Author Archives: Bob Burnett

Have We Reached Trump’s Tipping Point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marching with Trump “Through the Valley of the Shadow”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should we do about this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Now Owns White Supremacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should progressives respond to these systemic problems?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full disclosure: I am a privileged white male.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath of Hurricane Donald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Big Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Happens in the Silence?

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

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

Quaker Meeting

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

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

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

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

Preparation for Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

What happens in the silence

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

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

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

Most times I get to the zone and nothing happens.

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

Messages

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking in Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Trump: The Battle of Charlottesville

We’re more than half way through season 1 of “Game of Trump” and each week’s episode brings new surprises. The aftermath of the battle of Charlottesville caused Emperor Trump to reveal his true character.  Meanwhile, the resistance found new energy.

Immediately after the dreadful white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Trump made contradictory statements.  Then he held a rambling press conference where he blamed “both sides” for the melee — even though the white supremacists clearly provoked the violence and one of their participants murdered a counter protestor.  (At Charlottesville, white supremacists hurled racial epithets at the opposition, threatened to rape women, and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”)

The battle of Charlottesville marks the end of “Game of Trump” phase one:

1. Trump’s legislative program collapsed. Trump entered the oval office with political momentum and a Republican majority in Congress.  Nonetheless, he hasn’t managed to pass any significant legislation.

2. Trump’s relationship with Republican members of Congress deteriorated.  Trump displayed no ability to manage congressional relationships in order to achieve Republican policy objectives.  Trump’s interaction with GOP congressional leaders — particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan — has deteriorated to the point where Trump criticizes them daily on Twitter.

3. The White House is understaffed.  The Trump Administration has been historically slow filling White House positions and Trump’s staff  are inexperienced loyalists — for example, Jared Kushner.  As of August 16, Trump’s inner circle has been completely replaced — other than family members.  The result is policy incoherence.

4. Trump is isolated.  Because of White House staff turmoil and the deteriorating relationship with Congress, Trump is increasingly isolated.  This isn’t a good situation because Trump is, to say the least, an inexperienced President.  But it’s particularly distressing because many observers regard him as deranged.

Over the last six months, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of commentators claiming to detect signs of Trump’s mental illness.  There have also been many articles claiming that Trump’s advisers treat him like a child and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to stifle his impulsive outbursts.

5. Nonetheless, Trump held onto his base.  Trump is very unpopular with Democrats and Independents but continues to have the approval of 80 percent of Republicans.  There’s been a lot of discussion about this dichotomy.  The consensus is that Trump’s supporters see him as a maverick and feel he has been unfairly maligned by the mainstream media.

While Trump’s position deteriorated, the resistance strengthened.  Since January the resistance focussed on protecting Obamacare (very successfully) and electing Democrats in purple or red Congressional districts (not as successful).  The resistance gained members but was predominantly a white progressive endeavor.

Charlottesville changed that.  The  Charlottesville anti-hate protesters were multiracial.   (By the way: I’m using this informative post by Brian McLaren as my guide to what went on at Charlottesville [https://brianmclaren.net/what-i-saw-in-charlottesville/]).   Now the resistance is shifting its focus to the danger of white supremacy.

The night of August 20th, MoveOn hosted a national “Confronting White Supremacy” phone call that included 20 progressive groups including Indivisible, Democracy for America, Color of Change, People’s Action, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration (https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.moveon.org/images/ReadyToResist_Slides_Aug20_2017_ConfrontingWhiteSupremacy.pdf ). The host, Mehrdad Azemun from People’s Action, reminded listeners that white supremacists have the ear of the Republican party and have shaped the Trump agenda: draconian budget cuts, restriction of voting rights, and, in general, “declaring war on communities of color.”

Two excellent resources explained US white supremacy.  Eric Ward, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, urged participants to refer to white supremacists as white nationalists.  He said their goal is to create an ethno state, to overthrow the existing government by fear and intimidation.  He said white nationalists attack the belief “that a multiracial society can work.”  Ward noted that white nationalists blame jews for the beliefs that multiracism can work and that racial progress has occurred.

Tarso Luis Ramos, from Political Research Associates, amplified Eric Ward’s presentation.  He noted that white nationalists attack Americans on five dimensions: race, religion, gender, class, and sexuality.  Ramos proposed six excellent “Democratic Principles for Antidemocratic Times”:

1. Unity: “If you come for any of us, you will have to go through all of us.”  This principle commits the resistance to protect immigrants as well as individuals or groups attacked for race, religion, gender, class, or sexuality.

2. Solidarity:  “Support Freedom fighters and defend targets of political retaliation.”This principle commits the resistance to defend those who are targeted by the Trump Administration, such as wrongfully arrested protesters.

3. Perseverance: “Never give up on democracy.”  This stance commits the resistance to operate democratically at all levels of organization.

4. Clarity : “Keep our hearts open and our eyes on the prize.”  The resistance is committed to nonviolence, which comes from the heart.

5. Openness: “Demand a free press that doesn’t censor itself to maintain access to Trump.”  This principle is particularly important because, on a daily basis, Trump attacks the mainstream media.

6. Vision: “Build an attractive, alternative vision that reflects people’s needs.”  This principle acknowledges that the resistance must build a vision that features safety for all Americans, real equity.  A vision that includes racial justice but also addresses Americans’ economic concerns.

Game of Trump: the battle for America’s soul has begun.

Under the Dome

Infatuation

Willow Creek was the third address Gene Walker took us to.  Walked onto a golden, ten-acre dome.  Gasped at the 180 degree view: Goat Rock, Salmon Creek beach, Point Reyes lighthouse, and Sonoma Mountain. Our hearts’ desire.  “We’ll buy it.”  Gene laughed, “Don’t you want to see the house first?”

We took water for granted.  City dwellers.  Turn on the tap and water flows out.

Reality

Five years in, we drove onto Willow Creek, turned on the tap and nothing. Neighbor’s horses snapped the water line.  Time to appreciate country-water-system mechanics.

Then came the drought of 2014.  Water tankers cruised Willow Creek. Neighbors ran out of water.  Our well soldiered on.

Understanding

“You have the most reliable water on Willow Creek,” said hydrologist Gene Boudreau.

Most of Willow Creek ridge is Mesozoic-era Franciscan melange.                                              Closed                                                                                                                                                     Chert.  Shale.  Serpentine.  Compacted Clay.                                                                                    Water only found in open fractures.

Our dome is a remnant of the younger Merced formation.                                                           Open                                                                                                                                               Sandstone.                                                                                                                                                  120 acre-feet of water.

 

 

Make America Safe Again

Through six months of Donald Trump the progressive resistance has been united by opposition to his policies.  The good news is that we have stopped his legislative program.  The bad news is that most Americans don’t understand what progressives stand for, other than opposing Trump.  Now’s the time to bring forward an  agenda that emphasizes safety.

During the next six months, Trump won’t change.  He’ll continue to lie, bloviate, and feather his own nest.  His racism and resentment will become more obvious.   And congressional Republicans will careen from issue to issue without challenging Trump or accomplishing anything of significance.

This six-month period provides a golden opportunity for progressives and Democrats, in general, to tell voters what they stand for.  So far, the results have been underwhelming.

Democrats have responded with “A Better Deal.” (https://democrats.senate.gov/abetterdeal/#.WZGuAHeGOE0)  Washington Progressives have their own “Progressive Agenda.” (http://www.21stcenturydems.org/index/the-progressive-agenda-in-13-steps/#.WZGiCHeGOE3)  Both documents are too complicated.  They follow the losing HRC prescription: “when in doubt hand the voter a policy paper.”

An affective progressive agenda should contain only a handful of objectives. And, hopefully, one or two memorable phrases.

Affordable Healthcare: The obvious place for progressives to begin is with healthcare.  The resistance has beaten back Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Progressives believe in strengthening Obamacare and expanding Medicaid into the 19 states that do not have it.

We should aim higher.  Progressives should advocate Medicare for All; a concept easy to remember.  We stand for safety through the democratization of healthcare.

Economic Equality: Most Americans believe the system is rigged.  61 percent feel “the country is headed in the wrong direction.”  Voters continue to rank “the economy” as the number one problem.

While the stock market is booming and total employment is at record levels, most Americans do not believe capitalism is working for them.  Consumer-credit is at near-record levels; Americans carry more than $1 trillion in credit-card debt.

The Progressive Agenda offers a thirteen-point proposal “to restore an economy that works for working Americans.”  While they are all good important, progressives need to identify one or two memorable ideas that differentiate them from Republicans.  Two suggestions:

Feature the slogan: Give America a raise.  The Progressive Agenda suggests: “Raise the federal minimum wage, so that it reaches $15/hour, while indexing it to inflation.”  Republicans have shown no interest in this measure but it’s one that resonates with most voters.  (A recent poll [http://thehill.com/homenews/335837-poll-bipartisan-majority-supports-raising-minimum-wage ] found that 74 percent of respondents favored raising the minimum wage.) Safety through better wages.

The second suggestion is adopt the slogan: Make Capitalism work for everyone.  One of the unnoticed sections of “A Better Deal” is the section on “Cracking Down on Corporate Monopolies” (https://democrats.senate.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/A-Better-Deal-on-Competition-and-Costs-1.pdf) which states:

The extensive concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations hurts wages, undermines job growth, and threatens to squeeze out small businesses, suppliers, and new, innovative competitors… A Better Deal on competition means that we will revisit our antitrust laws to ensure that the economic freedom of all Americans—consumers, workers, and small businesses—come before big corporations that are getting even bigger.

This break up monopolies stance represents a dramatic change from previous Democratic platforms.  It differentiates progressives from Republicans and is an issue that resonates with voters in general — for example, a 2015 poll found that a majority of Americans favored breaking up the largest financial institutions.

Of course there are many other issues that could be featured in a progressive agenda; among these are climate change, immigration, reproductive rights, and criminal justice to mention only a few.  Rather than add another issue to the three already mentioned, it would be more productive for the progressive agenda to focus on values.

The place to start is with safety.  

America is a great country but American democracy is not working for everyone.  We need look no farther than the Charlottesville violence, or the number of voters that believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, to understand that Americans are not satisfied with the status quo.

Donald Trump won the presidency because his slogan, “make America great again,” resonated with more voters than did Hillary Clinton’s slogan, “stronger together.”

Trump’s slogan, “make America great again,” was interpreted by many of his supporters as, “let’s return to the fifties when America was number one in the world and white men called all the shots.”  Clinton’s tepid slogan was interpreted as “let’s keep doing what Obama has been doing,” an endorsement of the status quo.

Progressives need an effective alternative to “make America great again.”  Make America safe again.  This reflects the reality that because of economic inequality and Donald Trump, most Americans are fearful.  They fear for the future because the economy is not working for them and they do not have adequate healthcare, education, or housing.  Many Americans fear for the future because of climate change.

In addition, the Charlottesville violence reminds us that many Americans are fearful because of the color of their skin, or their gender/sexual orientation, or their religion or country of origin.  Donald Trump has brought bigotry and hate into the mainstream.  He has legitimized the politics of resentment.

It’s time for progressives to stand up to Trump’s hate-filled conduct and proclaim to all Americans: We will make America safe again.

6 Months of Trump, 6 Lessons Learned

After six months of the Donald Trump presidency, we know what to expect going forward.  We’ve learned six lessons.

1.Trump lies all the time:  Going into the election we knew that Trump lies at an astounding rate — typically more than one lie per day — but after January 20th some of us nurtured the hope that Donald would begin acting more presidential.  No way.

Trump may go incommunicado for a day or two , but then he will unleash a barrage of misstatements, distortions, and outright falsehoods — usually via twitter.  On July 26, The Washington Post posted a headline, ” 26 hours, 29 Trumpian False or Misleading Claims.”

Writing in Mother Jones, Denise Clifton ( http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/08/trump-nonstop-lies/ ) mused that while Trump’s “chronic duplicity” may be the consequence of a severe psychological disorder, “the 45th president’s stream of lies echoes a contemporary form of Russian propaganda known as the ‘Firehose of Falsehood’.”  Clifton wrote:

In 2016, the nonpartisan research organization RAND released a study of messaging techniques seen in [Russian-controlled] media. The researchers described two key features: “high numbers of channels and messages” and “a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions.”

Whether Trump lies because he’s adopted a Russian tactic or because he’s mentally ill, his chronic duplicity is having serious consequences for American political discourse.  Many voters don’t know who to believe; they can’t discern “fake news.”  As a result there’s unparalleled polarization: voters who trust Trump and the majority who don’t.

Trump’s conduct riles up legitimate news outlets, such as Mother Jones and The Washington Post, and they report negatively on Trump, which feeds his paranoia, causing him to lash out.

2. The Trump Administration leaks: Viewed from the Left Coast, the Washington culture thrives on gossip and insider information.  Nonetheless, the Trump era has seen an unusual number of leaks.

Trump supporters blame this on the dark state — the national security state — and the liberal media — such as Mother Jones and The Washington Post — whom they believe are out to get Trump.  There’s some truth to this suspicion because once Trump entered office, he blasted both groups.

But there’s another explanation: Trump has an unusually abrasive personality and a lot of Washington insiders don’t like him.  He lashes out and they respond by leaking.

Whatever the cause, the leaks are likely to continue, which will contribute to Trump’s paranoia.

3. Trump only cares about Trump.  After the election, there was a brief interval where some Americans thought, “I didn’t vote for Trump, but whether I like it or not, he’s the President and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”  That period is over.  The nation is divided between those who support the President (roughly one-third of the electorate) and those who do not (two-thirds of the electorate).

Since January 20th, Trump has made no attempt to reach out to those who either did not vote for him or did so reluctantly.  He only talks to his base.

And he’s used his office to benefit his business interests.

4. Trump hasn’t gotten the job done.  In an August 7th tweet, Trump said his base supports him because of the “record Stock Market, border security, military strength, jobs, Supreme Court pick, economic enthusiasm, deregulation & so much more.”

Trump tries to take credit for the booming stock market and the generally positive financial news, but a case can be made that these are carryovers from the Obama Administration.  On the tweeted list, the only event that Trump was directly involved in was the selection of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Trump’s base expected him to keep his campaign promises, such as “repeal and replace Obamacare,” “build a border wall,” and “lock up Hillary Clinton.”  None of these have been accomplished.  Furthermore, Trump’s recent failure to push through Obamacare repeal suggests that he does not have the wherewithal to move his legislative agenda through the (Republican-controlled) congress.

5. Trump’s strongest card continues to be racism.  Writing in The New York Times, Emory University professor Carol Anderson observed:

The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration.

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

6. The Mueller inquiry isn’t going away.  Since May, former FBI director Robert Mueller has been the special counsel responsible for the investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s election campaign.  Trump calls the Mueller inquiry “a witch hunt.”  The good news is that the Trump-Russia investigation will grind on, mostly out of sight of the media, and eventually produce results.  The bad news is that it will take many months — we’ll be fortunate to see definitive results in a year.

Meanwhile the Mueller inquiry will feed Trump’s paranoia. An already unstable President will become even more erratic.  Hold on tight!

Trump: Bring Back the Fifties

In March of 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump was asked: “Your slogan is ‘Make America Great Again,’ When was America actually great?”  Trump responded that America was last great in the late forties and the fifties.  Sorry Donald; I remember that period and it wasn’t great.

Trump explained that after World War II: “We were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody… we were pretty much doing what we had to do.”  (http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/26/politics/donald-trump-when-america-was-great/index.html)  Most Trump voters agree with this sentiment (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/make-the-sixties-great-again/481167/), but their response is influenced by when they were born — for example, Trump supporters born in the sixties think the eighties were great.

As to be expected, Trump’s recollection of the fifties is way off.  He recalls, “We were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody…”  But this was the era of the Cold War with Russia (U.S.S.R.).  Trump conveniently forgets the “Iron Curtain” and the threat of nuclear war.  (Many of us, who lived through that period, remember “duck and cover” exercises where students prepared for a Russian nuclear attack.)  The fifties era was dominated by anti-communist rhetoric.  There was a “Red scare” led by anti-communist zealots such as Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Now Trump wants to normalize relations with Russia and replace the Cold War, in the public consciousness, with the threat of a global war with terrorists. Trump has combined this dangerous image with his vision of an invasion by undocumented immigrants; Trump’s obsession with building a wall along the southern border stems in large part from his obsession with these immigrants.  Thus Trump would replace the “Red scare” of the fifties with a new “brown scare.”

Trump recalls the fifties as a period where, “we were pretty much doing what we had to do.”  He’s ignoring the fact that a huge portion of the world — the USSR and mainland China — was “off limits” to Americans.  Nonetheless, during the fifties US corporations dominated trade in “the free world.”  (We came out of World War II with a robust economy whereas the economies of most of our allies had been decimated by the war.)  It’s understandable that Trump, and his supporters, long for a simpler time when the US economy ran the world and and American companies dominated trade.  Realistically, that time is long gone.  We now live in a much different, global economy.

One way to interpret Trump’s comments, “We were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody,” is that he is referring to the United States.  Another way to interpret this remark is that he is referring to white folks, white men in particular.  Indeed, the fifties represents the zenith of what UC professor George Lakoff has described as the “strict father” morality:  “In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says… This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth.”  In many regards, from a cultural standpoint, the fifties was the last decade where white men reigned supreme.

Obviously, Trump ignores the fact that the late forties and early fifties witnessed a resurgence of white supremacy — which had been somewhat muted during the war years.  After the end of World War II, “Jim Crow” laws were strictly enforced in most parts of the country and many people of color were forced to use segregated facilities.  (The initial battle against segregation began in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott and culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)  In general, the late forties and early fifties was a period of unfettered racism and sexism.  (Until the Trump era, this was the last period where hate and bigotry were considered politically correct.)

So, when Trump says he want to “Make America Great Again,” he’s calling for a return to the mentality of the fifties.  In terms of foreign policy, he wants America to be the top dog, to once again be the world’s policeman.  And in terms of domestic policy, he’s calling for a return to the era of white supremacy, to the period where straight protestant white males ruled American cultural life.  Trump is calling for an end to “political correctness” and, indeed, for an end to everyday decency.

Trump doesn’t actually want to “Make America Great Again,” his intention is to “Make America Hate Again.”