Strong Economy, Weak Values

May 15, 2019

Critics of President Trump, especially liberals, often complain that he and his administration have either attacked, ignored or dismantled fundamental constitutional principles and norms such as adherence to the rule of law, support for the system of checks and balances with a co-equal legislative branch, and the importance of an open and free press. Added to these charges are the now over 10,000 proven lies and misstatements by the President and the growing list of scandals and corruption by members of his inner circle of cabinet members and advisers. We now live in a time when”constitutional crisis” is an oft-used term that suggests this country is experiencing a democratic decline, or worse yet a move toward authoritarianism.

And yet with a strong economy that boasts low inflation, low unemployment, solid growth, vibrant stock market numbers, and for most Americans more money in their pockets, there is scant discussion among the general public and certainly among Trump’s base about the obvious challenges to constitutional principles that have guided this nation since the early days of the Republic. Trump’s directive to his staff to ignore Congressional requests to testify before committees, his refusal to turn over his tax returns, the attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, and his not so subtle acceptance of right wing hate, violence and wack-job conspiracy theories are too often greeted by a near majority of Americans with a casual shrug or a silence that signals consent.

Why has America entered a time when our most cherished document, the Constitution,  the Bill of rights, and long standing procedures and governing values, are so easily dismissed as not terribly important? There, of course, is no simple answer to this scary predicament; it is not enough to say that too many Americans want to “stick it” to the liberal elite or that Trump’s army of ” low educated” voters have become the voice of the nation or that Trump represents an angry revolt of those disgusted with government.

My take on this real threat to our democracy is a sad and growing ignorance of what this country stands for, what hundreds of thousands of men and women died for on the battlefield, and what our forefathers and mothers envisioned as the “shining city on a hill”. During my youthful years as a political science professor I would take student groups to Washington D.C. and visit among many monuments, the National Archives where the Constitution is encased in glass. Those visiting the Constitution would always pass by and whisper in a kind of governmental reverence, akin to going to church or reading the Bible. These days the National Archives is not a destination site and a declining number of Americans have never read the Constitution or the thinking of the writers in forming a “more perfect Union.”

There is certainly nothing wrong with feeling great about a booming economy, but it is deeply disturbing to see a growing number of Americans show little understanding or support for our governing values or hail the President of the United States for blatantly working to tear down our democratic heritage. The Constitution and the amendments are not exciting reading, but the entire document is rather short and can be examined in the time it takes to watch the last episode of Game of Thrones.

We remain a great country with enormous potential, but these last two years we have become a people who care too little about our governing values and are too willing to follow a president who I suspect has never read the Constitution and cares less about the principles that define our democracy and indeed our nation. My advice – read the Constitution and support the values expressed in that wonderful document.

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Trump and the GOP’s Winning Strategy

April 19, 2019

Say what you want about Trump and the Republicans being corrupt liars, benefactors of the rich and well-born, media bashers and purveyors of conspiracy theories, they know how to frame a message that not only holds their political base but also gives them enough support among independents to forge a winning coalition in 2020.

The Democrats are clueless when it comes to countering the right-wing message built on fear of immigrants, support for a strong military, anti-abortion, demonizing social programs, and calling out liberal women as a danger to our national security. These positions may be outrageous and dangerous to many Americans in the ever-diminishing middle of the political spectrum but they make sense to Trump supporters who now are told that the President was sent by God. Throw in a red-hot economy and the Democrats will be in the fight of their life trying to retake the White House.

The question that has always bedeviled the Democrats since Trump took the presidency is how to respond to all the attacks on long established norms of policy and procedure, the gross avalanche of lies, and the ever-growing corruption. Trying to adopt a measured posture with facts and media appearances on CNN and MSNBC has not worked. Pelosi, Schumer, Sanders and the rest are always on the defensive offering solutions to issues on their agenda but not dealing with what’s on the mind of 45-50% of the nation.

Medicare for All, the Green Plan, taxing the rich may put a small dent in the protective covering of the Trump base, but it is no match for the secret weapon of the President and the GOP – fear of a liberal takeover of government. Of course the 2020 election will be about the economy, jobs, and growth, but it’s that extra edge of fear that may carry day for Trump and the GOP. If the Democrats want to rid the country of Trump and GOP control of the Senate they will have to talk about illegal immigration, military might, abortion, social program costs and the slide toward liberal big government. So far there has been little evidence that the Democrats know how to win over even a small portion of the Trump base; that’s a real electoral problem.

 


Democratic Values v.The Forgotten

October 30, 2018

Talk to any critic of President Trump and they will likely say that he has ignored, weakened or destroyed our democratic values – the rule of law, freedom of expression, respect for diversity and inclusion, and a welcoming and humane spirit. Talk to any of his supporters and they will likely say that President Trump has strengthened the economy, put money into the hands of those the liberals have forgotten, taken strong steps to rein in illegal immigration and expanded our military while sending a clear message to the world that the United States is a nation to be reckoned with. Those who detest the President see him as a buffoon who is only out for himself; those who idolize him see the President as someone who speaks the language of those who have had no voice in American politics and are mad as hell.

While the current wave of polarization can be viewed from numerous perspectives, the great divide is really about what we stand for as a nation versus what we have forgotten as a people. A mid-term election of Democrats in the House or perhaps the Senate may temper this divide a tiny bit by checking the White House but it surely is not going to close the deep gap over what we stand for versus what we used to be as a people. In the days before we became divided the middle class acted as the “great stabilizer” as prosperity was spread over a wide spectrum of the populace leading to a general consensus on the American Dream and the commitment to build consensus and centrism in our political life. Today the middle class is in shambles with too many people either outright poor or unable to make it from paycheck to paycheck. Why should these forgotten Americans care about democratic values and proper norms of presidential behavior when they believe the elites don’t care about them or the precariousness of their economic predicament. Throw in a healthy dose of racism or at the very least the perception of unfair advantages for minorities and democratic values mean little to those who wear the Make America Great Again hat.

If there is a resolution of this great divide it is returning to the days when the economic pie was more evenly allocated, when Democrats stood fore square for the working man and woman,  when Republicans remembered that great power requires great responsibility and when we treat all Americans no matter their race, religion, ethnicity and gender characteristics as worthy of respect, decency and equality. That is a tall order and an outcome that unfortunately is years away given the current climate of distrust and hate. It would help if we had calming leaders, political cooperation, less anger and more compromise, and perhaps most of all just plain quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Why is Trump Still Popular, It’s Easy

June 5, 2018

Legions of liberals scratch their heads when they see polling data that show President Trump’s approval rate over 40%. Despite the stupid tweets, the lies and exaggerations, the flaunting of the rule of law, the destruction of presidential norms of behavior, blatant corruption, and the embrace of public policies that isolate the United States and pose real dangers to our future as the leader of the free world, Trump trudges on not just with his base but also with independent-minded voters who are unwilling to denounce him and push for his removal from office.

So what’s going on here with the stability of the Trump approval? It is really quite easy. Trump supporters see more money in their paychecks, and some have seen bonuses or small increases in their salaries, jobs are so plentiful that workers can now pick and choose, the stock market despite regular ups and downs is generally on the uptick, inflation is minimal, and areas of the economy once viewed as dead are no longer on life support. As the Democratic strategist James Carvelle reminded Bill Clinton’s staff, ” It’s the economy, stupid.”

Although some in his administration and certainly those among the punditry have called him a “moron” or just plain “dumb”, Trump knows the current state of American political culture – flag waving patriotism, fear of minorities, militarism, disgust with political correctness, support for small town Americana, and hatred of the eastern and California elite. Somehow the Democrats forgot that our political culture can be defined by what the working class believes is what America stands for, not what the New York Times editorializes. Trump has tapped into this working class culture and is not afraid to use it to bludgeon the left. Few people read the Times but they do listen to the President.

Of course having an approval rating in the low 40% range means that somewhere in the 60% range Americans either despise Trump or have serious questions about where he is taking the country. But if liberals are to make any serious dent in that 40% they have to admit there are now two competing political cultures in our country and begin to make efforts to understand the Trump culture and where possible make efforts to offer realistic alternatives.

What does that mean – “realistic alternatives”? In no particular order liberals must tag Trump with the inevitable increases in health care premiums, offer a better package of tax cuts that puts more money in the pockets of working class people, stop making pro-choice the signature position of the left, forget the big cities and take bus rides to rural America for listening tours, show the American public that patriotism means more than the flag,  and last but not least ask Nancy Pelosi to retire.

The challenge of the liberals as they try to compete with Trumpism is like moving a huge aircraft carrier on a different course; for years liberals have forgotten that they were originally the party of the working man and woman and that their support came from the heartland. If the Democrats hold to their old model of politics the blue wave of November 2018 just may fizzle out as the economy hums along. Trump may yet set himself up for self-destruction, but the liberals must change or face their own self-destruction.

 


World’s Not So Great Democracy

April 19, 2018

Pundits and politicians, largely of the liberal persuasion, have been bemoaning for some time now the threat to democracy and democratic norms since the arrival of President Trump. Language such as ” democracy is under attack,” ” the rule of law is being compromised,” ” the first amendment guarantees have been weakened,” and traditional presidential conventions are being, ” abandoned,” fill the airwaves and print media. And then there is the Russian attack on the 2016 election, our most sacred foundation of democratic life.

And yet despite these outcries about the decline of democracy, President Trump’s popularity – never really outstanding – has not eroded below a consistent 40%; in fact as the economy moves forward, his popularity has picked up a few points in recent polls. Americans appear not to be overly upset about the signs of democratic demise.

So why the disturbing lack of interest by so many Americans in our apparent democratic decline? One possible answer is that the current state of our democracy is suffering from what some call a civic deficit or perhaps a more negative title – political illiteracy. Americans today are shockingly uninformed about their democracy and the democratic values that form the basis for our claim to be the world’s greatest people-based government.

For example, in recent studies researchers have found that only 34% of Americans know that there are three branches of government, a tiny percentage can name only one Supreme Court judge, while an overwhelming majority are clueless, over 200 million of our citizens believe our constitution is based on the Bible, even though God is not mentioned once in our sacred document, and a bare majority can name but one of the four freedoms contained in the 1st Amendment. What a dismal civic deficit scorecard! It is really next to impossible to defend our democracy if the citizenry has little understanding of what our democracy means, or how it runs, or what it stands for.

Correcting these glaring deficiencies in our civic deficit will not come overnight but action must be taken and soon. Here in Massachusetts there is a movement afoot to bring civic education into the classroom and teach the new generation of Americans what their democracy is all about. Through the efforts of organizations like Generation Citizen a bill is working its way through the legislature to begin addressing the civic deficit.  Called an Act To Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement the legislation is designed to direct a modest amount of taxpayer dollars – $ 1.5 million – to develop programs in our schools to promote civic learning in the classroom curriculum and to encourage project based activities to strengthen participation and involvement in the public life of each community. Eventually, civics like math, science and English would be required.

Knowing about democracy does not mean that Americans will automatically come to appreciate and protect their form of government from those who would weaken it. But knowledge can be transformed into power, the power to demand that elected officials never abandon what our founders and those who have died on the battlefield held as a precious gift worthy of protecting.

 

 

 

 


The 25 Issues That Shape American Politics

October 16, 2017

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A Few Simple Suggestions for the Democrats

July 9, 2017

It is no secret that the Democratic Party is lost in the woods and desperate to find a way out. Losing the special elections in Kansas, Montana and Georgia showed clearly that voters are not willing to get on the Democratic bandwagon, despite their disappointment and disillusionment with President Trump and the Congressional Republicans.

It is clear that there is a massive fissure in place between establishment Democrats and the so-called Progressive wing of the party on how to win elections and perhaps capture the House and Senate in 2018. This fissure makes victory in the mid-term elections a pipe dream.

So what to do? Finding the right strategy is no easy walk in the park as Democrats analyze what went wrong in the presidential election and in the special elections. But for what its worth here are my suggestions on how Democratic Party candidates for election in 2018 and in the presidential election should present themselves and their policy prescriptions to the American electorate.

  1. Go to church on Sunday. Enough of this embrace of secularism as the religion of tomorrow. Voters in the heartland still go to church and prefer candidates who at least appear to be religious. Democratic candidates need not be fire and brimstone churchgoers but they can at least get up on Sunday and be seen with the congregation.
  2. Stop the love affair with Hollywood. The movie, music and media billionaires will still give their money to liberal causes, but why go out of the way to be linked with pop stars who are seen by many voters as morally corrupt. Better to be seen with girl scouts and boy scouts than Katy Perry.
  3. Listen to seniors and play to their interests and concerns. Sure the youth movement is the future of the party, but young people are unreliable voters, where seniors drag themselves out of their homes to cast their ballot. Medicare, Social Security, retirement income and taxes should be at the forefront of a Democratic campaign strategy.
  4. Talk to voters not talk down to voters. Voters in 2016 said that they perceive the Democrats as elitist snobs who have all the answers and want to convert the masses to their point of view.  That tactic is a dead end street and designed to bring on defeat. Democratic candidates need to spend time talking to Mr. and Mrs. America on Main Street not the high rollers in the suburbs.
  5. Finally recruit candidates who have a military career, own a business, work with their hands, show a net worth of six figures, not seven or eight figures, have a solid marriage, and most of all can tell a life story of lifting themselves up because of hard work and dedication to the community they live in.

Of course my strategy suggestions are just as difficult to implement as any put forward by Party leaders and Progressive agents of change. But they are rather simple and straight forward and most of all speak to all those voters who rejected the Party in 2016 and maybe in 2018. Maybe the answer for a Democratic revival is simple and not complicated, just a willingness to listen to all the people, not just a selected few.