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.

Kamala’s Big Night

The June 26 and 27 Democratic presidential debates served two purposes: to introduce the twenty top-tier candidates and to determine who was best suited to take on Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The results were somewhat unexpected; on both debate nights the winners were women: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

Watching a two two-hour debates, each featuring 20 candidates, is like speed dating.  Blink and you’d miss a clever quip or an awkward response.  There were chaotic periods and many missed opportunities to explain progressive policies to the voters.

Nonetheless, the net effect was to “cull the herd.”  The marginal candidates, such as Marianne Williamson, got less attention and when they did get to speak, quickly demonstrated why they had been regarded as long-shots.  In my eyes, there were no breakthroughs by the ten candidates who came in polling at less than 2 percent.

On the other hand, there was movement among the ten top-tier candidates: Beto, Booker, Biden, Buttigieg, Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.  The big loser was Beto O’Rourke who seemed flat overall and the clear loser in an immigration tussle with Joaquin Castro.  (Castro was the big surprise of the first night.)

The other loser was former Vice-President Joe Biden.  After sailing through the first half of the second debate, Biden was confronted by Harris about his voting record on school busing.   When the conversation turned to race relations, Harris turned to Biden and said: “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.  And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.”  When Biden struggled to explain his voting record, Harris continued: “Vice President Biden, do you agree today — do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose bussing in America then? Do you agree?”  Biden stammered that he did not oppose bussing, in general,  “What I opposed is bussing ordered by the Department of Education.”  And Harris nailed him: “There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education… So that’s where the federal government must step in.”

Two things jumped out from this exchange: the first is that Kamala Harris is a terrific prosecutor and, more than any other Democratic candidate, can be counted on to skewer Donald Trump in a debate.  The second is that Biden should have known that this encounter was coming and been better prepared.  (After the debate, Biden’s team accused Harris of helping Donald Trump.)

It’s a long road to the February 3rd Iowa caucuses, but at the moment the Democratic field is led by women: If your perspective is which Democrat is best at taking on Trump, the leader is Senator Harris.  If you are inclined to favor the Democrat who has given the most thought to straightening out America, the leader is Senator Elizabeth Warren.  (Warren skated through the first debate night as the clear winner: interesting ideas presented concisely — like the master teacher she is.)

Before these debates, the national polls showed the ranking of candidates as: 1. Biden, 2. Sanders, 3. Warren, 4. Buttigieg, 5. Harris, and 6. O’Rourke.  After these debate, the BB poll shows Harris and Warren tied for first, Biden and Sanders tied for third, and Buttigieg and Booker tied for fifth.  That leaves Castro, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, and Beto (at number 10).

I believe Biden will be damaged by his lackluster debate performance; he’ll probably lose support among black voters — this should help Harris in South Carolina.  Before the debate, Bernie Sanders was already losing support as progressives switched allegiance to Warren; Sanders did nothing to reverse this trend.

“Mayor Pete” Buttigieg got a good opportunity to show everyone how capable he is.  Senator Cory Booker had a solid performance in the June 26 debate.  They’ve forged ahead in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination for vice-president.  As has Joaquin Castro who was the surprise of night one.  Klobuchar and Gillibrand were solid but don’t have enough “star power” to move up in the herd.  And Beto is fading.

There’s been a debate among Democrats about what they want most from their 2020 presidential candidate: a fighter or an ideas person.  Both Harris and Warren are fighters and both have lots of good ideas.  It will be fascinating to watch their interaction over the next eight months.

Before the debates, some Democrats favored Biden because they perceived him to be “most electable.”  Biden was damaged in the June 27th exchange.  I bet that more voters now believe that Harris and Warren are as electable as Biden.

By the way: the next round of Democratic candidate debates happens on July 30 and 31.

Speaking Truth to Power

More and more of my friends tell me they can’t bear to watch the news, because they can’t stand to hear about the latest Trump outrage. Some unfortunates are afflicted with tinnitus where they constantly hear a ringing or buzz in the background. The U.S. is subjected with the political version of this — Trumpitus — where there’s always some Trump news item droning in the background.  To deal with this backdrop of malevolence, to protect our sanity, you and I have to agree to stand up and proclaim the truth.

1.We’re under attack by the Russians.  The most disturbing conclusion from the Mueller Report is that Russia made a concerted effort to alter the results of the 2016 election.  “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”  Vladimir Putin and his cronies wanted Trump to win and engaged in a variety of technical efforts to help him.  It’s not clear what the overall impact was.  Russians operatives were active in key swing states — such as Michigan,Ohio, and Pennsylvania — but it’s not provable that the Russian efforts resulted in Trump’s 78,000 vote margin.   What is clear is that the Russians helped the Trump campaign by concerted social-media campaigns and hacking Clinton-campaign emails.

There’s no evidence that Russian interference has abated.  Indeed, if one looks at the Putin’s objectives, there’s no reason for the Russians to stop because they are succeeding.  Russian efforts have weakened U.S. morale and diminished our role as leader of the “free” world.  (They have also weakened the European Union and brought the United Kingdom to the brink of chaos.)

2.The Republican Party doesn’t want to do anything about this.  Although the U.S. intelligence community is united in the belief that the Russians continue to interfere with our election process, Congressional Republicans aren’t doing anything about this — with the exception of the Senate Intelligence Committee co-chaired by Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Senator Mark Warner.  Nonetheless, on June 13th, Senate Republicans blocked Senator Warner’s bill that would have required political campaigns to report attempts by foreign nationals to interfere with political elections.

Trump has bullied the mainstream Republican Party into docile subservience.  He’s set this moral tone: it’s okay to say and do anything, so long as you win.  Trump has recast the GOP: “Thou shalt worship no gods other than Trump.”

As a consequence, Senate Republicans aren’t doing any legislative work. Since January the Senate has only passed a few pieces of legislation.  (They’ve spent most of their time confirming conservative judges.)  In contrast, the Democratically controlled House has passed more than 120 bills.  (https://www.vox.com/2019/5/24/18637163/trump-pelosi-democrats-bills-congress )

3.Trump has deeply divided the nation.  When you step inside the latest polls — eg., Trump versus Biden — you encounter an amazing number: most Americans say they will not vote for Trump in 2020.  The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/18/trump-reelection-chances-look-bad-in-state-polls.html) says: “Despite a strong economy… 62% of Americans report themselves uncomfortable or with reservations about a second Trump term; 52% called themselves ‘very uncomfortable.'”  The May Quinnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2622) found: “President Trump begins his reelection campaign in a deep hole as 54 percent of American voters say they ‘definitely’ will not vote for him,”

Meanwhile, Trump is leaving a trail of moral destruction: He’s eradicated comity, torn down the walls of political correctness, and made it okay for citizens to treat each other in a vile and — sometimes – violent manner.

A recent PPRI poll (https://www.prri.org/research/american-democracy-in-crisis-the-fate-of-pluralism-in-a-divided-nation/ ) found that Americans are more divided by politics than they are by race, ethnicity, or religion: “Americans are nearly unanimous in their belief that the country is divided over politics (91%), with 74% of Americans saying that the country is very divided. Supporters of both political parties, as well as political independents, all agree that Americans are divided over politics: Republicans (96%), Democrats (91%), and independents (89%) all agree with this statement.”

4. Meanwhile, the U.S. is challenged by daunting problems.  Most of us wouldn’t get on a boat or plane knowing that the pilot was drunk.  We depend upon our leaders to guide us through difficult circumstances.  Nonetheless, the United States is beset by numerous problems and Donald Trump is incompetent.

America faces a long list of challenges that would be daunting even if we had a real President: Global climate change.  Nuclear proliferation.  The deterioration of our international alliances.  National security including the Russian attacks and terrorism.  Healthcare.  Economic inequality.  Mental health including the opioid epidemic.  Gun violence.  Etcetera.

Trump is not going to deal with these challenges.  Until he’s removed from office, he’s likely to make things worse.  As this was being written, Trump is preparing to attack Iran.

How do we maintain our sanity in these perilous times?  By going back to basics.  Bay Area writer Angeles Arrien posited four rules for life:  “Show up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.  Don’t be attached to the results.”  We’ve already shown up.  For the time being, we’re stuck with Trump.

It’s hard to pay attention given the constant drone of Trump outrage — Trumpitus — but it’s essential because there are good things going on in the resistance.  More and more Americans are waking up.

And more than any time I can remember, it’s essential to tell the truth.  About Trump.  The deplorable conduct of Washington Republicans.  About the problems the nation faces.  Tell the truth about how hard it is to be hopeful.

And, of course, we have to resist.  Every hour of every day.  And like Angeles Arrien said, we can’t get attached to the results.  Telling the truth is hard work.

Elizabeth’s Time to Shine

The walls of my high-school gym were covered with pithy aphorisms such as: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The most memorable was: “Life is a grindstone; whether it wears you down or polishes you up, depends upon what you are made of.”  Certainly, a presidential campaign is a grindstone; in the process most candidates get ground up, while a few thrive.  Somewhat unexpectedly, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has adapted to the arduous 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and is beginning to shine.

Warren was the first Democrat to enter the presidential campaign — December 31, 2018 — and, ever since, has been campaigning non-stop.  I like Elizabeth, but initially had some concerns about her as a presidential candidate: I thought she would come across as an academic or a scold.  This hasn’t happened; instead. as she slogged though non-stop campaign events, Elizabeth has gotten more confident and, to my eyes, softened.  She’s still smart as a whip, but her intelligence hasn’t gotten blocked her message; she’s found a way to communicate with her supporters without dumbing down her ideas.  (So far this year, Warren has held more than 80 town-hall meetings.)

(By the way: I’m struck by how smart the Democratic candidates are, in general; whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar or Corey Booker…  Trump is going to have a tough time debating any of these candidates — if he participates in the debates.)

Six months after entering the presidential campaign, Elizabeth Warren has found a way to differentiate herself from the other candidates: her now familiar refrain “I have a plan for that.” If Joe Biden’s shtick is “I’m everybody’s Uncle Joe… I’m likable and electable” and Bernie Sanders is “I may look like someone’s grandfather but I’m actually a revolutionary,” Warren’s political identity is, “I may be a woman but I’m the smartest person in the room.”

Warren has blended her personal story — impoverished single mom who becomes a Harvard Law School professor– together with intelligence and liberal populism. This has produced a potent political cocktail.  Elizabeths’s brew showed up at the April “She the People” candidate forum in Houston.  Many expected Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Corey Booker to dominate the event, but it was Warren who stole the show.  Since then Warren has played to increasingly enthusiastic crowds.  (And she’s sold a lot of “Warren has a plan for that” t-shirts.)

As a consequence, Warren’s poll results have improved.  A recent Des Moines Register poll (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/iowa-poll/caucus/2019/06/09/iowa-poll-biden-leads-democrats-bernie-sanders-elizabeth-warren-pete-buttigieg-caucus-2020/1360801001/ ) of prospective Democratic Iowa caucus-goers found Senator Warren was in third place (15 percent) after Joe Biden (24 percent) and Bernie Sanders (16 percent).  But another question indicated that Warren is close to a tie with Biden: “Among those who plan to caucus in person, 61% say Biden is on their list in some way…  Just as many — 61% — say Warren is on their list. That includes 15% who choose her as their first choice, 14% who pick her as their second choice and 32% who say they are considering her.”

The Warren presidential campaign is experiencing a surge.  The latest Economist/YouGov poll (https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/4etmv6wq62/econToplines.pdf ) asked prospective Democratic voters: “If the Democratic presidential primary or caucus in your state were held  today, who would you vote for?” 26 percent responded “Joe Biden;” 16 percent responded “Elizabeth Warren;” 14 percent were not sure; and 12 percent responded “Bernie Sanders.”  All other candidates were in single digits.  (By the way: the same poll indicated that while Sanders is the best known candidate, he has the highest unfavorable rating  at 33 percent.)

Writing in Mother Jones, David Corn (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/06/elizabeth-warren-plan/? ) pointed out another reason for Warren’s momentum: “In February [Senator Warren] announced she would not raise campaign cash via high-ticket dinners and receptions or through dialing-for-dollars calls to wealthy would-be donors. The campaign promoted this as a move demonstrating that Warren would not grant access to rich contributors; she would not be selling influence and would instead rely on small-dollar donors… This decision that burnished her reformist credentials had a critical impact on the campaign: It unshackled her schedule.”

So, what will it take for Senator Warren to win the Democratic presidential nomination?

The Iowa caucuses occur on February 3, 2020.  One the next 8 months, Warren should keep doing what she is doing. (“Nevertheless she persisted.”)  At the moment, only she has found a winning formula.

Of course, Joe Biden is the frontrunner, but If Warren maintains her current pace she’ll differentiate herself from Joe Biden on the basis of personal energy.  And most Democrats will realized that Warren has more depth than Biden.

Many believe that Warren’s primary competition will come from Bernie Sanders.  From here it seems that Warren has two advantages: First, she can “out wonk” Sanders; Bernie has a lot of ideas but Warren has more and they are better elaborated.  Warren’s second advantage is that she is a woman.  Right or wrong, a lot of female Democratic voters blame Sanders for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss — remember the “Bernie Bros.”

It’s a long road ahead, but from here the ultimate winner will probably be Elizabeth Warren.  She’s emerged from the grindstone with a clear campaign message and identity.

Trump’s Road to Armageddon

Just when we think that Donald Trump’s behavior cannot become more bizarre, it does. On May 22, congressional leaders went to the White House, ostensibly to discuss a plan to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure; Trump walked out of the meeting, after throwing a temper tantrum — saying he would not work with Congressional Democrats until they called off all investigations into his (alleged) high crimes and misdemeanors. Democrats aren’t going to call off these investigations and Trump isn’t going to work with Congress.  So where does this leave us? On the road to armageddon.

The Federal Debt Limit expired on March 1st and, at the moment, the Treasury Department is using accounting gimmicks to pay the nation’s bills.  Experts say that this will only work until sometime in September-October.  What will happen then?

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.”

Judging by his increasingly erratic behavior, it’s likely that Trump will hold the nation hostage over the Federal Debt Limit — and the appropriations bill to keep government running (which comes due October 1st).  Trump will issue an ultimatum, “Call off the investigations or I won’t sign these bills.”  Even though his intransigence will be opposed by all congressional Democrats and most Republicans, Trump will refuse to compromise.  In the process he will drag the United States over a financial cliff.

Of course, the House Democrats could head off this turmoil by dropping all Trump-related investigations.  But they are not going to do that because the Mueller Report concludes: (a) Trump committed crimes by obstructing justice and (b) the Russian government continues to meddle in our political affairs.  Writing in the New York Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/05/23/robert-mueller-report-trump-indictment/ ) David Cole (ACLU National Legal Director) observes: “The [Mueller] report dispassionately lays out the facts, which are an indictment in all but name.”

On May 29th, Robert Mueller made a brief public statement where he again noted: ” If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so [in our report].”  Mueller repeated that he and his associates did not indict Trump because such an action was against Department of Justice policy.

Over the next three months, the Democrats will continue their Trump investigations.  Given the unprecedented Trump Administration obstruction, the House is likely to instigate a formal impeachment inquiry — which would strengthen its legal case to obtain key documents and testimony.

Over the summer, the White House will likely initiate no new policy proposals or legislative action.  Instead the Administration will continually rail against the investigations, call them “witch hunts.”   And, Trump will take trips: Next week Trump will go to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France for D-day memorial ceremonies.  At the end of June, Trump will travel to Japan for the G20 Summit — which will give him a chance to confer with his buddy, Vladimir Putin.  In August, Trump will go to France for the G7 Summit.  (In between, Trump will go to campaign rallies and play golf.)

During this same period the House of Representatives will be hard at work. (Except, possibly, for the month of August, when it is scheduled to be in recess.  Given the current circumstances, plus the desire of Democrats to prove that they can walk and chew gum at the same time — investigate Trump (and the Russians) and also generate meaningful legislation — it’s likely that the House will stay in session during August.)

In the past, faced with an extreme conflict, Trump has usually backed down.  However, last December 22nd Trump didn’t back down on his request for border-wall funding, he initiated a 35-day (partial) government shutdown — the longest shutdown in U.S. history.  Given this recent history, and Trump’s desperation-fueled erratic behavior, there’s no reason to believe that he will back down in September if faced with a combination debt-limit and appropriations conflict.

We’re headed for armageddon and Donald Trump doesn’t care.  Trump is focussed on protecting himself, not the United States.

Joe Biden’s Presidential Strategy

On April 25th, former Vice-President Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign. On May 18th, Biden gave his first campaign address in Philadelphia (http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1905/18/cnr.05.html), making clear what his strategy will be.  His campaign is not policy based, it is personality based.  Joe has taken the role of the anti-Trump.

Where other Democratic presidential candidates are focussing on policies — improved healthcare, student-loan forgiveness, confronting global climate change, etcetera — and mention Trump in passing, Biden focuses on Trump and mentions policy in passing.  In Philadelphia, Biden said that one of the three reason he’s running for President is “to unite this nation;” adding: “If American people want a president to add to our division, lead with a clenched fist, a closed hand, a hard heart, to demonize your opponent, to spew hatred, they don’t need me. They have got President Donald Trump.”

Biden laid out his three reasons for running:  “The first is to restore the soul of the nation, the essence of who we are… And the second is to rebuild the backbone of this nation. And the third, to unite this nation, one America.”

Biden used this triumvirate to reinforce his credentials:  “I know how to make government work.  Not because I’ve talked or tweeted about it, but because I’ve done it. I’ve worked across the aisle to reach consensus, to help make government work in the past. I can do that again with your help… I’m going to do whatever it takes to make progress on the matters that matter most — civil liberties, civil rights, voting rights, women’s right to choose, national security, personal security, health care, an economy that rewards work, not just wealth, a climate change policy that will save our children and grandchildren and this planet… We need to set the most aggressive goals possible. But folks, we have to work together to get it done.”

It’s not obvious that Biden’s personality-based strategy will garner the Democratic nomination.  An April 22nd, ABC News/Washington Post poll asked registered Democrats (and leaners) this question:  “What’s more important to you — that Democrats nominate the presidential candidate whose positions on the issues come closest to yours, or the candidate who seems most likely to defeat Donald Trump in November 2020?” 47 percent responded that being “closest on the issues” was most important, while 39 percent opted for “most likely to win.”

Here on the left coast, some Democratic activists have dismissed Joe Biden as a lightweight, citing his kickoff as evidence that he lacks policy “cred.”  Nonetheless, at this stage of the presidential campaign, Biden’s likability numbers are daunting.  The most recent Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2622 ) indicates that, among the major candidates, only Biden has a positive likability score.

Quinnipiac found: “President Trump begins his reelection campaign in a deep hole as 54 percent of American voters say they ‘definitely’ will not vote for him… Today, 31 percent say they ‘definitely’ will vote for Trump and 12 percent say they will ‘consider voting for him’… American voters give Trump a negative 38 – 57 percent favorability rating.”

With regards to Democratic Presidential contenders, Quinnipiac found: “With a 49 – 39 percent favorability rating, former Vice President Joseph Biden is the only presidential contender, Democrat or Republican, with a clear positive score. Favorability ratings for other Democrats are negative or mixed:

  • 41 – 48 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont;
  • 32 – 41 percent for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts;
  • 27 percent favorable for Sen. Kamala Harris of California, with 30 percent unfavorable;
  • 20 – 32 percent for former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas;
  • 23 – 31 percent for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey;
  • 23 percent favorable for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to 19 percent unfavorable.”

Towards the end of his Philadelphia speech, Joe Biden talked about climate change: “[Working together] is the only way we’re going to deal with the existential crisis posed by climate change. There’s not much time left. We need a clean energy revolution. We need it now. We have to start now… But folks, we have to work together to get it done. Look, we’re never going to convince the climate deniers or those special interests. But even now, some of those special interests, the traditional polluters, are realizing, gas and oil industry, automobile manufacturing, guess what, they’re saying on television the other day, Mr. President, you have got to do something about global warming… Folks, we need a president who is willing to lead, who insists on dramatic change for the sake of our children… Folks, as long as Donald Trump is in the White House… none of these things… are going to get done. So if you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is — beat Trump.” [Emphasis added]

An April 29, Morning Consult poll ( https://morningconsult.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Political-Intelligence-4.29.19.pdf) found that Biden led Senator Bernie Sanders — second in most polls — in all Democratic demographic categories except voters between 18 and 29.  Interestingly, Biden has a strong lead over Sanders among women voters (38 percent to 20 percent) — and carries black women by a margin of 47 percent to 18 percent.   A May 2nd Philip Bump column in The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/02/other-electability-problem-voters-arent-great-determining-electability/?utm_term=.fdc90c278105 )  noted that female Democratic voters are 10 points more likely to support a male candidate than is a male Democratic voter.  Bump speculated that some “middle-aged women” are convinced that the 2016 presidential election proved voters aren’t ready to elect a female President and, therefore, in 2020 are being “strategic.”

Whatever his logic, Joe Biden is running as the anti-Trump.   He’s basing his campaign on his likability.  So far, this strategy is working.

Donald Trump and the Measles Epidemic

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States and many Americans were hopeful. We were in the throes of “the great recession” but we trusted Obama to guide us out of it. We’d elected our first biracial President and many of us hoped that racism would soon be gone. By the way, the U.S. was thought to free of measles — there were only 131 cases of circulating measles reported in 2008.

Things have changed.  Donald Trump is the 45th President.  Although the economy is good, two-thirds of Americans are pessimistic about the future.  Racism is back — White Supremacists threaten domestic security.  And there’s a measles epidemic; so far, 764 cases of measles have been reported in 2019 (https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html).

The social and mental attributes that characterize Donald Trump have promoted the measles epidemic.  These same conditions have produced other epidemics, such as opiod addiction, Hepatitis A, and gun violence.

1.Critical Thinking:  Donald Trump is not a deep thinker.  He’s hardly the first President with this characteristic — most of us remember George W. Bush.  But Trump is the first President to flaunt his lack of perspicacity.  He revels in the notion that he shoots from the hit and makes no effort to learn from his mistakes — he doesn’t even acknowledge his mistakes.

I don’t believe that Trump is stupid — although he says and does stupid things — but rather lazy.  He does not read the many reports brought to him but instead relies upon verbal briefings from a small set of advisors and the rantings of sources like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Trump also lacks impulse control.  He’ll see a news item scroll across the bottom of the screen and immediately fire off a Tweet, treating the chyron as legitimate news.

Trump has no depth.  He’s a creature of the moment and, therefore, incapable of the thoughtful analysis that leaders typically display when they encounter complex problems.  Thus, the North Korea situation is reduced to “Kim likes me.”

Many of the parents who refuse to vaccinate their children share Trump’s characteristic lack of critical thinking.

2.Social Media as a news source:  Donald Trump is the first President to treat social media as a legitimate news source.  In this regards, he’s like many Americans who do not get their news reports from conventional newspapers (books or magazines) but instead rely upon television, the Internet, or radio.  (a 2018 Pew Research study (https://deadline.com/2018/12/how-americans-watch-news-study-tv-online-pew-research-center-1202512745/ ) found that 44 percent of respondents got their news from TV, 34 percent got their news from the Internet, 14 percent got their news from radio, and 7 percent read newspapers.)

Trump gets his news from Fox News, his Twitter correspondence, and to a lesser extent from Facebook — he occasionally uses Instagram.  (It appears that he uses the Internet to access certain websites such as Alex Jones’ infowars.)  He gets his news predigested.

As a result, Trump has a strange set of beliefs.  For example, he believes that most Mexican and Central American refugees coming to the southern border are “criminals” or worse.  Trump believes that Arab-Americans cheered the 9/11 attack; for this reason he thinks Muslims hate us and should not be allowed to enter the U.S.  Donald describes Vladimir Putin as a “great leader” and believes that reports of Russian interference of 2016 are a “hoax.”  Trump thinks NATO is “a ripoff.”  Finally, he does not believe that global climate change is a crisis; recently he minimized it as “weather” but not so long ago described it a hoax.

A couple of years ago, Trump tweeted there was a link between childhood vaccination and autism.  (However, on April 26th, in response to the measles epidemic, Trump changed his tune and urged families to vaccinate their children, “they have to get their shots.”)

Many parents, who have not allowed their children to be vaccinated, share the (one time) belief of Donald Trump that childhood inoculations increases the likelihood of autism.  Who knows how many of these have been influenced by Trump and from obtaining their “science” information from social media.

3.Selfishness.  Donald Trump is a profoundly selfish person; he only cares about taking care of himself, and his family.  As President, he seems to have no concern for “the common good” or actions that will serve “the best interests of the country.”  When making a decision, his guiding principle is “what’s in it for me?”  (For example, Trump continues to support the treacherous Saudi regime that murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi because the Trump family has business interests in Saudi Arabia.)

Of course, parents who fail to vaccinate their children are also profoundly selfish; they care only about their “intellectual position” and not the health and safety of their children or other members of the community who might be exposed to measles.

Summary:  Donald Trump didn’t cause the measles epidemic but his profound character defects — lack of critical thinking, addiction to social media, and pathological selfishness — have made it worse.  And Trump’s deficiencies have worsened other epidemics such as opiod addiction, Hepatitis A, and gun violence.  Trump’s a menace to our health and safety.

What About Impeachment?

Here on the Left Coast, most voters I talk to are disgusted with Donald Trump and want him impeached. Nonetheless, our leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urges Dems to be cautious and to hold hearings rather than rush into an impeachment process. That’s sound advice because a majority of Americans don’t want Trump impeached.

The latest Washington Post / ABC News Poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2019/04/26/National-Politics/Polling/question_21366.xml? ) indicates that only 39 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job as President.

With regard to Special Counsel Mueller’s report, most poll respondents felt the report was fair (51 percent) and most  felt that “it did not clear Trump of wrongdoing” (53 percent).  (47 percent felt that “Trump tried to interfere with the Russia investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice;” versus 41 percent that did not feel this way.)  Most tellingly, 58 percent believe that Trump “lied to the American public about the matters under investigation by Mueller.”

To summarize, most American believe the Mueller report was fair and Trump has engaged in wrongdoing.  58 percent believe that Trump lied about this.

Nonetheless, a strong majority (56 percent)  of Washington Post / ABC News  poll respondents do not feel that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.

What explains this somewhat contradictory finding?

The Washington Post / ABC News poll indicates that opinions about impeachment are split by Party affiliation: 62 percent of Democrats are in favor of beginning impeachment proceedings versus only 10 percent of Republicans (87 percent oppose impeachment).  Most telling, only 36 percent of Independents are in favor of beginning impeachment proceedings.  (The Washington Post / ABC News poll doesn’t provide much demographic information to help us interpret this polarization on impeachment; however, non-white voters are much more inclined towards impeachment (59 percent) than are white non-Hispanic voters (25 percent).)

However, another Washington Post / ABC News poll item illustrates how unpopular Trump is.  The survey asks: In 2020, if Trump is the Republican candidate would you vote for him?  55 percent of respondents said they would “definitely not vote for him.”  (Only 28 percent would definitely vote for Trump.)  It’s possible that many voters — particularly Independents — decided: “We’re going to vote Trump out of office in 2020 so why go to all the effort to impeach him if he will be gone in 17 months.”

Finally, the final Washington Post / ABC News poll question is: “Do you think the political system in this country mainly works to benefit (all people) or mainly works to benefit (those in power)?”    Interestingly, 72 percent of respondents feel the political system works to benefit those in power.  Once again, response divides by political affiliation, with Democrats and Independents overwhelmingly agreeing that the system is biased towards those in power.  It’s possible that some voters — those who do not like Trump — have lost confidence in the political process and do not think anything would be accomplished by impeaching Trump.

Whatever the reason, most Americans don’t want the House to initiate impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.  That means that House Dems are right to listen to Speaker Pelosi and   pursue a five-part plan.

1.Democrats need to constantly remind Americans that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and is likely to do this again.  This is key because question 11 of the Washington Post / ABC News poll indicates that many Americans aren’t convinced of this.  “Given what you’ve heard or read, do you think interference by Russia undermined the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election, or did it not rise to that level?”  51 percent of respondents felt “It did not rise to that level.”

On April 26th, the FBI issued a new warning about Russian interference in the 2020 election (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/26/us/politics/fbi-russian-election-interference.html ).

2.Democrats need to lead the effort to protect the integrity of the 2020 elections.  On the first day of the new congress — January 3rd — Democrats introduced HR 1 ( https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1) which, among other subjects, addresses election integrity and security,

3.Democrats need to pursue the investigations they have started.  Four Democratically controlled House committees are pursuing information relevant to the Mueller Report.  The primary committees are the Intelligence Committee, lead by Adam Schiff, and the Judiciary Committee, led by Jerry Nagler. Both want to see the unredacted Mueller report.  Schiff is also interested in the question of whether Trump is is being financially compromised when he makes foreign-policy decisions.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is interested in Trump-related financial documents to see if he committed fraud in recent financial dealings.  (they are also looking into his handling of security clearances.)  The House Ways and Means committee is studying Trump’s tax returns to see if he committed fraud.

4.Democrats need to call out Trump on Obstruction of Justice.  Just as he did during the conduct of the Mueller report, Trump is using various tactics to keep the truth from the American people.  Now he and his minions are blocking release of the undredacted report and refusing to appear before House committees.  Democrats need to call out the attempts to obstruct justice and initiate the appropriate court proceedings.

The sheer amount of White House obstruction may force impeachment to commence but we are several months from that point.

5.In the meantime, Democrats need to demonstrate they can “walk and chew gum at the same time.”  Americans are troubled; they are concerned about issues such as jobs, immigration, gun violence, healthcare, clean air and water, etcetera.  They want Democrats to pursue meaningful legislation on these subjects.  In other words, they don’t want House Democrats to solely focus on impeaching Trump.

Therefore, House Democrats have to work doubly hard: get after Trump and, at the same time, generate meaningful legislation.

Five Takeaways from the Mueller Report

After waiting almost two years, the report of the Special Counsel charged with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — the “Mueller Report” — was made made available on April 17th. Although this 448-page report was edited — “redacted” — by pro-Trump Attorney General William Barr, enough was uncensored that we can draw general conclusions.

1.We’re at war with Russia and they are winning.  The most disturbing conclusion from the Mueller Report is that Russia made a concerted effort to alter the results of the 2016 election.  “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”  Vladimir Putin and his cronies wanted Trump to win and engaged in a variety of technical efforts to help him.  It’s not clear what the overall impact was.  Russians operatives were active in key swing states — such as Michigan,Ohio, and Pennsylvania — but it’s not provable that the Russian efforts resulted in Trump’s 78,000 vote margin.   What is clear is that the Russians helped the Trump campaign by concerted social-media campaigns and hacking Clinton-campaign emails.

There’s no evidence that Russian interference has abated.  Indeed, if one looks at the Putin’s objectives, there’s no reason for the Russians to stop because they are succeeding.  Russian efforts have weakened U.S. morale and diminished our role as leader of the “free” world.  (They have also weakened the European Union and brought the United Kingdom to the brink of chaos.)

2. Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge Russian subterfuge.  Despite abundant evidence, Trump refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the Russian intrusion into domestic politics.  The United States is under attack and Trump won’t do anything about it.

This grim reality has many implications.  First, it’s very likely that the Russians will interfere in the 2020 election.   It’s possible that Russian actions will, once again, tilt the scales in Trump’s favor.

Second, Trump’s recalcitrance has further divided the American public.  Trump is promoting an alternative reality that most of his supporters have bought into.  Thus, at a time when America is under attack, and should be unified in the face of the Russian onslaught, the electorate is polarized.

3. Donald Trump interfered in the Mueller investigation and continues to interfere in Democratic efforts to understand Russian actions.  A possible explanation for Trump’s behavior is that he is naive; that he has an unrealistic image of America’s relationship with Russia and cannot bring himself to acknowledge that Vladimir Putin has malign intent.  If this were to be the case, then Trump — disregarding the opinion of the National Security establishment — might be following a path that is sincere but misguided.

Sadly, that explanation does not explain Trump’s numerous efforts to interfere with the Mueller investigation.  While the Mueller report did not find compelling evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it did find evidence of obstruction. (The report notes numerous examples of lying and at least 10 instances where Trump (it would appear) committed obstruction of justice.)  For a variety of reasons, the Mueller team did not indict Trump for obstruction but it did conclude: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”  (This section of the Mueller Report appears to be a “blueprint” for impeachment.)

Since the Mueller report was made public, Donald Trump has blocked most of the Democratic efforts to elaborate key Mueller findings.

To summarize: Russia is waging war on the United States.  We need to mobilize to fend off the attack and Donald Trump is obstructing this mobilization.  This is treason.

4. The Republican Party will not restrain Trump.  The official Republican response to the Mueller Report has been diversion: “Mueller didn’t find collaboration between the Trump Campaign and the Russians, therefore we should move on.”  In other words, Republican leaders ignore evidence of Russian interference and want to change the subject.  (This approach is typified by the April 23rd remarks of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner: “If you look at what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent, it’s a terrible thing.  But I think the [Mueller] investigations and the speculation that’s happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.”)

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, said he would ask Attorney General William Barr, “To appoint a special counsel to determine whether the Obama administration’s Department of Justice unlawfully obtained a warrant to spy on a Trump associate as a way to help bolster [Hillary] Clinton.”

Other Republicans offered a more nuanced response: “Perhaps the Russians did interfere in the 2016 election but so did China and North Korea…”  (A variation on this response is “The U.S. interferes in foreign elections so why shouldn’t the Russians interfere with ours?”

Utah Senator Mitt Romney has been the only dissenting GOP opinion: “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President. I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia.”

The bottom line:  Donald Trump is committing treason and the Republican Party won’t do anything about it.

5. It’s up to Democrats to save the country.  No pressure Dems, but it’s up to you to save democracy.

Between now and the November 3, 2020, election, Trump will continue to be Trump and Republicans will continue to appease him.  Therefore, it’s up to Democrats to provide a voice of sanity.

Until the Democrats chose a presidential candidate, in July of 2020, the leader of the Democratic party will be Nancy Pelosi.  Fortunately.

Given what we’ve learned from Mueller report the Democrats should do three things: First, they ought to continue to publicize instances where the Russian government interferes in the U.S. political process. Dems need to constantly remind us that we are under attack.

Second, Democrats must take steps to protect the 2020 electoral process.  A key objective in 2020 will be for Dems to take back the Senate.  The Russians could thwart this by interfering in swing-state elections.  Someone — Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez (?) — needs to lead the Democratic effort to protect the vote.

Third, Democrats should illuminate Donald Trump’s obstruction.  Pelosi needs to lead House investigations that systematically expose Trump’s behavior and and convince a compelling majority of American’s that Donald Trump is a traitor and should be impeached.

Managing Traumatic Trump Disorder

Just when it appears that Donald Trump’s behavior cannot get any worse, it plunges to a new low. The week of March 11 brought a fresh batch of Trump outrage. For those of us suffering from Traumatic Trump Disorder, it’s time to take new action to protect our mental health.

Most of us have had the experience of being in an abusive relationship. For example, a persistent problem with a toxic family member; or a romantic relationship that turns sour; or a sadistic boss or teacher. An abusive relationship weights on us, bring us down; it can produce depression, anxiety, a general feeling of powerlessness, irritability, as well as physical symptoms, such as insomnia. That’s what’s happening for those of us who are not Trump acolytes (roughly 57 percent of the electorate). We can’t avoid Trump’s malignancy; his abusive behavior is in our faces day after day, causing the political equivalent of PTSD — Traumatic Trump Disorder.

The week of May 11 began with the news of the second crash of a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft; subsequent investigation revealed the culpability of the Trump Administration — Trump had cut corners for Boeing. Next the White House revealed their 2020 budget, which included massive cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. On Wednesday, Breitbart News Network published an interview with Donald, where he growled, “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.” Friday brought news of a terrible shooting spree at New Zealand mosques; even thought the shooter shooter was a self-identified white supremacist, Trump minimized the role of the white supremacy movement in the surge of racial/religious violence. Finally, Trump spent the weekend in the White House, tweeting his frustration with the Mueller investigation, Fox News, Saturday Night Live, Joe Biden, and John McCain, among others.

Trump has become a daily nightmare. The combination of the Mueller investigation coupled with a new set of Congressional investigations led by House Democrats, has increased pressure on Trump and he’s responding with increasingly bizarre behavior. Until Donald leaves the White House, he’s going to be omnipresent on all the news outlets.

Trump is crazy. The most “followed” politician on social media, he’s decompensating in plain site. In the process, he’s infecting all Americans. Those who support Trump (39 percent) have developed a unique response; they’ve become moral relativists who say, “Trump doesn’t tell the truth and I can’t stand his tweets, but I support him because….” The rest of us are continuously bombarded with his malevolence, struggling to hold onto our sanity and our values.

What can be done to manage Traumatic Trump Disorder? Five suggestions:

Admit there is a problem: If you are in a relationship with a romantic partner that turns toxic, an important first step is to admit that it has failed. Often this involves recognition that you must make your own health a priority and that you cannot “fix” the other person.

If you are gaining weight or losing sleep or find yourself being irritable all the time, perhaps this is due to the background drone of Trump’s malfeasance. Obviously, you are not going to “fix” Trump. Admit you’re afflicted with Traumatic Trump Disorder.

Develop a plan of action: While an important first step is to acknowledge the problem, this must be followed by constructive action. This could take many forms: joining a therapy group, taking time to meditate, embarking on a new exercise regime, or joining a resistance group such as Indivisible. What’s common with all these alternatives is that you make your personal health a priority. (And resolve that you will not let Donald Trump bully you into passive submission.)

Practice self affirmation: One of the most important steps, when moving out of an abusive relationship, is to give yourself a daily pep talk, tell yourself that you can do this — you can make the changes necessary to manage your Trump Traumatic Disorder.

If you’ve ever had the experience of adopting a regimen to lose weight, you will be familiar with this process. Each day you go through the weight-loss regimen — such not eating dessert or refusing second helpings. At a regular time each day, you weigh yourself. And as you see the pounds slip away, you acknowledge your progress.

As you deal with Traumatic Trump Disorder, remind yourself that you regaining your health to save yourself and the country.

Set limits: An essential step in dealing with an abuser is setting limits. For example, saying to an abusive relative, “I will not allow you to yell at me and call me names.” (Or, “I will not allow you to physically threaten me.”) One of the problems with Trump supporters is that they are not able to set limits; from a moral perspective it makes no sense for them to say, “I don’t trust him or like his behavior but I think he’s doing a good job.”

How do we set limits with Donald Trump? By denying him air time.

Cut back on your use of social media. Restrict watching TV news or political talk shows. (Avoid Trump press conferences or speeches.) Donald’s a pertinacious abuser. The most effective way to deal with him is to not directly engage with his behavior. (There’s another positive side affect of restricting your use of social media: it reduces the amount of vitriol circulating in the public space — which, over time, will lower the level of rancor.)

Develop a support system: It’s easier to deal with Traumatic Trump Disorder with the support of friends. It’s therapeutic to be part of a group that registers new voters. Or that sings patriotic songs such as , “This land is your land.” Or that works to raise funds for a new community center.

A key element of Trump’s insanity is his insistence: “You’re on your own and only I can save you.” Reject this assertion. Replace it with the mantra: “The people united will never be divided.”

Resist. Reclaim your mental health. And save democracy.

Trump and the Economy

600 days before the 2020 presidential election, it looks like the two major issues will be Donald Trump and the U.S. economy. Of course, this could change if Trump leaves office or there is a cataclysmic climate event.  Otherwise, the election will be determined by voters’ feelings about Trump and, of course, how they view their economic prospects.

The latest polls ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) indicate that 41.9 percent of voters approve of Trumps’ job performance — over the last 12 months this number has stayed in the approval range 38-43 percent.  Of course, not all of these Trump “supporters” approve of Trump’s behavior — a recent poll found that only 30 percent of respondents believed Trump to be “honest” (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/05/voters-believe-michael-cohen-over-president-donald-trump-poll-says.html).  Because I live on the Left Coast, I haven’t had many in depth conversations with Trump supporters, but those I have talked to said the same thing: “I don’t like the way Trump behaves, but his presidency has been good for me;” they thought they were making more money because of Trump.

That’s a remarkably widespread sentiment.  A recent Gallup poll (https://news.gallup.com/poll/247304/trump-rating-economy-top-strength-hits-new-high.aspx ) found that 56 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of the economy.  (This was his highest rating in the Gallup survey;  at the other end of the spectrum, 60 percent disapproved of Trump’s handling of corruption.)  This results highlights a discontinuity in public opinion: most Americans don’t believe the country is headed in the right direction but they are generally satisfied with the economy.

In 2020, will the U.S. economy help or hurt Trump?  To answer this question we should examine Trump’s economic campaign promises.

Jobs: During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to create 25 million jobs over 10 years and to double economic growth to 4%.  According to Factcheck (https://www.factcheck.org/2019/01/trumps-numbers-january-2019-update/) since Trump became President the economy has added 4.9 million jobs (as of January).  Trump promised that most of these would be manufacturing jobs but, as of January, only 436,000 manufacturing jobs have been created.  By the way, a recent Pro Publica article (https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/trump-job-promises) said that of 31 specific Trump claims about jobs, most were misleading.

An October CNBC report (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/01/this-chart-shows-the-types-of-jobs-that-are-thriving-under-trump.html ) indicated that the majority of the new jobs are in the “mining and logging industry” (which includes oil and gas extraction), construction, and transportation.

While there has been an increase in jobs, most Americans have not seen an increase in wages.  Since Trump became President, wage growth has been tepid.  (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/12/should-donald-trump-be-bragging-about-wage-growth/ )  In the fourth quarter of 2018, wages grew at .2 percent.

Trump promised that economic growth would be at least 4 percent.  So far, Gross Domestic Product has reached this mark in only 1 of 8 quarters.  GDP growth was 3.4 percent in the third quarter of 2018 and 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter.  On February 26th, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell told the Senate Banking Committee the Fed, “[Expects] the U.S. economy to grow solidly but at a slower pace this year than the estimated 3 percent growth for 2018.”  Some economists have suggested that in 2020 the U.S. economy will be stagnant.

Prediction for 2020: The economy will slow, fewer jobs will be added, and wages will be static.

Taxes:  During the campaign, Trump promised massive tax cuts: “Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class.”  He did push through tax legislation but it favored the rich at the expense of everyone else.  The most recent Gallup Poll found that 52 percent of respondents disapproved of the way Trump has handled taxes.

Trump promised to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent; his “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” cut the corporate rate to 21 percent.  (By the way, under Trump, corporate profits have increased by 14 percent.)

The net effect of Trump’s tax plan has been to reduce federal income by $1.5 trillion per year.  This produced an increase in the national debt.

Debt: Trump promised to bring down the national debt: “We’ve got to get rid of the $19 trillion in debt. … Well, I would say over a period of eight years.”  Instead, the national debt has grown to $22 billion (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/12/national-debt-tops-22-trillion-first-time-ever/2849978002/); increasing at the rate of $30 billion per month.

Not everyone feels that the growing national debt is a problem; certainly not the Republican Party, which — when Obama was President — moaned about the national debt but, under Trump, has gone silent on the subject.  Nonetheless, Fed Chairman Powell is concerned; he told the Senate Banking Committee: “Federal government debt is on an unsustainable path… I think that U.S. debt is fairly high as a level of (gross domestic product) and, much more importantly than that, it’s growing faster than GDP.”

A growing national debt is likely to produce an increase in interest rates.  It’s also going to affect Congressional appetite for big federal public-sector initiatives such as massive investment in infrastructure.  (During the campaign, Trump promised: “to invest $550 billion to ensure we can export our goods and move our people faster and safer.”)

Prediction for 2020: As the economy slows, the increasing national debt will affect interest rates, dragging down growth.

Trade: During the 2016 campaign, Trump portrayed himself as a master dealmaker who would revitalize existing trade relationships.  Trump’s promised to renegotiate trade deals such as NAFTA.  He’s done this but with uncertain results (NAFTA was replaced by USMCA — the US Mexico Canada Agreement — which has yet to be ratified.)

Trump also promised to to raise tariffs on imports; particularly those from China.  He’s done this.

Despite Trump’s efforts, the U.S. trade deficit has increased by more than 20 percent.  On March 6th, the Commerce Department reported that the trade deficit was the largest on record: $891 billion.  (Including a $419 billion trade deficit with China.)

Prediction for 2020: While the trade issue has an uncertain impact on the overall economy, it does affect public perception of Trump’s leadership.  The latest Gallup Poll indicates that 50 percent of respondents now disapprove of Trump’s handling of trade.

Summary: Heading into the 202 election, Donald Trump is asking his supporters to trust him, in general, and to believe in his economic leadership.  While some will continue to trust him with the passion of religious zealots, others will falter; they will react to a slowing economy and a cluster of negative economic trends.  Trump’s political base will erode.