Category Archives: Random Blogging

The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question

Older readers may recall a quiz show that built to a finale in which the prize was $64,000. During the time the show was popular, when a difficult question would come up in conversation, someone was likely to say “Well, that’s the 64,000 dollar question!”

I thought of that when I read the results of several recent polls showing a majority of Americans disapproving of Donald Trump–with 46% disapproving strongly. (Obama’s “strong disapproval” never approached that number.)

Pew, of course, is the gold standard of polling. Daily Kos recently reproduced Pew’s poll, and its demographic breakout of approvals/disapprovals;  the breakout prompts me to ask that $64,000 question:

Now it’s clear that there’s a dramatic racial divide in our nation’s politics, but there’s a dramatic difference among whites based on whether they have a college degree or not:

                                        APPROVE      DISAPPROVE
WHITE                                51              48
BLACK                                12              80
HISPANIC                          25              72
WHITE, COLLEGE           38              61
WHITE, NO-COLLEGE    57             41

And that white, non-college-educated cohort is Trump’s firewall. He’ll bleed support among all those other groups, but there’s relatively not much room to drop. So if he’s going to end up in the low 30s or even high 20s, very possibly within six months, it’ll be because non-college whites start abandoning him. And if Trump loses those guys, there’s nothing else propping up the GOP. And 2018 will be a political bloodbath.

The question is obvious: What will it take to erode Trump’s support among the non-college-educated whites who still support him? What is it that they see that appeals to them? The easy answer–which may or may not be the correct answer–is that he has given them someone to blame for their discontents, “others” who can be held responsible for whatever economic or social injustices they experience. African-Americans, Mexicans, Jews, immigrants, elitists….

If that is, in fact, the basis of their approval, we may wait a long time for them to realize that his policies will deepen, rather than ameliorate, their distress. If there is one thing Trump is good at, it is blaming others for his own missteps and deficits; if the economic condition of those voters declines (as it is likely to do, given the policies that he and his cabinet choices embrace–policies that will benefit the well-off at the expense of the working poor), he will blame Congress for failing to pay billions for his wall, or the courts for failing to keep “those people” out, or the media for actually reporting what he says and does.

There’s an old saying to the effect that people cannot reason themselves out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. There was no coherent, logical, reality-based argument for supporting Trump, and overwhelming evidence that he was monumentally unfit for the Oval Office. What will it take to weaken Trump’s support among those who voted for him because they hated Hillary,or would never vote for a woman, or because they thought wealth implied competence, or because they resented having had a black President, or because they always voted for the Republican?

How long will they continue to shrug off the mounting evidence of corruption and dangerous ineptitude as “fake news”? Will they convince themselves that the Russians are really nice guys, and Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin is no big deal? How embarrassing will his behavior have to get in order for them to recognize his mental instability?

What, exactly, will it take?

Carrots and Sticks

Yesterday, a climate-change denier was confirmed to head the EPA. This comes as Trump and the Republicans gut environmental regulations, including those preventing coal companies from dumping toxic waste into our rivers and streams.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal.

In the midst of the crazy that is the Trump Administration–in the face of Congressional Republicans’ stubborn denial of science and evidence in general and climate change in particular, three prominent conservatives-Martin S. Feldstein, Ted Halstead and N. Gregory Mankiw– have issued “A Conservative Case for Climate Action.” They explained their plan in an op-ed in the New York Times.

CRAZY as it may sound, this is the perfect time to enact a sensible policy to address the dangerous threat of climate change. Before you call us nuts, hear us out.

The three are forthright about the fact that Republican congressional opposition prevented Obama from addressing climate change as vigorously as he wanted; he was only able to enact a handful of measures through Executive Orders, and those are likely to be reversed by Trump, who (they say with delicious understatement) “seems much less concerned about the risks of climate change, and more worried about how excessive regulation impedes economic growth and depresses living standards.”

They note that

an ideal climate policy would reduce carbon emissions, limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, help working-class Americans and prove durable when the political winds change.

Hard to argue with any of those goals.

After listing a number of other notable Republicans who participated in authoring their proposal, they proceed to outline it.

Our plan is built on four pillars.

First, the federal government would impose a gradually increasing tax on carbon dioxide emissions. It might begin at $40 per ton and increase steadily. This tax would send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprints.

Second, the proceeds would be returned to the American people on an equal basis via quarterly dividend checks. With a carbon tax of $40 per ton, a family of four would receive about $2,000 in the first year. As the tax rate rose over time to further reduce emissions, so would the dividend payments.

Third, American companies exporting to countries without comparable carbon pricing would receive rebates on the carbon taxes they’ve paid on those products, while imports from such countries would face fees on the carbon content of their products. This would protect American competitiveness and punish free-riding by other nations, encouraging them to adopt their own carbon pricing.

Finally, regulations made unnecessary by the carbon tax would be eliminated, including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

The authors assert that a carbon dividends program starting at $40 per ton would achieve nearly twice the emissions reductions of all Obama-era climate regulations combined. They also report that, if all four elements are put in place at the same time, the plan would be sufficient, all by itself, to meet America’s commitment under the Paris climate agreement.

Environmentalists should like the long-overdue commitment to carbon pricing. Growth advocates should embrace the reduced regulation and increased policy certainty, which would encourage long-term investments, especially in clean technologies. Libertarians should applaud a plan premised on getting the incentives right and government out of the way. Populists should welcome the distributive impact.

The appeal of this plan is obvious: as the authors note, simply repealing Obama’s measures would be immensely unpopular; unlike Congressional “deniers,” most Americans accept the reality of climate change and support measures to address it.

Recent polls show that 64 percent of Americans are concerned about climate change, 71 percent want America to remain in the Paris agreement, and an even larger share favor clean energy. If the Republican Party fails to exercise leadership on our climate challenge, they risk a return to heavy-handed regulation when Democrats return to power.

If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions–and that is the goal among people who accept the reality of climate change–Republicans and Democrats who share that goal should embrace any proposal that will demonstrably achieve it.

If carrots will do what sticks cannot, I’m all for carrots.

The Trump Cabal–God Help Us All

Yesterday, facing massive opposition, Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary withdrew. But that was a minor victory; most of his ill-equipped nominees have been confirmed.

The most accurate one-liner about  the sorry lot that Donald Trump has assembled to run–or destroy– some of the nation’s most important agencies was by a Facebook poster who said he’d seen better cabinets at IKEA.

A more sober–and sobering–analysis has been made by a retired jurist and lifelong Republican, in a scathing guest column titled “It’s Time to Impeach Trump.”

The leader of the band of Mad Hatters occupying the White House has already insulted allied world leaders, issued illegal and badly written orders, impugned a “so-called” judge appointed by his own party, and appointed the least-qualified cabinet ever. The first secretary of state was Thomas Jefferson. Trump appointed a big-oil executive with close ties to Russia. The first treasury secretary was Alexander Hamilton. Trump appointed a former Goldman Sachs exec who got rich foreclosing on homeowners. The national security advisor lasted 24 days.

It isn’t just the Cabinet. People given important roles in Trump’s White House are even more troubling, to put it mildly. Steve Bannon is the most high-profile example of the white supremacist cabal surrounding Trump, but he’s hardly the only one: 

[Sebastian] Gorka’s name and views appear to have a higher profile among experts on Islamophobia than in the counterterrorism community.

Engy Abdelkalder, adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, noted that like Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, Gorka has ties to anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney.

“He has frequently appeared on Gaffney’s radio program to further such fears and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims,” Abdelkalder told TPM in an email. “And what makes him particularly pernicious is his academic credentials and now, prestigious political appointment, extend an appearance of legitimacy to anti-Muslim bigotry and prejudice.”

Then there’s newly visible Steve Miller, described thusly by a story in the Grio:

If there was any question as to whether Donald Trump is running a white supremacist, authoritarian White House, Stephen Miller should erase all doubt.

Yes, Trump has more than one scary in-house Nazi adviser named Steve. We all knew about Steve Bannon, the white nationalist senior adviser who came to Washington via Breitbart with ideas about making America white again. Now there’s Stephen Miller, who is only 31 and on top of the world as the White House policy adviser behind Trump’s Muslim ban.

Given his incendiary remarks on last Sunday news shows, the subsequent media revelations about his background aren’t surprising, although the details are definitely chilling.

In high school, this angry little man complained about Cinco de Mayo celebrations, Spanish language announcements, an LGBTQ student club and a visit from a Muslim leader, as Univision reported. When Miller ran for class president, he was reportedly booed off the stage by 4,000 students. In his high school yearbook, he wrote: “There can be no fifty-fifty Americanism in this country. There is room here for only 100 percent Americanism, only for those who are Americans and nothing else.”

When Miller attended college at Duke University, his racial hatred continued. Miller was affiliated with extremists such as neo-Nazi leader Richard Spencer, white nationalist Jared Taylor and Islamophobic activist David Horowitz. Further, as Politico reported, Miller said that multiculturalism undermines American culture. He accused black students of racial paranoia. Although a practicing Jew, he decried the “War on Christmas.” He even went after professors who were registered Democrats, and hated Maya Angelou, calling her a “a leftist” full of “racial paranoia” and opposing her coming to campus for a keynote speech.

Miller later became a press secretary for Rep. Michelle Bachman and communications director for Sen. Jeff Sessions. During the 2016 campaign, Miller warmed up the crowds at the racially charged and violent Trump rallies. Now, he is writing Trump’s executive orders and speeches, including the Muslim ban and an inauguration speech laced with Nazi and antisemitic overtones.

Birds of a feather….

Judge Painter got it right.

We must admit we have elected a president who has immediately proved himself to be a grifter, a pathological liar, a mean-spirited bully and dangerous to American values. This not-ready-for-prime-time show is too dangerous to continue. America is at stake.

Why Good Republicans Should Vote Democratic in 2018

When I left the GOP in 2000, John Keeler, an eminently thoughtful and civil legislator, asked me what I thought it would take to keep people like me–not just reliable Republican voters, but active  and involved party workers–from leaving. I responded that I would have remained a Republican had the party continued to be the party I’d originally joined–my version of a refrain that I have often heard in the years since, “I didn’t leave the GOP, it left me.”

When I run into people I worked with in the Hudnut Administration, or on campaign committees supporting Republicans like Bill Hudnut and Dick Lugar, the conversation often turns to bewildered “what the hell happened” commiserations. My students (who appear to have overwhelming animus for today’s GOP and its priorities) find it hard to believe that the party wasn’t always a refuge for anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-science, anti-government know-nothings.

One consequence of Trump’s election has been a vast increase in political activism by previously unengaged citizens of all ages. And that participation–not to mention demographic data showing a rapidly graying GOP and a young, diverse and growing Democratic party that did not bode well for the future electoral prospects of the Grand Old Party even before Trump– is not a good sign for Republicans.

Right now, the GOP is dominated by a relatively small group of white, elderly political and religious fundamentalists. If it weren’t for highly successful gerrymandering and the Electoral College, the GOP would already have been consigned to permanent minority status.

That wouldn’t be good for America. America needs two responsible, adult parties.

Here is the choice faced by “real” Republicans– the ones who still believe in facts and evidence, in compromise and bipartisanship, in working toward the public good–those who recognize that the last election was not a fight between candidates with contending policy preferences , but an atypical and dangerous departure from democratic norms.

Those Republicans can continue to vote, however reluctantly, for any candidate with an “R” beside the name, and (assuming the country survives Trump/Pence) watch with dismay as the radical cult that is now the GOP dwindles into inconsequence. Or those rational, good-government Republicans can take the party back, and grow it by returning it to its roots in the socially tolerant and fiscally conservative “big tent” politics that have been displaced by the zealots, alt-right bigots and assorted “true believers.”

In order to do that, however–in order to reassert control by the adults–the current iteration of the GOP has to be defeated. If the party is to be resurrected, its faithful voters in those bright-red gerrymandered “safe” districts are the only ones who can do it. They have to declare “enough,” and the only way to do that is by voting Democratic in 2018 and then picking up the pieces, restoring sanity and–quite possibly–saving the two-party system.

If the Trump/Pence/Bannon administration continues on its current course, if enough reasonable Republicans are sufficiently embarrassed and repelled by Mitch McConnell’s appalling behavior in the Senate and by the GOP’s “lunatic caucus” in the House, it might actually happen. (But then, I’ve always been an optimist….)

The Power of the Gerrymander

Members of Indiana’s General Assembly will soon vote on an anti-Gerrymandering measure introduced by Jerry Torr, a “good government” Republican. The odds are that with a bit of a push, it will pass the Indiana House; but absent some really effective citizen lobbying, it isn’t likely to make it through the Senate, and that’s a real shame.

If readers of this blog need motivation to participate in that citizen lobbying effort, let me point to an important column by Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo, in which he connects the multiple dangers posed by Donald Trump directly to successful GOP gerrymandering. (The emphasis in the following excerpt is mine.)

In a less polarized partisan environment Trump never would have been elected and, if he had, might already be looking at possible impeachment. I think the greatest single explanation of Trump is that his politics profoundly galvanized a minority of the electorate and only a minority of the electorate. Almost everyone who wasn’t galvanized was repulsed. But once he had secured the GOP nomination with that minority, the power of partisan polarization kicked in to lock into place perhaps the next 15% to 20% of the electorate which otherwise would never have supported him. The fact that partisan identification proved stronger than that repulsion is the key reason many, including myself, wrongly discounted Trump’s ability to win. As long as Trump remains “us” to Republican voters I see little reason to think anything we can imagine will shake that very high level of support he gets from self-identified Republicans. That likely means that, among other things, no matter how unpopular Trump gets, Republican lawmakers will continue to support him because the chances of ending their careers is greater in a GOP primary than in a general election.

As I have repeatedly argued, the creation of “safe” seats for either party via partisan redistricting means that the real election occurs in that party’s primary. The people who vote in primary elections are primarily the “party faithful,” and they come overwhelmingly from the party’s fringe. Democratic voters in primaries are demonstrably to the left of the party as a whole, and Republican primary voters are even further to the right of the average Republican.

My Facebook page has been filled with criticisms of the U.S. House and Senate Republicans who have gone meekly along with the seriously disturbed person who occupies the Oval Office. (I can’t bring myself to attach the word “President” to this embarrassing buffoon.) What happened to their patriotism, their cojones? The answer is simple: the gerrymandering that makes them vulnerable to defeat if they cross the crazies of their own party has neutered them.

Gerrymandering is the reason that otherwise reasonable politicians consistently put partisan loyalties above the common good.

It would be nice if a few of them exhibited some integrity, and if Trump continues to threaten democratic norms and fundamental American interests, perhaps some of them will “grow a pair”– especially those getting ready to retire or otherwise leave office, who will not face another election.

The rest of them are caught between self-interest (which requires that they avoid offending the party’s fringe) and (for those that have them) their consciences.

Welcome to the world that gerrymandering has wrought…..