Monthly Archives: December 2018

Trump’s Slow-Motion Breakdown

To say the least, Donald Trump is a polarizing figure.  For this reason, it’s easy for the Left to dismiss his behavior as “crazy.” Nonetheless, even by Trump standards, the last few weeks have been unusually bizarre. It’s time for Americans to consider that Trump may have crossed the line from congenitally obnoxious to clinically insane.

If Trump has had a nervous breakdown, it occurred in slow motion after the November 6th election; signaled by angry tweets, repetitive lies, and extreme actions.  His behavior meets the definition of nervous breakdown:

  • depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm.  New York Times reporters, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, recently described Trump as isolated in the White House ( https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/22/us/politics/trump-two-years.html“)  The president has told associates he fells ‘totally and completely abandoned” … complaining that no one is on his side and that many around him have ulterior motives.”  On December 24th, Trump tweeted: “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House…”
  • anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, and trembling or shaking.  There have been rumors that Trump has high blood pressure; in addition his daily diet is terrible — he prefers McDonalds (“a full McDonald’s dinner of two Big Macs, two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and a small chocolate shake”) and 10-12 diet cokes —  and is at least 25 pounds overweight.
  • insomnia.  Trump’s last physical (January 2018) indicated that he typically gets only 4-5 hours of sleep each night.  (The typical person gets 7-8 hours each night.)
  • hallucinations.  There’s no evidence that Trump has had classic hallucinations, such as seeing an extraterrestrial, but there’s ample evidence that he tells tall tales that he believes.  It’s well established that Trump lies at an unprecedented rate.  A recent Washington Post article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/11/02/president-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/? ) noted that Trump had made 6420 false statements over 649 days and in recent months had lied at the rate of 30 false claims each day — with 84 false claims on October 1st.  There’s abundant evidence that Trump believes his most common falsehoods: the Washington Post compiled a list of Trump’s repetitive lies ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/fact-checker-most-repeated-disinformation/? ) such as the claim that the Trump tax cut was “the largest in history.”  Trump imagines these wild distortions to be true.
  • extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts.   New York Times reporters, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, described Trump as, “a president who revels in sharp swings in direction, feels free to disregard historic allies and presides over near constant turmoil within his own team as he follows his own instincts.”  “When President Trump gets frustrated with advisers during meetings… he sits back in his chair, crosses his arms and scowls.  Often he erupts, ‘[f***ing] idiots.'”

If Trump has had a nervous breakdown, then he meets the constitutional definition of “inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of [his] office.”

The 25th Amendment of the Constitution specifies the procedure to be followed if there is a disabled president: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” (It’s more complicated because the President can appeal; and this part of the process has never been used.)

In the current case, Vice President Pence and as least eight of the fifteen cabinet secretaries would have to transmit to the Senate pro tempore — who was Orrin Hatch (retired) and is now Chuck Grassley — and the Speaker of the House — likely Nancy Pelosi.

To summarize, there are three ways for Trump to leave office before January 20, 2021.  He can resign — as Richard Nixon did (August 9, 1974); Trump can be impeached; and he can be removed due to mental (or physical) disability.

What could push Republican leaders to declare Trump as mentally disabled?  The most likely scenario involves Trump’s abuse of his power as commander-in-chief.  At the beginning of the Trump administration, there were three senior generals — John Kelly, James Mattis, and H.R. McMaster — that “moderated” Trump’s notions about how to use the military.  (For example, Trump wanted to assassinate Syrian ruler, Bashar Assad.)  Now these generals are gone, replaced by less able men — who have little or no military experience.

Sadly, it’s easy to imagine Trump doing something like sending the military to surround the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to force the new Congress to appropriate money for his border wall.  One can also envision Trump, when faced with impeachment proceedings, launching a reckless war in an effort to distract the nation.

It’s difficult to imagine Vice President Pence invoking the 25th Amendment, declaring Trump unfit for office, without the support of all of the leaders of the Republican Party — donors as well as political leaders such as Mitch McConnell.  But if Trump did something truly awful, we can foresee a conversation where GOP leaders confront Trump and say: “Donald, there’s strong support for removing you from office either by impeachment or a declaration of disability.  To avoid this, why don’t you resign and ‘President’ Pence will grant you a full pardon.”

Winter is Coming


As we approach the solstice, San Francisco beaches are being hammered by 40-foot waves.  It’s an apt metaphor for the troubled times we are living in.  Borrowing a phrase from Game of Thrones, “winter is coming;” with a vengeance.  Here are some predictions for the next three months.

Trump Slithers Towards Impeachment:  Dating from Watergate (1972-74), the average length of a special counsel investigation, involving a President, is 904 days.  Robert Mueller’s investigation has gone on 580+ days.  My prediction: the Mueller inquiry will end in the Spring, around the two-year anniversary.

In the meantime, the mainstream media is going to be dominated by revelations of Trump’s evil deeds — my prediction: Trump will be implicated in dozens of felonies.

Eventually, evidence of Trump’s treachery will be so overwhelming that the House of Representatives will have no choice but to initiate impeachment proceedings.  Normal congressional work will halt.  The U.S. will be transfixed.

The White House will stop functioning.  From the beginning, the Trump White House has been dysfunctional: it’s been inadequately staffed, constantly “leaked” information to the Washington media, and been unable to rein in the President.  Much of this is the responsibility of Donald Trump: he’s a terrible executive.  Donald is not good at attracting and retaining knowledgable staff members.  He’s bred a toxic culture of lying, name-calling, and back-biting.  He’s a “maverick” in the sense that he wears his ignorance as a badge of honor; Trump won’t read briefing materials and typically makes decisions impulsively, depending not on a clear-headed assessment of the facts, but rather how he happens to feel at the moment.  He has no long-term vision for America beyond filling the coffers at Trump, Inc.

In 2019, under siege by the American legal establishment, the Trump White House will shut down.  The Administration will be consumed by Donald’s legal difficulties and, therefore unable to formulate any policy — unable to do much of anything but Tweet.

That’s a problem for two reasons.  First, there’s a lot of serious work to be done: fixing Obamacare, resolving immigration, and passing an infrastructure plan — to mention only the obvious.  Second, 2019 is liable to be a difficult year for the United States; my prediction: the U.S. is heading into a a big storm.

When the going gets tough, Trump will be absent — sequestered in his White House quarters, watching Fox News while meeting with his lawyers.

“It’s my (Republican) Party, and I’ll cry if I want to.”  At the same time that “leader” Trump will disappear from public view, he will be strengthening his hold on the Republican Party.  (For example, Trump has dissolved the distinction between his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.)  The result: in 2019, the GOP will have no national agenda other than “re-elect Donald.”

Prediction: the Republican-controlled Senate will turn mute and the news-making initiatives will come out of the Democratically-controlled House.  As a result we’ll see significant legislation roll out of the House — Obamacare improvement, immigration reforms, and common-sense gun control — only to die in the Senate.  (By-the-way: in 2019 we’ll continue to see Trump’s crazed tweets; they’ll be countered by the calm words of Speaker Pelosi, reminding us all how grownups behave.)

2019 will see gridlock at it worst.  One side of the Congress will function and the other will be quiescent.

Take Me to Your Leader(!)  Having Trump as President has always been a risky proposition.  Obviously, it’s dangerous having an amoral narcissist occupy the Oval Office.  In 2019, that problem will be dealt with in the courts and in the impeachment process.

It’s equally dangerous to have “the commander-in-chief” be someone who incapable of handling that responsibility.  In his first two years in the White House, Donald Trump has not had to handle a major crisis.  The closest incident has been the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by the agents of Saudi Arabia.  Trump mishandled this, saying in effect that it doesn’t matter whether or not the Saudi rulers were responsible because: “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”  (During this writing, Trump’s steadiest adviser — Secretary of Defense James Mattis — resigned.)

What will happen if there is a major crisis?  We’re surrounded by signs that something cataclysmic could happen.  The economy could collapse.  (God forbid) there could be another terrorist attack.  (More likely) there could be a horrendous series of climate change events.  There likely will be a major international problem.

During the past 12 months, Foreign Policy hasn’t been a major feature of the Trump Administration.  Now, two of Trump’s senior foreign policy advisers are gone — Mattis and former Secretary of State Tillerson.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of international hotspots that could blow up in 2019.  Russia.  Saudi-Arabia.  China.  England (Brexit).  The European Union.  India-Pakistan.

What’s Trump going to do when Russia invades Ukraine?  What’s going to happen when China starts selling off its Treasury portfolio?  What’s going to happen when Saudi Arabia launches a nuclear attack against Iran?  What’s going to happen when England crashes into a “hard Brexit” on March 29?

Winter is coming and Donald Trump is a dysfunctional mess.  Happy New Year!

Searching for Trump’s Tipping Point

Twelve months ago, Donald Trump’s presidential approval rating averaged 38 percent.  Now, the 538 website suggests that Trump’s approval rating has improved to 42 percent. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/).  Thus, after two chaotic years, a significant segment of the electorate continues to approve of Trump’s White House performance.  What accounts for this?

The Economy:  When I talk to Trump supporters, they say the same thing, “I don’t approve of Trump’s behavior but he has been good for the economy.”

Since the 2016 presidential election, the US economy has done well.  Overall it has grown at a rate greater than 3 percent; in the 2018 second quarter it grew at 4.2 percent and in the third quarter at 3.5 percent.  Even though the economy was growing when Obama was President, it’s reasonable for Trump supporters to laud economic growth,

Nonetheless, there are signs the economy is slowing.  (Over the past month the Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped about 1500 points.)  How will Trump supporters feel about Donald when the economy slumps?

Immigration: Perhaps, if the economy slumps, Trump voters will be mollified if he begins to build “the wall” along the border with Mexico.  After all, many Trump supporters are satisfied with his stance on immigration; when Donald warned of an immigrant “invasion,” before the midterm election, his base showed up at the polls and saved the Republican Senate majority.

Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that Trump is going to get congressional support to build his wall.  (Although. at the moment, he seems intent on a partial government shutdown to force this issues.)  In fact, it’s unlikely that Donald is going to have any major legislative accomplishment in the near future.  Will this lack of accomplishment get through to Trump voters?

Fox News: Many Trump supporters only talk to other Trump groupies and get their news from the Fox News Network, which puts a pro-Trump spin on everything.

For this reason, Trump supporters refuse to believe negative reports on Trump’s behavior; they dismiss it as “fake news.” No matter how many felonies the Department of Justice links to Donald, Trump’s supporters are unlikely to turn on him until Fox News tells them to.

Recently, we’ve seen signs that the Trump-Fox News relationship is fraying.  Earlier this month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized Trump (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/tucker-carlson-turns-on-donald-trump_us_5c0a33ade4b0b6cdaf5dc43e) for failing to keep his major campaign promises, such as building the wall and defunding Obamacare.  “I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system,” Carlson said.  On December 12th, Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano observed, “The American public ‘learned’ on Wednesday that federal prosecutors have evidence President Trump committed a crime.”

Resentment:  Trump’s base is fueled by “white resentment.”  Arlie Hochschild’s book, “Stranger in Their Own Land,” described the viewpoint of Trump devotees:  They feel they have been unfairly denied their shot at the American dream.  They turned to Trump because they saw him as someone outside the government who could shake things up.

Trump voters are similar to women who, in a desperate search for love, make terrible relationship choices.  Even after their partner becomes abusive, they cling to him; saying, “I know he loves me and I believe over time he will change for the better.”  Even after Trump voters are confronted with evidence of his lies and abusive behavior, they continue to support him.  Trump supporters call evidence of malfeasance “fake news.”

In an abusive relationship, it’s difficult for a woman to set limits with her abusive partner.  Often, she is only able to separate after a horrendous event — such as a beating that sends her to the hospital.  Similarly, it’s difficult for Trump voters to set limits with Trump; witness the typical comment, “I don’t like how Trump behaves but he has been good for the economy.”  This suggests that most Trump supporters will stay with Donald until the economy tanks.

The Cultural Divide: Living on the Left Coast, it’s difficult to find hard-core Trump supporters; the vast majority live in other parts of the country, such as Mississippi or North Dakota.  They live in a sympathetic rural culture.

Many observers, such as veteran political reporter Ron Brownstein, (http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/politics/state/2016-election-anniversary/ ) feel that we are in the midst of a cultural “civil war”:

Over roughly the past two decades, attitudes toward these [cultural] changes have become the fundamental dividing line in American politics. In both presidential and congressional races, Republicans rely on what I’ve called a “coalition of restoration” that revolves around older, blue-collar, and evangelical Christian whites, mostly outside of urban areas, who feel most uneasy about these changes. Democrats mobilize a competing “coalition of transformation” centered on minority, millennial and college-educated white voters (especially women), who are mostly clustered in major metropolitan areas and the most comfortable with the changes…. More explicitly than any other recent Republican nominee, Trump ran as a candidate of restoration.” [Emphasis added]

From this perspective, Trump’s voters are holding on to him because he’s the most powerful national politician representing their culture.  These voters are not going to abandon Trump until he leaves office.  In many instances Trump supporters see him as their last and best hope to restore the American dream.

Turning California Totally Blue

In case you missed it, on November 6th, a blue wave washed over California. Democrats took all major statewide offices, elected a second Democratic Senator, and seized 46 of 53 congressional districts. Nonetheless, California Democrats won’t be satisfied until the Golden State’s congressional delegation is totally blue.  What will it take to accomplish this?

64 percent of California’s eligible voters cast a ballot on November 6th — more than 12.3 million.  Most statewide races weren’t close: Democrat Gavin Newsom won the governor’s race with 61.9 percent of the vote.  California’s most controversial ballot initiative — GOP-sponsored proposition 6 that would have repealed a fuel tax — was defeated by a 13.6 percent margin.

In preparation for the midterm elections, California Democrats focussed on seven congressional districts where, in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton prevailed but a Republican incumbent was retained: CA 10, 21, 25, 39, 45, 48, and 49.  When the dust settled, Democrats had taken all these seats.

It’s useful to consider what it will take for Democrats to win the remaining seven Republican congressional seats: CA 1 (La Malfa), CA 4 (McClintock), CA 8 (Cook), CA 22 (Nunes), CA 23 (McCarthy), CA 42 (Calvert), and CA 50 (Hunter).  Most of these are historically Republican rural districts.

The largest of these congressional districts is CA 1 which covers the northeast portion of California: Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, and Tehama counties — plus portions of Glenn, Nevada, and Placer counties; its largest city is Redding.  It’s notoriously conservative; if you travel through this area — on interstate 5 — you’ll encounter signs welcoming you to the independent state of “Jefferson.”

In 2016, Doug La Malfa won this district with 59.1 percent (Trump had 56.2 percent).  In 2018, La Malfa got 54.9 percent of the vote.

Republican La Malfa is a conservative Republican who has faithfully followed the Party line; he voted against Obamacare and for tax cuts.

CA 4 covers much of eastern California, along the Sierra Nevada range; Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, and Tuolumne counties — plus portions of Fresno, Madera, Nevada, and Placer counties. Its largest cities are Auburn and Truckee.

In 2016, Tom McClintock won this district with 62.7 percent of the vote (Trump had 54 percent).  In 2018, McClintock got 54.2 percent of the vote.  (By the way: McClintock does not live in CA 4.)

McClintock is a conservative Republican and faithful Trump supporter.  He voted for Trump’s tax cuts and supports his immigration policies.  Nonetheless, McClintock has been an uninspired congressman and, overtime, has lost favor in his district.

CA 8 encompasses most of California’s eastern desert regions; it consists of Inyo and Mono counties plus most of San Bernardino County. It largest city is Victorville.

In 2016, Republican Paul Cook garnered 62.3 percent (Trump got 54.7 percent).  In 2018 Cook did not have a Democratic opponent.

Cook is a conservative Republican who has had a predictable but undistinguished congressional career (for example, he voted against Obamacare and for tax cuts).  He’s done nothing for the bread-and-butter issues confronting his impoverished constituents.

CA 22 is an agricultural district in the lower San Joaquin valley: areas of Kings and Tulare counties.  Its largest cities are Clovis, Tulare, and Visalia.

In 2016, Devin Nunes garnered 67.6 percent (Trump had 52.1 percent).  In 2018, Nunes garnered 52.7 percent.

Republican Nunes is a long-term conservative and one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters in the House of Representatives.  Nunes was on Trump’s transition team and strongly defended him while chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  CA 22 residents have criticized Nunes for spending too much time defending Trump and not enough time on local issues, such as water distribution concerns.

CA 23 is the most Republican district in California.  Located at the bottom of the San Joaquin valley, it spans parts of Kern and Tulare counties.  Its largest city is Bakersfield.

CA 23 is represented by Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader and, at the moment, the most powerful California Republican.  In 2016, McCarthy garnered 69.1 percent of the vote (Trump had 58.1 percent).  In 2018, McCarthy had 63.7 percent.

McCarthy was an early Trump supporter and backs him across-the-board

CA 42 is in Riverside County, in southern California.  Its largest city is Corona.

CA 42 is represented by Ken Calvert.  In 2016, Calvert garnered 58.8 percent (Trump had 53.4 percent).  In 2018, Calvert got 56.7 percent of the vote.

Calvert has been in office since 1992 and has little to show for it.

CA 50 lies primarily in central and eastern San Diego County.  Its largest city is Escondido.

CA 50 is represented by Duncan Duane Hunter.  (In 2008,  he succeeded his father, Duncan Lee Hunter.)  In 2016, Hunter garnered 63.5 percent of the vote (Trump got 54.6 percent).  In 2018, Hunter was narrowly reelected with 51.8 percent after he accused Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar — a Christian — of being “an Islamist” and “security threat.”

In August, Duncan Duane Hunter, and his wife, were indicted by the Department of Justice for allegedly spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.  Their trial is scheduled for September of 2019.

Summary:  These seven Republicans are vulnerable on three issues: the first is climate change — they’re all climate-change deniers even though there’s ample evidence in California: drought and horrendous fires.  (La Malfa continues to deny climate change even though the Paradise fire happened in his district.)

All seven voted against Obamacare — which is very popular in California.

Finally, all seven voted for the Trump tax cuts and, in general, have represented the special interests in their district and neglected their less affluent constituents.  This is particularly a problem for La Malfa, McClintock, Cook, and Calvert, who represent very poor districts and have shown no interest in job-creation initiatives.

In 2020, it’s easy to imagine Democrats picking off Calvert (CA 42) and Hunter (CA 50) because they have personal issues and undistinguished records.  (White non-Hispanic voters will soon be in a minority in CA 42).

With good organizing, and a 24-month campaign, it’s reasonable to imagine Democrats winning CA 1, CA 4, and CA 8.

The most difficult targets are Nunes (CA 22) and McCarthy (CA 23).  They both have strong connections to wealthy GOP donors and, as a result, millions to spend on reelection.  Their vulnerability is their tight connection to Trump.  If Donald goes down the drain, it’s possible to imagine Nunes and McCarthy going down with him.