Monday, November 21, 2016

Backward and Forward

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. I still feel that Hillary Clinton would have been a good president. In particular, I believe that many progressives would have been pleasantly surprised. No, we would not have gotten universal healthcare or a $15 dollar minimum wage, but we would have gained ground on both fronts where now we stand to lose. In this post, I do not want to brood, but we must understand why we lost if we are to win next time. In Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party insiders chose a candidate and gave her a big head start in fundraising, but she was still the candidate who could not even win the nomination in 2008. That is because she has a great resume, but is a terrible candidate. In this year’s campaign, you can see why in the strategic choices she made in the debates.

After the first debate, Clinton won praise and a bump in the polls for her performance, but it is now clear that she lost that debate and the ones that followed before she even took the stage. She pursued a strategy that suited her personality, and I have to admit that I thought at the time it was a good idea; she tried to present Donald Trump as a man who was not worthy of her respect. By extension, the concerns of his potential followers were not worthy of her respect either. Hillary Clinton would defend the status quo, and you were a “deplorable” if you thought the country had serious problems. It was as if the Bernie Sanders scare in the primaries had never happened. She decided to disrespect her opponent by addressing him by his first name, and she decided to act like his criticisms of her did not deserve a serious response. She admitted, for example, that her Iraq vote and the handling of her emails were mistakes, but she missed the opportunity to tell us what she learned from them. They remained legitimate concerns of voters, where they could have been presented as valuable learning experiences.

In 2020, a Democratic candidate will run against either Donald Trump or Mike Pence. Especially if the Democrats win the Senate in 2018, I believe there is a high chance that Donald Trump will find a reason to be impeached. Still, either Trump or Pence will be the sitting president, and they will deserve to be addressed in the debates as Mr President. It will be all too easy to attack the president on all the ways he has failed the working people who placed their trust in him, but we must do more. We must offer a positive vision of the future. We must do what Hillary Clinton did not, by showing that it was the Republicans in Congress who kept the country down. It was the Republicans who kept the public option out of the Affordable Care Act and loaded it with concessions to the insurance and medical industries. It was the Republicans who loaded the Supreme Court with the Justices who made Citizens United and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act realities, and that is how our system is rigged. It was the Republicans who have stood in the way of minimum wage increases and meaningful gun control measures. And it was the Republicans who shirked their Constitutional duties, and refused to govern for the eight years that President Obama was in office. These are all negatives against the Republicans, but their flipsides are the beginning of a Democratic vision that should have won this year, and must win in 2020. We must acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act gave 20 million Americans health insurance they never had before, but still couldn’t afford to use. We must admit that cost of living increases in Social Security benefits over the years have not kept up with what it costs to be a senior citizen in the United States. We must let the workers and potential workers of this country know that the official employment numbers show an improvement, but we know too many people are still being left behind or exposed. The Republicans now know that blaming immigrants and persons of color for this is a winning strategy, one that can be explicitly stated. We must show that there is a better way, and that means explaining that the money and security that once went people who worked hard now goes instead to the very wealthy. We must show that we are all, white, black, brown, Christian, Moslem, Jew, male, female, straight or queer, in this together.

It truly is the economy, and it should have been a simple matter to defeat Trump’s message of hate and fear with a message of concern and hope. But Hillary Clinton’s defense of the status quo didn’t get it done, and Bernie Sanders’ message of righteous anger was not enough to win the chance to try. In 2020, the Democrats need to open the primaries to all comers, to not clear the decks for anyone. Then, the DNC needs to avoid any hint of favoritism, and let the people choose. Expect to be hacked, so keep both private and public communications clean. In 2020, Hilary Clinton will be the woman who lost the presidency to Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders will be almost 80 years old. So let’s start with a clean slate and no favorites, and find someone we can all support with enthusiasm. And then, let’s win this thing back.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Little Bit of Why

As we begin to recover from our shock from the election, we need to form a plan of action to limit the damage over the next four years, and we need to make gains in 2018 and lay the groundwork for the next chance at the Whitehouse in 2020. To do that, we need to understand how Donald Trump could possibly have won. What we don’t need to do is start an endless cycle of blame. It won’t help to say this or that demographic group should have come to the polls in greater numbers, or that such and so wasted their vote. In this post, I don’t claim to have all of the answers, not by a long shot. What offer instead is a story that I hope raises some of the questions we need to be asking.

To begin, I live in New Jersey. I never finished college, but I was raised by two parents who earned graduate degrees and held professional positions. My brothers and I were raised to question authority by doing our homework, so facts and details are important to me. To a Trump voter, I think like a liberal elitist. I work as a customer service representative, so I spend my days talking to people all over the country, and I usually tell my customers as needed that I don’t discuss politics with them. However, on Wednesday, a customer said something I found interesting. She said she didn’t like Donald Trump, but she voted for him, and she was glad he won because Hillary Clinton scared her. At first, I found this incomprehensible, but I did not press her for details because that is not the job I was doing. But thinking about it later, I remembered something that happened in 2013.

In the spring of that year, my family and I made a trip to Williamsport PA for my daughter’s college search. Williamsport is home to the Little League World Series, but I didn’t see much else to recommend it. The city looked to me like a concentrated suburb, with the local Wallmart being a prominent feature, and no particular sign of any local culture. But my wife saw something quite different. She had lived briefly in Williamsport about 25 years earlier, and she had found it at that time to be a pit of despair. It is a town that would much rather be known for baseball than being home to a large alcohol and drug rehab center. But, in 2013, my wife was astonished at all the new construction she saw. Something had brought hope to this place, and the local economy was on the move.

Later, we found out what it was. We stopped at a local diner for lunch, and our waitress was friendly and talkative. I enjoy this kind of service, and would be happy to get her again if we were ever out that way. She told us in glowing terms what had happened to Williamsport and that part of Pennsylvania. In two words, natural gas. The natural gas industry, including fracking, had arrived, bringing plentiful good paying jobs, and it had saved people’s lives out there. To our waitress, anything the natural gas industry did was all good, because it helped her and everyone she knew. In the distant past, this had probably been coal or steel country, but those jobs were gone and never coming back.

Was our waitress racist or xenophobic? I have no reason to think so, but it is possible. She probably would not have said sexual harassment was OK if we had asked, and might even have had a story to tell. But I’m guessing she and many people she knew voted for Trump. It’s not hard to see why. I can sit in my New Jersey home and tell you all about the evils of fracking, and I can give you the facts to back it up. But that waitress would only find all of that threatening to the life she knows. She might have said that Hillary Clinton scared her, and this is why. When I think about this, I realize that the substance of the Clinton email scandal was not important in places like Williamsport. It did not matter that the FBI eventually finally declared that there was no basis for any criminal action. In Williamsport, what mattered was having some kind of cover to justify voting for Trump. The racism, sexism, and all of the other –isms might have made our waitress uncomfortable, but having something to blame Hillary Clinton for made a Trump vote easier on her conscience.

To recover from this election, we need to bridge the gap between the insular world of Washington DC and all of the Williamsports around the nation. Before we try to explain in loving detail why our ideas would be good for that waitress, we need to listen to her and address her concerns. Out of that may come new ideas, ideas that are good for both of us. We can certainly find solutions that are kinder and nobler than what Trump wants to do, but we did not do that this time. Instead, we put all of the Williamsports in a basket of deplorables, and tried to win without them. Now we know how that worked out. It is worth remembering that towns like Williamsport were once Democratic strongholds. We need to remember why, and get back to treating people there like part of our community.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Tonight my Facebook feed is full of words like “grieving”, “mourning”, and “freaking out”. I am seeing profanities from people who don’t normally use them. I am sorting out my feelings as I write this, but I agree with all of this. How could this happen? I feel that the only nation I have ever called home, the nation that became a refuge to my family when they were fleeing progroms, that nation has betrayed me. This country has been swayed by lies when we should be defenders of truth. America has just gotten a lot more dangerous for immigrants, sure, but also for persons of color, LGBTQ people, even people on the autistic spectrum. For anyone who is different. Income inequality just got exponentially worse. The legal protections that ensure everyone the right to vote just got much weaker. There will now be a “conservative” majority on the Supreme Court for a generation, and Citizens United is with us for at least that long. Gays may lose their right to marry, women to have a legal abortion. What exactly is it that “conservatives” conserve these days?

I hope some good can come of this. I hope the news media will take a good look at their complicity in this, and vow never to bow to the god of false equivalency again. I hope the Democratic Party agonizes over this, and realizes that they should have given us a range of real choices in the primaries, not anointed a deeply flawed Hillary Clinton as the only real choice. Don’t get me wrong on that one; I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, but I don’t buy the argument that he would magically have beaten Trump either. Sanders’ biography would have offered the right wing hate machine all sorts of juicy points of attack, and the campaign would have been just as ugly as the one we had. But surely there must have been someone who could have stood for the Democrats that could have brought the same empathy and dignity to the campaign that Barack Obama did to the last two.

There will be better days for this country. I have to believe that. Those of us who feel that America at its best is a refuge will have to pull together and take care of each other in the bad times just ahead. We will have to accept that there are differences between us, but we can unite for the greater good. Right now I am angry at anyone who took this one for granted and did not vote at all, but I can not find a state where third party votes made the difference. I will need some time, but we need to put all of that aside, and find a way to work together if we are to have any hope of making things better. We can start by working our asses off to make some gains for the good guys in the 2017 elections.

For myself, I will try to keep my friends and family always in mind, and look for small and large ways to help. I will continue to speak out, and I will encourage others to do likewise when I can. In sadness, fear, and anger, I will try to remember to love.

Monday, November 7, 2016

One Final Word

I know I said my previous post would be my final one before the election, but this one came to me today and demanded to be written. If you are a writer, I am sure you know what I mean.

I have voted in every presidential election since 1980, and I have always tried to ignore a candidate’s personal life in making my choice. In particular, I said to anyone who would listen in both 1992 and 1996 that I did not care about Bill Clinton’s infidelities, that they had nothing to do with how he would govern. This year, I do not care that Hillary Clinton has a husband who cheated on her; the Clintons have resolved the matter between them, and that is good enough for me. To be fair, I also do not care that Donald Trump very publicly cheated on a previous wife, and I do not hold against him that two previous marriages have failed. However, I do care that he has boasted of sexually abusing and harassing women, and I do care that he will stand trial in December for raping a minor. I believe other actions and statements of his reinforce the importance of these transgressions, and help to demonstrate why they make him unfit to be president. Before you call me a hypocrite, I can explain in one word why these actions are different, and why I feel they are not just private matters to be dismissed as locker room talk or simple mistakes of a younger man.

That word is consent.

Bill Clinton’s infidelities did not leave a trail of victims, because the women involved were all willing participants. As I said, the Clintons made their private peace with what happened. Not so with Donald Trump. He has left a trail of victims because he has never cared about anyone’s consent for anything. This attitude extends well beyond his sexual activities and appetites. At the beginning of his real estate career, he demonstrated that he did not need anyone’s consent to discriminate against minority tenants. He settled one discrimination case, only to go right back to the behaviors that got him in trouble in the first place. Of more immediate concern, we have a concept that is one of the foundations of our system of government: the consent of the governed. It means there is no question that we will accept the judgement of the voters and gracefully concede when we lose an election. No one has to ask Hillary Clinton if she will accept the results if she does not win; before Trump raised the issue, the idea would have been absurd. The consent of the governed also means that a president accepts that there are constitutional limits to his power, that voters also choose Congress separately for just this reason. When Donald Trump criticizes Hillary Clinton for not accomplishing more in 30 years of public service, however, he is saying that he believes in a form of absolute power that yields to no one. She should have been able to do whatever she wanted, because that is what he would do.

Consent also has to do with honoring our treaties and alliances. Hillary Clinton will do that, and she will not order prisoners of war to be tortured, because she respects international law. Donald Trump, when he talks about foreign policy, clearly believes that, as the most powerful nation on earth, no other nation has the right to tell us what to do. He also regards torture and treaty violations as a show of strength. He believes that women should be afraid of him, and so should nations.

When you frame all of this in terms of consent, you realize that Donald Trump did not arise from a vacuum. It was George W Bush, not Trump, who made us a nation of torturers. The issue of reproductive rights is all about consent, and it has been a mainstay of Republican politics for many years. Since 2008, the Republican Party has refused to govern unless one of their own was in the White House; most of Barack Obama’s greatest accomplishments date from the brief period when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. The Republicans who are now promising not to confirm a Supreme Court justice until he or she is chosen by a Republican president are violating the principal of the consent of the governed. Make no mistake, this is a fundamental difference between the two major parties as they exist now. The Democrats would never behave this way, nor have they. In doing so, the supposedly patriotic Republicans are displaying as great a contempt for the Constitution as their presidential candidate.

On Tuesday, I will give my consent as one of the governed to someone who cares about that consent. I will do so up and down the ticket. I hope the results will show that the American people still care about the consent of the governed. Donald Trump has shown that he does not care about that consent, and his treatment of women is a facet of that.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

It’s the Economy

This is likely to be my last post before the election, so it’s time to filter out all of the noise. There has been an incredible amount of noise in this campaign. So, for the purposes of this post, I will pretend that having a husband who cheats on you is the equivalent of being an unregistered sex offender. I will pretend that a foundation that openly reports all of its donors and uses almost 90% of its funds for good works is somehow the equivalent of a foundation with secret donors that engages in self-dealing and pays bribes to state attorneys-general to drop fraud investigations. And so on. Instead, I want to focus on what the likely impacts on regular people would be of a Clinton or Trump presidency. Specifically, I want to talk about the economy.

As it happens, excellent work on this subject has already been done by people who are much wiser about the economy than I am. Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics assembled a team over the summer, and presented detailed analyses of how the economy would perform under a Trump or a Clinton presidency. I don’t expect everyone to read these all the way through, so check the conclusion section of each of the three scenarios presented, and then read the overall conclusion. Zandi’s team says of a Clinton presidency:

“…the upshot of our analysis is that Secretary Clinton’s economic policies when taken together will result in a stronger U.S. economy under almost any scenario.”

Of Trump, he says:

“The upshot of Mr. Trump’s economic policy positions under almost any scenario is that the U.S. economy will be more isolated and diminished.”

To see why this so, consider the historical precedents for what each candidate wants to do. Broadly speaking, Hillary Clinton wants to continue and strengthen the policies of the Obama administration. Obama rescued the country from the brink of an economic disaster that could have rivalled the Great Depression. He has also presided over the longest streak of months of uninterrupted job growth in US history. Under his stewardship, the deficit has dropped more in dollars than under any other president. Hillary Clinton will keep that going. Strengthening the Affordable Care Act, including the addition of the public option, would provide a boost to consumer spending, creating jobs. Increasing the minimum wage would cost the government nothing, and it too would boost consumer spending. That is why, one year later, Seattle saw so a big boost to employment after raising their minimum wage to $15/hour, despite the dire predictions of opponents.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, wants to follow the model of George W Bush, only take it much further. Bush passed the largest tax cut for the wealthy in US history, and he pushed for deregulation. The result was that Bush took the first budget surplus since at least the 1950s, (gifted to him by the policies of Bill Clinton, by the way), and turned it into the largest deficit in our history. Trump thinks Bush did not go far enough, as though creating the conditions for the 2008 financial crisis wasn’t severe enough. Trump may really think this, since he was able to personally profit handsomely from the 2008 crisis. Bush presided over the worst economic performance of any president since Herbert Hoover.

I should note that Mark Zandi is one of the most respected economists on Wall Street. He can not afford to have his reputation sullied by even a hint of partisanship. He has customers of all political persuasions, and his success depends on all of their trust. I also want to add a note for anyone who says Hillary Clinton lies and Trump tells it like it is. Donald Trump can stand in the lobby of one of the hotels he built with illegal Chinese steel, dressed in one of his name-brand suits which are made in China, and tell you how he wants to prevent American jobs from being shipped overseas. Something doesn’t compute. Please think about that before you vote on Tuesday.