Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lessons Learned/ Escape Plans

It's All Bad
When I am king you will be first against the wall 
With your opinion which is of no consequence at all
--Radiohead, Paranoid Android 

It is difficult for me to express the strength of my feelings about this disastrous electoral result from last week. We have had nights of severe disappointment before:  Nixon '68, Nixon '72, Reagan '80, Reagan '84, Bush '00, Bush '04, but this is worse than any one of them.  Trump combines the worst characteristics of each Republican protagonist--Nixon's paranoia, profanity, ethical shortcomings, and closet bigotry; Reagan's opportunism and unchallenged appeal based on celebrity; Dubya's blissful ignorance and disinterest in detail or governing.  What makes the disappointment even more extreme was the widespread expectation, near universal, that this year's election, though close, was more likely to turn out favorably.

Of those (miserable) memories, I would select 1968's election as the one most resembling 2016's. Passions ran similarly high all the way through the campaign that year.  Other shared characteristics include the dissatisfaction with both the major party nominees, a significant third-party effort,  appeal to "law 'n order", and the Republicans' rallying around the notion of challenge to a  liberal Democratic administration. As in 1968, the popular vote ended in a photo finish, though the Republicans had a more decisive Electoral College win decided late on Election Night.

In spirit Trump might wish for a Nixonian type of administration--like Nixon, his ideology is flexible, and he takes more interest in the personal struggle for power and prestige.  His quotations of alt-right dogma have sounded more like the verbal equivalent of red meat for the rabid dogs than real conviction.   Like Nixon, he seems to long for the dramatic, surprise result (and he got one Election Night). If he wanted to, Trump could immediately change the dynamic of the relationship with the opposition by asking Mitch McConnell to consider the highly-qualified moderate President Obama proposed for the Supreme Court vacancy, Merrick Garland. Unfortunately, he seems to be painting himself into a policy corner in which he will only hear the extremists like Steve "Race" Bannon,  Jeff "Beauregard" Sessions, Lt. General Michael "Wacko" Flynn, and the sycophantic shills and trained liars like Reince "Rancid Priapus" Priebus and Kellyanne Conway (see this takedown of her, posted by a good friend).

Given the advice he is choosing to surround himself with (we can disregard as feints the invitations to the likes of Mitt Romney or Nikki Haley), it is hard to imagine anything positive coming out of Trump's administration.  It may be worth the Democrats' time to participate in the negotiations on topics like tax reform or infrastructure investment, or electoral reforms (I haven't heard anything about that since the election), but we should expect that the ultimate proposals will not be accepable. I would humbly suggest that Trump consult Romney about what changes to "Obamacare" might make sense from the Governor's point of view, since the reform could equally be called "Romneycare" (though he said he would have done it differently), rather than wasting Romney's time talking to him about a Cabinet position offer that will not be forthcoming.

What to do Now?
Greed is a bottomless pit
And our freedom's a joke we're just taking a piss
And the whole world must watch the sad comic display
If you're still free start runnin' away
'Cause we're comin' for ya.......
So I'm up at dawn, putting on my shoes
I just want to make a clean escape
I'm leaving but I don't know where to
--Bright Eyes, "Landlocked Blues"

I've moved fairly quickly through the stages of coming to terms with grief:  denial lasted only a dozen hours or so that awful night; anger (the second) was definitely present; I've been through bargaining (I was entertaining the thought that Trump might have a plane crash or something and we could live with Pence, who is at least a known quantity); depression was threatening me but a luxury I cannot afford, and now I accept that Trump as President does seem to be unavoidable. 

Yes, I briefly considered the extreme measure of quitting my job on Jan. 21 and heading for some other, less benighted land  (call it "Denial of Service" to Trump's project).  Italy, naturally, came to mind--it has its downside, but also a superior quality of life.  I recall my analysis, made back in the '80's, that Mauritius (look it up--middle of the Indian Ocean) would be the last major settled place to receive the radioactive cloud if the general nuclear annihilation of the Northern Hemisphere comes to pass.  But who really wants to be On the Beach watching it come in?  I don't. Ultimately, I am an American born and bred and will never be anything else, much as I might want to transcend my humble, parochial origins. 

So, I will stay and try to Keep America Great (or at least some of it, somewhat great), a defensive posture to be sure, but all that is left to one whose opinion "is of no consequence at all" (see the epigraph under this post's headline).  What does that mean, to me?  Frankly, I am not going to get too hung up about Trump's domestic agenda, except when it comes to inhumane  proposals or offenses against our liberty.  There is a basic economic scenario that I expect from this four year period:  irrational exuberance, deficit-expanding spending and tax cuts, inflation, and economic recoil--either a tightening of rates leading to recession, or an accelerating inflation cycle.   Either should lead to a definitive defeat of this President, or his party's successor as candidate, in 2020, and we should make that an absolute priority.  Trump has control of Congress, he will have the Supreme Court, and whatever he works out with Paul Ryan will be hard to prevent--at least, temporarily. 

The set of issues which concerns me the most and will bring the most forceful actions from me are those which deal with America's relation with the rest of humanity.  They (the rest of the world, with the exception of a couple of other demagogic autocrats) are all alarmed, confused, uncomprehending (much as many of us here are).  First item to mention is that Trump has made statements saying he intended to go back on the US' commitments to the Paris accords on reducing greenhouse gases and limiting the damage caused by climate change.  This myopic failure has not yet come to pass and must be blocked.

Alongside that is the urgency of trying to prevent Trump's immaturity, ignorance, and wrongheadedness on foreign relations from creating a massive international disaster.  He will face pressures to renege on the international agreement which has stopped Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program toward possibly developing a weapon; this must not happen.  He seems to think he can play footsie with President Putin of Russia.  I will say this:  the leaders of Iran and Russia are not rubes that he can gull; they are sophisticated, ruthless survivors of brutal environments who will look for soft spots and exploit them--this can cause an overreaction which could be tragic.  

A professor at the University of Chicago business school, Luigi Zingales, posted an excellent article in the Times Friday on "The Right Way to Resist Trump".  Zingales drew upon his observations from the political struggles against Italy's version of Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, who combined elements of nationalist demagoguery, celebrity status, mastery of media, and ethical compromise which would be very familiar to watchers of the Drumpfenphenomenon.  (Trump also shows some elements of a previous Italian leader, Benito Mussolini.)  What Zingales found was that the successful challengers against Berlusconi, over his 20-odd years of political prominence, treated him as just a normal political opponent, not someone to be demonized.  (The names of the leaders were Romano Prodi and Matteo Renzi, both people with formidable intellects and the confidence to rise above Berlusconi's bluster.) 

A few more points about what to do: 

  • The objective is 2020.  We can see right now that the elections in 2018 are going to be a disaster:  there are a number of Democratic-held Senate seats which will be at great risk; the party is certain to have a net loss of seats, and a 8-seat gain, giving the Republicans a filibuster-proof supermajority, is not impossible.  Democrats must do what they can to minimize the coming short-term disaster by: 
  • Building a 50-state strategy (or maybe 40 states, there might be about 10, in the upper Rockies, deep South, and Great Plains, for which efforts are clearly going to be futile); 
  • Reorganizing for success.  I support Keith Ellison's candidacy for head of the Democratic National Committee; I think he's the right person.  I heard him this morning on the topic, and he seems to have read Zingales' article. 
  • Give Trump enough rope.  As I said above, his domestic program will lead to disaster and failure, and there will be no way for us to stop it.  When it comes to ethics and self-dealing, Trump is blind and foolish--I predict that this area will be his downfall.  We will let him set his own rules there, and then he will ruin his own cause (as was the case with Nixon).  

As for me, my checkbook is closed for political contributions, for the time being.  Although there were a few Congressional candidates who I supported and who won close races, there were a lot more disappointments (Feingold, Clinton, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors' Association).  I particularly was disappointed in PAC's performance, and especially the End Citizens United group, which abandoned their core position in favor of being an ineffective Clinton cheerleader.  If we want to end Citizens United, we will need to get Republican politicians to understand (or to agree publicly) that the system works against them, and their constituents, too.  (The same goes for the Electoral College, a longtime personal bugaboo.)  I will only give to groups that explicitly and exclusively will use the money to develop grassroots organizations across all the country, and nothing that may or will go to TV ads. 

Update-- A couple more quick lessons learned:   
 Dumb it Down.  It has been demonstrated that any thought above an 8th-grade level of reading is wasted effort, politically.  The 10-point program is derided, but largely because it's too many points, and not enough of them tend to be completed.  No more than five; probably three is best. And no big words. 

And, closely related, Get some Starpower Candidates.  Think of it:  Has there ever been an American celebrity running for a major office who has not won? (I am pointedly excluding intellectuals.)  Actors are OK, but that's not the only kind.  Sonny Bono, Darryl Hall (of Hall and Oates), Jesse Ventura--and of course, Reagan, Trump, Al Franken, Arnold Schwarzenegger.   Here are some thoughts:  Tom Hanks.  Bruce Springsteen. Robert Redford.  Leo DiCaprio. Van Jones, or Anderson Cooper, or Megyn Kelly!  There is no substitute for name recognition, and as we are seeing now, particularly if that comes from something other than association with political activity.  (I'm not talking about Kanye West, who is a blockhead.)


Chin Shih Tang said...

I heard my man Keith Ellison say something like the following on one of the talking head shows this Sunday morning: "...if we develop the right economic message...(the Trump administration) will be nothing more than a footnote on the dustbin of history". I like the reference to Lenin, but this is a classic mixed metaphor: one does not write footnotes on a dustbin. Instead, he should use a line like, "...if we develop the right economic message...(the Trump administration) will be nothing more than a tiny orange speck in the dustbin of history". I like this imagery a lot and will be sending it to Ellison shortly. (He's still sending me constant emails, like all the other pols asking for money, if I'm not mistaken.)

Chin Shih Tang said...

Wikipedia says it was Trotsky who said
the thing about the "dustbin of history", about the Mensheviks. I stand corrected. (Reagan referred to "Marxism/Leninism being consigned to the ash heap of history" which was clearly some good speech writing.)