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.

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.