The 25 Issues That Shape American Politics

October 16, 2017

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The Generals

October 10, 2017

This country has been fortunate to have distinguished military leaders as presidents, cabinet officials and heads of our national security system. These men have often brought a patriotic spirit, a commitment to public life, organizational skills and personal discipline to their positions in our government. From George Washington to Dwight Eisenhower to George H. W. Bush military training and wartime service shaped their leadership and decision-making capabilities.

Today during the Trump administration the military men that serve as his closest advisers are being called upon to function in a manner that requires a different type of leadership style and decision-making skill. Generals Kelly, Mattis and McMaster are basically charged with reining in an impulsive, petty, juvenile and grudge-holding chief executive.

The more we hear about the Trump generals it appears that they are the last line of defense against chaos and gross miscalculation. When the generals first signed up for service in the White House they didn’t think that they would be responsible for saving the country from a completely unqualified leader of the free world. Of course no one forced them to accept their jobs, but they likely saw the new president as a change agent who was committed to “Making American Great.”

But months into their jobs, it is clear that Kelly, Mattis and McMaster have come to realize they have an enormous responsibility to “Make America Safe.” Whether it is North Korea, Iran, Russia, or any other international hot spot that gets the president to start a new tweet storm, the generals have become the voices of reason and caution. Although at this time there is no definitive proof of “quiet collusion” among the generals, I suspect that there are midnight calls among the three on how to “Keep America Safe” and convince Trump from taking this country into the abyss. Already there are signs that the generals’ have decided that frequent policy reviews, delay in decision-making, control of Oval Office access, and some much needed staff house cleaning are the best means of avoiding chaos and gross miscalculation.

What will be interesting and at the same time dangerous is what happens if we enter impeachment mode or the Republican leadership decides that it is time to use the 25th Amendment and push Trump out of office. How will the generals respond to the political processes in place or will they take the lead in actually pushing their boss out the door?  If the Republicans continue to accept the status quo with the hope that the child president will change, will the generals do the dirty work? We have never really had a Latin American style palace coup in this country, but if the chaos and miscalculation continues and the president takes us into the abyss, will the generals move from advisers to a military junta? Keep your eye on the generals.

 


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.


Daddy’s Woman

April 6, 2017

It is not unusual for Presidents of the United States to offer key positions in their administration to family members – Eleanor Roosevelt was a valued advisor to her husband, Kennedy gave brother Bobby the Attorney General portfolio, and Clinton tasked Hillary with trying to get his health care bill off the ground. So when Donald Trump brings his daughter Ivanka into his inner circle it is not cause for outrage or even charges of nepotism.  Trump trusts his daughter and apparently values her counsel.

As for Ivanka, she has told anyone who will listen that her goal is to quietly talk with her father and advance policy issues that are on her agenda such as parental leave, women’s pay and matters related to children. This may be true and hopefully she can influence her father on these key domestic issues. I am not convinced.

What worries me is that Ivanka’s advice and agenda, while worthy, seems misplaced. Perhaps she has talked to dear old dad about stupid tweets, perpetuating lies and gross exaggerations, supporting serial sexual harassers, and making unsubstantiated charges that weaken his already declining reputation and popularity, but if she has talked to him about his self-defeating behavior, her counsel is empty and routinely ignored.

There are two possible reasons for Ivanka in the White House – the President likes having her around and she enjoys all the attention that can advance her brand. Ivanka in the White House is not about advancing specific policies but rather protecting Trump Inc. and dear old dad. Ivanka to her credit is a far more attractive face of the Trump presidency; she speaks with more than a six grade vocabulary; her clothes actually fit her; and she is clearly smart and poised. – all those qualities missing from her father. She is not, however, an advisor or counselor or quiet force for change.

President Trump can pretty much bring into the White House who he wants, but Ivanka is more like administrative eye candy and guardian of the brand than a key cog in the governing arena. Until this country sees policies that makes the lives of Americans better, Ivanka will just validate the President’s phony effort to show in his words that he “loves women”, but not women who make a difference.

 

 

 


Branding the USA

March 8, 2017

Americans it is fair to say are brand conscious. Many of us not only know the name of consumer products but we also likely know what the logo looks like, i.e. those golden arches of McDonald’s or the “swoosh” of Nike. Branding becomes important to a company as it is a symbol of a reputation built up over the years. Brands connote excellence, reliability, innovation, creativity and of course market share. Corporations pay a great deal of attention to brand and branding as it is one critical key to profits and growth.

Although we often don’t think of governments and countries having a brand, the concept of a national brand does apply just as it does in the corporate sector. Our brand has in the past been based in freedom, equality, opportunity, tolerance, justice, power and wealth. Now a nation like the United States can’t maintain all aspects of its brand since circumstances change, priorities are reconfigured and most importantly democratic politics can remake a brand.

The United States is currently going through a re-branding process and it is not a pretty sight.President Trump with his 3 am tweets, his choice of advisors and cabinet members, his controversial policies, and his determination to change the rules of politics has changed the American brand, and not for the better.

There is a mountain of evidence that those outside the United States think differently about our brand or at least are confused about what we stand for as a nation. Long time allies are deeply concerned over whether we are a dependable friend, tourists are thinking twice about whether to vacation here, multinational companies are worried about the future of trade and investment, and those new to our country, legal and illegal, are fearful for their futures, if not their lives. It was probably a prank, but the Statue of Liberty went dark for awhile the other day- a symbol of our brand without the promises associated with that beautiful torch.

As any marketing executive will tell you, once you change your brand or worse yet once your brand takes a hit, market share is in trouble. Customers loose confidence; they wonder whether the product of the past is the same today. Branding changes become especially dangerous if the new brand presents a negative image and tells the buyer that all is not well.

President Trump and his minions can be criticized on a number of miscues, false starts and simply stupid policies. But what is most bothersome to me is that they have sullied the American brand and in the process remade this United States into a less attractive country with a less attractive set of values and principles.

Getting back to the old brand of the United States will be difficult and will take a long period of time. Confidence has to be restored, old values and principles have to be re-introduced into the body politics, Lady Liberty’s torch has to shine bright again. Remember when Coca-Cola changed its soda recipe and introduced the New Coke? To say the least it was a disaster. We are going the way of Coca-Cola with a dangerous branding process. Hopefully wiser heads will push the President back to the old United States of America, the country that actually stood for something rather than using the brand to make a buck.

 


White House Scenarios

February 13, 2017

The future of President Donald Trump and his administration is more uncertain than any in modern history. Liberals and the members of the Resistance believe they smell political blood and are waiting to settle scores. But  pushing the 45th President off his White House pedestal is no easy task. Let me tell you why.

Articles of impeachment for alleged conflict of interest, ties to Russia, legal suits for sexual harassment, nepotism ( need I go on) must begin with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. This is highly unlikely as the GOP doesn’t want a long drawn-out public hearing and more importantly consider Trump a strange but supportive partner in their legislation agenda.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment gives the senior members of the Cabinet the power to remove the President if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” This would be a political coup that is certain to cause dangerous instability in the country and in the centers of power. Even if the President would act in a way that was viewed as erratic and unstable, those around him would find a way to  work around him or ignore him rather than go down in history as turning the U.S. into a banana republic.

Members of the Resistance are looking to the mid-term elections in 2018 as critical to anti-Trumpism. This strategy may be a fools journey. It is certainly possible to flip the Senate and House but highly unlikely. In the Senate Democrats must fight for 23 seats, while the Republicans only 8; in the House the way representative districts are politicized in favor of the GOP, a major transformation would be very difficult. Now the liberals could hit the ground running and try to regain the white working class and the rural folks but such an effort is long term not a two year project.

What is more likely to happen is that the Trump administration gets so dysfunctional that senior members of the GOP and key cabinet members quietly whisper in the President’s ear that he needs to remove the nut jobs, nitwits, liars and incompetents and replace them with responsible bureaucrats who know what they are doing. The conservative agenda would remain in place but would be advanced by people who don’t embarrass the United States.

In this scenario, Trump stays in place, continues to tweet at 3 in the morning, maintains his pettiness, and deepens his ego-trip. He’ll continue to make stupid comments and probably put this country close to harms way, but the real adult staff members will smooth things over. And no he won’t run in 2020; since his approval rate will be in the Nixon-Watergate range.

Now because these are crazy times in the White House anything can happen. VP Pence could become President Pence, the Democrats could take over and end Trumpism, and the Resistance could expand exponentially to the point that the President resigns, or we become an authoritarian dictatorship. Whatever happens these are times that try men’s and women’s souls.

 


Fasten Your Seat Belts, It’s Going To Be a Bumpy Ride

January 12, 2017

Besides the incomparable Meryl Streep, America’s premier actor, Bette Davis, from another era, was no slouch. Besides a long list of great movie roles, Davis is perhaps best remembered for the classic line, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” No this is not a line from a Washington D.C. melodrama, but it certainly captures what we are in for during the coming years under President ( should I say Emperor) Donald Trump.

As American citizens we are being told by a range of pundits and experts that there is now a ” new normal” in politics and governing and that President Trump will set the rules for how he and his administration behaves and makes decisions. Every president comes into office with their own style and their own agenda; that’s the way transitions of power work. But so far Mr. Trump seems to have little interest in abiding by long standing rules and traditions in the areas of conflict of interest, ethics, intelligence gathering, freedom of the press, nepotism, the rule of law, and oh yes, the constitution.

Inauguration day is a week away, and to date President-elect Trump has taken some positions that make even distraught liberals approve – competitive drug pricing, infrastructure stimulus programs, Made in America initiatives, and day care/family leave legislation. But if these promises are indeed true and not fake news, we Americans will still have to endure stupid daily tweets, brash threats to our friends and adversaries, appointments of D list administration officials,  cringe-worthy jokes, and incoherent monologues as the President goes off teleprompter.

You can say that this is the price we pay for our brand of democracy, but it sure is unsettling and potentially dangerous. President-elect Trump promised to bring change to Washington and the country, and that’s what he is apparently bound and determined to do. But when pressed most Americans like some certainty, predictability and calmness in their lives, not daily rants and domestic and international bullying.Starting on January 20th Trump is our guy in the White House ( or Trump Tower), so fasten those seat belts, we are in for a bumpy ride. I just hope we don’t get in an accident.