Saturday, December 31, 2016

Why People voted for Trump

About half the people in America voted for Trump.   People deep in the blue bubble have a hard time understanding why.   

Hillary Clinton's campaign gave ample evidence to a vast majority of Americans that Trump was a risky choice and was temperamentally unsuited to be president.  Yet a lot of people voted for him anyway.
Trump was Republican enough

Here is why:   

1.  They were Republicans and by the end of the campaign Trump seemed like a Republican.  Republicans vote for Republicans, duh.

2.  They didn’t like Hillary because they have heard bad things about her for decades, first that she was a crazy liberal feminist and more recently that she was a corrupted, pay-for-play, rich, entitled person who cashed in on politics and then thought she didn’t need to follow everyone else’s rules.  She was crooked.

White people noticed and thought it pandering
3.  They were white and Hillary cast her lot with people of color, saying they were being screwed by whites for hundreds of years.  Hillary formed a team and they weren’t on it  and they resented having it implied they were racist oppressors.   Even white women felt this way.  They voted their race, not their gender.

4.  They were religious and Trump was a defender of religion even if he wasn’t religious personally and he would put some people on the Supreme Court who would push back against all this secular disrespect for religion.

5.  They were rural and for golly sakes the Democrats just love all this sharing stuff—mass transit, cooperative apartments, sewerage systems, municipal water systems, environmental regulations, building permits, zoning rules, public schools, and especially taxes.   Rural and suburban people live with elbow room of a single family detached house, or better yet some acreage,  because they don’t want to share a wall and elevator and a billion rules with other people.  

Many Americans dislike what they know about Muslims
6.  They liked what Trump said in plain language about things they actually felt about Muslims (they are scary) and blacks (getting too many reverse-discrimination advantages) and immigrants (too many, too fast) and crime (there is plenty of it, government statistics be darned).  They liked that he didn’t apologize for saying what they secretly thought.  And Trump said Obama was maybe foreign born and a Muslim and something about that rings true.

7.  They wanted change and the Democrats had their turn and things were a mess in the Middle East and Obamacare was expensive and it launched badly, and even though things are better than they were 8 years ago they could be lots better, so lets try something new.  Trump will shake things up.

8.  They were Hispanic and they know full well that some of their neighbors are scamming the system and they themselves can vote because they came to America legally with great effort, yet now a bunch of line-jumpers are trying to get in without playing by the rules, and it is making it harder for the good people like themselves who did play by the rules.

9.  They were blue collar industrial workers, or who knew some, or identified with them, or in some other way thought Trump's message on jobs sounded about right--and he certainly seemed more passionate on the issue than Hillary, because at lease he proposed to do something, even if it turned out to be wrong.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Future for Democrats

Leadership requires a leader.   A spokesman and candidate, with all the strengths and weaknesses and baggage of a real person.

People to watch--Some previews of the Democratic Bench.   

A premise of this blog is that in the current media environment political leadership is formed largely on big picture body language, branding, and tone.  Voters have presumptions and beliefs that are amplified--not informed nor challenged-- by media silos.  The die is largely cast in the first impression, both of what a candidate presents about him or her self and what an opponent says about the person.   People get labeled.

I have likened the 2016 election to professional wrestling.  The contestants come out in broad costumes representing certain archetypical characters: the bully, the thug, the hero, the pretty-boy.  Trump's characterization of Little Marco and Lying Ted, and then Crooked Hillary worked for him.  There was little close analysis of Trump's positions and they were fluid and contradictory.   

By election day a great many people thought they knew what they needed to know:  Hillary was crooked and Trump was an outsider who was going to shake things up and try to get jobs back in America by getting tough on immigrants and foreigners.

Or, conversely, they knew what they needed to know: Hillary was competent and had baggage but Trump is a wild, uninformed, temperamentally-flawed jerk.

In the fulness of time Democratic candidates will express positions on issues and they will run through a gauntlet of Democratic primary vetting, which exercise will likely push candidates toward positions which will please the coastal elites in party leadership and the constituencies of blacks, women, Hispanics, and the LGBTQ community.  The candidate who can meet that test and simultaneously not alienate the white working class voter will be a candidate who can prevail in 2020.  

Candidates already come to the table with a biography, a skin color, and positions that reflect their current constituency.   Kamala Harris is stuck with San Francisco, and all that means for a national candidate.  Cory Booker is stuck with sounding like he is very well educated and not a redneck.  Some elections demand a redneck connection.  Depending on how the economy goes, a critic of the financial industry to appear to the public to be exactly right--or the whining of a scold and sore loser.

Meanwhile, some people are making their moves.

Peter Sage and Jeff Merkley
Senate Democrats are jockeying for visibility.   At the senate level Oregon's Jeff Merkley is appearing on cable news shows, denouncing Trump and his cabinet picks plus calling for investigations on Russian involvement in our election.  He is not rivaling Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but he is positioning himself as a liberal spokesman for the kinds of things they say, making him, at this point, an alternative, not a substitute.  Merkley is raising money for his give-away war chest so that he can re-distribute it to Senate candidates who need help, which is a method for gaining influence within the Democratic caucus.  Merkley is making a move.  Readers will see him on TV.  He presents like an earnest Senator, not a president.  I include him because he is the Democratic senator I see most visibly attempting to change his senate positioning, from back-bencher to leader of the liberal wing.

Presidential candidates are emerging.  

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders look young and healthy and they are plausible candidates in 2020.  Age would be an issue if Trump were not age 70 himself today and 74 in 2020, but neither are young.  They are both well known and both would be strong spokesmen for financial reform.   If the US economy is weak or in recession in 2019--or if the financial de-regulation being reflected in the stock market gains for financial stocks turn out to create problems--then either Warren or Sanders could be the "its the economy, stupid" candidate.   Trump promised reform, via draining the swamp.  If Trump's reforms end up looking like more crony capitalism then Warren or Sanders voicing the "you were conned" meme will be ripe.

 O'Malley supporters in New Hampshire
I watched Martin O'Malley in New Hampshire.   He is well spoken and competent, words that are intended to be faint praise.  He has less sparkle and charisma than does Hillary.  It is possible that 2020 will be the era of the anti-charisma candidate because people will have had enough drama and charisma with Trump.  They may want solid. (Remember, in 1976 people wanted pious, so they got Jimmy Carter.)  If so, O'Malley may fit the times.   He has baggage in a Democratic primary:  as a Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor he endorsed "broken window" policing--that style of aggressive community policing intended to squelch violence in tough urban neighborhoods.  In 2016 that was the wrong side of the issue as Sanders and Hillary Clinton vied to reverse police policies that resulted in black men dying at the hands of white policemen.  Then there was rioting in the streets of Baltimore.  By 2020 he may be able to voice a strong, clear, persuasive argument for his policing policy or more generally for a positive vision for America, but the fact that he could not do it in 2016 makes this unlikely.   


Kamala Harris just won a Senate race in California, having formerly been the state Attorney General.   She is archetypal "mixed race" and has a law enforcement background.  Her actions as a state prosecutor and as Attorney General will be troubling to many Democrats.  She was involved in suppressing exculpatory information relating to shoddy police lab practices, keeping the information from defendants.  She followed in the tradition of police departments and prosecutors everywhere of defending policemen and potential convictions even in the face of actual innocence.   The charge that she wanted  convictions more than she wants justice will come up in a primary election struggle among Democrats, but it could serve her well in a general election.  She is black enough to have some immunity and Democratic grace on this issue--she calls herself Afro-American and she graduated from Howard University--but she presents as a tough on crime prosecutor.  But she is also from the San Francisco Bay Area, which endorses sanctuary cities, respect for gays, a clean environment, etc.  San Francisco is a symbol to conservatives of what they hate. 

Cory Booker is a New Jersey Senator and former Mayor of Newark.   He has star quality sparkle in his presentations.   He has degrees from Stanford, he was a Rhodes Scholar, then a law degree from Yale Law School, an essentially perfect resume for establishment elite--elitist--leadership.  He was brought up in a religious household and he had experience in the trenches of poverty as a city councilor and mayor of Newark, so he has some street cred, but his presentation, his resume, and his politics put him squarely in the position of being "elite" in the mode of the Clintons and Obama--not populist. He does not sound or act "blue collar man of the people". He has time to position himself as an insider critic of the elites and special interests, but it will be a challenge for a New Jersey senator since a great deal of "Wall Street" actually resides in New Jersey.  He looks rather like Obama and Obama may be at the height of his popularity 4 years out of office and by then people may be thinking about the Good Old Days, and Booker can be the New Improved Obama.  This could work for him.

Joseph Kennedy, III is a congressman from Massachusetts representing Brookline, Newton and suburbs to the south.   He has an established brand, due to his name.  He graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law School.  The Kennedy brand gives him credibility as an old style union and working person's kind of Democrat--the alternative to the college-town-latte'-Hillary Clinton Democrat.  He has a demanding town meeting schedule, agreeing to meetings in each of the 34 towns in his district, something which projects a kind of man-of-the-people spirit.  The 2016 cycle demonstrates that a candidate does not need a long resume if one has an established brand, and Kennedy has one via a family name.  He was born in 1980 and is 36 now and would be 40 in 2020, which is probably too young.  The Kennedy brand projects strength and pugnacity, making him a stand up rival to Trump.   In the professional wrestling optics of politics Kennedy could be the young aggressive reformer versus the old comb-over crony capitalist--assuming that Trump falls prey to having his administration captured by the businessman-friendly tone he is projecting so far in the transition.

There will be other candidates this blog will explore.  This is a solid start for a presidential bench   

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Trump Era

The Democrats have a choice to make:  This was a Trump Election or This is a Trump Era.

Democrats need to fix what is wrong with their policies and their message.

Trump won the Republican primary by creating enthusiasm among voters who were comfortable with the "talk radio" version of the Republican party--which was a plurality, not a majority, until the very end when Trump consolidated his party under the banner of GOP unity.  The talk radio segment is more race conscious, more populist, more nationalist, more anti-immigrant than the party as a whole.   But when Trump was clearly his party's winner Republican voters accepted him.   

What Democrats need to learn from is what happened next.  Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin narrowly, and she lost Ohio and Iowa decisively.  She won the national popular vote but lost the upper midwest.  It cost them the White House.

Democrats are not a national party if they cannot win most or all of those states in the upper midwest.  Those states do not carry the burden of being a slave state with a Jim Crow past, with all the attendant tradition of racial segregation and prejudice.   Democrats can remain the non-racist and pro-woman alternative to the Republican party.  They will be the party that overtly opposes racial and gender and sexual preference discrimination and will be the party of opposition to Republicans on this social issue.   This is a principled and winning strategy.  They may struggle in the Old South, but by losing Alabama they win New York and California.   (And conversely, the GOP's fealty to Alabama values, shown most immediately in the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General, could easily amount to a net negative to them nationwide, especially if Sessions is noticeable in pushing policies that offend the sensibilities of moderate voters elsewhere.)

But losing Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin is not like losing Alabama.  It reveals a problem.

Why did they lose?   It wasn't just Hillary.   Hillary's baggage was not dispositive.  After all, she won a majority of the national popular vote.  Her baggage did not kill her in New York (which often elects a Republican governor) or California which she won big.  Hillary was a flawed candidate but the problem for Democrats wasn't personal.  It was policy, and it showed up as the surprise loss of a key region.

Trump had a message of jobs and a proposed solution: stop illegal immigration, stop offshoring of jobs, stop importing stuff we should be making here.  That was the message that resonated int the upper midwest sufficiently that people who voted for a black president with the middle name of Hussain turned and voted for Trump rather than Hillary Clinton. 

That is the big problem that Democrats must internalize and confront.  One can Google Hillary and find reasons to say that, actually she did made jobs an issue, but that is a distraction and excuse to avoid confronting the fact that she did not own this issue.  Trump did. Trump was the one visible and out front on this.  It was "the economy, stupid," all over again, and the economy issue showed up as lost jobs to the very visible threat from offshoring and imports.  Trump was the leader in condemning those things.  Not Hillary. 

I place below strong advice from Thad Guyer, who predicts a Trump era not a one-off Trump election, and he proposes a solution to the Democrats: follow the lead of Democratic Minority Leader, the pragmatist Chuck Schumer, not the liberal voices of the Democratic and Socialist parties, Sanders and Warren.  

I will let him make his argument but will forewarn readers that I see the problem and solution differently.  I don't think the electoral college loss was a rejection of liberalism, with centrist pragmatism as the solution.  Yes, the identity politics of Democrats created messaging problems with how they handle political correctness and how to describe jihad terror, and on messages of patriotism and faith and street violence and crime but these are problems of messaging that are national.  A Democratic candidate with roots--or at least instincts-- outside the coastal bubble can fix this.   And there is nothing "liberal" or "conservative" about condemning crime or expressing pride in one's country.  A liberal can go ahead and condemn terrorist bombings without reservation.  A liberal can condemn black-on-black violence.  Surely, it must be politically acceptable for a Democrat to condemn acts of violence and murder.   This is fixable message.

The deeper Democratic electoral problem is that policy problem that showed up in the loss of the upper midwest.  Democrats have not yet figured out how to have an industrial jobs and manufacturing message that is consistent with their broader policies that reflect the interests of creators of intellectual property and technology and of well-educated coastal consumers.  The academic philosophy of free trade and free movement of capital and the many winners of globalism among the various knowledge-workers on the coasts and in cities all have a political interest very different from the employees of rust-belt manufacturers.  

This is not an issue of left vs. center, nor of liberalism vs. pragmatism.  It is an issue of Democrat's having chosen technology and globalism over blue collar manufacturing and protectionism.   They chose California over Ohio--and suffered the electoral vote consequences.

From Clinton campaign website
In subsequent blog posts I will outline how Democrats might adequately satisfy both, but it will take more than the current advice of Democrats: displaced tire factory workers should simply go to college or graduate school, and we will assure you low interest loans to do so.  

Democrats can not ignore the interests of displaced middle and working class people whose jobs are being squeezed by technology and automation, but which Trump successfully blamed on foreigners and imports.   Trump's argument isn't accurate, but it is believable.  Hillary's message was, in effect, "yeah, you are screwed, so we will re-train you," which may be accurate but it was not acceptable.  My diagnosis is that the problem was industrial policy and the solution is to create a realistic and sensible one that addresses the needs of both exporters and blue collar manufacturers, then to sell it to the nation with pride and conviction.  I don't have the policy yet, but I know what the policy has to address.

 Then Democrats can re-win the upper midwest, plus all the states they won this year, plus North Carolina and Florida.  Landslide.  Otherwise, it is the Trump era.

Here is Thad Guyer's warning--and solution:

Thad Guyer

Reagan, Bush, Clinton Redux”

I agree with UpClose that Trump is going to own all of the losses and gains in the economy and foreign affairs. That ownership will likely have little effect on the 2018 midterms, may have some mild consequences in 2020, but will probably not have dispositive consequences until 2024 when voters decide whether to give Republicans a third term. The progression of Reagan, Bush and Clinton from 1980 to 2000 is good history to consult in postulating whether Trump’s messaging will have much to do with the fate of Democrats. 

A centrist democratic president might be possible in 2020 or 2024, but only if senate minority leader Charles Schumer's pragmatism prevails over Elizabeth Warren/Sanders progressives. Otherwise, like Reagan, Trump is unlikely to not get his 8 years. When the anti-political correctness bombastic messaging of a thoroughly disreputable candidate like Trump can bring low the entire liberal democratic establishment (presidency, senate, house and states), its safe to assume no “love trumps hate” liberal messaging is going anywhere. Trump is like Reagan. Ted Kennedy and the left railed against Reagan to no avail, he easily dispatched liberal Mondale in 1984, and Bush 1 did the same to liberal Dukakis in 1988. Democrats lost with their predominantly anti-Reagan backlash strategy. Indeed, had it not been for illiberal, law and order, jail dark-skinned teen predators, cut welfare, centrist messaging of Bill Clinton in 1992 after defeating his liberal messaging primary opponents, Bush 1 would have won a second term. Even Clinton’s centrism was not red enough, and Gore’s new left message was rejected in the electoral college in 2000. John Kerry’s anti-Bush messaging lost in 2004. Only economic and military calamity in the Bush second term finally returned us to the White House in 2008.

Pragmatic Centrist
Trump’s messaging, poetry and prose will not be measured in a vacuum, but against the messaging of Democrats. Schumer, with his Brooklyn grit, will keep our messaging pragmatic until the 2018 midterms and keep the anti-Trump Move On type diatribes outside the beltway. As he has publicly stated, Schumer is not going to let leftist outrage doom the 10 Democratic senators running in Trump states, and rabid anti-Trump messaging would doom them, and thereby give Trump 60 Senate votes. If we want to run a Republicanesque vote down everything Trump wants, we need one thing Obama-haters had that we don't-- a majority in the senate and house. Hopefully, Schumer will have calmed us down by January 2018, so that we can start getting serious about crafting winning messages for 2020 and 2024. Free tuition, open borders, cops are bad, and Russia stole our election won’t be the winning messages. If that’s what we go with, then Trump will have carte blanche for any messaging he wants, in spite of the “reality of governing”.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

You Campaign in Poetry and You Govern in Prose

The problem for Trump is going to be the reality of reality.

Trump taught the world an important concept which is only slowly being understood: the reality of belief.   It won't be enough.

This blog has examined the extraordinary success Trump had flummoxing the established agents of expertise by sharing ideas with blunt popular appeal.  Trump connected on that level.

Trump voters believe it
Trump totally won the message war.  Trump convinced his voters to believe what "seems true" to them.  Trump's people ignore the opinions of academic experts, the professional classes, and mainstream news people.   They don't have credibility in the face of Trump messages--and those of his media allies--that seem reasonable and believable to a significant number of people. 

A poll this week showed that 46% of Trump voters still  believe Hillary Clinton was involved in ownership of a pedophilia ring hidden the basement of a pizza parlor, even after a Trump supporter was arrested for entering the supposed location and shooting it up.  The same poll showed 60% of Trump voters are convinced that "millions" of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton and that half think "it is probably true" that Obama was born in Kenya.   NY Daily News Poll taken Dec 17-21.

Believing is seeing.

Democrats are trying to decide now what makes most sense: intractable opposition, with the intent of denying Trump legislative or policy victories which will "normalize" him--the GOP tactic against Obama, which had extraordinary political success.  By forcing Obama to rely only on Democratic votes Republicans delivered a one-two punch: they forced him to be partisan rather than a unifier and they enabled the personal delegitimization of Obama with birtherism and the Obama-the-secret-Muslim meme.

The alternative Democratic strategy is to work with Trump on infrastructure spending but otherwise to make certain that the "Pottery Barn Rule" is in effect.  If he breaks it, it is his.   If Trump changes things and it works out badly, blame Trump.   Trump's cabinet picks suggest--but it is still unclear--that his policy will be to shake things up:
    Repeal Obamacare and leave an unresolved replacement because there is no path to replacement that has support.

    Begin financial reform of Social Security and Medicare by cutting benefits per Paul Ryan plan.

    Enforce more vigorously immigration rules and step up visibility of deportations and the actual number of them.

    Establish a more bellicose foreign policy with China and the Muslim countries of the Middle East and a more cordial one with Russia.  

    Cut taxes in a way acceptable to Republicans, i.e. reductions on the job creators.

    Significant reductions of regulations on banking and on fossil fuel extraction and use, while reducing environmental regulations, fuel economy standards, etc.

    Reduce US Justice Department involvement in enforcement of voting rights and civil rights issues.

    Renegotiate trade agreements and put tariffs on imported goods to protect some American jobs.

AARP is gearing up for a fight

Each of these will be controversial, although in fact they will have strong support from some visible domestic groups.   Coal and petroleum companies will be thrilled.   Banks will find it easier to loan and will have lower reserve requirements.  Auto union leaders will be happy that fuel economy standards are relaxed and Detroit will be able to produce bigger higher-margin cars. 

There will be huge institutional and political resistance to change.   Each of the programs in place that Trump will shake up are there because they successfully pushed through the gauntlet of legislation.   They have intrenched supporters, in the public and in the establishment that Trump overwhelmed.   Lindsey Graham and John McCain still think Russia is an enemy.  The public still distrusts banks.  Women still use contraception.  Blacks and Hispanics are still energized.  Consumers like buying cheap stuff.  Seniors like their Medicare and Social Security.

The owners of the oxen being gored will not be silent.  They will shout foul.  (Some of those will be among the scorned groups and Trump will be helped when Black Lives Matter members complain.  Trump voters expect them to be unhappy.  That was the point.)   But when Walmart raises prices and when pipelines break and when American troops are sent into fights that appear avoidable and when Hispanic children go into foster care and when Social Security checks are cut there will be an outcry from Trump's own people.

Democrats will call it a broken promise and proof that it was all a con.  Trump promised win, win, win and for the core Trump voters these wins would come at the expense of others.   Trump changes in taxes and Medicare and Social Security will hit American blue collar voters.   The white working poor is a net beneficiary of the safety net of New Deal and Great Society legislation.  They don't believe it.  They think it helps people poorer than themselves and they resent it.   If cuts come they will notice, and if Democrats are smart they will make certain they know who bears responsibility:  Trump.

Afterglow is setting in
Meanwhile, Obama as a lame duck, is already getting more and more popular.   He wasn't so bad after all, people are already thinking.  The things good about Obama--his calm, his dignity--will look better and better.   Obama is already far more popular than Trump.  The stink of making what Hillary Clinton called the "Hard Choices" of governance and the inevitable messiness of facts on the ground and explaining them in mere prose will keep switching from Obama fully over to Trump.

It is already a Trump-flavored White House, with Trump commenting on last minute Obama policies, promising immediate changes to ones he dislikes.  Trump is cherry picking, claiming responsibility for a recent rise in the stock market.   Soon it will own it all, good and bad.    

The weakness inside Trump's method of promising is that his promises cannot possibly be kept.   He promised jobs, lower taxes, more spending, a balanced budget, respect from foreigners, a safe America, trade deals great for us, and winning and winning.   Soon he will have to deal with reality.

Trump won with "the people's truth", the truth of what felt right to people, not the truth as understood by supposed experts of the kind I saw at Harvard's institutes of Asian, European, and Middle East Studies..  The foundation of popular belief that prevailed in the 2016 election was built around denial of some of the hard-learned understandings gained by experts.   

Harvard Asia Expertise:  They know they lost
Was the public right to fire the experts?  Time will tell, but there is a reason why complicated things in this world are handled by experts, not bystanders, and this is true for surgeries, carburetor repairs, appellate brief preparation, oil drilling, corporate tax filing, computer coding and perhaps also for diplomacy, statecraft, the deployment of militaries, and the movement of legislation. 

At Harvard early this month I watched up close those experts in policy and statecraft and governance as they recognized that all of their care, thoughtfulness, expertise, and nuance had been determined to be worthless by the voters.  They personally were rejected and so was their approach of thoughtful expertise.  The wisdom of people who knew and read carefully in Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and English, and who had studied the field for decades after receiving their PhDs was rejected.  It was replaced by voters who thought it just made sense that our China policy was stupid and that America should just show them who is boss, and it was about time we show some all-American strength, not nuance.  

Stock Market under Obama. 

Obama's record on the economy was objectively a very good one even though a great many people agreed with Trump that it was terrible.  Housing prices rebounded, unemployment is below 5%, and the stock market has nearly tripled in eight years.   People in the investment business live and die by real numbers and actual performance.   There are some arenas in which belief is grounded by data rather than the reverse.

Soon it will be Trump's economy, Trump's job numbers, Trump's foreign policy.   Trump will face the reality of reality, not the reality of "what voters believe in their hearts".   Campaigning is about messaging.  Governing is about messaging and dealing with hard choices and the results of them that come in a form that cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Money and Politics

The 2016 did not prove that Big Money has lost its power.   Maybe it showed that Big Money is more powerful than ever.

President-elect Trump is arranging his business affairs and selecting his top advisors.

One of the supposed lessons from the 2016 election was that a charismatic candidate can raise tens of millions of dollars in small amounts.   Ted Cruz did it.  Ben Carson did it.  Bernie Sanders did it.  Trump did it.  Even Hillary did it, along with some big money donors mixed in.    However, this was not necessarily the triumph of democracy against the forces of Big Money.   The process elected Donald Trump.  

This blog had urged then candidate Hillary Clinton to attempt a dramatic re-framing of her race by closing the Clinton Foundation and turning everything over to an independent charity and to give away all the Clinton personal money as well.   Your money is suffocating you, this blog wrote.  It buys you nothing and it damages the one thing you need: a well deserved reputation for selflessness.  Do radical philanthropy.    

Give to your country what every enlistee in the military gives: everything.  They strip naked the recruit, give him a boot camp haircut and assign the recruit a uniform.  He has nothing--except the clarity of service.  She did not take my advice, as we know.   Trump said she got rich selling influence and access and the prestige of her former office, which is true.  It was also true that it was legal and it is what her predecessors did and others do.  Trump called it "the swamp" and said he would drain it.

Hillary kept her money but Trump moves into the White House.   

There is a lesson to be learned from this:  even the power, prestige, and earning power of the presidency is not sufficient.  Some people want wealth and more wealth as well.  Even amid criticism of their cashing in, and in the midst of a political campaign, they kept the wealth.   

Do people seeking power really insist on great wealth, too?  Is whatever one can buy with extra millions when one already has millions all that important?   Apparently yes, for Hillary.  And apparently yes for Trump, too, judging from the early signals that his administration will be awash with conflicts of interest and the seamless connection between state power and  wealth for himself and his family.  This is familiar behavior, common in dictatorships and kleptocracies of the developing world and of the big powers of China and Russia.

Trump is acutely aware of optics and message.   He conspicuously said he does not want the presidential salary and he is closing down his Trump foundation.  Both are tiny things--but visible.  The magician's audience watches the beautiful assistant as she juggles the flashing knives so the important slight of hand can take place unnoticed.  Trump, like Putin and like the top people in the Chinese government, blur the line between private and public.

Would overt conflicts of interest matter politically?  Could this be a matter of "so what?"  Very possibly that is exactly the attitude Americans will take.   

There is a dated and charming old fashionedness to the JFK statement "Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country."  Mitt Romney said it was patriotic to pay as little taxes as possible.   Trump did not hide from the fact that he was able to claim the losses other people experienced in his bankruptcy as carry-forward losses he could deduct against his own taxes.  He said it proved he was a smart businessman.  

Clinton ad:  He sacrificed by having "tremendous success."
Voters seemed OK with this.  The new patriotism is personal wealth and using the laws to your advantage. The test is whether it is legal.  Hillary Clinton had a TV ad comparing the public service of veterans to Trump shown on video saying his service to America was getting personally very rich. The ad did not appear to move the needle for her.   Hillary was a poor messenger for that message.   She got rich trading off the celebrity of her office, making speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and she kept the money.  

Trump will create opportunity for his opposition.   He will have conflicts of interest and he will celebrate them as legal and job creating.  In America as in China now: it is good to get rich.   There may be a backlash against this.  In each of the half dozen speeches I heard John Kasich give he said that young people and indeed all Americans want their lives to be part of something bigger than themselves.  Yes, he lost to Trump.   But perhaps there will be a backlash against this as the Trump presidency goes forward.  There may be appetite for a patriotism of service.   The question is whether the Democrat will be in a position to deliver that message persuasively,  and whether Americans actually care about it anymore.

Two readers of this blog do care:

"Michael Tuba", a retired social worker in southern Oregon writes:

Dark Money review in the NY Times:  Click Here
     Dark Money:  "It seems to me that a lot of the pollyannas who so exuberantly voted for Trump are ignoring the dark forces working behind the scenes. Read Jane Mayer's book Dark Money. For these dark forces, Trump is a mouthpiece and distraction. He is their shield, and a handy tool. The pollyannas are celebrating the gutting of: environmental, financial, and commerce regulations while the dark forces are plotting the destruction of the American system. They control nearly 2/3 of the state legislatures and governors.

     What they are waiting for is a major mistake by Trump. Then, undercover of disaster, and using the "shock doctrine" (defined ably by Naomi Klein) they will call for a constitutional convention, rewrite our framework document, and install a permanent oligarchy.

     Our baby boomer generation has failed the world. I am sorry for this jeremiad, but I don't see much hope."

Thad Guyer, an attorney living in Vietnam currently, and a frequent guest post author writes:

“Trump and the Big League” 

      "Most Americans following politics by now have a good sense of Vladmir Putin’s objectives and methods in rising to autocratic power over Russia’s economy and foreign affairs.  (See Foreign Policy, “The Resistible Rise of Vladimir Putin”, Apr. 2015, But I doubt many of us have as good an understanding of Xi Jinping’s route and motives in doing so in China.  A recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal contributes a lot. (See WSJ, Dec. 26, 2016, “Xi’s Power Play Foreshadows Historic Transformation of How China Is Ruled”,  Jeremy Page and Lingling Wei argue that Xi has been heavily influenced by Putin’s model of holding and exercising power. Each has six things in common: (1) Reward loyalty and punish influential critics; (2) exert extraordinary power over the economy and global trade, using billionaire surrogates; (3) energize nationalist and patriotic zeal; (4) spend big on military expansion; (5) innovate and deploy cyber capability; and (6) neutralize internal Islamist terrorism by whatever means necessary. Trump shares all six.

From Vanity Fair: Click here
     Page and Wei assert that it was not until the eve of Trump’s election that Xi made it clear he has no intention of stepping down at the end of his presumptive 10 years term.  He’s challenged by Trump. Powerful leaders like Putin, Xi and Trump savor brinksmanship and going face to face in the big league. Xi wants to make China great, Putin and Trump want to make Russia and America “great again”, respectively. Each is a globalists determined to maximum national wealth, reward billionaire allies, and project military muscle to protect it. 

The Atlantic: Click Here
      While our media continues to distract us with its “feckless Trump” narrative, Putin and Xi know better. China is impressed that Trump deployed Henry Kissinger and South China Sea expert Peter Navarro for the Taiwan phone call. Putin understands Trump’s selection of Exxon’s globalist energy powerbroker Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Both know what it means that Trump appointed General Mike Flynn (former Defense Intelligence Agency director) to build out our cyber warfare capacity, and General Jim “Maddog Mattis” to manage a giant military expansion.

     Donald Trump, Vladmir Putin and Xi Jinping, that’s the league. That’s the economic, cyber warfare and military theater of play, and it will inevitably drive American nationalism beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II, eclipsing even Regan’s cold war enthusiasm. Fasten your seatbelts as the Trump team takes center stage."   

Monday, December 26, 2016

Fragile Democracy

There is a difference between laws and norms.   Laws have been codified but norms are customs and expectations.    

Norms are what keep social order, and they are breaking down.

Enough Americans voted for change that America is going to see change.   Pollster Peter Hart discovered something that the news media did not notice back in the late summer when nearly everyone was praising the Clinton well managed Democratic convention and they were condemning the Trump mess.   

Trump's dark convention speech said that this was a time of crisis for our country, with crime rampant, terrorism everywhere, jobs fleeing, the economy in shambles, America disrespected, and things generally terrible in America.     Hillary's speech concluded said not to let anyone tell you that America is not great, that there are problems but we are working through them and making progress.  Trumps speech was favored by 49 to 21 over Hillary's speech among independent voters.

People wanted change, and it is happening both where people notice and where people likely do not.  Political order is maintained because there is a consensus of belief and behavior that certain things have legitimacy and that there is a reasonable way to do things, even though it is not codified into law.    An example would be an elementary school principal who does a fire drill on the first day of the school year and then the third day of school year and then two more times in the course of the year.  The goal is to familiarize school children with what to do in the event of a fire alarm.  There might be state law requiring fire drills some minimum number of times per year or "as necessary".  But if a school principal disagreed with a controversial policy, for example of requiring racial integration at the school, no law prohibits the school principal from doing a fire drill six times a day every hour on the hour.  Such behavior would utterly change the purpose of fire drills from something to protect school children into a political protest to block the educational mission of the school.   The school function persists not because of cleverly crafted laws but because norms and customs define reasonableness.   There is a social consensus.
Big filibuster increase 
It has broken down.  Some of the norms and customs that have made American government possible have dissolved.   The people most affected have resisted but the complaints have been noted as partisan whining, not breaches of fundamental norms:

By the Senate, filibusters skyrocketed from rare to routine, turning what was once an emergency behavior on a deeply held belief into standard practice. The adjacent chart shows the rise in filibusters.  They have been increasing since the 1970's, done by both parties, but it increased substantially in the past seven years to stop legislation supported by Obama.

By the House, in its willingness to hold the government hostage to shutdown and default on interest payments to win a political victory.

By presidential candidates, boycotting journalists who ask probing questions, something done both by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

By the electoral college, revealing that the electors are principals, not agents and that a presidential vote for an elector is a suggestion rather than a scoring mechanism.

By much of the media, in overt favoritism to candidates.

By Trump, in refusing to reveal his tax returns, by condemning leaders in his own party, by condemning a specific religion as suspicious per se, by saying members of an ethnic group are prejudiced against him per se, by lacking public office background, by thriving notwithstanding scandalous behaviors, by condemning the media who covers him, by showing support for a traditional American adversary, Russia, by bypassing curated media and communicating directly with voters by twitter and FaceBook, by threatening to investigate and jail his political opponent, by refusing to hold press conferences, by saying that the White House will assign seating for the White House press corps, by skipping daily security briefings saying he doesn't need or want them.

The success of the Sanders campaign and the Trump electoral college victory demonstrated that there is appetite for shaking things up and Trump shows every intention of doing so.   The danger to this is that there are no secure guardrails or boundaries on the change in norms and expectations--other than the political support Trump wants.   The principal who disrupts the school with hourly fire drills need not stop if parents are rallying in support of him.  Trump is currently thrilling his media supporters and cowing his Republican teammates.   It would be dangerous for a Republican congressman or senator to tangle with Trump, at least right now.  Trump has abandoned the legitimacy that comes from inertia and expectation and tradition and replaced it with the legitimacy of widespread popular support among conservatives.

Popular revolt in Boston
The check on Trump will be the public.  The writers of the Constitution had little faith in the wisdom of that public, which is why they created a complicated Republic, not a democracy.  Crowd rule has little respect for minority rights.  Crowds have the legitimacy of the enthusiasm and will of their majorities.   And they can happen anywhere.  

Popular revolt in Boston
A familiar topic in the American North is the popular resistance to school integration in the American South.   Note illustrations here from Boston in 1973-1975, a time I witnessed first hand.  

The rule of law became fragile.  Crowds were in the street and they were angry, motivated, and people in the streets drew energy from the people around them.  Popular revolts based on race are not reserved for places with a tradition of the enslavement of blacks, Black Codes, and Jim Crow.   This is not just a red-state problem or a lost-cause racism of the south problem.   It is the nature of democracies and it can happen anywhere.  The popular uprising of Shay's Rebellion in western Massachusetts was motivated by the difficulty of an economically backward part of the state to pay taxes.   Boston was the epicenter of the Abolition movement.  The Boston Busing revolt took place in the sole state in the union to vote for George McGovern in 1972, the most liberal, Democratic, and educated state in the union.           
Readers with the time to consider a big, deep scholarly books should examine Francis Fukuyama's The Origin of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay.   A shorter way of getting some of the same insights is to read Lord of the Flies by William Golding, a book many readers would have encountered in high school.  

All three of these books can be summarized this way:  the political order is fragile in republics.