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“What You Missed While You Were Trumping”: 2015 Provided Reasons To Believe That America Never Stopped Being Great

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Year of Trump, besides everything, was the viciously cyclical nature of Trump coverage. Attention and outrage are the fuel of Trumpism, and attempts to explain his rise wound up re-inscribing the central falsehood of his campaign: that people are angry about an America in decline and a government with suspect motives and marginal competence. But what if none of that were true?

What if people aren’t really angry, America isn’t actually in decline, and our government is neither malicious nor incompetent?

Are people angry? Americans as whole say they are and I’ve been through enough counseling that I hesitate to tell anyone how they feel. But Trump supporters aren’t angry; they’re terrified. There are forms of righteous anger—the kind of communal eruption that happens when there are no other legitimate forms of expression. Trump supporters, on the other hand, do not lack for legitimate forms of expression. People are asking them what they think and feel all the time. There is not a second of time in the last 600 years that the world has had to guess at what American white people want.

Numerous progressive commentators (and Saturday Night Live) have pointed out that the nostalgia inherent in making America great “again” is little more than a pull toward a time before a gaymarriageblackpresidentscarymuslims. As one analyst put it, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Is America in decline, no longer “great”? I’m tempted to indulge in a poetic interpretation, to delve into the areas of American culture and society that produced greatness on a regular basis—from rescue workers to scientists, artists to educators. But Trump (and his supporters) are at once thuddingly literal and immeasurably ambiguous: “Greatness” seems to be a combination of economic success and world-leader dick-measuring. But if the U.S. has fallen so far in world esteem, how come the immigrants that so upset Trumpkins want to come here? Less concretely, there are actual data about how the rest of the world views America and it’s largely positive—we have an overall 65 percent approval rating, with some countries giving us the kind of marks that are a distant memory for America’s political class: 75 percent positive opinion in France (France!), 80 percent in both El Salvador and Kenya.

Economically, well, by the measure of the white, working-class, non-college-educated Trump supporters, they are either extremely late to the realization that their wages have stagnated (indeed, in real terms, the average hourly wage peaked in 1973) or—and we’re happening on a theme here—the complaint isn’t about the loss of “greatness” so much as the emergence of a perceived threat to the status quo. I don’t think it’s even about America being less great for them. It’s an alarm over the possibility that America is becoming great for people who aren’t them.

Whether American greatness is, in fact, becoming more widely accessible is a separate but related question—and it brings us to the final falsity of the Trumpian theology: Government is both evil and inept.

There’s no doubt that it can be; it’s mostly been evil and inept in the way it’s treated the very people Trumpkins worry about sharing the greatness pie with. Those communities continue to suffer, but here is where the Trump theology finds purchase: In 2015, our democracy—the functioning one, outside the circus of the party primaries—did a lot right by its citizens.

Some old wrongs began to be righted: The death penalty is increasingly unpopular not just in the public eye, but with state legislatures and judges. Courts in Texas (Texas!) issued two (two!) death-penalty sentences in all of 2015—the fewest since re-instating the penalty 40 years ago. Across the country, death sentences dropped 33 percent from 2014, with 49 people being sentenced to death this year. By comparison: In 1996, 315 people were put on death row. Also in 2015, just six states carried 28 out executions, the fewest since 1999—when 98 people were killed.

And while officer-involved shootings continue to be flashpoints for community unrest, cities have grabbed on to the Department of Justice’s best practices—hard-won lessons from Ferguson, Missouri, being put to use in places such as my adopted hometown of Minneapolis, where the biggest headline of the year might be the riot that didn’t happen in the wake of the death of Jamal Clark.

Also this year: Politicians embraced the end of the war on the drugs and the beginning of the movement to aid those in addiction. (A turn of events that may be the only lasting memory of Chris Christie’s presidential campaign.) Police departments are experimenting with a policy that puts treatment before arrest: In Glouchester, Massachusetts,, addicts who ask police for treatment will be assisted into a program—on the spot. More than 100 have found help so far. At the federal level, almost unnoticed this month, Congress ended the federal enforcement of drug laws where the state has legalized medical marijuana.

Somewhere between old wrongs being righted and new paths forward: The fight to raise the minimum wage continues to catch on among activists and allies in government. In 2015, workers won higher hourly wages in 13 states and in 14 municipalities (PDF). These weren’t just soft-hearted coastal governments’ blue bleeding hearts in action, either: Michigan and Nebraska went to $15 an hour, as well as Missoula, Montana, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, New York.

And in more forward-looking changes, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, now in its fifth year, has become the exact kind of watchdog-with-teeth Elizabeth Warren envisioned. It’s taking in a record number of consumer-generated complaints (through November: 749,400; 24,300 in October alone—more in one month than it saw in all of 2014). AND it’s stepped in on some of the longest-running but legal scams in America, cracking down on (and getting huge payouts for consumers from) payday lenders and for-profit colleges. How successful is the CFPB? Its right-wing critics have resorted to fearmongering about the importance of payday loans in the fight against terrorism.

This isn’t to say that the year didn’t also see tragedy and horror, many instances emerging from governmental abuse or ineptitude, but it’s important to remember that the fear that Trump has based his campaign on is not real.

The idea that small-d (and, occasionally, big-d) democratic government works undermines the entire framework of Trumpism. Programs like the CFPB and the slow turn toward true criminal justice are kryptonite to the strongman ideology of Trump, not just because it fucks with his message of government incompetence or maliciousness. Its successful tenure is evidence of government for the people, to be sure, but its existence is also evidence of government by the people.

The image of Obama as capricious dictator, making social-justice decrees out of pique, is Trumpkins’ favorite myth because it cuts out the part of our American story that they are the least able to explain or process: Obama and Democrats have facilitated these incremental bits of forward progress because they won. They were elected to do so.

Grappling with the fact of a functional government requires more than the admission that protecting citizens is legitimate activity—it also forces the argument that government protects and fights for people because that’s what its people want.

The fearful coverage of the Trump’s fear-filled campaign has created an echo of terror on the left, of course. Part alarmist fundraising necessity on the part of Democrats, part symptom of a conflict-obsessed media, many rational and sane Americans now think that there is a real possibility of Donald Trump will be elected president. I don’t want to encourage complacency by denying the possibility, but I do want to remind everyone: We’re better than that. We’ve shown ourselves to be better than that. Don’t be afraid. Be aware.

 

By: Ana-Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, January 1, 2016

January 1, 2016 Posted by | America, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Wilier Than Trump Could Ever Dream Of Being”: Trump Should Think Twice About Picking On Bill Clinton

Donald Trump might be picking the wrong schoolyard fight.

His modus operandi is to bully. And it’s proved to be an ideal strategy for tying his Republican rivals in knots. But now he’s trying it on someone whose powers of political legerdemain are legendary: Bill Clinton.

The 69-year-old former president is wilier than Trump could ever dream of being. This is the man who hung the 1995-96 government shutdown around the neck of his chief political adversary, House Speaker Newt Gingrich. A formidable huckster in his own right, Gingrich was the It Boy of conservatism and the leader of an ascendant “Republican Revolution,” but after losing his budget showdown with Clinton, his career went into permanent eclipse.

Gingrich’s oafish understudies then mounted an ill-advised impeachment campaign against Clinton, which only burnished the president’s credentials as a victim of partisan fanaticism.

Trump, by contrast, is a cad whose vulgarity and brutishness are given cover by the fact that those very qualities are cheered by a large portion of the Republican base. He’s making the P.T. Barnum bet on the Republican electorate, and so far it’s paying off.

In recent days, Trump has pounced on Hillary Clinton’s husband, in particular his record of cheating, as a new stratagem to upend her campaign. On Twitter, he asserted: “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!”

But this only underscores another difference between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump: The former president’s record on so-called women’s issues is stellar. He appointed the first women to become U.S. attorney general and secretary of state, added Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court and signed the Violence Against Women Act, along with other measures that benefited women.

That’s the lesson of the Clinton White House. Slick Willie was capable of being unfaithful to his wife — in ways that disgusted women and men everywhere — and yet he also acted with foresight and responsibility in formulating policies that women care deeply about. “Compartmentalizing” is the word pundits used to describe this seeming paradox. But in fact it’s a common enough trait in political figures: Their public service is distinct from their private lives.

It is highly doubtful that Trump has the same ability. His almost cartoonish narcissism results in everything becoming personal. Challenge him in the most tentative way and he’s your enemy. And if you happen to be a woman, get ready for the most juvenile of sexist taunts.

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly learned that lesson on live TV. During the first Republican presidential primary debate, she pressed Trump on comments he had made about women in the past, among other issues. He responded over the next several days with a peevish onslaught that culminated in a crude suggestion that Kelly had been menstruating.

Every savvy and ambitious woman in America knows that scenario. Tick off a powerful man and wait for the backlash. The more out-gunned the man is intellectually, the viler the putdown you can expect.

References to women’s menstrual cycles or their use of a toilet — all part of Trump’s charm offensive — are not the way to win female votes, Republican or Democratic. Women are more than half of the population and they vote in higher percentages than men. Our vote matters. And it’s not just the stereotypical issues that move women; we care about education, equal pay and health care policy.

If Trump hopes to pull himself out of the verbal gutter and address female voters, he’s going to have to start talking real policy. But that brings up a third key difference between him and the Clintons.

Bill and Hillary have long, long records of formulating, enacting and defending policies. They’re not records of unqualified success or popularity, to be sure. But there is not a policy area in American government in which they have not taken a leading role at the highest level.

Trump, when he has attempted even the roughest outline of a policy, has proved to be a charlatan. He’d like to claim that Hillary Clinton is using her gender to sell herself, but she doesn’t have to. Her chops dwarf those of anyone the Republican Party can stand against her. That is what she will run on.

If the GOP chooses Trump as the nominee, the general election will be a referendum on him — not on Hillary, as Republican strategists might wish it to be.

So let him tear into Bill and Hillary in any way he likes. The smart money, as always, is on the Clintons.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 30, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Knowing Who’s On Your Airplane”: Inconveniencing People Should Not Trump (Excuse The Expression) National Security

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that the feds have screened the other passengers sitting on my airplane. To do that, they also have to screen me. That’s the deal.

In America, any state-issued driver’s license had long been acceptable ID for passing security checks at airports. That lax attitude changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists turned four commercial jetliners full of passengers into missiles, killing thousands more on the ground. All four planes took off from U.S. airports.

On the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, Congress passed the Real ID Act. It tightens standards for state driver’s licenses used to board flights. Among other information, applicants must provide their Social Security number and immigration status. The licenses must also contain a chip or other technology that can be read by a computer. The deadline for compliance is approaching.

Some states have done their duty and issued secure driver’s licenses. Others have made enough progress that their licenses are acceptable for the time being. And a few states — Washington, Minnesota and New Mexico, for example — have largely not complied. Barring another extension of the deadline, their driver’s licenses will soon be inadmissible as proof of identity at airport security.

Consider the stakes.

When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed last year, killing all 239 aboard, the world shuddered to learn that two of the passengers had carried fake passports. The two, it turned out, were not terrorists but ordinary Iranians trying to move to Germany.

Everyone, Americans included, noted that known terrorists bent on destruction could probably have secured similar phony ID. But there’s a tendency, especially among Americans, to rapidly forget what obsessed them the year before.

With the deadline for Real ID drawing near, hostility has again flared toward letting the federal government do what it must to ensure that passengers flashing driver’s licenses at airport security are who they say they are.

To me, the main difference between a secure driver’s license and an insecure one is that the insecure one can be used for committing crimes, among them identity theft and fraud. But to many foes of Real ID, secure ones’ threat to privacy is a more serious matter.

The foes argue that requiring enhanced licenses is tantamount to creating a national identity card. That presupposes that a national identity card would be a terrible thing. Actually, the gentlest of European democracies have national identity cards, and they haven’t turned into police states.

Besides, Americans already have a national ID number, courtesy of Social Security. When the Social Security program was established in 1935, its enemies fulminated against the issuance of numbers, with some of the arguments now being hurled at Real ID.

As historian Douglas Brinkley writes, “Critics likened the process to the social engineering used in fascist nations, notably Nazi Germany, predicting that American workers would be forced to wear metal tags on chains around their necks and charging that ‘surveillance is a part of the plans of the (Franklin D.) Roosevelt administration.’”

It was inevitable that an ID requiring proof of immigration status would rankle defenders of undocumented workers. One wishes for a solution to the immigration problem that is humane to both those settled here illegally and American workers competing with them for jobs. (Such a plan would legalize the status of most of the undocumented while cutting off future illegal entry.)

That said, it is politically unwise to let concerns about inconveniencing people here illegally trump (excuse the expression) concern over national security.

An air disaster set off by passengers getting on board with fake ID would move many fence-sitters to the side of Real ID. But let’s not wait for it.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, December 31, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Air Travel, National ID Card, National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Marco Rubio’s Terrible New Idea”: Pandering To Voters’ Most Simplistic And Uninformed Impulses

Campaigning for president requires one to come up with policy proposals, a need that from time to time produces innovative and promising ideas. But it also produces some extraordinarily dumb ones, as Marco Rubio is now demonstrating. Here’s his latest plan to fix what’s wrong with Washington:

Shortly after 11 a.m. on the East Coast, Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign alerted the media to their candidate’s latest position, inspired by the Founding Fathers and by Congress’s seeming inability to pass conservative legislation.

“One of the things I’m going to do on my first day in office is I will put the prestige and power of the presidency behind a constitutional convention of the states,” Rubio said as he campaigned in Iowa. “You know why? Because that is the only way that we are ever going to get term limits on members of Congress or the judiciary and that is the only way we are ever going to get a balanced-budget amendment.”

With this, Rubio manages to combine a promise for something that will never happen with a spectacularly terrible idea.

We’ll start with the constitutional convention. There are two ways an amendment to the Constitution can be proposed: when two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to do so, or when two-thirds of the states call for a convention to propose amendments. Rubio is saying that because you couldn’t get super-majorities in Congress to support his three ideas, he wants to push for the states to assemble a convention to offer these amendments.

The first thing to understand is that the president has nothing to do with this process. What Rubio is promising is that in between trying to pass his tax cuts and outlaw abortion and repeal Obamacare and wage war on the Islamic State, he’ll use the bully pulpit to advocate for a constitutional convention. So President Rubio will give a speech or two about it? Mention it in the State of the Union? That’s fine, but at best it might bring the chances of getting two-thirds of the states to sign on from approximately zero to ever slightly more than zero. Getting a constitutional convention might be a bit easier than assembling two-thirds majorities in Congress, but not by much.

So he can’t make these constitutional amendments happen. But what about the amendments themselves? Term limits for judges is the only one that might not be all that problematic, but it’s a little hard to tell what the problem is that Rubio is trying to solve. Lifetime tenure for judges is supposed to insulate them from momentary political concerns, but in practice it turns out that there’s plenty of politics on the bench. Presidents pick nominees they hope will reflect their own political values, and most of the time they’re right, with an occasional exception here and there. Some have suggested that the Supreme Court could use more turnover, so there should be a limit of some long but not endless stretch for justices (18 years is one common number). That might be fine, but it’s hard to see what kind of transformation in American justice would result from limiting all federal judges’ terms. If anything, the nominating and confirmation process would become even more political, since you’d need more judges.

But that’s the least bad of these ideas. The next is term limits for Congress, an idea that fell out of favor for a while and Rubio now wants to bring back. But what is it supposed to accomplish? Is Washington going to run more smoothly with more members who don’t know how to pass legislation? We’ve seen a huge influx of new members (mostly Republicans) in the last few congressional elections, and they haven’t exactly been committed to making government work. To the contrary, they’re the ones who care least about having a functioning government and are more likely to be nihilistic extremists who want to shut down the government, default on the national debt and govern by crisis.

Rubio is smart enough to know that the myth of the citizen legislator unsullied by contact with sinister lobbyists, who comes to Washington armed with nothing but common sense and a strong moral fiber and cleans up government, is just that — a myth. But he also knows that saying “Kick all the bums out!” is an easy way to pander to voters’ most simplistic and uninformed impulses.

I’ve saved the worst for last: a balanced-budget amendment. It has long been a popular item on the conservative wish list, but if you put it into practice, it would be an absolute disaster.

The childish way of thinking about it is that a requirement that the government spend no more than it takes in every year would impose fiscal discipline and make government live within its means. But in truth it would require radical cutbacks in everything government does — which means not only the programs Republicans don’t like anyway, but also the ones they do like. In the last half century, through Republican and Democratic presidencies and Republican and Democratic Congresses, we’ve had only five years when the government’s budget was balanced (four of which came during the boom of the Clinton years). Without the ability to issue bonds to cover each year’s shortfall, we’d be left without the ability to do what’s necessary to serve all of our many public needs.

Consider what would happen during an economic downturn if we had a balanced-budget amendment. What you want in that situation is for government to step in and help people — by providing things like food stamps and unemployment compensation to keep people from falling into truly desperate situations of hunger and homelessness, and also to do what it can to spur job creation and keep the recession from being worse than it would otherwise be.

But in a recession, tax revenue also falls, because people are losing jobs and incomes are plummeting; as an example, between 2008 and 2009, the federal government’s revenues declined by more than $400 billion. With a balanced-budget requirement in place, just at the moment when government’s help is needed most, not only would it be powerless to do anything to mitigate the toll of the recession, it also would be required to impose brutal budget cuts, pulling money out of the economy and making things even worse. If Rubio got his way, every recession the country experienced would be deeper, longer and more punishing.

Some conservatives say, “Nearly every state has a balanced-budget amendment, so why can’t the federal government have one too?” But that’s actually another reason why a federal balanced-budget amendment would be so dangerous. When a recession hits, states have no choice but to cut back, slashing needed services and firing workers just when their economies are suffering. At those times, the federal government can step in to limit the damage, boosting the hundreds of billions of dollars it already provides in aid to the states. As it happens, many of the states run by Republicans are the ones most dependent on federal government aid. In 2012, according to the Tax Foundation, the federal government picked up 31.5 percent of all state budgets, including 44 percent of Louisiana’s, 45 percent of Mississippi’s and 41 percent of Tennessee’s. So in places where Republicans are denouncing the federal government in the loudest terms, without the federal government’s help their state finances would utterly collapse.

The good news is that none of what Rubio is advocating for will ever happen. But advocating for constitutional amendments is what you do when you don’t have the stomach for actual governing. It’s certainly seductive — we’ll just change the Constitution, and that will sweep away all the messiness that comes with politics. But it’s a fantasy. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of presidential candidates who don’t respect the voters enough to tell them that passing laws and solving problems is difficult and complicated, and to get what you want to you have to slog your way through it. That’s not an inspiring campaign message, but it’s the truth.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 31, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Constitution, Governing, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Republicans Want Revenge”: Democrats Elected The Guy Who Reminded Us About “e pluribus unum”

If you’re a Democrat who occasionally talks to Republicans, you might have heard this response when you point to the ridiculous charges that have been waged against President Obama: “Democrats did the same thing to George W. Bush when he was president.”

What can ring true about a statement like that is that a lot of Democrats thought that things like invading a country based on lies, sanctioning the use of torture, and skirting Constitutional processes by setting up a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were actions that are antithetical to our values as Americans. Now listen to how Frank Luntz describes what Trump supporters think about President Obama:

…just about all of them think he does not reflect the values the country was built upon.

For those of you who think I’ve lost my mind by making that comparison, stick with me. I have a bigger point that I want to make beyond a question of whose argument is more grounded in reality.

It is true that liberals/Democrats were incredibly angry at the direction George W. Bush took this country. And so it is interesting to note who they looked to for leadership to change all that. They picked this guy:

Regardless of how you feel about the “values” that are/are not being threatened today, it is crystal clear that the direction Republicans are going these days with their anger is the opposite. As Luntz says, “Trump voters are not just angry – they want revenge.”

The anger these voters are feeling goes to something a lot deeper than what Luntz suggests with this:

His [Trump’s] support denotes an abiding distrust in — and disrespect for — the governing elite. These individuals do not like being told by Washington or Wall Street what is best for them, do not like the direction America is headed in, and disdain President Barack Obama and his (perceived) circle of self-righteous, tone-deaf governing partisans.

That pretty well captures how a lot of Democrats felt after the Bush/Cheney era. But it does very little to explain why so many Republicans are thrilled with Donald Trump’s ravings against Mexicans, Muslims, women, African Americans, etc. Nope…there is something much deeper at work here. I described it as a world view in its death throes.

So the next time a Republican tells you that their reaction to 8 years of a Democratic president is no different than yours was to 8 years of a Republican president, remind them of how differently Democrats handled that anger. Republicans are looking for revenge. Democrats elected the guy who reminded us about “e pluribus unum.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 30, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Donald Trump, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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