Wednesday, October 24, 2018

America, We Cannot Let This Be Our Epitaph

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

- T. S. Eliot

With all due respect to Mr. Eliot, I think he got it backwards. With a few notable exceptions - the Reconstruction era, the Cuban Missile Crisis - this nation has never been so close to the brink. The news that several pipe bombs were sent to George Soros, the Obamas, the Clintons, Maxine Waters, Eric Holder and CNN should shake all of us to the core. That none of them exploded and killed anyone is nothing short of a miracle.

And while investigators from the FBI and the NYPD attempt to find out who was responsible for building and sending these bombs, the man who has been the chief protagonist in this shameful chapter in American history read from a carefully prepared statement in which he condemned "political violence," and actually had the nerve to call for unity.

A friend of mine wrote this on his Facebook page:
I'm 58. There have been 12 presidents in my lifetime. Some I supported. Some I didn't. But: 
Only one has repeatedly called for his opponent to be "locked up."
Only one has falsely suggested his predecessor was secretly born in a foreign country and founded an international terrorist group.
Only one has repeatedly called the press "enemies of the people."
Only one has encouraged his supporters to engage in violence against protesters and offered to pay their legal bills if they did so.
Only one has called Mexicans "rapists."
Only one has ripped children from their mothers' arms.
Only one has called Nazis "very fine people."
Only one has lied about "thousands" of American Muslims celebrating on 9/11.
Only one has spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about a holocaust survivor. 
You cannot say and do these things and expect people to take you seriously when you call for "unity." You just can't.
I'm 57, have seen one less president during my life, and I couldn't have said it any better. Does someone have to die before this president stops his reckless behavior? Oh, I forgot, someone already has died; five of them in fact, from a newspaper in the suburbs of Washington. And before we go any further, spare me the false equivalence argument. Having your dinner interrupted by a heckler - rude as that may be - doesn't remotely rise to the level of being blown to bits. To suggest otherwise strains the bounds of credibility.

Jeff Zucker, President of CNN, issued this statement:
"There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media. The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far they have shown no comprehension of that."
We are devolving as a society, and my fear is that we might be nearing a tipping point. There's a moment of truth for all democracies when they come face to face with their mortality. Ancient Greece and Rome met their demise because they could not deal with the political corruption that had infected both. I fear our end may be far more ghastly.

America, we cannot let this be our epitaph. We cannot let this carnival barker define us. Even now, as I write these words, Trump is holding another rally - this one in Wisconsin - to whip his base into a frenzy. His favorite target these days is a caravan of migrants that is fleeing the oppression of Latin America and heading for what many of them believe is a brighter, safer future in this country. They are still hundreds of miles away from the U.S. border, but to hear Trump, they're practically in our living rooms.

This is not a president interested in problem solving; this is a president who's interested in one thing: creating and cultivating an atmosphere of fear and loathing. It's how he got elected and it's how he maintains his grip over a party that long ago ceased having any connection to Abraham Lincoln. He demonizes his opponents in a way that would make Richard Nixon blush. He picks at the scabs that have covered the nation's wounds for centuries and laughs at the carnage that ensues. Bereft of a moral compass, he is totally incapable of even the tiniest traces of empathy or self reflection. He didn't even have the decency of lowering the White House flag during the memorial services for John McCain. Good God, an Amoeba has a thicker skin than this guy.

The manner in which Trump has given permission to white supremacists to strut their vile bigotry is deeply disturbing. Just the other day he proudly referred to himself as a nationalist. Fascists are nationalists; Hitler and Mussolini were nationalists. Not since the days of Jim Crow have we seen such overt racism given a green light by the one man we are supposed to count on to condemn it.

Trump's contempt for the rule of law and his constant assault on his own intelligence community pose a direct threat to the security of this nation and its people. His lack of intellectual curiosity and his unwillingness to learn what is required of a commander in chief undermine his ability to do the job he was elected to do. His penchant for belittling our allies while cozying up to our enemies is placing decades-old alliances in jeopardy. Whoever succeeds him as president will have their hands full repairing the damage he is doing.

If, as John McCain said, we are indeed better than this, we have less than two weeks to prove it. On November 6th, millions of people will go to the polls to vote in the midterms, and they will have the opportunity to deliver a message loud and clear to this president. It will either be a stinging rebuke or a tacit approval. If it is the latter, we are finished as a republic.

Barack Obama believed in the better angels of man. But as the Bible tells us all too clearly, some of those angels are fallen.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Elizabeth Warren Falls Into the Rabbit Hole

When are people going to get it? Throughout the 2016 primary campaign, Republican after Republican thought they could go toe to toe with Donald Trump, and Republican after Republican was rudely awakened. Remember Marco Rubio's "small hands" slight? Neither did Republicans in Florida who overwhelmingly voted for Trump in that state's primary.

Hillary Clinton, likewise, thought she could go into the mud pit with Trump during the general and come out unscathed. Instead, all she got was slimed. What she didn't understand is that people like Trump live in the mud pit; their modus operandi is to drag others down to their level. The reason Trump won the presidency, in large part, is because his opponents couldn't resist the temptation to try and out Trump him.

The latest victim to fall into Trump's trap is Elizabeth Warren, darling of the Left and - unless the mothership beams her up - future Democratic presidential candidate. Warren, it seems, went to all the trouble of getting a DNA test to confirm she is part Native American. Why? Because Trump keeps calling her Pocahontas and it's obviously gotten under her skin. And that whole thing about Trump supposedly betting her that if she could prove she was part Native American he'd donate a million bucks to a charity was worth about as much as every other guarantee he's ever made; which is to say nothing.

Frankly, I'm disappointed in Warren. I thought she had more common sense than this. I was obviously wrong. Not only did she tarnish an otherwise spotless reputation, she somehow managed to offend the very people she claims a connection to. The Cherokee Nation has publicly called her out for the stunt, and deservedly so. And here's the rub: Warren didn't need to do this. She's an outstanding senator with a track record most politicians would be jealous of. Why on earth she would take Trump's bait is beyond me.

Look, in about three weeks, millions of people are going to go to the polls and vote in the midterms. And about 10 microseconds after the last results are known, the 2020 presidential campaign will officially commence. Warren will be one of what I fear will be a very large field of candidates vying to win the Democratic nomination. We all saw what happened in 2016 when the clown car that was the Republican field humiliated itself in front of the nation. My fear is that the Democrats will make the same mistake and turn what should be the opportunity of a lifetime into the political equivalent of the RMS Titanic.

Warren's inability to ignore Trump's slings and arrows - no pun intended - is an ominous sign. It means that the party hasn't learned a damned thing since its epic loss in 2016. Democrats may indeed wind up taking the House next month, perhaps even the Senate, but unless they can muster the strength to stay out of the flames, like the proverbial moth, they will be consumed.

And with them, the fucking country.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

What Impact, If Any, Will the Kavanaugh Vote Have on the Midterms?

It's been one week since Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court and it's clear that Republicans did get a bump in the polls. The enthusiasm gap between both parties has narrowed considerably; In July, the gap was 10 points, now it's down to 2 points.

So what does this mean for the midterms? Well, that depends on which house of Congress you're looking at. While the RCP generic ballot lead for Democrats has gone from 9.5 points on September 4th to 6.9 points as of October 10th, according to Politico, Dems are now favored in 209 of the 218 seats needed to win the majority. It's hard imagining even the party of FDR screwing up that kind of advantage, though I still wouldn't put it past them.

Over in the Senate, however, what was shaping up as a fairly decent path to a 51-seat majority only a month ago, has now turned into mission improbable. That's because Tennessee, which looked like a pickup for Dems, will now likely remain in the red column, along with Texas, which, contrary to what many on the Left were saying, was always a long shot; while Arizona and Nevada are no better than tossups. If the polling out of North Dakota is accurate, Dems will be lucky to only be tied 50 - 50 in 2019, which means Mitch McConnell will have an additional two years to ram through a lot more of Trump's judges.

How much of this is due to the Kavanaugh effect and how much of it is due to the worst Senate map in over a century we may never fully know. What we do know is that Republican enthusiasm went up as it looked like his confirmation was in jeopardy. With Trump doing what he does best - grievance politics - Republicans rallied to Kavanaugh's defense. However, now that he is on the bench, it remains to be seen how many of those "aggrieved" voters actually show up to vote next month.

It could be that getting Kavanaugh confirmed won't be the silver bullet Republicans were looking for to save their hides this November. As Nate Silver pointed out, whichever side lost this battle "will have more reason to feel aggrieved — and perhaps more motivation to turn out to vote." If that's the case, the Blue wave that pundits are predicting could still develop into a tsunami.

But what impresses me the most are the gubernatorial races. With all the attention being focused on Congress, Democrats could conceivably pick up as many as 10 state houses, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. If that happens, they would wind up with their first majority in eight years. It cannot be overstated enough that Democrats didn't just take a beating at the federal level in the midterms of 2010 and 2014; at the state level they were decimated. According to Larry Sabato, Dems "lost 11 governorships, 913 state legislative seats and 30 state legislative chambers." That's one helluva ass whoopin'. If they somehow manage to win back the ground they lost during the Obama years, they will be well positioned in 2020 to retake the White House and become the political force they once were.

In the end, I think the Kavanaugh confirmation battle will end up helping Democrats in the House, especially in suburban districts that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the Senate, however, it'll likely be what bookies call a push. It'll help Republicans in red states, while bolstering Democrats in blue ones. The fact that Democrats are likely to keep all but one or two of their seats is nothing short of astonishing. At the state level, where real America resides, the impact will be negligible.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Don't Get Mad, Get Even!

I've learned many lessons over my 23 years in sales. The biggest is never let your emotions get the better of you. Once that happens it's over. You not only lose the sale, you lose the customer. It's a lesson, sadly, I've had to learn over and over.

The news that Susan Collins and Joe Manchin have decided to vote for Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court is certainly sad but hardly shocking. I fully expected both to vote Yes. The real surprise was Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp voting No. Murkowski was facing a lot of pressure from her home state of Alaska, where both the governor and lieutenant governor were on record as being against Kavanaugh's confirmation. Heitkamp was already trailing her Republican opponent in this year's midterm. Her decision will likely cost her the election. If you want a real profile in courage, look no further.

But now that it's over, now that Kavanaugh is but a few precious hours away from being the next justice on the Supreme Court, what should Democrats and progressives do? Well, for starter, they can't afford to lose do their composure. To do that would be to play right into the hands of Trump and his supporters. They want this fight; Democrats cannot give them one, at least not this one. Democrats have already lost this battle; they cannot lose the war.

Look, I realize that emotions are high. This was a gut punch, but one we should have seen coming. The whole second hearing was a set up from the beginning. Christine Blasey Ford was never going to get a fair hearing. We knew that going in, and I suspect do did Dr. Ford. Her courage was nonetheless inspiring. What all of us need to do is channel our emotions into a positive energy. As the saying goes, don't get mad, get even. And here's how we and the Democrats can get even.

1. Change back the narrative. Trump was able to galvanize support for Kavanaugh by reframing the debate from Dr. Ford being the victim to Kavanaugh being the victim. All of a sudden, instead of the story being about women who have been sexually abused and attacked, all we heard was what it must be like to be a "son" or "husband" and be falsely accused of a crime. The image of Trump mocking Ford at a rally, sickening though it may have been, struck a nerve with many men and, sadly, even a few women. Just one look at the recent polling indicates that the strategy was successful, if disturbing.

The statistics, however, belie the claims Trump is touting. The fact is one in three women have been the victim of sexual discrimination, abuse or assault. By comparison, only a few dozen men - most of them celebrities, journalists or politicians - have been accused of sexual misconduct or assault over the past eighteen months. The simple truth is that a man has a greater chance of drowning in his own bathtub than being accused of sexual misconduct.

It is essential that Democrats drive this fact home and remind voters that what Trump is doing is nothing more than a scare tactic designed to illicit fear among men that women are somehow out to get them. It's not their sons they should be worried about, it's their daughters. How many of those one in three women will have the courage to come forward and tell their stories after watching how Dr. Ford was treated? Democrats must be both disciplined and relentless in their messaging here. There can be no room for error.

2. Organize. There are barely four weeks left before the midterms, so time is of the essence. Democrats must get their act together. For the last year and a half, most of the energy on the Democratic side has been simply anti Trump. This has allowed Democrats to build a rather healthy lead in the enthusiasm gap against their Republican counterparts. That gap is all but gone. Republican voters are now energized, perhaps not as much as Democrats, but they're within striking distance. The difference will come down to suburban voters, specifically women suburban voters.

But even though they key is getting women organized, Democrats should not forget that while the female vote is not monolithic, neither is the male vote. Many men saw Dr. Ford's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and they were moved by it. While Trump's tribalism tactics will no doubt galvanize a majority of men  - especially older, white men - to vote Republican this November, it could also have the unintended consequence of backfiring. Many men will rightly be repulsed by how Trump and the GOP treated Ford and will look for alternatives when they go to the polls. Democrats must make it clear to them that this is not about exacting revenge. If women are ever to be afforded equal status in this society, men will have to be a part of that discussion.

3. Enough with the impeachment talk. Whether you think Kavanaugh belongs on the bench or in a jail cell, it is absolutely imperative that Democrats - particularly progressive Democrats - get it through their heads that impeachment of a sitting Supreme Court justice is about as rare as getting a suntan on a moonless night. It just doesn't happen, and it won't happen here. For one thing, while Kavanaugh's hearing was indeed a job interview, meaning the burden of proof was on him to account for any issues or concerns regarding his past, once confirmed, the burden of proof for removing him will be on his accusers. Much as it pains me to admit, the prosecutor Republicans hired to question Ford was correct when she said she wouldn't have enough evidence to bring an indictment against Kavanaugh in a criminal proceeding. In an actual court of law, he would have the presumption of innocence and more than likely would prevail in any impeachment trial involving him.

The only purpose that can be served by talk of impeachment is to energize the Republican base, the very thing Democrats don't want. If the goal is preventing Trump from nominating any more justices to both the lower and Supreme courts, the best way to ensure that is by winning the Senate. Revenge tactics will only help the other side. It is one thing to lose a battle; it is quite another to lose the war. Which leads me to my next point.

4. Lay off of Manchin and other Red-state Democrats. Yes, Heidi Keitkamp took the high ground and voted her conscience, a rare commodity in politics these days, or anywhere for that matter. And for her efforts, she will likely lose. But Democrats do not need martyrs right now, they need survivors, and Joe Manchin's survival in West Virginia, along with that of Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Jon Tester in Montana, is crucial to any hopes the party has of regaining its Senate majority. Like it or not, there is no path to 51 seats without Blue Dog Dems prevailing this fall.

If progressives, rightly outraged by how Dr. Ford was treated, take their revenge out on Manchin, et al, they will consign the Democratic Party to permanent minority status. And if that happens, the courts of this country will be populated by judges who will eradicate the last hundred years of jurisprudence and turn back the clock to the 1800s. And those judges, unlike the politicians who appointed them, will be on the bench for life. Think about that the next time you contemplate fixing some "phony" Democrat's wagon. The nose you cut off might well be your own. And last, but not least.

5. VOTE. We've been down this path before. With the exception of the 2006 midterms, Democrats have had problems turning out their base. If that happens again this year, it's game, set and match. All the energy and enthusiasm in the world will mean nothing if people stay home.

Last month, MSNBC's Chris Hayes went to Michigan to interview some young people as to why they didn't vote in the 2016 election. One man said Hillary didn't "inspire" him. I have never thrown anything at a TV before, but that night I gave it some serious consideration. Clinton lost the state of Michigan by 15,000 votes, and it was due in no small part to people like this who felt that they had to be "inspired" to get off their ass and do their civic duty. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two states that were decided by a combined total of 65,000 votes, other likeminded individuals decided they weren't "inspired" enough and chose to stay home. And that's how Trump became president.

Progressives must abandon this immature and self-defeating mindset that every candidate that runs for office must be pure or "inspiring." The Bernie wing of the party is by no means the only wing. Nor does it necessarily represent the majority of Democrats. There's a reason Hillary Clinton won the nomination in 2016, and no it wasn't because the DNC stole it from Bernie; it was because a majority of Democrats thought she was the better choice to lead the party. She may have run the worst campaign in modern history, but that doesn't change the fact that her positions resonated with more voters than Bernie's.

If a center-left Democrat like Tim Ryan should emerge from the pack of candidates running in 2020 to win the nomination, progressives will need to bite down hard and swallow, just like they did in '92 when Bill Clinton was the nominee. It won't be the end of the world if Ryan becomes the next president. Donald Trump winning a second term in office, now that would be the end of the world.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How Does This All End?

I keep waiting for the elevator to stop, but it never does. It keeps on descending. How many sub-basements can there be in one building? How low can one man go? Has he no shred of decency, I ask rhetorically, knowing full well what the answer is. We've seen this president mock a war hero, a disabled reporter and the parents of a gold-star soldier. I thought nothing could top that, and then last night, at one of his cult gatherings, he mocked a survivor of sexual assault. The word scumbag doesn't begin to describe who and what he is.

I struggle to find the words that can adequately describe what is going on in this country, but I am left wanting. The truth is there are no parallels in our history for this. None. If the Founders intended for someone like Trump to one day rise to power, they sure as hell didn't tell anyone about it. Not even the Federalist Papers can account for him. Oh they speak to what Madison called the "tyranny of the majority" in Federalist 51, which underscores both his and his fellow founders fear of a pure democracy that would enable the mob to overrun the nation, but a character like Trump seizing power seems not to have deeply concerned them in the least.

Maybe that's because they, like historian Jon Meacham, were optimists who believed in the resiliency of the Republic. In his book, "The Soul of America," Meacham writes, "If history is any guide — and, however imperfect, it’s the only guide we have — then the right number of Americans at the right time will decide to heed what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’ and realize that we’ve been happiest and strongest in the hours when we have most generously interpreted the Jeffersonian assertion that we’re all created equal."

In an August piece he did for The Atlantic, Eliot Cohen believes Trump will suffer the same fate that befell Shakespeare's Macbeth. He writes, "A tyrant is unloved, and although the laws and institutions of the United States have proven a brake on Trump, his spirit remains tyrannical—that is, utterly self-absorbed and self-concerned, indifferent to the suffering of others, knowing no moral restraint. He expects fealty and gives none. Such people can exert power for a long time, by playing on the fear and cupidity, the gullibility and the hatreds of those around them. Ideological fervor can substitute for personal affection and attachment for a time, and so too can blind terror and sheer stupidity, but in the end, these fall away as well."

Those are certainly encouraging words to be sure. And I want to believe them, I really do. The problem with Meacham's optimism is that it's misplaced. Counting on "the better angels of our nature" to save us from a man who feeds the demons in our collective souls is a fool's errand. Ask Barack Obama how many better angels came to his rescue when he lost both houses of Congress. How many of those "angels" who voted for him in 2008 and 2012 decided to cast a vote for Trump in 2016? Take it from a salesperson: the line between angelic and demonic is a lot thinner than you realize. As they say in Florida, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.

And with respect to Cohen's "Macbeth" analogy, he neglects to factor in the very differences between both men that he, himself, noted: Macbeth is "apparently faithful to his wife, has a conscience (that he overcomes), knows guilt and remorse, and has self-knowledge. He also has a pretty good command of the English language." By contrast, Trump has cheated on all three of his wives, has no moral compass to speak of, is devoid of even a trace of empathy, lacks the intellectual curiosity necessary for growth, openly flaunts his contempt for the rule of law, and talks like a fifth grader.

Trump is the sum total of the very worst character traits we find in humanity. Not even Shakespeare could've anticipated his rise to power. The closest we come to someone like Trump is in Freudian psychology. His definition of the id personifies Trump to a T. He cares nothing for the needs of others. All he cares about is his own instant gratification. Like a baby, he wants what he wants when he wants it. And equally like a baby, he is incapable of remorse. This is why he never apologizes for his remarks or actions. He truly believes he has done nothing wrong. Like a dog who wags his tail after he defecates on his master's carpet, he is oblivious to the pain he has caused others. He not only can look at himself in the mirror at night, but I'll bet when he does, it's with a grin on his face. My God, even Satan knows the depths of his evil.

Cohen might be correct when he opines that those Trump commands "move only in command", not out of love for him. Perhaps if the GOP suffers a crushing defeat this November, Republicans might find the resolve to say enough is enough. Certainly when it was obvious that Nixon was finished and had to go, his own party abandoned him. Maybe history will repeat itself. Or maybe Trump will survive by rallying his troops to his defense. He has an innate ability to turn what for many would be a lethal injury into a sword with which to pierce the hearts of his opponents. Look at how he is reframing the debate over Kavanaugh's assault accusations. The assailant is now the victim. Such guile can only come from someone unfettered by any sense of right and wrong.

Sorry, but I am not overly optimistic about the future of this nation. Yes, the system of checks and balances has, for the moment, thwarted Trump in his attempt to seize absolute power. But even in a Republic such as this, there are limits to the abuse that system can withstand before it eventually succumbs. Kavanaugh is on record as opposing restraints on presidential overreach. It is not inconceivable that with him on the bench, a 5 to 4 decision could rubber-stamp Trump's "legitimate" takeover of the United States.

If you think that's being histrionic, consider this: On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. The towers were built to withstand either of two scenarios: a direct hit by a plane or a raging inferno, but not both. The combination of the explosions of both planes and the searing heat given off by the ensuing fires was too much for the steel beams of both towers to withstand. Under their own weight they collapsed into piles of dust and rubble, taking with them the lives of three thousand people who were trapped inside.

There is a tipping point for any democracy, an inflection point if you will. We have arrived at that point. The plane has already struck the building. The damage is considerable and the fire is even now weakening the support structures. We know who the culprit is and what his intentions are. What we do not yet know is how much longer the building will remain standing, or how many of its occupants will be able to escape to safety.