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.

Joe Biden’s Presidential Strategy

On April 25th, former Vice-President Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign. On May 18th, Biden gave his first campaign address in Philadelphia (http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1905/18/cnr.05.html), making clear what his strategy will be.  His campaign is not policy based, it is personality based.  Joe has taken the role of the anti-Trump.

Where other Democratic presidential candidates are focussing on policies — improved healthcare, student-loan forgiveness, confronting global climate change, etcetera — and mention Trump in passing, Biden focuses on Trump and mentions policy in passing.  In Philadelphia, Biden said that one of the three reason he’s running for President is “to unite this nation;” adding: “If American people want a president to add to our division, lead with a clenched fist, a closed hand, a hard heart, to demonize your opponent, to spew hatred, they don’t need me. They have got President Donald Trump.”

Biden laid out his three reasons for running:  “The first is to restore the soul of the nation, the essence of who we are… And the second is to rebuild the backbone of this nation. And the third, to unite this nation, one America.”

Biden used this triumvirate to reinforce his credentials:  “I know how to make government work.  Not because I’ve talked or tweeted about it, but because I’ve done it. I’ve worked across the aisle to reach consensus, to help make government work in the past. I can do that again with your help… I’m going to do whatever it takes to make progress on the matters that matter most — civil liberties, civil rights, voting rights, women’s right to choose, national security, personal security, health care, an economy that rewards work, not just wealth, a climate change policy that will save our children and grandchildren and this planet… We need to set the most aggressive goals possible. But folks, we have to work together to get it done.”

It’s not obvious that Biden’s personality-based strategy will garner the Democratic nomination.  An April 22nd, ABC News/Washington Post poll asked registered Democrats (and leaners) this question:  “What’s more important to you — that Democrats nominate the presidential candidate whose positions on the issues come closest to yours, or the candidate who seems most likely to defeat Donald Trump in November 2020?” 47 percent responded that being “closest on the issues” was most important, while 39 percent opted for “most likely to win.”

Here on the left coast, some Democratic activists have dismissed Joe Biden as a lightweight, citing his kickoff as evidence that he lacks policy “cred.”  Nonetheless, at this stage of the presidential campaign, Biden’s likability numbers are daunting.  The most recent Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2622 ) indicates that, among the major candidates, only Biden has a positive likability score.

Quinnipiac 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… Today, 31 percent say they ‘definitely’ will vote for Trump and 12 percent say they will ‘consider voting for him’… American voters give Trump a negative 38 – 57 percent favorability rating.”

With regards to Democratic Presidential contenders, Quinnipiac found: “With a 49 – 39 percent favorability rating, former Vice President Joseph Biden is the only presidential contender, Democrat or Republican, with a clear positive score. Favorability ratings for other Democrats are negative or mixed:

  • 41 – 48 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont;
  • 32 – 41 percent for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts;
  • 27 percent favorable for Sen. Kamala Harris of California, with 30 percent unfavorable;
  • 20 – 32 percent for former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas;
  • 23 – 31 percent for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey;
  • 23 percent favorable for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to 19 percent unfavorable.”

Towards the end of his Philadelphia speech, Joe Biden talked about climate change: “[Working together] is the only way we’re going to deal with the existential crisis posed by climate change. There’s not much time left. We need a clean energy revolution. We need it now. We have to start now… But folks, we have to work together to get it done. Look, we’re never going to convince the climate deniers or those special interests. But even now, some of those special interests, the traditional polluters, are realizing, gas and oil industry, automobile manufacturing, guess what, they’re saying on television the other day, Mr. President, you have got to do something about global warming… Folks, we need a president who is willing to lead, who insists on dramatic change for the sake of our children… Folks, as long as Donald Trump is in the White House… none of these things… are going to get done. So if you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is — beat Trump.” [Emphasis added]

An April 29, Morning Consult poll ( https://morningconsult.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Political-Intelligence-4.29.19.pdf) found that Biden led Senator Bernie Sanders — second in most polls — in all Democratic demographic categories except voters between 18 and 29.  Interestingly, Biden has a strong lead over Sanders among women voters (38 percent to 20 percent) — and carries black women by a margin of 47 percent to 18 percent.   A May 2nd Philip Bump column in The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/02/other-electability-problem-voters-arent-great-determining-electability/?utm_term=.fdc90c278105 )  noted that female Democratic voters are 10 points more likely to support a male candidate than is a male Democratic voter.  Bump speculated that some “middle-aged women” are convinced that the 2016 presidential election proved voters aren’t ready to elect a female President and, therefore, in 2020 are being “strategic.”

Whatever his logic, Joe Biden is running as the anti-Trump.   He’s basing his campaign on his likability.  So far, this strategy is working.

Donald Trump and the Measles Epidemic

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States and many Americans were hopeful. We were in the throes of “the great recession” but we trusted Obama to guide us out of it. We’d elected our first biracial President and many of us hoped that racism would soon be gone. By the way, the U.S. was thought to free of measles — there were only 131 cases of circulating measles reported in 2008.

Things have changed.  Donald Trump is the 45th President.  Although the economy is good, two-thirds of Americans are pessimistic about the future.  Racism is back — White Supremacists threaten domestic security.  And there’s a measles epidemic; so far, 764 cases of measles have been reported in 2019 (https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html).

The social and mental attributes that characterize Donald Trump have promoted the measles epidemic.  These same conditions have produced other epidemics, such as opiod addiction, Hepatitis A, and gun violence.

1.Critical Thinking:  Donald Trump is not a deep thinker.  He’s hardly the first President with this characteristic — most of us remember George W. Bush.  But Trump is the first President to flaunt his lack of perspicacity.  He revels in the notion that he shoots from the hit and makes no effort to learn from his mistakes — he doesn’t even acknowledge his mistakes.

I don’t believe that Trump is stupid — although he says and does stupid things — but rather lazy.  He does not read the many reports brought to him but instead relies upon verbal briefings from a small set of advisors and the rantings of sources like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Trump also lacks impulse control.  He’ll see a news item scroll across the bottom of the screen and immediately fire off a Tweet, treating the chyron as legitimate news.

Trump has no depth.  He’s a creature of the moment and, therefore, incapable of the thoughtful analysis that leaders typically display when they encounter complex problems.  Thus, the North Korea situation is reduced to “Kim likes me.”

Many of the parents who refuse to vaccinate their children share Trump’s characteristic lack of critical thinking.

2.Social Media as a news source:  Donald Trump is the first President to treat social media as a legitimate news source.  In this regards, he’s like many Americans who do not get their news reports from conventional newspapers (books or magazines) but instead rely upon television, the Internet, or radio.  (a 2018 Pew Research study (https://deadline.com/2018/12/how-americans-watch-news-study-tv-online-pew-research-center-1202512745/ ) found that 44 percent of respondents got their news from TV, 34 percent got their news from the Internet, 14 percent got their news from radio, and 7 percent read newspapers.)

Trump gets his news from Fox News, his Twitter correspondence, and to a lesser extent from Facebook — he occasionally uses Instagram.  (It appears that he uses the Internet to access certain websites such as Alex Jones’ infowars.)  He gets his news predigested.

As a result, Trump has a strange set of beliefs.  For example, he believes that most Mexican and Central American refugees coming to the southern border are “criminals” or worse.  Trump believes that Arab-Americans cheered the 9/11 attack; for this reason he thinks Muslims hate us and should not be allowed to enter the U.S.  Donald describes Vladimir Putin as a “great leader” and believes that reports of Russian interference of 2016 are a “hoax.”  Trump thinks NATO is “a ripoff.”  Finally, he does not believe that global climate change is a crisis; recently he minimized it as “weather” but not so long ago described it a hoax.

A couple of years ago, Trump tweeted there was a link between childhood vaccination and autism.  (However, on April 26th, in response to the measles epidemic, Trump changed his tune and urged families to vaccinate their children, “they have to get their shots.”)

Many parents, who have not allowed their children to be vaccinated, share the (one time) belief of Donald Trump that childhood inoculations increases the likelihood of autism.  Who knows how many of these have been influenced by Trump and from obtaining their “science” information from social media.

3.Selfishness.  Donald Trump is a profoundly selfish person; he only cares about taking care of himself, and his family.  As President, he seems to have no concern for “the common good” or actions that will serve “the best interests of the country.”  When making a decision, his guiding principle is “what’s in it for me?”  (For example, Trump continues to support the treacherous Saudi regime that murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi because the Trump family has business interests in Saudi Arabia.)

Of course, parents who fail to vaccinate their children are also profoundly selfish; they care only about their “intellectual position” and not the health and safety of their children or other members of the community who might be exposed to measles.

Summary:  Donald Trump didn’t cause the measles epidemic but his profound character defects — lack of critical thinking, addiction to social media, and pathological selfishness — have made it worse.  And Trump’s deficiencies have worsened other epidemics such as opiod addiction, Hepatitis A, and gun violence.  Trump’s a menace to our health and safety.