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“Don’t Fall For The Media Distortion About Trump”: A Wildly And Destructively Inaccurate Portrait Of Us As A People

The evidence is in, and it shows that the dominant media narratives about 2016 are wrong. Our country is not roiled with across-the-board discontent, and Donald Trump is not the most important voice in our politics. Turmoil in one of our political parties is being misread as reflecting a deep crisis well beyond its boundaries.

The most revealing and underplayed development of the week is Gallup’s finding that President Obama’s approval rating hit 53 percent (not once, but three times). This was its highest level since April 2013. If the people of the United States had lost all confidence in their institutions, the president wouldn’t be enjoying such a surge in popularity.

Compare the current incumbent, first, to George W. Bush. His approval rating at this point in his presidency was 32 percent, on its way down to 28 percent a few weeks later. And in a comparable period in 1988, Ronald Reagan’s approval stood at 50 percent. Note that the incumbent party was routed in 2008 but comfortably held on to the White House 20 years earlier.

And the demography of Obama’s support explains why a relentless media focus on Trump and the Republican primaries entirely warps the message coming from Americans as a whole. Obama’s approval rating is at 89 percent with Democrats and 50 percent among independents. But it stands at only 12 percent with Republicans and 9 percent among conservative Republicans. Yet the voices of conservative Republicans are being amplified beyond all reason by the obsession with Trump and the GOP’s struggles.

Sure, conservatives really don’t like Barack Obama. But that’s not news, and we certainly didn’t need Trump to bring it to us.

And speaking of Trump, the sharp partisan differences in attitudes toward him again signal the folly of viewing this year’s political events through a lens trained almost entirely on one party. A March 16-21 Quinnipiac poll found that Trump was viewed favorably by 62 percent of Republicans but only 34 percent of independents and 6 percent of Democrats. His overall favorability rating: 33 percent.

In the case of Obama, many independents are on the same page as Democrats. In the case of Trump, affection is mostly a Republican phenomenon — and even there, Trump has far less sympathy in his party than Obama has among those in Democratic ranks. Trumpism is not sweeping the nation. It has a strong foothold only in the Republican Party, and not even all of it.

Now only Pollyanna or Candide would conclude that everything is going swimmingly for our country. The Trump rebellion in the GOP and the Bernie Sanders revolution among Democrats both reveal the discontent of Americans who have been left out in our return to prosperity. If there is a bipartisan message in 2016, it is that our ruling classes have ignored the plight of those being hammered by technological change and globalization.

But Trumpism is a very poor guide to what needs to be done. Those hurting include both middle-aged white working-class voters, particularly men, and African Americans who — as the sociologist William J. Wilson showed in his pioneering book “When Work Disappears” — were particularly disadvantaged by deindustrialization. At a time when we need to address legitimate grievances across our lines of division, Trump is driving a racial and ethnic wedge through the country.

As Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee pointed out in an important analysis of the data on the contest so far, “racial attitudes uniquely predict support for Trump,” including “racial resentment and explicit racial stereotypes.”

This doesn’t mean that we should write off the pain many Trump supporters feel. Nor should we ignore Trump’s challenge to conservative economic orthodoxy. But in the wall-to-wall coverage of Trump, the backlash around race and how he is courting it deserve far more scrutiny — even if this means The Donald might turn down a television network’s offer to do yet another telephone interview, in his pajamas, if he wishes.

At the least, the media might start asking whether the president’s popularity and Trump’s relative lack of it tell us something very important about what is happening in our nation that is being utterly lost in the clamor of Trumpism. We are allowing a wildly and destructively inaccurate portrait of us as a people to dominate our imaginations and debase our thinking.

If you will forgive me for borrowing from the man obsessed with talking about “winners,” someone here is a “loser,” and it’s not Barack Obama.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 30, 2016

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Media, President Obama | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Remarkable Success”: Barack Obama Is Looking Better And Better

President Barack Obama waves as arrives in Bariloche, Argentina, on March 24.

Imagine the pain your average Republican must feel when he opens his morning paper. His party is not just riven by internal dissent, but looks like it will nominate a spectacularly unpopular candidate to be its standard-bearer in 2016, with a campaign that gets more farcical every day, bringing ignominy upon a party that has suffered so much already. And now, to add insult to injury, the president he loathes with such fervor is looking … rather popular with the American public.

Barack Obama’s approval ratings are now above 50 percent in daily Gallup tracking, and have been for weeks. He’s risen higher in public esteem than he’s been in three years. Every poll taken in the last month and a half shows him with a positive approval rating.

You might say that it’s no great achievement to be above 50 percent. After all, didn’t Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan leave office with ratings around 65 percent? Indeed they did. But even Clinton’s presidency occurred in a different era, when party polarization was not as firm as it is now. These days—and in all likelihood for some time to come—if a president can stay at 50 percent, he should be counted a remarkable success.

That polarization runs through everything Americans think, know, and learn about the president. There’s always been a large gap between how members of the president’s party view him and how members of the other party view him, but if you look over the history for which we have polling data (going back to Eisenhower in the 1950s), you see what has changed over time. With just a couple of exceptions, those in the president’s party usually give him around 80 percent approval, give or take a bit. For instance, Ronald Reagan averaged 83 percent among Republicans and George H.W. Bush averaged 82 percent, while Bill Clinton averaged 80 percent among Democrats.

It’s in the opinions of the other party that there has been a transformation. Presidents used to routinely get 30 or 40 percent approval from the other party; it would only dip down into the 20s when things were going really badly. But George W. Bush’s presidency and then Barack Obama’s have been characterized by levels of disapproval from the other side we haven’t seen since the depth of the Watergate scandal. This is one of the signal characteristics of public opinion in our time: negative partisanship, in which Americans define their political identity not by their affection for their own party, but by their hatred for the other guys.

In fact, Obama is the first president since polls existed to have never gone above 25 percent approval from the other side, not even in the honeymoon glow of the first days of his presidency. He could defeat ISIS, make America secure and prosperous, save a baby from a burning building, then cure cancer and invent a pill that would let you eat all the ice cream you want without gaining any weight, and no more than a handful of Republicans would ever say they think he’s doing a good job.

Which means that if his ratings have gone up, it’s because he’s doing better among everyone who isn’t a Republican. Why is that? There are multiple reasons, but one factor that always plays a key part in presidential approval is the strength of the economy, though presidents get both more credit and more blame for it than they deserve. And today, even if income growth is lagging much more than we’d like, unemployment is under 5 percent and there have been 72 consecutive months of job growth, the longest streak on record. There are plenty of things wrong with the American economy, but the most visible thing to many people (apart from gas prices, which are near historic lows) is whether you can find a job if you need one, and today you can.

And then there’s the biggest political story of the year, the Republican presidential nomination campaign. Put simply, it’s been an utter catastrophe for Republicans—and a marked contrast with the guy they’re all vying to replace. Where Obama is calm and reasonable, the Republican candidates are shrill and panicky. Where he’s thoughtful and informed, they’re impulsive and ignorant. Republicans are constantly trying to argue that Obama is frivolous—he played a round of golf while something important was happening somewhere!—but you won’t catch him arguing with his opponents about the size of their hands or attacking their spouses. You can disagree with Obama on matters of substance, but he’s nothing like the clowns Republicans are deciding between.

So juxtaposed with the freak show of the Republican primaries, Obama looks better all the time. And ironically, of all the Republicans who ran for president this year, only one almost never singled out Obama for heaps of abuse: Donald Trump. Trump says that our leaders are idiots, but he includes all kind of people in that criticism. He barely talks about Obama, unlike the candidates he has vanquished, who regularly asserted not just that Obama is a terrible president but that he has intentionally tried to destroy America, a bit of talk-radio lunacy many of them incorporated into their rhetoric back when it seemed like you could win the nomination by being the one who says he hates the president more than anyone else.

Yet none of the Republicans make for a clearer contrast with Obama than Trump, the buffoonish vulgarian who wouldn’t know class if it hit him in the head with a gold-plated hammer. And while the Republicans talk endlessly about what a cesspool of misery and despair America is, Obama looks to be chugging toward the end of his presidency with most Americans thinking he’s done a pretty good job.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 28, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, President Obama, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Talking Encourages Effective Change”: Obama In Cuba, And The Astounding Legacy Of A Pragmatic President

I’m old. Not as ancient as, say, the dinosaurs, but I’m certainly not young. In fact, I’m only a few years younger than the president, which, while young for the White House, is kind of old in my house.

How old am I? Well, I’ll tell you: I’m old enough to remember when all manner of things now the stuff of daily life were the stuff of Hollywood — the notion of an African-American president, for one.

Or, for instance, relations with Cuba. Are you mad, son? That embargo outlived the Iron Curtain! We will never have anything to do with Cuba (other than smuggled cigars) until the Castros are dead and a unicorn sits on a throne of dollars in the heart of Havana. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and Cuba is natio non grata, forever and ever.

Until this month. Until Sunday. Until, actually, December 2014, when the president announced, “Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba” — an announcement which frankly left me gobsmacked and a little pie-eyed. I hadn’t been paying attention, you see, and seemingly out of the blue, this president had done the undoable, as if 50 years of human history could be changed with human hands. Now he’s walking around Havana and meeting with Raul Castro.

Or how about that other impossibility: U.S.-Iranian détente? I actually remember when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed. I’m also old enough to remember George W. Bush’s 2002 Axis of Evil speech, the one that torpedoed active Iranian cooperation with America in post-9/11 Afghanistan. And yet here we are, one president later, in possession of a nuclear deal with one of our most implacable foes, a foe that has in the meantime elected a slate of surprisingly moderate politicians to its parliament, reinforcing Obama’s position that talking encourages change more effectively than ceaseless saber-rattling.

Oh, I’m old enough to remember all kinds of things. I remember when “LGBTQ rights” were called “the homosexual agenda” and orange juice pitch-woman Anita Bryant told America that the gays wanted to hurt your children. I also remember the AIDS crisis, and how many people had to die before anyone in power began to treat them with dignity. I think that as a young woman I literally wouldn’t have been able to imagine a circumstance in which a sitting U.S. president would oversee the establishment of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Obama “evolved” on the issue, he told us — bringing America along with him, allowing us to evolve toward that more-perfect union of which our founders spoke.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten health care reform, which has been impossible since Harry Truman. I remember when the current Democratic frontrunner tried her hand at reshaping health care and got so badly burned that she and her then-president husband paid for it for years. Today, on the other hand, millions of Americans for whom basic health care was once as unimaginable as that unicorn in Havana now have insurance, and cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions — such as, for instance, domestic violence or having a cervix. ObamaCare is, in many ways, feminism at its most brass-tacks, and I’m pretty sure Young Me also couldn’t have imagined having a president who is a feminist.

No one accomplishes anything on their own, no matter the office they hold. In the course of seven years, the president has had to learn from, respond to, and work with people ranging from grassroots activists to Pope Francis (while, it should be noted, the opposition party has done all it can to prevent him from accomplishing anything at all). And on many of these matters, Obama has just barely been ahead of the curve. When he announced the change in relations with Cuba, for instance, just less than half of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County supported the embargo anymore — down from 66 percent in 2004 and 56 percent in 2011.

The president has never been a revolutionary; to borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda, he is and has always been a bold pragmatist — which is, in my book, a compliment.

I don’t want to give the impression that I agree with everything Obama and his administration have presided over. Ask me (or better yet, don’t) about Obama’s record on Israel/Palestine — or maybe talk to the Central Americans deported back to their home countries after fleeing unspeakable violence. To borrow from the internet, your faves are always problematic. My faves are, too.

And yet. There are days on which this old woman looks at her young president’s record, and all but falls out of her chair. The foregoing is but a partial list, missing many things Obama has accomplished or advanced that were, as far as I once knew, impossible or pretty near. The beautiful thing, of course, is that you don’t actually have to be old to see it — you just have to be paying attention.

Thanks, Obama.

 

By: Emily L. Hauser, The Week, March 21, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, Diplomacy, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Visit Will Hasten Freedom In Cuba”: The Culmination Of Common-Sense Revamping Of U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

The historic visit of a sitting U.S. president to Havana — which should have come a half-century sooner — will almost surely hasten the day when Cubans are free from the Castro government’s suffocating repression.

President Obama’s whirlwind trip is the culmination of his common-sense revamping of U.S. policy toward Cuba. One outdated, counterproductive relic of the Cold War remains — the economic embargo forbidding most business ties with the island nation — and the Republican-controlled Congress won’t even consider repealing it. But Obama, using his executive powers, has been able to reestablish full diplomatic relations, practically eliminate travel restrictions and substantially weaken the embargo’s grip.

All of which is long overdue. The United States first began to squeeze the Castro government, with the hope of forcing regime change, in 1960. It should be a rule of thumb that if a policy is an utter failure for more than 50 years, it’s time to try something else.

I say this as someone with no illusions about President Raúl Castro, the spectral but still-powerful Fidel Castro or the authoritarian system they created and wish to perpetuate.

Hours before Obama’s arrival Sunday, police and security agents roughly arrested and hauled away members of the Ladies in White dissident group as they conducted their weekly protest march; this time, U.S. network news crews happened to be on hand to witness the ritualized crackdown.

I wrote a book about Cuba, and each time I went to the island for research I gained more respect and admiration for the Cuban people — and more contempt for the regime that so cynically and capriciously smothers their dreams. Those 10 trips convinced me, however, that the U.S. policy of prohibiting economic and social contact between Americans and Cubans was, to the Castro brothers, the gift that kept on giving.

I saw how the “menace” of an aggressive, threatening neighbor to the north was used as a justification for repression. We’d love to have freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, the government would say, but how can we leave our beloved nation so open, and so vulnerable, when the greatest superpower on earth is trying to destroy our heroic revolution?

Most of the Cubans I met were not fooled by such doublespeak. But they did have a nationalistic love for their country, and their nation was, indeed, under economic siege.

There are those who argue that Obama could have won more concessions from the Castro regime in exchange for improved relations. But this view ignores the fact that our posture of unmitigated hostility toward Cuba did more harm to U.S. interests than good. Relaxing travel restrictions for U.S. citizens can only help flood the island with American ideas and values. Permitting such an influx could be the biggest risk the Castro brothers have taken since they led a ragtag band of guerrillas into the Sierra Maestra Mountains to make a revolution.

Why would they now take this gamble? Because they have no choice. The Castro regime survived the collapse of the Soviet Union — and the end of huge annual subsidies from the Eastern Bloc — but the Cuban economy sank into depression. Copious quantities of Venezuelan oil, provided by strongman Hugo Chávez (who was Fidel Castro’s protege), provided a respite. But now Chávez is gone, Venezuela is an economic ruin and Cuba has no choice but to monetize the resource it has in greatest abundance, human capital. From the Castros’ point of view, better relations with the United States must now seem unavoidable.

It is possible that Raúl Castro, who has promised to resign in 2018, will seek to move the country toward the Chinese model: a free-market economic system overseen by an authoritarian one-party government. Would this fully satisfy those who want to see a free Cuba? No. Would it be a tremendous improvement over the poverty and oppression Cubans suffer today? Absolutely.

Fidel Castro will be 90 in August; Raúl is just five years younger. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will see whether Castroism can survive without a living Castro. Anyone who wants U.S. policymakers to have influence when that question arises should applaud Obama’s initiatives.

And speaking of applause, did you see the rapturous welcome the president and his family received in Havana? Cubans seem to have a much more clear-eyed — and hopeful — view than Obama’s shortsighted critics.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 21, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Different American President”: Willing To Leave The History In The Past And Actually Try To Get Something Done

As the Obama family continues their historic visit to Cuba, Jeffrey Goldberg relates a story from national security advisor Ben Rhodes that might have provided the moment that made the opening between our two countries possible.

“The president was going to the funeral of Nelson Mandela—his personal hero—and I remember on the plane to South Africa I raised with him—we had a list of the leaders who were going to be up on the dais where he’d be speaking—and one was Raul Castro, and I said, ‘Look, inevitably it is going to come up as to whether or not you shake his hand.’”

Obama’s response was not necessarily the response of a typical American president. According to Rhodes, Obama said, “‘Look, the Cubans, given their history with Mandela, with the ANC, they have a place at this event, and I’m not going to, essentially, cause an uncomfortable situation for the Mandela family, for the South African people, by snubbing the president of Cuba who has a right to be on that dais.’” The Cubans were early and ardent supporters of Mandela’s African National Congress party, and were also deeply engaged militarily across southern Africa…

Castro, Rhodes said, was a bit surprised, and perhaps somewhat moved. “What was interesting was, in our subsequent meetings with the Cubans, the atmosphere changed a bit, and the first thing they said to me in the next meeting was how much President Castro appreciated that President Obama had done that, and it kind of established a tone where they understood they were dealing with a different American president—one who is willing to leave the history in the past and actually try to get something done.”

This points to a moment when Cuba was actually on the right side of history while the United States – under President Reagan – was on the wrong side.

Reagan … embraced the South African Apartheid regime. He instituted a policy euphemized as “constructive engagement.” Reagan said that the United States lacked the power to change the internal workings of the Afrikaner government. Not only was the claim false, it contradicted his position on the far more powerful Soviet Union, which was designed precisely to change the evil empire’s internal behavior. Reagan put Mandela on the U.S. terrorist list, a placement that wasn’t removed until 2008, incredibly. This was at a time when the South African civil war was at its peak of violence, with the conflict becoming a global cause.

A young student attending Occidental College at the time was very aware of these events.

The young black university student who walked up to the microphone at an anti-apartheid rally in 1980 was, by his own admission, cynical about the virtues of political activism.

Barack Obama had spent his early years of college submerged in books by African American writers by the likes of James Baldwin, W E B Du Bois and Malcolm X, wrestling with his own mixed racial identity.

But it was the campaign for equality thousands of miles away in South Africa that first spurred Obama, then aged 19, into action: taking part in a divestment rally in his sophomore year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, one of hundreds of similar campaigns sweeping campuses across America.

And so it was thirty years later, on that day in December 2013, that these two leaders – who had very little in common other than their admiration for Nelson Mandela – shook hands and changed the trajectory of the relationship between our two countries. I suspect that Madiba would approve.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, Nelson Mandela, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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