Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Trump, Moore And The “Grand Old Party”

Yesterday’s post dealt with Roy Moore’s decisive, ten-point victory over Luther Strange in this week’s Alabama GOP primary. Moore won although Strange had the (mostly) full-throated support of Donald Trump.

Moore’s win suggests that– although Trump’s election may have “unleashed” the party’s rabid base– “the Donald” cannot control it.

The GOP’s Congressional leadership is similarly unable to control the members of what has been called the “lunatic caucus”–Representatives sent to Washington from deep-red gerrymandered districts controlled by that same base.

It’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around the reality of today’s Republican Party. For those of us who once worked for a very different GOP, the current iteration is nothing short of tragic. All political parties have their fringe crazies–the Democrats are certainly not immune–but in the GOP, the crazies have taken control; sane, moderate, fiscally prudent and socially tolerant Republicans have retreated or departed– or been ejected to taunts of “RINO.”

The number of American voters who identify as Republicans has diminished–in 2016, Gallup put it at 26%– but most of those who remain are dramatically different from even their most conservative antecedents. To the extent they have actual policy preferences, rather than the free-floating animus and overt racism that found its champion in Trump, those preferences are represented by Moore and his ilk.

Roy Moore embodies what the majority of today’s GOP–its most reliable voters, its “base”–support. And that reality is absolutely terrifying, not just because our democratic system requires two sane, adult parties in order to function, but because Moore’s beliefs aren’t just the ravings of a lunatic (although they certainly are that), they’re incompatible with every principle of the American Constitution and legal system.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Before the primary election, The Daily Beast dug out statements Moore has made over the years. During a speech he gave to a fundamentalist Christian political organization, Operation Save America, he said

“I’m sorry but this country was not founded on Muhammad. It was not founded on Buddha. It was not founded on secular humanism. It was founded on God,” he said according to reports by AL.com.

He has frequently charged that Islam is a “false religion” that goes “against the American way of life.”

“[Islam is] a faith that conflicts with the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Moore said during a 2007 radio interview with Michelangelo Signorile, “The Constitution and Declaration of Independence has a direct reference to the Holy Scriptures.”

His homophobia is notorious. In a custody decision, he wrote that homosexuality is  “an inherent evil against which children must be protected.”

CNN also uncovered a 2005 interview between Moore and Bill Press during C-SPAN2’s After Words where he compared homosexuality to bestiality.

“Just because it’s done behind closed doors, it can still be prohibited by state law. Do you know that bestiality, the relationship between man and beast is prohibited in every state?” Moore told Press. When asked if Moore was comparing homosexuality to bestiality, he replied, “It’s the same thing.”

Moore rejects evolution. He attributes the 9/11 attacks to “God’s retribution” for our national “immorality,” and insists (against all historical evidence and the text of the Constitution) that the Founders established America as a “Christian Nation.”

These and similar sentiments–including a deep commitment to White Supremacy– are the banners under which today’s Republicans march. The GOP is now the party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore and Mike Pence–proud racists dismissive of history, ignorant of science and political philosophy, disinterested in actual governance, and obsessed with their own self-importance.

This is what is left of a once Grand Old Party.

Abraham Lincoln weeps.

Donald Trump and the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight….

It’s hard to believe, but the evidence is overwhelming: no one in Donald Trump’s White House is politically competent.

We knew Trump’s menagerie didn’t know spit about governing or policy. We knew they considered ethics a joke. (Senior Administration officials refused the orientation/training routinely offered by the Office of Government Ethics.) But even acknowledging the cringingly inept performances of Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, no one could have anticipated the level of abject cluelessness revealed by the firing of James Comey.

Perhaps the Washington Post said it best:

Donald Trump has surrounded himself with sycophants and amateurs who are either unwilling or unable to tell him no. He lacks a David Gergen-like figure who is wise to the ways of Washington and has the stature to speak up when the president says he wants to fire an FBI director who is overseeing the counterintelligence investigation into whether his associates coordinated with Moscow. Without such a person, Trump just walked headlong into a political buzz saw.

 Senior officials at the White House were caught off guard by the intense and immediate blowback to the president’s stunning decision to fire James Comey. They reportedly expected Republicans to back him up and thought Democrats wouldn’t complain loudly because they have been critical of Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Indeed, that was the dubious excuse given publicly for his ouster.

“Caught off guard”? Really? How utterly devoid of political savvy–not to mention operating brain cells– would you have to be in order to be surprised by the public reaction to so clumsy and obvious an attempt to derail an investigation likely to uncover serious criminal conduct?

Did the geniuses advising our embarrassment of a President really think the American public, the media and the political establishment would believe that Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s email was the reason he was terminated?

The word “Nixonian” has been tossed around, but really, Nixon and his co-conspirators were far less naive than the sorry collection of white supremacists, consiglieres, and know-nothings that form Donald Trump’s inner–and only– circle.

Media outlets report that grand jury subpoenas were recently issued to associates of  Michael Flynn, and that Comey had requested additional resources for the investigation of Trump and Company’s ties to Russia. These events, and the damning testimonies of Sally Yates and James Clapper earlier this week, evidently sent the White House into panic mode.

Whatever the calculation (assuming anyone in that den of ineptitude is actually capable of calculating), the President has placed Congressional Republicans firmly between a rock and a hard place. During Watergate, a not inconsiderable number of Republicans put nation above party. American politics is much more polarized now–and we have fewer statesmen and more ideologues in both parties–but I have to believe that the combination of public outrage, Trump’s blatant corruption, and fear of what might happen in the 2018 elections will persuade at least some in the GOP to do the right thing.

Frank Rich wrote an article titled “The Comey Firing May Be the Beginning of the End of the Trump Administration.” It should be read in its entirety, but here’s a taste:

A White House gang this insular, this politically naïve, and this transparent in its maladroit efforts at deflection and deception is a gang that can’t shoot straight. No one in the West Wing apparently even considered that it might look bad to time this debacle on the eve of a day when Trump’s only scheduled official event was an Oval Office meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. No doubt these same brilliant masterminds now think that Washington will go back to business as usual.

If the public outrage that greeted Comey’s firing is any indication, America will not go back to “business as usual” until a special prosecutor issues a comprehensive report.

Remember Knowledgable Republicans?

I’m getting used to having my students express surprise when they discover that I used to be a Republican–that I even ran for Congress as a Republican.

I try to explain to them that the radical fringe that constitutes today’s GOP is nothing like the party I worked for over a period of 35 years. I tell them that although both parties have always included zealots and know-nothings of various sorts, I remember a time when serious people who cared about America’s prospects and were even willing to work across the political aisle could be found in both parties.

A recent media release from the Lugar Center is evidence not just of the accuracy of that recollection, but the distance between then and now.

Washington–Former Sen. Richard G. Lugar said today many of President Trump’s stated foreign policy goals are “simplistic, prosaic and reactive,” and are characteristic of “a selfish, inward looking nation that is being motivated by fear, not a great superpower with capacity to shape global affairs.”

In remarks prepared for a Washington event hosted by the Foreign Policy Association, Lugar, a former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that if Trump fully followed through on his current policies for trade, immigration and international alliances, “the net effect…would be an economic and geopolitical disaster.”

Lugar, a Republican from Indiana who served 36 years in the Senate, said the president is relying too much on beefing up the military while “squandering America’s international leverage.”

“We cannot bomb our way to security,” Lugar said.

Always the diplomat, Lugar attributed the “missteps” of the Trump Administration to a period in which it was “finding its footing.” (Those of us who are far less diplomatic might suggest that in order to find one’s footing, it is helpful to know what a floor is…But I digress.) He did, however, address several of the issues that he clearly considers troubling, if not disastrous.

What worries him Lugar said,

are Trump’s “campaign-driven foreign policy themes that are fundamentally contradicted by centuries of world history.”  For instance, Trump’s protectionist trade agenda ignores the powerful impact of technology on job displacement, Lugar said, and “attempting to isolate a nation from trade competition is a self-defeating strategy that will hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder before anyone else.”

“On immigration, we are mired in a debate of distraction,” Lugar said. “In a world where dampening the rise of new terrorists is as important as dealing with existing ones, the ban on entrants from Muslim countries represents the most obvious recruitment tool against the United States since Abu Ghraib…The ban has been a steep net loss to U.S. national security.”

Lugar, a strong supporter of NATO throughout his Senate career, also expressed concern about Trump’s willingness to question U.S. commitment to our allies as he seeks to wring more contributions from them. “Such ambiguity is not clever,” Lugar said. “It is dangerous and can lead to deadly miscalculation.”

A couple of things about these public remarks struck me: first–and most obvious–is the monumental distance between statesmen like Richard Lugar and the Keystone Kops party of Trump, Pence, Ryan, McConnell and “Freedom Caucus” ideologues who now are both the face and the substance of a once-responsible GOP. Where we once had thoughtful, intellectually-honest elected officials who understood the complexities of government and world affairs, we now have posturing fools who don’t know what they don’t know.

The second thing that struck me was how unlike Dick Lugar it is to voice these concerns publicly. Lugar has always been a good “soldier,” unwilling to go public with criticisms of others in his party (and muted in his critiques of Democrats, for that matter). Even out of office, he has been collegial to a fault.

He must be really, really worried.

 

 

An “Existential Moment”

One of the political scientists whose work I follow is Thomas Mann. Mann, a Democrat, has received numerous awards during a distinguished career, but he may be best known for his collaborations with Norman Ornstein, who served in Republican administrations. Their book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks documented the radicalization of the Republican Party and received a good deal of publicity.

Mann has a recent commentary on the Brookings website, in which he characterizes the election of Donald Trump as an “existential moment” The lede sets out the nature and extent of that moment’s challenge:

His candidacy, campaign, victory and actions halfway through the transition to governing, heretofore unimaginable, pose a genuine threat to the well-being of our country and the sustainability of our democracy.

As I write, the immediate concerns are the president-elect’s reactions to the Russian cyber attacks on the Clinton campaign; his refusal to takes steps to deal responsibly with the massive conflicts of interest his businesses pose to his conduct of his presidency; his designation of a prominent white nationalist as his chief political strategist and a trio of unlikely appointees to lead the National Security Council team in the White House who appear to lack the personal qualities essential to their critical role; a breathtaking contempt for the media evidenced by his refusal to hold press conferences and his Orwellian reliance on tweets and rallies to communicate with the public; and an assemblage of Cabinet nominees characterized mostly (though not entirely) by their inexperience in public policy and their contempt for the missions of their departments.

In the remainder of the article, Mann considers whether our traditional checks and balances-the rule of law, a free press, an institutionally responsible Congress, a vigorous federal system, and a vibrant civil society–are healthy enough to provide the counterbalance that will be required. He is not sanguine about the rule of law.

Trump’s choice for Attorney General was rejected by the Senate for a federal judgeship because of racist comments and has a history as a prosecutor more interested in prosecuting African Americans for pursuing voting rights than those trying to suppress their votes. His White House Counsel was Tom DeLay’s ethics counsel and demonstrated a blatant disregard for the law as chair of the Federal Election Commission. The courts play an equally essential role. The egregious partisan politicization of judicial appointments, which reached a nadir with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented refusal to even consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy during the last year of President Obama’s tenure, has weakened the capacity of the courts to fulfill its responsibilities in the face of attacks on the fabric of our democracy.

The free press, as Mann notes and we all know, is in disarray (to put it as kindly as possible). We live in a “post-truth” media environment, surrounded by spin, propaganda and fake news. If the press is our watchdog, it has been de-fanged.

Congress? Mann points out that the “silence of Republican congressional leaders to the frequent abuses of democratic norms during the general election campaign and transition” has been deafening.

The risk of party loyalty trumping institutional responsibility naturally arises with unified party government during a time of extreme polarization. A devil’s bargain of accepting illiberal politics in return for radical policies appears to have been struck.

What about federalism? Can “states’ rights” be mobilized to constrain the incoming Trump Administration? Mann holds out some hope, but ultimately concludes

And yet the nationalization of elections and with it the rise of party-line voting has led to a majority of strong, unified Republican governments in the states, some of which have demonstrated little sympathy for the democratic rules of the game. For starters, think Kansas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. The latter has just pulled off the most outrageous power grab in recent history, designed to reduce sharply the authority of the newly elected Democratic governor before he takes office.

As many commenters on this blog have noted, and as Mann concludes, it really is up to us.

The final wall of defense against the erosion of democracy in America rests with civil society, the feature of our country Tocqueville was most impressed with. Community organizations, businesses, nonprofit organizations of all types, including think tanks that engage in fact-based policy analysis and embrace the democratic norms essential to the preservation of our way of life. The objective is not artificial bipartisan agreement, but forthright articulation of the importance of truth, the legitimacy of government and political opposition, and the nurturance of public support for the difficult work of governance. It is in this sector of American society in which citizens can organize, private-sector leaders can speak up in the face of abuses of public authority, and extreme, anti-democratic forces can be resisted.

I hope we’re up to the task.

Happy New Year….

The Incomprehensible Attack on Medicare

I understand a lot of the fixations of the far Right (although I disagree with virtually all of them). But I’m at a loss to understand their vendetta against Medicare, or their belief that access to healthcare should be considered a privilege, not a right.

If we take Paul Ryan and his ilk at their word, they evidently believe that market competition will bring healthcare costs down, and that guaranteeing access to healthcare promotes overuse (i.e. you’ll go to the doctor more frequently than you really need to). They believe these things–if they really do– despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The great virtue of markets is that they enable voluntary exchanges; they provide an incentive to provide goods at a price buyers are willing to pay. The classic description of a market is “an exchange between a willing buyer and a willing seller, both of whom are in possession of all information relevant to the transaction.”

That is not a description of the “buyer” having a heart attack. Even in the absence of insurance requiring the use of specific providers, people do not–cannot–“shop” for medical care. We are  generally not “willing” buyers, and as non-experts, we certainly do not have sufficient “information relevant to the transaction.”

As Josh Marshall pointed out at Talking Points Memo,

You think it’s hard getting good insurance when you’re 30 or 50? Try getting good private insurance when you’re 70 or 80.

Providing health insurance coverage to seniors will unquestionably cost more if run through private insurance. No one who has looked at the comparative data on the cost efficiency of Medicare and private carriers can question this. There’s no money savings. Quite the opposite. The only difference is that seniors will pay vastly more out of pocket because the vouchers won’t come close to the costs of a policy. The upshot of the Ryan plan is significantly increasing the cost of what society pays for the medical care of seniors and then making seniors pay dramatically more out of pocket. All with none of the bedrock gaurantees Medicare provides.

There’s a reason administrative costs of Medicare–which doesn’t need to advertise, show a profit or cover outsized salaries to upper management– are dramatically lower than those of private insurance companies. As Marshall points out, the irony is that at the same time they are attacking Obamacare, Ryan and his cronies are proposing to replace Medicare with something that looks very much like Obamacare.

But building an exchange and subsidy adjunct for non-seniors onto an existing and fairly robust private health insurance system is one thing. Creating one from scratch for people who are all pretty much by definition bad risks is close to laughable. Laughable if you’re not bankrupted or dying because you couldn’t get care.

Remember the other things Medicare significantly guards against. If parents have insupportable medical bills or have no way to pay for care, they go to children. In the absence of any other options, that’s how it should be. But that money comes out of other things: buying homes, putting kids through college. The social insurance model of Medicare has positive effects well beyond direct beneficiaries.

Recent polls suggest that significant majorities of Americans don’t want to get rid of Obamacare, let alone Medicare. I still remember that senior at a Town Hall meeting carrying a sign that said “Keep Government’s Hands Off My Medicare.” He may not have recognized that Medicare is a government program, but he’ll certainly identify the perpetrators of attacks on it.

Fortunately, even in the Time of Trump, efforts to deprive millions of Americans of access to basic healthcare will not be a slam-dunk. As Marshall has also reported,

Many Republicans can see the political danger of touching Medicare. No one campaigned on this in 2016. Support for phasing out Medicare and replacing it with private insurance and vouchers is minimal outside libertarians and conservative ideologues. That’s why word play about ‘reform’ and averting ‘bankruptcy’ and ‘saving Medicare’ are the catch phrases. If anyone said, ‘We have an idea to have seniors get private insurance instead of Medicare and a check from the government to pay part of the cost’ they’d be laughed out of whatever room they were in. What’s most salient is that it is toxic within the coalition around which Donald Trump has at least temporarily remade the GOP.

In the real world, nothing about this Ryan/Trump effort makes sense. Practically, fiscally and politically, it would be a disaster. Given the characteristics of those who would be in need of coverage, it wouldn’t even benefit insurance companies or Big Pharma.

This is ideology-cum-religious fundamentalism: don’t confuse me with the facts.