This is it!

This is it!  Finally it’s here.

After six years of holding the country hostage (no question now about the meaning of “party of no”)—

After thousands of Fox News stories full of arrogant and nasty liberals—

After untold campaign contributions—

We finally have what we’ve waited for.   The dearly-bought gift—the tax cut, our tax cut has arrived in Congress!

 

Think about what we’ve done to get here.  First some of the ground work:

– Republican Supreme Court justices Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch.

– Citizen’s United—liberating our money as protected free speech.

– The unprecedented Koch organization—funded by billionaires and with a staff of 1600 and billion-dollar budgets to control state and federal legislatures.

– A full complement of Koch people (e.g. Pence, Pruitt) in Trump’s government.

 

Then our messaging with Fox News and Rupert Murdoch leading the way:

– First one fabulous job of divide and conquer.  We’ve made “liberals” even more detestable than “welfare queens”.   What a line we’ve got: “They’re laughing at us and think we’re stupid.   They’re stealing our jobs and our money.  Can’t believe a word they say.  Our team will bash their heads in when we win!”  We’ve even got real liberals apologizing for our stereotypes!  And then there’s racism…

– Next the subtler part—governments can do nothing, everything they offer is either worthless or for someone else.  There’s quite a list of things governments can’t do:  education, social services, medical care, even police (we just need “good people with guns”).  Funny thing about all those wastes of taxpayer money—they’re things we’re already doing for ourselves.

– Finally a bit of warm and fuzzy nonsense.  Jobs are gifts from corporations and rich people.   Make us rich and we’ll take care of you!

Sounds like a tax plan.

 

And look now at what we’ve got.  Let’s count the tax cuts:

– Estate tax.  Only helps families with at least $10 M to pass on.  Worth $1 B for Trump himself.   Just for us.

– Tax rates.  The top bracket is down to 35%, but that’s just the beginning.  We’ll really get 25% with the new passthrough loophole (our lawyers will certainly take care of any fine print).

– Corporate tax rates.   We’ve got the clout to get most of this as dividends or stock repurchases.

– Deficits.   That’s a particularly good one.   Those nonsensical growth predictions are just one more piece of the pie.  The deficits will mean cuts in services and correspondingly lower taxes going forward!

It’s actually marvelous how this has worked out.   We’ve got a tax cut before there’s even a budget!  Exactly the way the world should be.

 

Where is all this going?  Funny you should ask.   There’s an article in today’s NY Times talking about it.   It seems Mexico is actually doing something right.   They’re not wasting money on parasites.   People like us live in walled communities with their own security and service.  Some of it they pay for, and the state does the rest. And they pay practically no taxes!  The world as God created it!

 

The tax cut has come.   We are saved.

Strange Revisionist History

You can almost call it a conspiracy.   The right and the left have decided to rewrite the history of the last election in remarkably similar ways:

The Right:  The election was a thumping rejection of everything liberals stand for.  The public was finally given the opportunity to say so, and it rejected the administrative state and all its policies, both foreign and domestic.

The Left:  The election was a thumping rejection of centrism and its coddling of the right.  Trump’s core voted for him, because the Democrats have become too close to Republicans in outlook.  Other traditionally Democratic constituencies either went to Trump or didn’t vote for the same reason.   The only way to save the country is for the party is to return to its ideological roots on the left.

For starters, one of the most outrageous events in the history of the United States has disappeared from the narrative—the FBI’s deliberate effort to throw the election.   They got away with it, and we may never know what was behind it.   What’s more, of all the elections in recent history, this has got to be the one least fought on the issues.   By all reports, Hillary Clinton’s emails were the only subject on the news for the last two weeks prior to voting.  In fact one of the many national myths that died in this election was the place of truth in our much-vaunted free press.  Finally the Trump phenomenon itself has been whitewashed out of existence.

This is not a trivial matter, because it affects where we as a country go from here.  What follows is a quick summary (from the outside) of what the election was about and what conclusions should be drawn from it.

 

The basic story of this election was simple.  The Clinton campaign tried to make Trump’s character the major issue in hopes of attracting bipartisan support.  Other specific issues came out primarily during the debates, where she was successful (Clinton won the first and third, and tied the second), but not so often after the debates were over.  The focus on character seemed to work well at first, in particular with the discovery of the Trump sex tape.  But it was undermined by the (unsupported) innuendo of the first FBI letter—she was just another crook.  By then it was too late to change tactics, because the press was obsessed with her emails.  More innuendo in the second FBI letter sealed the deal.

For Trump voters this election was a religious experience.  For the rest Clinton’s emails were the issue.  Republicans now voted Republican, the effect of the Russian leaks was amplified, Sanders voters and misogynists had their fears confirmed, and the belief that Clinton would win made for general Democratic complacency.   With the character issue gone, too many people bought Trump’s simplistic economics—“he’s a businessman, I’ll make a buck” or else just didn’t vote.   One example statistic—at Penn State less than half of students registered prior to the election actually voted.  In swing states Clinton lost 4.5 percentage points of advantage in the two weeks following the FBI letter and lost the election by less than 200,000 total votes in four states.  This was so close that even Jill Stein was significant in most of them. (See here for a detailed discussion of factors influencing the election.)  Republican control of Congress was another side of the same coin.

It remains to talk about the Trump phenomenon.   Donald Trump is a demagogue outside the limits of what either party has produced in the recent past.   He is a professional huckster and promised salvation.  He created scapegoats and whipped up his audiences so that they were ready to kill. You can argue that Democrats should have done more for his target population (although the Republican Congress essentially shut down the government for six years), but in the election no honest proposal would have competed with Trump’s lies.  Demagogues are a real problem in a democracy.  A chilling thought is that in Athens, our original model for democracy, once they elected a demagogue it was never possible to go back.

 

This is not to deny that the Clinton campaign made mistakes, but that wasn’t why she lost.  This is my list, always easy after the fact:

– Excessive focus on Trump’s character.  I would have liked more issue-oriented ads.  People needed to fear Trump’s “change”.  (But that would have complicated a non-partisan appeal.)

– Handling the FBI letters.  Clinton should have taken the high ground—welcomed the examination of her letters as a way to settle the email issue once and for all.  Contrast with Trump’s taxes.  (But the innuendo was still there, and at the time no one could believe that the FBI itself was corrupt.)

– Despite Trump’s comment, Clinton wasn’t nasty enough.  She and the Obamas liked to say “when they go low, we go high”.  This was not a time for class.  She should have gone after Trump as a businessman, with testimonials from the people who denied him financing.  At the end of the campaign Clinton talked about bringing the country together; Trump talked about locking her up.

– Countering Trump’s tweets.  This is a strategy problem going forward.   Tweets seemed to keep Trump on people’s minds much better than traditional grass-roots organizing.

– Top-down campaign.   As canvassers we were told not to change a word of the canvassing scripts, and there was little interest in our impressions of the voters’ concerns.  Trump’s people had ears to the ground.

 

Some Conclusions

– This was not a campaign on the issues, and we shouldn’t pretend it was.  There was no mandate to take the country to the land of the alt-right, and also no proof that the Democratic Party does or doesn’t need ideological changes.

– A major influence on this election was corruption in the FBI—an unimaginable failure of our criminal justice system—and we had better worry about what that says.  If we don’t watch for it, it will happen again.   (Anyone who questions the corruption should reread the Comey letters. There have been many explanations of why the letters were written, but none explain the carefully crafted—and unsupported—”she’s a crook” innuendo.)

– The core Trump supporters are not going to change allegiance any time soon regardless of what we propose.  They’ve been promised salvation, and they’ll wait a long time for it.   As one book on group violence puts it, fanatical allegiance may grow out of economic issues, but once it gets going it has a life of its own.  We should understand their problems,  but they’re not going to help in 2018.

– Not all Trump voters are the same.  Those is a good chunk of traditional Republicans who were given a reason to ignore what he is.   Those people are harder to get now that they voted for Trump, but they’re not like the Trump core.  Even for 2018 if they are worried enough, they will come.

– Many things had to go wrong for Democrats to lose this election, starting with the FBI.  The election was so close, just about any one of them effectively decided the vote.   Here is one list:

– First FBI letter

– Russians and Wikileaks

– Misogyny

– Bitter Primary fight

– Second FBI letter

– Obama’s decision not to mention the Russian investigation of Trump

– Belief that Clinton would win (further suppressed vote)

There is no question that an inclusive Democratic party can win.  The biggest issues going forward are voter restrictions (Kobach) and gerrymandering.

– We should not take this election as proof that we need to remake the Democratic Party based on what made Trump successful.  Trump won by lying, not because he had a better solution.  What we do need to do is be preemptively sensitive to all constituencies who have problems.   By the time there is a Trump in the picture he will be hard to beat.

– We have a responsibility to address the problems of Trump core voters, and those problems are both hard and pervasive.   Trump’s win is clear evidence that this is fertile ground for demagogues (here and elsewhere).  It is a real challenge to develop workable, salable economic policy.

– Finally, on a more mundane level, there is clear evidence that campaigns have changed.  The effectiveness of Twitter shows we need to go back to first principles about what works.  This has become a scary, high-tech business, and we had better be sure we’re equipped for the fight.

The Media and the Problem

The problem with the media, both during the election and now, grows out of a general unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of where we stand today.   What we have witnessed is a takeover of the country by a fascist demagogue through the offices of the FBI.  There is a correct word for this–had it happened anywhere else we would have recognized it as a coup.  It has been accompanied by the usual fascist rabble-rousing and scapegoating of minorities, together with a suppression of dissent that is already unmistakable and poised to get much worse.   The media have been a conveniently passive accomplice—“we just report what we think people want to see.”

There is a real worry we may not be able to go back.  Certainly the Germans never got a second chance, and the Athenian Greeks were never able to free themselves from demagogues once that got going. The danger to dissent is immediate.  Not only has Trump been able to use social media to incite his supporters to acts of violence, but the FBI represents an underemphasized threat.   They have already demonstrated their willingness to support Trump by extra-legal means, and the history of J. Edgar Hoover has shown that it can happen here.

The Supreme Court makes this a perfect storm.  As we know Trump gets at least one nominee and perhaps one or two more.  The Constitution is only a piece of paper; its meaning is expressed by the Court’s interpretation.  The Court was the Founding Fathers’ greatest risk–despite our much-vaunted checks and balances, the Court’s power is absolute.  There is no recourse either for individual issues or for the makeup of the Court itself.  Together with Congress a Trump court can do anything it wants, through legalized suppression of dissent or even controlling the country by manipulating who can vote–following the attempts to do that at the state level.

For now both the media and the mainstream politicians are trying to behave as if this is business as usual.  While one can respect their desire the keep things calm, there is a corresponding responsibility to defend our democracy.  At the very least there must be a commitment of the media in particular to actively defend dissent.   That isn’t a given, since Trump as President will have even more power to control the public dialog than he did during the campaign.  But with Trump holding all the cards, without dissent the democracy game may be lost for good.