Trump, the “gift” that keeps on giving

I’m starting to root for Donald Trump for 2024 Republican Party presidential nominee.

I don’t actually want him to be president again, unsurprisingly. And I admit just as he surprised us in 2016 by actually winning the Electoral College, he might do so again in 2024. But I suspect that any other Republican nominee would have a much better chance of winning a general election than Trump would have.

Trump’s narcissism though is sort of a gift for Democrats. The more he is out there, the easier it is for Democrats to win elections. That’s because when he’s out there, elections become a choice between the less-than-perfect Democratic president and Congress and what he has to offer.

Before the 2020 election, I noted that a majority of voters polled had repeatedly said they would not vote for Trump. That’s how an otherwise milquetoast candidate like Joe Biden was able to crush Trump’s reelection bid by 4.4 percent and 7.1 million votes. Voters weren’t largely voting for Biden; they were voting against Trump.

And it wasn’t the first time. In 2018, Trump’s polarization caused Republicans to lose the House, adding 41 Democratic seats. Only in the Senate did Republicans add two seats, seats that were short lived when in 2020 Democrats unexpectedly picked up two senate seats, both in Georgia of all places.

In two months we’ll know if the Trump effect still exists. If Democrats retain Congress or even add seats, it’s likely because once again voters are motivated by Trump, just more against his candidates than for them. A conservative Supreme Court isn’t helping. Women are registering to vote disproportionately this year, and polling suggests it’s largely due to the court’s unwelcome Dobbs decision removing abortion rights in many states. While Trump has enjoyed success in getting his endorsed candidates winning their primaries, as even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has noted their quality is suspect. It’s pretty clear Mitch McConnell doesn’t expect to win back a Republican Senate majority in November.

Probably the best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party was if Trump had just shut up and played golf. Candidate quality probably would have improved as candidates would likely have leaned more centrist and thus more electable. Without Trump’s constant bloviating, it would be much easier to frame the midterms around Democratic Party failures. But by sucking all the oxygen out of the room, once more, it’s become largely a referendum on Trump.

Thankfully, Joe Biden is taking the issue head on, calling out MAGA Republicans as a threat to democracy. I wonder what took him so long, but clearly it has traction. Even Republicans seem to have a hard time denying the obvious, since they are working so hard to make elections unfair so their candidates win disproportionately. At a visceral level, voters seems to understand Biden is simply stating the truth. This may explain why the generic ballot question now shows a majority of voters preferring a Democratic to a Republican candidate in November’s elections, not to mention Biden’s improving approval ratings.

Trump is a polarizing figure and always has been. You either love him or loath him and in general the more you come to know him, the more you come to loath him. He won’t change who he is to appeal to a wider audience. So as long as he’s going to be around anyhow, Democrats might as well try to use him to their advantage. At least they can go to voters and truthfully say, “At least we’re better than that guy!” And a majority of voters are likely to agree. So, yeah, Trump for Republican presidential nominee in 2024! It seems a pretty safe bet, or should, if the midterms benefit Democrats.

No wonder Trump wants to rig future elections. It’s the only way that he can “win”. A majority of Americans simply can’t stand him.

Republicans may be surprised by the 2022 midterms

There’s a problem when you are ruled by a minority. Unless they are careful in the exercise of their power, you can expect a boomerang effect.

We saw it, or at least a “boom”, in Tuesday’s primary election in Kansas. It included a ballot question on whether to amend the state’s constitution to prohibit abortions. Kansas is unusual in that it’s written into their constitution. Nearly sixty percent of voters in Kansas said no.

In 2020 and 2016, Trump won the state with 56% of the vote. Registered Republicans have a 46%-26% lead in voter registrations over Democrats in the state. Turnout in what was supposed to be a sleepy election in August was huge. It’s quite clear that a significant minority of Republicans voted to keep their abortion rights.

Generally, Republicans have no problem passing laws that stick it to minorities. But Kansas is 86% white, which means that the principal victims of tighter abortion laws in the state would be white women. The vote was supposed to be close, but it was a blowout.

Kansas’s situation is unusual, which is why since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, heavily gerrymandered Republican states have had few qualms about creating draconian antiabortion laws. I can understand why they would feel entitled. In its Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court has said that unlimited money can be spent on campaigns, and most rich people tend to be conservative. This allowed them to gerrymander their legislatures so they never lose power, making it hard or impossible for incumbents to lose elections. The Supreme Court seems likely to take up a case in its next term to harden the cement, so to speak. A number of members of the court have already spoken up supporting the idea being tested in North Carolina that its supreme court can’t overrule state election laws that don’t conform to the state’s constitution.

Republicans are hoping the 2022 midterms not only let them regain control of Congress, but also control state secretaries of state, who oversee and certify elections. They will find it convenient to overturn the will of the electorate when federal elections don’t go their way. Fortunately, we’re not quite there yet. And if this national disgust at the Supreme Court’s Dobbs abortion decision can be held for another three months, their goal of controlling Congress again might slip too.

Increasingly, it looks like they’ve already lost the Senate. This is in part because they are nominating candidates endorsed by Donald Trump. Consequently you get a series of really awful candidates that will be loved by Trumpers, but not by the general electorate. Democrats have a slim four seat majority in the House. Most experts who have studied redistricting have determined that overall recent gerrymandering is unlikely to render more Republican seats. Democrats may have a small advantage. We won’t know until the results come in, of course, but motivated voters tend to vote disproportionately. Hence the Kansas blowout.

History tells us that the 2022 midterms should be very bad for Democrats. Recent inflation statistics and gas prices should make it an easy year for Republicans to wrest legislative control again. But gas prices are down about $1/gallon from their peak. Inflation should ease with lower energy prices. And with just three months to go until the midterms, what’s happening now will set the frame for most voters.

In the short term, the only thing that will keep abortion laws in check will be federal legislation codifying the right to an abortion. Since 53 percent of voters are women, and women bear the primary impact of tightening antiabortion laws, they are going to be plenty of motivated women voters. Moreover, it’s simply a myth that Americans are antiabortion. 71% of Americans support women having the right to terminate a pregnancy. Only briefly over the decades has polling on this question slipped below 50%. Generally, it’s been popular by double digits. By some polling, abortion rights is the number two issue motivating voters, with only a receding inflation concern ahead of it.

We can expect voter enthusiasm to be high this time, not just from Democrats, but especially from Democrats. Assuming our election system isn’t so corrupted by voter suppression and corrupt election officials, there is probably a 70% chance that Democrats can maintain the U.S. Senate and perhaps a 55% chance they can retain the House.

All this is being helped by a series of popular bills passed by Democrats that looked unlikely just six months ago. There are more on the way, including the Inflation Reduction Act which among other things allows the government to negotiate pricing for certain Medicare drugs, a hugely popular proposal supported by even a majority of Republicans.

Such an election outcome would be highly unusual. It’s generally a safe bet to assume the party in power will lose it, but this is not a normal election year. It may be that checking the Supreme Court and Republican overreach may be what voters care most about. It may turn out to be not only the most consequential election of our time, but with turnout rivaling that in a presidential election year and an utter surprise to many political prognosticators.

No good options for controlling inflation

Americans are pissed about inflation and who can blame them?

It’s good news for Republicans, in a way, because voters tend to vent their economic anxieties at the polls. So no one will be surprised if they retake Congress in November, especially after all their recent gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts.

To control inflation though they would have to do a lot of non-Republican stuff like, say, break up the companies that control a lot of these markets due to lack of competition: think oil, meat processing and telecommunication services (like Comcast). In previous (mostly Republican) administrations, they passed over most anti-trust laws that would have prevented this.

In reality there’s not much else that can be done. Oh, they’ll want to open more federal lands to oil leasing, but oil companies will sit on their hands. Why should they drill for more oil when it’s chancy and they can enjoy record profits by simply constricting supply?

But also, there’s little anything any government can do to fix the problem because it’s not a national problem; it’s an international one. If you keep up on the news, you’ll discover people everywhere are experiencing the same thing; in fact it tends to be worse elsewhere else. In many third world countries, inflation means cutting meals or starving: they can’t afford the price of regular commodities. Everyone affected wants some sort of magic cure or, failing that, to shift the costs on someone else. Inflation and the pandemic have been causing a lot of global civil unrest. Global climate change is contributing to the problem as it interferes with growing patterns.

President Nixon tried wage and price controls, which artificially kept inflation in check for a while, then quickly zoomed up when controls were lifted. What most people want though is to have their cake and eat it too: check inflation and have the benefits of a fast growing economy. Supply bottlenecks, particularly from overseas where we get most of our goods, affects everyone. We can’t control that the Chinese government decided to shut down Shanghai for two months to control the pandemic. So prices go up and those who can’t afford the higher prices do without. Sometimes this amounts to malnutrition and starvation.

That’s basically the Federal Reserve’s approach to controlling inflation. Their main tool is to control interest rates and lately they’ve been going up. Applied long enough this should reduce inflation, but it’s a little like breaking legs of random people on the street in an attempt to control the problem of too many pedestrians. The Fed tries to do it as painlessly as possible, but it’s not a painless process. Pain is the whole point. If there is no pain, no easing of demand, then inflation continues to soar.

It’s just that a lot of things you really can’t do without. Like housing, for example. Except, yes, you can do without housing; you can join the growing ranks of the unhoused. By adding incredible amounts of stress to a lot of people’s lives, basically by impoverishing them, you cut demand and control inflation. You also dash a lot of other dreams, or at least defer them, such as buying a home.

President Biden is, of course, doing what he can. But it’s all at the edges because in reality there’s not much a president can do. It amounts to a lot of wishful thinking and hope. Open up some more oil leases and maybe oil companies will start drilling. But even if they do, bringing this new oil on the market will take years. Lately, he ended temporarily tariffs on solar panels. This will make it cheaper to set up solar systems and if more people move toward electric cars, maybe cut demand for gasoline too. But don’t expect it to do much before the midterms.

Changing policy in a meaningful way requires changing the law. It requires Congress to find consensus and to work in the national interest. There’s little of that going on now and you can expect less of it after November as our political polarization deepens some more. Which means that government will only become more ineffectual, making it easier for authoritarians to make their case. After all, as Trump told us, only he can fix it. Only of course he didn’t because the President of the United States is not God.

So any solution to inflation is likely long term at best. Real solutions require close international cooperation and tackling systemic issues like climate change. One thing I can say for certain though is that putting Republicans in charge of Congress next year won’t do a damned thing to make it better.

Inadequate to the stormy present

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Abraham Lincoln

This quote has been rattling around in my brain for the last week or so. This quote was sent by Abraham Lincoln in his letter to Congress on the state of the nation during the midst of the Civil War, before state of the union speeches became a tradition. A week later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which emancipated slaves in territories conquered by Union forces. It was a brilliant but unappreciated move by Lincoln, decried of course by the South, but was likely pivotal in winning the Civil War.

We could use an Abraham Lincoln right now. What happened to Lincoln is likely to happen to others that the radical right doesn’t like. The good news is that a year ago we got rid of Donald Trump but only barely was able to keep him from illegally retaining power. The bad news is that we elected Joe Biden, not a bad man by himself, but at least so far not the sort of leader we need for our stormy present. Joe is convinced that by providing pandemic relief and funding ambitious infrastructure bills America will somehow come back together and there will be a big kumbaya moment. It makes me slap my head with a big Homer Simpson “Doh!” I really hope he’s not this stupid.

What’s going on in our country now is revenge for the South losing the civil war. Republicans area pissed beyond belief that demographics are turning against them and that those people could exercise real political power. It’s going to get much, much worse but it will probably be a slow-moving horror. But if Biden and Congressional Democrats were to think anew and act anew, it’s possible much of it can be avoided.

The horrible gerrymandering and voter suppression underway has been unfolding for decades and has reached level 11. As bad as this is though, it’s not nearly as bad as the soft coup Republicans are unfolding for the 2024 elections. They plan to win the 2024 elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression if possible. But if not many states hope to enact laws that would allow their state to choose electors at variance to the popular will, or empower corrupt election officials who will claim that fairly run elections were not, and proclaim a different result. The Brennan Center for Justice summarizes the more brazen efforts currently underway. It’s depressing reading.

There are obvious things that urgently need to be done but little likelihood they will be done. For example, Congress could pass a law outlawing gerrymandering and protecting voting rights. We needed this months ago and some tentative rumblings in the Senate suggest something might happen, if two Democrats (Manchin and Sinema) can be coaxed to allow an exception to the Senate’s filibuster rule. Manchin is a maybe. Sinema looks like a no. Budget reconciliation rules allow avoiding the filibuster for budget bills, but don’t for something as fundamental as voting rights. But even if it can be done, there will be inevitable court challenges which makes it unlikely it could work in the 2022 election. That something this obvious can’t win the support of fifty Democrats indicates just how pointlessly dogmatic some of these dogmas of the quiet past are.

Make no mistake: Republicans are gunning for one-party control that can’t be changed because they will control the election levers that make it impossible, ending democracy, at least at the national level. It will be like voting in Russia when you know Putin will win because the ballot boxes will be stuffed and anyhow, they will control the ballot boxes. It won’t be true in all states and not all at once, but it will be enough to cement control.

The question then becomes: do Americans put up with it? It’s likely to be moot as when they have the lever of power, the crazies are likely to be in charge, so it will be retribution time. They will go after their political enemies and they will leverage as best they can the full power of the state and the courts to persecute, imprison, maim and kill those they don’t like or feel weren’t nice to them. And if they can’t do it, they will look the other way and let their vigilantes do it for them.

They say you don’t negotiate with terrorists, but Republicans are political terrorists. Bipartisanship is now a myth. Passing voting legislation is a possible way out of this but rest assured even if passed it’s likely to be stricken down by the courts on various pretexts. Even so you can count on hoodlums and vigilantes implementing de-facto Jim Crow laws to ensure whites vote disproportionately.

So essentially it’s unlikely there is any peaceful way to reach a kumbaya moment. Republican voters, egged on by hard right conservative media, won’t allow it. For myself, I hope that Covid-19 and what’s left of a functioning government, along with general disgust by enough people paying attention, that we can turn things around in the 2022 election. The odds are very long, but even if Democrats retain power, Republican states are working relentlessly to stack the deck in 2024.

Hang onto your socks, folks.

Stay calm and stop doing stupid stuff

Was my last post too alarming? I actually hope it was. But I’m hardly alone thinking the end is nigh for democracy in our country. Thanks to gerrymandering, the number of competitive House districts is now nearly nonexistent. An institute that monitors the health of democracies listed the United States as a backsliding democracy. It’s hard to ignore such blatant signs, as if virtually the whole Republican Party marching in step with Donald Trump was somehow not enough evidence.

At least I can say that the United States is part of a larger trend wherein people decide to trade in messy self-governance for autocrats. We’re hardly the only country with antivaxxers either, as recent demonstrations in Europe show.

But perhaps our institutions are stronger than they appear to be and we’ll weather this somehow. Perhaps at least the Senate will remain in Democratic Party hands after the 2022 election. Perhaps the combination of the so-called Build Back Better bill and the recently enacted American Recovery Act will tame inflation and improve things for ordinary people sufficient so that voters will reward Democratic candidates next year in numbers sufficient to overwhelm voter suppression efforts. Giving in to despair is a pretty good way to ensure the outcome you don’t like.

Meanwhile, I can at least stop doing the stupid stuff. Emotions are more powerful than reason. It’s something Republicans have figured out decades ago and have hammered home to great success. But sometimes it can be counterproductive, such as if it makes you virulently antivax.

I too am sick of living life behind a mask, but not stupid enough to go around unmasked in potentially dangerous situations. So I’m likely to still be around if the Apocalypse happens. It’s unlikely many of these antivaxxers will be. In the interim I can hope that maybe sufficient numbers of us same people will wrest control of our politics again. It’s lately led me into dark places like suggesting we encourage antivaxxers.

There is good news out there, if you look for it. Antivaxxers are a virulent minority. Most of the rest of us are sensible enough to get vaccinated. A couple of weeks ago I got a booster shot. I got Moderna shots, but for a booster I chose Pfizer. I read that Moderna recipients might get a slightly higher boost from a different messenger RNA type shot.

This vaccination business is a long slog, but it’s helping reduce covid-19’s mortality rate. Bloomberg has been tracking this stuff. Worldwide, 7.73 billion vaccine doses have been administered. 451 million doses have been administered in the United States. 1.45 million doses were administered just last week. Now anyone who had a shot more than six months ago can get a booster. In addition, children as young as five can now get a vaccine. About sixty percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and 10.6 million of us have gotten a booster vaccine dose too. All this is very encouraging and suggests that we’re beating this thing.

All this happened of course during a period of major civil unrest and protest. Americans don’t like to be told what to do, but most of us understand vaccination is both in our self-interest and in the national interest. Most of the hesitant will reluctantly get vaccinated if life becomes too difficult for them otherwise.

By President Biden pushing mandatory vaccinations where possible he is also slowly turning the pandemic into an endemic disease. We’re likely to get at least one more wave this winter, as one is underway in much of Europe. But the disease is becoming less lethal simply because more of us are vaccinated. With my latest booster shot, there is probably a better than even chance that even if exposed to the virus, I won’t develop any symptoms. If I do it’s very unlikely I will require hospitalization and with no other chronic health conditions (unlike Colin Powell), it’s extremely unlikely to kill me.

This was my thinking a couple of months ago when we booked a cruise in the midst of a summer spike. I anticipated a booster, but also likely falling infections by the time we took our cruise which starts in eight days. Cases will likely be on the rise again by then, but by being on a cruise where everyone is vaccinated and tested, and who wear masks in most public spaces on the cruise, and by our likelihood to ward off any infection being pretty high due to the booster, it’s more than reasonably safe, much safer than our last cruise at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Most of the time we will use cloth or paper masks, but we’ll also carry an N95 mask for use when we are in crowds in airports and in Florida. I can still sit on the promenade deck unmasked, enjoy the open oceans and read in a deck chair. I can also do this on our balcony. And I can enjoy the company of amiable strangers over meals with little likelihood of infection. It’s not a zero risk vacation, but by remaining with a tested crowd and donning masks when needed, I can enjoy life with people again, at least for the duration of the cruise.

Antivaxxers have repeatedly ignored government recommendations at the cost of many lives. They did this under the illusion they were exercising freedom, when it’s impossible to be free if you are dead. The State of New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die. By ignoring the government and the medical establishing, for antivaxxers it’s increasingly live free and die. For me and most of the rest of us, it’s live with some reasonable constraints on our freedom and you can be reasonably free to enjoy life and not die.

Sensible people realize that medical science is imperfect. Novel viruses like this coronavirus variant take a while to be understood and for sensible mitigation strategies to be figured out. You simply do the best you can with the best information out there, which will come from people who do this as a profession. Follow their guidance as the pandemic evolves. Don’t do the stupid stuff. Listen to your head, not your heart when it comes to something as fundamental as staying alive.

If you are sane like me, it’s a completely reasonable and sane way to get through this and to be around for what comes next.

Tomorrow’s unfortunate news today

I can see the future! Obviously I’ve made lots of predictions over the years and many of them turned out wrong. And while I can’t say exactly when and how things will happen in the future, I can see the future of the United States easily enough over the next decade or so. Most likely, so can you. And it’s pretty depressing.

You can see it too if you are paying attention. Republicans have given up on democracy. They actually gave up on it decades ago, but they knew the only way to get rid of it was to make it a long term project. And they have. For forty years or so they’ve been chipping away at it and they are likely to win at the project, at least in the short term. One things which is clear: if you think things are crazy now, just wait. It’s going to get much, much crazier.

And so much of this is preventable. It requires two erstwhile Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) to do something they don’t want to do: change Senate filibuster rules so national voting rules can change. Of course, Republicans won’t allow it. Why on earth would they ever vote against the self-interest of their own party?

The most modest proposal by Manchin would simply require all states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department on their voting rules. This would presumably strip states of the ability to offer fewer polling sites in black and minority neighborhoods. House Democrats want to outlaw partisan gerrymandering, at least in federal elections. But in any event, it’s a dead idea. Even if Manchin agrees to amend filibuster rules in this case, Sinema has expressed no interest. So we’re going into the 2022 and 2024 elections with gerrymandering cranked up to an 11 in Republican states. This means Republicans are almost guaranteed to win back the House in 2022.

It’s abundantly clear that most Americans don’t really care about democracy. For decades Republicans have been stripping most civics classes from school curriculum, so it’s more than possible these now adult voters have only a hazy idea of what democracy is about anyhow. Gerrymandering and voter suppression have been going on for decades, distributing power disproportionately, and it’s left voters unmoved. What they do care about is gas prices and they will hold politicians in power accountable if they get too high. This largely explains Joe Biden’s tanking approval ratings.

Voters also have no patience. They expect everything to be done yesterday. Biden is doing a remarkable job moving legislation through a highly partisan Congress with tiny margins, but they don’t care. They are fixated on prices at the pump. Climate change? They don’t care. Climate change is an existential crisis but they are just trying to get through the day. There is plenty of evidence that voters are already ignoring plenty that Democrats have done for them, like temporary child care tax credits. They don’t see these things; they only see the price of gas at the pump.

Regardless, voting matters little if the results can be easily overturned. These red states are putting partisan hacks in charge of their election systems and are allowing state legislatures to overturn results if they don’t like the results. It’s the sort of election Vladimir Putin would approve of, and it’s coming to the USA. For sure though it will be in place in 2024 when narrowly red states like Georgia simply won’t let its voters have a say if their voters vote for a Democratic president. The state board of electors will assign them to the Republican candidate anyhow.

Once Republicans are in charge, adhering to the rule of law will seem quaint. Trump proved skilled at manipulating the Justice Department. In a future Trump or Republican presidency, the rule of law won’t mean much. In the unlikely event the Supreme Court rules against the administration, that won’t mean much either. President Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears was a direct result of openly defying the Supreme Court on the matter of relocating native Americans. Jackson realized the court’s authority could not be backed up by force. It depends entirely on the integrity of the president, who will have none.

So expect it: law enforcement will become partisan and selective. The president will ignore decisions he doesn’t like. The president will issue executive orders that violate the law and the constitution. With the Congress in Republican hands, and likely to stay there through a corrupt election process, rule of law and justice just become moot. The president does what he wants and we effectively have a Congress that merely salutes the president. It’s coming.

Of course there will be resistance. There will be inevitable court challenges, huge marches and demonstrations, etc. And because they can, law enforcement will get very heavy handed. Not just the National Guard but the entire U.S. military will be used to enforce martial law. And it won’t end there. Inevitably there will be pogroms and systemic retribution and persecution. Anyone who ever spoke up against Republicans will be targets, and you can bet they will include Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and plenty of others. At some point they will probably come for me too.

It’s coming, it’s coming. It’s all so clear and obvious. But it’s not clear to senators Sinema and Manchin, even though this behavior is entirely predictable. They just prefer to live life with blinders on. History will be extremely unkind to them, if it can be written at all. Like so-called Critical Race Theory, the victors won’t allow it and at some point will make truth illegal.

I wish this weren’t going to happen, but I don’t see how it will be stopped. God help us. If you are a praying person, it’s time to pray. And if you’re not, it’s a good reason to pray anyhow because there simply isn’t the political will to do what much be done to save the republic.