Political Animal

Quick Takes: Managing Trump

* My initial reaction is to want to avoid articles like the one in Politico today titled: “The Education of Donald Trump.” That’s because my response is always the same: they make me feel a little sick to my stomach. That is exactly what happened with this one. So if you’re like me, you might want to grab a little Pepto Bismol right about now.

As Trump is beginning to better understand the challenges—and the limits—of the presidency, his aides are understanding better how to manage perhaps the most improvisational and free-wheeling president in history. “If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins,” said one Trump confidante. “To talk him out of doing crazy things.”…

One key development: White House aides have figured out that it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press.

“You don’t walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t consume information that way,” said one senior administration official. “You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like.”

The whole description of how to manage this president is disturbing. But it is that last phrase that makes my stomach turn, because ultimately it’s all about Trump’s ego and how his actions play out in the media.

* The Republicans are aiming to pass a one-week stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown this weekend, give them some more time to work on an agreement, and get past Trump’s 100 day mark. Democrats are making one demand that shouldn’t be that big of an obstacle.

House Democrats are threatening to oppose a short-term funding extension if Republicans plow ahead with a vote to repeal Obamacare this week…

Nevertheless, the president went on a twitter tirade today attacking Democrats with things like this:

Either he wants to work with them or he doesn’t. Tweets like that tend to signal the latter.

* The president is angry at the judges who are blocking his executive orders. So of course, he’s issuing threats.

President Donald Trump is threatening to break up the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which blocked his executive order banning travel from several nations with large Muslim populations and restricted the acceptance of refugees.

Asked by the Washington Examiner if he had considered proposals to split the court, Trump replied: “Absolutely, I have.”

“There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It’s outrageous,” Trump told the website.

* I don’t know that it is ever a good idea to not take a POTUS seriously, but perhaps some Mexicans are figuring out the bluster/surrender pattern.

“It seems like he’s sitting at a poker table bluffing rather than making serious decisions,” said Senator Armando Ríos Piter, a Mexican legislator. “In front of a bluffer, you always have to maintain a firm and dignified position.”

* Finally, even the Simpsons are getting in on the “100 days of Trump” theme.

What Unites and Divides Democrats

Markos Moulitsas has written an interesting response to all the insider chatter about the divisions in the Democratic Party. The title tells you something about where he’s going with it, “The progressive wing of the party won. Now we’re fighting over privilege.” He starts out by saying that progressives have won the battle over economic issues and specifically notes the consensus that has developed on things like minimum wage, social security and income inequality.

I would suggest that is only the beginning of where Democrats agree. Because the topic of income inequality covers a whole range of issues on everything from taxes to day care, it includes many of the issues Democrats embrace. But there is also a consensus on the need to address things like campaign finance reform and getting to universal health care.

It is when we get beyond the big goals and start talking about specific processes and policies that Democrats tend to disagree. But that is as it should be. People need to debate those differences and hash things out. What is unacceptable is any attempt to dismiss people as not “real Democrats” if they don’t agree. Even worse are the attacks on either side’s moral principles based on a disagreements over specifics. Rhetoric that implies that anyone’s views are based on complicity or simply the blind allegiance of so-called “bots” is not only divisive, it is an attempt to shut down opposing views and end the conversation. That is something the other side does and should be roundly rejected by liberals.

From there Markos discusses where he sees the current divide.

The issues that suddenly divide us? Apparently whether we, as a party, will be unyielding in a woman’s right to choose. Taking a page out of the right’s playbook, Jane Sanders called fighting for that right “political correctness.” I see it as core and just as central to who we are as a party as the bullet points above. We’re apparently arguing over whether economic equality would keep immigrant families from being torn apart by immigration authorities (it wouldn’t), or keep African Americans from being shot in the streets and killed in jail cells (it wouldn’t), or keep Donald Trump from grabbing a woman’s pussy (it hasn’t).

It is interesting to me that these are sometimes referred to as “cultural issues.” But if you are a woman whose economic survival is threatened by a pregnancy, I’m sure that the right to chose can’t simply be relegated to a cultural phenomenon. Same would be true if your family’s survival depends of what an ICE officer decides to do with his time, or if you are a black man in the middle of getting pulled over by a police officer. In all of those instances, these are life and death matters. That is why women and people of color react so strongly to being told that speaking up about them is divisive. It is actually the other sides trampling of their lives that is divisive. We need to be clear about that.

A lot of this discussion was reignited when Bernie Sanders chose to endorse a Democratic candidate who was openly anti-choice. I tend to think about that this way: would I vote for an anti-choice Democrat if the only alternative was the mini-me Trump that is my current representative? You betcha I would! That is what politics is often about in a two-party system.

On the other hand, this morning I read an article from Politico about why the Christian right is so thrilled with Donald Trump’s presidency and have become the one constituency he can rely on. It is all based on what we call “cultural issues” – and that is overwhelmingly about the steps this president has taken (and promised to take) to strip women of their right to chose. So let’s be honest…these are the battles we face right now. Any backing off from fighting them will destroy decades of progress that our predecessors fought for so valiantly.

The challenge Democrats have always faced can be summed up with questions like this:

  • Are men prepared to fight for a woman’s right to chose?
  • Are white people prepared to fight against racism?
  • Are citizens prepared to fight for those who are undocumented?
  • Are white collar workers prepared to fight for unions?
  • Are the wealthy prepared to fight for the middle class?
  • Are those who have good health insurance through their employer prepared to fight for those who don’t?
  • Are members of the upper and middle class prepared to fight for those in poverty?
  • Are the middle-aged prepared to fight for seniors?
  • Are seniors prepared to fight for young people?

I could go on, but perhaps you get the point.

Whenever the answer to one of those questions is “no,” or when the message is sent either directly or indirectly that “my issue is more important than yours,” the divide widens. That is what makes the challenge more difficult for Democrats than Republicans. We can’t afford to play a zero-sum game. We have to care about people who aren’t like us because that is the definition of what “liberal” means.

Marcos ends his piece with a powerful quote from Australian Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

The over-arching goal of liberalism is that “your liberation is bound up with mine.” That is what it means to form a coalition. That was Bernice Johnson Reagon’s message way back in 1981 and it is what Rev. William Barber is talking about when it comes to “fusion politics.” It is the only path forward for Democrats.

The Democrats Are Now the Party of Conservative Principles

I’m compelled to note a deafening silence.

I know the Republican Party is now in thrall to right-wingism more than actual conservatism, but conservatives are still influential. In the debate over sanctuary cities, where are they? I don’t mean the libertarians, like the good people at Reason and Cato. I mean rock-ribbed, small-government, local-control Buckleyite conservatives.

Why haven’t they defended sanctuary cities?

I have been looking around and have not found any. If I’m missing someone, let me know. But even Bill Buckley’s old magazine, National Review, appears to stand against sanctuary cities. This is the journal, you’ll recall, that famously stood with the South during the civil rights movement. Per Buckley: “Why the South Must Prevail.”

At the heart of that debate is not crime. It is not immigration. It is not even “nationalism,” however you want to define it. It is state’s rights and it is “home rule.” It is the idea, going back to the founding of the republic, that localities have the right to determine their fates on their own terms—and that federal interference can be tyrannical.

Liberals hear “states’ rights” and think Strom Thurmond or some other apologist for Jim Crow apartheid. Thurmond was the original Dixiecrat, the first segregationist Democrat to break for the Republican Party. He helped deliver the South to Richard Nixon in 1968, sparking a party realignment. Throughout his epic run as a United States senator, he managed to yoke, no matter the issue, the federal government to a creeping tide of faceless totalitarianism.

But “local control” means more than that. Here in Connecticut, we believe so much in local control that we abolished county government in the middle of the last century. The Constitution State’s yearly budget woes are rooted in love of home rule. Instead of distributing widely the cost of services, we have 169 municipalities with 169 fire and police departments, and 169 (or so) public school systems. We will have local control if it drives us to the poor house.

These ideas are not only rooted in tradition but enshrined in jurisprudence. The Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Affordable Care Act in 2012 that would have revoked funding from states that did not comply with the law’s Medicaid requirement. Chief Justice John Roberts called that provision a “gun to the head” to the state. Bad, bad. Very bad. Broadly, the federal government cannot commandeer state and local police forces for any reason. That goes back to Tenth Amendment but also the Third, which prohibits the quartering of federal “soldiers” in any “house” without consent.

At least as important as home rule is the privilege given to family. In this too I am hearing a deafening silence among conservatives.

Where are family values figures blasting the federal government for separating children from their mother and fathers? States like Connecticut have assembled “toolkits” in the event a child comes home from school to find her parents taken by federal authorities.

Where are family values figures decrying husbands being separated from their wives? Since the 1990s, unauthorized immigrants who are legally married to US citizens can be and are being deported. One such man, Wilmer Galo-Andino, was apprehended in New Haven in February and ordered to leave the country in the next 30 days.

With local control and family, conservatives tell us they also believe in private property. If we don’t have that, we have socialism or something like it. Well, I don’t see many conservatives outraged by the loss of businesses and property after “illegal aliens” are deported. Yes, I know. “Illegal aliens” are not citizens. But since when is citizenship a pre-existing condition of conservative principles that conservatives have told us for decades apply universally?

I’m being a little coy.

There are a few conservatives here and there who at least not attacking immigrants. People like Lindsey Graham and John McCain. But I don’t see them defending sanctuary cities on conservative grounds. They are defending immigrants as humanitarians and as Republicans of the Old Order, which is to say friendly to business.

And a lot of that states’ rights talk was indeed a defense of racism. It wasn’t mean for non-whites. It isn’t meant for “illegals.” And family values has nearly always been a pretext for attacking women.

But principles matter. And it’s now, ironically, the Democrats who defend local control, family values and the rights of property.

Let’s not shrink away.

Let’s wear the mantle proudly.

A Case Study in Trump Chaos: NAFTA

Yesterday the headlines blared, “Donald Trump to sign executive order withdrawing US from Nafta.” Given that the plan was to sign the order this week, it was obvious that the desperation the White House is feeling about propping up Trump’s ego heading into his 100th day in office was the big driver.

But twenty-four hours later, the story has flipped to, “Trump Rules Out Swift Nafta Exit in Favor of Renegotiation.” How and why did things change so dramatically in just one day? The answer to that question provides us with a case study in why chaos continues to reign in the Trump administration.

First of all, the battle for the so-called “Game of Thrones” continues.

President Donald Trump’s top advisers are embroiled in a debate over how aggressively to proceed on reshaping U.S. participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement, with hard-liners favoring a threatened withdrawal as soon as this week and others advocating for a more measured approach to reopening negotiations with Canada and Mexico.

We’ve come to know the players pretty well. On one side are the nativists like Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, head of Trump’s National Trade Council. On the other side is the Goldman Sachs wing of the cabinet led by Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council. Members of Congress joined the latter group.

Early returns from Capitol Hill lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were not encouraging and suggested that a go-it-alone move from the White House without Congress’ backing could cause trouble down the road, as the administration looks to strike a series of nation-to-nation “America First” trade deals.

No fewer than four influential Republicans said the White House should hold up, with GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona saying that such a move would have “the worst possible impact” on his state.

Rather than being a problem for this president, he seems to thrive in an environment where factions of his staff go to war with each other. That is why this kind of chaos is a defining characteristic of his administration.

But there is yet another factor that seems to have affected the dramatic reversal.

In other words, we are once again witnessing the pattern of bluster followed by surrender when Trump actually engages with individuals. One can only imagine that this is the one that enrages the Bannon’s and Navarro’s of the administration. But it tends to empower the Goldman Sachs crew. So it seems that the latter might have “won” this particular round.

What we can learn from this case study is that chaos will continue to define this administration as long as assuaging Trump’s ego is the primary directive, the management style that feeds the Game of Thrones atmosphere survives, and the pattern of bluster followed by surrender persists.