Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

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

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

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

Republicans jump off the cliff

National party political conventions happen only every four years. This week’s Republican convention in Cleveland though makes me seriously wonder if Republicans will have one in 2020 at all. I’m not alone. No less than former President George W. Bush is wondering if he is the last Republican president.

If you managed to tune into the convention, it’s hard not to escape the feeling of doom unfolding there. The Republican Party shows every sign that they have careened right off the cliff. It’s being bungled in just about every way a convention can be bungled. In case you haven’t had your nose to the news, here’s a small slice of the craziness going on in Cleveland at their convention:

  • At the start, there was a brief but doomed floor fight when delegates from Iowa tried to call for a vote that would have allowed delegates to vote their consciences. It appeared to have the support of enough states to actually get a vote, but the chair ignored it, thereby cementing Republicans’ reputation for not actually following a parliamentary process.
  • Melania Trump’s speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, the sort of plagiarism that if done in school would get you a failing grade. It turns out that Melania admires Michele, a major problem for any true Republican. She said she wrote the speech herself, but later we were told that a speechwriter did, who eventually took the fall.
  • Last night former candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke, told delegates to vote their consciences and never endorsed Donald Trump, which got him plenty of boos. They let him talk anyhow even though he told them he would not be endorsing Trump. Trump eventually came out to take the spotlight off Cruz and back to where it belongs: on his glorious self. This will likely be mostly what people will talk about for days, rather than Trump’s convention speech but at least it puts the focus on Cruz and 2020. However, if Trump is true to form, his acceptance speech will likely be an incoherent ramble, so maybe not.
  • Less noticed was that House Speaker Paul Ryan also refused to explicitly endorse Trump at his convention speech. Like Cruz, he seems to know the ship is sinking and he wants to be one of the first rats to jump when it is politically safe to do so on November 9.
  • Tuesday was supposed to be a day to talk about how Republicans would fix the economy. Instead it became a day of vitriol where speaker after speaker went on the attack against Hillary Clinton, many calling for her to go to prison. One woman who lost a son in the Benghazi incident held Clinton personally responsible for his death, even though she did not explicitly authorize the ambassador’s trip to Benghazi. A state legislator in West Virginia called for Hillary Clinton to be hung causing United Airlines to suspend him as a pilot.
  • Apparently Ohio governor John Kasich was sounded out to be Trump’s running mate. The offer, apparently from from Trump’s son: you will do the actual management part and my dad will do the “Making America Great Again” part. Strangely, Kasich declined. It appears Trump is bored with the whole manage the country part of the presidency, and wants to outsource it.

Oh, and so much more! Tonight is likely to be equally as memorable as the first three days. Perhaps more memorable than the convention itself is the stunning lack of coherence out of the convention and the epic mismanagement behind the stage. Trump does not know how to delegate. He has a hard time getting people to work for him because he requires non-disclosure agreements and routinely sues employees who he feels have stepped out of line. His roster of speakers is mediocre and often surreal (Scott Baio, really?) and it’s not even clear if he really chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. It appears he had second thoughts and futilely tried to change it at the last moment.

Watching the convention on TV itself is just appalling. There is no way for an impartial viewer not to get the impression that Republicans are passionate and crazy lunatics. Democrats were pretty pissed at George W. Bush at their 2004 convention, but no one suggested that he was a lawbreaker, should be put in jail and hung. It never occurred to Democrats to be this kind of lunatic crazy. But we heard it from speaker after speaker, day after day at this convention. So how can you not escape the conclusion that Republicans are dangerously unhinged?

A convention is normally scripted and carefully stage-managed, but also the organizers think carefully about how they want to present the party to the voters. No one seemed to be doing either parts of this job, bungling the most important part of their sales job prior to the election. Also not going well: fundraising. The typical RNC donors cannot seem to pull out their wallets. Few staff are being hired to go into the field and organize voters. Trump himself seems wholly unconcerned about the party and his campaign’s anemic fundraising, assuming that force of personality will be enough.

The 2012 Republican convention looked like one where Republicans were teetering on the borders of respectability. This is clearly off track, off message and has little of what can be called organization. No wonder George W. Bush is concerned he may be the last Republican president. Republicans seem to be doing everything possible not just to lose, but also to lose epically.

To Democrats, this Republican train wreck has been coming for years. With a few exceptions though today’s Republicans just don’t see what’s coming. But if you want to destroy a party, well, have a party doing so! It feels like this convention will touch all the markers for what not to do. You had best stand aside of the wreckage.

 
The Thinker

See no evil

To some extent, all political parties suffer tone deafness. Democrats are not immune. Bernie Sanders supporters are a little tone deaf to the reality that he will not be the party’s nominee. Uber-liberals were tone deaf in 2008 when John Edwards was running for president, excusing as unfounded pretty damning testimony that he was a womanizer. Liberals in general are pretty tone deaf to how difficult it will be to implement their progressive vision (for example, ending poverty) if they can win the political war.

Still, political tone deafness has hit staggering new levels with the elevation of Donald Trump, the presumed nominee of the Republican Party for the president of the United States. In January, Trump himself said that he could shoot people in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and he would not lose voters. Clearly he was right. Over and over again Trump has proved that there is nothing he can do or say that will dissuade his supporters.

After all, they are not voting for a man based on policies; they are voting for him because they like his packaging. The Donald himself changes his mind almost daily. With Bill Clinton, this periodic triangulation looked smart as it pushed him into positive approval ratings territory while infuriating many in the Democratic Party. But at least Clinton was selectively wishy-washy. He could smell a lost cause and tack away toward one that was doable. His pragmatism was almost refreshing and was in the spirit of horse-trading that used to be how Washington ran.

With Donald Trump, opinions change daily. He said going to bar all Muslims from entering the country. He made the point over and over again in rally after rally. Now he said it was just a suggestion. As for the new Muslim mayor of London, well, he’ll invite him over. He lies over and over again, even when repeatedly caught with his pants down for the same lie. Maybe you missed the latest: that recording of one of his media spokesmen “John Miller” back in the early 1990s, who was actually Trump, and which he admitted in court. Just a couple of days ago, he wholly disclaimed it was he. Then he said, what does it matter? It was so long ago.

None of this of course is a problem for his supporters, as he predicted. They see him as someone who will get the job done (whatever that is). Maybe they figure that to get it done it requires someone who just doesn’t give a damn about being consistent, or telling the truth, or having any character. It’s pure faith but faith based on information that shows he is probably the least qualified person for anyone to place faith in. After all what he wants to do one day for the country could easily be what he does not want to do the next day. The pinging back and forth will drive Congress and bureaucrats crazy. By never really sticking to some position, he ensures none of it will actually get done.

This is after all a man who cheats on his wives, allegedly raped his first wife, harasses women routinely and cheats his investors. His record of misogyny would appall even wife beaters. This is a man who brags about his financial prowess despite many failed businesses, who cheated students out of a real education (Trump University) and who let others purchase his brand but won’t mentor them in his business acumen so they can succeed.

None of this seems to matter to Republicans, except to a few die-hard conservatives, most of who are finding it expedient to look the other way. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus says, “people just don’t care” about Trump’s mouth or his controversies. By “people” he doesn’t mean most Democrats and many independents. However, it’s clear that Republicans mostly don’t care. Some things are more important than principle, and that’s power. And The Donald is their only ticket to power, so they either sink or swim with him. The pragmatic ones are hoping a kind-hearted Democrat throws them a life preserver. (It’s probably not covered by Obamacare.)

Bear in mind many of these same Republicans were hypocritically up in arms about all sorts of transgressions by Democrats, but mostly the Clintons. In the late 1990s I inhabited a carpool filled with Republicans gleefully chortling in Bill’s misdeeds with Monica. They just loved this proof that he was poor white trash in a suit with no morals or convictions and that he lied. Apparently Clinton’s real problem was that he was born “poor white”. This was never The Donald’s problem, as he came from wealth, but it’s clear that his lack of morals or convictions don’t bother him, or his womanizing. At least Bill Clinton was discreet about his occasional womanizing. Reince Preibus says it’s unimportant. IOKIYAR: It’s okay if you’re a Republican.

I’m not surprised. Republicans are highly selective in applying principle. They are for protecting the unborn but support policies that won’t even provide formula to poor kids once they are born. Just last week House Republicans voted to cut $23 billion in food stamps. They are for religious freedom, but apparently only for Christians and Jews, and only those Christians who are not religiously liberal, anyhow definitely not Muslims, and not if your religion tells you it’s okay to have an abortion. After all they support Trump’s call to keep Muslims out of the United States. They are for an opportunity society but won’t give anyone the opportunity to succeed who doesn’t come born with moneyed parents; in fact they keep cutting off the lower rungs of the ladder to make sure the poor cannot succeed.

Donald Trump though has at least provided clarity: all that principle stuff Republicans say forms the core of their party was just a bunch of hoo-ha. It used to be that inconsistency between principles and action would set up a case of cognitive dissonance, i.e. you’d lie about the inconsistency but you didn’t even know you were lying because you couldn’t face the hurt the truth would cause. Donald Trump though has at least allowed Republicans to progress. They no longer suffer from cognitive dissonance. Now they know they are being wholly inconsistent to their principles and acknowledge that at best their principles were wholly aspirational, not something they actually intend to live or govern by.

So there should be some sort of award given to every Donald Trump supporter. It would be for bravely and completely denying the obvious truth that Trump is the worst possible candidate probably ever with a chance of winning the presidency and being so knowingly indifferent to it.

As far as I’m concerned, all Trump supporters won the Washington Post’s Worst Week in Washington award. As Chris Cillizza (its author) puts it: “Congrats, or something.”

 
The Thinker

Guns at the Republican National Convention? Of course!

So naturally when I learned of this petition to allow the open carry of guns at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I hurried over to change.org to sign it. Over 48,000 of us God-fearing, law-abiding, Second Amendment enthusiasts have signed the petition so far.

And there are good reasons to sign the petition. Without open carry, the delegates and conventioneers in the hall will have no way to defend themselves from burglars, pickpockets and lobbyists, unless you count fisticuffs and kickboxing which I think would be pretty hard to take away. The Supreme Court has already decided that owning guns is a right. No preexisting militia is required. Moreover, lots of states have laws allowing open carry and many allow even concealed carry. I checked Wikipedia and open carry is definitely legal in Ohio, probably thanks to Governor John Kasich.

Moreover, you needn’t worry about these convention goers. Guns don’t kill people; only people kill people. But since you never know when someone is going to attack you with a banana, and there are probably no sixteen ton weights at the convention center, a loaded semiautomatic weapon may be your only defense when a brigade of banana-toting liberals in Birkenstocks come charging at your delegation. You have to be prepared, you know.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It’s not like Cruz and Trump supporters would not limit themselves to shoving, fistfights and general screaming at each other as they lobby to get their candidate the nomination during a brokered convention. They are all family men and women, civilized I am sure and will be full of the milk of human kindness (and Jesus) during the convention. They are so civilized they won’t even shoot a celebratory round into the convention roof when their candidate clinches the nomination.

No, this is a matter of principle, and principle is vitally important to Republicans. They like their world completely black and white. The Supreme Court says that we can own guns; Ohio says you can openly carry them, so there is no way that anyone should be able to restrict that right. You don’t mess with Texas so you don’t mess with Republicans and their guns either. Putting all those armaments into such a confined space should cause no issues at all. After all the Quicken Loans Arena is not a troubled inner city neighborhood like Glenville in Cleveland. They are proud Americans, every one of them, but just in case residents of Glenville decide to storm the Quicken Loans Arena en masse, well, you got to be prepared. A handgun isn’t going to cut it. You will want plenty of rounds, something semiautomatic, and probably something with a scope on it.

So I’m shocked to learn today that the Secret Service nixed the petition. Imagine the nerve of these feds to tell us law-abiding Americans we can’t bring our guns with us into the convention! The Secret Service says it’s something about a federal law that overrides the Supreme Court’s decision. Clearly there is nothing to fear, and surely Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the senior leaders of the Republican Party will be completely at ease in a convention hall full of faithful lock-and-load brethren. After all according to the NRA the way to stop a bad man with a gun (not that it would ever happen at this convention) is a good man with a gun, and there would be thousands of them. He’d never have a chance!

I can’t believe that the candidates will roll with the Secret Service on this one. Trump says he wants to study the petition. As of this writing, neither Cruz nor Kasich has expressed an opinion on the Secret Service’s decision. How odd!

So I guess we will have to turn to prayer: pray to change the minds at the Secret Service and failing that pray that hoodlums outside the hall won’t storm the convention hall, or pick off conventioneers on their way to and from their hotel rooms and local brothels. Perhaps an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is now in order. We can only pray they see the light.

 
The Thinker

The Trump trap

Donald Trump has been punking a lot of people lately. The other week he punked his newest endorser New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who attended his rally in Ohio. Christie was there to encourage people to vote for Trump. While Christie was on stage with Trump, Trump said that Christie was flawed because he was an absentee governor, which is not hard to be when you are a governor running for president. A few days later his former rival and newest supporter Ben Carson crazily punked himself, saying Trump wasn’t so bad because there were “two Donald Trumps” and one was a nice guy you don’t see. That’s like an abused spouse publicly saying she wasn’t that upset when her husband beat her black and blue because he’s actually a sweetheart. That Trump can do stuff like this and get away with it suggests he is a master bully indeed, so good he can put other bullies in their place and fool partisans like Carson that he’s not as bad a candidate as he has proven to be. I mean: just wow!

Trump hasn’t won the Republican nomination yet and there is some chance he won’t get a majority of delegates, leading to a brokered convention. Trump has already predicted that if Republicans try to deny him the nomination because he has only a plurality of votes that “there will be riots” from his frustrated supporters. If there is a brokered convention I don’t expect it to succeed in blocking Trump, in part because as a master bully Trump should have the Republican establishment pinned to the floor mat and screaming uncle long before the convention. Trump’s not so much a dealmaker as he is a master intimidator. Intimidation of course is a skill that bullies master. It comes from practiced insensitivity toward the feelings others. The empathy gene is missing from bullies except of course for themselves. Since they only look out for Number One, they are naturally nasty and tone deaf, in his case so much so that he will punk his former rivals offering them his support.

Trump can’t bully the whole country, so he is busy trying to make a deal with the American public instead. Like Bill Clinton, he plans to triangulate his way into the presidency. He will read the tealeaves and attempt to do or say anything to seal the deal with the electorate. Most likely he won’t succeed, given his high negatives particularly among women and minorities. He can hope for a crisis. A huge economic or national security crisis drives our primal fears and can change a lot of minds. However, with a decently growing economy, low unemployment and with Obama’s approval ratings now at or over fifty percent the odds will be against him. It’s unclear whether he will drive more Republicans to the poll than Democrats, but it is likely that voters on both sides will be highly motivated to turn out. This is because no one is neutral on Donald Trump. You either love him or loathe him.

My suspicion is that Donald Trump will eventually prove to be like the Hindenburg, that famous hydrogen-filled dirigible that exploded in flames in the early 20th century. He’s going to inflict a lot of damage whether he gets elected or not. Assuming that he doesn’t win, who loses?

Curiously some of the biggest losers will be his supporters. Whites — principally working class whites and white men in particular — are going to realize they were sold snake oil. First, their candidate will prove unelectable, so huuuge but unable to seal this deal, making him the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Second, they are going to realize they really aren’t all that special anymore. For if Trump can’t make the working class white special again, then who possibly can? They are investing all their hope in Trump. If he loses, then where do they go? What do they do?

Does this class finally shout “Enough!” and start an insurrection? This may not be too hard given all the guns they are stockpiling. Do they retreat into utter despair and hopelessness? Do they finally decide to put their racism behind them and make common cause with others struggling in the working class? Do they kill the Republican Party by abandoning it because they have proven incapable of making it do its will? Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, it’s not hard to see huge danger signs.

If a Democratic ticket wins, they have to continue to wrestle with their feelings of disempowerment. If Trump wins we have a high likelihood of a President Trump that will be at best a quasi-constitutionalist and at worst our first fascist president. Or perhaps the real deal is that Trump is anticipating his defeat and will use it as a cry to foment real revolution.

Some of these scenarios are pretty far fetched. It’s not too hard to see that there will be one loser even if Republicans win: the Republican Party. For If Trump fails to win the nomination he may run as an independent. If he does win the nomination then he effectively controls the Republican Party, which will probably mean that its leaders will be sent packing. The stuff Republicans supposedly care about (religion, fiscal conservatism, smaller government) will morph into what they really care about: a classist state where they are in charge. And to do that you have to jettison the notion that we are a democratic state. We won’t be.

When I first wrote about Trump I wondered if Trump could be a Democratic mole. After all he supported progressive policies and candidates in the past. Maybe he is fooling everyone, but most likely he is simply tone deaf to the fact that while he is a very successful loudmouth, he’s really only just a blathering blowhard that leaves destruction from trying to gratify his own enormous ego.

Trump will cause major casualties. Whether overtly or covertly, the most likely casualties will be the very people he is trying to empower. And they are going to be really pissed.

 
The Thinker

Ending the privileged caste

Perhaps you’ve seen the “This is water” video. If you haven’t, spend nine minutes or so watching it:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and if you keep up on contemporary American politics it’s not hard to understand why. We tend to take for granted what is given to us. For example, I appreciated my father who passed away last month but at the same time I took him for granted. I assumed most sons had fathers of his caliber. It wasn’t until many decades later – and particularly after having gone through the fatherhood process myself – that I realized how exceptional he was. I was barely able to emulate him for one child. He did it for eight of us.

Most of us go through life vaguely aware at best of the enormous resources expended on our behalf. Like a fish in a fishbowl, we take them for granted. The easiest ones to appreciate are our parents, who also become the easiest to despise if they don’t live up to our expectations. It takes a village to raise a child, Hillary Clinton opined in her book, but it takes much more than a village. It takes resources from the family level to the international level. These include clean water (something the residents of Flint, Michigan no longer take for granted), committed teachers, police, our military, ministers, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, doctors, orthodontists and even diplomats. The list is endless. In general, the more you can avail yourself of these resources, the higher the standard of living and your opportunities are likely to be.

Some of us are more favored than others. As we grow to understand this, our privilege becomes painful to acknowledge and sets up cognitive dissonance. At some level we of some privilege realize that our privilege was purchased at the expense of someone else’s. The dissonance generally results in denial. I am seeing it played out on the national stage, particularly in the candidacy of Donald Trump. Trump is riding collective white cognitive dissonance to a likely Republican Party nomination. Why? It’s because it is easier for many of us whites to support someone like this than to acknowledge, or worse address the bald fact that we are greatly disproportionately privileged. It’s not that we are better than other people, it’s that we got special treatment because we live inside a privileged caste generations in the making. Just as the fish is not aware of the water most of us choose to be deliberately ignorant of our privileged status.

In fact many whites in the United States are not privileged at all. Visit Appalachia and you will see plenty of them. Their lives are just as unprivileged and harsh as is a black child’s living in public housing in Southeast Washington D.C. and may be worse. Nonetheless, many of these whites won’t acknowledge this. They sincerely believe that because they are white they are better than the non-whites. In fact, Trump and other Republican candidates are exploiting them by pretending to throw the shield of white privilege over them, privileges that largely do not exist.

The Republican message is in two parts. First, it’s that because you are white you are better and deserve privilege and if you vote for the others you will lose that privilege. Second, is that you are “temporarily impoverished millionaires”. You just need to do a few things by yourself (never with the help of others) to become successful.

Both these messages are lies but are lies that most of us cannot acknowledge even to ourselves. On the first point, we all know innately that skin color has no more bearing on your capacity than does eye color. We even say these words while doing largely the opposite, and most of us aren’t aware of our inconsistency. On the second point we also know this is a myth with only a tiny kernel of truth. This perhaps had some truth in the past, when there were fewer hurdles to success. It’s painfully obvious that today to really succeed you need lifelong coaching and resources, plus a certain amount of tenacity and luck. You cannot rise from humble shoeshine boy to Elon Musk through tenacity alone. In Musk’s case you have to inhabit a rich technological world and have both the talent and resources to ride these changes to your own success and profit. This won’t happen to poor working class Appalachians or black children in Southeast Washington D.C. It’s not completely impossible, but your odds of winning the lottery are much better. Perhaps that explains why so many middle and lower income people play the lottery in the first place.

For someone like me who is white, privileged and can see that his success is largely a result of the rich nutrient “water” in which I was raised, the question then becomes what should I do about it. Should I emulate Jesus and give all my riches to the poor? Should I help out in soup kitchens? Just how much of my treasure and time should I give back? Of course, I give back already. I do give money to charity; in fact it’s an item in the family budget, currently $250 a month. Much of it goes to Planned Parenthood, environmental causes, a local food bank and a local abused women’s shelter. On the latter, I recently had coffee with an outreach director of the local women’s shelter and offered my time as a volunteer, coach and mentor; however I could be of use. Since I am otherwise retired, I don’t have lack of time as an excuse.

Perhaps my efforts deserve a pat on the back, but considering how privileged I have been in this life it deserves not even that. Of course I am quite interested in changing the dynamics, which is why I am a Bernie Sanders supporter. It’s quite clear to me that this institutional racism and classism is baked into our laws. To truly address these problems, laborers first have to be paid a living wage. Needless to say Donald Trump and all the other Republican candidates are running away from this idea, which has the effect of keeping the same failed policies in place. This in turn ensures more decades of inequality and will effective keep the others in poverty and in their place for future generations. Increasingly, we are the others and we are voting against our own best interests. Most of the lemmings following Donald Trump are being used to their own disadvantage.

I do know at some point I will inherit some money. My father left everything to my stepmother, but their wills are similar. When she dies all of us children (including our stepmother’s) will get 5% of their estate. I have no idea how much their estate is worth, but I’m guessing it’s about a million dollars. So perhaps I will inherit $50,000 or so.

I have been talking about this future windfall with my wife. We should not need the money to improve our standard of living and in our case $50,000 really doesn’t buy a change in our standard of living anyhow. Our daughter will get a hefty share of our estate when we are gone. $50,000 though can do a whole lot for someone further down the food chain.

When the windfall finally arrives, I plan to find one underprivileged but promising person and use it to move them a rung up the ladder. Aside from greatly reducing my own standard of living (which is actually reasonably modest but better than most), giving away my inheritance is the only significantly meaningful thing I can do, but only if done right. If it moves one poor but talented person from a life behind a fast food counter to doing something that gives them both meaning and income, it may set about a cycle of virtuous changes that may take many generations to flower. I am unlikely to witness these, as I will be planted six feet underground. It seems that the best I can do to make amends is to plant a seed, water it while I can and hope.

 
The Thinker

Republicans are simply racists and classists

Did you watch the last night’s Republican debate; you know the one where Donald Trump snippily decided he would not attend because he doesn’t like questions that Megyn Kelly might ask? You did? Good for you and apparently you are more into politics than I am. I was certain I’d learn nothing new and from the reviews I was right. So now voters wait warily for the results of the Iowa caucuses next Monday night. Let’s hope the Republicans get it right this time.

Some pundits are predicting the demise of the Republican Party after the next election. I’ll be lifting a glass of champagne if that happens to be the case. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t recognize his own party anyhow. Republicans after all freed the slaves and today’s Republicans want to make them slaves again. I won’t be lifting my glass too high though because as bad as the Republican Party is, I do think whatever phoenix emerges from its ashes could actually be worse.

What got me thinking this way was reading the latest Washington Post OpEd by conservative Charles Krauthammer. After the obligatory sentences saying how Bernie Sanders couldn’t get elected because America doesn’t elect socialists (conveniently ignoring the fact that Franklin Delano Roosevelt won four terms on an effectively socialist platform, and by overwhelming majorities), Krauthammer looks at the factions within the G.O.P. In particular he notes that Donald Trump is not really conservative, certainly not in the sense that he wants to rollback social programs. In the same paper, Fareed Zakaria notes that Republicans have given lip service to getting rid of social programs and in many cases expanded them. In fact, he notes polls that economically conservative Republicans are going for Cruz over Trump by 15 percent, while Trump wins by 30 percent over Cruz from Republicans holding “progressive positions”, such as on health care, taxes, the minimum wage and the benefits of unions.

Well, this is a head scratcher, until you think about it a little while. One possibility is that Trump is expanding the Republican base, pulling in (principally white) people that don’t tend to vote Republican, or vote at all, because no one in the party represents them. However, there is no evidence that Republican Party registration is increasing significantly nationwide, as this recent Gallup poll attests. Zakaria does quote Michael Tessler of the Rand Corporation, who provided his statistics. Tessler says: “Trump performs best among Americans who express more resentment toward African Americans and immigrants and who tend to evaluate whites more favorably than minority groups.” This is a polite way of saying Trump does much better with the party’s racists. This is not surprising until you think about what this actually means.

What principally unites the Republican Party (to the extent it is united) is not fiscal conservatism. It’s not the importance of federalism (state control). It’s not God, an aggressive foreign policy and it’s certainly not Jesus. It’s not even guns. Their principle shared-value is that they think they are special and deserve a singular status over the rest of society, who they mostly look down on. In short, most of them are racists, even if they can’t even admit it to themselves. It’s more acceptable to be a classist, instead of a racist, which many will openly acknowledge. This basically means they don’t believe in egalitarianism and that some for whatever reasons (status, wealth, race, education, values) deserve to be privileged. Moreover because they are privileged, they should not feel (and apparently don’t feel) ashamed of this. It’s this energy that Trump is harnessing. When push comes to shove, this is what Republicans care about.

I believe it is part of Carl Rove’s master plan. He fed these primal fears to give the Republican Party oversize stature. They feel it slipping away, which is why Republican-led states enacted onerous voting restrictions. Their loss of their status, real or in many cases imaginary is their greatest motivation. Trump was savvy enough to cut through the bullshit and go for the jugular. This is why he is leading in the polls. (It does help to have so many competing candidates that the opposition is scattered.)

After all, if you want power it’s not about making a logical case; it’s about making a resonating emotional case. Fear is a great motivator and Republicans excel at looking behind their backs. Trump succeeds by saying that those others not like us are the cause of our fear of loss of status and privilege. Throw out the “illegals” and things may not be well, but they sure will be better. He has ruled out major changes to Medicare and Social Security because he’s read the polls and knows his fans support programs like these. Tax cuts go disproportionately to the wealthy but welfare goes disproportionately not to the poor, but to the middle class.

Medicare and Social Security are just two ways to keep the middle pacified, but it’s only the beginning. There is the employer health insurance tax credit, which annually costs three times as much as food stamps. There is the home mortgage interest deduction, tuition tax credits and even energy efficiency credits that go only to those who can afford to take advantage of them. Power is secured through keeping the rabble happy. Trump knows there are plenty in the middle who understand their standard of living is wobbly. The last thing most of these people want is more uncertainty to their standard of living, but they are perfectly happy to add uncertainty to those who don’t think and act like them: the others. Me first!

The Romans quickly realized that the rabble wasn’t happy unless the lions ate a gladiator or two now and then. They made it convenient for citizens to enjoy this entertainment by allowing everyone in for free. Trump is metaphorically doing the same thing: he is harnessing the power that is already there. He plays the crowd the same way Itzhak Perlman plays the violin. He plays up the juicy expectation of red meat to come: walls along the border with Mexico and less of the other among us. He says: less of them means more for us and will make us (the privileged) great again. And so they dance and he knows that the rest of the party will come along in time. The Republican Party leadership seems to understand which way the wind is blowing. Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus recently said as much, and even elder statesmen like Bob Dole seem to be acknowledging they will fall in line too. Power is what counts; whatever message gives them that power is okay.

It’s just that because of Donald Trump it’s now out in the open. Even Republicans can’t deny it anymore because their leading candidate simply won’t. They are the party of people like them: white racists and classists. They just can’t hide from it anymore.

 
The Thinker

Recipe for dysfunction: the Flint water crisis

My wife and I have been watching the Flint Water crisis for the last year or so. It has been in the news for a long time, just on back pages of papers or in obscure news articles when it was mentioned at all. Now, of course, it is suddenly a national story.

We were following it in part because my wife was born in Flint, Michigan so stories from Flint will naturally flag her interest. When she first heard that the state of Michigan (acting as its manager) had changed Flint’s water source from Lake Huron (via Detroit’s system) to the local Flint River, she said, “This isn’t going to work”. Although considerably cleaned up from its polluted days, she knew the Flint River was still an unsafe water source, much like the Hudson River near Albany is after decades of General Electric dumping PCBs into the river. The river is not the sewer it once was but lots of crap still ends up in it.

In the auto industry’s heyday, Flint was Detroit’s younger brother, living off the auto business. While cars were certainly built in Flint, equally important was its role in supplying auto parts. ACDelco, for example, still has a plant in Flint although it is certainly smaller than it was. Over the years we have made a few trips to Flint. Like many cities in Michigan, it’s a pretty sad place. If you’ve been paying attention to Flint stories, you’ll learn there is much that is dysfunctional in Flint. For example, it has a police force that works 8 to 6, Monday through Friday. If you need help at other times call the county police and hope that they will respond. This was due to the city’s declining tax base. It could no longer afford a full-time police department. Long ago Flint was pimped for its cheap blue-collar labor, found even cheaper elsewhere, so the city underwent hard times from which it never recovered. It became another sad tale of urban blight, if you can call of city of 100,000 with lots of boarded up houses and a declining tax base “urban”.

A perfect storm came together to cause the Flint water crisis. It would be easy to blame this entirely on Michigan State government, and it certainly does earn the majority of the blame. But it’s clear that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had a hand in the problem, basically by not providing the oversight that was needed. When it detected a problem, it didn’t take effective action to hold Michigan accountable.

The impact of the problem is easy enough to see now: thousands children and adults with elevated lead levels, which are not easily corrected and will likely lead to lifelong cognitive problems. The problem is more than the lead, which is mostly a factor of the differently treated water going through old pipes rather than of contaminants in the Flint River. It’s mostly a story about an absence of government, but it’s also a story of ideology overriding common sense. It’s also a story about the drawbacks of federalism. I’ll tackle each of these.

For several decades now Republicans have been pushing the rube that government is the problem instead of the solution. The government than governs least governs best they opined, channeling Thoreau. Michigan voters bought into this and turned the state bright red when it elected Rick Synder in 2010 as its governor. That was also the year its legislature went red, when Republicans won the State House (they had previously controlled the State Senate). It was quite a change, with the house going from 67 Democrats to 47 Democrats. Republicans got carte blanc, controlling all the levers of state government. The usual stuff that happens when Republicans claim a state government started. This included legislation allowing the state to take over local governments that could not stay fiscally solvent. Flint was one major city (the other being Detroit) to be taken over by the state.

From Governor Snyder’s perspective, Flint residents proved they couldn’t govern themselves. This was their fault: they were incompetent. In fact the city was a victim of economic forces largely beyond their control. The city needed “adults” (i.e. mostly white men from nowhere near Flint) to take charge, adults appointed by Snyder with the consent of the state government. And thus half-baked solutions like changing Flint’s water supply became a way to make the city more lean and efficient. (In fact, the City of Detroit offered Flint a 50% discount to keep it as a customer but the offer was spurned.)

Unsurprisingly the new city managers were tone deaf to complaints from citizens about their discolored water or from a local pediatrician who kept trying to get their attention with actual test results. They were not accountable to any voters and being challenged on their actions simply set up a wall of cognitive dissonance: if you are so smart why did you let things get so bad? Those cute, misinformed and principally black Flint residents simply didn’t know what they were talking about. It’s clear though that had Flint not been taken over, it would not have done something so radical as to quickly change its water source, at least not without considerable deliberation and testing. The mayor and city council would have probably raised concerns like whether it would have affected the aging lead pipes in the city. Not doing so might jeopardize their reelection. But when you are an out of town manager not running for reelection, you do what you think is right and aren’t concerned much about local input.

Federalism empowers regional control by allowing states to make regional decisions. There are obviously virtues to federalism, but occasionally there are drawbacks as well. This was pretty obvious by the way the EPA mishandled this crisis. The regional EPA senior executive was mindful of the political consequences of getting too involved in the issue. Michigan was now bright red, and he could expect interference and hostility if he went out on a limb for Flint. He chose not to, which was obviously a mistake, but an understandable one given that the job requires making political choices. In politics sometimes you overlook individual deficiencies to address a larger goal. That’s probably what happened here, but the judgment was obviously a flawed one and led to his resignation. Michigan deserved to have its hand slapped, but more importantly it’s the EPA’s job to raise these issues to prevent exactly these sorts of situations.

And so a perfect storm happened. A tone-deaf and ideologically driven state government tried to do things its way with entirely predictable results. Thousands were sickened and will endure lifelong disabilities. Government served no one here, certainly not the residents of Flint, and became an obstruction to common sense governance.

It’s unclear to me if we will learn any lessons from this. Here are mine:

  • Government should not be run by ideologues but by people who want society to run like a well-oiled engine.
  • We need local input and local control if possible but sometimes local government can’t do it all and are victims of macro forces beyond their control, like Flint’s shrinking tax base and it’s not necessarily their fault.
  • State and federal resources should be used to empower and supplement local control, not to countermand it.
  • Government exists to serve the people, not just the people that fund politicians’ campaigns.
  • Most importantly, anyone who serves in government has the role of a fiduciary. They should be there not to destroy government but to make it run better. Gumming up its machinery won’t make it better, and that’s what happened here to tragic effects.
 

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