Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is Trump off to the worst start ever?

With only a few executive orders to his credit (and the major one held up by the courts), his approval rating well below 50%, his National Security Advisor leaving his job and probably under investigation for repeated contacts during the campaign with Russian intelligence, it might be that Trump is off to the worst start ever of a US president.

As HowLongHasDonaldTrumpBeenPresident.com tells me, it's only a bit over 25 days since Trump took the oath of office. So thus far the record of William Henry Harrison, who died after 31 days in office, is safe.

I don't know that anyone has said it yet, but: Special Prosecutor? Trump's, or at least his organization's, ties to Russia might prove to be his Watergate. Still very early though. And if Trump is brought down by treason charges, does that mean that White supremacy and war against Islam is okay if you're *not* also supported by Russian intelligence?

Monday, January 30, 2017

How bad will next week be?

Holy cow, the Trump administration is off to a really awful start. I knew London oddsmakers gave him only a 50% chance of serving at least 4 years, but I never thought he'd bring on a constitutional crisis so quickly.

As awful as the situation with the temporary ban on immigrants from some majority-Muslim countries, I think what we're seeing here is the break up of the establishment GOP and Trump coalition. The GOP establishment was always distrustful of Trump, but they thought they a) had no choice but to fall in line because of Trump's popularity among their base; and b) thought they could use him to get some of their pet laws passed--especially cutting taxes on the wealthy and dismantling social programs.

But with his flurry of poorly-thought-out executive orders, Trump has thrown the government into chaos. Spontaneous demonstrations have erupted all over the country. The courts have ruled against him, at least temporarily, and more lawsuits from individuals, organizations and states are in the works. Some GOP congresscritters have criticized the Muslim ban, and even Dick Cheney says it "goes against everything we stand for. "

If our democracy survives, I think the GOP will eventually rue the day Trump was elected. Or maybe they do already. He has only exacerbated splits in the party. He will unfortunately do a lot of damage to the country and world before he is eventually stopped, either by impeachment, the 25th amendment, or the 2020 elections.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fun Diversion: Political Compass

I know that the "political compass" test has been around for a long time now, but I finally got around to trying it out the other day. This is a two-dimensional test measuring economic left vs. right and social libertarian vs. authoritarian views. The scores go from -10 to +10 for each dimension, with minus being the economic left and social libertarian endpoints (minus not being a value judgment on us, I hope!) As will probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I came out as very strongly to the economic left and only slightly less--but still quite strongly--tilted to the social libertarian point of view. Here are my official scores:

Economic Left/Right: -9.63 [very strongly to the economic left, almost at the very edge]

Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.0 [strongly, if not quite completely, to the social libertarian end]

From available info on line, it seems that these scores place me beyond (on both dimensions) not only Bernie Sanders but even beyond Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Has anyone else on this blog, or who reads it, tried the political compass test? If so, feel free to post your own scores and thoughts in the comments!

Friday, January 20, 2017

What Could Have Been

Who would have predicted just eighteen months ago that Donald Trump would be inaugurated as President of the United States? No one in mainstream public life (although Minnesota congressman and leading reformist DNC chair candidate Keith Ellison presciently warned us it was at least a possibility back then, to derisive laughter from the elite media). Political change sometimes moves in directions that no one anticipates or expects, and that is especially true of the restless, anti-establishment times that we live in today.

And that is why I have been haunted over the past several months by the idea that US and world history could have taken a dramatically different direction, if only the Democratic Party establishment and too many longtime Democratic party loyalists, especially those over the age of 35, had not worked so hard to derail the populist insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Imagine a parallel universe where Bernie Sanders was taking the oath of office today, along with VP Elizabeth Warren, and coattails that had elected a Democratic majority to the Senate and possibly even a wave election to overtop the gerrymandered districts in the House. Imagine a candidate who took climate change seriously enough--something, let’s be honest, that even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did not, on a scale commensurate with the threat to the future of humanity it poses--but who paired it with its absolutely inextricable counterparts in economic policy: the reversal of wealth and income inequality and the challenge to plutocracy and corporate power. This alternative universe (maybe if some scientists are right, it actually exists somewhere) is a place where the very serious and urgent problems of the world have at least a hope of being addressed--where long-shot, but vital, political change became reality.

For me, the moment when the contingency of history could have bent in a slightly different direction—but with profound and far-reaching consequences—was sometime in March or April, perhaps during the week between Bernie's earth-shaking and unexpected Michigan primary victory and his narrow defeat in multiple states such as Illinois and Missouri the following week. If history had changed just a little bit during that week--given the long roster of states where Sanders was poised to win during the month afterward (and, in fact, usually still did win, sometimes in landslides) we could have seen a political revolution on the Democratic side that was even more consequential than Trump’s demolition of the GOP establishment. I am also haunted that even I, strong believer that I was in Bernie’s candidacy, didn’t do more in the primary. I gave several donations, did some rallies, put a sign in my yard, but I never could quite even bring myself to believe it was likely to happen: That a genuinely leftist political candidate could actually be nominated by a major US political party.

Ultimately the DNC establishment elite proved to be simply too powerful, not least of all in its messaging to its rank and file voters, many of whom agreed more with Sanders’s positions on issues yet supported Hillary out of the misguided belief that she was more electable. So many people, especially of older generations, simply did not believe that a democratic socialist outsider candidate had any chance at all. They ignored all the polls showing that Sanders was a much stronger nominee against Trump than Clinton was, falling back on old Cold War era fears about the impossibility of winning with even the slightest association with left-wing politics. Yet it turns out that more people despised Hillary Clinton (rightly or wrongly--truth be told, some mixture of both) more than they despised socialism. And the Democratic Party ended up nominating an incredibly unpopular candidate, deeply out of touch with the anti-establishment fervor outside of the more prosperous coastal (and honorary coastal) urban centers. That the Democratic Party establishment was so insulated from reality has proved to be as much a part of producing our terrible outcome as Trump voters’ delusions that he actually would “drain the swamp” or take on Wall Street.

But that is where the opportunity lies. While I believe that history may be shaped by seemingly small contingencies that magnify into larger consequences, I also believe that history is shaped by long-term social, economic, and cultural forces that push outcomes back away from unpopular deviations. The main struggle now, in my view, is twofold: (1) to shift the terrain of opposition to Trump away from his Twitter distractions and divisive politics of provocation (while protecting basic rights of marginalized groups when necessary), and toward issues such as challenging corporate power and wealth, and defending policies that bring together Americans of diverse backgrounds in solidarity with one another, such as health care, education, wages/jobs, and the environment. (2) perhaps more contentiously, but even more vitally, to win back the Democratic Party from the donor class and the elite establishment who has run it into the ground since (if not before) the Bill Clinton years.

If we cannot put forward a credible left-wing populist party, then right-wing populism will triumph. This is the key political reality of our times, around the world. As current events show, this is as true in Europe, and elsewhere, as in the United States. The corporate neoliberal status quo is failing, and the struggle is what will replace it. We must pick up the pieces of our shattered election cycle--and, to be optimistic, many of those pieces are very promising, such as the vast and incredibly diverse wave of young voters in favor of Sanders-style political revolution--and bend the arc of history back to democratic socialism, which is the only humane alternative that can realistically defeat right-wing authoritarianism. The nonviolent and peaceful revolution to save our collective future continues!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Let’s Focus on Unconstitutional Emoluments, Not "Russian Hacking"

On the eve of the Electoral College voting, it seems fairly obvious that the much vaunted effort to persuade several dozen of Donald Trump’s electors to vote against him will fail. Despite the sincere, well-meaning efforts of a wide spectrum of liberals, the effort seems to have made little headway, at least as far as I can tell. From my perspective, the greatest rhetorical mistake that liberals are making right now is the unjustifiable obsession with “Russian hacking” – which has been far too central to the case for asking the electors to overturn to the results of their states. This concern is appealing to elite Democratic establishment figures, because it builds bipartisan bridges with their fellow foreign policy establishment elites such as John McCain. It fits perfectly with a frame of mind that loves an appeal to the authority of traditional institutions, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as (for many) a wistful return to the Cold War consensus of shared anti-Russian sentiment and fearmongering. More than this, what I find most outrageous is that the event most closely connected with the Russian government--the leaking of the Podesta DNC e-mails--is such an unbelievably poor issue on which to take a stand for the illegitimacy of an election. For the sake of argument, let’s postulate that the CIA is correct in its allegations about Russian involvement in the leak (but don’t forget that citizens should never trust the CIA’s word without proof on anything). But what were the Podesta e-mails about? Some were just airing the petty personal insults and gripes of DNC elites and certain elite media figures, but others clearly turned out to be leaks that were in the public interest, revealing their misdeeds and corruption. Michael Tracey makes this point cogently. So perhaps we should be thanking the Russians for helping shine a spotlight on this (although it remains a valid point that we would also benefit from equivalent hacks at the RNC, which would undoubtedly show similar, if not greater, corruption)? However, very few would seriously make the case that the Podesta e-mails were important to swing voters in the industrial Midwest. Yes, in a very small way they reinforced the (true) perception that Hillary Clinton and the DNC elite are corrupt, but they were a minor blip. In no way, except in elite establishment bubble world, can their hacking and revelation constitute a crisis of democracy. They certainly don’t constitute “hacking the election” in any serious sense. (If we discover that anyone, Russians or otherwise, was hacking into actual computer vote counting machines, that would be a completely different story, of course!) Donald Trump’s wide-ranging international business ties, including Russia but also many other places as well, are a much greater source of likely future systemic corruption and constitutional unfitness for the presidency. It now seems almost certain that he will be violating the “emoluments clause” of the constitution from his first day in office, and his laughably inadequate proposed solutions--having his children run his business empire, for example--will be both substantively and constitutionally insufficient. The problem, of course, is that you can’t overturn some election results simply because something is “likely” to happen. But once Trump takes office, an impeachment seems to be a very real possibility, unless he dramatically changes how he approaches potential conflicts of interest. (Interesting side note: Some have claimed maybe Trump can't divest his holdings into a blind trust, because he is so highly leveraged with loans that his net worth is less than zero--an intriguing theory!) Now, obviously, the public rhetoric can’t be about “unconstitutional emoluments,” which is a mouthful and incomprehensible jargon to most people. “Foreign bribery” might be a more straightforward shorthand that most people will understand. At a more substantive level, I have no doubt that most Americans, regardless of their vocabulary, understand that Presidents need to be making decisions for American interests, not for linking their own (and their families’) pockets. We just came through an election in which a great many people distrusted the other major candidate because of her corruption, including the Clinton Foundation’s solicitation of donations from foreign governments and leaders. It isn’t that great a step from this to a visceral awareness of how corrupt Trump’s dealings will be. It seems highly likely that grounds for impeachment will be available sometime soon after his inauguration. The only question is: should we wait until he loses popularity for some terrible policy decision, such as privatizing social security or cutting Medicare—in order to insure that people are primed to find his removal from office a welcome prospect—or should we pounce right away?