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“The Exploitation Of White Resentment”: Donald Trump’s Ready-Made Constituency

There are competing narratives being discussed right now about what is driving the white male support for Donald Trump. Last weekend, David Atkins did a great job of articulating one of them.

In short, voters really are angry about the economy. They want greater security. They don’t want more jobs so much as they want answers for how their jobs are ever going to pay for the lifestyle and security they deserve. And they want justice and accountability against the people they believe have cheated them.

Another narrative about what is animating white male Trump supporters was recently described by Jamelle Bouie.

…we’ve been missing the most important catalyst in Trump’s rise. What caused this fire to burn out of control? The answer, I think, is Barack Obama.

Bouie goes on to suggest that, unlike the theories about this on the right, Obama has not implemented a radical political agenda. But there is something else at play.

We can’t say the same for Obama as a political symbol, however. In a nation shaped and defined by a rigid racial hierarchy, his election was very much a radical event, in which a man from one of the nation’s lowest castes ascended to the summit of its political landscape. And he did so with heavy support from minorities: Asian Americans and Latinos were an important part of Obama’s coalition, and black Americans turned out at their highest numbers ever in 2008…

For millions of white Americans who weren’t attuned to growing diversity and cosmopolitanism, however, Obama was a shock, a figure who appeared out of nowhere to dominate the country’s political life. And with talk of an “emerging Democratic majority,” he presaged a time when their votes—which had elected George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan—would no longer matter. More than simply “change,” Obama’s election felt like an inversion. When coupled with the broad decline in incomes and living standards caused by the Great Recession, it seemed to signal the end of a hierarchy that had always placed white Americans at the top, delivering status even when it couldn’t give material benefits.

In terms of the shock Barack Obama represented, I was reminded of something Jonathan Chait wrote after watching the movie 12 Years a Slave.

Notably, the most horrific torture depicted in 12 Years a Slave is set in motion when the protagonist, Solomon Northup, offers up to his master engineering knowledge he acquired as a free man, thereby showing up his enraged white overseer. It was precisely Northup’s calm, dignified competence in the scene that so enraged his oppressor. The social system embedded within slavery as depicted in the film is one that survived long past the Emancipation Proclamation – the one that resulted in the murder of Emmett Till a century after Northup published his autobiography. It’s a system in which the most unforgivable crime was for an African-American to presume himself an equal to — or, heaven forbid, better than — a white person.

Perhaps the specter of “calm, dignified competence” reminds you of someone. I have often said that freeing Black people from slavery and giving them civil rights were the first two challenges to the racism that was embedded in this country’s founding. But going from Black people as equals to Black people as leaders is the one Obama put on the table. Even a lot of people who don’t consider themselves to be racist have struggled with that one.

But we really don’t need to see the arguments made by Atkins and Bouie as opposing one another. That is because this country has a very long history of using racial resentment to exploit the economic anxieties of white working poor people. That is the basis on which the modern Republican Party was formed with the advent of the Southern Strategy. But it goes back much further than that. Tim Wise points out that it was the very reason for the development of the concept of “whiteness” in the late 1600’s to use racism as a way to divide and conquer.

Over this country’s history African Americans have gained their freedom from slavery, fought for equal rights, and even risen to positions of leadership. The one thing they can’t do is change the hearts and minds of white people who insist on blaming them for their insecurities. That is on us. Until that happens, the Donald Trumps of the world will have a ready-made constituency to exploit.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 12, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Trump Supporters, White Men | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“All-Power-Or-No-Power Tea Party Stuff”: Purist Progressives Who Don’t Want Power Or Relevancy

I have already made what I consider a reasonable progressive case against a Clinton-Warren ticket, but there are some unreasonable progressive cases out there.

Even if Warren cut a deal to endorse Clinton and serve in her administration, it’s not clear whether all of her backers — or Sanders’ steadfast supporters — would automatically jump aboard the Hillary bandwagon.

“I find it highly improbable that a leading voice in the progressive movement, whether it be Elizabeth Warren or someone else, would want to be sitting in the vice president’s office or in the Cabinet,” said Jonathan Tasini, a New York-based Sanders supporter who isn’t ready to give up the fight for Bernie. “Would Warren or any true progressive be willing to make the obvious compromises that a moderate corporate Democrat Hillary would demand? I don’t think so.”

Politico might have mentioned that Jonathan Tasini ran in a Democratic primary against Clinton’s 2006 Senate reelection bid, but they didn’t. He got a whopping seventeen percent of New York state Democrats’ votes. Then he threatened to run against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2010 before deciding to wage a doomed House campaign against Charlie Rangel instead. I don’t begrudge the guy’s desire to challenge the Establishment in New York, but he’s lucky if he speaks for 17% of the people there.

Progressives like Tasini are so anti-establishmentarian, and so reflexively suspicious of power, that they don’t actually want any for themselves. Not really. If you want to argue that Warren is more valuable as a senator than she could be as a vice-president, or that Sanders could get more done as the Chairman of the Budget Committee than he could cooling his heels in the Naval Observatory, I think those are entirely defensible arguments. But this dismissal of the value of having progressive champions chosen to be first-in-line to the presidency is something to behold.

It wasn’t too long ago that there were no Progressive Caucus members in the Senate. The Iraq War and its aftermath has certainly changed that. Former House progressives Ed Markey, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Mazie Hirono and Bernie Sanders are all serving in the Senate today, along with folks like Brian Schatz, Martin Heinrich, Tom Udall, Al Franken, and Jeff Merkley who are pretty progressive in their own right. When Elizabeth Warren looks around, she doesn’t feel like she’s all alone.

But, still, nothing says you’ve arrived like getting put on a presidential ticket. That’s the opposite of the pariah status progressives have suffered under since the Reagan Revolution kicked into full swing. From a progressive point of view, Warren isn’t necessarily a better pick ideologically than any of the others on the above list, but she’s more famous and a more gifted politician (at this point) than the others. She’s also a proven success at the inside bureaucratic game, which she proved when getting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set up in the face of withering opposition.

The idea that a “true” progressive wouldn’t sully themselves by association with a Clinton presidency is a rejection of the advances progressives have made, and it’s a recipe for continued marginalization and irrelevancy. What I object to is not the rational assessment that a particular progressive (whether Sanders, Warren or someone else) might be more influential in a role other than the vice-presidency. What I find galling is the idea that no good progressive should be willing to serve “in the vice president’s office or in the Cabinet” of a Clinton administration because it would involve making compromises.

As George W. Bush said, the president is the decider, and anyone who serves the president must accept that they sometimes have to salute decisions they didn’t recommend. This all-power-or-no-power no compromise attitude is Tea Party stuff.

It’s laughable.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 12, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Progressives, Sanders Supporters | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Everywhere And Nowhere”: Trump Is Waging An Assault On The Entire Structure Of Our Democracy. Now What?

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan had their much-anticipated meeting on this morning, and while Ryan did not endorse Trump (yet), they issued a joint statement talking about their “many areas of common ground.” Speaking afterward to reporters, Ryan said, “It was important that we discussed our differences that we have, but it was also important that we discuss the core principles that tie us together,” and that “Going forward we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds to make sure we have a better understanding of one another.”

This is a fool’s errand, not just for Ryan but for us in the media as well. And it poses a profound challenge to democracy itself.

Just in the last couple of days, something has changed. Perhaps it should have been evident to us before, but for whatever reason it was only partially clear. The pieces were there, but they didn’t fit together to show us how comprehensive Trump’s assault on the fundamentals of American politics truly is.

And that has left the media — whose job it is to report what’s happening and describe it to the citizenry in a coherent way that enables them to make a reasonable decision — at loose ends. We simply don’t know how to cover a candidate like this. We need to figure it out, and quickly.

The foundation of democratic debate is policy, issues, the choices we make about what we as a nation should do. That’s what the government we create does on our behalf: it confronts problems, decides between alternatives, and pursues them. That’s also the foundation of how we in the press report on politics. Yes, we spend a lot of time talking about the personalities involved, but underneath that are competing ideas about what should be done. Should we raise taxes or lower them? Spend more or spend less? Make abortions easier or harder to get? Give more people health coverage or fewer? How do we combat ISIS? How should we address climate change? How can we improve the economy? How can we reduce crime? What sort of transportation system do we want? Which areas should government involve itself in, and which should it stay out of?

We all presume that these questions (and a thousand more) are important, and that the people who run for office should take them seriously. We assume they’ll tell us where they stand, we’ll decide what we think of what they’ve said, and eventually we’ll be able to make an informed choice about who should be the leader of our country.

Donald Trump has taken these presumptions and torn them to pieces, then spat on them and laughed. And so far we seem to have no idea what to do about it.

Let me briefly give an illustration. On the question of the minimum wage, Trump has previously said he would not raise it. Then Sunday he said he did want to raise it. Then in a separate interview on the very same day he said there should be no federal minimum wage at all, that instead we should “Let the states decide.” Then yesterday he said he does want to increase the federal minimum wage.

So when you ask the question, “Where does Donald Trump stand on the minimum wage?”, the answer is: everywhere and nowhere. He has nothing resembling a position, because what he said today has no relationship to what he said yesterday or what he’ll say tomorrow. And we’re seeing it again and again. Will he release his tax returns? Yes, but then no, but then yes and no. Does he want to cut taxes for the wealthy? His plan says yes, his mouth sort of says no, but who knows? What about his promise for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” that so thrilled his supporters? Now he says it’s “only a suggestion.”

We assume that with an appropriately tough and smart interview, one or more of us in the media will eventually pin Trump down on any particular issue, and then we’ll have our answer and he can be judged accordingly. But that won’t happen.

So because we don’t know what else to do, we’re trying to hold him to the standards we use for every other candidate: what does he propose, and how reasonable are those proposals? For instance, Politico attempted to take a serious look at Trump’s policy statements, and concluded that “Trump bounces across the political spectrum,” but “Many of his proposals are either unrealistic in terms of executive power or would run into a brick wall with Congress, making a Trump administration borderline impotent on the very issues that are driving his supporters to the polls.”

We should give them credit for trying, but the problem is that if you want to evaluate Trump’s positions, you can only do so based on what they’ve been up until the moment you’re making the judgment. But if he gets asked about the same issues tomorrow, the odds that he’ll take the same position are essentially random, like a coin flip.

The problem isn’t that Trump’s positions don’t add up to a coherent ideology along the liberal-conservative spectrum, it’s that you can’t even call them “positions,” because you can never be sure which of them he’ll hold next week, much less if he eventually becomes president.

And remember, that’s really the point of the campaign: to figure out what kind of president each of the contenders would be. There’s always some measure of uncertainty, since we don’t know exactly what crises the next president will confront or what kind of manager he or she would be. But with every other person who ran this year, an informed observer could tell you 90 percent of what they would do if they eventually became president. You might love or hate Hillary Clinton, but we can all come to at least a basic agreement about the policies she’ll pursue. At this point, can anybody say what Trump would do as president? About anything?

It’s important to be clear that Trump isn’t just a “flip-flopper.” When that charge has been leveled in the past, whether against a Democrat or Republican, it was because they had one position (or set of positions) and then changed them. Even if the critique was animated by the concern that they might change again in the future, at any given moment you knew where they stood. You might judge them too opportunistic, or like their previous position more than their current one. But there was a progression and a logic to where they stood, and the assumption was that whatever their position was, they’d act on it.

This is the way we’ve tried to explain Trump, assuming that there’s some kind of linear progression to what he says about issues: he was in one place appealing to primary voters, and there are things he might change to appeal to general election voters. But it’s clear now that that was a mistake, because that’s now how this works with him.

That leaves us unable to talk about Trump and issues in the way we normally would. And this is a serious problem. The basic issue divides between the parties comprise one of the key foundations on which we build our explanations of politics. They structure the arguments and the contest for power, they give meaning to the whole game. They’re the reason all of this silliness matters, because at the end of it we’ll be choosing a new government, led by one individual who will make choices that affect all of us in profound ways.

It’s clear now that Donald Trump may be unique in American history — not just in his inexperience, not just in his ignorance, not just in his bombast, and not just in his crypto-fascist appeal. He’s unique in that he doesn’t care in the least about the the things that politics and government are all about, and he won’t even bother to pretend he does. I’ll confess that I don’t know where this leaves us in the media, and how we should approach his candidacy from this point forward in order to help the public understand it. But that may be the most important question we need to answer right now.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 12, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, Media, Policy | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“On Behalf Of The Inner Circle”: Earning The Contempt Of The Foreign Policy Establishment

Whenever I see an article by James Poulos, I have to admit that I approach it with a certain amount of disgust. That’s because, back in 2012 he wrote what I consider to be the most misogynist column I’ve read in a long time. You’ll get some idea of just how obnoxious it was from the title: What Are Women For? But his content and conclusions were equally horrible. Rather than rehash all of that here, you can go read what I wrote about it at the time.

I say all of that by way of introduction to the reason I was intrigued when I saw that Poulos had written something titled: The contemptuous certainty of Barack Obama. You might recall that recently I used President Obama as the prime example in suggesting that uncertainty is a liberal value. So of course I was intrigued to find out how someone would accuse him of “contemptuous certainty.”

It seems that for Poulos, it is the President’s rejection of the “Washington Playbook” that is the problem. And he finds proof of that in the much-disputed profile of National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes by David Samuels.

It appears that President Obama decided very early on that the Beltway’s foreign policy establishment was not to be trusted to do the right thing — or even to think independently about what the right thing might be…

This crew, of which Rhodes is just one member, simply does not care that it has torched its reputation with a broad swath of D.C.’s most reasonable and experienced foreign policy makers and analysts…

To a key set of mainliners, Democrats included, whom Clinton will need to rally, Rhodes’ words came off as a bizarre and unseemly end zone dance on behalf of an inner circle whose deep disrespect for the foreign policy establishment is an open secret in Washington.

It is not often that one actually finds comfort in the analysis of right wing conservatives. But that was exactly my reaction to reading this. During the Cold War, even Democratic Presidents didn’t do much to distinguish themselves from perpetuating the mistakes of the Washington Playbook. To see a conservative accurately depict the current occupant of the White House as someone who has been willing to earn their contempt is a great relief…finally!

 

By: Nancy  LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 13, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Ben Rhoads, Foreign Policy, Right Wing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Makes More Sense Than Critics Admit”: The Brave Politics Of Clinton’s Medicare Buy-In Proposal

Predictably, much of the commentary about Hillary Clinton’s newly expressed interest in making a Medicare buy-in option available to people near retirement age is treating it as another calibrated “move to the left” to head off Bernie Sanders or placate his supporters. The unstated assumption is that anything other than a full-on single-payer system (the only creditable progressive proposal, you see) is a half measure reflecting either political cowardice or corrupt kowtowing to private insurance interests.

Here’s the thing, though. People who love to cite polls showing the popularity of “Medicare for all” (the favored buzz-phrase for single-payer) should be aware that the popularity of the venerable retirement program is based on its current characteristics as an “earned entitlement” program for which working Americans pay payroll taxes and then, after becoming beneficiaries, premiums. The “buy-in” proposal, by targeting people who have (a) presumably been paying those same payroll taxes and will continue to do so until retirement if they are employed, and (b) will immediately pay relatively steep premiums (though not as steep, in most cases, as private insurance premiums), does minimal violence to the structure, financing and original purpose of Medicare. “Medicare for all,” once it is a tangible proposal rather than a bumper-sticker slogan, changes Medicare in all these respects, and might make it unrecognizable. The financing challenge alone for a single-payer system — which never much gets mentioned in the polling — makes the incremental approach, via a combination of Medicare, “Obamacare”-subsidized private insurance, and Medicaid, a much easier reach financially and politically.

Perhaps I’m wrong and perhaps Hillary Clinton is wrong in feeling this way. But one thing’s for sure: Expanding Medicare and providing a “public option” under Obamacare are not popular ideas in the private insurance industry. That’s certainly not the constituency Clinton is representing here. And anyone who doubts the political courage it takes to achieve universal health coverage incrementally, instead of just intoning “Medicare for all” until the walls fall down like Jericho’s, hasn’t been paying much attention the last quarter-century.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 11, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Universal Health Care | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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