Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 21, 2017

The New York Times editorial section seems determined to convince us of — let’s be fair; acquaint us with — the arguments in favor of centrism as the proper strategy for the Democratic Party. On August 27, I commented on one opinion piece to that effect, which had appeared on July 6. The October 18 issue of The Times presented another, entitled "Why Democrats Need Wall Street."
According to the author, Douglas Schoen, "a pollster and senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000," President Clinton "acknowledged the limits of government and protected the essential programs that make up the social safety net." However, Clinton did not so much acknowledge, as declare, those limits: "the era of big government is over."
Mr. Schoen praises Clinton for "moving the party away from a reflexive anti-Wall Street posture," but dismantling big government and cozying up to Wall Street resulted in the repeal of the Glass-Stiegel Act, allowing Wall Street to become larger, more dangerous, vulnerable, damaging to homeowners, and expensive to the taxpayer. This, however, is his fantasy of that episode: "the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 removed regulations placed on financial institutions by bureaucrats and expanded opportunities for Wall Street to engage in mergers and acquisitions, adding wealth to the retirement accounts and other investment portfolios of millions of middle-class Americans."
As to the safety net, Clinton fulfilled his 1992 election-campaign pledge to "end welfare as we know it" by cutting back on benefits. All this Mr. Schoen describes as "the program of the party’s traditional center-left coalition." If so, we need less of that supposed coalition.
Schoen thinks that "Hillary Clinton’s lurch to the left probably cost her key Midwestern states that Barack Obama had won twice . . . ." No such lurch was detectable, and her loss of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and therefore of the election, had more to do with her campaign’s failure to address voters’ economic concerns: a failure to articulate a liberal position which would help people of ordinary means. It is significant that about 12% of those who voted for Senator Sanders — certainly a liberal — in the primaries, voted for Trump in the final. They wanted a candidate who would recognize their needs, not one identified with the elite, with money. Schoen acknowledges that "the American people are certainly hostile to and suspicious of Wall Street," but does not draw the obvious conclusion. Perhaps it is ironic that many voters saw Mrs. Clinton, not Trump, as allied with monied interests, but that appears to be the fact, and it refutes the author’s argument.
He wants laissez-faire on both ends of the equation: "the Democrats have simply had an ineffective, negative and coercive economic message. Advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and further banking regulation does not constitute a positive, proactive agenda."
"Democrats,: Mr. Schoen asserts, "should keep ties with Wall Street for several reasons." Of his reasons one, sadly, one makes sense: "The first is an ugly fact of politics: money. Maintaining ties to Wall Street makes economic sense for Democrats and keeps their coffers full." There stands an excellent reason to overturn Citizens United.
Otherwise, his argument is simply that Democrats should become Republicans, and we have enough of those.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017

Several news reports described Trump’s comments on the Las Vegas mass shooting as "presidential." When it’s newsworthy that a President has managed to sound like one, the bar has been lowered quite a bit. His long prepared speech sounded as little like Donald Trump as an address in French, so it probably was an aide who came up with "presidential" comments.
The speech called for an end to evil, but said nothing about guns, without which the murders could not have happened, and which are responsible for a great deal of evil. Press Secretary Sanders was dismissive of the notion that there should be prompt attention to the gun issue: this isn’t the time for that, she said; it’s a day of mourning, a time to come together, not a time to discuss policy. When reminded that, immediately after the shooting in Orlando in June 2016, Trump called for a travel ban — a policy issue — Mrs. Sanders dismissed that too: "There is a difference between being a candidate and being the President." In Trump’s case, that isn’t even accurate. Though discussing policy isn’t appropriate, she managed, a little later, to do so: "The president has been clear. He’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment."
The unlikelihood of any rational response regarding guns is illustrated by a bill pending in Congress to make it easier to purchase a silencer .
Trump’s sincerity in the face of tragedy is more accurately displayed in his response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. He led off with an excuse for slow aid in his inimitably inane manner: "This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water." He blamed Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, then it was "poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan."
Asking for help is a sign of weakness: "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort." Any criticism must be political: "We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates . . . people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected." No one seemed to know what the last comment referred to, if anything.
During his brief visit to the island surrounded by water, he implied that the impact there was not a "real catastrophe," and complained that the cost of relief would upset the budget. Such compassion.
Under this government, a natural disaster will be met with indifference, and a disaster of human origin will be greeted with efforts to make it worse.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 1, 2017
Post-war Germany always has seemed to be admirable in its ability to acknowledge and reject its Hitler-era past. Apart from the odd neo-Nazi there has been little sign of turning back. That image and history prompted Dirk Kurbjuweit, a writer at Der Spiegel, to declare that, to quote Sinclair Lewis, it can’t happen here, that Germany will never be led by someone like Trump: "Seven decades after World War II, a leader like President Donald Trump would have almost no chance of political success in Berlin.[41]
We, sadly, are different. "Why," he asked," does the U.S. — the political, moral and military leader of the Western world since the end of World War II — now have a dangerous laughing stock, a man who has isolated his country, as its president? Why does Germany, a former pariah, now enjoy a more positive political standing than ever before?" One of his answers is that Germans have a better grip on reality, that, unlike Americans, they do not confuse it with fantasy.
"Ronald Reagan was an actor before he became a politician. Jesse Ventura was a professional wrestler, which is to say a showbiz star, before he became the governor of Minnesota. Arnold Schwarzenegger was an actor before he became the governor of California . . . . Donald Trump was the lead character in a reality show before he became president. . . . The American wall [between dreams and politics] is low, if it exists at all -- the worlds of reality and dreams flow into one another."
Electing actors doesn’t necessarily support that thesis, but add the proliferation of movies and video games about superheroes and aliens, crammed with cartoonish violence, and it’s easy to see his point. 
Americans, he thinks, believe in salvation, originally in the religious sense, now the political; "Even today, some people still believe that the One will come and make everything great again." Germans don’t (now) indulge in apocalyptic visions; they "once believed they had found a savior, but then he tried to destroy the world, and now their belief in salvation has vanished." The myth of American exceptionalism feeds that need for a charismatic leader, and the decline of political parties opens the way for demagogues.
Kurbjuweit notes that "there is no truly powerful right-wing [news] medium in Germany," nothing like Fox, to support right-wing incompetents like Trump. He acknowledges that the internet can partially fill that role, and concludes that it "is here where the possibility arises, faint though it may still be, of a German Trump."
He offers a few other observations, some of which are a stretch, and concludes, too confidently, that " ’Germany first’ is not a slogan that could work well in Germany."
The recent parliamentary election has shown otherwise. Alternative for Germany (AfD), which became the third-largest party in the Bundestag by winning 13% of the vote and 94 seats in the recent election, contains some of the same conflicting elements as the GOP: an elite core making common cause with nativist, nationalist forces which are resentful of immigrants and disillusioned with the establishment. "Its ranks, even its leadership, include people who openly court far-right positions, who want to take a positive view of the German military's actions in World War II, who play down the Holocaust and want to abolish the remembrance of it."[42]  Its lead candidate in the recent election announced that "we will take our country back," a Trumpian echo. A local AfD leader declared: "When Donald Trump says, ‘America first,’ we say, too, ‘Germany first’," in effect following Trump’s advice at the United Nations: "I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first." Another party leader donned a baseball cap reading "Make Germany Safe Again," presumably an anti-immigrant reference. We would like to think of our country as a leader, but not toward the far right.
What the AfD, the radical wing of the GOP and other right-wing parties have in common is a sense of cultural decline, but many of them define decline, and their nationalist response, in ethnic or religious terms. Nationalism also leads to rejecting globalism and alliances, such as the Paris Accords or the EU. We’re still distinctive, though, in the inanity, childishness and incompetence of our leader. Kurbjuweit may be right that Trump couldn’t happen in Germany, or possibly anywhere else, except perhaps North Korea.


41. 1161054.html

42. 1169634.html#ref= nl-international.
See also into-parliament-a-1169631.html#ref=nl-international.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September 16, 2017
Could Donald Trump be impeached? Here is the relevant Constitutional provision, Article II, Section 4:
The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Treason is not a likely ground, due to the definition: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." Article III, Section 3. Apparently "enemies" are only those with which we are at war. As to bribery, see below.

There are other relevant provisions pertaining to the duties of the President.
Article II, Section 1:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’
Article II, Section 3: "[H]e shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed . . . ." 

We have two relatively recent instances of impeachment or proposed impeachment, Clinton and Nixon, which illustrate how the Constitutional provisions are invoked. The boilerplate language of impeachment was virtually the same in each case. Here is the recital from Article I, as approved by the House Judiciary Committee, against President Nixon :
In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that: . . . .
Here is Article III of the impeachment of President Clinton, with the only variation in language italicized:
In his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, and has to that end . . . .
The other articles in each case mirror that language.

Does any act or omission by Trump rise to impeachable level? The New York Review of Books has an excellent article reviewing two recent books on impeachment.[40]  It notes that "high crimes and misdemeanors" is a term of art referring to public office; the terms are not used in the criminal-law sense. "The words ‘crimes’ and ‘misdemeanors,’ . . . do not distinguish acts of different gravity, as they do in criminal law, but were intended as synonyms. More important, the adjective ‘high’ does not mean ‘very bad,’ but rather that the crimes are committed by high government officials in the course of their duties . . . ."
The House voted two articles of impeachment against President Clinton, one alleging perjury, the other obstruction of justice. Neither had any relation to a core duty of the presidency (note the evasive "while President"); both related to his tawdry affair with Monica Lewinsky and his attempt to hide that. There was an indirect connection to a civil case against him for sexual harassment dating to his days as Governor of Arkansas. Perhaps by the loose standards of that case, grounds might be found to impeach Trump. However, the Clinton impeachment was a misuse of the power. In Federalist 65, Hamilton described its purpose:
The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.
Clinton’s impeachment was political in the sense of partisan, but not in the sense intended by Hamilton: relating to government. 

Because impeachment must refer to conduct while holding, and related to, an office, Trump’s pre-inaugural acts and statements probably would not support impeachment, unless they somehow carried over, for example in obstruction of justice. The investigation into collusion with Russia during the campaign could produce such a charge. As the NYRB article puts it: "Trump’s acknowledgment that he fired James Comey because he would not drop the FBI’s investigation of the Russia scandal is as close to a presidential confession of obstruction of justice as we are likely to see."
The other obvious ground is financial corruption, using the office to promote personal enrichment. Trump’s financial conflicts of interest are numerous and clear and, even if his financial benefits do not rise to the level of bribery, there is reason to find that some of them violate this provision of the Constitution: "no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust [of the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State." Article I, Section 9. The obvious intent of the Emoluments Clause is to ensure that a public official serves the nation, and not his pocketbook, and that his decisions on public matters will not be influenced by private dealings, obligations or prospects. No amount of tap dancing by Trump’s lawyers around the definition of emolument will cause the conflict of interest to between his financial interests and his duty as President disappear.

Impeachment, though, unavoidably is also a political act in the partisan sense. This Republican Congress does not seem to be a likely source of impeachment or conviction. However, Trump’s cushion is smaller than Nixon’s, and not only because of his personal inadequacy. In 1972 Nixon won the popular vote by 17.8 million; Trump lost by 2.86 million. Nixon carried 49 states, Trump 30; he started from a weaker position in terms of popular support. His present level of approval, according to Gallup, is only marginally higher than Nixon’s at this time in 1973, with the Watergate investigation well under way. Congressional Republicans at some point may consider Trump’s presumed support for their agenda less important than reelection. His recent flirtation with Democrats and the reaction of some of his supporters may begin that process. 


"What Are Impeachable Offenses?" Noah Feldman and Jacob Weisberg, September 28, 2017 Issue

Friday, September 8, 2017

September 7, 2017

During parts of July and August we were in the Balkans; we turned on TV only once, to BBC, and the The International New York Times was difficult to find, so Trump, while never entirely out of mind, was not a daily concern. A few random thoughts about him since returning:
Donald Trump, as President, poses a challenge to anyone attempting to understand or describe him, whether a columnist, a politician of his or the opposite party, or an ordinary voter. One could intelligntly and meaningfully criticize George W. Bush or Barack Obama because they were normal men whose strengths and weaknesses, assests and liabilities, could be assessed on a familiar scale. Various of Trump’s characteristics can be listed and criticized — he is inept, ignorant, self-centered, dishonest — but taken as a whole individual there is no meaningful standard because he doesn’t conform to any recognizable pattern, unless we assume that he is mentally incompetent, which does not appear to be true in any technical sense. Clearly he should not be President, but he was duly elected.
I’m not sure that the country will avoid major disaster until he can be voted out in 2020, but impeachment can’t be based simply on his unfitness; high crimes and misdemeanors must be found. "Ridiculously unqualified" is good reason not to vote for him (again), but impeachment will require specifics.
Trump is not so much an individual as a symptom. At any time I can remember, any politician with his characteristics never would have been elected, even by our nutty electoral-college system. The question to be asked is what has happened to the country.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

August 27, 2017
Recent election defeats have led to various suggestions for the key to future Democratic victories. A little perspective is required. Yes, Donald Trump is President, but he lost the popular election by over 2.8 million votes, a margin of 2.1%, the third largest percentage margin since such numbers have been kept, and the largest since 1876.  He lost it to a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign. Fewer than 80,000 votes, spread over three states, 0.0567% of the national total, gave Trump the win. Even the magnified effect of those few votes in the electoral college left Trump’s margin in that vote 46th out of the last 58 elections.
Democrats have lost four special elections for the House this year, but did relatively well. These were Republican districts, and the Republican’s winning margin this year, compared to 2016, dropped by 59% to 84%.
Trump’s favorability rating is depressingly high, but as noted earlier, not out of line with historic Republican support.
That is not to say that change in Democratic philosophy is not required — and focusing on the national picture ignores Democratic weakness in many state governments — but some of the suggestions are misdirected. One proposal is to respond to right-wing victories by moving rightward. On July 6, The New York Times ran a column by Mark Penn ("chief strategist" to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign) and Andrew Stein advocating a "return" to the center, as if the Party had not been occupying that space for some time.
According to Penn and Stein, "In the early 1990s,the Democrats relied on identity politics, promoted equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity and looked to find a government solution for every problem." As Richard Eskow, puts it, "Everyone who remembers that Democratic Party, raise your hands."  That imagined situation changed in the mid-90s, according to Penn and Stein, when "President Bill Clinton moved the party back to the center in 1995. . . ."
From that they conclude: "The path back to power for the Democratic Party today, as it was in the 1990s, is unquestionably to move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left, whose policies and ideas have weakened the party." The move is required because, they think, "the last few years of the Obama administration and the 2016 primary season once again created a rush to the left. Identity politics, class warfare and big government all made comebacks." Leaving aside the imaginary move to the left under Obama, any leftward tendency in 2016 was located in the Sanders candidacy; there wasn’t any radicalism in the Clinton campaign. (She recently "pled guilty" to "being kind of moderate and center.")
In any case, to the dedicated non-leftist, "big government" probably means regulation of business (they complain that "the old brick-and-mortar economy is being regulated to death,") and "class warfare" means taxing the rich. (There is concern now that "centrist" Democrats may go along with Republican tax cuts.)   We don’t need that sort of centrism. Penn and Stein have a few valid insights; one has to do with "identity politics." According to them, working-class voters "saw the party being mired too often in political correctness, transgender bathroom issues and policies offering more help to undocumented immigrants than to the heartland." Obama’s record on immigration hardly qualifies as leftist, and the rest is exaggerated, although liberals do tend to be annoyingly righteous about sometimes-marginal issues.
They mentioned in passing issues concerning rural voters. This is an area to which Democrats have given too little attention; an article by John Nichols in The Nation summed up the issue for Democrats: "The problem isn’t based in rural America, but in the negligence and ignorance of Democratic Party leaders." In other words, those voters can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed, to borrow a phrase from Mrs. Clinton, as "deplorables." As Nichols put it, "The Democratic Party ceded rural America to the Republicans quite some time ago."
Penn and Stein would have Democrats "reject socialist ideas." Sanders’ campaign helped to convince many that they needn’t fear that term or concept, that unregulated capitalism isn’t some sort of mystic formula for prosperity, that fairness and equality don’t appear from nowhere, that government activity — intervention, if you will — is necessary. The Party should build on that.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

July 8, 2017>/b>
Recently I expressed puzzlement at the continuing level of support for Trump. An article by Frank Rich in New York Magazine[33] puts the subject in context by referring to the Watergate scandal. As the news grew worse for Richard Nixon, his approval rating fell steadily until, according to Gallup, it reached the mid-twenties near the end of 1973. It then remained essentially flat until the end. As Rich puts it, "at least a quarter of the American populace had no problem telling pollsters that they were still behind a president who had lied repeatedly and engaged in unambiguously criminal conspiracies. They still saw Nixon as ‘one of us,’ as he billed himself on posters in his first House run in 1946, and as a fighter who took on ‘them’ — essentially the same elites that Trump inveighs against today." Even as he resigned, Nixon had the approval of 24%.
That doesn’t make Trump’s level of support any less mysterious, in the sense of wonder at how so many people could continue to support someone so dishonest and inept, but it does demonstrate that such a reaction is not unprecedented. Rich goes a step further: it to be expected. His core supporters "will no more abandon Trump than their parents and grandparents did Nixon. If anything, Trump’s ascent has once more confirmed that this constituency is a permanent factor in the American political equation."
Another indication that Trump’s support is nothing unusual is that its present level matches the lowest popular vote for Republican presidential candidates in this century. Alf Landon drew 36.5% against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, Goldwater 38.5% against Johnson in 1964, and Bush the Elder 37.5% against Clinton in 1992. (Technically, 1912 was even worse, Taft drawing only 23.2% against Wilson, but Theodore Roosevelt, also a Republican but not on the ticket that year, drew 27.4%).[34]  Trump’s approval rating in the Gallup tracking poll has ranged between 36% and 42%, since June 1, an average of 37.9%.[35]
Trump resembles Nixon in being unstable, resentful of media coverage, and prone to self-destructive comments. Nixon was a smart, tough, experienced politician who understood issues and did some good, but went too far in trying to destroy enemies; his comments were intended to be private, but were revealed when his taping system was disclosed. Trump isn’t bright, is basically weak, has no political experience or knowledge about government, seems to have neither the interest nor the attention span to required to perform his duties, and makes his inane, damaging comments intentionally. Nixon was active, aggressive and driven. Trump is detached, reactive, and uninterested in anything but himself. Take away the bluster, and there is little left.
Many of the policies he has advanced, supported or permitted work against the welfare of the people who cheer for him at rallies. At some point, that will sink in, at least for some, and Trump has a small margin of safety: Nixon had an approval rating of about 60% during his first year in office;[36] Trump only can dream of that.



Sunday, July 2, 2017

July 2, 2017
The phrase "Can Nixon Survive Dean?" came to mind in the days leading up to the testimony of James Comey. (I remembered only that it had been on the cover of a magazine; it was, I discovered, on the Time cover of June 9, 1973). The testimony of James Comey had the potential for the same sort of confrontation. Would Comey be as devastating a witness against Trump as John Dean had been against Richard Nixon? My guess was no, and so it turned out, or at least it has had little effect so far.
Dean said that he has a sense that Nixon was recording conversations. That led, during the testimony of Alexander Butterfield, to the disclosure of Nixon’s taping system, which led in turn to his downfall. Here we have Trump hinting that he taped conversations with Comey and the latter saying that he hopes so. There have been demands that Trump turn over the tapes, but probably there aren’t any, although his subsequent seeming retraction left room to find some when convenient: "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings." More likely, he was just giving himself an excuse for his original threat.

His offer to testify under oath displayed the same pattern of bluster, followed by face-saving; his press secretary, Sean Spicer, claimed that Trump meant only that he might testify to Mueller under oath, not to Congress, although Trump did not so state and the context of his promise was Comey’s testimony to a Congressional committee.

The appropriate question this time around may well be: "Can Trump survive Trump?"  His constant flow of tweets reveals, among other worrisome characteristics, an insecurity so overwhelming that he is incapable of dealing with criticism. He doesn’t stop at labeling the media enemies of the people, but lashes out at specific members of that disloyal profession.
Morning Joe, on MSNBC, at times said nice things about Trump. Like many others, its hosts became more critical, and Trump retaliated in his customary style and medium, having so much to say that it spread over two tweets: "I heard poorly rated Morning Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came . . . to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!" Apart from what it reveals about Trump’s character, that is a self-destructive response. At some point, even the faithful may realize that this man-child shouldn’t be in a position of power.
He wasn’t through; the network is evil also: "Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!" Some Republicans are beginning to take notice; here are reactions to the first outburst. Senator Lindsey Graham: "Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America." Sen. Ben Sasse:"Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office." Sen. Lisa Murkowski: "Stop it! The Presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down." Sen. Susan Collins: "This has to stop . . . We don't have to get along, but we must show respect and civility."[31]
The White House is circling the wagons. Associate press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered this slightly garbled defense of her boss: "The president has been attacked mercilessly on personal accounts by members on that program, and I think he's been very clear that when he gets attacked, he's going to hit back." In case anyone had missed the point, that critics had better be careful, she added: "I think the American people elected somebody who's tough, who's smart, and who's a fighter, and that's Donald Trump. And I don't think that it's a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire."
It takes an extreme case of loyalty to describe Trump as smart, and poor judgment to excuse his every instance of outrageous behavior. If Trump’s staff want him to survive, they should abandon sycophancy and offer a few fire-me-if you-want lessons on how grown-ups with important jobs behave. It isn’t likely to happen or to be effective if it did. That’s probably all to the good; if his staff and Fox continue to protect him and to justify his immature, vindictive behavior, even Republicans may decide that this has gone on long enough.
31. The reactions are recorded at lawmakers-react-trump-tweet-joe-scarborough-mika-brzezinski-morning-joe/index.html.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017
I must be naïve. After decades of observing American politics, it still amazes me that many of those elected by the people to do the people’s business go to such lengths to harm them. The Senate "health care" bill, following a similar effort by the House, was designed to do just that. It was, however, not bad enough for some.
One of those is Ron Johnson, whose election in 2010 and re-election last year add to the puzzlement over what has happened to Wisconsin. During the 2010 campaign, George Will, in an approving column, quoted Johnson’s philosophy: "First of all, freedom." Like many conservatives, freedom to Johnson means property and the right to keep it, especially the right to avoid having it taxed: "The most basic right is the right to keep your property." Once that was possible: "For a brief moment" (when, under Reagan, the top income tax rate was 28 percent), "we were 72 percent free."
Senator Johnson wrote a column for The New York Times on June 26 setting forth his views on the ACA (Obamacare), which levied some taxes, and the Senate’s proposal to terminate its evil effects. His argument consisted of a string of conservative clichés, along with some inconsistencies.
"Washington believes that the solution to every problem is more money." Apparently he is, after six years, not part of Washington, which consists only of irresponsible liberals. Do conservatives not throw money at the Pentagon? Never mind.
"Like Obamacare, [the Senate bill] relies too heavily on government spending, and ignores the role that the private sector can and should play." Ah, yes, the private sector, in which no waste occurs, and every action results in the public good.
"[P]ursuing continuous improvement and root-cause analysis are core ideas in private-sector problem-solving. From what I’ve seen in six years in office, these concepts are foreign to government." This is nonsense; the core concept, the principle aim, of private business is making a profit. Medicare, not burdened with shareholders, overpaid executives or lobbyists, applies a far greater percentage of its revenue to patient care than do insurance companies.
The health care system has "virtually eliminated the power of consumer-driven, free-market discipline from one-sixth of our economy." How, pray, would that discipline work out in health care? Does he think that patients will be inclined, or able, to shop for care, comparing fees (if disclosed) between providers? Would insurance companies, with their network model, even allow that? The Senator really can’t make up his mind as to the system he wants. He complains that our health care system results in "separating patients from direct payment for health care," but contemplates reliance on private insurance, which largely accomplishes that separation.
Apparently, though, I’m making this too complex: "[A] simple solution is obvious. Loosen up regulations and mandates, so that Americans can choose to purchase insurance that suits their needs and that they can afford." The Senate Republican bill, to Senator Johnson isn’t drastic enough: it "turns its back on this simple solution and goes with something far too familiar: throwing money at the problem."
These are not unique beliefs, nor are they new for Johnson. When he decided in 2010 to run for the Senate, he claimed: "The Health Care Bill is the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime. It will do great harm to the finest health care system in the world."[30]  Our health care system is more accurately described as an embarrassment, a term used in one review of international results. Every study in recent years has shown that we spend more for poorer results than other developed countries. The ACA has reduced the number of uninsured, but our system is far from the finest, measured before or after that law’s enactment.
Would the Senator’s solution, removing government help, make health insurance affordable for all? Hardly, and that isn’t his aim. The result would be, he says, that people "can choose to purchase insurance that suits their needs and that they can afford." For many people, what they can afford won’t be much, if anything, and therefore won’t suit their needs.
His philosophy is aptly summarized in an article in The Nation: "The [Senate] bill makes an equivalence between affording care and deserving care." In other words, according to the foes of government, everyone deserves the level of care he can afford, and no more: health care is a privilege, not a right.


30. r=0

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June 22, 2017

A number of reports have noted that Trump’s approval ratings are unusually low, especially for a point so early in a term. The mystery to me is why they are so high, considering his obvious incompetence. The Gallup tracking poll, asking how Trump is handling his job as President, has showed an approval rating of as much as 45, holding steady in the high thirties since late May. His disapproval rating has been above 50 almost from the start, but there is no evidence of impending desertion, and continuing support from more than a third.
When asked by Gallup, between June 7 and 11, about Trump’s handling of specific issues, responses were as follows:
The economy45532
Foreign affairs35623
Health care policy28675
Relations with Russia30665
The environment32635
Federal budget36576
Relations with news media34642
That produces a comparable result, an average of 36.1.[29] He dropped below one-third approval on issues which have received the most attention, which is some reason for hope.
 However, polls — even assuming that they accurately measure opinion — and votes are two very different things. Republicans have won the four special elections for the House held thus far, including the contest in Georgia which has drawn so much attention. Granted, these are Republican districts, but the results do not show abandonment of Trump. They may, however, demonstrate a movement away from him or from Republicans. All four districts were held by Republicans previously and all voted for Trump last year. Here are the GOP margins:

House, 2017House, 2016 Trump, 2016
South Carolina3.22019
In each case, there was a sharp drop off from the previous House election, and in three, a sharp drop from Trump’s margin. In Georgia, the Republican House candidate in this year’s election did better than Trump, but by a relatively small amount. Perhaps there is cause for optimism.
Whatever the message from those contests, Democrats need to do two things between now and November, 2018: decide on a message (and get it right), and work for greater turnout.
29. All poll results from


Monday, June 5, 2017

June 4, 2017

Are Donald Trump and his administration so bad that he should be removed from office? Yes.
An article in The New York Times on Tuesday asked "Can a Sitting President Be Indicted?" Even if there were grounds, the answer, probably, is no; impeachment is the appropriate remedy. Although the odds of impeachment of President Trump by this Congress are slight, it is necessary to begin making the case for removal now.
It is barely possible that Republicans in Congress will see the light on their own. The reputation of Republicans in Congress for clear thinking or serving the public interest is not impressive, and they think that Trump will useful to them in repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting taxes on the rich and letting business do whatever it wants. However, they might be prodded to move if their constituents turn against Trump and, by extension, against them; if there are enough angry confrontations at town halls, ideology may give way to desire for re-election. Thus far, however, Trump’s supporters among the public haven’t deserted him despite his showing as clearly as possible that he’s a bad joke and the unlikelihood that he will look out for their interests.
Election of a Democratic Congress in 2018 would improve the odds of impeachment. There also is the possibility of removal under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, but that seems even less likely than impeachment. As a last resort, Trump could be rejected in 2020. Any of these happy outcomes depends on showing the country what Trump and his cohort are.

1. Trump’s personal failings.
He is undoubtedly one of the worst choices for the presidency ever, and the worst since Harding, who faced a less complicated, less dangerous world. Trump’s ignorance, foolishness, self-absorption and dishonestly damage America’s reputation abroad and impair its ability to positively influence events. They ensure that domestic policies will be a muddle, at best. His rudeness helped to turn the European part of his recent tour into a disaster. He blurted out, in Israel, that he hadn’t given away that Israel was the source of the intelligence he gave away to the Russians. (See 6.a. below).
His fragile ego has led him to exaggerate the size of the crowd at his inauguration, to concoct a story about illegal voting which denied him a majority, and now to appoint a commission to investigate "improper voter registrations and improper voting." The likely outcome will be vote suppression. A skin too thin for politics has led him to label the news media as enemies of the people, and to dismiss all negative reports as "fake news." Having something to hide would produce the same reaction. His refusal to release his tax returns supports that view.
His inane comments are not limited to oral statements, so the problem is not merely talking without thinking. Presumably there is no time pressure on his tweets, and they are just as foolish.
2. Conflicts of interest.
His tax proposal would lower the tax rate on "pass-through" income, such as that from partnerships or limited-liability companies. Trump reportedly receives income from 500 such organizations. It would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which affects him, among other high-earners. Eliminating the estate tax would benefit his heirs. The presence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on his staff, both with extensive business interests, increases the scope of the conflict. His nepotism and conflicts of interest will taint any policy proposal.
3. Administrative incompetence.
Trump is so unaware and undisciplined that he conducted a national security conference with the Japanese premier, Michael Flynn and Stephen Bannon in a restaurant, in view and earshot of other diners. It was at his Mar-a-Lago resort, thereby also raising the conflict of interest issue. His constant flow of tweets, in addition to revealing his intellectual and emotional failings, create a risk of damage to the country by disclosure of sensitive information.
About 1,200 positions in the federal government require Senate confirmation. Of 559 "key positions," according to The Washington Post, nominees to 39 positions have been confirmed, 63 others have been nominated, 14 are "awaiting nomination," i.e., announced (floated?) but not actually submitted, and 443 positions have no nominee. [26] The positions for which there is no nominee include the following:
State Department: Under secretary for arms control and international security affairs; 41 Ambassadors, including those to Canada, France and Germany; and the Representative of the United States to the European Union.
Defense Department: Under secretary for intelligence; Secretary of the Army; Secretary of the Navy.
Justice Department: Assistant attorney general for the national security division; Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
National Intelligence Agency: Principal deputy director; Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
For an administration fixated on national security, these are odd lapses. No legislation of significance has been adopted, partly due to the regressive nature of the proposals, partly to administration clumsiness, partly to disarray in Congressional Republican ranks. The attempt to overturn the ACA was a fiasco, fortunately.
Despite Trump’s description of his administration as a well-oiled machine, it is dysfunctional. The communications director is gone and press secretary Sean Spicer seems to be in the dog house. The flow of leaks from the White House demonstrates a high level of discontent and confusion.
4. Reactionary policies.
His budget would be a joke if it weren’t a threat. It favors the very wealthy, already insulated from real life. It cuts Medicaid, Social Security disability coverage and food stamps. It cuts funding for the State Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, environmental protection and food safety and inspection. It wastes over a billion dollars on the border wall, a symbol of Trump’s fear of immigrants. It throws even more money at the military, even though we spend more on "defense" than the next eight countries combined.
The budget doesn’t even make sense on the surface. It assumes 3% annual growth, not seen since 2005. It cuts taxes by $2 trillion, assumes (contrary to any evidence) that growth triggered by those cuts will produce $2 trillion in tax receipts to cover that loss, and then counts the $2 trillion again as a revenue increase.
The budget and the health care proposals would reverse progress made toward a responsible federal health care law, something finally achieved in part after a century of trying. The United States does not rank high internationally in health care; becoming even more backward hardly is a way to make America great.
Trump has tried, twice, to restrict entry by residents of Muslim countries, only to be slapped down by the courts. Any argument that the bans were not religiously motivated is belied by Trump’s anti-Muslim speeches during the campaign. Trump fired the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, for instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend the ban.
5. Diplomatic blunders
In Trump’s hands, we will be isolated, less powerful and potentially less secure. He has insulted allies — "The Germans are bad, very bad" because they sell cars in the U.S. — and praised dictators. He avoided promising to adhere to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which stipulates that other NATO allies must come to the aid of a member country under attack, even though the only time it was invoked was following 9-11, and even though his evasion came as he was dedicating a memorial to the attacks of that day. He declined to endorse the Paris accords on climate change.
Those exercises in self-injuring stupidity have led Angela Merkel to announce that, lacking American support, Europe must look to its own resources. Another effect may be to push some European countries toward Russia or China. On Thursday, Trump confirmed his withdrawal from the Paris agreement, leaving us in a state of denial joined only by Nicaragua and Syria.
6. Legal issues.
a. Russia. As reported by The New York Times on May 23, "intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered in the election." The FBI is, or was, pursuing that issue. Director Comey testified on March 20 that the FBI "is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed."[27] According to The Washington Post, following Comey’s testimony Trump "made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion . . . ." On May 9, Trump fired Comey, offering the laughable reason that he had mishandled the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
There is evidence that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey to impede the investigation into Russian ties to his transition team and administration. (Trump has admitted that he was thinking about the Russian issue when he fired Comey). If so, he may be guilty of obstruction of justice. This could be a rerun of Watergate, an attempted coverup becoming the trigger for impeachment. Trump’s hiring of outside counsel and the recent appointment of special prosecutor provide further echoes.
In January, Trump was warned by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had lied to the vice president about his contacts with Russians during the transition. "To state the obvious," she told a Congressional committee, " You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians." Despite the warning, Flynn hung around until February 13, eighteen days later
On May 10, Trump, in a meeting with the Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister, disclosed intelligence information. Trump admitted that, on Twitter: "As President I wanted to share with Russia . . . which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety." Israel apparently was the source of the intelligence.
b. Business. Trump has many trademarks in China. He and daughter Ivanka have been awarded new ones recently; perhaps entirely by coincidence, that happened after Trump abandoned his challenge to China’s stance on Taiwan. Trump has business ties to numerous countries or their citizens; visitors from abroad curry favor by staying at Trump’s Washington hotel. All of this may implicate the Emoluments clause of the Constitution, which provides that "no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State."
An emolument, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, is "any advantage, profit, or gain received as a result of one’s employment or one’s holding of office." Whether Trump has violated the Clause is far from clear, but his foreign financial connections, and possible vulnerabilities, add another issue regarding his fitness to serve.
7. Impeachment.
If matters ever reach this point, any of the above may enter into the discussion. However, Trump needn’t be found guilty of a crime or even be indictable in order to be removed by impeachment. "The Framers . . . completely separated the impeachment-removal proceedings from a subsequent indictment and criminal trial. . . . History, in short, does not require indictability as the basis for impeachment."[28]
8. Harmful policies.
Several of these issues, such as self-serving tax cuts for the wealthy, opposition to environmental protection, cuts to the social safety net and possible collusion with Russia, have been mentioned above in other contexts. Their greatest significance, however, is not in their violation of some specific norm. They are harmful to the nation he purports to lead. That is the most direct and meaningful, if not the legally neatest, reason to remove him. He is dangerous to the welfare of the nation.


26. appointee-tracker/database/
27. Transcript of hearing, House Intelligence Committee, March 20, 2017.

28. Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 1973, p. 661.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April 29, 2017
Tax farming — tax collection by private individuals — is a system subject to abuse. A limited version of it — private collection of delinquent taxes — has been tried by the U.S. government, twice, with poor results. Nevertheless, and true to its privatization obsession, Congress tucked a clause into a highway bill which requires the IRS to "enter into qualified tax collection contracts to collect outstanding inactive tax receivables," i.e., to farm out tax collection to private collection agencies. The IRS has selected four companies to pursue those delinquent accounts.
One might think that increasing the IRS budget, allowing it to hire more agents, would be a better plan than giving 25% of collections to the debt collectors, especially as their record at collection during prior trials is unimpressive. Also, the new program opens up opportunities for fraud and abuse, both by the designated collectors and by others posing as such.
The IRS announced that it would begin using the debt collectors in April. One of the companies selected by the IRS is Pioneer Credit Recovery, a subsidiary of Navient Corporation. Two years ago, Pioneer was accused by the Education Department of misleading borrowers about their loans. In January of this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit against Navient, accusing it of "systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment," and cheating "many struggling borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments, which caused them to pay much more than they had to for their loans."[24]  The same month, the States of Washington and Illinois sued Navient; the Washington Complaint accused it of a number of unfair and deceptive practices, including "aggressive and misleading collection tactics."[25]
Privatization is a dubious idea in any area of government activity. Privatizing tax collections is worse. Selecting a company with a bad reputation, one other government agencies accuse of wrongdoing, is difficult to explain. Of the four companies approved, two are from New York, including Navient-Pioneer, and one is from Iowa. Senators Schumer (New York) and Grassley (Iowa) are supporters of private tax collection. Apparently their viewpoint allows them to see an advantage invisible to most of us.


Friday, April 21, 2017

April 20, 2017
As The Washington Post informed us late last year, "It's official: Truth is dead. Facts are passe." The basis of that cynical statement? "Oxford Dictionaries has selected ‘post-truth’ as 2016's international word of the year," because the Brexit referendum battle and the presidential election "caused usage of the adjective to skyrocket, according to the Oxford University Press."[19]  Is selecting a word of the year important, or even meaningful? Recent words of the year are such additions to discourse as locavore, hypermiling and refudiate, the last made notorious by Sarah Palin. Oxford Dictionaries defines post-truth as an adjective "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,"[20] which is as awkward as the yearly word routine is meaningless; neither hypermiling nor refudiate have been added to the OED. On the other hand, the Dictionary has just added "sticky-outy."
Leaving aside whether dictionaries should describe rather than prescribe or, as Fox News puts it, report, not decide, the state of our political discourse, in which facts and truth are discarded, indeed is worthy of note. (In the Age of Trump, examples are not necessary; read any account of a press conference). What is the source of this intellectual decline?
One suggestion is that we should blame philosophy. On the cover of the April 3, 2017, issue, Time Magazine, apparently not yet convinced, asked "Is Truth Dead?" An article on Salon offered this comment: "Whether deliberate or not, the cover headline alludes to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who is best known for proclaiming the death of God, but also for rejecting the idea of objective truth (‘there are no facts, only interpretations’). For the philosophically inclined, then, our ‘post-truth’ era can be traced back to Nietzsche . . . ."[21]

A more recent reference also might support the theory. Richard Rorty observed that, under modern analytic philosophy, statements are "no longer thought of as expressions of experience nor as representations of extra-experiential reality." Truth "is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way." As long as the story sells, it can be called truth.
The intellectual fad known as postmodernism has helped to undermine respect for truth and fact; it includes "an excessive interest in subjective beliefs independently of their truth or falsity; and an emphasis on discourse and language as opposed to the facts to which those discourses refer (or, worse, the rejection of the very idea that facts exist or that one may refer to them)."[22]
Not many people keep abreast of trends in philosophy or literary criticism, so any influence must be by way of absorption into the culture. A different and less arcane source has been suggested, one which would have direct influence on many: conservative (usually called evangelical) Christianity. A recent article in The New York Times [23] observed that "two compulsions have guided conservative Protestant intellectual life: the impulse to defend the Bible as a reliable scientific authority and the impulse to place the Bible beyond the claims of science entirely." The result is a view that any statement must be false if it contradicts or challenges biblical stories taken literally. Rejecting much of modern science, to which this leads, is an anti-factual stance with a vengeance.
For some, this is based on a theory burdened with the almost unpronounceable name "presuppositionalism," which reflects this idea: "We all have presuppositions that frame our understanding of the world." However, not all presuppositions are equal: "one worldview, the one based on faith in an inerrant Bible, does have a claim on universal truth."
The Times article referred to a biologist who also is a creationist; he "calls himself a ‘presuppositionalist evidentialist’ — which we might define as someone who accepts evidence when it happens to affirm his nonnegotiable presuppositions." Although accepting some parts of science might seem an advance, a scientist who rejects inconvenient science is even more defensively blinkered than the outright denier.
Whatever the source or terminology, denial of reality, dressing up lies as "alternative facts," and contempt for the very notion of truth pose a serious problem in a complex, rapidly changing, menacing world.




21. in-his-post-truth-politics-and-maybe-in-postmodern-philosophy/

Sokal and Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures

23. post-truth-society.html

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March 18, 2017
Labeling Donald Trump or his administration "fascist" doesn’t, in itself, help us to understand the gang in power because, among other reasons, the terms "fascist’ and "fascism" are ill-defined. However, it’s worth noting that the conditions which gave us Trump bear some resemblance to those which have preceded the rise of authoritarian governments and far-right parties, including to those now appearing in Europe. That may be useful in explaining how Trump garnered almost 63 million votes (46% of those cast) and why polls show that 40% approve of his performance.
"Making America Great Again" is a slogan that excuses right-wing nationalism. The extreme example in this genre is the term "Third Reich," coined before the Hitler era to appeal to the desire to make Germany great again, imagining a rebirth of the glory days of the Holy Roman Empire and the Prussian Kingdom/German empire.[13]  Contrast the alleged weakness of the democratic Weimar Republic and the Obama administration.
Several writings on right-wing populism offer interesting insights. None refers to the rise of Trump or the recent election; each sets out characteristics that seem to be present in those phenomena. One is a small book on fascism [14] (in which the author more or less abandons an attempt to define the term): "[S]ome situate the emergence of the radical right in the context of the 'revolt against reason', which was said to characterize the last decades of the 19th century. Certainly, many fin-dc-siècle thinkers opposed rationalism and its ramifications: liberalism, socialism, materialism, and individualism. They were pessimists who refused to see history as progress, and instead saw it as a desperate struggle against degeneration." The make-America-great-again slogan in effect complains of degeneration. Many of Trump’s followers are opposed to liberalism, socialism, and, at least among his evangelical followers, materialism. Their attitude toward individualism is mixed, but to the extent they are individualistic, it consists of resenting government regulation. That makes support for an authoritarian leader ironic.
"In Germany, various strands of spiritualist thought, descended from Romanticism, informed the idea of the German ‘volk’—that is the people defined as an ethical, socially united, patriarchal, ethnic, and linguistic community." The white nationalist element of Trumpism dreams of an American volk.
"The radical right did not . . . derive simply from ultranationalism or anomie. It was rooted in daily contests for jobs, financial reward, educational success, and political honour against socialists, ethnic minorities, feminists, and liberals, in a context of nation-building and imperialism, and interest in improving the quality and efficiency of the race." Trump’s position on imperialism isn’t clear, except that he expects the U.S. to give orders; most of the rest applies.
In a study a few years ago of postmodernism’s connections to the right,[15] the author considered the social and economic forces behind the emergence of the European New Right. He found generational differences, but both the old and more recent right show similarities to Trumpism. "Historical fascism was able to draw upon a fairly large middle-class electoral base: small town dwellers and farmers, small proprietors, the lower middle classes, and white-collar workers. Often, this group has been collectively characterized as the ‘losers of the modernization process’: individuals most vulnerable and exposed to the social dislocations involved in industrialization. . . . The constituency of the New European Right is also heavily comprised of potential ‘losers of the modernization process’."
Fear of loss is the key. The far-right parties do not appear to draw support primarily from the ranks of the unemployed, but from "those social groups who feel in danger of being left behind by new developments in a globalized, postindustrial economy . . . ." Putting it more broadly, "[s]tatistical breakdowns of the New Right's constituency abound with examples of how ‘feelings of anxiety and social isolation, political exasperation and powerlessness, loss of purpose in life, and insecurity and abandonment’ provide social conditions conducive to the success of far-right political views." As here, "New Right politicians are skilled at playing on such feelings and fears."
According to a recent article,[16] contemporary right-wing parties in France, Denmark and The Netherlands present a picture different from Trumpism and the old European right, in general and as to some particulars. "These parties . . . have made a very public break with the symbols of the old right’s past, distancing themselves from skinheads, neo-Nazis and homophobes. . . . They have effectively claimed the progressive causes of the left – from gay rights to women’s equality and protecting Jews from antisemitism – as their own, . . ." However, here’s the point of contact: they have done that "by depicting Muslim immigrants as the primary threat to all three groups. As fear of Islam has spread, with their encouragement, they have presented themselves as the only true defenders of western identity and western liberties – the last bulwark protecting a besieged Judeo-Christian civilisation from the barbarians at the gates."
There’s another parallel: "These parties have steadily filled an electoral vacuum left open by social democratic and centre-right parties, who ignored voters’ growing anger over immigration – some of it legitimate, some of it bigoted – or simply waited too long to address it." They respond to "economic anxiety and fear of terrorism by blending a nativist economic policy – more welfare, but only for us – and tough anti-immigration and border security measures."
As in the U.S., so in Europe: "nostalgia for an older, whiter France has become a potent political force." The Dutch new right, by "framing its anti-migrant politics as a battle against imperious elites and political correctness, . . has been able to capitalise on a panoply of grievances, from anger over asylum seekers to Euroscepticism." There is "a strong anti-PC tone to the Dutch right: do not tell us what to say, what to celebrate and who we must live next to." How did this happen? "The Dutch Labour party . . . gave up on its working-class base." In Denmark, the attitude was summed up thus: "Immigrants can’t do right. When they’re unemployed they’re a burden to society. When they’re in a job, they just stole the job from a Dane."
Finally, Britain: "Not least among the lessons of Brexit was that, for millions of disaffected voters, immigration is just one more thing nobody asked them about. This is what makes the issue an especially potent weapon: it combines the resentful energies of nativism, economic instability, and hatred of a remote and unaccountable political elite."
In all this we can identify several public attitudes common to the rise of authoritarian governments and the election of Donald Trump. Prominent is resentment of immigrants, which derives, at least in part, from fear of terrorism and from a sense of threat to jobs, prosperity and status. In addition, there is a sense of political powerlessness; resentment of elites who allegedly run everything, including government; and social attitudes forced on an unwilling citizenry, i.e., political correctness. Underlying these developments is economic inequality and the power of the wealthy. One of the ironies of the American version of right-wing populism is that it leads to the election of those who will protect and expand such inequality.
How do we deal with this? One solution was offered by Tony Blair, writing in The New York Times on March 3. The new wave "is a revolution that is partly economic, but mainly cultural." It is caused by "the scale, scope and speed of change." That occurs "economically as jobs are displaced and communities fractured, and culturally as the force of globalization moves the rest of the world closer and blurs old boundaries of nation, race and culture." In other words, the nationalism of the new right blames globalization for lost jobs and immigration.
To Blair, it would be a mistake to respond with a wave of leftist populism. Left populists, as he sees it, also revolt against globalization, and they "agree with the right-wing populists about elites, though for the left the elites are the wealthy, while for the right they’re the liberals." Should there not, then, be a revolt against the conservative elite, especially now that the wealthy and the government have merged? He says not: left populism, he thinks, has no chance of success and "dangerously validates some of the right’s arguments. This only fuels a cynicism that depresses support for the more progressive parts of the left’s program." He doesn’t elaborate on, and I don’t see the merit of, that argument. If, in rejecting populism, Blair is proposing a policy of polite, patient advocacy, with no enemies and no demonstrations, he’s out of touch with the times.
He’s correct in saying that left populism is a response to the failure of the liberal establishment or, as he puts it, the paralysis of the center. "The parties and politicians of the center have become the managers of the status quo in an era when people want change. So, the center — in both its center-right and center-left camps — is marginalized, even despised." A focus on the center is not surprising in an advocate of the third way but, at least in this country, the center-right has vanished; the "center" is the Democratic establishment, which has failed to address the issues that give rise to right-wing populism, such as concern about immigration and globalization.
One aspect of his centrism has merit, the toning down of certain liberal arguments and, better yet, reconsideration of some of them, in his words learning "the difference between being progressive and appearing obsessive on issues like gender identity."
Populism can be an elusive subject. The term is more often used than defined, and definitions aren’t consistent. Some definitions are useless; my unabridged dictionary [17] defines "populist" as "a member of the People’s Party," which expired a century ago; "populism" is simply a derivative with no separate definition. Some definitions include negative aspects, such as anti-intellectualism, prejudice or mob mentality. That may be why Blair avoids it. However, there are more neutral, useful definitions, for example: "A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite."[18]  That is what Trumpism purported to be during the campaign.
A liberal populism, that is, a movement focused on improving the lot of ordinary Americans rather than the one percent, is, despite Blair’s concerns, the way forward. The anti-Trump rallies show that many people are ready. Bernie Sanders demonstrated populism’s appeal and force, and it could succeed if it had the support of the Democratic establishment. The goal must be to convince people, including many who currently support Trump, that there is a better way than his — and better than anything mainstream Republicans have offered in years — and that Democrats understand them and will work for their benefit. Democratic dithering won’t do it and Democrats beholden to Wall Street can’t. It’s time to choose sides.


. See Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (2003), p. 121.

. Passmore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction (2014), pp. 28, 35

. Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason
(2004), 275-77

. Sasha Polakow-Suransky, "The Ruthlessly Effective Rebranding of Europe’s New Far Right, " europes-new-far-right

. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language

. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language