Remind Me, What do Liberals Believe?

  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Recently, some Democrats have been pondering, “What are liberal values?” Preparing a response, I remembered a values column I wrote seven years ago,”One, Two, Three, What are Liberals Fighting for?” ( )  With a few changes, the column could have been written today.

The first paragraph sets the tone: “These are hard times. The weather’s bad and the economy awful. Obama has lost his mojo… Many Liberals are discouraged and fearful about the 2012 election. But there’s plenty of time to re-energize, so long as Liberals remember who we are and what we are fighting for.

For whatever reason, Democrats periodically lose track of our core values.  In 2007, I wrote “One, Two, Three, What are Liberals Fighting for?” because of our disillusionment with Barack Obama.  In 2018 we’ve lost track of our core values because of our collective anger at Donald Trump and, no doubt, our deep dismay that so many Americans support him.  It’s an understandable reaction; we’re gobsmacked.  Nonetheless, we need to take a collective deep breath and go back to basics.  We need to recall what we stand for.

1. Honesty.  Donald Trump has not only coarsened the nature of American politics, he’s established a norm of chronic lying.  (On May 1st, The Washington Post reported that Trump had told 3001 lies in 466 days in office ( ).)  Liberals have to make an emphatic statement; “We do not support politics as usual; We tell the truth.”

2. Empathy.  Recently, discussing his family-separation policy, Trump remarked, “If you’re strong [on immigration], then you’re accused of not having any heart.”  He quipped, “I’d rather be strong.”  Meaning that in dealing with immigrants Trump would prefer to come down on the side of “strength” rather than the side of compassion.

It’s a false dichotomy.  It’s possible to be strong and also be compassionate.  Remember Martin Luther King Jr.  (And the founders of this country.)

Liberals believe it’s possible to be strong and also be compassionate.  We believe in empathy.  We believe in deep understanding of others; putting ourselves in their shoes.

3. Responsibility.  Barack Obama reminded us of the biblical teaching, “I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper.”  This goes beyond Jesus’ golden rule: “Do to others what you want them to do to you.”  It implies that we have an active responsibility to care for the less fortunate in our country: children, the elderly, the disabled, the disadvantaged…

4. Diversity.  Liberals believe America’s strength is its diversity: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one.” We believe in justice and fair treatment for all Americans, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or religious affiliation.

5. Human Rights. Liberals believe that all of are endowed with basic rights, such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Among these rights is the right to vote and the right to work to fulfill our individual dreams on a level playing field.  (By the way: we value human rights over property rights.)

Underlying these core liberal values is a sense of optimism; a belief that Americans can work together to form a more perfect union. Conservatives don’t share this optimism.

It’s important to recognize that liberals are psychologically more open than conservatives.  A 2012 Scientific American article ( ) reviewed the psychological studies on liberals and conservatives and noted: “Psychologists have found that conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals, which may be why they typically desire stability, structure and clear answers even to complicated questions.”

One way to understand the difference in liberal and conservative worldviews — one open and optimistic, the other closed and fearful — is to consider the underlying mythic structures.  In his classic 2005 essay, “The Lost Art of Democratic Narrative,” ( )  Robert Reich observed that liberals and conservatives hold onto different myths of community.  Conservatives share a fearful narrative: “The Mob at the Gates. In this story, the United States is a beacon light of virtue in a world of darkness, uniquely blessed but continuously endangered by foreign menaces… The underlying lesson: We must maintain vigilance, lest diabolical forces overwhelm us.”

In contrast, Reich said, liberals tell a more hopeful narrative: “The Benevolent Community. This is the story of neighbors and friends who roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the common good…The story is captured in the iconic New England town meeting, in frontier settlers erecting one another’s barns, in neighbors volunteering as firefighters and librarians…

Because liberals and conservatives have differing notions of community, we have different responses when our communities are threatened.  As part of their belief in responsibility, liberals believe “we’re in this together.”  (“I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper.”)  Liberals believe we should work together — through government — to deal with the threat.  In contrast, when threatened, conservatives believe “you’re on your own” and look to outside agencies for comfort: the army, the President, the church, the corporation…

The polarization in American politics is due to the fact that liberals and conservatives operate from a dramatically different values ethos.  They have different mythic narratives, values, and concepts of community.

Trump instinctively plays to this.  His fundamental message is fearful: “The mob is at the gates and only I can protect you.”  That’s why his goto issue is immigration.

Conservatives see immigrants as a threat; the proverbial “mob at the gates.”  In his June 2015 speech, Trump declared: “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”  Conservatives fear immigrants.  (In contrast, liberals see immigrants as human beings that have legitimate reasons to seek asylum in the United States.)

Trump has increased political polarization by playing to the conservative values ethos.  Realistically, the only way to respond to this is for liberals to be clear about their own values and beliefs.  And to organize.



Democrats Need to Stay Cool

The midterm elections happen in four months. in the interim, we’ll have to endure a daily barrage of Trump. Some days, American politics are very depressing; we have to resist the impulse to stay in bed and hide under the covers. To prevail in November, Democrats must stay cool and do the political organizing we know how to do.

Many Democrats were discouraged because the last week of June seemed to be a good week for Trump.  The Supreme Court made several conservative decisions.  Then Supreme Court Justice Kennedy announced his retirement; giving Trump a vacancy to fill with a more reliable conservative.  Trump made several campaign appearances touting the economy, tax cuts, and his immigration policies.  In some polls, Trump’s popularity appeared to increase.

But on June 26th, there was a hopeful sign when 28-year-old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez defeated long-time Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district.  Ocasio-Cortez won for several reasons: Crowley seemed to take his position for granted and ran a lackluster campaign.  Over the 20 years that Crowley has been in office, the 14th district became increasingly diverse; Ocasio-Cortez ran as a Latina woman in a district that is now two-thirds non white.  And, Ocasio-Cortez ran to Crowley’s left; she caught the Democratic wave that favors youth, women, and progressive positions.  ( )

Over the next four months, Democrats can gather strength from two encouraging trends: Trump’s positions and exciting Democratic candidates.

After his meeting with Kim Jong-Un, Trump’s popularity ticked up; now it’s trending down ( ).  Trump’s on the campaign trail but his red-meat issues — tax cuts, immigration, and jobs — don’t resonate outside his base.  Only about one-third of voters say they are better off because of the tax cuts (  Recently, the “highlight” of Trump’s immigration policy has been family separation; however, two-thirds of voters disapprove of this policy (

A recent 538 article indicated that while 49 percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, bigger numbers do not believe he is honest (59 percent) or level-headed (64 percent).  Nonetheless, objective indicators signal that the U.S. economy is heading for troubled waters.  First, investors worry about a flattening yield curve (–and-worry-about-a-slump.html ); which historically has suggested the onset of recession.  Second, Trump’s insistence on tariffs has begun to cost American jobs; for example, Harley-Davidson is moving production to Europe.  (The Chamber of Commerce denounced the tariffs as “the wrong approach.” ( ))  Third, Trump’s foreign-policy stance, unilateralism, is having negative economic repercussions.  As one example, tourism has been hurt; in Trump’s first year in office, tourism was down $32 billion and 40,000 jobs were lost. ( )

Over the next four months, Trump is going to campaign for Republican candidates.  He’ll attempt to motivate his base with his usual polemic:  “Build the wall!”  “Lock them up!”  “I’ll renegotiate all the bad deals.” Etcetera.  This may work for hard-core Trump supporters but it’s doubtful it will work for anyone else.  And it will force Republican candidates to become mini-Trumps.  They won’t run on issues — because Trump is failing on all the usual Republican issues — they will run on support for Trump.

Thus the typical contested race will pit a mini-Trump, typically a middle-aged white man, against an exciting younger progressive Democrat.  The Democratic candidate will not defend the status quo; they will instead run on the issues that matter to their constituents.  That’s what happened in New York District 14.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked around and talked to her neighbors and then she ran on a platform that reflected their concerns: Medicare for all; raising the minimum wage; housing as human right; free college education; abolishing ICE; strict gun controls; etcetera. ( ) To some this appears to be a far-left agenda.  In reality it is an agenda that reflects the needs of voters in New York District 14.  Ocasio-Cortez ran on their issues.

The same set of issues won’t necessarily work in other contested congressional districts but the process will.  Democrats need to build their policy agenda from the bottom up; they need to reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Some Democrats yearns for strong national leadership; they want the Democratic agenda to be established in Washington and then promulgated to Dems –  cast down as “pearls before swine.”  That’s the old way.  That doesn’t work.  (That’s what Republicans continue to do.)

At the national level, Democrats need to agree on values and principles.  They must unite on values such as empathy, caring, and responsibility.  They should agree on principles such as equity, equality, and Democracy.  Then they should recruit young progressive candidates and trust them to run their own campaigns based upon issues that resonate with their voters.

In November, Progressive Democratic candidates can beat Republican mini-Trumps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.  M.J. Hegar running for Congress in Texas’ 31st congressional district ( ).  Beto O’Rourke running for the Senate in Texas (  And Stacey Abrams running for Governor in Georgia ( ).  To name only a few exciting candidates.

Cheer up Democrats.  Get out of bed and start organizing to win.

Telling the Truth About Immigration

Donald Trump plans to make immigration and “border security” the dominant themes in the 2018 midterm election.  On June 24th, Trump tweeted: “We need strength and security at the Border!… We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, [send] them back.”  To respond effectively, Democrats need to tell the truth about immigration; they need to respond to 10 questions.

(1) Why do immigrants want to come to the United States?  Trump and his surrogates spin a consistent dark narrative: “Uncontrolled immigration… illegal immigrants being arrested for the most heinous crimes imaginable… Low-wage foreign workers being brought in to take your place at less pay.”

The reality is more complicated.  Most of the recent immigrants coming across the southern border are fleeing the “Northern Triangle” of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) because their lives are in danger; they’re seeking asylum in the United States.  There’s no compelling evidence that these immigrants are criminals (

(2) How many are crossing the southern border?  Trump routinely calls the influx of immigrants “a crisis” and implies it’s a deluge.

Actually, immigration has decreased since 2000.  (  From a high of 1.64 million in 2000 to a low of 303,916 in 2017.  (By the way, a report in the San Diego Union ( indicated that the diminishing immigrant numbers are causing labor shortages in border states.)

(3) Is this a crisis?  From the moment Trump announced his presidential candidacy, he has used inflammatory immigration language to describe a border “crisis.”  In June of 2015, Trump blamed Mexico: “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”  Nonetheless, a recent Bloomberg article indicated that immigration from Mexico isn’t a problem ( — there are more Mexicans leaving the U.S. than there are those coming in.

Early on, Trump also claimed that Islamic terrorists were pouring across the southern border; he’s since dropped this assertion.

On June 24th, the New York Times investigated whether there is an immigration “crisis” in the border town of Brownsville Texas ( and concluded there isn’t.

(4) Are undocumented immigrants a threat?  Trump suggests that only gang members are coming across the border: “Crippling loopholes in our laws have enabled MS-13 gang members and other criminals to infiltrate our communities.”  A recent San Francisco Chronicle article examined this contention ( and concluded it’s false: “Although research on MS-13 varies, there is little evidence that young gang members are coming over the border in large numbers. [A government report] found that 0.02 percent of the 260,000 unaccompanied children who had crossed the southern border over the previous six years were suspected of being affiliated with MS-13.”

(5) Why are families in custody?  Each year, thousands of immigrants make the arduous journey to the southern border (in 2017, about 25,000 per month).  Once they cross into the United States and request asylum (, they are in protected status; that is, they get to stay in the country until their case is adjudicated.  (And their children, if any, get to stay with them.)

At the moment, the border is, in effect, closed to asylum seekers and so the vast majority of them have no legal way to enter the U.S.  In many cases, they cross the border anyway.  When they are apprehended they are taken into custody and charged with a misdemeanor and jailed.  (That’s the effect of the Trump Administration “zero tolerance” policy.)  They are then held indefinitely until they appear before an Immigration judge.

(6) Why are children separated from their parents? If an adult goes through the regular asylum process, they enter a civil proceeding and their children can stay with them. (An international treaty, which the U.S. signed, guarantees immigrants the right to seek asylum.)

If an adult is arrested, they enter a criminal proceeding and go to jail; in this case, their children cannot stay with them.  (The Trump Administration has recently reversed this decision.)

The Trump Administration routinely alleges that immigrant children are gang members or are being manipulated by gangs.  A recent New York Times article indicated there’s no credible evidence of this (

(7) What rights do immigrants have?  The Constitution guarantees basic rights to anyone who is in the United States — whether or not they are citizens.  Immigrants are guaranteed the right of due process (; that is, they can have their day in court.

(8) Do immigrants have the right to legal representation?  Yes, but it’s not free.  There was a pro bono legal service but, on April 10th, it was suspended by the Trump Administraion ( )

(9) Do immigrants have the right to post bond?  Yes, but most of them don’t have the wherewithal to do this.  A June 24th New York Times article ( ) described the case of a Guatemalan woman who was separated from her son but who was aided by the organization Libre by Nexus; they gave her legal advice, put up her bond, and instituted a lawsuit that resulted in reconciliation.

(10) Can their children be held indefinitely?  No.  There’s a 1997 court decision (Flores v. Reno) that requires the federal government to to place children with a close relative or family friend “without unnecessary delay,” rather than keeping them in custody.  (In practice, it limits the custody to 20 days.)

On June 23rd, the Trump Administration announced a process to reunite the 2053 “separated minors,” it has in custody, with their parents.  As part of this process, the Department of Justice will seek to revoke the Flores decision so that it can hold minors, and their parents, indefinitely.

Summary:  Not surprisingly, Trump has exaggerated and lied about the immigration situation.  It’s not a crisis.  The vast majority of the immigrants are not criminals, they are unfortunates legitimately seeking asylum.  The solution to the situation is to grant immigrants due process and, for legitimate asylum seekers, releasing families from custody until they can have their day in court.

All the President’s Men: Stephen Miller

515 days into Trump’s presidency, three things are clear: Donald’s signature issue is division; he always plays to his base; and his primary issue is immigration. Trump promised his base a wall along the southern border and he’s willing to do anything to accomplish this. His most recent tactic is to generate outrage by separating immigrant families at the border. The architect of this tactic is Stephen Miller.

In his ongoing effort to solidify and energize his base, Trump has pursued a consistent set of campaign issues: immigration; trade; taxes; and energy.  Trump’s most significant failure has been his inability to secure funding for his border wall.

Trump has had a couple of opportunities to get funds.  In September, Donald announced an initiative to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act.  In January, in an effort to save this program, Democrats offered Trump money for his wall in return for protection of the DACA recipients; Trump initially agreed but then backed off, seeking additional immigration constraints.  In May, Trump threatened to veto the $1.3 trillion spending bill, unless there was full wall funding; then he relented and signed the bill citing “national security.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s base has gotten restless.  One of his most notorious supporters, Ann Coulter, has mocked Donald for failing to deliver on his border-wall promise (  Despite Administration efforts, illegal border immigration increased in May. ( )  Trump seized on the tactic of separating immigrant families at the border in order to outrage Democrats and, in effect, blackmail them into providing funds for his wall.

This is also an effort to galvanize Trump’s base before the 2018 midterm elections.  Trump had planned to excite them with tax cuts but this hasn’t worked — the base has figured out that the Trump tax cuts don’t help them.

Stephen Miller is the architect of the tactic of separating immigrant families at the border.  (Miller was also the architect of Trump’s January 2017 executive order restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.)  The 32-year-old Miller has several White House jobs: he advises Trump on domestic policy, particularly immigration and trade; he helps write Donald’s speeches; and when Trump hits the campaign trail, Miller goes with him as an opening act — he fires up the base with an incendiary monologue.

Miller has an interesting history.  He was born into a liberal Jewish family in Santa Monica, California.  As a teenager, Stephen took a hard-right turn and developed a reputation as a “troll” at Santa Monica High School and Duke University.  (In this context, a “troll” is someone who deliberately sows discord by making inflammatory comments.)

In May, Atlantic staff writer McKay Coppins wrote an excellent profile of Stephen Miller (  Coppins observed that when Trump announced his presidential candidacy, Miller realized: “the New York billionaire was the flesh-and-blood manifestation of everything he cared about most: an opponent of political correctness, a hard-liner on immigration, and enemy of the political establishment — and a world-class troll.”

Coppins noted: “People who have known [Miller] at different points in his life say his political worldview is also rooted in a deep-seated instinct for trolling.  Miller represents a rising generation of conservatives for whom ‘melting the snowflakes’ and ‘triggering the libs’ are first principles.”

Stephen Miller is Trump’s closest adviser who is not a member of Donald’s family.  (Miller serves in a White House position that is roughly equivalent to that of Valerie Jarrett in the Obama administration.) There are those that say Miller’s function is to articulate Trump’s impulses.

Reading McKay Coppins article about Miller and a companion piece in Alternet by Kali Holloway ( ) four characteristics jump out.  The first is that Miller is an unabashed racist.  A high-school classmate remembered that Miller had, “an intense hatred toward people of color, especially toward Latinos.”

To say the least, Stephen Miller is strident.  A Duke University official remembered Miller: “He’s the most sanctimonious student I think I ever encountered.  He seemed to be absolutely sure of his own views and the correctness of them, and seemed to assume that if you were in disagreement with him, there was something malevolent or stupid about your thinking.  Incredibly intolerant.”

Miller is mini-Trump.  On the campaign trail he typically warms up audiences by railing against immigration: “Uncontrolled migration from the Middle East….illegal immigrants being arrested… for the most heinous crimes imaginable… Low-wage foreign workers being brought in to take your place at less pay.”

Finally, Miller is Trump’s enforcer on immigration.  Miller is the architect of both of Trump’s signature immigration actions: restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and separating immigrant families at the border. (Since 2013 he’s led the opposition to common-sense immigration reform; in January, Miller convinced Trump to renege on a DACA deal.)

One of the notable similarities between Trump’s signature immigration actions (restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and separating immigrant families at the border) is how sloppy the implementation was.  For example, there’s every indication that when immigrant parents are separated from their children, the government is not taking steps to ensure they can be reconciled later.  This appears to be intentional.

Stephen Miller and Donald Trump are not motivated by civility or legality. They want to generate outrage; foment division.

Donald Trump, Russian Agent

511 days into the Trump presidency it’s clear that Donald is the most destructive US President in recent history. He’s divided the nation, alienated our historic allies, and made worse the planet’s most pressing problems. Although there are several possible explanations for Trump’s disastrous behavior, it’s likely that he is acting on behalf of Russia.

It’s difficult to remember a time when the United States was more polarized.  (Certainly not since the sixties.)  Trump makes no attempt to be conciliatory; he plays to his base all the time.  On issue after issue he demonizes Democrats and all those who oppose him. Trump has legitimized hate and exacerbated racial and ethnic antagonism.  He’s an unapologetic misogynist.  To paraphrase George W. Bush, Trump is “a divider not a uniter.”

The overall state of the nation has deteriorated under Trump.  (The latest Pew Research Poll indicates that 62 percent of respondents are dissatisfied “with the way things are going.”)  A recent report ( found that: “the United States is leading the developed world in income and wealth inequality;” and placed the blame at the feet of the Trump Administration.  (For example, Blue-collar wages are down ( ).)  Trump has jeopardized American democracy.

Why Trump is doing such a terrible job?  One answer is that he isn’t up to the task; he lacks the intellectual and emotional strength to be President.  And it doesn’t help the situation that many of Washington’s “best and brightest” don’t want to work for Trump; as a result he has a thin and second-rate staff.

Another explanation is that Trump is obsessed with eradicating the legacy of Barack Obama — Donald wants to be the anti-Obama.  Therefore his legislative agenda is to reverse Obama initiatives.  Obama was for affordable healthcare; Trump pushed to overturn “Obamacare.”  Obama signed the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy; Trump reversed it.  Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Accord — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action;” Trump unilaterally withdrew.  Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement; Trump plans to withdraw.  In other words, if Obama was for it, Trump is reflexively against it.  Trump has a negative agenda.

By nature, Obama was a collaborator; a believer in “win-win” negotiation.  By nature, Trump is individualistic competitor; a believer in “I win, you lose.”

A third, more sinister explanation is that Trump is a puppet.  The question is who is pulling the strings?  One theory is that Trump is controlled by a small group of Republican oligarchs including Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer, and Charles and David Koch.  This might explain some Trump actions, such as moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a key Adelson issue.  However it does not explain many Trump actions such as the crackdown on immigrants, particularly the Trump’s reversal of the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which the Koch’s oppose.

Another theory is that Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin and Russian Oligarchs. Under this line of reasoning, Putin and his inner circle are calling the shots; Trump goes along with them because he has no choice.

There are many Trump actions that support the notion that Putin is telling him what to do.  The most obvious is Trump’s attitude towards Russia.  For example, even though there’s indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump refuses to acknowledge this (  Even though it appears to many observers that Russia is at war with the US — cyberwar — Trump continues to cozy up to Putin.  (Recently Putin told an Austrian news outlet that he talks to Trump “regularly.” ( ))  Trump recently declared that Russia should be brought back into to the G-7 discussions.  (They were expelled after the invasion of Crimea.)  He plans to invite Putin to the White House.

Given that Putin is controlling Trump, what is Putin’s strategy?  There appear to be three aspects.  The first is to use Trump to weaken western alliances: the United Nations, NATO, the G-7, etcetera.  There’s no doubt that Trump has done this; the most recent example being the June G-7 meeting where Trump left early and refused to sign the group communique.

US global military alliances have also been weakened.  For example, Trump just called off the annual United States-South Korea military exercises — something that was requested by North Korea and Russia.

Trump has weakened US alliances in general.  By withdrawing from the Paris Climate accord, Trump signaled that the United States will no longer work with the rest of the world on climate change issues.  By withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Accord, Trump indicated that he reserved the right to act unilaterally throughout the world.  Now, Trump has shaken up trade relations with America’s largest trading partners (the European Union, China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea…).  Trump has drastically curtailed the US role in all global endeavors such cybersecurity, health, immigration, tourism, etcetera.

Putin also wants to weaken the relationship between the United States and the European Union.  From the onset, Trump has disparaged the EU by actions such as supporting Brexit and demonizing Germany. As a result our EU partners no longer trust the US.

Finally, Putin wants to weaken US democracy, weaken our resolve.  There’s no doubt that Trump has divided the country and as a consequence turned us inward, diminished our role as a global power.

Putin is winning.

Politics by Walking Around

When I was a technology developer, in Silicon Valley, I adopted the technique of “managing by walking around.” Recently I’ve talked to two outstanding 2018 Democratic political candidates who’ve adopted this same technique in their campaigns. While it may not be obvious, “politics by walking around” addresses one of 2018’s burning political questions: what does the Democratic Party stand for?

“Managing by walking around” was originally developed in the 1970’s at Hewlett Packard.  I adopted “managing by walking around” because I was working on a large IBM campus, in Santa Clara, and the engineers who were developing different aspects of my product were widely dispersed.  While I could have relied upon emailed progress reports or formal meetings, I found it more informative to talk to them in person.  (I also thought that engineers were likely to be more candid in a face-to-face conversation.)

In fact, “managing by walking around” is a technique long-used by community organizers.  After returning to India in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi would routinely leave big Indian cities and walk through the sprawling countryside visiting village after village, talking to peasants about their concerns.  Barack Obama used this same technique when he was a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980’s.

The basic notion in “managing by walking around” is that one stands a better chance of understanding what is going on by getting out of the office and going to visit folks where they live or work.  Interestingly enough, that’s the technique being used by two formidable 2018 Democratic candidates: Stacey Abrams, who is running for Georgia governor, and Beto O’Rourke, who is running for Senate in Texas.

One of the notable political characteristics of 2018 is the fact that a disproportionate number of Democratic candidates are women.  Stacey Abrams ( is the Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia.  If I only told you that Ms. Abrams is an unmarried black woman, you’d think she had no chance in this race.  But if I introduced you to Stacey — a graduate of Yale Law School, who is the Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives — you’d come away believing that she is the most qualified candidate.  (On May 29th, Ms. Abrams won the Democratic primary with 76 percent of the vote.)

Stacey Abrams got to this point by systematically going around Georgia and talking to the folks in its 159 counties.  Ms. Abrams is the founder of The New Georgia Project which, for the last four years, has been working to register voters, primarily people of color.  (In 2008, Barack Obama lost Georgia by 200,00 votes and there were 700,000 unregistered black voters.)

While walking around Georgia, Stacey Abrams learned what issues were foremost on the minds of Peach State voters.  The first is economic fairness: “building a diverse economy with good-paying jobs and expanding opportunities for families to thrive.” Stacey learned that Georgians are much more interested in economic issues than they are in Republican shibboleths such as “cracking down on illegal immigrants.”  Another major concern is education: “Georgia must invest in addressing the needs of the whole child from cradle to career – and our investment must extend beyond the walls of a classroom to acknowledge the totality of their needs.”

Does Stacey Abrams have a chance in November?  Yes, says the 538 website ( but she’s a long shot:  “Georgia is one of the most [inelastic states], its electorate is composed mostly of solid Democrats and solid Republicans, with very few persuadable voters. The result is that Democrats have a tendency to get close in the Peach State, but they have a very hard time getting over the hump to 50 percent plus one.”

Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke is in a similar tough race for Senate in Texas ( ).  He’s the underdog to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.  The Cook Report classifies this race as “Likely Republican.”  The 538 website notes: “Texas is about 12 percentage points more Republican than the country overall. If the national environment favors Democrats by, like, 7 points (where the generic ballot has been lately), that might make Texas have a 5-point Republican lean in this political environment.”

If you talk to O’Rourke, you won’t know that he is an underdog.  So far he’s raised more money than Cruz.  And he’s made himself more visible by traveling to each of Texas’ 254 counties — often going to communities where in recent memory no Democrat has visited.

Like Stacey Abrams, Beto O’Rourke has learned a lot by walking around his state.  This is reflected in his ” We should all have a chance to to succeed” platform: “Jobs for Texans who are ready to work and the education and training to be competitive for them.  It means that every one of us is able to get healthy and stay healthy…”

As we approach the critical November 6th midterm elections, many Democrats lament the absence of a unifying national theme.  The Dems most recent attempts targets Trump’s culture of corruption (

The campaigns of Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke indicate that rather than adopt some abstract national theme, state and congressional Democratic candidates should instead practice the politics of walking around.  Democrats should talk to their constituents and run on their concerns, which differ from state to state and district to district.

Talking to voters; a winning concept.

All the President’s Men: Mike Pompeo

The Trump Administration is so dreadful they’ve made the George W. Bush Administration seem almost acceptable in comparison.  Dubya surrounded himself with qualified staff.  Trump has surrounded himself with syncophants. One of the most influential is the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Unlike many of those in the Trump inner circle, Pompeo had an impressive career before entering politics.  After graduating from West Point — number one in his class — Pompeo served five years in the Army.  Then he went to Harvard Law School and briefly worked for a Washington law firm.  In 1996, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, and helped form Thayer Aerospace — with funding from the Koch brothers.  In 2006, he was elected to the House of Representatives — once again with help from the Koch brothers.

In Congress, Pompeo aligned with conservative Republicans such as the Tea Party and the Congressional Constitution Caucus.  He’s socially conservative, a climate change denier, and, as a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, an ardent critic of Hillary Clinton.

On January 23, 2017, Mike Pompeo became Trump’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Notably, Pompeo personally delivered Trump’s daily intelligence briefing at the White House; as a result, the two men have a close relationship.

After Trump fired his first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, he nominated Pompeo for the position.  Pompeo was confirmed on April 26, 2018.  By most accounts, Pompeo has been more effective than Tillerson.  State Department moral appears to be improving.  ( )

At the moment, Mike Pompeo probably has more influence on Donald Trump’s foreign-policy actions than does anyone else in the Administration.  In most regards, Pompeo’s stated beliefs align with Trump’s.

North Korea: Pompeo has been Trump’s point man on negotiations with North Korea — Trump sent Pompeo to negotiate with Kim Jong-un before Pompeo was confirmed as Secretary of State.

In these negotiations, the key issue is “denuclearization.”  On May 13th, National Security Adviser Bolton offered a very specific definition of what North Korean “denuclearization” meant: “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons… taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee… getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.”  Bolton said the process should follow “the Libya model.”

North Korea was offended by Bolton’s remarks and denounced him.  Apparently, Kim Jong-un is looking for a “phased and synchronous” approach to denuclearization; that is, a step-by-step approach whereby they gradually denuclearize while receiving commensurate economic assistance.  Nonetheless, Pompeo seems to be aligned with Bolton, telling the Senate Foreign Services Committee that the U.S. wants “rapid denuclearization, total and complete, that won’t be extended over time.”

At this writing, Pompeo is meeting with North Korean representatives.  He says the negotiations are “making progress” but does not know if a June 12th meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un will occur.

Iran: Pompeo has long been opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement –technically the “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA) signed November 24, 2013 .  As a Congressman, Pompeo said, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”  On May 8th, Trump declared he was withdrawing the United States from the JPA.

Trump wants to negotiate a new JPA that specifically limits Iranian missile testing, gives inspectors unfettered access to Iranian military bases, and extends the (old) JPA’s expiration date beyond 2030.  It’s unlikely that either Pompeo or Trump can gain the support of the other signatories: China, England, European Union, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia.

Russia: To say the least, Trump’s attitude towards Russia has been inconsistent.  On the one hand he called Putin to congratulate him after he was “reelected” Russian president.  On the other hand, he’s claimed, “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.”

In contrast, Pompeo is more hawkish.  During his Secretary-of-State confirmation hearing, Pompeo said: “[Russia] has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe, and doing nearly nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat of ISIS.”

China:  To a lesser extent, Trump’s attitude toward China has also been inconsistent.  Pompeo is a China hawk.  In January,  Pompeo told the BBC that China is as big a threat to U.S. Security as Russia is, citing efforts by the Chinese to steal American commercial information.

Strategic Alliances: Trump has also been inconsistent with regards to support for NATO.  Pompeo has been more conciliatory but echoes the White House mantra that our European allies should spend more on defense.

Global Climate Change: While many statesmen believe that Global Climate Change is a national security threat, Trump and Pompeo do not agree.  In 2013, while still a congressman, Pompeo said, “There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment… Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda.”  Pompeo opposed regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to bolster “clean” power.

Summary: Pompeo is more capable than most of Trump’s inner circle.  Nonetheless, he’s a fellow-traveler, a close associate of the Koch brothers.  Pompeo’s role is to ensure that Trump’s policies align with those of the Republican oligarchs.

All the President’s Men: Mike Pence

The Trump Administration is so dreadful they’ve made the George W. Bush Administration seem almost acceptable in comparison.  Dubya surrounded himself with qualified staff.  As awful as Bush Vice President Dick Cheney was, he had notable Washington experience: he’d served as White House Chief of Staff and as Secretary of Defense.  In contrast, Mike Pence went from conservative talk-show host to Ineffective congressman (and governor) to Trump’s Vice President.

Nonetheless, the primary criticism of Pence isn’t that he doesn’t possess the cojones to perform the job of President, if need be.  The Vice President — who has touted his “Christian credentials” — is castigated because he could act as a moral check on Trump.  Instead, Pence has chosen to be Trump’s primary cheerleader.  His fawning buddy.  His toady.

When Trump selected Pence as his running mate, none of us expected them to be equal partners in a Trump Administration; it was unrealistic to expect Pence to compliment Trump’s imbecility with thoughtful insight.  Most observers recognized Pence for what he was intended to be: an empty suit with impeccable conservative Christian credentials who had the blessing of Republican oligarchs such as the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer.  (In July 2016, Trump was leaning towards choosing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as his running mate; Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway persuaded Trump to choose Pence — for the stated reasons plus the fact that Pence would be better as the liaison to congressional Republicans.  By the way: Conway got her position because of the influence of Robert Mercer.)

Now, Pence has a limited portfolio within the Trump Administration: he placates big donors, such as the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer, and also reassures the religious right.  (In July 2016, the 538 website noted that Pence was the most conservative Republican VP candidate in forty years ( ).)  When there’s a Trump imbroglio, Pence declares fealty to Trump and the religious right is assuaged — this first happened with the October 2016 release of the notorious Trump “Access Hollywood” tape and has continued to the present day with Pence’s support for Trump in the Stormy Daniels scandal.  (Uncharacteristically, on May 21st, Pence spoke out on North Korea, threatening it with “the Libya model.”  In response, a high-ranking North Korean official called Pence, “a political dummy,” characterizing his remarks as “ignorant and stupid.”)

Nonetheless, because of Pence’s high-visibility Christianity, many political observers believed he would provide a moral framework for Trump; they expected that when Donald Trump became president he would soften his behavior and that Pence would play an important role in this process.  That is, they expected Trump would begin to act presidential.  This hasn’t happened and part of blame must fall on the shoulders of Mike Pence.

In his May 9th Washington Post oped ( ), conservative columnist George Will criticized the Vice President: “The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness… is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.”  George Will noted that Pence frequently claims he is “deeply humbled” to be able to serve in the Trump Administration.

George Will castigated the President: “Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic.”  But Will savds his most ferocious commentary for the Vice-President: “Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.”

Why has Mike Pence become Trump’s toady?

There are two possible explanations; neither of which is flattering to Pence.  The first is that the Vice President has realized that the only way to work closely with Trump is to continually flatter him; that Trump is so insecure that he only will tolerate close relations with those who proffer their unwavering love.  This suggests that Pence — realizing that Trump threatens the United States — has decide to dampen his personality and pander to Trump, believing that only this behavior will mollify him.

The second explanation is that Pence actually lacks a moral core; he is a hollow man (“Shape without form, shade without color, paralyzed force, gesture without motion”, T.S. Eliot)  The Vice President is not able to stand up to Trump because Pence is a weak person; he’s playing a part in a political play and only reads the lines that he’s been given — he’s been instructed to be Trump’s toady and that’s what he is doing.

Since Trump became President there have been calls for his impeachment.  Many observers have warned that if Trump was removed from office, we’d get Pence as President and he would be worse.

What we know about Pence suggests that if he were to become President he would be different from Trump.  Nowhere near as crazy.  (No demented early morning tweets.)  Pence would be a more conventional Republican President; an actor, content to read the lines written for him by Republican oligarchs.  Instead of being Trump’s toady, Pence would grovel at the feet of the powerful men who control the Republican Party.

Trump or Pence.  Not an appealing choice.

All The President’s Men: John Bolton

The Trump Administration is so dreadful they’ve made the George W. Bush Administration seem almost acceptable in comparison. Dubya was also a dummy but at least he wasn’t a racist bully. And Dubya surrounded himself with folks that had some connection to mainstream American foreign policy: Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley. Trump’s first National Security Adviser was crazy Michael Flynn; now it’s equally crazy John Bolton.

Since 1981, Bolton has been a bristly far-right Republican insider.  He’s served Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.  In 2005 Dubya nominated Bolton as his Ambassador to the United Nations; because of his contentious nature, Bolton was never confirmed.

Bolton has long been characterized as having an abrasive manner — one foreign diplomat described him as “rude and undiplomatic.”  State Department colleagues accused him of “spinning” intelligence in order to support his views.

In the arena of U.S. foreign policy, Bolton is on the conservative fringe.  His career is littered with inflammatory statements: “There is no United Nations” and dismissing Palestinian claims to statehood as “a ploy.”  He opposes the European Union; in 2008, he urged Ireland not to join the EU and, in 2016 , urged England to leave.  Bolton stakes a position that’s similar to Trump’s “America First” stance; he is skeptical of international law and most international organizations.  Bolton describes himself as a “unilateralist.”

Before his appointment as National Security Adviser, Bolton split his time between legal work in Washington DC, commentary on Fox News, and consulting work for conservative organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Gatestone Institute.  In addition he ran the John Bolton PAC with major support from Republican oligarch Robert Mercer.

Trump’s foreign policy is “personal” rather than ideological; he seems intent on undoing every accomplishment of Barack Obama.  In contrast, Bolton is deeply ideological.

Iran:  Trump was against the Iran agreement — technically the “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA) signed November 24, 2013 —  because Obama was for it.  Bolton has been against the JPA since it was negotiated; calling it a “massive strategic blunder.”  He’s advocated Iranian “regime change” and is a long-time of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK).  ( )

Trump wants to negotiate a new JPA that specifically limits Iranian missile testing, gives inspectors unfettered access to Iranian military bases, and extends the (old) JPA’s expiration date beyond 2030.  It’s unlikely that either Bolton or Trump can gain the support of the other signatories: China, England, European Union, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia.

North Korea:  Trump has seized on “denuclearization” of North Korea as his signature foreign-policy initiative.  Once again, his motivation is personal; he wants to succeed where Barack Obama failed.  He revels in the notion that the June 12th meeting with Kim Jong Un will provide a diplomatic breakthrough and ensure his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bolton has a long record of antagonism towards North Korea; during his tenure in the George W. Bush Administration he advocated that it be added to the “Axis of Evil.”  In February, before he became National Security Adviser, Bolton wrote an editorial ( building the case for a preemptive strike against North Korea.

In early May, it was reported that Trump had discussed removing all US troops from the Korean peninsula; it’s likely that ultra-conservatives, like John Bolton, talked him out of this.  On May 13th Bolton offered a very specific definition of what North Korean “denuclearization” meant: “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons… taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee… getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.”  Bolton said the process should follow “the Libya model.”

North Korea immediately rejected Bolton’s comments: “This is not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue. It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”  At this writing, North Korea is threatening to cancel the June 12th meeting.

Russia: To say the least, Trump’s attitude towards Russia has been inconsistent.  On the one hand he called Putin to congratulate him after he was “reelected” Russian president.  On the other hand, he’s claimed, “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.”

John Bolton is a Russia hawk.  He’s accused Putin of lying to Trump about interference in the 2016 election — Bolton is convinced Russia did interfere — and writes, “The notion that the Russians can help us with terrorism … is delusional.”

China:  To a lesser extent, Trump’s attitude toward China has also been inconsistent.  Bolton is a China hawk.  His associates say, “The new US national security adviser is willing to risk a military conflict with China to achieve President Donald Trump’s goals for America.”

Summary: On many issues, John Bolton bolsters Trump’s positions with a strident unilateralism.  However, Bolton appears to be mired in an old-school view of his office.  He’s eliminated the White House position of Cybersecurity chief.  He’s also disbanded the “global health security” team — the group charged with reacting to pandemics.  Bolton is far more dogmatic than Trump.

Bolton and Trump do not appear to be on the same page regarding negotiations with North Korea.  It doesn’t appear that Bolton will have a long tenure as Trump’s National Security Advisor.

Christianity Goes Astray

When I was a teenager, my grandfather Harry used to dine with us most nights. After dinner he would deliver a homily, usually, “Beware the Russians!” Grandpa Harry warned us about the Russians because they had no ethics: they would say and do anything to win.  If he was alive now, Harry would still fear the Russians, but he would also warn of Christians, because some of them are willing to say and do anything to win.  Witness their support of Donald Trump.

Although their numbers are declining, roughly 72 percent of Americans identify as Christians — approximately 240 million, the largest Christian population in any nation.  More than 10 percent of US Christians do not belong to a congregation.  Of those who do belong to a congregation, the largest group contains evangelical Christians — although their numbers are declining, roughly 60 million are White Evangelical Christians.

80 percent of White Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016.  In their recent study, “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election” ( ) sociologists Andrew Whitehead,  Joseph Baker, and Samuel Perry conclude that for many White Evangelicals, “voting for Trump was… a symbolic defense of the United States’ perceived Christian heritage.”

Whitehead, Baker, and Perry used data from the latest Baylor Religion Study ( to unearth the core beliefs of White Evangelical Christians.  The sociologists identified six questions as measures of Christian Nationalism: The first is “the federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.”  Christian Nationalists reject this because they believe that the United States has a special relationship with the Christian God.  White Evangelical Nationalists respond positively to these five notions:

  • “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.”
  • “The federal government should advocate Christian values.”
  • “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.”
  • “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.”
  • “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.”

White Evangelicals support Trump because he appears to agree with them.  In an interview with the Huffington Post ( Andrew Whitehead noted that since his election Trump has given Christian Nationalists direct access to the White House.  This has led them to forgive his conduct: “They believe God can use anyone, ‘even a thrice married, non-pious, self-proclaimed public playboy,’” to form a Christian nation]. “For Christian nationalists, the end goal is a society that favors Christianity in various aspects… How that project is achieved is of little consequence to them.” [Emphasis added]

If my grandfather was alive, he’d be shocked that these Christians have adopted the “say and do anything to win” morality of the Russians.  The White Evangelical Nationalists have abandoned mainstream Christian ethics.

Christian ethics is an elastic concept and you’ll get different definitions from Christian to Christian.

If we focus on the teachings of Jesus — that is, emphasize the ethical teachings promoted in the New Testament — three ethical principles stand out.  The first regards personal integrity: mainstream Christians believe that those who call themselves Christians should be straightforward and honest; they should speak the truth.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) Jesus said; “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all…  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”  Christians should be forthright; they should not lie.

The second ethical teaching is about social relations: mainstream Christians believe that Christians should be fair and compassionate.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7) Jesus said: “Whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them.”  Treat others as you would like them to treat you.

The third ethical teaching is about equality: mainstream Christians believe that Christians should treat regard others as equals.  Jesus brought a message of love: “A new commandment I give you, love one another.” (John 13:34)  Paul summarized this as: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Donald Trump does not practice these ethical teachings.  He is a liar, bully, sexist and racist.  He is an apostate.

Why then do White Evangelical Christians support Trump?

There are three explanations.  The first is that they do not believe what the mainstream media says about Trump.  They do not believe that he is a liar, bully, sexist, and racist.  White Christian Evangelicals live in an information silo where they get their information from pro-Trump sources and, therefore, trust Trump over mainstream media sources such as The Washington Post.

The second explanation is sociological.  The White Evangelical Christians support Trump because their pastor or preacher tells them they should.  That is, these Christian — and their friends — do not decide independently how to vote — or what is right.

The third explanation is theological.  White Evangelical Christians recognize Trump for what he is but they do not care because Trump is furthering their goal of a Christian Nation and “how that project is achieved is of little consequence to them.”  From this perspective, Christian Nationalists have abandoned mainstream, New Testament Christian ethics and instead adopted Old Testament ethics where — because of the omnipresence of evil — it is permissible to say and do anything to win.

Whenever White Evangelical Nationalists support Trump, they are abandoning mainstream Christian ethics.  They, too, are apostates.

Where’s the Strategy?

Many Trump supporters voted for Donald because they believed he was a successful businessman — rather than a reality TV star. These Trump adherents thought he would bring business acumen to the White House. Trump backers believed Donald had a strategic vision to “make America great again.” Turns out they were mistaken.

There are several attributes of a successful businessman.  One of these is Vision: the ability to see the big picture and to propose a plan to focus the business and achieve its long-term goals.  A successful President also needs vision.

Trump holds up an image, “make America great again,” but doesn’t have a coherent vision of what it will take to accomplish this (noble) objective.  Trump doesn’t have a reasoned domestic or a foreign policy.  There is no strategy; instead Trump presents a random set of assertions — “China is taking all our jobs!” — or tactics — “build the wall!”

The absence of strategy has dire consequences for America’s domestic and foreign policy.  So far, Trump has presented four domestic policy initiatives.  He promised to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” but in reality, he supported repealing Obamacare and designing a replacement later.

Trump promised to create good-paying jobs by a combination of tax cuts and trade policy.  He passed the tax cuts but there’s no evidence they have generated better paying jobs.  So far his tough talk on trade has not produced results.

Trump also promised to create good-paying jobs by a far-reaching $1.5 Trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure.  It hasn’t gotten off the ground.  Fifteen months of the Trump presidency have established that Trump doesn’t have a job-creation or economic strategy beyond helping the rich get richer.

Finally, Trump promised to “protect” America — and coincidentally create jobs — by building a multi-billion dollar wall along the southern border.  Once again, nothing has come of this.

So far, Trump’s domestic policy failures haven’t hurt the country.  Trump inherited a strong economy and it seems to be growing in spite of him.  Foreign policy is a different matter; Trump’s lack of vision endangers us.

Trump doesn’t have a big picture vision of America operating in a world where there are several strong nations and our relationship to them changes depending upon context.  Consider China.  We’re in a “trade war” with China.  Nonetheless we need their help dealing with North Korea.  We have a multifaceted relationship with China.

Because he doesn’t have a realistic vision of world politics, when forced to make a foreign-policy decision, Trump relies upon his instincts.  And his instincts are isolationist.  His slogan, “America first,” means, “America alone.”

We can see this in his handling of global climate change and the Paris climate agreement.  Trump wants the US to withdraw from this treaty in November 2020, “unless we can re-enter on terms the are more favorable for our country.”  (Trump has assigned a delegation to renegotiate terms but so far there has been no progress.)  If the US withdraws, we will be alone in opposition to this deal.

Trump’s position on most foreign-policy issues goes through these two stage: first he wants to withdraw and then he backpedals to, “We’ll withdraw unless we can renegotiate on more favorable terms.”  That’s his position on NAFTA.  And his position on Syria.

To say the least, Syria represents a complicated and dangerous situation.  The United States has military personnel in Syria as part of a coalition to eradicate ISIS.  On March 29th, Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from Syria “very soon.”  Next came Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Douma; then the US and it British and French allies responded by bombing Syria.  While emotionally gratifying, the bombing wasn’t a strategy; as a result, Americans still do not understand what the US plans to do in Syria and the Middle East, in general.

Russia stands in contrast to most foreign countries because Trump doesn’t want to cut off relations with the former Soviet Union; instead he wants the two nations to get closer.  He muses that “getting along with Russia is a good thing” and “I think I could have a very good relationship with President Putin.”  Most foreign-policy experts believe that Russia is the number one threat to the United States and predict that the former Soviet Union will attempt to meddle in the US mid-term elections.  Nonetheless, Trump remains sanguine.  But he doesn’t have a US-Russia strategy beyond his “cutting a deal” with Vladimir Putin.  Trump’s ego has shoved aside his isolationism.

That’s what’s happening in North Korea.  Trump is getting ready for personal negotiations with Kim Jong-Un the North Korean leader whom he once derided as “little rocket man.”  It’s not clear what Trump’s strategy is but it is clear that he sees this as an opportunity to cut a historic deal.

In addition to vision, one of the characteristics of a successful businessman is collaboration — the ability to work effectively with a team.  Trump doesn’t possess this attribute.  He is negotiating the troubled waters of foreign policy on his own guided only by his erratic instincts.

Donald Trump endangers the United States.  And the world.

Another Look at Trump Supporters

After reaching a low of 36 percent, Trump’s approval rating has gradually inched up to 40 percent ( On the Left Coast his (historic) low remains a source of amazement because we rarely hear anyone speak favorably of Trump. Nonetheless, after 15 months in office, and a series of epic blunders, Trump has held onto his base.  What explains this?

Until recently, my primary source for understanding Trump supporters was an excellent book by UC Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Hochshild, “Strangers in Their Own Land.”  Hochschild conducted a five-year study of Louisiana Tea Party voters who eventually became Trump supporters.  Hochschild details their “deep story,” a narrative shared by her interviewees: “You are standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage.  You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male… Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  Most in the back of the line are people of color… Look!  You see people cutting in line ahead of you!  You’re following the rules.  They aren’t.  As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back… Who are they?  Women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers — where will it end?”

There’s a blues song with the title, “I’ve been down so long that down looks like up to me.”  It seems to me that the voters Hochschild interviewed have been screwed over for so long that they’re profoundly disoriented.  Grasping for a lifeline, they latched onto Trump.

Recently, academics have studied this phenomenon.  In their paper, “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election” ( ) sociologists Andrew Whitehead,  Joseph Baker, and Samuel Perry conclude that for many Trump supporters, “voting for Trump was… a symbolic defense of the United States’ perceived Christian heritage.”

Whitehead, Baker, and Perry used data from the latest Baylor Religion Study ( ) to unearth the core beliefs of white evangelical Christians — 80 percent of whom voted for Trump.  After controlling for factors such as party affiliation and religiosity, the sociologists identified six questions as measures of Christian Nationalism: The first is “the federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.”  Christian Nationalists reject this because they believe that the United States has a special relationship with the Christian God; there’s a covenant for a Christian nation.

While Christian Nationalists reject separation of church and state, they respond positively to these five notions:

  • “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.”
  • “The federal government should advocate Christian values.”
  • “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.”
  • “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.”
  • “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.”

Christian Nationalists support Trump because they believe he supports these notions.  (In addition, the Whitehead, Baker, and Perry study found profound anti-Muslim attitudes among the Christian Nationalists; for example, agreement with the statement, “Muslims endanger the physical safety of people like me.”  Trump appears to harbor the same sentiments.)

That explains why Christian Nationalists have stuck with Trump through 15 tumultuous months in office.  In an interview with the Huffington Post ( one of the study researchers, Andrew Whitehead, noted that since his election Trump has given Christian Nationalists direct access to the White House and this has led them to forgive his conduct: “They believe God can use anyone, ‘even a thrice married, non-pious, self-proclaimed public playboy,’” to form a Christian nation]. “For Christian nationalists, the end goal is a society that favors Christianity in various aspects… How that project is achieved is of little consequence to them.”

While “Strangers in their own land” doesn’t directly address Christian Nationalism, many of Arlie Hochschild’s subjects participated in the evangelical Christianity that Whitehead, Baker, and Perry identify as the source of Christian Nationalism.  (And Hochschild’s subjects who don’t seem particularly religious appear to share the same worldview as their neighbors.)

Two of Hoschschild’s observations seem particularly relevant.  The first is that the Louisiana Trump supporters have no confidence in government to fix their problems.  The second is that they place their confidence in business.  Hochschild observed that her subjects “identify up with the 1 percent.”  They believe that big business, not big government will provide the solutions to their problems, whether they are meaningful employment, healthcare, or environmental pollution.  (This derives from the Calvinism that underlies white evangelical Christianity.)  They voted for Trump because they saw him as a successful businessman.

Vice President Mike Pence has an important role because he’s a Christian Nationalist ( ).  Pence has been responsible for many of the initiatives that the Christian Nationalists held dear: the effort to flood the courts with conservative judges; the drive to restrict abortion rights and defund Planned Parenthood; the effort to provide Federal funding to church schools; the drive to restrict immigration; etcetera.

As long as Mike Pence stands by Donald Trump then Trump will have the support of the hard-core component of his base — Christian Nationalists.  And when Pence steps away, and Trump falls, Pence will become President.