Trump’s Search for a Big Win

After a disastrous August, Donald Trump staggered into September. To some observers, Trump appeared to exhibit symptoms of a nervous breakdown; for example, spending a week defending his claim that Hurricane Dorian had threatened Alabama. He’s cracking under pressure.  Trump knows he is in political trouble.  He’s desperately searching for a big win.

On September 7, Trump called off a secret Camp David meeting with Taliban leaders, where he planned to sign an Afghanistan “peace agreement.”  This was Trump’s ill-considered attempt at a big win.

In the 100 plus days between now and the end of the year, there are eight areas where Trump will search for political capital: the economy, foreign policy, gun control, government funding, healthcare/drug policy, impeachment, national security, and trade.

Impeachment:  On September 12, House Democrats launchd a formal impeachment inquiry.  Trump will not be able to make the multiple inquiries go away — there’s no big win for him with this situation.  Instead, Trump will be subjected to more pressure, which will feed his desperate search for political capital.

Don’t expect Democrats to actually hold a vote on impeachment.  That won’t happened in 2019 and probably won’t happen in 2020 unless something surfaces that is so egregious that it causes a massive shift in public opinion — which is currently running about 60 percent against impeachment.

Expect Democrats to get into Trump’s face every week with some new information about his malfeasance or incompetence.  Enough to accelerate Trump’s descent into madness but not enough to change the minds of members of the Trump cult.

Gun Control: During the next couple of months, discussions about gun control will dominate the airwaves but in the end it will amount to a big nothing.  93 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, but the NRA is opposed and Trump — and Mitch McConnell — are beholden to the NRA.  Trump will bloviate and confabulate.  McConnell will say that the Senate won’t pass any legislation that Trump won’t sign.  The ball will get passed back and forth.  And then dropped.  No big win here.

The economy: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ten-call-recession-trump-approval-drops-points-poll/story?id=65414875 ) indicates that sixty percent of respondents feel the U.S. economy will slide into recession during the next 12 months.  However, the economic signs are mixed — the stock market is up, consumer confidence is down.

The reality is that there’s not a lot Trump can do to directly influence the economy — other than demonstrate steady leadership, which he is incapable of.  There are certain strategic actions that he might have initiated a year or two ago — such as a massive infrastructure initiative — but Trump isn’t going to do that now.

Trump will harass the Federal Reserve Board and give stock traders collective atrial fibrillation — by lying about trade progress with China.  But, there’s no big win here.

Trade: Trump’s biggest opportunity to positively influence the economy would be to stabilize trade relations with China.  That’s unlikely to happen because Trump has dug in too deep and is constitutionally incapable of admitting he made a mistake.

Lurking in the wings is congressional approval of the NAFTA-replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  Trump wants this but Democrats won’t pass it unless the labor and environmental provisions are strengthened.

Will Trump agree to Democratic demands in order to secure a win with USMCA approval?  Possibly, but I bet that Speaker Pelosi will want some quid-pro-quo  — such as White House cooperation with a phase of the impeachment proceedings — and it’s unlikely that Trump will go along with that.  There’s a possibility of a Trump win here, but not a big one.

Government Shutdown:  On September 30, various federal agencies run out of money.  The latest information indicates that Senate Republicans and House Democrats will agree to a short-term funding bill to avert a shutdown.  (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/09/mitch-mcconnell-government-shutdown-1486886 )  This will kick the can farther down the road — likely until the Thanksgiving recess.

The question is whether Trump will use the threat of government shutdown to press for a big win — such as massive funding for “the wall.”  A year ago, December 22, 2018, Trump forced a  35-day shutdown but it didn’t achieve his objectives; so, it’s unlikely he will repeat this action.

Drug Prices:  There’ve been recent suggestions that Trump will seek to accomplish his big win by doing something major about drug prices.  Recently Speaker Pelosi has promoted a significant drug-price-reduction plan (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/10/us/politics/pelosi-trump-drug-prices.html ).  Will Trump support this?  (Possibly as the quid-pro-quo  for support of his USMCA.)  It’s certainly conceivable.

Foreign Policy: Between now and the end of 2019, Trump will be desperately seeking a big win.   His best bet is to do something dramatic in the arena of foreign policy.

As this was being written, Trump fired John Bolton,  his National Security Adviser, because Bolton didn’t approve of Trump’s desire to make a big foreign policy “splash” but cutting some sort of deal with Afghanistan, Iran, or North Korea.  Now that Bolton is gone, it’s more likely that Trump will push for some sort of deal with Iran — possibly during Trump’s visit to the United Nations’ General Assembly at the end of the month.

National Security: The 18th anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that one of the reasons the United States was surprised by the terrorist attacks was that then President George W. Bush didn’t pay attention to critical briefings (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/opinion/the-bush-white-house-was-deaf-to-9-11-warnings.html ).  Now we have another President that doesn’t pay attention to critical intelligence briefings.  Worse yet, Trump has systematically fired all the experienced White House intelligence experts and replaced them with sycophants.

The current national-security situation suggests that, between now and year end, while Trump will not get the big win he so desperately seeks, he is increasing the odds of a big loss for the country.

 

 

Dealing with the Trump Cult

 Four weeks have passed since the El Paso Walmart shootings and Donald Trump’s incredibly insensitive response. During this period the nation has witnessed multiple episodes of Trump’s bizarre behavior. His judgment — always questionable — has evaporated. As a consequence, many Americans have concluded that Trump is incapable of fulfilling the duties and responsibilities required of the President of the United States. But some, most notably the Trump cult, continue to support him.

The latest 538 Summary (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ ) found that 54.2 percent of respondents disapproved of Trump, while 41.3 percent approved.  It’s a remarkably constant finding: Trump’s disapproval seldom goes above 56 percent and his approval rarely dips below 40 percent.

On the one hand these polls suggest that Trump will have trouble getting reelected in 2020 — his recent swing-state polls have been terrible — but on the other hand the polls indicate that Trump has a solid base of support.  There are millions of Americans who either don’t care about Trump’s behavior or refuse to believe the mounting evidence of his incompetence.  There are millions of Americans who belong to the Trump cult.

In recent months, many have written about “the cult of Trump.”  A couple of months ago, Chris Hedges savaged Trump and his supporters (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/06/10/cult-trump), noting that Trump shares the characteristics of cult leaders such as Adolph Hitler, Jim Jones, and David Koresh:

“Cult leaders are narcissists. They demand obsequious fawning and total obedience. They prize loyalty above competence. They wield absolute control. They do not tolerate criticism. They are deeply insecure, a trait they attempt to cover up with bombastic grandiosity. They are amoral and emotionally and physically abusive… All those outside the cult are branded as forces of evil, prompting an epic battle whose natural expression is violence.”

Hedges continued: “Donald Trump has transformed the decayed carcass of the Republican Party into a cult… Trump did not create the yearning for a cult leader. Huge segments of the population, betrayed by the established elites, were conditioned for a cult leader.”  Seeking to explain Trump’s power, Hedges wrote: “Domestic terrorism and nihilistic violence are the natural outcomes of the economic, social and political stagnation, the total seizure of power by a corporate cabal and oligarchic elite, and the contamination of civil discourse by cult leaders.”

Let’s start with the assumption that Donald Trump is, at best, incompetent, and, at worst, deranged, “a danger to himself and others.”  Nonetheless, when Trump is removed from office — either by impeachment or as the result of the 2020 election — those of us who are currently shouting, “the Emperor has no clothes,” will be stuck with the toxic residue of his cult.  Trump may go away but his cult members will still be with us.

There are, at least, four major components of the Trump cult:  The first constituents are conservative evangelical Christians.  Many have been conditioned by their brand of Christianity, which teaches that the word of God does not come from revelation or studious Bible study but instead from the teachings of their minister — typically a white male.  Writing in The Washington Post, Elizabeth Bruenig (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/08/14/evangelicals-view-trump-their-protector-will-they-stand-by-him/?wpisrc=nl_rainbow&wpmm=1) observed that conservative evangelical Christians typically do not condone Trump’s behavior.  Rather, they see him as the means to an end: Trump is the only major politician who seems to stand up for their desire for a theocracy.  Trump is, in effect, “God’s mercenary,” their agent in “spiritual warfare.”  Trump does what they want — whether it’s appointing ultra-conservative judges or opposing abortion or supporting Christian schools — and they, in turn, ask no questions. “Trump is able, by being less Christian than your average Christian, to protect [evangelical] Christians who fear incursions from a hostile dominant culture.”

The second component of the Trump cult are white supremacists — aka “white nationalists.”  (hpps://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/30/donald-trump-now-owns-white-supremacy )  They are more supportive of Trump’s day-to-day behavior — this group pointedly eschews “political correctness.”  The white nationalists also see Trump as a means to an end: the establishment of an autocratic government run by white males.

The third component of the Trump cult are the owners and employees of fossil-fuel companies.  Like the conservative evangelical Christians, many members of this constituency do not condone Trump’s behavior but see him as a means to an end: long-term job and profit security.  Trump has gone out of his way to favor this group, whether by denying the reality of global climate change or by doing everything he can to keep coal mines operating.  (There are similar industrial groups — such as chemical companies — that are seed beds for Trump supporters; I’ve noted the most obvious.)

The common characteristic of these three Trump constituencies is that they are locked into a rigid anti-democratic worldview that does not have broad popular support.  Among major politicians, only Trump supports them.

The fourth component of the Trump cult are the large segments of America that have lost hope.  This group was described in Arlie Hochschild’s insightful “Strangers in Their Own Land.” (https://thenewpress.com/books/strangers-their-own-land )  From 2012-2016, sociologist Hochschild talked to residents of Lake Charles, Louisiana, a Tea Party stronghold.  These residents felt they had lost their shot at the American dream.  One of Hochschild’s key insights was that these Americans no longer believed that “government” would help them; instead they placed their faith in “corporations” or “capitalism” or — in the period leading up to the 2016 presidential election — Donald Trump.

My point here is not to vilify members of the Trump cult but rather to point out the obvious:  these four groups are going to vote for Trump, no matter what, because they don’t see an alternative.  Whomever the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate turns out to be, the members of the Trump cult aren’t going to switch sides to support them.

Yes, American politics is deeply polarized.  And, no, the Democrats aren’t going to win because their choice of candidate caused some Republican voters to switch sides.  If the Democrats win, it will be because their candidate energized their base and attracted a majority of true independents.  The members of the Trump cult are going to stick with Donald to the bitter end.  And beyond.

How Did We Get Here?

As we reflect on the horrific El Paso and Dayton shootings, it’s clear that we’ve reached an inflection point in our society. We’re teetering on the edge of civil war. Lets take a couple of steps back and consider how we got here.

Donald Trump is a symptom of a set of larger problems.  Yes, he’s cancer; but cancer resulting from a toxic environment.  The product of three poisonous trends with American society.

1.Racism: There’s no doubt that Trump is a racist and that his brand of brand of racism has fomented violence — most recently the El Paso shootings.  But racism didn’t begin with Trump; it’s been around since the founding of this country.

We’re in the modern era of U.S. racism that began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and culminated with the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  It has three manifestations: Republicans have become the party of white racists; Republicans covertly disenfranchise people of color; and, until Trump, it was politically incorrect to use historic racist jargon — such as the N-word.

It’s not an accident that Trump now leads the Republican Party.  The members are not all racists but they — card-carrying Republicans — are enabling racism.  (How many times have we heard wealthy GOP donors say: “I don’t like what Trump says but I love his tax cuts.”)

Since the passage of the civil-rights act, we’ve seen the demise of “classic” racism — for example, segregation and Jim Crow laws — and the emergence of clandestine racism — for example, redlining and voter-id laws. ( During the past 55 years, in some parts of the country, the living conditions of people-of-color have not changed.)

Donald Trump has embraced the new clandestine racism and added his own flourishes: resentment and antipathy to political correctness.  From the moment that Trump announced his candidacy (June 17, 2015) he embraced the politics of racial resentment: “The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”  He referenced a Hispanic “invasion” a phrase he’s repeatedly returned to.  Trump’s appealed to dissatisfied white (non-Hispanic) voters with a singular trope: “These people are taking what’s rightfully yours, your share of the American dream.”

In addition, Trump has called for an end to “political correctness” — “I shouldn’t be saying this, but….”  We’ve gotten so used to Trump tweets that it’s important to remember that before January 20, 2017, we’d never seen a President act like this.  Goodbye to telling the truth.  Goodbye comity.  Goodbye to setting a moral example.  Goodby to the Golden Rule.  (Goodbye to Christian ethics.)

Trump’s bashing of “political correctness” has opened the door to white supremacists.   Trump has normalized racism and racial violence.

2. Violence: The United States has a culture of violence.  We like violent novels, movies, TV shows, and video games.  We love guns.  Check the front page of any daily newspaper and you’ll find reports of murder and mayhem.  I hesitate to say that we’re addicted to violence but it’s obviously a large part of our culture.

Americans are obsessed with guns.  We have more guns in private hands than does any other nation.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful Washington lobbies.  (The U.S. requires a license to drive a car but — in most states — not to own a gun.)

There’s physical violence and psychological violence.  Trump has normalized violence in our everyday interaction.

Not only has Donald Trump called for an end to “political correctness,” he’s called for an end to nonviolent conflict resolution.  He does not treat people with respect.

Trump’s strategy for resolving conflict is to demean his opponents and insist on getting his way.  (If Trump was a football running back, he would not try to finesse would-be tacklers, he would always chose to run over them.)

Trump doesn’t apologize, he “doubles down.”  Recently Trump tweeted demeaning remarks about four Congresswomen — all women of color — suggesting “they go back” to their countries of origin, even though all but one was born in the United States.  When Trump was criticized for what was obviously a racist remark, he didn’t apologize, he doubled down.  (Trump went to El Paso on August 7th but didn’t apologize to the Hispanic shooting victims for his incendiary remarks about Hispanics; instead Trump told the press how much all the victims loved him.)

3.Pay to Play: The third poisonous trend within American society is unbridled capitalism.  In Trump’s case it has two malevolent faces.  One is the replacement of Christian ethics by Capitalistic ethics — the end justifies the means.  (“Love those tax cuts!”)  The other toxic impact of Capitalism is the buying of politicians.

It’s too easy to write off Donald Trump as an extreme narcissist; someone who has no empathy and is, therefore, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions.  We’ve gotten so used to bizarre Trump tweets that it’s reflexive to dismiss him as mentally ill.  Another explanation is that since Trump only cares about money, he acts the way he does because it brings in huge campaign contributions and fills his wallet.  Trump is the most ostentatious representative of a general Republican position: We’re for sale.

The modern Republican Party has swallowed the ethics of Capitalism — and Ayn Rand.  Their politics begin and end with money.

It’s easy to see this in the behavior of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  He refuses to do anything about election integrity — Russian interference in our elections — because he’s getting donations from Russians.  Similarly, McConnell refuses to do anything about gun control because he’s getting donations from the NRA and Kentucky-based  gun manufacturers.

Trump and McConnell act the way they do because they are being enabled by their Republican colleagues and by wealthy GOP donors.  That’s why a real solution to our problems requires more than defeating Trump in 2020.  Real change requires voting out Republicans at all levels of government.  And, penalizing Republican donors.

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming

No sooner did Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify that the Russians continue to interfere in U.S. politics, than the Senate Intelligence Committee released a sobering report about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Before the public could digest this, the news was swept off the front pages by Donald Trump’s racist tweets. Nonetheless, the truth is hiding in plain sight: Russians are interfering in U.S. politics and Trump doesn’t want to do anything about it.

Robert Mueller’s July 24th appearance before the House Intelligence Committee was highlighted by his strong statements about Russia:  “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”  He indicated the Russian interference continues,  “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.”

After 30 months of investigation, we know the Russian interference took five forms:

1. Exploiting weaknesses in the election infrastructure: On July 26th, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the first volume of its report. “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election…Russian Efforts Against Election Interference.”  The Committee observed, “The Russian government directed extensive activity… against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level.”  The report found the Russians targeted election systems in all 50 states — a shocking finding as previous indictions were the Russian infiltration was more limited.

The Senate report is so heavily redacted that it’s difficult to determine how successful the Russian efforts were.  However, we already know the GOP has been messing with voter registration data bases and it would be difficult to distinguish Russian activity from ongoing Republican efforts — for example, we know that, in 2016, the State of Georgia eliminated more than 300,000 eligible voters from their data base, based upon dubious criteria.

2. Hacking emails:  The Mueller Report noted, “A Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents.” “The Russian intelligence service known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army (GRU) carried out these operations… the GRU began disseminating stolen materials through the fictitious online personas ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0.’ The GRU later released additional materials through the organization WikiLeaks.”

During Robert Mueller’s July 24th testimony before the House Intelligence Committee,  chair Adam Schiff asked Mueller, “The Trump campaign officials built…  their messaging strategy, around those stolen [Wikileaks] documents?”  Mueller responded, “Generally, that’s true.”  “And then they lied to cover it up?”  Mueller answered, “Generally, that’s true.”

Although the Trump campaign utilized the Wikileaks documents, the Mueller Report found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian hackers.

3. Subverting Social Media.  The Mueller Report noted: “A Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J.Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”  “The Internet Research Agency (IRA) carried out…  a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States. The IRA was based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and received funding from Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin and companies he controlled. Priozhin is widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”  “The [IRA] campaign evolved from a generalized program designed in 2014 and 2015 to undermine the U.S. electoral system, to a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton.”

Again, while the Trump campaign benefited from the Russian social media campaign, the Mueller Report found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian disinformation effort.

4. Influencing persuadable voters via Facebook.  Hillary Clinton lost the presidency because she lost the electoral college; specifically, she lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined total of 79,646 votes.  That’s where the influence of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and Russia mattered.  (Cambridge Analytica was a technical political consulting firm founded by Trump mega-donor Robert Mercer and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.)

In 2016 the Trump campaign, with the help of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, developed a singular swing-state voter data base that drove electronic interaction using social media, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  For example, they used the Facebook data to develop a voter profile and then sent voters messages based upon this profile.  (This worked both to motivate voters to vote for Trump and to dissuade potential Clinton voters from voting for her.)

Writing in The New Yorker, Sue Halpern (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cambridge-analytica-facebook-and-the-revelations-of-open-secrets ) observed: “Cambridge Analytica contractors worked with Trump’s digital team, headed by Brad Parscale and Jared Kushner. Alongside all of them were Facebook employees who were embedded with the Trump campaign to help them use Facebook’s various tools most effectively—including the so-called “dark posts,” used to dissuade African-Americans from showing up to vote.” (Recently Facebook was fined $5 billion for related activity.)

There’s evidence the Russians were involved.  Writing in Slate (https://slate.com/technology/2018/03/did-cambridge-analytica-leverage-russian-disinformation-for-trump.html ), Justin Hendrix reported “Cambridge Analytica also enlisted Russian-American academic Aleksandr Kogan to mine the private Facebook user data that is the subject of the ongoing scandal. While an associate professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, Kogan received grants from the Russian government to research ‘stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks.'” [Note that the Internet Research Agency is headquartered in St. Petersburg.]

5. Compromising Trump campaign officials.  According to Robert Mueller, his team did not investigate the Russian tactic of collecting digital information in order to compromise U.S. actors.  During the Mueller hearing, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi asked, “Since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise or blackmail by Russia, correct?” Krishnamoorthi continued, “Individuals can be subject to blackmail if they lie about their interactions with foreign countries, correct?”  “True,” Mueller replied.  [Former national security adviser Michael Flynn did plead guilty to lying to Mueller’s team.] Krishnamoorthi asked Mueller, “Your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?”  Mueller responded, “I cannot get into that… because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.”

We know that Russia has compromising information about several Trump campaign members.

Summary: At this writing, Donald Trump has resisted all attempts to safeguard the 2020 election.  The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had steadfastly blocked election security bills (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mcconnell-defends-blocking-election-security-bill-rejects-criticism-he-is-aiding-russia/2019/07/29/08dca6d4-b239-11e9-951e-de024209545d_story.html? ).  This week, Trump forced out his respected Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, (https://www.businessinsider.com/dni-dan-coats-quit-white-house-suppressed-russia-warnings-nyt-2019-7 ) reportedly because Coats kept warning of Russian interference and Trump didn’t want to hear it.

What’s happening is not subtle.  Russia is actively interfering in the U.S. electoral process and Trump — and Mitch McConnell — aren’t doing anything about it.

Mueller: Ten Takeaways

On July 24th, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made his long-anticipated appearance before the Democratically-controlled House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.  Here are ten takeaways:

1. Mueller was not a great witness.  Whatever your political persuasion, if you actually watched a segment of the hearings, you probably felt that Mueller came across as enervated, evasive, and — particularly in his morning testimony before the Judiciary Committee — doddering.  That’s not to say that Democrats didn’t score points with Mueller’s testimony, but rather that he was disappointing.

2. Mueller cared more about Russian interference in the 2016 election than he did Trump’s obstruction of justice.  For whatever reason, Mueller seemed more animated when he appeared, in the afternoon, before the House Intelligence Committee.  He was particularly emphatic when he spoke about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s repeated, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” and emphasized the Trump Campaign welcomed that help: Trump publicly called on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails; Trump also pursued a business deal in Moscow while running for president; and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, had responded “I love it,” when asked if he was interested in dirt on Clinton provided as part of a Russian government effort to help his father.

One of the telling moments of the long hearing came when Intelligence Committee chair, Adam Schiff, asked Mueller, “The Trump campaign officials built their strategy, their messaging strategy, around those stolen [Wikileaks] documents?”  Mueller responded, “Generally, that’s true.”  “And then they lied to cover it up?”  Mueller answered, “Generally, that’s true.”  Schiff got Mueller to confirm numerous ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Mueller concluded by warning about Russian interference in the 2020 election:  “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.”

3. Congressional Republicans didn’t seem to care.  In general, the Republican members of the committees didn’t seem to care about the Russian 2016-election interference or Trump’s obstruction of justice.  Led by Republican Doug Collins, they either attacked Mueller,  defended Trump, or lied about the House Democrats behavior.  (By the way: on July 25th the Senate Republicans. led by Mitch McConnell, blocked election-security legislation (https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/25/politics/republican-senators-block-election-security-legislation/index.html ).)

4. Trump was not exonerated.  At the beginning of the morning’s Judiciary Committee Meeting, Mueller confirmed that his report did not exonerate Donald Trump.  Further, Mueller indicated that when Trump leaves office he could be indicted for obstruction of justice.

During his Judiciary Committee testimony, Mueller gave a strong indication he believes Trump committed obstruction.  When Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings asked Mueller if the lies told to him by “Trump campaign officials and administration officials impeded your investigation,”  Mueller answered, “I would generally agree with that.”

5. The Mueller hearing will slow down the Democratic push to initiate impeachment proceedings.  In a press conference, hours after Mueller’s testimony ended, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that Democrats were still going forward building “the strongest possible” case for impeachment.  Pelosi painted Mueller’s testimony in positive tones, indicating that it was a step forward but there need to be more hearings.  Nonetheless, this hearing was not the big win that impeachment advocates hoped for; it’s unlikely to result in a huge swing in voter sentiment — a recent Washington Post poll found that 59 percent of respondents do not want formal impeachment proceedings.

6. Trump’s financial ties to Russia need explication.  For whatever reason, the Mueller report didn’t have much information about money flow between Trump and Russian oligarchs.  (Or “counter-intelligence” in general.) This omission was briefly discussed during the House Intelligence Committee hearing when Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-8) questioned Mueller:

“KRISHNAMOORTHI: Other than Trump Tower Moscow, your report does not address or detail the president’s financial ties or dealings with Russia, correct?  MUELLER: Correct.  KRISHNAMOORTHI: Similarly since it was outside your purview your report does not address the question of whether Russian oligarchs engaged in money laundering through any of the president’s businesses, correct?  MUELLER: Correct.  KRISHNAMOORTHI: And of course your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?  MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that.  KRISHNAMOORTHI: In July 2017 the president said his personal finances were off limits, or outside the purview of your investigation and he drew a “red line,” around his personal finances. Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?  MUELLER: I’m not going to get in to that.”

The House should investigate these financial ties and the related counter-intelligence data.

7. The Trump campaign’s ties to Russian election interference need further investigation.  Near the end of the executive summary for volume I of the Mueller Report is this telling paragraph:

“Further, the Office [of the Special Counsel] learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated — including some associated with the Trump Campaign — deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records.” [Emphasis added]

The House should identify these individuals, explain their relationship to the Trump Campaign, and explicate the related counter-intelligence.

8. There are additional witnesses that need to testify in public.  After Robert Mueller, there are a number of witnesses that need to testify before the House committees.  The most important is Don McGahn, former White House Counsel.

9. Democrats need to change their message.  Some Democrats are so determined to impeach Trump they have lost sight of the objective of winning the 2020 presidential election.  Judging from the July 24th Mueller hearing, the best election message is not “Trump  obstructed justice” but rather “Russia is interfering in our election process and Trump won’t do anything about it.”  The theme should be Election Integrity.

10. Democrats need to change their messenger.  In the lengthy hearings, Democrats were strongest when House Intelligence Committee Chair, Adam Schiff (CA-28) questioned Mueller — including this telling exchange.

“SCHIFF: Russia committed federal crimes in order to help Donald Trump?  MUELLER: When you’re talking about computer crimes in the charge…  SCHIFF: Yes.  MUELLER: … in our case, absolutely.”

If Democrats change their message to focus on election integrity, Adam Schiff — one of the few Dems who is not a presidential candidate — should be the one to carry this.

Do Not Take the Bait

On Sunday, July 14th, Donald Trump began a barrage of racist tweets that has stirred up yet another political storm.  Four Democratic female congresswomen of color were attacked by Trump.  They accused him of following an “agenda of white nationalists” and asked that Americans “do not take the bait” of his divisive rhetoric.  Are Trump’s tweets another manifestation of his poor judgement or part of a sinister plan?

On July 14, Trump tweeted: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”   It was understood that the “Progressive Democrat Congresswomen,” Trump referred to are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.  All are women of color.  Only congresswomen Omar, who is from Somalia, was not born in the US.

The congresswomen called Trump’s remarks a “blatantly racist” attack on elected leaders, and an attempt to distract from the corrupt and inhuman practices of his administration.  “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people that we were sent here with a decisive mandate from our constituents to work on,” said Pressley.  They urged American voters, “do not take the bait.”

There’s always a danger of crediting Trump with forethought.  Trump’s tweets may not have been strategic but rather the random actions of a disturbed mind — cognitive dyspepsia.  Nonetheless, if Trump’s actions were part of a sinister plan, he could have several objectives:

1.Divide Democrats: In the past few weeks, the Washington press has talked of a “split” between House Speaker Pelosi and the four female congresswomen identified by Trump: Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib — nicknamed “the squad.”   Trump may have intended his remarks to accentuate this split: “The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

Trump’s tactic isn’t working.  On July 16th, the squad joined all Democratic members of the House — and four Republicans — in condemning Trump’s racist remarks.  On July 16, congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez appeared on the CBS Morning News (https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/ocasio-cortez-downplays-tensions-between-pelosi-and-the-squad/2019/07/17/8a1a31a4-a88d-11e9-9214-246e594de5d5_story.html?utm_term=.86d1bcc32ebe) and downplayed reports of tension between Pelosi and the squad.

2. Draw a broad distinction between Democrats and Republicans: In the 2020 presidential campaign, if Donald Trump can’t point to his accomplishments he can paint imaginary distinctions between Democrats and Republicans.  For example, Trump hasn’t built his wall and his immigration policy, in general, is a disaster.  Nonetheless, on the campaign trail, Trump will claim that Democrats are “for open borders” and would let dangerous people into the country.

This tactic is working with Trump’s base.  They are chanting, “Send her back,” at rallies.

3. Distract from the failures of the ICE raids.  Beginning on July 1st, Trump promised that on Sunday, July 14th, ICE agents in 10 large cities — such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — would apprehend 2,000 undocumented immigrants who’d been ordered removed from the United States. The raids occurred but the total number of ICE arrests was miniscule.

This tactic is working.  The MSM isn’t talking about the failed ICE raids.

4. Distract from Trump’s recent failures, in general.  Trumps tweets began on Sunday, July 14th, after a week when he had suffered a series of losses.  On July 7th, the British tabloid, the Daily Mail, published a confidential memos from the British ambassador to the United States: “For a man who has risen to the highest office on the planet, President Trump radiates insecurity.” “I don’t think this Administration will ever look competent.”

During the week of July 8, there were press reports about the inhumane conditions at the border detention facilities — some observers likened them to “concentration camps.”  Then, Trump lost his effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.  Next, his Labor secretary, Jeffrey Acosta, was forced to resign.  Then the ballyhooed ICE raids fizzled.  (And, on July 16th, North Korea threatened to renege on commitments made to the United States on denuclearization.)

Once again, Trump’s tactic of distraction is succeeding.  The press isn’t talking about “Trump the failure” but instead about “Trump the racist.”

5. Distract from the Jeffrey Epstein indictments.  Since (alleged) pedophile and procurer Jeffrey Epstein was rearrested, on July 6, there have been rumors that Donald Trump is overwrought about the consequences of new information about Epstein’s New York activities.  Trump and Epstein were once close friends.  In 2002, Trump described Epstein as a “terrific guy” who is “a lot of fun to be with;” “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do.”

Writing in the Palmer Report (https://www.palmerreport.com/analysis/rape-accusation-donald-trump-roaring-focus/19296/ ) Robert Harrington reminds us that in 2016, “Jane Doe” accused Trump of raping her, when she was 13, at Epstein’s New York mansion.  Counterpunch (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/07/17/epstein-jane-doe-and-trump/ ) reported: “[Jane Doe’s] lawsuit included witness corroboration of her account that she was raped by both Epstein and Trump. The lawsuit was dropped days before the November election after the claimant had been threatened”  These writers note that Epstein kept videos of “episodes” in his New York mansion — videos that were seized by the FBI — and speculate that some of these may include Donald Trump.

If Trump is attempting to distract us from this, it’s not working.  Epstein’s case is still banner news for everyone except, it appears, his base.

How sick are Republicans?  Will they “take the bait” and ignore evidence that connects Trump to Epstein?  Perhaps Trump’s base prefers “Trump the racist” to “Trump the predator.”

The Economy and the Election

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Donald Trump’s approval rating had risen to 44 percent. The uptick was produced by sentiment regarding Trump’s handling of the economy; 51 percent saw this as a positive.  What’s the real story?  And what can we expect as we barrel towards the 2020 presidential election?

The Post poll was based upon 1008 interviews.  It found that while 44 percent of respondents approved of the President (32 percent strongly), 53 percent disapproved (45 percent strongly).  65 percent characterized Trump as acting “unpresidential.”

The Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/aided-by-a-strong-economy-trump-approval-rises-but-a-majority-also-see-him-as-unpresidential/2019/07/04/c9c42c54-9d9f-11e9-b27f-ed2942f73d70_story.html? ) asked respondents: “How much credit do you think the Trump administration deserves for the country’s economic situation?”  47 percent answered  “a great deal or a lot of credit;” while 51 percent responded “some credit to none.”

There are two questions to be answered: Who is responsible for the current economic situation and what can we expect going forward?

The U.S. economy is in its 121st month of growth — a historic stretch.  Most of that growth took place during the Obama Administration:
Trump claims the economy is “the best it has ever been;” that’s inaccurate. The economy is growing at roughly 3.2 percent, but in the 1990’s the economy grew at over 4 percent for four straight years.

While there are several positives about the economy, there are also strong negatives.  There’s a widespread perception that the Trump economy primarily benefits the rich and powerful.  An April 25th Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2019/04/29/National-Politics/Polling/question_21389.xml? ) asked : “Do you think the economic system in this country mainly works to benefit (all people) or mainly works to benefit (those in power)?”  62 percent responded that it benefited those in power (82 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Independents, and 34 percent of Republicans).

A July 4th Washington Post article ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/this-doesnt-look-like-the-best-economy-ever-40percent-of-americans-say-they-still-struggle-to-pay-bills/2019/07/04/855c382e-99b5-11e9-916d-9c61607d8190_story.html?) characterized the economic recovery as “two-tier” and said that 40 percent of the population has not benefited: “[They] have seen paltry or volatile wage growth, rising expenses for housing, health care and education, and increased levels of personal debt.”

What jumps out from the current economic situation is the fact that Trump has broken his pre-election promises to American workers.  Writing in Common Dreams economist Robert Reich detailed “the 7 Biggest Failures of Trumponomics” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/06/11/7-biggest-failures-trumponomics ): “[Trump] promised to boost the wages of American workers, including a $4000 pay raise for the average American family.  Instead, wages for most American have been flat, adjusted for inflation… over the same period, corporate profits have soared and the rich have become far richer.”  (Reich noted that Trump promised a tax-cut for middle class families but instead this tax-cut disproportionately benefited the rich.)

On July 10th, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell appeared before Congress and noted mixed trends in the economy: the U.S. jobs market remains robust and consumer spending appears set to rebound, however business investment has slowed considerably, along with housing investment and manufacturing output.  Powell continued: “Our baseline outlook is for economic growth to remain solid, labor markets to stay strong, and inflation to move back up over time to the Committee’s 2 percent objective.  However, uncertainties about the outlook have increased in recent months. In particular, economic momentum appears to have slowed in some major foreign economies.”

There are storm crowds on the economic horizon.  Many are Trump’s fault. In August-September, the U.S. hits the debt limit.  Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/teresaghilarducci/2019/04/25/the-u-s-debt-ceiling-expired-on-march-1-and-nobody-cared-but-they-will/#57842bff6b3f ) explains: “When the [debt] limit is reached, the U.S. Treasury can’t borrow any more… severely impacting the real economy for fear the government would default on our debt…. Interest rates, already one of the fastest rising costs in the federal budget, will rise as the political crisis builds, because foreign borrowers will demand an additional risk premium. And rising interest rates will impact U.S. Treasuries, mortgages, credit cards, car loans, student debt, and corporate debt. If workers, households, students, and corporations can’t pay their bills because of the interest rate shocks, the economy could go into recession.”

During that same time frame, the government runs out of money as Republicans have been unable to pass a new appropriations bill.

Many observers are concerned about Trump’s trade policies.  Robert Reich noted: “Trump promised to bring down America’s trade deficit ‘as fast as possible.’  Instead the trade deficit has hit an all-time high.” Reich continued: “Trump’s trade wars have hammered rural America. Farm incomes are down $12bn in the first quarter of this year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Farm bankruptcies are at near record levels.”

Trump’s trade policy is emblematic of the problems created by his “America first” foreign policy.  In many decisions — for example pulling out of the Iran nuclear treaty (the JCPOA) and the Paris climate change agreement — Trump acted without support from our allies.  (Recently, when it appeared that the U.S. would attack Iran, after it shot down one of our drones, Trump seemed ready to launch major military action without support of our allies.)  Trump’s “unilateralism” has economic consequences: information security, pandemics, and climate change.

It’s been well-documented — but denied by the Trump Administration — that the United States is under continuous cyberattack by Russia.  What’s gotten less press is the reality that American industry is under attack from China, North Korea, and Iran, as well as Russia.  Trump is doing nothing to thwart this.  There’s a real possibility of devastating damage to America’s energy and financial infrastructure.

International cooperation is required to respond to the threat of pandemics.  But Donald Trump is a unilateralist (and germaphobe) and, therefore, unlikely to respond effectively to a global health challenge.

Finally, there’s the issue of global climate change.  Trump doesn’t believe it is happening and  has chosen to ignore the mounting evidence. (As I write this, a massive storm is battering Louisiana.)  Here in Northern California, climate change — in the form of floods and wildfires — has already affected our economy; in some counties, housing loss has affected the tax base and, overall, there’s been a massive infrastructure hit.

We’re 16 months away from the 2020 presidential election.  It’s likely that the U.S. economy will weaken.  Trump will be responsible.  HIs approval rating will decline.

What Does “Electability” Mean?

Since the June 26-27 Democratic Presidential debates, the candidate rankings have shifted and it now appears the Democratic nomination is up for grabs.  The winner will be determined by voters perception of which candidate is most electable.

A June Gallup  report (https://news.gallup.com/poll/259454/electability-democratic-nominee-outranks-issue-stances.aspx ) found that “58% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents prioritize a candidate’s ability to beat Trump over their views on important issues.”  (This finding held across all demographic groups except for younger voters — aged 18 to 29.)  Gallup concluded: “The diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates would be well-advised to focus their debate performances and campaign strategies on looking like they can beat Trump instead of worrying about highlighting their issues positions.” [Emphasis added]

What does it mean to “[look] like they can beat Trump”?  Depending upon the Democratic voter, being electable means that their candidate adopts a particular stance/attitude.  During the debates we saw four different approaches.

(1) Some folks want a candidate who will be “tough” enough to stand up to Trump.  Trump’s a liar and a bully and these voters want a candidate who can call him out.

(2) Others want a Democratic candidate who can talk to the “blue-collar Obama voters” who, in 2016, voted for Trump.  On the first night of the Democratic debate. Congressman Tim Ryan referred to these voters: “[The Democratic Party is] not connecting to the working class people in the very states that I represent in Ohio, in the industrial Midwest… We have got to change the center of gravity of the Democratic Party from being coastal [and elitist] … to get those workers back on our side.”  This is the political stance: “I feel your pain.”

(3) Some Democrats want a candidate who can beat Trump on specific issues such as healthcare, immigration, climate change, gun control, and housing, among others.  This is a more intellectual stance: America has problems but Trump is a dummy who offers no real solutions, whereas the Democratic candidate does.

(4) Finally, there are voters who want to take on Trump’s immorality.  New York Times opinion writer David Brooks is in this category.  In his June 25th column (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/27/opinion/democratic-debate-2020.html ), Brooks wrote: “A decent society rests on a bed of manners, habits, traditions and institutions. Trump is a disrupter. He rips to shreds the codes of politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a savage world of dog eat dog.”  These voters want a candidate who emphasizes that Trump is immoral; whereas, the Democratic candidate can be trusted.

The top-four Democratic candidates — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris — offer different perspectives on what it means to be electable.  Former Vice-President Biden seems to have staked his electability claim on (4) and (2).   Biden introduced his campaign in a video where he spoke about the August 2017 white-supremacist Charlottesville rally: “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time.  But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen…”  Biden plans to seize the moral high ground.  In addition, Biden has spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania and the industrial Midwest, talking to voters in traditionally Democratic areas that voted for Trump.

Biden talks tough.  He assures voters that he can stand up to Trump.  But that’s not his strong suit. Nor is policy.  Biden is running as a nice guy who can bring us together.

The champion of the intellectual approach (3) is Elizabeth Warren.  (“I have a plan for that.”)  For voters who want a candidate who can out-wonk Trump on any of the important policy issue, it’s hard to ignore Senator Warren.  In the last couple of months, she’s gained a lot of support because of her thoughtful plans.

There’s no doubt that Democratic voters will think Warren is smarter than Trump.  Her electability problem is that many Democrats may not believe she can stand up to America’s biggest bully.

In 2015-16, the wonk candidate was Bernie Sanders.  Now it appears that Elizabeth Warren has seized this mantle.  Recently she’s gained support, at the expense of Senator Sanders.

There’s no doubt that Sanders can stand up to Trump.  But Bernie’s style  turns off many women.

The remaining top-tier Democratic candidate is Senator Kamala Harris.  At five foot two, Harris is the shortest candidate but for many Democrats she comes across as the best prospect for standing up to Trump, calling him out as a bully (1). (“We have a predator living in the White House.”)   Harris can be a commanding figure.  In the Senate, Harris showed this with her interrogations of Brett Kavanaugh, Jeff Sessions, and Bill Barr.  During night two of the first Democratic candidates debate (6/26), Harris took control about twenty minutes in.  There was cross-talk between the candidates and Senator Harris put up her hands in a calming motion and said: “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table.”  From that point on, Harris commanded the debate.

The latest Quinnipiac poll of Democratic voters shows Biden in the lead (22 percent), Harris close behind (20 percent), with Elizabeth Warren garnering 14 percent, and Bernie Sanders 13 percent.  (All the other candidates had single digit support.)  Since the previous, April, Quinnipiac poll, Harris and Warren gained voters at the expense of Biden and Sanders.  In April, Biden had a commanding lead over Harris in two categories: women and black voters.  Now, Harris has taken the lead with women and she’s cut Biden’s margin among black voters from 31 percentage points to only 4.

The gains for Senator Harris are particularly impressive when you consider that one-third of Democratic voters either haven’t heard about her or know so little they have no opinion.

There’s a long way to go before the February Iowa caucuses but, at the moment, Kamala Harris is surging because many voters are taken with her commanding presence and, for this reason, believe she has the best chance of beating Trump.

Kamala’s Big Night

The June 26 and 27 Democratic presidential debates served two purposes: to introduce the twenty top-tier candidates and to determine who was best suited to take on Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The results were somewhat unexpected; on both debate nights the winners were women: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

Watching a two two-hour debates, each featuring 20 candidates, is like speed dating.  Blink and you’d miss a clever quip or an awkward response.  There were chaotic periods and many missed opportunities to explain progressive policies to the voters.

Nonetheless, the net effect was to “cull the herd.”  The marginal candidates, such as Marianne Williamson, got less attention and when they did get to speak, quickly demonstrated why they had been regarded as long-shots.  In my eyes, there were no breakthroughs by the ten candidates who came in polling at less than 2 percent.

On the other hand, there was movement among the ten top-tier candidates: Beto, Booker, Biden, Buttigieg, Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.  The big loser was Beto O’Rourke who seemed flat overall and the clear loser in an immigration tussle with Joaquin Castro.  (Castro was the big surprise of the first night.)

The other loser was former Vice-President Joe Biden.  After sailing through the first half of the second debate, Biden was confronted by Harris about his voting record on school busing.   When the conversation turned to race relations, Harris turned to Biden and said: “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.  And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.”  When Biden struggled to explain his voting record, Harris continued: “Vice President Biden, do you agree today — do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose bussing in America then? Do you agree?”  Biden stammered that he did not oppose bussing, in general,  “What I opposed is bussing ordered by the Department of Education.”  And Harris nailed him: “There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education… So that’s where the federal government must step in.”

Two things jumped out from this exchange: the first is that Kamala Harris is a terrific prosecutor and, more than any other Democratic candidate, can be counted on to skewer Donald Trump in a debate.  The second is that Biden should have known that this encounter was coming and been better prepared.  (After the debate, Biden’s team accused Harris of helping Donald Trump.)

It’s a long road to the February 3rd Iowa caucuses, but at the moment the Democratic field is led by women: If your perspective is which Democrat is best at taking on Trump, the leader is Senator Harris.  If you are inclined to favor the Democrat who has given the most thought to straightening out America, the leader is Senator Elizabeth Warren.  (Warren skated through the first debate night as the clear winner: interesting ideas presented concisely — like the master teacher she is.)

Before these debates, the national polls showed the ranking of candidates as: 1. Biden, 2. Sanders, 3. Warren, 4. Buttigieg, 5. Harris, and 6. O’Rourke.  After these debate, the BB poll shows Harris and Warren tied for first, Biden and Sanders tied for third, and Buttigieg and Booker tied for fifth.  That leaves Castro, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, and Beto (at number 10).

I believe Biden will be damaged by his lackluster debate performance; he’ll probably lose support among black voters — this should help Harris in South Carolina.  Before the debate, Bernie Sanders was already losing support as progressives switched allegiance to Warren; Sanders did nothing to reverse this trend.

“Mayor Pete” Buttigieg got a good opportunity to show everyone how capable he is.  Senator Cory Booker had a solid performance in the June 26 debate.  They’ve forged ahead in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination for vice-president.  As has Joaquin Castro who was the surprise of night one.  Klobuchar and Gillibrand were solid but don’t have enough “star power” to move up in the herd.  And Beto is fading.

There’s been a debate among Democrats about what they want most from their 2020 presidential candidate: a fighter or an ideas person.  Both Harris and Warren are fighters and both have lots of good ideas.  It will be fascinating to watch their interaction over the next eight months.

Before the debates, some Democrats favored Biden because they perceived him to be “most electable.”  Biden was damaged in the June 27th exchange.  I bet that more voters now believe that Harris and Warren are as electable as Biden.

By the way: the next round of Democratic candidate debates happens on July 30 and 31.

Speaking Truth to Power

More and more of my friends tell me they can’t bear to watch the news, because they can’t stand to hear about the latest Trump outrage. Some unfortunates are afflicted with tinnitus where they constantly hear a ringing or buzz in the background. The U.S. is subjected with the political version of this — Trumpitus — where there’s always some Trump news item droning in the background.  To deal with this backdrop of malevolence, to protect our sanity, you and I have to agree to stand up and proclaim the truth.

1.We’re under attack by the Russians.  The most disturbing conclusion from the Mueller Report is that Russia made a concerted effort to alter the results of the 2016 election.  “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”  Vladimir Putin and his cronies wanted Trump to win and engaged in a variety of technical efforts to help him.  It’s not clear what the overall impact was.  Russians operatives were active in key swing states — such as Michigan,Ohio, and Pennsylvania — but it’s not provable that the Russian efforts resulted in Trump’s 78,000 vote margin.   What is clear is that the Russians helped the Trump campaign by concerted social-media campaigns and hacking Clinton-campaign emails.

There’s no evidence that Russian interference has abated.  Indeed, if one looks at the Putin’s objectives, there’s no reason for the Russians to stop because they are succeeding.  Russian efforts have weakened U.S. morale and diminished our role as leader of the “free” world.  (They have also weakened the European Union and brought the United Kingdom to the brink of chaos.)

2.The Republican Party doesn’t want to do anything about this.  Although the U.S. intelligence community is united in the belief that the Russians continue to interfere with our election process, Congressional Republicans aren’t doing anything about this — with the exception of the Senate Intelligence Committee co-chaired by Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Senator Mark Warner.  Nonetheless, on June 13th, Senate Republicans blocked Senator Warner’s bill that would have required political campaigns to report attempts by foreign nationals to interfere with political elections.

Trump has bullied the mainstream Republican Party into docile subservience.  He’s set this moral tone: it’s okay to say and do anything, so long as you win.  Trump has recast the GOP: “Thou shalt worship no gods other than Trump.”

As a consequence, Senate Republicans aren’t doing any legislative work. Since January the Senate has only passed a few pieces of legislation.  (They’ve spent most of their time confirming conservative judges.)  In contrast, the Democratically controlled House has passed more than 120 bills.  (https://www.vox.com/2019/5/24/18637163/trump-pelosi-democrats-bills-congress )

3.Trump has deeply divided the nation.  When you step inside the latest polls — eg., Trump versus Biden — you encounter an amazing number: most Americans say they will not vote for Trump in 2020.  The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/18/trump-reelection-chances-look-bad-in-state-polls.html) says: “Despite a strong economy… 62% of Americans report themselves uncomfortable or with reservations about a second Trump term; 52% called themselves ‘very uncomfortable.'”  The May Quinnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2622) found: “President Trump begins his reelection campaign in a deep hole as 54 percent of American voters say they ‘definitely’ will not vote for him,”

Meanwhile, Trump is leaving a trail of moral destruction: He’s eradicated comity, torn down the walls of political correctness, and made it okay for citizens to treat each other in a vile and — sometimes – violent manner.

A recent PPRI poll (https://www.prri.org/research/american-democracy-in-crisis-the-fate-of-pluralism-in-a-divided-nation/ ) found that Americans are more divided by politics than they are by race, ethnicity, or religion: “Americans are nearly unanimous in their belief that the country is divided over politics (91%), with 74% of Americans saying that the country is very divided. Supporters of both political parties, as well as political independents, all agree that Americans are divided over politics: Republicans (96%), Democrats (91%), and independents (89%) all agree with this statement.”

4. Meanwhile, the U.S. is challenged by daunting problems.  Most of us wouldn’t get on a boat or plane knowing that the pilot was drunk.  We depend upon our leaders to guide us through difficult circumstances.  Nonetheless, the United States is beset by numerous problems and Donald Trump is incompetent.

America faces a long list of challenges that would be daunting even if we had a real President: Global climate change.  Nuclear proliferation.  The deterioration of our international alliances.  National security including the Russian attacks and terrorism.  Healthcare.  Economic inequality.  Mental health including the opioid epidemic.  Gun violence.  Etcetera.

Trump is not going to deal with these challenges.  Until he’s removed from office, he’s likely to make things worse.  As this was being written, Trump is preparing to attack Iran.

How do we maintain our sanity in these perilous times?  By going back to basics.  Bay Area writer Angeles Arrien posited four rules for life:  “Show up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.  Don’t be attached to the results.”  We’ve already shown up.  For the time being, we’re stuck with Trump.

It’s hard to pay attention given the constant drone of Trump outrage — Trumpitus — but it’s essential because there are good things going on in the resistance.  More and more Americans are waking up.

And more than any time I can remember, it’s essential to tell the truth.  About Trump.  The deplorable conduct of Washington Republicans.  About the problems the nation faces.  Tell the truth about how hard it is to be hopeful.

And, of course, we have to resist.  Every hour of every day.  And like Angeles Arrien said, we can’t get attached to the results.  Telling the truth is hard work.

Elizabeth’s Time to Shine

The walls of my high-school gym were covered with pithy aphorisms such as: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The most memorable was: “Life is a grindstone; whether it wears you down or polishes you up, depends upon what you are made of.”  Certainly, a presidential campaign is a grindstone; in the process most candidates get ground up, while a few thrive.  Somewhat unexpectedly, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has adapted to the arduous 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and is beginning to shine.

Warren was the first Democrat to enter the presidential campaign — December 31, 2018 — and, ever since, has been campaigning non-stop.  I like Elizabeth, but initially had some concerns about her as a presidential candidate: I thought she would come across as an academic or a scold.  This hasn’t happened; instead. as she slogged though non-stop campaign events, Elizabeth has gotten more confident and, to my eyes, softened.  She’s still smart as a whip, but her intelligence hasn’t gotten blocked her message; she’s found a way to communicate with her supporters without dumbing down her ideas.  (So far this year, Warren has held more than 80 town-hall meetings.)

(By the way: I’m struck by how smart the Democratic candidates are, in general; whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar or Corey Booker…  Trump is going to have a tough time debating any of these candidates — if he participates in the debates.)

Six months after entering the presidential campaign, Elizabeth Warren has found a way to differentiate herself from the other candidates: her now familiar refrain “I have a plan for that.” If Joe Biden’s shtick is “I’m everybody’s Uncle Joe… I’m likable and electable” and Bernie Sanders is “I may look like someone’s grandfather but I’m actually a revolutionary,” Warren’s political identity is, “I may be a woman but I’m the smartest person in the room.”

Warren has blended her personal story — impoverished single mom who becomes a Harvard Law School professor– together with intelligence and liberal populism. This has produced a potent political cocktail.  Elizabeths’s brew showed up at the April “She the People” candidate forum in Houston.  Many expected Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Corey Booker to dominate the event, but it was Warren who stole the show.  Since then Warren has played to increasingly enthusiastic crowds.  (And she’s sold a lot of “Warren has a plan for that” t-shirts.)

As a consequence, Warren’s poll results have improved.  A recent Des Moines Register poll (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/iowa-poll/caucus/2019/06/09/iowa-poll-biden-leads-democrats-bernie-sanders-elizabeth-warren-pete-buttigieg-caucus-2020/1360801001/ ) of prospective Democratic Iowa caucus-goers found Senator Warren was in third place (15 percent) after Joe Biden (24 percent) and Bernie Sanders (16 percent).  But another question indicated that Warren is close to a tie with Biden: “Among those who plan to caucus in person, 61% say Biden is on their list in some way…  Just as many — 61% — say Warren is on their list. That includes 15% who choose her as their first choice, 14% who pick her as their second choice and 32% who say they are considering her.”

The Warren presidential campaign is experiencing a surge.  The latest Economist/YouGov poll (https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/4etmv6wq62/econToplines.pdf ) asked prospective Democratic voters: “If the Democratic presidential primary or caucus in your state were held  today, who would you vote for?” 26 percent responded “Joe Biden;” 16 percent responded “Elizabeth Warren;” 14 percent were not sure; and 12 percent responded “Bernie Sanders.”  All other candidates were in single digits.  (By the way: the same poll indicated that while Sanders is the best known candidate, he has the highest unfavorable rating  at 33 percent.)

Writing in Mother Jones, David Corn (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/06/elizabeth-warren-plan/? ) pointed out another reason for Warren’s momentum: “In February [Senator Warren] announced she would not raise campaign cash via high-ticket dinners and receptions or through dialing-for-dollars calls to wealthy would-be donors. The campaign promoted this as a move demonstrating that Warren would not grant access to rich contributors; she would not be selling influence and would instead rely on small-dollar donors… This decision that burnished her reformist credentials had a critical impact on the campaign: It unshackled her schedule.”

So, what will it take for Senator Warren to win the Democratic presidential nomination?

The Iowa caucuses occur on February 3, 2020.  One the next 8 months, Warren should keep doing what she is doing. (“Nevertheless she persisted.”)  At the moment, only she has found a winning formula.

Of course, Joe Biden is the frontrunner, but If Warren maintains her current pace she’ll differentiate herself from Joe Biden on the basis of personal energy.  And most Democrats will realized that Warren has more depth than Biden.

Many believe that Warren’s primary competition will come from Bernie Sanders.  From here it seems that Warren has two advantages: First, she can “out wonk” Sanders; Bernie has a lot of ideas but Warren has more and they are better elaborated.  Warren’s second advantage is that she is a woman.  Right or wrong, a lot of female Democratic voters blame Sanders for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss — remember the “Bernie Bros.”

It’s a long road ahead, but from here the ultimate winner will probably be Elizabeth Warren.  She’s emerged from the grindstone with a clear campaign message and identity.

Trump’s Road to Armageddon

Just when we think that Donald Trump’s behavior cannot become more bizarre, it does. On May 22, congressional leaders went to the White House, ostensibly to discuss a plan to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure; Trump walked out of the meeting, after throwing a temper tantrum — saying he would not work with Congressional Democrats until they called off all investigations into his (alleged) high crimes and misdemeanors. Democrats aren’t going to call off these investigations and Trump isn’t going to work with Congress.  So where does this leave us? On the road to armageddon.

The Federal Debt Limit expired on March 1st and, at the moment, the Treasury Department is using accounting gimmicks to pay the nation’s bills.  Experts say that this will only work until sometime in September-October.  What will happen then?

Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/teresaghilarducci/2019/04/25/the-u-s-debt-ceiling-expired-on-march-1-and-nobody-cared-but-they-will/#57842bff6b3f ) explains: “When the [debt] limit is reached, the U.S. Treasury can’t borrow any more… severely impacting the real economy for fear the government would default on our debt…. Interest rates, already one of the fastest rising costs in the federal budget, will rise as the political crisis builds, because foreign borrowers will demand an additional risk premium. And rising interest rates will impact U.S. Treasuries, mortgages, credit cards, car loans, student debt, and corporate debt. If workers, households, students, and corporations can’t pay their bills because of the interest rate shocks, the economy could go into recession.”

Judging by his increasingly erratic behavior, it’s likely that Trump will hold the nation hostage over the Federal Debt Limit — and the appropriations bill to keep government running (which comes due October 1st).  Trump will issue an ultimatum, “Call off the investigations or I won’t sign these bills.”  Even though his intransigence will be opposed by all congressional Democrats and most Republicans, Trump will refuse to compromise.  In the process he will drag the United States over a financial cliff.

Of course, the House Democrats could head off this turmoil by dropping all Trump-related investigations.  But they are not going to do that because the Mueller Report concludes: (a) Trump committed crimes by obstructing justice and (b) the Russian government continues to meddle in our political affairs.  Writing in the New York Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/05/23/robert-mueller-report-trump-indictment/ ) David Cole (ACLU National Legal Director) observes: “The [Mueller] report dispassionately lays out the facts, which are an indictment in all but name.”

On May 29th, Robert Mueller made a brief public statement where he again noted: ” If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so [in our report].”  Mueller repeated that he and his associates did not indict Trump because such an action was against Department of Justice policy.

Over the next three months, the Democrats will continue their Trump investigations.  Given the unprecedented Trump Administration obstruction, the House is likely to instigate a formal impeachment inquiry — which would strengthen its legal case to obtain key documents and testimony.

Over the summer, the White House will likely initiate no new policy proposals or legislative action.  Instead the Administration will continually rail against the investigations, call them “witch hunts.”   And, Trump will take trips: Next week Trump will go to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France for D-day memorial ceremonies.  At the end of June, Trump will travel to Japan for the G20 Summit — which will give him a chance to confer with his buddy, Vladimir Putin.  In August, Trump will go to France for the G7 Summit.  (In between, Trump will go to campaign rallies and play golf.)

During this same period the House of Representatives will be hard at work. (Except, possibly, for the month of August, when it is scheduled to be in recess.  Given the current circumstances, plus the desire of Democrats to prove that they can walk and chew gum at the same time — investigate Trump (and the Russians) and also generate meaningful legislation — it’s likely that the House will stay in session during August.)

In the past, faced with an extreme conflict, Trump has usually backed down.  However, last December 22nd Trump didn’t back down on his request for border-wall funding, he initiated a 35-day (partial) government shutdown — the longest shutdown in U.S. history.  Given this recent history, and Trump’s desperation-fueled erratic behavior, there’s no reason to believe that he will back down in September if faced with a combination debt-limit and appropriations conflict.

We’re headed for armageddon and Donald Trump doesn’t care.  Trump is focussed on protecting himself, not the United States.