Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Thinker

Mitt Romney for president

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate, was in my dreams last night, and in a good way. Dreams are all about fantasy, and in my dreamy dreamland Mitt became of 45th president and I was ecstatic. I was ecstatic not because I am particularly happy with the idea of Mitt being our next president. I just like the idea of Mitt being president a whole lot more than Donald Trump.

But you are thinking: didn’t we just elect Donald Trump to be our 45th president? That is horribly true unless a number of highly improbable events occur on or before December 19.

In the first scenario, Trump inconveniently dies or gets assassinated before inauguration. Given that he is obese and over 70, it’s not impossible some medical issue will unexpectedly fell him.

In the second scenario, it’s possible that those recounts underway in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania will succeed. If Clinton somehow wins these states after all, she becomes our 45th president. This would be fine with the 65.5 million people who voted for her, currently 2.7 million more than voted for Donald Trump (and rising).

In the third scenario, 37 electors pledged to Donald Trump defect and vote for someone else instead. This would give Donald Trump 269 electoral votes, not enough to win, but throwing the decision on who would be the next president to the U.S. House of Representatives. That would not work because each state gets one vote and they would have to choose from the top three vote getters. And since most states are Republican, it’s pretty clear Trump would still win.

Then there’s the Hamilton electors scenario where disgruntled Republican and Democratic electors collude and pick a compromise candidate. This would have to be done before December 19, when the electors meet in their state capitals. In this scenario, admittedly very wacky, Mitt Romney might be their compromise choice. If they hang together and wield their 270 (or more) votes, Mitt would be #45. These faithless electors might face prosecution in many states, but free legal help has been pledged for those electors that put the good of the country first. A handful of electors have already openly stated they will be faithless. (Unfortunately, a number are pledged to Hillary Clinton.)

Obviously all these scenarios are pretty far fetched (to say the least) but they at least had me feeling better at 4 a.m. this morning when I could not get back to sleep after another Trump-as-president nightmare woke me up. In my dreams I kept seeing Mitt’s clean-shaven face and Reaganesque hair. I also kept hearing his calm voice and grammatically correct sentences. The nice thing about Mitt though is he both looks and acts presidential. And he’s a white male, which is very important to Trump’s supporters. You just can’t see Mitt flying off the handle or sending out 3 a.m. tweets. You know that in spite of his prejudices that he’s a sober and respectful guy.

As president, Romney would follow the rule of law probably with obsessive faithfulness. He would make sound judgments. He would consult with politicians and other governments before making any major decisions and probably try to govern by consensus. Yes, he might appoint conservative jurists. But when it came to things like Obamacare, he would be mindful of the implications of getting rid of it. After all it’s based on Romney-care here in Massachusetts. In short, Mitt has a brain, a conscience and is driven by forces greater than simply his own ego like, say, God, with whom Trump has but passing interest.

Of course, this isn’t going to happen. As we watch Trump put together his administration, it’s pretty much a horror show. His own supporters should be appalled, given that he is appointing masters of Wall Street to many key positions. It’s mostly a cabinet of white guys with undertones of racism, but he managed to convince Ben Carson to be his Housing and Urban Development secretary, quite a stretch for a guy whose only qualification for the job is that he lived in public housing as a child. His proposed administration is rife with not just bad, but catastrophically bad choices. His national security adviser tweets fake news stories. His choice for U.N. ambassador is a woman (good) but right now is the governor of South Carolina whose foreign policy experience might consist of greeting visiting trade delegations to the state (bad). His EPA choice is explicitly hostile to the agency’s mission (WTF?)

And where is Mitt in all this? Mitt has met with Trump a number of times, and is being considered as Secretary of State. If he gets this nomination, he would be one of Trump’s few good choices. It’s not that he has much foreign policy experience, other than helping to manage the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But he has a good grasp of foreign policy, as he demonstrated in the 2012 campaign.

My suspicion though is that Mitt is being toyed with. Trump is notorious for holding grudges, and Mitt was particularly outspoken against Trump when he was running for the GOP nomination. Trump likes to, well, trump other people: show his power and superiority and then find a way to humiliate someone as thoroughly as possible. Getting Mitt’s hopes up and making him think he’s in the running when he is not would be much more true to his modus operandi. But we’ll see.

Still, I dream of Mitt in the Oval Office, and I find it curiously calming. When it comes to it, all I really want is a grownup in charge of the country and this means I’ve had to lower my standards tremendously. It’s abundantly clear that Trump does not qualify as a grownup, but he will sadistically enjoy shaking down and terrifying America as much as he can for as long as we are unwise enough to give him the reigns.

 
The Thinker

Election 2016 postmortem, part two

Now that the shock of Donald Trump’s election is some three weeks behind us it’s time for a second look at this astounding election. There has been misinformation about this election that time now allows us to clear up. Submitted for your consideration:

  • Trump has no mandate. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and it looks like it will be by about 2.5 percentage points and 2.5 million votes. Assuming no states flip as a result of recounts starting in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump wins the Electoral College 306 to 232. This was achieved by narrow wins in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan by 70,000, 70,000 and 17,000 votes respectively. Had Clinton won these states, she would have won 297 to 243. Trump won by turning out more people in states that mattered, but just barely. In voting terms, he just barely squeaked by. Even if there are no voting irregularities, his election is tainted. He is not the people’s choice. He is the Electoral College’s choice, which has a built in bias that favors rural states. Trump and Republicans should not read too much into this win. This would normally suggest that governing should be done through accommodation and finding middle ground. Of course, the opposite is likely to happen, so most Americans will greet his government with hostility when it dramatically overreaches because of its lack of mandate.
  • Democrats picked up seats. While Democrats failed to win majority in either the House or the Senate, they did pick up 2 or 3 Senate seats (depending on the outcome of a Louisiana runoff). In the House, Democrats picked up 6 seats. When Republicans try to ram through their agenda because they have “united” government they are likely to find that it will breed the sort of resentment that Obama and Democrats experienced after their wins in 2008. Moreover, Trump will not have a filibuster-proof Senate.
  • Republicans picked up just two governorships. Only two states (New Hampshire and Missouri) flipped from Democratic to Republican governors. The North Carolina race has still not been called, but Democrat Roy Cooper has a narrow lead that is unlikely to go away. Considering there were 8 Democratic seats and 4 Republican seats up for grabs, this is not too bad for Democrats.
  • Democrats netted 1 state chamber. Republicans took Iowa and Minnesota’s senates and Kentucky’s house. Democrats shut Republicans out of both houses in Nevada, turning it into a blue state, and flipped New Mexico and Alaska’s house chambers.
  • Republicans made modest pickups in state house and senate races. Across our fifty states, Republicans added 40 state seats and Democrats lost 41 seats. While that sounds like a lot, there are 7383 seat altogether. That’s an overall change of about .55% nationwide.

So by any standard except for the Electoral College, this was not a Republican wave election. So when you hear this pervasive line, challenge it because it is wrong. Republican gains were largely a result of doing a better job of turning out voters than Democrats did, but the result was marginal at best.

The big win (and really the only big win) that Republicans can celebrate is winning the presidency. No doubt this is a huge win and worthy of celebrating if you are a Republican. And that came from squeaking by in a number of states. This win was due entirely to the Electoral College. The wide variance in this election between the popular and the electoral vote points to what is becoming a pervasive failing of the Electoral College. It used to be highly unusual when the electoral vote was at variance with the popular vote. Now it’s becoming almost routine, given Gore’s narrow loss to Bush in 2000.

Both the U.S. House and Senate remained in Republican hands, but by somewhat diminished margins. Republicans maintain a huge lead in control of statehouses and governorships, but the margins did not change significantly in this election.

The reality is that except for the change in the party and the character of our next president, the 2016 election netted out to be very much a status quo election.

 
The Thinker

Constitutional crisis dead ahead

Like many of you I woke up November 9 feeling nauseous, upset and wanting desperately to hide under my pillow. Actually, I didn’t sleep on election night. I tried but it just didn’t work. My heart was racing like a freight train. I didn’t have a stethoscope, but I’m sure my heart was skipping beats. It was made worse being in a hotel on election night and having to fly home the next morning. CNN was everywhere. With three hours between flights and stuck in Atlanta I wanted escape CNN but found no escape from it until I got home.

Days later I still hadn’t fully recovered but the shock of Trump’s election faded somewhat. That was until a few days ago when Trump started appointing and nominating people that will form his administration. I should not have been surprised that it was full of racists, misogynists, anti-environmentalists, pro-lifers, and pretty much the worst possible people for positions of power, including a U.N. ambassador with no diplomatic experience and a new Education secretary that hates public schools.

Then there was Trump himself, still clueless about the office he will inhabit in two months. He’s not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton he said, which at least had the effect of pissing off most of his supporters: you know the ones who delight in making people they hate suffer. They were relentlessly chanting, “Lock her up!” at his rallies. How good of you Donald, except that as president you would have no authority to do this at all. That would be a decision that your Attorney General could independently decide to look into, but anyone who has read the news in any detail knows that Hillary won’t be charged with anything anyhow because the FBI has already looked into it and there is no legal case.

It’s totally embarrassing how clueless Trump is about the actual powers the president has. You would think after campaigning for a year that he would have a clue by now. He doesn’t and he doesn’t seem to be appointing advisers who understand or will tell him the limits of the president’s powers. He plans to wing this presidency thing, like he winged his campaign, which guarantees he will continually do stupid and probably illegal stuff. He’s not even in office yet and he’s doing stuff that would have special prosecutors nipping at his heels in any other administration. You know, stuff like promoting his business interests when he meets with an Indian hotelier carrying his Trump brand or when talking to the president of Brazil. Then there is the goofy stuff, like for every new regulation he says he will get rid of two others. He just waives a magic wand and it will somehow get done.

A year or so back when I was contemplating a Trump presidency, I suggested that if elected both Republicans and Democrats would happily impeach and convict the guy. Now I am not so sure. Logically he has so much baggage that with his shoes tied together it shouldn’t take too many steps before he falls on his face. He disposed of the Trump University lawsuit this week (after saying he wouldn’t settle) but there are plenty more suits in the wings, and potential criminal charges if allegations of having sex with a minor can be substantiated. It’s unclear now whether House Republicans would impeach him or not. Their success is now tied to Trump’s. Even if impeached, would the Senate (also in Republican hands) convict him, when doing so would undercut the Republican brand and set them up for failure in 2018 or 2020? Or will he instead spend four years bullying his way through the Congress and let the voters sort it out in 2020? The latter is much more likely.

Everywhere he goes Trump is likely to be hounded by protesters. When protestors aren’t hounding him there will be plenty of Democrats in Congress as well doing their best to block his agenda. With Clinton’s lead in the popular vote now in excess of two million votes, and with suspicions by some of vote rigging in key precincts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, it feels like America is on the verge of being ripped apart. We will have open racists in the White House. If his plans come to fruition then at best certain Muslims might be in a national registry, at worst in internment camps like we did to the Japanese during World War 2. The feeling of injustice regarding the election is pervasive; the ineptness of the incoming administration looks catastrophic. Will Americans respect our constitutional government when it is at such variance with the popular will? What will we do when Trump orders entities like the National Guard to round up “illegals” in our sanctuary cities where mayors have pledged they will not let this happen?

Maybe many of these fears simply won’t come to pass. Trump seems to be signaling that he is going to kiss off many of his supporters now that he’s won the election: he basically cucked them. He told the New York Times that he would look into this climate change thing. Moderating on a few things though will hardly be enough because he will have cronies in place to do maximum damage. He shows both the temperament and the predisposition of someone willing to see what he can get away with through fiat. It’s clear that most of those who voted for him will cheer him on if he tries, and support him with their personal arsenals if necessary.

It looks like some eighty years after Sinclair Lewis wrote his novel It Can’t Happen Here, it’s happening today and it’s our misfortune to live through such times. Political institutions seem no longer moored to the constitution, but only to their party loyalties. In the 1970s both Democrats and Republicans came together to hold President Nixon accountable for actions by his staff to undermine the 1972 election. It led to Nixon’s resignation. Today, voter suppression is a feature of red states. I don’t see holding Trump accountable happening during his term. Except for a few principled Republicans like Senator John McCain, these characters are almost absent in the Republican Party.

It was this realization that made me feel sick and queasy again. I sense in my gut that our nation is in great peril, a constitutional crisis is coming, and it’s coming soon. I also sense that there are simply not the men and women of character that will do follow the law and our constitution.

I sure as hell hope that I am wrong.

 
The Thinker

Assessing the Obama administration

Nearly eight years later it’s not too soon for a final critique of the Obama administration. How you feel about the administration is probably tied toward your feelings for Obama himself, and few seem to be neutral. In spite of Donald Trump’s general election win though it’s clear from Obama’s final approval ratings that overall Americans approve of him and his administration. The last approval rating I saw had his approval rating at 54%, and it’s been above 50% for some months now. Given our highly polarized political climate, this is pretty good. This means that overall Obama would probably earn a B as president.

Americans expect their presidents to be supermen. Trump’s election proves this is still true. Indeed, it’s probably true to say Trump won by projecting this superman image. Trump has famously promised to drain the swamp. We’ll see how well he does over the next four years. It’s not hard to predict that he will fail at this. As President Obama found out, institutional forces are stronger than any president or Congress. That’s because real change is hard.

Obama though started out his term with a Democratic House and Senate. Trump will have the same privilege but not with the veto-proof Senate that Obama enjoyed. When you have this trifecta real change is possible. Obama’s success here was really due to having a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2008. That’s how the Affordable Care Act got enacted into law. It almost certainly would not have happened otherwise.

The ACA is arguably his greatest domestic achievement, one that Trump and Republicans seem intent to unravel if they can. Getting it even through a Democratic congress though proved frustrating and nearly didn’t happen at all. Obama’s mistake was to stay relatively disengaged from its creation. The wheeling and dealing in Congress in its creation gave it structural deficiencies that may cause it to be repealed. It’s unclear whether if Obama had bashed some heads it would have emerged in a form that would have been more viable. It’s clear in retrospect that not having a public option was a serious flaw, as it made it harder to contain costs. Still, much of the ACA worked. It ensured twenty million Americans who hadn’t had health insurance before, mostly due to the expansion of Medicaid. For at least four years these people will have had quality insurance, mostly for the first time, although how affordable it was is debatable. If “affordable” means plans with high deductibles and copays, it sets up a losing scenario for those with the least income.

So I think it’s fair to criticize Obama for being too disengaged in the politicking aspect of his job. It’s clear that he preferred the cozy White House to the grubby business of wheeling and dealing with Congress. Particularly after the Republican wave in 2010 it was clear that his wings were clipped and that the remainder of his administration would be tactical in nature to keep what was earned. His game became mostly defense at this point. To his credit, he played an excellent game of defense against an implacable and united Republicans in Congress.

It’s also quite clear to me that his effectiveness was undercut substantially by being mixed race. Perceived as black it pressed all the unstated buttons of racial animus among Republicans, feelings that were clearly expressed in the election of Donald Trump. Republicans were not ready for a black president, not even a black Republican president, let alone a woman and it unleashed a powerful and almost primal rage from them. His race caused them to dig in their heels to an extraordinary degree and animated opposition against Obama. It arguably created the Tea Party, an overwhelmingly racist group of people. Certainly if Obama had been white there would still have been tension, but it’s unlikely he would have been so relentlessly stonewalled by Republicans.

So as a wheeler-dealer Obama gets at best a C. That’s not to say that he didn’t show other extraordinary strengths elsewhere. As Commander in Chief, he gets an A from me. We haven’t totally gotten out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but our presence in both countries is minimal while people who live there are shouldering more of the burden. He proved intelligent and tenacious as a Commander in Chief, famously tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden.

Obviously he had some foreign policy failings, principally Syria and Libya. In truth though neither of these, particularly Syria, was solvable and bound to explode in anyone’s face. Some of his decisions were controversial, such as the use of predator drones, often killing innocent people. But he adroitly kept us from getting entangled in yet another foreign war. If Trump proves to be typically Republican, our armed forces will be back into these melees soon after he is inaugurated.

One of the most amazing aspects about his administration was its scandal-free nature. This is virtually unheard of and was certainly not representative of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations. Obama proved himself to be a man of integrity and those values projected down through his entire administration. I expect this to change quickly in a Trump administration. In retrospect this will be seen as one of Obama’s greatest achievements. In addition he never succumbed to the moral failings that dogged other presidents.

Obama proved a seasoned administrator who was systematically cautious and thoughtful before making any decisions. He was adamant that decisions should be based on facts and by diving deeply into the underlying policy issues. He was uniformly cool under pressure, and made smart decisions like using diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program.

Personally, Obama was a consistent gentleman. He was thoughtful and always measured his words carefully. He was truly inspirational but like any president he was caught in a political web notoriously difficult to fundamentally change. It’s not clear to many Americans, particularly those who opposed him, but he did work in their best interest, such as economic policies that caused resurgence in the auto industry and spurred the growth of green technologies. Time will make this clearer. It won’t take many years (or even months) under a Trump administration before even his critics will feel wistful about the man, someone at least consistent, reliable and caring. He will be missed and appreciated, and distance will make this fondness grow.

Thank you, Mr. President for being a truly model civil servant.

 
The Thinker

The relentless but necessary fight ahead

It looks like the Grinch stole Christmas this year. The orange-haired Grinch surprised us by arriving on November 8, 2016. It’s a date that for many of us will equal, rival or possibly surpass September 11, 2001. I’ve heard from a couple of friends who see that date as in the day when our extinction went from probable to certain.

We are about to put in charge an administration that does not believe in climate science. To the extent that some of them do, it’s to deny that man has any significant role in it. There was some hope that if Hillary Clinton was elected that the United States, as the world’s principle carbon polluter, might at least change the dynamic with a massive investment in clean and renewable energies. President Elect Donald Trump is a climate denier, so this means four years at best where we will actually accelerate climate change.

It’s appalling that he could be so out of touch with science, but Republicans have been so for years. Ever see The Music Man? “Professor” Harold Hill tells the children he sold band instruments to that they don’t actually have to know how to read music to play their instruments. He has “the think system”. This is essentially how the Republican Party has chosen to handle climate change. It all goes much better if you simply decide it’s not a problem. They deny temperatures are rising. They deny what you may have proved in chemistry class: that when you add carbon dioxide to a closed system it retains heat longer.

So essentially the Republican Party has raised a big middle finger to future generations, dramatically raising the likelihood of resulting environmental damage, species extinctions, one of them that is likely to be the species homo sapien. Hitler’s Holocaust killed between six and eleven million people. Last week through the democratic process, Americans elected a man who could kill all seven billion of us, plus many generations yet to arrive and suffer. He’ll kill more if he can loosen environmental regulations. We already kill kids every year from all the ozone and pollutants in the atmosphere. You can find them every day at your local hospital suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses. By electing Donald Trump we may be setting in motion an irreversible set of events destined to kill our posterity and make their lives miserable until their premature demise. We get all this from a “pro-life” party.

Nice going America! Now what should we do about it? That is what I have been pondering. There are lots of answers but it boils down to one thing: fight like hell. There’s not much choice here unless you think extinction is a good idea. Obviously, I’m not alone. One of the few encouraging things since Trump’s election has been the reaction to it. Sustained and virulent protests have broken out in most major cities. There are plans for a massive protest in Washington during Trump’s inauguration.

We need large and sustained protests that we have not seen since the Vietnam War. Protests need to be loud, personal and relentless. Wherever Trump goes, protesters should follow him. His properties should be picketed and protested. His brands should be undercut. His products should be boycotted. This is a good start.

What Trump really needs though is to be regularly, loudly and persistently shamed. We must make it clear that we are ashamed that he is our president and that he is the antithesis of our values. He is not Reagan’s shining city on the hill. His “Make America Great Again” campaign should be exposed for what it really is, a “Make American Hate Again” campaign.

Democrats should not accommodate Trump or any of the Republicans in Congress on any of their initiatives. Republicans spent eight years opposing everything Obama and the Democrats proposed. Democrats now must turn the tables. Oppose every Republican initiative. Oppose votes on repealing Obamacare or undoing Medicare, as Speaker Ryan proposes. Senate Democrats should filibuster where possible. Any Democrat in Congress should simply refuse to vote on any initiative that changes the social compact. Let voters see who stood for them.

To the extent they can be organized protestors need to be loud and obnoxious, heckling Republican congressmen and women and senators who support Trump’s plans. At every rally aside from the theme of the day there should be placards and signs saying Trump is a racist. Trump’s life and life for any Republican member of Congress should be made as difficult as possible within the constraints of the law. Protest outside your Republican congressman’s house when he is home. Protest outside his local offices too. Show up at their town meetings and yell like hell.

While this is going on, Democrats need to organize. As I discussed in my last post, Democrats need to quickly reinvent themselves, casting off the Clinton baggage and embracing those elements that will fight for the environment, working people, and for a country where privilege is not doled out based on race or sex, but on merit.

Also while all this is going on it’s likely that “unified” Republican government will flounder as factions with the GOP splinter. The role of Democrats becomes to help amplify these differences so that they become discordant. To the extent Trump can fulfill his policies, they are likely to cause an economic backlash anyhow. The price of these changes needs to be felt sooner rather than later, so that voters can reassess their intentions when 2018 elections roll around. It’s not impossible for Democrats to regain Congress in just two years. Consider that in 2004, Democrats lost the presidency; and Republicans gained three seats in the House and four Senate seats. In 2006 though Republicans lost both the House and the Senate. It can be done.

Not only can it be done, it must be done. We are called by history and by future generations who deserve meaningful lives to get it done. Join me in jumping in with both feet.

 
The Thinker

How the Democrats blew it and how to not blow it next time

I’m over the initial shock of the election, although it follows me into unwelcome places, like my dreams. The election seemed pretty easy to call in advance. Pollsters were in agreement. Everything had been sliced and diced. Although a two-term president is rarely succeeded by someone from his own party, it sure looked like with the worst Republican candidate ever things were going to break for Team Blue.

Obviously it didn’t, leaving pretty much everyone except Michael Moore and Scott Adams with egg on their faces. Heck, even the Trump campaign was planning for defeat. You could see in Trump’s “victory” speech that he was a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing; it’s almost liked he hoped to lose. Trump’s visit to the White House yesterday was also surreal. He had a stunned-bunny sort of look, like this is the last sort of job he wanted. And it’s worth noting that while Trump trounced Clinton in the Electoral College vote, Clinton still won the popular vote. She joins Al Gore and Samuel J. Tilden in the exclusive club of candidates who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote (and who had not been president already.) By any standard, Trump’s election is not the will of the people.

In retrospect pollsters failed because no one had come up with a way to model the racist vote. Racists generally won’t self identify themselves but based on the results the unidentified racists were about 5% of voters, all voting for Trump. And the reason they couldn’t be identified before was that Trump was our first modern openly racist candidate, well, at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So it’s important to understand that even with the wind at their backs Democrats had the odds stacked against them. Generally presidents don’t quite deliver the change envisioned, even if they are well liked, so voters will be inclined to try the other party. And Trump was all about change. But he also had people enthusiastic about him. Enthusiastic people vote. While there certainly were Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, most of us were half-hearted supporters. Those who show up to vote with the most passion get their candidate elected.

It’s not that Democrats didn’t have a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was that candidate. He had amazing crossover appeal. During the Democratic primaries, Sanders generally won the rust belt swing states that normally vote Democratic but were picked off by Trump. It’s impossible to know that if Bernie had been the party’s nominee whether he would have done better than Clinton, but my guess is he would have. At least some of Clinton’s firewall states would have fulfilled their function and that may have been the edge that was needed.

So it’s worth recalling just how Clinton got the nomination in the first place. It’s not that she didn’t do a lot to earn the nomination. But she was the Democratic establishment’s choice. Clinton spent years cultivating these relationships and of course she also had Bill to help her as well. It was obvious that DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz had her finger on the scales for Hillary. But even if she hadn’t, long before Bernie had even entertained the idea of running for president, Hillary had an in with the various Democratic state party establishment. She had banked most of the party’s superdelegates. If every eight years is going to be a change election, it’s counterproductive for a party to have a system in place that discourages change candidates. The Republican Party did not, and it worked in their favor in this election.

So the lesson for Democrats should be clear: get rid of the party’s superdelegate system. To his credit Sanders brought this to the attention to the party after his nomination was out of the question, and sort of won. Superdelegates don’t go away but they will be reduced by two-thirds. This will make it easier for candidates like him to get a foothold in the future, increasing the odds that the eventual party nominee will be a rank and file pick, rather than the establishment’s. It’s a pretty good bet that rank and file will be closer to understanding who can actually win an election than the party’s elite as they won’t be living their lives in the insular political bubble that the party’s elite do.

But can real party change happen? Getting rid of most of these superdelegates helps. It would be better to get rid of all of them. What’s critical for 2018 though is to find a new party chairman that gets this. Howard Dean, who became the DNC chair after the 2004 election is willing to give it another try. His 50-state strategy was very successful. It allowed Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate just two years later. We need Dean or someone who believes the same things. We don’t need Wasserman-Shultz or Donna Brazile again as both have proven ineffectual.

We also need to say goodbye to the Clintons. Both came with baggage and it dragged down the ticket, even if some of their issues were more smoke than fire. (Hillary’s emails, for example, was mostly a big nothing burger.) They represent the “new Democrat” that Bill Clinton invented in 1992. That business-friendly, Republican-lite branding no longer works and does not distinguish the Democratic Party. Both Bill and Hillary need to exit stage right. The party needs to hear from a variety of voices, hopefully mostly new voices to see what resonates within the party of today. The party is morphing too, but feels moribund. It’s a party that is increasingly diverse and multicultural. But it should not be the party of non-whites. It should appeal to those Trump voters who were sucked in by Trump’s popular and economic message. Whites still form the majority of voters in this country. Elections cannot be won without significant number of crossover white voters. For whatever reason, except for younger white voters, whites and white women in particular failed to deliver for Democrats in this election.

If you want people to vote for you, give them some compelling reasons to vote for you. Democrats failed here, choosing an establishment candidate with baggage and high unfavorables over a change candidate. Voters need to feel like the candidate is someone that gets their concerns, and has a track record of fighting for their issues. It’s hard to relate to a candidate who is a millionaire and gives $250,000 speeches to Wall Street firms. You need someone authentic with fire in their belly instead, someone a lot like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The only good news for Democrats is that Trump is likely to quickly implode. He brings a lot of baggage to his presidency including a lot of civil suits and possible criminal charges for having sex with a minor. If he chooses to do those things he says he will do, he will piss off his voters who buy his brand but not most of his policies, like throwing undocumented immigrants out of the country. The Democratic Party need not be down for long. But if it is to recover quickly, it must do so with agility and intelligence. It needs to morph into a populist party again.

 
The Thinker

Election 2016 postmortem

I owe Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) an apology based on recently lampooning him. So sorry Scott, and congratulation on being one of only a handful of the few pundits who correctly called Donald Trump’s win last night. In retrospect his reasoning was sound although counter-intuitive: voters voted their fears, and not their aspirations. Like in Dilbert he sees humans as fundamentally flawed and easily led astray. Point taken last night.

Trump’s win was nothing short of astounding and flew in the face of conventional wisdom and polling science. Trump turned out his supporters, not that Clinton did not, just not in the way Trump did. And that made the difference in state after state, giving him narrow wins in one swing state after another, and not so narrow wins in states that had fewer hues of the rainbow among its populace. (Ohio, I’m looking at you.)

If Trump has a talent, it’s in instinctively knowing what people want to hear and then pandering to it. Married with an ability to make the news by being outrageous, he proved it was an effective model for winning the presidency. And so here we are on the day after trying to figure out what this means. It sure doesn’t look good.

It is tempting to blame Hillary Clinton, a flawed candidate in the opinion of a majority of Americans, but actually far less flawed than Donald Trump. Perhaps I’m naive, but I think that if Bernie Sanders had won the Democratic nomination, he and Democrats would be the big winners this morning. One of the amazing things about yesterday’s election is that Trump triumphed in spite of polls of his own supporters that said he was terribly flawed candidate. But he was different, an anti-politician and that apparently was all that mattered. He pushed their buttons because he knows how to do that so well. They don’t seem to care that his policies if enacted will probably depress their standard of living, as it is already doing with world markets. They don’t care about deficits and unemployment his policies will create, and that more of their income will go to people like him. And they sure don’t care about the impact on global climate change, if he follows through on withdrawing us from these compacts.

And so we have very likely the least qualified candidate ever as our president elect, an impetuous, vain, spiteful and frankly deeply evil human being, lofted to this position principally by people who approve of these moral failures. They want someone to be their champion. If Trump’s experience is any guide, he will be the last person to be a champion of the white middle class.

Democracy is very scary at times. I think it’s fair to say except with the election of Abraham Lincoln which started the Civil War, no election will be of more consequence to our country or is more likely to explode in our faces. Politically though it was very successful. Republicans retained a lock on Congress, Democrats picked up only two Senate seats and we’ll get another very conservative jurist on the Supreme Court. It’s quite the surprise ending, only it feels more like a horror show, except this is no show but real life. And it was accomplished by pandering to the worst about us, rather than the best.

I sit here in the deeply red state of Tennessee which voted roughly two to one for Trump, despite the churches pretty much on every street corner. Tennessee though like most red states is full of contradictions. Here in Nashville sin is rampant and easy to acquire, along with temporary salvation when you fail. You can buy moonshine in the liquor stores, I found a “gentlemen’s club” (titty bar) across the street from my hotel and the cars tend to be large and very noisy. I return home to Massachusetts today where I am hoping the wreckage of last night and the natural world around me can help wipe this foul taste from my mouth.

And I’d like to sleep again.

 
The Thinker

Trump is accelerating the Republican Party’s end

I gave in and started paying for online news, specifically the New York Times. My timing was fortuitous because I came across this article today that I might not have otherwise seen. It underlines just how damaging Trump has become to the Republican Party’s brand.

Trump is unlikely to win next Tuesday and I’m not losing any sleep over the prospect. It’s not out of the range of possibility, as I noted recently. Yesterday, election analyst and election guru Nate Silver posted a scary post-Halloween article on just how Trump might triumph against the forces against him. Considering the stakes of his winning, the prospects are scarier than Halloween ever will be. But even assuming he wins the Republican Party still has one foot in the grave.

As the article points out, this is because Trump’s candidacy prematurely stirred up a hornet’s nest of voters in Southern states that hadn’t necessarily accepted the Democratic Party brand. There was an opportunity during these last eight years for Republicans to rebrand the party, as its leadership tried fruitlessly to do after the 2012 loss. Instead, the party doubled down on the exact policies that allowed it to succeed in 2010, which amounted to opposing pretty much everything the other side proposed on principle. Then along came Donald Trump to take these toxic elements, whip them into a frothy frenzy, and ride it to a nomination and now to the final days of the campaign. It’s a message that sounds anti-woman, is definitely anti-immigrant and anti-minority.

The South of course is no longer a plantation economy. It is growing quite rapidly. Unsurprisingly the growth is coming mostly in its larger cities. The South is no exception to the general rule that when people live together more densely, they are more in each other’s faces.

And that’s what’s happening in Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Austin, New Orleans and many other places in the South, and most of these cities have Democratic mayors. That’s not to say it’s entirely smooth. Few major cities are integrated and most have areas where certain ethnicities predominate. But there are enough, and daily doing your job puts you in touch with so many people from different cultures and perspectives that fear slowly moves to wariness, then to relaxation and then toward general acceptance of people for who they are, unless they are in your face.

When Trump pushes the buttons that excite his own largely white and more rural base, he stimulates reactions elsewhere too, mostly from the very people he is criticizing who are already living in the South, but in increasingly larger numbers as opportunities emerge mostly in its cities. This is allowing red states to become purple, putting states like Arizona and Georgia into potential play for Democrats. By turning them off, Trump is also turning them off on the Republican Party. This allows these people to form identities that tend to align with the Democratic Party. It’s not necessarily that they are drawn to the Democratic Party, it’s that there is no sane alternative. The Republican Party won’t go there. It will only retrench and become more steadfast and hardened in its positions.

As I noted many years ago, the Republican Party can’t win the demographics game. It must change or die. The longer it defers the process the less probable it becomes that they can pull it off at all. This is why I suggested last month that the Republican Party might be about to implode altogether. We’ll know after the election and it depends on whether Republicans control any part of government. Most likely the only part left that they will control will be the House.

Many Republican senators are already saying that if Hillary Clinton is elected they will refuse to consider anyone she nominates to the Supreme Court. More anti-governance though won’t buy them more votes. In 2010 this tactic brought in the Tea Party, but that market is tapped out. All Republicans can do is maximize the turnout of those already drawn to it. They cannot draw from voters turned off by their message, particularly when the people they scorn are exactly those they need to wield political power. Their actions will please their base, but hasten their demise, assuming the election doesn’t take care of that next week.

If somehow everything turns up roses for Republicans next week, their fundamental problem is still unsolved. They may be able to govern, but they won’t be able to change hearts and minds. If they gain or retain power, more of the same will simply drive animosity against them and exacerbate their inevitable decline.

For Republicans, it’s a game of heads I win, tails you lose. And Democrats are flipping the coin.

 
The Thinker

Clinton’s Halloween electoral surprise

Yes, it was pretty surprising last Friday when FBI Director James Comey seemed to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Agents apparently found emails on a device used by former congressman Anthony Weiner, you know Mr. Sexting that may be related to the FBI’s probe of Clinton’s private email server. It surprised me on many levels:

  • That Comey thought this was worthy of announcing. None of the emails were actually from Clinton or originated on her server.
  • That they were found on Weiner’s device. My guess is that his wife at the time, close Clinton confidant Huma Abedin needed to do some remote office stuff, and borrowed his computer.
  • That Comey went ahead and made the announcement in spite of being warned by many in the Justice Department and from people on his own staff not to do so.
  • That he was apparently unmindful, or did not care, that doing so would open him to a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from interfering with elections.

In any event, it was a well-timed Halloween surprise, and maybe that October surprise against Clinton that apparently Wikileaks didn’t get around to. It managed to dominate the news all weekend. It predictably had Republicans both outraged and cheering an anticipated political effect. A poll suggested that Trump was now leading Clinton in the crucial swing state of Florida. And of course Donald Trump was busy making false comparisons, ludicrously saying this was “worse than Watergate”. Umm, in what universe is the possibility that there might be some unknown and classified email related to the Clinton email investigation remotely similar to a constitutional crisis? It isn’t of course, but it does feed the Republican narrative that the secretive Hillary Clinton recklessly propagated classified email on insecure servers.

The real question is whether this will affect the election in eight days. Some polls show a tightening of the race. If you look at the polls though the tightening is easily explained: Republicans who had qualms about Donald Trump are coming home. The same is true with Democrats, which is why Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s modest numbers are also dropping. So the polls are now showing Clinton with a 3 to 5 percent advantage over Trump, kind of where we were six months ago.

Undoubtedly there are some truly undecided voters out there and this may push them closer toward Trump and away from Clinton. There are so few of these though that it really makes little difference and by themselves they can’t sway this election. It does make some swing states less swingy, possibly erasing Clinton’s advantages in Ohio and Florida. What it doesn’t look likely to do is fundamentally change the dynamics of the race. To change it a whole lot of Democrats have to dump Hillary and that’s unlikely to happen. And that’s unlikely because this is a national election and turnout is likely to be high.

Trump can hope this demoralizes Democrats so they don’t vote but more likely it will enthuse the anti-Clinton Republicans who otherwise can’t stomach Trump and were planning to sit this one out. He’s also pretty clearly hoping that he can get his people to show up in minority neighborhoods to intimidate Democratic voters. BTW, by openly calling for this a federal judge may keep in place a consent decree against the Republican National Committee in place since the early 1980s when Republicans last tried this tactic. It is scheduled to expire next year.

So there is small chance that this will do much to change Hillary’s election, but it may make the electoral win smaller. It may energize Republicans and demoralize Democrats, suppressing the vote in legal ways, which could have some bad consequences for Democrats, perhaps not winning the Senate and making fewer gains in House races. This would make it much harder for President Hillary Clinton to govern.

However, all the absentee and early voting already underway mitigates this. By some estimates 20% of voters have already voted. If you are worried about intimidation at the polls, early voting is the way to avoid it, as many minority voters are discovering. Comparing early voting patterns this year with 2012 generally shows more Democrats are voting early than Republicans. Among them: me. I voted last Tuesday because I will be traveling on Election Day.

Clinton was always unlikely to trigger a wave election. A week ago it was looking that way because Trump kept digging his hole further, leaving him with only core supporters voting for him. A wave may still happen, but now it’s looking more like a 5-8 point Clinton win, still very impressive, assuming there are no more newsworthy events to rock either campaign. Clinton should easily top 300 electoral votes. I suspect she will be closer to 350 than 300. We’ll see soon enough.

 
The Thinker

There is little about this election that is amusing, but there is Scott Adams

Scott Adams, the force behind the phenomenally popular comic strip Dilbert has a blog and too much time on his hands. One thing I like about Scott is his Machiavellian detachment, which comes across in his comic strip, principally in the character Dilbert. Dilbert sees the systems around him for what they are: full of chaotic forces that make little sense and are frequently evil. Dilbert is rarely shown with a mouth in the comic strip, but he sure has one. He feels free to say whatever is on his mind. These are usually thoughts that you would not utter in the workplace. They are also frequently contrary to conventional opinion.

Scott claims to be apolitical and doesn’t plan to vote in the upcoming election. However, this hasn’t kept him from “endorsing” candidates for president. First he endorsed Donald Trump, a man he obviously greatly admires. I suspect his admiration for Trump comes from (like Dilbert) Trump feeling free to tell people what he really thinks, even if it comes off as crazy and abrasive most of the time. When you have Trump’s fortune and lawyers you have pretty much free speech without consequence, as long as you don’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Scott’s fortune is smaller than Trump’s, but he is obviously very successful and likely has a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So Scott can say what he thinks too without much fear of consequence.

Scott of course has a right to his opinions. If he wants to support Donald Trump, more power to him. He discovered in the Bay area where he lives that it has some downsides, as in he is losing friends. So some months back he unendorsed Trump and endorsed Hillary Clinton instead. He did so because (as he said) he fears for his personal safety, not because he actually likes Clinton or her policies. The Bay area is obviously a liberal hotbed. Maybe he imagines hordes of liberals coming at him with hot pitch and pitchforks. While he was “endorsing” Clinton though he continued to plug for Trump, praising him as a “master persuader”. Based on his attending a hypnosis course, he was noting what he perceived to be Trump’s meta-messages that were persuading our hidden brains somehow. He felt certain that Trump would win the election. At one point he gave Trump’s odds of winning at 99%.

But as I noted back in June he seemed to have grasped the reality of Trump’s situation and conceded that Clinton was likely to win. And then there came the presidential debates. Most of us saw an unhinged Donald Trump but Scott saw a master persuader at work. Against conventional wisdom he said that Trump had “won” the first debate because of Trump’s master persuader power. It would be like a snowball going downhill and turn into a Trump avalanche at the end. Also around this time he decided that maybe he could endure the pitch and pitchforks and he decided to endorse Trump again. Those of us reading his blog breathed a sigh of relief. It was obvious that his endorsement of Clinton was insincere and that he was very much rooting for Trump, just not officially.

So Trump the master persuader continued to spin his magic by going completely off the rails by insulting pretty much anyone who was not a white male, leaving Scott to figure out whether to continue to support Trump’s losing campaign or unendorse him again before his face was completely covered in egg. Shortly after the first debate and particularly as the Alicia Machado debacle unfolded, Scott’s Machiavellian brain reasserted itself. However much a “master persuader” Trump was, it apparently was only with his base. Trump obviously had no clue how to persuade the rest of us, plus he ran the most ineffective and unorthodox campaign ever, eclipsing even George Wallace’s veiled-racist 1968 campaign. Woken to cold reality again, Scott withdrew his endorsement and endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson instead. Yes, that Gary Johnson who when asked did not know what Aleppo was and could not think of any foreign leaders that he admired. (At least Trump knows and admires Vladimir Putin.)

And so it will go probably through the remainder of this strange campaign. But with Scott you never know for sure whom he will endorse next, not that it matters in the least because no one is persuaded by his arguments. You do know though whom he would vote for, if he elected to vote and it would be Donald Trump. It’s transparent to all of us.

Meanwhile, to get away from all the flack he is receiving, he had “temporarily disabled” comments on his blog. Scott is at least consistent in being unorthodox. It does come at a price though since his income from paid speeches is declining, even though he gets the occasional TV interview to talk about Trump and his “master persuader” thesis.

While I am not surprised by Scott’s choice, I do think he would be better served by staying away from politics altogether. It’s not easy to be taken seriously in this arena. Even the highly polarized ones are at least wonkish policy nerds steeped in this subject. He would be much more persuasive if he had a degree in political science.

Scott’s opinions don’t matter at all as he is persuading no one at all. He is needlessly pissing people off who might like other stuff he blogs about and undercutting his brand. Since he already made his fortune, maybe it doesn’t matter. Stepping so forcefully out in an area where his knowledge is keenly lacking though is kind of amusing and sometimes hilarious. It’s like watching a slow moving train wreck so sometimes you just have to look away.

I hope Scott changes his mind and actually votes. If he does I’m sure he’ll be voting for Trump, not Johnson. As appalling as Trump is he is at least better informed than Gary Johnson, although not by much. Trump needs all the votes he can get in California, and it won’t be many. Meanwhile, I can at least take some schadenfreude observing the way Scott so badly and repeatedly misses the mark.

 

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