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Gordon Campbell on Rubio’s last stand, and Sleater-Kinney

Gordon Campbell on Rubio’s last stand, and tonight’s Sleater-Kinney show

Well, it certainly was entertaining to watch Rubio succeed in getting under Donald Trump’s skin the other day, in the last debate before tomorrow’s Super Tuesday multi-state sweepstakes. This exchange was particularly on point in attacking Trump’s CEO –in-the-White House schtick:

“If you hadn’t inherited $200 million, you’d be selling watches on the streets of Manhattan,” Rubio told Trump. Trump tried to counter by claiming that his father only gave him $1 million in start-up money, but Rubio’s eye-roll and the audience’s audible gasps clearly indicate who won that point.

Also liked the crack that if Trump built his promised immigration wall in the same way that he built Trump Tower, he’d be doing it with migrant labour. But the deadly news wasn’t so much that - next morning - Trump’s poll numbers remained undented, nationwide. The real killer for Rubio was that the most recent poll from Florida which shows him losing his home state to Trump by a huge margin in the primary due on March 15. An inability to beat Trump even on his home turf would be the final blow to Rubio as the erstwhile champion of the anti-Trump Republican establishment.

Few will shed tears over Rubio. Supposedly, this outcome will eventually be good for the Democrats, since Team Hillary has always regarded Rubio as a more dangerous opponent – in a one on one debate – than Trump. Personally, I’m not so sure. Would Clinton be any more capable of halting the Trump bandwagon than any of the other credibility obstacles that the pundits thought would derail Trump, long before now? Like Trump, Clinton is a polarising figure. Moreover, she is facing a possible criminal indictment by the FBI/Justice Department over her mishandling of national security information on her unsecured email account.

For now, the last, best hope for the anti-Trump forces - ie, the rest of the world – are the demographic realities of the US voting population, which are spelled out here.

Briefly, Trump would reportedly need to inspire a 10 % surge among white voters to get over the line. That would be a hard ask, given how Trump has polarized the Republican Party. Ultimately, the party establishment and many of its activists may prefer to lose one election than hand the GOP over to someone who has regularly declared himself to be an enemy of the party that he now seeks to lead.

Thankfully, the US voting public simply also isn’t as white as it used to be. In 1980, 80 % of US voters were white; today, only 63% are, according to this American Enterprise/Brooking Institution study.

For obvious reasons, Trump is going to have major problems winning the non-white voting public. True, Hispanic voters did come out for George W. Bush in 2004, but that was a rare exception. In 2008 and 2012, Hispanics went strongly for the Democrats. A Trump candidacy would galvanise Latino voters, given (a) his intention to build an anti-immigration wall (b) his depiction of Mexicans as rapists and criminals and (c) his enthusiasm for deporting non-naturalised residents. Clinton also has (somewhat inexplicably) a strong support base among black voters. Here’s how US News and World Report summarised the American Enterprise/Brooking findings :

If Americans vote pretty much the same way they did in 2008 and 2012, the Democratic nominee will win this fall by a greater margin than Obama did in those years, largely because of the increase in Latino voters…

If Americans vote (by demographics) similarly to 2004 (when Bush did very well among Hispanics), Democrats eke out a razor-thin win, according to the modeling, because there is a bigger Latino vote now. If turnout increases among Latinos and Asians, Democrats would win the popular vote by more than 6 percent. Even if Republicans are given a 15-point swing in votes from Hispanics and Asians, Democrats still win, the report said, albeit by just 2.5 percent.

The only voter demographic model that has the Republican prevailing is [within] the "Donald Trump dream scenario" – one in which white voter turnout increases by 10 percentage points. But that scenario also presumes there would be no accompanying increase in the Latino turnout.

Keep in mind that those percentages are nationwide, and the Electoral College breakdown in particular states is what is relevant. Even there, the Enterprise/Brookings study has good news for the Democrats. So… better hope that Clinton isn’t indicted. Because Bernie Sanders – despite his many other merits – has nothing like the same pull as Clinton has among black voters, and fares only slightly better than that among Hispanic voters, nationwide.

Footnote: The other good story from the campaign trail last week? It would have to be the one about the comedy show that sent out fake ‘blonde Fox News robots’ to interview Trump fans at some of his rallies:

Not surprisingly, no matter what the fake reporters said, the supporters of Trump were more than happy to go along with it. “Donald Trump announced plans to sterilize Puerto Ricans, until quote ‘until we figure this thing out,'” one reporter told a Trump partisan. “What do you think of this statement?”

“I don’t know,” one camouflage-bedecked Trumpeter replied, “I think he’s just saying what everyone else believes.”

Sleater-Kinney, Slight Return

Tonight, Sleater-Kinney are playing the Powerstation in Auckland. Doing the math… it will be just over 10 years since their January 2006 gig at the Kings Arms, and 13 years after the two shows I saw on consecutive nights at the same venue in December 2002, and exactly 17 years and six days since they released their fourth album, The Hot Rock. To some of us, this stuff is holy writ. Or like a whole bucket of stars, dumped into the universe…

Now though, it is 2016. That means the people who were born the same year The Hot Rock came out are now almost old enough to vote. This tour is, I guess, a confirmation of the community that this band has fostered, and that they darn near brought into existence all on their own, with help from Kathleen Hanna and a few others to boot. Confirming a community is different to creating one - just as affirming love is different to winning that love in the first place. The challenges and satisfactions feel quite different, for them and their fan base.

Tonight the challenge for Sleater-Kinney is to do honour to a collective spirit they’ve always fought ( occasionally among themselves) to embody. This is a great, great live band. On stage, Janet, Carrie, and Corin create something way beyond what they could ever do as individuals. I’ve cited these comments by Tom Breibart before., but they perfectly express what those two nights during the One Beat tour in 2002 had felt like:

Man, Sleater-Kinney were just a machine by the time they made One Beat: Carrie Brownstein’s flirty sidelong yip bouncing off Corin Tucker’s open-throated roar, riffs tangling themselves up with each other, fiery hooks exploding out of nowhere. They were in that rare zone where all members of the band knew instinctively how to make each other better, where everyone is in some freaky telepathic alchemical headspace. And that’s where they needed to be; in a way, the band’s entire existence was just lead-up to One Beat. The band recorded the album in the immediate wake of two events: September 11 and the birth of Corin Tucker’s first baby. And all those years of greatness make the band uniquely suited to embody the anxiety and rage and joy and fear and longing of earth-shaking events like those, personal or universal. Whether they were furiously protecting their homes or losing themselves in the adrenaline rush of their own music, this was the moment where this band felt huge enough to swallow the universe…

Even so, the January 2006 King Arms show (when they were touring behind the metal sturm and drang of The Woods album) was even better; it invited chaos while just managing to walk the line. Though no-one in the audience that night realised it, this tour was a swan song. In an interview I did with Carrie Brownstein at the time, she explained that Corin Tucker's son was now about to go to school, which meant he could no longer be brought along on tour with the band, and that was something they hadn’t been able to resolve. So, for ten years, they put Sleater-Kinney on indefinite hold. Now they’re back, with an album last year that was still recognisably them. Interestingly, it was less like The Woods – which while great, had been a traumatic, unrepeatable experiment – and more like the poppier hook-laden One Beat.

So basically… if you possibly can, you should try to make it to the Powerstation tonight. Here, from last year, is the NPR concert. It begins with the spring-coiled “Price Tag” track from the new album, and then heads into “Start Together” … the opening cut from that album that came out 17 years (and six days!) ago. Starting together, all over again.

Come so far, come close together
Don't tear apart what we worked for

Right or wrong, here we are
I wanna know what you are


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