Monthly Archives: January 2018

Five Shutdown Lessons

On January 19th the federal government shut down.  Two days later, Democratic leaders blinked and called off the shutdown.  Even though Dems didn’t get what they wanted, there were important lessons learned.

The brief shutdown accomplished two things.  First, Democrats finally secured an extension to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that benefits 9 million children in low-income families.  Second, the Senate effort to resolve the shutdown was led by a bipartisan group of 24 Senators; this suggests that, when the Senate votes on immigration, there may be enough moderate Republicans to ensure that the resulting bill is reasonable.

Nonetheless, on January 22nd Senate Democrats didn’t get what they wanted and lost the first major DACA battle.  There are five lessons to be earned from this experience.

1. It’s not sufficient to be right.  Democrats were right to shut down the government in defense of the 690,000 DACA recipients.

On September 5th, Trump precipitated the crisis by ending the DACA program and not providing a way for the Democrats to negotiate safe status for the existing DACA recipients.  On January 9th, Trump promised that he would soon sign a “clean” DACA bill.  However, on January 12th, when presented with a bipartisan compromise, Trump reneged on his promise.

Given this background, Democrats thought they had no choice but to shut down the government.   in response, Republicans effectively framed the shutdown as a national security threat: “Democrats are  holding American troops and Customs and Border Patrol agents hostage to benefit illegal immigrants.”  Trump’s base, and uninformed independents, swallowed the GOP message.  That reality could have had consequences in the midterm elections.  (The Washington Post reported that in critical swing states such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, voters “were getting Republican robo-calls saying Democrats had prioritized illegal immigrants over American citizens.”)

Democrats were right to defend DACA recipients but lost the messaging battle and, therefore, had to retreat.  (Nonetheless, an NBC news poll indicated that 56 percent blamed the shutdown on Trump or Republicans.)

2. Democrats have to control the message.  Trump has a communication advantage because he occupies the White House and, therefore, has ready access to the media.  The White House framed the shutdown as a national security issue: “Democrats are  holding American troops and Customs and Border Patrol agents hostage to benefit illegal immigrants.”  Democrats responded with “It’s Trump’s fault.”.

Democrats should have framed the shutdown as “protecting defenseless children… Republicans want to abandon children who were promised citizenship.”  This fits into a larger frame of abandonment: “Republicans want to abandon America’s women and children by… cutting off their healthcare, polluting their water, etcetera.”

3. Democrats have to determine who their messenger is.  During the actual shutdown, Republicans managed to keep Trump “under wraps” — except for a few tweets — and let Senate Majority leader McConnell and House Speaker Ryan represent the Party.

Congressional Democrats were led by Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, and Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader.  They didn’t do a good job during the shutdown.

Schumer alternated TV appearances with several white male Senators: Dick Durbin (assistant Democratic Leader, Chris Van Hollen (Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), and Bernie Sanders (former presidential candidate and an Independent).  Given that, at the moment, there is a resurgent women’s movement, it seems like a good idea to have a female Democratic Senator represent the party on the DACA issue.  A logical candidate is Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto, whose father was of Mexican descent.

The Democratic messaging should have been delivered by Cortez-Masto surrounded by actual DACA recipients.

4. Trump’s base is willing to overlook his failings.   In conflict situations, such as the shutdown, Democrats act as if it is sufficient to blame Donald Trump.  It isn’t.

Trump voters have long since developed the capacity to look past Trump’s personal failings — most can’t stand his Tweets — and focus on his accomplishments.  Trump supporters tout the health of the economy (the booming stock market) and national security.  They’ve compartmentalized so they can ignore his lying, racism, and general incompetence.

5. Democrats must go on the offensive. A recent poll indicated that while an overwhelming majority of Americans support the DACA recipients, they don’t want to see the crisis resolved by a governmental shutdown. Furthermore, the lesson of the last 10 shutdowns is that shutting down the government is not an effective way to accomplish policy objectives that have not been achieved through the normal legislative process.

A better tactic than a shutdown would be a swap for something that Trump wants.  Senator Schumer tried this by offering Trump funding for his wall in return for his support for DACA recipient amnesty. (While Trump initially rejected this offer, he now says he will provide DACA amnesty in return for $25 billion to build the southern wall and many additional restrictions on immigration (

Some Democrats have suggested swapping defense and domestic expenditures in exchange for DACA amnesty.  (Sequestration spending cuts are scheduled to kick in in March.)  Other see tying DACA to the $81 billion in disaster funding passed by the House but pending in the Senate.

Even though Dems didn’t get what they wanted from the shutdown, there were important lessons learned.  The next shutdown may occur on February 8th; perhaps by then Democrats will have learned how to negotiate with the Republicans.

The Politics of Sustainability

As Democrats embark on a ten-month campaign to take back Congress, it’s clear they need a unifying message.  Because Republicans are defined by Trump, Dems could unite on the theme, “lock him up.”  While satisfying, this slogan doesn’t capture the depravity of Trump’s reign or the fact that Republicans have sold their souls uniting behind him.   A better solution for Democrats would be to focus on sustainability.

Within the environmental movement, sustainability means: “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.”  The key notion is that we live within a system that, to function properly, has to be balanced.

What is true for the environment is also true for the US economy and for our national security.  Democrats must have a sustainable vision for each of these systems.

Environment: Trump views the environment as a free resource to be used with impunity.  The Republican attitude towards global climate change, and the environment in general, is shaped by three notions:  The first is dominion; that humans have the right to exploit our natural resources.  The second notion is exclusion, which argues that environmental costs, such as pollution, are outside the economic system and, therefore, have no bearing on economic projections (thus coal companies claim to be exempt from the downstream consequences of mining).  The third is denial; Republicans deny the reality of global climate change and make policy in a fact-free zone.

Trump touts a policy of “energy dominance.”  This broad policy includes support for out-of-favor energy sources such as coal and nuclear power and features opening up previously off-limits petroleum resources such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and US coastal waters.  (It also includes eliminating regulations on existing power plants and drilling sites.)

Republicans claim the moral authority for Trump’s perspective.  Their perspective is driven by “dominionism;” the right-wing Christian notion that God has given humans dominion over the earth.  Republicans ignore the consequences of pollution.  And, deny there are any long-term consequences of their policies — such as global climate change.

The politics of sustainability argues that global climate change is real and consideration of it, and the environment in general, should influence all of national policy decisions.

Economy: Trump’s view of the economy parallels his perspective on the environment.  (Its fed by the classic Calvinistic view of capitalism.)

Once again, there are three complementary notions.  The philosophy of dominion argues that in a “Christian capitalist” economy there are inevitably winners and losers: the “winners” are likely those chosen by God to go to heaven.

The philosophy of exclusion argues that in a capitalist economy government has only limited authority.  Republicans want government to stay away from all business transaction; they argue that the economy should be restricted only by “the invisible hand” of the marketplace.

Finally, the Republican economic ideology is based upon denial.  At the moment, Republicans boast of a booming stock market and low unemployment; they ignore the reality that this economy disproportionately favors the rich and powerful.  (Republicans base their optimism upon the widely discredited notion of “trickle-down economics.)  Republicans take the position that prosperity is inevitable and ignore economic history that says booms inevitably end with catastrophic consequences.

The politics of sustainability argues that you cannot separate democracy and the economy; in order for democracy to flourish, the economy must work for everyone.  Thus, if capitalistic institutions are unfair, the government must intervene to protect working Americans.

National Security:  Spending on U.S. national security is 15 percent of all federal governmental spending (which includes mandatory expenditures such as Social Security and Medicare) and more than 50 percent of all discretionary spending.  In 2016, the US spent $611 billion on defense expenditures, 36 percent of the world total, and more than the next eight countries’ combined total.

Trump’s view on national security is influenced by the same three considerations.  The philosophy of dominion argues the US is the most powerful nation in the world and therefore we need to have a gargantuan military establishment.

The Republican philosophy of exclusion argues that, like environmental costs, defense expenditures are outside the traditional economic system and, therefore, have no impact on the economy.

And, once again, the Republican philosophy is dominated by denial.  After the end of the cold war, US defense spending gradually declined only to dramatically increase after 9/11.  Now, the $611 billion is 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product (Chinese military expenditures are 2.1 percent of their GDP).  This level of expenditure makes no sense and is not sustainable, when the the United States has so many unmet needs that could be addressed by these funds — for example, infrastructure.

In his December 18th speech ( ) Trump articulated an “America First” strategy: “The first duty of our government is to serve its citizens… With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first. We are rebuilding our nation…”  Unfortunately, Trump’s actions belie his words; he continues to prioritize military spending over critical domestic spending.

The politics of sustainability argues that the current levels of US military expenditures are not sustainable.  The United States has crucial domestic needs that must be met to protect working families and bolster democracy.

Democrats must have a sustainable vision for the environment, the economy, and national security.  Their 2018 message should be based upon sustainability.

What to Expect for 2018

As we slosh into 2018, it’s clear that while there are some negative carryovers from 2017, there’s a lot that has changed for the positive over the past 12 months. We’re still stuck with predator Trump and the associated madness. On the other hand, there has been a huge wave forming for — lacking a better term — a new women’s movement. That bodes well for 2018.

If you were one of those who, a year ago, expected Trump to “grow” into the job, you’ve probably abandoned hope for real change.  The publication of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” has enhanced the great Washington debate: Is Trump crazy or just unbelievably stupid?  You decide.  Either way he’s “a clear and present danger.”

It’s painfully obvious that Trump has confirmed our worst expectations. Looking at the downside, 2018 will be difficult because Trump is maddeningly erratic.  (Don’t ask me why, in the face of this, the stock market has done so well.  It reminds me of the famous REM lyric, “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”)

For several months, Trump’s approval rating has averaged around 38 percent.  ( )  Within the American electorate, Trump’s base is a hardcore 33 percent.  They’re not going to be swayed by any foreseeable political event.  Trump supporters are a cult; they’re with him all the way to Armageddon.  (Bring it on, Jehovah!)

This means that in any competitive 2018 election, Trump-supporting candidates can count on 33 to 38 percent of the vote.  Therefore, Democrats can win these elections if they mobilize their base and Independents.  (That’s the take-home message from the Doug Jones victory in Alabama.)

Never underestimate the ability of Democrats to screw up an advantage.  Nonetheless, at the moment, things like good.  In the latest CNN poll ( ), when asked, “Which Party are you most likely to vote for in [the] midterm election?” 56 percent responded Democrats and only 38 percent answered Republicans.

Democrats have been mobilizing since early 2017 — thanks to groups like Indivisible and NextGen — and should have competitive candidates in most races.  What could go wrong?  Lots of things.

Early in 2002, George W. Bush’s approval ratings started to decline — despite the boost he had received from 9/11 — and so he decided to boost his poll numbers with the Iraq invasion.  Trump could attempt adopt a similar tactic by launching military action against North Korea.  (Recently, there’s been a fair amount of chatter about this ( ).)

Of course there is a  government shutdown looming on January 19th.  Many Dems expect their Party to hold out for some kind of dispensation for the Dreamers.  (Trump has been maddeningly inconsistent about this subject.)   There’s always a possibility that Democrats will screwup what should be their tactical advantage and the public will blame them for what happens.

Assuming that the national Democratic leadership doesn’t screwup too badly, Dems should have a substantial advantage going into the November 6th midterm elections.  But there is a slight matter of message to consider.  Neutral observers — all two of them — fault the Democrats for not having a unified message — other than, “Lock him up!”

Actually, “Lock him up!” isn’t a bad message as, in his first twelve months in office, Trump has managed to piss off every segment of the electorate other than his adoring base (and Wall Street speculators).  Having Trump as President is like babysitting a hyperactive toddler who methodically poops all over your house.

Democratic candidates can run with the message: “Trump is a treacherous incompetent who threatens our _______”, where they fill in the blanks with the relevant local issue: healthcare, security, good jobs, clean water, (black and brown) neighbors, national parks, or whatever.

In the midterm election, the interesting races are likely to be decided by  competing personalities.  The Republicans will run an elderly white male who will do his best to defend his support for DT.  The Democrats, in many cases, will run a woman.  For example, in the Nevada Senate race, opposing incumbent toady Dean Heller is Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen; in the Arizona Senate race, opposing the loathsome Joe Arpaio — or whoever else the GOP nominates to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Flake — will be Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.  No doubt Jacky Rosen will emphasize Heller’s unwavering support for Trump’s attack on healthcare and other issues that matter to Nevadans.   Kyrsten Sinema will attack Arpaio on immigration (duh).

To the extent that Democrats run female candidates they can take advantage of the momentum from the #MeToo movement.  Running against Trump, and his supporters, is running against sexual harassment at all levels: from physical violence to employment discrimination.

However, the new “feminization” of politics strikes a deeper chord.  Throughout the country, Restaurant Opportunities Center ( ) are running campaigns for the benefit of America’s 14 million restaurant workers — the majority of whom are women.  (BTW: two-thirds of these women report being sexually harassed on the job.)  In 2018, ROC is focussing on Michigan where state law permits restaurants to pay workers as little as $3.52 per hour.  ROC is organizing workers to put a “fair wage” initiative on the ballot and to vote in 2018.  (In 2016, Trump won Michigan by 12,000 votes.)

There’s a potent coalition forming that should sweep Democrats to victory on November 6th.