The Great Imposters: Reagan and Trump

Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Ronald Reagan.  Trump and Reagan do have a lot in common, both in terms of ideology and their approach to the office of the President.  They’re imposters.  Reagan was an actor playing the role of President; so is Trump.

Ideology: Reagan and Trump were influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism: “unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive.”  This produced the “trickle-down” economic theory that cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy would eventually benefit all members of society.  In the 80’s this produced “Reganomics” and, in 2017, led to the massive GOP tax-code revision.  Trump doesn’t believe in governing for all Americans, only for those he perceives as winners.

Reagan and Trump supported the doctrine of white supremacy.  Reagan’s approach was less overt: he advocated “States’ rights” and deplored “welfare bums” and “welfare queens.”  Trump has a long history of racism and, since Charlottesville, has made public his support for white supremacists.  (Trump’s immigration objective is to block the immigration of everyone who is not of white-European origin.)

Reagan and Trump campaigned with an “America first” perspective.  In 1980 Regan said, “Let’s make America great again.” In 2016, Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America great again.”

Personality: Reagan and Trump marketed themselves as outsiders who would come to Washington and shake up the establishment.  Reagan promised to reduce the power of the Government and noted, “Government is the problem.”  Trump promised to “drain the swamp.”  (Both Reagan and Trump forgot their promises after entering the White House.)

Reagan and Trump were raised as mainstream Christians; at the end of their lives they both identified as Presbyterian.  As they began to campaign for the Republican presidential nomination they adopted a conservative Christian agenda.  Reagan’s signature “values” issue was prayer in the schools.  Trump’s signature issue is abortion.  Both Reagan and Trump began their adult lives as pro-choice and then switched to being “pro-life.”

Reagan and Trump both had an unsavory aspect of their personal history that they labored to conceal.  During the 40’s Regan was an FBI informant who provided the bureau with names of motion-picture luminaries that he believed were communist sympathizers.  Reagan continued his relationship with the FBI into the 70’s.

In the 90’s Donald Trump several times filed for bankruptcy because of problems with his hotel and casino businesses.  It’s alleged that he recovered from a ruinous financial situation by laundering money for the Mafia.  (Allegedly, Trump’s Russia connection started with the Mafia.)

Mental Health: Reagan left the presidency in January of 1989 and five years later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Writing in the Virginia Quarterly Review (http://www.vqronline.org/essay/reagan-retrospect ) Robert Erwin notes that during his time in Washington, Reagan was regarded as an “amiable dunce;” someone who did not understand business essentials or the governmental process but who, in public gatherings, exuded confidence and spoke effectively.

Since Trump became president there has been continuous speculation about his mental health.  Like Reagan, Trump does not appear to understand business essentials or the governmental process.  Trump functions best when he reads from a script.

Management: Robert Erwin writes, “Future historians will have no trouble understanding [the Reagan presidency] as an American example of the ancient practice of political puppetry… put a videogenic executive impersonator out front who would not interfere with trade associations, lawyers, lobbyists, and others doing the important work.”

The Trump presidency follows the Reagan “puppet” model..  Trump is the “videogenic executive impersonator,” while in the background Republican oligarchs organize to get their objectives accomplished.

We can see this model at work in the recent Republican legislative initiatives.

1.2017 Tax Reform: Trump signed the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” on December 22nd.  It passed the House and Senate with no Democratic support.  (Most legislation needs a minimum of 60 votes to pass the Senate; the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by a 51-49 margin because Republicans were able to use a convoluted “budget reconciliation” process: they had to “ensure” that the tax bill only increased the deficit by $1.5 trillion in the first 10 years.)  The GOP tax plan, which greatly benefits the Oligarchs supporting Trump, was shepherded through Congress by Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin (formerly CEO of OneWest Bank) and WH chief economic advisor Gary Cohn (former COO of Goldman Sachs)

2. Immigration: On September 5th, Trump precipitated an immigration crisis by ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and not providing a way for the Democrats to negotiate safe status for the 690,000 DACA young people.  On January 9th, Trump promised that he would soon sign a “clean” DACA bill.  However, on January 12th, when presented with a bipartisan compromise, Trump reneged on his promise.  Democrats briefly shut down the government and then backed off, on January 22.

It’s become clear that Democrats are not negotiating immigration with Trump –whose positions change hourly — but his chief-of-staff, John Kelly, and senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller.

The White House staff keeps Trump in the background and lets Republican operatives do the real work of crafting the legislation.

Caveat: Although Reagan and Trump are strikingly similar, Reagan was a fervent anti-communist.  On the other hand, Trump never misses an opportunity to suck up to Russia.

Five Shutdown Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A better tactic than a shutdown would be a swap for something that Trump wants.  Senator Schumer tried this by offering Trump funding for his wall in return for his support for DACA recipient amnesty. (While Trump initially rejected this offer, he now says he will provide DACA amnesty in return for $25 billion to build the southern wall and many additional restrictions on immigration (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/politics/trump-immigration-plan-white-house.html?).)

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

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

The Politics of Sustainability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his December 18th speech (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/12/18/watch_live_president_trump_outlines_new_america_first_national_security_strategy.html ) Trump articulated an “America First” strategy: “The first duty of our government is to serve its citizens… With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first. We are rebuilding our nation…”  Unfortunately, Trump’s actions belie his words; he continues to prioritize military spending over critical domestic spending.

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

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

What to Expect for 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Never underestimate the ability of Democrats to screw up an advantage.  Nonetheless, at the moment, things like good.  In the latest CNN poll (http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/20/politics/cnn-poll-democrats-advantage-grows-2018/index.html ), when asked, “Which Party are you most likely to vote for in [the] midterm election?” 56 percent responded Democrats and only 38 percent answered Republicans.

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

Early in 2002, George W. Bush’s approval ratings started to decline — despite the boost he had received from 9/11 — and so he decided to boost his poll numbers with the Iraq invasion.  Trump could attempt adopt a similar tactic by launching military action against North Korea.  (Recently, there’s been a fair amount of chatter about this (http://www.businessinsider.com/tillerson-mattis-trump-north-korea-strike-2018-1 ).)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make America Weak Again

Humorist P. J. O’Rourke famously said, “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.” After 11 months of total Republican control in Washington, the United States has been weakened across-the-board. Here are ten ways that Donald Trump and company have diminished American society.

1. Inequality: Rather than lessen the gap between the rich and poor, Trump has increased it.  The Republican “tax reform” plan, championed by Trump, benefits corporations and the rich, at the expense of everyone else.  Writing in The New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-final-version-of-the-gop-tax-bill-is-a-corrupt-cruel-budget-busting-hairball? ) John Cassidy noted that Republican leadership promised revenue neutrality, simplicity, and fairness. “The final bill is a corrupt, budget-busting hairball.”  Republicans claim the tax bill will increase the deficit by $1.5 billion over 10 years; however, “If you adjust the numbers for a series of accounting gimmicks, such as expiration provisions that are unlikely to go into effect, the real cost seems likely to come out at more than two trillion dollars.”

By 2027 the tax bill will lead to tax increases for 87 million households.  Because the bill adds to the deficit, it is likely to lead to decreases in social programs including Medicare.  On the flip side, the Republican tax bill is loaded with special benefits for corporations and the rich; Donald Trump will see his taxes lowered.

2. Healthcare: Rather than build upon the Affordable Care Act the Trump Administration has weakened it.  When he was running for President, Trump made bold promises about his new healthcare plan: “No one will lose coverage. There will be insurance for everybody. Healthcare will be a lot less expensive for everyone.”  None of these promises was fleshed out in GOP legislation.

Instead Trump settled on a “repeal first, replace later” strategy that would have ended the Affordable Care Act.  When this strategy failed, Trump decided to kill the Affordable Care Act by stages.  The Republican “tax reform” plan ends the “individual mandate” aspect of the Affordable Care Act.  This action will dramatically alter healthcare economics and ultimately lead to the loss of healthcare for 13 million Americans.

3. National Security: Rather than strengthen the U.S., Trump has made the America more vulnerable to attack.  He has accomplished this by three specific actions:  First, Trump has made it clear that he does not support the traditional U.S. alliances, such as NATO, the United Nations, the WTO, or others.  Trump, by his words and actions, has indicated that his “America First” doctrine means that in all important decisions — such as the worldwide effort to ameliorate global climate change — he is willing for the U.S. to go its own way.  (For example, Trump is willing to consider a unilateral attack on North Korea.)

Second, by his immigration actions — particularly his ban on travel from Muslim majority nations — Trump has made it clear that Muslims are unwelcome in the U.S.  This impacts all our alliances in the Middle East.

Third, by his biased treatment of Israel, Trump has made it clear that he no longer supports the “two state solution” or other historic U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.  (Trump made this clear by his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel.)

The net impact has been to isolate the United States in the world community.  This will impact our national security and have secondary effects; for example, in 2017 international tourism to the U.S. has declined more than 10 percent.

4. Global Climate Change: Trump’s “National Security Strategy” is based upon U.S. economic strength and military might and ignores the threat of global climate change.  This is consistent with Trump’s studied indifference to the subject and his declared intent to take the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords.   We’re weaker because global climate change threatens U.S. economic strength and our military prowess.

5. Trade: As of the end of October, the U.S. trade deficit in goods and services had increased by 12 percent since Trump became President ( http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/05/news/economy/us-trade-deficit/index.html).  Trump talked about renegotiating trade agreements but hasn’t done it.

6. Public Health: Trump has weakened the Center for Disease Control and set up the U.S. to be vulnerable to a pandemic.  (https://www.vox.com/2017/3/4/14803596/trump-pandemic-response-global-health-cdc)  “America First” doesn’t work during pandemics.

7. Jobs & the Economy: While the economy has continued to grown under the Trump Administration, there’s no evidence that this has produced meaningful change for working families.

The U.S. Gross Domestic Product grew 3.3 percent in the third quarter.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased by 5000 points.  The economy has added roughly 190,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent.  Nonetheless, wages have not kept pace; they have risen only 2.4 percent.

8. Public Confidence:  In November, 2016, only 33 percent of poll respondents thought that the country was headed “in the right direction.”  This past November the number remained at 33 percent.

A recent Qunnipiac poll found that 56 percent of respondents believed that Donald Trump was not fit to serve as President.  These respondents were disturbed by Trump’s demeanor and believed that he does not respect women or people of color.

9. Comity:  Trump’s foreign policy is “America First.”  Trump’s domestic policy is “White men first.”  Numerous polls suggest that women, people-of-color, and members of the LGBTQ community feel less safe with Trump as President.

10. Morality: Trump does not believe in the Golden Rule, does not believe “I am my brother’s and my sister’s keeper.”  He does not believe in making America great but only in enhancing his personal power.  Trump’s not a builder; he is a destroyer.

 

Trump Should Resign

The news story of the year has not been Donald Trump; it has been the “#MeToo” movement, where brave women denounced sexual assault and harassment. This movement brought down Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Now it has prompted new demands for Trump’s resignation.

Sexual assault is one of many reasons why Trump should resign from the presidency.  The most important reason is his lack of moral leadership.

Whether we like it or not, the President of the United States is an archetype.  His behavior serves as a model for many Americans.  The President is, by virtue of his position, someone that dominates the daily discourse of American society.  We are influenced not only by his decisions but also by his daily actions.  Good or bad, the President sets an example for our children and other impressionable members of our society.  In addition, the President represents us to residents of foreign countries.

After Trump won a bitterly contested presidential election, many Americans resolved to give him the benefit of the doubt.  “Let us give him time in office,” they said, “perhaps he will rise to the challenge.”

Trump has not risen to the challenge.  On January 20th, many of us believed that Trump was pathologically amoral.  Eleven months watching him in the White House, have convinced us that our assessment is correct.

On December 12th, USA Today ( https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/12/12/trump-lows-ever-hit-rock-bottom-editorials-debates/945947001/published a scathing editorial, “Will Trump’s lows ever hit rock bottom?”  The editorial was in response to Trump branding New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as a whore — someone who would trade sexual favors for campaign cash — with this tweet: “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)…”

USA Today remarked: “Donald Trump, the man… is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed… Trump’s utter lack of morality, ethics and simple humanity has been underscored during his 11 months in office.”

USA Today detailed six categories of Trump’s “sickening behavior.”

1. He lies nonstop.  ” As of mid-November, [Trump] had made 1,628 misleading or false statements in 298 days in office.”

2. “Trump takes advantage of any occasion — even Monday’s failed terrorist attack in New York — to stir racial, religious or ethnic strife.”

3. He routinely demeans women.  “When accused during the campaign of sexually harassing or molesting women in the past, Trump’s response was to belittle the looks of his accusers.”

4. “Trump has shown contempt for ethical strictures that have bound every president in recent memory.  He has refused to release his tax returns, with the absurd excuse that it’s because he is under audit.  He has refused to put his multibillion dollar business interests in a blind trust and peddles the fiction that putting them in the hands of his sons does the same thing.”

5. He hasn’t done his job as President.  “As of last week, Trump had failed to nominate anyone for 60% of 1,200 key positions he can fill to keep the government running smoothly.”

6. He enthusiastically supported the deplorable Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore: “Trump summed up his willingness to support a man accused of criminal conduct: ‘Roy Moore will always vote with us.'”

And, of course, we have every reason to believe that Trump cooperated with Russians to subvert the 2016 presidential election.  Now Trump seems determined to undermine the Mueller investigation into this treachery.

Sadly, it’s not surprising that Trump has failed as President.  What is surprising is that he continues to have the support of the leaders of the Republican Party and that only a handful of  Democratic Senators — including Gillibrand — have called for his resignation.

However, the American public has turned on Trump.  A new Public Policy Poll (https://www.publicpolicypolling.com/polls/voters-think-trump-resign-harassment-allegations/ ) indicates that “53% think Trump should step down to just 42% who think he should remain in office.”

Donald Trump is a moral cancer afflicting the US body politic.  We have to excise this cancer before it fatally corrupts our country.  Trump must resign.

The Rape of the United States of America

2017 political news contained two preeminent images: Donald Trump and sexual assault. Trump’s objective has been to be dominate the news each day.  Nonetheless, beginning with revelations about the sexual behavior of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Trump tidings were pushed aside by reports of celebrity sexual misconduct.  (Time Magazine recognized this by naming “the silence breakers” their persons of the year.)  The two images are connected. Trump has been accused of sexual assault.  And the Republican Party is engaged in systematic rape of American workers.

A little over a year ago, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was momentarily derailed by the release of a salacious recording where Trump bragged about assaulting women: “When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy.”  Amazingly, Trump survived this.  His most ardent supporters came to regard the recording as “fake news.”  Mainstream Republicans adopted the attitude, “Whatever Trump may have done in the past, he’s preferable to Hillary Clinton.”

During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party and, in the process, “normalized” sexual assault, for the Party faithful.  We see this in GOP support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.  Multiple women have come forward with tales of Moore’s sexual misbehavior — one of the women was 14 when Moore assaulted her.  The mainstream Republican response is, “Whatever Moore may have done in the past, he’s preferable to the Democratic candidate.”

Republicans have adopted the dubious ethical maxim: “the end justifies the means.”  And they have gone farther; they’ve adopted the tactics used to denigrate sexual assault victims.  We can see this in the Republican tax plan that passed the Senate in the early hours of Saturday, December 2nd.

The first of the Republican tactics is the lie.  Trump claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying.  Alabama Senate candidate Moore also claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying.  Similarly, when confronted about problems with their tax bill, Republicans respond with lies; for example, the tax cuts will benefit America’s working families — when actually the GOP tax plan will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthiest one percent.  Republicans have also lied about the impact of the tax bill on the economy; they claim it will cause the economy to grow because of the “trickle-down” effect — when actually there is little evidence that the GOP tax plan will have long-term positive impacts on the economy (to the contrary, there is a lot of evidence that increasing economic inequality will have long-term negative consequences).

The second of the Republican tactics is to demean the victim.  Trump and Moore have suggested that their accusers came forward because they wanted publicity.  Congressional Republicans have argued that the rich deserve tax breaks because they’ve worked hard to make their money and, in contrast, the poor do not deserve tax breaks (or social services) because they have not worked hard (this conforms to the long-time Republican contention that the poor are shiftless).

It’s only a small step from the Trump and Moore statements to the classic rapist contention: “she asked for it.”  In court, rapists often attempt to discredit their victims by claiming the woman “asked for it,” suggesting that the assault victim was a person of loose morals or “incited” the rapist by dressing in a provocative way.  Similarly, Republicans in Congress are suggesting that working-class voters “asked for it” because they have not amassed enough funds to be able to pay for social services.

A recent study of 41 convicted rapists (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4491036/) found they had three dominant justifications for their behavior: 79 percent opined, “it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you.” 51 percent described women as sex objects, “whose function is to be sexually available to men.” And 44 percent “expressed feelings of entitlement, assuming that as a man they could take what they wanted from the woman.”

Sadly, these horrific sentiments are similar to those expressed by Donald Trump and other senior Republicans.  Trump infamously never apologizes, stating that when he perceives he is under attack, he responds in kind.   This is an expression of Trump’s governing philosophy, “it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you.”

Furthermore, Trump historically has treated women as sex objects.  And it’s hard to imagine any American who expresses a stronger feeling of entitlement than does Trump.  This is shown by his remark: “When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy.”

With regards to their tax plan, the Republican leadership has expressed similar feelings of entitlement.  Witness the statements of Trump, Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Ross, and Chief Economic Adviser Cohn.  They’ve all made comments to the effect, “When you’re rich, you can do anything…”

During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party.  In the process, he “normalized” sexual assault and encouraged congressional Republicans to rape America’s working families.

Democrats Need New Leaders

On November 11, Saturday Night Live ran a parody advertisement (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/12/snl-hits-the-nail-on-the-head-the-dnc-is-old-and-out-of-touch/? ) that claimed the leadership of the Democratic Party is old and out of touch.  The skit made public what many Democratic stalwarts have been whispering since the disastrous 2016 presidential election: It’s time for a new generation of Democratic leaders to step forward. This stance is based upon a simple assertion: to win at the national level, Democrats have to attract younger voters and their septuagenarian leaders aren’t capable of doing this.

It’s no secret that the current Democratic leadership is old.  SNL actors portrayed Nancy Pelosi (77), Chuck Schumer (66), Diane Feinstein (84), Hillary Clinton (70), Tim Kaine (59), and Bernie Sanders (76).  (By the way, this past week rumors circulated that former vice-president, Joe Biden, is preparing to launch his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination.)  But it’s overly simplistic to state that Democrats will solve all their problems by deposing their “elders.”

It’s understandable that, in the wake of the 2016 debacle, Democrats would want to “clean house,” to replace the leaders that seem to have contributed to the Trump/Republican victory.  But it’s useful to remember the famous “life cycle of a big project”: stage one is “unwarranted enthusiasm;” stage two “unmitigated disaster;” stage three “hunt for the guilty;” stage four “punishment of the innocent;” and stage five ” promotion of the uninvolved.”  Obviously, Democrats are now in stage three, “hunt for the guilty.”

Who exactly was responsible for the 2016 debacle?  We can start with Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And add the head of the Democratic National Committee, at the time Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  To this we might add the senior folks in the Clinton Campaign such as campaign manager Robbie Mook and campaign chairman John Podesta.

If we move to stage four, “punishment of the innocent,” there are several obvious names from the Democratic opposition:  Bernie Sanders, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, and his small group of political supporters: Senator Jeff Merkley and nine representatives (Ellison, Gabbard, Grayson, Grijalva, Kapture, Lipinski, Peterson, and Nolan).  Next comes the congressional leadership: should Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer be punished because Clinton lost?  If disgruntled Democrats go down the “punish the innocent” road then there is a long list of prominent Dems that could be blamed: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and so forth.  Anyone who endorsed Clinton over Sanders could be put on the list.  But is that wise?

Rather than clean house of the septuagenarians or purge everyone who supported Hillary Clinton, Democrats should take a more pragmatic course: which leaders do we absolutely need going forward?  Which leaders, regardless of their age, do the Democrats need to triumph in 2018?

Before answering this question, it’s useful to consider the results of the November 7th election in Virginia.  Democrats did better than expected; Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam beat his GOP opponent by nine percentage points — when some had called the race a tossup.  In addition, Democrats picked up at least 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and, depending upon recounts, possibly a majority.

There are two reasons why Democrats did so well in the Virginia election.  They ran up huge numbers in suburban and exurban districts; more than offsetting large numbers of Trump voters (white, non-college-educated) in rural districts.  And they ran many appealing female candidates — 11 of the 15 House pickups saw Democratic women replace Republican men.

On November 6, 2018, Democrats should prevail if they remember what worked in Virginia: build on the enthusiasm gap in suburban and exurban districts and run appealing female candidates.  Application of these rules should determine the Democratic leadership going forward.

If Democrats are going to feature female candidates in 2018, it doesn’t make any sense to purge the leadership of high-profile women such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren.  (Pelosi may be 77 but she’s far from over the hill.)  It does make sense to de-emphasize white male leaders such as Chuck Schumer and Tim Kaine.

For any particular Senate or Congressional district race, the standard ought to be: “which candidate or national advocate can generate enthusiasm?”  The answer will depend upon the particular race.  In 2018, 84-year-old California Senator Dianne Feinstein is running for reelection against 50-year-old State Senate leader Kevin de León — another Democrat.  The latest Los Angeles Times poll shows Feinstein with a 58 percent to 31 percent lead over de León primarily based upon name recognition — 80 percent of voters did not know enough about de León to form an opinion of him.  (Nonetheless, the very-well-known Feinstein is viewed favorably by only 34 percent of the prospective California voters.)  The Virginia results suggest that if de León increases his name recognition he’ll have a good shot against Feinstein because his voters will be much more enthusiastic than her voters.

Of course the Democratic Party needs new leadership.  Some leaders such as Barack Obama are going to fade away.  Others, mostly older white men, have lost their relevance.

Going forward it’s obvious that the face of the Democratic Party has to change in a way that reflects the actual demographics of the United States — where white non-hispanic males are only 32 percent of the population.  That suggest emphasizing women, in general, and other under-represented minorities.

 

 

One Year Later: Ten Things We’ve Learned

On election day in 2016, Donald Trump surprised most of us by defeating Hillary Clinton (although he garnered only 46.1 percent of the popular vote).  One year later, what have we learned?

1. Trump is not a joke.  There were some of us who dismissed Trump, gave him no chance to win.  A terrible mistake.

After the election, some observers hoped that Donald would “grow into” the presidency, begin acting presidential.  Sadly, Trump shows no sign of doing this.  He’s continued the same erratic, self-centered behavior.

As a result, Trump is “a clear and present danger” to the U.S.  A recent CNN poll  (http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/28/politics/poll-politics-low-point/index.html) indicated that 71 percent of respondents believe that “politics has reached a dangerous low point.”

2. Trump’s base has stuck with him.  Just before the election, the Huffington Post “Poll of Polls” showed Clinton with a five point lead — 47.3 percent to 42 percent.  Last-minute voters broke mostly for Trump.  A recent Center for American Progress study (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/reports/2017/11/01/441926/voter-trends-in-2016/) suggests that these were primarily white non-college-educated voters.

Twelve months later, Trump averages 38 percent approval.

Many of his adherent refuse to believe the negative reports on Trump’s behavior; they dismiss it as “fake news.”  Others are focussed on a particular issue and, as long as Trump supports that issue, they stand with him.  Based upon the results of the recent Pew Research poll of political typology http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/), Trump’s supporters are those who share one or more of these opinions: Washington politics are fatally flawed and need to be “blown up;”  Taxes are too high;  Immigrants burden the U.S.;  and Washington has taken away “religious liberty.”

3. Trump’s base is driven by a level of desperation that most Democrats don’t understand.  Running up to the presidential election there was persistent polling indicating Americans were dissatisfied with the direction the country has been taking and felt the country wasn’t working for them.

Arlie Hochschild’s book, “Stranger in Their Own Land,” describes the viewpoint of Tea-Party / Trump voters.  They feel that they have been unfairly denied their shot at the American dream.  These voters don’t trust government to do the right thing.  They turned to Trump because they saw him as someone outside the government who could shake things up; “Make America Great Again.”

4. On election day, there was an enthusiasm gap.  It was a very close election and there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost: bad campaign decisions; the Comey announcement; Russian subterfuge; Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters; disgruntled Bernie voters; among others.  Nonetheless, the very few voters I know who voted for Trump tell a similar story, “I didn’t like Trump but I couldn’t stand Clinton.”

On election day, undecided voters broke for Trump; they saw him as the lesser of two evils.  Trump’s supporters felt more positively about him than Clinton supporters felt about her.  In the latest Pew Research report this shows up: Trump is viewed favorably by 90 percent of his core supporters; Clinton is viewed favorably by 70 percent of her base.

5. Obama was an effective President but a crummy leader of the Democratic Party.  On the November 3rd PBS News Hour, commenting on recent revelations about the relationship between the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign,  Mark Shields observed, “It’s proof… of how little Barack Obama cared about the Democratic Party or about politics. He was great at getting elected… He was leaving the party $24 million in debt, therefore, vulnerable to Hillary Clinton’s coterie of big givers.”

One of the many reasons that Clinton lost was that the national Democratic Party was weak.  The blame for this has to laid at the feet of the leader of Democratic Party, Barack Obama,

6. Bernie Sanders probably has an important role going forward but it’s not clear what it is.  There’s a lot of mainstream media attention given to divisions in the Democratic Party, primarily Bernie supporters versus Hillary supporters.  I don’t see this here (Berkeley).  In 2018, there’s so much work to do that Bernie, and his supporters, will be an asset to the resistance.

7. Russia impacted the election but it probably wasn’t the determining factor.  There’s little doubt that Russia intervened in the election: by hacking the DNC emails, by running malicious social media ads, and other activities. Nonetheless, I believe that, in 2016, if Obama had been running against Trump, Barack would have won.

8. Trump has been a disaster for the environment.  Trump is so terrible across the board that it’s difficult to focus on particulars but here are two.  Trump, by his statements and his political appointments, has set out to reverse everything the Obama Administration did to protect the environment.  As one consequence, the U.S. stands alone in opposition to the Paris Climate Agreement.

9. Trump has encouraged bigotry.  Before the election, we believed that Trump was prejudiced; everything he’s done as President has convinced me that he’s worse than we imagined — a white supremacist.  Across the nation this has had a devastating ripple effect; Trump has encouraged hate.

10. Democrats still don’t have a message.  Fortunately, in 2018, that won’t matter.  The November 7th results suggest that the midterm election will be about change, throwing Republican white guys out of house.  Trump has given the resistance enough ammunition that it doesn’t need one focussed message.

Trump’s Tax Cut Challenge

After 9 plus months in office, Donald Trump has accomplished little. He’s very unpopular and has failed to fulfill his major campaign promises,  Major Republican donors are withdrawing  funding.  In response, Trump has embarked on a desperate campaign to cut taxes. Even though Republicans control Congress, tax reform faces an uphill battle.

According to the political website 538 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) Trump’s popularity has remained stable for five months; it’s currently at 56.4 percent disapprove and 38 percent approve.  Nonetheless, Trump’s base is sticking with him; the latest Gallup Poll indicates that 78 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.

Trump’s poor performance has affected the Republican Party.  In the aftermath of the GOP’s latest failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, GOP fundraising has tanked (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/us/politics/republican-donors-obamacare-repeal.html?_r=0)

In a desperate effort to assuage the biggest Republican donors, Trump and the GOP congressional leadership have embarked on a tax-reform initiative that promises big tax cuts for corporations and billionaires.  (Senator Elizabeth Warren says that, over ten years, Trump’s plan will add $2 trillion to the deficit.)  Given the composition of the Republican base, it’s not a sure thing that the GOP tax-reform initiative will succeed.

Recently Pew Research (http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/) updated their landmark study of American political behavior.  Pew Research divides Republican voters into four segments: Core Conservatives, Country First Conservatives , Market Skeptics, and New Era Enterprisers; for a total of 42 percent of the electorate.  To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite these four segments.

Trump’s problem is that he has made different promises to each group.  Core Conservatives (13 percent ) are deeply skeptical of the social safety net and favor lower tax rates on corporations and high-income individuals. This is the most politically active of the four Republican groups and is primarily composed of non-Hispanic white men.

The key Core Conservative issue is tax reform.  Representative GOP Core Conservative politicians are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Most of the support for Trump’s tax reform initiative will come from Core Conservatives.

Country First Conservatives (6 percent) are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups.  They are predominantly white non-Hispanic and and, of the four groups, the staunchest supporters of President Trump.

Pew Research says the key Country-First Conservative issue is immigration.  Pew notes that no (zero) Country-First Conservatives agreed with this poll statement: “Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.”  “Nearly two-thirds of Country First Conservatives… say that ‘if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.'”

Country-First Conservatives have vastly different attitudes about corporate taxes than do Core Conservatives; only 35 percent of Country-First Conservatives want to see business taxes lowered.   (Representative Country-First Conservatives are Iowa Congressman Steve King and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.)

Pew Research doesn’t assign a distinct category to Conservative Evangelical Christians.  Members of this group — which overwhelmingly supports Trump — are split between Core Conservatives and Country-First Conservatives.  According to Pew Research, “68% of Country First Conservatives… say that it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.”  44 percent of Core Conservative share this sentiment.

Identification as a conservative evangelical is an important consideration because the most important issue for this group is not tax reform but rather the set of issues that evangelicals lump under “religious liberty.”  (When conservative evangelicals talk of “religious liberty” they usually mean the freedom to discriminate against a particular group — gays, blacks, immigrants, whomever — on the basis of a fervent religious belief.)

Market Skeptics (12 percent) stand out from other Republican-oriented groups in their negative views of the economic system: “An overwhelming majority say it ‘unfairly favors powerful interests.’ Most also say businesses make too much profit, and they are the most likely Republican-leaning group to want to raise taxes on corporations (55%).” This is the Republican group least inclined to support tax cuts for corporations and billionaires.

The key issue for Market Skeptics is reduction in the size of government.  Many would call them Libertarians; Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is a representative member of this group.

New Era Enterprisers (11 percent) are a catchall GOP category.   They are younger and less socially conservative than the other groups.  “While they are not affluent, a large majority (72%) say they are generally satisfied with their financial situation.”  Interestingly, this is Republican group least approving of Trump’s conduct in office: 39 percent view it negatively and 38 percent have mixed feelings.

After Core Conservatives, New Era Enterprisers are most likely to support tax reform.  They believe the economic system is fair and have a positive view of corporations.

Summary: To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite the four segments of the Republican Party.  Given the Pew Research data, that appears to be a difficult task.  A key element of the tax-reform proposals are substantial cuts for billionaires and corporations.

It appears that only two-thirds of Republican voters approve of the proposed tax-reform plan (Core Conservatives and New Era Enterprisers).  Given that Republicans will get no Democratic support for their tax-reform initiative, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump and the GOP leaders don’t have the votes they need.

 

Have We Reached Trump’s Tipping Point?

Even by Trump regime standards, the past several weeks have been unusually tumultuous. First, Trump botched aid to Puerto Rico; then he muffed condolence calls to widows. Now he’s being condemned by two Republican Senators. Have we reached the long-awaited ‘tipping point”? Is this the beginning of the end of the Trump era?

Since Trump took office, Democrats have been waiting for one of two events. Either Trump would mature and begin to act presidential, or his base would desert him. After nine months, it’s clear that Trump is not going to change. (On October 24th, Republican Senator Jeff Flake deplored Trump’s “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.”)  Given Trump’s inflexibility, are we nearing the point where his base deserts him?

According to the political website 538 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) Trump’s popularity has remained stable for five months. It’s currently at 56.7 percent disapprove and 37.2 percent approve; since May, Trump’s approval ratings have stayed within a band of 54 to 56 percent disapprove and 37 to 39 percent approve. He’s an unpopular President but, based on this metric, his base is sticking with him.

Democrats find Trump so repugnant that’s it’s hard to imagine that any American would support him.  Nonetheless, he’s tightened his grip on most Republican voters.  There are three reasons for this.

The first is that Trump commands the right-wing media.  While the mainstream media (MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post…) has reported adversely on Trump’s behavior, the distinctly right-wing media (Fox, Breitbart…) has been supportive.  New Yorker columnist Elizabeth Drew noted Trump’s political skills: “He can… make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep [his base] loyal.”

To gauge the gap between left-wing and right-wing media, turn on your TV and use the remote control to switch back and forth between “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC and “Sean Hannity” on Fox News.  They two shows emphasize different topics and have dramatically different perspectives on Trump.

In addition, Republicans no longer trust the mainstream media. In August, The Economist  (http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21725822) published a poll indicating, “When Republicans were asked whether they trusted Mr Trump more than the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN, at least 70% sided with the president each time.”

A second reason why Trump has tightened his grip on the Republican base is that he expresses their worldview. (The latest Gallup Poll indicates that 80 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.)  In his classic, “Moral Politics,” University of California professor George Lakoff notes that conservatives and liberals have two vastly different world views; conservatives have a “strict father” worldview and liberals have a “nurturant parent” worldview.  Recently Lakoff observed: “Most Trump supporters have Strict Father morality… They see Trump as bringing America back to their values in a powerful way, making their values respectable and in line with the way the country is being run. Trump’s presidency has given them self-respect. Their self-respect is more important than the details of his policies, even if some of those policies hurt them.”

This worldview chasm is made clear by the difference between Democrats and Republicans on key issues.  Recently Pew Research (http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/) updated their landmark study of American political behavior on the left and right.  On immigration, study participants were asked if immigrants “Strengthen the U.S. with hard work and talents.”  The average participant agreed (65 percent) but no “Country-First Conservatives” agreed (0 percent); they saw immigrants as “a burden.”

Most Republicans see the world so differently from Democrats that they approve of a President whom most Democrats deplore.

There’s a final reason why Trump’s base is loyal: He knows how to tailor his message to make each Republican constituency believe that Trump will deliver their most cherished political objective.  Pew Research divides Republican voters into four segments: Core Conservatives (13 percent), Country First Conservatives (6 percent), Market Skeptics (12 percent), and New Era Enterprisers (11 percent); for a total of 42 percent of the electorate.  Trump has promised Core Conservatives that he will deliver massive tax cuts.  He has promised Country First Conservatives that he will “build the wall.”  (And he has promised conservative evangelical Christians that he will guarantee “religious liberty.”)

The Pew study indicates why Trump has Trump has held onto his base but also suggests his vulnerabilities.  Obviously, at some point he has to deliver on his promises.

In addition, the Pew study indicates that Trump’s aberrant behavior is beginning to wear on Republican voters.  Core Conservatives and Country First Conservatives generally approve of the way that he conducts himself.   In contrast, only 24 percent of Market Skeptics like the way that Trump conducts himself as President; only 32 percent regard him as “even tempered.”  (Only 49 percent of New Era Enterprisers describe Trump as honest.)

The Pew data suggests there is room for Trump’s approval ratings to plummet due to his “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior” and his failure to deliver on his key promises.  We’re inching closer to Trump’s tipping point.

Marching with Trump “Through the Valley of the Shadow”

American cultural history offers many images of walking through difficult times: “Going down the road feeling bad,” “You got to walk that lonesome valley,” and Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”   At the moment,  Donald Trump is marching us “through the valley of the shadow.”

To say the least, it’s a nerve-wracking journey. Thanks to Twitter and the mainstream media, daily we’re subjected to Trump’s tantrums.  For many of us this is profoundly disturbing.

On September 15th, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/help-president-trump-is-killing-me/2017/09/15/  ) wrote that Trump had caused an alarming rise in Milbank’s blood pressure.  Milbank quipped that he was now afflicted with “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder” (THUD).  In a followup column (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-trump-actually-is-making-us-crazy/2017/09/22/ ) Milbank reported that his readers reported a number of THUD-related symptoms: “Disturbed sleep. Anger. Dread. Weight loss. Overeating. Headaches. Fainting. Irregular heartbeat. Chronic neck pain. Depression. Irritable bowel syndrome. Tightness in the chest. Shortness of breath. Teeth grinding. Stomach ulcer. Indigestion. Shingles. Eye twitching. Nausea. Irritability. High blood sugar. Tinnitus. Reduced immunity. Racing pulse. Shaking limbs. Hair loss. Acid reflux. Deteriorating vision. Stroke. Heart attack.”  These comments came from those who disapprove of Trump.  From Trump supporters, Milbank received vitriol: “Hurry up and die already! . . . just see a dr. You know, Dr Kevorkian.”  Milbank concluded, “Trump is causing, or at least aggravating, mental-health problems on both sides.”

Milbank is not alone in this observation.  Health professionals tell me that, since the election, they have seen a dramatic increase in client ailments triggered by the behavior of Donald Trump.  Several factors contribute to this  “THUD epidemic”:

1. Trump is omnipresent in the news.  (He’s far and away the most commonly searched for Google topic.)  Nine months after Trump entered the White House, it’s clear that he wants to dominate the news every day.  To say the least, Donald has an enormous need for attention.

2. A common response to Trump overload is to turn off the news.  But, in the long term, that’s not a satisfactory answer because, whether we like it or not, Trump is President of the United States and has enormous power.  He can affect our lives in many different ways: starting a nuclear war, ignoring the threat of global climate change, mishandling a natural disaster, shutting down a critical governmental service, and on and on.

Trump is marching us “through the valley of the shadow.”  We’ve been thrust into an abusive relationship.

3. Trump is moody and volatile.  From one day to the next, we don’t know what Donald will do.  Occasionally he seems presidential, as when he went to Las Vegas and comforted victims of the terrible shooting.  On many other occasions, Trump acts like a petulant child and lashes out at whomever he believes is disrespecting him.

For many Americans, Donald Trump is a difficult person whom we cannot get away from. In effect, we’re trapped in an abusive relationship.  It’s not surprising that so many of us experience THUD.

What should we do about this?

When a healthcare professional is confronted with evidence of an abusive relationship, they advise the victim, “get out.”  A doctor or therapist will tell the abuse victim to leave the abuser and go somewhere safe.  Indeed, many of us know people who, because of THUD, have left the country.  However, for most of us leaving the US is not an option.

Three options remain.  One is to check out.  Many Americans have absented themselves from all political discussions.  In effect, they are pretending that Trump doesn’t exist or that he cannot affect them.

Another option — popular in Washington — is to pray for intervention.  After Trump was elected, rumors circulated that his family — particularly his daughter, Ivanka — would keep him check.  When this hope proved to be foolhardy, some suggested that the Republican Party “elders” would keep Donald in check — somehow Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would limit Trump’s damage.  Recent months have proved this hope also to be foolhardy.

At the moment, the dominant intervention fantasy involves “the good generals”: Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly (both retired Marine Corps generals).  The notion is that Mattis or Kelly will stop Trump from a catastrophic action caused by a fit of pique; for example, they will keep him from bombing North Korea because Donald feels disrespected by Kim Jong Un.  Nonetheless, it’s obvious Mattis and Kelly have no influence on domestic policy: they haven’t intervened to stop Trump from repealing DACA or rolling back environmental protections.

If direct intervention with Trump seems inconceivable, there remains the possibility of blocking him in Congress.  That is, the notion that in 2018 Democrats will regain control of the House or Senate and use congressional power to check Trump; for example by passing legislation to defend “Dreamers”or to strengthen environmental protections.  This is the most viable remedy for all of us who suffer from “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder;” work to ensure that Democrats win in 2018.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  To walk without fear we must take action to block Donald Trump.