Author Archives: Bob Burnett

When Will Trump Lose His Base?

After the Trump White House careened through another terrible week, Washington insiders wonder how long Trump can survive.  The answer is: as long as he holds his base.  Trump and his voters are locked in a deadly embrace: his base desperately wants to believe he will address their grievances and Trump is willing to lie to keep their support.

In her latest insightful Trump analysis, in the New York Review (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/06/22/trump-presidency-in-peril/), Elizabeth Drew observed, “Trump is, for all his deep flaws, in some ways a cannier politician than [former President] Nixon; he knows how to lie to his people to keep them behind him…People can have a hard time recognizing that they’ve been conned. And Trump is skilled at flimflam, creating illusions.”

Despite Trump’s “flimflam,” his approval ratings steadily decline.  538 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) finds that 56 percent disapprove of the job trump is doing versus 38 percent that approve.  Nonetheless, 82 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.

Elizabeth Drew asks the question that most Trump opponents have been pondering: “When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises, that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense, that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims?”

There are four factors that determine Trump’s base support:  the first is his health.  Donald is 71, overweight, with a poor attitude towards food, sleep, and exercise.  During his recent overseas junket, his staff described him as “exhausted.”  (Trump is limiting further trips because of the exhaustion.)  During a sojourn in Italy, Trump wasn’t able to walk to a restaurant with other world leaders and travelled the short distance in a golf cart.

Some of Trump’s erratic behavior could be the result of poor physical health.  If his health deteriorates further — for example, he is unable to travel overseas or to attend campaign rallies — then Trump will be labelled as  “weak,” “frail, “incompetent,” and “pathetic.”

The second factor that could impact Trump’s support is media coverage.  While the mainstream media (MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post…) has reported adversely on Trump’s behavior, the right-wing media (Fox, Breitbart…) has been supportive.  (When Trump said he was “vindicated” by James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the mainstream media scoffed but the right-wing media echoed Trump’s sentiments.)  What could cause the right-wing media to shift?

Elizabeth Drew noted that Trump is a “cannier” politician than Nixon.  “He can… make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep [his base] loyal.”  Trump has the ability to dominate the daily news by means of a tweet or a call to a conservative talk-show host.  However, as the Trump-Russia investigation has accelerated he has lost some of this advantage.  (For example, during the week of June 5th the news was dominated by James Comey not by Donald Trump.)

If Trump continues to fail to perform — if, for example, the Senate is unable to make progress on healthcare — or if evidence of his physical limitations becomes more obvious, then the right-wing media will turn on him.

The third factor that could determine Trump voters attitude is the stance of the Republican Party.  At the moment, the only political entity more unpopular than Trump is the GOP.  Therefore, Party leaders such as Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, and Paul Ryan continue to back Trump.  Their attitude seems to be: “Trump may be crazy but he’s the only chance we have of accomplishing our agenda.”

So far, the Republican Congress has been remarkably disciplined supporting Trump.  Nonetheless, the more dire Republican prospects in 2018, the more likely we are to see Republican congresspeople abandon Trump.  For example, a few days ago Arizona Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally told constituents: “They (Democrats) only need 23 seats. The path to that gavel being handed over is through my seat, and right now it doesn’t matter that it’s me.  It doesn’t matter what I’ve done. It doesn’t matter. It’s just that I have an ‘R’ next to my name, and right now this environment would have me not prevail.” (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/06/12/secretly-taped-remarks-arizona-congresswoman-forecasts-trouble-gop/102776408/)

The Republican problem is that they have not advanced any meaningful legislation. Trump’s agenda is supposed to be Obamacare repeal, massive tax cuts, and a trillion dollar infrastructure package.  So far, none of this has happened.

The Trump Administration is running out of runway.  If there are no meaningful GOP legislative accomplishments by Labor Day, then Republican congress people will begin distancing themselves from Trump.

Finally, the fourth factor that could influence Trump voters is the economy.  So far Trump has been blessed by a positive, if tepid economy.  (The 2017 first quarter GDP increased by only .7 percent.)  The US economy is at full employment and wage growth has barely exceeded inflation.

Trump promised to push economic growth by means of a massive infrastructure investment.  So far this program has languished.

Trump’s position is deteriorating.  He’s beginning to lose his domination of the news.  His legislative agenda appears to be dead in the water.  All it will take is one major setback and the Trump facade will crumble; his voters will massively unfriend him.

The question is what will this setback be?  Will it be developments in the Russia investigation or the economy or something unpredictable?

Angry Trump, Angry Supporters

Five months into the Trump presidency, Donald’s erratic behavior has spawned an avalanche of “what’s wrong with Trump” theories. Rather than speculate on his psyche, it’s sufficient to label Trump: an angry man whose actions are fueled by the anger of his supporters.

For many observers, Trump’s psychological profile matches that of individuals afflicted with the so-called “Dark Triad.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201608/donald-trump-high-in-the-dark-triad)  Writing in Psychology Today, Glenn Geher considered whether Trump met the three criteria:  “Psychopathy: The tendency to show little regard for the thoughts, feelings, and outcomes of others.  Narcissism: The tendency for one to show a particularly high focus on oneself.  Machiavellianism: The tendency to manipulate others for one’s own personal gain.”  Geher concluded: “Does Donald Trump demonstrate the features of the Dark Triad? … Absolutely and unequivocally.”

This opinion doesn’t help us cope with the facts that Trump is President of the United States and enjoys the support of millions of Americans.  Moreover, the Trump base doesn’t regard him as crazy; they see Donald as their last chance to save America.  What unites Trump and his base is anger.

There are two elements of Trump’s angry perspective.  Both were displayed in his June 1st speech pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords.

The first is his belief that the U.S. is being disrespected: “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement.  They went wild.  They were so happy.”  Trump contends this happened because the rest of the world believed the U.S. had signed a bad deal.  “At what point does [the rest of the world] start laughing at us?”

This is the cornerstone of Trump’s perspective: The U.S. is losing everywhere.  The rest of the world is laughing at us.

When Trump talks about “the rest of the world,” he often implies people-of-color and non-Christians.  He’s overlaid “the world community outside the United States” with bigotry.  Trump’s racially-tinged xenophobia is shared by his base — which is predominantly rural, White, and Christian.

The second element of Trump’s angry perspective is his contention that the United States is being taken advantage of.  “We’re losing everywhere.”  During his June 1st speech, Trump frequently used this imagery:

The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries.

This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States… the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted, major economic wound.

The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States’ wealth to other countries… Our businesses will come to a halt, in many cases, and the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.

The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and, in many cases, lax contributions to our critical military alliance.

Beyond the severe energy restrictions inflicted by the Paris accord, it includes yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States through the so-called Green Climate Fund… Foreign leaders in Europe, Asia and across the world should not have more to say with respect to the U.S. economy than our own citizens and their elected representatives.

Exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty and massive future legal liability.

These assertions are lies (http://www.factcheck.org/2017/06/factchecking-trumps-climate-speech/) but that doesn’t matter to Trump’s supporters.  They believe him.

Trump’s message is consistent: America is losing.  The rest of the world is taking advantage of us.  Trump alone can save the U.S.

One of the characteristic of a narcissist, such as Trump, is psychological projection: Donald takes an uncomfortable feeling about himself and attributes it to others.  Thus, Trump believes he is being disrespected and turns this belief into “the U.S. is being disrespected.”  Trump feels that others are laughing at him and projects “the rest of the world is laughing at the United States.”

It’s relatively easy to understand Trump’s dysfunctional behavior but more difficult to understand that of his loyal followers.  After the election, many polls noted that Trump supporters voted for him because they believed it to be their last chance to save the country and to regain power over their lives.  Many Trump voters are angry because they believe the American dream is slipping away.

In her landmark study, “Stranger in their own Land,”  sociologist Arlie Hochschild detailed the shared narrative, “deep story,” of Trump voters who feel that, in their pursuit of the American Dream, they have been pushed aside by “women, immigrants, refugees, public-sector workers…”  Trump has given voice to the resentment of his base.

Trump may be a narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopath but that’s not what determines his support.  His base believes the American dream is slipping out of their reach.

Bill Clinton famously remarked, “I feel your pain.”  Trump’s motto should be, “I share your anger.”

The Four Faces of Trump

After four enervating months of Donald Trump’s presidency, Americans have  seen four different sides of Trump.

Trump the politician:  We’ve seen a lot of the same Donald Trump we saw during the 2016 political campaign.  Trump the Tweeter.  Trump the media basher.  Trump the braggart.  Trump the liar…

There’s no indication that Trump’s move into the Oval Office has changed him.  If anything, he seems more insular.  So far, Trump’s presidency has been characterized by scandals, such as the hiring and firing of Michael Flynn, and unprecedented disapproval.  Trump has responded by retreating into the White House (or Mar Al Lago) and firing off angry tweets.  (The worst job in Washington is being a member of the White House press corps.)  The only time Trump seems happy is when he’s giving his occasional campaign speech to the Trump faithful.  (Who, so far, have stuck with him.)

Trump the manager.  During the presidential campaign, we got a glimpse of Trump’s managerial style: he burnt through three campaign managers and preferred the advice of his family — particularly daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared — to that of seasoned political operatives.  Once in the White House, Trump’s managerial shortcomings have become more obvious.

His primary criteria for hiring is not “can they do the job” but instead “are they loyal to me.”  He stuck with Michael Flynn way much longer than he should have because Flynn was loyal.  Trump fired James Comey because Comey would not pledge loyalty to Trump (and because Comey would not reign in the investigation of Russian collusion in the election.)  As a result of Trump’s hiring bias, the White House is understaffed and those that stand by Trump’s side are, for the most part, in over their heads.  In general, the Trump Administration lags far behind other presidential administrations in the number of political appointees.

Trump voters like him because he seems authentic: a guy who “shoots from the hip” and is not harnessed by Washington convention.  Trump shoots randomly.  He has no impulse control.  Day-to-day there’s no coherent Trump strategy.

There’s an old joke about Dwight Eisenhower’s decision-making style: “He was most influenced by the last person he talked to.”  That seems an apt characterization for Trump’s decision-making process: he seems to change his mind from day-to-day.  For example, he was for the House Republican healthcare bill, then he was against it, and then he was for it.  Trump disparaged China’s economic policies until he met Xi Jinping, then he decided he liked China’s policies.  Trump will tell his communication staff to respond to an allegation in a certain manner and then he’ll tweet something different. Trump has no consistency — other than attacking the investigations into collusion with the Russians.

Trump the Party Leader:  By virtue of his presidential victory, Trump is also the leader of the Republican Party.  This means he sets the Party’s legislative agenda and ensures that Republican politicians are elected in 2018.

Trump’s legislative agenda is not going well.  He promised to repeal Obamacare and, so far, this hasn’t happened.  He promised to build a wall along the Mexican border and this, to say the least, is off to a slow start.

Trump and Congressional leaders seem to have agreed on a four-step plan: repeal Obamacare, enact massive tax cuts, reduce entitlements, and pass an infrastructure bill.  While all of these have been discussed, the relevant legislation has been slow to take form.  Part of this is due to confusion in Congress, where Republican leaders in the House and Senate are not on the same page.  But much of the responsibility lies with Trump.  He’s not a hands-on policy guy and hasn’t shown interest in pushing anything other than a big concept, such as “a terrific healthcare plan.”

Theoretically, Trump’s other responsibility is to ensure that Republican continue their control of the House and Senate.  Trump pays lip service to this job but in fact hasn’t done much; he’s a lone wolf and not a team player.

Trump the ideologue: When he was running for President, Trump didn’t seem particularly ideological, except on the issue of immigration.  He often struck a populist tone in his campaign speeches.  Nonetheless, as President Trump has taken an extremely conservative stance.

Once Trump gained the support of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who had been Cruz supporters, many predicted that he would adopt the Cruz position on cutting government spending by eliminating the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the Internal Revenue Service.  (The Mercers are also in favor of eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency.)

So far, Trump hasn’t proposed eliminating these Departments but he has appointed right-wing zealots to run them: Wilber Ross (Commerce), Betty de Vos (Education), Rick Perry (Energy), Ben Carson (Housing and Urban Development), and Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency).   In his just-released budget, Trump proposes dramatic decreases in each agency budget .

Summary: Trump the leader is what we expected: a petulant showboat.  Trump the manager is worse than we expected.  Trump the Party leader is actually hurting the Republican Party.  Unfortunately, Trump the ideologue threatens to do grievous harm to the environment and the least fortunate Americans.

 

Preparing for Trump’s Coup

In the fifties, in Los Angeles schools, students routinely participated in civil defense drills.  We were taught “appropriate” actions to take in the event of a Russian nuclear attack, such as “duck and cover.”  Sixty years later, many Americans are bracing for Donald Trump’s attack on the foundations of our democracy.  How will we respond when Trump uses some traumatic event as an excuse to claim dictatorial power?

Many Americans worry that the White House is planning for a “Reichstag fire” moment, a traumatic event the Administration can use to leverage Trump’s power.  On February 27, 1933, the German parliament building, the Reichstag, was set on fire.  (The Nazis named a young communist as the arsonist, but this was never proven.)  Hitler used the Reichstag fire as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and attack German communists — thus ensuring that the Nazis would be the dominant force in the German parliament.  Many of us believe Trump is capable of a similar coup.

Given Trump’s demonstrated instability, it does not matter whether America’s Reichstag-fire moment is a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or a smaller event such as last year’s Orlando nightclub shooting; it might even be a natural disaster, such as a killer hurricane or a ghastly epidemic.  Whatever form the event may take, Trump will use it as an excuse to declare that the United States is under siege and attempt to assume extraordinary powers.

Here are five steps to take to prepare for Trump’s coup attempt:

1. Identify your affinity group: In the Bay Area, we prepare for earthquakes by forming neighborhood “earthquake preparedness” groups comprised of the residents of a few adjacent streets — typically 20-30 homes.  When the “big one” comes we will support each other by checking that everyone is accounted for and then doing whatever is required such as providing first aid, putting out small fires, or sheltering the homeless.

In the event of an attempted Trump coup we’ll need the emotional support of our closest friends and family.  (These should be people who live near you.)  Identify who they are ahead of time.  When the “Reichstag fire” event occurs, quickly meet with them, and assure them of your support.  Then jointly plan a  response.

2. Preselect your communication network:  Once the coup attempt happens, the White House will be all over the mainstream media pushing their narrative: “America is under attack; it’s time to take the gloves off and fight back with everything we’ve got.”  Underlying this narrative will be the Administration’s characterization of Trump as a strong leader unafraid of taking action to protect the homeland.

In the face of the anticipated Trump propaganda onslaught, the resistance needs three things: an alternative communication network; a designated speaker; and a narrative.

While the resistance speaks with many voices, the Indivisible movement is perhaps the best organized to respond to a coup attempt.  Indivisible has more than 6000 chapters linked by email, Facebook, and Twitter.  The national Indivisible leaders (headquartered in Washington DC) are well positioned to get the message out to local chapters and to pass it on to the progressive media outlets, as well as progressive politicians.  Thus, in a crisis, the Indivisible network can be become an effective alternative to the mainstream media.  Furthermore, if you are attached to Indivisible, your affinity group can use the Indivisible network to rapidly respond to Trump’s actions.

In a time of emergency, the White House will dominate the mainstream media.  Therefore, it’s important to identify, ahead of time, reliable alternative sources of information, media outlets that can provide you with an objective perspective.  Among these news sources are NPR, The Guardian, BBC, Mother Jones, Talking Points Memo, Democracy Now, and The Rachel Maddow Show.

3. Focus your response: When Trump makes his move, the resistance needs to speak with one voice.  While we can count on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to take a strong stand, our most effective national spokesperson is likely to be Rachel Maddow.  Information passed through the Indivisible network, or other progressive channels, will get to Rachel.

Another response channel is communication with your local (progressive) member of congress.

4. Prepare a narrative: Resistance to a Trump coup attempt begins with a simple assertion: “Trump cannot be trusted.”  The resistance needs to speak with a unified emphatic voice:  “Trump is a failed President desperately attempting to stay in power.  He is not trustworthy.  Therefore, Trump’s interpretation of [the traumatic event] cannot be the basis for national action.”

After the traumatic event, the resistance needs to immediately appeal for calm and decry hasty action.  You and I need to communicate with our affinity group, our national network, and our members of congress.  Above all: we need to question authority.

5. Mobilize for Action:  The appropriate response to a Trump coup attempt depends upon the nature of the traumatic event.  For example, an environment calamity may require tight coordination with your local member of Congress.  On the other hand, invasion of North Korea should inspire direct action such as demonstrations, marches, and strikes.

Work with your affinity group, and your national network, and plan a coordinated response.  One possible response would be a “No war, no Trump” march a few days after the event.

Above all, prepare for the worst.  Trump isn’t going to go down quietly.

Explaining Trump’s Base Support

Donald Trump continues to be unpopular with voters, in general.  However, his base overwhelmingly supports him.  Why?

According to Five Thirty Eight, 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing while 42 percent approve of his performance.  (A ten-point gap that has held steady for a month.)  Nonetheless, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds a stark difference of opinion between Trump voters and everyone else: 94 percent of Trump voters approve of his performance, 92 percent of Clinton voters disapprove, and 62 percent of other or non-voters disapprove.

There are three explanations for the rabid support Trump gets from his base.  The first is political, the Trump voters don’t have another choice; they don’t see any other politician they prefer to Trump.  The Washington Post/ABC News poll asked voters who was to blame for Trump’s lack of accomplishments in his first 100 days in office.  Trump voters felt this was due to the obstruction of congressional Democrats.  On the other hand, Clinton voters felt that the lack of accomplishments was Trump’s fault.

The typical perspective of Trump voters is, “Give him a chance to show what he can do.”  Trump hasn’t repealed Obamacare or built the border wall or kept Muslims from entering the U.S., but these failures are dwarfed by what appears to be a strong economy.  Trump claims to have created 500,000 jobs (but overall economic growth is a tepid .7 percent).

From a political perspective, Trump voters aren’t going to desert him until the economy stalls.

There’s also a sociological reason why Trump voters are “standing by their man.”  Trump has fashioned a narrative where he is the most reliable source of information.  When Trump says things like, “We’ve accomplished more in 100 days than any previous Administration,” it’s laughed at by the mainstream media but accepted as truth by Trump voters.

Roughly one-third of Trump’s April 29 Harrisburg speech was spent attacking the press.  “Media outlets like CNN and MSNBC are fake news…They’re incompetent, dishonest people, who, after [the] election had to apologize…the media deserves a very, very, big fat failing grade.”

The next third of the speech was spent lauding Trump’s accomplishments: “For decades, our country has lived through the greatest jobs theft in the history of the world…[the media won’t report this because] they’re all part of a broken system that profited this global theft… We’ve delivered 100 days of action.”

The final third of the speech was about the “threat” of illegal immigrants. the audience called out, “Build the wall!” and Trump promised he would.  He said, “The last, very weak administration allowed thousands and thousands of gang members to cross our border and enter into our communities where they wreaked havoc on our citizens.”

Trump voters buy this narrative because they identify with Trump and trust him; most of their associates share this sentiment.

Finally, there’s a psychological reason why Trump voters continue to support him: they are trapped in an abusive “system.”  These voters suffer from a version of Stockholm syndrome where prisoners “develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy.”

After the election, many polls noted that Trump supporters voted for him because they believe it to be their last chance to save the country and to regain power over their lives.

In her landmark study, “Stranger in their own Land,”  sociologist Arlie Hochschild detailed the shared narrative, “deep story,” of many  Trump voters: “You are standing in a long line leading up a hill…  You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male… Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  Most in the back of the line are people of color… Look!  You see people cutting in line ahead of you!  You’re following the rules.  They aren’t.  As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back… Who are they?  Women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers — where will it end?”  Hochschild explained, “[Trump voters] felt that the deep story was their real story and that there was a false PC over-up of that story… So it was with joyous belief that many heard a Donald Trump who seemed to be wildly, omnipotently, magically free of all PC constraint.” Trump made them feel okay about themselves.

Hochschild observed, “Underlying all these other bases of honor — in work, region, state, family life, and church — was pride in the self of the deep story… What seemed like a problem to liberals — the fact that conservatives identify ‘up,’ with the 1 percent — was actually a source of pride to the [Trump voters] I got to know.” Trump voters admire Donald.

A recent Time magazine article (http://time.com/3309687/why-women-stay-in-abusive-relationships/), about why women stay in abusive relationships, observed: “Research also shows that abusers are drawn to people who already feel powerless in other aspects of their life. These people question their own worth and thus do not consider whether their needs are being met. Predators build up the victim’s self-esteem before introducing the abuse.”  This explains the relationship between Trump and his supporters.

Donald Trump is an abuser.  He’s found an audience with millions of American who feel powerless.  Now, he’s getting ready to abuse them by taking away their healthcare, polluting their air and water, and reducing public services.

What will take for Trump voters to realize they have been fooled?

Berkeley Gets Trolled

 

CBS News

“What’s happening to Berkeley?  Are you safe?” our friends ask.  National headlines scream: “Riots in Berkeley!” “The Death of Free Speech!”  Yes, something is happening in Berkeley.  We’ve been trolled by the hard right.  And our “leaders” haven’t responded effectively.  Now it’s time for the true defenders of free speech to step forward.

The so-called “riot” unfolded in three acts.  ACT ONE: Berkeley Young Republicans invited Breitbart bigot Milo Yiannopoulous to speak on campus (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/us/uc-berkeley-milo-yiannopoulos-protest.html).  On February 1st a crowd formed before the speech (estimated size 1000).  Suddenly it was invaded by the East Bay anarchists, who call themselves “AntiFa.”  They threw cherry bombs, started fights, and generally riled things up.  Campus police cancelled the speech.

Milo’s speech, and subsequent (cancelled) speeches by David Horowitz and Ann Coulter, were funded by the Young America’s Foundation,  one of whose donors is the notorious Rebekah Mercer — daughter of Oligarch (and Trump supporter) Robert Mercer.(http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/mercers/ )  [Young America’s Foundation has sued the University of California over the cancellation of the Coulter speech.]

ACT TWO: Subsequent to the cancellation of Milo’s speech, a pro-Trump group scheduled a protest in a downtown Berkeley park; part of the nation “March 4 Trump” demonstrations — which drew a laughable 160 to the National Mall.  A few Trump supporters showed up in Berkeley and were met by many more Anarchists, resulting in fist fights and 10 arrests.

On April 15th there were national tax day marches.  Once again, in the same downtown Berkeley park, the pro-Trump forces staged a rally.  Predictably they were met by the anarchists, resulting in a several hours of sporadic fistfights and 23 arrests.  And national news headlines: “Riots in Berkeley!”

It’s informative to consider who was at the April 15th rally.  Prominent was Identity Evropa a White Nationalist group founded by Nathan Damigo (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/military/sd-me-nathan-damigo-20170417-story.html). Their office is in Oakdale, California, the central valley.  The source of their funding is unclear but Damigo is affiliated with Richard Spencer, of the National Policy Institute (http://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2017/white-nationalists-work-make-inroads-us-colleges).  The National Policy Institute was founded by far-right donor William Regnery;  some of its board members are connected to Rebekah Mercer.

Another group at the rally was the Oath Keepers.  Formed in 2009, this is among the largest US extremist groups claiming 30,000 members many of whom are former members of the military or law enforcement.  It’s founder, L. Stewart Rhodes, was present on April 15.  Again their funding is unclear.  Rhodes lives in Montana.

Also present were The Proud Boys, who called for the April 15 Alt-right rally.  They were represented by Rich Black.  Once again, it’s not clear how they raise funds.  (Although Black has solicited donations for his organization, “Liberty Revival Alliance” on the notorious Alt-right site Wesearchr.)  The Proud Boys’ offices are in New York City.

What these three Alt-right groups have in common is their mysterious funding and that they are headquartered outside the Bay Area,

On the other hand,  the Antifa group is local.  Antifa, short for anti-fascism, is a collection of anarchists, including the Berkeley chapter of “By Any Means Necessary.”  Its most prominent member is Yvette Felarca.

On April 27th, the hard right staged another Berkeley protest because of the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speech.  At the downtown Berkeley segment, there were a couple of dozen identified Alt-right individuals.  Oathkeeper L. Stewart Rhodes said he was there to defend free speech.  (Antifa didn’t show; Yvette Felarca reportedly boasted, “We don’t need to come to the park.  We won.  We caused the cancellation of Coulter’s speech.”)

ACT Three: In hindsight, the Milo Yiannopoulous event was mishandled by the UC authorities.  The hard right has seized upon this as an excuse to troll Berkeley; they’re likely to keep doing this until Berkeley citizens take charge.

Milo Yiannopoulous should have been allowed to speak, as should other conservatives no matter how inflammatory their views.  Antifa is wrong to block the exercise of free speech.  Berkeley must remain the home of free speech.

History indicates that if there is a massive outpouring of nonviolent-free-speech support this will check the violence from the Alt-right and from Antifa.  Therefore, the Berkeley nonviolent community has to mount a concerted effort to mobilize several thousand free-speech advocates to show up whenever there is a far-right speech or the Alt-right schedules a rally.

This is our challenge, Berkeley.  We must defend free speech by standing up to political violence.

Reaching Out To Trump Voters

On April 17th, my Berkeley Indivisible group  hosted a two-hour discussion on “Reaching out to Trump voters,” featuring UC professors Arlie Hochschild and George Lakoff.  Participants learned how to approach a group that some consider a lost cause.

After November 8, many progressives were dismayed to learn that one or more members of their family had voted for Donald Trump. It wasn’t some random Republican in a remote red state, it was someone they had shared holidays and vacations with.  It was a beloved member of their family.

Indivisible was founded with two primary values in mind: inclusivity and nonviolence.  Reaching out to a Trump voter is a reflection of inclusivity, including everyone in the conversation.  Involving every voter regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or how they voted on November 8th.

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn defined nonviolence as “love in action.”  Certainly reaching out to a family member who voted for Trump is love in action.

Conflict-resolution studies suggest ten tips for talking to difficult people; ten lessons that are applicable to talking to a family member who voted for trump:  First, do it in private.  This is not a conversation that should take place in a typical family setting such as Thanksgiving dinner after a couple of drinks.  Second, leave plenty of time for the conversation.  This is not a conversation that will consume only a few minutes; allocate several hours.  Third, begin with the well-formed intention to listen to the member of your family who voted for Trump.  Fourth, make sure that you have the energy to do this.  If you are getting over a cold and didn’t sleep the night before then today is probably not a good time to have a difficult conversation with “Uncle Al.”  Fifth, sustain eye contact.  This is a good practice in all intimate conversations but particularly important in dealing with difficult people.

Sixth, recognize when you are “triggered.”  Recognition of triggers is worthy of a special training; suffice it to say that if, during your conversation with Uncle AL, you suddenly feel very angry or you have gone numb, you are likely “triggered.”  Seventh, if you are triggered it’s okay to ask for a timeout.  Take the time you need to collect yourself.  Eighth, it’s a good idea to practice your interaction with Uncle Al ahead of time; that is, have a friend play the part of Uncle  Al and practice a conversation about why Uncle Al voted for Trump.  Ninth,  it’s okay to take more than one session to talk to Uncle Al.  If after an hour, you feel your energy drain, it’s okay for you to say, “We’ve accomplished a lot.  How about scheduling another meeting.”  Finally, if more than one member of your family voted for Trump, take them one at a time.  (Save Aunt Minnie for later.)

After reading Hochschild and Lakoff, I deduced seven observations they share about reaching out to Trump voters:

1. Listen: Trump voters expect liberals to disrespect them.  Therefore, no matter how outrageous Uncle Al’s statements may be, listen, and perhaps comment, “I’m interested that you think that.”

2. Do not insult Trump.  Hochschild and Lakoff’s writings make it clear that Trump voters identify with Trump; to them, he’s successful, politically incorrect, and a guy who has beaten the system.  When they say something positive about Trump, reply, “I hear what you say but I’m worried about corruption and safety.  Corruption because Trump will not reveal his tax returns and safety because of his ties to Russia.  What do you think?”

3. Clarify your own values:  Trump voters have different values from liberals.  Before you talk to Uncle Al, be clear about your own values.  For example, do you believe that we are “our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper?”  Search for common ground.  For example, does the Trump voter believe in “the Golden Rule?”  How does that belief apply to treatment of people of color?”  George Lakoff suggests: we ask Uncle Al, “What actions are you most proud of?”

4. Recognize worldview: Trump voters see the world as an elaborate hierarchy (with rich American white straight Christian guys at the top).  Nonetheless, most Americans cherish the myth of “the little guy who started out with nothing and fought his way to the top.”  Search for common ground on the concept of fairness; everyone deserves a chance.

5. Be careful about climate change: Most Trump voters do not believe in global climate change.  Rather than take on this issue in general, talk about a specific local issue such as contaminated drinking water.  Say, “I believe that we should protect our children from contaminated water.  Don’t you agree?”

6. Be careful about race, ethnicity, and national origin: Many Trump voters live in segregated communities and do not know immigrants or have social contacts with people of color.  Search for common ground by referring to “the Golden Rule.”  “What would Jesus do if he saw a Black man being beaten by the police?”

7. Take back patriotic symbols: Search for common ground using the symbols of patriotism: flag, constitution, and love of country.  You can say, “I’m reaching out to you because I love you and I love America.”

Trump voters are not “deplorables.”  There’s a way to reach out to beloved family members who  voted for Trump.  It begins with listening.

While the Media Slept

Donald Trump has called the mainstream media “the enemy.”  But since January 20th, the media has been Trump’s best friend because they have, in the main, ignored the big stories about his disastrous presidency.

To be fair, Rachel Maddow has been superb.  And the New York Times, Washington Post, and a few other print outlets have done a great job with the Trump-Russia imbroglio.  Nonetheless, here are some of the big stories they’ve missed.

1.Trump isn’t an executive.  Everything we’ve seen since January 20th, confirms the painful truth: Trump is in way over his head.  Let’s consider the five basic tasks of any CEO: Vision, Resources, Culture, Decisions, and Performance. (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/233354)

Vision: What is Trump’s vision for America?  We understand that he offers “Make America Great Again” as his vision, but what lies behind that?  “Where’s the beef?”  There isn’t any.  Trump’s budget document — the closest we have to a plan — tears down the Federal government and gives massive tax breaks to the rich.  Trump’s real vision is “Screw the 99 percent.”

Resources: Another responsibility of an effective CEO is to allocate resources (money, personnel, time, and facilities) to accomplish specific objectives.  Trump’s budget gives resources to ICE and the national security state.  The domestic agencies get the shaft.  There’s nothing in Trump’s budget to improve the lot of the 99 percent.

Culture: A successful CEO builds a culture of competency.  “A good culture makes people feel safe and respected, enabling them to perform at their best.”  Except for his national security advisers (Mattis and McMaster), Trump has surrounded himself with a team of bumpkins.  From the White House staff through the Cabinet secretaries to all the (few) political appointees, Trump’s prevailing credo has been “do they like me?” rather than “can they do the job?” or better yet, “can they make America greater?”

Decision-making:  One of the defining aspects of management is making timely, effective, and responsible decisions.  Trump doesn’t make decisions: he dithers.  And equivocates.

When he has made decisions, such as his ineffective “full-court press” to repeal Obamacare, Trump has made bad choices.  And then, when his initiatives have failed, he’s attempted to blame others.  He’s a coward.

Forget looking for responsibility within this Administration.  Trump’s operational model is “the buck doesn’t stop here.”

Performance:  America’s corporate CEOs ultimately get judged by a narrow standard: share price.  For President, the equivalent standard is, “How’s the stock market doing?”  So far the stock market is up, so Wall Street thinks Trump is doing okay.  Really?  (According to Gallup, U.S. Economic Confidence is trending down.)

Another standard for a President is, “Has he kept us safe?”  The good news is that there have not been any domestic terrorist attacks under Trump.  The bad news is that since walked into the White House the whole world has been unsettled.  Moreover, tourists are afraid to come here — any non-native person-of-color is afraid to come to the US.  Hmmm.  That can’t be good for national security.  Hmmm.  If the rest of the world doesn’t like Trump, maybe that could have some impact on our economy.

2. Trump has no Foreign Policy: Trump wasn’t elected because of his foreign-policy chops but we expected some coherence.  It’s not like all the Republican leaders are dummies.  (Or have we got that wrong, too?)

First Trump liked Russia; now he doesn’t.  Initially Trump didn’t like China but now apparently he does.  And on and on.  Trump’s foreign policy seems totally random; as if it is was most influenced by what he learned from watching “Fox and Friends” while he was getting dressed.

Consider North Korea.  From his recent remarks, sounds like Donald is “mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.”  What’s this mean?  Is he going to attack North Korea?  Hmmm.  Think Donald knows that Seoul, South Korea, is less than 35 miles from the border with North Korea — that’s less than the distance between New York City and Coney Island?  Think Donald understands that if we attack North Korea it’s inevitable that Seoul would be devastated?  Probably not but breathe a sigh of relief: there are Trump properties in Seoul so he probably won’t attack North Korea.

3. Trump’s Attack on Syria: The media mostly missed that Trump precipitated the heinous gas attacks because his administration announced they had take Syrian regime change off the table (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/us/politics/trump-bashar-assad-syria.html.)  Next the ruler of Syria, or someone else, gassed the poor folks in Khan Sheikhun, Syria.   Then Trump got pissed off, jumped to a conclusion, and bombed a Syrian airport — with undetermined results.

The media applauded because they had been waiting for Trump to do something a tiny bit presidential.  The problem is the media have now set the bar so low that any Trump act of foreign-policy violence is likely to painted as “presidential.”  Rather than what it really is: thuggery.

4. Trump’s missing legislative agenda:  Remember when Trump was going to sweep in and repeal Obamacare, cut everybody’s taxes, and unleash a trillion-dollar infrastructure program?  That’s disappeared.

Trump isn’t going to be able to get anything passed in Congress but that won’t keep him from dismantling the social safety net — and every part of government that isn’t the national security state.  But the media doesn’t report this disgrace because it’s all “nuts and bolts” government stuff and the media doesn’t think their readers/viewers are interested.  So, Trump will propose gutting Social Security to almost no notice while the mainstream media ponders weighty concerns like, “What’s Ivanka going to do next?”

Wake up national media!  This isn’t a drill, it’s a real catastrophe!

 

Inside Devin Nunes

One of the bizarre consequences of the Congressional investigation into the connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia is the media attention given to a banal Republican congressman, Devin Nunes.  As the chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Nunes has singlehandedly blocked the House investigation into the Trump-Russia affair.  He’s doing this because of political ambition.

43-year-old Nunes grew up on a dairy farm in Tulare, California, and earned a Master’s degree in Agriculture.  In 2001, Nunes entered politics when President Bush appointed him California State Director for the USDA’s Rural Development section.  In 2003, Nunes became Congressman for what is now California Congressional District 22, which includes Tulare.  By 2010, Nunes was recognized as a rising Republican star; Time Magazine (http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2023831_2023829_2025225,00.html) named him one of their “40 civic leaders under 40,” characterizing Nunes as an ambitious “farm boy.” Nunes admitted, “I like Agriculture,” adding that if left politics, “I would be making wine and cheese.”  (Nunes’ family owns a huge Tulare farm and Nunes lives nearby.)

Given his rural background, it’s remarkable how quickly Devin Nunes has risen up the Republican food chain.  Many attribute this to his book, “Restoring the Republic,” published in 2010 by WND Books.  In the 165 page polemic, Nunes staked out a far-right perspective, notably on environmental policy, describing Environmental lobbyists as “followers of neo-Marxist, socialist, Maoist or Communist ideals” and characterizing global-warming claims as “hysteria” spread by a “Doomsday cult.”

In 2010, when Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, Nunes became a member of the prestigious House Committees on Intelligence and Ways and Means.  In January of 2015, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked Nunes to become chair of the Intelligence Committee.  (Nunes and Ryan are close friends.)

Many attribute Nunes rapid ascent to his connection to Joseph Farah, founder of the right-wing website WND (World Net Daily).  The Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/worldnetdaily) characterized WND as “devoted to manipulative fear-mongering and outright fabrications designed to further the paranoid, gay-hating, conspiratorial and apocalyptic visions of Farah and his hand-picked contributors from the fringes of the far-right and fundamentalist worlds.”  WND was a primary promoter of the “birther” cause: “Concerns whether President Obama is a ‘natural-born’ U.S. citizen, originally stirred up by WND columnist Jerome Corsi…. [who] was also the architect of the ‘Swift boating’ of John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.”  (The WND bookstore features titles such as, “Stop the Islamization of America.”)

Before the Republican convention, Nunes became an “informal” Trump adviser on national-security issues.  After the presidential election, Nunes became a member of the Trump transition executive committee (http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-rep-devin-nunes-named-to-trump-s-1478893307-htmlstory.html), where he worked closely with NSA-designee Michael Flynn.  (Recently, The Washington Post quoted Nunes recalling that during the transition he was fielding calls from foreign leaders and ambassadors who were trying to reach Flynn.)

In May of 2016, Donald Trump held a fundraiser in Fresno, next to Nunes’ congressional district; in August Trump appeared at another fundraiser in Tulare, Nunes’ home town, and raised $1.3 million.  At the Fresno event, Trump claimed, “There is no [California] drought,” continuing, “We’re going to solve your water problem… It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea to save a certain kind of three-inch fish.” Trump’s comments were verbatim quotes from Nunes.  In fact, Trump seems to be echoing Nunes’ thoughts on environmental policy, in general.

Since the presidential election, Nunes has been an important member of Trump’s team.  On February 13, 2017, Congressman Nunes defended Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn (http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/intelligence/319323-intel-chair-on-flynn-reports-nothing-there):  “It just seems like there’s a lot of nothing there… There is no question that Flynn has been a change agent … which is why I believe Trump likes him.”  A few hours later, Flynn resigned.  Nunes responded by calling another press conference to promise that he would lead an investigation into had who leaked Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.

There are three reasons why Nunes defends Trump:

1. It’s what he was trained to do: Like his friend Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes has spend his adult life in politics. Instead of working in the family farming business, with his brothers Gerald and Anthony Junior, Devin became a professional Republican.  Early on, Nunes was groomed by Joseph Farah and other right-wing zealots.

2. He followed the money:  Nunes has been an unusually effective Republican fundraiser.  Open Secrets (https://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00007248) reports that in 2015-16, Nunes raise $2.4M and spent only $1.3M; at the end of 2016, his campaign committee had $3,177,900 on hand.  (Nunes’ fundraiser for Trump raised $1.3 million from 250 farmers.)

As a member of the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes makes $174,000 per year.  Nunes’ tax returns have not been made public but he claims to have a net worth of $51,000 (http://static.latimes.com/how-much-are-they-worth/devin-nunes/) including a $50,000 share in a winery and an undisclosed amount at WND books.  (Nunes did not declare his Tulare residence or his interest in the family farming business.)

3. He wants to run for Senate in 2018.  In California, it’s an open secret that Devin Nunes plans to run for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat in the midterm election.

Improbably, Devin Nunes, a small-town farm boy has become a national political player.  But in doing so, he has tied his career to that of Donald Trump.  Therefore, whatever scandal hits Trump will certainly impact Nunes.  Like most Congressional Republicans, Nunes doesn’t care about what’s in the national interest, he’s only interested in furthering his career.

Trump’s Huge Failure

 

After promising to “repeal and replace Obamacare on day one [of his presidency]”, Donald Trump suffered an ignominious rejection on day 64.

True to form, Trump took no responsibility for the defeat of the Republican plan (the American Health Care Act)  but, instead, blamed Democrats. Trump had attempted a “full-court press” to secure passage of his plan but was not successful winning over Tea-Party Republicans and, at the end, moderate Republicans who objected to last minute changes to the bill.

What have we learned?

1.The Resistance Works: 64 days ago, when Trump lumbered into the White House, it was unthinkable that he and his exuberant Republican allies would not succeed repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Then Democrats built a grass-roots resistance.  They put aside whatever differences lingered from the stinging November 8th defeat and began to work together in every congressional district.

It’s true that at the end, congressional Democrats stood united against the Trump-Ryan legislation, but the resistance pushed them to do this.  Think of the millions of phone calls that were made to members of Congress — supposedly 48:1 opposed to Trump’s bill.  Think of the all the citizens who showed up at congressional town hall meetings.

On the March 24th, Rachel Maddow show, Rachel detailed how the resistance in Morris County, New Jersey, (NJ 11) convinced hard-line Republican congressman, Rodney Freylinghuysen to vote against Trump’s plan.  http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/rodney-frelinghuysen-no-vote-ahca)

The resistance works and it is just getting started.

2.  Trump’s entire legislative agenda went into the toilet.  The Trump Administration had planned on a big healthcare win to facilitate a massive tax reform — big cuts for the wealthy — and to follow this with a jobs bill — faux infrastructure construction.  Now it’s “back to the drawing board.”

Trump’s problem is that he can’t draw and has no “drawing board.”  (“There’s no there, there.”)  What he has is a collection of tired campaign one-liners, such as “we’re going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something terrific.”  The substance in the Republican plan came not from the Trump White House — which has a tiny policy group — but from the Republican Congressional leadership (and the network of conservative think tanks that support them).

Repealing the Affordable Care Act was the linchpin of the Trump legislative “agenda.”  Trump’s huge loss has jeopardized Republican chances in the 2018 midterm elections.

The re-election cycle has gotten very long and, therefore, political observers says that any substantial Congressional legislation has to be accomplished in the first 200 days.  We’re a third of the way through these 200 days and it look like 115th Republican-controlled Congress is a bust.

The 237 Republican representatives, who are up for re-election in 2018, have a huge problem.

3. Trump’s approval ratings will get worse.  Failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act might mean nothing to the Trump Administration if “the Donald” had high approval ratings, but he doesn’t.  His latest favorability ratings show him “underwater” by 20 points and headed down; even his support among Republican stalwarts has slipped — and will slip further after March 24.

The longer Trump goes on with no significant legislative accomplishments, the more his ratings will decline.  The more Trump’s approval ratings decline, the less likely Republicans in Congress will be to defer to him. (And the less likely that Trump will get any significant legislation passed.)   Before Labor Day, most Republican Congressmen will crank up their reelection campaign without Trump.

What happens next?  The next focus of the resistance should be opposition to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  As was the case with defense of the ACA, Americans should call, fax, and text their Senators.  They should demand to see them to express their disapproval of this nomination.

Meanwhile the investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia stumbles through the Washington jungle.  If it bogs down, the resistance needs to demand a special prosecutor.

Trump has failed.  Hugely.  But Trump is like a wounded predator thrashing around in pain; he’s capable of inflicting enormous damage if he’s not constrained.  The resistance needs to keep the pressure on in order to prevent further damage to American Democracy.

 

Two Months of Trump: “There are no neutrals here”

After two months of Trump, there are clear winners and losers:

Winners:

1.The Resistance:  Individual resistance groups are springing up throughout America.  (90 days after the publication of the Indivisible guide there are now more than 6000 Indivisible units; 1000 in California.)  Traditional progressive issue advocacy groups — such as ACLU and Sierra Club — have grown fangs and are organizing direction action.  Regardless of how they voted (or didn’t vote) on November 8th, progressives are setting aside their differences and uniting in opposition to the Trump Administration.

Out here on the Left Coast, long-term activists cannot remember when there was so much activist energy.  While non-Trump voters continue to be pissed off and depressed, the majority are ready to move out of the doldrums and into the streets.

2. Rachel Maddow: After the election, many progressives quit watching and reading the news.  Fortunately, outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post kept doing their jobs and we managed to learn about the subterranean infrastructure that swept Trump into power.  Then Rachel Maddow rose to the occasion.

Rachel avoided (what has passed for) mainstream news — Trump’s latest tweet, discussion of whether Kellyanne  Conway has lost her marbles —  and focused on the really big story: Trump’s ties to Russia.  As a consequence she’s become enormously popular; Politico reported that her ratings are growing three times as fast as those for Fox News (http://www.politicususa.com/2017/03/03/rachel-maddow-growing-3-times-faster-fox-news-ratings-surge.html).  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

3. The Stock Market.  Legend has it that on August 24, 410, while the Visigoths sacked Rome, the Roman stock market hit an all-time high due to a surge in demand for fire insurance and private-security services.

Since the beginning of 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 5.8 percent.  While there are multiple reasons for this, it’s safe to say that Wall Street assumes Trump will provide a “business-friendly environment” with fewer regulations and lower taxes.  (Bank stocks are up because the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates.)

Nonetheless, there are those who urge caution, noting that Trump may not deliver on his promises.  In addition, Barrons Magazine observed that the S&P 500 companies currently have an average price-earnings ratio of 24.7; adding, “We don’t believe that a 2% growth environment justifies that valuation.”

Look!  Over there!  Isn’t that a Visigoth?

4. Trump’s favorite Oligarchs.  Shortly after the election, I observed that Trump prevailed because he had enlisted the support of American oligarchs such as Robert Mercer  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trumps-puppeteers_us_58402d6be4b0b93e10f8dfb8).  I predicted that Trump would adopt the platform espoused by unsuccessful GOP candidate Ted Cruz including a massive reduction of discretionary spending.  “Cruz called for the elimination of the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, plus the Internal Revenue Service.  Trump seems open to these changes and has called for the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency.”  The only way to justify the appointment of dimwits such as Betty DeVos, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, and Scott Pruitt is that they are part of Trump’s plan to devastate certain aspects of the Federal  government, pretty much everything except DOD.

Losers:

5. The Republican Party.  Two months into the Trump regime, he’s already turned on the Republican leadership — apparently stepping away from Paul Ryan’s healthcare legislation.  Republicans find themselves in the position of the woman in the fable who took in a wounded snake, nursed it back to health, and then was fatally bitten.  The dying woman gasped, “Why did you bite me?” and the snake answered, “You knew I was a snake when you took me in.”

Republicans knew that Trump was a snake but imagined that when he entered the White House, Trump would change.  Hah!

Trump’s favorability ratings are underwater (http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/polls/gallup-27300), but  Republican ratings are worse.

6. The Democratic Party.  Given two months of the Trump disaster, one might think that Americans would be fleeing into the arms of the Democratic Party.  But that’s not the case.  Democrats are only marginally more popular than Republicans.  (63 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.)

The current political climate is: “A pox on both their houses.”

7. Non-political Americans.  After California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Bay Area residents suffered from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder: we couldn’t trust our relationship with “terra firma.”  That’s similar to what most Americans are now experiencing: the ground of our political reality is shifting beneath our feet.

This malaise is particularly disorienting for non-political Americans.  Trump voters can, at least, hold onto their belief that Trump is going to “blow up” Washington — he’s doing that but (I suspect) not in the fashion they anticipated.  Progressives can take comfort in the resistance.  But where do “innocent bystanders” find refuge?

A political earthquake has rolled over America.  There is no safe footing.  As a consequence there are no neutrals.  Only the active and the passive.

In 1931, Kentucky union organizers sang “Which Side Are You On?” with the refrain: “They say in Harlan County, there are no neutrals there; you’ll either be a union man, or a thug for J.H. Blair.”  This is the song of the resistance: “They say in the U.S. of A., there are no neutrals there; you’ll either be a resistance fighter, or a thug for Donald Trump.”  Or swept away by the wrath of Trump.

Indivisible: Social Action Startup

Some of the most exciting days of my life occurred in the late 80’s when I was involved in a technology startup, Cisco Systems.  29 years later I’m involved in another exciting startup, Indivisible.  There are fascinating similarities between my experience at Cisco and Indivisible.

I moved from IBM to Cisco.  I left a secure position where I managed several hundred folks to run a ten-person engineering team.  Obviously there were incentives — stock options — but the primary reason I left IBM was my belief that their perspective on technology had become obsolete.

In the eighties, IBM was by far the world’s biggest Information Technology (IT) company.  It had 400,000 employees and income of $70 billion.  Although it had several product lines, IBM executives held tight to the belief the mainframe computer was the center of the IT universe.

I became a nonbeliever, a heretic in an social system where orthodox belief was valued and rewarded.  I was convinced that there had been an irrevocable shift in the IT world and the network was now the center of the universe, the Internet.  That shift didn’t mean that mainframe computers would go away but that they would lose status, take a smaller role in information processing, stand along side workstations and personal computers and other intelligent devices.  One might characterize the IT shift as moving from an oligarchy to a democracy.

Now, there’s been a comparable shift in the political world.  The cognoscenti continue to believe that Washington DC is the center of the US political universe; that everything important happens in DC, whether it’s Trump’s latest Tweet or congressional action on healthcare or the organization of the Democratic Party.  But out here in the real world we don’t agree because we think the system is broken.  At the moment, that’s the belief that unites Republicans and Democrats and Independents and disgusted non-voters: the system is broken and DC doesn’t get it.

IBM is to DC what Cisco is to Indivisible.  Cisco represented a fundamental shift from orthodoxy.  Indivisible represents a similar seismic shift.

Individual Indivisible — that’s a mouth full — groups are inherently decentralized.  (Fun facts: there 990 Indivisible units in California; at least two in each congressional district; 10 in Berkeley.)  In my area there are Indivisible units that are study groups, others that make phone calls, and mine — Indivisible Berkeley — that functions as a clearing house for direct action.

Imagine these Indivisible group as cells in a vast progressive network that includes more than 6000 Indivisible chapters plus MoveOn, OFA, Resistance.Org, 350.org as well as Sierra Club, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Immigrant rights organizations, AFSC, and on and on.

In the eighties, Cisco never took a position on which network traffic was most important; our routers didn’t prioritize data from mainframes over data from work stations or whatever.  We didn’t prioritize data for any reason.  Our job was to make sure that messages got delivered by the fastest route possible; and that devices that spoke different (network) languages could communicate across the Internet.

The new progressive network doesn’t prioritize one organization or issue over another.  We are united resisting Emperor Trump.

Because we are united by this resistance, plus the values of inclusivity and nonviolence, we exchange information and expertise.  We’re democratic with a 21st century flair.

In the eighties, when IBM reigned supreme, the technology press didn’t understand that the IT world was undergoing a radical shift.  They continued to glorify the dinosaurs: “They’re so big and powerful!  They will rule forever.”  Meanwhile, down on the ground, technologically advanced campuses were building local-area networks, plugging work stations into them, and linking campus to campus with the Internet.  (When we did the IPO road show for Cisco, we had to explain what the Internet was to the money guys.  When we added that Cisco built an essential component, the multi-protocol router, a typical question was, “Is this like the router in my home workshop?”)

Now, the mainstream media doesn’t understand that US politics is undergoing a radical shift.  The cable TV shows continue to interview the same tired Washington faces.  Meanwhile, out here in the real world we are organizing.  We are talking to our members of congress — when they show up –  and letting them know how feel about the ACA and the rights of undocumented aliens and so forth.  In purple districts, we are registering voters and preparing for the midterm election — 605 days away.  We are communicating with the other cells on the network and raising money.  And, professional politicians aren’t involved.

In retrospect, the IT shift — that happened in the eighties — was for the best.  The Internet is more flexible and affordable than the mainframe model ever was.  (Even though there are problems such as hacking and pornographic websites.)

I believe the shift in US politics will also be for the best.  Most of the country feels that the current system is broken and US democracy is slipping into oligarchy.  If Washington DC is part of the problem, then the solution has to be grassroots activism in the form of Indivisible and similar groups.

I’m excited.  Democracy is starting up.