Monthly Archives: July 2019

Do Not Take the Bait

On Sunday, July 14th, Donald Trump began a barrage of racist tweets that has stirred up yet another political storm.  Four Democratic female congresswomen of color were attacked by Trump.  They accused him of following an “agenda of white nationalists” and asked that Americans “do not take the bait” of his divisive rhetoric.  Are Trump’s tweets another manifestation of his poor judgement or part of a sinister plan?

On July 14, Trump tweeted: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”   It was understood that the “Progressive Democrat Congresswomen,” Trump referred to are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.  All are women of color.  Only congresswomen Omar, who is from Somalia, was not born in the US.

The congresswomen called Trump’s remarks a “blatantly racist” attack on elected leaders, and an attempt to distract from the corrupt and inhuman practices of his administration.  “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people that we were sent here with a decisive mandate from our constituents to work on,” said Pressley.  They urged American voters, “do not take the bait.”

There’s always a danger of crediting Trump with forethought.  Trump’s tweets may not have been strategic but rather the random actions of a disturbed mind — cognitive dyspepsia.  Nonetheless, if Trump’s actions were part of a sinister plan, he could have several objectives:

1.Divide Democrats: In the past few weeks, the Washington press has talked of a “split” between House Speaker Pelosi and the four female congresswomen identified by Trump: Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib — nicknamed “the squad.”   Trump may have intended his remarks to accentuate this split: “The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

Trump’s tactic isn’t working.  On July 16th, the squad joined all Democratic members of the House — and four Republicans — in condemning Trump’s racist remarks.  On July 16, congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez appeared on the CBS Morning News (https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/ocasio-cortez-downplays-tensions-between-pelosi-and-the-squad/2019/07/17/8a1a31a4-a88d-11e9-9214-246e594de5d5_story.html?utm_term=.86d1bcc32ebe) and downplayed reports of tension between Pelosi and the squad.

2. Draw a broad distinction between Democrats and Republicans: In the 2020 presidential campaign, if Donald Trump can’t point to his accomplishments he can paint imaginary distinctions between Democrats and Republicans.  For example, Trump hasn’t built his wall and his immigration policy, in general, is a disaster.  Nonetheless, on the campaign trail, Trump will claim that Democrats are “for open borders” and would let dangerous people into the country.

This tactic is working with Trump’s base.  They are chanting, “Send her back,” at rallies.

3. Distract from the failures of the ICE raids.  Beginning on July 1st, Trump promised that on Sunday, July 14th, ICE agents in 10 large cities — such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — would apprehend 2,000 undocumented immigrants who’d been ordered removed from the United States. The raids occurred but the total number of ICE arrests was miniscule.

This tactic is working.  The MSM isn’t talking about the failed ICE raids.

4. Distract from Trump’s recent failures, in general.  Trumps tweets began on Sunday, July 14th, after a week when he had suffered a series of losses.  On July 7th, the British tabloid, the Daily Mail, published a confidential memos from the British ambassador to the United States: “For a man who has risen to the highest office on the planet, President Trump radiates insecurity.” “I don’t think this Administration will ever look competent.”

During the week of July 8, there were press reports about the inhumane conditions at the border detention facilities — some observers likened them to “concentration camps.”  Then, Trump lost his effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.  Next, his Labor secretary, Jeffrey Acosta, was forced to resign.  Then the ballyhooed ICE raids fizzled.  (And, on July 16th, North Korea threatened to renege on commitments made to the United States on denuclearization.)

Once again, Trump’s tactic of distraction is succeeding.  The press isn’t talking about “Trump the failure” but instead about “Trump the racist.”

5. Distract from the Jeffrey Epstein indictments.  Since (alleged) pedophile and procurer Jeffrey Epstein was rearrested, on July 6, there have been rumors that Donald Trump is overwrought about the consequences of new information about Epstein’s New York activities.  Trump and Epstein were once close friends.  In 2002, Trump described Epstein as a “terrific guy” who is “a lot of fun to be with;” “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do.”

Writing in the Palmer Report (https://www.palmerreport.com/analysis/rape-accusation-donald-trump-roaring-focus/19296/ ) Robert Harrington reminds us that in 2016, “Jane Doe” accused Trump of raping her, when she was 13, at Epstein’s New York mansion.  Counterpunch (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/07/17/epstein-jane-doe-and-trump/ ) reported: “[Jane Doe’s] lawsuit included witness corroboration of her account that she was raped by both Epstein and Trump. The lawsuit was dropped days before the November election after the claimant had been threatened”  These writers note that Epstein kept videos of “episodes” in his New York mansion — videos that were seized by the FBI — and speculate that some of these may include Donald Trump.

If Trump is attempting to distract us from this, it’s not working.  Epstein’s case is still banner news for everyone except, it appears, his base.

How sick are Republicans?  Will they “take the bait” and ignore evidence that connects Trump to Epstein?  Perhaps Trump’s base prefers “Trump the racist” to “Trump the predator.”

The Economy and the Election

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Donald Trump’s approval rating had risen to 44 percent. The uptick was produced by sentiment regarding Trump’s handling of the economy; 51 percent saw this as a positive.  What’s the real story?  And what can we expect as we barrel towards the 2020 presidential election?

The Post poll was based upon 1008 interviews.  It found that while 44 percent of respondents approved of the President (32 percent strongly), 53 percent disapproved (45 percent strongly).  65 percent characterized Trump as acting “unpresidential.”

The Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/aided-by-a-strong-economy-trump-approval-rises-but-a-majority-also-see-him-as-unpresidential/2019/07/04/c9c42c54-9d9f-11e9-b27f-ed2942f73d70_story.html? ) asked respondents: “How much credit do you think the Trump administration deserves for the country’s economic situation?”  47 percent answered  “a great deal or a lot of credit;” while 51 percent responded “some credit to none.”

There are two questions to be answered: Who is responsible for the current economic situation and what can we expect going forward?

The U.S. economy is in its 121st month of growth — a historic stretch.  Most of that growth took place during the Obama Administration:
Trump claims the economy is “the best it has ever been;” that’s inaccurate. The economy is growing at roughly 3.2 percent, but in the 1990’s the economy grew at over 4 percent for four straight years.

While there are several positives about the economy, there are also strong negatives.  There’s a widespread perception that the Trump economy primarily benefits the rich and powerful.  An April 25th Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2019/04/29/National-Politics/Polling/question_21389.xml? ) asked : “Do you think the economic system in this country mainly works to benefit (all people) or mainly works to benefit (those in power)?”  62 percent responded that it benefited those in power (82 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Independents, and 34 percent of Republicans).

A July 4th Washington Post article ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/this-doesnt-look-like-the-best-economy-ever-40percent-of-americans-say-they-still-struggle-to-pay-bills/2019/07/04/855c382e-99b5-11e9-916d-9c61607d8190_story.html?) characterized the economic recovery as “two-tier” and said that 40 percent of the population has not benefited: “[They] have seen paltry or volatile wage growth, rising expenses for housing, health care and education, and increased levels of personal debt.”

What jumps out from the current economic situation is the fact that Trump has broken his pre-election promises to American workers.  Writing in Common Dreams economist Robert Reich detailed “the 7 Biggest Failures of Trumponomics” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/06/11/7-biggest-failures-trumponomics ): “[Trump] promised to boost the wages of American workers, including a $4000 pay raise for the average American family.  Instead, wages for most American have been flat, adjusted for inflation… over the same period, corporate profits have soared and the rich have become far richer.”  (Reich noted that Trump promised a tax-cut for middle class families but instead this tax-cut disproportionately benefited the rich.)

On July 10th, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell appeared before Congress and noted mixed trends in the economy: the U.S. jobs market remains robust and consumer spending appears set to rebound, however business investment has slowed considerably, along with housing investment and manufacturing output.  Powell continued: “Our baseline outlook is for economic growth to remain solid, labor markets to stay strong, and inflation to move back up over time to the Committee’s 2 percent objective.  However, uncertainties about the outlook have increased in recent months. In particular, economic momentum appears to have slowed in some major foreign economies.”

There are storm crowds on the economic horizon.  Many are Trump’s fault. In August-September, the U.S. hits the debt limit.  Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/teresaghilarducci/2019/04/25/the-u-s-debt-ceiling-expired-on-march-1-and-nobody-cared-but-they-will/#57842bff6b3f ) explains: “When the [debt] limit is reached, the U.S. Treasury can’t borrow any more… severely impacting the real economy for fear the government would default on our debt…. Interest rates, already one of the fastest rising costs in the federal budget, will rise as the political crisis builds, because foreign borrowers will demand an additional risk premium. And rising interest rates will impact U.S. Treasuries, mortgages, credit cards, car loans, student debt, and corporate debt. If workers, households, students, and corporations can’t pay their bills because of the interest rate shocks, the economy could go into recession.”

During that same time frame, the government runs out of money as Republicans have been unable to pass a new appropriations bill.

Many observers are concerned about Trump’s trade policies.  Robert Reich noted: “Trump promised to bring down America’s trade deficit ‘as fast as possible.’  Instead the trade deficit has hit an all-time high.” Reich continued: “Trump’s trade wars have hammered rural America. Farm incomes are down $12bn in the first quarter of this year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Farm bankruptcies are at near record levels.”

Trump’s trade policy is emblematic of the problems created by his “America first” foreign policy.  In many decisions — for example pulling out of the Iran nuclear treaty (the JCPOA) and the Paris climate change agreement — Trump acted without support from our allies.  (Recently, when it appeared that the U.S. would attack Iran, after it shot down one of our drones, Trump seemed ready to launch major military action without support of our allies.)  Trump’s “unilateralism” has economic consequences: information security, pandemics, and climate change.

It’s been well-documented — but denied by the Trump Administration — that the United States is under continuous cyberattack by Russia.  What’s gotten less press is the reality that American industry is under attack from China, North Korea, and Iran, as well as Russia.  Trump is doing nothing to thwart this.  There’s a real possibility of devastating damage to America’s energy and financial infrastructure.

International cooperation is required to respond to the threat of pandemics.  But Donald Trump is a unilateralist (and germaphobe) and, therefore, unlikely to respond effectively to a global health challenge.

Finally, there’s the issue of global climate change.  Trump doesn’t believe it is happening and  has chosen to ignore the mounting evidence. (As I write this, a massive storm is battering Louisiana.)  Here in Northern California, climate change — in the form of floods and wildfires — has already affected our economy; in some counties, housing loss has affected the tax base and, overall, there’s been a massive infrastructure hit.

We’re 16 months away from the 2020 presidential election.  It’s likely that the U.S. economy will weaken.  Trump will be responsible.  HIs approval rating will decline.

What Does “Electability” Mean?

Since the June 26-27 Democratic Presidential debates, the candidate rankings have shifted and it now appears the Democratic nomination is up for grabs.  The winner will be determined by voters perception of which candidate is most electable.

A June Gallup  report (https://news.gallup.com/poll/259454/electability-democratic-nominee-outranks-issue-stances.aspx ) found that “58% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents prioritize a candidate’s ability to beat Trump over their views on important issues.”  (This finding held across all demographic groups except for younger voters — aged 18 to 29.)  Gallup concluded: “The diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates would be well-advised to focus their debate performances and campaign strategies on looking like they can beat Trump instead of worrying about highlighting their issues positions.” [Emphasis added]

What does it mean to “[look] like they can beat Trump”?  Depending upon the Democratic voter, being electable means that their candidate adopts a particular stance/attitude.  During the debates we saw four different approaches.

(1) Some folks want a candidate who will be “tough” enough to stand up to Trump.  Trump’s a liar and a bully and these voters want a candidate who can call him out.

(2) Others want a Democratic candidate who can talk to the “blue-collar Obama voters” who, in 2016, voted for Trump.  On the first night of the Democratic debate. Congressman Tim Ryan referred to these voters: “[The Democratic Party is] not connecting to the working class people in the very states that I represent in Ohio, in the industrial Midwest… We have got to change the center of gravity of the Democratic Party from being coastal [and elitist] … to get those workers back on our side.”  This is the political stance: “I feel your pain.”

(3) Some Democrats want a candidate who can beat Trump on specific issues such as healthcare, immigration, climate change, gun control, and housing, among others.  This is a more intellectual stance: America has problems but Trump is a dummy who offers no real solutions, whereas the Democratic candidate does.

(4) Finally, there are voters who want to take on Trump’s immorality.  New York Times opinion writer David Brooks is in this category.  In his June 25th column (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/27/opinion/democratic-debate-2020.html ), Brooks wrote: “A decent society rests on a bed of manners, habits, traditions and institutions. Trump is a disrupter. He rips to shreds the codes of politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a savage world of dog eat dog.”  These voters want a candidate who emphasizes that Trump is immoral; whereas, the Democratic candidate can be trusted.

The top-four Democratic candidates — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris — offer different perspectives on what it means to be electable.  Former Vice-President Biden seems to have staked his electability claim on (4) and (2).   Biden introduced his campaign in a video where he spoke about the August 2017 white-supremacist Charlottesville rally: “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time.  But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen…”  Biden plans to seize the moral high ground.  In addition, Biden has spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania and the industrial Midwest, talking to voters in traditionally Democratic areas that voted for Trump.

Biden talks tough.  He assures voters that he can stand up to Trump.  But that’s not his strong suit. Nor is policy.  Biden is running as a nice guy who can bring us together.

The champion of the intellectual approach (3) is Elizabeth Warren.  (“I have a plan for that.”)  For voters who want a candidate who can out-wonk Trump on any of the important policy issue, it’s hard to ignore Senator Warren.  In the last couple of months, she’s gained a lot of support because of her thoughtful plans.

There’s no doubt that Democratic voters will think Warren is smarter than Trump.  Her electability problem is that many Democrats may not believe she can stand up to America’s biggest bully.

In 2015-16, the wonk candidate was Bernie Sanders.  Now it appears that Elizabeth Warren has seized this mantle.  Recently she’s gained support, at the expense of Senator Sanders.

There’s no doubt that Sanders can stand up to Trump.  But Bernie’s style  turns off many women.

The remaining top-tier Democratic candidate is Senator Kamala Harris.  At five foot two, Harris is the shortest candidate but for many Democrats she comes across as the best prospect for standing up to Trump, calling him out as a bully (1). (“We have a predator living in the White House.”)   Harris can be a commanding figure.  In the Senate, Harris showed this with her interrogations of Brett Kavanaugh, Jeff Sessions, and Bill Barr.  During night two of the first Democratic candidates debate (6/26), Harris took control about twenty minutes in.  There was cross-talk between the candidates and Senator Harris put up her hands in a calming motion and said: “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table.”  From that point on, Harris commanded the debate.

The latest Quinnipiac poll of Democratic voters shows Biden in the lead (22 percent), Harris close behind (20 percent), with Elizabeth Warren garnering 14 percent, and Bernie Sanders 13 percent.  (All the other candidates had single digit support.)  Since the previous, April, Quinnipiac poll, Harris and Warren gained voters at the expense of Biden and Sanders.  In April, Biden had a commanding lead over Harris in two categories: women and black voters.  Now, Harris has taken the lead with women and she’s cut Biden’s margin among black voters from 31 percentage points to only 4.

The gains for Senator Harris are particularly impressive when you consider that one-third of Democratic voters either haven’t heard about her or know so little they have no opinion.

There’s a long way to go before the February Iowa caucuses but, at the moment, Kamala Harris is surging because many voters are taken with her commanding presence and, for this reason, believe she has the best chance of beating Trump.