How Democracies Die

March 20th, 2018

This video from VOX is good background on authoritarianism. As the video points out, Trump didn’t create authoritarian voters. Voters with authoritarian views have been part of the fabric of our politics for quite a while. Trump was the first national candidate of a mainstream party to appeal directly to these voters for their support.

Democracies don’t die in a conflict.

They die from rot. They die because people stop defending them. They die out of fear. They die because people are more concerned about their own personal gain rather than what is best for the country. They die because the unwritten norms of behavior that serve as guardrails against self-serving behavior are destroyed by those who claim winning and ideology are more important than the common good.

I just finished reading a book on the subject (How Democracies Die) by two Harvard political science professors, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They make a very convincing case for serious concern.

The big risk to democracies is authoritarianism. It’s what most worried our founding fathers. How do you give everyone the vote and protect the country from the majority voting democracy out of existence? Many claim that the original sin of our democracy was slavery, but that’s not exactly right. The original sin of our democracy was restricting the right to vote to white male property owners because a majority of those framing the constitution didn’t trust anyone else.

Democracies don’t explicitly exclude authoritarians from the electoral process. As a result, once authoritarians get into office, they can use the considerable power we invest in the executive branch to dismantle the democracy that just elected them. This blueprint has been followed in other parts of the world with remarkable effectiveness.

Once this process starts, it is very difficult to stop for two reasons. The first is the popular support that elected the authoritarian to begin with. The second is that the authoritarian leader uses their popular support to systematically eliminate all opposition.

Putin’s Russia is a perfect example.

Russians have made a devil’s bargain. They know who Putin is. They have accepted authoritarian rule in exchange for economic progress and a return to superpower status. In the process they have sacrificed whatever rights and freedoms they may have had in earlier more democratic governments.

Here’s the authoritarian check list.

1. Rejecting or showing weak commitment to democratic rules.
2. Denying the legitimacy of political opponents.
3. Encouraging or tolerating violence.
4. A readiness to stifle or limit civil liberties of opponents, including media.

Putin definitely qualifies.

So does Trump.

Rejecting or showing weak commitment to democratic rules
Trump claimed that the 2016 election was rigged against him. The only outcome he would accept is his victory. Even after he won, he claimed that massive election fraud prevented him from winning the popular vote. Republicans never challenged him on this claim even after the election commission he created failed to find any evidence of the massive voter fraud he claimed occurred.

There was a similar outcome to his claim that the previous administration had bugged his office and spied on his campaign without cause. Subsequent investigations could find no evidence that his office was bugged. Some in his campaign got caught up in FISA investigations into Russian interference in the election, but there has been no evidence that there was any directive from the Obama administration to gather information on Trump campaign in order to help elect Hillary Clinton. In fact, the evidence was just the opposite. The Obama administration was reluctant to act on all that it knew about Russian involvement BECAUSE they did not want to effect the outcome of the election. The Obama administration was demonstrating a commitment to the rules controlling our democracy (don’t use executive power to interfere in elections) at the same time as Trump was ignoring them.

Denying the legitimacy of political opponents
On the campaign trail, he said Hillary Clinton was a criminal and promised to lock her and President Obama up if he was elected. He called Democrats who refused to stand and applaud his State of the Union address traitors.

Encouraging or tolerating violence
Many of his rallies were violent. He encouraged his followers to beat up those who protested, offering to pay their legal bills. He refused to condemn Nazi and white supremacist violence.

A readiness to stifle or limit civil liberties of opponents, including media
He called the media that printed stories that he didn’t like, “enemies of the people”. He threated to weaken the libel laws protecting the media. He perverted the term “fake news” to reflect news stories that he disagrees with. Under oath, his communications director admitted that she lied to the press and the public in support of the Trump administration.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are many more examples in each category. The purpose is NOT to outline a list of Trump’s failures. The purpose is to point out that NO OTHER PRESIDENT IN HISTORY has satisfied all four criteria. Even Nixon bowed to court orders to turn over his tapes. He had hopes that he could survive an impeachment vote in the Senate. When Goldwater told him that he didn’t have the votes, he resigned.

In 1972, Nixon won with 60% of the popular vote and 97% of the electoral vote. He won on the promise to bring law and order back to the country. McGovern only won Massachusetts. Two years later Nixon resigned. On the day of his resignation he still had the support of 24% of voters.

In the past, the two major parties served as an effective defense against authoritarian candidates getting the nomination. Republicans failed in their role and then failed again when leaders in that party failed to take a stand opposing Trump after he won the nomination.

Some think that constitutional checks and balances will prevent a demagogue like Trump from solidifying his power. Those checks and balances, however, depend on a set of strong democratic norms which govern the behavior of both parties.

The two norms the professors mention are mutual toleration and forbearance.

Mutual Toleration
Both parties agree that the other party not only has a right to exist but that the party out of power will likely gain it back at some point in the future. By exercising restraint, the party in power hopes to benefit from restraint when they fall out of power.

Forbearance
Both parties refrain from demonizing the other party because at some point they know that they will be in the position to be demonized.

The most recent example of failure to respect these norms was the Republicans holding an open supreme court seat hostage for the first time in history and then also for the first time in history changing senate rules to allow their candidate to win senate approval with a simple majority vote.

The Bork nomination was an example of Democrats abusing their power in a similar circumstance.

Now we are witness to a President in open warfare with the FBI, trying to stop the investigation of an independent counsel, and continuing to lie on daily basis about virtually everything.

Under Trump, governing has become a zero sum game where there are only winners and losers. There is no longer interest in the common good. The only interest is in what Trump feels makes him look good. As a result, the country lurches from scandal to scandal, conflict to conflict, without any direction or any clear overarching principle to guide us.

What happens when Trump fires Mueller?

Are there REALLY enough Republicans willing to oppose that move? Some have said they would oppose that move, but legislation intended to protect Mueller has not made any significant progress in Congress.

What if the Mueller investigation uncovers information that implicates Trump in some criminal or treasonous way?

Are there REALLY enough Republicans willing to do their constitutional duty and hold Trump accountable? According to a recent Pew poll, 50% of Republicans are not confident that the Mueller investigation is fair. Only 23% of Democrats share that view.

If Trump isn’t held accountable, how will he respond to all those who attempted to bring him down? He believes that this conflict is good for him. I don’t doubt that he would fire whomever he feels he needs to fire to preserve his power.

If the Mueller is able to build a case against Trump, he will likely bring charges using the unindicted co-conspirator language that is reserved for the President. That because there are constitutional questions about whether a Grand Jury can indict a sitting President. The Courts have generally deferred to the constitutional process of impeachment rather than take up the case against a sitting President themselves. If Congress fails to impeach Trump based on those charges, I don’t doubt that Trump will retaliate with both the FBI and the IRS in the same ways that Nixon did with those on his enemies list.

What happens then?

You want to know how democracies die.

This is how.

Guns

March 15th, 2018

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The Supreme Court has upheld the right of an individual to own a gun. They have also upheld the right of communities to place reasonable limits on gun ownership.

I am grateful to all those who make our highways safer by controlling the deer population. I have no problem with target shooters either.

My dad for a short while owned a German Luger. I’m not sure why he owned it other than that fact that at the time he was a small business owner in Omaha. Maybe he felt he needed protection at his shop. The reason I know he owned it was because when I was about 8, my younger siblings and I found the gun one afternoon in his dresser drawer. We took it out and started to play with it. I don’t know whether or not it was loaded. Nothing terrible happened, except that my mom found us playing with it and I never saw another gun in the house.

All of my friends and I owned BB guns growing up. None of us put an eye out. We all belonged to a gun club at the local community center. During the winter we all practiced target shooting there. During the summer, we would shoot at the pigeons roosting on the back of the local drive-in movie screen. They were far enough away that even if we managed to hit one, the BB would likely have just bounced off.

The father of one of my best friends in grade school killed himself with a gun at their home when I was maybe 14. We spent a lot of time at each others homes. His family didn’t seem any different from mine. But after his dad died, my friend changed and we drifted apart. I can’t imagine what he must have gone through. I wish I could have helped him more than I did.

I understand the fascination that some people have with guns. I also understand how dangerous they are. I appreciate how fortunate I was to escape with just a scolding when I found my father’s gun. I have also seen first hand how a gun can change someone’s life forever.

There are certainly stories about good people successfully using guns to defend themselves from bad people with guns seeking to harm them. Those instances, unfortunately are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, guns either kill the owner, someone in their family, or some other innocent person by accident or mistaken identity. Your odds of winning the Powerball are 15x higher (.000003) than your risk being killed by a home invader (0.0000002).

According to numerous reliable studies, 60% of gun deaths are suicides. 79% of the victims are white men, like my friend’s dad. Gun suicides have touched everyone. Having a gun in your home triples your risk of suicide.

Keeping guns in your house, regardless of how they are stored, not only increases the odds of suicide, but also domestic abuse and accidents. Owning a gun triples the risk of homicide in your home. Gun mishaps are the third leading cause of death among children in this country. Kids aren’t supposed to die. In most other civilized countries some kids get sick and die. Some kids die in auto accidents or drown. It’s only in this country where our kids get killed because they came across a loaded gun.

Statistics prove that more guns make communities more dangerous. Guns are most dangerous to those who own them. A combined analysis of 15 different studies in 2015 found that those who had access to a firearm in their home were 15x more likely to be murdered as those who didn’t. The majority of those murders were committed by a family member or a close personal acquaintance.

As our population ages, crimes of all sorts are down. That’s because the vast majority of crimes are committed by males between 15-29. The best way to make communities safer is not to give everyone a gun. It is to give everyone a job. The safest communities are those with the lowest populations of young unemployed men and the fewest guns.

Let’s make every community one of those safe ones. Our businesses need workers. Let’s make it easy for everyone to find a good job. Getting everyone a good job will make every community more prosperous and safe. It will also reduce the need some feel to own a gun for protection. Reducing the number of guns in our community will save lives.

Waffle House Economy

March 6th, 2018

The difference between fantasy and reality is that in the real world real stuff actually happens to real people.  If you live in a fantasy world, you have lost touch with reality.  You have not, however, escaped reality.  Reality will, sooner or later, assert itself.  At that point, you will suffer a rude awakening.

Our country is poised to experience several rude awakenings as we discover that our President and those supporting him have lost touch with reality.

Russians
We now know that the Russians have been and are continuing an effort to disrupt our democracy.  We know the who, the why, and even the where.  Some of those who worked on disrupting the 2016 election, have since come forward to provide detailed accounts of what they did and how they did it.  Facebook and twitter have identified the accounts that they used.  Mueller has the evidence and indicted some of the perpetrators.  Our intelligence community has documented the hacking that occurred to voter records and electronic voting machines.  Our intelligence community continues to sound the alarm that these attacks are expanding and becoming more sophisticated.

Our President and the party that supports him live in the fantasy world that the whole Russian effort is a partisan witch hunt intended to discredit Trump’s election.  They attempt to deflect blame to Clinton, the Democrats, or the media.  The REALITY is that concerted efforts by the President and his supporters to discredit the media left us vulnerable to Russian spreading REAL fake news.  Conservatives were eager to spread whatever stories they read that confirmed their fantasies about Clinton and the Democrats even though they were fantasies.

The reality is that we have been attacked in no less a real way than we were attacked on 9/11.  Why hasn’t our President and our government responded?

According to Tom Friedman, there can only be two answers.  Either Trump is simply delusional or the Russians DO have something on him that he does not want others to know.  Neither choice bodes well for the country.

Tax Cuts and Government Spending and Economic Growth
We have never provided this large a stimulus to an economy that was this robust.  We are in completely new territory as far as what is going to happen.  The tax cut and the associated budget bill killed off the “Trump” stock market rally because of concerns about the Fed raising interest rates to combat inflation.  More concerning is this massive reduction in government revenues is happening at the same time as costs for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are rising because of the baby boomer retirement.  The fantasy is that the tax cuts will pay for themselves, but even the Trump budget shows they don’t believe it.  The claim is that we will see 3% growth as far as the eye can see.  The reality is that there aren’t enough workers to support that sort of growth.  The worker situation grows worse each day that we actively discourage immigrants from coming here to work.  The second fantasy is that corporations will invest the tax cut in higher wages.  Wages are going up, but it’s because unemployment is so low.  Corporations have spent $6B in bonuses and wage increases.  They have spent $170B in stock buy backs.  That’s reality.

Tariffs
This is a terrible idea.  It based in Trump’s fantasy that trade is some sort of mano-a-mano wrestling match.  It’s not.  Even if other countries don’t retaliate, which the very likely will.  It will be a net looser for the economy.  Just like the tax cuts, nobody has tried to impose tariffs at time of very low unemployment.  That’s because the whole design of the tariff is to use price to replace imported products and services with domestic products and services.  The problem is that we do not have the employees to ramp up domestic production of much of anything.  How are steel producers and aluminum producers going to expand, if they can’t find skilled workers?  The result instead will be more pressure on wages AND more pressure on prices.  What’s that spell? INFLATION.  What happens when inflation goes up?  The dollar goes up.  What happens when the dollar goes up? Exports go down.  That’s why tariffs went out with the cold war.  The news suggests that Trump’s about face on tariffs was driven more by his frustration with his administration than a careful analysis of the subject.

So where does this leave us?

SNL said it best.  We hired a businessman to run the economy, and he’s running it like a Waffle House at 2AM.

The State of the Union is Fantastical

January 31st, 2018

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President Trump’s first state of the union speech was just as remarkable as his first year in office.

David Graham from the Atlantic had a good summary.

The reality is somewhat less rosy: By a wide margin, Americans believe that the nation is on the wrong track, and the president’s approval rating is historically low. Trump has struggled to push his agenda through Congress, just squeaking a big tax cut in at the end of last year. That presents three challenges for the president, and his speechwriters: How do you boast about victories you haven’t had? How do you present new proposals when many of the old ones are still on the table? And how do you handle the Russia story that seems to consume most of politics each week?

The answer from Trump was simply to conjure his own reality, outlining a set of some accomplishments, delivering the standard list of policy proposals, and ignoring the Russia probe altogether.

This president is not often good at hiding his emotions, but he did so Tuesday. As a result, not only was the picture he painted of America removed from reality, but Trump himself was also practically unrecognizable. The speech somehow managed to render Trump the one thing he almost never is: boring.

One has to go no further than his claims of economic success to reveal the gulf between reality and fantasy that exists in the White House.

Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.

Only 1.8M new jobs were created since he took office according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Instead of citing the real figure, he chose to cite a figure that included three months where jobs could only be attributed to Obama.  It’s also because during his first full year in office, the 1.8M new jobs was the slowest job growth since 2010. The reason is that employers are having a hard time finding workers, which is what he also could have said.  Instead he left the impression that this was an extraordinary accomplishment.

Of those jobs created during his time in office, 184,000 were in manufacturing which would also been a good number compared to the 16,000 jobs lost in 2016. But that doesn’t mean that manufacturing is in good shape. Total manufacturing employment is still down by more than 1M workers compared to 2007.

After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.

Wages did grow from 2014 through the third quarter of 2017, but the rate of growth has slowed and in Q4 wage growth actually declined (from $353/wk to $345/wk)  So why didn’t he mention that?

African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.

During Trump’s campaign, he claimed that more than half of African American youth were unemployed. The real number was 19.2%. African American unemployment fell from a high of 16.8% in 2010 to 7.7% last January. Since then it has fallen to 6.8%.  Why didn’t he just say that?  It is still really good news, and given his past campaign exaggerations, would have indicted a new respect for the facts.

Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.

That statement was true on January 13th. Last week the number went up. That’s still a good number, but it is only a six week low, not a 45-year one.  Why not simply say that they hit an 45-year low two weeks ago.

The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401(k), retirement, pension and college savings accounts.

Only about 50 percent of Americans own stocks directly or through retirement funds, according to a Gallup survey. And most of the value in stocks is held by the top 10 percent. And the bull market in the US is actually weaker than market gains in the rest of the world. So the truth is that the US markets are just part of a larger global trend, and if anything Trump has discouraged investment in US markets rather than encouraged it.

BTW, the markets fell more than 1% on Monday as money moved from stocks to bonds. This is generally an indication that at least some traders think that this market may be near its peak. Almost $360B is stock market wealth (using Trumps calculus) disappeared as a result.

Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.

This claim is just wrong and has been widely debunked. Depending on how you count, it ranks 8th in terms of size. Both of Obama’s tax cuts were larger.

Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses

More wrong. This tax plan benefits large corporations and wealthy people. According to Moody’s, three-quarters of the $1.1T in individual cuts go to people earning more than $200K/year in taxable income. Those represent only 5% of all taxpayers. The same report warns that this plan will have negative consequences on federal and local government finances.

We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world. These changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000.

More voodoo math. As FactCheck.org points out, if every household averaged a $4,000 increase in income, that would add up to $500B/year. Corporate taxes collected last year only totaled $300B. Even if all corporate taxes were eliminated and all of that money flowed directly into individual income, it still couldn’t add up to the increase Trump claimed.

The real numbers, according to the Tax Policy Center, are closer to $1,610. That’s $135/mo. Most people are smart enough to realize that they are not the ones getting a big break.

Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.

Less than 2.5% of the work force have received one-time bonuses.  That’s why the remaining 97.5% know that this wasn’t a good deal for them.

Since we passed tax cuts … Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.

Apple DID give workers bonuses because of the tax plan. They do plan to repatriate $38B in overseas profit as a result of the plan. They did not say that their $350B five-year investment plan was the result of the tax plan. The capital part of that plan seems in line with past levels of annual investment.

The foundation of REAL economic growth is productivity. Productivity requires a large percentage of the population to be employed in doing things that make money. It is very difficult to increase productivity when you have a large growing retirement population. The only way to do that is to add as many new workers through immigration as you have retiring. You can’t simultaneously support lowering immigration, increasing retirement, and have a high growth economy. Japan already proved that it can’t be done.

The other end of productivity is businesses investing in new plants, new technologies, etc. That’s how you increase productivity without adding new workers. That investment is also NOT currently happening because businesses are able to make money without making those investments.

Another gauge of a healthy economy is the saving rate. Savings rates go up when people have more disposable income. The rate of savings is going down, which suggests that households are strapped for cash or they are drunk on spending. Neither is good. The first suggests that the cost of living is rising more rapidly than wages. The second suggests that any boost that the economy may be getting from consumer spending is short lived.

Finally, the government has a role in economic development too. That’s to stimulate the growth of new emerging industries. Trump is failing there too. That’s because of the stake in the ground that Trump planted regarding coal. First he has failed to keep the promise that he made to coal workers. Second his wrongheaded tariffs on solar panels is costing jobs in a rapidly growing sector of the industry while failing to make any difference in the coal industry which is in decline.

The problem with short term incentives like tax breaks and repatriation is that they are candy rather than substance. Bringing $38B of profits back to this country from Apple will make it appear as if something got made in this country. Unless Apple invests that money in making more stuff in the United States than it may have otherwise made, it will not be reflected in any increase in either jobs or productivity. If Apple just uses the money to buy back their stock and increase their dividends, any economic boost will be short lived and perhaps make the next stock market correction that much more severe.

When the President bases policy on false beliefs, the country will pay the price.

Adding $1.5T in additional debt now is a REALLY bad idea according to the IMF.

The I.M.F. warned against assuming that the current economic cycle would go on indefinitely, however, particularly given the towering debt of the United States and other countries. By borrowing so much, the government can crowd out other investors and drive up interest rates. At the same time, giant deficits crank up pressure to cut government spending on health care and housing, policing and schools. With less money to go around, spending dries up and consumer demand — the economy’s primary engine — slows.

This was the SAME warning that Republicans used during the Recession. It turned out not to be true, because that’s when the government SHOULD be spending money to get the economy going again. That deficit spending worked. The economy recovered. And NOW is the time to increase taxes in order to make investments in the future industries that will support the next generation of businesses and employment. That’s because a growing economy can support a higher tax rate.

Cranking down on immigration at a time of low unemployment and baby boomer retirement is another REALLY bad idea.

A single immigrant can bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives

This was Trump’s big lie from his speech.  Politifact labeled is Mostly False.

We should be welcoming immigrants AND their families. New family formation is the bedrock of the consumer economy. Immigrants who bring in family members provide their own support system for those immigrants.  That means they will have places to live, jobs, churches, mosques, and people like them who will help them make the peaceful transition to becoming citizens. This family process that includes a path to citizenship is why we don’t have the same problems with domestic terrorism that we’ve seen in England, Germany, and France.  There is no good reason to scrape the family immigration system.

Trading citizenship for 1.8M Dreamers for cutting LEGAL immigration in half (from $2.1M to $1M) is a bad deal for the economy.  Dreamers are already here and already have jobs.  Reducing the ability for immigrants to bring in their family members will just reduce the number of legal immigrants.  I have no problem making our immigration system more merit-based, but the number of legal immigrants should be set by the number of unfilled jobs in the economy.  Right now that number is 6M.  What is wrong with expanding the H1B program which is merit and employer based until the number of unfilled jobs is reduced?

The only reason we can’t do that is because Trump has told the country that immigrants are dangerous.  He did that again last night.  Canada on the other hand has built their economy on merit-based immigration and has already told the world that if the US doesn’t want you, you are welcome to come to Canada where their political culture realizes the economic value of skilled immigrant workers.

The REAL problem we are dealing with in this country is the disconnect between reality and fantasy.

Until we have a government willing to tell the truth, we are going to struggle for any sort of reliable and unified plan for growth and stability.

What Would Jesus Do?

January 30th, 2018

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This is such a common phrase that it now shows up on jewelry, t-shirts, license plates, and coffee mugs.

It is supposed to associate whomever is wearing or using or driving the WWJD thing with a certain Christian mindset. That mindset is summarized in these verses from Philippians 1: 1-5

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

In other words, model your daily behavior on your best understanding of how Jesus would have behaved if He was in the same situation.

This post is based on a blog post I read from John Pavlovitz. He is calling a specific set of Christians out because he believes that they are hypocrites. He bases his comments on his belief that it is his responsibility as an evangelical Christian to act in the same way he felt Jesus would act. He definitely has a point of view that some may not agree with, but I think his questions regarding the politics of White Evangelicals are valid.

First the facts.

Obama won 26% of the White Evangelical vote in 2008 and 21% in 2012. 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. That in itself is just politics. White Evangelicals were originally mobilized by Jimmy Carter. Reagan and the Republican Party quickly recruited them, however, and they have been reliable conservative voters ever since.

This post raises questions about the differences between their political positions and their principles.

During his term in office, Obama was relentless demonized by conservative TV, media, and on the Internet. They claimed he was a Muslim. The claimed he wasn’t a natural born citizen. Scriptures were used to malign him and associate him with the worst racial stereotypes.

Through it all he didn’t retaliate. He remained a faithful husband, a good father, with no hint of personal or political scandal. He tried to work with those that opposed him, even after they said that their highest priority was to prevent his re-election. According to the NYT, he told 18 lies during his term in office.

Here’s how John Pavlovitz characterized the treatment Obama received from White Evangelicals.

And through it all, White Evangelicals—you never once suggested that God placed him where he was,
you never publicly offered prayers for him and his family,
you never welcomed him to your Christian Universities,
you never gave him the benefit of the doubt in any instance,
you never spoke of offering him forgiveness or mercy,
your evangelists never publicly thanked God for his leadership,
your pastors never took to the pulpit to offer solidarity with him,
you never made any effort to affirm his humanity or show the love of Jesus to him in any quantifiable measure.

You violently opposed him at every single turn—without offering a single ounce of the grace you claim as the heart of your faith tradition. You jettisoned Jesus as you dispensed damnation on him.

Now we have Trump. He is an admitted adulterer. In at least one case, it was allegedly with a porn star. He is working on his third marriage. He uses language in public that would not be accepted in any Evangelical Church or home. He bragged about committing sexual assault. He supported an accused pedophile because he said he needed another Republican in the Senate. He supported White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s. He has lied about his charitable contributions. In fact according to the NYT, he broke all recent records by telling 103 lies during his first year in office. Through all of it he is a braggart, unrepentant, and unapologetic.

Here’s how John Pavlovitz describes the treatment Trump has received from White Evangelicals.

And the change in you is unmistakable. It has been an astonishing conversion to behold: a being born again.

With him, you suddenly find religion.
With him, you’re now willing to offer full absolution.
With him, all is forgiven without repentance or admission.
With him you’re suddenly able to see some invisible, deeply buried heart.
With him, sin has become unimportant, compassion no longer a requirement.
With him, you see only Providence.

I think the question is valid.

What is the reason for this vastly different treatment between these two very different men? You would think that in terms of personal values, Obama’s life is MUCH closer to the lives that Evangelicals try to lead. At least on the surface, Trump seems to represent most everything in his personal live that Evangelics despise. But that doesn’t seem to have counted for much.

There are only a couple of possible answers.

If Obama committed any great sin in the eyes of White Evangelicals, it was his support of woman’s right to choose regarding abortion. If that one reason can justify standing quietly on the sidelines while an otherwise good man is vilified, then I would question how abortion became more important than helping the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the imprisoned. But that’s just me.

It also sounds a lot like the parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. All of the self-righteous men ignored the wounded person by the side of the road. It was only the Samaritan, the group that was vilified by the Jews, who did the right thing.

But it still raises the following question. If the “sin” of being pro-choice justified silence, does a pro-life stand excuse all other behavior? If so, then we are truly in Pharisee territory.

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Matt:23:24-25

Or maybe it was because Obama was a liberal Democrat, or perhaps because he had dark skin.

If so, then John Pavlovitz is correct is pointing out what other people see in the White Evangelical’s slavish support of Trump.

They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities.
They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus.
They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, or to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbors as yourself.
They see that all you’re really interested in doing, is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it.
They recognize this all about white, Republican Jesus—not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth.

What would Jesus say about this?

I’m not qualified to say. I believe the Bible reserves judgement for God, so I try not to judge others. Besides, I’ve got way too much to do working out my own issues in hopes of my own salvation.

But for those whose faith includes a commitment to share the good word with others, here’s my own little bit of evangelizing. I suggest that White Evangelicals take these questions to heart. Ponder them. Chew on them. They may be bitter at first, but God had to knock Paul off his horse and blind him in order to get his attention.  Paul thought he WAS doing the work of God in killing Christians.  It was only after his conversion that he discovered his TRUE calling – spreading the good news of the Christ.  It was Paul, and not the other disciples, who saw that the good news of the Christ was meant for everyone, not just Jews.  It is certainly possible that, just like with Paul, Trump is the God’s way of forcing White Evangelicals to choose between politics and principle.  The blessing that lies beyond that choice could be healing the political and cultural divides that currently seem so insurmountable.

Above all, I encourage White Evangelicals to sincerely pray for guidance. It is possible that it isn’t all about abortion. There are many evangelical leaders who have already come to that conclusion. If it’s true that Jesus called us to a broader commitment to be like him in many ways, I would hate to face the judgement that Evangelicals preach about with opposition to abortion as my only good deed.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Matt 25:31-43

 

Really?

January 22nd, 2018

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“What we have just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible, political games,” Mitch McConnell – 1/20/18

The problem with this statement is that it is the Republicans who are playing cynical games. These games mask a radical shift in the position of that party regarding immigration.

This all started when Trump rescinded the executive order known as DACA in September, 2017. Rather than work out a legislative compromise, he simply tossed a ticking time bomb into what was then the tax debate. If Congress didn’t act is six months, he threatened to end the program. He said that he took that action in order to encourage Congress to act. That’s the same reason Obama cited when he signed the executive order. Trump also said that his preference was action to protect the “Dreamers”. He spoke very sympathetically about them.

We’re going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me. I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have,” Trump said at a press conference in February.

“But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way. It’s a very — it’s a very very tough subject. We are going to deal with DACA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget. And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is, is right. And I appreciate your understanding on that,” Trump said.

“But the DACA situation is a very very, it’s a very difficult thing for me because you know, I love these kids,” he added. “I love kids. I have kids and grandkids and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do.”

In fact the NYT reported that his aides were imploring him to dial it back.

Why?

We’ll get to that in a moment.

First let’s go through the timeline.

In September, 2017 Trump made a deal with Schumer and Pelosi which setup this particular confrontation. The Democrats agreed to a three month raise in the debt ceiling and some hurricane relief in return for a deal on DACA. Republicans were upset with this deal because they thought Trump didn’t get much for delaying a confrontation with Democrats three months. As a result of that and pushback from anti-immigrant factions in his party and his base, Trump reneged on the dinner deal he had with Schumer and Pelosi.

The Democrats said that they were not going to approve another increase in the debt ceiling without some movement on DACA. Graham and Durbin hammered out a bi-partisan deal which was EXCACTLY what Trump had asked for in September. All it required was Trump’s approval and there would have been no shutdown. Trump blew that deal up too because Tom Cotton convinced Trump that his base wants NO DACA deal effectively moving the goalposts again.

The Democrats kept their promise to the DACA dreamers and refused to support another extension of the debt ceiling.

Schumer at this point put another deal on the table over the weekend offering to include approval of money for a wall in return for DACA relief. Trump was ready to make that deal too until Kelly, Miller, and GOP leaders blew that deal up.

This gets to the core of the problem.

87% of voters support allowing those who qualified under the DACA program to remain in this country including 79% of Republicans.

A majority of voters also oppose building a wall, but 70% of Republicans support it.

67% of voters support shutting down the government in order to force renewed CHIP funding.

Yet during the process Republican language regarding DACA Dreamers changed. They were no longer “incredible kids”. Now they were just part of the larger “illegal immigrant” population committing crimes, harming low skilled US workers, and committing terrorist acts. Instead of “great people who have done a great job” they became “criminals on parole”.

What DACA has exposed is the dark secret of Trumpism. Immigrants are the problem. It doesn’t matter how they got into the country. They are no longer welcome.

If the dreamers are just another species of criminal alien, then Democrats had better give up a lot — cuts to legal immigration and changes to family-based migration — to gain their protection. But it remains unresolved whether Trump and Republicans are willing to legalize the dreamers at all — whether they actually do or do not view them in sufficiently sympathetic terms. If they can’t get to Yes — if no reasonable set of concessions is enough — it will be because treating the dreamers as fundamentally different from other undocumented immigrants is a Rubicon they cannot cross.

Further evidence is the Cotton Perdue proposal to cut LEGAL immigration by 50%. This isn’t strengthening our borders or reducing the number of people who manage to get here illegally. This is effectively using “merit” or “skills” to reduce the number of immigrants we admit. One has to look no further than the proposal that only those who pass the “merit” screening would be admitted. The “merit” visa includes no provisions for family unless they can also pass the same screen. We admit 1.2M immigrants legally every year. 140,000 come through the merit program that is currently employer sponsored. Only 70,000 of those are the actual employees.

At this point there is likely going to be a lot of partisan scorekeeping.

Here’s my take.

  1. CHIP gets funded for six years. Republicans delayed funding CHIP because they knew that they would need something to trade. Keeping 9M kids hostage for political purposes will be something Democrats will remind voters in 2018. Republicans traded this for Democrats keeping the government open for another three weeks.
  2. Schumer and McConnell have a deal to put a bill on floor to address DACA by Feb 8th. This will be another important test of whether government can work to address an issue that has broad bi-partisan support.
  3. Trump, the great dealmaker, was not only put out to pasture on this deal, he and his anti-immigrant advisor Stephen Miller were both exposed as hazards to dealmaking. With approval ratings already in the dumper, it’s hard to tell what affect this will have.
  4. If a DACA bill passes, it will almost certainly be the Senate that passes it. It is unclear what the House will do. If the House doesn’t act on it, and deportations start in the months before the November election; a bad situation for Republicans will only get worse.
  5. A lot of Democrats are going to be very angry about this deal. You can tell who, by looking at those senators that voted against it. What happens in the next couple of weeks will determine if that is anger that will affect Schumer’s position. If McConnell doesn’t deliver on his promise, the shutdown post February 8th could be very ugly.
  6. What will also be ugly are the xenophobic arguments that will surface over the next couple of weeks. We’ll see how far right the Republican base has really moved. Is this still the party of “incredible kids” or has this become the party that wants to shut immigration down completely. If it is the later, Trump has to take the blame for his rhetoric and his playing footsy with White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s. You can also bet that Democrats will use the racist xenophobic statements that are certainly going to show up to ramp up voter registration in places like Texas and Arizona.
  7. The shutdown itself will be old news by the 2018 election. Republicans lost a government shutdown in 2013 and still won big in 2014.

The bottom line is nobody looks good in a shutdown, but there is an opportunity for moderates who engineered this compromise to also start driving bi-partisan legislation through a polarized Congress. Trump will probably sign whatever makes it to his desk. I’m not sure his knows how to spell veto.

Unfortunately Trump’s confusion, lack of control, flip-flopping, and fundamental inability to personally resolve a fairly minor domestic crisis is going to concern our allies and embolden our enemies. When even he agrees that standing down is the best thing that he can do for the good of the country – our future is at best cloudy.

Pants On Fire

January 10th, 2018

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Trump is liar.

It isn’t that he is just a liar. He is a liar of historic proportions.  The NYT has a complete list and a couple of charts comparing Trump’s lies (repeats excluded) and Obama’s lies.

 

In our political system, public officials normally pay a price for lying.  That’s because a candidate makes promises to voters in order to secure their votes.  While most voters are sophisticated enough to realize that even a President can’t do everything that they promise, our system does include an expectation that whomever holds the office will in fact respect the office and the power voters have put in his/her trust.  Breaking that trust may be just another example of Trump “shaking up Washington”, but according to the polls, most voters don’t like it.

This post is about an upcoming scenario where Trump may finally pay that price.

Obstruction of justice is a very difficult charge to prove because it relies on intent.

There is plenty of smoke to suggest that Trump had intent to obstruct the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That smoke does not need to include any evidence that the 2016 election results were altered by Russian activity. The charge isn’t that Trump made the Russian efforts more or less effective. The charge is that he interfered with the investigation into Russian efforts.

The smoke also doesn’t need to include any evidence of collusion with the Russians. Whether or not there was collusion is a separate charge. The obstruction charge is that he interfered with the investigation into whether or not there WAS any collusion. Trump could be cleared of the collusion charge and still be liable for the obstruction of justice charge.

Finally that smoke doesn’t need to include any evidence that Mueller somehow overstepped his authority. He was given broad authority by Dept. AG Rosenstein to follow whatever threads he found that would lead to evidence of criminal activity. When he finally presents his case, Trump supporters are going have a hard time convincing the public that Trump’s crimes were outside the scope of what Mueller was originally supposed to investigate.

Here’s the short list of the things that support a potential obstruction of justice charge.

  1. Trump and his staff put a lot of pressure on Sessions NOT to recuse himself from the Justice Department investigation BECAUSE Trump expected Sessions to protect him from that investigation. This speaks to a state of mind that suggests that Trump felt that he needed protection.
  2. Trump drafted a letter to Comey suggesting that Russian investigations were “fabricated and politically motivated”. Comey was later fired because he refused to stop the investigations even though Trump’s initial public statements were that he was fired because of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email inquiry. This also speaks to state of mind regarding a cover-up.
  3. The Wolff book claims that Trump and his lawyers concocted a misleading statement on Air Force One regarding DTjr’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. They did that in “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears”. Wolff also claims that a staffer (Mark Corallo) quit over the incident because of the obvious obstruction of justice implications. This alone would meet the standard for prosecution.  It should not be too hard for Mueller to find out from Mark Corallo whether or not Wolff quoted him accurately.
  4. NYT reports that Mueller has substantially corroborated Comey’s notes regarding his dealings with Trump. That corroboration includes notes kept by other WH staffers that Mueller has obtained.

If these Wolff claims are true, that means that other staffers on the flight DID knowingly participate in obstructing justice. Mueller will have the opportunity to interview them under oath for their version of events.

Trump’s defenders continue to suggest that Trump can’t be prosecuted for taking actions that are within his legal authority. That misses the question of intent. The courts have clearly ruled that legal authority does not immunize a government official from abusing that authority with corrupt intent.

But that ultimately isn’t going to be the issue.

The issue will be that at some point in the not too distant future, a sitting President will again be summoned to testify in front of a grand jury. This is a man who doesn’t read, doesn’t have the patience to sit through policy briefings that last more than a few minutes, admittedly didn’t prepare for campaign debates, lies regularly to inflate his own accomplishments, has an overinflated view of his own capabilities, and seems to have only a tenuous grasp on facts. How is this man going to perform when confronted with a detailed discussion of his actions as described by the sworn testimony of others?

This will be a situation where his usual strategy of bending the truth will not work. This is also situation where inexperience, “negotiation”, or even delusion are unacceptable excuses for failing to tell the truth. He won’t be able to deny that he said things because government lawyers and the grand jury will have the transcripts. He won’t be able to deny that he was present at a meeting when the sworn testimony of others who were there confirmed his presence. His experience as a performer will not help him. He won’t be able threaten. He won’t be able to settle. He won’t be able to leave after ten minutes. He will just have to answer the questions to the best of his ability. The recent NYT interview is a perfect example of the sort of disaster that this President is facing.

This is a minefield of Trump’s own making. It is hard to believe that he will be able to navigate it without stepping on at least a few of them. When he does, Mueller won’t need to prove intent to get an obstruction of justice claim to stick. He will have Trump on tape lying to a Grand Jury.

It is also ironic that a deeply flawed book that contains a lot of misinformation may end up being the publication that takes down a president who has a similar disregard for the truth.

Postscript:

At the time of this posting, two more Republican members of the house have announced their retirement (Issa and Royce). That brings the number retiring to 32 (compared to 15 Democrats). 20% of the 23 House Republicans running in districts won by Clinton in 2016 are not seeking re-election to those seats. Since 1962, an average of 40 house seats have been lost in midterm elections by the president’s party when the president’s approval rating fell below 50%. Trump says that polls don’t matter, but a lot of Republicans appear to be acting as if they do. Democrats only need 24 seats to regain a majority in the House.

Irrational Risk

January 5th, 2018

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There is some good research out that suggests that power actually causes physical changes to the brain.

Those who feel that they are in a powerful position lose their ability to experience empathy.  The result is that they become more willing to take risk because they don’t consider how these risks may potentially affect others.

At least one of these studies documents that CEO’s who lived through a disaster (war, famine, etc) during their childhood are far less likely to take big risks as adults.

Lord David Owen calls it “Hubris Syndrome”.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

You might be inclined to regard this as nothing new.  To some extent you’re right.  Psychopathy and hubris have been with us as long as we have had social groups.

The cautionary tale of the consequences of hubris and psychopathy, however, is a new history of WWII by Victor David Hanson.

He points out in great detail that Germany was incapable of winning WWII.  Here are some of the reasons why.

Germany never had a mass produced four engine bomber that could compete with the B-17.  They also had no aircraft carriers.  As a result, they lacked air superiority in naval battles and they could never have extended their reach across an ocean.

The Germans didn’t have much oil.  Half the world’s oil at that time came from the US.  Fuel shortages limited the number of missions the Luftwaffe could fly.

Their planes were inferior technology.  They were harder to operate which meant that their pilots required more training than the Allies.  They were more complicated to build.  Germany never figured out how to build them in high volume.  Germany didn’t build concrete runways in their forward bases like the Allies.  As a result, more of their limited supply of aircraft were damaged in take off and landings on dirt runways.

As a land-based power with a small navy, Germany depended on their Luftwaffe to make up the difference.  The disadvantages their air force faced in a long war should have been obvious.

WWII was about new mechanized mobile warfare.  The Germans introduced the blitzkrieg, but used horses to resupply their troops because of oil shortages.  The blitzkrieg depended on fast tanks.  The Russians had both a superior design and the ability to manufacture tanks in high volume.

Early on, Germany could have likely settled with the rest of the world and retained their territory gains.  Instead the Germans ignored the limitations of their air force and attempted to bomb England into submission.  Any hope of even just a European victory was lost when Germany attacked Russia in 1941.

There was good data before the war that science could produce new massively destructive weapons using the theories of Einstein and others.  The Third Reich, however, purged their universities of some of the best minds of their generation because they were Jewish.  Most of them escaped to the west where they eventually created the atomic bomb.

All of this data raises the real question of what were these people thinking?  How could they have made so many serious mistakes in the long term planning that would be required if they wanted to achieve the world domination that they claimed?

Axis leaders believed that Fascism could make up the difference by producing more fanatical soldiers with more “élan.” For a brief time at the beginning of the war, Allied countries believed this, too. (There was widespread fear, especially, of Japanese soldiers.) They soon realized that defending one’s homeland against invaders turns pretty much everyone into a fanatic.

The Axis powers fell prey to their own mythmaking: they were adept at creating narratives that made exceedingly unlikely victories seem not just plausible but inevitable.

That said, the Allies also convinced themselves that Axis leaders had successfully brainwashed their citizens.  They used that conclusion to justify unprecedented violence against civilians abroad, internment camps for Japanese citizens in the United States, and the only use of atomic weapons on civilians in history.

We face similar problems today in our country.

When countries lose track of facts and start believing their own mythology, they become vulnerable not only to delusional power-hungry leaders, but also to foolish military adventures.

We invaded Iraq because Bush II neocons thought it would be a cake walk.  There was no evidence of any connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attackers.  There was no credible evidence of a threat to the United States.  Lack of international support didn’t deter the Bush II administration either.  It turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in US history (at least so far).

Our current president has brought us closer to a nuclear confrontation with North Korea.  He has threatened to tear up the multi-national treaty with Iran that has suspended their nuclear weapons program.  He destabilized the situation in the Middle East with his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At home he has created division and broken virtually every political taboo in our shared political religion.  He has set out to destroy the credibility of the media as independent arbiters of truth.  In the face of multiple investigations into misdeeds by his campaign and his administration, he has become the sole source of truth for his followers.

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that he wasn’t interested in the job to begin with AND does not possess the temperament or the intellect to do the job that he has found himself in.  The recent interview that he gave the New York Times is shocking.  He is both delusional and incoherent.  He appears locked into an endless cycle of confrontation and misrepresentation that is the direct result of failing to deliver on his own narrative.

History tells us that this sort of “ism” does sometimes lead to violence but always ultimately collapses of its own weight.  There is already good data suggesting that Trump has suffered significant erosion in the base of those who voted for him for President.  Hopefully the next couple of elections will peacefully restore balance and confirm that there are consequences to lying to the American people.

When the Levee Breaks

December 30th, 2017

With appropriate attribution to Led Zepplin, we find ourselves less than a year from the 2018 elections in a moment when it appears that there is a Democratic wave election building.

First let’s look at the evidence.

Then let’s speculate on why.

Harry Enten of the FiveThirtyEight blog printed an excellent analysis of where the two parties are today and how that compares to past off year elections.

A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data).

These results are reflected in the larger aggregated poll that FiveThirtyEight produces.

What does that mean?

At this same point in time in 2006, Republicans were in the majority in Congress and Bush II was in his second Presidential term mired down in the Iraq war. Republicans trailed Democrats in the generic ballot poll by 10%. The Democrats gained control of the House and the Senate. That year they won 31 net seats. In 2018, they only need to win 24 seats to regain a majority.

We’re still nearly a year away from the midterm elections, however. And voter preferences at this point can change dramatically by election day; the average difference between the congressional ballot at this point and the final result is about 9 percentage points. But most large shifts on the generic ballot from this point onward have occurred against the party that holds the White House. Once you take into account who holds the White House, the generic ballot at this point is usually predictive of the midterm House result.

Here’s some of the why.

63% of voters think that the economy is good or excellent. Less than 40% of voters give Trump credit for that.

73% think the world will become more dangerous in 2018 because of Trump.

A majority of voters blame Trump for a deterioration in race relations. Only 13% blamed Obama for a deterioration in race relations at this point in his presidency.

52% of voters say they will probably or definitely vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2020.

For the first time in history a past president was selected as the most admired man in the country versus the sitting first term president.

In Alabama, African-American voters over performed. They cast 29% of the vote while representing only 27% of the electorate. They also voted 96% for the Democrat. Given the history of voter suppression in Alabama, these numbers could be even better in the rest of the country.

According to a NYT opinion piece, here’s what that means for the rest of the country.

By emphasizing turnout in 2018 — especially of voters of color — Democrats can take control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and at least five statehouses. Republicans’ margin in the Senate has now slipped to just a two-seat advantage, and the Senate contests in Arizona, Nevada and Texas are all winnable if there is a robust turnout of voters of color. Texas may be considered as conservative as Alabama, but its actual demographics are much more favorable: Only 53 percent of Texas eligible voters are white (and a quarter of the whites are strong Democrats). Mr. Trump won Texas by 800,000 votes, but there were four million eligible, nonvoting people of color in 2016, three million Latinos alone.

Finally there is the enthusiasm gap. Voters opposed to Trump in particular and Republicans in general are just a lot angrier about it. As a result, they are more determined to vote.

Here’s a quote from a CNN article about the Virginia election.

In Virginia’s 2017 election, Democrats comprised 41% of the overall electorate as compared to just 30% for Republicans, according to exit polling. Almost half of the electorate (47%) said they strongly disapproved of Trump, and Democratic nominee Ralph Northam won 95% of those voters.

It is certainly possible that Trump could pivot in a different direction, but that seems unlikely.

Instead all signs point to yet another wave election where the incumbent party loses their majority. There are much more significant implications to this loss of majority for Trump because of the ongoing investigations into the actions of his administration.

Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
Now, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

 

Above The Law

December 5th, 2017

On May 1, 1977 David Frost had the interview of his career. This was three years after Nixon resigned. Nixon was working on his memoirs and his publicist believed that these interviews would boost his popularity. Frost was able to get Nixon to admit that he DID cover up the Watergate burglary but that it wasn’t obstruction of justice because, in Nixon’s opinion, the President can’t do anything illegal.

Trump’s lawyer just floated the same defense for Trump.

This argument was first proposed by Alan Dershowitz this summer after the Comey firing. That argument has been dismissed by many legal scholars since including the Brookings Institute. In their document entitled “Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump” they make the case that even if Trump had this authority (which is highly suspect) he cannot exercise it for corrupt purposes. Stopping an investigation into crimes committed by those in the White House is corrupt.

The problem is that Trump’s claim isn’t just for past actions. His attorney was asserting his ability to intervene in “any case” that may come up in the future. If the Mueller investigation is able to turn up credible evidence linking Trump to the crimes of others, Trump is asserting his right to “express his view” by firing everyone associated with the investigation.

Dowd is basically arguing that as the chief law enforcement officer, Trump has the authority to block investigations into himself, his allies and into his friends, and nothing he does can be construed as obstruction of justice,” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, told me this morning. “The logical extension of all this is that Trump can try to remove Mueller and it would be entirely legitimate.

But this ultimately won’t be a legal issue. It is a political one. That’s why the authors of the constitution gave Congress broad authority to hold the executive and judicial branches accountable for actions that were damaging to the country, even if they weren’t illegal.

Which brings us to the current problem.

Trump feels as though he can largely act with impunity because no matter what he does Republican Party leaders stand with him.

Here’s a brief list of his actions over the past couple of weeks.

  • Disputed the validity of the Hollywood Access tapes – No Republican response
  • Distributed inflammatory European anti-Muslim videos – British respond. Mild Republican response
  • Calls Sen. Warren Pocahontas at a meeting with American Indians – no Republican response
  • Piled on the sexual assault claims of celebrities and Democrats while ignoring accusations against himself and other Republicans – no Republican response
  • Wrongly claimed that the tax plan doesn’t benefit him – no Republican response
  • Endorses Roy Moore – Republican leaders (including McConnell) back off of their previous condemnations

He may be right when he says, “Hey look, I’m President. I don’t care. I don’t care anymore.”

He understands that he has the Republican Party right where he wants them. They need the passage of a tax bill (any tax bill) to support their campaign in 2018. They are not going to abandon Trump and risk fracturing the party when they are on the cusp of winning. He’s how EJ Dionne characterized it.

Don’t count on Republican politicians abandoning Trump quickly now that their tax victory is in sight. They and the president have a lot more in common than either side wants to admit. The primary loyalty they share is not to God or country or republican virtue. It is to the private accumulation of money, and this is a bond not easily broken.

The reality is that sexual assault and pedophilia are now acceptable as long as you are a Republican.

You need no more evidence than the tax plan to understand that the Republican Party does not care about the white working class voters that put them in office. When questioned about the faulty math in that bill Chuck Grassley said, we’re not talking about math here, we’re talking about philosophy. That philosophy is that what is good for business and good for the wealthy is good for the country.

What is happening instead is that Trump is remaking the Republican Party in his own image. By their silence, they are allowing Trump to define what the party stands for.

The Moore election in Alabama is a perfect example. Trump’s argument is that voters should ignore the claims of pedophilia because it is more important to have a key Republican vote in the Senate. Moore’s own defense is that his pro-life position should be all voters care about. Senate Republicans have now said they will accept whatever choice Alabama voters make.

If this is true, is there anything that Trump (or Moore) could do to cause the Republican Party to turn against him?

At this point I doubt that even video supporting the Steele Dossier Russian orgy claims would damage Trump’s core support.

Would invading North Korea and putting US territory at risk of a nuclear attack be a problem?

How about bombing Iran in an effort to destroy their nuclear facilities?

Trump is obsessed with testing the limits of his support. That has been true in his personal life. Now it is being demonstrated in his political life. The difference is that it is now our constitution and the fabric of our democracy that he is testing rather than the fidelity of his spouse or the loyalty of his employees. The only thing we can be sure of, is that as long as he is in office, this will continue. He will systematically break every taboo and challenge every social and political norm in order to prove that he is the most powerful man in the world. History tells us that these people always fail eventually. He is in the process of taking the Republican Party down with him. It will be interesting to see what the final straw will be for the rest of the country.