Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder

The murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, highlights the moral depravity of the Trump Administration. Khashoggi was an outspoken journalist — an exemplary member of a profession  Trump deplores.  Khasoggi opposed the Saudi rulers — friends of Trump.  Given this background, it’s no surprise that Trump is avoiding meaningful response to Khashoggi’s assassination.

In 2017, Jamal Khashoggi, perhaps the most famous journalist in the Arab world, left Saudi Arabia after being banned from publishing or appearing on television because he had criticized the Saudi rulers and Donald Trump.  Khashoggi relocated to the United States and began writing for the Washington Post.  On October 2nd, Khashoggi entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, and has not been seen since.  There are numerous reports that he was killed by a 15-person assassination team dispatched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

To understand how this killing became a major Trump scandal, we must follow three threads.  The first is the relationship between Jamal Khashoggi and his country.  In 1958. Khashoggi was born into an affluent Saudi family.  He went to Saudischools and then came to the U.S.,  receiving his college degree at Indiana State University (1982).  Khashoggi returned to Saudi Arabia and became a journalist; during the next twenty years he traveled extensively, interviewing many Middle East luminaries including Osama bin Laden (https://www.businessinsider.com/missing-saudi-journalist-jamal-khashoggi-ties-to-osama-bin-laden-islamists-2018-10 ).

In 2003, the Saudi Ministry of Information fired Khashoggi from his post as editor of Al Watan and he moved to London.  In 2007, Khashoggi moved back to Saudi Arabia and again became editor of Al Watan.  In 2010 he was fired for criticizing the government.  Nonetheless, he continued to write columns, and provide TV commentary, for a variety of media outlets.  In December 2016, the Saudi authorities banned him from writing columns or appearing on television.  Early in 2017 Khashoggi moved to the United States and began writing for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi’s new columns were sharply critical of the Saudi government, particularly Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman — next in line for the Saudi throne.  In April 2018  Khashoggi wrote that Saudi Arabia “should return to its pre 1979 climate when the government restricted hard-line Wahhabi traditions. Women today should have the same rights as men. And all citizens should have the right to speak their minds without fear of imprisonment.”  He criticized Saudi intervention in Yemen and the government crackdown on media and dissent.  Khashoggi even established a Saudi political party, Democracy for the Arab World Now.

There’s strong evidence that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, on October 2nd, at the direction of Mohammad bin Salman.  The Crown Prince doesn’t like to be challenged.  Neither does Donald Trump.

Trump has made no secret of his contempt for the press.  At his campaign rallies he’s encouraged his followers to heap abuse on nearby members of the press.  He regularly calls out journalists in his Tweets.  (By the way, Trump has particular contempt for The Washington Post, Khashoggi’s employer.  He’s called out various Post reporters and the owner,  Jeff Bezos.)  One of Trump’s objectives is to diminish freedom of the press by expanding libel laws to permit more law suits against journalists (https://nypost.com/2018/09/05/trump-wants-to-change-libel-laws-in-wake-of-woodward-book/ ).  Since becoming President, Trump has railed at alleged “fake news.”  In August he began call journalists “enemies of the people.”  (More than 300 U.S. media outlets have published editorials condemning Trump’s words.)

Given this background, it’s not surprising that Trump minimized the importance of Khashoggi’s murder.  On October 11th, when queried about Khashoggi, Trump responded, “This took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen.”  (Khashoggi was in the U.S. as a lawful immigrant,)

However, Trump has stronger reasons to avoid a strenuous inquiry into Khashoggi’s death; Trump has financial ties to Saudi Arabia.  During the 2015 presidential campaign, Trump boasted: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much… They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundred of millions.”(https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/16/trump-says-no-financial-interests-in-saudi-arabia-but-makes-money.html )  By the way, Trump now denies these financial ties; on October 16th, Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.”  (There’s also evidence that Trump’ son-in-law, Jared Kushner has ties to the Saudis. (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/16/657923244/jared-kushner-faces-scrutiny-for-his-ties-to-the-saudi-crown-prince )

Not surprisingly, Trump shows no interest in putting pressure on the Saudis.  It’s been suggested that he should threaten to withdraw from his touted “$110 billion” arms deal to force the Saudi’s to cooperate.  He’s unlikely to do this.  Since May of 2017, the White House has touted “a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase … which will grow to $350 billion over the next 10 years.”  But it turns out that most of the $110 billion consists of “memorandum of intent” and only $14.5 billion are covered by the firmer “Letters of Agreement.” (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/trumps-110-billion-saudi-arms-deal-doesnt-actually-exist )  In other words, Trump is lying about this arms deal.

The Trump Administration isn’t going to do anything about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  Just like they haven’t done anything about the murders of other brave journalists in Russia and other parts of the world  (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/09/the-guardian-view-on-the-killing-of-journalists-the-truth-in-peril ).  They don’t support freedom of the press.

Jamal Khashoggi’s last column was published posthumously by The Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/jamal-khashoggi-what-the-arab-world-needs-most-is-free-expression/2018/10/17/adfc8c44-d21d-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html?).  Khashoggi observed: “Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate… The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power.”

Donald Trump isn’t going to do anything about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the direction of Saudi rulers, because it’s consistent with Trump’s attitude about the press.  He wants to impose his own Iron Curtain.  Who will be the first American journalist to die?

Global Climate Change Comes Home

There are many reasons to dislike Donald Trump. He’s an unrepentant sexual predator, who lies without remorse. In addition, Trump is a bigoted bully whose only moral precept is “might makes right.” Nonetheless, the most important reason to dislike Donald is that he refuses to protect our children and grandchildren.  Trump is obsessed with immediate gratification and. therefore, has chosen to ignore global climate change. Now it’s coming home to bite all of us.

If you blinked, you missed the October 8th report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/).  It’s very disturbing; if we don’t take immediate action to control emissions, we’re screwed.  More about that later.

You may have not seen the IPCC climate change report because the mainstream-media focus quickly shifted to the fight between Donald Trump and Taylor Swift.  And then to sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh’s first day on the Supreme Court — by the way, he has four female clerks.  Or, if you live in the southeast, you may have been preoccupied with Hurricane Michael bearing down on the Florida panhandle.

If you’re among the unfortunates living on the coast of Alabama and Florida, I sympathize with your situation.  Perhaps, as your considering the hurricane damage, you’ll have a moment to reflect that you, too, are a victim of global climate change.  These days, that’s the pattern: people don’t pay attention to climate change until it comes to their neighborhood.

Every American has an opinion about climate change, but few of us rank it as an important concern when deciding who to vote for.  Instead, prospective voters focus on the near term: healthcare costs, jobs and the economy, or guns.  This is the recurring pattern when Americans ponder climate change: they decide it’s too abstract or difficult and they don’t do anything about it.   Unless you are fortunate enough to live in California.

In August, Quinnipiac ran a small poll (175 respondents) that asked: “Do you think the United States is doing enough to address climate change, doing too much, or do you think more needs to be done to address climate change?”  64 percent responded “more needs to be done;” the highest number since Quinnipiac started asking the question.  (And “doing too much” or “doing enough” were at all all time lows.)  The pollsters added a new follow-on question: “The wildfires in California are the worst in the state’s history. Do you think climate change is a factor in making these fires more extreme, or not?”  53 percent of respondents believed climate change was a factor.

In California, we take climate change very seriously and a strong majority believes that climate change was a factor in our fires.  A recent Public Policy Poll ( http://www.ppic.org/publication/californians-views-on-climate-change/) found that 80 percent of Californians view climate change as a serious “threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life.”  (California Democrats and Independents view climate change more seriously than do Republicans — only 22 percent of Trump’s Party see it is a threat; they’re more worried about Taylor Swift.)  Californians have to take climate change seriously; a recent report indicated that the frequency of major fires will increase by 77 percent by the end of the century.

In California we’re taking a variety of actions to stem the tide of climate change — such as limiting our carbon emissions — because we understand that  we don’t have a choice.

Meanwhile, the October 8th IPCC report indicates that the world is rapidly reaching the point of no return:  “We are on track to cross a key threshold of danger —1.5 degrees C or 2.7 degrees F—much earlier than anticipated: 2040.”  (A 1.5 degree Celsius increase is the point at which irreversible sea level rise, massive coral reef extinctions, and food shortages begin to occur.)  In California, this would increase the severity of fires and the probability of drought.  It would also increase flooding along the coast and raise the probability that salt water would intrude into the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta — an event that would have cascading consequences, threatening drinking water supplies and impacting farm land.

California is taking steps to deal with this and it’s likely Florida will join us.  The day the IPCC report appeared, Florida got news that Hurricane Michael was heading their way.  (On the afternoon of October 10th, Michael hit the Florida panhandle with winds between 115-155 mph.)  It’s the third major hurricane to hit Florida in the past 3 years.

It’s not Florida’s only global climate change event.  For almost a year, Florida has been beset by the “red tide” (https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/8/30/17795892/red-tide-2018-florida-gulf-sarasota-sanibel-okeechobee ), which has killed: “At least a hundred manatees, a dozen dolphins, thousands of fish, 300 sea turtles, and more have died or washed along shores in putrid-smelling masses.”  The red-tide has become a factor in Florida’s election:  Republican Governor Rick Scott exacerbated the situation by cutting Florida’s water-management budget.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration chose not to respond to the IPCC report.  When queried, Donald said, “It was given to me, and I want to look at who drew it… Because I can give you reports that are fabulous, and I can give you reports that aren’t so good. But I will be looking at it. Absolutely.”  Trump isn’t going to read the report and he isn’t going to lead an effort to protect our children and grandchildren from future harm.

Response to the IPCC report will have to happen at the state level.  In the meantime, move to higher ground.

Righteous Anger: Kavanaugh and Trump

The confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh began on September 4th, quickly devolved into a demolition derby, and finally has reached it’s ultra-partisan conclusion. Kavanaugh will be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. Republican actions will live on in infamy. And Democrats are united in righteous anger.

This 33 day process established several things.  First, Brett Kavanaugh is unfit to be a Supreme Court Justice.  At first, many of us opposed him because we thought his views were too extreme — he will, I’m sure, oppose Roe v. Wade and any other law that lets women make their own health decisions.  (And he is a corporatist who will side with corporations, and the wealthy, in cases that pit these interests against working folks.)  But, as he we got to know Kavanaugh — through the determined efforts of Senators like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — we realized that he’s a liar; that he had lied to Congress (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/09/five-times-brett-kavanaugh-appears-to-have-lied-to-congress-while-under-oath/ )  And then, because of the courageous efforts of Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and other women, we learned that Kavanaugh had (or has) a drinking problem and, when he drank to excess, assaulted women.

Finally, when Kavanaugh was asked to defend himself from the Blasey-Ford accusations, he lost control of his temper: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.  This is a circus.”  Kavanaugh does not have “judicial temperament.”

Watching the hearings, millions of Americans came to the conclusion that Kavanaugh is unfit to be a judge.  Among these was retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/us/politics/john-paul-stevens-brett-kavanaugh.html )

The second thing the Kavanaugh hearings established is that the Republican Party, run by old white men, will say and do anything to win.  The GOP has embraced the morality that “the ends justify the means.”  This shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, the Republican Party decided to invade Iraq because they needed a wining issue for the 2002 mid-term elections.

What’s so disappointing is that the entirety of the Republican Senate — with the exception of Senator Lisa Murkowski — has gone over to the dark side.  No longer can we find a handful of Senators — such as the late John McCain — who, on occasion, were willing to do what’s right; who were willing to declare that Emperor Trump has no clothes.  The Republican party has lost its moral compass.

The third thing we learned from the Kavanaugh hearings is that the Republican Party is Trump’s Party.  Trump pushed through a totally unfit Supreme Court nominee and, in the process, he forced the GOP to submit to his will.  With the exception of brave Senator Murkowski — and for a few minutes Senator Jeff Flake — no Republican was willing to stand up to Trump.  They will not stand up to an unrepentant sexual predator and habitual liar.

The fourth thing that was established during the 33 day ordeal is that Democrats, and like-minded voters, are angry.  The website 538 reported that Kavanaugh was the least popular choice for the Supreme Court in 100 years ( https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-final-look-at-where-voters-stand-on-kavanaugh-before-the-senate-votes/)  Kavanaugh was supported only by Republican voters.  (Overall, women were strongly opposed to Kavanaugh.)

There’s strong feeling about the Kavanaugh confirmation process.  Watching Christine Blasey Ford’s September 27th testimony, many sexual-assault survivors were re-triggered.  They were not pleased with the way the Republican-controlled committee handled Professor Ford — or Kavanaugh’s other accusers — and they were angered by Donald Trump’s mocking Professor Ford on October 2nd.

As a result of this painful process, Democrats, and their allies, are angry at Donald Trump and his Republican Party.  Now they plan to channel their anger into work related to the November 6th midterm elections.  The 538 website (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-kavanaugh-helping-republicans-midterm-chances/ ) just cited a poll that concluded: “more voters would be angry than enthusiastic if Kavanaugh was confirmed.”  That confirms what we’re seeing on the Left Coast.  There’s a big money and determination gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Nonetheless, two incumbent female Democratic Senators were hurt by their opposition to Kavanaugh: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp.  Their bravery merits support.

Finally, the Kavanaugh hearings established once and for all that the Republican Party can no longer claim to represent orthodox Christians.  Surely no political Party that consistently lies and supports the moral tenet that the ends justify the means, can claim allegiance to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  On October 6th, 2018, it’s the Democratic Party that hungers and thirsts for righteousness.  With 30 days of hard work, our quest for righteousness will be fulfilled.

 

A Tipping Point: Kavanaugh and Trump

20 percent of U.S. women have been raped and another 40 percent have experienced some other form of sexual violence.  I mention this because as the Kavanaugh confirmation has veered from his conservative beliefs to his veracity and then to his sexual behavior, the contentious hearing entered territory that was traumatic for many women.  For this reason, September 27th represents a tipping point in American politics.  A point where U.S. women declared they have had enough abuse.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that Donald Trump, an unrepentant sexual predator, would nominate a Supreme Court Justice from the same mold.  At first we thought that Kavanaugh was a clone of Justice Neil Gorsuch, a deeply conservative jurist hand-picked by White House Counsel Don McGahn and a few other archconservatives.  (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh knew each other in high school, Georgetown Prep, and both clerked for Supreme Court Justice Kennedy.)  It was not until Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward that we realized that Kavanaugh suffered from a sinister pathology — as an (alleged) sexual predator.

Trump and Kavanaugh’s decision to dispute Blasey’s accusations — and the accusation of other women — and push forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination, led to the September 27th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.  That all-day hearing triggered traumatic memories for many women who have been the victims of sexual abuse.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2018/09/28/sexual-assault-victims-are-reliving-their-trauma-triggered-by-kavanaugh-hearing/? ) If this weren’t bad enough, Kavanaugh and Republican (all male) members of the Senate Judiciary Committee insulted female Democratic Senators Feinstein and Klobuchar.

As a result, the women I know are incensed.  They feel that continued Republican support for Kavanaugh’s nomination is a another attempt by Republican men to minimize and dismiss the trauma of sexual assault.  These women have been reminded that Donald Trump is an unrepentant sexual predator.  American women are mad and want to even the score.

Whatever happens to the Kavanaugh nomination — at this writing it’s been postponed pending an FBI inquiry — it’s likely that Republicans will suffer at the ballot box.

Before the Kavanaugh debacle, we knew that a record number of women are running for office in the 2018 mid-term elections (https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/16/politics/house-women-update-september/index.html ) — overwhelmingly as Democrats.  Furthermore, a June CNN poll found that 58 percent of likely female voters planned to vote for a Democratic candidate in November — versus 33 percent of women that planned to vote for a Republican candidate and 9 percent who were undecided.  (The 25 point gender gap is unprecedented — and this was before Kavanaugh’s hearing.)

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony is a turning point in American politics.  It’s a moment where American women collectively re-experienced their trauma and decided: “This has gone on long enough.  It’s time to put an end to sexual violence… It’s time for women to take power.”

Donald Trump is too dense to understand this.  And, for whatever reason, most male Republicans don’t get it, either.

There’s a blue wave coming.  A blue tsunami.  Many elements have contributed to this — one of which is Trump’s feckless behavior.  But Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was the tipping point.

 

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.