Author Archives: Bob Burnett

Trump and the Economy

600 days before the 2020 presidential election, it looks like the two major issues will be Donald Trump and the U.S. economy. Of course, this could change if Trump leaves office or there is a cataclysmic climate event.  Otherwise, the election will be determined by voters’ feelings about Trump and, of course, how they view their economic prospects.

The latest polls ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) indicate that 41.9 percent of voters approve of Trumps’ job performance — over the last 12 months this number has stayed in the approval range 38-43 percent.  Of course, not all of these Trump “supporters” approve of Trump’s behavior — a recent poll found that only 30 percent of respondents believed Trump to be “honest” (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/05/voters-believe-michael-cohen-over-president-donald-trump-poll-says.html).  Because I live on the Left Coast, I haven’t had many in depth conversations with Trump supporters, but those I have talked to said the same thing: “I don’t like the way Trump behaves, but his presidency has been good for me;” they thought they were making more money because of Trump.

That’s a remarkably widespread sentiment.  A recent Gallup poll (https://news.gallup.com/poll/247304/trump-rating-economy-top-strength-hits-new-high.aspx ) found that 56 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of the economy.  (This was his highest rating in the Gallup survey;  at the other end of the spectrum, 60 percent disapproved of Trump’s handling of corruption.)  This results highlights a discontinuity in public opinion: most Americans don’t believe the country is headed in the right direction but they are generally satisfied with the economy.

In 2020, will the U.S. economy help or hurt Trump?  To answer this question we should examine Trump’s economic campaign promises.

Jobs: During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to create 25 million jobs over 10 years and to double economic growth to 4%.  According to Factcheck (https://www.factcheck.org/2019/01/trumps-numbers-january-2019-update/) since Trump became President the economy has added 4.9 million jobs (as of January).  Trump promised that most of these would be manufacturing jobs but, as of January, only 436,000 manufacturing jobs have been created.  By the way, a recent Pro Publica article (https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/trump-job-promises) said that of 31 specific Trump claims about jobs, most were misleading.

An October CNBC report (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/01/this-chart-shows-the-types-of-jobs-that-are-thriving-under-trump.html ) indicated that the majority of the new jobs are in the “mining and logging industry” (which includes oil and gas extraction), construction, and transportation.

While there has been an increase in jobs, most Americans have not seen an increase in wages.  Since Trump became President, wage growth has been tepid.  (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/12/should-donald-trump-be-bragging-about-wage-growth/ )  In the fourth quarter of 2018, wages grew at .2 percent.

Trump promised that economic growth would be at least 4 percent.  So far, Gross Domestic Product has reached this mark in only 1 of 8 quarters.  GDP growth was 3.4 percent in the third quarter of 2018 and 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter.  On February 26th, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell told the Senate Banking Committee the Fed, “[Expects] the U.S. economy to grow solidly but at a slower pace this year than the estimated 3 percent growth for 2018.”  Some economists have suggested that in 2020 the U.S. economy will be stagnant.

Prediction for 2020: The economy will slow, fewer jobs will be added, and wages will be static.

Taxes:  During the campaign, Trump promised massive tax cuts: “Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class.”  He did push through tax legislation but it favored the rich at the expense of everyone else.  The most recent Gallup Poll found that 52 percent of respondents disapproved of the way Trump has handled taxes.

Trump promised to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent; his “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” cut the corporate rate to 21 percent.  (By the way, under Trump, corporate profits have increased by 14 percent.)

The net effect of Trump’s tax plan has been to reduce federal income by $1.5 trillion per year.  This produced an increase in the national debt.

Debt: Trump promised to bring down the national debt: “We’ve got to get rid of the $19 trillion in debt. … Well, I would say over a period of eight years.”  Instead, the national debt has grown to $22 billion (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/12/national-debt-tops-22-trillion-first-time-ever/2849978002/); increasing at the rate of $30 billion per month.

Not everyone feels that the growing national debt is a problem; certainly not the Republican Party, which — when Obama was President — moaned about the national debt but, under Trump, has gone silent on the subject.  Nonetheless, Fed Chairman Powell is concerned; he told the Senate Banking Committee: “Federal government debt is on an unsustainable path… I think that U.S. debt is fairly high as a level of (gross domestic product) and, much more importantly than that, it’s growing faster than GDP.”

A growing national debt is likely to produce an increase in interest rates.  It’s also going to affect Congressional appetite for big federal public-sector initiatives such as massive investment in infrastructure.  (During the campaign, Trump promised: “to invest $550 billion to ensure we can export our goods and move our people faster and safer.”)

Prediction for 2020: As the economy slows, the increasing national debt will affect interest rates, dragging down growth.

Trade: During the 2016 campaign, Trump portrayed himself as a master dealmaker who would revitalize existing trade relationships.  Trump’s promised to renegotiate trade deals such as NAFTA.  He’s done this but with uncertain results (NAFTA was replaced by USMCA — the US Mexico Canada Agreement — which has yet to be ratified.)

Trump also promised to to raise tariffs on imports; particularly those from China.  He’s done this.

Despite Trump’s efforts, the U.S. trade deficit has increased by more than 20 percent.  On March 6th, the Commerce Department reported that the trade deficit was the largest on record: $891 billion.  (Including a $419 billion trade deficit with China.)

Prediction for 2020: While the trade issue has an uncertain impact on the overall economy, it does affect public perception of Trump’s leadership.  The latest Gallup Poll indicates that 50 percent of respondents now disapprove of Trump’s handling of trade.

Summary: Heading into the 202 election, Donald Trump is asking his supporters to trust him, in general, and to believe in his economic leadership.  While some will continue to trust him with the passion of religious zealots, others will falter; they will react to a slowing economy and a cluster of negative economic trends.  Trump’s political base will erode.

Costing the Green New Deal

It’s a remarkable testimony to these times that while Donald Trump has declared a “national emergency” because of politically inspired “border security” concerns, he has chosen to ignore the true national emergency caused by global climate change. The bad news is that Trump is playing to his base, most of whom don’t believe in climate change. The good news is that because of the “Green New Deal,” climate change is going to be a major issue in the 2020 election.

In many parts of the U.S., climate change is now one of the top voter concerns.  Recent polls (https://www.vox.com/2019/1/28/18197262/climate-change-poll-public-opinion-carbon-tax ) indicate that two-thirds of Americans believe the climate is changing, and a strong majority feel that human activity is causing this change.  In the San Francisco Bay Area we’ve seen a lot of evidence of climate change: we’ve just experienced a week of torrential rain, and flooding — one of my major commute routes is still impassable.  (And, of course, last summer we had a series of horrendous wildfires.)

Public concern about climate change is backed up by an overwhelming scientific consensus.  In the New York Times   (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/16/opinion/sunday/fear-panic-climate-change-warming.html) science writer David Wallace-Wells warns that we are approaching a planetary crisis,The emissions path we are on today is likely to take us to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2040, two degrees Celsius within decades after that and perhaps four degrees Celsius by 2100.”  Vast areas of the planet will be rendered uninhabitable and none of us will be safe.

Nonetheless, action to avert the impact about climate change is opposed by Republican leaders.  Donald Trump is a climate-change denier.  While he no longer calls reports of climate change “a hoax,” he has cast doubts on the latest dire warnings.  In October, Trump told Fox News that he believes climate-change scientists have a political agenda, adding that he did not believe that humans were responsible for earth’s rising temperature.  (In November the Trump Administration released a federally-mandated climate-change study, the Fourth National Climate Assessment; at the time, Trump told reporters, “I don’t believe it.”)

Unfortunately, Trump’s attitude reflects that of most Republicans.  A major year-poll (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/consensus-emerges-climate-change-debate-n950646 ) found that only 15 percent of Republicans believe that climate change is a a major problem requiring action.  (Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s response has been to call for the use of more coal.)  Republican leaders contend that Green New Deal would be “too expensive.”  (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-02-08/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-s-green-new-deal-is-unaffordable ).

In contrast, 71 percent of Democrats believe climate change requires action.  Democratic Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have introduced “The Green New Deal.”(https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/14/politics/green-new-deal-proposal-breakdown/index.html )  It’s likely to evolve into the official Democratic 2020 talking point about the action we must take to deal with climate change.  The Green New Deal references the Roosevelt era, “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal.” It’s a resolution that insists we mobilize now; that whatever the ultimate cost we must take action to save our families and the planet.

The Green New Deal resolution has a lot in it but what jumps out is the call for a “10-year national mobilization” with several key objectives:

  •  “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”  That is, eliminating our dependence on fossil fuel in 10 years.
  • “Upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency.
  • Working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible.”
  • “Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
  •  A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American.  While this may appear to be a gratuitous add-on, the notion of a guaranteed job makes sense in light of the scope of the national mobilization, which will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

While there’s been positive response to “The Green New Deal” — outside of the Republican Party — Mother Jones just published a poll (https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2019/02/poll-likely-2020-voters-support-parts-of-green-new-deal-despite-concerns-over-the-cost/ ) that indicates the level of support for “Green New Deal” proposals varies depending upon the perception of cost: “Faced with a range of possible price tags, voters’ support varied, suggesting costs could factor high into the Green New Deal’s political viability. The results showed a majority of voters would likely oppose policies with stringent mandates—rules requiring all cars be electric by 2030 and every fossil fuel power plant close by 2035.”

From a short-term perspective, this position makes sense: voters support climate-change proposals so long as they appear to be free.  For example, “Mandates requiring the country to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050 enjoyed sweeping support.”  But as the possible costs increased, support fell off.  This finding illustrates a fundamental problem initiating programs to tackle the effects of climate change: to some voters “doing nothing” appears to have no cost or an indeterminate cost; for example, voters in areas subjected to increased temperatures have the choice of doing nothing — suffering through longer heat waves — or to renovate their residence to withstand blistering temperature increases.  (Initially, the prospect of doing nothing may seem more attractive.)

The key question is: What is the long-term cost of doing nothing about climate change?  The impact of climate change has a personal component — it affects where we live — and a community component — it impacts water and air quality — and a national component — it impacts national competitiveness and the economy.

(I’m focussing on California because that’s where I live, but every state will experience its own spectrum of climate-change consequences.)  California residents will be impacted by drought, fire, and flooding.  For example, the southeastern counties (Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino) touch on the Mojave Desert — an area that will expand because of higher temperatures and drought.  As another example, vast swaths of California are subject to increased threat of wildfires.  And, there are many areas that are subject to flooding — in Northern California the Alviso region of San Jose and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Many California residents will have to move to higher ground (for example, Berkeley has an average height of 171 feet which means that several thousand residents now live in areas that will flood as the bay rises.)  However, residents should not move into the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) because that is subject to wildfire (California residents who live in the WUI are finding they cannot get insurance).  And of course, wherever Californians move they have to make sure there is adequate water — a particular problem in Southern California.

As a result of last fall’s catastrophic California wildfires, we’ve blown through California’s $443 million emergency wildfire fund.  The legislature just authorized $200 million for tree clearing in rural areas but this is just a drop in the bucket.  A recent state report (http://www.climateassessment.ca.gov/state/docs/20180827-SummaryBrochure.pdf ) indicated: “It could soon cost [California] $200 million a year in increased energy bills to keep homes air conditioned, $3 billion from the effects of a long drought and $18 billion to replace buildings inundated by rising seas, just to cite a few projections. Not to mention the loss of life from killer heat waves, which could add more than 11,000 heat-related deaths a year by 2050 in California, and carry an estimated $50 billion annual price tag.”

In California, billions will be required to help folks relocate out of dangerous areas or to upgrade for energy efficiency.  Additional billions are needed to ensure that all of California has adequate water.

In 2017, California got 43 percent of its energy from fossil fuel (mostly imported natural gas) and 9 percent from nuclear — a facility thats being decommissioned; we’re well on our way to generating 100 percent of our energy from renewables but it will cost billions to get there.

Finally, Californians like cars; there are 15 million cars for 40 million residents.  Even though there are an estimated 1 million electric or hybrid vehicles here, many Californians depends upon gas guzzlers to get to work (average commute time is 30 minutes.)  How many billions will it take to develop a green transportation system?

My point here is not to illustrate that it will cost Californians billions to convert to a clean green economy, but rather that Californians, and Americans in general, have no choice.  If we do nothing, the areas where we live will be rendered uninhabitable.   That’s why the “Green New Deal” is comparable to the national mobilization during World War II — after the Axis declared war on the U.S. we had no choice but to respond.  (It is was unthinkable to “do nothing” after the attack on Pearl Harbor.)

This grim reality is an opportunity of sorts.  Response to climate change will necessitate billions in infrastructure investment and, in the process, generate jobs.  Climate change will force Californians to make major changes in order to protect themselves and their children and grandchildren; it will usher in a new era of innovation that, in the long term, will heighten our productivity and strengthen the economy.

Nonetheless, the Green New Deal won’t be free.  And the longer we wait to take action on climate change, the more expensive the effort will be.

Next Steps

The same week brought “the Green New Deal,” further indications that Donald Trump will be impeached, and scientific evidence that the pace of catastrophic climate change has increased. Over the next two years, given these troubling times, what steps should we take to maintain our sanity?

(Here’s the outline of the “Green New Deal” released by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/691997301/rep-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-releases-green-new-deal-outline).)

1. Insist that the U.S. judicial process plays out and that Donald Trump and his corrupt associates are brought to justice.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation — into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and his report should be made public.

Wired reports that there are at least 17 separate investigations into Trump-Russia relationships (https://www.wired.com/story/mueller-investigation-trump-russia-complete-guide/ ).  All of these should be brought to conclusion.

If Trump tries to interfere in any of these investigations, his intrusion should trigger impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives.

Citizens should demand accountability for Donald Trump.

(By the way, we should also insist that the Federal government do much more to stop Russian interference in our elections.)

2.  Make sure that the blue wave continues into 2020; that Democrats win the Presidency and control of both houses of Congress.  The Democrats have fielded a strong contingents of presidential candidates (see my February 1st article, “Top Ten Democratic Presidential Candidates.”)   Early polls indicate that any of them could defeat Trump.  Nonetheless, we’ve all learned not to underestimate Trump; Democrats need to do everything possible to prevent him from doing more damage to the United States.

At the moment, Democrats occupy 235 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives — Republicans have 197 seats and 3 are vacant.  Dems have to work hard to maintain their advantage in the House.

Republicans occupy 53 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate.  22 of their seats are up for reelection in 2020 — versus 12 for Democrats.  The most vulnerable Republican Senators are: Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colorado) and Martha McSally (Arizona).  (The most vulnerable Democrat is Doug Jones (Alabama).)  Potentially vulnerable Republican Senators are John Cornyn (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), Pat Roberts (KS) — who is retiring, David Perdue (GA), and Thom Tillis (NC).  Democrats must work hard and win a Senate majority.

Trump has already started campaigning for reelection.  He’s making no attempt to reach outside his base — about 40 percent of the electorate (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ ).  Trump is planning to inflame his base by touting false accomplishments — such as his claim that construction of his “wall” has already started [“Finish the wall”] — and dire warnings about Democrats — such as, “they want open borders.”

At the same time, Trump will try to suppress the vote of Independents and wavering Democrats by claiming that the Democratic presidential candidate is weak and “a socialist.”  (Republicans, in general, will try to suppress the vote by tactics such as selective voter “purges.”)

3. Reach out to Trump voters.  At some time in the near future, hopefully 2020, Democrats will regain control of the government.  But before we can repair the damage that Trump, and his Republican collaborators have wrought, we need to reach out to Trump supporters — those who view Donald as their last chance to get a shot at the American dream — and convince them that we are their allies.

If adequately explained, the new Democratic agenda, with its emphasis on healthcare, education, jobs, and infrastructure, should go a long way towards healing the breech between Democrats and Trump loyalists.  Nonetheless, Democrats must take extraordinary steps to quench the anger and hate that Trump has fed.

Reaching out to Trump voters is the right step, on moral grounds, but it’s also a practical reality: to deal with climate change, there’s an extraordinary amount of work that needs to be done and Americans have to work together.  No one should minimize what a daunting task this will be.  While a strong majority of Americans believe that climate change is an urgent problem that must be dealt with ( https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/consensus-emerges-climate-change-debate-n950646) only 15 percent of Republicans agree.  (In other words, most Trump voters say they are not worried about climate change.)

4. Support the Green New Deal.  As I write this, my travel plans have been disrupted by torrential rains and flooding in Northern California.  The pace of global climate change has increased; it’s time to declare a “national emergency” to deal with this reality.

The Green New Deal is the latest attempt to get the U.S. government to doing something about climate change.  (https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/14/politics/green-new-deal-proposal-breakdown/index.html )  The bill references the Roosevelt era, “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal;” it’s a resolution that insists we mobilize now.

The Green New Deal resolution has a lot in it but what jumps out is the call for a “10-year national mobilization” with several key objectives:

  •  “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”  That is, eliminating our dependence on fossil fuel in 10 years.
  • “Upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency.
  • Working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible.”
  • “Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
  •  A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American.  While this may appear to be a gratuitous add-on, the notion of a guaranteed job makes sense in light of the scope of the national mobilization, which will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

This is not a drill.  We’re in the midst of a national emergency and we need to work together to deal with these dire circumstances.

State of the Union 2019: Two Visions for America

If you just arrived in the United States and wanted to understand the difference between the Republican and Democratic vision for America, a good place to start would have been Donald Trump’s State of the Union address followed by Stacey Abrams’ Democratic rejoinder.

Donald Trump is a 72-year-old privileged New York white man who made a fortune in real-estate and reality television.  His near-record-length SOTU address — 82 minutes — was framed in military images: Trump noted that June 6th marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day when the allies invaded the European mainland.  He said, “Now, we must step boldly and bravely into the next chapter of this great American adventure.”  He continued with the most controversial remarks in his speech, “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous, partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace in legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

Stacey Abrams is a 45-year-old Georgia African-American woman who rose from impoverished circumstances to become a lawyer, entrepreneur, politician, and the 2018 Democratic candidate for Georgia Governor.  Her 11-minute response was framed around community and service: “My family understood firsthand that while success is not guaranteed, we live in a nation where opportunity is possible. But we do not succeed alone. In these United States, when times are tough, we can persevere because our friends and neighbors will come for us.”  She used this perspective to criticize Trump: “Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers. They waited in line for a box of food, and the sliver of hope since they hadn’t received paychecks in weeks. Making livelihoods of our federal workers a pawn for political games is a disgrace. The shutdown was a stunt, engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people but our values.”

Typically, the State-of-the-Union address is where the President lays out his legislative agenda in broad strokes.  Trump chose to focus on immigration (16 minutes):  “Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis. Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure are very dangerous southern border.  Now is the time for Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business… walls work and walls save lives.”

In contrast, Stacey Abrams did present an agenda.  She emphasized voting rights: “Let’s be clear. Voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places, to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy… This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have a say the vision they want for our country. We must reject the cynicism that says every vote cast to be counted is a power grab. Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risk their lives to defend. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders, not where politicians pick their voters.”

Trump’s most controversial SOTU claim was about North Korea: “As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula… If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”

Stacey Abrams most controversial line was: “Even as I am very disappointed by the President’s approach to our problems – I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.”

Trump chose not to mention many issues that vex Americans; for example, education, healthcare, gun control, and climate changes.

Stacey Abrams did mention all these issues.  For example, “Children deserve an excellent education from cradle to career. We owe them safe schools and the highest standards, regardless of ZIP code. Yet, this White House responds timidly while first-graders practice active-shooter drills and the price of higher education grows ever steeper.”

At the conclusion of his SOTU address, Trump asked: “What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?”  And responded, “I am asking you to choose greatness.”  This was consistent with the military frame of his address.  And Trump’s self-image as commander-in-chief.

Stacey Abrams concluded: “Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment – to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together.”  This was consistent with her emphasis on community and service.

It’s hard to imagine that there could be a starker difference between the Republican and Democratic vision for the United States.

Imagine That Trump is a Russian Asset

At the moment, it appears that Donald Trump’s attention is focussed on two subjects: his “wall” and the latest installment of the Mueller probe. Nonetheless, in the background, the Trump Administration continues to engage in acts that jeopardize our security; such as lifting sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Imagine that Trump is, in fact, a Russian asset. Does that explain his treacherous behavior?

Russia: It’s generally agreed that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.  (Although not everyone agrees that Trump was involved in this meddling.)  Trump has never acknowledged this fact;  he says he accepts Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere.

Even though Congress has levied sanctions against Russia, the Trump Administration has resisted these.  For example, Newsweek reported, “Trump’s administration has neglected for nearly three months to implement required sanctions targeting Russia that were intended to punish Moscow for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom last year.”

National Security Establishment:  To an extent not seen in previous Administrations, Trump has disparaged the FBI, Justice Department, CIA, NSA, and the national security establishment, in general.  (He called the FBI “a cancer in our country.”  As a result, public confidence in the FBI is eroding (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/fbi-support-is-eroding-but-most-americans-still-back-bureau-poll-says ).)

Of course, the U.S. national security establishment is responsible for protecting us from Russian interference in our elections.  (By the way, Trump has yet to call for a government-wide investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and seems unfazed by the fact that this interference continues.)

Strategic Alliances:  One of Russia’s foreign-policy objectives is to weaken US alliances.  When Barack Obama left office, these alliances were strong; two years later they are in disarray.  For example, Trump has consistently disparaged NATO.  (And, randomly tells his aides to move the U.S. out of NATO (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/us/politics/nato-president-trump.html ).)

As another example, the European Union has been weakened by the pending departure of Great Britain and the rise of right-wing populists.  In the latter part of 2018, the Trump Administration downgraded the EU’s diplomatic status ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2019/01/08/the-trump-administration-is-downgrading-the-e-u-s-diplomatic-status-in-washington-thats-going-to-hurt/?).

After Great Britain, the U.S.’s closest ally has been Canada.  That’s no longer the case.  Trump has disparaged Prime Minister Trudeau and Canada, in general.  That’s severely damaged the relationship (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/03/world/canada/trudeau-trump-nafta.html ).

In fact, it’s difficult to think of any strategic relationship that Trump has strengthened — except that with Russia.

National Unity: In order to stand up to a strong adversary, such as Russia, the United States must be unified.  But since entering the White House, Trump has been an incredibly divisive figure.  The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/wrong-track-public-sours-nation-s-direction-after-shutdown-n963051 ) found that 63 percent of respondents believed that the nation is headed in the wrong direction.  (In the same poll, 58 percent do not believe that Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”)

There’s no doubt that trump has fomented racial and ethnic animosity.  Many Americans feel that the U.S. is more divided than at any time in recent memory (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/01/poll-more-voters-say-media-divide-country-than-trump-952209 ).

National Security Assessment:  On Tuesday, January 29, Trump’s Intelligence Chiefs appeared before Congress and Presented a National Security Assessment (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/01/30/us-intelligence-chiefs-de-facto-message-allies-around-world-youre-right-trump-is-wrong/?) that disagreed with Trump’s assertions.  For example, while Trump has a benign assessment of Russia, the Intelligence Chiefs reported, “Moscow continues to be a highly capable and effective adversary, integrating cyber espionage, attack, and influence operations to achieve its political and military objectives.”

The Intelligence chiefs also disagreed with Trump on Iran, ISIS, and North Korea.  Although Trump insists that immigration across the U.S. southern border is our number one security issue, and demands that a wall be built, this was not mentioned in the National Security Assessment.

On January 30, Trump pushed back against his Intelligence chiefs (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/us/politics/trump-intelligence-agencies.html ).  He said their assessment was “wrong” and called them “passive and naive.”  (This public split between the White House and the Intelligence community was unprecedented.)

Conversations with Putin:  Since entering the White House, Trump has had extended conversations with Putin on at least five occasions and has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the record of these conversations from being made public ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-has-concealed-details-of-his-face-to-face-encounters-with-putin-from-senior-officials-in-administration/2019/01/12/65f6686c-1434-11e9-b6ad-9cfd62dbb0a8_story.html?) : “U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader.”  (We have no way of knowing if Trump talks to Putin on the phone.)

The Washington Post reports that during the Trump presidential campaign there were, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives [and] the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/here-are-18-reasons-why-trump-could-be-a-russian-asset/2019/01/13/45b1b250-174f-11e9-88fe-f9f77a3bcb6c_story.html?)

Summary:  As time passes, there’s increasing evidence that Trump has an unsavory relationship with Russia.  Given how unpleasant Trump is, it’s easy for those of us on the left to conclude that Donald is a Russian asset.  As long as we only talk to each other, this position isn’t a problem.  But as soon as we talk to Trump supporters, it raises a big barrier — Trump advocates accuse us of “Trump derangement syndrome” and shut down.

A more measured stance is to say that whether Trump is a Russian asset, or just a “useful fool” being managed by Putin, the results are the same: Donald Trump is a grave national security threat.

Top Ten Democratic Presidential Candidates

There are 648 days until the 2020 presidential election, but it appears that Donald Trump is headed for defeat by any major candidate Democrats nominate. (For example, https://twitter.com/sahilkapur/status/1087758614012575751.) Nonetheless, the Democratic presidential candidate will have a lot of work to do, repairing the damage that Trump, and his Republican co-conspirators, have done to the United States. Let’s consider the top ten Democratic candidates and discuss who might be the best leader for 2020.

This is my take on the most prominent candidates — although some have yet to announce their intentions.  They’re listed in alphabetic order:

Joe Biden: Biden is 76 (DOB: 11/20/42) and has spent most of his adult life in politics.  Before becoming Barack Obama’s Vice President, Biden was a six-term Senator from Delaware.

In the current political context, Biden is a centrist Democrat — he’s liberal on most issues but too cozy with big money for some Dems.  While universally regarded as a nice guy, Biden is not considered a good campaigner.  Key question: can Joe Biden convince voters he’s the leader they’re looking for?

Cory Booker: Booker is 49 (4/27/69) and the junior Senator from New Jersey (his first full term began in 2015).  Prior to that, Booker was the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

For some Democrats, Booker is the political successor to Barack Obama; he’s an attorney and community organizer as well as an inspiring speaker.  Nonetheless, while Booker’s overall voting record is very liberal, some are suspicious of his ties to Wall Street and “Big Pharma.”  Key question: can Cory Booker resonate with voters outside the liberal coasts?

Sherrod Brown: Brown is 66 (11/9/52) and the senior Senator from Ohio (since 2007) — before that he was in the House for 14 years.

Brown is a champion of organized labor and “blue-collar” workers in general.  He has a winning record in Ohio, where many other Democrats have failed.  He’s one of the most liberal members of Congress.  Brown has an additional advantage — his wife, nationally syndicated writer Connie Schultz, is a powerful political voice.  Key question: can Sherrod Brown resonate with voters outside the rust belt?

Julian Castro: Castro is 44 (9/16/74).  He was Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (2014-2018) and before that Mayor of San Antonio, Texas.  (in 2000, Castro graduated from Harvard Law School and, shortly after, joined the San Antonio city council.)

Castro’s campaign literature indicates that he’s firmly in the liberal camp — with a special emphasis on immigration issues.  Key question: can Julian Castro develop support in the early Democratic primaries?

Kirsten Gillibrand: Gillibrand is 52 (12/9/66).  She’s the junior Senator from New York, having first been appointed to Hillary Clinton’s seat (2009) and winning elections in 2010, 2012, and 2018.  (Before that she served one-term in the House of Representatives.)

Gillibrand began political life as a conservative Democrat with a relatively anti-immigrant, pro-gun stance.  As a Senator she’s moved to the left and taken pro=female, pro-family positions such as paid family leave and speaking out against sexual assault in the military and sexual harassment in general.  Key question: Can Kirsten Gillibrand resonate with voters outside New York?

Kamala Harris:  Harris is 54 (10/20/64).  She’s the junior Senator from California (2016).  Before that she was California Attorney General (2010) and San Francisco District Attorney (2004).

Harris is a consistent liberal Democrat although some have expressed concern about her criminal justice record — as DA and Attorney General.  Harris has a commanding public presence and takes a strong civil-rights perspective.  Key question: Can Kamala Harris resonate with voters outside the liberal coasts?

Amy Klobuchar: Klobuchar is 58 (5/25/60).  She’s senior Senator from Minnesota (2006).  Before that she was Hennepin County attorney for 8 years.

Klobuchar is a consistent liberal Democrat with a long record of working with Republicans as well as Democrats.  (At the end of the 114th Congress, Klobuchar had seen more of her own legislation pass than had any other Senator.)  Key question:  Can Amy Klobuchar resonate with voters outside the rust belt?

Beto O’Rourke: O’Rourke is 46 (9/26/72).  He was a three-term congressman from Texas; in November 2018 he lost his campaign to replace Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke is a centrist Democrat better known for his fundraising and public speaking talents than for his legislative accomplishments.  If any Democratic candidate can be labelled “charismatic,” it’s probably Beto.  Key question: Can Beto O’Rourke convince national Dems that he’s a serious candidate?

Bernie Sanders: Sanders is 77 (9/8/41).  He’s the junior Senator from Vermont (2007) and the longest serving Independent in Congressional history — he became Vermont’s representative-at-large in 1991.

In 2016, Sanders opposed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential contest and narrowly lost (winning 46 percent of pledged delegates).  Sanders believes U.S. Democracy is broken and needs radical change: “I don’t believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where billionaires own the political process”  Key question: Can Bernie Sanders rekindle the enthusiasm he generated in 2016?

Elizabeth Warren:  Elizabeth Warren is 69 (6/6/49).  She’s the senior Senator from Massachusetts (2013).  Before entering politics, Warren was a professor at Harvard Law School (specializing in bankruptcy and consumer protection).

Warren believes “the system is rigged” against the 99 percent: “[Washington politicians] work for the rich and the powerful and not the rest of us. It’s throughout the system… It is corruption and it is eating away at our democracy and every fiber of our lives.”  Key question: Can Elizabeth Warren resonate with voters outside the liberal coasts?

There are several ways to parse these ten candidates:  Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are the best known.  Beto O’Rourke is the most charismatic but Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have “star power;” all three are gifted orators.

Ultimately, the Democratic contest may come down to which candidate has the best message.  At the moment, Sherrod Brown has focussed on the “dignity of work,” quoting Martin Luther King Junior: “We are all created equal, and all workers deserve to share in the great wealth and prosperity they create for this country.”  (Message number two would be “the system is broken” shared by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.)

Another way to view the contest is to ask: Which Democratic candidate has the best chance to heal the country?  Who could repair the damage that Trump has done?  From this perspective, Amy Klobuchar might be the best candidate because of her record working across party lines.

It will be an interesting contest.  The Democrats are blessed with several very strong candidates.

Trumpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall…

On January 8th, Donald Trump made his first “oval office” speech to the nation; a plea for his wall.  It didn’t work, but we learned ten things:

1.The oval-office format didn’t flatter Trump.  He read from a teleprompter and, to say the least, seemed uninspired (some would say soporific).  Trump repeated the “red meat” immigration claims he routinely throws out to his rabid fans, but in a monotone, as if he’d rather be somewhere else.  (Mar a Lago?)

2. Trump advertised the event with a fundraising blast to his base: “I will be addressing the nation tonight at 9 PM EST on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border… I want to do something so HUGE, even Democrats and the Fake News won’t be able to ignore… We need to raise $5OO,OOO in ONE DAY.”  

It’s not clear if the response was HUGE, but Trump’s Nielsen ratings were lower than those for the Pelosi/Schumer rebuttal (https://qz.com/1519766/trumps-nielsen-ratings-were-lower-than-pelosis-and-schumers/ )).

3. By my count, Trump’s nine-minute oval-office speech contained 14 lies.  The mainstream media anticipated this, and immediately after Trump concluded, rigorously fact checked his claims.  For example, The Washington Post fact checker (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/01/09/fact-checking-president-trumps-oval-office-address-immigration/?utm_term=.98dfe040f31e ) observed: “The first misleading statement in President Trump’s Oval Office address Tuesday night came in the first sentence.  Trump…warned of a “security crisis at the southern border” — even though the number of people caught trying to cross illegally is near 20-year lows.”

As another example,  “[Trump stated] ‘The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico…’ During the campaign, Trump more than 200 times promised Mexico would pay for the wall.”  (Show me the pesos!)

4. Trump’s speech was mostly about the wall; he ignored the consequences of his shutdown.  Towards the end of the speech, Donald said, “The federal government remains shut down for one reason… because Democrats will not fund border security… How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?’

Trump unapologetically acknowledged that he is holding the government hostage in order to get his wall.  He didn’t seem to care about the 800,000 federal employees that are not being paid.  (Trump isn’t known for his empathy but even by his (already) deplorable standards this speech was a new low.)

5. This was Trump’s standard immigration rant with two twists:  Trump has softened his demand that Mexico pay for the wall and he is now threatening an indefinite government shutdown until Congress approves the funding.  (Perhaps Trump’s muted affect was due to his belated realization that he’s backed himself into a corner.)

6. The website 538 indicates that most voters blame Trump for the shutdown (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trump-has-lost-ground-in-the-shutdown-blame-game/ ): roughly 50 percent place the responsibility with Trump versus 32 percent that blame Democrats.  The oval-office speech was an attempt by Trump to swing public opinion in his favor.  It didn’t work.

7. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer delivered the rebuttal to Trump’s oval-office speech.  They were VERY grim; as if they were police officers dispatched to inform you that your loved one had been run over by a bus.

8. Pelosi had two themes: “Much of what we heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice.”  And, “President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people, and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers.”

9. Similarly, Schumer had two themes: “[Trump] having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall… has shut down the government.”  “We don’t govern by temper tantrum.  No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down.”

10. Trump’s running out of options.  Democrats aren’t going to back down, and the longer Trump’s shutdown goes on the more harm it does and the higher the probability that something dreadful will happen — like an airline accident because a bunch of flight controllers didn’t show up for work.

What’s most likely is that Trump will be declare “a state of emergency” and tell his base that he’ll reallocate DOD funds to build his wall.  The government will reopen and the locus of action will shift from the oval office to the Federal courts — where Democrats will argue that there is no state of emergency and Trump is abusing his power.

So, we haven’t heard the last of Trump’s wall.  But Donald’s had a big fall.

2018: Ten Reasons to be Thankful

New Year’s Day was clear and sunny on the Left coast and it was easy to imagine that 2019 would be “all green lights and smooth sailing,” as unlikely as that seems at the moment.  Nonetheless, while 2018 ended with a government shutdown, and a flurry of ugly Trump Tweets, the year wasn’t all bad. Here are ten reasons to be thankful.

1. The Blue Wave:  Democrats won control of the House of Representative and Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House.  (Pelosi is the right person to lead the Democratic Party up to the presidential convention in July of 2020.)

Meanwhile, Democrats are energized.  More than 116 million Americans voted in the midterm elections; 49.3 percent of the voting-eligible population — the highest midterm percentage since 1914 (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/19/18103110/2018-midterm-elections-turnout ).   538’s Nate Silver estimates that more than 60 million voters cast ballots for Democratic congressional candidates — compared to 63 million Trump voters in 2016.  Silver did a projection of what the electoral college would look like in 2020 (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-2018-map-looked-a-lot-like-2012-and-that-got-me-thinking-about-2020/ ) — Trump versus an anonymous Democrat and Dems win with 314 electoral votes.

2. The Resistance:  Even before Donald Trump was coronated, Democratic protest groups — such as Indivisible — sprang up across the United States.  One of their objectives was to flip congressional districts where, in 2016, Hillary Clinton prevailed but a Republican won the congressional contest.  This objective was accomplished: Democrats won 235 seats (of 435), with one to be determined.

In the first days of 2019, Indivisible groups were back at work.

3. Female Democrats: After November 6thPew Research noted: “Nationally, voters favored Democratic candidates for Congress over Republican candidates by a margin of about 7 percentage points… [However] Women favored the Democratic candidate in their district by 19 percentage points (59% to 40%) while men voted for the Republican 51% to 47%.”  (White women split 49 percent to 49 percent; while college educated women favored the Democratic candidate 59 percent to 39 percent.)

In the 2018 midterms, 116 women were elected to Congress, bringing the total to 126 (23.6 percent).  There are now 102 female members of the House of Representatives — the highest number in history.  89 of these women are Democrats, 37.9 percent of the Democratic majority.

The Democratic wing of Congress is beginning to look like America.

4.Brave women continue to talk about sexual abuse:  The #MeToo movement began In October of 2017, with the allegation about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.  Reuters reports that over the next 365 days more than 425 prominent men were accused of sexual misconduct (https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-me-too-anniversary/ ).

There were many #MeToo stories during the year.  None more dramatic than the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate committee deliberating on the fate of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  Blasey Ford testified that, as a teenager, she had been assaulted by a drunken Kvanaugh.  (Ultimately Republicans confirmed Kavanaugh, following the logic that whatever happened, it was a long time ago and Kavanaugh has been redeemed by his work as a lawyer and judge.)

Thank you, Christine Blasey Ford, and the other brave women who came forward.

5. The Press:  Throughout the year, Trump complained about “fake news” and non-laudatory news sources — everyone except for Fox News.  The reality was that the U.S. mainstream media did an exemplary job covering the various outrages of the Trump Administration.

At the end of the year, Time Magazine’s “person the year award was given to a group of journalists it called “The Guardians,” referring to individuals “who have taken great risks in pursuit of greater truths.” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/time-2018-person-of-the-year_us_5c0ed93ee4b08bcb )

Thank you, Jamal Khashoggi and the other journalists who daily risk their lives to tell the truth about Trump and the rise of Authoritarianism.

6. The Mueller Investigation:  Dating from Watergate (1972-74), the average length of a special counsel investigation, involving a President, is 904 days.  Robert Mueller’s investigation has gone on 597 days.   So far it has produced 36 indictments and five major plea deals.

At year end, the Mueller investigation was one of 17 investigations involving Donald Trump and his closest associates.  (https://www.wired.com/story/mueller-investigation-trump-russia-complete-guide/ )

Thank you, Robert Mueller and the other investigators who slogged through the legal jungle determined to reveal the truth about Trump.

7. The Parkland survivors:  On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing seventeen students and staff members and injuring seventeen others.  It was the most horrific U.S. school shooting.

In the aftermath, student survivors formed an anti-gun-violence group, “Never Again,”culminating in a March 24th, “March for Our Lives,” in Washington, D.C.  At year-end, national sentiment had shifted towards “common-sense” gun-control legislation.  ( http://www.people-press.org/2018/10/18/gun-policy-remains-divisive-but-several-proposals-still-draw-bipartisan-support/ )

Thank you, Parkland survivors and the many others who are changing the dialogue about gun violence.

8. The Immigrant defenders:  Beginning in April, the Trump Administration changed their stance on illegal crossings at the Mexican border. The result was the separation of parents and children — sending them to separate facilities rather than keeping them together in detention centers.

There was a strong response to this policy — which continues in a slightly different form — and many American aid organizations provided support to the immigrant families.  In August, CNN asked, “When immigrants and their children are detained at the U.S. border for coming into the country illegally, do you think the U.S. should do everything it can to keep such families together, even if it means that fewer face criminal prosecution, or should the U.S. do everything it can to prosecute immigrants entering illegally, even if it means their families are separated?”  66 believed our policy should be to keep families together.

9. Climate Change Truth Tellers: 2018 was a year of extreme weather-related events: hurricanes, forest fires, floods, and ice storms.  In December, Quinnipiac asked, “Do you think that the extreme weather events in the United States over the past few years are related to climate change, or don’t you think so?”  61 percent of respondents think they are.

Thank you, Climate Change truth tellers working to save humanity before it is too late.

10.  And many others:  Thank you to all those who worked to protect voting rights.  And, of course, thank you to the (under-paid and under-appreciated) teachers who work to educate America’s children so that they can appreciate our Democracy.

Trump’s Slow-Motion Breakdown

To say the least, Donald Trump is a polarizing figure.  For this reason, it’s easy for the Left to dismiss his behavior as “crazy.” Nonetheless, even by Trump standards, the last few weeks have been unusually bizarre. It’s time for Americans to consider that Trump may have crossed the line from congenitally obnoxious to clinically insane.

If Trump has had a nervous breakdown, it occurred in slow motion after the November 6th election; signaled by angry tweets, repetitive lies, and extreme actions.  His behavior meets the definition of nervous breakdown:

  • depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm.  New York Times reporters, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, recently described Trump as isolated in the White House ( https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/22/us/politics/trump-two-years.html“)  The president has told associates he fells ‘totally and completely abandoned” … complaining that no one is on his side and that many around him have ulterior motives.”  On December 24th, Trump tweeted: “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House…”
  • anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, and trembling or shaking.  There have been rumors that Trump has high blood pressure; in addition his daily diet is terrible — he prefers McDonalds (“a full McDonald’s dinner of two Big Macs, two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and a small chocolate shake”) and 10-12 diet cokes —  and is at least 25 pounds overweight.
  • insomnia.  Trump’s last physical (January 2018) indicated that he typically gets only 4-5 hours of sleep each night.  (The typical person gets 7-8 hours each night.)
  • hallucinations.  There’s no evidence that Trump has had classic hallucinations, such as seeing an extraterrestrial, but there’s ample evidence that he tells tall tales that he believes.  It’s well established that Trump lies at an unprecedented rate.  A recent Washington Post article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/11/02/president-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/? ) noted that Trump had made 6420 false statements over 649 days and in recent months had lied at the rate of 30 false claims each day — with 84 false claims on October 1st.  There’s abundant evidence that Trump believes his most common falsehoods: the Washington Post compiled a list of Trump’s repetitive lies ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/fact-checker-most-repeated-disinformation/? ) such as the claim that the Trump tax cut was “the largest in history.”  Trump imagines these wild distortions to be true.
  • extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts.   New York Times reporters, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, described Trump as, “a president who revels in sharp swings in direction, feels free to disregard historic allies and presides over near constant turmoil within his own team as he follows his own instincts.”  “When President Trump gets frustrated with advisers during meetings… he sits back in his chair, crosses his arms and scowls.  Often he erupts, ‘[f***ing] idiots.'”

If Trump has had a nervous breakdown, then he meets the constitutional definition of “inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of [his] office.”

The 25th Amendment of the Constitution specifies the procedure to be followed if there is a disabled president: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” (It’s more complicated because the President can appeal; and this part of the process has never been used.)

In the current case, Vice President Pence and as least eight of the fifteen cabinet secretaries would have to transmit to the Senate pro tempore — who was Orrin Hatch (retired) and is now Chuck Grassley — and the Speaker of the House — likely Nancy Pelosi.

To summarize, there are three ways for Trump to leave office before January 20, 2021.  He can resign — as Richard Nixon did (August 9, 1974); Trump can be impeached; and he can be removed due to mental (or physical) disability.

What could push Republican leaders to declare Trump as mentally disabled?  The most likely scenario involves Trump’s abuse of his power as commander-in-chief.  At the beginning of the Trump administration, there were three senior generals — John Kelly, James Mattis, and H.R. McMaster — that “moderated” Trump’s notions about how to use the military.  (For example, Trump wanted to assassinate Syrian ruler, Bashar Assad.)  Now these generals are gone, replaced by less able men — who have little or no military experience.

Sadly, it’s easy to imagine Trump doing something like sending the military to surround the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to force the new Congress to appropriate money for his border wall.  One can also envision Trump, when faced with impeachment proceedings, launching a reckless war in an effort to distract the nation.

It’s difficult to imagine Vice President Pence invoking the 25th Amendment, declaring Trump unfit for office, without the support of all of the leaders of the Republican Party — donors as well as political leaders such as Mitch McConnell.  But if Trump did something truly awful, we can foresee a conversation where GOP leaders confront Trump and say: “Donald, there’s strong support for removing you from office either by impeachment or a declaration of disability.  To avoid this, why don’t you resign and ‘President’ Pence will grant you a full pardon.”

Winter is Coming


As we approach the solstice, San Francisco beaches are being hammered by 40-foot waves.  It’s an apt metaphor for the troubled times we are living in.  Borrowing a phrase from Game of Thrones, “winter is coming;” with a vengeance.  Here are some predictions for the next three months.

Trump Slithers Towards Impeachment:  Dating from Watergate (1972-74), the average length of a special counsel investigation, involving a President, is 904 days.  Robert Mueller’s investigation has gone on 580+ days.  My prediction: the Mueller inquiry will end in the Spring, around the two-year anniversary.

In the meantime, the mainstream media is going to be dominated by revelations of Trump’s evil deeds — my prediction: Trump will be implicated in dozens of felonies.

Eventually, evidence of Trump’s treachery will be so overwhelming that the House of Representatives will have no choice but to initiate impeachment proceedings.  Normal congressional work will halt.  The U.S. will be transfixed.

The White House will stop functioning.  From the beginning, the Trump White House has been dysfunctional: it’s been inadequately staffed, constantly “leaked” information to the Washington media, and been unable to rein in the President.  Much of this is the responsibility of Donald Trump: he’s a terrible executive.  Donald is not good at attracting and retaining knowledgable staff members.  He’s bred a toxic culture of lying, name-calling, and back-biting.  He’s a “maverick” in the sense that he wears his ignorance as a badge of honor; Trump won’t read briefing materials and typically makes decisions impulsively, depending not on a clear-headed assessment of the facts, but rather how he happens to feel at the moment.  He has no long-term vision for America beyond filling the coffers at Trump, Inc.

In 2019, under siege by the American legal establishment, the Trump White House will shut down.  The Administration will be consumed by Donald’s legal difficulties and, therefore unable to formulate any policy — unable to do much of anything but Tweet.

That’s a problem for two reasons.  First, there’s a lot of serious work to be done: fixing Obamacare, resolving immigration, and passing an infrastructure plan — to mention only the obvious.  Second, 2019 is liable to be a difficult year for the United States; my prediction: the U.S. is heading into a a big storm.

When the going gets tough, Trump will be absent — sequestered in his White House quarters, watching Fox News while meeting with his lawyers.

“It’s my (Republican) Party, and I’ll cry if I want to.”  At the same time that “leader” Trump will disappear from public view, he will be strengthening his hold on the Republican Party.  (For example, Trump has dissolved the distinction between his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.)  The result: in 2019, the GOP will have no national agenda other than “re-elect Donald.”

Prediction: the Republican-controlled Senate will turn mute and the news-making initiatives will come out of the Democratically-controlled House.  As a result we’ll see significant legislation roll out of the House — Obamacare improvement, immigration reforms, and common-sense gun control — only to die in the Senate.  (By-the-way: in 2019 we’ll continue to see Trump’s crazed tweets; they’ll be countered by the calm words of Speaker Pelosi, reminding us all how grownups behave.)

2019 will see gridlock at it worst.  One side of the Congress will function and the other will be quiescent.

Take Me to Your Leader(!)  Having Trump as President has always been a risky proposition.  Obviously, it’s dangerous having an amoral narcissist occupy the Oval Office.  In 2019, that problem will be dealt with in the courts and in the impeachment process.

It’s equally dangerous to have “the commander-in-chief” be someone who incapable of handling that responsibility.  In his first two years in the White House, Donald Trump has not had to handle a major crisis.  The closest incident has been the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by the agents of Saudi Arabia.  Trump mishandled this, saying in effect that it doesn’t matter whether or not the Saudi rulers were responsible because: “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”  (During this writing, Trump’s steadiest adviser — Secretary of Defense James Mattis — resigned.)

What will happen if there is a major crisis?  We’re surrounded by signs that something cataclysmic could happen.  The economy could collapse.  (God forbid) there could be another terrorist attack.  (More likely) there could be a horrendous series of climate change events.  There likely will be a major international problem.

During the past 12 months, Foreign Policy hasn’t been a major feature of the Trump Administration.  Now, two of Trump’s senior foreign policy advisers are gone — Mattis and former Secretary of State Tillerson.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of international hotspots that could blow up in 2019.  Russia.  Saudi-Arabia.  China.  England (Brexit).  The European Union.  India-Pakistan.

What’s Trump going to do when Russia invades Ukraine?  What’s going to happen when China starts selling off its Treasury portfolio?  What’s going to happen when Saudi Arabia launches a nuclear attack against Iran?  What’s going to happen when England crashes into a “hard Brexit” on March 29?

Winter is coming and Donald Trump is a dysfunctional mess.  Happy New Year!

Searching for Trump’s Tipping Point

Twelve months ago, Donald Trump’s presidential approval rating averaged 38 percent.  Now, the 538 website suggests that Trump’s approval rating has improved to 42 percent. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/).  Thus, after two chaotic years, a significant segment of the electorate continues to approve of Trump’s White House performance.  What accounts for this?

The Economy:  When I talk to Trump supporters, they say the same thing, “I don’t approve of Trump’s behavior but he has been good for the economy.”

Since the 2016 presidential election, the US economy has done well.  Overall it has grown at a rate greater than 3 percent; in the 2018 second quarter it grew at 4.2 percent and in the third quarter at 3.5 percent.  Even though the economy was growing when Obama was President, it’s reasonable for Trump supporters to laud economic growth,

Nonetheless, there are signs the economy is slowing.  (Over the past month the Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped about 1500 points.)  How will Trump supporters feel about Donald when the economy slumps?

Immigration: Perhaps, if the economy slumps, Trump voters will be mollified if he begins to build “the wall” along the border with Mexico.  After all, many Trump supporters are satisfied with his stance on immigration; when Donald warned of an immigrant “invasion,” before the midterm election, his base showed up at the polls and saved the Republican Senate majority.

Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that Trump is going to get congressional support to build his wall.  (Although. at the moment, he seems intent on a partial government shutdown to force this issues.)  In fact, it’s unlikely that Donald is going to have any major legislative accomplishment in the near future.  Will this lack of accomplishment get through to Trump voters?

Fox News: Many Trump supporters only talk to other Trump groupies and get their news from the Fox News Network, which puts a pro-Trump spin on everything.

For this reason, Trump supporters refuse to believe negative reports on Trump’s behavior; they dismiss it as “fake news.” No matter how many felonies the Department of Justice links to Donald, Trump’s supporters are unlikely to turn on him until Fox News tells them to.

Recently, we’ve seen signs that the Trump-Fox News relationship is fraying.  Earlier this month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized Trump (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/tucker-carlson-turns-on-donald-trump_us_5c0a33ade4b0b6cdaf5dc43e) for failing to keep his major campaign promises, such as building the wall and defunding Obamacare.  “I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system,” Carlson said.  On December 12th, Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano observed, “The American public ‘learned’ on Wednesday that federal prosecutors have evidence President Trump committed a crime.”

Resentment:  Trump’s base is fueled by “white resentment.”  Arlie Hochschild’s book, “Stranger in Their Own Land,” described the viewpoint of Trump devotees:  They feel they have been unfairly denied their shot at the American dream.  They turned to Trump because they saw him as someone outside the government who could shake things up.

Trump voters are similar to women who, in a desperate search for love, make terrible relationship choices.  Even after their partner becomes abusive, they cling to him; saying, “I know he loves me and I believe over time he will change for the better.”  Even after Trump voters are confronted with evidence of his lies and abusive behavior, they continue to support him.  Trump supporters call evidence of malfeasance “fake news.”

In an abusive relationship, it’s difficult for a woman to set limits with her abusive partner.  Often, she is only able to separate after a horrendous event — such as a beating that sends her to the hospital.  Similarly, it’s difficult for Trump voters to set limits with Trump; witness the typical comment, “I don’t like how Trump behaves but he has been good for the economy.”  This suggests that most Trump supporters will stay with Donald until the economy tanks.

The Cultural Divide: Living on the Left Coast, it’s difficult to find hard-core Trump supporters; the vast majority live in other parts of the country, such as Mississippi or North Dakota.  They live in a sympathetic rural culture.

Many observers, such as veteran political reporter Ron Brownstein, (http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/politics/state/2016-election-anniversary/ ) feel that we are in the midst of a cultural “civil war”:

Over roughly the past two decades, attitudes toward these [cultural] changes have become the fundamental dividing line in American politics. In both presidential and congressional races, Republicans rely on what I’ve called a “coalition of restoration” that revolves around older, blue-collar, and evangelical Christian whites, mostly outside of urban areas, who feel most uneasy about these changes. Democrats mobilize a competing “coalition of transformation” centered on minority, millennial and college-educated white voters (especially women), who are mostly clustered in major metropolitan areas and the most comfortable with the changes…. More explicitly than any other recent Republican nominee, Trump ran as a candidate of restoration.” [Emphasis added]

From this perspective, Trump’s voters are holding on to him because he’s the most powerful national politician representing their culture.  These voters are not going to abandon Trump until he leaves office.  In many instances Trump supporters see him as their last and best hope to restore the American dream.

Turning California Totally Blue

In case you missed it, on November 6th, a blue wave washed over California. Democrats took all major statewide offices, elected a second Democratic Senator, and seized 46 of 53 congressional districts. Nonetheless, California Democrats won’t be satisfied until the Golden State’s congressional delegation is totally blue.  What will it take to accomplish this?

64 percent of California’s eligible voters cast a ballot on November 6th — more than 12.3 million.  Most statewide races weren’t close: Democrat Gavin Newsom won the governor’s race with 61.9 percent of the vote.  California’s most controversial ballot initiative — GOP-sponsored proposition 6 that would have repealed a fuel tax — was defeated by a 13.6 percent margin.

In preparation for the midterm elections, California Democrats focussed on seven congressional districts where, in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton prevailed but a Republican incumbent was retained: CA 10, 21, 25, 39, 45, 48, and 49.  When the dust settled, Democrats had taken all these seats.

It’s useful to consider what it will take for Democrats to win the remaining seven Republican congressional seats: CA 1 (La Malfa), CA 4 (McClintock), CA 8 (Cook), CA 22 (Nunes), CA 23 (McCarthy), CA 42 (Calvert), and CA 50 (Hunter).  Most of these are historically Republican rural districts.

The largest of these congressional districts is CA 1 which covers the northeast portion of California: Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, and Tehama counties — plus portions of Glenn, Nevada, and Placer counties; its largest city is Redding.  It’s notoriously conservative; if you travel through this area — on interstate 5 — you’ll encounter signs welcoming you to the independent state of “Jefferson.”

In 2016, Doug La Malfa won this district with 59.1 percent (Trump had 56.2 percent).  In 2018, La Malfa got 54.9 percent of the vote.

Republican La Malfa is a conservative Republican who has faithfully followed the Party line; he voted against Obamacare and for tax cuts.

CA 4 covers much of eastern California, along the Sierra Nevada range; Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, and Tuolumne counties — plus portions of Fresno, Madera, Nevada, and Placer counties. Its largest cities are Auburn and Truckee.

In 2016, Tom McClintock won this district with 62.7 percent of the vote (Trump had 54 percent).  In 2018, McClintock got 54.2 percent of the vote.  (By the way: McClintock does not live in CA 4.)

McClintock is a conservative Republican and faithful Trump supporter.  He voted for Trump’s tax cuts and supports his immigration policies.  Nonetheless, McClintock has been an uninspired congressman and, overtime, has lost favor in his district.

CA 8 encompasses most of California’s eastern desert regions; it consists of Inyo and Mono counties plus most of San Bernardino County. It largest city is Victorville.

In 2016, Republican Paul Cook garnered 62.3 percent (Trump got 54.7 percent).  In 2018 Cook did not have a Democratic opponent.

Cook is a conservative Republican who has had a predictable but undistinguished congressional career (for example, he voted against Obamacare and for tax cuts).  He’s done nothing for the bread-and-butter issues confronting his impoverished constituents.

CA 22 is an agricultural district in the lower San Joaquin valley: areas of Kings and Tulare counties.  Its largest cities are Clovis, Tulare, and Visalia.

In 2016, Devin Nunes garnered 67.6 percent (Trump had 52.1 percent).  In 2018, Nunes garnered 52.7 percent.

Republican Nunes is a long-term conservative and one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters in the House of Representatives.  Nunes was on Trump’s transition team and strongly defended him while chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  CA 22 residents have criticized Nunes for spending too much time defending Trump and not enough time on local issues, such as water distribution concerns.

CA 23 is the most Republican district in California.  Located at the bottom of the San Joaquin valley, it spans parts of Kern and Tulare counties.  Its largest city is Bakersfield.

CA 23 is represented by Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader and, at the moment, the most powerful California Republican.  In 2016, McCarthy garnered 69.1 percent of the vote (Trump had 58.1 percent).  In 2018, McCarthy had 63.7 percent.

McCarthy was an early Trump supporter and backs him across-the-board

CA 42 is in Riverside County, in southern California.  Its largest city is Corona.

CA 42 is represented by Ken Calvert.  In 2016, Calvert garnered 58.8 percent (Trump had 53.4 percent).  In 2018, Calvert got 56.7 percent of the vote.

Calvert has been in office since 1992 and has little to show for it.

CA 50 lies primarily in central and eastern San Diego County.  Its largest city is Escondido.

CA 50 is represented by Duncan Duane Hunter.  (In 2008,  he succeeded his father, Duncan Lee Hunter.)  In 2016, Hunter garnered 63.5 percent of the vote (Trump got 54.6 percent).  In 2018, Hunter was narrowly reelected with 51.8 percent after he accused Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar — a Christian — of being “an Islamist” and “security threat.”

In August, Duncan Duane Hunter, and his wife, were indicted by the Department of Justice for allegedly spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.  Their trial is scheduled for September of 2019.

Summary:  These seven Republicans are vulnerable on three issues: the first is climate change — they’re all climate-change deniers even though there’s ample evidence in California: drought and horrendous fires.  (La Malfa continues to deny climate change even though the Paradise fire happened in his district.)

All seven voted against Obamacare — which is very popular in California.

Finally, all seven voted for the Trump tax cuts and, in general, have represented the special interests in their district and neglected their less affluent constituents.  This is particularly a problem for La Malfa, McClintock, Cook, and Calvert, who represent very poor districts and have shown no interest in job-creation initiatives.

In 2020, it’s easy to imagine Democrats picking off Calvert (CA 42) and Hunter (CA 50) because they have personal issues and undistinguished records.  (White non-Hispanic voters will soon be in a minority in CA 42).

With good organizing, and a 24-month campaign, it’s reasonable to imagine Democrats winning CA 1, CA 4, and CA 8.

The most difficult targets are Nunes (CA 22) and McCarthy (CA 23).  They both have strong connections to wealthy GOP donors and, as a result, millions to spend on reelection.  Their vulnerability is their tight connection to Trump.  If Donald goes down the drain, it’s possible to imagine Nunes and McCarthy going down with him.