Monday, February 29, 2016

If Twitter Had Existed On July 4th, 1826, John Adams Would Have Tweeted: "That Rando, Jefferson, Still Lives."

Today's 'toon from Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) sent this geezer=blogger to the Urban Dictionary for a definition of "randos" — "A bunch of random people." Obviously, this is Twitter-speak and Tom Tomorrow mocks it. If this is a (fair & balanced) end-of-life scene, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Life... Wasted?
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2016 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Today, Another Dose Of Anti-Trump Vaccine

Again, this blogger apologizes for the "All Trump, All The Time" recent offerings in this blog. No, you did not mistakenly click on the Faux News or CNN sites. Full disclosure: this blogger hates Der Trumpster (and his supporters) and he's sorry there aren't more of 'em. However, it is what it is. Yesterday, Eags pointed to Der Trumpster's sleep disorder as alarming and today, Don Juan Cole of the University of Michigan points to the neo-Fascist elements of the Trump Phenomenon. If this is a (fair & balanced) account of the growing malignancy in the body politic

[x informed COMMENT]
How the US Went Fascist: Mass media Makes excuses For Trump Voters
By John Ricardo I. "Juan" Cole

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The rise of Donald Trump to the presumptive Republican standard bearer for president in 2016 is an indictment of, and a profound danger to the American republic.

The Founding Fathers were afraid of the excitability of the voters and their vulnerability to the appeal of demagogues. That is the reason for a senate (which was originally appointed), intended to check those notorious hotheads in Congress, who are elected from districts every two years.

But it isn’t only the checks and balances in government that are necessary to keep the republic. It is the Fourth Estate, i.e. the press, it is the country’s leaders, and the general public who stand between the republic and the rise of a Mussolini.

The notables have been shown to be useless. Donald Trump should have been kicked out of the Republican Party the moment he began talking about violating the Constitution. The first time he hinted about assaulting the journalists covering his rallies, he should have been shown the door. When he openly advocated torture (‘worse than waterboarding’), he should have been ushered away. When he began speaking of closing houses of worship, he should have been expelled. He has solemnly pledged to violate the 1st, 4th and 8th Amendments of the Constitution, at the least. If someone’s platform is unconstitutional, it boggles the mind that a major American party would put him or her up for president. How can he take the oath of office with a straight face? The party leaders were afraid he’d mount a third-party campaign. But who knows how that would have turned out? Someone with power needs to say that Trump is unacceptable and to define him out of respectable politics, the same way David Duke is treated (Trump routinely retweets Duke fellow-travellers).

Then there is the mass media. As Amy Goodman has pointed out, corporate television has routinely pumped Trump into our living rooms. They have virtually blacked out Bernie Sanders. Trump seems to have connived to have 10 or 15 minutes at 7:20 every evening on the magazine shows, such as Chris Matthews’ "Hardball," who obligingly cut away to Il Duce II’s rants and gave away his show to him on a nightly basis.

Not long ago, extremely powerful television personalities and sportscasters were abruptly fired for saying things less offensive than Trump’s bromides. Don Imus was history for abusive language toward women basketball players. But Trump’s strident attack on Megyn Kelly as a menstruating harridan was just allowed to pass. Jimmy ‘the Greek’ Snyder was fired by CBS for saying African-Americans were ‘bred’ to be better athletes. But Trump issued a blanket characterization of undocumented Mexican labor migrants as rapists, thieves and drug dealers. Of course this allegation is untrue.

I watched the Nevada caucus coverage on MSNBC and was appalled at the discourse. One reporter tried to assure us that Trump voters were not actually voting for racism and bullying politics, they were just upset. But polling in South Carolina demonstrated that Trump voters were significantly to the right of most Republicans on some issues. In SC, 38% of Trump voters wished the South had won the Civil War, presumably suggesting that they regretted the end of slavery.

Another MSNBC reporter helpfully explained that Trump voters feel that ‘political correctness’ has gone too far. But what does Trump mean by ‘political correctness’? He means sexism and racism. So what is really being said is that Trump supporters resent that sexist and racist discourse and policies have been banned from the public sphere. There is ample proof that Trump’s use of ‘political correctness’ identifies it with sexist and racist remarks and actions.

Yet another asserted that ‘some of’ Trump’s positions ‘are not that extreme.’ Exhibit A was his praise for Planned Parenthood. But he wants to outlaw abortion, i.e. overturn the current law of the land, which is extreme. (A majority of Americans support the right to choose, so he is in a minority).

Chris Matthews explained to us that people hoped he would do something for the country rather than for the government.

But Trump has made it very clear that he is not interested in a significant proportion of the people in the country. He is a white nationalist, and his message is that he will stand up for white Christian people against the Chinese, the Mexicans, and the Muslims. Just as Adolph Hitler hoped for an alliance with Anglo-Saxon Britain on racial grounds (much preferring it to the less white Italy), the only foreign leader Trump likes is the ‘white’ Vladimir Putin. That he won the evangelical vote again in Nevada is helpful for us in seeing that American evangelicalism itself is in some part a form of white male chauvinist nationalism and only secondarily about religion.

By the way, the idea that Trump won the Latino vote in Nevada is nonsense. In one of a number of fine interventions at MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out that something on the order of 1800 Latinos voted in the Nevada GOP caucuses, of whom perhaps 800 voted for Trump, i.e. 44% of this tiny group. Trump lost the vote of even this small group of hard right Latinos, since 56% of them voted for someone else.

There are 800,000 Latinos in the state of Nevada (pop. 2.8 million). In 2012, 70 percent of Latinos voted for Barack Obama, while Mitt Romney got 25%. My guess is that Trump can’t do as well among them as Romney did.

It has been a dreadful performance by the press and by party leaders. They are speaking in such a way as to naturalize the creepy, weird and completely un-American positions Trump has taken.

This is how the dictators came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Good people remained silent or acquiesced. [additional emphasis supplied] People expressed hope that something good would come of it. Mussolini would wring the laziness out of Italy and make the trains run on time.

When Benjamin Franklin was asked by a lady after the Constitutional Convention what sort of government the US had, he said, “A Republic, Madame, if you can keep it.”

You have to wonder if we can keep it. Ω

[This article was first published on Juan Cole's blog, informedCOMMENT. John Ricardo I. "Juan" Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. As a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, he has appeared in print and on television, and testified before the United States Senate. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, "informedCOMMENT." Cole earned a BA (history and literature of religions) at Northwestern University. In 1978, he took an MA (Arabic studies/history) at American University in Cairo. Cole's PhD (Islamic studies) was awarded by the University of California at Los Angeles. His most recent book is The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East (2015).]

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

At The Risk Of Turning This Blog Into A Cable-News Channel, Here Is A Plausible Interpretation Of The Trump Phenomenon

Albert Einstein failed to discover his "unified field theory," But Eags (Timothy Egan) may have uncovered the best explanation of the Trump phenomenon. Der Trumpster has proclaimed his love of The Dickster's torture regimen, especially waterboarding. However, Eags has given us another aspect of the torture regimen that Der Trumpster self-inflicts. Just as the models/beauty pageant contestants that Der Trumpster admires are often plagued by self-inflicted eating disorders, Der Trmpster self-inflicts another compulsive behavior: sleep-deprivation. Of course, the Dumbos/Teabaggers are science-deniers, so Eags' citation of scientific truth about sleep-deprivation will be sloughed off by the science deniers. However (as the old joke goes), if the Foo $hits, you just gotta wear it. If this is a (fair & balanced) cognitive behavioral diagnosis, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
A Unified Theory Of Trump
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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In trying to explain Donald Trump and his hostile takeover of the Republican Party, people have trotted out a host of character disorders. Narcissist. Racist. Bully. Buffoon. Tyrant. Liar. Celebrity obsessive. Fact-denier. You’ve heard them all, and they all apply, in varying degrees.

But as we now must imagine what it would be like to have Trump’s short fingers on the nuclear weapon controls, consider another explanation for the dangerous man most likely to represent the Party of Lincoln — sleep deprivation.

If you actually take him at his word, the billionaire who will be 70 years old in a few months gets by on barely half the amount of sleep recommended for a healthy life. He says he needs only three or four hours, and sometimes just 90 minutes.

Sleep deprivation, we know, can make you cranky and temperamental, and throw off judgment. The severely sleep-deprived are more impulsive, less adaptable and prone to snappish decisions, and they have trouble listening to others. They miss out on essential REM time, which allows people to process emotions and events in their lives. Smaller things set them off.

“You know, I’m not a big sleeper,” Trump said last November. “I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.”

Trump’s defenders — those who are historically literate — might point to the short nights of accomplished leaders as a defense. Five hours, max, was often reported as the typical slumber for President Bill Clinton. Winston Churchill was in the same league, though he took a lengthy late-afternoon nap, aided by his customary whiskey and water.

There are, in fact, a number of brilliant, driven people who function well with a bare amount of rest. Donald Trump is not one of them. He shows all the scary symptoms of sleep deprivation. His judgment is off, and almost always ill informed. He has trouble processing basic information. He imagines things. He shows a lack of concentration. He’s easily distracted. All of the above are disorder symptoms listed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

You saw all this in Thursday night’s debate. “Be quiet, let me talk,” he snapped at Marco Rubio. The shouting, the eye-rolling, the repetition of nonsensical pablum, the odd words (“bigly” when he meant hugely) — it was all there. And again, the delusions: “I will do really well with Hispanics.”

In addition, Trump is given to sudden, inchoate bursts of anger and profanity. He creates feuds. In his speeches, he picks up on the angry voice in the mob and then amplifies it.

When I see his puffy eyes and face, I don’t see a man who will carefully weigh all the facts and consequences of an action that could affect everyone on the planet. I see an impulsive, vainly insecure person who cannot shut his mind down for a night.

In just the last couple of weeks, we saw flashes of these symptoms, the irritability and inability to process things. After the lights briefly went down during a speech in South Carolina, Trump accused “the dishonest press” of being behind it. Then, when the lights came back on, he led his followers in a chant of “Turn off the lights.” It was bizarre.

After a protester interrupted his speech in Nevada, Trump said, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” The crowd roared. Trump continued. “You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.” At an earlier event this year, he said a protester should be thrown into the cold without a coat.

Absent the minimum resting time needed to process things, Trump impulsively passes on what he’s heard without checking it. He retweeted completely bogus crime statistics about blacks. He also fanned the conspiracy wackos, who are legion among his followers, regarding the death of Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court. He questioned Senator Marco Rubio’s legal eligibility to be president. Pressed on the last claim, Trump shrugged.

“Honestly, I’ve never looked at it,” he said. “Somebody said he’s not, I retweeted it.” Regarding Scalia’s death, he gave a similar dodge for why he implied foul play: “I literally just heard it a little while ago.”

He stated as fact a much-debunked story about General John J. Pershing dipping bullets in pig’s blood to put down a Muslim insurrection in the Philippines. In all, PolitiFact has rated 77 percent of his statements as mostly false, false or pants-on-fire lies.

Here is a man who couldn’t see the Nigerian Internet money scheme for the fraud that it is, let alone sift through complex intelligence information in advance of a military strike.

Trumps [sic] forgets what he said, as in his earlier support of the Iraq war. “I really don’t know what I mean,” he explained. And he makes things up — remember those thousands of American Muslims cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center towers — to the point of hallucination, a possible side effect of extreme sleep deprivation.

“Clearly, your brain doesn’t work very well when you’re sleep deprived,” Dr. Steven Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine, told the website Live Science.

The media critic Jack Shafer says Trump is “everybody’s loopy uncle, constantly repeating and asserting the most spurious and sensational misinformation.” But the uncle is largely harmless, so long as he sits in the corner and babbles to himself. Imagine him as president, chronically sleep deprived, and you’ve got the probable 2016 Republican nominee. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Today, This Blog Takes You Where Brain, Body, And Nutrition Intersect

The only thing this blogger knows about gastronomy — forget neurogastronomy — is that he is a see-food eater. When he sees food, he eats it. After reading Maria Konnikova's essay, you may have a better grasp as to why some foods taste good and others taste yucky. If this is a (fair & balanced) introduction to neurogastronomy, so be it.

[x NR]
Altered Tastes
By Maria Konnikova

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The light in the room softly brightened and grew warmer, yellower, somehow more embracing. A quiet rustling—wind through leaves?—reached my ears. A white mist covered the table, carrying with it, somehow, the smell of damp earth after a late summer storm, and the promise of the mushrooms which would bloom in its wake. At the center of my table: a cylindrical terrarium-like enclosure filled with layers of soft green moss, soil, and broken branches, complete with a miniature tree. A plate was silently placed in front of me, or rather, a dark brown platform of what looked at first to be sod (actually a mixture of beetroot and mushroom powder with truffle), adorned with bursts of yellow pollen (a compact butter with truffle, root vegetables, and salt), anchored by a crinkled log (potato-starch paper covered in smoked salt, powdered mushroom, and porcini), punctuated by tiny green leaves (fig leaves), and at the bottom, a thin layer of mushrooms (button, anchored by a mushroom stock jelly). Beneath all this theatricality was an undeniably delicious dish. Even today, I recall its flavor and think of these as the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, though, in fact, I’ve consumed ones both more rare and more expensive. A map, which serves as a sort of menu for the Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s three-starred Michelin restaurant in Bray, England—one of only four in the country—described this dish as “damping through the boroughgroves.” Presumably, no mome raths would be consumed.

It was mid-October, and the Fat Duck, one of England’s best-known modernist restaurants, had just reopened after a nine-month hiatus and a $3.6 million redesign and reconceptualization. “It was time for a change,” the 49-year-old Blumenthal told me as we walked the restaurant. Blumenthal—one of the leading chefs in the world, a constant presence on global best-of culinary lists, and the host of several television shows in England—is a towering figure in his chef’s whites and thick, black-framed glasses, equal parts cook, linebacker, and fast-talking salesman. It’s difficult not to get swept up in his exuberance. Of course it was time for a change, and of course the changes were incredible. “We’d been going so fast for so long that we couldn’t keep up with all of these exciting advances happening outside the kitchen. It was time to rethink.” And so, while a pop-up carried on the restaurant’s name in Melbourne, Australia, Blumenthal and his team continued working, only instead of serving customers, they invented new dishes, conducted experiments, and devoted themselves to creating a dining experience on the frontier of gastronomic science, a place where brain, body, and nutrition intersect.

The Fat Duck’s map wasn’t a menu in the traditional sense. It offered few clues to each dish’s contents, and the dishes themselves often appeared to be more Wonderland-like flights of whimsy than actual food. I was treated to Mock Turtle’s soup (complete with the White Rabbit’s gold watch); March Hare’s tea (the “itinerary” included with Blumenthal’s map reads, for this dish: “Excuse me, there seems to be a rabbit in my tea”); and a (literally) floating dessert concoction marked “counting sheep.” Lewis Carroll served as an inspiration, Blumenthal said, a means to stimulate the “fun” and “curiosity” that he feels should be part of any food experience. But the intention behind the food was quite serious. Blumenthal was trying to persuade people to engage with food in a fundamentally new way, one that is both physiological and emotional. “It’s not just about the food,” he said. “It’s the ebb and flow of the story, the look and feel of the room, the temperature, all that.”

The Fat Duck is operated along the principles of neurogastronomy, an emerging scientific field that examines how our sense of taste is interpreted and reinterpreted by the brain. The term itself was coined about a decade ago by Gordon Shepherd, a neurobiologist at Yale, who has been studying the science of olfaction for more than half a century. His research has shown that flavor, a complicated and little-understood concept, does not originate in what we eat, but in what our minds derive from the experience. “Our sensory and motor appreciation of what we have in our mouth is created by the brain,” he said. “We can’t have gastronomy without it.”

This is the overarching principle that guides neurogastronomy: What we eat and why we eat it is as much a psychological phenomenon as a physical one. Throughout most of history, eating has been understood as a primitive human characteristic, an evolutionary necessity, the stuff of base survival instinct. This perception turns out to be far too simplistic. The more we learn about flavor, the more we realize just how easy it is to manipulate. Not just by the overclocked sensations of processed food, but in ways that makes healthier choices seem at once tastier and more satisfying. Though most of us would like to think we have discerning palates, our taste is quite easy to fool.

When we try to imagine the flavor of something, we tend to focus on our mouth—the experience of placing, say, a ripe strawberry on our tongue. But that, in fact, is taste, and though we tend to conflate it with flavor, a vast chasm exists between the two. Taste is an experience composed of only five elements: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. Thousands of receptors on our tongue are designed to identify and respond to these elements, each one specializing in one of the five qualities. Without input from other senses—most notably our nose, but also our eyes, ears, and even hands—taste is merely a flat, single-note sensation with none of the nuance or enjoyment we associate with food in general and with specific foods in particular. Flavor is at once a broader and more powerful property than taste, one that marries the senses and their associate properties—memory, experience, neurobiology—to create and control the way we eat.

The promise that neurogastronomy holds is that once we understand how the mind combines the disparate biological and evocative forces that create flavor, we will be able to circumvent the learned and innate preferences of our taste buds. And with that capacity—truly an example of mind over matter—instead of stimulating appetite via the conventional and unhealthy trifecta of salt, sugar, and fat, we can employ the neural pathways through which flavor is constructed in the brain to divert attention to different, more nutritious foods. Control flavor and you control what we eat—and perhaps, given time and more research, begin fighting the global nutrition problems that are a direct result of the industrialized production of food.

Our preferences for salt, sugar, and fat evolved within the context of our species’ historical nutritional scarcity. These basic tastes are the echoes of prehistoric signals that saw humanity through epochs of less abundant food sources. They made sense when we were hunter-gatherers eating only what we could kill; less so, when navigating the line at the local Subway. Indeed, our basic physiological response to taste is largely innate. Give an infant something sweet and she will lick it up. If it’s bitter, she will spit it out. (Bitterness signals potential poison.) We learn to like certain complex tastes over time, but our cravings for sweetness and fattiness remain constant. And so, we continue to consume and store reserves for a hard winter that, today, never comes.

Ivan de Araujo, a neuroscientist at Yale Medical School who studies energy and reward in the brain, calls this the great conundrum of humans and food. “Why do we tend to violate homeostasis and equilibrium and eat more food than we need physiologically?” he asked me recently. “Why is there a bias in getting more energy than you’re going to expend?” The genetics of weight gain, psychological traits, and sensory perception of food are informed by these questions. When we attempt to address problems of global nutrition, we fight an uphill battle against the energy-craving and storing machine that is the human body.

These signals, rooted in evolutionary biology, have given rise to a paradox of malnourishment amid a global abundance of food. In many countries, including England and the United States, poor diet now rivals smoking as the greatest public health risk. Malnutrition does not necessarily mean lack of food but, rather, lack of proper nutrients. You can eat five meals a day and qualify as malnourished. (Case in point: Morgan Spurlock’s near-lethal experiment in "Supersize Me.") When it comes to certain nutrients, in fact, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of obese individuals are malnourished. (The same percentage holds for non-obese individuals.) Globally, more than 600 million adults and 42 million children under the age of five are obese. Alongside the rise in weight, we’ve seen a corresponding increase in diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other diet-related problems. In the United States, more than a quarter of the population suffers from some form of metabolic syndrome or illness. Nutrition, in many ways, is the great public health battle of our times.

It’s more than just the descent of man, of course. Modern society often perceives of health and flavor as mutually opposed. In England, I met Jozef Youssef, an energetic 34-year-old chef who splits time between research collaborations with psychologists and running Kitchen Theory, a London pop-up restaurant where he tests various scientific findings on small groups of diners—including ways to make “healthy” and “tasty” seem complementary rather than antagonistic. Youssef cited the example of a green smoothie. “We see it and we think, it’s good for you but it’s probably not enjoyable,” he said. “Why is that?” (This also works the opposite way lately, as people have been questioning exactly how healthy the overpriced green smoothies are at Whole Foods.) A study published this year in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that people tend to feel less full and eat more after consuming a food they perceive as “healthy,” even if it’s identical to one that is marked as unhealthy. For example, they will feel hungrier after a “healthy” cookie—and go on to eat more overall.

In this way, evolution and socialization are locked in unending conflict, nature and nurture conspiring to produce ever-increasing consumption of less-than-ideal foods. And indeed, past efforts to replace the salt-sugar-fat trifecta with healthier equivalents haven’t been successful. Think margarine instead of butter, saccharin replacing sugar, artificial polymers (macromolecules synthetically created in a lab) replacing the fat content of milk or ice cream. It’s your low-fat frozen yogurt, diet soda, the 100-calorie snack pack. The results, from a flavor perspective as well as a dietary one, have been underwhelming. Instead of curbing obesity and metabolic disorders, these innovations seem to have resulted in the opposite. This may, of course, be correlation rather than causation, but still—and perhaps worse—some of the substitute substances haven’t proven to be as healthful as first suggested. Companies scrambled to scrub margarine from their recipes after research showed that it was actually more harmful than the butter it replaced, while recent work from people like Dana Small, a neuropsychologist and physiologist at Yale, highlights the metabolically disruptive effects of artificial sweeteners, even ones derived from natural substances, like Splenda.

What’s more, many (most? all?) low-fat and low-sugar products don’t taste good, aren’t eaten as often as their sinful counterparts, and end up a bust both nutritionally to the customer and financially to the producer. And the consumption of the real thing keeps rising. Sugar was first introduced to the Western palate via New Guinea about 10,000 years ago. By 1800, Americans were consuming an average of seven pounds of the powder a year. Today, our consumption tops over 100 pounds. (By way of comparison, we eat about 50 pounds of beef.) Though we are drinking less soda than before—2012 production was 23 percent lower than a decade prior—people are still taking in 30 gallons of regular soda per person each year, according to New York University professor and public health advocate Marion Nestle. And things like diet soda seem to have a reverse psychological effect: New research suggests that tricking your brain into thinking it has consumed calories when it hasn’t can, over time, have a host of negative metabolic consequences, as the connection between the energy signal of sweetness and its actual energy content decouples. And so, you consume more, and even worse, you want to keep consuming more (the dreaded sweet tooth).

Why should neurogastronomy be different? Why would it succeed where basic physiological nutrition has failed? Part of the answer stems from the insight research has given into how, exactly, our bodies derive energy and flavor signals from food via the brain. It’s not about calories—that is, eliminating calories in the manner of artificial sweeteners likely won’t work. Instead, it’s a far more complex process of taste perception. It’s a growing understanding that psychology plays a more central role in the experience of eating than previously thought, a realization that we need to be fooling the brain, not the body.

In 1936, H. C. Moir, an analytic chemist from Scotland, who had worked at a baked-goods factory, presented what may be the earliest findings that show just how much our brain affects taste. He had people eat incongruously colored jellies—green-colored orange, red-colored lemon, and the like. He then had them taste chocolate-colored sponge cake, one of which was imbued with cocoa and the other with vanilla. Only one person was able to correctly identify each taste in the two tests—and over half got more than 50 percent of the answers wrong. Some of the answers given for the orange candy: almond, strawberry, black currant, and pineapple. For lemon: cherry, raspberry, strawberry, damson. Some tasters thought the chocolate biscuit was vanilla, and the vanilla, chocolate, while others volunteered coffee, orange, or even unflavored.

“The majority of those who came below 50 percent went to great pains to assure me that they were considered by their wives or mothers, or other intimates, to be unduly fastidious about their food, and were invariably able to spot milk turning well in advance of any other member of the household,” Moir wrote. “Consequently, it was obvious that the method of testing was at fault, and not the palate being tested. Further, many brought in a plea of individual idiosyncrasy in that they did not like table jellies etc., but comparatively few made this plea before the test.”

When it comes to the caloric content of food, our brains aren’t easily fooled. You can, it turns out, engineer all the low-fat polymers and artificial sweeteners you want, but they will likely not make us eat fewer calories or gain less weight: Our brain is too smart for that. In one study, de Araujo genetically engineered a group of mice so that they would no longer taste sweetness. The receptors that signal “sweet” to the brain simply didn’t function. He found that though they started off indifferent to sugar, the mice soon learned that when they were hungry, it was better to consume a solution with sugar rather than one that was all water. They had no way to distinguish the two from a sensory perspective—taste-wise, to them, they were identical—but somehow, their brains learned where the energy source lay. Soon, the rodents were consuming just as much sugar as non-modified animals. The effect was completely absent with artificial sweeteners.
 In another study, de Araujo followed up with a group of regular mice. This time, the mice were offered two sweet solutions, one with sugar, and one with artificial sweetener. The solution with the sweetener tasted sweeter—and so, one would think the more attractive of the two. And indeed, for the first day, the mice consistently drank the sweeter water. But then something happened: They began to ignore the artificial sweetener and instead focused exclusively on the real sugar solution. “Somehow the brain knows when something is purely sweet and good-tasting versus when that good taste comes along with energy,” de Araujo said. In other words, we have two separate systems that signal the value of food. It’s not just about taste; it’s about how taste is incorporated into our brain’s reward system. And artificial substitutes—ways of lowering calories while keeping their sensory qualities—simply do not work. The brain isn’t fooled. It knows real calories from the taste of calories.

Research like de Araujo’s doesn’t just show us what won’t work: It suggests what might work instead. The deeper understanding of sensory integrations gives an alternative approach to making nutritional changes to the diet: Alter rather than substitute. Use real sugar, real energy, real fats and salts and the whole gamut of flavor, but do so in lower quantities, in a way that makes the result taste good and sends actual energy signals to the brain, creating an experience that is both psychologically and physically satisfying.

On my wander through the boroughgroves at the Fat Duck, my dish wasn’t just a plate of food. It came with an abundance of theatrical effects, all of which served specific functions: My hearing was engaged—the crackle of the ground and rustle of leaves. My vision—not just the beauty of the plate but the forest mist, the mini-terrarium, the variegated effects of the lighting. (“Unique to each table,” Blumenthal pointed out. Each diner’s lighting is calibrated depending on where she finds herself on her journey at any given point.) My smell—both when I first inhale the earthiness (via orthonasal smell, or what we typically think of as smell) and after I put the first bite of the powdered-mushroom log into my mouth and exhale (by way of retronasal smell, or, as Shepherd explained, “the smell that comes internally, from behind, from our mouths into our nasal cavities”). My touch—the texture of the smooth mushroom, contrasting with the roughness of the faux bark, the crispness of the greens, the creaminess of the truffle butter. Even something I don’t usually think of as a sense—my memory—combined to put me in mind of memories of family walks through the woods. The idea is that due to the multisensory pleasure of the experience, not only will I enjoy the dish more, but I will feel more satiated after having eaten less. “When you first see it you think this guy’s taking the piss,” said Francis McGlone, head of the Somatosensory and Affective Neuroscience group at Liverpool John Moores University, and until recently, head of the food neuroscience research group at Unilever. “There’s nothing on the plate but these small portions. But you won’t leave the restaurant hungry. Because there’s so much complexity, in terms of textures, colors, tastes; it’s almost symphonic. You reach satiety faster.”

Fast food is so addictive because salt, sugar, and fat never appear together in nature. Try to imagine a naturally occurring food that is fatty, has high amounts of sugar, and is salty to boot and you’ll come up short. And so, strongly reinforcing neural pathways that were only ever meant to fire in isolation, to tell us that a food is worth eating, now activate all at once, creating an enticing, addictive cascade that is greater than the sum of its parts. In a sense, Blumenthal’s approach is doing the same thing—only using complex psychological flavor rather than purely physiological taste reinforcement.

One basic approach to this focuses on actual changes to the composition of food—ways of cooking different substances that makes them taste sweeter, saltier, or spicier than they actually are. A favorite of Blumenthal’s, which he has used successfully in the Fat Duck for more than a decade, is a method called encapsulation, in which he presents a flavor in a way that makes it seem far larger than it is. “If you think of a cup of coffee made with one ground bean, that would be really insipid,” Blumenthal suggested. But if you crunch a bean in your mouth, you suddenly have a much stronger coffee flavor, even if the cup itself is quite weak. A single whole bean can deliver a greater flavor punch than multiple beans that have been ground and brewed. The same thing happens with a spice, like coriander. Add a few seeds to a dish rather than grinding them, and suddenly, the flavor becomes much more intense even though the overall quantity of coriander goes down. “Every so often, your mouth crunches one, and there is an explosion of flavor that makes it much more interesting,” Blumenthal said.

With an encapsulation approach—a few strong bursts rather than dispersed flavor—Blumenthal has successfully reduced the salt content of multiple dishes in his restaurants. The final taste experience is just as salty overall, even though the amount of sodium has been reduced. It’s a method that one could see playing out in mass-produced items, including your beloved Doritos, fast-food fries, snack bars, cereals, even packaged meals that rely on large doses of sodium to deliver post-frozen taste. “You have fewer, larger grains of salt, and suddenly, you can deliver the same flavor, but with less,” Blumenthal told me.

Barry Green, formerly at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and now at Yale, accomplishes something similar through heat. A psychophysicist—someone who studies how physical sensations get interpreted by the brain—Green has worked on the way the thermal sensitivity of the mouth, that is, our perception of hot and cold, can affect a food’s flavor. Temperature, and specifically, temperature change, can influence how sweet we think something is. Fifteen years ago, while Green was working at Monell, a University of Michigan study found that some of the taste fibers (specialized nerve cells) in the chorda tympani nerve, one of the three cranial nerves responsible for sending taste sensations to the brain, were sensitive to temperature. The nerves responded to warm liquids much as they did to sweetness—even when there was no sugar present.

In a later study, Green called this phenomenon “thermal taste”: temperature that evokes a flavor. We have fibers that get excited when we warm them up, which might make a food or liquid taste sweeter than its sugar content warrants. One way to think about it is to picture yourself licking an ice-cream cone. The initial cold taste isn’t nearly as sweet as the flavor of the warmed ice cream once it’s back in your mouth. That finding has immediate implications for a multitude of foods. One easy way to get a sweet kick: Take sodas, juices, fruit, and whatever else out of the refrigerator.

One of Blumenthal’s signature dishes at the Fat Duck is a rabbit “tea”—actually a velouté of rabbit—that is both hot and cold. A specially engineered gel keeps the two sides separate until poured. The result is disorienting: Your tongue is hot and cold at the same time. The flavor is intense, the pleasure, surprising—and the relatively lower levels of seasoning needed to deliver a flavorful experience perhaps most surprising of all.

While it’s difficult to imagine the packaged food equivalent of dual-temperature tea, the same effect, Green pointed out, can be attained by warming something that is cold or by cooling the tongue itself so that the same food tastes relatively warmer. Two things happen physiologically when the sensation of either warming or cooling hits the tongue. In the first case, sweetness increases, while in the second, the perception of saltiness becomes more intense. In 2010, Campbell’s Soup had something of a PR disaster when it announced that it had lowered the sodium content of its soups. Customers protested that the reformulated versions didn’t taste as good, and sales fell. Yet imagine the exact same reformulation, but with the introduction of, say, a chilled soup like gazpacho. The cooling would create an enhanced salty flavor, and the soup might replace less healthful alternatives. Knowing some of the thermal principles involved in flavor perception may enable Campbell’s to create tweaks not just there, but to its hot soups, in ways that reduce sugar and salt but enhance flavor.

Another, potentially broader area of experimentation comes from olfaction. Our brains form associations between smells and tastes that, in turn, affect both how much we like a certain food and our bodies’ anticipated response to it (how our brain prepares the rest of the system for the calories it thinks it’s going to consume). Those associations can then be used to trigger the reward system even when the perceived reward is smaller than the actual one. Take vanilla. Vanilla isn’t actually sweet. It’s quite bitter. But in the Western world, we have come to associate it with sweet foods, and so, to us, it signals sweetness. When we smell it, our sweet receptors go on high alert—and the food we eat tastes sweeter than it otherwise would.

I have to imagine that some of the pungency and sheer fungal intensity of my mushroom dish comes from the olfactory tricks that punctuated it. The fog that spread over the table wasn’t just visual: It spread the scent of the moss. Throughout the meal, I could tell without looking when another table had gotten to this particular point in the dinner. The scent heralded its arrival better than anything else could. The mushroom powder on the plate further reinforced and carried the scent, so that by the time I took a bite, all my taste buds were primed for the resulting flavor. A few weeks later, Blumenthal told me he still wasn’t completely happy with the dish. “We’re still working on creating the perfect smell of the woods,” he said.

Part of my pleasure from the mushroom dish doubtless derived from the childhood associations I carry with its taste—mushroom picking with my grandfather, cooking up big skillets of freshly gathered mushrooms and onions in the early fall with the whole family. (We’re Russians, after all.) But to someone for whom that affinity is absent, or even reversed, the techniques could have detracted from rather than enhanced the experience, by concentrating the flavor so intensely. Likewise, to a non-Western palate, even something that seems as straightforward as Blumenthal’s proposed vanilla addition might backfire. Some Japanese pickled foods contain an almond-like aroma, for example, while sweet almond desserts are mostly absent. The implication here is that taste-smell associations—and the resulting preferences in food—can be changed from experience. Yes, some taste is innate, but the way we perceive it psychologically is a learned process, one that starts in the womb. In one study, newborns whose mothers had eaten food with anise during pregnancy enjoyed its scent more than those with mothers who had not. Children of mothers who drank milk flavored with carrots while pregnant were more likely to eat carrots. Adults, unlike children, are far better positioned to make mindful food choices. The fact that associations between basic tastes and non-basic smells develop so early could become a powerful way to subtly change preferences along more nutritious lines.

In the 1970s, UCLA psychologist Eric Holman discovered that certain sweetened substances could make rodents prefer certain foods by virtue of their presence. For instance, by adding a saccharin to either a banana- or almond-flavored solution, he was able to make rats prefer the taste of bananas or almonds, respectively, a process known as “flavor nutrient conditioning.” In recent years, that work has been picked up with humans. Maltodextrin, a glucose polymer, is imperceptible to most of us. It doesn’t taste sweet. In fact, it doesn’t taste like anything. For it to activate the sweet receptors in the brain, the body must first break it down into glucose. If we mix it into another food, we don’t realize there’s a sugar present, but we still develop a preference for that flavor. In one study, people who tasted foods with maltodextrin mixed in would reliably choose the flavor that had been associated with the polymer in subsequent tests. They had been trained to prefer one food over another by a sort of sensory trickery. Imagine dusting a child’s broccoli florets with maltodextrin and transforming a disliked vegetable into a favorite. Ethically questionable, yes. But also potentially quite effective at nudging children toward healthier choices at a sensitive period in life when many such choices are first formed. The end result would be a society that makes better, more nutritious choices without seeing them as a necessary evil or sensory trade-off. Broccoli would be a preferred taste, a food you choose because you’ve learned to enjoy it and find it inherently rewarding. When you went to reach for a snack, a broccoli crisp would be just as, if not more, enticing as a potato chip. “If we can find out how to do that on a large scale,” de Araujo told me, “we could completely change diet.”

The sneaky additive approach, though, is not one favored by chefs like Blumenthal. “We have enough naturally occurring flavors that we don’t do enough to exploit,” he told me. “Like MSG. It’s an old wives’ tale that it’s bad for you. It occurs naturally all the time. Tomatoes. Parmesan. Shiitake. Seaweed.” We can use natural properties to create flavor profiles that are apparent—and make other foods enjoyable by sheer association. It’s an approach that stems from stimulating other tastes that may then make a food more pleasurable by proxy. In addition to studying heat, Barry Green has worked with flavors that could have a similar effect, namely, menthol and capsaicin. The former gives the sensation of cooling your tongue. The latter, found in peppers, warms it up. In so doing, it stimulates the pain system—but in a way that can be pleasurable. Could the addition of foods that work on different neural channels from sweetness and saltiness but that stimulate the somatosensory system just as strongly help reduce the need for things like sugar and salt? “Obviously, chili pepper has become a huge part of the American diet,” Green said. “I’d love to see how that channel of input could be utilized to increase flavor when you’re decreasing things like salt and sweetness … using spice so you don’t have to have a chip that’s as salty, for instance.”

In Blumenthal’s kitchen, such approaches are evident in dishes like the Mock Turtle’s soup from the Mad Hatter’s tea party. A faux-gold watch made from gold leaf covering the equivalent of a beef and oxtail bouillon cube is placed into a teapot of water, only to dissolve into beef and oxtail stock, which is then poured over an “egg” that is actually made of rutabaga and turnip, and also flavored with mustard seeds and pickled cucumbers. The combination of spice, from both the mustard and the pickling, make the oft-ignored tubers—not many people crave rutabaga—shine in a new light, with a complexity of flavor not associated with the uniform blandness of root vegetables. “We really undervalue spice,” Blumenthal said. “But used the right way, it’s eye-opening.”

The wine in the Fat Duck’s second-floor wine cave is hidden behind a faux bookshelf. The bottles are accessible only if you know the proper title to tip off the shelves—part of the ethos of playful curiosity and discovery that permeates the whole restaurant. On the day I visited, the room was empty but for a small round table in the center. It was covered with a white tablecloth and several identical-looking glasses of wine, some white, some red. Blumenthal was running several experiments based in part on the research of Oxford psychologist Charles Spence, the first of which involved the links between dexterity and taste. Isa Bal, the Fat Duck’s sommelier, a dapper-looking man in a dark suit, instructed me to pick up a glass of white wine and take a sip.

“What does it taste like?” he asked.

“Smooth,” I replied. “A bit buttery?”

“Now pick it up with your left hand.” (I’m right-handed.)

I drank again, and it was like a different wine: sharper, crisper, more acidic. One explanation for this lies in the neural wiring of the dominant versus secondary hand. Our dominant hand is more fluent, which means the signals from it are processed more easily. If the results were strong enough, one might expect future dinners at the Fat Duck to include non-traditionally placed glass and silverware—and wait staff who instruct guests on the proper hand with which to try a certain dish or drink. It’s not a stretch to imagine such instructions appearing on food packaging: Tear open with your right hand and dig in with your left for maximal pop—or make sure to hold with your right hand for the fullest buttery feel.

Next, Isa played a series of musical tracks and had me taste wine against different songs. And indeed, with each track the taste changed. Alongside one, the white was greener, more effervescent. Along another, smoother. The music played in the Fat Duck’s dining room has been carefully chosen to match the sensory characteristics each dish is meant to convey. The “Sound of the Sea”—an ethereal plate of mackerel, octopus, and king fish covered in a rich seaweed foam and arrayed on a sand-strewn beach (the sand is made from tapioca and miso oil)—was presented with headphones that snaked their way out of a conch shell. An iPod was hidden inside, playing a collection of surf, waves, seagulls, and beach sounds.

Did the music add anything, or was it more theater in an already theatrical meal? In a series of studies to test that, Blumenthal and several collaborators had Ph.D. students eat a similar dish, listening to either barnyard or seashore sounds. They rated their enjoyment levels up to 90 percent higher with the sea soundtrack. I got another taste, so to speak, of the same phenomenon when I took part in some of the ongoing studies at Spence’s cross-modal laboratory at Oxford. A candy bar tasted sweeter alongside a piano; a jelly, more sour alongside brass. “Music changes the sensory and hedonic experience,” Janice Wang, Spence’s graduate student in charge of the experiment, explained. “The olfactory nerve is partly connected to the auditory—and the more we learn about how the senses are wired, the more we can change the experience by changing the auditory environment.”

A little more than a year ago, the Cadbury chocolate company changed the shape of one of its bars from rectangular to round. “People complained about it being sweeter,” Spence said. This was, in one sense, a marketing error—but it was also a missed opportunity. Could Cadbury’s not have reduced sugar at the same time, thereby rendering the reduction imperceptible, and thus creating a healthier candy bar? “Reducing the ingredient by some amount and changing packaging to make it neutral in the consumer’s perception is a very real goal,” Spence said. Other studies show that heavier cutlery or packaging makes a food taste better, that certain colors and contrasts can make it taste sweeter, saltier, smoother, more bitter, more sour, even that the language we use to describe it can make a difference in how it’s perceived. One can easily imagine that part of the appeal of Mast Brothers chocolate was in the packaging: What they lacked in flavor they more than made up for in artisanal-seeming wrapping. Perhaps this was also one of the reasons the blowback against them was so harsh. People felt deceived, as, in a sense, they were.

No matter how much we learn about neurogastronomy, though, a disconnect between what’s possible and what can actually be accomplished will doubtless remain. Not everyone will be happy that the sugar content of their chocolate bar has been lowered. “Innovation is really slow in food companies. It’s really difficult to get things done,” Spence told me.

About 10 years ago, Francis McGlone attempted to bring Blumenthal into Unilever, a leader in the world of FMCG, or fast-moving consumer goods, as a consultant. He felt the company would benefit immensely from the chef’s creativity. The collaboration went nowhere. “No one could agree who controlled the intellectual property,” McGlone said. “They wanted to nail him down to contain his creativity in ways he couldn’t accept. It was a missed opportunity.” He paused. “It’s very difficult to change the way these large companies go about what they do.” Theoretically, they may be intrigued by Blumenthal’s innovations, by his use of the latest science to craft ways to eat more healthfully. But practically, they are beholden to their shareholders. The tolerance for risk and acceptance of failure that marks the Fat Duck’s experimentations—new dishes are the result of many spectacular mishaps in the test kitchen—are unacceptable from their perspective.

And yet the mandate from consumers seems to be changing in a way that may force large corporations to rethink their approach. Companies respond to consumer pressure. What matters is what people want as expressed by what they will buy. Food manufacturers aren’t our parents, nor are they our doctors. They care about profit, not health. But their profit is dependent on shifting preferences and demands. The mass production of the 1960s and 1970s [PDF] was about the demand for convenience, freeing the housewife from the slavery of cooking. And from that demand came the packaged foods and snacks that fill grocery stores today. But increasingly, consumers are demanding more than simple convenience. They want health, too. Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, just opened a new store, Daily Table, that he hopes will grow from a single location in Boston to a national chain of supermarkets. It aims to sell nutritious food at the price point of fast food. Bananas for 29 cents per pound. A dozen eggs for 99 cents. PepsiCo has just announced a new vending machine initiative, to be rolled out to several thousand locations in 2016, which will offer healthier snack options than the traditional soda and chips—Naked Juice, Quaker bars, Sabra hummus cups, and the like. And interest in the frontiers of nutrition science has risen apace. “People don’t do anything until somebody else does it, then they all want to do it,” Spence said with a laugh. “I had three companies on the phone today. It’s been an explosive growth in interest. And my colleagues working in this space would say the same.”

One initiative, with the University of Barcelona and the Alícia Foundation, a research center helmed by Ferran Adria, the chef of the now-closed El Bulli restaurant, focuses on improving nutrition and recovery for children with cancer. Most common treatments, including chemotherapy, create an eating experience in which food takes on a metallic, ungainly taste. Unlike adults, who can override such unpleasant inputs with the knowledge that they have to eat to get better, children will often refuse food altogether rather than consume something they don’t like. This team of chefs and scientists hope to use the new understanding of the brain’s sensory integration of taste to create foods that would override that aversion, either by changing the perception of the taste or its seeming desirability. “The evidence that we can improve consumption is quite good,” Spence, who consulted on the project, told me. “And a lot of hospitals and end-of-life care are now engaged in sensory design related to food. It’s an important investment.”

Blumenthal told me of a recent project he collaborated on with the National Health Service at the Royal Berkshire Hospital to improve nutrition among the elderly. As we age, our sense of smell dampens—loss of smell sensitivity is one of the earliest signs of dementia—and our desire for healthier foods, along with it. There’s a reason your grandmother douses everything in salt and prefers simple, strong fat-sugar-salt combinations. But something else rises with age: the risk of cardiovascular disease. And so, ways of enhancing flavor that don’t necessitate huge quantities of condiments and fats could go a long way toward easing the aging transition. “We wanted to get the elderly excited about food again,” Blumenthal said. “And I’m hopeful that it can be done well.”

Chefs like Blumenthal are an important first step in the advancement of neurogastronomy. But to realize the full health and nutritional potential of this science, we will need to go much further than test kitchens and high-end dining rooms. Neurogastronomy must be incorporated into mainstream consumption. “It’s like Formula 1 racing,” McGlone said. “The car is the pinnacle of advanced technology. The efficiency and safety of these engines are at the most advanced. But in three, four years, it appears in the average car.” The same could be said of neurogastronomical innovation. “It will ultimately become part of the standard. It will be an advanced use of the technology that will ultimately trickle down into the standard food product.” The fact that why we eat what we eat originates in the mind rather than the palate is a powerful one. Properly harnessed, it could prove to be the key to succeeding where so many other nutritional interventions have failed. Ω

[Russian-born Maria Konnikova came to the States with her parents at age 4. Konnikova is a contributor to The New Yorker (online) as well as a contributing editor at the New Republic She is the author of both Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013) as well as The Confidence Game (2016). Konnikova received a BA (psychology and creative writing, magna cum laude) from Harvard University and a PhD (paychology) from Columbia University.]

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Step Right Up Folks — Get Your Hot, Steamin' Dish Of Snark From Gonzo Matt's House Of Horrors

Somewhere, the inventor of gonzo journalism — Dr. Hunter S. Thompson — is smiling at Gonzo Matt's pithy review of 2016 primary politics. In many memorial sentences, Gonzo Matt is LOL-funny. (Sorry, no spoiler alerts in this blog.) If this is (fair & balanced) blood'n guts journalism, so be it.

[x RS]
How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable
By Gonzo Matt (Taibbi)

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

The first thing you notice at Donald Trump's rallies is the confidence. Amateur psychologists have wishfully diagnosed him from afar as insecure, but in person the notion seems absurd.

Donald Trump, insecure? We should all have such problems.

At the Verizon Giganto-Center in Manchester the night before the New Hampshire primary, Trump bounds onstage to raucous applause and the booming riffs of the Lennon-McCartney anthem "Revolution." The song is, hilariously, a cautionary tale about the perils of false prophets peddling mindless revolts, but Trump floats in on its grooves like it means the opposite. When you win as much as he does, who the hell cares what anything means?

He steps to the lectern and does his Mussolini routine, which he's perfected over the past months. It's a nodding wave, a grin, a half-sneer, and a little U.S. Open-style applause back in the direction of the audience, his face the whole time a mask of pure self-satisfaction.

"This is unbelievable, unbelievable!" he says, staring out at a crowd of about 4,000 whooping New Englanders with snow hats, fleece and beer guts. There's a snowstorm outside and cars are flying off the road, but it's a packed house.

He flashes a thumbs-up. "So everybody's talking about the cover of Time magazine last week. They have a picture of me from behind, I was extremely careful with my hair ... "

He strokes his famous flying fuzz-mane. It looks gorgeous, like it's been recently fed. The crowd goes wild. Whoooo! Trump!

It's pure camp, a variety show. He singles out a Trump impersonator in the crowd, tells him he hopes the guy is making a lot of money. "Melania, would you marry that guy?" he says. The future first lady is a Slovenian model who, apart from Trump, was most famous for a TV ad in which she engaged in a Frankenstein-style body transfer with the Aflac duck, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.

She had one line in that ad. Tonight, it's two lines:

"Ve love you, New Hampshire," she says, in a thick vampire accent. "Ve, together, ve vill make America great again!"

As reactionary patriotic theater goes, this scene is bizarre – Melania Knauss didn't even arrive in America until 1996, when she was all of 26 – but the crowd goes nuts anyway. Everything Trump does works these days. He steps to the mic.

"She's beautiful, but she's more beautiful even on the inside," he says, raising a finger to the heavens. "And, boy, is she smart!"

Before the speech, the PA announcer had told us not to "touch or harm" any protesters, but to instead just surround them and chant, "Trump! Trump! Trump!" until security can arrive (and presumably do the touching and/or harming).

I'd seen this ritual several times, and the crowd always loves it. At one event, a dead ringer for John Oliver ripped off his shirt in the middle of a Trump speech to reveal body paint that read "Eminent Domain This!" on his thorax. The man shouted, "Trump is a racist!" and was immediately set upon by Trump supporters, who yelled "Trump! Trump! Trump!" at him until security arrived and dragged him out the door to cheers. The whole Trump run is like a "Jerry Springer" episode, where even the losers seem in on the gags.

In Manchester, a protester barely even manages to say a word before disappearing under a blanket of angry boos: "Trump! Trump! Trump!" It's a scene straight out of "Freaks." In a Trump presidency, there will be free tar and feathers provided at the executive's every public address.

It's a few minutes after that when a woman in the crowd shouts that Ted Cruz is a pussy. She will later tell a journalist she supports Trump because his balls are the size of "watermelons," while his opponents' balls are more like "grapes" or "raisins."

Trump's balls are unaware of this, but he instinctively likes her comment and decides to go into headline-making mode. "I never expect to hear that from you again!" he says, grinning. "She said he's a pussy. That's terrible." Then, theatrically, he turns his back to the crowd. As the 500 or so reporters in attendance scramble to instantly make this the most important piece of news in the world – in less than a year Trump has succeeded in turning the USA into a massive high school – the candidate beams.

What's he got to be insecure about? The American electoral system is opening before him like a flower.

In person, you can't miss it: The same way Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, Donald on the stump can see his future. The pundits don't want to admit it, but it's sitting there in plain view, 12 moves ahead, like a chess game already won:

President Donald Trump.

A thousand ridiculous accidents needed to happen in the unlikeliest of sequences for it to be possible, but absent a dramatic turn of events — an early primary catastrophe, Mike Bloomberg ego-crashing the race, etc. — this boorish, monosyllabic TV tyrant with the attention span of an Xbox-playing 11-year-old really is set to lay waste to the most impenetrable oligarchy the Western world ever devised.

It turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds on the first go.

And Trump is no half-bright con man, either. He's way better than average.

It's been well-documented that Trump surged last summer when he openly embraced the ugly race politics that, according to the Beltway custom of 50-plus years, is supposed to stay at the dog-whistle level. No doubt, that's been a huge factor in his rise. But racism isn't the only ugly thing he's dragged out into the open.

Trump is no intellectual. He's not bringing Middlemarch to the toilet. If he had to jail with Stephen Hawking for a year, he wouldn't learn a thing about physics. Hawking would come out on Day 365 talking about models and football.

But, in an insane twist of fate, this bloated billionaire scion has hobbies that have given him insight into the presidential electoral process. He likes women, which got him into beauty pageants. And he likes being famous, which got him into reality TV. He knows show business.

That put him in position to understand that the presidential election campaign is really just a badly acted, billion-dollar TV show whose production costs ludicrously include the political disenfranchisement of its audience. Trump is making a mockery of the show, and the Wolf Blitzers and Anderson Coopers of the world seem appalled. How dare he demean the presidency with his antics?

But they've all got it backward. The presidency is serious. The presidential electoral process, however, is a sick joke, in which everyone loses except the people behind the rope line. And every time some pundit or party spokesman tries to deny it, Trump picks up another vote.

The ninth Republican debate, in Greenville, South Carolina, is classic Trump. He turns these things into WWE contests, and since he has actual WWE experience after starring in "Wrestlemania" in 2007, he knows how to play these moments like a master.

Interestingly, a lot of Trump's political act seems lifted from bully-wrestlers. A clear influence is "Ravishing" Rick Rude, an Eighties champ whose shtick was to insult the audience. He would tell ticket holders they were "fat, ugly sweat hogs," before taking off his robe to show them "what a real sexy man looks like."

In Greenville, Donald "The Front-Runner" Trump started off the debate by jumping on his favorite wrestling foil, Prince Dinkley McBirthright, a.k.a. Jeb Bush. Trump seems to genuinely despise Bush. He never missed a chance to rip him for being a "low-energy," "stiff" and "dumb as a rock" weenie who lets his Mexican wife push him around. But if you watch Trump long enough, it starts to seem gratuitous.

Trump's basic argument is the same one every successful authoritarian movement in recent Western history has made: that the regular guy has been screwed by a conspiracy of incestuous elites. The Bushes are half that conspiratorial picture, fronts for a Republican Party establishment and whose sum total of accomplishments, dating back nearly 30 years, are two failed presidencies, the sweeping loss of manufacturing jobs, and a pair of pitiable Middle Eastern military adventures — the second one achieving nothing but dead American kids and Junior's re-election.

Trump picked on Jeb because Jeb is a symbol. The Bushes are a dissolute monarchy, down to offering their last genetic screw-up to the throne.

Jeb took the high road for most of the past calendar year, but Trump used his gentlemanly dignity against him. What Trump understands better than his opponents is that NASCAR America, WWE America, always loves seeing the preening self-proclaimed good guy get whacked with a chair. In Greenville, Trump went after Jeb this time on the issue of his brother's invasion of Iraq.

"The war in Iraq was a big f ... fat mistake, all right?" he snorted. He nearly said, "A big fucking mistake." He added that the George W. Bush administration lied before the war about Iraq having WMDs and that we spent $2 trillion basically for nothing.

Days earlier, Trump had gleefully tweeted that Bush needed his "mommy" after Jeb appeared with Lady Barbara on a morning show.

Jeb now went straight into character as the Man Whose Good Name Had Been Insulted. He defended his family and took exception to Trump having the "gall" to go after his mother.

"I won the lottery when I was born 63 years ago and looked up and I saw my mom," Jeb said proudly and lifted his chin. America loves Moms. How could he not win this exchange? But he was walking into a lawn mower.

"My mom is the strongest woman I know," Jeb continued.

"She should be running," Trump snapped.

The crowd booed, but even that was phony. It later came out that more than 900 of the 1,600 seats were given to local and national GOP officials. (Trump mentioned during the debate that he had only his wife and son there in comparison, but few picked up on what he was saying.) Pundits, meanwhile, lined up to congratulate Jeb for "assailing" Trump – "Bush is finally going for it," The New York Times wrote — but the exchange really highlighted many of the keys to Trump's success.

Trump had said things that were true and that no other Republican would dare to say. And yet the press congratulated the candidate stuffed with more than $100 million in donor cash who really did take five whole days last year to figure out his position on his own brother's invasion of Iraq.

At a time when there couldn't be more at stake, with the Middle East in shambles, a major refugee crisis, and as many as three Supreme Court seats up for grabs (the death of satanic quail-hunter Antonin Scalia underscored this), the Republican Party picked a strange year to turn the presidential race into a potluck affair. The candidates sent forth to take on Trump have been so incompetent they can't even lose properly.

One GOP strategist put it this way: "Maybe 34 [percent] is Trump's ceiling. But 34 in a five-person race wins."

The numbers simply don't work, unless the field unexpectedly narrows before March. Trump has a chokehold on somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of the Republican vote, scoring in one poll across every category: young and old, educated and less so, hardcore conservatives and registered Democrats, with men and with women, Megyn Kelly's "wherever" notwithstanding. Trump the Builder of Anti-Rapist Walls even earns an estimated 25 percent of the GOP Latino vote.

Moreover, there's evidence that human polling undercounts Trump's votes, as people support him in larger numbers when they don't have to admit their leanings to a live human being. Like autoerotic asphyxiation, supporting Donald Trump is an activity many people prefer to enjoy in a private setting, like in a shower or a voting booth.

The path to unseating Trump is consolidation of opposition, forcing him into a two- or three-person race. Things seemed headed that way after Iowa, when Ted Cruz won and Marco Rubio came in third.

Rubio's Iowa celebration was a classic. The toothy Floridian leaped onstage and delivered a rollickingly pretentious speech appropriate not for a candidate who just eked out wins in five Iowa counties, but for a man just crowned king of Jupiter.

"For months, they told us because we offered too much optimism in a time of anger, we had no chance," he thundered. Commentators later noted Rubio's language was remarkably similar to Barack Obama's florid "they said our sights were set too high" 2008 Iowa victory speech.

The national punditry predictably overreacted to Rubio's showing, having been desperate to rally behind a traditional, party-approved GOP candidate.

Why do the media hate Trump? Progressive reporters will say it's because of things like his being crazy and the next Hitler, while the Fox types insist it's because he's "not conservative." But reporters mostly loathe Trump because he regularly craps on other reporters.

He called Fox's Kelly a period-crazed bias monster for asking simple questions about Trump's past comments about women, and launched a weirdly lengthy crusade against little-known New Hampshire Union-Leader publisher Joseph McQuaid for comparing Trump to "Back to the Future" villain Biff Tannen. He even mocked the neurological condition of Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for failing to ratify Trump's hilariously fictional recollection of "thousands" of Muslims celebrating after 9/11, doing an ad hoc writhing disabled-person impersonation at a South Carolina rally that left puppies and cancer kids as the only groups untargeted by his campaign. (He later denied the clearly undeniable characterization.)

But Trump's thin-skinned dealings with reporters didn't fully explain the media's efforts to prop up his opponents. We've long been engaged in our own version of the high school put-down game, battering nerds and outsiders like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich while elevating "electable," party-approved candidates like John McCain and John Kerry.

Thus it was no surprise that after Iowa, columnists tried to sell the country on the loathsome "Marcomentum" narrative, a paean to the good old days when reporters got to tell the public who was hot and who wasn't — the days of the "Straight Talk Express," "Joementum," etc.

"Marco Rubio Was the Real Winner in Iowa," blared CNN. "Marco Rubio's Iowa Mojo," chimed in Politico. "Forget Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio Is the Real Winner of the Iowa Caucuses," agreed Vanity Fair.

Rubio, we were told, had zoomed to the front of the "establishment lane" in timely enough fashion to stop Trump. Of course, in the real world, nobody cares about what happens in the "establishment lane" except other journalists. But even the other candidates seemed to believe the narrative. Ohio Governor John Kasich staggered out of Iowa in eighth place and was finishing up his 90th lonely appearance in New Hampshire when Boston-based reporters caught up to him.

"If we get smoked up there, I'm going back to Ohio," he lamented. Kasich in person puts on a brave face, but he also frequently rolls his eyes in an expression of ostentatious misanthropy that says, "I can't believe I'm losing to these idiots."

But then Rubio went onstage at St. Anselm College in the eighth GOP debate and blew himself up. Within just a few minutes of a vicious exchange with haran​guing now-former candidate Chris Christie, he twice delivered the exact same canned 25-second spiel about how Barack Obama "knows exactly what he's doing."

Rubio's face-plant brilliantly reprised Sir Ian Holm's performance in "Alien," as a malfunctioning, disembodied robot head stammering, "I admire its purity," while covered in milky android goo. It was everything we hate about scripted mannequin candidates captured in a brief crack in the political façade.

Rubio plummeted in the polls, and Kasich, already mentally checked out, was the surprise second-place finisher in New Hampshire, with 15.8 percent of the vote.

"Something big happened tonight," Kasich said vaguely, not seeming sure what that thing was exactly. Even worse from a Republican point of view, Dinkley McBush somehow finished fourth, above Rubio and in a virtual tie with Iowa winner Ted Cruz.

Now none of the three "establishment lane" candidates could drop out. And the next major contest, South Carolina, was deemed by horse-race experts to have too tiny an "establishment lane" vote to decide which two out of that group should off themselves in time for the third to mount a viable "Stop Trump" campaign.

All of which virtually guarantees Trump will probably enjoy at least a five-horse race through Super Tuesday. So he might have this thing sewn up before the others even figure out in what order they should quit. It's hard to recall a dumber situation in American presidential politics.

"If you're Trump, you're sending flowers to all of them for staying in," the GOP strategist tells me. "The more the merrier. And they're running out of time to figure it out."

The day after Rubio's implosion, Trump is upstate in New Hampshire, addressing what for him is a modest crowd of about 1,500 to 2,000 in the gym at Plymouth State University. The crowd here is more full-blown New England townie than you'll find at his Manchester events: lots of work boots, Pats merch and f-bombs.

Trump's speeches are never scripted, never exactly the same twice. Instead he just riffs and feels his way through crowds. He's no orator – as anyone who's read his books knows, he's not really into words, especially long ones – but he has an undeniable talent for commanding a room.

Today, knowing the debate news is in the air, he makes sure to plunge a finger into Rubio's wound, mocking candidates who need scripts.

"Honestly, I don't have any teleprompters, I don't have a speech I'm reading to you," Trump says. Then he switches into a nasal, weenie-politician voice, and imitates someone reading tiny text from a crib sheet: "Ladies and gentlemen, it's so nice to be here in New Hampshire, please vote for me or I'll never speak to you again ... "

The crowd laughs. Trump also makes sure to point a finger at the omnipresent Giant Media Throng.

"See all those cameras back there?" he says. "They've never driven so far to a location."

The crowd turns to gape and sneer at the hated press contingent, which seems glad to be behind a rope. Earlier, Trump had bragged about how these same reporters had begrudgingly admitted that he'd won the St. Anselm debate. "They hate it, but they gave me very high grades."

It's simple transitive-property rhetoric, and it works. The press went gaga for Rubio after Iowa because — why? Because he's an unthreatening, blow-dried, cliché-spouting, dial-surveying phony of the type campaign journalists always approve of.

And when Rubio gets exposed in the debate as a talking haircut, a political Speak n' Spell, suddenly the throng of journalists who spent the past two weeks trying to sell America on "Marcomentum" and the all-important "establishment lane" looks very guilty indeed. Voters were supposed to take this seriously?

Trump knows the public sees through all of this, grasps the press's role in it and rightly hates us all. When so many Trump supporters point to his stomping of the carpetbagging snobs in the national media as the main reason they're going to vote for him, it should tell us in the press something profound about how much people think we suck.

Jay Matthews, a Plymouth native with a long beard and a Trump sign, cites Trump's press beat-downs as the first reason he's voting Donald.

"He's gonna be his own man," he says. "He's proving that now with how he's getting all the media. He's paying nothing and getting all the coverage. He's not paying one dime."

Reporters have focused quite a lot on the crazy/race-baiting/nativist themes in Trump's campaign, but these comprise a very small part of his usual presentation. His speeches increasingly are strikingly populist in their content.

His pitch is: He's rich, he won't owe anyone anything upon election, and therefore he won't do what both Democratic and Republican politicians unfailingly do upon taking office, i.e., approve rotten/regressive policies that screw ordinary people.

He talks, for instance, about the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by insurance companies, an atrocity dating back more than half a century, to the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945. This law, sponsored by one of the most notorious legislators in our history (Nevada Senator Pat McCarran was thought to be the inspiration for the corrupt Senenator Pat Geary in "The Godfather II"), allows insurance companies to share information and collude to divvy up markets.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats made a serious effort to overturn this indefensible loophole during the debate over the Affordable Care Act.

Trump pounds home this theme in his speeches, explaining things from his perspective as an employer. "The insurance companies," he says, "they'd rather have monopolies in each state than hundreds of companies going all over the place bidding... It's so hard for me to make deals... because I can't get bids."

He goes on to explain that prices would go down if the state-by-state insurance fiefdoms were eliminated, but that's impossible because of the influence of the industry. "I'm the only one that's self-funding... Everyone else is taking money from, I call them the bloodsuckers."

Trump isn't lying about any of this. Nor is he lying when he mentions that the big-pharma companies have such a stranglehold on both parties that they've managed to get the federal government to bar itself from negotiating Medicare prescription-drug prices in bulk.

"I don't know what the reason is — I do know what the reason is, but I don't know how they can sell it," he says. "We're not allowed to negotiate drug prices. We pay $300 billion more than if we negotiated the price."

It's actually closer to $16 billion a year more, but the rest of it is true enough. Trump then goes on to personalize this story. He claims (and with Trump we always have to use words like "claims") how it was these very big-pharma donors, "fat cats," sitting in the front row of the debate the night before. He steams ahead even more with this tidbit: Woody Johnson, one of the heirs of drug giant Johnson & Johnson (and the laughably incompetent owner of the New York Jets), is the finance chief for the campaign of whipping boy Jeb Bush.

"Now, let's say Jeb won. Which is an impossibility, but let's say... "

The crowd explodes in laughter.

"Let's say Jeb won," Trump goes on. "How is it possible for Jeb to say, ‘Woody, we're going to go out and fight competitively' ?"

This is, what — not true? Of course it's true.

What's Trump's solution? Himself! He's gonna grab the problem by the throat and fix it by force!

Throughout his campaign, he's been telling a story about a $2.5 billion car factory that a Detroit automaker wants to build in Mexico, and how as president he's going to stop it. Humorously, he tried at one point to say he already had stopped it, via his persistent criticism, citing an article on an obscure website that claimed the operation had moved to Youngstown, Ohio.

That turned out to be untrue, but, hey, what candidate for president hasn't impulse-tweeted the completely unprovable fact or two? (Trump, incidentally, will someday be in the Twitter Hall of Fame. His fortune-cookie mind — restless, confrontational, completely lacking the shame/veracity filter — is perfectly engineered for the medium.)

In any case, Trump says he'll call Detroit carmakers into his office and lay down an ultimatum: Either move the jobs back to America, or eat a 35 percent tax on every car imported back into the U.S. over the Mexican border.

"I'm a free-trader," he says, "but you can only be a free-trader when something's fair."

It's stuff like this that has conservative pundits from places like the National Review bent out of shape. Where, they ask, is the M-F'ing love? What about those conservative principles we've spent decades telling you flyover-country hicks you're supposed to have?

"Trump has also promised to use tariffs to punish companies," wrote David McIntosh in the Review's much-publicized, but not-effective-at-all "Conservatives Against Trump" 22-pundit jihad. "These are not the ideas of a small-government conservative.... They are, instead, the ramblings of a liberal wanna-be strongman."

What these tweedy Buckleyites at places like the Review don't get is that most people don't give a damn about "conservative principles." Yes, millions of people responded to that rhetoric for years. But that wasn't because of the principle itself, but because it was always coupled with the more effective politics of resentment: Big-government liberals are to blame for your problems.

Elections, like criminal trials, are ultimately always about assigning blame. For a generation, conservative intellectuals have successfully pointed the finger at big-government-loving, whale-hugging liberals as the culprits behind American decline.

But the fact that lots of voters hated the Clintons, Sean Penn, the Dixie Chicks and whomever else, did not, ever, mean that they believed in the principle of Detroit carmakers being able to costlessly move American jobs overseas by the thousands.

"We've got to do something to bring jobs back," says one Trump supporter in Plymouth, when asked why tariffs are suddenly a good idea.

Cheryl Donlon says she heard the tariff message loud and clear and she's fine with it, despite the fact that it clashes with traditional conservatism.

"We need someone who is just going to look at what's best for us," she says.

I mention that Trump's plan is virtually identical to Dick Gephardt's idea from way back in the 1988 Democratic presidential race, to fight the Korean Hyundai import wave with retaliatory tariffs.

Donlon says she didn't like that idea then.

Why not?

"I didn't like him," she says.

Trump, though, she likes. And so do a lot of people. No one should be surprised that he's tearing through the Republican primaries, because everything he's saying about his GOP opponents is true. They really are all stooges on the take, unable to stand up to Trump because they're not even people, but are, like Jeb and Rubio, just robo-babbling representatives of unseen donors.

Back in Manchester, an American Legion hall half-full of bored-looking Republicans nurses beers and knocks billiard balls around, awaiting Iowa winner Ted Cruz. The eely Texan is presumably Trump's most serious threat and would later nudge past Trump in one national poll (dismissed by Trump as conducted by people who "don't like me").

But New Hampshire is a struggle for Cruz. The high point in his entire New England run has been his penchant for reciting scenes from "The Princess Bride," including the entire Billy Crystal "your friend here is only mostly dead" speech for local station WMUR. The one human thing about Cruz seems to be that his movie impersonations are troublingly solid, a consistent B-plus to A-minus.

But stepping into the human zone for even a few minutes backfired. The actor Mandy Patinkin, who played Inigo Montoya in the film, reacted with horror when he learned Cruz was doing his character's famous line "You killed my father, prepare to die." He accused Cruz of deliberately leaving out the key line in Montoya's speech, after he finally slays the man who killed his father: "I've been in the revenge business for so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life."

Patinkin believed Cruz didn't do that line because Cruz is himself in the revenge business, promising to "carpet-bomb [ISIS] into oblivion" and wondering if "sand can glow."

Patinkin's criticism of Cruz cut deeply, especially after the Iowa caucuses, when Cruz was accused by Trump and others of spreading a false rumor that Ben Carson was dropping out, in order to steal evangelical votes and pad his lead.

The unwelcome attention seemed to scare Cruz back into scripted-bot mode, where he's a less-than-enthralling presence. Cruz in person is almost physically repellent. Psychology Today even ran an article by a neurology professor named Dr. Richard Cytowic about the peculiarly off-putting qualities of Cruz's face.

He used a German term, backpfeifengesicht, literally "a face in need of a good punch," to describe Cruz. This may be overstating things a little. Cruz certainly has an odd face — it looks like someone sewed pieces of a waterlogged Reagan mask together at gunpoint — but it's his tone more than anything that gets you. He speaks slowly and loudly and in the most histrionic language possible, as if he's certain you're too stupid to grasp that he is for freedom.

"The... Constitution...," he says, "serves... as... chains... to... bind... the... mischief... of... government.... "

Four years ago, a candidate like this would have just continued along this path, serving up piles of euphuistic Tea Party rhetoric for audiences that at the time were still hot for the tricorner-hat explanation of how Comrade Obama ruined the American Eden.

But now, that's not enough. In the age of Trump, the Cruzes of the world also have to be rebels against the "establishment." This requirement makes for some almost unbelievable rhetorical contortions.

"Government," Cruz now ventures, "should not be about redistributing wealth and benefiting the corporations and the special interests."

This absurd Swiss Army cliché perfectly encapsulates the predicament of the modern GOP. In one second, Cruz is against "redistributionism," which in the Obama years was code for "government spending on minorities." In the next second, he's against corporations and special interests, the villains du jour in the age of Bernie Sanders and Trump, respectively.

He's against everything all at once. Welfare! Corporations! Special Interests! Government! The Establishment! He's that escort who'll be into whatever you want, for an hour.

Trump meanwhile wipes out Cruz in his speeches in a single, drop-the-mic line.

"They give Ted $5 million," he says, bringing to mind loans Cruz took from a pair of banks, Goldman Sachs and Citibank.

The total was closer to $1.2 million, but Trump's point, that even the supposed "outsider" GOP candidate is just another mindless payola machine, is impossible to counter.

The unexpectedly thrilling Democratic Party race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, too, is breaking just right for Trump. It's exposing deep fissures in the Democratic strategy that Trump is already exploiting.

Every four years, some Democrat who's been a lifelong friend of labor runs for president. And every four years, that Democrat gets thrown over by national labor bosses in favor of some party lifer with his signature on a half-dozen job-exporting free-trade agreements.

It's called "transactional politics," and the operating idea is that workers should back the winner, rather than the most union-friendly candidate.

This year, national leaders of several prominent unions went with Hillary Clinton — who, among other things, supported her husband's efforts to pass NAFTA — over Bernie Sanders. Pissed, the rank and file in many locals revolted. In New Hampshire, for instance, a Service Employees International Union local backed Sanders despite the national union's endorsement of Clinton, as did an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers chapter.

Trump is already positioning himself to take advantage of the political opportunity afforded him by "transactional politics." He regularly hammers the NAFTA deal in his speeches, applying to it his favorite word, "disaster." And he just as regularly drags Hillary Clinton into his hypothetical tales of job-saving, talking about how she could never convince Detroit carmakers out of moving a factory to Mexico.

Unions have been abused so much by both parties in the past decades that even mentioning themes union members care about instantly grabs the attention of workers. That's true even when it comes from Donald Trump, a man who kicked off the fourth GOP debate saying "wages [are] too high" and who had the guts to tell the Detroit News that Michigan autoworkers make too much money.

You will find union members scattered at almost all of Trump's speeches. And there have been rumors of unions nationally considering endorsing Trump. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry even admitted in January that Trump appeals to members because of the "terrible anxiety" they feel about jobs.

"I know guys, union guys, who talk about Trump," says Rand Wilson, an activist from the Labor for Bernie organization. "I try to tell them about Sanders, and they don't know who he is. Or they've just heard he's a socialist. Trump they've heard of."

This is part of a gigantic subplot to the Trump story, which is that many of his critiques of the process are the same ones being made by Bernie Sanders. The two men, of course, are polar opposites in just about every way – Sanders worries about the poor, while Trump would eat a child in a lifeboat — but both are laser-focused on the corrupting role of money in politics.

Both propose "revolutions" to solve the problem, the difference being that Trump's is an authoritarian revolt, while Sanders proposes a democratic one. If it comes down to a Sanders-Trump general election, the matter will probably be decided by which candidate the national press turns on first: the flatulent narcissist with cattle-car fantasies or the Democrat who gently admires Scandinavia. Would you bet your children on that process playing out sensibly?

In the meantime, Trump is cannily stalking the Sanders vote. While the rest of the GOP clowns just roll their eyes at Sanders, going for cheap groans with bits about socialism, Trump goes a different route. He hammers Hillary and compliments Sanders. "I agree with [Sanders] on two things," he says. "On trade, he said we're being ripped off. He just doesn't know how much."

He goes on. "And he's right with Hillary because, look, she's receiving a fortune from a lot of people."

At a Democratic town hall in Derry, New Hampshire, Hillary's strangely pathetic answer about why she accepted $675,000 from Goldman to give speeches — "That's what they offered" — seemed doomed to become a touchstone for the general-election contest. Trump would go out on Day One of that race and blow $675,000 on a pair of sable underwear, or a solid-gold happy-face necktie. And he'd wear it 24 hours a day, just to remind voters that his opponent sold out for the Trump equivalent of lunch money.

Trump will surely argue that the Clintons are the other half of the dissolute-conspiracy story he's been selling, representing a workers' party that abandoned workers and turned the presidency into a vast cash-for-access enterprise, avoiding scrutiny by making Washington into Hollywood East and turning labor leaders and journalists alike into starstruck courtiers. As with everything else, Trump personalizes this, making his stories of buying Hillary's presence at his wedding a part of his stump speech. A race against Hillary Clinton in the general, if it happens, will be a pitch right in Trump's wheelhouse — and if Bill Clinton is complaining about the "vicious" attacks by the campaign of pathological nice guy Bernie Sanders, it's hard to imagine what will happen once they get hit by the Trumpdozer.

The electoral roadshow, that giant ball of corrupt self-importance, gets bigger and more grandiloquent every four years. This time around, there was so much press at the Manchester Radisson, you could have wiped out the entire cable-news industry by detonating a single Ryder truck full of fertilizer.

Like the actual circus, this is a roving business. Cash flows to campaigns from people and donors; campaigns buy ads; ads pay for journalists; journalists assess candidates. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the ever-growing press corps tends in most years to like — or at least deem "most serious" &@151; the candidates who buy the most ads. Nine out of 10 times in America, the candidate who raises the most money wins. And those candidates then owe the most favors.

Meaning that for the pleasure of being able to watch insincere campaign coverage and see manipulative political ads on TV for free, we end up having to pay inflated Medicare drug prices, fund bank bailouts with our taxes, let billionaires pay 17 percent tax rates, and suffer a thousand other indignities. Trump is right: Because Jeb Bush can't afford to make his own commercials, he would go into the White House in the pocket of a drug manufacturer. It really is that stupid.

The triumvirate of big media, big donors and big political parties has until now successfully excluded every challenge to its authority. But like every aristocracy, it eventually got lazy and profligate, too sure it was loved by the people. It's now shocked that voters in depressed ex-factory towns won't keep pulling the lever for "conservative principles," or that union members bitten a dozen times over by a trade deal won't just keep voting Democratic on cue.

Trump isn't the first rich guy to run for office. But he is the first to realize the weakness in the system, which is that the watchdogs in the political media can't resist a car wreck. The more he insults the press, the more they cover him: He's pulling 33 times as much coverage on the major networks as his next-closest GOP competitor, and twice as much as Hillary.

Trump found the flaw in the American Death Star. It doesn't know how to turn the cameras off, even when it's filming its own demise.

The problem, of course, is that Trump is crazy. He's like every other corporate tyrant in that his solution to most things follows the logic of Stalin: no person, no problem. You're fired! Except as president he'd have other people-removing options, all of which he likes: torture, mass deportations, the banning of 23 percent of the Earth's population from entering the United States, etc.

He seems to be coming around to the idea that having an ego smaller than that of, say, an Egyptian Pharaoh would be a sign of weakness. So of late, his already-insane idea to build a "beautiful" wall across the Mexican border has evolved to the point where he also wants the wall to be named after him. He told Maria Bartiromo he wanted to call it the "Great Wall of Trump."

In his mind, it all makes sense. Drugs come from Mexico; the wall will keep out Mexicans; therefore, no more drugs. "We're gonna stop it," he says. "You're not going to have the drugs coming in destroying your children. Your kids are going to look all over the place and they're not going to be able to find them."

Obviously! Because no one's ever tried wide-scale drug prohibition before.

And as bad as our media is, Trump is trying to replace it with a worse model. He excommunicates every reporter who so much as raises an eyebrow at his insanity, leaving him with a small-but-dependable crowd of groveling supplicants who in a Trump presidency would be the royal media. He even waves at them during his speeches.

"Mika and Joe are here!" he chirped at the MSNBC morning hosts at a New Hampshire event. The day after he won the New Hampshire primary, he called in to their show to thank them for being "supporters." To her credit, Mika Brzezinski tried to object to the characterization, interrupting Joe Scarborough, who by then had launched into a minute-long homily about how happy he was to be a bug on the windshield of the Trump phenomenon.

You think the media sucks now? Just wait until reporters have to kiss a brass Trump-sphinx before they enter the White House press room.

"He has all these crazy ideas, and [reporters] are so scared of him, they don't ask him any details," says Michael Pleyte, an Iraq vet who came all the way from Michigan to watch the New Hampshire primary in person. "Forget about A to Z, they don't even ask him to go A to Trump."

King Trump. Brace yourselves, America. It's really happening. Ω

[As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Most recently, he has written The Divide (2014). Taibbi received a BA (journalism) from Bard College.]

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