Category Archives: Political

Will the Economy Decide the Midterms?

By many indicators, the US economy is strong. As Donald Trump travels around the country campaigning for Republican candidates, he touts the economy as evidence that his policies are working. Will this be enough to determine the outcome of the November 6th midterm elections?

Probably not.  But there’s little dispute that the US economy is strong.  Since Trump became President, 3.4 million jobs have been created; 7 in 10 Americans say they are doing fine or living comfortably; the official unemployment rate is 3.9 percent; and the stock market (Dow Jones Industrial Average) is up 33 percent.

Trump’s problem, and the problem for Republicans in general, is that many Americans are looking beyond the glitzy economic numbers.  And, depending upon their Party affiliation, many voters don’t like what they see when they examine their own situation.

The July 2nd Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2553 ) asked, “What is the most important issue to you in deciding how to vote in this year’s election for the U.S. House of Representatives: the economy, taxes, health care, immigration, or gun policy?”  Nationally, 27 percent said immigration, 23 percent said the economy, 22 percent said health care, and 12 percent said gun policy.  But the preference depended upon political Party: Immigration was the number one issue for Republicans and Independents; for Democrats it was health care.

50 percent of Quinnipiac respondents said they would vote for the Democratic candidate for the House, versus 41 percent who said they would vote for the Republican candidate.  Of this 50 percent, 71 percent said that health care was their most important issue; their second choice was gun policy.  For Republicans, their most important issue was immigration; the economy was their second choice.

The Quinnipiac poll is another confirmation of political polarization.  Approaching the midterm election. the issues for Democratic voters are costs, wages, and corruption.  The issues for Republican voters are immigration and support for Trump.

Democratic voters are concerned about healthcare costs and the cost of living in general.  That’s the result of a harsh reality: while corporate profits have surged, the economic uptick hasn’t produced real wage increases.  According to the Center for American Progress   (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2018/08/09/454589/workers-wages-remain-stagnant-despite-gains-top-earners/ ), “Despite the fact that the country is experiencing positive GDP growth, the benefits are not trickling down the way Trump predicted they would.”

Of course, whether you believe this or not depends upon whether you trust what Trump says.  The July 25th Quinnipiac poll contained this question: “Who do you trust more to tell you the truth about important issues: President Trump or the news media?”  75 percent of Republicans trusted Trump; while only 5 percent of Democrats trusted him.

Recently AP News factchecked Trump on his exorbitant claims about the economy (https://apnews.com/1759c19598e9431db20b604232725871/AP-FACT-CHECK:-Trump’s-economic-fiction:-‘record’-GDP,-jobs ) and concluded: “Trump is distorting the truth on U.S. economic growth and jobs, pointing to record-breaking figures that don’t exist… He cites the highest-ever gross domestic product for the U.S. that’s not there.”

Rising costs, inflation, are wiping out any wage gains garnered by working families. (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/08/chart-of-the-day-inflation-keeps-going-up-but-wages-are-going-down/ )   In July, Inflation rose 2.9 percent; the highest level in seven years.

Nonetheless, consumer confidence in the economy is at the highest level in eighteen years (https://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/2018/07/31/consumer-confidence-increases-marginally-in-july ).  And, while Trump’s overall approval rating remains negative, the latest CNBC poll (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/25/majority-of-americans-approve-of-trumps-handling-of-the-economy.html ) indicates that 51 percent of respondents approve of his handling of the economy.  (A recent New York Times article  (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/business/economy/trump-economy-credit.html ) suggests this is because Trump has done a good job of selling his positive spin on the economy.)

The current economic figures indicate the economy is not working for all Americans; the uptick is disproportionately helping corporations and the top one percent.  (A recent Guardian article (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/16/ceo-versus-worker-wage-american-companies-pay-gap-study-2018 ) reported, “The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year.”)

This economic imbalance is why it’s a good idea for Congressional Democratic candidates to focus on costs, wages, and corruption.  Costs because consumer prices are increasing for health care, housing, and energy.

Democratic candidates should focus on wages because Trump’s economic policies have increased corporate profits but this hasn’t translated to more money in the wallets of working families.  Republican largesse has enabled corporations to raise their dividends, increase CEO salaries, and buy back their stock; but it hasn’t benefited their employees (https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/04/13/how-companies-spend-tax-windfall/505122002/ ).

While Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” he’s actually deepened the swamp.  The issue of Republican corruption complements the economic issues of costs and wages for two reasons.  The first is that an unusual number of Trump associates appear to be corrupt.  For example, this week New York Republican Representative Chris Collins — the first member of Congress to endorse Trump — was indicted for insider trading.  Also in this week, Trump cabinet member Wilbur Ross (Commerce) was accused of having stolen $120 million at his investment company (https://www.newsweek.com/ross-accused-stealing-120-million-1060598 ) — Ross is also accused of violating conflict-of-interest laws and filing false information.

More generally, Trump Administration corruption ties to its economic policy.  For example, this week the New York Times   (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/05/us/politics/nucor-us-steel-tariff-exemptions.html ) reported that the implementation of the steel tariffs has guided by Trump supporters at two large US steel companies, Nucor and US Steel.  As another example, Trump plans a coal company bailout that will help some of his biggest donors.  (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-sells-regulatory-favors-to-his-donors-2018-06-14 )  And, of course, it’s well established that the 2017 Trump-sponsored tax cuts primarily favored big GOP donors (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/29/big-donors-republican-tax-cuts-374842 ).

Will the economy help Republican candidates in the midterm election?  Probably not.  Democratic candidates will run on the interconnected issues of costs, wages, and corruption.  That should be enough to influence most contested Congressional districts.

Why is California Burning?

In case you missed it, California is beset with an unusual number of intense wildfires; the state is covered by smoke.  In response, on August 5th, Donald Trump tweeted: “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws…” Hmm, so California “environmentalists” are responsible for the fires?  Or is someone else to blame?

Twelve years ago, I wrote “Global Warming? Not in My Back Yard” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-burnett/global-warming-not-in-my-_b_19380.html ), pointing out that while most Americans are concerned about global warming (climate change), in general, they don’t get excited about it, in particular, until there’s evidence at the local level — because they have a lot of other issues to worry about such as the cost of their healthcare or housing or jobs.

Two years of extreme wildfires has gotten Californians’ attention.  Waking up each morning worried about air quality — because of the smoke — or worse yet, wondering if you will be forced to evacuate, has made everyone in California aware that we have a problem.  The issue is what to do about it.

In Trump’s full tweet, he said: “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!” Even by Trump standards, this was an incredibly ignorant tweet.  The wildfires are not being caused by lack of water or the absence of tree clearing.  Most experts agree they are the result of dryness — due to the state’s prolonged drought, high temperatures — July was the hottest month ever recorded, and — in many cases — ferocious winds.

As a native Californian, I’ve learned a lot about wildfires.  (If you’ve lived here for more than a couple of years, you have fire stories to tell.)  In October of 1991, the Oakland Hills Firestorm occurred about 12 miles from my Berkeley residence.  This fire killed 25 people, injured 150, and destroyed 3280 residences.  It covered an area of approximately 3 square miles.   In October of 2017, the Tubbs fire occurred about 15 miles from my west Sonoma County property.  This fire (spanning Lake, Napa, and Sonoma Counties) killed 22 people, injured more than 100, and incinerated 5643 structures.  The Tubbs fire covered a much larger area than the Oakland Hills fire; on its northern edge the Tubbs fire stretched 12 miles.

Both fires were similar.  They occurred in hot, dry conditions and were fed by intense winds from the northeast.  The blazes started small and quickly became conflagrations; people in the path of the firestorms literally ran for their lives.  (In both cases I knew folks who lost their homes.)

In neither case was California water policy an issue.  (Sorry, Donald.)  A recent article by Alice Hill and William Kakenmaster (https://www.hoover.org/research/new-normal-californias-increasing-wildfire-risk-and-what-do-about-it ) reported: “Many factors contribute to [California] wildfires, but two in particular greatly contribute to increasing risk: climate change and growing development in the wildland-urban interface (WUI).”

Many Californians attribute the violent wildfires to global climate change.  (Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown called extreme fire conditions “the new normal” under climate change.)  The most recent California poll (http://www.ppic.org/publication/californians-views-on-climate-change/ ) found that two-thirds of respondents believe the effects of climate change “are already occurring” and 81 percent believe it to be “a serious threat” to the state’s future.  Not surprisingly, the attitudes about climate change split along Party lines: only 24 percent of Republicans view climate change as a threat.

One of the ongoing wildfires is the Carr fire, northwest of Redding, adjacent to Lake Shasta.  It’s the most Republican congressional district in Northern California, represented by Doug LaMalfa. a climate-change skeptic, who says he “doesn’t buy” human-made climate change: “The climate of the globe has been fluctuating since God created it.”  (A recent Guardian article (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/31/california-wildfire-climate-change-carr-fire ) observed: “Like LaMalfa, the citizens of Redding are far more skeptical about climate change than the average American is. In 2016, a team from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that only 35% of Redding residents believed that global warming would harm them personally.”)

Notwithstanding climate-change skeptics, most Californians agree that we need to take action to mitigate climate change.  One of these is to reduce fossil-fuel emissions.  Notably the Trump Administration has just taken steps to reduce California’s ability to do this; On August 2nd, Trump’s EPA revealed plans to strip California of its right to set air-quality rules (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/07/climate/california-auto-emissions-trump.html ).

Hill and Kakenmaster noted that in addition to climate change, where homes are placed greatly impacts the destruction wrought by wildfires; they pointed out the destructive potential of placing houses adjacent to wildland vegetation, the wildland-urban interface (WUI):  “In 2010, California had more people and homes located in the WUI than any other state in the continental United States—close to 4.5 million homes and 11 million people… [according to] the U.S. Commerce Department, ‘Fires within communities surrounded by natural areas [the WUI] are the most dangerous and costliest fires in North America.'” (The WUI was a factor in the Tubbs fire, but not in the Oakland Hills fire — there the primary issue was housing density.)

The catastrophic impacts of climate change aren’t confined to wildfires on the West Coast, each state has its own unique disaster profile ranging from drought to megastorms. Each state, and each community, will have to develop their own particular response.

At the national level, it’s time to take climate change seriously.  Trump isn’t going to do this.  It’s time for Americans to elect leaders who have the intelligence and the resolve to deal with “the new normal.”

Trump Supporters, Hiding in Plain Sight

In the wake of Donald Trump’s disastrous July 16 meeting with Vladimir Putin, many Democrats thought, “At last Republicans will open their eyes and see Trump as a traitor and charlatan.” But as the days passed, it became clear that Trump supporters weren’t going to let a little thing — such as collaboration with Russia — dilute their adoration for the Donald. Republican inflexibility left Democrats scratching their heads, wondering what it will take to shake up the relationship between Trump and his base. The answer is hiding in plain sight.

After the Putin meeting, and Trump’s epic waffle about whether or not the Russians had interfered with the 2016 election, Democrats expected Trump’s approval rating to go down.  Surprisingly, it hasn’t. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ )

The latest Wall Street Journal (http://www.newser.com/story/262328/trumps-approval-among-republicans-is-unusually-high.html ) poll indicates that Republican approval for Trump is at 88 percent.  (Meanwhile, among independents, Trump approval declined to 36 percent — among Democrats it’s 8 percent.)  While only 53 percent of Republicans approved of his handling of Putin and Russia, the vast majority supports him overall.  Why?

To understand the Republican paradox — they trust Trump to defend the U.S.A. — we have to dive deep into GOP Demographics.  Pew Research, and other pollsters, tell us that Republicans are overwhelmingly white (non Hispanic), male (although a surprising number are female — mostly uneducated), rural, and “Christian.”

Last September, the Public Religion Research Institute  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/06/the-stark-racial-and-religious-divide-between-democrats-and-republicans-in-one-chart/?) reported: “Roughly three-quarters (73%) of the Republican Party is white Christian… 35 percent are white evangelical Christians, 18 percent are white members of other Protestant denominations, and 16 percent are white Catholics.”

Gallup says Republicans are 27 percent of the electorate, Democrats are 29 percent, and the remaining 43 percent are (technically) Independents.  Other pollsters suggest there are fewer Independents, explaining that many poll respondents don’t want to share their Party affiliation with poll takers.  Pew Research (http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/) says that when you include leaners, among registered voters there are 45 percent Republicans and 55 percent Democrats.

According to Pew, Trump’s “base” consists of two groups — “Core Conservatives” and “Country-First Conservatives” — that support Donald for slightly different reasons.

“Core Conservatives” (15 percent of registered voters) are: “about a third (31%) of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents… This financially comfortable, male-dominated group overwhelmingly supports smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believes in the fairness of the nation’s economic system.”  That is to say, Core Conservatives’ basic issue is economics.  They want lower taxes and fewer regulations; they want to maintain the status quo.

Core Conservative support Trump because he’s giving them what they want.

In contrast, “Country-First Conservatives” (7 percent of registered voters) are about one-sixth of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents.  They are, “… unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and deeply wary of U.S. global involvement.  Nearly two-thirds of Country-First Conservatives (64%)… say that ‘if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.'”  Country-First Conservatives’ basic issue is immigration and (behind the curtains) race.  They believe that people-of-color threaten their way of life.

Country-First Conservative support Trump because he’s giving them what they want: a commitment to a white Christian nation.

Pew observed that white evangelical Christians constitute 34 percent of Core Conservatives and 43 percent of Country-First Conservatives — about 8 percent of of registered voters.  (Pew reports that 77 percent of white non-Hispanic evangelical protestant voters identify as Republicans, as do 54 percent of white non-hispanic Catholic voters.)

Whatever their percentage in the Republican Party, it’s clear that white non-Hispanic Christians are a powerful force in Trump’s base.  And they are single-minded; they want a theocracy.

Trump has catered to his Core Conservative and Country-First Conservative base.  He’s given the former tax cuts and business-first regulations; and he’s given the latter a series of actions — draconian immigration enforcement, support for “religious liberty,” and ultra-conservative judges (such as Brett Kavanaugh) — that indicate Donald’s on their side.  And so Trump’s base sticks with him despite damming revelations from the Mueller probe or evidence of Trump’s collaboration with Putin.

From an ethical standpoint, it’s clear that Trump’s base, en masse, has adopted the morality that the ends justify the means.  That’s not a surprise for the portion of the Republican Party that is non-Christian — roughly 20 percent.  We can safely assume that these are Core Conservatives whose moral code is defined exclusively by Capitalism: dog eat dog, triumph of the fittest, winner take all, etcetera.  (They subscribe to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.)

The ethical problem lies with the 75 percent of the Republican Party that identifies as Christian.  For them to say they support Trump because he’s going to promote a Christian nation, or he’s going to put people-of-color in their place, or he’s going to take away a women’s right to make her own medical decisions, means that they believe the ends justify the means.  And that’s not Christian ethics.  The Trump “Christians” are not following the ethical teachings of Jesus.  (https://www.npr.org/2017/12/03/568206452/evangelical-leaders-say-christians-who-support-trump-face-an-ethical-challenge )

What will it take to shake up the relationship between Trump and his “Christian” base?  Have them read the New Testament and consider whether they are actually practicing the ethics of Jesus.  It looks like a lot of Trump’s supporters are actually faux Christians.  Just like Donald.

Why do Republicans Hate America?

Most Americans were outraged by Donald Trump’s performance at his July 16 press conference with Vladimir Putin. Trump’s collaboration with Russia is the latest evidence that he’s determined to ruin the United States of America.  Why don’t congressional Republicans stand up to him?  Do they hate America, too?

After 545 days in the White House, Trump is emboldened to say and do, and Tweet, whatever he feels like.  There’s no evidence that anyone can restrain him — certainly not his daughter, Ivanka, or his beleaguered Chief-of-Staff, John Kelley.

There’s a plethora of arm-chair psychoanalysts with opinions about why Trump behaves like he does.  However, we’ve travelled miles beyond the point of trying to understand why Trump acts out; whether it’s because he is crazy or a Russian collaborator or obsessed with becoming the anti-Obama.  What’s most important is that Trump endangers the United States of America.

If the American people are going to stop him, we’re going to need the assistance of Republicans.  Are they going to help us or are they going to pretend that Trump’s behavior is okay?  When will Republican members of Congress stand up to Trump?

Consider the critical issues and what the Republican response should be.

1.Russia is at war with the United States.  During the October 22, 2012, presidential debate, Mitt Romney called Russia America’s “biggest geopolitical threat.”  At the time, many observers scoffed, but it turns out that Romney was right.  David Corn and Michael Isikoff’s book, Russian Roulette, indicates that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has declared cyberwar on the United States and its allies; the 2016 political campaign was the most evident manifestation of the new Kremlin offensive.

On July 13th, Trump’s director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats (a Republican), said: “The persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today was akin to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.  ‘The warning lights are blinking red again.'” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/us/politics/dan-coats-intelligence-russia-cyber-warning.html )

It’s clear from his July16 Putin press conference that Trump does not believe Russia is waging cyberwar on the U.S.  In the run up to the 2018 midterm, Republican candidates have to take a stand: either they believe Russia is at war with us, or they don’t.  Either they are willing to take steps to protect us, or they aren’t.

2.Trump is undermining America’s traditional alliances. At the same time that Trump is cozying up to Putin and Russia, he is weakening our relationships with our traditional allies.  During his recent trip to Europe, Trump denigrated NATO — our strongest military bulwark against Russia.  He also belittled the European Union — the United States’ largest trading partner — calling it “a foe.”

While in Europe Trump insulted German Prime Minister Merkel — Germany is our 5th largest trading partner — and England’s Prime Minister May — England is our 7th largest trading partner.  In May, during the meeting with the G7, he insulted Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau — Canada is our second largest trading partner.  (For the record, Russia is our 30th largest trading partner.)

Republican candidates either have to side with Trump — America goes into the world alone — or support our traditional allies — America is part of a coalition opposing Russia.  Republican candidates have to be asked if they support Trump’s foreign policy.

3.Trump’s trade war threatens the U.S. economy.  Trump has verbally attacked our largest trading partners (European Union, China, Canada, Mexico…) and levied tariffs on their products.  The resulting trade war is causing domestic job losses and raising prices.

By the way, Trump’s trade war helps Russia.  Because of Trump’s actions, China (our second largest trading partner) has stopped buying U.S. soybeans and has tripled purchases from Russia.  (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-17/china-buys-record-amount-of-russian-soy-as-it-shuns-u-s-growers )  Incidentally, Trump’s sanctions on Iran are also helping Russia sell oil. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/09/trump-iran-sanctions-give-saudi-arabia-and-russia-more-clout.html )

Republican candidates  should be asked: How are Trump’s trade policies affecting your state/district and what do you plan to do about it?

4.Trump tax cuts have not revived the economy: Trump’s massive tax cuts were supposed to raise wages.  According to a recent Bloomberg article (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-18/trump-s-tax-cut-hasn-t-done-anything-for-workers), “The tax reform hasn’t yet resulted in appreciably higher wages for American workers. Real average hourly compensation actually fell in the first quarter after the tax reform was passed.”  In addition, “[The] tepid rate of [GDP] growth means that the tax cut is unlikely to pay for itself.”

Incidentally, the Republican tax plan dramatically raises the national debt.  An April Reuters article (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fiscal-deficit/republican-tax-cuts-to-fuel-historic-u-s-deficits-cbo-idUSKBN1HG2RW)  reported a CBO finding, “The massive tax cuts signed into law in December, which Republicans said would pay for themselves, will balloon the U.S. deficit in years ahead.”

Republicans candidates should be asked: What’s your plan to raise wages for American workers? 

5.Trump has not drained the swamp.  Trump ran for President as an outsider, harnessing voters concerns about Washington dysfunction.  But instead of fulfilling his promise to “drain the swamp,” he has fomented an unprecedented culture of corruption.  Besides his collaboration with Putin, Trump has engaged in an orgy of self-dealing.  His cabinet members — most recently EPA head Scott Pruitt — have resigned because of ethics concerns.

Republican candidates should be asked: What are you doing to end the Trump culture of corruption?

In the 2018 election, Republican candidates should be asked: Which side are you on?  Do you support Trump or the United States?

Remind Me, What do Liberals Believe?

  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Recently, some Democrats have been pondering, “What are liberal values?” Preparing a response, I remembered a values column I wrote seven years ago,”One, Two, Three, What are Liberals Fighting for?” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-burnett/one-two-three-what-are-li_b_925245.html )  With a few changes, the column could have been written today.

The first paragraph sets the tone: “These are hard times. The weather’s bad and the economy awful. Obama has lost his mojo… Many Liberals are discouraged and fearful about the 2012 election. But there’s plenty of time to re-energize, so long as Liberals remember who we are and what we are fighting for.

For whatever reason, Democrats periodically lose track of our core values.  In 2007, I wrote “One, Two, Three, What are Liberals Fighting for?” because of our disillusionment with Barack Obama.  In 2018 we’ve lost track of our core values because of our collective anger at Donald Trump and, no doubt, our deep dismay that so many Americans support him.  It’s an understandable reaction; we’re gobsmacked.  Nonetheless, we need to take a collective deep breath and go back to basics.  We need to recall what we stand for.

1. Honesty.  Donald Trump has not only coarsened the nature of American politics, he’s established a norm of chronic lying.  (On May 1st, The Washington Post reported that Trump had told 3001 lies in 466 days in office (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/05/01/president-trump-has-made-3001-false-or-misleading-claims-so-far/? ).)  Liberals have to make an emphatic statement; “We do not support politics as usual; We tell the truth.”

2. Empathy.  Recently, discussing his family-separation policy, Trump remarked, “If you’re strong [on immigration], then you’re accused of not having any heart.”  He quipped, “I’d rather be strong.”  Meaning that in dealing with immigrants Trump would prefer to come down on the side of “strength” rather than the side of compassion.

It’s a false dichotomy.  It’s possible to be strong and also be compassionate.  Remember Martin Luther King Jr.  (And the founders of this country.)

Liberals believe it’s possible to be strong and also be compassionate.  We believe in empathy.  We believe in deep understanding of others; putting ourselves in their shoes.

3. Responsibility.  Barack Obama reminded us of the biblical teaching, “I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper.”  This goes beyond Jesus’ golden rule: “Do to others what you want them to do to you.”  It implies that we have an active responsibility to care for the less fortunate in our country: children, the elderly, the disabled, the disadvantaged…

4. Diversity.  Liberals believe America’s strength is its diversity: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one.” We believe in justice and fair treatment for all Americans, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or religious affiliation.

5. Human Rights. Liberals believe that all of are endowed with basic rights, such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Among these rights is the right to vote and the right to work to fulfill our individual dreams on a level playing field.  (By the way: we value human rights over property rights.)

Underlying these core liberal values is a sense of optimism; a belief that Americans can work together to form a more perfect union. Conservatives don’t share this optimism.

It’s important to recognize that liberals are psychologically more open than conservatives.  A 2012 Scientific American article (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/calling-truce-political-wars/ ) reviewed the psychological studies on liberals and conservatives and noted: “Psychologists have found that conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals, which may be why they typically desire stability, structure and clear answers even to complicated questions.”

One way to understand the difference in liberal and conservative worldviews — one open and optimistic, the other closed and fearful — is to consider the underlying mythic structures.  In his classic 2005 essay, “The Lost Art of Democratic Narrative,” (http://valuesmessage.org/info/Lost%20Art%20of%20Democratic%20Narrative-Reich.pdf )  Robert Reich observed that liberals and conservatives hold onto different myths of community.  Conservatives share a fearful narrative: “The Mob at the Gates. In this story, the United States is a beacon light of virtue in a world of darkness, uniquely blessed but continuously endangered by foreign menaces… The underlying lesson: We must maintain vigilance, lest diabolical forces overwhelm us.”

In contrast, Reich said, liberals tell a more hopeful narrative: “The Benevolent Community. This is the story of neighbors and friends who roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the common good…The story is captured in the iconic New England town meeting, in frontier settlers erecting one another’s barns, in neighbors volunteering as firefighters and librarians…

Because liberals and conservatives have differing notions of community, we have different responses when our communities are threatened.  As part of their belief in responsibility, liberals believe “we’re in this together.”  (“I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper.”)  Liberals believe we should work together — through government — to deal with the threat.  In contrast, when threatened, conservatives believe “you’re on your own” and look to outside agencies for comfort: the army, the President, the church, the corporation…

The polarization in American politics is due to the fact that liberals and conservatives operate from a dramatically different values ethos.  They have different mythic narratives, values, and concepts of community.

Trump instinctively plays to this.  His fundamental message is fearful: “The mob is at the gates and only I can protect you.”  That’s why his goto issue is immigration.

Conservatives see immigrants as a threat; the proverbial “mob at the gates.”  In his June 2015 speech, Trump declared: “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”  Conservatives fear immigrants.  (In contrast, liberals see immigrants as human beings that have legitimate reasons to seek asylum in the United States.)

Trump has increased political polarization by playing to the conservative values ethos.  Realistically, the only way to respond to this is for liberals to be clear about their own values and beliefs.  And to organize.

 

 

Democrats Need to Stay Cool

The midterm elections happen in four months. in the interim, we’ll have to endure a daily barrage of Trump. Some days, American politics are very depressing; we have to resist the impulse to stay in bed and hide under the covers. To prevail in November, Democrats must stay cool and do the political organizing we know how to do.

Many Democrats were discouraged because the last week of June seemed to be a good week for Trump.  The Supreme Court made several conservative decisions.  Then Supreme Court Justice Kennedy announced his retirement; giving Trump a vacancy to fill with a more reliable conservative.  Trump made several campaign appearances touting the economy, tax cuts, and his immigration policies.  In some polls, Trump’s popularity appeared to increase.

But on June 26th, there was a hopeful sign when 28-year-old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez defeated long-time Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district.  Ocasio-Cortez won for several reasons: Crowley seemed to take his position for granted and ran a lackluster campaign.  Over the 20 years that Crowley has been in office, the 14th district became increasingly diverse; Ocasio-Cortez ran as a Latina woman in a district that is now two-thirds non white.  And, Ocasio-Cortez ran to Crowley’s left; she caught the Democratic wave that favors youth, women, and progressive positions.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq3QXIVR0bs )

Over the next four months, Democrats can gather strength from two encouraging trends: Trump’s positions and exciting Democratic candidates.

After his meeting with Kim Jong-Un, Trump’s popularity ticked up; now it’s trending down (https://news.gallup.com/poll/203207/trump-job-approval-weekly.aspx ).  Trump’s on the campaign trail but his red-meat issues — tax cuts, immigration, and jobs — don’t resonate outside his base.  Only about one-third of voters say they are better off because of the tax cuts (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/29/not-what-we-expected-trumps-tax-bill-is-losing-popularity/?).  Recently, the “highlight” of Trump’s immigration policy has been family separation; however, two-thirds of voters disapprove of this policy (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/06/18/two-thirds-of-americans-oppose-trumps-family-separation-policy/?).

A recent 538 article indicated that while 49 percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, bigger numbers do not believe he is honest (59 percent) or level-headed (64 percent).  Nonetheless, objective indicators signal that the U.S. economy is heading for troubled waters.  First, investors worry about a flattening yield curve (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/27/investors-analysts-read-the-yield-curve–and-worry-about-a-slump.html ); which historically has suggested the onset of recession.  Second, Trump’s insistence on tariffs has begun to cost American jobs; for example, Harley-Davidson is moving production to Europe.  (The Chamber of Commerce denounced the tariffs as “the wrong approach.” (https://www.thestreet.com/politics/u-s-chamber-of-commerce-launches-anti-tariff-campaign-14640063 ))  Third, Trump’s foreign-policy stance, unilateralism, is having negative economic repercussions.  As one example, tourism has been hurt; in Trump’s first year in office, tourism was down $32 billion and 40,000 jobs were lost. (https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/u-s-cities-losing-millions-in-tourism-business-under-donald-trump.html/?a=viewall )

Over the next four months, Trump is going to campaign for Republican candidates.  He’ll attempt to motivate his base with his usual polemic:  “Build the wall!”  “Lock them up!”  “I’ll renegotiate all the bad deals.” Etcetera.  This may work for hard-core Trump supporters but it’s doubtful it will work for anyone else.  And it will force Republican candidates to become mini-Trumps.  They won’t run on issues — because Trump is failing on all the usual Republican issues — they will run on support for Trump.

Thus the typical contested race will pit a mini-Trump, typically a middle-aged white man, against an exciting younger progressive Democrat.  The Democratic candidate will not defend the status quo; they will instead run on the issues that matter to their constituents.  That’s what happened in New York District 14.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked around and talked to her neighbors and then she ran on a platform that reflected their concerns: Medicare for all; raising the minimum wage; housing as human right; free college education; abolishing ICE; strict gun controls; etcetera. (https://twitter.com/ndrew_lawrence/status/1012148765476745217/video/1 ) To some this appears to be a far-left agenda.  In reality it is an agenda that reflects the needs of voters in New York District 14.  Ocasio-Cortez ran on their issues.

The same set of issues won’t necessarily work in other contested congressional districts but the process will.  Democrats need to build their policy agenda from the bottom up; they need to reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Some Democrats yearns for strong national leadership; they want the Democratic agenda to be established in Washington and then promulgated to Dems –  cast down as “pearls before swine.”  That’s the old way.  That doesn’t work.  (That’s what Republicans continue to do.)

At the national level, Democrats need to agree on values and principles.  They must unite on values such as empathy, caring, and responsibility.  They should agree on principles such as equity, equality, and Democracy.  Then they should recruit young progressive candidates and trust them to run their own campaigns based upon issues that resonate with their voters.

In November, Progressive Democratic candidates can beat Republican mini-Trumps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.  M.J. Hegar running for Congress in Texas’ 31st congressional district (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/after-viral-ad-can-texas-dem-really-win-in-conservative-district/ ).  Beto O’Rourke running for the Senate in Texas (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/beto-orourke-ted-cruz-texas-senate-2018).  And Stacey Abrams running for Governor in Georgia (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/us/politics/georgia-primary-abrams-results.html ).  To name only a few exciting candidates.

Cheer up Democrats.  Get out of bed and start organizing to win.

Telling the Truth About Immigration

Donald Trump plans to make immigration and “border security” the dominant themes in the 2018 midterm election.  On June 24th, Trump tweeted: “We need strength and security at the Border!… We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, [send] them back.”  To respond effectively, Democrats need to tell the truth about immigration; they need to respond to 10 questions.

(1) Why do immigrants want to come to the United States?  Trump and his surrogates spin a consistent dark narrative: “Uncontrolled immigration… illegal immigrants being arrested for the most heinous crimes imaginable… Low-wage foreign workers being brought in to take your place at less pay.”

The reality is more complicated.  Most of the recent immigrants coming across the southern border are fleeing the “Northern Triangle” of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) because their lives are in danger; they’re seeking asylum in the United States.  There’s no compelling evidence that these immigrants are criminals (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/30/upshot/crime-immigration-myth.html).

(2) How many are crossing the southern border?  Trump routinely calls the influx of immigrants “a crisis” and implies it’s a deluge.

Actually, immigration has decreased since 2000.  (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/06/chart-of-the-day-our-crisis-at-the-border/)  From a high of 1.64 million in 2000 to a low of 303,916 in 2017.  (By the way, a report in the San Diego Union (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/sd-me-refugee-decline-20180621-story.html) indicated that the diminishing immigrant numbers are causing labor shortages in border states.)

(3) Is this a crisis?  From the moment Trump announced his presidential candidacy, he has used inflammatory immigration language to describe a border “crisis.”  In June of 2015, Trump blamed Mexico: “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”  Nonetheless, a recent Bloomberg article indicated that immigration from Mexico isn’t a problem (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-06-26/what-immigration-crisis-the-u-s-isn-t-being-swamped) — there are more Mexicans leaving the U.S. than there are those coming in.

Early on, Trump also claimed that Islamic terrorists were pouring across the southern border; he’s since dropped this assertion.

On June 24th, the New York Times investigated whether there is an immigration “crisis” in the border town of Brownsville Texas (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/border-trump-immigration.html) and concluded there isn’t.

(4) Are undocumented immigrants a threat?  Trump suggests that only gang members are coming across the border: “Crippling loopholes in our laws have enabled MS-13 gang members and other criminals to infiltrate our communities.”  A recent San Francisco Chronicle article examined this contention (https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/MS-13-is-scary-but-Trump-may-be-exaggerating-the-13020572.php?) and concluded it’s false: “Although research on MS-13 varies, there is little evidence that young gang members are coming over the border in large numbers. [A government report] found that 0.02 percent of the 260,000 unaccompanied children who had crossed the southern border over the previous six years were suspected of being affiliated with MS-13.”

(5) Why are families in custody?  Each year, thousands of immigrants make the arduous journey to the southern border (in 2017, about 25,000 per month).  Once they cross into the United States and request asylum (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/sd-me-asylum-process-20180427-story.html), they are in protected status; that is, they get to stay in the country until their case is adjudicated.  (And their children, if any, get to stay with them.)

At the moment, the border is, in effect, closed to asylum seekers and so the vast majority of them have no legal way to enter the U.S.  In many cases, they cross the border anyway.  When they are apprehended they are taken into custody and charged with a misdemeanor and jailed.  (That’s the effect of the Trump Administration “zero tolerance” policy.)  They are then held indefinitely until they appear before an Immigration judge.

(6) Why are children separated from their parents? If an adult goes through the regular asylum process, they enter a civil proceeding and their children can stay with them. (An international treaty, which the U.S. signed, guarantees immigrants the right to seek asylum.)

If an adult is arrested, they enter a criminal proceeding and go to jail; in this case, their children cannot stay with them.  (The Trump Administration has recently reversed this decision.)

The Trump Administration routinely alleges that immigrant children are gang members or are being manipulated by gangs.  A recent New York Times article indicated there’s no credible evidence of this (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/01/us/immigration-minors-children.html).

(7) What rights do immigrants have?  The Constitution guarantees basic rights to anyone who is in the United States — whether or not they are citizens.  Immigrants are guaranteed the right of due process (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/what-constitutional-rights-do-undocumented-immigrants-have); that is, they can have their day in court.

(8) Do immigrants have the right to legal representation?  Yes, but it’s not free.  There was a pro bono legal service but, on April 10th, it was suspended by the Trump Administraion (https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/11/politics/immigrant-legal-aid/index.html )

(9) Do immigrants have the right to post bond?  Yes, but most of them don’t have the wherewithal to do this.  A June 24th New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/family-reunited-border-immigration.html ) described the case of a Guatemalan woman who was separated from her son but who was aided by the organization Libre by Nexus; they gave her legal advice, put up her bond, and instituted a lawsuit that resulted in reconciliation.

(10) Can their children be held indefinitely?  No.  There’s a 1997 court decision (Flores v. Reno) that requires the federal government to to place children with a close relative or family friend “without unnecessary delay,” rather than keeping them in custody.  (In practice, it limits the custody to 20 days.)

On June 23rd, the Trump Administration announced a process to reunite the 2053 “separated minors,” it has in custody, with their parents.  As part of this process, the Department of Justice will seek to revoke the Flores decision so that it can hold minors, and their parents, indefinitely.

Summary:  Not surprisingly, Trump has exaggerated and lied about the immigration situation.  It’s not a crisis.  The vast majority of the immigrants are not criminals, they are unfortunates legitimately seeking asylum.  The solution to the situation is to grant immigrants due process and, for legitimate asylum seekers, releasing families from custody until they can have their day in court.

All the President’s Men: Stephen Miller

515 days into Trump’s presidency, three things are clear: Donald’s signature issue is division; he always plays to his base; and his primary issue is immigration. Trump promised his base a wall along the southern border and he’s willing to do anything to accomplish this. His most recent tactic is to generate outrage by separating immigrant families at the border. The architect of this tactic is Stephen Miller.

In his ongoing effort to solidify and energize his base, Trump has pursued a consistent set of campaign issues: immigration; trade; taxes; and energy.  Trump’s most significant failure has been his inability to secure funding for his border wall.

Trump has had a couple of opportunities to get funds.  In September, Donald announced an initiative to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act.  In January, in an effort to save this program, Democrats offered Trump money for his wall in return for protection of the DACA recipients; Trump initially agreed but then backed off, seeking additional immigration constraints.  In May, Trump threatened to veto the $1.3 trillion spending bill, unless there was full wall funding; then he relented and signed the bill citing “national security.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s base has gotten restless.  One of his most notorious supporters, Ann Coulter, has mocked Donald for failing to deliver on his border-wall promise ( http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/380612-ann-coulter-trump-is-a-shallow-lazy-ignoramus).  Despite Administration efforts, illegal border immigration increased in May. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/despite-trump-admin-crackdown-illegal-immigration-border-increased-may-n880686 )  Trump seized on the tactic of separating immigrant families at the border in order to outrage Democrats and, in effect, blackmail them into providing funds for his wall.

This is also an effort to galvanize Trump’s base before the 2018 midterm elections.  Trump had planned to excite them with tax cuts but this hasn’t worked — the base has figured out that the Trump tax cuts don’t help them.

Stephen Miller is the architect of the tactic of separating immigrant families at the border.  (Miller was also the architect of Trump’s January 2017 executive order restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.)  The 32-year-old Miller has several White House jobs: he advises Trump on domestic policy, particularly immigration and trade; he helps write Donald’s speeches; and when Trump hits the campaign trail, Miller goes with him as an opening act — he fires up the base with an incendiary monologue.

Miller has an interesting history.  He was born into a liberal Jewish family in Santa Monica, California.  As a teenager, Stephen took a hard-right turn and developed a reputation as a “troll” at Santa Monica High School and Duke University.  (In this context, a “troll” is someone who deliberately sows discord by making inflammatory comments.)

In May, Atlantic staff writer McKay Coppins wrote an excellent profile of Stephen Miller ( https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/stephen-miller-trump-adviser/561317/).  Coppins observed that when Trump announced his presidential candidacy, Miller realized: “the New York billionaire was the flesh-and-blood manifestation of everything he cared about most: an opponent of political correctness, a hard-liner on immigration, and enemy of the political establishment — and a world-class troll.”

Coppins noted: “People who have known [Miller] at different points in his life say his political worldview is also rooted in a deep-seated instinct for trolling.  Miller represents a rising generation of conservatives for whom ‘melting the snowflakes’ and ‘triggering the libs’ are first principles.”

Stephen Miller is Trump’s closest adviser who is not a member of Donald’s family.  (Miller serves in a White House position that is roughly equivalent to that of Valerie Jarrett in the Obama administration.) There are those that say Miller’s function is to articulate Trump’s impulses.

Reading McKay Coppins article about Miller and a companion piece in Alternet by Kali Holloway (https://www.alternet.org/here-are-21-facts-explain-who-trump-aide-stephen-miller?src=newsletter1093438 ) four characteristics jump out.  The first is that Miller is an unabashed racist.  A high-school classmate remembered that Miller had, “an intense hatred toward people of color, especially toward Latinos.”

To say the least, Stephen Miller is strident.  A Duke University official remembered Miller: “He’s the most sanctimonious student I think I ever encountered.  He seemed to be absolutely sure of his own views and the correctness of them, and seemed to assume that if you were in disagreement with him, there was something malevolent or stupid about your thinking.  Incredibly intolerant.”

Miller is mini-Trump.  On the campaign trail he typically warms up audiences by railing against immigration: “Uncontrolled migration from the Middle East….illegal immigrants being arrested… for the most heinous crimes imaginable… Low-wage foreign workers being brought in to take your place at less pay.”

Finally, Miller is Trump’s enforcer on immigration.  Miller is the architect of both of Trump’s signature immigration actions: restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and separating immigrant families at the border. (Since 2013 he’s led the opposition to common-sense immigration reform; in January, Miller convinced Trump to renege on a DACA deal.)

One of the notable similarities between Trump’s signature immigration actions (restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and separating immigrant families at the border) is how sloppy the implementation was.  For example, there’s every indication that when immigrant parents are separated from their children, the government is not taking steps to ensure they can be reconciled later.  This appears to be intentional.

Stephen Miller and Donald Trump are not motivated by civility or legality. They want to generate outrage; foment division.

Donald Trump, Russian Agent

511 days into the Trump presidency it’s clear that Donald is the most destructive US President in recent history. He’s divided the nation, alienated our historic allies, and made worse the planet’s most pressing problems. Although there are several possible explanations for Trump’s disastrous behavior, it’s likely that he is acting on behalf of Russia.

It’s difficult to remember a time when the United States was more polarized.  (Certainly not since the sixties.)  Trump makes no attempt to be conciliatory; he plays to his base all the time.  On issue after issue he demonizes Democrats and all those who oppose him. Trump has legitimized hate and exacerbated racial and ethnic antagonism.  He’s an unapologetic misogynist.  To paraphrase George W. Bush, Trump is “a divider not a uniter.”

The overall state of the nation has deteriorated under Trump.  (The latest Pew Research Poll indicates that 62 percent of respondents are dissatisfied “with the way things are going.”)  A recent report ( https://thinkprogress.org/u-s-developed-world-income-wealth-inequality-un-report-788b1300e4be/) found that: “the United States is leading the developed world in income and wealth inequality;” and placed the blame at the feet of the Trump Administration.  (For example, Blue-collar wages are down (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/06/chart-of-the-day-blue-collar-wages-are-down-under-trump/ ).)  Trump has jeopardized American democracy.

Why Trump is doing such a terrible job?  One answer is that he isn’t up to the task; he lacks the intellectual and emotional strength to be President.  And it doesn’t help the situation that many of Washington’s “best and brightest” don’t want to work for Trump; as a result he has a thin and second-rate staff.

Another explanation is that Trump is obsessed with eradicating the legacy of Barack Obama — Donald wants to be the anti-Obama.  Therefore his legislative agenda is to reverse Obama initiatives.  Obama was for affordable healthcare; Trump pushed to overturn “Obamacare.”  Obama signed the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy; Trump reversed it.  Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Accord — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action;” Trump unilaterally withdrew.  Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement; Trump plans to withdraw.  In other words, if Obama was for it, Trump is reflexively against it.  Trump has a negative agenda.

By nature, Obama was a collaborator; a believer in “win-win” negotiation.  By nature, Trump is individualistic competitor; a believer in “I win, you lose.”

A third, more sinister explanation is that Trump is a puppet.  The question is who is pulling the strings?  One theory is that Trump is controlled by a small group of Republican oligarchs including Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer, and Charles and David Koch.  This might explain some Trump actions, such as moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a key Adelson issue.  However it does not explain many Trump actions such as the crackdown on immigrants, particularly the Trump’s reversal of the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which the Koch’s oppose.

Another theory is that Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin and Russian Oligarchs. Under this line of reasoning, Putin and his inner circle are calling the shots; Trump goes along with them because he has no choice.

There are many Trump actions that support the notion that Putin is telling him what to do.  The most obvious is Trump’s attitude towards Russia.  For example, even though there’s indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump refuses to acknowledge this ( https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/13/politics/trump-unconvinced-russia-meddled-election/index.html).  Even though it appears to many observers that Russia is at war with the US — cyberwar — Trump continues to cozy up to Putin.  (Recently Putin told an Austrian news outlet that he talks to Trump “regularly.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/05/putin-says-he-talks-to-trump-regularly.html ))  Trump recently declared that Russia should be brought back into to the G-7 discussions.  (They were expelled after the invasion of Crimea.)  He plans to invite Putin to the White House.

Given that Putin is controlling Trump, what is Putin’s strategy?  There appear to be three aspects.  The first is to use Trump to weaken western alliances: the United Nations, NATO, the G-7, etcetera.  There’s no doubt that Trump has done this; the most recent example being the June G-7 meeting where Trump left early and refused to sign the group communique.

US global military alliances have also been weakened.  For example, Trump just called off the annual United States-South Korea military exercises — something that was requested by North Korea and Russia.

Trump has weakened US alliances in general.  By withdrawing from the Paris Climate accord, Trump signaled that the United States will no longer work with the rest of the world on climate change issues.  By withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Accord, Trump indicated that he reserved the right to act unilaterally throughout the world.  Now, Trump has shaken up trade relations with America’s largest trading partners (the European Union, China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea…).  Trump has drastically curtailed the US role in all global endeavors such cybersecurity, health, immigration, tourism, etcetera.

Putin also wants to weaken the relationship between the United States and the European Union.  From the onset, Trump has disparaged the EU by actions such as supporting Brexit and demonizing Germany. As a result our EU partners no longer trust the US.

Finally, Putin wants to weaken US democracy, weaken our resolve.  There’s no doubt that Trump has divided the country and as a consequence turned us inward, diminished our role as a global power.

Putin is winning.

Politics by Walking Around

When I was a technology developer, in Silicon Valley, I adopted the technique of “managing by walking around.” Recently I’ve talked to two outstanding 2018 Democratic political candidates who’ve adopted this same technique in their campaigns. While it may not be obvious, “politics by walking around” addresses one of 2018’s burning political questions: what does the Democratic Party stand for?

“Managing by walking around” was originally developed in the 1970’s at Hewlett Packard.  I adopted “managing by walking around” because I was working on a large IBM campus, in Santa Clara, and the engineers who were developing different aspects of my product were widely dispersed.  While I could have relied upon emailed progress reports or formal meetings, I found it more informative to talk to them in person.  (I also thought that engineers were likely to be more candid in a face-to-face conversation.)

In fact, “managing by walking around” is a technique long-used by community organizers.  After returning to India in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi would routinely leave big Indian cities and walk through the sprawling countryside visiting village after village, talking to peasants about their concerns.  Barack Obama used this same technique when he was a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980’s.

The basic notion in “managing by walking around” is that one stands a better chance of understanding what is going on by getting out of the office and going to visit folks where they live or work.  Interestingly enough, that’s the technique being used by two formidable 2018 Democratic candidates: Stacey Abrams, who is running for Georgia governor, and Beto O’Rourke, who is running for Senate in Texas.

One of the notable political characteristics of 2018 is the fact that a disproportionate number of Democratic candidates are women.  Stacey Abrams ( https://staceyabrams.com/) is the Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia.  If I only told you that Ms. Abrams is an unmarried black woman, you’d think she had no chance in this race.  But if I introduced you to Stacey — a graduate of Yale Law School, who is the Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives — you’d come away believing that she is the most qualified candidate.  (On May 29th, Ms. Abrams won the Democratic primary with 76 percent of the vote.)

Stacey Abrams got to this point by systematically going around Georgia and talking to the folks in its 159 counties.  Ms. Abrams is the founder of The New Georgia Project which, for the last four years, has been working to register voters, primarily people of color.  (In 2008, Barack Obama lost Georgia by 200,00 votes and there were 700,000 unregistered black voters.)

While walking around Georgia, Stacey Abrams learned what issues were foremost on the minds of Peach State voters.  The first is economic fairness: “building a diverse economy with good-paying jobs and expanding opportunities for families to thrive.” Stacey learned that Georgians are much more interested in economic issues than they are in Republican shibboleths such as “cracking down on illegal immigrants.”  Another major concern is education: “Georgia must invest in addressing the needs of the whole child from cradle to career – and our investment must extend beyond the walls of a classroom to acknowledge the totality of their needs.”

Does Stacey Abrams have a chance in November?  Yes, says the 538 website ( https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/can-stacey-abrams-really-turn-georgia-blue/) but she’s a long shot:  “Georgia is one of the most [inelastic states], its electorate is composed mostly of solid Democrats and solid Republicans, with very few persuadable voters. The result is that Democrats have a tendency to get close in the Peach State, but they have a very hard time getting over the hump to 50 percent plus one.”

Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke is in a similar tough race for Senate in Texas (https://betofortexas.com/ ).  He’s the underdog to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.  The Cook Report classifies this race as “Likely Republican.”  The 538 website notes: “Texas is about 12 percentage points more Republican than the country overall. If the national environment favors Democrats by, like, 7 points (where the generic ballot has been lately), that might make Texas have a 5-point Republican lean in this political environment.”

If you talk to O’Rourke, you won’t know that he is an underdog.  So far he’s raised more money than Cruz.  And he’s made himself more visible by traveling to each of Texas’ 254 counties — often going to communities where in recent memory no Democrat has visited.

Like Stacey Abrams, Beto O’Rourke has learned a lot by walking around his state.  This is reflected in his ” We should all have a chance to to succeed” platform: “Jobs for Texans who are ready to work and the education and training to be competitive for them.  It means that every one of us is able to get healthy and stay healthy…”

As we approach the critical November 6th midterm elections, many Democrats lament the absence of a unifying national theme.  The Dems most recent attempts targets Trump’s culture of corruption ( https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/democrats-new-2018-strategy-targeting-trump-s-culture-corruption-missed-ncna880006).

The campaigns of Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke indicate that rather than adopt some abstract national theme, state and congressional Democratic candidates should instead practice the politics of walking around.  Democrats should talk to their constituents and run on their concerns, which differ from state to state and district to district.

Talking to voters; a winning concept.

All the President’s Men: Mike Pompeo

The Trump Administration is so dreadful they’ve made the George W. Bush Administration seem almost acceptable in comparison.  Dubya surrounded himself with qualified staff.  Trump has surrounded himself with syncophants. One of the most influential is the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Unlike many of those in the Trump inner circle, Pompeo had an impressive career before entering politics.  After graduating from West Point — number one in his class — Pompeo served five years in the Army.  Then he went to Harvard Law School and briefly worked for a Washington law firm.  In 1996, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, and helped form Thayer Aerospace — with funding from the Koch brothers.  In 2006, he was elected to the House of Representatives — once again with help from the Koch brothers.

In Congress, Pompeo aligned with conservative Republicans such as the Tea Party and the Congressional Constitution Caucus.  He’s socially conservative, a climate change denier, and, as a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, an ardent critic of Hillary Clinton.

On January 23, 2017, Mike Pompeo became Trump’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Notably, Pompeo personally delivered Trump’s daily intelligence briefing at the White House; as a result, the two men have a close relationship.

After Trump fired his first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, he nominated Pompeo for the position.  Pompeo was confirmed on April 26, 2018.  By most accounts, Pompeo has been more effective than Tillerson.  State Department moral appears to be improving.  (http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/15/pompeo-lifts-hiring-freeze-on-state-department-diplomacy-tillerson-restore-diplomats-swagger-tackle-low-morale/ )

At the moment, Mike Pompeo probably has more influence on Donald Trump’s foreign-policy actions than does anyone else in the Administration.  In most regards, Pompeo’s stated beliefs align with Trump’s.

North Korea: Pompeo has been Trump’s point man on negotiations with North Korea — Trump sent Pompeo to negotiate with Kim Jong-un before Pompeo was confirmed as Secretary of State.

In these negotiations, the key issue is “denuclearization.”  On May 13th, National Security Adviser Bolton offered a very specific definition of what North Korean “denuclearization” meant: “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons… taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee… getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.”  Bolton said the process should follow “the Libya model.”

North Korea was offended by Bolton’s remarks and denounced him.  Apparently, Kim Jong-un is looking for a “phased and synchronous” approach to denuclearization; that is, a step-by-step approach whereby they gradually denuclearize while receiving commensurate economic assistance.  Nonetheless, Pompeo seems to be aligned with Bolton, telling the Senate Foreign Services Committee that the U.S. wants “rapid denuclearization, total and complete, that won’t be extended over time.”

At this writing, Pompeo is meeting with North Korean representatives.  He says the negotiations are “making progress” but does not know if a June 12th meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un will occur.

Iran: Pompeo has long been opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement –technically the “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA) signed November 24, 2013 .  As a Congressman, Pompeo said, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”  On May 8th, Trump declared he was withdrawing the United States from the JPA.

Trump wants to negotiate a new JPA that specifically limits Iranian missile testing, gives inspectors unfettered access to Iranian military bases, and extends the (old) JPA’s expiration date beyond 2030.  It’s unlikely that either Pompeo or Trump can gain the support of the other signatories: China, England, European Union, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia.

Russia: To say the least, Trump’s attitude towards Russia has been inconsistent.  On the one hand he called Putin to congratulate him after he was “reelected” Russian president.  On the other hand, he’s claimed, “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.”

In contrast, Pompeo is more hawkish.  During his Secretary-of-State confirmation hearing, Pompeo said: “[Russia] has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe, and doing nearly nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat of ISIS.”

China:  To a lesser extent, Trump’s attitude toward China has also been inconsistent.  Pompeo is a China hawk.  In January,  Pompeo told the BBC that China is as big a threat to U.S. Security as Russia is, citing efforts by the Chinese to steal American commercial information.

Strategic Alliances: Trump has also been inconsistent with regards to support for NATO.  Pompeo has been more conciliatory but echoes the White House mantra that our European allies should spend more on defense.

Global Climate Change: While many statesmen believe that Global Climate Change is a national security threat, Trump and Pompeo do not agree.  In 2013, while still a congressman, Pompeo said, “There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment… Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda.”  Pompeo opposed regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to bolster “clean” power.

Summary: Pompeo is more capable than most of Trump’s inner circle.  Nonetheless, he’s a fellow-traveler, a close associate of the Koch brothers.  Pompeo’s role is to ensure that Trump’s policies align with those of the Republican oligarchs.

All the President’s Men: Mike Pence

The Trump Administration is so dreadful they’ve made the George W. Bush Administration seem almost acceptable in comparison.  Dubya surrounded himself with qualified staff.  As awful as Bush Vice President Dick Cheney was, he had notable Washington experience: he’d served as White House Chief of Staff and as Secretary of Defense.  In contrast, Mike Pence went from conservative talk-show host to Ineffective congressman (and governor) to Trump’s Vice President.

Nonetheless, the primary criticism of Pence isn’t that he doesn’t possess the cojones to perform the job of President, if need be.  The Vice President — who has touted his “Christian credentials” — is castigated because he could act as a moral check on Trump.  Instead, Pence has chosen to be Trump’s primary cheerleader.  His fawning buddy.  His toady.

When Trump selected Pence as his running mate, none of us expected them to be equal partners in a Trump Administration; it was unrealistic to expect Pence to compliment Trump’s imbecility with thoughtful insight.  Most observers recognized Pence for what he was intended to be: an empty suit with impeccable conservative Christian credentials who had the blessing of Republican oligarchs such as the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer.  (In July 2016, Trump was leaning towards choosing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as his running mate; Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway persuaded Trump to choose Pence — for the stated reasons plus the fact that Pence would be better as the liaison to congressional Republicans.  By the way: Conway got her position because of the influence of Robert Mercer.)

Now, Pence has a limited portfolio within the Trump Administration: he placates big donors, such as the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer, and also reassures the religious right.  (In July 2016, the 538 website noted that Pence was the most conservative Republican VP candidate in forty years (http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/mike-pence-would-be-a-really-conservative-and-mostly-unknown-vp-pick/ ).)  When there’s a Trump imbroglio, Pence declares fealty to Trump and the religious right is assuaged — this first happened with the October 2016 release of the notorious Trump “Access Hollywood” tape and has continued to the present day with Pence’s support for Trump in the Stormy Daniels scandal.  (Uncharacteristically, on May 21st, Pence spoke out on North Korea, threatening it with “the Libya model.”  In response, a high-ranking North Korean official called Pence, “a political dummy,” characterizing his remarks as “ignorant and stupid.”)

Nonetheless, because of Pence’s high-visibility Christianity, many political observers believed he would provide a moral framework for Trump; they expected that when Donald Trump became president he would soften his behavior and that Pence would play an important role in this process.  That is, they expected Trump would begin to act presidential.  This hasn’t happened and part of blame must fall on the shoulders of Mike Pence.

In his May 9th Washington Post oped (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-no-longer-the-worst-person-in-government/2018/05/09/10e59eba-52f1-11e8-a551-5b648abe29ef_story.html? ), conservative columnist George Will criticized the Vice President: “The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness… is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.”  George Will noted that Pence frequently claims he is “deeply humbled” to be able to serve in the Trump Administration.

George Will castigated the President: “Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic.”  But Will savds his most ferocious commentary for the Vice-President: “Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.”

Why has Mike Pence become Trump’s toady?

There are two possible explanations; neither of which is flattering to Pence.  The first is that the Vice President has realized that the only way to work closely with Trump is to continually flatter him; that Trump is so insecure that he only will tolerate close relations with those who proffer their unwavering love.  This suggests that Pence — realizing that Trump threatens the United States — has decide to dampen his personality and pander to Trump, believing that only this behavior will mollify him.

The second explanation is that Pence actually lacks a moral core; he is a hollow man (“Shape without form, shade without color, paralyzed force, gesture without motion”, T.S. Eliot)  The Vice President is not able to stand up to Trump because Pence is a weak person; he’s playing a part in a political play and only reads the lines that he’s been given — he’s been instructed to be Trump’s toady and that’s what he is doing.

Since Trump became President there have been calls for his impeachment.  Many observers have warned that if Trump was removed from office, we’d get Pence as President and he would be worse.

What we know about Pence suggests that if he were to become President he would be different from Trump.  Nowhere near as crazy.  (No demented early morning tweets.)  Pence would be a more conventional Republican President; an actor, content to read the lines written for him by Republican oligarchs.  Instead of being Trump’s toady, Pence would grovel at the feet of the powerful men who control the Republican Party.

Trump or Pence.  Not an appealing choice.