Rape and Redemption: Trump and Kavanaugh

Presidential elections reflect voter concerns, as well as candidate personalities.  In addition, national election results often reflect changing American norms. While the 2018 mid-term election has been touted as the year of the woman, it also mirrors our collective concern about violence against women — the rape culture. This heightened awareness has impacted the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

It’s useful to consider how we got to this moment.  The 2016 presidential campaign pitted two unpopular candidates: Hillary Clinton with a reputation for lying and calculated ambition; and Donald Trump with a reputation for sexual abuse and bullying.  Crooked Hillary versus “pussy grabber” Trump.

In retrospect it would have been better if voters had pushed the “none of the above” button and left the US without a president until two more acceptable candidates were presented.  Sadly, that wasn’t an option and Donald Trump narrowly won the election.  One way to interpret this outcome is that voters disliked crooked Hillary more than “pussy grabber” Trump.  Whatever the reason, Trump, in effect, got a pass on his sexist behavior.

608 days of a Trump presidency indicate that Donald hasn’t changed his ways.  He hasn’t grown into the job as many voters hoped.  He’s still the same bully, liar, racist and sexist he was during the presidential campaign.  He still has the same poor judgment and problems with impulse control.

Since moving into the White House, Trump has coarsened the public discourse and normalized what most of us believed — before the election — was outrageous conduct.  He’s brought a whole range of deviant behaviors out of the closet and into primetime.  Among these behaviors are varieties of sexual abuse — Trump’s interpretation of the rape culture.

Many of Trump’s defenders, when asked about a sordid Trump incident — such as his “grab them by the pussy” comments or his affair with Stormy Daniels — reply that because the events happened before the election they do not count.  The GOP position seems to be that since Trump is now President his episodes of sexual abuse no longer matter.  Republicans claim that Trump was redeemed by the 2016 election.

This is the same logic used by the GOP to defend Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from accusations that, as a teenager, he assaulted a young woman.  Republicans argue: whatever happened, it was a long time ago and Kavanaugh has been redeemed by his work as a lawyer and judge.

As a liberal Christian, I believe in redemption.  But not redemption by magic.  Not the blanket type of redemption that says, “Jesus died for your sins and therefore, whatever you do, you are forgiven.” (Redemption without repentance.)  And certainly not the form of redemption that says, “The GOP forgives you and, therefore, all your sins are washed away.”

I believe in redemption through good works.  First an individual acknowledges their sin or transgression or offense.  Next they seek to make amends by, among other things, apologizing to the person they offended.

This is the same process described in the AA twelve steps: 4.) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 8.) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9.) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

I do not believe that Donald Trump has been redeemed. (This shouldn’t be open for debate.)  Trump is an unrepentant sexual predator.  (Among other things.)

When confronted with evidence of a transgression, Trump’s modus operandi has not been to accept responsibility, but instead to aggressively deny the charges and attack the complainants.  Trump has not made amends, unless one considers monetary payoffs — such as those negotiated by Trump attorney Michael Cohen — as amends.  (They’re not.)

Donald Trump is an unrepentant sexual predator.  (I know I’m repeating myself but I believe we should all be shouting this from the rooftops.)  Rather than seek redemption, Trump has continued his deviant behavior, augmented by lying and bullying.  He has not been redeemed and he doesn’t deserve “a get out of jail free” card.

Neither does his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

It’s time to declaim the rape culture that normalizes sexual assaults on women.  It’s time for American men to call out sexual predators such as Trump and Kavanaugh.  It’s time to treat women with respect.  And it’s time for real Christians to stand up for the morality of Jesus of Nazareth.

Suspicions Confirmed,Woodward on Trump

It’s no solace, but the recent revelations about Donald Trump, and his Republican enablers, confirm our worst suspicions: Trump is a clear and present danger.

Of the new sources, Bob Woodward’s Fear (http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Fear/Bob-Woodward/9781501175510) is the most illuminating.

1.Trump is incompetent: Woodward’s book, coupled with the anonymous New York Times op-ed, “I am part of the resistance…” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/opinion/trump-white-house-anonymous-resistance.html ), and Omarosa Manigault’s tell all Unhinged (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-omarosa-book-summary-review-latest-tweets-white-house-unhinged-a8493286.html ) paint a chilling picture of Trump’s mental state.

It’s fashionable to declaim Trump’s demeanor: the lies, bluster, and unrelenting narcissism.  As a result, it’s often difficult to separate Trump, the media figure, from Trump, the erstwhile chief executive of the United States of America.  Nonetheless, it’s possible for Trump to be totally obnoxious, as an individual, and still competent as a CEO.

But Trump’s far from competent.  Woodward’s book paints a detailed portrait of Trump as unable to function as President.  The anonymous New York Times oped notes, “there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president.”  (The 25th amendment permits removal when the President  “suffers from an impairment that prevents him from fulfilling his duty.”)

It’s unclear whether Trump has a neurological or psychological impairment — Omarosa believes Trump suffers from senile dementia.  What is clear is that Trump is not an effective leader.  When there is an important decision to be made, he doesn’t read his briefing material, so he doesn’t come to the decision meeting prepared.  At the meeting, Trump doesn’t focus; he doesn’t lead meetings, in the normal sense, he (metaphorically) wanders in and out of them.  As a result, meetings often conclude without a clear decision or, worse yet, with a decision that Trump promptly forgets.  Woodward notes, “Trump seemed not to remember his own decision because he did not ask about it.  He had no list — in his mind or anywhere else — of tasks to complete.”

Most damming is evidence of Trump’s inflexibility; his inability to process new information and and adapt to novel situations.

2. The Republican Leadership uses Trump:  The relationship between Trump and top Republican leaders is mysterious.  Some say McConnell and Ryan and other GOP leaders go along with Trump’s whims because they are afraid of alienating his base — despite Trump’s impairment, his base continues to support him .

When we look at Trump’s record in office, it’s clear that he’s become a puppet.  Most of the time, the GOP leadership uses Trump to accomplish their objectives.  Trump kept his campaign promise of cutting taxes because the GOP leadership supported this.  In the 600 days since the inauguration, there’s been a tug-of-war between Trump and the Republican leaders.  On the major issues, McConnell and Ryan won.  For example, they supported strong sanctions against Russia and Trump didn’t; these sanction passed Congress with a veto-proof majority.

If you’re familiar with the family dynamics involved in living with an abuser, the Trump-GOP leadership interactions seem familiar.  McConnell and Ryan, and the other Republican leaders, placate Trump so he won’t come unhinged, and then manipulate him to keep the “family” semi-functional.

3. There’s no governing ideology:  Beyond cutting taxes and regulations, there’s no discernible ideology of the Trump Administration.  “Make America Great Again” hasn’t translated into coherent policy.

This is most apparent in the Trump Administration’s foreign policy.  Trump isn’t governed by an overarching philosophy such as “make the world safe for Democracy” or “Isolate America from the barbarian hordes.”  Instead the Trump Administration is driven by Trump’s fears and grudges.

Woodward’s book indicates that Trump’s foreign policy derives from his sense that Obama, and previous presidents, cut lousy deals with the country in question: lousy trade and security deals, where the US ends up footing too much of the bill.  According to Woodward, Gary Cohn (at the time, Trump’s economic adviser) quietly saved the South Korea-U.S. trade agreement, known as Korus, when in 2017 he removed a “letter off Trump’s desk” that the president planned to sign that would have ordered a U.S. withdrawal.  Despite the national security implications, and against the advice of his top advisers, Trump planned to scuttle Korus because he was convinced the South Koreans were screwing the US.

4. Trade policy divides the GOP.  Woodward makes it clear that while Trump and the GOP leaders agree on many issues — tax cuts, repeal of Obamacare, restrictive immigration — they don’t agree on trade.  From the onset of his presidency, Trump has wanted to abrogate trade agreements.  After an extended meeting, where Trump’s advisers tried to keep him from cancelling NAFTA and other trade agreements, Woodward reports that (former Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson muttered, ” [Trump]’s a fucking moron.”

After the meeting, a senior aide noted: “It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”

5. Trump is deteriorating,  Omarosa writes, “I seriously began to suspect that the president was delusional or had a mental condition, that made him forget from one day to the next. Was Donald like Ronald Reagan, impaired while everyone around him ran the show and covered up for him?”  She recalls Trump speaking “gibberish” and careening from subject to subject.

Woodward reports a disturbing pattern: “[Trump] won’t face what’s real…[when confronted with a disturbing fact, Trump replies] I don’t want to hear it…he will say, ‘I’ve had [these ideas] for 30 years, they’re right and if you disagree, you’re wrong.'”

The Woodward book makes clear that Trump is running from demons.  He’s fearful of the Mueller investigation and grouses about it every day.  As a result of the recent tell-all books he’s become less trusting of his staff.  He has few friends in the White House.  He’s tormented.

Woodward quotes one of Trump’s ex-aides: “This was no longer a presidency.  This is no longer a White House.  This is a man being who he is.”

Everything Trump Touches Dies

Recently, I read the best-seller, “Everything Trump Touches Dies” (http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Everything-Trump-Touches-Dies/Rick-Wilson/9781982103125 ) by Rick Wilson — a noted Republican consultant and strategist, and #nevertrump stalwart. It’s alternately terrifying and hilarious.  At the conclusion Wilson offers suggestions for the “recovery” of the Republican Party. They are worth considering for what they suggest for the Democratic Party.

A Party of Hope, not Hate: Wilson says, “Republicans need to become a party of militant optimism about the future.  Right now we are a party of doom and gloom…”

Of course, this is a knock on Trump’s perspective:  “Make America great again” and “We’re losing everywhere…”  But it’s also a reminder that Democrats have to offer a positive agenda.  It’s not enough to run against Trump and Republican corruption, in general.  Democrats must offer a hopeful message that says, in essence, the United States is a prosperous country and it’s possible for everyone to share this prosperity.

Reform from within:  Wilson warns about political corruption and advises the GOP to adopt: “strict ethics rules for elected Republicans…” and forbidding “members of Congress from lobbying after they leave.  We need to tighten up financial disclosure rules so members voting on legislation that benefits their own bottom line face sanctions.”  These are prudent suggestions and Democrats would be well advised to adopt them.

The Constitutional Operating System:  Wilson notes, “Republicans need to restore the divisions between the three branches of government.  Under Trump, Congress has abandoned its role as a coequal branch and acted like a Trump houseboy.”

Talk Main Street — And mean it: Wilson wrote, “The vast and increasing disparity in wealth in this nation has been shrugged off by Republicans… We’ve been parties to bleeding dry the middle class in this country, confusing “good for business” with “good for people.”  Amen.

If the GOP is the Party that’s “good for business,” then Democrats have to be clearly identified as the Party that’s “good for people.”

The Rule of Law:  Wilson observes, “[Trump’s] constant attempts to obstruct justice in the Mueller investigation with only the slightest pushback from Republicans are so dangerous that we haven’t even seen the possible scope of the damage yet… a commitment to restoring respect for the law is fundamental.”  Another amen.

Democrats have to be clearly identified as the Party that carries forward the vision of the Founders.

Build a diverse Party:  Wilson spoke to the GOP, “By increasing our ideological diversity we’ll expand the places we can compete, offer Americans more choices in more communities, and enrich the scope of candidates who enter politics.  With that in mind, it’s time to make real efforts to recruit African American, Hispanic, and female candidates…”

Republicans would be well advised to listen to what Rick Wilson has to say.  At the moment, Democrats are more welcoming to women and racial/ethnic minorities.  But, we also have to be accepting of ideological differences.

Purge racists, conspiracy nuts, and lunatics from our ranks: Wilson writes, “the Republican Party has a race problem and pretending it doesn’t exist has become impossible… the single greatest risk to conservatism, the Republican party, and the nation is if the alt-right virus spreads deeper into the political system.”  Wilson adds, “Conservative authors, news outlets, and broadcasters need to outgrow the fever swamp of conspiracy and madness.”  Wow.  Rick Wilson calls out Republican crazy.

Decency, humanity, and tolerance:  Wilson observes, “The fashionable cruelty of the Trump era… aren’t the character of a president or of a party deserving of respect and support… The increasingly hideous tone of the GOP is a long-term brand killer.”  Yeah.

Respect and honor American institutions:  Wilson writes, “Donald Trump is wrecking our institutions in ways more corrosive, insidious, and permanent than the wildest visions of our worst enemies…  Trump has corrupted and broken the entire idea of the American presidency.”

Wilson continues, “Restoring faith in institutions rests on accountability.”  Democrats must become the accountability Party, politicians with the highest ethical standards.

Govern like grown-ups:  Wilson notes, “Trump’s raging, vulgarian insult-comic shtick wore thin for most Americans during the campaign… [nonetheless] for far too many Republicans the desire to emulate Trump as a play to the base was all too tempting.”

Wilson prescribes: “The House and Senate leadership must… discipline their members in areas ranging from ethics to affect.”

Kill crony capitalism:  Rick Wilson writes, “Americans know and feel that the deck is stacked against them when it comes to Washington offering the biggest, wealthiest, and most irresponsible players the power to define markets, protect themselves from risk, and leave taxpayers with the bill.  It’s time to stop it.”  Amen.

If Democrats are truly the Party that’s “good for people,” they must stop all aspects of crony capitalism.

Stop fighting the last wars: With regards to issues such as gay marriage and marijuana use, Wilson observes: “It’s time to tell the evangelical cohort in the GOP that that since they’ve shown their true colors by giving Donald Trump a series of mulligans on his port-star-screwing, pussy-grabbing, serially adulterous life, they’ve lost their moral authority to scream at the rest of us.”  We can only hope that the adults within the GOP evangelicals will read Wilson’s book and change their behavior.

While this is an impressive list, there are (at least) two more suggestions that all Democrats would do well to consider.  We can’t continue to spend so much on “defense.”  In 2018 the U.S. spent more than $600 billion on defense spending; more than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, United Kingdom, and Japan combined.  That’s ridiculous.

We must take action to head off the impact of climate change.  This seems so obvious that it amazing that it has to be mentioned.  But it does.  Trump doesn’t believe in climate change and the GOP has followed his lead.

By the way, everything Trump touches dies.

It’s the Corruption, Stupid

As we head for the November 6th midterm elections, it’s worth remembering that Donald Trump was elected President because he promised to “drain the swamp.” Instead of doing that, Trump has unleashed a tidal wave of corruption. Over the next two months, Republican corruption is the key topic Democrats must talk about.

A 2016 Washington Post/ABC News poll (http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/politics/post-abc-tracking-poll-oct-30-nov-2/2124/ ), released a few days before the presidential election, found that Hillary Clinton had a narrow lead over Trump on all issues except corruption — where voters trusted Donald to address “corruption in government.”  In the presidential election exit polls (https://www.cnn.com/election/2016/results/exit-polls ), 39 percent of respondents said the candidate quality that mattered the most was the ability to “bring change;” 82 percent believed Trump was more likely to do this.  It can be argued that ending corruption was Trump’s key issue.

Over the course of Trump’s presidency, he has lost ground as a perceived agent of change.  Now, most voters see Trump as part of the swamp; someone incapable of bringing the required change to Washington. The most recent USA Today/ Suffolk University poll (https://www.suffolk.edu/documents/SUPRC/8_29_2018_tables.pdf ) asked: “During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp’ — to reduce corruption in Washington. Which comes closer to your view?”  57 percent of poll respondents said, “The swamp has gotten worse during the Trump Administration.”

A recent Pew Research poll (http://www.people-press.org/2018/06/20/1-views-of-donald-trump/ ) found, “about half of Americans (54%) say they trust what Trump says less than they trusted what previous presidents said while in office.” (In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 60 percent of respondents disapproved of Trump’s job performance.)

As a consequence of Trump’s diminished credibility, voters have begun to label Republicans as the Party of corruption.  In July, the Center for American Progress (https://cdn.americanprogress.org/content/uploads/sites/2/2018/07/09124028/CAP-Battleground-Poll-Memo-070918.pdf ) commissioned a significant poll in 48 “battleground” congressional districts.  “By an 8-point margin, most voters say that Republicans are more corrupt than Democrats, 54 – 46 percent. This gap (larger than the Democratic lead on the generic congressional ballot) is driven in major part by the 60 percent of Independents who find more fault with the Republican Party, and the 27 percent of moderate Republican voters who agree with them.”

How the issue of corruption will factor in the midterm elections will vary from state to state and from congressional district to congressional district.  For example, in California there are (at least) three contested congressional races where incumbent corruption will be an issue: CA 22, where Representative Devin Nunes spends his Washington time trying to scuttle the Trump-Russia investigation.  Recently his home time newspaper, The Fresno Bee, featured the headline, “Nunes used to care about Valley. Now he’s a D.C. fat cat living large on donors’ dime.” CA 48, where Dana Rohrabacher is Russia’s man in Congress.  Recently the New York Times ran a front-page article about Rohrabacher, “He’s a Member of Congress. The Kremlin Likes Him So Much It Gave Him a Code Name.” And CA 50, where Duncan Hunter was recently indicted for misuse of $250,000 in campaign funds.

Corruption infests Trump’s cabinet.  We’ve already seen several cabinet members leave because of corruption charges (Tom Price and Scott Pruitt).  Several others are being investigated.  Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has been accused of stealing $120 million at his investment company (https://www.newsweek.com/ross-accused-stealing-120-million-1060598 ) — Ross is also accused of violating conflict-of-interest laws and filing false information.

For Trump, his family, and his close associates, corruption is tied to self dealing.  The most noteworthy case involves emoluments.  Article I of the Constitution says, “No Person holding any Office… shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”   On March 28th, a Federal Judge in Maryland let an emolument lawsuit go forward. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/25/us/politics/trump-emoluments-lawsuit.html )  This action, brought by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, focuses on the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC:  “The District of Columbia and Maryland said their local residents who compete with Trump’s businesses, such as Trump International Hotel… , are harmed by decreased patronage, wages and tips…”

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner is said to be under investigation for self dealing.  (https://www.economist.com/united-states/2018/03/08/jared-kushner-appears-to-be-in-trouble )  So is Trump’s son, Donald Junior.  (https://www.axios.com/donald-trump-jr-trump-tower-meeting-mueller-investigation-e48b2134-560c-4943-8100-de9826d18913.html )

Close Trump associates have either been indicted (Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort) or are under investigation (Elliott Broidy) (http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/scandals-engulf-multiple-rnc-finance-chairs ).

It’s an open secret in Washington that if you want to get Trump’s attention you should stay in his Washington hotel or better yet, buy a membership in one of his golf clubs. (https://newrepublic.com/minutes/144704/easiest-way-get-trumps-ear-paying-play-one-golf-clubs ) It’s clear that Trump’s economic policies are dictated by his friends.  For example, the New York Times   (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/05/us/politics/nucor-us-steel-tariff-exemptions.html ) reported that the implementation of the steel tariffs has guided by Trump supporters at two large US steel companies, Nucor and US Steel.  As another example, Trump plans a coal company bailout that will help some of his biggest donors.  (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-sells-regulatory-favors-to-his-donors-2018-06-14 )  And, of course, it’s well established that the 2017 Trump-sponsored tax cuts primarily favored big GOP donors (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/29/big-donors-republican-tax-cuts-374842 ).  Finally, early in the month, ProPublica reported that Trump has ceded control of the VA to three members of his Mar-A-Lago resort (https://splinternews.com/trump-has-reportedly-handed-over-control-of-the-va-to-h-1828187399 ).

Donald Trump was elected President because he promised to “drain the swamp.” Instead of doing that, he’s enabled “the swamp.”  And he’s give Democrats the key issue to talk about heading for the midterm elections.

Elizabeth’s Big Idea

As the United States approaches the critical November 6th midterm elections, Democratic candidates convey three themes: costs, wages, and corruption. While aspects of the corruption theme are readily apparent — almost every week some Republican big wig is indicted for corruption, what has been lacking is a “big picture” proposal to address inequity. Now, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a sweeping reform of capitalism.

Democrats have winning messages on costs and wages.  Costs because consumer prices are increasing for health care, housing, and energy.  Wages because Trump’s economic policies have increased corporate profits but this hasn’t translated to more money in the wallets of working families.  (Republican largesse has enabled corporations to raise their dividends, increase CEO salaries, and buy back their stock; but it hasn’t benefited their employees.)

Democrats also have a winning issue on corruption.  As each days passes, there’s more evidence of corruption in the Trump administration — this week saw Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, convicted of financial crimes, and Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, plead guilty to campaign finance violations.  (This week we also saw an early Trump supporter, California Congressman Duncan Hunter, indicted for misuse of campaign funds.)

Although these events support a Democratic campaign narrative of “rot at the top,” they do not address what is really happening in American society: Capitalism is failing working Americans. (One of 2018’s savage ironies is that Donald Trump, who ran as a populist candidate, has abandoned America’s workers.)

That’s why Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal, The Accountable Capitalism Act (https://www.warren.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/warren-introduces-accountable-capitalism-act? ), is important: This act seeks a fundamental reform in capitalism; one that will make capitalism work for all Americans — not just the top 1 percent.  Senator Warren noted that in the last forty years there has been a fundamental shift in the relationship of large corporations and American society: “In the early 1980s, large American companies sent less than half their earnings to shareholders, spending the rest on their employees and other priorities… But between 2007 and 2016, large American companies dedicated 93% of their earnings to shareholders. Because the wealthiest 10% of US households own 84% of American-held shares, the obsession with maximizing shareholder returns effectively means America’s biggest companies have dedicated themselves to making the rich even richer.”  Warren observed, “Real wages have stagnated even as productivity has continued to rise.  Workers aren’t getting what they’ve earned.”

To change corporate behavior, Senator Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act has four components.  1. Charter Reform.  “Big corporations that make more than $1 billion a year in revenue would need to get new charters from the federal government. Those new charters would make it clear that the companies must consider the interests of their workers – and other people affected by the company – not just shareholders.”  In other words, corporation would need to consider the needs of their employees; not just the need for equitable wages but other needs such as healthcare and childcare — and environmental safety.

2. Worker Participation: “Workers would elect at least 40% of board members for big corporations – giving them seats at the table when big decisions need to be made.”  It’s estimated that this would affect 3500 public US companies — and hundreds of private companies.

3. CEO compensation: “Top corporate executives are now compensated primarily in company equity, which gives them huge financial incentives to focus exclusively on shareholder returns. To make sure CEOs are focused on the long-term success of the company, rather than the short-term interests of shareholders, executives at big corporations wouldn’t be able to sell company shares for at least five years after receiving them – and for at least three years after a stock buyback.”

4. Political Contributions: “Corporate executives wouldn’t be able to use company dollars to make political contributions unless they got approval from 75% of directors and shareholders. This ensures any political expenditures benefit all corporate stakeholders.”

5. Consequences: “Permits the federal government to revoke the charter of a United States corporation if the company has engaged in repeated and egregious illegal conduct.  State Attorneys General are authorized to submit petitions to the Office of United States Corporations to revoke a United States corporation’s charter. If the Director of the Office finds that the corporation has a history of egregious and repeated illegal conduct and has failed to take meaningful steps to address its problems, she may grant the petition.”

Senator Warren’s proposal is likely to get little traction in a Republican-controlled Congress.  Nonetheless, it’s an important idea.  One that should get the attention of all Democratic candidates. We have to reform American capitalism and Elizabeth Warren has suggested a significant first step.

Will the Economy Decide the Midterms?

By many indicators, the US economy is strong. As Donald Trump travels around the country campaigning for Republican candidates, he touts the economy as evidence that his policies are working. Will this be enough to determine the outcome of the November 6th midterm elections?

Probably not.  But there’s little dispute that the US economy is strong.  Since Trump became President, 3.4 million jobs have been created; 7 in 10 Americans say they are doing fine or living comfortably; the official unemployment rate is 3.9 percent; and the stock market (Dow Jones Industrial Average) is up 33 percent.

Trump’s problem, and the problem for Republicans in general, is that many Americans are looking beyond the glitzy economic numbers.  And, depending upon their Party affiliation, many voters don’t like what they see when they examine their own situation.

The July 2nd Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2553 ) asked, “What is the most important issue to you in deciding how to vote in this year’s election for the U.S. House of Representatives: the economy, taxes, health care, immigration, or gun policy?”  Nationally, 27 percent said immigration, 23 percent said the economy, 22 percent said health care, and 12 percent said gun policy.  But the preference depended upon political Party: Immigration was the number one issue for Republicans and Independents; for Democrats it was health care.

50 percent of Quinnipiac respondents said they would vote for the Democratic candidate for the House, versus 41 percent who said they would vote for the Republican candidate.  Of this 50 percent, 71 percent said that health care was their most important issue; their second choice was gun policy.  For Republicans, their most important issue was immigration; the economy was their second choice.

The Quinnipiac poll is another confirmation of political polarization.  Approaching the midterm election. the issues for Democratic voters are costs, wages, and corruption.  The issues for Republican voters are immigration and support for Trump.

Democratic voters are concerned about healthcare costs and the cost of living in general.  That’s the result of a harsh reality: while corporate profits have surged, the economic uptick hasn’t produced real wage increases.  According to the Center for American Progress   (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2018/08/09/454589/workers-wages-remain-stagnant-despite-gains-top-earners/ ), “Despite the fact that the country is experiencing positive GDP growth, the benefits are not trickling down the way Trump predicted they would.”

Of course, whether you believe this or not depends upon whether you trust what Trump says.  The July 25th Quinnipiac poll contained this question: “Who do you trust more to tell you the truth about important issues: President Trump or the news media?”  75 percent of Republicans trusted Trump; while only 5 percent of Democrats trusted him.

Recently AP News factchecked Trump on his exorbitant claims about the economy (https://apnews.com/1759c19598e9431db20b604232725871/AP-FACT-CHECK:-Trump’s-economic-fiction:-‘record’-GDP,-jobs ) and concluded: “Trump is distorting the truth on U.S. economic growth and jobs, pointing to record-breaking figures that don’t exist… He cites the highest-ever gross domestic product for the U.S. that’s not there.”

Rising costs, inflation, are wiping out any wage gains garnered by working families. (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/08/chart-of-the-day-inflation-keeps-going-up-but-wages-are-going-down/ )   In July, Inflation rose 2.9 percent; the highest level in seven years.

Nonetheless, consumer confidence in the economy is at the highest level in eighteen years (https://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/2018/07/31/consumer-confidence-increases-marginally-in-july ).  And, while Trump’s overall approval rating remains negative, the latest CNBC poll (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/25/majority-of-americans-approve-of-trumps-handling-of-the-economy.html ) indicates that 51 percent of respondents approve of his handling of the economy.  (A recent New York Times article  (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/business/economy/trump-economy-credit.html ) suggests this is because Trump has done a good job of selling his positive spin on the economy.)

The current economic figures indicate the economy is not working for all Americans; the uptick is disproportionately helping corporations and the top one percent.  (A recent Guardian article (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/16/ceo-versus-worker-wage-american-companies-pay-gap-study-2018 ) reported, “The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year.”)

This economic imbalance is why it’s a good idea for Congressional Democratic candidates to focus on costs, wages, and corruption.  Costs because consumer prices are increasing for health care, housing, and energy.

Democratic candidates should focus on wages because Trump’s economic policies have increased corporate profits but this hasn’t translated to more money in the wallets of working families.  Republican largesse has enabled corporations to raise their dividends, increase CEO salaries, and buy back their stock; but it hasn’t benefited their employees (https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/04/13/how-companies-spend-tax-windfall/505122002/ ).

While Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” he’s actually deepened the swamp.  The issue of Republican corruption complements the economic issues of costs and wages for two reasons.  The first is that an unusual number of Trump associates appear to be corrupt.  For example, this week New York Republican Representative Chris Collins — the first member of Congress to endorse Trump — was indicted for insider trading.  Also in this week, Trump cabinet member Wilbur Ross (Commerce) was accused of having stolen $120 million at his investment company (https://www.newsweek.com/ross-accused-stealing-120-million-1060598 ) — Ross is also accused of violating conflict-of-interest laws and filing false information.

More generally, Trump Administration corruption ties to its economic policy.  For example, this week the New York Times   (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/05/us/politics/nucor-us-steel-tariff-exemptions.html ) reported that the implementation of the steel tariffs has guided by Trump supporters at two large US steel companies, Nucor and US Steel.  As another example, Trump plans a coal company bailout that will help some of his biggest donors.  (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-sells-regulatory-favors-to-his-donors-2018-06-14 )  And, of course, it’s well established that the 2017 Trump-sponsored tax cuts primarily favored big GOP donors (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/29/big-donors-republican-tax-cuts-374842 ).

Will the economy help Republican candidates in the midterm election?  Probably not.  Democratic candidates will run on the interconnected issues of costs, wages, and corruption.  That should be enough to influence most contested Congressional districts.

Why is California Burning?

In case you missed it, California is beset with an unusual number of intense wildfires; the state is covered by smoke.  In response, on August 5th, Donald Trump tweeted: “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws…” Hmm, so California “environmentalists” are responsible for the fires?  Or is someone else to blame?

Twelve years ago, I wrote “Global Warming? Not in My Back Yard” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-burnett/global-warming-not-in-my-_b_19380.html ), pointing out that while most Americans are concerned about global warming (climate change), in general, they don’t get excited about it, in particular, until there’s evidence at the local level — because they have a lot of other issues to worry about such as the cost of their healthcare or housing or jobs.

Two years of extreme wildfires has gotten Californians’ attention.  Waking up each morning worried about air quality — because of the smoke — or worse yet, wondering if you will be forced to evacuate, has made everyone in California aware that we have a problem.  The issue is what to do about it.

In Trump’s full tweet, he said: “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!” Even by Trump standards, this was an incredibly ignorant tweet.  The wildfires are not being caused by lack of water or the absence of tree clearing.  Most experts agree they are the result of dryness — due to the state’s prolonged drought, high temperatures — July was the hottest month ever recorded, and — in many cases — ferocious winds.

As a native Californian, I’ve learned a lot about wildfires.  (If you’ve lived here for more than a couple of years, you have fire stories to tell.)  In October of 1991, the Oakland Hills Firestorm occurred about 12 miles from my Berkeley residence.  This fire killed 25 people, injured 150, and destroyed 3280 residences.  It covered an area of approximately 3 square miles.   In October of 2017, the Tubbs fire occurred about 15 miles from my west Sonoma County property.  This fire (spanning Lake, Napa, and Sonoma Counties) killed 22 people, injured more than 100, and incinerated 5643 structures.  The Tubbs fire covered a much larger area than the Oakland Hills fire; on its northern edge the Tubbs fire stretched 12 miles.

Both fires were similar.  They occurred in hot, dry conditions and were fed by intense winds from the northeast.  The blazes started small and quickly became conflagrations; people in the path of the firestorms literally ran for their lives.  (In both cases I knew folks who lost their homes.)

In neither case was California water policy an issue.  (Sorry, Donald.)  A recent article by Alice Hill and William Kakenmaster (https://www.hoover.org/research/new-normal-californias-increasing-wildfire-risk-and-what-do-about-it ) reported: “Many factors contribute to [California] wildfires, but two in particular greatly contribute to increasing risk: climate change and growing development in the wildland-urban interface (WUI).”

Many Californians attribute the violent wildfires to global climate change.  (Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown called extreme fire conditions “the new normal” under climate change.)  The most recent California poll (http://www.ppic.org/publication/californians-views-on-climate-change/ ) found that two-thirds of respondents believe the effects of climate change “are already occurring” and 81 percent believe it to be “a serious threat” to the state’s future.  Not surprisingly, the attitudes about climate change split along Party lines: only 24 percent of Republicans view climate change as a threat.

One of the ongoing wildfires is the Carr fire, northwest of Redding, adjacent to Lake Shasta.  It’s the most Republican congressional district in Northern California, represented by Doug LaMalfa. a climate-change skeptic, who says he “doesn’t buy” human-made climate change: “The climate of the globe has been fluctuating since God created it.”  (A recent Guardian article (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/31/california-wildfire-climate-change-carr-fire ) observed: “Like LaMalfa, the citizens of Redding are far more skeptical about climate change than the average American is. In 2016, a team from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that only 35% of Redding residents believed that global warming would harm them personally.”)

Notwithstanding climate-change skeptics, most Californians agree that we need to take action to mitigate climate change.  One of these is to reduce fossil-fuel emissions.  Notably the Trump Administration has just taken steps to reduce California’s ability to do this; On August 2nd, Trump’s EPA revealed plans to strip California of its right to set air-quality rules (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/07/climate/california-auto-emissions-trump.html ).

Hill and Kakenmaster noted that in addition to climate change, where homes are placed greatly impacts the destruction wrought by wildfires; they pointed out the destructive potential of placing houses adjacent to wildland vegetation, the wildland-urban interface (WUI):  “In 2010, California had more people and homes located in the WUI than any other state in the continental United States—close to 4.5 million homes and 11 million people… [according to] the U.S. Commerce Department, ‘Fires within communities surrounded by natural areas [the WUI] are the most dangerous and costliest fires in North America.'” (The WUI was a factor in the Tubbs fire, but not in the Oakland Hills fire — there the primary issue was housing density.)

The catastrophic impacts of climate change aren’t confined to wildfires on the West Coast, each state has its own unique disaster profile ranging from drought to megastorms. Each state, and each community, will have to develop their own particular response.

At the national level, it’s time to take climate change seriously.  Trump isn’t going to do this.  It’s time for Americans to elect leaders who have the intelligence and the resolve to deal with “the new normal.”

Trump Supporters, Hiding in Plain Sight

In the wake of Donald Trump’s disastrous July 16 meeting with Vladimir Putin, many Democrats thought, “At last Republicans will open their eyes and see Trump as a traitor and charlatan.” But as the days passed, it became clear that Trump supporters weren’t going to let a little thing — such as collaboration with Russia — dilute their adoration for the Donald. Republican inflexibility left Democrats scratching their heads, wondering what it will take to shake up the relationship between Trump and his base. The answer is hiding in plain sight.

After the Putin meeting, and Trump’s epic waffle about whether or not the Russians had interfered with the 2016 election, Democrats expected Trump’s approval rating to go down.  Surprisingly, it hasn’t. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ )

The latest Wall Street Journal (http://www.newser.com/story/262328/trumps-approval-among-republicans-is-unusually-high.html ) poll indicates that Republican approval for Trump is at 88 percent.  (Meanwhile, among independents, Trump approval declined to 36 percent — among Democrats it’s 8 percent.)  While only 53 percent of Republicans approved of his handling of Putin and Russia, the vast majority supports him overall.  Why?

To understand the Republican paradox — they trust Trump to defend the U.S.A. — we have to dive deep into GOP Demographics.  Pew Research, and other pollsters, tell us that Republicans are overwhelmingly white (non Hispanic), male (although a surprising number are female — mostly uneducated), rural, and “Christian.”

Last September, the Public Religion Research Institute  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/06/the-stark-racial-and-religious-divide-between-democrats-and-republicans-in-one-chart/?) reported: “Roughly three-quarters (73%) of the Republican Party is white Christian… 35 percent are white evangelical Christians, 18 percent are white members of other Protestant denominations, and 16 percent are white Catholics.”

Gallup says Republicans are 27 percent of the electorate, Democrats are 29 percent, and the remaining 43 percent are (technically) Independents.  Other pollsters suggest there are fewer Independents, explaining that many poll respondents don’t want to share their Party affiliation with poll takers.  Pew Research (http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/) says that when you include leaners, among registered voters there are 45 percent Republicans and 55 percent Democrats.

According to Pew, Trump’s “base” consists of two groups — “Core Conservatives” and “Country-First Conservatives” — that support Donald for slightly different reasons.

“Core Conservatives” (15 percent of registered voters) are: “about a third (31%) of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents… This financially comfortable, male-dominated group overwhelmingly supports smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believes in the fairness of the nation’s economic system.”  That is to say, Core Conservatives’ basic issue is economics.  They want lower taxes and fewer regulations; they want to maintain the status quo.

Core Conservative support Trump because he’s giving them what they want.

In contrast, “Country-First Conservatives” (7 percent of registered voters) are about one-sixth of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents.  They are, “… unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and deeply wary of U.S. global involvement.  Nearly two-thirds of Country-First Conservatives (64%)… say that ‘if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.'”  Country-First Conservatives’ basic issue is immigration and (behind the curtains) race.  They believe that people-of-color threaten their way of life.

Country-First Conservative support Trump because he’s giving them what they want: a commitment to a white Christian nation.

Pew observed that white evangelical Christians constitute 34 percent of Core Conservatives and 43 percent of Country-First Conservatives — about 8 percent of of registered voters.  (Pew reports that 77 percent of white non-Hispanic evangelical protestant voters identify as Republicans, as do 54 percent of white non-hispanic Catholic voters.)

Whatever their percentage in the Republican Party, it’s clear that white non-Hispanic Christians are a powerful force in Trump’s base.  And they are single-minded; they want a theocracy.

Trump has catered to his Core Conservative and Country-First Conservative base.  He’s given the former tax cuts and business-first regulations; and he’s given the latter a series of actions — draconian immigration enforcement, support for “religious liberty,” and ultra-conservative judges (such as Brett Kavanaugh) — that indicate Donald’s on their side.  And so Trump’s base sticks with him despite damming revelations from the Mueller probe or evidence of Trump’s collaboration with Putin.

From an ethical standpoint, it’s clear that Trump’s base, en masse, has adopted the morality that the ends justify the means.  That’s not a surprise for the portion of the Republican Party that is non-Christian — roughly 20 percent.  We can safely assume that these are Core Conservatives whose moral code is defined exclusively by Capitalism: dog eat dog, triumph of the fittest, winner take all, etcetera.  (They subscribe to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.)

The ethical problem lies with the 75 percent of the Republican Party that identifies as Christian.  For them to say they support Trump because he’s going to promote a Christian nation, or he’s going to put people-of-color in their place, or he’s going to take away a women’s right to make her own medical decisions, means that they believe the ends justify the means.  And that’s not Christian ethics.  The Trump “Christians” are not following the ethical teachings of Jesus.  (https://www.npr.org/2017/12/03/568206452/evangelical-leaders-say-christians-who-support-trump-face-an-ethical-challenge )

What will it take to shake up the relationship between Trump and his “Christian” base?  Have them read the New Testament and consider whether they are actually practicing the ethics of Jesus.  It looks like a lot of Trump’s supporters are actually faux Christians.  Just like Donald.

Why do Republicans Hate America?

Most Americans were outraged by Donald Trump’s performance at his July 16 press conference with Vladimir Putin. Trump’s collaboration with Russia is the latest evidence that he’s determined to ruin the United States of America.  Why don’t congressional Republicans stand up to him?  Do they hate America, too?

After 545 days in the White House, Trump is emboldened to say and do, and Tweet, whatever he feels like.  There’s no evidence that anyone can restrain him — certainly not his daughter, Ivanka, or his beleaguered Chief-of-Staff, John Kelley.

There’s a plethora of arm-chair psychoanalysts with opinions about why Trump behaves like he does.  However, we’ve travelled miles beyond the point of trying to understand why Trump acts out; whether it’s because he is crazy or a Russian collaborator or obsessed with becoming the anti-Obama.  What’s most important is that Trump endangers the United States of America.

If the American people are going to stop him, we’re going to need the assistance of Republicans.  Are they going to help us or are they going to pretend that Trump’s behavior is okay?  When will Republican members of Congress stand up to Trump?

Consider the critical issues and what the Republican response should be.

1.Russia is at war with the United States.  During the October 22, 2012, presidential debate, Mitt Romney called Russia America’s “biggest geopolitical threat.”  At the time, many observers scoffed, but it turns out that Romney was right.  David Corn and Michael Isikoff’s book, Russian Roulette, indicates that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has declared cyberwar on the United States and its allies; the 2016 political campaign was the most evident manifestation of the new Kremlin offensive.

On July 13th, Trump’s director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats (a Republican), said: “The persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today was akin to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.  ‘The warning lights are blinking red again.'” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/us/politics/dan-coats-intelligence-russia-cyber-warning.html )

It’s clear from his July16 Putin press conference that Trump does not believe Russia is waging cyberwar on the U.S.  In the run up to the 2018 midterm, Republican candidates have to take a stand: either they believe Russia is at war with us, or they don’t.  Either they are willing to take steps to protect us, or they aren’t.

2.Trump is undermining America’s traditional alliances. At the same time that Trump is cozying up to Putin and Russia, he is weakening our relationships with our traditional allies.  During his recent trip to Europe, Trump denigrated NATO — our strongest military bulwark against Russia.  He also belittled the European Union — the United States’ largest trading partner — calling it “a foe.”

While in Europe Trump insulted German Prime Minister Merkel — Germany is our 5th largest trading partner — and England’s Prime Minister May — England is our 7th largest trading partner.  In May, during the meeting with the G7, he insulted Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau — Canada is our second largest trading partner.  (For the record, Russia is our 30th largest trading partner.)

Republican candidates either have to side with Trump — America goes into the world alone — or support our traditional allies — America is part of a coalition opposing Russia.  Republican candidates have to be asked if they support Trump’s foreign policy.

3.Trump’s trade war threatens the U.S. economy.  Trump has verbally attacked our largest trading partners (European Union, China, Canada, Mexico…) and levied tariffs on their products.  The resulting trade war is causing domestic job losses and raising prices.

By the way, Trump’s trade war helps Russia.  Because of Trump’s actions, China (our second largest trading partner) has stopped buying U.S. soybeans and has tripled purchases from Russia.  (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-17/china-buys-record-amount-of-russian-soy-as-it-shuns-u-s-growers )  Incidentally, Trump’s sanctions on Iran are also helping Russia sell oil. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/09/trump-iran-sanctions-give-saudi-arabia-and-russia-more-clout.html )

Republican candidates  should be asked: How are Trump’s trade policies affecting your state/district and what do you plan to do about it?

4.Trump tax cuts have not revived the economy: Trump’s massive tax cuts were supposed to raise wages.  According to a recent Bloomberg article (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-18/trump-s-tax-cut-hasn-t-done-anything-for-workers), “The tax reform hasn’t yet resulted in appreciably higher wages for American workers. Real average hourly compensation actually fell in the first quarter after the tax reform was passed.”  In addition, “[The] tepid rate of [GDP] growth means that the tax cut is unlikely to pay for itself.”

Incidentally, the Republican tax plan dramatically raises the national debt.  An April Reuters article (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fiscal-deficit/republican-tax-cuts-to-fuel-historic-u-s-deficits-cbo-idUSKBN1HG2RW)  reported a CBO finding, “The massive tax cuts signed into law in December, which Republicans said would pay for themselves, will balloon the U.S. deficit in years ahead.”

Republicans candidates should be asked: What’s your plan to raise wages for American workers? 

5.Trump has not drained the swamp.  Trump ran for President as an outsider, harnessing voters concerns about Washington dysfunction.  But instead of fulfilling his promise to “drain the swamp,” he has fomented an unprecedented culture of corruption.  Besides his collaboration with Putin, Trump has engaged in an orgy of self-dealing.  His cabinet members — most recently EPA head Scott Pruitt — have resigned because of ethics concerns.

Republican candidates should be asked: What are you doing to end the Trump culture of corruption?

In the 2018 election, Republican candidates should be asked: Which side are you on?  Do you support Trump or the United States?

Remind Me, What do Liberals Believe?

  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Recently, some Democrats have been pondering, “What are liberal values?” Preparing a response, I remembered a values column I wrote seven years ago,”One, Two, Three, What are Liberals Fighting for?” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-burnett/one-two-three-what-are-li_b_925245.html )  With a few changes, the column could have been written today.

The first paragraph sets the tone: “These are hard times. The weather’s bad and the economy awful. Obama has lost his mojo… Many Liberals are discouraged and fearful about the 2012 election. But there’s plenty of time to re-energize, so long as Liberals remember who we are and what we are fighting for.

For whatever reason, Democrats periodically lose track of our core values.  In 2007, I wrote “One, Two, Three, What are Liberals Fighting for?” because of our disillusionment with Barack Obama.  In 2018 we’ve lost track of our core values because of our collective anger at Donald Trump and, no doubt, our deep dismay that so many Americans support him.  It’s an understandable reaction; we’re gobsmacked.  Nonetheless, we need to take a collective deep breath and go back to basics.  We need to recall what we stand for.

1. Honesty.  Donald Trump has not only coarsened the nature of American politics, he’s established a norm of chronic lying.  (On May 1st, The Washington Post reported that Trump had told 3001 lies in 466 days in office (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/05/01/president-trump-has-made-3001-false-or-misleading-claims-so-far/? ).)  Liberals have to make an emphatic statement; “We do not support politics as usual; We tell the truth.”

2. Empathy.  Recently, discussing his family-separation policy, Trump remarked, “If you’re strong [on immigration], then you’re accused of not having any heart.”  He quipped, “I’d rather be strong.”  Meaning that in dealing with immigrants Trump would prefer to come down on the side of “strength” rather than the side of compassion.

It’s a false dichotomy.  It’s possible to be strong and also be compassionate.  Remember Martin Luther King Jr.  (And the founders of this country.)

Liberals believe it’s possible to be strong and also be compassionate.  We believe in empathy.  We believe in deep understanding of others; putting ourselves in their shoes.

3. Responsibility.  Barack Obama reminded us of the biblical teaching, “I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper.”  This goes beyond Jesus’ golden rule: “Do to others what you want them to do to you.”  It implies that we have an active responsibility to care for the less fortunate in our country: children, the elderly, the disabled, the disadvantaged…

4. Diversity.  Liberals believe America’s strength is its diversity: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one.” We believe in justice and fair treatment for all Americans, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or religious affiliation.

5. Human Rights. Liberals believe that all of are endowed with basic rights, such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Among these rights is the right to vote and the right to work to fulfill our individual dreams on a level playing field.  (By the way: we value human rights over property rights.)

Underlying these core liberal values is a sense of optimism; a belief that Americans can work together to form a more perfect union. Conservatives don’t share this optimism.

It’s important to recognize that liberals are psychologically more open than conservatives.  A 2012 Scientific American article (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/calling-truce-political-wars/ ) reviewed the psychological studies on liberals and conservatives and noted: “Psychologists have found that conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals, which may be why they typically desire stability, structure and clear answers even to complicated questions.”

One way to understand the difference in liberal and conservative worldviews — one open and optimistic, the other closed and fearful — is to consider the underlying mythic structures.  In his classic 2005 essay, “The Lost Art of Democratic Narrative,” (http://valuesmessage.org/info/Lost%20Art%20of%20Democratic%20Narrative-Reich.pdf )  Robert Reich observed that liberals and conservatives hold onto different myths of community.  Conservatives share a fearful narrative: “The Mob at the Gates. In this story, the United States is a beacon light of virtue in a world of darkness, uniquely blessed but continuously endangered by foreign menaces… The underlying lesson: We must maintain vigilance, lest diabolical forces overwhelm us.”

In contrast, Reich said, liberals tell a more hopeful narrative: “The Benevolent Community. This is the story of neighbors and friends who roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the common good…The story is captured in the iconic New England town meeting, in frontier settlers erecting one another’s barns, in neighbors volunteering as firefighters and librarians…

Because liberals and conservatives have differing notions of community, we have different responses when our communities are threatened.  As part of their belief in responsibility, liberals believe “we’re in this together.”  (“I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper.”)  Liberals believe we should work together — through government — to deal with the threat.  In contrast, when threatened, conservatives believe “you’re on your own” and look to outside agencies for comfort: the army, the President, the church, the corporation…

The polarization in American politics is due to the fact that liberals and conservatives operate from a dramatically different values ethos.  They have different mythic narratives, values, and concepts of community.

Trump instinctively plays to this.  His fundamental message is fearful: “The mob is at the gates and only I can protect you.”  That’s why his goto issue is immigration.

Conservatives see immigrants as a threat; the proverbial “mob at the gates.”  In his June 2015 speech, Trump declared: “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”  Conservatives fear immigrants.  (In contrast, liberals see immigrants as human beings that have legitimate reasons to seek asylum in the United States.)

Trump has increased political polarization by playing to the conservative values ethos.  Realistically, the only way to respond to this is for liberals to be clear about their own values and beliefs.  And to organize.

 

 

Democrats Need to Stay Cool

The midterm elections happen in four months. in the interim, we’ll have to endure a daily barrage of Trump. Some days, American politics are very depressing; we have to resist the impulse to stay in bed and hide under the covers. To prevail in November, Democrats must stay cool and do the political organizing we know how to do.

Many Democrats were discouraged because the last week of June seemed to be a good week for Trump.  The Supreme Court made several conservative decisions.  Then Supreme Court Justice Kennedy announced his retirement; giving Trump a vacancy to fill with a more reliable conservative.  Trump made several campaign appearances touting the economy, tax cuts, and his immigration policies.  In some polls, Trump’s popularity appeared to increase.

But on June 26th, there was a hopeful sign when 28-year-old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez defeated long-time Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district.  Ocasio-Cortez won for several reasons: Crowley seemed to take his position for granted and ran a lackluster campaign.  Over the 20 years that Crowley has been in office, the 14th district became increasingly diverse; Ocasio-Cortez ran as a Latina woman in a district that is now two-thirds non white.  And, Ocasio-Cortez ran to Crowley’s left; she caught the Democratic wave that favors youth, women, and progressive positions.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq3QXIVR0bs )

Over the next four months, Democrats can gather strength from two encouraging trends: Trump’s positions and exciting Democratic candidates.

After his meeting with Kim Jong-Un, Trump’s popularity ticked up; now it’s trending down (https://news.gallup.com/poll/203207/trump-job-approval-weekly.aspx ).  Trump’s on the campaign trail but his red-meat issues — tax cuts, immigration, and jobs — don’t resonate outside his base.  Only about one-third of voters say they are better off because of the tax cuts (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/29/not-what-we-expected-trumps-tax-bill-is-losing-popularity/?).  Recently, the “highlight” of Trump’s immigration policy has been family separation; however, two-thirds of voters disapprove of this policy (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/06/18/two-thirds-of-americans-oppose-trumps-family-separation-policy/?).

A recent 538 article indicated that while 49 percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, bigger numbers do not believe he is honest (59 percent) or level-headed (64 percent).  Nonetheless, objective indicators signal that the U.S. economy is heading for troubled waters.  First, investors worry about a flattening yield curve (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/27/investors-analysts-read-the-yield-curve–and-worry-about-a-slump.html ); which historically has suggested the onset of recession.  Second, Trump’s insistence on tariffs has begun to cost American jobs; for example, Harley-Davidson is moving production to Europe.  (The Chamber of Commerce denounced the tariffs as “the wrong approach.” (https://www.thestreet.com/politics/u-s-chamber-of-commerce-launches-anti-tariff-campaign-14640063 ))  Third, Trump’s foreign-policy stance, unilateralism, is having negative economic repercussions.  As one example, tourism has been hurt; in Trump’s first year in office, tourism was down $32 billion and 40,000 jobs were lost. (https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/u-s-cities-losing-millions-in-tourism-business-under-donald-trump.html/?a=viewall )

Over the next four months, Trump is going to campaign for Republican candidates.  He’ll attempt to motivate his base with his usual polemic:  “Build the wall!”  “Lock them up!”  “I’ll renegotiate all the bad deals.” Etcetera.  This may work for hard-core Trump supporters but it’s doubtful it will work for anyone else.  And it will force Republican candidates to become mini-Trumps.  They won’t run on issues — because Trump is failing on all the usual Republican issues — they will run on support for Trump.

Thus the typical contested race will pit a mini-Trump, typically a middle-aged white man, against an exciting younger progressive Democrat.  The Democratic candidate will not defend the status quo; they will instead run on the issues that matter to their constituents.  That’s what happened in New York District 14.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked around and talked to her neighbors and then she ran on a platform that reflected their concerns: Medicare for all; raising the minimum wage; housing as human right; free college education; abolishing ICE; strict gun controls; etcetera. (https://twitter.com/ndrew_lawrence/status/1012148765476745217/video/1 ) To some this appears to be a far-left agenda.  In reality it is an agenda that reflects the needs of voters in New York District 14.  Ocasio-Cortez ran on their issues.

The same set of issues won’t necessarily work in other contested congressional districts but the process will.  Democrats need to build their policy agenda from the bottom up; they need to reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Some Democrats yearns for strong national leadership; they want the Democratic agenda to be established in Washington and then promulgated to Dems –  cast down as “pearls before swine.”  That’s the old way.  That doesn’t work.  (That’s what Republicans continue to do.)

At the national level, Democrats need to agree on values and principles.  They must unite on values such as empathy, caring, and responsibility.  They should agree on principles such as equity, equality, and Democracy.  Then they should recruit young progressive candidates and trust them to run their own campaigns based upon issues that resonate with their voters.

In November, Progressive Democratic candidates can beat Republican mini-Trumps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.  M.J. Hegar running for Congress in Texas’ 31st congressional district (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/after-viral-ad-can-texas-dem-really-win-in-conservative-district/ ).  Beto O’Rourke running for the Senate in Texas (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/beto-orourke-ted-cruz-texas-senate-2018).  And Stacey Abrams running for Governor in Georgia (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/us/politics/georgia-primary-abrams-results.html ).  To name only a few exciting candidates.

Cheer up Democrats.  Get out of bed and start organizing to win.

Telling the Truth About Immigration

Donald Trump plans to make immigration and “border security” the dominant themes in the 2018 midterm election.  On June 24th, Trump tweeted: “We need strength and security at the Border!… We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, [send] them back.”  To respond effectively, Democrats need to tell the truth about immigration; they need to respond to 10 questions.

(1) Why do immigrants want to come to the United States?  Trump and his surrogates spin a consistent dark narrative: “Uncontrolled immigration… illegal immigrants being arrested for the most heinous crimes imaginable… Low-wage foreign workers being brought in to take your place at less pay.”

The reality is more complicated.  Most of the recent immigrants coming across the southern border are fleeing the “Northern Triangle” of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) because their lives are in danger; they’re seeking asylum in the United States.  There’s no compelling evidence that these immigrants are criminals (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/30/upshot/crime-immigration-myth.html).

(2) How many are crossing the southern border?  Trump routinely calls the influx of immigrants “a crisis” and implies it’s a deluge.

Actually, immigration has decreased since 2000.  (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/06/chart-of-the-day-our-crisis-at-the-border/)  From a high of 1.64 million in 2000 to a low of 303,916 in 2017.  (By the way, a report in the San Diego Union (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/sd-me-refugee-decline-20180621-story.html) indicated that the diminishing immigrant numbers are causing labor shortages in border states.)

(3) Is this a crisis?  From the moment Trump announced his presidential candidacy, he has used inflammatory immigration language to describe a border “crisis.”  In June of 2015, Trump blamed Mexico: “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”  Nonetheless, a recent Bloomberg article indicated that immigration from Mexico isn’t a problem (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-06-26/what-immigration-crisis-the-u-s-isn-t-being-swamped) — there are more Mexicans leaving the U.S. than there are those coming in.

Early on, Trump also claimed that Islamic terrorists were pouring across the southern border; he’s since dropped this assertion.

On June 24th, the New York Times investigated whether there is an immigration “crisis” in the border town of Brownsville Texas (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/border-trump-immigration.html) and concluded there isn’t.

(4) Are undocumented immigrants a threat?  Trump suggests that only gang members are coming across the border: “Crippling loopholes in our laws have enabled MS-13 gang members and other criminals to infiltrate our communities.”  A recent San Francisco Chronicle article examined this contention (https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/MS-13-is-scary-but-Trump-may-be-exaggerating-the-13020572.php?) and concluded it’s false: “Although research on MS-13 varies, there is little evidence that young gang members are coming over the border in large numbers. [A government report] found that 0.02 percent of the 260,000 unaccompanied children who had crossed the southern border over the previous six years were suspected of being affiliated with MS-13.”

(5) Why are families in custody?  Each year, thousands of immigrants make the arduous journey to the southern border (in 2017, about 25,000 per month).  Once they cross into the United States and request asylum (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/sd-me-asylum-process-20180427-story.html), they are in protected status; that is, they get to stay in the country until their case is adjudicated.  (And their children, if any, get to stay with them.)

At the moment, the border is, in effect, closed to asylum seekers and so the vast majority of them have no legal way to enter the U.S.  In many cases, they cross the border anyway.  When they are apprehended they are taken into custody and charged with a misdemeanor and jailed.  (That’s the effect of the Trump Administration “zero tolerance” policy.)  They are then held indefinitely until they appear before an Immigration judge.

(6) Why are children separated from their parents? If an adult goes through the regular asylum process, they enter a civil proceeding and their children can stay with them. (An international treaty, which the U.S. signed, guarantees immigrants the right to seek asylum.)

If an adult is arrested, they enter a criminal proceeding and go to jail; in this case, their children cannot stay with them.  (The Trump Administration has recently reversed this decision.)

The Trump Administration routinely alleges that immigrant children are gang members or are being manipulated by gangs.  A recent New York Times article indicated there’s no credible evidence of this (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/01/us/immigration-minors-children.html).

(7) What rights do immigrants have?  The Constitution guarantees basic rights to anyone who is in the United States — whether or not they are citizens.  Immigrants are guaranteed the right of due process (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/what-constitutional-rights-do-undocumented-immigrants-have); that is, they can have their day in court.

(8) Do immigrants have the right to legal representation?  Yes, but it’s not free.  There was a pro bono legal service but, on April 10th, it was suspended by the Trump Administraion (https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/11/politics/immigrant-legal-aid/index.html )

(9) Do immigrants have the right to post bond?  Yes, but most of them don’t have the wherewithal to do this.  A June 24th New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/family-reunited-border-immigration.html ) described the case of a Guatemalan woman who was separated from her son but who was aided by the organization Libre by Nexus; they gave her legal advice, put up her bond, and instituted a lawsuit that resulted in reconciliation.

(10) Can their children be held indefinitely?  No.  There’s a 1997 court decision (Flores v. Reno) that requires the federal government to to place children with a close relative or family friend “without unnecessary delay,” rather than keeping them in custody.  (In practice, it limits the custody to 20 days.)

On June 23rd, the Trump Administration announced a process to reunite the 2053 “separated minors,” it has in custody, with their parents.  As part of this process, the Department of Justice will seek to revoke the Flores decision so that it can hold minors, and their parents, indefinitely.

Summary:  Not surprisingly, Trump has exaggerated and lied about the immigration situation.  It’s not a crisis.  The vast majority of the immigrants are not criminals, they are unfortunates legitimately seeking asylum.  The solution to the situation is to grant immigrants due process and, for legitimate asylum seekers, releasing families from custody until they can have their day in court.