any IT guy who could have told him, “No! Never give your password out to random emails,” but in all fairness to Podesta, he was not the only one targeted by Russia cyber villainy. We all were.

You Only Die a Little Each Day
You see, Russia had several means at their disposal to influence our elections, and there most sinister method was trolling. Hey. it may not be an orbital death laser, but it proved to be just as effective. According to the New York Times, the Russian government hired people to pose as pro-Trump supporters on American social media to spread disinformation and stir up the American populace to vote against Hillary Clinton. So, let’s stop here for a moment. We are completely aware of how paranoid and crazy that sounds, but it actually happened. If you don’t believe the New York Times, believe The Guardian, or CNN, or even Samantha Bee. Believe someone, because it happened. For months there has been a concentrated Russian-backed effort to troll, hack, and alter the events of our election and that is something worth remembering and talking about.

Now with all that said, let’s put some things in perspective. Foreign governments, including Russia, have been trying to tamper with our elections for decades. In fact, Putin is following in a long line of Soviet leaders who have tried to alter the results before. What makes this time all the more shocking is the fact that they may have finally succeeded. The other thing to keep in mind is that, this was not a secret before the election. The CIA and other intelligence agencies had already concluded that the DNC hack had come from Russian-backed sources, but the public outcry was more about the contents of the released emails rather than the illegal activities of a foreign power.

Also, we are well aware of the irony to be found in the fact that CIA is complaining about a government altering the sovereign election of another government. That has kind of been their bread and butter for a while now, but we still need to address the elephant in the room, because right now it is wearing a Ushanka, drinking vodka, and doing a Cossack dance. Whether Donald Trump wants to admit it or not, Russia did influence this election. Would he have won if they hadn’t used trolls and hackers? We don’t know. We can’t say with anymore certainty, than we can predict how many STD’s James Bond is currently being treated for. All we know is that we were the target of successful Russian cyber-sabotage, and we knew it was happening. Heck, Trump even called on Russia to hack Hillary’s emails during the campaign, but instead of taking it seriously, we ignored it. We laughed it off. “Those types of things only happen in movies,” we said.

So, yes. We need to place blame on Russia for what they did. –More importantly, Donald Trump needs to place blame on Russia, and not the CIA– However, we also need to be aware of our complicity in this plot. We were the ones that allowed it to happen. We were the ones that fell for the trolling and the hacking and ignored the source of both, even though we were warned multiple times. This past election has left us with a lot to think about, and this is just another one of those things. Because, the real truth is that in this scenario Russia was James Bond. They basically walked right up to us, introduced themselves by first name, winked at the pretty girl, and then still proceeded to get exactly what they wanted.

trump

We know that you believe you did the right thing. We know that you didn’t cast your vote out of racism or hatred, but because there was something there that you believed.  Maybe you sincerely believed that one candidate was going to make your own life better, or maybe you were just mad as hell at the system. Maybe you voted for the candidate you wanted or maybe you voted against the candidate you hated. Maybe you felt ignored. Maybe you felt angry. Maybe you believed that it was better to burn it all to the ground than work within the system we had. So, you voted for Trump, and we can respect that.

That was what you believed. Now we ask to respect what we believe, because it is not that at all. We believe that Donald Trump embodies everything we fear. There are many people in America who are afraid today, not angry, not sore losers, but actively and physically afraid. Our new leader threatens everything we hold dear, and even everything you hold dear.

You think Trump will help get your manufacturing jobs back? Trump doesn’t even use US manufacturing in his own company. And here’s the kicker, US manufacturing jobs have been back on the rise 2012. The Presidential candidates -all of them- have very little power in controlling the globalized market. Yes, they can tax and tariff, but in the end that will only do more harm than good. Putting tariffs on manufactured goods from overseas and Mexico will only raise the price that everyday Americans pay on items by that same amount, some estimates put the price hike on products as high as 45%. Paying that much on products does not help the average American, whether they voted Democrat or Republican.

You think Trump has a tax plan that’s going to fix our economy? He will for the wealthy and the corporations. His plans will cut taxes on the rich, reducing their tax burden from 39% to 33%. Most middle-class tax rates will remain the same -about 25%. However he is going to standardized exemptions and deductions, which means that most middle to low income families will get less exemption and less deductions on their annual income tax. He is also going to do away with Estate Tax, meaning that money inherited will no longer be taxed. All of this benefits the people in his tax bracket. The kicker is that low income families will feel the worst of the squeeze, with their lower tax rate being offset by a larger loss in exemptions and deductions. His plan is going to reduce federal revenues by $9.5 trillion over the next decade, and 47% of those tax cuts and relief will go to the top 1%… to the Trumps of the country. Even worse, according to the Tax Policy Center his plan could increase the national debt by nearly 80 percent of gross domestic product by 2036.

You think he believes in good family values? You think he respects Christian values? When has he ever acted as Jesus would act? When has he ever showed compassion? When has he ever acted humble? When has he ever appealed to love instead of fear and anger? No. You may have small town values, but not Trump. He lies, constantly. He does not love thy neighbor, especially if they are an immigrant, a minority, or a woman. He brags about his sexual exploits. He treats women as objects. He has never shown an ounce of charity or altruism. He cares nothing for the poor or needy -refer back to his tax plan. He is an adulterer, and does not value the sacraments of marriage. He is as far from a good Christian as you can get.

You think Trump will close our borders and make us safer? His polarization, his us versus them attitude, will not keep us safer. His fear mongering has been wrong from the start. America was the safest it had been since the birth of this nation, but like some self-fulfilling prophecy his very candidacy has made us less safer. Bullying and hate speech have been on the rise for the past year. His candidacy has been used by terror groups as recruitment propaganda. An isolationist attitude toward the world is only going to make America even more hated and feared. Its not going to fix the problems. Closing our borders and withdrawing from international politics is only going to cause more problems, especially amidst the resurgence of Russian power and aggression. Its not going to stop terror attacks, it will only make us less informed in fighting and preventing them. Our society -like it or not- is a global society. Isolationism for any country is a daydream at best and a dangerous and misguided principal at worst.

We’re going to do what? Ban all Muslims? Because the terrorists who sneak into our country would obviously never lie about their religion to serve their greater purpose. We’re going to build a wall? Because forget that 40% of illegal immigrants actually arrive by plane, but they can’t can fly over walls. Right? How about in the inner cities? Are we going to crack down hard on criminals and lock them all up? Because that has been working so well in the past. We need to fear people who are different than us? Because building bridges between people of different races, sexual identities, national backgrounds, or even political opinions is… what? stupid?… No, no its not.

Listen folks, normally we would make some jokes, maybe relate this topic to some pop culture reference like Hunger Games or the Star Trek mirror universe, but not today. We can’t today. Everything about what just happened has been absurd enough and the only thing we can think to do is write about it.

The truth is that women’s rights are in serious dangers. Trump’s supreme court nominee will have the ability to overturn Roe v Wade, and he’s promised to do it too. That means women are going to face tougher uphill battles to gain access to their own reproductive rights. In a Trumptopia, women will have no right to control their own bodies. It is darkly comical that Trump talks so much about hating Islamic extremists, yet he shares that particular value with them. This is a disaster for half the American population.

The truth is that programs like healthcare are going to be cut. Obamacare will almost certainly be killed. You may rejoice but that means 24 million Americans will lose their health plan. That is a national disaster.

The truth is that not taking in Syrian refugees is very very dumb. The USA already has one of the most stringent vetting process to accept refugees, and that goes doubly for Syrian refugees. Not doing our fair share to help people in need not only makes us look bad, but it hurts us economically and politically. Refugees bring in economic wealth and growth to areas that they are resettled in. You have a greater chance of being shot by a toddler with a hand gun than a Syrian refugee. This is a humanitarian disaster.

The truth is that science programs are in legitimate danger, including NASA. However, we should take it as a given that The Paris Climate treaty is ruined. Trump will do everything he can to back out of that deal. He has repeatedly called climate change a hoax. He will not implement any of the desperately needed changes that this country needs to become energy independent and green. They are bad for business, especially his business. This is a global disaster.

The truth is that almost every person knowledgeable in economics, politics, science, military, international relations, domestic relations, national security, humanitarian rights, and common human decency said Trump was a bad bet. But we showed them… Trump now has the Presidency, and is the head of a populace movement. The Republicans control the House and the Senate, but even the more moderate and level-headed of them will not oppose his will for fear of facing his disapproval and losing their seats. We are facing the legislative equivilant of the French Revolution, guillotine and all.

With that said. America has pulled through worse. We have overcome far dire consequences. As a people, as a nation, as a brotherhood of humanity if we come together we can endure and we can thrive as we always have. Maybe today isn’t a day for despair. Maybe today is a reminder that we need to be better versions of ourselves and come together to help each other. This country’s strength has always resided in its ability to put partisanship aside and do what is best for everyone. We sincerely hope and believe that we can do that now.

We have to…

elections

The air smelled clean, like the vapil plants after a Gorgarian rainstorm. Humans mulled about, waiting in line to enter the gymnasium of one of the district’s local public institutions. The people mostly ignored him, being unable to see him, but the man smiled at them regardless.

“So who is winning? The corrupt one or the crazy one?” said the second man -shorter than the first- as he appeared beside him.

“The democratic process,” said the first indicating the humans.

“Humans…” replied the second looking over the shoulder of one of the men waiting in line. “They are such children. Democracy is system doomed to failure, and worst of all they know it. Yet, they turn a blind eye and continue on with their belief in elections and representative ruling bodies. How quaint, but it is simply tyranny by majority.”

“I disagree. It is a belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is faith in the collective power of humanity itself, that the wisdom of no one person’s lone decision is better than the rest; whether they be rich or poor, noble or common, male or female.”

“A fairy tale, which they themselves cannot even seem to accomplish. The very system that they uphold does not -in practical terms- even judge every man equally. Despite all their high ideals, there are those among them with greater influence than the rest: those with power, money, the right skin pigmentation, the right genitalia, the right sexual orientation, and the list goes on. You speak of a perfect system, but I see nothing but a flawed race of people playing at moral superiority. Concepts, such as democracy and elections do nothing but give the powerless the illusion of choice while keeping them blind to the truth of power.”

“It is an imperfect system to be sure, made all the more imperfect by the hubris and prejudices of the species, but it is not without its beauty. Democracy is a social contract that puts actual power at the doorstep of the masses. Sure, the single common person may never see their whim or wishes enacted into law, but as a people -as voting demographics- they cannot be ignored. The elected must keep the electors content or they are removed in a non-violent and non-chaotic manner. Even you must see the brilliance of that.”

“Brilliance?” said the second man. “I would hardly agree, brother. It is a convoluted and slow system built solely upon the ignorance of the people.”

“Once again you are too harsh by far. What you see as ignorance, I see as hope.” The first man smiled at a young human in a wheeled carriage. The small creature smiled back at him with a giggle.

“Hope,” the second harrumphed. “Another foolish notion. Cast your vote for hope and all you get is disappointment.”

“What would you have them do then?” said the first. “Would you have them return to monarchism, or theocratic rule? What other options do they have at this juncture in their development?”

“I always found dictatorships to be quite effective,” said the second with a smile.

“That is true enough for the dictator,” said the first with a knowing look. “But for humans -at least the humans of this nation-state- they would never oblige it. They value their freedoms too much.”

“They certainly do have freedom,” said the other with a laugh. “Freedom to cause poverty; freedom to pollute the planet and their bodies; freedom to justify war and justify murder and justify every sin and hardship that humans can inflict upon one another. As they say, freedom is never free, except what they don’t understand is that it is the free that rarely pay the bulk sum.”

“Your cynical attitude once again betrays your own pessimism. Where you see anarchy, I see choice. Where you see a planet heading toward a cliff, I see a planet that believes it can fly.”

“Most cannot,” said the second. “How often have we seen it, time and time again, on a thousand other worlds? They all have high hopes. They all have lofty goals. The basser’babal people even had wings and they couldn’t fly, at least in the proverbial sense. For them it ended the same: ruin, chaos, war, and eventually extinction. This planet and its people will be no different.”

“You ascribe a lot of importance to one single election,” said the first man.

“It is the not just one election,” said the second. “In fact, despite their mewling, this election is fairly insignificant, but elections lean toward partisanship, which leans toward infighting, and stubbornness. Eventually nothing can get accomplished because people are too concerned about winning to see the galaxy through the stars. It does not matter if there are two or twenty candidates or parties or districts or regions or parishes or whatever. In the end, it always comes down to us versus them. It’s not about voting for what you care about but about voting against the person you see as the embodiment of evil, at least for the current election cycle. That is anything but a healthy system.

“I mean, look at these people,” continued the second man. “You talk of common power and choice, -and even if that is true- how many of these common people have carefully researched the issues or the candidates? How many of these people are going to go into those small curtained booths to press a button for the option that would make a true benefit for them? I would wager, very few of them. Elections are not about the issues, they become about the candidates. That is how demagogues and egotists and all manner of corrupt officials get the common people to vote against themselves. Holding elections doesn’t give the powerless a voice. It only ensures that the power-hungry have to be more charismatic than your average strongman despot.”

“Well, you would know a thing or two about that,” said the first man, “but what you fail to see is the potential of the system.”

“Potential for ruin…”

“Potential for change. Human lives are short, less than a 100 orbits of their planet. Elections allow for the relinquishment of old ideas and the coronation of new principals. Sure, they are not all going to be winners, but the system and the people are robust enough to absorb the good and the bad, and to learn from them. As you said, this one election will not change much on its own. Yet, on the whole there is an empowerment found in the election process. It forces a race of people to constantly think and reevaluate itself and its place on the planet. Mistakes and missteps can be just as powerful as the right decisions. Yes, it is a riskier road, but the power to vote means that humans are forced to be more independent and more proactive in their views and ideas.

“Look at these people,” continued the first man. “They aren’t waiting in line for food or material wealth or even momentary joys. They are waiting in line to cast a vote for an idea. That is more important than all the security and comforts that come from blind obedience to some emperor or theocratic dogma. Maybe they will vote with their passions instead of their heads, but there is something to be said for that too. It’s a physical act of hope that does give voice to the common person. So, you see that you are wrong, my brother. The call of democracy may be frustratingly slow to be heard, but it is there. Maybe it is anything but singular, but it is powerful. It is rarely the sound of a lone voice in a crowd, but instead a chorus of voices, some singing off key, and some signing different words, but in the end it becomes a song that can’t be ignored. It becomes a melody that changes the course of this people and the course of this planet.”

“Naïve as usual,” said the second. “You talk in metaphor and high minded rhetoric, while my arguments are based in the reality of this planet. Yet, to counter them you give me nothing but poetry about hopes and dreams. I judge your argument as invalid.”

“And I disagree. My argument could not be more valid, at least where humans are concerned. They are a people of hopes and dreams. They need them as much as they do food or oxygen, and I give you poetry because it contains wisdom. In fact, it was one of their poets that once said, A man’s reach should exceed his grasp. I think that sums up the human race very nicely.”

“Careful, brother. It almost sounds as if you care about these insects.”

“What can I say?” said the first man. “I am guilty of having a fondness for them.”

“You always did enjoy lost causes.” The second man smiled and disappeared in a flash of light.

“Maybe,” said the first man again watching the line of humans. “But we’ll see.”

trump-voters

This Presidential race is closer than you might think or hope… “Do’h!” And the reason is: that despite the hatred, bigotry, and sexism of Donald Trump, his voters are NOT all idiots or closet racists. -Don’t get us wrong, some very much are- but support for The Donald goes deeper than that. So we wanted to take a look at Trump’s strongest demographic and what our research unveiled was that they look a lot more familiar than you think, especially if you watch cartoons on Fox. No, not Fox News, just the Fox Network on a Sunday night. Because the ideal Trump voter looks kind of like someone who might live in Springfield, Quahog, or Arlen, Texas.

President of the Hill
Thanks to polls and demographic studies conducted by the Washington Post, ABC News, Nate Silver, and 270towin.com we are able to get a much clearer picture of what a typical Trump supporter looks like, and they are exactly what you might expect. Please know that this is just a statistical average, as we realize that there are others who support The Donald who may not fit one of these categories. However, if you are voting for the Republican nominee it means that you are most likely to be: White, Male, Identify as Conservative, Heterosexual, Between the Ages of 40 and 65, Do Not Have a College Degree, Do Not Live In or Near a Major Metropolitan Area, and Are Making Around the Medium Household Income -AKA Middle-Class.

We know these aren’t exactly shocking statistics, however they are representative of a kind of common American, an Average Joe. It is the kind of representation we see every week on TV, especially in the form of Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, Hank Hill, and hundreds of other animated and non-animated typical TV father types, and that says something. We do not hate these characters, -well, most of the time- but at the very least we see them as well meaning buffoons. Hank Hill, for instance, is a true-blue Texan-American who like trucks, Reagan, and propane. In fact, the main conflict of his story is often that his conservative ideals must cope with the changing landscape of things like immigration, sexuality, and other uncomfortable topics. He doesn’t always handle them right, but we do not see him as the bad guy. He might be a little obtuse, but we know he is well meaning, and that would probably not be an unfair assessment of many Trump voters.

As fun or comforting as it might be to believe that all of Trump’s supporters are toothless raving racists or backward sexists stuck in a idealized 1950’s fantasy, these generalizations don’t help the contentious climate or the progress of our country. Don’t get us wrong, Donald Trump has certainly captured the white supremacists demographic, but we can’t believe that 39% of likely voters are just in it for the cross burning. These cartoon dads are upset over something and simply dismissing their votes as simple fear or protest is too simplistic. It also diminishes the possibly legitimate concerns of two-fifths of America’s voting population. So maybe there is more going on here.

Lost in Springfield
We, here at The NYRD, have lambasted Trump in the past, and proven why he would make an unfit President, but this article is not about The Donald, himself. It is about his voters and why people have chosen to follow him. There are several factors, but if you really look at the statistics the most undeniable conclusion is that a lot of Trump voters are people who feel voiceless. Most of them are low to middle class white men, over the age of 40 who feel as if the country has left them behind. They are the Homer Simpsons of the world, living in some generic Springfield and wondering why their American dream means going from paycheck to paycheck while the Mr. Burns of the world rule over them from a super-villain-like position of power. The irony is that they have basically chosen a “Mr. Burns” to combat the rest of the Mr. Burns out there, but for them the choice does still makes some amount of sense. They believe no one is paying attention to them, and they’re not exactly wrong.

According to survey form the RAND Corporation, likely voters who agreed with the statement: “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to be for Trump, and we kind of get it. Listen, we are born and bred New Yorkers, living in a liberal bastion of progress and sewer rats, but if you are Homer Simpson living in a -presumably- Midwestern small town you understand that there are no TV shows or movies that take place where you live. The celebrities, politicians, and wealthy 1% don’t always share your values, and the sources of your media and entertainment come mainly from LA or NY. To rural America, the cities get all the attention and control all the culture. For our part, the coasts export our ideals as if they are universal, but maybe Ned Flanders or other fundamentalist might disagree. Right or wrong, Trump supporters are the ones who feel sandwiched in the middle and lost in the mix. After all, it can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like you aren’t even being heard at all. So without a voice they have seemingly decided to pick the loudest person in the room to speak for them, which is not all bad because they do have some legitimate complaints.

A lot of the small towns around the United States have fallen on hard economical times. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 61% of the total job losses under NAFTA were relatively high paying manufacturing jobs, centered heavily in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California. In small town ares, like Springfield, if the main source of employment dries up or moves to foreign soil that can be devastating for residents. If Mr. Burns were to close the nuclear power plant a lot of Springfield would be out of a job, and towns like that -with low populations- cannot simply shift to a service-based economy, like what has happened in New York, Chicago, or other big US cities. There is a reason that Trump usually scores the highest in debates when the candidates are talking about trade agreements or economical issues. Those are some of the most important things for those disenfranchised voters. Unfortunately, their justifiable grievance are often lost in the rhetoric of racial tension also spewed by The Donald, not that most of them mind. To them, that tension is also a direct result of some of the other things we have been discussing.

Buttscratcher! Buttscratcher!
Now, let’s be clear we’re not saying they are right, but for a lot of Trump voters their economic troubles tie in with the questions of race and immigration. A lot of the Peter Griffins of the world look at the top 5% of American earners and see that their income has doubled, while minimum wage has barely moved. They can look at Washington and see a place that looks like it is doing everything it can to improve the lives of African Americans in the “inner cities,” but wonder why no one is doing the same for them. After all, it is usually politically savvy to at least talk about how you will improve the “inner cities,” -even if nothing gets done- but some poor rural white communities don’t even get that kind of lip-service. Meanwhile, they also watch as politicians talk about immigrants and refugees coming into the country, and to the person barely making end’s meat for their family, that could mean more workplace competition and a feeling that someone else might be getting something without putting in the same effort that they did. It is the beginning of resentment and misunderstanding, and Donald Trump -for all his many faults- understands how to harness that frustration.

Peter Griffin does not see himself as a racist, after all he has Cleveland as a friend… and that counts… right?… In their mind, even if people like Peter blame Mexicans for certain things or those “other” black people for things they are not going to self-identify as bigots. That is important to understand too, because when people and the media portray Trump supporters as hatred spewing Klan members a lot of them -ironically- feel as if they are being stereotyped, and that turns them off to any thoughtful engagement of the issues. It doesn’t help that Trump often sets up the media as being unfairly out to get him -despite the fact that they have given him at least $2 billion in free advertising and counting. This feeling of persecution only further hardens the resolve of Trump voters and drives them away from active engagement. In a sense, even the most reasonable people can start to become hardened to reasoning when they feel as if everyone from journalists to the Republican leadership is turning them into some ignorant, hillbilly, backwater cartoon parody, which is something movies and TV have done for years. After all, even in Rhode Island, a liberal state, there are still plenty of Peter Griffins and plenty of disenfranchised Trump voters.

Two-Dimensional Voters
And maybe you have noticed that is part of the problem. You see, while discussing the topic of not reducing all likely Trump voters to stereotypes or caricatures, we have done just that. We are comparing them to cartoon dads, like Peter Griffin or Homer Simpson, and though that comparison is wildly clever and comical, it is also a reduction of real people and the issues they care about. So why do we do it? Mostly because it is funny. While we here, at the NYRD, pride ourselves on being inclusive and examining the major topics of the day in thoughtful and complex ways, we have also found that we are not above making generalizations when it comes to making jokes, and Donald Trump and his followers sometimes make that too easy. Remember, that the statistically average supporter of The Donald is also the last demographic that America has agreed is still okay to make fun of: white, middle-aged, middle-class, men. That is why we have the stereotype of the stupid and fat cartoon dad to begin with, and that is also one of the reasons why these voters feel as if they have been pushed to the fringe.

For some, Donald Trump is a flare fired off in a crowded room. He is the loudest and most obnoxious thing they could find to make everyone notice them. Yes, he might be dangerous and others might get hurt, but at least -for them- something might change. Still for others, they may recognize he is crass, abrasive, and more than a bit myopic, but at least he is talking to them. Two-fifths of likely voters will cast a ballot for Donald Trump. So maybe instead of reducing their views as being crazy or racist, we need to do more to understand why they feel the need to vote for an orange misogynistic demagogue, even if he is not someone they would ever leave their daughters alone with. Nothing is going to change if, after this election, we just reduce Trump voters to cartoons and shuffle on with another 4 years as if nothing happened. We love people like Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, and Hank Hill, but they are stuck in a perpetual state of animation. They and their families don’t even age, and they often have little to no lasting character development. We can’t afford to let so many in our country feel the same way for even another season.

Trump Pokemon

“I wanna be the very best. Like no one ever was…” No that’s not part of some Donald Trump campaign speech, it is actually the opening lines to the Pokemon theme song. Both The Donald and Pokemon Go saw a huge popularity at the height of the summer, but like the augmented reality phone app that lets you catch pocket monsters by sneaking into your neighbor’s backyard, the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States has begun to decline in popularity. However, it is unfair to compare Trump to Pokemon Go, because the truth is he is more like an actual Pokemon. Not only is Trump a wild shade of orange, but he enjoys repeatedly hearing his own name and he is constantly evolving into new and terrifying forms.

Egomogul
A capitalist-type Pokemon, Egomogul enjoys the spotlight. This creature is a buffoon by nature, often starring in reality shows and making its mark on the world by writing its name in gold on the side of buildings it doesn’t actually own. As a political candidate it is mostly a joke, involved only to promote its next book or next season of television… Its main attacks are Childish Insults and Facebook Arguments.

It’s hard to remember now, but in the beginning of his campaign Donald Trump was a man on a mission, a mission to get as much free publicity as humanely possible. So he announced his candidacy by descending a golden escalator and spouting off whatever the heck came to mind at the time. This is where the famous line, “When Mexico sends its people… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…” The sad part is that it was that one terrible and very false statement by Trump which changed the US political landscape forever. It drew national media attention and -like an expensive and racist car crash- America couldn’t seem to look away. The Donald spent most of his nomination campaign playing the fool, making outrageous statements, and even making remarks about his own penis size during a Presidential debate, and worst of all it was “super effective.”

Trump being outrageous meant that he basically got about 2 billion dollars worth of free advertising. Suddenly, Donald Trump, became a name you heard every night on the news. He was given front and center positions at the debates. Everyone from Stephen Colbert to Matt Lauer to actual journalists were talking about the walking-talking-Internet-comment-section-come-to-life. Featuring his latest crazy remark or rally violence was a way to improve their own ratings, but it also improved his notoriety. Maybe the old adage is true, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Trump spent only $10 million in advertising during his Republican nomination campaign, as opposed to Jeb Bush who spent $82 million. Guess who dropped out in shame, because it wasn’t the one who called for the American military to commit war crimes against Muslims. You see, that was the real power of The Donald. In the beginning he was a running joke, an Internet meme, a late night punchline, but much like the initial cute and non-threatening form of most Pokemon, something more terrifying was just waiting to emerge.

Egomeleon
The evolved form of Egomogul, Egomeleon is an opportunist-type Pokemon. Weaker than its initial form, it is much more unsure of itself, often flip-flipping to try and mimic more mainstream political-type Pokemon. This form is also a lot less popular than Egomogul, but a lot more dangerous, especially to women, minorities, and immigrants… Its main attacks include Incite Riot and Racist Tweet.

Like a Pokemon fed a bad candy treat, Trump was forced to evolve from his buffoonish persona to one that was supposed to be more “mainstream.” Unfortunately, the transformation was not exactly what his Republican Poke-Masters had hoped for. So instead, we were given a candidate who he is constantly spouting off impossible to believe remarks as his handlers desperately try to recant them. On the issues, Donald Trump has changed his plan on dealing with illegal immigrants: 6 times, his plans for tax reform: 6 times, his plans for defeating ISIS: 5 times, his plans for “fixing” Obamacare: 4 times, his ideas on gun control: 7 times, and the list goes on. Of course, this might have been avoided if Trump had actually started out having some sort of initial policy -aside from his “secret” plans to magically solve these problems- but that wasn’t the case. The real irony is that the candidate who is famous for “saying exactly what he means,” is having real trouble saying what he means.

However, there is something a lot more terrifying about RNC Nominee Trump as opposed to Candidate Trump.  When many news personalities and journalists predicted that he would pivot toward a more mainstream centralism appeal, he did the opposite. His campaign doubled down and decided to ramp up the fear factor. Instead of the usual flag waving and chants of “USA… USA,” which are so expected at the RNC Convention, Trump’s people pushed a narrative that made America seem dangerous and dirty, like New York in the 1980’s or Pallet Town during the Pokemon Gang Wars. Even worse, Trump’s own acceptance speech contained dozens or bold-faced lies about the state and safety statistics of America, because the Egomeleon cares little for actual facts, just the narrative that it knows it can get away with. The Republicans spent a week telling Americans that they were in danger from terrorists, criminals, and generally anyone who had a darker shade of skin than printer paper. It was a narrative aimed at people who enjoyed Pokemon White, to exclusion of those who enjoyed Pokemon Black, Red, Yellow, and even Blue… if you get our meaning.

This is the true danger of Trump. With his numbers looking like they are, it is unlikely he will claim victory in November, but his campaign has proven itself to be ugly and dangerous in its own right. It is giving a strong voice to a small minority of prejudice, violent, and bigoted Americans, and it is making their ideas more mainstream again. It is giving permission for hate speech to be said in public, on a podium, from a position of media-backed authority. The moment that The Donald stepped on stage at the RNC Convention was the moment he stopped being an odd political curiosity and became a major threat to American ideals, security, and constitutional rights. We have fought so long and so hard to get to a point in history where we have come to see the value in diversity and the moral principal of freedom of religion and speech and so much more. We are not saying the road has been easy or that we are anywhere close to its end, but we cannot let an orange hate-breathing creature gain power or we might face its true and hideous final form.

Egotator
The Egotator is the evolved form of the Egomeleon and the final form of the Egomogul. A demigogue-type Pokemon, it is considered the most power hungry form of any creature. The world has only seen a half-dozen or so Egotators in the past century, most of which have resulted in wars and genocides that have cost millions of lives… It’s main attacks are War Crimes and Nuclear Launch Codes.

There are many jokes about a world under President Donald Trump, but the reality may be no laughing matter. The biggest problem with President Donald would be that he is first and foremost a reactionary man whose sole purpose in life seems to be to convince everyone of how great he is. We have seen him often rise to cheap insults and go out of his way to aggrandize his own accomplishments and power. That is fine for a reality star, but it is dangerous in a man charged with representing the international interests of the United States. Vladimir Putin has already demonstrated that he knows how play the Republican candidate like a cheap fiddle. You need to wonder how much negotiating power is really going to come from a man that is so easily flattered. Will he really be willing to “talk tough” with Iran, or China, when their leaders start off meetings by showering him with praise about his “genius” intellect or his big “hands?” Will he even really care about the interests of the country if he is offered a deal that benefits him personally?

He has also shown a distaste for the press, a disregard for the rules of warfare, and a tendency to play to the passions of a crowd. More to the point, Trump has shown very little understanding of constitutional rights and a willingness to use power to feed his own ego. We know for an almost absolute certainty that he would look to maximize the power of the Imperial Presidency. He has proven that he is willing to do what is convenient and expedient, regardless of legality or morality. That is why so many people have become concerned about Trump having his small finger on the proverbial button. By his own admittance he does not often confer with advisors before making decisions, and nuking a small Asian country is usually the kind of decision you want to talk out before you do it.

In all likelihood, most of his more outlandish campaign promises -like a certain wall- would be attempted and then quietly backed down when the true financial, political, and common sense implications come to bear. Most experts do seem to agree that he is probably going to start a trade war with Asia, which will be very very bad for the common American. Yet, the real problem with predicting a Trump Presidency is that we seem to have no solid policy basis from which to do so. Other than generalized and hyperbolic statements about how something something is bad and something something is good, the Republican candidate usually gives very little detail about how he hopes to “Make America Great Again.” That makes him both confusing and possibly even more dangerous than you might believe. We will not be able to pin a lot of solid positions on Trump by the time he would take office, and that means he could do almost anything, even things that are are counter-intuitive to the Republican base that elected him.

Regardless of your opinion on Donald Trump -and if you can guess we have a low one of him- you have to admit that he is not the same man who started this campaign so many months ago. He has changed and evolved, gaining more experience, radicalized followers, and more CP than anyone thought possible. In many ways he is a magikarp that transformed into the biggest meanest and scariest gyarados you can imagine. We don’t know for sure what the world might look like if America collectively screams, “Donald Trump, we choose you!” but we do know one thing for sure… His pokeball is probably solid gold and inscribed with thirty foot tall letters that spell out his name.

If you think Donald Trump is a megalomaniac with grandiose ambitions for Presidential power, than you would be right. However, he is not the first man in American history to start a political frenzy over the Presidency. You may only know the name Aaron Burr from an old “Got Milk” Commercial, or simply as the guy who shot Alexander Hamilton, but there was so much more to this complicated, brilliant, and ambitious Founding Father. Unlike Donald Trump who is usually content to write his name across whatever building he happens to own, Burr proved that he would not be satisfied till his name was written across the face of an entire country.

An Origin Story
Aaron Burr was born in the great metropolis of Newark, New Jersey in 1756. His father, Aaron Burr, Sr. was the second president of the College of New Jersey, or as you might know it these days Princeton University. His mother was the daughter of John Edwards, -no not the John Edwards that talks with ghosts- the famous theologian who was a key player in the First Great Awakening. Like most comic book protagonists, Burr found himself orphaned at the age of 2 after both his parents passed away. However, that did not stop him from getting admitted to the College of New Jersey at the age of 13 and graduating with a Bachelors of the Arts at 17. He moved to Connecticut to study law, but put that aside when fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord.

Aaron Burr tried to receive an officer’s commission in Washington’s Army, but in a trend that would continue for the rest of his life, George Washington turned him down. So instead, the 19 year old Burr enlisted with General Benedict Arnold, and his Canadian Campaign. He distinguished himself during the Battle of Quebec, and General Richard Montgomery promoted Burr to the rank of Captain. Eventually, he made his way to Manhattan where he earned a place in Washington’s Staff. During the retreat from Lower Manhattan to Harlem, it was Burr’s vigilance that saved an entire brigade of troops, including an officer named Alexander Hamilton. Despite everything though, Washington notably never put in a commendation for his bravery. By some accounts, Washington never trusted Burr. Maybe he saw the budding villainy of the man or maybe he just wasn’t very fond of Aaron Burr’s ferret-like face.

Despite the public slight by Washington he did eventually make Lieutenant Colonel and served with distinction until 1779 when declining health forced him to retire from the Continental Army. He returned to his studies of the law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1782. From there he married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow of a British officer who was 10 years his senior, and moved to New York City after the British evacuated it. He had one daughter who survived into adulthood, also named Theodosia. Burr’s wife died in 1794 from stomach cancer. In his private practice the war hero was an accomplished lawyer that commanded substantial fees for his services. By all accounts he was very generous with spending that money on lavish clothing, fine furniture, and other symbols of status and wealth. So naturally, he entered politics.

An Arch Nemesis is Born
Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed in a duel with Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804, presumably after a long winded monologue about how, “With Hamilton out of the way, the world will finally kneel before Burr.” [citation needed] Yet, as famous as the duel itself has become it is only the end of the story. Burr first served in the New York Assembly before unseating General Philip Schuyler as the Senator from New York. Incidentally, Schuyler was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, and there are some accounts that it was that election which drove the first wedge driven between the friendship of Hamilton and his would be assassin.

Yes, because like any good villain, Burr and his arch rival were first friends, or at least acquaintances. They were both from the New York area, and even though they were in opposing political parties they still had a lot in common. So it was only natural that Burr and Hamilton would have been friends, at least until Burr started making some shady deals. In 1799, Burr went to Hamilton and other New York Federalists to get their support for a badly needed water company for Manhattan, but after it was approved Burr changed the charter for the water company to a bank. The more astute of you may notice that a bank has nothing to do with supplying water to a city. Burr founded the Bank of the Manhattan Company, which was later absorbed by Chase Banking which is now part of JPMorgan Chase… you know, career super-villains. Worst of all the false water company scheme delayed the construction of an actual water company for Manhattan which was suffering from a Malaria epidemic at the time… New York problems, right?

Aaron Burr ran for President twice, first in 1796 and then again in 1800. Back then the Electoral College -the group of men that vote for the President- were hand picked by the State Assemblies. After he lost in 1796, Burr quit the Senate and went back to the New York Assembly. While back in Albany, he began to make himself a key player in New York politics, even converting the infamous Tammy Society from a social club into a political machine. So when it came time for the 1800 elections, Burr had already positioned himself as a political power-broker by not only having a hand in selecting New York’s electoral delegates, but also by controlling the political aspirations of New York politicians. One of the largest of the northern states, New York, was a key State to any one’s Presidential candidacy. It was basically what Florida or Texas are today, except with less malaria.

The Plot Thickens
Because of his political influence and his successful opposition to Hamilton and the Federalists, Thomas Jefferson knew that he needed the support of Aaron Burr to win the 1800 election. So the two men struck a deal that they would run together on the same “ticket.” The idea was that their new political party, the Democratic-Republicans, would make Jefferson President and Aaron Burr Vice-President, at least that was what Jefferson believed.

In 1800, the electoral delegates were tasked with casting two votes -instead of one as they do today- because the candidates with the most votes became President and the runner-up became Vice President. However, that leaves a lot of room for confusion. You see, there was no President vote and seperate Vice-President vote. All the votes were for the Presidency, and though it cannot be substantiated by historians, it seemed pretty obvious that Burr tried double-crossing old Tommy boy. With the power of the New York electorate and with political influence in many Northern states, Aaron Burr drummed enough support so that the election became a tie between himself and Jefferson. Each man got 73 votes. Even though most people understood that Jefferson was meant to be President and Burr Vice-President the tie still had to be decided by the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives. Most Federalists hated Jefferson. So the assumption was that the House would swing the vote toward Burr, and that is exactly what almost happened.

You need to understand that Hamilton and Jefferson were famously bitter rivals dating back to the Articles of Confederation. it was like Tom and Jerry, but Hamilton still threw his political influence behind Jefferson over Burr, convincing others to vote for Jefferson. Meanwhile Burr and William Van Ness tried vehemently to turn the election in their favor. It took 36 ballots but finally the tie was broken and Jefferson was elected President and Burr was made Vice President. After that fiasco, Jefferson -understandably- never fully trusted Burr again and kept him his as far away from the Presidential office as possible, presumably because he feared Burr might one day tie him to the railroad tracks -which didn’t exist yet. It was painfully clear that Jefferson would drop Burr as his Vice President during the 1804 election, so instead Aaron Burr tried running for the Governorship of New York. There he was embarrassingly defeated again because of Hamilton. This was the what l;ed to the duel.

‘Kneel Before Burr’
There are varying accounts of the duel and much like Han and Greedo, no one can seem to agree who shot first, or if Hamilton missed on purpose or was just a lousy shot. What is clear is that after Burr became the only sitting Vice President of the United States to kill a man -that we know of- he became wanted in New York and New Jersey. The duel was fought in Weehawken, NJ because laws were less stringent about shooting people in the Garden State. Once accused Burr fled to South Carolina, because back then murder charges did not follow you across state lines, but this was not the end of Burr’s villainy.

The accounts differ, but it seems clear that Burr went full super-villain by that time and tried to carve out a little empire for himself in the American midwest/Mexico. He enlisted the help of several prominent conspirators, including General James Wilkinson, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Army, and Andrew “freaking” Jackson. Jackson even allegedly congratulated Burr on “removing Hamilton from the political arena.” The future President and $20 bill mascot, along with the Army’s Commander-in-Chief pledged support and troops for a “military expedition” that Aaron Burr was planning. The particulars get a little fuzzy, buthe basically believed that war with Spain was inevitable and that the US Federal Government could not enforce its jurisdiction past the Appalachian Mountains. Thus, from all accounts it seemed as if the former Vice President had every intention of marching an Army into Spanish America and carving out a slice for himself.

Most notably, he expressed a belief that the Mexican people were not suited for democracy, and that it would be best if they were ruled by a king. After saying that he probably winked while pointing toward himself vigorously. Emperor Burr sent then envoys into Mexico to get a feeling for the people’s acceptance of Spanish rule and to whisper “Hail Hydra” to one another as they did it. Basically, Aaron Burr was trying to do exactly what Texas did thirty years later, except with more overtones of “King Aaron” thrown into the mix. There was even talk about taking Baton Rouge and New Orleans away from the United States.

‘Curse You, Jefferson’
Eventually, word of this got back to Thomas Jefferson who understandably issued a warrant for Burr’s arrest. James Wilkinson then got cold feet and would up turning on Burr. Jackson was similarly no where to be seen when the tides started turning, and Burr was easily arrested in March of 1807. He was brought to trial in front of Chief Justice John Marshall on charges of treason, but despite extreme pressure from the White House, Marshall ruled in favor of Burr, claiming that were was not sufficient enough evidence to convict him.

After being acquitted and flat broke Burr fled to Europe where he continued to try and drum up intentional support and backing for his American Empire idea. He even tried to get a meeting with Napoleon, but the French Emperor would not see him. His only legitimate daughter, Theodosia, then died in the winter 1812-1813 aboard the schooner Patriot. She was either shipwrecked or killed by pirates, which admittedly are pretty bad-ass ways to go, but Burr was devastated by the loss. He returned to the United States -having been acquitted of that pesky murder charge- and resumed practicing law. He married a rich widow, she divorced him for blowing her money on land speculation, and he died due to complications of a stroke in 1836.

And, that is the story of one of America’s most notorious Founding Father. So, just remember, whatever you think of this year’s election at least Donald Trump hasn’t tried invading Mexico… yet…

Money is a tricky thing. We need it to survive and even be happy, but too much money can hurt fragile ecosystems. This is especially true for environments that are designed to balance skill with hard work, much like video games or politics. The gaming giant, Blizzard, found that out the hard way back in 2012 when they introduced the Real Money Auction House so that players could simply purchase high-level weapons and armor with real-world money, as opposed to in-game gold. It nearly ruined the game in much the same way that the current explosion of campaign finance is threatening our political system, and if you think it might be too simplistic to compare to a hack and slash video game with the hack and slash world of the US Congress, than we would agree. At least Diablo III has rules that make sense.

Your Starting Class
In case you haven’t been paying attention this week -and let’s face it, a lot of the news media has not- hundreds of people were arrested at the Capitol, in a protest called Democracy Spring. The group is demanding that Congress pass the Government by the People Act, the Fair Elections now Act, the the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, the Voter Empowerment Act of 2015, and/or the Democracy for All Amendment… Really they are just looking for any sort of change that can begin to reform our broken campaign finance system, as we all should be. The influence of money in campaigns and the political process has been increasing over the past several decades. “Why is that a problem?” you might wonder. Well as Deckard Cain would said, “Stay a while and listen.”

Many people will point to the decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as the main tipping point in the rampant campaign finance spending that has been flooding politics over recent years, but that is really just the last save point on a long journey to hell. An equally important decision was arguably 1976’s Buckley v. Valeo, which held that political money is equal to speech. That challenge by Senator James Buckley set the stage for Citizens United, which further argues that campaign finance spending is not just equal to speech but protected speech and that the Federal government has no right to limit corporations or unions from spending their money to exercise their right of “protected speech.” By the time Bill Clinton was elected in 1996 the Democratic party had raised over $122 million in “soft money,” which is campaign finance that is unregulated and undisclosed money that can be spent by third parties in favor of candidates. The Campaign Reform Act eventually banned soft money from federal campaigns, but the damage was already done. Politicians had seen the power of money in elections and in 2010 when an appeals court struck down the limit on contributions to independent expenditure groups -aka Super-PACs- things like soft money were the least of anyone’s concerns. 

We don’t think there is anyone out there that disagrees that money affects the way the political process is conducted, but as a correlation it is worth returning to our example of Blizzard and their Real Money Auction House for Diablo III. Like Citizens United, it was a decision built upon a growing trend. For Blizzard it was the popularity of purchasable DLC, freemium Candy Crush bonuses, and the black market that existed for selling Diablo 2 items on eBay. So Blizzard went ahead and added an auction house where players could spend real money on high level items to help them advance in the game, instead of having to find and work for them like everyone else. However, when you break it down that grind is kind of the point of the game. Putting a Real Money Auction House may have been done with noble intentions, but in the end it just allowed people who had more money to acquire more items and level-up more quickly. It was a system that gave more power to people with expendable income over people who wanted to play the game fairly. In the strictest sense of the word, it was a cheat for the rich. More money meant more power and greater standing in the game’s community, and we’re pretty sure you can guess where we are going with this.

The Cash Cow Level
In arguments that are often similar to the  ones used by the defenders of Diablo’s Real Money Auction House, people will try to make the case that candidates who have more money don’t always win. In fairness, that is true, but more money does at least guarantee you a place in the adventuring group, because nobody is going to fight Diablo with someone who has a low level dirk and and cloth armor. No political party is going to take a candidate seriously if they don’t have enough money to stay in the game -or at the very least a slotted Resplendent Rage Blade. This year’s candidates are certainly finding that out. After all, a candidate can have the best platform in the world, but if they don’t have the cash to get their face or their message in front of the voting public it won’t matter. Still the question remains, how much does money influence a candidate’s ability to win?

The answer is, we can’t be 100% sure. It is a tricky question because there are a lot of factors in play in any given election, but a more accurate question might be, “how poor does a candidate have to be to lose an election?” You see, the tricky thing about campaign finance is that elections actually do cost money, and every year they cost more and more, thanks in no small part to the massive build-up of campaign spending over the past decade. The Maplight Foundation found that the average cost for winning a seat in the 113th Congress was $1,689,580. That was the average cost. Unfortunately, the average household income of Americans in 2012 was about $51,000. Thus -unless your Bernie Sanders- politicians generally need more money than the average donor can supply. According to the Sunlight Foundation, in the 2012 election cycle 28% of all disclosed political contributions came form just 31,385 people. that is about 1% of 1% of Americans. And don’t be fooled. Corporations and donors may not be explicitly “buying” politicians, but they are definitely buying influence. You don’t need to look any further than the 1991 Keating Five Incident, where five US senators -including John McCain and John Glenn- tried advocating to Federal regulators on behalf of Charles H. Keating and his failing savings and loan business. Keating gave all five senators a combined $1.3 million in 1990’s money, and that is the problem. Americans may all get one vote, but thanks to massive importance of campaign finance that small 1% of 1% receives a disproportionate amount of attention from those in power. It is their issues that take precedent when it comes to campaigning.

DiabloChart

In the 2012 elections it would have taken 322,000 middle-income Americans donating .37% of their net worth to match the donations of Sheldon Adelson’s 91.8 million dollars worth of donations, which is only .37% of his net worth. Incidentally, 322,000 is more people than it took to crash the Diablo III servers -just 300,000- when they opened for beta testing in that same year. Even worse 31% of the $1.03 billion spent in 2012 by outside organizations was “dark money,” meaning those donors were undisclosed to the general public. When it comes to elections there is a lot of money exchanging hands and more and more a lot of it is happening outside the realm of public scrutiny. In fact, one of the unintended consequences of taking “soft money” out of the hands of the GOP and DNC, but later allowing unlimited Super-PAC donations has only served to diminish the power of political parties and campaign finance accountability. Parties are losing control of their candidates because they no longer have a financial leash to hang over them. Just think about this year’s Republican circus of a primary. The two frontrunners are not who the GOP would have picked. Thanks to Citizens United, the influence of the DNC and GOP are waning in realms of campaign finance as the influence of big donors grow, like Adelson, the Koch brothers, or Thomas Steyer. Candidates are less reliant on the party bosses, but are more under the influence of a very small percentage of those who can afford to buy the best armor, the best weapons, and the best candidates.

Patch Notes
In 2013 Blizzard shut down their Real World Auction House for good. They officially acknowledged that “it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot,” and it was the right thing to do. It restored the integrity of the game. Diablo III was never supposed to be about buying your way to the top, but about earning it through work and dedication. Politics is very similar. Getting elected should never be about who has the most campaign contributions, but who has the best policies and the most support of the people. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has done an amazing job grinding for his loot, but even with all his small donations he still cannot match the likes of Hillary Clinton’s campaign finance and her big donors and Super PAC. In a sense, they are not even playing on the same difficulty mode, and that’s not fair. The democratic process should be about “killing monster speeches and getting cool votes,” not having enough money to plaster your face on every billboard from here to the voting booth.

That is why we desperately need campaign finance reform, and that is what the recent Democracy Spring protests are all about. We urge you to again take a look at the bills they are fighting for. Many of them offer common sense solutions, such as creating a fund that helps match campaign donations from individual small donors; giving $25 refundable tax credit for political donations; a public debate requirement; political advertising vouchers; fair broadcasting time for all candidates; limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates; and a lot more small ideas that could really add up to a big change. The sad part is that most elected officials agree with a lot of these reforms, but they are also completely pessimistic about them ever getting passed. After all, Congress has tried to enact campaign finance reform before. At worst it falls flat, but even at best it ends up being a temporary relief, because for every Campaign Finance Reform Act that gets through there is a Citizens United waiting in the wings.

Yet, as long as the current system reigns the issues that candidate focus on will always tilt toward the interest of bigger donors, leaving the rest of us out in the wild, with all those skeletons and ooze creatures. The races are getting too expensive. It is forcing candidates to stockpile cash like nukes during the Cold War. Nowadays, to even be considered competitive you need a Super PAC or some other massive financial backer. That could mean literally selling your soul to Diablo, and that’s not fun or fair. Any gamer will tell you that you don’t give up when things get difficult. You keep fighting and working. If Blizzard can restore integrity to a game about fighting the devil, than we can do the same for politics. We just need to keep grinding away.

If you agree or want to help, maybe it is time to write a letter to your Congressman. Let them know how you feel, because if we don’t fix this, we really could be facing Hell on Earth.

Perhaps you recently read that we here at The NYRD have decided that it is time to introduce a new party to the hot, sticky, and unseemly jungle that is American politics. Thus, the Nerd Party has been born and we are committed to doing what is right for Americans, young and old, man and woman, poindexter or dweeb, alike. As a party we believe in values like justice, fairness, equality-ness, and cosplay, but it’s hard to launch a campaign on those vague ideas, especially cosplay. That is why we thought it might be time to clarify our positions on some very important topics.

Healthcare
Since March of 2010 America has endured under the economic weight of the Affordable Care Act. This legislation, passed by partisan votes in the House and Senate, has become one of the most divisive bills in American history, and has suffered tragically in runaway costs, websites that don’t work, and fewer choices of robots. So, we at the Nerd Party believe that there is another way, a better way, a mechanical way.

On day one in office we will ask Congress to repeal Obamacare and replace this divisive law with a plan we are calling Robocare. Much like the Republican candidates and their esteemed orange front-runner we believe that the free market can fix all our problems, like a magic wand made of elm with a core of a single strand of toupee of Trump. So, we asked ourselves, what is the most proven tactic for the free market economy? Then we answered ourselves: automation.

This proven tactic helped drive down costs and increase production in factories all across the American heartland and it is painfully obvious that if we want to truly reduce the costs of our medical system, robots are our only logical choice. So, the Nerd Party is committed to the belief that anyone in America has the right to visit any robot physician they choos. Best of all the GOP Congress will have to vote for it. It embodies all the the cold, unfeeling, and mechanical aspects of a free market healthcare plan that they are looking for, because when getting a prostate exam there is nothing quite like the metallic finger of the free market. So, America, we don’t care if you’re visiting a state of the art surgery-droid or a Roomba with a scalpel duct taped to it. It is your God given American right to be able to have access to any robot of your choosing, because if Donald Trump gets his way most people will probably only be able to afford Dr. Siri anyway.

International Relations
A main component of our China policy is leadership, and demanding extra egg rolls. We strongly believe that good international relations are key to the prosperity of America, but we are not afraid to get tough about it either. That is why we will never back down and never compromise with tyrant countries like China, Mexico or Smurf Village. The rest of the world has come to see the United States as soft over the past 8 years. They have even begun to believe that we might be a country willing to work toward reasonable global partnership, as if we actually cared about the rest of the world.

So we at the Nerd Party have a plan to fix all that. To start we will be ordering Wakanda to forgive all our debts for Vibranium purchases going back to World War II. After all, we legally purchased the material and promised payment in good faith, but screw them. We’re Americans, not Lannisters. We don’t have to pay our debts. Also, we are fully prepared to order the US military into Narnia if thier religious dictator of a lion refuses to build a wall around every wardrobe in this country. We can no longer tolerate them sending us their murders, rapists, and satyrs. More importantly, we are fully prepared to order airstrikes on all training camps used by terrorists and dark wizards. We cannot let places like Hogwarts -an admitted school of witchcraft- continue unchallenged.

Political Finance Reform
The Nerd Party finances its own campaign, mostly through the selling of our old comics and Star Wars action figures -still in the original packaging- but there are a select few politicians that believe there is too much money in politics. Currently big corporations and billionaire donors can give unlimited money to Super PACs, anonymously. Super PACs can then use that unlimited cash flow to support any candidate they choose, and by “any candidate”  we mean the candidate that set up the Super PAC in the first place. However, we here at the Nerd Party believe that there should be even more money in politics, and different types of money too. We’re talking BitCoins, Steam credit, and even Amazon gift cards, because if it’s good enough to be a gift from our grandmothers, than surely it’s good enough as a campaign donation.

The way we see it, money in politics is like money in video games. Sure you can work hard, level your character, and gain experience and gold through honest gameplay, but that’s for suckers. Why not just use your credit card information to purchase that Level 100 Glowing Weapon of Awesomeness or that +20 Strength Armor of Impenetrable Steel? Who cares if wearing them unfairly represents the actual level of skill and trust that you have earned in a game that so many others have devoted months and years of their life to playing fairly? Politics isn’t about trust, its about winning, so why should we have to settle for that Level 5 Campaign Poster when we can get a few rich kids to pay for the +30 Platinum Campaign Ad Blitz. After all, they’re just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s not like we’re going to owe them anything at some point down the line… right?

Tax Reform
Too few Americans are working, too many jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many families cannot make ends meet. The Democrats want to blame this problem on the top 1% and say that we should raise their taxes to compensate for our failing middle class. Yet, we here at the Nerd Party feel that we need to place blame where blame is due, and that is squarely on the scaly shoulders of those who deserve it, dragons. For too long these giant fire-breathing lizards have terrorized farm lands and horded our gold reserves, putting good working class families out of business and obtaining wealth that they have no intention to reinvest in the economy. Who really needs to sleep on a mound of gold, other than Donald Trump, but we hear that’s just for lumbar support.

The rich are not to blame. We give them tax breaks and they give the rest of us wonderful gifts in return, such as low wage jobs, union crushing lawsuits, and the Kardashians. No the real culprits are dragons and it is time we start raising taxes on Smaug and his ilk of fiendish lizard misers. Unlike bank CEO’s or trust fund managers, their greed knows no bounds. They only live to acquire more wealth  than they possibly need. That is bad for the economy because if money or Dwarven gold is not invested properly into the market than it cannot grow or be taxed to help provide public services or private industry growth. That is why under the Nerd Party we will be implementing a 35% Dragon Horde tax. Every year we will send a group of IRS agents to the lair of every dragon in America to collect a percentage of their gold. Those that come back alive will surely bring with them enough new tax money to help boost our flagging economy. You might laugh at us now, but even you have to agree that taxing dragons is at least less of a fairy tale economic strategy than giving breaks to the already wealthiest 1% of this country.

Immigration
Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first, and that is why the Nerd Party we will not back down from our powerful neighbors to the south. We have had enough of Mexican tyranny. Sure, they are ranked 15th in GDP, and we’re ranked number 1. Sure, they import more American goods than almost any other country, but we are tired of their sass and lack of construction efforts. When the Nerd Party takes power, we will not only force them to make a wall, but also a ceiling, some nice laminated wood panel flooring, and maybe even a sun porch.

This wall will be the biggest wall you have ever seen, but that is only the beginning, because after we build it we will form a group of dedicated individuals who will stand atop that wall and swear an oath to hold no lands, father no children, wear no crowns -not even those paper Burger King ones- and win no glory. They will live and die at their post, and make sure no Mexican, Wildling, or White Walker can ever get across. Our first priority needs to be securing our borders against anyone who just wants to make a better life for themselves.

That is also why we will be closing our borders to all Jedi Knights. Please know that we are not unreasonable, and we acknowledge that not all Jedi are Sith, but can we really take that kind of a risk with the safety of American lives. Last year Dark Jedi killed millions during the Starkiller attacks, and even though that was the work of only one or two individuals, we will irrationally blame every person identifying as a Jedi. Please also note that this will only be a temporary measure, but it will be aimed at keeping out any knight, padawan, or anyone else in a bathrobe. We will turn them all away, even those who are desperately and innocently fleeing the very things we are afraid of: terrorism, war, and Order 66. We cannot let these types of religious fanatics into America, especially when we already have so many of our own types of religious fanatics already here.

Second Amendment
The Second Amendment to our constition is clear -well kinda/sorta clear- and that is why we have made our position on this issue equally clear. However, we feel this amendment needs to go further. That is why the Nerd Party is pushing for an expansion to allow citizens the right to keep and bear doomsday devices, without limit. We are talking about weather dominators, moon-based laser cannons, fission bombs hidden away on islands shaped like skulls. The world has changed and muskets alone are no longer enough to overthrow a tyrannical government on a whim, and for far too long only super-villains have had access to these types of weapons. We, as Americans, cannot rely on British super spies to be there every time one of those criminals wants to hold a global nation hostage for ransom money. The only way to stop a bad guy with a thermonuclear device is a good guy with a thermonuclear device. Thus, our stance on the Second Amendment is much like America’s stance on nuclear weapons in the Cold War, mutually assured… something. We never really paid attention too well in history class, and it doesn’t matter.

You see, our real problem is that we need to reform our mental health care system. Places like Arkham Asylum are nothing but revolving door facilities, and super-villains by definition are criminally insane. We need to improve our medical screening process to be on the look out for megalomaniacs who might have the power and resources to do real damage to this country. All super-villainous acts have one thing in common- there were red flags that were ignored. People of power and influence, with giant egos and small hands, who were allowed to continue in their megalomania undiagnosed, until they were pushed too far. One day a man is a typical billionaire real estate mogul/reality star and the next he is wearing an iron mask and calling himself a ridiculous villain name like “The Revenger,” “The Doomsayer,” or  “The Donald.”

The Nerd Party truly believes that we need a better system for identifying these types of people and getting them off the streets, because at least the majority of people who own guns can only hurt a few innocents, but megalomaniacs can hurt our entire nation, sometimes even without missile based satellite technology.

So, remember to get out there and vote Nerd, because really what other choices do you have left?

One thing has been made painfully clear this election cycle, America is in need of an overhaul of its political system. For the past century the United States has been stuck with two powerful political parties and now both the Democrats and Republicans are showing more holes than the plot of Spider-Man 3, except maybe with more believable acting performances. Both monolithic political parties have maintained a stranglehold on American ideology and the election process, and if the popularity of Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump show anything it is that America is ready to split from a world dominated by only two options. It is time for a new vision of American politics. It is time for a third party to arise form the ashes. Now is the time of the nerd.

The Baneful Effects
In his farewell speech to the American public -before ascending to Asgard- George Washington warned the newborn country against political parties, believing that it could undermine the electoral process and incite Americans “with ill-founded jealousies.” Now, he did not mention Donald Trump by name, but we like to think that Washington saw exactly what was coming, because Donald Trump is the end result of the party system. The Republican Party has spent the last eight years turning Congress into a game of “Us versus Them.” The GOP stopped being about governing and became about opposing everything that President Obama and the Democratic party tried to do. Donald Trump is nothing more than the cave troll that they uncovered in their excavation of the American political landscape. He does not need to run on any coherent policy platform. The GOP has laid the groundwork that politics is no longer about governing, but winning, and if there is one thing “The Donald” is good at it, it is inciting his followers to believe that winning is all that matters.

That is what the modern political party system has become, a game of winners and losers, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Giants vs. Eagles, X-Wings vs. TIE Fighters, etc… and the Democratic Party shares as much blame in this as their rivals across the aisle. The Dems often like to play the victim card -portraying the Republicans as the intractable bullies and bogeymen- which only further radicalizes the political parties, and that is something they benefit from as much as their opponents. Too often the Democratic call to action is not so much “Vote for Our Candidate,” as it is “Vote against Their Candidate.” When people stop thinking about governing in terms of individual candidates and their individual policies or ideas, and start thinking about voting out of fear, then we have to admit the process is no longer working. Even worse, Democratic Presidential candidates know they can ignore states like New Jersey and New York, because they are perpetual blue states. That means unless you live in Iowa, Florida, or the mansion of Lex Luthor your individual concerns are never going to be fully addressed by any national level candidate, and the effects are even worse when it comes to Senators and Representatives. With our two-party system, staunchly Democrat or Republican districts have little say in their elected officials. In areas where party loyalties are unbreakable then elections are a foregone conclusion, and you basically have the political party deciding who will get to be the next Congressman and not the voters.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 60% of the American people say that they are ready for a major third party, but where would this new party fall on the political spectrum, the right side, the left side, the dark side? No, it is pretty clear that any major third party needs to be both centrist and youth based. We need a party that can approach the political table not with dogmatic party standards, but a real desire to affect change that can be embraced by the Millennial Generation and beyond. That is why we here at The NYRD are suggesting the formation of the Nerd Party. Think about it, what does being a nerd truly mean? It means we are outsiders, just like the kind of people that America is clamoring to vote for. It also means that we are stereotypically intelligent, which is more than you can say for a lot of the candidates still in the race. Lastly, it means that nerds are in touch with pop culture and the next generation of voters. Also we can quote Star Wars and Family Guy, and that always make filibusters more entertaining. At the very least, the introduction of the Nerd Party could help break down the established party lines, and get our elected officials back to becoming governors instead of perpetual campaigners, because like Magic: The Gathering, it is always more interesting when you have three or more sides playing rather than just 1 vs 1.

The Good the Bad and the Nerd
The Nerd Party will encourage its candidates to think about every decision as part of the larger picture, not based upon the political interests of the party, or left versus right. As centrists  we extremely believe that extreme beliefs are usually extremely wrong. Eating ice cream for every meal can be just as hazardous to your health as nuclear war -and is just as extreme as that last example. Very few people are completely conservative or completely liberal. In fact in 2015 the number of independents in America reached an all time high, with 43% of Americans claiming to be neither Democrat nor Republican. So the Nerd Party understands that it is unreasonable to make the voting public choose between entirely liberal or entirely conservative candidates, despite the fact of how our system currently works, or doesn’t work.

Political parties -and certain cable news networks- have convinced the public that they only ever have two choices, and that misrepresentation benefits no one but the political parties themselves. Individual candidates -like their voters- are often an amalgamation of beliefs and ideas, like some kind of publicly elected Voltron. Privately candidates may support some aspects of their party’s official platforms and not others, but in our modern world of Red vs. Blue, there is no room for gray… or purple. Instead, moderate conservatives, centrist liberals, New York Republicans, conservative libertarians, Dwarven socialists, and Vulcan Marxists all get pushed to the fringes of one side or another, lumped together with one ideological platform or its opposite. That means reasonable elected officials are forced to promote the extremes of the political spectrum in order to keep favor with their party. Toeing that party line often requires many moderate candidates to compromise or discard any difference they may have, and any refreshing or well-meaning ideas often get lost in the constant pitched battle of the political arena.

Believe it or not, both political parties actually have good ideas and bad ideas. The beauty of the United States is supposed to be our ability find the compromise between them. In the past, the moods of the electorate have swung back and forth like an oiled pendulum from Republican to Democrat to Republican to Democrat: Carter to Reagan, Bush to Clinton, Bush to Obama, but now extreme forces in both parties have pushed that pendulum to its breaking point. “Reasonable compromise” has become akin to consorting with the enemy and it could cost a Congressman the ire of his or her party which in turn could cost them their position. That is what the Nerd Party aims to fix, because -as our grandparents always told us- we’re good with fixing that “technology stuff.” So, did you try turning the electorate off and then back on again?

The Millennial Factor
Bernie Sanders is a hit with “the kids.” According to recent polling, Sanders has a 16% lead among voters aged 35 and younger, especially young women voters. There is a reason his message resonates with the younger electorate. Sanders tends to talk about the issues that Millennials are most concerned with. According to USA Today voters under the age of 35 are 80% in favor of renewable energy, 82% in favor of background checks for gun ownership, even among young Republicans. They are also increasingly in favor of marriage equality, gender equality, and much more. However, the halls of power and the political parties are still very much controlled by older generations who only seem to care about political infighting. That means for Millennials and other young Americans there is a disconnect between what they want to see happening and what is actually happening. That can be frustrating, especially as Senators and Representatives cling to their elected positions for thirty or forty year -thanks modern medical science- never once forced to change their opinion on anything, and often with no viable political rival to replace them.

The irony here -for both political parties- is that younger voters identify with both conservative and liberal ideas. Even though the next generation tends to tilt toward Democrats rather than the GOP by 41% to 28%, Millennial voters are more likely to identify with the conservative party on policies of economics, international relations, and BBQ recipes. Again and unfortunately, the Dem/GOP system is binary, and that hurts candidates more than it helps. Even if a Republican candidate had a smart and effective plan to cut spending and lower the college debt they will still lose youth voters because they are forced to follow their party’s script on banning marriage equality or background checks for firearms. For younger voters who tend to vote with their social ideals they may never find a candidate they agree with on all fronts, and very often that leads to a system of “voting against the opposition.”

Bernie Sanders may not win the nomination, and if that happens you will have a lot of people -especially Millennials-  who will be forced to support Hillary Clinton -a candidate they do not want- in order to defeat the greater of two evils. The truth is that a candidate like Bernie probably would have fared better in an electoral system where there were three or even more established political parties to choose from. Unfortunately, for the Independent Senator from Vermont -and his legion of Twitter followers- to be considered a viable candidate for the US Presidency under our current system you need to run as part of one of the two major political parties. That means going through political primaries, which is basically the Hunger Games of politics.

Battle Royale
The nomination process is especially hard on candidates. Winning the vote of the American people is hard enough, but convincing a political party that you stand for everything they want you to stand for often forces even moderate candidates to move to one side of the spectrum or the other. Regardless of what a candidate looks like at the beginning of the process the end result is often someone who has been forced into being a poster child for the acceptably branded message of either the Republican or the Democratic party. Remember when John McCain was the maverick of Congress. The top gun Tom Cruise who never feared crossing the aisle to find a compromise to solve a problem? Then he ran for president, and by the time he was done with the primaries there was nothing left but an angry old white conservative man whose only companion was a squawking Alaskan Dodo bird.

That is why the Nerd Party is going to do it differently. We say forget primaries, instead we are going to conduct candidate vetting the same way every other American applies for a job. Our candidates will be expected to submit a letter of interest and a resume, before being asked in for a job interview, because you need four years experience to manage a McDonald’s, and it is not unreasonable to ask the same thing of the people applying to run our country. Moreover, we will not pick our candidates based upon their blind adherence to doctrine or dogma, in fact we encourage our candidates to be free thinkers and find creative solutions to problems. That is why we will also design a series of tests that the potential candidate must pass, including a written exam which will quiz our potential candidates on general knowledge, leadership potential, moral and ethical standards, pop culture, and possible psychic potential. If the candidates score well on the written exam and during the interview process then they will move on to the physical challenge, where they will be tested for strength, mental acuity, leadership abilities, endurance, speed, comedic performance, hand eye-coordination, and martial arts abilities, because you never know when the President may have to retake a hijacked airplane. Once candidates have passed the internal party tests they will be placed into the race with the full support and backing of the party. From that point on their only mandate is do what is best for the country as a whole, and specifically not for the party.

Ain’t No Party Like a Nerd Party
The current political parties are broken. It is time to start thinking toward new political horizons, and the rise of a third party, and that is not actually as far fetched as you might think. Mainstream media and the political parties themselves like to portray the Republican and Democratic parties as permanent fixtures of our political landscape, but historically that has never been true. As much as the Democratic or Grand Old Party would like to have you believe, they are not our country’s first or even second political parties. The first Democrat in the White House was Andrew Jackson, and the first Republican was Abraham Lincoln. Before that there were Federalists, and Whigs, and even the Democratic-Republican Party. You may not believe that the Nerd Party or any new third party could ever rise to prominence in the United States, but thanks to the Internet and the democratization of information that is more possible now than ever in the history of our nation.

The popularity of Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump show cracks in our old political system. Voters of all ages are pushing back at the political parties whom they feel no longer represent their views. This election has -in a sense- become a battle between the old process and the desire of the next generation to have their voices heard. Sanders persists on Facebook and Twitter even as CNN and Fox News claim he is finished. Donald Trump was able to build a support base, despite being the butt of every late night talk show joke for six months. The time for change is now and the power to do so resides in the very thing you are using to read this absurd piece of rambling information. Now is the time to believe in change. Now is the time to vote Nerd.

For the American people it seems like the grass is always seems greener on the other side. And the grass in question happens to be sitting behind a wrought-iron fence guarded by the secret service on the front lawn of the White House. As Americans we have a very unique relationship with our leader, the President of the United States -POTUS to his friends- as he is both our boss and our employee. We have had good Presidents, strong Presidents, war heroes, statesmen, peanuts farmers and actors, but it may be our fictional Presidents that say the most about us as a people and a nation. With House of Cards returning to Netflix this week, we thought this would be a good time to take a closer look at our fictional leaders like President Underwood or his West Wing counterpart, President Bartlet, and do some Presidential comparisons, both fact and fiction.

A Proportional Response
Let’s start with President Josiah Edward Bartlet. His fictional term lasted from 1999 to 2006. He is a economics professor from New Hampshire, who won the Nobel Price for his work in that field. He is also a former Governor of New Hampshire and a direct descendant of Josiah Bartlett, who signed the Declaration of Independence. By all accounts he is a New England academic from a very old family, and also a liberal Democrat who believes in gays in the military, campaign finance reform, and education. He is a bit long winded in a folksy way, but above all he is shown as being the best of us. Sure he lied about having Multiple Sclerosis and was embroiled in his fair share of Washington scandals, but it was never anything serious and when all was said and done he always took responsibility for his actions. He was shrewd, intelligent, compassionate, and warm. His legacy was defined by compromise and doing what was right. He stood by his friends, his family, and his staff, even when it wasn’t always politically savvy to do so.

His real-world counterpart was President George W. Bush, from 2000 to 2008, a Republican. Perhaps one of the only things he shared with his fictional counterpart was a sense of idealism and the fact that they were both Governors. Other than that, Bush was known for his war policies, his persona as a cowboy, and his inability to speak words. Under his administration the country saw the Patriot Act, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Now, we are not trying to paint Bush as a bad President, but we do want to show that he is a sharp contrast to the persona of President Jed Bartlet, who continually enjoyed a higher approval rating than the sitting President.

BartBush

Though one can argue that President Bartlett existed before President Bush, there is no denying that the fictional POTUS is -in at least some way- a response to his more conservative and inarticulate real-world counterpart. Continuously throughout the Bush Presidency, a time when the President of the United States enjoyed some of the highest and then lowest approval ratings in history, it was Bartlet whom people turned to every week for solace and hope. His liberal policies were ahead of their time, and though he was sometimes accused of being overly sentimental the show often tackled national issues in thoughtful and heartfelt ways. By all accounts it often seemed as if Bartlet was the President people were looking for. Yet, it was Bush they voted for in 2000 and again in the 2004.

Chapter 2
Next let’s look at President Francis Joseph Underwood, whose Presidency started only in season 3, but has been with the American public since 2013. His public persona is one of a judicious and fair-minded liberal. He ended a naval standoff with China, and started an ambitious domestic job program. However under this congenial appearance lies a different person. In reality, Underwood is a conniving, Machiavellian, and sometimes over-the-top evil character. He uses any means he can to rise to power, and has cheated on his wife, blackmailed, and manipulated the events around him to get to the White House. He is from a family that dates back to prominence during the 1800’s. Unlike Bartlet his public persona is completely different than his inner thoughts and private actions. A Southern Democrat and lawyer, he was the Majority Whip, then the Vice President before scheming his way into the Oval Office. President Underwood has no sense of tradition, decorum, or even a caring for the rules of fair play, and it is a role he almost revels in.

The real President since 2008 and during the run time of House of Cards is President Barrack Obama. He is from Chicago by way of Hawaii, and unlike the other three Presidents talked about already, has no famous ancestors or famous American name. Obama has passed laws for universal healthcare, repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t tell,” and is working on gun reform and climate change. He has partially helped to end some of our wars in the Middle East, and has had an overall positive effect on the American image overseas. Say what you will about the current President of the United States, but he is not Frank Underwood. Though, there has been some questionable tactics used under the Obama Administration in the area of drone attacks, it is hard to see our even tempered Commander-in-Chief embroiled in plots of power, sex, and murder.

UnderObama

Thus, we must wonder, that if Bartlet is a response to Bush, then is Underwood a response to -or even a condemnation of- Obama? Our current President is mild mannered and has been embroiled in very little and minor Washington scandals. Underwood, on the other hand, is fierce and has no qualms about things like corruption or adultery. The real POTUS rose to power on the tide of a national movement, while the fictional one gained his power by discrediting his predecessor and taking over his position. Many perceive President Obama as weak and lacking of a plan or the conviction to make America strong. President Underwood is anything but weak, and he always seems to have a plan. Unlike Bartlett and Bush, these two men are not from different parties and even have similiar liberal agendas. Also, Underwood like Obama shows a very politically attractive face to the American public, much like our current President. Instead, the House of Cards President differs more in his personal tactics and hunger for power. It can be argued that this match-up may say something -at least in part- about what some secretly suspect about our POTUS. Obama is sometimes too perfect, too congenial or too well behaved. Yet, we highly doubt our leader is playing from the Underwood playbook, so it is more likely House of Cards is just another form of Presidential wish-fulfillment. Still, the popularity of the Netflix show makes us wonder if we, the American people, tend to feel an attraction to fictional Presidents that embody everything our real-world Presidents do not.

Living in their Shoes
We can attribute some of the popularity for fictional Presidents to the fact that viewers get to live their triumphs and tragedies. We get to know our fictional leaders in ways we will never get to know our real ones. We can sit in on meetings with Jed Bartlet and see him struggle with decisions. We can follow the scheming of Frank Underwood and quietly cheer for his successes, even when we know it’s wrong. The very format of television is designed to put the audience on the side of the main character. When we look at our real-life Presidents we only get the snapshot, the man behind the podium, or the polished and cleaned-up sterile image of the leader of our country. We don’t get to see him joking with his staff, suffering from marital issues, or filing his tax returns. So in a way, our factual POTUS becomes less real -just a prop we see on our TV- when compared to the fictionalized and idealized President, especially by comparison.

What is more interesting is that The West Wing and House of Cards -though diametrically different from one another- offer a look into the evolution of how the viewing and voting public have thought of our elected officials over the years. To go from Josiah Bartlet to Frank Underwood is as much a change in what Americans look for in an elected official as it was to go from George Bush to Barrack Obama. The West Wing portrays the entire political process as one filled with smart and caring people who are doing their best to make the world better. Even Republicans are often portrayed as articulate and intelligent, except with differing views. House of Cards, on the other hand, goes out of its way to be a theatrical and ruthless look at modern American politics and governance. Each is a fictionalized version of the truth -we hope- yet each equally holds the attention and imagination of America. Perhaps these fictional Presidents and their shows are so popular because they give us an ideal we feel we don’t have or that we’ve lost in real life. Thus, each still holds enough truth to be believable and worthwhile, regardless of your political persuasion.

So, maybe this all really comes down to human nature, and our natural yearning for wanting what he don’t have. We, as the American public, are like a soccer mom dreaming about the pool boy, yet knowing all along that our dreams are nothing but fiction. We seem to lean toward a TV President that is the opposite of the current sitting POTUS, because we do that with everything else in our lives. We accept the factual while romanticizing the path not chosen. We use fiction all the time to ask the question, “What if?” and to condemn those in power who do not meet are sometimes exacting standards. Really, all this means is that if Donald Trump is elected, then after 2016 we may find ourselves with the most sane, humble, caring, and brilliant fictional President ever to be portrayed on television.

GM: Welcome. Most other networks and news outlets are concerned with how the political candidates fair in debate or at town hall meetings, but here we don’t care about any of that. At the NYRD we believe that there is only one true test of leadership and teamwork, and that is why we have asked the top 5 presidential hopefuls -and Jeb Bush- here to play a rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons. Now, let’s meet our adventuring party. Please introduce yourself and tell use something about the character you created.

TRUMP: I think I will go first. I have made a great character, absolutely the best and most creative here. I’m a financial wizard so I figured let’s make it official and just become an actual wizard. I’m human, because of course I am, look at me. My character’s name is Trump the Best, which is a very imaginative name. I don’t know where I come up with these things. I am also the richest character here. What can I say, I like the gold.

CRUZ: I think I am going to go next. Now, I respect the Wizard Trump…

TRUMP: He’s the best…

CRUZ: I respect him, but we all know that wizards are pagans. I am a God-fearing citizen and that is why I chose to play a priest today. I like the sound of that. I am also a 6’5″ human male that weighs a strapping 200 pounds. My character, Father Thor Cruz, is very muscular, just like ripped all the way down his stomach. He has great hair and a chiseled attractive jawline. All the women of the surrounding villages want to be with him, but of course he is devoted to the Lord and does not partake in the pleasures of the flesh.

GM: Senator, I can’t read your handwriting. What god is your character worshiping?

CRUZ: Why the Lord Jesus Christ, of course.

GM: Because it looks like you wrote Lesus.

CRUZ: I didn’t. I wrote Jesus.

GM: There is no Christianity in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.

CRUZ: Not yet. That is all the more reason why the work of Father Thor Cruz is needed in this heathen world.

GM: Fine… but I’m writing your god down as Lesus.

CARSON: I’m going to go next.

GM: Oh, I’m sorry Dr. Carson. I thought you were asleep over there.

CARSON: No, just resting my eyes. I want to roll the dice and buy some property.

GM: No, Dr. Carson, this is not Monopoly. Just tell us what you wrote down on the character sheet in front of you, please.

CARSON: Oh, of course. I am a human rogue, because everyone knows how good I am with knives. We all know the story of the time I stabbed someone. If you do not believe it, you may ask my mother. It also says here that my name is Dr. Benjamin son of Car, because he is also a trained doctor. He’s very skilled at things like doctoring and foreign policy.

GM: Dr. Carson, you put none of your skill points into healing? How are you claiming your character is also a trained a doctor?

CARSON: Oh you know. He’s just very good with people. Now before we start I need some of those letter tiles that we all get.

GM: Again, Dr. Carson, this is Dungeons and Dragons, not Scrabble… oh forget it. Governor Bush, please go next… Governor?

BUSH: Oh, yeah, sure. I am a human bard. My name is Turtle.

GM: Is that it? You don’t want to make some kind of profound or borderline narcissistic statement?

BUSH: No, I’m good.

GM: Okay. It is also worth pointing out that the game so far consists of four human males, but I guess no one should really be surprised by that. However that will change as we move across the table to our two remaining players. Secretary Clinton, would you like to start and bring some gender diversity to the group?

CLINTON: Actually I chose to make my character a male human as well.

GM: …Why?

CLINTON: I did a survey on Twitter and most of my supporters put more faith in the reliability and leadership of male fantasy characters like Harry Plotter or that man from Lord of the Ring, uh… Viggo something. See, people like to think that I’m not hip and “with” the times, but I also enjoy popular entertainment, just like the youths of today.

GM: Wouldn’t it be better if you played a strong female fantasy character, like Hermoine or Lady Galadriel?

CLINTON: You’re right, but do you think that would play well in Middle America?

GM: I don’t think anything we are doing here today is going to play well in Middle America.

CLINTON: Oh what the heck. I am a female, and I am proud that I am can be chosen as your first female adventurer on this party. In fact, I am going to Tweet this out, but if people disagree can I change my character’s gender later?

CRUZ: You cannot change the gender of your character once the game starts. The Lord made you a man or a woman and that is his will. To change your gender after the game has begun is to defy that holy will…

GM: …I would need to check the core rulebook…

CRUZ: The only core rulebook any of us need is the Bible.

GM: And I just realized I don’t actually care… Secretary Clinton, what is your class?

CLINTON: According to Facebook, I am a human barbarian named Clintina of the Hill.

GM: My head hurts all of a sudden. Senator Sanders, what is your name.

SANDERS: I’m Bernie.

GM: No Senator, what is the name you wrote on your character sheet?

SANDERS: Don’t patronize. I’m not an old man you know. My character’s name is Bernie. He’s a ranger and a damn good one too. I am also Elvis.

GM: I think you mean to say that you are also an elf.

SANDERS: Oh, is that what that says. I don’t have the right glasses on. I thought it was odd that I got to pick to be Elvis, not that I minded. You know I loved his music growing up as a poor kid in Brooklyn. I used to sit in my room at night…

GM: …Moving on… All six of you find yourself sitting in a tavern known as the Plow and Pundit. It is located in the center of a village called Washing Town, DC. The smells and noises are almost overwhelming, stale liquor with the earthy scent of soil and a long day’s work. People would normally be drinking, laughing, and celebrating the end of the harvest season, but you all notice that tonight is a melancholy one. There has been a murder in town, the beloved mayor, Lord Barry the Just, has died under mysterious circumstances. The powers that sent you to this town believe that foul play is afoot and have tasked you with solving the mystery surrounding the death of Lord Barry.

TRUMP: Let me just stop you right there. Are there any mosques located in this town? I bet it was terrorism. Boom, I’m a genius. I win this game.

GM: No one person wins Dungeons and Dragons. You need to play as a group… And there are no mosques in the city…. That’s unnecessarily racist and inflammatory.

CARSON: I bet the murder was committed by Colonel Mustard.

GM: Dr. Carson, we are not playing Clue.

SANDERS: Tell me this, what are the economic policies of Washing Town? Is there a large gap between the wealthy land owners and the minimum wage earners? What does the stable boy make an hour? What’s going on here?

GM: That’s almost a good question, Senator. What you all know is that Washing Town is a farming community and there is a large social disconnect from those in power and the men and women who live in the village itself. Washing Town is run by the Lord Mayor who is the wealthiest land owner. In fact, in order to even be elected as mayor it almost unnervingly traditional that you be the one with the most money and the most backing of the other rich land owners and special interest groups.

TRUMP: Boom. I’m the new mayor. Trump the Best is by far the best wizard and the richest man in this little crappy village. I mean come on. Who else would it be?

GM: Mr. Trump, you currently have 30 gold. That does not make you the richest man.

TRUMP: Do you know how much gold is actually worth?

CLINTON: Who do all the people think committed the murder. I bet it’s going to be just like the time Darth Vader killed Benjamin Kenobi in Star Wars.

GM: That is an oddly out of context reference, but actually a good question, Secretary Clinton. You can roll your dice to make a Gather Information check to spend an hour to talk to the people around town and get their impression of the situation, but I should tell you that as a barbarian you do not have the best of Charisma…

CLINTON: Oh, what else can I do as a barbarian?

GM: You are mostly a fighter. You have a rage ability that let’s you gain extra strength and hit points in battle when you get angry.

CLINTON: Oh, I never get angry, unless other people think it is appropriate that I do so.

GM: Rage just one of the barbarian’s abilities. It doesn’t mean you have to be angry…

CLINTON: Can we change the name of it to Restrained and Appropriate Anger. Rage sounds like it would not play well on the East coast.

GM: …

CLINTON: But I am still going to poll the people about what is going on. <Rolls  a d20> I got a 14. Is that good?

GM: It’s good enough.

CLINTON: Good, because I also want to ask the people if they feel as if they can trust me and what would help them see me as more trustworthy.

GM: Clintina of the Hill wanders off and starts talking with people around the tavern, asking them information on the death of Lord Barry and also if they think they can trust her and what she can do make them trust her more. That will take an hour, so what is everyone else doing during that time. Governor Bush?

BUSH: I’m a bard, so I have a guitar or something, right?

GM: Yes.

BUSH: I just want to sit there and pluck at it.

GM: Okay, so the Governor is fiddling as Rome burns around him.

BUSH: (Shrugs)

SANDERS: I go up and talk with the woman waiting on tables.

GM (Bar Wench): Hello sir, what can I get you, roast mutton, honey mead?

SANDERS: “Noble waitress. I am Bernie son of Eli, and I want to ask you about how much money you make by working here?”

GM (Bar Wench): “Uhh… The owner let’s me take a loaf of the day old bread with a little gravy every night.”

SANDERS: “That is outrageous. Simply outrageous. What about healthcare and pension benefits?”

GM (Bar Wench): “I got sick once with the black cough and I got to leave for an hour to go see the local healer, but Mr. Dorrsman only gave me a half of loaf for the day.”

SANDERS: This truly astounding. It’s like we’re living in medieval times.

GM: Well…

SANDERS: I turn to address everyone else sitting in the tavern. “Noble people,” I say. “Noble people you toil and work in the fields and the shops and the taverns of this town every day and what do you get for it? A half a loaf of bread and a bit of gravy? This is unacceptable. The minimum wage of everyone in this town needs to be raised. How can people expect to raise a family on a single loaf of bread and a bit of gravy. It should be two loaves and a slab of lamb. 99% of you are breaking your backs and are starving, while 1% gets to keep all the gold and lamb meat for themselves. This is not how societies are meant to work and this is not how it will work as long as Bernie the Ranger is in town.”

GM: …Uhhh, roll your Diplomacy, I guess.

SANDERS: Where is this dice thing? <Rolls the D20> What does it say. I can’t see it.

GM: You rolled a 16 with an additional bonus of 3 from you Diplomacy skill makes it a 19. As you talk to the crowd more and more people begin to listen to what you are saying. Some even begin cheering and shouting in agreement.

TRUMP: This is stupid. This whole thing is stupid. I want to turn to the crowd and say, “Listen. Some people are just rich and successful because they are better than other people. I mean look at me. I started out with practically nothing. My millionaire father did very little to help me get where I am today, very little. Now look at me. I’m a successful wizard with gold in his pocket.”

GM: Roll your Bluff.

TRUMP: Why?

GM: I am pretty sure most of what you just said was a lie.

TRUMP: <rolls the D20> Bang, I got a 4.

GM: You failed the roll.

TRUMP: Isn’t this like golf? Incidentally, I own a lot of golf courses.

GM: The crowd starts to get angry at Trump the Best. They look ready to take their rage out on you, Mr. Trump, and the rest of your group.

TRUMP: “Listen, all I’m saying is that I’m better than you all and you need people like that. I mean think about it. Without people like me who’d protect you from…” What are things that happen in this little make-believe world of yours?

CLINTON: Oh, I know this because I know how to connect with the young voters. It’s Christopher Lee and that big eyeball.

TRUMP: “Right who would protect you rabble of peasants from the Christopher Lees of the world and floating eyeballs and those green guys with the axes…”

GM: Orcs?

TRUMP: “Yeah Orca. Orca are your real problem here, not the rich. Aren’t you tired of Orca coming in a stealing your money and taking your jobs? They’re the real enemy. They’re the real people you should be mad at. I bet they were the ones that killed this mayor fellow of yours. I say we round up all the Orca we can find and ship them back to Orc Mexico or where ever it is they come from.” There and I’ll roll again. <Rolls a d20>

GM: You got a 20. That’s a critical success.

TRUMP: See, the only reason I rolled so low in the first place was because you never explained that this game wasn’t like golf.

GM: Part of the the crowd begins to nod and cheer at what you’re saying, and many of them start to break bottles and look for weapons.

TRUMP: Now these are some smart villagers, that’s what I say. I tell them, “Now you should go find some Orca and we’ll deport them back to where they came from.”

GM: Half of the crowd exits the tavern in a frenzy of shouting and cursing, looking more like a lynch mob than a thoughtful party of engaged citizens.

TRUMP: There. Problem solved. I win again.

GM: The small remainder of the crowd is still standing by Bernie the Elf talking about starting a parchment-writing campaign to get the minimum wage of the village raised.

CRUZ: Now this is all well and good, but I think we are losing the essence of why it is we came here.

GM: I can’t believe I am saying this, but you are right, Senator Cruz.

CRUZ: We need to teach the people of this village good Godly values, and Father Thor Cruz is just the one to do it, what with his large biceps and rugged good looks.

CARSON: Maybe we should, like examine the body of the dead man. I am a doctor, you know. I can pull those pieces out of him without touching the sides.

GM: That’s Operation, and I have to believe you’re doing this on purpose now? You can’t possibly be this unaware of how things work by this point in the game?

CARSON: I have been coming in and out, but I say never underestimate a person. That is why I am going to go find the body of the dead mayor and perform an autopsy.

GM: Once again, Dr. Carson, I feel the need to remind you that your character has no points in any skills that come close to being useful for doing anything like that.

CARSON: It’s fine. I have my knives.

GM: Is anyone else going to go with Dr. Benjamin son of Car?

SANDERS: I want to stay here and help the townspeople organize a petition to invoke some real economic change in their lives.

GM: Okay… Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz, Governor Bush?

TRUMP: Sure it might be worth a laugh.

CRUZ: I would like to go out into the town and perform some missionary work as well as see if any of the ladies would like to commune with Father Thor Cruz.

GM: I thought you said your priest was celibate?

CRUZ: I am and it drives the ladies wild, just like my toned and tanned buttocks.

GM: Governor Bush?

BUSH: I guess.

GM: Governor, I need to ask, do you even want to be here? It kind of seems like your not even trying? In fact, for the majority of the time most of us have barely even registered that you’re here at all. I think you need to ask yourself, “Is doing this really what you want from life?”

BUSH: I mean, sure I want to be here. My father and brother said I should try and I definitely like the idea of being in the game, but you know I never thought about it like that before… Is this really what I want to be doing? I mean playing this game is hard, and if I were to be honest I am only doing it because it seems like a family tradition, but I don’t know… I think I am going to wander off and spend some time alone to think. <Gets up from the table.>

GM: Okay, Turtle the Bard wanders out of the tavern to find a quiet place to think and Governor Bush has walked out of the room…

CLINTON (from the next room): Can I go see the body too?

GM: No, you are still gathering information.

CLINTON (from the next room): Can I meet them there when I’m done?

GM: Fine. Whatever, and what are you doing in our kitchen?

CLINTON (from the next room): According to a survey on BuzzFeed you need snacks when you play these sorts of games. I am getting a bag of Doritos and a bottle of something called Sierra Mist. Does anyone else want any?

GM: Secretary Clinton please come and sit down… and bring in the Doritos.

CLINTON: <She takes her seat.> Well  I think we are having a good and a suitably humanizing time.


1/2                  <CONTINUE READING>


With the return of The X-Files we at The NYRD have had some strange notions lately. Maybe the world is run by secret Illuminati bent on controlling our lives and dictating the fashion trends of our tinfoil hats, or then again maybe we are just succumbing to the very human need to see conspiracies where none exist. Either way we decided that it was time to delve into one of the biggest tinfoil hat theories in American history. It famously involves the assassination of a well know and beloved President of the United States who served during a time of crisis… You’ve guessed it, we’re talking about Zachary Taylor.

The First Presidential Assassination?
Zachary Taylor was only seventeen months into his first term as President when he died of what doctors concluded was stomach-related illness, but because we are humans and conspiracy theories are not a modern invention, there were all sorts of rumors that Taylor had been poisoned by arsenic, as his symptoms were very similiar to arsenic poisoning. So who would kill the President? Why might he have died? Wait, are we you talking about that kid on Home Improvement? We know you are asking yourself these questions and more. So in order to tackle your Tim Allen and non-Tim Allen related inquires we believe it is best to start at the beginning.

Taylor was an army man. He fought in the War of 1812, but won his fame during the Mexican-American War. He became a national hero, known for being a great leader and an inspiring man. The Whig Party eventually persuaded Taylor to capitalize on his popularity and run for President in 1848. By all appearances Zachary Taylor had no interest in politics or being President. He won because of his popularity as a war hero, but he spent most of his time ignoring Congress and avoiding his cabinet, like Todd when he refuses to put his dishes away after lunch. In a time when the United States was becoming increasingly polarized over the question of slavery, the lack of vocal and political support for slavery from the President -who himself was a slave owning Southerner- became increasingly frustrating for the South, maybe even enough to commit… dum dum dum… Murder.

Who Done it?
To further compound the problem for Southern slave owners when Taylor found motivation to be Presidential his policies seemed to favor abolitionists and anti-slavery proponents,  more and more. You see, Zachary Taylor did not support the idea of allowing the right to own slaves to expand into the western territories, a move which would eventually begin to erode the power of the pro-slavery voting block in Congress and the Senate. He also died a few weeks before he was set to veto several pro-slavery bills that had been presented to him by Congress. To add further credence to the conspiracy theory, Taylor’s death opened the door for Vice-President Millard Fillmore, a pro-slavery figure, who very promptly passed the Compromise of 1850 as one of his first acts in office. So is this all coincidence, or something more sinister?

One of the problems is that pinpointing who committed such crime has its own difficulties. Remember back in those days there was no such thing as the Secret Service or even the FBI. The White House was a government building and Mrs. Taylor often reported that she would find strange people wandering the halls and even in her own bedroom. The President of the United States was very accessible, as was the food he ate. Taylor contracted cholera morbus, a 19th century term that commonly meant, “We have no idea what killed him.” His sickness coincided with a long day of celebration and public meetings on the 4th of July in 1850, and the list of people he had contact that day with was a long one. Yet, that did not stop people from speculating, loudly and publically.

At the time of Zachary Taylor’s death, the Baltimore Sun really got into the conspiracy vibe of things. They were like the CNN of their day. In all fairness, the newspaper was not the only one putting forth the poisoning theory, but they did go so far as to name names. Prominently, The Sun suggested that the death could have been the work of two men, Robert Toombs and Alexander Hamilton Stephens. Both men were Georgia Congressmen and were called “Southern Ultrists,” at the time. It was reported that they threatened to vote for Taylor’s “censure,” if he did not support the South. In all fairness to the Sun, -they didn’t know it at the time- Toombs would eventually become the Confederacy’s Secretary of State and Stephens its Vice-President. So in retrospect, they may have been pretty “ultrist,” but the real question is, were they extreme enough to censure Taylor… dum dum dum… permanently?

The Verdict
Enter Clara Rising, a retired University of Florida humanities professor and author, she became interested in Zachary Taylor and his death in the mid-1980’s. In 1991 she even went so far as to convince Taylor’s descendants and the US Government to exhume the dead body of the twelfth President so it could be subjected to modern -well 1990’s- laboratory testing. Various dental, bone, and hair samples, were sent to three different facilities for that purpose. The final result came back that Zachary Taylor died of… drum roll… a “myriad of natural diseases which would have produced the symptoms of gastroenteritis.” It was ruled a death by natural causes, despite the fact that the remains yielded trace amounts of arsenic, but the medical examiner felt assured that those were too low to cause the death. Even more reassuring he explained how apparently all human beings have between 0.2 to 0.6 ppm of arsenic in their system at any given time… so, yay?

Many people in Taylor’s day were convinced that the popular, reluctant, and possibly anti-slavery President was murdered in order to pave way for a Southern power grab. Republicans, especially, subscribed to the idea as they were the party of most Northern abolitionist, which also shows you how much things have really changed since the days of Zachary Taylor. Many believed that there would be other targets, like Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, and William Henry Harrison. Yet, in perhaps the greatest irony of this whole story, when Abraham Lincoln first took office he received hundreds of letters warning him that he was going to be assassinated, just like Taylor. Of course those letters warned against eating suspicious food and nothing about celebrities wielding guns.

So the next time a friend espouses a rumor to you about 9/11 or tells you how Kennedy was killed by hitmen hired by his own dog, Pushinka -She was Russian after all- just smile and nod and know that conspiracy theories have existed as long as humans. Maybe, in a way, the paranoia of people in the mid 1800’s justified. The Civil War was only years away and tensions were growing in all parts of the country. To many assassination may not have seemed like a big leap, and in some ways it is more comforting to believe that coincidence and bad luck are the result of secretive and powerful sources -whether they be big business, the government, or the Southern aristocracy- rather than just random chance. Conspiracies are a way we humans try to claim some agency over our chaotic world. The truth is often a lot scarier, sometimes bad things just happen. That is true whether it be car accidents, a deranged man with a gun, or just a bad bowl of cherries on a hot 4th of July in 1850.

Donald Trump is a cartoon character, but it is sometimes hard to remember that with all the Animaniacs-esque craziness that goes on with the United States’ primaries that we didn’t always nominate our leaders this way. The modern primary system did not fully form until 1972, which means that Bugs Bunny is older than our current primary election cycle. In fact, our modern election system only beats out being older than Disco by roughly two years. That is not to say that primaries and the National Convention system did not exist before Porky’s speech impediment, -they did- but like with most things in history the story of our nomination system is neither straightforward nor any less looney than a cross-dressing rabbit.

A Party to History
As with most things in American history we can start by laying the blame on George Washington, mostly because he won election to the highest office faster than Speedy Gonzalez running toward -what we can only assume is- some sort of highly racist taco stand. It was only after Washington selfishly refused to be our dictator in chief by turning down his third term that our election process became a big game of “Duck Season/Rabbit Season.” John Adams and Thomas Jefferson -history’s greatest frenemies- were next up for the position and that was when things got interesting.

That election basically kicked off the two-party system that we all know and love today. Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican, and Adams was a Federalist. Their respective parties nominated them through a Congressional Caucus, which basically meant everyone in Congress picked who they liked best to go up for election. It is kind of like how American high schools today pick their prom king and queen. Jefferson and Adams were basically selected by their respective parties because they were Jefferson and Adams. -Being a Founding Father goes a long way on a resume- The election was won by Adams with Jefferson as runner-up, which back in those days meant he got to be the Vice-President. It is also worth mentioning that the campaign got fairly heated with the Federalists at one point trying to link Jefferson with the violence of the French Revolution. So, if you think that the hyperbole and outright lies of today’s elections are a modern addition to our electoral process you can happily dissuade yourself of that notion.

Presidential Primaries were conducted in Congress until 1832. After that increasing social pressure created the beginnings of the National Convention system that we have today. More and more the common people wanted a hand in picking their party’s candidate for President. Don’t be fooled though, because the National Convention system was neither fair nor binding. Holding nominations at a National Convention gave tremendous power to state party bosses. Basically each state controlled their primary electors and if those electors did not vote the way the party boss wanted them to, they could lose their job. Thus, all the convention system did was move the power of nomination from Congress to a select few powerful state-level figures. That basically meant nominations for party candidates were literally made in cartoonishly smoke-filled backrooms.

Roosevelt Gets Bully
This was the way the system would probably work today if it didn’t eventually run directly opposite to one of America’s biggest, brashest, and widest-grinningest Presidents to ever shoot down a Kodiak bear from the Oval Office’s windows, Theodore “Iron Gut” Roosevelt. In 1912 Old Teddy decided to launch a comeback against his successor William Howard Taft. Previously in 1901, Florida -because of course- was one of the first states to pass a law that called for a Presidential nomination preference. Florida and the states that followed basically said that whatever candidate that the majority of state level members of political parties voted for were the candidates that those states’ delegates had to elect as the nominee at the National Convention. Unfortunately, by 1912 most states had not yet started holding primaries and though Roosevelt won more primaries and delegates than Taft the nomination still went to the incumbent President. However this did highlight the importance of presidential primary laws.

In fact Woodrow Wilson -who beat Taft- called for a national primary law in 1913. Unfortunately, much like a Wile E. Coyote plan, this looked better on paper than in practice. Despite the fact that most states eventually adopted primary election laws on their books, not many states actually held primaries, mostly due to the cost associated with holding them. Also, many laws were barely binding and  state-level and national-level political bosses still continued to ignore results and nominate who they wished regardless of primary election votes. It was common for many “serious” candidates to only enter into just one or two primaries in the country to “gauge” their popularity, but not because it helped them get nominated. In fact, there was even an odd loophole where state-level political figures like Governors could enter their own state’s primary and get elected as that state’s nominee, just so they could go to the National Convention and become one of the power players that got to decide who the party’s next nomination actually went to.

In 1952 Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver won 64% of the votes cast in the -then- 16 states that held primaries and still lost the Democratic nomination to Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, on the other hand, won less than 2%of all primary votes. In all fairness though, whoever won the nomination was destined to be torn to shreds in the Tasmanian Devil-like whirlwind that was the “I Like Ike” tornado. As a side note, that was also the first presidential election to start using TV advertisements, though they were a little different from the ones we know today.

The System Get Humphrey-ed
Everything came to a head at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. To say that the convention turned into a war-zone may be a bit over an overstatement, but only slightly, and just because making such a statement would mean that you would have to draw a direct comparison with the actual war-zone that was taking place on the other side of the world in Vietnam. Basically, tensions were running high. Chicago at the time was probably not the best place to hold the convention. The weather was sweltering, the cab driver union was on strike, the entire city was on edge, and the front entrances had to be bullet-proofed for fear of violence. Police, secret service, and the National Guard were all on standby and the convention center was ringed with barbed wire fencing. It di not help that Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had both been assassinated within the past 4 months, and more than 100 cities were were suffering from race-related and anti-war rioting.

It was in this atmosphere that Hubert H. Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson’s Vice-President, beat out Senator Eugene McGovern for the nomination. The problem with this nomination was two-fold. Humphrey had chosen to sit out the primaries and thus had received almost no primary votes, and secondly he was a proponent of LBJ’s Vietnam War agenda. He was literally the pro-war candidate. McGovern, on the other hand, was a strong populace candidate that did well in the primaries and was an actively anti-war candidate. When Humphrey won it seemed like a betrayal of the democratic process, and the trust of the people.

Meanwhile, the convention center was surrounded by protesters, everyone from hippies to civil rights activists to middle-income Americans. They were all looking for change in a world that must have felt like it was falling apart around them. 10,000 demonstrators were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen. Security was on such high alert that at one point Dan Rather got roughed up by police while trying to interview a Georgia Senator. Violence was inevitable, and on August 28 hundreds were seriously injured in a massive riot; and not just protesters and police, but news reporters, political volunteers, legislative aides, and countless bystanders who got caught up in the mayhem. After the convention there was a massive outcry for a change to the primary electoral system.

Here He Comes, Mr. America
Starting in the 1972 election cycle the states and both parties enacted the reforms of McGovern-Fraser, a commission on primary election reform. The rules made primaries easier to participate in and did away with rules like “winner-takes-all” delegates. The change essentially made primary elections the established way to pick nominees for President, and it is the system we still use today. Unfortunately, it has also led to the two-year long beauty pageant that are the modern primary elections.

The way the current system functions means that candidates have to announce their intentions of running years in advance and start securing delegates in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. In that past, candidates had the luxury of waiting to announce their candidacy, even up to less than a year prior to the actual Presidential Election. In fact in the days of Lincoln it was considered immodest to campaign for a nomination at all, or even the Presidency. William McKinley literally stayed home during his Presidential race, and gave speeches from his front porch. The new system also gives greater weight to certain states over others, which is why you constantly have states trying to move their primary elections ahead of others to gain greater attention from candidates.

Regardless of whether you agree with the old system or the new you have to admit that our nominating process has never been perfect. In fact, looking back it has always seemed more like the plot of a Warner Bros. cartoon than any actual serious political discourse, but it is the best we have so far. The fun thing about the primary election cycle is that it is not in the Constitution. Those original framers never envisioned this, and thus it keeps changing to match the times. So in fifty years there will be no telling what sort of new provisions may come about. Who knows maybe one day we’ll be seeing the Presidential Physical Challenge.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks…

We interrupt your regularly scheduled NYRD articles so that we can talk about the elephant in the room, the one wearing the bad toupee and worth several billion dollars. Donald Trump is still leading in the Republican Primaries, with 24% of registered Republicans saying they will vote for him as their candidate. Make no mistake, this lead is not happening despite the horrible and shocking things he has said about immigration, Mexicans, women and other topics. No, his current lead is very much because of those things. Even worse the “Trump Effect” is now something that other GOP candidates are trying to embrace in order to get noticed, and we here at The NYRD are looking for someone to blame. Thankfully -like the answers to all great questions in life- we only have to look to our television sets to find it.

The sad truth is that we are no longer watching a serious public debate on policy and issues. Instead, we are watching America’s Top Candidate, a reality show being orchestrated and run by none other than the Celebrity Apprentice himself, Donald “Screw You and Your Ovaries” Trump. There is a reason that the media and the public cannot seem to get enough of Trump, no matter how much we try. It is because our brains are now hardwired to be dangerously addicted to reality TV, and The Great Orange Blowhard knows how to give everyone exactly what they want, fake reality.

Celebrity Rehab
Reality shows and the drama they give us are a drug. According to studies conducted at Ohio University people watch reality TV to feel better about themselves, and to escape the pressures of their own world. The same could be said about chocolate, but like chocolate, too much is a bad thing, and we might all be heading toward sugar overload. No, that is a bad analogy. Reality TV is not like alcohol or drugs, two substances we indulge in to forget our troubles, they are more like an addiction we use to reinforce our own self image.

As human being you have a few tactics for feeling better about your life. You can exercise, learn something, help someone in need, or make some other positive change in your world. However, another and quicker way to get a self-esteem boost is to compare yourself to someone who may not have it as “together” as you do, and unless you are actually staring on the next season of The Bachelor, than that’s probably 95% of all people on reality TV. Thus, watching reality TV is not so much about entertainment as it is about a quick fix of superiority, mixed with the same sort of morbid fascination you might have while watching a slow train derailment.

Reality TV is like potato chips. There is not a lot of nutrients but it still fills a hole. You do not even need to leave the couch, but know that this “hole” is something that only reality TV can fill. Shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Breaking Bad, will never satisfy the same need. Even worse, like any addiction, the more you feed into the hole, the bigger it gets.

In other words, when watching contestants eat bugs for money stops being satisfying, you may then have to graduate to two middle aged women fist-fighting, then to two washed up celebrities screaming at one another, because sometimes both Terrell Owens and Gilbert Gottfried want to work for Donald Trump. That last sentence, by the way, is so unfathomably against the laws of nature, that somewhere a kitten just died. The point is, that watching reality shows is more about the strange satisfaction we get, than it is about any substance that might be within the show.

Even shows like House Hunters which is not about seven Italian stereotypes being way too Italian on the shores of New Jersey, still has elements of this. There is something strangely satisfying about watching a placid pale couple make totally outrageous demands, or be unrealistic in their expectations, or even make a decision to buy a house that is out of their price range. We know that you, our dear viewer, would probably never spend more on a house than you could afford, except that 52% of you do. Well, at least you can still judge them for that stupid haircut they have.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians
Humans become numb to new experiences pretty quickly. It’s why we keep building faster roller-coasters, bigger movie explosions, newer iPhones, and Charlie Sheen. Similarly, reality TV feels the same pressure to keep topping itself, but we are reaching a point of absurdity. Compare the two commercials below:


In case you hadn’t guessed it, the one on the top is a fake reality show from 30 Rock. The second one  is an actual reality show from… sigh… the Discovery Channel. There were also numerous other examples we could have shown you, including a reality show on WE TV where couples have sex in a box in front of a live audience, aptly titled Sex Box. We also could have point to a reality show where thirty women are tricked into thinking they are competing for a chance to marry Prince Harry in I Wanna Marry Harry, because apparently making all the bad guys in Star Wars have British accents wasn’t quite insulting enough. We could also mention Sister Wives, a reality show that follows a family that boasts three wives and one husband, because polygamy is still a thing and apparently warrants its own TV show. The real reality shows are beginning to look more absurd than the fake reality shows that other TV and movies come up with to make fun of them. When did we start living in a Mel Brooks’ movie?

The Biggest Loser
Remember when we brought up It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Breaking Bad? You may have noticed that those are also shows about people who make less than moral choices in their lives. Yet, we do not get the same self-esteem boost from them as we do from reality TV shows. Our brains react to fictional shows different than supposed “reality” shows. We see those dramas or comedies and we learn to “suspend our belief.” We willingly enter into an agreement where everyone involved agrees that it is fake. Thus, self-esteem-wise, we do not compare ourselves to Mac, Dee, Charlie, and Dennis because even though they are horrible human beings, our brains still understand that they are fictional. We look at their antics and say, “That’s funny because no real person would act like that.” Reality shows, on the other hand, give an illusion of truth even when most of them have a credited writer attached.

Reality shows are just as fake as fictional shows. Most episodes are constructed from careful editing combined with producer prompted answers and situations. If you don’t believe us, read Cracked’s account of one of the stars on the show, Kid Nation, which was basically TV’s attempt at making Lord of the Flies. Producers had to goad the kids into turning on each other, basically teaching them how to aim for the little knee caps. This blurring between fiction and reality can be dangerous, and the amount of violence and aggression on reality shows is only rising. Producers may not always directly instigate the problems but they certainly know how to exploit things like alcohol and other situations to gently nudge people and situations in the direction that will get the most ratings.

Remember how there was always someone on TV claiming that their child put his eye out because he was imitating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or GI Joe? Remember how parents protested that kids imitated violent video games and comic books? Remember when people raised hell over others imitating reality TV shows? Oh, you don’t remember that? Us neither, but it turns out that reality TV show imitation is way more dangerous than a six year old swinging around a dish rag and calling it a nunchuck.

A study conducted between 2002 and 2006, showed that crime rates rose in Laguna Beach during the years the reality show Laguna Beach was airing, as opposed to a demographically similar California beach town which saw crime rates fall in accordance with falling national crime rates during the same time period. Similarly, between 2008 and 2011, the crime rate of the Jersey Shore town, Seaside Heights, rose steadily. Coincidently, MTV’s Jersey Shore aired from 2009 to 2012. The basic assumption becomes, “Those people on TV get away with it all the time, in the same town. So why can’t I?”

When a show aims to convince people that what they are watching is the “truth,” then those people start seeing their own lives very differently. Now, we are not claiming that sixteen year old girls are going out to get pregnant so they can be the next Teen Mom, except that they might be, but more and more people are starting to glamorize and sympathize the self-indulgence and bad behavior witnessed on these shows. Other studies have even linked reality TV with an increase in fighting and an increase in plastic surgery, with “87% of all first time plastic surgery patients… influenced by reality TV.”

The Real World
Reality TV warps people’s perceptions. Let’s go back to the example of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In that fictional show, whenever Charlie and the gang do something horrible it often ends up having consequences, as do most fictional shows. Even Seinfeld and the gang went to jail because they were basically all horrible people, but what are the consequences of reality TV?

The biggest schemer often wins the prize, whether that be immunity or the Bachelor. The more a horrible a “real housewife” you are, the more likely you will find some modicum of celebrity status in the real world. The Teen Moms are now rich tabloid celebrities. In a world of Facebook and Twitter there is no more bad press. Sex tapes are not something to be ashamed of anymore, they are springboards to stardom, riches, and your own perfume line.

So what message do people get when they see all this? “Behave badly. Get Noticed,” A study done at the State University of New York crunched the numbers and found that there is a significant correlation between the amount of reality TV consumed by a person and the amount of “self-disclosure” that person posts to the Internet. Reality TV tells people that airing their dirty laundry in public is not only normal but be beneficial. So in a way, we have begun to associate poor behavior with not just success and celebrity, but the traits of a winner.

American Idol
Enter Donald Trump, a man who is never been afraid of the limelight or of making himself look like a fool. The man is no stranger to reality TV. The Apprentice has been on the air for 14 seasons, giving Trump a platform for his own special brand of obnoxious buffoonery. The GOP Primary is just the next step up in a larger arena of public spectacle, and perhaps even the next logical one.

Maybe it was only a matter of time before our reality TV influenced our reality. After all, what is a Presidential race, other than one long reality show. Maybe Trump is just giving everyone what they secretly want. He insults Mexicans and everyone takes notice. He insults women and all the other candidates get pushed aside. He acts like a clueless idiot and he takes over the GOP debate. He is playing right into the kind of expectations we would have for a contestant on shows like Survivor or Big Brother and that is bad. It lowers our national conversation, makes us look like idiots on an international stage, but worst of all, keep in mind that when it comes to reality TV, those are the type of people who often win.