Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016.

The Tweet: Friends who are fearing Thanksgiving with relatives across the political divide should embrace the opportunity, however difficult, to begin conversations we all need to have. 

Over the past week, I have had three conversations with friends, each bemoaning the upcoming holiday. Each have families that are split between those who supported Hillary and those who supported Trump. Unlike a normal year, when family members might find themselves supporting different candidates, and such disagreements would not be grounds for family discord, this time, those splits reflect the deep polarization dividing the nation. All of these friends are dreading any discussion of politics. In one case, the most vociferous Trump supporter was opting out of the holiday celebration altogether. In another case, my friends are desperately hoping that the normal discussion of Thanksgiving recipes and usual gossip about family members who are not in attendance will get them through the night unscathed.

In the wake of this election, however, it is more important than ever that people seek to understand the point of view of others. It is important to bringing a divided nation closer to some degree of reconciliation, and it is important to each of us--whatever side of the schism we might be on--to develop a deeper understanding of the perspectives, fears and concerns of our compatriots. And what could be a more appropriate moment for people to engage with each other about their differing world views than with family members over a holiday that celebrates our shared values and experiences. Unlike friends--with whom a political disagreement can destroy a relationship--siblings and cousins are there for life, and even when you have a violent disagreement, the bonds of family cannot be easily severed.

The aftermath of Election Day has cast our country in a harsh light. The most deplorable of Donald Trump's supporters have relished his election as an opportunity to declare their victory and to lash out, while the President-elect has done little to assuage the anxieties and fears that have come in the wake of his triumph, and the prospect that his caustic campaign rhetoric threatens to become public policy. As one friend wrote, "My feeling of being the outsider/the other has never been stronger, though raised in this country since 1967. I see or impose Trumpism on most white people I see in stores and restaurants, maybe unfairly. This is how my family in England felt leading up to and after Brexit, no doubt."

Another friend expanded on observations in my last piece about the economic and psychological depression facing many rural communities that the problem was much deeper than simply the economic challenges facing the rural working class. It reflects the wholesale destruction of the American Dream as a result of "the successful and rapacious behavior of the elites," which provides no path forward for them or for their children. But even worse, he noted, is that no genuinely populist voice is permitted in the public forum, and to hold a view contrary view [to that of the elites] is to be deemed morally inferior.  

This election leapt past the normal range of political and even moral debate to become intensely personal. Somehow, issues of war and peace, and even the Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice debates of past elections, seemed to be less fraught than where we found ourselves this year. The candidates castigated each other as morally unfit to lead, and the followers of each responded in kind. Trump supporters were deplorable, women hating bigots. Hillary supporters were craven elites who love the undocumented more than they love their country.

While Election Day may be past, the damage to our national fabric is apparent. On the one hand, as the first writer above suggests, Trump's rhetoric attacked not just the views but the fundamental legitimacy of many in our society, who now find themselves as strangers in a strange land, vilified as outsiders and fearful that a return to "normal" may take a long, long time. 

On the other hand, as the second writer suggests, there is a deeply-felt rage among Trump supporters that a large swath of the country has not simply been ignored, but has been systematically driven to the precipice of despair by coastal elites whose New World Order has no place for them or for their children. For them, the norms of politically correct public discourse left them with no voice, and dismissed them as morally inferior if they did speak out. For them, the election has only validated their anger, but however cathartic the last week may have been, in truth it has done nothing to solve the objective conditions that gave rise to the anger in the first place.

My sister was distraught the day after the election. But a few days later, after glancing through an online piece entitled Reaching Across the Red/Blue Divide, she had a conversation about the election with a neighbor who voted for Donald Trump. (She lives in Berkeley, so the odds of that were pretty slim.) They had a very good conversation that centered around the values that they hold in common, rather than the vilification of each other's candidate that came to characterize political discourse over the course of the presidential campaign. Her neighbor was able to explain her views, and how the things that were important to her overwhelmed her distaste for other aspects of Donald Trump. It was a difficult conversation for each of them. Her neighbor said my sister was the first person who listened to her and didn't yell at her, and my sister, in turn, felt for the first time that she at least could understand and appreciate a different perspective.

A few days after the election, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for TrumpAsra Nomani sought to explain her vote for Trump, and started by insisting that she was neither a bigot, a racist nor a white supremacist, and that she was pro-choice, and believed in both gay marriage and climate change. For her, the single most important issue was radical Islam, and in her view the tendency of Obama and Hillary Clinton to dance around the issue of Qatari and Saudi support for ISIS and radical Islamists. She feared the influence that those dictatorships would in a Clinton White House in the wake of their multimillion-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Most Trump supporters are not bigoted lunatics--even Hillary conceded that her 50% estimate was probably too high. Just as an extreme point of reference, former David Duke--Donald Trump's most vocal KKK supporter--only won 3% of the vote in his race for the U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana. I know little else about that race, but that result would suggest that the extreme right wing share of the electorate is fairly small, however vocal it might be.

As difficult as the prospect of talking politics this year over Thanksgiving dinner might be for my friends, they each have more to gain than they have to lose by engaging in an open-minded conversation with their Trumpian family members this week. This does not mean agreeing with anything they say, but starting a conversation with an agreement on both sides to set aside the campaign talking points and moral judgements. Don't start by asking why they voted for a man who is a racist, just tone it down start with something more neutral, "Help me understand your thinking behind your vote..." And then just try to listen to your siblings and cousins who have a different point of view. It will likely be hard for each side not to fall back to the moral judgements of the campaign rhetoric, but it will be important to try, and most likely rewarding in the end.

It is a starting point, but for both sides it is an important one. We have a long journey ahead, but if we cannot start those conversations within our families, it is hard to imagine as a divided nation how we will even be able to take the first step forward.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.

Friday, November 18, 2016

White votes mattered.

The Tweet: White working class voters, who supported Obama twice, turned their back on Hillary. She was the candidate of the status quo, and the status quo has not been good to them. 

Donald Trump's victory on Election Day did not shock me. That is not to say that I predicted it; I didn't. But less educated white voters--Trump's core demographic--historically turn out to vote at less than half the rate of more educated voters, and turnout by demographic group is one of the many assumptions embedded in most polling models. If turnout among those voters turned out to be higher--which seemed likely given their enthusiasm in supporting Trump's candidacy--then higher than expected turnout could make for an election day surprise.

As it turned out, rural voters--generally older, whiter and less educated--turned out in force for Donald Trump. Cries by Hillary supporters--and the candidate herself--that the results smacked of racism are not convincing when one looks at the election results in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and sees the number of largely white, rural counties that were won by our first African American president in 2008 and 2012, but chose Donald Trump this time around.

As New York Times election polling guru Nate Cohn observed last week, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders ran on a platform of change and as the champions of the aggrieved working class against the establishment, and each won almost half of the primary votes in their respective parties. The Clinton campaign knew from the outset that one of the challenges that she faced was that 2016 was viewed to be a year when voters wanted "change" vs. the status quo. This was understood both because the American electorate rarely gives a two-term ruling party another bite at the apple--the most recent exceptions to the rule being George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Rutherford Hayes in 1876--and because of the slow pace of economic recovery from the 2008 financial collapse. Despite Bill Clinton's somewhat strained efforts at the Democratic National Convention to describe Hillary as a "change maker," she could never shake her positioning as the candidate of the status quo.

For much of the Democratic coalition, the status quo has not been so bad. The American Dream remains alive for more recently arrived, and growing, demographic groups. For Latinos and Asian Americans, as well as for large segments of the African American community, upward mobility remains an attainable goal and the prospect of younger generations being better off than earlier generations remains a reality. For more educated whites, the American Dream remains alive as well. Each generation within that demographic may not necessarily surpass their parents in terms of incomes, but for those Americans advanced education, contribution to society and other goals related to self-actualization have become part of the metrics of individual success, rather than financial well-being alone. For less educated whites, however, the status quo has become, literally, intolerable.

Educational attainment has emerged over the past several decades--and most starkly since the 2008 financial collapse--as the most important factor in the financial security and prospects of American families. While much attention has been paid to the fact that median wages for American workers have been flat in real terms for almost 40 years, less attention has focused on the disaggregation of that data and the correlation of educational attainment with family incomes and unemployment rates. Simply stated, median incomes for households with a householder with a high school degree or less declined modestly in real terms over the course of the two decades from 1991 to when the financial collapse hit in 2008. From the post-2008 recession through last year--the Obama years--incomes for that cohort declined a further 10% in real terms. In contrast, households with a householder with a college degree or more saw real incomes rise steadily from 1991 through 2008, and in the years since then, after a brief decline during the recession, those incomes have been restored to pre-collapse levels.

In a similar vein, historical data on unemployment rates illustrate the impact of educational attainment on individual economic security. As shown here, Americans with a Bachelor's degree or more experienced an unemployment rate in the 2% range in the years leading up to the 2008 collapse. That rate jumped up to 5% at its highest point during the post-2008 recession, but have since returned to the 2-3% range. In contrast, unemployment rates for workers with a high school degree or less were in the 7-8% range before 2008. The unemployment rate jumped to over 15% for those workers during the post-2008 recession, and have since returned to the 8-9% levels.

Workers with less education have been hit both ways by the evolution of globalization, trade and technology over the past several decades. Those who have jobs are likely to have seen their real incomes decline steadily. They are more likely to lose their jobs, and when they do, they are more likely to have difficulty finding work--and this data does not reflect the numbers of workers who simply dropped out of the labor force in the face of deteriorating economic prospects.

It is not an overstatement to suggest that for many less educated whites the status quo has become, literally, intolerable. A seminal moment in the run-up to the 2016 election came in September 2015 with the publication by two Princeton economists of a paper with the less than eye-catching title Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century. The paper documented the rising death rate among less educated, white, working class Americans in their 40s and 50s, primarily as a result of poisoning, suicide and drug and alcohol abuse.

The picture painted by that paper was quite stark. In contrast with all other demographic groups studied in the U.S. and in other industrialized countries, which demonstrated a consistent pattern of declining death rates, the cohort of less-educated whites (USW) showed steadily rising death rates--they were literally killing themselves off, primarily as a result of poisoning, suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. Over the period studied--as shown in the graph--from 1999 to 2013, the number of deaths were almost 100,000 higher than would have been the case had mortality rate held constant. Had the rate continued to decline, the authors of the study point out, as it had during the prior decade--and as it did in other countries as shown here--a half a million deaths would have been avoided. This is comparable to the number of Americans who died due to the AIDS epidemic.

The combination of the household income data and this mortality data suggested that the situation of economic, psychological and spiritual depression facing less-educated white Americans was and remains dire. It was a demographic that Bill Clinton spoke to directly, that supported Barack Obama across the Rust Belt, but that this time around supported Donald Trump by more than two to one.

This graphic, prepared by Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, illustrates the correlation of educational attainment data by state and the election results. It presents the election results in stark terms as a split between those states with higher levels of education--and therefore a higher degree of household financial security and resilience--and those with less of each. While much was written over the course of the campaign season about the plight of the working class, the Clinton campaign--much to the chagrin of Bill Clinton--paid little heed to the existential plight of white working class voters. Her callous disregard for the plight of coal miners, to say nothing of her infamous basket of deplorables comment, only deepened the divide between her campaign and those voters, notwithstanding their long history of supporting Democratic candidates.

Hillary was not alone in her disdain for the plight of less educated white voters. Establishment Republicans have long dismissed the economic travails of their compatriots, as Jeb Bush did before the Trump campaign got rolling: “We have people that mope around thinking ‘my life is bad, my children will not have the same opportunities that I had.’ What a horrible notion in America, the most optimistic of places." If anything, Mitt Romney was worse, when in his 2012 campaign against Barack Obama he foreshadowed Clinton's rhetoric as he lumped those voters into his famous 47% basket of the undeserving, suggesting that as president, it would not be his job "to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." 

For old school Republicans--as mirrored in Jeb's and Mitt's comments--the message to Americans traditionally has been Don't like your lot in life? Do something about it. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But this time around, Donald Trump tossed aside the old time GOP religion and sang instead a song that could have been cribbed from the IWW Songbook--or the Bernie Sanders campaign--the system is rigged, and you deserve better. That used to be the Democrat message, but this time Hillary didn't deliver it, Donald Trump did. He declared his love for "poorly educated" voters, and they loved him back.

It is easy to look at this election and say, well, it was close... a few votes here and there... James Comey... the glass ceiling... But it is also reasonable to suggest that this race should have been a blow-out. As James Carville taught Bill Clinton years ago, It's the economy, stupid, and it almost always is. This time around, the problem wasn't that the message never got through to the voters, it never got through to the candidate. As a result, a large swath of voters who had no business voting for Donald Trump--including a large share of the 60% or so of the electorate who believed him not to be unqualified to be president--voted for him anyway, because at least--as Bill Clinton once did--he felt their pain.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The last days of America.

The Tweet: After Tuesday, will House Republicans choose to become part of healing the rifts facing the nation, or join the newly empowered radical fringe that Donald Trump has brought to prominence? 

Hannity and Drudge Cite WikiLeaks to Claim Clinton Campaign Worships Satansays the article that popped up on my browser from The Daily Beast a few minutes ago. These people are batshit crazy, as Senator Lindsay Graham (R. SC) pointed out months ago. And it is not just Steve Bannon and Alex Jones, the skillful impresarios of the alt-right who have been pitching this stuff for years, who have now elevated conspiracy theory to the inner sanctum of the Republican campaign. Batshit crazy has gone mainstream.

A few days ago, Congressman Trent Franks (R. AZ) made the rounds of the cable news stations. A proud member of the right wing House Freedom Caucus, Franks went on--as members of his caucus are wont to do--about the dangers to the future of the Republic as we know it should Hillary Clinton win the White House. This will be the last election in America... The Constitution will be destroyed... Hillary Clinton wants to yank babies out of the womb and kill them the day before they are due... The Second Amendment will be repealed... Liberty is at stake... and on and on.

While Franks gave all the indications of being a man who believed every word he was saying, I had no idea what he was talking about, or how they come up with this stuff. This was not Sean Hannity, a cable news huckster who needs to find new line of chatter to keep his ratings up and his advertisers happy, this was a prominent member of the House of Representatives, who evidently lives his life so buried in his right wing cocoon that he believes the nonsense he and the members of his caucus put out there to keep their constituents riled up.

There is little new in Franks' political version of end times rhetoric. Twenty years ago, during the 1996 presidential primary season, Senator Phil Gramm (R. TX) predicted a similar demise of the nation should he not succeed in his presidential bid: If we do not win, within ten years, America as we know it will cease to exist. The difference in the wake of the rise of Donald Trump is that however extreme Franks' rhetoric might seem to be, he is being flanked to his right by the Republican nominee for President and his inner circle. As hard as it is to imagine, the conservative movement in America is now at risk of being coopted by alt-right operatives who have little or no concern for the future of the country, but only for their own, bizarre extremist agenda.

Donald Trump--the man who may yet become the 45th President of the United States--pushed us farther down the path of hyperbolic conspiracy rhetoric when he placed former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon on the top of his campaign organization. His relationship with Trump has allowed Bannon to take his "alt right" coterie of white supremacists, anti-semites and fellow travelers out of the dark corners of the Internet onto center stage. Trump and Bannon are bound together by an understanding that in today's swiftly merging news-politics-entertainment complex, no rhetoric sells quite like conspiracy theory rhetoric, and in building the Trump Movement around the least educated, most deeply alienated sector of the American electorate, they have found fertile ground for their symbiotic marketing pitch.

Bannon's influence over the Republican nominee was evident in the deeply conspiratorial commercial that Trump is using as his closing argument on the last weekend of the campaign. The ad, “Argument for America,” makes an age-old argument of a global conspiracy that oppresses working people. "For those who control the levers of power in Washington, and for the global special interests, they partner with these people who don't have your good in mind." The images are of working Americans, who are the victims of this global conspiracy; of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and other government officials across the globe, who "don't have your good in mind"; of piles of money; and of "those who control the levers of power in Washington" who all just happen to be powerful Jews. The essential argument is unchanged from the century old anti-semitic screed, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: The victims, the corrupt government taking the money, and those pulling levers behind the scenes, the Jews. All narrated by the man who will change all that, Donald Trump.

Despite--or perhaps because of--the elevation of conspiracy theory to center stage in our politics, Tuesday's election has suddenly devolved from the mass spectacle of Donald Trump into a relatively traditional calculus of Democrats vs. Republicans, where victory on Tuesday may well come down to the question of who turns out their vote. For all the alienation of mainstream Republicans from the nominee foisted upon their party by its "base voters," at the end of the day, Republicans are coming home. After all we have lived through with Donald Trump--from the lashing out at Mexican "rapists" and Muslims on the first day of his campaign, to mocking the disabled, to the odd flirtations with Vladimir Putin, to his fight with the Khan family, to the Access Hollywood video--when it comes time to vote, it appears that little of it will have had much enduring salience. Donald Trump might be a con man, a pathological narcissist and a creep, but at the end of the day, Republicans by and large appear to be concluding that they prefer their creep to the Hillary Clinton that has been demonized and caricatured in their imagination.

I understand the mainstream Republicans who have normalized Donald Trump in their minds and come back home. They are just your average American partisan voters. They are recognizable to me because most of my Democrat friends and relatives could not imagine actually voting for a Republican under almost any circumstance. Or certainly not a pro-life Republican. (I make that particular distinction, as many Philly Democrats voted for the pro-choice Republican Bill Scranton for governor in 1986 over the pro-life Democrat Bob Casey.) And this year, when most Republicans have bought into the demonization of Hillary Clinton pitched by Republicans and Bernie Sanders alike, their choice is not be so difficult to understand.

I have less sympathy for the Republican base voters, who bought into Donald Trump early on and are now gleefully prepared to foist him on the nation, and the world. They remain blind to the simple reality that their candidate has conned and manipulated them from day one. He will build no wall, he will bring no factories back, and he will not cure what ails them. What he has done instead is to absolve them of responsibility for their own lives by heaping the blame on others--ironically, just what Republicans long accused Democrats of doing to pander to their voters. Once the election season is finally passed, it will be evident that those voters have done incalculable damage to the country that they claim to love, while doing little or nothing to grapple in any serious way with the very real pain that confronts them in their daily lives.

As we watch the Democrat firewall wobbling in real time, the prospects of Donald Trump marching into the White House is becoming more real than anyone imagined just two weeks ago. It still remains Hillary Clinton's race to win, but if she does not, it will likely reflect higher turnout than polling models are projecting among less educated white men, a demographic that historically has voted at half the rate of their more educated peers. Those voters represent the core Trump constituency, and if any group looms likely to out-perform this year--perhaps along with Latinos aggrieved by Trump's vitriolic rhetoric--it should be them.

Each morning for the past week I have woken up with a knot in the pit of my stomach. While I know that the pain in my gut is most likely an aftereffect of my recent two week stay in a hospital in Philly with a ruptured appendix, it is hard not to attribute some of it to election anxiety. I have weaned myself off of Nate Silver and the gang at fivethirtyeight.com, and instead now follow Sam Wang and the Princeton Election ConsortiumNo, I cannot argue the merits of the analytic approach of one site vs. the other, but Sam Wang's projections, shown here, have been more stable, and as such seem to quell the gnarling tightness in my gut, whatever its cause. Sam has been unruffled by the recent collapse in Hillary's numbers and the conventional wisdom that Trump is closing in. I know, intellectually, that this is a poor reason to invest my faith in him, but having Nate Silver deliver bad news day after day had become like water torture. So, I chose Sam.

Does Trent Franks wake up each morning with this same knot in the pit of his stomach? Does he lie awake in the middle of the night fearing for the demise of the Republic, just as I fear the rise of the alt-right and the occupation of the White House by neo-Nazi sympathizers and right-wing conspiracy nuts? He should, but perhaps not for the reasons that he imagines. The rise of the alt-right and its success in appealing to the Republican base has changed the political landscape facing the conservative movement and the country, and Steve Bannon and Alex Jones are charting a path that Franks and his colleagues should be loath to travel.

Over the course of this election, we have not only seen the normalization of Donald Trump's behavior by a large swath of the Republican Party, but the encroachment of the alt-right into our politics. This cannot continue. We cannot, as a nation, accept batshit crazy as the new normal. And the reality is that much of the burden for reversing the course we are on will lie with Trent Franks and his colleagues. They are going to be forced to decide if they and their fellow conservatives are prepared to work to heal the rifts that the nation faces, or if, instead, they prefer to align themselves with a cynical cabal that has been elevated to power by Donald Trump, that is content to contribute to the nation's destruction.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Steve Bannon's night.

The Tweet:  Forget Trump and Hil, Sunday was Steve Bannon's night. He signed up to launch a war within the GOP, and this weekend they fired the first shot.

For those who wondered what Steve Bannon has been doing to earn his keep atop the Trump campaign, we found out on Sunday. Bannon, widely viewed as the intellectual godfather of the "alt right" movement---the über right wing alliance of white nationalist, anti-semitic, anti-whatever groups--was the big winner in Sunday's second Presidential debate.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each did what they needed to do on Sunday. Trump was successful in stopping the bleeding in his campaign, which seemed to be on the brink of collapse, and he has made it nearly impossible for more members of Congress to pull back their endorsements of his candidacy. But he did nothing to advance his chances to win in November. For her part, Hillary Clinton was steady and unremarkable. She performed like someone trying to protect her lead, and she did.

But for Steve Bannon and the hard core Trump supporters of the ascendant alt-right, Sunday night was a night for the ages. Gone was the Donald Trump trying to make nice with moderate GOP and independent voters, or to soften his appeal to reach out to Republican woman. Instead, on Sunday night, we saw Donald Trump in full-on attack mode. He might have looked unhinged to the rest of us, but to his hard core base, his relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton and on the entire Clinton era were a soothing balm for their long-festering rage.

Trump channeled that rage, and did it well. And in doing so he dealt a severe blow to Republicans who for the previous 48 hours had been defecting from his ranks. Those Republicans--in particular the senators and House members who are on the ballot four weeks from tomorrow--thought Trump was cratering and they had an opportunity to improve their standing with voters by disavowing their endorsement. Instead, they now face the prospect of being strung up by Trump supporters for their perfidy.

Cuck is the term that the armies of the alt-right will sling at Republicans who chose to cut and run rather than standing by Donald Trump. Cuckservatives--cuck for short--is derived from cuckhold. It has become the term of venomous disdain from the alt-right toward conservative and mainstream Republicans who submit to the niceties of polite society, who lose their will and bow before the power of the mainstream media. And who could be a greater cuck than a Congressman who withdrew his support for Donald Trump because of some decade-old audio recording that was little more than crude, locker room male banter.

Trump voters have reason to be vindictive. For decades now working class white voters have marched in lockstep in support of whatever candidate the GOP put before them. They have supported GOP tax cuts, wars and the free trade agenda that would ultimately destroy their communities. Those voters, it turns out, are neither conservative nor small government Republicans. It is government that they want to see fix their problems, and Donald Trump has promised to do exactly that.


Trump voters have had enough with blind loyalty to a party and a DC establishment that has taken their support for decades and offered little in return.  Now, with those communities laid bare as manufacturing plants disappeared to Mexico and China, and the less educated white working class left in an economic and psychological depression, they have found their savior in Donald Trump. If the Party abandons Trump, those voters will turn on those that turned on their man, and will do so with a vengeance.

The GOP without Trump is a political party that offers little or nothing for the economically ravaged communities whose residents have flocked to the New York billionaire. When Paul Ryan was asked two weeks ago if he would support Trump's ambitious infrastructure investment plans, Ryan just laughed, and suggested that Trump's plan was not part of Ryan's conservative "A Better Way" agenda that seeks to radically reduce domestic spending. Suffice it to say, Trump voters are not interested in being told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They want their old lives back, and Donald Trump has promised to get it for them. Paul Ryan and his prissy fiscal conservatism do nothing for them.

We are now seeing in real time the beginning of the civil war in the Republican Party that was supposed to break out sometime after Election Day, or perhaps four years from now in the 2020 primaries. Finding himself with his back against the wall, Donald Trump--ably abetted by Steve Bannon--fired the first volley this weekend. 

Several dozen members of Congress outed themselves in the wake of the Access Hollywood video. As those members abandoned Trump--and began loud, public discussions about how to push him off the ticket--they forgot the essential rule of palace uprisings: "You come at the king, you best not miss." On Sunday night, as Donald Trump threw red meat to his followers, he reminded those members and the rest of the GOP that his voters--who comprise a third or more of the GOP electorate--are loyal to him, and him alone.

For Steve Bannon, the events of the weekend leading up to Sunday's debate could not have gone better. It was almost as though he leaked the Access Hollywood video himself, just to smoke out the weak and disloyal, and force them into the open, where his armies in the alt-right media can have a field day taking them down. He does not care one whit whether it costs Republicans the Senate or the House. His war is with the Republican establishment, and he is playing for keeps.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The essential shaming of Donald Trump.

Really, why are people so surprised? Everyone knows that Donald Trump has been a serial philanderer, that much has been a running saga in the New York Daily News for decades now. The guy has a thing for models and beauty pageants. There have been any number of civil suits related to his unwanted sexual advances. The videotape was sickening in demonstrating his narcissistic entitlement born of power and celebrity to sexually assault women of his choosing, but are people really surprised?

Republicans who committed to Trump have watched one outrage after another for months now. Yet here they are, like the proverbial frog that found itself in a pot of boiling water and wondered why it did not get out before things got so hot. This weekend, Donald Trump has given them all a gift. It is the deal of a lifetime, but it has a short expiration date. He has given them an out. They all knew who he was when they got into bed with him, but like Peter Lorre in Casablanca, they get to express their outrage, and, if they are smart, get out.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the notably Republican Wall Street Journal editorial board, summed it up succinctly last week in her op-ed endorsement of Hillary Clinton, entitled Hillary-Hatred Derangement Syndrome. Republicans have marketed Hillary hatred for decades now, and by the time Trump rolled around, he was the beneficiary of their derangement. Republicans across the political spectrum--from Tea Party firebrand Steve King on the right, to the more reasonable Deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole (R-OK), to GOP wise man Vin Weber--each poo-pooed the rabid anti-Hillary rhetoric around the time of the Republican convention as campaign bluster, suggesting that Hillary could be fine to work with if she won, but apparently many across the GOP never got the memo. Instead, Republicans, pumped up by years of well-stoked hatreds, flocked like lemmings to Trump's banner, ignoring the myriad warning lights flashing red along the way.

But the thing is, the video was not even Donald Trump's worst offense this week. It was not even the second worst. Lost in the explosion of indignant outrage over a video in which Donald Trump sounded exactly how one imagined Donald Trump would sound, were two even more disqualifying outbursts. First, at a rally in Florida, Trump expressed outrage at the exoneration of the Central Park 5. Trump has been involved with the case since it roiled New York City in 1989. Five young men were wrongfully convicted and served full sentences for raping a young woman, before being exonerated and having their convictions vacated in the wake of the confession of a man whose guilt was confirmed by DNA evidence. Trump has used the case to garner attention to himself over the years by stirring up racial animus--a precursor to his Birther movement--and did so again this week in Florida.

Then, at a meeting with a union representing border patrol agents, Trump returned to the narrative that the election is being rigged against him, which has served him well since his loss in the Wisconsin primary. Then it was the GOP primary system that was rigged, now it is the integrity of our entire electoral system, as he accused the Obama administration of opening the border to allow undocumented immigrants with criminal records to "pour into the country so they can go ahead and vote."

As bad as the newly released video of Donald Trump is, it runs a distant third to these two events, which each wantonly seek to undermine public confidence in institutions of civil society that are essential to our democracy. Yes, in that video, Trump glories in his lecherous behavior and brags of criminal sexual conduct--and whether it was ten years ago or last year, it should disgust the electorate.

But as bad as Trump's conduct on the video is, it does not begin to touch the damage that he has done and continues to do in undermining the public faith in our core democratic institutions. But this time next month, or perhaps even next week, Trump will be gone, but the damage that he has inflicted and continues to inflict by undermining public confidence in those institutions will live on. In his attacks on Judge Curiel, Trump began his assault on the credibility of the judiciary--melding his racial, anti-immigrant narrative with his own legal interests. In his attack on the Central Park 5, he went several steps farther. This time, his attack went beyond being racial and personal, to a direct assault on the credibility of the justice system, for his own political advantage. Nor does the video touch the damage his continued rigged election narrative does in encouraging his followers to doubt the integrity of our electoral system.

The video displayed Donald Trump's personal behavior, however egregious. The other two incidents displayed his blatant disregard for the institutional fabric of the nation that he presumes to want to lead. A large share of his core voters, perhaps 40% of the GOP, will believe what he says. They will conclude from his words that in New York City, corrupt officials exonerated five guilty men, facts be damned. They will conclude that corrupt Obama administration officials are letting undocumented immigrants flood across the border vote for Hillary Clinton, facts be damned.

The political landscape is littered with people who predicted that Donald Trump had gone too far, only to see him move past the affront of the moment, gather himself together and move on to new heights. Each time, some group of recalcitrant Republicans did what they swore they could never do, and got on board. Now, with four weeks to go, Trump has offered them all a chance to get out. He is going to lose, and it is going to be ugly.

It will not be enough for Trump to lose, he needs to lose badly. He has repeatedly sought to undermine essential institutions of our civil society for his own advancement. Confidence in the independence of the judiciary and integrity of electoral systems are as essential here as they are in any democracy across the globe. Yet, once again this week, Donald Trump has proven that he is willing to undermine those precious elements of our free society for his own advancement. He needs to be shamed and discredited, not just because he is a lecher indicted by his own words captured on a hot mike, but because he has no respect or regard for our national institutions. It is--as he has proven time and time again--all about him.

The video may not have been the worst Trump story this week, but it is the one that Republicans can turn to. They have a chance to get out. It is the last chance they will get.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hillary's enduring challenge.

The Tweet: Hillary's words and tone repel voters she needs to win. The election may be won by the candidate able to pivot away from their own worst rhetoric.

Hillary has seen a bit of a bounce since the debate last week. But as well as she did in that debate, her bounce may have been as much about Donald Trump's determined effort at self-immolation as any material improvement in Hillary's own favorability ratings. Just as Trump manages to boost his own unfavorability ratings by late night tweets and other unforced errors, Hillary has proven to be her own worst enemy.

"Why aren't I 50 points ahead?" she wondered aloud last week, words that now headline a new Trump commercial. "If you do know somebody who may be thinking of voting for Trump," she continued, "stage an intervention." Well, I know a number of people who are thinking of voting for Donald Trump, and I am quite sure that an intervention would be about the worst possible strategy to walk them back from the edge.

None of them are under any illusions about who Donald Trump is. And by and large they are not deeply hostile to Washington, DC--or at least don't imagine that it is something he could fix--or believe that trade deals, Muslims or Mexicans are the cause of whatever ails us. I am quite convinced that it is Hillary herself--not Benghazi or her emails--that they find off-putting. It is the disdain her words convey--in tone and in substance--toward those who have not embraced her.

This is all of a piece with Hillary's earlier speech to a room of LGBT activists in which she described a broad swath of Trump supporters as deplorable, or worse, as irredeemable.

Irredeemable is a harsh word. Americans believe in redemption. If the congregants of the Charleston, S.C. church could forgive Dylann Roof for shooting their friends and loved ones, who is Hillary Clinton to say which of her opponent's supporters are beyond redemption.

Hillary's words were particularly striking, standing as she was before an LGBT audience. No doubt there were many in that audience who had loved ones in their lives who had difficulty accepting their gay or transgendered child or grandchild, who would have fallen into Hillary's basket of deplorables, yet who found redemption through their love and ultimate acceptance of their LGBT family member. Belief in redemption, and appeals to the better angels of our nature, has been essential to our continued growth as a nation. Imagine if, instead of the language she chose, Hillary had used that occasion to elevate the election year discourse, with words along the lines of the following:

“You know, we have come a long way as a nation, as the LGBT community knows better than any other. Yet we have far to go. This has been a harsh election campaign, filled with too much rhetoric blaming others for our setbacks and fears, and not enough compassion for those whose lives and communities are different from our own. It is time that we step back from blaming others, and strive instead to be a nation where--as my husband used to famously say--we feel each other’s pain.

"This year, during the Republican primary season, several candidates reached out to communities that have been beset by heroin and opiate abuse. Those candidates showed far greater compassion to those who were suffering than Republicans had, as a general matter, in years past. For many years, 'Just Say No' was the official Republican response to those individuals and communitieslargely communities of color back then—that were being ravaged by drugs. Now, they have shown a greater ability to feel the pain of working class white communities that are suffering, and suffering deeply. 

"And so must we all. Your communities, the LGBT communities, understand perhaps as well as any others, the pain of silent suffering, of being shunned or shamed. Therefore, your communities should have the greatest capacity to reach out and demonstrate empathy to others who are suffering, however different those communities might be from your own. 

"This is what our nation needs now. This is a time when we must expand our capacity for empathy, rather than stigmatize or lash out at communities whose experiences and perspectives are different from our own. We should remember that each person's struggles, each community's pain, is as real as our own, and as worthy of compassion. And we should never let the daily battles of our politics obscure the fact that it is through that compassion, through that capacity for empathy, that we grow as a people and as a nation.

In the two upcoming debates and in the final weeks of the campaign, it remains Hillary's challenge to recognizeand seek to get pastthe not-so-subtle arrogance that she demonstrates all too often in her language that implies that she somehow occupies a morally higher ground. This is the language and disposition that sets many people’s teeth on edge when Barack Obama, for all his gifts as an orator, talks about “teachable moments,” a term that in no unsubtle way says “I am the teacher, I know more than you do.”

That is the tone and stance that pushes away my friends who might otherwise vote for Hillary, who are otherwise likely to vote for Trump. I understand this, and I respect both their perspectives and their choices. No doubt we will discuss it and argue about it through Election Day, but these are political choices, not a disorder of some kind that warrants an intervention

The essence of democracy is the belief that each vote matters, and, in asserting that, confirming that each person matters. It is an enduring puzzle of Hillary's candidacy: how could the woman who has lived her entire adult life with a man who knew instinctively how and why to “feel people’s pain,” be so apparently lacking in a gut sense of connection with and empathy toward so many people in the world around her.

This is a year when both major candidates, each in their own way, have stigmatized and labeled the other, to their political advantage. There certainly is nothing new in this, after all, four years ago, the 1%, the 47% and Americans clinging to guns and religion were each used as political props. But this year's language has reached new extremes. Now, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are in a tight race, each seeking ways to make themselves acceptable to segments of the electorate--notably white, suburban women, who may yet tip the balance. The winner in remaining debates, and the winner in the election, may well turn out to be the one who is most able--or least unable--to pivot away from the worst of their own rhetoric, and demonstrate the capacity to connect, just a little bit, with those whom thus far they have chosen to disparage and disdain.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Memories of Walter Mondale.

The Tweet: HRC wants to raise the Estate Tax to 65%. Maybe her campaign believes this will bring Bernie voters onboard. I think they have simply lost their minds. 

Maybe it is just me, but why would Hillary Clinton pronounce to the world that she wants to raise the estate tax to a whopping 65%. I get it, it would be on the billionaires, and we all want to get a piece of their money. It is about income inequality, and perhaps a bit about plain old jealousy.

But the politics of it baffle me. Right now, six weeks or so before Election Day. Is it because the icon of the left, Elizabeth Warren, just got a lot of face time undressing Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf about that bank's most recent egregious conduct--paying a fine of $185 million, along with a bonus of $123 million to the executive whose conduct led to the fine--so Hillary is under a bit of competitive pressure to up her game as a warrior for the left? Has her campaign calculated that the estate tax rate pronouncement will be the final appeal necessary to bring Bernie voters into the fold?

Or have they simply lost their minds?

I think this hurts more than it helps. With respect to recalcitrant Bernie voters, it only validates once again their deep conviction that Hillary will say whatever it takes to get elected. Why else would she say it now, on the eve of the election, if it wasn't part of her plan before? It is just further evidence that her convictions are transactional.

On the other hand, what better way to spook independents, and the 20% or so of persuadable Republicans who are hanging in the balance between her and Donald Trump, than by lobbing a huge tax increase out there. I know, it is supposed to be about taxing billionaires, but the truth is that it will be read by swing voters as a cavalier proclivity to go after other people's money. First, it is the billionaire, who knows who will be next.

This is, of course, the defining difference between Democrats and Republicans. Before the Reagan Revolution, the consistent trope of Republicans was that Democrats liked to tax and spend. Then the GOP learned to love spending, leaving the defining difference that Democrats like to tax. And that, in case they have never noticed over the years, is a practice that few across the electorate are actually fond of.

But the point is: why say anything at all about taxes? The man she is running against has proposed enough spending increases and tax cuts to outstrip anything Clinton might do in her wildest dreams. Sure, he has scaled back his original tax cuts--which were estimated by the conservative Tax Foundation to cost the federal government $10-12 trillion in foregone revenues over a ten-year timeframe--to a more modest $3-6 trillion. And that is just on the tax cut side of the ledger. Add in his plan for beefing up the Pentagon, doubling Hillary's proposed level of infrastructure spending and his commitment not to touch core entitlements, and Donald Trump's fiscal plans are beyond the wildest dreams of any Democrat, much less an independent socialist from Vermont.

When Bernie Sanders proposed a college tuition entitlement with an annual cost of $50-60 billion, the cacophony of demands for the details of how he was going to pay for it was deafening. And so it goes for any Democrat spending initiative, as the deficit hawks circle in the skies, looking for blood. But as to the trillions that Donald Trump has proposed to add to federal deficits, we have heard barely a word. Some of it is because no one really takes anything Trump says seriously, and some of it is the double standard that has come to be applied to Democratic fiscal plans vs. Republican tax cuts.

So why on earth would Hillary indulge this media double standard? And why would she commit the fatal sin of Walter Mondale in his debate with Ronald Reagan. Back then, as now, Mondale felt obligated to tell the world he would raise taxes, while Ronald Reagan simply promised the world tax cuts, feeling no obligation to say how he would be paid for them. Growth, the Gipper insisted, with a wink and a nod. Growth will pay for it all.

And that is Donald Trump's answer today. Even Trump's closest economic advisors don't try to mask the enormity of the deficit hole that his tax cuts and spending plans would create. Writing in the Washington Post this week, UC Irvine business school professor Peter Navarro and investor Wilbur Ross trumpet the growth that his plans would create. "Trumpnomics would generate millions of additional jobs and trillions of dollars in additional income and tax revenue."

This is the dynamic scoring argument that has been used since the Reagan era to justify moving away from traditional balanced budgets. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But unlike prior versions, this time around neither Navarro and Ross, nor the Tax Foundation, deny that Trump's program would cost less than trillions of dollars under the rosiest of scenarios. Their argument is that growth is good.

And indeed it is. It may not cure all ills, but whatever ills it does not cure are only made worse without it. Growth, Hillary, that is the word you should be looking for. Forget tax hikes, just point to growth, and call it a day.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cryin' Ted.

The Tweet: Showing bounds of ambition that exceed the bonds of family, Ted Cruz gave it all up for Trump. Meanwhile, Bush 41 showed what love of country looks like.

Ted Cruz did it. The final capitulation. The heat down in Texas must have been unbearable on Senator Cruz. The threats of primary challenges in 2018 stood as an obstacle to his ultimate ambition of running against President Clinton in 2020. So Ted Cruz endorsed the man he quite accurately labeled a pathological liar--the man who humiliated his wife and slandered his father--showing again that the bounds of ambition exceed the bonds of family.

He cloaked his perfidy within the longest Facebook post imaginable. A tweet would have sufficedInstead, Cruz went on... and on... falling back, ultimately, on the binary election logic that felled his compatriots. Marco Rubio laid it out eloquently when Rubio endorsed the man he had accused of being a con man: better a con man who stands for nothing than the Hillary Clinton that has been so diligently demonized by the Republican Party for so long. "By any measure," Ted Cruz declared--his famous ability to against the tide of Republican opinion escaping him--"Hillary Clinton is wholly unacceptable."

But a con man and pathological liar is just fine? From the days following Cruz's defeat in the Indiana primary, when he finally gave up the ghost on his presidential campaign, GOP leaders have struggled to find their rationales for why the con man who has no casual acquaintance with the truth would nonetheless be an acceptable choice for the Oval Office.

Some, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, have convinced themselves that the man who envisions tax cuts estimated to cost between $2.6 and $5.9 trillion, while committed to massive increases in defense and non-defense spending, would nonetheless embrace the Ryan Plan budgets. Others assure themselves--with no evidence to support it--that when the time comes, Trump's thin skin and quick twitter finger will give way to a presidential demeanor and better judgement.

And so it is now with Ted Cruz. In his Facebook manifesto, Cruz points to the six key issues that made his choice necessary. The Supreme Court, of course is number one. Donald Trump has hung the Court over the GOP like a cudgel. Cruz was accurate in his assessment of the dangers Trump poses to the Republic, but all that is set aside in deference to Trump's promise "to appoint justices 'in the mold of Scalia."' The rest of Cruz's manifesto is little more than standard Republican talking points. Obamacare. Unleashing America's energy sector. Immigration. Terrorism. And finally, in the ultimate irony of a man issuing his political manifesto on Facebook, Internet freedom.

Cruz concludes with an Orwellian summation. "Hillary Clinton is manifestly unfit to be president... and Donald Trump is the only thing standing in her way." Manifest unfitness to serve. This is an odd place for Cruz to stand his ground, as polling has consistently suggested that 60% of the public deems Trump unqualified to serve as president, while a comparable percent say Clinton is qualified. After many months of contemplation and prayer, it seems evident that Ted Cruz has decided to set aside his higher duty to the nation, and join that share of the electorate that is choosing to vote for a man they believe is unqualified to serve.

In the days before Ted Cruz offered his long-winded rationale for his final capitulation, another Republican holdout reached a different conclusion. Speaking with members of a board on which he serves, former President George H. W. Bush indicated that he would be voting for Hillary Clinton. Bush '41 is a forgotten man in the Republican pantheon. A patrician of the northeastern Republican tradition, he was part of, but never a true believer in, the Reagan Revolution. He opposed his son's military adventurism back when Donald Trump still supported it. But, most importantly, he was, and clearly remains, a believer in America and its role in the world.

It is in the international arena that Donald Trump presents the greatest risk for America. Perhaps he will surprise the world as President. Global adulation was over the top for Barack Obama, and he failed to live up to the unreachable hopes and dreams that were laid on his shoulders, and now global apprehension regarding a Trump presidency might be similarly beyond the bounds of reasonable pessimism. Perhaps, as in the upcoming debates, Donald Trump can only exceed expectations as President because the bar will be set so low.

But for George H. W. Bush, it is not enough to hope and pray that Trump is not who he appears to be--as many Republicans are doing today. Bush is enough of a realist to judge a man by his words and stated aspirations, and Donald Trump's words suggest a bleak future for the New World Order that George H. W. Bush did so much to create.

The first President Bush was among the principal architects of the world order that Donald Trump is running against. Bush worked in Washington during the Cold War, and imagined a world where the west and the nations behind the iron curtain would compete economically instead of through nuclear brinksmanship. And that is the world that has come to be, and one that has changed the face of our nation. Jeb Bush spoke his father's words in the Republican primaries, celebrating the globalized world and the energy that immigration brings to our country, while embracing the stern, pre-Trumpian GOP mantra that in this new world order workers and families facing economic competition must pull themselves up by their bootstraps, go back to school, and do whatever it takes to make the lives of the next generation better, if the current generate faces hardship.

President Bush could not buy anything that Donald Trump is selling. The fomenting of anti-immigration resentments, the victimhood of the core Trump electorate, the bleak portrait of America being sold by the New York billionaire, perhaps the blatant courting of radical right, and--more than anything--the mercantilist perspective that abdicates America's leading role in the world.

By all appearances, Ted Cruz capitulated to Donald Trump out of his own political self-interest, and yet it seems inevitable that in abdicating his principled stance, and showing political weakness and venality, he will be punished over time. Should Donald Trump lose, the repercussions within the GOP will be fierce, and Cruz's capitulation will cost him. Should Trump win, Cruz will become irrelevant to the party, to say nothing of being vulnerable to whatever vengeance Trump chooses to exact on him for his slanderous words. Trump is a man from the world of Jimmy Breslin, after all, a world where revenge is a dish best eaten cold.

Ted Cruz looked all the worse against the backdrop of Bush '41. George H. W. Bush was never appreciated as a man of principle, yet in this toughest of moments for Republicans, he showed his convictions. Cruz, on the other hand, has carefully cultivated his image as a man of principle, standing against the expediencies of the moment. He was facing was a lose-lose situation, and perhaps it would have cost him either way he played it. But if he didn't cry no mas as he did this week, at least then he could have moved on with his integrity intact.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Negative interest rates and the rise of populism.

The Tweet: Negative interest rates, a concept that many struggle to comprehend, reflect an urgent effort to kick-start economic growth in moribund economies. It is a race against time to forestall the rise of populism and the loss of confidence in democratic institutions.

It is all connected: flat growth in Europe and continuing deflation in Japan, the rise of right-wing political movements, and central bank policies leading to negative interest rates across the globe.

Cheap Money June 14, 2016Negative interest rates. The concept inherently makes no sense. Interest rates are often described as the price of money. If a price of something is negative, it suggests that someone will pay you to take it off their hands. And that is actually the case with money today. Investors now give money to most governments in Europe with the promise of getting back less money later. Not less money adjusted for inflation, but less money.

Negative interest rates and the rise in populist political movements in Europe are both linked to bad economic conditions. While mainstream politicians and economists might deny we are in a global recession, the fact remains that economic growth is flat to negative across a large swath of southern Europe, growth in Germany is barely positive and Japan remains in a deflationary spiral. Trump voters may not believe it, but the United States is actually the good news story today in global economics.

In subtle ways, negative interest rate policies and populist political movements are reinforcing each other. Negative interest rates are a radical effort by central bankers to kick-start their moribund economies, while that same economic weakness is emboldening right wing political parties that have historically won popular support in bad economic times. Right wing politicians are pointing to the failure of central bank policies as evidence of the corruption and incompetence of the old order they propose to replace, while central bankers fear that continued economic weakness will further public unrest, weakening faith in democratic institutions and ultimately threatening the integrity of the European Union.

Just a couple of years ago, few economists imagined that negative interest rates could be a sustainable national policy, and yet, today, negative interest rate policies have been embraced by 23 advanced industrial nations as they struggle to rekindle economic growth. Monetary policy--the basket of tools that central banks use to modulate economic activity and control inflation--used to be constrained by "the zero lower bound," meaning that rates could not go below zero.

Today, there is no longer a theoretical floor beneath which interest rates cannot go. While estimates vary, across the globe as much has half of publicly global government debt--$10 trillion or so--now trades at negative interest rates, as illustrated here. And it is no longer limited to governments. Bonds issued by several European companies, including Shell Oil, Siemens and Unilever have negative yields.

As a general matter, we tend to think of falling interest rates as a boon to the economy, for governments in particular. As the long-term cost of capital declines, investments of all types became more affordable. Homeowner refinance mortgages, freeing up household cash for other purposes. Lower interest rates mean that your credit is good. If lower rates are better than higher rates, why aren't negative rates better than positive rates?

They aren't better because they speak to a global economic that is broken, and where politicians and central bankers are taking extraordinary and desperate measures to put Humpty Dumpty back together again after all of the traditional strategies have failed. Over the past two years, as negative interest rate fever has spread across advanced economies, I have taken every chance I can to ask people I run into--economists, bankers, traders, hedge fund managers (yeah, I know, I need to get out more)--what they think of negative interest rates. To a person, they are befuddled. No one knows what the implications are going to be, because we have never traveled this path before, and, importantly, the longer interest rates remain negative, the more troubling becomes the question of how we get back to the world that we once knew.

Now that we have crossed the great barrier of what was once the zero lower bound, we are literally in uncharted waters. Negative interest rate policies and quantitative easing are flooding the world with cash. Asset values held by the wealthiest are rising, while for the average family and for retirees savings are being gutted. And few, if any, public officials can tell their constituents what it all means and where we are headed, leading to a spiraling downward in public confidence in political and central bank leadership. In Japan, where negative interest rates are now being felt at the household level, the Bank of Japan is facing growing demand for large denomination bills. Imagine what it means to a modern economy that depends on a functioning banking system if people conclude--as a matter of rational analysis, not conspiracy theory--that cash literally stuffed into a mattress is worth more over time than savings deposited in a bank.

It has now been nine years since the summer of 2007 when global markets first started to seize up, and eight years since the global collapse in 2008. Eight years is not a long time in the lifespan of major economic collapses and recoveries, based on comparisons with comparable banking system collapses in the past--as Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff document their book, This Time is Different--but it is a lifetime in a democracy.

As the post-2008 economic stagnation has dragged on and popular discontent has grown, Europe has seen the rise in right wing political movements across the continent. The 2008 collapse is not the cause of all that that is ailing the advanced industrial economies--arguably the immigration crisis in Europe is now a greater source of societal stress there than economic stagnation--but it has exposed deep tensions between our economic system and democratic institutions.

Historical data suggests that recovery from a major economic collapse can take a decade or more. Policymakers know--as recent elections across Europe have demonstrated--that the public lacks anything close to that kind of patience. Negative interest rates--an economic strategy that has never been tried before, and a concept that many struggle to comprehend--reflect the pressure that global central bankers are under to jumpstart the world economy as public discontent continues to deepen.

It is impossible to say whether negative interest rate policies are working or not, as it is impossible to know what conditions would be in Europe today were those policies not being followed. But we do know that things could be worse, a fact that cannot be far from the minds of European policymakers as they see the rise in right wing parties across Europe today. In the wake of the last global economic collapse--eighty years ago--the rise of right wing parties was swift and furious. By early 1933--a little over three years into the Great Depression that came after the 1929 collapse--Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.

Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hillary's words.

The Tweet: Gaffe or strategy, Hillary's words focus attention on who Trump is, and the fringe groups that will march into the White House with him if he wins.

It just seemed like an incredibly dumb thing to do. Regardless of what one thinks of the xenophobes and racists that constitute a fair share of Donald Trump's base, how could Hillary call a large share of his supporters deplorable?

I understand that polls suggest that 65% of Trump supporters believe President Obama is a secret Muslim, and that 59% buy into Donald Trump's Birther theory. It does not surprise me to read that 40% of Trump supporters believe that Blacks are lazier than Whites, that 31% support banning gays from the United States, or that 16% are white supremacists. Not one of those figures surprise me. This is America; it is an enormous country and full of people whose views I disagree with. And many whose views I find deplorable.

Donald Trump has pandered to the most chauvinist elements in the country from the opening minutes of his campaign. He just made an impresario of the alt-right--that loosely knit community of white nationalist, white supremacist, anti-semitic, nativist and other reactionary groups that live at the far right fringe of American politics--the head of his campaign. He has turned the nation's politics into a Kindergarten sandbox of name-calling and spite.

Donald Trump's fragile ego, his erratic narcissism, and his wanton affiliations with the most extreme reactionary groups in our country constituted Hillary Clinton's single greatest competitive advantage. Why then, in one scripted moment, would the Clinton campaign give away the moral high ground by resorting to partisan name-calling? As much as her supporters might claim that the data above supports her words, insulting the electorate is something you just don't do.

It all makes no sense. It is hard to fathom how a woman who has been mentored for decades now by Bill Clinton could make such a stupid mistake. Bill Clinton was weaned in the real world of politics--southern politics at that--not some imaginary world where people all believe and behave as we might wish they would. He did not berate voters he disagreed with, instead, he famously felt their pain, and then pandered to them when electoral realities warranted.

Bill Clinton's welfare reform, his Sister Souljah moment, and his crime bill were all tailored to appeal to the prejudices of the white working class voters who are now flocking to Donald Trump. Hillary's denunciation of Black "super predators" was supposed to mark her own rite of passage into the realpolitik world of dog whistles, that well honed art of pandering to the less educated white electorate whose votes have been critical to both major political parties for decades.

With that history, it seems inconceivable that Hillary's words were an off-the-cuff gaffe. This was not Barack Obama caught talking off camera eight years ago, with his prescient description of the Trump electorate: "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Hillary's words were in the written text of her remarks, they were loaded into the teleprompter.

That is to say, they were deliberate, pre-meditated. Given the incendiary nature of the content, using that language had to have been a strategic decision.

Hillary Clinton is not the only one who disdains the xenophobes, homophobes and racists--as she describes them--who are flocking to Donald Trump's banner. A large share of the electorate of both political parties has been disgusted by Trump's success in dragging the presidential race down into the deepest gutter of our politics, while elevating those whose views are most repugnant to a new level of respectability. This was the point Hillary made right after the controversial "basket of deplorables" comment:

"And he [Trump] has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people -- now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks -- they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America."

This, indeed, has been Donald Trump's seminal achievement. He has elevated and legitimated truly odious political forces, even has he has moved in recent weeks to elevate his own stature and respectability. One has to imagine that as the Presidential race tightens and moves into its final weeks, the intention behind Hillary's remarks was to refocus media and public attention on who Donald Trump is--who he was as the champion of the Birther movement, who he was during the most egregious moments of the Republican primary season, and who he was when he chose Steve Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart Media and champion of the alt-right movement, to be the head of his Presidential campaign.

Campaign tactics are not always what they appear to be. Over the past several weeks, Donald Trump has reached out to the black community, with visits to Detroit and Philadelphia, yet the focus of those efforts was about improving his standing among educated white Republican women, a demographic that he is losing badly. Looked at from that perspective, Clinton's words look like a deliberate tactic to remind voters--particularly those same educated white Republican women who dislike the racial and anti-immigrant tenor of the Trump campaign--exactly who they are getting in bed with.

Donald Trump has reacted predictably to Clinton's words, arguing that the disrespect that she showed for his voters should disqualify her from public service. But he is on shaky ground. The more vehement he becomes in defense of his most angry and loyal voters--who wildly cheer his most egregious comments--the more he risks proving Clinton's point, and in turn alienating other potential voters.

Each time the Trump campaign struggles to disavow their strong support among fringe right wing groups, it is one more reminder that the influence of the alt-right now permeates the Trump campaign organization. This week, Mike Pence struggled to explain away the support of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, even as he refused to acknowledge that Duke's views are deplorable. David Duke's response on Twitter applauding Pence's words could only add fuel to the issue.

The race has been tightening, as this graph from 538 politics suggests, with momentum swinging in Donald Trump's direction. His high negatives remained evident in newly released polls, but the impact of his most outrageous comments has been fading. Hillary's campaign knows that her best chance of winning is if the race is a referendum on Donald Trump. Her words may have been a gaffe, or it could have been part of a strategy--albeit a risky one--to refocus voter attention on who Donald Trump is, and who will be marching into the White House with him, should he win this November.

Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hail Maria.

Donald Trump's trip to Mexico this week has the potential to be a game changer for his campaign. In what was clearly a Hail Mary tactic, Trump flew to Mexico between a fundraiser in California and a speech in Arizona to meet with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto.

It is hard to imagine that a meeting could have lower expectations than a visit by Donald Trump to the President of Mexico, and, against that backdrop, Trump outperformed. It was not simply that he was gracious--almost diplomatic--but that he reframed the discussion away from who pays for the wall toward issues of hemispheric common purpose, specifically border stability, the problems of drug cartels and guns, and the common problem that both countries have with the evisceration of manufacturing industries in the face of Asian--primarily Chinese--competition.

The opportunity to fly to Mexico came just at a moment when Trump badly needed to change the discussion around immigration away from his contentious diatribes about Mexican rapists and a border wall that for more than a year have been central to building support among his core voters. Like his campaign narrative about race over the past several weeks, the trip was less about changing the math around the Latino vote than about the white vote, which has always been the focus of his campaign. It was a high risk/high reward gambit, but Trump stood at the podium with a man who by all accounts detests him, behaved himself and even showed some diplomatic skill. It is a low bar, but he cleared it.

Despite the barely disguised glee among Democrats as Donald Trump's fortunes in the battleground states continued to sink over recent weeks, Trump's campaign is not imploding, it is arguably becoming more focused. Earlier this month, Trump finally pivoted. After months of Republican anguish, their nominee for president did what Republican leaders have been looking for him to do. As the Labor Day kick off to the final stretch of the presidential race approached, he shook up his staff and started listening to them, and, for several days at least, he spoke from a teleprompter.

This, however, was not the pivot that Republican leaders had in mind. Out was long-time establishment Republican Paul Manafort. In his place, Trump brought in right wing conspiracy monger and GOP tormentor Steve Bannon. If Paul Ryan thought things were going to get easier, he must have been sorely disappointed.

From the day he announced his campaign in June 2015, Donald Trump has been clear about the electoral theory underpinning his campaign. It is all about white voter turnout, and it is right up Steve Bannon's alley. After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, the GOP spent a lot of time examining what went wrong. Famously, the official RNC diagnosis was that the party needed to become more diverse. What had once been the Party of Lincoln feared that it had lost Black voters for good and was at risk of making a similar mistake with Latino voters.

But there was a minority report of sorts, which was encapsulated in a piece written by Sean Trende in the days following the 2012 election entitled The Case of the Missing White VotersTrende's thesis, updated earlier this year in light of the Trump candidacy--and as reflected in the turnout numbers shown here--was that a large share of white voters--particularly less educated white voters--were no longer turning up to vote in presidential election years, and that the GOP could win back the White House if it reenergized these voters.

Karl Rove, along with a slew of other Republican analysts, were wildly derisive of Trende's thesis. Rove did not dispute that millions of white voters had not shown up, he just said they weren't conservatives. But Trende hadn't said that they were conservative, only that they were Republican voters. He emphasized instead that they were secular, less educated and economic populists--more like supporters of Ross Perot than the southern and evangelical voters that fit the normal profile of the Republican base.

Revisiting his 2012 article in 2013--almost two years to the day before Donald Trump entered the presidential race--Trende foreshadowed the Trump campaign succinctly: "This doesn’t mean embracing “big government” economics or redistribution full bore; suspicion of government is a strain in American populism dating back at least to Andrew Jackson. It means abandoning some of [the GOP's] more pro-corporate stances. This GOP would have to be more "America first" on trade, immigration and foreign policy; less pro-Wall Street and big business in its rhetoric; more Main Street/populist on economics." 

The simple truth is that Trump's campaign has eschewed traditional GOP themes--small government, free trade, personal responsibility, and the like. Instead, Trump's pitch has been part old-time Democrat free trade bashing and part George Wallace race-bating. There is more Huey Long in his pitch than Ronald Reagan--other than tax cuts, the obligatory price of entry into the GOP primaries--and not even a smidgen of Paul Ryan. The only Republican of recent memory that Trump is emulating at all is Patrick Buchanan.

The problem with Trump's theory of the missing white voter has from the outset been turnout and education. Trump's strongest support has been among the least educated voters, who, historically, have the poorest record for turning out on election day. From 1988 to 2012, turnout among voters with less than a high school diploma declined from 37% to 33%, while overall non-Hispanic white turnout increased from 56% in 1988 to 65% in 2008, before dipping, as noted above, to 62% in 2012.

As much as Trump's new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, might claim that Trump support is understated in the national and battleground state polls, his most avid, less educated white supporters are historically tough to turn out on election day. Indeed, Trump's campaign messaging since Conway and Bannon took over has been less about pumping up his less-educated base than softening his image among educated whites in the hope of stemming his losses among those voters.

For all the flurry of media discussion about Trump's outreach to African American voters since Conway came onboard three weeks ago, that rhetoric has had far less to do with black votes than white ones. The campaign's objective is less to increase Trump's black support in polls from 2% to 9% than it is to stanch his deteriorating support among Republican women. This is Kellyanne Conway's specialty, and Trump has clearly heard her message that to win back moderate Republicans--notably women--he has to act a bit less like a racist thug.

As it turns out, Mexico President Peña Nieto extended his hand just at a moment when Trump needed one, and gave him the opportunity to change the media focus from an immigration discussion that was spiraling out of control, to a discussion of the U.S. and Mexico's collective hemisphere interests. Peña Nieto invited both candidates, but only Trump took him up on it, and he made good use of the opportunity. It matters little whether or not they discussed who was going to pay for Trump's wall, as President Peña Nieto suggested in a post-meeting kerfuffle. What matters is that just at a moment when Hillary Clinton's own problems appear to have led to some tightening in some national polls, Donald Trump stood on the public stage and behaved himself, and suggested to educated white voters, who have increasingly been slipping from his grasp, that they might be able to vote for him after all.

Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.