Friday, January 20, 2017

The last days of the Grand Old Party.

The Tweet: Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President, while George H.W. Bush, the 41st President lay in a Houston hospital. Bush watched as Trump tore his son Jeb apart, and this inauguration has to break his heart, as both he and the Republican Party he loves are in their dying moments.

It was hard to watch the Inauguration of Donald Trump and not reflect on the health of George H. W. Bush. Ever the gentleman, the elder George Bush wrote a generous, even humorous letter to President-elect Trump, explaining why he and Barbara would be unable to attend the Inauguration. My doctor says if I sit outside in January, the 41st President told the man who would soon be the 45th, it will likely put me six feet under

Donald Trump's inaugural address was a stark contrast to Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural was an understatement. Lincoln's sweeping words, with malice toward none and charity toward all, gave way to a darker, insistent America First rhetoric with its threatening sense of malice toward many, foreign and domestic. Inauguration invitations featured an official portrait of Trump with a glowering visage, while tickets featured the new President behind the words A Hero Will Rise. For George Bush, a self-effacing, former WWII fighter pilot, a deeply charitable internationalist, to see the mantle of Lincoln--as President and leader of the Republican Party--pass to the self-aggrandizing, mean-spirited Donald Trump must break his heart

For all the abuse heaped upon George H. W. Bush, mostly by Republicans, Bush was a Republican to his core. He represented the Republican Party that stood for something. It was the party of free trade, open markets and growing the pie. It was the party of personal responsibility, limited government and liberty, at home and abroad. Americans unhappy with their plight were advised to take personal responsibility for lives, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job.  It was also--it is important to add--the party that supported the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts over a Democrat filibuster.

George H. W. Bush, scion of two powerful Republican families, was a loyal soldier and staunch defender of that Republican Party. But that Republican Party, the party that took seriously its lineage back to its founding by Abraham Lincoln, is withering before eyes. When Donald Trump toyed with Mitt Romney, like a cat playing with a mouse, it marked the symbolic triumph of Trumpism over the dying ambers of the political party to which George Bush dedicated his life.

In 1968, Richard Nixon campaign strategist Kevin Phillips wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, which set the Republican Party on the path that would lead a half a century later to the rise of Donald Trump. Beginning with the Nixon's Southern Strategy, the GOP lured the white working class from their historical Democratic roots with an appeal centered around a mix of racial, social and religious issues. Fifteen years later, Ronald Reagan confederate Grover Norquist translated Phillips' theoretical work into what became the GOP electoral strategy of appealing to a small number of single-issue voter groups that endured for the ensuing thirty years.

Even as the GOP leadership cultivated its new white working class "base," the party continued to adhere to its long-standing core economic values of free trade and open markets. Nowhere in Norquist's coalition--pro-life, anti-tax, pro-gun, pro-faith--were the economic issues of the white working class taken into account. Their votes were secured by appeals to social issues--and no small amount of racial code--even as decade after decade, from the 1980's onward, their economic circumstances deteriorated.

Kevin Phillips warned the GOP of the simmering rage within its base. In three books published during the decade following the Reagan Revolution, The Politics of Rich and Poor, Boiling Point, and Arrogant Capital, Phillips documented the growing alienation of the middle class and anger at Washington, DC as the GOP agenda benefitted the wealthiest Americans, while undermining the domestic manufacturing sector and economic upward mobility.

In the 2016 election, only Donald Trump seemed to understand the rage that Phillips had warned about two decades earlier. The lessons of Ross Perot's independent candidacy and Pat Buchanan's insurgency in the intervening years--which each challenged the GOP orthodoxy--were disregarded within the GOP, until this election cycle, when Donald Trump ran away with the GOP nomination by campaigning in opposition to nearly every core principle that the GOP had long stood for.

Trump largely adhered to the Norquist rules--the long-time New York liberal changed his stripes and endorsed the pro-life, anti-tax, and pro-gun GOP standards--but on the other issues that defined the GOP--the issues that mattered most to Republican elites over the years--he made an about face. He ran against free trade, immigration and free markets, and in favor of massive infrastructure spending and new taxes on the rich to an extent that would make a traditional Rust Belt Democrat proud. He threatened tariffs against companies with overseas operations. He decried unlimited campaign contributions and insider influence. And even as he demanded the repeal of Obamacare, he stated early on--as he reiterated recently--that the GOP replacement must provide insurance coverage for all Americans. And, of course, there is Russia, where Trump seems closer to a Fellow Traveler of the 1950s than to GOP Senators Marco Rubio, John McCain or Lindsay Graham.

Each week now, we are seeing Trump's policies--that is what a tweet is in this new era--confound his GOP compatriots. He is insisting that the GOP provide health insurance for all Americans, and at a lower cost. He is demanding that the Federal government negotiate drug prices. He is jawboning military contractors to reduce costs. And then, of course, there is Russia.

Many Republican Party leaders--notably Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, and perhaps even Trump insiders Mike Pence and Reince Priebus--continue to hope against hope that if they wait Trump out, things will return to normal. But Trump has come to believe that he is leading a movement, not just a political campaign, and his objective is to throw out the traditions of the party and remake the GOP in his own image. Steve Bannon's role as his political strategist is, among other things, to orchestrate the takeover of the apparatus of the GOP on the ground, state by state.

Last week, Trump supporters ousted the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. Next week, Trump backers are taking the fight to Massachusetts, where the leadership of the Republican State Committee is up for grabs. “They didn’t want anything to do with Trump—they were embarrassed by Trump—they thought he was going to lose,” commented Trump's candidate for chairman of the state committee about Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker and the old school Bay State blue bloods.

As George Bush watched the humiliation of his son at the hands of Donald Trump, he had to know the end was near. For GOP traditionalists, the barbarians are not longer at the gates, they are occupying the White House. Many would argue that the old Republican Party sold its soul long ago--when it took the trade that Kevin Phillips suggested, swapping its moderate New England roots for the new, socially conservative southern and working class Democrats--and that George Bush similarly abandoned his principles when he embraced the coded racial politics of Lee Atwater.

Through it all, George Bush and the elites of the GOP refused to let go--as evidenced by the nomination of Mitt Romney just four years ago. With the swearing in of President Trump, the last battle for the soul of the GOP looms. McConnell and Paul Ryan, as the leaders of Congress, may yet resist Trump's efforts--though truly only Ryan has the breadth of support within the party, if not the stomach for the fight, to challenge the President--but Donald Trump and Steve Bannon have the mainstream party infrastructure firmly in their crosshairs, and their success in Ohio and Massachusetts suggests that the GOP of George Bush will soon be gone for good.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The end of the New World Order.

The Tweet: Once the ink is dry on the swearing in of the 45th President, it will only be a matter of time before Putin tests his new relationship. When he does, we may see the end of the New World Order of the first President Bush and the rise to the Trump Doctrine.

To hear Vladimir Putin rise to the defense of Donald Trump, as Putin lays the blame for the Russia dossier at the feet of Barack Obama, was remarkable. Why would Donald Trump need our prostitutes, the Russian leader actually said in his purported defense of his new BFF, when he runs all those beauty contests and obviously has plenty of women to choose from. Assuming Putin had nothing to do with the dossier, is there anything he could have said to better draw attention to it?

To hear Donald Trump embrace the words of the Russian President in righteous defense of his own credibility was even more remarkable, particularly as it came in the wake of his announcement that his first foreign trip will be to Moscow, and as he pronounced that he is in favor of removing sanctions levied against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Assuming that Trump is not actually in cahoots with Putin as the dossier suggests, is there anything he could have done to suggest more emphatically that he is?

Jejune is the word that sticks in my mind, courtesy of Woody Allen. Naive and immature. What a combination for our new Commander-in-Chief, and what a gift to Vladimir Putin. A man who the Russian spymaster has been able to engage and manipulate simply by appealing to his abject narcissism. Trump's infatuation with himself and his own instincts may yet change the trajectory of history. Imagine the incomprehension in the minds of world leaders who have observed the machinations of Vladimir Putin over the past two decades, as they watch the new American President tumble farther and farther into the abyss of his own making.

Trump has proven to be easily baited, and will predictably do the opposite of whatever those he views as his adversaries suggest he should do. Thus, the more the intelligence community, along with Senators like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, point out Putin's transparent duplicity, the greater Trump's determination to continue down the path he has chosen, and the greater the risks that he will drag much of the post-Cold War western democratic order with him.

Is this an overreaction? Is it possible that Donald Trump knows what he is doing, and will succeed in remaking the relationship between the United States and Russia in ways that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama imagined, but failed to do. We will see. But I imagine that Putin will not wait for the ink to dry on the swearing in of the 45th President of the United States before he tests that new relationship.

Who knows how things will transpire, but we do know that President Trump will be tested.

Estonia would be an attractive target. It has a large ethnic Russian population and the country's major population centers are an easy drive by tank from the Russian border. "Estonia is a suburb of St. Petersburg," Trump supporter and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich pronounced last July, as he mirrored Trump's disdain for the NATO alliance and mocked our commitment to come to the defense of the Baltic nation should Russia choose to act.

Perhaps it will begin with riots that erupt in Estonia in response to a cyber attack on its utility grid, leaving the population without power. As the government struggles to contain civil unrest, violence erupts as protesters are shot in the street by armed gangs. Putin reacts swiftly, decrying the loss of life and growing chaos near its border, and sends in military 'peacekeepers' as a humanitarian effort to protect the population--including its minority ethnic Russian population--and successfully quells the violence. Donald Trump applauds Putin’s swift action to restore order and save lives.

By the time a meeting of NATO allies is convened to debate whether Article 5 should be invoked, the moment is passed. Putin agrees to meet with Donald Trump, following which Putin agrees to leave Estonia--noting of course that he never intended to occupy the country--while Trump announces that he has directed the CIA to cease activities in Ukraine.

Trump applauds the negotiated agreement, blaming prior administrations for having instigated events in Ukraine and Georgia for no reason other than to provoke Russia. Trump goes on to suggests that the great powers of the world should henceforth treat each other with respect and deference to their regional issues, which is quickly dubbed the Trump Doctrine, and wildly applauded by his base, while decried by the U.S. and European foreign policy establishment.

Having effectively proved NATO article five to be a dead letter and gotten American advisors out of Ukraine and Georgia, Putin and Trump meet again in Trump Tower, where together they announce the end of sanctions and a new Partnership for Prosperity.

Across Europe, right wing parties celebrate and stock markets collapse as the implications of the new world order begin to settle in. Back in fortress America, Donald Trump cheers the collapse of the old, rigged world--to the wild accolades of his base--while investors and corporations rush to return to the United States, the only safe haven in a new, far riskier, world.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Russia dossier.

The Tweet: Golden shower or no, Russian agent or not, Donald Trump is proving to be a gift beyond Vladimir Putin's wildest dream.

Is Donald Trump a witting or unwitting agent of Russian intelligence as I posited in this space six weeks ago? Former CIA head Michael Morrell raised the issue of Trump being an unwitting agent of the Russian FSB in a New York Times op-ed last August. Now, the question of a more direct relationship has been asserted by the now-infamous dossier on Russian efforts to influence the Presidential election. The latter suggestion is a ludicrous notion on its face, and one that most Republicans and many Democrats must view as lying in the realm of conspiracy.

"Fake news!" was Donald Trump's response to questions about the dossier at his press conference last week. Yet the fact that the dossier was presented to Trump and FBI Director James Comey personally briefed him about it the Friday before the press conference made it news, regardless of how one assesses the content. Fake news is now the stock response of our President-elect to any news that paints him in a negative light, not simply blurring the line between the onslaught of real fake news stories that abounded during the presidential election and the serious institution of journalism, but wiping away the line altogether.

Donald Trump promised that he would disrupt our politics, and he has delivered. His press conference this week was a contentious, chaotic demonstration of what we can expect as a matter of routine going forward. Things will be combative and chaotic because our new president loves combat and chaos. Keeping people on edge is one of the ways he asserts control. He shows no respect for the institution of the press, both because, ironically, denigrating the press assures him more attention and more press, and because attacking the media plays well with his base. As Donald Trump has shown us, he cares about two things--media attention and the adulation of his base--and last week both were on display in spades.

The chaos of the press conference was a further reflection of the fundamental disregard that Trump has for the core institutions of our democracy. Over the past year and a half, he demonstrated repeatedly--in his attacks on Judge Curiel and the Central Park 5--his disdain for the judiciary. And he demonstrated time and time again his willingness to the undermine public confidence in our electoral system if it served his own interests. And then there is his disdain for the press. Not freedom of the press, but the institution of the press itself.

"You know," Trump went on, apparently oblivious to the irony of his words, "I’ve been hearing more and more about a thing called fake news and they’re talking about people that go and say all sorts of things." This from a man who built his public persona and political power base through the cultivation of fake news and conspiracy theory. Years before he became a national celebrity on The Apprentice, Donald Trump honed his craft of cultivating media attention as a fixture of the New York tabloids. He made his bones nationally as a fake news impresario as he single handedly made the Birther movement a force in our politics. He used a false story linking Ted Cruz's father to the assassination of JFK to dispose of his last Republican rival on the eve of the Indiana Primary. Yet there he stood last week, railing away at the assembled media.

"I will tell you, some of the media outlets that I deal with are fake news more so than anybody. I could name them, but I won’t bother, but you have a few sitting right in front of us. They’re very, very dishonest people, but I think it’s just something we’re going to have to live with." 

Yes, if nothing else became clear at his press conference this week, as Trump announced his plan to put his business interests in the hands of his sons, fake news and dishonest people are going to be part of our future.

Trump's ire--though it was not ire at all, but rather theatre--effectively sidetracked much discussion of the dossier on purported Russian efforts to influence the Presidential election. That dossier, prepared by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele for a private client, is a series of memos ostensibly written from June through December of last year.

The memos claim to report on discussions with sources in the Russian government as well as Trump associates. The memos describe Putin as motivated both by visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton as well as long-standing Russian hostility toward liberal democracies encroaching on Russia's borders and influencing its neighboring states. There is nothing inherently implausible about the descriptions in the memos of Russian efforts to influence our election, and the dossier is an interesting read if only on the perspective it suggests on Russian motivations at the highest levels.

The objective of the Russian information operation as described in the dossier was to achieve long-standing Russian objectives to undermine NATO and liberal western democracies through a combination of psychological, cyber and propaganda efforts that it had been unable to achieve through diplomatic initiatives or military intimidation. As stated in the dossier:

The Russian authorities had been cultivating and supporting US Republican presidential candidate, Donald TRUMP for at least 5 years. Source B asserted that the TRUMP operation was both supported and directed by Russian President Vladimir PUTIN. Its aim was to sow discord and disunity both within the US itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance which was viewed as inimical to Russia's interests. Source C, a senior Russian financial official said the TRUMP operating should be seen in terms of PUTIN's desire to return to Nineteenth Century 'Great Power' politics anchored upon countries' interests rather than the ideals-based international order established after World War Two.


The report is silent on what other Americans had been cultivated during the same period as Trump, and indeed there is no reason to imagine that the operation dating back years--if it existed--would have only chosen him. Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, new American Presidents have imagined that they could build a new relationship with Russia, yet each failed to recognize the singular Russian obsession with encirclement by the west and its territorial integrity. The core Russian objectives described in the series of memos of sowing political discord within and between the western democracies and weakening NATO has been a long-standing Putin project, and is one that may well reach full flower with the election of Trump and the rising influence of right wing political parties in Europe that are less antagonistic toward Russia. One Russian source is cited by Steele as explaining why the Kremlin initiated such an aggressive effort on Trump's behalf:

Russia needed to upset the liberal international status quo, including on Ukraine-related sanctions, which was seriously disadvantaging the country. TRUMP was viewed as divisive in disrupting the whole US political system: anti-Establishment; and a pragmatist with whom the could do business.

Notably, the dossier suggests that while Trump had been willing to share information with the Russians over the years, he declined to bite on their offers of financial inducements. This was the context of the aspects of the dossier that are most salacious and have accordingly received the most attention in the media here, but ultimately are the least convincing or interesting aspects of the dossier with respect to what they illustrate about Russian intentions.

The Kremlin's cultivation operation on TRUMP also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia, especially in relation to the ongoing 2018 World Cup soccer tournament. However, so far, for reasons unknown, TRUMP had not taken up any of these... However, there were other aspects to TRUMP's engagement with Russian authorities. One which had born fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP's personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable 'kompromat' (compromising material) on him.

Unfortunately, media focus on the few salacious paragraphs has overshadowed the light that the dossier claims to offer on Vladimir Putin's determination to destabilize and undermine public faith in democracy in this country. It may be that the entire document is itself an information operation concocted to stir up anti-Russian animosity by parties opposed to Donald Trump's apparent inclination to build an alliance with Putin, but the aspects of the dossier that reflect Russian motivations pursuing their own national interests ring true. Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, is not a 400 pound Macedonian teenager making up fake news in his bedroom; his British colleagues attest to his credibility. He describes the anger within the Trump camp that their collaboration with Russia might contribute to the overarching  Russian objective of undermining U.S. democratic institutions:

TRUMP's associate also admitted that there was a fair amount of anger and resentment within the Republican candidate's team at what was perceived by PUTIN as going beyond the objective of weakening CLINTON and bolstering TRUMP, by attempting to exploit the situation to undermine the US government and democratic system more generally. 

If undermining our democratic system is Putin's objective, Donald Trump is his man whether or not the dossier is fake. Under the guise of disruption and change, Trump has continued to demonstrate his disdain for the core institutions that support our democracy--the electoral system, the independent judiciary, and the media--and encouraged his supporters to share that disdain. Over the course of his campaign, and now as we approach his inauguration, Trump has managed to take a nation that was already deeply divided and deepen those fissures. Public faith in those institutions is critical to the strength of our democracy. Without that faith, we risk becoming closer to Russia that we might imagine to be possible, which is exactly what Vladimir Putin has in mind.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Manchurian President.

The Tweet: Did Putin recruit Trump as his unwitting agent? Putin won a major information warfare campaign and all Trump seems to care about is whether it makes him look bad.

During the recent angry exchanges between Trump and Clinton campaign operatives at a forum at Harvard University, Kellyanne Conway asked Democrat operatives, “Hashtag he’s your president. How’s that? Will you ever accept the election results?" Perhaps the more important question is will Donald Trump.

Donald Trump won big, and--to paraphrase former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan--he just can't take yes for an answer. Winning has not been enough. As in all manner of things, Trump is driven to claim that he won a victory of historic proportions--despite the fact that his electoral college victory ranks 46th out of 58 elections in our nation's history. First, there were the tweets spurring on the faithful to believe that millions voted illegally. Then, Trump directly asserted that but for those purported illegal votes, he won the popular vote as well.

Now, in response to reports of a CIA assessment--subsequently embraced by the FBI--that the Russian government worked to support his election, Trump and his team shifted into overdrive, turning their fire on the CIA, asserting, inaccurately, the historic proportions of the Trump victory: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history." 

The frailty of Donald Trump's ego has been on display for more than a year now--both his love for those who shower him with praise and his instinct, in Melania's words, to "punch back 10 times harder" when he is attacked. The CIA report was not about him, but rather the conduct of a global adversary, yet Trump felt compelled to view the CIA report as a personal attack, authored with the intention to impugn the legitimacy of what he is now framing as a titanic victory. Oddly, by his tweet storm it was Trump who focused public attention on the notion that without the help of Vladimir Putin, he might not have won the election.

Donald Trump has never won--or lost--an election before. Close elections in particular are replete with accusations and explanations for what affected the results: the ad that someone ran, or the ad that they decided not to run; heavy rain on election day that suppressed turnout; national events that refocused voter attention. There are any number of things that supporters of a losing campaign will bring up as they try to explain their loss in a close race. But it is hard to recall a race where the winning side spent so much effort to explain why they won.

There is nothing new in suggestions by the intelligence community that Russia was attempting to meddle in the U.S. election, or that Vladimir Putin felt a particular animus toward Hillary Clinton. He viewed her as the instigator of U.S. efforts to meddle in Russia's 2011 election, and a significant threat to Russian interests. The Russian information operation against Hillary Clinton involving first the theft and then the strategic leaking of opposition research and emails stolen from the DNC and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta began well before Putin had any idea who the Republican nominee would be. As hard as it is for Trump to imagine, it really was not about him. The emergence of Trump and the prospect of supporting the election of an American President who routinely went out of his way to praise the Russian leader has simply been icing on the cake.

So far, Putin's efforts have produced results beyond anything he could have imagined when he set out to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions. Trump's election and the ensuing nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State have offered hope to the Russians that a wedge can be driven between the U.S. and the European Union, leading the U.S. to drop economic sanctions imposed in the wake of Russia's intervention in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. But Trump's rejection of the CIA report and his general disdain for the intelligence community has suggested to Putin and the FSB--the successor agency of the KGB--the prospect of achieving the Holy Grail of driving a wedge between the CIA itself and the American President.

Last summer, former CIA head Michael Morell suggested that Vladimir Putin "had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation." To recruit Trump, Morell noted, "Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated." Witting or otherwise, playing to Trump's vanity--his characteristic that makes him both susceptible to flattery and enraged by insults--has become a proven effective strategy, and when you win over Trump, he brings the enthusiastic embrace of his core supporters along for the ride.

“Why not get along with Russia?” Trump asked in his recent Man of the Year interview in Time magazine, as he has at myriad rallies over the course of the campaign. And his supporters who are now driving the Republic Party have dutifully responded. Based on a recent Economist/YouGuv poll, GOP attitudes toward Putin have shifted significantly to align with Trump. Putin's net "favorable/unfavorable" rating among Republicans has improved from -65 (meaning something on the order of 17% positive/83% negative) to -10 (roughly 45%/55%), while only 12% of Trump supporters share the consensus view of the intelligence community that Russia was responsible for the election hacking.

It is hard to know at this point, after 18 months of the Donald Trump for President reality show, if it is his arrogance, narcissism or ignorance that Vladimir Putin found to be the greatest vulnerability that he could exploit. After 18 months during which Donald Trump has trampled whatever rules used to exist for those who aspire to be President, the President-elect has learned that he can do literally whatever he wants and no one will challenge him. Over the past two weeks, he has been unable to resist his overwhelming need to attack the intelligence services because he views their analysis of the evidence--embraced in a bipartisan manner on Capitol Hill--as a personal attack on him and a blemish on the defining nature of his electoral triumph. He is incapable of considering that Vladimir Putin might be playing him.

Donald Trump won the presidential election. Kellyanne Conway should stop yelling at Democrats and try to get her boss to understand that. If he insists on viewing CIA assessments that don't comport with what he wants to hear as acts of insubordination against the Commander in Chief, Vladimir Putin will have scored the biggest victory of all--whether or not his information operation against Hillary Clinton was a determining factor in her defeat, and Donald Trump's victory.

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Shameful.

The Tweet: GOP leaders are cowering as Donald Trump's power grows and his behavior becomes more egregious and destructive to the nation. Have they no shame?

Has there been a more shameful performance than the one put on by Mitt Romney? The Ken doll of modern politics, Mitt always looks good in a suit, but now that he has been stripped bare of his last vestiges of dignity, the suit still looks good, but the man has become a hollow shell of himself.

He seemed so comfortable eating frogs' legs with Donald Trump at the three-star Michelin restaurant in New York, Jean George, but you just know that Trump was just playing with him. Chris Christie had gone down this path, put his chips all in with the Trump campaign. Christie believed he had lost out for the VP nod by a hair, but was still hoping for something big--Attorney General or White House Chief of Staff perhaps? Somehow he thought the fact that he had thrown Jered Kushner's father into federal prison when he was U.S. Attorney would not be a problem. All seemed forgiven.

But nothing is forgiven, not the big ones. Christie, somehow, forgot the age-old wisdom deeply seated in his New Jersey roots. Unlike the sautéed frogs' legs at Jean George, revenge is a dish best eaten cold.

Mitt Romney had spoken cold, hard truths. Donald Trump is a con man and a charlatan, and there are likely many bombshells hidden in those tax returns. Somehow, after his scalding rebuke of the Republican candidate and holding the Never Trump line until the votes were counted, he fell for the bait floated out there by Team Trump. Mitt Romney for Secretary of State. An olive branch to the Never Trumpers, and all was forgiven.

Mitt bit, and bit hard. With the hook firmly implanted in his ego, he walked out of Trump Tower and lavished praise on the President-elect. Romney--referred to now as Reek online, the castrated character in Game of Thrones--lauded his vision and leadership, even as he flushed what remained of his integrity into the gutter along Fifth Avenue. We will never see those tax returns and Mitt Romney will never reign supreme over Foggy Bottom. Donald Trump holds all the cards now, and Romney's humiliation will soon be complete.

We are in the middle of a freak show. For more than a year now, people have been waiting to see if Donald Trump would pivot. This can't be all there is, the narcissism, the hubris and the fragile ego? But it is all there is.

And he lies, oh, how he lies. Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's confident and erstwhile campaign manager, scolded the media in the fracas that broke out at the Harvard Kennedy School last week between the Trump and Clinton campaign staffs that they erred in talking Donald Trump's word literally.

Ted Cruz--no stranger to humiliation at Trump’s hands--summed it up best back in May, when he observed that Trump is a pathological liar. "He could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon and one thing in the evening, all contradictory and he'd pass the lie detector test each time. Whatever lie he's telling, at that minute he believes it." But as Lewandowski would have it, the onus is on the rest of us to decide when his words have meaning, and when they don't. Kinda like the children of alcoholic parents.

There is a serious problem with Lewandowski's suggestion as to how to live in the Trump universe, where we are each responsible for parsing fact from fiction. When the President-elect tweets out “Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California" his supporters believe his words. Then for the next several news cycles, the media is--as it should be--consumed themselves in pointing out the lack of evidence to support the statement. But evidence has not mattered to Donald Trump since June 16, 2015 when he announced his candidacy for president and in that first speech previewed everything that was to come. Did he actually believe his tweet about voter fraud? In the moment, perhaps, as Cruz suggests, but that is not the point. The tweet was purposeful for Trump in the moment. It provided counter-narrative to his defeat in the popular vote, even as it demonstrated his willingness to undermine public confidence in one of our core democratic institutions--our electoral system--if it served his own interests.

On Face the Nation last Sunday, RNC Chairman and incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus exemplified the problem facing the Republican Party. When John Dickerson used the voter fraud tweet as an example to ask how Priebus handles Donald Trump's statements that he knows not to be true, Priebus hedged, "I don’t know if that’s not true, John... It's possible.”

Republicans--some of them, anyway--have to be horrified as they watch the continuing antics of the man who will soon occupy the Oval Office in their name. They have to be horrified to watch as people like Priebus and Mitt Romney sell the last vestiges of their souls to curry favor with a man who proves each day that he lacks the maturity and respect for our core institutions to serve in the office to which he has been elected.

Over the past few days, the depth of the problem has continued to escalate. There was nothing new in the childishness of Trump's tweet attacking Chuck Jones, a union leader who had the temerity to question Trump's claims regarding the number of jobs that had been saved at the Carrier plant in Indiana. But the massive response on social media from Trump supporters viciously attacking and threatening Jones brought new focus on the power that our President-elect wields to rain, if not the wrath of God, at least the wrath of his tens of millions of acolytes upon those who criticize him. “This is," noted Nicolle Wallace, White House Communications Director for George W. Bush, "a strategy to bully somebody who dissents." Trump tweets out the dog whistle, and the pack of dogs descend on the offending party. Any reasonable observer must, Wallace suggested, find it "dark and disturbing.” They are the brown shirts of the social media age, observed Glenn Beck, former right-wing talk show impresario.

As Mitt Romney paid his obeisance to the new leader of his party, he must have cringed inside. But the time for cringing has passed. Republicans--and they are the only ones whose opinions will matter--are going to have to think hard about the conduct and temperament of the man that they have proven far too willing to embrace. This is not about who he appoints to what positions; elections have consequences, as Barack Obama observed, and to the victor goes the spoils. This is about the willful undermining by the President-elect of institutions essential to our democracy. Republicans like Reince Priebus can hem and haw and deny the elephant in the room, but everyone can now see it for what it is, and he and other GOP leaders are ultimately are the only people who can do anything about it.

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

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.