Friday, November 25, 2016

Running On Empty

Robert Christgau took the words right out of my mouth.
This situation is not conducive to anyone's coherence including my own, hence my decision to bullet-point a reaction piece that was going nowhere slowly. Of course, the end of the world as we know it isn't conducive to coherence either.
Several times over the last few days I've reached for the laptop, looking for the inspiration to write something, anything that could encapsulate what I'm feeling; indeed what we now know to be the majority of the voters' feelings. And I've come up empty each time. Christgau's "end of the world" was the best I could do. Because that's what it feels like.

Not that there haven't been topics to write about. From Tim Ryan's challenge against Nancy Pelosi for minority leader of the House (go for it), to whether Democrats should be open to negotiating with the Trump Administration (fuck no!), to abolishing the electoral college (way overdue), to the normalizing of Trump by the media (surprised? You shouldn't be), to whether or not President Obama should just go ahead and appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court during the coming recess (ballsy, but a bad idea), to Jill Stein pushing for a recount in the Rust Belt states (why is she spearheading this and not the Dems?). But every time I sit down and start to type, I hit a roadblock.

The simple truth is I'm exhausted and stunned. Exhausted at the events that have occurred over the last three weeks; stunned that this nation, allegedly the greatest in the world, could elect a man that embodies everything the Founders would've found revolting. These were learned men with principles and a vision, who went to great lengths to ensure that someone like a Donald Trump could never rise to power. To a man they must be spinning in their graves over what happened November 8.

Forget for a moment the obvious policy consequences - Obamacare, gone; the Paris Climate Agreement, gone; Dodd-Frank, gone; the Supreme Court, gone; Medicare and Social Security, gone - what has happened here is nothing short of appalling. Again, Christgau's words hit home: "The validated racism and xenophobia of Trump's coalition not only disgusts me, it breaks my fucking heart."

And the thing that hurts the most is the knowledge that a lot of people I know - some of them family members - voted for him. Not all of them, I hope and pray, are racists, but all of them, to a man and woman, had to have been aware of the dog whistles that permeated every aspect of his malignant and hate-filled campaign and yet chose to turn a deaf ear. Not everyone runs towards the flame; some try to dance around it in the naive belief they won't get singed. In the end, though, both are consumed by the fires.

All this week I have been under the weather with a stomach virus. I'm confident it had something to do with the election. Wednesday night, on my way home from work, I tried to brighten my mood by playing some Christmas music. Not even Linus and Lucy could lift my spirits, though You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch seemed strangely apropos. So under the weather was I that I was unable to attend the traditional Thanksgiving feast at my wife's family's place, the first time in my life that I celebrated the holiday alone.

I've never been one to believe that God takes a personal interest in who gets elected president; he doesn't care who wins the World Series or Super Bowl; he continues to allow countless wars and disasters which have claimed the lives of millions of innocent people; and no matter how hard you pray, that job you're looking to land will end up going to the person best qualified. Those who hold onto some misguided belief that God personally directs every aspect of human activity would do well to read up on their scripture. The evidence is overwhelming: Man often gets what he deserves.

Which is why I'm terribly worried about the next four years. Not only worried, frantic. Let's face it, we've had some doozies in the White House over the last couple of centuries, and we managed to survive them all - even Bush. Though to be fair, the citizens of the Middle East would probably beg to differ. The damage Bush wrought in that region will take decades to repair.

The point is we've never had anyone like Trump as president before. Sooner or later even the luckiest of nations runs out of luck. Just imaging him in the Oval Office is enough to turn my stomach. And the nuclear launch codes? Jesus, sweet Jesus! I feel as though my country died election night and I've been attending the wake ever since. The funeral is January 20, and the entire world will be watching.

I still can't wrap my head around how this country can go from electing a man like Barack Obama, the first African American, as president to electing someone like Trump. It not only defies all logic, but all human decency, as well. I am both outraged and embarrassed at the same time.

I don't know where I go from here. Like my friend Steve in North Carolina, I feel as though I'm done with this. The passion's simply not there. For the past eight years, I've written about politics, primarily Washington politics. Obama versus the GOP and, sadly, sometimes versus even his own party. And being the good wonk that I was, I feel I did a fairly credible job.

Now what do I write about? The final death knell of the greatest experiment in representative democracy since the ancient Greeks? Because that's what we're talking about here. I am under no illusions about the gravity of the situation. This is no mere presidential election. The nation did not choose Mitt Romney or John McCain or fucking Paul Ryan to be the leader of the free world; it chose the most ill-equipped, completely unhinged individual ever to run for public office. And there are consequences for such choices, profound consequences.

Maybe all this will pass in time. Maybe I'll rediscover that passion and start hitting the keyboard once again. But, for now at least, I'm signing off.

Peace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hey Dems, The Pity Party Ends Now


My dentist has this plaque on his wall that reads, "Ignore Your Teeth And They'll Go Away." It's funny, but true. As a salesman, I've often employed that very simple logic to my own profession. I know very well, as every salesperson knows, that if I'm not calling my customers, my competition is.

Politics isn't all that dissimilar. If you aren't staying in touch with your voters your opponent is. Of all the mistakes Hillary Clinton made during her run for the White House, none proved more costly than her decision not to actively campaign in Wisconsin and Michigan, and to all but ignore western Pennsylvania and concentrate more on Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

The Trump campaign saw an opening and pounced. It filled the void that Clinton created through her indifference and it paid off in droves on election day. They not only took both Wisconsin and Michigan, but Pennsylvania, as well. Clinton's focus on Philly, as it turns out, didn't save her. The words on my dentist's plaque should serve as a warning to Democrats everywhere. There's no such thing as a gimmie vote. You have to earn it.

It's been eight days since the election and there's been a lot of soul searching within the Democratic Party, along with a lot of finger pointing. The Clinton campaign lashed out at James Comey for meddling in the election. His October surprise, they maintain, was the turning point in the race that allowed Trump to win. The supporters of Bernie Sanders launched a serenade of "We told you so" chants at Clinton supporters. Bernie would've beaten Trump, they insisted. Progressive Democrats are ripping the party for its close ties to Wall Street and ignoring the pain and suffering of millions of working-class people.

There is truth in each of these claims. We'll never know how the election would've turned out had James Comey decided not to involve himself in it. There is also a case to be made that Bernie Sanders might've beaten Trump; though to be fair, it's also entirely possible Trump would've still won. And the Democratic Party's decline among working-class people can be traced back decades. It finally reached a crescendo November 8.

But that is all water over the dam now. Spilt milk can never be put back in the glass. What's done is done. Finger pointing isn't going to change the results, nor is stealing the election from the rightful winner - as some are suggesting - going to fix the fundamental problems that the party has with working-class people. President Obama said it best: "You're allowed to mope for a week and a half. Maybe two if you really need it. But after that, we've got to brush ourselves off and get back to work. We need to come together and focus on a way ahead."

I would echo every word, except the week and a half part. A week is plenty of time. Losing sucks, especially to someone like Trump. But the pity party has to stop now, not next week or the week after. In nine weeks da Fuhrer will take the oath of office. Hell, he's already chosen his own Goebbels as Minister of Propaganda. It's time for Democrats to stop whining and to start mapping out a strategy to take back what they so willfully ceded.

So, if I may be so bold, I've laid out some steps that I think Democrats must put into place in order to ensure they don't have a repeat of 2016.

Step one: Reach out into all communities, not just ones of color, and find out what makes them tick. While it's wonderful being the party of inclusion, that inclusion should not come at the expense of excluding an important voting bloc. White working-class people fled the Democratic Party in droves this election. It's one of the reasons Trump took Ohio and Michigan.

While Clinton took the lion's share of the inner-city vote, her percentage of the vote dropped considerably the farther she got from those cities. Philadelphia was a case in point. In the city itself, she beat Obama's 2012 vote percentage but got creamed in the exoburbs, just 30 miles away from Center City. It was that way everywhere on the electoral map. Clinton met expectations in communities of color, but severely underperformed in the whiter neighborhoods. This suggests that  she didn't do enough to woo those voters.

It was Bill Clinton who urged the campaign to pay more attention to these voters, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The next Democratic nominee cannot repeat that mistake. If the party wants to be known as the big-tent party, it needs to prove it. Ironically, Democrats have the same problem as Republicans, only in reverse.

Step Two: Craft a message that resonates with a broad spectrum of voters. Over the last several elections, Democrats have become known as the party of minorities. They have become the champions for disenfranchised voters like African Americans, Hispanics, gays and women. This has swelled their ranks but at the expense of the white vote. And while the party has come a long way from the days when segregationists in the South made up a significant percentage of it, it has had the unintended consequence of boxing it in to such an extent that many whites who would otherwise be sympathetic to its causes feel excluded.

I'm not suggesting that Democrats cater to the kind of xenophobia and racism that fueled the Trump campaign, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that some whites, frustrated by a lack of respect and a sentiment that they were ignored by the Democratic Party, went over to the dark side. The Black Lives Matter movement is a prime example. There's no doubt that embracing the movement was the right thing to do, but in so doing, Democrats unwittingly allowed themselves to be branded as anti cop. The party should've done a far better job explaining that both sides had a legitimate point to make. One can be pro cop and still be appalled at the scores of blacks being shot and killed by police officers.

Step Three: It's time for a transfusion of new blood into the party. Face it, Barack Obama was something of an anomaly. He was fairly young and very popular with Millennials in a way Hillary Clinton could only dream of. But beyond him, the cupboard is bare. Bernie Sanders is in his 70s, and Elizabeth Warren is in her late 60s. The rest of the party leadership could double for a Geritol commercial. For the Democratic Party to reenergize itself, it is going to have to groom future stars who can lead it back to the promise land.

Julian Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was on the short list to be Hillary Clinton's running mate. He is 42 and extremely popular among young people. Kamala Harris, the current Attorney General and soon to be junior senator of California, is a rising star in the Democratic Party. While Harris is 52, she's still considerably younger than most of the party's leadership. Tulsi Gabbard is a Congresswoman from Hawaii who won her seat in 2012 with 81 percent of the popular vote. Gabbard, you may recall, resigned as co-chair of the DNC and was critical of Debbie Wasserman Schultz's leadership. This has earned her high praise from many progressives in the party. She is only 35. And then there's Keith Ellison, a Congressman from Minnesota, who is also Muslim and is the current frontrunner to take over as DNC chair. He's 53 and, like Gabbard, very popular among the base.

I'm sure there are more rising stars out there, like Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand. The point is the Democratic Party needs to put them front and center for all the country to see. It was telling that the two best candidates the party could come up with as its nominee were both eligible for Medicare and Social Security. That is simply unacceptable and cannot be allowed to happen again.

Step Four: Acknowledge the role that social media and rallies play in politics. As shocking as it might seem, Donald Trump rewrote the rules for how to run a presidential campaign. He had no ground game to speak of and was outspent by Hillary Clinton 10 to 1 in advertising; yet, through social media and rallies, got more of his voters to the polls than she did. Even if you discount the huge advantage he received in free advertising from the media - by some accounts as much as a billion dollars worth - his accomplishment is nothing short of amazing.

If the Democratic Party intends to make a successful run at the White House in four years, it is going to have to adjust to this new paradigm. I'm not suggesting that the party should abandon its long-standing and, until this year, quite successful ground game, but, as the saying goes, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

Step Five: Get off the tit of Wall Street. Look, until Citizens United is overturned, big money is here to stay in politics, as are Super Pacs. But there's a difference between using big money and being owned by it. Hillary Clinton's coziness with Wall Street was a sore spot for her during her run against Bernie Sanders and, thanks to WikiLeaks, it became a thorn in her side during the general election. While I don't think it was a determining factor in her loss, it nevertheless left a bad taste in the mouths of many progressives who were still upset that Sanders didn't win the nomination. There's no way of knowing how many of them chose to stay home or vote for a third-party candidate. We do know that Jill Stein cost Clinton Michigan.

Going forward the party needs to do a better job at vetting its candidates so as to avoid a repeat of what we saw this year. Potential nominees should be encouraged to get the majority of their campaign contributions from smaller donors. The Sanders model should be the standard going forward.

This election will have profound consequences for millions of people. Medicare, healthcare, the environment, financial regulations, our prestige around the world, are all in jeopardy now that Trump is the president elect. While Hillary Clinton was certainly a flawed candidate, she was but a symptom of the disease that infected the Democratic Party decades ago. And that disease, more than anything else, was the principle reason for the ghastly outcome last week.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why Usurping the Electoral College Results is Dangerous

Look, anyone with half a brain knows that Donald Trump is an embarrassment to this country and his upcoming administration poses a grave threat to American democracy. Know what else poses a grave threat American democracy? Two hair-brain schemes: one being concocted by a couple of Republican electors; the other involving a petition being circulated by supporters of Hillary Clinton that supposedly has 4 million signatures. The former is trying to persuade enough electors to switch their votes so the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives; the latter wants the electors in the swing states that Trump won to switch their votes to the winner of the popular vote, which just happens to be Clinton. In other words, deny Trump the presidency.

First of all, regarding scheme one: no way the House of Representatives would not elect Trump, given that he was the GOP nominee and Republicans currently hold a huge majority there. Second of all, either of these schemes, were they to be successful, would result in the worst Constitutional crisis this country has seen since the Civil War. If you think the electorate is polarized now, just go ahead and deny the presidency to the candidate that millions of people voted for and who won the election fair and square. The uproar over such a scenario could destroy the Republic; and if not destroy it, damage it to such an extent it might take decades to repair.

I agree the electoral college has to go. It is a relic from our founding years that has outlived its usefulness. The United States is the only democracy in the world where the candidate who gets the most votes can still lose the presidency. That in and of itself is an embarrassment. By all accounts Hillary Clinton should be assembling a transition team for her new administration. Certainly, if she had run for president in France or Britain, that would be happening as we speak.

But she didn’t run in those countries; she ran in this one. And, however difficult it might be for those of us who were shocked by what happened November 8 to accept, the electoral college has the last word. The fact is, Clinton didn’t get enough votes in the states that mattered to win the presidency. Trump beat her. It sucks to admit it, but the alternative isn’t just sour grapes, it would set a dangerous precedent that future losers of the electoral college could use to challenge the results. If you think the world is shaking its head at what happened last Tuesday, try imagining what the reaction would be if Trump had the election stolen from him. Our prestige might never recover. We would be a laughing stock.

It's time for Democrats and progressives to put in place a plan to retake the White House legitimately in 2020. The party desperately needs a transfusion of new blood if it hopes to capture the hearts of minds of the people. However qualified Hillary Clinton may have been, she did not have a message that resonated with enough voters to put her over the top. The fact that her supposedly impervious blue wall was reduced to rubble proves that. Rebuilding that wall must be priority one on their to do list.

The first step on the road to recovery is to acknowledge you have a problem. And Democrats have a pretty big problem on their hands. How they go about dealing with it will determine their viability as a major political party now and in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

They Knew Exactly What They Were Doing




"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." — H. L. Mencken



There is a passage in scripture that Christians are quite familiar with. As Jesus is hanging on the cross and near death, he looks up at the heavens and says, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

I know it's tempting to say that most of the people who voted for Donald Trump Tuesday had no idea what they were getting; that they simply fell for his bullshit like so many of his investors have and were duped by his promises of restoring America to greatness. That once in office and fettered by the realities that affect every president, they will see him for what he truly is, and what all of us who didn't vote for him already knew he was: a con artist.

I call bullshit. I think these people knew exactly what they were getting; he couldn't have made it any plainer. The dog whistles that he used throughout his campaign, and which offended every decent American in the country, were a breath of fresh air for these people. Like manna from heaven, they ate it up and begged for more.

I'm sure there are people out there who genuinely believe Trump will bring back those golden years when the world trembled at the sound of American factories turning out automobiles and steel. In fact, I'm convinced that's what caused Michigan to flip and Ohio to turn a lovely shade of red. Blue-collar workers were desperately reaching out for any ray of hope. For them, my heart bleeds. They are in for one helluva rude awakening in a couple of years.

But explain Iowa to me. And while you're at it explain central Pennsylvania and western Wisconsin and the Florida Panhandle. Iowa's largest manufacturers in the state are in the food-processing industry, and agriculture is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing sectors of its economy. Far from being devastated by cheap imports, the state has been buoyed by exports.

I've been to central Pennsylvania many times. My father had a trailer site in a town called Denver on the northern outskirts of Lancaster County right off of the PA Turnpike. There are a few factories in Reading just up Route 272, but whatever industry that existed there has been gone for decades, well before Barack Obama was a student in college. Today, outlets and strip malls line the county roads.

Western Wisconsin, home of the city of Eau Clair, which Trump visited a week before the election, has some manufacturing plants, but most of the industry in the state is centered around transportation and automation. Oh, and cheese, lots of cheese, as anyone who's ever been to a Green Bay Packers' game can attest to.

As for the Florida Panhandle, its chief industry appears to be tourism. It has become one of the more desirable destination spots for snow birds from the northern states looking to escape the harsh winters. Destin is one of the fastest growing cities in the state and gets 80 percent of the region's 4.5 million yearly tourists. If anything its economy is booming.

What do all of these regions have in common? They're loaded with white people, basketfuls, in fact. When we were kids, I don't recall seeing a single black person when we went down to the trailer site. Of course, growing up in Massapequa Park, Long Island, I didn't see any of them there either. What can I say? The inglorious results of a misspent youth.

My point is I don't think these people voted for Trump because Ford or G.M. closed down a factory and shipped all the jobs to Mexico. In fact, I'd bet my last dollar that most of them are doing better than they're letting on; far better than many African Americans in the cities who voted for Clinton.

For these people this election was never about jobs; it was about making a statement loud and clear. They didn't like the direction the country was going in. Obama represented a sea change not only in the political landscape of the country but in the cultural - and, yes, racial - one as well, and they'd seen enough. Trump's candidacy was a chance to, if not eradicate Obama's agenda, at least make sure it wouldn't progress any further than it already had.

They saw the encroachment of Hispanics and Asians as a threat not just to their jobs but their identity, in much the same way the citizens of the early twentieth century saw the Irish, Italians, Germans, Poles and Jews. They've never warmed to the idea of a melting pot; for them it was anathema to their heritage. And ever since LBJ signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law, they've been waiting for someone to come along and give voice to what they've been feeling for fifty years.

Donald Trump is that voice, as he so proudly said at his convention in July. Signs that read "Fuck that cunt" and "Hang the nigger in chief" were in full view and were no accident; nor were they simply exceptions to the rule. They were the rule. Period. Look at the picture of David Duke celebrating the election results when you get the chance. He hasn't been this ecstatic since the last cross burning he attended, which for him I suppose might very well have been last week.

Bill Maher referred to this as a right-wing coupe. Oh if only that were the case. That would be easy to defeat. The truth is this has nothing to do with right or left-wing politics; this is an uprising of some of the ugliest and most basest elements in our society. Elements we thought we had tamed, and some foolishly thought had been vanquished. Well they are out in full force in all their resplendent glory. Victory hasn't mollified them; if anything it's made them more emboldened. Like a drunk on a binge, they're painting the town.

The sad truth is there are more racists within our midsts than we would ever have imagined. And misogynists and nativists and, you can go on and on. Pick your poison. If everything this man said and did throughout the campaign didn't disqualify him, then the people who supported and eventually voted him into office knew exactly what they were doing. This was what they'd always wanted and this is what they finally got. A plain-spoken, race-baiting, sexist ignoramus who talked their talk and walked their walk. It matters not that he is filthy rich and on most days wouldn't even hire these fools to scrub the floors of the bathrooms of Trump Tower. All that matters to them is what he stands for and ultimately what he will do in office.

Some will say it's wrong to paint a broad stroke, like Hillary Clinton did, and brand the majority of Trump's supporters as racists. After all, many of those voters voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Doesn't that prove that racism wasn't the driving force in this election? Actually, it doesn't. That's because racism has always existed in the country. The problem is that we view racism only through the prism of men wearing hoods and burning crosses. Like an iceberg, though, that is only the tip of it. The biggest chunk lies hidden beneath the water, and, as we saw last Tuesday, that's the part that does the most damage.

What Obama did rather brilliantly in his two election victories was to steer around the berg. Yes, he was black, but he never made it a point to flaunt it. He spoke eloquently and respectfully whenever he was around them. Like Jackie Robinson before him, he was non-threatening and went out of his way to assuage the fears that many whites had of him.

But Trump preyed on those fears and frustrations and stoked the resentments that those very same people who voted for Obama always had. He went out of his way to rub salt in their wounds and promised them he would get their country back; the one that had been stolen by you know who. He awakened the racism that had been in them for generations and ginned it up to a fever pitch. In essence, Trump went where no Republican had dared to go - at least not on a national level - and succeeded.

The same thing happened in Germany in 1929. There had always been a deep-seated contempt for Jews in Germany; indeed throughout Europe. But Hitler provided the spark that lit the fuse which devastated Europe and resulted in the extermination of six million innocent people. All hatred needs is a catalyst to set it free. And once free, it consumes everything in its path. While Trump is no Hitler, nor for that matter is America a modern-day Weimar Republic, the parallels, nevertheless, are striking.

As proof of this just look at who Trump is eying as his chief of staff. None other than Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart, one of the most offensive and racist publications in the country. And he's also considering naming Rudy Giuliani to run the Justice Department. Perfect. A man who started off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists might well bring two of the most divisive and vengeful people in the country into his administration. He ran on a message of divide and conquer and, now that he has conquered, he will likely go after any and all who had the nerve to challenge him, contemptuous of authority and without any regard for the Constitution, which in just over two months he will swear an oath to uphold. That's what despots do.

But the real victims in this tragedy are the children of these people who are now learning first hand that bullying is not only an acceptable form of expression, but that it evidently works, as Trump's election can attest to. This complete lack of a filter is presenting a tremendous problem for school teachers across the country.  Many of these children will be scarred for life because of what happened this week.

And speaking of children, what about those children whose parents could be rounded up and deported back to Mexico by a President Trump? How do you explain to a child that their mother or father might be taken from them? With the stroke of a pen, Donald Trump could rip apart the lives of millions of people.

But lest you think that all is lost, there are a couple of encouraging signs that can be taken away from this election. One, Clinton received more of the popular vote than Trump, meaning that more people rejected Trump's hateful rhetoric than embraced it. Two, according to Nate Silver, if only one person out of a hundred who voted for Trump had voted for Clinton, she would've won the electoral college, as well. I know it's a small consolation for some, given that we will be stuck with this man for four years, but it's something; and something is better than nothing.

Whoever runs against Trump in 2020 must bring a message of hope to the people who elected him. The way you defeat fear is not with more fear, as the Clinton campaign sadly learned. You defeat it with hope; not false hope, as Trump did, but with real hope. That hope can't come in the form of campaign stops every four years. It must be accompanied by deeds.

Think about it. If President Hindenburg had done his job and addressed the concerns and resentments that the German people had, Hitler would never have risen to power. Nature abhors a vacuum; if you don't fill it with something constructive; something destructive will inevitably fill it. This is the challenge that Democrats face over the next four years and beyond.

But right now, let's start by acknowledging that those who put Donald Trump in the White House were well aware of what they were doing and why, and if the Democrats have any plans on recapturing the presidency in the near future, it would behoove them to find a positive argument they can bring to the table that would persuade those voters to change their minds.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Glass Ceiling Collapses


The night started out so promising, didn't it? Hillary Clinton jumped out to early leads in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And not just small leads, mind you, huge leads. At one point she led by as many as 250,000 votes in Pennsylvania. With likely favorable outcomes out in the Southwest, the word landslide was being uttered by pundits on both sides of the political aisle. Clinton's turnout machine was working and the map was reflecting it.

And then...

Then the unthinkable started happening. A sea of red began slowly rising up and those leads began to vanish. In the end, not only were the aforementioned states gone, but long-time blue ones like Wisconsin and Michigan, as well. As improbable as it seemed only a few hours earlier, Donald Trump had won the presidency.

Nobody saw this coming. Well, almost nobody. I seem to recall there was one person who, back in August of last year, warned that this day might happen.

Political pundits can say it's only August all they want. In a few days, it will be September. I guarantee you we'll be talking about Trump well into the fall, winter, spring and summer. The man is here to stay. He's running for president, he's loaded with cash (HIS OWN CASH, MIND YOU!) and he's got the ear of a lot of people who seem to think he can deliver them and the country from the elites who have destroyed it. 
His message, if you listen carefully, is not just a conservative message. In many ways, it's a far more blunt version of the same populist message Bernie Sanders has been delivering to sellout crowds all over the country. Yes, he's a racist, or at least he's pandering to that element. With Trump, you never know. But it would be foolish for anyone to believe that he is merely the fruits of the Frankenstein monster the GOP created. 
The truth is no one created Donald Trump. He's been making outrageous statements all his adult life. What he really is is an opportunist. And like all opportunists, he has seized upon this granddaddy of an opportunity. He's no flake; he's for real. And if both political parties don't start taking him seriously, in about sixteen months, Chief Justice John Roberts will be swearing him in as the 45th President of the United States.

Yeah, that person was me and, sadly, nobody took heed of those words; not the GOP nor the Democrats. And I suspect that the reason for that was that no one ever fully understood the movement Trump tapped into. The depth of the frustration that many people feel in this country came to the surface with a vengeance yesterday. Only last Friday, I was adamant that this election was not "in the bag" and that a Trump victory was still VERY possible.

If Clinton loses, it won't just be her failure, it will be an epic failure of the system as a whole. Put succinctly, the institutions that have been tasked with the job of running the Republic since its inception have been all but discredited. The Congress is hopelessly gridlocked; the Supreme Court a hostage to ideological divisions between both major parties, the FBI now apparently in cahoots with the Trump campaign. The antipathy and contempt many have towards the government is not limited to just one party or one voter demographic. Bernie Sanders ran on a platform that railed against a rigged system and some of his supporters, despite all the evidence to the contrary, still insist the nomination was stolen from him. 
What is abundantly clear is that a lot of people are pissed. And people who are pissed are often unpredictable and far more prone to act impulsively. There's no doubt that between the two candidates, Trump's supporters are far more enthusiastic about him than Clinton's supporters are about her. And that enthusiasm gap could prove costly next Tuesday. 
The rise of anti-intellectualism poses a grave threat to the nation and regardless of what happens next week it is not likely to cease. The normal checks and balances of democracy are under assault and an alarming percentage of the population is poised to hand over the keys of the kingdom to a man who praises a despot and has the temperament of a four year old.

So how did it happen? Well, first off, let's dismiss the ridiculous notion that somehow Hillary's base abandoned her. From the returns, we know that wasn't the case. Yes, there was a drop-off among African Americans, but without Barack Obama on the ticket that was to be expected. More Hispanics, though, voted in this election than in 2012, so it was almost a wash. Her ground team did its job; she got the turnout in South Florida, Philly, Raleigh-Durham, Detroit and Milwaukee that she needed.

The difference wasn't her turnout, but his. White voters came to the polls in record numbers in rural communities, turning blue counties red and red counties even redder. While Clinton was getting margins in the high 50s to mid 60s in the most of the cities and suburbs - she actually outperformed Obama's 2012 numbers in Philadelphia - Trump was getting margins in the low to mid 70s everywhere else. What he accomplished in western Wisconsin was nothing short of astonishing.

CNN contributor Van Jones correctly called it a "whitelash." The white population of the country rose up and, for lack of a better explanation, took back the country they believed had been stolen from them. It was a thorough rebuke of the free-trade, pro-immigration, multiculturalism and pluralism that is becoming more and more prominent throughout the nation, as well as the world. The surging Latino and African American populations that by the middle of this century will represent the new majority in the U.S. were seen as a threat to their hegemony, as I've said on many occasions. Trump had become a folk hero to many of them.

Donald Trump has said many outrageous things throughout this campaign, but there was one thing he said last year that many people dismissed but came to fruition yesterday. He said his campaign brought in millions of new voters who had not participated in the voting process. Well, let's just say for the sake of argument that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Maybe Trump's supporters weren't shy, but they sure as hell did a good job of hiding themselves from sight until election day. I've never seen so many pollsters get an election so thoroughly wrong in my lifetime. Only Dewey - Truman can compare.

But I go back to an argument I made months ago, namely that Hillary Clinton never did what every political candidate needs to do to win: make the case for herself. Yes, she spoke about bringing people together, women's rights, making college tuition affordable, rebuilding the middle class. Those are all good causes, to be sure, but Bernie Sanders could've said it just as well, and did. When push came to shove, the basic campaign theme of Clinton appeared to come down to shining a giant spotlight on Trump and watching him self destruct.

And for a while that strategy seemed to be working. Only a week after the Democratic convention, Clinton had an eight point lead on Trump, who seemed more interested in picking a fight with the parents of a gold-star soldier than winning the presidency. People in his own party started abandoning him while Democrats sat back and watched, giddy at the prospects of a November victory.

But the first signs that this strategy had its inherent risks were in early September. Trump had managed to go a couple weeks without making a fool out of himself, while Clinton stopped campaigning. Then came the now infamous "deplorable" comments at a fund raiser, followed by her collapse at the 9/11 memorial. Within a week of that fall, her poll numbers had plummeted to such an extent that the race was ostensibly tied. The RCP 4-way average showed her up by only a point.

She would get a reprieve during the first debate when, once again, Trump couldn't resist being baited into a back and forth over, of all things, a former Miss Universe winner. He engaged in a childish tweet storm over it and Clinton's poll numbers quickly recovered. Then came the Access Hollywood tape of him bragging about groping women and his sad performance at the second debate. By the time of the third debate, Clinton held an almost insurmountable lead. The only question that remained was not whether Trump would lose, but whether he would cost Republicans both Houses of Congress.

Then, with just eleven days to go before the election, FBI Director James Comey announced that the Bureau had found emails on Anthony Weiner's computer that he felt were "pertinent" and that he was reopening the investigation into Clinton's server. By that point the polls had already begun to tighten, primarily because Trump, once more, was behaving himself. No inappropriate tweets at 3 A.M. He stayed "on message." And the message was that Hillary was crooked and the system was rigged.

While he visited traditionally Democratic-leaning states like Wisconsin and Michigan, team Clinton began to sweat. They had the same data that the pollsters had and they knew this race was tight, way too tight. So they barnstormed Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, desperate to shore up a blue wall that was showing definite signs of cracking. Nate Silver, a couple of days before the election, gave her only a 65 percent chance of winning. Not even Comey's announcement that they had found no new evidence on Weiner's computer to warrant bringing charges against her helped. The perception voters had of Clinton was now thoroughly baked into the equation.

The spotlight that she had hoped would shine brightly on Trump in the final days of the race was now squarely shining down on Clinton, and it proved costly. Not even an impassioned plea from Obama in Philadelphia on election eve night helped. The damage was too great to overcome. Without a reason to vote FOR her, many decided to vote against her.

Yes, she won the popular vote, but that's mainly because of states like New York and California where she ran up the totals. If you look across the country, it was painfully obvious that Trump, and not Clinton, had redrawn the electoral map. Team Clinton thought they could pick off some traditionally red states like Arizona and Georgia; instead, it was team Trump that picked off traditionally blue states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

So now what? Where do Democrats go from here? Well for starters, they will not have the majority in the Senate, which means President Trump can pretty much do anything he wants, from appointing conservative justices to defunding the Affordable Care Act. Dodd / Frank? You can kiss that goodbye, along with the Iran deal and the Paris Climate Agreement. And if you thought George Bush's tax cuts were ridiculous, just wait until Trump implements his tax cuts. If you'd like a bird's eye view of how the U.S. economy will likely look like in about two years, go visit Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback has thoroughly destroyed that state's economy. Yes, people, elections do have consequences.

As for myself, I think it's time I admit a painful truth. I was wrong about Hillary Clinton. Not about her credentials or her capabilities. By any and all accounts, she was the most experienced candidate in the race and, had she won, I believe she would've made a very effective president, perhaps even a great president. But she was the wrong candidate at the wrong time. And she had zero passion behind her. Yes, I voted for her, but I can hardly say it was an emotional vote. Like many people who voted for her, it was more about keeping Trump out of the White House than putting her in. I suspect some held their nose while they pulled the lever.

Bernie Sanders, by comparison, was a rock star. I had poked fun at him and his supporters throughout the Democratic primaries for what I referred to as magical and unrealistic thinking. At one point, after listening to him make promise after promise at one of his rallies, I remember asking if a pony came with that. Watching Clinton, though, was about as emotional as watching paint dry. Her politics may have been more grounded in reality, but it was equally banal.

Even before the WikiLeaks emails started coming out, few if any knew what Clinton stood for, other than winning the election. At the Democratic Convention, her husband Bill spent the majority of his speech explaining to the country who Hillary was. I'm sorry, but if you need your husband to make your case to the nation, that in and of itself is a bad sign. The leaked emails, far from defining her, simply reinforced what many people already suspected about her: that she was the prototypical politician who weighed every decision based on how it would be interpreted by the public. That might be smart politics, as it is smart business, but in this change environment, it was the kiss of death for many voters.

Look, do I think Sanders could've beaten Trump? His supporters would say yes, but I'm not so sure. I think Bernie would've presented a totally different set of challenges for Democrats, namely how he was going to explain to an electorate wary of higher taxes how he was going to pay for his college tuition and healthcare plans. And then there was the matter of his being a self-described socialist. My guess is in a general election, Trump might've eaten Sanders alive. Unfortunately, all we can do at this point is speculate.

For Democrats to retake the White House in four years, they must do two things, in my opinion. First, they must acknowledge the pain and resentment that is in this electorate, while at the same time admit that they had a hand in that pain. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, the Democratic Party became synonymous with corporate greed and corruption. In the eyes of many voters there was little difference between them and the GOP.

If they take the tact that Trump is some kind of anomaly, then they are going to be in for a very long and pronounced drought. Think 1980s, only worse. At least Democrats had control of the legislature back then. As of now, Democrats are a party on the run: outnumbered in both the federal and state governments by considerable margins. And their prospects in two years are grim, as five Democratic senators will face reelection in Red states. Knowing how poorly Democrats fair in midterms, it is entirely possible they could lose all five.

The second thing they need to do is come up with a nominee in four years who has something other than an impressive resume going for them. That person must be able to connect with the common voter in a way that isn't condescending and can offer hope. We may have laughed at Trump for the "simple" and blunt manner in which he spoke throughout this race, but he made a connection with the electorate that Clinton could only dream of making. Assuming he fails as president, and the likelihood is that he will, the Dems will have the opportunity of a lifetime before them. They must capitalize on it.

As Graham Parker once sang, "Passion is no ordinary word." In politics, as in life, it's the difference between winning and losing.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election Predictions


For the first time in my life, I not only have a horse in this race, I will be doing a shitload of praying on election night. It is not hyperbole to say that an awful lot is riding on who wins the White House. I've said all I can regarding who and what Donald Trump is, and yet Hillary Clinton only holds a narrow lead over him going into the last hours of this campaign.

Part of that is her own fault. She is a flawed candidate and there's no denying it. The email server has dogged her from the very start of her campaign, and the way she has handled it has allowed her opponents to have their way with her. The media, though, has been complicit in the way it has treated both candidates, opting for a "fair and balanced" approach, when it was clear to anyone with half a brain that their flaws were not even remotely equivalent. Whatever else you might say about Clinton, she is not a thin-skinned, misogynistic, racist, sociopath with a Napoleonic complex.

So, who's going to win? Let's take it from the top.

The Presidency: After a great deal of hand-wringing, I am ready to pronounce that Hillary Clinton will win the election, though not by the landslide that her supporters were hoping for. The reason should be clear enough. The nation is divided not only along economic lines, but along social and racial lines as well and they will play out prominently Tuesday night.

The way I see it, the states whose populations are mostly white will go to Trump; the states with much more diverse populations will likely go to Clinton. The reason I say likely is because North Carolina might be the exception. While it has a significant black population, there are huge swaths of the state that are about as white as you can get. While Clinton doesn't need it, it wouldn't surprise me if it went Red, especially in light of the fact that the early African American voter turnout is down five points from 2012 when Barack Obama lost the state.

As in past elections, the swing states will decide this one. Clinton will win Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida. See a trend? Trump will win New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa and Maine's 2nd district. One caveat regarding Pennsylvania: the tightening of the recent polls is a concern, especially in light of the transit strike in Philadelphia. If Clinton doesn't get the high turnout she needs here, she will lose the state. In that case, guess which state will decide this election? Yep, Florida.

One thing to look for election night: the returns from Ohio. I've said it before, but this state's demographics don't lay out well for Clinton. I still don't understand why she spent as much time there as she did. I expect that Trump should win it somewhere between 4 and 6 points. However, if it's too close to call, it will probably be a good night for her across the map.

Clinton 303, Trump 235

The Senate: What was looking like a slam dunk only a couple months ago, is now a crap shoot at best. The good news is that, thanks to a huge early turnout in Nevada, Democrats will keep Harry Reid's seat. Catherine Cortez Masto will beat Joe Heck. More good news is that Democrats are going to flip three states: Tammy Duckworth over Mark Kirk in Illinois, Russ Feingold over Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Katie McGinty over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

But that's where the good news may end. Evan Bayh, after taking an early lead in Indiana, is now trailing Todd Young. Dems were hoping to flip this state to help them retake the majority; now they have to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, pickens are looking slim. Kelly Ayotte is leading Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and Richard Burr has pulled ahead of Deborah Ross in North Carolina. As for Florida, looks like little Marco Rubio is going to keep his seat. He gets another six years to accomplish nothing. And while the race in Missouri has tightened, I still think Roy Blunt will hold off Jason Kander.

I haven't totally given up on Bayh in Indiana. He could pull it out. If he does, Democrats will control the Senate by virtue of winning the presidency. Absent that, Clinton will be looking at both Houses of Congress obstructing her. And you thought this nightmare was ending Tuesday? Fat chance.

And getting back to Ohio, again, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Senate race - and that's putting it kindly - between Rob Portman and Ted Strickland. Portman is currently leading by 16 points in the RCP average, which tells you that either Portman is the greatest senator since Lyndon Johnson, or Strickland is the worst candidate ever to run for office. I'm going with the latter, and that's a sad commentary given that Strickland's the former governor of the state who just happened to lose his reelection bid to John Kasich in the Tea Party wave of 2010. I expect this race to be called ten seconds after the polls close.

Republicans 51, Democrats 49

The House. From the start, Democrats were pipe dreaming thinking they could retake the majority. There just aren't enough "swing" districts to allow for that possibility. The fact is that so long as Republicans hold the majority of state legislatures, they will continue their gerrymandering ways and the House majority will continue to elude Democrats. They'll net maybe eight seats; that's about it.

Republicans 239, Democrats 196

Friday, November 4, 2016

Why Trump Can Still Win This Thing

With four days to go before the election, Donald Trump has pulled into a statistical tie with Hillary Clinton in the national polls and has made serious inroads in the all-important battleground states.  Yes, the RCP "No Toss Up States" poll shows her with 297 electoral votes, but look a little closer and you'll notice that some of these states - including Florida - are within the margin of error. Take away the Sunshine State and she's down to a paltry 268 electoral votes, two shy of winning the presidency.

In other words, we're in for one helluva ride next Tuesday night. She could win big, win narrowly, or not win at all, and as of right now, nobody knows which scenario will play out. Nate Silver puts her chances of winning at 68 percent. Two weeks ago, it was 86 percent. That is hardly reassuring news if you're a Democrat or even someone who isn't a supporter of a sociopath.

So how did we get here? How is this man still alive in this race, let alone within striking distance of becoming the leader of the free world? I believe it comes down to four factors.

First, the racist factor. It was clear from the beginning of his campaign, Trump was looking to court the racist vote, and he got it in droves. Without it, he would never have won the GOP nomination. The alt-right elements that have permeated every fiber of his candidacy have stoked the fears of a frustrated white population that sees a multicultural, racially diverse population as a threat to its hegemony.

While they by no means represent the majority of white people in the country, they are hardly insignificant. I have said this before and it bears repeating: while not all Republicans are racists, the vast majority of racists have found a home in the GOP and Donald Trump is their savior and deliverer. The endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan is not an accident. It is the natural culmination of policy stances that just happen to coincide with those of this and other racist organizations.

Second, the conservative evangelical factor. I say conservative because not all evangelicals endorse Trump and his hateful rhetoric. In fact, quite a few find him repulsive. But conservative evangelicals have taken to him, not because they think he's one of them - far from it - but because they have convinced themselves that he will appoint conservative justices to both the Circuit and Supreme Courts in order to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges and Roe v. Wade; the latter being a life's long mission for them ever since it was handed down in 1973.

But what these people don't seem to understand is that they're placing their trust in man who, for all intents and purposes, has no moral compass. There's nothing in Trump's resume that would lead one to believe that if given the chance he would be sympathetic to conservative evangelicals. Quite the contrary. For most of his adult life, Trump has sided with progressives on the issue of abortion, declaring himself pro-choice on several occasions. That he has suddenly found religion, to coin a phrase, is highly improbable. What is more likely is that Trump is playing these people the way he plays most of his partners.

Third, the anti-establishment factor. Face it: whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, it's pretty damn hard to defend what's going on in Washington these days; indeed for more than a decade. There's a reason why Congress's approval rating is just north of a serial killer and the electorate has just about had it with the bullshit that goes on day in and day out.

The crony capitalism, the career politicians whose only concern is getting reelected. Sooner or later this pimple was going to come to a head. And who knew that it would be Trump who would burst it. Bernie tried but didn't have the gravitas, or a big enough mouth. What these people want most of all is for someone to come in and blow the joint up and Trump is the guy they believe will do just that. His hatred of even his own party is proof of his so-called sincerity.

And lastly, the anti-trade factor. There's no getting around a painful fact. While most of the country is in better shape now than it was eight years ago, a certain percentage isn't. In fact, this percentage of the population has seen its standard of living steadily decline for almost twenty years and they're pissed as hell. They feel screwed by a system that stopped caring about them years ago.

Broken promises don't put food on the table or keep you from losing your home. Whether it's fair or not, or even whether it's true or not, these people feel that the pro-free trade policies of the Clinton Administration, which were continued under both the Bush and Obama Administrations, are responsible for the devastation that has been visited upon their communities. The reason Ohio is likely to go Red this election is because of that pent-up rage that Trump has tapped brilliantly. And like the great con artist he is, he has convinced them that he, and he alone, can bring back all those jobs that were lost to China and Mexico. Perhaps he can start by making the caps he distributes to his supporters that say "Make America Great" here in America.

I think the last two factors are now taking center stage in a, you'll pardon the pun, bigly way. While the racist factor is still huge, by itself it isn't enough to tip the scales in Trump's favor. Even if you agree with Clinton's earlier, and much maligned comment, that half of his supporters were deplorable, half of roughly 35 percent of the electorate - e.g., his base - would never win a presidential election. And as for conservative evangelicals, while they were instrumental in helping Ronald Reagan win and keep the White House, as a movement they haven't been nearly as influential in presidential politics over the last decade. And they are hardly unified this year. Some of them have openly called out the hypocrisy of their fellow Christians.

If Clinton loses, it won't just be her failure, it will be an epic failure of the system as a whole. Put succinctly, the institutions that have been tasked with the job of running the Republic since its inception have been all but discredited. The Congress is hopelessly gridlocked; the Supreme Court a hostage to ideological divisions between both major parties, the FBI now apparently in cahoots with the Trump campaign. The antipathy and contempt many have towards the government is not limited to just one party or one voter demographic. Bernie Sanders ran on a platform that railed against a rigged system and some of his supporters, despite all the evidence to the contrary, still insist the nomination was stolen from him.

What is abundantly clear is that a lot of people are pissed. And people who are pissed are often unpredictable and far more prone to act impulsively. There's no doubt that between the two candidates, Trump's supporters are far more enthusiastic about him than Clinton's supporters are about her. And that enthusiasm gap could prove costly next Tuesday.

The rise of anti-intellectualism poses a grave threat to the nation and regardless of what happens next week it is not likely to cease. The normal checks and balances of democracy are under assault and an alarming percentage of the population is poised to hand over the keys of the kingdom to a man who praises a despot and has the temperament of a four year old.

Not only isn't this election in the bag, I fear that Tuesday night could be the beginning of the saddest chapter in American history.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Will the Early Vote Save Hillary's Bacon?

It's come down to this: with one week to go before the election, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now a tossup. Yes, Clinton still holds a two point lead in the RCP average, but the latest polls ostensibly show the race tied.

Clinton still has a clear edge in the battleground states, but that edge isn't as sharp as it was a week ago. Her once impervious firewall is showing cracks. Huge leads in Pennsylvania and Colorado have eroded considerably. While both are still in the lean column for Clinton, neither is a slam dunk. North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada are all within the margin of error and all could conceivably go to Trump. In that event, Clinton would win with 272 electoral votes, hardly the landslide Democrats were eying a few days ago.

While it doesn't appear James Comey's October surprise has had the devastating impact some thought it would, it has helped shore up Trump's support among squeamish Republicans who now appear to be coming home. That's the main reason for this race tightening. Trump is now polling around 43 points, up almost five points from just ten days ago.

So where does this leave us? Who is more likely to prevail next Tuesday? Before answering that, it's important to note that I don't think we're done with this trend. I suspect we'll see more slippage with Clinton. It's entirely possible that come election day, we could be looking at 45-45, or perhaps Trump with a one point lead in the RCP average.

This is what happens when your main message throughout the campaign has been to demonize the other side instead of building a positive case for yourself. Sooner or later, voters start to tune out. The saturation point gets reached and people go, "Been there, heard that, move on." P.S., that's also the main reason why Clinton hasn't tanked over the Comey announcement.  People are simply, as Bernie Sanders put it best, "tired of hearing about the damn emails."

So, to get back to the original question, who is likely to prevail next week? Let's say, for the sake of argument, that on election day both Clinton and Trump get an even split in the popular vote. Let's go even further. Let's say Trump gets slightly more votes than Clinton on November 8. Is that game over?

Not necessarily. That's because of the early voting going on in many states. At present, Democrats enjoy a 15 point lead in ballots that have been cast so far. Now it's uncertain whether all of those Democratic votes went for Clinton. It's clear she has struggled with blue-collar voters who have almost always voted Democrat. She is bound to lose some of them, especially in Ohio, which I would be surprised if she won. But Trump has had his own problems with moderate Republicans, especially in the suburbs, long a Republican stronghold. That's why he's still trailing in Pennsylvania. If I had to guess, I'd say both will lose an equal number of voters from their camps.

If you're looking for a ray of sunshine in this monsoon, you can take solace in what happened in 2012. Four years ago, Barack Obama had a slim .7 point lead over Mitt Romney in the RCP average going into election day. But Democrats banked a ton of early votes and parlayed that into a 3.9 percent winning margin. Obama ended up with 332 electoral votes, including 29 from the Sunshine State, which he won by less than a point.

Will history repeat itself? The odds look good. Team Clinton certainly has a huge advantage in the ground game. My only concern is turnout. Put succinctly, Hillary has to get her base to the polls, all of it. If she does, she wins; if she doesn't, Trump could steal this thing.

Democrats have a built in advantage over Republicans in registered voters. But, as we saw clearly in the 2014 midterms, it's only an advantage if those registered Democrats go to the polls. As of now, the percentage of African Americans voting early is down from where it was four years ago and that is very disconcerting. And then there's the lingering grumbling coming from the far Left. The Bernie or Bust crowd could still fuck things up royally before they're through.

I guess what I'm saying is I wouldn't go betting the kids tuition on what happens next week. Face it, we have two very unpopular candidates on our hands here. The winner will likely be the one the voters find the least repulsive. The heart says that's Clinton, but the head has had a major migraine for days now.

What I wouldn't give to go to sleep and wake up November 9.