Tag Archives: GOP

The Deep State

Since Trump became President (or more accurately, took up residence in the White House), we’ve heard repeated accusations about the so-called “deep state.” The phrase is meant to denigrate government workers, and it has a lot in common with  other rhetoric employed by this administration, which labels immigrants “rapists and murderers,” Islamic citizens “terrorists,” and whistleblowers “traitors.”

It’s all shorthand for “here are people to fear and hate.”

Given the lack of precision with which Trump employs language, I initially assumed that pretty much any civil servant would meet his definition of the “deep state.” But over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall did a “deep dive” into the term–its accuracy (if any) and the identity of the presumably nefarious deep staters.

The phrase “deep state” originally comes from Turkey, where a “deep state” run by the military and security services allowed democratic politics to operate within prescribed bounds — but no further. The real government wasn’t the president or prime minister of the day but this “deep state.” It was autonomous and dominant and self-perpetuating.

In the first weeks of the Trump administration this phrase was taken up by the President and his entourage and applied to the U.S. Over three years it has become the catch-all term for unnamed enemies of the President plotting against him from within the federal bureaucracy.

Although–surprise!–here was no evil cabal lurking within the federal bureaucracy, Marshall and his reporters discovered something no less troubling.

They called what they found the “Conservative Deep State.” It wasn’t composed of shadowy forces motivated by conspiratorial theories, as the term might suggest. In fact, it was all out in the open.

We are talking about a dense network of right-wing lobbies, pressure groups, nurseries of political talent and prefab legislation, well-funded organizations usually operating at the state level which collectively create a strong rightward tilt in American governance. Elections remain critical. But they are contests on playing fields that are staked out, tilted and furrowed by organizing and money between elections.

Why is it, as parties frequently exchange the presidency and control of Congress, that state laws and regulations on everything from consumer protection to labor rights to voting seem to tilt steadily to the right? Why are Republicans so successful at gerrymandering and holding state legislative chambers?

The answer is this deep network. And you already know some of the names: The Koch Network, The American Legislative Exchange Council, The Federalist Society. Many others operate just as effectively, just below the radar.

There are certainly center-left analogs to all these groups, but none have managed to recreate the same levels of organization, funding or success that the Conservative Deep State enjoys today.

The operation of these networks, more than anything else, explains why Republicans control far more state governments than we would expect from their numbers, and why Americans can’t seem to enact policies that, according to survey research, enjoy overwhelming support.

Give credit where credit is due: the GOP is far, far more disciplined than the Democratic Party.  (The reasons are a subject for a different post.) That discipline allows them to do more with less.

The linked article was first in a series of reports on aspects of the Conservative Deep State.

Earlier this year we decided to publish a series on this topic — to commission a series of originally reported pieces on particular parts of the Conservative Deep State, how it functions, what it does, how it not only wins elections and helps pass laws but creates a right-wing ballast anchoring national and, even more, state and local politics on the right, even as public opinion on many issues shifts in the opposite direction.

As I read the linked article and those that followed, I kept thinking of The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allen Poe, where the object of the detective’s search was hidden in plain sight.

It turns out that, despite the name, the “Deep State” isn’t very deep at all. It’s right in front of us–subverting democracy.

 

Trump’s Base

There is a recurring conversation among reasonable people–a category that includes long-time Republicans who now feel disenfranchised, as well as Democrats and the diminishing   number of genuine Independents–that revolves around a single question: how can anyone continue to support Donald Trump? Who are the people in his (evidently fervent) base? And what in the world is wrong with them?

What prompts that question is a recognition that rejection of Trump isn’t political. It’s moral.

Most Americans who were raised to be polite to other people, who were taught to value modesty and integrity, who honored George Washington by insisting that he “never told a lie,” who were raised to pay their debts and own their mistakes, see Donald Trump as the polar opposite of these virtues. People who value knowledge and education see a man who is not only utterly devoid of intellect, but proud of it.

Above all, for those of us who were raised to believe that racism and associated bigotries are not only wrong, but unAmerican, Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of those bigotries reveals him to be an altogether repulsive figure.

I have significant political and policy disagreements with Republican friends who are “never Trumpers” (and with plenty of my Democratic friends as well). What we all have in common, however, is a belief that immorality and ignorance are flaws, not virtues, and dread about the immense harm this administration is doing every day.

That brings me to the question with which I introduced this meditation: who are the people who can look at Trump’s daily, egomaniacal, misspelled tweet-rants, his word-salad harangues, his documented whoppers and corruption, and the overwhelming evidence that he is seriously mentally ill–and still support him?

Thomas Edsell tried to answer that question in a recent New York Times column. He concluded that Trump’s coalition is dependent upon better-off white people who did not graduate from college.

On Feb. 24, 2016, after winning the Nevada caucuses, Donald Trump told supporters in Las Vegas, “I love the poorly educated.”

Technically, he should have said “I love poorly educated white people,” but his point was well taken.

We have been talking about this since Trump came down that escalator four years ago, but we haven’t quite reckoned with the depth of the changes in the electorate or the way they have reshaped both parties.

Edsell shares data showing that college-educated white voters have been leaving the Republican Party, with the biggest shift occurring between 2016 to 2018.

Political scientists at Duke and Ohio State make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.

Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.

According to this analysis, it isn’t white working-class voters who form the base upon which Trump depends–it’s relatively well-off, low-education whites.

Edsell also notes the obvious: the support of Evangelical Christians:

The key bloc for both Trump and the Republican Party is made up of white Christian evangelicals. Eight out of ten of these voters cast ballots for Trump, and intensely religious voters make up 40 percent of the Republican electorate.

The column is lengthy, and the analysis is interesting–especially the discussion about the true values (as opposed to the professed values) of that Evangelical bloc–but it’s impossible to avoid the obvious conclusion: Trump’s base (which is today’s GOP) is composed of people who fear cultural displacement by those “others.” They are willing to overlook the ignorance, the nastiness, the corruption and dishonesty, and all the harm being done, because they share the bigotry.

For Trump’s base, hate isn’t a bug. It’s the feature that overwhelms all else.

They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

If there was ever any doubt about the Republican approach to the 2020 elections, people like Scott Walker are dispelling them. As Talking Points Memo reported a few weeks back,  Walker, who was formerly governor of Wisconsin, currently runs a group called the National Republican Redistricting Trust. That organization is allied with the (misnamed)  “Fair Lines America,” which is suing Michigan in an effort to overturn a recently passed anti-gerrymandering referendum.

In a preview of the coming war over redistricting reform, Republican politicians and operatives in Michigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s new, voter-approved redistricting commission.

Behind the lawsuit is Fair Lines America Foundation, which, according to the Detroit News,is affiliated with the Scott Walker-led National Republican Redistricting Trust.

The Republicans allege that the independent commission violates the Constitution’s First Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause by imposing certain requirements on who can serve on the commission. Specifically, individuals cannot serve on the 13-member commission if they, in the past six years, were partisan candidates, elected officials, political appointees, lobbyists, campaign consultants or political party officials.

There is a Yiddish word that fits this lawsuit perfectly: chutzpah. (Google it.)

Conditions like the ones imposed for serving on the Michigan commission are common in states where independent redistricting commissions are in place. The new GOP lawsuit alleges, however, that these conditions–imposed to ensure a lack of partisan bias on the part of citizens drawing district lines–are unconstitutional.

“Plaintiffs have been excluded from eligibility based on their exercise of one or more of their constitutionally protected interests,i.e., freedom of speech (e.g., by the exclusion of candidates for partisan office), right of association (e.g., by the exclusion of members of a governing body of a political party), and/or the right to petition (e.g., by the exclusion of registered lobbyists),” the lawsuit alleged.

The article predicts that the Michigan lawsuit is only the first of several that will be filed in states that have addressed the anti-democratic effects of partisan redistricting (aka gerrymandering) by establishing nonpartisan commissions.

Before Mitch McConnell and Trump succeeded in adding numerous right-wing ideologues to the federal judiciary, I wouldn’t have worried about this lawsuit. I would expect its patently ridiculous argument to be given short shrift. But given the caliber of people elevated to the federal bench (several nominees even refused to affirm that Brown v. Board of Education is good law…), all bets are off.

With the Supreme Court ruling last month that federal judges cannot rein in partisan gerrymandering, voting rights advocates will be only expanding their efforts to implement redistrict reform via independent commissions.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority in the case, name-checked Michigan’s ballot initiative specifically to argue that there other avenues besides the federal judiciary to address the problem of extreme gerrymanders.

How his court will handle the coming wave of lawsuits challenging those commissions remains to be seen.

It has become glaringly obvious that the GOP cannot win a national election unless it can gerrymander districts and suppress minority votes. In their desperation to keep control of the mechanisms that ensure a non-democratic result favoring Republicans, party functionaries aren’t even giving lip service to majority rule. They aren’t even pretending to care about democracy and/or the integrity of the electoral process.

The midterm elections pointed to the only available remedy: turnout so massive that cheating can’t carry the day.

It Isn’t Just “Moscow Mitch”

Dan Coats–the last remaining adult in the Trump Administration–has been on thin ice with Trump for a long time. After all, he refused to tailor Intelligence reports to Trump’s fantasies. Perhaps the timing of his departure would have been the same in any event, but I found it intriguing that his “resignation” was announced almost immediately after the announcement that he was creating a new position dedicated to election security.

As a patriotic Republican, Coats was vastly outnumbered.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, blocked a bill authored by Sen. Mark Warner that would have required campaigns to report foreign offers of assistance to the FBI. As the Tennesseean reported,

The bill from Warner, D-Va., known as the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act, required unanimous consent in order to move forward, meaning that Blackburn’s decision to object stopped the legislation in its tracks.

The GOP as a whole has refused all efforts to implement security measures to protect the 2020 election against Russian hacking. Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America) has quashed all legislative efforts to protect the franchise–leading frustrated observers to dub him “Moscow Mitch.”

As the Washington Post reported,

As President Trump’s own FBI director warns that Russians are planning to try to undermine American democracy in the next presidential election, Republican lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are blocking bills aimed at blocking foreign hackers from states’ voting systems.

The obvious question is: why? Why would American lawmakers refuse to protect America’s election system?

McConnell justifies his refusal to move the legislation forward with claims that the federal government is already working with states to address election interference, and that additional legislation would be “too heavy-handed,” since elections are run by the states.

Right. It’s all about states’ rights…..

The New Republic has a different theory.  It says this is another case of “follow the money”– that the GOP’s real reason for blocking security measures is financial.

The entire suite of Democratic proposals to improve election security are of course a nonstarter in a Republican-run government, and not just because Republicans have chosen to strategically believe or disbelieve in Russian election interference depending on the president’s moods and ever-shifting statements. Many of the Democratic proposals involve barring candidates and people associated with campaigns and political committees from receiving contributions, monetary and otherwise, from foreign nationals, and Republicans principally oppose most attempts to interfere in any form of influence-peddling.

Monetary influence-peddling comes in many forms. Newsweek recently reported that a Russian oligarch is funding a major factory in Kentucky, where Mitch’s re-election campaign is contending with his 36% approval rating.

Rusal, the aluminum company partially owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, announced plans to invest around $200 million to build a new aluminum plant in Kentucky just months after the Trump administration removed it from the U.S. sanctions list.

The new aluminum plant, slated to be built in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be the biggest new aluminum plant constructed in the U.S. in decades. Rusal will have a 40 percent stake in the facility.

McConnell reacted angrily to Dana Milbank’s column characterizing him as a “Russian asset.” (Andy Borowitz–who, like other satirists, has found the Trump administration a bonanza–countered with a column headlined “Putin denies McConnell is a Russian asset–says he’s never been an asset to any country.”) Milbank was blunt–and accurate:

This doesn’t mean he’s a spy, but neither is it a flip accusation. Russia attacked our country in 2016. It is attacking us today. Its attacks will intensify in 2020. Yet each time we try to raise our defenses to repel the attack, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, blocks us from defending ourselves.

We can speculate about McConnell’s motives, but one thing is clear: Mueller, Coats, the head of the FBI and numerous other officials have warned emphatically about Russian interference. They have characterized it as ongoing, sophisticated, and effective.

And far from working to avert that interference, the Republicans–led by Moscow Mitch– are facilitating it.

Proving Nick Hanauer Right

I have previously cited Nick Hanauer, the billionaire who has repeatedly pointed out that the belief–embraced by the GOP–that raising the minimum wage depresses job creation is a fallacy.

As Hanauer has emphasized, this economic theory has cause and effect backwards: jobs are created by demand. (If you aren’t selling your widgets, you aren’t hiring more people to produce greater numbers of them.) Pay workers a living wage, putting disposable income in the hands of people who hadn’t previously had any, and increased demand will boost both job creation and the economy.

I get an email newsletter from Axios, (link unavailable) and a recent one included a report on fast-food industry earnings that certainly seems to confirm Hanauer’s thesis.

Between the lines: The fast-food industry’s biggest tailwind is coming from a surprising source — the increased pay of low-wage workers.

After trailing higher-paid workers for years since the financial crisis, earnings for the bottom 25% of workers have been growing at a rate much faster than the national average, and weekly earnings for the bottom 10% of full-time workers have grown even faster, data shows.

Generally, rising wages would be seen as a negative for the industry, but coupled with stable gas prices, the increasing paychecks of low-wage workers means more money spent at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants.

Be smart: Goldman’s research team estimates 70% of the industry’s sales growth over the past 5 years can be explained by rising wages, lower gas prices and a boost from third-party apps like GrubHub and Uber Eats.

Traditional economic theory says that if I have to pay employee A more, I will have less money available and I will thus be unable to hire B.  That makes all kinds of sense–all else being equal. What real life tells us, however, is that all else isn’t equal. As the Axios report shows, the increase in buying power more than compensates for the increase in payroll.

You would think that a political party devoted to the theory that cutting taxes will  generate revenue sufficient to pay for those cuts would understand this.

The theories may be similar, but reality can be a cruel mistress: when the issue is raising the minimum wage, real-world outcomes demonstrate that Hanauer’s approach works, but when the issue is tax rates, the Republican approach– cutting taxes on rich people– doesn’t.

As Paul Krugman has written,

In late 2007 the Trump administration pushed through a large tax cut, whose key component was a drastic reduction in the tax rate on corporate profits. Although most economists were skeptical about claims that this would do wonders for economic growth, conservatives were ebullient. Lower tax rates, they claimed, would give American corporations the incentive to bring back trillions of dollars invested overseas, and foreign corporations a reason to invest huge sums in the U.S.

And Republican politicians bought this argument. Even Susan Collins, the most moderate Republican in the Senate (although that isn’t saying much) declared herself convinced that the tax cuts would pay for themselves.

Krugman followed those opening paragraphs with graphs and statistics demonstrating rather dramatically that the tax cuts did not pay for themselves.  Not even close.

For example,Krugman says

Business investment was 13.2 percent of G.D.P. before the tax cut went into effect. It’s now … 13.5 percent. That’s a rise of around 0.3 percentage points, or less than a tenth of what the tax-cut advocates predicted.

As a result of the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts, deficits and the national debt have ballooned. Republicans would have marched on Washington with pitchforks if debt levels this steep had been generated by a Democratic Administration.

Real-world evidence says: pay working people a living wage, and everyone benefits.

Give the rich a tax cut, they sock their savings away in a tax haven, and no one else benefits.