Trump Should Resign

The news story of the year has not been Donald Trump; it has been the “#MeToo” movement, where brave women denounced sexual assault and harassment. This movement brought down Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Now it has prompted new demands for Trump’s resignation.

Sexual assault is one of many reasons why Trump should resign from the presidency.  The most important reason is his lack of moral leadership.

Whether we like it or not, the President of the United States is an archetype.  His behavior serves as a model for many Americans.  The President is, by virtue of his position, someone that dominates the daily discourse of American society.  We are influenced not only by his decisions but also by his daily actions.  Good or bad, the President sets an example for our children and other impressionable members of our society.  In addition, the President represents us to residents of foreign countries.

After Trump won a bitterly contested presidential election, many Americans resolved to give him the benefit of the doubt.  “Let us give him time in office,” they said, “perhaps he will rise to the challenge.”

Trump has not risen to the challenge.  On January 20th, many of us believed that Trump was pathologically amoral.  Eleven months watching him in the White House, have convinced us that our assessment is correct.

On December 12th, USA Today ( https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/12/12/trump-lows-ever-hit-rock-bottom-editorials-debates/945947001/published a scathing editorial, “Will Trump’s lows ever hit rock bottom?”  The editorial was in response to Trump branding New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as a whore — someone who would trade sexual favors for campaign cash — with this tweet: “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)…”

USA Today remarked: “Donald Trump, the man… is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed… Trump’s utter lack of morality, ethics and simple humanity has been underscored during his 11 months in office.”

USA Today detailed six categories of Trump’s “sickening behavior.”

1. He lies nonstop.  ” As of mid-November, [Trump] had made 1,628 misleading or false statements in 298 days in office.”

2. “Trump takes advantage of any occasion — even Monday’s failed terrorist attack in New York — to stir racial, religious or ethnic strife.”

3. He routinely demeans women.  “When accused during the campaign of sexually harassing or molesting women in the past, Trump’s response was to belittle the looks of his accusers.”

4. “Trump has shown contempt for ethical strictures that have bound every president in recent memory.  He has refused to release his tax returns, with the absurd excuse that it’s because he is under audit.  He has refused to put his multibillion dollar business interests in a blind trust and peddles the fiction that putting them in the hands of his sons does the same thing.”

5. He hasn’t done his job as President.  “As of last week, Trump had failed to nominate anyone for 60% of 1,200 key positions he can fill to keep the government running smoothly.”

6. He enthusiastically supported the deplorable Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore: “Trump summed up his willingness to support a man accused of criminal conduct: ‘Roy Moore will always vote with us.'”

And, of course, we have every reason to believe that Trump cooperated with Russians to subvert the 2016 presidential election.  Now Trump seems determined to undermine the Mueller investigation into this treachery.

Sadly, it’s not surprising that Trump has failed as President.  What is surprising is that he continues to have the support of the leaders of the Republican Party and that only a handful of  Democratic Senators — including Gillibrand — have called for his resignation.

However, the American public has turned on Trump.  A new Public Policy Poll (https://www.publicpolicypolling.com/polls/voters-think-trump-resign-harassment-allegations/ ) indicates that “53% think Trump should step down to just 42% who think he should remain in office.”

Donald Trump is a moral cancer afflicting the US body politic.  We have to excise this cancer before it fatally corrupts our country.  Trump must resign.

The Rape of the United States of America

2017 political news contained two preeminent images: Donald Trump and sexual assault. Trump’s objective has been to be dominate the news each day.  Nonetheless, beginning with revelations about the sexual behavior of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Trump tidings were pushed aside by reports of celebrity sexual misconduct.  (Time Magazine recognized this by naming “the silence breakers” their persons of the year.)  The two images are connected. Trump has been accused of sexual assault.  And the Republican Party is engaged in systematic rape of American workers.

A little over a year ago, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was momentarily derailed by the release of a salacious recording where Trump bragged about assaulting women: “When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy.”  Amazingly, Trump survived this.  His most ardent supporters came to regard the recording as “fake news.”  Mainstream Republicans adopted the attitude, “Whatever Trump may have done in the past, he’s preferable to Hillary Clinton.”

During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party and, in the process, “normalized” sexual assault, for the Party faithful.  We see this in GOP support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.  Multiple women have come forward with tales of Moore’s sexual misbehavior — one of the women was 14 when Moore assaulted her.  The mainstream Republican response is, “Whatever Moore may have done in the past, he’s preferable to the Democratic candidate.”

Republicans have adopted the dubious ethical maxim: “the end justifies the means.”  And they have gone farther; they’ve adopted the tactics used to denigrate sexual assault victims.  We can see this in the Republican tax plan that passed the Senate in the early hours of Saturday, December 2nd.

The first of the Republican tactics is the lie.  Trump claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying.  Alabama Senate candidate Moore also claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying.  Similarly, when confronted about problems with their tax bill, Republicans respond with lies; for example, the tax cuts will benefit America’s working families — when actually the GOP tax plan will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthiest one percent.  Republicans have also lied about the impact of the tax bill on the economy; they claim it will cause the economy to grow because of the “trickle-down” effect — when actually there is little evidence that the GOP tax plan will have long-term positive impacts on the economy (to the contrary, there is a lot of evidence that increasing economic inequality will have long-term negative consequences).

The second of the Republican tactics is to demean the victim.  Trump and Moore have suggested that their accusers came forward because they wanted publicity.  Congressional Republicans have argued that the rich deserve tax breaks because they’ve worked hard to make their money and, in contrast, the poor do not deserve tax breaks (or social services) because they have not worked hard (this conforms to the long-time Republican contention that the poor are shiftless).

It’s only a small step from the Trump and Moore statements to the classic rapist contention: “she asked for it.”  In court, rapists often attempt to discredit their victims by claiming the woman “asked for it,” suggesting that the assault victim was a person of loose morals or “incited” the rapist by dressing in a provocative way.  Similarly, Republicans in Congress are suggesting that working-class voters “asked for it” because they have not amassed enough funds to be able to pay for social services.

A recent study of 41 convicted rapists (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4491036/) found they had three dominant justifications for their behavior: 79 percent opined, “it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you.” 51 percent described women as sex objects, “whose function is to be sexually available to men.” And 44 percent “expressed feelings of entitlement, assuming that as a man they could take what they wanted from the woman.”

Sadly, these horrific sentiments are similar to those expressed by Donald Trump and other senior Republicans.  Trump infamously never apologizes, stating that when he perceives he is under attack, he responds in kind.   This is an expression of Trump’s governing philosophy, “it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you.”

Furthermore, Trump historically has treated women as sex objects.  And it’s hard to imagine any American who expresses a stronger feeling of entitlement than does Trump.  This is shown by his remark: “When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy.”

With regards to their tax plan, the Republican leadership has expressed similar feelings of entitlement.  Witness the statements of Trump, Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Ross, and Chief Economic Adviser Cohn.  They’ve all made comments to the effect, “When you’re rich, you can do anything…”

During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party.  In the process, he “normalized” sexual assault and encouraged congressional Republicans to rape America’s working families.

Democrats Need New Leaders

On November 11, Saturday Night Live ran a parody advertisement (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/12/snl-hits-the-nail-on-the-head-the-dnc-is-old-and-out-of-touch/? ) that claimed the leadership of the Democratic Party is old and out of touch.  The skit made public what many Democratic stalwarts have been whispering since the disastrous 2016 presidential election: It’s time for a new generation of Democratic leaders to step forward. This stance is based upon a simple assertion: to win at the national level, Democrats have to attract younger voters and their septuagenarian leaders aren’t capable of doing this.

It’s no secret that the current Democratic leadership is old.  SNL actors portrayed Nancy Pelosi (77), Chuck Schumer (66), Diane Feinstein (84), Hillary Clinton (70), Tim Kaine (59), and Bernie Sanders (76).  (By the way, this past week rumors circulated that former vice-president, Joe Biden, is preparing to launch his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination.)  But it’s overly simplistic to state that Democrats will solve all their problems by deposing their “elders.”

It’s understandable that, in the wake of the 2016 debacle, Democrats would want to “clean house,” to replace the leaders that seem to have contributed to the Trump/Republican victory.  But it’s useful to remember the famous “life cycle of a big project”: stage one is “unwarranted enthusiasm;” stage two “unmitigated disaster;” stage three “hunt for the guilty;” stage four “punishment of the innocent;” and stage five ” promotion of the uninvolved.”  Obviously, Democrats are now in stage three, “hunt for the guilty.”

Who exactly was responsible for the 2016 debacle?  We can start with Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And add the head of the Democratic National Committee, at the time Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  To this we might add the senior folks in the Clinton Campaign such as campaign manager Robbie Mook and campaign chairman John Podesta.

If we move to stage four, “punishment of the innocent,” there are several obvious names from the Democratic opposition:  Bernie Sanders, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, and his small group of political supporters: Senator Jeff Merkley and nine representatives (Ellison, Gabbard, Grayson, Grijalva, Kapture, Lipinski, Peterson, and Nolan).  Next comes the congressional leadership: should Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer be punished because Clinton lost?  If disgruntled Democrats go down the “punish the innocent” road then there is a long list of prominent Dems that could be blamed: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and so forth.  Anyone who endorsed Clinton over Sanders could be put on the list.  But is that wise?

Rather than clean house of the septuagenarians or purge everyone who supported Hillary Clinton, Democrats should take a more pragmatic course: which leaders do we absolutely need going forward?  Which leaders, regardless of their age, do the Democrats need to triumph in 2018?

Before answering this question, it’s useful to consider the results of the November 7th election in Virginia.  Democrats did better than expected; Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam beat his GOP opponent by nine percentage points — when some had called the race a tossup.  In addition, Democrats picked up at least 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and, depending upon recounts, possibly a majority.

There are two reasons why Democrats did so well in the Virginia election.  They ran up huge numbers in suburban and exurban districts; more than offsetting large numbers of Trump voters (white, non-college-educated) in rural districts.  And they ran many appealing female candidates — 11 of the 15 House pickups saw Democratic women replace Republican men.

On November 6, 2018, Democrats should prevail if they remember what worked in Virginia: build on the enthusiasm gap in suburban and exurban districts and run appealing female candidates.  Application of these rules should determine the Democratic leadership going forward.

If Democrats are going to feature female candidates in 2018, it doesn’t make any sense to purge the leadership of high-profile women such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren.  (Pelosi may be 77 but she’s far from over the hill.)  It does make sense to de-emphasize white male leaders such as Chuck Schumer and Tim Kaine.

For any particular Senate or Congressional district race, the standard ought to be: “which candidate or national advocate can generate enthusiasm?”  The answer will depend upon the particular race.  In 2018, 84-year-old California Senator Dianne Feinstein is running for reelection against 50-year-old State Senate leader Kevin de León — another Democrat.  The latest Los Angeles Times poll shows Feinstein with a 58 percent to 31 percent lead over de León primarily based upon name recognition — 80 percent of voters did not know enough about de León to form an opinion of him.  (Nonetheless, the very-well-known Feinstein is viewed favorably by only 34 percent of the prospective California voters.)  The Virginia results suggest that if de León increases his name recognition he’ll have a good shot against Feinstein because his voters will be much more enthusiastic than her voters.

Of course the Democratic Party needs new leadership.  Some leaders such as Barack Obama are going to fade away.  Others, mostly older white men, have lost their relevance.

Going forward it’s obvious that the face of the Democratic Party has to change in a way that reflects the actual demographics of the United States — where white non-hispanic males are only 32 percent of the population.  That suggest emphasizing women, in general, and other under-represented minorities.

 

 

One Year Later: Ten Things We’ve Learned

On election day in 2016, Donald Trump surprised most of us by defeating Hillary Clinton (although he garnered only 46.1 percent of the popular vote).  One year later, what have we learned?

1. Trump is not a joke.  There were some of us who dismissed Trump, gave him no chance to win.  A terrible mistake.

After the election, some observers hoped that Donald would “grow into” the presidency, begin acting presidential.  Sadly, Trump shows no sign of doing this.  He’s continued the same erratic, self-centered behavior.

As a result, Trump is “a clear and present danger” to the U.S.  A recent CNN poll  (http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/28/politics/poll-politics-low-point/index.html) indicated that 71 percent of respondents believe that “politics has reached a dangerous low point.”

2. Trump’s base has stuck with him.  Just before the election, the Huffington Post “Poll of Polls” showed Clinton with a five point lead — 47.3 percent to 42 percent.  Last-minute voters broke mostly for Trump.  A recent Center for American Progress study (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/reports/2017/11/01/441926/voter-trends-in-2016/) suggests that these were primarily white non-college-educated voters.

Twelve months later, Trump averages 38 percent approval.

Many of his adherent refuse to believe the negative reports on Trump’s behavior; they dismiss it as “fake news.”  Others are focussed on a particular issue and, as long as Trump supports that issue, they stand with him.  Based upon the results of the recent Pew Research poll of political typology http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/), Trump’s supporters are those who share one or more of these opinions: Washington politics are fatally flawed and need to be “blown up;”  Taxes are too high;  Immigrants burden the U.S.;  and Washington has taken away “religious liberty.”

3. Trump’s base is driven by a level of desperation that most Democrats don’t understand.  Running up to the presidential election there was persistent polling indicating Americans were dissatisfied with the direction the country has been taking and felt the country wasn’t working for them.

Arlie Hochschild’s book, “Stranger in Their Own Land,” describes the viewpoint of Tea-Party / Trump voters.  They feel that they have been unfairly denied their shot at the American dream.  These voters don’t trust government to do the right thing.  They turned to Trump because they saw him as someone outside the government who could shake things up; “Make America Great Again.”

4. On election day, there was an enthusiasm gap.  It was a very close election and there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost: bad campaign decisions; the Comey announcement; Russian subterfuge; Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters; disgruntled Bernie voters; among others.  Nonetheless, the very few voters I know who voted for Trump tell a similar story, “I didn’t like Trump but I couldn’t stand Clinton.”

On election day, undecided voters broke for Trump; they saw him as the lesser of two evils.  Trump’s supporters felt more positively about him than Clinton supporters felt about her.  In the latest Pew Research report this shows up: Trump is viewed favorably by 90 percent of his core supporters; Clinton is viewed favorably by 70 percent of her base.

5. Obama was an effective President but a crummy leader of the Democratic Party.  On the November 3rd PBS News Hour, commenting on recent revelations about the relationship between the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign,  Mark Shields observed, “It’s proof… of how little Barack Obama cared about the Democratic Party or about politics. He was great at getting elected… He was leaving the party $24 million in debt, therefore, vulnerable to Hillary Clinton’s coterie of big givers.”

One of the many reasons that Clinton lost was that the national Democratic Party was weak.  The blame for this has to laid at the feet of the leader of Democratic Party, Barack Obama,

6. Bernie Sanders probably has an important role going forward but it’s not clear what it is.  There’s a lot of mainstream media attention given to divisions in the Democratic Party, primarily Bernie supporters versus Hillary supporters.  I don’t see this here (Berkeley).  In 2018, there’s so much work to do that Bernie, and his supporters, will be an asset to the resistance.

7. Russia impacted the election but it probably wasn’t the determining factor.  There’s little doubt that Russia intervened in the election: by hacking the DNC emails, by running malicious social media ads, and other activities. Nonetheless, I believe that, in 2016, if Obama had been running against Trump, Barack would have won.

8. Trump has been a disaster for the environment.  Trump is so terrible across the board that it’s difficult to focus on particulars but here are two.  Trump, by his statements and his political appointments, has set out to reverse everything the Obama Administration did to protect the environment.  As one consequence, the U.S. stands alone in opposition to the Paris Climate Agreement.

9. Trump has encouraged bigotry.  Before the election, we believed that Trump was prejudiced; everything he’s done as President has convinced me that he’s worse than we imagined — a white supremacist.  Across the nation this has had a devastating ripple effect; Trump has encouraged hate.

10. Democrats still don’t have a message.  Fortunately, in 2018, that won’t matter.  The November 7th results suggest that the midterm election will be about change, throwing Republican white guys out of house.  Trump has given the resistance enough ammunition that it doesn’t need one focussed message.

Trump’s Tax Cut Challenge

After 9 plus months in office, Donald Trump has accomplished little. He’s very unpopular and has failed to fulfill his major campaign promises,  Major Republican donors are withdrawing  funding.  In response, Trump has embarked on a desperate campaign to cut taxes. Even though Republicans control Congress, tax reform faces an uphill battle.

According to the political website 538 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) Trump’s popularity has remained stable for five months; it’s currently at 56.4 percent disapprove and 38 percent approve.  Nonetheless, Trump’s base is sticking with him; the latest Gallup Poll indicates that 78 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.

Trump’s poor performance has affected the Republican Party.  In the aftermath of the GOP’s latest failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, GOP fundraising has tanked (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/us/politics/republican-donors-obamacare-repeal.html?_r=0)

In a desperate effort to assuage the biggest Republican donors, Trump and the GOP congressional leadership have embarked on a tax-reform initiative that promises big tax cuts for corporations and billionaires.  (Senator Elizabeth Warren says that, over ten years, Trump’s plan will add $2 trillion to the deficit.)  Given the composition of the Republican base, it’s not a sure thing that the GOP tax-reform initiative will succeed.

Recently Pew Research (http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/) updated their landmark study of American political behavior.  Pew Research divides Republican voters into four segments: Core Conservatives, Country First Conservatives , Market Skeptics, and New Era Enterprisers; for a total of 42 percent of the electorate.  To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite these four segments.

Trump’s problem is that he has made different promises to each group.  Core Conservatives (13 percent ) are deeply skeptical of the social safety net and favor lower tax rates on corporations and high-income individuals. This is the most politically active of the four Republican groups and is primarily composed of non-Hispanic white men.

The key Core Conservative issue is tax reform.  Representative GOP Core Conservative politicians are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Most of the support for Trump’s tax reform initiative will come from Core Conservatives.

Country First Conservatives (6 percent) are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups.  They are predominantly white non-Hispanic and and, of the four groups, the staunchest supporters of President Trump.

Pew Research says the key Country-First Conservative issue is immigration.  Pew notes that no (zero) Country-First Conservatives agreed with this poll statement: “Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.”  “Nearly two-thirds of Country First Conservatives… 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 have vastly different attitudes about corporate taxes than do Core Conservatives; only 35 percent of Country-First Conservatives want to see business taxes lowered.   (Representative Country-First Conservatives are Iowa Congressman Steve King and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.)

Pew Research doesn’t assign a distinct category to Conservative Evangelical Christians.  Members of this group — which overwhelmingly supports Trump — are split between Core Conservatives and Country-First Conservatives.  According to Pew Research, “68% of Country First Conservatives… say that it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.”  44 percent of Core Conservative share this sentiment.

Identification as a conservative evangelical is an important consideration because the most important issue for this group is not tax reform but rather the set of issues that evangelicals lump under “religious liberty.”  (When conservative evangelicals talk of “religious liberty” they usually mean the freedom to discriminate against a particular group — gays, blacks, immigrants, whomever — on the basis of a fervent religious belief.)

Market Skeptics (12 percent) stand out from other Republican-oriented groups in their negative views of the economic system: “An overwhelming majority say it ‘unfairly favors powerful interests.’ Most also say businesses make too much profit, and they are the most likely Republican-leaning group to want to raise taxes on corporations (55%).” This is the Republican group least inclined to support tax cuts for corporations and billionaires.

The key issue for Market Skeptics is reduction in the size of government.  Many would call them Libertarians; Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is a representative member of this group.

New Era Enterprisers (11 percent) are a catchall GOP category.   They are younger and less socially conservative than the other groups.  “While they are not affluent, a large majority (72%) say they are generally satisfied with their financial situation.”  Interestingly, this is Republican group least approving of Trump’s conduct in office: 39 percent view it negatively and 38 percent have mixed feelings.

After Core Conservatives, New Era Enterprisers are most likely to support tax reform.  They believe the economic system is fair and have a positive view of corporations.

Summary: To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite the four segments of the Republican Party.  Given the Pew Research data, that appears to be a difficult task.  A key element of the tax-reform proposals are substantial cuts for billionaires and corporations.

It appears that only two-thirds of Republican voters approve of the proposed tax-reform plan (Core Conservatives and New Era Enterprisers).  Given that Republicans will get no Democratic support for their tax-reform initiative, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump and the GOP leaders don’t have the votes they need.

 

Have We Reached Trump’s Tipping Point?

Even by Trump regime standards, the past several weeks have been unusually tumultuous. First, Trump botched aid to Puerto Rico; then he muffed condolence calls to widows. Now he’s being condemned by two Republican Senators. Have we reached the long-awaited ‘tipping point”? Is this the beginning of the end of the Trump era?

Since Trump took office, Democrats have been waiting for one of two events. Either Trump would mature and begin to act presidential, or his base would desert him. After nine months, it’s clear that Trump is not going to change. (On October 24th, Republican Senator Jeff Flake deplored Trump’s “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.”)  Given Trump’s inflexibility, are we nearing the point where his base deserts him?

According to the political website 538 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) Trump’s popularity has remained stable for five months. It’s currently at 56.7 percent disapprove and 37.2 percent approve; since May, Trump’s approval ratings have stayed within a band of 54 to 56 percent disapprove and 37 to 39 percent approve. He’s an unpopular President but, based on this metric, his base is sticking with him.

Democrats find Trump so repugnant that’s it’s hard to imagine that any American would support him.  Nonetheless, he’s tightened his grip on most Republican voters.  There are three reasons for this.

The first is that Trump commands the right-wing media.  While the mainstream media (MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post…) has reported adversely on Trump’s behavior, the distinctly right-wing media (Fox, Breitbart…) has been supportive.  New Yorker columnist Elizabeth Drew noted Trump’s political skills: “He can… make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep [his base] loyal.”

To gauge the gap between left-wing and right-wing media, turn on your TV and use the remote control to switch back and forth between “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC and “Sean Hannity” on Fox News.  They two shows emphasize different topics and have dramatically different perspectives on Trump.

In addition, Republicans no longer trust the mainstream media. In August, The Economist  (http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21725822) published a poll indicating, “When Republicans were asked whether they trusted Mr Trump more than the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN, at least 70% sided with the president each time.”

A second reason why Trump has tightened his grip on the Republican base is that he expresses their worldview. (The latest Gallup Poll indicates that 80 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.)  In his classic, “Moral Politics,” University of California professor George Lakoff notes that conservatives and liberals have two vastly different world views; conservatives have a “strict father” worldview and liberals have a “nurturant parent” worldview.  Recently Lakoff observed: “Most Trump supporters have Strict Father morality… They see Trump as bringing America back to their values in a powerful way, making their values respectable and in line with the way the country is being run. Trump’s presidency has given them self-respect. Their self-respect is more important than the details of his policies, even if some of those policies hurt them.”

This worldview chasm is made clear by the difference between Democrats and Republicans on key issues.  Recently Pew Research (http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/) updated their landmark study of American political behavior on the left and right.  On immigration, study participants were asked if immigrants “Strengthen the U.S. with hard work and talents.”  The average participant agreed (65 percent) but no “Country-First Conservatives” agreed (0 percent); they saw immigrants as “a burden.”

Most Republicans see the world so differently from Democrats that they approve of a President whom most Democrats deplore.

There’s a final reason why Trump’s base is loyal: He knows how to tailor his message to make each Republican constituency believe that Trump will deliver their most cherished political objective.  Pew Research divides Republican voters into four segments: Core Conservatives (13 percent), Country First Conservatives (6 percent), Market Skeptics (12 percent), and New Era Enterprisers (11 percent); for a total of 42 percent of the electorate.  Trump has promised Core Conservatives that he will deliver massive tax cuts.  He has promised Country First Conservatives that he will “build the wall.”  (And he has promised conservative evangelical Christians that he will guarantee “religious liberty.”)

The Pew study indicates why Trump has Trump has held onto his base but also suggests his vulnerabilities.  Obviously, at some point he has to deliver on his promises.

In addition, the Pew study indicates that Trump’s aberrant behavior is beginning to wear on Republican voters.  Core Conservatives and Country First Conservatives generally approve of the way that he conducts himself.   In contrast, only 24 percent of Market Skeptics like the way that Trump conducts himself as President; only 32 percent regard him as “even tempered.”  (Only 49 percent of New Era Enterprisers describe Trump as honest.)

The Pew data suggests there is room for Trump’s approval ratings to plummet due to his “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior” and his failure to deliver on his key promises.  We’re inching closer to Trump’s tipping point.

Marching with Trump “Through the Valley of the Shadow”

American cultural history offers many images of walking through difficult times: “Going down the road feeling bad,” “You got to walk that lonesome valley,” and Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”   At the moment,  Donald Trump is marching us “through the valley of the shadow.”

To say the least, it’s a nerve-wracking journey. Thanks to Twitter and the mainstream media, daily we’re subjected to Trump’s tantrums.  For many of us this is profoundly disturbing.

On September 15th, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/help-president-trump-is-killing-me/2017/09/15/  ) wrote that Trump had caused an alarming rise in Milbank’s blood pressure.  Milbank quipped that he was now afflicted with “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder” (THUD).  In a followup column (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-trump-actually-is-making-us-crazy/2017/09/22/ ) Milbank reported that his readers reported a number of THUD-related symptoms: “Disturbed sleep. Anger. Dread. Weight loss. Overeating. Headaches. Fainting. Irregular heartbeat. Chronic neck pain. Depression. Irritable bowel syndrome. Tightness in the chest. Shortness of breath. Teeth grinding. Stomach ulcer. Indigestion. Shingles. Eye twitching. Nausea. Irritability. High blood sugar. Tinnitus. Reduced immunity. Racing pulse. Shaking limbs. Hair loss. Acid reflux. Deteriorating vision. Stroke. Heart attack.”  These comments came from those who disapprove of Trump.  From Trump supporters, Milbank received vitriol: “Hurry up and die already! . . . just see a dr. You know, Dr Kevorkian.”  Milbank concluded, “Trump is causing, or at least aggravating, mental-health problems on both sides.”

Milbank is not alone in this observation.  Health professionals tell me that, since the election, they have seen a dramatic increase in client ailments triggered by the behavior of Donald Trump.  Several factors contribute to this  “THUD epidemic”:

1. Trump is omnipresent in the news.  (He’s far and away the most commonly searched for Google topic.)  Nine months after Trump entered the White House, it’s clear that he wants to dominate the news every day.  To say the least, Donald has an enormous need for attention.

2. A common response to Trump overload is to turn off the news.  But, in the long term, that’s not a satisfactory answer because, whether we like it or not, Trump is President of the United States and has enormous power.  He can affect our lives in many different ways: starting a nuclear war, ignoring the threat of global climate change, mishandling a natural disaster, shutting down a critical governmental service, and on and on.

Trump is marching us “through the valley of the shadow.”  We’ve been thrust into an abusive relationship.

3. Trump is moody and volatile.  From one day to the next, we don’t know what Donald will do.  Occasionally he seems presidential, as when he went to Las Vegas and comforted victims of the terrible shooting.  On many other occasions, Trump acts like a petulant child and lashes out at whomever he believes is disrespecting him.

For many Americans, Donald Trump is a difficult person whom we cannot get away from. In effect, we’re trapped in an abusive relationship.  It’s not surprising that so many of us experience THUD.

What should we do about this?

When a healthcare professional is confronted with evidence of an abusive relationship, they advise the victim, “get out.”  A doctor or therapist will tell the abuse victim to leave the abuser and go somewhere safe.  Indeed, many of us know people who, because of THUD, have left the country.  However, for most of us leaving the US is not an option.

Three options remain.  One is to check out.  Many Americans have absented themselves from all political discussions.  In effect, they are pretending that Trump doesn’t exist or that he cannot affect them.

Another option — popular in Washington — is to pray for intervention.  After Trump was elected, rumors circulated that his family — particularly his daughter, Ivanka — would keep him check.  When this hope proved to be foolhardy, some suggested that the Republican Party “elders” would keep Donald in check — somehow Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would limit Trump’s damage.  Recent months have proved this hope also to be foolhardy.

At the moment, the dominant intervention fantasy involves “the good generals”: Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly (both retired Marine Corps generals).  The notion is that Mattis or Kelly will stop Trump from a catastrophic action caused by a fit of pique; for example, they will keep him from bombing North Korea because Donald feels disrespected by Kim Jong Un.  Nonetheless, it’s obvious Mattis and Kelly have no influence on domestic policy: they haven’t intervened to stop Trump from repealing DACA or rolling back environmental protections.

If direct intervention with Trump seems inconceivable, there remains the possibility of blocking him in Congress.  That is, the notion that in 2018 Democrats will regain control of the House or Senate and use congressional power to check Trump; for example by passing legislation to defend “Dreamers”or to strengthen environmental protections.  This is the most viable remedy for all of us who suffer from “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder;” work to ensure that Democrats win in 2018.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  To walk without fear we must take action to block Donald Trump.

Trump Now Owns White Supremacy

Even though despicable, Donald Trump’s white-supremacist proclivities have an upside: Trump now owns white supremacy.  That’s an opportunity for progressives to do more than protest; it opens a window for social justice.

Indivisible, and other resistance efforts, have based their grassroots organizing on a simple maxim, “total resistance to the Trump agenda.” That’s been remarkably effective; it’s a major reason why GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare failed. But as Trump rolls on, the resistance must broaden to take on Trump’s bigotry, his alliance with white supremacists.

Most of us who opposed Trump in the 2016 presidential election, believe that he is a bully and a bigot.  Nonetheless, in the midst of the tumult surrounding Trump, it’s easy to lose track of the grim truth: Donald is a white supremacist. His reaction to Charlottesville made that clear.  Trump is a racist, sexist, homophobe, classist, and anti-semite.

If we had any lingering doubts, Trump’s handling of the crisis in Puerto Rico has made his bigotry abundantly clear.  Rather than focus on the desperate straights of the island’s 3.4 million inhabitants — primarily people of color — Trump picked a fight with the National Football League.  As a result, Puerto Rican relief was delayed, turning a tragedy into a catastrophe.

Trump’s recent behavior is an indication we’ve moved into phase two of the Trump era.  Donald has abandoned his legislative agenda and begun to focus solely on placating his base.  (He made a half-hearted effort to repeal Obamacare and will make another weak effort to change the tax code but nothing will come of it.)

Confronted with across-the-board Republican failure, Trump’s base is restless.  So far they’ve focussed blame for the GOP “repeal and replace” debacle on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  (Trump continues to have the support of 80 percent of Republican voters.)

While Trump’s support for white supremacy is horrifying, it represents an opportunity for progressives.

The time has come to recognize that America has a set of social problems that can no longer be ignored.  Writing in The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/26/donald-trump-nfl-kneeling-national-anthem ) British journalist Gary Younge observed:
The battle lines in America’s struggle against racism and white supremacy are become increasingly clear to a degree not seen since the 60s…The codified obstacles to freedom and equality have been removed, but the legacy of those obstacles and the system that produced them remains. Black Americans are far more likely than white people to be stopped, frisked, arrested, jailed, shot and executed by the state, while the racial gaps in unemployment are the same as 40 years ago, the racial disparity in wealth and income is worse than 50 years ago.” Younge concluded: “[People of color] have the right to eat in any restaurant they wish; the trouble is, many can’t afford what’s on the menu.”

How should progressives respond to these systemic problems?

First, the Left should call Trump on his white supremacism.  At the moment, progressives are right to blame Trump for mismanagement of the Puerto Rico crisis.

Second, progressives should seize the opportunity to address the cult of “white male privilege” that underlies Trump’s white supremacism.  Trump’s slogan, “Make America great again,” is a call to reinforce white male privilege, a larger and less distinct concept than “white supremacy” that incorporates racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, anti-semitism and dominionism.  (In essence, white male privilege is the notion that straight white Anglo-Saxon men should dominate the social order because that is the “natural” hierarchy.)

While America has made progress since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the reality is that the United States remains a segregated society.  Writing on “self-segregation” ( https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/self-segregation-why-its-hard-for-whites-to-understand-ferguson/378928/ ), Robert Jones observes there is an absence of “integrated social networks… fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence.”  (This segregation is particularly true of Trump supporters; a March 2016 New York Times article [https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/upshot/the-geography-of-trumpism.html?_r=0&mtrref=undefined] noted that “One of the strongest predictors of Trump support is the proportion of the population that is native-born. Relatively few people in the places where Trump is strong are immigrants.”)

Writing in “America’s Original Sin,” Pastor Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, calls for “a new conversation about race.”  Wallis feels this conversation should be between parents; for example, “parents of students at the same school with children of different races.”  Wallis suggests three venues for these conversations: schools, sports teams, and congregations.

Schools because all parents care about the education of their children and want their schools to be effective.  Sports because parents of children who play competitive sports want that experience to be positive.  And congregations because, “Faith communities that are becoming more multiracial are some of the best places to have the difficult, painful, and personal conversations American need to have about our racial future.”

To this list, I would add the resistance.  My experience of Indivisible — in the San Francisco Bay Area — is that it is an overwhelmingly white organization. To integrate Indivisible, white activists need to reach out to their black and brown counterparts, and have the conversations that Jim Wallis talks about.

It’s one thing to disagree with Trump and quite a different thing to take a stand against his white supremacy.  Now is the time.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

“The First White President,” an Atlantic essay (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/) by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is a must read for progressives.  Coates argues that Donald Trump was elected for one reason: his unapologetic whiteness.  “It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power.”

Coates contends that excuses for Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton should be set aside: Trump didn’t win because the Russians hacked the election or because Democrats forgot how to talk to working-class white voters or because Hillary was more hated than Donald.  Coates believes Trump won because he championed whiteness. “To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its [supernatural] energies.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes three arguments to support his contention.  The first is statistical: “Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19)…. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascar dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant.

Coates’ second point is that political observers have chosen to ignore the central role of race and instead have focused on Trump’s appeal to working-class whites. “There is a kind of theater at work in which Trump’s presidency is pawned off as a product of the white working class as opposed to a product of an entire whiteness that includes the very authors doing the pawning. The motive is clear: escapism. To accept that the bloody heirloom remains potent even now, some five decades after Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a Memphis balcony—even after a black president; indeed, strengthened by the fact of that black president—is to accept that racism remains, as it has since 1776, at the heart of this country’s political life.”

Finally, Coates argues the emphasis on working-class-white malaise was a tactic formulated by white progressives:  “The left would much rather have a discussion about class struggles, which might entice the white working masses, instead of about the racist struggles that those same masses have historically been the agents and beneficiaries of… This notion—raceless antiracism—marks the modern left, from the New Democrat Bill Clinton to the socialist Bernie Sanders.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates is correct.  “Raceless antiracism” does distinguish the modern left.  A failed attempt by progressives to deemphasize racism, to keep it in the shadows, where — because of political correctness — it won’t be discussed.  And Coates is correct asserting that Donald Trump harnessed racist energy to capture the presidency.  As a consequence: “Democrats [are no longer] the party of white people—working or otherwise. White workers are not divided by the fact of labor from other white demographics; they are divided from all other laborers by the fact of their whiteness.”

Nonetheless, Coates conflates “racism,” “white supremacy,” and “whiteness.” That muddies already troubled waters.

Trump was elected because of his white supremacist perspective, not just his racism.  Many of us know Trump voters who pulled the lever for Donald because they hated Hillary Clinton.  Sexism was an important aspect of Trump’s appeal.

However, not every white person who voted for Trump is a racist or white supremacist.  Many of us know Trump voters who held their noses and voted for Donald.  They had poor judgement.  That’s a consequence of their whiteness.  They are tacit supporters of white supremacy.

“Racism” is a subset of “white supremacy”, which is full-service bigotry.  In contrast, “whiteness” is synonymous with “supporting the system of white male privilege;” a larger and less distinct concept that incorporates racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, anti-semitism and dominionism.  In essence, white male privilege is the notion that straight white Anglo-Saxon men should dominate the social order because that is the “natural” hierarchy.

Full disclosure: I am a privileged white male.

Ta-Nehisi Coates recognizes that Donald Trump garnered the presidency because of his brazen white supremacy.  During the election, the Trump base was more energized than the Clinton base because Trump voters saw Donald defending the “natural order.”  That’s the power behind “Make America great again;” it’s a call to restore white male privilege.

America faces four challenges in this era of renewed white supremacy.  First, the President is an unbalanced bigot.  Trump has peppered his Administration with other white supremacists, such as Jeff Sessions and Scott Pruitt.  Progressives need to fight off multiple assaults on democracy.

Second, white supremacists don’t have the numbers to hold power long term.  Hillary Clinton won the 2016 popular vote by 2.9 million.  Furthermore, by 2040 whites will be a minority in the United States where 52 percent of the population will be asian, black, or hispanic.  White supremacists are running out of time and that fuels their desperation.

Third, white supremacy is detrimental to the economy.  Societal stability depends upon the health of the middle class; bigotry damages it.  Inevitably the economy will crash.

Finally, the United States is a Christian nation and white supremacy is inconsistent with Christian values.  Trump, and many Republicans, do not practice Christianity but instead an offshoot of Calvinism — with its emphasis on worldly success as a measure of goodliness.  Real Christians follow the teachings of Jesus, whose second commandment was “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Trump’s white supremacy is leading America into a moral abyss.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The First White President” should be considered by all progressives.  It’s an accurate assessment of the state of American society and an indication of what it will take to restore democracy.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Donald

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Americans have an initial estimate of the damage.  However we have yet to assess the costs of “Hurricane” Donald Trump.

Moody’s Investor Services estimates that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused approximately $200 billion in damage.  Of course, beyond the monetary damages there are psychological and social consequences; millions of people have been dislocated and, to some degree, traumatized.

Hopefully, the long-term consequences of the devastating Hurricanes will include changes to government policy: for example, at the federal level, recognition of the reality of Global Climate Change and reduction of the power of the fossil-fuel lobby; and at the local level, changes in city planning and building codes (such as not paving over wetlands.)

The long-term consequences of Hurricane Donald are more costly than the damage inflicted by Harvey and Irma.  Here are five social costs associated with Trump.

Economic Inequality: Trump defeated Hillary Clinton because of economic injustice:  Millions of voters — predominantly white — felt their lives had not improved during the Obama Administration.  They believed Trump’s promise to “make America great again.”  Trump supporters felt he would change the way Washington does business, shake up the establishment, bring good jobs back to the heartland, and substantially improve their lives.

Eight months after occupying the White House, Trump has done little to justify his supporters’ confidence in him. He has not taken on economic inequality.  To the contrary, post-election Trump appears to be a typical Republican politician who sides with the one percent at the expense of the 99 percent.  (Trump’s tax plan — still being formulated — favors wealthy Americans at the expense of working families.)

Ignoring economic inequality has long-term consequences.  Many economists have observed that the Republican ideology — “trickle-down” economics — damages the economy: it fails to address pressing national needs, such as infrastructure repair, and does not increase the disposable income of the middle class.

Furthermore, protracted economic inequality jeopardizes democracy.  Not only does the Republican ideology favor “big money” in politics but it discourages average Americans from participating in the political process; for example, because they are too busy earning a living to adequately inform themselves about national issues.  In addition, economic inequality breeds cynicism, distrust of democratic institutions.

Social Injustice:  Writing in The New York Times, Emory University professor Carol Anderson observed: “The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration” Trump’s vociferous August 16th press conference — where he defended the Charlottesville White Supremacists — illuminated Donald’s true feelings.

The primary focus of Trump’s prejudice has been immigration.  On August 2nd, Trump endorsed a Republican initiative — led by Senators Cotton and Perdue — that would dramatically change immigration policy and reduce immigration levels by 50 percent.  That same day, presidential aide Stephen Miller appeared at a White House press conference to laud the immigration initiative and claim that current policy has produced a slew of economic problems such as income inequality and a dearth of good-paying jobs.  (There’s no compelling evidence for this assertion but it plays well with Trump’s base.)

Besides being immoral, Trump’s prejudice undermines American democracy.  It jeopardizes the core notion that we are “one nation, indivisible.”  The United States has thrived because it has been seen as a land of opportunity, a vast “level playing field,” where anyone willing to work hard could be successful regardless of gender, race, religion, or national origin.

Climate Change: Donald Trump is a climate-change denier and a tool of the fossil-fuel industry.  His actions — whether taking the US out of the Paris Climate Accord or appointing climate-change deniers to top Administration positions — are deleterious to the health and safety of all Americans.  Hurricanes Harvey and Irma proved that we need to drastically curtail carbon emissions (and move millions of Americans to higher ground).

International Relations: On January 20th, Donald Trump became the United States leading “diplomat.”  Unfortunately, Trump does not practice diplomacy; he doesn’t believe in negotiating for the common good, striving for a “win-win” agreement where both negotiating partners feel good.  Trump is a “deal-maker,” which he once capsulized as “the thrill of winning.”  He’s not interested in fair agreements but rather ones where he comes out looking good.

Now Donald represents the US in a variety of harrowing matters.  He is negotiating with North Korea, Russia, Iran, and China, among others.  Furthermore, Trump is negotiating perilous issues such as the proliferation of nuclear arms, global climate change, immigration, and sex trafficking.

National Consciousness:  We live in a difficult time.  Many Americans are experiencing a level of psychological disturbance above-and-beyond what we might attribute to living in the fast-paced modern world.  The national zeitgeist features anger, despair, and hatred.

Much of this widespread psychological disturbance has been caused by Hurricane Donald.  It’s unsettling for the nation to be led by an unstable bully.  A man who lies all the time.  Who does not care about the national interest, but rather what benefits him.  A president who does not treasure democracy.

Trump’s Big Deal

Even though Donald Trump often appears to be out of control, he’s executing a disciplined political strategy to tighten his grip on the Republican base.  Nonetheless, to hold onto power, Trump’s going to have to move beyond his base.  To accomplish this, he’s working on his biggest deal.

While Trump’s favorability ratings continue to decline, he remains popular with his base — around 80 percent of Republicans approve of his conduct.  Trump once joked that he could “stand in the middle of 5th avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.”  This has held true for his first 223 days in office.

Trump’s recent actions — his ad-libs about the Charlottesville violence, his transgender ban, and his pardon of Sheriff Arpaio — are viewed negatively by most Americans but approved by mainstream by Republicans.  Indeed, within the GOP, Trump is much more popular than the congressional leadership, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Trump has a parasitic relationship with the orthodox Republican Party.  He uses their organization but he’s not wedded to their principles; Trump is a maverick Independent using the Republican Party infrastructure.

During the presidential campaign, Trump made a number of promises; the most general was to “make America great again,” and the most specific was to build a wall along the southern border.  At the moment, given his general unpopularity and his lack of support from both sides of Congress, it’s hard to imagine how he would keep his promise to build the wall.

Nonetheless, Trump has recently talked about a spectacular “deal,” threatening to shut down government unless Congress allocates funds for his border wall.  This sort of high-stakes gamble is right out of Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal,” where he describes eleven tactics: “Think big; Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself; Maximize your options; Know your market; Use your leverage;  Enhance your location; Get the word out; Fight Back; Deliver the goods; Contain the costs; Have fun.”

In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump emphasizes the way to get the deal you want is to leverage your power: “Start from a position of strength and convince the other side that you have something they need.”

Although Trump is President, at the moment he doesn’t have a lot of leverage with Congress.  Most members don’t like him.  In addition, Trump has a weak staff and, therefore, the White House isn’t presenting Congress with coherent legislative plans.  While Trump isn’t viewed as a leader, that doesn’t mean he has no power.  For example, he can decide to veto legislation (and pardon convicted offenders).

On August 22nd, at a Phoenix campaign rally, Trump said, “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall… One way or the other, we’re going to get that wall.”  In September there will be a chance for Trump to shut down the government when he receives the 2018 (fiscal year) appropriations bill.  If it does not contain money for the construction of a border wall then Trump could chose to veto it; the government would run out of money on September 30th and many governmental operations would shut down on October 1st.

The orthodox Republican agenda for September is for Trump to quickly sign the appropriations bill and an increase to the debt ceiling, and for the GOP to then focus on tax reform.  However, Trump is not an orthodox Republican.  According to New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza (https://www.newyorker.com/news/ryan-lizza/will-trump-shut-down-the-government) “Trump has never really been excited about the traditional Republican agenda on tax reform.”  It certainly has not been a primary component of his base appeal.

If Trump does veto the appropriations bill, Lizza says there are three logical outcomes: One would be “a grand compromise” where Congress would allocate additional funds for the wall and the shutdown would be avoided.  There are two problems with this scenario; one is the amount of money involved.  It’s estimated the wall would cost $21.6 billion (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/02/10/the-initial-estimate-is-here-trumps-wall-will-cost-more-than-a-year-of-the-space-program/?utm_term=.00bf35a891d6); Trump’s initial budget allocation — for wall planning and design —  is $2.6 billion.  The other problem is that a compromise would require Democratic votes as well as Republican votes;  congressional Democrats have long indicated they would not sign an appropriations bill that includes funds for Trump’s wall.  (There’s also a complication because of funding for the recovery from Hurricane Harvey.)

Another possible outcome after a Trump veto is that Republicans would go through a face-saving process: Perhaps the House would pass an appropriations bill that includes funds for the wall.  Then the Senate would strip them out.  Trump would sign the (neutered) appropriations bill and blame Senate Republicans.

And, of course there is the possibility that Trump would stick to his guns and cause the government to shut down.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey opens another possibility: Trump would tie funds for his wall to an appropriation for flood recovery in Texas and Louisiana.  This might pass the House but could flounder in the Senate because of it would require 60 votes.

In any event, September is a watershed month for Trump.  He’s running out of runway.  To increase his power he’s going to have to pull off a big deal.

What Happens in the Silence?

At the heart of Quaker spiritual practice is the notion of shared silent worship.  Entering into communal silence without expectation.  Wonderful. And terrifying.

Fifty years ago I went to my first Quaker Meeting when the Vietnam War resistance gathered at the Friends Meetinghouse in Pasadena, California.  I expected the usual agenda but, because we were in a Quaker Meeting, we settled into an extended period of silence.  I leaned back on the wooden pew and closed my eyes.  A wave of energy washed over me.  Baptized by the silence.

Quaker Meeting

In the United States, there are two forms of Quaker worship: the most common is the unprogrammed Meeting; a gathering without a minister, centered around an hour of communal silence.  (That’s the form I’m used to.)  There are also programmed Meetings where there is a minister and the service usually follows the Protestant format: singing, bible-reading, and a sermon.

Unprogrammed silent meeting begins on the hour and extends for roughly 60 minutes, ending when the Clerk shakes hands with the person next to him.  The hour may be entirely silent or punctuated with messages, unprogrammed leadings.

Quakers believe their form of worship was practiced by early Christians, immediately after the death of Jesus.  First-generation Christians, living outside Jerusalem, would gather in silence and wait for the spirit of Jesus to speak through one of them.  Contemporary Quakers refer to this process as “waiting for the Holy Spirit” or “waiting on the Light.”

Quakers frequently use the metaphor of “the light.”  Illumination.  A message comes when your consciousness is enlightened.

Preparation for Meeting

Participants show up for silent Meeting with varying levels of preparation. Typically there is no handout to explain Quaker practice.  Of course, if you’ve already been to a Quaker Meeting you know what to expect; if you haven’t, good luck figuring it out.

Zen Buddhists practice communal silence but it’s actually individual meditation occurring in a group setting.  There’s formal preparation for the Zen form of silence.  Quakers have no formal training; they’re taught to swim by being thrown into the water.

Some silent Meeting participants cushion the impact by reading the Bible or some other spiritual document.  Some practice a form of meditation, such as focusing on their breath.  Others silently repeat a mantra, such as Om mani padme hum.

I’ve Employed several different strategies to settle into Meeting, to clear my consciousness.  (I visualize this as using one of several different swimming strokes after entering the spiritual water). At the moment, I focus on what is on the surface of my mind — consciousness debris — and try to move it aside.  For example, if I am worried about a member of my family, I say to myself, “I’m worried about Jim; I’ll return to that later.”  If this doesn’t work, I focus on my breath.

Sometimes there is an event that dominates the news, and the collective consciousness, that makes it difficult to sink into the silence.  For example, the election of Donald Trump or the white-supremacist violence at Charlottesville.  Initially I will cope with this by acknowledging it and trying to move it aside.  If this doesn’t work, I ask, “what part of me is involved in this event.”  As in, “what is my inner terrorist?”  That’s usually enough to settle in.

What happens in the silence

If you have practiced long-distance running or swimming, you know about “the zone.”  After strenuous repetitive exercise one sometimes settles into a domain of no thought.  That’s what I try to achieve in Quaker Meeting, settling into a mental state where I am unaware of my surroundings.  My eyes may be closed but I’m not asleep; I’m literally spaced out.

Historic Quaker teaching, on preparation for silent Meeting, is to make the self an empty vessel that can then be filled by “the light” or “the Holy Spirit” or the equivalent.  Preparation for an ecstatic experience.

The preparation isn’t always successful.  Sometimes I’m aware of my body — aches and pains of a septuagenarian — and I can’t get to the zone.  Other times I’m too agitated by some personal concern; a part of me is acting up and will not let go.

Most times I get to the zone and nothing happens.

Because Quakers share communal silence, sometimes I will get to the zone and be interrupted because a participant will rise and break the silence with a message.

Messages

I’ve been attending Quaker Meeting for 50 years and I’ve heard all kinds of messages.  The sublime and the ridiculous.  Glorious and disturbing.

Quaker gatherings are uniquely democratic and that means that everyone has the right to speak.  Of course, not every Meeting participant is spiritually mature; as a result, people may speak inappropriately.  This happens, but not as often as you might think.  Most Meetings are predominantly silent and when participants rise to speak, most messages are heartfelt – even if they may not resonate with everyone in attendance.

While there are many circumstances that cause someone to stand and break the silence, three seem worthy of note.  First, occasionally a participant will speak about a traumatic event: for example, a death or a serious illness.  I remember a Meeting where a participant spoke about his cancer diagnosis.

Second, sometimes a participant will speak about a leading.  American Quakers — in unprogrammed Meetings — are in the liberal wing of Christianity; ethically it’s a religion of social action.  When a Meeting attender rises to share their leading, usually this means they are stepping away from the usual course of their life and going on a mission to pursue peace and justice.  For example, becoming part of the Standing Rock action.  (Sometimes a Quaker Meeting will provide financial support for a particular leading, for example, permitting a Meeting member to quit their job.)

Third, I’ve had the experience where I feel moved to speak in Meeting and before I do, someone else rises and, in effect, delivers the message that I had imagined.  Experienced Quakers talk about gathered Meetings, where a particular message — perhaps as broad as gratitude or as specific as response to particular violent event — hovers over the silence and influences all the messages.

Speaking in Meeting

If you are involved in Quaker Meeting, a regular attender, there are opportunities to speak that prepare you for silent Meeting for Worship.  For example, once a month the Meeting meets to take care of business.  That provides a vehicle to speak in a particular form of Meeting.  In addition, during any given month there are usually opportunities to meet with Quakers in smaller worship groups.  One format for these ad hoc groups is worship sharing.  

Typically a worship sharing group meets for an hour to address a prearranged topic.  For example, a group might meet to consider the topic: What keeps me from being the nonviolent person I want to be?  

The rules for the worship-sharing groups are applicable to all Quaker gatherings:  Speak out of the silence.   Allow silence between messages.  Speak from your personal experience.  In other words: speak from the heart not from the head.  And, do not respond to the message (messages) that came before you speak; speak authentically.  Speak only once.  

Of course there are important differences between delivering a message in a small — typically less than dozen participants — worship-sharing group and a large Quaker Meeting for Worship — often more than a hundred participants.  You are expected to speak in worship-sharing, although you don’t have to.  You are not expected to speak in Meeting for Worship, unless the spirit moves you.

How do you know when the spirit moves you?  It depends upon who you ask.  Historically, Quakers have described the impetus to deliver a message as a physical experience; that is, the inclination to rise and speak in Meeting is first a visceral sensation.  Although their formal name is “the Religious Society of Friends,” participants in a Friends Meeting are usually called Quakers.  Historically, participants in a Meeting for Worship recognized that they were called to speak because their body shook; they quaked.

In my 50 years of attending Quaker Meetings, I’ve probably spoken less than once per year.  Over those five decades, my experience has migrated from the intellectual to the physical.  The last couple of times I experienced a leading, I felt it in my body before it registered in my mind. (I’ve discussed this with other long-term Quakers and they’ve usually had the same experience: the longer you attend Friends Meeting, the less often you speak and the more likely that, when you speak, the impetus is primarily physical.)

Summary

So, what happens in the silence?  The religious scholar Huston Smith described Quakers as “mystical Christians” and said they occupy a relationship with Christianity that parallels Zen Buddhists’ relationship to Buddhism, in general — they’re both on the edge of their mother religion.

Participating in the silence is a mystical experience, but it doesn’t have to be viewed through the lens of Christianity.  I know a number of professed Quakers that are not Christocentric; that is, they are not immersed in the traditional symbols of Christianity such as “the holy trinity: the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost.

Participating in the silence can be an ecstatic experience.  However, to have this experience, you have to accept certain conditions.  One is toleration of silence.  If you cannot sit still for 10 minutes — let alone 60 minutes, you are unlikely to have an ecstatic experience in a Quaker Meeting.

Sitting in silence presupposes a deeper concern for personal health.  I believe that taking time in silence is as important to my health as getting exercise, eating proper food, and having adequate sleep.  (If you don’t believe in getting out into nature, you are unlikely to value taking time in silence.)  Silent Meeting energizes me.

Of course it is one thing to sit in silence for 60 minutes, follow your breath, and attempt to slip into “the zone.”  It is another thing to go through all this and harbor the expectation that you may receive a leading — one that you may or may not feel like expressing.  In other words, one has to choose whether or not you expect the reality of “ecstatic experience.”

Recent research indicates that somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of American adults have had an ecstatic experience.  So, it’s not weird to sit in silent meeting and hope that you have one.

Ecstatic experiences — emerging from the silence — come in several flavors.  Two seem worthy of mention.  One I’ll characterize as the answer.  That is, I go into Meeting carrying a problem, such as how do I deal with one of my children.  I sink into the silence, enter into the zone, and the answer emerges: do such and such.  The other form of ecstatic experience is the leading. As I’ve indicated, this typically begins as a physical sensation.

What happens in the silence?  You’ll have to go to a Quaker Meeting to find out.

A word of advice:  If you decide to attend a silent Meeting, don’t form your opinion on one experience.  Imagine talking a walk in nature for the first time.  Perhaps it’s a cloudy day or you get caught in a thunderstorm.  Even though your walk may be spoiled, that probably wouldn’t deter you from going out again.  That parallels the experience of going to Quaker silent Meeting.  The first Meeting you attend may be chatty — have an unusual number of messages — or you may not feel well that day; that shouldn’t deter you from attending another Meeting.  What you are aiming for is a completely silent Meeting.

When you eventually experience deep silence, ask yourself: What’s happening?  Am I comfortable in the silence?  Do I feel energized?  What are my expectations?  Have I come home?