Tag Archives: Trump

For And Against

It’s a political truism that turnout improves when voters are motivated by negativity. In other words, the impulse to vote against a candidate, party or issue is stronger than the desire to register support for those of whom we approve.

We’ve certainly seen that play out in the Presidential election. I happen to be one of those people who really, really likes Joe Biden, for reasons not relevant to this post, but it has been clear for some time that hostility to Donald Trump and his enablers is driving many more people to the polls than warm feelings for Joe.

Anger and disgust are also playing a major role in contests for the Senate, and  eye-popping fundraising totals have been one result. Friends of mine who never appear on lists of big donors–and who rarely give financial support to candidates outside their own districts–have been sending multiple small-dollar donations to Democrats around the country who are running against Republicans they find particularly odious.

I doubt that all the money going to Amy McGrath will allow her to edge out Mitch McConnell–it is, after all, Kentucky. I hope I’m wrong. I can think of no individual who has done more harm to America than “the turtle,” and I would love to see McGrath wipe that smarmy smirk off McConnell’s face. Whatever the result, the enormous success of McGrath’s fundraising testifies to the extent to which McConnell is a hated figure.

I do have hopes for Jaime Harrison, who is polling dead even with “Miss Lindsey” Graham. Harrison is a truly impressive candidate, but the astonishing success of his fundraising  is more attributable to the number of Americans who detest Graham than it is to his considerable virtues.

Frank Bruni recently wrote that the Harrison-Graham contest has become a “national obsession.”

It was a bit of news that came and went quickly amid the fury of political developments these days, but last weekend Jaime Harrison, the South Carolina Democrat who is fighting to unseat Lindsey Graham, announced that he had not merely broken the record for fund-raising for a Senate candidate in a single quarter. He had shattered it.

From July through September, Harrison took in about $57 million. That was nearly $20 million more than Beto O’Rourke, the previous record-holder, collected during the same span two years ago, when he waged his ultimately unsuccessful battle against Ted Cruz in Texas.

As Bruni observed, Harrison is the recipient of so much money because he’s the vessel of so much hope.

No other political contest in 2020 offers quite the same referendum on the ugliness of Donald Trump’s presidency. No victory would rebut Trump’s vision of America as emphatically and powerfully as Harrison’s would.

Remember the time before Trump’s Electoral College win, when Graham said the way to make America great again was to “tell Donald Trump to go to hell”? Now he’s not only Trump’s adoring golf buddy, he’s his obedient factotum. (His U-Turn on Trump was so dramatic, it raises speculation that Trump has something on him and is blackmailing him.)

Graham’s most odious, most despicable “U Turn,” of course, has been on vivid display in the frantic and unseemly haste to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

When he assisted Mitch McConnell in stealing Merrick Garland’s seat on the Supreme Court, Graham claimed that he’d never consider, let alone promote, a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of a president’s term. We’ve all seen the footage of him telling journalists to “mark his words and use them against him if the need ever arose.”

Somehow, the word “shameless” seems inadequate…

As Bruni wrote,

One of the main story lines of the Trump years has been the spectacular moral capitulation of most Republican lawmakers, who junked supposedly cherished principles to placate a president whose hold on his base and capacity for vengeance mattered more to them than honor, than patriotism, than basic decency. Graham is the poster boy of that surrender, Complicitus Maximus, in part because his 180-degree turn to Trump required that he show his back to his close friend and onetime hero John McCain.

It’s nice that Jaime Harrison is so admirable and qualified, but that $57 million dollars is a measure of how detestable most honorable Americans find Graham.

The massive early voting turnouts we are seeing would appear to confirm the political premise that more people turn out to express disgust than approval. Let’s hope that holds true even in the deep red states…

 

The Case For Expertise

Michael Gerson is a political conservative who served in George W. Bush’s administration. He has also been a consistent “never Trumper.” He recently made the conservative case for Joe Biden, in a Washington Post column.

Gerson began by reciting some of the reasons conservatives should reject not just Donald J. Trump but the Republicans running with him, in order to crush the current iteration of the GOP.

Because of the terrible damage Trump has done to the Republican Party, it is not enough for him to lose. He must lose in a fashion that constitutes repudiation. For the voter, this means that staying home on Election Day, or writing in Mitt Romney’s name, is not enough. She or he needs to vote in a manner that encourages a decisive Biden win. This theory also requires voting against all the elected Republicans who have enabled Trump (which is nearly all elected Republicans). A comprehensive Republican loss is the only way to hasten party reform. Those who love the GOP must (temporarily) leave it and ensure it is thoroughly defeated in its current form.

Gerson then moved to the positive reasons to support Joe Biden, and in doing so made a point that is far too often ignored. As he reminds readers, the restoration of our governing institutions  requires the knowledge and skills of an insider. “We have lived through the presidency of a defiant outsider who dismisses qualities such as professionalism and expertise as elitism.”

As readers of this blog know, I teach in a school of public affairs. We teach students who are planning to go into government the specialized “knowledge and skills” that they will need in such positions. Those skills differ from the skills imparted in the business school; they include everything from public budgeting to the important differences between the private, public and nonprofit sectors, to political philosophy, to constitutional ethics.

I am so over the facile assertion that success in business (and yes, I know Trump wasn’t successful) will easily translate into the ability to run a government agency or  administration. The job of a businessperson is to make a profit; the job of government is to serve the public good. People who do not understand that distinction–and the very different approaches that distinction requires– don’t belong in public positions.

Gerson makes another important point: the complexity of today’s government requires administrators who actually understand how it all works.

There is a reason why the uninspiring Gerald Ford was an inspired choice to follow Richard Nixon. Ford had been a respected legislator for a quarter of a century. As president, he knew the personnel choices and institutional rituals that would begin to restore credibility to politicized agencies. Biden has the background and capacity to do the same.

Gerson characterizes this election as a choice between an arsonist and an institutionalist, and points to the assets of the institutionalist. I agree, but I also understand that some fires are set accidentally. Trump is, of course, an intentional arsonist, but his monumental ignorance has also done incredible–often inadvertent– harm to our governing institutions.

During his embarrassing Town Hall on NBC,  Trump defended his re-tweet of a conspiracy theory, prompting Savannah Guthrie to remind him that he is President, not “someone’s crazy uncle.” But really, electing a President with absolutely no understanding of government, the constitution, checks and balances or the way public administration actually works has turned out to be pretty much the same thing as putting someone’s crazy uncle in charge.

Not just Presidents, but all government officials need specialized knowledge and skills to do their jobs. There’s a big difference between expertise and “elitism,” and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we shouldn’t listen to the crazy uncles who resent people who know what they are talking about.

If the last four years have taught us anything, it’s that Ignorance and self-aggrandizement aren’t qualifications for political office.

 

Dishonesty And Healthcare

As the blizzard of political television ads becomes ever more annoying–and less informative–one thing about them has become very interesting. Even Republicans who have previously made it clear that they don’t want government involved in healthcare are airing advertisements touting support for Medicare and willingness to protect pre-existing conditions.

I’ve been particularly struck by the U Turn in Indiana’s Fifth District, where a radically-reactionary, pro-Trump Republican noted for opposing “socialism” (which she has defined to include pretty much anything done by government) has begun running commercials supportive of Medicare and coverage of pre-existing conditions. Evidently, her polling has overcome her previously expressed belief that government should have no role in health care.

She’s not alone.

When the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) passed, several Republicans went on record with their concern that its trajectory would mirror that of Medicare and Medicaid: despite initial resistance, the public would come to expect/demand/approve of the program. Survey research has confirmed those fears, which is why GOP officeholders continue to pretend that they will protect access to healthcare at the same time as they are feverishly working to eviscerate it.

The Brookings Institution recently published a report detailing six ways Trump has sabotaged the ACA.The report began by stressing that its authors did not use the term “sabotage” lightly.

For analytic purposes, the term “sabotage,” should not be used lightly. Presidents upon taking office typically have priorities that trigger executive actions strengthening some programs while weakening others. The losing programs often face resource reductions, pressure to deemphasize certain goals, directives to alter their administrative approaches, and other measures that can undermine their effectiveness. In doing so, a president often pays lip service to the program, claiming it has been “modernized” or otherwise improved. In contrast, Webster’s defines “sabotage” as efforts to foster “destruction and obstruction” and to “cause the failure of something.” In the context of the administrative presidency, it reflects a commitment to program emasculation and termination through executive action. As such, it sharply departs from the constitutional requirement that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

There were six actions detailed in the report.

1) The administration dramatically reduced outreach about, and opportunities for enrollment in, the ACA’s insurance exchanges. The administration sharply reduced support for advertising and exchange navigators and reduced the annual enrollment period to about half the number of days. 

2) Together with Congressional Republicans, it reneged on commitments to private insurance companies. Those insurers had been offered various subsidies that reduced the risks of participating in the exchanges. The GOP failed to honor those commitments.

3) The administration has constructed what the report calls “off-ramps to cheaper, lower-quality insurance.” One goal of the ACA was to improve the quality of health insurance by specifying essential benefits, guaranteeing coverage of those with preexisting conditions at reasonable rates, and prohibiting insurers from imposing certain spending caps. The Trump administration expanded access to coverage that was cheaper because it didn’t meet these standards and that siphoned off the healthier enrollees whose participation is needed to make the ACA work.

4) It allowed–indeed, promoted– a variety of state waivers that decreased ACA enrollments and undermined its regulatory structure.

5) It discouraged legal “aliens” from enrolling in Medicaid. In a particularly evil move, Homeland Security promulgated a “public charge” rule authorizing officials to treat Medicaid enrollment as a negative factor when reviewing the requests of legal non-citizens to extend their stays or change their status (e.g., from temporary to permanent resident).

6) And then there’s the existential threat. The Trump Administration brought the lawsuit that is now pending at the Supreme Court, attacking the constitutionality of the ACA. If that suit is successful–despite a legal argument that has been widely characterized as ridiculous, despite its endorsement by an appellate court composed of Trump-appointed judges– millions of Americans will lose access to health care.

As a student once reminded me, the United States doesn’t have a health-care system; we have a health-care industry. As a result, millions of Americans remain underinsured or completely uninsured, other millions are bankrupted each year by medical costs, and our health outcomes are among the absolute worst in the developed world. 

Deeply dishonest political rhetoric to the contrary, the current Republican Party wants to keep it that way.

What’s Next?

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Edsall asks a question that is rapidly becoming more pressing: what happens after the election?

It’s a question we really can’t answer until we know not just who has won the Presidency, but how the transition has been handled and–far more important–who will control the Senate.

Although “what now?” depends upon currently unknown election returns, we can–actually, we should–consider a variation of that question. What ought to happen next?

My own concerns revolve around the inevitable splintering of the Democratic Party into its factions. One of the problems with single-party dominance (or in this case, single-party sanity) is that reasonable people holding very different views all end up in the non-crazy party. Democrats have never been ideologically monolithic; these days, thoughtful conservatives, liberals and leftist activists are all Democrats because their only other options are to join a cult (the contemporary GOP) or vote for a third-party candidate (essentially flushing their votes).

My most fervent hope–assuming Democratic control of the Senate as well as the House and the White House–is that leadership will immediately move to implement policies on which there is broad consensus: rolling back the roll-backs of environmental protections; passing H.B. One–the broad reform of electoral rules that passed the House by a massive margin and languished (along with everything else Mitch McConnell touched) in the Senate; ending tax policies that soak the middle class while allowing the rich to evade paying their share; re-instating DACA and instituting humane immigration policies.

There are others, and they should all be introduced and passed as expeditiously as possible.

Noted political scientist Theda Skocpol believes the Democrats will hang together; she tells Edsall that, in the event of a Democratic Senate majority, especially with a cushion of 2 or 3 votes, she

does not foresee any acute internal conflicts, because there will be so much to do in a pandemic and economic crisis,” adding, “I think joint approaches will not be hard to work out: voting reforms, expansion of Obamacare with a strong public option, college costs help for lower income and lower middle class, robust green jobs investments, etc., etc.

I hope she’s right.

Other measures that ought to be taken–preferably, within the first hundred days–include eliminating the filibuster and expanding the number of federal judges. If–as is likely–Judge Barrett has been confirmed in a departing f**k you by McConnell, the number of Justices on the Supreme Court should also be expanded. (Actually, according to the Judicial Conference, that should be done even if, by  some intervening miracle, her nomination fails). But what should be done and what will occur are two different things, and opinions on both the filibuster and the approach to the courts divide the party’s moderates and progressives.

“What’s next” is, of course, a broader question than “what policies should Democrats pursue?” Edsall’s column is concerned less with policy and more with politics. He quotes a political scientist for the rather obvious observation that it’s easier to unite against something than for something, a truism that doesn’t bode well for continued Democratic unity. He also tackles the less obvious–and far more important–question “what happens to Trumpism” if, as seems likely, Trump loses?

Rogers Smith–another noted political scientist–thinks that a loss for Trump won’t defeat Trumpism.

Trump has built a new right populist coalition that has more electoral appeal than the full-tilt neoliberal, moderately multicultural economic and social positions of the prior Republican establishment. It has plenty of reasonably charismatic youthful champions. Its leaders will avoid the crude bullying and rule-flouting that Trump displayed in the recent presidential debate, and they’ll certainly try to avoid Access Hollywood-type scandals. But otherwise they will carry the Trump right-populist movement forward.

The “Trump movement” is essentially racist, theocratic and misogynistic. So long as it remains a viable, non-fringe element of American political life, the “American experiment” is at risk.

Whatever is “next,” we probably aren’t yet out of the woods.

 

Bananas

During the past four years, assertions that the U.S. is devolving into a “banana republic” have become almost commonplace.

“Bananas” is also a term used to describe people or behaviors that range from bizarre to insane. Bananas thus describes our everyday political reality in the Time of Trump.

There was the plot to kidnap Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The FBI described the plan as a months-long effort that also saw members of a rightwing militia “consider forgoing the kidnapping and instead executing Whitmer on her doorstep.”

According to the affidavit, plotters twice surveilled the governor’s vacation home and discussed blowing up a bridge leading to the house and using a boat to flee with the captured Whitmer.

The plot continued to gather pace into October, before the FBI arrested Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta in a series of raids on Wednesday night.

“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard,” Whitmer said on Thursday. “But I’ll be honest, I never could have imagined anything like this.”

In addition to the militia primarily responsible–the “Wolverine Watchmen”–there was evidently a connection to the “boogaloo boys” movement, which is mostly dedicated to eradicating the government and killing law enforcement officers. (Boys will be boys!)

There has been steady growth of these groups of rightwing, anti-government, racist lunatics over the past twelve years. Hysteria over the election of a Black President apparently gave them impetus, and the subsequent election of a psychological fellow-traveler has been seen as permission and encouragement.

More bananas: Trump has always been unhinged, but evidently a combination of impending electoral loss and steroids has magnified his psychoses. As David Von Drehle recently wrote at the Washington Post

President Trump on drugs. Wow. I have to admit that I failed to see this one coming. Trump’s political career has been such a wild ride all by itself, it never occurred to me to wonder what would happen if this grandiose narcissist with the bombastic flair were to be filled to the gills with a powerful steroid. Just as I never looked at Usain Bolt, the great Jamaican sprinter, and mused: What would he be like on a rocket sled?…

Even after the president returned to the White House from the hospital, his docs continued to pump in dexamethasone, a steroid normally given to covid-19 patients struggling for life on a ventilator. Its purpose is to tamp down an overly intense immune reaction known as a cytokine storm but, in this case, it may be ramping up the chaos known as Donald Trump.

And talk about chaos! As Heather Cox Richardson described Trump’s recent behavior,

The major, obvious, in-your-face story of the day is that the president is melting down. He has spent much of the last two days calling in to the Fox News Channel and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and ranting in a manic way that suggests he is having trouble with the steroids he is taking for his illness.

In an interview with Rush Limbaugh today, Trump boasted that “our nuclear is all tippy top now,” and said about Iran, “If you f*** around with us, if you do something bad to us, we’re gonna do things to you that have never been done before.” He tweeted that “Obama, Biden, Crooked Hillary and many others got caught in a Treasonous Act of Spying and Government Overthrow, a Criminal Act. How is Biden now allowed to run for President?” This is pure fiction, of course, but his campaign later put it in a fundraising email.

Trump’s doctors have yet to clear him for interactions with people, but that hasn’t stopped the narcissist-in-chief; he invited 2000 people for a rally on the South Lawn of the White House. (That, as Richardson points out, is yet another violation of the Hatch Act–but in an administration as corrupt as this one, that’s barely worth a footnote.)

Von Drehle cites the Mayo Clinic for an enumeration of side effects of the drug the President is receiving: “agitation,” “anxiety,” “irritability,” “mood changes,” “nervousness” and — perhaps most apt — “trouble thinking.” 

What happens when you give a drug with those side effects to a man who already exhibits those behaviors–and whose level of intellectual development is best displayed by his description of America’s nuclear capability as “tippy top”? 

Friday, my husband and I made another trip to the City-County Building to cast early in-person votes. At 8:15 in the morning, the line was once again incredibly long–and as it moved (briskly, I’m pleased to report), it was steadily replenished. When we drove by yesterday,  the line was nearly twice as long.

I am cautiously optimistic that sane Americans have developed an allergy to bananas.