Fear and The Flag

July 24, 2019

Say what you want about President Trump being an “idiot”, a “liar”, a ” racist”, and “unfit for office”, the guy knows how to speak to Main Street Americans and use the language that gets them nodding their heads in agreement. The Democrats can yell about the rule of law, congressional oversight, democratic values and constitutional principles till they are blue in the face, but Trump’s ability to tap into the innermost fears and patriotism of Americans is a winning strategy.

Americans love their country, their flag, and their citizen soldiers; Americans fear crime, government give-aways, and constant harping at what’s wrong with this country. Americans also love strong leaders, plain speaking politicians, and allies of the forgotten folks; Americans fear the elites, the media and liberal political correctness.

Sure the recent controversy about four US representatives of color is racist in tone and delivery and targets strong women who are smart and not afraid to speak their mind. But sadly far too many Americans do not like strong women, especially women of color who challenge the President of the United States. Also, too many Americans and certainly our president have forgotten or have no clue that everyone in this country except native Americans is either an immigrant, a refugee or someone who successfully attained asylum status.

But those details are not strong enough to break down the political culture of our country that is built on fear and the flag. Americans basically want to feel secure, prosperous and proud. They now have a president who taps into their fears and their patriotism by calling out football players who take a knee during the national anthem, Democrats who play to the two coasts rather than the working class heartland, and members of Congress who want to lead the revolution.

Democrats and progressives just don’t seem to understand the innate sources of our national psyche. Understanding the constitution, the Bill of Rights and our governing norms and traditions is all well and nice, but if their objective is to remove the President in 2020 and take the Republicans out of the Senate then Democrats and progressives have to respond to the climate of fear in this country and proudly embrace country, flag and our military. It’s all well and good to make promises about student loan forgiveness or green policies or soaking the rich, but how about Democrats and progressive talking  real tax relief for the working class, going after the rapacious banking system, and supporting the agenda of America’s union movement.

Currently, Democrats and progressives are too often seen as pro illegal immigrant, pro welfare state, and anti business. Democrats and Progressives need to take a page out of Trump’s playbook and show Americans what real patriotism means, why they will provide security and prosperity and why their objective is real reform not revolution.

President Trump continues to be unpopular, but not by much. But if his campaign of fear and the flag is allowed to continue without a vigorous response based on security, prosperity and real patriotism, the Democrats could be toast come November, 2020.


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.


Democrats Forget the Real Issues

March 20, 2019

With the national economy going full blazes, jobs plentiful and more people with a few more bucks in their pockets (except the rich who have bushel baskets full of bucks) the Democrats running for President are going off the rails with issues that are non-starters or worse yet scare the livin’ daylights out of many voters.

Elizabeth Warren started off  with some likely popular policy recommendations-free day care, tax reform for the middle class and the break-up of the social media giants. But then recently she and other pretenders to the White House started talking about reparations for slavery, changing the constitution to do away with the Electoral College, packing the Supreme Court and embracing socialist-like policies as the answers to America’s income inequality disaster. Victory  for the Democrats in 2020 will not be won by fringe issues that most voters only have a passing understanding of or view as anti-American.

The Democrats continue to forget that they once were the party of the working men and women in this country and that Democratic Presidents like FDR, JFK, LBJ, Clinton and Obama won the White House because they talked the talk and walked the walk of the middle class. I still remember JFK standing in front of factory gates in Milwaukee, my hometown, shaking hands with workers and asking for their vote. Needless to say, he took Wisconsin in 1960.

If the Democrats want to win in 2020 they need to choose a candidate and forge a message around issues like tax reform for the middle class, infrastructure projects particularly in rural area and small towns, realistic climate change policies, affordable health care and scandal-free government. The American middle class is beginning to see that the Trump crowd is only out for the rich, the well born and of course Wall Street, but what they hear on the stump are Democrat candidates who either are fixated on Trump or introduce ideas that have zero chance of success.

If the Democrats want to win in 2020 they need to talk about fixing capitalism, not replacing it with “soft socialism.” Democrats need to talk the talk of all those carpenters, electricians, plumbers, nurses,  teachers, technicians, farmers, truck drivers, and waitstaff, who are looking for a leader who understands their life and their challenges. Democrats continue to be wedded to so-called identity politics – directing their policy prescriptions to African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and Gays – rather than presenting policies directed at improving the lives and futures of the middle class, whatever their skin color, religion or sexual identity.

What this country has experienced these last two years is a class war clearly won by the Republicans and the White House as they effectively filled the pockets of the rich, gave crumbs to the rest and scared the middle class with bogus claims that the identity crowd was destroying America. To win the White House in 2020 the Democrats must change the political conversation and tell the middle class how a change of party in the White House will make their lives and their futures better. How about this for a Blue Hat logo – Make The Middle Class Great Again.

 


Even You Could Run For President

January 28, 2019

By my rudimentary calculation we are about 22 months from the 2020 elections. To most common sense citizens that would appear to be a long, long away from casting ballots for a whole host of local, state and national leaders. But this is the United States and already candidates from both parties are testing the political winds for the presidency – visiting Iowa and New Hampshire, forming so-called exploratory committees ( the fancy name for raising money) and trying to get as much name and face recognition as possible.

Remember those days when Uncle Al asked you what you wanted to be when you grow up and the answer often times was President of the United States. Well, although the career options have increased a bit to include astronaut, professional athlete, and start up billionaire, the allure of the presidency still remains in the mix.  Ask any of the ever increasing gaggle of Democratic politicians who have already thrown their hat into the ring – Harris, Warren, Gillibrand, Gabbard, Castro ( not Fidel), Sanders and a couple of guys I have never heard of. Still out there waiting in the wings are Biden, O’Rourke, Brown, Booker, Klobuchar and maybe even Hillary.

On the Republican side, There is Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, with likely candidate former governor John Kasich of Ohio talking policy, and of course The Donald, if he lasts that long. A run for the presidency by Mitt Romney is certainly not out the question, and who knows many Jeb Bush will give it a try.  As the White House continues its implosion look for more Republicans brave enough to take on a sitting president.

And don’t count out the independents who could decide to muck up the two party system- billionaire Michael Bloomberg, billionaire Howard Schultz and billionaire Tom Steyer – all short on national political experience but holding gobs of money, which is the mother’s milk of a run for the presidency.

All this traffic shows is that despite the fact that the job of running the United States is one bit migraine headache with little gratitude for accomplishments and crazy people at every turn, the egos of these people is so large that they think they have what it takes to hold the highest office in the land and run the world.

Not surprisingly, no where to be found is a candidate who actually runs something, other than selling coffee or making vacant promises. It would be nice to see a local official, a bureaucrat, a small business owner or a platoon leader running for the White House, but alas these options are off the table.

We are a long way away from November, 2020 but who knows maybe someone who exudes humility, common sense, compassion, and yes, honesty will come forward, after all anyone over 35 and a natural born citizen can run for the White House. Let’s face it, if Donald Trump can grab the golden ring, anyone can.

 


2018 – If You Think This Year Was A Mess, Wait Until 2019

December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to a end there are countless reviews of what happened of consequence during the year and where we may be headed in 2019. As is often the case, the review of the past is mostly negative and the future is described as uncertain. So as not to shy away from this exercise of yearly review and prognostication, here is my take on the past and the future.

If politics, governing, leadership and public policy is your passion, 2018 could only make your confidence level take a sharp turn downwards. Almost everyday brings new revelations about presidential misconduct or at the very least presidential incompetence. Democrats and Republicans still can’t get along much less get legislation moving forward. Members of the cabinet are increasingly being shown as crooks and bogus charlatans.  And the media still can’t shake the fake news label, despite being more open and accurate than those in the White House. Not a day goes by when honest and thoughtful Americans wonder whether they live in an emerging authoritarian state or at the very least a very bad dream.

If the economy, jobs, GDP and spending power are your passion, 2018 would likely bring a smile to your face. Americans are on a spending spree ( mostly with credit cards), jobs are plentiful ( despite little real wage growth), data on key indicators show the US leading the major countries of the world ( at least for the time being), and overall consumer confidence is strong ( but could change in a heart beat). 2018 was a “good year” for most Americans, which is why President Trump continues to have a solid approval rate; there is nothing like a upbeat economy to make a president, any president look like a genius.

If values, mood, beliefs, standards, judgment and truth are your passion than 2018 was in crisis mode. There were very disturbing upticks in hate crimes, outright bigotry, shameless lying, a fundamental decline in basic decency, and just plain disinterest in searching for what is real and what is clearly false. The American Dream is under attack; the American Rule of Law is under attack, the American Governing Traditions are under attack, and the American Political Culture is under attack. The old days of cooperation,compromise and consensus have been replaced with gut-wrenching anger.

All in all 2018 gets mixed reviews with a definite lean towards the negative side. If grades are given, probably a C+ or if you were one of the lucky ones to benefit from the upper end tax cut or generous bonuses or job security than perhaps a B-. A mediocre year at best.

Now to 2019. There is not a prognosticator out there who knows where we are headed in the coming year, but there are sufficient signs in the wind to suggest that 2019 will be considerably worse than 2018.

In politics and government the I word will fill the airwaves and office conversations, that is I as in impeachment, indictment, investigations.  Again, not much in the public policy area will get done as Washington and America is consumed by what transpires in the White House. Political divisions will only increase, Twitter storms will increase, charges and counter charges will increase and institutional gridlock will rule the day. The unexpected, the uncertain, the unconstitutional will dominate. A real mess.

In the economy, 2019 could be the year of economic downturn, perhaps a recession.  Growth will stagnate, 401Ks will take a hit, joblessness will creep upwards and income inequality will continue to take the country further and further apart. No one knows where the tariff wars will be headed but one thing is certain, our national debt will climb upwards to the point where we will be putting more of our budget dollars into interest payments rather than toward substantive programs.

As to our national condition, 2019 will only bring uncertainty and disappointment and of course anger, always anger. The confluence of terrible politics and weakening economics can only create a nation of lost Americans who will question where their once great country is headed and whether their personal security and economic future are in grave danger. In short, Not Good.

At this early point the grade for 2019 is a C-, perhaps a D+. As someone who graded thousands, upon thousands of papers, I have been wrong and at the request of the aggrieved student took another look and maybe even made a change. This could also happen as 2019 plays out but right now this country is heading into uncharted territory with only trouble on the horizon.

 

 

 


Land of the Angry, Home of the Scared

November 5, 2018

President Obama’s comments to hecklers in Florida wondering why they were angry, especially since their party controlled the Congress and the Presidency and their president had followed through on many of his promises, got me thinking again about what we stand for as a country. My concern about our values and beliefs brought on further concerns when Trump supporters bought into his lies about rising crime ( it is not rising), the caravans invading our country ( a rag tag group of asylum seekers, many of them women and children, is not an invasion) and the threat of minorities to a white America ( if there is any threat it is from white neo-Nazis). So why are we no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but rather the land of the angry and the home of the scared?

The answer to this question likely is better answered by trained psychologists, but it does make a political observer wonder why the right wing is not filled with supreme joy and at the very least taking a brief moment to use Google to inquiry about the President’s misinformation campaign. It would seem to me that the anger is the result of pent up frustration over years of living at the margins in a country where elites didn’t care, while the embrace of outright lies spoken by a man who knows how to gin up a crowd just makes those on the margins feel better. Say what you want about the President, he knows how to push the right buttons in his base and has no remorse over stoking white race anger and just saying anything that comes into his mind at what has become an old-fashioned religious rally. If you have ever seen the ancient movie, Elmer Gantry, with Burt Lancaster, it perfectly depicts the charismatic ability of one man, a religious charlatan,  to get his followers to follow him anywhere, no matter how cruel or off the wall his sermons are.

It would be reassuring if we indeed were the home of the free and the land of the brave as our national anthem proudly proclaims, but our freedoms are slowly being eroded (especially freedom of the press) and we seem to willing admit that we are afraid (but mostly afraid that minorities will replace white power). We live in a time when according to that great political philosopher Groucho Marx, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Perhaps saner leaders in both parties, truth-seeking pundits of both political persuasions, and that great moderate middle of America will bring us back to the era of compromise, consensus, and conflict resolution. Katherine Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful” said it best, ” America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.” One can only hope.

 

 

 


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.