Political Animal

Elizabeth Warren Showed How Democrats Can End Their Civil War

In a normal week, Elizabeth Warren’s speech at Netroots Nation last weekend would have driven several days’ worth of news and opinion pieces. Unfortunately, it was not a normal week: few weeks are in these days of Donald Trump and white supremacy marches.

The events in Charlottesville drowned out what should have been a dramatic turning point in the left’s ongoing feud between its liberal and progressive wings. Some writers and politicians (including yours truly) had been moving toward a similar unifying principle in recent weeks, in which each faction came to a greater respect and understanding of the concerns of the other side. But Elizabeth Warren provided the essential roadmap.

It didn’t wholly escape notice: the New York Times wrote up a piece on it, as did CNN and many other media outlets. Unfortunately, however, most of these publications framed Warren’s speech as a broadside on one side of the divide, when in reality it was a message of unification.

The key to ending the war between the sides, ironically, isn’t to widen the tent but rather to narrow it in selecting acceptable candidates. Social liberals worry that Sanders-aligned progressives are willing to sacrifice civil rights around race and gender in the service of economic goals. Democratic socialists counter that Democrats have sold them out on corporate and Wall Street issues for the last several decades, and worry that basing an electoral coalition on minorities and wealthy educated urban liberals will result in a lack of action on wealth inequality and corporate consolidation. The answer, as Warren says and as I wrote two weeks ago, is for both sides to reassure the other that each side’s priorities will be taken seriously:

But here’s what’s interesting: instead of lots of lots of ferocious back-and- forth and piling on, this time, no one cared. Big yawn. Why? Because the Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill. It is NOT going to happen.

We’re not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice.

We’re not going back to the days when universal health care was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.

And we’re not going back to the days when a Democrat who wanted to run for a seat in Washington first had to grovel on Wall Street.

This includes understanding that there is no contradiction between winning back some of the white working class that defected to Trump, and achieving social justice on the issues of important to Black Lives Matter activists:

wilderness and lead our country out of this dark time, then we can’t waste energy arguing about whose issue matters most or who in our alliance should be voted off the island.

We need to see each other’s fights as our own. And I believe we can.

In the wake of the last election, I’ve heard people say we need to decide whether we’re the party of the white working class or the party of Black Lives Matter.

I say we can care about a dad who’s worried that his kid will have to move away from their factory town to find good work – and we can care about a mom who’s worried that her kid will get shot during a traffic stop.

The way I see it, those two parents have something deep down in common—the system is rigged against both of them—and against their kids.

The war within the left is based on false choices and straw men. There is no need for conflict if both sides are acting in good faith. Leftists who dismiss “identity politics” as an irrelevant distraction need to be sidelined, as they are not dependable allies of the Democratic Party’s true base. Center-leftists who eschew economic populism and worker empowerment in defense of the Wall Street-dependent donor class in the dream of an identity-blind faux meritocracy of oppression must also be sidelined.

Both the newly disempowered and the long-disempowered in American society need to credibly see themselves as part of the Democratic coalition.

The balance of power is shifting in other parts of our economy, too. In industry after industry – airlines, banking, health care, agriculture, tech – a handful of corporate giants control more and more and more. The big guys are locking out smaller, newer competitors. They are crushing innovation. Even if you don’t see the gears turning, this massive consolidation means prices go up and quality goes down for everything from air travel to broadband service. Rural America is left behind, dismissed by corporate giants as fly-over country.

This concentration of power strikes at the heart of our democracy. Our government is supposed to be the one place where everybody gets the same fair shot, no matter how powerful or powerless they might be. But thanks to the revolving door between Capitol Hill, K Street and Wall Street, powerful people have more and more influence in Congress. Thanks to Citizens United, corporate money slithers through Washington like a snake. Washington works great for the rich and powerful, but for everyone else, not so much.

Yes, the system is rigged – and if you don’t feel like anyone in politics is doing anything to un-rig it, well, that’s how a lot of folks who should have been with us last November wound up voting for Donald Trump.

For many Americans, it isn’t news that the balance of power in our country has seriously tilted away from them. African Americans. LGBTQ Americans. Immigrants. Muslims. Women. Poor people.

No, I have not personally experienced the fear, the oppression, and the pain that many of my fellow Americans endure every day. But I do know this: For a lot of our fellow citizens, the system is rigged now and it has been rigged for a long, long time.

Finally, it’s not just about whom Democrats include on the inside of the tent, but whom they fight against. As I wrote many months ago, one of the key mistakes of the Clinton campaign in 2016 was the failure to portray a compelling villain.

And, by the way: it’s time for us to up front about whose side we’re not on.

We’re not on the side of big Wall Street banks that break the law—we think everyone needs to be accountable. When bank CEOs break the law, they ought to go to jail just like everyone else.

We’re not on the side of the giant companies that want to twist government rules for themselves.

We’re going to slam shut that revolving door, and we say enough is enough with corporate money that is drowning our democracy.

We’re not on the side of the bigots and the misogynists – and unlike the so-called Republican “leadership” in Washington, we’re not afraid to say it to their faces.

And we’re not on the side of foreign governments that hack our elections or politicians whose fragile egos put our national security at risk.

Folks, we don’t have to tip-toe. We don’t have to hedge our bets. We don’t have to ask permission from the pundits or the corporate CEOs – and we sure don’t have to ask permission from Mitch McConnell. 

If Democrats listen to Warren, they can quickly and easily bury the hatchet, advance in unity toward common goals, and win back power at the state and federal level. Hopefully her advice didn’t go entirely unnoticed.

The Long-Term Effects of Trump Will Be Disastrous for the GOP

It may be a bit odd, at a time when the Republican Party dominates all branches of the federal government as well as most governor’s mansions and state legislatures, to declare it a political party in dire peril. From one perspective, Trump seems to have saved the GOP from the brink of disaster and infused it with new energy. But the danger signs are flashing brightly nonetheless, and the cure may well be worse than the disease.

While it’s true that a combination of district-level gerrymandering, voter suppression and newfound white-working-class appeal has helped sustain Republican majorities and launch Donald Trump into the White House despite a popular vote loss, the demographic tide remains squarely set against the GOP. And even though minority voters did shift slightly to Trump from Romney per exit polling, people of color have nonetheless been shifting sharply away from the GOP over the last two decades. Millennials, too, despite a similar slight shift to Trump from Romney in 2016, remain the most progressive generation in American politics. Even conservative young people are more liberal on a host of issues than their parents.

These trends have forced Republicans to become much more aggressive in their gerrymandering and suppression efforts to retain statehouses and congressional seats. They have also been the chief reason that Republican presidential candidates have failed to earn a popular vote majority in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections. Only the anti-majoritarian Electoral College has saved the GOP from near annihilation in White House contests over the last 30 years.

These trends are still working aggressively against the Republican Party. Even if Republicans manage to maintain the white working class voters who switched from Obama to Trump in the last election cycle—and that’s a big if given Trump’s precipitous decline in the polls and the large boost Democrats have received against their baseline numbers in recent special elections—it won’t be enough to save Republicans from the slow-rising tsunami of the emerging Democratic majority.

Not even gerrymandering can stem the tide for long. Gerrymandering works by packing one’s opponent into many lopsided districts while ensuring narrowly comfortable margins in one’s own. But when those narrowly comfortable margins become nearly even battles due to demographic changes, the results can devastating in a wave election.

The Trump presidency and the broader rise of the “alt right” openly white supremacist movement in Republican circles is only going to accelerate the problem. After the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012, the Republican Party wrote an autopsy declaring that it had to make itself much more palatable to women, youth and people of color in order to survive. Voices on the far right countered that the GOP needed to move in the opposite direction to secure “missing” white voters. Donald Trump’s successful campaign based in part on his willingness to wear his bigotries on his sleeve destroyed the ability of the Republican establishment to even attempt to make good on those post-Romney recommendations.

But the GOP did not, in fact, manage to seize on a new cache of white voters. Trump’s victory was more a function of declining Democratic turnout than a surge of white supremacists. Whites only shifted from Romney to Trump by a single percentage point, Trump still lost the popular vote by a fairly wide margin, and the degree to which those Obama voters who flipped to Trump were motivated by bigotry versus economic anxieties is a matter of hot debate. Certainly, Trump’s abandonment of economic populism in favor of pure white resentment has resulted in sharp declines in his approval ratings.

All of this has Republicans openly fretting about the party’s future prospects. It is almost certain that voters of color will shift even more strongly to Democratic candidates in the face of the Republican Party’s move from racial dogwhistle politics to booming bullhorns of hate. The majority of young voters, increasingly locked out of decent jobs and housing and inspired by the Sanders campaign and anti-fascist resistance movements, are more mobilized than ever toward increasingly strident leftism. And while women did not vote against Trump in the numbers that some Democratic strategists expected, the Republican Party certainly cannot expect to gain ground with them after the Trump debacle, either.

The landscape after Trump leaves office (whenever that may be) doesn’t look so good, either. Young Republicans are leaving the party in droves, disgusted by a revanchism severely out of line with even conservatives of their generation. The few remaining youth Republican activists aren’t in the mold of Rand Paul or Mitt Romney so much as the new breed of conservative counter-culture trolls. They are more 4chan than Heritage Foundation, and their reason for remaining in Republican politics despite the prevailing cultural wave is usually centered around intense resentments: of liberated women, of empowered minorities, and of a loss of superiority that they feel is naturally owed to them. As Alex Pareene notes, it is these sexually frustrated and socially isolated young men, devotees of the Red Pill and citizens of Kekistan, who will be in the pipeline for Republican leadership over the next two decades.

Donald Trump may have salvaged the Republican Party’s prospects in the short term. But he and the rise of alt right faction he represents may be an unbreakable curse on the party for decades to come.

Babysitting the White Supremacist-in-Chief

Donald Trump’s character defects are so flagrant and his childish affect so obvious, that managing his communications is practically impossible.

Amazing as it may be in the year 2017, the proper response to white supremacist rallies continues to confound the president of the United States. Coming off his catastrophic response to the events in Charlottesville, Trump was again confronted with a response to a white nationalist event and counterprotest today in Boston. It should have been a slam dunk: the far-right rally was ill-attended and fizzled out in the face of tens of thousands of peaceful counter-protests against hate.

Donald Trump was again incapable of decency, calling counter-protesters “anti-police agitators”.

Needless to say, reactions from around the internet were harsh and swift. After saying that “both sides” were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, the president of the United States had taken a single side: that of the white nationalists.

That tweet was posted at 12:22pm. Well over an hour later, in the face of forceful pushback, Trump was feeling and pressure and tweeted about the power of protest to “heal” (even though the initial version of his tweet misspelled “heal” as “heel” twice–telling its own story of the president’s carelessness, ignorance and poor mental state.)

Only at 1:41pm did Trump manage a tweet on behalf of the anti-hate protesters. But both the style and the content of the tweet was very obviously not authentic to Trump:

This sentiment was clearly produced by Kelly and his team.

Communications management only works when the communications team and the principal they’re representing can be credibly be aligned. But that’s not possible with Donald Trump.

Trump is a bigoted man-child, and no amount of hand-holding can make it appear otherwise.

The Trumpodicy: Trump Is Losing Support Even As He Doubles Down on Racist Bigotry

Of all the critiques of western monotheism, perhaps the most troublesome is the theodicy, also known as the Problem of Evil. It’s a three-part syllogism that contains its own inescapable contradiction: if God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good, then evil should not exist. Because evil exists, at least one of the postulates must be wrong or at least weakened in some way (e.g., the necessity of free will limits God’s absolute power, etc.)

Donald Trump’s abysmally low polling combined with his appalling and open racism provides an opportunity for a similar impossible quandary. Call it the Trumpodicy, if you will. The three postulates are as follows:

1. Trump won the election with nearly 50% of the vote solely due to racism and bigotry, not other factors.
2. Trump has abandoned all other forms of populism except for racism and bigotry.
3. Trump has slid from nearly 50% approval down to under 35% since the election.

All of those statements cannot simultaneously be true, and align with current realities. At least one of them has to be wrong.

We know that the third statement is undeniably true. Donald Trump’s approval rating has fallen to 35% in a recent Marist poll, and Gallup’s trendline has him at an even more abysmal 34%. His favorability ratings aren’t any better. No other president in the history of modern polling has fallen so far, so quickly.

Now, a scientist worth the title might object that there are other variables to consider that might explain the decline apart from Trump’s bigoted and cantankerous persona. But the problem for Trump is that all other fundamental factors should be working in his favor. The economy continues on an upward climb per most traditional indicators. There have been no major national disasters or failed military operations, such as bedeviled George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Trump hasn’t passed or even threatened to pursue legislation with a significant backlash, such as when Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act or when George W. Bush threatened to privatize social security. The fight over repealing Obamacare was mostly partisanized already, and was seen as a primarily Congressional drama from which Trump was a distant observer.

The Russia investigation is the one exception to all of this, but so far nothing in it has directly implicated Trump personally yet. Many of these allegations were already present during the campaign, but did not prevent Trump from winning the election. Further, we have seen in the past that investigations of this nature tend to polarize the electorate. Russia alone cannot account for a 16% decline in under a year.

We also know that the second part of the syllogism is undeniably accurate. Candidate Trump promised many populist things during his campaign for the White House—many of them well to the left of Republican Party orthodoxy. He promised to bring back factories, infrastructure and American jobs against the bipartisan free trade consensus. He promised to deliver better healthcare at lower cost for all Americans. He promised not to touch Medicare or Medicaid. He promised to drain the swamp, to hold Wall Street and hedge fund managers accountable, and to make the economy work for regular Americans again.

President Trump has abandoned all of those promises. Especially with the departure of Steve Bannon who spearheaded many of those campaign pledges, that sort of populism was barely even attempted by the Trump Administration. Trump endorsed the traditionally savage Republican healthcare plans of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, bills that contradicted all of his commitments and that he himself called “mean.” Trump’s ballyhooed promises to bring back factory jobs have fallen far short of expectations. Wall Street hasn’t even been touched, even as the Trump Administration gives away the store to big business at every opportunity.

The only thing left of Trump’s campaign-era populism is the racism and xenophobia. The things the Trump Administration has done without Congress have been mean-spirited attempts to Make America White Again: ill-considered travel bans from specific Muslim countries, vicious and arbitrary deportations by ICE, attempts to limit legal immigration to the United States, obvious moves to suppress minority votes in the name of controlling “voter fraud,” and now even open defense of neo-nazi rallygoers as “very fine people.”

Which brings us back to postulate #1: the notion that Trump won the election purely on racial resentments alone. Legions of pixels have been spilled in litigating the question historically and numerically. But in the end, simple deductive logic says it can’t be true.

If Trump’s approval has declined precipitously (which it certainly has), then a large number of Trump supporters must not have been getting what they thought they voted for. If Trump has doubled down on the racism and xenophobia at the expense of other priorities since the election (which he has), then those voters who have fallen off the wagon must be upset that he’s not delivering on other matters they care about. Julius Krein’s much-read mea culpa for his past Trump support, and his prior willingness to condone the president’s brutal bigotries in order to achieve other priorities of import, are instructive here. Trump is either misunderstanding what actually got him elected by assuming that all his voters are like the deplorables who go to his rallies, or he simply can’t help himself.

Either way, the logic speaks for itself.

That’s good news for Democrats and for the nation as a whole. For Democrats, it means there is a path forward to reach Trump’s disaffected voters on their larger priorities without sacrificing commitments to civil rights. For the nation, it means that the American people who twice elected Barack Obama did not reverse course on basic decency as badly as one might have feared, and that even now there is hope for redemption.