Democrats and riding Hurricane Donald

The Thinker by Rodin

Thursday’s White House meeting between Trump and congressional leaders was surprising, but perhaps should not have been. During a meeting in which a Republican president should be counted on to follow a plan by his Republican congressional leaders (Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), Trump went off the rails again. He let his grievances with Ryan and McConnell get the better of him. He surprised everyone by agreeing with a proposal by House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer instead.

So instead of an eighteen-month extension of the debt ceiling wanted by Republicans (which conveniently kicks this can down the road past the 2018 midterms), he agreed to a three-month extension proposed by Democrats instead. Emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey was also agreed to. Oh, and that must have border wall funding? Seems to be off the table again at the moment. It was just more Trump bluster.

Republicans were flummoxed and furious. Democrats were smiling but wisely sitting on their hands. Trump had gone off the rails again. He let his petty grievances against Ryan and McConnell get the better of him, and spoke of Pelosi and Schumer like they were friends, calling them Nancy and Chuck. I doubt Nancy and Chuck expected this outcome, but perhaps it should not have come out of the blue. For when he feels grieved Trump will use whatever powers are at his disposal to wreak revenge. Typically he lashes out on Twitter, but this time he had something better: must-pass legislation. He could get vengeance against Ryan and McConnell by using a legislative approach that Democrats wanted.

Pelosi and Schumer won’t ever be Trump’s friends. Republicans in Congress though assumed that because Trump ran as a Republican that he would support their agenda. In reality Trump ran as a populist, used the Republican Party as a vehicle for getting elected and now that he is elected he feels free to wing it as he goes along. Trump will seek to support his own interests, whatever they happen to be at the moment. Since even he doesn’t know what they are and they can change on a dime, they will be whatever takes his fancy at the moment. And most likely whatever he supports will be in part aimed at punishing his foes, real or perceived because that’s what bullies and narcissists do.

However, despite Trump’s tendency to throw in his cards and demand a new hand, you can figure what breadcrumbs Trump is likely to follow. He will follow any that appear to give him greater glory and recognition and that will punish people who have fallen out of his favor. In this sense he’s predictable. So it is quite possible, in fact even probable, that if you bait him with the right breadcrumbs he will follow your trail and can thus be used to some extent.

So with a narcissist Trump as president, being in the minority is turning out to be something of an advantage. The majority (Republicans) cannot govern. They are too factionalized but they are also too at odds ideologically with much of Trump’s agenda. Moreover, they can’t possibly satisfy Trump’s desire for instant wins because they must follow a legislative process that requires actual debate and votes and that takes time.

However, at least through the 2018 elections Democrats are in the minority. They can’t be blamed for anything because they don’t set the agenda. (Yes, they can filibuster certain legislation, something Trump obviously doesn’t like, which is why many bills taken up in the Senate are written to adhere to reconciliation rules that require simple majorities.) Trump can make them temporary allies but they bear none of the responsibility for failures. In the past Trump has railed at both Pelosi and Schumer and called them nasty names. Most likely he will again the moment they obstruct his agenda of the moment. But right now he sees them as friends because it is politically convenient. Moreover, he has an incentive to keep them as friends because he literally has no political friends left in the Republican congressional leadership.

Pissing off Republicans in Congress is deeply counterproductive, not that Trump can see this. Consider whether Speaker Ryan agrees to take a resolution of impeachment against Trump to a vote. If you are in good relations with Trump, you probably won’t. If you are in bad relations, then why not take a vote? If Trump is impeached, convicted and removed then Pence is going to be better to work with. Similarly, despite his taciturn face, Senate Majority Leader McConnell probably harbors resentment against Trump now too. He’ll be required to try Trump if the House impeaches Trump, but he and many Republicans in the Senate would have plenty of reasons to vote him out of office too.

And all of this is not just possible but even likely because we have an inconsistent and severe narcissist as our president. A politically astute president of course would be building bridges with Congress because that’s how you move your agenda forward: through persuasion. Bullies perhaps can persuade, but their only real power is the power of intimidation. In Congress, intimidation works only at reelection. If in the primaries next year Trump can influence Republican voters to vote out those Republicans he disdains, these incumbents may pay a price. Given the wreck Trump is making of his presidency, it’s pretty good odds that most of these incumbents will survive their primaries.

So if you are a Democrat looking to regain power though, this horror is all good. If a Republican incumbent can be voted out in the primary for a Trump sycophant, then in a general election you’ve just increased the odds that a Democratic candidate can flip that seat by appealing to moderates. Candidates toting the line of a president with a 37% popularity rating aren’t likely to win. If a Republican incumbent survives their primary, they are still facing odds of losing in the midterms if the election framed as a referendum on Trump’s presidency, which is the obvious and powerful frame Democrats doubtless will use in 2018.

Trump’s actions Thursday are thus is very good news for Democrats. Trump will find it hard to back away from his new friends Nancy and Chuck because by doing so he would lose face with people he officially dislikes, including Ryan and McConnell. Nancy and Chuck are smart to stifle their grins, but rest assured they are ebullient in private. Trump has fallen into his own trap made possible by his fixed personality and his narcissism.

Like Hurricane Irma about to hit Florida, while you can’t stop this natural disaster you can ride it for all its worth. Trump is the wrecking machine of his own agenda. Democrats need to hang on, ride it and hope that voters have had enough in 2018 to flip the House and maybe even the Senate.

A battle lost, but a war far from over

The Thinker by Rodin

News analysts and politicians are in a tizzy because House Democrats have done what seems to be a very strange thing. How, they ask, can House Democrats elect current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as their new minority leader, when they lost sixty house seats on November 2nd? Isn’t this counterproductive? Isn’t it rewarding failure?

These critics are looking at the wrong set of goal posts. To news analysts and pundits, the goal is to control power. To people like me, the goal of government is to work for the best interests of its people, even if in the process you must lose power for a while because you dared to do what was right and stand up against special interests. By that measure, Nancy Pelosi was a sterling success. Rarely has a Congress been as productive as this current congress, and Democrats in the House led the way. The usually recalcitrant Senate provided the breaks on so much progressive legislation that first was approved by the House. Even so, the 111th Congress passed an amazing amount of progressive legislation. Moreover, Pelosi’s leadership skills were instrumental in marshaling House Democrats, as fractious as their Senate colleagues into a strong and effective force.

Consider some of the legislation passed by this Congress and compare it with any congress in your living memory:

  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. No longer will women have pay discrimination lawsuits thrown out because 180 days have elapsed.
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This act drew plenty of scorn from Republicans and certainly did add greatly to our national debt. However, it also saved two to three million jobs and held our economy together. Skeptical? Our nation’s Number One investor Warren Buffet says it’s true. Without it and the bailout, it seems certain that we would now be mired in a depression instead of the effects of a lingering recession. Instead of 9.6% unemployment, it is likely the unemployment rate would be 15% or higher. Like the auto companies or loathe them, the bailout kept them afloat and even GM is returning to profitability. In some cases, taxpayers are making a profit from these bailouts, while saving large numbers of jobs right here in America.
  • Credit CARD Act. The act ended a host of egregious and abusive practices by credit card companies who were charging usury interest rates and fees. The act makes shopping for credit cards much less complicated and much more straightforward.
  • Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act. For the first time, the FDA is allowed to regulate cigarettes as the dangerous and controlled substance that they are. Coming soon to packs of cigarettes: graphic pictures of the effects of smoking to help dissuade smokers, courtesy of an empowered FDA, albeit fifty years later than necessary.
  • Worker, Homeowner and Business Assistance Act. Provided fourteen extra weeks of unemployment insurance for the longest unemployed Americans in the worst 24 states. The act has kept millions from destitution and homelessness.
  • Statutory Pay as you Go Act. Reinstated pay as you go budget rules that Republicans discarded in 2002. Ensures that most new spending is offset by cuts elsewhere or by new taxes. It’s a law any Republican should love, which make you wonder why they were the ones to abandon it.
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Health reform. While not perfect, for the first time your health insurance company cannot end your insurance because your condition is unprofitable for them. The act covers the health insurance needs of young adults under their parents’ policies through age 26. It squeezes real cost savings and efficiencies from Medicare and Medicaid. It opens health insurance plans to all comers and does not allow any health insurance company to reject you. The Act makes significant and meaningful changes that will lower the rate of growth in medical costs by ending much of the shifting of costs to others and state and local governments.
  • Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act. Closed the donut hole for Medicare Part D recipients. It also allowed the government to make student loans directly to students, taking away the profit from the middleman.
  • Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This act puts in place governance that should preclude much of our latest financial disaster from happening again.

Time and time again, Pelosi stood in the firewall and organized House Democrats to pass progressive legislation. Through her raw power, guile, persuasion, strong-arming, nudging and probably some backroom deals she made things happen. No shrinking violet, she was one liberal unafraid of critics and unafraid to intimidate them.

Pundits will say she pushed through legislation America did not want. Others will say that she should have spent all her time creating jobs for Americans, although many of these same critics expected her to do it without spending any money. It was largely Democrats that kept the economy from collapsing altogether. Despite the higher unemployment rates, the Obama administration and the Pelosi/Reid 111th Congress has still created more jobs in two years than President Bush created in eight.

That’s of little comfort though to the unemployed. I am sorry that the public took out their wrath on a Democratic congress, and I am sorry for the sixty or so Democratic House members who lost their seats. They fell on their swords, but they did so nobly. They moved crucial progressive legislation. They kept an economy from collapsing and bought us time to recover. They all deserve our thanks, respect and honor. They are true patriots. The problems we face are engrained and long standing. There is no silver bullet for any of these. If they can be solved at all, it is only through the application of a lot of time, money and quality legislation. By that standard, and not by the artificial one of who controls power after an election, the 111th Congress and Speaker Pelosi were great successes.

We progressives may have lost a battle on November 2nd, but this war is far from over. To win the war, we need proven leaders who can chart a way forward. Nancy Pelosi is such a leader. House Democrats did the right thing by making her their minority leader in the next Congress. Those who are angry with her have their anger misplaced. I would rather have a Republican 112th Congress than a Democratic 111th Congress that accomplished nothing of note. With courage, conviction, spunk and determination, Pelosi showed her mettle and that she has the right stuff. Let’s hope she stays in Congress long enough to inflict some revenge. I think she will live to see it.