Monthly Archives: July 2018

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.