Political Animal

Quick Takes: Can Normalcy Return Post-Trump?

* James Walcott asks, “Will We Ever Return to Normal After Trump?

In the sorriest days of the Watergate scandal, the iconoclastic journalist and 60 Minutes commentator Nicholas von Hoffman compared the Nixon presidency to “a dead mouse on the American family kitchen floor. The question is: who is going to pick it up by the tail and drop it in the trash?” It would be premature to write off the Trump presidency as a deceased rodent lying on the linoleum. In its nasty defensiveness, it is closer to a cornered rat. It still has plenty of ugly fight left. But we are at the beginning of the endgame and it is not premature to start imagining how to pick through the damage the Trump presidency will leave behind and future-proof the republic so that It Can’t Happen Here never happens again. So much headspace will be opened up once Trump is no longer occupying it that we must make the most of it.

The moment Trump leaves the White House for early retirement, jail, a sanitarium, or a Russian refuge, let the reckoning begin. Cue the exodus of his cronies from the Cabinet and commence the shunning…Post-Trump, the country needs its own, domestic version of the de-Nazification program established in Germany after World War II, an inquiry into how so many alleged neo-Nazi, white-supremacist sympathizers had input into this presidency, and their connection with neo-Nazi and nativist movements overseas.

* There are probably hundreds of little ways that we’ve all normalized Trump’s presidency by lowering the bar for what we expect. I thought of that when I saw this tweet.

You know what? It hasn’t been that rare. Do a google image search on the words “former presidents” and you’ll get an idea of how often they’ve gotten together in the past. It just feels rare right now because Trump has so thoroughly deepened the divide.

* Here is the first sign that the Bannonization of the Republican Party is working.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has become a flashpoint for Republicans running for Senate in 2018.

The Hill asked nearly two dozen Senate candidates this week if they would support McConnell as leader if elected. Not one campaign said outright that they would support him, although two candidates appear to have expressed support in the past.

Several candidates declared their opposition to McConnell and attacked their GOP primary opponents for not taking a stance on the question. Other candidates deflected, or spoke on background about the bind they’re in over the question of McConnell’s leadership. Most candidates were eager to avoid the question entirely, and ignored multiple requests for comment.

* This doesn’t bode well for the Republican tax cuts.

President Trump campaigned as one of the world’s greatest dealmakers, but after nine months of struggling to broker agreements, lawmakers in both parties increasingly consider him an untrustworthy, chronically inconsistent and easily distracted negotiator.

As Trump prepares to visit Capitol Hill on Tuesday to unify his party ahead of a high-stakes season of votes on tax cuts and budget measures, some Republicans are openly questioning his negotiating abilities and devising strategies to keep him from changing his mind.

The president’s propensity to create diversions and follow tangents has kept him from focusing on his legislative agenda and forced lawmakers who might be natural allies on key policies into the uncomfortable position of having to answer for his behavior and outbursts.

* The Senate race in Alabama is going to be interesting to watch. The Republicans couldn’t have come up with a more extremist candidate. But Doug Jones is running a very different kind of campaign than the ones we got used to from blue dogs in the South. He isn’t equivocating an inch. Take a look at this ad. I can’t imagine anything more powerful.

* Finally, this was the day two years ago when I became convinced that Hillary Rodham Clinton would be a good president.

Is the Trump Administration Once Again Doing Putin’s Bidding?

Over the weekend, we learned that Russia put a man named Bill Browder on the Interpol wanted list. That came days after Canada passed a so-called “Magnitsky law.” Here is some background about what led to the first of these laws passed by the United States:

The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who in 2008 untangled a dense web of tax fraud and graft involving 23 companies and a total of $230 million linked to the Kremlin and individuals close to the government. Magnitsky was the target of investigations, arrested by authorities and kept in jail without charges. He was beaten and later died under mysterious circumstances in jail just days before his possible release.

Independent investigators found “inhuman detention conditions, the isolation from his family, the lack of regular access to his lawyers and the intentional refusal to provide adequate medical assistance resulted in the deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering, and ultimately his death.”

The Magnitsky Act was signed by President Barack Obama in December 2012 as a retaliation against the human rights abuses suffered by Magnitsky. The law at first blocked 18 Russian government officials and businessmen from entering the United States, froze any assets held by U.S. banks and banned their future use of U.S. banking systems. The act was expanded in 2016, and now sanctions apply to 44 suspected human rights abusers worldwide.

Bill Browder, who Magnitsky worked for, has pushed for the passage of such laws. In retaliation for the one signed by President Obama in 2012, Russia ceased adoptions from that country to the U.S. That is how the Trump administration came up with the excuse that Don Jr.’s meeting with Russian operatives was all about adoption.

According to Jay Nordlinger, this is the fifth time Russia has tried to get Browder’s name on the Interpol list.

Browder is a driver behind these Magnitsky acts, and Putin hates him for it, understandably. Twice in 2013, he tried to add Browder to Interpol’s wanted list, and twice he failed, because Interpol knew that Putin was politically motivated. Browder is not a criminal. He is an anti-criminal, which is why Putin targets him.

In 2014, Putin tried again — no dice. Last summer, Browder testified against him before the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. Senate, to damning effect. Obviously ticked, Putin tried again. This time, Interpol had Browder’s name on the list for a month, before deleting it.

In the wake of Canada’s new Magnitsky act, Putin has tried again. Tried for a fifth time. Interpol has accepted his request.

That’s all bad enough. But here’s where the Trump administration comes into the story:

Browder is a British citizen. He tweeted this additional information a few hours ago:

A former Russian Ambassador is calling foul.

That tweet was seconded by the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

If remedied immediately, the administration might be able to claim incompetence and/or ignorance. But if they let this stand, it is simply another case of Trump doing Putin’s bidding.

Trump’s Strange Appeal to Cultural Conservatives

If the town of Pound, Virginia, is famous for anything, it’s their ordinance against dancing that was overturned by a federal District Court judge in 1999. The judge found that you couldn’t even put on The Nutcracker in Pound without applying for a waiver exempting you from the local ban. The locals said that dancing and alcohol were too volatile a mix to tolerate, which put a damper on the good times at the local honky tonk at the edge of town.

There isn’t much to do in this hamlet tucked into the farthest reaches of the Cumberland Mountains, 425 miles from Washington. A new four-lane highway bypassed the town a few years ago, and the nearest fast-food restaurant is 12 miles away.

But a federal judge is helping to liven up the place. His ruling has many residents here kicking up their heels. Literally. They’re dancing–and for the first time in 18 years, it’s legal.

Pound is in the news again today because the Associated Press profiled it as part of their look at the upcoming gubernatorial race in Virginia. The town went overwhelmingly for Trump, but it’s decidedly less enthusiastic about the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie. By now, you should be familiar with this story.

The town of Pound, nestled near the Kentucky line, was once a booming coal center where the main drag got so busy with shoppers that people couldn’t find a parking spot. Now, many shops are boarded up with dusty “For Sale” signs. Some buildings are collapsing, overgrown with weeds. Jobs are scarce. Prescription pain pills are a major problem. The high school closed in 2011.

Eight out of 10 voters in Pound backed Trump, and some of the town’s remaining business owners and patrons say their faith has already been rewarded.

“I’ve seen more coal trucks in the last six months than I have in the past eight years,” said David Williams, who owns a TV repair and fishing gear store.

It’s one of the mysteries of our age—the same folks who would ban dancing have no real problem warming up to a person like Donald Trump.

Hair salon owner Kim Mcfall said what little she knows of Gillespie hasn’t impressed her — he’s not enough like Trump, and too much like a typical politician.

“He’s wishy washy,” she said, adding that she’ll probably vote for Gillespie — if she has the time on Election Day…

…To win over Trump voters without directly embracing the president, Gillespie has tried to run on Trump-like issues such as cracking down on unlawful immigrants who commit crimes and preserving Virginia’s Confederate statues. He also campaigned recently in Abingdon, one of southwest Virginia’s biggest towns, with Vice President Mike Pence…

…Cliff Cauthorne, a Pound council member and chaplain at a nearby state prison, said Gillespie has only one good option for motivating his town’s voters: a Trump rally, “or two.”

“Him coming here with a coal miner’s hat on, it would just fire people up. It would fire people up,” Cauthorne said.

Obama lost Wise County, Virginia, 35 percent-63 percent in 2008 and 25 percent-75 percent in 2012. Clinton lost it 18 percent-80 percent in 2016. Maybe the demise of the coal industry explains most of this. I don’t know. It’s obviously a very culturally conservative area that will always favor the Republicans, but it does matter if you’re getting more than one in three of their votes rather than less than one in five of them. The difference between those two outcomes, when magnified across numerous counties in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, explains why Trump is the president.

I can understand why the people of Pound are looking for something different from both political parties, but I still have trouble understanding why they don’t see Trump as a morally compromised person who is unworthy of holding the highest office in the land.

But if they’re not too interested in Ed Gillespie, then at least we share one thing in common.

To Win Elections, Find Out What Makes People Wince

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece on the voters in Terre Haute and Vigo County, Indiana. The area has the distinction of picking every presidential winner since the beginning of the 20th Century except Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and William Taft in 1908. And, yes, that means they voted for Barack Obama twice and also for Donald Trump. To me, that makes this community’s political behavior something the left needs to understand if they are going to diagnose why they’ve been losing support in the Midwest and in rural and small-town America, and how they lost a presidential election to a man like Donald Trump.

Here’s one clue from the article:

Its economy is struggling. City finances are a mess. Markers of misery — lower family income, higher rates of smoking and obesity, surging opioid use — are many. Its 108,000 residents are much whiter than the nation as a whole, and its demographics are changing only to the degree that the population is skewing older and less educated. It has benefited from government programs, like disability payments and a stimulus grant under the Obama administration that delivered a flood control project, but people here rail against Washington…

…The headquarters of Clabber Girl, the baking powder company, is a point of civic pride, along with Indiana State University, which has rising enrollment, and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a highly regarded science and engineering college. One old factory is being converted into lofts. But several people, when asked about the state of things, simply responded with a wince.

How did a philandering New York City real estate developer turn this relatively conservative area from Obama territory to Trump territory? I suppose we should also ask how Obama turned them away from the Republican Party (twice), since they supported George W. Bush in both of his elections. Maybe the people of Vigo County are contrarian enough to turn against the party in power so long as an incumbent isn’t on the ticket. If that’s the pattern, they’ll be voting for Trump again.

Yet the reporting for this article indicates that they have a lot of buyer’s remorse about Trump already, and that it could become Democratic territory in 2020. What makes this part of Indiana interesting is its propensity to swing back and forth between the two major parties, but the general drift toward Trump in largely white communities has been evident almost everywhere.

The centrality of immigration and racial issues is seen as a main culprit by almost everyone, including the architects of Trump’s campaign. But we still need to account for the fact that Vigo County voted for a black candidate over a white man two times. Perhaps it’s easier to identify what didn’t work for the Democrats than what did work for Trump. The massive amount of attention that was rightly placed on the Access Hollywood tape in October did not convince the people of Terre Haute that Trump is a sexual predator. Or, if it did, they seemed to still prefer him to Hillary Clinton for some variety of reasons. Likewise, Trump’s uncivil behavior throughout the campaign didn’t turn them against him, nor did countless exposés of his failed and fraudulent business practices. His transparent lack of knowledge wasn’t enough. The fact that numerous prominent Republican politicians and pundits refused to endorse Trump didn’t sway them. The fact that almost no editorial board of a newspaper in the entire country supported Trump did not matter. Trump’s poor debate performances weren’t a substantial problem for him.

As long as the focus was on Trump, it seemed that he was capable of weathering almost any bad news or coverage. What mattered more, apparently, was that he was offering something different from a status quo that is still making the people of Vigo County wince when they’re asked to talk about it. I don’t think people see Trump as particularly credible on virtually anything, but he was more credible than Hillary Clinton when it came to satisfying the desire to change things up dramatically.

Now, a lot of people mock the idea that economic hardship had more to do with the election results than racism. Conversely, the Democrats’ fixation on “identity politics,” however defined, is frequently blamed for turning off Obama voters in communities like Vigo County. I think both of these arguments are basically dead ends. What we know for sure is that protesting Trump’s racism didn’t have the effect we had the right to expect it would. We know that he wasn’t wrong-footed by his positions on transgender bathrooms or Muslim and Latino immigration or his blind support for police violence. We know women didn’t turn against him in big enough numbers even after numerous victims of his sexual predation came forward.

We tend to get bogged down in these facts and attack the communities who overlooked all these signs. We want to write off any voters who would support a candidate after all the evidence that was presented against him. But Vigo County was Obama territory. It could easily become Democratic territory again. And, to be honest, the things the left supports on the cultural or “identity” plane weren’t much different in 2016 than they had been in 2012 or even 2008. The answer isn’t going to be magically found by pandering to cultural conservatism.

What’s needed is a focus on the things that make people wince. We tend to wince at sexism and racism, and we expect everyone else to have a similar reaction and fault them if they do not. I can’t fault us for that, but I think the evidence is in that it isn’t a winning political message in a lot of the country. I also don’t think it’s a brilliant idea to assume that the Democratic Party can just tinker with their message or focus on mobilizing their base. What the people of Vigo County need and want is a set of fresh ideas that haven’t been tried before. The reason I’ve written about anti-monopoly and antitrust issues is because it something new in the sense that we’ve gotten away from it for so long that it will seem fresh. The national party can do whatever it wants, but Democrats running in Obama/Trump areas need to have something new to offer.

Does this guy sound like he read my piece How to Win Rural Voters Without Losing Liberal Values?

Stephen Webber, the chairman of Missouri’s Democrats, told a Midwestern caucus meeting [at the Las Vegas DNC conference] that his party had developed a message for rural counties “where we used to win 60 percent of the vote and now barely win 15 percent” — a populist campaign against corporate farming conglomerates.

That’s the kind of thing I want to see. Salvation doesn’t lie with selling out our base or compromising on our values or in pandering to the prejudices of people who have supported us in the recent past. We don’t need to turn a blind eye to racism or sexism. But we do need to find out what is making people wince and come up with new, credible ideas to address their communities’ problems.