Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Republicans are shockingly good at the long game."


Republican judges had a strategy. Key Republican officeholders had a strategy. Turn back the clock.


Republican voters went along, too.

Supreme Court Building
GOP voters understood that changing the Supreme Court mattered so much that churchgoing Christian voters would vote for a venal, p***y-grabbing, "two-Corinthian" adulterer if it meant they might get judges who would reverse the legal and cultural changes past decades. 

Democrats voters fussed and divided over who was good enough. Republicans voters understood that if they could get the judges they wanted, then even Trump was good enough.

Great landmarks in American life have been confirmed or turned back because of decisions made by the Supreme Court. Child labor laws. Access to contraception. Racially integrated schools. Access to abortion.  Unlimited campaign spending. A presidential election.  

Landmark decisions rest on a foundation of smaller, apparently inconsequential decisions in unremarkable cases. Those decisions create the legal rationale for the famous, landmark decisions. Does the 4th Amendment right to be "secure in ones persons, houses, papers, and effects" from "unreasonable searches" allow a married couple to possess and use a diaphragm for contraceptive purposes? The Court said yes, a famous case, but made it after finding barely enough precedent and implication in prior law and practice to declare it a right--secure from the majority sentiment of the Connecticut legislature to forbid the use of contraception.

Cultural conservatives have a big agenda. The 2016 election empowered turning back on many of the legal and cultural changes of the past fifty years. America is to be great again

Thad Guyer writes that the building blocks to reverse the direction of the court have been put into place quietly for decades. With an evenly split court, depending on who joined the court, the direction could have gone either way. Now the die is cast and a direction set. With a firmly conservative court ready to be seated, a process of dismantling the changes of the past fifty years can accelerate.

Guest Post: Thad Guyer

Thad Guyer
Thad Guyer is an attorney with an international practice specializing in assisting whistleblowing employees. He practices primarily in federal court.

"The Border Wall at 1 First Street, NE, Washington, DC”

   "I graduated law school in 1978, moved to the rural south to litigate civil rights cases, and was confident that newly elected Jimmy Carter and an evolving Supreme Court would provide my clients the legal infrastructure to win some social justice. Instead, Ronald Reagan campaigned on beating back a lawless liberal judiciary, and ousted Carter in 1980. It was a cruel lesson on “elections have consequences”.  With Justice Kennedy’s retirement, we are almost certainly about to see the next iteration of Reagan’s conservative juggernaut-- a border wall against social justice movements constructed at 1 First Street, NE.

Roe v. Wade in 1973 showed conservatives that Brown v. Board of Education 19 years earlier was not just an aberration. They accused liberals of inventing a theory of “a living constitution” to win in court what they were denied at the ballot box.  Conservatives were left with a crude non-telegenic strategy of blocking schoolhouse doors. Roe turned out to be a bitterly ironic Godsend.  The religious right after some false starts was reborn. 

In 1982, conservatives founded the Federalist Society to thwart the “living constitution”, and to replace it with “originalism” and “textualism”, the ideology that the Constitution “means no more or less than what it meant to those who originally wrote and ratified it”.  In 1986, Rehnquist became Chief Justice to lead the conservative movement. Trump was elected on this Roe v. Wade continuum, on a promise to reinvigorate the holy cause of a conservative judiciary. 

One of the most effective judicial appointment strategies of all time is that adopted by Trump.  As Amanda Hollis-Brusky, author of Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution, says about Trump:“Cabinet nominees, his secretary nominees, he tends to gravitate towards nepotism, people who have been loyal, faithful. They're his friends. When you look at his list of judges and the people that he's put on the bench, it's been entirely controlled by the Federalist Society.”  They may be about to turn back the clock to 1950 on Supreme Court jurisprudence.  

Trump’s Court intends to limit the range of jurisdiction, i.e. the kinds of allowable cases that courts can consider.  It will further restrict judicial standing, i.e., who can be a plaintiff to even file lawsuits in the first place. And untempered by Kennedy’s moderation, the Court will further cut back on available remedies, i.e., what power judges have to order social justice. 

The anti-Trump Resistance’s effective use of litigation against Trump-- against a powerful presidency— has shaken-up conservative jurists and academics.  Nationwide injunctions have been issued in case after case.  One by one, the Supreme Court has undone, delayed or weakened these Resistance wins.  By limiting jurisdiction over what cases can be brought, restricting who has standing to file them, and minimizing what power lower courts have to give “class relief” and issue national injunctions, the high court will not have to reverse the lower courts case by case. They can have them dismissed almost as soon as they are filed.

Republicans are shockingly good at the long game."

Friday, June 29, 2018

The ethics and psychology of hospitality

"For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was naked and you gave me clothes. I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

                                                                       Matthew 25

Democrats are conflicted on immigration.


Welcome
If America is a lifeboat for the world, a country that accepts "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," then enforcement of America's borders toward the end of limiting entry is un-American. It is also cruel, because we deny people a better life. It is racist because nearly all the newcomers are from Latin America or Asia. It is un-Christian, per Matthew 25.

Besides, it sound like Donald Trump, and if Trump said it by definition it is ugly, brutish, cruel, racist, and wrong.

There are ancient traditions involving a duty of hospitality to travelers. In Homer's Greece, travelers who came in peace were to be offered shelter. Hospitality was a virtue, rewarded by their gods. It had a name, xenia.  Readers will note the root of a familiar word: xenophobia. Yet Greek guests could wear out their welcome. In the Odyssey, upon Odysseus' return home he killed all of his patient wife Penelope's suitors.  

I believe there is an ethical, progressive, pro-immigration position which is simultaneously politically viable in America. It involves re-affirming rules and limits. I believe the public will accept immigration--even in high numbers--if public policy communicates orderliness and control and mechanisms of assimilation. Disorder communicates cultural surrender. Trump understood that unease people felt over that. Democrats can voice a progressive, non-xenophobic justification for rules: it protects the vulnerable, American and foreign.

Today's Guest Post shares my view that it is political suicide for Democrats to be blind to the public concern over mass migration and open borders. He looks at the notion of hospitality, the politics of immigration, and suggests an approach.

Guest Post, by James Stodder

James Stodder is a classmate from college (Harvard, 1971), an economist, and now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Administrative Science at Boston University.  He shared the comments below to fellow college classmates.  More about Jim at www.jimstodder.com

James Stodder

James Stodder:

"We need to take seriously polling evidence that Trump and Miller are winning the war for voter sentiment -- public shaming of Trumpsters and left victories in deep blue zones notwithstanding.  Hostility to mass migration is a strong majority sentiment in every country.  Given this sentiment's near universality, and its apparent detachment from any facts about immigration and crime, labor markets, tax contributions, etc. --- it might be helpful to ask about anthro/psych roots.  

Sometimes the best place to start is at the opposite end -- the idea of hospitality.  Many travelers have remarked on the near universality of 'hospitality' culture in traditional societies.  If you approach a village as a stranger, are polite and non-threatening, you are typically invited to stay, eat, given place to sleep, etc.  This strikes us as amazing because it is so different for a foreigner walking into any city in the West. 

But maybe not so different -- if we look for comparable behavior in our culture.  Think of someone who comes to as a safe or 'vetted' stranger, like an exchange student, an official representative, a non-threatening tourist family from a faraway land.  If properly introduced, many Americans will be charmed to invite them in, ask lots of questions, share a meal, maybe even invite them to spend the night. 

The lone stranger in a small village is highly vulnerable, there at the sufferance of the locals.  A hundred eyes are on him.  A stranger in a big US city not so much, especially if s/he has a little info.  When thousands of foreigners arrive in a big US city, they can feel somewhat protected -- both by relative anonymity and by networks of countrymen.  The vulnerability of the stranger in a traditional setting, on the other hand, gives the villagers power -- the choice to accept or not accept.  

So the feelings that Westerners have about being 'invaded' by immigrants is about the sanctity and safety of their homes,  being able to decide who can come in and who can't.  It's the fundamental feeling of being able to protect your home and family.  

Of course Trump and Miller understand this, so they emphasize MS13.  But if I'm right, it makes the idea of anything approaching open borders politically insane.  It would be like saying, "I'm not going to lock up my house anymore.  All my doors and windows will be left wide open.  And if the rest of you are good caring people, you'll do likewise.  Otherwise you're all a bunch of racists."

The idea of the 'guest' makes me think back on the idea of guestworkers, and our Swiss and German friends.  When my wife and I were in Geneva, we chatted with a guestworker from Ecuador (she was our waitress).  She said that she and her son would never be Swiss, even though he had been born there.  That's too much like apartheid; there must be a better way.  

But maybe the *guest* part guestworker has something going for it, emphasizing the reciprocity in traditional guest/host relations.  Maybe there's a better way than the Swiss way.   

We Dems need to come up with something beyond our feelings of vast moral superiority.  What if we offered Mexico and Central American governments a 2-for-1 deal?  Like for every reduction by ONE in the number of illegal migrants coming from your country, you get TWO guest-worker passes.  

That could be win-win: Mexico gets a much higher rate of dollars per migrant, while the US gets lower immigration enforcement costs, a lower dependency ratio, and the ability to target real labor conditions.  After all, that labor is often most needed in red states.  If we don't start thinking like this, Trump could steal a march on us!  If Canada can do it humanely, why can't we?"

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Democratic Split

Democrats in New York unseated Joe Crowley, who lost his primary election to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.


In the 2014 mid-terms the better funded candidate won 91% of the time.

Click: business insider
Progressive Democrats are filling the op-ed pages and social media with a sense of victory and vindication. The insurgent progressive defeated the establishment liberal. The young female candidate with $500,000 beat the white male liberal who had $3,000,000 to spend. The candidate who said we should abolish ICE defeated the one who was merely pro-immigrant.

Meanwhile, at the nation's Capital, the swing vote Justice Kennedy announced his retirement now, before the November election, so Trump could nominate a replacement. This way a sure-thing Republican Senate can use the "nuclear option" simple-majority-vote to install him in office, moving the Court to the right for a generation.

Elections have consequences.  

The division in the Democratic Party is deeper than the division among Republicans. There is a GOP never-Trump sentiment, but 90% of Republicans find reasons to back Trump. Social conservatives like his Court picks, anti-tax people like the tax bill, ethno-nationalists like his tough actions against immigrants and foreigners. 

Democrats have a split which comes down to money--whether having money is good, or whether it is sign of  unjust enrichment.  Establishment Democrats have made peace with the fact of unequal wealth. They recognize that through some combination of luck, ambition, diligence, or inheritance that there will be wealthy people, some of whom have progressive political values--or interests that are acceptable to the candidate. Hillary Clinton said there were good billionaires and bad ones.  Bernie Sanders condemned billionaires. 

A great many Democrats see no significant difference between a "corporate Democrat" and a Republican. They understand they have extraordinary leverage within the Democratic Party. If the left abandons the Democrat, the Democrat loses.Their power is not to convert Republicans. It is to demand that the Democrat be fully, unequivocally progressive, or they will stay home or vote Third Party. Joe Crowley's loss sends a message.

This one from the DCC
We are currently in a moment of frantic fundraising activity for Democrats and Republican candidates. I get emails every single day from Kate Brown, Jeff Merkley, and Ron Wyden, plus Planned Parenthood and Democratic Attorney Generals and the DCC, all saying that Democrats are being outspent with disastrous impending consequences. Emails from Donald Trump express resentment at Democratic resistance and celebration of triumph over that resistance, plus requests for more money to keep winning.

Progressive voters who congregate in college towns and liberal coastal enclaves can get what they want: both fully progressive candidates and victory. Ocasio-Cortez had enough money, and her New York district is majority Latino. People in those enclaves can generalize their experience to the wider US electorate, but Trump demonstrated that people in "flyover" country resent the cultural values of those enclaves. What works in a Latino district in New York may not work in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin.

Progressive Democrats have a message that resonates to many: the middle class is being squeezed because the wealth of America is distributed unfairly. However, majorities in swing-state jurisdictions don't respond as readily to words of resentment over wealth. Hillary, not Bernie, won big in the primary election in many red states. Many voters like the idea of wealth, admire wealthy people, and would like to be wealthy themselves. (After all, they buy lottery tickets.) 

Michael Bloomberg would represent a kind of moderate, culturally liberal, pro-business Democrat who could provide a credible alternative to Trump. He could self-fund. Still, he would trigger the charge of "corporate Democrat sellout" among progressives. 

Establishment Democrats have been led to support policies of accommodation to wealth in part because that is where the campaign money is. Will progressive candidates be able to raise money within the insurgent progressive left? 

The showdown within the Democratic electorate wont just show up at the ballot box.  It will show up in the Contributions and Expenditures reports.  Progressive Democrats will need to click the big red buttons if they want to change the Party.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Trump matchup

Trump presents one big brand: the take-what's-mine nasty bully. He is type-cast. The brand has appeal to his base.


Democrats should counter him, but not copy him.


The nation's op-ed pages are buzzing with comments about civility. Sarah Huckabee Sanders got asked to leave a restaurant. People yelled something vulgar at the Homeland Security secretary. Steven Miller got insulted. Robert DeNiro and Maxine Walters said something nasty. 

Democrats are playing me-too with Trump style vulgarity. Mistake.

Trump fundraising letter. One of several.
I am receiving two or three emails per day from the Donald Trump campaign expressing outrage about this extraordinary lack of civility. This one had the subject line "Harassment."

Meanwhile, Democratic activists are enjoying the feeling of giving it back to Trump, and people associated with Trump

Trump is a crude bully so giving him a taste of his own medicine feels right. Here's an example, from a post headlined "Here's a suggestion or hope for the activists living in Washington. Troll and harass Neil Gorsuch." The letter suggested "Humiliate the freaking bastard. Shame him for his actions.  Actually you can so it to all the ones who voted for the Muslim ban. Fuck them!"

This anger and tone backfires on Democrats.  It feeds resentment over Democratic hypocrisy and it motivates Trump's base.

Blunt from the gut.
It helps to think off Donald Trump as a performer in a long running TV show. Various characters are understood in different roles. Donald Trump owns the nasty-bully-insulting-man of power-space. He is the guy who says what other people think, and he doesn't care if it sounds stupid or cruel to some people. He is the guy who makes a loud burp at a dinner party--and doesn't try to suppress it, because it is his big house. Trump is what Archie Bunker character would be, had he won a huge lottery and then become president.

Trump's character resents the judgement and restraints of "polite company" of experts and coastal elites and college town liberals, for example the  people who would expect the burp to be suppressed. They are the same people who would expect common respect to be given to blacks or Muslims or women or immigrants or foreign countries. Trump is itching to find hypocrisy. You burp too, but don't admit it. You get nervous around blacks, too, and you know it. You don't like Muslims either, admit it!  

There is a market for this message. Trump has some 90% approval rating among Republicans.

What can Democrats do?

Anti-Trump TV comics are pulling at Trump playing the role of truth-teller, the emperor-has-no-clothes. But this has the same problem as does all Democratic incivility. When they insult Trump they also insult the people who agree with Trump. Comic insults are not the answer. 

Democrats need an asymmetric powerful character. Think Rock-Paper-Scissors

Rock doesn't defeat Rock. In the game it is a tie, but in real life a Democratic Rock would be inherently weaker, a copy-cat. Democrats need a person who represents an entirely different kind of respect and power. Someone from the military. Someone from the Department of Justice. Some government executive. Some business executive. Someone from the news media.

Trump is either much more strategic than he is thought to be--or he is very, very lucky.  Trump has worked assiduously to undermine the reputation of those alternative sources of credibility and power. Trump is the Rock who has called the Paper of the media "fake" and the Scissors of the Justice Department biased and corrupt. Trump wasn't just building himself up; he was simultaneously weakening the ladders of credibility and power for an opponent.

In other circumstances, the former head of the FBI could serve as the opposition candidate to a guy like Trump, Paper to Trump's Rock. In other circumstances a journalist would play that role--Walter Cronkite. Trump got there first, calling the Justice Department biased, and news "fake." 

Trump is good at fighting smart and dirty.

Somewhere out there is the next Democratic nominee. He or she won't be Trump-like, nor anti-Trump. Same or opposite won't work. It will be Paper or Scissors, something different from Trump's Rock.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Trump defines the Democratic position on Immigration.

Trump says Democrats want open borders and rampant crime.


Democrats don't have a message, but they have inside their heads a metaphor: America the Lifeboat.


The first rule of campaigns and messaging: decide who you are before your opponent decides who you are.  Democrats let Trump define them.


 Sent back, to become holocaust victims.
Democrats think they are winning. They are still envisioning a Blue Wave. They are complaining about families being separated, that Trump's plan for immediate return of migrants is unconstitutional, and that they have recordings of crying babies that "broke every heart in America," as Rachel Maddow put it. Plus there is Paul Manifort in jail and Michael Cohen who might flip, and Harley Davidson moving jobs to Europe.  

Democrats look at those signs and think they have Trump on the run. No.

Democrats are drawn deeper into an immigration policy of no enforcement. If America is a lifeboat then all boundaries are cruel. Any rule that blocks anyone except a violent criminal is unacceptable.

Trump's dog-whistle racism and has pushed Democrats to see boundaries as a matter of race. Democrats have an idea in mind, America the lifeboat, haven for the world.. Be trusting and non-prejudiced and welcoming. It is a duty. They have in mind the guilt of US refusal of entry of Jews fleeing Hitler, the St. Louis in 1939. 

It is, in fact, cruel to stop people from coming to America to better their lives economically or to escape violence at home.  Democrats are uncomfortable being cruel. Trump likes it.

Trump's brand: tough on illegal immigration.
Trump has conflated immigration and crime. It is unfair to immigrants and it is statistically untrue, but Trump has an argument that cannot be countered: there might be someone bad coming in, and his first duty is to protect Americans, not let in outsiders. (That is what FDR said, too.)

Fear trumps compassion.

Here is a test for readers:

Please post a comment with a concise,  statement of a Democratic position that will deal with the issue of incoming immigrants.

I don't think it can be done. There isn't one. Democrats only know what they don't like. Any policy that blocks people at the border appears racist and cruel to them.

Democrats will eventually come up with something. It will be a complicated and nuanced message, because the situation is complicated and nuanced. No, we don't actually want open borders. No, we don't actually tolerate crime. It will be hard to change the minds of voters because they will already have a clear simple message in their minds.

Trump got there first.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Mail Tribune Addresses Greg Walden's Drug Money

The Mail Tribune faced up to their responsibility--and opportunity.


On Sunday the newspaper addressed an issue in their "Since You Asked" column--does Greg Walden take contributions from manufacturers and marketers of opioids? 

To their credit, the Tribune gave the accurate answer. Yes he does.
$800,000 from Drug Companies

The simple fact is that Greg Walden is a fundraising dynamo, gathering up money from the industries his House committee oversees. Is that OK?  Are we comfortable with that? 

I had written a blog post last week, answering a question posed to me: does Walden get contributions from the opioid drug industry. Click: June 18 post. It was widely read and then circulated on social media. I examined the official contribution reports for Walden's fundraising from the drug industry. I compared the list of contributors with the list of companies that are being sued by states and cities for abusive practices regarding the opioid crisis.  

The Mail Tribune used the same methodology I used, and reported the same result I found: Walden is the number one recipient of money from the drug industry, and this includes the opioid companies identified as defendants in those lawsuits.

The Tribune could easily have continued to stay silent on this. A local newspaper is both a potential civic asset--and a business.
  
Many newspapers have a self image of public service and journalistic integrity. They may want to consider themselves a trustworthy truth-teller, willing to face up to reporting on troubling issues. Walden is popular locally, so it took courage for the Tribune to have spoken up. Many readers might be happier had the Tribune averted its eyes.

Image from my post on the issue of opioids
The issue has been around for years, but it got stirred up again because two weeks ago Greg Walden ran a half page color ad in the Tribune trumpeting his getting an "award" as a health care champion. The "award" was given by drug companies who lobby for keeping drug prices high for American taxpayers and consumers. That fact was not evident from the ad. I gave the ad the close look it needed. Click: June 11 post  

Talk of contributions from the drug industry raises important questions about our Congressman, and apparently "Ann" of Jacksonville asked the Tribune. Does Walden get money from the opioid industry? That leads to the bigger question, what with Walden getting all that money, just whose interests does he now serve?

Greg Walden's contributions create an awkward dilemma for a newspaper, so I commend the Tribune for stepping up to its obligation and opportunity as a public trust. Some newspapers might take the easy route, by treating his contributions as a sign of power and campaign success: look at how much money our very own congressman raises. That kind of coverage imbeds an editorial judgement, that the contributions are benign, that more is better, and that Walden gets $800,000 in contributions from the drug industry because he is a really good legislator, not because he is really cozy with that industry. 

Or just stay silent and let sleeping dogs lie.
Walden ad in the Mail Tribune

Sunday the Mail Tribune stepped up.

It is easy and painless for a citizen blogger to investigate this issue, but the Tribune has something to lose by exposing the uncomfortable truth, that Greg Walden takes boatloads of money from the industries his Committee has responsibility for overseeing, including money from the opioid industry.

On Sunday the Tribune began giving voters the information they need to decide whether Greg Walden is OK, or whether there is something ugly about the fact he is chest deep in the swamp. 




  


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Peril for Democrats

Trump is driving the Democrats crazy.


He provokes them, using words like "infest" to describe immigrants.

In their effort to avoid sounding like Trump Democrats have abandoned policies that would serve their own values and their own political interests.

Fact: There are 44 million immigrants in America representing 13.7% of the population--a level that is nearly as high as the levels of the early 20th Century migration from Europe.  Click. Now 25% of all American children have at least one foreign born parent. Click: child stats
Fact: The primary source of immigrants in the past 30 years have been from Latin America and Asia. Click: Pew

Fact: During periods of high immigration America has routinely experienced political expressions of nativism and resistance,  Public unease with immigration should not be a surprise to Democrats. 

In 2006 border security was a bipartisan issue. Senators Barrack Obama, Chuck Schumer, and Dianne Feinstein were comfortable supporting better fences to "stem the tide of illegal immigration." President Bill Clinton had spoken strongly about the need to protect the border and distinguished between legal and illegal immigration.

Something happened. Trump made talk of immigration control toxic for Democrats, so their message migrated. Trump's language made them recoil .They became uncomfortable distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration, or about border security, lest they sound anything like Trump.
Trump: "pour into and infest"

Trump's nastiness serves his purpose. Some of his base loves it, but more important, Democrats hate it. His base loves provoking Democrats. If it makes Nancy Pelosi mad, then it must be good.

Trump pushed Democrats into a politically untenable position.  Andrew Sullivan wrote about this this week--with advice for Democrats to let Trump have his stupid wall: Click: Andrew Sullivan at NY Magazine   I agree with Andrew Sullivan and with the Guest Post by Thad Guyer.

[Note: I personally am pro-immigration. I consider it a powerful social force. But like any good medicine, care needs to be used with dosing, timing, and on how the medicine is absorbed.]


Guest Post by Thad Guyer:


"The Other Issues? Illegal Immigration is the Only Issue"


The NPR program The Takeaway on June 22, 2018 boldly tries to put it in Democrats' faces that if we don't do a serious course correction on illegal immigration then we risk remaining out of national power. Listen, "The Political Price of Betting on Immigration", The Takeaway, Click: podcast, the Takeaway

Hillary Clinton lost on the illegal immigration issue. But she didn't just lose, she lost to a theretofore unthinkable candidate. How could any credible Democrat lose to Trump? Illegal immigration, that's how. And that may be the dark political reality in this year's midterms and in 2020. Illegal immigration is now the only issue in American politics. In German politics. In Italian politics. In British politics. Border insecurity is the issue that will determine whether the European Union survives in its present form. Illegal immigration will determine who controls the U.S. Supreme Court for the next several decades. 

What are Democrats doing about this dark reality? Too little too late. We are happy in our Robert De Niro "f _ _ _ Trump" bubble. We get standing ovations-- from ourselves. Illegal immigration single-handedly derailed our birthright to the "new Democratic majority". Latinos were supposed to deliver that to us. They didn't and they aren't, according to The Takeaway's analysis. Worse, the panel cites empirical data that "white liberals" are giving only "soft" support on immigration issues. The more white liberals are exposed to images of border chaos, the more they become anti-illegal immigrant. 

Trump is hyper-confident in this political reality. He's now told the GOP Congress to not "waste time" with immigration reform. He has the media and the country where he wants them-- obsessed with what's happening at the border. Sure, put the crying kids front and center. But in the background many voters are seeing huddled dark skinned people, obviously poor and uneducated, telling the cameras they are fleeing "gang violence", rape and murder. The media agrees with Trump that they have also brought gang violence-- MS-13. Everyone agrees large parts of Mexico and central America are hell-holes. Liberal whites ask "and the gangs, rapists and murders, what, they just stayed behind, they aren't embedded with these people on the camera?" 

"We don't want it here" is irrefutable emotion and politics.  

The Takeaway discusses immigration from history and political strategies to Trump's current "zero tolerance". The separated children actually never were at the center of the debate-- border security has been. The political reality is that little girl on the Time cover didn't displace fear of immigrants, she displaced the political mojo of Dreamers. The political theater isn't that she's pleading with Trump, she's demanding exception from border law, and tax dollars. And Latino voters, who are closest to the immigrant waves, they aren't rallying to throw open the borders like immigration activists are demanding. Nor are black voters. Nor Asians. And, the data shows liberal whites are getting queezy with what, on camera, looks like "an invasion". 

The show ends with a prescription: Democratic leaders need to start addressing border security. But the conclusion is that probably won't happen because those leaders are afraid in doing so they will further fracture the frayed Democratic base. It is shaping up that we are losing to Trumpism all over again. We need that course correction.  

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Dueling Symbols

Trump hits back: "Death and destruction caused by people that shouldn't be here.


Murderers vs. Toddler.


White House, Friday
Trump isn't subtle. He is telling Americans who immigrants are. They bring drugs. They are rapists. And some, he assumes, are good people. But remember, among those supposedly good people there are murderers.

He is responding to the image of himself making a little girl cry by creating a blunt image of his own. Those immigrants aren't so little or so harmless.

The signs "said it: "Secure the Borders."  Protect our Communities."  There is a grave threat out there, murderers of young women. He brought to the White House parents of children killed by people in America illegally, and they brought photos..

He is putting his own face on the issue of immigration to America--other nice, sweet, sympathetic young girls. Blot out the image of the little girl. Put this picture in mind instead.

Fox News focused on the outrage. There was only one story, the terrible injustice and tragedy of their loss.  Fox showed context in the form of Democratic support for sanctuary cities and immigration. I did not observe context in the form of crime statistics, nor of "good" immigrants. Fox's story is Trump's story: menace, danger, outrage over murderers in our midst.

NY Times, today
The New York Times article on Trump attempts a context of overall crime statistics. Immigrants are safer and more law abiding than native born Americans. They quote a libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute:  Native born Americans: 1.53% are incarcerated. Undocumented immigrants: 0.85% are incarcerated. Legal immigrants:  0.47% are incarcerated.

The statistics don't matter. 

Trump understands that, and Democratic candidates got a lesson on the subject this week. What mattered politically is one crying toddler and the sounds of crying children. What matters politically is one pretty girl victim. 

Dueling images of immigrants. One dangerous, one benign.

Democrats have a disadvantage. Trump is stoking fear with his image, but the reality is that there will always be crime. Fear of murder is universal. However, the image of the diligent, hard working immigrant--whether here legally or not--is a mixed message. That person will look foreign and he or she will be working hard, perhaps taking a job from a native born American. Or won't be working hard, so why are they here? The pro-immigration story is complex, while the immigrants-might-murder-you story is simple.

Trump's campaign started with a broadside against Latin American immigrants. Europeans and Americans were getting more restless about immigration. Meanwhile, Democrats had moved "left" on the issue, abandoning the Bill Clinton position (legal yes, illegal no) toward broader amnesty and inclusion. Democrats were defining as "racist" the language their own leaders were saying eight years prior. This created more political space for Trump. 

Trump ran a campaign of ethno-nationalism and is doubling down on it as president, encouraging fear and resentment of immigrants with a simple clear message: they are dangerous and the bad ones are mixed into the good ones. MS-13. Future gang members. Murderers.  

Look at the victims.

He lost a round with the photo of the little girl, but Trump is not done.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A clear and simple message

Guerilla warrior

She won.


Trump can be beat by an opponent with the right biography and clear message.


She did what Hillary couldn't.


For the first time in the three years of the Trump era--the era that began when he came down the escalator and announced his presidency--Trump met an opponent whose story was more simple and powerful than his. This blog has repeatedly cast presidential messaging as a form of professional wrestling, a battle between archetype characters, with Trump playing the role of the "bad-guy" rule breaker who fights dirty on behalf of himself and his team. The Democratic field--and especially Hillary Clinton--was made up of "stiffs", i.e. people who were head-to-head opponents. Trump was the disrupter, Democrats were positioned as the establishment.

Democrats keep losing that fight. 

Hillary, of course, lost it, but also Pocahontas Warren and Crying Chuck Schumer and San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi. They talk about legislation while he demonstrates brute disdain for them. A governing plurality of people generally dislike Democrats or the federal government or the status quo international order. and they enjoy watching Trump play his role swatting them down.

Trump has his act down. He looks and dresses the part: presidential brute. 

Biography needs to complement message. Hillary Clinton could not tell a persuasive "log cabin" story, although I heard her attempt it by borrowing her mother's story. Clinton went to Wellesley and Yale Law and got rich doing politics, giving speeches, and having rich friends. She is stuck with that. Trump is a big-talking wheeler-dealer businessman, and he is stuck with that. She tried to deny or minimize her story, while Trump leaned into his and made it a qualification rather than a disqualification.  

The little girl has a credible biography. She is a toddler. 

The message has to be clear and simple and have emotional resonance. Trump's is that there are too many scary foreigners taking over our country and taking advantage of us in trade and diplomacy, and we needed someone tough to defend us.  A lot of people feel uncomfortable around "others" and while Democrats condemn and shame that feeling, Trump acknowledges it and acts on it. That works for Trump.

Actual photo
The little girl had a message of her own. Trump is too cruel. Her message does judo on Trump, using his power against him. Her message is not complicated by a solution. It stops with "Don't do this." A cute toddler can say that and we believe it. (We heard Democratic senators say it and we didn't care. When the toddler gave the message, we cared. Credible biography matters)

The Time Magazine cover is utterly false and manipulative--which is why the cover is commentary on the battle we just witnessed. 

The cover is "fake" as news, but accurate as analysis. The  actual photo is shown here, a toddler crying.  But the still photo of her, plus the sound of children crying, made a case the public sided with.  We saw it the way the cover art saw it. Big brute vs. toddler. We like her better. 

This blog has received criticism over the past two years observing--correctly--that it devalues issues and policy and that it treats politics as mere show business. Critics write that they care about issues and complain this blog values the facile and manipulative rather than the serious business of government. 

I agree with my critics. They are right. 

That is exactly what this blog reports because that is exactly what I observe. I believe the past two weeks demonstrate my point. The image of the toddler could do what U S Senators could not. That reality creates a prescription for 2020: at the presidential level I believe a Democratic opponent will succeed--or not--depending on what they represent, understandable and credible at a glance. 




Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trump Caves, and Declares Victory

Trump:  "There are going to be a lot of happy people."


I predicted this two days ago, but it was an easy prediction. It is classic Trump. 

Donald Trump said, "This has been going on for sixty years. Nobody's had the political courage to take care of it."

Trump calls it victory 
Nobody until Trump, the hero.

Donald Trump did the two things I predicted here on June 19.  He caved and called it a victory.

With his typical grand flourish and a bold tipped pen he signed an executive order ending the separation of children from parents who had entered illegally seeking asylum. 

This blog called it a "cave" to pressure--and that is how the media is covering it--but Trump does not voice it that way. Trump beams with pride. If he says its a victory, it is a victory.  (I consider it bravado, but as the Guest Post below details, perhaps there is method at work and this is a true victory.)

Trump has an uncanny understanding of human psychology. Trump created a crisis he could fix--and he fixed it. He made himself a hero and a great many people will focus on Trump as the problem-solver. After all, it was all the Democrats' fault in the first place, he said.

A big change is underway. We see a useful "tell" in how this played out. 

Trump had expressed casual disregard for the feelings of people in the GOP leadership, and it was part of why his candidacy had appeal. He replaced unpopular neoconservatism with more popular ethno-nationalism. He positioned himself as the fearless man of the people, changing the old habits of the GOP. He swatted down some fifteen Republican politicians and scoffed at Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell. He changed historic GOP policy on Russia, on immigration, on trade. He took over the party and it adopted Trump's views; he didn't adopt theirs. He led the party to himself.

That was then. 

There is a new vulnerability.  GOP officeholders were starting to speak out, daring to disagree with Trump, even in the immediate aftermath of the Mark Sanford loss in South Carolina. In general the border and immigration issue is a winner for Trump, but the optics of crying children made officeholders nervous. They were distancing themselves from Trump. This time that mattered. Trump moved to them.

Trump is no longer the free agent he was. The Mueller investigation into Trump and his associates might expose something ugly. In the worst case scenario for Trump there is always the firewall of GOP support among officeholders. With them, he cannot be indicted, he can pardon whomever he wants, and he cannot be impeached. He is untouchable, when he has the firewall. 

Trump is now governing to maintain the firewall. Trump now has a Board of Directors to report to, GOP officeholders. 

It is a new era. Trump has a boss. 
                                                        - - - - -

But wait.  There is another way to look at this. Perhaps Donald Trump has been one or two steps ahead of this from the beginning. Maybe this is actually very good for Trump and very dangerous for Democrats.

Thad Guyer posits that Trump has long understood that the immigration issue is a winner for Republicans because Democrats in the past decade have pushed themselves into essentially advocating for open borders. Their response to Trump's provocations went as Trump planned.  

Guyer is an attorney specializing is representing whistleblower employees. His practice is worldwide and he observes American politics from wherever his laptop computer is, most frequently in Vietnam.
Thad Guyer

Guest Comment by Thad Guyer

"There's A Sucker Born Every Minute"

That expression originated with a banker David Hannum in describing the success of P.T. Barnum's hoaxes. Trump's hoax of creating a nationwide network of "kiddie cages" for illegal immigrants has fed the rage that keeps him in firm control of the national narrative on anything politically important.  The suckers believe the hoax,  thinking Trump blundered and now he retreats with his tail between his legs. Rachel Maddow was not one of the suckers. Before closing her show Tuesday night in emotional distress not seen on her face since election night showed how misplaced MSNBC's forecasts were, Maddow meticulously laid out the following case:  All the public rage we are seeing on incarcerated children is exactly how Trump has choreographed it.  

In my comment to Peter's post in which he predicted Trump would cave, I cited the New York Times podcast "The Daily"  in which Michael Barbaro argued we are seeing what Trump wants us to see, feeling what he wants us to feel.  Maddow, Barbaro, the Atlantic, New Republic and others including Peter Sage have cautioned against believing Trump's hoaxes and the delusion that he bumbles into "mistakes".  Trump told us from the start how "horrible" separating children is, and dispatched his Attorney General and DHS Secretary to condition us about a federal court injunction forbidding long-term custodial detention of minors.  In a midterm election strategy, Trump and his chief immigration strategist Stephen Miller turned the focus to Democrats, calling on them to stop just obstructing and support legislation that would modify the "consent degree" in Reno v. Flores (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reno_v._Flores#Holding). 

In Flores, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrant children can constitutionally be separated from from their detained parents.   Clinton's AG Janet Reno then negotiated a settlement agreeing that the children would be incarcerated for no more than 20 days before being sent away into foster care. The Trump administrations wants that consent degree modified to allow the immigrant kids to be incarcerated for a longer term until the child and parent-- 80% of them-- can be deported "as a family unit".  Only 20% ever win asylum.

So what is the big victory over Trump?  There is no victory, the "cave" is a hoax just like the "kiddie cages".  Yesterday he posed with a leather bound "executive order" the crux of which is Section 3(e): "The Attorney General shall promptly file a request ... to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores ... in a manner that would permit the Secretary ... to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings ..."  That's the victory--  to ask a court in the liberal Ninth Circuit to approve keeping the whole family locked up until they can all be deported together?  No such approval will likely be given and Trump knows it.  That's the hoax, that's the illusion.  Instead, he built a grand suspense-filled theater in which GOP midterm candidates benefited from a kumbaya moment of bipartisan rage against an inhumanity Trump himself had two days earlier decried as forced upon him by meddling courts and perpetuated by obstructionist Democrats. America "learned" GOP candidates can be trusted to break with Trump when it comes to humanity.

So where are we now?  The ball is where Trump put it-- in the courts and on the Democratic side of the aisle as the mid-terms fast approach.  Democrats, already railing against any legislative cooperation with these new humane Republicans, are right where Trump wants them-- advocating for what amounts to open borders.